3 Essentials to Help You Get Started in the Vegetable Garden
Have you been planning to grow your own vegetables but haven’t started yet? Perhaps you’ve begun growing your own but aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing? With all the good intentions in the world, sometimes it’s difficult to take the first steps or spend the time to learn more. Perhaps you’ve just been too busy to start a new project, or you simply don’t know where to begin. If that sounds familiar, here are the three most useful things I learnt when we began working in the vegetable garden that may help you to grow your own successfully.
1. Start Small
Our original vegetable garden eventually became too high maintenance
Even if you’d like to grow lots of veggies, don’t attempt to be fully self-sufficient in the first year. Plan big but start small, only clearing enough space or building enough beds to get you started.
If you clear too much land at once you may find it daunting to keep up as the weeds begin to grow. One of the busiest times of the year isn’t springtime as you might expect with all the sowing and planting, but later during the summer and autumn as you start to harvest and then have to find time to pick, preserve, pickle or freeze your produce. Starting small will allow you to see how much time you have to grow your own food and whether it’s something you’d like to do more.
We began with two beds, increasing ever year until we had 17, but that eventually got too much for us and we’ve had to resort to a smaller growing space again with raised beds for easy maintenance. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat if you’ve overstretched yourself. Learn from it.
2. It’s all about the soil
What we add to the soil now will repay us in produce later. As you can see in the short video clip above, fertile soil is vital to our existence. Did you know it takes 2,000 years to create just 10 cm of topsoil? We ignore it at our peril. Adding well-rotted organic matter to the soil in the form of garden compost or old farmyard manure will help to feed it with vital nutrients as well as help with soil texture and drainage.
Autumn/Fall is a good time to prepare for the following year as it will allow the microbes, organisms and worms to do their job over winter, incorporating all the goodness you’ve added, back into the soil.
Don’t worry too much if you miss the opportunity to get some winter preparation done, it’s not too late to do it in the springtime. Just leave three or four weeks between preparing the soil and sowing time, which will allow weed seedlings to grow and you to remove them, a technique that’s known as a ‘stale seed bed’. Remember, don’t work the soil when it’s too wet or frozen or you can do more damage than good.
A general guide for adding organic matter is to add about one, big bucketful of well-rotted organic matter per square metre to the top of the soil. If you’re doing this in the autumn, cover with cardboard, weed membrane or black plastic and leave it be until the springtime. Once you’ve removed the cover, if you’re not following the ‘No Dig’ method of gardening, lightly fork any remaining organic matter in, before raking the surface of the soil flat.
One essential soil tip before we move onto the third point, and especially vital to remember if you’re visiting a garden or you could attract a fierce look of displeasure from the gardener: avoid walking on garden soil at all costs as over time it will damage the soil structure and compact. Soil and plants need air for healthy growth. If you have to walk on your soil, place a wooden board down first which will help to distribute your weight more evenly. You can find more soil tips here.
3. Vegetables live in families
Garlic – a member of the Allium family
It’s generally easier for gardeners if we don’t split up and scatter our vegetables all around the beds. Where possible, plant them in their families. You may have heard of Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks) and Brassica (cabbage, kale, broccoli) but there are several other families too. Here’s a PDF of the most popular that you can print off and keep handy. If you plant vegetables in their families, they will be easier to feed, care for and protect from pests and disease. Planting vegetables in families will also help you to plan and remember where they have grown before as you move them around from year to year in what’s known as crop rotation.
Are you new to growing fruit, herbs and vegetables and looking for some pointers? With ten years of blogging experience, I’ve published over 500 posts on food growing, eco tourism, the environment, mental health, family, recipes and more. With so many articles sitting on the Greenside Up website, I took the decision a few years ago to divide them into categories to help visitors find their way around, but even I find them difficult to locate at times. I’ve been told that some people enjoy looking at the recipes, others at the eco tourism and travel posts, and many at the gardening advice.
In 2019 I began worked with the Foróige Just Grow Waterford programme, helping families to start growing their own food at home and in community garden projects across the county. During all my gardening workshops, I point people to the archived blog posts as an added resource. For instance Slugs – 15 ways to get rid of them organically never fails to become a conversation piece.
