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4 July 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table - Food

Food is an important part of everyone's life; we have to eat every day for as long as we live. And that is one of the reasons we need to focus carefully on our food. We grow it, buy it, cook it, preserve it, freeze it and store it. Buying it costs a lot of money; growing it takes a lot of energy; wasting it is not an option. If you organise your food growing, buying and storage efficiently you'll save money because you'll grow the right amount, buy at the right price, and store it to prevent wastage.

I walked around the garden, kitchen and storage areas with a pen and paper to write down my ideas as I thought of them. Seeing everything and being there made the process easier and sparked some ideas.

We have a food garden in the back yard. We grow all manner of fruit and vegetables and we have chickens for eggs. I see our back yard food production as very important as it supplies us with organic produce, it is the freshest food available and it gives us a small measure of self reliance. It works well in partnership with our pantry and stockpile cupboards and if there were a disaster, we could easily live on what we have in our cupboards and backyard.

It is important to me to plant open pollinated seeds. Unlike the regular hybrid seeds available at the plant nursery, open pollinated seeds will reproduce from their own seeds, so seed saving is a priority. Theoretically, once you have your stock of open pollinated seeds, you won't have to buy vegetable seeds again, unless you want to try new varieties. Then I would prefer to seed swap instead of buy. We have a set group of vegetables that we plant every year. Occasionally we try new (to us) varieties but we stay within that group classified as open pollinated (heirloom) seeds.

We have one major planting a year - in March/April, then fill in spots when they become vacant. We plant more tomatoes, beets, beans, peas, corn than we need because they're easily preserved by freezing, preserving/canning or when made into chutneys, relish and pickles.

Again, we have our set group of favourites that we have growing almost all year. Parsley, chives, oregano, marjoram, bay, thyme and sage. If any of them die, I replace with a plant from the market.

Fruit usually takes a long time to establish but it's well worth the effort. In the past year we planted grapes that I hope will survive for many years, I also plant pineapple tops - again they take two years to fruit, but the taste alone make it worth the time and effort We have bananas, passionfruit, pawpaw (papaya), lemons, oranges, mandarins (clementines), blueberries, pecans and avocados. Every year we get more fruit from our trees and I am convinced that whatever fruit we can easily grow here will be of benefit to us many years into the future. I would like to add a native raspberry to our fruit orchid but apart from that I don't want to change anything.

Most of our fruit is eaten fresh from the tree but we do freeze lemon juice to make lemon cordial in summer and mandarins are made into marmalade and passionfruit into butter, similar to lemon butter. We also grow vanilla and ginger for cooking and to make ginger beer, and turmeric for tea and stir fries.

Our changes:
  1. Grow more potatoes, garlic and onions.
  2. Improve our fertilisation of citrus to speed up tree growth a little.
  3. Add native raspberry.
  4. Organise our stock of vegetable seeds and store in the fridge.
  5. Read more about vanilla and focus on helping our plants flower.
  6. Change the lid on the worm farm for easy access.
  7. Tidy up the pots and improve storage areas in the green house.
Things to think about:
  • Are we making enough compost?
  • Are the fences effective?
  • Can we increase the amount of compost we produce?
  • Is the chook food vermin-proof?
  • Check taps and tanks for leakage.
  • Check hens' nests.
  • Check chicken coop for insects and snakes.
  • Make sure chicken coop is predator-proof.
  • Are the chickens safe and comfortable in hot and cold weather?
  • Are there enough water stations in the backyard for chooks and animals?

Once the food is in the house, it's either eaten raw, cooked or stored for later use. For this part of the audit I had to clean out and reorganise my stockpile cupboard. I will also do my pantry cupboard but that will be done sometime over the weekend. It's important to check on your stored goods every couple of months to make sure all is in order and to remind you of what you have. Don't just put food in the cupboard, use it. Make sure that when you add to your stockpile you add to the back and use from the front. That way you'll keep rotating your stock. A stockpile is dynamic, it's constantly changing - it's not there for show, it's going to keep you alive and healthy. Use it to save money and to cook from every day, as a buffer against food shortages, in an emergency or if you want, or have to, stop spending for a week or so.

This is part of the stockpile cupboard. I'm still working on this and the pantry. I have a number of items left over from the wedding that we normally wouldn't buy. These will be used soon or given away.

