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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Backyard Chickens - Return on Investment

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

This article is a re-post from my personal blog.


Not many backyard chicken urban farmers think about the return on investment of their flock very much, as chickens are more of a passion than a business, and as I have mentioned in previous posts about chickens, not only are they great pets, are willing workers in the garden, they also lay the best eggs ever.

Not only do these eggs taste much better, they are nutritionally better as well! Mother Earth News mentions that eggs from chickens that are allowed to roam on grass (instead of being confined to cages as is the case for the majority of commercially produced eggs) have;
  •  1⁄3 less cholesterol
  • 1⁄4 less saturated fat
  • 2⁄3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
(reference; http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx)

I know that in economic terms this is an intangible benefit, so how does one calculate the Return On Investment for your backyard chickens?

Well do I have the tool for you!  I found a fantastic calculator on-line that you can figure out the financial benefits of your chickens.  Here is the link to it.   http://www.ruleworks.co.uk/cgi-bin/PoultryROI.exe?Guide=Poultry&t=Poultry%20ROI%20Calculator

Here is how mine worked out.

"Poultry ROI Calculator

Your Poultry cost per year is $ 27.20
Housing cost per year is $ 52.00
Feed quantity required per year is 321 Kg for 8 Large Fowl
Cost of all feed products per year is $ 354.05
Consumables / other cost per year is $ 202.00
Total Cost per year is $ 635.25
Your eggs sold value per year is $ 87.75
Hatching eggs sold value per year is $ 0.00
The remaining eggs valued at shop prices $ 351.00 for your own use.
Total Return value per year is $ 822.75

Your Total Profit is $ 187.50 per year.

Well done. Of course this profit calculation does not include your labour costs"
Now even though it says I make a profit because they are great value for money, I personally wouldn't care if I made a loss.  They are just like any other household pet as far as I am concerned (unless of course you breed your chooks for meat).  No-one questions the ROI of a dog or a cat, and they certainly don't lay eggs for your breakfast!

So for those interested, I would love to see how your ROI comes out.  Don't forget to select the right currency for the calculator.  It doesn't affect the calculations as it just changes the currency symbol on the calculator.  It just looks better, that's all.

Anyway, happy ROI calculating.  It is simple and easy to do if you know most of your costs on a monthly basis.

Give it a go and let me know how you went.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beauty in the Every Day

by Danelle Stamps at The Stamps Family Farm

There are some days when farming and simple living are anything but simple. There are some days where living this life, caring for animals and land and people is just so breathtakingly hard that doing chores in -40 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures with 60 miles per hour winds is preferable to facing the daily realities of farming. 

Animals die. Crops get flooded out. Children get sick. And the sun still rises in the East every morning.

This last year has had some hard lessons. We lost 15 pigs total to disease and heat. Preventable disease, but we didn't know enough to have vaccinated them and they died. We lost two llamas to a parasite because we didn't know enough about regular worming. We are armatures let loose to learn hard lessons at the expense of our livestock and no amount of book learning or Internet websites can take the place of these hard realities. 

But we are still here. Still farming. And these experiences made us better stewards of our flock. We know more about disease management and animal care and nutrition. 

You just have to know, if you are going into farming with no experience or mentors or help, it isn't easy.

That said, I started to sit down and write this week's post about finding beauty in the harshness of winter or farm life or daily grind. 


 Instead, I'd like to pose a question: What lessons have you had to learn the hard way? What losses built your skills? What things should new farmers know before going into it feet first?


My top four: 

Get to know your local vet, explain what you want to do and ask for advice, supply lists, and a lesson in how to administer shots. Ask how or where it is proper to dispose of animal carcass, especially if there is a burn ban.

Practice or list out what to do in an emergency. Who to call. Where supplies are. What and where to go.

How will you handle failure? Really. What things will you have in place to mourn your losses, to do things better, to not beat yourself up when you need to be working on making things better. 

Winter food supply for livestock. Last year, mid winter we had to frantically make calls to get more hay delivered. This year, all was purchased in October and stored well. The only mishap we have had is a dropped round bale on our truck (damaged the truck bed door). 


As with anything, make time for yourself. Each moment get ready for the next one and live it with grace. That is beauty. That is life.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fencing in the Wild


by Linda from The Witches Kitchen


I've ticked off one of my New Year's Resolutions. We've just come home from a week in wild weather at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - one of the most beautiful wild places on earth. I went swimming in the surf every day, collected seaweed for my seaweed brew, and walked around North Gorge every morning.

North Gorge walk at Point Lookout is spectacular. I never ever walk it without seeing wildlife - pods of dolphins surfing in on waves, sea turtles, manta rays, humpbacks in whale season. When we were kids the walk was a goat track round the rocks, a narrow unfenced track with sheer drop-offs 40 metres down to ocean so blue you can see turtles swimming metres underwater.

I vividly remember going round the gorge once as a child - I must have been about nine or ten - in wild weather. Lashing rain, huge waves crashing against the rocks sending spray up even to the 40 metre height of the headland, sea turquoise mixed with gunmetal, the gorge full of mermaid foam.

Gradually, over the years, the walk has been tamed, first with steps in the rock, then fencing along parts, then broadwalks. This time, for the first time, most of the way is broadwalk. It is a beautifully built broadwalk, and I can see the point. I have walked it with my kids with my heart in my mouth. I have feared to take other people's kids, especially in wild weather. But there is a part of me that mourns the taming.

We humans have an appetite for thrill. On the way there we passed Dreamworld themepark at the Gold Coast,  advertising "The Tower of Terror" where "riders soar 100m into the atmosphere dangling for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before plummeting back to earth". Dreamworld says the Tower of Terror mark 1 had over 8 million "panicked passengers."

It's an odd idea. A hugely expensive, constructed mechanism designed to create the thrill of fear, the illusion of danger without real danger. Artificial. Unreal. A lie.

