Monday, 10 November 2008

Many ways to support tomatoes

Posted by Marc
from Garden Desk

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Topless Tables

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

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

2. Tomato Tower Trellis.

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

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

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

3. Stake and Weave

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

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

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

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

Thanks and Happy Tomato Picking!

Keep Growing,
- Marc

Saturday, 8 November 2008

simple entertaining

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

simple entertaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Frugal Washing and Cleaning

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

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

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

1. Does it need a wash?

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

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

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

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

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

3. How much soap/detergent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 3 November 2008

Where do you get the time for that?

Posted by Julie
Towards Sustainability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 November 2008


Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Simplicity really is abundance in plain clothes!"