Saturday, 31 January 2009

Real Nappies

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Following on from Eilleen's post about reusable menstrual products, I thought I might recycle a post I wrote about nappies (diapers) for Rhonda's blog in 2007.

We have six children. If we hadn’t used cloth nappies, our family could have put thousands of little bundles of paper, plastic, wee and poo into landfill. And we’d have paid around $20000 for the privilege. Yuck! Just thinking about that makes me guilty for the disposables we did use.

We used some disposable nappies – regular ones and then eco-brands once they became readily available – especially for overnight (when I couldn’t find a cloth nappy and cover to suit heavy wetting), travel, and when it just rained and rained and rained, which interfered with my washing. But mostly we used re-usable cloth ones – terry flats and cheap, basic flannelette fitted nappies with my firstborn, full systems of fancy fitted all-in-one modern cloth nappies (MCNs) for my next two (with the firstborn’s hand-me-downs as backup), and a mixture of what I had and what I could get for the following three children. I still have two children wearing night-time pull-up nappy pants most nights. One is five and one is three. I’ve made some of these pants, and bought another two pairs for around $20 each. That’s a bargain compared to the disposable option for preschoolers @ $1+ per pair.

The nappy pants I made for my toddlers for bedtime.

Choosing cloth nappies for your baby or toddler (it’s never too late to switch) can be an overwhelming task with the variety available now. There’s bamboo, hemp, soy, organic cotton and various other fabrics. Styles include all-in-ones, pockets, pre-folds, basic fitteds and more. If you’re unsure and have time to research, perhaps you could visit one of the nappy forums online to read what other parents are saying, and ask questions.
(from Kindred #23, p18)

Try a nappy or two before committing to a full set. Consider fabric type, colour, style, washing and drying requirements, price, quality of the nappy, environmental impact of the product, ease-of-use, health (is the fabric used something you want next to your baby’s skin around the clock?), and sizing (will it fit your baby for long, or do you need a set in several sizes?).

Modern cloth nappies are a joy to use. They’re easy to put on, soft and cuddly and come in all the colours of the rainbow. Washing them is no big deal. It’s just like washing towels, sheets or clothes. The washing has to be done and it works in with your daily routine so that you have nappies clean and dry and ready for baby to use. The only thing I found is that when I had my first sets of fitted real nappies, they couldn’t go in the dryer and they were very thick with multiple layers of flannelette. In our North Queensland wet seasons I found it difficult to get them dry because it rained for weeks on end. I later purchased nappies which could go in the dryer, and learned to revert back to the good old terry squares with a nice, snuggly cover for those very wet weeks.

Covers aren’t required for most all-in-one nappies. Covers themselves come in a wide variety of styles and fabric types and colours. These are part of your nappy system. There are also liners and boosters for within the nappy – to make changing easier, for baby’s comfort and also to increase the absorbency of the nappy for outings and night use especially. Another nappying requirement is wipes. There are regular wipes from the supermarket, eco-varieties of the same, or cloth wipes. Cloth wipes are often flannel squares with an overlocked or hemmed edge. Or bought face washers! They’re useful again and again and no problem to wash with the nappies. Lastly, you might need a wet bag to carry used nappies home from outings. This is simply a water-proof bag, usually drawstring, which is handy when you’re a no-plastic-bags household!

If you or someone you know can sew nappies, covers, liners, boosters, wipes and wetbags – you will save yourself a fortune! There are free printable patterns online for all of these items, or by looking at those available for purchase, you can make them up yourself. See Ottobre Designs Magazine Printables and scroll through the projects to see one example of a fitted nappy pattern and a pattern for a ‘wool diaper cover’. When searching online for patterns, include the U.S. term ‘diaper’ in your search. Patterns for these items are also available for purchase.

To purchase nappies and accessories, you can go to your local department store, baby boutique, some health shops or look online. There are online stores for large businesses and a variety of options to buy from cottage industries as well. Using the forum links above, you should be able to find an online supplier to suit your nappy preference and budget.

If you’re not ready to use cloth or prefer to use both real and disposable nappies, please consider the type of nappies you purchase. There are more earth-friendly disposable options in the supermarket, and even greener nappies such as Safeties, Moltex and Bamboo Nature brands.

And if you’d like to avoid nappies altogether – look up Natural Infant Hygiene or Elimination Communication. This is something we didn’t really know about when our babies were little, but did naturally with our children from the summer that fell around their first birthdays. All of our children were using the potty and/or toilet before their second birthdays, depending on when they began and showed interest.

Best wishes to you in your quest for the perfect nappy system. Enjoy these short years of your children’s lives and I hope you can manage to lessen the impact on the planet and budget using some of the options outlined above.

Making Chutney

Posted by Compostwoman at The Compost Bin

A very useful way to use a glut of fruit or vegetables ( home grown OR shop bought) is to make Chutney.

Wikipedia ( always useful) describes Chutney as

a term for a variety of sweet and spicy condiments, usually involving a fresh, chopped primary vegetable or fruit with added seasonings. Chutney, as a genre, is often similar to the Pakistani pickle and the salsa of Latin American cuisine, or European relish.

Chutney may be dry or wet; dry chutney is generally in the form of powder. In India, a chutney is often made to be eaten fresh, using whichever strongly-flavored ingredients are locally available at the time. It would not normally contain preserving agents, since it is intended to be consumed quickly after preparation. The Hindi translation of "to make chutney" is a common idiom meaning "to crush". This is because the process of making chutney often involves the crushing the ingredients together.[citation needed]

The use of a stone mortar and pestle is often regarded as vital to create the ideal chutney. It consists of a small stone bowl (called a "kharal" or "khal" in Hindi, Tamil kal கல்), or a flat piece of stone (called a "sil") on which the ingredients are crushed together with a rounded stick of stone or wood (called a "batta", pronounced with a hard 't').

Chutney is more familiar in North America and Europe in a form that can be stored. To this end, vegetable oil, vinegar, or lemon juice are used to enhance the keeping properties.

Beginning in the 1600 chutneys were shipped to European countries like England and France as luxury goods. Western imitations were called "mangoed" fruits or vegetables. In the nineteenth century, brands of chutney like Major Grey's or Bengal Club created for Western tastes were shipped to Europe.

Generally these chutneys are fruit, vinegar and sugar cooked down to a reduction.

The tradition of chutney making spread throughout the British empire, especially in the Caribbean and American South where chutney is still a popular condiment for ham, pork and fish.

So...a tradition of chutney making, hmmm? well the tradition is alive and well at Compost Mansions, that's for sure! I love making Chutney, I usually make 4 or 5 different batches in the autumn and winter, from fresh. glut fruit and veg and then later from stored apples and frozen fruit and veg. I then have lots of jars stored, to give as gifts, to barter for other foods or services and, of course, to eat! I am talking, of course, about the sort which is preserved by having lots of vinegar and sugar in it, potted whilst hot, into warm jars so a vacuum forms when the contents cool and then kept in a sealed jar until ready to eat

I made Apple and Courgette chutney back in September, as I had a lot of Apples and Courgettes to hand


1 Kg cored, peeled , diced Apples (Bramley)
1 Kg peeled, diced Courgette
0.5 Kg diced Onion
Some Garlic ( I used about 6 small cloves...and they WERE small!)
0.5 Kg skinned chopped Tomatoes
0.5 Kg chopped Raisins and Sultanas mixed
0.5 Kg Light brown Sugar
0.6 L Cider Vinegar( I actually used a mixture of Cider and Red Wine)
20g Salt
1 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
Black Pepper ( I just grind it into the pan...I used lots)

Prepare everything by finely chopping (if you use a machine be careful not to mince too fine or the chutney will be a little mushy), put it in a large Stainless Steel pan, bring to boil, reduce heat to low simmer, leave.

and go and grade apples for storing, clean out hens, drink tea, etc etc....

return now and then to give a stir with a wooden or stainless spoon. About 4 hours later (it may take less time , I find it depends on the size of the base of your pan!) keep a close eye on it to see if it is nearly ready to pot.

Take about 10 washed jars
(350g ish) and lids ( which MUST be vinegar proof! so use old pickles jars for preference!) and put in the oven on a rack ( I use the toaster tray which came with the oven as the jars don't fall off it so easily.

