Thursday, 30 April 2009

Environment Friendly Cleaning

By Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin

Eco Cleaning

Since our family started the journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle, our cleaning methods have changed towards more non-toxic products, that do less harm to us when we clean, and less harm to the environment as run-off.

We started using grey water at the very beginning of the journey to water the garden, so we needed to change our laundry powder to one that had no Phosphorous and no Sodium so that we could use the water neat in the garden. The phosphorous would have damaged the native Australian plants, and the sodium tends to make the soil repel water, and increases the salinity. Also, any run-off that the plants don't use, does not contaminate the ground water. We found, after trying a couple of NP brands, that the Planet Ark Aware laundry powder worked the best for us. After reading an article in Choice Magazine, we found that it was not made from any petrochemicals, but there are probably similar brands now around the world. Kim raves about it to anyone who will listen, because a 1 Kg box lasts her approximately 8 weeks for 4 peoples clothes as you only use 3 tablespoons per wash. We also use a NP fabric softener, but don't use it very much, and have been substituting with white vinegar in the last two months with great results. When washing towels, Kim pops in a few drops of eucalyptus oil to kill of any bacteria. It makes them smell nice too.

With the laundry sorted, we looked to the kitchen. We buy an earth friendly washing up liquid for the kitchen dishes that is also low in phosphates and sodium. We still use the dishwasher occasionally when we have a mountain of dirty dishes. We use bi-carbonate soda (baking soda) instead of dishwashing powered, and vinegar for the rinse aide. We have found this to be very effective, even on some of the tougher dirt. To get rid of a smelly dishwasher we give it a thorough clean with vinegar and bi-carb soda, then put it through a cycle. So we are not only saving a fair bit of water, about 8 kWh of power a week, and caustic dish washing tablets, but we have also realised something profound. When you wash dishes by hand, and you have someone drying them with you, you actually talk to each other and everything is cleaned far better than it would have in a dishwasher. Not only do you have quality control via an instant feedback loop, you can have a laugh and a joke around at the same time. There is only one rule that we stick to, and that is that the cook does not wash up. You can shotgun for the rest of the washing, drying or putting away!

Cleaning windows and mirrors is a cinch with vinegar in a spray bottle and newspaper. Not only is it cheap, but it keeps mould away, and stops mirrors from fogging up. It gives a nice clear finish without any smell. You can throw that Windex away now! We also use white vinegar as an anti-bacterial to wipe the kitchen surfaces when dirty. Stubborn stains are dealt with by a paste of water and bi-carb soda. I would rather have a small child accidentally swallow vinegar than some of the other nastier cleaning products kept under the average kitchen sink!

About a month ago we had a bad smell coming out of the kitchen sink, so it was out with the bi-carb soda, and down the drain with about 4 tablespoons of the white powder. After about a minute I followed it up with a quarter of a cup of white vinegar and let it all fizzle. Let it go for about 3 minutes and then flush with some very hot water. Our drain have never have smelled so nice, and I may have gotten rid of a lot of built up grease as well.

The last cleaning thing I can think of is that my daughters Amy & Megan give the showers a weekly once over with some paste made up of bi-carb and water, with an microfiber glove and old rags, which gets rid of the soap scum that collects there. A little bit hot water afterwards washes it all away. Oh, I forgot the toilet. We use bi-carb soda to clean it as well, with a little white vinegar in the final flush.

As for washing ourselves, I just use pure soap, but Kim and the kids use a liquid soap that is one of the organic brands. We use an organic shampoo, but I have heard that bi-carb works just as well in very small doses. I could make the soap, I just haven’t got around to it yet, and I don't think I will stretch my greenness or luck that far with Kim just yet :). I shave with a pigs bristle brush, having given away shaving cream in a can (just use soap), but am having trouble finding an alternative to disposable razors or blades. I don't shave very much, as I have a goatee, so I would not use as many as the average guy. I might investigate a cut throat razor in the near future, as they last for a very long time, and you sharpen (or is it blunt-en) it yourself. Sweeney Todd eat your heart out!

Well that is about all I can think that we use. We simply questioned that if things were safe for us they would be safe for the planet. We made the changes slowly over the course of about a year. If you have a couple of bottles of white vinegar and a big box of bi-carb soda, you have almost all you need to clean the house up. I did get most of the tips originally from reading Greeniology. Tanya Ha has a whole chapter on green cleaning. It helped finding all the good tips in the one place, and the tips a simple to implement. Since then I have found so many cleaning tips on sustainable living blogs, mainly from all of the co-ops co-authors personal blogs.

