The Sorry State of my Utility Bills!

As part of my effort to be more sustainable, to reduce my carbon footprint and move ever increasingly (albeit very very slowly) closer to self-sufficiency I have been taking an in-depth look at my utility bills. Not just the recent ones but over the last two years so I can take stock of my electricity, gas and water usage and look to see where and how I can make changes.

Water usage

I am on a water meter and am grateful for the landlord getting it installed. This does help me to look at how much I am using and costs me less, as I pay half the amount now than i did in my old house which wasn’t metered.

I am billed every 6 months for water; a spring/summer bill and a autumn/winter bill. I generally expect my summer bill to be higher than my winter bill as I have to water my garden and this often requires the use of the outside tap.

So my usage is as follows:

Spring/Summer 2014: 47 cubic metres; daily average rate 0.26 cubic metres

Autumn/Winter 2014/5: 33 cubic metres; daily average rate 0.21 cubic metres

Spring/Summer 2015: 44 cubic metres; daily average rate 0.23 cubic metres

Autumn/Winter 2015/6: 68 cubic metres; daily average rate 0.37 cubic metres

Now when I received my last bill, I was shocked to see how much my bill had gone up by and really racked my brains to try and figure out what had happened, maybe I had sprung a leak somewhere?

Now there are two people living in my house; myself and Sam which means per person we used 0.13/0.105/0.115 cubic metres respectively for the first three billing periods which is slightly lower than the UK average of 0.15. So we are doing pretty well although I know further water savings can be made!

What I remembered, was that for the last billing period we had a friend stay with us for that 6 month period (plus his girlfriend also stayed over some of the time) which means more washing, more showering etc. So if we divide the daily average rate by 3.25 (the .25 representing the girlfriend), the rate per person is 0.114 which is in line with the previous billing periods and still below the UK average. Phew – no leak!

But like I said, there are definitely ways which I can further reduce our water usage, and I aim to get our usage to below 0.1 cubic metres (100 litres)/ day. Here are some water saving ideas:

  1. We have a condenser tumble dryer where the water collects into a plastic reservoir. I normally throw this water down the sink but instead will use it to water plants in the garden therefore reducing my need to use the outside tap.
  2. I don’t always fill up my washing machine before turning it on and don’t necessarily use the economy wash setting but now I will make sure there is a full load in the washing machine before switching it on and will use the economy wash depending on how dirty the clothes are.
  3. I will not leave the tap running when brushing my teeth or leave the tap running when washing up.
  4. I often fill the kettle up when I am about to make a cup of tea but will now reduce that to filling the kettle halfway as I don’t need a whole kettles worth of hot water for one cup of tea (will also help with electricity)!

Gas usage

My gas provider has funny ideas about when to bill me but generally my bills can be divided into six month periods too. So my gas usage is as follows:

Summer/Autumn 2014: 2962.21 kWh; daily average rate 16.28 kWh

Winter/Spring 2014/15: 7000.76 kWh; daily average rate 38.04 kWh

Summer/Autumn 2015: 2945.58 kWh; daily average rate 16.36 kWh

Winter/Spring 2015/16: 5933.99 kWh; daily average rate 31.56 kWh

The only things we use the gas for in our house is central heating, hot water and the hob. Obviously, the higher numbers for the winter spring period is due to the fact that we have the central heating on in this time and I am more likely to cook hot meals than eat a salad or cold meal in the winter. I don’t have much to compare our daily usage with but I believe this is in line with UK averages for a small house.

Since looking at my carbon footprint back in January, I have tried to reduce my gas usage and so I turned the hot water temperature down to 60°C (it was previously at 70) and I have further limited the time the hot water is on for (couple hours in the morning and couple hours in the evening). However, the shower is run from the hot water tank (its not electric) so we can certainly make sure we don’t take extended showers or too many baths to save us both money on gas and water!

The central heating is probably the main issue with the gas bill as I like to be warm and am not all that particularly willing to compromise but in my quest to be more eco-friendly and sustainable I will make sure that I put off turning the central heating on until it is absolutely necessary, ensure that it is only on when we are in the house and that the temperature is set at an appropriate level. I may need to also invest in more jumpers and thermals!

