Thursday, 31 March 2011

Killing them with kindness...

This is the first spring my allotment and I have had together. Our love has been on a slow burn since September, he’s been very demanding and I’ve got nothing back- except emerging arm muscles and occasional rows with the boyf. I’ve lugged off rocks in the rain, I’ve weeded in the snow and I’ve built in the howling wind and now I am nearing the time to grow.

So far, from my mini green house, things do not look so good. Nearly everything I put in either sprouts and then dies or never appears at all. At first I thought I was moving too fast, planting before the seeds were ready but having just spent a few hours at work reading the entire Alys Fowler back catalogue on The Guardian online, I now know what’s going on- I am loving my plants too hard.

Tucked up on their little shelves in their little handmade recycled newspaper pots, the plants are smothered. Not in an overbearing mother sense, I still believe that a friendly chat and words of encouragement in the evening make them grow into big, strong and productive plants, but in the sense that they’re too warm and wet. In the cold, rainy Surrey spring my little darlings are dying. As I watch them through the plastic, afraid to open the flap, like a baker with a cake in the oven, my seeds are growing too hot and then...well not growing at all. Alys says I need to let them breath, open the door and flap my hands over them once in a while. Alys has warned me about “damp off” the term for when little baba seedlings get too hot and too wet and rot in the soil. I’m feeling like a mother who cries when their child becomes so obese that they can’t move because they’ve been feeding them naught but turkey twizzlers for years, wailing “but I thought turkey was low in faaaat!” Well, I promptly removed my precious goldenberry seedlings inside- cauliflower can wait, these little fellas are the first to appear in two years of trying!

So this weekend I endeavour to change my ways. I will purge the greenhouse (I say greenhouse- I mean covered plastic covered shelving unit which I’ve tied to the hedge to stop it blowing away- a real greenhouse is a like an impossible dream for me- no constructions over 4 foot on the allotment boo!) I will make new pots, using a better class of newspaper, The Daily Mail might be making my plants grow a bit slow and closed minded, instead I will use The Guardian to make my little pots and hope that this inspires my seedlings. No longer feeling the need to maintain tropical conditions, I will open the door and flap my hands to let the air circulate and make my little seedlings happy. The next step is a coldframe, time to let my babies go into the big wide world...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Love Lula

Having been foiled on my first foray in the world of ethical make up I picked myself up off the high street and decided to try again.
As with most things, I started with google. It seems that in the cyber world there are hundreds of places to buy ethical make up, depending on what ethics you have- organic, fair trade, cruelty free. I’ve decided to have as many ethics as possible, like The Body Shop  in order to cover all bases.
After a twitter shout out, I found myself exploring having been directed by my long suffering bestie, Kathryn. Now, I’m not entirely convinced that buying make up online is the way forward; it seems so solitary, so risky. What I love about the cosmetic buying experience is the chance to have a gossip and catch up on the latest products with the glossy ladies in the department store: Lorraine at Clinique, Sian at Estee Lauder, Zoe at Mac, each offering me their own unique selling point, hypo allergenic, long lasting wear, crazy colour- how I love them!
The website is beautifully designed, well laid out and brilliantly accessible. Though it doesn’t quite beat my lunch time chats with the beauty counter ladies, you can ask Lula anything about any of the products that you see on the sight and get a fast, informative response. The people behind the website seem perpetually helpful and wonderfully knowledgeable so I dusted down my credit card and got shopping.
Like jeans, foundation is one of those things that you’ve got to try a million times before you find your best fit. I still haven’t found my perfect partner but I decided to take a risk on Love Lula. After consultation, I decided to go for Lavera foundation and mascara, the most crucial building blocks on which I build my face!
Well, merely two days later, the little package arrived at my door.  I carefully unwrapped the lovely little box and found my products nestled inside protected by sumptuous natural wrapping. Unfortunately my free gift had failed to make it, but the compostable wrapping made up for it a bit! (It is now keeping my baby mange tout warm on the allotment)
As I could have predicted, the foundation was wrong.  Despite being the lightest colour available it still looked like my face had been to Tenerife for a month leaving my neck and the rest of my body at home in rainy England. Very disappointing. And to make matters worse, have a no returns policy on anything that has been opened. I wonder how much money I have wasted over the years on orange foundation...
My Lavera mascara on the other hand was a lovely surprise. First of all, it smelt lovely- I’ve never thought to sniff my mascara before but I couldn’t resist this fella! I wouldn’t say my eyelashes were experiencing new levels of “intense volume” but I was more than happy. Organic, ethical and makes my eyelashes lovely- I think my faith in this lark could have been restored. Just need to sort out this foundation crisis....
Conclusion: Although I was disappointed that I couldn’t return the foundation once it was open- (how else could you test it!?) the website was beautifully laid out and wonderfully helpful. The Ask Lula feature is really brilliant and offers a really quick response with informed information. Small details, like the packaging really made a difference and made up for what I felt I lost in experience by buying online. I will be returning!

