Urban Jungle #2

Common greenbottle (Lucilia sericata)

Flies. Maggots. Nasty.

Except they’re not (well, sort of). Without maggots, we’d literally be neck-deep in crap. And there are many flies that are pollinators. Flies like this common greenbottle (Lucilia sericata) that was feeding off of the forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) whilst flitting about the garden today.

Not only does this fly do a good job of spreading the flower love, its offspring have a penchant for rotting flesh and have been successfully used for treating really manky wounds.

OK, so it’s literally got shit breath (as have some humans I know) but perhaps you should think twice before going to swat one in future (if you’re the sort of Neandethal who does that sort of thing). A world without flies and maggots would be a far more disgusting place.

Urban Jungle #1

I’ve taken quite a few pics over time of the local flora and fauna (with the occasional not-so-local shot too), in large part thanks to the fact that the wildlife-friendly garden I’ve created either features or attracts ’em in. I like looking at other people’s pics of such things, so I thought why not share the ones of my own that I like? No reason whatsoever, so here’s the first.

This is a common whitethroat (Sylvia communis), who spent a fruitful half-hour this morning flitting around the slightly dishevelled post-winter garden (good bug-hunting territory). It’s a new birdy in the garden too, so another one to add to the tick list (of course I have a tick list, I’m a bloke).

The pic isn’t brilliant but, given that I had to take it through the kitchen window at maximum optical zoom, it’s not too shabby either.

Common whitethroat

Soap Bodger

Having suddenly realised that lye = sodium hydroxide = caustic soda = drain cleaner (thanks, internets), I decided to have a go at making my own soap using the cold process method. And it turned out to be a piece of piss, albeit a piece of piss that could horribly scar you if you don’t take precautions with the lye.

Basically, you mix lye with water, add it to vegetable oils of your choice, agitate until it goes custardy, pour it into a mould for a day or two, tip it out, cut it up into bars and give the bars a few weeks (depending on the oils used) to allow the chemical stuff to happen and the soap to harden off.

The tricky / dangerous bit is using exactly the right amount of lye and making a solution with it. Lye reacts with water and produces heat and a strong alkaline solution. Long sleeves, gloves, eye protection and long arms (optional) are strongly advised. Do all of the dangerous stuff in the garden if possible, or at least a well-ventilated area, as it releases very unpleasant fumes when first mixed. Make sure all kids / pets / unstable adults are kept well away while you’re making your soap.

The core principles are explained here, and you’ll find a fantastic calculator for working out how much of everything to use here.

You can readily buy 500g of caustic soda for a couple of quid or so, often sold as drain cleaner (check the label to make sure it’s actually caustic soda and not something else). Google ‘cold process soap recipes’ for loads of ideas or use the calculator to create your own.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to use such a dangerous ingredient as lye in something used to clean yourself, the wonders of chemistry really do ensure that, if you follow the recipes to the letter, you end up with a safe, gentle and natural soap.

NB: I’ve also learnt that you can make a really simple, eco-friendly, cheap and just-as-effective-as-shop-bought washing powder using (home-made) castile soap (80-100% olive oil), borax and washing soda (sodium carbonate). I was a bit sceptical (my default setting) but it really does work.

Snug As A Bug In A Bottle

Being a simple chap I’m a big fan of simple ideas, especially if they’re free / cheap. They don’t get much cheaper or simpler than the lacewing hotel [PDF file] I stumbled across yesterday. I managed to make two in a few minutes this afternoon with stuff that was readily to hand (the only thing I needed to buy was a bit of straw, but that’s only pennies from a local shop).

Lacewings are great little creatures. For something so delicate looking they’re pretty ferocious predators, particularly the larvae. Fortunately, they like to eat aphids and other bugs that annoy gardeners. So giving them a helping hand, especially when it’s this easy, is the punk rock thing to do.

New Kids On The Plot

One of the posters over at the Profane Existence forum was looking for some beginners tips as they set out to grow for the first time in a new plot this year. I came up with a few suggestions and, as an avid recycler, I’ll put ’em up here too.

Check out your garden’s micro-climate. What’s the garden’s aspect? Are there damp / dry / shady spots?  What plant hardiness zone are you in? Which way are the prevailing winds and how strong can they be?

What sort of soil have you got? Clay-like, sandy, loamy (the best sort)? It may be worth doing a pH and soil test using a kit similar to this.

Look at what your neighbours are growing, talk to them, and see if there are any community gardening groups operating. They’re a good source of plants / seeds (often free) and knowledge.

Start a compost pile. This will become black gold!

Allow some space for wildlife. Either grow a small ‘wild’ area, or incorporate wildlife-friendly plants. And put out bird food in safe places for the birds. The natural food chain created will help with any bug problems later in the year.

Put in a small pond with suitable plants. In no time at all, things will find their way to it. Introduce frogs suitable for your area if they don’t find their own way (a blob of spawn is a great way to do this) – frogs are great at eating slugs and other annoying things.

