In my new life “on the block” I’m starting to live differently. This has all sorts of manifestations, from turning into one of those people who changes from outdoor to indoor shoes (because we’re surrounded by a sea of mud) to sweeping the floor everyday (see mention of mud, previously).
I am also much more aware of our waste since we no longer have a refuse collection service. We’ve bought a couple of small bins that sit out the back, one for plastics and tins and the other for non-recyclable items, plus we have two big boxes to separate out glass in one and paper in the other. Much of the paper is now being recycled by us rather than taken to the recycling depot because we need it for both the worm farm and the compost heap.
It is something of a joy being able to take our food waste and mix it with grass clippings, wet cardboard, old newspapers and detritus from the guinea pigs out to the compost bin and watch it degrade! The process is rather faster than we expected in both the worm and compost bins because of our collection of friendly soldier fly larvae. We opened the worm farm last week and it looked like something out of a horror movie: the few remaining worms had hidden in the damp but dense coir compost bedding at the bottom of the box, leaving the rest of the space to the seething mass of grey, white and brown segmented larvae that were wriggling everywhere. They’re large, soldier fly larvae, and get their name from the fact that they were commonly found in field hospitals and in the trenches... not very nice, really, but in fact they are amazing composters. Once we’d closed the lid of the worm farm and run back indoors I looked up ‘big maggots’ and ‘worm farm’ on Bing and immediately got results that suggested to me that they aren’t all bad! Soldier fly larvae don’t feed on worms, but have voracious appetites for all sorts of food waste (including the meaty kind you don’t usually put in compost bins). So they hadn’t ravaged the worms, they’d simply out-eaten them! Moving half the colony to the big compost bin and restocking the worms with an extra thousand friends should help, and we can safely put more food in the worm farm to keep everyone happy.
Voila! We have on-site recycling of ALL our food scraps via the compost heap, and recycling of all our paper and cardboard via the compost heap and the guinea pigs to add to the fact that we’re completely self-sufficient in water, sewage and electricity. In fact despite recent deluges our solar system is still running with the batteries at over 90%, which suggests we could survive about a week of really foul, dark weather before the diesel generator would have to kick in – and that’s with the current amusement of our ground-mounted arrays pointing in different directions. I hope that someone from the installation company will be coming out today to try and sort out the problem, but one of them is having a little trouble following the sun...
I keep dreaming I’m in a slightly mad episode of The Good Life, sadly without Felicity Kendall’s looks or Penelope Keith’s wit. Today’s adventure into self-sufficiency involves the discovery that one can make jam in the microwave. I may never use my heavy, old-fashioned jam kettle ever again (which is probably just as well since it’s lurking somewhere in the shed and I may never be able to find it!).
The recipe is simple: 500g fruit (plus the juice of a lemon for every 200g of strawberries if you’re using them), softened in the microwave for 4 – 5 minutes on High. Add 2 cups of sugar, stir it in, and then cook for about 15 minutes on High, stirring occasionally; you may need to adjust the cooking time depending on your microwave. Make sure it doesn't boil over! Do the usual set test with a cold saucer and cook for longer if needed until you reach setting point. Today I’ve used up a large punnet of fairly tasteless strawberries that were a very disappointing buy from our growers’ market last week, and 5 nectarines that were on their way out. These quantities made enough for one large (think Hellmann's Mayonnaise jar!) size, which was enough to fill the large pyrex bowl used to cook it in, although it did boil over once (I had fun spooning up the spillage). Now I'm not a preserving expert (see Ronnie's post on the subject, which made me feel tired and awestruck while reading it!) but this little effort does taste good, and has given me ideas about using other slightly elderly fruit instead of putting it on the compost heap.