Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Swapping Seeds

by Chiot's Run

This is the time of year when most gardeners (at least us northerners) start going through our seeds and planning our spring/summer/fall gardens. I usually order my seeds in January and organize them into my seed stash when they arrive. I also have a spreadsheet that they get entered in to that contains dates for sowing, harvest, and notes about each variety after I've grown them in my garden.

Garden Planning

While organizing all of my new seeds I always come across varieties I didn't like, didn't do well in climate, or for which I just have too many seeds. Some packets come with so many seeds you'll never be able to eat all the cabbage if you sowed every seed. All of these get set aside for seed swapping. I also set aside seeds that I save from my favorite varieties of tomatoes that I've saved seeds from, after all you don't want to just give away things you didn't like.

Saving Tomato Seeds

Seed swaps can be local or global. I just traded seeds with a friend from the Netherlands. This past Saturday there was a seed swap at my local farmer's market with all the local gardeners. If you have a blog you could set up a mailing seed swap and send around a big envelope of seeds that people can take from and add too, kind of like a chain letter of sorts.

Seed Swapping

Swapping seeds is a wonderful way to find varieties that that do well in your local climate or new varieties you've never heard of. Any way you end up doing it whether local or global, I'd highly recommend swapping a few seeds. It's a great way to get rid of seeds you don't want and you make may a few new friends through the process. You may be surprised at who you meet and what you end up with.

Have you ever participated in seed swap?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves and Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Progressive Stew

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Food Security is on many peoples minds these days, I posted about our mainstay food crops that we rely on in this post on my personal blog. Bel has written several posts here recently too. Rather than growing or buying food to match recipes, in my kitchen, meals are planned around our food stores or garden depending on what season we are in. That is our food security, basically eating what we can grow and store easily. While that may sound like a recipe for disaster, (pun intended? maybe) actually a little kitchen magic occurs when you are forced to innovate and use up what you have.

My kitchen week starts out with a broth fast for dinner made from our chicken broth. I always have broth on hand for cooking or soups. My husband has digestive issues and a rich bone broth is helpful on that front. Usually seasoned with onion, garlic and sage this light soup is delicious and health giving.

The next day, though we are ready for a little more substantial meal and I use the leftover chicken broth as seed for the next day's stew. Usually roots are the norm, as they grow and store easily.

We're not really fussy eaters, and the blend of vegetables is always different, and may range from celeriac, and carrots, to rutabagas and parsnips or all the above. And of course more onions and garlic.

Freezer stores come in handy too. I freeze in jars, so the soup may contain corn, sweet peas and mushrooms depending on what needs using up. I am not using a recipe per se, just utilizing what is available and working through our stores.

Using our own grass fed beef is another way to add flavor and substance to the stew. Season and brown the stew meat, deglaze the pan with last last swig of wine and add to the chicken broth. This is also when I make a quick look through the fridge too. Wanting to keep this meal frugal I look for dibs and dabs of stuff. That little bit of salsa in the jar? Just add water to rinse the jar and throw in the watered down salsa. The jar is rinsed, saving water, and the salsa finds a new calling, flavoring the soup. Same with that little teaspoon of jam or pesto languishing in the back waiting for some toast or crackers, it can lend flavor to a soup too, giving you a balance of salt and sweet. Taste as you go, you may not need more seasoning when all the flavors meld.

If you're wanting to stretch your meat budget a little, after browning the meat, reserve half for another meal, it won't be missed in this flavorful stew. And of course, if you don't eat meat at all, vegetable stock and vegetables would work just fine. It just depends on what you have on hand.

Our stew simmers on the woodstove all day, but a slow cooker would work great too.

What's your most frugal meal?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Do What You Can

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Do what you can, when you can. That's my sustainable living mantra. The past couple of months, I've been fretting because I've had to resort to using my clothes dryer. I prefer hanging my clothes outside to dry, but the weather's been too cold and snowy most of the time. I have a little folding dryer rack I can set inside the bathtub, or in front of the wood stove. But since I'm working in an accountant's office until after Tax Day, plus trying to get a new fund-raising event organized within the same time period, I'm feeling a bit stressed for time quite often. I just don't feel like taking the extra time out of my day to load up that rack, and move it from place to place for the couple of days it takes to dry each load. I still only wash two to three small loads of clothes each week, but I just want to get them dried and put away quickly.

So, for now, I'm choosing to use the electric dryer. And, for the time I'm saving to do so, I'm also choosing to continue cooking our meals from scratch instead of using convenience foods, and take care of my stress levels by getting out for a daily walk with the dog. Both Tax season and the fund-raiser will be done the weekend of April 15th. By then, the weather should be nicer and I can get back outside with the laundry. I just keep telling myself that, in my case, sustainability is not and all-or-nothing type thing. Just do what you can, when you can.

