September 21, 2012

Perennial Food Plants



Sometimes when we talk about growing food we get focused on the crops we can grow and harvest in one year, or a season or two (the annuals) and forget about the food plants that can supply us with food over and over again for many years (the perennials). Not all perennials will last forever but all will give a number of crops. Many regrow easily and have minimal needs, others will continue to grow (trees and shrubs) and will need to be pruned to maintain shape, ease of harvest and productivity. There are many perennial food crops that should be a large part of any productive garden system and many of them will reward us with a bountiful harvest year after year with a minimum of effort on our part.

Fruit trees are the first to spring to mind as there are so many well known varieties of fruits available and a huge range of species that can be grown in a wide range of climates. A few well-grown fruit trees can produce tons of produce, literally. It will take some time for trees to develop and produce a fair return and there is a fair amount of maintenance required to keep trees in good condition and pest free but thinking ahead and planning for the future, investing for the future, is something we all need to do. A few of my favourite fruit trees, for their productivity and nutritional values would include:
  • Apricots (very versatile and very nutritious, even the kernels can be eaten)
  • Peaches (limited shelf life as fresh fruit, can be dried, bottled or made into jam)
  • Satsuma plums (dried satsuma plums are prunes)
  • Lemons (some varieties, such as Lisbon, will produce fruit year round when managed well)
  • Oranges (there are dwarf varieties available that still produce well but are easier to manage)
  • Pears (pears need to cross-pollinate, you can graft a second variety onto a young tree)
  • Apples (trees can be kept small but still productive with correct pruning)
  • Olives (aren't edible raw but can be pickled or used for oil extraction)
  • Dates (this arid zone palm is somewhat difficult to manage but the fruit is nutritionally dense)
  • Avocados (a savoury fruit that keeps well after harvest if picked while still firm)
  • Mangoes ( a tropical fruit, that is loved by many people, drought resistant but frost tender)
  • Papaya (papaya, or paw-paw are fast growing tropical plants that can produce huge fruit)

September 18, 2012

Surviving the Supermarket

[This article is reprinted from the Hard Times Hand Book by Keith & Irene Smith, first published in 1984 (reprinted 1986).  I believe it is as relevant today as it was when first published and I urge readers to seek out this book as it has much to offer in regard to surviving hard times and living well with less. This may become extremely valuable information in the near future. Any comments in red are my comments.]

 

Supermarket Survival

 
 
You have to be a super shopper to shop at supermarkets. There are good buys and bad buys, but there are food buying skills and strategies which you can learn.
Most Australians shop at large supermarkets. we leave our cars in the big parking lot, push our trolleys down the aisles and serve ourselves, paying $7,000 million* for our processed foods at the checkouts each year.
* This was written in 1984 and is very out of date. Australia now has two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths with a third, smaller player player being the IGA branded supermarket operators. Numbers are harder to come by today as these chains have diversified into many types of retail operations. One number I could find shows that Australians are spending $34,000 million on fast foods in a year! Supermarket spending on real food may have increased only slightly, because so much more money is being spent this way. This is a major cause of obesity and poor health.
This mass distribution of foodstuffs, based on the American model, has brought us the benefits of large turnover which puts good quality food-stuffs at good prices on our supermarket shelves.*
With such a variety of food under one roof, the supermarket may be either a cornucopia of plenty, or a Pandora's box full of evils. In the game of wits played between manufacturers and consumers, the choice, in the end, is up to us.
*As a conscious consumer I have noticed a marked decline in the quality of many items and brands as manufacturers try to cut costs. There has also been a marked decline in the area of choice, with many smaller producers being forced off the shelves of the big chains in recent years.
On the one hand, the supermarket, more than anywhere else, is filled with highly processed foods (and some non-foods) which have been treated with chemical additives, preservatives, artificial colouring and flavouring, stabilisers, thickeners, added sugars or other sweeteners, salt ans monosodium glutemate (MSG).
The aim is food which has a long shelf life in attractive packaging, backed by advertising campaigns and television promotion. The foods probably taste good too, but that is not the first consideration.
On the other hand, if you know which foods to select and have some idea of nutritional values,you should be able to buy good quality foods at a fair price, sometimes even at sales prices. Supermarket chains have buying power and there are often genuine bargains and specials if you compare prices from one outlet to another and one brand to another.
 
The first rule of thumb is always read the label. Buy the product, not the colourful picture on the label of the packet or can. It's what inside that counts. Compare the weight and the price with other brands and find out where the product comes from and the last date it should be eaten. Don't pay extra for 'convenience' such as added sauces or flavourings, sliced or 'ready to serve' foods.
Keenly priced so-called 'generic' house brand or 'no label' goods are often identical to more expensive brands. The cost of the television ad to make you buy the product, or buy more of it, has not been added to them.
In general it is better to buy unpackaged products first, fresh food before frozen, dried foods rather than canned, fresh fruit and vegetables in preference to canned fruit, vegetables and juices.
Plan your meals before shopping, based on the foods in season and any specials that you know about. Write down what you need, take the list with you and try to stick to it. Avoid impulse buying of gourmet foods or other expensive items you'd think you'd like to try.
For your health you should try and cut down on ice cream, foods with added sugar, cigarettes, soft drinks and packets of lollies that are displayed near the cash register.
 
Supermarkets are businesses. As the trend to eat less processed foods has become apparent, stores are beginning to introduce health food sections. Pre-mixed muesli now accounts for 20% of sales of breakfast cereals (but it is still probably cheaper to mix your own muesli) while sales of natural (unflavoured) yoghurt were $40 million in Australia in 1982.

We think beans, sold in bulk, are the best supermarket bargain today. Many stores now have loose, unpackaged dried peas and beans, lentils and nuts. You serve yourself from bins or bulk containers, so you can see what you are buying and judge the quality easily.
These staple legumes are a good source of protein. Especially good value are black-eyed peas (cow-peas), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, soybeans*, lima beans, split peas, kidney beans, pinto beans and whole peas. These may be sprouted after washing, or prepared in dozens of no-meat meals. Canned beans are at least double the price.
*Soybeans have some (toxin) issues and these days tend to be a GMO crop. I tend to avoid anything soy and anything GMO. It's a personal choice.

