28 February 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

We have an Australian kitchen with a twist today, it's in Japan.  Adele has sent her photos in and she writes:
"I am an Aussie trying to live a simpler life amongst the hustle and bustle of Japan. I am also a stay at home mum to three children under the age of five. While the Japanese are over consumers there is also a new shift towards thriftiness and frugal living.
In all honesty my kitchen sink is never empty like this but I wanted to show you how big the kitchen sinks are in Japan. My five year old daughter could actually take a bath in it it's that big!! I still haven't figured out why they are so big when the rest of the house is so compact!
The other photo shows as much of my kitchen that I could get into the frame. I am lucky to have a system kitchen, while it is a bit dull it is just the right size and very functional. My rice cooker and bread-maker sit side by side and they both get a daily workout, sort of east meets west. Like the majority of Japanese homes there is no oven but I have learned to cook in a microwave convection, I've been promised a real oven one day. There is also no pantry/large cupboard in Japanese kitchens but to offset this there is storage under the kitchen floor, you can see a square on the floor in front of my stove. We put things there that we don't use so often and it is a great place to leave the pickles when they are maturing.
Thankyou for letting all of us partake in this series, it really is a look in to the heart of peoples homes."

Adele's blog is here.


27 February 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today's kitchen sink is from Lisa in Germany.  It's very familiar to me as I lived in Hamburg for two years when Hanno and I first married.

Lisa writes:
"I discovered your blog a few weeks ago, and I really love it! I check it almost every day :) what I found really interesting are the kitchensink-photos you post on tuesdays.
I study anthropology and what really catches my interest is everydays ordinary culture. what I noticed in the pictures you already posted, is that the sink is always in front of a window, 
so while washing the dishes you can look outside - I like that! in germany where I live, the sink is usually facing a wall. I also noticed, that most of the pictures were from america, so now, here are some from europe :)
In the pictures you can see the sink and part of the kitchen. I'm a university student and I live in a really big and old apartment with seven other people. You can see our cruchet-washingcloth hanging over the sink and next to the sink our red water carbonator that we use to turn our tapwater into sparkling water."

Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.


26 February 2010

Back to normal

Officially, there are two days left before Autumn arrives in Australia.  The Autumn equinox is actually March 21,so we have a few hot days yet to come, nevertheless, we have begun our major planting of the year.  Where we live, it is much easier to garden organically during the cooler months.  Summer's heat brings many insects and diseases that we don't see when it's cooler.  Generally, we plant for nine months of the year, we harvest during Summer, and start all over again in Autumn.
Starting over again always means ripping out the most of the plants still producing, like eggplant (aubergine) and pumpkins, and working around those that will continue on, like the capsicums (peppers) and sweet potato.   Hanno has worked hard on adding cow manure, compost and worm castings to the garden beds, it's been raining on and off for a couple of weeks, so the beds have settled again nicely, and now it's time for the first plants.
Bok choy is a staple here.  We use it in various stirfries and casseroles but the chooks eat most of it.
Further over in the part of the garden that will get sun all day we have cucumbers and lettuce.  The cucumbers, when they grow on their trellis, will partially shade the lettuce.

Most gardening books will tell you to rotate vegetables and plant those with the same requirements for water and feed in the same plot and although that is how we started out, that is not how we garden now.  We found long ago that if we are to produce food year round, many of the guidelines in gardening books don't mean much.  They are written for short season gardens.  We start off in a very organised way, but as soon as the first crops are harvested, and they don't often ripen at the same time, we fill in the empty spaces with other crops.  So where we started with, for instance, a row of tomatoes, we might end up with lettuces or radishes in the spaces when the tomatoes finish.  
These pumpkins and eggplant have been growing over Summer and will soon be pulled out and composted.
We planted sweet potato late last year.  This will grow for another couple of months.

There are only a few real rules we go by: we always grow the vegetables in excellent soil that is rejuvenated every year, they always have adequate sunlight, and we are very careful not to plant members of the solanacae family - tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, capsicum (peppers), in the same soil two years in a row.  We also tend to keep these vegetables in groups and don't fill small spaces with one tomato or one potato.  If we keep them in groups, we know where they've been grown recently.  This family of vegetables are notorious for wilt diseases and soil nematodes and we need to plant them carefully to avoid problems.
Capsicums (peppers) don't need to be replanted each year here, they will grow for three or four years and still produce well. Our capsicums are here with Welsh onions, the new pasley, tomatoes and garlic.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about soil improvement  and when we improved our soil here we also started to sow seeds and plant cuttings.  Of course, this is an ongoing task throughout the year, but these and seedlings bought at the market, are what started our garden again. This year I have turmeric and ginger growing from tubers planted a few weeks ago.  They'll be planted out soon.  We also have seedlings of tomato, beans, cabbage, cucumber and bok choy, as well as new parsley, lemon mint, and coriander.
So our garden is planted again, albeit, with only a few seedlings, but it feels like we're back on track again.  In the coming weeks, the empty spaces will disappear and greenery will grow tall and overflow.  Trellises and climbing frames will be secured in the soil for cucumbers and peas; stakes will hold tomatoes steady and firm.  There will be all sorts of lettuces, ruby red tomatoes and radishes, dark purple cabbages and beetroot.  Soon we'll plant potatoes, carrots and baby cauliflowers for our Winter soups and vegetables.  Soon we'll be back to normal.

