Saturday, March 31, 2012

The boy and his chickens

This year our littlest one took over the care of the chickens. He has more time in his day than our elder son who now is in Gr 9 and working really hard at the books!

David is such a good steward with his "babies". He has even managed to gain their trust and often dissapears into the coop to sit and hold them. He has one favourite chicken called "Favourite" :) that cuddles into his neck when he holds her.

They are thriving on all the attention and except for 3 of the hens (two broody ones and our old gal) we get eggs from the others - 3 on one day, 4 on the next. This gives us enough for our daily eating needs, unless we need to bake, which I am not doing a lot of recently.

They seem to be happy in their new coop now that they have the human boy visiting many times each day, initially though they went completely off the lay.

The old coop was right next to our home and I am convinced they missed the noise of the kids and their passing by the coop so often.Thank goodness for David...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Curing good!

Yesterday's soap making endeavours has yielded lots of lovely soap...we cut it this morning, now it cures for 5 weeks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trying two new soap recipes

I loaned a soap recipe book from the library a while back and made copies of the few recipes I wanted to try. I didn't make note of the book, but I think it is this one: The Handmade Soap Book.

Today my daughter and I tried two recipes for our next batch of soap. Our Calendula and our Rooibos soaps are still plenty, but when making all your own soap one needs to plan 5 weeks in advance to allow curing times.

Oatbran Soap
400g coconut oil
350g plam oil
250g olive oil
5ml wheatgerm oil
5ml Vit E oil

6 tablespooons oat bran
10ml vanilla essence

158g caustic soda/lye/sodium hydroxide
365g spring water

Measure oils into a large stainless steel pot, heat to 49 deg C.

Measure water and CS into a plastic bowl. (Remember to add the CS to water not other way around). Wait for it to reach 49 deg C.

Add the water/CS to the oils when temperature reached, stir with wooden spoon to blend then use your stick blender to bring to trace. Add oatbran and vanilla essence, stir in well.

Pour into greased mould, cover with towels so that it cools slowly overnight. Tomorrow I will cut it into bars and store for 5 weeks.

Cucumber soap
Very excited about this one!
395g coconut oil
282g shortening
226 olive oil
5ml grape seed oil
15ml essence (I used Ylang Ylang)

1 cup diced fresh cucumber
415g spring water
143g CS

Measure oils and heat to 49 deg C.

Add water to cucumber and use stick blender to make into "soup". Add lye to this. Wait until 49 deg C is reached.

Add water mixture to oils, blend with spoon, then use stick blender to bring to trace. Add your essence, stir and then pour into mould. Cool overnight as described above.

NOTE: this came to trace VERY quickly!

On the weekend I hope to make the last batch of Lavender soap when the buds I cut off my plants today have dried.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Aphids, ants and coffee...

Tonight I was asked what to do with used coffee grounds besides throwing them in the compost. Well it reminded me that I have been meaning for ages to treat the aphids on my lemon tree.

The tree was transplanted from a pot where it stood for 2 years and supplied me just one lemon in that time. It recieved a new lease on life with the transplanting and we picked a good few lemons last season. At the moment it has about 10 green fruits.

But under the leaves we have the tell tale presence of aphids, being farmed by the ever industrious ants.

If you treat the ants, the aphids decline and ants hate the coffee grounds from my machine go around the base. I will add each days grounds to the trunk base and eventually the ants will dissappear and we can then wash the aphids off the leaves with a home made spray.

Simple Lives Thursday.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What makes you quiver in your boots?

Well, for me it is knitting! I work myself into such a tizzy that I often wonder why, every year in Autumn, I start to plan a project or two?!?

It's not like I can't knit something basic, I can, I have! Beanies, mittens and even a pair of socks...but as I look at my stash of wool I start to panic.

I am trying to figure out why I feel like this and I think the biggest thing is time. I honestly don't have time to sit and knit everyday, I don't even watch TV anymore so I cannot do it then. I have no where to sit and wait for kids at sports etc as I always add errands in the same area and am running around doing them.

It all comes down to one night a week - Friday, while my children host a Bible study with their friends. I have a knitting friend, so we sit and chat and pray for the 2hrs, and in winter we add needles and wool.

I have two 12hr plane trips coming up soon, but knitting needles are taboo on the flight, so it will be reading, hopefully sleeping, and talking to my son.

So, now that I have had my whine moment, these are my planned winter knitting projects....

Boys beanie This one is scary as it means I have to figure out how to knit in the round.

Waffle Weave Dishclothes Don't you love those colors! Scary new stich to master.