I don't think that kind of exploitation of the taste for terror is healthy, but I do think there is something valuable that is lost - maybe necessarily, but sadly - in the broadwalk around North Gorge. That walk taught me, as a child, some valuable lessons, like some risks are not make-believe but permanent. Wild nature is spectacularly beautiful and can take you to profound places, but it doesn't take care of you.  I can do things that are risky and keep myself safe.  Fear is not a reason to stop, or a reason to go, but a reason to take care.

North Gorge offered the opportunity to look at real danger, to experience the thrill, but to have total control over the risk. Fishermen have been washed off the lower rocks, but I can't find a record of anyone actually slipping off the track. It's a lot more relaxing and meditative a walk these days, and still spectacularly beautiful. But thrill that is both real and confrontable is rare, and it's a bit sad to lose it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Changing spaces

by Rhonda at Down to Earth

When we first moved into our current home, we made quite a few changes. The house had been lived in by an older couple and some of the things that suited them didn't suit us. We pulled up the carpet and laid a wood floor, we changed the kitchen, added verandahs front and back and put in gardens and the chook house. We, although we didn't know it at the time, were getting ready to live more simply.

It's very easy to look at a new home and see spaces you don't really like, or know they won't work for your family and just ignore them. I want to encourage you to change what doesn't suit you. If you don't, you're changing yourself to suit the house.


We all have different circumstances and expectations but all of us can benefit from changing our living space to suit how we live. For instance, if you do a lot of sewing, you should have a space to store your equipment and fabrics; if you write or paint, you should have a quiet space to do it; if you bake a lot, have all your needs close to where you work. Outside, your mower and garden tools will serve you well if they're stored in a space out of the weather and close to a work bench were you can carry out your maintenance.



I guess the obvious and easy change is to create garden beds where there are none and to build a chook house or tractor. That change alone, while not costing the earth will equip you to provide a measure of fresh food right from your home. But there are other less obvious changes to be made, you just have to look at the space around you in a creative way with a focus on your sustainability.


Out in the back yard, along with the gardens and chickens, you could think about water tanks or barrels. If you don't have the finances for that now, it might we something worth saving for if your climate is fairly dry, if you get all your annual rain in a few months, or if you have a vegetable garden. And even if you don't have the money for big tanks right now, see if you can set up a system whereby you collect some water when it rains. We have a couple of 200 litre tubs here that, when full, can keep our garden going for a week. We just fill the watering cans or buckets from the tubs and transfer the water to the garden. It's more work than hosing, but we don't mind carting our harvested water the short distance. Make sure you set up your collector tanks close to where it will be used. Btw, mosquitoes take about 10 - 14 days, depending on the type, to go from egg to mosquito. Harvesting the water within a ten day period will kill the larvae before they fully develop. Or, you could just scoop the larvae out with a fine fish net.

Inside the home you might look for a cupboard to store your stockpile. I think one of the downsides of many modern homes is the lack of cupboard space. Think creatively about your cupboards, if you have a big cupboard near your kitchen, or in the laundry or garage, that may suit your stockpile better than what is currently in it.


Move pots and pans, baking supplies, tea and coffee making supplies close to where they're used. Organising your kitchen well will save you a lot of time and effort. It just takes an hour or so to think about how you work in your kitchen and then moving things closer to where they're needed.


Make a space to sit with your tea and coffee. This space might also serve well as the place you talk quietly with your partner, read to the children, write letters, knit or stitch. You need a space like this just as you need a place to store your linens or groceries. Make a space for yourself - make the house suit you, not the other way around.

I could go right through the house but I'm sure you get what I mean. Making small changes to your home will make your life easier. Modify the house to suit the type of family you are. Make the spaces work for you and if they don't, change them. Your home is one of the key tools you have in your life, making a few adjustments to make it work as it should and have it accommodate the activities of your family, will make living there easier. There will be some changes that cost money, just do them as the money becomes available, but many changes will cost only the effort you put in to make them happen.

I hope you identified some changes you want to make when we did our simple audit last week. So if you have some plans, I encourage you to dive right in and enjoy the process of change. You'll be making your home fit your family instead of living with the feeling that the house isn't quite right. This is another one of those things where we take the bull by the horns and give it a good shake, instead of sitting back wishing things were different.

Do it thoughtfully, take it slow and enjoy the change.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Naturally caring for kids teeth

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

In recent months our youngest son has had his wee baby teeth cleaned with a clean damp cloth. Last week he took the next step up to a junior size toothbrush and toothpaste. It is an exciting time as he explores the new sensation of flavoured paste and a brush being stuck in his mouth with bristles on it!


You can start cleaning your children's teeth from the time that the first teeth start arriving. You might like to start by using a clean, damp (I dampen with cooled boiled water) cloth and then try a small age appropriate toothbrush or a silicone finger brush.

We are using toothbrushes that have a biodegradable handle. You simply break off the head and throw that in the rubbish and the handle can be thrown in the compost.


I am keeping Ben's toothbrush and pastes separate from the older kids brushes. I air dry the brush and then store it in an airtight container. I wrapped the top of a jar in kitchen string to 'spruce' it up a little and everything is together and neat when we finish brushing.

Our toothpaste is one I grew up with - 'Jack n Jill' - which still comes in the great flavours it used to. It is made from organic ingredients and is safe to use from 6 months of age.

Whilst some may view these items as expensive compared to some of the readily bought supermarket brands I feel good about choosing to buy these organic and recyclable items as they are both good for my children's health and the environment! I am not sure about using homemade oral care products on children....this is something I'd like to look more into!

Starting good oral care habits early is important for your child's health. What products do you use for your family? Have you thought about using organic toothpaste, making your own or using compostable brushes?

