30 October 2013

The internet - the good, the bad and the ugly

I think many of you would agree when I say that there are things on the internet that we don't want our kids or grandkids to see. I don't want to see them either. In certain areas of the internet, there are people waiting in chat rooms looking for children, waiting for adults to befriend so they can steal their hearts and dollars, and in many areas, including the general news sites, chat rooms and forums, there are bullies who hide their real ugliness under the cover of anonymity. There is no doubt about it, the internet can drain the strength from your bones and make you want to give up on humanity.

On the other hand, there is the opportunity to reach out and connect with like-minded souls. We can form lasting friendships, learn from each other's cultures, teach ourselves to knit, sew, mend, recycle, keep livestock, cook, make jam and to preserve it, to grow a garden and produce food for our tables and so many other things. The internet makes all that possible. I like to believe that for every bit of nonsensical behaviour that takes place over the internet, there will be a corresponding act of kindness, gratitude and sharing to balance it out. I can't imagine how many lonely people, who would otherwise not be able to get out, have their social time on the internet - in forums, chat rooms, clubs and craft groups. How many young cooks have started cooking by searching for recipes on the web; how many home work questions have been answered; how proud do we feel when we upload a photo of something we've created, be it a garden, dress, cardigan, cake, cheese or even a newly born baby. For on the internet, yes, there is the unspeakable and the ruthless but there is also a big group of people, just like you and me, who come to their keyboards every day and yell out into the ether: "I'm here! Are you there?" 

And we find each other.

One of the best features of the internet for me is that it makes government and big business more accountable. Pre-internet, there was no way ordinary people could take part in discussions about world politics, finance, society, the arts, politics, corruption or any of the seemingly "important" subjects. Now we can easily comment on news stories, send vision and reports into news groups, or blog about our own experiences and concerns. We've all heard stories about rogue politicians closing down radical or citizen-run newspapers and media outlets but so far, no government has been able to shut down the internet. And that is probably because the internet doesn't belong to anyone and it's not controlled in a formal sense. It belongs to us all.

I think personal responsibility is as important and significant as political ideology. We all have the ability to see what is happening around us, to make decisions based on that knowledge and by taking small steps, change our lives. I have moved away from my consumerist culture to a more solitary life focused on home and on sharing what I know with those who are interested. The internet has given me that opportunity, not only to reach you, but to also reach Penguin publishing and many other media organisations who have helped me spread my message. But mostly I am thankful that I have this community here who support and encourage each other, who learn and teach, and who sit silently reading while never raising their own flag to say "I'm here too." Like every other healthy community, it takes all types, and I love that. I love the fact that while there are other older women here who mirror me in many respects, there are also men and younger folk, and those who are middle aged. What we have here is a carbon copy of what we find in any vibrant community - we have women and men, straight and gay, religions of all denominations and those who are atheist, rich and poor, healthy and ill. We have people here from many cultures and philosophies. There is no one type you can say is typical or acceptable here, we all are.

I have always been amazed at the number of people who read here. I put that down to consistency, my respect for you and the interesting community that has built up around the blog. Overnight we passed the eight million visitors mark. Those people have read over 12.5 million pages here.

Thank you for finding your way here today and all the other times you walked this way. I don't need the validation because I know the way I'm living now is right for me, my family and for the piece of earth we look after. But even though I'm not looking for validation, I am looking for conversation, friendship and the exchange of ideas, and here, my friends, we have that in abundance. Thank you for helping to provide that and for adding to the always thought-provoking conversation. xx


29 October 2013

Make and mend your own household linens

According to this article, handmade crafts are making a big comeback in America, with $29 billion reportedly spent on craft materials in 2011. There are many reasons for the popularity of crafts again; some are working towards self-reliance, some want to learn traditional skills, some want non-commercial and unique items, some want the beauty of something hand made, others just love working with their hands. Whatever the reason, I think the trend towards homemade is just as strong in Australia and from what I can see, in the UK and many European countries as well.