Socks like last year I have another two balls of self striping sock wool to work through.

Big softie which is last on the list. It's the biggest project I have made up my mind to undertake but will not be finished this season, that's for sure.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Making a come back.

My favorite pair of winter jeans has died. The holes in them are no longer trendy...they are dodgey!

I have been keeping them for my daughter as she likes to turn old jean into bags.She hasn't had time to get to it, and I entered an apron swap this week.

My old jeans have been upcycled and have made a come back as two aprons. I used this idea and then did my own thing.

I needed to buy new needles for my machine today and at the quilting shop they were selling little blocks of offcuts. These covered the bigger holes. The apron above has ties that are made from the tailored seam from the side of the jeans. The other ties and both neck strings were made from bias-binding.

I also cut off the pockets of the jeans to give one pocket to each apron, which is kind of funky. This project was perfect for me as I could be really "messy" with the sewing as the jeans are old and used and I hope with washing and wear that the sides will fray.

About 1cm in from the edge I did a row of zigzag for the fray. One of these will go to the apron swap, the other tucked into my travel bag for my sister.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Attracting Wildlife To Your Garden

If you live on a small holding or farm wildlife like rabbits and hares, deer (in the USA), gerbils and moles can be a huge problem for veggie growers. If you are like me living in the city, then you will have to employ strategies to attract wildlife to your garden to create a thriving eco-system where each plant and animal do their thing to keep the balance.

One of the best ways to start attracting wildlife is by making a pond or setting up a water feature. Birds, frogs, dragon flies, lizards and even pond skaters are have a function in a vegetable garden and they all love a watering hole.

When we converted the last part of lawn into a veggie garden in Dec 2010 my son begged us to make a pond. We are so glad that we listened to him as we now have a thriving ecosystem for all the above mentioned critters.

Early pond

15 months later

Another way to attract wildlife is to have feeding stations. This one below my youngest made back when we started the pond. He simply nailed together 3 slats of wood then nailed it to a spare fence post. He hit 4 nails through from the underneath to spike fruit to hold it in place while the birds feed.

He also attached two cup hooks to the underneath to hand a traditional bird seed feeder and a homemade nectar feeder. The White Eyes and Sunbirds polish this off weekly.

At woodwork class he made this very professional bird feeder which we put fruit, seed and meal worms on which is visited daily by Bulbuls, Red Wing Starlings and Fiscal Shrikes. During winter he likes to make pine cone feeders for birds, but the squirrels generally get to them first.

Another tip to attract wildlife is allowing herbs to go to flower. Borage is my absolute favourite for this as the bees cannot get enough of their beautiful lilac and blue flowers. Below is yarrow that is also flower and gets its share of daily visitors.

It goes without saying that creatures will visit your garden if they know it is safe. A couple of years ago our neighbours sprayed their law with something toxic and our chameleons dissappeared for 2yrs. If you need to spray, then make sure you use something that is specific, non toxic and preferably homemade like chilli and garlic sprays etc.

A better way to deal with pests is to introduce it's predator. Ladybugs love aphids, frogs eat slugs and other flying pests, spiders pray on mosquitoes and ants, Praying Mantids are probably one of the most beneficial garden helpers. Companion planting is another great way to keep pests off vegetables and is really doable with a little planning.

A wonderful book to buy on this topic is Garden Guardians by South african author Johan Gerber.

I cannot tell you the joy I experience when I see our Leopard Toad, turn over the soil and see the loads of earthworms, lift leaves and see the woodlice or peep into the asparagus and see our lizards and praying mantis...I am so glad they feel safe here and have made our garden their home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Simple Steps in Green Living and Frugality #6 ~ Just one thing!

When we become more aware of what we are putting into our bodies, into the air we breathe, down the drains or on our gardens we can begin to hyperventilate because there is just so much to do to correct the balance. What is a person to do? Jump in with both feet? Progress toe by toe? Attempt something each month? Master one thing at a time?

Drying teabags for firelighters

I suppose it depends on your personality to a large degree, but it can also be dependent on money and time. The personality thing will greatly determine what you decide to take on from a challenge point of view, but time and money are the more limiting things as you cannot over extend yourself financially which is committing the proverbial frugal suicide and you cannot get more than 24hrs in a day - believe me, I have tried.

Hot fresh bread daily

In the past, I have made lists of things I wanted to achieve on weekends. Long lists where I have spent hours in the garden, hours in the kitchen, excercised and had some social recreation, only to get to the end of the weekend more tired than when I started it.

