Nature Provides

We are well into an odd spring this year. Bush fires rage in the state to our north while we are hammered with hail. The temperature fluctuates from 12 degrees Celsius to 27 then back to 20 with heavy rain then 25 again with full sun. All in 4 days.

It places great strain on the body and you see the zombie sheepeople on the trains all looking as though they are being even more broken by this than even their normal daily grind.

Historically spring has led to colds and influenza the variability of the weather (although not this extreme) has meant that people’s bodies cannot quite get the rhythm to build up their immunity. It is not helped by the modern diet.

In the past spring was a time of lots of greens, few starches, any meat was lean after the winter. Our diet essentially detoxified itself through availability.

Now we just keep pouring in carbs and fat as with the winter or summer or autumn (another post on this one day)

After avoiding flu throughout the winter I have been hit with a cold in this spring, just a mild one and I have cooked up a batch of elderberry syrup as I used in winter.

Luckily on top of my stock of elderberry it is elderflower season and these make a great tea that has the antiviral properties of the berries and makes a very nice tea with a teaspoon of honey that also helps to get up your hydration levels another good way to get the bugs out of your system.

elderflower

To a greater degree we have lost our connection to the fact that for centuries such natural events such as elderflowers blooming or elderberry ripening coincided with times we need them. Our bodies are biological and linked to the natural world and the natural rhythms. The knowledge is also lost people barely know what the tree that I grab the flowers is for or how to use it until pointed out.

I am not perfect, my background is western european so elder is something in my tradition. I am sure there is an equivalent of this in indigenous Australian lore that could be found but there is simply no excuse for not learning about such things as this digitally connected age.

tea cup

Elderflower Tea

  • 1 Large or 2 small elderflowers
  • A teaspoon of honey

Put everything in a cup, cover with boiled water and let it steep for 5 or so minutes.

Drink

(Elderflower also dries very well and you should dry some for teas as the flowering time is short in Australia)

Daddy daughter time, Elmore field day and the Forager never leaves me.

So last week was the 50th Elmore field day was on. For those who are not aware this is the largest and one of the best field days in country Victoria.

When I was growing up the field day was famous for a very farm orientated thing, big tractors, big headers silos and farming stuff. It is still this but now with the rise of hobby farms and small holders in the last 30 years there has been a shift to include items that best fit small holders, horse people and just generally those interested in the country.

Elmore 007-2000 Elmore 009-2000 Elmore 008-2000  Elmore 002-2000

It was a great day we wandered around chatting and had a great time she was in awe of the amount of stuff and when she got tired was happy to jump in the backpack I have for carrying her and just enjoy the spectacle. She got to see the sheep being sheared, crops cut and we got to see a friend who is PDC graduate from up that way who was supporting the WWOOF at the event.

On the way up we discussed the countryside passing through the type of country I remember as a kid when I used to go to collect firewood with my father on a Saturday morning.

Elmore 001-2000

For me as with taking the kids to my parents place or them realising that roast chicken is a chicken and roast pork is a pig. Seeing how the country functions and that there are other aspects than the bohemian inner city life they lead is important.

As much as Australians pride themselves on the self image of the outback and of them being a rugged country people the reality is that most people’s connection with the land is tenuous at best and mostly just plain broken. The lack of understanding of where our food comes from and how it is produced and who does it leads to a great many of the environmental and social issues that we see.

Elmore 013-2000

When we go for the cheapest food we push the farmer to produce the cheapest item to match the imported item or support the duopoly here in Australia. It comes at the cost of the land, farmers are pushed to produce it cheaper and ‘better’ even if damages his future on the land. That is the reality.

Elmore 014-2000

So head out of the city and see how your food is produced, visit a field day or if you are lucky enough a real farm. Take your family they will all benefit from it.

After all it is harder to screw over someone you know or at least understand the situation of.

But for me the highlight was just the spending time with my little girl. She will grow up soon and probably won’t want to hear anything from her father at time so getting in now and letting her see that there is more to the world she lives in is important.

