Eat more- waste less: Mushy rice experiment!

My kids are those annoying children that are super fussy when it comes to eating. At first doctors and professionals told me not to worry as they would grow out of it. Well they aren’t. In fact, they’re getting worse. I honestly have no idea on most days what to cook or make for school lunches. Too many days whole sandwiches come home. So I’ve taken to making a meal plan for breakfasts, lunches and dinners to ensure some sort of nutrition is reaching those little bellies.
On Thursday I was to give my son and daughter sushi. I thought I’d get all organised the night before and make the rice, and that’s when my rice disaster began.
Instead of having sushi rice, I had a lump of mushy rice. I tried to somehow make it work, but it didn’t. Instead I had to give them store bought sushi, but that still left me with my mushy problem. I couldn’t make myself throw it out, but I couldn’t eat it as it was, and so began the mushy rice experiment.
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My mum suggested that I make some sort of stuffed rice number. This is my recipe:
1 bowl of mushy Jasmine rice;
2 tablespoons of turmeric;
Olive oil;
1 small onion;
A cup of sultanas (I salvaged these from the little box of sultanas that you can buy from the supermarket. My daughter stopped eating them. They became a bit funny, but I kept them for cooking);
¼ cup pine nuts;
A pinch of cinnamon;
A pinch of salt;
Method:
Add a tablespoon of turmeric to the rice and set aside.
Chop the onion and fry over low heat until golden. Add the sultanas and fry for a few minutes.
Add the remainder of the turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pine nuts. Fry for another 3 minutes or so.

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This is the tricky part. You will need a bowl of water close by to stop the rice sticking to your hands and a bowl of flour.
Grab a small bit of rice and flatten in your palm. Add a little of the sultana mix to the rice, then add a little more rice, so that it becomes encased in the rice. You may need to dip it in flour to stop it being too sticky.
Then fry until it is quite crunchy on the outside. It should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. So the taste test?? It tasted good and nice to know that I avoided throwing them out.

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You can use other fillings. Get creative, but mostly try to avoid mushy ride. Remember not to overcook rice and add too much water to it to make sushi!

Spring time detox

Spring is in the air in Sydney. The smell of jasmine fills my backyard, flowers are out and after a very wet and cool August, the weather is slowly warming. My daughter is now five and a half months old and getting cuter by the day. She arrived into this world in a house full of madness. My son, then my middle daughter had the chicken pox, so we were confined to my bedroom in quarantine until the house was deemed safe for her to move around in. During this time, I read a lot and to keep me from going crazy my mum borrowed some magazines from the library. One of the magazines that she borrowed was ‘Green Lifestyle Magazine’ (http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/). It was while reading this magazine that I learnt about Palm Oil. I already knew a little about Palm Oil, but that article really opened my eyes, but first, some facts about palm oil.
What is palm oil?
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the tree Elaeis guineensis. The oil comes from the fruit and kernels of the tree. Most palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia (86%).
palm oil
What is it used for?
Palm oil has many uses. It’s used in anything from toothpaste, soap and shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning products to candles, biscuits, cereals, chocolate and ice cream! Even environmentally friendly, or organic products contain palm oil.
What’s the problem with palm oil?
The main issue with palm oil is that large areas of rainforest are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. This results in the loss of species and habitats for animals such as the Orangutan.
Additionally, the rainforests that are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations sit on top of peat bogs which are large stores of carbon. As the rainforest is cut and burnt, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.
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Is all palm oil problematic?
With so many products containing palm oil and its derivatives, it is unrealistic to rid the world of palm oil, so what alternative is there? There is a certification scheme called RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) which aims to ensure palm oil used is sustainably sourced. Though this is welcome, we must beware of greenwash and having marketing departments confusing consumers.
Firstly, just because a company is a member of the RSPO it doesn’t mean that they are using sustainable palm oil. Being a member of the RSPO means that they have made a commitment to ‘EVENTUALLY purchase sustainable palm oil, in most cases that commitment is to be in place by 2015’ (http://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/brand-palm-oil-statements).
Usually, if a company is using sustainably sourced palm oil, that they will display this logo and to complicate things further, if a brand states that they use sustainable palm oil, but don’t talk about whether this is certified, then what they may be doing is buying GreenPalm certificates to offset their usage. GreenPalm SUPPORTS the production of sustainable palm oil, BUT the physical palm oil used in the product is not certified.
rspo_certificate_logo_thumbnail
Now, armed with more knowledge on palm oil, I decided to do some researching to see what I may have, which could potentially have unsustainable (bad) palm oil. When I looked into this website, I was left gobsmacked: http://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/products-australia . What I found particularly interesting, and concerning at the same time is that palm oil is referred to by some many names, which makes it difficult for many to decipher whether products that they buy contain palm oil. Here are just some of the names by which palm oil is known (for a more comprehensive list of names, please see: http://www.palmoilinvestigations.org/Fold%20up%20ingredients%20list-1.pdf):
• Vegetable oil;
• Elaeis guineensis;
• Elaeis oleifera;
• Sodium lauryl;
• Laureth sulphate (can also be derived from coconut oil);
• Cetearyl alcohol;
• Palmate, palmitic acid or Cetyl palmintate;
• Glyeryl stearate; or
• Sodium kernelate.
With my magnifying glass in hand, I set about going through the myriad of everyday products in my home to find whether they contain palm oil and unfortunately I found many. In fact, going through the listing of products from the list in the link above and my fridge, bathroom, kitchen etc, I was overwhelmed.
Here is just a sample of some of the products that I have on my ‘no, does not contain good palm oil’, ‘yes, contains good palm oil’, ‘Don’t know’! This is only a sample though. With limited nap times, I couldn’t go through everything in my home.
???????????????????????????????

