self sufficiency and community

2016/11/28 deej 0

A friend of mine asked yesterday how long it would be before the farm was self sufficient. It’s not as simple a question to answer as you might think.

 

One answer is: never. We aren’t planning to grow grain, and although I do have some tubs of potatoes and a sweet potato patch, and plans to put in chestnut trees, we aren’t really focusing on growing what the biodynamic gardening people call ‘calory crops’. Those are the foods which make up the majority of your diet – the carbohydrates that give you a baseline energy hit and leave you feeling full and satisfied. For most of humanity the main calory crops are various grains (wheat, maize, teff, millet, rice, barley, etc.), mainly because they are high yielding and fast growing, although potatoes, plantains, and a few tropical starch-producing root crops such as taro are also important.

 

On the other hand, we will be growing some calory crops. Dates, Bananas, a variety of nuts, and a wide variety of fruit are all in the plan, and it is possible to survive on these sorts of foods without the addition of high density carbohydrates. Our modern (and even heirloom) fruit varieties are so high in sugar that they can easily provide us with the energy we need as well as providing vitamins and other nutritients. My not exactly back-of-a-napkin but not fully researched and verified calculations indicate that if we put all the trees in that I want, and if they all survive and produce more or less as well as the literature indicates they should, then once they’re intot heir adult production levels we will in fact produce enough food to entirely fulfil the energy and nutritional needs of somewhere between 8 and 18 people. And there are the animals as well, chickens and geese and ducks (we have muscovies, too, now), and bees producing honey. The fruit and nut trees take between 3 and 10 years to reach full production, and not all are in the ground yet, but.. call it ten years. In ten years, we could be self sufficient if we wanted to, and we were willing to give up any type of food we couldn’t grow ourselves. And we’d have it pretty good too – we’d be giving up most of our wheat & rice intake, and making that up with fruit and fresh vegetables and nuts. Instead of having a sandwich, we’d have dried figs and dates, maybe some cheese, or fresh berries.

 

The third answer is that no one is ever truly self sufficient. Self sufficiency is by its nature isolationist, and that just isn’t how the world works now (if it ever did). Community sufficiency is a much better aim, where instead of pulling back and focusing on your own needs you move forward and form relationships with your neighbours and the people around you who have similar interests. The community you form can act as a miniature village, and between that group of people it’s much easier to make sure that there’s enough to go around – enough food, enough clean water, enough social support. Enough help on the days when running a farm is hard, and an extra pair of hands to get the firebreaks done or fix the fences is the thing you need. Enough shared objectives to check out random banging and crashing in the middle of the night if your neighbour’s away – and hey, it was just kangaroos making a racket, but knowing that someone will check still makes you sleep easier if you have to be away overnight. Enough to share with friends and family, and not just your own friends and family either but the friends and family of your entire community. That’s what this is about. That’s what self sufficiency should look like, and I think it’s what we should be aiming at.

 

On that note, this summer we’re going to start slowly ramping up our workshop capacity. I’m running a trial cheese-making workshop in mid December, with plans to run more if it goes well. We’re going to break out the seed-ball machine in the new year and have a seed ball making workshop (please hit us up on Facebook if you’d be interested in that – it’s kid friendly too), and I’m going to see what I can do about a grafting workshop towards the end of summer. In between times, there’s potential for some food preparation along the lines of jam and chutney making, and fermentation, and possibly some walk-through tours with info about keeping urban livestock. So if you’re keen to get involved and join our fledgling community, watch this space (and the facebook page, which is where events are posted when the dates are finalised). Feel free to request a workshop if there’s something you’d like to see, or if there’s something you’d be keen to teach people – we have a venue, and it would be great to learn something new.

Feast like a Viking

2016/10/08 deej 1

This evening we’re off to a Viking-themed pot luck feast – the idea here is that everyone who goes takes a dish, and each dish forms one course of a massive degustation style dinner. We’ve been to a few of these dinners, each with a different theme, and they’re an enormous amount of fun. The food is always amazing, and so plentiful that we all waddle out at the end of the night swearing to be better about taking tiny portions of each dish next time.

