31 July 2008

My place here at home



Lions organic pure cotton

My house is untidy. I'm at home today so I'll have plenty of time to put things back in their rightful places. I remember when I was much younger, I used to look forward to my days off and I would make sure I was out most of the time. I'd be visiting friends, going to the movies, dining out and shopping. Now is a much more gentle time, now I look forward to fluffing my nest and in the doing of it, slowing down and thinking about tasks and my place here at home.

When I was younger and out there living my life in public, I thought being at home was the dullest thing out. I neither valued nor understand the significance of a home; nor did I place much stock in a woman being there. I found my worth in external places, never realising that until I discovered a place where I could slow down, take off all masks and be my true self, whatever worth I thought I found, would be vacuous and brief.

I also needed to discover respect - for myself, other women and my home.

I guess I started that major discovery when I had my children. I saw my home then in a very different light. Before children, my home was just a place I slept and kept my belongings. After children, it became a safe haven where we nurtured our sons, where we modelled the behaviour we wanted to see in them and where those boys lead us to a better life.

And now they've gone. They grew into two fine men that I am very proud of. They're now establishing their own lives with successful careers and with girlfriends that may turn into something more special.

But after all that reminiscing, I'm still left with an untidy home. That's okay though, it's easily put right by gathering up and putting away, my broom does wonders. It's an enriching part of my life now being a homemaker; I discover myself here.

I love my home because it gives me feelings of security and of working towards sustainability. I feel safe here, the comfortable feeling of the familiar gives me more than refuge, it settles my soul. Do you have similar feelings about your home? What makes your home special and just right for you?

A special message to Kate in NY who sent me the book, Not Buying It. It arrived on Monday, I read it Monday and Tuesday nights and gave it to a friend to read on Wednesday. No doubt it will keep on being passed on. Thanks Kate!

30 July 2008

How to make compost



We make compost, year round, in this corner of our garden. We also have compost in the chook pen, and we have a worm farm. We used to enclose the compost on three sides but we found it was easier for us to take away some of those sides to allow easier access when turning the heap.

Compost is the end result of organic matter that breaks down and decomposes. Organic matter, in this context, is anything that was once alive and is usually things like vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, newspaper and cardboard, outer leaves of vegetables, leaves, hair, straw etc. Just about any leafy product may go into compost, but never include diseased leaves like those from tomato bushes as that will just keep that disease in your garden and spread it around. Diseased plants are best put into a plastic bag, sealed up, left in the sun for two weeks, then put into the rubbish bin.

There are many different ways of making compost. The purists make sure their compost bin is a certain size to ensure it heats up - that encourages decomposition and kills some weed seeds. Other people use enclosed at the top, open at the bottom bins. This type of composting relies on anaerobic organisms. I have found that using one of these bins to make compost generally results in a very wet mix and it needs more brown material than green. We have one of these bins but it's rarely used here.

There are three important requirements for making compost:
  • Aeration
  • Nitrogen
  • Carbon
It sounds complicated, doesn't it? Well, it can be, but it can also be easy if you get your mix right.

Aeration is simply moving the compost ingredients around to introduce air into the mix. You could do this by turning the compost over with a fork, by using a tumbler that spins the compost around or by building your compost heap around a wide plumbers pipe that would allow air to go deep within the heap. Generally, it's best to turn the compost with a fork about week or two. The more air you get into the mix, the fast you'll make compost.

Of course, you will make compost simply by piling a heap of organic matter in a corner and waiting for a long time - about 6 - 9 months. The heap will very slowly decompose with no outside help. But if you're wanting compost for your garden, generally you would give it a helping hand and turn it as much as you can. Depending on your climate, turning a compost heap that has been made with the right ingredients, will give you compost in about two or three months.

Nitrogen is wet green vegetable waste, scraps, lawn clippings and old vegetables. It's the stuff that's still juicy or slimy, all that waste that hasn't yet dried out. Nitrogen comes from the fresh kitchen scraps you'll have most days.

Carbon is dry waste like straw, newspaper, cardboard and dried leaves.

You compost will need about three parts carbon to one part nitrogen and all the ingredients should be as small as possible. If you have big pieces of cabbage or pumpkin, or sheets of newspaper, get your spade and cut them into smaller pieces.



These are all links to other sites. I've checked the information there and recommend it to you.

There is a very good slideshow here with a step by step guide to making compost.

Making compost in a warm climate.

Several methods of making compost.

18 day compost

Adding the manure of vegetarian animals and birds, including chickens, to your compost will help it break down much faster. So will adding comfrey or yarrow leaves. In summer, I make comfrey tea and pour it over the compost heap. It helps it along very nicely.



Comfrey

So let's recap here.
  1. To make good compost, you'll need ¼ wet, nitrogen, green waste, like lawn clippings or vegetable scraps. Add that to ¾ dry, carbon waste like straw, dried leaves or shredded newspaper.
  2. Add the ingredients in layers where you have a lot of dried carbon mixed with a smaller amount of green wet leaves.
  3. Add some manure or comfrey/yarrow leaves.
  4. Wet this with some water.
  5. Mix.
  6. Shape into a neat pile and leave it.
  7. Add to the pile as often as you can, making sure you always have more dry than wet waste.
  8. Keep the heap moist, not wet, and turn it as often as possible.
If you notice the compost has a terrible smell, you've got too much green wet waste in there. Add some shredded newspaper or other dry carbon waste and mix it in.

If the compost looks dry and isn't decomposing, add more wet green waste, or a sprinking of water from the hose, and mix.

If you have a lot of wet weather, it would be a good idea to cover your compost heap with a tarp or plastic to keep some of the rain out.



This is a compost heap we just added to over about 6 months and never turned.

Your compost is ready to use when everything has lost its shape and has blended in together. It will look like dark loose soil with little bits in it. It will smell like soil. When you have this excellent additive, either add it to a new garden bed and dig it in, or use it in the planting hole in the garden bed to plant your seedlings in.



This is the compost after six months and several days of rain. We mixed this into our garden soil before planting up a new bed.

You can never have too much compost, so when you successfully make one lot of compost, make more the next time. Compost will add fertility and health to your garden but it will also help you cut down a lot on the amount of organic waste you throw out. If you're serious about your vegetable garden, this is one skill that will help you produce good healthy food for your table.

ROSIE UPDATE: We haven't taken her to the vet yet. She seemed much improved yesterday and has started eating properly and she slept through the night last night. We'll keep watching her and see if we can nurse her back to good health without going to the vet. I'll keep you all posted. Thank you all for your concern, both Hanno and I appreciate it.

29 July 2008

Starting a vegetable garden




Gardening is one of those things that is very difficult to write a one size fits all formula for. What works for me, might not work for you because of our different climates, soil and level of experience. But what I hope to do today is to write a general guide to starting a garden and hope it encourages you enough to give it a go and in doing so develop your own skills in this important subject. I also hope to answer some of the questions asked after yesterday's post.

