Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Winter Kitchen Witchery

Shanti settles into a wooden seedling box when I turn my back ..
She likes to be near to our gardening activities,
even though cats are supposedly loners!  "A Cat- Alone-Near"
Help has arrived
Since my last post, our Catalonia Helpexchange friends breezed into our home and within 4 days had made HUGE inroads into the green carpet of weeds blanketing our bare ground.  They managed to fill one compost bin and there is a pile about a metre squared, of weeds sitting in a heap in front of the bin, awaiting bin space!!  What a pleasant way to garden - open up your home, make friends, extend a warm hand of hospitality and Voila!  The work gets done!  Truly the answer to Backyard Tension!  I also learned a little more of the world - Catalonia is an area in Spain, where they have their own national identity, language and culture.  

Early Spring has sprung in our garden - 2 months early!
Daffies provide a welcome sight on a cold dismal day.
Super Saurkraut

I have been struck by the dreaded 'lergy, no voice (the tool of my trade as a kindy teacher), so have had to take a couple more days off to rest up and restore the voicebox.  It has afforded me the time to make some sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) last night.  Easy-as to make - finely chop up fresh cabbage and then layer it in a ceramic jar, with liberal sprinkles of natural sea salt in between.  I have a little cedar wooden stick that I use to pound each layer with.  When complete, I wash my 3 beautiful round stones from a childhood beach in Africa, which I use as weights to weigh down the shredded cabbage.  By morning, I was rewarded with the welling up of the natural cabbage liquid.  Over the next 5 weeks I will be skimming the foamy scum that develops on top of the liquid until it develops a sourish smell.  Hallelujah, this then signifies the end result - a batch of beautiful naturally fermented pickles which can be bottled and stored for later use.  Delicious, and naturally good for health!  Natural lactic acid ferments support proper digestion, aid in nutrient absorption, contribute to healthy metabolic function, and inhibit harmful microbes in the intestinal system. But wait, there's more.......... this pickled cabbage supports the growth of essential intestinal flora, normalizes acid levels in the stomach, helps the body to assimilate proteins and iron, and stimulates cell metabolism!  Much nicer than the acidic vinegar pickles we have become acquainted with in supermarkets!

Finely chop cabbage

Add salt between layers and pound with wooden stick

Trail Mix or Munchin'
On the weekend I made a big batch of home-made trail mix.  Again, I like Simple.  My motto is KISS - Keep It Simple Sweetheart!  If it's complicated, it has no place in my life. 
 My trail mix consists of (Ceres organic products, where possible) :
  • a cup of brazil nuts, chopped
  • a cup of almonds, chopped
  • cup of sunflower seeds
  • half cup of pumpkin seeds
  • quarter cup chocolate pieces
  • cup sultanas
  • half cup raw peanuts
  • half cup dates, chopped
  • quarter cup chopped dried apricots
  • quarter cup course curley coconut pieces
Of course, all the above are only a guide of sorts - add or take away any ingredients - any nuts and dried fruits will do.  A much healthier and tastier snack than store-bought and you can cater to your individual taste!  I threw in some dried cranberries too, for a little sweet- sourish hint.  I have to hide it from the teens - they can eat a cupful in one sitting and then some!
My Munchin' (or Scroggin' as it's referred to)
Herb Salt
So these wintery days of ours are not so much spent toiling away in the backyard, but much time is spent in the kitchen, much to the delight of the family!  I have a great little quick trick to make herb salt, super fast and super cheap and super healthy!!  Take one cup of true sea salt (either Himalayan Rock Crystal salt or Celtic - I use Ceres Sea Salt, which has the trademark greyish look of unwashed, fully nutrient-potent salt) and blend it in the blender with 2 cups of dried herbs from the garden (I use basil, thyme, rosemary, parsely and a touch of sage).  Pour into salt cellars and label.  Costs next to nothing while a small pottle of Organic Rapunzel Herb Salt would normally have cost me up to $6!  Go figure!

Mike (Sustainable Husband) makes about 6 pottles of organic hoummous every two weeks, perhaps I will share his Secret Recipe one day (everything becomes his very own Secret Recipe, even if I taught him!!).  It saves us heaps as we LOOOOVE hoummous.  Or Hummus as some people spell it.
I will end this post with a pic of our pickles and preserves - we make all our own, and NEVER purchase a jar of jam, chutney or gherkins.  The joys of Self Sufficiency.  It enables us to save up for a mid-winter tropical getaway holiday.  Roll on Rarotonga.................

Some of our home preserves.....

