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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Make Your Own Brown Sugar

by Chiot's Run

There are lots of things you can make at home for much less than you can buy them at the store. Not only does it save money, but it saves time as well. No more quick trips to the store to get brown sugar when you start baking and realize you're out. I've been making my own brown sugar for quite a while, mostly because it can be difficult to find organic brown sugar when you live in a rural area and it's pretty expensive when you do actually find it! I definitely couldn't get organic brown sugar for less than $1.50/lb, which is about what this costs me.



To make your own brown sugar all you need is white sugar and molasses. I use organic evaporated cane juice sugar (not Sucanat) and unsulphered organic blackstrap molasses. The general recipe is 1 cup of sugar and 2 Tablespoons of molasses. You can adjust the molasses amount or use a different kind of molasses to suit your tastes. I'm partial to blackstrap or sorghum molasses. I also like to use at least 2 Tablespoons or a bit more, since I like really dark brown sugar and a pronounced molasses flavor.



After adding the molasses to the sugar all you have to do is mix. This can take a while, you can use a mixer if you're making a large amount, the whisk attachment works very well for this task. Mixing by hand is also fine and I have found much quicker than using a mixer, I like using a fork for this method. Don't worry if you have small lumps of molasses in the final product, I usually don't mix until completely combined.



Another added benefit to making brown sugar at home, is that it's always fresh. It smells wonderful and it's always nice and soft. It has a much deeper flavor than store-bought brown sugar, which I really appreciate! I usually make up just enough for my recipe, but during the busy holiday baking season I might make a batch to keep on hand.



Now you can add this to the growing list of things you can make at home. You'll have a constant supply of fresh brown sugar for baking all kinds of delicious goodies.

Have you ever made brown sugar at home? Any other great things you make at home you'd love to share?

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, November 29, 2010

Preparedness in the barnyard

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most conversations about preparedness center around the household. All well and good. But in our modern homesteading world many times we stock our pantries very well, but the barn cupboard may be a little bare. It's pretty easy to run to the feedstore and pick up a bale or two, a bag of scratch or alfalfa pellets. We are an on-demand society of consumers, but to be more self-reliant we need to scale back our on-demand ways a little in regards to our livestock that help us produce food, fiber etc., for our table.

In our area that normally doesn't really experience any long-lasting winter storms, when one does hit, it's not unusual to see people unprepared for the cold, and wintry weather, so I won't write about water and feeding systems for areas that always experience months of freezing weather, rather I will dwell on having flexible systems and supplies on hand just in case, for more moderate climes that experience short duration storms. Consider this a drill for a real emergency. Winter is a good time to assess your stock keeping capabilities. Do you have enough storage for feed, adequate water, enough money to keep your stock all winter? Can you get more feed, if needed? Do you have like animals in groups, or pairs so they can keep warm and commiserate? Nothing worse than a lonely pig... . And a huge one - do you have enough time to do extra care taking during the cold weather if need be?

Keeping stock hydrated goes a long way towards helping them cope with cold temperatures. We like these tough, Rubbermaid water troughs. We sometimes have to chop a little ice, but you can save yourself some trouble by only putting out the water the stock actually needs for a day. The 50 gallon trough in this photo is for my daughter's horse. She only puts in what he will drink for the day, and she dumps it at night. Less water, less ice. She places his trough within reach of a hose, and when she is done, she drains the hose and puts it away. Nothing worse than having a frozen hose full of ice.

The cows only drink once a day also in this cold weather. I feed them, they tank up on hay, and then come and drink. When we fed outside all winter, and they went to the canyon for water, they would all trail to water once a day, and according to rank, drink their fill and then trail back to bed down and ruminate. Anthropomorphizing makes us think the animals need all the comforts we have, like running water at all times, and feed all the time. But they really can be comfortable with the basics. Don't go overboard - especially during stressful times during storms. You have to take care of yourself too.

Being prepared by having extra feed on hand can be a life saver. Plus, livestock need to eat more during cold weather in order to stay warm, it's amazing how fast a growing pig will go through feed in a cold snap. One thing that helps is to have a higher protein feed source available for cold snaps. Feed your best hay, bump your chickens up to grower ration, throw a little extra something to the pigs. It all helps.

And there is something to be said for only taking the bare necessities of stock through the winter, and keeping a seasonal schedule. On our farm, we don't want any young stock that couldn't be weaned if a catastrophe arose, and we time breeding for no babies being born this time of year. Sure, it makes for good dramatic blog entries to be risking life and limb to save a piglet or calf from the cold. But in reality, it is kind of cruel to animals and their tenders alike and is just another unintended consequence of our on-demand society. There is no seasonal differences in the grocery store - just one big ol' homogenized food storage area. If you want to grow your own food, grow it, and grow it in season.

Back to the subject of water, these small indestructible tubs are great too, for small stock. We use a gravity flow bell waterer for the chickens, but despite being placed on the south side of the greenhouse for thawing, that assumes we get sun. That doesn't always happen. To keep chickens laying eggs in the winter, it is imperative they have water during the day. Usually a tub like this suffices until the thaw. Just a stop gap measure, but it does work and is easy to clean when it gets soiled. These also work good for pigs for a short spell, it's just that pigs like to play, and inevitably that water tub will end up in the pig toilet area, with smirking pigs looking on while you retrieve it for them. I have yet to see hens do that...


This past cold spell brought a few house fires due to heat lamps being used for urban flocks. Chickens are incredibly hardy when fully feathered. Which is another reason to not have babies during winter. If your chickens have a dry, secure place to bed down at night and have been properly fed and hydrated during the day, they DO NOT need heat lamps or lights to keep them warm, and adding a light at night can throw off the egg laying schedule too.

So, to make things go easier during the inclement weather, stock up as much as finances allow on:
Feed - hay, grain, milk replacers, etc.
Bedding material
Minerals
Livestock medical supplies
Auxiliary species appropriate watering supplies

And hopefully take some time to enjoy the beauty of a winter storm.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My children and pocket money

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I hope everyone is having a lovely weekend.

