Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Passing on what we know

Nita at Throwback at Trapper Creek is having computer troubles this week so I'm stepping in for her.  She will be back on board soon.

By Rhonda @ Down to Earth

We run by different clocks you know. Ours at home is more a seasonal time-frame, or one that revolves around meals and sleep patterns, whereas the business clock is run to the financial year and revolves around nine-to-five and the weekend - that great payoff for putting in time during the week. We have different holidays too. In the business world, time is set aside for employees to have annual leave/vacation. There is a complete break away from the normal day to day tasks of the work place. Time is spent recovering from the past year and getting ready for the year ahead. At home, it's a different story. There are no weekends, no after hours, no over time, no vacation or annual leave. Oh, and did I mention, no pay either.

I am a trained nurse and used to work in theatre and emergency. Then I got a degree in journalism, literature and communication and became a writer. I worked as a journalist and technical writer during the 20 years before I 'retired'. I firmly believe that training is required for all work, particularly those vocations that require judicious decision making, consistently good outcomes and high standards. We would never expect a doctor to perform surgery without training and practice, and we don't want accountants without training advising banks and businesses. Yet we seem to be fine expecting our younger generations to be raised by people who aren't trained. That training was once done on the job by mothers and older women, now, on the larger scale, that has disappeared. We expect consistently good outcomes and high standards from each successive generation, but we are failing now, more than ever, to support the work of those young mothers and fathers who stay at home to raise our future citizens. Oh, and did I mention, we don't pay them either.

I don't expect to be paid to stay at home and I think it's a silly notion to believe that a country can support such community welfare payments for SAHM and Ds. It would send most countries broke. But I do expect a certain amount of training to be available to those women and men who decide against a paid career and seek instead to stay at home, teach their children, shop for bargains, mend and sew, and generally do anything to scrape the money together to do it. There used to be a subject at taught at schools called 'home economics'. It was a training in cooking and home management with a little child care thrown in. That was offered in the times when mothers still passed on that information to their daughters. Now, when the motherly teaching of the art of homemaking has all but vanished completely, and when it's needed more than ever, home economics is no where to be seen. 

Well, there is an elephant in this room, ladies and gentlemen. It's the generations of children being raised without knowing how to cook or clean, let alone make a budget or bake a loaf of bread. When they leave school and have their own money, instead of saving money for a home, they have to spend most of it buying already made food to eat and chemical cleaners that poison the air all of us breathe. They don't know that soap or vinegar or bicarb could clean almost everything. They think they have to spend money to buy everything they need to live. It is not their fault, but all of us, ALL of us, suffer because of it.

Where are the responsible governments who even though they insist on training for all manner of jobs, turn their backs on this as if it doesn't mean anything. Many local governments now are teaching water harvesting, organic gardening and how to raise chickens. Why don't they see the need for cooking from scratch, mending and sewing, and parenting classes And where are all the older generations who should have been passing on their knowledge? Those older women and men who would, in the past, mentor, guide and teach. Where are our role models? All we have now are vacuous celebrities who seem to be even more useless than the rest of us. I couldn't care less if THE wedding is on or off or if that was really cocaine in her bag, I want real life, I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to know how to live well and I want home economics back in the classrooms.

I want people to care.

At my Frugal Home workshop the other day, the ladies thanked me for sharing my knowledge. I appreciated the thanks but I asked them to step up themselves and to talk about what they're doing and teach what they know about. We all have that responsibility. We are the ones who have to start sharing what we know and being part of a world wide solution. If we want a world full of thriving sustainable communities, we need to help create them. Governments rarely lead, they follow and they do what we demand of them. Demand this.

I have no doubt that learning the skills of simple living can help heal those parts of our world that suffered through the economic crisis. Slowing down, living within our means, being genuine people, living deliberately and sharing whatever it is we can teach is a significant and radical first move for all of us. If you want mothers to pass on knowledge again, if you want fathers to be the kind of role model that children respect and want to emulate, then you need to lead them to it. All of us, not just me or you, but all of us, share this responsibility. We need to share our skills and knowledge with our younger generations and by doing so, hopefully we'll get back to caring, safe, supportive and happy neighbourhoods again.

Do you know of schools that still teach life skills, particularly home economics? I'm very keen to get a conversation going about how we pass on what we know to others. Are you doing it? if so, how? Please share your thoughts on this important subject.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Straw Bale Beginnings!

by Megan at The Byron Life

Work has begun in on our straw bale garden, which I first blogged about last month on Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op. (You can find that blog post here.)

After some research, I ended up going with a local grower of rose-grass straw bales.  The bales are organic, no sprays or fertilisers used, and after observing massive 12-month-old bales from this grower, saw that no grass seeds had been left in and it was decomposing nicely.

