No incontinent handbags and stay chilled in the heat… One Green Summer series

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Baking hot 29 degree sunshine, parched ground, no shade. My son was taking part in an Under 9s cricket tournament and he was putting masses of pressure on himself. My daughter was generously giving out rocks she had smashed open to reveal crystals within…. then regretting it and trying to reclaim them. In short, the temperature was rising!

There was no better day to test out the children’s double insulated water bottles from Klean Kanteen, promising to keep their water iced for 40 hours or (not terribly weather appropriate right now) their hot chocolate warm for 12 hours.

Made from stainless steel, I was reassured that the materials are non-toxic and BPA free and very critically for poor me who has been known to drip water from my handbag like an incontinent guinea pig… THEY DON’T LEAK.

The lid is plastic, but compared to the usual twist cap bottles we use that seem to need replacing every month (because they get yucky in the cap, split when dropped or get chewed lids) this is a massive reduction in plastic.

The kids like them, find them easy to open and close and are pleased with the fact that no one else at school has them.

Meanwhile, I have been testing the entirely plastic-free Reflect bottle. It’s made from sustainably harvested bamboo, stainless steel and food-grade silicone. Nothing else. It is a good-looking bottle, equally at home by the yoga mat as it is going to the beach.

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The plastic-free Reflect bottle

They are very effective. All three bottles can be hot to the touch on the exterior when left in the sun, in the OVEN TEMPERATURE car for example, but within the water remains icy loveliness.

And as for the cricket tournament, it all ended well. My son’s team came second, and my daughter gave the crystal rock back to the (wailing) child who she had ‘reclaimed’ it from. And the water remained as chilled at the G&T I came home to.

For more info, and to check out the plastic-free bottles and other products, visit: http://www.kleankanteen.co.uk

I was sent this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

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One green summer: clingy gets good

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It is time to ditch the cling film. It is yet more disposable plastic sneaking its way into your life. But finding an adequate alternative is not easy. Tin foil just ends up in landfill, a plastic bag can only be reused a couple of times, Tupperware requires decanting hassle – sometimes you just want something to quick and easy to seal a bowl so your ratatouille leftovers are ok for lunch the next day.

Enter Beeswax Wraps…

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There is something fabulously vintage about these wraps, with their pretty prints and beeswax smell (mind you, less pretty ones are available, for teenager’s lunchboxes and so on).

These ones remind me of my grandmother, who died when I was 12. She was a proper farmer’s wife, constantly baking, making jams and generally feeding anyone willing to be fed. She had one of those net domes for keeping flies off food and loved a lace doily. She would have loved these.

They are utterly retro and charming, but also very effective. Made from locally sourced beeswax, organic jojoba oil, pine resin and cotton, each wrap is just sticky enough to adhere to the sides of bowls and containers to seal food in tight. The warmth from your hands helps it stick firmly and, once stuck, it stays firmly in place. As creators, Fran and Carly say, “Clingy, but in a good way.”

You can use them to wrap bread, sandwiches, cheese… anything really. If you want to get whizzy, you can even make cute little boxes as in this tutorial.

However, I had a small problem using mine. I realised I was avoiding them for ‘messy’ items, like the beautiful cheesecake that I made then dropped and had to scoop up and pile in a bowl. I didn’t want to ruin my pretty wraps. Then it came to me – that we have chosen not to engage with many items we use. We’d rather not feel anything for them – use, and dispose.

It’s a funny feeling to suddenly care for an everyday items, but I do, they make me smile when I use them. So I told myself to stop being a fuckwit, and to get them mucky, because after all, they clean easily and well.

After use, you simply rinse the wraps in cold water and a little gentle soap, then hang them out to dry. Every few months, you can ‘pasteurise’ them, by popping in a low oven for a few minutes. They will be as good as new.

The wraps are delivered entirely in paper and card packaging, and would make lovely gifts for eco-conscious people in your life. You certainly can’t say that about cling film!

In summary, I like my food wrap how I like my men: Ethical, long-lasting, attractive, smell great and clingy… but only in a good way.

For more info, check out: www.beeswaxwraps.co.uk or ask the lovely Fran and Carly any questions on Twitter @beeswaxwraps_uk

I was sent this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

One green summer series COMING SOON!

This summer I am trying and testing the most exciting green products on the market. For me to share them with you, they have got to be good, VERY GOOD – I have to love them.

I’m researching small companies seeking to do things differently, challenging the old, eco-unfriendly ways. Maybe they are helping to reduce our use of plastic or finding new uses for unwanted materials. I’m looking for bold, innovative and, importantly, lovely things.

WATCH THIS SPACE!

Pond action

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My 93 year old grandad had a bit of a predicament. A badger fell into his fish pond and drowned. It wasn’t something he could get out on his own. Just a few days after the unfortunate pond cleaners came in to sort it out, a fox came to drink, and not caring that it was seen, it lapped ferociously.