One of the things I'm working on at the moment is replacing some of my household linens. In the past I used to buy tea towels, tablecloths, dishcloths, aprons, curtains, food covers and the other bits and pieces we use here, but now I make all of it. I find when I make it myself, I get exactly what I want and the quality is superior to what I can buy ready-made. And let's face it, it's difficult finding a lot of these unusual linens we use in a simple home. How many times have you seen food covers on the weekly specials table? If we need cloths to drain yoghurt and cheese, a new rag bag, padded coat hangers or a linen apron that is longer than the average apron, those things we have to make ourselves.

A milk jug cover doubling as a cover for our sprouter. This is simply a circle of netting that has been edged with crochet and beads.

Years ago when I started reading blogs, I noticed that many women used their spare hours for sewing, mending and knitting. Some ladies said they felt guilty doing craft work because they enjoyed it. The implication being that they were doing this work for their own pleasure. I don't look at it that way. I see all sorts of craftwork and traditional work as part of my housework. Looking after household linens is part of what I do. I am responsible for having what we need in our home and for keeping all of it in good order. I want to live in a comfortable home and sometimes, to supply that comfort, I need to make new items or repair the old. Sewing, mending and knitting is part of my housework; I see it as one of the duties of the homemaker, male and female.

Our new set of table napkins.
I  use this food cover a lot, especially during the warmer months, to keep flies off the table. Someone gave me this cover, I wish I could remember who, but it is handmade of soft tulle and edged in a fruit patterned cotton.

Some of the work I've done in the past week is to replace old napkins that have outlived their lives and will now serve us from the rag bag. I have replaced a lot of the "disposable" products, such as the paper napkins and dish cloths, with homemade items. I make them here, choosing natural yarns and fabrics and wash and reuse them over and over again. It's a simple thing but it saves money and it makes you think about all the waste generated by purchasing what is supposed to be disposable.

One of Jamie's toy bags. He uses these bags to store toys he wants to take home and bring back again.

If you've never done anything like this before, I encourage you to make a couple of things, even if you're not a great sewer. Most of it is straight lines and simple sewing. You will get a lot of support and encouragement if you go to the forum and tell the ladies what you're doing, or if you need help. This is the link to our handmade forum that I recommend to both women and men who want to learn how to make and mend. No one will laugh or tease you, it will be praise and support all the way.

You can try tote bags for shopping, fabric bags for kids toys and books, a linen bag in which to store your bread, food covers, dish cloths, napkins, tablecloths, jug covers, covers for your ferments while they sit on the kitchen bench, tea cosies, pot holders, curtains, cushion covers, a rag bag, a carry-all for your knitting or crochet, table runners, place mats or aprons. If you have a stockpile of fabric you have the ideal starting point for many of these useful linens. Some of them would make wonderful Christmas gifts too. Imagine giving your neighbour a loaf of your homemade bread in a linen bag that he could store it in. That would make a good teacher's gift as well. What about three organic cotton face cloths with some of your homemade soap. Beautiful!

If you're hoping to improve your sewing, knitting or crochet skills, start by making one of these small projects. Remember, there is no such thing as perfect, so embrace the results of your beginner skills, if that is what they are, and know that the more you do of this type of activity, the better you get at it. What are you making for your home?

28 October 2013

Work and relaxation

I'm not sure why but there are a lot of readers who are interested in what I do each day. I'm ordinary. Usually I'm here at home doing ordinary things.  When I'm writing, which I am at the moment, there's not a lot to report in my normal daily activities - I make three meals, clean up and write most of the day. But yesterday I took time away from the computer and spent most of the day working in my home, and relaxing.

Up at 3.30am, I dressed, cleaned my teeth, checked emails, made tea and crumpets and packed my trusty little trolly in the boot of the car. When I left home at 5.00am to go to the local market, the sun was just peeking through. I was after some fish for our terracotta pond which sits on the front verandah. Tricia bought me a beautiful iris last time she was here, it's been flowering its little head off and while it sits in water to grow, the water provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes. We used to have some native rainbow fish in the pond but when I moved it last week, I realised they'd disappeared. Also on my list, a tall tropical plant for the area near the front door and some avocados. Hanno needed line for his whipper snipper.

