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25 October 2016

Signs of life

This time of year is about gardening for us, even with our smaller garden. We start our gardening year in March and all through the cold months we grow winter crops.  But when spring arrives we add more manure and compost to the soil and start on our tomatoes, chillies, herbs, capsicums, lettuce, cucumbers and green leaves. These crops are the exciting ones because they all have a big flavour punch and they looks good in the garden. If we get it right, instead of paying high prices for watery tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies, we have our own organic heirloom varieties that with one taste yell: "This is why we grow our own food."

Hanno added a shade tunnel over the green leafy vegetables a couple of weeks ago.  It's a simple structure made with four short star pegs, flexible black plastic pipe, shade cloth, a timber brace and hooks to attach the shade cloth to the pipe.  The tunnel takes about 30 minutes to erect and depending on how long your star pegs are, you can bend over or stand straight to weed or harvest in the tunnel.  We've found it particularly handy during the early hot days when the plants haven't yet developed their tolerance to the hotter sun which burns tender salad leaves, tomatoes and capsicums. It's also a good defence against summer storms and wind.  It won't prevent vegetables going to seed in the hot weather but with mulching and prudent watering, it will get you through a harsh summer better than you would without it.

You can unhook the shade cloth if you need the height to weed or harvest. The timber brace just stops the centre of the shade cloth from sagging. 

Photos above and below are of the same plants. The top photo was taken 2 October, the bottom one 24 October. 

We're growing a French tomato, Rouge de Marmande, and an Oxheart. Both are heirloom varieties and both have few seeds. The French girl is great in salads and sandwiches and the Oxheart is for relish, cooking and sandwiches. I sowed tomato seeds a few weeks ago and planted out the seedlings this week. I like to pot the seedlings on from the small cells they start in and allow them to grow so by the time I plant them, they've almost outgrown their pot and have started to flower. We always grow an organic garden and use the minimal amount of additions. Instead of using commercial fertiliser, I make comfrey tea which is full of the nutrients most vegetables and fruit need. When we planted the tomatoes, I picked some comfrey, chopped it up and we placed a large hand-full of chopped leaves in each planting hole. As the days go by, those leaves will decompose and release their nutrients to the plants. I also gave each plant a drink of seeweed concentrate and liquid comfrey after they were planted.

A bunch of comfrey was cut into small pieces and bruised so it would decompose faster, and then added to the tomato growing holes.

It's important to run a frugal garden just as it is to run a frugal home. When you plan out your garden, take into account all the water you'll use, the fertilisers you'll add as well as the cost of mulch and anything else you'll buy for your garden.  When you do up your garden budget, you may find it's just not cost effective. So, what do you do if that happens? Decide whether the joy of gardening out-weighs the harvest and proceeding accordingly.  We have tanks here that hold 15,000 litres of rainwater and we never use tap water on the garden. We make our own compost and most of our fertilisers. We buy organic sugar cane mulch, sulphate of potash, seaweed concentrate and Dipel (a biological stomach poison for caterpillars that is organic and non-toxic). We buy some seedlings and seeds when we need them but if we can save seeds, we do that instead. Our shade structure was made using recycled materials we already had here. It's quite easy to save money in the garden so look around and work out what you can give a second life to, learn how to save and sow seeds and how to propagate. Those small things will save you money.

It's been a productive time in the garden but I still take my time out there watching, sniffing, touching and enjoying what's around me. It gives me a good feeling to produce some of the food we eat, knowing it is as healthy and fresh as it can be. A garden will give you much more than vegetables, herbs and fruit if you let. it. It gives a sense of peace and of connecting with the natural world, a place to think and a quiet haven from a noisy world. So when you create your garden make sure you have a few seats there to encourage lingering.

21 October 2016

Weekend reading

This is the culprit. Gracie, caught red-handed removing rubbish from the compost heap. This time it was a banana sucker - she was chewing on the end of it!  She's booked in to have her vaccinations on 1 November and after that we can take her out.  Her first engagement is with the groomer. She's grown a lot of very thick fur and she's starting to look like a little black bear.  I'm pleased to tell you that she's being an absolute joy, even though she likes chewing shoes and toes.

Lovely knitting and crochet patterns  - free
10 tiny UK churches
2016 wildlife photographer of the year - winners in pictures
The Fox and the Mourner

19 October 2016

Yoghurt revisited

A few readers asked about yoghurt starter cultures after yesterday's post so I thought I'd add to the information here. It really is a very good way of making yoghurt.  I buy my culture from Green Living in Brisbane. They charge $16.95 for enough culture to make 100 litres. The culture is highly concentrated so even though you have the capacity to make that amount, it's a tiny parcel. I bought sour cream culture too and measuring spoons so I wouldn't over-measure and waste the culture.  Every batch I've made has been perfect. I don't have any affiliation with this company but I have been impressed with their fast and efficient service.

When you have your starter culture, you make yoghurt in the usual way but you use the culture instead of adding live, fresh yoghurt to your mix. If you haven't made yoghurt before, here is an old post on the process, although now I use the Easiyo in the final stage to ferment the milk and I use starter culture instead of adding fresh yoghurt. For those unfamiliar with the Easiyo process, it's plastic one litre jar that fits inside an insulated container. Just before you place the filled jar into the container, you fill the base of it with boiling water. Sealing the jar inside the container with the hot water overnight gives you a simple and easy way to make yoghurt.

When the yoghurt is made, you can use it to make a simple fresh cheese called Labneh. All you need to do is to sit the yoghurt in a strainer with a loose weave cloth over it and allow it to drain for a few hours while it sits in the fridge. If you want to hurry the process, put a plate on top of the covered cheese with a large tin of fruit on top. That will press the cheese down while the whey is draining off. When most of the whey is gone what remains will be a much thicker yoghurt that, when shaped, makes a delicious cheese.  

