Garden mentors

Good morning everyone! It's a cool sunny morning here. I've just finished tending the animals and chooks and before I start on two loads of washing, I'm here to partner the gardening mentors with their novices. I have two novices I have no mentors for so if you are an experienced gardener in zones 8 or 9 in the USA or zones 3 - 4 in Australia, I'd love you to join us. I have two people very keen to pick your gardener's brain. Jules in Alabama and Sorcha in South Australia, I'll contact you as soon as I have your mentors.

The partners are:

Donetta (Arizona) will mentor The Singlutionary (Texas)
Cat (zone 7) will mentor Jaz (zone 5b)
Rois will mentor Allison (both zone 8)
Brown Thumb Mama (zone 9) will mentor Haus Frau (zone 8)
Cindy (Florida) will mentor Suburban Mom (Maryland)
Debbi (Pacific North West) will mentor Myrnie (zone 8 wet and cool)
Tracy (Tamworth) will mentor Stitching Mum
Stewart (Toowoomba will mentor Sorcha (Flinders Ranges, SA)

Would all the people listed above please comment here and exchange their email addresses. If I don't see that connection made by tomorrow, I'll try to link you up.

I also have a few answers from that post. Julia, I wrote about fungus-prone plants. Did you see it?

Donna, I apply potash when we plant a flowering plant - like pumpkin, tomatoes, cucumbers. After the first fruit appear, I apply again for a second crop. Apply according to the instructions on the package.

ithinkican, we have no problem with cats even though we have feral cats living along the creek bed. We make sure we lock the chooks in every night. They put themselves to bed when darkness is falling, all we do is lock the door behind them. I think cats don't bother the chooks because we have a dog and they can smell it. There are foxes here too but we don't see them. A dog, even a pet dog, earns it's keep by leaving its scent around to scare off smaller predators.

Norma, yes, mince is hamburger.

Jody, I use boiling water to get rid of ants. I pour it directly into the entrance to their next, if I can find it. Generally you can if you follow the ants for a while.

Donetta, diatomaceous earth must be food grade. Here is an info sheet for DE.

And lastly, I wanted to write something more about the search for perfection in the garden. No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you work, when dealing with a natural process, you'll very rarely reach what you call perfection. You will get close to it constantly, you'll see it lurking behind the beans, but getting it to hold still, even for a minute, is difficult.

I believe the better way is to accept failure as part of the process. It's very difficult to learn, particularly if you're teaching yourself, if you expect perfection every time. Failure must be part of the process, failure will teach you the best lessons. Even though I'm still learning, I am confident that I can garden well enough now to do almost everything I want to do. The reason I am at that level is that I failed many times along the way. I took notice of my failures and I worked to put things right. So those of you who expect perfection, relax, just enjoy being out in the fresh air with your hands in the soil and when you fail, see it as part of the learning. Because I promise you this, if you let failure in and don't walk away when things aren't perfect, if you recognise where you went wrong and solve the problem, you will be rewarded. Your reward may not be perfect but it will be close to it. Perfection is impossible without failure.


27

Keeping chickens and animals with your garden



I'm a solo homesteader at the moment. Hanno flew to Sydney yesterday to help my sister out with her house (a tree fell on it) so blogging might be a bit sporadic at the moment, but I'll do my best. When I got back from the airport and a visit to Shane and Sarndra in their new home, I took my camera into the backyard when I let the chooks out to free range. Naturally, I took photos of them scrambling for the bread I gave them, but I wanted to show you our fenced garden. I'm sure you often notice the fences in my photos but I rarely write about them, even though they a vital part of our backyard.


The brown top on the fence above is the plastic addition that stopped Shane's chook getting into the vegetable garden. It's just a strip of gutter guard.

We have an acre of land here and it's fenced off into different sections according to its use and what we want to keep in or out. There is a fence around the entire acre that keeps the dog in and neighbourhood kids and dogs out. We have water in our garden so it's important to keep those children out of harm's way. Just outside the back door, we have our first fenced area - that is to keep the dog away from the free ranging chooks, and the chooks away from the back door. It's also very good when we eat outside to be able to put the dog on the other side of the fence. Right next to that area is our fenced vegetable garden, and next to that, the fenced chook pen. The chooks are let out into the main garden to free range and the fenced back yard stops them wandering into the front yard. The fences need to be about 155 cm or 5 feet in height. Chooks can fly, although the heavier breeds only attempt it when they're young of if they're being chased. We had to add a plastic top to our garden fence because when Shane's chooks came to live with us, they flew into the garden. Adding that extra 6 inches stopped them.


This photo shows the fenced areas - on the left is the chook pen, next to that the vegie garden, next to that, on the far right, the area outside the back door. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

So to answer Karyn's question from the First Vegetable Garden post, we only let the chooks in our vegetable garden when it's between seasons and we want them in there to help clean out the insects, bug eggs, weeds and seeds. When our chooks free range, they go into the main back yard where there are fruit trees and vines growing, but no vegetables. Chickens will scratch on any bare ground they find and if that bare ground is around plants, that's your problem, not theirs. Mulching won't stop them, the next best thing to scratching bare ground, its to scratch mulch out of the way. The problem with this is that it will damage the fragile roots of the vegetables and sometimes even uproot the plants. They will also peck on growing green leaves, tomatoes, strawberries and anything else you usually feed them.


This is the main backyard where the chooks free range during the day.

The solution is to fence off the areas you don't want them in, or fence them in - with a chook tractor. When you set up your vegetable garden, you'll have to think carefully about how such a garden will work with what you already have. For instance, if you have cats, they will probably use the garden for a toilet - you'll either have to sit in the bushes with the hose and hose them every time they come near it, or you have to physically exclude them with a cage. Luckily our cat doesn't use our vegetable garden as her toilet but she does use the front yard. We had to modify gardens where we let the chooks free range. Hanno has placed chicken wire (there is a reason they name it chicken wire) over the top of the soil where the grapes are planted and where the luffas were. He's also put up wire barriers around the base of the bananas. You can't see them but they're there and that barrier enables us to continue growing bananas with chook free ranging near them. You can't expect your animals and chooks to think of a garden in the same way as we do, so before you put in a garden, think about your pets and small children, and you might have to put up fences to make the garden area work productively.


