Friday, 6 November 2009

Our House Cow Journey Part 2

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Continued from Our House Cow Journey Part One

We've learned so much in the almost two months we've had a house cow! Some of the main lessons are:

* it's not easy
* it's not cheap
* nothing ever stays the same

If I knew what a challenge a house cow would be, would I do it again? YES! The milk is fantastic, the manure is abundant, and the cows are really a joy to work with, especially Honey the calf.

We're still milking out once a day, but we take our share first in the afternoon as we were barely getting 1.5L for awhile. Honey is eating a variety of other foods (mainly grass and lucerne hay tops) and growing amazingly fast and well, so we thought it was time to take the first step to weaning. Hopefully each further step toward weaning will go as smoothly.

We are using diluted Neem oil for buffalo fly at the moment, which appeared once the rain came back. I'm playing with dilutions so I don't have to re-apply all the time, but it certainly seems to make a difference. I check both cows daily for ticks, and remove them manually. Luckily, both animals are quite used to me touching them now.

We're spending less on feed now that there's more pasture for the cows - for awhile there their food budget rivaled ours! Lucy is happy to eat more homegrown foods, especially pigeon pea, and she is hand-fed snacks of these most days. Sometimes I'll lead her to a lush part of another paddock and stand whilst she munches away, or tie her to a post whilst I do something else.

From the milk I've made yoghurt, panir, quark, sour cream (didn't work out), cottage cheese and cream cheese so far. Mostly, though we only milk out what we can use fresh and in cooking. The Home Creamery has been an invaluable resource (and inspiration) in creating products from excess milk.

There are more blog posts and photos of our house cow journey on Home Grown.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

When You're Weary

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I've noticed two things during this season, firstly people begin to notice how tired they are and secondly people begin to spend money because they are tired. Not only is this a more expensive time of year for people generally due to the holidays, but there is a financial cost to busyness and tiredness that I began to see when I actively started budgeting and looking in detail at where I was spending. Firstly, I found that I cooked less from scratch and ate more take out or convenience foods, secondly I was choosing more costly activities for entertainment because I just wanted to sit and do nothing and finally the sheer exhaustion let the thought "I'd feel so much better if I could just get away" creep into my every day thinking!

I've been helping friends with finances, or more correctly helping them budget and again I'm seeing the trend that many big purchases particularly holidays and vacations were made in exhaustion, usually during winter when they desperately needed a break. So, I've been reflecting on what reduces tiredness and increases joy in anticipation of what is around the corner and I thought I'd share some ideas I came up with to prevent that extra spending!

Ways of preventing weariness and big spending...!
  • Going to bed 30 minutes earlier and making it a routine!
  • Having a library book on hand ready to read so that the evenings when you crash at home you are not tempted to purchase a book at the book shop first
  • Consistently sticking to 3 fruits, 3 veg, the right amount of protein and dairy each day, this gives more energy and a better ability to cope
  • Cooking food in advance, so that you have soups, casseroles etc waiting in the freezer for you for those busy nights where you have little time!
  • Keeping your house clean and in order (this prevents many from calling in a cleaning service while in crisis mode!)
  • Bundling up and taking an evening walk, making this part of a routine each day when possible
  • Meditating, relaxing, praying
  • Being realistic about your time & commitments! Two evening commitments a week are enough for me!
  • Taking time for pleasure - seeing friends at the weekend
  • Learn a new hobby - knitting, cooking, baking, sewing are all great hobbies for the winter season
  • Being thankful! I go to bed thankful for 3 things during my day, this helps me remain positive instead of negative because let's face it sometimes you don't feel like 1 thing went well that day :)
  • Getting outside for sunlight - if I go too long without sun, I start to imagine warm beaches during the dead of winter...this is dangerous thinking for my budget :)
  • Plan your holiday/summer etc - knowing that you have good times awaiting you will help you grin and bear the busy season now
  • Keep it simple - there is no point having time off over the holidays and being busy 12-16 hours a day, going back to work more exhausted than before your vacation days, I try to keep at least two days before Christmas and two days after Christmas as quiet home days, where the family does nothing more than take a long walk, enjoy good food and relax!
  • Remember spring is just around the corner!!!

