Wednesday, 31 August 2011

New co-op writers

I am really proud of the interesting, inspiring and practical posts our writers continue to give us as we go into this fourth year of the blog.  And now I'm pleased to introduce you to four new writers. Check out their blogs, I'm sure you'll love them:
Many Australian readers will know Linda Woodrow from her influential book The Permaculture Home Garden, originally published in 1996, and still avaialble at most bookstores.  But I'm sure Jemma, Megan and Amanda will soon become as familiar to you as all our other writers and I hope you enjoy reading their posts.

My sincere thanks to Susy and Amy who have left us now. Susy continues to write at her personal blog.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Clay Oven Community

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin & Little Green Cheese

Who would have thought that when I began to make my Clay Cob oven that I would create such a sense of community?  Well I certainly didn't realise the "power of the cob", but now I do!

From making the sand dome,

To stomping in the the clay, 

To adding on the first layer of cob, it was all really good fun!

Over the last 4 weekends, I have been entirely focusing on building this alternative type of oven in which we will bake pizza, bread, roast meat and just about anything else you can cook in an indoor oven.  Yet I failed to realise at the time, that the building process has brought many people together, and has made them talk, joke and laugh.  This is all before we have even cooked the first meal in it.  It has built a stronger sense of community!

So far, over 14 people other than myself have worked on the oven, learning how to build a clay cob oven, and just enjoying getting their hands dirty with a bit of sand and clay.  I kept telling them that it was great at exfoliating as a joke, but so many people mentioned that their hands felt so much softer after a few hours lugging, moulding, and smoothing the cob.  I smile inside when I reflect back on the joy on the helpers faces and the conversations we had during each subsequent layer.  It just goes to show that if you make work fun, then not only does it progress quickly, but lasting, happy memories are built as well.

Have you ever had a project that friends and family have been involved with, that have become more than the project itself or helped to build a sense of community?  I would love to hear about them if you have experience the same effect.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Simple, Green and Frugal Parenting

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In one more sleep I become a mummy, it has been a long and hard journey and one I'm delighted is finally happening! I've been thinking a lot about how to encorporate a simple, green and frugal life into parenting and the truth is I know no one can accomplish it all, so I'll need to focus on the most important things. So far I've been focusing on a couple of key points/ideas so that I don't feel overwhelmed.

- Establishing a rhythmn that meets everyone's needs and is flexible, yet predictable
- Not over-committing and prioritizing time to adjust

- No disposable products
- Get a community garden membership
- No plastic
- Shopping for locally sourced products and/or fairtrade

- Focusing on what is really needed vs. what people tell you are needs (I'm shocked at what people believe you need in order to parent)
- Buying second hand where possible
- Establishing a "norm" which isn't about commercialism or materialism

But here is where I turn it over to you. I'd love to know how you encorporate a simple, green and frugal life into your parenting and family life? I feel like I have a lot to learn and am most probably only scratching the surface!

So dear co-op readers: what advice do you have for living purposefully while parenting? How do you explain raising your children so differently than most people they will come into contact with?

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Processing elderberries.

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming
The urban hedgerows around here are heavy with elderberries right now - offering abundance to anyone willing to look up and take notice - seemingly very few people. This is a great shame as they are delicious. They have a nice fruity berry taste, if you can get past the astringency of the tannins they contain. The best way to do this is to cook them, usually with sugar or sweeter fruits. They make delicious jellies, preserves and pie fillings on their own or with other sweeter fruits, and good wines and cordials. I have no experience of this, but they can also be dried and added to baked goods.

This year we plan to make wine and jelly with them. I don't like taking too many bunches of berries from the same tree, or too many from the same area and so we have been collecting small harvests on walks across the city over the last few weeks, which we freeze for use when we have enough berries and enough time to do something with them. Only the ripe black berries are edible and they must be removed from the toxic stems. This is easier said than done as the berries are densely packed onto delicately branching heads that collect all manner of dust, debris and creepy crawlies whilst on the tree. Bunches tend to be of mixed ripeness, so going for the most uniformly ripe heads that you can find means less picking and less sorting later on. Once home, there are two main methods of removing the berries from the unwashed stems, both of which are fairly time consuming. If you can rope in a companion to help, the task will be infinitely more enjoyable.

Firstly, the berries can be gently rubbed off of the umbels between fingers and thumb. Green, unripe berries tend to stay attached to the branches, which means less sorting later on. This method is my preferred method, as it can be done with one hand, holding a baby or cup of tea in the other if necessary.

Another method is to use a fork to comb the berries from the stems. This second method of removing them is faster, but strips all berries, regardless of ripeness. Weaker stems also tend to break off, often with berries attached leaving more sorting for later.

Any obvious debris, unripe berries and young spiders can now be removed from the berry mountain. It is fairly easy to pick out large bits of debris - leaves, branch and unripe green berries. It also gives young spiders enough time to crawl out of harms way.

