Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slow Living 2012 ~ October

Cucumbers trailing along

I am sure that I am not the only one who feels like the year has flown by, but here we are at the beginning of November and I can feel the beginning of summer in the air and I long for the time when we can just roll along through our days with no extra murals and do special things together like picnics, swimming in the dam and going to the beach. Roll on Summer!

Here is what last month looked like in our household, joining up at Christine’s slow living month by month 
NOURISH:  This month has seen us again adjust our eating. We have all felt a little low on energy, fuzzy brained, achey in tummies and decided to do a detox. Our elder daughter kicked us off with it and her dedication has had such fabulous results that we are all doing a 17 day detox. This has been hard for my carb loving husband (although he has been eating low carb for a long time) and for the other three kids, but it’s ok and not for too long. 

This has meant that our meals have been light and quick to prepare with lots of veggies and salads with organic, free range, sustainable fish, meat and chicken options. I am preparing to add venison into our diet when we can get it via our meat supplier and am quite excited to learn how to cook venison.

Red Onions
We have also upped our kefir drinking and have at least one smoothie a day made with either blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. Our kefir plant turns 1 liter of milk in about 24hrs which is just right for our needs. I also am back into the weekly yoghurt making which is all part of this detox gut healing plan.

Needless to say, my most favourite thing – baking – is on hold for now, all treats and bread have to wait a bit…sigh.

From the garden we have been eating onions, broad beans, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, peas, herbs, strawberries and celery.

PREPARE: Not much in this department as we eat fresh items from the garden as they come however I am discovering how to correctly harvest and save seed from the garden and have a stash of dried Calendula now too for soap and salve making through winter.

REDUCE: When needing to plant my herbs in the back courtyard I scrounged around in the hidey holes of my garden and pulled together about 10 pots of all sizes for the herbs. A great money saver!
New corn shoots

GREEN: Not new to me, but I thought I would share how I deal with a smelly bin…it’s the same way I deal with my drains – bicarb and vinegar. First I rinse it with a hosepipe. Then I sprinkle bicarb on the bottom, sides and lid. Then I spray it with my citrus cleaner. I leave in the sun for about 2 or 3hrs then rinse again with fresh water. It works every time!

GROW:  As the days warm up we are seeing the garden grow overnight and it is exciting to see the little leaves of corn sticking through the soil only days after planting. The courgette plants have their first flowers out, as do the potatoes.

Corn 3 weeks old

We planted more corn this month as well as tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes and beans, cucumber and melons. Into pots I have planted loads of herbs like majoram, thyme, celery, oregano and basil. 

My little one asked for a patch for himself so we demarcated an area and he has planted carrots, coriander, baby dash spinach,

radishes and watermelon.

CREATE: Still working on face/disch clothes for gifts…and then I’ll stretch this category a bit by sharing this: about 14 years ago a friend and I listened to a teaching called “The heart that makes the home” and it was full of help for me as I began to embrace my homemakers role more in this time with 3 little children. Over the years my life has gotten busier and busier but I have always had a heart to create a home that reflects my personality and a place of comfort for my family.

To some degree I have managed this, but finances, time and other deeper issues have not allowed me to focus on this as much as I would have liked to. I recently read a blog post by a friend that reminded me of this teaching from years back and have been laying my heart bare before the Lord.

Hence my decision to sign up again at to get back into the habit of doing a little everyday in a room or zone. I have also decided to take one room at a time and “redecorate” with a little squirreled away money. It will take a while as I rediscover what I love in style…which leads to the next point.

DISCOVER: About 5 years ago another homeschool mom contacted me about how to build a website like the ones I have. All these years later she has an amazing website which has come back to help me in my home. As we have a little cottage style home, her website will be from where I will be drawing much inspiration!  

This is the co-op where the residents have transformed the river
ENHANCE: This month my younger son and I went on an outing with the Centre for Conservation Education where he visited the Liesbeeck River at three spots. In it’s natural state near Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, at Bishopscourt Cooperative where they are carefully managing the river to rid it of alien vegetation and allow the river to regain its life and then to where it has been canalized lower down and is devoid of all natural life. 

A wonderful hands on way for him and other children to learn about caring for the Lord's creation.

ENJOY: Definitely the winner this month…we had lots to enjoy! 

~My elder daughter wrote and enjoyed her Grade 12 Afrikaans exam (she has 6 months left of homeschooling!)

