Category Archives: self sufficiency

Getting to work by cycling

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I have now been cycling for 3 months, I bought a bike to improve my fitness and to stay away from public transport as much as possible. Although the train service into Birmingham city centre isn’t that bad and it is usually on time I do sometimes get tired of the same journey and monotony, the same faces, the same coughs and splutters in the Winter, the sweatiness in the Summer and also the struggle to get into a train carriage in rush hour. I haven’t entirely given up on train journeys into work but by cycling to work it has improved my green credentials and lowered my carbon usage in general.

My usual routes takes me either up the canal side which has recently improved due to the Birmingham Cycle Revolution  or through Cycle Route 5 which take me into parkland, through back roads, suburban areas and the city centre. I usually cycle in to work via Cycle Route 5 and then take the canal home as it is quieter and flatter, as the canal is flat it does mean I have to cycle more, therefore I can really go for it and work up a healthy sweat before I get home.

Apart from the greener aspect what I really love is the fact I can feel my wellbeing improve when I get on the saddle, soaking up some daylight whilst building energy up and serotonin makes me feel more prepared for work, if I have had a stressful day and then cycle I am usually OK when I get home. The 30 minute cycle ride clears my head, the need to focus on the road and my positioning doesn’t allow me to think about work like I would on the train, this ritual is a solid preparation and conclusion to what is usually a deeply busy day. I have found work based solutions on my bike for issues at work, it’s a nice way to subconsciously think.

I can now feel my journey times going shorter, I stay in higher gears for longer and enjoy the fact I am cycling harder and at more pace, the 30 minute journey can sometimes go down to 20 minutes if the lights are all on green – I feel fitter and more productive.

Another positive is the freedom, the freedom to zip through a park into a canal side, through a piece of waste land and then back onto a main road without having to wait in traffic. Familiar roads that I have journeyed in my car have a new feel when I am on my bike – these roads look different and going from one side of the city to the other is expressive as I can choose a different route quickly and with little planning.

Although I understand why people wear comfy cycling clothing, I am not one of these people who do the lycra thing. I wear a UV bib and a helmet, in the Winter I will pick up some lights for the darker mornings and evenings. At the moment I go to work and freshen up with wet wipes when I get to the office. I am not breaking huge sweats and I can usually stay fresh with a quick clean up in the bathroom at work, I have a basket which stores my rucksack on so my back doesn’t get sweaty. I also have a little pouch under the saddle with a small tool set and a puncture repair kit if needed. The basket has had my weekly shopping in, plants, parcels, documents and even a crate of beer.

The array of bikes in Birmingham that are being used currently by cyclists are fascinating, the traditional old-fashioned bikes right through to the thin and light racers are so interesting to look at. My bike is a Giant Hybrid, it has 21 gears and if I was going to improve it after 3 months of cycling I would make it a little lighter and also I would have bought suspension as an add on, going over the cobbled part of the Birmingham canal system can sometimes be a bit rough but it’s not so bad and is only a slight inconvenience. The bike is a comfortable ride in general, I can go long distance and I am pleased it is going through its paces with no difficulties.

For any readers on Self and Roots who have watched the scary YouTube videos of cyclists getting threatened and cut up or read the media scares and can’t face getting on a bike out of fear, I would recommend that the National Cycle Network can potentially come to the rescue and alleviate these worries, the route are usually quiet and used by walkers and cyclists only – if the route does go on to a road it is usually on quieter strip of the city centre allowing slow approaches to junctions and no worries of big lorries coming past and cutting you up. According to Sustrans 75% of us are within 3 kilometres of the National cycle Network and these routes cover 16,200 kilometres.

Cycling has saved me money, the train fares are not spent as much which has lowered my expenses and as a result I am healthier, happier and feeling more in touch with a greener commute, I am following closely the spirit and mission of Self and Roots when I get on my bike. I am pleased to be cycling and look forward to many more journeys across Birmingham in the future.

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Washing Up

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We are blessed with a deli near to our home which sells organic fruit, vegetables and store cupboard items. It is not that pricey in comparison to a lot of organic delis and most of the food is seasonal, we can stock up on produce as well as tins of food and plus the the odd samosa without having to go into the supermarket. The owners also sell ethical cleaning products, some of which we are now using.

