Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Strawberry Sensations

Strawberries. Those wonderful sweet, juicy, red berries that we just don't seem to get enough of... especially with kids around! Ok, so I know I'm not describing supermarket bought strawberries, but that's why I bring you this post today. A home grown strawberry will win your heart and save your pocket. You'll never want to spend money on a shop strawberry again.

Here at Martin Farm it is time to plant out strawberries. Old plants have recently sent out new shoots and avid gardeners have pulled them out and potted them up for lucky buyers like you and I.

When I see someone at Bunnings looking at those horrid little rootbound pots of strawberries for $3.50 or more, I lean in and tell them to go to their local flea markets or carboot markets, whatever you want to call them.
At these markets you will most certainly find at least one gardener who grows and sells strawberries. In most cases they are organic gardeners who don't spray their plants with toxins. This means the plants have come from stock that has naturally built up a resistance to pests and diseases. I ususally ask just to check.

The added bonus is that most people sell them for just $2 a pot and if you get there early enough you can occasionally find a few pots with two strawberry crowns. I like to bargain them and offer something like $10 for six pots, that's half the price I would pay at Bunnings and I get much healthier plants with a higher chance of surviving transplant and providing better fruits.

So how many plants DO you need? That really depends on how many people you are providing for, how much you love strawberries and what you want to do with them.
I like to make jams and strawberry jam is a simple beautiful recipe that uses up lots of strawberries. One kilogram of strawberries makes around four jars of jam. I want to freeze some when I grow enough, to use for baking.
Then there's the simple pleasure of picking a fresh berry and chowing down on it while garden foraging. This is something H likes to do A LOT.
The general opinion is that 20 plants will provide plenty of fruit for a small family. This leads me to the conclusion that I will need at least 60 plants just for us!

Strawberries like good rich soil, I planted mine into well rotted cow manure. You can also use well cooked compost or worm castings. They like to be fed a weak seaweed treatment every two to four weeks until around flowering season, this is when you back off and only provide water.
If you provide too much nutrients, specifically nitrogen at this stage you will get very leafy plants and no flowers. No flowers mean no fruit. No fruit means no strawberry jam! What fruits you may get will bruise easily with too much nitrogen.

To see a guide for depth of transplanting look here.

A good deep mulch is vital to moisture retainment of the soil and to keep weeds at bay. I like to use straw as it's cheap and provides nutrients back to the soil after it has broken down. If growing in pots I like to use stripped newspaper as it mats up when wet providing a no flying mulch.You can also use grass clippings, wood shavings, sawdust or compost.

There are many things that grow well with strawberries, these include lettuce, sage and spinach.
Pyrethrum daisies will keep many pests away with its aroma. Borage is a wonderful herb that when planted close by help strawberry plants fight disease and encourage large tasty berries. I have chosen to plant Borage in my patch this year and Pyrethrum close by.

If birds are a problem for your fruits you can try building a scarecrow with the kids with old CD's and tinsel hanging from his arms. The sunlight reflecting from these will scare the birds away for a time. This practise is used on fruit trees to avoid the use of netting. The other options are to place a small cage of bird wire over the plants or a toy snake in the berry patch.

Now for that yummy strawberry jam I was telling you about....have a look at EAM's Facebook page.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Beauty and Simplicity in Such an Element


Who doesn't love a good campfire?

I have fond memories of sitting in front of the fire during my childhood. Dad used to take us camping on the school holidays and I had the most wonderful times of my life..
I'm not talking 'recreational' camping in caravans and campers amongst numerous other camping families with electricity and toilet facilties.
I mean real raw camping at camping spots you had to find with a 4WD, something that is very rare these days sadly. With a tent and fire, a shovel for a toilet and nothing around but bushland to explore and rivers to canoe, splash and fish in.

It's something I continued to do as I grew older... until I had children.
We haven't had a chance to take our girls camping with our journey to self sufficiency taking all our spare money and time. I dream of the days my girls can fish in the river with a paper clip and fishing line on stick as I did.