Hanno and I live in the sub-tropics, and although our temperatures in summer are always in the 30s C (86 - 100 F) with high humidity, we experience that only from late November till February. In winter - June - August our general temperature range is 5C (at night) to the mid 20s during the day (41 - 77F). So for six months of the year we have what I would call extreme temperatures and the remaining six months the weather is perfect - low humidity, with temperatures ranging from 15 - 25 (59 - 77F) day and night.



Here is our home - the yellow area is where we have our vegetable garden, the pink is the chook run, blue is the screen Hanno built last week and the light dots are fruit trees and vines. (Clicking on photos will enlarge them.)

Those temperatures allow us to grow food all year round, although what we grow and how we grow changes according to the season. We have one acre of land and our home is about in the centre of it. There is a little one lane, dead end track leading to our place, we have an old abandoned timber mill across the road that we can't see due to a planting of pine trees, there are neighbours on both sides and a permanent creek and remnant rainforest at back. We are at the edge of a pine forest and about 15 kms from the Pacific Ocean. Our creek at the back runs into the ocean.

I have been a vegetable gardener for many years and have grown vegetables and kept chickens for the past 25 years. Over that time we have never deviated from the one true guide to what we grow. We grow what we eat. So I guess my first piece of advice to you if you're just starting out with a garden, is to make a list of the fruits and vegetables you eat regularly, then start cutting that list back. Strike out anything you know you can't grow. For instance, if you're in northern Canada or Scotland and eat pineapples and bananas, strike them off your list because I doubt you'd be able to grow them. And if you could, it would be such a trial it wouldn't be worth it. This is a guide to practical vegetable gardening, not in forcing food to grow against all odds. If you live in sunny and hot northern Australia or Hawaii, you probably won't be able to grow cabbages, cauliflowers or swedes.



Where I live we never grow onions. We have Welsh (green) onions, but never the bulbous red, brown or white onions that both Hanno and I love. We tried them for two years and the harvest of them was so poor, and they took up so much room, we decided that onions where one of the vegetables we would have to always buy. Ditto for garlic. We grew some but much of it rotted in the ground, so now we buy organic garlic from the market.

Do you see where I'm going with this? You'll finally have a list of food you like to eat that you can easily grow, once you have developed your skills and have the time it takes to do it. You will also have some things you can't grow, or will take too much room or effort to make it worthwhile. Remember, vegetable gardening is not something you'll dabble with when you feel like it. Once you've made the commitment to it, you will be working hard on producing your food and that will require time and effort. Don't go down that path unless you will give it the necessary time and effort.

Get yourself a good book on gardening in your climate and read all about the vegetables and fruit you want to grow. If you're in Australia, I recommend Lyn Bagnall's Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting. It is, by far, the best book on gardening in Australian conditions that I've read. Plant up everything you want and be guided by your book for the care of your plants. I would recommend you start with seedlings and when you have a bit more experience, start growing from seed and save your own seeds each year. This will cut down on your costs but also give you seeds ideally suited to your climate and soil conditions. Each year your seeds with get better and be more inline with your own conditions. When you have some experience, push the boundaries imposed by your climate and, if there is something you really want to grow, try it and see what happens.



It is commonly held to be true in my region that you plant one crop of potatoes in Autumn to be harvested in early Spring. We did that for a few years, then wondered if we could push our boundaries to another later crop - it worked. Then we tried for an earlier crop as well, that worked too. Now we plant potatoes all year through and generally have good crops that make it well worth our time and effort. You probably know already that home grown tomatoes taste far better than anything you'll get from a supermarket, the same applies to potatoes. They have a much better taste if you grow them in your own backyard and one taste of a new potato, cooked to perfection and dressed with butter, parsley, salt and pepper will convince you, far better than my words can, they are a valuable back yard crop.

But I digress, we are still at the planning stage. You will always have some foods you can't grow, that's just a fact of life. Don't be upset by that, just accept it and get on with what you can grow. Once you have a list of possible contenders, if you're a novice gardener work out what it is you eat the most of, or what is the most expensive to buy, and start with that. Don't take on too much in the first year. I know you'll be excited and optimistic, but this is a new skill, just like sewing and knitting. Start off with a dishcloth or apron, instead of a cable jumper or ball gown. Each year add new things or grow more but in those early stages, be prudent and concentrate on a small but well grown garden.



The best bit of advice I can give you is to improve your soil before you start gardening. Unless you live on an old volcano your soil will be like mine and will need improving. If you plant into virgin soil, your plants will grow but you'll most likely have small crops or small vegetables. Remember too, that the bugs attack stressed plants much more than healthy ones. Gardening takes a lot of time and effort so make sure you maximise the potential of your crop and give your plants every chance. Improve the soil before you start. That may mean that you work on your garden soil for a while before you start. If you have clay soil, you'll improve it by adding compost. If you have sandy soil, you'll improve it by adding compost. (I'll write about compost tomorrow.)

If you have clay soil and are prepared to add compost to it, you'll end up with the best rich soil you can imagine. Clay holds a lot of nutrients but as it's so sticky and dense, the plant roots cannot breathe and they die. Adding compost to clay lightens up the soil, providing air spaces for roots and worms, and it frees up the nutrients already there so they're available for your plants. Clay also holds the water and often plants drown if they're planted into unimproved soil.

Sandy soils are at the other end of the range. They don't hold water or nutrients and you'll have to water much too often if you don't improve the soil by adding compost. Planting in sandy soils will give you grief because your plants will fail to thrive and probably die without fruiting.

If you take the time to improve the soil you will grow plants quite easily. They'll be fed by the nutrients in the soil, they'll benefit from the moisture holding capacity of your soil and not go constantly from dry to wet, or sit with their roots in water that can't drain away. Don't be tempted to buy in garden soil either. Unless you can get a tested organic blend, you'll be importing more trouble in the form of weed seeds that might take you ten years to get rid of. And remember, garden soil and the mix you put in pots, are two different things. Garden soil is the topsoil from the earth. Potting mix is manufactured soil made by combining compost, sand, peat etc that is free draining and won't go hard in a pot when you add water.

I hope by now I've convinced you to improve your soil before you start anything. You should start building your list of foods to grow and look around for good quality seedlings. The first step though is to build some compost, we'll start that tomorrow.

ADDITION: Rosie is unchanged. Hanno will try to get her to the vet today.

28 July 2008

Weekend work

I am worried about Rosie, our 12 year old Airedale Terrier. She's lost a bit of weight over the last week or so and she's been vomiting. She's still eating her evening meal but won't touch the biscuits in the morning. I've been giving her a little bit of porridge during the day, which she loves. Hanno will take her to the vet today. :- |



For the past few months, we've been talking about putting up a screen near our bedroom to shade the wall from the summer western sun. Our plan is to grow luffas all along the screen during summer and smaller crops, that would allow the sun through, in winter. Well, last week Hanno built that screen. You can see him in action, with his sidekick, Rosetta, above. (Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.)