At this point, it's over to you to add the flavourings you prefer. I always add ½ teaspoon of salt to the savoury Labnah, plus chilli, pepper, herbs, finely diced cucumbers or capsicum. Other flavour choices are dill, green onions, mint, honey, figs, candied fruit, jam etc. Hanno loves it on bread and crackers and it's a great replacement for store-bought cream or cottage cheese.  Don't throw out that whey. You can use it in your baking. Cakes, scones and bread made with whey are excellent and nutritious.

Labnah will last up to three weeks in the fridge.

I have a dairy chapter in my last book, The Simple Home, which contains several other dairy concoctions that are easy to make and delicious.

18 October 2016

Looking after my mental health

We've had so many visitors lately my head is spinning. Add to that my adorable grandkids and a new puppy and I'm starting to feel as if I need a few days with nothing to do. Those "nothing" days are valuable to all of us but from my experience, few of us get them. I make sure I have them now and have discovered that all the work I should have done during that time is always waiting for my return when I'm ready to get back into the swing of things. It's much more difficult to do that when you have a young family but even then you can give yourself a mini break, leave the beds unmade for a couple of days, forget about the laundry and serve your family eggs on toast for dinner. The world won't collapse while you take care of your own mental health.

You probably won't be surprised at this but when I have my mini breaks, I still work, but I only do what I love to do. Being creative and working on projects that make our lives better gives me a feeling of self-reliance that builds my confidence and helps me feel in control and on track.

I've had soap making on my to do list for a while now but still haven't made it; I hope today is soap day.  I'm going to make my normal four ingredients soap using calendula-infused olive oil as my main oil. We suffer from eczema in my family. I have it and some of the others do too. I've found this soap to be nourishing on my skin and soothing on my eczema. I hope that if I tackle it with homemade soap before the hot weather starts, I should be able to get through summer with minimal itching and no cortisone cream.

Rosella cordial.
Making a blanket for Grace.

I made yoghurt the other day. I buy culture online now. It makes a great thick yoghurt and it's cheaper than buying a live yoghurt starter from the supermarket. I used to freeze yoghurt to use as a starter but now I always forget to do it. The frozen culture works well for me. Instead of using a warm oven or yoghurt jars wrapped in towels to ferment the yoghurt, which is how I used to make it, I now use an Easijo insulated jar. I bought the insulated container when they were on special at the supermarket a few months ago, and it's working well. I don't use their powdered product. Fresh milk from the local dairy and frozen culture gives us good quality, delicious yoghurt for a really good price.  Yesterday, after the yoghurt was made, I divided the batch in two, flavoured half with honey and the other half with good raspberry and blueberry jam. I'll make another batch in the next day or so and use it to make a savory fresh cheese for bread and crackers. Hanno loves it and I haven't made it for a long time. It's good to get back to these things and to enjoy the time I spend making them.

I discovered many years ago that when I make cakes, soap, gifts or another set of dishcloths, when I repair and recycle, when I budget and organise, along with all that, I make the life I want to live too. Each small creation, all the meals and bread and cordials, all the knitting, sewing, mending and gardening, bit by bit, it all adds to this wonderful life we've built here. I wonder if you feel the same way.

14 October 2016

Weekend reading

We're celebrating over at the Down to Earth forum this weekend. It's our seventh birthday! The forum has well over 8000 members now and continues to grow steadily. If you haven't visited yet, or not for a long time, go over and have a look. We're organising a few special threads and some fun activities. There will even be a couple of prizes up for grabs. But even if you don't win a prize, you'll find a lot of information about simplifying life in a forum full of friendly folk from the four corners of the earth. Come and join us.

Thanks for your visits this week and to everyone to left a comment, I love reading your notes. They keep me writing here. I'll be back again on Monday. I hope you have a lovely weekend. ♥︎

13 October 2016

Slow days

It was a dream day here yesterday. I didn't have much work to do so I took some time on the computer to research various things and I caught up with my friend Morag on Skype. Lunch was leftovers, so no cooking, in the afternoon I made a batch of yoghurt.

Yes, that is mud on her nose. 
She's watching Hanno here. He was digging in the garden. As soon as he left, she dug there too. ;- )
Inspecting the Italian thyme.

She could hear the kids playing next door so she sat and listened to them for a while.

Gracie and I spent time in the garden so she can become accustomed to the sights and smells there.  She such a scallywag! She started digging in the garden bed Hanno weeded and prepared for planting today. She sat at the chicken run gate and watched the chooks. She was scared by cockatoos screeching in the trees overhead and when the kids next door came home from school, she sat and listened intently to them play. She was born into a family with six children so I'm guessing she's missing them.

Inside she runs off with our shoes and shakes the living daylights out of her pink and while sponge ball. She's constantly with us. She loves sitting next to either of us with her body touching our feet.  I'm pleased to tell you she's been an absolute delight and hasn't cried at night at all. Toilet training is going slowly but she's only two months old so I'm not worried about it. Overall she continues to be a dream puppy.

Today will be busier because I'll cook lunch and I have plans to make lemon cordial and a batch of calendula soap.  Two litres of lemon juice is defrosting on the sink and soon I'll strain calendula-infused olive oil for the soap.  I haven't made soap for a while and I'm looking forward to it. I'll let you know how it turns out. Life is slowly returning to how it was before I started writing books. There is time for friends, reading, research, crafts and wandering around the garden with nothing much to do. There is a lot to be said for dawdling. It might not look like much is going on but often it's exactly what's need to keep going.

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