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How to….

By | Nutrition | 2 Comments

Yesterday was the Simple Living Toowoomba October workshop…Sourdough. It was delicious 🙂

But it reminded me that maybe I haven’t mentioned Simple Living Toowoomba before on this website? And it seems like more and more people are getting interested in learning some DIY skills, especially due to health reasons…like when you start reacting to chemicals in food, cleaning or beauty products and wonder what alternative you have.

Or maybe you’re looking to save money…learning to DIY items that you are presently probably paying to much for is really empowering and cheaper than you’d think.

Simple Living Toowoomba meets one Saturday morning a month with the purpose of passing on basic skills in a variety of areas. It started out as a cooking class, but now goes way beyond food. Local people sharing skills with other locals.

So, sample classes are

  • Rag rugs
  • Knitting
  • Sewing
  • Crocheting
  • Cooking from scratch
  • Building a chook shed
  • Growing vegies
  • Soap making
  • Bread making
  • Jam making
  • Reupholstering a chair
  • Basic home maintenance
  • Homemade toiletries and cosmetics
  • Frugal living
  • Growing herbs
  • Pressure cooking
  • Creating a budget
  • Mending clothes and darning socks
  • Making ginger beer and lemonade
  • Sewing Bee
  • Preserving /Bottling
  • Shopping and feeding your family without spending a fortune.
  • Propogating plants

And that’s just a sample. Classes depend on who’s available to teach and how much interest there is for attendance. The sourdough class just gone was very popular!

Classes are generally $5 per adult, run for 2 hours, it’s ok to bring children (but you need to watch them/be responsible for them) and are very inspiring. Just to be around so many people with so much knowledge, creativity and tips is amazing.

We meet at Range Christian Fellowship, in Wilsonton.

You can find out more here

If you want to be in the loop, go to the contact and booking page and request to be added to the mailing list.

I will also mention that right now SLT are looking for someone with some experience to teach on herbs. Growing them, using them etc. We had someone lined up and it fell through, so we’d love to find someone else to share with us on that topic (for next year).

Our last class this year (3rd Saturday Nov) will focus on some homemade Christmas ideas. Margaret will demonstrate some Furoshiki (hope that’s correct spelling!), it’s Japanese wrapping using fabric. Very interested in that! We waste far too much paper as a culture, wrapping everything in disposable wrapping paper. I’ll be demonstrating flavoured salts. Easy to make, and great little gift. And there will be a third demo also.

Maybe we’ll see some of you there 🙂

Water Fasting- my unexpected detox

By | Nutrition | One Comment

Maybe it sounds a bit backwards writing about water fasting when our business is selling food.

But I know a lot of our customers are buying from us because they are either dealing with an illness and need fresh chem-free veg to assist with healing, or they’re very keen on living a disease-preventative life. Which is why I thought you might like to hear a bit about my experiences with water fasting.

It had been years since I’d fasted. Mostly this was due to the fact I always seemed to be pregnant of breastfeeding and didn’t consider fasting safe in those conditions. It was also partly due to the fact I have low blood pressure, low iron count and often low blood sugar too, so can get light headed if I don’t eat for too long.

This year, while looking into what could be done about my mummy tummy, I came across water fasting again. As a Christian, I’d water fasted often back in the day, but always for spiritual reasons. I’d never really looked into the health side of fasting.

Side note: what do I mean by water fasting? It means the only thing that enters my mouth for the fasting period is water. Not tea, not broth, or any other variation…just water. And preferably filtered water, because living on straight town water with all it’s nasties isn’t advisable.

Intermittent fasting was said to be excellent for weight loss (and I don’t just mean the initial weight you lose by default when you don’t eat) and eating fat in stubborn areas.

Rick noticed I was looking at fasting again and advised me to read the Franklin Hall classic “Atomic Power with God Through Prayer and Fasting.” So, I got the book and started what was to be a single day fast. I wasn’t far into that book before I felt totally empowered to fast longer! I wanted to try for 3 days. It should also be noted that Rick and I had done an extended fast before. To dive straight into a longer fast with no previous fasting experience can be very hard on your body, and detox symptoms will abound. But even with that previous experience, I wasn’t expecting what came.

Spiritually, it was amazing. I’d sit down to pray and just burst into tears, and start seeing and hearing from God far more clearly than usual. The most surprising instance, was when in the early hours of the morning I was praying for a friend with cancer and God showed me a picture of her leaving with an angel on either side of her. It was hard, but I knew she was going to die. Later that morning, I found out she’d passed away at 4am…right about when I’d seen that picture.

Physically, it was also amazing, and such a detox! I’ve since read up lots more on water fasting and found explanations for things that were going on! On the second night of the fast, I started feeling funny. Cold, shivering, trouble sleeping, and by morning I could feel a fever coming on. So I broke the fast, and the symptoms stopped. Knowing now what was going on, I should have continued the fast, as those symptoms were the manifestation of my body dumping toxins and the like, and it would have blown over eventually.