Choose your chooks wisely. These two - Lucy (the mother of Shane's chooks) and Cocobelle are about the same age yet look at the difference in size. Cocobelle (Australorp) never flies, Lucy (Old English Game) always will. Soon after they came to live with us, Lucy went to live in the rain forest. She returned after a week but she can still fly over the back fence. Luckily she has come to know our yard as home now so although she still goes out when she wants to, she comes back every night.

Jaz, I think your soil is over fertilised. Nitrogen in the soil in the form of manure, blood and bone, comfrey or any commercial fertiliser will help the green part of a plant to grow well and the root will just support the lush growth instead of developing. Radishes and carrots like a bit of compost in the soil, but nothing else. And don't give them any additional feeds like you would with cabbages, spinach or lettuce. You want the root to grow, not the greenery. When you plant your radishes again, mix them in with some carrot seeds and sand. Sprinkle them along the line and water in with a fine mist spray. The sand will show where you planted, the radishes will grow faster than the carrots, and closer to the top of the soil, so when you harvest the radishes, you'll free up space for the carrots. A few weeks later you'll have your carrots as a second crop from the one spot.

Julia, to answer your question about needing fungicides, it depends on where you live. If you're in a humid climate, like we are, you'll need to do some reading and your own research on fungicides. Fungus in a humid climate will kill your crops or stop them fruiting. We use them as a preventative here, and you might need to do the same. We use a small application of copper oxychloride on our avocado trees to help prevent Phytophthora. We apply Bordeaux mix to our pumpkins, squash and cucumbers to help prevent powdery mildew. It is impossible to grow pumpkins here without fungicide. A more gentle solution that may work for you, but didn't for us, is to spray a mix of one part milk to nine parts water on every surface of the problem plants, and repeat that every two weeks. It is good gardening practice to spray with seaweed concentrate every two weeks and to keep the garden clean, nipping off any diseased leaves; this will help with fungal and other diseases in the garden.


This is the side of our house where the front and back yards are divided off by a gated fence. Hanno's shed is on the right.

Here is a good chart about organic sprays and treatments and the Green Harvest page on all purpose sprays. We use Dipel, soap spray (made with my homemade soap), Bordeaux mix, wettable sulfur, Eco oil, tomato dust and copper oxychloride. They are all organic. Here is more information from Green Harvest about fungal diseases.

Growing your own vegetables is much more than just putting a plant into soil, there are a lot of other factors that come into it. To be a successful gardener you'll have to work with the conditions presented in your own backyard and with the children, pets, working animals and chickens you already have. Gardens, like every other living thing, will change as they grow and if you are to get the best from whatever space you have, you'll have to think about your unique circumstances and modify them to suit your needs.

PS: I'll team up the mentors with the garden novices over the weekend.


30

Introducing Mamma 4 Earth

I am happy to introduce a new sponsor to you: it's Mamma 4 Earth who makes Waldorf inspired farm animals and toys, using hand spun and hand dyed pure Merino wool. The toys are stuffed with natural fleece. Her yarns and wools are so beautiful and some of them are organic.

It can be difficult to find suitable toys for small children that inspire creative play, so if you've been looking, and you're not quite sure about the choices available, visit Linda's Etsy shop here or have a look at her blog, here. The Etsy shop has toys, gnomes, Waldorf inspired dolls, needle felting, farm animals and farm yards, as well as wools for your home knitting. The blog is a treasure trove of the most beautiful natural wool, hand dyed in a range of colours that I'm sure would suit most tastes. As with all the people I recommend to you with an Etsy shop, Linda's rating is 100% positive, so get your cup of tea ready and take a while to look at these two lovely sites.

6

Your first vegetable garden


Welsh onions are planted in the top bed here. They're non-bulbing green onions, although there is a red variety of Welsh as well.

I am delighted there are so many new gardeners around now. Gardening is one of those things that creeps up on you and while you initially think it's just another simple activity, it becomes more than that very quickly. After the first season, you start thinking of the next, then reading more about techniques and the old ways of growing food, you start looking at other gardens as you walk around your neighbourhood, you jump at the chance to visit friends with vegetable gardens, and you remind yourself of your own mother when you take cuttings and seeds home bundled up like precious cargo. You might as well admit it - you're hooked! Another gardening convert joins our side.


Celery

Melanie asked if I would write about when I first started gardening and I would be happy to do that, if only I remembered when that was. I do remember helping my mum with the weeding, I remember my grandma's vegetable garden and chooks, but I don't recall when I dug my first garden. In the 60s and 70s, when I shared flats with others, I used to plant a couple of little tomato bushes in with the flowers out the front. In those days I didn't realise plants have different requirements and I probably didn't worry about not producing a lot of tomatoes. I remember we had a vegetable garden in the first home we bought because Shane fell over near the bean trellis one day and nearly took his eye out with a piece of wire poking out. He still bears that scar. But I guess the first garden I remember being serious about, making sure it was organic and mulched, was our garden up north. We also had chickens there and that was the first time I realised chooks were an important part of the natural system I was trying to set up. Now I know there are plenty of ways of combining different natural elements to produce vegetables, but then, 30 years ago, I was learning about keeping the chooks away from the garden and the damage the hot sun caused.


Ann Shirley, our New Hampshire. She's an excellent layer.

I'm still learning, gardeners never stop doing that. Just when you think your tomatoes or beans are the best, you see an old forgotten variety that looks better and you try it. Gardening helps you grow as a person because it teaches you to slow down, that nature will take her own time and no matter how fast you drive your car, or yourself, when it comes to your garden, although you are in the driver's seat, nothing will happen as fast as you want it to.

