Twelve Principles for twelve months – September – Produce no waste

IMG_7707Plastic packaging is a pet hate of mine and unfortunately it is often what fills the majority of my household bin.

September is a month of abundance. The trees are raining fruit down on us by the bucketful. This is wonderful as long as you can manage to keep up with the deluge. Often I pass trees that have dropped all their fruit and it litters the floor beneath them, rotting on the ground and feeding only birds and wasps. I totally understand that September is a busy month and the task of harvesting fruit can fall to the bottom of people’s lists. But it always breaks my heart just a little.

I am as guilty as anyone, this year I have completely neglected to harvest one of our plum trees. The fruit ripened while we were away in Cornwall and it needed immediate attention on our return. My attention was also needed elsewhere (as always) so this year we have not eaten a single homegrown plum. I am trying not to make the same mistake with the cooking apple tree. I am collecting the windfalls and bringing them into the house, where they sit in a wicker basket and slowly turn brown, then are fed to the chickens. My intentions are to make wonderful crumbles and puree but again real life is getting in the way. I hate this waste but I accept that life is so full currently and sometimes I just have to prioritize what is most demanding of my attention on any given day and ‘let it go’.

Reflecting on this has made me more forgiving of the wasted produce I see at the community allotment and school garden. Cucumbers left to rot on the vine, courgettes grown monstrously huge and bolted spinach everywhere. At our first new school year gardening club this week, we spent a good hour harvesting and sharing out vegetables amongst the children. This felt good. So many people don’t have enough to eat, not only in far off impoverished counties, but also in our own neighbourhoods. Wasted food seems like a terrible sin. I think often gardening projects concentrate on the growing of produce and make the mistake of neglecting the harvesting, processing and eating side of the equation. I intend to do what I can to address this in the gardening projects I am involved with.IMG_8331

This month’s principle ‘Produce no waste’ is a difficult one to excel at. So I am going to aim for ‘produce a little less waste’ I am going to make a meal plan for the week each sunday and shop accordingly. I am going to try to buy foods with less packaging, I am going to try to cook the correct amount of food and use up any leftovers the following day. I am going to keep on recycling all my kitchen waste to the chickens or into the compost heap. And lastly, I am going to try not to waste my most precious resource of all – time.

Maximising edge – My garden raised beds

In my posts of last week I talked about edges and got slightly pre-occupied with photographing beautiful edges where one material met another. In the woods I noticed this tree stump with fungi all around the edge, 360 degree edge action! IMG_6944

I decided to run with this obsession and this week I have been working hard in the garden adding another level of boarding to my raised beds to maximise the edges and allow me to add a layer of mulch to these beds over the winter.

We made these beds early this year in the centre of our garden after taking down our dilapidated poly tunnel. The beds get lots of sunshine and were very productive this summer. However, due to a lack of funds, they were not really very ‘raised’ They were one decking board high and now they are two! I am pleased to have done all the work myself and i loved a little uninterrupted garden time creating something, it is so satisfying.


I used decking boards for the edges, pieces of old timber we had knocking around for the stakes, screws, a lump hammer, a drill, a saw, a tape measure and a ruler.


Before I started, the edges looked like this. I have added a paved path between each bed since they were made, so the level in between the beds has risen, leaving just a small lip between bed and edge. This was fine for year 1 but now I wanted to add material to the beds to increase fertility so more space was required. The decking boards were on sale in my local hardware shop so it seemed like a good time to tackle this little project.


The beds now look like this, much more like raised beds should!


I have gone on to do the same to the other five beds, so now all six beds are looking pretty smart. I have added various materials as a mulch. I used materials that I had available, I would be interested to hear what other people use to mulch their beds and what works best for increasing yields, reducing weeds and retaining water.  I have used old compost from pots of summer crops, fallen leaves, straw from the chicken housing, newspaper and the contents of the compost bins.

Sewing nook – Design process continued.

2013-10-10 11.47.018. Base map

This is my working drawing of the dimensions of the wardrobe. The normal Permaculture tools of lines of desire, zones and sectors could be applied here, but the space is tiny so I am just using common sense about placements and scale.

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9. Apply Permaculture ethics and principles

Earth care – Use materials I already have whenever possible rather than purchasing new. People care – Zone 00, myself! I will mainly be making things for other people, so they will benefit from handmade presents and clothes repairs.                                                     Fair shares – I don’t really know, errm, let other people use the area too? Maybe I can teach my eldest daughter how to use the sewing machine in a couple of years.

Obtain a yield– Something for myself                                                                         Produce no waste– Make use of materials and objects we have already. Plan carefully and then only purchase what is absolutely necessary.                                                           Use small and slow solutions – A quick first project to ease me into the diploma.       Use edges and value the marginal – Using a marginal area of the house. Also using the edges of the space to the best potential.                                                                   Creatively use and respond to change– Our use of this house has changed a lot since we brought it. Two more children and loads of additional stuff has filled the house up a lot. So I have had to adapt and change how I practice my creative hobbies in the house. I expect this will continue to change in the future.

10. Working Design

This is the wardrobe I am using. The colour-coded book shelf on the left of the wardrobe is the result of nesting madness undertaken at 9 months pregnant. I do like it though, so it has stayed. The limited book shelf space is helping me curb my habit for secondhand paperbacks too!The second image shows the shoddy use of space in the wardrobe. The boxes, baskets and bags were moved elsewhere.

