Turning crap into gold

In the era of Covid-19, we’ve had to move away from bring-your-own containers and reusable coffee cups – composting can help ease the burden

I have never laughed, cried and wanted to make brown butter apple cake more than now.

We don’t know how long it will be before we emerge from our chrysalises into the world again. But while we cant at home many of us seem to have paused to reflect on our consumption choices.

I hope we keep our newfound habits and do not fall back on old ones. The soul-benefiting DIY posts from around the world already feel like exactly what social media, in its best light, was built for.

Another realisation I’ve noticed in this quest for improvement is the process of literally dealing with one’s crap, whether it’s the spiritual, physical or organic variety.

It is the natural order of things, I suppose – when we go to ground we start to think more responsibly. We notice our waste and extend our thoughts to closing the loop as much as we can.

It’s important that we not let this Covid-19 isolation era interfere too much with our waste management practices before the pandemic. We were well on our way to living more of a plastic-free, bring-your-own coffee cup, straw and container existence. This reign of hand sanitisers and reversion to single-use coffee cups is absolutely necessary now, but we can counterbalance it.

Learning how to deal with your organic garbage is an excellent start.

Compost is decomposed organic material. Think newspapers, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells – anything that is made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. And the good news is, that’s a lot of things.

Once you start shopping with the premise of “can I put this in my compost bin”, it will affect your consumption choices dramatically. Once I started asking myself this question constantly, I cut the contents of household red bin garbage by three-quarters within a week. And when you’ve brought your compost-friendly purchases home, it will dramatically change the way you eat, too.

So how does one start a compost?

If you are in an apartment I highly recommend a bokashi system. You can get this online or at many gardening and hardware stores. You can use a fancy aerated lidded compost bin under your kitchen sink, or even a simple airtight bucket on your bench top.

The bokashi element you can make yourself but is just as easily bought. The main ingredient is EM (effective microbes), which are inoculated into a host like wheat bran and blackstrap molasses.

Layer it like a lasagne, thin and even. For every layer of scraps sprinkle on the bokashi. The only thing that you shouldn’t add are large animal bones. Unlike many other forms of kitchen bench top composting, it is generally OK to add spent citrus and even animal and vegetable fats and oils – though don’t go overboard and upset the balance. A good rule of thumb to help break organic matter down is to make sure there’s nothing too large in surface area. Chop it down a little.

The bokashi will hasten the waste to break down and also deodorise your waste very effectively. It should smell a little like pickles.

Think of it like this: it is akin to your sourdough starter, koji or kefir grains. Essentially you are going to ferment your kitchen scraps so they may be dug into your garden or put into a bigger compost heap. If you don’t have that, I encourage you to sneak out in the dark and bury it around the trees in your verge. The council can thank you later!

Which leads me to composting if you have a garden

No need for fancy compost barrels if you have the space. Find yourself a corner of your garden – a meter by a meter is a good enough size.

You can use an old drum, or knock up a little container from old picket fences. Make sure to leave a hollowed-out space down the bottom, so you can extract the composted soil after it has broken down, and become free of pathogens. A good method for this is to measure the temperature in the middle of your compost heap to make sure it reaches 54-75C, becoming thermophilic, after which point it will start to cool down. You can help this by aerating it with a pitch fork and watering it a little every day.

If it starts to get pongy, add more carbon material like newspaper or hay. Chuck in all your kitchen and garden waste like pruned branches, old crops that need to be pulled out, grass clipping and leaf litter.

Make sure to never use the compost on your garden when it is hot, as this will “burn” your crops. It needs time to break down and become readily made nutrients for your plants to access.

An avian compost heap

Another type of composting I love and use both at the farm and the city is backyard chooks. Who doesn’t love getting eggs from your kitchen scraps? No one.

Our hens exist pretty happily in a little coop called the “cock block” and gang up against the brush turkeys when they fly in to pinch their scraps.Chickens rule: why the backyard chook is the pet of the decadeRead more

I don’t even bother with a compost heap in the city as most of our scraps get fed to the chooks. In turn, we layer their lovely poop with hemp hay, which is scraped to the corner of their coop to break down so that when we start a new crop each season it is added to our vegetable beds. It is teeming with lovely juicy worms. Food production, compost, worm farm – not forgetting endless hours of entertainment from watching the girls – all in one.

There are so many resources on the phases and different types of composting. If you start self-educating now, I guarantee you that you will not have covered everything by the time this crisis is over.

The best solution for your living situation may not be the one you first start off with, but don’t give up. Like my first permaculture teacher, Michael, from Milkwood Permaculture, taught me, there are “multiple-pronged solutions to deal with every problem”. Which I think is a good mantra for life as well.

I encourage you to start where you can and see where it leads you. Who doesn’t want to close the loop? Imagine how amazing it would be if we could all produce some energy from our crap?

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – just make sure you put it in the compost when you’re done.