If you're a novice gardener, take it slow until you have worked out your climate, and how to get good results. I think a good way of starting would be to plant your favourite vegetable - like tomato, beans or strawberries - whatever it is that you REALLY want to grow at home, and then add a few small easy crops like silverbeet (Swiss chard), lettuce (if you're in a cool zone) and some of the Asian greens like bok choi (Chinese cabbage). Those small leafy vegetables are very easy and don't require much care, but while they're growing, you can tend your favourite and learn all you can about it. Read about vegetable gardening, look at gardens, talk to other gardeners.


Eggs and lemons from the backyard. A daily harvest.

The one thing that will make the most difference to your results will be to plant into good soil. Most soils need organic additives to produce good quality vegetables. If you don't add anything to your soil, you will grow your tomato or beans, but they may be plagued will insects and you'll get meagre crops. However, if you add old cow manure, compost that has been made with chook poo, and worm castings to your soil, you'll be amazed at the difference it makes - you'll have less pests and disease and you'll have better and more prolific crops. Soil makes the most difference. So dig your additives in and let the soil rest for a couple of weeks before you plant. If you do that, you'll have what the gardening books call "rich soil" or "soil rich in organic matter".


Richmond Green, an apple cucumber.

What you do next will depend on what type of vegetables you want to grow. If you're planting green leafy vegies, rich soil is enough. If you're planting fruiting vegetables, you need to add some sulphate of potash, which will encourage strong roots and more flowers. More flowers = more vegetables. I wouldn't worry about pH or minerals in the first year. See what your work produces. If you get what you hoped for, your soil is probably fine. If you don't get your desired results, take your problem plant to the local nursery, or to a neighbour gardener, and ask what the problem was. Gardeners are a remarkably generous bunch of people and they will share their knowledge with you. When you have a couple of years planting your favourites and a few easy crops, move on to the next level and try growing root vegetables, vines, herbs and fruit.

Just a word to the perfectionists, Sandra and Ellen, and others. I've been gardening for a long long time and I always have failures and there are always years when the unexpected and extremely irritating happens. It's part of the equation. I know that merely knowing that will not make a difference to you but I want you to know that it's okay to give up those ideas that "perfect" is the only option. Personally, I believe there is no such thing as "perfect" and gardening has taught me that, and many other things. Let go, be in the moment and be open to wherever your garden takes you. And Ellen, I think your idea is a very good one. We have knitting buddies here and I think gardening mentoring would work well. So, do we have any experienced gardeners who would be willing to mentor a novice? Please add your name to the comments or email me and I'll match you up according to your climates and zones. When you add your name - as either a mentor or a novice, please add as much detail about your climate and conditions as you can so we get a good match for you.

But no matter if you've been gardening for years or if this is your first season, the important thing is that you're doing it. We have given up so much of our collective heritage and the skills we all once took for granted, doing this, producing some of your own food is a huge step up to where we all should be. We need to be firmly rooted in our gardens, along with the plants. Happy gardening, everyone, and if this is your first year, welcome to the wonderful world of worms. LOL!


43

Maintaining your garden tools


The past few days have been incredibly busy for me. I had a 12 hours day at the Centre yesterday and go back again today. Hanno is going down to Sydney for a few days to help my sister who had a tree fall on her house during the wild weather a few days ago. I've received a few things in the mail and have not yet responded to the lovely people who sent them but never fear, I'll get to it, hopefully tomorrow. Despite the busyness of my days, I'm still smiling, still enjoying my work and still taking time out for talking to friends and for cuppas. My priorities remain the same even when the workload increases.



Hanno has done today's post and I've included a few photos of his work areas around our home. If truth be told, he would have liked to tidy up these areas before my camera recorded how they look during the course of a normal day but you don't want picture perfect photos - here we specialise in authenticity, so they come to you, from Hanno, in their raw state.



Your garden tools don't have to be the best or most expensive, often you can buy very good quality old tools at garage sales and markets. Buying good quality old tools is a better investment than buying cheap Chinese imports. Keep your tools in good working order by giving them a little time and effort after you've used them and they'll last a lifetime.

Lawnmower
  • After using your lawn mower, check the oil level. If it is low and has not been changed for a while, now is the time to do it while the engine is still warm.
  • While checking the oil, look for wear and tear on the cutting blades, if they need replacing, do that straight away.
  • A small amount of dirt and grass buildup is fine because it helps protect the housing but if there is an excess, use your common sense and clean it out.
  • Clean the air filter.
  • Make sure the catcher is empty as it will smell if you store it with clippings still in it.
  • Give the mower a quick wipe over with a clean cloth before you store it away in a protected area.

Edge trimmer
  • When you finish your work, clean the unit with a clean rag. Remove any dirt or plant material.
  • Check the oil level (ours has a four stroke engine) so the trimmer will be ready for work the next time.
  • Store it in a protected area.

Garden rake, shovel, spades etc.
  • Clean dirt off your tools after you finish using them.
  • Don't leave your tools out in the rain or exposed to the sun for too long.
  • If the metal is showing signs of deterioration, clean it well and apply a rust preventative.
  • Every so often, check the wooden handles for splinters and roughness. If the handle starts to split, smooth it over with emery or sand paper and then apply a mix of turpentine and linseed oil. Leave it overnight to sink in and dry, then smooth over again with emery paper and finish off with a light sanding with steel wool.
  • Store your tools in a dry place.
18

Living off the land


Lettuce, bok choi and cabbages.
One of my fantasies when I was younger was to wander off into the bush and live off the land. In the 1970s, many young people thought that was an attractive proposition and while some did it, my life lead in a different direction. I guess the phrase ‘living off the land’ has a romantic ring to it but I had no doubt how much energy it would take and how difficult it would be; even so, I probably underestimated it by a long shot.


A green crossroad.

Full of vitamins C and A the purple top turnip. You eat the root and the green top.