 

The idea for this iteration is reasonably authentic Viking style food. So, being me, I went off to do some research. I came up with several ideas and recipes, including

  • poached salmon (apparently the Vikings boiled their meat rather than braising, roasting or grilling it for the most part, and also ate a lot of fish),
  • baked apples stuffed with honey and hazelnuts (all apparently authentic ingredients commonly available to and used by the Vikings),
  • Viking style root vegetables in honey and butter (a mix of carrots, turnips, swedes, parsnips, beets, and cabbage, with the root vegetables par-boiled first, then the whole lot fried in a great deal of butter with honey drizzled over – apparently an authentic recipe from an old recipe book), and
  • fresh curds with berries in honey (it seems that the Vikings didn’t view milk as something to consume fresh but rather as a raw ingredient used to make cultured milk drinks like skyr, yoghurt, curds and fresh cheeses, and aged cheeses – and all these products were eaten frequently by most people. Berries were widely available in the summer, and honey was also commonly used).

 

After much indecision, we’re taking curds and berries (aka deconstructed cheesecake), as well as some home-brewed mead. I thought I’d share the recipes, in case anyone else felt like experiencing some Viking treats.

 

curds with raspberries in honeyFresh curds, served with honey and summer berries

Topping

  • 500g berries (we used raspberries and strawberries, but you can use any combination of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, boysenberries, currants, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup honey, warmed until it’s liquid enough to pour
  • 1/2 cup fruit liqueur (we used home-made, gin-based strawberry and apricot liqueur, but you can use any clear liqueur flavoured with berries or stone fruit, or just use vodka or gin)

 

Make the topping: Combine the berries, honey, and alcohol. Stir well, and leave to steep for at least 3 hours. If possible, allow to steep overnight.

 

Note: We used a home-made strawberry liqueur, made by infusing sliced fresh strawberries in a 50/50 combination of gin and apricot schnapps for a month. We then used the alcohol soaked strawberries in the topping, along with half a kg of frozen raspberries.

 

Curds

  • 700 ml full cream milk
  • 50 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1 kg fresh yoghurt (we used a combination of sheeps milk and goats milk yoghurt, but any will do)
  • 1 – 3 Tbsps sugar or honey, or to taste (honey is more authentic)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

 

Make some fresh ricotta cheese: Heat the milk just to boiling point, until it starts to form bubbles. Stir in the vinegar, which will cause the milk to curdle. Line a colander or sieve with a clean tea towel or with cheesecloth, place over a bowl (or the sink if you don’t have a use for the whey), and pour the curdled milk into the lined colander. Leave to drain for 5 minutes.

 

Make the curds: Combine the yoghurt, sugar, salt, and the drained ricotta in a bowl. Pour the whole lot into the lined colander, and allow to drain for at least 3 hours, or as long as overnight, until it reaches your desired consistency. You may have to empty out the whey from the bowl under the colander a few times as the curds drain.

 

Serve the curds topped with the berry mixture. Scatter with chopped hazelnuts if desired.

 

Apple Melomel

  • Combine 2 Tbs honey with 1 cup water. Boil hard for 2 minutes, then cool to room temperature.
  • Hydrate your chosen yeast (champagne yeast, cider yeast, or a specific mead yeast are best; we used baking yeast for this experiment because it’s what we had) in the room temperature honey-water.
  • Combine: 1 L honey (about 1.5 kg), 1 L fresh apple juice, and 3 L water. Bring to a boil, and skim off the scum and foam which rise to the surface.
  • Add 1/4 cup organic raisins, and simmer gently until the raisins are hydrated and soft.
  • Mash the raisins to release the juices.
  • Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then strain into a fermentation vessel. Add the hydrated yeast.
  • Ferment. The mead we take with us tonight will only have been fermenting for 2 days, but we’ll leave some to continue fermenting until it’s done, and then age it for a couple’ve months to see what we get.

