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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Autumn

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Early sunsets and nature’s bounty set the mood for family feasts.



Gathering together is the theme of autumn. Traditionally, it is the time when we store food for winter, close up our homes and spend more time indoors. The Autumn Equinox was on 21 March 2011 (in the southern hemisphere) - a wonderful time to unite with friends for a harvest feast. It is a time of balance – equal sunlight and darkness. Harmony...




Taste – Cooler evenings see the return of soups and slow-cooked meals. The bountiful harvests of Autumn ensure that plates explode with colour, flavour and warmth.



Touch – Little hands delight in the varied textures of treasures found on nature walks. Nature sows as man harvests. Seeds are enchanting – great power in the palm of our hand. There is a chill in the breeze and we seek out jackets and shoes, amazed at how tall children have grown through summer.



Smell – Inhale the fertile soil when digging in the garden to harvest the last of summer’s abundance. Allow earthy scents to envelop you as you crunch fallen leaves underfoot. Absorb the sumptuous aroma of a simmering soup, or something baking in the oven.



Sight – The resplendent colours of Autumn are a celebration of nature: one last party before winter sets in. Notice how the golden pumpkins capture some sunshine to store through the grey days ahead. To compliment the brilliant hues of trees, the sky is bluer than in any other season.



Sound – Migrant birds call farewell as they leave for warmer climes. Autumn sounds are as crisp as the cold winds that begin to blow.



Feelings – Autumn is the time to preserve the living wonders of summer - try making jam, pressing flowers or drying herbs to give thanks to the waning sunlight. Soak up the last rays of warmth as summer disrobes and darkness creeps in. Relax and enjoy the fruit of your labours – your garden, your work, your family.



Activities – Autumn is a good time to clean up the garden and plant in readiness for spring. Depending on where you live, different crops will do well through the cooler months. Seed packets and catalogues have appropriate instructions, or ask a local gardener, as their advice will be the most valid to your locale. Most things you plant now will take quite awhile to reward you – bulbs, brassicas (the cabbage family), potatoes, onions, garlic and broad beans, for example. For fast results, try some sprouts or a terrarium indoors.




This season will provide many treasures for your seasonal tableau.Find a warm-toned cloth and adorn it with seeds, leaves, bark and pods.Dry some flowers and leaves to put into a little pottery vase. The hues of Autumn showcase nature’s splendour.



It’s time to come inside. The days are shorter, the evenings cool. The summer holidays are but a memory and each of us is settling back into our routines and rhythms for the year. This is the time to revive evening rituals neglected during the fast and fun summertime. Long story times and meals by candlelight are some of our favourites.





Craft in autumn can include Mother Nature’s offerings – simple bark and leaf rubbings, seed pod characters, arrangements of dry foliage or jewellery-making. It’s also time for fibre crafts – if you want to knit a scarf for winter, start now!



Enjoy this season of slowing down and reconnecting with home and family.





This is part of one (of three) Seasonal Fun Series I have had published in parenting magazines. I know many of our readers are in the northern hemisphere. For more seasonal inspiration, here are some relevant articles:
Spring #1
Spring #2
- for the northerners, and...
Autumn #1
Autumn #2

Blessings,
Bel



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Emmental Cheese

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin


Last year, I made my first Emmentaler cheese.  Here is a before shot that I took during eye formation.





When it was sufficiently aged, we cracked open the wheel and this is what we found.




There was a 3cm (1.5 inch) split on the top and it was slightly infected with Penicillin Roquefort, however the Propioni Shermanii culture did its work (this makes the holes and gives it the nutty flavour).  Well, some of it worked in most parts of the cheese.  


I believe that even though I gave the wheel a wash of brine a couple of times a week as per the recipe, after I let the eyes form, the rind is far too thick.  I think that because the cheese was not waxed, as stated in the recipe, it just hardened too much.  I have since made two more rounds, but this time I waxed the cheese after the three weeks of eye development.  It made for a more moist cheese and I avoided the blue vein infection.





Now, how did it taste I hear you ask?  Well, it tasted much better than a Swiss type cheese that you can buy in the supermarket, however there was an obvious difference due to the Penicillin Roquefort culture.  It was very nice, and both my wife Kim and Pam (Kim's Mum) agreed that it was a very tasty cheese.  The rind had a very strong flavour and as you can see more eyes formed closer to the rind than in the centre.  Here is it sliced on a platter.




The quarter I served up was very holey indeed.  Easy to cut and great flavour with a plain cracker.  I really liked the extra flavour in the blue vein part, but then again I love blue cheese!