A lot of time has passed since then and many of the things I once thought of as great ideas now leave me underwhelmed and with a wry smile. But not that notion – living off the land, I still look back to a life when I would have, could have and maybe, should have. I’ve kept chooks and a vegetable garden for many years now, not in the wild and crazy way I once wanted to do it - living in the bush and foraging for food, but the more sensible and productive option of growing conventional fruit, nuts and vegetables, and that, combined with chooks, suits me just fine. Now, instead of it being a crazy way to live, my understanding of living off the land is more holistic, now it really fits into my life.



These delicious lettuce grow well here during the colder months.

I have no doubt that if we wanted to put more time and energy into our garden, if we dug up more lawn to double the size of it, we could live off our backyard produce all year long. But we are getting older and the time and energy we wish to give the garden is what we give it – and that results in us producing about half the vegetables we eat and about one tenth the fruit. Many fruits and nuts take a lot longer to produce than vegetables. Bananas, for instance, take about 18 months to produce a good sized bunch here, and then that part of the banana has to be cut down to allow others to produce. Unlike oranges, they don’t produce for many years on the same tree. Our pecan tree took 12 years before it gave us the first nuts. We have an excellent Eureka lemon tree that has been a prolific producer almost year round for the past ten years. When it comes to choosing fruit and nut types, make sure your choice is the right one for your area because you will either hit the jackpot or be wondering when and if that tree will ever bear the fruit and nuts you bought it for.



Sugarloaf cabbages. These are the only cabbages we can grow in our short winter season.



And when you grow cabbages, cauliflowers or broccoli, you'll have white cabbage moth caterpillars. When we have only a few of these, we sacrifice the one plant they're on - they usually go for the weakest one. When there are a lot of them, like we have this year, we spray with the organic bacterial spray - Dipel.

But I know now that living off the land in our own backyard is possible for us and it's also possible in varying degrees for many people. If you list what vegetables you usually buy and work out a plan to grow those vegetables right there in your back yard, not only will it give you inexpensive organic vegetables, it will teach you the many skills you need to be successful at it and give you the independence and freedom of being able to feed yourself. If you live in a warm climate, you’ll probably have at least six months of growing time, if you’re in a colder place, maybe four or five months That is ample time to get in a few decent crops and to freeze or preserve/can your excess – spreading that backyard cheer over a longer period.



The celery is tall and starting to fill out.


The other day I read that in the UK, USA and Australia, vegetable gardening has recently increased 30 percent in popularity. While I would love to think that all those people new to the vegie patch were doing it because they have changed the way they live, I think it is the result of the global economical crisis. But for what ever reason you’ve taken to growing food in your backyard, it is a good one because I think it will teach you a lot more than you think it will. All of our ancestors survived because they had the ability to produce or gather their own food. It is a powerful and significant skill. Our survival doesn't depend on it now but the feeling you get when you pull those early carrots, dig your first potatoes or freeze an abundance of beans will be very close to self respect.



I laughed when I saw this photo. The white girl is Germaine. It looks like she's creeping up on Mary.

When we decided to live a more simple life, I wanted to use every asset we had to produce what we needed to live - our land was one of our major assets. So when it came down to it, I did live off the land and it makes me proud to know I can because learning to grow food also teaches you a lot about the natural world we live in, and that is always a good thing.

Have you started a garden this year?


47

Good night and sweet dreams

Are you wanting to simplify and don't know where to start? Here is s small step everyone can do. It's easy, won't cost any money and will make a big difference to how you spend many hours every night, and the following daylight hours. Simplify your bed. Those of you who have been reading for a while know I've written about my bed before but as it's one of my favourite subjects, it gives me great pleasure to write about it again.



Beds are important parts of our lives. The bed is one of the few pieces of furniture that changes with us as we go through life. We start out in a tiny cradle or cot (crib) and as we grow, we move up to the 'big' bed. Beds mark that stage of life for us, children feel "grown up" when they make that progression from cot to bed. We have our teenage beds - we bought king size singles for our two tall sons, and we have our marital beds - the quiet and private symbol of a new life with our beloved. And so it goes until we die, and many of us do that in a bed too, completely the cycle from the bed we were born in. Beds, we live and die in them.

My bed is an important part of my life. I spend hours every night sleeping in it, so I have to make it as comfortable and secure as I can. I need to know that when we fall asleep each night, we'll be warm and cosy, capable of deep, uninterrupted sleep that will take away the fatigue of one day and replace it will the vitality to face another.

And this is where the focus on your bed in your daily life comes in. If you make sure your bed is clean and comfortable, it will reward you by helping you get the sleep you need to perform at your best. Take time every day to fluff up your nest. Your bed should be made every day - not just by pulling the cover up over the sheets, but by giving it the energy it needs. Whatever effort and time you give your bed, you'll get back many times over.

I make sure I have sheets that reflect the season - flannel in winter and cool cotton in summer. We have been sleeping between our flannel sheets for a couple of weeks now but yesterday I changed our summer doona/duvet to a heavier woollen winter one. The cover is a flannel one now.

So every morning after hours of rest, I make sure I prepare the bed for another night of sleep and dreams. I take care making up the bed. The top sheet and doona/duvet are taken off and the bottom sheet is smoothed out firm on the bed; I don't want any creases or wrinkles to cause discomfort during the night. The top sheet is placed on the the bed again, even on both sides, and the doona/duvet replaced after a shake. Pillows are fluffed up and replaced at the top of the bed. All is ready, there the bed will sit until nightfall. Clean sheets are a necessity. I put clean sheets on the bed once a week, or more frequently in hot weather. There is nothing better than sleeping that first night on sheets that have dried in the sun. Make sure you have the things you need on the bedside table - I have a box of tissues, a spare pair of glasses and a book. Hanno has a glass of water and a radio on his side. He likes to listen to the news and a favourite radio program before he gets up in the morning. Make sure you vacuum and clean the bedroom frequently, you don't want to be spending all that time in a dusty room.