I think one of the most important things I can teach my children is how to manage money. In our consumerist world where we are often told that our dreams can be bought and bought NOW... and the true price of this seems to be a very high personal debt level.

Anyway, I know many people have many approaches to pocket money but I thought I'd share my approach.

See, I've decided not to tie pocket money to chores. Simple reason is that I just don't see the two of them as related. My children have always done chores anyway and its something we do to help each other, our friends and our community. The intrinsic value of chores are a sense of belonging.

But I'm starting to digress....

The other reason why I don't tie pocket money to chores is that it helps me teach my children about money without having to think about chores either. For me, my children have "earned" their right to money by becoming proficient at the very basics of it - the adding and subtracting by 1s, 5s and 10s.

Once my children have become proficient at the basics, the next step for us is for them to now become proficient at managing that money. That means learning about financial goal setting, saving and using alternatives.

Financial Goal-Setting

The biggest rule we have is no goal, no pocket money. I've found that the times I've blown my budget has been when I didn't have a clear idea of my goals and what I'm saving for.

So my children have to have goals -their goals can be anything they like and I encourage them to go for something that is slightly out of reach of their $6 a week pocket money.

Currently, my 6 year old son's goal is to buy a Nintendo DSi. An extremely difficult goal BUT he is adamant that he will be able to do it. (His 7 year old sister had saved and bought her own Nintendo DS so I think its a competition thing for him too. hehe) He set this goal in June 2010.


Photo by Emily

Talking about Saving

I have told my son that in order to get his Nintendo DSi, he would have to save his $6 a week for almost an entire year. He will be 7 years old and in a different grade by the time he can get his goal. This means that he can't use his pocket money for other things - like buying food at special canteen days or buying little toys from op (thrift) shops. He listened very carefully, asked me a few questions ("what if I get given toys as a pressie, would that be okay?"), then nodded very seriously and said he knows he can save for an entire year.

Looking at alternatives

I then gave him alternatives - he could buy a second-hand Nintendo DSi because its a bit cheaper (he was not sure about this idea - he's very worried that the second-hand item may be pink....you can tell he has an older sister....).

I also told him that he could supplement his pocket money by selling some of his current (good) toys (he didn't like that idea).

He also stated that he could also save any birthday money that he gets from relatives.

Now comes the willpower

So now, its been over 5 months since he set this goal. And he's had to make some tough decisions since. The latest one was when he decided to forgo buying a special lunch at school (his school does not have a canteen and so the entire school gets very excited on those occassions when food can be bought).

I have always made it a rule that if my children want to buy food, then it has to come from their pocket money. After re-counting his savings, my son squared his shoulders and went "no, I want to use my money for a DSi - not for food at school."

But then there are exemptions

I have to say though, my son did not exercise his willpower at first. He did succumb to the odd lolly every now and then. The last 3 months he has done EXTREMELY well and has not spent a single cent of his pocket money or birthday money.

However, there was one notable exemption that did make me VERY proud of both of my children. That was when they decided to donate some of their pocket money to help a little girl get treatment for cancer.

What we are all learning

Its interesting to see how my son is processing and thinking about money and savings. For him, he seems to rely a lot on willpower in his management of money. Compare his story above with that of my daughter's who at the same age relied (and still does rely) more on alternatives.

And in all cases, my children are learning to prioritise their spending. So many people make the mistake in thinking that money gives you choices. But I don't think that's quite right. Its what you do to that money that gives you choices.

I'm also learning through this exercise how important it is to talk regularly to my children about goals, savings and alternatives. There are times when they've surprised me with how quickly they can grasp complex concepts and their determination to achieve their goals.

If you have any stories about pocket money, I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Simple Does It

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















Every now and then I realize I'm making a mistake, I'm over complicating life. Sometimes I feel a need to have things a certain way, like I'm failing if my plate doesn't look, smell and taste all together epicurean. Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to make things perfect that I seriously contemplate making something bought look homemade and fret (for a quick second!) at the fact I'll never have the skills to make something fit for a food magazine. And then a little voice inside me whispers some home truths, usually at the same time I smell toast toasting and marvel at it's succoring nature, it's ability to evoke so many wonderful emotions, it's ability to say so much about the beauty of simplicity. And somehow, by the time the butter is spread, toast has taught me a valuable lesson. Food, like life, doesn't need to be as complicated as we make it. Sure it's good to occasionally stretch oneself, but one's feet need to stay firmly planted on the ground.

With the stress of moving and new challenges, coupled with a few kitchen baking disasters (I may never try to make lemon tart again...) I've decided, as I ease into winter (-12 tonight....brr) and long work hours that I need to take lessons from toast with butter. Sometimes simple is all you really need. And so this week, I noticed a little change in my kitchen. Gone were the piles of dishes, dread about what to prepare and grumbling and instead simple, basic, joy.

And for the curious, my new simple favourites are:

Breakfasts
- Toast with peanut butter
- Yogurt with homemade granola, almonds & fruit

Dinners
- Fish with salad & green beans
- Homemade soup with homemade rolls
- Homemade curry with rice & veggies
- Beans on toast :)

Snacks
- fruit with peanut butter or almond butter
- cheese and crackers
- canned apple sauce

Lunches
- leftovers
- cut up veggies with hummus
- winter veggie pasta

















One day I'm sure I'll try something more complicated, but right now I'm savoring in the simple. And after a simple meal and a simple evening spent knitting, my heart and soul tell me I'm in the place I'm meant to be, even if I never succeed at lemon tart!

Do you get little reminders to focus on the simple things? What does your food say about you?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Teaching What Matters Most

By Bel


from Spiral Garden



One of my passions is helping other families connect with nature. I love writing about getting kids into the garden, and walking the talk by enjoying our garden, nature walks, photography, camping and other nature-inspired activities, with my children.



