Friday, 8 January 2010

A New Year

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I love a fresh new year. It starts with the clean-up as we prepare for the festive season. We finish up our homeschooling and tidy out everyone’s desks and school books, taking stock of what’s required in six weeks’ time, after our summer holidays.

There’s lots of cleaning out the fridge and pantry with all of the extra cooking and food with Summer, Christmas and New Years’ entertaining.

For most of January we have no commitments – none of the children’s classes or activities are running, no school work to do – a month of freedom! I love this time! I generally do some de-cluttering around the house, organise financial matters, write up my new year diary and calendar, plan for the coming year of home education, shop for resources, deep clean rooms I’ve neglected, catch up on mending, take stock of the freezer and pantry, etc. As homeschoolers, we don’t have to take the same holidays as schools, but I do enjoy having the month of January to catch up! In between all of these tasks we picnic, swim, walk, watch movies and relax together.

It’s also a time for me to take stock on the year that was, and goals for the New Year. I’m not huge on New Year’s Resolutions, but I have a group of friends who pick a word for each year. I haven’t joined them before, but am inspired by their choices – mindfulness, patience, me, dare, acceptance, trust, shine, enterprising… My word for 2010 is Be. It's all about me doing too much, and not taking time to just Be. Be available. Be Mum. Be still. Be calm. Be me.

Are you excited by a new calendar year? Do you make resolutions or turn over a new leaf in some way? I’d love to hear about what the New Year means to you.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Where Do You Want To Go This Year?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In many ways this is an incredibly exciting time of year, people make plans and resolutions galore and are determined that this new year will be their best yet! There is nothing wrong with hoping and planning, but I recently read that the vast majority of people fall off the bandwagon within 6 weeks and feel overwhelmed with grief and frustration. Looking at previous years, I can now pinpoint just where I went wrong, I was determined to do too much. I looked at where I wanted to be and was determined that if I lived according to a big list/plan and stuck to my never ending lists of must do's, I would get there. Needless to say, my good plans came crashing down within a matter of weeks. I soon realized that in my determination to simplify I was actually complicating my life, I was giving myself more things to do without reducing the other things that got in the way. I was magically trying to find another 10-15 hours in my week, well no amount of fairy dust would magically give me that amount of time without making cutbacks elsewhere. The reality was, I wasn't realistic, I wasn't simplifying, I was complicating.

Maybe you are struggling with energy and eating right. Perhaps you'd love to shed 10 or 15 pounds, or grow your own and live off the earth. But at this place in your life can you actually grow your own? Many of us can't yet, but we can certainly start with the determination to eat breakfast each morning and shop locally. We can read a book about food, become interested in the slow food movement, try growing herbs in pots or put our name down for allotments. All small, practical and relatively easy changes to make.

My personal dream is to have a small holding. I would like rescue animals, my own hens for eggs and a place of peace and tranquility. There are times where this dream seems impossible, where it feels like it is slipping farther and farther away. And yet the biggest barrier is getting over the fact I want my dream to be a reality now, that I'm letting a sense of entitlement slip in. So what do I do instead? I keep my blog real and document thoughts I have on the future, I spend time in the great outdoors, I learn about keeping hens, I spend less so that I can save more.

My hope for 2010 is that people do not feel yet another year has slipped by without being able to achieve the changes they'd like. My hope for 2010 is that we view the year as a part of a long journey, a journey of further discovery of self, a journey of education and a journey of hope. My hope is that we learn to simplify, reduce and see that small steps really do make you stay the course.

Hopefully, your goals this year can be SMART so you will see 11 months from now just how far you've come.

S - specific
M - measurable
A - achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R - realistic
T - time-based, tangible

May all our Co-op readers have a SMART year! And if you find that pixie dust which magically gives you another 15 hours a week, do share ;)

What are your plans or resolutions for this year? Are they SMART? Do you feel they are realistic?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Meat Safety

I'd love to say that I only eat free range, organic, antibiotic free, small farm etc etc meat but the reality is that we usually buy our meat at the grocery store. I realize I'm effectively supporting practices that I don't believe in but my current alternatives are limited. I tried to convince my husband to become a vegetarian and he told me in no uncertain terms that wasn't going to happen. So our compromise is to buy less meat and the meat we do eat is organic and antibiotic free but it's "big box" organic so I wonder how good is it really?

What I never thought about was the safety of meat in schools, perhaps because we don't have kids? But when reading the paper a couple weeks ago I learned that in the United States many schools receive meat that doesn't meet fast food standards! Seriously, they serve our kids chicken that not even Hardees will sell for a $1. Fast food chains (while not the vanguards of healthy eating) are far more rigorous in testing for bacteria and pathogens then the national standards. They, in fact, test ground beef 5-10 times more often then the US Department of Agriculture tests beef produced for the nation's school system. If you think that's scary then consider the fact that fast food chains set limits for bacteria in burgers that are ten times more stringent then the national standard for schools. Compound this with the fact that school children are more susceptible to food borne illness and the fact that the meat may not be cooked long enough to kill the pathogens before it is served.

And the silver lining is that as low as these standards are they are stricter then the standards for meat sold in the grocery store. Perhaps it is to time to reevaluate my options...

