Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cars and buses

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I recently downgraded from a very large car to a small second-hand car and I have to say I am really enjoying the benefits of a smaller car - cheaper in petrol and easier to find car parking spaces.

Having said that, I still struggle with the concept of using my car so much. The city where I live is fairly young... and obviously designed with cars in mind. As a result, my city has been struggling with public transport ever since. As an example, I can drive from home to my work in 15 mins, one way. If I was to catch public transport, home to work would take me 2 buses and a total of 1 hour and 20 mins one way. This is a huge disincentive for me to catch public transport.

So for now, a smaller car is the best I can do. Recently, I have started to catch buses on weekend outings with the children. Without the pressure of having to get to somewhere, its actually quite lovely to catch buses and not have to worry about parking. I have also realised another benefit for catching a bus. On a bus, my children are exposed to a wider range of people than they normally do. Prior to our weekend bus trips, my children would be driven from place to place where they play with children who are pretty much from the same background/circumstance as them.

A bus is an entirely different matter. On the bus, my children are sitting right next to 70+ year olds, next to people who are mentally or physically disabled, next to people who are obviously from a very very different background to them. They learn to stand up to people who *need* to sit down. They learn that the person who can not see or walk can still get around by themselves. They learn that the young man with Downs Syndrome catches a bus to go to his job in the city every Saturday morning . They learn that the world consists of very different peoples.

I think its a good thing to normalise such things at a very early age. As my local government grapples with public transport infrastructure for a city built for cars, I have decided to continue catching buses when we can - the lessons we are learning have been well worth the "inconvenience".

Since I'm talking about cars on this post, I thought I might share this funny episode from "Top Gear" - smallest production car ever built:


Thursday, 27 November 2008

The True Cost of Food

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

A few years ago, when I started thinking about the true cost of food, I started to buy as much as I could in, and from, my own local area. It's very productive land here. We have local milk and cheese producers, lots of organic vegetable growers, honey men, organic beef and lamb growers and plenty of tropical and subtropical fruit. Some of my friends think it's strange that even though I live a frugal life, we spend more than we need to for milk and cheese. Often the local fruit and vegetables are cheaper than the non-local supermarket produce, but I don't mind paying more for local foods. It helps build my community.

When you think about it, a $2 lettuce doesn't really cost $2. It costs a lot more than that. If you calculate in the environmental cost of the transport that brings food hundreds or thousands of kilometres or miles, add to that the damage done by pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers and top that off with eroded soils, the excess water used to grow that lettuce and the nutrient runoff into waterways, and you start to get an understanding of the true cost of that lettuce, and food in general. It's not just the item, it's the system of production and transport that needs to be calculated in.

When you go shopping, take a basket or cloth tote bags with you so you're not relying on plastic bags to bring your food home. Make some small net bags for bagging up smaller items like tomatoes, potatoes, apples and carrots so, again, you don't have to rely on plastic. Don't buy things that have a lot of packaging, and make sure the packaging you do buy, is suitable for recycling.

These are the net bags I use. Just cut out some large and small bags of the size you think you'll use. My large bags are 30cm x 15 cm and the small bags about half that size. Double stitch the seams and openings so they don't rip apart when you're using them repeatedly. You can put a drawstring through - I used crossgrain ribbon here but you can use anything - string, cord or rubber bands. Often they don't need closing. I place all my bags in my cane basket and they usually don't spill out. Using net allows the storekeeper to see what's in the bag without opening it - they like that, but you can use any strong and lightweight fabric.

A good way to have organic food and cut out packaging is to grow as much of your own fresh food as possible. If you have the room, you could also keep your own chickens for eggs. Not only is this a lovely and simple thing to do, but you'll be rewarded with the best and healthiest eggs possible. If you can't grow some of your own food, then buy local, and ask your supplier where the produce comes from. Let them know you want to buy local food. Buy as little as possible from the supermarket, you'll get cheaper and fresher fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat from the green grocer and butcher. Often buying from the smaller local stores is cheaper, but if does cost a bit more, it's the true cost.

Graphic from

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Simple Green and Frugal

I got a shock this morning when I read Crunchy Chicken's post and saw on her blog list that a new post had been made here. I'd just read our Heather's lovely post about gifting so I clicked on the link to check out "A time to celebrate", wondering what it was. I was quite taken aback to find the simple green frugal blog, written by another Heather! I wrote her a note apologising for using a name so close to hers for our co-op - she started her blog a long time ago. She was very gracious and said: "Don't be silly. No harm done. So many of us have the same wonderful goals and they seem to center around living a more simple, green and frugal life. I'm happy to share the name with you :)"

So I'd like to introduce Heather's blog to you. She writes about the same things we do. She is mindful, frugal, eating local and visits her farmer's market on her bicycle. Take some time to visit her and say hello when you're there. I've also added Heather to our bloglist. Thanks Heather!

What would you like to give?

Beauty That Moves
Greetings! We have unexpectedly been a little quiet here at the co-op... maybe we all needed a minute to pause. A good thing to do as we take stock and prepare for the holidays ahead.

laundry soap kits

Recently when I was reading over at Paul's blog, he wrote something that got me thinking. So often around the holidays the question frequently asked is "what would you like to get?" But Paul suggests we ask ourselves, and each other, "what would you like to give?" Isn't that great!? What a great message for our children.

laundry soap kits

I gave it some thought, and this year I would like to give this gift... a little extra money in my friend's and loved one's pockets, greater health for their families, and respect for our planet. This year I will be giving the gift of do-it-yourself homemade laundry soap.