Although the posts are geared towards vegetable gardening, many of them form the basis for all gardening. Seeds are seeds and should be stored the same way whether they are flower or vegetable. Good soil is the foundation of all gardening and garden pests aren’t necessarily fussy whether they’re eating our roses or our beans.
Greenside Up on YouTube
In 2021 I revisited the Greenside Up YouTube channel as a way of connecting with some of the groups that I’m unable to work with face to face. In each of the short videos, I take viewers through the steps I’m taking to grow food in my polytunnel and later, into the raised vegetable garden outside. You can find the posts that are updated weekly here.
The following links are to key articles on the blog and many are inspired by frequently asked questions from learners. It is hoped they will help you to garden more confidently, no matter what you’re sowing or growing.
How to Start a Garden
The number one tip in gardening for beginners is to plan big but start small which will allow you to see how much time you have to maintain the garden. Here’s several more links that will help to get you started.
Have you ever worried that the seeds you’ve sown haven’t germinated, that you must have been sold a dud packet? I remember thinking something similar years ago. It didn’t occur to me that I might be the one at fault, that I might not have kept my seeds in prime condition. As it transpired, there was no might about it, I’d find seeds tucked away on shelves and in drawers, pockets and boxes and hadn’t realised that they were likely to last a lot longer if they were stored correctly.
I wrote a post a while ago, answering the often asked question “how long will my seeds last?” One of the prime considerations for seed longevity is how they’re stored. Seeds are living organisms (albeit dormant ones) and as such need to be treated well.
Most seeds can remain viable for several years if kept in a cool, dry environment – the cooler the better. By keeping your seeds in an airtight tin or container in a cool, dry room (or even in the fridge) you’ll increase their storage life.
It’s never advised to store seeds in plastic bags which can attract moisture, instead keep them in the foil packets they arrive in. If they’re delivered from your seed supplier in small plastic bags as some of mine have been in the past, transfer them into brown paper envelopes as soon as they arrive before placing them in a container.
Make a seed storage container
So why make a container and not just throw your seeds into a tin or plastic sandwich box in a muddled heap?
Apart from the fact that specific seed packs are much easier to find if they’re ‘filed’ and you’re not having to rifle through the tin every time you want to sow something, filing them between monthly divider cards will also help with your sowing plans.
How to make your sowing life much easier:
All you need is a good, rectangular or square airtight tin (biscuit or chocolate tins are perfect) to store your seeds in and some cardboard cut to size with the twelve months of the year marked on them.
Sort through your seed packets and take note of the recommended month of sowing. Bare in mind that sowing dates in Ireland can be a few weeks after the UK iwhere many guides arise from. If the packet suggests you can sow the seeds from March onwards, it’s usually worth waiting until the middle to end of March, weather
depending, unless you grow your vegetables in a particularly sheltered and sunny garden.
Pop your seed packets in between the dividers.
Filing seeds like this comes into its own when you’re sowing successionally. After you’ve sown a few rows, don’t put the packet back into the original month, place it into the next month as a reminder to sow a few weeks later.
Always check the use by dates and use those seeds first. If you find you have too many why not talk to vegetable growing friends and have a seed swap… you never know what you might end up with!
For more more information on seeds, their importance and how to store them, have a look at the video below.
Have you any seed packet storage solutions? What works for you?
Companion planting with limnanthes and broad beans
Learning, Tutoring and Sowing Broad Beans
It was a pleasure to be back teaching an organic outdoor vegetable crop production course at the School of Food in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny thanks to funding from Kilkenny ETB. It mad a change from studies at Kildalton College for the Advanced Level 6 in Horticulture. The months flew after I wrote the article about following my curiosity and returning to education once more. I loved every second there. The workload was a juggle with assignments coming in thick and fast, as well as plant ID tests and written exams, but my knowledge of trees, shrubs and ecology rose exponentially and I came away full of ideas for Greenside Up thanks to a fantastic Entrepreneurship tutor Nicola Kent.
But back to the School of Food where we managed to get some peas and broad beans (Vicia Faba) also known as Fava Beans into the soil. It’s rare to see broad beans in the supermarkets and as a result, home-grown pods are the first many of us will try, but they’re an easy to crop to grow, making them great for children or beginners. For busy gardeners they pretty much look after themselves so they’re a handy crop to grow all round.
You can see a video below about how I plant them in my polytunnel:
How to cook broad beans
It’s the beans that are nestled inside the velvety pods that are usually eaten, although young beans that are no thicker than a finger can be cooked in their pods.