25 February 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today's photo is the last of the original batch. It's Krystal's kitchen in Nova Scotia in Canada.

She writes:
"We moved into this house a couple years ago and I have been slowly doing different renos along the way. I painted the kitchen walls and ceiling, put up the panels/rod on the sliding door. Just need to fix the other panel and make it into a topper above the sink. We changed out the old lighting and my pride and joy is the backsplash. I did that all by my little lonesome. I like to think it ain't bad.

The china cabinet next to my table was my moms. She bought new ones so I took this one and I love it.  I think it was meant to go with my table. 

Still dreaming and making changes as the funds will allow.. Saving now for a new sink and taps. We have really hard water and these taps are ready to explode. Lets hope they don't.

If you would like your kitchen sink to be featured in the current batch of photos, send two photos, reduced in size to about 30 percent, to  rhondahetzel at gmail dot com.

Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

24 February 2010

Simple sights

Thank you for the kind thoughts for Bernadette.  We went to chemo yesterday and I'm happy to tell you she was pain-free all day.  Maybe it was your prayers and good thoughts that helped that along.  On the way home we picked up her daughter from the airport and they collected Flora McDonald on their way home.  Hanno drove them home from here because I was tired and needed a short sleep.  What a lovely thing it is to sleep during the day.  I never liked to in years gone by but now I sleep whenever I feel like it and I am better for it.
After my nap I checked the forum, talked to Hanno, and did a few odds and ends.  I bought a large dish drainer yesterday as the one I had doesn't handle our dishes and all the bottles, jars, funnels and spoons I usually have when washing up.  I reorganised the kitchen sink to accommodate the new addition, washed the lunch dishes and the bits and pieces sitting on the kitchen bench, then stood back to admire my new drainer.  LOL!  I am amused by simple sights now - a dish drainer full of drying dishes pleases me as much as anything finer would.  I am looking forward to tomorrow when I can get stuck into the kitchen and give it a good tidy up.

When I'm doing that tidy up, I'll also make some soap.  I gave four bars to Kerry when he was here last week so we only have a few bars left.  I also want to make more liquid soap, and try to perfect my method of doing that.  It will only be my second lot of liquid soap so I still have much to learn, but the product itself is so lovely, I doubt I'll ever be without it again.  I've been using it for shampoo, removing stains, washing dishes, spraying on bugs in the garden and adding a little to my bucket of vinegar water when I mop the floors.  It's a full day job though, with lots of sitting and waiting, so I'll have to start that early tomorrow.

Many of the long term readers here will probably remember that Autumn is my favourite season, so as the days shorten and the strength of light changes, I look forward to those coming  cooler months when we have our vegetable garden back to full production.  Hanno started the planting  (I will do a post on that later in the week) but just seeing him out there in the garden in the late afternoon, reminds me that most beautiful time of the year will be here very soon.  And when I can eat home-grown heirloom tomatoes again and don't have to rely on the insipid pretenders we buy at the shop, I'll be one happy gal.

Growing a vegetable garden gives us such a sense of empowerment.  Those vegetables, along with all the skills we've learnt along the way, help us survive as independently as possible and if there was, heaven forbid, a local disaster, or a transport or oil strike, or problems further afield that stopped the production or movement of oil, we  know we would be fine here for a long time.  I guess we're preparing for the future by relying on the past.

I am going to work today and will be presenting one of my Frugal Home workshops.  I always enjoy them even though it's a bit of a rush in the morning to set up and organise food for lunch as well talk to people as they come in.   But it will be a good day, of that I have no doubt, and the incidentals of the day will be forgotten  to be replaced by the pleasure of sharing what I know with others who are keen to learn.  Sharing knowledge, passing on information, and encouraging those younger used to be a normal part of life, but it doesn't seem to happen much nowadays.  I love the point in the workshop when people realise they really can change the way they live and still be happy and fulfilled.  There is always a point when they see the payoff for taking the time to come along to the workshop.  They have the printed information in their hands but the thing that surprises them is the stirrings of motivation to change.  That is  what I strive to give them.  Information without the motivation to use it is worthless. The quiet people who walk in change into a little group motivated towards change.  When they leave, they hug and thank me.  Often they make plans to come back - sometimes to volunteer, sometimes to attend another workshop or take a bus trip, or to learn how to sew and mend at our sewing circle.  I feel very fortunate to be part of it.


23 February 2010

Old recipes

Hanno with Flora McDonald. Flora is Bernadette's little dog, we are looking after her for a few days.