We are used to sleeping in a quiet and dark room. We have block out curtains and the only noise we hear during the night is an occasional train in the distance. There is no noise from neighbours, traffic or animals. My son, who lives in the midst of a busy city, Surfers Paradise, asked me last time he slept here: "It's SO quiet here at night. How can you stand it?" He spent many hours in deep sleep here before he left home, but now he is used to the noise of the city around him and wonders how we can sleep without it.

We all have our varying preferences for what we are used to while we sleep, but our beds still need to comfort us and make us feel safe and warm during those hours of unconsciousness. Hanno and I do more physical work now than when we were working for a living. The daily chores of our home and garden make us tired at the end of the day and if we are to continue living this way we need to sleep well every night. I am sure most of you feel the same way. So think of your bed as more than a soft platform with sheets. It is the place that cares for you while you sleep and prepares you for tomorrow.

Being mindful of where you sleep and the attention you give your bedroom is an important part of your daily routine. If, like me, you've just woken up, we will soon be fluffing our nests again. And if you're about to go to sleep, good night and sweet dreams. Take care, enjoy your weekend, I'll see you again next week.


48

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17

Answering the questions



Alice says hello. ;- )

Good morning! We've had some wild weather these past couple of days with about 250 mm (nearly 10 inches) falling in our area in 24 hours. We have a permanent creek in our backyard that drains water from the surrounding mountains and takes it to the sea. Sometimes I think it will flood into our backyard but in all the time we've lived here, that has never happened. We are fine.

I haven't had a chance to answer questions from the last two days so I'll do that now. If you ever want an answer to a question, you should add it to the latest post because even on a good day I never have the time to go searching back through the archives to answer questions on old posts.

Joanne, in addition to book shops, the book will be sold from this blog, so yes, it will be available anywhere I can post it. I'll sign it for you too if you would like. : - )

Hi Kathryn, thanks for your comment.

Steelkitten, are they real hedgehogs?

Chance and Rois, Hanno loves collecting what I call ' junk' and he calls 'I can fix that'. LOL! Luckily he's a very tidy man so we never have junk on display, it's all in his shed waiting for its time.

Betty, thanks for wishing me joy as I write. I really appreciate that.

Tansy, yes it's a template. The details at at the very bottom of the page.

Bunny, that's nice looking bread. Well done!

LOL Allison. I'm glad you found that dehydrator.

I do remember your Welshie, Maggie. We are really looking forward to welcoming a new family member. I think she will make Alice's future years joyful ones.

Sheila, I think Alice will be renewed too. I can't wait to see them together on that first day.

Brenda, thank you for your thoughts. I write with a sense of inclusion and warmly welcome everyone who takes the time to read here. I'm pleased to know your Christian ladies feel comfortable here.

ithinkican, I don't know of anyone else who had problems posting a comment yesterday. Hanno has written up some notes on garden tool maintenance for me to post soon. It's a good idea to have a few posts from him. He doesn't want to write posts but is happy for me to write up his notes.

Sharon, our cat Hettie likes fish FULL STOP. We've tried her on other foods but she refuses them. It is very difficult to retrain cats to eat different foods but if we ever got another kitten, we'd feed it on homemade cat food. Here is some info on feeding cats written by a vet.

Becky, hello to you and Padfoot! Airedales are great clowns. Rosie and Alice used to chase each other around the yard every afternoon at 4pm. I'm still not sure how they knew what time it was. They have many distinctive traits and are wonderful family dogs.

Gail, I am one very plain and simple gal and I never put anything extra into my soap so I can't really advise you. I am sure one of the soapmakers here will know. My feeling would be that you'd dry the leaves and crumble them up before adding them and you would do that at the trace stage. Can anyone help Gail?

Margaret, it's good to know you've gained encouragement here. I hope for that every day. Good luck with the chooks and the soap.

Cyn, I think Carla's book will go on for a ling time to come. My son Shane has read my book and would like one for himself. I think her message is timeless.

Annie, we are a two person family and that amount of soap would last us about four-five months. I usually give some to my sons, both their girlfriends love it; I use it for hair washing, general cleaning and in the kitchen. Each bar lasts a long time but they can be used for many things.

Toria, thank you so much for that link! I will order some today and make some liquid dish soap.

Carolyn, working with lye is just another skill to learn. You can do it, love. Take it slow and work alone.

Shirley, Hanno made my favourite wooden mould. They're very good, aren't they. You have an excellent site. I discovered it fairly recently and visit you with my other list of current favourites when I have time.

Rose, it's your next step. You'll be fine. Anyone who can make cakes can make soap.

Laura, we bought our scale secondhand from ebay. That was about five or six years ago now but I'm sure they still have them. Ours is a postal scale which gives you great accuracy.

Renae, never throw it out. I think soap can always be rescued. You did the right thing. Let your rebatched soap cure and test it with hand washing but I'm pretty sure it will be okay to use. The thin film may be caused by not mixing it enough. If you're sure of your measurements and have used a reliable recipe, try mixing over a longer period of time. Are you using a stick blender? That is the best method of mixing soap.

Debbie, rebatch it by melting your soap in a saucepan. When it's melted and about 50C, mix it again. Hopefully that will work. If you want to add fragrance, never add it until you've reached trace.

Diana, it does become gel-like and gluggy. It might also separate. That's okay. I just mash mine up with a potato masher and when I use it, make sure I add the gel and water combined. Like masterpiecemom below, I now use the powder. It's much easier to make and dissolves well in my frontloader.



Tansy, I just weighed a few bars from that last batch - they're around 130 - 135 grams each (about 4.5 - 4.7 ozs). My blue resin mould above is 20 x 26cm (8 x 10 inches) and the wooden one is 10 x 30 cm ( 4 x 12 inches).

