31 May 2009

Garden mentors

Good morning everyone! It's a cool sunny morning here. I've just finished tending the animals and chooks and before I start on two loads of washing, I'm here to partner the gardening mentors with their novices. I have two novices I have no mentors for so if you are an experienced gardener in zones 8 or 9 in the USA or zones 3 - 4 in Australia, I'd love you to join us. I have two people very keen to pick your gardener's brain. Jules in Alabama and Sorcha in South Australia, I'll contact you as soon as I have your mentors.

The partners are:

Donetta (Arizona) will mentor The Singlutionary (Texas)
Cat (zone 7) will mentor Jaz (zone 5b)
Rois will mentor Allison (both zone 8)
Brown Thumb Mama (zone 9) will mentor Haus Frau (zone 8)
Cindy (Florida) will mentor Suburban Mom (Maryland)
Debbi (Pacific North West) will mentor Myrnie (zone 8 wet and cool)
Tracy (Tamworth) will mentor Stitching Mum
Stewart (Toowoomba will mentor Sorcha (Flinders Ranges, SA)

Would all the people listed above please comment here and exchange their email addresses. If I don't see that connection made by tomorrow, I'll try to link you up.

I also have a few answers from that post. Julia, I wrote about fungus-prone plants. Did you see it?

Donna, I apply potash when we plant a flowering plant - like pumpkin, tomatoes, cucumbers. After the first fruit appear, I apply again for a second crop. Apply according to the instructions on the package.

ithinkican, we have no problem with cats even though we have feral cats living along the creek bed. We make sure we lock the chooks in every night. They put themselves to bed when darkness is falling, all we do is lock the door behind them. I think cats don't bother the chooks because we have a dog and they can smell it. There are foxes here too but we don't see them. A dog, even a pet dog, earns it's keep by leaving its scent around to scare off smaller predators.

Norma, yes, mince is hamburger.

Jody, I use boiling water to get rid of ants. I pour it directly into the entrance to their next, if I can find it. Generally you can if you follow the ants for a while.

Donetta, diatomaceous earth must be food grade. Here is an info sheet for DE.

And lastly, I wanted to write something more about the search for perfection in the garden. No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you work, when dealing with a natural process, you'll very rarely reach what you call perfection. You will get close to it constantly, you'll see it lurking behind the beans, but getting it to hold still, even for a minute, is difficult.

I believe the better way is to accept failure as part of the process. It's very difficult to learn, particularly if you're teaching yourself, if you expect perfection every time. Failure must be part of the process, failure will teach you the best lessons. Even though I'm still learning, I am confident that I can garden well enough now to do almost everything I want to do. The reason I am at that level is that I failed many times along the way. I took notice of my failures and I worked to put things right. So those of you who expect perfection, relax, just enjoy being out in the fresh air with your hands in the soil and when you fail, see it as part of the learning. Because I promise you this, if you let failure in and don't walk away when things aren't perfect, if you recognise where you went wrong and solve the problem, you will be rewarded. Your reward may not be perfect but it will be close to it. Perfection is impossible without failure.


29 May 2009

Keeping chickens and animals with your garden

I'm a solo homesteader at the moment. Hanno flew to Sydney yesterday to help my sister out with her house (a tree fell on it) so blogging might be a bit sporadic at the moment, but I'll do my best. When I got back from the airport and a visit to Shane and Sarndra in their new home, I took my camera into the backyard when I let the chooks out to free range. Naturally, I took photos of them scrambling for the bread I gave them, but I wanted to show you our fenced garden. I'm sure you often notice the fences in my photos but I rarely write about them, even though they a vital part of our backyard.

The brown top on the fence above is the plastic addition that stopped Shane's chook getting into the vegetable garden. It's just a strip of gutter guard.

We have an acre of land here and it's fenced off into different sections according to its use and what we want to keep in or out. There is a fence around the entire acre that keeps the dog in and neighbourhood kids and dogs out. We have water in our garden so it's important to keep those children out of harm's way. Just outside the back door, we have our first fenced area - that is to keep the dog away from the free ranging chooks, and the chooks away from the back door. It's also very good when we eat outside to be able to put the dog on the other side of the fence. Right next to that area is our fenced vegetable garden, and next to that, the fenced chook pen. The chooks are let out into the main garden to free range and the fenced back yard stops them wandering into the front yard. The fences need to be about 155 cm or 5 feet in height. Chooks can fly, although the heavier breeds only attempt it when they're young of if they're being chased. We had to add a plastic top to our garden fence because when Shane's chooks came to live with us, they flew into the garden. Adding that extra 6 inches stopped them.

This photo shows the fenced areas - on the left is the chook pen, next to that the vegie garden, next to that, on the far right, the area outside the back door. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

So to answer Karyn's question from the First Vegetable Garden post, we only let the chooks in our vegetable garden when it's between seasons and we want them in there to help clean out the insects, bug eggs, weeds and seeds. When our chooks free range, they go into the main back yard where there are fruit trees and vines growing, but no vegetables. Chickens will scratch on any bare ground they find and if that bare ground is around plants, that's your problem, not theirs. Mulching won't stop them, the next best thing to scratching bare ground, its to scratch mulch out of the way. The problem with this is that it will damage the fragile roots of the vegetables and sometimes even uproot the plants. They will also peck on growing green leaves, tomatoes, strawberries and anything else you usually feed them.

This is the main backyard where the chooks free range during the day.

The solution is to fence off the areas you don't want them in, or fence them in - with a chook tractor. When you set up your vegetable garden, you'll have to think carefully about how such a garden will work with what you already have. For instance, if you have cats, they will probably use the garden for a toilet - you'll either have to sit in the bushes with the hose and hose them every time they come near it, or you have to physically exclude them with a cage. Luckily our cat doesn't use our vegetable garden as her toilet but she does use the front yard. We had to modify gardens where we let the chooks free range. Hanno has placed chicken wire (there is a reason they name it chicken wire) over the top of the soil where the grapes are planted and where the luffas were. He's also put up wire barriers around the base of the bananas. You can't see them but they're there and that barrier enables us to continue growing bananas with chook free ranging near them. You can't expect your animals and chooks to think of a garden in the same way as we do, so before you put in a garden, think about your pets and small children, and you might have to put up fences to make the garden area work productively.

Choose your chooks wisely. These two - Lucy (the mother of Shane's chooks) and Cocobelle are about the same age yet look at the difference in size. Cocobelle (Australorp) never flies, Lucy (Old English Game) always will. Soon after they came to live with us, Lucy went to live in the rain forest. She returned after a week but she can still fly over the back fence. Luckily she has come to know our yard as home now so although she still goes out when she wants to, she comes back every night.