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Body Shop: The Return

Walking past The Body Shop, the smell conjures images from my childhood: heavily scented bath pearls, tootsie toe separators, magic flannels and cartoon animals. It does not make me thing excitement, glamour, luxury or relaxation- all the things I feel when I enter a department store cosmetics area. However, in the spirit of my Ethical Lent and missing my daily shopping trip on the high street I returned to my childhood stomping ground.
I knew that The Body Shop were anti animal cruelty (hence the little elephants that adorned all my flannels when I was little) but I had no idea just how driven the company is to be ethical. Animal protection aside they also have a vested interest in where the ingredients in their products come from, who grows them, how they’re processed and what impact they have on your skin and the planet.  Sounds like the perfect place for an ethically minded cosmetics junkie to stock up!
Now, as you may have gathered, I am beyond demanding when it comes to my cosmetic sales people, I want them to pamper me, lavish me with complicated information, interrogate my skin and leave me feeling hopeful that my face will never again be marred by a pimple or a wrinkle. I don’t mind paying £30 for a pot of moisturiser for this pleasure. On my first visit to the Body Shop in Kingston a lovely young man talked me through the moisturisers and managed to sell me a particularly gorgeous smelling Vitamin C one on the basis that “it’s good for young people like us if you’ve had a heavy night out.  Feeling very pleased with his enthusiasm, flattered by his well, flattery and buoyant from the cheap price (a mere £11!) I left the shop vowing to return to face my foundation demons.
Here’s where it began to fall apart. To say I’m pale is an understatement, I am practically translucent and The Body Shop does not cater for my end of the colour spectrum. After unenthusiastically showing me the colours of the foundations on her hand, the sales assistant told me to try Nicola “Girls Aloud” Robert’s brand of make up for especially pale people. Not impressed.
Conclusion: This is a place where people could make a small change to the way they live every day. Amazing to have ethics like these available on our very high street. I fully intend to go back and replace all my shampoos, shower gels, bath soaks, cleansers and moisturisers with their fabulously ethical and wonderfully priced versions. However, I remain unconvinced on the make up front and heading towards and as I hurtle towards an empty bottle of foundation, I am running out of options!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Breaking Habits #1 Buying Cosmetics

I am a junkie. I can’t deny it. Shiny bottles, coloured liquids, little pots, they fill my bathroom shelves and look so beautiful. I have cleansers, toners, moisturisers, masks, serums, ointment, creams, mousses, oils, tinctures, caplets, muds, rubs and scrubs and that’s just for my face! I have no brand loyalty- as long as it’s expensive I trust it.  Benefit, Clinique, Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder, Chanel, Yves St Laurent, you name it, I’ve forked out my life savings on it. But now it’s time to get responsible. How much do I know about my cosmetics? The thick end of nothing.
Every year hundreds of animals are used in the testing of products that I put on my face  Now, I know that this is bad. I know the stuff I put on my face has come at a cost, it’s full of chemicals and it’s been through processes I don’t approve of. But, what I will refer to as the “Mulberry Bag Phenomenon”  kicks in and blinds me. I forget all about the bunnies and the chemicals. I see women in white coats, faces glowing, lip gloss glittering at me across the counter. I hear promises of clear skin, minimised pores, longer lashes and plumped lips.
My make up bag in its most compact, bare essential, stripped down state.

