23 October 2014

Setting up your sewing bits and pieces

I love hand sewing much more than machine sewing.

Next month, I'm taking a trip to the Blue Mountains to visit my sister. I have no doubt that we'll do a lot of sitting around while we talk, knit and sew. We have plans for two outings - to visit my nephews, Johnathan and baby Alanna, and to the Brett Whiteley exhibition in Katoomba. We'll probably go out for lunch and morning tea a couple of times too. The rest of the time we'll be alone, together, at Tricia's beautiful little 1930s cottage, sewing and knitting like two grannies.  :- ) 

I've just made a little gift to take. A pin cushion jar for Tricia, the same as the one I have, full of bits and pieces to keep close at hand when sewing. There is nothing more annoying that having to go searching for a safety pin or tape measure when you're in the middle of a project.

 This is Tricia's pin cushion jar jar.

Have you seen the book Home Sewn? I bought it last month and have just looked through it. Home Sewn is beautifully presented with some excellent ideas, patterns and drawings for home projects.  If you look inside the front cover (below), the patterns have their own special envelope so they can always stay with the book.  Most of the projects are for the home - an apron, tablecloth, sheets, shower curtain, bath mat, bread bag, floor cushion, lavender hearts etc, and a few for outside the home - tote bag, sling tote and a travel bag. There is also some interesting information about finding and caring for vintage fabrics and notions, and creating a sewing basket.

This is the book cover (above) and the inside cover of the book. In the photo below you can see the patterns and drawings envelope on the left.

I don't have a sewing basket because I usually sew in my work room and my sewing supplies are all around me, but I find this little jar-pin cushion comes in handy. When I'm hand sewing in the lounge room I just take the jar with me and I have what I need for most small sewing projects.

If you're making up a jar or a sewing basket for someone else as a gift, think about the kind of sewer the person is who'll be receiving your lovely gift.  I am a general sewer, so in my jar, for instance, I have a tape measure, an unpicker, straight pins, safety pins, darning needles, plain sewing needles and a couple of thimbles.  Tricia is a quilter, so in her jar I've included a tape measure, quilting pins and needles, safety pins, an unpicker and a few buttons.  If you're making one up for an embroider, you'd add two or three shanks of embroidery cotton and embroidery needles as well.

This is one of those little projects that even the most inexperienced among us can carry out with confidence. All you need is a small preserving jar with a two piece lid, a small piece of fabric, wadding and some glue. Take the lid apart, fashion a small dome over the inner lid piece and glue it in. It's fiddly but straightforward. When you fill the jar, be sure to match the sewing needles, pins etc to the type of sewer you're giving it to. I think it would make a very sweet Christmas gift. And I for one like nothing better than receiving a practical gift.  Happy sewing everyone.  ♥︎

Added to include: I used spray glue. Make a neat edge around the outer fabric and glue it onto itself on the top of the inner circle. Don't use too much wadding and be tidy around the edges because if there is too much fabric and wadding under the ring, you'll have trouble closing the lid.

21 October 2014

RIP Gough, you really made a difference

I couldn't let this pass without commenting on it. One of my political heroes (I only have two), Gough Whitlam, died this morning, aged 98. Gough was prime minister of Australia when I was in my early 20s and did he shake things up! He brought Australia screaming and kicking into the modern world. He implemented indigenous land rights and established the Racial Discrimination Act. He gave us Medibank and universal health care, he abolished university fees (yes, there was a time when it didn't cost anything to go to university in Australia), he introduced environmental protection legislation, no fault divorce and established the Family Court. He stopped conscription and the death penalty. He supported the arts, established Triple J and helped strengthen the Australian film industry. The wonderful group The Whitlams were named for Gough and the campaign song for the 1972 election was the only campaign song to ever enter the pop charts.

All these initiatives sound quite commonplace today but when I was a young woman this new way of thinking and looking at the world was revolutionary. I think many people my age would look back at that time and think the same. Gough and his wife Margaret, who died in 2012, were intelligent, professional people who worked with the working class and the increasingly influential middle class and in doing so, made Australia a better place. I will always be grateful for the new freedoms they brought to me personally and to Australia in general. When I think of 1962 and 1972, that one decade brought about the most amazing changes to how ordinary Australians lived. Gough was a true leader and a great Australian.