There are some very good resources for children which cover topics such as permaculture, organic gardening, peak oil, solar energy, etc.



Here’s some of the info I found:



The ABC Book of Gardening for Kids is a good one. About $16 or in most library systems.


You must read The Lorax by Dr Seuss!!


Backyard Science (books and TV - again ABC) is great too.


Depends on their age, but Jackie French is good - her Chook Book and self-sufficiency books are pretty easy reads. My 10 year old likes ‘my’ Jackie French books.


The Department of Environment and Heritage have free resources about environmental issues.


Living Earth Games, which include permaculture principles and are heaps of co-operative fun. We own and enjoy both Gaia’s Garden board game and the Living Landscapes cards.


There are environmental and social justice topics in mainstream school resources like those available from RIC where you can browse every page of every book. Also, find ideas here.


My kids love those permie DVDs like ‘Eat your Garden’ and the ‘Gardening Australia - Permaculture‘ DVD with Josh building his backyard permaculture setup from scratch. They’re not aimed at kids, but they’re very simple and entertaining.


For solar energy and peak oil, you may look for educational material from CSIRO, petroleum companies, the ‘green’ department of your local energy companies (gas and electricity).
Docos and TV shows like Catalyst aren’t aimed at kids but aren’t too difficult for them to understand either. I prefer not to dumb-down the facts and science behind this issue. It is amazing to hear their positive solutions and alternatives and their ideas about what would be more difficult in a time where oil is very expensive and how we would cope etc. They really are positive about relocalisation and alternative energy sources, permaculture, community gardens and co-opping and all sorts of other things which come up from Peak Oil discussions.


Carbon calculators are fun and informative. Try this site for links to a few different ones (some are inaccurate for rural folk etc due to penalties for not using public transport for example).


We watched The Power of Cummunity- How Cuba Survived Peak Oil DVD 2006, then a friend came back from Cuba with amazing photos and stories to tell of their thriving communities… We talked about similarities and differences, and how such a crisis would affect our community, our nation.


We took time to read about The Great Depression in Australia, for if there is an oil crisis (or other event) we could experience such a time again. It’s so far removed from our very wealthy, urban and ‘instant’ society that we enjoyed studying what occurred during this period and why.


Where are you? Maybe there are farms nearby you can visit to learn about food production. Community gardens are great too. Some larger Permaculture farms have open days.



More Links:


Solar Energy Projects
Sustainability Education
IPEC
Permaculture Stories for Children


… and so it goes. An alternative curriculum, just a click away! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What To Do With A Whopper!

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Look what I discovered lurking under my zucchini bush!  Note the bewildered look on my face.  What the heck am I going to do with this massive zucchini.  It weighted in at 2.772 kg, and it is the biggest I have ever seen.  It wouldn't even fit in the fridge!


But then the ah ha moment!


I shall make a chutney with some of it, and dinner with the remainder.

So it was off to the kitchen to slice half of it up for a zucchini chutney, which I salted and left overnight. 



Now for piece de resistance.  I found a recipe for Curry Zucchini Soup, which I gave a go.  Here it is.


Curry Zucchini Soup




Ingredients 

 



serves 4-6



  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 kg (2 1/2 pounds) zucchini
  • 1 litre (1 quart) low-salt vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions



Sweat the onions and garlic in the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan, set over medium heat, don't brown.
Add the zucchini, stock, curry powder and ginger and a large pinch of salt and pepper.
Allow to simmer until the vegetables are very soft - about 45 minutes.
Carefully put the soup, in batches, into a blender, or use an immersion stick blender; blend until smooth.
Stir in the cream, taste, and adjust the seasonings if required.
Serve with crusty bread.



We found this soup to have a wonderful flavour, with a slight kick from the curry powder.  All the kids wolfed it down and asked for seconds.  I thought it was quite filling.


So, in reflection, that is what you do with a whopping big zucchini!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Family napkins

by Francesca

family napkins 7

In my family we use cloth napkins at meals. I grew up using cloth napkins, and having my parents remind me and my siblings, to fold and put away our napkins at the end of each meal, each inside its own little "napkin case" - which were envelopes crocheted by my grandmother. My parents still use those crocheted cases, and neatly fold and stow away their napkins after at each meal. My mother even irons them, as she always has. How did my mother find the time to raise four children, have a part-time job and iron napkins? I honestly don't know, and in my own family, we skip several steps when it comes to napkins: no ironing, and no napkin cases. Instead, we simply use cloth napkins of different colors.



However, recently I made a batch of new ones, using a piece of old sheet which was white. So color-coding was impossible and I didn't want to make crochet cases either (which I really don't have any room for). Instead, I decided to personalize the napkins with some simple free hand embroidery. My kids loved this idea, and each came up with grand plans for their own napkin, some of which I promptly scaled back to realm of reality - embroidering on a napkin "Viva Roger Federer!", for instance, was not on the cards.


family napkins 1


Once I embroidered the decorations, I used this excellent tutorial published last week by Design Sponge, to make nice metered corners. So easy to do, once you know how! The tutorial also explains that - unlike what I did - you first make the hems, and then you embroider, which makes total sense. Ahem!


family napkins 4


And the best part? My daughter embroidered her own napkin. I was a little skeptical at first, I'd pictured a very simple and quick napkin project, and having already managed to escape embroidering "Viva Roger Federer!", I wasn't too sure I wanted to teach my not-quite-4-year-old the art of embroidery. But she amazed me, and with very little guidance she embroidered a flower (you can see the napkins I embroidered here).


family napkins 2

Watching her confidently holding the embroidery hoop with her little hands, and stitch through the fabric, I realized that she knew already the basics from watching me embroider - just as I learned from watching my own mother. She's very proud of her embroidered napkin these days, and whereas I don't know whether she and her brothers will skip some steps in their own families when it comes to using napkins at meals, I believe they'll continue the fundamentals: they've watched us.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Simple, Green & Frugal in the BIG SMOKE!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches






















When I first began writing for the co-op, I was in a small city surrounded by countryside and I was waiting for the day when homesteading was in my future. While I've not let go of that dream and do expect one day to be surrounded by fields of donkeys, pigs, hens and rabbits (oh my!) right now I'm embarking on a new adventure, big city living. For a variety of reasons this is the right option for now and truth be told, the longer I'm on this journey & the older I get, the more I realize it doesn't have to be all or nothing when it comes to the simple, green and frugal life!