I have always loved books and learned early in my life that books were entertaining, explanatory, trustworthy, and a dependable companion both in my home and when travelling around.  Books are where I go to for my information, even now in the age of the internet, my first port of call when I want to learn something is the library.  I used to buy all the books I read but now that I have reduced the amount I spend, books are a shared experience with others using my local library.  Sometimes though, I'm lucky enough to gather enough points on my Amazon widget to buy a few books, and that is exactly what I did just after Christmas.  Of the three books I bought then, I want to write about A Well-Kept Home by Laura Fronty and Yves Duronsoy.

This is a book that will serve to give you those hints, tips and recipes that you'll never find in a modern magazine or most books on household tips.  This is a gentle look at how we can use old-fashioned methods in our modern homes.  
 Click to enlarge.

This book is familiar to me, it's how I am living.  Some recipes and hints are old favourites, some are totally new to me. There are little treasures in the book like these:

If only a few drops are required, prick the lemon with a toothpick, press it, then put the toothpick back like a cork! To extract all of its juice without a lemon squeezer, cut in half, push in a fork and turn it vigorously around in the pulp. If you only use half, the other half can be kept under a glass turned upside down on a saucer.

6 egg shells
Juice of two lemons or ½ glass of vinegar.
  • Break the egg shells in tiny pieces and put them in the glass items that require cleaning.
  • Pour in the lemon juice or vinegar and shake.
  • Leave overnight, so the shell dissolve, If necessary, use a bottle brush to clean the dirtiest areas. Empty out the solution.
  • Rinse in very hot water.
If onions sprout, do not throw away the green stalk as they can be used in salads or other dishes.  You will be positively glad of sprouting onions in winter, when chives are rare and expensive.  In order to make an onion sprout, put one atop a flared neck jug, filled with water. In less than ten days, you will have many fresh and delicious green sprouts.

This onion tip will also work by piercing the onion with two toothpicks on either side of the onion. That will allow you to suspend the onion over a glass of water.

And here is a lovely old fashioned recipe from my CWA (Country Women's Association) cook book:

Take tomatoes not quite ripe, the green ones are best; wipe with a cloth and take off the stems. Put into a preserving kettle, allowing ½ lb (250 grams) white sugar for every pound of fruit. Add a little water for syrup. Slice 1 lemon for every 2 lbs fruit, and add.  Boil until thoroughly done, and the syrup is thick.  Do not put much water in at first, as it may be added easily.

CWA cookbooks are available from most CWA branches.  Mine is about 40 years old but it says inside the cover it's available from The Secretary, Soldier's Memorial Hall Committee, Tandunda SA 5352.  If it's still available, it's a fine book.  There are no photographs in it, which was the custom in those days, just old-fashioned recipes.

And finally today, the recipe for my Buttermilk Apple Cake that a few people have asked for.

Make the topping first, then set to one side.

1/3 cup plain (all purpose) flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped nuts - walnuts or pecans would do nicely
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup soft butter 
Mix all the ingredients together.

Cake Batter
2 cups plain (all purpose) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup butter
½ cup white or raw sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk (or plain yoghurt)
2 apples - cored, peeled and sliced finely
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon.
  1. Turn on your oven 190 C (375F). Grease a 9 inch baking tin/pan.
  2. Cream the butter and both sugars, when it's light and fluffy, add the egg and mix in.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the sifted plain flour and baking powder.
  4. Add buttermilk and flour mixture alternately, mixing as you go. Add lemon zest.
  5. Add half the batter to the baking tin and spread on a layer of the thinly slices apples. Sprinkle cinnamon over the apples. Add the other half of the batter.
  6. Sprinkle on the topping.   
  7. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.
This is a moist cake suitable for a lunch box, morning tea or dessert, with custard or a little cream. 

22 February 2010

Chickens and an afternoon at the movies

Well, some of you realised what I'd done even if  I didn't. I'd spent a rather harrowing day with my friend Bernadette in the emergency room of a hospital yesterday, came home at 4pm, checked the comments, made a couple of notes for today's post, pressed "publish" instead of "save" then shut down the computer. Oops.

So let's go through that list.  After a very busy week, I took time out on Saturday to reconnect with the chooks.  They are always a delight, but occasionally they do something really crazy and I love them even more because of it.  On Saturday I went out to feed them and let them out to free range and found the scene below.  I had to go back inside to get the camera, because it had to be recorded, not only for me, but for you too.  These three girls have been broody for quite some time, although I think Heather is only playing at it because she's often out of the nest too.  She's decided she wants to fly and when I open the gate of the chook pen, she flies out over the others.  So here in the nest, Germaine and Mary sit, sometimes with Heather. They are all in THE nest.  It's everyone's favourite.  Usually they each sit in a separate nest, but not on Saturday!  
Heather, Germaine (sitting on Heather's head) and Mary.