The stress of giving birth under lockdown

Having a baby is always nerve-racking – and women now have unexpected worries to contend with. New mothers share their stories of ‘incredible’ midwives, and the joy and pain of giving birth during a pandemic

Helen Simmons, a 28-year-old film producer from London, went into labor with her second child on the evening of 30 March – exactly a week after Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown. “It felt like a 1960s-style birth,” she jokes.

She arrived at the Royal Free hospital with her husband, Charles, at 5.30am the following day. “We were hoping for the best,” Simmons says. Instead, Charles was sent home because of new visitor restrictions brought about by the outbreak, and Simmons was sent to a labor ward on her own. She was hungry – she hadn’t brought brought enough food with her – so Charles dropped some off and stayed with her for a few hours before being ordered to leave again.

For the next 10 hours, Simmons was in labour alone and Charles was relegated to a waiting room outside, like a Mad Men-era husband. It was tough. “The hardest bit of labour isn’t the pushing,” Simmons says. “It’s the contractions. And doing that alone … you don’t realise you need your partner so much, emotionally and physically, until you can’t have that person there with you.”

After a 30-hour labour, the majority of that time spent alone, their daughter, Isla, was born on 1 April at 4.40am. Charles was allowed in to watch Isla being born before being ushered out. It certainly wasn’t the birth they had hoped for or planned. Yet Simmons feels the experience meant she discovered an inner strength she hadn’t known she had. “It gave me a newfound respect for women through history,” she says.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, pregnant women across the country will be wondering how it will affect them. “It’s an anxious time for pregnant women,” says Maria Booker of the charity Birthrights. “They are concerned about whether their partner can stay with them or what the birth will be like.”

At the moment, according to official guidance, no British woman should have to give birth alone. “Visiting is restricted to help stop the spread of coronavirus,” says NHS England, “but our guidance is absolutely clear that a specific exception should be made for birthing partners when a woman is in labour.” The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) guidelines state that partners may not be able to accompany women during their induction and the early stages of labour because of physical distancing guidelines. But it adds: “At the point you go into active labour, you will be moved to your own room and your birth partner will be able to join you.” Provided, of course, they are not showing any signs of illness. No visitors are allowed post-birth.

But there is a degree of confusion about how the rules are being enforced by different trusts. Simmons spent most of her labour alone, but others have partners with them throughout. A business owner from London, Naomi Edmondson, 29, gave birth to a baby boy at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington on 31 March. Her husband, Ally, was allowed to stay with her throughout her planned C-section.

What may be noticeable to mothers giving birth, however, is that hospitals seem emptier. A recent survey by the RCM found that 20% of midwife roles are currently unfilled because of self-isolation, coronavirus or existing staff shortages. Last week, Lynsay Coventry, 54, died at the Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow, Essex. She was the first midwife to die of Covid-19, showing the risks healthcare professionals are taking when carrying out their jobs.

Take care of your body & health

Poor health habits can add stress to your life and also play a role in how well you are able to cope with stress. The stress that comes from poor health is significant. Health challenges also affect other areas of your life. Health problems can make daily tasks more challenging, create financial stress, and even jeopardize your ability to earn a living.

Healthy Diet for the Right Reason

Rather than eating right solely for the promise of looking better in your jeans, you should also make a commitment to eating foods that will boost your energy levels and keep your system running smoothly. This is because what you eat can not only impact your short-term and long-term health, it can affect your stress levels.

Another reason it’s a good idea to maintain a healthy diet is that your diet can have an effect on your mood.3 While the effects of an unhealthy diet are cumulative and become more apparent in the long-term, you are also less likely to feel well in the short-term if you are eating a diet heavy on sugar-laden, fatty, or nutritionally empty foods.

Some of the more immediate effects poor diet include feeling:

  • Lethargic
  • Jittery
  • Moody
  • Fatigued
  • Hungry
  • Weak

Eating well has important long-term consequences, but it may also help you feel more energetic and optimistic in the short-term as well

Make Sleep a Priority

Sleep can have a serious impact on your overall health and well-being. Make a commitment to get enough sleep at night. If you haven’t gotten adequate sleep, you may be less productive, less mentally sharp, and otherwise more prone to the effects of stress.

Some good habits that can help:

  • Try to get a full eight hours of sleep each night
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 pm
  • Avoid eating foods in the evening that might disrupt your sleep
  • Go to bed at the same time each night; wake up at the same time each morning
  • Create a restful sleep environment; make sure your bed is comfortable and keep the room at an optimal temperature for sleeping (between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Adopt a calming technique such as meditation to help yourself relax each night before bed

Fitness Habit

We’ve all heard the advice to eat right and exercise, but it can be difficult to fit in workouts around a busy schedule, particularly when you’re feeling exhausted from stress. One effective strategy for making fitness a regular part of your life is to build an exercise habit around your other habits-either attach a workout to your morning routine, your lunchtime habits, or make it a regular part of your evening-you get the idea