harvest_kids

Frugal Living – Making the most of what you have.

The whole idea of self-sustainability encompasses a number of issues, eating what you grow, processing and storing food for later use and generally trying to minimize your need to purchase goods and items from stores.

The whole ideal is admirable, and goes a long way to improve your health, finances and general self-satisfaction of not being an everyday “sheeple”. A person reliant on other peoples productivity to ensure your comfort. I have written before about the immense satisfaction we find in setting a meal on the table where everything is a product of our property and own effort. However this is not the only place where one can step out of the mould.

There are many instances where one can make use of traditional “throw-away” items in ones household by putting them to a second use, or even with a bit off effort make a store bought item at home that is firstly healthier, secondly tastier and thirdly more cost effective.

Below I have a list that was quickly compiled between my wife and myself of different ways that we stretch our hard earned rands. This list starts off with simple to implement ideas on frugal and self-sufficient living, some of which has been passed down from my Grandparents who lived through the Depression era, they did many things to stretch their wages, most of which has now been lost to our instant gratification generation. When you get a chance to speak to one of the older generation, ask them what they did to “fill-the-gaps” in their monthly budget. You may be surprised at the wisdom, knowledge and insight that comes out.

One of the first things that we started doing was saving all of our old wax to use as firelighters, candle stubs, the scrapings off the candle stand, or that red/blue wax off the cheese that you buy. All of this generally gets thrown away. We put it into a container and when we have a braai or need to light the fireplace, those candle ends get wrapped into newspaper and make a fantastic fire lighter.

If we have run out of wax pieces we use an old egg carton that has some used kitchen oil. You know that brown ugly oil that “has” to be thrown away. Don’t! It makes a great firelighter with either egg boxes or newspaper.

Peet a good friend of mine says that in the old days his parents used to dry out all of the used teabags and then drop them into a jar of paraffin. They used those to light the wood stove on their farm. I have not tried it, but I can’t see why it won’t work.

Another fire lighting trick I learnt from my grandparents who used to have a gas stove. There was always a saucer next to the stove for used matches. When lighting a new ring, Ouma used to take one of those used matches, get it started on one of the existing flames and use that to start a new ring. Who says a match can’t light twice!

Another thing I learnt from my Ouma is to save and use the netted bags that you get fruit and vegetables in. She used to roll them up and turn them into a pot scourer. A quick way to make sure you get the most out of everything you buy. I find that the green bags with the rougher plastic make for great scourers, the orange bags also work well, they just don’t last as long. Use some fishing gut and a darning needle to give it a few quick stitches to hold the shape that you desire. We also save the bags to keep our own produce in. They are great for drying beans, garlic, chilies, onions etc as they allow for good ventilation and easy identification.

Living on a farm one gets a lot of mosquito’s and we go through a fair amount of Peacefull Sleep every month. I can’t stand the new mosquito stick dispensers, as they are finicky to use and the stick often falls out and rolls around on the ground. Have you applied a mozzie stick with grit in it? Not a pleasant experience. Also, they sell these sticks as weighing 34 grams, but you can never use the full 34 grams, there is always about 10 or 15% left in the cup at the bottom. Nicola saves all the finished ones and once she has a bunch she will make-up 2 or 3 sticks by scraping the cups out, then melting it in the microwave, she then just reuses one of the original sticks and cups for the “new” stick.

We make our own soap, but this would work for anyone that uses soap. All the little pieces of soap that start to fall apart, (Homemade soap is a big culprit) get dumped into a 5lt ice cream container. Once the container is full we then do a melt and pour exercise with the crock-pot. Weigh the soap and add 10% water and set the dial to low. Let this bubble away for most of the day and stir every hour. Don’t open the lid too often, or you will lose a lot of moisture. Once you are happy with the melting process, just tip the lot out into your mould(s) and let it harden. We can make a good 10 months supply in this way. (but it does take about 2 or 3 years to collect the 5lt tub full) If you make your own soap, then the bits that are cut or peeled off (we use a vegetable peeler) to make the bars look good, can also go into the tub.

Nicola also uses the soap bits to make a washing gel, she starts with small bit and adds boiling water to get the soap to a gel stage. All the bits must be melted or else you get sticky soap bits in your clothes. She then dumps about 1/3 rd cup of the gel into the machine and presses play. It works just great.

