Sunday, 10 June 2012

What They Live

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

My Children

:: Couldn't tell you the last time they watched tv, but can tell you what they planted in our community garden

:: Have no clue what the latest gadgets or toys are, but can list books and board games we love to read and play

:: Don't know what a play station, gameboy, or Wii is, but can tell you tale after tale about dolphins

:: Won't sit for hours in front of a screen, but spend hours putting together puzzles

:: Aren't sure of the real names of all the shops we visit, but can tell you the names of all the shop owners and what fairtrade items they sell

:: Haven't yet figured out the politics behind big corporations, but can articulate why we boycott certain shops in very simple terms - "they aren't kind to their workers" is usually suffice.

:: Politely listen to hurried tales of weekend busyness from peers, teachers and friends, but quietly whisper in my ear "Mama lets just be at home and sit under a tree"

:: May not yet be fluent readers, but love that their Mummy is in a bookclub

:: Graciously receive gifts, but find real joy in the making of the thank you card the second the gift is opened.

:: Know we have to watch pennies, but remind me each week to make sure our home has flowers.

:: Don't live in the country, but as of yesterday learned how to gently hold chickens

:: Don't eat meat, but love hanging out with pigs at the city farm!

Friday, 8 June 2012


The ravening hoards are at the gate!
by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
They say the most beautiful garden, the most wonderous landscape, is to be seen in the dead of winter. That's the one you see in your mind's eye, sitting inside by the fire looking over the seed catalogs and other dream books.

But now, here it is, late spring flowing into early summer. Most of the seeds and plants are finally in the dirt; the fruit trees all have leaves and what fruit the capricious whims of weather have allowed to set are starting to swell. Let the battle begin!

Since I'm an organic gardener, most weapons of mass destruction aren't available to me. No scorched earth policies allowed in my yard. Although, I must admit, I'm not above introducing a species-specific disease. Nosema locustae was my last resort against a veritable plague of grasshoppers - used once and forever after their numbers have been reduced to tolerable levels.

Insects, for the most part, I can deal with. Thorough clean-up and composting in the fall can reduce many villians, and my chickens do a pretty good job eliminating others, "on the wing" so to speak. Strong blasts of water are an effective weapon against others, and vigilant patrolling of the grounds allows the removal of many others before their numbers can swell to devastating levels. I also employ decoys and guardians - interspersing herbs and other companion plants within susceptible populations. One last weapon is my mindset. I don't have to have market-perfect specimens in my kitchen. I don't mind a bit of trimming or judicious scrubbing in the preparation of my produce. It just means more goodies for the chickens.

I'm at war with the bigger fauna. And if I'm to taste any of the fruit of my labors, I must resort to fortifying my defenses and trickery (magic, if you will).

Last summer, deer discovered my garden. We wired rebar to the fence posts and added five more feet to the height of the fence. So far, no more deer in the garden. They've moved on to the orchard. The leaves have been stripped from the lower limbs of my fruit trees, but as long as they leave the mid-level limbs for me we're ok.

The robins and bluejays get the fruit on the upper limbs. They can clean-pick the top third of my cherry tree in a day - usually half a week before the cherries are suitable to my taste. Flapping shiny tape tied to the outer branches, and a few mirrors and junk CD's hung within can usually buy me enough time to get some of that mid-level harvest.

Since I prune my grapevine annually and it's supported by the sturdy fence of the dog run, it's of a manageable size to net. I have to wait until the vines have grown out quite a bit though, so they'll hold the netting away from the grape clusters within. I might have to wait a bit longer to get the netting up this year, however. Last week, the vines on the lower branches were stripped back to only stems and fruit clusters. It appears Bambi likes grape leaves too. I laid a mat of hog wire underneath the vine, and it seems to be working. The deer are too afraid of a hoof being snared, and the vines are now putting out plenty of new leaves.