Shell larger beans before cooking and tuck into them hot or cold; they’re great in salads. Big mature beans need to be shelled after they’ve boiled, the tough outer skin removed and the small beanlet inside can be mashed with butter (you’d need the patience of a saint to do that very often!). We usually dish them up with dinner and remove the beanlets ourselves.
We’ve always grow Broad Beans in our garden as three of us love to eat them cooked (I usually steam them) and our girls like to eat them raw.
How to Grow Broad Beans
Broad beans are a hardy crop and will survive a frost. Most varieties can be sown outside from October/November or February to April; keep an eye out for Aquadulce for overwintering.
They germinate at much lower temperatures than most other vegetables and we tend to sow them high up on our hill in or around February, depending upon conditions, making them our first legume crop (pea/bean) of the year.
We usually plant the seeds straight into the soil about 2.5 cm (1″) deep but they can be started off in modules in December, ready to plant out in February. In general peas and beans prefer not to have their roots disturbed so planting the seeds in compost in toilet roll liners and popping the whole thing into the soil when the beans are about 10 cm (4″) or more is a good way to get them growing.
Staking broad beans – this crop doesn’t need to clamber up, they’re happy enough growing unguided, though it’s a good idea to place stakes around the perimeter of the crop to prevent the stems snapping in the wind.
Broad beans like well-dug, previously manured soil so are an ideal crop to follow potatoes. Once they’ve all been harvested, if they’re disease free chop the stems off at soil level and compost the rest, leaving the nitrogen-fixing roots in the soil to help the Brassica crops (cabbages etc) that might follow them, depending upon your crop rotation plan. As long as you didn’t plant F1 hybrid seeds, any dried beans that you missed when harvesting can be stored and re-sown next time.
Things to watch out for ……. if you plant broad beans in the Spring, one day you may wander into your garden and find that the tops of them are covered in black bean aphid, insects that adore the sweet flavour of the plant tops. Sometimes just spraying them hard with the hose is enough to remove them, or pinching off the tops of the plants as soon as you notice the little black aphids. Vigilance is key in ridding yourself of this pest but companion planting can work well too.
Black bean Aphid
Because we grow our own using organic principles, we encourage beneficial insects into our garden that will prey on the predatory aphids; Limanthes (poached egg flower) is one of our favourites.
Chocolate spot. This is a disease that’s particular to broad beans and one we’ve suffered most years on crops grown outside here, though the polytunnel beans have managed to escape. Chocolate spot is what it says… chocolate coloured spots that appear on the leaves, and then spread to the stems, flowers and pods, potentially leading to the plant’s death.
It’s caused by a fungus Botrytis fabae that thrives in damp, humid air and can overwinter on the remains of previously infected plants. For this reason it’s a good idea to get rid of old, infected plants rather than composting them. The good news is that it usually affects the pods last of all, so whilst they remain unaffected (or infected), they’re still fine to eat.
Spacing the plants well, about 25cm between each plant – will help with air circulation and is recommended to prevent or delay infection.
So why not give Broad Beans a chance? Have you eaten them or do you have a favourite way of eating them? They’re a great crop for grow your own newbies as their success rate is high, which all helps in raising the confidence levels.
Last weekend saw the first of four new grow your own workshops planned for the Greenside up HQ and it was a pleasure to welcome everyone to our family home and garden.
Very soon we’ll be hosting the second in the series of workshops being held here and reflecting upon the first day with learners, I’m in a much better place to let you know what to expect if you join us.
A holistic grow your own experience
A grow your own workshop at Greenside Up is more than just a ‘how to’ session, it’s an insight into a lifestyle that develops once we make the decision to ditch the chemicals, think more about the environment and make the switch to ‘real food’ rather than mass processed, pre-packaged alternatives.
Don’t expect a pristine garden with neatly trimmed lawns here. Our garden is one that welcomes biodiversity, has pets wandering around and teens that occasionally like to launch a sliotar across the yard and into the veggie patch.
What you can expect
Compared to a more formal learning environment, the day will be a relaxed affair, though you’ll go home with a head full of information and a clearer understanding of how to manage your vegetable garden without chemicals.
