Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Worm Farm Workshop

Written by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin

This is a repost of an article that I wrote only a few hours ago for my main blog, and thought it worthy of a repost on the Co-op.  Happy Vermiculture!

Last Saturday week, I held a workshop at my house for the Melton Sustainable Living group.  It was a simple workshop, but fun to present.  It took me about an hour to build and populate the new worm farm (rectangle box in photo), and additionally, I showed the audience how to harvest worm castings from my existing worm farm (round one in the photo).  Both of these worm farm kits are made by Reln plastics, and marketed under the Tumbleweed brand (I have no association with this company, I just like the product).  They are made from 100% post consumer recycled plastic.  All of the packaging (except for a small plastic strap) is utilised in the construction process and eaten by the worms!

As you can see, it is all set up ready to go, and it also gave me an opportunity to clean at least half of the carport!

Now, in a moment of silliness, I forgot to give Ben the camera to take photo's during the workshop, so you will have to use your imagination.  Here are the basic instructions on how to put one of these things together.

1.  Locate in a cool position in afternoon shade. Morning sun is OK.  I place mine on the south side of the house, northern side for northern hemisphere readers, or somewhere where they will not freeze in winter.
2.  Setting up the base as per instructions.  Some have legs, others do not and my new one had legs that were unusually difficult to figure out and the instructions were no help.  Both my worm farms have legs.
3.  Put the first working tray on top of the base with legs, then fill a bucket with about 7 litres of water and place the worm farm bedding block in it.  This is made from coconut coir husk.
As the bedding block expands, start to break it up into an even mix. It took about 10 minutes. Use the
paper wrapper too because all the paper and cardboard packaging has been designed to be worm friendly.
4.  Fold and place your cardboard packaging into the base of the working tray, then spread the expanded worm bedding block on top of this. The worms will eventually eat all the bedding and cardboard.

5.  Spread your worms (minimum of 1000 composting worms) on top of the bedding, and cover with a a few layers of wet newspaper or cardboard.  The more worms you initially add, the more food they will compost for you.  I used an old cotton dressing gown soaked in water, that Ben had grown out of.   One of the audience mentioned that this must be the Taj Mahal of worm farms, and that I must love them very much.  I replied that yes, I do!

6.  Don't feed the worms at this stage, and let them settle in for one or two days.  Here some of them are their new home.  From experience it will take about 3-4 months for the initial 1000 odd worms to fill up their first tray.  Once the tray is full up to the lip inside, then pop on the next tray and start feeding the worms from the new tray.  Just make sure that the first tray is full enough to come in contact with the new tray so the little worms can climb through.

So now that I have a second worm farm, I have the means to create lots more worm wee tee and castings.  The worms can be fed most kitchen scraps but steer clear of onions and citrus, as it is a little too acidic for them.

As a guide worms will eat anything that was once living. This includes:

- Left over vegetable scraps, fruit and vegetable peelings
- Tea leaves/bags and used coffee grounds
- Vacuum cleaner dust or you hair clippings (also animal)
- Torn up newspapers, egg and milk or soaked pizza cartons
- Crushed egg shells (These will help with the pH balance)

As I mentioned in my post titled "Home-made Liquid Fertiliser", you can used the worm wee tea as a liquid fertiliser, so as they increase in number, I will be able to keep up with supply for the garden.

Just in case you wanted to know more, here are some worm facts that I found at ResourceSmart Victoria which also has instructions on how to make your own worm farm without having to buy a kit.
  • There are 350 species of earthworms in Australia and most of those found on farms and in gardens are introduced species. Compost worms are rare in the bush because the conditions are not suitable. 
  • Compost worms are a special type of earthworm. Compost worms are generally more active than normal earthworms. They thrive in the rich, moist and warm environment of a worm farm and can eat about half their body weight in one day. 
  • The population in a well maintained worm farm doubles every two to three months. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, which means each worm has female and male sex organs, so every worm can have babies. But reproduction can only occur between two mature worms of the same species. 
  • After mating, both earthworms form a capsule (or cocoon) containing up to 20 eggs. Even though each mature compost worm might mate every 7 to 10 days and produce about 4 to 20 capsules a week, only 3 of these capsules produce babies. Each capsule produces around 4 baby worms, which makes a total of 12 babies per adult per week. 
  • Babies hatch after about 30 days and are ready to breed 55 to 70 days later. Earthworm eggs can survive in very dry conditions for a long time. The babies usually hatch when the soil becomes moist. 
  • Although earthworms do not have eyes, they sense light as well as vibrations and temperature through special organs in their skin. 
You can also add compost worms to standard compost bins or heaps, as long as you do not let the contents of the bin get too hot.  About 2 years ago, I put a big handful into my Aerobin, and they have multiplied greatly.  They don't live in the top 20 cm as it is too hot, but prefer to work at a lower level.  I just keep piling on brown and green garden waste and they keep gobbling it up.  When I take compost from the bottom, there are no worms to be found as they live higher up.

I also saved the old laundry sink, since we have just had this room renovated, and will be turning this into a worm farm in the next few months, so more on that further along the sustainable living journey.  When I was a teenager, my dad used to use an old bath tub as a worm farm and it was most successful in producing many worms that we used for fishing.  I think he used Tiger worms, however most worms that you buy in boxes or from a large worm farms today are 'Red Wrigglers' and 'Indian Blues or Dendra's'.