In our home, we made the decision long ago to switch from the toxic, chemical filled laundry soap from the grocery store to the earth friendly natural variety found at our local food co-op. It wasn't long before I realized that every time I turned around I was spending $10 or more on laundry soap, it's so expensive! We were fortunate to at least purchase it from the bulk bin so we didn't face the excessive packing issue, but I knew it would be better for our budget if I began to make my own. I use Rhonda's recipe with one change, I double the amount of borax and washing soda. I realize it's probably totally unnecessary, but it just makes me feel like it's a little more heavy duty.
laundry soap kit
This detergent works so well, I have absolutely no complaints and I want to share it with the world! Instead, I will be realistic and share it with those that I personally connect with over the holidays. At first I thought I would make the detergent and give it away all bottled up. But how great for people to make it for themselves? I've put all the ingredients in these little kits, including Rhonda's instructions (I was lucky enough to have several bottles of essential oil on hand and those great cellophane bags). These kits will make just about 2 gallons of detergent, and I hope they will also make a few homemakers happy, satisfied, and just a little bit more capable. I also hope they quickly realize the money that is saved, the waste that is reduced, and the healthy benefits for their family and planet.
laundry soap... almost 2 gallons
So this is what I want to give. Not just the homemade soap (which would still be such a lovely gift!), but the skill that goes along with knowing how to do a simple, practical sort of thing for one's self.

What about all of you, are you thinking of the holidays? What would you like to give?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Frugal decorating

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

OK, let's state the obvious here. I'm a guy. I may like a lot of things that are regularly considered "woman's" work - gardening, cooking, canning...etc etc - but the plain facts are that I'm guy through and through and to be honest I decorate like a guy. So keep in mind, the decorating I refer to in this entry was done by my wonderfully tasteful wife. I am merely the blunt instrument to make things turn out the way she sees them in her mind. That said, last night as we worked together on a project for our family room, it made me think to myself that this project really illustrated well the way we do a lot of the decorating around our place and that would fit in well with the topics of this blog. Frugal Decorating.

You see A~, that's my wife for those of you who may not read my personal blog regularly, has good taste and decorates very well. She often gets compliments from friends and neighbors or is asked to help someone else with a room or two at their own house. The thing is, the way she decorates really doesn't work for helping others, at least not directly. She'll regularly see something at a store, or in a magazine that she really likes the look of but refuses to run out and just buy the stuff she sees. (Bless her!!) Instead, she keeps that idea in mind, or talks to me about it, and we often find a way to make it happen either for much less, or sometimes even for free. Last nights project was one of the latter occasions. This is it hanging above out love seat in the family room.
We just call it the stick picture for now, but we're both really happy with it. It's something that she thinks she saw in a magazine, but honestly can't remember. A couple of weekends ago we were down in Salt Lake City and she saw some bundles of sticks for sale for $15.00 and wanted to pick them up so that we could make this for ourselves. I knew of a place near our house where the city had trimmed some tall brush and left it sit all summer on the side of the road, so suggested that instead. When I saw the city cut and stack the sticks, I knew I'd be able to do something with them, I just wasn't sure what. That's really one of the first habits to build for yourself if you are really serious about being frugal, to see things not necessarily as they are but as they could be.
After heading out and collecting a good selection of the branches, we figured out how we'd build the frame and rounded up the tools. A plain wood saw, some pruning shears and some natural fiber twine were the basics, but I also used a small air stapler (not pictured) to attach the branches to each other. Tools are investments around our house and have paid for themselves many times over.
The project was a simple thing. Staple the pieces together, bind the corners with the twine, prune off the ends of the twigs to fit the frame and hang on wall. A~'s happy, I'm happy and our pocketbook is all the better for it!

As I thought about this post, I realized how much of our home has been furnished or decorated with this kind of frugal, re-use mentality; our family room for example. I thought I'd run down a few things. The "stick picture" is of course the latest addition, but a lot of this room came to us via non-commercial means. The pictures on the wall are ones that we took up in the mountains and placed in thrift store frames that we spray painted, the table on the right was a garage sale find and the coffee table, even though it matches perfectly with the shelves and hutch, was picked up at the local landfill. Yep, the DUMP. Ours has a drop off area for useful items, and I picked it up there while dropping off some other stuff.
Here's a couple of pictures of our front room (below). It's got a lot of interesting frugal options in it as well.

The small table was a garage sale find that has been repainted a couple of times and used for different purposes over the years, The lamp was new once, but has been re-used and re-worked into so many "decorating schemes" that it's taken on a life of it's own. That's another great way to make the most of things. Just because they don't seem like the right piece for a particular room, doesn't mean they can't be made to work in another. Finally, the pillow and blanket are things that I'm really proud of her for. She wanted a matching throw for this room, but wanted it cheap and just the way she pictured in her mind, so she knitted it herself. The pillow is a knock off that she made of an IKEA pillow she saw and loved, but that was in color. She looked the picture of it up online, modified it a little to suit her needs and created a pattern, and then cross-stitched it herself.
This table is something that we picked up for $10.00 at a thrift store about 5 years ago. It was actually a full size kitchen table that we had in another room serving as a computer desk for a couple of years. Last year, it was taken apart, remodeled and turned into the runner table (is that what their called?) that you see here. Even the custom sized painting on the wall was a frugal creation. I built the frame stretched some canvas and painted it for A~ last winter.

My point here isn't to try and show off our decorations, but rather to showcase the idea that good design and decorating don't have to stretch a budget and certainly don't need to cost a fortune. If you keep your eyes out for solid items, reusable items or good designs, with a little creativity and some paint, a lot can be done. Some things will work out well, some things won't. Those that don't can be re-purposed again and tried another way. Look at the things that are being wasted all around us, and make it a game to try to figure out at least one other thing that it could be used for. Pretty soon, you won't be able to not do it.
Good luck.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The magic of muffins.

