31 July 2017

A visit to Green Harvest

Last Friday morning we set off up the mountain to buy vegetable seeds at Green Harvest. After driving through Maleny we were surrounded by rolling hills and many small homesteads along the way.  So many of these homes are on large blocks where the owners take advantage of the space with chooks, goats or a house cow, as well as a thriving kitchen garden. It's a lovely drive. I've visited Green Harvest many times over the years when the shop was in Maleny, this was to be the first visit to their new store and garden at Witta.  What a treat it was. The garden is bigger than I expected it to be and we happily wandered the garden paths looking, touching and smelling a very wide range of plants. You would not see many of these plants in a regular nursery.

Gracie will lead you around the Green Harvest garden.  Hold on to your hat.

The garden wraps itself around the side of the shop.

Red/purple kale.

These are pigeon peas. We used to grow these up until a few years ago. They're a great addition to the backyard especially if you have chooks. They make a great feed for chickens and you can use the dried peas to make pea soup, in much the same way you use yellow split peas.

I loved that the garden was very much a productive kitchen and medicinal garden. I'm disappointed when I visit a garden that is manicured and clipped to within an inch of its life.  I want authenticity in the gardens I visit. A wild and thriving garden is much more interesting and satisfying to me than a neat and clipped one. As we walked around I saw plants I knew as well as many I didn't know. If you're new to gardening, I'm sure a visit to this garden would help you. The plants in the garden are named, the staff are keen to help and as well as the seeds, there are a number of seedings and cuttings on display that you can buy.

When you grow open pollinated or heirloom vegetables, you can collect the seeds to sow the following season.  Above and below are the basil seeds I collected from our plants last week. Not only is it a cheaper option to garden this way, but the plants you grow from open pollinated seeds from your own garden will be better adapted to your local conditions.   

When you visit the Green Harvest website, you'll see it's not just an online shop, it's a valuable resource built to help new and seasoned gardeners. Green Harvest is owned and run by Frances and Jeff Michaels and Frances has been writing and encouraging fellow gardeners with her vast horticultural knowledge since they opened in 1992. There is a wide range of information about vegetables, herbs, fruit and permaculture online and Frances has always maintained accurate and relevant information there for all to read.  But visiting the garden where many of the seeds come from is enlightening and a great encouragement to go home and start digging.  I have visited a few heirloom seed gardens in other states but none came close to the motivation I felt at this wonderful place.

These are the seeds I bought at Green Harvest, along with the Give Bees a Chance collection of flower seeds Jeff wanted me to try. They would be fabulous if you have a bee hive or two but also a valuable addition to the collection of local flowers bees visit near your home.

You can sign up for the annual Australian Organic Gardening Resource Guide here and find many of the answers you're searching for here in Green Garden Notes. Both of these invaluable guides are provided free by Green Harvest. The Green Harvest shop is located at 9 Gumland Drive Witta, which is on the western side of Maleny, and is open Monday to Friday from 9am - 5pm.  It would be a great day out if you drove up from Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast. Don't forget to pack a thermos and a sandwich because there are plenty of places along the way to pull off the road, but there is a coffee shop next door if you get caught short.

I am not affiliated with Green Harvest at all but have found Frances, Jeff and their staff to be generous and genuine with a fine community spirit.  I have bought goods from them online and in person and recommend them to you as a business that always provides excellent products and service.


28 July 2017

Weekend reading

This season's first tomato harvest. I pick these when they're green to avoid the tomato grub. We can leave the cocktail tomatoes on the plants longer, but these are better ripening on the kitchen bench.

Gracie struck again. 😧  I got up at 3am a couple of nights ago and when I walked into the hallway, I walked on something odd. It was rice! Gracie found the rice bag I made for Hanno's balance exercises, tore into it and sprayed rice over three rooms. She also climbed onto the couch so she could reach my knitting basket, pulled out three circular knitting needles, chew them so the plastic broke, chewed an embroidery hoop and embroidery, narrowly missing a sharp needle, played with some knitting cotton and chewed on a number or pamphlets sitting on the coffee table. She was manic, running up and down the hall and only calmed down when I sat down at the computer and ignored her. After ten minutes of running, she sat down and went to sleep. She can't roam the house when we're in bed now. Last night she spent the first night on her bed in my craft room with the door closed. It went well. I have a few adjustments to make today, mainly moving electrical cables. From now on, she'll be confined to that one space overnight. Fingers are crossed.

Thanks for your comments this week. I do enjoy reading them and appreciate the time you take connecting with me. I hope to see you again next week. 