We buy 50kg bags of feed salt from the Co-Op for our animals. This salt is clean, white and non-iodated. We will open the bag as we get it and take out what we need for the next few months, this is stored at home while the remainder of the bag goes up to the stables. It’s a coarse salt and our cost is 1/10th of what you pay in the store for coarse salt.

Talking about the Co-Op, we actually get quite a bit from there for our own use. Bear in mind that the grains given to animals come from the same source as the grains that are diverted for human consumption. We used to buy all our wheat in bulk from the Co-Op, and grind it for real whole wheat flour. Now we grow our own Hard Red Winter Wheat for part of the year and buy the balance in. This flour makes a great loaf of bread, the nice thing is that it has all of the essential oils that are processed out of the “plastic” whole wheat flour bought in the shops. We also use this to make puffed wheat to add to muesli as well.

Making your own roast peanuts and peanut butter. We learnt this by trial and error. Either buy (Co-Op again) or grow your own fresh peanuts. Lay them in one of those blue/grey oven pans and put the oven onto roast. For about 3kgs of peanuts, use 2 tablespoons of olive oil and stir the oil in until all the peanuts are very slightly covered in oil. Then put the tray into the oven. Stir every 5 or so minutes and do this until you are happy. I like to use the grill in the last few minutes to get a bit of toasting on the finished nuts. Just make sure you are watching ALL THE TIME, this part burns very quickly. Salt and/or season to your own taste.

To make Peanut butter. Take the roasted peanuts and put them through a hand mincer two or three times with a fine mincing plate. This will give you a chunky peanut butter the more you send it through the finer the “butter”, but you will never get it to the smooth consistency of store-bought smooth peanut butter. Add a little oil to make it more spreadable in your last stage. This stores perfectly well in the cupboard and needs no preservatives. If the oil separates you have added to much oil in and you can either remove it for a stir-fry or mix it back in. I recon it would be at least a 60 or 70% peanut oil and it’s great in a stir-fry.

We make our own Muesli, generally we will buy rolled oats, and different bran fibers from the store and from there it’s build from scratch. The oats and fiber make the base of the muesli. Honey from our hives is thinned just a bit with water and this is drizzled and run through the mix. This whole mix is then, baked in the oven to toast it, stirring regularly so it won’t burn. Once it’s all done, we also add homemade puffed wheat, puffed corn and sometimes even strawberry popcorn. Depending on the season and what dried fruit we have on hand it all gets mixed in. We have worked out our costs and it’s marginally (about 20-30 % depending on season) cheaper than store bought muesli ….. but way healthier.

With the cost of meat going through the roof, one of the fastest ways to stretch a mince based meal is to throw in a brinjal. Just chop up the brinjal into small pieces and throw it in, it seems to take on the flavors around it. Brinjals were for a long time the bane of my life, I can remember my father making many various versions of brinjal dishes to try and introduce us kids to the pleasures of brinjals. We kids wanted nothing to do with them. His frustration was palpable. This year is the first year that I have come to appreciate the beauties of this stunning fruit. Sorry Dad.

We have a special in our family called the 3 Day Chicken. Not the most appetizing of names but let me explain. We grow and slaughter or own birds, so for a family of 7 we need to take out 2 birds on the first night and they are generally roasted. Each person gets a portion and the balance is kept for the next night. The following night we will have a chicken stir-fry, chicken salad or a similar meal that uses de-boned chicken pieces. The remainder of the chicken and all the bones then gets turfed into a stock-pot and boiled down into a broth for chicken soup that is either frozen or eaten the following day… that’s the story behind 3 day chicken. So instead of “gutsing” ourselves on two birds for one meal, then throwing the bones to the pigs. We can stretch those two birds into 3 meals.  It’s a great way to use everything on a bird and use it properly, and the pigs still get the bones.

Those are just some of the things that we do on a regular basis, we do these for a few reasons. First I think it’s because we actually enjoy the processes. Secondly we don’t have a time-thief (TV) and actually have the time to play around with things. Next, it’s healthier. It’s also better for the environment and reduces our load on landfills. Lastly, you get to save money, learn a new (old) skill and not waste opportunities.

We and I’m sure other readers of this site would love to hear your hint’s, tips and suggestions of how you make your “buck stretch” so please feel free to leave a comment below.

harvest_kids

What’s in our Garden

Not much has been happening recently, all of our winter stuff is now in and we are just waiting on crops to ripen so that we can harvest. I have started getting some of the new tomatoes off the plants and we will have these up by mid April latest.

