A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

‘Just where you are — that’s the place to start.’
— Pema Chodron

The single biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year in trying to live more sustainably? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With this in mind, my ploy for 2018 — don’t get down about the state of our planet (it’s so easy to sink into that). Instead, relish the journey and celebrate the changes we make, however miniscule.

I’ve absorbed a huge amount this year, sometimes the mind boggles. Here are some of the standout words, images and voices that have uplifted, inspired, provoked serious thought, or left me haunted…

Carl Sagan’s timeless and beautiful Pale Blue Dot.

 

George Monbiot’s incisive writing. A political and environmental activist, he gets to the crux of where we might be going wrong, with his thoughts on our materialism particularly powerful. Have a read here and here (it’ll make you not want to buy anything ever again!).

 

Steve Cutt’s animations. These are bleak and will most definitely haunt your day, but so cleverly done:

 

The high priestesses of the Zero Waste movement
Whittling down our annual household waste to a single glass jar is most likely unattainable for most of us, but for inspiration, tips and some good old eye candy, check out the sites of Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home and Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers.

Locally, there are some serious movers and shakers spearheading the zero waste movement:

  • Colleen Black of a Life Lived Simply
  • Jade Khoury of the Wild and Waste Free Co-op
  • And the bright young things on Instagram showing us how it’s done:
    @journeytozero_
    @zerowastejourneycapetown
    @wastelessafrica
    @shopzero.sa

 

2017 also saw the opening of Nude Foods in Cape Town, a plastic free grocery store. Can’t wait to check it out.

Zero waste is going to be where it’s at in 2018!

Who or what has inspired you to tread just a little lighter this year?

 

A pared down Christmas

Christmas madness has taken hold, and this year, as with every year, the thought of trawling crowded malls has filled me with dread. So I’ve given them a wide berth and trawled the Christmas markets instead. Bustling and festive, the whole experience is just so much more laid back, and the cherry on top —  you get to support local artisans. Ceramicists, artisanal food producers, jewellers, burgeoning designers, there’s a whole lot of quirkiness on offer; products with so much more soul (and smaller carbon footprints!) than their mass-produced mall counterparts.

It’s one of the reasons I love this inspired idea by Airloom and the Mohair Millshop —  two companies championing local craftsmanship. I’d far rather get one thing I love than a bunch of pressies I don’t want or need. It’s so much gentler on the environment. Have a squizz at their buy-local Secret Santa competition here.

I’m a big fan of the Scandi-inspired, clean lines of Airloom decor — having recently treated myself to a clock and two lamps which revived two previously dull corners of my home.

If you think of other creative ways to forgo the consumer madness in favour of a more minimalist, pared back Christmas, let me know!

Scatterlings

*{A retrospective — to a post written in early 2014, soon after we moved back to South Africa after nearly 9 years in Asia and the UK. It’s fascinating to read it 4 years down the line, something I’ll be chatting about more in my upcoming Newsletter}*

Six months after moving back to South Africa, I still wake in a cold sweat and question the sanity of having left our comfortable life in Blighty. After all, South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. It’s beauty astounds you one minute and the inequalities make you despair the next. Extremes underpin so much of life here, and the issues that compel people to leave – crime, corruption, poor service delivery – are real.

My relationship with this country has blown hot and cold in the nearly two decades that I’ve come and gone. The first time I emigrated, to Australia, I was relieved to bid farewell to a place whose politics I despised. I grew up mixed race during apartheid and though privileged, I struggled with identity in such a racialised society. I found it hard to relate to life in homogenous, regulated Australia though and came running back after less than two years.

Six years later I followed my boyfriend (now husband) to Beijing where he’d been offered a job, and by then, I’d fallen head over heels for Cape Town. But still, I couldn’t resist one last adventure and so off we flitted, totally unarmed for the culture shock that lay ahead.

My memories of Beijing are so surreal I often pore over photo albums just to convince myself I didn’t imagine the whole thing. Cycling round the streets in an apocalyptic smog, undecipherable neon signs everywhere, with a swarming mass of people who spoke a language (cultural and linguistic) so very different from my own. I made the most amazing friends, and discovered so much (the Sichuan food cravings haven’t gone away and random Mandarin words still pop into my head).

It was a hugely enriching experience and despite constant homesickness, we got hooked on expat life, moving from Beijing to London via the unique, pulsating city of Hong Kong. And got married and had two kids somewhere in between all the packing and unpacking of suitcases.

What was it, eight years later, that made us come back? Perhaps the smogginess of Asia and the sogginess of Britain wore us down. Perhaps we became jaded from having to reinvent ourselves with every move. Maybe it was the grind of raising young kids with little help far from home. Or the yearning for unfathomably big blue skies, waking to the squawk of a hadeda, and the comfort of being with people who know you, your history, warts and all.