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26 July 2017

Recycling lids

Many of us are trying to cut back on plastic by looking for substitutes for plastic wrap to cover food that is stored in the fridge. If you have a look in your local op shop or antique shop, you'll probably find china lids that used to sit on top of old serving pots. Usually, you can buy them for a couple of dollars. They make excellent covers for modern bowls and can be used over and over again. Or just look in your saucepan cupboard. You might find a saucepan lid just the right size for your bowl of leftover potato salad or fresh strawberries. If the seal isn't quite right, cover the top of the bowl with a square of moist cloth or a piece of baking paper and then place the lid on it. Most food will store well in the fridge for a couple of days using this method.

24 July 2017

Our Sunday

Sundays feel different here, I guess they always have, but the reality of it is that Sunday is just another day. There are no weekends when you work every day. But instead of painting that as being drudgery, you know as well as I do, that this lifestyle, even on its worst day, is far from drudgery. So yesterday, our Sunday, I was up early, read the overnight news and watched my two favourite live streams. Yes, in addition to the bears in Alaska, for the past couple of weeks, I've been visiting the interesting and lovely sheep and turkey barns at Sanctuary Farm in Watkins Glen, New York.

The farm has been running since 1986 and provides a safe and comfortable life for farm animal that have been rescued from unethical factory farm practices. They have sheep, goats, cows, alpacas, chooks, turkeys and pigs. I know many children read here with their parents so I've been watching silently for a couple of weeks to make sure there was nothing that would upset them. I'm happy to report the farm is run by gentle and kind staff who seem to genuinely care for the animals they tend. I watched one staff member administer medication to a number of animals before the gates were opened and there is a goat with paralysed back legs who is attached to a wheeled walker. Many of the animals are housed in large barns with straw-covered floors at night and are let out to enjoy the sun and pasture during the day. It's easy to spend 15 minutes there drinking tea while thinking about the internet and the power of the many good people in the world.

Back in the physical world, Jamie arrived around 7.30am, Hanno cooked his favourite breakfast of baked beans and an egg with a cuppa, while I wandered outside looking at the bush house wondering if it would be the day I actually tidied it up. I cut back a few wild plants and selected some pots I'd plant into later in the day.  Gracie was outside, the chooks were let out, the sun was shining and all was right in my world. I went back inside to wait until the temperature rose above 9 degrees.  Brrrrr  ⛄️

On Saturday I made a really delicious soup. I slow-cooked some marrow bones, parsley, thyme and bay leaves for 18 hours and in a separate 9 litre pot cooked 1½ cups of barley and cubed gravy beef. In the food processor, I roughly chopped onions, carrots, parsnip, turnip and celery and added it to the half-cooked beef and barley. Then I added my seasonings - 2 tablespoons miso, 2 tablespoons Worcester sauce, 1 tablespoon paprika, salt and pepper. Then I added the stock from the slow cooker to the pot, topped it up with water and put the lid on to slowly simmer for another two hours. It was one of my best soups ever. We had it again for yesterday's lunch and I added herb dumplings then because I had the extra space in the pot. Fresh local strawberries and cream followed and all of us agreed, it was a very good lunch.

I wanted to bake something that Jamie likes so he could take a few home to share as well as take to school next week.  Having a Swedish grandma, cinnamon rolls are one of our traditional family foods.  I don't make them often, maybe once a year, but when they're sitting on the kitchen bench, the smell is divine and it just calls out for tea to be made. Immediately. We had a roll each for afternoon tea while we watched Grace run around the front yard filling her eyebrows and beard with weed seeds.  Pffft.

I'm looking forward to the coming week. The only plans I have are for a haircut on Wednesday and then to travel over to see Kerry at his new sushi shop to wish him a very happy birthday. I might just take some cupcakes with me for him and his staff to have with coffee when they have a break.  The rest of the week I'll be gardening, saving seeds, tying up tomatoes, tidying the bush house (maybe), cooking and knitting.  It's still cold here so our food will continue to be hearty and warm. I've planned a pork rack on our little charcoal grill during the week and Hanno has already asked for another tray of cinnamon rolls.

What are your plans for the week?


21 July 2017

Weekend reading

Gracie, our beautiful Scotch Terrier, will be one year old soon. It seems like only yesterday when we picked her up from the airport after she flew up from a farm in New South Wales. She's really keeping us on our toes because like all Scotties, she's devilish, independent and intelligent. She runs through the house, skidding on the floor and crashing  into doors and walls when she turns a corner. But late at night and early in the morning, when she's sleepy and quiet, she's like a tiny baby who just wants her bed and a cuddle.