I use recycled jars, as I am not selling my produce. If you want to sell it you need to use new lids (in the UK) and standard sized jars.

EDITED by Compostwoman later for clarity to add

I only tend to re-use the lids once and check the seal VERY carefully each time...and with the button lids it is obvious if the seal has failed......if in doubt get new lids!

glass jars are, of course, virtually endlessly reusable if not damaged...

Heat jars at 110C for about 10 mins then turn down oven to 80C until you are nearly ready to pot the chutney, then turn off the oven and allow the residual heat to keep the jars hot ( saves energy!) Try to time this phase so as to coincide with the end of doing the Sunday Roast or some baking....I try but usually fail a bit miserably here!....)

When you think the chutney is nearly done do the "channel" test...draw a spoon through the surface of the chutney, if a channel appears its done. If not, keep simmering for another few mins and test again.

When done, turn off the heat and let the residual heat in the ring ( if electric) finish the simmer (saves energy, but won't work with Gas)

Fill hot jars to almost full, wipe clean, put on lids and screw on tight. Watch out as the jars WILL be hot! I have a stainless jam funnel and a stainless ladle...we got these to make life easier as we make a LOT of jam and chutney! Don't worry if you don't have these, use a Pyrex jug...make sure it is clean and sterilised...and watch out for the hot handle!!

Admire your handiwork, make sure the vacuum "buttons" have pulled down on the lids, if your lids had them, then when cool, LABEL(!) PUT AWAY in a cool dark place to mature for AT LEAST 2months...

Seriously, it WILL taste nicer if you leave it to mature!

I work from an all purpose recipe which I adapt and vary depending on the fruits, vegetables, spices etc. available, and on my mood!

My chutney recipes are basically 600 ml vinegar, 20 g salt, 500 g sugar, assorted spices usually around 2 teaspoons of them (I use ground spices quite happily!),500 g onions and then another 3 Kg of assorted fruit and veg. This makes around 10"chutney/relish" sized jars, the 350 g ones.

I find SOME fruit is needed, even if its only 500 g apples and 500g dried fruit, as apples especially help to thicken the chutney, they and the dried fruit is part of the 3 Kg of assorted stuff though! I also always use Cider vinegar or wine vinegar occasionally, I use Aspalls Organic cider vinegar ( for those in the UK) and find it makes for a smooth result without a harsh vinegary IS possible to eat my chutney immediately but I would recommend keeping it for at least 2 months, longer if you can!

So, that's how I make chutney. I hope this post has been useful to you and if you don't make chutney at the moment, it will inspire you to have a go. There is nothing to beat home made chutney to liven up a cheese sandwich, or a plate of salads or to add to a curry! And, of course you know what has gone into it and you have saved yourself some money and earned the satisfaction of doing something for yourself.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Repurpose Your Garbage in the Garden

By Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Reduce, re-use, recycle. This is the mantra of the smaller footprint crowd. And the mantra is an ordered list. After a while those of us who pursue a more sustainable lifestyle sometimes come to see too much of that last activity - recycling - as tantamount to failure. We come to view recycling as our garbage, a pile of waste that we generate with a barely salvageable aspect to it. Far, far better (we chide ourselves) to reduce, or at the least, re-use. A big part of frugality for me is finding value where I never saw it before. And for the gardener there's lots of value in much that we discard.

So today, even though it's the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere, I'm going to point out a few of the myriad ways that our recyclable materials could be turned to good use in the garden. If you garden, it's a good time to stockpile some of this stuff now, so that you'll have it ready when you need it.

Newspaper This must be the ultimate mulching material. In the "lasagna" or sheet method of mulching, newspaper is layered thickly over a bed that has been cleared of weeds and enriched with compost, watered down, and then covered with a natural mulch such as dried leaves or grass clippings. Weeds can't penetrate it, and it's easy to punch through the newspaper wherever you want to put in a seedling. Corrugated cardboard can serve the same function in the lasagna mulching method, though it is harder to cut through for planting when newly laid down.

If that's not enough, you can also make little pots in which to start seeds from long strips of newspaper. Do this by first tearing lengths of newsprint into 6" (15 cm) wide strips. When you have a good pile of these, put them in a bucket of warm water. Separate the strips in the water so that they don't stick together too badly. Let them soak for about 5 minutes, then drain, letting them drip for a minute or two. Take a glass bottle and wrap the paper around the lower end of it, leaving about one third of the paper overhanging the bottom. When it's all wrapped around the bottle, fold the ends over the bottom of the bottle to form the bottom of your pot. Gently pull your pot off the bottle and set it upright. Let the pots dry overnight, and start your seeds the next day.

I especially like using a square bottle to make the pots, because I can form a tidy package fold on the bottom. Plus, square pots fit together more densely than round pots. Adjust the height of the pots by how much paper you fold under the bottle. Adjust the pot width by the diameter of the bottle you choose to work with. You can make newsprint pots with dry newspaper, but I've found that the wet method produces pots that hold together much, much better. Get kids on board as your production units if you need a lot of pots.

Newspaper is also a basic ingredient in vermicomposting. In the garden and in vermicomposting, be sure to only use black-and-white newsprint, and not the color inserts. Many of the chemical dyes are less than optimal for worms or garden plants.

Some frugalites also use shredded newspaper in place of cat litter.

The nicest thing about newspaper is that you needn't pay for a subscription yourself to get some. Ask any neighbor if they'd be willing to give you their old newspapers. Most will be happy to have it off their hands.

Plastic jugs and bottles There are plenty of good uses for these in the garden, especially if you're trying to grow a heat-loving plant either early, or in a zone that's a little too cold for it. First off, you can cut the bottom off a square-bottomed jug and use it as a cloche. You'll want the translucent plastic jugs for this purpose; opaque ones will block too much sunlight, while narrow transparent soda bottles can easily trap too much heat and cook the plant. Cover your tender seedling with a milk jug to give it some protection if you've transplanted it on the early side. Be sure to monitor your plants under these cloches. If the temperature rises on a sunny day you could easily bake your plants under the plastic. Removing the lid from the jug may offer some temperature regulation, but you may need to take the cloche off entirely and replace it when the sun goes down. You'll also need to figure a way of securing the jug in place so it doesn't blow away in the first gentle breeze. If you have dowels or sturdy thin branches, you can cut a hole at the top of the jug handle and push the dowel through the handle and straight into the ground.

The second way to use these plastic milk jugs or soda bottles to lend a little more heat to plants is to fill several of them with water and arrange them around the plant as a heat sink. The water jugs will provide some wind protection, but more importantly they will store heat from the sun and release it slowly over night. This is even more effective if you tint the water dark so that it absorbs and holds more solar energy. You can do this with food coloring or tea bags, or by the use of any number of natural dying agents. Keep in mind that you'll need a few of these jugs for each plant you plan to use them around. Start saving them up now if you want to arrange them around a large number of plants. If you save a lot of plastic soda bottles, these can be filled with liquid, arranged in a tight circle around the plant, and secured together with duct tape on the inside and outside of the ring so that they don't fall over and damage the plant. You could do the same with screw-top wine bottles too, I suppose. But you'd need a lot of them.

Lastly, you can use plastic jugs as a primitive form of drip irrigation. Simply put a pinhole in one bottom corner, fill the jug with water, and place it next to the plant you want to water. Again, you'll need to save up a lot of jugs if you want to water a lot of plants simultaneously in this way. Also, you might want to tether the jug to something so that it doesn't blow around your garden and damage fragile plants once it's emptied.

For non-gardeners, a good use of these plastic jugs is to store drinking water for emergencies and power losses. If you have the space, just sterilize the jugs and start building up your drinking water supply. Store at least 2 quarts/liters of water per person for every day you want to prepare for. If you live in a very hot climate or think you may need to care for sick people in an emergency situation, store extra. So a family of four would need at least 28 gallons (112 liters) of drinking water to get through a two-week emergency without another source of water. As a best practice, you should empty the containers and refill them every six months at least. Use the old water to flush your toilet or water the garden.