The bad list
The bad list

Not sure if these contain unsustainable palm oil
Not sure if these contain unsustainable palm oil

So with spring in the air, I’m on a palm oil detox mission! I expect that I will not rid my home of unsustainable palm oil altogether, but I hope in the next 6 months to reduce the unsustainable palm oil present in my home by 50%. I will report on this over the next 6 months and will share any tips and difficulties I face. I look forward to you sharing your journey also.
Resources
Wading through the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of this issue is difficult. You almost need a chemistry degree to understand it despite best intentions, however this website is useful and there is an App that should help when out and about shopping: http://www.orangutans.com.au/Orangutans-Survival-Information/Helping-you-buy-responsibly-Palm-oil-free-alternatives.aspx?gclid=CJXu1pX1l8ECFVUAvAod-CAAfQ
Other resources include:
https://www.facebook.com/palmoilproductsinAustralia
http://www.ethical.org.au/know-the-score-in-the-store/
http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/
http://www.zoo.org.au/get-involved/act-for-wildlife/dont-palm-us-off
https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/palm-oil-shopping-guide/id671945416?mt=8
http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/
orangutan

Summertime!

It’s summertime in Sydney and one of the best things about summertime is my veggie patch! Nothing gives me more pleasure than strolling around my backyard and checking my vegetables – their progress… Do my plants look happy or not? Ooohhh…look at that! etc
This is year two of the wonders of summer vegetables. Last year my veggie patch yielded many summer delights and interestingly my successes last year are my failures this year and vice versa.
As I have 1.2m x 1.2 planter boxes, I have been trying to practice the idea of crop rotation and companion planting. Last year this worked overall and I tried to incorporate these principles this year also. These principles state that you should not plant the same things in the same spot every year. This is to maintain the health of your soil and vegetation. I have been interested in practicing this for my vegetables from the Cucurbita family (Zucchinis, cucumbers, squash and pumpkin). The reason for this was to ensure the second season of Zucchinis for example did not get any diseases from the first season. Last year towards the end of summer all my Cucurbita family vegetables ended up dying – having suffered a bad case of a fungal disease (white fluffy spots all over the leaves). I wanted to avoid that this year.
This sounds great in theory, however, one of the lessons I learnt last year is that Zucchinis grow and spread – so this year I tried to spread out my Cucurbita seeds between the different planter boxes. So all my planter boxes have something from the Cucurbita family growing in them . Essentially, what this means is that I was not able to totally practice crop rotation for zucchinis this year.
If you want to know more about this concept, please check out this fact sheet: http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s972741.htm
So what grew this year? Pretty much everything that didn’t grow so well last year:
• Lebanese cucumbers – I am very excited about this. I cannot believe the amount of cucumbers I have harvested – daily! I eat them straight off the vine. LOOOVE cucumbers! And this is the first time I have ever succeeded in growing them.
• Tomatoes – they went gangbusters last year and this year actually. This year, they self seede, so I didn’t even plant them. They just grew from the tomatoes that feel into the planter box last year;
• After my failure to grow eggplant from seed, I bought some seedling and to my complete and utter delight, I had some lovely shiny purple eggplants to savour this year. I am so excited about this development also – first time ever I have managed to grow eggplant;
• Then what do you know – another success? My capsicum! Last year I planted them and they didn’t grow. I forgot about them and went to the garden one day to find a beautiful shiny and big capsicum staring at me. I was like a child in a candy store. Running and telling my husband to ‘quick – run – look! A capsicum!’