We have a chest freezer that I am going to run down a little. It had been full for the wedding and I've lost track of what is in there. I love that freezer. I use it to kill any bugs or larvae that might be in new grains and dry goods I buy. When these goods come from the store, they go in the freezer for a few days and are then stored in a cupboard. I need to list what's in the freezer.

Our changes:
  1. Clean and reorganise stockpile cupboard.
  2. Clean and reorganise the pantry.
  3. Run freezer down and reorganise. Make a list of the contents of the freezer to keep track of what is in there.

Things to think about:
  • Menu planning - this works for some families and not others.
  • If you're growing food, how do you intend to use your excess?
  • How do you safely store your food?
  • Have you minimised food waste?
  • Do I use leftovers wisely?
  • Skills - learn to preserve/can, blanch and freeze, bake, sprout, ferment, fruit cordials.
  • Make a space in your cupboard to store recycled bottles and jars.
  • Do I have enough good cooked from scratch recipes to cover a two week meal rotation?
  • Do I have a good selection of quick and easy fast meal recipes?
  • Am I able to fill school and work lunch boxes with healthy snacks?
  • Is the fridge cooling as it should?
  • Do I use my oven efficiently? Baking two things at once. Make twice the amount and freeze half.
  • Is my kitchen set up properly for the tasks I carry out frequently? eg, if you bake a lot, do you have all your baking equipment together. If you drink a lot of tea or coffee, do you have a tea and coffee station set up close to your stove or hot water kettle? Can the kids reach the water glasses easily?
  • If you're composting, do you have a covered container for your kitchen scraps?
  • Do you need to make food covers for bread, ginger beer, sourdough, yoghurt?
  • Do you have enough dishcloths and tea towels/dish towels
  • Do you have enough large glass or plastic storage containers? I got some 5kg plastic buckets from my local baker (free) that I store flour in. Look around for recyclables for your storage, they do just as well as store bought containers.
Food is a huge subject but if you get this right it will save you money and enable you to serve good wholesome food to your family and visitors. Please share your ideas in the comments. This is the purpose of these kitchen table discussions - we share, help, encourage and support each other in our life choices.

Monday's topic will be disposable products.


  1. Dear Phonda:
    I really needed this post. I am trying to raise my first garden this year and tried to err on the side of caution and realize now that I did not plant enough.
    I was making compost for the last year and did not crush the eggshells or cut up root veggie scraps so it was not ready when I was. Let me ask you this: Is it normal to have maggots or bugs in your compost? I do turn it and water it, but I noticed bugs in it. Can I still use it?
    I finished getting my groceries today and am all set to do the audit tomorrow. My husband is excited. We one time spent almost $500 in eating out alone. This is something I hope to totally eliminate. Thanks to you and Ms. Brenda over at coffee tea books and me, you gals have helped me to get started in stockpiling and my pantry filling. I am so thankful to you both for helping us beginners. I have a long way to go, but I am working on it. Bit by bit. THanks!

    Jeanie in KY

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I can alot and today we were wondering where I was going to put any more of the filled jars. My cupboards are already full. I still have a long way to go with the garden. We haven't gotten any tomatoes or peppers yet and I make a great deal of salsa every year. Last year I made almost 90 pints and we ran out. Need to make more this year. I need to go through my pantry and organize better to see what I have.

    Dh thinks he needs to add more shelves to my pantry. I think I do ~smile~. I love your blog. Keep up the good work.

  3. When I sat down to make my meal plan, I took into account what my husband and children like to eat, what is healthy and affordable, and what I know how to cook/bake :) On the day I make Marinara sauce, we eat Spaghetti that night for dinner and then the next day I will make 'Polenta Bake' (polenta with the Marinara sauce and grated cheese sprinkled over and baked in the oven) and home made pizza for the children using the sauce on the pizzas. The following day I prepare four cups of pinto beans (soaked, saute olive oil with onion and garlic and cook beans)to have over cornbread that night topped with cheese, salsa, and sour cream. The following night we will have tacos and the leftover beans from the previous day. When I cook chicken, I will make soup with the stock (either Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup or Potato Corn Chowder) and then use the remainder of the chicken the following night to make Chicken Pot Pie or Chicken Stir Fry.
    I try new recipes also...the new recipe we will try next week~ Empanadas. The ingredients are ones I usually make or have on hand anyway (pizza crust, beans, cheese, salsa etc..) This system works well for us as I know what ingredients I need to have stocked in my pantry. We eat a variety of food on a rotating basis (vegetarian, beef, chicken, fish) each week. We waste very little food which I am most pleased about. I think the most important thing is to be organized in the kitchen to reduce waste and save money. It does take some time to create a meal plan, at least it did for me.