Amanda x

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Skills

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Last year, I wrote about reskilling here.  And just this week I was thinking that reskilling really is a way of life for us now.  We're actively learning to do new things all the time.
image from energybulletin.net

Some of the things I have learned to do in the past year or so:
- different ways to grow sprouts
- making toothpaste and other personal care products
- cooking more sauces (like worcestershire, chilli)
- cooking with various cuts of beef
- making feta cheese with jersey milk
- using the food dehydrator for various things
- treating sick animals with natural remedies

It's amazing how much we can do just by learning a handful of skills each year!


I'd like to learn how to plaster fibro walls, grow potatoes more successfully, catch a fish in the creek (will get my boys to take me fishing), build a trellis, grow more legumes to use as dried beans, dig up my sweet potatoes at the right time, make hard cheese...

What skills have you learned recently?  What would you like to learn this year?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Frugal AND Creative

by Megan @ The Byron Life


One of the surprise learning curves for me since making a commitment to living more frugally has been how neatly it fits with my passion for creativity. 

 I am a writer, a photographer, a crafter and former art student and I truly enjoy creating things; either for functionality or simply for the pure love of the creative process.

It may come as a surprise to you if, like I once did, you see the term frugal as being one of lack, or deprivation, to instead discover a whole new world of richness can open up when you take a simpler, greener path.

The old saying necessity is the mother of invention could have been coined for the frugal life (and probably was!) as the more you look at frugal, less consumer-driven ways of living, the more creative you will become.  Even if you don’t see yourself as very creative.

Creating from scratch instead of buying new; using recycled materials to fill a need; growing and preserving foods; mending and re-using – these are just some ways in which the frugal life meets the creative desire in me, and with each act a new sense of accomplishment presents itself. 

The frugal life is a creative life, and a richly creative one at that.

Yesterday we were at a friend’s house for a BBQ lunch and I photographed her very clever recycled BBQ and thought it would be ideal to share in this blog post with you.

The BBQ is so simple and creative: a hole dug in the earth which is then lined (rather artistically, I reckon) with two layers of second-hand brick pavers. The BBQ hot plate has been welded from reclaimed metal grills and plate my friends found at the local waste re-use depot. It has “legs” on either end that are attached with a hinge so that you can lower the BBQ hotplate closer to the heat, if required.

How clever, simple, green, frugal, and creative is that?

It cost very little, was not hard to construct (although I might have to get help with the welding part, digging a hole and laying bricks is well within my capabilities), I love the earthy look of it and... it works!

As we cooked over this fire yesterday, it felt very much like being around a camp fire – and I loved that feeling of relaxed socialising. 

Do you have any examples of how frugal living meets creativity? (I bet you do!)

x

Megan

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The "Feel Good" Philosophy

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all well. A few months ago, I attended the launch of Sharing Young Women's Stories - a campaign run by Equality Rights Alliance to fight negative body image. It was a great night and I felt very privileged that I was able to talk to many inspiring people doing good work.


Postcards being handed out at the launch. Photo by GR from Equality Rights Alliance and published here with her permission.

One of the people at the launch, Carly Jacobs, gave a particularly great speech. She talked about her "feel good diet". After years of dieting, calorie counting and unhealthy obsession over her body type, Carly finally hit upon a feel good diet. She started to eat what made her feel good. This doesn't mean binging on junk food (that often made her feel sick, not good), it also didn't mean she starved herself. Rather she ate what made her feel healthy and energetic.

Since that time, I've been reflecting on what Carly said and I realised that her philosophy can be applied to so many more areas of my life - my health, my consumption of goods and also my ongoing simplification of my life.

So here is my "feel good" list:

1. I feel good when I hang out with my kids, my family and my friends
2. I feel good when I am outdoors, riding my bike or paddling on the lake
3. I feel good when I am at taekwondo
4. I feel good when I eat home cooked meals
5. I feel good when I eat out at a really nice restaurant
6. I feel good when I have a clean house
7. I feel good when I declutter
8. I feel good when I do a good job at work
9. I feel good when I get a good night's rest
10. feel good when I make the time to just enjoy the view from my house
11. I feel good when I help others
12. I feel good when others help me
13. I feel good when I iron (yes I know its weird but I really do enjoy it)
14. I feel good when I make the effort to look nice
15. I feel good when I play the piano and when I sing
16. I feel good when I am painting, crafting or sewing
17. I feel good when I massage other people (I think this is related to my thing with ironing - smoothing out knots and all that hehe)
18. I feel good when I read a good book, blog post or article
19. I feel good when I achieve my savings goals

The times when I have felt overwhelmed and anxious is when I do the opposite to the list above - when I don't take time out to be physically active and enjoy the space around me. I don't feel good when I've been frivolous and ended up with a leaner bank balance and with too much stuff that I barely use and don't really need.

Now looking over that list, I realise that basically I feel good when I respect myself and the space around me, when I connect with others and when I act in accordance to my values.

What about you? What's your feel good list?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Making New Habits Stick

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Ah - a new year, accompanied by those ubiquitous resolutions. Now, myself, I'm at the age where strength and flexibility are at the use-it-or-lose-it stage. And since there are still a lot of items on my bucket list that require just those qualities, plus endurance, I certainly don't want to "lose it."

I already try for at least 30 minutes cardio workout, five times a week, usually by simply walking around my hilly neighborhood. I've found the best workout aid to be an eager and insistent dog, with an Ipod full of music a close second. Luckily, I live in an area that, while it can get cold in the winter has mostly clear skies, any snow on the streets is removed in a timely fashion, and any remaining ice melts off the dark pavement quickly. Then again, I lived above 10,000 feet for 10 years. I do believe there is no inclement weather, only inappropriate clothing.

That said, I do have a backup indoor cardio plan, with a few dance exercise CD's for when the wind is really ripping or those infrequent but totally impossible storms blow in for more than a day. And my living room decor now includes a cross-country ski machine, picked up cheap, secondhand, facing the tv.

