Saturday, September 30, 2017

Green and Thrifty

Green and thrifty fun this week: I made breadcrumbs from the crusts of loaves that didn't get eaten. First I toasted the bread in the oven on low, let it dry for a few hours, then blitzed it in the blender. If you make breadcrumbs like this you can store them in a jar on the shelf and they will last forever. Well, actually, forever is a very long time. It is more likely they will get used up on homemade chicken nuggets first.

I laid another couple of metres of brick path. Now, it does look like this is a path that is leading nowhere, but never fear, all will become clear when my master plan is completed, sometime before 2025, almost certainly.

I pulled out all my celery plants as I need the space for baby spring plants. I cut a lot of the celery and spread it on baskets to dry in the sun. When it is done I will grind it up and add to salt for celery salt to make my soft boiled eggs more interesting. If your celery goes to seed, you can also use ground celery seed to make celery salt. Ground up dried celery is also good to add to soups and stews. It is naturally slightly salty. You can also make celery salt with the leaves of the celery you buy at the greengrocers.

I planted more seeds and moved a bunch of self-seeded seedlings around to fill up the gaps in my flower garden.

My mum brought me rhubarb from her garden and we ate lemons, tarragon, rosemary, rocket, kale and the last of the celery from the garden.

Updated to add: The celery stems turned out way too stringy and stick-like when blended up, but the leaves by themselves worked fine and taste wonderful in tomato-based stews, especially bolognese sauce. Yum!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cheap Pear Day!

Yesterday morning I popped into the vegie shed (just what it sounds like - a large shed. With veg. It is a farm gate outlet for a local farm. It also sells lots of other local produce at very reasonable prices. It is one of my regular haunts) for apples and carrots and milk. On my way out I saw pears selling for 89c/kg (40c/lb). I don't know if this is cheap for pears elsewhere in the world, but here it is very cheap fruit indeed, where anything under $2kg/90c/lb is a real bargain to stock up on. I walked right back in and bought a boxful.

This is what 11kg (24lbs) of pears looks like.

I ditched my other plans for the day and made pear butter (pears stewed down with lemon juice and zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, then blitzed with the stick blender). Then I bottled it and used my biggest stock pot to preserve them (just a fancy way of saying 'boiled the heck out of the jars for 15 minutes'). This is what 11kg of pears looks like when made into pear butter.

It is considerably reduced in volume. It is a delicious way of storing fresh, local produce in a convenient, shelf stable package. When I run out of room to store preserves in the kitchen, I shove them under my bed! I really like being able to have stocks of food that don't require filling up a freezer. Seeing jars of food in the cupboard allows the survivalist in me to relax and not worry about starving to death if the power goes off. Also, preserves are so convenient. This morning Rosy took yoghurt with pear butter and toasted oats for lunch in a thermos. It took several hours of my day yesterday, but will mean several weeks' worth of fast food.

I have no idea why pears were on sale in the spring. Usually these sales are on at the height of autumn. Maybe they are running out of space in cold storage at the pear farm? No complaints here. I would much rather preserve on a chilly spring day than a hot autumn afternoon! But.. I miss my fruit trees! I miss lots of free fruit to process into a year's worth of free food! I am beavering away at the garden to clear and build some terraces so that next year I can plant fruit trees.

Preserving food is so satisfying, but makes for a long and tedious job of peeling and coring. I amused myself by listening to random episodes from The School Of Life. These five minute videos by British philosopher Alain de Botton address those issues that are vitally important to our well-being but don't generally get covered in academic curriculums; Resilience, How to Forgive, Overcoming Bad Inner Voices and How to Complain are some of the topics you might encounter. Little nuggets of philosophical gold all wrapped up in the soporific tones of the planet's most soothing philosopher. What's not to like?

Updated to add: Pear Butter Recipe as per request from reader:

Peel, core and quarter pears while listening to philosophical essays of your choice.

Put them in your biggest pans - I distributed mine between my two biggest stew pans.

Now, this can only be a rough guide, depending on how many pears you start with - add about half a cup of water, the zest and juice of half a lemon, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 2 heaped tsps cinnamon to each large saucepanful of pears. Cook with lid on for about an hour, or until the pears are soft and taste delicious, stirring occasionally to ensure they are not sticking.

Whiz up the pears with a stick blender or mouli, push them through a strainer, or pop them in a blender. At this point you can reduce the pear butter down further, cooking on low with the lid off to make a more reduced, thicker sauce. I was happy with my original blended sauce and bottled it immediately.

