September 21, 2012

Perennial Food Plants

Sometimes when we talk about growing food we get focused on the crops we can grow and harvest in one year, or a season or two (the annuals) and forget about the food plants that can supply us with food over and over again for many years (the perennials). Not all perennials will last forever but all will give a number of crops. Many regrow easily and have minimal needs, others will continue to grow (trees and shrubs) and will need to be pruned to maintain shape, ease of harvest and productivity. There are many perennial food crops that should be a large part of any productive garden system and many of them will reward us with a bountiful harvest year after year with a minimum of effort on our part.

Fruit trees are the first to spring to mind as there are so many well known varieties of fruits available and a huge range of species that can be grown in a wide range of climates. A few well-grown fruit trees can produce tons of produce, literally. It will take some time for trees to develop and produce a fair return and there is a fair amount of maintenance required to keep trees in good condition and pest free but thinking ahead and planning for the future, investing for the future, is something we all need to do. A few of my favourite fruit trees, for their productivity and nutritional values would include:
  • Apricots (very versatile and very nutritious, even the kernels can be eaten)
  • Peaches (limited shelf life as fresh fruit, can be dried, bottled or made into jam)
  • Satsuma plums (dried satsuma plums are prunes)
  • Lemons (some varieties, such as Lisbon, will produce fruit year round when managed well)
  • Oranges (there are dwarf varieties available that still produce well but are easier to manage)
  • Pears (pears need to cross-pollinate, you can graft a second variety onto a young tree)
  • Apples (trees can be kept small but still productive with correct pruning)
  • Olives (aren't edible raw but can be pickled or used for oil extraction)
  • Dates (this arid zone palm is somewhat difficult to manage but the fruit is nutritionally dense)
  • Avocados (a savoury fruit that keeps well after harvest if picked while still firm)
  • Mangoes ( a tropical fruit, that is loved by many people, drought resistant but frost tender)
  • Papaya (papaya, or paw-paw are fast growing tropical plants that can produce huge fruit)

September 18, 2012

Surviving the Supermarket

[This article is reprinted from the Hard Times Hand Book by Keith & Irene Smith, first published in 1984 (reprinted 1986).  I believe it is as relevant today as it was when first published and I urge readers to seek out this book as it has much to offer in regard to surviving hard times and living well with less. This may become extremely valuable information in the near future. Any comments in red are my comments.]


Supermarket Survival

You have to be a super shopper to shop at supermarkets. There are good buys and bad buys, but there are food buying skills and strategies which you can learn.
Most Australians shop at large supermarkets. we leave our cars in the big parking lot, push our trolleys down the aisles and serve ourselves, paying $7,000 million* for our processed foods at the checkouts each year.
* This was written in 1984 and is very out of date. Australia now has two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths with a third, smaller player player being the IGA branded supermarket operators. Numbers are harder to come by today as these chains have diversified into many types of retail operations. One number I could find shows that Australians are spending $34,000 million on fast foods in a year! Supermarket spending on real food may have increased only slightly, because so much more money is being spent this way. This is a major cause of obesity and poor health.
This mass distribution of foodstuffs, based on the American model, has brought us the benefits of large turnover which puts good quality food-stuffs at good prices on our supermarket shelves.*
With such a variety of food under one roof, the supermarket may be either a cornucopia of plenty, or a Pandora's box full of evils. In the game of wits played between manufacturers and consumers, the choice, in the end, is up to us.
*As a conscious consumer I have noticed a marked decline in the quality of many items and brands as manufacturers try to cut costs. There has also been a marked decline in the area of choice, with many smaller producers being forced off the shelves of the big chains in recent years.
On the one hand, the supermarket, more than anywhere else, is filled with highly processed foods (and some non-foods) which have been treated with chemical additives, preservatives, artificial colouring and flavouring, stabilisers, thickeners, added sugars or other sweeteners, salt ans monosodium glutemate (MSG).
The aim is food which has a long shelf life in attractive packaging, backed by advertising campaigns and television promotion. The foods probably taste good too, but that is not the first consideration.
On the other hand, if you know which foods to select and have some idea of nutritional values,you should be able to buy good quality foods at a fair price, sometimes even at sales prices. Supermarket chains have buying power and there are often genuine bargains and specials if you compare prices from one outlet to another and one brand to another.
The first rule of thumb is always read the label. Buy the product, not the colourful picture on the label of the packet or can. It's what inside that counts. Compare the weight and the price with other brands and find out where the product comes from and the last date it should be eaten. Don't pay extra for 'convenience' such as added sauces or flavourings, sliced or 'ready to serve' foods.
Keenly priced so-called 'generic' house brand or 'no label' goods are often identical to more expensive brands. The cost of the television ad to make you buy the product, or buy more of it, has not been added to them.
In general it is better to buy unpackaged products first, fresh food before frozen, dried foods rather than canned, fresh fruit and vegetables in preference to canned fruit, vegetables and juices.
Plan your meals before shopping, based on the foods in season and any specials that you know about. Write down what you need, take the list with you and try to stick to it. Avoid impulse buying of gourmet foods or other expensive items you'd think you'd like to try.
For your health you should try and cut down on ice cream, foods with added sugar, cigarettes, soft drinks and packets of lollies that are displayed near the cash register.
Supermarkets are businesses. As the trend to eat less processed foods has become apparent, stores are beginning to introduce health food sections. Pre-mixed muesli now accounts for 20% of sales of breakfast cereals (but it is still probably cheaper to mix your own muesli) while sales of natural (unflavoured) yoghurt were $40 million in Australia in 1982.