So, hopefully this post has given you enough information to start your own worm farm.  The good thing is that as pets, they don't bark, bite, kill birds, or annoy you in any way, and their droppings are the most useful matter on the planet!  To finish off, here are some wormy quotes;
“Worms are the Intestines of the Earth”
"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised(sic) creatures”
“Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible”

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chicken: From Farmyard to Stockpot

One of the most frugal, simple, green things we have done on our farm is to raise chickens. They free range the farm and eat a simple mix of chicken feed from our local co-op. 

I roast whole birds. I put a stick of butter in the cavity and roast on 350 degrees F until done (about an hour).

Then I strip the meat for that night's meal and lunch the next day- dump the bones and drippings into a stock pot with 1/4 cup lemon juice, fill the pot with water, and add carrots, celery, onion, and  bay leaves. Simmer for a day and a night covered. Then I have broth for another 4 meals. 

There is nothing hard about any of that. Nothing complicated. Nothing I need a culinary science background to complete.

So often I hear folks complain that cooking real, honest, whole foods is hard and takes too much time. I understand that most people are not raising and home butchering, but the task of cooking the bird is so incredibly easy and cheap. Not to mention delicious.

Saturday, 25 February 2012


by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

It's raining. Again. Second La Nina year in a row.  It's cooler and wetter than usual, but this is the hottest La Nina year on record, with warming seas amplifying the normal La Nina effect.I live high on a hill, well out of flood range, but my garden is too soggy to work in and I'm a bit worried about the causeway flooding again and preventing me getting to work on Monday.

It's times like this that I am very glad that I live in a functional community. We have been flooded in several times over the last few months. The flooding before last washed away a ford over a creek leading into our valley. As a temporary fix, a mob of us spent a couple of hours chucking rocks, by hand, to create a temporary ford. Much too hard a work to do by hand on your own, but with enough people it was not just an effective short term solution, but quite a fun way to spend a morning.

It washed away again in floods this week. When you are isolated, it's nice to be isolated with people you enjoy inviting for dinner, people who you can borrow a cup of sugar from, people who check whether you want anything in town if they can get through, people with the skills to get a pump going or do first aid if needed.

It's times like this though that also show up the challenges of living in a community. We are planning how to go about building a concrete, more permanent ford in the dry season. The decision needs to weigh up a whole batch of factors of varying priority - cost and workload, sharing the cost and workload, enabling fish to move up the creek, keeping petrochemicals out of the creek, a design that will not be washed away in floods, vehicle wear and tear, timing, risk and experiment.

Reaching agreement between a few dozen people on something complex like this takes real skills - framing ideas, listening, admitting uncertainty, juggling not just your own set of factors into consideration but adding more.

I overheard a conversation about climate change in the street yesterday. Actually, it wasn't so much a conversation as a tirade... global conspiracy by scientists to hoodwink the public...all about money.... biggest mob of people know the weather just goes through cycles, always ages...

I thought of all the counter arguments - the implausibility of a global conspiracy of scientists, the independently measured data, the scientific understanding of weather cycles over millenia taken into account, basic physics, exponential mathematics, precautionary principle and the fact that we have only one painfully beautiful planet to run the experiment on.

But all that is beside the point. Listening to the discussion, it suddenly occurred to me: I'm glad I don't have to work with this bloke on designing a ford across the creek.

Independence and self-sufficiency are all very well when everything is going smoothly, but in floods and bushfires, food shortages and fuel shortages, community counts for a lot, and the skills to create it are good skills to have.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Farmstead Checklist for February

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Moulin Rouge sunflower

My checklist for February may be different than many of my readers due to weather conditions but I hope you can find something of use here for your like season.

Check garlic and other overwintering alliums for growth and mulch as needed for weed control.

Take hardwood cuttings of small fruits such as: grape, kiwi, currant, and gooseberry.

Harvest scionwood of fruit trees such as apple and pear for grafting.

Divide perennials such as rhubarb, hops and horseradish, & raspberries.

Order seeds if you haven't already.

Start seeds of slow growers like celery root, and herbs.

Take a freezer/pantry inventory now that winter is waning and see if you really need so much of whatever is left. Adjust seed order and garden plan accordingly.

Inventory food preservation supplies, stock up on lids etc.

Order chicks.

Check chick equipment and repair or replace as needed.

That is just a few things we've been working on, I've had a two year hiatus in the dairy department so I will be dusting off my milking supplies, ordering fresh minerals for my heifer, and getting prepared for the big event in May.

How does your list differ from mine? Are the differences weather or season related?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Guava Jelly

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

It's the time of year when there's not really anything fruiting in the orchard.  We do have bananas, but they all ripen at once so it's a mad rush to eat, dry and freeze the whole bunch.

With delight, my children announced that the Strawberry Guavas are ripe, all along the edge of the rainforest on our block.  These trees are an invasive species, they just pop up where the birds plant them...  As a wild fruit, I love them - they're much bigger than a berry or lillypilly - and the tree is of small size with no spikes or other deterrents.  Some say the fruit are sour, but we find them sweet, soft and abundant - great for eating fresh, juicing or preserving...