The market was packed when I arrived at 5.20. Some were sipping coffee, others walking around eating toasted sandwiches or fruit. It didn't take me long to find what I needed and I was in and out very smartly. I was home again at 6.45. Hanno was sitting at the kitchen table eating his breakfast - rolled oats with blueberries and walnuts.

I had five little guppies in a plastic bag so I had to work fast to get them into their new home. I emptied the water out of the pond with a bucket onto the hanging baskets and pot plants, moved the pond back into the shade of the verandah, then filled it again with rainwater from the tank. I cleaned up the iris, clipped off the dead flower heads and placed the plant in the water. When I opened up that plastic bag the fish swam out into their new home. The verandah feels cool and restful with the water and plants. It's reminds me how easy it is to create a relaxing space when you have shade, somewhere to sit and a few plants. When everything was set, I swept the verandah then went inside to make some cool drinks for us.  By this stage Hanno was watering plants in the front garden. Usually we don't have to water our outdoor plants but we're in the middle of a drought.

We both rested with some early morning tea - apple and cinnamon pikelets and lemon cordial made with sparkling mineral water and ice.  I made the bed, finished off another two napkins (more on that tomorrow), washed up and prepared lunch. Crumbed chicken breast with the last of the potato salad, lettuce, avocado, tomato and cucumber.

After lunch I repotted the large heliconia I bought. It's sitting right near the front door now. It's still a bit untidy but as new leaves grow, it should look really splendid. I gave it a rich potting soil containing worm castings and cow manure so it shouldn't be too long before it takes off. Late in the afternoon we adopted a baby magpie that's been hanging around without its mother for a few days. It flew into the verandah and sat on the back of the lounge where I was sitting, so Hanno got some tiny pieces of pork sausage to feed to it. It must have been very hungry because everything Hanno gave it was eaten. It looks like it has a damaged beak. I have a feeling the mother is dead because this baby it too young to be alone. We'll look out for it over the next few days and continue feeding it if it turns up without mum again.

And for the rest of the afternoon, dear friends, I put my money where my mouth is and I relaxed on the front verandah. I read and knitted Jono's cardigan. It was everyone for themselves at tea time. Hanno made himself sandwiches and I had some watermelon. It was a beautiful mix of productive energy, fixing this and that, and shoes off, feet-up relaxing.  I hope you did some of that as well. It's back to work again today but I'll be out on that verandah again to break the work day up. I work better when I look after myself. I think we all do.

25 October 2013

Weekend reading

Another week has come and gone. Time seems to go so fast now. Does that mean I'm old(er)? Thank you for joining me here during the week. I'll be spending time in the location pictured above - our front verandah. Enjoy your weekend, spend it with those you love and recharge for next week.  XX

Michael Pollan's family meals
Putting a meal on the table, even when you're dead
Butter and cheese are better
Eumaeus and the Worm
Peace Country Homestead
Coal House - life in 1927 in a small mining town - Youtube
In a soup - many great soup recipes for my friends going into the colder weather.
Your own backyard 

From the comments here during the week

Wilderness Dweller
Flood-proof Mum
Nutmeg and Linen

There seems to be a problem with Blogger today and I've lost comments from this and other posts. I apologise to everyone who left a comment that has disappeared. I'm trying to get them back.


24 October 2013

Writing, chores and thinking of Christmas

We've had enough food posts for the week. Today I'm sitting back and writing about what ever comes into my head. It was a fairly tense day here yesterday spent thinking about my sister Tricia and her family who live in the Blue Mountains. They are in the towns badly effected by the catastrophic bush fires.  Yesterday was supposed to be the worst day when temperatures soared and the winds increased. Tricia had her car packed in case she had to be evacuated and she drove from Blackheath to Springwood to take her grandson home and help out in her son's shop. I spoke to her late yesterday afternoon and she was preparing to drive home. I hope I don't sound above myself but I wasn't surprised when I received a lot of emails from people wanting to know how Tricia and her family were going in the fires. Tricia, however, was amazed that she'd been remembered. She asked me to tell you that all those good wishes helped her a lot during those recent dark days. Such kindness does help when times are tough and I thank you sincerely for helping my family get through them.