Electricity usage

I left this part til last because it is probably where we are the worst! Whilst our house isn’t lit up like Santa’s grotto at Christmas, there are certain habits we have which, if broken, would certainly help to save us money. Again our bills can be split into two periods.

So my electricity usage is as follows:

Summer/Autumn 2014: 955 kWh; daily average rate 5.25 kWh

Winter/Spring 2014/15: 1177 kWh; daily average rate 6.40 kWh

Summer/Autumn 2015: 951 kWh; daily average rate 5.28 kWh

Winter/Spring 2015/16: 1563kWh; daily average rate 8.31 kWh

The first observation is that this last billing period there is a large hike in electricity usage but we did have an extra person with us for some of this time – extra TV, extra computer, extra lights on etc. The second observation is that the winter/spring period is generally higher as we rely on lights being on during this time!

However, there are a few bad habits we need to break to ensure we save money and energy.

  • We don’t currently use energy saving light bulbs but we will make a conscious effort to change over to these.
  • We will not leave the T.V. and DVD players on standby – they will be unplugged when we leave the house and when we go to bed! That also goes for computers too.
  • We not leave the phones on charge for unnecessarily long periods of time – we should charge our phones only for the appropriate length of time needed.
  • We will not leave lights on in rooms we are no longer using.

Hopefully, by doing some of these things we can become that little bit more sustainable whilst saving some money too!

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Vegetable of the Month!

JUNE – PEAS

We are half way through the year and the pea season is now upon us! If you think the first broad beans are a treat, then you will be blown away by peas fresh from the pod! No cooking required!

Peas are such a treat for me and I love watching the pods develop and fill out. Getting a decent pea harvest every year is quite a challenge for us due to the large number of pests that can ravage the crop but when it’s successful it’s totally worth it!

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Image Credit: OutOfMyShed.co.uk

Peas (Pisum sativum – literally means ‘cultivated pea’) is a name that can be applied to many different peas in the wider family such a ‘pigeon peas’ but for the sake of this article, I am talking about our common garden pea. It is not just the pea seed inside that can be eaten, the pods can be eaten too and some varieties are specifically grown with eating the pods in mind such as ‘sugar snap’ peas and ‘snow pea’ varieties (we refer to them as mange-tout in this country). Each plant produces numerous pods filled with 6-8 individual peas. They are a climbing crop and use tendrils to wrap around supports such as the traditionally used ‘pea sticks’ in cultivation. Peas are a cool season crop which may explain why they can thrive in our spring/summer climate but the wild pea, from which our cultivated one comes from, is found in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

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Image credit: seedparade.co.uk

A short history of Peas

Archaeological evidence suggests that peas have been eaten and cultivated since neolithic times, as early as 4800-4400 B.C. They have been a staple in human diets ever since and were of special significance in medieval times to keep famine at bay. Peas used to be grown for their dry seeds and fresh garden peas, like what we eat today, was an innovative luxury of the 17th century  but by the end of the 17th/early 18th century it become popular to eat peas green and from there the garden pea was born. Along with the inventions of canning and freezing, green, garden peas became a staple all year long!

Why should we eat peas?

pea nutrition

Peas contain starch and sugar which gives that lovely sweet taste but they also contain good levels of Vitamin K, which is thought to be beneficial for good heart and bone health.  They also contain B and C vitamins which are important in cardiovascular health and for a strong immune system. Peas contain manganese, an important mineral essential for development and metabolism, and they are a  source of dietary fibre.

They are very low in fat (only 0.4g per 100g of peas) but the fats they do contain are high in poly- and mono- unsaturated fats, all super healthy for you! They are also an excellent source of protein.

Peas also contain a number of phyto-nutrients which give good anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and one study even suggests it might have a role in protection against stomach cancer! Other studies have suggested a link with pea consumption and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

How to grow peas

Peas, like potatoes, can be grouped as first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. This relates to how quickly they mature. Peas don’t like root disturbance so where possible you should either sow them directly or preferably in root trainers. I myself sow them in egg cartons where I can then break the individuals sections of the egg cartons off and plant them whole in the ground. The egg carton decomposes and the peas carry on like nothings happened.