While I had the camera in my hand I wandered around the backyard to see what Hanno had been doing while I worked last week.  He's been concerned that the wires he laid over the roots of the grapefruit and mandarin tree weren't protecting the roots enough, so he made these nifty cages.  We still have room to place the mulch around the roots, but the chooks can't scratch the roots.  Citrus have their roots close to the surface and if chickens scratch them enough, it can kill the tree.  But not now.  : - )

We don't have much in the way of vegetables growing now but the fruit still comes.  Lemons are growing well, oranges are coming on for winter, red paw paw (papaya) have grown but haven't ripened yet and a few passionfruit are almost ripe.  We've had so much rain lately, everything in the yard is green green green!  The grass is thick and lush, the crunchy brown grass of early January is a fading memory now.
Lots of lemons for harvesting in Winter.

Yesterday, while I was out with Bernadette, Hanno planted up some seedlings.  I'm not sure what he put in, so that will have to wait for another day.  I do know the time for a main planting for the year is almost here.  We are opposite to most others here in the sub-tropics, here we start our main crops in March (the beginning of Autumn) and plant through until about November (the end of Spring).  That last planting generally keeps us in vegetables until March rolls around again.  Hanno has developed a great system but we're quite unorthodox and we're not burdened by too many gardening rules.  I'll write more about that when I write about the new seedlings.
Juicy passionfruit.
Another thing I'll write about later, because this post is getting quite long now, is the book I'm reading A Well Kept Home - Household traditions and simple secrets from a French grandmother.      I think I became aware of the book on Ronelle's blog, or maybe it was another, but whereever I found it, it's a real gem of a book.

On Saturday, Hanno and I decided to treat ourselves to a late release movie from the DVD store.  The choice - Julie and Julia, of course.  I'd been wanting to see it for so long.  I like Meryl Streep and Julia Child, but apart from those two people being part of the movie, I knew nothing about it.  It turned out to be about a woman, Julie, who writes a blog!  She worked for a company designing the 9/11 memorial park, and while she was at work, she received calls from really sad people who lost loved ones in the tragedy, she listened to complains and she generally came home each night worn out and depressed.  She decided she had to do something and decided to make every recipe in Julia Child's French cookbook, and then write about it.  The movie follows the life of Julie while she starts cooking and writing her blog until she becomes popular, is featured in the New York Times and they start talking about her writing a book.  Interwoven in the Julie story is the delightful tale of Julia Child in France in the 1950s with all the superb fashions, hats and gloves.  And the butter!  Of course it's in most French recipes and at the end of the film, Julie leaves a packet of butter under a photo of Julia at the Julia Child museum.  It's really touching and sweet and that one scene would have made me love the film forever.  
 That is a self seeded passionfruit vine growing along the fence.

It also made me think about my own book - the one I've been writing on and off for ages, and whether it will ever be finished.  Julia's book took eigth years!  That gives me some hope.  I haven't talked about it for a long time but I am still writing, I still have my New York agent, and I still hope to have the book published one day.  Watching Julie and Julia made me realise that the self doubt that comes with writing a book seems to be universal.  I do wonder if it will ever be finished, I wonder too if anyone will be still here when, and if, it is.

I have work again today and it's my very long day - 8am till 8pm.  It's the normal work day with a couple of meetings at the end of it.  Tomorrow I'll take Bernadette to have her chemo.  Work again on Wednesday and hopefully, after that, I'll write a few lines for the book.  I am full of enthusiasm for it, it's just time I lack at the moment.  But even though these days are full, the work load is getting lighter and as we settle into our new work building, many new possibilities open up.  These are exciting times for me, even though I'm worn out by them.  I do know that I'm indeed fortunate to have so many opportunities at this stage of my life, and like most things I hope to make the most of them.

I hope this week is a good one for all of us.  ♥

21 February 2010

reconnect with the chooks, new plants in, a well kept home and julie julia

You, me and the kitchen sink

Blue is the colour for this weekend's kitchens - look at this little beauty.  This is Suzanne's kitchen in South Australia.  You can tell when this photo was sent by the Christmas pudding hanging there.

Suzanne writes:
‘This is my little kitchen, we have an old home so our kitchen is walk through with the bathroom coming off of it on the side.

I lack all of what ‘most’ girls have with their new, large spacious kitchens, but it has no effect on the food I cook, only probably the time I spend in here.  I have no dishwasher, so with three children it can get a little cluttered but I have a lovely double sink that was put in a few years ago and I have just got a new oven after about 14 years….lucky me!!
My husband made my bench top, yes I only have one! from jarrah floorboards, and the other little bits and pieces of furniture are not fitted. I love to collect blue glass and blue and white china, and I think this little kitchen shows it all off beautifully.

I will have a new kitchen one day, but for now, I am happy here preparing meals, baking, and using home produce(see my cucumbers and tomatoes on the sink!) for my family………Thank you for the opportunity to share a little piece of my home with you all.’

You can visit Suzanne's lovely blog here.

I am ready to receive some more kitchen sink photos if you want to be part of this series.  Please send two only and reduce the size of them to about 20 percent before sending.  You can send them to rhondahetzel at gmail dot com
Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

20 February 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

We have another Carla today but today's kitchen is in Western Australia.  

