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Author: Gisela Balzer

Gisela Balzer

Gisela Balzer

Hi! Welcome to my blog, where I aim to not only create a wonderful space on the internet for my own favourite things, but to also share them with everybody else – be it food, gardening or a myriad of other topics. If you’re looking for a mix of the things you love, this is the place.

Family’s Not Keen for Green? How to be Eco-Friendly When the Rest of the Household Isn’t

If you’re the only environmentalist in your household, can you live in an eco-friendly way without sending the rest of your family into an anti-green revolution?

Yes, though it takes compromise sometimes. After all, a home with four teenage boys used to hamburgers and pepperoni pizza won’t easily convert to tofu-based vegetarianism. And the family shopaholic isn’t likely to quickly embrace the habits of “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Still, there are relatively painless — even welcome — ways to slip a little more green into your family’s daily habits. Here are a few suggestions:

Focus on the Savings

For example, by choosing the most basic of cleaning products — i.e., vinegar, baking soda, salt, lemon juice, borax, rubbing alcohol and pure, unscented soaps — you can persuade the budget-minded person in your home of the dollars-and-cents benefits of going green. Or by turning your teenage fashion queen onto the local designer resale shop, you might teach her how recycling lets her use her cash for maximum purchasing power.

Make Healthy Green Foods a Daily, Optional Choice

In my house, for instance, I always include at least one vegetarian item — for myself — that can serve as a main dish at dinnertime. In this way, I’ve gotten my husband to ask to try a bite of my black-bean veggie burger … and he’s liked it enough to suggest we have an all bean-burger meal occasionally. Even fussy eaters might be surprised by how appealing and appetising-looking your organic, homegrown and vegan dishes are, and eventually give one of them a try.

Eat more greens – not only do livestock release methane, forests are continually clear-cut to make grazing land.

Inspire by Surprise

What’s the best argument against a hard and flavourless industrially farmed tomato? A juicy, sweet tomato fresh from the home garden or local farmers’ market. One bite of the real thing — without you saying anything ahead of time — might be all you need to win over the reluctant eco-eater in your family. The same can go for home-baked wheat bread; home-squeezed juices; grass-fed beef steaks; and even organic wines and beers.

Kitchen waste reduction tips

Compost your food scraps. When organic material is put in the land fill, it decomposes without oxygen, resulting in methane production, and methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And composting is easy.

Stock your fridge with local fare. Remember, the trucks and planes used to ship food release a lot of carbon dioxide (not to mention other GHGs and smog-producing chemicals), so for your next shopping trip, try to find a local alternative for as many items on your list as possible.

Buy in bulk, with the least packaging you can. For instance, buy the big tub of yoghurt instead of the single serving cups. You’ll end up with less in the bin, and many of the bigger containers make great left-over storage.

A Sustainable Backyard – Hamilton Gardens, NZ: A Productive Urban Garden Demonstration of Permaculture Principles

Hamilton Gardens is one of New Zealand’s notable and most recently established public gardens. Development began in the early 1960s but most of the development has occurred since the early 1980s on a former landfill rubbish tip next to the Waikato River. The 58 hectare garden is now one of Hamilton’s treasured green spaces.
As well as traditional formal rose and camellia collections, nurseries and glasshouses Hamilton Gardens’ most significant features are its magnificent themed gardens – one of which is The Sustainable Backyard.

A Sustainable Family Garden

The Sustainable Backyard is based on the traditional New Zealand quarter-acre section (1000 square metre lot) with the aim of providing a family of two adults and two children with much, though not all, of their requirements for vegetables, fruit and eggs.

Permaculture Principles

The garden was designed and is managed on permaculture principles of ‘cultivated ecology’. Permaculture aims to ‘work with nature’ by creating a self-sustaining, low maintenance productive ecosystem in which the ‘waste’ products of one part of the ecosystem are recycled as a resource for others. Plants and animals are chosen not only for their food value, but also for their role in providing a favourable habitat for other beneficial companion species. Several techniques of permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening are demonstrated in the sustainable backyard:

1) Companion Planting

Companion planting is a gardening technique which carefully chooses and grows compatible plants with one another to gain some practical benefit for one or both plants such as higher yield or improved pest control. Companion planting can also combine productive with aesthetic benefits where companion plants are chosen because they also look good together.

2) Layering

Layering or stacking recognises that plants grow to different heights and have different rooting depths which reflect their unique requirements for space, light, moisture and nutrients. The overall productivity of an area of land can be increased by growing mixed crops with different growth habits so that they do not compete directly for resources. Examples include growing tall vegetables (e.g. leeks) amongst shorter bushy types (e.g. lettuces), vines (e.g. beans) growing on tall sturdy species (e.g. sweet corn), or growing compatible crops beneath fruit trees..

3) Aquaculture

A compact dual pond system demonstrates the purifying and productive potential of aquaculture. The pond system can provide food from edible water plants (e.g. water chestnuts) and also a habitat for plants and insects beneficial to the rest of the garden.

