This is “Be nice to Nettles Week” in the UK. So, put down that strimmer and slowly step away from the nettle patch. Not only will you save yourself some strenuous labour you will doing you and your garden a great service. Nettles (Urtica dioica), you may be surprised to learn, are one of our native hedgerow superfoods prized for their detoxifying effects. A real Spring tonic to get the system back in gear after winter. They pack a powerful punch of of silica, have vitamins A, D, K and also a considerable amount of calcium. They are a rich source of iron and can be cooked and eaten in place of spinach. Ironically, nettle pollen is a major cause of hay fever but the root of the plant itself will relieve the symptoms due to its antihistamine properties.
Nettles support over 40 species of insects, most notably the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterfly larvae. The nettle weevil feeds exclusively on the plant eating both roots and leaves helping to keep the patch in check. A plot of nettles will provide shelter for aphids over winter and the resulting springtime swarm is a welcome source of food for blue tits and ladybirds early in the season. Nettle-loving insects rely on the stinging hairs of the nettle leaf for protection from hungry livestock. Whereas insects can move about freely on the leaf between the stinging hairs, grazing cattle will avoid ingesting the plant for fear of painful stings. Even the nettle seeds produced in late summer attract many seed-eating birds. All in all it’s a year-round winner for biodiversity.
A useful Nettle Infusion
Infusion differs from a tisane in that it is brewed for a longer time. Take only the young light green growth at the top of the plant before it goes to flower. Steep a large bunch of freshly snipped nettle tops in 1 liter of boiled water that has been left to stand for a few minutes. Leave overnight. The following morning strain the liquid and drink throughout the day. I like to gently reheat it and sip from a thermos flask with a dollop of manuka honey to soften the earthiness. It is, without a doubt, an acquired taste. Until you grow to love it (and you will!) a sip can resemble a mouthful of dirty dish water. Any leftover liquid can be used as a hair rinse. The silica in the infusion adds shine and prevents dry, flaky scalp and is a terrific home-made conditioner for your locks.
I also make a nettle fertiliser every year by steeping swathes of nettles in buckets of water. I place a rock on top of the leaves and secure the bucket with a lid. The whole lot is left to stew for a few weeks. Be warned: when the lid comes off you’ll be met with a slightly offensive whiff- not for the faint-hearted. Like most good fertilisers it ain’t pretty, but your plants will love it.
So show a little compassion for the nettles in your garden- you’ll be well rewarded!
Posted in Gardening, Home Remedy, Nature, Seasonal foods, Smallholding, Uncategorized, Wild food | Tagged conditioner, Hair, Nettle, Week | 2 Comments »
Last Sunday I took a trip to Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary on a bus full of keen gardeners and GIYers. Why, you might ask, (as we all know it’s such a long way to Tipperary…..) Well, because that’s where you will find Ireland’s first Ecovillage. Set on 69 acres, the cluster of 50 energy-efficient homes, constructed mostly from sustainable materials such as straw, mud and hemp, blends seamlessly into the main street of Cloughjordan as a newly built neighborhood in the already established rural settlement. Despite the sustainable and somewhat alternative lifestyle adopted by the Ecovillagers they share a harmonious rapport with the wider community of Cloughjordan.
We were met by our tour guide Davie Philip at the market square just outside the renovated coach house. Davie works for Cultivate, an organization focused on sustainability through active education that has close associations with the Ecovillage.
Davie explained how community-supported agriculture (CSA) has been successfully implemented to feed their members. The Ecovillage operates an organic mixed farm of 40 acres. Primarily using biodynamic farming methods vegetables, cereals, milk and meat are produced for the community. The members pay an annual contribution, to cover administration, running costs and growers’ wages in return for a regular supply of in-season farm produce. Farmer Pat Malone delivered an insightful talk on growing for a community and answered some of our questions as we sheltered from a downpour in the on-site eco hostel.
Davie then guided the group through the site where we could glimpse the variety of homes that had been ecologically constructed. Each house is connected to a central heating system powered by 500m2 of solar water heating panels and an industrial wood-chip boiler.