Lately I have been fondly reminiscing over the memories and wishing I could just get away once more to sit in front of the campfire.
Upon the realisation that yet again we can't possibly afford the chance, I decided to ask EAdaddy to get the newly acquired firepit up from the storage area and we started up our own little campfire to cook our dinner on next to the verandah. It is quite funny watching a novice trying to light a fire, but with patience and plenty of time EADaddy finally got a nice little fire going. In the meantime I started our tinfoiled potatoes in the oven and got the meat ready for cooking.

Needless to say the fire mesmerised all of us for a time as we sat there in the warm glow of the flames. An upset tired baby was hypnotised by the flames and after a feed quietly sat there staring into the beauty of it all.
When the fire had burned down to embers I popped the potatoes in for the smokey flavour while the meat cooked.

We had some icecream I had made the previous night so I decided to try an idea for desert. We had caremelised spicy pear halves with our honey sweetened icecream. It was so delicious, I decided I just had to share.

Here's how I did it:
Cut Pears in half and cut out the seed section, place on a piece of tin foil (shiny side in)
Sprinkle your choice of nutmeg, cinnamon or both on the pear.
Sprinkle with organic or raw sugar. I used about a third of a cup to ensure it caremalised well.
Top with poppy seeds and wrap up. Rewrap in another piece of alfoil to avoid leaks.
Place in hot embers of fire pit for about 10 minutes.

One thing to remember when fire cooking is to not place food in the fire, but rather the embers so that you cook and don't burn your food.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

It's Too Hard!! Really??

This is something I've had in the works for a little while now and after having a few comments and questions these past couple weeks decided it was time to finish and publish.

When people express their longing desire to me about changing to natural or organic living, I usually ask why they haven't yet taken the step. Do you know what the most common answer I get is? "It's too expensive" or "It's too hard"

My personal reply is "no, it's not". As someone who has taken steps to make the change myself I have to admit it's not about money or ease... It's about knowledge.
If you know how, you can do it.
So here are my tips on how I do things, both pricey and cheap.

First off let me start by stating that the change doesn't have to be made in huge leaps and bounds. One or two things each shopping trip can have you living chemical free within a year.
Secondly, when I say pricey I must admit that these options for us have still worked out to be the same price or less in the long run than their chemical counterparts. Mostly due to the fact that you don't need to use as much product for a better outcome.

General Household Cleaning
I cannot say enough about soapnuts, this is a change that we are personally going to make in ALL areas of our home. Soapnuts can cost between $4.70 for 50gms and $113 for 3kgs. The more you buy, the less it costs. You can get family members or friends to split the cost and share the nuts if it's hard to save up the cash needed for a bulk purchase. Have a look for yourself here.

After first publishing this it was brought to my attention that cheap vinegar is most likely made with petroleum byproducts. I was quick to google this and found the given information to be true. So this is now edited and republished.
I suggest you purchase bulk amounts of apple cider vinegar or ensure you are purchasing vinegar distilled from grain derived spirits. These of course will be a litle more expensive than the cheap toxic brands, but still a cheaper option than pricey organic products.
In true cheap style I also found a page with instructions to make your own vinegar here

There truly is no need for bleach and other toxins in the home. Coupled with a microfibre cleaning cloth there is nothing vinegar cannot do.

Did you know that vinegar is an antibacterial and antifungal cleaner? This is because it is fermented alcohol.
Boost it with pure essential oils such as lavender, lime, mandarin eucalyptus, tea tree or tangerine for an antiseptic, antibiotic, antifungal and antibacterial cleaner. The added bonus is less vinegar smell and an aromatherapuetic cleaning session.
What more could you want?

Essential oils suitable for cleaning usually hit below the $10 mark per bottle for PURE essential oil. I personally prefer a West Australian brand called Tinderbox which you can find at any good health shop or here.