Collect your clean, warmed jars (I pour very hot water into them, leave for a couple of minutes, then tip it out again. You can also warm them in the oven). Put quarter of a tsp of citric acid into the bottom of each jar to ensure that the pear butter is acidic enough to preserve in a water bath. Ladle in the pear butter, leaving about a centimetre (1/2 inch) headspace at the top of the jar. Put the lids on and lower into nearly boiling water in your largest pot, covering the jars by a couple of centimetres (1 inch). A teatowel on the bottom of the pot stops the jars clinking around in the boiling water. Leave them on a quiet boil for 15 mins, then wrestle them out with tongs and a tea towel (I really must buy some proper preserving tongs as I keep dropping the jars using my cooking tongs..).

Now you have lovely pear butter to eat with yoghurt or spread on toast or serve with pork or make pear tarts, or maybe just eat straight out of the jar.. :)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Out With the Old

I do like to be thrifty, so I save the seed that I don't use one year and use it the next year, or the year after that. Some seed will survive that treatment, and finally germinate, but it will never spring up with enthusiasm and vigour like fresh seed will. Two weeks ago I planted out a bunch of old seed, and some cornflower seed that I bought this last autumn. The results are in. As you can see, I will have a wonderful crop of cornflowers soon, and not so much broccoli. The children will be pleased. Yesterday, the first buttercrunch lettuce seed finally raised its old and tired little head. It is up, but it doesn't really want to be. I can tell it just wants to go back to bed. I know how it feels. The cornflowers, on the other hand, are like peppy and energetic toddlers, jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, and rampaging about full of vim and vigour.

The moral is, use new seed. This is a marvellous excuse to order more seed, so there is the silver lining. Seed catalogues, mmm...

Storing seed is of course, something that does need to happen, although preferably for not more than a year. Seeds are best stored in a cool, dark, dry place. I store mine in a basket on a high shelf in my bedroom, which is in the southern corner of my southern hemisphere house. It is the coolest room in the house and never by chance gets the slightest ray of sunshine.

Many of my seeds are collected in the garden in the autumn, and I throw them into a paper bag and into the basket. If I am lucky, I will label it.. the gold standard would be after six weeks or so, when the seed is good and dry, to re-package it in an airtight container - a jar or ziploc bag, which will help it to keep for longer. I mostly do not do this.

As a lazy gardener, often I save seed by just letting the plants seed all over the garden, and then in the spring, moving the plants to where I want them as they pop up as ten thousand tiny seedlings. This does actually create more work than saving seed properly in the first place, but is kind of fun. Right now I have lots of tiny lettuces popping up all over, a million tiny viola plants, seven million baby warrigul greens and about the same number of calendula plants. I am thinking of starting my own plant nursery.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, looking at seed websites. Such a chore.

Oh, and remember to buy local seed. There is almost always a small local seed company. They will be breeding plants for local conditions. The other place you can find local seed and seedlings is in the gardens of your neighbours. Ask! Gardeners generally love to share.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Green and Thrifty

Daffodils and forget-me-nots. Does spring get any better than this?

For my green and thrifty project this week I used up all my remaining lettuce seeds, planting them in a thick band along the edge of my pea patch. My plan is to be able to cut several weeks of baby lettuce from this projected prolific lettuce mixture.. will keep you updated. After that I can buy new lettuce seed, which is exciting, because although I hate shopping, I love buying seeds. So much promise from such a tiny packet! And one packet of lettuce seed costs the same as a bag of gourmet baby lettuce..

My girls have filled the bathroom drawers to overflowing with all the creams, cleansers and make-up they have been buying over the last few months. I declared a moratorium on buying anything new until everything is used down to the last product (they buy all of this out of their allowance/earnings, although they are very welcome to use whatever plain and boring product I provide for family use..). I offered to use up anything they didn't want anymore, so am now working my way through tubs of 'blueberry' flavoured body lotion and several tubes of sample moisturizers. Posy is very keen on making her own personal care products, which I am very excited about, but it seems wicked to throw out what we already have. So we are aiming for a clean slate after which we will be doing some bathroom product DIY.

I am also using up various other things that people have kindly given us. A bottle of dog shampoo came with a bag of dog treats and dog food sadly left after a friend's dog died. My dog is a delicate snowflake and requires medicated dog shampoo, so I am using the donated shampoo as a floor cleaner. I figure it is all soap, right? So I squirt some in the mop bucket with some eucalyptus oil, and off we go.

When we moved into this house the owners had left various things behind, including a bottle of disinfectant, which is a product I don't normally use, being green and hippy and all that. It has sat in my cupboard for a year, and finally I have broken down and am using it to clean the bathroom just to get rid of it.. maybe this is not so green and I am poisoning the waterways with it? It is thrifty though, and soon it will be all gone and that pesky bottle will be out from under the laundry sink, where it is taking up valuable laundry real estate.