Jaz, I think your soil is over fertilised. Nitrogen in the soil in the form of manure, blood and bone, comfrey or any commercial fertiliser will help the green part of a plant to grow well and the root will just support the lush growth instead of developing. Radishes and carrots like a bit of compost in the soil, but nothing else. And don't give them any additional feeds like you would with cabbages, spinach or lettuce. You want the root to grow, not the greenery. When you plant your radishes again, mix them in with some carrot seeds and sand. Sprinkle them along the line and water in with a fine mist spray. The sand will show where you planted, the radishes will grow faster than the carrots, and closer to the top of the soil, so when you harvest the radishes, you'll free up space for the carrots. A few weeks later you'll have your carrots as a second crop from the one spot.

Julia, to answer your question about needing fungicides, it depends on where you live. If you're in a humid climate, like we are, you'll need to do some reading and your own research on fungicides. Fungus in a humid climate will kill your crops or stop them fruiting. We use them as a preventative here, and you might need to do the same. We use a small application of copper oxychloride on our avocado trees to help prevent Phytophthora. We apply Bordeaux mix to our pumpkins, squash and cucumbers to help prevent powdery mildew. It is impossible to grow pumpkins here without fungicide. A more gentle solution that may work for you, but didn't for us, is to spray a mix of one part milk to nine parts water on every surface of the problem plants, and repeat that every two weeks. It is good gardening practice to spray with seaweed concentrate every two weeks and to keep the garden clean, nipping off any diseased leaves; this will help with fungal and other diseases in the garden.

This is the side of our house where the front and back yards are divided off by a gated fence. Hanno's shed is on the right.

Here is a good chart about organic sprays and treatments and the Green Harvest page on all purpose sprays. We use Dipel, soap spray (made with my homemade soap), Bordeaux mix, wettable sulfur, Eco oil, tomato dust and copper oxychloride. They are all organic. Here is more information from Green Harvest about fungal diseases.

Growing your own vegetables is much more than just putting a plant into soil, there are a lot of other factors that come into it. To be a successful gardener you'll have to work with the conditions presented in your own backyard and with the children, pets, working animals and chickens you already have. Gardens, like every other living thing, will change as they grow and if you are to get the best from whatever space you have, you'll have to think about your unique circumstances and modify them to suit your needs.

PS: I'll team up the mentors with the garden novices over the weekend.


27 May 2009

Your first vegetable garden

Welsh onions are planted in the top bed here. They're non-bulbing green onions, although there is a red variety of Welsh as well.

I am delighted there are so many new gardeners around now. Gardening is one of those things that creeps up on you and while you initially think it's just another simple activity, it becomes more than that very quickly. After the first season, you start thinking of the next, then reading more about techniques and the old ways of growing food, you start looking at other gardens as you walk around your neighbourhood, you jump at the chance to visit friends with vegetable gardens, and you remind yourself of your own mother when you take cuttings and seeds home bundled up like precious cargo. You might as well admit it - you're hooked! Another gardening convert joins our side.

Melanie asked if I would write about when I first started gardening and I would be happy to do that, if only I remembered when that was. I do remember helping my mum with the weeding, I remember my grandma's vegetable garden and chooks, but I don't recall when I dug my first garden. In the 60s and 70s, when I shared flats with others, I used to plant a couple of little tomato bushes in with the flowers out the front. In those days I didn't realise plants have different requirements and I probably didn't worry about not producing a lot of tomatoes. I remember we had a vegetable garden in the first home we bought because Shane fell over near the bean trellis one day and nearly took his eye out with a piece of wire poking out. He still bears that scar. But I guess the first garden I remember being serious about, making sure it was organic and mulched, was our garden up north. We also had chickens there and that was the first time I realised chooks were an important part of the natural system I was trying to set up. Now I know there are plenty of ways of combining different natural elements to produce vegetables, but then, 30 years ago, I was learning about keeping the chooks away from the garden and the damage the hot sun caused.

Ann Shirley, our New Hampshire. She's an excellent layer.

I'm still learning, gardeners never stop doing that. Just when you think your tomatoes or beans are the best, you see an old forgotten variety that looks better and you try it. Gardening helps you grow as a person because it teaches you to slow down, that nature will take her own time and no matter how fast you drive your car, or yourself, when it comes to your garden, although you are in the driver's seat, nothing will happen as fast as you want it to.

If you're a novice gardener, take it slow until you have worked out your climate, and how to get good results. I think a good way of starting would be to plant your favourite vegetable - like tomato, beans or strawberries - whatever it is that you REALLY want to grow at home, and then add a few small easy crops like silverbeet (Swiss chard), lettuce (if you're in a cool zone) and some of the Asian greens like bok choi (Chinese cabbage). Those small leafy vegetables are very easy and don't require much care, but while they're growing, you can tend your favourite and learn all you can about it. Read about vegetable gardening, look at gardens, talk to other gardeners.

Eggs and lemons from the backyard. A daily harvest.

The one thing that will make the most difference to your results will be to plant into good soil. Most soils need organic additives to produce good quality vegetables. If you don't add anything to your soil, you will grow your tomato or beans, but they may be plagued will insects and you'll get meagre crops. However, if you add old cow manure, compost that has been made with chook poo, and worm castings to your soil, you'll be amazed at the difference it makes - you'll have less pests and disease and you'll have better and more prolific crops. Soil makes the most difference. So dig your additives in and let the soil rest for a couple of weeks before you plant. If you do that, you'll have what the gardening books call "rich soil" or "soil rich in organic matter".

Richmond Green, an apple cucumber.

What you do next will depend on what type of vegetables you want to grow. If you're planting green leafy vegies, rich soil is enough. If you're planting fruiting vegetables, you need to add some sulphate of potash, which will encourage strong roots and more flowers. More flowers = more vegetables. I wouldn't worry about pH or minerals in the first year. See what your work produces. If you get what you hoped for, your soil is probably fine. If you don't get your desired results, take your problem plant to the local nursery, or to a neighbour gardener, and ask what the problem was. Gardeners are a remarkably generous bunch of people and they will share their knowledge with you. When you have a couple of years planting your favourites and a few easy crops, move on to the next level and try growing root vegetables, vines, herbs and fruit.

