Monday, 27 August 2012

Strays and seed trays

Weeks blend into one another sometimes.  Not this one!  This week started with an interesting find in the garden!  The cutest little fluff-ball stray kitten!  After putting up a fierce struggle, my daughter managed to capture her.  After the initial cuddle, she realized that she was in safe hands and started up a roaring purr to compete with any Harley Davidson at full throttle!
A quick inquiry to the only possible owners and we knew that the kitt was not someone's dearly beloved pet, so after a warning that she could not stay longer than one night, she was taken up to our daughter's bedroom and given 5 Star Luxury treatment!  We discovered that she had been burnt on her tail, and that she obviously had cat flu - she was sneezing and had gummy eyes which we washed frequently with salt water (saline).  

Skyla was taken to Waihi SPCA the next afternoon and we bade her a teary farewell.  They were surprised to find a kitten at this time of the year.  My daughter had lost her heart and I felt terrible not offering to keep her (one crazy cat is enough!).  Good old Facebook!  No sooner home when my daughter posted pics of the kitten and immediately someone offered to adopt her from the SPCA as soon as she has a clean bill of health!  One happy ending to this little scrap of Purr.
Skyla, the Stray Pussycat
On Saturday, I decided that we need to prepare our beds for Spring planting, so as Mike was away in Wellington, I managed to devote myself entirely to All Things Garden.  Bed number 4's carrots were plucked unceremoniously out of the ground to prepare for the arrival of the Chook Tractor.  Our carrots were very successful this winter, and they are so crunchy and sweet, unlike the bitter carrots available from the supermarket.


After carrots were removed.
My daughter and I heaved the chook tractor onto the newly harvested bed, but not before we had caught them and put them in individual chicken wire cages in the garden.  I left some brassica seedlings and sugar beets in the ground for them to eat.

Chook Tractor in place, with new bedding in the sleeping quarters

Bed 7, which the chooks have been living on for 2 weeks.

I raked up the remnants of feeding sprees to put in the  compost bin. Then I added some coffee grounds, rock dust, wood ash and topped it with a layer of new compost.  I laid some old windbreak netting over it to stop the birds from having a scratch around.  It will be ready as soon as my little Spring seedlings grow up.

Spence foraging in her little movable chicken wire cage.

Mid morning snack - newly harvested carrot!
A neighbour complained that our chooks were attracting pesky sparrows which were feeding on the chook food, and that we should put poisoned food out for them as they were a nuisance pooping on his porch!  Mike came up with a suggestion that I create a skirt around the chook tractor, using inner tyre tubes.  As we already had a pair on hand, I set about cutting diagonal strips and then stapling them onto the bottom of the chook cage.  What we now have is a sparrow-proof chook house!  The sparrows are getting rather frustrated as they cannot get in to steal the food and fly around in a frenzy! Foiled!  Hoodwinked!  At no cost!  And it should hopefully keep the neighbour happy.

The new "skirt" on the chook cage
Liz and Spence, our chooks, will be on their new bed for 2 weeks before moving to the next bed, in preparation for all the lovely spring plantings!  By the way, the real Liz and Spence, after whom our chooks were named,  got married in July and are on their honeymoon somewhere in Thailand!!

Working with the Lunar Calendar, it was time to plant, so I couldn't wait for the day to warm up a little (the shed is quite cold) so I could set about doing my sowing of seeds.  Such excitement - Spring is in the air and the weather on Saturday was like a lucky charm!  A taste of things to come perhaps!!  I marched off to the shed, armed with seed packets, wooden ice-cream sticks for labels, pencil, flask of chai tea and I was set for a mammoth seed planting mission.  With my solar-powered radio to remind me of the music that has filled my life and created memories in the grooves of my mind, I passed the rest of the morning happily seeding and labeling trays of seeds.  The sight of them holds the hopes and expectations of many a fine summer meal!

Tools of the Trade

Getting started......