I highly recommend this cheese to anyone thinking of making it, but do think about waxing it after the eye formation.  When made commercially this cheese is made in 60-80 kg wheels, which aids the uniformity of the eye formation.  Apparently, from what I have read, the bigger the Emmentaler, the larger and more frequent the eyes. 

What is your favourite type of cheese?  I am looking for new flavours and recipes to try!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Italian parsley & strawberries: companion plants?

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo


Italian parsley


Last week I finished clearing out my garden of all the annual and winter crops - a task I do each year around Easter time, following the local tradition connected to the agricultural cycle (here). I had already pulled up the winter cabbages and leeks (here), and the radicchio (which I'm going to write about next time), while leaving the chard and the parsley for last.


Italian parsley


Although parsley is a biannual herb, I sow it each spring because it tends to produce more during its first year. I use a lot of fresh parsley in my cooking, and I like to have an ample supply all year around: parsley, in fact, overwinters quite well in my climate, and because last winter we only had two hard frosts and one snowfall (thank you winter!), I was able to harvest an impressive amount of parsley.


Italian parsley


Even in the harshest winters, parsley always survives - the plants just grow low to the ground, and the leaves are much smaller in size. Not this year, though: my parsley plants were about 50 cms tall, and produced a full colander's worth of parsley leaves.


Italian parsley


Besides the mild winter, I'm thinking that the success of my parsley this year may have something to do with the fact that it got accidentally intercropped with strawberries: parsley and strawberries, does anyone have any feedback on this?



In June last year, in fact, one of my kids came home with one single strawberry plant, that we just randomly planted in the garden. This single plant must have liked its new home, because it propagated impressively, sending many runners, each and every one in the direction of the nearby parsley, with which it spontaneously intercropped itself. Both the strawberries and the parsley did very well, and I'll experiment some more with growing them as companion plans this year.



And my colander full of freshly harvested parsley leaves? If you'd like to know how I use a large quantity of fresh parsley, here are some ideas:


Italian parsley


I made an Almond and parsley spread.


Italian parsley


And a Chopped parsley and garlic mixture for freezing.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Water water everywhere?

Aurora at Island Dreaming

April showers bring May flowers, or so the poem goes. Except that it hasn't rained here for the past two and a half weeks. This, coupled with temperatures that (as our national newspapers love to keep reminding us) currently rival the Mediterranean, has come to a head over the holiday weekend in the form of long traffic queues heading towards the coast as the whole country tries to make good use of the fine weather.

The garden isn't so keen on what is shaping up to be the hottest April on record. The container garden in our yard is particularly thirsty and our veg plot is requiring a few visits a week just to water. The clayey soil, where it has been left unmulched and uncultivated, has turned to rock hard lumps that throw dust into the air whenever the wind blows. After a wet winter, I didn't expect that I would be dealing with a lack of water so soon.

Our blue planet is remarkably dry, in human terms. According to these UN statistics, just 2.5 % of all of the water resources on earth are freshwater - and of this 2.5%, 70% is locked up in ice and snow cover. We are exploiting the freshwater resources we do have at an alarming rate, extracting groundwater at far greater pace than it is being replenished. At the same time we are degrading the quality of those meager resources we do have in ever more creative ways - salination, acidification and industrial and agricultural effluent are some of the problems that your region may or may not be facing.

Next month we will be installing a couple of water butts on our plot. Hopefully it will rain and they will have a chance to fill up over the coming months. If we have a very dry summer, we can but hope that a hose pipe ban will not be enforced; and that the water butts will have a chance to fill over winter ready for next years growing season. We will be collecting and spreading mulch with abandon over the next few weeks and using the cooler evenings to wander to our plot and water, all in the hope of reducing evaporation and runoff. We might even find a way to capture and filter some of the grey water generated by our household and use it in the garden. These are all tangible actions we can take to conserve the water resources we have and ensure the garden survives a potentially scorching summer.

Much harder to contemplate is the embodied or 'virtual water', in effect the water footprint, of all of the products that we consume. Agriculture takes the biggest share of our annual global freshwater budget at about 70%, followed by industrial production. The domestic consumption of almost 7 billion people accounts for just 8% of global usage. These are issues that clearly cannot be solved by individual action; but reducing unsustainable levels of personal consumption and waste will obviously contribute to the solution.

Back in my part of the UK, this summer could be a complete washout, a repeat of the flooding and holiday-ruining rain storms of recent years. Or it could be very hot and very dry. It might mercifully be somewhere in between. It will certainly be a summer of our household being more mindful of how we use yet another resource that we have otherwise been taking for granted.