Although I'm working on the Penguin ebooks, my mind keeps wandering to my daily chores and preparations for the coming months. I have household linens to sew soon. I started cutting out the napkins yesterday and I hope to get to them on the weekend. I promised Jamie two drawstring bags to keep his toy animals in so they're on my list as well. They are such small things but I feel I'm doing the right thing when I sew for my home. I have never seen anything in a shop that suits my home better than what I can make right here.

Our main meal is cooked for the next two days because I made a pastryless Angus beef pie yesterday and used all the old vegetables in the fridge. The top is mashed potato and pumpkin. I love it when I know I have the meals sorted and no cooking will be necessary. Then I can concentrate on making other things such as crackers and pickled eggs, that I hope to do on Saturday. I ran down my ice cube supplies last week so I have to remember to fill up the ice trays twice a day and keep the iced water jug full. When the weather is warm, everyone loves a glass of cold water.

On the wider front, I've almost finished organising my Christmas gifts. I'm not sure what we're doing yet, that will depend on when Shane and Kerry are working but I think we'll be travelling up to Gladstone just before Christmas, and having Christmas here. After a break for Christmas with my family, I'll be straight back to writing again to have the set of ebooks ready for my deadline. I'm very pleased to tell you that all these books will be available for international release so that will make it easier for you, particularly if you have an ebook reader. If you don't, ebook readers can be downloaded free for use on your computer.

And speaking of Christmas, I might start my Christmas baking on the weekend. I'm only doing a fruit cake this year. It will be full of dried fruits that have been soaked in brandy for a week or two. I'll start the soaking on the weekend.

Spring and summer are not my favourite seasons, I don't like the warmer weather but this year I've decided to be grateful that I'm healthy and breathing and just get on with it. If I have to live through hot days, I will think of all the best parts of summer, like the holidays, cold salads, frosty drinks and relaxing watching the cricket. If a few hot days are all I have to complain about, then I am living a charmed life.

What has been filling your days lately?

23 October 2013

Freezing pineapple and pickling eggs

If you can't grow vegetables due to having no time, bad health, young children, or no space, the answer for you might be to buy local seasonal fruit and vegetables. You might have a vegetable garden but not for the full year and buy your local vegies when the garden isn't growing, like we do. As you know we grow a fairly large garden but no matter what time of year, I'm also on the lookout for cheap, good quality, seasonal produce that we can use to supplement what we grow. Sometimes it will be a box of produce; at other times it will be smaller amounts of something we don't eat a lot of. I think this is one of the best ways of maximising the quality and nutrition of the food I put on the table as well as paying the lowest price for it. We all know we can but cheap food, but buying fresh, local, nutritious food, well, that's a challenge. You need to keep your eyes open for the bargains.

There are so many things you can bring into this category but let me show you an example of something I did here yesterday. I live in an areas surrounded by pineapple farms supplying Golden Circle. Often at this time of year in pineapple season, there are a lot of local pineapples for sale at roadside stalls. I just checked the Woolworth's online store and a fresh pineapple is selling there for $3.98 each. At a nearby roadside stall, local pineapples are selling at two large for $1.80 or three small for $3.00. When we drove passed the other day, I bought four large pineapples for $3.60 or 90 cents each. I have no need for fresh pineapple now, the season will go on for a while yet, but as soon as the holiday makers arrive, the prices will go up. They'll never be as high as the supermarket prices, but they'll be higher than they are now. I wanted to preserve some pineapple for later in the year when the prices will be higher, it will be hotter and the idea of local pineapple and passionfruit on a pavlova, or a glass of pineapple crush, will be very appealing. The passionfruit is already in a sealed container in my freezer. I've been putting aside our home-grown passionfruit so I'll have it on hand over Christmas when I know they'll be expensive. Oh my! I just checked the price of passionfruit at the local Woolworths and they're $1.98 each! How can they justify that? I wonder how much they paid the growers for them.