~A weekend with my parents in George where I was a vendor at the Homeschool Convention for our Footprints Program. It was great to encourage other homeschoolers, catch up with a dear friend and spend some time with my folks. 

~ A visit to Kleinplassie outside Worcester to learn about sheep shearing

~ A whistlestop visit to Happy Hog to see new pink piglets and pick up our order

~ Visting the free range chicken farm where my son gets the chickens from which he sells to the local community. 

~ A superb visit to the Plettenberg Bay Elephant Sanctuary where we were able to get up close and personal with some gorgeous creatures.

~ And then joy of joys for my children – two new additions to our household…two little 8 week old rescue kittens from TEARS…Meet Toby and Tiffany!

Little Tiffany a.k.a. Soft Paws

Toby the Terrorist (but sleepy here!)
How was your month?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Basics of seed saving

When we started veggie gardening 4.5yrs ago learning to save seed was low down on the agenda. I had heard about people who made seed saving their business and other hobby gardeners who did it as par for the course.

The two people who I know from personal interaction that do this as a business are Sean at Living Seeds and Shannon at The Gravel Garden. After chatting to them both a couple of years ago I felt completely overwhelmed and thought I would leave that up to them. It's not that I ever wanted to turn seed saving into a business, I just thought it would be a good skill to learn.

It is a thought and skill that has been shelved for the last 3 years as I just didn't have the time to figure it out and put the time in to this process. But just this week both Superman and I have had revelation on some issues and I know that I must take it up again.

With the existance of hybrid seed as the buying choice and the influx of GM seed into the country, it's time to make seed banks for my own family to use later in life. This goes to the essence of what we realise as parents...we need to equip our children to live in a very different world to what we live in today. I am not apocolyptic in thinking, but I do know the world will come to an end eventually and Jesus will come again to establish a New Earth (2 Peter 3). Whether this happens in my children or my grand children's generations, I have no idea...but I need to continue the process of equipping them spiritually and physically for this time, even if just to hand on the skills to the next generation.

Obediently I have started to gather my seed saving information once again and I thought I would share my finds here for you. If you have any other resources you would like to share, please leave a comment in the box below, even a link to a clearly written article on seed saving.

Some basic principles of seed saving are:

~On a small scale like mine place plants that you will save seeds from close together for pollination. In other words, if you plant 8 cabbages, choose the best 3 next to each other to go to seed.

~ This then allows you to make a small fleece cage over those three plants to prevent cross pollination.

~ Always save seed from the best plants - pull out weak plants around the best so that they do not share their inferior genes in cross pollination.

~With all plants from which you save seed, choose the biggest plant, the biggest fruit or vegetable and then the biggest seed from it to dry! This means that you are getting the choice genes for regrowth.

~ Saving seed from the same garden will eventually cause the seeds to be acclimatised to the microbes found in your soil, making stronger plants.

~Never use F1 Hybrids to save seed from. Always use open pollinated seeds.

~Give the seed plant space by clearning out a good area around it and feeding it well.

~Remember this is future food for you which means that you want the best next time around and by doing this you will be getting the best of the gene pool and thus better fruits or vegetables.

Some specifics based on the foods we grow:

~Courgettes, squashes and pumpkins - can all cross pollinate, so pollinate the female flower as soon as it appears with a male from the same plant then cover the flower with a fleese bag so that no pollinator contaminates it. When it has grown to a 3rd of its size then cut it off and take the seed.
~Calendula and borage - once polliated and seeds formed choose the biggest and dry then save.
~Lettuce - allow to go to seed on the plant and dry out. Then cut the whole head off after placing it into a brown bag. 
~Tomatoes - choose the biggest plant and the biggest tomato from that plant. Remove all the juice, put on newspaper, let dry then peel off. Select the biggest seed, from the biggest vegetable from the biggest plant.
~Beans - not much cross pollination, when they are white and dry the seeds are ready for storage.
I still need to figure out what to do about corn with this being a small plot....ideas anyone?
Alot of this information I got from this video on Youtube 
I also found some interesting websites to read when I have more time to sit:
Further to this I am going to investigate what the best way is to dry and package seed from long term storage.

Do you save seeds? Why?  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

If you are wondering...

If you are wondering where we have been....we have been:

...watching sheep being sheared

 ...meeting new arrivals

...visiting the chicken farm from where my son get his stock...

And playing with elephants....we will never forget this exprience.

