Tag Archives: Sustainable Living

How to put up local food for winter

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Image: A picture of shelves full of glass jars with metal lids, filled with preserved natural food such as cherries, apricots, olives and tomatoes.

One of the best ways we can reduce our resource footprint is to cut down on food miles. By learning how to preserve local food ready to eat in winter, we can end up with a pantry full of cheap food that is tasty beyond anything you can buy in the supermarket. You also avoid producing heaps of waste, another plus for our planet.

It’s actually not that hard nor time consuming. I can fill these shelves with a few hours a month from November to February, and then in March I spend a few days on the tomatoes. The hardest bit is doing it for the first time – collecting your jars and preserving equipment, and figuring out where and when to get the best local surplus food.

Although it may seem strange to think about winter when the weather is just warming up, now is the time to get organised to make sure you can eat local food all next year. Start with cherries and apricots in November and December, and finish with tomatoes in March or olives in June.

I’ve written about how to do this in more detail here.

Ever thought of raising your own meat on a city block?

Image: A group of chicks in a metal cage with a pink wall background. One chick is on a natural tree branch.

I was vegetarian for 20 years. I’ve never had anything against people eating meat, though I’ve always thought it would be most ethical to raise the animals yourself, and probably kill them too. When I started to eat meat again for health reasons, I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and raise and kill my own meat. I felt that way I would truly understand and appreciate the animal I was eating.

There are other reasons why I believe it’s good to raise our own meat. The meat industry can be pretty cruel. I only eat meat from local farms where I’m pretty satisfied that they raise their animals well and kill them humanely. But even so, surely I could give them a better life in a suburban backyard than when they are raised on a commercial scale. Afterall, our home-produced eggs were so much better than the most expensive organic free range eggs we could buy. Like the eggs, I expected the meat to be more nutritious. Also I am concerned about the amount of wastage that occurs commercially. Despite repeated requests, I’ve never been able to obtain chicken heads or feet for soup. What happens to them all? Are they chucked out? We are in the habit of eating the muscle meat but not the organs (though they are very good for us), and in our society it’s rare to make stock from bones these days. By processing my own meat I could ensure minimal waste.

I also want to really understand how much food I could produce in my backyard. I already produced 80% of my family’s fruit and vegies. Could I produce a good portion of our meat onsite too? I wanted to find out.

I’ve blogged about my journey raising chicken.

Homemade Candles

Homemade Candles

I made these candles on our rocket stove. I’m so pleased with them. I love the soft lumpy forms, and every time I burn one I remember sitting out by the fire, feeding it with sticks, and the lovely calm feeling I had while I was dipping them into the wax.

I found on the nature strip, ages ago, a humungous fat candle – the kind that is impossible to burn down because it’s just too damned large. Obviously someone had give up. I’ve been melting it down in a frypan I got from the op shop, and using it to make my candles. When it runs out I’ll try and collect candles and bits of wax from op shops to keep up my supply.

Here’s how I make them:

I do it on a day when we’re cooking on the rocket stove, using twigs from around our garden, making use of bits of heat that would otherwise be wasted.

I melt wax in the fry pan, and then pour it into a tin. I’ve got a nice tall tin that used to have pineapple juice in it, but you can make candles from a regular tin too – they’ll just be short little things.

I take string I got from the 2 dollar shop – white cotton twine or whatever it is – and dip it repeatedly into the wax. Gradually it becomes fatter, and I stop when the candles are the right thickness for our candleholders.

Every now and then I need to put the tin on the rocket stove to re-melt the wax, and I need to melt a bit more in the frypan to top up the tin.

That’s it. It’s meditative and fun.

Here’s my candlemaking box, with all the “tools” I use – pretty simple really:

Homemade Candles 2

How to make a greenhouse tunnel to grow vegies during winter

Last autumn, I made myself a set of three greenhouse plastic row covers for my garden beds:

After trialling them this winter, I’ve decided they are definitely worth the hassle for a vegie garden in Melbourne.  I don’t think greenhouses are essential – with careful planning you can have vegies to eat all year round in Melbourne.  See my sidebar for how to really produce food in your backyard.  If, like me, you have a fairly limited space for your vegies, then the greenhouse covers can help get a crop in and out of a bed quicker.  I’m also hoping they’ll mean we get to eat summer vegies a little sooner, but that’s yet to be proven!

To make these greenhouses, I bought some “builder’s film” plastic from Bunnings.  I think it cost about $40 for a roll large enough to do three tunnels plus the cover for my greenhouse shelves which you can see in the background.

I used plumbing pipe to create the hoops, and thin steel stakes 1m high to hold up the plumbing pipe.  The reason the stakes are thin is so that the hoops will fit over them.  Originally I pushed six stakes into my garden beds, put three hoops over the top of them, and then draped the cover over that.  However, because my soil is so soft and fluffy, it wasn’t firm enough to hold the stakes.  So I bought some little u-shaped pipe-holder brackets (sorry, I don’t know the proper name for them!) and nailed them onto the sides of my garden beds.  Now the stakes slide neatly into them and remain properly upright.  The stakes I originally bought from Bunnings (metal with plastic casing) started to break, and I discovered that “metal” actually meant “very very thin and flimsy metal tubing, no stronger than the plastic”.  So don’t buy your stakes from Bunnings!  I took them back and replaced them with steel reinforcement stakes that I got from a building supply shop.

The builder’s film I cut to size, and then sewed with a wide zigzag stitch on my sewing machine.  I also sewed on a long plastic zip (don’t use a metal one – it’ll rust in the weather and you won’t be able to do it up), and then cut the plastic to create an opening where the zip is.  Then I sewed some strips of fabric to the corners and middle of the  bottoms of the greenhouse.  These hang down to the ground, and I place bricks on them.  If you don’t have raised beds, you can simply weigh down your greenhouse plastic with rocks.

As well as the faster growing crops, I’ve found the greenhouses very handy in terms of pest management.  Our local possum has not bothered our vegies, when the chooks break into the garden, they don’t get in, and the cabbage moths haven’t either.  So far this spring we’ve had a surprising lack of snails in these beds too – usually I need to be hunting for snails every night to stay on top of them.  So they are definitely a winner for me.  The drawbacks are that I must water manually, even if it’s been raining, and the garden doesn’t look as nice!  Actually that’s quite a big drawback, because I love walking around my beautiful garden and admiring all the food.  Now I walk around a plastic graveyard.  Yuck.  I fantasise about having a lovely glass structure over the entire vegie garden, which is somehow effortlessly dismantled over summer.  If anyone knows how to do this, please do share!

In the meantime, for serious food growers, I reckon the greenhouse is a great addition.  But if you just want to get started and grow some food, I think it’s low priority.