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Monday, 31 October 2011

Free Fuel

Last Christmas I was given a briquette maker - one of those metal contraptions you use to turn waste paper into 'logs' to burn on the fire.

I was mad keen to give it a go but a quick read of the instructions and a bit of common sense told me it was not a job for January. The main thing about making waste paper briquettes is that the paper needs to be soaked before you make them and then they need to be able to dry out. So... a job for the summer, it seemed.

But having sensibly put my briquette maker away until the weather was right, you may have guessed it, I never once thought about making myself some winter fuel this summer. However, on a gloriously sunny day in mid September I remembered my plan and went to survey the pile of newspapers that I'd been donated by my grandmother. It was a big pile. Better late than never, I thought, and set to work making my briquettes. By this time I had of course lost the instructions so a quick search on Google led me to this video from  What was bothering me slightly was that the newspapers I was shredding up could easily have been recycled so other than the benefit of hopefully gaining a little bit of free heat was I really being environmentally friendly turning newspapers into fuel?  As we have two wood-burners and a Rayburn we get through a lot of wood in a year, most of which we manage ourselves from a small woodland.  Chopping wood, where ever it comes from always generates wood chippings and there is lots of waste from the smaller brushwood, and other than a useful mulch for flower beds and around our new trees it pretty much seems like a waste product, so I decided to add a bit to my paper mix to see what happened.

Having set my mixture to soak for a few days I went to inspect and it seemed to be a suitably gooey mess. So I spent a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine making 36 paper and wood-chip briquettes. Are they going to dry I wondered?

I left the soggy creations on a palette in an open barn hoping that if the sunshine didn't last at least the wind might dry them out. Little did I know our Indian Summer would continue.  This morning I went to inspect my briquettes and they were nicely dried out. Here they are stocked in my shed ready for use.  I'll let you know how they burn!

TIP: I think one of these briquette makers makes a great present, but really, why buy one? - just borrow. Anyone who has one will only be using it for a few days a year!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Credit Crunch Carrots

In a mad moment we decided to dig up all our carrots yesterday.

In true Rosie style - stable door and horse bolted style - I Googled 'How to Store Carrots' after having dug up the entire crop.

Yes, I know, we always get everything wrong. And digging up the entire crop wasn't the first gardening sin we'd committed. For a start we didn't bother with thinning except when we wanted a few carrots for dinner - when instead of weeding out the weediest ones we picked the biggest. Well, if you want to eat them, then why not pick the biggest?

First sin, don't thin.

So, for my second sin, what did Google tell me about how to store my carrots? That's right! The best way to store carrots is in the ground. Ah well! Too late for that.

I continued my Googing and was pleased to learn from the World Carrot Museum - did you even dream there'd be such a thing? - that carrots will actually increase their vitamin A content during the first five months of storage. Yay! A glimmer of hope.

I decided that since I couldn't exactly plant my carrots again I ought to try to find them the next best thing, so I found two old bread crates someone had kindly left behind after a party (you see it sometimes pays to never throw anything away!)and filled them with a layer of soil from my vegetable garden. Then I sorted through my carrots and picked only the perfect ones, laying them in neat rows on the layer of soil. I then covered them over and started a new layer. My crop from one packet of seeds, which has kept us going through the summer already, amounted to an entire wheelbarrow full which turned into three layers of perfect carrots in each crate and a large number of 'rejects'.

Hopefully this way we'll get to eat more than the mice and slugs will!

The rejects have now been scrubbed and cut up into chunks (taking out any bad bits) and I'm making them into soup - one batch for now and one for the freezer. The only slight problem is, I've eaten so many carrots while I chopped I'm worried I might be tinged with orange. Oh well, better than fake tan!