Yesterday, the groomer came to wash, clip and fluff Gracie. She doesn't mind being washed, or the hair dryer, but she yelped when she had her nails clipped.  After the groomer left, Gracie didn't talk to us and she refused to come inside. A few hours later, when it was getting dark and cold, she relented and slowly walked in. We've returned to normal - for now. 

Thanks for your interesting comments this week and for the support and encouragement you give me and your fellow readers. I'll be back again early next week, I hope to see you again.  Have a lovely weekend.  

Understanding Cat Tail Talk

19 July 2017

How to substitute potatoes

Potatoes are a very popular vegetable in Australia. Those of us of European descent who cook our traditional family food often use potatoes in the food we cook and there are many potato-based foods that are commonly known, not just here in Australia, but in many other countries too.  I'm thinking of mashed potatoes, potato salad, hot chips, baked potatoes, potato bake, colcannon, potato and leek soup, wedges, frittata, shepherd's pie, cottage pie, fish pie, potato pancakes and many others. Surprisingly, to me at least, China is the world's largest producer of potatoes. The top five producers are China, India, Russia, Ukraine, USA. We grow very good potatoes in Australia, and a lot of home gardeners plant them every year, but Australia isn't in the top 25 potato-producing countries.

There was a time not too long ago when we used to grow a lot of potatoes.  Like many home grown vegetables, they taste much better fresh and just out of the ground.

Potatoes are one of the "good carbs" so they're frequently featured in family meals as a side dish, as a ingredient in frittata, salad or soup, or they're the main feature in vegetarian and vegan food. But one of the problems with this popular vegetable is that it's subject to price fluctuations because they're susceptible to rot after prolonged rain and prone to quite a few diseases. I thought it might be helpful for all of us, especially younger and new cooks, to discuss how we can replace potatoes with other common foods. After all, our job as homemakers is to not only cook nourishing food when we have all the ingredients we want but also when times are tough or we need to substitute ingredients to stay on budget. Don't forget to have packs of rice, pasta, polenta or couscous in your pantry. They'll sit there on stand by for a few months and you'll know you have that backup should you need it.

A sweet potato putting on shoots before being cut into chunks ready for planting.

 Purple sweet potato above, orange sweet potato pie topping below.

Sweet potato is the easiest replacement vegetable when potatoes are too expensive. You can mash, bake, or fry them and I think that they could easily slip in to replace potatoes in almost every potato dish. I prefer sweet potato as a pie topping and as a baked vegetable. If you have some room in your backyard, sweet potatoes are fairly easy to grow and usually produce an abundant crop.

Rice and salmon salad

Rice and pasta are obvious potato replacements in stews, curries, soup and salads. Both can be served in a stew or soup or on the side of a curry or stew. Rice salad and pasta salad, made with a variety of vegetables, is a good substitute for potato salad.

Dumplings are also great in a stew or soup if you don't have potatoes or are saving them for the Sunday roast.  They're easy to make, being very much like scone dough. Make them up about ½ hour before your stew or soup will be served.

Beef stew and herb dumplings.

  • 65g cold butter, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups self-raising flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chives or green onion tops, chopped
  • 150 mls milk or cold water
Rub the cold butter into the flour with your finger tips so they look like course breadcrumbs. Add the salt, pepper and herbs and mix to combine. Add the milk or water and make into a dough. Divide the dough into 6-8 small balls, remember, they'll puff up when cooked, and place the balls on top of the simmering stew or soup. Put the lid on the saucepan. They'll be cooked in about 20 - 30 minutes.

Sweet potato, pumpkin or any root vegetable can be added to frittata.

Polenta can be fried, grilled, baked or creamy. Creamy polenta is an excellent replacement for mashed potatoes so it can also be used as a pie topper. Simply make it up according to the instructions on the packet. When making creamy polenta you'd add butter and cheese to the final product, if you want to fry or grill the polenta, make it up according to the instructions, pour it into a flat tray with sides and refrigerate overnight.  The following day it will be set and can be cut into chips or squares for frying or grilling.

Couscous can be used to add texture to a thick soup.

Couscous can be used in salads, with curries or stews, with roast meats, as thickeners in soups and stews, as part of a stuffing for poultry or vegetables or as the starch component in fish cakes or meatloaf.  Homemade breadcrumbs can also be used to bind fish cakes and meatloaf so never throw out your stale bread.

So now it's over to you. I'd love to know what you replace potatoes with when you don't have any or want to save them for something else. 🥔


18 July 2017

Ecoyarns sale a success

The weekend 10 percent discount sale at Ecoyarns for Down to Earth readers was very successful. Salihan at Ecoyarns asked me to pass on her thanks to you all. She said there were many first time customers and plenty of hemp and cotton was sold.  