In this heat and drought, wildlife needs water desperately, taking risks to get it. I’m glad our tiny pond in our garden is doing its bit, and have topped it up a little in recent days.

With young children, I’ve shied away from a bigger pond in my garden because of safety concerns, but just a tiny, shallow pond can still bring massive benefits for nature. Not only that, but creating a mini pond is a quick, garden project that will bring a whole new dimension to even the smallest outdoor space. It’s one that children can help with, and will get endless pleasure from after just a week or so.

Firstly, you need a water tight container. Something that is about 40cm deep at least, and roughly half a metre squared is enough to be worthwhile. I used a cut off plastic barrel, buried below the soil level (but would work equally well above it). An old sink or tin bath would work just as well. You could also try a wooden half-barrel, lined with pond liner which will be at an ideal height for young children to look in.

Fill it with rainwater from a butt, ideally, but if that’s not possible you can use tap water. Just make sure you then leave it a week before adding in your water plants. You’ll need a few small, oxygenating plants such as the dwarf water lily or water soldiers. Many species don’t need planting – they just float on the water surface.

Finally, you can add in a wooden ramp or pile of stones to help wildlife such as frogs to access the water (and get out again) and a few rocks nearby to offer a hiding place. As that badger found out, it is important for wildlife of any size to have a way to escape.

After that, it’s pretty self-maintaining. You may need to top up the levels with a little collected rainwater when it is very hot and dry, and any out of control plants can be trimmed back, but other than that, you can sit back and enjoy. However, do remember that young children will still need supervising even if it is shallow.

If you build it, they will come. Soon, you’ll be welcoming creatures such as toads, frogs, newts, dragon flies, pond skaters, water snails as well as providing a drink for birds and hedgehogs. Just a little bit of water really is the source of life.

What’s brown and magic?

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It is beneath your feet and grows the food you eat, but as a society we take it for granted. The good old brown stuff, soil, is one of our unsung heroes. Trees and bees get all the attention – they are, let’s face it, rather more active and endearing than soil. However, it is time for soil to take its turn in the spotlight… Ladies and Gentlemen, today is #WorldSoilDay.

So we all know that soil is essential for food production, obvs, but don’t forget that plants are also grown to provide fibre for energy, clothing, medicines and animal feed. Not only that, but according to the Soil Association, soil also stores most of the world’s carbon (beat that, trees) and is home to an incredible amount of living organisms, such as invertebrates, bacteria and fungi. In fact, just one teaspoon of soil can contain as many micro-organisms as there are people on the planet.

Soil is also vital in its role as storing and filtering water. This means that it increases our resilience against floods as well as droughts.

As if that wasn’t enough, the good bacteria in soil are also beneficial for our health. Contact with soil makes us happier and smarter and explains why activities such as gardening can help with mental health.

That’s nice then. Thanks soil for being there. I’m off now to find some buzzy little bees to save… Bye…

Except, stop. Soil isn’t ‘just there’ a static, immovable constant in our lives. In fact, our soils are in danger. They are disappearing at a rate that is alarming for future generations, with 2.2 million tonnes being lost and degraded in the UK each year. This is caused by factors such as expanding cities, transport infrastructure and pollution – either industrial or through the inefficient use of fertilisers.

Not only that, but climate change may increase rates of loss if drier conditions make soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, or if intense rainfall washes soil away. It’s much harder to put it back than it is to look after it.

The Soil Association campaigns for better protection for soil, including supporting organic farming practices and promoting best practice. We can all do our bit for soil too.

Organic may be part of the solution, but it can be more costly. As an alternative, seek out the LEAF marque (a symbol of a leaf) which indicates that products have been grown sustainably.

Next, think about your own patch of soil and how you can look after it. If you have a garden, however tiny, then get composting. Leaves, cut grass, fruit and veg peelings and tea bags will all mulch together in perfect harmony in a compost heap or bin. You’ll end up with lovely rich organic matter to spread onto your flower beds and help make healthy soil.

Don’t buy peat-based compost either. This is a direct way of digging up special habitats and valuable carbon stores. The peat-free alternatives these days perform just as well.

It is most definitely brown and at first glance rather boring, but soil is the very stuff of life and it needs our love.

Foxes on tour – Lucy Jones’ Foxes Unearthed

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Foxes are personal for me. We go way back.  Foxes, real and imagined, are woven through the fabric of my childhood. The fictional foxes take the form of Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the adorable cub jigsaw puzzle I completed over a hundred times, and tales of ‘blooding’ during hunt scenes in the old-fashioned pony books I read.

This was the backdrop against which I encountered real foxes. At night, we would go foxing.

