Sunday, October 31, 2010
It seems I am always writing about weeds, and for sure, my view of weeds has changed over the years. Now very few receive the all out assault that I used to dish out, as I have learned more about "reading" weeds and trying to learn what their presence means.
Chickweed, Stellaria media is one of those weeds that people love to hate, but I find that it is so useful in the garden that I don't mind it's company, especially since it really only shows it's face during cool spring and fall weather, taking leave during the summer.
In my garden chickweed is a sign of my most fertile ground, in the weaker parts of my garden I do not find chickweed. And if you can stand to let nature be a little, it makes a valuable and inexpensive cover crop full of minerals when returned to the soil at planting time. However be warned, it is tenacious in cool weather and will defy tillage, enough to drive market gardeners mad in a cool wet spring. Luckily I am just a gardener and can afford to wait.
Besides excelling in the cover crop department, chickweed is a powerful weed to add to your spring and fall salads, or in any greens dish. Full of vitamins and minerals, it augments any dish. It's bright, fresh taste goes well in soups, egg dishes, casseroles, and many times I use it as substitute for lettuce or spinach, or even in place of basil in pesto. And the best part? I didn't have to plant it, tend it, or spend all day foraging for it, it is just there for the picking right in my garden, nonchalantly protecting my garden soil from heavy spring and fall rains.
Besides agrarian and culinary uses, chickweed is a popular old time folk remedy too. Old, young, and the anemic or probably just about anybody can benefit from some chickweed in the diet.
Besides incorporating chickweed in meals, a less subtle approach would be an infusion made from dried chickweed if you're so inclined. Drinking several cups per day of chickweed infusion is said to helpful in weight loss and ridding the body of toxins and increasing overall energy.
Herbal tinctures are easy to make too, and helpful to have around, so while we are eating chickweed daily pending our first hard frost, I decided to make a chickweed tincture to have around for the dark days of winter. Especially since retail price for 1 ounce of tincture is around $10.00.
All you need to make a tincture is pure grain alcohol, preferably 100 proof (Everclear is a good one) and no less than 80 proof or your tincture may not be thoroughly preserved. Next you need the herbs of course. I just harvested a colander of chickweed with scissors on a sunny day.
After checking to make sure you have only chickweed and not other weeds mixed in, finely mince with a sharp knife.
Loosely pack into clean jars, fill with grain alcohol, and cap. It will be ready for decanting in 6 weeks. The tincture can be helpful for swollen glands and to dissolve ovarian tumors in addition to adding to your overall well being if taken daily.
These are just a few of the uses for chickweed, healing salves and oils can be made too, making this one of the most useful, easy to grow "weeds" in my garden. Hopefully, chickweed can become your friend!
Saturday, October 30, 2010
With the holidays looming, many people fear that the extras aren't possible within their income level or budget so the additional "needs" get dumped on the credit card! There are so many teeny tiny greener changes we can make over the next 8 weeks which will save you hundreds of dollars and maybe pay for the turkey, trimmings and presents :)
1. Stop buying books and magazines and start using the library instead!
2. Don't buy cleaning products and instead invest in vinegar and baking soda [see the Down To Earth blog for tips]
3. Only wash clothes that are dirty, don't wash simply because you've used them
4. Hang your clothes to dry
5. Shower instead of bath and put a timer on
6. Swap childcare with friends
7. Eat vegetarian meals 3 nights a week - eating less meat is certainly greener!
8. Set yourself no spending days begin with 2 a week for the first month then add in another!
9. Use low energy light bulbs
10. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
11. Turn off all lights in empty rooms
12. Put a sweater and socks on so you can keep the heat lower.
13. Turn down the water temperature.
14. Pack snacks
15. Practice freezer cooking once a month so you have frugal meals handy!
16. Don't use things that are disposable like water bottles
17. Stop buying paper towels
18. Plan a weekly menu
19. Have breakfast for dinner once a week
20. Only shop once a week maximum
21. Try to buy direct from local farms and co-ops
22. Limit or ditch the cell phone
23. Schedule a long walk each weekend (great frugal family activity)
24. Pick your own - in some areas apples are still available!
25. Use what is available free - does your gym have showers and shampoo you can use instead of showering at home?
26. Wash your clothes at lower temperatures
27. Establish a change jar
28. Set yourself no driving days - if you need your car for work, nominate one day at the weekend where you aren't allowed to use it.
29. Set yourself the goal that if you could walk somewhere within 30 minutes you shouldn't take your car.
30. Write down everything you eat.
31. Write down everything you buy
32. Cancel the newspaper subscription
33. Don't eat out. Maybe challenge yourself and see if you can not eat out at all between now and the holidays!
34. Nominate one night a week to be soup night
35. Commit to cutting your grocery bill by at least 10% [I cut mine by 75%]
36. Stop buying soda, juice and alcohol
37. Ditch the cigarettes
38. Have a movie night at home.
39. Rent movies from the library - in most countries that means they are free.
40. See if you can get what you need for free by making use of local adds and enquiring if friends or family are looking to get rid of what you need.