We enriched the soil, which was mainly the natural clay we are on here, with compost, worm castings and some of the rich soil from the chicken coop. It was watered in with a weak solution of seaweed tea. Our first crop is lettuce and tomatoes - two Tropics and two beefsteaks. We've covered it all with straw to keep the soil at an even temperature and to conserve the water used on the garden. When these tomatoes have cropped, they'll be pulled out and the luffas planted. I will be selling those organic luffas with my homemade soap in a few months time.



Tomatoes are an important crop to us and generally I like to plant pink Brandywines. If you've never seen a Brandywine, above is a photo of one we ate on the weekend. I think they're the perfect tomato - juicy without being watery, more sweet than tart, few seeds and they have the most divine flavour.



What we eat depends on what is growing in the backyard. On Saturday I made some coleslaw and we had that with a garden salad with snow peas, and potatoes with butter and parsley.



I had just started taking off the outer leaves of the cabbage and out popped this little fellow! He's a sedge frog - a tiny leaf dwelling green frog which, when fully grown, will be about two inches long. He's now living in our green house.



We pulled out all the brandywines and cucumbers last week, enriched the soil again and planted up some leeks and more tomatoes. If you're new to vegetable gardening, I can't encourage you enough to enrich your soil. Compost, worms and all sorts of organic matter in your soil will help you grow the best vegetables possible. It is well worth the time it takes to do it.



And here is yesterday's garden, taken from behind the lazy housewife beans. We're eating some of these green beans raw and the rest I'm allowing to dry on the vine. I'll harvest a couple of jars of the finest dried white beans for my stockpile cupboard from them. They'll be a nutritious addition to soups and casseroles later in the year. I love those dual purpose vegetables.



Above you can see a pineapple growing among the kale. I am hoping it will produce pineapples this summer.



And in this last photo, meet some of my peeps. Here are Pippa and Mrs Rudd - two silver sussex, Margaret, my big light sussex, Martha, the buff Orphington at the top, and Bernadette, the Barnevelder at the bottom. Bernadette always looks angry but she's quite timid and sweet.

Gardening and knitting took up the best part of my weekend. My daughter-in-law, Cathy, found some Lion organic pure cotton for me last week so I experimented with that, knitting and unpicking it a few times until, at last, I was happy with the result.

Every so often my family and friends tell me they've read something on my blog, but none of them ever comments. So, in the hope of flushing them out, I'd like to say hello to Trisha, Kathleen (my sisters), and friends Susan, Bernadette, Wendy and Anna. :- )

Just one last word to my Australian friends. If this truck drivers' strike goes ahead, I encourage you to top up your stockpiles. Hanno and I are not due to shop for a while yet, but if the truck strike is on, it will affect grocery deliveries very quickly, so Hanno will stock up on a few items today. If you need to stock up, shop today or tomorrow if you can.

26 July 2008

Choosing Eden - passing it on

Hello friends. I hope you enjoy your weekend and find time to spend with your family or those you love.

I want to let you know about the book being passed on by Niki. If you would like to go into the draw for the book, visit Niki here.

25 July 2008

Being aware and developing values

Yesterday was the coldest day of the year here in our little home. It was raining and dark and just right for a day of reflection and knitting. Of course I made bread and did a few other chores - there was quark waiting to be made and a batch of soap to be stored away, but my focus yesterday was inside my own head. I need days like that because it gives me a chance to think about my life and what I hope for the future. The way I live my life requires quite a bit of thought. I like to plan what I do, concentrate on chores and activities as I do them, and then think about the value of what I've done.



I have always been a thinker but now I believe awareness is a big part of how I live. Simple living isn't all about the practical things we do in our day to day lives. There is a philosophy that goes with my life that requires generosity and grace to be ever present. Gone are the days I lived on auto-pilot, now I give more and expect less. Now I am mindful that my thoughts and actions are familiar bedfellows.



I have told the story of the sampler I made in an older post, but for those of you new to my blog, I'll tell it again because that sampler was a great help to me when I first embarked on this brand new life. Basically, it is that I could easily remember recipes for making soap and food and many of the practical things I needed to do, but I didn't always remember the finer things like being kind or not having more than I needed. I thought about how I could remind myself, every day, about the values I wanted to develop. I wanted a less-is-more approach to become a significant part of my life. So I drew that sampler, stitched it and put it in a frame to look at every day as I went about my life. Having that there in my kitchen reminded me of the person I wanted to become. A few years down the track, I felt confident enough in myself and how I'd changed to be able to give that stitchery away, now it lives with Peggy in the USA.

I'm a bit dense sometimes. I need visual reminders. It's easy to become caught up in the practice of day to day living, of putting food on the table and being organised enough to do everything I need to do. But now the sentiments behind that sampler, those important values, are ingrained deep within me. Now all I need are days like yesterday when I can sit and knit and think about where I am heading and what is the gentlest and most interesting way to get there.

24 July 2008

Eggs from the backyard



This is Lulubelle, she is a really big girl and she looks angry, but she's the sweetest and most gentle of all our chooks. Lulubelle is a barred Plymouth Rock.

Today I was going to write about keeping chickens in the backyard but I've just read a post I did in May last year on this same topic and there is not a lot I want to change. So instead of writing the same information in a different way, I've copied that old post and I'll add a few bits and pieces.

Chickens are a chaotic jumble of gentleness, cannibalism, stupidity and raw cunning so it was not surprising that the first pet I bought for my children were chooks. My kids grew up looking after chickens. They fed and watered them, carried them around, collected their eggs, played with them and helped buried them when they died. My sons are two of the most gentle people you’d ever meet. The chooks and I made them like that.



Here, from left, are Bernadette (Barnevelder), Heather (Faverolles) and Martha (buff Orpington). They are puffed up because they're cold.

The first thing you need to consider if you want to keep chooks is where you’d keep them. You’ll need a coop or chook dome for them to sleep in, some nesting boxes, a roost – this is where they’ll perch while they sleep and some room for them to roam during the day. It’s much easier to have a cement floor in the coop because you need to be able to collect the manure to use on your garden and to hose out the coop each week. Smelly chickens will have your neighbours complaining and after a few days of rain you’ll be pulling your hair out if you decide against putting down a cement floor. The hen house will need to be surrounded by a tallish fence with a gate that can be closed every night and whenever you need the hens out of the way, like when you mow the lawn. Many areas of Australia are infested with foxes and wild dogs or dingoes. If you buy some chickens you must care for them well and make sure they’ll be safe, even when you’re not a home.

Chook house designs here, here, here, here and here.

You’ll need shredded paper or straw for the nests, a feeder and a water container – we use a bucket. You could scatter the hen’s food each day and have them forage for it. Unlike other animals, hens don’t over eat so it’s much easier (for you) to have a feeder that you can fill up that will feed them for a week or so. A large plastic chicken feeder will cost about $35, a metal one will cost about $50, but they are a good investment.