In my yard there is a large, but not yet full-grown horse chestnut tree. I was disappointed to discover it was not edible, and its medicinal value appears to be both arcane and complicated to use as a home remedy.. however yesterday I was excited to find that apparently the horse chestnut can be used as a, wait for it... laundry detergent! It comes from the same family as the tree that produces soapnuts. Soapnuts are an apparently effective laundry detergent (I don't actually know this from personal experience, as I have never used them, but I hear this is the case..). However soapnuts need to be imported from the tropics, and there is a horse chestnut right outside my door. My only problem is that right now in early spring there is not a horse chestnut to be seen here in Tasmania. But for those of you who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the perfect time to pop out and collect those conkers before all the pesky children do, and whip up a batch of laundry detergent. If you do, PLEASE let me know how you get on with it. I am dying to know! Recipe here and FAQ here.

Not thrifty - I neglected to take the library books back this week, and I can feel overdue fines accruing.

Also not thrifty - The dog ate the shea butter that Posy and I bought to make lip balm and moisturiser. Sigh. That was a very expensive beauty treatment for the dog. On the bright side, it won't kill him, and will probably make his coat shinier.

Tell me about your green and thrifty projects this week. Or your frugal fails, if they are funnier.. :)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Green and Thrifty

This week I have been chitting potatoes. Chitting is the best garden job for the lazy gardener. It just means letting your root vegetables sprout out of their tiny eyes before planting, so involves no actual work at all other than taking the seed potatoes out of their string bag and laying them out in a tray in a place that has light but not full sun. Taking them out of their bag is important, because they will still sprout if you leave them in the bag, and the delicate sprouts will break off as you pull them out of the netting bag.. ask me how I know..

I have planted the first seeds of the year, some of which are quite old seeds from the bottom of my seed basket. The only ones which have sprouted so far are the ones I bought this last autumn. Most seeds grow best if they are reasonably fresh, which is why seed swapping parties are the best. I am determined to use up all of my old seed this year so I can buy new with a clear conscience. I also saved a lot of seed last year, which I will either plant or share. Seeds are not resources you can hoard. Seeds have to be grown and saved again in order to keep them viable.

As I was driving a child (forget which one) on some no doubt vital excursion this week I spied a rather large firewood log abandoned in the gutter, so I pulled over and loaded it into the boot of the car, child sinking down in the passenger seat and moaning, "Muuuum, do you have to?" Well, yes, my darling, I do - as a member of the Wombling club it is my duty to be making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind..

My friend Monique and I swapped some of the many self-seeded goodies popping up in our gardens. I took her love-in-a-mist and violas and she gave me lettuce, kale and parsley. I love sharing plants. Plants are so wonderfully, generously prolific. With a little patience and the kindness of other gardeners, most plants are not something that need be part of the money economy. In autumn I gave away dozens of jonquil bulbs that have been quietly multiplying in my wild garden for decades, and this year there will be dozens more to share. They are growing so thickly they have stopped flowering, but given a year and enough space they will continue growing in other gardens for decades more. Nature isn't going to stop growing plants and we may as well make the most of it and share the bounty around. It astonishes me just how extraordinarily fertile an average plant is, given a little encouragement..

I have been enjoying some low key thrifty adventures in the garden this week, how about you?

PS In other news, the article I wrote for Earth Garden was bumped from the spring to the summer edition. I will have to wait another three months to see my name in print :( But it will happen!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Community 101

Katherine brought me flowers from her garden. Spring!

You probably didn't notice because, well, I expect you have other things to do, but I have been away from these pages for Quite Some Time. Reason being: technology. Katherine, a dear friend of mine, volunteered her partner, the very kind and long-suffering IT genius, Matt, to take a look at my old laptop which had being saying NO to quite the number of computer-expected activities, like looking at email, for instance. Matt valiantly struggled for most of one Sunday afternoon with my laptop, while I helped Katherine cut out a sewing pattern (well, let's just say, I tried to help), and visited her chickens and her broody turkey.

Matt updated and reinstalled everything that could be updated and reinstalled, and I ended up with a laptop that worked much more efficiently except that it refused to load blogger for me. The computer said NO. Then on Friday night Matt and Katherine came for dinner, bringing one of Matt's 'old' laptops with him (when I say old, I mean newer than any laptop I have ever owned!) which he had loaded with all the programs I need to function, and which magically lets me write blog posts! I am so very lucky and blessed with a richness of kind and very accomplished friends.

