30 September 2013

Where am I and what am I doing?

Making raspberry cordial.

I haven't said nearly as much about partial self-sufficiency as I wanted to yet but today I have to post this short note to let you know I won't be back until Friday. I have the first deadline for my book on Thursday so all my brain power is absorbed in delivering the best I can for the book. I'm pleased to tell you that this book and ebook will be available for sale world-wide so hopefully, in March next year, you'll be able to read what I'm writing now.

Next week I want to focus on a subject that every one of us deals with every day: food. Food security is a big issue now and I believe we all need to be as skilled as we can be in regards to our food. I would like us to share our thoughts on the various aspects of food, as well as write about buying, growing and storing it. I have an excellent recipe for moist banana cake and a good freezing hint to share as well.

Enjoy your week. I hope to see you on Friday. : - )

27 September 2013

Weekend reading - UPDATED

I've been meaning to mention the wonderful comments that come in. I read every one of them and many of them make me smile. I would love to have enough time to respond to every comment but I try stay off the internet as much as possible. It's captivating and I think it robs me of time to do other things. But I do appreciate every comment and that you take the time to write what you're thinking. Whether they be long comments, explaining this and that, or very short ones just saying hello, I feel they're all like a very loud "hello Rhonda, I'm out here living the good life too!" When I read them I know I've connected with other like-minded souls and I know we're not alone. I love that, thank you.

I hope you have a lovely weekend. Take some time out for yourself and relax. The work will still be there when you go back to it.

Michael Pollan - In Defence of Food - you tube
Sugar Mountain Farm
The Amish and Mennonite home - you tube
Colourful crochet washcloths at Little Woolie
Loving a new job - Way up north. Sweden
Great vintage wall paper ideas - A sort of fairy tale
A million in super is not enough (pfffft)
Tiger Bread recipe - Pencil and Fork
Alicia Paulson's Pinterest page

For all the Sydney bakers

Fresh Bake show in Sydney, 12 - 13 October 2013. Thanks to Vikki for sending this info in.
Finally we have a bread show for enthusiasts that bake at home. There will be plenty of expertise on the day to demonstrate and reveal secrets of not only sourdough baking but cakes, pastries, the whole works.

There are 30 exhibitors and Graham from sourdough.com will be demonstrating. Tickets available here.

From comments here during the week
Greening the Rose
Simply Free
Every dayish things

26 September 2013

Partial self sufficiency - self-education, mindset and common sense

When I first started living as I do now, I made lists of skills I wanted to reacquaint myself with or learn anew. It was not until I'd been working in this new way that I discovered that simple life has a way of telling you what you need to learn next. You learn something new, and then you see that it is connected to many other things, and often you must know about them too. All too often, I started learning about a new process and it opened up much more than I expected and lead me to on to a more comprehensive lesson and a deeper understanding. So I threw out my lists and just went where I was taken. For instance, when I enlarged the vegetable garden, I had to learn how to harvest properly and when the food was inside the house, how to sort out what to use fresh, what to freeze, what to ferment and what to put into jars.  It seems simple but unlike the common monocultures that make up specialist farms, I wasn't harvesting an acre of lettuce. I was picking the outside leaves of spinach and silverbeet, florettes of broccoli, 12 radishes, two carrots, a turnip, six lemons, two tomatoes and half a basket of beans. What do you do with that!

Freezing wasn't just freezing. I had to learn about blanching, make up a blanching times chart, learn how to package vegetables to retain quality, and learn, through trial and error, how to store food in a freezer. Fermenting was the same. It wasn't just collecting a couple of recipes for ginger beer and sauerkraut, I had to read books about fermenting, learn about fungus and moulds and then put that into practice in a way that added value to the food we grew and bought.

Baking was certainly not as straight-forward as I expected it to be. I had to find a reliable supplier of good flour and yeast, learn about water-flour ratio, temperature and kneading, then put it all into practise. I had to make my fair share of mistakes and not be disheartened, or waste too much.

There was trial and error involved in making cleaners too. I'd make up a recipe and see if it worked the way I needed it to. If not, I'd modify it, try it again and keep modifying until I had a product I could use again and again. Once made, they also had to store well and be able to do the job after sitting on the shelf for a while.

I spent hours outside monitoring electric and water meters, recycling various items, making compost, sorting out worm farms, sowing seeds, working out the best way to water them while nurturing them to seedling stage. We've saved seeds, peeled loofahs, broken open rosellas, plaited garlic and watched on while crops were damaged by the wind and rain. We planted some plants in full sun and some on the shady side of a trellis or tall plant, I helped position Hanno's shade tunnels, stood back and watched while he built a greenhouse.  We realised early that to make a success of what we wanted to grow, we had to create microclimates, extend growing periods and go beyond what we read to see how far we could push it in our backyard.

There were many hours given to mending and knitting. When I started knitting again, I undid so many stitches, but it taught me the valuable lesson of patience and that some tasks take the time they take. Over the years I felt a need to teach as many as I could the various old and new skills I'd become familiar with. This lead me to volunteering in my community and travelling out to various places to meet so many of you, to talk about this life and hopefully encourage and support others in their own transition.