Just a word to the perfectionists, Sandra and Ellen, and others. I've been gardening for a long long time and I always have failures and there are always years when the unexpected and extremely irritating happens. It's part of the equation. I know that merely knowing that will not make a difference to you but I want you to know that it's okay to give up those ideas that "perfect" is the only option. Personally, I believe there is no such thing as "perfect" and gardening has taught me that, and many other things. Let go, be in the moment and be open to wherever your garden takes you. And Ellen, I think your idea is a very good one. We have knitting buddies here and I think gardening mentoring would work well. So, do we have any experienced gardeners who would be willing to mentor a novice? Please add your name to the comments or email me and I'll match you up according to your climates and zones. When you add your name - as either a mentor or a novice, please add as much detail about your climate and conditions as you can so we get a good match for you.

But no matter if you've been gardening for years or if this is your first season, the important thing is that you're doing it. We have given up so much of our collective heritage and the skills we all once took for granted, doing this, producing some of your own food is a huge step up to where we all should be. We need to be firmly rooted in our gardens, along with the plants. Happy gardening, everyone, and if this is your first year, welcome to the wonderful world of worms. LOL!


26 May 2009

Maintaining your garden tools

The past few days have been incredibly busy for me. I had a 12 hours day at the Centre yesterday and go back again today. Hanno is going down to Sydney for a few days to help my sister who had a tree fall on her house during the wild weather a few days ago. I've received a few things in the mail and have not yet responded to the lovely people who sent them but never fear, I'll get to it, hopefully tomorrow. Despite the busyness of my days, I'm still smiling, still enjoying my work and still taking time out for talking to friends and for cuppas. My priorities remain the same even when the workload increases.

Hanno has done today's post and I've included a few photos of his work areas around our home. If truth be told, he would have liked to tidy up these areas before my camera recorded how they look during the course of a normal day but you don't want picture perfect photos - here we specialise in authenticity, so they come to you, from Hanno, in their raw state.

Your garden tools don't have to be the best or most expensive, often you can buy very good quality old tools at garage sales and markets. Buying good quality old tools is a better investment than buying cheap Chinese imports. Keep your tools in good working order by giving them a little time and effort after you've used them and they'll last a lifetime.

  • After using your lawn mower, check the oil level. If it is low and has not been changed for a while, now is the time to do it while the engine is still warm.
  • While checking the oil, look for wear and tear on the cutting blades, if they need replacing, do that straight away.
  • A small amount of dirt and grass buildup is fine because it helps protect the housing but if there is an excess, use your common sense and clean it out.
  • Clean the air filter.
  • Make sure the catcher is empty as it will smell if you store it with clippings still in it.
  • Give the mower a quick wipe over with a clean cloth before you store it away in a protected area.

Edge trimmer
  • When you finish your work, clean the unit with a clean rag. Remove any dirt or plant material.
  • Check the oil level (ours has a four stroke engine) so the trimmer will be ready for work the next time.
  • Store it in a protected area.

Garden rake, shovel, spades etc.
  • Clean dirt off your tools after you finish using them.
  • Don't leave your tools out in the rain or exposed to the sun for too long.
  • If the metal is showing signs of deterioration, clean it well and apply a rust preventative.
  • Every so often, check the wooden handles for splinters and roughness. If the handle starts to split, smooth it over with emery or sand paper and then apply a mix of turpentine and linseed oil. Leave it overnight to sink in and dry, then smooth over again with emery paper and finish off with a light sanding with steel wool.
  • Store your tools in a dry place.

25 May 2009

Living off the land

Lettuce, bok choi and cabbages.
One of my fantasies when I was younger was to wander off into the bush and live off the land. In the 1970s, many young people thought that was an attractive proposition and while some did it, my life lead in a different direction. I guess the phrase ‘living off the land’ has a romantic ring to it but I had no doubt how much energy it would take and how difficult it would be; even so, I probably underestimated it by a long shot.

A green crossroad.
Full of vitamins C and A the purple top turnip. You eat the root and the green top.

A lot of time has passed since then and many of the things I once thought of as great ideas now leave me underwhelmed and with a wry smile. But not that notion – living off the land, I still look back to a life when I would have, could have and maybe, should have. I’ve kept chooks and a vegetable garden for many years now, not in the wild and crazy way I once wanted to do it - living in the bush and foraging for food, but the more sensible and productive option of growing conventional fruit, nuts and vegetables, and that, combined with chooks, suits me just fine. Now, instead of it being a crazy way to live, my understanding of living off the land is more holistic, now it really fits into my life.

These delicious lettuce grow well here during the colder months.

I have no doubt that if we wanted to put more time and energy into our garden, if we dug up more lawn to double the size of it, we could live off our backyard produce all year long. But we are getting older and the time and energy we wish to give the garden is what we give it – and that results in us producing about half the vegetables we eat and about one tenth the fruit. Many fruits and nuts take a lot longer to produce than vegetables. Bananas, for instance, take about 18 months to produce a good sized bunch here, and then that part of the banana has to be cut down to allow others to produce. Unlike oranges, they don’t produce for many years on the same tree. Our pecan tree took 12 years before it gave us the first nuts. We have an excellent Eureka lemon tree that has been a prolific producer almost year round for the past ten years. When it comes to choosing fruit and nut types, make sure your choice is the right one for your area because you will either hit the jackpot or be wondering when and if that tree will ever bear the fruit and nuts you bought it for.

Sugarloaf cabbages. These are the only cabbages we can grow in our short winter season.

And when you grow cabbages, cauliflowers or broccoli, you'll have white cabbage moth caterpillars. When we have only a few of these, we sacrifice the one plant they're on - they usually go for the weakest one. When there are a lot of them, like we have this year, we spray with the organic bacterial spray - Dipel.

But I know now that living off the land in our own backyard is possible for us and it's also possible in varying degrees for many people. If you list what vegetables you usually buy and work out a plan to grow those vegetables right there in your back yard, not only will it give you inexpensive organic vegetables, it will teach you the many skills you need to be successful at it and give you the independence and freedom of being able to feed yourself. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll probably have at least six months of growing time, if you’re in a colder place, maybe four or five months That is ample time to get in a few decent crops and to freeze or preserve/can your excess – spreading that backyard cheer over a longer period.

The celery is tall and starting to fill out.

The other day I read that in the UK, USA and Australia, vegetable gardening has recently increased 30 percent in popularity. While I would love to think that all those people new to the vegie patch were doing it because they have changed the way they live, I think it is the result of the global economical crisis. But for what ever reason you’ve taken to growing food in your backyard, it is a good one because I think it will teach you a lot more than you think it will. All of our ancestors survived because they had the ability to produce or gather their own food. It is a powerful and significant skill. Our survival doesn't depend on it now but the feeling you get when you pull those early carrots, dig your first potatoes or freeze an abundance of beans will be very close to self respect.