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Peas can be sown from February until June (and Oct-Nov for autumn sown peas). Successive sowing helps to ensure a longer supply of peas. If sown directly, a shallow trench should be dug and pea seeds should be spaced 5-7 cm apart and 3-5cm deep into well prepared soil. Peas will rot in soggy cold ground so ensure that the soil is warm and well-draining. Peas require support as they grow, pea sticks or netting is ideal for their tendrils to twist around.

Pea and bean weevil can be a problem on young plants, the adults nibbling the edges of the leaves leaving little notches. Pigeons love to eat the shoots and can strip the tender plant if not protected and mice will nibble the sown seeds if they can get to it so make sure that plants are protected where possible. My main problem, though, is pea moth. The moth lays its eggs on the flowers and the larvae burrow into the pod and eat the peas.

How to cook peas

Peas can be eaten fresh out of the pod when they are young but if you prefer them to be cooked they are easily boiled or steamed for a few minutes. The pods themselves, are also packed full of goodness so we often boil the empty pods in stocks when making risottos – that way all the vitaminy goodness goes into the risotto!

Pea shoots are also delicious added to a salad or as a garnish! I often sow a tray full of peas just to use as pea shoots!

Pea recipes

Pea and Ham Soup

pea and ham soup

Lemony Pea and Prawn Risotto

prawn and pea risotto

Pea, Ham Hock and Watercress Salad

pea salad

First Earlies!

We harvested some of our first earlies (variety: annabelle) yesterday!

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Not quite the yield I was hoping for but certainly our best attempt at first earlies so far!

I’ve got a few ideas as to why they didn’t perform as well as hoped so hopefully I can improve on this next year!

Now on to the cooking and eating….

RHS Level 2 Certificate in Principles of Plant Growth, Propagation and Development

I have started studying my first RHS course, the  Level 2 Certificate in Principles of Plant Growth, Propagation and Development which hopefully will lead to obtaining a Level 2 Diploma in the Principles and Practices of Horticulture.

If you can’t tell already, I absolutely love every aspect of gardening and I like to believe that every year I become a better gardener, allotmenteer and general horticulturalist. I have compiled quite a collection of gardening and horticulture books and feel that the more I know about the science of plants and how they work, the better I can understand their needs.

I also think that sometimes you just need that hands on teaching to be shown how to do something rather than spending ages watching youtube videos and interpreting online articles and wikihow!

One of my New Resolution was to have a go at one or two of the small RHS workshops such ‘ Beginners Propagation’ or ‘Tree Pruning’ but decided instead to go straight to the theoretical side of things first.

I will be doing this via ‘Distance learning’ through B.E.S.T. in Horticulture where I will get to study in my own time and hopefully I will be able to punctuate that learning with a couple of workshops too!

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Online classroom!

I have already started to get underway and have learnt a thing or two about botanical nomenclature and the difference between hard and soft wood!

I’ll let you know how things go!

If you want to know more about the courses that the RHS provide then you can click here to find out more!

Strawberries and garlic!

Not together…because I imagine that would be gross!

We have now harvested our third punnet of strawberries in a week and today we pulled up a bulb of garlic to see if they are ready…which they are!

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Third strawberry harvest, first bulb of garlic and our first carrot (its a very small carrot – might need to wait a bit longer for them!)

I will wait until the ground is drier before pulling the rest of the crop and drying for storage. This bulb will be used fresh as i have just come to the end of the 36 bulbs of garlic that i harvested last year!

That seems to me to be perfect timing!

First Strawberry Harvest!

Not much work at the allotment this weekend due to the much needed rain but we did manage to get down fro a couple of hours where we made a start on the herb garden and got to pick out first harvest of strawberries!

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And we also gathered up our first harvest of wild strawberries!

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And still a lot more to come!

A Dangerously Hot Day!

Sunday was a beautifully sunny and hot day and I am sure we all enjoyed the wonderful weather!

Sam and I were down the allotment this Sunday, as usual, with the task of digging over one of the beds on plot 3 so we could plant out our Brussels sprouts.