All my seed trays in a large recycled grape box makes for easy carrying
My seed trays are all sitting on my lounge floor in the sun.  I can't take the risk of them being in the hothouse (which is unheated) and subjected to possible unexpected Spring frosts!   

Now, I just sit and watch and wait.............  

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Mammoth Marmalading Moment

Marvellous Marmalade!
A wonderful balanced weekend!  Plenty outdoor gardening activities, as well as indoor preserving tasks completed!  A sense of completion and satisfaction!

While Mike dissembled our rickety wood store, halving it's size, I was able to make the most of the drier weather and do some weeding tasks, planting out of a few flowering perennials and change the chook bedding.  They can be little buggers at times!  Like this morning, waking me at 6.30am with squarking and shrieking!  I hastily ran downstairs in a Sunday-sleep-fog, still in my pj's, grabbing food for them and rushing outdoors with no regard for the icey cold or my warm feet.  My main mission, "shut them up" before the neighbours complain.  Chucking the food inside, I rushed back inside, rubbed my wet feet dry and jumped back into bed.  Thank goodness for warm-morning hotwater bottles...... As I thankfully started to drift off to sleep again, they started up outside again. 
 "Not good enough" they skrarked!  We want more fresh greens!"
At that point, if I were not a confirmed vegetarian, I could gladly have wrung their scrawny little necks and put them in the crock pot for dinner!!
Mike, the early riser, headed off to collect fresh farm milk this morning, kindly went out and fed them handsful of greens to keep them quiet.  We happen to be in the very odd situation of having not 3 but 5 neighbours!  So keeping them all happy is of paramount importance!  One disgruntled neighbour has already complained that our chooks are attracting hungry little house sparrows, which then come over to his porch and poop all over his chairs, forcing him to have to hose down his porch!  Oh dear!

Chook treats: snails, problem is, they want constant treats!!
Back to kitchen activities on Saturday, I managed to make 9 bottles of beautiful marmalade (how do I know?  Coz' we taste-tested it this morning, on home-made toasted bread!).  Half-way through marmalade making, I had a "Northern Lights" experience, which may be the fore-runner of a migraine, though it never really comes to that, but my vision blurs and I get flashing lights in my eyes.  First time it happened was after a dentist appointment and I thought I was tripping out on the injection used to deaden a tooth!!  Anyway, Mike was called on to stir the rapidly boiling marmalade till it reached setting point.  I retreated to have a Zen Chi machine moment and hoped that the "trippy moment" would pass.  From the kitchen, there erupted many a fine French expletive and yelling, as Mike discovered the dangers of hot marmalade which sputs and spurts everywhere!
Luckily my Northern Lights diminished and I was able to take over the bottling part!  Mike was nursing several burns from scalding fruity larva!

3 grapefruits and lemons, and one small orange and lime

Small cotton bag to hold seeds - pectin to bind marmalade.

Boiling the citrus, with seed bag to the side.

3 large firm grapefruits, cubed, seeds reserved
3 large, firm lemons, sliced thinly, seeds reserved
6 cups water
about 6 cups sugar

Put all fruit and juice in a bowl and cover with water.  Place seeds in small cotton bag and add to bowl.  Leave to stand, covered overnight.  Transfer to jam pan and cook over medium heat until grapefruit skin is soft and half the liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour.  Remove and discard the cotton bag.  Measure the pulp and return it to pot.  Add 1 cup sugar per cup pulp.  Boil till sugar dissolves, turn up heat and boil rapidly until setting point it reached, about 30 mins.  
Remove from heat, stir to distribute fruit and ladle into warm sterile jars and seal.
Makes about 8 cups.

(I added one lime and 1 orange, and used 2 cups less sugar than required.  I also buzzed the marmalade with my hand-held blender to create a smoother texture, with some course peel in it.)