Carla writes:
"Here are some photos of my kitchen. The first one is of the sink and the outlook I have through the window. The blinds are wooden and I have them drawn up so that hopefully you can see it also. It overlooks the patio where we sit to have our cuppas and breakfast. In the background there is my 60th birthday present DH had built for me to hang my greenery. 
Next to that is an old freezer which is choc a block full with frozen garden produce. Inside, the light wood grain Formica bench top compliments the wooden blinds and spice rack on the left On the right the cane shelf with delft blue ware tins that once had Dutch biscuits in when bought from the shop. But in order to keep them with the blue theme I kept the tins to reuse them. They now contain the teas,coffees and sugar. My crocheted dish cloth is hanging over the sink divider. I have a double sink. However I keep the drain rack in the right sink as I never use a tea towel to dry dishes. I always drain and let them air dry. I feel it's healthier, rather than wipe more germs over them with a tea towel that more often than not has been used to wipe my hands. When we built this house I chose not to have dishwasher.
The photo of the whole kitchen shows the fridge and freezer side by side on the left, the walk in pantry in the corner and then my gas cook top stove and electric oven underneath. 

On the wall above it, is my most favourite piece of delft blue ware, the Dutch coffee grinder. To the right on the bench I keep the salt pot, a container with a brush I use for dipping in oil and a spoon rest, again all in Delft blue. It was a hobby of mine to get things to go into my "Dutch" kitchen and follow the blue theme which took a quite some time over the last 10 years before we went on the pension. I'm glad I did now, as this is the part of the house we spend most of our time and it has become a comfortable place to work in amongst my little treasures. It's not a big kitchen but very functional and I love being in there."

Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

19 February 2010

Busy times

I am going through a very busy time here right now. I worked again yesterday but apart from a meeting with the high school principal and teachers to work out an agreement between us and the Flexischool, my day involved not doing the work of the Centre but showing various visitors around. I was actually very pleased to be able to show the Centre to one of the two politicians who raised the money for us to build it. Carolyn Male is the sitting Member for Pine Rivers but used to be our local member of parliament. When she was in that position, she lobbied endlessly on our behalf. Anna Bligh (our Premier) was our other helper and I hope to thank her personally if she does the official opening. And today a Senator will be there for morning tea and we always take advantage when we have the ear of a politician. There are so many things we can make them aware of, so many people who need help and so few funds with which to do it. So today I'm back at work to do a bit of lobbying of my own, but I hope to be home again just after lunch.

My son Kerry came up to look through the Centre yesterday, but with all the other visitors, I didn't have time to talk to him. Hanno showed him around and off they went to lunch. I was really thankful to find him still here when I came home and we had dinner together before he drove the two hour trip home.

I was contacted by the ABC yesterday asking if I would do a spot on radio every fortnight talking about frugal living. How could I say no to that. It's a good way to spread the word. That first interview is this morning.

Monday is going to be another busy day with a 12 hour work day - it's my normal work with two meetings tacked onto the end of it. But after that, my friends, everything should start to settle down again and I can concentrate on being here at home, get back to making and doing and being mindful of why I live this way. I don't like to be so hurried, I doubt it's good for my health and it feels like I'm not concentrating enough to do a good job.

I have no doubt many of you have similar busy days and I really have little to complain about. I am missing my at home days and look forward to spending more time here and being able to write about slow and mindful living again. So bear with me as I go through the busy period.

Thank you for your visits this week and for the wonderful and helpful comments left. It really makes writing this blog seem worthwhile when I know that others are wanting to live more simply and connecting here from all over the world. I hope you have a lovely weekend.

18 February 2010

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today we're in Carla's kitchen but I'm not sure of the location.  Carla, if you read this, drop me a line.  I do know Carla is a chicken girl because she has chook curtains and wall hangings, so we are in familiar territory.

Carla writes:

"Here is my Kitchen sink.   It is always busy.   I would shine it all up but it would be fruitless as I am always doing dishes.
This is my dining area which has turned into my sewing area as my sewing room is too cold to sew in.   Hope you all enjoy my busiest area in my house."

Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.

17 February 2010

Mending and repairing - revisited

I slept in this morning.  I was exhausted last night and still feel tired.  I don't have time to write now because I have a deadline today for a writing assignment.  I'll be back tomorrow with another reader's kitchen  photos.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy re-reading, or reading for the first time, this post from January 2008.  Is about the important skills of mending and repairing.

There is mending to be done today. When I stripped the bed yesterday, I noticed a tiny rip just under Hanno's pillow. The cotton sheet is thinning, but it's still worthy of repair. Mending will give that sheet at least another summer with us before it goes on to other duties like polishing clothes, tomato stake ties or wipes for Airedale beards.

I have to tell you I love mending. It is one of those cherished homemaker duties that really connects me to this life we are living. It is a firm reminder that Hanno and I don't want to live in a throw-away world, that we care for what we own and we reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, renovate and revive. We are renegades and rebels, we don't throw much out. We want to resuscitate the planet, we are into renewal, we want to make reparation. Okay, enough of the "re" words. LOL

I am ashamed to tell you that back in my free-spending years I would throw away a perfectly good shirt or pants rather than repair them. That included throwing away clothes that just needed a button sewn on. : - ( I wish I could take back all those wasteful times but the best I can do now is to make sure I remain a good steward. Whatever needs to be repaired here now, is, and not wasted in the ever growing piles of "landfill" rubbish dumps.

