Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Mending Dishcloths

Today I got my gardening job done early because the rain was coming. I came home and filled up the woodbox in the back porch, walked the dog, collected an armful of birch twigs from the street around the corner which is lined with birch trees, used them to light the fire, then sat down for lunch and watched the rain clouds rolling in.

I am not a person who sews. I can thread the machine and sew a sort-of-but-not-really straight line. However the machine has been sitting on the dining table for days. Rosy has been shortening some of her t-shirts, because apparently short t-shirts are in this week, and Posy made a heat pack for a friend's birthday out of one of her old hoodies. So the sewing machine is just sitting there, taunting me, and it's raining so I can't go out into the garden, and if I'm not doing something a little productive I might feel constrained to do some housework, so instead I get out my stack of dishcloths to hem.

I must have bought these dishcloths seven or eight years ago. I have at least twenty two of them, not counting the ones in the wash. I use several a day, then throw them in a hot wash with eucalyptus oil. After all these years of hard work they are looking completely dishevelled, with their stitching coming undone. Some of them have holes. They are a sad shade of grey (they were white once). They are a disgrace.

So I have spent a rainy afternoon mending my dishcloths. I have trimmed and hemmed the edges, and run the machine back and forth over the holes in zig-zag stitch. I now have a stack of 'done' dishcloths, ready for another few months...years... of service.

I feel so productive! The only problem is.. there are four to go and I have run out of bobbin thread. I just cannot stand threading the bobbin. Why must it be such a painful and fiddly exercise?? I have tried and failed to bribe the children, so I think there is nothing for it, I must go to bed and read a book, I mean, wind that stupid bobbin myself. Or teach the dog to do it.

Benny-the-wonder-puppy will do anything for cheese. I have a lot of cheese..

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Things I Haven't Been Doing

I keep meaning to grind up the eggshells in the blender before they go in the compost.
 It does happen. Eventually.

Today I have for you a little list of things I really want to do, but actually have not been doing.

Making yoghurt: It is months since I made any yoghurt. I don't know why because making yoghurt is very easy. I am lacking in yoghurty get up and go.

Driving less: Ok, so in the last year Rosy has year Rosy has acquired her license and I have acquired a partner who lives half an hour's drive away up a mountain. Neither of these acquisitions has contributed to using less fossil fuel in my car.

Using less electricity: For some mysterious reason we are using more electricity this year than we did last year. Is it Posy's twice a week bath habit? Is it us getting a bit slack with our overall electricity use? What to do?

Getting enough work: At the beginning of this year I started a wee garden maintenance business. It is so wee it is not so much a micro-business as a nano business. It nearly, but not quite, covers my living expenses. This is, of course, mostly my fault as I am procrastinating about organising advertising. All I need are some business cards and flyers. I have not quite got around to producing these yet..

Writing much: I am writing a bit. There are a few articles written and at least one accepted for future publication. Hooray! I need to do more and be more adventurous with where I send them. I can do this. Then there is the world's slowest novel. Here is my thinking though - a novel a decade is a lot more than no novels a decade. Am I right?

Making less rubbish: I thought I was getting really good at this, and I was. I am doing okay - the girls see no reason not to bring large amounts of plastic packaging into the house, although they are starting to bring their own bags places, which is a good start. I am also letting more packaging creep back into my food buying habits. I really want to do better. I can do better.

Parenting Well: I have not been the parent I want to be this week. There has been shouting. There have been fights over mess and school attendance. I am better at conflict resolution than I once was, but I still have some way to go. Being a parent is not easy. Being a teenager is not easy either.

I could seriously go on and on with this list, but I'll stop now and hand over to you. Any confessions?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Places To Go

Ok, so I am going to go and wash the dishes now, but you all entertain yourselves with fun from various corners of the internet. Enjoy:)

Diary of number 13: Our very dear friend Hazel who fills the Blueday comment section with sage advice and friendly encouragement, has started her own blog. It is wonderful and useful. Today I made her 30 second mayo, and it is true to its name, and very delicious. I am so excited to see Hazel blogging as I have benefited greatly from her knowledge of herbs and wild foods and her determination to head towards a waste-free family life.

Washing your hair with rye flour shampoo: Washing my hair with rye flour instead of shampoo over the last few weeks has worked like a dream, and I am so happy to finally leave the world of shampoo behind. For those with lingering questions, here is a QandA post with all the answers.