Some types of tinned food are good value. Fish, for example, tuna and sardines, provides good protein and vitamins. Buy several cans when the prices are low and store them in the pantry. Buy for your intended use and, usually, around middle price. There is little meat in some tinned meat mixtures. Irish stew often has more potatoes than meat. Again, read the label.

Always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly when you get home to remove chemical spray residues, but peel them shallowly because the best nutrients are just under the skin. Make your own fruit juices from fresh fruit. As you walk through the supermarket, think about which products you might be able to process yourself at home, for example, bread, yoghurt, salad dressings and bean sprouts.
Many processed foods are high in calories but low in nourishment. We've grown up white bread and sugar and potatoes, the legacy of depression and war. We have locked-in taste preferences, but we must be prepared to learn more and change our buying and eating habits for our health and our financial well-being.
To eat cheaply from the supermarket requires a degree of consumer sophistication, time to plan and cook the food properly, a willingness to experiment and the ingenuity to make the cheap food tasty - turning yuk into yummy.

 


September 17, 2012

Zucchini Relish and Pickle

 
 


 
 
If you have ever grown zucchinis you will know that they are very prolific producers, needing to be harvested almost every day. Six plants can swamp a household with fresh zucchinis and if you try giving them away, sooner or later your friends will stop visiting and your neighbours will avoid you. If you don't pick them small then they expand into a giant marrow that is watery and somewhat bitter. To be honest, at their best they are a pretty tasteless vegetable. They do go well in a tomato and onion based pasta sauce, or in breads or cakes. I'm sure there are other recipes that aren't too bad either. Here are a couple of easy recipes to help extend the harvest past the growing season and keep your friends and neighbours onside.
 

ZUCCHINI RELISH

Here's a quick and easy recipe for zucchini relish.
 
  • 1kg zucchini, grated or shredded
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbspns salt
  • 1 tspn mustard
  • 1 tspn tumeric
  • 1/2 tspn curry powder
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tbspns cornflour

Method:
Cover the zucchini, onion and salt with water and stand for two hours. Drain well. Mix together remaining ingredients, except for cornflour.

Add this to the drained zucchini. Stand for one hour.

Boil for 30 minutes and then add cornflour that has been mixed with a little vinegar. Boil for 10 minutes then bottle and seal jars.

ZUCCHINI PICKLE

This next one is very popular with all who taste it. It's like a sweet mustard pickle. I have at times substituted beans, corn, cauliflower and the like for some of the zucchini, which is also successful, but it's at its best made with zucchini.

  • 1 kg zucchini
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 small capsicum (red looks attractive)
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
Method:
Chop the zucchini, onion and capsicum finely. Add the salt and leave to stand for two hours or more. Drain.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, mustard powder and turmeric. Place the vegetable mixture into this, bring to the boil, then cook for 20 minutes.

If you think it necessary at this stage, the pickle can be thickened with one dessertspoon of cornflour mixed to a paste with a little white vinegar.

September 15, 2012

My Top 20 Vegetables for the Home Garden

These are my top 20 vegetables to grow at home and it's based on my locality and climate zone (temperate - mediterranean), as well as my personal tastes and preferences. I also considered such things as productivity, storage options and variety. Other people in different climate zones may have other preferences for their own list and some people may have different tastes or dietary regimes than I do, so this list is not conclusive or exclusive. It's probably important to mention that these are only a part of a productive garden, which should have fruit and nut trees and some berry crops such as strawberries or grapes, or whatever suits your climate. There are a wide range of perennial food plants that can contribute much to a healthy diet and add to productivity by utilising spaces (horizontal, vertical and lateral) that may be seen as unsuitable for vegetable beds. I hope this list might provide some good ideas for anyone thinking about what to grow in their garden that will provide a good crop in a reasonably short time frame.

1. Tomatoes

 Tomatoes are so versatile and so productive that it would be hard to go past them in most garden planning. (Yes, I know they are a fruit but let's just call them a vegetable for now, so they can get onto the list.) Excess fruit can be made into a wide range of sauces, relishes and pickles or they can be bottled or dried, extending the harvest over an entire year and beyond.

2. Potatoes

 
These are one of my staples. I eat potatoes in almost every meal in one form or another. Potatoes can be stored for many months if they are stored well and in raised beds with straw mulching they can be a very productive crop in a fairly small space. Some people prefer to buy certified seed potatoes for growing but I tend to use potatoes I have grown or buy potatoes from the grocery store and plant the healthy looking, disease free spuds when the eyes start to develop. Having a variety of potatoes is a good idea as this reduces the risk of crop loss from diseases and widens the cooking options as well.
 

3. Beans



There are so many variety of beans that I could fill the garden with them and still not cover the full list. I tend to grow climbing varieties such as Purple King or Blue Lake, as I have a fence line that get's full sun for most of the day and the beans on a trellis do well there in a small space. The harvest of fresh beans can be extended by blanching and freezing the excess and seeds can be saved by leaving some pods to develop fully and dry on the vine. Scarlet Runner Beans are not suited to my region but are a perennial variety that will do well for a number of years in cooler climates. Then there are Broad Beans, which can be planted in Autumn and harvested in the Winter and then there are the varieties that dry well and can be stored and used at any time, such as Borlotti, Red Kidney, Harricot and so on.
 

4. Pumpkins and Squash

 
 Pumpkins and squash are plants that need space and sunlight but the planting hole only needs to be small. For a big crop they require plenty of nutrients and good pollination. Pollination can be increased by collecting pollen from the male flowers in the morning and hand pollinating the female flowers in the afternoon. Most varieties are excellent storers that require no refrigeration. Baked pumpkin is a favourite, as is pumpkin soup. 
 