Just pop some water, vinegar and chosen oils into a spray bottle for a spray and wipe solution to use anywhere in your home. Do be careful not to get citrus oils on your skin if you plan to spend time in the sun afterwards because they increase photosensitivity.

For mopping floors, add a half cup of vinegar to a bucket of hot water and mop away.

FOOD
We cannot afford to buy organic food. We grow what we can and supplement with food grown as close to home as possible. This means less chemical sprayed food due to less state borders being crossed.
We buy very little processd food. The most processed is bread, pasta, brown rice and the likes. All of which we buy wholemeal.
We are striving to achieve food sufficiency at home. Making sauces, jams and preserves at home with our own grown foods as well as bought food.

KITCHEN
We started out by buying dish and laundrey liquid off the supermarket shelves, only to find that these choices are not really chemical free despite their "earth friendly" name and label.

Pricey choice: Organic options can usually be found online at not too bad a price. We pay $10/litre for Pure Earth dishwashing liquid. This lasts us up to 6 months, making our total at around $20 a year.

Cheap choice: Soapnuts!!

For a grimy oven you can use a paste made with bicarb soda to scrub and clean after with a vinegar solution adding eucalyptus and orange oils which cut through grease and grime.

LAUNDRY
Pricey choice: We've been purchasing Pure Earth laundry liquid for $45 for 10 litres of laundry liquid. This lasts us around 6 months. The equivalent ammount of supermarket "earth friendly" choice costs us over $6 for 750ml. You do the math!

Cheap choice: Once again, Soapnuts!! These are brilliant and held up to dirty nappies, kids clothes and even Earth Angel Daddy's grubby and greasy work clothes.

For a laundry booster, whitener or soaking agent Bicarb Soda is cheap and simple. We buy ours at the stockfeeds for $24 for 20kgs. It is animal grade, but still works the same in laundry, cleaning and cooking.

PERSONAL
Pricey choice: We use Pure Earth personal products for ourselves and our children in the way of toiletries.

Cheap choice: You guessed it... Soapnuts!!! gee, these guys are wonderous little buggers.

An even cheaper option is oats, that's righ folks... OATS.
Tie up some oats in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, add some chamomile, peppermint or green tea if you like and you have a natural cleansweer to replace soap with. Change oats every couple days.

We use a body crystal for deodorant.

Soon we'll be changing to our own homemade soapnut products and homemade goat soap aswell as homemade skincare products (blog post of the future I think). I suggest you have a look at Feeding Your Skin by Carla Oates for kitchen recipes for your skin

BABY
Now I'll keep this brief and simple because this is a whole other blog post and debate.
You cannot get any cheaper than cloth nappies, breastfeeding and homemade meals.

Instead of using baby powder, which mind you is 98% genetically the same as asbestos and linked to cancer and cysts on the ovary, you can use cornflour or a wonderful thing called nappy free time.
If there is need for a nappy rash cream you can buy or make calendula ointment or even better, Aloe Vera gel straight from the leaf. I like to gift new mums with an Aloe Vera plant from my own garden.

HEALING
We opt for herbal, homeopathic and aromatherpy solutions in our household. A healthy natural diet, good hygiene and a stress free home leads to less illness and less need for healing.

Now, there's so much more I can cover but I think this may be enough to get you started for now. Maybe I can cover each area more extensively over time.
If you have any specific queries or feel I forgot to mention something feel free to ask in the comment section below.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Over 100 FB Likers!!

The other day I was pleasantly surprised to find EAM's Facebook page has reached over 100 'likers'!
I never would have dreamed there were so many people out there who are similarly minded. I am happy to know I am not the only one with my train of thoughts in life, that there are so many more earth angels out there growing up in such an environment as my girls.

To celebrate I thought I might run a little competition to give a little gift to one lucky follower.
Sadly due to postage costs I must make this competition availabe to Australian residents only this time.