June 26: belated weekend update

2016/06/27 deej 0

It was a busy weekend (although a good one!) so I’m a day late with this post. Saturday we attended the Less is More festival and I presented on keeping bees, then we had a mid-winter gathering at my mum’s place and caught up with friends and family there – and ate far too much delicious lamb tagine and roasted sweet potato. Sunday we headed out to the swan valley for breakfast at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory (which does a very nice breakfast), and then a day at the Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm.

 

So many animals. Including Damara lambs, baby goats (and adult milking goats), guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, pigeons, a baby deer (tame enough to eat grass from our hands and let us pet him), two foxes (not tame, in an enclosure away from bite-able fingers and also away from all the birds), pea-fowl, geese, cows, and a big white pony (horse) who was really quite friendly once he warmed up to us. It’s true – I’m still the same person who would sit perfectly still for half an hour at age 5 so that the semi-tame rabbits at the local rabbit farm would come and eat greens out of my hand, and needed to pat and feed every pony we saw. K was vastly amused to see me making friends with the horse at the Cuddly Animal Farm; he hasn’t really seen me around horses before.

 

Sunday afternoon and evening  we had some friends round for a movie night, because friends are important, and so are science fiction films. We watched the 1960 version of the Time Machine, and discussed how one might restart civilisation, and what three books one might take into that hypothetical future in order to do so. My selection is a good maths textbook (going form basics through to complex calculus and geometry), a new edition of one of those 70s homesteading books that shows how to build a house, fix a roof, plant a farm, spin, sew, make soap, etc., and a book of basic machines (things like the Open Source Ecology group are looking at, plus looms, spinning wheels, bicycles, and so forth), with Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Design Manual as a close fourth – but I’m interested in what other people would pick.

 

 

June 25: Less is More 2016 (hosting a beehive)

2016/06/25 deej 0

Today I presented at the 2016 Less is More festival, on hosting a beehive in your back yard. Here are some of the points I covered, just in case you couldn’t make it to the talk, or need a little reminder of the content. 🙂

 

Why host a beehive? Well, it’s more a case of why wouldn’t you, really. It’s easy and safe, the bees will pollinate all your vegetables and your fruit trees, and produce honey as well. Plus, honeybees are under a lot of pressure from climate change, pollution, disease and the use of damaging pesticides such as neonicotinoids – so hosting a hive will help make sure there are healthy honeybee populations around.

 

All you need a little space – as little as 2 to 4 sqm that don’t get walked through every day, in a corner of the garden or even on your roof or the roof of your garden shed – and a bird bath or pond to provide water for the bees. You do need to provide water, otherwise the thirsty bees will go for the nearest water source, which might be your (or your neighbour’s) swimming pool, or your dog’s water dish. That’s when bees become a nuisance. You can reduce the possibility of your bees being a problem for people by putting a person-height barrier (a shade cloth screen, for example, or a hedge) in front of the hive so that the bees have to fly over it to leave; they will then tend to stay at that height until they get to the flowers they are heading for.

 

You should also check on your local council’s rules – most councils allow beehives, but some have rules about how far from the street your hive must be, or how many hives you can have. You also need to register with the state government for a ‘hive brand’, and pay a registration fee, so that you can legally keep bees. The hive brand is a symbol or combination of letters and numbers which must be visibly marked on your hives.

 

You should open your hive up to check on the bees at least four times a year (once per season), to make sure they’re healthy and don’t have parasites or diseases. Open the hive in the morning, ideally on a sunny day – never in the rain or late in the evening. Bees become defensive and angry if disturbed at night. Smoke your bees gently before opening the hive, using a bee smoker. You can also harvest honey when you open the hive up – we’d suggest doing an intro to beekeeping course to see how it’s done before trying it yourself. Always listen to your hive – you can hear their mood in the tone of the buzzing. Beekeeping equipment for maintaining your hive and harvesting honey is available from several suppliers, who can also advise on where to buy bees – try Perth Bee Supplies or Guilefoyles, or you can buy the equipment online from multiple sellers. Your first beekeeping supplies, other than a hive, should include a bee brush, a smoker, an implement called a hive tool, and protective gear (bee suit, gloves, veil).