This stuff has cost me hundreds, undoubtedly thousands of pounds over the years so I cannot simply chuck it all in the bin (where would the ethics be in that anyway- hello landfill!) Instead, as I go I will replace what needs replacing with ethically sourced, cruelty free, organic cosmetics. Like all things, I am not willing to compromise on quality, I will endeavour to shop around to find cosmetics that are guilt free, good and green and look cracking and smell luscious on my bathroom shelves and on my skin!
Do you have any tips?

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Things I Gain #2 Old Tyres

To say the shopping has been slow so far is an understatement.  I have bought nothing. Now it may only be a matter of days but for me, this is huge. Normally I’ll pop into Primarni, Hmmm or Toppers in my lunch break but with ethical goodness hard to find on the high street I’ve been stranded with a rainforest alliance coffee and a good book. Though my bank balance is appreciating this, I am not and this weekend the pressure got too much.
Having spent many hours rooting around looking for possible plant receptacles for the allotment I was beat. Apparently this “nothing new” policy of mine is a little trickier than I thought; now all the wood is gone.
Now, Kwik Fit may not be the most glamorous place to spend a Saturday afternoon but by jingo it was worth it. After explaining to the justifiably suspicious salesman that I wasn’t going to flog the old tyres but merely use them for growing veg I got the green light to help myself. I struggled away with five perfectly good, perfectly upcyclable old tyres. They may not be objects of beauty right now, lying in the mud and rain, but in a few months they will be bursting with tomatoes, sweet peas, peppers and all manner of beautiful and delicious food and flowers. And what’s more my faith in my eco skills has been restored! I have finally acquired something which I can look upon proudly and say I saved it from the dump and now it is beautiful and useful...look out garages of Dorksville, I’ve got a taste for rubber and I’m coming for more!

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Things I Gain #1 My Allotment

My allotment is my big love. Romance of the year. Crush of the century. I am officially and unashamedly obsessed. Like an over protective first time parent I tend to its every need, lavish it with expensive treats and wake up in cold sweats in the night worrying about it- too much brown compost? Not enough worms? CLAY!

I know how lucky I am to have my little plot. I was on a waiting list for a site literally at the end of my road. I had heard rumours circulating that the wait for a plot here was nearing 15 years, heard tell that there we no newbies admitted since 1992... so I was less than hopeful, I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for the commitment yet anyway...
Then one morning last summer barely a week after I joined the list, I got an email from the council letting me know that a plot had become available on a newly opened site on the other side of town- did I want to take it up? By 4 O’clock that afternoon I was being shown my new little bit of green.
I think enthusiasm must have blinded me to what I was about to take on... I didn’t see the enormous concrete bricks, paving slabs and rubble, I saw bees and butterflies and salad. The Long Suffering Boyfriend bought me back down to earth, him and 40 wheelbarrow loads of rocks taken off one particularly long Saturday in July. Our little plot had been a fly tipping hotspot, the concrete blocks and lumps of twisted metal were the tip of the iceberg. After a few weeks of this a decision was made- We had to raise our beds. It was this or chemically destroy everything living on our plot and start again- striving to be organic, this was not an option.
We now have 10 raised beds on our plot, in varying sizes, which take up about two thirds of the space (the rest is fruit bushes, flowers and containers). We tried to recycle as much as possible, poking around skips, smashing up old pallets but in the end we had to spend a bit of money on wood.  I am pleased with the results and I know they will last forever, but I would love to have done it all through recycling. In order to appease my moral conscience, and to fit in with my ethical lent I have made a new rule- nothing new. No new pots, no new wood, no new plastic hose pipes, watering cans- nothing.
There are only 4 rules on My Little Bit of Green 
1.       Absolutely NO chemicals. None. No sprays, no dodgy compost, no weed killer, no plant miracle grower. All organic.
2.       We will eat everything. (Apart from my beautiful flowers, and I have made sure that even some of them are edible! Lavender biscuit anyone?) Nothing is going to waste. I will chomp my way through it all, or give it away to equally veg fond friends. Anything that dies or is inedible will go on the compost so it will feed my pet worms.
3.       No new. Everything from now on must be recycled or second hand or scavenged. Apart from seeds and some veg as I don’t want the allotment to be bare- though even these I will strive to swap, take cuttings, share, beg and borrow.
4.       Love wildlife. Our allotment neighbourhood is a haven for finches but I was nearly lynched for mentioning the prospect of hanging a bird feeder on my plot. Controversial bird attractants aside- I will have a log pile and a rock pile for reptiles and amphibians and little creepy crawlys, bed and buckets of flowers for attracting bees and butterflies and I’m hoping, even a teeny little pond...we will see.