Elmore 005-2000

Oh and on the way up I spotted some clumping bamboo on a road side. So on the way back i checked it out. It was nice.

Elmore 019-2000 Elmore 015-2000

Good thick walls be perfect for building and definitely appeared to be clumping type. I mentioned it my friend as it close to where she lives and a good find from foraging point of view for the work she is doing on her place. I also grabbed a root cutting so I will see how that goes. I would like to grow some in a large pot. It is handy to have as a building material like this around for stakes or trellising.

Elmore 020-2000

Potted up the root cutting at home that night

Oh and see below for a bit of country ingenuity my daughter thought was funny

Elmore 010-2000

This is why you do not get a real post tonight…

Sorry all.  It is 11pm and I have just finished bottling 6 liters of elderflower cordial after foraging a few items of hard waste I noticed on my walk home for a new wicking bed.

So the photo below will have to do for now. More interesting stuff tomorrow.

And the taste. One of my best batches according to A. 🙂

elder-cordial

Buy Nothing New October 2013

So buy nothing new October has come around again. Last year we did this and enjoyed the process it made us look at our buying habits and how we can reduce our load on the world and save some money at the same time.

Even now it has made me look at things. A store I shop at had some interesting stuff and I had thought hey I could use a couple of things, then thought no I can’t it is buy nothing new October oh well next month.

Then I read this article http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/09/27/how-to-turn-your-garage-into-a-blacksmithing-woodworking-shop/

And it reminded me that with tools(one of the things I was looking at) it is quantity not quality and I have learnt this the hard way a few times. I have quality saws and chisels I was given 20 years ago by my grandfather they are still some of the best tools I have. It is a concern that even people like me who think about this stuff can be drawn into the marketing ploy so easily and it takes something like buy nothing new to get perspective. So far from being a silly stand on soap box and look at me it can make people think. At the end of the day sadly my dollar seems of more value than my vote these days.

As with last year A. and I have looked at exclusions and have come up with two. One is anything I grab at the Elmore field day I am taking my daughter to tomorrow. And the other is a couple of things I will need for a wicking bed skill-share/working bee with the local permaculture group.

On both occasions I am going to be careful and remember to look at anything with a close eye on its environmental effect and long term ness. For the wicking bed I am going to trawl for second hand stuff if I can’t find it I can retreat and grab it new if I have to get it last minute for the get together.

And I had my eye on one of those dynamo torches at that store in question then I remember the last one I bought failed after on 12 months. Probably best to wait in hindsight and buy something of better quality.

Oh and that wheel barrow I fixed last year in buy nothing new in October 2012. Still going strong.

Copy of IMG_1593

Elderflower cordial

So now the equinox is gone and daylight savings will not start till the end of the week I am finding I am up at 5am and it is light enough to see and move around the garden in.

For those who do not know the best times to pick elderflowers is early morning and dusk. The perfume of the flowers is at its best and the flavour as well. Although I have picked them at other times and the flavour seems fine I try to go by this tradition.

This morning I found myself awake and wandered out on the front porch and noticed the elderflowers had ripened and there would be enough to make a batch of elderflower cordial.

bowl

flowers

I started the kettle up and went out and picked about 30 flower heads and quickly put a batch together to start the infusing process. The cordial is great mixed simply with iced cold water or soda water it is a light refreshing drink in the heat of summer or a favourite is to add a shot Gin to the mix and then you have a great little mixer to sit back and enjoy looking at your garden in the evening.

cordial

So the mix was done in a few minutes and then it was the daily chores of cats and chickens and then off to work.

bucket

There is something satisfying to me that I can do this before heading off to my corporate day time job. It somehow makes me feel more alive, even though most of my day will tied to this work culture  just a little bit of me is still out there enjoying the path less trodden.

Elderflower Cordial

  • 5 litres boiling water
  • 30 Elder Flower Clusters (I don`t wash them – aroma gets lost)
  • 3 kilos sugar
  • 10 lemons
  • 125 grams of citric acid

This amount makes 6 litres of syrup. You only need about 1 – 2 cm per glass.