A few days into a fast, your breath can start smelling metallic. Heavy metals literally leave the body during a fast. The other way to detox them is to use a sauna about 3 times a week for 12-18 months, I’m told. Much less running around if you just fast the metals out!

Was it hard to abstain from food? Yes! I used to fast a day a week when I was about 19, and that was far easier. I was single had no children, and I fasted on my day off of college. So I could just laze around and read a book or whatever on my fast days. Not so now, with 6 children who think they need to eat every 2 hours. And the responsibility of cooking for a large family, selling food as a job etc. So habits were hard to break. I’d be preparing snacks for the younger children and have to stop myself putting that bit of cheese in my mouth. Or be chopping veg for dinner and have to refrain from eating that carrot slice.

And leftovers! Our fridge seemed to abound with leftovers when I’d fast (just goes to show how much I must have been eating on an average day!). I hate waste, but there was all that food sitting in the fridge…that I couldn’t eat.

And we’re a ‘from scratch’ type of family. I don’t have instant food sitting around, except fruit and veg really. So even if I was fasting, I still had to prepare food for the family. And for the first month or so of fasting a day a week again, cooking actually started to bring some relief. If I couldn’t eat it, then at least I could smell it. And touch it. And have it all prepared for when the fast ended 🙂

During fasts, I started getting agitated when the children would complain about being hungry…only an hour after their last meal.

And then the flu hit. You all know it was bad this year. Rick was the sickest I’ve ever seen him and all the children caught it and spent the bulk of 48 hours sleeping on the couches. But I didn’t have nearly the ferocity of flu that the rest of the family got. I was a bit tired and had a bit of a sore throat…felt a headache attempt to come on once or twice, but that was all. Seeing how sick they all got made me surprised that I didn’t suffer the same fate. Until reading more on fasting. Fasting gives you such a detox and rejuvenation for your immune system, that you can be living with a house of sick people and yet not fall ill yourself. It’s amazing.

Did it get easier to fast? Yes. I’m on a fast as I type this, and haven’t eaten in about 22 hours. I’m not hungry. True, those cookies my 7 year old just baked look and smell lovely, but I’m not actually feeling like I need sustenance. If you fast regularly, your body adjusts to that. I also get full easier when I’m not fasting, which is a blessing!

You might also find you have a lot more spare time when you fast. I’m astounded how much we achieve when I’m on a fast! Even though food still has to be prepared for the rest of the family, there still seems to be extra time available.

Choosing when to fast…obviously there are some days that will work better than others if you’re looking to regularly fast. Early on, I did a fast (it may have even been on a 3 day fast) on a Friday, and that was awkward. Friday is our town day. I’m preparing orders, delivering orders, taking the children to gym and piano, often having lunch in the park with friends, often visiting my parents (who offer me food) and running around doing town errands. It’s a full day, and the Friday I fasted was exhausting! I didn’t feel very alert when driving, felt like I might pass out while shopping…not good. Having said all that, now that I’m used to fasting again, maybe I could do it on a Friday. But it’s best to just pick a day when you know you’re not going to be too pushed.

Did I lose weight? Yes. I dropped 4kg and am about the same size I was in high school, which is a good thing after having 6 babies 🙂

The idea of doing all this, from a health perspective, is not so you can then afford to binge on your regular days (just remind me of that when I go out and am offered dessert, which we normally don’t have!). It’s amazing to see and experience the cleansing of your body, and it’s best to support that by eating as organically and wholesomely as possible as a lifestyle.

I’d also read that women in particular can struggle with binging on their regular days in between fasting. I did experience this for a month or so. The feeling of looking at food and knowing you can eat it was too much, so I’d eat it. And eat that…and eat that other one too. Not good. But thankfully that struggle seems to have passed.

If you’re looking for an effective detox, to deepen your spiritual life and start fasting, short fasts can be best to start with. Fast a meal, or a half day. A whole day if you feel you can, and then work your way up from there. People do 7, 21, and 40 day fasts even. But often those longer fasts are either supervised, or only undertaken by experienced fasters.

Brix Testing – The simple window into how a plant is performing

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If you’ve ever spoken to Rick or myself about soil nutrition you’ve probably heard us mention “brix.” We may have even brought out the refractometer and shown you a sample reading from our garden.

Pictured above is a brix reading on one of our rainbow carrots. We were pretty impressed with this reading, considering our garden is relatively new and it takes 3-5 years to reach the optimum soil nutrition. This carrot grew in soil that had been amended over about 2 years.

But what on earth does this reading tell us? As you can see, the reading is around a brix of 10. Compared to a supermarket carrot, you’d notice a carrot with brix 10 is sweeter. Brix readings give you a refractive index of the plant tested with sucrose as the standard.

Why does the sugar reading matter? Sugar production is the chief purpose of photosynthesis and 75% of the time, the higher brix reading will mean higher nutrient density in the plant or crop…and that other 25% where it’s not effective occurs when the plant is dehydrated (will automatically push the sugar levels up) or there’s an operator error.