I'd love to hear from you, do you find you spend more during busy seasons in your life? What do you do to relax without spending money?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Watching My Veggie Patch Grow

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

It has been about 2½ years since I first seriously started gardening.  It was about the same time that I had been watching a UK BBC2 show called, 'It's not easy being green', which is a story about the Strawbridge family who give up their semi-detached house in the city and move to Cornwall.  They buy a dilapidated old farm on about 3 acres and start attempting to live sustainably.  The first thing they built was their veggie patch, and I was so impressed that I decided to give it a go myself.  This was mainly to reduce food miles and I had become extremely disheartened with the taste of vegetables available from our supermarkets.  Tomatoes just didn't taste like I remembered as a child. 

So, this was my blank canvas at the time back in early 2008.

A mostly dead lawn that I couldn't water, and everything was over grown.  There was an old peach tree stump that had to be removed, and a half dead nectarine tree that I was standing next to when I took the photo.  This was taken about 3 months before I built the veggie patch.

I decided to build raised beds as the soil was hard clay in the summer and slippery clay in the winter.  Not a lot grew well.  So, after lots of hard work I cleared the yard, got rid of the bushes on the left hand side and made my garden beds.  After two weekends of clearing this part of the yard of bushes and old rotten sleepers and the stumps of two old trees, we were able to begin building.

A fair difference.  We could actually see the brick wall to the left, and used redressed, recycled redgum sleepers to make the frame for the beds and constructed them 2100 x 1200 x 100 cm and spaced the beds 70 cm apart. This was enough space to lay some pavers for a little path between each bed. The beds were fastened together with 100 mm galvanised nails with a butt joint, and the wood was so hard that I had to pre-drill each nail hole. During the construction I managed to hit my left shin with the full force of a hammer blow! It swelled up like a melon. Nice and sore for the rest of the day, but some ice helped the swelling go down.  It pays to wear jeans when building, and not shorts like I was!

The next day, we filled the beds in this order.  The first layer was a cover of cardboard and newspaper about 5 sheets thick. This ground cover was to kill the weeks, grass and provide food for the earth worms. Next was a 10 cm layer of either lucerne hay or pea straw. I chose pea straw and Amy and Megan laid it for me. The third layer was a 2 cm layer of Dynamic Lifter (you can use well rotted manure). For the four beds I finished off an entire 25 Kg bag of very smelly Dynamic Lifter. I then covered it with another 5 cm layer of pea straw and then a layer 20 cm thick of mushroom compost garden mix. I think it was a 50-50 mix of mushroom compost and a loam type soil. It was filled with organic matter and was very suitable for the purpose of growing vegetables. I ordered 2 cubic metres and used it all! Adam lugged most of it from the roadside with the wheelbarrow, and Kim and I raked it level in each bed. Lastly, I topped it off with a 5 cm layer of sugar cane mulch, to help conserve water by stopping evaporation. You can read about what I planted in that first autumn here.

About 3 months later, we had saved up enough money to revamp the old courtyard area.  We put in a new veranda and decking.  The veranda was steel (not very eco friendly, I know but I didn't have much choice.  The decking however was FSC certified wood as were all the border latice work.  We put down metres of weed matting to stop grass growing through all between the beds and the path, then laid down paving stones and about 3 cubic metres of tuscan pebble mix to dress the ground.  This is the nearly finished yard.

You will notice that the large black pots against the wall are empty.  Into those I planted four citrus trees as the wall retained a lot of heat in the afternoon, so I knew they would do well, which they have.  A bumper crop in the 2nd year.

We continued to add to the garden, by adding some herb pots against the front of the decking and just went crazy with pots and a little plastic greenhouse and lots of ornamental plants on the deck.  This is what it looked like last summer just before the three day heat wave we had of 47ÂșC temperature, two days before Black Saturday.  Most of it survived except for a crop of sweet corn I had planted in the front yard.  I remember that it was about the same time I drained the rainwater tank because I simply had to keep it all alive.