We wash up on a daily basis, weekdays we leave our breakfast items for the evening clean as it is usually only toast crumbs, then at the weekend as we are in the house a lot more it could be up to three times a day that the sink is used to wash our plates, cutlery, cups, teapot and anything else that needs to be cleaned, the items are then air-dried. A contemplation we made when going on our self-sufficient journey was to eradicate cleaning items in the kitchen by also making our own cleaning products and also trying to cut down on waste.

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Using Ecover Eco Washing Up Liquid has helped us stop having to recycle empty bottles which is  a real positive, the actual washing liquid to clean has environmental advantages as it is completely biodegradable when going down the drain, it in addition doesn’t have the bad synthetic fragrances and chemicals that are attributed to cleaning items also.

Without sounding like an advertisement the best thing for me is that I can replenish the bottles of washing up liquid at my local deli, I can go to the deli and use the large 15 litre bottle to fill my own bottle –  in return I become more environmentally sure with ethical consuming. I filled up yesterday and the owner of the deli said that he was pleased to see the service in use; we got into the conversation of how the idea makes sense and is a good answer to recycling and improving greener home cleaning.

The owner also said that when he was a youngster he would go into his local shop to pick up a measure of items such as washing up liquid, soap or shampoo as standard practice – his mother used the same bottles for years on end. I like that idea a lot and although in reality it is small fry with being more ethical, greener and self-sufficient in a world where there is all manner of cleaning items to buy in my local neighbourhood,  but by making small ethical movements this will at least influence how we buy and what we buy for our ongoing project.

Kitchen towels. The wretched kitchen towels. I would love to do away with our use of kitchen towels, has any followers got any other ideas or solutions for an alternative in the kitchen ?

Chooks

We have had our chickens since April 2014 so they have just turned one. I am not sure why I have not put a blog post up yet on the chickens, maybe its due to the chooks just being about all the time and not popping up like plants do in the garden, but I do sense I should be celebrating our two little hens via Self and Roots as they are very special to us. We also have a goldfish in the house who is named J Gilla (a play on names from a personally much-loved hip hop producer J Dilla) so Beck and I have our own little platoon of creatures that live with us, well three animals and us two but it feels that way.

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Our chickens came with trouble when we had them, my dad hatched the hens at his home and we inherited three chicks which lived contentedly until one started to crow, the evening my dad dropped off the chicks he warned us that he thought one might be a cockerel, his animal intuition came true and we faced an issue of having to rehouse a cockerel in a world where cockerels are not needed as much as hens are.

We did find a home through a small holding forum eventually and the cockerel was sent to a large small-holding in the Midlands on a warm Sunday morning, there were tears from Becky and a feeling of responsibility and a little shame with being blinded with cuteness and rearing little chicks as they were so endearing. In reality we should have got point of lay hens, we were delivered with our first lesson in animal care with having to rehouse an animal which wasn’t very cool.

We got home that night, moved on to being more optimistic but only for another twelve hours as the next hen the following morning started crowing. It felt like a bit of a shitty joke nightmare at first, within two weeks we had to re-home two of our hens.

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Then we had to find another hen as hens can’t be left on their own, on the second guilty drive home we went to a hen breeder in South Staffordshire and picked up a Maran hen and settled her into her new pen. The only hen from the three first chickens established a pecking order quickly by starting a tussle with the new hen, the maran won the pecking order and by the first week had established her role as the dominant hen. It was a reasonably taxing couple week but once the blame disappeared and the hens became acquaintances we felt back on track.

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Without over humanising the chickens, they are good friends and spend all day together – we let them out in the morning and in the evening when we get back from work. They are not much hassle, we use an Eglu to keep them housed and they have a run which is extended with additional Eglu fencing.

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The hens eat our greens and kitchen scraps that we give them; they enjoy meal worms and provide us with compost for the garden. They also have sweet personalities and their own social order, the maran is so soft to hold, pleasant to be around and loves being fussed, the white hen who was the runt of the chicks is a little smaller and ballsy, she doesn’t hesitate to peck us now and again to let us know if she is hungry and she is also willing to demonstrate how she wishes to be next in line with the order and dominance in the garden even if it’s against me and Becky.