41. Join a book group - usually a free way to have a night out.
42. Turn off all electrical equipment
43. Get back to nature [photographing squirrels is free, green & fun!]
44. Make your own shampoo
45. If you want to purchase something, make yourself wait 48 hours and examine whether you need it or want it.
46. See if what you need you can purchase second hand
47. Wait to do dishes until there is a full load [by hand or machine!]
48. Watch your portion sizes
49. Be your own beauty therapist
50. Ask for the necessities for holiday gifts
Taking a minute to reflect on this list, it is obvious that many of these money saving measures are actually green choices too! I've always found being greener doesn't need to be expensive despite what media reports often say! There are hundreds of every day little steps you can take to green your life, reduce your carbon footprint, enjoy a simpler life and live within a budget!
Have you got any green tips which help save money? Do you find being green expensive or frugal?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I have been making soap with the able assistance of my good lady wife Kim since January this year, and we find the finished product wonderful to use. We have also been holding soap making workshops for our Sustainable Living Group free of charge.
As I said, back in January we embarked on the giddy world of lye, vegetable and essential oils, with half a hand of botanicals thrown in. We bought a cold press soap kit from a local soap supplier for $45 that had everything in it to make the first 20 odd bars. I am a bit of a kit bloke, mainly because I like to have everything supplied to start with and then find the cheap alternatives afterwards. This is similar to my cheese making hobby. I started off with a simple kit and it grew from there.
There are two types of soap making methods that we researched, melt and cold press. We choose cold press because you do not have to keep going back to a specific supplier to get the necessary ingredients. Most of them you can buy from local suppliers, like the supermarket in the case of oils and the lye, or caustic soda from the hardware store.
I have had such a fantastic response on my own blog that I was encouraged to make a video tutorial on the process we used. We utilise various sustainable harvested vegetable oils and lye to make the soap. The good thing is that we have the raw materials readily available that are grown in Australia and it is cheap to make as well. Here is our recipe;
Gavin and Kim's Bubbly Cream Soap Recipe
makes about 1.2kg
300gm Olive Oil
300gm Rice Bran Oil
300gm Coconut Oil
100gm Sunflower Oil
140gm Sodium Hydroxide (lye/caustic soda)
25gm Fragrance Essential Oil (the choice is yours)
Soap colouring to your personal preference.
So sit back and enjoy our soap making tutorial. I hope everyone including those who already make soap in this method gets a tip or two from it.
If anyone has any questions, please let me know via comment. Also, if anyone has any other soap making tips using this method, I am more than happy for them to share.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
by Danelle @ My Total Perspective VortexThis is how we roast pumpkin to make pumpkin puree for pies and soups. Under each half is a tablespoon of salted butter. This variety is small sugar pumpkin. I like it for processing this way the best of all the pumpkins recommended for pies and soups mostly because I can do three at a time, the vine produces quite a few and they ripen before the vine gets mildew or attacked by stink bugs. They store well too. All around a great pumpkin.
I remove from the oven (set at 350-400 degrees F) after about an hour or when I start to see the skin split.
I let cool until I can easily touch them without being burned. Then the skins will have started to curl off, and they easily peel off by pulling with my finger or prodded with a butter knife. I turn them over and scrape the seeds out of the center, but I leave the stringy part mostly. It all goes into the food processor and gets pureed, why waste it?
After whirring a bit in the processor (a blender works too), I scoop into freezer bags or jars in about 2 cup (16 oz) amounts. That's what most recipes call for. From there I can make mashed pumpkin (like mashed potatoes with more nutrients, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, or pie filling.
For pie filling I actually cook the pumpkin goo for a little bit on the stove top with butter and cream and seasonings (I like cinnamon and nutmeg), puree it again to get the texture just right and then use whatever recipe calls for a "can of pumpkin" but this way it's free of preservatives and can stuff.
See? Pumpkin IS food and not just porch decoration. ;)
I do wonder though, has anyone ever just pureed the skins too? Seems like they would also be full of nutrients.....
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Living the Frugal Life
I'm re-running this post from the archives of my personal blog. It's garlic planting time again. There are a few tips in this post that have given us good harvests of this indispensable seasoning, even in two back-to-back years of opposite weather extremes. If you've never grown garlic before, it's probably not too late in the northern hemisphere. If you can't get planting stock at such late notice from a seed catalog, check your local farmer's market for untreated garlic and use the largest cloves you can find for planting.
We finally got our garlic planted yesterday. We aim for a week after first frost, and that event was rather late this year. It's both counter-intuitive and oddly reassuring to plant things this late in the year. I've had excellent results in growing hardneck heirloom garlics in my zone 6 garden. So I thought I would describe my method.
First things first: I prepare a bed that I have not used to grow garlic in the past three years. This helps protect garlic from just about the only thing that threatens it: fungus that attacks the roots. I scrape down any weeds, leaving them in place on the soil. To them I add a few leaves from my comfrey plants to act as a green manure, albeit not a living one. Comfrey is a deep-mining bioaccumulator of many nutrients, bringing these minerals to the surface where they can be made accessible to other plants. I make sure the comfrey leaves wilt for several hours in the sun before burying them. The plant has astonishing powers to root itself from cuttings. After that I work the ground over with the broadfork and then apply the lasagna/sheet mulching method. So much for the bed.