Are you water conscious? What issues are being faced in your region? What steps do you take to conserve water?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Repeated Refrains of Nature

by Chiot's Run

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

- Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder)


In the spring I am deeply appreciative of the "repeated refrains of nature" as Rachel Carson calls them. When you live in a climate with long cold winters the assurance that spring will come eventually really keeps you going during those long dark days at the end of January.
Spring
When spring does come I find myself trying to take it all in, I don't want to miss a bloom, drop of rain or plant emerging from the ground. I find myself stealing any moment I can to get outside and enjoy the rebirth and regeneration that spring provides (not just for the garden but for the gardener as well).
Spring
Sometimes it's hard to step back from all the to-do's that come with the spring, but doing so is important. Being able to slow down and enjoy the season is very rejuvenating to the spirit and the mind. We can all use a little warmth of the sun on our backs, a little rain on our faces, and some cool green grass under our feet. Whether you live in a climate with four seasons or no seasons, taking time to notice the difference between them is very healing to the soul - it helps connect us with the earth!

What season are you experiencing in your area of world? What part of it do you enjoy most?

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 Ethel Gloves and Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Trying to Get Caught Up

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I was hoping to come up with an informative post, or some snappy tutorial for my post this week. But I just can't seem to get caught up with spring time jobs. Our cool temperatures and constant rain have us about 3 weeks behind schedule compared to last year.


The first week of grazing is behind us and the cows and I have settled into our new schedule.



My mid-April schedule looks like this on the farmstead:

Pot on warm weather vegetable crops such as tomatoes, peppers and annual garden flowers.

Do the same with the slow growers such as celeriac and herbs.

Continue sowing successive plantings of brassicas and salad greens.

Move the cattle daily to fresh pasture.

Prepare deep bedding for the chick brooder/hoophouse - chicks arrive in one week.

Check over chick equipment - clean, repair, or replace as needed.

Order broiler mash.

Work on next winter's firewood/cleanup storm damage.

Wait patiently for warmer weather.


How is spring shaping up in your neck of the woods? Is your mid-April list similar to mine?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Creative Ways To Save Money On Food

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















We've all heard some of the best ways to save money on food include: shopping with a list, planning your meals, taking a lunch to work, bringing cash to the supermarket and rarely eating out. All of those have lowered my own grocery budget significantly. But recently I wanted to cut my grocery budget by another 35% in order to live on an "Extreme Frugality" budget in this season of my life. I wasn't sure how I would do it, but I've found a few creative ways which have made a huge difference & are saving me time and money.

1. I remembered how important it is to shop at home first. I have a small kitchen and for a few weeks I skipped this step and it showed in my grocery spending. Shopping at home first works because I don't purchase items I already have, I'm more aware of what I'm low on {and therefore able to look for good deals to stock up}, I'm able to cut down on food waste & I can visibly see how much I already have to use up and plan my meals around!

2. I've completely cleaned out my fridge, organizing it so that everything is clearly visible and organized. No more thinking I don't have enough to stretch, because I can actually see that I have a lot I can use up. I've found this also helps me see what I can substitute. I may not have leeks for a soup, but I have celery. A clean fridge really has helped much more than I thought it would.

3. I've learned that I need to focus on what is right in this season of my life. I blogged recently that I felt this overwhelming guilt {for about 10 minutes} that I don't make my own ketchup. But in my household, ketchup is probably used less than 5x a year, so it makes no sense to make it. Remembering to think about the time/money balance has really helped me focus on what I can do which will have the biggest impact on my food budget.

4. I've enjoy slow cooker Wednesdays & soup night! Generally these are both very frugal veggie recipes making use of lentils, chickpeas & veg that needs using up. What's more they pretty much provide my lunches for the week and add to my freezer stock pile!

5. I've joined a lunch co-op group in my building at work. We basically all bring a salad ingredient and make a massive healthy salad one day per week. Generally I contribute about $1 worth of food {radishes, cucumbers, onions etc} and have a really lovely salad to enjoy & good company to boot! If your work/building doesn't have a lunch club, think about starting one.

6. When friends suggest eating out, I suggest a pot luck. It's a great way to socialize & spend time with friends, without having to come up with the money to eat out.

7. I'm in the process of joining a food co-op, I donate 2 hours of labor a month and I get a significant reduction on locally sourced foods.

8. Where possible I try to buy eggs from people who have chickens. Where I currently live this is nigh on impossible as people aren't allowed to raise chickens, but where I used to live I was able to source local eggs and support local hobby farms while saving money. It was a win-win-win situation.