5. Spinach

 
 
A small patch of spinach will keep producing for many months, or years if you plant one of the perennial varieties. The young leaves can be eaten fresh in a salad and more mature leaves can be gently heated as a hot green vegetable. My favourite method of cooking spinach is to wash the fresh leaves, toss in a collander to remove excess water and then wilt in a warm to hot frypan for a minute or two. Salt, pepper, butter or olive oil can be added to taste, as can a small handful of sesame seeds. This nutrient rich food is a great addition to the diet. As this is a cool-climate plant, it's not really suited for the hot summers we have in my area but planting seeds in Autumn will mean I will be able to harvest spinach leaves through Winter and Spring, right into early Summer.
 
 

September 13, 2012

Homestead Survival: HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN CARTBIKE

Homestead Survival: HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN CARTBIKE: http://www.bicyclelaneindustries.com/bli/cartbike/



I love this tricycle. It would come in really handy for local foraging and shopping trips. I think I need to build one. Unfortunately, the linked site of bicyclelaneindustries seems to be broken but this is a pretty simple build I think. It's going onto my future plans for things to do when I get a roundtuit.

September 12, 2012

Loquat Jam


My loquat tree is fruiting well this year and the fruit is starting to ripen up. (Fruit is ripe when it turns orange and is sweet to taste.) I don't normally do much with this fruit as it has an unusual taste that is nice but can become somewhat cloying if you eat too many, so the birds and my friends have got most of the harvest in years gone by. This year I have decided to make some loquat jam, so I went searching for a good jam recipe and found this one. It sounds interesting, with enough lemon juice to help balance the sweetness of the loquats and butter. I have never used butter in jam making before but I will try it and see how it works out.

Anyway, I thought I would share this recipe here, which I found at  insidethekaganoffkitchen.com. Wish me luck, if it works out well (or poorly) I will let you know later.
*Loquats are a problematic fruit. You need to pick them and then make them into jam immediately. They have absolutely no shelf life off of the tree. They will literally rot overnight, even in the refrigerator.

Loquat Jam

  • 6 cups loquats, pitted and skinned
  • 7 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 1 package Sure Jell/ Jam setter/ Fruit pectin


  • Sterilize your jars and lids. Any other implements (spoons, funnels) should also be dropped in boiling water before they come in contact with the fruit. As soon as you cut the fruit, place it in a large bowl with the lemon juice so that the fruit does not discolor. Once you have all of the fruit prepared, toss the fruit with the pectin and put it in a large pot and bring to a boil. Once it is at a rolling boil take it off of the heat and stir in the sugar.

    Toss the sliced loquats in the lemon juice to keep the fruit from browning

    Put it back on the heat and bring back to a boil. Let it boil for 1 minute. Add the butter. Stir to blend. Skim the top of any bubbles/scum. Ladle the jam into already sterilized jars. Don’t ladle past the rim, stop right below the beginning of the lip of the jar. Try not to get jam on the rim. If you do, use a clean cloth and wipe the rim before you put on the lid.
    Screw on the tops and the lids tightly. Invert immediately. Leave inverted for about 1 hour and then flip over. Let the jam cool before you move the jars. The jars should ping as they cool. If they do not ping the jar has not sealed. Refrigerate this jam and use in the near term.

    [ I made a sample batch following this recipe with one minor alteration. I left my jam to simmer for around 30 minutes as it improves the storage life of most jams. I ended up with a sweet, dark pink jam that has set very well and I'm sure will keep well in the larder. This test batch is a little too sweet for my tastes and I think that's because I used equal quantities of fruit and sugar by volume, when it should probably be equal quantities by weight. There is quite a lot of work involved in peeling and cutting the fruit and it does bruise very easily. Compared to other fruits, it's probably not the best use of time but my loquat tree is still loaded with fruit and it would be a shame to see it go to waste.]

    September 10, 2012

    Bee Friendly Plants For The Garden



    The bees are in trouble and they need our help. But more importantly, we need the bees' help to pollinate our food crops. It's a mutually beneficial type of relationship and as a species we have been exploiting that relationship for centuries without much thought. Bee numbers are diminishing, both in the wild and in honey production. What can we do to help? Diversity of planting is a good start. Not spraying toxic chemicals helps as well. Then we can perhaps consider planting more bee-friendly plants in our gardens or on our farms, especially those that have good amounts of nectar. Bees need pollen and nectar to make food. Lots of flowers have pollen but I had to scratch my head a bit on nectar. So, I did some research online and compiled these lists. Help save the bees!


    Queen of The Sun; What Are the Bees Telling Us?

    Hi folks, this short trailer from youtube is about the honeybee and it's importance to us all. I'm looking forward to the full length film and I will be thinking more about bees and different things I might be able to do in my garden to encourage their activity and help sustain them.



    Of course, diversity in planting is impotant, and having nectar sources is probably even more important. I know that many species of eucalyptus flowers are excellent sources of nectar for bees and make some of the tastiest honeys I have ever eaten. I think I need to do some more research on bee friendly plants and maybe post a list here for future reference.

    September 07, 2012

    Stocking The Larder

    It's one of the basic truths of growing your own food and living on what you produce - there will be times of feast and there will be times of famine. That's why it's very important to keep a well stocked larder, or pantry, or cellar, or kitchen cupboards. When those times of famine roll around it pays to have a good mixture of supplies on hand to meet all of your dietary needs.

    You can store any excess from the garden in a variety of ways, such as bottling, drying or freezing (freezers are great until the power goes off for more than a few hours, then you can have a problem). Jam, sauces and pickles, dried herbs and fruits, all add flavour and variety to the diet. Dried beans are a good source of protein but it pays to combine beans with a cereal product to get the enzymes necessary to aid in the breakdown of the protein of the beans. That's probably why beans and rice is a staple meal in some places. Beans and rice might sound a bit boring on it's own but with some flavour additives, such as dried chillies and a tomato sauce, it can become an interesting meal. Nuts are a good source of protein and can be stored in the shells for extended periods. Corns and maizes can be dried on the cob for grinding into flour. Smoked meats and sausages (salamis/wursts) will store well in a cool, dark space with good air movement.