Hi Jenny, I hope you grow many loofas. I cut mine up and pour soap into them. I have a photo of it somewhere in the archives.

Mrs Mac, thank you so much for sharing how to make your scrubbing soap. It's fabulous.

Donetta, I use this soap to wash up in the sink. You can dissolve it but it will turn to gel. It still works but it's a pain to get out of the bottle. I just rub the bar onto my dishmop. I'm going to be making some liquid dish soap soon. It uses a different type of lye and now that Toria has given me the link to a local supplier, I'll be able to make it regularly. I have made laundry detergent using this soap but I usually use bought soap flakes.

Hi Babs! Can you share how you add the honey and oatmeal? I'm very interested and I'm sure some of the others will be too. Thank you.

D, I don't think you reached 'real' trace. Was it cold the day you made your soap? Your mix might have looked like trace but it had lost its heat and thickened.

Pam, I have read that too but I don't believe it. I always wash my utensils in the sink, using hot water and a scrubbing brush. My mixer is an old one and used mainly for soap but I do occasionally use it for cakes.

Diane, sorry, I don't have time to make soap for sale. Maybe one day I will. There may be other readers here who sell their homemade soap. Who is selling homemade soap? Does anyone have it in their Etsy shop?

Lori, you're using the wrong mould. You need one that will allow the soap to slip out easily. Any of the resin cake forms are very good. I bought mine for $2 at a dollar shop.

Monique dear, this is the question I am asked more than any other. I should put it permanently on the home page. The pots are traditionally used so a gardener will not poke their eye out on the stake while bending over. I just like the look of them and have been gardening with them for many. many years. Good luck with your garden changes.

seanymph, maybe one of the soapmakers here would supply your store when you open. I wonder who is making soap for sale. Anyone?

Jody, the measurements are above.

Elaine, thanks for sharing.

I am really delighted that so many of you are making soap. Slowly, step by step, changes are happening around the world. It feels good to be part of this significant change, doesn't it.

21

Making cold pressed soap - focusing on the process

I made a batch of soap last weekend. For me, soap making is one of those defining tasks of a simple life. Like bread making, it is a powerful reminder that the products needed in the home can be made better, and often more economically, than those bought at the supermarket. Those two tasks, more than any others, also connect me to my past. Making soap and bread would have been a normal part of our ancestors' lives. Now let me qualify what I just wrote. You can buy soap cheaper than you can make it, but that soap will contain almost no glycerin - the moisturising and nourishing part of soap, and it will contain a lot of chemicals to make it smell good, and to make it lather. When you make your own soap you need only three ingredients - fat, caustic soda/lye and water. So homemade soap is not cheaper than commercially produced soap like Palmolive, but it is cheaper than the "natural" soaps you buy in the organic shops. All soap, no matter what the label says, even the "natural" ones, have been made with caustic soda/lye. The process of soap making neutralises it and after having the soap sit on your shelf for a few weeks, you will have the finest soap money can buy. Caustic soda/lye is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH).

I have written about this in the past and there seems to be a reluctance by some to take up soap making, mainly because of the safety issues. And you are well advised to be cautious of this process - you need to work with caustic soda / lye and that will burn your skin, your benches or floor if it falls from your container. It is wise to be cautious, particularly if you have children or pets around. So I thought that it might be helpful if I focused on the process rather than the recipe. Seeing it being done in steps, might help some of you work out a way you can make soap that you feel safe and confident with.

My soap is made with olive oil, rice bran oil, copha (solid coconut oil), water and caustic soda/lye. Here is my soap making tutorial. There is a soap calculator here. Basically, you find what you have in the cupboard, or buy your preferred oils, enter them in the calculator and it will estimate the amount of water and caustic soda/lye to add. Soap making safety, read this.

So now let's focus on some of the issues you might encounter when making soap.



Before you start, make sure there are no children or pets around. Put on your safety gear. Work in a well ventilated space. When you add water to the caustic soda/lye, it will emit fumes. Traditionally, soap making ingredients are measured as solids, not liquids. Get yourself a good scale and weigh your ingredients according to the recipe. Remember that as soon as moisture is added to the caustic soda/lye, and that might just be a bit of moisture on your hand, it will start to burn.



I use a Pyrex jug to mix my caustic soda/lye and water. As soon as you add water, it will start to heat up. You do not have to add heat, it heats up itself. I place my pyrex jug on a board so it doesn't damage the bench top. I use rain water from my tank. If you only have tap water, measure out a bit more that you need and let it sit in a bowl for 24 hours. That will allow the chlorine to evaporate off.



As soon as you add water, the reaction will start. You can see small bubbles in the water here as soon as the caustic soda/lye was added.



And less than a minute later, the solution has reached 90 C (180F).



This photo shows the combined oils before the caustic soda/lye was added. The mixture is clear. Basically, soap is made by mixing the caustic soda/lye with water and letting it cool down. While this is happening, you heat up the oils on the stove. The aim is to get both solutions at the same temperature. When that happens, you mix them together, then start mixing. It's really a simple process, made more difficult by the danger of burning.



When the caustic soda/lye is added, the mixture is opaque.



My bowl was very full, so I placed some tea towels around the mixer to prevent splash damage on the bench.



After mixing for about six or seven minutes, I reached trace. Trace is the stage of the process when ripples made on the surface of the mix, stay there. You can clearly see this in the photo above. When you reach trace, you stop mixing. If you want to add an essential oil, you add it when you reach trace. I then poured it into the moulds, covered them with a few towels and left them over night. You don't want it to cool too fast.



The next day the mix was solid, so I took it out and cut it.



I like to cut my soap into long bars instead of square or thin bars. I like a solid piece of soap that will last a while. You can cut the soap any way you like or you can use various moulds to shape the soap. Leave the soap on a rack to cure for a few weeks. This also hardens the soap so that it will last much longer.

So I have made 20 good bars of soap at a cost of about A$17.40 or 87 cent a bar.

