Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A new forest in Essex

This may look like a field to you, but look closer - it's a baby forest.

This is at Elmstead Market (near Colchester) where I joined in a tree planting event on Saturday. It was organised by the Woodland Trust, and was part of a project to create a new forest. I went along with my spade and wellies and we were all shown how to dig a hole, pop in the sapling and firm it in, and put a cane and a plastic tube to protect the young tree. I was given holly, dogwood, hawthorn and dog rose saplings to plant, four at a time. Over a couple of hours I managed to plant 40 little saplings in the hedgerow area, but I think the goal for the day was to plant over 1,700 saplings, both hedgerow and the actual forest, though many hundreds had already been planted. It was a lovely sunny day, and quite a few people turned out to join in, including lots of families. Some even brought along a picnic and made a day out of it. The Woodland Trust people provided hot drinks and had a supply of spare spades of all sizes for people who didn't bring their own.

In a few years this area will be covered in lovely native trees, and the forest will be open to the public.

The Woodland Trust organise quite a few events around the country, so find out if there is one near you.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Rubbish Free Week 9-15 March 2009

Here in Essex the County Council is promoting a Rubbish Free Week. I'm one of the approximately 600 people who signed up and am finding it a real struggle to be completely rubbish free.

Greengrocers in Chelmsford Market

(picture borrowed from Chelmsford Borough Council's website - I hope they don't mind)

However, I am making very conscious choices about how I deal with each item of rubbish and changing the way I shop to have less rubbish that will end up in landfill. For example, I didn't shop for fruit and veg in the supermarket as I didn't want to have bananas, cucumber etc encased in plastic. As I work in Chelmsford and there are two greengrocers in the market, I bought most of my fruit and vegetables "naked". Swede, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, bananas, apples and onions all loose and straight from the scale into my shopping bag (which I brought with me).

Essex County Council have a "Choose2Reuse Tuesday" event at County Hall every month, and this month's coincided with Rubbish Free Week. The idea is to take unwanted items in, take items that you want that other people have brought, and anything left over is donated to local charity shops. I took some paperbacks, a few kitchen items and couple of other odds and ends and came away with a CD, two books, and a cute toy rabbit which is sitting on my office desk. When I've read the books they'll go back again next month. The next event is on Tuesday 7th April.

In Essex we have a recycling rate of 38%, which is slightly better than the national average. We must all do better, but at the same time making better choices about what we buy, so that we have less non-recyclable packaging. If we are more conscious of what happens to all those plastic bags and wrappings when we've finished with them, we might shop differently.

How well am I doing with being Rubbish Free? Well if I'm honest, I do have some rubbish - pretty much all plastic food packaging, but a little less than usual. In a typical week there is one carrier bag in our dustbin and so far we have about half a carrier bag full. If we can be very careful over the weekend then we should have reduced our landfill waste by about a third.

Footnote: I am very sorry to hear about the decision in the High Court today to allow an additional 10 million passengers a year at Stansted Airport (and increase of about 30%). Stansted is in the middle of rural Essex and this must be a huge blow to local people. This will mean about 25,000 additional flights in and out of Stansted, which only has one runway, so this must have enormous implications for noise, air pollution, increase in road traffic etc.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Composting with rabbits!


As the owner of two rather large rabbits, I get quite a lot of rabbit droppings to dispose of. As rabbits are vegetarians their manure is perfect for making compost, and I thought I would show you what happens when you use rabbit droppings in your compost bin.

Rabbits should always have a ready supply of hay and/or straw as bedding, and if they are litter box trained the bedding materials stay clean and dry and although you could put that hay or straw straight into the compost bin, every week or so I clear out the used bedding, mix it up with shredded paper and use it to fill their litter trays. I can get unlimited shredded paper from my office, but I also shred the few bits of mail that I receive (I don't get much junk mail now as I always ask to be removed from mailing lists).
I make up about 10 litter trays, which usually lasts about a week, as I change at least one every day. Our rabbits have one litter tray inside their house, and two outside. Rabbits are actually very clean animals and in the wild would never urinate in the same area they sleep in. Unfortunately, many people keep rabbits in housing that is much too small, and they have no choice but to go in the area where their food or nest area is. If you've been here before you will know that I've gone to the other extreme and given them lots of room .

Anyway these are the litter trays all made up:

And when they're full, the whole lot gets emptied into the compost bin.

Give it a quick stir around... add a few kitchen scraps and garden waste

Keep adding to the bin until it is full right to the top, and then just leave it undisturbed for a while.

And in no time the worms will start doing their magic...

Then after a few months, it will look something like this....

Ready to dig into the garden.
Our compost bins never really get smelly; I have three of the heavy duty plastic bins, but even in really hot weather I never notice a bad smell. All my bins stand on the soil, which helps with draining away excess moisture and allows the worms to get in. I have a couple of old bits of carpet which I put over the top in very cold weather, just to make sure the worms don't freeze, and it's surprising how quickly it all turns into very nice compost.
I've just emptied out one of my bins and have spread the contents all around the garden, and used some to top up pots with perennials and shrubs in. All the rabbit droppings, paper, straw, waste vegetable matter etc have made a really lovely dark rich compost for improving the garden soil, and it's completely free!