The night before I plant my garlic bulbs, I break down the heads of each different type of garlic into individual bulbs, leaving as many of their papery coverings intact as possible. The wrappings protect the bulb from viruses and other unwelcome intruders. Given the damage to this year's garlic crop from our incredibly wet June, I looked over the planting candidates with a very careful eye, rejecting any that showed signs of damage or rot. Those that made the cut got my standard pre-planting treatment. This consists of a soak in a mixture that is both anti-fungal as well as nutritive. It's a mixture of 1 tablespoon of liquid seaweed fertilizer and 1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda mixed into one gallon of water. The bulbs soak in this mixture overnight, with each garlic variety I plant in a separate mason jar. They soak for 16 to 20 hours altogether.
The day of planting, I pour about two cups of flour into a container and then rummage around in the garage until I locate my planting template. I made this template from a piece of scrap particle board I fished out of a dumpster. The template has 18 holes, each spaced 8" apart, which is slightly generous spacing for garlic. Originally I had intended to plant the garlic directly through the template, but that didn't work out when I saw how large the bulbs of some heirloom hardneck varieties are. Instead, I lay the template down over a well prepared bed, and dust the flour down every hole. When I take the template away, I can easily see where the bulbs should be planted.
Just before it's time to plant, the bulbs come out of their seaweed and baking soda soak, and go into a much briefer soak in rubbing alcohol. This additional disinfectant soak lasts for just 3-5 minutes. We've used 70% rubbing alcohol in the past, but this year it was 91% pure. While the cloves soaked, my husband did the hard work of making a deep narrow hole at each of the floured spots, punching straight through the newspaper in the lasagna mulch. I try to get the cloves about 4" deep, but sometimes it's difficult to tell exactly how deep they are when I have a lot of mulch on top of the ground. This year I added good compost down each hole dug for the cloves. This year's bed was built in late summer over lawn, so I figure the garlic could use some extra help. That's pretty much it. I don't even water the bed usually. We have enough rainfall in our area that it's not needed, and the bed is pretty well protected from drying out. It's raining today.
The garlic shoots have no trouble making their way through the lasagna mulching. They just come straight up through the hole I punch in the thick newspaper layer with the dibble. The key is to avoid walking on the bed after planting, even though it looks like an empty space in the garden.
Garlic requires more advanced planning and a longer time in the ground than other annual plants. But the payoff is that we eat homegrown garlic from July to December at least. This year we planted a softneck variety too, which should store better after harvest, in hopes of extending our homegrown supply into the spring months, or at least late winter. So here I am in October 2009, thinking about whether or not we'll have homegrown garlic to eat in February or March 2011. Although I started growing garlic in 2007, we're now eating from our second harvest of this crop and wondering how long we can manage to store it. No wonder it takes so long to feel like I know anything about gardening.
Friday, October 22, 2010
As our cold weather season approaches, the warm weather crops must be harvested before the first frost. Dealing with the resulting glut of fresh veggies takes many forms around our house. The tomatoes picked green, set out on a table and covered with newspapers, will eventually ripen enough to be canned or otherwise processed; the cucumbers are pickled or fermented; the winter squashes and onions cured for storage.
Many gardeners don't realize eggplant, the big round Italian types, can be stored for a couple of months in the pantry. Pick your eggplants at the peak of ripeness, when the skin has a glossy sheen. Once in the house, trim the stem as close as possible to the top of the fruit, without cutting into the flesh. Lift and break off the "petals" of the green cap so the spines won't pierce the wrapping, taking care not to break the flesh. Then wrap the fruit as snugly as possible in plastic wrap, and store at room temperature, or a bit cooler. A shelf in my pantry works best in my house.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Mr Chiots and I just got back from week in New England and we had a great time. Mr Chiots and I are frugal people, so we try to save money when we travel. I grew up in a frugal traveling family, we spent our vacation traveling the country visiting National Parks and camping along the way. Naturally, Mr Chiots and I do this as well. We enjoy the simplicity of camping and have a great time doing it. We save a lot of money on hotels, although camping is much more expensive than it was when I was young. Some places we checked campsites were $50. Generally sticking to the state and national parks helps keep these costs down.
We also take a lot of our own food because we like to eat Real Food and that's not often available when you're traveling (although it's much easier to find in New England than in our neck of the woods). Not to mention taking your own food can save you a lot of money on vacation and make sure you feel great the entire time. We enjoyed home canned tomato soup with cheese sandwiches and a lot of veggie or BLT sandwiches a long the way.
On this vacation we ate out a little more than normal because we found a lot of wonderful farm to table restaurants. We also enjoyed buying local veggies from little farms and chatting with the farmers about their climate and the local food scene. And we wanted to make sure we enjoyed a lot of fresh seafood since we were in the area for it!
How do you save money while traveling?