As you can see, you have to outdo the supermarkets at their own game. We're all on budgets and we are all hoping to get the best value for money. I think this is a very intelligent way to buy. It's similar to having a big canning/preserving session with boxes of produce or buckets from the backyard, but it's on a smaller scale for the food you don't eat a lot of. If you're in a food producing region, you'll be able to do something similar.

The entire pineapple processing exercise took me about 20 minutes. All I had to do was top and tail the pineapples, skin them, chop them into chunks, and put them in the food processor to do the heavy work. They'll sit in the freezer quite nicely until needed, probably sometime in December when pineapples will probably be five dollars each. And what did I pay? Ninety cents. If you're in Brisbane, or on the Sunshine Coast, I bought these sweet and delicious pines at the Matilda service station. If you go by in the next week or two, drop in to see if they're still there.

I know there are homemakers - women and men, who are in dairy regions and they buy large quantities of cream when the price is much lower than normal. As soon as the cream gets home, it's made into butter. This is such a excellent way of getting good produce at a low price. I make cultured butter when we can get the bulk cream.

Here is a pickling liquid recipe for boiled eggs from Mother Earth News. This is great for preserving eggs for a month. This amount will cover eight hard-boiled duck eggs, 12 hard boiled hen eggs or 20 hard boiled quail eggs.

Golden Pickling Liquid for Eggs
  • 1½ cups cider vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar or honey
  • 2 teaspoons pickling or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Fill a sterilised litre/quart jar with peeled, hard-boiled eggs.
Boil the pickling ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 20 minutes then pour it over the eggs. Screw on the lid. Store in the fridge for up to a month.

Do you have any handy hint to share about the storage of eggs?

Andrea left a comment here yesterday, and when I checked her blog, she'd written an excellent post on this same subject, here is the link so you can read what she has to say as well. Andrea's experiences with her group of women in a buying group might give you some good ideas about how to do something similar in your neighbourhood.

I'm sure there are many other examples out there, please share your story so we can all build our skills in this important area. What have you been able to do in your region? 


22 October 2013

Food security - cold climate crops and making the most of what you have

The garden really is the queen of all seasons. After all our summer salads, she makes way for all the hearty and nourishing winter vegetables for soups, casseroles and hot winter warmers. Our cold weather crops are cabbage - we grow an early variety called Sugarloaf and red cabbage, curly kale, broccoli, kohl rabi, carrots, turnips, silverbeet, Asian greens, peas, lettuce, beetroot, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes (not in June or July) and herbs. We have our main citrus crops over the winter months - mainly lemons and oranges as well as passionfruit and strawberries late in the season. We never grow enough peas or carrots to freeze, they're all eaten fresh. One year we grew enough cabbage to make sauerkraut but most of the time it's just enough to eat fresh. We always have jars of red cabbage and sauerkraut in the stockpile that we buy from Aldi during their Oktoberfest sales. I'd love to grow swedes/rutabaga but it's not cold enough for long enough. The point is though to grow what you can, when you can and be happy with that. If you can't do it this year, pencil it in for next year and improve your skills as you go.

If you don't know what to grow, there are planting guides for many regions, including international, on my right side bar. The easy ones are cabbage, silverbeet/chard, curly kale, lettuce, carrots and turnips but always take the time to enrich your soil before you start. Adding manure or compost to your soil will make a huge difference to the health and size of your vegetables.

All our northern hemisphere friends will be under snow soon but I wonder how many have some form of cold weather crops going through winter. I've never grown food crops in weather cold enough for frost or snow and I imagine it would be much more difficult than our form of gardening here. Even going outside on a cold morning is a test for me.  Over the years that I've known her, Nita at Throwback at Trapper Creek has never failed to impress me with her expertise at cold climate gardening. Nita grows the food for her family and root vegetables for her house cow, Jane, as well. Currently she's busy putting up a lot of her produce for eating later in the year. If you've never read Nita's blog, I encourage you to pay her a visit, especially if you live in a cold climate. Nita has many excellent posts on pasture management too so if you have a cow, or a herd of them, you'll probably find something of interest.