RIP Gough. You really made a difference. Thank you.

17 October 2014

Local Green Hero Award

I'm pleased to tell you that I won the Green Lifestyle Magazine's Local Green Hero Award yesterday. Other winners in the People category were David Holmgren, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Ben Dessen, who won the Junior Local Hero Award. I applaud David and Ben for the fine work they are doing. They're both leaders in this field. There was also a large group of organisations and businesses recognised for their work as well. You can read all about it and see a list of the winners here.  Thanks to Green Lifestyle Magazine for recognising all of us.

My acceptance speech on You Tube.

Weekend reading

I'm busy here at the moment so there'll be fewer posts in the coming weeks. Be patient with me, I'll be back to a more regular schedule when I can be.  Thanks for your visits this week and if you commented, I appreciate the time you took to connect with me. It does make a difference to read those comments. It's like you're waving back to me from the great unknown.

After reading the comments yesterday I know that a lot of you are busy too but pleased take time out when you can over the weekend. It will take commitment from you to do it but the rewards will be there.  See you soon.

The benefits of living alone on a mountain
How instant purchases change the way we see the world.
I went a year without flying
Hooked on grocery shopping with glass jars
Easy to make stool
20 thrifty decorating ideas
Incredible cakes
When to leave the lights on
Stain removal database
Gen Y ditching the car?
The no shampoo experiment six months later

16 October 2014

When do you step away and say, that's it for today?

During the week I had a question from a young woman, Ms J, asking: As with all of us life tends to increase its demands at different times, whether it be work, additional family members, sickness etc. I was wondering at times like that, what chores do you tend to leave for when things settle down again?

Well Ms J, you're right. I doubt there is anyone who can say everything goes smoothly, every day. It might be something unexpected, like a family member being sick, it might be extra paid work, or it could just be that I just don't feel I have the energy to do the work I need to do.  When there is a spanner in the works, the first thing that goes out of my routine is making bread, and I buy bread from our local baker. I tend to drop the easy things that take up time - I don't water the garden, sweep the floor or make dinner. But it's easy for me because there's no one here to complain, except Hanno, and he doesn't.

Most things work themselves out. I just have to sweep more and water more the following day, but not making dinner tends to pose a problem. Usually I have a homemade frozen meal lurking in the freezer or I'll just whip up some herby scrambled eggs and toast. That fills the gaps.

Now I'm older with no children to look after I don't have a regular schedule for my household chores. I don't vacuum on Mondays or wash on Wednesdays. I don't set aside a specific time to tidy up. I generally do things when they need doing and when I feel like doing them. But I know Ms J, that you have small children and I'm pretty sure you'd have to do chores when you don't feel like it. I did when I had a young family.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to household chores - we should all do what works for us. The trick is to feel no guilt about leaving work undone occasionally. We all know that housework never ends, so if it's not finished, what's the problem? I wrote a post about that same subject, good lord, seven years ago! It might help explain how I go about leaving work undone with the blissful lack of guilt I wear like a cloak of honour. I'll add this one about organising housework too for good measure.

There are many differences between house work and paid work but I think the biggest difference is that when you go out to work, you can choose (or have chosen for you) a finishing time when you can walk away and go home. You know your work has finished for the day. You've been given permission to stop. You don't have that option as a homemaker. There will always be work to do, you know that, your partner knows it and probably even the kids know it. So you have to make the decision when to draw your own line. When do you step away and say, that's it for today. And how do you feel good about doing it?

It wasn't always so clear cut for me. In the beginning I struggled with knowing when enough was enough. I felt guilty about sitting down and having a cup of tea. When I started working in my home full time, I had to rethink a lot of the expectations I had of myself and those my family had of me too. I wanted my days to be meaningful and satisfying, and that didn't involve working like a robot. Now when I stop work, I feel satisfied with the work I've done and I know that it's okay to walk away. I know work at home is not one solid block of unrelenting work. It is up to me to find a balance, to find enjoyment in the work and meaning in my days. I have to establish healthy boundaries for myself, so I won't feel resentful about the work I do in my home. And if part of that is walking away, even though there is still work to be done, then that is what I do.  It was not an easy transition going from a busy-must-get-this-done kind of homemaker to a more relaxed one. Like all processes, it was one step at a time until I felt right about where I was. And I was surprised along the way that my more relaxed approach still got jobs done. A new start every day and an end point too, because housework never ends.