• Okra – I do love Okra and they have provided me with a bountiful harvest this year. Yum-o!
• My herbs actually have grown well. Last year I was really struggling, but this year it is so lovely to go out and pick fresh basil, thyme, sage….
• My Zucchinis have grown okay – but nowhere near as good as last year when I could not eat them fast enough;
• Squash have been okay too, but the plants are definitely infested with that fungal disease;
• Beans; and
• My Butternut squash is slow going, but when I look at those beauties growing slowly in the sun, I am very excited by all the delightful dishes I can make out of them.
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The main challenge I am facing in my garden however is the fungal disease of the cucumber and zucchini plants. I found this recipe in my organic gardening magazine which I used to good effect a few times, but I think you have to keep applying, which I will HAVE to do this weekend as my cucumbers look like they are suffering a little:
• Add one drop of vegetable oil and one drop of detergent to two litres of cool water. Add four level teaspoons of bicarb soda and mix thoroughly. With a sprayer apply to both sides of the affected leaves and all over the plant. The idea is to inhibit the growth of the fungus by making the foliage of the plant alkaline.
I feel there is much for me to learn and I look forward to my crop next year where I hope to build on my successes and learn from my failures of the last two summers.

Can Collaborative Consumption Save the World?

Since moving back to Sydney, there have been some terms that I was not used to hearing when I lived in the UAE, like the GFC (Global Financial Crisis). It’s not that people didn’t talk about it – it’s just that it wasn’t called the GFC (Australian’s love to shorten words!).

Another term that I have come to hear, particularly since returning to work has been ‘collaborative consumption’.  What is collaborative consumption? Well in simple terms, it is the notion of ‘sharing is caring…’ and ‘one person’s waste is another’s treasure’ – you know what you tell your kids constantly as they grab toys from each other and fight over things.

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In the context of the adult world, ‘sharing is caring’ is being facilitated by technology and internet based groups like ‘Freecycle’ , ‘Airbnb’ and ‘Swaptree’.  These sites help connect the people that have something to give with those that want that item/good/service. 

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You could say that as a result of the GFC, that Collaborative Consumption has grown significantly. Once you hit a point where you look back at the rapid consumerism that typified life before the GFC, you start to think ‘goodness – did I need all that stuff’? ‘who convinced me that I needed all that stuff?’ ‘now that I have all this stuff that I don’t use, what do I do with it?’

I don’t think the idea of collaborative consumption in itself is anything new. I mean surely people gave away their unwanted baby clothes and toys before? And surely people let each other borrow things? And what about libraries and video stores?

What I do think is that now, through the internet your network can be expanded significantly beyond  your friends and neighbour and the types of goods swapped or traded can vary a lot more from an old bike to office space or your knowledge. It is a great way of connecting with other like minded people and helps create a sense of community, even if it is in cyber spaces.

Now the question is: can collaborative consumption save the world? While I don’t think it can fully save the world, I believe that it is an exciting time to be looking and re-defining our notion of ownership – hey it might even free up a lot of room in your house and also save you money. I think it also helps to elongate the life of products, which is so important in reducing wastage and managing resources more efficiently.