We still have a lot we can do here. There is always work to do, we're not perfect and we have to always be mindful of what we're doing. The one thing I always have to watch is that tendency to slip back to convenience. I want these changes to be permanent for us. I want to continue here, living as we do now for as long as I can. I don't want to go back to mindless consumption, this is much better.

The most difficult part of this for me was the initial change of mindset and then maintaining that mindset even when it was easier not to. There are so many distractions, so many temptations. I carry on because I have been made happy again living this way, I am convinced that having everything you want is not good for the soul, I believe hard work builds character and I know that I have to give back some of what I've taken. I can't return those dozen pairs of shoes, the dresses, all the computers and TVs, but I can care for the land I live on, teach what I know to others and motivate people to live their best life. I know that the rampant consumerism we live with is killing the earth and I know that it will eventually change us. But how can you tell third world countries that they can't have the things we've had for the past 50 years because it's bad for the planet? How do you convince friends and neighbours that we should all be living with less? How do I look Jamie and Alex in the eye if I don't? They and their children will bear the consequences of what we've done. My way of answering those questions is to continue along our simple path and to show rather than preach. I want Jamie and Alex to see us living here, doing our work, making the place right for us. If we can start repairing past damage, hopefully those ripples will move out into the world.

But the message I'm really trying to give to you is to use your common sense, don't rely on others, read books, do your own research, push your own envelope and find out what works for you in your climate and in your home. Look after yourself and your family, know everything you need to know to do that and don't expect everything to be easy. Because this isn't just a few recipes for laundry liquid and orange cake; it's much deeper than that. If we're all going to make a small difference by living cleaner, greener, healthier, thriftier and by being more aware, we'll have to change our ideas about what success is, stop buying everything we want, localise our lives, connect with our communities and work hard.  And that is easier said than done.

How are you coping with the transition from old ways to new?

... to be continued.


25 September 2013

The winner of Slow is ...

Tracey September 24, 2013 7:47 am  Congratulations Tracey. I'm sure you'll enjoy Slow. It's a very good magazine. Please email your postal address to me and I'll have the magazine sent to you.

As you can see, there is no follow-up post about partial self-sufficiency today. I'm working to a book deadline at the moment with only a couple of weeks before I send it in. I've been making my notes about the points I want to raise in the next post but I'm also writing the book, doing my house work, looking after my family and a few other things.  I need down time to sit, think and read as well. Generally, the thing that gets dropped is the blog. So please be patient, I certainly haven't forgotten about my place here with you, but over the next couple of weeks, I might be missing a few days. I hope to see you here tomorrow. :- )

24 September 2013

How to be partially self-sufficient

My brain wasn't working properly yesterday. Now that I've rested, I remembered that Tim at Slow magazine has given me a copy of the current edition to give away.  Australian readers only please.  Just leave a comment about Slow and I'll pick numbers out of a hat. It will close tomorrow - my Wednesday morning.  Good luck!

- - - ♥ - - -

Once upon a time, self-sufficiency was a goal of mine. That was in the days before I'd thought about what it meant. When I did think about it, I knew I couldn't live that way without giving up a lot of things I didn't want to give up. I didn't want to live without tea or coffee, and although I can easily grow both tea and coffee here, I don't want the palaver of processing them to the drinkable stage. Besides, we have excellent Montville organic coffee here, there is good Australian tea, so I prefer to tap into my community to buy those two commodities; I want to be part of my community, not cut off from it. I don't want to give up salt either, or meat. We could probably run a lot more chickens here if we wanted to but I know I couldn't kill a chicken, or a pig. I don't want Hanno to do that either. He has had to kill a chicken or two over the years when they were injured, and it upset him. I can look at photos of animals being killed for food, I watched on as my grandmother killed her own chooks when I was younger, but I don't want to do it myself. We'll be happy to collect eggs from our girls and be content with that.

When I finally came to this way of living I knew would have to learn a lot but if I did I could live in an environmentally-sound manner, stretch my dollars, cut out a lot of the chemicals I once foolishly accepted with no questions asked, grow food in the backyard and home-produce bread, jams, relishes, sauces, soap, laundry liquid and all my cleaners. And while I admire those who can live a self-sufficient lifestyle, we will live as close to it as we can while making certain choices that make it impossible for us. We have chosen partial self-sufficiency.

The common idea most people have of a self-sufficient or partially self-sufficient lifestyle is that it's full of productive work, animals, fences, vegetable gardening, making wine, cheese, soap and bread. And that's a fair summation of what can go into it. One thing there is no doubt about is that you have to learn a lot of new skills. When we decided to live this way we decided there would be take-away, no supermarket bread, no over-priced soft drinks or convenience foods. You do all those things for yourself and if you don't know how, you learn. You learn to cook, garden, preserve, make jams and sauces and a hundred other things. So why would you live like this if there is more work? There are many answers to that but the one that seems to be glaringly obvious is we all need to learn how to look after ourselves. If you're looking for other reasons, there are many out there to choose from. Take your pick: climate change, peak oil, economic uncertainty, job loss, divorce or loss of a partner, retirement, or just plain common sense - it makes sense to do it. Now, and especially in the future, everyone should be skilled and self-reliant.  We should aim at supplying as much as we can for ourselves. I doubt many of us could live a genuine self-sufficient lifestyle but I think partial self-sufficiency is there for most of us. The choices we all make to suit the way we live will be different for all of us, but that's fine. We should be a diverse group with differing skills and goals.