I often plough on through life, taking certain things for granted until a life event pulls me up short and I am forced to stop and examine a state of affairs that I normally accept without thinking about, and this week Matt's kindness, patience and generosity made me stop and think about friends. I have an absolutely stirling set of friends, a circle which waxes and wanes over time - mostly waxing I am pleased to say! We are in and out of each others' houses and lives, and we have a pretty fluid notion of 'things'. Our kids inherit all the clothes of all the other kids - last week I passed on a denim jacket to a friend's daughter and I traced its provenance through at least three mutual friends until it reached this wee poppet, and I am sure it will continue on past her as well. I love that our kids all love sharing clothes! We adults share clothes between us as well, and when I moved from a large house to a small cottage I gave away half my furniture, so I walk into my friends' houses and see my old couches, tables and sideboards and enjoy the bounty from other households at my place (my friend Sandra and I swapped dining tables as I needed a smaller one and she wanted a bigger one). I also took all our camping gear to Sandra's place as she had storage space and no camping gear and I had camping gear but no storage space. Who does that camping gear belong to? Well, neither of us and both of us and everyone else who wants to borrow it, really.

What I love is that we don't hesitate to borrow or lend or give stuff away. Last week my spade broke when the handyman who was working for me accidentally heaved an enormous sleeper onto it. When I visited my friend Monique to swap some seedlings with her, I asked to borrow her spade for an afternoon's gardening, as I hadn't got to the market yet to look for a new (secondhand) spade. She lent me her spade, then sent me a text later telling me to keep it as she had two. To be honest, she is not sure where the second spade came from. It may actually belong to one of our other friends..

Of course, friends don't exist just for the reason of sharing stuff around. We are there for each other in good times and bad. We share endless cups of tea and a listening ear. We provide meals and clean each other's houses in a crisis. We look after each other's kids and have parties and order bulk toilet paper together.

Really, we are a bunch of people who like each other, but we also provide a mutual safety net. I think one of the reasons I feel so optimistic about my life, is that whatever happens, there are people who have my back. And I have theirs. Friendship isn't always easy, and helping friends and family often requires a great investment in time and energy. I expect Matt could have found something more pleasant to do with his Sunday afternoon than helping me with my computer, and spending more hours loading programs onto his old laptop for me. And yet, what he did, I won't forget. Friendship and community doesn't work on the basis of credit and debt, it works on the basis of what goes around, comes around. Kind deeds and shared work cements friendships and creates a web of 'knowing who you can rely on' and 'being the kind of person other people can rely on'. Individuals sometimes fail but the web keeps holding us all up anyway.

That is what my community looks like, and I feel very blessed to have it. Tell me about yours..

Friday, September 1, 2017

Time to Plant Peas

As for Miss Marple, once she had caught a glimpse out of her bedroom window of Lucy Eyelesbarrow really trenching for sweet peas in the proper way, she had leaned back on her pillows with a sigh of relief..
Agatha Christie, 4.50 From Paddington

The wattle is yellow on the hillsides, and the daffodils are blooming their heads off in the garden, which can only mean one thing - it is time to plant peas. Peas are very hardy and are one of the first crops to go into the spring garden. However, if you live somewhere cold, where the soil is still definitely sulking, your peas will be much happier for being trenched.  They will stay warmer in early Spring, and their roots will stay moister as the weather warms and the soil dries out.

Trenching peas involves exactly what it sounds like - digging a trench along the row where you want to plant your peas. The 'proper' depth for the trench is 30cm, or a spade's depth, but my soil is fairly light and free draining, so I just dug a trowel's depth instead.

Into this I tipped a layer of compost from my compost bin, then a layer of weeds. It wasn't difficult to find a bucketful of fresh, juicy spring weeds to sacrifice to the greater good of happy peas. The layer of weeds will slowly rot down, providing first warmth in the cold spring soil, then an open airy space for the peas' roots to penetrate, and then the trench will collapse slightly as the weeds' volume compacts down, and there will be a nice trench to fill with water as the weather gets warmer and drier. The weeds and compost also provide a sponge effect to retain moisture. This very simple little trench provides many benefits to the lucky peas.

Another layer of compost, and then returning the soil to fill the trench up to the top.

I soak pea seeds overnight before planting them to give them a head start in the ground - this also allows you to see which pea seeds will be viable. The good ones plump up, rehydrate and sink, while the duds stay wrinkly and float on the surface of the water.

Pea sticks are always useful for the pea vines to twine up. I use prunings from the apricot tree. There. The first garden job of spring. Done.

Updated to add: My friend Katherine noted that I missed a step above.. after you have soaked the peas you plant them in the top layer of soil above the compost. A rule of thumb for planting seeds is to plant them at a depth of twice the diameter of the seed. Ironic isn't it.. a post on planting peas which misses out the part where you plant the seeds.. thanks Katherine:)