eco living

November (and a little bit into December) is book month at Whipup.net

Ok Ok – I have a dream… it includes a farm and some animals and lots of kids (being good and playing nicely), rain and sunshine and vegetables, honey and fresh air, free range eggs, a pizza oven and homemade bacon. I am thus just a little bit addicted to reading books on these topics, growing my yearning toward change and a new lifestyle – somewhere green and rainy and lush – maybe with a beach – does it sound nice?

The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses By Richard A. Jones and Sharon Sweeney-Lynch. Stewart, Tabori & Chang (April 1, 2011).

Wow – beautiful book, full of amazing historic images, illustrations and posters – full of facts and history – myths and stories – bees in literature, art and ritual – the first chapter makes for incredible bedtime reading. Next everything you need to know about the honeybee- types of bees, the lifecycle, how they communicate, why they sting, where they live, man’s relationship with the bee and how to create a bee friendly garden. All super interesting stuff – and filled with amazing images of bees, bee hives, swarms, bee anatomy, as well as beautiful hand drawn illustrations – just stunning.

Next chapter is the ins and outs of keeping bees, when what how and who – everything you need to know to keep bees and harvest honey in your own garden. This section has wonderful practical advice on hive construction and where to locate it – looking after and feeding your bees and proper hygiene and safety. Again there are some amazing photos and a really informative section on what to expect in a beekeeping year. And of course how to harvest all that lovely honey and beeswax. The next to last section is all about honey and the bee byproducts (beeswax, pollen and royal jelly), including medicinal, scientific and food uses. This section begins with a really informative section on the types of honey, then goes on to make candles from beeswax through to the medicinal properties of honey. Lastly – recipes, crafts and home remedies – from honey syrups, drinks and marinades to hair products, skin creams, soaps and healthful tonics. This is probably the most thorough and interesting book on bees and beekeeping I think I have ever seen (I know I am not an expert – but this book is really fabulous).

The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals: Choose the Best Breeds for Small-Space Farming, Produce Your Own Grass-Fed Meat, Gather Fresh … Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Cattle, & Bees by Gail Damerow. Published by Storey Publishing (March 23, 2011). (Distributed in Australia through Capricorn Link)

A practical guide to raising your own animals for food and includes chapters on each of the animals covered: chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese, rabbits, bees, goats, sheep, pigs, and cows. Most of these animals except maybe for ducks, chooks and bees are really not meant for the average backyard, this book really goes beyond the basic small-space animal husbandry and is more hobby farm material than for the suburban backyard farmer. This book is not meant to be a one stop shop – rather it makes for a great general overview while you are researching your topic.

Homesteading in the 21st Century: How One Family Created a More Sustainable, Self-Sufficient, and Satisfying Life By George Nash and Jane Waterman. Published by Taunton Press (May 3, 2011) (Distributed in Australia through Capricorn Link).

Wonderfully inspiring book written by a couple with a lifetime each of experience working and living a self sufficient life. Full of not only practical farming life, but also real interesting stories and advice of farm life. It’s difficult to explain this book – it’s an eclectic mix of part how-to manual and part memoir. The advice given is so obvious heart felt and hard earned – and the writing style is real too – the voices of these farmer folk comes through real and raw – it’s wonderful. A perfect book to be reading over the next year while I think about our next step into the unknown.

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November is book month at Whipup.net

The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder through the Seasons By Amanda Blake Soule and Stephen Soule. Published by Roost Books (August 9, 2011).

Because I am such a big fan of Amanda Soule’s blog and have ‘known’ her online since we both started up our blogs many years ago – it’s a bit difficult for me to give an unbiased review – so I am not going to bother with that – instead I will just tell you that Amanda writes, parents, crafts and lives a beautiful, meaningful and inspiring life. I am sure it’s not easy – all those kids, homeschooling, self sufficiency, a farm and a business – but she does it with style and without complaint. Her husband Steve, who co-authored this book, has a different style of writing – almost poetic, it is so obvious that this is a family living their dream and loving each other.

Each month of the year is prefaced with an essay from both Amanda and Steve, they talk about what is happening on the farm and in the family, the seasons are very important as is the routine and rhythm of a homeschooling family with five children, lots of animals and a very crafty and creative and nature based environment. Each month is accompanied by a couple of seasonal crafts, activities or recipes. These are simple, thoughtful and nurturing, not fancy, difficult or even particularly original – it’s the way they are presented – as part of the whole picture that makes each project important.

January begins with Amanda’s thoughts on the push and pull of inside and outside on a wintry day, she discusses the heart of the family and the projects they will do, while Steve reminisces about his childhood and the role of the father in the day’s rhythm. They make potato soup, knit a simple cowl and make icy sun catchers. In other months they watch the birds, tend the animals, make nature bags and press flowers. Later in the year they go on picnics, plant seedlings, make jam and go on walks.

Inspiring and beautiful and simple.

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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.

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