The (loose) structure
Beginning with tea and some home-baked refreshments to ease the introductions, we’ll move on to some more structured time when I’ll be sharing lots of information about organic vegetable growing, sharing the basic principles involved that include crop rotation, vegetable families, companion planting and alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. The morning of learning will be followed by a sociable lunch and then we’ll head outside to prevent that afternoon slump.
During the practical time, I’ll be encouraging everyone to have a go at transplanting seedlings and sowing some seeds. Weather and time permitting we’ll be planting some of the unusual or blight resistant potatoes I’ve chosen this year that include Mizen, Puru Purple, Pink Fir Apples and Cara’s and we’ll also touch on vegetable garden layout and design as well as composting and general soil management.
Photos Frances Micklem
If you join one of our unique workshops you can expect an intimate learning experience as we limit numbers to just 8 people.
This allows for a feeling of friendliness in an environment where you won’t feel intimidated by large crowds and a space where questions are naturally asked and discussions take place.
Included in the workshop fee is a light lunch and refreshments on arrival so you can expect some tasty homemade treats as we talk and learn. During the first workshop we sat around the lunch table and indulged on butternut squash soup with toasted sunflower seeds, tore into some focaccia bread and wiped our bowls with buttered nutty soda bread as we chatted. When the crops begin to grow in the garden, lunches will be made from homegrown produce or perhaps foraged from the hedgerows. Dietary requirements can be catered for too once I’m aware of them.
The workshops aren’t just about sitting at a table; there are lots of learning opportunities outside too.
We keep bees and hens here, have reared pigs and grow lots of vegetables during the main seasons. As we walk around outside I’ll point out the various ways we’ve approached our organic garden; there are lots of topics to chat about or shrubs to take cuttings from.
The comfrey patch needs taming and there’s enough raspberry canes popping up in the ‘lawn’ for everyone to take one or two. As our garden has developed we can see mistakes and areas for improvement and these observations are shared.
When’s the next workshop?
Are you tempted? The next workshop is due to take place on Sunday, 10th April from 11am to 4pm and you’re very welcome to join us, though pre-booking is essential. The cost is €65 but if you book more workshops in advance, the price reduces. See the workshop page for more information. If you’re travelling, a couple of local B & B’s come highly recommended nearby, including a holistic vegan retreat.
Here’s some of the feedback from learners who attended the first workshop:
“What a brilliant holistic day, joining the dots between all the existing plants I love and already have in the garden and starting vegetables and pollinator friendly flowers from seeds. Feel able now to grow more of anything or at least give it a go” ~ Frances
“Greenside Up is a fantastic experience, and from the homebakes welcome to the practical workshops it is a rich yet simple experience” ~ Eilish
“Great way to learn in an informal setting” ~ Trevor
“Help, I want to grow my own vegetables but my garden is shady. I’ve heard fruit and veg like to grow in sunny places, can I grow anything at all?”
Vegetables to grow in shade
This is one of two questions I was recently asked and it’s a good one. Most of us aren’t blessed with the perfect growing conditions and if we want to grow vegetables successfully, we have to learn to plant to suit our circumstances.
Like many of us, fruit and vegetables enjoy soaking up the light and ideally, 10 to 12 hours will give them plenty to keep them happy. Unfortunately we don’t always get what we want. The following gives tips on the best fruit and vegetables that grow in shade so if that’s the kind of garden you have, why not give some of them a go.
There are varying degrees of shade and recognising what you have in your garden is a good start in helping you to create a vegetable garden.
I’m not aware of any fruit and vegetables that will grow well in gardens that are in full shade. If you know of any then please leave a comment below. If this is all you have, you might have to give up on the vegetable growing idea and join a community garden instead! There are however, some shrubs and ferns that will happily grow without much light; take a look at the RHS list if you need some help.
Partial shade is considered anything from two to six hours without sunshine. and it can be tricky for some vegetables and great for others. The time of the day your garden receives sunlight can be an important factor too. Spinach and lettuce can go to seed quickly if they get too hot so will appreciate a bit of shade, as will coriander and chard.
Dappled shade is often caused by hedgerows or trees where the light filters through. In our own front garden, the area that receives the dappled shade is quite bright as it’s south-facing. Trimming the hedges or carefully removing a lower branch or two or even raising the canopy of the trees to allow more light in to your garden can be a great way of brightening up the area. If you’re not sure how to do this yourself, seek advice from a qualified landscaper or horticulturist.