Today I made guava jelly.  (Jelly as in strained jam.)  With guavas, we make jelly instead of jam because the many small seeds are very hard.  Sometimes I use yellow guavas (they are pink on the inside), but these aren't ripe until Autumn, nor as prolific.  I decided to type out the recipe, for beginners...  This recipe can be adapted to any amount of guavas (or other, similar fruit).

Cut up guava fruit (remove stalks and any blemished bits)
Water (or enough to cover fruit in your heavy-based pan)
citric acid

Boil cut up guavas in water (today I used 7 cups of fruit to 7 cups of water).  Mash gently when they go soft.  The colour will come out of the fruit, into the water.  Simmer until fruit is quite pale and disintegrated (approx 20 mins).  Cooking guavas gives off a delightful, spicy aroma!  Strain through a fine sieve into a jug to measure the liquid you strain off (I got 4 cups).  Rinse your pan and add this liquid back to the pan.  Rinse and dry your jug and add 2:3 sugar to juice (so I used 3 cups organic raw sugar).  Simmer on low to medium heat until sugar is dissolved, sotrring often.  Add 1/2 tsp citric acid to each cup of liquid you had from the guavas (I used 2 tsp total).  Stir until dissolved.  Keep simmering until the jelly reaches setting point. Stir occasionally, checking that it's not sticking or burning.  While it's cooking I sterilise some jars, write some labels and clean up my mess!  To test when it's set, I put a spoon into the fridge and dip it into the jelly after around 15 minutes, if it sets a bit on the spoon - it's thicker than syrup and a little will set on the spoon as it cools. 

Turn off the heat and pour the jelly into the sterilised jars (today I filled 4 jars).  If there's any scum or bits of fruit in the jelly, scoop that off or pour it through the fine sieve again, through a funnel, into your jars.  Seal immediately with sterlised lids.  Sit on the bench to cool, trying to resist the urge to tip the jars to check for setting!  The next day, these will be cool and set.  Ensure the outside of each jar is squeaky clean and label and date each jar.  This jelly keeps for many months in a cool, dark pantry.  It's nice spread on toast, or served with cheese, or even poultry.

This method of making jelly is suitable for many fruits - especially those with seeds or skins that aren't suitable for jam.  You can experiment with adding a few whole cloves or other spices during the initial boiling stage.

Next, I think I'll try making herb jelly...

What about you?  Have you made preserves lately?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Congratulations Rhonda!

by Megan @

'I was pulled into simple living before I knew what it was. It crept up on me using the smallest of steps and didn't reveal its true beauty and real power until I was totally hooked. I was searching for a way to live well while spending very little money. What I found was a way of life that also gave me independence, opportunity and freedom.' ` Rhonda Hetzel, Down to Earth - a guide to simple living.

On the weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Rhonda Hetzel, the founder of this blog, and her husband, Hanno when they dropped into Byron Bay. Readers will be familiar with Rhonda and Hanno through Rhonda's blog, Down to Earth, one of my daily reads and constant inspirations.

I was lucky enough to meet Rhonda and Hanno as they embarked on an epic road trip to launch Rhonda's first book: Down to Earth, a guide to simple living. True to her values about reducing carbon emissions (and despite the fact her family thought she was crazy for doing so!), Rhonda decided to travel by car for the book launch tour rather than fly. It will slow the journey down, but that is a positive in Rhonda's eyes as it means that she and Hanno can visit a heap of country towns along the way, and meet readers of her blog who may not otherwise have the opportunity. It is one way of giving back to the readers who have supported her on her blogging journey all these years.

For those of you who haven't met this inspirational lady in person, can I just tell you she is the epitomy of her blog and book title: Down to Earth. Generous, friendly and no pretense whatsoever.

Rhonda, you should be so very, very proud of what you have achieved with your book - it is just stunning. I have spent the weekend poring over my review copy (I have some professional reviews to write) and I love it. This will be one to keep dipping into regularly for years to come as I continue my own journey in simplifying my own life.

The book takes the reader through the very basics of establishing a simpler, greener, less consumer driven lifestyle, whatever stage of life or skill set you are at. Rhonda will show you how to budget, how to cook from scratch, how to grow, store and preserve your own food as well as tips on recycling, re-using and mending and how to set up a sustainable home and backyard and much, much, more. Whatever stage you are at, from complete beginner to experienced self-sustaining homesteader, you will find much inspiration in this book.

Whether you want to learn how to grow tomatoes, bake bread, make your own soap and preserve fruit, or just be inspired to slow down and live more sustainably, Down to Earth will be your guide.

Rhonda told me on the weekend that as well as being a practical guide to simple living, she wanted the book to be beautiful as well - to match the everyday beauty she finds in this simple, green and frugal lifestyle. Well, Rhonda, you and your book designers at Penguin Books Australia have achieved that goal. The book design and photography are a delight; your writing style is, as always, fluid, gentle and accessible and the generations of wisdom you have managed to bundle up in that one book is exceptional.

Rhonda, from all of us here at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op I offer my hearty congratulations and wish you the best of times on your book launch road trip.


