Lately and not so lately, my husband and I have been thinking very seriously about living a more sustainable life. Many ideas that we read about are not so practical for a working family living in the suburbs. But many are and so we try to be more mindful of what we eat, where we shop, what we buy and wear, etc. While some of our choices mean more work – it is pleasurable meaningful work – that we know benefits our family and hopefully by making some small changes in how we do things we contribute to a larger movement and community of people who are also making these changes.
What sorts of things am I talking about you may ask? Well most of the things are achievable and a bit experimental and fun, they nurture family time as well as putting us in touch more with our community. For example we have chooks in our backyard. We love our chooks, they are easy to look after, they eat all our table scraps, they produce the most amazing eggs and they are fascinating creatures to watch.
We also have a vegetable patch and a herb garden. We do find that looking after our veggie garden properly – keeping the weeds down and keeping the water up – is difficult and so it is not as productive as we each season hope for. So we recently built a more accessible veggie garden box right off our back deck, and in here we planted lots of things we will eat, are space efficient and quick to grow – for example lettuces and asian greens.
I have a more productive herb garden that I constantly nurture and that provides a lot of satisfaction for everyone. The kids love wandering through the herbs smelling, tasting, and adding to their herb water concoction drinks. The wonderful thing about growing herbs is that they tend to come back each year. I usually leave a few plants to turn to seed each year and then sprinkle the seeds around, and many of the plants may die off in winter but come back again in the spring. I always have a big supply of flat leaf parsley which I use in almost everything. I have different varieties of thyme growing in between rocks, and pavers and filling in spaces here and there. I have a few different lavender and rosemary bushes as well as a bay tree in a pot. I have lots of different sorts of mint popping up as well and fennel does very well in my garden too. Basil and coriander are a bit more fickle and I am trying them again this year in pots by my back door. Oregano, sage and tarragon are also mainstays in the herb patch. If you don’t have herbs growing you really should – they do wonders for your cooking and your spirit.
We are lucky enough to live super close to a very good farmers market – and can get most of what we need there – we buy meat direct from eco friendly farmers, and fruit and veg, in season from local producers. We get our coffee, milk, butter and cheese there too as well as wonderful artisan bread and butter and jam. It feels great to be able to not only support our local producers but to be feeding our bodies with good wholesome food.
We also buy most of our clothes from the second hand store and I make some pieces too. I also spend weekends baking, I bake cakes and bread for school lunches during the week, and experiment with making yoghurts and ricotta cheeses occasionally. I know we have a long way to go – we could grow more, we could make more of our clothes, we could drive less and use our bikes more, and I want to do more food preserving and maybe even keep bees and ducks and have a root cellar of some sort. Its exciting and experimental and feels like a worthwhile journey and way to live our lives.
Some books I am reading on this journey include a few books on home preserving foods. I do freeze a lot of stuff – like pesto and tomato sauces and chicken stock – but have not delved into canning and pickling so much yet. Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton (Storey Publishing (2010). is an incredible resource – with heaps of recipes for everything from jams, chilli sauces to relishes and pickles, organised into chapters by vegetable/fruit. It also has important information about various techniques and what sort of things to look out for – a very good primer for anyone wanting to get into preserving foods. The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar. Jennifer Megyesi. (Skyhorse Publishing 2010) has a lifetime of knowledge on preserving the harvest. Not just vegetables and fruit, but milk and meat and eggs too. With extra tips on what to do with ‘bad’ veg, and which are best varieties of veg to preserve, how to save seeds, what to do with your frozen foods if you lose electricity – just for starters. As well as chapters on canning, drying and storing food in a cellar – this book is much more than recipes and techniques – it is a lifetime of knowledge!
I also like to read up on herb gardening as I am always looking to add more herbs to my garden. The Organic Herb Gardener. By Graham Clarke. (Guild of Master Craftsman 2010) is a nice addition to my herb book shelf – with chapters from propagating and pest control to preserving as well as an excellent directory of herbs and even a seasonal work calendar – this is a great resource. I also like The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs. Charles W. G. Smith. (Storey Publishing 2010) because it concentrates on just 26 of the most useful kitchen herbs – it probably has more recipes and less info on growing than I need – but nevertheless there are some good ideas and useful information for caring for your herbs and using them in various ways in your kitchen.
Cost-Effective Self-Sufficiency. By Eve McLaughlin, Terence McLaughlin and Diane Millis. (David & Charles 2010) is an updated rerelease of a book that was first published in the 60′s. A book well ahead of its time – this book is all about not spending money – using what you have, recycling, reusing, being efficient with time and money and other resources. With information on seed propagation, garden design, soil types, greenhouses, harvesting and preserving – this book is a wealth of information. And it is beautifully presented too – well organised and with lovely illustrations. It is also written in a very user friendly way – everything is explained so nicely for gumby newbie gardeners like me – I love this book!
So if you are just beginning on this journey or a little way in like me – or if you have been a self sufficiency champion for many years – I hope that you will share some of your stories here too.