After this, it is necessary to wash the berries to remove dust. If you have several kilos it is best to process small batches at a time to prevent crushing, preserving as much of the juice as possible. Filling a bowl with cold water and then adding the berries to it prevents them being damaged by a blast of water from the tap. A few gentle swirls will lift the dust from them and any last bits of stem and unripe and spoiled berries tend to float to the surface where they can be skimmed off, and a few unripe berries and small bits left behind won't hurt anyone. Drain gently in a colander and store or cook as you wish.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Appreciating Homemade Handmade

by Eilleen

Hello everyone,

I wrote this blog post some time ago in my personal blog and thought I'd share here...


Sometime ago on the net, I remember reading in a crafting/sewing site someone saying "there's a huge difference between a handmade and a homemade quilt!" The inference being that handmade was better and homemade was inferior.

You know, I sort of get that comment. After all, there are so many gorgeous quilts out there. I went to my local sewing shop a few months ago and asked for general advice on how to make a patchwork quilt and was shown kits of brand new fabrics already cut out for me. A search on the net pretty much revealed an overwhelming number of sites advocating the use of brand new fabrics to create particular types of patchwork quilt.

It was for this reason that I too, a newbie sewer, took on the attitude that "homemade patchwork" - ie one that uses real scraps from old clothes and other craft projects - should be limited to small applique type work or for things that are not to be displayed (eg - sew scraps together to make a decent sized rag).

So it was a huge eye opener for me last week when I found this at St Vinnies:

It is a single-bed size quilt that was celebrating "homemade handmade" instead of handmade!! ...and I thought it was just gorgeous (and promptly bought it). The stitching at the back reveals it to be truly homemade. Its not truly perfect like many handmade quilts. The person who made this used different types of fabrics too - from synthetics, to t-shirt fabrics, to "normal" cotton (smooth cotton fabric).

But there's something endearing about this quilt. Its...warm and homey.. and not warm and homey in an artist/designer sort of way - its warm and homey.

So, today, in honour of appreciating the "homemade handmade", I made this patchwork pillowcase.

Like the person who made the quilt, I used a combination of t-shirt fabric and "smooth" cotton (is that cotton percale?). The fabrics used were real scraps that I had at home.

And this one, I'll definitely be displaying.

I hope you all had a good day.

P.S. This is not to say I don't appreciate the many beautiful and artistic handmade patchwork stuff out there. I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is room for both.


Do you have any homemade handmade crafts? Would you like to share?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Lime wash

Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

This past week, we've been busy doing some necessary maintenance around our ancient house, which includes giving a fresh coat of paint to the walls and ceilings (here). Some of our walls are colored, and for those I buy eco-friendly paints, which are pricey but something we don't skimp on, for our family and the environment alike. For our ceilings and white walls, instead, we use lime, which is natural and solvent-free, and inexpensive. Also, lime is particularly suited to the thick, centuries-old stone walls of our farmhouse (but it also works on timber and brick). The walls are built of stone, sand, clay and water, and soak up lots of humidity in the cold season; thanks to its porousness and anti-bacterial properties, lime tends to prevent the formation of mold. All this almost for free.


For the ceilings, we use lime putty, which is the easiest lime preparation to handle for painting: I dilute it with water and then apply with a brush. For walls, instead, we make our own inexpensive lime wash: I get a couple of kilos of slaked lime at the building supply store (which the shop clerks usually scoop out of 25 kilo bags and just give me for free), slowly mix it with water, let it sit overnight, and apply the next day. Over a day or two, the lime wash cures to a hard, opaque white layer with a rough texture that I personally really like.

So this is how we use lime and make lime wash. However, I did a little research on lime washing, and found differing opinions on the subject, especially as to whether additives (salt and glue) should be added to the mixture to make it more durable, and whether it's suitable for interiors. Should you want to give lime wash a try, you might read up on it first. Here are some starting points:

All you need to know about lime wash - points out to the importance of using good-quality lime wash and a suitable substrate.
Fias Co Farm white wash recipe - has some safety warnings about handling lime, and is of the opinion that lime wash should not be used for interiors (which is contrary to our experience - see above for information about properly preparing and applying lime wash)

Have you ever used lime on your interior walls?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Garden Time Summer Slaw

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I live in cabbage country. Everywhere you see farm fields you're likely to see cabbage. From glaucous blue to raucous red, cabbage is everywhere. That also means cabbage is pretty easy to grow here in the home garden too.

At a potluck one time I had the most delicious coleslaw, and was lucky enough to get the recipe from the cabbage farmer herself. It's light and crunchy, and gets better with age, the perfect dish to have waiting for you on a hot summer day. Featuring a few staples from the garden and pantry, this is the perfect time of year in the garden to make this easy slaw.


1 Medium head of cabbage, shredded or chopped fine.
2 – 3 carrots, grated.
1 medium sweet onion, grated.
1 green pepper, grated.
1 Tablespoon salt.
Black pepper to taste.

1/3 cup cider vinegar or strong Kombucha.
1/3 cup olive oil.
1/3 cup sugar or honey.

