Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Agents of Change

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin & Little Green Cheese.

I have been reflecting today, and without trying to big note myself or being seen to be big headed, I believe that I have a bit of a talent to help people through changes with a couple of simple methods. 

Change in peoples lives, especially the few about to hit mankind in a few years, can cause all sorts of emotions manifest themselves.  From terror, to guilt, to a sense of excitement, anticipation and opportunity.  There are many people who resist change, and would rather continue on with the status quo, however there are some people who relish change and create opportunities to bring others along for the journey, but in a special sort of way.

One of my ways to promote change is to lead by example.  This is something that I learnt whilst in the military many moons ago.  I learnt that you cannot ask someone to do something effectively, being a task, behaviour, or change a personal value, if you don't show that you practice that task, behaviour or have that value yourself.  Sure, in the military they most probably do it because of the command structure and discipline, however they won't do it willingly and morale usually suffers.  On the other hand, if they see the person leading by practising what he/she is preaching, then they usually follow willingly and with enthusiasm.  I attempt to live up to this "lead by example value" in all aspects of my life. That was one of the reasons that I didn't begin writing my personal blog until at least 6 months after our family began our journey towards a sustainable lifestyle.  Well, that and everyone urged me to write a book about what I had done, but I thought a blog was a better idea due to the interaction you receive via comments.  I wanted to explain the how and why I turned green and what my motivation was.  You can probably tell by the way I write that I am enthusiastic and passionate about all things green and sustainable, but you probably didn't know that one of my personal values is that I do what I say I am going to do.  Another of my core values is to try and not let people down when I make a promise. I believe that it is these simple values that rub off on people, who either know me in person or read about my exploits via my writings.  It inspires people to act in a positive way, towards a common goal. 

The second special way of helping people change is to do things in such a way that they think it was their own idea in the first place.  This can be in the form of a simple suggestion, a comment during a TV ad, or leaving a magazine or book conspicuously open to a certain page at work or at home.  It can be in the form of harmless propaganda, like a poster showing benefits of a certain way of doing things.  People may think that this is a deceitful way of getting things done, but that is exactly how marketing and advertising works all around us as well.  I believe that if you have a message to give, you might as well utilise the best known way to do so.

Let me give you a simple example.  We used to spend lots of money on cleaning products at home, but now we use only two or three main items for cleaning bathrooms and the like.  Vinegar and Bicarbonate of Soda are about all we use, the type of cleaning products that our grandparents used to use.  Now to begin with my wife Kim detested the smell of vinegar and didn't believe that bicarb would do as good a job as the shiny, new, advertised chemical petroleum based products.  I had to subtlety convince her so it sounded like her idea.  I must say that I was slightly deceitful in both examples.  The first was we ran out of Windex (a blue liquid window cleaner that stinks and makes me sneeze) kind of on purpose (my bad!).  I then suggested that we try vinegar and newspaper to clean the shower glass.  After a quick demonstration on how easy the vinegar got rid of soap scum and cleaned the glass, Kim was hooked.  That is all we use now, and I only had to make it seem that it was her idea.  Another example was with bicarb soda.  Once again we accidentally ran out of dishwasher tablets (you know, the ones that cost a fortune and are toxic).  I suggested a few tablespoons of bicarb in the bottom of the machine and some vinegar as rinse aid.  Guess what, as I expected it worked well and the dishes were wonderfully clean.  It even got rid of the smell in the machine!  Once it clicked, Kim thought that we should use it to clean the shower recesses as well which works very well to remove soap scum.  I even showed her my very cool method of making a stinky sink drain smell fresh and clean by pouring quarter of a cup of bicarb down the drain and then 5 minutes later tip the same amount of vinegar, and watch the fizzy show and the smell goes away and unblocks the drain.  Much better than highly caustic Draino!  As you can see, all it took was a comment or spark and it then became that other persons idea.  No fights, no arguments, no right or wrongs, just change for the better.  Now she tells all her friends about the miracle of vinegar and bicarb. She is a clever lady, my Kim!  Love her to bits. 

So, I suppose that the moral of the story and my method/talent that I have learnt through experience is that if you tell some one to change they won't and will resist like a stubborn toddler or teenager, but if you lead by example and help them with and along the journey, change is not only inevitable, but fun as well.  This is how I find making changes to my sustainable lifestyle, easy, painless and fun.