    We are currently working through some of our freezer items and then we will restock again. My husband is very good at getting our meat (quality) at great prices. It's kind of his way of doing the 'hunting/gathering' thing via the Grocery Store :)

    These are fun topics!

  4. Hi Rhonda,
    I re-evaluated my garden plans last winter as I have a small town garden and am limited in the quantity of food I can produce. This year I have only grown the things which I feel give the best return. Two varieties of beans, cherry tomatoes and globe artichokes are the only veg and my usual raspberries, blackcurrents and strawberries. In previous years I have grown root veg but as this is usually much cheaper than beans I decided to stick with the expensive veg. My children live nearby and they all have productive gardens which I benefit from. I grow salad on the spare bedroom window sill and sprouting seeds in the kitchen.
    I will join in the no spend plan and have been stocktaking in my storecupboards in anticipation. To my shame I found 2 cans just out of date. I will use them this weekend so no waste.
    I know I was going 'off track' a bit and this challenge is helping me re-focus on my goals.

    Cheers, Eileen in England.

  5. This year with getting two jobs outside the home the garden did not produce as much as it had in the previous years. This just shows you how much I am contributing to the family budget, without actually earning money. The extra money I did earn all went on those things that needed replacing after 20 years of being married, like a new water wise washing machine and new vacuum. This year our winter garden was smaller for the same reason, but this spring it will be full steam ahead again. Sometimes it takes a walk off the path to help you realise what walking the path really means. I will also start to bake more on weekends again to help with the teenage constant stomach rumblings.

  6. Food is one of my strong points and one of my weak points. I don't garden, and would have to container garden as we live on soil with contaminated ground water.

    That being said, I cooked all through high school and university as my part time job and I can whip up a fantastic meal really quickly.

    We also used to live 40 minutes from the nearest grocery store so I learned quickly how to manage a pantry and so forth.

    Plus I've started taking a long distance & on-line course in Nutrition.

    I do best when I've somewhat planned. Not a set in concrete menu, but more a list of meals I'd like to make in the following weeks and ensuring I have the ingredients on hand.

    I have to admit something though! Today I had to go out and search for fabric for a sewing client of mine. And I made the mistake of wandering into the used bookstore and had a few dollars in my pocket.

    But I resisted. :)

  7. This is our first year for the garden and I chalked it up to 'learning pains'. Our weather has been very different this summer...very little water, extreme temps 95F to 39F (just the other night!) so this is why I am calling it 'learning pains'. We also have wild rabbits and deer that are also causing problems.

    Next year, my first batch of compost will be ready to put in the garden (which I am really excited about), we will be installing a fence around the perimeter to keep out the animals and adding more nutrients to the soil.

    The only success we are having this year with the garden is potatoes, onions and tomatoes but I feel that since the land had never been worked before, that isn't too bad!

    Thanks for the reminder of keeping a chart of the stockpile. I often forget and this is the perfect time to do it since we are not spending any money this week. I can find out exactly what I need to add to my grocery list when I can shop again. :)

    Have a great day!

  8. Rhonda, you might be able to get a native raspberry through your local land care or other conservation groups, or a state forest nursery. Try to go with one that has been propagated from local seed.

    With my garden: due to space constraints, spuds (need space) and onions (long growing season) aren't high on the list, especially as they are cheap to buy. Another frugal tip is to stagger plantings to prevent gluts of single crops (unless canning is planned) and not to plant what you won't eat (eg zucchini)

    Can you let your chooks in under your citrus to remove root competition and add fertiliser?

    Anonymous, it's normal to have all kinds of bugs in your compost. Maggots are fly larvae and eat rotting meat and poo. Are you sure they were maggots?

    I use meal planning as a health tool; it helps to work out whether we are eating enough vegies. My evening meals all have 4+ vegies in them, in the appropriate quantities for the number of people.