Mix first 5 ingredients, and let sit while you: heat vinegar, oil and sugar to just boiling. Pour over slaw. Mix well and refrigerate at least 2 hours before eating. The original recipe says it will keep six weeks in the fridge, but it never lasts that long – I eat this stuff for a mid-morning snack. There is usually dressing left over and I save that and use it on the next batch.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Our common goal - self reliance

By Rhondajean @ Down to Earth

Around our neck of the woods a typical day goes something like this. I rise at 4 and write until the dogs want to go outside, I let them out, feed them and the cat, then go into the garden to let the chickens out to free range for the day. I count them all, check they have water, and encourage them to have a wonderful egg-filled day. "I will still love you if you don't give me an egg, but don't push your luck too far," I say.

Inside again, I finish off my writing and when Hanno gets up, I make breakfast. After we eat, I clean up the kitchen, put bread on to rise, make the bed, sweep the floor and get ready for whatever the day may hold. Hanno will work in the yard most of the day. He has his projects and the garden and he'll talk to the chooks, the dogs and our neighbours, and generally keep the place neat, tidy and in good working order. I will write, check the forum, and in between times, I'll do bits of housework, sewing, mending, knitting, baking or making soap or cleansers. It depends on what is needed in our home as to what I actually do.

Lunch comes along and usually it's fresh bread with salad from the garden or boiled eggs with soft golden yolks. After lunch we sometimes have a little nap and then I write again, or sew, or make household goods. Hanno will sometimes read the online newspaper or check out some of his German or political sites. It's an easy way to spend each day - our days are filled with our necessities but the pace is relaxed and gentle. Friends and family phone or call in, we have breaks when we want them. This is living how it should be - we are not stressed and we are productive. One thing is for sure, it is never boring. It just gets better with each passing day, we are more settled, more grateful and closer to each other because of the time spent working towards our common goal - self reliance.

We are fortunate in that we have no debt. Hanno is on an old age pension and I still get paid for my writing. We are both pleased that I am able to earn that money from home. Of course, no simple life can be truly simple without making the decision to dramatically reduce the amount of money spent. The less we spend, the less we have to work and the more time we have for real living. There is an incredible sense of freedom that comes with not having to work. I still do my volunteering, that feeds my soul and I'd be a lessor person without it. The pay off for me is in feeling useful, being able to use my brain in interesting and innovative ways and meeting the wonderful people who walk through the door. I am enriched by the work I do there and I can say with certainty that it is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. I can do that work because I'm not tied down to a job.

Even though there are many things to be done in each day, the practical day to day things are not the whole story of simplicity. Practicality and the work that goes with it is just one piece of the puzzle. You have to look inside yourself for the other pieces. Ask yourself if you're really living the life that will make you happy and fulfilled. Everyone's idea of happiness is different but if you're not even close to what you hoped for yourself and your family, you should start thinking about changes. 

Most of us have made a real effort of get off the consumerism roller coaster, if you don't you're just playing at this. Spending is the one true gauge of authenticity. If you're still spending on non-essentials while you're paying off debt, you're not going to reach those simple life goals anytime soon.

You have to slow down too. This was the hardest thing for me. I was a chronic multi-tasker, I always had plenty of things on the go at the one time and often I felt overworked and unappreciated. Now that I've slowed myself, I can be busy without feeling like I'll never get it all done. I take my time with each part of what I'm doing and I concentrate on my job at hand and not on what will come later. It's made all the difference and eliminated those feelings of being rushed all the time.

One thing is for sure, simplifying will always give you more work to do, it is never the other way around. But this is a different kind of work. It's work that will fulfil you and make your life richer because what you're doing is building self-reliance into your life. Instead of relying on others to make what you need, instead of going to the store to buy your food, you will be able to do a lot of that yourself. That builds self-confidence which makes you believe you're capable of doing more and more.

You will never be in the ideal place to start living simply. Often the move towards it comes when things are really chaotic in your life, you might have lost your job, had a baby, become ill or maybe you're just fed up with life on the roller coaster. You don't have to move to another location, everyone can start simplifying right where they are now. All it requires is for you to stop spending, to re-evaluate your life and to clarify what it is you want from life. The only thing that will be handed to you on a silver platter will be the one size fits all notion that you can spend your way to success and that being is debt is "normal". Everything else requires thought and planning. I'm here to tell you it's confronting, difficult and challenging. But if you can change, if you decide to focus on quality of life rather than the quantity of stuff you own, if you can break out of the mould that mainstream society has encased you in, then you'll have the chance to live a life like no other. Is the time right for you?

Friday, 19 August 2011

The 2011 Dirty Dozen

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I garden, first because I love doing it and then second, because it's the most certain and cost-effective way to know there are no chemicals in the food we eat. But my high-desert climate - short hot dry summers, long freezing cold winters, 10 inches average annual precipitation (as snow only) - means growing my own food is an iffy proposition at best.

So I grow when and what I can, preserve or store any extra, and then buy the rest of my produce. Sadly, organic produce here is usually way more expensive - that is, when it's available at all. When grocery money is tight, I'll buy organic for the "Dirty Dozen", and shop for regular produce if it has a thick non-edible skin or peel, or is one of the "Clean 15."