I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.
Monday, October 18, 2010
I find people either like squash or don't care for it at all. I happen to love squash of all types, especially winter squash. Not only is it really good for you, providing much needed nutrients in the dead of winter, it tastes good, and stores with a minimum of fuss. No canning or freezing is needed - winter squash comes with it's own storage container, namely a tough skin. All you need to do it store it in a cool, dry place and protect from freezing. It doesn't get much easier than that.
It also can be very productive if you have the space to devote to the rambling vines and fertile soil. I grew 427 pounds of winter squash in less than 1/3 the space I devoted to growing 400 pounds of potatoes. Granted I have large gardens on our farm, but I think even a smaller garden can grow some productive squash vines with a little ingenuity in regards to variety selection, and trellising or maybe a 3 sisters approach.
Sweet Meat winter squash - corky stem.
Rather than talking much about growing winter squash, I want to center on harvesting techniques to ensure good results in storage. We live in a cool, maritime climate, which has a long growing season for some hardy crops, but getting warm season crops to ripen is sometimes a little sketchy. Butternut types (Cucurbita moschata) are out in my location, however Hubbard type (Cucurbita maxima) and Acorn and Delicata (Cucurbita pepo) are the best candidates. Maxima type tend to keep longer than the pepo type. If you're not sure of what type you have, you can tell by the stem. Maxima usually has a corky stem with no spines, and pepo will have a woody stem with spines. If you want short term storage (2 -3- months) the pepo type like Acorn are great, and for longer term storage (5 - 8 months) try some Maxima types. They also come in a variety of sizes, small for easing into squashdom, and larger for aficionados.
Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin - woody stem.
Careful harvesting techniques are crucial to long term storage. Keeping the stem intact is important, not for a convenient handle, but rather to keep the entire squash enclosed in its protective skin with no openings. The easiest way to do this is to cut the stem instead of trying to wrench it from the vine, which often results in a corky stem attached to the vine instead of your squash. Carry your squash by lifting it with both hands, instead of using the stem for a handle. Likewise if you are buying winter squash for storage, look for specimens that still have their stem intact. Field harvesting techniques need to be expedient, and most winter squash for sale even at the farmers market most likely will be missing their stems, since most are destined for immediate use, not storage. In the home garden you can afford to take a little more time and keep your stems.
Dogs on vole patrol.
Not all your squash may be suitable for storage. In this particular variety, Sweet Meat, you will be looking for a grayish blue squash. This immature green squash pictured above will not be ripe enough to keep and shouldn't be harvested for keeping. It will make great hen or livestock food though, so it will not go to waste.
The squash on the left will keep many months in storage, the grayish, green squash on the right may keep for a while but should be used first.
Wheelbarrows come in handy for transport heavy squash to the curing area. These weigh in between 12 - 18 pounds apiece. By carefully placing these I can avoid the stems damaging adjacent squash, since the skin is still tender before curing.
Sweet Meat winter squash original Gill Brothers strain.
Winter squash will benefit from a curing period of two weeks or so at 70 - 80 degrees before being moved to a cool storage area like a cool bedroom, or attic. I use a greenhouse bench, covering for nighttime if the temperatures are going to dip below 50 degrees. The curing period at a higher temperature dries the shell creating a perfect storage container. This particular variety gets sweeter in storage, and keeps well until June. If you haven't grown winter squash before, now is a perfect time to taste test varieties from the farmers market, it would be realistic to expect if your local farmers are growing winter squash, it will do well in the home garden too.
For the frugal pantry, it's hard to go wrong with such a versatile vegetable that lends itself to savory and sweet recipes and requires virtually no processing for storage. I see pumpkin pie in my future this winter!
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Who says a good date isn't apple picking?
I am very blessed to have friends from a variety of different backgrounds, who live in a variety of different ways. Recently the topic of money & dating/date night (for partners/married couples) came up over dinner and it was interesting to see what the priorities and ideas were about what constituted quality time together and how much people felt that would cost! On the one hand, I have friends who are just preparing to marry and have (in all these months) spent a grand total of $6 on dating - going out for 2 frozen yogurts. The rest of their dates have involved home cooked meals with family and friends or walks in the park. They have decided to forgo eating out, flowers, gifts, movie or theatre tickets or anything which costs money. On the other hand other friends shared that for them date night costs at least $100 + by the time they've paid for dinner, two movie tickets, a large popcorn and 2 drinks. Other friends shared their dates cost upward of $500 a month because they like to do something to really relax like go to the theatre or get a massage. The consensus was that dating and romance is expensive!
Like most things in life I'm both somewhere in the middle and I do like dating to reflect my simple, green & frugal values! I don't think you have to be as extreme as never spending money (unless you want to!), but I also think most people don't realize that you don't need to spend money to have a good date or a good night out.
Here are some ideas:
Long country or seaside walks - it's quite easy to find out about good walks in your area on your local government website or via a guide book at the library. Pack a picnic and you have almost a whole days entertainment!
Coffee and dessert - this is generally cheaper than having a meal out and you can still choose a coffee house or restaurant with a nice atmosphere!