So, what chores to you tend to leave when things are hectic or when you don't have the time and energy to do what you normally do?

15 October 2014

A simple guide to thrifty vegetable gardening - part 2

It's very easy to spend a lot of money in the garden. Raised beds, top soil from the garden supplier, blocks, sleepers, fertiliser, tools, fences, wheel barrows, water, and then there's the plants. But like many other things, if you're organised you can save a lot of money creating a garden without pouring money into it. Let's face it, if it's going to cost too much to produce your own, you're better off buying your fruit and veg until you can grow your own at a reasonable cost.

Before you start, work out how much you spend on weekly fruit and vegetables and that will be your budgeting guide. You'll have to spend a little bit more to set up your garden and that cost should be returned to you over the following years, but if you're gardening costs are too high, you may have to rethink. Always work to a year's budget, weekly budgets don't work here. You'll spend a lot the week you buy seeds and seedlings and then you may not buy anything for a month or so. But the main thing is to work out what your budget will be, and then stick to it.

The cheapest way of growing vegetables year after year is to use open pollinated (heirloom) seedlings and save the seeds at the end of the season to be planted out again the next seasons.  This is how all our ancestors would have produced their backyard food. It was a source of pride for gardeners to have a large collection of viable seeds to plant out and swap with neighbours every year. You can't plant seeds from hybrid plants, they don't reproduce true to type. They must be open pollinated. If you start out using that seeds, you'll cut down on your costs because, theoretically, you'll only have to buy the seeds once, and when you want to add new varieties to your collection. You can buy these seeds online in almost every country now.

Here are some older posts on:
How to work out what to grow
How to test for seed viability
How to save seeds

Sometimes you just miss the deadline for planting out your seeds and before you know it, it's time to plant. When that happens, go to your local market to buy your seedlings. We can buy seedlings from the garden nursery here at about $3 for four or six seedlings but at the market they're $1 for 12.

As in ornamental gardens, you can grow plants from cuttings, slips and seeds in a vegetable garden too.  Before you buy all your supplies, check the post below for what you can grow from what you may already have in your kitchen right now. Remember, the rule of enriched soil stands for these too. There are several perennial vegetables that will just keep growing for donkeys years. For instance, we have a stand of Welsh onions given to me by a reader many years ago and they're still going strong. You can also find a perennial leek, rhubarb and asparagus.  Even if you have to buy these vegetables to start them, they'll keep you going for many many years.

I've planted up some avocado seeds and they're doing really well. I know some will say they'll never have fruit or it will take too long, but I'm more optimistic than that and I prefer to think things will work. So far, they are. Just today I snapped off a piece of ginger from a fresh rhizome bought at the shop. I'll keep it in the kitchen until it sprouts, then I'll plant it. Gardening is full of these type of plants, keep your eyes open for them because they'll never be advertised.

Sweet potato can be grown from slips. These are sprouts that form on the vegetable and develop into a long vine. You can cut then off, very close to the sweet potato and plant them in a pot. Soon you'll see new growth and you can plant it in the garden.  Please note, sweet potatoes need a warm climate and a lot of room to grow.

We have three new blueberry bushes because I took cuttings from the bushes we have growing here. I took eight cuttings, three of them took and are growing well now the warmer weather his here. Some might think that three from eight isn't much but I just know that for very little effort and no cost, I have three new blue berry bushes growing outside now. (BTW, Jamie calls them blue bellies).

Elder grows really well from cuttings. You can remove the runners from strawberries to form new plants. Pineapples will grow from the spiky top if you live in a warm climate. There are so many things that can be done.

The best thing you can do for your garden is to add compost to it. As soon as you decide to garden, start a compost heap. Even if it just sits in the corner and rots slowly, it will be worthwhile when you come to planting your garden. There is a composting guide here.