Apples, celery, and strawberries top the list of the most pesticide-laden produce. Earlier this year, I wrote about my trials in growing and preserving cilantro. I now feel my efforts justified. In researching the latest list of contaminated food, I found cilantro has the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded on any item included in the Shopper's Guide since the Environmental Working Group started tracking the data in 1995.

2011 "Dirty Dozen" (buy these organic, or try to grow your own)
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

Food prices are definitely on the rise. If price is an obstacle, buying these from the regular bins can cut costs without compromising on quality.
2011 "Clean 15" (least contaminated)
1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe
10. Kiwifruit
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Still, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Reduce your exposure as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. Download a pdf of the above lists here. Then, do what you can, when you can.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Bulk Food Storage

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I’m lucky enough to be involved in regular, efficient local co-ops. We get over 150kg of food delivered at once (due to ordering for the following 6 months). For me, this is sometimes an overwhelming amount to put away. I have a little kitchen with a small pantry cupboard, and I use a few shelves of the linen cupboard for some food storage too. I don’t have a large chest freezer, so I can’t just drop the bags into the freezer when they arrive.

I normally take a few days to put everything away, and this is the process…

I decant the grains, legumes and flours into 10L buckets with lids. The buckets came from a yoghurt shop, I believe, and were used only once before being discarded. They are plain white, strong and food-grade with well-sealing lids. I buy them through our local LETS group for less than half the price of similar buckets at the hardware store in town.

Some bulk purchases I decant into unused plastic bottles which I get from a local factory when they are labelled or dated wrong and need to be discarded. They’re perfectly clean and useable, just not right to go onto the supermarket shelves. I really like to reuse containers when I can, rather than buying new ones. These bottles stack really well in the freezer space I do have, and when I need some grain for the kitchen, I need only grab out one bottle at a time (rather than a hefty bucket or sack full!)

Other products I decant into clean glass jars. Friends have saved me some fantastic 2L olive jars with screw-on metal lids, and also very large coffee jars. These are great for the pantry as it’s easy to see what’s in them, and they don’t taint the contents with any plastic smell or flavour as some expensive brand-name canisters of mine have in the past in our hot climate. I soak the jars in a bucket in the laundry for 2 days or so, then the labels just slip right off. A good scrub in hot soapy water, and they are dried and ready to be reused.

I label the buckets with some masking tape and a marking pen – naming the contents and the date packed. I write directly onto the bottles (as I only use them once) and I make labels for the jars using my Dymo label maker. I share my kitchen with at least 3 other family members every day, so it’s important that everything is accessible and easy to identify.

Products I use a lot of are simply kept in the buckets and accessed by the cupful or more as I need them (the buckets are in the laundry, a few steps from the kitchen). These have never had weevils or had mould, so the buckets must have a good seal. Other products spend at least a few days in the freezer, and are then packed onto shelves (or on top of the freezer – the door is on the front) in their very airtight containers. Freezing them soon after they arrive kills weevil eggs and prevents them from hatching. Weevil eggs can be inside the grain kernel when it is still on the stalk, in the paddock!

When I first started bulk buying, I didn’t have buckets or jars or containers and so I used large plastic ziplock bags. Unfortunately, bugs can chew through plastic, and it can tear, and it’s hard to shuffle all the same-looking bags around a very full freezer. It was okay in the beginning, but I’m glad I now have more solid storage solutions for our bulk order. I no longer have a film of flour with bits of lentil and buckwheat across the bottom of my freezer from accidental spills!

My latest order cost me almost $800 and a few hours of my time, but it’s really worth it because I don’t have to pay inflated prices at the health store for quality organic ingredients. I always have plenty on hand, which suits my shopping habits as we are a 70km round trip from the health store and major supermarket.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

We Eat Weeds

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin & Little Green Cheese.

Last night we had a 'weed' salad with our dinner!

Our weed salad
Now, before I go any further with this tale, let me define a weed (Collins Dictionary)
1.  any plant that grows wild and profusely, esp. among cultivated plants.
So really it is any plant not growing where you want it to be.  After 5 years of gardening and growing heirloom vegetables that naturally propagate by self seeding, we have many friendly weeds around the garden.  I did not plant them, nor did I interfere with their desire to grow where they chose to germinate.

Beetroot and rainbow chard self sown all over the place. I did not plant them in the pot!
I currently have the following 'gifts from nature' aka weeds that keep on returning year after year; lambs tongue lettuce, red beetroot, white beetroot, 4 different varieties of rainbow chard, nasturtiums, parsley, cherry tomatoes, and garlic.

Lambs tongue lettuce in my onion/carrot patch
As you can see, all of these veggies are potential salad ingredients, even in mid winter.  So prolific are some of these weeds, that they are beginning to compete with the vegetables that I intentionally planted.  We are picking and pulling lettuce just about every day so that they do now crowd out the brown onions and carrots.  Once the lettuce goes bitter (as it does), I will pull most plants and feed them to the chickens.  However, to keep all of my 'weeds' happy, I will let two plants of each type go to seed therefore letting the cycle continue.  Why fight with Mother Nature when I can let her do some of the heavy lifting around the garden!