I laughed when I saw this photo. The white girl is Germaine. It looks like she's creeping up on Mary.

When we decided to live a more simple life, I wanted to use every asset we had to produce what we needed to live - our land was one of our major assets. So when it came down to it, I did live off the land and it makes me proud to know I can because learning to grow food also teaches you a lot about the natural world we live in, and that is always a good thing.

Have you started a garden this year?


22 May 2009

Good night and sweet dreams

Are you wanting to simplify and don't know where to start? Here is s small step everyone can do. It's easy, won't cost any money and will make a big difference to how you spend many hours every night, and the following daylight hours. Simplify your bed. Those of you who have been reading for a while know I've written about my bed before but as it's one of my favourite subjects, it gives me great pleasure to write about it again.

Beds are important parts of our lives. The bed is one of the few pieces of furniture that changes with us as we go through life. We start out in a tiny cradle or cot (crib) and as we grow, we move up to the 'big' bed. Beds mark that stage of life for us, children feel "grown up" when they make that progression from cot to bed. We have our teenage beds - we bought king size singles for our two tall sons, and we have our marital beds - the quiet and private symbol of a new life with our beloved. And so it goes until we die, and many of us do that in a bed too, completely the cycle from the bed we were born in. Beds, we live and die in them.

My bed is an important part of my life. I spend hours every night sleeping in it, so I have to make it as comfortable and secure as I can. I need to know that when we fall asleep each night, we'll be warm and cosy, capable of deep, uninterrupted sleep that will take away the fatigue of one day and replace it will the vitality to face another.

And this is where the focus on your bed in your daily life comes in. If you make sure your bed is clean and comfortable, it will reward you by helping you get the sleep you need to perform at your best. Take time every day to fluff up your nest. Your bed should be made every day - not just by pulling the cover up over the sheets, but by giving it the energy it needs. Whatever effort and time you give your bed, you'll get back many times over.

I make sure I have sheets that reflect the season - flannel in winter and cool cotton in summer. We have been sleeping between our flannel sheets for a couple of weeks now but yesterday I changed our summer doona/duvet to a heavier woollen winter one. The cover is a flannel one now.

So every morning after hours of rest, I make sure I prepare the bed for another night of sleep and dreams. I take care making up the bed. The top sheet and doona/duvet are taken off and the bottom sheet is smoothed out firm on the bed; I don't want any creases or wrinkles to cause discomfort during the night. The top sheet is placed on the the bed again, even on both sides, and the doona/duvet replaced after a shake. Pillows are fluffed up and replaced at the top of the bed. All is ready, there the bed will sit until nightfall. Clean sheets are a necessity. I put clean sheets on the bed once a week, or more frequently in hot weather. There is nothing better than sleeping that first night on sheets that have dried in the sun. Make sure you have the things you need on the bedside table - I have a box of tissues, a spare pair of glasses and a book. Hanno has a glass of water and a radio on his side. He likes to listen to the news and a favourite radio program before he gets up in the morning. Make sure you vacuum and clean the bedroom frequently, you don't want to be spending all that time in a dusty room.

We are used to sleeping in a quiet and dark room. We have block out curtains and the only noise we hear during the night is an occasional train in the distance. There is no noise from neighbours, traffic or animals. My son, who lives in the midst of a busy city, Surfers Paradise, asked me last time he slept here: "It's SO quiet here at night. How can you stand it?" He spent many hours in deep sleep here before he left home, but now he is used to the noise of the city around him and wonders how we can sleep without it.

We all have our varying preferences for what we are used to while we sleep, but our beds still need to comfort us and make us feel safe and warm during those hours of unconsciousness. Hanno and I do more physical work now than when we were working for a living. The daily chores of our home and garden make us tired at the end of the day and if we are to continue living this way we need to sleep well every night. I am sure most of you feel the same way. So think of your bed as more than a soft platform with sheets. It is the place that cares for you while you sleep and prepares you for tomorrow.

Being mindful of where you sleep and the attention you give your bedroom is an important part of your daily routine. If, like me, you've just woken up, we will soon be fluffing our nests again. And if you're about to go to sleep, good night and sweet dreams. Take care, enjoy your weekend, I'll see you again next week.


21 May 2009

Answering the questions

Alice says hello. ;- )

Good morning! We've had some wild weather these past couple of days with about 250 mm (nearly 10 inches) falling in our area in 24 hours. We have a permanent creek in our backyard that drains water from the surrounding mountains and takes it to the sea. Sometimes I think it will flood into our backyard but in all the time we've lived here, that has never happened. We are fine.

I haven't had a chance to answer questions from the last two days so I'll do that now. If you ever want an answer to a question, you should add it to the latest post because even on a good day I never have the time to go searching back through the archives to answer questions on old posts.

Joanne, in addition to book shops, the book will be sold from this blog, so yes, it will be available anywhere I can post it. I'll sign it for you too if you would like. : - )

Hi Kathryn, thanks for your comment.

Steelkitten, are they real hedgehogs?

Chance and Rois, Hanno loves collecting what I call ' junk' and he calls 'I can fix that'. LOL! Luckily he's a very tidy man so we never have junk on display, it's all in his shed waiting for its time.

Betty, thanks for wishing me joy as I write. I really appreciate that.

Tansy, yes it's a template. The details at at the very bottom of the page.

Bunny, that's nice looking bread. Well done!

LOL Allison. I'm glad you found that dehydrator.

I do remember your Welshie, Maggie. We are really looking forward to welcoming a new family member. I think she will make Alice's future years joyful ones.

Sheila, I think Alice will be renewed too. I can't wait to see them together on that first day.

Brenda, thank you for your thoughts. I write with a sense of inclusion and warmly welcome everyone who takes the time to read here. I'm pleased to know your Christian ladies feel comfortable here.

ithinkican, I don't know of anyone else who had problems posting a comment yesterday. Hanno has written up some notes on garden tool maintenance for me to post soon. It's a good idea to have a few posts from him. He doesn't want to write posts but is happy for me to write up his notes.

Sharon, our cat Hettie likes fish FULL STOP. We've tried her on other foods but she refuses them. It is very difficult to retrain cats to eat different foods but if we ever got another kitten, we'd feed it on homemade cat food. Here is some info on feeding cats written by a vet.

