Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Tatie Planting Time

For a lot of you, it's time to start thinking about planting potatoes. It's a little early here yet, but since there's been a bit of discussion about growing potatoes, I thought I'd share with you a great way of growing them without any back-breaking digging.

  1. Choose your patch of ground and cover it liberally with newspapers.
  2. Place potatoes on top of the paper at about 30cm or 12in apart in a grid.
  3. Cover with a layer of mulch or hay (lucerne hay is best if it's not too expensive). On top of the mulch / hay, place liberal amounts of blood and bone, well rotted animal manures and/or compost. Water the lot in well.
  4. Add more hay and more fertilisers / manures, watering after each addition. You want the pile to be moist throughout, but not sodden.
  5. When you reach a height of about 60cm, finish off with a layer of mulch or hay.
  6. Note: you can add shredded paper and lawn clippings in with your hay if you like.
The advantages of this technique are:
  • no digging!
  • when the potatoes are ready, you just lift up the layer of mulch and pick them up
  • you are left with an area ready to dig over and plant with new things
  • you end up with a heap of semi-composted hay, which is a great addition to the garden
The disadvantages are:
  • the hay can be expensive
  • you may need to top up the hay during the growing season, so the potatoes do not get exposed to light
  • it takes a reasonable sized patch of ground (compared with potato condos)
Happy planting!

love and light

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Chris James is Coming to Canberra

I normally wouldn't promote things like this on my blog, but this is a fantastic opportunity and may interest those in and around Canberra.

Chris James conducts the most beautiful singing workshops and he is coming to Canberra - thanks Felicity! The Innermost Sound Workshop will be held in Hackett on Sunday 7 September 2008 from 10am to 4:30pm. Cost is $150. Click here to get more details.

I've been to his workshops before and they are fantastic. You will not be disappointed. And for the first person who claims it, there is a Silk in the Clouds CD free!

love and light

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Green Tomato Marmalade

I've been meaning to put this recipe up for a little while. I'm not a great fan of marmalade normally, but this one is quite lovely. It is extra nice on oat cakes for breakfast - YUM!

1.7kg (3.75lb) green (as in unripe) tomatoes, chopped
200g (7oz) crystallised ginger, chopped
Rind of 2 oranges (no pith), shredded
Rind of 4 lemons (no pith), shredded
Juice of the 2 oranges and 4 lemons
8 cups sugar

Place everything except for the sugar in a large, heavy-based pan. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until it is all soft and pulpy - this may take up to one hour.
Add sugar and stir until dissolved, then boil rapidly until setting point is reached. You may need to stir occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
Pour into sterile jars and seal.

Test if the marmalade is set by placing a small amount of marmalade on a chilled saucer; leave for about 30 seconds and see if it thickens up.
Sterilise jars by placing clean, wet jars and lids on a tray in the oven at 120C for 20 minutes or more. Jars with metal lids are the best.
Fill jars while marmalade is still hot, place lids on, then with knuckle inside a teatowel (to stop you getting burned), press on the centre of the lid and screw down. As the jam cools, you will hear a pop as a vacuum is formed. Jam bottled in this way will keep for years without going mouldy on top.

This recipe will make about 2.7kg (6lb) of lovely golden marmalade.

love and light

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Been Crook

FYI - haven't been posting in the last week or so due to a horrible lurgy in my chest. Feel like I'm starting to recover, but am still not up to much. Will hopefully post again soon.

love and light

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Vacuum Sealers

The other day, I was tempted enough to make Molly's Peanut Butter Biscuits - well, my version of them, using cashew nut butter instead of peanut butter and gluten free flour.

When I finished making them, it occurred to me that every time I do make something like these scrummy biscuits we end up throwing out part of it because we are not very big cake or biscuit eaters. So, I thought I would be proactive and save some at the outset. The obvious choice would have been the freezer, except that ours is rather full at the moment. What to do?

Light bulb goes off - the vacuum sealer!!!! I had just been using it to package the baby corn prior to freezing it (bottling seemed like too much work, on reflection). So, I set about making small packets of delicious biscuits for us to munch some time in the future.

Then it occurred to me - the vacuum sealer is an ideal way to package many foods we might dry. They can then be stored in the cupboard, without taking up valuable freezer space.

Actually, I originally purchased the vacuum sealer to package produce prior to freezing to reduce the risk of freezer burn. It works a treat - I have been able to store sweet corn in peak condition from one year to the next. And there is no need to blanch, as all air is removed.