  9. Thank you for posting about open pollinated seeds. I had no idea how important they are. I guess I won't be doing any seed saving this year and will have to order better seed for next year's garden.

  10. Good morning Rhonda,

    thank you for your foodideas. This year we also have an fruit- and vegetable garden for rent, more than 200m², not that far from home (we have no backyard). We have planted patatoes, vegetables, herbs and various fruits like grapes, and cherrys. Yesterday we ate our first "homemade" patatoes. It really tasted superb!

    We just have some problems with a couple of the vegetables. We want to use no chemicals, but our broccoli (don't know the english word, but looks like green cauliflower) was flooded by caterpillars. Do you know a trick to stop this inconvenience?

  11. I am currently rearranging my home, kitchen especially, to be more efficient. When bringing food in from the garden, preparing fresh meals, and preserving, being creative with space is a must. I'm enjoying overhauling my kitchen while making a new pantry area.
    I am already planning and determining next year's garden based on our needs and what this year's garden is producing.

  12. We don't have a garden yet, but have one planned for next year. Every year we buy a share of a local farm and we plan to keep doing that, so the fruits and veggies we grow at home will be ones that the share doesn't include. We also bought a freezer for the basement this year and are hoping to preserve any veggies from the share that we don't get to right away. Since I'm in the states, my no spend week will begin tomorrow. This is the first time I've ever tried it. Thanks so much for motivating me.

  13. HI Rhonda,
    I signed up to "participate" in this audit BUT I didn't shop in advance to prepare for this. I'm on a super tight budget due to hefty home repairs in the next week or so. We have NOTHING in the refrigerator except some milk, eggs, apples and carrots. I am tempted to shop today but the fact of no money still exists so I'm making yogurt today, homemade bread is made and I'll roast a chicken later on so we'll have something for sandwiches this week. I've got lots of ground beef and ground turkey and a few frozen tomatoes from last years garden so I'm thinking spaghetti one day this week. I have no beef roasts and very little chicken but I think we can make it until next week! You are an inspiration to me! I can think of so many things to make: hamburgers on homemade buns, pasta salad, fried rice, hamburger stroganoff, pizza, roasted chicken--all of these things from the freezer or cupboard. Wish me luck as I save to pay for the outside project and feed my family healthy during this audit. Thanks,

  14. I enjoyed reading your food post. I'm taking the liberty to write my own ramblings about your daily topics at my own blog so I don't leave too much commentary here. LOL

    I think that a well-stocked pantry and organized kitchen are one of the top items for sustainability.

    And food? Well, YUMM.....Food!!

  15. Rhonda this is the best post I have learned alot from you as well as my mother you are a super woman. I hope the wedding was all you hoped for as well as your son whom you married off.have a super day. DEBRA LYNN IN THE USA.

  16. Jeanie, yes, it's normal. The bugs help in the decomposition process. Turning the compost will help keep them to a minimum because they hate being disturbed. If you have chickens, you could let them go through your compost for a few hours. They'd sort out the bugs. But go ahead and use it, it will be fine. Miss Brenda has a fine blog. I think I'll put a link to her up when I finish here.

    Trudy, good luck with the canning this year.

    Laura, the way you do your menu plan, which I call the roll over system, works really well. Your family is lucky to have such a good cook and planner. Hanno is a good food shopper too, just like your DH. We are two lucky girls.

    Eileen, it sounds like you really know what you're doing. It great you can share produce with your children. Keep up the good work.

    Angela, I totally agree with you. We all need to step back every so often to see what we have and to appreciate it. I'm glad you replaced your old appliances.

    Songbirdy, those spare dollars sometimes burn a hole, don't they. It's good you're still on the no-spending exercise with us. Well done!

    Bob and Debbie, the weather here this year has been wonky too. But you've done well getting potatoes, tomatoes and onions. Good luck with your garden next year, it will benefit a lot from the compost.

    Chookie, I have some local raspberry canes in my sights. It's the golden raspberry - one of the tastiest berries I've eaten.

    Mrs Mac, once you get your stock of seeds you won't have to buy any more. And the vegetables you grow from the seeds year after yea will adapt better to your conditions. It's the best way to grow.