What creative ways do you use to save money? Do you have any tips to share?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Celebrate the Future

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Practically all holidays celebrate the past, commemorating historical events or people. However, there is one holiday that looks to the future. Arbor Day, originating here in the United States in 1872, celebrates the planting of trees. While your local date may vary, according to climate zones and planting seasons, here in the U.S. most Arbor Day celebrations are held the last Friday in April.

Planting a tree, that will take decades to mature, is an ultimate act of faith in the future. You probably enjoy trees around your home or neighborhood planted by folks long gone. You might want to repay that favor by planting a tree to be enjoyed by those that will follow you.

Since you want your tree to endure to bless the lives of future generations, a bit of research is necessary before planting. Check with area tree services, nurseries, universities, or local publications to find out what trees do well in your climate, and also the best time to plant. Then, look at your planting site. What varieties will do best in the available sunlight, both as a young sapling and later at full size? Is there sufficient room for the expected mature size? While a young tree may look cute three feet from your front door, the pruning necessary to keep your front walk passable in later years may be detrimental to the health and looks of the tree - perhaps even leading to an untimely demise.

What kind of tree do you want? If you're planting a fruit tree, research the necessary hours of winter chill required for blossoms to form, plus its low temperature hardiness, then compare to your climate. Some fruit and nut trees require a different-variety pollinator. Unless you have room for two trees or there's a different one in the yard next door, you might have to search out a self-pollinating variety.

Think about underground: have your local utilities locate any lines or pipes before starting to dig. You don't want to put a water-sucking tree with invasive roots over the pipe leading to your septic tank - that's just asking for expensive plumbing problems. Plan ahead too - tree roots generally spread as far as the mature extent of the canopy above. The best street trees are ones with root systems that won't lift concrete sidewalks into an impassable jumble; that can withstand the weight of traffic and possible road-use chemicals in your area.

Look up, too. There's nothing so sad as a line of trees butchered because they grew too high for their site and the power company trimmed them. Investigate utility easements, too. There might not be an electrical line or television cable there now, but they might have the right to put one in later. And your tree will pay the price.

Landscaping can add thousands to the value of a home. Trees not only add to the beauty of a home, properly sited they can help reduce heating and cooling costs. Windbreak trees can cut cold winter winds; deciduous trees can provide cooling shade in the summer and warming sunlight in the winter.

When you've done your research, and selected a variety, it's time to purchase your young tree. Check for damage to the bark or broken branches. Although I sometimes transplant suckers or volunteer seedlings from my own property, please, do NOT go out to dig up a young tree in the wild. The damage to the entire forest ecosystem goes way beyond just the displaced dirt. Besides, the tree most certainly will not survive, or if it does its growth can be set back for years. Trees sold by nurseries have undergone a season or two of root pruning that concentrates the roots into a ball. If obtained when dormant, bare-root trees can be a less-expensive option than paying to transport a lot of dirt too.

When digging a planting hole, go wide instead of deep. Tree roots spread out, so you want a hole three times the width but only as deep as the root ball. Remove any wire, plastic or burlap wrapping completely. Pick your tree up by the root ball, not the trunk. When you have your tree placed in the hole, check for correct depth using the handle of your shovel across the top edges of the hole, tipping the tree over to add or remove dirt as necessary. If you look at the base of a tree, it will flare out a bit where it transitions from trunk to roots. That little bit of flare needs to be just at ground level. If you see a tree that goes straight up from the ground, it's been planted too deep. Backfill with half the dirt and use water, not stomping, to get soil into any air pockets before adding the rest of the dirt.

If you absolutely need to stake the tree, align two stakes, one on either side of the tree, perpendicular to the prevailing winds, placed outside the planting hole. Use stretchy tie material around the trunk and back to the stake. Remove the stakes the following year, sooner if possible. If you're adding mulch, keep it at least a couple of inches away from the trunk. In temperate climates, young trees need an inch of water weekly, which you'll have to provide if Mother Nature doesn't. Tree roots extend as far as the branches above do, called the dripline. So you'll need to move or add to your irrigation as the tree grows to deliver water further from the trunk. With care taken now, your tree should be a blessing for decades to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Alternative Gift Ideas

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

In our home we celebrate the regular holidays of Easter and Christmas, even though they don't particularly fit our belief system or are even seasonally appropriate for us in the Southern Hemisphere.

The reasons we choose to celebrate include getting together with family and friends (who do celebrate these holidays0, just for something fun and creative to do, and to show our children and family and friends that there are ethical and beautiful alternatives to the mass-produced plasticised version of these holidays the department stores and advertising tempt us with.

