Three simple things

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I find it very easy to slip into focussing on the big (exciting) things we could do to reduce the amount of carbon it takes to heat and light our house, and to forget about the small things. They may be less dramatic, but they can still have a positive impact – and be quick and easy to achieve.

So, here’s three simple things…..

DSCF5621A new letter flap, covering the gaping hole behind our letter box with thick bristles and a well sprung flap. The postie says it’s a bit harder to get our letters through, but it does cut out a draft. Sorry postie! Cost: £12.99 from our local hardware shop. Hassle: Minimum – two screws.

DSCF5620This is harder to see, but before a P-profiled strip of rubber was stuck round our door frame, you could see daylight between the door and the frame, especially by the latch. The strip had an adhesive back, so it was good to have a friend to help make sure it stuck where it was needed. Cost: about a fiver for 6 metres, so we had some spare. Hassle: minimum

And lastly…

DSCF5639[1]…reflective foil for behind the radiator, held in place by double-sided sticky pads. We only have three radiators on outside walls so this wasn’t a big job, but it will hopefully keep in some of the heat that might be lost through the walls. The manufacturers claim upto 35%, but since we’ve no reliable way of us measuring it we’ll have to take their word for it. Cost: £8.99 for a 5m roll. Hassle: very little, just needed a pair of scissors and a tape measure and to have a cold radiator so that the adhesive would set.

The only question is why I didn’t get this done last winter. Dunno really. The building work was only just finished, so I guess we were busy decorating and weighing up the the various environmental merits of sofas and cookers. There was a flap of sorts on the letterbox, but we were shoving newspaper round the door frame on the windier days. Given that each of these jobs took less than 15 minutes, there’s no excuse really.

Floral finale

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The last of the cut flowers for the season are now quietly composting down and the vases are all back in their cupboard, so now seems like a good time to review the year’s flower crop.

The sweet peas made an early start, and were one of the last flowers to give up the ghost. Not bad given I managed to plant them out the day before the last frost. It singed them, but they came back stronger. We had sweet peas somewhere in the house, usually in a vase by themselves, for months. Here’s some of the ones I remembered to photograph.

DSCF5458 DSCF5464 DSCF5630Other long-flowering triumphs included the dahlias – Cambridge and Bishop of Auckland. Cambridge was big and blowsy, sometimes pure yellow and sometimes with orangey-red stripes. It worked well by itself or with other things…..DSCF5631 DSCF5559 DSCF5563 DSCF5531 DSCF5529 DSCF5484I particular like it with the orange of the calendula, which is a much simpler flower, but its long season meant there was plenty of time to experiment. This was the first time I’ve grown dahlias, but they were a doddle. I took cuttings off the Bishop of Auckland, which if they survive the winter in the summerhouse, will mean I have even more flowers to enjoy next year. Here it is with various other flowers, including the very satisfying white snapdragon flowers, and with pink cosmos. The cosmos was intended to be a red one, and made quite a splash in the front garden with the two dahlias, the orange of the calendula, yellow and orange marigolds and some purple verbena bonarensis. There was nothing subtle about our front garden this year, and occasionally the ‘exuberance’ spilled over into the flower arranging.

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Here’s the cosmos again with an aster…

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A lovely rose, Lady Salisbury, planted in the spring, provided much cooler displays. It worked well with cinerara and later in the year with an unknown sedum, one of the few flowering plants we inherited when we moved here a little over a year ago. There’s some bupleurum and scabious in the second of these bunches two. The third one was my all-round favourite this year, a gift for my grandmother. It includes a white dianthus, one of the flowers she carried in her wedding bouquet.

DSCF5565, DSCF5618 DSCF5406 I fell in love with dark flowers this year, including a cornflower, Black Ball, which looked stunning with the snapdragons – another new passion. I also discovered cerinthe, totally unknown to me, but a winner in terms of interesting foliage.

DSCF5476 DSCF5469 Lastly, the Black Peony poppies, short-lived both outside and in, but stunning, especially with fennel heads.

DSCF5466So, various lessons learned for next year, much seed saved, and plans already taking shape….

Yearly Meeting Gathering – Part 2

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Last week was the annual get-together of Quakers in Britain. For two out of three years, our Yearly Meeting is held over a Bank Holiday Weekend at Friends House in London. The third year, we combine our business meeting with the more relaxed and informal atmosphere of the old Summer Gatherings. Hence – Yearly Meeting Gathering – a mix of business sessions, lectures, arts and crafts, walks, excursions, late nights, early mornings, worship, all-age activities, community and fun.