If any readers have other subtle ways to promote change and convince others towards a more sustainable way of living (other than screaming at them), please add them via a comment.  This could turn into quite a little toolbox of tips!

Friday, 15 July 2011

cucumbers in a small garden

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Last time I wrote about how I failed to grow chickpeas this year (here). As is always the case for a gardener, a crop that fails is a disappointment, but a good potential learning experience too. This time I learned that chickpea plants aren't very productive, and that, in order to harvest enough chickpeas for our family of five, I would need far more garden space than I currently have. Which brings me to my subject today: growing cucumbers in a small garden. Unlike my chickpeas, cucumbers are my pride and joy this year.

cucumbers in a small garden

Don't you love cucumbers in the summer? We do! Crispy, fresh, and juicy, cucumbers have the perfect texture and flavor for light and cool summer dishes. But I hadn't grown cucumbers for the last few years, due to a lack of space.

This year though I decided to experiment a little with new growing methods: because of space constraints I can't let cucumber plants trail across the ground, and because a trellis for them would be in the way and shade other crops, I planted cucumbers by the back wall of the garden. This is dry-wall masonry covered by thick ivy which is impossible to remove, though I suspect snails and slugs hang out here, keeping cool while waiting for the right time to pop out and devour my lettuces and leafy vegetables. It was time to find a good use for this pesky ivy.

(Of course, had I fenced my garden in against wild boars and deer, as I'd intended, I would now be using that fence as trellis. Instead, I put off building a fence, made a scarecrow (here), and thanked my lucky stars that the boars and deer haven't found my garden ... yet...)



Turns out that the ivy works great as a support for my cucumber plants, which trail happily up the ivy stems as they grow, and are thriving - I now feel ever so much better about that ivy! When you garden in a small space, it's great when you can get everything working harmoniously together - even the snail motels.

For specific technicalities on growing cucumbers, check out the excellent BBC Gardening Guide here.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Early July Garden Checklist

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Early July in the garden is certainly when I think I suffer from TMG (too much garden.) Everywhere I look I see something that needs doing right now. Instead of putting out fires I try to methodically work my way through the list and the garden chores.

My garden checklist:

Weed - this slows down by late July.

Hill potatoes.

Thin root vegetables.

Harvest garlic scapes.

Side dress heavy feeding crops like corn, brassicas and squash.

Continue trellising tomatoes.

Secure pepper plants to stakes.

Continue seeding succession crops.

Start transplanting first winter crops.

Seed fall and winter crops.

That's what I am up to in my garden, what's on your July garden checklist?

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Quest for Fresh Cilantro

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
One of my favorite, late-summer, treats is whipping up a bowl of pico de gallo (PEE-ko de GUY-yoh). I'll eat it on just about anything, especially as a dip with corn chips. It means beak of the rooster (don't ask me why) in Spanish. It's a fresh relish made from minced fresh tomatoes, onion, jalapeno pepper, and cilantro - and best when everything is fresh right out of the garden. Cilantro is a strong-tasting herb. You either love it or hate it, so you can leave it out if you're one of those that can't stand it. But to me, pico really needs those chopped up little bits of green leaves.

My main problem, however, is that cilantro is quick to bolt once our high-desert summer heat gets here. By the time my tomatoes and chiles are ready, the cilantro has long-since gone to seed (but not a total loss - cilantro seeds are better known as coriander, tasty in their own right).

So my on-going quest is to have fresh green cilantro leaves readily available out of my garden throughout the summer. There is a slow-bolt cilantro, so I've been growing that. It's a little better, but really doesn't last more a week or so past regular cilantro out in the garden, if even that.

So my next endeavor was planting my cilantro in a pot up on the deck. It was easier to keep watered (but not too much - cilantro likes it on the dry side), and the deck is shaded later in the afternoon. But individual plants were still pretty quick to bolt when the temperature starts climbing. The leaves are still tasty once cilantro starts sending up a seed stalk, but they shrink to almost nothing. It's too much work for too little yield, then.

My next experiment was really crowding the Slow-Bolt cilantro plants in their pot. With so many growing together, I can harvest a handful of fresh leaves by clipping a different section of the pot with scissors, instead of trying to clip individual branches off one plant. The clipping method removes the seed stalks early too, so the plants keep producing leaves. We had quite a long, cool, start to summer, but the heat finally got here a few weeks ago.