I'm sure your dishcloths will be fabulous. If you post photos of your dishcloths on your own blogs, let me know so we can all have a look.  

17 July 2017

Checking our electricity usage

We've been busy here the past week or so. We had plumbers in looking at an ongoing problem, which they finally fixed. A few visitors dropped by and Hanno and I had lunch with the lovely Nannachel  and her son last Thursday. I took advantage of the Down to Earth get-together at Caloundra on Saturday to declutter and sent some of my knitting, crochet and simple living books on to people who would use them. On Friday we found a worker on Airtasker to help us in the garden and clean up the mess after Hanno pulled down the wisteria arbour. The garden is looking good now and in a couple of months time, I'll take a photo of what they did.  At the moment it's very small tube stock, pine bark mulch and little else.

 This was my favourite little knitting book which is now in someone else's library.

Yesterday we met some of our family for lunch at the Cooroy Hotel, about an hour north of here, to  celebrate Shane and Alex's birthdays. Jens and Cathy have just returned from two months in Europe so I enjoyed seeing everyone and catching up with the news. Jamie had a wonderful time with his cousins and I was reminded, again, of how fast they're all growing up.

I gave Gracie a bone to chew on while we were away. She loves bones and protects them like a baby, even when all the meat has been eaten.  She sometimes buries them or hides them in her little outdoor house. But when we came home yesterday after our lunch, the picture below will tell the story.

And the culprit was ...

Now we have a few weeks ahead with no appointments or visitors so the gate will remain shut for a while. Hanno and I will be actively relaxing, gardening and wandering slowly around our yard, while we carry on with getting the garden how we want it, before the hot weather starts again.  I have a few plants to pot up and some to repot, as well as mulching and tidying the bush house. There is still a bit of not so heavy work in the vegetable garden and I'm looking forward to that.  I'm pleased to tell you I picked the first of our large tomatoes on Saturday.  They're still green but starting to turn pink and they'll continue to ripen in the kitchen.

Last week in the comments, Dollie White asked if our electricity usage had increased since we bought our dishwasher two years ago.  I didn't know and had to look it up. Generally our electricity usage is below average. In the year before we installed the dishwasher, and since, we registered:
  • June 2014 - 6.2 kW
  • Sept 2014 - 8.8 kW
  • March 2015 - 8.2 kW
  • June 2015 - 7.7 kW
New dishwasher in July 2015
  • Sept 2015 - 10.21 kW
  • Nov 2015  - 8.81 kW
  • Feb 2016 - 8.22 kW
  • June 2016 - 6.77 kW
  • Nov 2016 - 7.89 kW
  • Feb 2017 - 10.72 kW
  • June 2017 - 8.08 kW
Dollie, as you can see, we had a slight spike when we changed service providers and again at the beginning of this year when we had a long hot summer, but otherwise our usage remained the same.

We have a solar hot water unit and solar panels which earn us between $70 and $80 per quarter. We use our washing machine and dishwasher at night when the rate is cheaper and we always turn off lights and appliances we're not using.

I think we spent wisely buying an energy efficient Miele dishwasher.  I'm glad we invested our money that way because even though electricity costs have risen quite a lot in the past couple of years, the two of us (and many visitors) are still consuming less that the average for one person, which is 10 kW in this area.

What is your power bill like?  


13 July 2017

Open weave cotton dish cloths

I used to be known as a bit of a dish cloth obsessive.  If the real truth is known, I still am. 🙂 How can you not love something you can make yourself in a few hours, that can be used over and over again, is easy to wash and dry and can help you with your daily household tasks.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking about our friend, the knitted cotton dish cloth.

When I started knitting these many years ago, I used whatever needles where suitable for the cotton I was using. Now I use oversize needles because it produces an open weave instead of a tight weave. I believe open weave cloths are better because they often dry out between use, if I hang them on the tap, and that means it's harder for bacteria to build up in the cloth. Bacteria need moisture to multiply and if you've got a constantly moist dish cloth, the bacteria are probably multiplying.  This happens on all dish cloths, sponges and scrubbers. The combination of water and food is an open invitation to bacteria. 

Dishcloths need to be washed regularly. Sometimes I do mine daily, sometimes every second day and every so often, I soak all of them in oxy bleach. I hang them over the side of the laundry basket until I'm ready to wash them in cold water and homemade laundry liquid, then they hang in the sun to dry. The open weave allows the sun to hit more of the yarn as it dries. Line drying cloths in the sun helps disinfect, bleach and deodorise them. When they are placed back in the kitchen drawer, they're germ-free and ready to rock and roll. I don't use dish cloths to clean up any floor mess. When I have floor spills, grease or burnt food, I clean up with my recycled cotton rags.