The number of eggs a chook will lay is dependent upon what type they are and your climate. Chooks lay less in the cold weather and if you have pure breeds, they will take time off laying during the year to moult and replenish their calcium levels. Hybrid chooks don't do that, they're bred to be egg machines and will continue laying most of the year. Where I live, each chicken will lay about 300 eggs per year, or one every 25 hours. They lay best during warmer weather but will stop laying when they lose their feathers or if they are stressed. Work out how many hens you’ll need to supply your family with eggs. At their peak, each hen will lay about four to five eggs a week so if your family eat an egg each a day you’ll need one and a bit hens per family member. So, for example, if you have four people in your family, you’ll need five or six hens and from them you’ll get around between 25 to 30 eggs per week.



Before you buy your first chickens, ring your local council and find out what the regulations are for raising chickens in your backyard. For instance, my local council has banned roosters and the hen house must be a certain distance from neighbourhood fences, there are also restrictions on the number of chooks we keep (20), but apart from that anything goes. Find out what your local authority requirements are and be guided by them. If your local authority won't allow you to keep chickens. I encourage you to write a letter to them, and your local member of parliament, to protest that decision. Chooks were commonly kept in backyards by out grandparents and their grandparents and it is a fairly recent decision to keep backyards chicken-free. I believe it is everyone's right to keep chooks for eggs or for meat, and that right should not have been taken away from you simply because your neighbour doesn't want to see livestock in the neighbourhood. Surely we don't want to live in a place that has been landscaped and cemented with no natural elements in it. Chickens are an important part of a sustainable backyard and if that right has been taken away from you, you should fight to get it back.

Another decision you need to make before you buy is to decide if you want to keep hens for eggs or if you also want to raise your chickens for meat. Some hens are bred to maximize their egg laying potential, others are bred to have big breasts and legs so that they are best for meat chickens. Or you can do what ordinary folk have done for hundreds of years and kill the male birds for meat and keep the girls for eggs. Check the Henderson's chart for meat and egg layers.

This is Mary, one of our Australorps. Look at her pretty black-green feathers. The Australorp is an Australian breed.

There are many different types of chickens but you should buy the type you find visually pleasing and those that will suit your purpose for size, eggs or meat. For example, I keep Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, Plymouth Rocks, Orpingtons, light Sussex and others, in the past we’ve had Pekin bantams. Light Sussex is a dual purpose bird as they are good layers, good broody hens and mothers and have a good body size for meat. If you have small children, maybe you’d like to keep silkies. They are gentle and don’t mind being handled but they don’t produce a lot of eggs, so there is a downside to them. They also have black meat which might put some people off. If you’re in a city, and don’t have much space, you might consider bantams. Three would give you enough eggs for a couple or small family. I have written about the important of pure breed chooks here. I will never buy chooks bred for the caged poultry industry again; from now on, all my chooks will be pure breeds.

If you're unsure of the various types of pure breed chickens, or what conditions they're suited to, read this wonderful chart.



Here are light Sussex, Stella Gladys, and silver Sussex, Poppy. Stella Gladys is really tall her her age and has legs that look like emu legs!

You can buy day old chicks, young chickens or pullets. My recommendation for first timer chicken keepers is to buy pullets. These are chickens that are about 16-20 weeks old and will be ready to lay eggs in the next couple of weeks. Buying pullets gives you a couple of weeks to get used to looking after them and then you will have the eggs to reward you. Try to buy from a local hatchery or a local breeder. This will give valued support to your local community, it will be easier for you to travel there and back with chickens in the car and there will be less stress on the birds. They will also be acclimatised to your local area.

CHOOK FEED
Make sure your hen house is ready before they arrive, complete with food and fresh water. Chickens need four vital things to keep them healthy and laying:

  • Grains – mixed wholegrain, not just sunflower seeds, corn or wheat. They will eat all those grains and seeds but it’s much better for them, and for you as you’ll be eating their eggs, that they have a healthy mix of grains.
  • Fresh green food like spinach, silverbeet, cabbage leaves, lettuce, grass and weeds that you’ve pulled from the garden. They will also eat tomatoes, apples, pears and a number of other fruits.
  • Protein – chickens need a high protein diet to enable them to produce eggs. If your girls are free ranging, their diet will be supplemented with bugs, grasshoppers and caterpillars. This is good for the chickens and the garden. If your chickens are in a pen all day they will need high protein food in the form of laying pellets or laying mash. You can also give them meat, chicken or fish scraps from the kitchen or a little bread soaked in milk as a treat.
  • Water – this is vital to the life of your chickens. A chook can die within a short amount of time if it doesn’t have water. If you’re free ranging your chooks, have a couple of water containers that they can see. If they gather in the afternoon for a rest under a shade tree, put some water there and another under a tree near where they scratch around. There should always be a container should be in their coop. All the water containers must be clean with fresh water every day. Scrub out the containers every week to make sure you have no contaminants in the water.
We feed our girls warm porridge when the weather is cold. They love it, and see it as a treat, but it also provides extra protein and will keep them warm during those cold days and nights of winter.

My local heirloom seed store, Green Harvest, recommend the following plants for chook forage: Asian greens, buckwheat, Ceylon spinach, cherry guava, clover, corn, cucumber, golden purslane, linseed, lucerne, millet, nasturtium, oats, passionfruit, New Zealand spinach, rocket, silverbeet, soybean, tamarillo and wheat. I have found my chooks also love kale, cabbage, all types of chard, capsicum (peppers), tomatoes, pigeon peas and radish tops.



The magnificent Lulubelle.

Remember that everything you give your hens will go into producing eggs that you and your family will eat. If you give them fresh, clean water and healthy food you will be rewarded with beautiful golden eggs. You will have healthy birds that will give you few problems. If you don’t intend to look after them like you would your dog or cat, don’t buy chickens as they deserve to be treated like loved pets and, unlike cats and dogs, for their ability to produce fresh food for you and your family.

Your chickens will need a high protein diet if they are to regularly lay eggs for you. You could feed them exclusively on laying pellets or mash which you can buy from the local produce store. A more natural alternative is to give them a mixture of whole grains, amaranth, kitchen scraps and a few handfuls of laying pellets or mash. Chickens will also eat grass and will get a large amount of their nutrition from it if left to free range all day. Grass eating chickens will have a higher level of Omega-3 in their eggs than chickens that don’t eat grass. You should remember that chickens are omnivores, which means they need to eat bugs, and animal protein (meat) as well as grains and grass. Chickens are creatures of habit so start out the way you will continue to feed them, as once they are used to one thing it’s sometimes difficult to make them change their food preference.

Chickens also need shell grit which you can get from the local produce store. It will help prevent calcium deficiency. You can supplement the grit with finely crushed egg shells. To do this, wash the egg shells and allow them to dry completely. Then finely crush the shells with a rolling pin or pulse a couple of times in the food processor. The aim here is to provide a variety of grit sizes for the chickens. They will choose which size they need. A small bag of shell grit lasts a long time so don’t buy a huge amount.

