Category Archives: The Bigger Picture

Cat litter

Well, the kittens have now turned into little cats almost and touch wood are doing ok at litter training.

We don’t normally have litter trays in the house as the cats all pretty much come and go as they please, even when the kittens were first born Biscuit wasn’t shut in with them until they had started exploring but weren’t big enough to be left out on their own and even then it was only when we weren’t home.

I haven’t liked buying cat litter; most cat litter is made from clay and although I am not sure how or why I remember it being explained to me how unsustainable and bad this was, something to do with the mining for the clay or maybe where it comes from? If anyone knows more than I’d be really interested as my google searches haven’t turned anything up.**

My google searches did turn up information about wood based cat litter which is made from ‘wastage’ from soft wood industries. It is basically little pellets of saw dust.

We have been experimenting with it and so far have tried two different brands – Morrison’s own brand and The Co-op’s own brand – and both have been pretty much the same just a little different in colour (however the Morrison’s one does come in plastic packaging whereas the Co-ops one comes in a paper one).  

There is one big downside to this kind of cat litter though; when the pellets get wet they swell and turn back to wood dust which seems to stick to the cats feet and so they walk it everywhere meaning that it is only really practical to use in the short-term.

It’s little things like this that mean a lot of people chose not to use the most eco-friendly option and it drives me mad but is something I’m not really sure how it can be dealt with.

**UPDATE – MyZeroWaste has posted about this subject this morning and it explains why clay cat litter is bad MyZeroWaste

A little change to tea time

Evening cup of tea - 15th AUgust 2010

We drink a lot of tea as a family. “Put the kettle on” is often the first thing shouted in the morning and a proportion of each day is a signed to our traditional banter over whose turn it is to make and pour the next pot.

In the past month or so we have made an important change to our tea drinking habits as we now drink tea mostly made with tea leaves instead of tea bags. We have always composted tea bags but recently mother found out that although most of a tea bag composts down very easily there is something in the glue that is used to seal the bag that can take up to a hundred years to break down completely.

Using loose leaf tea also means less ‘factory time’ is need and less resouces too.

We still do have a box of tea bags in the cupboard for use for that single cup of tea made in the cup first thing in the morning, or for grabbing a handful to take to work (making tea in the middle of a field with loose leaves is not so easy) but the majority of tea is now made in the loose leaf fashion.

The importance of good health

Middles & Baggy; our oldest and youngest cats - 7th of August 2010

This last week as been completely dedicated to work, with almost no time for anything but a mad dash around the animals in the morning and a break from paper work at some point in the evening to do the same just before it gets dark. Yesterday was the day of The Forest Fun Festival quite possibly the biggest event in my work calendar and this year made extra important by the sad fact that it may very well be the last due to one funding programme ending and it not looking hopeful of there being much, if any, funding for such things next year.    

This morning I am tired, but not overly, literally too tired to move, tired. And this morning I realised I haven’t burst in to tears once this week* which has made me realise how much better I am from a few years ago. A few years ago I just wouldn’t have been able to cope and would have spent the week busting into tears if anything went slightly wrong, this week things have gone wrong, I have been pissed off and grumpy about them and fixed it.    

And the reason for me being able to cope? Vitamin b12. Such a little imbalance in my general health (last year I found I cannot absorb vitamin b12 as effectively as most people) has had such a massive impact on what I can achieve and be able to cope with. I can now spot the signs a mile off that lack of vitamin b12 have on people, the most commonly being people sitting in the sun, almost word for word quoting me from a few years ago “I don’t tan, I just burn and then go white again”. Vitamin b12 is needed to absorb iron which is needed for skin to tan.    

Since my mega course of vitamin b12 from the doctor last year I have carried on taking a vitamin b12 supplement, I have to get it as an individual supplement as even in vitamin b complex it is often missed out.    

One of the interesting parts of Our Farm was a chapter about how the vitamin and minerals levels in food have slowly lessened as time has gone on. The best example I can remember of this is the enormous size herbivorous dinosaurs could reach due the levels of vitamins and minerals that could be taken up from the soil by plants. Radio 4’s Food Programme has recently dedicated a whole programme to vitamin d and the ill effect too little of this can have on people, the programme makes very interesting listening and begins by giving an example of an ice hocky team who after being found to be deficient in vitamin d were put on a course of supplement and eighteen months later won the cup.    

One of the few things that I have found time for this week was naming the kitten that we are keeping, she is to be called Midnight, or Middles for short and is already by far the smartest kitten from the litter. 

*ok, there were tears last night but these were completely down to the whole chillies including seeds that I ate. Nothing to do with not being able to cope with life


After having a long hard think about, I have stayed a member of LETS but have had a serious think about what I want to get out of the group and what I am willing to offer. I have dropped some of the things that I once offered, like babysitter which although I like doing I can’t really afford the time for it for ‘just DEANS’.

I have been making an extra effort to get to meetings which has been a helpful outlet for some eggs, and I have enjoyed the meetings even though it is a mad dash from work to get to them…

However, this month I am annoyed, the new directory has come out and none of my up-dates have been included. I might as well not have bothered.

