Archive for April, 2014

Food & nutrition

April 30, 2014

I’m interested not only in growing food, but its nutritional aspects as well and how they impact on total health. So Stephan Guyenet’s website, Whole Health Source is one of my must reads.

I like to eat, too (who doesn’t?), so I need to watch my weight (again who doesn’t?). What to watch the most? Fat or carbohydrate? Or just total calories, forget about where they come from?

This latest post from Stephan Guyenet gives some answers: Fat vs. Carbohydrate Overeating: Which Causes More Fat Gain?

It seems that:

…….the clear winner is the hypothesis that total calorie intake determines body fatness, but not the proportion of dietary fat or carbohydrate.  

So I just have to worry about the quantity of food (calorie intake) I eat, and not so much where it comes from. But then…..note the first comment following the post, re blood sugar metabolism.

It’s never easy, is it?

This is so impressive

April 25, 2014

I often wonder how people in industrialised societies will cope as climate change impacts more and more on food production and we transition from well-stocked supermarkets, through huge food price increases, to empty supermarkets. Most people wouldn’t know how to plant a seed or grow even a pot of parsley.

Every year millions of people in Bangladesh are affected by flooding and riverbank erosion, which leaves huge deposits of unfertile and barren silt and sand. Look at what they are doing with the technique of sandbar cropping:

I’m gob-smacked by their ingenuity and hard work. And deeply ashamed when I think that last year, with good soil and water laid on, I could only manage to harvest one pumpkin from a pretty ordinary crop.

We people in industrial civilisation just don’t know we’re alive!


(image courtesy of


April 17, 2014

Calm, sunny days. Gentle rain. Plants greening up and putting on new growth. Lots of work to do and lots being done. Not too hot to work. The nicest time of year in Melbourne.

The potato onions are going bananas in a wicking box:


This year I’m trying leeks in a wicking box:


When I’m growing them in the garden, I don’t build the soil up around them (to produce white stems), I use mulched bracken. It’s much cleaner and means no dirt gets between the layers of leaves. Because the wicking box isn’t deep enough to do this, I’ve added a ring of plastic gutter guard around the edge. That way I get 6-8 inches of mulch around the stems. The bracken helps to hold them upright as well:


I finished potting my strawberries into their wicking buckets:


They’re sitting on an upturned plant stand on the deck, on recycled fridge shelves. The legs of the stand sticking up don’t look very attractive until you realise they’re in just the right place to support a net at fruiting time. Voilà:


With the end of the tomato season, I move on to my winter vitamin C source…the Valencia orange. They’re small this year, because of the lack of summer rain, but there are plenty…enough for a vitamin C hit every day:


Speaking of tomatoes, there’s just one plant still going. It was given to me late in the season which is why it’s still fruiting. It’s called ‘Checkmate’. I can’t find anything about it on Google, but look at what it just produced:


The big one weighed in at 368 g and the other at 277 g. I hope the flavour is as big!

The first mushie of the season. Only a tiddler, but I will use it in a risotto with some of it’s bigger (purchased) cousins. I don’t think there will be many this year. We just didn’t get the early autumn rains:


I’ve removed the corn crop and mulched up the leaves, which went straight back on the bed they were grown in, as should happen, so that the nutrients the corn took up as it was growing are returned to the soil:


Don’t be fooled by those pie-in-the-sky schemes that propose to burn crop wastes for energy or turn them into ethanol so we can still drive cars. Keep removing nutrients from the soil and eventually it won’t grow anything. Of course in the industrial agriculture version, we just add chemical fertilisers—nitrogen made from natural gas (fossil fuel) and mined phosphorus (which is running out), and so on. The chemical load in the soil eventually kills the soil fungi which help the plants take up nutrients and you’re back to square one—depleted soil that won’t grow anything (and in the meantime you’ve run out of fossil fuels and phosphorus).

I didn’t get much of a yield from the corn plants. The male flowers appeared well before the females and had dropped most of their pollen before the girls appeared. I stopped wasting water on them when the weather got hot. I should’ve kept going, because they did set some cobs, but they were small and the poor fertilisation was evident. The last of the carrots (the tiny ones), in the next door bed, were picked as well:


My seed-grown quince tree flowered well last season and set a lot of fruit, but most of it burned or dropped off in the summer heat. The tree didn’t receive any water over summer, so I wasn’t surprised. But two fruit miraculously survived and grew to a good size:


They were a beautiful unblemished yellow (which hasn’t come out well in the photo) and were equally unblemished inside, unlike the ones I usually buy which, I think, come from local backyard trees. I’ve stewed them for breakfast.

Celery and dandelion in a wicking box for winter greens:


A lush crop of nettles growing in the shade under my tubestock plant stands. When I’m watering the tubes, the nettles get the overflow of water and nutrients. I just have to remember not to brush up against them when I’m wearing shorts!:


Dutch Cream potatoes are growing well. There are two other batches like this—Desiree and Kipfler. Now that I’ve found a good way of preserving potatoes, I don’t mind how many I grow:


Last year someone gave me some fresh figs. I can’t resist sowing all sorts of seeds, just to see if they’ll germinate. They came up easily and quickly, so now there’s a baby fig tree in the food forest:


I sowed bread wheat again this year. It germinated easily and a batch of self-sown chickweed decided to share its space. No problems; I’ll gradually weed it out for the Girls. It’s chook caviar to them:



This is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. I don’t use it much (so many other greens to choose from), but it makes a good ground cover and keeps the weeds at bay:


I’ve started sowing brassicas. There are still cabbage white butterflies about, but if I leave the seedlings in the polyhouse they get leggy. I wanted them in full sun so they’d be more compact, so I made a wire box to cover the seedling pots. I watched a butterfly hovering above in frustration—she could smell them but she couldn’t get in. Ha! Score—me 1 butterflies nil. These are four different kale varieties:



Well, that’s my autumn garden. Just to prove I’m not sitting inside playing computer games!

R.I.P. Mike Ruppert

April 16, 2014

Sad to read, at Dmitry Orlov’s blog, of Mike’s passing, especially that he took his own life. Peak oilers will know of Mike, of course. I could write more, but Mike Stasse, at Damn the Matrix, has said all I could say. His introduction to Mike’s writings was like mine. As Mike (Stasse) says, people  who carry the burden of what Richard Heinberg calls ‘toxic knowledge’, have to struggle hard against the ignorance and complacency of the general public and the politicians. I know, because that burden is mine, too. I read recently that Ruppert was suffering from depression, so maybe the news is not so surprising.

While you’re at Damn the Matrix, take a look at this post on the stupidity of the proposed new airport for Sydney. There is simply no future in fossil fuel-powered flight. None at all. Toxic knowledge indeed!

The Aussie meat pie

April 10, 2014

It needs no introduction to Aussies, but if you’re an overseas reader, then you need to know that the good ol’ Aussie meat pie (with lashings of tomato sauce) is a cultural icon, without which no Aussie football match would be complete.

If you’re not a footy fan, there’s always the supermarket freezer compartment, where the defrost, heat ‘n’ eat variety can be obtained.

I love a meaty-flakey-pastry meat pie, but I try to stay away from processed foods, remembering Michael Pollan’s advice (in In Defence of Food*), to not eat anything with more than 5 ingredients on the label. So it’s got to be a home-made variety.

I cheated and borrowed a piemaker from a friend:



I cheated again and used bought pastry but I made the filling.

Half a kilo of premium mince. Onion, garlic and parsley, chopped in the Thermomix:


Mix together and stir fry it all in the wok till cooked. I prefer to use a wok because there’s plenty of room to really toss it around without fear of any ending up on the bench or the kitchen floor:


Add flavours and seasonings of choice. I added some tomato relish, plum chutney (because I had a lot), a dash of Worcester sauce and I can’t remember what else. I kept tasting and stopped when I was happy with it. It shouldn’t be too sloppy.

I intended this to be frozen in batches, so pie-sized portions (about half a cup), go into small containers:


These ones lock together. Quite handy for stacking in the freezer:


A pastry cutter comes with the piemaker. It cuts a top and a bottom. Two pies to one sheet of pastry. The bottoms have 6 slits which, with a bit of manual dexterity and crimping of edges, can be formed into little cups. The tops stay flat:



Heat the piemaker till the green light says ‘ready’. Now comes the tricky bit. Without burning any fingers, skillfully drop the bottoms into the hollows, then fill with the filling. You have to be quick here, as the bottoms are already starting to cook. As you can see I made one meat and one apple and sultana (for dessert) and as you can also see, there isn’t time to get the lighting and the focus perfect (Nigella would  have her own expert cameraperson. I don’t):


Pop on the tops (again without burning fingers) and close the lid. While they’re cooking there’s time to wipe the greasy fingermarks off the camera. You need to check periodically, by lifting the lid. Not done yet:


Ah, that’s more like it. Doesn’t take more than a few minutes:


A squirt of Dijon mustard, some buttered broccolini, home-grown gold zucchini and that’s dinner:


And not a football in sight!

* I discovered there’s a free download of Pollan’s book here. Not sure if it’s complete or legal, or if Pollan gets anything out of it, but you can give it a go. Or do the right thing and buy the book.

I should also mention that you can make a heap of pies in one sitting and freeze them for later heating. The choice is yours.

Telling an oil company where to go

April 7, 2014

I get the morning paper delivered and read it over breakfast. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. The news is all bad—climate change; a scientifically illiterate prime minister who can’t accept it; domestic violence; abused children; an ambulance didn’t come in time and somebody died; another species gone extinct; pollies rorting the system; more roads being built—the depressing news is endless.

But not all the world has gone mad. Here’s a story that hasn’t (yet—I live in hope) made the news. A tiny English village has told an oil company to ‘frack off’ (love it!) and is building enough community-owned solar power to match the electricity needs of every home in the village. What a great initiative! The power of community at its best.

Time for something new

April 4, 2014

I’ve done wicking boxes. I’ve done chooks. I’ve done swales and hugelkultur. I’ve done drying food. I’ve even done solar.

It’s time for something new.

I’ve had several major projects on the backburner for ages. They include:

Making cheese: I make cottage cheese; that’s easy. I want to do more involved stuff like hard cheeses.

Fermenting: I make kimchi and yoghurt; that’s the extent of my fermenting skills. I want to extend ferments to other foods.

Build a rocket stove: I have electricity and gas for cooking. Both fossil fuels. Both with a limited future. I have kindling wood coming out of my ears. A rocket stove would make me independent of fossil fuels.

Bees: There aren’t many bees in my garden any more, even when there are plenty of flowers. Pollination is an important bee service. Maybe I could improve that situation with my own hives.

Most of these need work to get up and running, some minor, some considerable.

For hard cheeses, I’d need a full cheesemaking kit, including a cheese ‘cave’—a small refrigerator with a thermostat able to be set to proper cheese ripening temperatures. The only bit of kit I have at the moment is a cheese thermometer.

Fermenting would be easier to get up and running. I already have Sandor Katz’s excellent book on the subject:

saturday 010

Rocket stove? Where to put it? I’d need a proper undercover outdoor cooking area. There’s only the carport at the moment and while there’s room, it’s not perfect and I don’t want to rush into anything without serious thought.

Bees? I don’t want to do beekeeping as it’s done at the moment. I want the bees to do what comes naturally and the closest thing to that is a top bar or Warre hive. I like woodworking and I reckon I could make my own top bar hive. I’d still need protective kit and probably should take some lessons.

There’s one other project that has taken my fancy lately, thanks to some excellent posts from Kirsten at Milkwood Permaculture. Growing my own mushrooms. A shiitake log, to be exact. I have eucalypts and can provide fresh-cut logs. It’s only a matter of buying the special spawn, inoculating the logs and waiting for the mushies to grow.

Looks good doesn’t it? I can almost smell them cooking:

This week, Kirsten has another post about shiitake cultivation and increasing the vitamin D content of the mushrooms by putting them in the sun. People yes…but mushrooms! Who’d a thunk it?

And if I needed any more persuading, I opened my copy of Australia’s new permaculture magazine, PIP, which arrived yesterday, and there was another article from Milkwood about shiitake logs. Something is pushing me in that direction. I think I’ve found my new project.

March solar update

April 2, 2014

I’ve decided not to continue these updates in the same format as before. For one thing, if you haven’t got solar, you’re not going to be all that interested and if you have, then you’re going to be more concerned with your own output and not somebody else’s. Plus each new post is going to get longer and longer and more time-consuming to do.

So what I’ll do is just make a few general comments about what’s happening with it.

I’ve had solar for 6 months now. Spring equinox to autumn equinox, as it happens. The sun moving into the southern sky and then back out again—the best time for solar generation in this part of the world.

In September, the panels were being shaded in the late afternoon by trees on the north-west side of the house. As the sun moved further south, that disappeared. Now it’s happening again and will be more pronounced as we go into winter. Get rid of the trees? No, trees are too valuable in their own right. I’ll wait and see what winter generation is like. I’m tipping that summer generation will put me enough in credit to compensate for winter.

In any case, I’m only using 2-3 kWh per day from the panels and a further 2-3 kWh from the grid. Even on rainy, cloudy days, the panels haven’t produced less than 5 kWh per day. Maximum was 27.1 kWh on 7th December.

March averages:

11.3 kWh per day produced by the solar panels

2.1 kWh per day taken from the grid

9.7 kWh per day excess sent to the grid

3.9 kWh per day total consumption (grid + solar)

I still haven’t received a bill yet…well, at least, I’ve had two, but they were both wrong (solar generation STILL being counted as consumption), so my account is still on hold while they sort it out. I’m not fussed; if and when they get it right, by my figures I should be well in credit.

When I had the electric HWS removed and replaced with instant gas water heating, daily consumption from the grid dropped by half. Win-win there.

I’ll continue reading the meter daily until I’m sure they know what they’re doing as far as billing is concerned, but even so, I’ll continue to read at least once a week. I just don’t trust electricity companies. Someone remarked recently that they make banks look like guardian angels. Yes!

I’ll read the inverter daily until a year is up…that way I’ll have an idea of what solar is doing for me on a yearly basis.

I’m happy that my average daily consumption is 2-3 kWh. Before solar it was 10-12 kWh. That’s a whole lot of carbon I’m now keeping out of the atmosphere.