Times are changing, most of us acknowledge that, and although we might disagree on the whys and whens and hows, change is coming. I think it's already started. The many simple living and environmentally focused blogs and books that have been published in the past few years bear testament to a change. I've been told by numerous people that when the global economic crisis ends, things will return to normal, that rampant spending and unlimited economic growth will return and we'll all prosper. I don't believe there is such a thing as unlimited economic growth and even it it was a common belief in the past, those days are over. There is a good and a bad element to this for me and Hanno. We won't be here to see it. We'll be here through the transition, but I doubt we'll still be here when the changes that many people predict will be the current 'normal'.

There are many dire predictions about our post-carbon, global warming, peak oil, economic deflated world. There are also the more personal scenarios to think about. If all that is happening in the outer world, what is happening in your home? No matter what happens, it will help us all to be prepared and more capable than we are now. We've been dumbed down. We have morphed into helpless beings who can't cook, make a fire or recognise the night sky. We need to get back to being more capable and skill ourselves so we can take care of ourselves, regardless of what happens.

So what does that mean for all of us? For me and Hanno it means staying the same while we continue to learn as much as we can. Human society has lived through many changes, we can see this one through too. When you think back on the changes in the last couple of centuries - the industrial revolution, the world wars, the great depression - each of these altered daily life and challenged ideas of what normal was, yet we lived through each of them. People adapt, they change what they think is normal. They learn to get by, they reskill themselves and work towards different goals.  That is my goal now - learning to adapt for the future normal and helping as many others as I can. I hope we can learn this together and pool our resources so that many more of us can lay claim to being capable and prepared for the what the future holds.

What are your thoughts on preparing for the future? What are you planning to do?

... to be continued

23 September 2013

Lunch with our family

We had a wonderful family lunch yesterday with Kerry, Sunny, Sunny's mum Sunja, sister Sungji and niece Jooa. We all had a great time and I felt honoured to have Sunny's family here in our home. They are lovely people and it's a great comfort to Sunny to have them here. Sunja is staying for a month, while Sungji and Jooa will fly back to Korea during the week.

 Some gifts for Hanno's birthday. 

Our lunch was buttermilk fried chicken with potato salad, garden salad, pasta salad and beetroot. Drinks were lemon cordial and beer, dessert was chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream from here.  It's an excellent recipe for chocolate cake and it's all done by hand, no mixer needed.

Before everyone left we went out to the garden to pick vegetables. It is such a wonderful thing for us to be able to share what we grow with others. Sunny has planned a Korean pork belly BBQ, with fresh vegetables.

I've half written a post about self sufficiency that I'll finish off today and post tomorrow. I'm exhausted at the moment and need to take a day off. I'll spend today knitting and reading and hopefully feel better tomorrow.  See you then.


20 September 2013

Weekend reading

I know I've said this before, but I have the most wonderful readers here. Thank you for making Hanno's day yesterday with all the birthday messages. He sat down and read every one of them. He sends his thanks to all of you who wrote. Thanks from me as well. :- )

I hope you have a good weekend. If you're busy, please take some time out for yourself. Even if it's only 20 minutes for a coffee and a break, it makes a difference. xx

- - - ♥ - - -

Cats doing yoga. I like Duke's pose on the second photo the best. LOL
Loving the unexpected at Coal River Valley
If you didn't watch River Cottage from the first episode, here it is, on Youtube

From the comments here during the week
Through my kitchen window  Take a look at the "dog" and the chocolate cake recipe. It looks like a good one. Of course I'll have to test it out. 


19 September 2013

Happy birthday Hanno

Happy birthdaHanno!

Hanno is 73 years old today. An oldie but a goodie. I took this photo of him last week at the Brisbane Writers Festival while we were waiting for our coffee.

I have no doubt that I'd be living a very different life if Hanno was not my husband. I think I'd still be living sustainably according to simple values, but my life would be not as rich as it is now. He makes that possible. We make a good team. My failings are his strengths and I am strong where he is weak. We make our simple life work well because we're not shy of hard work, and we focus our work on shared values and goals.

Now, before you think it's all too good to be true, we argue about our differences, we're not afraid to tell each other exactly what we feel and I have to tell you that he has made some big mistakes. I, on the other hand, have been on the verge of perfect for quite a few years. Ahem. ;- )  What keeps us together is love and respect, with a healthy dash of tolerance thrown in for good measure.

I think people, in general, get a raw deal in today's world. We no longer have that casual respect that we used to have for everyone else, whether we knew them or not. I think it's shameful how certain parts of the media generalise and criticise those in the spotlight. Women are attacked for not fitting someone else's view of how they should look and dress. But I want to focus on men here. When I see how men are portrayed in advertising now I think it's demeaning and rude. Many advertisements show men as being really stupid. That kind of one-size-fits-all thinking shames all of us. I know not all men are wonderful, but there are many good men out there and we need to acknowledge that.