We have six children aged 16 and under. Some of the creative Easter gifts they've enjoyed over the years include:

* Handwoven baskets with carob eggs nestled inside
* Homemade chocolates wrapped in cellophane and ribbons
* Cute retro eggcups purchased 2nd hand online, with sweet treats nestled inside
* Easter Bilby books, chocolate bilbies and bilby craft activities
* Fairtrade hot chocolate and individual tea cups, with homemade egg-shaped cookies

We normally decorate the table once the children are in bed - set it nice for breakfast with a tablecloth and matching crockery, blow up some balloons perhaps (the pearl type ones look lovely), or bring in some flowers from the garden if we have any (it's Autumn here, nothing much is in flower), mix up some pancake mix to put into the fridge overnight, and set out their easter gifts at each of their places at our table (the children sit in their own chairs most meals at the table). I think it's more exciting for our children to wonder what they'll receive each year than having a magical bunny bringing them store-bought chocolate wrapped in foil year-in, year-out.

Some families in Australia give winter pyjamas for Easter gifts. Others give rabbit or chicken toys, or even real ones! Do you have a non-commercial Easter gift idea? Please share it in the Comments!

For more information:
Fair Trade Chocolate and Gifts from Oxfam
Easter Bilby books
How to dye eggs
Easter craft, stories and more
Raw chocolate recipes
Easter bread recipes from around the world

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Aztec Gold

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I have a great many hobbies, but one of my favourites has to be beer making.  Now how could beer making be green, I here you ask?  Well glad you asked.  Have a read of this post titled "Gav's Eco Beer" to get a good understanding of the environmental benefits of making your own beer. 

Anyway, I made up a simple recipe that I found on a the back of a Coopers leaflet called Aztec Gold.  I put 500g of Dry light malt and 1 can of Coopers Cerveza brew mixture into the fermenter, added 2 litres of boiling water and mix.  Once mixed, I added rain water to make up 23 litres, took an original specific gravity reading (mine was 1036) and then pitched the yeast when the temperature goes below 25C.  To see how the process works, have a look at my Home Brewing video tutorial

I made this batch up on a Sunday, before I came down sick, and it bubbled away merrily for 6 days.  My wife Kim let me put the fermenter in the laundry, because the temperature variation in the shed has been ridiculous and she likes Cerveza!

The beer stopped fermenting on Friday so I could have bottled it earlier, however from experience, I always leave the beer in the fermenter for an extra two days, so that the beer settles and clears without the use of finings. The final specific gravity was 1008.

After washing and sterilising all sixty six 330ml bottles, I added just under a teaspoon of white sugar to each bottle, then filled them all up as you can see below.


Then I went about putting the crown seals on each bottle with my hand capping machine.  


My darling daughter Megan (who took the photos) always catches my best angle.  Here is a sealed bottle.  Once sealed, I inverted the bottle a few times to dissolve the sugar to start secondary fermentation.  This produces the beer bubbles.


Here is an action shot.  It is a pretty simple process, and from start to finish, bottling usually takes me about 90 minutes.


This recipe turned out to be a winner.  It is light at only 3.5%, and has a fantastic taste that is just right for drinking after a session with the hand lawn mower!

Beer making is a great hobby, and I suppose that if I draw a really long bow, it is a great skill to have if the breweries every shut down or go broke, and besides that, the satisfaction of sharing your own home made beer with mates is second to none.  Especially when it tastes great as well!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts on a toothbrush

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

spazzolino intercambiabile 2

Can you buy this kind of toothbrush in your country? In Italy, it's hard to find.

spazzolino intercambiabile

It's a simple, manual toothbrush. BUT, it comes with interchangeable little heads with bristles, that can be bought separately. When it's time to change your toothbrush, you just remove the old head and clip on a new one. Which means you keep the handle - the bulk of the toothbrush - for as long as the plastic lasts, and just toss out the head.



Many dentists advise changing toothbrushes every three months. That means 4 toothbrushes a year, per person. Which, in turn, means many, many 24 billion of toothbrushes thrown away each year, which work their way into landfills, or get burned in incinerators (and we breathe them).



Problems which would be drastically reduced, of all of us used a disposable toothbrush like this. So why is it so hard to find?

Lessons from the bus stop

By Aurora @ IslandDreaming

One of the joys of public transport is that you regularly end up in conversation with interesting folk you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Waiting at the bus stop yesterday, an elderly lady struck up a conversation with me. I think that she had noticed the gardening magazine in my handbag and the conversation quickly progressed from small talk about the weather to the joys of gardening and growing food.