Last minute tickets - Many theatres and concert halls sell off their available tickets for the matinee or evening performance that day for a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket bought in advance! I know in London, England I can usually get theatre tickets for 25% of the cost by buying the morning of the performance! Obviously seating can be more restricted!
Make date night a "different" night - My local cinema offers dinner & a movie for $15 on a Wednesday and my local movie theatre has a movie for $5 (instead of $12) on a Tuesday. It may not be Friday or Saturday night, but for the budget conscious it works!
Volunteering together - Whether you work on a conservation project like planting trees or counting wild animals, there are plenty of things you can do together that are unique, simple, green & frugal!
Making something for each other or doing something for each other - It can be as simple as making a meal, giving each other neck massages or knitting slippers or socks for each other!
Using airmiles and reward points for more expensive options - This is a great way to afford a more elaborate meal out, cinema tickets, rental cars, hotels, spa days or travel. Saving them up for Anniversaries and Birthdays can be an extra special way to treat the other person!
Make use of things that are free - Many museums and art galleries offer free admissions or at least free admission one evening a week. Add to that festivals, city fairs, book readings, concerts in the park and farm open days and pretty soon you have many new options that are budget friendly!
Do something unique - a local community centre and vintage theatre offer an evening once each week with a variety of local musicians who want to perform, there is no cost for admittance, they simply ask you buy one drink. The atmosphere is stunning (the building is over 100 years old) and the lighting and acoustics are beautiful. For the cost of $8 for two drinks, it is a wonderfully romantic night out! Other unique ideas include visiting animal sanctuaries (my local one is free, another one a bit further out is $4) or going apple, blueberry or strawberry picking! There are so many ways to enjoy some quiet and fun time together when you think outside the box!
I think the key is variety, maybe once a month you do something with a higher budget like dinner out and the other times you stick to low cost romance like walks, coffee out or volunteering. I've learned that being frugal doesn't mean no romance and it is pretty easy to transport your simple, green and frugal lifestyle to all areas of your life!
I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any simple, green and frugal ideas? Do you budget each month for dating and romance?
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I recently posted a series of cheese making tutorials on my personal blog, and the response was so good, that I thought I would share my favourite here with you. It is my favourite because I get to taste test one of my own Parmesan cheeses on camera at the end of part 2!
To find the recipe I have used many times that the tutorial is based upon, take a visit to this post simply titled "Parmesan". Both videos run for a combined total of about 26 minutes, however in real time, the entire process took about 4 hours from milk to mould and the final press.
If anyone has any questions about the process, please leave a comment below, and I will endeavour to reply as quickly as possible. Who thinks that they will give it a go?
Monday, October 11, 2010
Last week I wrote a post on FuoriBorgo on how my family saves up to 17.5 liters of tap water a day with very little effort, by using a "water saving jug." I was surprised by the interest that the post attracted (it was also republished on Re-Nest). So today I decided to write about the key steps we take to conserve tap water in our house (we don't use tap water for gardening). Using tap water efficiently, even in an area like ours where water is plentiful, saves money on our water bill and electricity bill (by using less hot water), helps reduce pollution in watersheds, and increases the life of our septic system.
The key steps we take:
1) collect the water we use for washing fruit and vegetables, and reuse it to water plants
2) catch the water that runs while we're heating up the water for dish-washing, and use it for cooking
3) use a water saving jug in the shower
4) periodically check our faucets, pipes and toilet for leaks
5) use a low-flow shower aerator
6) use low-flow faucet aerators
The above steps are surprisingly easy. Installing low-flow faucet and shower head aerators, for example, only involves the initial, very low cost of the parts (in fact our local grocery store handed them out for free years ago). These aerators, which can reduce the water use by up to 65%, are simple to install (they usually just screw onto the tap) and need minimum maintenance: every so often, depending on your water hardness, you unscrew them, soak them in vinegar to clean out any mineral deposits, rinse and reinstall.
We find that good water management not only brings immediate savings and benefits, but it also teaches our whole family the values of a sustainable lifestyle: conserving water isn't just a strategy for the immediate future, but seems to us an investment in the long-term well-being of our children and our earth.
What steps do you take to conserve tap water in your home?
Sunday, October 10, 2010
We moved to the farm to start an orchard, the pigs were a side operation that kind of took on its own life. We are happy there is demand and that the pigs are paying for more of the farm to be built up. But, at least for me, the orchard is still the prize we are working towards. This summer I took up beekeeping. We will plant 25 more trees in the next few weeks, and I have been searching high and low for a cider press that we could afford and worked and was in good condition AND that would double as a cheese press.
Then we found one for sale online, pretty near the major city to the north of us. At a great price, when we happened to have the money.
It needs to be sanded down and the wood re-oiled with food grade mineral oil but other than that it is in fantastic shape. We will do our first pressing of apples next weekend. The pigs will get the apple pulp and we'll freeze the yummy juice.
We also inherited 2 antique hand churn ice cream makers! They too need work, but not only were they free, but carry part of our family history!