Start organic, then stay that way. If you’ve got an established major weed problem, a one-off hit with glyphosate may be worth considering if you’re comfortable with that sort of thing. If not, look at mulching (although be prepared to have the land out of action for quite some time for this to be really effective) and, in some cases, be prepared for digging out every piece of root you can find.

Look at no-dig gardening techniques for an easier life and a healthier garden. Let the worms, bugs and microbes do all the hard work.

Use the web to look for local / regional gardening-related websites.

Take it at your own pace, learn from what doesn’t work and go with what does and, most importantly, just enjoy it. Relaxing in the garden is an essential part of the whole thing.

That should do for starters. Now get out there and get dirty!

Soil Not Oil!*

A British animal farmer with a wildlife-friendly farm recently realised just how dependent modern farming is on fossil fuels. She set off to look at the problem and possible solutions, and came up with some surprising information and conclusions. The BBC followed her during her research and produced an eye-opening documentary, ‘A Farm For The Future’, for their ‘Natural World’ series.

The politics of food is something that will become increasingly important over the coming years. Vegans and bonecrunchers alike should watch this, learn and act. Time really is running out.

Available to view or download on BBC iPlayer for the next 20 days.

*Many years back, some US punks put together a vegan cookbook called ‘Soy Not Oi!’, full of fuckin’ great recipes and recommended listening to cook along to. There are also amusing anecdotes, great grapics and some slightly more serious stuff about veganism. You can get the book from Active Distro or AK Press for a few quid / greenbacks, which I suggest you do as soon as you’ve found enough spare change down the back of the sofa.

Green Your Eats!

Thursday 1st November is World Vegan Day, a chance for vegans globally to show just how positive veganism is. And not just for the animals we don’t kill, but also for our own wellbeing and for the health of the planet. In fact, this year the focus will be on the ecological catastrophe that is animal farming. ‘Eating The Earth? How Your Diet Could Change The World’ (PDF) pulls together the evidence and makes a forceful case for veganism for those who claim to be concerned with environmental issues.

I’ll be inviting a few friends round for some good vegan nosh, sociable amounts of alcohol and a bit of high- and low-brow debate to mark the day. I don’t expect my bonecrunching friends to give up eating dead stuff, but if they eat a bit less of it it’s no bad thing.

There are plenty of excellent vegan recipes online – I’d particularly recommend Post Punk Kitchen for some really top-class fancy examples of vegan cuisine. The rich chocolate cake is the best cake I’ve ever eaten, vegan or otherwise, a view shared by most of those who’ve also tried it. But to help you get started, here’s one of my own creations.

Tofu & Veg Thai Curry

It’s sometimes hard to find food that is both light and substantial, but Thai food is generally just that. Lots of fresh flavours, sharp spicing and a certain creamy fattiness all make for a lovely mouthful. It’s also bloody quick.

This recipe uses Thai curry paste, which isn’t cheating as the fresh ingredients can be a bit of a bugger to find sometimes (and even harder to prepare – lemon grass should definitely be renamed lemon wood to honestly reflect how tough it is). One thing to watch out for – many Thai pastes contain fish in one form or another, so check the label carefully – I use the ‘Maesri’ brand.

Serves 2-3.

  • 1-2 tbs sunflower oil
  • 150g of smoked or marinated tofu cut into cubes (Taifun smoked tofu with almonds and sesame seeds is very good in this recipe)
  • 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 stick celery, sliced diagonally
  • 2-3 shallots, thinly sliced into rings
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 medium florets broccoli, halved
  • 75g sweetcorn
  • 75g green beans, sliced, or fine green beans topped, tailed and cut in half
  • 100g mushrooms, sliced
  • Half a red pepper, halved lengthways again and sliced
  • 2 tbs vegan red or green Thai curry paste (or according to your brand’s instructions)
  • 3/4 -1 tin (approx 3-400g) coconut milk
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1 tbs shoyu, tamari or vegetarian ‘fish / oyster’ sauce
  • Fresh basil (Thai if available), shredded

Heat the oil in a wok or big frying pan over a medium high heat for a minute, then throw in the tofu and stir fry until starting to brown. Add the carrots, celery, shallots, garlic, broccoli, sweetcorn and beans, and continue to stir fry for about 4 mins. Add the mushrooms and pepper and stir fry for 2 mins, add the curry paste and fry for a further min. Pour in the coconut milk so there’s enough liquid for your own preferences, lime juice and shoyu / tamari / ‘fish’ sauce and heat until it starts to bubble, then remove from heat. If you like your veg a bit softer, then let it simmer for a few more mins in the coconut milk. Stir in the shredded basil to taste and dollop over rice (white works best with this recipe, both basmati and jasmine rice are excellent and will cook in the time it takes you to make the curry).

Best eaten with a spoon to get all the juices (call me simple, but I always prefer an easy shovel motion to the complex two-handed approach when eating saucy foods).

21st Century Skipdiving

Recycling usable stuff online with Freecycle

Like many punks and other proles with limited income, I’ve often been found rummaging through skips to see if there’s anything useful to blag. Over the years I’ve managed to find things that I needed (sometimes quite desperately but which I couldn’t afford to buy), often because others were so wealthy they could just afford to throw away perfectly decent shit, or the stuff was no longer needed but the owners simply didn’t think about any alternative to ditching it.