When the soap is cured, wrap it in greaseproof paper and store in the cupboard until it's used.

For those of you who kill your own animals or poultry for food, Carla Emery has some fine recipes for soap making using tallow - page 615 (updated edition 9). Her soap making section contains a lot of good information, including info on water and fats and how to make your own lye. It starts on page 610.

If you are new to soap making and are still apprehensive about it, I encourage you to go to your library and get Carla's book. The ability to make your own soap is a fine skill to have. When you get over the first soap making session you'll realise it's quite a simple process that, when combined with prudent safety precautions, produces soap that is much better than what you buy at the supermarket.
52

A crossroads

I'm at a mini crossroad today. I started preparing for this change on the weekend and tomorrow I dive right in. From tomorrow, five days a week until early next year, I'll be writing my book. The two days I don't write I'll be at my voluntary job. There may be days ahead when I can't manage five days blog writing. My blog will continue, I have no doubt about that, but some days I might be missing. I hope you understand and bear with me. I am very fortunate to have Hanno here to help, we will be working through this change together, and our lives will continue here as normal, just with a bit more tapping away on the keyboard.



Julia asked yesterday about dogs in the garden. Most of you know we have Alice, a beautiful Airedale Terrier. Her aunt Rosie died last August. We have been sharing our home with Rosie and Alice for over 12 years now and I can tell you they've never dug in the garden, never jumped over any fence, never chased the chooks, and for the most part, except that time they ran into the bush and came back covered in black ticks, they've been a joy to have here. I think a lot of behavioural problems come from certain breeds of dog being kept in inappropriate conditions. Some dogs have to run, some have to herd and round up, some have to sit on a lap to watch TV ; - ). When they can't do those things they develop bad habits that are difficult to change. Airedales don't jump fences, they hate jumping, so putting up a little picket fence around our garden was enough to keep them out, we fed them our own homemade dog food and treats which kept them in good health for many years and we spent time with them. I think toys will depend on the type of dog you have, Julia. Some dogs love to catch a ball, some dogs want to go for a walk every day, some like following you around like a shadow.

The beautiful Alice is 12 years old now, she's deaf but still very healthy. She is lost without Rosie and needs to be with us all the time. She follows Hanno around in the yard and sleeps on a soft bed near the kitchen now. She is such a joy, I can't imagine life without her. We have just started to look around for another dog. We've decided to get a Welsh Terrier this time. They look like Airedales but are smaller. Alice is sitting beside me as I type this and every time I turn my head to look at her, she wags her tail. :- )



Some of you may remember that I started knitting a bag sometime last year. Well, that bag turned into something else. I needed the needles for another project so I cast off and looked at what I had for a couple of hours. Then I added a lining and now I have a very serviceable holder for my candles. Please don't ask me for the pattern, it is just something I made up as I went.



I wonder if this has happened to you in the past. The other day, Hanno and I were talking about preparing the garden for the wedding. I said we needed some seating so that the older folk could sit and rest during the ceremony. We talked about bringing a garden bench from the back yard to the front and to provide chairs on the front verandah, but still, we needed more benches right in the garden.



The next day Hanno said he had seen some garden benches out on the road for the hard rubbish pickup. He hooked up the trailer and half an hour later we had two old benches, aching for a repair job. They're sturdy, but need the wooden planks replaced and a paint job. Hanno started that job yesterday. How often have we said we need something, and there it is! Does that happen to you as well?

I want to thank you for the wonderful interaction with my blog, especially over these past few weeks. The warm and tender comments on the blog anniversary, supporting my advertisers, the dish towel and hot pad swap just finished, and your visits here all contribute to the wonderful feeling of friendship and community that has developed. Tomorrow I'll be writing about the batch of soap I made last weekend. If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them. So until then, take care, everyone.


62

The feeling of the garden



A wonderful balance is reached in Autumn and Spring when the weather is neither hot nor cold, the harsh bright light of summer takes on a more gentle glow and being outside is not only a joy, it's essential. Autumn is my favourite season. It is that one time of year when my optimism is at its peak, the grass is greener, flowers bloom, vegetables are set to grow and I see the colder months ahead and smile at the thought of it.



I often take photographs in our garden to show what kind a place we have here. Much of the outside work is done by Hanno and it's a credit to him that it's productive and breathtakingly beautiful. But the beauty recorded in those photos is nothing like the feeling of the place. Seeing it in a photo and experiencing it first hand cannot be compared. A photo will not show the myriad of birds that fly in and out, it will not allow you to experience the gentle breeze or to soak up the feeling of being right here, right now. There is a family of kookaburras living here and they dart in and out constantly. I hear, but never see, whip birds calling from the rainforest. The scent of honeysuckle and roses entice me to walk further into the garden, there are spots of bright coloured New Guinea impatiens next to the sober magnolias, and next to the drive way, red hot pokers stand tall in the sun like guardians.



In the back garden, where food production is our main concern, worms, hidden away in their bathtub farm, devour all manner of kitchen scraps and paper, seedlings slowly grow for planting in the garden, water drips into catchment tanks, vegetables vines curl around trellises, carrots and turnips peak out from the soil, bees buzz, sedge frogs jump inside cabbage heads and fruit ripens. It is certainly a grand sight, but the feeling of it, well, that is something else.



Walking around our garden reminds me, with certainty, that I am part of the natural world. I am not above it, I cannot remove myself from it, I am part of it and it is part of me. There is so much out there that I don't understand - the wind blowing the trees in just one part of the garden, the never-ending cycles of life, lichen growing on rotting tree stumps, and what did come first, the chicken or the egg? But I'm not worried about my ignorance, I still enjoy what I am privileged to see, feel and do here.



Our garden is being readied for a family wedding next month. Hopefully grandbabies will be toddling around this garden one day, there will be kids playing with dogs in the backyard again, Christmas lunches will spill over into the backyard for a game of cricket, and new life will bring new meaning to this garden. I hope the cycles of life of my family will be connected with this land for many years to come so that a woman who I don't know now will remember back to this time when our family first settled here. It is a wonderful thought that my family will live here for many years to come, but this land and the feeling of the gardens, makes me think the best of everything.