1. Take one 800ml yoghurt, add 1 tsp salt and stir.

2.  Pour into a muslin/cotton lined sieve, over a bowl to catch the whey.  Leave to drain overnight.

3.  Next morning, turf out the collected solids into a bowl.

4.  Add extra salt if required, and herbs of choice.  Mix together
 and enjoy.

In my Mammoth Kitchen Session, I managed to make bread (in the bread maker) and pumpkin, cauli and cashew nut soup (an experiment which would be good to repeat) for our evening meal.  I also made Dijon Mustard and cream cheese which needs to sit overnight, so this morning, I could bottle the mustard and add chopped herbs to the cream cheese, which we shall enjoy for lunch, with freshly made bread.  I googled a recipe for eggless coconut macaroons, which I rustled up for morning tea this morning, however, the recipe called for stevia and I only have the green leaf variety, so they came out resembling dope cookies.  Not a recipe I shall repeat again.

Preparing to bottle the mustard, with a cut-off plastic bottle
top to perform as an easy-filling funnel.

Mustard, bottled, labelled and ready to sit and mature for one month.
 250g white mustard seeds (I added a mix of white and black)
1 1/4 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tbspn honey
1 Tbspn salt

Grind mustard seeds in a coffee grinder, place in bowl and stir in vinegar.  Stir in remaining honey and salt.  Cover bowl with a dishcloth and leave overnight.  Check consistency in morning, adding more vinegar if needed.  (I added 1 Tbspn ground linseeds to thicken)   Spoon into clean jars and seal.  The mustard will keep in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months.  It is ready to use after one month.  
Makes about 2 cups.

Trusty coffee grinder was bought in a second hand store for $10.

My dope-looking coconut macaroons!!  Not pretty!
Finding this choko in the back of my kitchen cupboard, it was an obvious
choice to plant it out in the garden. Choko-pickle, here we come!
My very own organic fertiliser.
The planting window begins on Tuesday, so in anticipation, I shall spend this rainy day preparing some seed trays with potting mix, so I can fly with my seed sowing next weekend.  I love this lunar window!  I have been experimenting with making a "solid" organic fertiliser.  I used the 1,2,3 method.  1 cup rock dust, to 2 cups of ash from the fire, and 3 cups coffee grounds.  I massage it all together and then distribute handsful under trees and around the veggies.  I think it will work, let's wait and see...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Collective Good

One of my favourite paintings!  The collective good.
Each member of our family painted themselves about 8
years ago.  We worked on it together, jostling for space.
At the end of the project, once hung, my then 9 yr old daughter remarked:
"Dad, you painted yourself as an African.  Cam and I painted ourselves as cartoons and
Mum,  you painted yourself as a Maori!"  Glad my true colours show! 
On our journey of Sustainable Living Practices, one often has feelers out that draw us to like-minded people.  So when someone emailed me a link to a Permablitz event just down our road at Hugo and Carolyn Verhagen's place, I was like, "Bring it on!!"  I was really keen to be part of a group of like-minded people, all working collaboratively for the good of someone else!  So I signed up for the event and convinced Mike that it would be fun!  He grumbled a little about there being plenty of work in our own garden but somehow he became motivated to join us on an "adventure".  I know a little about Permaculture - in fact, my organic horticulture course had a module on it, requiring me to draw up a map of the garden and then superimpose the different zones onto it.  I could see where some obvious improvements could have been made to our garden design, but it wasn't a great big train smash, given that our garden is only about 600m2, not 4 acres or more!  So you can imagine my surprise when the host asked me to run a mini-workshop!  Oh dear!  I'm afraid I am not really an expert in Permaculture I said, even though we incorporate certain aspects within our gardening processes.  Our permaculture hosts came to visit and introduce themselves and we instantly knew that we spoke the same language.  A kinship.  Okay, so I could run a mini workshop on compost teas, which is not a specific element wholly and soley specific to Permaculture.
Saturday's carrot haul
 The day was set - Sunday 12 August. We have been having torrential downpours and flooding so I gathered up my compost tea demonstrating equipment (basic stuff!) in anticipation of possible rain.  Saturday arrived and the sun shone - Woohooo!  Mike and I toiled in our garden merrily, it seems like ages since the sun shone on a weekend!  Secretly, we scoffed how the weathermen often get it wrong, and that the forecast weather for Sunday would possibly also be a figment of their imaginations.  Saturday night came and the rain set in.  It poured, it gushed, it pounded and deluged!  I lay in bed in the wee small hours of Sunday morning while the rain beat a monotonous loud cacophony of torrential blitz on the roof.  I secretly hoped that it would be called off and was surprised when I got a call to tell me that it would still be going ahead, just one hour later.  Huh??  Kiwis are crazy, I thought!  
We opened up our first bottle of olives for tasting on the weekend
 I wanted  to weep with joy!  The flavour is total Mediterranean
 (says I, who have never ever been to the Med!)
Well, what I hadn't counted on, was Hugo's penchant for minute detailed planning.  He was keeping his eye on an hourly blow by blow weather forecast and we arrived at our hosts as the rain cleared!  20 or so workshop attendees all arrived, with gumboots, spades, wheelbarrows, gloves and an eagerness to get started!  I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the people, and an immediate feeling of kinship!  The ability to feel a part of a bigger force is an amazing experience.  We divided up into groups assigned to 3 different working parties and under the guidance of group leaders, worked on creating a series of concentric vegetable beds to mimic the round chook tractor that Hugo had built, creating a waterway and pond for the storm water from the downpipe in the front of the house, and planting an orchard on the peripherals of the small garden.