Sometimes I come across a small rip or missing button in the course of my day but I usually find mending jobs when I'm washing or ironing. I make sure now that I look carefully at the fabrics and fasteners and put aside any that need repair. I have a spot in my sewing room where broken clothes and household goods sit until I have enough for a mending session. In the past couple of weeks, I've sewn on a number of buttons, reinforced handles on cloth shopping bags, and patched an old business shirt of Hanno's so he can wear it in the garden. Today I have the sheet to repair and I will also strengthen the top of a zipper on a pair of shorts and hand stitch the hem.

If you're new to mending and repairing, there is a nice little guide here that might help you. Get into the habit of collecting any buttons you find in your home. Have a small (recycled) jar handy to collect them so that when you find the shirt or dress with the button missing, you'll know exactly where to go to the find the matching button. When you're ironing, check hems and collars so you can repair them before they get out of hand. I remember my mother removing collars to turn them over on my dad's shirts. I have no doubt this almost doubled the life of his shirts. I haven't had to turn any collars yet, but it's something I will do in the future.

Here are other guides on how to sew darn a sock or a jumper/sweater, how to sew on a button and how to mend a tear (video). This is a lovely article about mending and the art of living.

I'm off to tidy my sewing room and start my mending. I hope you're having a good week and that you enjoy your time reading here. I send warm hugs to all of you.

16 February 2010

Simple Living Series - Making compost

If you're about to start a new season garden, your time will be best served by enriching your soil.  This will do more for the health of your garden and the abundance of your crops than any fertiliser you apply later in the season.  If you plant your seeds and seedlings into fertile, living soil, you give them the best chance of success.
Our garden in full production with the compost heap and bin sitting quietly at the back. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Yesterday we talked about enriching the soil and there is no better way to do that than by adding compost. Compost is a gentle fertiliser that adds organic matter to the soil.  Organic matter will bring the worms in, and they will bring in all manner of microbes that will help creature the soil you need for good crops.  Another great thing about compost is that it will help you manage your kitchen and garden waste, you end up throwing less in the rubbish bin and recycle bin, and you will make, at home, the best fertiliser possible for your garden.

Once you start making compost, you'll look at your household waste in a different way.  Many things that were once alive, like paper, cardboard, cotton and linen fabric, hair, tea leaves etc, can be used to make compost.  Instead of being waste, they'll now be a resource to make the best fertiliser around.  So start your search today.  If you're decluttering, bingo!  You can use all those old papers, magazines and worn out skirts in your compost heap.  Set up a little compost collection bucket in your kitchen for the kitchen waste you want to put into the compost.  It's best if this has a lid if you want to empty it once a day.

Our compost heap this morning.  Hanno has moved the brown compost to the left side so he can start another heap with the new grass clippings.

There are two categories of materials you need for making compost, and for the sake of simplicity, we'll call them greens (which supply nitrogen) and browns (which supply carbon).  Greens are the wet nitrogen filled materials like grass clippings, kitchen waste and fresh manures. Browns are dry things like paper, cardboard and straw.  You will need 30 browns (carbon) to one green (nitrogen).  Now that might sound complicated but all it means is that you need much more dry material like paper and straw than you need greens. Everything you add to the heap should be small.  Chop up the scraps, cardboard etc with your garden spade before adding.  The smaller it is, the faster it will decompose.  BTW, if you don't have enough kitchen scraps to make a compost heap, chop up your kitchen waste and bury it in the garden.  It will decompose and add to the fertility of the soil.

BROWNS - carbon
  • shredded newspaper and magazines - but nothing glossy and coloured 
  • shredded computer paper 
  • cardboard - cut up in small pieces
  • crushed egg shells  
  • ash  
  • straw and hay   
  • hair  
  • the contents of your vacuum cleaner - check to make sure there's no plastic  
  • wool and cotton clothing 

GREENS - nitrogen
  • grass clippings
  • leaves
  • green garden waste - but nothing that is diseased and no woody branches, they take too long to break down
  • anything high in nitrogen like cow, goat, sheep, chicken and horse manures, chicken manure pellets
  • fruit and vegetable peelings - not onion or citrus, which are best in a separate pile because they take a long time to decompose
  • kitchen waste - but not meat or dairy products
  • seaweed 
  •  meat
  • dairy products
  • diseased plants
  • anything plastic or acrylic
  • dog or cat poo
This is our compost in mid winter.  This time the compost in use is on the right (with potatoes growing out the top) and the newer material is on the left.

Build your compost heap on bare ground, not on bricks or pavers.  You want the worms and microbes to find and colonise the compost, so it needs to be on the soil.  Site the heap close to the garden where it will be used and if you have dogs or chickens, it will need to be fenced off or else they will eat what you put in there.  If you live in an extreme climate, it might be best if you shelter the heap up against a wall.  This will also provide a solid border to one side of the heap.