I wish I had 330 parcels to send out to you all but there can be only two winners. Congratulations to Kendra @ A Sonoma Garden and LashyLashla. Please send me an email with your postal address. Thank you, and thanks to all of you for your wonderful comments.



30

Swap news

Hello all- just dropped in to remind everyone about finishing up the swap. We seem to have two missing swap buddies: Sandra Tolley and Janet Anderson. Hopefully this will jog their memories and they will contact their swap buddies. I have also been a bit late in sending mine out due to illness in my family- sigh and bah humbug :( . I have just received the lovely parcels from my swap buddies, both of whom I will be contacting today. I have set up a group flickr account for this swap. Each of you may post and tag your own photos on the site since I seem to have one of those love/ hate relationships with flickr (it regularly eats my photos and makes them disapear into lost internet land). Everyone will be able to click on this hyperlink and then to post and tag their own photos , and I will post the few photos that I have received (if anyone has problems just contact me at cdetroyes at yahoo dot com) here
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Can you make money blogging?

I spent most of yesterday in my writing/sewing room doing some preliminary mapping on my book, reading your wonderfully generous and interesting comments and sewing. Hanno was out most of the day so I had myself nicely positioned in my room with my sewing machine, computer and note book (not in the photo) side by side so I could slide from one activity to the other with no effort at all. It was a nice day, one I enjoyed and I got a fair bit done. BTW, I was sewing something I'll show you next week. I still have to do some hand sewing to complete it.



I wrote yesterday about my experience of blogging and commented later, after a couple of questions, that I'd write about making money from blogging today. For almost two years I refused advertising on my blog. I've had many people ask me to carry their advertisements or to review products for cash, and declined the offers until just a couple of weeks ago. My reluctance to take on advertising was partly because I was prudent and frugal in my own life and advertising didn't fit with that, and I've never been one to make money just because I can. If I wanted to be earning money I could still be working for a living. I have chosen to be at home now but with the wedding coming up and a couple of things here that need replacing, as well as the solar panels we are saving to buy, I decided to take selected sponsorship and use Google's product Adsense. I am now taking sponsorship for those products that I would buy and those that have a place in a simple and sustainable life. I am curious to see if I can make a bit of money from my blog, I'm not sure yet if it's worthwhile but it's worth testing.

If you have the right type of blog and enough visitors, you might make money either directly or indirectly from a blog. Directly is when you accept advertising or sponsorship on your blog, indirectly is when your blogging reputation allows you to make money away from your blog - like writing a book or for newspapers and magazines.

I have Google ads (Adsense) in my sidebar. I make a small amount of money when my readers click on those ads. If they're not clicked, I don't make anything. When you set up Adsense, you select the keywords that reflect your blog, then Google ads appear that are relevant to your keywords and what is written on your page on a daily basis. They change according to what you write about. You can block certain ads.

Sponsorship is you dealing directly with the advertiser. They contact you, you give them your advertising rates and if you come to an agreement, you place their sponsor button in your sidebar. I have chosen to introduce my sponsors in a post as well. I only accept sponsors that I've checked out and are selling a product that I am comfortable promoting.

As many of you know, I have an agent in New York who working with me to produce a Down to Earth book. We are still in the very early stages, I've sent my proposal in and it will be sold in the next month or so ( I hope). After that is sold, I write the book. So that is another way I can make money from my blog. That opportunity only came about because of my blog and fine community of readers that has built up here over the previous two years.

You have to be realistic, most blogs will not have the visitor numbers to make money from sponsorships or advertising. If you want to have a go, you'll need to work hard to build up your readership and give your readers a reason to come back to you. Don't expect overnight success, it takes time. Like all things in our simple lives, it's small steps, one at a time.

Problogger's How bloggers make money from blogs this is a few years old but still worthwhile reading.
Chris Garret's Can anyone make money from blogging?

And finally, I received this private comment from Cat yesterday so I'll let her tell you her wonderful suggestion: "I continued to read through the comments left on this entry and found a lot of people who have said they have a blog with no/few readers. I also wonder how many people, like myself, don't leave their blog details in comments left here because they think it may seem rude to 'advertise' their own blog on someone elses.

Which is a shame because it seems that the ideal audience for their blogs are right here, reading and commenting on your blog.

It made me wonder if it would be worthwhile for you to do a follow up post to this one asking for readers, if they are willing, to leave their blog link in the comments - like a blog share circle - so that people who are interested can mosey across and have a read. I know I would!"

Thank you for that great idea, Cat. So because Cat asked, I'm happy to invite anyone who would like to leave a link here to the family-friendly blog. Just make your comment as normal, and leave a link to your blog. With the weekend coming up, it's the ideal time for people to be wanting something extra to read.

Have a great weekend everyone. I hope all my Australian and NZ friends stay warm, I hope our northern hemisphere readers enjoy a sunny and warm weekend. I'll see you all again next week.



126

Introducing the first of my sponsors - Ambrosia's Designs

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was adding some advertising to my blog, you have seen the Google ads, well now I can introduce you to the first of my sponsors. I spoke with Hanno about this at length and we decided that we would only accept advertising for those products that we would happily buy ourselves. Above all else I look for value for money, quality and good workmanship in products that reflect my environmental values. Ambrosia's Designs delivers all that, and more.

Ambrosia's Designs sell a variety of high quality fabric menstrual, postpartum and nursing pads and panty liners. Reading through the feedback on this Etsy shop showed me a 100 percent positive approval rating after 582 sales. The customer feedback is second to none, her customers love her. If you've decided to move from commercial pads or tampons to a more natural alternative, I recommend Ambrosia's Designs to you. Posting within Australia is free and minimal to other countries. She will happily post internationally.

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