We let our chickens out of their house every morning about 9am, after they're laid their eggs, and they forage around the backyard eating bugs and grass. We give them most of our food scraps. They love meat and fish, old bread, eggs, crushed up egg shells (for extra calcium), most vegetables and fruit, rice, oats, wheat and most seeds and grains. To be honest, they are will eat almost anything.

CARING FOR YOUR LADIES
The number one consideration in keeping chickens in your backyard is to keep them safe from predators. Check out what predators live in your neighbourhood. If you’re in a suburban area it may be dogs, cats and hawks. If you’re in the country or on the edge of a township you may have foxes, wild dogs and cats, owls, hawks etc. Here at my home we have huge pythons, foxes, feral cats and dogs and dingoes. The hen house we constructed is not fancy – it’s made of recycled materials with a cement floor, but it’s strong and lockable and my girls feel safe in there. We have two large dogs, Airedale Terriers and although one of them rounds up the chickens they have never chased or hurt them. Chickens are sensitive to stress. They have been known to drop dead during thunderstorms or die a couple of days after being chased by dogs. We have wild thunderstorms here during summer and I’ve never lost any hens during one but I have had hens stop laying for weeks after they’ve been scared by visiting dogs or children.

If you have a dog and bring new chickens into the backyard, you'll have to watch your dog for a long time to make sure it accepts the chickens as part of the family. A dog's natural instinct is to see the chook as something to chase and eat. The dog should not be punished for a natural tendency, you need to train it to accept the newcomers. When we bring new chickens home for the first time, our two dogs watch them carefully for a couple of weeks. Hanno often sits with them and will encourage the chickens to come up to him for food and will have the dogs sitting with him. That teaches the chickens that the dogs are friendly and it shows the dogs that the chickens are ours and we look after them. If you have dogs and new chooks, never leave your dog alone with them until you're satisfied you can trust it. It is a good idea to keep the chickens behind a dog proof fence and only let them out together when you're there with them. The more time you can spend out there with the dog and the chickens, the faster they'll grow to accept each other.

Be aware that predators come from the sky too, they are not just lurking around corners. If you have dogs, hawks won’t be so much of a problem. Chickens have a natural tendency to sit under trees and bushes so they will be protected from sight much of the time if they free range in your backyard. After a while you’ll get used to their clucking and just like a baby you’ll learn by their various noises if something is wrong. If they are scared, they’ll let you know.

Always make sure you lock them in their hen house at night. That’s the time animals like foxes, cats and nocturnal predators will be creeping about. If they are safe and secure in their house, even if you have a silent fox in your backyard, they’ll be out of harm’s way.

Try to spend time with your chickens, especially when you first get them, so they accept you as part of their flock. You’ll need to be able to pick up your chickens and check them out occasionally and they will let you do this if you spend time with them and they know you are a friendly human.

Give them treats sometimes. I’ve made it my rule that whenever we take eggs from the nest the girls get a handful of seeds. They love seeds and grain, so a handful for the eggs makes them happy and makes the yolks in the eggs a rich yellow colour.

EGGS
When you collect the eggs each day they should be clean and well formed. When your feathered ladies first start laying they may lay a few without yolks or a couple of double yolkers. The eggs will be small and light when they first start laying. When they settle into laying, the eggs will develop a good weight, the shells will be smooth and strong and the shell colour will be consistent.

Collected eggs should be stored in the refrigerator. If you provide a clean nest the eggs should also be clean when you collect them but sometimes they might be soiled or dirty. If you find an egg like this don’t wash it. Eggs have a protective membrane on the shell that protects the contents from becoming contaminated. Take the dirty egg inside and wipe it with dry kitchen paper. If you must wash it to remove the dirt, dry it with paper and use that egg next time you need an egg.

Chickens are one of the few creatures you can easily keep in your suburban backyard that produce food. So if you’ve been thinking about getting your first chooks, my advice is to jump into it. There is nothing better than fresh golden eggs from your backyard.

23 July 2008

Answers to previous comments



Graphic from the Carl Larsen gallery

I was going to write about starting off your chicken flock but there are a few loose ends from yesterday's post so I'll tidy those up and write about chooks tomorrow.

First of all, welcome to the newcomers, especially those who have taken the time to say hello. The comments here are a big part of the blog so it's nice to know who has joined the community. Also, thanks to everyone for the lovely comments, I do appreciate them and although I might not always have the time to answer, I do read everyone of them. Yesterday, for instance, they provided a welcomed respite in a busy day at work. When I was waiting on the phone, or in between other activities, I peeked in, read and moderated the comments. I often think to myself that I have to respond to a particular comment but the hours roll by and I forget, or get busy again. Rest assure though, every comment is read.

Sara, wise move to use your stock of plastics, disposals and chemicals, then start afresh. We had a swap here about a year ago for cloth napkins and many of the ladies here didn't go back to the disposals after that.

Coleen, it's going well although we did run out of a few things - loose tea, brown sugar, brown rice and apples - so I bought them at the local IGA on my way home from work. All our other supplies are healthy and will go the distance.

Hello Stuff, you are the same age as my sons :- ) If you have the will to do it, there will be many things you could start with in your home - your cleaning, trash, knitting dishcloths, cooking from scratch, decluttering. Many things only need a solo effort, and the first step - that one is the most difficult. Let me know when you post and I'll make sure I come over to visit you.

Kristi, I don't know where Mt Clare is but I'm about 2000 kms north of Melbourne, the capital of Victoria. If you have a look at a map of Australia, find Brisbane, which is north of Sydney, and I'm 100 kms north of Brisbane, in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast.

Sophie, how wonderful to be working alongside your daughter making soft nappies for Ava. Sharing those gentle tasks really strengthens relationships while making memories for the future. I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit.

Hello Mandy and girls. Yes, Caloundra isn't the little fishing village is once was, still, it's good to see those things to understand the value of what you have at home.

Anonymous, here is my soap making tutorial, with recipe. It seems like quite a daunting task when you first start on soap making but after your first batch you'll know it's a simple process that needs to be done with care. You will use caustic soda (lye) and that will burn anything that it touches, so make sure the kids and pets are out of the room and go steadily and you'll be fine. BTW, the lye in the soap neutralises during and after the soap making process and there is no way of making soap from scratch without it. Overall, it's a great skill to have because you will be able to make good soap, using only vegetable oils, and you can add scents and herbs of your choice. Start off with the simple recipe in the tutorial, or the one that follows and I'm sure you'll make a good basic soap.

BTW, Copha in the following recipe is solidified coconut oil. You could also use Frymaster, which is solidified palm oil. If you decide to change the recipe, make sure you run your recipe through the soap calculator - the link is in the tutorial.