Posted by Julie
Towards Sustainability

In my last post I was asked about the types of healthy snacks I like to make (and freeze) for my kids. Well, I have to say that muffins win hands down as one of our favourite, and most versatile, snacks.

They take next to no time to mix up - and are very kid-friendly - the recipes are infinitely variable, they cook quickly (especially if you cook mini-muffins), and they freeze exceptionally well for up to two months. Muffins will thaw at room temperature in a a few hours or if you pop them in a lunchbox they will have thawed by lunch time. If you are really in a hurry, you can pop them in the microwave for about 30 seconds each.

To save even more time, a basic muffin mix of the dry ingredients only can be made up in bulk and stored in an air-tight container for up to six months. This way you just need to scoop out a couple of cups of the basic mix and add it to the basic wet ingredients and whatever flavourings you desire - have a look at the ABC Muffin Master mix recipe and variations, for examples of this.

Of course however, any food is only as healthy as it's ingredients, so if your aim is to provide wholesome snacks for your family, unfortunately, choc-chip fudge muffins have to be relegated to treat-time! For what it's worth, I don't bother to ice our muffins either - I find they freeze better without the icing and my kids don't need the extra sugar.

Carrot muffins.

There are literally thousands of muffin recipes on the internet. For each dozen regular-sized muffins the recipe will make, you can substitute two dozen mini-muffins or six jumbo (Texas) muffins, but remember you will need to adjust the cooking time accordingly (less for mini-muffins and more for jumbo muffins). I tend to cook sweet recipes as kid-sized mini-muffins, and often cook savoury recipes as jumbo muffins to have as quick, light meals. Heated up with some salad on the side they make for a great brunch or kid-sized meal.

Some tips when looking for recipes:

* Try to look for recipes that contain a good percentage of whole wheat/ wholemeal flour, as opposed to all white flour. Often you can substitute 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup white flour without making too much of a difference to the texture of the muffin, and in many cases you can use half and half;

* Look for those that have a low fat content, and try to cook with natural fats where you can such as pure butter or olive oil, as opposed to margarine or shortening;

* Applesauce makes a fabulous alternative ingredient to fats - it also produces the most deliciously moist muffins, as does plain yoghurt.

* Try to limit the amount of sugar in the recipe. Look for natural sweeteners such as applesauce and dried fruits, which have the added advantage of providing more fibre as well. Brown sugar is not healthier than white sugar.

* Muffins can be a fabulous - but sneaky - way to incorporate vegetables into your kids' diet, and of course, use up many vegetables that you may have a glut of such as carrots, zucchini, squash and pumpkins.

* Don't forget that muffins can be savoury and not just sweet. Cheese and bacon muffins are a big hit around here, and I often cook crustless quiche recipes in muffin tins.

* Incorporating nuts and seeds is a great way to make the muffins more nutritious.

Wholemeal chocolate zucchini muffins.

Some recipes to start with might be:

Applesauce oatmeal muffins

Almost a meal in a muffin

Banana yoghurt muffins

Strawberry and banana wholemeal muffins

Zucchini muffins

Carrot, zucchini and date muffins

Fresh pumpkin muffins

Healthy muffins (metric measurements, PDF file)

Date and walnut muffins (metric measurements)

What about you? What's your favourite healthy muffin recipe?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Bring Back the Draft Dodger

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm

In the United States, back in the 1970's, we had what was then called The Energy Crisis. An embargo on crude oil shipments to the U.S. by OPEC nations dramatically cut supply. The quickly-rising price of petroleum products - gasoline and heating oil especially - caused many people to look for ways to cut expenses by using less. Events now remind me of that time, and of some of the things we did then. It's time to bring back the draft dodger (no, not the military type - the drafty doors type)!

To save energy when heating your house, you need to keep the warm air in and the cold air out. Many home-owners are now adding more insulation and replacing windows and doors with more energy-efficient options. This is wonderful, if you can manage it. But it can be very expensive, and is simply out of the question for renters. An easy, low-impact remedy is to make little stuffed fabric tubes for the bottom (cold air sinks) of your outside doors.

Measure inside your door frame, add a seam allowance for each end, and cut a long piece of fabric that will just fit when sewn. A heavy fabric, such as denim or corduroy, is best. The draft dodgers for my front and kitchen doors are made from recycled blue jeans. Sew it into a tube, sew one end, stuff or fill it, and sew up the other end. My dodgers are filled with clean kitty litter, not too full, so they will mold firmly against the door, then stand in the corner when not in use. Or you can use any kind of rags, or other stuffing, packing it into the tube with a dowel or broomstick. Keeping in mind the weight of the stuffing you use, you can add a loop to hang it on the doorknob. If you'd like to get creative, you can make a snake by adding eyes and a forked tongue (coiling it next to the door when not in use), or maybe a dachshund dog with felt snout, ears and a tail. The cutest one I remember was a ballerina, with legs in a split when in use, and her stitched together hands reaching up over her head when she'd hang on the doorknob. I've seen some too, that are two stuffed tubes, one on either side of the door connected by a bit of flat fabric, so it'll slide back and forth with the door as it's opened and closed.