    Some vegetables store better than others. Potatoes and pumpkins (and some squash) have excellent storage qualities if they are handled right. Potatoes need to be stored in a dark, cool, dry place with air movement. One traditional method of storing potatoes was to place them in a straw-lined box in layers, with a layer of straw in between and covering each layer. This can keep rot from spoiling the whole lot. On larger farms, this storage might be in an area of the barn that had a low wall to separate the storage bin from the barn floor. Pumpkins can be stored anywhere, as long as there is good air circulation. It used to be common to see pumpkins on the tank-stands in many backyards here in Australia. They would sit there through all weather and still be edible for many months. Brown onions store better than white or red varieties but all can be stored in a vegetable safe of pantry for months. I haven't tried it myself but it's possible to plat the leaves of onions together, with the onions still attached, to make a string of onions that can be hung from a hook in the kitchen or store room. Garlic can be done in the same method as well. Herbs that dry well (most of them) can be harvested on longer stems, tied in a bundle and hung from to dry as well. If you can do it in your kitchen then you will just be able to reach up and cut off what you need as you cook.

    Another old method of storing crops, root vegetables in particular, was to dig a root cellar. This didn't have to be very big or deep, 2 metres (5-6 foot) is enough. A simple roof was made to keep the weather out but the walls were left bare earth and the root vegetables would be stored in the earth of the walls. In more temperate climates, root vegetables can be left in the soil in the garden for many months through winter but in colder climates the earth can freeze and this can damage the crop.

    Shopping For The Larder

     
    Being 100% self sufficient is hard work and may not be possible for most people but we can all learn to be more self reliant. So buying in food is still going to be a part of most gardeners lives but what we buy is important as well, especially when it comes to stocking up the larder for long-term storage.
    Here's a list of bought foods I like to keep on hand for emergencies and general use.
     
    Dried beans - as many varieties as possible.
    Dried green and golden peas - great for hearty winter soups.
    Dried chick peas - these have many uses, they deserve a whole page.
    Rice - this is a basic staple, a source of carbohydrates and the basis of many fine meals.
    Pearl barley - goes well in soups and stews, especially with lamb.
    Sugar - it's a preservative as well as a sweetener
    Salt - another preservative and flavouring agent but it's also a dietary requirement in small amounts.
    Pepper - I prefer cracked black pepper and peppercorns can store for years without losing flavour.
    Olive oil - can be used for cooking and salad dressings, or even just brushed onto fresh bread or toast as a butter substitute.
    Vinegar - another preservative that can also be an ingredient in many recipes to balance flavours.
    Dried herbs and spices - I buy the more exotic herbs and spices that I cannot grow, in small amounts for cooking. What would life be without a little spice?
    Dried pasta - spaghetti, fettuccine, macaroni and shells all have a place in my larder.
    Rolled oats - for breakfast or baking.
    Flour - I tend to buy plain flour and add some baking powder when required.
    Baking powder- this is a mixture of tartaric acid and baking soda.
    Dried yeast - for baking breads and buns.
    Curry powder - I like curries and the powder will store for many years.
    Breakfast cereals - I keep some basic cereals in rotational storage, such as corn flakes or wheat biscuit types.
    Canned baked beans - sometimes, a quick meal is a good meal and baked beans can fill the spot. (I have a homemade baked beans recipe but it's a slow-cook recipe, not exactly fast food.
    Canned sardines - not everyone likes the taste but sardines are rich in omega oils and store well.
    Canned tuna - stores well and has a variety of meal applications
    Canned tomatoes - they are very cheap to buy and store well.
    Canned pineapple - I can't grow pineapple where I live but the canned product is pretty good.
    Canned fruit - peaches, pears and apricots in cans are all good, usually they are canned in a syrup made from pear juice or a sugar syrup. (there are many exotic fruits available in cans as well)
    Canned soups - I prefer canned soups rather than canned stews as the taste and textures are usually better. I like to keep a few cans on hand, mostly in the winter.
    Tea & coffee - these tend to lose flavour over time, especially coffee, so keep rotating from storage to use to maintain quality.
    UHT milk - ultra heat treated milk has a shelf life of 3 years. I prefer fresh but keep some UHT milk on hand as well, for those times I run out and can't get to the shop.
    Dry cracker biscuits - some varieties keep for years without going stale or soggy as long as the pack stays sealed.
    Sprouting seeds - alfalfa is the best known sprout but there are many seeds that can be sprouted to provide fresh and nutritious greens for salads and sandwiches.
     
    There's a lot of other things in my larder that reflect my personal tastes in food such as balsamic vinegar, bottled olives,  custard powder etc. It's up to each individual to make their own choices as there's no point buying and storing foods you will never eat. Of course I prefer to eat fresh foods whenever I can but a well stocked larder can enhance meals and help us cope with shortages.
     
    * You might like to consider storing some candles, safety matches, batteries and bottled water as well for those serious emergencies when services are down and shops are cleared out.
    * It's been estimated that the average supermarket has only three days worth of stock on hand and this can vanish in hours when an emergency situation arises. Be prepared!

    Watch out for pests such as rats and mice and insect pests such as weevil's and ants. Make sure everything is in well sealed containers or packaging or kept out of reach of pests. Try and maintain a high level of cleanliness in your larder as well for food safety and maximum storage life. Light, heat and moisture are the enemies of food storage, good air circulation will be beneficial as it helps reduce the risk of mould or fungal growth.
     
    

    September 05, 2012

    Fear

    If there is one thing that could be said about all human beings, one thing that is common to everyone, it is fear. We all fear something or other. Some fears are reasonable, some fears are important to keep us alive, some fears are projections of other peoples' fears and some fears are nothing more than tricks of the mind.

    Some people seem to fear nothing and other people seem to fear everything. Those who say they have no fears are not being truthful. They fear admitting to having fears because that could be seen as a sign of weakness and that might bring ridicule. That is a very common fear, as is the fear of being proved wrong in some way. For some people, their greatest fears revolve around being exposed as a fraud or a failure, or having their dirty little secrets (sins?) exposed.
     