Since I knew I'd be moving I've been reflecting, researching and deciding what simple, green and frugal choices I can make during this new adventure in big city living; the more I think about it and begin to put new rhythms into practice, the more I've realized I'll be living quite a green existence. Some of the ideas I'm incorporating into my daily and weekly rhythm, which allow me to live to the values I hold, even in a city are:

1. I'm going car-less - one of the readers from the co-op challenged me to this and at the time I thought it would be impossible. Well, I made a decision to accept a position which I didn't "need" a car for. Yes a car would be easier, but it isn't "needed" so alas, I'm going without!

2. I'm creating a home filled with mostly second hand items! In fact I'm now the proud owner of some pretty funky retro furnishings!

3. I will be shopping at a market sourced by local farmers! This also means I'll be able to source large amounts of seasonal fruit and veg for canning!

4. My apartment is within walking distance to work! My two feet are pretty much the greenest form of transport available to me! [For the curious, I cast my apartment net within a 1 hour walk to work, although settled on something a little closer!]

5. I plan to grow salad herbs inside my apartment and enjoy fresh cut local & seasonal flowers when possible!

6. I will be volunteering in the outdoors: city farms, fruit picking clubs and local park clean up projects will help fill my time!

7. I've found knitting and crafting clubs to join!

8. I'll be making my own shampoo and soap.

9. I will be using re-usable toilet paper! [Yes, really!]

10. I'm budgeting for 10 subway tokens a month in order to make the wider communities (aka communities with parks, ravines and nature areas) accessible!

11. I'll continue being paper-less and chemical free! No paper towels or chemical based cleaners - I'll be using re-usable cloth, vinegar and baking soda!

12. I'll actually be able to go home for lunch probably three days a week! This will drastically make meals easier, more frugal and simpler!

13. A lot of people want to spend time in the city I'm in, but hotels are very expensive! I'm hoping I'll be able to do a house swap for holidays and enjoy a few days a couple of times a year on a farm, small-holding or home in the country for minimal cost!

Finally, I'm considering a worm farm compost, I just need to check the landlords opinion! :)

Do you have any suggestions for me about ways in which one can lead a simple, green and frugal life in the city? Like me are you surprised at how green city living can be?

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Thanksgiving Timetable

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I'm the oldest of five children, so learned early how to cook for a crowd (in fact, I had to learn to cook all over again, for one, when I moved out on my own). Although there are just the two of us now, Thanksgiving Dinner at my house is usually for at least six, and sometimes even more. Over time, I've developed a timetable schedule that lets me get everything ready and on the table at once, with a minimum of stress. The menu doesn't vary much - we pretty much stick with tradition for this meal.

Things get started the weekend before Thanksgiving. The turkey needs to be out of the freezer and into the refrigerator by Saturday to thaw - it will take at least 3-4 days. I use my timetable as a reminder when making out my shopping list that day too (should you wish to refer to mine, clicking on the picture below should bring it up in a more-legible size).

By Tuesday, the turkey has thawed enough that I can get the giblet bag and neck out (when my sister first cooked TG dinner for the family, she didn't realize that those extras were inside. Mom discovered them, cooked inside, when she went to carve the bird) to use for making stock for gravy and moistening the stuffing. I submerge the bird in a bucket of brine, in the refrigerator, until Wednesday, and then let it air-dry, also refrigerated until time to get it into the oven on Thursday.

With the brining bucket out of the refrigerator Wednesday, I can start getting some of the other items prepped and in. I'd rather cook from scratch instead of out of cans when possible. Although the timetable says pumpkin, I prefer either a pink banana or butternut squash for my pie. Any of them will work, but where pumpkin pie can have a greenish cast to it, squash pie tastes the same but with a nice brown color instead. Whole sweet potatoes cook at the same time, later to be peeled and sliced into a casserole dish. Bread for the dressing, either cornbread or french bread, is baked, cut into cubes, and left out on the counter overnight to dry. I use the "day before" list pretty much in order for the most efficient use of my oven.

The "Make" list, I might leave until my sister arrives. I always have a "guest apron" or two available, and we enjoy the chance to talk, wait for the local radio station to play Alice's Restaurant, maybe drink a toast to the harvest, and work together preparing the dishes we've had on Thanksgiving since we were children.

For "The Day" I have two sets of serving times in the left margin. If my husband has the day off work, we can eat in the afternoon; if he's working (Nevada casinos are 24/7, so getting the day off is never a certainty), TG dinner becomes an evening meal. Since there is only enough room in my oven for the turkey, everything else goes in when the turkey comes out. The side dishes cook while the turkey rests; gravy is stirred and potatoes mashed; husband carves while everyone else gets their choice of beverage. Then everyone helps get the meal on the table. And then we all sit down together. I hope you and your families are similarly blessed this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Slugs: the Nemesis of My Garden

Warning, pictures of slugs coming up! Since they're so ugly, I just thought I would share a flower photo to butter you up.  

Hello everyone, I'm a new writer here and so I thought I would give you a short introduction about myself.

I was originally a city (Portland, OR) and career girl. Since I've had a child, become a stay-at-home mom and the economic recession, I've moved outside the city and am trying my best to raise my own food and become a modern homesteader. I started out not knowing much much about the subject, and am learning as I go. As I learn, I write about it on my blog at: www.MySuburbanHomestead.com. And I'm honored to be writing here, a blog that has provided much inspiration to me.