I also have a north-facing sliding glass door. If it were just the opening I wanted to block, I could have made a vertical draft dodger, with a loop at the top and a hook or a nail in the top corner to hang it on. But this is an old door, not very well-insulated, and I wanted a bit more protection from those cold north winds. I got a 4'x8'x1.5" sheet of rigid foam insulation at a home improvement store. After careful measurements, we used a saw (you can also use a serrated knife - be very careful, and mind what's underneath), cutting it to fit tightly inside the door frame and just under the sliding door handle. I can still open the door if I want to poke my head out, without freezing my toes. Surface friction holds it in place, and it can easily be flipped upright, out of the doorway, and slid into the corner behind the drapes when I'm using that door. I like having this one so much that I use it year-round. During the summer nights I leave the door open with the screen closed, and it turns my slider into a dutch door. Holding it in place with a tension curtain rod, I get the cooling night breezes while blocking the cat from picking at the screen door wanting out.

One more tip: increasing the humidity can make your home feel warmer. We keep a pan filled with water on the wood stove in our house. But when I'm feeling cold, heating up water for a pot of tea and then letting the rest boil on the stove for a while longer will make the whole place seem warmer.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Dare to be different

Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

I want to encourage every one of you who choose to live simply to do it on your own terms. There is no rule book for simple living, we all do it differently. I think that once you’ve got it in your mind to change from being a consumer to a conserver, many of the practical day-to-day things will come from your change in mindset. If they don’t, and you’re unsure about what to do next, just be guided by how you live your life now. Examine the things you do – your work practices, your chores, your transport, your recipes, your cleaning, how you cook, how you do your shopping – and one by one, make each and every task simpler, greener and more sustainable. Now that might be 100% simple, green and sustainable, but if it’s not, that’s okay! You do what you can do, you add to it later. It’s fine, no matter what anyone tells you.

I stockpile and shop monthly, with a quick trip to the local supermarket for local milk and cheese each week. But that is how I find it works best for me, there is no rule that says everyone shops that way. Try several different ways, then stick with the one that works best with your way of living.

I see so many other homemakers apologise for using a breadmaker. Why! If you want to use a breadmaker and it makes baking fresh bread for your family easier, use it. There is no rule that states the bread is less if it’s made in a breadmaker. The point is to make bread so you know what’s in it, you make it to your exact requirements and it's cheaper. Yes, your bread maker costs money to buy and run, but it pays for itself in less than a year and if you stop buying bread because of it – the bread that contains preservatives, colourings and artificial flavours, AND comes packaged to the hilt in plastic, then the breadmaker option wins, hands down.

It’s okay to say ‘no’ to others and ‘yes’ to yourself. Stop living to the expectations of others, slowly build a life that is unique to you. Make things easy for yourself. For instance, if you want to compost your kitchen scraps, put a little bin in your kitchen to hold the scraps and empty it every afternoon. If you want to go completely green with your cleaning routines, start with one thing first – like homemade laundry powder, then when you’re working well with that first choice, add others. Think about all these little things you want to bring into your life and make them as easy for yourself as you can. That way they’ll become an easy part of your routine and not a struggle.

Be mindful, make your own decisions, work out what will work for you and don’t feel guilty if you're reading your favourite blogs and you’re not doing what others are doing. I know a lot of you a guided by some of the things I say but if I do something that doesn’t fit well with you, don’t do it. Make sure that everything you do is right for you, not just being done because someone else does it.

Imagine your own life, and how you want it to be, then work to make that vision a reality. Don’t be put off, don’t listen to the naysayers, go with your heart and do what is right for you. I’m a non-conformist and I don’t fit in the 60 year old woman pigeonhole. I have always walked to the beat of my own drum and I have never looked to those around me for validation. That has helped me build this life I live. If I’d listened to all the advice I got when I wanted to change, I’d still be running a red hot credit card and wondering “is this all there is?”.

One of the great wonders of this world to me is that we’re all the same but all so different. Celebrate your difference and custom-make a life that fits you perfectly. Forget the blathering of women’s magazines, don’t do what your next door neighbour is doing, don’t copy your friends – or me – unless it is exactly what you want and need for yourself. Make your own version of this simple life. Life is never a one-size-fits-all condition, pick and choose the portions of other people lives that suit you and custom make the rest of it so that your life fits you perfectly. If you try something that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to get rid of it, or modify it to suit yourself. Do it all slowly, take small steps. You will never build a simple life quickly – it’s a slowly evolving process that never ends, but one thing is for sure, if you dare to be different, if you are mindful of your choices, if you downsize, declutter and get back to basics, the rewards are there for the taking.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Voluntary Simplicity + Building Community = Saving Our Children

["Building Sandcastles" Originally uploaded by the(?) on Flickr]

Posted by Melinda
One Green Generation

I haven't written much lately and I apologize!  We have had a ground-breaking election here in the US, where emotions and activity have been very high.  And I have also spent a lot of time lately working within my community.  

I have been on a personal quest for many years now to reduce my carbon output, to reduce my reliance on oil and other non-renewable resources, to simplify my lifestyle, and to reduce the toxins going into my body and those of my family members (including my pets).  I believe it has helped my family become happier and healthier, and we have a much lighter impact on our planet.  And for that, I am very proud.

But I look at the incredible environmental destruction occurring on our planet, I think about the insurmountable consequences of climate change, the horrifying inequalities throughout our planet, the suffering, the pain, the damage... and I wonder if my own lifestyle changes are enough to change the world.

Do you wonder this?

And, well, is it our job to save the world?

I would love to know your answers.

I think about my beautiful cousins on both sides of this country, I think about the young children of my good friends, I think about my sister in 65 years, when she is 98 years old like my grandfather is now... and I feel responsible for their future.  I fear we are destroying their future.  I think we may be devastating our planet with our way of life.  

Sure, not my way of life, because I have made significant changes to my lifestyle.  But I look around me, and I am one person among thousands.  Among millions.  How is my one lifestyle going to make enough of an impact on the planet, to thwart irreversible climate change, to save our oil for much needed medical supplies, to preserve our forests and save their millions of species, to prevent poverty and terribly destructive wars?  I am afraid to say, I cannot imagine that my lifestyle changes are enough to change this sea of problems.