Milk cartons and plenty of other disposable containers can be used to start seedlings. I especially like milk cartons for starting onions, leeks and other plants that tend not to have extensive networks of roots. That means that I can start a lot of them close together without a great risk of damaging the roots when it's time to transplant them. I use a serrated knife to cut one side off the milk carton. The rest of the carton becomes a pot for seeds, while the removed side can form a lid for those seeds that need darkness to germinate, and then a little tray to catch excess water from the container. Poke several holes in the side that becomes the bottom of the container before planting your seeds.

I'd hoped to have more sprouts to show by the time I needed to take this picture. Can you spot my tiny leek sprouts?

Wide plastic tubs are handy to have in the garden for melons and winter squash, especially if you live in a humid environment with a good deal of rainfall. Melons and squash that sit on damp ground are at risk for rotting on the vine. Punch or drill a few holes in the bottom of your plastic tub. Gently lift the growing melon or squash, then place the tub upside down on the ground underneath to support it. The holes assure that the fruit won't sit in water after rainfall, and will provide a little airflow too. If you don't buy margarine or the other sorts of things that come in these tubs, you could cut off the bottom of laundry detergent containers and use them in the same fashion.

In short, there are an awful lot of uses for "junk" in the garden. Ultimately these things will probably end up in a landfill. But at least we can squeeze a little utility out of them before that happens. How do you re-purpose common recyclable materials? Sound off in the comments, please!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Secret women's business.....

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I thought I'd continue on from my last post on personal care (no shampoo) and talk about simple, green and frugal ways to take care of...... secret women's business (in this context, taking care of "that time of the month").

So what did I do to take care of my menstrual needs??

Okay, I know that this can be a touchy/squeamish issue for some, so be warned for too much information ahead!!!

I use reusable menstrual products - products I've been using for over three years now. Namely, I use cloth pads and the Diva Cup. Now there are a heap of websites out there talking about how to use cloth pads and the Diva Cup so I won't repeat too much (I've provided some links at the bottom of this post) and I'll just write about it from my own perspective and how it went for me.

Firstly - cloth pads....

I used to be a tampon person but I did use disposable pads for the first 3 days of my period (my period back then was 7-8 days). So it took me awhile to get sold on the idea of cloth pads. After all disposable pads would sometimes leak on me so surely the idea of cloth would mean its even more messy.

Well, after much thinking, I finally bought ONE (yep, only one) cloth pad. When I took it out of the package, my first thought was there was NO WAY this thin little pad would hold all of my menstrual blood. I used to change disposable pads every hour to hour and a half on the first day. The cloth pad was thinner than the "slim" pads that they have out there! Still, I tried it and surprise, surprise it held it all in! AND I didn't have to change as often - about every 2-3 hours.

Changing would involve me putting the pad straight into a wet bag (like the kind I had for my kids' cloth nappies) and putting another one on. Then when I got home that night, I would put it in a bucket and leave it there till next wash time (about a day later). My cloth pad washing routine was cold rinse cycle first, then warm-hot wash afterwards.

I know some people would say I should soak them first, but I am first and foremost pretty lazy. Besides, I found that the velour topped hemp pads didn't stain anyway. And for those pads that didn't have a velour liner, the stains came out in the sun.

The cloth pads were also way way more comfortable than disposable pads.

The Diva Cup...

Now as I said before, I was a tampon person and while I was enjoying the painless switch over to cloth pads, I still wanted to have the same flexibility as tampons. So after a bit of reading, I decided to buy a Diva Cup.

When I first got it out of the box my first thought was WOW, ITS HUGE!!! The Diva Cup is probably the size of a standard pub shot-glass. I thought there was no way this could be comfortable! So in typical avoidance fashion, I waited till another friend of mine tried it, then I asked her about it. She assured me that once in, you can't feel it at all and was very very comfortable. PLUS she told me she wore hers for 12 hours straight and no leaks.

Anyway, the 12 hours straight thing sold me and next period, I tried it. I folded up the cup as per instructions. It was a bit scary going in ("relax, relax, breathe in, if a baby can come out of there then this little cup CAN fit in") then once in, I squirmed a bit, moved around and.... yep couldn't feel a thing!! I had one of those moments where you feel like a little miracle has occurred... yes, really. I realised that because its so soft (the cup is made of silicone), its not like a tampon where you can feel it move inside you if you squirm enough.

That day, I wore it for only 6 hours - I wanted to see what it looked like! So in the shower, I took it out and saw that the cup was only 1/2 full..... oh and the cool thing about the cup is that its got measurements on side so you can see exactly how many mls of blood was caught! (okay, I find it very cool, but I am a bit weird like that.)

Taking it out was also a bit scary at first but again, once I learned how to relax, it got a lot easier.

I now wear my Diva Cup 12-14 hours straight with no problems or leaks.

Three and a bit years on...

Am loving my cloth pads and Diva Cup. I find that not having to change so often has made the whole time of the month a lot simpler. And here's something else.... my period is now a lot shorter! So there's no real study or evidence done to prove that going reusable means that your period will get shorter, but I'm attributing the use of less chemicals in my menstrual products for the reason why its now shorter. My period has gone from 7-8 days to now 3-4 days. Also, I no longer experience any cramps during that time of the month.

I feel good that I'm no longer contributing to landfill every month. PLUS, after an initial outlay of about $100 AUD (for 7 cloth pads and the Diva Cup), I am no longer having to buy menstrual products every month.

For those who want to read a bit more about cloth pads and menstrual cups, check out the following websites:

ETA: I just realised that I have talked about the Diva cup as if its the only menstrual cup out there. Its not - there are heaps of different brands - the Diva cup is the only one I've tried simply because that was the cup a friend bought first. For a really good read of the different types of menstrual cups out there, check out:

Thanks again everyone for responding so positively for this post.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

In Search of Bread

by N. @ Bad Human

One of the first and arguably most rewarding green changes we made was making our own bread. Unless you are buying artisan bread on a regular basis, your average store bought bread probably leaves something to be desired. 
Making your own bread can be as simple or as involved as you would like it to be and 
we started making our own bread using an Amish White Bread recipe that we found online here.  The only change I made was to cut the amount of sugar and yeast in half. Otherwise the loaves exploded over the edges of the loaf pan.  Of all the recipes I'm going to present this one takes the least amount of time and is the most common recipe that we make in both form and function . It's make a nice, all purpose bread good for toast, sandwiches or just snacking. 

one of the small loaves, originally uploaded by svacher.

After getting over my fear of yeast and mastering that recipe my husband and I wanted to try something with a little more flavor.  For Christmas we asked for and received Maggie Glezer Artisan Baking.  Most of the recipes require a sourdough starter, which we don't have, so we decided to try "Judy Unruh's Wedding Zwieback." You can use the recipe to make sturdy rolls but we used it in a pan to make sandwich bread.  I  think this is the best one we've tried so far but it takes a full two days to make.   This is the perfect sandwich and toast bread.  It slices beautifully due to its dense fine-grained texture.  If it only took a day I would make this our go-to recipe, but (practically speaking) it does take two, so we decided to keep looking.

Tuna Mayonnaise Sandwich, originally uploaded by SeetYing.

My husband prefers a chewier, crustier bread so, while at the library, we picked up "Bread Alone." If you are looking for a single book to take you from basic to artisan loaves this one is for you.  The author goes into great detail about the tools required and the various types of flour for the best loaves based on the style of bread being cooked.  This book still focuses a lot on sourdough recipes (this trend bothers me, since, while I like sourdough, I don't want all my bread to be sourdough) but did offer more variety than did "Artisan Bread."  All told, this recipe also took 2 days.  

We started with a Country Hearth Loaf; a loaf with a simple flour combination of unbleached white and whole wheat flours.  The recipe starts with a poolish (which is a base for a lot of different recipes) This takes 2-10 hours.  The poolish can also rise in the fridge for 12-15 hours after which it needs to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.  Next, the remaining ingredients will be added and then kneaded, by hand or stand mixer.  Now the dough needs to ferment for another 2-3 hours, after which it is deflated and allowed to let rest for another 30 minutes, divided into loaves and proofed for another 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  Finally you are ready to bake it! 