Becky, hello to you and Padfoot! Airedales are great clowns. Rosie and Alice used to chase each other around the yard every afternoon at 4pm. I'm still not sure how they knew what time it was. They have many distinctive traits and are wonderful family dogs.

Gail, I am one very plain and simple gal and I never put anything extra into my soap so I can't really advise you. I am sure one of the soapmakers here will know. My feeling would be that you'd dry the leaves and crumble them up before adding them and you would do that at the trace stage. Can anyone help Gail?

Margaret, it's good to know you've gained encouragement here. I hope for that every day. Good luck with the chooks and the soap.

Cyn, I think Carla's book will go on for a ling time to come. My son Shane has read my book and would like one for himself. I think her message is timeless.

Annie, we are a two person family and that amount of soap would last us about four-five months. I usually give some to my sons, both their girlfriends love it; I use it for hair washing, general cleaning and in the kitchen. Each bar lasts a long time but they can be used for many things.

Toria, thank you so much for that link! I will order some today and make some liquid dish soap.

Carolyn, working with lye is just another skill to learn. You can do it, love. Take it slow and work alone.

Shirley, Hanno made my favourite wooden mould. They're very good, aren't they. You have an excellent site. I discovered it fairly recently and visit you with my other list of current favourites when I have time.

Rose, it's your next step. You'll be fine. Anyone who can make cakes can make soap.

Laura, we bought our scale secondhand from ebay. That was about five or six years ago now but I'm sure they still have them. Ours is a postal scale which gives you great accuracy.

Renae, never throw it out. I think soap can always be rescued. You did the right thing. Let your rebatched soap cure and test it with hand washing but I'm pretty sure it will be okay to use. The thin film may be caused by not mixing it enough. If you're sure of your measurements and have used a reliable recipe, try mixing over a longer period of time. Are you using a stick blender? That is the best method of mixing soap.

Debbie, rebatch it by melting your soap in a saucepan. When it's melted and about 50C, mix it again. Hopefully that will work. If you want to add fragrance, never add it until you've reached trace.

Diana, it does become gel-like and gluggy. It might also separate. That's okay. I just mash mine up with a potato masher and when I use it, make sure I add the gel and water combined. Like masterpiecemom below, I now use the powder. It's much easier to make and dissolves well in my frontloader.

Tansy, I just weighed a few bars from that last batch - they're around 130 - 135 grams each (about 4.5 - 4.7 ozs). My blue resin mould above is 20 x 26cm (8 x 10 inches) and the wooden one is 10 x 30 cm ( 4 x 12 inches).

Hi Jenny, I hope you grow many loofas. I cut mine up and pour soap into them. I have a photo of it somewhere in the archives.

Mrs Mac, thank you so much for sharing how to make your scrubbing soap. It's fabulous.

Donetta, I use this soap to wash up in the sink. You can dissolve it but it will turn to gel. It still works but it's a pain to get out of the bottle. I just rub the bar onto my dishmop. I'm going to be making some liquid dish soap soon. It uses a different type of lye and now that Toria has given me the link to a local supplier, I'll be able to make it regularly. I have made laundry detergent using this soap but I usually use bought soap flakes.

Hi Babs! Can you share how you add the honey and oatmeal? I'm very interested and I'm sure some of the others will be too. Thank you.

D, I don't think you reached 'real' trace. Was it cold the day you made your soap? Your mix might have looked like trace but it had lost its heat and thickened.

Pam, I have read that too but I don't believe it. I always wash my utensils in the sink, using hot water and a scrubbing brush. My mixer is an old one and used mainly for soap but I do occasionally use it for cakes.

Diane, sorry, I don't have time to make soap for sale. Maybe one day I will. There may be other readers here who sell their homemade soap. Who is selling homemade soap? Does anyone have it in their Etsy shop?

Lori, you're using the wrong mould. You need one that will allow the soap to slip out easily. Any of the resin cake forms are very good. I bought mine for $2 at a dollar shop.

Monique dear, this is the question I am asked more than any other. I should put it permanently on the home page. The pots are traditionally used so a gardener will not poke their eye out on the stake while bending over. I just like the look of them and have been gardening with them for many. many years. Good luck with your garden changes.

seanymph, maybe one of the soapmakers here would supply your store when you open. I wonder who is making soap for sale. Anyone?

Jody, the measurements are above.

Elaine, thanks for sharing.

I am really delighted that so many of you are making soap. Slowly, step by step, changes are happening around the world. It feels good to be part of this significant change, doesn't it.


20 May 2009

Making cold pressed soap - focusing on the process

I made a batch of soap last weekend. For me, soap making is one of those defining tasks of a simple life. Like bread making, it is a powerful reminder that the products needed in the home can be made better, and often more economically, than those bought at the supermarket. Those two tasks, more than any others, also connect me to my past. Making soap and bread would have been a normal part of our ancestors' lives. Now let me qualify what I just wrote. You can buy soap cheaper than you can make it, but that soap will contain almost no glycerin - the moisturising and nourishing part of soap, and it will contain a lot of chemicals to make it smell good, and to make it lather. When you make your own soap you need only three ingredients - fat, caustic soda/lye and water. So homemade soap is not cheaper than commercially produced soap like Palmolive, but it is cheaper than the "natural" soaps you buy in the organic shops. All soap, no matter what the label says, even the "natural" ones, have been made with caustic soda/lye. The process of soap making neutralises it and after having the soap sit on your shelf for a few weeks, you will have the finest soap money can buy. Caustic soda/lye is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH).

I have written about this in the past and there seems to be a reluctance by some to take up soap making, mainly because of the safety issues. And you are well advised to be cautious of this process - you need to work with caustic soda / lye and that will burn your skin, your benches or floor if it falls from your container. It is wise to be cautious, particularly if you have children or pets around. So I thought that it might be helpful if I focused on the process rather than the recipe. Seeing it being done in steps, might help some of you work out a way you can make soap that you feel safe and confident with.

My soap is made with olive oil, rice bran oil, copha (solid coconut oil), water and caustic soda/lye. Here is my soap making tutorial. There is a soap calculator here. Basically, you find what you have in the cupboard, or buy your preferred oils, enter them in the calculator and it will estimate the amount of water and caustic soda/lye to add. Soap making safety, read this.

So now let's focus on some of the issues you might encounter when making soap.

Before you start, make sure there are no children or pets around. Put on your safety gear. Work in a well ventilated space. When you add water to the caustic soda/lye, it will emit fumes. Traditionally, soap making ingredients are measured as solids, not liquids. Get yourself a good scale and weigh your ingredients according to the recipe. Remember that as soon as moisture is added to the caustic soda/lye, and that might just be a bit of moisture on your hand, it will start to burn.