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2013-10-16 11.45.4111. Implementation plan

Go and buy wood for the desk and shelving, get this cut to size in the shop. Re-use wood from previous projects to support the selves and the desk. Check that I have suitable screws, rawl-plugs etc. Make desk, make shelves. Find the folding chair. Find the storage for sewing equipment. Buy a desk lamp and light bulb. Put up Ikea spice rack as a book shelve on inside of door. Use the blackboard paint to paint the inside of the other door. Try it out and see how the space works.

12. Implementation

I have now made the space and tried it out, all went well. There are a few niggles which I can sort out pretty easily. I still need to paint the blackboard on the inside of the door.

13. Documentation and maintenance

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14. Tweak and 15. Evaluate.

I will come back to these stages after I have used the space for a few weeks.


With each passing day I can feel colder weather approaching. Autumn is a beautiful time marked by some of my favourite seasonal celebrations, Halloween and fireworks night are always such fun. I am feeling the increasing urgency to gather everything in, in preparation for the winter that lies ahead.With that in mind, we have been collecting lots from the garden recently.

We have a small wooden box divided into even smaller sections that we use for collecting and displays. Middle daughter C and I had fun in the garden this week making the collection pictured below. It lasted just long enough for me to take the photo, then it was destroyed by a rampaging baby. He sampled lots of the flowers too!


The Sweet-peas have been amazing this year. At the height of the summer I was picking bunches every other day. I had never had great success with them before, but this year they were planted in a very fertile bed in full sun and they thrived. So we are saving lots of seed for next year. These seed are so fiddly to pop out of their papery wrappings.



The Runner beans have also been good. If I had a bigger freezer, we could be kept in beans for months. I did make pickled runner beans one year, but it’s not particularly an experience i want to repeat! So we have eaten a lot of fresh beans. Have you tried beans with balsamic vinegar?


I love planting runner beans with children. The seeds are a great size for little hands to cope with and the huge size of the final plants is exciting for kids. At the outdoor playgroup I am involved in (more about this soon) we planted a runner bean den. It was a willow structure planted up with beans which rambled all over it and created a cosy green place for children to hind. That I definitely will be doing again.

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Earlier this week we visited the woods where our cabin is. We had an autumn walk, filling our pockets with interesting finds along the way. We always do an autumn display of conkers, acorns, beautiful leaves, figures of woodland creatures and autumn themed books.

I enjoy observing the seasons in this way and I think it is useful for the children to help them understand the cycles of the year. We also do a display for winter, but despite my good intentions to follow this through for Spring and Summer too, these never seem to happen. On reflection I think it is because at those times of year, my attention is focussed outside and decorating the house does not seem as important. During autumn and winter, more time is spent indoors and anything that brings the outdoor in, is vitally important for our well-being.

Our eldest girl, E, did the seasonal table all on her own this year, isn’t it lovely.


Produce no waste. My Kitchen

I recently took part in a Zero Waste Week challenge

The theme was reducing food waste. It made me think again about how I buy food, how I plan our meals and the things that we waste. I try my hardest to be an ethical shopper, but my good intentions do sometimes go to pot.

The village centre closest to where we live is great. It has a number of greengrocers, bakeries, a Waitrose and an Aldi. Also lots of charity shops and a library. So we are pretty well catered for across the board. We also have a health food shop and farm shop within a short drive and a farmers market once a month. However, when it is rainy, cold, the kids are moaning or I am in a hurry, it is all too easy to pop in the car to the huge supermarket and spend all our money there.

We grow a lot of fruit and veg in our garden and on the community allotment too. This is fab in the summer and autumn, but I have never really got the hang of growing throughout the whole year, so the garden tends to grind to a halt in late autumn leaving us without homegrown food for a good 4 or 5 months of the year. So, my challenges are……

1. Try to extend what I grow to eat throughout the late autumn-spring season.

2. Keep shopping locally and try to avoid the lure of the cosy supermarkets this winter

3. Keep an eye on what is in my fridge and try to minimise food waste.

I intend to do a Permaculture design for this area of my life.


I can’t really imagine anyone else would be the slightest bit interested in the contents of my fridge, so this is rather self-indulgent. However, It is a useful exercise for me, to remind me to be aware of what is lurking in my fridge before I plan meals and go out to buy yet more food. That fridge looks pretty good I recon, fresh eggs from our hens, green beans from the garden, homemade lasagna, humous, sprouted seeds and fresh tomatoes. How very middle-class of me. (I won’t mention the fruit-shoots and jammy-dodgers left over from my daughter’s party or the almost whole melon neglected at the back of the fridge that I need to throw away.)

One great tip that I got from the zero-waste challenge was to turn your fridge upside-down. Move the fruit and veg out of the boxes at the bottom of the fridge and put these into your eye-line. Jars, packets and bottles can go into the boxes where you can ignore them and they will be perfectly fine for ages. Since I have done this, we do waste a lot less fruit and veg – try it, it really does work.

I will finish with 3 lovely things I will be eating over the next few days; a Romanesco Cauliflower, Date and Walnut bread, fresh eggs from our hens. Yum

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