Sunday, 19 February 2012

Notes from the garden - February

A testament to how mild the winter has been this year - I have actual notes from the garden (or at least, the greenhouse) to share. My first seeds got off to such a fine start in the electric propagator in our kitchen earlier this month that I've already had to pot the whole lot on. I've seedlings of:

  • Tomato Roma
  • Tomato Black Cherry
  • Tomato Marmande
  • Tomato Rose de Berne
  • Broad Bean Express
Indeed, the weather has been so spring-like this last week that I have, perhaps foolishly, put these seedlings straight into the (unheated) greenhouse. We'll see if they survive....

I may have gone a little overboad on the tomatoes this year (these first seedlings are four of seven varieties in total and I've already got 9 seedlings of each type...), but we eat so many (and the baby loves them too) that I thought I'd just grow as many as possible and put them in both the greenhouse and outside in some nice pots that still don't have regular homes/plants.

There's rather a lot to do in the garden - tidying beds, crops to harvest (spring greens, kale, leeks and a bit of slightly scabby cabbage), strawberries to feed, sticky bands to go up on the fruit trees (a bit late, but better late than maggoty fruits!), the posts and wiring for the raspberry supports need redoing, we need additional supports in place for the grapevines and our established apples, there will be pruning of the new fruit trees we planted in the autumn coming up, and of course, the sowing, potting on and planting out of all of this year's crops. Good grief! Why am I still sitting here?!! Well, because it's February and it's already getting dark, of course!

Monday, 6 February 2012

Ladies and gentlemen...

My first seeds for the 2012 growing season have now been sown!

What a lovely sensation this year, to come to the realisation at the beginning of February that I'm all set for the growing season. My electric propagator was a truly lovely assistant last year, allowing me to get lots of those fiddly crops started early (although not this early in 2011 - I had just had a baby, after all!) Also unlike last year, I'm not hampered by not having anywhere to move seedlings on to - our new greenhouse has been in place since the early summer. True, I haven't quite gotten around to giving it a clean. Nor have I scrubbed last year's seed trays and pots. Hmm - oh well, maybe having seeds in the propagator will prompt me to some housekeeping in the garden!

Sown in February
Tomato - Black Cherry
Tomato - Super Marmande
Tomato - Super Roma
Tomato - Rose de Berne
Broad Bean - Express

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A perfect fit

There are few certainties in life for new parents, but one is that you’ll become terribly familiar with what comes out of your baby, at both ends. So one of the (seemingly endless) decisions you’ll need to make is whether to use disposable or reusable nappies.

So many new mothers I've met, never mind friends and family, still imagine that real nappies equate to terry squares, fiddly pins and smelly buckets. Fortunately, reusable nappies have evolved quite significantly in the last decade and now you can choose from a range of nappy types depending on whether you want a birth-to-potty system, have a baby with slim hips, a heavy wetter or just need something that is quick drying. Yes, reusables need washing, but as every parent knows, the washing machine seems to be on permanently for the first year anyway, and modern nappies can be washed quite safely at 60 degrees, provided you use a suitable laundry powder or additive (and these can be green as well, by the way).

There's been a lot of confusion and controversy over how virtuous reusables really are in the last few years, primarily relating to how costly they are to wash and dry. The worst offender in this respect was an Environment Agency report in 2005, which has since been updated. The 2008 version of the report takes into account the use of shaped reusable nappies, the increased energy efficiency of washing machines and driers, and changes to waste disposal options. It concludes that your energy consumption will indeed go through the roof if you wash at 90 and use a tumble dryer – in fact you’d do less environmental damage overall by just using disposables, but that otherwise using reusables in a consciously green fashion (washing at 60, line/air-drying, and using on more than one child) can make them up to 40% ‘greener’ than disposables. 

But, for me, the energy consumption argument somewhat misses the point anyway: one of the biggest problems with disposable nappies is that they go into landfill after one use. On average, children in disposable nappies will create 146.5kg of waste each, which is sent to landfill or for incineration – this is a considerable improvement on the part of manufacturers since 2001-02 when disposable nappies were generally heavier and thus resulted in 166.3kg of waste during the nappy-wearing period.[1]

Reusable nappies, on the other hand, will see you through all your children and can then be passed on to friends or family for their little ones. If you’re that way inclined there’s even a brisk trade on ebay if you want to make some of your cash back and reduce your environmental impact even further. You don’t even need to buy a brand new set, unless you want to. We were offered the loan of a set of medium-sized nappies. We therefore purchased about 10 small-sized nappies to trial on our newborn and quickly settled into quite a comfortable compromise, using the reusable nappies during the day and some eco disposables (Nature Baby) overnight when the nappy isn’t changed quite as frequently. We moved on to the medium-sized nappies at about 3 months and then bought a final set of nappies to see us through to potty training. The latter set we got on ebay for about half the price we’d have paid for new! 

So if you don’t have the space to line- or air-dry your reusables, or you can’t contemplate washing them at less than 90, then this nappy solution might not be the best one for you. If, however, you already practice ‘green’ laundry principles - washing at low temperatures, ensuring a full load, using an A* rated machine and line- or air-drying clothes – then do give reusable nappies a shot.

[1] Figures are taken from the report An updated lifecycle assessment study for disposable and reusable nappies commissioned by the Environment Agency in 2008.