Soap making adventures

After a long absence, I finally have some time to catch up on this blog. To be fair, most of the past year has been taken up by the arrival of our first-born, and I intent to write about that journey later on. For now, here is my latest attempt at soap making.


I used the basic soap recipe from the Down to Earth blog, except I added some cinnamon powder. I wanted a slight scent, though it seems I’ve also created a colourful soap too.

Basically, I added about 12 grams of cinnamon powder to about 20 grams of oil, mixed this well, and then added this to the oil mixture prior to adding the lye mix.

The soap is now cut up, and resting on a drying rack for about 6 weeks so it can dry out and cure. At present the cinnamon smell is certainly noticeable, though it remains to be seen whether this will in fact last. The colour is definitely much stronger than what I anticipated!

For those looking at cutting back costs and being frugal, unfortunately the soap making process is not a cheaper alternative to the supermarket bars (if using good quality olive oil and coconut oil – I suspect if using generic vegetable oils it may end up cheaper), however, it is far, far superior. In fact, you really can’t compare the two. I will though, out of sheer curiosity, crunch the numbers on this batch and do a comparison with other soap brands just to see a cost comparison.

I make my soap using Australian extra virgin olive oil, and a good quality coconut oil. The soap I make is nourishing and I know exactly what goes in it. I used to use Dr Bronners soaps, but found them prohibitively expensive at around $5.50 a bar, so this was my solution for a good quality home-made soap.

Until next time,
Monica

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Nature’s bounty

It’s a funny one, isn’t it. When we lived in town, we had a pawpaw (papaya) tree, and hardly got any fruit off it due to root attack from a grub – the whole tree just started dying back, just as it had developed these nice green fruits on it. Alas, they never ripened…

Now that we live on acreage, I contemplated planting some and trying our luck again – and then Fireman came across one growing wild, and loaded with fat pawpaws.

papaya

Oh yes, quite the show offs I say. What is funny (or perhaps annoying and maybe quite brilliant) is that this tree grew wild, untended, no fertilisers (natural or otherwise), no extra water input, etc – and it thrived, exceptionally so.

So two of these were de-seeded, cut up, and made into a pawpaw lime jam.

These It was a small batch since it’s the first time I’ve made it and wasn’t sure if it would work out, but we tried it this morning with fresh pancakes and it was quite delicious. Not as strong in flavour as say, strawberry jam, but a very beautiful, fresh taste combining both pawpaw and lime.

Next on the list are pawpaw chutney and pawpaw pepper, using the seeds. Apparently you wash and heat the seeds in the oven and use them instead of pepper – very curious if this will work, but it’s worth a try. Though, we can actually grow pepper here if we wanted to, the climate is great for this as well. Just need time…

Of course, we’re fermenting some of the seed already in the hope of multiplying such a magnificent specimen… Time will tell.

Until next time,
Monica

 

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From the garden: successes and failures

Let’s start with what went well so far: below is our modest crop of sweet potatoes, all grown in a bathtub – technically, actually only about 1/4 to 1/3 of a standard bathtub was required, as the sprawling vines were mostly left to hang over the edge of the tub, thus saving the remainder of the space for other seedlings.

These babies went into an epic goat curry, if I may say so myself.
sweet potato harvest bathtub

Next – parsley, comfrey and some green manure, in the raised garden bed adjacent to our veranda. This bed used to have ornamentals, and the soil was exceptionally poor. Fireman added a couple of ute loads of cow manure, layered with straw, about 7 months ago. The earthworms that have emerged since are the size of my fingers, and doing rather well.

parsley

Also in the same front veranda raised garden bed: more sweet potato. This one has been left to grow rampant. We are in the “experimenting” stage with all of this.

sweet potato

The ramshackle set up below is Fireman’s first aquaponics set up: minimal cost, small in size, he has worked it all out and it’s a trial to see how to do it, what grows well, etc. Unlike most other aquaponics set ups around the world, we cannot use tilapia, since this is a declared pest species in Queensland, and it would be irresponsible to obtain some (if we could). I think Fireman ordered two different perch species, but I’m not entirely sure which ones they are. So far, so good.