In spite of that I may have ‘volunteered’ myself to take over the newsletter… I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. It will all work out though, and I’m told it is only an hour or two of work a month

Country Markets

On Friday I attended my first local Country Market with some eggs.

Country Markets are what have taken over from WI markets as for some legal reason the WI was no longer able to carry on with the markets. They are run as co-operatives and so all the members take responsibly for making sure it runs smoothly and buy in packaging, etc. in bulk.  

It was a nice all be it an odd morning, the market runs like clock work and I wasn’t really sure what I should be doing as everyone has their job and gets on with. My eggs joined lots of jams, jellies and preserves, cakes and bread, plants and the first of the summer’s fruit and vegetables. I managed to sell three and a half-dozen eggs which will help ease the glut and pay for some feed! Up until this point they haven’t really had anyone there selling eggs so people wouldn’t have been really expecting to find eggs there, so I think it went well.

Country Markets are run all over the UK so it is worth having a look to see where your nearest one is, sadly they are seeing a downturn in customers all over the country at the moment which is such a shame as it is possibly one of the only ways of buying products direct from producers who are too small for larger outlets such as farmers markets or local shops who need a continues supply of stock.

The Vanishing of the Bees

Back in January I went to watch The Vanishing of the Bees (thank you to Nip it in the Bud for letting me know it was on.) The film was really interesting and anyone who gets the chance to go and see it should, after the film there was a talk by someone from The Global Bee Project which is a charity whose sole aim is to educate people about bees and their importance. The charity is a locally based one but this was the first time I had heard of them and the talk was invaluable for putting the film into context.

The Vanishing of the Bees focuses on just one type of bee, the European honey bee, which is the specie of bee that is most commonly farmed for pollination and honey, however it is far from being the only species of bee with 20,000 bee species world-wide, more than birds and mammals combined, and 256 species of bee in the UK. The oldest bee found is 18 million years old, they are evolved from wasps with bees being vegetarian and having body hair, wasps will eat meat and are without hair.

As well as the European Honey Bee there are 500 other species of bee that produce ‘honey’ but only the ‘honey’ from the European bee can be sold as honey. 80% of bees are solitary and honeybees are descended from solitary bees. Solitary bees are actually better pollinators as they eat pollen but the European bee is easier to farm in large numbers and so travels for anything up to a week at a time to pollinate crops around the world.

The number of honey bees has doubled in the last 50 years because of the increase in demand of ‘luxury” foods such as strawberries which are pollinated by bees. Bees also pollinate cotton and 80% of the amazon trees are pollinated by bees so it is not just food production that is reliant on them. 25% of all species rely on a bee specie for their survival other than the honey bee (I think that is what my notes say?) however the Australian government wiped out all the wild bees in the country so as they could not spread disease to the European bee when it was first imported.


The European honey bee is native to the UK, which is possibly why Colony Collapse Disorder has not yet been seen on the same scale as in the U.S. which is now importing bees from Australia to cope with the demand for bee pollination of crops with the reduced bee population there.

The film suggests a strong link between Colony Collapse Disorder and the use of a pesticide called Gaucho, something which sadly doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by the British government, but the whole way bees are treated, with colonies being shipped backwards and forwards around countries, fed on poor quality food replacements, completely horrified me.

The picture of beekeepers I have in my head are people like my granddad, who had a few hives in his garden in the middle of Cambridgeshire or one of mothers best friends who had a hive just because she liked having bees around. A far cry from the warehouse like buildings where pallet loads of bee hives wrapped in plastic were being loaded by forklifts onto refrigerated lorries and then driven in convoy across states and then back again just weeks later. It is not natural for 20, 50, 100 hives and more to be in the same place and there can only ever be enough feed for this amount of colonies if humans provide it. From the way it was depicted in the film modern bee keeping is not any different from battery hen farming.

A patch of wild flowers humming with insect life in the evening sun (does anyone know what these flowers are?) - 14th May 2010

The Co-op funded the film and has taken the step of banning all fruit and vegetables that are treated with pesticides that are linked to bee deaths, which is a pretty impressive step. Research has shown that the lose between crops that have been treated with pesticides and not is still about the same, as some of a crop will always be lost.

The French Government also took the step of banning the use of Gaucho on crops when French beekeepers first suspected a link between the pesticide and Colony Collapse Disorder over ten years ago. French beekeepers filmed bees on treated sunflowers and non-treated sunflowers, the bees on the treated sunflowers behaviour in an disoriented manner, often dropping to the ground and manically trying to clean the pollen from themselves, where as the bees on non-treated flowers followed an orderly pattern over the flower head and then flew on.   

The Vanishing of the Bees is mostly based in the U.S. which is a shame as I would have liked to have known more about what is happening in England, and where I can made a difference. Interestingly, but sadly not surprisingly, most of the money for research into Colony Collapse Disorder is coming from the very companies that produce the pesticides that are possibly responsible, which begs the question is research funded by them really going to find that their product is cause great harm to all living kind? Part of me has faith that they would if they are bothering to fund the research, but another part is more sceptical.