Work parties collaborating on design aspects
Hugo, a landscape designer by trade, is very well versed with running a project, so despite two small rain showers, he managed to inspire people and get them busy and involved.  His wife Carolyn had been busy all Saturday cooking up a culinary storm (while one brewed outside) and I am sure we were the best fed labourers this side of the Tasman!!

No payment necessary for this work party, other than some camaraderie,
 learning opportunities and a spectacular lunch!
I met people I would never have had the opportunity to meet in my daily routines, found kindred folk who shared my passion and desire to create an edible community park in our town and felt humbled by the group collectiveness of sharing skills, labour and tools!  (I learned the value of my sharpened spade vs a blunt one!!).

Time to move the chook tractor to it's new bed.
The idea behind the Permablitz is that other folk can put their names forward to benefit from a similiar working party, after attending 3 Permablitzes.  What a wonderful community strengthening activity.  It brings together collective intelligence, skill sets, expertise and manpower.  I LOVE IT!!

Lightweight frame can easily be moved by 2 people.
I won't be putting my hand up for a Permablitz myself, as our systems are already in place and work very well.  Why change what is working successfully?  We did talk about Permablitzing our Kati KaiWay though! Several workshop attendees have expressed an interest in viewing our garden as a working model.  Mike and I are only too happy to share with others...... after all, if some key people (Joe Polaischer) had not inspired us in the first place, we may have still been "Supermarket-Lifestylers".  This wonderful man left a HUGE legacy of knowledge and sharing of Permaculture ideas.  It is vital that we share these ideas with others.  In fact, I almost see it as our duty as kaitiaki o te whenua or  guardians of the Earth. 

I was amused by these giant chooks, compared to my teeny tiny bantam girls
A week ago, I got an email from Nick Ortner of EFT fame, and it began thus:
 "The day that you leave this planet,
how will you be remembered?  

Will you have lived, will you have
loved, will you have given beyond
yourself to the world? " 

Food for thought, really!  Let's share and make this world a better place for all!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Waste Management

Boring - waste management?  No, I am not talking diet!  Talking about the stuff we throw away!  This is fascinating stuff!
Living sustainably is not about deprivation.  Unless one intends to write a book or thesis about the challenge of living with zero waste, as many people have, for me, the challenge is about minimising our impact on the Earth.
Sustainable living is not about Doing Without, but rather about Living In Harmony.  Or living frugally.  It is about limiting our USELESS waste.  The stuff that ends in landfills.  
We all create waste, simply by living!  But the good news is that much of our waste can be dealt with by composting or recycling.