Rhonda's blog:
Rhonda's book: Down to Earth, a guide to simple living

Friday, 17 February 2012

Meal Assembly

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Back in early January, a friend called with an invitation to a fun little "party." The set-up was kind of like Tupperware or Mary Kaye cosmetics - a girls get-together to learn about a product, no requirement to buy, some wine and snacks and socializing - the women readers here know what I'm talking about. This "party' was an intro session at a local dinner meals assembly place. We'd have the place to ourselves for that evening, she was bringing a couple bottles of wine, she'd get to prepare a free meal as hostess, we could make ourselves one meal at the "party" price, with the option to prepare additional meals from a reduced menu at regular price.

Even though the place is only two blocks from my home, I'd never been inside. There are about 16 dinner-meal menu items, different each month. A customer schedules an hour-long session once a month, pre-ordering a minimum of 12 meals (in the 3 or 6 serving size) she wants to prepare during that time. Moving from station to station, where everything is set-up for that particular meal, she follows the prep recipe - measuring the ingredients for the sauce into one freezer baggie, putting together the side dish items in another baggie, packaging the meat portion, various baggies, and the cooking instructions all together in a gallon bag, puts that in her section of the guest refrigerator, and on to the next station. When finished, she places her order for next month, and has a least 12 "meals-in-a-bag" to take home and put in her freezer - to thaw and cook as needed.

It made for a fun evening, but the concept wasn't really something compatible with my lifestyle (nor that of most of the readers here, I'd guess. But bear with me, I do have a point to make here eventually). I only have the freezer compartment of my refrigerator, and it's pretty-much full - half with bags of fruits and veggies from my garden and orchard, the other half with white freezer-paper packages of meat I buy in the cost-saving club packs and re-package at home into meal-size servings for the two of us. Our chickens provide our eggs. I grow and dry many of my herbs. I patronize a grocery store that has bulk bins for grains and legumes, and there's another one a block from my home I can walk to when I'm out of milk. I already know how to cook, and usually without a recipe.

So I made my $5 3-serving meal, and bought a couple more pre-made ones from the freezer with my half-off party coupon. One of the employees working that evening was an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in years. So as we were playing catch-up, she told me she'd just gotten a full-time job offer, had given her notice, and that they needed someone to fill her part-time on-call position. I ended up with the job, working a couple of sessions a week - set-up before, clean-up after, cleaning and refilling stations between customers, and just general friendly customer service stuff. It's pleasant enough work, short and flexible hours, and nice to earn a bit of extra spending money.

Now this isn't an advertisement. I purposely am not using the name of the franchise. And even though I now could buy meals with an employee discount, I haven't done so (really - no room in the freezer). The cost of the meals is reasonable - a bit more than my usual home-cooking from scratch, less than a comparable meal in a restaurant. But I find the concept interesting, and I've been talking with the customers quite a bit - asking how long they've been coming there, what they like about it, why they keep coming back. I've been thinking about what they've said, thinking a bit more about the concept in general, and am feeling a bit of a paradigm shift beginning.

Allow me to digress just a bit now: thirty-some years ago, I was living in a rather remote mountain town. The only food store was a big chain franchise, with the standard pre-packaged and over-processed stuff, ingredient lists I couldn't even pronounce. A bunch of us locals got together and started a bulk food-buying co-operative. At first, it was just pitching in for a monthly buying trip to an alternative foods warehouse supplier, splitting up the order in someone's home. We outgrew that and found a small storefront to rent, with members volunteering time in the "store." We outgrew that, ending up with a real store with somewhat regular hours, a small paid staff, tiers of membership options, and a surcharge for use by the general public. Everything was still pretty much bought in bulk, and everyone knew to bring their own bags, jars, and bottles to reuse when shopping. It really was a rather "green sustainable-living" set-up, and gave the whole town access to minimally-processed, pesticide-free food options, whole grains, vegetarian, and alternative food-stuffs not easily obtained back then.

And now, back to the present, where alternatives now abound - Farmers Markets, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, health food stores, internet shopping, etc. And when, as an article written in 2008 (here) says, more than a quarter of food available for consumption ends up being thrown out - spoilage, expiration dates, too much prepared, inadequate storage, and on and on. And I'm  starting to look at this meal-assembly process in a new light.

Maybe it's the food co-op for a new generation. Menu items are bought in bulk, so less individual packaging (although lots of plastic freezer bags - wonder what they'd say if someone wanted to bring in their own reusable freezer containers each month?). Timely use of ingredients - who out there has partially-used spice containers more than a year old? ten years old? Saves money, packaging, food waste - say you only need a teaspoon of turmeric, or a quarter-cup of coconut milk. Saves time too - all the chopping, slicing, and dicing is already done.

It is home-cooking. It is real food. Customers can tweak the ingredients when they're putting each meal together, according to their own family's preferences (say, if you want to leave out the bell peppers or garlic). Healthier alternatives, such as whole-grain pastas, are available to try, without committing to whole bags of something your family won't eat. Some working mothers like that it's all in one bag, with instructions easy enough for dad or the kids to cook. Some empty-nesters have told me that between these meals and a monthly trip to a big warehouse store, they haven't shopped at a supermarket in years - and their food bills are lower.