Compost is a great help in cutting down on your household waste. All your kitchen scraps, old newspapers, garden waste, old chook nesting material and chook manure can go in the compost and over a couple of months it will turn itself into the most wonderful soil additive.

You may have to buy cow or horse manure, another excellent soil additive, but if you have a paddock or farm near by, ask if you can collect the manure. Often farmers are happy to be rid of it. If you do collect it, ask if the animals have recently been wormed. Worming medication will kill the worms in your soil and you won't want that.

Mulching will help keep the moisture in the soil and the soil at an even temperature. It's essential in most Australian and dry gardens. You can harvest your grass, dry it out for a month or so and use that as mulch but you have to keep fluffing it up because it has a tendency to matt up and block the rain from getting through to the roots of your plants.

Mulch is one of the few things we buy for the garden. We buy organic sugar cane mulch and it works really well in our garden. It's holds the moisture in and at the end of the season, we can dig it in to add more organic matter to the soil.

This is a no brainer. If you're growing comfrey, yarrow, nettles, or even weeds, you can pick them, add it to water in a bucket, wait for a couple of weeks, and you'll have excellent fertiliser. Here is a guide that I wrote a while back.

We still buy sulphate of potash, Seasol and trace elements (all organic) and we buy them in large containers so they're cheaper. But our main fertiliser is comfrey which is made for next to nothing and can be used as a weak tea every two weeks on most vegetables.

When left alone, natural systems balance themselves out with no help from us. It's when we try to manipulate things, killing insects we are scared of, that things start going wrong. There are plenty of of insects that will help you in the garden by killing off or keeping away other pest insects. If you can attract those insects, you'll help create a natural balance in your garden. So put away the sprays and start growing the plants the beneficial insects love. They'll do the work for you. Here is an old post about what to plant and the insects you want in your garden.

At the moment, we need a new spade. The one Hanno has used for years is bent and needs replacing. We could get a cheap one from the hardware store but there is a man at our local Sunday market who sells old tools. They're much better quality than those on sale now, so that's where we'll buy our new spade. I'm not sure how much he'll charge, but I doubt it will be the same price as a new one. If you can buy old tools, often they'll be better quality than those you'll buy new now. Many of them are made in China and just don't stand up to the tough work of gardening. It's a shame that so many people see buying cheap tools as an option because instead of lasting for many years, most of them break and you have to buy it again. And again. If you need garden tools, ask around. Many older people get rid of their tools when they down size. It's worthwhile looking out for them.  Gumtree is a good place to look, so is your local newspaper.

Many of us forget the obvious things and water is one of those. Every garden needs water; some more than others. If you're gardening and you have to pay for your water, I encourage you to collect as much water as you can from your own roof. You can go the traditional Australian route and install a water tank. Unfortunately, most of the government rebates for water tanks have ended but it's still worthwhile looking to see if you can get a rebate and then decide if it's an option for your garden. I reckon the average backyard vegetable patch would need at least 50 litres of water during the summer, give or take. You should factor that cost into your gardening costs when you're planning your garden. 

Even if you don't install a tank, you can still rig up the down pipes to spill into a barrel or large container. In addition to our two large water tanks, we have a 200 litre open bin in our garden that Hanno has rigged up to collect the water from the chicken house roof. That's 200 litres of water we can use that is free. A bucket will hold 10 litres of water. If you have a down pour, place your buckets outside to catch every drop you can. It's being proactive like this that makes the difference. And yes, the mosquitoes will breed in still water, so every couple of days, run an old fine kitchen sieve through the water to catch the larvae. Just tip them out on the ground, they die out of water.

There are many other things I could keep writing about but as you can see, this post is long enough already. So take it slow, don't take on too much when you start, try to do as much for yourself as you can, and think about your purchases before you make them.  If you have any questions or just need a bit of support in your gardening, go to the forum. There are many experienced gardeners there who are happy to help.   Happy gardening everyone!