aquaponics set up

These are the aquaponics cherry tomatoes, though they seem a bit big for cherry size. There’s also basil growing (prolifically).

cherry tomatoes aquaponics

And here are 3 pumpkins, none of which we grew – however, the 2 on the right were growing wild at the local green waste station down the road. No one ever planted or watered these, yet here they are. Spicy pumpkin soup will be a feature this winter.

pumpkins

And finally, here are our 3 New Hampshire chickens, happily roaming around. We usually have them locked in a chook enclosure when we are away and also at night – too much risk otherwise with wild dogs, neighbour’s dogs etc. The enclosure is reasonable in size, but personally I like to see my chickens wild and free, so I let them out whenever we are at home – and they love it…

new hampshire chickensThe one on the left above is not doing as well as the other two. She’s had a problem with a foot for a long time now – I checked and it wasn’t broken, no signs of disease or infection, but she had a strong limp all of a sudden (the neighbour’s dog had a go at them when they were locked up, it is possible she may have tripped or stepped incorrectly when the dog startled them…)

new hampshire chicken

They are rather beautiful birds, a bit bigger than Isa Brown. As a heritage breed they won’t lay as many eggs as the Isa Brown, however we still get 1 to 2 eggs a day (occasionally there is a day of no eggs now and then) – and I do suspect this is because one of them may not be laying, specifically the one that is not looking too well, but I’m not fussed – we get plenty for 2 people.

Below: something called duck weed. This stuff multiplies like bacteria in a petri dish. Fireman decided to get some to feed the chickens and the fish in the aquaponics set up.

duck weed

And now for some failures:

– the nasturtiums died – possibly lack of rain;
– the sage all got decimated by grasshoppers;
– any seeds planted in our bath tubs to germinate over the summer, and well up until now, mostly wilted and died from the sun and the heat. This includes about 80% of the rocket seed, all the coriander seeds, lettuce etc. This was both when we actually had a cover over the beds, which we took down in March, but even in early April it seems the sun is just too hot here. Next season we’ll have a proper shade cloth up, and I’ll actually hold back on any seed planting from December to March. Seasoned tropical gardeners know that summer is the time to put your feet up here (a bit like winter in the northern hemisphere), but I learn the hard way…
– all of the corn seed planted did not germinate, not one single one. We’re talking about 100 seeds plus. The first batch, I may have over-watered, plus the seed raising mix was not that great a quality. Upon retrieving the seeds, I found a lot had a white worm /larvae inside! The second batch, I changed the seed raising mix to a premium, and still nothing. This is not new seed, it is about 18 months old, so that could be it, but I just don’t know.

corn seed failure…Look at it all, so neat and barren…

And last, the darn grasshoppers have made a good dent in our struggling lemon tree. I spent some time during winter adding compost and worm juice, and watched with delight as new growth appeared so lush, and then…

lemon tree denuded

I don’t think there is a single leaf that has not been munched on. To be fair, we didn’t plant this or the lime tree behind it, it is not the best spot but never mind. The grasshopper season is swiftly coming to an end so fingers crossed it will recover.

Until next time,
Monica

 

Posted in Aquaponics, Chickens, Corn, Garden diary - April, Herbs, New Hampshire chicken breed, Parsley, Pumpkin, Sweet potatoes | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Epic kitchen failures: cocky apple jam

T1o the left you see a rather unassuming tree, looking rather straggly – this is the common native cocky apple, Planchonia careya.

It bears small green fruits, the cocky apples, which are not to be confused with feijoas (or pineapple guavas), though they certainly do look somewhat alike.

This is one of the few native fruit trees growing around our land. We don’t have many. We do have the ubiquitous mango trees and bananas, but those are not really native.

Anyway, the tree grows not far from our bedroom window, and I’ve taken great pleasure seeing its flowers and fruit grow and ripen.

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Naturally an abundance of such fruit brings nice cosy images of jam making to my mind, despite never having even tried the fruits before. Which says it all, I’m afraid, for if I would have tried one, I would have known it wouldn’t work.

3You see, first of all the fruit contains a fairly large among of round seeds which are hard and need to be removed. This, however, is not the primary reason it doesn’t make good jam.