During the 10 years I lived above 10,000 feet, I couldn't grow warm-season veggies such as tomatoes or peppers. But for our three months of "summer", I could grow short-season, cool-weather things like peas and lettuce. So I grew what I could, within the constraints of the climate.

Before I salvaged an old sewing machine from a burned-out trailer, I had a needle, thread, and pair of scissors. I did my sewing and mending by hand. Just do what you can, with what you have at the time.

And sometimes, you'll find, that you really don't need some things. Having a clothes dryer is nice for right now, but I don't mind the time it takes to wash my dishes by hand. I've never had a dishwasher, but then again, don't feel like it's something I need, either. It all just comes down to making your own choices for where you are right now. And as the days get longer and warmer, I know I'll feel like getting back out to my clothesline.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Food Security

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

This is related to my recent post about an impending Food Crisis... Not a new topic by any means, but something that I feel is worth bringing to everyone's attention again right now.

The only two suggestions I offered to this global issue were to eat local (grow your own if you can) and eat less meat. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

Our local LETS group has been running a series of Simply Living Workshops, and last weekend we hosted an afternoon to share methods of growing food. With a group of around 30 people we created salad boxes, no-dig beds and raised beds. These are just three basic styles of food gardens which have been explained here on the Co-op blog as well as numerous other places on the web. All gardening methods can be learned online, through books and magazines, and from your neighbours, family, friends or community organisations. But it's one thing to learn about a garden, and start a garden... Right now is the time to follow through. And after that garden is started, tend it like crazy! I am reminded of a term I first read here in a post by Throwback at Trapper Creek, "Garden like you can't go to the store." Wow! That really hit home to me. Imagine having to eat only from my garden from tomorrow, for a long time! What was once a hobby is looking more and more like a necessity.

Image from technabob

In response to the many comments I received on the Food Crisis post, I'd like to summarise...
  • Identify local sources of food and support these producers now. Don't wait until crisis hits and you need them.
  • Eating less mass-produced meat is one way to make the available food go further. It generally takes more than 10 kilograms of grain to raise 1kg of meat for our consumption. Pasture-fed and wild meat of course have much less impact.
  • Grow nutrient-dense foods, not just what you like to eat. Sure, plant what you like to eat, but make room for foods which I call 'survival foods'. Depending on your location and circumstances these could include, but would not be limited to: sprouts (indoors), high-protein leafy greens, perennial tubers, high-yielding beans to dry and berries. Reconsider edible "weeds" and local wild foods. Get (at least) a couple of chickens, if you can.
  • Stockpile basic food, but don't rely on a stockpile alone. And please invest in stockpiling basic grains/flour, oil, dried legumes etc before you stock up on snacks or any other luxuries. In the event of any emergency, it's pertinent to have non-electric ways to prepare these basic stockpiled ingredients... A manual grain mill, an alternative cooking method and appropriate pot, recipes, salt/herbs/spices, etc.
This is the way we live our lives, except for gardening like there is no store. And that's my mission for this season. We've been tackling a huge To Do List out in the garden after our recent cyclones and torrential rain, and we're looking forward to expanding upon our ever-faithful perennial plants over the coming weeks. For me, this is no longer about saving a few dollars, learning a new skill, getting some mental-health time or exercise...

Are you feeling like it's time for action? What Simple, Green or Frugal changes seem more urgent to you in this current situation? Is this reflected in your local community too?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Home Made Wensleydale Cheese

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

No so long ago, I made a video tutorial for Wensleydale Cheese which I think you will enjoy. 

This cheese is up there with my favourite cheese Caerphilly and on a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 9.5 especially when you hit that layer of sage in your first mouthful!  The only down side of this cheese is the 8 hours it takes from milk to mould.  Well worth it if you have a rainy day and can't think of anything else to do.

You can find the recipe that I used at this post titled, Wensleydale Recipe and Method.

Here is a bit about the cheese itself.   Wensleydale cheese is a firm and slightly flaky cheese but not dry or crumbly, in fact quite the reverse, its moist and quite succulent with a melt in the mouth forte to it. Slightly sweet but not that it is immediately noticeable and with no after-taste, Wensleydale is perfect to accompany all fresh fruits including apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit and strawberries to name but a few.

Also nice with a glass of light wine, or a cold beer with a Wensleydale ploughman's lunch, Wensleydale is also great on rye or crackers.

No wonder Wallace and Gromit like it so much! For other ramblings about my cheese making journey, pop on over to my cheese posts on my personal blog.  You will find a wealth of information on how to start making this wonderful dairy product in your own home.