If you're in Australia and didn't watch Gardening Australia last week, watch this absolutely inspirational couple (at 6.10) from the Czech Republic who settled here four years ago. They are growing an abundance of fruit, vegetables, honey and eggs at a small rental unit in Brisbane. He also shows how he grows food for his chickens and a fabulous version of a wicking bed made with styrofoam boxes and PVC pipes. Genius. He waters the box once a month. It just shows you what you can do if you're renting and have very little.

The way we warmer climate gardeners grow and store food is different to that in colder climates. In warmer climates we have the option of growing most of the year, and therefore preserving for later isn't the high priority that it is in colder climates, especially in the US, UK and the colder European countries. However, growing more or buying seasonal food when it's at its best and cheapest is always a good option when looking to save money as well as for our food security stores.  And that will be tomorrow's topic.

I hope you have a lovely day. :- )


21 October 2013

Food security - taking control of your food supplies

In the next few posts about food security I'd like to write about what we grow for our own fresh food needs, and how we grow food for storage and drying. When you grow food in the backyard, you have to increase your skill level in several directions because everything you grow will have to be harvested at the correct time, processed in a certain way such as cooking, preserving, drying, and then stored safely, either in the fridge, freezer, in a jar, a bag or hanging in a braid/plait. Growing the food is just one part of this. You will let yourself down if you know how to grow great fruit and vegetables but don't know how to process and store it correctly.

Even though we have four seasons, we generally have cold crops and warm crops. We're currently in our warm season now so let's do that first.

Food to grow in warm seasons

FRESH: In the warm seasons the obvious category for fresh food is salad and all the vegetables that can go into a decent salad. We change from year to year but usually grow: tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroot, radishes, capsicums/peppers, chilli, mushrooms, green beans, snake beans, Madagascar beans, corn, eggplant and various herbs. We grow lettuce until it starts to get bitter. As soon as the hot weather sets in, or if we have a hot day out of the blue, the lettuce will go bitter. When it does, we start buying our lettuce.  I grow various types of sprouts in the kitchen and yesterday put a bag of freshly grown mung bean shoots in the fridge.

We also grow daikon, Asian greens, Welsh onions, silverbeet/chard, sweet potato and zucchini. We sometimes have a crop of potatoes in at this time of year but we don't this year. We're just about to plant up a few pumpkin seedlings in the compost heap. The rest of the garden is starting to dry off now but those pumpkins will, hopefully, grow over summer and give us a dozen or so pumpkins to store for the next year.

PRESERVING: If you have the room, grow extras to put up in jars. Tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroot, onions can all be preserved in a water bath and if you have a pressure canner, you can do up jars of green beans, corn, carrots.  Making up jars of sauces will use up all your extra vegetables because you can either make jars of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes, or you can mix it all together and make chutney or relish. Don't forget to use tried and tested recipes if you're water bathing - they'll have the correct amounts of lemon juice or vinegar and sugar to add for long term storage.

 Pickled beetroot ready to go in the fridge.

FREEZER: Don't forget your freezer - you don't have to worry about the acid level of the vegetables you put up if you freeze them. Learn to blanch first, there are very few vegetables that will freeze well long term if they're not blanched. Frozen vegetables include beans, peas, chard and spinach. onions, Corn, capsicums/peppers, chillis and tomatoes don't have to be blanched, and tomatoes, if you want to use them in soups and stews after freezing - freeze them whole and store in a plastic bag. They'll be mushy when thawed.