She and her husband had maintained an allotment at my own allotment site for most of their adult lives, only giving it up when they turned 80 and the journey to and fro was getting a bit much. She spoke enthusiastically about all the benefits she had got from maintaining it and how she had passed that on to her daughter and grandchildren. She still involved herself in the community, regularly attending the jumble sale near the allotments where everyone went to sell off their excess plants and have a chat over a cup of tea. She still maintained her home garden, took the dog for long walks every day and socialised regularly.

The lady had been visiting her husband at the hospital where I work. He is 86, deaf and almost blind. She sighed and confessed that she was annoyed that whilst he was elderly in years, he was also now turning into an ‘old man’ in front of her eyes – he was becoming obstinate and curmudgeonly – and he had absolutely no excuse for it in her eyes. I reflected that she was lucky to have made it through 64 years of marriage before this happened - I have a 29 year old curmudgeon at home after just 7 years together. It turned out the allotment had played an important part in keeping her marriage fresh – ‘you do need somewhere to go to escape from each other every so often’.

My own darling 29 year old curmudgeon was dragged in for humorous effect only I must stress. However, the contentment expressed by this lady during our conversation is something I have rarely come across in my own age group. Success has been judged in our culture by how much money you have, how many degrees you have, how big your home is and how many expensive shiny toys you own (and how often you replace them). In short, just how much of the planet's resources do you consume on your way through life? The end result of this thinking for many is worry, restlessness and ever increasing debts - and it is very hard in the midst of misery to change tack and find a happier direction. 

This lady was friendly, good humoured and active, still interested in the world around her and obviously had a family and community that she had built and involved herself in. No doubt she had made many wrong turns in life, but at some point in the preceding years it seemed she had struck upon the formula for a contented life and ran with it. For all I know she may have had a big house, degrees and lots of shiny toys, but they weren't important enough for her to mention them during our meandering chat. Based upon what she had told me, she had led a good life. 

One day I would like to look back on a long life and wax lyrical about the contentment I had experienced and the lessons I had learnt (and my gardening successes and failures).  I would like my success to one day be measured by the good feeling I had engendered, the wisdom I had accrued and the damage I had repaired, or at least the damage I hadn't caused. But what if I don’t make it to such a vintage? There is no guarantee that I have all the time in the world to build friendships, potter about the garden, look after my health and well being, smell the flowers and find meaningful work to do – and share the fruits of it.

How will you know if you have lived a good life? What changes are you going to make to get there? When are you going to start?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Layer in the Nutrition

by Chiot's Run

There are many simple steps you can take to layer extra nutrition and nourishment into your food. Spices and herbs are one of the best ways. Many people assume that they just add flavor and don't realize the nutritional value that they add to the foods that you eat. Most herbs and spices are very valuable in terms of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals they contain. Consider cinnamon for example, it has a regulatory effect on blood sugar. It's not a coincidence that it's often paired with starchy foods like pancakes, french toast, oatmeal and bread. It's also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium. It can fight e-coli and inhibit bacterial growth in the food it's in.

Layering in Nutrition

Consider also cayenne pepper, which we add to most of the meals we eat. It adds vitamins A, C, B6, K, and manganese to your diet. It helps with digestion, helps relieves ulcer pain, and can rebuild stomach tissue. It boosts circulation and is said to help stop heart attacks. Whenever I'm sick I drink plenty of cayenne tea and it works wonders to break up congestion. Cayenne seems like a wonder spice when you read about it.

Homegrown Garlic, Rosemary & Lemon Thyme

Cinnamon and cayenne are not unique either, all spices and herbs are nutrition powerhouses. If you're not in the habit of adding lots of herbs and spices to your food, get a few books from the library or spend some time on-line reading up on the health benefits of various herbs and spices. You'll be amazed at the amount of vitamins and minerals you can add in and some wonderful flavor with it!

Do you add lots of herbs and spices to your foods for the health benefit?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Making Compost Tea

by Throwback at Trapper Creek


Gardening season is just getting underway here in the form of starting transplants in the hoop house. Once the seedlings get their true leaves I like to water them with a weak solution of compost tea, at least once a week or more often if they need a boost. I also like to have compost tea on hand for transplanting to help the plants get over the shock of handling. Compost tea a great make-at-home fertilizer.

Covered compost pile.

We compost our livestock manure, so that is what we use, but any compost will work fine.
Supplies you will need:

Container - anything from a 5 gallon bucket to a 55 gallon drum.
Tea bag - recycled mesh onion bag works great.
Shovel
Stick or dowel for dunking.
Compost

I'm making about 30 gallons of tea, so I am filling my onion bag about three fourths of the way with aged compost. The more compost you add the stronger your tea will be. It can be diluted or applied directly as long as you use aged manure or compost.