I picked my first Pubescens chillie today and I’m very pleased. This would have been the second year with a poor harvest, but the cooler weather recently really helped the plant to set fruit. We won’t have many of these seeds available this year but I’ll make sure that some does get onto the site. As this rare gem needs to be spread around.

I’m continually amazed at the response that our plants give to applications of vermicompost, for those of you that don’t have a wormbin. Get one, you will not be sorry! When we transplant now, each seedling gets a handful of vermicompost around its base, and the growth is almost visible.

We continue to add seeds, to our site and the beans are coming in thick and fast. Most of the corn will be up by the week-end and there are a few odds and ends that are busy drying. We have had some cool wet weather so it’s taking a tad longer than normal.

Our next big drying and packing session will be for all the peppers, but we are still a few weeks away there so if you are a chillie-holic “hold onto ýer britches” there are some real cool peppers coming up shortly.

harvest_kids

The War on Heirlooms

Being in the Heirloom and Open Pollinated seed industry is for me one of the best vocations, I love the fact that I get to grow and eat many varieties of vegetables that most people never get to hear of, let alone taste. The sheer beauty of some of our heirloom vegetables is astounding, and we get to eat them.

It’s a privilege for me to be able to supply the widest range of heirloom and open pollinated vegetables in South Africa and it’s an honor to receive new varieties every week from other gardeners throughout the country. Many of whom want no recognition, just the knowledge that the precious variety that they have will be carried forward for future generations.

We have been picking and packing beans and corn over the last two weeks and you will soon see some exciting new varieties on the site. Every time I start to shell a new bean variety the pleasure I get from watching the beautiful seeds drop into the bowl is immense. I have a weak spot for beans and we in South Africa are limited to a few varieties on our shelves, most grown in China and imported at a huge carbon cost to the planet. Livingseeds is fortunate to have close to 20 bean varieties this year and a few more coming again next year.

So what’s the point of this post? Well simply there is a war on people planting and growing Open Pollinated and Heirloom vegetables, this war is being fought openly and with considerable cunning by the large GM houses, all under the guise of social development and “sustainability” for rural small holders and subsistence farmers.

In the past, rural farmers used to save seed every year. They would take the seed that looked the best and this seed was kept back every year and planted. What happened was unique heirloom varieties were created that were specifically adapted to their own environments. The variety was resistant to their local pest and disease loads and the farmers had a unique treasure in what they planted every year. These varieties were landraces or heirlooms and they were all, most importantly, Open Pollinated. This simply meant that every year they could save and plant seed at no cost to themselves… every single year.

Now, what is being done is simple, but disastrously effective. The large GM houses will approach the local agricultural department and offer to supply free seed to rural farmers, this seed is invariably of hybrid or GM origin. The seed is distributed to the local farmers with promises of higher yields, less insecticide and of course it’s “free”.  These rural farmers knowing no better, plant the seed and either plant their own seed stock or eat the “old” seed stock as they have “new and better” seed to use.

A few months down the line, the traditional varieties and the GM seed stock now start to blossom and shed pollen. What happens is that this new GM seed stock starts to infect the old varieties and thereby wipe-out an entire history and genetic resource that can never be recovered.

Mission accomplished by the GM seed houses, and the farmer is now trapped into planting hybrid and GM seed. They may try to save the seed, but the problem is it’s too late! The damage has already been done.

On Monsanto’s website is a very chilling article that at first glance is the picture of social responsibility, but reading between the lines and sometimes even blatantly it states that it wants to get rid of Open Pollinated seed. In a world were GM seed houses have control of all seed varieties and where they can literally prevent someone from planting seed. Where does that leave the average smallholder, farmer or gardener? If you want to feed your family or make a living you will need to bow to the giant seed corporations and pay their taxes.

harvest_kids

What’s in our Garden

Summer is now really drawing to a close and I’m watching my tomatoes in the bottom garden so that we can start processing, we have a few that are getting there but just not fast enough for my liking.

One can feel the winter chill in the evening and with the loss of light we know it’s just around the corner. We still have quite a number of seeds to process and it’s a hectic time for us, as we lift, dry, sort and pack seed for the site. I recon we will have everything up by the end of April with just a few varieties that will be added in over winter.