And so... what do you do when you come to this realization?

Well, here is what I've done.

I've created more time in my life, by not watching television, by having some of our produce delivered from local farms, by living in a neighborhood where I don't have to commute, by working from home or near home, and by many other smaller changes.  (For more ideas about saving time, read Julie's post here.)

This has given me time to volunteer.   Time to write.  Time to learn more and think more, and time to talk with others who are thinking about similar things.  

There are several things we can do at a large scale within our communities, where we can make significant change:

  • We can help make people aware of the issues, by sharing our knowledge through writing, filmmaking, speaking, putting on workshops and seminars, and all sorts of other things.
  • We can help change policies at the local and national level.  Because it is with laws and bylaws where many people change.  That means go become involved in politics:  sit in on city council meetings and make your voice heard on important issues, gather signatures for initiatives you truly believe in, campaign for politicians or ballot measures aligned with your views, or even become a politician yourself!
  • We can get people like us - who are aware - excited about doing more, and organized to do it!  This is not preaching to the converted, it is harnessing the energy of the converted to do greater good.  To go out in your community and do stuff, act on your beliefs, create widespread change.

We have a lot of work to do do make our planet safe and livable for our children and grandchildren.  We have a lot of work to do to make our communities safe and adaptable.  And each of us can make a difference.  Together, we can create real change in this world.  But we must go out and do it.  Now.

If you'd like more information about how to go about this, please visit these posts at One Green Generation:  

Monday, 10 November 2008

Harvest Keeping - Sauerkraut

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

I thought that since it's spring time in the southern hemisphere and fall in the northern, and since both seasons are generally good ones for growing cabbages, that I'd talk a little about a success that I had this year. Learning to make some very simple, traditional Sauerkraut. Some of you, if you've read my personal blog before, may recognize this post, it's a modification of an older one from October this year.
At any rate as I was saying, I learned to make a very simple traditional sauerkraut this year, that's it below, and I am absolutely in love with the stuff! Something I could never say about store bought. The picture just below was taken when I had just put the cabbage into the jar and crock. I only made a batch that called for 5 lbs of shredded cabbage and the cabbage was from our garden. Cabbage that was specifically planted with this idea in mind. The process was incredibly simple. Step 1: Shred the cabbage VERY thin until you have 5 pounds of it. Step 2: Add 3 tbsp of fine pickling salt to the cabbage in a large non-metallic bowl and mix it with your hands until it is well combined. Step 3: Stuff into a large vessel (1/2 gal jar or crock) and push it down to get it completely covered by it's own juices. You'll need to weight it down at this point, and I suggest using a plastic bag filled with a brine solution. It will create a seal around the container keeping out the bad bacteria and will allow the good lactic acids to form beneath it. Step 4: Store in cool (60-70 deg F.) place for a couple of weeks. Check periodically for scum forming on the top of the kraut and remove as necessary. In a few weeks you'll notice you've got kraut.Now I've never really been a huge sauerkraut eater; it's not something that we ate a lot of as I grew up, but I decided a few years back that it was something I wanted to "try again" and you know, I liked it. It wasn't something that I would get cravings for or anything but it was alright. So why make a concerted effort to grow cabbage, and make the stuff from scratch right? The answer is pretty simple actually. Because this is one of those foods that is easy to make, is very healthy, can be used as a condiment or as a main course dish and most importantly is a food that can be stored for long periods with simple methods making it a very good staple food to know how to make.
And now, a month and a week later, I have this. A jar with some slowly lacto-fermented cabbage, that when smelled is absolutely amazing! I now get why this stuff got to be so darned popular in the first place. The brine that developed around the cabbage is a slightly salty, almost kosher pickle tasting flavor and the cabbage itself still retains a lot of it's original texture, while being soft enough for us to know it's done. Here's a closeup.
I was worried about the liquid getting funky or moldy while it sat in the cold storage, but the brine filled plastic bag that sealed the top off worked perfectly. That is absolutely the way to go by the way.

After we took the kraut out of the jar and started warming it over the stove, the smell of it was making our mouths water. Add a beer boiled brat, some steamed dill potatoes and popovers and you've got yourself a German dinner extraordinaire!
The best part of it all was that we only used a little more that 1/4 of what I made, and better yet, I harvested a 6 lb cabbage tonight that's going to make more of this tasty stuff for the winter.

If you've never tried it, and even if your not traditionally a Kraut lover, I encourage you to give this very simple recipe a try. I have to verify it, but I believe it was just 3 tbsp of salt (pickling preferably) to each five lbs of cabbage. I used the Salt Lake salt that I made a couple of months back. It worked great and helped to make this a totally local food product! You add the salt to the cabbage in a large bowl and mix it with your hands well, then pack in a crock or the largest jar you have (food safe buckets are also supposed to work well in place of large crocks.) and cover the top with either a weighted plate, or better yet, a large brine filled bag. Let it sit in a cool (60-70 deg F) room for a few weeks, cleaning the cover off regularly and voila! Sauerkraut. Or better yet, go to your library and rent "The joy of pickling" and check out the many different recipes that they have in it.
Good luck, and go make some Kraut!

Many ways to support tomatoes

Posted by Marc
from Garden Desk

My garden has no tomato plants in it right now. It is Fall in my garden and I am growing lots of broccoli, cabbage and lettuce in the space where tomatoes grew during Summer. Now that time in the garden is getting shorter, I can begin planning for next season. It is time for me to reflect on how things went this year in the vegetable garden, and figure out ways to improve next year's garden.