Earth Overshoot Day: Imagine the boffins of the world get together and work out what is a sustainable rate of resource use for us to continue living on Earth. They come up with a lot of numbers that represent the maximum amount of resources we can consume in one year. Back in 1970 it took the world's population 13 months to use up that amount of resources. Yay! Well, within budget. In 2018 it took us 7 months to use up that amount of resources. Yesterday was the day we exceeded this year's budget of world resources. Now, who can see the problem here??

Urban Self-Reliance: I have enjoyed this little Kirsten Dirksen film, rewatching it several times over the last couple of years. A dedicated young couple transform their rental unit into a productive hub with a lush garden, chickens and preserving. It is cheap, functional and beautiful.

Forager: Especially useful if you live in the UK or Europe, but with some wild ideas for the rest of us who have had European weeds and plants migrate to our shores. Recipes for the wild plants we love to forage for in our backyards and roadsides. Yum.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Jungle Garden

There are two sections to my suburban garden. One is the section I have been working on since I moved in to this garden-with-attached-house two years ago. I like to take photos of it because I have tamed it (somewhat) with paths and weeding and planting. I built a retaining wall! The other half of my garden (it is bisected with a set of wonky concrete steps) is The Wild Side. I have ignored it completely while concentrating my energies on the other side which has now become a productive garden.

Here is The Wild Side:

Some of those acanthus plants are huge, taller than I am! This can be a problem as the only garden tap for the lower section of the block is to the right of this photo, between a tree, a pile of firewood, and under a triffid-like acanthus. I do worry that I'll venture in there one day and not come out..

Above the wild jungle there is another section, which I believe was once a stone-flagged terrace. The neighbour says there was a pond at one time. Now it houses a friend's cement mixer, and the ramps he uses to get it on and off his ute:

Above that section is a hugely unaesthetically pleasing mound of fill - gravel, soil, blocks of cement - which was dug out when the verandah was built. This space will, the gods willing, become a lovely deck upon which to put a table and some chairs and have civilised dinners whilst enjoying the view. Currently it is fast turning into another jungle. It is extraordinary how fast the plants take over. It is like post-apocalyptic jungle, right outside my kitchen window:

That tree up against my neighbour's wall is the avocado I had cut down last year. It has returned from the grave with a vengeance and is about to invade my poor neighbour's kitchen. I am about to take the pruning saw to it. Don't feel sorry for it. It produced one avocado in ten years, which is not quite enough to save it from execution. I feel like a Stalinist dictator with a clip-board and production quotas, but standards must be maintained! Also, it stole all the sunlight from my kitchen. This particular quadrant will be the future home of deciduous trees only.

Over the next few months my plan is to wade into the jungle equipped with gumboots and machete (actually, I don't have a machete. But I think I may need one) and create a series of hugelkulture swales on the steepish slope. I will use all the vegetation that I cut down, plus the large pile of apricot tree prunings already in place as the basis of the swales, and top them with soil and gravel from the large pile of fill up above. Next winter I will be able to plant fruit trees into the partially decomposed swales, on the up-hill side so that they will receive the rain-water which will be funnelled downhill by the swale design. But first, in the summer I will be able to plant pumpkins and other big vegie plants on the mounds. I am also attempting to work out how to add chickens to the mix, without them eating everything in sight. I am so excited about all the garden plans, if a little daunted by their scope. Still, it took me two years to get thus far, and if it takes me two years again to make a garden from the jungle of this half of the garden, well, at least it will be two years of high entertainment, fresh air and exercise!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Waste Not...

I was just now cutting up pumpkin for soup for dinner and idly wondering how it would be if instead of throwing all those seeds in the compost, I saved them and ate them instead. I mean they are pumpkin seeds, after all, and I actually go to the shops and buy pumpkin seeds. How do you get the green pepitas out of the shell? Is there a machine? Or a gadget like a nut-cracker? I did, of course, just this minute google that very question, and what do you know, you can crack pumpkin seeds on your very own kitchen bench with a rolling pin, then you can boil them, and just like that .. MAGIC! Hulled pumpkin seeds. There goes another hour of my day.. but.. point is, it is possible. I could theoretically do this. And, that red wine that I am drinking? Theoretically the bottle it comes in could go straight back to the winery to be refilled. Why not? Reasons, apparently. I imagine it has something to do with it being cheaper to put wine in freshly minted new bottles each time. This is capitalism, after all, and capitalism is all about the race to the bottom for profit. There may also be a health regulation or some such thing about refilling bottles, as if sterilisation wasn't a thing. Point being, both these reasons (which I have completely made up, they may be true or not, who knows?) are excuses, as is my reluctance to eat pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin, which sounds like a tedious process, rather than buying them from the bulk-food bin at the whole food shop, where they have come on a slow boat from China where they were grown organically without chemicals then shipped non-organically with planet-warming greenhouse gases.