Out in the vegetable garden, it's the sparrows and quail. I wouldn't mind sharing. But they just don't understand the concept. With *them* it's all or nothing. So I do my best to make sure it's nothing. Meh - sometimes I win, sometimes I lose. They've learned that little germinating leaves mean a tasty sprouted seed below - pulling up my corn and peas as soon as they break ground. So I plant those crops in trenches, arching chicken wire over the top. Filling in the trenches as the plants grow gives me the bonus of cooler roots for the peas, thus extending my harvest season, and a better grip by the feeder roots of the corn, so it's better able to withstand our afternoon winds. By the time the plants are big enough to be growing through the wire, they're usually strong and tall enough to survive.

Other seeded crops get wire boxes over them until they're big enough, and some I just plant thicker so the bird depredation provides the necessary thinning. I've saved up some little plastic berry boxes to put over the cucumber seedlings; and use the bigger plastic trays from the now rapidly emptying cellar over the winter squash and zucchini. Once a plant has 3 - 4 leaves, it's ok to uncover it. It was snowing here the last week of May, so the frost-tender plants stay stay warm and protected within their Wall-o-Waters until July. By then, they usually have enough leaves to hide the fruit so damage to those crops is minimal.

Another problem, later in the summer, is one no one else seems to have. When the corn sends up the top tassels - the pollen-bearing ones that fertilize the silks of the ears down below - the sparrows attack! They try to eat those tops, and in doing so their weight is enough to break them. Broken tops don't provide enough pollen, my ears of corn have no kernels. I've found hanging mirrors from a couple of shepherds hooks, so they can swing and turn in the wind, helps chase away those little vermin. After seeing robins hopping about in the strawberry bed, I need to gather up some small rocks and red paint. I'm hoping pecking at rocks now will deter them once the real thing shows up. Can't hurt, anyway.

I'm worried about the beans though. Last summer, they were up and doing well, and then just before they started to flower, I came out and found a forest of bare stalks. The birds had stripped every leaf! I'm thinking I'll have to make a bigger box or rig some kind of arching cover for them - something bird-proof yet also that won't turn into a sail in the wind. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

In praise of feet

Transport is a source of green guilt for me. My other half is a petrolhead and has loved cars and engines and horsepower and other dark arts that I don't fully care to understand since he first uttered the word 'car'. I do not drive as of yet and I am no fan of being a passenger. Still, I find myself being chauffeured about quite a lot. I also don't cycle. Cycling in cities is stressful; cycling in this city is also dangerous judging from some of the many bike/car mash-ups I have witnessed and I am not particularly confident on two wheels. Buses and trains are my preferred choice for longer journeys and the journey to work, until this week - I have started to walk to and from work.

I leave the house at 5.45am, it is light and cool at this time of year. The birds are awake and actually noticeable without the torrent of cars that will fill the roads just a few hours later. I walk hard for an hour until I reach the bridge that takes me off island; and then take a slow mosey up the hill that leads to my workplace. By 7am I have completed the 4.5 mile journey, with half an hour to spare before my shift begins. The journey to work is more pleasant than the journey back home. The afternoons are becoming hot and sticky, the roads are busy and I am tired. But the journey is still invigorating after a day of constantly reacting to telephones and emails.The journey is a time to slow my brain down and be mindful of my surroundings.

I admit to having every advantage. Firstly, my workplace has showering and changing facilities for its several thousand employees. There are bicycle lock ups and onsite security if cycling is your thing. You can buy a hot cooked breakfast should you need a reward for your strenuous journey. Everything is geared up to be cyclist and walker friendly, which cannot be said for the majority of workplaces. I can afford to take the journey slowly, I live in a fairly safe city and I am healthy, if not physically fit.