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Winter Solstice

Ahh, yes, the life of a cat!  Shanti Shakti Shiva spends much of her day and night in such supine positions.  I try hard to follow her example (not that her pursuits change much during the other seasons of the year) during Winter but alas!  Everywhere I look, there is work to be done.  Inside and outside!  Why oh why does dust never rest or even weeds, for that matter??

The last blog I wrote about sustainable-down-under was obviously not to everyone's comfort - however, I would like to add that after having tested the Lunar Pads, I can truly say that they work, don't leak, are comfortable, are not too gruesome to clean and now I will be making more, since they have passed the test with flying colours!  Wish I had stumbled on this idea much much earlier, would have saved a small fortune and not left a huge pile of waste in the landfill on my behalf.  Anyway, thought I better add an after-note on that matter.  Today is the Winter Solstice - the Shortest Day.  Hooray - things can only go from dark to light from now on in!  Bring it on!

Moving right along, there has been not too much happening in our little garden, other than harvesting the usuals - mandarins, the last of the persimmons and cherry guavas (sob!!), potatoes, jerusalem artichokes, the ever-productive chillies, chard and kale leaves and not much else.  The new banana bunches have been bagged in preference of age; we have 6 new bunches, and I have made 3 clear plastic bags to wrap them up in, to increase the heat levels - kinda like a mini hothouse for 3 of the oldest bunches. 

Gee, it is amazing how the universe provides exactly what we need!  I had taken the day off of kindy, on account of not having a voice (instrument of instruction).  So I was sitting here in the lovely sunshine, blogging away, thinking of the next moves in the garden, and how wonderful it would be to have a little help.  The phone rings and it is 2 young Spanish travellers looking for helpexchange - bed and food in exchange for help!!  They will arrive in less than an hour!  One just never knows what each day will bring!  At last, some help with the weeds.  And maybe the dust too!

One thing I like to keep brewing in the kitchen at this time is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV).  To make it is soooo easy!  Take a big jar (ceramic one would be preferable) - I use a glass one.  Fill it 3/4 full of filtered water and then start to add the apple cores that you would normally discard after eating.

Apple cider vinegar brewing
As the apples grow a little mushy after 3-5 days, you want to remove them, while still adding fresh ones.  Spoon-remove the froth and scum that appears on the surface each day.  Slowly, over 5-7 weeks, the water infuses the apples and fructose and changes to a beautiful golden colour.  The smell is a good indicator of what we are trying to achieve as you can smell the acidic fumes of vinegar!  I am always amazed by the growth of skin - a jelly-like layer which connects all the apple cores together which forms after some weeks.  Remove this and eat, don't throw it away - it tastes like coconut gel, with a strong vinegar taste (great for health).  I always think of it as the apples trying to replicate themselves and growing this incredible apple cider layer!

The ACV "skin"

Apple cider vinegar has incredible health giving properties and is a powerful cleansing and healing elixir.  It can be drunk before a meal, to help with digestion (1/2 teaspoon in a half glass warm water).  It is an antiseptic healing agent for sore throats, disinfecting wounds, helps arthritis, improves skin condition, helps cleanse the colon etc. etc.  The list is so long I would hate for anyone to get skeptical...... just drink it and see and feel the difference!  And better still, if you brew your own, it costs nothing but time!
Ka kite ano!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Backyard Eco- inventions

Josephine, backyard garden sprite in need of new wardrobe

Josephine has had several incarnations.  And several model upgrades in order to make her "work".  Well, really, her work is guarding the garden from evil forces.  So she really does nothing with the birds.  They forage at her feet, without fear.  I see  her from my kitchen window and she always brings a little glamour and colour to even the most dismal of days.  Her dress was a vivid bright red hue last year but alas, all these days of rain and shine have taken their toll.  Her hair has all but been blown away in the heavy storms we have recently experienced.  She is definitely due for a make-over in Spring!  Watch this space.......

A fruit picker, for those hard to reach top branches.
This was inspired by an article in an old gardening magazine.  It is made from an old tin can, with a little "V" cut into the side with a metal secateur.  Then it is duct-taped onto an old broom stick handle and a little padding placed in the bottom of the can to prevent damage to the fruit.  Works a charm.  This is actually the upgraded, painted model which I made for a friend.  My first prototype still boasts it's olive paper surround and is great for picking tree-top mandarins and figs.