I use a Pyrex jug to mix my caustic soda/lye and water. As soon as you add water, it will start to heat up. You do not have to add heat, it heats up itself. I place my pyrex jug on a board so it doesn't damage the bench top. I use rain water from my tank. If you only have tap water, measure out a bit more that you need and let it sit in a bowl for 24 hours. That will allow the chlorine to evaporate off.

As soon as you add water, the reaction will start. You can see small bubbles in the water here as soon as the caustic soda/lye was added.

And less than a minute later, the solution has reached 90 C (180F).

This photo shows the combined oils before the caustic soda/lye was added. The mixture is clear. Basically, soap is made by mixing the caustic soda/lye with water and letting it cool down. While this is happening, you heat up the oils on the stove. The aim is to get both solutions at the same temperature. When that happens, you mix them together, then start mixing. It's really a simple process, made more difficult by the danger of burning.

When the caustic soda/lye is added, the mixture is opaque.

My bowl was very full, so I placed some tea towels around the mixer to prevent splash damage on the bench.

After mixing for about six or seven minutes, I reached trace. Trace is the stage of the process when ripples made on the surface of the mix, stay there. You can clearly see this in the photo above. When you reach trace, you stop mixing. If you want to add an essential oil, you add it when you reach trace. I then poured it into the moulds, covered them with a few towels and left them over night. You don't want it to cool too fast.

The next day the mix was solid, so I took it out and cut it.

I like to cut my soap into long bars instead of square or thin bars. I like a solid piece of soap that will last a while. You can cut the soap any way you like or you can use various moulds to shape the soap. Leave the soap on a rack to cure for a few weeks. This also hardens the soap so that it will last much longer.

So I have made 20 good bars of soap at a cost of about A$17.40 or 87 cent a bar.

When the soap is cured, wrap it in greaseproof paper and store in the cupboard until it's used.

For those of you who kill your own animals or poultry for food, Carla Emery has some fine recipes for soap making using tallow - page 615 (updated edition 9). Her soap making section contains a lot of good information, including info on water and fats and how to make your own lye. It starts on page 610.

If you are new to soap making and are still apprehensive about it, I encourage you to go to your library and get Carla's book. The ability to make your own soap is a fine skill to have. When you get over the first soap making session you'll realise it's quite a simple process that, when combined with prudent safety precautions, produces soap that is much better than what you buy at the supermarket.

19 May 2009

A crossroads

I'm at a mini crossroad today. I started preparing for this change on the weekend and tomorrow I dive right in. From tomorrow, five days a week until early next year, I'll be writing my book. The two days I don't write I'll be at my voluntary job. There may be days ahead when I can't manage five days blog writing. My blog will continue, I have no doubt about that, but some days I might be missing. I hope you understand and bear with me. I am very fortunate to have Hanno here to help, we will be working through this change together, and our lives will continue here as normal, just with a bit more tapping away on the keyboard.

Julia asked yesterday about dogs in the garden. Most of you know we have Alice, a beautiful Airedale Terrier. Her aunt Rosie died last August. We have been sharing our home with Rosie and Alice for over 12 years now and I can tell you they've never dug in the garden, never jumped over any fence, never chased the chooks, and for the most part, except that time they ran into the bush and came back covered in black ticks, they've been a joy to have here. I think a lot of behavioural problems come from certain breeds of dog being kept in inappropriate conditions. Some dogs have to run, some have to herd and round up, some have to sit on a lap to watch TV ; - ). When they can't do those things they develop bad habits that are difficult to change. Airedales don't jump fences, they hate jumping, so putting up a little picket fence around our garden was enough to keep them out, we fed them our own homemade dog food and treats which kept them in good health for many years and we spent time with them. I think toys will depend on the type of dog you have, Julia. Some dogs love to catch a ball, some dogs want to go for a walk every day, some like following you around like a shadow.

The beautiful Alice is 12 years old now, she's deaf but still very healthy. She is lost without Rosie and needs to be with us all the time. She follows Hanno around in the yard and sleeps on a soft bed near the kitchen now. She is such a joy, I can't imagine life without her. We have just started to look around for another dog. We've decided to get a Welsh Terrier this time. They look like Airedales but are smaller. Alice is sitting beside me as I type this and every time I turn my head to look at her, she wags her tail. :- )

Some of you may remember that I started knitting a bag sometime last year. Well, that bag turned into something else. I needed the needles for another project so I cast off and looked at what I had for a couple of hours. Then I added a lining and now I have a very serviceable holder for my candles. Please don't ask me for the pattern, it is just something I made up as I went.

I wonder if this has happened to you in the past. The other day, Hanno and I were talking about preparing the garden for the wedding. I said we needed some seating so that the older folk could sit and rest during the ceremony. We talked about bringing a garden bench from the back yard to the front and to provide chairs on the front verandah, but still, we needed more benches right in the garden.

The next day Hanno said he had seen some garden benches out on the road for the hard rubbish pickup. He hooked up the trailer and half an hour later we had two old benches, aching for a repair job. They're sturdy, but need the wooden planks replaced and a paint job. Hanno started that job yesterday. How often have we said we need something, and there it is! Does that happen to you as well?

I want to thank you for the wonderful interaction with my blog, especially over these past few weeks. The warm and tender comments on the blog anniversary, supporting my advertisers, the dish towel and hot pad swap just finished, and your visits here all contribute to the wonderful feeling of friendship and community that has developed. Tomorrow I'll be writing about the batch of soap I made last weekend. If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them. So until then, take care, everyone.


18 May 2009

The feeling of the garden

A wonderful balance is reached in Autumn and Spring when the weather is neither hot nor cold, the harsh bright light of summer takes on a more gentle glow and being outside is not only a joy, it's essential. Autumn is my favourite season. It is that one time of year when my optimism is at its peak, the grass is greener, flowers bloom, vegetables are set to grow and I see the colder months ahead and smile at the thought of it.

I often take photographs in our garden to show what kind a place we have here. Much of the outside work is done by Hanno and it's a credit to him that it's productive and breathtakingly beautiful. But the beauty recorded in those photos is nothing like the feeling of the place. Seeing it in a photo and experiencing it first hand cannot be compared. A photo will not show the myriad of birds that fly in and out, it will not allow you to experience the gentle breeze or to soak up the feeling of being right here, right now. There is a family of kookaburras living here and they dart in and out constantly. I hear, but never see, whip birds calling from the rainforest. The scent of honeysuckle and roses entice me to walk further into the garden, there are spots of bright coloured New Guinea impatiens next to the sober magnolias, and next to the drive way, red hot pokers stand tall in the sun like guardians.