Feet should be our primary mode of transport, as the transport of the masses for thousands of years. If you wanted to go somewhere, you walked, however far and however inclement the weather. There are ancient footpaths crisscrossing the whole of Britain, some remain as leisure routes, some are now sadly obscured by dual carriageways or housing estates. Feet are now something to be encased in ridiculously impractical shoes as you pay for them to be carried with the rest of you to you destination. I have been looked at with bemusement by colleagues who pay to drive to work and then pay for gym memberships that they resent using. The cyclists don't understand why I would want to take my time getting to work when I can get there in half an hour on two wheels.

Being a whole 5'10" from my brain, where I seem to do most of my living, I have ignored my feet for the most part. I appreciate them once again and have begun to take better care of them. They are frugal (I save almost an hours wages each day by not paying for public transport) and they are a means to better physical and mental health. They are now itching to go other places, different routes, longer distances; to wear comfy boots and to be soaked and rubbed at the end of the day, and treated with the care they deserve - and to be lived in a little more.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Frugal Food Like The Old Days

written by Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

In today's society of instant gratification, seldom do the people take the time to make food for themselves. Here is my argument. When I worked in South Yarra a few years ago, the first thing some of my co-workers did before they got to work was go to a local Cafe and buy a coffee (in a disposable cup) and a muffin for breakfast. Then, at morning tea the regulars headed for the snack trolley for more cakes or a meat pie. Then at 1 pm it was off to lunch. 

All of this prepared food must cost them a small fortune. Here is the maths as I see it. Coffee + Muffin = A$6.00, Meat pie + Cake or doughnuts = A$5.50, and lunch at a local Cafe = A$12 to 20. So this lifestyle, if continued each working day, costs between $117 to $157 a week, and oh, those calories! I am not saying that some of the people I used to work with are a bunch of fatties, I am simply stating that from my point of view, it looked like normal practice and probably is the norm in most city office environments. For all I knew they could have exercised every day to keep fit, so the high calorie intake may have been cancelled out. The point that I am making is that the money they could save could have been used for better things.

For example, compare this weekly spend to the cost of buying a few basic groceries, like cereal, milk, coffee, bread, sandwich fillings etc, all of which will last for a week with only one person consuming. This would save them at least $100 a week (I am being generous). Better still, if you still crave for that muffin in the morning, buy a box of muffin mix for $3 and make 6 muffins to a box, and put them in the freezer for breakfast. Oh, so very simple. Think of what one could do with all of these savings. One could pay down some of their credit card debt, or make an extra mortgage payment, or if renting one could save for a house deposit (if so inclined).

I regularly go that little bit further, by baking bread regularly, and Kim baked cakes, scones and biscuits for lunch boxes. I take my lunch to work at least four times a week (a man has to have a treat once in a while), whilst Ben has never bought his lunch from the school canteen when he was at school. It all adds up when you have a family of five mouths to feed, which includes the dogs!  Now that I think of it, we eat very cost effectively and eat healthy food most of the time. I suppose with such a large vegetable patch, it is hard not to do!

Kim has watched the entire series of "Little House on the Prairie" that she bought off of eBay, and she loves the characters and the simple life it portrays. Now, because of the show, and all that baking Caroline does, Kim has a baking bee in her bonnet. She is a great baking cook. A while back, she made a Streusal cake (tastes great) and a batch of scones. The recipes were taken from an old 1992 book, first published in 1963, called "The Dairy Book of Home Cooking" that she bought from the milk man when she lived in the UK (remember when we had milkmen?). To show how simple it is to make scones, here is the recipe;

225g Self raising flour
half tsp salt
50g Butter or Margarine
150ml Milk

Sift flour and salt into a bowl, rub butter into flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add all of milk, and mix to a soft, but not sticky dough with a knife (?). Turn on to a lightly floured work surface. Knead quickly until smooth. Roll out to about 1 cm thick. Then cut into 7 or 8 rounds with a 6.5cm biscuit cutter (cookie cutter for Americans reading). Transfer to a greased baking tray. Bake at 230 degrees C (450F) for 7-10 minutes or until well risen and golden. Cool on a wire cooling rack. Then spread with home made jam and scoff the lot (I added this bit in).