My bales will break down more quickly, however, as they are smaller and have compost nutrients draining through them from the plantings I’ve made.

I’ve been fortunate that the day the bales arrived, it started to rain that afternoon... only after first letting my little ones have a good play with the hose with instructions to soak the bales. (More soaking of the kiddos than the bales!)

In the photo above, the bales are placed so that the straw runs vertically, but I later turned them over so the straw lies horizontally. It means the string around the bales touches the ground, which is not advised if it’s twine, but these bales are tied in strong plastic yarn, so it should be okay and the bales won't fall apart.

I decided to place the bales horizontally so they would retain more moisture and because it gave me more growing surface. Our summers are intensely hot here in Byron Bay, so anything I can do to keep my bales from drying out is a help.

Also, before I put the strawbales in place, I covered the weeds and grass in this area of the garden with a layer of cardboard and newspaper (Left over from our house-moving. Recycling all the way!) so that I have here the beginnings of a no-dig, or no-till, garden. I hosed down the cardboard thoroughly and placed the bales on top.

The seedlings you can see here have been planted straight into the bales in a mixture of organic compost from the nursery, and my own compost made from chicken droppings, rich red soil and broken down straw from the chicken coop (same straw as these bales are made from actually, so I know the bales will compost down well).

I have planted beans, pumpkin, two varieties of tomato, cucumber, squash, basil and lettuce. The seedlings are looking very happy in their new home; so far, so good!

There is still more planting to go... and more strawbales will be delivered soon to start up another garden bed...

It’s a small start, but I’m very excited to see how it all goes. I’ll keep you posted!

M egan

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Vermin Dilemma

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Living in an urban/wildland interface zone, we see (or see evidence of) many wild creatures around our home. I'm a live-and-let-live kinda person. I prefer to fence them out or otherwise protect my home, livestock, and garden over killing of predators and pests if I can.

Sure, I have mousetraps set inside the house and garage, especially this time of year. But if I find a live mouse in the bathtub I'm more likely to trap it with an upended trash basket, sliding a magazine underneath, and toss it outside. This year, the little cottontail rabbits are thick out in the yard every evening. But I've dug trenches down, then out, 'round the chicken pen and garden, and buried 1" chicken wire to keep them out. Likewise, my little orchard (now, after losing a few young trees to wintertime bark stripping years ago) has 3' tall wire cages around every trunk. If we get a snowfall deeper than that, I'll stomp the snow down around each tree so they can't get to the branches by walking atop the snow.

But this fall, I've come up against something different. Caveat: there's always something new - last summer, when Bambi discovered the garden, we had to raise the height of the fence; earlier this summer we had to build a top over the chicken pen, after a bobcat family moved in nearby; luckily, still no bears or mountain lions - knock on wood, we know they're out there.

Rats! A few weeks ago, I started hearing spooky bumping and thumping on the roof a few times in the night. One late night, sitting at the computer, I heard a bunch of thumping and scratching right outside the open window. I shone a light out through the screen just in time to see a rat! a pointy-nosed, naked-tail rat! run across the window sill outside. Ok, that was new! Mice, ground squirrels, the occasional kangaroo rat, even chipmunks, but I've never seen a rat around here before.

And then, about a week later, we were awakened about 3 a.m. by something scratching about in the ceiling above our bed. Oh no, it had somehow gotten into the attic. We checked the roof, vents, and eaves a few times before finally finding a hole scratched into a spot under a soffit where an addition had been made to the original building. We patched that up, stopping anything else from getting in, but still had something scratching above our heads every night.

Our attic is merely a crawlspace, with some areas we can't really get into. No luck with a snap-trap, nor with the box trap. Rats are too smart, I guess. What to do? Besides the creepy feeling and loss of sleep, we can't have it up there chewing wires or destroying insulation. I don't like using it, and never would anywhere other animals can get to it, but we finally resorted to putting poison up there. Luckily, we live in a desert climate where a dead animal dessicates and mummifies instead of rotting. After a couple more nights, peace returned to our house.

But wait, there's more! We have an outside, underground cellar. In the fall, we open it up nightly to start cooling it down, and store quite a bit of our harvest. The cold air sinks down the cellar steps, and then there's a vent pipe in the opposite corner ceiling for the warm air to rise. We have a screen framework we put over the top of the stairs when we open up the door below, to keep critters and falling leaves out. Always before, it's worked very well.

But this year, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed gnaw marks on my fruit down there - rat-sized teeth marks. Now the whole idea of a rat in my cellar is a bit icky, but I wouldn't mind quite so much if he took one whole apple and ate on that night after night. But he had to gnaw bits out of four or five different pieces every night. Nothing was safe, either. He sampled my Asian pears, apples, the tomatoes and peppers, even an onion and the end of one of the big zucchini. He could either climb or jump even onto the highest wire racks. And the screen didn't stop him. The lower cellar door did. On nights I didn't open it up, I'd find rat poop outside the lower door, so I knew he was managing to get under the upper slanted door, but the fruit inside was untouched.