5.       Polyculture. Inspired by the fabulous Alys Fowler I will grow in a muddle. The Boyf has been given one bed in which he has plant his onions in straight, equally measured lines. Everything else is going to be a bit of a free for all. I want flowers amongst  the veg, I want a wild, beautiful and productive garden. I am a little nervous about this method, I have never tried it before but I think it will be wonderful.
This summer will be our first growing season. I cannot wait to start putting things in the ground, rather than pulling things out of it! Any tips for organic polyculture?

we're slowly getting there...

Friday, 11 March 2011

My Little Green Worries- #1 The Mulberry

Oh Mulbs, words can’t express the love I feel for thee. Yes I know it’s just a flippin’ handbag! But I love it. I got her as a “well done for finishing university, not failing and not pissing your whole student loan up the wall of the student union bar” present from my dad. I remember the day so well: Queen’s arcade, Leeds, the thrill of the selection (classic Bayswater in classic oak- mmm), the ringing of the cash register ,my mother standing outside the shop looking pale and trying not to watch, the bag for the bag, in a bag...

Yes, it’s ridiculous. But I wanted it. I loved it. And I still love it.

Yes, the price is outrageous. At £664 it is the equivalent of 26 ½ Oxfam goats, or 11 bicycles from Unicef 

Jeez, that is a bit of a wakeup call. Should I sell it? Donate the money to goats and bicycles? I should. It would be a grand, charitable, generous gesture.

But I can’t.

It’s not just the price that irks me- it’s leather. Leather is a moral maze for me. I am against fur, so why not leather? At best it’s a by-product from an industry I abhor, at worst it’s perpetuating cruelty and suffering of millions of animals. I won’t wear fur, I won’t eat meat, but I do tote my leather mulbs about town as though it was a new puppy. So why do I love it so?

This one could go on....

Thursday, 10 March 2011

My Little Bit of Green- My Mission

Welcome to My Little Bit of Green.  At the moment it really is a very little bit- but I want it to grow. I want to be more responsible for what I buy, what I put out there, what I eat, how I behave- I want to live a more ethical lifestyle, fairer on people animals and the environment alike but I don’t want to compromise.
 I’m a vegetarian- have been since I was five, more out of stubbornness than morals but now I’m proud of my decision.  I’m also an allotment holder, animal lover and bird watcher, recycler, upcycler, knitter, crochet-er, stich-er, second hand lover and car boot shopper. But I am vain. As a graduate of the London College of Fashion, I won’t compromise on my love for all things fashion.
I want ethical shoes, but I don’t want to wear hideous clogs. I want to wear fair-trade clothes but I don’t want to give up my Saturday morning mooch around the high street.  I want to eat better, but I love my Friday morning fry up in the office.
I know there will be some things I cannot keep up if I want to live more cleanly, more ethically, simply more responsibly. I am prepared for that. I’ll give up the car because my bike has an awesome pretty bell and a wicked basket. I’ll give up Primark because I can still dress the way I want to and buy second hand or ethically. I’ll give up cheap food because I can grow pretty much everything I need on my little allotment, with flowers thrown in for good measure! One thing I won’t give up on is talking about it- or nagging as my dad and boyfriend call it- I think the more we talk about it the easier it’s going to get, I hope so anyway!
For me, this started as an ethical lent, giving up Primarni for a month. But I think it’s a lifestyle change for me now. I want to know more about what I’m buying, I want to know what I’m wearing, what I’m putting on my skin and what I’m eating is not benefitting me at the cost of others. But I still want to look good. I’m a little anxious but I am feeling ready for the challenge- I think! I know it won’t happen overnight, it’s going to take time, there might be relapses and accidents but I’m going to knuckle down and really try.  Please share with me your tips, hints and stories as I embark on my journey to improve My Little Bit Of Green.