The main thing I like to experiment with in my garden is tomatoes. I'm always looking for different kinds of tomatoes, different color tomatoes, and different heirloom tomatoes. This year, I raised over 30 different kinds of tomatoes and had at least two plants of each kind. The biggest problem I had was that I never managed to put any support on some of my tomato plants.

If you don't stake or tie up your plants, it can get pretty messy.

The biggest problem with not supporting the plants is that the fruits lay on the ground. There they are more susceptible to animals and are prone to rot.

So if the above pictures show what not to do, what is the best way to support tomatoes?

Many people tie each plant to a stake. Others use store-bought cages, but they tend to fall over on me after my plants reach about five feet tall. How to support tomato plants is another thing I have experimented with a great deal and my favorite three methods are; Topless Tables, A tomato tower trellis, and the Florida Stake and Weave.

1. Topless Tables

Several years ago when I still tried to use store-bought tomato cages, I grew more plants than I had cages for. My solution was to build tomato cages out of scrap wood. To me they looked more like tables without a top, so my family began calling them "topless tables". Here is one compared to the regular cages:

These don't look pretty, but they keep the tomatoes off the ground without any pruning, staking or tying. The tomato plant grows through the middle and the branches sprawl over the sides. I have experimented with making double-decker tomato tables, but I don't think it is necessary.

2. Tomato Tower Trellis.

At least one of my raised beds occupies our grand tomato trellis each year.

It is basically a very tall trellis in which you tie twine or clothesline from the top and then loop the other end around the base of the plant (you do not tie it to the plant). You then wind the twine around the central stem as the tomato plant grows.

This keeps the plant growing straight and upright. It works best if you keep the suckers pruned off of the central stem. I have used this method for years, but you can only support a limited number of plants this way. This year, instead of placing the tomato plants directly under the trellis frame, I put the trellis in the center of two rows of plants and made the twine go from a plant on one side, over the top, and to a plant on the other side. This doubled production of the trellis, but looked a bit confusing.

3. Stake and Weave

The Florida Stake and Weave gets its name from the practice that Florida commercial tomato farmers developed many years ago. It works well in the backyard garden too.

You put stakes in between each plant or every few plants depending on how closely spaced you tomatoes are. You then tie twine or clothesline from post to post, weaving in and out of the tomato plants. With subsequent twines above one another weaving the opposite direction, you can easily "suspend" your tomato plants.

My improvement this year was to use 2x4s as the stakes and instead of tying the twine to each post, I drilled a hole in the stake for the twine to go through. I still weaved the plants in the same way, but these stakes made the system look much cleaner.

So what about you? How do you support your tomatoes? Stakes or cages? Stake and Weave or some other system? Do you tie them up or use a trellis? Do you have your own creative way of keeping those tomatoes off the ground? I am always looking for a new idea to try and I'd love to know your thoughts here.

Thanks and Happy Tomato Picking!

Keep Growing,
- Marc

Saturday, 8 November 2008

simple entertaining

Beauty That Moves
I moved out on my own at a pretty young age. At 19 years old I was packing up and moving into my first apartment. I remember standing in the kitchen of my family home, my mom rummaging through her cabinets as she handed me her old Tupperware, mixing bowls and measuring cups to help my own kitchen get started. She also handed me a piece of advice.

simple entertaining

“Remember, just because you are going to be paying your own bills and will be on a tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t entertain. When your father and I were newly married, no matter how poor we were, we always had friends over. Be sure to keep popcorn and teabags (to make iced tea with) in the house at all times, along with a deck of cards, and you will have all you need to entertain friends.”

And so I have always kept these items on hand, and they have proven useful on so many occasions when money was tight, by choice or otherwise. For the most part, the company that I am serving these things to these days are the many, many children in our neighborhood. When I became a mother, one of the things I had hoped for was to offer the friendly house that was fun to be at… you know the saying, be careful what you wish for. On a typical summer afternoon I can be found hosting 8 or so kids in the backyard. I can attest to the fact that one cup of popcorn kernels turns into enough popcorn to feed the entire group! And they think your house is an awesome place to hang out, which is so much better than your own child thinking someone else’s house is more awesome…
simple entertaining

A quick note about butter… I don’t add it. Of course you could, but it is an added expense and I make popcorn the old fashioned way, using oil and a heavy bottomed pan with a lid on the stove top, so that provides enough fat/grease for us. No air popped for this family... The second the popcorn is done I dump it into a large bowl and season it with sea salt. The first time I served it to the very hip (and friendly) 14 year old boy from up the street, he told me he had never tasted popcorn so good. He asked if it was buttered and I told him no - he couldn’t believe it! He just wouldn’t stop going on about this simple bowl of popcorn… it was pretty funny. When I asked what kind he normally had he said microwaved… “Oh, I understand. Here, have some more of the real thing.”

I'd love to hear some of your tried and true, simple/frugal entertaining tips that you love- please share with us in the comments, thank you! The ideas do not need to be specific to the holiday season, but with that quickly approaching we could all use some fresh inspiration!

::Updated:: Good morning everyone! I am editing this post to add some instructions as there were a couple of requests within the comments.

Iced Tea
Place 4-5 teabags (and a sprig of mint or lemon verbena if you like) into a 1/2 gallon sized heavy glass pitcher.
Bring about 2 cups or so water to a boil in a small saucepan.
As it comes to a boil add sweetener if you like, about 1/2 sugar or honey works for us. Stir to dissolve sweetener.
Pour immediately into glass pitcher. Let this steep for several minutes, it's fine to just forget about it for a while.
After the tea bags are nicely steeped, fill the pitcher with cold water, remove tea bags and serve with ice!
Please be aware when adding boiling water to glass... I've never had a problem with glass cracking, but if the glass is cold it could happen.