So, I’m still recovering. I had a great week, and have bought back various things to think about:

  • Ben Pink Dandelion’s Swarthmore Lecture was hugely enjoyable, and very informative. As well as reading the book, I’m planning on sitting down with my knitting and listening again.
  • How we help Area Meetings to be Quaker Communities. There were various good ideas during the week for revitalising not just AM business meetings, but our sense of Area Meeting as our community. I’ve come away thinking more about the ‘community’ part of Minute 36.
  • Further ways to improve the insulation of our house, following a presentation one evening from a couple who’d undertaken a huge project to reduce the carbon-footprint of their house.
  • Gaza. The statement issued by Quakers is here.
  • The recommendations for action from the Minute 36 (Canterbury) Commitment Group. It’s three years since the Canterbury Commitment, and the group has come up with four key areas: Strengthening our community, Changing our lifestyles, Making our Quaker core activities and property low-carbon and sustainable; and Working for systemic and policy change.
  • The Quaker business method, and how we learn and use it to be effect.

The epistle of the Gathering is here.

Bloomin’ lovely!

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I LOVE having fresh flowers in the house, but have serious reservations when it comes to buying them.  After all, they are essentially another crop, like beans or tomatoes or spuds, which requires energy and water to grow and whose transport from farm to market requires fossil fuels. Worse still, they are often grown in circumstances that exploit the local labour force and with the use of damaging chemicals to make sure they look picture perfect. I’m not sure I can justify any of that for a few days prettiness.

I go to extra effort to buy local, organic vegetables, so why should I then buy imported flowers with a massive carbon footprint? In fact, I go to quite a lot of effort to grow organic vegetables, whose journey from soil to plate can be measured in metres rather than miles, and whose production does nothing to damage the ecosystem.

So, Sarah Raven’s “Grow your own cut flowers” was the perfect birthday gift. Thank you Mum! I’ve often enjoyed picking flowers from the garden to have in the house, but this book has really changed how I think about doing this, and helped me to apply the things I’ve learnt from growing our own veg. So, one of our three raised beds is now dedicated to growing flowers for cutting, with the emphasis being on those that ‘cut and come again’.

DSCF5453I’ve got Honesty, Sweet Peas, two sorts of Poppies, Euphorbia Oblongata, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, and Bupleurum rotundifolium in this bed. This gets away from that lurking feeling that by picking flowers for the house, I’ll be ruining the display in the garden.  It was a new idea to me to grow some annuals for their foliage. And I’ve fallen in love with Dahlias – to the extent that I’ve even been taking cuttings so I’ve got more of them next year! My aim is to produce ‘proper’ bouquets – as well as to enjoy simple classics like Sweet Peas.

Sweet Peas

Flowers from the garden

Flowers from the garden

And some plants are just so rewarding. I’ve put Pinks in one border and they’ve been flowering for weeks. Snapdragons are look like being particularly good performers and I have two sorts of Nigella just about to burst into flower. I’ve also planted a lovely pale pink Rose, a house warming gift from some friends, and I’ve been making the most of the Spireas that were here, and turn out to make quite good cut flowers. The only failure has been Astrantia – beautiful flowerheads, but an unpleasantly weird scent!

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More info at:

http://www.sarahraven.com/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2008/apr/25/treadlightlystopbuyingfarm

 

Keeping warm

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It is definitely unseasonal to be thinking about loft insulation, but it is one of the most significant things you can do to improve the energy efficiency of a building. The Energy Savings Trust reckons “If everyone in the UK installed 270mm loft insulation, we could save nearly £210 million – and almost 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, the equivalent of taking nearly 364,000 cars off the road.” Impressive, heh?

In our case, we didn’t get round to sorting out our loft insulation until April. Thankfully it was a mild winter.DSCF5414This is our loft now. The insulation is about 600mm deep and a mix of synthetic insultation and sheeps’ wool. The synthetic insulation is cheaper, but the wool is, according to N, nicer to work with, and a more natural product. Both come in rolls, and are easy to install (again, according to N, who, if I’m honest, did all the work). We (he) would have used more wool, but too many of the rolls at the DIY centre were waterlogged! There’s still a return on investment for anything up to 1000mm of insulation (that’s a metre thick!) but the returns for extra depth do reduce after 270mm, which is the recommended minimum.