As you can see it was an edible jungle!  I am very proud of what I have achieved in these past few years.  Also during that time I planted 10 fruit trees in the front yard, which is now my fruit orchard and all trees are doing well.  I also established a large pumpkin and bean patch on the east side of the house after pulling down some runaway jasmine bushes.  Also, the chickens provide the fertiliser and I make all the compost myself in 3 large bins.  You can read about all my gardening adventures on my site here.  It has been so much fun, and I highly recommend building even a small veggie patch to anyone who is even thinking about it.  Once established, it takes a few hours a week to maintain and it is a pleasure to have soil in you hands!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Starting a Dinner Co-op

by Amy of Progressive Pioneer

Why would you want to have a dinner co-op? Here's why we do it:
  • We love food, good food, but I don't always have hours to spend in the kitchen.
  • I want to try new recipes, but often find myself falling back on the same old standbys.
  • We like saving money.
  • And we wanted to become better friends with our neighbors.
  • We appreciate that cooking one meal for many uses less resources than cooking many meals for a few (in terms of energy use etc.)
So, we started a mostly-vegan dinner co-op with two other families and it has been life-altering! I'm over the moon with how much fun it is, how much time it has freed up for us and how many more coherent, tasty, hot meals we now sit down to as a family.
To begin we brainstormed about who else might be interested in our crazy idea of eating less meat and dairy. If your co-op isn't vegan, you'll probably have an easier time coming up with possible members. But you'll still want to invite people with similar tastes and eating habits.
Once we had three families all on board I wrote up a questionnaire about eating habits, preferred nights to cook, allergies or "off-limits" foods, contact information, co-op goals etc. I had everyone turn the sheets in to me and then made a master list to distribute at our kick-off meeting.
To get the co-op off on the right foot we had everyone over for a potluck dinner to discuss the nitty-gritty of cooking meals for each other. Everyone went home with a schedule of when they were cooking, contact info for other members, a list of foods not to include and a list of everyone's favorite cook books.

Because we're aiming to eat less animal products and also trying to not break the bank when cooking 16 servings of food (each family gets four servings) we've been looking to a lot of foreign cuisines, especially those from third world countries. If you haven't got a lot of resources, but you still have to feed your family, you get pretty creative with the spices and whatnot and older cultures have developed some fantastic and creative ways to reinvent grains and beans. We've been seeing a lot of curries, tamales, bean dishes and soups in our co-op. And we've been loving it!
An additional benefit is the friendships that have developed from seeing each other several times a week. We decided to have people pick up their meals at the chef's house, rather than having the meals dropped off. This way we all get to visit more often.
Our westernized society has lost much of the social aspect of living within a community; people are less likely to take it upon themselves to keep an eye out for their neighbors' kids, to join together in large projects like building a barn or bringing in the hay. We depend on each other less because of modern-day conveniences. But emotionally, we still need each other and the support of a community. We have done babysitting co-ops and dinner co-ops and have found the emotional and social benefits to be equally as important as the economic ones.
If you're interested in starting your own co-op, Dinner at Your Door is a great resource.
Happy cooking!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Do You Have A Good Support Network?

My Community at Work

by Melinda Briana Epler,
One Green Generation

Sometimes on my walk to work, I look around me and realize how different I am than everyone else, with my no poo hair, my BS deodorant, my thrift store threads, my clean green home, my very values-driven work, and my constant worry about the impact we're all having on our planet's future. It's difficult on a number of fronts: not only is it easy to slip into "normalcy" with the world around me because it's difficult to be different - and easy to be the same - but it's also really tough to see day to day how far we still have to go. So many people, so little time to change the way normal is done.

Making lifestyle changes isn't always easy.

Fortunately, when I get to work I'm surrounded by people who are all trying to change the world - maybe not the same way I am, but they are doing it every day and they are making a difference. I also have friends on Facebook all over the world, who are each working on changing normal. Plus I have readers at One Green Generation and the Co-op, supporting me and making me think and act every day. And I take part in lots of local events and groups, and each of them help support my efforts emotionally and physically.

Do you have a good support network? When you feel alone and unusual in your lifestyle, are you able to find solace and ask questions and generally find the foundations you need? If so, where do you find that, and how does it help you?

And if you don't have a good support network, how can we help here?