Put all the ingredients in a clean bucket, cover it with a tea towel and stir it every day with a sterilised spoon so that the sugar dissolves with time. I cut the lemons in half, squeeze them out and throw the peels in as well. After one week, sieve it through a cloth and fill it up into bottles.

That`s all. Have fun.

The original recipe I got from my family is to use cold water but as the elderflowers have natural yeast (handy for making champagne) that ferments I try to kill this off with hot water. It saves the bottles exploding or getting a hard liquor version of syrup.

A trick to fix the cloth in place over the bucket is to take enough twine to almost go around the bucket then tie both ends to rubber bands. That way I can easily remove the string no nots nothing to worry about and makes sure the towel or cloth stays in place.

rubber bands

Resilience

We had major storms last night here in Melbourne. These are starting to get all the more common and while our place survived without any apparent damage a lot of places where hit pretty hard. We lost power for an hour and some places lost roofs and had trees fall on power lines etc and are still out of action.

I did a look around our garden and it stood up pretty well. The trees in the food forest are starting to work to shelter each other and this was shown by the few fruit I lost off the plums and other fruits. When I checked the neighbour’s tree while checking up on their chickens (they are away) I saw the effect of lone tree in the wind. Lots of fruit lost so the harvest off that tree is going to be far from spectacular let alone when we get another 4 -5 days of this weather which is forecast.

As I said my garden stood up well and I am happy with the way it is going and will continue to build on it.

One of the effects of climate change will be greater variability in the weather. If it is hotter or colder but consistent then you can work around it. But the reality is we are going to have great climate variability and this is harder to work with

 More storms, late frosts, thunderstorms, heatwaves and out of season heat/cool events. To me this reinforces that we are all going to need to work towards a higher level of self reliance and to build systems that can operate under these stresses.

It will have some challenges. A classic method of passively reducing energy input is to have deciduous or even evergreen trees around to shade a building summer and or shield it from the wind in winter. Harder to deal with when you have storms that can tear down trees and  large branches. If these become not one in 30 year events but every year it is going to need to be planned for.

My food forest will be kept low at the back and I use fruit trees that are low and not big enough to cause any damage if they come down. Being on a slope I am hoping that I will get a cooling effect dropping down to my house in summer and warming in winter even if only a little bit it will help.

 The shade sail has made a huge difference and allows us to drop it in winter for the best effect of light and heat and then put it up for effect in summer and is an easier safety issue to manage than large trees.

In addition I have smaller trees in large pots I can move around in summer to shade things and act as heat sinks, then move the away in winter. I also have lot trees acting to reduce some of the heat load hitting the house.

The protecting effect of the food forest on all layers and addition of perennials will aid us in great resilience in our food production. We will still have annuals.

Lots of annuals but the forest can act as can be bedrock of our production.

The changes in weather patterns will have an effect on the rest of what we all do as well. The power was off for an hour that was the third 1 hour plus outage in our area in the last 3 months due to weather and one of those was 12 hours. Friends in the USA 20 miles out of city of a hundred thousand lost power for a week last year in mid winter of 20 below.

So while we are in no way preppers as well as helping our budget and to be more sustainable we are adding a wood fired cooking stove to the house to heat it and also to cook. In outage it also will be handy.

I plant to dry as much of my food as I can this year and can/bottle as well. Freezers need power and while it is a very good thing to have I have seen my parents loose a full freezer of food not a good thing to have happen. Think it can’t happen. 98% of the power lines in Victoria are above ground. Poles and lines are very susceptible to big storms and high winds and that is not even thinking about the higher rates of bush fires.

Makes me wonder though when I grew up we had candles and torches ready now our neighbours have said they had to burn the decorative table candles for light when it was off all night 6 weeks ago. We had some solar desk lights and a bunch of candles, not very expensive to keep and very handy.

I suppose we had all better get used to being a bit more prepared and resilient on ourselves and those around us hadn’t we? Appears our government is going to do little to reduce the effect of climate change so we had all better start dealing with it and it s effects ourselves.