Being back, there have been a few crises of confidence in the future of our country. Some minor niggles – a brief panic over load shedding (that never took place), and generally adapting to the less sophisticated infrastructure. Some not so minor – the Pistorius trial dominating the news, Nkandla. And a major niggle – stories of crime affecting those close to us.

Socially, we haven’t just slipped back into our old lives. Not that we imagined friends would be clamouring round fighting to get a piece of us, but things have changed and people have moved on. Much of this is a stage-of-life thing, where people have turned inward to focus on raising their families. We’ve done the same. Nonetheless, we’re having to carve out a new space for ourselves.

One of the hardest things to reconcile is the disparity in the lives of the haves and the have-nots. This uncomfortable truth cannot easily be ignored. The short stretch of road on my daily school run is like a microcosm of life here, where wealth and desperate poverty coexist. Moments after you pass an exclusive gated community cosseting the privileged minority, you’re left contemplating life behind the high walls of one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

This being my first Cape winter in eight years, I realise how much I’ve missed the stormy north-wester and pelting rain that makes everything sparkly green. Rugged up on the sofa, there is also the lurking thought that many are not warm and dry. And so it goes. Gratitude, and guilt, back and forth, round and round.

It’s these issues that have made me flip-flop constantly over whether to stay away or return and the reason why, even after our tickets home were booked, I was still on the lookout for reassurance that we were doing the right thing. I was heartened when the moving company commented on a surge in families returning to Cape Town; encouraged by local media reporting on a ‘brain gain’ with many expats returning.

My feelings, I think, echo those of many in the South African diaspora. Their longing for home is palpable, even while they bash the country from afar and make gloomy predictions about it imploding.

But here we are, and as the months go by I’m less focused on fortifying our house, fretting instead about whether the boys will get into good schools and where to find paraphernalia for Easter bonnets or stokies for winter.

My kids are thriving under these African skies and I love admiring their mozzie-bitten ankles, bruised shins and sun kissed skin. I feel totally energized after time spent with fellow South Africans who love this place and refuse to focus only on the negative. On voting day this year I felt a sense of belonging I’ve not had anywhere else. There was an air of optimism that was uplifting.

Ultimately, it’s not about this place trumping that place, or choosing the right place. It’s about home, and where that is for you. And despite my fickleness towards this beautiful, spirited country, it is undeniably my home, and the only place in this wide world I’ve felt like sinking roots deep into the earth.

 

The Worm Whisperer

A friend recently asked how to get started with worm farming and, honestly, I couldn’t answer, as my brother set it all up for me. If there’s a guy who knows a thing or two about worms, it’s him. Being knee-deep in worm muck is his happy place.

He helped me put together this handy how-to for anyone keen to get started. Be warned though – it’s addictive. Once you harvest that first batch of black gold, there’s no turning back, you’ll never throw your food waste in the bin again. Here we go…

What your worms will need

  • Like us, worms need oxygen to breathe, which they do through their skin.
  • Darkness. Too much exposure to light slows down the decomposition process; it might drive them away or even kill them.
  • Organic waste (balanced between ‘greens’ such as fruit and vegetable waste and ‘browns’ such as egg cartons).
  • A temperature of anywhere between 10 – 35 degrees celsius. They tolerate cold better than heat, so your bin should never be in direct sunlight.

Choosing a bin
A number of options are available — from fancy shop bought systems to a plastic tub with holes punched into the lid. Plastic bins are probably easiest and most convenient because they’re durable, lightweight and easy to come by (though try use food grade plastics to prevent chemicals leaching into your compost). One drawback of plastic — the air flow isn’t good so you’ll need to manage your feeding schedule carefully to prevent anaerobic conditions being created.

Wooden bins provide the best aeration for your system (again, look out for pressure/chemical treated woods). Other options such as cinder blocks or bricks work well too but are cumbersome and fairly permanent.

Setting up your bin

  1. Create a bedding of organic matter — torn up egg cartons, toilet rolls, shredded newspaper (avoid the glossy stuff) or store bought coconut coir. Soil directly from your garden will be too heavy for the worms and probably contaminate the bin.
  2. Add some food. You can include anything organic that will decompose — fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and tea bags. Don’t include meat, dairy or bones as this will attract pests.
  3. Let the bin stand for at least a week before introducing any worms.
  4. Start SLOW. People have a tendency to over feed in the beginning, but only add new food when most of the previous batch has been eaten. After a month or so you’ll get a feel for how quickly your worms can process waste.
  5. If you opt for plastic bins, a popular choice are stackable meat trays, as this allows you to grow your worm system as you go. Here’s how you do it:
    • Start with three (same-sized) trays. The bottom one will be for collecting any liquid run-off that comes out your bin. You can install a tap to help remove it.
    • The next level would be your feeding tray. This is where most of your worms will be, happily eating, growing and breeding.
    • If you want, add a third tray on top. This acts as a lid to keep out light and a means of separating your worms from your compost when the middle tray is full. The middle and top tray should have holes (about 6-8mm) drilled into the base to allow the worms to migrate to the top tray when the middle one is full.