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Their rent is paid through glorious eggs which are poached for brunch, scrambled for breakfast, frittata’d (is that a word?) for dinner. We flipped a lid when the first eggs came and we are so appreciative to be provided with not only a great learning curve in animal care but also produce which could be used by us in the kitchen. They were in our lives before the eggs came and even then they felt they were more than worth keeping. Keeping hens like all living things thrive when they have food, water and a pen to be safe in – they do need to be cared for, checked on a daily basis and you have to be interested in them. What cost us initially a few hundred pounds to set up has been a worthwhile experience, an experience that we cherish on a daily basis.

White Ladies go in

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For the past two years I’ve planted out runner beans on this bank holiday weekend. This year the White Lady variety have gone into the raised bed which is in a different part of the garden from last year to avoid disease, I’m using the raised bed for fill in crops – things like salads, radishes and now 6 runner beans plants that will climb a garden cane wigwam. I love planting these beans out and hope that the comfrey tea and a dig in of chicken manure into the soil 2 months ago will kick-start a good growth spurt. Summer for me just wouldn’t be Summer without a plate of runners, tomatoes and herbs.

Self and Roots – 1 month in

16/05/2015

It has been a month since I started the Self and Roots blog and I feel like the blog approach to showing the internet what I am doing at home is working, I am pleased that the online community of self-sufficiency and home growing has got in touch and shared their enthusiasm to the little things I have been doing throughout the month. Thank you for the comments and supportive messages, it means a lot. I want to now write about my opinions and findings rather than doing a show and tell style blog, I won’t just be showing off to the world of this so-called ‘good life’ and more so my goals achieved and also my failures following the ethos of Self and Roots by going further down the rabbit hole of self-reliance. wpid-20150516_180352 Today I bought a £1 bag of garden peas from the CO-OP to have with dinner, I picked these up from the freezer cabinet and didn’t feel that I was doing myself a disservice, but whilst bringing the peas to the boil I thought about the packaging, the amount of electric to keep the peas frozen and the manpower and fuel to get them to my supermarket in South Birmingham. With the ease of the service from my local store, I was pleased to have peas but I thought that depending on my supermarket isn’t always going to be the best idea. I need to keep considering these choices I am making and I need to keep finding other alternatives to work out a way of stopping myself going to the supermarket as much as I do at the moment. I mentioned in my homemade all-purpose cleaner post that I want to rid myself of the kitchen roll, but in truth I want to rid myself of this learnt impulsive behaviour of ease and to develop the ideas of nourishment by doing it myself and for the people I love in my life, yes self-sufficiency is an ideology but we have to try and we have to start somewhere. I need to keep considering what I can do to be more efficient at this journey. Kitchen towels or the frozen peas, it is all related and I am treating these decisions and my plans for the future as the same.

The joy of salad

15/05/2015

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As we are coming into salad season I’ve taken advantage of growing space before the additional Summer crops are planted in. Catch crops like salad onions, a second sowing of radish, lettuce and a salad mix of rocket, mustard and mizuna have all featured. I hope these will stay in the garden until September, after that it’ll be Winter Salad leaves, something I’m new to and very excited about.

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But before then, I optimistically look forward to colourful leaves with basil and lemon dressing, fresh eggs to be made into a summer frittata eaten in the back garden after work.

Hardening off Nasturtium seedlings

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12/05/2015

These little seedlings are climbing nasturtiums which when hardened off in root trainers will be grown up a trellis area in the garden. I love the peppery leaves from the plant and the decorative edible flowers that will add colour to what can sometimes be a fairly green garden. Climbing Nasturtium types grow easy from seed and can grow up to 3 metres tall, varieties like full sun and need little attention as plants thrive off poor soil and not being over watered. I am a big fan of the taste of mustard and the deep pungency of anything Dijon, English or Wasabi lends itself to Nasturium flowers, this will be an edible long flowering plant that will increase my gardening and cooking repertoire.