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While I have signed up to ‘Freecycle’, I have not actively used it, but I can give some examples from my life more recently and really, it has just been about talking to friends, neighbours and colleagues:

–          I recently went camping and rather than go and buy all the camping stuff, I borrowed most things from a close friend’s family for this trip. I hope to continue to do this, rather than go and buy all camping gear that will inevitably sit in my garage gathering dust for the 98% of the time I don’t use it;

–          All the clothes and shoes that my sister has given to me that my daughter now gets to enjoy. It has saved me a lot of money and she has great fashion sense, so I never have to worry about my daughter not having a nice dress or something warm to roll around in;

–          The Thomas the Tank Engine set borrowed from my sister in law. It has made my son one very happy chappy and has saved me a lot of money in buying all the Thomas figurines, bridges, cranes etc for this phase in his life (who knows he is particularly obsessed with trains and it may last….);

–          Going over to our neighbour’s house to cut some wood using their power saw, saved my husband a lot of energy;

–          Having my family close means that we can often share food. When I haven’t cooked, or can’t be bothered cooking to have a healthy home cooked meal from my mum is so great. I try to return the favour also!

–          Sharing gardening tips and seeds with colleagues and friends. After all sharing is caring!

So how do you start to do this?

Check out some of these websites:

–          https://www.freecycle.org/ whole lotta things people want to give away or swap

–          http://www.jayride.com.au/ helps you get to your destination without your own car

–          https://www.airbnb.com.au/ have a holiday cheaply!

–          http://www.swapstyle.com/ stay fashionable through this clothes swapping website

–          http://www.meetup.com/ meet people that share your ideas and passions

These site are only a start. I’m sure there are many many more.  You might even want to start your own group.

Do you have any ‘sharing is caring’ examples to share with other ‘Eco-mummy’ readers?

Further reading:

http://www.ted.com/talks/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption.html

http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com/

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Organic garden winter wonderland

I loved creating my veggie patch in my backyard last year. Over summer I had many days filled with wonder at what was growing in my backyard. It was also a great opportunity to get my children involved and help them learn about where their food comes from. Also it was a cheap way of eating organic!

My daughter watering her plants
My daughter watering her plants

But alas, summer is definitely over in Sydney and many of my summer veggies were removed to make way for winter ones. After a little research on what winter vegetables exist and what would grow in my garden I came up with my list of goodies:
• Carrots;
• Beetroot;
• Kale;
• Turnips;
• Spinach;
• Spring onion, onion;
• Snowpeas;
• Lots of herbs!
Well the list is not as impressive as my summer vegetables, but given the number of things I was growing, I am trying to be more sensible and scale things back a little.
To prepare I visited my compost which has been slowly composting vegetation and food waste. I saw slowly because I have left it to mature for many many months. It is taking a long time because it is completely shaded, hence once I use the compost I want to move my compost bin to a sunnier area.
This addition of compost was obviously good for my plants, but I think that there were seeds that had not died off, so my veggie path became overrun with weeds like onion weed. This has become confusing, as I don’t know if any of my onions/ spring onions grew at all. When they are little, they look the same I think!
I am also trying to get a double benefit in planting some snow peas in all my garden beds. I am hoping that they will add some beneficial nitrogen fixing bacteria to my soil in preparation for my summer crop.

My blueberry plant. I have some planted in the ground, but don't think they are in the ideal spot, so I am trying to grow one in a pot. Let's see how I go
My blueberry plant. I have some planted in the ground, but don’t think they are in the ideal spot, so I am trying to grow one in a pot. Let’s see how I go

A very old lemon tree that just keeps on giving.  maybe it was a little bit of the love I gave it over summer, but the crop this year is A LOT better than last year. Much juicier.
A very old lemon tree that just keeps on giving. maybe it was a little bit of the love I gave it over summer, but the crop this year is A LOT better than last year. Much juicier.

My special looking carrots, but damn they taste good!
My special looking carrots, but damn they taste good!

I planted my beetroot in summer and let me tell you, I don’t know what the problem is, but honestly it is taking SO long for them to grow. I mean they’ve been there for like 6 months and all I feel is a little bulb!
My carrots however are a delight. I am so in love with my carrots! I am like a super excited child when I pull and a big (if somewhat strange looking at times) carrot comes out. And the smell, oh the smell. If you were to see me, I am sure you would think me strange, but the smell of carrot taken straight out of the ground is so beautiful. When I do pull them out, I just stand there inhaling their aroma!

My ever slow growing beetroot, though I do at least pick the leaves off sometimes and include them in salads.
My ever slow growing beetroot, though I do at least pick the leaves off sometimes and include them in salads.