This recipe does require a baking stone and a small spray bottle. In the first 10 minutes of baking, the inner walls and floor of the oven are sprayed to steam the loaf.  After which the temperature is, and baking continues for another 20 minutes.  Personally, this is too high maintenance for me.  I realize the multiple rises makes it "better", but I don't have that kind of time.  I would forget or get sidetracked or it just wouldn't fit in my schedule.  That said, it makes nice bread, its chewier than the Zwieback or Amish recipe, and has a much thicker crust. I would consider this good soup because it is best eaten plain or with butter. It doesn't slice very well so it doesn't fit into the toaster, and if you make a sandwich with it you are going to get a mouthful with every bite!

Artisan Bread - Loaf 1, originally uploaded by jenniferdames.

Our most recent experiment was a Dutch Oven Bread Recipe and it's by far my husband's favorite. It's not quite as time intensive as the Zwieback or Hearth Loaf and the only special equipment needed was the dutch oven. We already own one and are always looking for ways to put it to good use. This makes a nice crispy crusted bread with a soft bubbly texture on the inside.  My one complaint is that it's never going to be loaf shaped so it's harder to toast.

Overall, I would say the Amish recipe is still a good, low maintenance go-to recipe.  If you've got a bit more time and a dutch oven the Dutch Oven Bread is crispy and has really nice flavor. If you find yourself with a lot of extra time I would vote for the Zweiback.  

You may think we've got something against whole wheat bread, however I would say that whole wheat flour has something against me!  I've not found a whole wheat or even mostly whole wheat recipe that rises well.  I'm sure this is due in part to the type of yeast I'm using but I use what's available and I need a recipe that will work with that. 

What's your favorite bread recipe?  If you have a good whole-wheat bread recipe that doesn't bear the consistency of a brick, please feel free to fire it off to us. 

Monday, 26 January 2009

Entertaining on a Budget!


Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In my last post I discussed how I have slashed my grocery bill by 75% while continuing to eat a mostly organic diet high in fruits & veg! My backward menu planning has really helped. One question I get asked a lot is how do I afford to entertain while only spending a maximum of £15 approx $20 US a week on food. So I decided to follow on from my last post, I'd address this here. Here are my top 5 tips for entertaining frugally!

1. My weekly budget is £15, but most weeks I only spend around £13 or so. I put the extra money left into a jar marked entertaining. This means that I can afford to buy extra things when I have people coming to stay or am hosting a dinner. I'm amazed at how quickly it adds up!

2. When I find things on sale that would last or can be frozen, I will use whatever money I have left in the weekly budget to do this or dip into my entertaining fund. For example this week I found Feta Cheese 1/2 off, so I checked the dates and all were able to be eaten up to April. I purchased 3 and now will be making Greek Soup (uses spinach and feta cheese) for the next lot of company as well as make a greek salad to take to a lunch I am going to.

3. I try to always have a fresh homemade batch of soup in the freezer and homemade scones or rolls I've found on sale plus something homemade & sweet (like a cake or homemade truffles) and homemade pasta sauce frozen. This means when a friend pops in for a meal or tea and I don't have much in (often the case the day before shopping day) I'm not tempted to say we should order pizza or go out!

4. While I'm vegetarian (although had to go back to eating meat this week!) I will occasionally serve meat to friends, however I do not see meat as the main ingredient, it is just one of the types of food being served. For example, if I made chicken I would serve it with a veggie, salad and a carb. Large portions of meat are really not necessary.

5.If friends offer to bring something, I'm happy to say yes! I do the same when I am invited, often bringing a dessert or salad etc. Sharing the cost means entertaining becomes less stressful and more enjoyable!

Using these tactics, I've been able to have friends over for a meal at least once a week without going over budget. In fact I recently had a friend stay for a week and I still spent the same amount on food!

Do you have any good tips to share?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Raised Beds Offer Many Benefits

by Marc @ GardenDesk

A month ago I shared my personal story of how I got started with organic gardening and raised beds. I was fortunate enough to be able to see a side-by-side comparison of this and traditional row gardening. The benefits were almost countless!

That was a very unique situation. I suppose without such an experience, I wouldn't have understood or believed that a new style of gardening could be so much better. That was 20 years ago and I have used intensive organic techniques with raised beds ever since.

So why do I prefer this over row gardening?

Most raised beds are contained with wood, rocks or block. Any natural building material will do but I completely stay away from treated wood to avoid any chemicals leeching into the soil. I prefer building a bed but you can attain the same results with mounds of soil.

The ground where I live is naturally heavy clay. To garden organically I have to add a lot of compost and other soil amendments. It would be very difficult to add enough to make a difference if I had to broadcast it over a whole field. With raised beds, I only have to amend to beds and not the paths. Also, since I never walk in the beds, the soil stays friable and drains well. Other gardeners I have talked to who do not have raised beds say it is impossible to garden organically. I agree that it would be much more difficult without the beds.

With traditional vegetable gardens, you typically have to roto-till at the beginning of each season. In my soil, I found this to be hard work and damaging to the soil structure. Repeated roto-tilling causes a "hard pan" to form below the surface at the depth of the blades. It also many times delays the planting because the ground is often too wet in the Spring. The initial construction of raised beds is a bit of work, but in each of the following years, I can plant at any time without tilling, damage to the soil, or much fuss at all.

Weeding is much easier with raised beds. I don't ever have to worry about hoeing the rows. I can hand pull weeds from the growing beds and once the plants get larger, they shade most of the bed space which prevents weeds from taking hold.

Raised beds make everything much more organized and tidy for me. It is easier to plan where each crop will be planted and keep better records. It is also nice to have a structure to attach things to for trellises or hoops. Here are some pictures from my Garden desk blog in the fall where I attached hoops to help extend the growing season.

The thing I like most about growing in raised beds is that it makes it much easier to implement square-foot gardening techniques, inter cropping and succession planting. I got more into inter cropping and succession planting on my GardenDesk blog. The main thing about Square Foot Gardening is that you can plant more in less space. This is not a bending of the rules. If a seed packet suggests that a plant needs 6 inches of space, that really means that it requires 6 inches on all sides. With the old row garden, people typically plant a row of beans, for instance, 6 inches apart in the row and 2 feet between rows. In a three foot by twelve foot space, they would have 48 plants. I'm using a 3x12 example because that is the dimension of some of my beds. When I plant bush beans in a raised bed with square-foot spacing, I can sow three times more plants! Maybe this diagram will explain it better:

Three times more vegetables in the same amount of space really helps the organic or small space gardener! Trying this approach without a defined bed would be much more difficult.

So to summarize what I've been writing here, The reasons that I prefer raised beds are:

  • It makes it easier to create good soil
  • The soil stays loose and drains better
  • I don't have to use a tiller
  • Weeding is much easier
  • Beds make the garden more organized
  • Easier for square foot gardening
  • Can grow more veggies in less space!
  • I'm sure I've missed many other benefits to raised bed gardening.

    If you grow in raised beds, what are your reasons? If you don't grow in beds, what are some questions you have about raised beds?

    I'd love to hear from you.

    Keep Growing!

    - Marc

    Saturday, 24 January 2009

    Hello Yellow or Goodbye White?

    by Gavin, The Greening of Gavin

    Telephone Directories, Phone Books, Yellow or White Pages or whatever your name is for them. All are heavy, thick, and mostly unwanted due to the arrival of the on-line phone directory and mobile (cell) phones!

    When was the last time you used one of these paper dinosaurs? Who is sick of getting them each year, and never using them? I am! So, here are a few facts about phone books from all around the globe;

    • The average UK household receives three printed phone books every year. That amounts to 75,000 tonnes of annual waste – enough to cover Hyde Park twice over.
    • Approximately 10% of people recycle phone books, most just throw them into landfill waste.
    • There are approximately 540 Million directories are printed annually in the United States alone.
    • To produce a US ton of paper (907.184 kg) it takes; 24 trees, 380 US gallons of oil (1438 L), 7000 gallons of water (26497 L), and 4,000 kW of energy! That is a lot of resources.