It’s a race against the seasons now as the last seeds of carrots, beetroot, spinach and peas, are going in, we also planted out the last of our brassica’s as well so with all the cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli and kale etc, it’s going to be a windy winter in our house.

We have had our first 3 lambs of the season (1 ewe and 2 rams) and we expect another 7 or 8 to come through in the next month. Lacy, our milk cow is pregnant again and we are now loosing milk production as she nears the time to dry-up. But that’s great as early morning winter milking never excited me anyway.

harvest_kids

The Edible Quote

Regarding the general Seminis [Monsanto’s vegetable Division] business in Africa, the main project is the hybridisation program where Monsanto is actively working in all areas to convert growers from growing open pollinated varieties to hybrid varieties.

~ Monsanto Website

harvest_kids

The Strange Case of the Organic Jekyll and Hyde

When one uses the term “Organic” with reference to food consumed by the general populace, it tends to conjure up warm fuzzy feelings about good farming practices and people up to their elbows in compost and earthworms. The truth is however slightly different.

It’s taken me a while to write this post as I’ve been struggling with how I’d like to present the argument and at the same time be rational and fair to all of the truly organic players in the market. I have a particular bug-bear with the term “organic”, as I feel that it’s been overused and prostituted for the benefit of corporate interests and skillful swindlers at some accreditation agencies. I’d also like to preface my discussion below with a clause that I make no claim to be an expert, this is my opinion and I’d like it to be seen as such.

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of organic growing going on in the world. The first is the warm fuzzy kind, where gardeners, growers and farmers are actively looking at ways to improve the soil health, nutrient and organic content within their soil. They make tons of compost every year, practice no-till, and generally care more for their soil than they do for the actual plants that they are growing in it. Truly organic farmers are actually soil farmers, with a vegetable byproduct. This is what organic farming should be all about, where the soil gets a chance to provide the nutrients, sustenance and protection to the plant that it was originally designed to do. Once one gets to this stage you will be amazed at the response you get from the seeds and plants that live in your soil.

I’m going to use my own property as an example and explain what we do, as this in my mind is exactly what should be happening if someone would like to make an organic claim on their property or their produce.

When opening a new piece of ground for planting we will either use black plastic over well watered ground, this is to exclude light from the grass that is growing there and thus kill it, or we will just remove the existing grass, form beds and plant straight into the soil.

Once the plants have “gotten away” we will start to add compost / vermicompost on top of the beds and allow the soil organisms to take the nutrients into the soil. Typically we will apply a top dressing like this 2-3 times a year. Once a crop has been harvested we will either leave the remains of the crop in the bed allowing it to break-down naturally, or it will be lifted and put onto the compost heap. Our compost is made with the chimney method and we find it the best way to get plenty of compost quickly.

There are NO other supplements that we add to our plants or soil.

When I say no other supplements I mean NO other supplements, not an organic fertilizer, nor an organic pesticide nothing, not even homemade remedies…. nada, squat, zilch!!! The soil looks after the plants and in-turn we get great produce.

Now, it will take about 3 years using the above process to get soil to a point where it has a great nutrient and “gogga” population that will allow the plants to react favorably when they come under attack or stress from external sources (insects/disease etc). Just remember that you will never have a plant population that is always 100% pest/disease free, even if you use chemicals and toxins to “help” the plant. The minute one adds a chemical (whether organically certified or not) to the plant or soil you are detrimentally affecting the soils health, as well as the macro and micro organisms that make up the soils ecology. We sometimes loose an entire crop to some kind of failure, be it caused by weather, insects, disease or even simply poor conditions for that crop. That is one of the things that as a truly organic grower you will need to learn to accept.

Now let’s get to the other side of “organic farming/gardening”. This is where conventional farming practices are used, but instead of conventional fertilizers, chemicals and toxins to produce the crop, the farmer uses “organically certified” fertilizers, chemicals and toxins. There’s minimal emphasis by the farmer with regards to his soil health nor is there an emphasis on increasing the organic content of his soil. People something is wrong here when a person can still put chemicals onto plants/soil (yeah I know they are organic chemicals) and then claim that they are organic. This is generally what you buy in the stores as organic produce. It may be certified organic but there is a good chance that it never followed the “natural” principles of organic farming.