There are many ways to do this... here is how it happens in our house.
Have a large bowl standing by.
I use a 6 quart, heavy bottomed stainless steel pot with a tight fitting lid. To this add 1/3 vegetable oil of choice, turn the heat up to medium/high, let the oil heat just a bit, then add 1 cup popcorn kernels. Cover with the lid and put on a pair of oven mitts if you have them, otherwise grab a couple potholders. You will hold on to the pot lid/and pot for most of the time shaking often. It'll take a minute or two for the first kernels to pop, then it is a quick process taking only another couple of minutes. SHAKE OFTEN!! Once there is a 2-3 count pause between pops - you are done! Carefully pour it into your large bowl and season with sea salt right away, it sticks better when it's hot. We use a finely ground, pinkish in color salt that is so yummy and full of minerals.

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Frugal Washing and Cleaning

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

This post is for my mum who has been asking me to write this. :)

When people ask me how I can afford to buy ethically (ie fairtrade and/or organic certified items), the answer is simple. I save in a lot of other areas. One of the biggest areas that I save on are the stuff I buy (or not buy) for washing and cleaning - washing clothes, washing dishes etc etc. Firstly, let me go into how I get my stuff clean....

1. Does it need a wash?

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I see it, if I sweated on it, got dirt on it, got grease on it, then I wash it.... and if I didn't, then I don't wash it. Usually this means that I can get at least two wears out of an outfit before I need to wash it.

Sometimes I think we get obsessed with the 'cleanliness' factor and we end up washing clean clothes/items (and using up water needlessly).

2. Do you need to wash it with soap/detergent? Will water do?

Stuff gets clean when all the grease and dirt is lifted from it. So when you think about it, cleaning can be done not just through chemicals etc but also through anything that would lift the grease and dirt. Usually, dirt can be lifted if you use enough force. Grease and oil are harder to lift but force and a bit of warmth can usually lift it. Sometimes certain fibres/fabrics can help but I find that usually it doesn't really matter as much as force and warmth.

In many many cases, warm/tap water and a little bit of force is enough to clean most things like bench tops, tables, chairs etc. I have extended this to some of my clothes as well. If clothes are only very lightly soiled then I find that the force of the water and the spinning of my clothes as it turns in my washing machine are enough to clean it.

3. How much soap/detergent?

So once I've established that force is not enough to lift grease and dirt, then you need some sort of lifting agent. I find that almost all standard detergents/soaps out there recommend much much more than what you actually need. I use about 1/3 of the recommended amount of soap or detergent.... why? Because while warmth and force may not be as effective, they're *still* the primary way of getting stuff clean - the soap or detergent is just a "booster" if you like.

Further, its not like there would be a LOT of grease and dirt on everything (most of the time)... and even if there was then you'd have more success soaking that one item in something (more on soaking later).

Using too much soap and detergent is also quite harsh on your stuff - especially on stuff that uses absorbent materials. Using too much will mean that the stuff will end up accumulating soap/detergent residue in the fibres. You will know that you are using too much detergent if your old towels start becoming very stiff and developing a "smell" no matter how often you wash it.

My mum had a towel she was ready to throw out because it was scratchy and had that strange smell. So I washed the towel in just water (with other very lightly soiled clothes) and now its softer and doesn't smell.

So go very very lightly on the soap and detergent! It will help not only your pocket but also the environment.

On my personal blog, I have also listed alternatives to standard soap and detergent that are available in Australia and specifically, the region I have come to term as the ONC (Our Nation's Capital). But for those who are not in the ONC, I would love to hear of alternative products available in your area!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Where do you get the time for that?

Posted by Julie
Towards Sustainability

I couldn't count the number of times I am asked "Where do you get the time to do that?" in the course of a week. Ironically, invariably I am thinking the same thing of the other person! Other parents discussing their busy schedules and working lives at school pick-up time makes me feel quite exhausted just listening!

I never really know how to answer that question in just one sentence, because I didn't just magically click my fingers one day and create an extra 10 hours a week (although there are many times when I would like that ability!). Two or three years ago, I too would have asked the same question of a friend commenting on her soap-making adventures for example, because I was so busy looking after three little kids full time that I didn't have any 'spare' time to cook from scratch or mend clothes.

Actually it began even before that. When I was working full time I was far too busy too cook from scratch or mend clothes. When I stopped work to have my first baby, I was too busy with the baby to cook from scratch or mend clothes (although I did steam and puree fresh food to feed her when she grew old enough to eat solids). Then I had another baby, so I had a toddler and a baby to look after - no time for baking (but I did discover the joys of a slow cooker)! Finally, along came baby number three - I had a baby, a toddler and an almost four year old to care for; good Lord, you must know I have no time to cook or mend!

The old adage that "from little things, big things grow" is so very true though, and suddenly one day it dawned on me - I had had no extra time when I had one baby, so where did the extra time come from to enable me to look after three children? The short is answer is of course, it gets easier as time goes on. Things that seemed difficult and time consuming at first (gosh, I remember how difficult it seemed to get that first, brand new baby changed and dressed) but they gradually get easier and eventually become second nature.

It's the same with living simply. At first, changing the way we are used to doing things might seem difficult and time-consuming, but gradually we get used to it and eventually it becomes routine to do it that way.

Of course, it is all but impossible to change everything overnight. To even attempt to do so, I think, would be far too overwhelming and bound to end in disappointment. The method I found to be the easiest to begin with with, was to look at all the areas I wanted to change in my life and focus first on those that I felt were the most important, and of those, the ones I felt most capable of changing immediately (and those will be different for everyone I feel, as everyone has different abilities and likes). Baby-steps are the key.