To cap it all off, I will leave you with the conversation around the dinner table last night.  Ben was helping Kim gather the ingredients for the salad and he asked "Mum, why are you picking weeds?"  Kim replied, "Ben, that is because nature left them here for us to eat".  Now Ben must have thought long and hard about this statement, because at the table, after cooking Kim and I dinner that consisted of Tortellini and Basil Pesto, with said salad, he piped up and said, "Dad, we are eating weeds for dinner!"  I laughed loudly because I knew exactly what he meant.  Children tell it straight like it is, that's for sure.

So according to Ben, we eat weeds, and are proud of it!

Do you have any interesting 'weeds' growing in your veggie patch?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

What to do in the meantime

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We have lived in our current home for a little over three years - a small terraced house with a small patio at the back. Our home is a temporary one - we rent, in a city that we don't want to stay in past the next five years, three if we can manage it. We hope to stay in this house for a few more years until we are in a position to relocate across the country - but we could be served notice by our landlord at any time, adding another layer of uncertainty. Some of us carry a vision of a self sufficient farm out in the sticks, others an urban backyard farm - somewhere more permanent where we can put down roots. It can be hard to reconcile those visions with a nine to five job and a rented garden-less studio flat - and very easy to slip into the mainstream, consuming lifestyle more usual to those environments. So what do you do?

This is a time for us to get our house in order - not that there aren't other reasons to do so anyway. Cover the basics. The things that take no more time, space and energy to do than 'normal' ways of doing things. Begin to clean using natural cleaning products. Be mindful of your energy use. At least say hello to your neighbours and find out their names. Decide on a budget and begin to pay off debts and start saving. Be concious of what you are eating. Read widely on the skills and activities that you would like to incorporate into your life.

Take the time to declutter, not least because moving possessions from house to house is a complete pain. If you are storing possessions that no longer fit who you are now or who you plan to be when you finally move on, then you are wasting space, time and energy. Our DVD collection was one of the first things to be pared down - we just weren't planning on having that much spare time on our hands to sit re-watching mediocre movies, what with all the baking, brewing and gardening we were planning on doing. Use the space creatively to stock pile food or create a craft workspace.

Use this time to experiment and decide what you really want your future to look like. Before you sink all of your time, energy and money into a permanent home, test your vision on the smaller scale. I can tell you now, after a few years of experimentation, that I want to bake all of our own bread - as we infact now do - but it took three years of false starts and resignation to even learn to make an edible loaf, before that, it was merely an aspiration, a lovely vision of something that we should do. On the other hand, after a few kitchen experiments,  I can tell you I have absolutely no interest in cheese making and dairying - and by extension livestock rearing. Its better to learn these things now than ending up in my 'ideal place' and finding out it isn't so ideal.

It is important too to focus on the things you like about where you now are. I like our neighbours and will miss them. I love the fact that the city is so vibrant at night. I like the roar that reverberates across the city from the football stadium every Saturday and Wednesday. I love the little community gardens and orchards that are popping up here and there, the parks, the sunshine and mild climate. It has taken me a while to recognise and be thankful for these things - but they enrich my life in the here and now.

It took us a few years to realise that where we find ourselves now is the perfect place to begin living the life that we envision - because this is the only place we have. It marks us out as fairly unusual in our street - we have herb boxes outside the front door, food growing in containers out the back - and if anyone looked, a food and brewing grain stockpile stashed in nooks around our house from the kitchen to the bedroom.  I know that whilst they might not live in our street, their are others across the city living like this too and doing what they can.

There are no guarantees in life; and waiting for the perfect time and conditions to come along  to begin living is a huge gamble. The only thing to do is to be here now and do what you can.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Diversity through blossoms

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

flowers in my garden1

Do you grow flowers in your vegetable garden? I always vaguely meant to, but in the past, when spring came I was so busy planning my vegetable garden and sowing vegetables that I forgot all about the flowers.

But since moving my garden closer to the house (here) - one of the best gardening decisions I ever made - I've actually seen my garden more often, and now think of it more in terms of aesthetics, design and overall scope, and not just about what vegetables I want to grow there for my family.

I realized, in fact, that I was growing dissatisfied with the usual concept of the garden plot arranged in long, tidy rows of single crops. Instead, I became more and more attracted by the general principles of biodynamic agriculture and permaculture. And following these principles, since last year I've started to create a garden that's becoming a diverse little ecosystem, harmoniously integrated with the surrounding nature. As part of this strategy, I finally started planting flowers among the vegetables.

flowers in my garden

flowers in my garden

flowers in my garden

I started small, sowing one of three types of flowers: edible (it's a vegetable garden after all!), medicinal (you've got to love flowers with a purpose!) and purely ornamental (because flowers make me happy, and a happy gardener is the best kind of gardener, right?).