What amazing things have you found at garage sales, wanted/for sale adds, or in a friend's basement?
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Living the Frugal Life
Over the summer we built a highly mobile pen to house poultry with the help of our first WWOOF volunteer. It was intended for the turkey poult we ended up with, without much planning. When I designed what we now call the poultry schooner, it was with multiple uses in mind. It wasn't to be just a place to keep our poult, but also a means of allowing our laying hens to do a great deal of our fall garden cleanup. This year we reorganized the garden so that all our beds are three feet wide. The poultry schooner is also exactly three feet wide.
This means that it fits neatly over the beds where we've been ripping out our tomato plants as the first frost approaches. The growing turkey was moved to the pen normally occupied by the hens, and the hens were set to work under the schooner in the garden. Scratching through soil, tearing small seedlings from the ground, and eating insects in every stage of development is what chickens want to do. The poultry schooner facilitates them doing it to our benefit.
Not only do the hens perform the service of weeding the beds, but they also add their manure to each bed at the same time. I wouldn't be keen to add manure to a bed in the spring, when I was about to plant my crops. But now, in October, planting is at least five months away, and longer for most crops, and we also have months of sub-freezing temperatures to look forward to. I can't refer you to any science on pathogens in chicken manure, nor their breakdown. I know I have healthy living soils in the garden, and I trust the hugely diverse microbial populations there to process a light topping of raw manure by the time I'm ready to plant. The hens only occupy any part of the garden for two days, so we're not talking about an excessive build up of manure.
On the first day the chickens decimate any seedlings, and work the top few inches of soil. This light and superficial working of the soil would pass muster with living soil enthusiasts as no harm is done to the structure of the soil, mycelium, or (many) earthworms. The chickens also are eager and happy to help me with the work of breaking down half finished compost. I don't turn my compost pile but once per year. This year about ten gallons of the stuff from the bottom of the pile was tossed in to the hens on their second day of occupation on each garden bed. Their excitement with this material was abundantly clear. They showed more interest in the half-finished compost than in their morning grain ration.
The plan was to lasagna mulch over each bed as the chickens were moved on to the next newly cleared area. But through procrastination I discovered yet another benefit of using my hens in the schooner. Just days after the hens were removed from a bed, a whole new crop of seedlings sprang up in the lovely, loose soil. Of course most of them were weeds. When I was finally ready to do the lasagna mulching, it occurred to me that I could make the hens happy, save myself some work, and deplete the store of weed seeds in my garden by placing the hens back on the beds they'd already worked for just an hour or two. I was able to rotate the hens over four beds in the course of a day's work, and they cleared all of them of weed seedlings with chilling efficiency.
It seems to me that this technique could be used to great effect to combat the worst weeds. Even if chickens have no interest in eating a particular plant in the seedling stage, their scratching will decimate the seedlings anyway. The fact that four hens can clear a 30 square foot area of such seedlings in a matter of hours suggests that the process could be repeated several times in the weeks of waning sunlight in autumn. Come springtime there would be far fewer seeds left near the surface capable of germination. Add in a good lasagna mulching job, and the weed pressure is bound to be minimal.
I'm looking forward to spring 2011.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Southwestern, Tex-Mex, Mexican - the cuisine of the US southwest goes by many names. Tortillas, salsas, and chile peppers are much more likely to show up in the markets in other parts of the country now than in the past, and everyone has now heard of burritos, tacos, and refried beans. Many folks are familiar with green salsa or chili verde, but incorrectly assume they're made with green, aka unripe, tomatoes.
Those green soups and sauces are made with tomatillos (toe-ma-TEE-yos). The confusion is understandable. The word "tomatillo" looks like it could mean a kind of little tomato. Instead, the tomatillo grows inside a green husk, somewhat reminiscent of ground cherries or Chinese lantern plants.
For a gardener, the annual plants are easy to grow. I start a couple of seeds inside in early spring, the same time I start my tomato, pepper, and eggplants, and set them out after the last frost (they can be direct-seeded, but start out so tiny that I find it easier to start them inside. They'll also volunteer if you don't clean them up well in the fall). Once established the plants will thrive despite abuse that can kill other, tenderer, crops. They're drought-tolerant, but lots of water just makes them grow even faster. The light frosts in early fall won't faze them, nor will summer heat. Mine have never been bothered by bugs, critters, or disease. They do take up a bit of space - they're a sprawling, almost weedy-looking plant. I set out two plants close together, allowing them a space at least 4 feet square. They're quite prolific too - two plants provide enough for the two of us to use fresh in summer, and to can for winter soups and enchiladas.
Seeds are easy to come by, especially if your local market carries fresh tomatillos in the produce department (or start with some ordered from a seed catalog and then save your own seeds after that). With a fresh tomatillo, tear off the husk, cut the green fruit in half, squoosh the inside seed-carrying flesh onto a piece of paper, and set it aside to dry (incidentally, the same way I save tomato seeds - that soaking and fermenting in water is completely unnecessary). The seeds are much smaller than tomato seeds - more like eggplant's. When the paper is dry, the seeds can then be picked off and planted right away, or the paper folded up and tucked into an envelope to wait until Spring planting time.