 

Once you have the honey, you still have to use it. Honey tastes sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it in most recipes. Use approx. ½ to ¾ cup of honey per cup of sugar replaced – and be aware that some recipes won’t turn out the same, especially confectionary, because honey contains different types of sugars to regular sugar (fructose and glucose, rather than sucrose). Honey also adds liquid to a recipe, so you need to reduce the liquid content of the recipe from other sources. Reduce the liquid content of a recipe (from water, milk, etc.) by about ¼ cup for every cup of honey you add to the recipe. Honey is great to bake with, and works really well in jams too.

 


 

Easy Honey and Olive Oil Cupcakes

 

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup of plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup olive oil (or other vegetable oil)

½ cup honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk (you can use rice milk, nut milk, or water if you prefer)

 

  • Combine all ingredients.
  • Spoon into cupcake cases or muffin pans.
  • Bake at 180 degrees C for about 10 minutes, or until golden on top and cooked all the way through.

if not you..

2016/01/18 deej 0

This weekend just passed, I attended an event called GenghisCon. It’s a small science fiction / speculative fantasy & gaming convention, which runs every year in Perth. It’s run every year for the last 15 years, which is a pretty impressive run for something which gets no funding or support from any corporate or government body. Every year the committee (elected at the previous convention) does fundraising to make sure there’s enough money to pay for the venue and insurance, and organises a program of events to run at the convention, including discussion panels (on anything and everything from how to be a better fiction writer yourself, to what the state of tech is on electric cars at the moment, discussions of the various iterations of Doctor Who to conversations about the future of love and marriage in a changing world), craft and art workshops (e.g. book binding), boardgames and table-top role playing games, and live action games and events (this year we had a water fight, a beginner parkour workshop, and a live action World of Darkness game, amongst other things).

I feel a particular connection with this convention, and the community of people who attend it, because 15 years ago I was the driving force in starting it. I wanted an event like it to exist, and so I gathered some friends together, did some crazy fundraising and networking, and ran the very first GenghisCon.

I did it because I didn’t know it should be hard to do, and people who probably did know and might have told me so instead encouraged me to try. And it really wasn’t that hard; I had the good luck to already know a lot of good people who provided a huge amount of support and help along the way, and there was probably an element of being in the right place at the right time, but the one real hurdle was that first decision, to try. Which makes me think that the same is probably true in any endeavour. Not everything you try will succeed and keep going for 15 years, but the most significant challenge we face is not the possibility of failure, it is the failure to start.

This is something that entrepreneurs and business coaches have been saying for years. But I think they don’t say it in a way that is universally accessible; what they should say is, you may not know exactly where you want to end up, but if you have an idea, often that’s enough. You might not know yet how you’re going to save the world, but – try anyway! Do it, because most people never do, and that means that most of those ideas never get tested, never turn into thriving communities or successful businesses or pieces of technology which improve people’s lives. Do it, because if you can see a thing that doesn’t exist yet, a gap which you want filled, you’re already ahead. Do it, because if not you, who?

I guess it’s basically an existentialist approach to life. I believe that you can change the world, if you’re prepared to put the effort in to do so. I believe that meaning is something we create, not something that exists apart from us, and that happiness is something you do, not something that happens to you. So I create meaning by working out what’s important to me and doing that, and (hopefully) making opportunities for other like-minded people to do the same.

Sometimes that means playing games like ‘statues’ and ‘spotlight’ (‘sneaking parctice’ and ‘advanced sneaking practice’) at GenghisCon, giving other adults the opportunity to play and run around and be silly like we all did as kids. Or attending the Less is More festival and running a talk or workshop there, or going to the movie nights at Ecoburbia. Building and participating in community, because that makes me happy. Sometimes it means trying to build a working permaculture farm / orchard / forest, learning how to produce food in an ecologically sustainable manner and trying to share that knowledge with other people. And sometimes it means sitting at home and playing with my cats and reading, or writing stories. Because that, too, is part of my meaning, and makes me happy.

TL;DR: I love that I’ve helped create such a vibrant and fun community. I want to do it more. I may have to think up some plans.

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