My dear reader, do you see where these thoughts are tending? No? Well, I'll make it clearer. We make things so complicated in our society. We waste so much. Pumpkin seeds and glass bottles and who knows what else. As I chopped up pumpkin for soup I thought about all the waste we make. It has only been possible for all of us to become wasteful in the last couple of hundred years, since fossil fuels began to be made into staggering mountains of things. And then plastic. The most staggering mountain of all. Prior to the industrial revolution, things were precious. Food was precious and often uncertain. Everything was used, all the parts of a plant or animal, and any bits that couldn't be used were recycled via the earth. Even now, vast portions of the world's population live with very, very little, but even in those places, plastic turns into a huge burden because what do you use it for once you have used it the first time?

It is fascinating and interesting to contemplate what a no-waste society would look like. We know, of course, what no-waste societies used to look like. But how would our own society look if we shut down waste? How would my own life look if I used and re-used everything I have instead of allowing it to join that giant landfill mountain? These are questions that are dripping slowly through the caverns of my mind right now..

In other no-waste news, I learned a new thing this week - you can eat broccoli leaves! I sort of knew this, as I chop up the little leaves on the broccoli that I buy and put them in the stir-fry, but I hadn't transferred that knowledge to my own home-grown broccoli plants. Broccoli leaves taste like broccoli, funnily enough, and will be harvested and eaten up for dinner forthwith!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

So I've Been Washing My Hair With Rye Flour...

It being Plastic Free July and all I decided to attempt a waste-free shampoo solution. I have been wanting to try this for ages but couldn't find a recipe that appealed to me at all.. until now. Rye flour. Water. An apple cider vinegar rinse. This is so ridiculously simple I decided to give it a go. After all, I could just wash again with shampoo if it didn't work, right?

It worked.

I have been washing my hair with rye flour for a couple of weeks now, and my hair is happy in its own fairly normal, boring and going quietly grey kind of way. So how, you might ask, do you wash your hair with rye flour? Good question. I got all my information from Wasteland Rebel, but have played around with amounts, ie am using less flour than recommended, because, you know, thrifty.

First, locate some light rye flour. Whole rye flour has bits in it that are hard to rinse out of your hair..
I use two teaspoons of flour and enough water to make it into a shampoo-consistency paste. Apply to wet hair like shampoo and scrub through your hair. I rinse and repeat for the not very good reason that this is what I do with 'normal' shampoo. Anyway, it's fun and a good excuse to stay in the shower for another three minutes. Warning: rye flour in your hair feels like a mud pie in your hair. It feels not at all like shampoo, as you can imagine. Persevere. Rinse well. Now conditioner. I have been using one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a litre of warm water, and slowly pouring it through my hair while scrubbing my scalp again to make sure the flour is all rinsed out.  Now rinse out the vinegar. Done.

I washed my hair this afternoon and it is feeling soft and silky. I am going four days between washes. I think it took a few washes to get the shampoo residue out, and now I have completely odour-free hair that feels like, well, hair.

Photographic evidence:

Here is a photo I took a few weeks ago, while I was still using shampoo in plastic bottles:

Here is a photo I took a few days ago, a couple of weeks in to my rye-flour experiment:

Now, clearly my hair will never be glamorous because I am not a glamorous hair person, and my children complain that I make stupid faces when I am taking selfies, and also I need a haircut. Granted. However, I think you may agree that the hair just looks like, well, hair. I defy anyone to guess that it wasn't washed with something that came in a plastic bottle from the supermarket.

So hey, give it a go. Let me know if it works for you. It is so very, very simple. And cheap. And effective. And oddly satisfying. Another set of plastic bottles can leave the bathroom now.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lemon Verbena Tea

First the lemon verbena grew into a great big bush in the summer. It lives in a half-wine barrel along my front pathway which is fairly protected from the frost. Lemon verbena is a bit fragile and doesn't cope well with hard frost. Then I dried it for a month or so in my garden shed. Then I put it in a box in my front porch in a giant bunch where it greeted visitors for another three months.

The Girl has been visiting for a week during her holidays so one night we sat at the table in front of the fire and stripped all the leaves from the verbena. The age-old women's tradition of talking and working lives on in our dining room.