We made our way up to the allotments where Bruce Darrell was waiting for us. Bruce works for RED Gardens. He outlined his role as a research grower, trialing and testing various horticultural concepts to find the most productive and sustainable solutions for future food production at the village. We saw evidence of the 20,000 plus trees that were planted, ambled through various polytunnels, past the WeCreate building- a green enterprise centre – and back to a cafe on Cloughjordan main street to reflect on the days events.
Although the project was granted planning permission only a few years ago, already there are 100 residents in the Ecovillage and that number is steadily rising. With five different serviced sites available to rent or buy, including apartments and live-work units, the village attracts like-minded souls fleeing the stresses of modern living in search of a more sustainable and peaceful life. In line with the Ecovillage goal to become a centre of education and training there are a number of courses and events run throughout the year. And of course you could always avail of a group tour, as we did. Free Introductory tours run from 3pm every Saturday and Sunday.
The Ecovillage ethos offers a practical model for community living that works with, instead of against, the environment. A model that works on so many levels. Please sit up and pay attention city and urban planners. Develop communities that provide sustainable, holistic solutions; give people a voice and the opportunity to control their own environment and lifestyles where they can be free from economic pressures, social degeneration and isolation. Most of all, have the foresight to recognise that this is the only way forward.
Posted in Gardening, Green innovation, Green politics, Smallholding | Tagged biodynamic, Cloughjordan, community, ecovillage, organic, Permaculture, sustainability | 5 Comments »
The days are stretching into the evenings lifting our overall mood as we beaver away in our attic studio. Our office windows face west which means the afternoon sun streams in through three VELUX® windows. Sunlight is a wonderful thing. Quite apart from the mind-blowing fact that life on earth couldn’t be sustained without it, its health benefits cannot be denied. As it passes through glazing it does, however, lose some of its brownie points.
Direct sunlight emits ultraviolet radiation consisting of both UVB and UVA rays. UVBs are the good ultraviolet rays that promote the production of Vitamin D in humans while UVAs penetrate the skin deeper and exposure to them in excessive amounts can cause sunburn and skin damage. Among other benefits, vitamin D is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium in the body. Sadly, glass blocks out the UVB rays, allowing only the more potentially harmful UVAs through.
Nonetheless, the windows of a house are so important to the general wellbeing and comfort its inhabitants. Psychologically, there’s nothing more peaceful that the sight of beautiful green fields, leafy treetops or even clouds floating calmly across the vista. Windows maximise solar gain when faced in a southerly direction and offer a means of refreshing the air through ventilation. I cannot fortheloveofgod understand why people buy artificial air fresheners when there is a perfectly good window waiting to be opened. And all that glass fills our rooms up with a natural source of light reducing the need to switch on the electric lights.
As much as we love our VELUX windows, in the summer months we will find it difficult to work in our office between 3 and 4pm with the intense heat that the sunlight produces. Luckily, the clever folk at VELUX are a step ahead of us! They have specially designed blinds that provide welcome shade from excess summer sun and at the same time offer insulation during the winter. Like I said…Clever! We will certainly be investing in these before summer arrives. Although, downing tools at 3pm to absorb some essential UVBs is an attractive alternative….
Posted in Home improvements, Nature | Tagged calcium, light, roof lights, solar gain, sunlight, ultraviolet, uva, uvb, velux, viamin d, window | 2 Comments »
Last weekend I was lucky enough to hear a seminar delivered by Dr Cara Daly, plant scientist and horticulturist. Gardening is a real get-your-hands-dirty occupation perfected through many seasons of trial and error but a little injection of scientific analysis reminds us of the wonder of nature that is taking place right under our noses! The talk, delivered in easy-to-digest sound bites, momentarily transported me back to secondary school. All that biology class terminology of photosynthesis, stomata and xylem came bubbling to the surface. Stuff that I thought had long been ejected from my brain is still rattling around in there. I guess that’s a comfort of sorts. The lives of plants, as documented by Cara, are truly fascinating and I came away mesmerized.
Cara will be hosting four more talks at Springmount Garden Centre, Gorey. They run form 10.30 – 11.30am on Saturday mornings. It’ll give the grey cells a gentle poke in the ribs and you’ll come away with a renewed sense of wonder!