    Then there is fear of pain and death. The hero might steel his heart and put aside those fears for the cause, fully prepared to face whatever comes, including death. But they are still there at some level, nagging away below the surface. These are natural fears that help keep us from accidentally killing ourselves, maybe a thousand times a day. Problems only really arise when we let our fears rule our minds. Being mindful of danger and avoiding it is sensible. Being fearful of the world and seeing danger in everything in it is a form of illness and it can destroy lives.

    I don't mind admitting it, I have known fear intimately, even though I'm a big strong bloke who lives in a safe place with no serious security threats.

    August 29, 2012

    Edible City - The Movie

    I hope you enjoy this video and take away something of value from it. I strongly support the messages it contains and encourage everyone to take the time to watch this full-length documentary (72 mins). I found it an inspirational experience, I hope you do too.



    We all need to stay positive (myself included) and do what we can, where and when we can, without pressure and without fear. Then it all becomes good fun and good food instead of a chore that has to be done. We can make it happen, if we want it.

    August 28, 2012

    Tomato Culture Notes

    Tomatoes are a great crop for home production as they are very productive with an extended harvest period and the tasty fruit can be used and preserved in many ways that most people enjoy. The range of varieties available can add to the diversity of uses and extend even further the harvest period. Cherry tomatoes ripen quickly and are available for use before larger varieties ripen.


    Culture Notes

    Tomato plants can be grown from seed or seedlings. Growing tomatoes from seed will take longer to reach cropping stage and seeds tend to do poorly unless raised to seedling stage in protected conditions and then planted out. This is much more cost efficient than seedlings when done well but requires a bit more skill and equipment. In temperate and cooler climates, seedlings need to be planted out as early in spring as possible, to maximise the growing season. Tomato plants are susceptible to frosts, so protection from frost may be needed in cooler climates until the risk has passed. One guide to timing planting is to feel when the soil begins to warm and when it feels comfortable to the (extended) touch, it is warm enough to start planting, under cloches if neccessary.

    Some quick and easy covers for young plants are re-used water-cooler bottles with the bottom cut out and the lid off, or a small tunnel cloche made from flexible cane bent into arcs and some clear plastic sheeting. These can be removed (or rolled back) on sunny days and replaced for frosty nights. Traditional cloches were made from glass in frames of metal or wood, with handles. The heavier build is more wind resistant but harder to store in the off-season.
     

    Growing Media

     

    Whatever media is chosen, it should be friable, enriched and have good moisture-holding properties before planting. Soil pH needs to be neutral to slightly alkaline (pH 7 - 8) for best results, but the pH range is wider for acceptable results, ranging from moderately acid to alkaline (pH 5.5 - 9.0). Better root development can be achieved by planting the seedlings deep. Tomatoes have the ability to develop roots on the stem of the plant when planted deep and kept moist. (Not many plants share this ability so avoid this practice with other seedlings.) Male plants, or 'sports' are totally unproductive and should be discarded. Sports can be recognised by the broad leaves with only minor segmentation. Water the plants in well, to achieve good soil:root contact at planting time. Bush varieties should be allowed room for each plant to spread, staked varieties need strong stakes that are solid in the ground orcontainer. Pinch out unwanted lateral growth from time to time to encourage more flowering. Feed and water the plants well once fruit starts to swell and show signs of ripening. The best tasting fruit is ripenened on the vine but tomatoes can be harvested with partial colour and will still ripen in storage. 







    August 21, 2012

    Why in the World are They Spraying?

    Why in the World are They Spraying?



    My first reaction after watching this video was sadness. If the information contained in this 80 minute film is true, it has implications for everything I have been trying to promote - sustainable, creative and self-reliant ways of living. Please give yourself the time to watch this video in full and avoid making quick judgements. Decide for yourself, in the fullness of time.
     
     


    In some ways I never wanted this blog to go in this direction but I think this full-length documentary is important and it just so happens, I live in big sky country (Australia) and I have seen the visual evidence for myself on many occasions. I have also seen the same deaths in native species discussed by gardeners and growers in the film. I feel I have to share this video as best I can and it is up to you, dear reader, to reach your own conclusions.
    

    August 18, 2012

    Gimmie Shelter!

    As I my old Uncle Mick used to sing - "Gimme, gimme shelter, or I'm gonna fade away".
    We all need shelter in some form or another, from the approaching storm, from the cold, from the judgemental appraisal of others (call it privacy if you like, I don't mind). It is one of our basic fundamental needs and it needs to be appropriate for each person or group of people and it needs to be appropriate for each specific set of circumstances.

    We don't need castles or mansions to rattle around in like lost souls. We need to feel safe, secure and comfortable. Living sustainably is about addressing our needs in the best way we can, using the materials we can collect (or purchase) to achieve the best possible outcome we can, without causing damage to others or the natural world.

    In recent times, financial problems have seen many people  in the USA forced to  find some form of alternative shelter or housing, due to foreclosures and loss of income. Some people rely on an economic recovery occurring and hope that when it does, their lives will return to normal. Other people of a more creative mind-set are finding all sorts of interesting ways to fill this basic need for shelter with ingenious and appropriate building technologies and other strategies that suit their needs, even if only on a temporary basis.

    August 16, 2012

    Mear One Artwork

    Complacency




    This is some fantastic recent artwork from Los Angeles California by a street artist known as mear one. If you can watch the embedded video, the artists explains the theme of the mural he was commisioned to paint. Complacency; or more likely, the dangers of complacency. We all tend to put things off for another time, for many reasons. It's a busy world. Please don't put off watching this video for another time, it won't take much time at all.


    Watch with volume on as the artist narrates the Allegory of Cave.






    

    August 15, 2012

    Calming the Mind

    Don't Forget to Breathe


    Last post I talked a lot about doing things in a calm manner with a calm mind, open to what is being observed. So, I thought I had better describe a fairly simple method of turning off the noisy distractions and achieving a calm mind. The first thing to remember is, don't foget to breathe. You need to do a preperation for an area of quiet contemplation and prepare a time that is suitable. You will first need to do a cleansing of yourself and be quiet and breathe. Then you need to find the place that you prepared and be quiet and breathe. Now you need to relax and begin the process of turning off the noise in the mind. Be quiet and breathe. As thoughts enter your mind, ackniwledge them and put them aside as something that needs to be dealt with later and be calm and be quiet and let them come and deal with them all in the same way and don't forget to breathe.