Choosing what vegetables to grow in a shady garden
If your garden is shady on and off throughout the day, you might like to try growing large leafed vegetables such as kale and cabbage, swiss chard and spinach or lettuce and rocket, whose large leaves will soak up the sun when they see it.
Dwarf, baby or early varieties of beans, baby carrots and even some bush varieties of baby tomatoes can grow well in gardens that are sunny in the morning but shady after lunch .
If your garden is shady in the morning and then bright later on, try growing peas and runner beans that climb on vines.
Most herbs enjoy sunlight but there are several that will grow well in shade, particularly coriander which again is prone to bolting, lemon balm and other herbs in the mint family.
Fruit that originates in woodland areas such as the different currants, gooseberries, blackberries, and raspberries should produce a good crop in dappled shade.
Fruit and flowers need sunshine
If you have to consider shade in your garden, keep in mind that anything we grow for fruit and flowers needs lots of sunshine but anything we eat with leaves or roots will tolerate varying degrees of shade.
Keep up with the weeds. Plants growing nearby that we don’t need will compete for light, moisture and nutrients so if you don’t need ‘em, weed ‘em.
Start vegetable seeds in modules and then transplant the seedlings outside when they’re larger. If you have a cold frame, move the seedlings into it before planting them out into the soil which will allow them to acclimatise. Starting seedlings indoors will give them a good start in life and a better chance of growth and survival.
Give vegetables lots of space. Airflow and too much moisture can often be a problem in shady gardens so make sure there’s lots of space between plants which will cut the risk of disease.
If you’re surrounded by dark walls or fences, try brightening them up with white paint which will help reflect light around the garden. We tried this in Goresbridge Community Garden on the dull grey walls and the transformation was immediate. The light, wood chip paths helped too.
Have you tried growing fruit or vegetables in the shade? How did you get on?
If you’d like more tips about growing and cooking fruit and vegetables, sign up for the Greenside Up newsletter and you’ll receive monthly links to articles that can help you cook and grow your own more confidently and successfully.
Over the last week or so my family have asked what I’d like for Christmas and I don’t know about you, but I’m really stuck. Bar a new pair of cozy pyjamas or a delicious smelling soap, I can’t think of anything. As our children grow into their teenage years and along with them all the fears that challenge us, the health and happiness of everyone close really is uppermost.
Our timelines and news sources are full of tales of uncertainty so rather than material goods, perhaps offering a gift of a skill is the way to go. Getting back to basics was one of the reasons I began tutoring vegetable growing. If all of a sudden the shops ran out of food, or perhaps more likely, we run out of money, how would we eat? A bit dramatic I know, but I’m not comfortable leaving my entire food supply to others, are you?
Workshops in Ireland
There have been a few workshop ideas floating around that have caught my attention; they eventually prompted me to come up with some of my own workshops here at Greenside Up (see number 15); but I was particularly drawn to Riot Rye’s natural bread making course that I spotted after my recent soda bread efforts (number 5), and I can personally vouch for the South Kildare Beekeepers workshops (number 1).
If you’re looking for a meaningful gift for a friend, loved one or even yourself, perhaps some of the following might appeal. Not only is learning a new skill a present that will keep on giving, you might even make it extra special by combining it with a weekend away in one of Ireland’s beautiful counties.
Talking of making clothes, this is another skill I’m now very rusty with. Miriam Lloyd of Sewing Concepts runs beginners dressmaking classes from her studios in Ballon, County Carlow. I was tempted to ask for a sewing machine for Christmas as mine hasn’t worked for years and Miriam came up with a great recommendation; could 2016 be the year to brush up on those long forgotten skills?
Want to learn how to sew? Need a sewing machine? I am asked regularly what do I recommend. The Janome 2060 is perfect…
The School of Food in Kilkenny opened its doors in 2015 and they offer a multitude of cookery classes, from the basic skills right through to chef training.
We’re also blessed to have Anne Neary’s Ryeland House cookery school nearby. There are cookery schools dotted all around Ireland that offer classes on everything from jam making and vegetarian dinners to preserving and butchery, though I’d suggest you’re careful about how you present this voucher if you don’t wish to offend your friend or partner!