It has to be said that skipdiving, for all the ‘treasure’ that can be found, can also be a deeply unplesant experience (says the man who once found himself elbow deep in old nappies).

Nowadays, there’s a far more humane alternative called Freecycle. The premise is very simple: you have something you don’t need anymore that someone else may potentially need, you advertise that fact via an online list and, hopefully, that someone else will reply and say ‘hell, yeah, that’s exactly the shit I’ve been looking for’. Or some such thing. The worst-case scenario is that no-one else will want your old tat, and you’ll have to do a little bit more than typing on your keyboard to try and find a sound way of getting rid of it. But you’re a punk, you’re resourceful and you know a lot of shit that others don’t, right? So you’ll find a way. All I’m doing is showing you another option to add to your arsenal.

Freecycle logo

Does it work? In a word, yes. So far I’ve managed to find a home for everything I’ve put up on my local group’s list. Today, for example, a referee for a local commie netball team gladly took the black plastic whistle (traditional style in perfect working order) that I’d found in a box, the remnants of a demo from years back, and which I really no longer felt I needed. After all, shouting like fuck is far more cathartic than blowing a whistle, especially if you just do it for no reason whatsoever other than you can. And I went and collected a foot spa, complete with bubbles, massage capability and spinny things for getting the hard crud off. Which is just about perfect for tired Old Punk feet.

There’s a reasonable chance you’re close to a Freecycle group and, if you’re not, then the means to set one up are freely available. Of course, where you live there may be no need for such a thing. When I was a kid, recycling between friends, family and neighbours was taken for granted. But like I say, Freecycle is just another tool.

Mind you, I still do a bit of skipdiving on occasion – in fact, it’s where I’ve found one or two things that I’ve then Freecycled. Old Punk habits die hard.

What A Gas!

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the media in recent times, you’ll have probably noticed yet another round of stories resulting from the latest UN report about global warming and impending ecological catastrophe. Human activity is put in the frame, and quite rightly so. There is now no question that what we do and how we do it has led to destructive climate change and, if we fail to tackle the problems caused by our activities on this planet, then our future’s going to be short-lived, unpleasant and brutal.

What struck me more, though, was how another report, issued by the UN back in November last year, seems to have bypassed the mainstream meeja’s radar. This report looks at one of the major causes of global warming – farts. Not just farts, to be fair, but all the greenhouse gases, as well as other negative environmental effects, that are produced by farming animals for food. And it makes for sphincter-clenching reading.

Did you know, for example, that farmed animals produce more greenhouse gases than transport – around a fifth of the global total? Not only that, but the farming of animals for food has seen around a quarter of our planet given over to livestock farming, a third turned over for growing farm animal feed crops, and nearly 10% of the world’s water supply being used in the whole process. Their piss becomes acid rain – two-thirds of all the anthropogenic (caused by human activity) ammonia comes from farming animals. The waste products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and pesticides pollute the land, air and water.

In short, animal farming is an environmental catastrophe.

But it’s also probably one of the easiest problems to solve. It involves nothing more than changing what we eat. Despite the failure of the UN to say as much, switching to a vegan diet is about the simplest and most direct way that we can make a real difference. It’s far easier to change what you eat today, right now, than it is to change the way that industry operates or what fuel you put in your car.

To help get you started, here are the lyrics-cum-recipe for Anarcho-Pie by Jockish herberts Oi Polloi:

Mixed veg
Red beans

Let’s make a tasty anarcho-pie – ace vegan food for you and I
Let’s make a tasty anarcho-pie – ace vegan food for you and I

Take eight ounces of pastry and, leaving a little bit aside, roll out two equal portions each a quarter inch thick. Then use one of these to carefully line the bottom of your chosen pie dish.

Cook the ingredients for the pie filling separately and then place these inside the pie dish on top of the pastry base. Wetting the top of the edge of the pastry base, affix the pastry cover to the anarcho-pie.

Now comes the important bit: using the spare bits of pastry, decorate the top of the pie with a pastry anarchy sign – symbolising our never-ending resistance to the omnicidal system that perverts our lives.

After baking the pie in the oven for between thirty and thirty-five minutes at approximately four hundred degrees farenheit it should be ready fir serving and by this time should have developed a good crust!

Mmm… uurrgh, I don’t like mushrooms. Howay, pass them ower – I’ll have them. Aye, this pie, this pie’s barry – it’s almost as good as – as a singing hiney man! Mmm… mmmm… Alright John eh aye? Aye barry! That’s what it is – pure canny! Uurgh, I don’t like walnuts. I’ll have them. Mmmmm… Aye, ye canny beat this vegan food, ken? Aye, vegan food. Oh, it’s the best. Pure dead brilliant man. Anarcho-pie rules, ken? Aye. How long does this go on for? Who’s doing the dishes? The wimmin! Aaaahhh!! Street cred gone! Knife him!! Knife the anarcho-pie anyway. Aye man. Aye. ‘kin raj! Aye etc.