But life gets in the way too sometimes - more often than not, it seems. Besides time devoted to family and friends, home and garden projects, I also have multiple volunteer commitments plus a part-time job. I can't just say I'll walk every day at this time, make it every week to this exercise class. My schedule is too erratic to plan so absolutely. As with any life-changing resolution, you have to make it a habit. It just gets a bit more difficult when you can't link the new action to a particular circumstance.


So I use my big decorative calendar, hanging there to disguise the ugly well tank, in my kitchen pantry. And stickers, just like back in kindergarten. I've used shiny star stickers for the cardio workouts for years now. It's such a simple little reward, but it works for me. When my life gets a bit too hectic, taking care of myself seems to be the easiest thing to discard. But too many empty days on that calendar nags me that I need to get things back on track. Use it or lose it!

As I said at the beginning, this year I want to add strength and flexibility workouts too. I picked up a little booklet of stickers at the grocery store. There are little smiley face stickers, that I'm using for a flexibility session. I found a $3 yoga class, that meets a few different times a week, or I also count a half-hour of stretches on my living room floor - and am aiming for two times a week. The little round star stickers are my reward for strength workouts - arm exercises with five-pound weights, squats and lunges, you know the drill - also aiming for two times a week. Now I just need to find some little musical stickers. I've picked up my childhood accordion again. I want to start practicing regularly - gotta have some stickers. There's still room on those calendar days. The stickers just remind me to make room in my life.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Patio fruit

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming


 
Since gaining our allotment last year, our patio container garden has fallen by the wayside a little, which I have spoken about before.We have lots of large deep pots standing empty for much of the year, being dug over by cats and colonized by weeds. I have been debating how best to use the patio for some months.

Patios have their advantages and disadvantages as growing spaces. Whilst you are restricted to growing a relatively narrow range of compact crops in pots, high maintenance plants that require specialist feeding or frost protection can lend themselves to container growing. Patios tend to regulate heat over the course of a day, the slabs warming up faster in the day and losing that heat slowly overnight. They may even provide a longer growing season than bare earth.

Our allotment also has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it has deep open rich soil in which most things will thrive with a little attention. On the other hand is a paradise for winged things - everything from sparrows to Canada geese; and the evidence of the war on birds is everywhere. Metres and metres of netting cover fruit trees and in some cases, whole plots are caged. Apart from two very thorny gooseberries that should look after themselves, we have declined to install any other fruit on our small plot.

Back to our patio - there are no winged things, or rodents. Thanks to the huge cat and fox population, my neighbours elaborate bird feeding station has been visited only by a very aggressive magpie. Which makes our neighborhood perfect fruit growing territory from a pest point of view. All manner of fruit can be grown in containers. The cats are less likely to dig over containers with large, perennial plants in than they are seedlings. The trees and bushes will add some vertical interest to the garden and make the most productive use of space. Unfortunately, there is a lag time of a few years before trees will produce fruit, making me wish I had made the investment years ago. As that did not happen, there is no time to start like the present.

The initial investment in large containers, soil and plants is large in comparison with a packet of seeds, but the pay off is a relatively low maintenance, high output garden. Apart from regular watering and some seasonal pruning and possibly some pest or frost protection, the 'gardener's shadow' is less important to success than growing annuals.

This year we have invested in an apple on a dwarfing rootstock, which will restrict its height to a maximum of two metres and a cherry tree of similar stature. Thanks to their height, they can sit against a short north facing wall and catch the sun, turning a cold and dark edge of the patio into something more productive and pretty. This year we plan to add a self fertile kiwi which will be trained up a rose arch. We have added a grape that will be trained as a standard and are now considering a fig tree, which fruit best when its roots are restricted. If I had space to overwinter one indoors, I would consider a citrus tree also.

On a personal note, there is something wholesome and soothing about a tree, especially a fruit tree, something that stirs in me when I look out over the garden and see the twigs starting to bud. Which is a good enough reason as any to go forth and plant.



Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Whey Ricotta

written by Gavin from Little Green Cheese and The Greening of Gavin.

When making a semi hard cheese, one is usually left with a large volume of whey (the milky leftover water).  I don't like wasting this by-product, so I usually make Whey Ricotta.  It is easy to make and a very versatile soft cheese, that can be used in may meals!

Anyway, the process for this cheese is very simple, and I caught it all on video for all to see.  I hope you join me in watching another one of my cheese making video tutorials.  For the full list you can visit my cheese website, Little Green Cheese.




 
 

Enjoy and I hope you find the time to give it a try!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Watermelon & Mint Salad


Happy New Year to the Simple, Green, Frugal community! I hope you were able to spend some relaxed time with friends and family.

We're now in the middle of the New Zealand summer and, apart from a few rotten days, we've been blessed with beautiful sunshiney weather here in Wellington. I've spent part of my summer potting up a new herb garden, and I have quite a nursery of mint, coriander, parsley, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, and basil. I'm not much of a gardener, I have to admit, so I'm crossing fingers I can keep these herbs up. I'm looking forward to being able to just step outside onto the patio to pick lovely fresh additions to our meals.

Fresh herbs really can be the key to a delicious healthy meal. Instead of using butter, oils and other fats in my cooking, I try to add flavours with herbs, spices and seasonings. I find the flavours are fresher, more vibrant, more complex, and of course, so much better for us.

So I thought today I'd include a lovely summery dish which features fresh mint as its star ingredient. I make this a lot over summer, and people are always asking for the recipe. It's quite an unusual salad - sometimes people can't put their finger on what the interesting dressing is - but are usually delighted when told.