And when the working is finished we continue the talking, this time with added lemon verbena tea. We tried it with sugar and without, and decided that without is preferable.

 Lemon verbena tea is rich in anti-oxidants, good for indigestion, heartburn, and lowering fevers. It also tastes good and smells divine. If you harvest the whole leaves you don't even need a tea strainer - just throw a few leaves into boiling water then fish them out with a teaspoon when your tea is steeped to your satisfaction.  This makes it a very practical tea for picnics, the office, and all events at which really terrible tea and coffee is served. A tiny pot of lemon verbena leaves stashed in the handbag, and instant, home-grown, hassle-free lemon tea nirvana is possible wherever boiling water is available.

This is my picnic tea tin. It is an old wedding cake slice tin from my granny. Apparently, once upon a time, brides would send slices of wedding cake in small tins to friends and relatives who couldn't make it to the wedding. This is a magnificent idea, and would make it very tempting not to go to the wedding. I mean, wedding cake - that's the best bit of the wedding. This way you would get the cake without having to dress up or travel interstate and sleep on your cousin's lounge room floor.

Anyway, small tin, lemon verbena tea. Hot water. Bliss.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Potting Up Indoor Plants and Dividing Aloe Vera

In the cold days of winter going outside into the garden is not high on everyone's agenda, but there are really a lot of very useful gardening jobs to do in winter, especially on a sunny afternoon. For such a long time I have been meaning to repot some of my indoor plants, and today was the day. First I collected the pots. I am still not buying anything this year if I can possibly avoid it, so I fossicked through my dwindling collection of terracotta pots and found some the right size. I then prowled around the house to see what else I could find, and took down these blue and white Chinese porcelain pots from the top of my bookshelf. They have been up there doing nothing but looking pretty for years, so now it's time for them to do some actual work.

I have a collection of pieces of broken terracotta pots that I keep to use as covers for the drainage holes in pots. These stop the potting mix from falling out of the pots, and also slow down the water as it drains out of the pot, to keep the soil damp for longer.

This is my poor aloe vera plant. I bought it two years ago when I moved to this house, and it has been in its tiny nursery pot ever since. Luckily aloe vera thrives on neglect, and it has grown several babies. It really is time to separate them now though, so I carefully pried the plantlets apart.

Now I have four aloe plants instead of one! I love plants - they are so generous! Two of these plantlets also have tiny babies, so in a year or so I will be able to divide them again. If you are doing this, make sure that each piece has some roots attached.

Here are my potted babies in their new cosy blankets of fresh soil. I love the shiny leaves of the fiddle-leaf fig. It too was living in its tiny nursery pot for over two years, so should make enormous growth as spring comes along. The two devil's ivy plants came from cuttings from my friend Carla. She cut the stem just an inch above and below a leaf. I left them to root in a glass of water, then potted them up in potting mix for a few months. One is now growing a new leaf, and both had roots sticking out of the bottom of their pots, so I knew it was time to pot them on. I gave one back to Carla, one to my friend Lillian who is making a jungle in her bathroom, and kept two to drape down from high shelves. Devil's ivy drapes beautifully in long, leafy vines. Carla's cat kept chewing her plant, which was why she had to trim it. I use about half potting mix and half compost in my indoor plant pots. I find that all potting mix dries out too much.

The aloe vera I potted up in succulent mix, which drains extra well, and is more bark-like than regular potting mix. Ok, so when I said I am not buying anything, clearly I bought potting mix and succulent mix. I would love to learn to make my own. It's on the list. That would eliminate more plastic bags from my life. But it's food really, isn't it? Not things. Plant food..

 I watered all the pots with a solution of seaweed concentrate. Three capfuls of seaweed concentrate to a nine litre watering can full of water. Seaweed concentrate stimulates root growth. While the pots are draining I get out my seashell collection to make a decorative mulch for the aloes. My seashell collection is the result of many years of family trips to the beach, and all those buckets-full that come home with the children. When they get tired of the shells (two days on average) I store them in a big pot in the shed. They make a very nice mulch for indoor plants.

Now to find new homes for the plants indoors. If you bring terracotta pots indoors it is important to remember to use a glazed saucer as terracotta saucers are porous and will ruin the surface you have it on. I have a stack of plates in the back of the cupboard that are chipped or cracked and use them as plant saucers. I am so happy to have repotted my plants at last. It may have taken two years, but it did happen in the end, and now they should all be happy for another two years at least..