I wish we lived in a kinder world where people don't want to show themselves as being better than those around them. I want all of us to be understanding and considerate because when I see men devalued, I feel that somehow devalues Hanno and all the other good men too. I don't want men who read here to feel disrespected. I want your father, husband or partner to feel proud of who they are and what they do as family men and workers. I want my sons and your sons to feel the same. I want Jamie and Alex to grow up in a world where we're all treated equally and fairly.  As a woman, I want that same social acceptance for myself and other women too. Surely we all want the same thing.

But let me stop this rant and get down from my soapbox. Hanno birthday Hanno. I hope we have another 20+ years ahead of us. Let's blow the budget today and go out for lunch.


17 September 2013

How to start a vegetable garden - part 2

So, you've decided on the location of your garden, you know north from south and you know where the shade is during the day, let's get some plants in the ground. Climate plays a major role in what you can plant. I'm sure you've read on my blog and at the forum about various gardeners envious about what others can grow. That is just something you have to get used to. Your climate will dictate what you grow and when you grow it. It doesn't matter how much you want to grow something, if your climate isn't right for it, forget it. We live in a mild sub-tropical climate here and we can grow food all year if we want to. But I long to grow apples, walnuts and apricots and they need a colder climate. I just have to accept that I can't grow them and get on with it. I concentrate on what I can grow and I buy apples, walnuts and apricots. If you have a look in my right side bar, you'll find planting guides for Australia, the UK and the USA. Let them guide you, don't plant out of season unless you've created a great microclimate that you know will work out of season.

If you're working with virgin soil it makes sense to know the pH of the soil. This just means finding out if your soil is acidic or alkaline. Most vegetables like a slightly acidic soil between 6 and 7, or slightly higher. We live near a pine forest and that makes our oil more acidic than most but it hasn't been a problem here and it's great for growing blueberries.  Don't get too caught up on soil pH. Buy a testing kit if you want to but if you're adding compost and organic matter, the problem will slowly fix itself.  Testing pH without a kit. If you do test, don't bother amending your soil unless it's highly acidic or highly alkaline because as you add compost over the weeks, it will begin to amend the soil.

We grew this black kale two years ago and the plant was taller than me.

There's often a lot of talk about soil types because soil can be sandy, loam or clay or you might have pockets of all of them. No matter what soil type you have, all of them will be improved by adding organic matter. Organic matter is simply decomposed kitchen scraps, straw, shredded newspaper, in fact any vegetable matter that was once alive. Compost is organic matter and if you're going to get serious about backyard food production, you'll need to make compost. Not only is it a great soil conditioner and gentle fertiliser, it's the best way to help you to deal with your kitchen scraps and retain moisture in the soil.  Here is a post about making compost.  Start your compost heap straight away because it will take a while for it to mature and be useable.

You can edge your garden with anything like bricks, pavers, blocks, sleepers, logs or whatever you have on hand that will do the job. Place your edging around the area that will become your garden and remove all the weeds. If the ground is very dry, it might be a good idea to water the garden well the day before you do your weeding. If you have a lot of compost or organic matter, spread it over the surface of the garden. If you have any old horse, cow, sheep, goat or chicken manure, spread that over the garden too. If you have no manure, buy some if you can because it will make a big difference to your garden. If you have garden lime, a handful per square metre is a good addition to most acidic soils. When the garden has been dug and the compost and manures added, dig the garden over. Then water it in and spread out some straw, hay or sugar cane mulch. Leave it to settle for about a week. Don't let the it dry out too much, if your soil needs it, water it again during that week. When the soil has settled, plan where you will plant your seedlings and seeds, pull back the mulch while you plant and then replace the mulch to protect your soil and the plants. If you sow seeds, pull the mulch back and leave it to one side until the seedlings have emerged. When they're growing well, replace the mulch.

The above paragraph is what you should do if you have a lot of organic matter and compost. Most of you won't have that, so do this instead. Place your edging as above, or just dig the spade in to cut an edge on the garden - you don't want any grass growing into your garden. You will need some organic matter so if you don't have any, buy a bag of compost from the garden shop. Work out where your seedlings will be planted and, with a trowel, dig a small planting hole for each plant bigger than it needs to be. Place a couple of trowels full of compost into each hole, plant your seedling or seed, and cover with compost. Get a stick for each planting space and mark where you've planted. Water the plant in and cover the entire garden surface with mulch. Water it again.

Tomatoes receive different treatment and I've written about that here: Growing tomatoes.