To summarise, we save so much money on cleaning products (vinegar and bi-carb are cheap), feel safe when we clean, and know that it is better for the planet. Simply green, and making a difference! All we need to do now is safely get rid of the unused toxic products that are left over under the sink. Our local council should be able to help out. They have special collection days for household chemicals once a month.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Organic Pest Control

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

Last year at this time, we made a special trip down to Salt Lake City (Utah) to go to a particular nursery, MillCreek Gardens. The reason that we went out of our way to go to that particular nursery, was to pick up, oh, eighteen hundred or so workers to help around the garden and yard.
There are approximately 1500 ladybugs in this package. It cost me $9.99 and I feel will be worth every penny. These little guys were released at dusk (as per instructions on the package.) around our 4 fruit trees, near the raspberries and strawberries, and some in the flower beds.There is some evidence that when large numbers of "imported" lady bugs are released that they don't all hang around. I will say however, that I had lots of lady bugs visiting me last year while I worked in the garden and had very little problem with aphids, a prime food source for these carnivorous little ladies.
I also picked up a cocoon of praying mantis that should carry in the neighborhood of three hundred manti. Between these two I should be able to make a pretty good dent in the aphid population around here. I've done this before in a previous home and loved the surprise of finding a mantis or lady bug every once and a while.My wife was the lucky lady that got to find this big fella crawling around our beans last year. They can kind of freak you out when you notice that the stick is moving, but it's nice to know that they're hard at work for me and are happy to be doing it!

Now granted, this kind of gardening is a little slower, and not 100% effective, but it will make a big difference. It makes a lot more sense to me and it helps to build a healthy ecosystem in our yard. If you've not tried this before I encourage you to take a look around to see if you can find them where you are. But even if you can't, you can really make a big difference by just letting the ecosystem in your garden develop naturally and keep an eye out for what's going on. Nature wants to work with us, it's up to us though to take her up on it

Grow on!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Greening the next generation - running an Eco Club.

Posted by Compostwoman, a revised and updated version of a post from a few months back in The Compostbin

Several of you have asked me about the environmental education activities (Forest School, Eco Club, Gardening Club, Master Composting) I get up to, so this is the first in a series of posts about them. This post is about the Eco Club I run after school at Compostgirl's Primary school. I hope, as always, that you find it interesting :-)

Eco Club aims to:- foster an understanding and appreciation of the natural world; let the children gain a hands on appreciation of what is around them in real life rather than just watching it on a TV screen; discuss a more simple, reduced consumption, reused and recycled way of living; and shows the children how to use natural and recycled materials to make new things so challenging the concept that "things" can only be made by "other" people and purchased from a shop.

Eco Club also teaches practical skills such as plant and animal identification, tracking, gardening and various crafts, and it gets the children out in the fresh air taking "free range" exercise. All these things help to promote positive self esteem in the children, caters to their various different multiple intelligences and encompasses children with different learning styles.

Oh, and did I mention it is FUN? :- ))

So, what is a "typical" Eco Club session like? Our sessions at Eco Club run after school from 3 15 to 5 pm. Membership is voluntary and we charge a small termly fee to cover the cost of various memberships. We have so many children wanting to be in Eco Club (which is nice!) that we have had to hold two duplicate sessions each month. We usually have around 10- 15 children in each session, Sue (Yr 2 teacher) and I lead them with a couple of parent helpers, usually Compostman is one of them, bless him. Sue and I are both qualified First Aiders, any non teaching staff have CRBs and we take a register at the start and end of the club to ensure the safety of the children.

We have found mixing children aged from 5 to 11 in a meeting is a really good thing as the older ones help the younger ones. We duplicate sessions each month so each group (Ants or Bees) does roughly the same thing as the other group. We get lots of external support as an RSPB Wildlife Explorers Club, a Woodland Trust Nature Detectives Club and we have been a Wildlife Trust Watch group. Each child is an individual member of the RSPB and gets a magazine every two months as well as various goodies from the Woodland Trust or RSPB on occasion.

We start with the children getting changed into old clothes in the classroom (we want everybody to be able to have fun without worrying about getting cold, hot, wet or mucky so old clothes, warm coats and wellies/sun hats and sun cream are essential wear. We than have a drink, a snack and a general chat about what we plan to do in the session; this is also the time for the children to share any exciting news with the rest of the club, or show a book or magazine they have found. Sometimes we look at a web site or a DVD which relates to what is planned for the session. We also talk about what we would like to do in future sessions and ask the children what they would like to do.