I reckon this section looks good enought to sleep on!

DSCF5412And don’t forget to insulate the loft hatch…

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We’ve still got a small section of the loft boarded out, on top of some insulation, for storing files we don’t need very often.

My next task is to find someone to assess the quality of the cavity wall insulation, and get it topped up if needed…

Hello sunshine!

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Today is the first anniversary of these…

 

Solar Panels on our roof

Solar Panels on our roof.

We have five 250w solar photovoltaic panels – a total generating capacity of 1.25 kW – which as of today have generated a very pleasing 1010.0kWh. This is very slightly below the estimated annual generation when they were installed of 1102.0kWh, but not bad considering they were turned off for a few weeks whilst we had the house rewired and building work done. As you’d expect, there is quite a bit of seasonal variation.  In the middle of winter, daily generation dropped below 1kWh. Last summer, it was over 5.4kwH per day.

They were fitted by Solarfit PV Ltd, and apart from a loose connection at the beginning, which was sorted very quickly, have required no maintenance or attention at all. There’s an isolator switch on an inverter in our attic, and another under the stairs, next to a new meter which records how much electricity we’ve generated. A discrete wire runs down the outside of the house between the two. And that’s it!

Applying for the Feed in Tarrif was very straightforward, and all we have to do is send a quarterly reading. There are three sorts of financial benefits:

  • A fixed price for every kilowatt hour of electricity generated, which is index linked.
  • An export tariff for 50% of what we generate – which assumes we have used 50%.
  • The savings achieved by using electricity we’ve generated and used ourselves. This makes it well worthwhile planning our peak electricty consumption for sunny days!

The panels should pay for themselves in about 10 years and last about 20 years. However, the main reason for having them installed was because it felt like the responsible thing to do. Energy from the sun is free. Energy from fossil fuels comes at a huge price to us all, and to future generations. Not every house, or every budget, is suitable for solar panels, but I’m really glad we have some.

And it makes me even happier when the sun shines!

Step by step

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The house we’re living in at the moment is very different from our previous one in three key ways. Firstly, it’s a Victorian terrace with a backyard rather than a 1930s semi with a garden. Secondly it’s rented so we can’t make any changes without our landlord’s permission. Thirdly, it’s not got much by way of green improvements.

No garden so no compost bins or chickens, no double glazing, no cavity wall insulation, little roof insulation, no water meter and one large fridge freezer. And although it’s lovely being back, there’s no organic butcher’s shop here.

What to do? Here’s our list:

  • Find an organic veggie box delivery. We’ve gone for these guys.
  • Buy meat carefully. The lovely people who supply us with local organic veggies also do organic pork. And on a recent stay to the fantastic Beechenhill Farm, in the Peak District, we bought some of their organic lamb. We’re putting the carbon-guzzling freezer to work…. Beef is coming from a farm about 9 miles away, although that might be limited to summer when we fancy the bike ride! Offal and game will also feature; offal because it would otherwise be wasted and game because there’s a surplus of things like wild venison.
  • Put a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on the door, hoping someone will pay attention to it!
  • Find a paper recycling box to put near the computer.
  • Record meter readings. We’ve done this for years, and it works! N has a clever spreadsheet which produces graphs showing average usage and inspires us on to greater savings.
  • Turn the CD player off at the wall. The socket isn’t so handy, and sometimes it gets left on standby….
  • Insulate the roof above the bathroom. There’s some insulation there, but it won’t be any trouble to add a bit more. This is the only roof space we can access, but better than nothing. Off-shot bathrooms on Victorian houses are often cold, so this should make a welcome difference.
  • Fix cold tap in bathroom, which has an occassional drip. Not worth calling the Letting Agency about, but will save water in the long term.
  • Talk to the Letting Agency about the possibility of having a water meter fitted.
  • Think about how to fit a curtain to the back door.
  • Adjust the timer on the boiler to go off earlier in the morning.
  • Make sure to only buy organic eggs.
  • Ask about lift sharing at work.
  • Ask about turning off some of the lights at work.
  • Buy recycled envelopes only.
  • Change the last of the non-eco light bulbs.
  • Get a wormery to process kitchen waste.

More on progress, and wriggly worms, next time!