Compost collections

I have also allocated months of the year to certain tasks for example I prefer to knit in the cooler months. Last winter I only churned out one pair of socks [blush-blush] but that's ok...I learnt a skill. Other months are more intense in the garden, others more intense in the kitchen. It all falls into a natural do-able cycle if you let it.

One new recipe a week

Now I have had to become even more careful with my time management and have forced myself into "just one extra thing" mode. So each day on top of the normal routine of a homeschooling-cook-from-scratch-wannabee-green household I allow myself just one thing...So far my week looks like this on top of the 8 - 2pm schooling and +/- 2 - 6pm sports:

Monday: groceries
Tuesday: home business admin
Wednesday: web work
Thursday: library
Friday: school outings or Geocache
Saturday: gardening
Sunday: rest  & try a new recipe

Doing it like this ensures that I can still cook the right meals and don't find myself standing in a checkout queue at 5pm. I can get my clients orders out on time and don't have to pay overnight courier charges. I can get my seeds sown so that I don't have to buy more expensive seedlings from the nursery. I don't have to pay library fines as I am always on top of the due date - you get the idea?

Being organised = being frugal.

Being organised = greener choices.

A point on the above, I always try to group activities and errands. For instance on Thursday while two of my children are at music lessons in Tokai, I go to the library with my youngest. When I do my groceries I do my banking and posting. This is less petrol, less C fumes and less time away.


So how, if you are just starting out, do you filter all of the information to make sure you are giving the attention to the right concern? I feel it is the hierachy of what creates the most damage to self and environment. In my thinking it goes like this:

1. What I put in my body (food, water etc)
2. What I put on my body (lotions, clothing etc)
3. What is in my environment(waste, cleaning etc)

So if you want to begin to watch what is going into your body, start with one thing. Making your own bread is something that you can incorprate into your daily chores. You can eventually get one of your older children to take this over. When this is down pat, add the next "in your body" challenge. Perhaps its growing sprouts? Perhaps setting up a herb or veggie garden? You pick.

Putting on your body is taking the first step to get away from soap and shampoo that is loaded with petrochemicals. Learn to make your own. Then progress onto the next thing.

Your environment is probably the easiest thing to do. A simple think like drying you teabags for firelighters is so quick and easy to implement. Then start collecting your recycling in one spot and drop it off each week. Think COMPOST! Start by getting a large 5l empty ice cream tub and collecting your for your compost heap. Half of the problem with these few things is that your mind makes you think it's harder than what it is. This is where you hold your nose and JUUUUMP in with both feet!

If you would like a month by month helper, sign up for my Simple Green Living Ecourse which will help you progress with one thing each month.

Find more tips at Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Simple Green Living on Facebook

What? It's 2012 and I am only joining Facebook now????? Almost unbelievable isn't it? But anyway, you can find a community on the Simple Green Living page at FB. It is a baby step to connect with those greenies, natural whole food fanatics and simple living folks who are on there already.

Feel free to "like" or  recommend to others or add your green living or recipe blog posts as you can.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Seasonal Merry Go Round

Having a veggie garden makes me so aware of the changing seasons. So here we are into March and kind of just snuck it's way in making the mornings darker and cooler, leaves drift to the ground while out walking, a light jersey needed for the evenings and bare garden beds waiting for their new inhabitants.

All our beds have been cleared out with the exception of some carrots, a little bit of corn and this messy bed above which holds the last cucumbers, loads of basil, dill, chillies, beans and yarrow. This bed will lie fallow for winter as the sun is blocked out by the house for these 3 months.

Today we got stuck in early and finished preparing the kitchen garden beds. This is the original garden which started us on this journey in 2008. While you can see nothing from this broad photo, the garden holds onion seeds in the first bed, beetroot in the second, purple sprouting broccoli in the 3rd, broad beans in the 4th and in the 5th a sneaky hopeful planting of Chinese Cabbage and Pak Choi. I am hoping that there is still enough time for the 5th bed as it too is in full shade through winter.

The pond garden, which was 2010's addition is now ready for planting. I hope to get that done tomorrow which is generally my rest day, but we are on a clock here with 5 weeks to go before my son and I leave for London. The asparagus will need to be cut back and fed in May, doesn't it look full and healthy?

Every bed was also given a generous helping of Bounce Back as well as all our pots and hanging baskets. The kids also fed the baskets and pots some liquid feed today when watering.

The one bed we cleaned out had some forgotten bush beans and they had dried on the pod. To my delight we have enough dried beans to give Jamie Olivier's home made baked beans a try....that's a job for tomorrow too.

What are you doing in your changing season garden right now?