Snowpeas
Snowpeas

Tomatoes and nasturtium growing side by side.
Tomatoes and nasturtium growing side by side.

Fresh dill...grown from seed. It took a while but it got there.
Fresh dill…grown from seed. It took a while but it got there.
Kale
Kale

Turnip in the ground. I never knew it would have such a large amount of foliage.
Turnip in the ground. I never knew it would have such a large amount of foliage.

Turnip out of the ground. It tasted really good in my soup.
Turnip out of the ground. It tasted really good in my soup.

My other vegetables are growing well too and it is only last week that I removed my tomatoes. What a good crop they were. They became like a baby to my mum and I, but especially my mum who tended to them every day. So many tomatoes grew, but towards the end, they would stay green and not ripen. So I am preparing for my summer season of tomatoes.
Who knew that I would have so much winter heartiness and delicious veggies growing in the colder months! Do you have any suggested winter vegetables that I should try?

Addressing Energy Poverty in India, one Solar light at a time

Solar_lighting_India_Image_Acumen_Fund
Addressing poverty is a daunting task. Firstly there are a number of reasons why poverty exists. These include environmental factors, lack of access to natural resources like fresh water, hunger, social inequality, lack of education, lack of access to healthcare and lack of employment opportunities.
I believe that there are a few fundamental things that, if addressed, will improve the lives of many of those living in poverty. These key factors include education, healthcare, food and shelter.
One of the other forms of poverty is energy poverty. What this term refers to is the lack of access to energy which results in the use of kerosene and other forms of fuel which have health impacts on those that use it.
The World Economic Forum states that “Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic development. In the developing world, energy poverty is still rife. Nearly 1.6 billion people still have no access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).”
This is something that I experienced first-hand when I visited India in 2004. So many hours of the day were spent without electricity. Many businesses would have to operate their own diesel generators which have their own environmental problems, such as air pollution.
There is one organisation though that is aiming to change that: Pollinate Energy (http://pollinateenergy.org/about/). I first heard of Pollinate Energy through one of its founders who is a friend of a friend! She is one of the founders of this organisation which is aiming to end energy poverty in India through locally manufactured and affordable clean energy solutions. Their current program is to provide solar lights in homes thereby eliminating the use of Kerosene. We all take for granted that we can switch on a light and are able to see and work and operate. Many people do not have this luxury and these are the people that Pollinate Energy want to help.
Pillinate Energy

What I love about this initiative is that they are working with employing people from the local community and providing them a business opportunity to sell these solar lights to households in their community. They are therefore addressing a number of things that lead to poverty: employment, energy and health.
I also love that they want to share their passion and knowledge with other like-minded people through their Young Professionals Program. The Young Professional Program is aiming to foster future leaders through a two week program based in Bangalore, India.
If you would like to know more and to participate in the Young Professional Program, please go to: http://pollinateenergy.org/our-programs/ypp/ and sign up! Entries close 25 June.

My Solar-rific Success!

I wrote a post some months back about the introduction of the carbon tax and my monstrous winter electricity bill (which was close to $AUD1000. I was hoping my solar panels installed would help, but the next bill came and despite a drop which looking back on it was quite impressive, it wasn’t the raging success I was hoping my solar panels would be ($787.48, an approximately 23% reduction in my bill). Since the BIG bill I had done some work to reduce my energy use. I reduced the use of my nasty heaters and even some nights did not use them at all in my sub-zero room (yes I am exaggerating somewhat). I also was careful about the use of my appliances during peak times (not really reducing my use, just reducing peak energy demand from my home) and was even more careful turning off lights. Therefore the reduction which I can now clearly see, was not as much of a reduction in my bill as I was hoping for. Now, I have been in my home for less than a year, so did not have good data behind me as to what my normal usage would have been like in the same time last year without my solar panels. I have not been able to do a ‘like for like’ comparison.
So it was with some trepidation that I opened the electricity bill the last quarter and what awaited me?

Yippee!
Yippee!

This means that I have reduced my energy bill by as much as 83%!