Some Do’s

  1. Food waste releases moisture when it decomposes but a light sprinkle with a watering can will help ensure the entire bin is moist. But don’t over do it, you don’t want it soaked, as this will reduce oxygen in the system.
  2. Feeding: little and often is best. Anything from once a week to daily, depending on your level of involvement.
  3. Place the bin in a sheltered space, preferably covered, so it doesn’t get wet. Cover food scraps with shredded newspaper (hand-torn is fine); this helps keep fruit flies at bay.
  4. If you can, freeze your food scraps beforehand (allow to fully thaw before feeding); this will kill any fruit fly eggs and accelerate the decomposition process.
  5. If you add lots of egg shells, dry them out either in the sun or oven and crush them before adding. It’s not vital but will give your final product a better looking finish!

Some don’ts

  1. Check up on them too often. Constant disturbances will slow down their eating habits
  2. Place in direct sun
  3. Feed too much citrus, as it’s too acidic
  4. Feed pineapple and papaya seeds, as they can kill your worms. Rather save these for your traditional compost pile.

Troubleshooting

  1. Peek in your bin regularly (but not everyday). You should see rotting food and lots of worms wriggling about. It should be moist, and there might be other little critters crawling around. Common bin friends are springtails, mites (only a problem in excessive numbers), spiders, woodlice, the odd slug, small (not large) beetles, and centipedes (these can prey on worms but shouldn’t be a problem if you spot just one or two).
  2. Your worm bin is healthy if there is no smelly odour
  3. Conversely, it’s unhealthy if it smells bad! In this case it’s probably been fed too much and has gone anaerobic. Stop feeding the bin. Remove any uneaten food and gently turn your bedding in a few spots, adding torn egg cartons to neutralise it. After a week or so your bin should return to normal.

Sourcing your worms
Most good nurseries stock them. A small bucket of just worms (ie no soil or bin) will set you back about R350. If you’re impatient to get started or have some cash to spare, you could buy a ready-to-go system – ie the worms, already in soil, in a worm bin. That’ll set you back anything from R1,200 to R2,000.

Or, simply google ‘worms for sale in South Africa’ — suppliers change their prices depending on availability, so shop around for the best prices.

black gold
After months and months of cold composting we recently harvested two huge buckets of the most beautiful, dense, rich, organic compost, pictured above. Unlike hot composting, where you can harvest after a couple of weeks, with cold composting, it’s a much longer game, but still totally worth it.

Head over here for a step-by-step guide to hot composting. Here for the differences between a worm bin, a bokashi system and a regular compost bin. And here for a post on why composting is like therapy for me.

Wild and waste-free!

 

If you’re keen to whittle down your waste but unsure where to start, get yourself to the sleepy, scenic suburb of Glencairn on Saturdays. The Wild & Waste-free Food & Lifestyle Co-op stocks the essentials to get you up and running  — stainless steel and bamboo straws, reusable produce bags, unpackaged soaps and body products and toxic-free household cleaners (which you can decant into your own containers).

All those glass jars you’ve been stockpiling? Take them along and stock up on nuts, grains, seeds and pulses, gluten-free pasta and dried fruit (I also spotted cassava flour and baobab). There’s locally & ethically sourced fresh produce and flowers, honey (not on-tap, but in large recycled jars), and a smattering of delicious snacks like samosas and date balls.

Unless you live in the Deep South, it’s quite a drive, but make a morning of it! Combine it with a stroll on Fish Hoek beach, a Scratch Patch outing, a day at Boulders or a mooch around Simon’s Town. Even if you go just to kickstart your waste free journey, or need motivation to keep going, it’s well worth the trip.

The Co-op is in its Pilot Phase with many of the vendors on hand if you want the scoop on how their products are made. Hugely passionate Jade Khoury, the force behind the Co-op, is also around to help and inspire.

We’re looking forward to hearing more from Jade soon! Watch this space…

unpackaged soap
I love my lotions and potions, but it’s time to consolidate and experiment with less toxic, unpackaged products. Not sure I’ll ever be a one-bar-for-everything kind of girl, but shower gels and packaged soaps? So over them!
household cleaners
I recently loaded my trolley with bottles of Handy Andy, bleach and other effective but noxious household cleaners, and just knew it was time for them to go. Much as I love sparking, gleaming surfaces, I’m keen on the idea of just one cleaner in a reusable spray bottle to tackle the grease, grit and grime. Will let you know how this works out!
toothpaste
I do love the tingle of toothpaste, but I’m going to give this my best shot, as I love the idea of re-using this little jar, instead of tubes and tubes (and tubes!) of store-bought paste.

You can check out the Wild & Waste-free Co-op Facebook page here.