Watermelon & Mint Salad

Vary quantities according to how many you need to serve, and/or to taste:
Watermelon, deseeded and chopped into bite-sized chunks
Red onion, finely sliced
Red capsicum, finely sliced
Mint sauce*

The salad really is just combining the watermelon, red onion and red capsicum, and dressing in mint sauce! When I made this recipe to photograph for my blog a few weeks ago, I also had some pomegranate seeds on hand, so added them too. If you like, cubes of feta also make a welcome
variation on the recipe.

*If you're short on time, bottled/bought mint sauce will do the trick, but if you have mint growing in your garden, why not try making your own mint sauce? This recipe is from New Zealand's classic cooking bible, the Edmonds Cookery Book: Put 1/4 cup finely chopped mint
leaves into a jug or saucepan, and cover with boiling water. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 cup malt vinegar, and add salt to taste. Leave to cool.

Wishing you all the best for a happy and successful, and not to mention simple, green and frugal 2012.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

If Bacteria Won't Eat It...


by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I read an article this week with the headline "Cosmetic Chemical Hinders Brain Development in Tadpoles". The study, by the very credible Brown University, found that a chemical called methylisothiazolinone, commonly used in shampoo, cosmetics, skin care products, cleaning products, even baby wipes, caused defects in the neurological development of tadpoles, even at very low concentrations. The Good Guide has a list of products that contain methylisothiazolinone, and you will be surprised how familiar they are.

It's been known for ages that methylisothiazolinone is nasty in high concentrations, and for that reason you're not allowed to have more than 100 ppm in cosmetics. It's also been known for over a decade that it causes damage to rat brain cells in tissue culture. But this study found (in their lovely scientific language) that it caused "deficits both in behavior and in basic brain development" in tadpoles, even in concentrations 0.015 of that allowed in cosmetics, and over just 10 days of exposure.

And though I know it's a fair distance between making tadpoles intellectually disabled or damaging rat brain cells when they're not even in a rat, and being dangerous to humans, I'd prefer not to test just how big a distance.

I looked down the Good Guide list. There's a lot of products there. I don't use hair dye but I do use shampoo occasionally. Mostly I find that just rinsing my hair in plain warm water works well - it doesn't need soap of any kind. Aloe vera is so easy to grow and a great hair conditioner. I don't use cosmetics but I do use sunscreen, not daily - I've always been a bit suspicious about it - but at the beach or the swimming pool. I've sometimes wondered if I use it too little. I have lots of sun damage to my skin. But I think I'll go for the slip and slap and skip the slop.

I've read blog comments - not here of course - where people get really scathing about using food products as face mask and cosmetics. It seems bizarre to me. A fresh organic avocado in season from a Farmer's Market is a fraction of the cost of a tiny jar of moisturiser, has no nasty chemicals in it, has done no environmental damage in the production of it, and works a hundred times better both in and on your skin. My Macadamia, Olive Leaf, Aloe and Avocado Face Mask doesn't have or need any methylisothiazolinone.

I don't use many industrial cleaning products. I use my home-made soap, and liquid soap made from it for bathing and hand washing, and cleaning vinegar for floors. Lemon juice and rind for shower and sinks and anything metal. Metho and newspaper for windows. Our toilet is a composting one.

But there's a big list there of products to avoid, and I really am much too busy to read labels that much. I don't want to be that diligent. It really is much easier to just apply my blanket rule: if it doesn't go off, if even bacteria and funghi won't eat it, be suspicious, be very suspicious.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pot mats

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Oh dear! The days are becoming a blur in the school holidays and I have lost track, so my apologies to the co-op and dear readers for not posting this earlier today. My head is a little fuzzy today too with a pinched nerve in my neck, making writing a post a little uncomfortable too, so I will keep today's post brief and reflect on something that's on my mind.

In 2010 I crocheted pot mats (trivets) using garden twine (jute string) and crochet cotton. These mats have been most hard-wearing and soften naturally after a couple of washes. They are extremely practical and function well.

I've been thinking about other materials I could use to make these mats using crochet to create them and have come up with knotted together lengths of fabric strips, much like a rag rug but I wondered if any of the readers here had made them from anything frugal or simple?

Do you have any suggestions of other materials that could be used that would be sturdy and protect work surfaces in the kitchen?

Amanda

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Few Notes on Seed Saving

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

While everyone is poring over their seed catalogs and dreaming of warmer weather, (at least us here in the Northern Hemisphere) planning for seed saving needs to be part of the scheme too.


I always say the work of gardening and farming is half observation. And this is especially important if you're going to save seeds. Paying attention all year round from seed storage during the off season, how the plant behaves during the growing season, and finally at harvest time all have a bearing on the success or failure of your endeavor.


Good seedling vigor is important, and can be an indicator of your seed selection from the year before. Or a big one, seed storage. No matter how good your seed was, if you don't take care of it during the off-season you risk poor germination. Dark, cool, and dry are the best and easiest to pull off for the home gardener. If you have room in your freezer (I don't) that would be the ideal situation. I store my seeds in a cabinet in a cool room in our house, and I don't have any trouble with the viability of my seeds.


Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita pepo

While you're planning your garden layout, plan for seed saving too. Some plants freely cross, so you have to do your homework for isolation, and how plants are pollinated. Wind, insect, self? Do I need only one plant or do I need a large number to insure the plant variety doesn't run down? Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth are good books on the subject.

I save seeds from winter squash and naked seed pumpkins, who will not cross, so they can be planted near each other. Summer squash will cross with my naked seed pumpkins so I have to plant my zucchini in a different garden.

I have found that growing the Naked Seed pumpkins are a good fill-in in my food pantry for nuts. They are delicious in pesto, and take the place of more exotic and expensive nuts. There is no competition from squirrels for these seeds, and they are ready within one growing season. Planting nut trees is always a good idea, but these pumpkins can help you weather the gap between nut tree planting and bearing age.

They are easy to harvest, and will keep in storage for a few months while other pressing garden and preserving duties take place.