As edible flowers, I sowed borage, which grows in the wild around here. I planted it close to my tomatoes, green beans, and basil, because I'd read it's a good companion plant for these vegetables, which so far has proven correct, especially in the case of basil: my basil has never been so lush!

filling 7

Besides the cobalt blue edible flowers, which we add to salads (they make such a pretty addition to a green salad, here), we also harvest borage leaves, which make good cooking greens. Last year, I used both the borage flowers and the leaves to make "floral ravioli" (see here), a recipe that I whipped up as I went along, and which made me feel like a very creative Italian cook - if only for a day.

flowers in my garden

In the medicinal category, I choose Calendula. They're a little behind, still at the budding stage, which is actually fine, since I need a little time to research how they can be used - any suggestions?

flowers in my garden

And for the pure visual joy, I planted a variety of Dahlias in different shades of pink and purple. Yes, a harvest of flowers in my diverse and colorful garden makes me very happy indeed!


share braids

Don't forget to share your photos of onion and garlic braids (read my previous post here) by emailing them to me: fuoriborgo @ gmail dot com

Thank you!

Is change coming?

By Rhonda Jean @ Down to Earth

I think we're are gaining ground.  There has been a shift away from the purchased conveniences of modern living, women and men are beginning to see the light and more and more homemakers are returning to older and non-commercial ways of doing the house work and cooking.  It does my heart good to see how many younger women and men are expressing an interest in home cooking, knitting, mending, repairing and reusing, as well as making green cleaners and soaps. There is a move towards traditional home arts.  Here in Australia, fabric, yarn and craft stores are reporting record sales, and cooking has become popular again!

These traditional ways of housekeeping and home maintenance, passed down over the years by our grandparents, were replaced by convenience foods, cheap clothing and appliances, and when they started to disappear, most of us were too busy to notice.  The global economic crisis came along to show us that when we are given convenience on a plate it is at the expense of other significant things.  Many were surprised when they realised they could do a whole lot more in the home than they thought they could, for less money, while producing better quality, and they actually enjoyed doing it.

I believe it's a question of dependence versus independence.  Convenience encourages dependence.  If we buy food already cooked or half cooked, we forget our traditional foods and how to cook them.  If we always buy our clothes, we forget how to make them.  If we buy our knitwear, we never learn to knit.  There was a time when we never thought about having our nails "done", when we cut our own hair, fixed cars and lawn mowers, or we relied on friends and neighbours to help us do it, then we returned the favour by helping them do something we had the skill to do.  Now convenience and the cheapness of food, clothes and appliances makes us dependent on shops instead of each other.  We work to earn the money to pay for these things instead of learning how to do make them or repair them ourselves.

In my ideal world, mothers and fathers would teach their children how to live an authentic life in the modern world.  They'd make sure their children had the life skills they need to look after themselves, they would teach through example and they would be the people they want their children to become.  But we don't live in an ideal world, all we have is this one and while it is far from ideal, there are some thing we can all do to make our own family healthy, practical and competent.  From a young age, teach your children how to cook simple food, mend little things like toys, knit, recycle, plant seeds, harvest water, and how to care for what is theirs.  Giving them the responsibility of caring for a pet will teach them about nutrition, time management, gentleness and unconditional love.  Many parents think that teaching a child how to read before they go to school is a major achievement, but they need much more than that.  They need those practical life skills, those things they will enjoy learning while they're still young.  They will grow up confident and self reliant if you teach them these things; show them they are important part of the family and rely on them to help with the family work.  Giving too much to children only teaches them how to take.

I don't expect everyone to take up their knitting needles, start dressmaking or learn how to make a traditional meal from scratch, but I do see a move towards some of those things.  And the good thing is that many people realise that making and doing for oneself is a positive and life affirming thing; they enjoy it.  It has been a long time coming but the move is on and who know where it will lead us.  Now, more and more people are realising that we can change the way we live, and because of that almost anything is possible.  I think real change might be just around the corner. Do you?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Sowing Seeds for the Future

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Incorporating children into garden and farm plans is a investment in our future.

Not everyone farms, I know, but many people garden and sometimes I see gardens that are only planted with delayed gratification plants, like tomatoes, corn and potatoes. All good, but to a child whose attention span and grasp of time is different than ours, waiting for a tomato to ripen can take forever.

If I had a wish it would be that gardeners with small children would do more succession sowing so that kids get the idea that the garden can actually feed you. Eating daily from the garden, even just one thing, plants the idea that you don't go to the store all the time for your food. It may take some time to find out the combination of what to plant for kids that they will eat on a regular basis, (my teenager eats greens) it may be salad, peas, cherry tomatoes, or mild salad turnips.

If I had another wish it would be that you let your children help you in all aspects of gardening, not just eating, but soil prep, planting and weeding, and finally harvesting. Allowing your children to help will give them more of a stake in the garden. Gardening is a huge opportunity for learning about plants, and insects, and the 3 R's too. Reading seed packets, writing labels, and calculating how much to plant take the boredom out of "school" type activities. Little hands become deft when handling the big job of planting tiny seeds. Sure, they will make mistakes, planting, weeding and harvesting, but it won't be the end of the world.

We have to be careful about what message we send to our children about work and self-worth. Do you go to the health club to work out, or do you stay home and weed your garden and exercise all your body alongside your child? Do you pay someone else to do your "dirty" jobs while you take vacations? As long as we keep our children isolated from the real work of gardening and farming we limit their chances of being successful gardeners or farmers if they choose to follow those pursuits.