To an onlooker, it would have appeared as if we were lamping – seeking to dazzle foxes with a bright light so as to shoot them. Not so. My Dad used to take us out in the Landrover and we would use the headlights to find foxes in the dark, which would freeze for a moment staring at us. We would enjoy watching them, becoming experts at spotting their reflective eyes.

You see, unlike many farmers, my father never shoots foxes and actively welcomes them on to the farm. Nevertheless, we’ve had many incidents of other people trespassing to kill them. My Dad with a dead fox in the back of his truck and tears in his eyes is not an uncommon scene. Someone detests foxes so much they aren’t even able to tolerate them on someone else’s land.

It is this love and hate juxtaposition that Lucy Jones explores in Foxes Unearthed, A Story of Love and Loathing in Modern Britain.

Despite being a naturalist, and trying to read natural history books, I confess to finding them on occasions dry and lacking in ‘hook’. I was relieved to find that was not the case here. In common with my favourite nature writers, Melissa Harrison and Helen MacDonald, this book offers that personal voice that makes it all mean something to the reader, and roots it in a modern, human reality.

Well-presented facts and information are all very well, but it was the glimpses of Lucy, as if seen through trees, that really made this book work for me. Skilfully interweaved amongst fiction, fact and folklore, we learn about her relationship with foxes. She visits people who keep them as pets and, in a heart-stopping section, she joins hunt-saboteurs in the field.

This book conveys a deep love and respect for our natural world, whilst somehow managing to do justice to both the love and the loathing of foxes. Lucy is not pollyannaish about foxes – she recognises their wildness and their negatives, but she explains that most problems people encounter with them are due to human actions (eg hand feeding or poor poultry management), combined with the media’s desire to sensationalise and scandalise. Thus it is easy to believe we have ‘menaces’ and ‘dangerous predators’ growing in numbers and becoming more of a threat – when really there is no evidence for this. It simply makes a better headline.

I learnt a lot from this book. Highlights for me include discovering that a fox lived on the top level of the Shard and also that the average weight of a fox is approximately 6 kg. That’s the same as my (yes, ok, she is a bit tubby) pet cat. My local paper has yet to report on the ‘massive tabby terrorising the area.’

The language throughout is evocative and descriptive without sacrificing precision, concision or humour.

This is a subtle, richly-layered and deeply satisfying read, full of energy and enthusiasm. Those who enjoy fact and research will not find it lacking, whilst those, like me, who want a personal voice and thought-provoking incision with entertainment will storm through the pages… like a hunt through the countryside.

 

Thanks to Elliot & Thompson for supplying me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Foxes Unearthed was published on 16th March 2017 in paperback and is also available in hardback. Lucy’s blog tour continues over with BookishBeck.wordpress.com tomorrow.

No dirty secrets this Valentines

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Take your average supermarket rose. That bloom was probably grown thousands of miles away – Columbia and Ecuador are major exporters of cut flowers. The result is that your well-meaning bunch of flowers this Valentines comes with a significant carbon footprint.

Those pretty flowers have other dark secrets too. Many are not grown under Fairtrade agreements, meaning that workers may be exploited. The International Labor Rights Fund found that more than half of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers suffered work-related health problems such as eye and respiratory problems due to high uses of pesticides and fungicides. In high season, working weeks of over 70 hours were not unusual.

Your rose, when cut, is then doused in chemicals to keep it ‘fresh’ for the flight and wrapped in masses of plastic. It will arrive with you already a week old, with quite a past. All for something that’s sole purpose is to look pretty for a short while, to then end up in the compost.

Oddly, for a nation of gardeners, only 10% of the cut flowers sold here are actually grown in the UK. This is gradually changing, with more and more small scale producers entering the market. Cornwall is increasingly developing a flower production industry, but the East of England is blooming too, with Suffolk well known for roses and Colchester for its peonies.

The appeal of the vintage look has also led to natural flower arrangements growing in popularity for weddings, including wild flowers such as cow parsley, cornflowers, sunflowers, or apple blossom for a fresh, original ‘just picked from the hedgerow’ feel.

The success of Georgie Newbery’s book, ‘The Flower Farmer’s Year: How to grow cut flowers for pleasure and profit’ shows that there is an increasing interest in avoiding the shops by growing lots of beautiful flowers at home, or indeed setting up a small scale business. Many people who want to grow flowers have a target in mind, such as providing all the flowers needed for a family wedding or party.

With that traditional day of flower giving, Valentine’s Day, fast approaching, don’t give a bunch of roses with a dirty secret. Instead, choose British blooms from a local florist, or at the very least, seek Fairtrade roses. I’d far rather a bunch of cheery daffodils than imported roses (husband take note). And remember, British flowers last longer than imported ones, so whoever you are buying for, you’ll stay in their good books for longer.

KB, first published in the EDP and EADT