DRYING: Although I don't have a dehydrator, I do sometimes dry food and store it. Usually it's beans because they're easy to grow, full of protein and they store well. You can grow borlotti beans, lazy housewife beans, haricot beans, or ask your supplier which beans they have for drying. It's simply a matter of growing them as instructed and letting them dry out. You can let them dry on the vine, but the plant will not produce more pods if you do that. Pick the beans as they mature and place them undercover to dry out. When they're completely dry, strip all the beans from the pods and add them to your jar.

 Sprouting sweet potato ready for planting.

Dried pigeon peas in the pod.
Sprouting ginger ready for planting.
This is one of the pineapples we're grown here.
ODDS AND ENDS: If you're in a warm climate, try growing some pigeon peas, they're a really useful crop. They're high in nitrogen, love hot weather and the chickens will eat the fresh young green leaves and the green peas.  You can harvest the peas green or brown. If they're green just steam or boil them, if they're brown and dry, store them in a jar for use later. One tree will give you at least one or two kilos/2 - 5lbs of peas. You use them in the same way you use lentils or split peas, they make an excellent pea soup. The leaves of pigeon peas can be cut back and used as mulch. Sunflowers are also a good crop during the warmer months. They're great for snacks and the chooks love them. Ginger and tumeric are easy to grow in a warmer garden. Just buy some organic ginger and tumeric from the green grocer, break it up and plant it. Sweet potatoes are also easy to grow. They need to shoot first, as soon as they do, plant them. And don't forget your herbs. Whichever herbs you use, they need to be planted in the warmer seasons. Make sure you dry some herbs to store in the cupboard too. I have some bunches of thyme drying out now that are almost ready to put into a jar. In a warm climate, pineapples are the ultimate in recycled fruit. Simply remove the top off a good, sweet pineapple, remove the bottom leaves and let the head dry out for a week or so. Plant the head into enriched soil full of organic matter in an area of the garden that you don't need for the next three years. In the first 18 months the head will grow a pineapple (see the photo above), then it's ripe, harvest it and leave the plant in. Fertilise with comfrey tea and in the following year, another pineapple will grow. Pull the plant out after the second pineapple. If you live in a warm to hot climate, you can keep pineapples growing like this, simply by using the heads, for years.

Tomorrow we'll talk about colder crops and later in the week we'll talk about extending your seasons by creating microclimates.

Please add to this by telling us what you're growing and how you process and store it.

18 October 2013

Weekend reading

Hanno and I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead. We are both fine and looking forward to some work and family time over the next couple of days. Thanks for your comments during the week. There is a beautiful community of like-minded souls here and we love sharing and learning as much as we can with all of you.

A short note to everyone who created a Google account so you could comment here. If you have a blog, please put a link to your blog up on your Google page. When I was looking for people to link to this week, I chose quite a number of you who have a Google account, the link takes me to your Circles pages but no further.  If you include a link I'll probably get around to linking to you for the Weekend Readings.  Thanks :- )

Nigel's various mayonnaise recipes
Happiness is joint bank accounts?
Spectacular photos of wildlife
From pigs to pork, an excellent blog about slaughtering pigs on a small farm.
Auburn Meadow Farm
Using manure in the garden
An urban veg patch
Baby hedgehog taken into care - if you need a smile today, or think things are getting tough, have a look at this.
Frontier House - episode 1 +

All things bright and beautiful
Cottage Tales
Frugal in Derbyshire

17 October 2013

Growing great garlic

We planted our garlic in March and true to form, it was ready for harvesting in late September. We bought our garlic from Green Harvest, a hard-necked variety called Glenlarge - it is suited to warmer weather and it's the best garlic we've grown so far.  Hanno said the larger cloves, generally from the outside of the garlic bulb, produce the biggest and heaviest bulbs. You can still plant the smaller bulbs but they won't grow as big as the others, so don't think you've done anything wrong. We grew ours over our colder months and hopefully this crop will see us through until next September.  I've already put aside the biggest and best bulbs for planting in March.

Above and below  - our 2013 garlic crop.

Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow in the vegetable patch. You plant them, 6 - 8 inches apart, in a sunny site and add plenty of organic matter to the soil pre-planting. Break the bulb apart and plant the cloves pointy end upwards, down to about the first knuckle on your finger**, water in with seaweed tea. Depending on your climate, the green shoots will appear two to four weeks after planting.  When the green shoots appear, start fertilising every month with a foliar spray of comfrey tea or seaweed and fish concentrate. Keep watering regularly if it doesn't rain but don't over-water them, too much water will rot them in the ground. As the time for harvest approaches, ease off the watering. They're ready to harvest when the green tops start turning brown and shrivelling up. Don't pull the garlic out of the ground, dig them out with a spade to loosen the soil.

** Added later: I just read this again and wanted to clarify this first knuckle planting. What I mean is that you push your fore finger into the planting soil to the level of your first knuckle. Place the clove, pointy side up, in the hole and cover with soil. The point of the clove should be just below the surface of the soil.

When you harvest, treat them gently because they must be in excellent condition to store them for a long time. Place the crop on a table for a couple of days, undercover, and remove clumps of dirt and any obvious material that would prevent them from drying out - you'll clean them properly a bit later. Divide the harvest up into bunches and hang them to dry out for about three weeks, depending on your climate. If it's humid it may take a bit longer.

Every time you handle the garlic, be gentle and don't drop them. When they've dried out, take down all the bunches and lay them out on a table where you can work on them for a while. You'll need a small pair of scissors - I use an old pair of embroidery scissors because I can cut in around the root without cutting into the garlic flesh. 

Take the first garlic and remove all the dirt, then rub it with your fingers to remove the outer loose papery skin. You don't want to take all the paper off because it protects the bulb while it's in storage. Cut the top off about an inch or so above the bulb. This will help the paper stay on the garlic. Cut the roots off the bottom and generally tidy the bulb up as much as you can without removing too much of the paper. When you're happy with that one, go on to the next.

Don't break the garlic bulb up, they will store better as whole garlics. Store them in a dark, dry space, not the fridge, it's too humid. The place you choose to store your garlic will have the biggest effect on how long it lasts. I have mine in a wire basket at the bottom of my pantry alongside the potatoes and onions. You could also hang them in a mesh bag or plait/braid them and hang them in a cool dry place.

If you don't get a year out of your garlic, it might we worth your while to experiment with two separate crops using two different varieties - an early and a late garlic.  No matter what you use though, take the opportunity to use some of your garlic fresh on the day you pick it. Fresh garlic has a more subtle flavour than older garlic. I used two fresh whole garlics cut through the middle and baked with some roast lamb. It was so delicious and definitely worth growing for the wide variety of health benefits and recipes you can make with it.


16 October 2013

Four new arrivals

I didn't tell you when it happened, but a couple of weeks back, our strange hen-rooster died. She was the black chook that over the course of a year, grew one white feather, rooster tail feathers and a red collar. I don't think she ever laid an egg during her six years with us. When she died we were left with two New Hampshires, one Rhode Island Red, one black Australorp, one lavender Araucana, one Old English Game hen and a Plymouth Rock. We needed to build up our flock again.

Chickens are a vital part of our setup here. They supply us with more than enough fresh eggs, high nitrogen manure for the garden and compost heap and they're the best form of backyard entertainment going. I can't imagine us ever being without chickens.

Introducing our new girls: two blue Australorps and two blue laced Barnevelders. They're gangly pre-teens right now, although one looks like she might be laying, but they'll grow into beautiful birds that we'll enjoy watching for many years.

This last photo is of our older girls as they watched the new arrivals carefully.

Early yesterday morning Hanno put some big boxes in the boot of our car and we set off towards Brisbane. We picked up our girls at Samford (there will be more on that later), put four little chickens in the boxes and travelled back home again. I was hoping for a couple of silver laced Wyandottes as well, but they're still small chicks and at the moment they'd make a tasty meal for the pythons that live here. We'll pick them up when they're a bit bigger. Now we have the happy task of getting to know these little ladies who will spend their lives with us eating lots of grain and fresh vegetables in our backyard.

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