Plant growth is about taking CO2 and H2O around the plant, combining it with sunlight and generating sugar in that plant…not protein, fiber or anything else, but sugar. And from that sugar the conversions happen…everything we know as crop or harvest comes from that sugar.

So what kind of brix reading are we looking for? Once we start getting readings around 12, that’s good news (though certain plants, especially fruits, can go a LOT higher). We were happy with brix 10 on that carrot because this soil has only been balanced recently, so to already be getting a 10 is very encouraging!

Some people can get an idea of the brix just by tasting a plant, but to get a definite reading, you need a refractometer. They’re not expensive, you can pick one up for about $40 and they’re pretty easy to use.

A sample of the plant leaf or fruit is taken, the sample squeezed through a garlic press or the like to extract juice, and then some of that juice is dripped onto the prism of the refractometer, the daylight plate closed over, and then you look through eyepiece to check out your reading.

What will high brix mean for a plant? Drought tolerance, frost tolerance (no matter what the tag says on the plant when you buy it, higher brix will give the plants higher tolerance to extreme weather conditions than that species is otherwise known to cope with), higher yield, better flavour, pest resistance, disease resistence, higher pollination rates.

And we saw this throughout winter. Yes, it was unusually warm, but we still copped a handful of frosts down here, and it didn’t kill anything. We had some lettuce with frost bite around the leaf tips, but nothing died as would usually happen in our area. Then we’ve had 5 months of drought, and that hasn’t killed the veg either.

Interestingly, bees like to work in flowers with a brix reading of 7 or higher. When the reading drops below that, the energy they have to expend to get the nectar is more than they will recover from the nectar…so they don’t bother.

Milk can also be tested, and cows milk should come in at around brix 15-16. Our 2 year old just broke our refractometer, but when we replace it I’m very keen to check out the brix on organic shop-bought milk.

Diabetics who would rather not test blood levels all the time apparently use refractometers to test saliva or urine sugar readings.

Where to from here? While testing the brix of a plant (or milk/saliva etc) is simple, the corrections needed for your soil/plant/body are more complicated. And I’ve seen this is the health industry. You go into a health food store and there’s shelves of different minerals, vitamins etc to ‘fix’ your health problem. But the thing is, nature holds an intricate and complex balance. You can’t just throw a single mineral (or an erroneous ratio of mixed minerals) at your body or the soil and expect everything to be fixed. For example, I’ve had 6 children and experienced anemia throughout years of close pregnancies. Iron is what they say you need, and so I’d take floradix, or spatone and try to eat more meat. But that again was an allopathic approach to the root issue. It helped some, but didn’t fix me.

What fixed me in the end, was eating my placenta after my 6th baby. Now you’re probably grossed out, and my dad even called me a cannibal! But seriously, I’d heard about placenta encapsulation and was already familiar with the encapsulating process from capping my own  herbs etc, so gave it a go. For 4 months I had a few caps a day of dehydrated placenta and I felt like superwoman! Never had I recovered after having a baby so fast. In that placenta, was a hormone balancing, correct ratio of vitamins, minerals, energy and goodness knows what else. I wasn’t using isolated supplements, but a whole ‘food.’ And it worked.

Now, I’m not advocating finding lots of placentas to fix your soil (though after my first homebirth we planted the placenta next to a citrus tree which thrived ever after!), but making the point that your soil is a complex system and it takes some effort (research, observation, experimentation) to balance and restore it. You can’t just expect a product to fix everything for you. No doubt the products help, and we use some ourselves, but they’re tools, not instant miracles.

This is where Rick’s math/science brain comes in very handy…he has a decent understanding of this realm, and is implementing these changes in the balance of our soil. I on the other hand, am starting from scratch. I’m trying to understand all this better, so I can understand our farm and our health, and pass that understanding on to others who are trying to amend their soil or health.

So there will be more to come!

The Hidden Physicians- Farmers

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“The food farmers produce determines the health of the people”

As many of you know, Rick and I spent 3 days last week at the Sustainable Agriculture Forum, learning from Dr Arden Anderson (physician, agricultural consultant, author of Science in Agriculture, Real Medicine Real Health, Life and Energy in the Soil and more).

It was mind blowing. I’ve heard snippets of what Rick studies and implements on the farm here at Birdsong, but never delved right into it myself. When this conference came up, I knew it was time to get an education on soil health, because I need better understanding of this…and so do the people…the customers, the general public.

So, back to the title “The Hidden Physicians- Farmers.” We have such an allopathic view of health in the west. You get sick, and then you run to the doctor for a diagnosis and remedy. Some people will run to a naturopath or homeopath instead for the same…a diagnosis and remedy. And that’s ok, most of the time, but the real issue is why did you get sick in the first place? And do you think just taking some drug/supplement/remedy is going to fix everything? We’re a band-aid society, just wanting quick fixes to mask the symptoms we experience of deeper issues.