The main reason, you see, is the fruit texture: it’s very much like avocado. In fact, in my research I did come across someone mentioning they do spread it on their morning toast, and that is a pretty good clue. Ever seen avocado jam? No, neither.

So anyway, one bright morning I gathered enough fruits in a bowl, and proudly set about cutting them, removing a thousand seeds, and trying to extract whatever flesh was left. I actually knew as I started doing this that it wouldn’t work, but in my boundless enthusiasm for a local home-grown jam, I kept going. Also I should say, the skin is very very hard (for a jam fruit) – even compared to something like a feijoa (which I had used to make jam back in New Zealand).

4 Well, to put it mildly it didn’t work – the fruit is not suited to jam making (and it does look atrociously bad once it’s been boiled with sugar, an off-putting brown colour…)

At least that was my experience, though I am keen to hear from anyone out there who may have done something similar successfully.

Still, I won’t give up on it entirely: the spread on toast idea seems pretty good, especially since the fruit does have a hint of feijoa about it.

Until next time,
Monica

Posted in Cooking, kitchen failures, Recipes | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ten books for ten dollars

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Above is my recent score from the local library – a great assortment of perfectly good books, with fantastic ideas, hints, tips etc on everything from gardening, to cooking, even raising pigs.

Admittedly I am not sure if we’ll ever keep pigs, although it has crossed our minds. A dairy cow is out of the question, since I am intolerant to cow’s milk. Goats are probably the most realistic option, but won’t happen until a few other things are in place.

DSCF7987My favourite is the Indian Spice Kitchen, which is a treasure of information and recipes about all sorts of Indian spices, flours, herbs etc. It is packed with photographs, not just of recipes but of images of India – and it’s a hardback too. There’s information on culinary uses, medicinal uses, and good detailed general information. Out of all of the books I got, this one looks to have been the most used.

DSCF7990The gardening books are fantastic – especially since one is actually an Australian one – mind you, Australia is so immensely vast no one book could really cover all the climatic regions and soil variability, so it is a general knowledge book – still, for one dollar!

What I find astounding is that these are perfectly good books, and the information they contain is really timeless – it’s not like it’s gone out of fashion! It saddens me to think they are not considered valuable any longer – I mean, I understand the need for a small local library to free up space, don’t get me wrong – I just thought less useful books could be sold instead. Oh well, sign of the times, I guess.

Despite my lack of posts recently, all is progressing well on our little 5 acre heaven. Fireman has set up an aquaponics system – from scratch nonetheless, and with second hand materials except for a pump, and the fish that are on their way. We now have 3 chickens again which are laying superbly – New Hampshire breed, and I will write a bit more about them soon enough.

I’ve made my first batch of mango chutney – we have 4 mango trees and a plethora of mangoes. It’s turned out pretty good, if I may say so.

Mango chutney in the making - that's a cinnamon stick you see in the middle.

Mango chutney in the making – that’s a cinnamon stick you see in the middle.

We have some big plans for this year. This includes getting the home tidied and clean throughout (this may sound like a normal job to most people, but the house we inherited was in a rather poor neglected condition inside), painting a bedroom, and possibly all the living room walls, giving the kitchen a spruce up, building up the garden beds, and also the aquaponics system, and getting enough fencing (a lot!) to completely fence a large area to have free range chickens.

We also plan to:
– set up a food forest
– make more home-made soap, balms, tinctures and vinegars
– get bees and learn how to keep them
– install an extra water tank and plumb some of the house to it
– maybe even do an outdoor shower – that’s something one can use 6 months of the year here (just think – no cleaning!)

Well that should keep us busy! Here’s to a fruitful 2015 to us, and all the folks out there in the homesteading / permaculture / organic gardening and sustainable homes spheres.

Until next time,
Monica

 

Posted in Frugal living, Home library | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Baby steps

 

Cherry tomatoes in August

Cherry tomatoes in August

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…and as they look now – rather tragic we reckon

Our yellow cherry tomatoes have fizzled out I’m afraid – although they are still producing a good crop. I think it’s some sort of virus or fungal infection that causes brown spots on the leaves and eventually the whole leaf stem dries out and dies.