So it's an interesting experience, and has given me some new concepts to ponder. Besides, I'd say anything that gets families to sit down to dinner together has got to be a good thing.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Man skills

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I don't know what else to call them - most people will know what I mean by 'man' skills, much as it irks me to divide labour along gender lines in this day and age. These are the areas of production that, in peacetime at least, have been the domain of men. Perhaps we could call them hard skills, as they involve sharp edges, hard surfaces, fire and electrical currents. A little danger, if you will, when contrasted against the much softer, rounder edges of garden, yarn and kitchen crafts.These are the industries that most commonly employed men and the skills kept alive, mostly by men, tinkering in sheds.

Until this week, I knew not a single person that shaped metal and welds in their spare time. I work in facilities management and the maintenance teams, comprised entirely of men, are obviously quite handy. But the older ones complain that the younger ones coming in from college lacking old skills - mental arithmetic, a working knowledge of their allied disciplines, a willingness to think outside the box. The number of jobs in these practical sectors seems to be continually shrinking. Whether this is a reality or not I don't know, but all of the people that I know that work in less tactile service industries do not pursue these hard practical skills in their spare time. They have hobbies - cooking, yarn crafts, gardening and may have an admiration for cars and gadgets. Few of them however, myself included, can fix a cooker, make a spinning wheel, re-handle a spade, perform an oil change or build a PC from spare parts.

Part of the problem I think is that these skills are less accessible and more expensive to learn. They require dedicated workshop space and tools. Many of them require a solid knowledge of scientific principles which many come out of school lacking. Part of it might be a mental block - these are the things that so many who are trying to simplify and transition to a lower energy future really can't imagine having to supply for themselves. I would hope against hope that women are not held back from them because they are unladylike, though I fear that may often be the case. But the idea that a powered down future is going to be built solely with knitting and seedlings is dangerous. I fear we may end up with an overabundance of skilled cooks, knitters and gardeners; and an under abundance of welders, tool sharpeners and ham radio enthusiasts.

Why is this on my mind?

This is the plough our allotment neighbour built. He spent the winter in Bangladesh on his family farm and brought this back with him. It is made from scrap metal, hand cut and shaped, welded together. It fits into a extendable paint roller handle. He shipped it back from Bangladesh, I suppose, because his expensive diesel powered rotovator was mangled by a piece of scrap metal buried on his plot. It is sturdy. It cuts through soil and weeds like a knife through butter and ploughs an allotment row in minutes. It laughs in the face of the scrap metal buried on his plot - and if it does get mangled, it can be repaired by hand with pieces of scrap metal. I am in awe of the handiwork and ashamed that I would not have a clue where to even begin with a project like this, short of 'Step 1: find scrap metal'.

My own grandad was a ham radio enthusiast. He built his own aerial in the back garden. He was an early adopter of computer technology and tinkered with all things electrical and mechanical. If I had grown up around him I may have been more handy than I am, but regardless of our crafts, I think that his example is why the DIY ethic courses through my veins. But my skills are all distinctly 'soft' and I felt both in awe and completely inadequate when confronted with this plough. Awe and inadequacy combined are an inspirational combination and I am now on the look out for my own 'hard' skill to develop over the next few years, though what it will be I do not know.

What 'hard' skills do you possess and are you trying to pass them on to others or revive them? Is there something you want to learn and what is stopping you? And what should I do? Ideas much appreciated...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Simple Life. Is It Really So Simple?

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

When my family and I embarked on our journey to live a more sustainable lifestyle after I had my green epiphany, little did I realise that this type of lifestyle takes a while to go from the complexity of modern society, to the simple and green lifestyle that I envisaged and yearned for.  My initial motivation was to lower my carbon footprint, so that our grandchildren (yet born) and future generations had a liveable planet.

I knew that I had to change my thought pattens somewhat, having to learn how to slow down, relax, and worry less about things that just were not as important as I thought they were, but inversely I also had to skill up so that I could do all the things that I wanted to do.  However, one rather large thing that I did not realise at the start, was that living a simple life did not mean that life got any easier, it just meant that my priorities had changed.  Hard work was there, and continues to be there in droves.

Let me give you a few examples of how my mindset and workload changed.  Instead of worrying if I needed a shiny new iPad, I had to worry about whether whether we were saving enough energy and that our solar PV system was working as designed.  Instead of wondering what rubbish I was putting in my mouth, I had to ensure that my chickens were getting ample nutrition every day.  Instead of thinking about the price of food going up, I had to think about what I was going to plant in the veggie patch for next season that we would eat and what I could harvest right now.  Instead of having to choose which green grocer was the best in town, I had to think about the optimum way of pruning my fruit trees to maximise next years harvest.  Instead of replacing broken things, I tried to mend them.  Instead of throwing away food scraps, I collected them (and fed the chickens, worms and compost bins).  Instead of spending money, we paid down debt, then saved money.  You get my drift, so many new things to learn and master.

All of these things helped us become partly self reliant and meant that we had to do additional work.  We found that the extra work had meaning more than any other work we had tried, and was worthy of our time, because it made us feel better.  By thinking a different way, and by paying attention to our goals, we found that all the things that we set out to achieve, were achieved, however they always took longer than we planned.  Maybe it was because most of the things we did, like raise chickens, make garden beds, grow food, bake bread, etc. were all new to us but very exciting and fun.

