From Austerity Blues to Green Living
It’s surprising really, how little difference it makes to us whether the economy is booming or in recession. Sure, we’re substantially down on last year regarding income, but we’re so used to eking out every pound anyway, that economic tribulations have little or no effect on our day to day living. We grow a lot of our food, heat the house with wood that we gather, cut and chop ourselves, we’ve managed to bring our electricity bill right down and as we use a spring, we don’t pay for water. Whenever we need to buy stuff, we almost always get it second hand via Ebay or Swapshop (our local version of Freecycle) and buying new stuff has become a bit weird, tedious even. The times that I bought myself anything new to wear are so few that I remember the last three times I did so, which mostly was for special occasions and years ago. I didn’t even get anything new for my wedding, but got married in torn jeans and on bare feet and it felt good not to be a slave to the demands of a consumer culture that measures ones value according to how much money you can afford to spend buying stuff. Shopping, that popular Western pastime, makes me lose the will to live within the hour and I’m puzzled as to why so many people find the process enjoyable.
Yet for all our frugality, we live well; our plates are full and the house is warm. It doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a hair shirt, so how do we do it? Well, it does take a bit of work and preparation. Food wise; apart from growing our own, we keep a three month pantry. It means that you can buy pasta or rice when it is on offer, get our beans and lentils in bulk via companies such as Survival Wholefoods, as well as toothpaste, laundry soap etc. Apart from the food security a three month pantry gives you and the money it saves, it also saves time (you don’t need to go shopping so often). If you join up with friends and neighbours, you can buy as a group and avoid paying delivery charges by making really big orders.
We never buy anything or pay anybody to do jobs that we can do or make ourselves and after many years, I can turn my hand to a lot of different things. We don’t go on holiday in the way most people seem to do, but we do go to festivals, where the rental of our big Berber tent is our ticket in plus expenses paid. And on those rare occasions that the weather allows, we’ve got a beach only 10 minutes away. Car and fuel remain our biggest expense, as public transport is a bit rubbish around here, but we always try and make any journey serve more than one purpose.
This time of year, as I’m looking through gardening suppliers catalogues, I’m always astonished at how expensive gardening can become, if you go for all the gadgets and miracle cures. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Apart from a good spade, a garden fork, a simple hoe, a sharpening stone, a sharp pocket knife, a pair of secateurs and some smaller hand tools, you really don’t need a lot. Old food trays, the type that meat and mushrooms come in, make excellent seed trays, yoghurt pots, tetra bricks and plastic milk bottles cut in half make plant pots and margarine pots cut into strips make fine plant labels. Wooden vegetable boxes and blue plastic mushroom trays which you find by the dozen after a street market, make good transplant trays if you line them with newspaper. Compost bins can be made with old pallets and go to your local seed swap event to get your seeds. Even better; save your seeds from your own plants, it’s not hard to do and if you get it right, your plants should end up being better adapted to your specific growing site and conditions, year after year. “Back garden seed saving” by Sue Stickland is a good how-to book on the topic and the Real Seed Catalogue give excellent advice for free.
If you can, collect horse manure from stables nearby and get your compost in bulk from a community composting scheme, which is much cheaper than buying bags. Diluted with sand and leaf mould, it will make good seed compost. But most of all, get together with other people in your neighbourhood and share tools, seeds, plants and above all enthusiasm and you’ll find that gardening is the best cure for austerity blues!
Dandelion coffee recipe.
I like herb teas, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I really long for something that has a bit more oomph to it and then dandelion coffee is hard to beat in the non caffeine section. Unfortunately it is rather expensive, sold in little jars in the wholefood shop, but actually surprisingly easy to make. Dandelions grow everywhere, but try and find some that grow in a relatively pollution free area. Select the biggest, oldest plants you can find and loosen the soil around them with a fork before you harvest them.
Then scrub and cut the roots into small, even pieces roughly the size of peas. Put on a flat tray in a medium oven taking them out and stirring a few times until they are a dark brown all over. Once cooled, stick them in a coffee grinder or the grinding attachment of your blender. Grind about as fine as ordinary coffee.
Put a tablespoon per cup in a pan with water and bring to the boil. When it boils, take it of the heat and let it sit for a few minutes. Strain the coffee through a fine tea strainer into mugs. You can add sugar and milk if you like, but it has a sweetish flavour of its own and although I like a dash of milk in my dandelion coffee, I don’t need to sweeten it. Tip the grounds from the strainer back into the pan and add more hot water. It still makes a pretty decent cuppa the second time round. Apart from being a nice drink, unlike “real” coffee, this one’s actually good for your health! Cheers to austerity!