It's been nice to peck away at this job. I store these in the barn, so I can throw open the doors on a sunny day and get to work. My limitations on harvesting these seeds are getting it done before they rot, since C. pepo's aren't know for keeping, and being able to dry these properly for storage without any molding.

Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin.


My method is pretty simple, I just cut or break open the pumpkins, pull out the seeds with my fingers until I have a colander full of seeds. That is about the quantity that I can dry in my kitchen without taking up too much space. Mileage may vary. While I'm doing this, I am observing or asking questions. Do larger pumpkins have more seeds? Do I see any variation in seeds in correlation to size of pumpkins? Do some have less stringy flesh? Are some rotten and others not? Any evidence of cross pollination? Do they taste good or bitter? All these questions get answered and go along with any observations I have made during the growing season, and are important if I am to save the seeds best acclimated to my garden.

After harvesting the seeds, I wash the seeds in the colander and pick out the remaining bits of flesh. The water seems to break the bond between the two and makes it much easier to separate the seeds. After washing, spread the seeds on screens if you have them or baking sheets, no more than a layer deep. Air circulation is the key to proper drying. For seed saving I only air dry, but for the pantry, I may occasionally put a tray in the warming oven of the cookstove, or in the electric stove oven after baking something. Note to self: Check oven for seeds before turning on to bake again. Don't ask how I know that...

The flesh is pretty stringy compared to my winter squash, so I feed the pumpkin leftovers to our cattle or chickens. They get a treat, and I can get rid of the mess. And if you're cramped for space in your garden, I think these would be perfectly edible.

I like to think that observing the plant through all the stages, makes gardening that much more interesting. The joy of gardening is not just the eating.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living with a House Cow

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I've written before about our house cow:
House Cow FAQs
House Cow Journey Part One
House Cow Journey Part Two
House Cow Journey Part Three
House Cow Journey Continues

It's been over two years since we first brought Lucy home and we're feeling more confident about raising our own cattle these days.  The timeline of our journey (if you don't want to read everything above) goes like this...

We brought Lucy, a pure Jersey cow of a few years of age, here to our 42 acre farm from a dairy.  She was in calf to a Wagyu (beef breed) and had never been hand milked, halter-led etc before.  We also got Honey, a pure Jersey heifer, from another dairy at the same time, just a couple of weeks old.  Lucy raised that calf (begrudgingly), and after she was weaned she had a break, then delivered her Wagyu-cross bull calf named Wags whom we later steered.  I got another pure Jersey heifer, Poppy, to raise alongside this calf.

They weaned and we had mixed success with milking Lucy that lactation.  Awhile after she was AIed we sent her out into the large paddock for a break.  During this time we cared for (and milked) someone else's cow for a few months.  We also had the butcher in for the steer calf, Wags (at 20 months).  Honey went to live with my friend and had her own heifer on her 2nd birthday (a surprise beef X - neighbour's bull!).

Mimi and Lucy
Between Christmas and New Year, we were blessed to welcome another little heifer calf.  This leaves us with 3 pure Jersey females.  Lucy (the original cow), Poppy (the 2nd foster heifer) and now Mimi (Lucy's own heifer calf).  These three will be our house cows in rotation over the coming years, all going well!

The delivery of Lucy's second calf on our farm went smoothly.  I went out to the shops after lunch one day, and when I drove back in the driveway there was a calf at her feet.  The delivery of the placenta, her feeding the calf, first milkings etc all went very smoothly.  It's hard to tell if that's luck, experience or good management though!

Mimi and Lucy
Again we froze all the colostrum we milked off during the first week.  We keep this in case the calf becomes unwell, but we've not had to bottle-feed any calves to date.
 
Baby Mimi
Because I'm share-milking with only one calf this time, we get a lot of milk each day.  It's time to get back into making feta, yoghurt, quark, custard, bechamel sauce and all those other recipes to use up milk!  It's probably time for me to learn some more cheesemaking.  I'll be heading over the Little Green Cheese for some inspiration!  While I wasn't milking, I was buying Misty Mountain dairy products.  It's lovely to have a local alternative so similar to our house cow's milk, but of course it's just not the same!

Looking back, the first months with our house cow were the hardest.  It was a huge learning curve and we were having a dry spell so feed was expensive.  Feed doesn't ever cost over $20 per week now, during peak milking/feed times.  I switched to chaff (oaten/lucerne) over bales of hay to reduce waste (stalks flicked onto the floor by Lucy).  I still give a little steam rolled (micronised) barley at milking time only.  We found a bulk source of seaweed meal which makes it much more affordable and so tend to give this valuable supplement more generously.  We use natural sprays for flies, balms for udder etc as per suggestions on The Family Cow forum.  We mix these up ourselves from ingredients bought in bulk.  We use diatomaceous earth (DE) in the feed buckets for about 4 days around the full moon each month as a worming preventative.  We also dust it on for ticks and flies and sprinkle in the bedding area as required.

 I'm always seeking the best way, asking questions, reading books, articles and forums when I have questions no one knows the answer to.  Trying different things with my cattle, and being as present as possible - checking them over daily so that any health problems are immediately recognised.  A lot of what I do is quite different from standard dairying practice in my area.  But when you're working with a very small herd, you can afford the time and resources to do things differently.

Timing of holidays is really tricky with a house cow.  Recently we had a two month break of no milking, and I really should have taken advantage of that more.  It still took some effort to arrange for people to look after our pets and other farm animals, but it's really tricky to get someone in to milk a cow!  When thinking about weaning a calf, drying off a cow, timing of AI, etc - we try to time this to best suit family commitments.  And these things don't happen overnight, so spontaneity can go out the window somewhat!


When others ask me about having a house cow, I strongly suggest that unless they are really passionate about it, and willing to spend a lot of time with their cow, don't bother.  Even though these past couple of years of raising our own cattle have been so very rewarding for me, I know it's not for everyone, especially in today's fast-paced society.