In other words:  FRUGALITY IS THE NEW WEALTH!  If you are living frugally, you are saving money, thereby creating more wealth to do other important things with - like assisting charitable organisations or saving for tropical holidays!  That I can dig!!

IN the Laundry
Commercial laundry detergents often say they are biodegradable but are they really??
One option to get value for money, AND help save the environment, is to use Soapnuts.  High in saponin (the foaming, cleaning factor), these nut trees are indigenous to India and were used for centuries, before commercial cleaners became available.  Pop 6-8 nut shells into a small calico bag, drip 3-4 drops essential oils of choice onto bag for a great natural fragrance, pop it into the wash and it's that easy!  The bag of nut shells can be re-used 6-8 times over, before being emptied into the compost bin.  No waste.
I am trialing growing a soapnut berry tree - 2 out of 5 seed trial attempts survived  and then the winter took it's toll on 1, so am left with just one healthy looking plant.  I will plant it out in a nice sheltered spot this spring and look forward to harvesting my own soapnut berries in 3-4 years.  The berries are lower in saponin, so can't be reused that often but a bonus is that the soapnut berry trees  are hardier than the soapnut trees.

IN the Toilet
On the toilet paper front, I have found this amazing product, delivered to the door - greencane paper, which is made from the pulp waste from the sugar cane industry, along with sustainable bamboo.  No tree loses it's life in the making of this toilet paper!  And the packaging is 100% biodegradable - we put our packaging in the compost bin, the toilet roll tubes make great fire lighters and the cardboard box outer it arrives in, is broken flat to form a weed suppressing garden pathway liner!  No waste at all!

Greencane Toilet Paper
ON Vaccuuming
A bagless vacuum cleaner is the answer to world tension!  No endless bags to be bought, which end up in the rubbish bin, just dust and fluff which can be emptied directly into the compost bin.
Good old 12yr old Dyson, still going strong!
IN the Kitchen
I admit to a caffeine addiction.  The good kind.  Organic plunger filter coffee.  The Real McCoy. I am quite a coffee snob.  If I am offered coffee, I ask "Plunger or Instant?"  If the offer is the latter, I reply to the original question -"Tea please!"  Instant is not coffee!!  It's been through so many chemical processes to render it instant, it no longer even resembles coffee!!  But the metallic plastic coffee bags my ground coffee comes in are not good for the rubbish bin.  They are tough, durable and would take many years to break down.  So I have made several recycled shopping bags out of the coffee pouches.  They make great gifts, with a little fabric lining inside for strength.

Organic Inca Fe Siesta Coffee
Buying Bulk
Another waste reducing domestic choice is to buy food in bulk.  If you are not lucky enough to be married to an organic food salesman, like me, form a co-op and buy bulk.  I buy our dry goods in bulk - wheat or spelt flour, oats, sugar, nuts, grains, seeds, legumes etc.  The initial outlay is costly, but saves much money in the long run.  The paper packaging is recycled in the compost bin (great carbon element) and reduces the many bags of plastic they would have been packed down into.  Some 3kg products still come in plastic - these I re-use for freezing bags.
I guess another option would be to buy from bulk bins, using your own re-usable or recycled bags.

Bulk buys

Bulk grains packed into recycled glass deli jars.
From Garden to Kitchen
There is no question that growing your own food reduces your waste enormously.  No horrific polystyrene shrink-wrapped trays or plastic bags to deal with.  I have just learned that polystyrene NEVER breaks down.  The particles just get smaller. Time to boycott anything polystyrene!!  The only polystyrene acceptable in my home are the polystyrene cushions in my Wonderbox (energy efficient cooking box that's already lasted us 25 years)!
And of course, saving on food packaging is another bonus of growing your own!  I can't remember buying a jar of jam, sauce, dressing or chutney in the last 6 years!!  All glass jars are washed, sterilised and reused.
Home preserves

The dwindling supplies.............. bring on Summer!!
And I don't do this one very often - baking!!  Home baking not only reduces wasteful packaging, but also those nasty additives and ingredients!  I love to cook - baking is not my most favourite past-time, but then I think that is mostly based on a time factor prioritization.