4) Biodynamic Flow Forms

The sculptured flow-forms, based on Rudolph Steiner’s biodynamic principles, generate figure-of-eight flow patterns which aerate and purify the water which is circulated between the ponds by a solar powered pump.

5) Chicken Tractors

Chicken tractors demonstrate important relationships between plants and animals within a productive garden ecosystem. Portable coops are rotated around the garden beds in which chickens can scratch, cultivate and fertilise the soil with their manure. They also eat weeds, seeds and invertebrate pests, as well as producing eggs. After their labour saving bed preparation, the coop is moved onto another area leaving fertile, tilled soil ready for replanting.

6) Composting and Mulching

A family consumes only a small proportion of the total biomass produced by a sustainable backyard. Only parts of most food plants are used, e.g. roots, tubers, leaves, fruits or seeds. The unused plant and animal ‘waste’ can be recycled efficiently through compost heaps and a worm farm to provide a soil conditioner and plant nutrients for subsequent crops.

Mulching (with compost or other materials) protects and conditions the soil, retains soil moisture, helps control weed growth and prevents erosion. The mulch also provides a favourable habitat for beneficial invertebrates (e.g. earthworms and beetles) which incorporate organic matter and other nutrients into the soil where plants can use them.

Other permaculture components include a beehive (for pollination and honey), cultivation of the nitrogen fixing aquatic Azolla (for fertiliser) and the benefits of liquid herbal manures (for mineral micronutrients).

A Working Productive Garden

Hamilton Gardens’ Sustainable Backyard is not just a demonstration garden but also a working productive garden with an educational focus managed and maintained by volunteers from the Hamilton Permaculture Trust.

Planting a Window Box

Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still enjoy having plants around you by planting a window box. You can attach a window box to any window with a deep enough sill – and then let your imagination run riot and plant for glorious splashes of colour, useful herbs or beautiful scents. Here’s how.

Internal Containers

You can place compost and plant directly into a window box, but it is best to use internal containers so you can easily lift out old, tired plants and replace them with new ones.

Either buy aquatic lattice pots or make your own out of wire mesh. Add some polythene sheeting inside the pot to retain the compost – but make sure to provide plenty of drainage holes at the base.

If you do plant directly into the box, cover the drainage holes with crocks or add a layer of gravel.

Planting

Use a light loam-free compost with slow-release fertilizer and water-absorbing granules to increase resilience. When putting in the plants, leave a 25 mm (1in) watering gap.

If you want, you can leave plants in pots to aid easy removal and replacement.

When choosing the plants for your window box, consider its placement. Tender plants tender plants will often survive using reflected heat from buildings. If your window is completely shaded, shade-tolerant plants are available for a good display.

Trailing plants can be used to cover the box sides. Think about using some scented plants to provide a beautiful aroma when the window is open.

Care

Because of their size, Window Boxes usually need regular watering. Or you can fit an automatic watering system.

Use liquid feed every 6 weeks.

Timing

Re-do the window box at least twice a year to maintain the display. In September, add spring bulbs and a winter hardy display. In May, plant up for a summer/autumn display.

Don’t be afraid to do your own thing! Make a desert window box with cactophiles. Or, if your box is in a suitable position, add your own waterproof liner, aquatic plants and fish and make a window water feature!

How To Stop Cats Using Your Garden As A Toilet

This is an age old problem that most of us face most of the time and there are hundreds of different products and methods available all with different levels of effectiveness.

The first thing I can advise is that gravel is a definite no no! Any gravel area in a garden invaded by cats will usually just become one giant cat tray, larger cobbles and pebbles will usually be ok just avoid finer aggregates.

Silent Roar (Lion Poops)

The most popular product I have come across is called ‘silent roar’. Now this is going to sound a bit mad but they are basically pellets soaked in lion poops essence. I have just checked their website and due to EU law they have to sell the product as a fertiliser and not a cat repellent. This has something to do with the fact that they cannot control the exact make up of the product due to the fact that every lion poops is different depending on what they eat.

But anyway, it really does work – cats are territorial and what cat is going to be brave enough to enter the territory of a much larger lion?! It costs about 9£ a box so is fairly cheap and also harmless.

The Catwatch Ultrasonic Cat Deterrent

There is another product called the catwatch ultrasonic cat deterrent that has an infrared sensor that when tripped emits a high pitched noise (inaudible to us) that scares the cat off. It costs around 50£ and is proven to be really effective.

It is also accredited by the RSPB who recommend it as being effective. You may need a few of them to cover the garden and also they are more effective when plugged into the mains as opposed to running on batteries so you would need to buy the mains adapters and possibly run cables into the garden which means it is not the cheapest method.

There are many other alternatives such as spreading ground chilli powder to lemon peel around the garden, but these are really short term solutions seeing as it would need to be repeated regularly to remain effective. So I would try the lion lion poops!