I nearly started to do a ‘happy dance’. So why is this bill so much lower? Many reasons, but here are some:
• Summer – longer days, more exposure of my panels to the sun’s rays;
• No longer using my energy sapping heaters; and
• More vigilance about my off peak use and more clever use during sunny ‘solar’ days. So for example I try not to run many appliances at once even when the sun is shining on my panels. I still use the energy saving mode on my dishwasher and washing machine during days when I know my solar panels would be producing plentiful energy.
My bills this time was the same as my sister’s and she works all day, lives in a small studio and she has no kids and is pretty careful with her energy use also. Whereas I am in a house, with three adults (my father lives in my granny flat and has electric heating and cooking) and two children.
It will be interesting now to see what my winter bill looks like, but before that I think I will go an buy more energy efficient heaters and more winter woolies.

The Garden, Oh the Garden – Part 3a: Growing Organically?

You can tell when my husband has gone grocery shopping – home brand things everywhere. When I shop, I try and include some organic vegetables and fruits and other produce in the mix. I’m not sure why my husband ignores the good example I try to set. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. That I should be happy that doing the grocery shopping is one of the only chores he does.

I always thought that when back in Sydney, I would try and buy more organic things and I have tried to do that to a degree. I generally find it okay when something is even double the price of non-organic, but when potatoes and onions cost more than twice as much as standard ones, I do baulk and go for the non-organic variety.

I suppose first I should really state why I am bothering at all. For me personally, I believe that there would be health benefits to eating organic. Whether they have been scientifically proven or not, I don’t care about. I can see how eating organic is going to be worse.  Also, I went to a compsting workshop organised by my local Council where the presenter (Peter Rutherford) made a convincing argument about the acidification of our bodies, which can lead to many ailments including cancer and the fact that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were contributing towards this.

Then there are the many environmental benefits in reducing or eliminating pesticide and synthetic fertilizer application on a wide scale: to the air we breathe, to the water that we drink, to the soil that sustains us and the diversity of life (biodiversity). Having said that, I like many have budget constraints. I know many people that are very ‘pro’ organic will always argue that in the past people were used to spending more of our pay packet (as a proportion) on food compared to now. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that I have a lot of bills and if there are cheap ‘home brand’ alternatives, then it can be hard to resist saving money on food.

So what should I do? Maybe concentrate on foods that have been found to have a higher percentage of pesticide residues, so as to focus my ‘buy organic’ efforts.  What are these foods?

  1. Apples are the worst culprits – thankfully the Coles organic apples are not too expensive, so I buy those;
  2. Celery – quite a lot more expensive, so I haven’t bought organic yet;
  3. Strawberries – hard to find in local supermarkets or fruit shops;
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Capsicum
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale

A lot of the fruit and vegetables on the ‘bad’ list are hard for me to find, unless I go searching for an organic shop and there aren’t any in my local area.

So this summer, as I have been a working bee in my garden, I decided to establish my own organic vegetable haven!  Firstly I observed over winter, where in my garden gets sun and one of the main areas was by the fence between my neighbor and I in my backyard. So I moved some plants I had recently planted and bought some planter beds from Bunnings (a local hardware store). They were not super cheap and are not so great in quality, but being hard pressed for time as I am, I bought them anyway. I bought six (two were from Aldi, which were much better in quality)  1.2m x 1.2 m wooden boxes.

I then bought some soil from Bexley Sand and Soil Company. It is supposed to have been accredited to Australian Standard 4419, but when I got the soil it was full of contaminants like plastic, glass and other organic waste. Obviously this soil is made from waste management companies and while theoretically I support this, the sight of plastic and other goodies did not fill my heart with joy. I had however bought too much soil, so had to use it all anyway and decided that I would add organic fertilizer like ‘Blood and Bone’, worm castings and worm juice from my worm farm to improve its productivity.

I also did my research about companion planting (where you plant vegetables and fruit that like to be near each other – like tomatoes and basil – to ward off insects and other nasties), so I had all my garden beds planned out!  For more information on plants that like to be near each other – go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants

So with my garden beds filled, the fun part began. Rather than buy small vegetable plants from nurseries, I decided to grow my own from seed and not any seed – organic seeds. I went online to Eden Seeds http://www.edenseeds.com.au/content/default.asp and went shopping!

Shopping online is so easy and I have to admit I kind of went nuts – I bought so many seeds and in hindsight – too many. I bought different varieties of some vegetables, rather than one.  I just couldn’t wait to get them in the ground.