5. Bread making
It was Joe Fitzmaurice’s tweet about his sourdough bread making classes that prompted this blog post. We’ve been trying to cut processed foods right out of our diets here in Greenside Up but fail when it comes to bread. However, this recommended bread making course from Joe might just swing it.
Knockdrinna Cheese are based in the tiny village of Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny and are makers of a range of goats, sheep and cows cheep. They have won over 40 International and Irish awards, including a Gold award for their semi-hard goats cheese at the 2013 British Cheese Awards where it was named ‘Best Modern British’. They now offer cheesemaking courses so if cheesemaking is on your ‘to do’ list, you’ll find no better teacher than Helen Finnegan.
7. Pig rearing
We swore after we began keeping hens that we’d never have another animal here unless we learnt about it first so we booked ourselves on an Old farm Pig Rearing course and subsequently reared our own for the following three years.
Alfie and Margaret’s courses sell out fast so if you’re considering taking the more humane option for meat eating and getting a pig or two, I can personally recommend this course.
8. Soap making workshops
Have you ever wanted to learn the art of soap making? Tanya from Lovely Greens in the Isle of Man has enticed me with her beautiful blog post tutorials, and as a result, I’d now like to try something more hands on.
Well not exactly but Steven Lamb and Gill Meller, two members of the River Cottage team will be sharing their skills at Croan Cottages at Dunnamaggin in Co Kilkenny. During the three day residential workshops, they’ll be teaching participants all manner of cooking techniques from fish to pizzas, breadmaking and curing, making for a very special culinary experience.
10. Basket weaving
Heike Kahle Hartmann is a gifted basket weaver living a couple of miles from us in County Kilkenny and if you’d like to buy a finished product, her workshops are often open where you can pick up a gift for a friend or relative.
Heike also offers basket weaving classes and after a quick Google, I came across this one in Tinahealy in County Wicklow taking place in February.
As COP21 closes I’d love to be able to share news of LOTS of courses or workshops about creating energy more sustainably but I’m sad to say I couldn’t find any.
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland offer lots of links on sustainable energy and advice for primary schools, but try as I might I couldn’t find any workshops for adults – there’s a gap in the market if ever one sprang out.
CELT are a registered charity that offer sustainable living workshops and in 2016 they have another two-day traditional skills workshops planned, where you can learn to make your own jewelery, furniture, cloth, knives, leather, or even build your own home. For more information on this real back to basics weekend, take a look here.
Finally, last but certainly not least, how about learning more about growing your own fruit and vegetables. It’s good to see workshops being advertised all over the country but if you fancy a trip to the Carlow /Kilkenny border, for the first time since I began Greenside Up 6 years ago, I’ll be hosting a series of gardening workshops aimed at beginners.
The workshops will be restricted to just eight people, offering a much more personal learning experience with a light lunch and refreshments provided.
We’ll be starting on Sunday, 13th March with seed sowing and propagating, followed by an introduction to organic gardening on 10th April, growing your own herbs on 22nd May and finally tackling pests, diseases and weeds without chemicals. If popular, I’ll be adding more workshops to the list. For more information, prices and booking details, take a look here.
But back to basics and things that matter, many of the animal charities are looking for sponsorship such as Animal Magic Wildlife Rescue, a gift that animal lovers might appreciate. You can contact Animal Magic here.
If you have any more ideas for back-to-basic workshops, please leave them in the comments, we’d love to hear them.
Electric picnic is over but one activity in Global Green stays with me. The team from Self Help Africa were encouraging festival goers to stop for a moment, write a couple of words or sentences onto sheets of paper and record our words for video.
We were asked to jot down our concerns about climate change on a piece of paper. Once done, we were asked to flip the paper over and note what we were already doing, or planning to do, to help reduce the effects of climate change in our own lives. The activity only took a couple of minutes but the message was powerful. It was a reminder that no matter how large the problem, we can make a difference if we all pledge to make small changes in our lifestyles.
The short video clip below from Self Help Africa shares the concerns and commitments people made:
Climate Change is Scary
Climate change is an enormous and potentially quite terrifying issue and a topic that’s easy for us to ignore or sweep under the rug while it doesn’t personally affect us. It seems too big an issue, too out of control. How could us mere mortals possibly make a difference?
However, writing down my pledge and watching everyone else make their own promises during the sunny weekend in Stradbally brought home to me the power of people. If everyone commits to make at least one change in their lifestyle, all the actions will combine to become a force to be reckoned with. Like a drop of water that produces a small ripple that grows to become a wave as more drops join it, our actions will make a difference.