Posted in Gardening, Nature | Tagged Cara daly, horticulture, plants, Springmount garden centre | 1 Comment »
Springtime has me thinking of creative projects. An Easter themed lino print is just the ticket - mostly because bunnies and hares are great images to work with – but also it’s a fun way to make your own greeting cards or framed prints for your loved ones. Why not give it a go – when you get the hang of home printing a whole new world of crafty possibilities will open up to you! Here’s how I went about mine:
Transferring the illustration: First off I dug up a drawing I had done a while back featuring a hare bounding across a newly ploughed field. Pick a simple, black and white image with not too much fine detail. Then I mirrored the image by taping the drawing to a window, facing the glass so that the light coming through the paper enabled me to pencil over the lines on the opposite side. I rubbed the original drawing with a soft lead pencil. Placing the drawing over a piece of lino with the mirrored image facing up and the pencil-rubbed side down, I then traced over the lines again with a heavy hand, transferring the image onto the lino.
Carving the lino : this is the best bit- it’s very therapeutic! Using the various heads on my lino cutter I cut out the illustration. Please mind your fingers as the cutting tool heads are sharp. If you are using old fashioned lino block it’s may not be very pliable so heat it up on a radiator first to make it easier to carve. Bear in mind that everything that is cut away will not carry any ink and everything that is left will be printed.
Inking the block : Next up I squished some black water based lino ink onto a glass sheet and ran my roller through it several times before rolling a layer of ink onto my freshly cut lino.
Printing : I gently placed the paper (I used a quality textured tissue paper) on top of the lino and burnished it lightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Yes, nothing fancy pants – a good ole fashioned wooden spoon. No printing press is required. Then peeling it off – tadaah! -print number one is finished and put aside to dry. You can print as many as you like but make sure that the ink doesn’t build up and smudge your masterpiece – wash the lino regularly with warm water and dry it thoroughly before starting over. You can print onto any paper and most fabrics but heavier paper works best with oil based inks and fabric will require a fabric paint. It pays to play around with different materials.
Lino block, lino cutting tools, water based ink and Japanese tissue paper are all available from art shops.
Enjoy your Easter weekend!
Posted in Art, Family, Nature, Traditional crafts | Tagged Easter, hare, linocut, print, springtime | 11 Comments »
International World Water Day is held annually on this day, March 22nd. It is a public awareness day aimed to highlight the need to conserve and protect fresh water supplies. The first World Water Day was held in 1993, after it was recommend during the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), and has run each year since.
Wexford native Dan Roche of Bathshop123 is a leading campaigner for this issue. Being in the business of selling bathrooms he has dedicated a considerable amount of time and energy to highlighting problems associated with water consumption.
As a bathroom retailer we supply thousands of water-related products per month, and we take water consumption seriously.
Here in the UK and in many countries we benefit from constant access to fresh water, and it is important that we use our resources responsibly. Many people take water for granted which can result in substantial wastage every day, and we have committed to doing our bit to help educate people about water consumption in the run up to World Water Day 2013.
In early 2013, Bathshop321 launched our very first annual Water Usage Survey.
We contacted a section of our customer base, as well as some of the general public, and asked a few simple questions about water usage habits in the home. The aim of the survey was to understand how people treat water consumption in the home, and to identify areas where water wastage could be reduced.
In total, we surveyed 508 people, and some of the key highlights can be found here.
We don’t experience extreme water shortages this side of the world and with our frequent rainfall it’s hard to understand why we should preserve our water supply. But clean water is not a given- it’s a precious commodity that takes time and effort to manage. You can see from the above statistics provided by UN Water that it is vital we take responsibilty for our water usage. Take a look at this site for tips on saving water in our own homes and do your bit for World Water Day.
Posted in Green household tips, Green politics | Tagged saving water, World Water Day | Leave a Comment »
A little doodle for that day that’s in it. Wishing you all a very happy St Patrick’s Day!
Posted in Art, Family | Tagged Saint Patrick | 2 Comments »