If you want to maximise your harvests and continuously pick from your garden, you'll have to master your version of succession gardening. This means you plant your chosen vegetables and before they're ready to harvest, you've already got a followup in the ground or ready to plant. On every seed packet, and online, there will be information about how long that seed will take to grow to maturity, use that to work out how frequently you need to sow seeds ready for the followup planting.  For instance, radishes are one of the fastest growing vegetables. Sow a couple of lines of radishes and if everything goes well, you'll be eating them in about 4 or 5 weeks. Before that five weeks is up, you need to followup the first planting with another row, possibly three weeks after the first planting and two weeks before you harvest your first radishes. You'll have to work out a schedule for all your plants so you have those follow ups ready, or buy the seedlings when you're ready to get them in the soil.

When we plant tomatoes here, we plant one crop and sow seeds for the next crop a few days after the planting. That gives us plenty of time to get our next tomato seedlings ready to plant out. When the first crop starts producing tomatoes, you can plant out your second seedlings so that when the first plants are finished, the second planting are just starting to produce.  The details of these plantings will be different in each area depending on how warm your climate is.

BTW, it's a general rule that you plant root vegetable seeds in the garden bed and plants that will grow above the ground can be planted as seedlings. If you grow root vegies as seedlings, what usually happens is when you transplant them, you twist the root by not having the hole deep enough, and it will grow as a twisted root. It doesn't effect the flavour, it just looks a bit odd.

Try to find a gardening book or blog about a garden in a climate similar to yours. Read all you can about gardening. Build up your skills and your knowledge. Talk to other gardeners. Gardeners are a very generous lot, they'll share what they can with you.

  • Never let your seedlings dry out. When first planted in the garden, they may need watering every day.
  • If you're planting seeds, don't let them dry out and don't add fertiliser until the first leaves appear. Seeds contain everything they need within the seed to grow to first leaf stage, then you can help it along.
  • When choosing seedlings, buy short stocky plants, not tall and straggly.
  • Plant your seedlings as soon as you can.
  • Some seeds benefit from being soaked for 24 hours before planting. Parsley, carrots, beans, peas, corn, beetroot can all be soaked. Don't leave them in the water longer than 24 hours.
  • When you plant beans or peas, plant them into moist soil and don't water again until you can see they are healthy and established - about a week. These plants hate being over watered and will die if they get too much water.
  • Position plants with similar water and fertilising requirements close to each other.
  • If you can afford it, buy a bottle of seaweed concentrate and water the seedlings in with that mixed up according to the instructions. It will help them establish faster and lessen transplant shock.
  • When applying the mulch, make sure it doesn't touch the stems of the plants. Move it back a little with your hands. The exception to this is tomatoes. If you have mulch touching the stems and keep it moist, tomato roots will grow into the mulch and you'll increase your yield of tomatoes.
  • After a couple of days, apply a weak (half strength) organic liquid fertiliser to the seedlings. Apply half-strength but twice as often as suggested in the instructions.
  • You can make all your own fertilisers and save money in the process. My home made fertiliser posts are here and africanaussie has just done a post about no smell comfrey fertiliser here.
  • If you're planting fruiting plants such as tomatoes, beans, capsicums etc, add a small amount of sulphate of potash to the planting hole. It will help them produce more flowers, and therefore more fruit.
  • Don't over-fertilise fruiting plants with nitrogen. They will grow a lot of leaves and no fruit.
  • If it's still cold when you plant, you may need to protect the seedlings with cloches - old soft drink bottles. Just cut the pouring end off the bottle and use the base as a mini-glass house.  Don't leave it on in hot weather. The sun will burn the plants.
  • If you have children or pets, fence off the garden.
  • Be careful when you plant your seedlings. They're very delicate and can be easily damaged. Bugs will be attracted to weak and damaged plants so make sure yours are looked after.
  • Ask your gardening neighbours what bugs are in your area and what they do to deter or kill them. Only use organic methods. Two organic insecticides you can use sparingly are Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillars and pyrethrin for most other bugs. Dipel is applied to the plant leaves and the bugs die after eating the leaf. Pyrethin has to make contact with the bug and is generally sprayed on. Both are available at most plant centres.
  • Record what you do in the garden. This is a great way to learn about gardening.
I hope this gets you on the road to growing your own food. This is a vital skill and something you can pass on to your children. Don't be put off by not knowing much when you start. We all start somewhere and I am still learning after many decades as a gardener. No one knows it all. I hope I've remembered everything to help you get going.  I just wrote this out as I remembered it.

If you have any questions, go to the forum and ask there. I'll be over during the day and if I'm not there, I know the other gardeners will be willing to help you.  Happy gardening everyone!


16 September 2013

How to start a vegetable garden - part 1

If you're extremely impatient, don't start a garden because nature is slow, gardening takes time and it can't be rushed. However, if you're fast and do 10 things at once and want to learn the character and wisdom of patience and tenacity, gardening is the best place to start. Gardening will teach you that for every hour you put in you have to be thankful for what you get, and that is a good lesson for all of us to learn. Sometimes you'll get slow growth, sometimes grasshoppers, sometimes your crops will grow perfectly for a couple of months and a storm will wipe them out. But as the years pass and you get better at it, you'll probably celebrate abundant harvests and you'll have more than enough. 

