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Alliums in the sunshine

It’s been a while since I wrote my article on Going Greener in the Office for the ITI Bulletin in 2019 and even longer since I wrote my first blog post on being a Green Translator back in 2015, but this month has seen quite a few changes on my green journey.

I’ve had a new boiler fitted for one thing – gas it may be, but it’s a much more efficient condensing model than its 22-year-old predecessor, which was most definitely on its last legs. I’d justified keeping it until now on the basis that it was still working and it was better to use it than replace, given all the associated manufacturing costs. A heat pump wasn’t an option for me as you need a hot water cylinder and a well-insulated house, neither of which apply to my 30s semi, despite my best efforts. A week in, and I’m delighted with the new model: so much quieter and more compact, plus it heats the water almost instantaneously (compared to the bowlful of water I used to waste every time I ran the hot tap with my old boiler). If I’d realised that, I might have changed it sooner! I used to pour the water from the kitchen sink into watering cans outside the back door in the summer months, but far better not to have the problem in the first place. I went for a super-efficient German model from Viessmann, which was a good third cheaper than other models I was quoted by other local plumbers. It is sold as ‘hydrogen-ready’, so if and when the networks change over to hydrogen, the boiler will still be able to operate. It also came with a 10-year warranty for a small extra cost (5 as standard) – the benefits of German engineering. As an extra bonus, I’ve translated for this particular company before, always nice to feel you know what you’re getting.

I had also investigated solar panels during my intensive boiler research process, but no one ever got back to me once I’d explained my situation: two Velux windows on my south-facing roof mean very little surface area for a solar installation. I had hoped my garage roof might work in tandem, but clearly not – I shall have to wait until technology allows solar to work on a much smaller area.

May also saw me finally getting a smart meter installed – British Gas haven’t been particularly good at getting back to me with appointments and I had to cancel one scheduled for the week my mum passed away last November, but at last I’m up-to-date. It is interesting to know how much power various appliances are using, although I’m sure that will come into its own more in the winter. Let’s hope the new boiler will be much more cost-effective than my old model too!

On the back of the smart meter’s arrival, and thinking about the ‘vampire power’ used by appliances on standby, I treated myself to more smart plugs and a smart power strip for things like the Sky box and Alexa. The socket wasn’t particularly accessible before, but now the offending appliances are all plugged in behind the TV and I can set them to go off at night and on again in the day at the touch of a button on the Kasa app. I already used a couple of smart plugs to bring lights on (and off) automatically – a boon when you’re away from home so you can set them to go on and off at random, or at a set time. I like the fact that you can also program them to come on at sunset so you don’t have to adjust through the seasons as you would with an old-fashioned timer (great for Christmas tree lights too!). This time I added one for the towel rail/radiator in the bathroom – much easier than scrabbling around at skirting board level with a mechanical timer every time there’s been a power cut, and even better when you go on holiday only to realise you’ve forgotten to switch the towel rail off….

Coffee set

Another tiny change has been to stop using my Nespresso machine and switch back to cafetière coffee. I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable about all those pods going to landfill for a while now, so have been experimenting with other brands that claim to be compostable, although it remains to be seen whether the pods do actually compost down in my home compost bins. In the meantime, I haven’t been that impressed by the taste of the new varieties, so treated myself to a mini cafetière for one and started grinding coffee beans again using my ancient Braun coffee grinder. What a difference! I only drink one coffee a day these days so it might as well be a good one. What’s more, the coffee grinds can go straight into my compost without any packaging whatsoever – or even around plants, where they act as an excellent slug deterrent.

Last but not least, I signed up for a Senior railcard last year (having hit that momentous age last summer), but the pandemic meant I have only really been able to start using it in earnest recently. With the price of petrol being what it is, travelling by train is suddenly a much more viable proposition. Let’s just hope the proposed strikes don’t derail my good intentions – I am attending a wedding in Scotland in July and certainly don’t want to drive all that way on my own. I was looking forward to a more leisurely journey letting the train take the strain…

Frances Williams, allium and geum

In the meantime, my allotment may have suffered from a lack of attention recently, but it’s certainly very green, and rewilding is in, right?! Fortunately, the asparagus and rhubarb don’t seem to mind…. A lack of time over the past nine months has meant I’ve had to prioritise what I can do: raised beds allow me to focus on one bed at a time and not stress about the rest! Long grass under the fruit trees in my orchard is the least of my worries – and great for pollinators. Growing your own is possibly one of the greenest things you can do, as well as saving lots of money on produce in these cash-strapped times. And the calming effects of mindful gardening when you’re stressed should never be underestimated…

Asparagus and radish

Time will tell what a difference these small changes make to my bills, but I’m hopeful they will be worthwhile for the planet if nothing else. If we all do our bit, it can only be beneficial for the environment as a whole. Has anyone else managed to tick off some green boxes recently? Do tell! I’m sure there’s more I can do, but every little helps.

Front garden from above