Now for another "backyard invention" - for females.  Us ladies contribute to hundreds of tonnes of cotton sanitary waste bound for landfill sites every day.  So being the Greenie that I aspire to be, I decided to do a little online research and wow!  There are a lot of women out there sharing their expertise on making "moon pads" or re-usable sanitary pads. Just google "how to make lunar sanitary pad" and there are a host of "how to" videos for guidance.  So I gave it a go and the photos below document the journey into menstrual sustainability.  Ever wondered why the masculine derivative of something so intensely feminine?  Menstruation; menopause.............. why not womenstruation?  Or women-o-pause?  Odd.  Wonder if the words were invented by a male?
 I must confess that I have not yet given the moon pads a go yet, so I cannot vouch for their efficacy, however, I have tried them out and they seem to fit neatly and easily into cotton briefs.  For those of you who don't own a sewing machine or can't thread a needle, then you can buy moon pads online at  http://www.etsy.com/shop/epicerma
Firstly, cut around a disposable pad to get the right shape.
Then cut out a "liner inse" shape - I cut 7 layers altogether -
1 of terrycloth (old towel), 5 of an old winter sheet, and 1 of
a nylon fabric (leftover from making wind sock kites)

The seven layers which are then zig-zagged together.

An old pair of pyjama pants make the perfect outer layer material.
Cut out the pad outline, I extended the wings a bit so they can
meet in the middle of the crotch of a pair of undies.

Place the zig-zagged insert into the inside of the pad shape and attach
Sew the pad together, right sides together, leaving an opening at one
side so you can turn it inside out.

Fold the open end inside and sew a line of stitching all around
and one or two lines of stitching around the insert.  Add popper
press-studs or similar closing option

The finished Moon Pads.  Awaiting trial.................  I made 6
over the course of a wet day.  If they work, I shall make another 6.
So backyard sustainability inventions are definitely alive and well in my life.  Talking of backyards, I have discovered a really exciting website called OOOOBY (Out Of Our Own Back Yard).  Check it out on  http://ooooby.ning.com/   It connects like-minded people together, with mini locality groups, discussion forums and ideas and resource sharing.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Creating Sustainability and Diversity

Since beginning my studies about Organic Horticulture, I am learning about the two biggies:  Sustainability and Diversity.  This forces me to think of my own organic practices and how they fit in with these ideas......  Here's the first little gem:

Trusty little Masport Mulcher
I have been pruning by the Lunar Calender over the last couple of weekends.  Boy, what a mess a pair of secateurs,  big loppers and a little handy-dandy pruning saw can make!  Piles and piles of mess.  Everywhere I look behind me, huge pyramids of  tree fallout!  So this little guy above is the little tireless muncher who helps us create that protective mulched mantle over our bare soil.  It is quite meditative (but fairly noisy) as you feed branch after pruned branch into it's ever hungry jaws.  It is a repetitive but highly rewarding job as streams of mulched vegetation drops out of it's bottom end.  This then ends up being spread across bare soil areas to suppress weed growth.  It also gradually breaks down and enriches the soil fertility.  Mega Awesome stuff!  Truly sustainable living practices, rather than throwing all the prunings away as many do.

Piles of feijoa prunings awaiting their destiny....

Pruning chaos soon turns into recycled order

Now getting to the diversity aspect, this refers to the amount of "different" species of insects, plants and soil life.    I saw this idea below in a magazine and immediately set about in my little garden shed, planning, hammering, sawing, glueing and figuring out this little insect abode, or more aptly named, Bug Motel.  It offers a variety of different spaces for different insects to move into the "apartment" of their choice.  As I have only hung my Bug Motel 3 weeks ago, no insect has yet taken me up on the offer of free accommodation.  But I wait with bated breathe....................
The Bug Motel, with standard single to luxurious deluxe double rooms.

We have just had the pleasure of a 3 day long weekend - why oh why, can we not have this every weekend?  Seems a much more balanced lifestyle to maintain.  I put the extra day to good use - sewing and working in the garden and kitchen, socializing and watching 2 good movies.  I harvested a big basket full of  Autumn/Winter cusp goodies - persimmons, bananas, potatoes, artichokes, limes, zuchini and of course, the ever prolific bell-like chillies! 
Weekend harvest

 I also made a batch of golden kiwifruit jam and then Mike and I swapped ear candling sessions to finish off the long weekend.  Such domestic bliss!  The ear candling sessions fall under the category: sustainability, I think!  Keeps us able to sustain the pace of living sustainability.  Actually, most every weekend, we try to swap some kind of treatment from massage, to reflexology, to Sound therapy, to Reiki, to hot stone massage.  A diversity of options, to sustain us.  Highly recommend it!