Let's be clear about this from the start. Vegetable gardening is hard work and it doesn't always go as planned. But the main point for all new gardeners is this: you MUST enrich your soil before you start planting. If you plant seeds or seedlings in soil that is virgin soil, or soil that hasn't been worked for years, they won't die but they probably won't grow well either, and they certainly won't thrive. This is how I look at it. If it's hard work to setup a new garden, why not maximise your chances of success by enriching the soil and doing it right from the start. Really, you will quadruple your chances of success with this one step. No amount of fertilising later will replace the benefits of planting into good rich soil.  Enriching your soil before you start is important.

I could really stop writing this now because if you enrich your soil, plant heirloom seeds or seedlings, use common sense and water your plants, almost all of you would have success. But let's take it slow and keep going, afterall, I do want to support and encourage all of you who want to grow food to do exactly that.  Following is part of a post about starting a new vegie patch I wrote back in 2007. It's pointless to rewrite is but I'll will add to it.

As a society we've moved away from viewing the earth as the source of our food. We've become reliant on whatever is presented for sale at the supermarket and while it's appealing to have that convenience, those supermarket vegetables do not contain the nutrients that will be ever-present in your own back yard produce. Growing vegetables and fruit is also a very worthwhile skill to have. Who knows what the future will bring. There may come a time when you will need, and not just want, to grow your own vegies. 

Not everyone can grow, or will want to grow, a vegetable garden but for those of you who do, you’ll find it to be a great way to connect with nature and the seasons. If you have some space that will be suitable for growing food, I encourage you to set out on this journey of discovery and full-flavoured organic food. If you live in your own home, a vegetable garden and a few fruit trees is a wonderful investment in your future health and will enable you to reduce the amount you spend on fresh food. If you live in rented accommodation, growing herbs, vegetables and fruit in containers is an activity that will provide a source of cheap organic food that can be a rewarding and enlightening pastime. And whether you own or rent, using your land to produce food will give you a better return on your investment and the money you pay out to live where you live.

Organic growing is back to basics gardening the old fashioned way. If you decide to grow organically, the food you produce will be healthy, with no synthetic chemicals or poisons added, and it will be the freshest food possible. I often wonder how old those supermarket vegetables are and where they’re from, but something tells me I don’t want to know the answer. One thing is certain, the fresher the food when you eat it, freeze it or preserve it, the better it is for you. And remember, the look of something is no guide - some supermarket produce looks perfect but it may have been in storage for months. When you start growing your own food you'll soon realise that an orange with a few marks on the skin or a carrot that is twisted still tastes so much better than what you can buy at the shop. Perfect looking vegetables and fruit usually means they've had a lot of help from fertilisers and poisonous insect sprays.


Where will you plant?  Vegetables need about eight hours of full sun to grow to maturity. If you're in the sub-tropics or the tropics, vegetables, particularly the fruiting types like tomatoes, capsicum/peppers, cucumber and many of the green leaf vegies, will usually cope well with shade at some point during the day, as long as they've had the majority of hours in full sun.  When you choose your spot, work out where the shade will move to during the morning and afternoon. You can do that by poking a long stick in the ground and watching the shadow move during the day. Use that knowledge to work out where to plant tall or trellis plants such as corn, beans, or cucumbers. These plants will shade those behind them so position your plantings to give maximum sun for all or if you want to provide shade for some delicate lettuce, plant them on the shade side of your taller crops.

Work out what you are capable of growing - in relation to space and climate. If you have a small backyard or a unit, you’ll be looking to smaller crops, vegetables that will grow well in containers, sprouting and mushrooms. If you have a reasonable sized backyard with a sunny area for a vegie patch, you could plant almost anything that is suited to your climate. So, work out what you like to eat and grow the vegetables that are expensive to buy or the ones that are best fresh – like corn, lettuce, celery, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes.

You also need to locate the patch close to a hose or a tap so you can water the garden when it doesn’t rain. If you have a water tank, your vegetables will benefit from the rainwater, so make sure the tank hose can reach the vegetable garden. If you don't have a tank, look into what rebates you're offered in your part of the country and take advantage of them. It is quite an easy exercise to harvest the rain from your roof to be used later on your vegetables and fruit. It is the ultimate in recycling.

You can grow a wide range of vegetables in containers. Try to pick up some polystyrene boxes from the greengrocer or supermarket. You could also use plastic garbage containers or buckets, as well as conventional plant pots. Make sure whatever you use has adequate drainage holes, if they don’t, poke or drill some in. Fill the container with good quality potting mix, if you have compost or aged cow/horse manure, use about a third compost, manure to two thirds potting mix. Don’t be tempted to save money by using garden soil as it won’t drain properly and your vegetables won’t grow.

How do you choose what to grow in the first year? Sit down and make a list of what fruit and vegetables you eat. If you stick to the rule about not planting too much in the first few years, you'll have to pick just a few from that list. Think about what are the most expensive or hardest to get, and grow those. Or, if you eat a lot of salad, grow lettuce and tomatoes, if you eventually want to preserve your excess vegetables, grow what you want to preserve - such as tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroot etc. Make sure you have a planting guide for your area because it doesn't matter how much you want something, it won't grow if it's not the right season. So, with your growing guide and your list of what you eat, make your choice. Don't choose more than four or five different things in that first year. I want you to keep on gardening and if it's too difficult, you'll give up.