Farming and gardening may not be in your child's future but the skills and life lessons they pick up along the way will stand them in good stead in any profession.

Friday, 5 August 2011


by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I just harvested my shallots, and now have them spread out on a screen in the shed to cure. Like my garlic, shallots are planted in the fall to overwinter, and grow through early spring into July. So expensive in the store, they're easy to grow and store, and make a great flavor addition to fall and winter dishes.

I started with a few supermarket shallots, purchased in late summer years ago. They're planted in the fall, one per square foot. By the following summer each shallot multiplies into a clump of 6-7 nice-sized bulbs. Each October, I re-plant around a dozen bulbs from this year's harvest, say two clumps worth, and then still have at least 60-70 to eat throughout the winter.

Curing and storing them is super-easy too. I'll leave this year's harvest out in the shed for a week or two - until the leaves and roots have dried, the necks have shrunken closed, and the brown skin toughened up. Rubbing away the dried dirt, leaves, and roots, I pile the shallots in a couple of net bags (actually, they're a couple of drawstring net stockings used to sell oranges at Christmas time - now reused for my shallot harvest year after year), and hang them from a hook in the ceiling of my kitchen pantry. They'll hold well until the following March or April before they start shriveling up a bit - still tasty though.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Great Reskilling

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Something which keeps popping up for me in conversations and community work lately is the term 'reskilling'. And I see it's now part of our new header banner here at the Co-Op blog!

Reskilling is "re-learning the skills that our grandparents took for granted, such as how to use hand tools, how to build our own structures, how to mend and make clothing, how to make our own medicine, how to forage, grow, preserve and store our food."
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement

The Great Reskilling refers to how society-at-large will be affected by Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Crisis in the coming decase or so.

When considering topics for our local Simply Living Workshops, we first identified the people within our community who have these 'old skills'. We then went about planning our workshop series, which includes:

growing food, including climate-specific workshops
food forests
storing and preserving food, including lacto-fermentation
sourdough bread baking
home medicinals
first aid
weaving and fibre crafts
alternative building and energy
crisis comprehension
keeping poultry
home dairying
fermented dairy products
animal husbandry - general
raising and using livestock - from hoof to horn
horse care - basic

Which skills have you learned since reading this blog, or otherwise researching simple living? Which skills do you think we need to add to our list above?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Braiding small onions

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo


Recently Sadge wrote a very informative post about how to make garlic braids for long-term storage (here). I used her tips, and made braids with some of the smaller onions that I harvested a couple of weeks ago. (I stored the larger onions, which would be too heavy to braid, in a crate in a cool spot of the house, after I'd removed the dirt, stems and dried roots - the method my neighbors have taught me to help delay sprouting.)

Braiding my small onions this way worked very well, creating a couple of beautifully decorative edible braids.

How do you store your onions or garlic? I'd love to hear, and if anyone has photos, please send them, and we'll share them with Co-op readers!

Please email your photos to me at: fuoriborgo at gmail dot com

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Home Made Pizza

The Saturday night treat at our house is pizza.  Not the horrible takeaway stuff dripping grease and fat, but the kind that Kim and I pitch in and make from scratch.  When we have the right vegetables in season, they smother the top.

First of all she makes the pizza dough, which was simply the same recipe we use for making a loaf of bread.  We through the ingredients in the bread-maker as per the instructions on the pre-mix bread flour from Laucke and set the bread-maker to the dough setting and come back in an hour and a half.  When the dough has finished, she takes the dough out of the pan and rolls it in a little flour and starts to toss it in the air just like an Italian pizza shop.  I wait for her to drop it, but she is very skillful.  Here is the finished dough laid out on a pizza tray with tomato paste all over it.  Lately we have been using organic tomato salsa as the base, which tastes much better than plain tomato paste.

Pizza 002
Next are all the toppings.  Kim sometimes makes a bit of a four seasons pizza (four different quarters) with a big slice for everyone's individual tastes.

Pizza 001

As you can see there is a little bit of everything for everyone.  I grew the tomato, onions, and one of the green capsicums (peppers) in this picture.  Here is the fully dressed pizza with a little bit of cheese on top.  Now that I know how to make mozzarella, we use that instead of grated cheddar.

Pizza 003

Into the oven for 15 minutes on 190C degrees, and then 10 minutes at 170 degrees C or until cooked.  This is what it comes out like after baking.  A little bit crispy on the outsides, but that is how we like it.

Pizza 004

The pineapple is Kim' piece, mine is the circle of tomato, DD is the half a tomato, and #2 son's is the quarter of a tomato.  Very cute, just like the four little bears.

It was absolutely fabulous, and so simple to make.  The next job on my plate is to finish our clay cob oven oven outside which I have been working on.  Back breaking work over the last weekend, but well worth it if this is one of the things we are going to cook in it!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sell Outs

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I have long held the belief that a simple, frugal and green life isn't about following a script or ticking off certain things on a list. A simple life in the country isn't so simple if you spend your time yelling, constantly bargain hunting or feeding a tv addiction. A simple life doesn't mean you have to keep pigs and bees or make every single meal from scratch. A simple life doesn't mean you can't work. Instead I view the simple life as a paradigm and a lense by which I view the world; a fundamental belief in focusing on the most important things, seeking to find balance in all I do and living by the principals "less is more" and "living simply so others may simply live".