Here is my list: marigolds, Nasturtium, okra, radish, Greek Oregano, Egyptian beetroot, little finger carrots, Carrots all seasons, cayenne peppers, Californian wanderer capsicum, white Lisbon shallots, Lebanese Zucchini, black zucchini, Waltham butternut pumpkin, sweet corn, button squash, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Swede turnips, silverbeet, Lebanese cucumber, snowpea Oregon, beans, eggplant, coriander, cilantro, dill, leek, English spinach, Onion Gladalan, Red onion, iceberg lettuce, rocket, Cos lettuce, asparagus, lettuce lollo rosso, parsley, basil….phew! I know! That was a few hundred dollars worth of seeds alone.

What is my planter box ‘map’? in each box I have planted some marigold and nasturtium and the following:

Box 1: tomatoes, basil, capsicum, chillies, squash and snow peas;

Box 2: corn, beans, cucumbers and Lebanese zucchini;

Box 3: Black zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant and okra;

Box 4: sweded turnips, radish, beetroot, carrots, shallots

Box 5: silverbeet, English spinach, onions

Box 6: the different lettuces, rocket

In other pots I then planted seeds for my herbs. I also bought some strawberry plants and blueberries.

Now my house probably sounds like a garden of eden brimming with fruit…well I am having some successes and failures, which I’ll talk more about in my next post…until next time – happy gardening – hopefully organically!

My bany tomatoes

I decided to plant things into a tray first and then plant them in the ground/. Here are my corn and other vegetables enjoying the sun!
I decided to plant things into a tray first and then plant them in the ground/. Here are my corn and other vegetables enjoying the sun!

Jayden & Mahya 038

My garden beds, ready to go
My garden beds, ready to go

The Garden, Oh the Garden – Part 2: The plants!

 

As I sit here lamenting another wet day in Sydney (it has seriously felt like it has not stopped raining in Sydney for the last year!) I take solace in the fact that my plants will be happy. If you read part 1 of this series, you will know that I have removed a lot of stuff from my garden – weeds. Now I want to talk about what makes many gardener’s hearts skip with joy: the chance to create a garden through planting.

Before travelling and having children I worked as a bush regenerator. It was a job I enjoyed and the study and practice of bush regeneration made me very snooty about anything other than native plants. Not only native, but locally indigenous. At my parent’s house (I lived in an apartment) I sought to create this bush garden paradise, but my parents sold their house and I never really got to see the garden established.

Now I don’t hold such snooty ideals. When I realised that after my labour of weed removal, I would be able to treat myself to new plants, I immediately set off to a commercial nursery, rather than the community nursery I would have once shopped at. Over the last year or so, whenever I go to a nursery, I am like a child in a toy shop. I have a skip in my step and I am simply overwhelmed by all the choices. I fill my trolley with all sorts of goodies and I have to admit, a lot of flowering plants. After I lived in a desert surrounded by nothing but buildings and sand, I really felt like having colour and beautiful flowers around me.  Unfortunately a lot of nurseries are a bit far for me to travel to, so a lot of my plants have been bought at the local Bunnings, where there isn’t the most amazing variety. I know that my husband always gets nervous when I tell him I’m going to Bunnings, because he knows that some hundreds of dollars will be billed onto the credit card!

I once used to scoff at gardens like mine as being ‘so typical’. Now I love these ‘typical’ features. I did try and rectify this recently by participating in my Council’s ‘Backyard Habitat’ program. I have to admit though that a lot of my native plants have been removed or not survived the 15cm mulch accidentally placed over them (more on that later).

So what have I planted? Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum), Magnolia, Cammelias, Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), some succulants, lavenders, roses, Rhododendron, kangaroo paws (Heamodoracae), Westringia, Grevillea, bottlebrush (Callistemon), some Cordylines, small ficus plants, and flowers like petunias and pansies. While this is not a comprensive list, it gives you an idea of the type of things I’ve planted.

Now that it is nearing summer, I have been able to observe the plants over the year and also the movement of the sun over the seasons. I now know where in my garden consistently gets sun and where it is always shaded.  I have an idea of the type of planting I want and where.

I do admit however, that I am not so good yet at all the things I have to do to maintain the plants, but as this is the first year, I think I will learn these skills in the years to come.

Here are some photos of before and after the new plants…..now if only it would be a little sunny, so I could go out and sit to enjoy these beauties!