Glossary
cow - adult female bovine who has had a calf, generally over 2 years of age
bull - adult male bovine who has not been castrated
steer - male bovine who has been castrated
heifer - young female bovine, who hasn't calved
AI - artificial insemination - how to get a calf when you don't own a bull
colostrum - first milk



Monday, January 9, 2012

Journeying

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday I posted my 1000th post on my blog. 1000 "essays" over the last 3.5 years about this journey. This downshifting, simplifying, greening, frugal journey. A journey which has seen me:

Give up paper products
Use reusable toilet cloth (as opposed to toilet paper)
Leave a corporate city job
Learn to cook
Give up tv
Begin shopping locally
Really commit to vegetarianism
Learn to reuse and/or refuse
Learn to knit
Use a vermicomposter
Move countries
Commit to cleaning without pesticides
Volunteer overseas
Become more passionate about Fairtrade
Learn to say no to things which don't reflect my/our values
Adopt two children

But honestly, it is more than all that. I could list 1000 things I've done since beginning this life, this new more simplified, frugal and green path. But here's the truth, the most important thing I've learned through the 1000 posts is to be still and to walk in grace, not only towards others, but towards myself too. That tender dance of stillness and grace means more than learning a frugal recipe or saving money on my utility bills. It is a dance that allows me to only see the beauty in a moment with my children, when other stresses and strains are hard to keep quiet. It is the dance which lets me know the importance of hope in a world where messages are often of doom.

1000 posts of journeying have led me to standing still. And from my still space on a very cold wintery morning, the frugal, simple and green life looks like a grand one, the world looks postively beautiful. The noise is shut out and the stillness is let in.

May we all journey well in 2012. May we all journey towards a place called simplicity. May be journey not as if in a race, but as if on a path with lots of forks, twists and turns, all leading you just where you need to be. All leading towards a quiet moment and a little sound whispering hush.

Five Simple Birthday Party Ideas


by Megan @ The Byron Life

We have just celebrated my middle daughter’s fifth birthday, which was a success of home-made crafty goodness, so I thought today I might share some simple children’s party ideas I’ve used over the years. Each is based on my preference for keeping it simple, handmade and frugal. Many of them are girly – as I have three girls – but could be adapted to suit boys, too.  I’d love to hear readers’ ideas for simple parties – my youngest are aged 2 and 5, so I’ve still quite a few parties to deliver over the next decade or so.

1.       1DIY Invites:


Making your own invitations by hand can be a fun exercise in craft and learning to write for children. Or, you can also easily create your own digitally and print them out at home, which is what we did for  Melli’s third birthday, using a favourite photo of her dressed up in her ballet costume.  Making your own invites personalises them and is only limited by your imagination.

2.       2. Get Crafty:



Having a craft activity at a party can keep little ones happily occupied for quite a while (depending on their age) and needn’t be elaborate or expensive. For Melli’s fifth party yesterday we had the girls decorate a simple line drawing to create their very own party girl picture. Materials: paper, pens, glue, fabric scraps and some glitter. Simple and fun and the little girls loved it.

3.       3. Home-made Decorations:


Why not be frugal and creative and make your own decorations using recycled materials? This bunting was created from a collection of thrifted vintage children’s handkerchiefs and sewn onto some bias-binding. It suited our crafty party theme and will be re-used in the girl’s room and their sand pit play area.


I also made up these simple “loot” bags for the kids a couple of years back using plain paper bags and a page from a thrifted children’s book as decoration.  Inside I place a few sweet treats and some art-making materials. These were a huge hit.

4.       4. Party in Nature:


My three girls are spring and summer babies, so the weather is usually perfect for beach and park parties. I much prefer these free outdoor spaces over expensive theme parks. The kids have fun just being in nature, making up their own games, running, swimming, climbing trees, playing on park equipment...  The backyard at home can be just as good. At our parties the structured activities have been limited, and I’ve let nature (and the child’s imagination) provide the fun.  Running around a local park is also a great way to burn off party-food energy!

5.       5. Inspire Their Imaginations: 


Creating a "special" atmosphere for a party can be as simple as having a dress-up theme or providing some imaginative play incentives such as face painting.  I don’t know many kids who don’t like to dress up or have their face painted, do you? The addition of a costume, or an element of a costume such as face paint, wings or mask, will trigger all kinds of imaginative games.

***

A few days ago I overheard my soon-to-be five year old daughter explaining to her two-year-old sister exactly what a birthday party was.  In her opinion a party was where you got together with your special friends and had special food and got to play whatever games you liked... I don’t know if my two-year-old fully grasped what her big sister was saying, or just picked up on the excited energy, but she squealed in delight anyway.  

Friends, food, play. 

That’s what a party is really all about – whether you are a five or 50.

x
Megan

Friday, January 6, 2012

Chicken Scratch Embroidery

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
An elderly friend, knowing I do hand-sewing and embroidery, asked me if I knew anything about Chicken Scratch embroidery. She'd inherited a half-finished set of quilt blocks, with the patterns, but couldn't figure out how to read them. I had to admit I'd never heard of Chicken Scratch, but told her I'd go online for her and see what I could find out.

I was fascinated. It's a very simple embroidery technique - composed of double-cross stitches (an "x" worked on top of a "+", making a little 8-pointed star), horizontal and vertical running stitches (called bars), plus circles and ovals formed by weaving the thread under the bar stitches - worked on the grid created by the base material, any color gingham (aka checkerboard plaid). Stitched with white thread - the stars on the darkest squares, the bars on the medium colored ones, and the circles around the white squares - it makes ordinary old picnic cloth look like it's been covered over with lace (hence another name for Chicken Scratch: Depression Lace, as in the Depression era).