Lately all around me colleagues and friends have been talking about what is important to them, a few even mentioned the term sell out. You see many of them thought in their early 20's that they would make "good choices" (that is their term, I certainly am not value judging their choices as good or bad) but as their lives have developed through their late 20's and 30's they really haven't decided to stick to those "good choices" they once thought they would live by. I spent the last week listening to their examples, some of which were:

- Deciding to commute for 2 hours to work so they could have the "biggest bang for their buck" aka the biggest square footage house
- Not buying free-range or organic meat or dairy because they don't care anymore about animal welfare (this person was very pro responsible farming in her late teens)
- Not taking the option of a 4 day work week after returning from parental leave because that extra day is a weekend in Las Vagas every year.
- Never hanging clothes to dry because it would take an extra 10 minutes and interrupt precious facebook time
- Feeding the family hot dogs, boxed pizza and boxed macaroni & cheese almost every night because that is what is quickest and after 10 hours outside the home, no one has the energy to cook
- Admitting they see less than 10 hours a week of their 4 and 2 year old because with an 11 day work day 5 days/week and a love of bargain/frugal shopping (thus visiting 5 different shops on Saturdays and often nipping to the US for the real sales) the grandparents pick up the grandchildren from daycare Friday afternoon and keep them until Sunday morning. This was a hard one for this friend to admit because while suffering from infertility they swore time with their children would always come first, now they have 2 very good careers, a very large house they just totally renovated and only see their children Sundays.
- Being scared to go without because their friends are richer than they are.
- Becoming so obsessed (their words) with paying off their mortgage, buying a second and third home to rent out and retiring at 55 that they are not really living now
- Throwing away anything with a tear/needing a new button and buying new

As I have listened to these conversations, I have tried not to make any value laden statements but did occasionally ask "so if you know, would you change anything", I further asked one "would you now go to work 4 days a week so you can do the things that used to be important to you and simply shop/eat out less". What was really interesting to me, is that no one said they wanted to change a thing. One, a top city lawyer married to another top city lawyer, who eat out 20x a week and admits they don't see their children at all between Mon-Fri said "nope, I'm a proud sell out - I want as much as I can have for as little as I can get it for, we're not interested in having less money, we want more money". I smiled and pondered those words, asking myself what I can learn from their experiences, choices and definition of happiness/selling-out.

What is interesting to me, is in my experience, the older I get the less I want to "sell-out" and the more comfortable I am going without what most people view as a necessity. It took fostering four very broken and traumatized children to help me see there was another life waiting patiently for me to embrace; they taught me there is so much more to life than work, stuff, money and materialism. And while I don't really have any friends in real life who live like I do (although I am blessed to have one friend on either side of the Atlantic who are at the beginning of their simple living journey!) hearing these friends and co-workers yearn for more money and not desire to change anything about their current circumstances, made me very thankful for places like this co-op, the readers of my own blog, Rhonda's blog and the myriad of others which remind me daily that each day I will face choices, those choices bring me closer to the values I hold or further away. While I do aim to be careful about how much time I spend online, I do feel a bit of a haven in what I choose to read in this amazing place. It was that haven that helped me stick to my choice not to attend a friend's wedding and your words gave me the confidence to stick to my conviction when the bride expressed her anger.

Through my own learning this past month (both from the wedding and the new life that awaits me, as well as conversations with those who live so differently to myself) I've come to a place of both certainty I'm on the right path and also grace - grace in deciding I don't have to be perfect or do things exactly like other simple life followers. I've come to realize if we embrace the simple life as a lifestyle choice, then we are probably all doing the best we can, sometimes under extra-ordinary circumstances and most often without people around us to commiserate or encourage. I've come to accept this path will often be lonely. And maybe when it comes to a simple, frugal and green life, that is OK. Maybe as long as we hold onto that value and don't allow ourselves to totally "sell-out", then our anchor will at the very least keep us grounded through the seasons where being simple, green and frugal is more challenging. Like my current season of vermicomposting - and it failing time and time again. Yes, it may be easier to throw in the towel like many people and not bother with spending more time trying to "do good" but since when is the right choice the easy choice. And by heck, one day I'll get that worm compost system right!

My own personal goal this week is to write a list of things I'm not willing to compromise on, as I begin a brand new and exciting chapter in my life, maybe it will serve as a reminder to hold onto what is most important and leave the rest behind! Because the truth is, whether people see it or not, there is a cost to selling out - a cost to ourselves, our families, those we love, our community, our environment and future generations. By focusing on the most important things, I hope to avoid the real cost associated with selling out and instead reap the rewards of a slower, more balanced, person/community centered path. And suddenly I'm reminded of the tortoise and the hare. And now I can firmly, without a shadow of a doubt, say I'm the tortoise, how about you?

Have a happy, simple, frugal and green week, filled with choices which represent the real you !