In the back garden, where food production is our main concern, worms, hidden away in their bathtub farm, devour all manner of kitchen scraps and paper, seedlings slowly grow for planting in the garden, water drips into catchment tanks, vegetables vines curl around trellises, carrots and turnips peak out from the soil, bees buzz, sedge frogs jump inside cabbage heads and fruit ripens. It is certainly a grand sight, but the feeling of it, well, that is something else.

Walking around our garden reminds me, with certainty, that I am part of the natural world. I am not above it, I cannot remove myself from it, I am part of it and it is part of me. There is so much out there that I don't understand - the wind blowing the trees in just one part of the garden, the never-ending cycles of life, lichen growing on rotting tree stumps, and what did come first, the chicken or the egg? But I'm not worried about my ignorance, I still enjoy what I am privileged to see, feel and do here.

Our garden is being readied for a family wedding next month. Hopefully grandbabies will be toddling around this garden one day, there will be kids playing with dogs in the backyard again, Christmas lunches will spill over into the backyard for a game of cricket, and new life will bring new meaning to this garden. I hope the cycles of life of my family will be connected with this land for many years to come so that a woman who I don't know now will remember back to this time when our family first settled here. It is a wonderful thought that my family will live here for many years to come, but this land and the feeling of the gardens, makes me think the best of everything.

I wish I had 330 parcels to send out to you all but there can be only two winners. Congratulations to Kendra @ A Sonoma Garden and LashyLashla. Please send me an email with your postal address. Thank you, and thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments.


Swap news

Hello all- just dropped in to remind everyone about finishing up the swap. We seem to have two missing swap buddies: Sandra Tolley and Janet Anderson. Hopefully this will jog their memories and they will contact their swap buddies. I have also been a bit late in sending mine out due to illness in my family- sigh and bah humbug :( . I have just received the lovely parcels from my swap buddies, both of whom I will be contacting today. I have set up a group flickr account for this swap. Each of you may post and tag your own photos on the site since I seem to have one of those love/ hate relationships with flickr (it regularly eats my photos and makes them disapear into lost internet land). Everyone will be able to click on this hyperlink and then to post and tag their own photos , and I will post the few photos that I have received (if anyone has problems just contact me at cdetroyes at yahoo dot com) here

14 May 2009

It's my second birthday - and a giveaway

The Brandywines are growing fast. That sentence was the first one I wrote in my blog and it was on 14 May, 2007. And now, after 901 posts, thousands of comments, 1,165, 753 visitors and almost 2 million page views, today is my blog's second birthday! I never expected Down to Earth to become as popular as it is, even though I'd been a writer for many years before I started blogging and was used to writing for an audience, I just didn't think the life we live here on our little patch of earth would interest so many people. But by mid-October 2007 over 50,000 people had visited and it's continued growing from there.

It's been a fine ride for me, I've enjoyed the writing and made many friends. My thanks to Sharon (in New Mexico) who has been helping behind the scenes almost from the start and who has been a tower of strength for me along the way. Thanks also to Rose and Lorraine for helping with the swaps. Without these sweet ladies, the swaps would have stopped long ago.

I didn't tell Hanno I was blogging at first. It was about two or three weeks before he knew about it and I guess another month or so before he read the blog for the first time. Now he reads every day. At first he was cautious and said to be careful but over the months, after reading your wonderful comments, he's relaxed about it now. Of course, as many of the other bloggers here know, there are nasty comments and emails too but since I started moderating the comments, these have been greatly reduced. I think the thrill for those people is to see their comment on the screen, when there is no hope of that happening, they're less likely to write. And whatever bad has come our way, it has been overwhelmingly smothered by the vast number of positive, sweet and intelligent comments and emails, and letters and gifts sent by post. For those I thank you all. Your comments keep me writing. Not only do they add a lot of information and a variety of ideas to this blog, but for me, it's like the other part of the conversation. Without comments there would be no point. Words written to travel out into the blog world with no sign of validation would have stopped me short long ago.

I've had a few comments and emails recently asking me about blogging so I thought now would be a good time to address those questions. Although I have to remind you that I'm not an expert blogger, I am just an ordinary woman with a message that life is improved by living simply. But along the way I've discovered a few things that may help others who want to start a blog, so let's start with that.

First of all, decide why you want to blog. Is it to create a record for your family, do you want to write for a wider audience or do you want to make money blogging? If you're a family blogger, there are no rules for you except those of safety and common sense. Do what you want to do, let your family know where to find your blog and just write.

If you want a wider audience or want to make money I'll bullet point all this because they're just a set of 'things' I've noticed, I don't have much to say about them, they are what they are.
  • You need to write well. Develop your own style and your own voice. Don't copy, don't plagiarise, be yourself and offer what is unique about you to your readers.
  • You need to write almost every day.
  • Don't expect your readers to be interested in non-stop stories and photos of your pets and family. Unless you're the calibre of Soulemama, pets and baby photos will only interest your own family in the long term.
  • When you start blogging, write short posts. When your audience builds and you know they are coming for what you write, write longer ones.
  • Keep the blog simple. Making your page pink and purple because you like those colours will alienate all those who don't. Flashing ads put people off and so do long lists of links at the end of posts.
  • Give. If you look at the popular bloggers, like Meredith at Like Merchant Ships or Benita at Chez Larsson, they are generous and give their readers new ideas, recipes or patterns, and encourage them towards self development.
  • I love the way Jenny at Little Jenny Wren combines her blog with selling her wonderful dolls. The gentle way Jenny does that is a good lesson for many of us.
  • Comment on other blogs so you leave a link to yours out there for readers to find you. Make sure your comments are well thought out and interesting so readers will want to click on your link.
  • I doubt you'll make any money for the first couple of years and even then it's a struggle unless you have a high visitor rate. Exceptions to that may be niche marketing if your blog falls into that category.
  • It's harder than it looks. Coming up with something new to write about is tough. There are some days you won't want to write anything but if you want to build your blog, you'll have to.
So that's my short version of how to write a blog. I hope it's helped those who asked the questions and those thinking about blogging in the future. If you have a specific question, or want to add to what I've written, please add your comment.

And last of all, I want to celebrate this milestone with a give away to thank you for your visits. I have two prizes: my homemade soap, two hand knitted dishcloths and two loofas in each pack for two people who comment on this post. If you comment as 'anonymous' please add your name. Good luck to everyone. I'll announce the two winners on Monday.