Here’s a few examples of ways we can work to cut our environmental impact right now:
Or how about Food Waste? We waste millions of tonnes of food, thrown out every year because we buy too much and don’t use it. Apart from the commercial waste caused by us not (being allowed) to eat perfectly shaped fruit and vegetables, householders alone could save up to €1,000 a year if they used everything they bought. If we all pledged to write a shopping list at the beginning of the week and only buy the food we plan to eat, the impact on food wastage would be tremendous. This would be an achievable and effective action.
The Thrifty Couple have created a ‘no waste meal planner’ that’s worth a look. They take the weekly shopping list one step further by writing down all the products in their cupboards that are approaching use by dates and finding recipes that will include them.
Grow Your Own
Grow Your Own Basil
Growing our own food was the single most important change we made to our lives in the Greenside Up household. In doing so it opened up a world of questions and answers about climate change, biodiversity, the soil, weather, food security, food sources, recipes, education, healthy eating and much, much more than we could possibly have imaged. As a result of wanting to know more about growing our own I went back to adult education, studied horticulture and started teaching beginners how to grow their own food.
Maybe we have to see our food growing as a tiny seedling to truly appreciate it; to watch it overcome and evade the pests, the weeds, its competitors, the water or lack of it, and feel delight as it grows into a plant that will feed and nourish us.
As much as I’d love to see it, I wouldn’t seriously expect everyone to pledge to grow their own fruit and vegetables. It can take time that many of us struggle to find. If however, people had a go at growing just one thing – a herb in container on a kitchen windowsill perhaps, or if they visited a community garden for a couple of hours a week, the connection between nature and food would be made and who knows where that might lead.
There are many things we can commit to do, but on my own piece of white paper in the Self Help Africa tent I wrote down ‘save more water’. I’ve written several posts about this topic on the blog. We have a natural well that’s prone to running dry occasionally so know first hand how important it is to have clean, running water in our day-to-day lives.
Over the years Mr G and I have made changes to our daily habits that include turning the tap off when we brush our teeth or wash our hands. We’ve installed rain butts and an irrigation system to the polytunnel that runs from harvested rainwater. We’ve also placed a sink under the outside tap with a washing bowl making it easier to rinse brushes, vegetables and the like. Nevertheless, we have two teenage girls who could easily spend a half an hour each in the shower and that’s an issue that needs to be tackled. So far, asking them not to spend so much time standing under the running water hasn’t worked so perhaps we need to ramp up our game and install a shower timer, or flip the main fuse board switch a few times until they get the message.
We’ve also been meaning to place toilet ‘hippos’ into the cisterns, small devices that will half the amount of water flushed into the septic tank. Now is the time! If you decide to tackle your water usage, some of the tips linked above might help you.
The Power of One
By making one simple promise to save more water, I’m no longer overwhelmed by all the climate change problems I feel the need to tackle, and my sense of helplessness has diminished.
I’m concentrating my energies on one area, I am doing something about it, and that something WILL make a difference.
However, there’s power in numbers. Rather than trying to tackle the shower or water issues in our home on our own, I’ve realised we need to have this discussion with our kids. We might then collectively begin to tackle more issues and instead of it being just the adults who make the promise to reduce our environmental impact, our children would have a vested interest too and they won’t need cajoling.
Make a Commitment
Whether it’s making a promise to use less electricity, recycling or composting the waste, or a commitment to research alternative energies, an agreement to eat less meat or everyone to think about our car journeys and double them up, or cycle more, there are lots of actions we can take that won’t overly affect our standards of living but will collectively help to cut our impact.
Perhaps if we, as parents involve our children in these discussions and decisions so that they understand why we’re doing them, they’ll mention them to friends or school teachers, or at the very least grow up to think more responsibly about the planet too. Sadly, environmentalists are still seen by many as the minority, they’re the hippies on the edge of society, but the more small steps people take, the more usual everyone will seem.
I use this quote a lot in my work life and never before has it rung so loudly as it does now in relation to climate change:
Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much. Helen Keller
Do you have any climate change concerns or have you started making changes to cut the effects of climate change in your own life? What issue will or have you tackled first? I’d really like to hear your thoughts.
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