 
Before – overgrown with sgraggly azaleas, privet and cassia

 

After – cleared out and more modern
Before – Front of the house
Pretty….
After – Pink Kangaroo Paw. Not all of my kangaroo paws have survived, but these are doing well.
This Ficus ‘alley’ was an investment, but it does make the entrance to the house look so much better than before.
These Rhododendruns are gorgeous!
My poor Natives corner has seen better days. This is my next project!

 

Before
After – Star Jasmine likes its new spot. I had it somewhere else and it was struggling, then I moved it here by this fence…I think it’s happy!

 

Lavendar is one of my favourite scents. I just love the smell of lavendar and mine thankfully for now, are thriving.
The rainforest I’ve created under my lemon tree. This part of the garden is always shaded, so the ferns and bromeliades like it here.

 

The Garden, Oh the Garden Part 1: The weeds!

As I sit here nursing my ganglion cyst, I ponder on what may have caused this strange knob to appear on my wrist. While I know that these things happen – my theory is my garden!

My garden has been my project since moving back. While living overseas my father maintained the garden to a degree, by mowing the lawn and general upkeep. Before I arrived my mum spent hours trying to make it presentable to me.  Well once I arrived, I was initially pleasantly surprised. Soon however, the true nature of my garden began to present itself to me. The main culprit was the ‘un-killable’ weed – Peruvian Lilly (Alstroemeria aurea). It had never been properly removed and had taken over my garden, getting in all sorts of crevices, under paving, walls, bricks etc and so began my battle to correct this.

A pretty, but very persistent weed
I haven’t been able to eradicate the weed becuase its tubers are sometimes hard to take out, especially when they get tangled amonst other plant roots.

When I attended a composting workshop run by my local Council, the presenter (Peter Rutherford) encouraged us to enjoy the diversity of our garden and while this flower may look pretty in photographs and I might have one day even looked upon it fondly while walking the Inca Trail in Peru (or as some would call it the Quechua trail because the Incans never walked the trail, but were carried by the Quechuans), I knew that it had no place in my garden.

I have often wondered about what makes a weed a weed – like why did I have this reaction to this flower (my husband thought it looked nice – much to my horror!) and my thought is that weeds generally are not happy inhabiting their little niche area – they have to take over everything. Like this Peruvian Lily. If it was in a small part of the garden I would have not gotten so worked up, but no, it had to try and take over the whole garden and I wanted to do other things with those spaces and there lies my definition of a weed.

This weed spreads by these bobbules as I call them, which are water filled tubers. They break off easily and you need to get every damn one out, because each one is a new plant. Over the last year I have spent hours and I mean hours over weekdays and weekends tracing, digging and pulling this weed out. It has at times felt like the un-winnable war. Like there has been a standoff between me and this plant.  I have tried to like it – have tried to not care about it so that I may enjoy some time with my kids over the weekend, but I have always been itching to get to the garden to pull this weed out. I have dug, pulled, poisoned (does not work) and covered this weed. After nearly one year, I can claim some success.  It is still around, but much less so.  Some of the other weeds that have also called my garden their home include:

  • Privet;
  • Asthma weed;
  • Ochna;
  • Cassia (Senna pendula);
  • Turkey Rubarb (Acetosa sagittata) another killer weed I spent many hours digging up;
  • Tradescantia.

While all of these have presented their own special challenges (and still do), they are now manageable.

As I look across my mostly Peruvian Lily free garden, what do I see? Neater and tidier garden beds, vegetables and kangaroo paws and other native plants. So while I sometimes questioned my own sanity, I think it was worth the very hard work over the last year.

This is part one of my garden journey over the last year. Stay in touch to hear more from my garden adventures.

This was taken while my house was being rented. My previous tenants weren’t into gardening much. When I moved back, I have to say it didn’t look this bad – largely thanks to my wonderful parents. The weeds were there though, underground and lurking to pop up when given the chance!
I removed all the Turkey Rubarb, then planted with some hardy natives, mulched and scored these figurines from my mother’s old shop. Looks totally different to the way it once was.

I am yet to learn the art of taking care of roses, but a prune over winter and some love, organic fertiliser and much rain has yeilded me these beauties. They smell just like rose water and fill the backyard with such a beautiful scent. I say roses need to smell and mine do thankfully!