    Besides the stats, I cannot remember the last time I had to refer to a paper based phone book, and yet they keep getting delivered. My fault I suppose, thinking that they would just magically disappear when I stopped using them. A couple of days ago, our yearly delivery of Yellow Pages arrived. Now, because we live near the Melbourne Area, we get these two massive phone books that weigh 4kg in total.

    Yellow Pages

    Guess what? This year we also got the pleasure of being issued a small version, just for our car? The last time I looked, the car couldn't use a phone! So what can you do about stopping the deliveries? I have done some research and this is what I have come up with.

    The good news is that you can do something about it. Not only can the books be recycled, as we do each year, you can now opt out of delivery. I just did, and it took about 3 minutes.

    In Australia you can visit the Sensis - In the Community site or call 1800 810 211, option 2, then option 7. Ask to opt out of both the yellow and white pages directories if you wish. They will also ask why you want to opt out, and I gave the environment as my reason.

    In the US, you can use the free service offered by Yellow Pages Go Green, who will get you removed from delivery lists or call 1-(877)-243-8339 who will also help you opt out of phone book deliveries.

    I couldn't find any opt out scheme in the UK, but did find this helpful site, Say No to Phonebooks, who have an on-line petition fighting for the right to have a system to opt out.

    For our Kiwi mates, I also found getting info about opting out very difficult. I did stumble across an article in the current issue of Good Magazine (p26), which I couldn't read, so you may have to buy or borrow it to find out how you can do this.

    You can also try the Paperless Petition, who are trying to scrap the yellow pages. When you sign up to the petition you can request that you be removed from delivery in your country. So far it covers Australia, UK, US, and Canada. I don't know if this actually works, but it is worth a try.

    If all else fails, then your only other option is to recycle the books. You can do this in kerbside recycling if you have it in your area, or special phone book bins scattered around major cities.

    Wouldn't it be a far better world (and we would have more trees to boot), if we only had to choose to OPT IN. I think that like junk mail, this would be a far better way of doing business. Unfortunately, advertisers pay lots of money to be placed in these directories and it is a $13b industry in the US alone. Advertisers want the best coverage they can get for their dollar, and phone directories kind of guarantee this outcome. Not a great outcome for the environment though, but at least in some countries you can opt out. As more and more people use the on-line version, due to convenience and global environmental concerns, maybe, just maybe the directory companies will get the hint. We can only hope.

    If there are other phone book opt out scheme other than the ones I have found, please feel free to add them via a comment. It would be great to get a comprehensive list all in one place.

    Friday, 23 January 2009

    The Naked Lunch

    Posted by Julie
    Towards Sustainability

    The "Naked" lunch? Call it a "Waste-Free" or "No Rubbish" lunch, it's the same thing - a lunch box that contains only items which are edible, compostable or reusable!

    Here in Australia, school resumes next week after the end of year break, so school lunch boxes and their contents are a hot topic right now. Every year, millions of tonnes of rubbish are generated from lunch boxes, so clearly it makes sense from an environmental point of view to reduce lunch waste.

    However, reducing this waste also makes a lot of sense from a financial point of view: for example, the pre-packaged, single-serve items many of us used to rely on are much more expensive than buying the same items in bulk and re-packaging them ourselves into reusable containers.

    These days a typical lunch box might contain:
    * sandwiches, fruits and vegetables packed in disposable plastic bags,
    * pre-packaged chips, biscuits/cookies, fruit straps and leathers, muesli/granola bars and cheese,
    * single-use tubs of yoghurt, fruits, and puddings,
    * disposable juice boxes, pouches, bottles, and milk cartons, and
    * plastic cutlery and paper napkins.

    The Naked Lunch however, is waste-free. In order to be waste-free we need to avoid:
    * Plastic wrap, Styrofoam and disposable bags,
    * Disposable drink containers such as Poppers/ Juice boxes and cartons, and
    * Paper napkins and disposable cutlery.

    It isn't as hard as it might seem at first to do this! Some ways you might reduce waste include:

    * Try packing small reusable containers inside a larger lunch box instead of using disposable plastic bags. Have a look at how Rhonda packs her lunch for work for example. If you are in the market for a new lunch box, you might consider one of the many Bento-style lunch box systems such as the one below, or other compartmentalised lunch boxes which are becoming increasingly popular and easy to obtain. If you prefer to go plastic-free, there are many steel or enamel stackable tiffins on the market, some of which come with insulated carriers to keep food warm or cool (I am buying one these for my husband's work lunches for his birthday this year).

    Originally uploaded by KitAy

    * Shop in bulk instead of buying individual serves. For example, buy large packs of nuts, dried fruit, blocks of cheese and larger tubs of yoghurt, then re-package these into smaller reusable containers.

    * If it is it possible, cook muesli/granola bars or healthy muffins in bulk once a week and freeze them instead of buying prepackaged ones. If not, you could add a serving-sized portion of muesli/granola in a reusable container to add to some yoghurt at lunch time (or even better, make your own trail mix).

    * If you are packing lunch for your kids, encourage them to pack their own lunches, or at least help with the choices - they are more likely to eat what they've packed rather than throw it away uneaten.

    * Pack cloth napkins and reusable cutlery to be brought home for washing.

    * Don't forget to include an ice pack in the lunch box if you are packing meat or dairy items like mayonnaise or yoghurt. Freezing a small drink bottle of water, juice or milk works well, and it will be thawed in time for lunch and a cold drink.

    * Use reusable drink bottles instead of disposable ones. If you prefer to avoid plastic bottles, there are many metal bottles on the market now such as Thermos, Sigg and Kleen Kanteen bottles.

    * Pack lunches the night before to save time in the morning if repackaging bulk items is an issue. Many sandwiches can be frozen to keep them fresh ahead of time.

    * Use leftovers - pack them straight into a lunch box as you are putting them away after dinner.

    Personally, my two older girls use Tupperware Sandwich Keeper Plus lunch boxes, but only because I picked up them up cheaply second hand on eBay. Their smaller size is ideal as they don't eat as much as an adult, and I can pack their lunch and recess without using any wrapping at all.

    My youngest however, attends 3-year-old preschool and they have to refrigerate all foods as a condition of their licence - as such they request parents use paper bags instead of lunch boxes because they cannot physically fit twenty five lunchboxes into their refrigerator! Instead of disposable paper bags, I use simple draw-string calico bags labelled with my daughter's name (I bought mine from a local market, but they are very simple to make yourself if you sew).

    To avoid using plastic wrap or plastic bags for her sandwich, I made a simple reusable fabric wrap. I have been using it for a year now and it still in good condition; I simply wash it gently after each use in the dish washing water at night, rinse it and leave it to air dry.

    So, as you can see there are many ways to go about achieving a Naked Lunch! I'm sure all you clever people out there have even more suggestions though, so please share them with us in the comments :-)

    Happy lunching!

    Wednesday, 21 January 2009

    How Do We Choose Between Budget and Environment? Here Are 25 Ways To Do Both!

    by Melinda

    Change is brewing. Yesterday was a very powerful day for many of us, as we listened to the first African-American president, full of dreams for a better world mixed with the reality of what is at hand. I am thankful that a new hope has spread across the world. I am hopeful that we will unite together and bring our world into a new, mindful era. I have written more about these thoughts here.

    The future holds many promises.  But at home, the reality of our economic situation is beginning to set in for most folks. Here in the United States, we're feeling the effects of the global recession every day. I've heard many people use the word Depression who wouldn't have dreamed of using that word only a few months ago. It is grim. It is getting worse. And it will get worse still before it gets better.

    Unfortunately, this poses quite a dichotomy. The Recession makes it difficult to get by, to save, to spend any more than we have to spend.  Yet the pressure of climate change and the ethics we've taught ourselves says we must buy what is good for the environment and our communities.

    Often doing our best to leave a lower impact means paying a little more, doesn't it? How do we stay true to our values while simply getting by during an economic crisis?  

    So I made a list of the different things we do at home to save money and save the earth.  Some of these may be old news for you - in that case think of this as a reminder! - but hopefully each of us will find some gems in this list. Please do share other ideas that come to mind! 