Using the tie on the onion bag slip the stick through.

Place tea bag in container of water. I used spring water - rain water would be great and if you have municipal water, fill your container and wait a day or so to let the chlorine dissipate before making your tea.

I leave my tea bag on the stick so I can dunk it if needed, or take it out when I need to use the tea. It's no fun fishing around in a murky barrel for the top of the bag.


The initial dunking produced a fairly dark concoction. I will let this sit about a week before using to make sure it is full strength.

It's best to keep the container covered, to keep out rain.

Warmer gardening weather can't come soon enough for me. Our weather is vacillating between snow, sun, rain and hail these days. How is your gardening season starting out?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eggs for 18,000, Please

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
With Easter coming up, you might be thinking about dying some eggs for your family. But what if you'd like to host an Easter egg hunt for the whole town? Here's a post from my blog how to go about it:

My fingers are orange. I've been dying Easter eggs. I've been dying a LOT of Easter eggs. Sixty-three cases, holding 24 dozen each, equals 18,144 eggs; plus the 2,000 plastic eggs we filled with candy, and a select few more with vouchers for bigger prizes.

Those whose egg dying exploits are limited to a household dozen or so might be curious about procedures for Easter egg production on such a scale. First, you send out a plea to the community for helpers on the Saturday before Easter. Find an egg source, and some sort of refrigerated space. Then, figure out how you're going to hard-boil all those eggs. In years past, the Nevada National Guard has helped by bringing out their emergency response cooking vats to boil our vast quantities of eggs, but their services and personnel have been stretched too thin to help the past few years.

So, you ask the community to lend their deep-fat turkey fryers. I didn't count, but we probably had at least 15 lined up and cooking. Get the water simmering, and add lots of salt to keep any broken eggs from sticking to the rest of the batch. Make egg baskets out of chicken wire, two per cooker. Set up an unpacking station - taking the raw eggs out of the cartons and filling the baskets. Each basket holds five dozen eggs.

Start boiling. Cook each basket of eggs about 30 minutes. Normal cooking time at our altitude would be around 20 minutes, but adding that many eggs to the water cooled it down some, and no one wanted to take a chance with an undercooked egg breaking in a child's basket. The cooks would test-crack an egg to check doneness, so there were plenty of eggs for snacking. In the meantime, get your hot dog crew to start setting up - these volunteers are gonna want some lunch soon. Having a beautiful spring day for an undertaking of this size is a definite plus.

Set up your dye vats with cool water and plenty of vinegar. We use food coloring dye by the pint and vinegar by the gallon. Do your primary-color dye batches - red, green, yellow, and blue - first. When you have enough of those colors start some mixed and diluted batches to get orange, purple, apricot, pink, and yellow-green.

Dip and dunk and swirl and tip the baskets of hot eggs in the dye until the dye chiefs are satisfied with the color. Take the eggs over to the packing station and dump them (carefully!) into that color's tub. If you're working this station, an old shirt and latex gloves are a necessity - those folks are very colorful, to say the least. Repack the eggs into single-color cartons and pass them over to the people packing the cartons back into the cases, also labeled by color.

The cases are then wheeled over and packed back into a refrigerated truck, for delivery to the Sunday egg hunt the next day. Get more volunteers to scatter the eggs, line the kids up, and turn 'em loose!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Occasionally Want But I Don't Need

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















I'm not sure about you, but for many of the people I know I am the only person they know who lives a simple, green, frugal and downshifted life. Many of them would never elect to go without their SUV's, drive through dinners, busy schedules, quest to climb the career ladder, extensive clothing/shoe/jewelry collections, the convenience of disposable diapers or even the use of paper plates {I have a friend who uses paper plates, cups and cutlery for all their meals - going through 72 of each per week!}. One of the main things I've noticed is they struggle to understand why anyone would choose to wash dishes by hand, hang clothes to dry, live without a vehicle, wait for books at the library and wonder how anyone can want those things. I try never to seem perfect or totally put together either on my blog or in real life and I certainly share that there are times I do really wish for a little bit of convenience {usually after a long hard day!} and yes, occasionally I want. The other day after a long day, I thought about all the things I occasionally want and I wrote them down. A few minutes later I countered my wants by identifying what my needs were...

I want to drive a car down a big open road, listen to tunes on the radio & gaze at the sky...but I don't need to own a car.