This first blog post is about one of my most frustrating experiences as a gardener: slugs.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is mild, but rainy about 9 months out of the year. Since slugs love wet ground, this means that slugs here survive and proliferate throughout the winter, and are giant in size: many slugs here reach 4" long!

Cabbage seedling devoured by slugs. Many times I go out in the morning and there is only a little stump on the plant left, not even enough to take a picture of. 
I'm doing my best to live off my garden, and since the slugs here are so prolific and can eat their weight in plant material daily, slugs have shattered my plan more than once. This year I've lost all eggplant seedlings, at least half of my tomato fruits, countless sowings of lettuce and all my pickling cucumbers... the list goes on and on.

When I went outside a couple of months ago to discover that every one of my beautiful fall broccoli seedlings were devoured, I declared war on the slugs living in my garden.

Over the years I've read many different strategies to control slugs, but I've never noticed much of a difference in the slug population. So the first thing I've done is set up experiments to see how each "remedy" affects the slugs in my garden. Here is a list of the experiments I've conducted:

Copper: many sources will recommend using copper as a barrier around the gardens to deter slugs. I wanted to determine first whether or not copper really works. Since copper is very expensive, so I ordered a small amount of "copper slug tape" and adhered it to a piece of cardboard. I then put the copper with lettuce leaves placed on top in a box, added a slug, and put a lid on top. Here's what I found about an hour later.

A really ugly slug, munching away on the lettuce regardless of the copper. Thankfully I didn't spend much money! 

There are more "slug deterrents" that are popular. To determine their efficacy, I then set up very similar experiments with: wood ashes, diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells and coffee grounds. I've photographed each one of my experiments on my blog, but I'll save you the agony: slugs could care less about any one of these so-called deterrents. 

I then attempted to find out just how affective it would be to use trap and destroy slugs. I placed as many boards (about thirty) and tiles that I could find in one area of my garden, thinking that I could trap the slugs the next day or two and then move them to a different area of my garden. But that also didn't work! After about two weeks, there were still slugs gathering underneath, and slugs were proliferating out of control in the other areas of my gardens.

So then I turned to beer traps. Oh people love those beer traps! The thinking is that slugs like to drink beer so much that they will crawl in and drown. And yes, some slugs do drown, but check out these photos:

A slug dunking its head over the side of my trap, drinking beer. 
These slugs have been in this box for two days. Notice many of them are fine, and that another slug is drinking out of the trap. That big slug never did drown, even a couple of days later! 

I think that most people assume that the beer trap method works very well because they observe slugs drowned in the traps. But what I don't think people realize is that not all of them drown, and beer can actually be food for some of the slugs!

Perhaps the beer traps work better in locations where slugs don't grow so large. But considering the expense of beer traps (the least expensive beer locally is .71 cents/pint) I've determined that my effort and money is probably best spent elsewhere.

My latest efforts are twofold: cultural control and baits.

By cultural control, I mean reducing the things in your garden that allow slugs to proliferate. Obviously, slugs don't care for light, so they hide during the day. They hide and lay eggs under rocks, weeds, boards, debris, pots, etc., and so I am doing my best to remove hiding places as much as possible. Unfortunately, this also applies to mulch. I know lasagne gardening and sheetmulcing are very popular methods, but unfortunately the mulch provides slugs habitat, and in the case of leaves, provides them with food. So all leaves, straw, etc., goes into my compost pile before it goes out into the garden.

Since slugs do like to feed at night, I frequently go out with a flashlight or headlamp and a pair of scissors. It's disgusting and laborious but free and effective.

This year I attempted allowing my tomatoes to sprawl on the ground, rather than propping them up. I've read that this works just fine for most, but did you know that slugs love tomatoes? I didn't until this year.
These were the tomatoes that were salvageable if you cut off the bad parts.  I never took pictures of the tomatoes that weren't salvageable, but I think you get the picture! 

My least favorite slug control method is slug bait. There are three main types of bait. Two of which are fatally toxic to pets and wildlife, so I've never used them. The other one, called iron phosphate, is reportedly least toxic and breaks down into fertilizer for your soil. Locally, the most popular product is called sluggo.

The problem for me is that sluggo is ridiculously expensive, which is why I've always avoided using them until now. Sluggo is most commonly available in small, 2.5 pound bottles. One pound costs around $8 and covers 100 square feet and needs to be reapplied every two weeks. You can probably imagine that this cost would add up pretty quickly.

A few days ago I called around find out the price differences. I'm pleasantly surprised to find out that there are huge variations in prices, but in order to get the best price (close to $3/pound) you will need to buy larger quantities. If you live in the States you can check out my post on least expensive sources of iron phosphate. There are also some sources local to Portland, OR.

My thinking now is that if I keep my gardens heavily baited throughout the next couple of rainy seasons that the slug population will drop then I can focus on just baiting the perimeter of the gardens.

So for anyone out there suffering a slug infestation such as mine, here's what I can recommend: keep the garden as weed free as possible (invest in a good, wide hoe), remove rocks, stray boards, mulch, etc. It you have the energy, go out at night to search and destroy. Seek out the least expensive environmentally-friendly slug bait. Protect seedlings as best as you can since they are the least vulnerable. And get those tomatoes up off the ground!

Do you have a pest that is particularly bad in your area? How have you handled the situation?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trying my Hand at Winter Gardening

by Chiot's Run

I'm lucky that we have a year round farmer's market that opened up last year. I can now find local produce all winter long, which is wonderful in our cold climate. Last winter I happily purchased all kinds of wonderful vegetables from various local farmers to get us through the winter. I'm always trying to expand my gardening so I can produce more and more of our food. Since we live on a small lot and don't have much more gardening space, I'm starting to expand the seasons that I grow. I installed hoops over my raised bed specifically for protecting crops from our cold NE Ohio weather. A few weeks ago I covered my raised beds with greenhouse plastic in my efforts to grow all winter long.
Four Season Gardening
Most everything in these beds were seeded in early October, and they seem to be thriving in the cool fall weather. They do take longer to reach maturity, mostly because of the reduced daylight hours not as much the cold. I have 3 raised beds at my house and 2 in my mom's garden. They're filled with cold tolerant lettuces, spinach, bunching onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, celery, arugula and kohlrabi.
Four Season Gardening
I searched out cold tolerant heirloom varieties of vegetables for my experiment. I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to provide a lot of my own vegetables (mostly greens) during the long cold winter months. (If you want to learn more about four season gardening I'd highly recommend Eliot Coleman's book The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses)

Have you tried winter gardening? What do you use to protect your crops?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A community with UNlike-minded people

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone!

Readers of my personal blog will know that its been a very busy few months here for me. I'm at the final stages of closing a major chapter in my life and starting a new one. I'll be moving soon!

And as with any endings and beginnings, I can't help but reflect over the good and the bad of the last 15+ years.

One of the things I'm going to miss is my neighbourhood. For outsiders, this may seem very strange. At first glance, my neighbourhood seems to be an eclectic mix of very UNlike-minded people. We all lead very different lives and have very different outlooks. I am the only person in my community who is committed to ethical to consumption and simple living.

And yet, I do belong and am supported by this community. Let me share with you an example of what happened only a few days ago...

One day, after work, I decided to mow my lawn...but my lawnmower wouldn't start. My neighbour noticed and came round. With a bit of tinkering he figured out what was wrong and it finally started.

...so I started to mow my lawn. And 5 mins later, I hear another noise of another lawnmower...the neighbour who helped me start mine has gotten his lawn mower out and was mowing the other end of my lawn (I have a VERY big front lawn).

And with 2 mowers going we finish the yard in record time...and we notice that our other neighbours' lawns were also unmown....

So we took both our mowers across the road and we mowed their lawns. And when we finished that in record time, we then took it to the next house and mowed the front lawn there too. And while we were doing that, his wife came round and got my kids weeding parts of mine and her gardens so I can continue mowing other people's lawns.

Then it got dark, so we trudged back to my place and enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine.

The next day, I come home from work and I noticed that another garden bed of mine had been weeded...the neighbours who's lawns we mowed finished the job of weeding our gardens for us.

My front lawn nicely mowed and weeded.

And that's my community...they may not believe in simple living or ethical consumption - indeed, we often (good-naturedly) clash on these topics (and others including religion, politics and most contentious of all...home and garden decor :P).

However, I have since learned how far a bit of kindness, generosity, tolerance and a sense of humour can go in building a community with people who are very different from me. They may not live the same kind of life as I do, but they still help me live that life.

So as I prepare to leave this community, I can only hold on to those same community building values and hope that my new neighbourhood will one day, also be my community.

I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Taste of Summer

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Summer is fast approaching here in Australia. For us, how we eat really marks the seasons. Here are some warm-weather favourites!

Avocado Dressing
1 medium avocado
3/4 cup water
1/2 tblspn olive oil
juice of half a lemon
3 tsp fresh herbs (1/3 tsp dried herbs)
sprinkle of salt to taste

In blender or with stick blender process avocado & water. Add oil, herbs, salt, lemon juice. Process until creamy.


Sweet Corn & Bean Enchiladas
6 sheets Mountain Bread
1 tbspn olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 red capsicum, diced
2 zucchini, grated
pinch chili powder
400g tin diced tomatoes
400g tin corn kernels, drained
400g tin red kidney beans, rinsed & drained
salt & pepper to taste
salsa
1 cup grated tasty cheese

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Heat oil in frypan, saute onion, capsicum & zucchini. Cook for 3 minutes. Add chilli powder and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add tomato, corn, beans, salt & pepper. Stir & simmer briefly then remove from heat.

Greast a large baking dish. Place 1/4 cup filling on a piece of mountain bread. Roll up and place in dish (seam side down). Repeat with remaining bread and filling.

Spoon salsa over enchiladas and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes and serve. immediately with side salad.

Frozen Mango Slice
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups water
3 cups mango pulp
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
300ml thickened cream

Combine water and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until dissolved into a syrup. Boil for about 5 minutes. Let cool. Process mangoes in a blender, add syrup and lemon/lime juice.

Divide mango mix into two. Pour one half into a tray (plastic square biscuit container or similar). Freeze.

Keep the other half of the mix in the fridge until the first lot is frozen. When it’s set, add the cream to the second half and pour this mix over the frozen half. Freeze until set, then cut into squares as you want it. Store in freezer.


Macadamia & Date Bars
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup macadamia halves/pieces
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1/2 cup raw sugar
120g butter
2 tbspn honey

Mix the dry ingredients. Melt butter and mix in honey. Add that to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Spread into greased shallow tin and cook at 190 degrees C for 20 minutes. Cut into squares or bars while hot (carefully, it crumbles at lot at this stage). Then let cool completely before lifting out to store in airtight container. Can freeze.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Land Efficiency

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

You have probably heard of energy efficiency, but what about land efficiency.  Are you really using what you have in the most efficient way.  Or do you ever dream of selling up and moving to the country to settle down on a few acres?  Do you really need a house cow or goat to live a sustainable lifestyle?  

I never have.  Sure I may have dreamed about it for an odd minute or two, but never seriously and I just don't have the room for livestock.  At an early stage of my greening, my family and I decided that we would do the best we could with the space we had available.  Our space is a 779 sqm or 8385 square feet or 0.19 of an acre.  More than most around my area where the houses are getting bigger and the land getting smaller.  McMansions abound because property developers have gotten greedy!  To some this may sound like a lot of land.  It is all relative I suppose.

Anyway, I have managed to squeeze a lot of things into my normal sized suburban block of land.  Click to enlarge. 


Here is an aerial shot of the house which I sourced from www.nearmap.com.  Near map have detailed aerial photos of most Australian urban centres.  North is at the top of the picture and I have marked our boundary in red, with some of the stand-out features labelled and circled.  Hopefully it has put all the other outdoor photos of my garden that I have taken for my blog into context for those who are regular readers.