And the Agricultural industry has the same problem as a whole. Farmers are becoming increasingly powerless, as they fall into depending on chemical companies to tell them what seed to buy, what poisons to use to keep weeds away, what “supplements” to put out on their crops in order to make them grow and yield higher profits (so they think).

When illness hits, the real question is “why am I sick” rather than “what can I take to make me feel better?”

When a plant is ridden with insects, disease and failure to thrive, it’s not random. It’s not an accident. It’s a very clear sign to the gardeners and farmers that there’s a deficiency in the soil. Something is seriously lacking.

Insects do NOT have the same digestive system as humans and do NOT go seeking out food that is optimal human food. Most insects seek out free nitrogen (not joined to a carbon) and free amino acids. Simple nutrients. A plant that has failed to optimally photosynthesize, provides them with just this. If your crop has properly photosynthesized into complete proteins, insects just aren’t interested. The structure of your crop is too complex for their digestive system. If you are interested more in the way insects seek out suitable food for themselves, there’s a book “Tuning into Nature” which goes deeper into that. Insects antennae actually tune into signatures given off by plants as to whether those plants are suitable food for them or not. Ammonia in particular, gives off an amplifying signal to the bugs.

And weeds. A lot of you have probably heard weeds have a purpose. If your soil is lacking suitable nutrition for the crops you’re attempting to grow, the crops will suffer and the weeds will come in to “fix” the soil by sending deep tap roots to draw up deeper nutrients.

This is our paddock before the market garden went in. Virgin soil.

Same paddock, about a year later. Rick’s made soil amendments, put up 12% shade net, gives foliar sprays to the crops. It’s by no means “arrived” at perfection, but it’s come a LONG way!

Anyway, back to the fundamentals. Why are we sick? Why are you sick? I have a friend who gets headaches frequently, and she uses some natural remedies to heal them. It does take away the pain, but when I asked her “Have you looked into what’s causing them?” She said “No.” Like, if the remedy is working, people don’t seem to care what the cause is. But that headache or symptom is your body’s way of sending you a very clear message “something’s wrong in here!”

Your body, and everything else in this Universe, is made up of minerals and elements…all listed on the periodic table of elements. Your body does not create it’s own minerals however. You need to replenish them with food. But if your food is lacking these basic nutrients, your body will lack them too. Your body can put up with a lot of garbage…years and years of nutrient depletion, before it manifests a problem. A lot of people think they are healthy, when really they are just “pre-disease symptoms.”

Most people probably believe when they’re eating their veg that they’re getting the nutrients they need…but the majority of farms are not only failing to replenish their soil, they’re also using chemicals like glysophate which chelate whatever minerals were in the crop. Chelation is binding or inactivating. So for example, manganese is a mineral your body needs and should be in your food. But if that food also contains glysophate (which most of it does from the excessive spraying of crops with poisons) then the manganese is chelated by that gylsophate and oxidised and made unavailable to your body!

I’m going to try and keep blogging more info as time permits, but for now, just understand that sickness indicates a weakness and depletion in your body. And know that if you’re eating food containing glysophate (roundup), then you are being robbed. It will bind, inactivate and oxidise what little nutrients should have been available to your body.

Paper, Plastic or Cloth

By | Nutrition | 4 Comments

Keeping Greens Fresher Longer

Keeping greens fresh…it can be an issue if you’re not growing them yourself, and therefore can’t pick them as you need them.

I’d been reading about cloth bags, made in Toowoomba too I think, from natural fibers that are said to keep greens fresher longer than plastic. This I had to try, especially as we’ve got a massive roll of natural linen just waiting to be converted into something creative!

Before I go any further, I will say that this experiment is not over. I’ve only tried one type of plant, and tried it in the coldest part of our fridge-the meat drawer (because the veggie drawer was full already!). To really know how effective this is, I’ll need to try other greens and in warmer areas of our fridge.

Here’s what we tested:

3 bags. One a plastic bag (with aeration holes), one a standard paper bag and one a 100% natural linen drawstring bag.

3 bunches of parsley picked at the same time and of roughly similar size and condition.

All the bags were sealed with a rubber band with the parsley inside, and placed in our meat drawer for 8 days. The meat drawer typically sits at 1.5 degrees C (I know this because Farmer Rick is also an engineer, and engineers do weird stuff like keeping thermometers in their fridge ‘just because’!!).

Today I pulled out the parsley and here’s what’s happened:

It’s a bit sad to see the parsley from the linen bag is actually the limpest and most lifeless. Bummer.

The paper bag was only slightly better.

The winner in this case was the aerated plastic bag! I’m not a plastic fan, so wasn’t thrilled with the result, but that’s how it goes in this case.

Hopefully sometime soon I’ll try again in a warmer area of the fridge, with other greens. And maybe for less than 8 days…that’s a long time to leave herbs in the fridge!

Has anyone else tried fabric bags for greens/herbs?

War On Waste Toowoomba Workshop

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Don’t you just love when you can visit or holiday at a location that’s still pristine? No rubbish, very few people, lots of trees and wildlife. That’s what we go for when going on holidays.

But places like that are becoming few are far between because of the excessive waste our culture produces. Many of you would have seen the ABC’s War on Waste series. And I know it’s making a difference, we have a handful of plastic-free customers at Birdsong.

But what else can you do? Simple Living Toowoomba are hosting a War On Waste Workshop in August, aimed at empowering people to make changes in the way they shop and live that will cut back on waste and give future generations a better world to live in! http://simplelivingtoowoomba.weebly.com/

Here’s the details:

War on Waste Workshop

Date: 19 August

Time: 10.00-12 noon.

Cost: $5

Where: Range Christian Fellowship, 15 Blake St, Wilsonton

What: This workshop will be full of ideas on how to reduce your waste. In the first half of the workshop we will have heaps of tips, tricks and products to help you reduce your plastic and disposable product use. Racheal will be demonstrating how easy it is to make beeswax wraps which can be used instead of Clingwrap.  This part of the workshop is really a forum where we are hoping that lots of people bring their hints on how to reduce waste. With plastic free July wrapping up you may have lots of ideas on what ‘disposable’ products can be replaced with reusable/washable ones.

The second half of the workshop will be presented by Ann from the Toowoomba Regional Council.  She will be talking about composting, worm farming and yellow bin recycling. There will also be time to ask any questions that you may have.

Bookings Required: 16 August to simplelivingtoowoomba@gmail.com

We will also have a home grown and hand made swap where you can bring up to five items that you have grown or made and then swap them for other items that are brought along. The swap will begin at 9.50am so you will need to have your items on the table by 9.45am.  

 

Hand-Harvested Carrots

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Have you ever seen organic carrots at $9/kg? We have, and though ours are priced lower, I can understand why some are valued so high.

Friday just gone saw Rick, myself and our eldest 3 children harvesting a twenty meter bed of rainbow mix carrots. Now how long do you think that would take 5 people, to pick, trim, wash and weigh one bed of carrots (by hand)?

Just over 3 hours I think it was. 60kg of carrots came out of that bed, and five of us were working solidly for that 3 hours to get the job done!

For years I was one of those people who didn’t want to pay more than $2/kg for carrots (broad acre carrots of course). It’s all done by machine on those farms…big diesel powered machines chugging through the crop.

But at Birdsong it’s all hand harvested, and that takes time, and lots of helping hands! So at $5/kg, our 60kg of carrots from that bed are worth $300. Now, $300 divided by the 5 labourers gives you $60 per labourer, and about $20 per hour for each labourer…BUT, that doesn’t include all the time Rick spent preparing the bed for planting, sowing the seed, setting up irrigation, weeding etc. So it’s actually much less than $20 per hour per labourer. That also didn’t take into account the cost of the seeds (have you seen how expensive rainbow carrot seeds are?!), the cost of the irrigation set up, the mineral balancing (our mineral mix compost pile cost about $5000 to make for example) and the rest.

Thankfully we have lovely customers who don’t complain about the price (which is very low anyway, when you see all the work and costs associated with growing decent veg), but I just wanted to give you this little post to consider, because our culture is bombarded with cheap food. I know most people think food is too expensive, but the people saying that are generally the ones who haven’t tried growing veg themselves, or raising and butchering their own meat. Your view might change once you have. I know that after we killed, gutted and plucked 11 roosters for the freezer one day, I decided I would never again complain about the cost of store bought free range/organic chicken. It’s really not expensive at all when you know what goes into producing it!

Monthly Homesteading Classes, Toowoomba

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Maybe this all started years ago because I started getting curious about how things were made. And I also had a love of baking, but knew if I baked sweets all the time, I’d likely end up with ill health. Then my husband started uni and we were living on welfare for 4 years, and knowing how to make things from scratch became a useful pastime and money saver.

Cheese making, bread making, upcycling, growing veg, making bone broth, soap making, DIY beauty products, DIY cleaning products, alternative medicine and healthcare…it all became my passion. Over the years I’d borrow books from the local library and spend my midnight breastfeeding sessions reading homesteading blogs and getting very inspired. Skill after skill was trialed and learned to live a more low-impact and mindful lifestyle…that is generally budget conscious too.

Rick and I love to learn through books, but some people’s learning style is completely different. They need to engage more of their senses to retain information or see someone do something to learn to do it themselves…so now we have monthly homesteading classes at Birdsong. This is the perfect way to learn a new skill with a more hands on approach. And to make new friends, we always have a lovely bunch of interested ladies turn up to these classes! We’ve already run soap making, bone broth and pressure canning, homemade winter skin fixes, sausage making, homemade cleaning products and more.

What is homesteading anyway?

Wikipedia defines it as this: a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale.

But you don’t need a lot of land to try homesteading. You don’t need to raise your own meat. You don’t HAVE to can your own fruit and vegetables either! Maybe you’d like to do one or all of the above, but the essence of homesteading IMO is more about knowing how things are made, being conscious of where your food is coming from, finding ways to upcycle or recycle, avoiding being too wasteful and living simply. There’s even more aspects to add, but you get the idea. When I thought about the fall of Rome and how such an advanced civilization could descend into the seemingly backwards Middle Ages, it seemed apparent that there they had a lot of city dwellers who were entirely dependent on the outside country folk for their food and supplies. When that system fell apart, a lot of survivors may not have survived long when they didn’t know how to provide for themselves.

Homesteading doesn’t mean you have to make or grow everything yourself. You don’t. Maybe you can, but it’s more about learning some new skills and having the satisfaction of being able to create the things you need for yourself. Or barter for them. So you’re not completely dependent on others for everything. And there’s such a beautiful sense of community in getting together to learn skills and practice them. I love reading 19th century stories where women would get together to can produce, or make rag rugs and men would get together for barn raising days.

Now, if you are in the Darling Downs/Toowoomba area and want to learn some of these skills I’d advise you join the Simple Living Toowoomba mailing list https://education.weebly.com/weebly/main.php  

We’ll post classes on this website too, but Simple Living Toowoomba offers many homesteading related classes and they meet monthly. Classes are generally $5-$10 there.

Class prices here are higher, but are usually inclusive of materials/supplies to take home. Birdsong classes are advertised through the Simple Living Toowoomba mailing list, which is another reason to join that list. You’ll always know what’s happening and they don’t send many emails out. 1-2 a month.

Beef and Vegetable Recovery Soup…and care packs

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Compared to past winters, this has been a mild one. I can remember having 5 degree C mornings one year in particular, when Rick and I were first married (and had little furniture!) and we’d sit on a cushion at the coffee table for breakfast in the freezing cold!

But this post isn’t actually anything to do with our minimalist beginnings!

It’s more about making some healing food and getting through this flu season. We’re a pretty healthy family usually, lots of veg, sunshine, fresh air…all that. But this Autumn/Winter there has been so much seasonal illness sweeping through our household! It’s been crazy. And I’ve heard the same from a lot of other families in the Toowoomba area.

So, what can you do to help your own family and others as they rest and recover from all the bugs going around?

Being a Nourishing Traditions follower, one of the ways we recover is by eating some bone broth based soup.

I used an organic/free range leg of beef (sawn into pieces that actually fit in a stockpot!) and roasted it for an hour at 180 C. This then went into the stockpot for 48 hours of simmering with a little vinegar, rosemary, sage, garlic, onion and some greens.

You can use a chicken frame (or whole chook) but just be aware if you are making broth with chicken that it only needs up to 24 hours of simmer time.

Then I scoop out the bones, shred any meat off the bone that is overly chunky and add lots of veg. I used a lot of carrot, broccoli and cabbage in this batch (all organic).

This was all chopped into bite sized pieces and added to the broth/beef mix.

It was then heated and simmered just long enough to partially cook the veggies. If you were going to eat all the soup right away, you could simmer until the veg are all tender, but this made a BIG batch, so I didn’t want to overcook as I’ll have to reheat later and don’t want to eat mush!

Besides being helpful for healing from seasonal illness, this type of soup is so kind to your gut if you have any gastrointestinal issues. I found it very helpful when I used to have autoimmune disease. It’s also very satisfying.

And there it all is in the pot, looking vibrant!

Now, if you have a decent sized stockpot you can make liters of this soup in one hit and have it in the freezer on hand for yourself, or friends/family that are under the weather (or who just love soup :-))

One idea is to pour soup into a glass canister with a good seal and label it, then add a little packet of fresh herbs (to add to the soup when they heat it) and take it to friends/family that are ill. Just don’t stick regular glass in the freezer. It really doesn’t like it in there!

Palagonite

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Hawaii, Iceland and the Lockyer Valley’s Mt Sylvia…what do they have in common?

You’re probably thinking “not much!” These three areas are places that palagonite, a rare rock dust formed through the interaction of water and volcanic glass, is found. Normally it occurs where there is recent volcanic activity, but in the past 11 years has been found at Mt Sylvia! Interested in how it happens? www.mtsylviasoilconditioners.com.au/products/understanding-palagonite-video

I’m mentioning this because I know a lot of you are into gardening to some extent…and most of us have soil that needs help. It’s either too sandy, too clay ridden or too depleted of organic matter.

And that’s where palagonite can help. Palagonite has the natural ability to hold and retain water, which is great news for a lot of gardeners, but when mixed with manure and microbes it becomes a powerful growth agent for gardens. The mine at mt Sylvia has already exported their blend to Dubai, where it was able to support the growth of healthy grass in a polo center! This was desert…and then they added the palagonite/manure blend and grass grew!

In a more local example, Bauers organic farm used palagonite in addition to some other natural goodies for the soil and gained a 50% increase in their ginger crop.

Of interest to my husband and I with our organic market garden, is the paramagnetism of palagonite. We already use blue metal in our compost brew to increase the soil paramagnetism and recently found out  palagonite has triple the paramagnetism of crusher dust/blue metal. It also improves the soil pH, microbial activity and adds many trace elements to the soil.

If you live in the Toowoomba area and want to try palagonite out, keep checking our website, where we will soon be offering this supplement for sale to home gardeners.

The link below gives you some more info about this mineral:

www.mtsylviasoilconditioners.com.au/

Customer Certified Organic

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I’m not sure if Rick coined the term ‘customer certified organic’ himself, or if he read it somewhere. But doesn’t it make sense? Well, maybe it depends on where you’re coming from. But if you’re thinking that food should be grown close to where it will be consumed, and that consumers may actually like to see where their food is grown, know the people that are growing it and know what condition the soil is in that this food is growing in…then you’ll understand where we’re coming from.

We get asked questions about organic certification and why we’ve opted out. For one, did you know each crop you grow needs to be certified (at a cost)? So here we are selling and growing upwards of 20 crops at a time…and those crops change each season. That’s a lot of time and finances to go on ‘proving’ we don’t use toxic chemicals on our produce!

Another reason is because although certification is great for proving there’s no toxins, it doesn’t prove a thing about the nutritional content of the produce/product. For example, John the mineral man (some of you will know who I’m talking about!), once showed me test analysis results for beef comparisons. The three tested samples were 1) Certified Organic Beef 2) Standard beef off the supermarket shelf and 3) His own beef that he grass feeds on pasture that he looks after with minerals etc.

Can you guess which sample was the most nutrient deprived? I would have been sure it was the supermarket beef…but no. The certified organic beef was the lowest in essential minerals/vitamins. His pasture fed (on nourished pasture, that is) was the highest in essential vitamins and minerals. And supermarket beef was right in the middle. Can you see what I’m getting at?

Yes, if you have chemical sensitivities then you’ll be looking for organic certified foods so you KNOW you won’t react. But what I’m talking about is the nutrient profile of your food. Organic certification is not about giving you the most nutritious food. It’s giving you assurance that you are buying food grown without toxins.

Our mission at Birdsong is to provide our customers with nutrient dense, healing foods. We want our veg to be bursting with nutritional goodness. And so far the Brix readings we’re getting are showing that we’re definitely on track!

Now the thing is, when you nourish the soil with minerals, microbes and the like and feed your plants with beautiful plant fertilisers like worm tea and ocean sourced fish emulsion…then you won’t be likely to have the kind of disease and pest issues that lead growers to use pesticides/fungicides anyway!

But the hype is all about avoiding chem sprays and not on nutritional excellence for most growers looking to attract the organic buyers it seems.

Anyway, back to topic of customer certified organic produce. We live just on the outskirts of the city where most of our buyers live. People generally collect their produce straight from the farm gate. When people come, we are happy to give them a tour of the market garden and show them what we’re doing and explain the process. I don’t believe there’s a need for official certification when anyone can check out for themselves that Birdsong is genuine. The only sprays we use here are liquid mineral/fish emulsion/worm tea follier type of sprays.

So there’s some food for thought… is your priority on nutritionally dense food, or just food that’s grown without the use of potentially toxic chemicals?

Birdsong Beginnings

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Our first season is just about half way through!

(Photo: ‘Hand grenade corn’ as my daughter named it. By the way, corn is now finished for the season)

Thanks to all of you who have been out here supporting us and trying out the veg. Mostly it’s been pretty impressive (you’ll get differing opinions there though, as Rick is a pessimist and I’m an optimist). I think all that’s been achieved here is incredible, but he tends to look around and see how much is still incomplete or lacking!

We’re loving eating so much seasonal organic produce, and I’m noticing the boost in my energy levels because of this. For almost 2 months I’ve been naturally waking around 3-4am almost every morning, but not getting tired throughout the day!

Another interesting thing we noticed about the produce is that it has a longer shelf life than some of the supermarket counterparts. The beans in particular have been amazing. We’d harvested a large crate of them and the cold room still wasn’t complete, so we had to leave them inside at room temperature. I told Rick that one night at room temperature sends beans limp. But some of those beans were out for 3 days and they didn’t go limp! (By the way, we don’t sell you older produce like that, we pick fresh for orders, but I used those older beans in bone broth and other recipes at home)

The Brix reading on the beans was 6!! For beans, this is excellent. I’ve also had a few people comment on how long the beans lasted in the fridge…easily a week or more, yet supermarket beans tend to go slimy in the fridge within 3-4 days.

You may of noticed the website can be a bit difficult to use. We have played with this a lot, and yet it doesn’t always behave. Especially the product page. So we’re very sorry if you’ve tried to make a web order and struggled to make sense of it. We also have repeatedly updated the product page, and the updates don’t always go through to published status. So, in the meantime, if you want to know the latest product availability, then email me at racheal@birdsongmarketgarden.com.au

I write up a weekly product list and send out to regular customers, so if you want to be on that list, just email me and let me know.

During these easter school holidays we are open mornings as well as afternoons. As soon as school goes back we’re back to Sunday-Friday afternoon opening hours. BUT, if you really need to do a morning pickup during school term, give us a days notice with your order and try to come before 8:30am and we can manage it. I start teaching at 8:30am and it can be very disruptive to have people arrive during lessons…and Rick’s usually working in the garden mornings, so it’s just not the best time for us!

If any of you who’ve tried to veg have testimonials/comments you’d like published, let me know 🙂

Piel de Sapo- Spain’s favourite melon

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‘Skin of the toad’

‘Santa Claus melon’

‘Christmas Melon’

That’s Piel de Sapo. Don’t be put off by the reference to toad skin! This is only because piel de sapo’s skin is deep green and mottley, kind of like toad skin.

A big hit in Spain, but little known in our region. I must confess I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing of one before. Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of them, after this weeks taste test though!

Rick found one ripe and was so impressed with the flavour he contacted me right away to say it was like a ‘honeydew sorbet.’ The children and I did the official taste test when we got home that afternoon and were suitably impressed. It’s kind of like a honeydew, but like Rick said…a bit like sorbet too. It’s sweet, but not as intensely sweet as honeydew…that sorbet type kick is has gives it something special over the other melons.

Our eldest daughter thinks it’s the best melon she’s ever tasted, and will likely be reluctant to let us sell them!

Piel de sapo is a little smaller than a honeydew too, so great for those who don’t have much spare room in the fridge or don’t have too many mouths to feed (can’t you tell it’s the mother of a large family speaking here?!). Also great for those who take one bite and then can’t help but to eat the whole melon in one sitting!

So if you’re up for trying something new, piel de sapos will be harvested and available this week!

Pinocchio Eggplant

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Isn’t he cute?!

I had to laugh when the morning visit to the trellis patch to collect cucumbers resulted in finding this rather odd little eggplant ready to harvest! Not sure I’ve ever seen an eggplant with a pinocchio nose before! The children were thrilled and ran to blu-tac some googly eyes on for a picture.

And while we’re on the topic of unusual vegetables, here’s our Siamese twin cucumber, harvested the same week as Pinocchio.

The “muncher” variety of cucumbers have been our favourite so far. Sweet, crisp and suitably juicy. The Poinsett cucumbers however, have been struggling with the heat and getting some bitterness. The white cucumbers have been completely bitter (also from the heat). Even peeled they weren’t salable. So our chooks have been living on a staple diet of long white cucumbers! No waste around here! Though it was a shame to have to give about 15kg a week of cucumbers to chickens.

Some people have been asking about our farm gate stall. It’s not open yet. Due to the fact the cucumbers came on early but just about nothing else is ready yet, we’ve just been selling cucumbers directly to friends. The farm gate stall SHOULD open this Autumn. And we plan to have remote eftpos facilities.

The melons and pumpkins are almost ripe. Did you know honeydew melons start to smell like a melon (uncut) when they’re ripe? and they haven’t reached that point yet. And watermelons gain a sheen, as opposed to the powdery finish they have when they’re not yet ripe. It’s driving our ever hungry 6 year old crazy to see all these melons that look the right size, but aren’t ready to eat!

See How They Grow

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Well! It was a pleasant surprise this morning as I headed down to the house from the market garden, to turn back and see how everything is progressing!

Especially as I got a glance of the photos of the paddock before all this started. Wow! So much has happened. Ah, the many blessings of being married to a workaholic…hahaha.

It’s been a while since I posted pics of how he garden is coming along. Every week people ask how long until the crop is ready (nice to know there’s customers waiting!). Autumn. We should be ready to sell in Autumn.

Almost everything is growing rapidly and vibrantly. Carrots are the exception. We never realised that some ants have a fetish for carrot seed. Did you know that? Rick literally planted them out and then checked back in 10 minutes and see ants carting our carrot seed away! So not many of those managed to germinate.

But as for crops like melons, corn, tomato, cucumber, and pumpkin…they’re thriving!

So what you see in the above photo, is one of Rick’s massive time savers…weed mat. The veggies love the compost mix Rick made…but so do the grass and the weeds. The black mat keeps prepared beds weed free until we’re ready to plant them out. The white mat is used on some planted crops, particularly those that aren’t high density, to suppress the weeds.

We’re trialing tomatoes both ways…weed mat and without weed mat. More on that later.

The sheep are no longer allowed to roam the paddock. We usher them next door each day to graze, and have to keep them moving up there at a steady pace so they don’t nibble any bean or corn crops along the way! The gaze longingly at the pasture that’s regenerating since Rick’s compost mix was spread over it, but will have to settle for ordinary pasture for now.

You ‘d be amazed how the 12% shade netting along with Rick’s compost mix boost plant growth! It’s incredible how our struggling old paddock has transformed into this oasis of life-even with little rain.

Until next post….

Shalom, Racheal