To pick tomatillos, just lift up the sprawling branches and feel for heavy fruits that completely fill out the husk. For the best flavor, harvest when the husk and fruit inside are both still green. If you leave them until the husk dries out and the fruit inside turns yellow, they're still edible but too sweet. Harvested when the fruit inside just fills the husk, unwashed and unhusked fruits will keep a month or two just piled in a basket on a cool, pantry shelf (not refrigerated or in plastic).
To use fresh, pull off the husks and discard, then wash the round fruits inside (they'll feel a bit sticky). For salsa, dice or puree, along with roasted chile peppers, garlic, onion, and cilantro. They're also one of the easiest items to can (tomatillos on the left, above, jalapeno jelly on the right) for later use. Just barely cover dehusked and washed whole tomatillos with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes, or until the fruits are soft. While they can be canned whole, I use a potato masher to smush them into a lumpy sauce. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, adding 1 teaspoon lemon juice to each pint. Leaving 1/4 inch headspace, seal, and process 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.
My favorite way to use canned tomatillos is to make a big batch of chili verde: pork cubes browned with chopped onion and garlic, add cumin and oregano, water or stock, chopped roasted and peeled chiles to taste, and a jar of tomatillos. Simmer until the pork is tender, and serve in bowls with tortillas or corn muffins on the side. It's even better the next day - try it smothering a scrambled egg and potato breakfast burrito, topped off with a bit of cheese. ¡Muy sabroso!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Several years ago I read about the wonders of Broad Leaved Plantain, a "weed" that grows everywhere. It's also known as: Bird's Meat, Common Plantain, Great Plantain, Rat-tail Plantain, White Man's Foot.
I have it growing all over the gardens here at Chiot's Run and I'm quite happy about it. It comes in very handy when I'm out working late and get bit by mosquitoes or if I get stung by a bee.
All you have to do for a quick salve is grab a leaf or two, chew them up and apply them to the bug bite. I often do this while I'm out working if I need to, but I prefer to make a poultice with some baking soda as it stays on better and I think it works better. (as with all wild plants, make sure you know exactly what you're picking & using!)
What I usually do is take a few leaves, cut them finely, add a pinch or two of baking soda and a little water. Then I grind them to a wet paste in my mortar & pestle and apply to the bug bite. It instantly works to get rid of the itch or sting and keeps it coming back.
This salve is also very beneficial for using on cuts and scrapes, I often add some turmeric and comfrey when I'm using it for this purpose as turmeric helps with inflammation and pain and comfrey speeds healing.
Plantain has medicinal uses of all sorts: bites, cuts, scrapes, rashes, skin problems, intestinal pain & issues, worms, boils, bronchitis, coughs, colitis, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting, bed wetting and incontinence and many other things (for more info read this and this). I have yet to use it internally, but I use it often for bug bites, stings and cuts. I'm trying to make plantain oil for using medicinally. Since it's an herb with no known side-effects I definitely want to try using it more often.
Have you ever used plantain? Do you use herbs/weeds for medicinal purposes?
I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Canning and home preserving in general is making a huge comeback. And many times we turn to the past for guidance. Or better yet, Grandma is still alive and happy to gift you with her canning supplies that were so important to her in the day. Here is where it gets touchy.
1940's - 1950's era aluminum food mill.
Grandma wants to pass the torch, which many times can be wonderful. And while you can heed the warnings about old canning time tables and methods, you can use newer guidelines for longer processing times and safer methods without hurting her feelings, not using her favorite food mill may spark a little resentment. Many times Grandma wants to know that you are using her tools that meant to so much to her in a earlier era. Some relics are best delegated to display only. For instance anything made from aluminum that will come in contact with your foods, such as pots and pans, food mills, and funnels. Especially high acid foods like applesauce, fruits and fruit butters, and tomato products, which just so happen to be the most popular foods that people can.
High acid foods will react with the aluminum and impart a metallic taste to your food, and maybe some discoloration. You have to figure since you can taste it in your food, you're ingesting it and since aluminum has been linked to many diseases from Alzheimer's to cancer it best not to use it. Look for non-reactive tools for your canning efforts.
You can still honor Grandma by accepting her advice, and displaying her antiques, and buying yourself some new preserving gear that will last your lifetime. Stainless steel is a wonderful substitute, and will last a long time and become the new heirloom for you to pass on to your family. Happy canning!
Saturday, October 2, 2010
I think, when I started out on this journey, I thought it was going to be flip flops and applesauce - also known as having more time to do things I love (like wear flip flops) and learn the skills to make things (like applesauce). Oh how wrong I was! For me this downshifting, simple living has at times not been so simple, although it has certainly been memorable and mostly humorous too! There have been many mistakes, teary days, joys and a whole lot of frustration. It has at times, felt all too easy to be misunderstood and some days, living a life which felt far too different from the norm; I've yeared to be part of the simple living, homesteading, crafting posse but didn't have the land or crafting skills to make that happen. Finally, I documented here sometime earlier this year that I was going to simply take my time to get to where I want to be, with no self-induced pressure, no time lines, no stress and what do you know, suddenly it became a little easier. After what seems like years trying to learn to knit, making mistake after mistake (most of which I had no clue how to repair!), starting and re-starting, switching patterns and getting a whole slew of advice, I just decided to knit and knit and knit, adding in a few rows here and there, in my very own style, with no set pattern, all in my own time. Slowly but surely it got easier and over a period of about a month my first real knitting creation was born (pun intended); suddenly I was filled with renewed hope.