Unless the weather is really vile, we tend to be outside, starting with a few environmentally based games (more on those in another post) or just a general "free run around" time. This is a very important part of the session! Children who have been in a classroom all afternoon NEED to run around and let off steam! Then it is on with the activities planned for that session. Eco Club activities cover a wider range of “green” interests. For example; we talk about recycling and make recycled paper (more on that in a later post),

We have planted native hedgerow trees, have made and put up bird feeders all over the school grounds, have instigated a paper recycling bank at school, have made bat and bird boxes and erected them around the school,

We have made a hedgehog hibernaculum, we take part in various RSPB and Woodland Trust events and we make insect shelters in the Autumn. Eco Club has several raised beds in the school grounds where we grow herbs and insect attracting plants. We go on regular rambles to see the changing seasons unfurl around us.

We make a lot of compost as well, bug hunts in the compost heap whilst “turning” it is always a VERY popular activity! We have held HUGELY successful fund raising events, for the RSPB Albatross appeal alone we raised over £300.

We do a variety of recycled-based crafts.

and a LOT of bird and plant identifying throughout the year and above all we have FUN.

What we are doing is part of a bigger message, that of living in a more sustainable way. This encourages the children (and hopefully their families) to compost, grow veg, recycle etc at home as well as at school. It has benefited the children in oh so many ways, they all seem to love what we all do and come up to me in town to tell me so :-)

The school has also benefited in many ways and is now working for the highest level an Eco School can achieve, the Green Flag award. We have also won recently won a prestigious Woodland Trust award at Gold Level.

All this is a lot of work! The planning and organising the sessions and memberships, having meetings and exchanging emails and phone conversations with Sue to arrange it all, all takes time. I do it as a volunteer so I don't get paid BUT I enjoy doing it and I love helping the children to see the wonders of our natural world, as does Compostman. We both feel very privileged to be able to share our knowledge of the environment with the next generation and that is worth a lot! I am also lucky enough to have converted my interest and passion for educating about sustainability/the environment into a whole new career as a Forest School Leader/Environmental Educator, all springing from becoming a volunteer Master Composter and volunteering to garden at school.

So, if you have similar skills, why not think about helping at YOUR local school or other youth group? It is really worth it :-)

Monday, 27 April 2009

Wanting It All

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

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 to learn from and swap seeds and produce. 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.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Planting Templates

By Kate
Living The Frugal Life

Since I'm quite in the spring planting mode, this post is about a type of planting aid that's easy to make for yourself if you have a few simple tools and access to some scrap wood. Though I know you southern hemisphere folks are not planting much right now, perhaps this could be a simple winter project for you, to help things go more smoothly in about six months' time.

A planting template is just a guide that helps you plant seeds, bulbs, or seedlings at regular intervals quickly and easily. Novice gardeners, and sometimes even overly optimistic experienced gardeners often overcrowd a row or bed. Planting templates can be made for a wide variety of spacings, so that you can select the appropriate one for the plant you're working on. The larger templates also help a lot when you want to start scaling up your production, allowing you to plant larger areas more quickly.

The first planting template I ever made was for planting garlic bulbs. The guide I read said to plant the bulbs 8 inches (20 cm) apart. I knew that I'd be planting dozens of bulbs at a time, so I wanted the template to be large. I used a piece of particle board that we'd pulled out of a dumpster on a construction site. It took me about half an hour of experimentation to figure out where all the holes should go. This was the most time consuming part of the project. If I'd had a drafting compass it would have gone much faster, as I could have just set the opening of the compass to the spacing I wanted and quickly marked off the holes where the arcs intersected. Instead I fiddled around and got the job done more or less by trial and error.

The most efficient use of space in a garden bed is usually a triangular arrangement, with the plants spaced in a 2-1-2 arrangement, or some multiple of that. In the picture below you can what it looks like in a bed of growing garlic. Remember to leave a good sized margin around the edge so that the template doesn't fall apart. Ideally, the length of your template allows for one hole at one end, and two holes at the other. (It may be a little hard to see this in the picture here, but it's there.) That arrangement will let you simply flip the template end over end and continue onward with the 2-1-2 pattern.

The diameter of the holes in a rectangular template depends either on the size of your fingers, or what you intend to plant. You can use either a spade bit or a hole-cutting bit with an electric drill to create large holes that will allow you to push the seed down into the soil. Smaller holes will allow you to just drop the seed on the soil if you want to tamp or lightly rake the ground afterward. Just choose a normal drill bit of the size you prefer if you don't need to fit a large seed or your fingers through the holes.

When I made my template for planting garlic, I thought the holes would be large enough to push a dibble through the hole and plant the bulbs with the template still lying on the ground. I found out that heirloom garlic bulbs can be very large indeed. So I adapted by using the template just to mark the spacing quickly by dusting the bed with flour through the holes. That meant I could mark out the spacing for hundreds of bulbs of garlic in just a few minutes, then go back over the prepared beds with a clear visual indication of where the bulbs needed to go. My smaller 6" planting template has holes just large enough for me to poke one finger through to help get the seed into the earth.

A second sort of planting template is shaped like an equilateral triangle, with the corners slightly trimmed. In this case the corners themselves give you the spacing. This works well for plants that you need to leave plenty of room between (cabbage, kale, chard), and also for plants that you want to space as closely as possible so that they crowd out competing weeds (lettuces and other greens). It will also work very well in irregularly shaped beds where you just need to squeeze plants in as best you can. The length of each side of the triangle is more or less equal to the spacing of the plants. To use the template, you plant a seed or seedling at each corner of the template and then flip the template to a new area, keeping two corners on the ground to use as a pivot. Then you plant one more seed on the corner that's in a new location. Good spacings for this style of template range from 2" to 18" (5 to 46 cm).

Guidelines for seed or seedling spacing are usually included on seed packets or on nursery tags.

If you're just dipping your toe into gardening, this probably isn't a tool you absolutely need. But I have found that as I scale up the amount of food we are trying to produce for ourselves, some tools really do make certain gardening tasks go more quickly and more easily. I like these templates because I can make them myself with tools we already have, and from materials that would otherwise just end up in the landfill. Planting templates don't need to look pretty. Scrap wood is pretty easy to come by. If you still have any construction going on around you, have a look in the dumpster (skip) on a Sunday morning. Chances are you'll find a few pieces of either plywood or particle board that will suit. If you're too skittish for dumpster diving, there's always Craigslist.

Happy tinkering, and happy planting!

Blog update

Hello everyone. Please bear with me as I make some changes to our website. It should be completed soon.

ADDITION: There is still work to be done on the update but I will finish it next week. I hope you all like the changes.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Some ideas for frugal decor...

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Regular readers of my personal blog will know I'm currently on a frugal decor spree. My circumstances changed dramatically a few months ago resulting in me having to pretty much start all over again in terms of furnishing and decorating my house.

...and you know what.... I'm having FUN! I am loving the process of slowly, bit by bit, room by room transforming my house into a home. I am also getting a lot of satisfaction in sourcing my stuff second-hand and learning new decor skills along the way.

To date, I have now furnished and decorated 80% of my house (only the bedrooms to go!) and so far, I've only spent a total of AUD$527 (US$380). This includes the purchase of major furniture, appliances, household tools, gardening equipment and kitchenware.

So my tips for frugal decor?

Keep your design theme simple.

I don't think I could've kept my costs low if I had a complex design theme. In my case, my design theme was "white". Which means that in each room, I had at least one (or more) feature pieces in white.

Get everything second-hand.

Freecycle, local classifieds, garage sales, op shops/thrift shops, second-hand shops, deceased estate auctions... the list of second-hand sources of goods and appliances can be huge! And don't forget friends and family! When my friends and family found out I needed to furnish my house, many used the opportunity to declutter and offered me some much needed items.

For appliances, its important to read when it was purchased (if paperwork is still there), whether it was serviced regularly and how it is still working now. I bought my fridge, washing machine (both about 5 years old) and microwave (3 years old) from a deceased estate auction. I turned up early so I can review the paperwork and ask the people to turn it on for me and in the case of the washing machine, run a rinse cycle and for microwave, to heat a little wheat bag.

For me, its important to make sure that furniture has good clean lines and that the overall structure is still sound. Once you have the furniture you can then do lots with it.

Do it up yourself using second-hand or remnant supplies

For me, every step of "doing up" furniture meant having to learning how to clean it up (bi-carb and vinegar pretty much works for everything but I did refer to this site for the harder stuff) and screw it tight (my 2nd hand screwdrivers have been the most used tools so far!)

Once preliminaries are done, I've enjoyed painting quite a bit of my second-hand furniture. I found my paint under the house when I moved in but I've since seen some leftover paint up in Freecycle - or you could always put up a wanted ad for it in your local classifieds.

In terms of painting, I've found that I could get the "distressed" or "shabby chic" look by just applying one coat of paint and then letting it absorb into the wood. One coat of paint also meant that I'm using less paint.

(Craft desk ($10) - bottom half painted distressed white)

If you can't move those stains, and you don't want to paint it, then you can either cover it up with rugs or shawls, slipcovers or go ahead and learn how to re-upholster it.

(Chair (free) - hand-reupholstered using remnant upholstery fabric, upholstery thread from op shop and an upholstery needle.)

Some other simple and frugal decorating I am planning to do:

- sewing a bunting for the children's bedroom, using fabric scraps.
- applying a fabric feature in my bedroom, again using fabric scraps.

Plants as decor

Indoor plants are probably the best form of decor there is. I got my little plants by separating them from friends' larger plants. Hopefully they'll recover soon and take to their new environment. (They're looking a little sad at the moment but its only week 1!)

And of course, flowers from the garden brighten up any room.

Then there are the exceptions:P

So while I have been using second-hand furniture and second-hand supplies most of the time, I have to admit I have bought one brand new item to decorate my paper.

I enjoyed making a wall decal using contact paper (also called "self-adhesive book covers). For the size of the decal that I wanted, I would've ended up paying over $100 from a shop. Instead, it cost me a mere $5 and about 1 hour of my time cutting different pieces out.

(Bamboo wall decal ($5) using the "rattan" look contact paper - ugly on roll but great on my wall)

Oh and for those who may want to do the same thing, contact paper is a fantastic wall decal because it peels right off without damaging walls (I tested this to make sure).

Anyway, so those are my frugal decor ideas. If you have any more ideas, I would love to hear from you! I am still after more ideas for the bedrooms!

I hope you are all having a lovely weekend.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Easy Cloth Napkins

IMG_3163, originally uploaded by

I really admire individuals who make every gift for every person in their life, but that's just not me. I'm trying to make more gifts myself and this one is relatively easy and inexpensive.

I wanted an easy, green gift for my mother's day that would be used as much as it was loved and these cloth napkins seemed like the perfect solution. I made six napkins for my mother and six for my mother-in-law using similar patterned fabrics so that I could use the same solid fabric to coordinate with both.

I used:

  • 2 fat quarters of patterned fabric (I chose darker fabrics because stains happen and they'll be less noticeable)

  • 1 yard of Navy Kona Cotton

  • 1 full spool of navy cotton thread


  • Pins

  • Rotary Cutter

  • Cutting Mat

  • Sewing Machine (although it's a small project and could easily be done by hand)

  • Ruler

Step 1:

I made two different sizes of napkins to see which I preferred. The larger napkins are 14 by 14 inches and the smaller are 12 by 12 inches.


I cut three napkins from each of the patterned fabrics and six napkins from the solid. (Each napkin set will ultimately have six napkins, three patterned and three solid)

Step 2:

Sew a line 1/4 inch from the edge of your fabric all the way around the fabric. I prefer continuous lines so you don't have a lot of thread tails to deal with.

Napkins for Mother's Day

Step 3:

On the solid napkins I wanted to add an accent of the patterned to pull the two together. Using the remnants I cut strips 2 inches wide by 14 inches (or 12 inches) long.

I folded the raw edges under 1/4 inch on both sides and the sewed the strips a couple inches up from the bottom of the napkin. I used my 1/4 inch foot as a guide to ensure I got a nice straight line when I said the patterned strip to the solid fabric.


Step 4:

Now you want to iron the raw edge over using the thread as a guide (make the sure the thread is ironed over so it doesn't show.


Then fold it over again and iron it down so the raw edge is completely turned under.

Step 5:

I went ahead and pinned it down all the way around although with ironing it you might be able to get away with skipping this step.


When you pin or iron make sure you create crisp corners when folding over the fabric so that you can sew all the way around the napkin at once.


Step 6:

Using your presser foot as a guide sew 1/4 inch from the edge of your napkin.


When you start and when you go around the corners your sewing machine may struggle a bit with all those layers. I pushed a bit harder on my foot but made sure that I was guiding the fabric through slowly.

In no time at all your napkin will look like this


Step 7:

I don't have one of those fancy machines that knots and cuts the thread for you so I had to do that by hand. By going all the way around your napkins whenever you are stitching you end up with a lot less threads to deal with!

The napkins at the top are for my mother-in law and the ones below are for my mom. Now all I need to do is get these in the mail so I don't forget!


Do you have any beginner sewing projects that would make good gifts? I've got a year of holidays left to plan for and could certainly use the ideas :)

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

How to become more self reliant and sustainable

by Marc from GardenDesk

Do you desire to be more self reliant, self sustainable, or more simple? How about being more frugal or more green? Do you wish you knew more about home making, keeping livestock or gardening? These would be wonderful Earth Day goals, but how do you achieve them?

A great way to improve in any of these areas is to try new things. Simple, but true.

Many times it is human nature to stay in our comfort zones. We get good at something and stick with that and only that. We rationalize away why we wouldn't be good at other things. I know that I am often guilty of this. I have become comfortable with organic vegetable gardening and that is what I write about here and on my blog. I have always wanted to have farm animals too but never thought I could. Well, now its time to stretch a little and try something new. We now have 17 baby chicks!

I know that may seem like a small thing to many of you, but we know almost nothing about raising chickens yet. My wife and I have been inspired by this co-op site, the bloggers on this site and other homestead bloggers enough to give raising animals a try. The chickens will be first and then we will be getting rabbits. We are raising worms too, but I don't know if that actually counts. If you want to know more about our chicks, I wrote about them on my GardenDesk site. The purpose of this post is not to highlight our chickens, but to encourage you to try something new this season too.

If you have trouble with new things, what can you do? I approach things in three simple steps.

Number one is Belief.

Denis Waitley once said this about personal achievement - "If you believe you can, you probably will. If you believe you can't, you most assuredly won't. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad." You must believe that you can learn the new thing and that you can master it in time. Luckily for me, my wife Renee is good in this area. She has complete belief that we will be able to raise chickens and rabbits.

Step two is Study.

You have to read and research about the topic you want to learn. If your goal has to do with any of the topics that I mentioned in the beginning of this post, then you are in the right place. Simple Green Frugal Co-Op is a great resource. So are the member blogs and many of the blogs of those who comment on these posts. In addition to reading online, I am a big fan of books. I absolutely love to read "how-to" books. I have been reading many books about chickens lately and listed my favorite four books on my chick post. I have been learning from them in the same way I have learned much of what I know about organic gardening from my 25 favorite gardening books. Reading about your new topic really helps you become comfortable with it and feeds your belief as well.

Step three is Action.

You have to be able to put what you've learned into action. Without the reading step you often don't know what to do, but without the action step your reading is useless. The famous Liane Cardes quote comes to mind here; "Continuous effort -- not strength or intelligence -- is the key to unlocking our potential."

Believe, Read, Act. Do these things and your new endeavor will be a joy to you. I am now moving into step three with our new chickens. What about you? What new thing or things would you like to try? Do you believe you can do it? Go for it!

Believe, read and act! Something to ponder on this good Earth Day.

Keep Growing!

- Marc

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Simply Old


A View From the Green Barn

Things change when you get old. You get leaky, start leaning and need lots of TLC. Hey! I'm talking about my 100 year old barn!

My green barn was built around 1900. It may have been a "Bank Barn" from a Sears and Roebuck catalog that sold for around $500 for all the building materials. It is a loose hay barn, with a basement for animals. There are various pulleys and ropes and ladders that fill it with all kinds of character and mystery. I have room in the basement for two large chicken coops and a triple stall for larger animals, (maybe a couple of pigs next year).

However, I have a few problems. I want my barn to last another hundred years, but am not quite sure how to proceed. The roof leaks and the foundation is crumbling.

I want to do everything "the right way" but that often means a great deal of expense. For what it would cost me to repair the barn, and keep its integrity as an old structure, and seal it up against the weather, I could tear it down and build a larger steel building!

For me, to focus on simple living, I am doing what I need to do to the barn. Right now, I have various tarps keeping the water at bay, and am working to make different areas of the barn usable. I am keeping my eye out for used gutters.

Don't you just love this secret door? What would you like to see when you open it?

Here is an example of water damage.

This is the center beam that holds up most of the structure. It is about 20 inches in diameter, and the post is even larger.

Check out the wavy window.

I would never tear this building down, there is way too much character. However, the list of repairs is endless.

I choose to keep the old boy and do what I can.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Homemade wholemeal pasta

by Julie
Towards Sustainability

At home, making our own pasta from scratch not only saves us money, we can control what is in it (organic and/or local ingredients where possible), it tastes better than the bought stuff, and it's ridiculously easy to make.

I like to use a 50:50 mix of white and wholemeal (wholewheat) flour because I've found that using straight wholemeal flour tends to be a bit gluggy for my family's taste buds; half and half makes for a pasta which everyone will eat, although I use straight wholemeal if it just for myself and my husband. Traditionally, white pasta dough is made with just eggs and flour, but I feel that wholemeal pasta needs a little olive oil too.

The basic recipe we use is:

450g/ 1 pound wholemeal (wholewheat) plain flour (or a mixture of white and wholemeal)
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

It's traditional to make the pasta dough on the bench top - make a well in the centre of the flour and add the eggs and the olive oil to the well, then slowly mix the dough by hand, gradually incorporating the eggs and oil into the flour as you go.

My 3 year old daughter likes to help though, so for the sake of us retaining at least some of the flour while mixing, we use a bowl ;-)

Once incorporated, knead the dough for around five minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp towel or wrap in cling-film and leave to rest for around an hour. When you use wholemeal flour you don't tend to get as smooth a dough as you would using all-white flour, but I quite like the "rustic" look.

Once rested, roll it out very thinly using a pasta machine or rolling pin. Folding the dough in half over itself several times as you roll it out will help the final texture of the pasta. If you are using a pasta machine, roll it through the largest setting several times, folding it over on itself in between rolling. Then roll it progressively through the smaller settings until you reach the desired thickness.

Once I've finished rolling, I cut it into strips for fettuccine using the cutter on the pasta machine, but using a knife or pizza cutter is just as quick. Leave it in whole sheets for use in lasagne.

I was lucky enough to acquire my almost-brand-new, never-been-used pasta machine at my local op-shop, and lightly used ones pop up fairly regularly if feel the need for one. Rolling out the dough is a family affair. Everyone loves to have a go at turning the handle!

We don't bother drying the pasta before eating it, it just goes straight into boiling water for a few minutes, until al dente. If you like, you can air-dry the pasta for an hour or so before cooking, in which case it will need cooking for a few minutes longer (around 6-8 minutes).

Pasta dough also freezes really well for several months. Tip it straight into boiling water too cook - too easy! Make sure it is well floured when you freeze it though so that it doesn't stick together in a big clump. If you have the room, freezing it on a tray initially and then tipping it into a container for long-term storage also prevents clumping.

We like eating it with simple, rustic sauces using whatever is in season, or using home-preserved tomatoes as a base. Yum!

There are plenty of great, more detailed instructions on the internet for making pasta from scratch if you want more details, including hundreds of videos like this one on YouTube.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Garden like you can't go to the store

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Spring brings the grazing season, and a brand new schedule. Moving the cattle each day to a fresh paddock, requires the blogger farmer must first make that paddock. So this is a recycled post from my personal blog. I apologize to my regular readers for the repeat, but the information is very timely whether you are just starting your garden for the season, or are tucking your harvest away.

I know I can still go to the store, but I can’t buy heirloom seeds that were handed down to me, or even if I purchase seeds, they may not be of the highest quality. I try to conduct my gardening like the store may not always be there, that way I won’t be in for such a shock.
Plant a variety of things your family will eat, and a little more than you think you may need. That way if something fails, you might just have enough. Look for varieties that produce small amounts for an extended period, and also strains that put on a concentrated crop, just for preserving. If you belong to a CSA, and there is a particular vegetable that you favor, grow more of that. Order extra seeds so you can fill in gaps in your garden beds with successive crops - good candidates are quick growing greens and radishes or succulent salad turnips. Grow a couple of extra cherry tomatoes for quick snacks - Peacevine Cherry has gamma-amino butyric acid to calm your jangled nerves. After a hectic day though, just being in the garden can be soothing enough.

Victory Garden logo from Victory Garden Supplement specially written for The New Garden Encyclopedia, 1943

Objectives in Victory Gardening - from the Supplement. To repeat, the result most wanted from a home garden is a long-season supply of a variety of food crops richest in vitamins, minerals, and other strength-giving materials, most of which can be consumed fresh, when they are most nutritious and delicious. Next there should be planned surpluses of crops that can be dried, canned, put up in other ways, or, at the end of the season, stored in pits or cool cellars for use during the winter.

Crops should be chosen, first, on the basis of nutritive value and the probability of shortages; next, they should be those that give the largest yields per unit of space, time, and effort; third, they should be easy to grow and of a reliable type - the Victory Garden is not the place for experiments or for fussy delicacies; finally, an attempt should be made to have sufficient variety to please the tastes of all in the family. Location, climatic, and soil conditions will naturally have to be considered, for nothing is gained by trying to make a particular crop grow where the circumstances are unfavorable.

For smoky and congested districts of Chicago, the Metropolitan Area Committee suggests carrots, kale, beets, turnips, collards, Swiss Chard, mustard greens, leaf or Cos lettuce, radishes, bunch onions grown from sets, endive and parsley. In more open outlying districts, there can be added tomatoes, lima and snap beans, cabbage, parsnips, broccoli, kohlrabi, peas, peppers, spinach and salsify.

… gardening, in difficult times must be resourceful, ingenious, economical, and more than ever efficient. Ways must be found to accomplish more with less, to get the most out of every seed packet, every implement, every bushel of harvest, and every half hour spent in the garden… .

Whew - that is almost scary, those words should be on the forefront of everyone’s mind today.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Sing For Your Supper

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I'm not advocating that we all take up voice lessons. I'm saying that a nominal bit of work could earn you the price of admission for any number of arts, culture, recreation, and entertainment outings and events.

Sitting at home in front of television or computer is passive entertainment. I much prefer the energy of a shared experience. A recorded laugh track can't compare to hearing the reactions of others sitting around me in a darkened theater; a favorite song performed live in concert carries with it a crowd of memories mere listening to a CD never would; getting up close enough to a painting to see the brushstrokes gives a link to the artist seeing it on the internet never could. But when times require we try to live more frugal lives, art and entertainment expenses are often the first to be cut.

Arts, culture, and recreation are also the first places governments cut when trying to downsize budgets. So even more museums and theater companies are going to be decreasing paid staff in favor of volunteer workers. Instead of sitting at home in front of a glowing screen, it's the perfect time to start looking into volunteer opportunities in your area.

My sister and I like live music, so we've found concert venues that use volunteer ushers. We consider it quality time together, working a concert. Volunteers have to arrive early, so we often enjoy the pleasure of hearing a "private" performance during the band's sound checks and last-minute rehearsals before the doors open to the public. The venues I've worked have volunteers work from when the doors open through the warm-up act and then let us go, to just enjoy ourselves and the show, before the headliners come on. We see the show, with others that might have spent hundreds of dollars for their seats, for free.

While working the big stadium shows might be the only way to see the Rolling Stones (been there, done that, repeatedly), many acts are booked into smaller, and much nicer, venues. Being a volunteer gives you an inside look. Before working shows at the lovingly-restored Art Deco Paramount Theater in Oakland California, volunteers have to take a tour. I love knowing how the huge panels that make up the proscenium arch were created, that there is a pipe organ still in working order below the stage, and about the warren of passageways in the basement. Getting to see concerts there, as varied as Merle Haggard, Melissa Etheridge, Dream Theater, and Neil Young, free, adds icing to the cake!

When I get too old and slow for rock music, I know Reno's philharmonic, ballet, and opera companies also use volunteer ushers. Many performing arts centers are run as non-profit organizations - they're more than happy to get another volunteer. Ask the people already working your favorite events, check out websites, human resource departments, and bulletin boards at local colleges, universities, and coffee houses to find volunteer opportunities in your area. I've signed up to work as a team with my husband for a couple of the performances of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival again this year. We like to work inside the amphitheater as "hosts". It means working before the performance, during intermission, and helping clean up afterwards, but includes a free meal from the gourmet food stalls. Dinner and a show with my husband, under the stars next to the lake - it doesn't even seem like working (the free t-shirt another plus). I need to check out dates for our local Jazz Festival too - that's another event Aries will work with me.

Volunteer opportunities aren't limited to shows, however. One of the biggest summer events in my town is the Taste of Downtown fundraiser for the local domestic violence shelter. Those with tickets get to "taste" at more than 30 local restaurants, but all the additional goings-on - live music in the streets, raffles, special sales - make it a great time to get out and about downtown, seeing people we know. As volunteers for the event, my husband and I will work as ticket-checkers at one of the restaurants for a couple of hours, then get to "taste" free the rest of the time. We love being part of the action, and helping out a good cause - free fun (and another cool t-shirt)! Many non-profit organizations can use extra volunteers working their fundraising events. They'll be glad you called.

If your interests run more towards history, archeology, natural science, or artwork, many museums have volunteer docent programs. Not only could an afternoon a month working in their gift shop provide free admission for your family, it could garner you invitations to exhibit openings and holiday member events or educational field trips. You might not even have to work - other than doing a bit of internet searching. The world-class observatory at our local college is open free to the public every Saturday evening. I've seen the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. Check out what your local institutions of higher education have to offer.

Parks and recreation also have free offerings. Of course, a picnic in a local park can be frugal fun, but check websites and local publications for other events and free admission days. California has some great fishing lakes and streams nearby, but the cost of a non-resident license, even for a day, is prohibitive. But their free fishing days provide fun, and maybe even a chance to put some food in the freezer. That sounds good to me!

And don't overlook the possibilities in playing tourist in your own hometown. Check out your local visitors' bureau for more calendars and events - maybe even free coupons. I'm sure there are lots of things in your area that might cost a bit of time and effort, but no money. Take the time to look for them, and enjoy the things that feed your soul.