What's up for grabs?? I have organised a little something for you through Mumma Rocks Baby Safe Products for the Modern Mumma. To have a look at what you can win go to http://mummarocks.com/item_136/Calm-Ocean.htm
*please note: I have organised an elasticated bracelet with silver spacers to accomodate for the ease of use if you may want to use it as a BFing bracelet.

Of course such a prize must come at a price.
So here's the deal. In order to enter I want you to....
1. Be a liker of my Facebook page
2. A follower of this blog through google connect or networked blog links supplied to the left.
3. Comment below that you are a liker and follower along with an answer to these questions:
Which blog post written so far is your favourite and why?
What would you like to see written about in the future?

Competition closes midnight Wednesday 30th June and the winner will be drawn as soon as my children permit after that.

I can't wait to hear your comments and find a winner.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How Did We Get Here?

When we had our first baby things changed. Everything changed for the better. We changed our living habits and our diets to something closer to nature. I suppose as a keen gardener it was just a natural progression in our life spurred on by that precious little bundle of ours.
Of course with our change came the revival of our shared life long dream of acerage ownership. I had always dreamed of being a homestead mum and Earth Angel Daddy had always longed to return to the land after being dragged to the city to live out his adolescence.

We looked around for 3 months before finding the 'perfect' property for us. A 90 acre property in a fairly rural area. Just enough for us and our dreams. A complete blank canvas for us to start with, no power or water supplied just bare land with 30 acres of natural bush on it and 150 acres nature reserve next door.

After organising a builder and purchasing the property we packed all our belongings and spent our last $700 on a 15ft derilect caravan.
Just after H's first birthday we started our journey to self sufficiency.

We arrived to find our storage shed had not been delivered as promised and our furniture sat outside our caravan exposed to the 10 year record rains that bucketed down for a week straight. Needless to say we lost pretty much everything we owned. Oh well, another blank canvas to start with. What couldn't be recycled or op shop salvaged went to the tip.

The first weeks we cooked on fire in the rain and blistering wind. I built a little oven from spare bricks we had brought with us to recycle. Every morning I rugged up in 2 pairs of tracky pants, 2 jumpers and a big warm jacket, went out and stoked up a little fire to cook brekky with. 2 years later and that jacket still smells of fire smoke. Eventually we were able to fill a borrowed gas bottle for $30 while we saved the $90 needed to buy a 40kg gas bottle.

When our water tank arrived and was filled by truck, it was such a blessing to only have to carry water up the hill a couple hundred metres instead of collecting only 50lt water from family and town visits. We still didn't have a bathroom, but now had enough water to share a bucket wash in the evenings. When our house was finished I was so thankful to have a real bathroom and kitchen.

After a few months we made friends with neighbours 20km down the road who lent us a generator, which we glady used when we could afford the extra petrol. The generator would run just long enough to watch a dvd and read a book in the caravan lights. This also meant that on the odd occassion I could cook dinner later at night without worrying about being able to see.
After 6 months western power built a power line to our property border and we had power! Such a blessing we seem to take for granted until we lose it.

In 2 years we have had a simple shed house built by completely incompetant builders, filled it with free or extremely cheap furniture, built 3 raised garden beds and many low level garden beds. We have built a chook pen, planted a fruit orchard, many native trees and shrubs and started building a fenced paddock intended for dairy cows. Just the other day we finally installed a real kitchen that we bought secondhand. No more internal door on legs as my kitchen bench! I now have a real benchtop and cupboard space... WOOHOO!! *Doing Hayley's Happy Dance*

Our plans include raising crops, chooks, cows, goats, pigs, sheep, bees, rabbits and ducks for our food, meat, dairy and clothing or bartering needs. We dream to be as self sufficient as is possible here. What we can't grow or make we hope to barter with our excess goods.

It doesn't feel like much has been done but when we look back over the photos we realise that with no money and hardly any free time at home beween kids and EADaddy's work.... WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH and we wouldn't have it any other way.

This journey has taught us many lessons and given us the opportunity to appreciate every aspect of our lives. There is so muchmore to be done and I can't wait to see what lessons are in store for our family.