Awesome hand in trunk walk

Feeding them carrots

Ankel inspection
We will shortly return to real life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wonderful, glorious...Today

Yesterday we had our first major South Easter for the change of season. This gale blows through and doctors the air in Cape Town but also causes havoc to my broad beans. We tighten all the window latches and make sure that one side of the house stays closed but we smile as summer is on the way!

I find it hard to settle into our schooling schedule but need to be disciplined for the next 8 weeks to finish the required work...I wander around the garden "moving the sprinkler" but actually delighting in the color and the bugs and the new corn and the berries about.

Thankfully I can call a young one to my side to look at the bug on the berry blossoms and a bee on the's just as well that we have started studying flying insects!

All the Calendula flowers are to be harvested today but we may get another flush. These ones I will leave to go to seed and when I pull them up I shake the dry seeds out over the garden and in Spring next year they will begin to grow again.

I love that while we do not have a traditional flower based garden that ours is alive with the color of useful, edible flowers like these as well as the sunflowers that attract birds and bees as well as the normal vegetable flowers.

 My son always plants sunflowers around the pond and they smile at us all through summer. Where we sit and read in the lounge, we look right out at the pond where they grow.

We leave them until the heads are pollinated and then when they are dry we put the seeds to the chickens for a homegrown treat if the grey squirrels don't get them first!

Strawberries are on their way hard not to count my strawberries before they ripen...and we have our first ripe blueberry which went into my mouth after taking this picture.

I need to buy another barrel and different cultivar blueberry very soon for cross pollination or we will loose the opportunity for more berries as the plant has more flowers.

And then as I finish the loop around the garden in between a lesson with the children I am reminded of the love of a faraway friend as her gift stands as a permanent marker of our friendship in my herb tower.

 Wonderful...glorious....windstill :)!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Enjoying what we do...

For all moms, life is busy. This is a season in life where we have to ask more of ourselves than we did before kids or in our later years. I love so much about this time in our lives and I have from the time our children were babies. Each season brings it's own challenges and blessings but it is all good when we keep the focus on our family and homes.

 During term time when we are busy with schooling the demands increase even more but we are just finishing up the second week of our school break and I am thinking ahead to next week when we have the last 10 week burn beofre the summer holidays.

Part of the break has been getting through my elephant of a to do list but it has also been a time for me to learn new skills, plant up the garden and more.

I made some more soap for gifts to go with the knitted face clothes. I just love knowing what is in my soap and what will eventually be on our skins. I love knowing it is simple basic products that do the job well.

 I am getting myself into the routine of always having kefir on the go. We use it in smoothies, in porridge, bread or with fruit and honey. It really is a super food for the gut.

My plant is still quite little, but it turns just under 1liter of milk in 24hrs. So as we use up one bottle there is always another on the brew.

I find adding thing into my routine much easier to do in the school holidays as then I am in the flow of the habit before we hit the books again.
My son and I scrounged out all our old containers and started placing them in the back yard to see what we can grow in them and if I need to buy any more.

These are going to be herbs, mainly, but in the larger barrels I will grow cucumbers and tomatoes and beans.

I think I only need 1 more barrel and we will be sorted.

 The broccoli that we are harvesting is phenomenal and the heads well formed, dense and delicious. The first broad bean plants are still yielding and our herbs are prolific.

I figure that in herbs alone we save, but am yet to say to people that we save money growing vegetables as it cost so much to set up.

The set up IS however done and soon we will have broken even.

Spinach and aspargus are the other big producers and I am so delighted that our red onions and chives are now ready for use.

 Our favourite treat of lemon curd was made en masse as my son had someone cancel their 3 doz egg order and we needed to use it all up.

We are not complaining as we have enough now to give away and enjoy plentifully.

Lastly, in between exam runs and life, I was able to take my family for a special afternoon in the forest with some friends.

Inspired by frequent walks there and seeing what other children had made - stick teepees - they decided to build a mansion of a hut!

They did such a great job and so far, a week later, it still stands. How wonderful to just be kids and find pleasure in the simple things.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Caring for your back in the garden

At 42+ one can expect to feel a little creaky I suppose, but in 2010 I had to admit that I could feel my body was taking serious strain. For the previous 3 years I enjoyed mountain biking and my body handled what I threw at it. I worked hard in the garden lifting heavy bags, bending for hours and gardening for up to 8 hours on a weekend on top of a strenous MTB ride.