The scones were so yummy, that my daughter Megan and I had to have one each for morning tea, smothered in Gav's strawberry jam. I believe that it is the simple foods in life that are, and taste the best, and that simple, sustainable living is much more gratifying than the instant type I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

Who is up for a scone and jam?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Busy Person's Sourdough

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

There seems to be an epidemic of busy going on at the moment.  I am insanely busy. I'm not complaining - it is a huge privilege to have interesting, worthwhile work that is fairly local in my rural home.  But it has been a challenge lately keeping all the balls in the air.

Thankfully I'm over the nadir and transmissions should start to return to normal fairly soon.  But this morning it struck me that, even in this crazy time, baking our own bread has made the cut - something worth doing even when time is the most precious commodity going. Which is a bit intriguing. Bread baking has the image of being something only hardcore homesteaders do routinely. Yet, while my poor garden is sadly neglected (happily still yielding well, but due to stamina not care), while the housework is undone and the pile of washing grows, the bread gets baked.

It's a happy nexus of two things: baking sourdough is a whole heap easier and less time consuming than you might think, and baking sourdough is a whole heap more rewarding and delicious than any other option.

I have a nice little routine going.  Two or three nights a week I take the sourdough culture out of the fridge and feed it.  It takes just a minute or so to mix one and a half cups of baker's flour with one and a half cups of water, mix in the sourdough culture, put half back in the fridge for next time and leave half in a bowl on the kitchen bench, covered with a clean tea towel, for the night.

I use unbleached white baker's flour for this, because my experience has been that if I feed the sourdough bugs a nice high gluten flour at this point, I can add almost anything else I like and it works.  In the morning I have a frothy bowl full of active starter, and I can get creative.

Sometimes I add a porridge of cooked grains - barley, millet, quinoa, oat groats. Sometimes I add dried fruit and nuts. Sometimes I add raw rolled oats, bran and linseeds (flax seeds).  Sometimes I add rye flour, caraway seeds and a bit of cocoa powder.  Sometimes I add grated pumpkin and pepitas.  Sometimes I add olives and thyme. Sometimes I add a beaten egg and some melted butter.  Sometimes a sweetener like treacle.

Always a good teaspoon of salt and enough more baker's flour to make a kneadable dough.  Sometimes it turns out memorably wonderful and becomes a favourite.  But always it seems to turn out edible.

There's a feel to kneading bread, and it's hard to describe.  I knead only for a couple of minutes, never the ten minutes in some of the old recipes.  Just until the dough is smooth and elastic and has lost its stickiness.  I  have learned to regard the kneading as my regular "Nana arms" avoidance exercise.

I leave the dough on the kitchen bench, in an oiled bowl covered with the tea towel again, and rush off into my day.  By the time I arrive home, even on these cold winter days, the dough has always doubled in size.  This is the only weak spot in the routine.  I need to pick the days when I will be home before about 6 pm, because the bread needs to be "punched down", or very briefly kneaded again, then put into it's baking tin with it's top slashed to allow rising, and left to rise again for an hour or so before baking.  And on these really busy days I turn into a pumpkin around 8 pm.

But if I get the dough doing it's second rise by 6 pm, and I can keep it a bit warm, by 7 pm it is ready to bake. Sometimes I bake flatbreads, rolling it out rather than putting it in a tin after the punching down. Sometimes I put a tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create a bit of steam.  Sometimes I bake in the mellow oven of the slow combustion stove.  Sometimes I put the loaf in a cold gas oven set to medium. If it has sweetener or dried fruit in it I need to take care to keep the temperature low enough not to burn it.  Usually it takes around 40 minutes for a smallish loaf to bake until the crust is golden and it sounds hollow.

Then the challenge is to hold back from bedtime snacks of warm, crusty, just out of the oven bread. And I'm getting better at that.