I want a week of no dishes...but I don't need a dishwasher, I have two hands that work perfectly well

I want a weekend where I don't have to make time to take my food waste to the city compost when my vermicomposting worms aren't quite up to the challenge...but I don't need that time, in fact I like my weekly walk and I certainly like my worms {most days!}

I want to be able to eat 3 mouthfuls of a cookie {which contains gluten} without spending the night with skin bleeding {like it is tonight!}...but I don't need to eat cookies to survive, in fact going without cookies is a good way to make my frugal budget stretch further

I want to have some reprieve from life & eczema by sitting on a beach in the sun for a week or more {just like my Dr. recommended!} and enjoying a good 5* service...but I don't need anything except inner peace and the earth certainly doesn't need those carbon miles!

I want a much healthier bank account...but I don't need anything more than trust, sacrifice and perseverance and I certainly don't need more work hours to give me that bigger bank account

I want a microwave to make my meals in 2 minutes flat...but I don't need things to be ready at the push of a button, there is a rhythm to waiting for good nourishing food that fills my evening routine, which I'd be sad to say goodbye to

I want a week of no dishes...but I don't need a dishwasher, I have two hands that work perfectly well

I want a new wardrobe that doesn't need to be built around my skin issues or a non-existent budget... but I don't need anymore than I have, even if compared to the world it is more than frugal.

I want my clothes to be dried in a dryer with no creases and no extra work of hanging to dry...but I don't need a dryer and there is something exceptionally mentally cleansing about hanging clothes to dry!

I want land with lambs, donkeys, rabbits and chickens {oh my!}... but I don't need anything more than myself in order to live the frugal, simple and green life.


Once I finished writing out my list, I reflected on what life would be like if I had all those wants. The truth is, my life wouldn't be something I personally would want to lead. I have enjoyed my little journey in downshifting, learning self-sufficiency skills and the peaceful rhythm which finds its way into my daily and weekly life. I like that my choices reflect the values I have and that I aim to tread lightly on this earth. Yes I occasionally have hard days, every so often I wish there was a little button I could push to make that particular day easier, but the truth is, I wouldn't swap my new life, or my new choices, to return to my old ways. Nope, no going back!

What things do you occasionally want that you don't need? Do you think about what life would be like if you weren't on this journey? Could you ever go back?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mmmm Eggs

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Our pullets born here on the farm last year are just coming into lay. And those hens who chose to moult over summer are also laying again. So at last we have an abundance of eggs again. Eggs to make quiche for dinner, to have boiled for packed lunches, to poach and pop onto sourdough toast with cracked pepper and herbs for a delicious brekky... Pink eggs, brown eggs, white eggs, blue eggs, big eggs, tiny eggs and even giant duck eggs sometimes!



Some of my favourite egg recipes are...

Asian Omelette

few cups of cooked noodles
6 eggs (large)
garam marsala, chili or preferred seasoning
a little Massel chicken-style stock powder

Cook noodles as per packet directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Beat eggs with spices and stock powder. Add noodles to egg mix and combine.

Heat a little oil in a heavy-based frypan. Add enough of the mix to cover the base of the pan. As it’s frying, push around the edges so a nice firm ‘cake’ is forming. Once the cake is golden on the bottom, fold in half, omelette-style. Fry a little longer, then flip to fry the other side if you’re not sure it’s done through…

Remove from pan and continue until all the mix is done.

We cut our omlettes in half as we used a large cast iron frypan. We serve them with some plain boiled basmati rice and green vegetables, tamari and some chilli and garlic sauce. Very simple, cheap and filling.


Pumpkin & Spinach Frittata

900g pumpkin, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbspn olive oil
6 eggs
1/2 cup cream
40g spinach leaves
sprinkle of parmesan & grated cheddar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Bake pumpkin, brushed with oil and garlic, till tender. Line baking dish with paper. Whisk eggs and cream and season. Layer ingredients in dish & bake for 25 minutes.




Zucchini Slice



400g zucchini, grated
1 medium carrot, grated
1 cup grated cheese
1 cup wholemeal flour + 1tsp baking powder
1/2 cup oil
5 eggs, beaten
salt & pepper

Combine all ingredients and stir. Smooth into a baking tray and cook for 40 minutes at 180 degrees C. Slice and serve. Can be frozen for lunchboxes.




Custard



2 eggs
3 tbspn cornflour
3 cups milk
3 tbspn sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Mix and whisk first 3 ingredients in a saucepan. Place onto heat and keep whisking until it becomes thick and creamy. Take off the heat and add sugar and vanilla and whisk through. Don’t add sugar whilst on the heat or custard will stick to the pan.

You can add cocoa (about 1/2 cup) to make chocolate custard or add cinnamon, lemon rind or other spices for a different flavour.



Do you have a favourite recipe to use up excess eggs?