Further down the path we began to question the status quo, the current "business as usual" mentality and realised that what we were doing made sense, was more sustainable than our previous mindset, and would put us in good stead for possible future events like resource scarcity.

We found that living a simple life was fun, enjoyable, and rewarding, but the name of this lifestyle was a little bit deceiving.  It was a lot less complex, and now that we were not caught up in the consumer culture, we did not have to buy stuff we did not need, with money we did not have, to impress people we did not like!

Maybe we should call it the "Rewarding, Fulfilling, and Happy, but Constant work Life".  Have you had a similar experienced, or did it just come naturally to you?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

How Much To Sweat the Small Stuff

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I have taken to getting a cup of takeaway coffee on my way to work lately. I used to always just make a cup myself, but the café  has the best skinny latté. It's a little treat I really enjoy, and it took me a shamefully long time to actually realise how many takeaway coffee cups I was throwing away. I live near a small country town. I didn't want to make a fuss or stand out by bringing in my own cup. I was in denial until one day I went to empty the waste basket under my desk, and it was full of paper cups.  

So I'm very much in love with my new KeepCup, and the local café loves it too. Being a total cheapskate, it took a deep breath to spend that much on a cup, but it just works and my frugal side only regrets money wasted on junk, not money spent on things that work.

Usually I take my lunch to work too, or buy it at the local café. Most days, this is my lunch packaging.

But I got caught up in town the other day, and had to buy a quick take-away lunch from the supermarket.  It amazed me the quantity of packaging.  If I did this every day for a year.... 

It adds up.  Each little bit seems reasonable, but it adds up. 

I do believe it is counterproductive to get all moralistic and purist about the small stuff. It just creates the kind of culture that normal, fallible, doing-their-best mortals feel excluded from. But at the same time, the small things like takeaway coffee in a reuseable cup, or a lunch box that doesn't require plastic wrap, often involve no real sacrifices at all. They're the low hanging green fruit. It's just a bit hard to see them sometimes. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Inspiring play tables

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Tomorrow we are collecting my nephews and bringing them home to stay with us for a few days. I am looking forward to getting to know the 'little men' that I mostly see throughout the year only when we celebrate birthdays and Christmas. They are both under 5 and I have been planning some play experiences to keep them happy and occupied whilst my own children are at school.

Whilst we do have plenty to do around the house it is nice to have some ideas 'up my sleeve' just in case some boredom and 'missing mum and dad' moments set in!

Something I invested in when working in children's services is a low play table. It has been used for all sorts of play and I especially like to make little themed displays. Sometimes these were strongly themed like this one below.

Sometimes the play space was less structured and set up to encourage the children to create their own ideas and play.

I think I'll make up a table based on my nephews current interests (farms, cars or trains) for them to play with tomorrow. You don't need a big space to create something like this. Even a place mat on the floor with a few different items based on your child's interests will be enough to create a new play space for your child.

Some themed ideas are:
  • Recycled items eg. paper tubes, milk bottle caps and rings etc (safe for age)
  • Colour tables eg. a red table containing only red objects in different shades of red
  • Farm, jungle, beach, forest themes
  • Different countries and cultures
  • Items with different textures

You can include toys, objects from around the house, hand made props, scarves and coloured fabrics, books and boxes/blocks for building. A good idea is to partially create the space and let your child continue to build on it. Leave the space set up until your child loses interest and then return to re-create another inspiring table!

These spaces needn't be full of new or toy related items. The best spaces use items from around your home or from nature. They needn't cost anything to make.

It's going to be a fun few days here!


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Rethinking Convenience Food

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Cooking from scratch doesn't necessarily come to mind when one thinks of convenience foods. We have been trained for several generations to purchase ready-made goods. It started out innocent enough, but now people are yearning to go back to an earlier time and sets of skills and do more for themselves. Whether it be cooking, gardening, farming, or other lost skills it's all the same, we thought we were saving time and ended up getting busier and busier with no time (we were told) to do for ourselves. But really we lost a lot by not paying attention. I call myself Throwback for a reason. I am a throwback to an earlier time, when tasks like cooking, sewing and all the ins and outs of gardening were common knowledge. I'll give the luck of the draw some credit, I grew up on a farm, my parents were older and still kept some of the old ways, likewise with their circle of friends. My husband and I joke that our habits are so old, that they're in again.

As I prepared soup for dinner today, I went about my work gathering ingredients. We grow most of our food and preserve the harvest in a multitude of ways to last us through the dark days until the growing season starts in earnest.

You know, it sure is convenient to just go to the fruit room, freezer or root cellar and go shopping for meal preparation. I grabbed home canned roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions and potatoes from dry storage, ground beef, peppers, cilantro pesto and corn from the freezer, and grabbed a quart of chicken stock from the fridge. This task made me realize just how convenient it is to have great ingredients on hand to prepare meals with. We grow our own, but if you're not there yet with your pantry stocking from your gardens, you can still load your pantry with purchased goods. The key is having it on hand. Many good meals have been made on the spur of the moment - as long as you have the basics you're good to go.

I guess what I want to say is, if you're a new cook or gardener slaving away trying to master the skills, it's worth it. We need to rethink the idea of convenience food, nothing is more convenient than having good food on hand for preparing a home cooked meal.