When you think about it, a seed is an amazing thing. Given the right conditions, it contains everything necessary to grow into whatever species it happens to be. It’s a dried up hard packet of potential life. How good is that! Usually, the most thrifty way to grow vegetables is to grow from seeds. The most frugal seeds are those you save from last year’s harvest or swap with someone in your neighbourhood. You could also swap seeds online. It used to be common practice for families to have a collection of seeds they grew from each year. It was also common to swap seeds with family, friends and neighbours. The good thing about heirloom or open pollinated seeds is that every year you plant and grow them in your garden, then save the seed for the following year, the more they modify themselves to suit your climate and soil.

I buy seeds from here but you should find a supplier close to where you live because the seeds will have been grown in conditions similar to your own. 

Or, you might find some at your local hardware store or plant nursery. Make sure the seeds you buy are open pollinated varieties of vegetables or herbs, and they should be fresh (check the use by date). Here are two excellent online resources with photos and information about heirloom open pollinated tomatoes:
Do some research on what tomatoes will suit you and then buy them from a place close to you.

Use some of the seeds you buy to plant in your own garden and swap the rest to get the other vegetable seeds you need. You’ll be able to build up a big bank of seeds doing this and your new seeds will only cost you a stamp and a trip to the post office.

In the old days all seeds were open pollinated but as a result of pressure to produce standardised fruit and vegetables several decades ago, some seed companies started to hybridise. In effect what they did was to breed vegetables for specific purposes and size. In the case of tomatoes, old-fashioned tomatoes  were no good for supermarkets. They had delicate skin that didn’t travel or store well and when trying to weigh a pound of tomatoes, two tomatoes where often well over a pound. So seed companies developed tomatoes with tougher skin (for transport) that were smaller and generally would weigh up as four to a pound. The problem was that when they were reinventing the tomato wheel, they forget to include the taste factor. When you taste a home grown open pollinated tomato it will taste like tomatoes used to taste, it’s a hundred times better than a supermarket tomato. Aside from the superior taste, open pollinated vegetables are capable of passing on exactly the same characteristics to each generation. If you use seeds from hybrid vegies, sometimes the seeds will be sterile and sometimes they’ll not grow to type. You might be expecting a medium sized sweet tomato and you’ll get a small bitter one. Hybrid vegies can throw back to any of the types used to create it. So in essence, every year you will need to buy new seeds instead of being able to save and grow the seeds from open pollinated vegies.

Another advantage to growing open pollinated seeds is that they will modify themselves to suit your growing conditions. According to the Seed Savers website: “Food plants, grown organically, that have adapted themselves to your garden over generations of seed saving, will perform noticeably better in your kitchen than generalized hybrid plants, grown by chemical methods far away from your region, and subject to transportation and storage.”

I hope this has convinced you to start off with heirloom or open pollinated seeds. Don’t worry if you can only find hybrids when you start, but in the future, when you can afford it or when you want to eat food like your great-grandma did, go the open pollinated route.

Don't run out and buy the best of everything until you know that you love to garden and will continue. In the first season, you can make do with borrowed gear or old garden tools from the recycle shop. Even when you decide to carry on your garden, these older tools are usually much better quality that newer ones that are made in China.

It's probably wise in the first year to buy seedlings. At our local market we can buy good seedlings at around six seedlings for a dollar. At the nursery or Bunnings, a punnet (usually six) costs between $2.50 - $3.95.  If you have a local market, check them before you buy them elsewhere. Check your prices before you buy. Try to buy open pollinated seeds early on so you can save your seeds from season to season. It cuts the cost quite a bit. Make sure you water well and use mulch. Water costs a lot of money because it's a precious resource, don't waste it.

You can use bales of hay, straw or sugar cane mulch as a fairly cheap all round mulch. Those mulches will keep the water in the soil, will protect the soil from the sun, will help regulate the soil temperature and can be dug in if it's still sitting on the soil surface at the end of the season. It creates very good organic matter in the soil when dug in. We use organic sugar cane mulch here. It costs a bit more but we prefer to grow organic vegetables.

Make your own fertilisers. There are posts on my blog showing how to do that.

The garden is a great place to recycle egg cartons, newspaper, cardboard and kitchen scraps. Use what you have on hand and think of new and ingenious ways of developing your garden without buying everything you need.

When you start, don’t be over ambitious. There will be a lot to learn and there is a lot work involved in bringing your crops to harvest. Vegetable gardening is not for wimps. Go slow to start and add a couple of new vegies every year until you’ve reach your vegetable growing goal.

I think the most important piece of information I can give you about gardening is that you feed the soil, not the plant. If you dig a garden plot and plant vegetable seedlings in it, without enriching the soil in any way, you'll get vegetables, but they'll be small and miserly. You must - I repeat, you must build up your soil with organic matter before you start plating. The more organic matter you have in your garden beds, the more abundant your harvests will be.