DSCF7740 DSCF7789Personally I reckon the red cherry tomatoes have more flavour, but I’ll still save some seed from these guys as they are interesting and good looking in a salad.

The kale was a disaster, it got covered by aphids to the point that I used a chemical spray – clearly a momentary lapse of reason. The spray was given to me by a friend, but I’ll have to give it away – far too toxic for all the native bees, wasps and other critters that wonder in and out of our garden beds. Like this little native green frog, which made its home amongst the cherry tomato bushes, until they all dropped their foliage. You can actually see the brown spots I was talking about earlier, on the leaves below.

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Also a daily visitor are these tiny wasps (below), which seem to enjoy frolicking amongst the lettuce leaves. I have no idea why – possibly hunting caterpillars, but I am not sure.

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So no more chemical sprays – what was I thinking?!! The number one mistake I made was not tackling the aphid problem early on – I just forgot about it, and a week later it was too late. Next time – vigilance!

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Our main raise bed (above) hosts the compost bin, a butternut pumpkin, lettuce, asparagus, basil and nasturtium.

DSCF7799 DSCF7801The butternut pumpkin is clearly at home. I have two more vines in the bathtubs – they are great fillers and I loathe to buy them given how easily they grow here.

DSCF7802The nasturtium is slowly coming back to life – it nearly died from a caterpillar infestation. Again, I didn’t tackle it early enough, but when I did, I just spent a good hour pulling the little suckers off and squashing them.

DSCF7731The dill has been my pride and joy – perhaps she is my Green Ally? It has proven indispensable of late as Fireman has an addiction for fishing and we’ve relished fresh caught fish cooked with dill. Life doesn’t get much better than this…

DSCF7714Finally, I managed to capture this photo of our resident mama possum and her baby. If this was Aotearoa, they’d both be killed by now as they are such a detrimental pest over there. Here though, they are a protected species, and I’m enjoying seeing them through fresh eyes. I have no idea what they are eating – certainly not my tomatoes!! She uses a box on a top shelf in the shed as a nest and doesn’t seem bothered by our chatter.

Until next time,
Monica

 

 

 

 

Posted in Garden diary - October | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

New home, new gardens

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It’s a rather overcast and rainy weekend here in the tropical north. Unusual for this time of year – I’ve become accustomed to endless sunny winter days, so this weather ruffles my feathers a bit.

Well at least it gives me a chance to catch up on my blogs🙂 Above is a photo of our home taken today. There is so much space!! Personally I love tiny homes, so all this spaciousness is a bit odd.

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Veranda table carved by Fireman’s father (a carpenter by trade)

 We are still settling in, but here’s what we’ve done so far:

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Well, we actually moved the compost bin, AND the compost we already had in it (technically speaking, Fireman did the moving…). Good compost equals gold in my garden book, it’s a precious commodity. We placed the bin on one of the existing garden beds that surround the house (that’s the concrete water tank at the end).

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In the same bed I’ve got some nasturtiums growing and lots of dill seeds, plus a couple of asparagus plants.

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We actually moved our bathtubs which used to host the compost worms. We now grow a mix of vegetables in them – cherry tomatoes, bush beans, shallots and lettuce above…

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… and lots of dill (it’s indispensable, in my opinion – mix it with some feta or add it to fish), celery, and kale. The kale is already hammered by aphids – I don’t know how they found us in the middle of the bush, but find us they did. And multiplied prolifically. Will be spraying them tomorrow.

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Fireman, being a Virgo and all, decided to plant all 96 seeds of organic Jap pumpkin.

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Our property has a seasonal creek in it, and there are bananas growing on the banks – these were cut while green and hung up in the shed to ripen. If you leave them on the tree to ripen, the flying foxes will get to them. They are sublimely delicious, not overly sweet like the big bananas found in supermarkets.

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No witch would be complete without her familiar – this is Fae, and yes she is desexed, microchipped, registered, and is kept indoors at night, every night. Feral cats are such a detrimental pest to Australian wildlife – but I digress. Hopefully the garden bed above will have some lettuce, coriander and basil growing in it soon.

Until next time,
Monica

Posted in Garden diary - August | 3 Comments