We found ours on ebay (see picture from ebay store at left) and I've been very happy with it. Yes, it uses plastic bags, but I think the savings in food wastage more than make up for the environmental cost of the bags and the small amount of electricity needed to suck and seal. Also, with dry goods you don't need to use any more energy to store - a ccol, dry cupboard is all you need. Despite the fact they use electricity, I think they are a great addition to the household buffering themselves against peak oil.

If you are thinking of purchasing one, however, do your homework and check out the specifications. We found that some of the better known brands were not as good as the one we eventually purchased (for about $150, I think).

Apologies for the dead meat in the pictures for all of you who might be sensitive to such things . . .

love and light

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Great Day in the Garden

What a great day in the garden! Daphne has just started to flower - I love her beautifully sweet, rich scent. Have you noticed that many winter and early spring flowers have a particularly appealing scent? I wonder if they are calling the bees?

The great maize experiment has come to a close for now. We have had a few heavy frosts now and so I thought it was time to stop hoping for much produce. We didn't get much suitable for grain, but we did get quite a few "baby corn" cobs, which I intend to bottle and use in stir-fries. I've gathered the silks and will dry them to use as a herbal remedy (great as a diuretic and for soothing cystitis), as well as gathering some long leaves, which I will use to try some rush work. So, we may not have obtained what we hoped, but it certainly wasn't all in vain. I'll definitely be planting it earlier next season.

This morning I planted a packet of globe artichoke seeds (37), so hopefully we will have some baby artichoke plants by spring. Globe artichoke is a fantastic food - full of nutrients and a great tonic for tired livers.

I cleared the asparagus bed of the spent ferns today and there was a bonus - red berries, full of seeds. Normally I wouldn't bother with the seeds, as it takes quite a while to grow them to harvest size and you have to sort out the male from the female plants. But this asparagus is rather special. I bought it to replace the crowns that were overpowered by parsley a few years ago when I was ill and couldn't tend the garden. I had ordered both green and purple asparagus crowns, but when the order arrived, there was only purple asparagus because they had run out of green. The purple was merely to satisfy my curiosity, but it has proven to be a very prolific and delicious asparagus. It's not in the catalogue anymore; hence, I thought it might be worth trying to propagate some from the seed. I can't remember whether it was a hydrid or not, but I guess its babies will let me know the answer to that. Anyway, the asparagus bed is now fed and mulched and ready for next season.

Remember those cheeky potatoes surviving under the asparagus ferns? Well, the frost had knocked them back as well, so I harvested their produce - a couple of kilos of nice, red potatoes. They'll make a great meal.

Oh, and I picked the last of the tomatoes this morning - I'm blown away by the fact we still had tomatoes on bushes (albeit rather dead looking bushes) in open ground in Canberra in mid-July! It must be a record of some type, I'm sure. This winter has been rather mild until the last week or so, so maybe that accounts for it. I've collected both red and green tomatoes, so when I find my green tomato marmalade recipe, I'll be in the kitchen cooking some up - it sounds weird, but is truly delicious.

Unfortunately, with the frost the nasturtiums are looking rather sad and the peas, onions, leeks and shallots are not making much progress. But the broccoli is still producing madly and there's a couple of nice cauliflowers ready for picking, not to mention the ongoing Asian greens and the baby beets.

I'm fairly pleased with my vege garden - my aim is ultimately to produce fruit and vegetables all year round, so we are more self-sustaining. There will be some limitations, though - mangoes, bananas, pineapples and pawpaws are not likely to grow here. But we'll be happy with what we have.

love and light

Friday, 11 July 2008

My Blogging Sanctuary

At the end of a day, after I've finished my paid work, study and home duties, I love to come to my computer and have a visit with my blogging friends. Sometimes I have nothing particular to say and so I look at your blogs and see what interesting things you are all up to. It is so lovely to "meet" so many like-minded people, going through life's little ups and downs, sharing stories, photos, recipes and tips, but with the one goal in mind - sustainable living.

So, here's to you, my fellow bloggers. Thanks for your company. I really enjoy sharing the road with you on my journey.

Here's a poem just for you. It was written by Hafiz, a Sufi poet, in the 14th century. Translation is by Daniel Ladinsky, from his book I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz.

(Note: the terms Friend and Beloved refer to God, Buddha, the universal life force, nature or any higher entity you personally acknowledge.)

What Happens

What happens when your soul
Begins to awaken
Your eyes
And you heart
And the cells of your body
To the great Journey of Love?