14 October 2014

A simple guide to thrifty vegetable gardening

There is no doubt you can save money if you have the space, time and energy to produce organic vegetables and fruit in your backyard. Hanno and I have been doing that on and off for almost forty years but it can be a balancing act because if you're not careful, gardening can become a very expensive exercise. During those years we've worked out how to work a garden, produce food and do it with an eye on the costs too. So I thought I'd spend some time today and tomorrow bringing those ideas together in two posts with the hope of sharing how to save money and showing that a productive garden can be a thrifty one too.

Before we start on frugal gardening though I'm going to address other issues that will effect how some of you garden. It's not the main reason for the post on this topic but unless I address these issues, some new gardeners will waste a lot of time wondering why they can't produce the fresh food they hope for.

I'm directing this post mainly, but not exclusively, at the new gardeners, so, let's talk a bit about our similarities and our differences. Now we have the benefit of blogs and can see what ordinary folk grow, and not just the idealised gardens featured in magazines, that ability to look into each other's backyards can sometimes create problems. I've lost count of the number of times I've blogged about preparing soil before you start, but every time I do my library talks and in frequent emails, people ask me what they're doing wrong. Their problem is that their garden doesn't look like our garden. When I ask how they prepared their soil for planting,  usually the answer is: huh!?

The black kale plant above is one of several we grew about five years ago. They looked like a mini forest because they all grew to about six feet tall.

The health of your plants and abundance of your harvests depends on building up your soil before you start planting. Plants need nutrients in the soil to give the best results and if the soil is depleted or has never been productive, your plants might survive, but they won't thrive. You'll do the same amount of work week by week, but you won't get the great results you will get if you take the time to enrich your soil before you plant. If you don't add organic matter - compost, manures, green manure crops etc into your soil, no amount of fertiliser added later will make up for it. Please prepare your soil well and keep on enriching it between crops. Every time you plant something new, get into the habit of adding manure or compost to the soil. As they grow, plants use the organic matter in the soil to help them grow. This must be replenished frequently.  It is for that reason that you should start composting before you start planting. Here is one of my composting posts about how to start a compost heap. You can buy compost but making your own will make your garden sustainable and it will help you manage your household waste. It's also much cheaper.

There are a lot of differences in gardens world-wide, soil and climate differ but the actual planting methods are generally the same everywhere. If you're a new gardener, or you've just moved to a new location, try to find a local planting guide to help you decide how to start. You might also ask gardening neighbours or join a community garden to find out what and when to plant, and all the things you need to know in your area.

Backyard vegetable production varies a lot depending on what climate you live in. Here in Australia we have a fairly warm climate but it varies a lot from north to south. Our country goes from the hot tropics right down to the cooler regions of Tasmania, which gets the winds right off Antarctica. Overall, but with a few exceptions, we can grow food all year long here. Naturally it's the salad type crops in summer and things like cabbages, cauliflowers, potatoes, parsnips etc in winter.  And because we can grow fresh food all year, in Australia we usually grow small amounts over a long period and preserve whatever excesses we have along the way.

In the colder countries such as Canada, USA, UK, Ireland and many parts of Europe, the growing period is shorter but there are much larger amounts grown. This allows cold climate gardeners to eat the vegetables fresh during the summer and autumn and then to preserve the excess in various ways, seeing them through the winter months when snow covers the ground and gardening is impossible. No matter where you live though, please start slow, planting the vegetables you like to eat or are hard to find. You'll need a couple of years to build up soil fertility, work out what and how to grow and what will work best in your garden. Gardening can be hard work. The last thing I want to do is for you to stop after the first year because it's too difficult. Start small and slow and with the easier vegetables and after you develop your skills you can expand your garden and grow more.

Plant flowers in the garden to encourage pollinators and put some herbs into pots on the side of the garden to add interest and save space.

There are a million things I could tell you about gardening but I've highlighted these paragraphs above because sometimes young gardeners write to me upset that their gardens are failing. The message here is, if you can, connect with local gardeners so you know how to enrich your soil, what the best plants are for your region, when to plant them and what pests to look out for.

I didn't expect that to take up so much space - gardening is a multifaceted topic and it's easy to spill out the words. Tomorrow I'll write all about the thrift aspect of gardening - how you can save as much money as possible while producing fresh organic vegetables for your family.

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