    Monique, we use Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis) here for the caterpillars on broccoli and cabbage etc It's organic and it works. Do a google search for it to see if there is anyone near you who sells it.

    Cindy and Megan, you've got great plans. Good luck with them.

    Alice, I just know your home cooking and planning skills will get you through. Good luck!

    Lynn, I'll come over and read what you've written.

    Hi Debra Lynn!

  17. Dear Rhonda, THANK YOU!!

    I just saw an item on "Marktplaats", something like Ebay in Holland and almost bought me something for my boy. Almost! In a flash of lightning I saw your smiling face and remembered me not to spend for a week. It worked!

    Thank you, you saved me about € 35,00!

  18. Thanks to your tip I already found something on Google and Wikipedia.
    Hope to find someone who can help us any further.

  19. Thanks Rhonda,
    I have really taken stock of my (tiny) garden and made decisions about what I need to do differently next season. The suggestion to use open-pollinated seeds is excellent and something I hadn't thought of before. I also audited the food cupboards and made a menu/shopping list for the coming week. I'd fallen off that wagon due to ill health and just plain old discouragement. Struggling a bit, so really appreciate your warmth and supportive posts.

  20. Rhonda,
    What do you use for pest control in the garden?
    I've had a wonderful harvest of zucchini and yellow squash, but the squash bugs are finally beginning to appear. I don't want to lose my plants!
    Any suggestions?
    Donna G. in New Mexico

  21. We all struggle at times, Deb. There is no shame in that, it's just the way life is. I hope you feel better now and can get back to work.

    Donna, we don't have squash beetles here so I had to look it up. We call them stink bugs and they're really hard to get rid of. Apparently they're attracted to yellow so if you can plant different varieties that aren't yellow you might get rid of some. I use neem oil on stink bugs and we also pick them off by hand. If you can go out every morning and hand pick them off, before the sun comes up, you'll reduce their numbers. When you squash them, they'll stink, hence the name. I know of a woman who uses her husband's car hand vacuum to suck them up. LOL It's effective but you still have to spray. Also, at the end of the season, clear out all the mulch and weeds because they'll hide in there till next season.

  22. Rhonda, I'm loving your's keeping me on track with my own frugal-living goals. Thanks!
    Mama Monique: I live in Canada and struggle with those little green caterpillars too. First, my 4 & 7 year old kids have a contest to see who can catch & stomp the most white cabbage moths (the caterpillars are their larva). This year I'm going even more drastic, and bought white garden fabric to cover the plants - so the moths can't access the plants at all. The plants are loving it!
    And I'll sheepishly admit that since I can't throw away perfectly good food (and have a strong stomach), I cut up the broc, pick off the caterpillars, then submerge the broc & give it a good swirl to dislodge any hiding ones. Oh, and I don't tell my DH that I do this, or he'd never eat broc again!
    Hope some of that info helps!

  23. I was very much inspired to do a full stored food audit today and posted the results on my blog - I got so much done. Your post was just the kick in the pants to get me started on it and not be able to ignore the elephant in the garage any longer. ;) Tomorrow I will continue this audit with our frozen stash and our garden - I know you said each task would only take a little time, but apparently I had a lot of work that had to be done!

  24. Rhonda,
    I am on track so far with the no buy week and have read several things today that have helped me to create a list of things to sort out over the next week.
    You mentioned glasses in reach of children...when my own children were small I had a drawer of items in the lower cupboards that held only table items for the children to use, they were able to set their own breakfast and lunch place and it helped to have them take that little bit of responsibility each day...the drawer contained melamine and tupperware items, plates, bowls, cups and glasses. All unbreakable and easy for them to manage, right down to the youngest.
    This week I will be attempting to make bread that makes well for sandwiches, my husband always carries his lunch and store bread is really quite expensive...I have not found a dependable recipe as yet.
    One of our friends called today and offered us an upright freezer, we decided to buy it and sell our small chest freezer. We will be able to store our usual plus we will have much more space for more meats and long term storage of dry goods.
    We have been composting for a long time and always have nice soil to add to the garden each year...we move the pile from year to year and plant tomatoes or other heavy feeders on the old site and they grow like crazy.
    Have a good week there...