First there is wonderful laughter
And probably precious tears

And a hundred sweet promises
And those heroic vows
No one can ever keep.

But still God is delighted and amused
You once tried to be a saint.

What happens when your soul
Begins to awake in this world

To our deep need to love
And serve the Friend?

O the Beloved
Will send you
One of His wonderful, wild companions -

Like Hafiz.

love and light

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Detergents Ain't Just Detergents

Following on from Molly's post about climate change and the things she is doing to safeguard her garden and family, I thought I'd revisit some research on washing detergents.

Lanfax Laboratories have done some great independent research on washing powders and liquids and the amount of sodium, potassium, sulphur, etc that they contribute if the grey water is used on the garden. You can visit their Laundry Products Research pages and have a good read about what comes out of your washing machine when you use different detergents. You can compare top loaders with front loaders and powders with liquids.

I first found their research a few years ago and because I was particularly concerned about sodium load, I started at the bottom of the list (ie, lowest load) and worked my way up until I found a detergent that actually worked. At that time, I chose Green Care as my main detergent and Earth Choice as my detergent for woollens and delicates. Powders generally have a much higher sodium load than liquids, so just by using a liquid you are probably on the right track, but some liquids still have a pretty hefty sodium load.

Now that the research has been updated, my choices still look reasonably good, but I am thinking of trying a couple of different liquids with lower sodium loads. Unfortunately, manufacturers can vary their formulations without notice, so you need to review your choices from time to time.

As they point out on the site, there is no eco-friendly washing detergent - all of them have an impact on the environment. The key is to make the most responsible choice you can within the constraints of cleaning ability, cost and your geographic location, ie, according to your own unique needs.

love and light

Monday, 7 July 2008

Recent Distraction

This is quite unashamedly a brag post. I've been a bit distracted lately by a little project, which needed to be finished for last Sunday. The quilt pictured was made (by me) for a lovely young couple I know who celebrated their nuptials on Sunday. It went through a couple of design changes early on, but I was pleased with the final result, so I thought I'd share it with you.

love and light

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Hustle, Bustle and Thankfulness

This week in our household will be very busy. We'll have two teenage girls and two pre-teen boys all playing in the Kanga Cup (a soccer competition) each day. That will mean heaps of cooking (have menu, am sort of organised); washing jerseys, shorts, track pants and socks each day (and getting them dry!); transportation to, from and between venues; as well as general management of people that age. I'll be at work, but my darling partner will be on "holidays" and doing the ferrying around and people management. Oh, and did I mention that it is predicted to rain each day (with maxima from 9C to 13C) and we are a one-bathroom household with no clothes drier? OMG! LOL (hyserically)!

Well, this afternoon I gave my self a small respite from frantic preparation activity and went for a walk. As I came near to a poplar, I noticed it hadn't yet fully lost its leaves (they are normally totally bare this time of year in Canberra). As I passed, a breeze rustled its leaves and it seemed to be saying, "calm down, relax, take your time, enjoy the moment". I do try to take each day as it comes and to appreciate each of the little surprises and challenges a day can bring. But sometimes, just sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of life, I forget. Thank you, Poplar, for reminding me.

It all comes back to that old saying about life being a journey, not a destination. Hope you can take some time this week to enjoy the little pleasures that life's journey has to offer, in all their guises.

love and light

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Compact Fluorescents - Friend or Foe?

In Australia, the federal government is planning to phase out incandescent globes in the next couple of years and only have compact fluorescent bulbs available. The main aim of the program is to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. This is commendable.

However, there was a story last night on the ABC's 730 Report about compact fluorescent light bulbs - click here for the transcript. Apparently, the compact fluorescent globes contain minute amounts of mercury which can cause significant issues if they go to landfill. They can also cause a problem for children or pregnant women if the globes break and the contents are inhaled. The way it was presented in the report strongly suggested that the compact fluorescents were causing another environmental issue.

Looking at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) website today, I found another article on the globes - click here. The ACF are saying that while the globes do contain mercury, their advantages outweigh their disadvantages.

What both reports have in common is that they are calling for government-controlled recycling programs for the bulbs. The ACF give a link to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts which discusses how to dispose of the bulbs, what to do if they should break and collection sites for your state/territory.

We, like many others, have embraced this new technology. Now I'm feeling not so sure about it. Should we return to lanterns and candles for our lighting? Go solar? Should we simply go to bed when it gets dark? Maybe get some glow worms? All suggestions welcome.

love and light