I'm happily surprised that I'm still harvesting lots of fresh cilantro with this method. But the plants finally are trying to bolt, and fresh tomatoes and chiles are still weeks, even months, away. It would be nice, but I really don't think my cilantro pot will make it until then.

Drying the cilantro isn't an option - it just doesn't taste the same. So my experiments are now to figure out how best to preserve that fresh cilantro taste. Most articles say to stand clipped cilantro stalks in a glass of water, cover with a ventilated plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator. I've found that might work for a day or two, but after that the tops wilt and the parts in the water get dark and slimy. I've had better luck washing the fresh cilantro, then getting it as dry as possible - after spinning it, I lay it out in the dish drainer and fluff it 'til dry but not wilted - and then storing it dry in a covered dish in the refrigerator. I can hold fresh cilantro for a week that way. But that's certainly not gonna make it 'til tomato time.

I could make a pesto out of it, whirring the leaves with a drizzle of olive oil into a paste, packing it into a jar with a layer of oil on top, and refrigerating or freezing it. That's my last-ditch option. I'd get the flavor but not the texture of the little bits of fresh leaf in my pico, and it would be way too much oil (although that could work for cooked dishes needing that added cilantro flavor). I don't want to cook the leaves - I want to preserve the fresh taste. Today, I tried drizzling a bowlful of fresh leaves with just a little bit of oil, tossing them until they were all coated, and then freezing them. Instead of turning black, like fresh leaves do when frozen, the oil-coated frozen leaves are still green. Stored in an air-tight bag in the freezer, I'll see how they keep until tomato time, and if/how the taste keeps. I'm thinking it just might work to mince the frozen leaves and stir them into the pico before they thaw. Check back for the results in late August.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Farm Sitting

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

We have been so busy! I agreed to farm sit again for my neighbours just under 2km up the road (we are almost direct neighbours, there are very few properties between us). And the day after they left, I took surprise delivery of a new house cow! The cow is on loan to me while Lucy is dry, and she is just lovely. So I have once again been juggling twice-a-day milking with twice-a-day farm sitting!

I take one or more of the children with me when I visit the farm. It's nice to have their help and company, and sometimes we've had jobs which take more than one set of hands - like manouvring hungry goats so I can squeeze out of the feed room door, holding gates ajar, tipping 20kg bags of grain into high storage drums and dragging a billy goat back into his paddock!

When our neighbours go away, they give us a tour of the gardens and animals, reminding me how to pump water and where everything is... They give me a key and some contact numbers, and tell me the date they'll leave and return. I always take notes so that I can remember the right feed mixes and other details.

Since I'm not staying at the farm, I carefully plan our days to allow enough time for all of our tasks. Sometimes we do some preparation for the morning if I know we'll be rushed. Sometimes we'll do a lot of extra work one day so we can pop in and out more quickly the next. When we're going via the farm on our way home, we have our work clothes, boots and raincoats in the car. By being really organised with our farm sitting tasks, just as we try to be with our own farm, the extra work isn't such a very big deal (as it could be)!

Some of our tasks include:
* feeding and watering animals - some twice daily, some daily, some every couple of days
* cleaning up after animals as necessary
* collecting eggs, harvesting from the garden
* watering the gardens, potted plants and seedlings, covering plants in case of frosts etc
* collecting mail
* caring for any sick or injured animals, often taking them home with us

The best things about farm sitting are:
* spending time with different animals (goats, turkeys, chickens, ducks, aviary birds, cats, and guinea fowl this time)
* walking in others' gardens - admiring their planning, and harvesting the bounty
* getting some exercise - squeezing farm jobs into an hour, up and down hills, carrying buckets etc, is hard work!
* doing something to help others - our neighbours could not go away if they didn't have reliable farm sitters
* sharing chores with my children - team work, being outdoors, learning together, supporting each other
* earning some (shared) pocket money!

The worst things about farm sitting are:
* when things go wrong, like a sick animal
* working in the rain and mud
* dealing with animals we aren't comfortable around
* the extra responsibility - we must be there, no matter what's going on in our own lives - there's no one else!

Farm Sitting Resources
It will depend on the level of care (article)
Farm Sitting Checklist (pdf)
Farm Sitters Australia (database)