This post is too long so tomorrow I'll finish off with how to dig, how to enrich the soil, the importance of compost and how to plant those first seedlings.  In the meantime, save all your newspapers and set up a small covered container in your kitchen to save fruit and vegetables scraps.  See you tomorrow.


13 September 2013

Weekend reading

There have been a lot of questions about my book this week. It's a bit complicated but let's see if I can explain. At the moment, the copyright for the print book and the ebook is for Australia and New Zealand only - that means you can only buy it in Australia and NZ. However, you can buy the print book here and some book shops will send it internationally. Some international readers have said they bought it at Fishpond and some at Book Depository.  Book Depositary offer free delivery on all their books, Fishpond have offers on free international delivery every so often.

During September, Penguin is selling my ebook for $4.99. That is for Australia and NZ only.

However, I'm about to sell the international rights of both books to Penguin and when that goes through and other negotiations happen, the books will be available for sale everywhere. We are probably talking about next year some time.

I am now writing another small book on simple living that will be published in Australia and internationally next March. That will be a print book (a Penguin Special) and an ebook. It will be followed by a short series of small ebooks on particular subjects.

Thank you for your visits this week and for taking the time to reach out and leave a comment. There seems to be quite a few new readers here at the moment; I warmly welcome all of you. I hope you have a wonderful weekend with those you love. Don't forget to take care of yourself.

I meant to add as well: One of my sponsors, Biome, is moving their city store and having a closing sale yesterday and today.  They're at 215 Adelaide Street and sell a wide range of organic and ecologically sound products. All prices are 25% off today before their move. I am happy to recommend Biome to you. In all the dealings I've had with them I've found them to be helpful, knowledgable about their products and very supportive.

- - - ♥ - - -

River Cottage Australia - first bit is missing but all the rest of the eight programs are there. - YouTube
The difference between winning and succeeding - John Wooden. TED talk
Cutting back on libraries!
DIY - stool makeover
Hand painted linen tea towels
Free mermaid glove pattern @ Ravelry
Knitting Love at Pinterest
For those of you with little girls - paper doll cutouts from Alice Cantrell

Jill @ gentle thoughts of homemaking
Anh @ anhsfoodblog.com
Monica @ tropical tomatina

12 September 2013

The spring vegetable garden

After a fairly poor season in the garden last year due to cloudy weather and too much rain, this year it's ideal, although a bit drier than we prefer. We've scaled back a bit this year and haven't planted potatoes but they've been replaced with mushrooms in a box in the bush house. This year we're taking it slow because energy levels and injuries have slowed the main gardener down a bit. We're still growing as much as we can though and only what we eat. The good thing is that everything that was sown, has blossomed and we have a thriving patch that we're eating from every day.

Behind that leaf, the first of the Lebanese cucumbers.
 The last of the winter strawberries - we bought these "Joy" runners from Green Harvest.
We polished off this bowl before the day was out.

 Waiting for leaves and damaged strawberries to be thrown over the fence.

We have a lot of parsley growing and I use it nearly every day. Sunny is a big fan of parsley too, so we make sure we have enough to share. Recently our flat leaf parsley went to seed, we're still eating the side leaves but Hanno planted a new seedling last weekend.

This is a mixed bed of silverbeet, daikon radish, various types of lettuce, onions, parsley and ruby chard.
 Bok choi is eaten by all of us - including Sunny and the chickens.

Daikon radish - I was told this was in short supply in the shops over recent months. Lucky we had plenty here.
 Above and below - purple topped turnip.

And here at her favourite resting place is our old cat, Hettie Waintrope, private investigator (retired). She's 16 years old now and doesn't do much except eat and sleep. She loves sleeping here under the elder tree during the day. I'm going to harvest these elder flowers on the weekend to make elder cordial - a summer essential.

Hanno will harvest our year's supply of garlic tomorrow or Friday. It will dry out for a while and then be stored in the kitchen. I have one garlic head left from last years crop. We'll plant up another crop in February/March next year, using cloves harvested from this year's crop. The never-ending cycle continues.  That is the same bed the strawberries have been growing in so apart from pineapple sage, parsley and a chilli bush, the bed will be empty. But not for long. It will be dug over, manures, compost and worm castings added and seeds sown for corn, beans, daikon, cucumbers and more lettuce. He'll also plant up a stand of sunflowers in another bed so we'll have those nutritious seeds on hand for us and the chooks.

If you have a garden, or a backyard with the potential for a garden, I encourage you to try your hand at growing some food. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy the freshness of vegetables from your own yard. You'll know exactly what's gone into growing them and what has been added. Here we use only organic methods and have been producing fruit and vegetables this way, on and off, for over 30 years. Another good reason to grow your own is that you'll be getting the full measure of the land you live on if you make it productive. If you're not sure how to start, leave a comment and let me know. If there are a few of you, I'll do a post about starting a vegetable garden from scratch.

There is nothing to compare with walking out into the fresh air every afternoon to pick fresh vegetables for the evening meal. Whatever is left over is shared, frozen or put up in jars. It's an enriching pastime and a wonderful way to live. Are you a new gardener? Have you been growing vegetables for a long time? What have you planted this year?

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