  • Start on bare earth by placing a thick layer of shredded newspaper or straw as your base.
  • Add whatever other ingredients you have, alternating browns and greens if you can (sometimes you can't).  
  • Always remember the 30 brown to one green ratio.  If your compost is too dry with browns ,it won't decompose, if it is too wet with greens, it will smell.  When the heap has been going for a while, if it is too dry, add greens, if it's too wet, add browns.
  • On the first day, if you've built a reasonable heap, get the hose and moisten it.  Don't wet it, just a slight spray to moisten things and to start the heap off.  
  • If you have heavy rain or snow, or if you're in a cold climate, you will need to protect the heap with a heavy tarpaulin.  If you can, tie a brick to each corner with cord to keep it in place over the heap.
  • If you don't have any animal or poultry manure, see if you can buy or barter a bag, or, alternatively, buy a bag of chicken manure pellets from the produce store and lightly scatter them through the layers as you add to the heap.  Animal manure should also be added every so often to the heap.  The manure will heat up the compost and activate the compost a great deal.  Comfrey leaves will also help speed up decomposition.
 Comfrey will help activate and speed up the composting process.
    Making compost is not rocket science but you do need to watch your green to brown ratio.  The truth is, if you threw all the above into a heap in your backyard, it would eventually rot down, no matter what you did and you'd have compost.  But we are actively working to increase the fertility of our gardens, so we want compost and we want it NOW.  What ever you can do to speed up the process, do it.  Turning the compost helps speed it up, so turn it over with a fork about once a week.

    If you build your heap well, you'll feel it heat up and sometimes you'll see steam coming off it.  If the heap doesn't heat up, add more manure and mix it in.  But even if it doesn't heat up, if you're in a warm climate and you turn it regularly, you'll have compost in about eight weeks.  It will take longer in cold climates.  But  use your gardener's common sense and help it along however you can.  Protection up against a brick wall, covering the heap and adding manure will help heat up the heap even in cold climates.  If you have any tips on cold climate compost, please add your comment.  We'd all love to learn more about this interesting subject.

    Eventually, all the pieces of paper, hair, manure and kitchen waste will evolve into beautiful dark brown, sweet smelling compost. Planting your seeds and seedlings into soil enriched with compost will give them the best chance of survival, but compost making is an ongoing garden task.  If you can make a lot of it in summer, and you live in a snowy climate, store it in your shed over winter for the coming season.  If you're in a milder climate, it's fine to just having it sitting in the garden waiting to be used.  Making compost might seem like a chore in the beginning, but it will become second nature to you, and when that happens, you'll reduce the amount of  household waste you give to other people to dispose of for you and you'll have a continuous supply of the best soil conditioner and fertiliser.

    15 February 2010

    Simple Living Series - Enriching the soil

    There is one thing you can do that will improve your harvests and the quality of your produce more than any other - enrich your soil before you start planting.  There is an old gardeners saying that is as true today as it was when it was first said: Feed the soil, not the plant.  Garden soil is not just rock particles, organic matter, water and air; good soil also contains microbes, fungus, worms, nematodes and a range of other "life" that hasn't yet been identified.  Good soil is alive.
    The garden yesterday afternoon after Hanno had been working there for a few days. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

    If you're starting off with mediocre soil that has been struggling to produce food in previous years, or has never been productive, the one thing I urge you to do it to work on your soil before you even think about planting.  That one thing will make more difference than anything else you do.  When we started vegetable and fruit gardening in our backyard 13 years ago, the soil here was undisturbed heavy clay.  We started by enriching the soil and making compost.  Then we planted various plants directly into bucket size pockets in the soil that we filled with compost.  We had small yields during those first years, but eventually, with continued additions of compost and whatever other organic matter we could find, such as lawn clippings and manure, we eventually turned our almost sterile soil into a fertile oasis.
    Quentin has recently started laying.

    We are not no-dig people.  We dig our garden.  We believe you get the best crops and the full measure of your soils - with all the nutrients and minerals they can provide, if you plant directly into the top soil.  If you can keep your topsoil alive by adding worm castings, worm juice, manures and well made compost, you'll be giving whatever you plant the best chance of producing maximum crops.
    After the beds were dug over and weeded, Hanno moved the perennial Welsh onions to their new growing space for this year - the top garden bed near the bird bath.

    So if you're thinking of starting a garden this year, you need to work on two things - making compost and enriching your soil.  I will write about compost tomorrow.  Even if you've been working on your soil for a while, you need to do it every year.  Each year you plant, that crop of plants will use the nutrients you add to the soil.  This is a continuing task to be carried out every year - add more organic matter and enrich the soil.
    Some plants are still growing well.  Above you can see eggplant and pumpkins, along with an orange tree and passionfruit vine that self seeded and is now growing vigorously along the picket fence.