A Slimming Cooked Breakfast?

I do love a good cooked English breakfast. Bacon, Eggs, Sausages, Hash browns, Beans, Toast and Sauces. What’s not to love? You even managed to improve on this with the addition of maple syrup and pancakes. Seriously, you have not tasted delicious, delicious coronary heart disease until you’ve eaten a massive plate of sausages, eggs, bacon, and pancakes, all smothered in maple syrup.

It does therefore come as a slightly strange notion that this famous diet-plan champions a big cooked breakfast. Encourages it, even. A huge breakfast, containing protein, fibre, and vegetables, means that you’re less likely to eat again until lunchtime. And that huge breakfast can be tweaked to be pretty low-fat. And still delicious. Actually, it probably tastes one hell of a lot better than some cooked breakfasts I’ve been served in the past. As someone who worked at a little chef as a teenager, I know what I’m talking about.

BACON

Obviously use smoked bacon. I don’t understand you people who use plain. I mean…what does it taste of? Nothing, that’s right. So, smoked bacon, and the fat should be cut off. I find this easiest to do with scissors, rather than a knife. And yes, I know, the crispy rind is often the best bit, but crispy fat-less bacon is still bacon.

SAUSAGES

Possibly my favourite part of a cooked breakfast. There are very few sausages that are considered “free” in Slimming World standards. Instead, there are several low-fat versions that I have discovered are actually incredibly tasty. I’m not kidding. Weight Watchers sausages can be found in most supermarkets, and whilst they can be a tiny bit dry if overcooked, are lovely. Sainsbury’s Be Good To Yourself Cumberland sausages are also pretty good. And then of course there are Quorn sausages, which are delicious. Of course, not everyone likes the idea of Quorn, but I promise if you give it a go you won’t be disappointed. And in this most recent edit, I’m adding in the Heck chicken sausages, and also Slimming World’s own brand frozen sausages – both of which are also pretty tasty.

Grill the sausages. I guess you could fry them in FryLight, but that doesn’t make much sense…

POTATOES

Hash browns are possibly one of my favourite foods. Hash browns and sausages in a bread roll. Hash browns and tomatoes in a bread roll. HASH BROWNS IN MY MOUTH. But, they are intrinsically fatty, generally oily, and no good for the purpose of a slimming breakfast. You could make your own, but with the faffing of grating potatoes and onions and grappling with the extra moisture and binding them together…just do saute potatoes already.

For sautes, I slice potatoes thinly, then microwave the slices for about 5 minutes, or until they are tender. Then they get fried in plenty of FryLight, salt and pepper until crispy on both sides, before the frying pan being covered by a lid for 5-10 minutes. This ensures the armadillo-esque crispy on the outside, smooth on the inside.

EGGS

I’m not a fan of fried eggs. Rubbery white… *shudder* My favourite eggs are poached, but for some reason I seem to have totally lost the ability to poach an egg. These days, the main way I eat eggs is scrambled.

Of course, scrambled eggs require milk and butter, right? Wrong. They are just as delicious, perhaps even more so, made with fat free Greek yogurt, or fat free fromage frais. Lots of freshly-ground black pepper, a good sprinkling of salt, and fluffy light eggs are yours.

BREAD

On Slimming World’s Extra Easy plan, you get to choose one fibre-rich food from a list each day. This list includes things like nuts, cooked/dried fruits, and breads. It’s a pretty decent way of limiting bread intake, because bread, my friends, is sweet tasty evil. I guarantee that if you often get uncomfortably bloated, cutting out bread will likely get rid of that. Bloody bread. Why must it taste so good?

Anyway. Wholemeal bread is the order of the day. I measure mine out, toast it, and have it with my cooked breakfast, because obviously.

VEGETABLES

Really, the only traditional way to get some vegetables into a cooked breakfast is by way of tomatoes, which aren’t even vegetables. However, Slimming World calls for 1/3 of your plate to be fruits or vegetables. Tricky.

I get around this by grilling a pepper. Grilled peppers are sweet and lovely, and go far better with a cooked breakfast than you would think. As well as these and the tomatoes, I shove a load of fresh spinach onto the plate, which again works better than you’d think. Not only does your brain feel all GO ME thanks to the intake of Something Green, but it’s also a lovely cool foil to the other big flavours on the plate. Plus, iron.

BEANS

A well-cooked tin of baked beans is my absolute breakfast go-to. What do I mean by well-cooked? Well, I don’t mean zapped for 1 minute in the microwave, to start. For me, beans have to be cooked until they’re sticky and gloopy, until almost all of that fake tomatoey sauce that they stick in there has evaporated. First, I drain off the majority of said liquid. Then, the beans get stuck in a pan on a low heat along with salt, pepper, 1 tbsp tomato puree, some chilli powder, and 1 tsp Worcester sauce. They’re the first things I start cooking when making a breakfast, and this means that by the time everything else is ready they are gloriously thick and rich. And a MUST on any breakfast plate.