    25 Sustainability Changes That Save Money
    1. Take advantage of your local library for books, music, and videos.
    2. Walk or bike, use public transportation, carpool with neighbors and co-workers, and consolidate any car errands to one or two days per week.
    3. Think about getting rid of your car to save money on insurance, maintenance, and gas.
    4. Use a clothesline instead of the dryer.
    5. Replace paper towels & napkins with cloth.  You can make rags out of old clothing, and cloth napkins out of old sheets and curtains.
    6. Barter and trade with neighbors and friends.
    7. Utilize Freecycle, Craigs List, and other local free exchanges.
    8. Shop at thrift stores and garage sales, and arrange clothing swaps with friends and family.
    9. Make your own lunches for school and work.
    10. Stop buying snacks and take-out food, and instead cook at home.  If you need to save time, there are many quick seasonal recipes.  I've posted a few here.
    11. Buy in bulk: buy from bulk bins at your local market, buy large quantities of staples via special order from your local market or online, buy a whole case which generally comes with a case discount, and buy large packages of food you use regularly. If buying in bulk leaves you with too much food, go in on the purchase with a friend or set up a community buying club.
    12. If you are really needing extra help, go to your local food bank.  That's what they're for!
    13. Buy fruit and vegetable seconds and day old bakery items.  These are generally significantly reduced in price - often by 50% or more.  Generally you'll need to cook with them right away.
    14. Pick your own produce at a local farm.
    15. Grow your own food.
    16. Learn to preserve food by canning, drying, root cellaring, freezing, and pickling.  You can find books about how to do these things at your local library.
    17. Plan your menus.  If you plan your menus for the week, you will use all of the food you've purchased, you'll be able to shop just once a week, you can make sure to utilize seasonal items, and you can save time and stress by not having to worry about "what's for dinner."
    18. Recycle and compost as much as possible to reduce trash collection fees.
    19. Mend and repair.  You can pick up books from the library on how to sew, knit, repair furniture and cars, and so on.  And there are often free classes on such subjects - ask at your local college, community center, bulletin boards, and do a search on the internet. You may be surprised at what's out there!
    20. Make your own cleaning and body products from simple and cheap ingredients like vinegar, baking soda/bicarb, hydrogen peroxide, corn starch, cooking oil, lemon juice, and water.  You'll find several recipes here at the Co-op, and at Down To Earth.  I've recently shared my deodorant and hair washing methods.  Eileen just wrote about going entirely no 'poo.
    21. Unplug or turn off power switches to appliances when not in use, to save electricity.
    22. As they burn out, replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs.  They cost more initially, but they will save significant amounts of electricity and will last many times longer than an incandescent bulb.
    23. Reduce shower times, bathe less often, and use bath water to water outdoor plants and flush toilets.
    24. Turn off the television, get rid of your cable bill, and take up reading, knitting, and walking more regularly.
    25. Use coupons.  I recently bought a book of coupons for local shopping.  The book cost $20. The first coupon I used saved me $25.  I win!
    Stay safe, healthy, and happy.  Things will get better.  In the meantime, the most important thing to remember is that we all survive better if we stick together.  Now is a great time to be a strong member in your community.  You are probably more knowledgeable and better equipped than most of your neighbors, so if you can, try to help them get through this crisis, too!

    Thanks for reading.

    Tuesday, 20 January 2009

    Grafting fruit trees

    by: Matron of Husbandry
    Throwback at Trapper Creek

    Want to increase your fruit tree varieties? Try grafting, an age old skill that is fun and economical. This post is a re-hash of a grafting post I wrote last spring. Only this one is a little more timely so you can try your hand at grafting this spring.

    Now is the time to be gathering your scion wood while it is still dormant. These photos show apple tree grafting, but I will stay with basic instructions that will work for most types of fruit.

    What you are looking for in scion wood is, one year old wood, or last years growth. Probably the most important thing for me to share here is, sharpen your pruners. Most information I see in print, or on the internet about sharpening recommends once or twice a year, that is for pruning not propagating. Death vs. Life. For propagation to be successful, the cambium layers on your scion wood should not be damaged. I used to propagate dwarf conifers for wholesale nurseries and I sharpened my pruners each day that I pruned for cuttings. My pay depended on a successful outcome. I use Felco pruners and they are easy to take apart and service.

    Old heirloom trees will have their newer growth at the top (usually out of reach) so you may need a pole pruner too. If you have young trees, the last years growth that you seek will be close at hand.

    I cut off more than I need and leave the twigs whole. Label and mark your scion wood with: who, what, where, and when. If you are trying to save an old variety this information will be important, also if your graft doesn't work out, some of this info. may lead you to the cause of the failure. But, also, grafting needn't be only for named varieties, you may have a favorite apple that you covet, but the tree is unmarked. Go for it, if it is a good apple, it is worth propagating.

    After labeling, wrap with paper towels, and seal in plastic bags, and refrigerate or heel in, in a pile of deep sawdust, or dirt. The goal is to keep the scion wood dormant and not let it sweat and mold, OR dry out.

    The wood on the left of the growth ring is one year wood, suitable for grafting. The wood on the right is too old and tough to make a succesful graft with.

    Now besides gathering your scion wood, you need to be purchasing rootstock for your new trees. Size matters..., there are many different rootstocks to choose from. This is a personal preference. I have used both standard and semi-dwarf, and now years later I wish I had used all standard. There are trade-offs to both, standards grow very large, take a long time to bear and are harder to harvest, but they are long lived, and work well with livestock. Semi-dwarf and dwarf, bear early, are easy to harvest but may not last your lifetime due to poor root systems. All my semi-dwarf trees are uprooting and needing more mainentance, my young standards are coltish but not uprooting. Our home orchard here on the farmstead was planted in 1881 as part of the proving up. The trees that have survived that time span, still bear (weather permitting) more than we need. I want my grafted trees to be here for my grandkids!

    If you do purchase rootstock, when it arrives, plant it in large nursery pots or in a nursery bed in your garden where the young trees can stay for a year. The grafts need to be protected from intense summer sun, so plan accordingly. If you have a lath house for shade plants this would be ideal. I use pots and place them under a tree, near a hose, so I can easily monitor them and water if needed.

    Another option is reworking some existing trees you may already have. If space is your concern, this may be the best option. We have all seen the 3-in-1 trees advertised. Now you can make your own. The only criteria is you have to match scion wood diameter to the limb you're grafting on. No apples and oranges either - only the same types of fruit can be on the same tree.

    An old timer taught me this skill, and his best tip was to graft when the rootstock had broke dormancy, and the leaves were the size of mouse ears. Easy to remember, and what he really meant was make sure the sap is flowing enough to make your graft successful.

    He also instructed me to save prunings from my apple trees for practicing my cuts. Like a good pie crust, you want to make short work of it. Optimum is two cuts for your apical wedge, one on each side of the scion wood. This requires a sharp knife and practice. Professional grafters get good at this because they are grafting many trees, it is harder when you do a handful a year. I'm lucky to do it in 3 or 4, but my grafts still turn out OK.

    When the big day (mouse ears) arrives you will need the following:

    1. Dormant scion wood
    2. Pushing rootstock
    3. Sharp pruners
    4. Sharp knife
    5. Tree labels and a Sharpie
    6. Polyethylene tape (tree tape)
    7. Nerves of steel (just kidding)

    Close-up of cutting the apical wedge. Start about 1/2" up the stem and make a downward cut, like sharpening a pencil with your pocket knife. Yeah, that is how I usually sharpen my pencils, that are outside.

    Turn the scion wood over and do the same on the other side. Lay your scion wood on a clean surface and prepare the rootstock.

    Cut the rootstock horizontally, matching the size of the rootstock to the scion wood. Next make a vertical cut/split about 1" down the rootstock.

    Gently push the scion wood down into the rootstock cut. Match the cambium as close as possible. Cut the scion wood down to 2 - 3 buds. Note: in this photo the layers are NOT lined up yet.

    Keeping the cambium layers aligned is important and the most difficult part of the graft. If they don't touch, the sap can't bridge the gap and heal the tree.

    Wrap the joined area tightly with polyethylene grafting tape, (sometimes called tree tape) to keep the graft from drying out. You can also use grafting wax or grafting rubber bands. If you use the tape, you can actually watch for the callous as the the two surfaces join.

    Grafted April 2008.

    Keep your new tree out of hot sun, keep it well watered, and rub off any growth that appears below the graft union. Soon you should be able to see new growth emerging on your scion wood.

    January 2009. A new , old tree!

    Monday, 19 January 2009

    A new way to look at things...

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

    Around our house there’s a simple if unwritten rule when it comes to replacing things. It doesn’t leave the house unless it either can’t be repurposed, is being donated to a charity, Freecycled to someone else or is just plain old completely used up. Even when the latter is the case, there’s often a lot of good use still to be had from them with a bit of creative thinking. So I thought I’d go over a few basics for those just getting started in this way of thinking and maybe I can give you seasoned “greenies” some new ideas as well.

    First of all, I think the best thing we can all do to lighten our collective footprints a bit, is to really decide whether we need to replace or throw out things to begin with. That simple act helps to fight two of the greatest things affecting our world, making new products and disposing of old ones. And now, I want to take a minute to qualify what it is that I just said. I’m not at all against buying new things. I’m also not at all against responsible disposal. We live on this planet and we’re going to have a footprint whether we like it or not. The thing is, we can all take personal responsibility for the things that we do decide to consume as well as how we dispose of them when their usefulness has expired. That’s what I’m trying to get at here, thinking about the things we do and why we do them. When we do that, we’ve taken one of the biggest steps that we can to really make a difference.

    So then, back on topic; deciding whether to keep something or dispose of it. I read an article a while back in Mother Earth News that really nailed the way I try to look at things. Paraphrasing it, it said to “train yourself to look at things not as what they are, but what they could be.” For instance, a bookshelf may look too shabby to sit in the living room, but it would make a great storage unit in a garage. Maybe you’re changing out your windows to be better insulated. Don’t throw out the old ones, They could be a great cold frame for the winter greens.

    One thing to do, however, is to learn some basics of how to Do It Yourself. Tools are costly to invest in sometimes, but in the long run they pay for themselves when it comes to extending the life of things or to repurpose them to other uses. The biggest tool you can have at your demand though, is your imagination. Here's an example.This is a table that we had in outr house for a couple of years. It originally came from a salvage store and was repainted by the wife and put to use as a computer table. After a little reorganizing, we realized we didn’t need the table and it made its way to the garage. We didn’t get rid of it because we knew it was sold and well made. A few months later, A~ decided she needed a runner table to go along the wall in the front room. What do you know, we have here the makings of a fine runner table! A little sawing, some sanding and a repaint and Voila!Good as new, and for what? Nothing but some sweat equity. I’ll admit it took a little bit of skill and it’s not the type of project that you might want to take on to begin with, but it’s so possible. Start small, learn some skills and keep trying and next thing you know, you’re an official re-purposer extraordinaire.

    So maybe right now the big DIY projects aren’t what you’re up to. Not to worry, there’s always things all around us that are perfect for some need that we have if we’re willing to put a little ego aside and just ask. And that, is the second most important tool available to us. A willingness to talk to others about what your doing, and when possible just ask if you can have something. You’d be amazed at what is available. I was able to pick up this fire pit for nothing a couple of summers ago. If you look close, you’ll notice that it’s actually a solid iron Manhole cover ring that’s upside down. While the family and I were off collecting some disposed of concrete to complete some landscaping work around our place, I spied this sitting in a vacant lot used by a construction company. I asked the foreman, he said yes and we had our selves a perfect fire pit!

    So then, are you getting my point? There’s a huge amount of stuff laying around, probably at your own home that could go to great use if you just forget what it is and look for what it could be.

    But what if something truly is just completely used up? Toss it right? Well, parts of it yeah…but not all. A little something I like to do, is to take the item apart and collect all those great little screws and washers that are all over the item. I have a bin at my workshop desk where I can store all the random screws and what not’s that I can find. You’d be amazed at how many things you can fix with those little suckers. And is the item metal, or aluminum or plastic? Chances are at least part of it is so go ahead and whack that part off and drop it into a recycle bin. Better it go to some good use than just sit around under the landfill for the next 200 years right?

    I know this is one of those most basic of Simple Green and Frugal living tasks, but really, isn’t it also one of the most important ones too? Don’t be afraid to try things out or to tinker a little bit. The items that you reuse, renew and recycle will save you money, save the planet, and give you a great sense of accomplishment.

    All the best to you all.

    Sunday, 18 January 2009

    Stockpiling - the Basics

    Posted by Bel
    From Spiral Garden

    Stockpiling necessities is something I’ve been researching and working toward (with mixed success) for a long time. It has been in the media a lot recently because for concerns about the economy and climate change.

    After experiencing Cyclone Larry in 2006, I became more aware of the need to be prepared for a disaster. There were 13 of us cut off from civilisation in our friends' isolated home. Compared to most we had it easy - solar power, independent water source, food in the cupboards and garden, wood stove and so on. But still, there were challenges.

    Disaster-preparedness is no longer seen as freaky survivalist behaviour. Most local councils and/or state governments have disaster-preparedness manuals or guides. Apart from food - consider power (cooking, lighting, heating etc), water, medical needs and hygiene requirements.

    For more information on stockpiling food, see the Emergency Pantry List and Food Lifeboat. These sites relate to storing items for possible disasters, but stockpiling necessities is about more than that.

    Keeping a stocked pantry and freezer saves us money. We buy lots of dry goods, tins and jars in bulk. We also buy extra when grocery items we use are on special. This way, we can shop from stockpile instead of the supermarket. For an example of someone using coupons (in the U.S.) to store a huge amount of food, check out this blog. Our stockpile looks a bit different to that and contains items such as: white rice, basmati rice, brown rice, flours and grains, rolled oats, popping corn, various dry legumes and soup mix, breakfast cereals, tins of oil, tinned butter, teas and coffee, homemade cordials, UHT rice milk, powdered milk, yoghurt mix, sugar, salt, coconut, bicarb, baking powder, yeast, stock powder, gravy mix, herbs & spices, dry pasta, homemade jam, honey, tomato puree, tamari, tinned fruit, vegetables and fish. I’d also like to keep more soap, ingredients for laundry liquid, bicarb and vinegar for cleaning, toothpaste, spare toothbrushes, toilet paper, etc – but because I haven’t figured out storage solutions for these I only keep limited spares. We don’t store many processed, packaged foods because, a) we don’t eat them, and b) they take up a lot more room than ingredients.

    The rule of thumb for stockpiling to save money is “store what you use, use what you store”. Apart from spare candles, matches and a few other emergency items, your stockpile should reflect what you need and use every day. It can start with a couple of extra tins of tomatoes one week, some extra toilet paper the next, and so on. Until you have a few weeks’ worth (or more) of your most-used non-perishable items stored.

    It will take awhile to collect what you need, unless you go out and shop specifically to stockpile, which would take extra time and money of course. Sometimes my stockpile runs low because I’ve not made time or allowed enough in the budget to keep up with my bulk orders or special buys. So I cut back on groceries for a few weeks, and allocate some money each week to refilling the pantry and freezer. To cut back on groceries, I slot more meals into the menu plan which use the cheapest ingredients, in-season produce, food harvested at home and meals from the freezer (like bulk-cooked curries). I’m still trying to work out a system to keep track of what I have stored and when I need to re-stock it.

    Our extra food is stored in the kitchen pantry (it’s very full) and in the linen cupboard. I moved some of the linen to the hidden storage under the sofa bed in the lounge room in order to use this space. My laundry is adjacent to my kitchen, and my freezer is in there, so it made sense to stockpile where I can easily access items when I need them.

    I hope this has given anyone new to stockpiling a better understanding of the hows and whys. If you have any ideas about keeping records of what’s in stock and keeping the pantry full, please let me know in the Comments. I’d also love to see any links to information, articles and blogs about stockpiling, so please do share.

    Saturday, 17 January 2009

    A Pressure Primer

    by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
    Our grandmothers may not have had a microwave (or even electricity), but they probably did have a time- and energy-saving cooking device in their kitchens - the pressure cooker. By cooking under pressure, they could turn even the toughest old bird or economy cut of meat into a succulent fork-tender meal, or take dried, unsoaked, beans from pantry to table in minutes instead of hours. Ready to learn more?