Life is a journey, finding the simple, green & frugal lifestyle that is right for you in your particular season can be bumpy, it can be a bit like one step back two steps forward (although sometimes it feels like one step forward two steps back!) and we'll each succeed (at what success is for us!) in our own way, in our own colours, with our very own stripes, in our own time...and let's just say, this knitting gig is here to stay!
Did you ever have a moment where you realized just how far you'd come on your journey? If you are a knitter, what was your first knitting creation?
Friday, October 1, 2010
from Spiral Garden
Ideally, we would produce almost all of our own food, but in reality, we're still buying grocery items and some produce each week to feed our family. There's a whole checklist of criteria when shopping for the family - local, organic, less-packaging, no additives... Never before has something as basic as feeding the family required so much research and thought.
Certified Organic grocery items – food, home and personal care items – do not contain residue of the harmful chemicals that the EPA considers to be carcinogens (60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides and 30% of all insecticide). These chemicals are designed to kill living organisms. In humans, they are implicated in cancers, birth defects, nerve damage and genetic mutations. Not only are our families at risk, but our country’s farmers, their families, their neighbours and all living creatures around farms are also at risk.
Certified Organic products are not only made without the use of synthetic chemicals and irradiation, they are also GMO-free and don’t contain harmful preservatives or artificial ingredients. Children are particularly at risk from these residues, processes and additives because the levels of safety are set at an adult level. A study of young children in New York showed that those who didn’t eat organic food had over 300 different chemicals in their urine. Those who did eat organic had about 12. It’s what’s missing from Certified Organic products that make them good for you.
Our bodies absorb significant amounts of what we put on our skin, in our hair, and brush our teeth with, etc. It is estimated that the average Australian adult is exposed to 126 chemicals through their personal care products, every day. If you are concerned about the chemicals your family are absorbing through their skin, you can reduce the number of products you purchase, opting instead for a few old-fashioned basic options, and you can also seek out Certified Organic products through your supermarket, pharmacy or local health stores. After switching to more natural alternatives for awhile, most people find that the highly scented, chemical-laden products no longer appeal to them.
Australia’s organic industry is regulated the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). Professional Certification bodies are responsible for certifying products as organic or biodynamic. Look for the certification logos on organic grocery items to know that growers and producers have fulfilled the stringent certification requirements. Imported products will also carry Certified Organic logos recognised by their own country and approved by AQIS.
It is legal in Australia for products to carry a brand name or description “Organic” without actually being a certified product or even in any way more natural or less harmful than other products on the shelf. In the case of a bottle of shampoo, for one example, a tiny percentage of its ingredients may be botanically derived, yet the label can legally imply that the shampoo inside is “natural, organic, herbal, botanical”. The only way to tell if you’re eating or using a certified organic product is to a) grow or make it yourself from 100% Organic ingredients or b) look for the AQIS-approved logo on the packaging. There is a push for truth within labelling, and it is expected that the use of the term “Organic” will be more limited on Australian products in the future.
Buying organic is also a blessing for the environment. Industrial farming uses more fossil fuel than organic farming because the energy required to produce artificial fertilisers and other chemicals outweighs that used in tilling, cultivating, harvesting crops and transporting and refrigerating products. Organic farming prevents soil erosion, promotes biodiversity and keeps water clean. In practice, it nourishes the soil, which nourishes the plants and animals that nourish our bodies. Simple.
A lot of families would love to buy Certified Organic, but believe that the cost is prohibitive. Buying organic allows us to support a true economy. Conventional grocery prices don’t reflect hidden costs borne by taxpayers, including federal subsidies. Other hidden costs include pesticide regulation and testing, hazardous waste disposal and clean-up, and environmental damage. Isn’t it easier to spend our dollars doing things the right way, and avoid those hidden costs?
Our family also finds that a lot of organic food is more nutrient-dense and therefore we eat less of it. One example is a 375g pack of Organic Wholemeal Spelt Pasta. Our children enjoy this pasta because it actually has substance and flavour, and in our large family, this small packet goes a lot further than a 500g packet of white wheat pasta from the supermarket. It is true that I will pay more than twice as much for the organic product, but for me, the numerous benefits outweigh the extra cost.
There are various lists suggesting the items to buy organic, here is one example of six important food products from a large Australian supplier Organic Oz:
4. Baby food
5. Dairy food
Of course there are the other issues of food miles, additives, packaging and so on. How important is it to you that your food and other grocery products are Organic? Do you find labeling confusing? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences.