Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to ferment vegetables-without the billion dollar price tag!

  I was all excited a few months ago when I saw Sandor Katz was coming to Australia to run fermenting workshops. I was even more excited when I saw that there’s going to be sessions in Byron Bay. Yippee, I thought, I can go to one! Then I went to the pricing page and nearly had a heart attack. $490!?!?! The intensive sessions in Sydney are similarly gob-smacking. $220 for just vegetables? $220 for just dairy? $792 for the whole lot? Chest pain turned into disbelief. We already ferment a lot of stuff. We regularly make kefir, yoghurt, cheese, mead, sauerkraut, and all sorts of other fruit and vegetable concoctions. And it’s really not very hard. Or complicated. Or time consuming. We’ve learnt it all by experimentation, using books, other than a one-day cheesemaking workshop I did with Elisabeth Fekonia (which was very comprehensive and reasonably priced). How on earth can they justify charging such astronomical prices? All of Milkwood’s prices are at the high end of the scale, but this goes beyond expensive into unbelievable. But then I suppose that’s why they’re still pumping the advertisements for it-it would have booked out months ago at a more reasonable price.

  Here’s my rebellion. I’m saving you by showing you how to ferment vegetables into a deliciously sour and tasty mix. It involves 3 steps and about 15 minutes of your time.

1. Chop thinly, or grate, your vegetables. I have radish, carrots, and beetroot here. Cabbage and other cruciferous veg work well (think sauerkraut). Feel free to throw in herbs, chillis, or anything else of plant origin that you think will taste good. The better quality your ingredients the better the end result-we grew all this. Throw it in a big bowl and mix in generous amounts (a few tablespoons?) of salt-real salt, like Celtic or Himalayan, not iodised table salt. If it tastes quite salty but it’s not crusted, it’s about right.


  Stuff it into jars, and let it sit for a couple of hours. The salt will suck the juice from the vegetables.


2. Then pack it down as much as you can. I use a granite pestle. If the juice extracted by the salt covers the vegetables, then put a non-airtight cover on and you’re done. If not, add enough filtered water to cover it. Taste the liquid-it should be salty like the sea. The salt will exclude any harmful bacteria, so err on the side of too much-you can always rinse it before eating it if you overdo it.


3. Let it sit at room temperature. Each day, make sure the vegies are still covered by the liquid, and pack it back down if need be. It wants to float. Taste it after a few days-if it tastes good, put it in the fridge and eat it at leisure. If you’d like it stronger, leave it to develop longer.


  That’s really about it-you can get fancier with the ingredients you use, but the method is still the same. I highly recommend both of Sandor’s books for making fermenting interesting and accessible. There’s Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.

  And if you want to send me money as a result of your effusive gratitude in saving you so much money, my bank details are………….just kidding!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why i’m happy to tell my kids that school is a totally inferior way to get an education

  A recent conversation with a friend got me thinking about the justifications for telling home educated children negative things about schooling. I said it was necessary to counter the misguided societal perception (aka propaganda) that school is a wonderfully fun and enriching place where you can gain a wide-ranging and deeply fulfilling education that will serve you well throughout life, as well as providing you with life-long friends. It’s what most people would like to believe, and it’s what they tell us misguided misfits whenever possible. She thought you should keep the negatives about school to a minimum, to not try to influence your kids too much, which is the standard answer. However, thinking about it some more, I started to wonder just why it is that we feel censored from sharing our views of school with our children. Why is it so important to protect schools from criticism that many dedicated home educators feel they cannot speak a bad word against school to their own children, in their own homes?

  In other subjects, such as religion, we can tell our children whatever we like. We can tell them that God created the world, Mohammed was the prophet, we will cycle through rebirth guided by our karma, or that the lot of it is made up by people needing an explanation for things we can’t explain. We have the authority to explain faith in whatever way we choose, consistent with our beliefs.
  So why not with school? I think school is a terrible way to get an education, is more likely to result in abnormal behaviour than well-adjusted socialisation, is a violation of freedom and personal rights, and is all around fairly abysmal. So why can’t I share those (well-founded) views with my children? Why is school seen as somehow sacred, indeed more sacred than religion? Why should I bite my tongue (I don’t) while other people tell them how wonderful school is, how much they’re missing out on, and wouldn’t they love to have a schoolbag?

  What does this say about society as a whole, that we’re so determined to protect an institution that has a rather average track record of doing what it purports to be its aim? Why is it that we can say that the system needs to be overhauled, that we need to do more of this or less of that, that failure is the fault of the students/teachers/method, but we cannot say the the entire system has proven itself a failure? Why don’t people take a long, hard look at their own experience and wonder if school really did contribute to their adult happiness and success, or whether it has left more negative legacies? Why don’t people wonder if their precious time, a whole 13 years of compulsory attendance, or over 1/6 of their projected lifespan, could have been better spent?

  Or, for the million dollar question, why do people accept anything unquestioningly? Keith Farnon has some excellent ideas on why.

  Now I have my justification clear-they’re my children, and I can tell them whatever I like. It doesn’t have to agree with your views, or the majority view of society. As long as I am telling them my honest views with no ulterior motive of manipulation, i’m not doing anything wrong.

  School’s crap. So there. Just ask my children!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

From grass to bulging veggie garden in under six months

  I’ve been reading tutorial posts elsewhere about starting veggie gardens, and no wonder people give up on the idea before they start. Why do people have to complicate things which are actually quite simple? Or turn it into a mammoth shopping list that makes buying vegies for the rest of your life seem like the cheap deal?

  We are experts at starting veggie gardens. Before you pass me off as an up-myself snob, remember that the husband and I have lived in well over 20 houses in our 13-odd years together. Starting them, we excel at. Learning to keep them going well for years………..well, maybe one day we’ll get the chance. Our way involves using your muscles for the initial start-up, but not your wallet. Most people could do with using their muscles more, so don’t be shy-get out there, toughen up, and do some work you can be proud of and reap the benefits from for years.

PC246470    200sq/m, less than six months

Here’s our well-honed method.

  Pick a sunny spot. Here in Australia, with our intense sun, you can get away with some shade. But try to minimise it. If you have lots of shade everywhere, go ahead and do it anyway, but resign yourself to leafy veg. Under trees is also not so good-they’ll steal from your vegies. Start with a manageable size-you can always expand later once your original area is set-up, but beginning with a huge area can be discouraging.

  Peel off the grass. All of the grass. A mattock is the best for this. You may think you want lovely grassy paths, with rocks/sleepers for edging, but you don’t. Well, you won’t once the reality of them sinks in. Grassy paths suck the nutrients and water from your garden, and the grass invades through your pretty edging. Without herbicide, you’ll have a grassy garden fairly quickly. As you’re not a ruminant, and cannot digest the grass, that is bad. Make a compost pile with the sod.


  Dig over the dirt. It doesn’t need to be deeply dug, just rough it up a little. A fork is good for this-sink in the tines, wiggle it around and lever it part of the way up. Repeat. Throw on as much manure as you can get-fresh, old, from any farm animal will do. Manure is plentiful, and there’s always people around wanting to get rid of it-find people who keep animals and don’t garden, try stables, ask any farmers you know. Ask on local online groups if anyone wants you to come around and clean up their mess. You’ll meet some interesting people. We’ve spent a lot of time wandering in paddocks picking up muck-but we most definitely don’t go to Bunnings and buy bagged manure. Actually, we don’t go to Bunnings ever, but that’s another story.  Spread the lovely muck over your dirt, and inhale the beautiful stink-that stink is the smell of fertility, and future food for you.

Cover the lot with mulch. Sugar cane, lucerne, pea straw, whatever’s available in your area. Again, if you look you can usually pick up bales of straw fairly cheaply from the side of the road. Or, you can rake up the council mowings from the side of the road in the country. Water it well, then rest your aching muscles for a week or so.

  Now, it’s time to plan. Decide where you want your beds to be, and tramp paths around them. Stomp down hard and you should soon be able to see them clearly. Your paths will be manured and mulched just as heavily as your beds-and why not? Your plants can spread their roots out there, so lets make it tasty for them. (Admittedly, we currently have bare paths, but we have an unfair amount of local red-bellied black snakes). Make sure your paths and beds are a decent width, but that you can reach the centre of the beds. Water it again.


  Plant seeds, according to season. Scrape the mulch back, make sure the soil is damp, break up any clods if needed, and plant away. Seedlings are too much bother-home-started seedlings have their place, but for now it’s an unnecessary complication. Keep it simple. Plant your plants at random, forget about neat beds of one type of plant. Lettuces grow well in the shade of other plants, radishes grow so fast you pull them before the tomatoes next to them are big enough to be bothered, and so on. In the beginning your germination will be poor, so plant thickly. You can always thin, and eat the thinnings. But you want success, so go crazy. Seeds are cheap. My favourite supplier is Rangeview Seeds.


  Keep in watered, and watch it grow. Attention is the key-go for a walk around it every day. Get down low, and really look. Learn what your plants, and your weeds, look like when they come up. Keep an eye on the bugs and work out which ones are helpful, and which you should feed to the chooks. Learn what grows well together, and what doesn’t. Work out what grows really well in your area and gather lots of recipes containing it. Conversely, learn what you shouldn’t bother with, as it gets struck down with pests/disease, or hates the weather. This step is not optional if you want garden success-it doesn’t take much time, but attention is the difference between success and failure.

 PC286496 A visitor in the corn patch

  There you go. You’re a gardener. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cobb vs Australorp, eight weeks old

  australorp cobb eight weeks

  Well, I can definitely see why there are meat-specific chickens! At the same age, one chicken is almost a meal while the other is a baby. We bought four day-old Cobbs to try out, and they certainly grew quickly. However, we’ve now eaten them, and a few of the excess Leghorn and Australorp roosters, and the latter two definitely taste better. The slower-growing ones have a much stronger taste and firmer meat, with more colour. And that’s with the Cobb being free-range and foraging a lot-not restricting their movement and pumping high-protein feed into them like commercials.

Verdict-we’re happy to eat the excess roosters and leave it at that. If I was going to raise a meat-only small animal, i’d do one that didn’t require much bought feed, like rabbits. I assisted with a friend’s rabbit harvest recently, and I was very impressed at how quick and easy it was compared to a chicken. Chickens are too feed-intensive and laborious to butcher.

  And after writing those last two sentences, i’m giggling at the fact that just over a year ago we were freaking out at our first upcoming chicken harvest. Oh, we’ve come a long way.