What about you? Do you eat meat? Where do you get it from? Are you concerned about meat safety?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Eating Locally

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

One of my five goals for 2010 is a 100 mile diet, or a 160 km diet as I am calling it.  Our family has only been on it for 4 days, and we are finding it quite a challenge.  It was created by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon who were the first to take this type of diet up in Vancouver, Canada.  To learn more about the 100 mile diet visit

It has only been a few days and only a few meals have been fully local, with the main reason being that I have quite a stockpile of food in case of emergency that we regularly rotate to keep it fresh.  About 3 months worth in fact.  One of my conditions of the local diet was that during the year, we would still use food that we already had stored in the house and supplement it with local fare as we went along.  I certainly didn't want all that stored food to go to waste.

The challenge has encouraged my wife and I to examine where our food really comes from and I don't mean the supermarket either.  Some of the weird examples in our stockpile so far are; a can of corned beef from Brazil, canned tomatoes from Italy, canned whole potatoes from Belgium! Cheap food is not always local.  I have no idea why we import all of this food, when most countries could probably feed themselves if they wanted to.

So, to prove a point, I am going to give it my best shot to eat as local as we can for an entire year.  We may have some tough times, but I believe that with determination and a lot of research, we can manage to achieve this goal.

To that end, I am growing more food than I ever have, and instead of giving away surplus to friends and neighbours, we are delving into the garden every day to harvest produce to cook that night.  I feel like we can really make a difference to our health, and help promote local food production in our area by letting people know why we attempting to be locavores for a year.

If you would like to find out what sort of 100 mile radius you have a look at this map.  Just type in your address and the red circle will show you what sort of challenge you might have in trying the 100 mile diet.

Farmers markets are abound in my area, so there will be no problem picking up local fare.  I have 8 chickens who keep me well stocked in eggs and both my wife and I are good cooks, so we shouldn't have a problem whipping up a meal from all of this fresh produce. 

So far we have managed quite well, and last night I cooked up some leek, potato and ham soup all from local sources, and my wife Kim made a Peach crumble for desert from peaches grown in our little orchard.  Not only do we believe that we will save a bit of money over the year because we won't be buying expensive processed foods, we will also probably loose weight as well.  This is because the processes foods have ingredients that make it near on impossible to trace the origins of the food, are usually high in fat, and low in nutrients, so we are going to steer clear unless we can guarantee they are all from local sources.

I know it is a big challenge, but it is probably one of the most exciting ones I have taken up on my journey towards a sustainable lifestyle.  It is nearly like being self sufficient, but with help from others, if that makes sense.  It will lower our environmental footprint dramatically, and raise community awareness that it is possible to live locally without importing food.  I am also hoping that it will raise the profile of our local food producers and I will certainly let them know why I am seeking them out and will offer to promote them on my blog for free.

So, every Sunday I will be writing a post on my personal blog about how easy or hard it was to eat locally for that week, lessons learnt, and the percentage of food that we managed to source from our area for each meal.  Is this a face that looks worried (as he trims a tiny leek)?

I was wondering if any of you had taken up this challenge, and if so could you please share any tips via a comment.  If you have please let me know of any downfalls or easy wins, because any encouragement at this early stage would be most welcome to me and my family. 

It is going to be a great year!

Monday, 4 January 2010

When less is more: pruning

by Francesca


When I started gardening ten years ago, and I didn't expect this activity to become so much more than just a way to grow our food. The slow, steady pace of tending a garden is for me a constant learning experience, and almost a meditation.

kiwi vines to prune

Pruning, which in my part of the world starts at the beginning of the year with the pruning of grape and kiwi vines and olive trees, is a good example. I've learned that there are many reasons for pruning, which range from functional to purely aesthetic, but all involve the removing some parts of the plant in order to improve the plant as a whole. Most plants in our gardens, in fact, will improve both their health and their yield if we cut them, carefully, back to less.

I find that living better on less is a positive message for the new year, as well as a good general philosophy of life.

Before you start, you'll need two pruning essentials: a) correct tools, and b) a basic knowledge of your plants.

forbici del giardiniere

Correct tools:

For most pruning jobs, the proper tools are leather gloves and a pair of sharp pruning shears. Before buying a pair of shears, or any other equipment, it's worth doing a little research, as many companies make tools with replaceable parts. With proper care, these tools can be used almost indefinitely (for example, here are shears like this).

Know your plants:

Before you go out and start cutting away, learn something about the growth and vegetative cycles of the plant you intend to prune, to determine when to prune it – and whether to prune it at all. Also, consider your aims in pruning this plant. Are you trying to improve its appearance, increase its yield of fruits or flowers, or lengthen its lifespan by cutting away dead or diseased material? The answers to questions like this will help to determine what overall pruning approach you take.

pruned grape vines

There are three key concepts to keep in mind when pruning:

  1. First prune off all dead, diseased, or parasite-infested parts of the plant.

  2. Always cut above a bud - never too close or the bud will die, and never too far from it or the vegetative part above the bud will die causing dead tips.

  3. The apical bud is predominant over lateral ones, and will grow more vigorously (hence, if you prune the apical bud, your plant will tend to grow laterally and not vertically) . The apical bud and is more evident in younger plants than in older ones, and it's more evident in trees than in bushes and shrubs.

There are many valuable on-line resources for pruning. This is an excellent, thorough introduction to the reasons and methods of pruning, and here is a straight-forward guide filled with how-to tips on pruning many common garden plants.