If you have not been lucky enough to be able to go and see this film locally then I think I have found a way to get it for FREE! A friend who is fundraising for a research expedition in Malawi sent me a link to this site (, if you sign up then LoveFilm are offering a free trial membership and they also donate £5 to the research trip. I have looked through their website and they do have The Vanishing of the Bees available in their shop so I am guessing that they will have it in their rental selection (although I have not way of checking this without first signing myself) just remember to cancel your membership before the free offer runs out if you do not wish to stay a member*

* I can in no way be held responsible for memberships that are taken out with either or any of the links on their website, I am just trying to share a worthy film with as many people as possible. I do not gain anything from this

World of Willow

Willow catkins - 18th April 2010

For a while now I have been looking at getting some willow, the more I have looked into it the more I have liked the idea. After going on the basket making course last year it seemed time to get some. But what? There are some many different types out there, all are good for different uses and different conditions.

I wanted something that would help with drainage in the goat pen, grow reasonably quickly and be useful for making baskets and possibly using as a feed for the goats. After spending much time on the internet, looking at all the pretty colours and all the different uses I came across a listing for a collection of willow on ebay.

From there I found the World of Willow website and emailed Gwen, asking if she might offer me a special offer or collection. After letting her know what I wanted, she went one better and GAVE ME a lovely willow collection!

It arrived at the start of this month and is doing well; there are seven different verities in a range of colours from yellow through to black. Ideal for making lots of nice coloured baskets with. As well as the basketry collection there are also hedging and windbreaks, fuel and short rotation coppice andwildlife and bees collections. With a few more collections for livestock, small animals and bees.

It is now a bit late in the year for buying willow cuttings but World of Willow also run courses, at one of the best prices I have found. When I was emailing Gwen she mentioned that she had just collected a yurt to run them in so it sounds like they will be in a lovely setting as well.

Lent 2010

Well, Lent is now over and I have done it! For the last forty days and forty nights I have given up wheat as a staple food and I’m feeling better for it too.

Both me and my mother gave it up and we have both said that we have felt less tired because of it, which is a nice plus. We decided to give it up as a staple food because wheat production is not sustainable, it uses too much oil to grow and far to much of the world is reliant on it to feed themselves.

When I decided to give up wheat for lent I had thought it would mean eating lots more fresh greens but that hasn’t quite worked out, it just isn’t the right time of year for that. For the first few days I spent a lot of time feeling hungry again not long after eating but that didn’t last for long and the hardest meal has been lunch, I’m not very organised about taking a packed lunch to work and normally I get some sort of wheat product so instead I have been getting microwave porridge and having that with fruit and honey.

Now the harder part begins, I don’t want to give up wheat as a staple forever but I don’t want to go back to being so reliant on it either. There must be a happy middle ground though, so I will just have to work on finding it.

Taking a stand and joining in

Last night it was Earth Hour, and this year I remembered and joined in at the right time. It was nice to sit quietly knitting by candle light knowing that I was taken part in something much bigger. I’m not really a great fan of going out and spending time with people, the hermit in me much prefers to be doing my own thing in my own space but I get drawn to events like Earth Hour and Spend Nothing Day and it makes me feel included in a community of like minded people.

One of my biggest bug-bears is the way that a large part of society refuses to take part, they are quite happy to moan about and gripe about things almost as a default mode of speech but ask them how they are going to help and they don’t know. They disempower themselves, and are happy to think that someone else will take care of it as “what can they do any way?”.

Things like Earth Hour bring people together and offer them a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) activity to take part in. It is something you can point to and say “well, you could start with this”.

The next ‘protest’ I am taking part in is A Nestle Free Easter (an event happily bought to my attention by Facebook, so there is a use for it after all…)

April the 4th is Easter Sunday and we would like for it to be a nestle free easter. Nestle have admitted recently they are using unsustainable palm oil in their chocolate manufacturing meaning the rainforests of Indonesia are being cut down to plant this palm oil and it is destroying the homes of the orangutans who are on the verge of being extinct. 

In addition they are responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million babies a year in developing countries due to their aggressive marketing of formula milk. Giving free formula (against the WHO code) and telling breastfeeding mothers that their formula is better than breast milk. Once the mother milk has dried up, they take back their formula and they have to buy it which they can’t afford. The conditions aren’t good for making formula safely and because babies are not protected any more by breastmilk they are dying.

This is also in addition to the using of child labour to pick the cocoa bean and their practices of aggressive marketing of formula. They are the most boycotted company in the world. Please sign up to show you will be having a nestle free easter


 Boycotting products is not something I am that good at, shops and businesses, yes,  and I have a whole list of shops I will never set foot in. Mother has boycotted Nestle for as long as I can remember, but I have only done so in phases.

Nestle own an amazing list of comany’s (including Purina pet food, Rowntrees and Polo) so, as with Proctor and Gamble, it isn’t always obvious that it is their product but hopefully the day will highlight some of the less known products and companies linked with them.

If anyone else is taking part in this, or any other boycotting events, or just had a nice Earth Hour please let me know.