31 March 2015

My green-living winter preparations

Winter can be a time of huge power bills, wet clothes and a barren garden. Here's what's been going on in our house to minimise these problems.

Garden, i.e. what are we going to eat all winter?

We are so lucky in New Zealand to be able to grow our vegetables year-round, and it's perfectly possible to provide all a family's green vegetables from a standard back yard garden. It doesn't take consistent hard work, just short bursts of it - and good timing.

Here we are on the last day of March, and my brassica plants are pathetic. I wish I'd taken my own advice.

Last year in a burst of pride at my accomplishment I wrote a post on How to create a garden that feeds you all winter. Key to this is starting early (as in February, ideally) with sowing seeds. The February heat usually brings a swarm of white butterflies with their brassica-devouring caterpillars, so seedlings must be covered or be destroyed. Ignoring my own advice, this year I let my first lot of seedlings be destroyed.

Cut up milk bottles make seed labels and containers.
Sitting containers in a tray makes it easy to
water from underneath by putting a cm or so
of water in the tray. That way the seeds aren't
dislodged by a stream of water from above.

I then got organised and got my seed raising shelves into action. That's an old mosquito net protecting it, and a net curtain works well too (think garage sales, church fairs, op shops to source one).

As I write on the last day of March, grabbing seedlings of your favourite brassica from a shop or market is the best bet for New Zealand gardeners - any seeds sown from now on are unlikely to reach your dinner plate until spring. The plants need time to grow to a decent size before cold weather and frosts slow them down.

I'm having trouble pulling out our summer crops to make room. We are still flooded with cucumbers, zucchinis and beans, not to mention grapes and feijoas. Sowing a crop of Yates Freezer Slims bean seeds in late January was a smart move. They are in full flush right now, and have turned out to be Very Good Tucker (according to us AND the snails; fortunately the snails mainly like the leaves) - more than adequate payback for pushing a few beans in the ground and keeping them moist for a few days!

Freezer slim beans behind alyssum, which I planted for
beneficial insects in spring. It just keeps flowering.

The tomatoes are blighted now, however, and we're getting just a few to keep us going. They'll come out in the next few days, making room for more brasssica seedlings with a shot of compost.

One of my favourite brassicas is Cavolo Nero kale. I love its flavour stir-fried with oil and garlic, and the way its leaves aren't too crinkly, because the crinkles attract snails. A farmer's market is a good place to find the seedlings, because the supermarkets don't seem to be on to this superfood veg yet.

There are plenty more greens-producing tips in the How to create a garden that feeds you all winter post. I recommend it for your bank balance and good health.

Speaking of which, here is the basis of my winter anti-virus soups. That is, the old-fashioned type of anti-virus.

I so enjoyed the butternuts that I bought from the Hamilton Farmer's Market this winter that I kept some seeds. I sowed one next to a compost bin and let it sprawl over the lawn and fence (it was meant to only be on the fence, but it is a free spirit and I was too soft on it). I have five large compost-fed butternuts to look forward to. One is growing on the neighbour's driveway, but they appreciate the importance of these things, being vege/fruit growers and chicken-keepers themselves.

Free warmth

Firewood, firewood, firewood. We always keep an eye out for people felling trees, and piles of unloved wood. We have about three years' worth stashed about our property now, all for free (apart from the trailer hire and some petrol or electricity to fuel the chainsaws for the big cuts). Sometimes I do the finding, but mainly my husband does the grunt work - and it is a lot of physical work.

This warmth not only heats our house, but finishes off the clothes drying. We also heat water for hot water bottles and do a bit of cooking on the top of the woodburner.

Dry clothes

I love the clothes lines under our carport to keep our washing out of the rain! It faces west, where the prevailing wind and afternoon sun comes from.

In winter I often just hang big things there (towels, sheets, etc.) and put the other things on our clothes drying rack. It can sit outside during the day and be brought inside at night. After spending a night in the room with the woodburner, everything is beautifully dry.

Do you have any prep-for-winter tips?

29 March 2015

A little trouble with a chicken's bottom

If you are missing the chicken-keeping posts that used to appear here, fear not, they are still coming! See them at my dedicated NZ chicken-keeping blog, www.keepingchickensnz.com. There's also a Keeping Chickens NZ facebook page here. You don't need to be a facebook member to see it.

One-Wattle, a favourite chicken featured in the post mentioned below.

My latest chicken post is on a little adventure I had recently rescuing a favourite chicken who was having trouble getting an egg out.

18 March 2015

Send your mind somewhere

The public library. Isn't it a fantastic place? Every time I walk in there - which is at least weekly - I get a thrill, as if I'm walking into an enormous bookshop where all the books are free. And I am! The only catch is that I have to return them. Our bookshelves at home are full to bursting, so that's a good thing.

This post is, of course, in the thread of thriftiness as a path to being a healthy, wealthy eco-warrior. But besides all that, a lifetime's worth of reading is just pure pleasure.

I recently saw reading described as "an enjoyable, even ecstatic experience" on the Mighty Girl website. The point of the article was actually to say that reading makes people smarter and nicer. That is not, of course, why many of us retire to bed to enter another delicious world. We don't always manage to keep our noses out of our books during the day, either, even when we've got chores to get on with.

The slogan of our local library is 'Send your mind somewhere'. Earlier this month mine traveled to seventeenth century Iceland, in the form of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Oh goodness, I loved it. The beauty, the toughness, the fascination of it. It's based on a true story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

I also ventured to a certain Scottish castle over the last year, and as a result adored the Harry Potter series. I strung them out over a year because I couldn't bear to think that one day there would be no more of the series for me to read. I've coped quite well, though.

Each night Anna and I are tripping to nineteenth century America in the form of the Little House on the Prairie series. We've been amazed at Ma making head cheese out of the head of a pig, and at the family having trouble sleeping due to nocturnal Indian war cries (which turned out to be part of a plan to kill the white settlers! - well, some of them did have a horrifying motto: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian").

I have read elsewhere that the series, which was published in the early 1930s, was part propoganda. Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter, who edited the books, believed that the government had started meddling too much in people's lives. She turned her mother's memoirs into fables that showed their pioneering forebears as independent, capable, optimistic and incredibly resourceful - in short, thriving without government intervention. That is, apart from when the government drove out the Indians. They were pleased about that little intervention. (Sadly my forebears weren't much better in that respect.)

It's these adventures of the mind that keep me, and indeed our whole family, going for more, more, more books. Pure, free, enriching pleasure.

10 March 2015

The Mr. Mustache Man guide to buying less stuff

I'm often struck by how never before have humans had so much stuff. Our planet is oozing with discarded electronics, plastic, clothing, etc. It's draining our bank accounts, polluting the planet and cluttering our houses. It's time I did something about it!

When it comes to buying things, Mr Money Mustache reckons that your bottom line should be this: if you can't afford to retire, you can't afford to buy it. (Mr MM retired in his 30s.) Hardcore, eh? There are exceptions, he admits - groceries, power, etc.

I use this pot almost daily to cook, and  I get a little thrill every
 time I see how my husband repaired it with prunings from our
 garden. What a man. Sorry ladies, he's taken.

You'll still be living a great life, contrary to what advertisers would have you believe!

That is, unless buying and having stuff is what makes you happy, in which case you'll have realised by now it's a pretty short-lived buzz, so you'd better get a bit more Buddhist (or Mustachian) about things.

The reason it won't knock your happiness levels is this: compared to most humans who have ever lived, we westerners live in extreme luxury. But because we're all doing it, it's hard to remember that. Do you have running water in more than one room of the house? A separate bedroom for each child? So much food to eat, and so little physical work to do, that you can grow a jiggly belly? WOW, we live better than kings and queens used to!

Below are the kind of questions Mr. MM asks himself before making a purchase. Some of these are thrown in by me. Maybe they'll help you one day.

1. Will it be a lifelong burden? i.e., contributing to that pile of once-wanted stuff that fills our houses then sits in the landfill for centuries.

2. Will it help you consume less stuff in future? Can it be repaired when it wears out or breaks (like the pot above), or will it be a less expensive/more environmentally friendly substitute for something else? e.g. a bike will help you use your car less.

3. Can you borrow it, make it or get it secondhand instead?

4. Can you delay the purchase? (In the meantime you'll probably decide your dollars have more important work to do.)

5. Consider who made it, and where and under what circumstances was it made (i.e. were components mined from under rainforests, did its production pollute the land or water, did it use slave labour) - are you willing to pay for such activities to be carried out? Your dollar is a vote for yes. (I conveniently don't apply this rule when I buy second hand.)

Obviously you will buy things. At this very moment I'm looking for a second hand violin for my son, and, damn it, the girl needs new undies, and they are one of the few things I won't buy second hand (I buy these). But I plan to use this list to stringently vet my purchases. I can see that retirement stash growing already.

6 March 2015

Biking will make me green, lean and wealthy

As anyone who's spoken to me in the last couple of weeks knows, I am very taken by Mr. Money Mustache's blog on financial independence, health and happiness via living an intelligent, frugal and physically active life. He's a bit of a greenie, too.

I guiltily suspect the reason that I think he's so great is that he thinks like me. Ha! Except he does so more clearly, and he's thought about a few things I haven't. Plus his writing is eloquent and very funny. He swears a bit, too, although in quite a thoughtful way.

As this photo shows, I have taken on board his thoughts about the benefits of bikes over cars. This post of his on it is hilarious; a favourite quote from it is this: "When I see a car ease into a parking spot, I always run to assist the driver with getting out into their wheelchair, but I am stunned to find that they usually have working legs after all!"

Allow me to be pious about my cycling set up. The bike cost $5 at a garage sale a few years ago, and it rides as well as any other bike I've had (that's not saying much though). The helmet and rash vest were a couple of bucks each from our local dump shop.

The greatest thing about this is that no one is ever going to steal this pile of rust, so I don't have to lock it up! It came with a lock, but I don't know the combination.

I'm loving the free feeling of riding a bike. What amazes me most about it is how fast I get to places. Sometimes I'm sure it's faster than a car, because I don't have to find a parking place and walk the rest of the way to my destination - I cruise right up to the door, lean my bike against something and walk inside. No lock, no fuss.

As for the 'lean' part of the title: well, it's obvious, isn't it? I'm using my food energy instead of fossil fuel energy to move myself around.

My next post will be on Mr MM's guide - and my guide - to buying less stuff, which is of course a cheaper, more environmentally friendly and clutter-reducing thing to do. It's all green, lean and wealth-making around here.

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