A timely reminder

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Did you see the article in the Guardian at the weekend about the dramatic loss of sea ice at the Arctic? If not, it’s on their website here.

It was a good reminder to me to redouble my efforts to reduce my contribution to climate change. I don’t do too badly in reducing my carbon footprint, but small things such as turning equipment off at the wall or checking lights are off have slipped since we moved house. And it’s worrying how quickly N and I have got used to having no kitchen compost bin. What the article did was bring me up short.  And it reminded me how little environmental coverage there has been in the press in recent months. The problem hasn’t gone away, but the news cycle sometimes forgets about it.

There’s always the difficulty of whether articles like this, or indeed the first part of Alastair McIntosh’s Hell and High Water which I blogged about earlier, really have the desired effect. They can easily scare people into the very understandable response of putting your hands over your ears and trying to think nice thoughts. A world which could be on average 6C warmer when I’m an old person, where unpredictable weather patterns destroy crops, flood homes and lead to the vulnerable dying of extreme temperatures and where key species have died out, is not a nice thing to dwell on. However, sometimes we have to face that possibility if we’re to have the resolve to do something to avoid it. The things we need to do can themselves be fun, but the scale of the problem means that we need to take it seriously.

Here’s the key bit from the Guardian article…

Sea ice in the Arctic shrank a dramatic 18% this year on the previous record set in 2007 to a record low of 3.41m sq km, according to the official US monitoring organisation the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

Sea ice in the Arctic is seen as a key indicator of global climate change because of its sensitivity to warming and its role in amplifying climate change. According to Nsidc, the warming of Arctic areas is now increasing at around 10% a decade.

Along with the extent of the sea ice, its thickness, or volume, has also significantly decreased in the last two decades. While this is harder to measure accurately, it is believed to have decreased around 40% since 1979.

The collapse of the ice cap was last night interpreted by environment groups as a signal of long-term climate warming caused by man.

“I hope that future generations will mark this day as a turning point, when a new spirit of global cooperation emerged to tackle the huge challenges we face. We must work together to protect the Arctic from the effects of climate change and unchecked corporate greed. This is now the defining environmental battle of our era,” said Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace International.

To fly or not to fly?

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Actually, this isn’t a question I struggle with. I know my answer. Since 2006 it’s been a firm ‘no’. I accept that this might change in the future, but the huge emissions from flying, generated at an altitude such that they are even more damaging, means that to my mind flying somewhere should be the last resort. Even more of a last resort than not going.

So Oliver Roberston’s article in the Friend on 5 July, entitled ‘Getting to No’ seemed pretty straightforward to me. In it, he discusses making the decision not to fly to a friend’s wedding in Israel, in light of the commitments Britain Yearly Meeting made in 2011.

But the letters page was soon buzzing with Friends defending the need to fly to see loved ones – under the heading ‘to fly or not to fly?’  Two examples: “I would like to respond…and say ‘what does love require of you?’ I say it jolly well requires visits to our families, wherever they are and however we go.” and then “those are “Love Miles” which are surely allowed”.

I started composing letters to the Friend in my head, all of which were too stern. But this, from Harriet Martin of Cotteridge Meeting, in the 24 August issue, said it all.

When good friends offer me cake I rather think ‘This cake was baked and offered in love. It cannot have any calories…’ My scales seem to disagree. Body chemistry seems to overrule love.

One difference between ‘love calories’ and ‘love miles’ is that a few days dieting may take my weight back down, but the atmospheric pollution from the 6,000 ‘love miles’ that I flew going on a round-trip to New York to see family five years ago is still hanging around, warming the atmosphere year on year (CO2 takes centuries to break down.) In that year my flight did more damage than my, rather average, car mileage and home heating combined.

I am immensely gtrateful that my seventeenth century ancestors, who emigrated to New England, had no love miles for visiting home. Our beloved, fruitful, earth teems with abundant and beautiful life. It would now be a very different place had planes been spewing six to seven billion tonnes CO2 (CO2 emissions from flights in 2006) annually for the last 400 years.

For the love of my sister, my nieces, my nephew, my cousins in the US, but even more for the love of my grandchildren and theirs to come, I’m Skyping, not flying, this year and as many as possible into the future.

That’s what I think about flying to visit family. Please don’t even ask what I think about flying for more frivolous reasons.

Thank you Harriet. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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