In December 2010 my back siezed...intense pain which prevented me even lifting my left leg to go up a small step. Months of physio and rehabilitative excercise followed. More months of therapeutic massage and stretching.

 These days it only flares up when I am not careful, if I sit too long, try to left heavy things in the garden and do not watch my standing posture.

To save you avid gardeners some money and lots of pain here are some back saving tips for you.

Basic practise:

1. Understand your body and how it works. Take a look at this article and the muscles of your back. Unless you learn to engage your "core" (#2) you will be putting all those little muscles under strain and you can eventually do damage to your spine.

2. Engage your core muscles which is to pull up your pelvic floor and contract your stomach for all bending lifting to help support your back. The stomach and back work together so practise this even when you are sitting or driving which will cause muscle memory.

Gardening tips:

1. Bend your knees rather than your back.

2. Don't lift heavy things alone or at all. Ask your hubby..or son!

3. Use a wheelbarrow.

4. Kneel for weeding or planting, don't bend at the waist.

5. Make or buy a kneeling pad. You can make a thick pad with old bath towels and then cover with tough canvas. You can also buy foam ones at the garden shop.

6. Know your limits. Plan a little for each day and don't exceed what you know you can handle.

7. Set up a little table and chairs to sit at to sow seed.

8. Find some stretches for your back, glutes and legs for after gardening. I have a set of them I do a couple of times a day whether I garden or not.

9. Get all hands in the home involved - many hands make light work AND it's always better to do a job with someone than alone.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ways with spinach and asparagus

Our mainstay crops at the moment are spinach, asparagus, broad beans and broccoli. I am fond of veggies, I wasn't when I was younger, but I have grown in my love for them as being the highlight of the meal. Part of this love I think is in the fact that we nurture them in the garden and they are freshly harvested and on our plate within a short time. I thought I would share some of the favourite ways that we prepare asparagus and spinach most evenings.

We pick our asparagus in the evening by slicing it off just above ground level. You can see last years growth as brown sticks in this photo and then then new spears pushing through. If we do not have enough for one meal, Superman and I will steam them lightly and gobble them down after dunking them in a bit of Hollandaise Sauce.

If there is enough for a side dish (only 4 of us eat asparagus) then I have a few ways of preparing them. To prevent the spears from feathering out if we do not have enough I cut then and keep them in a glass of spring water until we have collected enough. This is normally a 3 day process and the jar can stand on the counter. They tend to dry out in the fridge.

1) Put a cup of water in a skillet and then add the asparagus. Let the water cook off, drizzle with olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper and the juice of half a lemon.

2) Dry griddle the spears for about 5 minutes to get them crunchily cooked. Remove from the heat and place on a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then shavings of Parmesan.

The key with asparagus is not to overcook it as then you loose the sweetness of the vegetable. I have recipes for asparagus soup, tarts and more but they tend to overpower the gentle flavour of this amazing plant. In case you don't is a great article on the health benefits of asparagus.

Moving on then...spinach! We have one child who is spinach resistant :) but will endure the torture because its a vegetable that I can disguise in quiche, tarts and lasagne. But I like it very simply as well and this is the most common way that we eat it.

At least 3 nights a week spinach graces our table in one guise or another. We cut it as close to cooking as possible always taking into account that it shrinks in cooking. So there were times that the kids would go out to harvest and I would need to send them back for more as the basket that looked so full would only do for 2 or 3 of us.

1) The easiest way to prepare once the leaves are washed and chopped is simply in boiling water. Tip the vegetable into a colander to drain and then immediately into a serving bowl. Add a knob of butter, freshly grated nutmeg and salt and pepper.

2) The other way is to wash and chop the leaves. Then into a deep pan fry up some garlic, onion and thyme. Add the spinach in handfuls and sweat in between by placing a lid on the pan. When all is added and has cooked down pour in 250ml cream and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grate over a layer of Parmesan cheese and replace the lid until the cheese melts.

3) The last way is a little more complicated and I cannot claim it as my own but I have to share it as it is simple a superb meal along with a salad. Jamie Oliver has it on his site here.

I hope these inspire you to not only cook these veggies but also find a patch to grow your own spinach and asparagus can be grown in a big barrel too!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Slow Living Month 9

I can’t believe that September is over. In 1 weeks time my eldest writes her final Cambridge Afrikaans exam which marks 6 months left of her homeschool career! What an incredible blessing to have walked this journey with my child who has matured into a Godly sincere young woman.