OLIVE OIL AND COPHA SOAP Olive Oil - 500 grams
Copha - 4 blocks or 1 kg (2.2 lbs) - melted slowly
Rain water - 550 mls
Lye (caustic soda) - 230 grams

The main thing to remember about soap making is that it is five basic steps that must be followed to the letter:
  1. Accurately measure your ingredients.
  2. Mix the lye and water and allow it to cool (it will heat up without being put on the stove).
  3. Heat your oils and allow them to cool.
  4. When the lye and the oils are at the same temp (about 50C), mix them together.
  5. Then stir your mix until you reach trace.
Read the tutorial, it is, I hope, a much clearer guide.

Sharon, you're right, every little bit helps. Doing what you can makes you part of the solution.

Bec, Belinda is a good friend to me. She has done some wonderful guest posts here on living simply with children. See above about the soap recipe.

Anna, congratulations! That is wonderful news. Please pass on my best wishes to Mr T as well. I send warm hugs and love to you.

Sarah, you are a wise woman. "I cannot count the number of times I've wondered if I'll ever be "as good as" you. Perhaps I really should just work on being "as good as" I can be at doing things my way....whatever that is..." You hit the nail right on the head and summed up the point of my post in those two sentences.

Kym, change is an incredible thing, isn't it. Just as you have looked back and rejoice in how you have changed, I too look back at the old me and celebrate the journey from there to here. I hope you all enjoy your camping. What is a hydro?

Great work, Jules. That is exactly what I do. I don't want to make cheese, I find it difficult and tedious, so I buy local cheese, just as you have found your local egg suppliers. It's a win/win. You get fresh local product, you also support your local growers. Good luck with your fruit.

Beth from upstate NY, the pickles made the other day are for the fridge only. I did not sterilise them but they will be fine in the fridge for a couple of months. I'll write more about the difference between sterilising preserves and making them for the fridge in the next week or so.

Cathy, I'll write about the dogs and chooks tomorrow when I do my getting started with chickens post.

I know I still haven't answered all the questions, or the emails for that matter. Please be patient with me, I do as much as I can on each given day. I hope you're not disappointed if I haven't responded to you yet.

It's raining here, and cold (10C) , and I'm looking forward to lighting the fire at work as soon as I get there. I hope you are well and today has brought you contentment. Thank you for reading my blog and for your comments.

22 July 2008

Building an authentic life



There is a season for all things. I know the way Hanno and I live now will change in the future. At some point, we will grow too tired to garden as much as we do now, and there will be a time we don't have chickens. We will always live simply, there will be no change in our philosophy of living, but the way we go about our day to day lives will change according to our circumstances. That is a healthy thing, all natural systems change.

That applies to everyone - simple living is a changeable feast.

It's quite clear from the comments made here that we are not all the same. Although most of us aspire to live our lives in a simpler, more gentle fashion, that is being done in many different ways. My blog shows just one way to live simply and I write sharing what we do in the hope that when others see how we live, it will show that change is possible. We have gone from being consumers to conservers and have made ourselves content in the process of doing it.

You will read here about what Hanno and I do and you will also read in the comments how others live their lives. If you are new to this way of living you may want to copy our lives, or wonder if you are doing the right thing because your circumstances don't allow you to. One of the ladies commented the other day that she couldn't have a vegetable garden yet because she had small children, others have commented that they can't keep chooks because they're in the city or their local authority won't allow it. Others are younger and still at university with no time to tend vegetables, some live in climates that are too harsh for livestock or gardens. Many don't have land they can cultivate, they either live in homes with very little surrounding yards, or they rent and aren't allowed to use their outdoor spaces.

That is okay, we all must live according to our own circumstances. My life is not THE model for simple living, it's just one way it can be done. There a many ways. So if you can't garden or keep chooks, or sew or knit, there will be many other things you can do. You have to look at your own life and examine carefully what you can simplify in your own life. I would imagine that most people could change how they clean themselves and their home, so maybe your cleaning routines could be simplified. There are posts here about green cleaning, how to make soap, laundry powder, how to clean teeth and hair with bicarb, and there are many sites of the web that share similar information. May be your first simple process will be to reduce the amount of chemicals you bring into your home for cleaning. Or is it cooking that you might tackle first? Simplifying your diet will flow over into how you cook and shop, and they are two important areas that contribute to a simple life.

I hope I can encourage you to start working towards a more simple and sustainable way of living. You don't have to do what I'm doing, you should be guided by your own circumstances. Your life might be screaming out to be changed in some way, that is where you should start. You might be already doing something I've never written about, or even thought about, and if so, I'd love you to tell me about what you're doing.

If you're on the edge of change, I encourage to dive in. Take small steps, be mindful of what you're doing each day, live generously and with grace. If you've made your start, keep at it. Don't give up. There will be difficult times and sometimes the work is hard, but moving closer to goals you have set for yourself and living according to your values will be very satisfying. Slowly you'll build the life you wish for yourself and looking back on your achievements will give you the provocation and energy to continue.

So be guided by my life but build your own into a one of a kind life that is true to the person you are. Remember there is a season for everything and we will all move from stage to stage as our circumstances change. There are many things we can aspire to, but living an ethical life that reflects your authentic self, and living that life out loud and as a model for your children, is, I believe, one of the finest things anyone could hope to do.


21 July 2008

Chick pea burgers and pickles

We had a lovely weekend. Hanno worked at the food and coffee stall at our local organic farmers markets on Saturday morning. Our Centre runs the stall and we make quite a pretty penny from it. Hanno gets to socialise and I get some alone time - win/win. He was home just after lunch so we sat on the front verandah with a cup of tea while he told me all the news from the markets and relaxed. Then we closed the front gates and spent the rest of the weekend together, alone, in our little semi-rural homestead.



Most of my weekend was spent gardening, knitting and cooking. The garden of tomatoes and cucumbers was pulled out, raked over, had worm castings and compost added and will be planted up again this week with more vegetables. A basket of cucumbers was harvested and although there were a few good ones the majority of them had marks on the skin. I sorted out the good ones for salads and put them in the fridge, the others were made into bread and butter pickles. I had to peel the skin off two of them, some where given to the chooks because the damage was internal, the rest were fine for pickling.



I have written about pickled cucumbers - called bread and butter cucumbers - before, but here is the recipe again. It's a good recipe to have as it will help you preserve a glut of cucumbers or those that aren't perfect. When you're a gardener, it's important to have recipes such as this because you don't want to waste any food. It's fine to give some to the chooks, but as long as the vegetables are okay inside and just have damaged skin, it should be human food.

BREAD AND BUTTER CUCUMBERS
5 medium cucumbers cut into 5 mm slices
350g onions, sliced very thinly
green capsicum and red chilli are optional
50g salt
350 ml cider or white wine vinegar
350g sugar
2 level tablespoons mustard seed
2 level tablespoons celery seed
½ level teaspoon turmeric
¼ level teaspoon cayenne pepper
Slice the cucumbers, onions, capsicums and chilli and place in a bowl, and salt and let stand for 3 hours. Drain, rinse under the cold tap and drain thoroughly. Bring the remaining ingredients to the boil in a stainless steel saucepan and then add the vegetables. Reduce the heat, bring just to the simmer and cook 2 minutes. Pour hot into sterilized jars, making sure the liquid covers the cucumbers and seal.