There is not one bit of land that is unused except for the most of the pool space where I store extra water when the tank overflows and the new citrus trees are against the back fence.  However, before I had to fork out a small fortune for dental work a few months back, I was going to put another 5000 litre water tank in this area, but I will have to wait until I save up a bit more cash before I reconsider my options. 

There is room for improvement in the front yard, as I am planning on planting in some fruiting shrubs and putting some drip irrigation in for the existing fruit trees.  I have 11 fruit trees in the front yard with the tallest being 2 metres (7 ft) and the shortest only 30 cm (1 ft).  Only a lack of potable water is holding me back at this stage, which seems like a funny statement considering the size of the pool.  Unfortunately, it is a salt water pool, so not much good on plants!  If worst came to worst, I would convert it back to fresh and just use it as aquaponics and water storage. 

We also have no lawn.  That's right, not a blade of grass to be seen except for the nature strips which I just mow and don't water.  I ripped up the rest years ago.  Such a waste of space and water. 

However, all in all, I wouldn't have it any bigger and certainly not much smaller and I find that I can manage it in the spare time that I have available.  I am happy with what we have and couldn't want for any more land. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Batch baking

by Francesca
FuoriBorgo

baking

On baking day, my small kitchen looks like a mess, but there's a method behind the apparent madness. Cool baking sheets sit on chairs, awaiting their turn to go into the oven, while piping hot ones are cooling on the table or the stove-top. The countertop, where all the kneading and mixing takes place, is dusted in flour and cluttered with baking ingredients and implements. And my sink? On baking days, you can't even see it for all the dirty pots and pans and mixers piled up there!


baking


The method is: batch baking. On the day when I need to make bread, every 5 days or so, I also bake one or two pizzas, a main dinner dish (like the lasagne verdi shown above), and often a cake or some cookies, too. I slip in odds and ends, too, like the stray potatoes that I keep finding in the garden after we harvested the main crop, or the hot peppers that I'm drying out before grinding them to make chili powder.



I bake in a batch to conserve electricity - I save on pre-heating, which takes up to 15 minutes with my oven, and do most of my weekly baking in the two hours or so that my oven is on. But I also like this system because grouping all my baking in a batch is a more economical use of my time.



In all the years I've baked in a batch, I've only had one mishap, when I tried to bake pretzels and bread at the same time. That day, I learned that some baked goods, like pretzels, need a hot and dry oven, while the bread I tried to bake with them was filling the oven with humidity. Since then, I've baked pretzels first, on their own, and everything else right afterwards.



Baking in a batch has also stood the test of time: it's how most baking was done until not too many years ago, when a frugal lifestyle wasn't a choice, but a necessity (here).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Waste Not, Sausage and Duck Gumbo

by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

Last week I made an apricot glazed duck (from our farm) and part of the way the recipe said to cook the duck was to steam it for 45-60 minutes first and then roast it until the skin crisped and THEN glaze it. It was GOOD. The process though left me with about 1/2 gallon of duck steamed broth. Not a true broth but still something I didn't want to waste. So I looked around and found a recipe for gumbo with duck and sausage! It was a good template and so this is how I altered it:

Sausage and Duck (or chicken) Gumbo

couple slices of bacon
1/2 cup of butter and flour (for roux)
Andouille sausage (1 lb), cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped smaller than bite size
3 stalks of celery, chopped bite size
1 green bell pepper, chopped bite size
1 clove or garlic crushed and minced (or 1 tsp of garlic powder)
1 Tbs of seasoning salt (like Swamp Fire or Slap Yo Mama)
1 Tbs of dried parsley
2 quarts (1/2 gallon) of duck (or chicken) broth
3 bay leaves

Fry bacon slices and sausage
Add celery, crushed garlic, bell pepper, and onions
When everything is fried up and spattering, add the broth
Bring to a boil and then simmer.
Add bay leaves and season to taste
Make roux with melted butter and flour, add to soup to thicken.

I used Jasmine rice to serve it over, but traditionally long grain is used.

Later, I served it over rice noodles and the girls actually licked their bowls clean. THAT is a rare occasion. They had seconds and ate until all the gumbo was gone.

That meant that the recipe above made enough for two full meals for a very hungry family of four.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Crinkle Skirt Care

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
The crinkle skirt, sometimes called a broomstick skirt, is a staple in many women's wardrobes. And for good reason - the full, but pleated, skirt flatters almost any figure, the cotton fabric is cool and breezy in summer but wears just as well in winter with sweaters, tights and boots, and the lightweight cotton fabric is easy to wash and dries quickly. But once washed, how to get, and keep, those nice, vertical crinkles?

I've seen posts that suggest wringing and twisting the damp skirt, but that leaves crinkles that look more wadded than vertical. Other posts say to tie the skirt with lengths of string, then cut them once dry. Besides being time-consuming, this can leave the crinkles uneven, and I'd be afraid of possibly snipping fabric instead of string. Some wrap the skirt around a broomstick before tying, hence the now-common broomstick name for such skirts. But I prefer the old-fashioned method.

I learned the secret of perfect crinkles when I inherited a 1950's Albuquerque fiesta dress - the original crinkle skirt fashion. Its solid-color red cotton fabric is heavier than today's lightweight skirts, to hold up to the rows of rick rack and ribbon. When I ended up with my aunt's blouse and skirt combo, she had kept the skirt encased in a nylon stocking with the toe snipped off, the crinkles perfectly formed and maintained. Eureka!