  25. I've spent nearly all day doing papterwork: writing out our menus for our 'no spend' week, writing up my latest blog entry re: budgeting, and hubby and I just finished off our tax paperwork ready to put in tomorrow.

    Now it's time to pull my pantry apart and do that stocktake! :)

    The biggest area we need to work on is how our garden is producing. It needs work and I've not had enough time to get out there. Thankfully the perennials (rhubarb and asparagus) are dormant so that bed has had a good clean-up. We really need to plant up more salad greens, though, so I'll have the children help plant some seeds in pots soon (so glad I have a window box to catch the winter sun!) We potted the herbs up last week.

    Trying to be frugal and resourceful, I hope that our tax return means we can finally have enough toward a chest freezer. Purchasing in bulk would certainly be much easier long-term.

  26. Rhonda-
    Our kitchen is original to the 70's house and was not high quality cupboards. It is my wish to replace within the next 5years or so, hopefully before it falls apart...yes, they are pretty bad. Your blog has made me re-think a large, pantry type of cupboard which is quite poorly used. It is deep and dark and things get lost in there. I have been giving some serious thought to how to make this cupboard more useful and efficient and a place to store 50lbs of flour at a time, and other bulk put heavy duty shelves in there to handle a stockpile. Thanks for writing and also pictures to inspire us.

  27. Here in the US, the cabbage looper is a common garden pest. One biological control is with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis).

    I avoid that garden pest by planting early. Quite a few of the crucifers can be planted in very early spring and the harvest comes before the loopers begin their feeding frenzy. You can also use floating row covers (Remay) to keep the pests in better control.

    Also, there are some brassica/crucifers that are not well liked by the loopers, so choosing your particular vegetable may also play a part in pest management.

    You might try presoaking your harvest in salt water because the loopers will fall off! Oh, and I've been known to find a few floaters in a pot of water while blanching broccoli and other veges. Scoop them out and don't tell your kitchen secrets! lol

  28. My issue is that the only stockpilers that I know are actually just people with hoarding problems. Their shelves don't look neat like yours; they are overloaded with who knows what because the shelves and the whole kitchen, whole house, are such a mess that they end up eating fast food every night while watching TV and then not cleaning up after themselves and their too many pets. To me, your "stockpile" looks like a reasonable couple weeks worth of food that you actually eat. I wouldn't call it a "stockpile" compared to what I've seen, but I like it!

  29. Just to add a few more suggestions to readers with Cabbage White caterpillars:
    1. Go out before breakfast and pick them off (they often sit along the main leaf rib at that time). Feed to your fowls if you have any.
    2. After planting, place skewers around your brassicas and hang a half-eggshell on each. The butterflies perceive these as other butterflies, and go elsewhere to lay their eggs.
    3. Don't plant all your brassicas together and at the same time: mix them up with other crops to disguise their shape and smell. Mine are in a bed with lettuces, beetroot, silver-beet and annual herbs atm.
    4. Provide a water supply in your garden for predatory wasps. It's an amazing sight to see them carrying a caterpillar off for lunch!

  30. Crookie please tell us how to make a water source for the predatory wasps that you wrote about. Does it need to be shallow and have a twig or such in it so they can drink but not drown like you do for bees? Do they have favorite flowers etc to plant to for them also? Rhonda Jean thank you for the suggestion of pouring boiling water on my ant holes. It has helped reduce the ants very much. I have every size and color and have only had to redo a couple of areas. I did my garden inventory and realized I should have planted winter squash this year. I usually do. At the stores they sell for about the cost the summer squashes but they are so heavy they cost a lot more!! I have rethought several areas and now feel confident as to what seeds to order and where to plant better in the future. We put a fruit tree where as one of our older ones had died and are hoping to find space for more. I will check out the seed companies that sell the heirloom and or open polinated seeds. This is important to keep these seeds in our food chain. So many of the varieties are fading out. Montsanto would love to own all and any varieties of seeds it seems. I read they are buying a lot of seed companies and then not selling some of the varieties any more. Has anyone heard of this? I think their seeds are hybrids too. Please let me know if what I am saying is wrong. Jody

  31. I blogged about the Home Audit: Food topic here:

  32. I am doing so much already, that it is easy to get relaxed. But, your post raised a lot of questions that have pointed out to me that we have far more to do.


  33. I didn't get all the questions done.


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