I also did up one large jar of mustard pickles. That used up two of my small cauliflowers, some of the celery and cabbage.

The recipe is from here.

MUSTARD PICKLES
Chef: Mrs. Betty McVinish Rockhampton Qld.

In the ABC Gardening Talkback Great Home-made Pickles and Jam Challenge, this recipe won second prize in the Best Pickles category.

You need:
500g Cauliflower (Chopped) [1.1 lb]
250g Beans (Chopped) [9oz]
360g Onions (Chopped) [13 oz]
150g Red Capsicum (Chopped) [6oz]
¼ cup coarse cooking salt
2 tabs seeded mustard
2 teas dry mustard
3 teas curry powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 ¾ cups white vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tabs plain flour
¼ cup white vinegar – extra

[I added ¼ chopped cabbage and green capsicums (peppers) as we had no red ones on the bushes.]

Method:
Combine cauliflower, beans, onions and capsicum in large bowl.Sprinkle with salt, cover and stand overnight.
Rinse vegetables under cold water and drain.
Combine vegetables with other ingredients in large boiler.
Stir over heat without boiling until sugar is dissolved.
Bring to boil, simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes
Stir in blended flour and extra vinegar.
Stir over heat until mixture boils and thickens.
Pour into sterilised jars.



The mustard pickles are on the far right with the green lid.

On Sunday we had a delicious lunch on the front verandah with the sun streaming in to warm us. I'd made wholegrain bread rolls, collected lettuce and tomatoes from the garden and also added the coleslaw I made on Saturday. It was a very local meal - chickpea burgers.



This is a simple recipe that is very easy to make.

CHICKPEA BURGERS

Into a blender or food processor add:
two cups of pre-soaked chickepeas
2 small onions
one carrot
1 stick celery
2 eggs
1 cup dry breadcrumbs or two potatoes
salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cumin

Whiz that up until it forms a thick paste. Form into four patties and fry in oil until brown on both sides.



Hanno had two of these, I had one but will take the other, and some coleslaw, to work today for my lunch. Chick pea burgers are delicious, healthy and cheap and I think meat eaters would enjoy them.

I have a very busy day ahead with work, then a meeting after it. It looks like a 10 hour day for me. But I feel rested and loved so no matter what comes my way today, I'm ready for it, with a smile.



18 July 2008

The vegetable garden

My life seems to be nicely balanced at the moment. I have days at home when I cook, garden, write, sew, knit and relax and just when I feel the need to talk to outsiders again, Monday comes around and I have a few days at work. Then, I satisfy the need to connect with others, I contribute to my community, I feel useful and that the time time spent away from my home life has been meaningful and valuable. And just as my cup starts to overflow and I need a break from that ...

I come home to this ...



Contentment: Happiness with one's situation in life.

I am happy here. I live with a happy and generous husband. I feel that everyday is its own golden capsule full of meaningful work that gives me a life worth living. Of course, not everything is perfect. I neither expect nor want perfection. But when the tomatoes develop wilt and die too early, or the caterpillars survive the winter and continue munching their way through the cabbages, I take that in my stride because, overall, things are as they should be and I feel I am doing my best.



I took my camera into the garden yesterday afternoon, because I know my blog friends like to see our little vegetable garden. Below are the only tomatoes to survive the wilt. My precious pink Brandywines yielded about 10 kilos of delicious, juicy tomatoes, then turned their toes up and died of wilt. These smaller Tommy Toe tomatoes seem to be immune to the disease and hopefully will keep us in tomatoes until we get some larger ones fruiting again.



Further over, spaces are getting bigger as we harvest vegetables for our table every day. Some vegetables are eaten raw, some are cooked and some are blanched and frozen for later in the year. Today some of these cauliflowers will be picked to make mustard pickles. When the days start to warm up, we'll be eating those pickles on a good sharp local cheese and home baked rye bread.



There is still a forest of kale there, even though Hanno has just finished his five day pot of pork and kale. I haven't frozen kale before but there is so much growing now I think I'll look into that. Does anyone here freeze kale? If so, is it just the normal blanching routine before sealing?



As I wandered around our little garden, I was accompanied by Rosetta, our almost human golden spangled Hamburg chicken. She doesn't damage the garden at all, she is just pleased for the human company and will follow Hanno or I around the yard, clucking gently and hoping to be picked up.



Another item of work today will be to pick the bulk of this chard and freeze it. We eat a lot of chard (silverbeet) , below you can see rhubarb chard and green chard, further over, we have the old fashioned swiss chard. We call that silverbeet in Australia.



Right next to the chook run we have snowpeas growing along with silverbeet, lazy housewife beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuce, celery, welsh onions and herbs. That is my favourite part of the garden and I often stand there talking to the chooks.



I was surprised to find peaches already growing on our tree yesterday, and it's only mid winter. The peach blossoms are filling the evening air with a sweet perfume and when I wander around the garden then, I swear it fills my heart and soul to its limits.



I always plant flowers in the vegetable garden. It adds to the overall beauty and encourages bees to pollinate the fruiting plants. The flowers above are little daisies that are growing next to the bok choi.

This is more than a garden. It it a place to connect with the natural world, to reflect and renew my spirit, and being able to eat what we grow there is simply the icing on the cake. I can't imagine a frugal life without a garden. It gives us tasty organic food for the price of seeds and the time we take to cultivate it. If you have the space for it, I encourage you to grow a garden, it will give you vegetables and it will also grow your spirit.

I hope you had a good week and are looking forward to a restful weekend. Thank you for visiting me here, I appreciate the time you take to read what I write and I love reading your comments. Welcome to the new readers who arrived this week. Please take the time to say hello.

17 July 2008

Water conservation and water tanks

There is so much one could write concerning water conservation. Everyone uses water. We all need it to survive and yet it's one of those things that we don't take a lot of notice of until we have to. As you know, we harvest and store as much water as we can on our property. It is used outside on the animals, chickens and garden. Inside, we use our town water supply but we are extremely frugal with every drop. Water is easy to use and waste. I found this list that shows just how much common household activities use. That is a lot of water running down the drain.

Brushing teeth with tap running 5 litres 1.1 gallons
Flushing toilet on a dual single flush 5 litres 1.1 gallons
Flushing toilet on a dual full flush 10 litres 2.2 gallons
A load in the dishwasher 50 litres 10.9 gallons
A 5 minute shower 100 litres 21.9 gallons
Hosing the driveway 100 litres 21.9 gallons
A load in the washing machine 150 litres 32.9 gallons
Washing car with hose 200 litres 43.9 gallons
Garden sprinkler per hour 1000 litres 210 gallons

There is another list of water usage here. There are level 5 water restriction in our capital city of Brisbane. People are required to use less than 140 litres per person. We use much less than that and we have found it quite easy to do it.