13 May 2009

Baking as part of your regular routine

Part of my routine every week is to make something sweet for morning teas or desserts. This is a simple thing for me to whip up, I rarely use recipes because I have a stable of favourite recipes that are used in a kind of loose rotation and even though we have the same things repeatedly, their appearance on the table is far enough apart not to bother anyone.

Both my sons are fine dining chefs. These are Shane's cook books that are currently being stored in our guest bedroom. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Someone in my real life commented the other day that people don't commonly bake now like they did in the old days and that cake stalls are always popular with everyone from small children to older folk. (We were discussing fundraising.) That got me thinking about those of you who are new to baking and cooking from scratch so I thought it would be a good idea to write about a few basic recipes and the ins and outs of home baking as part of your routine.

Soon after I stopped buying ready made desserts, cakes and biscuits (cookies), Hanno and I started our morning ritual of morning tea on the front verandah. Anyone who knows the European way of socialising, would know that often coffee and cake are part of the mix, so for Hanno, tea or coffee without something sweet to eat was not an option. So I bake a cake or biscuits at some point during the week, usually when I'm also baking our daily bread. If I don't get the chance to bake a cake I whip up scones or pikelets. They're easy, I always have the ingredients in the fridge and pantry, and they'll be ready in half an hour. So if you're starting out and want to incorporate this into your routine, the first thing I suggest is to have a group of recipes that are firm family favourites and you put some time aside each week to bake. But you'll also need another group of easier and quicker recipes that you use when there is nothing made and you want something quick. You'll need these recipes when someone phones to say they'll be dropping in to visit in the next hour. It used to be the sign of a good country cook that you could have a plate of scones, hot from the oven and ready to eat, in 30 minutes.

My fast recipes are:
Scones - plain, date and sultana (golden raisin). For scones you'll need flour, butter, a pinch of salt and sugar and some milk. Most of you will have those supplies always on hand. You can go from zero to hot scones on a plate in about 30 minutes. Scone recipe. You can make any plain scone into date or fruit scones by adding a bit more sugar to the mix as well as a cup of chopped dates or sultanas (golden raisins).

Pikelets. Pikelets are little pancakes and like scones you'll probably have the ingredients on hand. They too are made and on the plate in half and hour. Pikelet recipe.

So those are your two standby recipes, the ones you quickly whip up when there is nothing else to eat or when unexpected visitors arrive. They are simple fare but don't be fooled, serving a plate of fresh, warm scones or pikelets topped with jam and cream are one of life's great luxuries. High tea always includes scones, it's a classic. Practise making scones and pikelets quickly for your family on a few occasions so you know the recipe and can make a fast plate when you need to.

Your other standard recipes can be part of your normal baking routine for the week. If you're working outside the home, bake on the weekend and freeze part of what you bake. Most cakes, scones, pikelets and biscuits can be frozen. As you go through the week, just take out what you need for that day from your freezer. If you're working at home, like me, you'll probably have a time set aside for your weekly baking, although those of you with a family larger than mine (just the two of us) will obviously bake more often, maybe twice or three times a week.

My rotation of cakes includes orange and coconut cake, lemon cake, apple cake, banana and walnut cake and tea cake. The ingredients for all these cakes are very similar, the flavouring is different and is usually dependent on what I have growing in the backyard or in the kitchen at that time. Try to use what you have on hand, don't make a special trip to the supermarket to get your ingredients. If you don't have a list of favourite recipes, try perfecting a pound cake and add different flavourings - pound cake recipe. To this recipe you could easily add choc chips, dates, orange or lemon zest and juice, blueberries, sultanas, bananas, nuts, coffee or ginger and other spices. Once you've perfected your pound cake recipe, experiment with it.

Another baking tip is to use all the special ingredients when you buy them. For instance, if you buy a bag of choc chips or nuts for a recipe and don't use all of them in your cake or biscuits (cookies), the next time you bake, bake something that will use it up. If you're going to get serious about your baking, you don't want little bits and pieces in the pantry. Buy a pack, use it all, then buy something else. Try not to waste anything.

I hope I've given you a couple of ideas to get you started on regular baking. If you can replace store bought cakes and cookies with those you make at home, you'll cut down on a lot of preservatives and artificial flavourings that are present in store bought baked goods. They have to make their products to sit on a shelf until someone buys them, you don't. When I make a cake for just Hanno and I, I usually cut it in half and freeze half of it so it lasts longer. If you have a larger family you wont have to do that. But don't be put off thinking it's only you, or you and your partner, because almost everything can be frozen and defrosted in portions to suit you.

There are millions of recipes online. My particular favourite place is taste.com.au. Their recipes and photos are clear, and generally it is good wholesome food. joyofbaking.com is also good, it's an American site, and Delia Online is a good starting point for my UK friends. And you can't go past baking911.com for recipes, ideas and troubleshooting. This is a superb site for all new and experienced bakers because they explain why things work, and don't, for all forms of baking, including bread. So there you have it. I hope you have enough information here and the motivation within to start working on a regular baking routine. It's a fine thing to offer hospitality to visitors and good food to your family that you have made yourself. Think back to your childhood, I bet their is a favourite memory there of cakes or pies or biscuits. You can help create those memories for your family too. Home baking is one of those enriching and feel good parts of a simple life that almost everyone can do.

And finally, this is the other recipe for crumpets I promised one of the ladies recently. This one is baked crumpets. I haven't tried this recipe, it's from my old CWA (Country Women's Association) cook book and is typed exactly as it appears in the book:

Break two eggs in to a basin, beat slightly, add 2 teaspoons sugar. Sift ½lb SR flour in another basin, pour in eggs to make a light dough - a little milk may be needed. Work quickly. Roll to ½ inch thick. Cut into rounds. Prick with a fork. Bake in hot oven for ten minutes. Tear open and butter while hot.

Happy baking everyone.

ADDITION: Bec's comment made me realise I should add this. If you want to freeze your cakes, do it without the icing or filling. You can add icing or frosting if you want it when the cake is defrosted. Also, you can freeze a cake whole or in slices. If you slice it, put little pieces of baking paper or freezer sheet between each slice and reshape the cake back to its original form. Then place in a plastic bag to freeze. This will stop the cake slices drying out.

You can also freeze biscuits, slices (without icing), scones, muffins and cookies. Just place them in a plastic bag when they're completely cold, remove as much air from the bag as possible, and freeze for up to three months.

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