Our garden is showing the signs of spring as the new growth and the flowers push appear but the days turned cold and wet again this week! Here is what we got up to this month, joining in at Slow Living Essentials.

I have finally achieved my goal of making meal times simpler. This month I was aiming to limit myself to two really special meals a week as I was simply spending too much time in the kitchen. I so love cooking but in the season we are right now I know that I have to go back to basics of good wholesome food without the fuss.
We have had some delicious meals including our now traditional slow roast Sunday, soups for lunch alternating with salads now as the weather warms. 

From the garden we continue to eat broad beans, spinach, peas, spring onions, herbs, broccoli, salads and asparagus. Our asparagus was nutured from seed for 4 years and we now are reaping it in a couple of times a week. We have 10 plants of two varieties and even our children who were “asparagus resistant” are now enjoying it.

I have also managed to include more veggie only meals at night which is a good budget buster. Bread is a once a week treat now that we realise that many of our health issues were related to do daily wheat intake…I am loving the semi sourdough bread that rises with a little yeast overnight and is baked in a very hot cast iron pot for Sunday lunch with a nice soup.

We are excitedly looking forward to the end of the curing time for our olives which should be another month. Some will go to gifts the rest will see us through the year in salads, breads, tapenade and other meals.

I have found a new source for mowed grass…a neighbour to the back of us puts out 2 bags of grass each Wednesday for me to collect on the way home from the boys tennis. This goes onto the compost heap. The rest of the week the next layer is built up with our garden sweepings, chicken coop sweepings and kitchen collections. It is building our compost up nice and quickly and saving our neighbour a trip to the tip.

And I blush a little as I tell this second part….but our veterinary doctor now collects snails for our chickens! I get a call from his receptionist a couple of times a week to pop past for a jar of these critters and the chickens delight in gobbling them up. A great green solution for him in his garden!

Soap was made this month…lemon grass and sage and calendula from the flowers in our garden.

We are also continuing to use the laundry liquid from Down to Earth. The whole house is now cleaned with homemade citrus cleaner. Drains unblocked with bicarb and vinegar.

I am not sure if you all know what peat moss is? But it is a very acidic growing medium for acid loving plants but it is in danger of being overused. Our blueberries need acidic soil and the other option is pine needles, so we eventually got around to collecting a bag full yesterday to place around our plant and to nourish its soil.

Potatoes were planted this month and are starting to sprout above the soil.

Bush beans, corn, squashes, cucumbers and tomatoes have all been planted either direct into beds or in newspaper cups.

The traditional sunflowers have gone in around the pond…I did however see a stray chicken digging there this morning and I hope she didn’t dig them up.

Knitted clothes it is! I have started knitting little face clothes to go with homemade soap for gifts. I haven’t even finished my socks I started in June but have managed 2.5 of these clothes this month. I keep the ball of cotton and needles in my bag and it goes everywhere with me.  If I have to wait outside piano or tennis lessons for a bit I can knit a few rows while I wait.

I discovered this online botanical remedies course and I am really keen to sign up, but I do not want to fill my time right now with anything other than what is right. So I have bookmarked it for later. I really like the perspective of their courses as they are written from a Christian perspective whereas so many of these natural medicine places have origins that are not conducive to our beliefs. 

A very special unplanned event happened this past Thursday while my younger daughter was singing in her choir group at an old age home. I found a bench outside in the sunshine at the home and took out my knitting. My son and a friend were running in the gardens and as I started to knit a very dear old lady came over and sat down with me. This precious woman is 99yrs of age and while a little hard of hearing and with fading sight, we spent a very special hour together as she chatted about her life.

I have promised to go back next week with some bird seed and peanuts as her favourite thing to do is to feed a pair of squirrels and some birds out her window but as she cannot get to the shop to buy the stuff she only gives them saved crusts. I think I will also pick up some stories on tape from the library for her to help her pass the time.

My little one and I overdid the school outings this month, bad planning on my behalf! But they were great fun. He spent a morning playing at the museum school as children did at the turn of the century making their own toys and playing “kennetjie” which is a complicated game played with two sticks on the Cape Flats.

We also did an eco-outing at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which included a delightful walk in the rain.

We also had a great trip to visit Oupa in Hermanus which is always special.

Simply walking a couple of times a week with my dog, kids and a friend is real enjoyment for me. I am easy to please :)