Here is the recipe for our dinner made possible by our pantry and my guess and by gosh cooking. This recipe is just a general idea that can be changed to match what you have on hand. In the summer my chilies, corn and cilantro are fresh, in the winter the freezer stores have to do. Pork or chicken are good in this soup too - just use what you have. This recipe is convenient too because of the long cooking time, I can leave this to cook on the back of the woodstove, or even in the slow cooker if I wanted to. Truly convenient.

Beef Stew with Cilantro

1 pound ground beef or stew meat
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter
1 quart whole canned tomatoes
1 pint roasted whole tomatoes
1 quart chicken or beef stock
2 pounds potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 or 3 anaheim chiles, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or cilantro pesto
1 cup frozen corn
sugar to taste - 1 teaspoon or not?
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In large saucepan over medium high heat, brown onion, garlic and chopped pepper in 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. When onions are caramelized, add meat and cook until brown. Remove meat and alliums from pan and set aside. Over medium heat in same pan, add all other ingredients, bring to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add meat and alliums. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Serve. Much better the next day.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Candle Making

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Today my friend and I, with our nine children (between us) made all sorts of candles from beeswax - most of it from her beehives.

Firstly, we gathered materials outdoors - old tables, aprons, gas burners, old pots and bowls, jars and tins, newspaper, pop sticks and blu tack.  With so many people, mostly children, candle-making is a messy activity!  We also had blocks of beeswax, some offcuts of beeswax sheets and some wick.

Beforehand, we had a look at a candle-making book and searched online for methods to try.  We'd made rolled candles before, so that was the easiest way to begin.

While we set up the pots to melt wax, the children rolled small tapered candles from triangles of beeswax sheet.  They got the hang of it quickly and finished off the whole box of sheets in no time.

Next we tried dipping candles.  It was a slow process and the adults tired of it very quickly, but the children were fascinated by the lumpy-bumpy results of their dipping!  Some of us dipped some tapered candles, to fill the gaps in the beeswax sheets so they'll burn longer, and to give a different finish.

A sample of the results of our candle-making.

We also made a couple of candles in moulds, and it gave the neatest, fastest result.  Because we have access to a lot of wax, we'll be hunting down some more moulds for our next candle-making day!

It's great fun to make things with children.  Their focus on the process, not the product, helps us lighten up and enjoy the activity more.

Have you made anything new lately?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Success and Failure

by Megan at The Byron Life

This summer was going to be the season where I put all of those dreams of growing my own food into action. I prepared the veggie beds, sowed the seeds and watched in awe as everything took off and grew, grew, grew... success! Well, so I thought.
Nature had some other plans...
We've just had the coldest start to summer in 50 years and the rain we've had, oh my, the rain...the North Coast has flooded at levels not seen for decades.
It's enough to send this fledgling gardener back to the fruit and veggie shop for supplies - we certainly can't live off my garden, the harvest has been dismal.

The top photo showed what happened to my precious little pear tomatoes after all that rain - they split their sides in protest!
And the mango tree we waited for YEARS to come good was looking spectacular, full of fruit... until the bats got to them!! Waking up and finding half the fruit lying on the ground, half-eaten, was devastating.

We salvaged what we could from the mango tree and when I cut into that first home-grown fruit it was divine. So sweet and juicy, just perfect...Worth the pain.

So, I've notched up a bit of experience now. Bring in the tomatoes and ripen them on the kitchen window sill. Bag the mangoes before the bats get to them. Sure, there's a lot you can read from books and blogs - but nothing really beats learning by doing, does it?

Watch this space to see how I fare with Autumn... I'm not giving up! Floods and flying foxes won't stop me.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Days Like These

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

It is days like these when we have nowhere to go and no real commitments, that I wonder why it isn't possible to be still more often. Today I declared it was a "home day". And just what is a home day? A day where we never leave home; no shoes need to be put on, no hats, scarves or gloves need to be tackled. It's a day where I stand at the window, cup of tea in hand and watch the world go by. It is a day where I enjoy simple crafts with my children, no one needing to be hurried, no one making us late. It is a day where I smell curries and soups and muffins cooking and baking, ready to nourish us through far too many busy and hurried days ahead.

It is days like these where I reflect on our choices, our dreams, our aspirations and instead of planning I think "be still". It is days like these where I accomplish our greatest goal - simplicity. It is days like these when absolutely everything else can wait and I'm reminded of a favourite poem...

Cleaning and cooking can wait 'till tomorrow
For babies grow up, as we've learned to our sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep


It is days like these, where my greatest wish for this world is for everyone to stop. Stop the negative and anxious thoughts. Stop the dash to the shops. Stop the hurried list of things to do. Stop. Stop. Stop. Be still. Be still. Be still.

I hope each person reading this soon has a plan to be still. To breathe. To relax. To be...

Saturday, 4 February 2012


by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

I am currently writing this blog post in a hotel in Sydney far away from my home in ONC (Our Nation's Capital). It is the last weekend before the end of school holidays, so my children and I thought we'd come up to our nation's largest city and have some fun.

I love Sydney. I enjoy many of the things this city has to offer. I even enjoy the hustle and bustle! I have come here often for work and for pleasure and some pivotal moments of my life have happened here.