Two hours in and we finally decided to go home and return in the evening when it was cooler. With the sun beating down on us, our energy was quickly sapped and we both felt it safer to enjoy sunshine by doing nothing.

We returned later in the evening and made remarkable progress on tidying up plot 3 and gave all the plants a good soaking.

However, Sunday was not without casualties!

I returned home, went to water everything in the greenhouse and found all my chard, lettuce and pak choi seedlings had suffered under the burning heat of the day. They were all dried up and dead!!!!

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My lesson has been learnt – ventilate your greenhouse on hot days and dampen down the floor to keep humidity up so  your plants don’t become dried, shriveled corpses!

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In The Herb Garden!

One of the things I would like to do on plot 3 is create a beautifully fragrant herb garden, another place where we can sit and enjoy the beauty around us!

I think it is so important to firstly, have somewhere to sit in your allotment/garden/patch of land, not only to take a break from the never ending chores but also to take in the natural beauty around us and survey the fruits of our labours!

Secondly, I think its important to have areas that are left for the wildlife, flowers for bees and butterflies etc, and my little herb garden will hopefully fulfill this requirement on plot 3. I would like an assortment of herbs that I not only use in cooking but have wonderful flowers perfect for bees such as chives, chamomile and calendula to name a few.

This is what the patch on plot 3 looked like a couple of months ago where I plan to put my herb garden. It has since grown a lot more weeds and I have started to cut the mint back.

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The soon to be ‘Herb Garden’

There is already lots of mint on this patch which I will cut right back to a small bush. There are also spring bulbs, aquilegia and a couple of shrubs. I will leave the spring bulbs in and probably plant a few more on the patch to give some early spring colour and I may leave the shrubs depending on what they turn out to be.

I have devised a plan for my herb garden with separate areas to keep like-minded herbs and flowers. Hopefully I will be able to meet the needs of each of the herbs with the different section.

My aim is to create five separate beds, separated by curving pathways and a seating area at one end which will have the ‘Little White Pet’ rose bush next to it.

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Rose ‘Little White Pet’

The fifth bed will be in the centre of the plot, in a sort-of diamond shape created by the curving of the paths. In this bed, I plan to put my crab apple tree and possible a small selection of thymes, interspersed with chamomile and calendula.

Where the mint currently exists, I plan to try and keep the mint restricted to this one bed and also plant lemon balm here too. Both plants require a similar type of soil so should thrive nicely in this corner and they look similar too!

The second bed will be for annual herbs that require sun but also some moisture including basil, fennel and dill. The third bed will be for those Mediterranean herbs that require a drier soil such as rosemary, sage and oregano and the fourth bed will be for other herbs such caraway etc. I would like to line either side of the paths with chives and garlic chives as I like the idea of the little pompom flowers either side of me as I walk.

One thing that I have noticed is the large number of wild strawberries overtaking this patch. I don’t plan to remove them as I quite like the idea of having wild strawberries, but will restrain them to one half of the plot. Hopefully, they will be good ground cover for the beds preventing too many weeds from coming up!

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As always, I have grand plans but we will see how this develops over the year! With a bit of luck the basic structure will start to take shape by the end of June!

 

 

Jobs for June

Both plot 1 and plot 2 are done and planted up (mostly) and so my focus will really turn toward plot 3 this month.

The main thing I will need to do on plots 1 & 2 is weeding and mowing the grass as well as general care of the plants.

One thing that still needs doing on plot 1 is to fill the carrot bed and sow some carrots – if I am lucky we might actually get some carrots this year!

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Carrot bed needs filling!

On plot 3:

  • dig over the rest of the ‘permanent’ bed and plant oca plants
  • dig over bed 2 and plant brussels sprouts
  • keep grass mown and trim bed edges
  • tidy up raspberry area; remove old dead plants and grass
  • Burn weeds and green waste
  • Take rubbish to the tip!

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Bed 2 needs digging over and brussels sprouts planted!
Although this seems like a small amount to do compared to previous months, I know that keeping on top of weeding and mowing will take up at least half of our time!

At home, I will start planning for winter and spring to make sure that I have harvests all year round!