Below: A closeup of the cloth above made using 15mm needles.

I don't use microfibre cloths anymore because it's been discovered they are the biggest pollutant in our oceans.  Read the report here.  Every time microfibre is washed, thousands of microscopic threads go down the drain and often end up in the ocean. It's killing marine life.

I like to knit in garter stitch - just plain knitting, repeated every row until I reach the size I want the cloth to be. It's the easiest stitch, it gives a good texture for cleaning and I can motor away, knitting these cloths while I'm talking to people or watching TV.  How to knit garter stitch.    If you'd prefer to knit a more complicated pattern look at these: Dish cloth knitting patterns. I hope you feel encouraged to try knitting these. It doesn't matter if you make a couple of mistakes, I know that with each dishcloth you knit, you'll improve.

The only difference in the knitting now is that I use larger needles and that creates the open weave.  For example, all the photos here today are cloths knitted on needles larger than those recommended for the yarn. The red cloth that I cast on in the car the other day is 8ply organic cotton from Eco Yarns on 5.5mm needles. You can't see it in the photo but when you hold it up, you can see through the cloth.  The brown and pink cloths are 8ply from Spotlight on size 10mm needles. The green and white cloth is a 5ply organic Japanese cotton from Eco Yarns which is not stocked now. I used size 15mm needles for that cloth and knit using one strand of green and one of white. 

Knitted dish cloths are the fibre equivalent of our homemade laundry liquid.  Both only take a short amount of time to make up, you do it every few months to top up your supplies, they save a lot of money, are environmentally friendly and a pleasure to use. If you haven't tried making your own dish cloths yet, take the plunge now and see how you go with it.  I think you'll like them.

ADDED LATER:  I just received an email from Salihan at EcoYarns.  When she read I was doing a post about dishcloths she organised a special sale for us.  

The discount code to use is DISHCLOTH and it will give D2E readers 10% off the following dishcloth (and facecloth) friendly yarns. The discount code will expire on Sunday night (16 July):

Eco-Organic Cotton Virtues:
(highly recommended as it very durable, naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal)


11 July 2017

Working on the basics - gardening, food and knitting

We're in the middle of our winter work at the moment.  Now that we're older, it's easier to do most of our garden and outdoor maintenance while the weather is cooler. This year that's meant replacing the wisteria and rose arbour in the front yard which was about to collapse.  It's been up for 20 years so we got our money's worth out of it.  Hanno waited until the wisteria shed its leaves and cut it back along with the Cecile Brunner rose that stands on the opposite side. When this arrangement is in full flower, we had a delightful mix of green foliage, curly tendrils, pale mauve flowers and tiny pink roses dotted throughout.  But now that it's all down, the wisteria and rose are just stumps in the ground, I'm wondering if we should erect another wooden arbour, buy a metal one or leave it open.  I think I'll have to look at the space for a few more days before I know which is best.

Along with that work, which has all been done by Hanno, we're renovating the driveway garden. I found a online business near here with tube stock of native Australian and exotic plants.  I put in an order on the weekend and instead of it costing a lot of money for established plants, we can plant up the entire driveway garden for under a hundred dollars.  We'll add a soaker hose to get them established, pour on some mulch and that area should look good and keep improving while the plants grow and fill in the spaces.

Out the back the vegetables are still motoring along in this fairly mild winter. Gardening is a bit of a gamble at times and often, at the beginning of a season, you have to flip a coin to decide whether to take a risk on certain plants.  We usually plant out tomatoes a couple of months later but the coin flip paid off this time. Had there been a harder winter, I wouldn't be waiting for tomatoes to ripen as I am now.  I had the first cherry tomatoes during the week and I can hardly wait for those larger Rouge de Marmande, a French heirloom, to be ready for our sandwiches.

I'm making vegetable and beef soup today and will probably make a few tiny herb dumplings to go with it. I doubt there has been a winter in my life when I didn't have this soup bubbling away on the stove. During the week we also had little cherry cakes, corned beef and cabbage, and sushi that Sunny sent over.  All of it was delicious. What have you been cooking?

I wonder if you take your knitting with you when you go out. :- )  Below is the view from the car park when I looked up. 

I took Hanno to his eye specialist this morning. He can't drive after the consultation because of the eye drops they use.  I didn't go in, just sat in the car and started casting on another dishcloth.  I'll do another post on dishcloths on Thursday so we can discuss the pros and cons of open weave cloths.  I love them and hope to convince you of their worth. So until then, happy knitting and gardening.  🤓

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