For example, I felt that changing the type of food we ate was the most important issue we faced when we started on this journey. First on our list was to stop wasting the fresh food that we were already buying, such as throwing uneaten leftovers and limp or mouldy vegetables past their use-by dates into the compost bin. The simple solution to that was to start weekly meal planning (a subject Bel has already written about). That 10-minute investment of time not only saved us a significant amount of money - because we were only buying the amount of food we needed (and there were no more impulse purchases!) - it also saved me time, not only through getting the grocery shopping done faster, but also through the elimination of the 5pm what-are-we-going-to-eat-for-dinner dilemmas, that invariably ended in buying takeaway.

With the money we were saving on our weekly grocery shop, we were then able to switch to buying only organically-grown fruit and vegetables; our second food priority. The organic fruit and vegetables were purchased via a local delivery co-op, so the time I saved having them delivered I then used to shop once a month at a local bulk items warehouse, where I could get toilet paper and so forth in large quantities, therefore saving even more money on our groceries, as well as setting up the beginnings of a stockpile.

Having a stockpile on hand then meant that I could switch to shopping for everything else fortnightly instead of weekly - and that on those alternate weeks where I didn't need to grocery shop any more I could start learning to cook from scratch. Initially I just made healthy snacks for the kids (always making extra to freeze for later), but that allowed us to move on to priority number three - eliminating as many processed foods as possible from our diet.

Of course, eliminating processed foods from our diet meant even less time spent grocery shopping as I could now by-pass all but two or three aisles of the supermarket - which gave me more time to cook!

Do you see the positive feedback loop I had set up by making just one small initial investment of 10 minutes a week? Each small positive change allowed me the time or money to make another small positive change, with each building upon each other, so that in a relatively short period of time we could make significant improvements in our diet (and health and budget!) without trying to wave a magic wand and find an extra 3 hours in my week?

I have found that it has worked the same way for the other areas of our life where we wanted to make changes, and here we are, two years later, living a vastly different - but much simpler and more enriching - life. It didn't happen overnight and each baby step seemed quite small and sometimes trivial, but to look back at how each step has compounded with the ones before it, to make significant - and often profound - changes in our lives, is so incredibly rewarding and it provides me constant inspiration to continue in our journey.

Many people argue with me that as my children gain more independence, I am able to accrue more 'spare' time, and that's true to some extent, but I have found that as my kids get older, there are infinitely more events and activities they are involved with that use up that extra time - art classes, play-dates, swimming lessons, homework, school fund raisers; the list goes on. However, as my children get older I can see the numerous positive influences our lifestyle changes have enabled in them, and that provides me with even more inspiration to learn new skills. Where once upon a time I considered it essential to have some 'me' time to go shopping for 'retail therapy', I now consider it essential to have some time alone to make soap LOL.

So you see, I haven't 'got' any more time than the other parents, I just use the time I do have differently :-)

Saturday, 1 November 2008


Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Most people would presume that there’s nothing simple about a family of eight. We are two adults in our 30s with six children aged 4 to 14 years.

I’ve always been interested in living simply. As a teen I loved to buy a bargain item of clothing from the op shop and help Mum alter it into the perfect outfit. I’m not sure Mum understood, but she was always supportive. I’ve planted things into the earth my whole life, for me that’s just part of being. My husband doesn’t have a similar background, but he’s green at heart and a very practical person. My enthusiasm and his understanding compliment each other.

We’ve almost always lived on one income, and sometimes it was a low income. All the tricks of a simple, organised, frugal lifestyle meant that life almost always feels abundant. And it’s that feeling of abundance and the gratitude for enough that has encouraged me to continue with living simply even when we’ve been able to afford to be more frivilous.

You don’t need to be a green thumb or a domestic goddess with endless spare hours each day to live more simply. That’s why it’s called simple living. We regularly make changes in our lives to save a little money or tread more gently on the planet (and those two often go hand-in-hand). These positive changes make such a difference not only to our own lives, but the future of our society. Each one of us can make a difference. Choosing the simple or green option doesn’t mean we’re missing out on anything. Simplicity really is abundance in plain clothes!

My passions are growing food, and encouraging children to connect with nature. We homeschool our tribe, which allows us a lot of time to simply be in nature. We’ve managed that in an urban backyard as well as here on the farm. As a child I lived in high-rise units for a time but still had contact with plants and animals every day. Children need nature more than anything – and for so many children it’s the thing they have the least contact with! Our children are blessed to have lots of space to roam, animals to care for and care about, and encouragement to plant seeds, nurture the gardens and reap the abundant rewards. Snacking from the vegie patch tastes so good! I write seasonal and gardening columns for Australian and international magazines and websites, where I share ideas with other families who understand the importance of balancing the lives of our little ones with time outdoors, noticing the seasons and creating family traditions.

Years ago I used to read books about food forests and wish for more land, more time, more money to set up the gardens… I was missing the point. There was enough in my life already – seeds to save from the vegie scraps, green waste to compost, a plethora of books in the library and kind-hearted neighbours from whom I could learn, and swap seeds and produce with. And so the garden grew. And it grew onto a spare block of land next to our house. And materials were recycled and we waited until the things we needed came our way. And the garden kept growing – big, abundant patches of food plants, chickens for eggs, entertainment and fertilising manure, fruiting trees and vines, rainwater tanks, a roadside stall to make a little pocket money from the excess… And it rarely seemed like work. Then it came time to move. We’ve come to the perfect place to create the food forest, and have one hundred times the skills we had back in the days of wishing for more, more, more. There is a season for everything in life, after all.

"Simplicity really is abundance in plain clothes!"