    As the noises are turned off the mind will begin to calm and relax and breathe and use an image of the moon over still water to contemplate. Such as this one and imagine the thoughts that enter your mind are ripples upon the calm surface of water. Allow your-self time to relax and the  for the ripples to settle down. Remain quiet and breathe and relax into
    a state of conscious awareness and contemplate the image of the moon on water.
    When the mind is calm there are four questions to ask yourself.

    Which is real?
    Which is a reflection?
    What is the nature of truth?
    What is the nature of the reflection?

    And don't foget to breathe and stay quiet and calm and allow time for those questions to be digested and be accepting and calm with anything that is offered to you and put it aside for a time when you are ready to deal with it. And breathe and stay calm and accept the calm state and when you are ready, the time is right to leave the place of quiet contemplation and rest and relax. Give everything you have taken in time,  and give yourself time to digest it all and when the issues of the world need to be dealt with, deal with them but try and maintain calm and quiet conscious awareness and don't forget to breathe. Reinforce this with more contemplation and quiet time and don't forget to breathe. Deal with the issues that need to be dealt with and when you are calm and quiet and deliberate your mind will tell you the next thing to do and the things you need to achieve that. And don't forget to breathe.

    

    Growing Tomatoes Well - Fundamental Requirements

    Methods, Strategies and tips for growing Tomatoes

    in an Organic Based System


    All plants have certain needs and when you understand their needs and employ informed strategies, there is no need to force anything, because a healthy plant that has it's needs met and has been well looked after will return a good yield. Tomatoes have some needs regarding nutrients that can be met with organic liquids or dry applications. There are a variety of methods and strategies to minimise damage from pests or the weather and keep the fruit from becoming grub food. Having said that, they are tough plants and can do well in a lot of places. There are a number of varieties, shapes, colours and sizes to choose from and it's just a matter of choosing the right plant for the right position. The first thing I would like to talk about are the needs of the tomato plant and what that means. *This is the bit where I reveal the trade secret I hinted at.

    Fundamental Requirements

    Sunlight

    Sunlight is required to drive photosynthesis, which powers growth, water and nutrient uptake. This powers many processes such as natural defence strategies employed by the plant. Anyone who has grown a good patch of tomatoes will be familliar with the smell that is associated with these plants. It's a specific odour that has qualities that keep many leaf eating pests away. It won't keep the tomato miner grubs away, that requires other strategies that require human input. It is important to make note here that direct sunlight at the hottest part of the day is damaging unless copious amounts of water are availble to the plant, so dappled or moderate shade at that point, which is drawing moisture from the leaves through a process known as transpiration, is preferable. If the plant struggles to meet that water requirement it will wilt and then the leaves will burn. The plant should have as much exposure to early morning light as possible and as little exposure to mid to late afternoon light as possible. Secret time!
    There is one other need related to sunlight and what it provides in some forms (wavelengths). That is warmth. Tomato plants can be planted out early if they are provided with some form of protection from chill. They need to be fed but their roots are not warm enough to be working well, so foliar feeds with a liquid feed will drive growth. These can be applied with a watering can, mixed and well stirred to resemble a weak cup of tea. Watering at the warmest part of the day, when the weather is calm. This will coincide with the time that the pores on the leaves, the stomata, are open. Any liquid that reaches the ground will feed the ground and as long as the plant is functioning, it will grow and begin to set flowers. As long as there are pollinating insects in the garden system, the fruit will set. The set will improve as the plant matures up until a point when night-time minimum temperatures rise above 20C (68F) on a regular basis.
    Fruit set will begin to fall away after that and those fruit that set will be very late in the season, which is a time when pest species can build up and cause serious problems. So it's best to have your plants in early, to maximise both growth potential and fruit set, before warm weather and nights set in. It's also best to end your harvest once the best developed fruit are all gone and then harvest all remaining fruit for preserving in some way, (or consumption - green fruit can be ripened ina paper bag or in a fruit bowl with a banana) then removing the plants to the compost bed. If these simple tips are followed, you get the best quality fruit for the longest period without creating a problem such as pest and disease build-up. All living things need a level of warmth to function. Without warmth, water freezes and ice forms,(even inside the cells of living things). Light is life. The abscence of light is death. That is important to remember when you are looking for a place to plant tomatoes. Does it provide enough light to meet the needs of the plant through the growing season? And does it provide enough potection from the harmful light to protect the plant as well? There are different strategies do meet those requirements but I will discuss them later. Light and warmth are fundamental requirements.

    Water

    Water, in liquid form needs to be available in sufficient quantities to provide for growth and output, throughout the growing season, or the plant may suffer damage, which weakens resistance to attack. It's difficult to over-water a tomato plant but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to try it. I have seen self-seeded tomato plants grow in drains, being fed by the nutrients in grey water and constanly standing in water. Tomato plants have a strategy to deal with that. They begin to form root nodule along the stem and they can absorb air. They can also form roots if they come into contact with drier soils (or even get near enough to detect proximity. These roots can perform the process of osmosis, which is a process of water, nutrient and air absorbtion that are all fundamental requirements for all life. Water also needs to be cherished because water is sacred, so managing water in a planned and managed system based on natural interactions between some species and input and removal by other species with organic based principles, informed by science and learning (knowledge), needs to be understood. Pheww! Sorry for getting long winded there folks, don't forget to breathe. Growing Media Earth is one form of growing media and is a valid option in many places but there are other forms of growing media that can range from composted organics, which forms a rich brown loam in a healthy composting system, through enriched mulches and potting mixes to fired clay pellets or large gravel. The things that they provide that unite them as valid growing media are: 1. a place to anchor the plant (space) with a root system, which requires space to grow and develop. 2. Water, air and nutrient uptake by osmosis that is balanced to be sufficient for the plant's needs but not detrimental to the plant or the environment in all it's definitions. Don't allow the system to become toxic. 3. Location, location, location! In other words; the strategy applied is influenced by the immediate, the surrounding and the general environment, specific to each location. As long as it is done in the right way, growth will occur and productivity will be increased. The right way? With a mind that is calm and focused on the task, informed and aware, with time to look around, consider and digest the information that your senses will take in. In this way the work is transformed into growing pleasure as the plant develop and the harvest forms and ripens. This transforms gardening into recreation, which we all need if we are going to learn how to relax and live in peace on this planet. The earth is important. It grounds us and provides for us and can even re-create us. It can provide for all of us, if we allow it to show us the ways and avoid the pit-falls. The earth is alive. It has been hurt by our actions but it is healing in ways that are both natural and wonderful but we need to accept our reponsibility to return life to the living world and restore areas for nature and allow each other space and room and time to develop and prosper. We must repair the sacred earth. we must repair and help each other to achieve a state of peace and balance and awareness will grow in time and loving guidance, informed and applied with good a good heart and a calm mind.