Weekend Afghans awaiting top-dressing
On Experimentation
I love to try just about anything!  This past summer, I tried my hand at 2 lots of herb tea compilations.  So instead of buying herb teas, each individually packaged in plastic-coated envelopes (why do they do that??), I have a few pouches of hand-picked organically grown floral wild-crafted teas from our own garden.  The bonus is that it really is most pleasant to drink!!  Not to mention the health benefits!

Hand crafted teas
In the Bathroom
What about our personal grooming products?  Each comes in plastic packaging which often cannot be recycled (in NZ, we only recycle 1's and 2's plastics).  With a combo of organic olive oil, sesame seed oil, essential oils of choice and beeswax, I make everything from heel balm, lip balm, face and body butters, sunblock and insect repellent.  No long-winded processes.  I can make up several jars in 15 mins!  My motto:  If you can eat it, you can wear it!

IN the Bedroom
I had to include sustainable wardrobe etiquette.  The idea of wearing something that once belonged to a complete stranger is becoming more widely accepted.  And what a bonus for our planet.  We don't need "smoke-smuggering factories choking out thneeds which everyone needs" (The Lorax) at great expense to our environment!  A stroll into the nearest opp shop ignites my sense of adventure, where I can finger 100's of individual pre-loved garments and come upon one really great find which will set me back a whopping $4!  A truly affordable way to shop!  And when I am tired of an item, I am not guilt-ridden by the decision to cull it - it is returned to the opp shop if in good condition, or made into something more useful, like a hotwater bottle cover or draught excluder to extend it's useful lifespan.

ON Cleaners
One thing that really turns my day sour is soggy bars of soap!  Living with teenagers or children guarantees you one thing in the handbasin - soggy handsoap!  Dispensers seem to be the answer, but even if you buy refills, they are expensive, have many harsh chemicals in and come in more plastic containers.  My solution - I buy bulk Ecover Dishwashing liquid.  Better for the environment, and built in hand-conditioners.  I add essential oils of choice - 5 drops to a dispenser of soap - Voila!  Visitors comment on our beautiful hand soap!  Cheap as chips too!

Hand soap options

Bulk 5L dishwashing liquid soap
THE Greatest Waste Invention Ever!!
Aaah, the great Compost Bin!

Home-built wood compost bin

From this.........

To this!

Worm Farm to the Left, Compost tea containers to the right
On Milk
We have trialed many ways of supplying our milk needs.............. buying occassionally from someone who sold their excess from their house-cow but that was sporadic and unreliable.  Buying organic milk from the supermarket but supply too was not always guaranteed, it was pasteurized and came in plastic lined tetra-paks (not at all good for landfills).  We tried buying 2L conventional milk in plastic containers but we realised that although the plastic is recycled, we were producing a lot of recycling plastic waste!  After much debate and many years on, we currently collect 5L fresh, raw, unpasteurised, unhomogenised milk from a local dairy farm.  There is no waste, Mike has developed a relationship with the supplier and the taste is second to none.  It's not organic, but next best thing.

So in conclusion, waste management is about how we manage our waste.  Treading lightly on the Earth.  Asking pertinent questions:
Do I really need it?
Is there a more earth-friendly alternative?
Is is local-produced or seasonal?
Can I make it instead of buying it?
Will it last the test of time or will I be replacing it a short distance down the track?
Is it Fairtrade?  Was it ethically produced?
Is it sustainably manufactured?
Is the packaging recyclable?
Is it chemical/toxic-free?
Could I buy it second-hand instead?
Will I use it often or will it sit around gathering dust?

Often just 2 questions asked will make us think twice about a purchase.

If we all changed just one thing we do to create less waste, what a difference we could collectively make!  We currently put our a garbage bag every 3 weeks.  Mike has pledge to reduce this to one every 4 weeks.  Another challenge.  Bring it on....................