I think there are three ways you can go on this:
  1. If you don't have a garden and only use water indoors, then the obvious thing to do is to work out a good way to cut down on your water usage inside your home.
  2. Like us, you could harvest your rainwater, store it in tanks and use it for all your outdoor needs and team this with a water conservation program inside.
  3. You could harvest rainwater and have your tank water plumbed into your home to flush toilets, or if you have enough water, for all your indoor needs. You would probably also team this with frugal water usage.
You can monitor how much water you use by learning how to read your water meter. If you're in Australia you can learn how here and here. There is information here and here for my USA friends, and here and here for my UK friends.

If you are living in an area with high air pollution or there are a lot of birds or wildlife that can get on your roof, you may be able to install a first flush diverter that will run-off the first flush of water from your roof, then divert the flow after that to your tank. This will help you with water purity if you intend to drink the water you harvest. Here is a guide to maintaining a healthy water tank.

General maintenance requires that you check for leaks and make sure your mosquito screens are in place and not blocked with leaves or other debris. You'll also need to keep your roof guttering clear of debris. If you own a plastic tank, every few years, whenever your tank is empty, or close to it, you should tip the tank over, hose it out and reconnect it. There is information about desludging and cleaning your tank here.

Size of various types of Australian water tanks are here, check the Slimline and Transport types too. The links are on the right. Mrs T, although these might not be available in Israel, it will give you and Mr T an idea of what is in common use here. There are space saving water tanks here.

How can I make sure that my water is safe to drink? from here.
The following simple precautionary measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of harmful
microorganisms or chemicals being a problem in your water supply.
  • Collect and store your water so that contamination from human, chemical or animal sources is minimised. If possible, store drinking water in an above ground tank rather than in an underground tank.
  • Ensure that surface runoff, channel water, irrigation water, leakage from sewer pipes, sullage drainage or shallow underground seepage cannot enter your drinking water supply.
  • Make sure that any deep bore used as a source of drinking water is properly encased, with an above ground wellhead. A deep bore should ideally be located at least 250 metres away from any sources of pollution likely to affect groundwater quality.
  • Do not collect water for drinking from recently painted roofs, timber roofs preserved with chemicals, roofs coated with lead-based paints or tar-based coatings, or parts of roofs near flues from solid wood heaters. Most other roof types will normally be safe for water collection, provided they are kept clean.
  • Regularly clean your roof and gutter to remove leaves, animal or bird remains, dust and other debris. Install simple screens between your roof and the water tank.
  • The first rainfall after a dry period usually collects most of the contaminants on your roof.
  • Installing a ‘first flush’ or other diversion system will prevent this water from entering your water tank. This ‘first flush’ water can be stored separately and used for yard washing, garden watering or fire fighting.
  • If your house is in an agricultural area where there is a risk of being oversprayed by aerial chemical spraying, divert the collection pipe from your rainwater tank to prevent any pesticides from entering the tank. Clean the roof or wait until after the next rainfall before reconnecting your drinking water tank to your roof.
  • Maintain screens on the inlet and overflow openings of your water tank so that insects, small animals, birds and sunlight can not enter (this will also help to minimise the growth of algae).
  • Regularly maintain your water tank and clean out accumulated sludge from the floor.
  • Ensure that your domestic drinking water plumbing is completely separate from all other plumbing or pipe systems on your property. Use approved safe plumbing materials and ensure that all pipe joints are properly sealed.
  • Disinfect your water supply to kill any harmful microorganisms.
If you live in a bushfire zone, you'll need to give your tank some care after each fire. There is information about that here.

You should cover your water tank as algae will grow in water that is allowed to sit in the sun. All openings should be protected from mosquitoes with fine screening.

How many of you are monitoring your water usage now? Can you read your meter? Although water meters are on most Australian homes I am aware that this is not the case in all homes. Do you have access to your meter? This is an important part of every simple life and I'd be very interested knowing how you intend cutting back your water usage.


16 July 2008

Reduce waste - reduce, reuse and recyle

One of the questions I am often asked in emails is: "I am trying to reduce the amount of plastic I use but I can't seem to find a way to get rid of the plastic bin liner. Any ideas?" This is difficult to answer because it really depends on the type of rubbish you're putting into the bin.

A good way to deal with the problem of garbage is to reduce the amount of packaging you bring into your home. I won't buy anything that is over packaged now, and I try to find someone in the store to explain that I want the product but won't buy it because it's over packaged. The more people who do this the better, otherwise manufacturers don't know. I won't buy little packets of anything that are packaged in a bigger pack; I try to buy large containers to decant into smaller ones at home and long ago I gave up on those packs of biscuits (cookies) and chocolates that are individually wrapped, placed in a plastic tray, in a box, covered with cellophane. pfffffffft! My general strategy on packaging is to buy in bulk when I can, buy products stored in paper, cans or glass. If it's in plastic I always check what type of plastic it is and if it's recyclable in my area, I buy it.



Save old bottles and jars for your preserves and cordials. If you buy a larger pack of something like coffee or tea, use your old clean jars to store the product when it's opened.

Not every local area recycles every type of plastic. You need to check your own shire council or local authority to know what it is they recycle. If you're in Australia, click here to check your nearest recycle station. If you click here, you will see what types of paper, cardboard and plastic my local rubbish dump accepts. You should do a Google search for your own recycle station and rubbish dump. There you will find out exactly what they accept and you can monitor your shopping to buy only that type of packaging.

A great side benefits of making compost, keeping chickens and dogs and having a worm farm is that most food scraps and vegetable waste is used to feed them. All our garden waste is given to either the chooks, the worms or the compost. Food scraps go to the dogs, worms or chooks. Our paper products and plastics are recycled - we have a special bin supplied by our council that is collected every second week. Our recycle station also accepts old computers, mobile phones, printers etc and they have information of their website about how to correctly dispose of oil and batteries.



As you can see, we don't have a lot of rubbish and what we do have is dry waste so it goes straight into the bin, without a liner. If I have a lot of smaller items, I wrap them in newspaper and put them in the bin. You could do this with your moist waste if it's not too wet and you use a few sheets of paper. So that is the short answer to the question of plastic bin liners - you can either line the bin with newspaper, or wrap the waste in newspaper parcels.

But the overall answer is to reduce your waste. This is one of the important things you will do in your simple life and it's vital you work out your own strategy for dealing with your household waste. Start by checking out your local area websites so you know what they recycle, then look at your own garbage and work out what you are throwing out. Then make a plan to reduce, reuse and recycle. Everyone's plan will be different but this is an area that we can all share what works for us in the comments section. Please let us know what you do, because I am always looking to improve what I do and I am sure there are many others who are working on this same problem.

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