    Space

    Another name for space is room. All plants need space to grow and allow the free movement of air, which is essential to maintain life on Earth. The space must be appropriate for the application and location to... you know the rest, ...needs. We all need space, but that can be diverse in location and form but it needs to allow us to feel comfortable, give us room to prosper and yield a good harvest to provide for our needs but appropriate to each location and requirement. There are various forms of space? We know about about three dimensional space right? And how that is expressed? Usually it is expressed as horizontal (length), vertical (height) and depth (width). There is another form of space available for growing tomtoes and that is called lateral, or on an angle. When this is applied well, such as in the terraced areas that have been in (or out) of agricultural and horticultural productivity for centuries all sorts oc concepts can develop in the mind. That is usually called lateral thinking but it is also aware and informed thinking with good intent and time to develop. Tomatoes of many (smaller) varieties can be grown very well in hanging baskets, above ground pests such as cutworm, slugs and snails. They can also begrown on a sloping trellis, angled toward the morning light and the passage of the sun, helping to keep the fruit off the ground and keep them from spoiling. Tomatoes are a fruit. Grown well, to full ripeness they are sweet and firm and full of flavour. Awareness of their needs and meeting them reduces stress and increases growth and abundance. A shared experience in common areas can develop into a shared experience of hpw such a system can be developed but it requires peace and harmony and time and space to allow it to occur.

    Diversity

    For tomatoes, this can mean a diversity of varieties for a diversity of all of the fundamental reasons we grow food. The most fundamental is sustenance - to sustain us. In abundance, tomates can be stored for future use in many forms and that is fine as long as we maintain a good intent and share our abundance with everyone in the system or unable near to the system and share the things we have learned and the strategies that work and the strategies that may need to be adjusted. If you don't discard a favoured strategy before it becomes out of balance and toxic to life, you risk creating a situation where the whole lot has to be flushed out and time given for healing and repair before life can return and restore balance and harmony. If you create a system that is that toxic then you risk endanger all life within the system. Everything toxic being discarded and the creation of a new system more in balance and in harmony and peace. You do the math. We can embrace and apply diversity in our strategies, our plantings, our applications and our requirements and abilities and available space and the use of that space and intent, always with good intent and responsibility for our actions and the outcomes of those actions. Diversity is a good thing in an organic setting. It protects by sheltering diverse life-forms and diverse interactions between life-forms. We must maintain and develop diversity. That doesn't mean that plants like tomatoes have to stand alone grouping like with like in small groups has it's benefits in allowing the group (of plants to interact. (Plants interact in several ways- smells containing chemicals that enter the pores of other plants, chemical interactions with other plants and other species, root and limb and flower and pollen interaction all occur and a shared interaction in a group of similar plants can produce more diversity and more life. Get used to it, Gaiya is alive.

    Freedom

    Tomato plants can have a habit of becoming rambling and finding niches to exploit. This might need to be trained into growing as intended and develop good fruit and growth habits. other times, some room to develop and grow in different ways must be allowed for and accepted. As long as the development of other growth isn't impeded or slowed some rambling should be allowed. Training applies in some situations, freedom and chaos in others and there must always be room for nature because nature provides us many things. When we allow it to heal and repair itself. More importantly, it provides sustenance for species that live in nature and shelter and everything required for natural life to prosper. We must withdraw our activities that are destructive from natural areas and carry out repair work where we can. The Australian experiences should warn us of the dangers of trying to live in a natural setting. We can create our own settings that harmonise with nature and that will helb bring balance and harmony between us all. Gentle love applied to all actions will yield better results and space must be availble and the freedom available to join in and experience and participate and learn. Especially in larger co-operative systems which suit areas of high population density and larger projects in larger open spaces, within defined boundaries sometimes but incorporating natural and human sharing over the boundary fences. Give your garden a cerain level of freedom, give your plants a certain level of freedom and give your animals a certain amount of freedom, balanced by oversight and gentle management and informed application with good intent.

    Care

    In a productive system, plants are chosen for different reasons but a major factor is potential yield. To achieve the best potential yield, tomato plants require a certain level of care. Another name for care is love. To maximise the potential a certain level of care must be taken to provide and tend the crop's needs. Observation and information will inform how to act and that, informed by science and agriculture will provide a wider range of potential strategies when problems arise. Dealing with problems in ways that are calm, timely and appropriate will minimise the problem, as long as it is done without creating another problem somewhere else. Diseased plant matter needs to be disposed of in a responsible way, to avoid spreading more disease but the risk of disease should be lessened in ways that are gentle on the users and the environment, because nothing and nobody needs to suffer if we want it. If we want peace, if we care, if we have love in our hearts. Peace will unite us if we allow it. All we have to do is care.