    Sealed up under pressure, with only a small, controlled amount of steam escaping, the heat inside builds up much higher than the boiling point of water. I learned first-hand the value of pressure cooking during the years I lived in Leadville, Colorado, at 10,250 ft (3,125m) altitude - almost two miles high. At that altitude, the lower temperature of boiling water (remember your old science classes?) meant I had to boil quartered potatoes for at least an hour - if I wasn't watching, the water would boil away before the spuds were edible. But in a pressure cooker, potatoes take 8 minutes at 15 psi (pounds per square inch) pressure, regardless of elevation. And since the cooking is via pressurized steam instead of boiling, and coupled with a shorter cooking time, the nutrients and flavor stay in the food, not the cooking water.

    In my kitchen, I use both my old pressure cooker, often, and the larger canner, only at harvest time. Most vegetables, and all meats and fish, must be canned under pressure. With its domed lid, my pressure cooker will hold four narrow-mouth canning jars. So I use the cooker when canning small amounts. With its tall, narrow shape, the pressure canner also works as my waterbath canner for tomatoes and fruit. If you are deciding between getting one or the other, a cooker would probably be your best value, and should be your first foray "under pressure" (sorry, I couldn't resist working that in).

    If you're buying new, of course all the parts and instructions will be included. But quite often cookers and canners can be found in thrift shops and garage sales, albeit maybe missing a part or two. Since both have similar pieces, let's look at what they need to function.

    On top, a weight regulates the amount of steam allowed to escape, and thus how much pressure builds up. On cookers, the weight will have various ways to adjust the amount of pressure - mine has holes labeled 5, 10, and 15 psi pressure, to be set over the steam stem, my mom's has a sliding pop-up piece with three marks denoting pressures. (Canners, on the other hand, have both a weight for the steam stem and a gauge denoting pressure; regulation of pressure is by adjusting the heat underneath. I, or my co-writers, will address the specifics of canning, at length, in some other posts.)

    Maybe old horror stories, of exploding cookers and soup all over the ceiling, have you nervous about using a pressure cooker. By taking care to not overfill a cooker, and making sure the steam stem isn't blocked, this should never be an issue. Pressure cooker lids twist down to seal over flanges, and have pressure-sensitive blocks that prevent opening the lid if it's still under pressure. But just to be on the safe side, pressure cookers also have a little release button built into the lid - designed to give way if pressure builds up to unsafe levels. These are meant to be a replaceable part, so if it's missing don't worry. Check here to find one, and most other parts, even from defunct companies.

    Inside the cooker, a rubber gasket fits inside the lid. On old cookers and canners, this is the part most likely to be problematic. Check to make sure the gasket isn't cracked or broken, or get a replacement (see link above). If the cooker doesn't seal tight, too much steam will be lost. You run the risk of not enough pressure or running out of water before the food is done, and canned foods may not be safe. For some recipes, and for all canning, you'll need a rack inside that keeps items off the bottom of the cooker. This isn't as essential - you might be able to substitute canning rings or a steamer basket.

    I hope this post inspires you to think about using a pressure cooker in your kitchen. The shorter cooking time saves energy, and might also allow you to make more home-cooked meals. I've written about cooking dry beans here on my blog, here is a good place for all kinds of pressure cooking info, or use a search engine to find more pressure cooker recipes.

    Friday, 16 January 2009

    Growing organic potatoes

    by Rhonda Jean @ Down to Earth

    Despite advice stating that potatoes should only be planted in the Spring, we grow potatoes all year long here. We are in a subtropical area with 1500mm of rainfall a year and no frost. Our temperatures range from around 2 or 3 degrees centigrade on a winter’s night to 40+ on a hot summer’s day. Generally though, our temperatures are fairly mild, and they tend towards warmth rather than cold. We are a two person family and if we are diligent in our planting, we don’t need to buy potatoes. Usually three crops per year is enough for us.

    We plant potatoes from three sources – our own potatoes, store bought organic potatoes or seed potatoes, depending on what we have on hand and what time of the year it is. Our preference is a frugal choice – we plant our own potatoes from the last crop if we have enough of them. If we harvest small potatoes, or they send out a green shoot early – they are the potatoes we plant. When we harvest our potatoes, we keep the smaller ones outside ready for the next crop.

    There are many different types of potatoes so choose the ones you like the taste of. For us, that is Dutch Creams, although sometimes we plant Kipflers, and we have tried other varieties. If you can buy local seed potatoes, buy them, if not, go to your organic green grocer and choose something from their range. If you’re not sure of the taste and qualities of the various types, buy some to test taste, then make your choice.

    You need to think about your planting a long time before you plant – the soil needs to be prepared and your potatoes need to shoot. This is called chitting. To chit the potatoes, place them outside in the shade in old egg cartons, making sure rodents and dogs can't get at them The egg cartons will hold them nicely so they don’t roll around and break the shoot. Depending on the age of the potatoes, chitting will take between 2 – 6 weeks. Please note, you don’t have to chit the potatoes before you plant them. They will grow without chitting but if you can do it, you’ll have mature potatoes faster and you’ll be sure that every one of the potatoes you planted has sprouted. If you buy your potatoes just before you plant, just go ahead and get them in the ground, especially if you have the weather constraints of very cold or very hot weather. Potatoes take about 16 – 20 weeks to grow to maturity and it’s best to give potatoes their own bed as you’ll have to hill them.

    Plant when all chance of frost is passed. Prepare the soil with old compost and cow manure but do not add lime, potatoes like a slightly acid soil of pH 5- 6. You must have good drainage or the potatoes will rot in the ground.

    Never plant potatoes in old tyres – there is cadmium and heavy metals in tyres. While you can grow potatoes in potato cages and in no dig beds under straw, I believe the best potatoes are grown in soil. They mine the soil for minerals and it shows in the taste.

    The potato bed pre-prepared here had been dug over, we always dig our vegetables, and although we know some gardeners prefer no dig we have found, that here, we only get high quality vegetables if we dig the soil, aerate it and add abundant organic matter between each and every planting. Adding lots of organic matter between plantings also helps reduce disease when you have continuous crops, as we do. So to this bed there has been added – homemade compost, old cow manure, blood and bone and the raked up floor of the chook coop – with decomposed lawn clippings, garden waste and old chook poo. None of these additives smell, they just have the scent of good garden soil because they have all had enough time to decompose. Adding fresh manure may burn your tubers.

    Dig furrows in the garden bed about 75 cm (30 inches) apart. Plant the potatoes 15 cm (6 inches) deep, with the shoots pointing up, and with about 30 cm (12 inches) between each tuber. Rake the soil back over the potatoes carefully so you don’t break the shoots. Don’t press the soil down, but water well. Then mulch the rows. If you have any comfrey growing, chop some up and add it to the mulch, potatoes like comfrey. They like moist but not wet soil, so water according to your climate to achieve that.

    Depending on your climate, shoots will appear on the surface of the soil in about two or three weeks time. As the potatoes grow, hill up the soil around the plant, just leaving the end tips of the plant exposed. You will need to hill the plants a few times. Always replace your mulch after hilling, especially if you’re in a hot or windy area.

    Keep hilling your plants as they grow taller and try to build your soil up to about 30 – 40 cm (12 – 15 inches) by the time the potatoes flower. When you notice the potatoes flower, apply some diluted seaweed extract.

    When the leaves at the bottom of the plants begin to go yellow, you will know you can bandicoot new potatoes from the side of the hills. To bandicoot potatoes, gently put your hand into the side of the hill at the base of a plant and feel for small potatoes. Remove any you find. This doesn’t disturb the main plant and will give you a real treat early in the potato season. A meal of new potatoes, fresh from your own backyard, is one of the many rewards of vegetable gardening that you never know about if you always buy your vegetables.

    Spiced potatoes with sesame seeds.

    Potatoes exposed to sunlight for a period of time will turn green. Never eat green potatoes, they’re toxic.

    The potatoes in the photos above were planted here yesterday. Over the coming months, we will follow this bed of potatoes to harvest and then storage. Stay tuned.

    POTATO FAQS from North Dakota University