    If you've never planted anything in your garden before, you'll need to know the pH level of your soil.  This is the level of acidity/alkalinity in the soil.  Some plants like a more acid soil, some like it more alkaline but the vast majority of plants will grow well in the range pH 5 - 7.  If your soil is too acid, add agricultural lime to help balance it out.  If it is too alkaline, add compost and organic matter.  Clay soil can be corrected over time with the addition of gypsum  at about 500 grams (1 pound) per square metre.  If you are blessed with good fertile soil you won't have to bother with all this palaver but the majority of us will have poor soils that we have to work on.
    The girls on their daily gardening expedition.  This picture was taken about two weeks ago before Hanno started cleaning up for this season's crops.

    So if you're starting from scratch, your first step is to dig your soil over and test it for pH.  Make the necessary adjustments, if needed, and water the soil.  You are trying to encourage microbes and worms to live there and it must be moist and nutritious for that to happen.  As soon as you start adding compost and other organic matter like manure, and if you keep the soil moist, the worms will come from no where.  They will further help you break up the soil because they'll burrow through it making tunnels for water and nutrients to flow.  They will eat and excrete and over time, will help develop the life in your soil.

    Some plants, like comfrey, send down deep tap roots that mine the soil for minerals.  Those minerals are stored in the leaves of the plant and when you use something like comfrey for fertilising or activating your compost, you'll get the benefit of the high nitrogen leaves and the minerals they contain.  So it is a good idea to plant comfrey at the edges of your garden so you have a regular supply of high nitrogen and mineralised fertiliser.  Comfrey will grow in poor soil but it likes moisture so pick a spot where the water collects - make sure it's not a prime vegetable growing space, and plant your first bits of comfrey.  It grows well from roots.  Make sure of your place because once planted, it's difficult to get rid of it. 
    The chooks love getting into the garden - during the normal growing season they're fenced off from the vegetables.

    If you have chooks, let them into the garden while you're building up the soil.  They'll scratch around, leave their droppings, eat bugs and insect eggs that you can't see and generally improve the fertility of the soil simply by being there.  We let our chooks into our garden over the past two months.  They've eaten the comfrey down to the roots, picked all the leaves from the capsicums (peppers), turned over the compost heap several times and eaten every caterpillar and grasshopper in the place.  We don't worry about this damage, the leaves will grow back and the chooks do much more good than harm.  Because of their hard work, we are starting off our gardening year with a clean slate.  When you plant seedlings and have your garden in full production, you'll have to keep the chickens out of your garden.  We do this by fencing off the vegetable garden from the rest of the garden the chickens usually free range in.

    Just to recap:
    1. Dig the soil over and remove the weeds
    2. Test for pH
    3. Make the necessary adjustments (see above)
    4. Water the soil and keep it moist
    5. Fence the garden off from chickens and pets
    6. Let the chickens in to scratch and feed during this period of soil enrichment
    7. Add compost and organic matter like cow, horse, pig, sheep manures.
      Tomorrow we'll discuss compost and how to make it from what you have at home.

      14 February 2010

      You, me and the kitchen sink

      Hold on to your hats, everyone, today we have a man's kitchen. This is Jordan's kitchen in Washington state, USA.

      Jordan writes:

      "My sister says I need to send you the pictures of my kitchen. It is very chicken and fun. This is a Man's Kitchen. My Kitchen is very small but taken care of.
      I am a single 44 year old Cowboy who currently drives Semi for a living. I live in Washington state, USA. I, in my spare, time sew quilts and cowboy shirts. 
      My sister is a big quilter and enjoys all the blogs and web sights. She, after seeing the others, knew I needed to send pics of mine. Truthfully we didn't even clean it up or anything that is just the way I keep it."

      Thanks for taking part in this, Jordan. I was beginning to think there were no men cooking out there in their own kitchens. I really love your chicken rug.

      Please don't forget to comment. A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.     

      13 February 2010

      You, me and the kitchen sink

      Today we have an Australian kitchen.  It is Hughesey's kitchen in Melbourne.

      She writes:
      "I have attached two photos of my kitchen.  My husband and I rent in Melbourne's west.  Because we rent we can't change much about our little house but I do like it here.  

      My sink is rarely this clean and tidy because I don't like washing up much!  My husband does it most of the time as I cook.  You can see my orange crocheted cotton dishcloth hanging on the drainer, and also my stainless steel soap for removing onion and garlic odours from your hands (best invention ever!).  

      I water down our detergent because it goes further and the sink really doesn't need to be overflowing with bubbles.  We don't have a dishwasher which was horrible at first but we are used to it now.  It is nice to look out the kitchen window to our tiny backyard and check on the tomatoes.   It is very sunny spot in the morning which we enjoy. You can see into the laundry at the back, and see our chest freezer we bought last year.  It is amazing how much fits it in it.  The orchid on the table was a recent birthday gift from a close friend."

      Please don't forget to comment.  A comment is like payment for the time taken to post, and in this case in sending in the photos.  Many of us were enthusiastic about this series, so make sure all the photos get a good number of comments.  I don't want any of the people sending in photos to regret joining in.  Thank you friends.     
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