    Responsiblity

    We are all responsible to maintain the conditions described as fudamental principles and share what we have learned. This awareness of responsibility balances freedom with an informed awareness of our duty of care. So anyone who is willing to undertake such a project and make themselves available for instruction and guidance should be given the information they seek freely, as much as they require to reach the next step when they are ready. Part of that advice given should include a gentle reminder to research for themselves and find out as much as they can for themselves because what they remember will be enhanced because they have learned it for themself. This will mean the questions they ask next will be more informed and the responses can reveal new paths of learning and new ways to maximise potential. Relating this to growing tomatoes, we have a duty to care for the plants and the responsibility to do so with good intent and we also have a responsibility to clean up after the harvest has ended and remove diseased or infected or infested material from the system before it causes any problems in the future. Then we have a duty to repair any damage done by our use of the space in which the crop was grown. That may mean restoring the earth or cleansing it before we try to make use of it again. Pathogens can develop in the soil and they are drawn to the roots of plants because of the chemicals those roots release. This is how disease such as potato blight can create problems and even famine, when people are forced to rely on too narrow a diversity of choices to meet their basic needs. Understanding the nature of the plant helps inform the strategies employed to repair any harm they may have done and restore the health in appropriate ways. Tomatoes are mildly acidic. This is balanced in the fruit but that acidity needs to be repaired, especially if your soil is naturally acidic in nature. Applications of dolomite lime and blood and bone will help with acidity. Or as my old guru, Peter Cundall used to express it, "Blood and bloomin' bone, it's bloomin' marvelous!" and "Don't be afraid to toss the stuff about all over the place." You are preparing the ground for the next seeds or seedlings, so be informed and give time for the input to be absorbed and spread then monitor and adjust what is happening in your garden according to what has been observed. Better output will result.

    Nutrient

    Nutrient can be called food or sustenance. Tomato plants have specific nutrient requirements that vary only slightly between different varieties. The information you need is well explained in this post:
    http://www.growtomatoes.com/tomato_plant_nutrition.htm
    by J Benton Jones Phd.
    It is always better to seek the information you need from those who will give you the things you need, in this example, the information is informed by science, detailed and relevant. An awareness of signs of defficiency of any required input should be understood and monitored so that appropriate remedial action can be taken. Testing soils or medias and understanding different medias will inform different strategies to address the problems that may occur, guided by good intention and shared knowledge. This post by Marie at about.com explains defficiencies in a simple and easy to digest form: http://gardening.about.com/od/gardenproblems/a/NutrientDeficie.htm.

    Deal with the nutrient requirements well and the plants will reward you. Deal with the nutrient requirements poorly, by supplying their needs too sparingly or too liberally in certain areas and productivity and health are reduced. This covers the funadamental requirements (I think) - for all life and is a message for everyone. Share it with as many people as you can if you understand it or even if you comprehend some of it but not all. A shared experience will enhance learning. Make a copy and keep it for future reflection. If this information unsettles your mind, dismiss it for now and take a holiday (so to speak) until you are ready and then it will be easier to understand. It is important, yes. But it can wait until you are ready and the time is right.

    Next I will cover strategies and various methods for different locations and different situations. If I have missed anything important please inform me so I can rectify that before it becomes a problem. There's a lot of important information here that can apply to all sorts of situations and issues we are facing. Deal with it in small chunks that are easy to digest if you feel I have offered too much.

    August 14, 2012

    Do you do youtube? I do.


    Do you do youtube? I do.



    Hi there. I just thought I would drop this short note and link in here for my new playlist. There are some really good songs on the list, songs that I grew up with. I urge anyone who reads this to visit my youtube channel and listen to the featured playlist. It's a message for everyone to share so please visit the link, listen to and enjoy the songs when you have time.

    Thank you.
    Ian


     
     
     
     

    August 13, 2012

    Too Many Tomatoes!

    Beautiful and tasty tomatoes come in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes.

    Tomatoes are a funny crop to grow. Sometimes, even if you think you have done everything right and the plant looks healthy and the flowers are opening with the promise of a good harvest, the crop ends up light and it hardly seems worth the effort. Other times, you do all the same things and end up with such a large crop you just end up forcing them on to your friends, co-workers, anyone you can think of really. There's a reason for that. It's a bit of a trade secret and I was told about it by a commercial grower in North Queensland when I was working for him one winter/spring. It's not really a secret but it doesn't get written about very often so I promise I will in my next blog which will be about growing tomatoes organically. It won't be far behind this article, that's a promise.
    This article I want to deal with ways to extend the harvest and use that glut to expand the productivity of  the tomato crop. I have some very good, very simple recipes to make a few condiments from tomatoes that can be stored and used at your leisure and I have tried them all and I can assure you they are very tasty, especially the tomato relish. They are also adaptable, to suit individual tastes just by adding the ingredients you may think they are lacking. I am reproducing these from a cookbook that I came across in a second hand shop, that was prepared as part of our Bicentennial celebrations, (1989) called Australia The Beautiful - The Cookbook, as a celebration of our cuisine. I should also note, that the general public were invited to submit their best recipe to a panel for selection for inclusion into the book, all recipes were taste and simplicity tested and the panel selected the best on that criteria. ( *Part of the quality testing was storage ability, very important in times of  good harvest and a self-reliant system.)
    First I am going to reproduce the Introduction here because I believe there is a message in it for all of us. I do this for the purposes of education and information only, so I if I break any copyright laws.
    I humbly apologise. I have no commercial intent whatsoever.

    August 11, 2012

    Aquaponics - The Best of Aquaculture and Hydroponics Combined


    
    Aquaponic systems can be very productive when they are well managed and well maintained.
    I must be honest and say I have never tried aquaponics for myself but I have been doing some research and I am very impressed with the concept, the thinking and the amazing productivity of the system as described and demonstrated by Murray Hallam. Mr Hallam has done fantastic work developing and promoting aquaponics and he is also a very generous man because he shares his knowledge freely, through (short clip) videos on youtube, his blog and the aquaponics forum. Longer videos with much more detail are available for purchase at Practical Aquaponics online store (all links below), as are a number of books and other resources. I have strung together a few videos on my own youtube channel on aquaponics and I am presenting some of these in this article, to allow the expert to explain the basics and describe the system and some key ratios and principles. I hope you enjoy the videos as much as I do.