But I couldn't just keep the cellar door closed - it's still too warm inside right now for keeping stuff, and later in the season it'll be too cold outside at night to open the door. This is the time of year I have to open it up at night if I want to have my winter stores last until spring. So, we tried snap-traps - they were tripped, with the bait gone. The box trap tripped but empty, night after night. I put a couple of rat-sized glue traps along the edges of the floor. And one morning last week, we found half a bushy tail, along with quite a bit of gray fur, on one. This guy had chewed off his own tail to escape! You have to admire that kind of survival instinct, but that's my food you're messing with!

Hmmm. That's not the tail of a pointy-nosed rat rat. Onto the internet, to see what kind of nocturnal beast we're dealing with. And came up with the bushy-tailed woodrat - a kind of packrat. Ok, something different yet again, but I still want him out of my food supply. And then, just this morning, we got him, in the box trap up by the garage.

Oh, damn! Does he have to be so cute? Those big, nocturnal eyes (and obviously, he's our guy, with only half a tail). And damn you Disney! I've seen Ratatouille - you would have to animate rats into something sympathetic. So now, what to do? It's hard to drown something so cute, especially after he's sacrificed his own tail to live. Even though I haven't seen one around here before, they're not endangered. How far would I have to take it before it wouldn't make its way back? Is it illegal to transport rodents? Transporting him probably dooms him to a winter without food and shelter, or a quick death from an owl or coyote. Ah, what to do?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

You Say Potato...

By Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

The humble potato.  It is one of the most versatile vegetables on the planet and the 3rd largest crop grown around the world.

This is my second year of growing potatoes, with the first year being successful enough, so I thought that I would expand my spud growing operation this year.  This is my patch from about the same time last year.

Anyway, this year I thought a bit bigger.  After watching Gardening Australia last Saturday, and getting a better understanding on how to plant potatoes, I made my bed much bigger and higher.

It is 2.4 x 1.2 metres and should be large enough to get a good crop.  I used a garden fork and dug down about 25 cm into the soil, and then built it up with the compost that I had laying all over the area in two smaller beds.  I sprinkled liberally with pelletised chicken manure, added a few handfuls of blood and bone and some sheep manure, turned it over again and gave it a good soaking with the hose.  Then I dug three trenches and mounded up the sides.

Then I collected the potatoes that I have been chitting for the last week.

Dutch Cream

Toolangi Delight

I kept them out of direct sunlight and the eyes grew so that I could tell which way was up when I planted them out.

The trenches in the spud bed were about 75 cm apart and about the same in depth.  Then I placed the potatoes in each trench with the eyes facing upwards.

Then I covered each row (5cm) with compost from the Aerobin, which was more like worm castings, then some more compost from the other bin that had been sitting for 6 months.  The next layer was about 5cm of soil which I then watered in well.

As the growing tips poke their heads through the soil, I will cover them up again until the trench becomes a mound.  The soil is very friable, which is just how potatoes love their environment.  All things being well, we will have a bumper harvest this year.  More on this beds progress as the season moves along.

We just love our roast, mash, salad, and jacket potatoes!  A.A. Milne said it best with, "What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."

So in closing I would just like to share this tribute to the potato.  May everyones spud harvest meet their expectations!

I love spuds!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Simple Apple Shortcake

This simple apple shortcake recipe comes from my grandmother's handwritten recipe book. My grandmother grew up on a farm, and then moved to my grandfather's farm when they married in the 1950s. I imagine she made this shortcake many times for the farm staff!
Like most of our everyday farm baking recipes, this makes a delicious but fairly plain sweet to
enjoy after lunch or on a tea break. It's not a decadent meal of a slice like you find in most cafes these days!
Simple Apple Shortcake

¼ lb (115g) butter
1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1½ cups, plus 1 Tbsp (230g) flour

1½ tsp baking powder

two small apples, thinly sliced (unpeeled is fine)

2 tsp sugar, extra

icing sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 200°(c). Grease and/or line either a 26x17cm slice/brownie pan, or a round cake tin, depending on your preference.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat again. Add the sifted flour and baking powder, and mix to a soft dough. Add a little milk if the mixture seems very dry (I didn’t need any). Halve the dough (I find it easiest to weigh it; each half should weigh around 250g). Roll the first half out and press it into your greased tin.

Layer the slices of apple over the dough, and sprinkle with 1 tsp of the extra sugar. Roll out the remaining dough and lay this on top of the apple slices. Prick with a fork and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp of sugar.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the dough is lightly golden and smells cooked. Leave to cool in the tin before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares, bars or, if you used a round cake tin, wedges.