One cannot rip the soil up with a plow, throw on some organic fertilizer to give nutrients to the plants and then expect that the plants must fend for themselves. It’s the soil that does most of the work, it’s the soil that releases nutrients for the plants to take up, and it’s the soil that is literally the immune system of your vegetable garden. Once you tamper with the soils health you tamper with the health of the plant, and in-turn you tamper with the nutrient content and quality of the food that is harvested from this soil.

I’d like to leave you with this question. How is your next organic purchase grown? It may be time to start asking for organic produce that is really grown organically.

When one uses the term “Organic” with reference to food consumed by the general populace, it tends to conjure up warm fuzzy feelings about good farming practices and people up to their elbows in compost and earthworms. The truth is however slightly different.

It’s taken me a while to write this post as I’ve been struggling with how I’d like to present the argument and at the same time be rational and fair to all of the truly organic players in the market. I have a particular bug-bear with the term “organic”, as I feel that it’s been overused and prostituted for the benefit of corporate interests and skillful swindlers at some accreditation agencies. I’d also like to preface my discussion below with a clause that I make no claim to be an expert, this is my opinion and I’d like it to be seen as such.

Broadly speaking there are two kinds of organic growing going on in the world. The first is the warm fuzzy kind, where gardeners, growers and farmers are actively looking at ways to improve the soil health, nutrient and organic content within their soil. They make tons of compost every year, practice no-till, and generally care more for their soil than they do for the actual plants that they are growing in it. Truly organic farmers are actually soil farmers, with a vegetable byproduct. This is what organic farming should be all about, where the soil gets a chance to provide the nutrients, sustenance and protection to the plant that it was originally designed to do. Once one gets to this stage you will be amazed at the response you get from the seeds and plants that live in your soil.

I’m going to use my own property as an example and explain what we do, as this in my mind is exactly what should be happening if someone would like to make an organic claim on their property or their produce.

When opening a new piece of ground for planting we will either use black plastic over well watered ground, this is to exclude light from the grass that is growing there and thus kill it, or we will just remove the existing grass, form beds and plant straight into the soil.

Once the plants have “gotten away” we will start to add compost / vermicompost on top of the beds and allow the soil organisms to take the nutrients into the soil. Typically we will apply a top dressing like this 2-3 times a year. Once a crop has been harvested we will either leave the remains of the crop in the bed allowing it to break-down naturally, or it will be lifted and put onto the compost heap. Our compost is made with the chimney method and we find it the best way to get plenty of compost quickly.

There are NO other supplements that we add to our plants or soil.

When I say no other supplements I mean NO other supplements, not an organic fertilizer, nor an organic pesticide nothing, not even homemade remedies…. nada, squat, zilch!!! The soil looks after the plants and in-turn we get great produce.

Now, it will take about 3 years using the above process to get soil to a point where it has a great nutrient and “gogga” population that will allow the plants to react favorably when they come under attack or stress from external sources (insects/disease etc). Just remember that you will never have a plant population that is always 100% pest/disease free, even if you use chemicals and toxins to “help” the plant. The minute one adds a chemical (whether organically certified or not) to the plant or soil you are detrimentally affecting the soils health, as well as the macro and micro organisms that make up the soils ecology. We sometimes loose an entire crop to some kind of failure, be it caused by weather, insects, disease or even simply poor conditions for that crop. That is one of the things that as a truly organic grower you will need to learn to accept.

Now let’s get to the other side of “organic farming/gardening”. This is where conventional farming practices are used, but instead of conventional fertilizers, chemicals and toxins to produce the crop, the farmer uses “organically certified” fertilizers, chemicals and toxins. There’s minimal emphasis by the farmer with regards to his soil health nor is there an emphasis on increasing the organic content of his soil. People something is wrong here when a person can still put chemicals onto plants/soil (yeah I know they are organic chemicals) and then claim that they are organic. This is generally what you buy in the stores as organic produce. It may be certified organic but there is a good chance that it never followed the “natural” principles of organic farming.

One cannot rip the soil up with a plow, throw on some organic fertilizer to give nutrients to the plants and then expect that the plants must fend for themselves. It’s the soil that does most of the work, it’s the soil that releases nutrients for the plants to take up, and it’s the soil that is literally the immune system of your vegetable garden. Once you tamper with the soils health you tamper with the health of the plant, and in-turn you tamper with the nutrient content and quality of the food that is harvested from this soil.

I’d like to leave you with this question. How is your next organic purchase grown? It may be time to start asking for organic produce that is really grown organically.