I found and printed out this informational downloadable PDF file for my friend. It explains how to do it, how to read a pattern, and includes a free pattern. If you Google the term, you can find images of other chicken scratch handwork. It would be easy to design your own shapes, too, using graph paper. 

In a nice little bit of serendipity, not long after I'd done all this I came across a couple of chicken scratch pillowcases in my favorite thrift store. After New Year's, I like to change my decor over to a red and white theme. It makes my home feel bright and cheery, warm and cozy during these short and cold winter days. Now that I've got some indoor craft time available, I'm going to cut those two pillowcases apart, duplicate the stitchery pattern on the two back pieces, and make a set of four placemats for my kitchen. The center diamonds are worked in a combination of dark red and white threads. Although I prefer the look of the all-white ones, I'll go ahead and match what's there. It would look better, though, if the dark double-x's were worked on the white squares. And I'm already thinking about playing around some more with the technique - maybe a white heart worked on the bib of a yellow (light blue? hmmm) gingham apron, just in time for Spring?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The green and simple life - as it actually is in a small urban house, with small children

Aurora @ Island Dreaming


 
I have to admit, I am at a bit of a loss as to what to write about this week.


It isn't that we haven't been doing anything. I have baked bread, I have started two batches of wine, a batch of from-grain beer. We have further  decluttered and redecorated the house, celebrated Halloween and Christmas, cooked almost every day from scratch. Nappies have been washed, laundry gloop made. But my own blog has been silent for two months now, because the wherewithal to coordinate doing something worthy of writing about with having a charged camera battery, time to sit at the computer and compose something and the brain capacity to write acceptable English more often than not fails me.

The reason? A six month old teething baby. The beautiful routine we had begun to get into? Gone out of the window, replaced by fractiousness, separation anxiety and broken nights. Broken nights for everyone, because her three year old brother in the next room often wakes with a jump at the onset of a midnight screaming session. We are not a well rested household.

Herein lies a problem. The main attraction of a simple life is to be more rested than those panicking to climb the material and social ladder. I feel not rested, I feel overstretched for the first time in many months. A steady diet of doctors appointments, preschool sessions, vet appointments, scheduled activities,work and study commitments on top of all our day to day frugal activities is interfering with a previously plodding, calm schedule. Life does not feel simple and deliberate. It feels slapdash.

The reason I tell you this? I have been reading a few too many beautiful blogs of families with small children where everything is rosy and beautifully staged and calm and organized and tidy - and this has been bad for my mental health. It is, I realise now, no different to looking at adverts for expensive cars and anti-aging creams and feeling angry and inadequate for those things that are beyond your reach. I know that many bloggers actively admit they show the very best of their days, their blogs are a medium for them to focus on the things they are most grateful for and this is not a dig at them. I may have been guilty of this on my own blog. It is a dig at myself for falling into the trap of comparing our life unfairly with those edited blog lives.

I have neglected to keep up with a few of those delightful blogs that unfortunately I cannot help comparing myself too at the moment. My own blog has fallen by the wayside a little and instead I schedule my fortnightly appointment here and look forward to it. Our allotment is still awaiting its autumn tidy up, the garlic and broad beans have not been sown. Dishes sometimes stack up on the side. The hoover sometimes doesn't come out for a few days. Knitting gets left out in the rush and unravelled by a passing three year old. The cat knocks a house plant onto the floor and I shout and use choice words that I would never dream of typing. The dining table piles up and we eat on a rug in the living room. I raise my voice sometimes and lose my patience and sometimes I just scream into a pillow, cry and feel sorry for myself. Mindfulness escapes me to be replaced by racing thoughts and deep seated feelings of inadequacy.

I have nothing practical to share with you at the moment; I can't share with you tips for soothing a teething baby, as none of the things that worked with the first of my children is working with the second; I cannot get my brain (and camera) together enough to write the wine tutorial I have been planning for most of 2011. Instead I just want to say go easy on yourself and enjoy the start of this new year. If you are struggling to keep your head above water right now, because of overtired small children or for other reasons, then let something go and do what you can with the material or spiritual reserves you have. Keep on keeping on. I'm off to find my camera battery.




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quince Paste

Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

Any Cheese maker worth his salt should be able to whip up a few accompaniments for their cheese, so I gave it a go.  I stumbled upon a quince tree on a nature strip when walking around a country Victorian town called Talbot.  I asked the owner if I could take some, and he said "Take as many as you like mate".  Nice man.

I read somewhere that Quince paste was a really good complimentary flavour that goes with most cheeses.  Having never tried it before, it was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off in the end.  The flavour is sensational, and I would recommend this fruit paste to anyone who is wondering what to do with a few spare quinces.

I found a recipe from Taste.com.au and followed it exactly.  It worked fine, except that I added a full cup of water at the start because it looked like it was going to boil dry!  Pretty easy process.  Peel, core, chop, then stew.  After the chopped up quinces turned to mush, I blended them in the food processs whilst hot and then returned the fruit to the pot and added the sugar.

So that I could capture the long 3.5 hour process, I took photos at 15 minute intervals.

Quince Paste 091 Quince Paste 092
Quince Paste 093 Quince Paste 094
Quince Paste 095 Quince Paste 096
Quince Paste 097 Quince Paste 099
Quince Paste 100 Quince Paste 101


I just love the way it changes colour during the cooking process.

Then I lined 6 ramekins with plastic wrap and ladled in the paste, and when it cooled a little, we folded over the wrap to protect it as it set.


I left them on the kitchen counter overnight and we had some for lunch with a piece of ash coated brie and castello white cheese.  Unfortunately, these are not my creations, but tasted nice just the same.


The taste was great and it really brought out the flavour of the cheese.  A great accompaniments indeed.  I have found that it can be stored in the fridge, in the freezer or in a cold place as long as it is sealed like jam.

When it is quince season again (winter) then I will definitely be on the lookout for more backyard quince trees!