Of course, nylon stockings are a bit harder to come by now, so I reuse snipped-off legs from tights or pantyhose. After hand-washing your skirt, holding the skirt by the waistband rolled together, squeeze out (don't wring or twist) as much water as possible, down the length of the skirt. Since the fiesta dress is such heavy material, I'll hang it up by the waistband to drip-dry a just a bit - you want the skirt to still be damp to dry crinkled. Stretch the pantyhose leg down the length of the damp skirt, pulling the hem down equally, and hang or lay out your skirt "sausage" to dry. It will dry that way without any further fuss, but I usually take the skirt out, shake it, and re-encase the skirt a time or two to make sure it gets completely dry. The clean skirts then stay in their stocking cases in my closet, either hanging or laid out horizontally, to keep their pleats from flattening. Easy-peasy perfect pleats, every time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

House Cow FAQs

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Also posted on Home Grown

It's been over a year since we first got a house cow, and we've learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the most common questions people ask us, and our replies. We are rather unconventional in the way we manage our home dairy, and I encourage cow owners to seek out information most suitable to their animal before following our example.


How do you tame a cow from a commercial dairy?

This was harder than I expected. Lucy was very frightened and stressed about being away from her herd. At first we had to use fences and ropes to get her to co-operate because it was important that a) we fully milked her at least once a day and b) the calf we also brought home (not hers) got milk. After the initial rough days, Lucy would lead on a halter (the show type with a small chain under the chin). From there we brushed her, spoke kindly to her and got her used to a routine - dry food with minerals and molasses, same time of day, same people around, same calls and commands... Within months Lucy would come when called and take herself into the milking shed at least some of the time. She didn't kick or otherwise carry on for us.

Where do you get the foster calves from?

Our foster calves are calves from a nearby dairy which are excess to their needs. In commercial dairies, male calves are often killed at birth, or they are raised to sell for veal. Some female calves are not kept as replacement heifers because they might be the wrong bloodline or colour, or they aren't a strong animal. If a dairy runs about 200 cows who each 'work' for several years, and each cow has a calf per annum (the usual way in commercial dairying), and half these calves are female - the dairy can't use 100 replacement heifers each year. And so there are often perfectly lovely little heifer calves available for a low cost in dairying regions. And that is how we got Honey and Poppy! We use the term 'foster calf' to describe a calf raised on its own mother for a couple of weeks, who then comes to our farm to drink milk from Lucy until weaning age.


Do you really milk by hand?

Yes! I got a quick lesson from a friend who hand-milks, and a few tips from others who have milked by hand in the past, and within a couple of days had mastered the art! I find milking by hand is relaxing for the cow and I, and it ensures that no damage is done to the udder or teats during milking. Also, milking machinery isn't cheap!

Does owning a cow take a lot of time?

When I'm milking, or monitoring foster calves closely, the cows take me about an hour to an hour and a half each day. That is to feed, water, clean, milk, check the animals over, move them to other paddocks, and so on. To some, that may seem like a lot of time, but it is my exercise and 'hobby', and provides our family with milk. When I am not milking or required for so much hands-on work, I only need to check the cattle and their water once each day.


What do you do with the excess milk?

Excess milk has usually gone to foster calves at our place - I only milked out what we could use, and trusted the calves to take care of the rest! Currently, we don't have any calves on Lucy so with excess milk I make yoghurt, kefir, custard, soft cheese and so on. I also give milk to our animals sometimes, who seem to like it and digest it well.

Doesn't milk have to be pastuerised to make it safe?

After reading information from the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, we decided that the benefits of raw milk outweigh any small risk of contamination, for us. Also, because we control the health and hygiene of our cow and home-dairy facilities, we are confident that the raw milk we're drinking is a quality product.

How do you treat health problems in your herd?

We have been blessed to not have many health problems to date in our herd. We follow the advice of Pat Coleby who has excellent resources for farmers regarding minerals and nutritional supplements. We believe that this prevention is worth the investment of time and money. For buffalo fly, worms and ticks, all common pests in our area, we have tried Neem oil, and a specific mix of essential oils as well as supplementing their diet with specific minerals including diatomaceous earth. For behavioural issues we have used homeopathy and herbal treatments. We are not totally against conventional treatments and will use them if the health or comfort of our animals are at stake.

I hope this interests those of you curious about having a house cow, or looking into having your own cow sometime. I highly recommend the following resources:

Weston A Price
Sally Fallon- Nourishing Traditions
Keeping a Family Cow Forums
EnviroNeem
Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby
The Healthy House Cow by Patricia van den Berg
The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsly

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Simply Happy

by Chiot's Run

"Our life experience is based more on our individual level of awareness than on any particular external experience. Our enjoyment of life is profoundly enhanced by the knowledge that we don't need much in order to be happy. By consciously adopting a simple lifestyle, we give ourselves the opportunity the be satisfied and happy, whether or not we strike it rich or not."

Mother Earth News in article about Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin


Unhurried Sense of Time

As I was reading this article, I started thinking about all the things that Mr Chiots and I have given up over the past couple years while working to simplify our lives. The more we give up, the less we find that we need and the happier we find ourselves. One of the best examples of this simplifying was in giving up cable TV. I think when we were paying for cable, we thought we had to watch a lot of TV to get our money's worth. We found ourselves spending way too much time in front of our television wasting valuable time watching things we didn't really want to watch. When we finally pulled the plug, we found ourselves free from that need. We started spending more time reading, working outside, pursuing our hobbies, and getting projects done that we'd been putting off for a long time for lack of "time".

It's not that we don't watch TV at all any more, we still watch some, but we no longer pay a fortune for it and we no longer watch things just to watch them. Since we work in the visual arts (video production) by trade, we watch films and some shows for inspiration. We have one of the cheapest Netflix subscriptions (which is fantastic when you live in the country) so we watch movies or TV shows on DVD or instant streaming from their website.

I'm happy that we took this one simple step at it seemed to be a turning point for us. After we quit cable, we started finding more places to cut back and more ways to simplify our lives. As a result we're much more content, we have much more time and we've saved tons of money, which we used to pay off our mortgage many years ahead of schedule. It's amazing how all the little things in life add up to a great deal.

In what ways have you simplified your life in the past couple years? Any great suggestions for the rest of us that are searching for the simple life?