One of those moments was a talk I attended during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House in 2009. That talk was presented by Germaine Greer on "Freedom".

Freedom, I believe, is a deeply personal state. *My* state of freedom would be different to others who may seemingly occupy that same state. I believe its because freedom is the ability to act in accordance to one's own values. Ergo, this means that oppression is (according to GG) when one is compelled to act in accordance with a set of values that is not their own.

If freedom is a deeply personal state, and if we are to operate as a "free society" then freedom is something that needs to be negotiated and redefined at all levels. Perhaps a key part of that negotiation and redefinition is to respect all people's values and not use fear to compel them to act in ways that do not fit into their value system.

That talk was huge for me because its when I believe I started to ask deeper questions regarding consumerism.

Are the companies who produce, and governments who ensure that there are goods for us to buy respect our values? Or do they try to instil fear and anxiety to compel us to buy what we do not want?

Is consumerism a form of social control?

Am I (and my community) living in accordance to my (and our) values?

Anyway, lots of deep thoughts for me at the moment, so I thought I'd leave you with this image I found in flickr:

"Freedom is a Toilet Tissue" Photo by Russell Higgs <-- click to read Russell's story about this photo.

I wish you all a good weekend!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Lifestyle Transitions

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
A wry smile crept across my face as I read my co-writer Aurora's post, immediately preceding my day to write. I have a comfortable morning routine, honed over many years. Or had, shall I say? My husband, transitioning into retirement, now has put everything into disarray.

Many of the same things still get done: breakfast cooked, dishes washed, a load of laundry started, bed fluffed and made up. And sometimes, now it's even him doing some of those things, so I really can't complain (although I do prefer he stay away from the laundry - and I do speak from experience).

But some things have changed too. He's an early riser, so I find my day now tends to start earlier too. I usually read the newspaper as my breakfast muffins or oats are cooking - he has the paper. I take my mid-morning cup of tea in to check my email - he's on the computer. I go to vacuum the living room - he's watching something on television. My late-afternoon walks with the dog are now more likely to take place much earlier, and now there are three of us. Dinner plans now are a topic for discussion instead of up to my discretion.

Spending patterns are in flux right now too. My grocery list has changed - he's now eating lunch at home instead of at work. And I had to reinforce that idea too. We'd often go out to lunch on his day off. But now that every day is his day off, that pattern needs to be broken. He's now readjusting to fixing and eating lunches at home most of the time.

Most of our household bills will remain the same, but we're still waiting to see about car use and gasoline expense. He's not commuting to work, but with more time to spend together we are getting out and about, doing things together. It's a good thing I do so enjoy his company.

As he said a couple of days ago, his "accumulation" phase is now ending. Now we're looking at how to start using the funds we've saved up for this time, and how far we need to plan ahead. Neither of us is quite old enough for government health care. Without the company health insurance, we're going to have to shop for our own coverage for the time being. Not constrained by corporate dictates of who we can see, we'll probably re-examine our health care providers - perhaps changing dentists, optometrists, and doctors.

We've saved and planned for this day - but it's always been "someday." Now that it's here, it's going to take the both of us a bit of time to readjust.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Morning routines

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Keeping house doesn't come naturally to me. There are aspects of it I love - gardening springs to mind. There are aspects I despise - washing up in particular. The rest of domestic life falls somewhere in between theses extremes, more often than not skewed towards the negative end of the scale. My natural inclination is to spend a lot of my time living in my own head pondering other matters unrelated to the reality in front of me, whilst those very real things build up, topple over and cause an even bigger mess.

Then I became a parent and the time I had to just live in my own head and ponder 'things' pretty much evaporated, along with the mental energy that went with it. That is when I really began to focus on my day to day life, my surroundings. I saw the ugly reality of the two day old washing up pile, the laundry still waiting to be folded, the stuffed to bursting cupboards of 'stuff'. I had been brought down to earth with a bump and actually had to live in my physical environment - and it appalled me. I began to change.

The decluttering commenced, the housework was manageable, time had been freed up for baking and gardening and crafting. Life was good and getting better. Just when I thought I had 'got' it, it was gone again in a whirl of sleepless nights and the chaos of integrating a new baby's preferred routine with the one that was already established. More chaos ensued, though a more manageable one.

Routines are grounding, I get that now.  The more chaotic and time constrained life is, the more important it is to integrate a little bit of routine. A morning routine is especially grounding, it sets you up for the rest of the day. Get the first hour right and the rest should follow. And so I am trying to begin again, to get off on the right foot. I wake up, come downstairs and put the coffee on. I put in a load of laundry and I wash up last nights dishes (both of which can be done with a foggy just woken up state of mind) getting my least favourite jobs over and done with. We sit and eat breakfast and drink our coffee and get ready for the day. The most productive hour of my day, unchanging, regardless of the rest of my schedule. A little normality has been restored.

Other routines will follow and routines will also evolve over time if they no longer suit. If like me you are disinclined towards routine, a simple plan for the first hour of the day is perhaps the best place to begin. Set several things going all at once - the coffee, the laundry, the washing up - and let each thing flow into the other, stirring you to life gradually.

So, how was your morning?