We think beans, sold in bulk, are the best supermarket bargain today. Many stores now have loose, unpackaged dried peas and beans, lentils and nuts. You serve yourself from bins or bulk containers, so you can see what you are buying and judge the quality easily.
These staple legumes are a good source of protein. Especially good value are black-eyed peas (cow-peas), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, soybeans*, lima beans, split peas, kidney beans, pinto beans and whole peas. These may be sprouted after washing, or prepared in dozens of no-meat meals. Canned beans are at least double the price.
*Soybeans have some (toxin) issues and these days tend to be a GMO crop. I tend to avoid anything soy and anything GMO. It's a personal choice.

Some types of tinned food are good value. Fish, for example, tuna and sardines, provides good protein and vitamins. Buy several cans when the prices are low and store them in the pantry. Buy for your intended use and, usually, around middle price. There is little meat in some tinned meat mixtures. Irish stew often has more potatoes than meat. Again, read the label.

Always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly when you get home to remove chemical spray residues, but peel them shallowly because the best nutrients are just under the skin. Make your own fruit juices from fresh fruit. As you walk through the supermarket, think about which products you might be able to process yourself at home, for example, bread, yoghurt, salad dressings and bean sprouts.
Many processed foods are high in calories but low in nourishment. We've grown up white bread and sugar and potatoes, the legacy of depression and war. We have locked-in taste preferences, but we must be prepared to learn more and change our buying and eating habits for our health and our financial well-being.
To eat cheaply from the supermarket requires a degree of consumer sophistication, time to plan and cook the food properly, a willingness to experiment and the ingenuity to make the cheap food tasty - turning yuk into yummy.


September 17, 2012

Zucchini Relish and Pickle


If you have ever grown zucchinis you will know that they are very prolific producers, needing to be harvested almost every day. Six plants can swamp a household with fresh zucchinis and if you try giving them away, sooner or later your friends will stop visiting and your neighbours will avoid you. If you don't pick them small then they expand into a giant marrow that is watery and somewhat bitter. To be honest, at their best they are a pretty tasteless vegetable. They do go well in a tomato and onion based pasta sauce, or in breads or cakes. I'm sure there are other recipes that aren't too bad either. Here are a couple of easy recipes to help extend the harvest past the growing season and keep your friends and neighbours onside.


Here's a quick and easy recipe for zucchini relish.
  • 1kg zucchini, grated or shredded
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbspns salt
  • 1 tspn mustard
  • 1 tspn tumeric
  • 1/2 tspn curry powder
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tbspns cornflour

Cover the zucchini, onion and salt with water and stand for two hours. Drain well. Mix together remaining ingredients, except for cornflour.

Add this to the drained zucchini. Stand for one hour.

Boil for 30 minutes and then add cornflour that has been mixed with a little vinegar. Boil for 10 minutes then bottle and seal jars.


This next one is very popular with all who taste it. It's like a sweet mustard pickle. I have at times substituted beans, corn, cauliflower and the like for some of the zucchini, which is also successful, but it's at its best made with zucchini.

  • 1 kg zucchini
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 small capsicum (red looks attractive)
  • ¼ cup salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
Chop the zucchini, onion and capsicum finely. Add the salt and leave to stand for two hours or more. Drain.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, mustard powder and turmeric. Place the vegetable mixture into this, bring to the boil, then cook for 20 minutes.

If you think it necessary at this stage, the pickle can be thickened with one dessertspoon of cornflour mixed to a paste with a little white vinegar.

September 15, 2012

My Top 20 Vegetables for the Home Garden

These are my top 20 vegetables to grow at home and it's based on my locality and climate zone (temperate - mediterranean), as well as my personal tastes and preferences. I also considered such things as productivity, storage options and variety. Other people in different climate zones may have other preferences for their own list and some people may have different tastes or dietary regimes than I do, so this list is not conclusive or exclusive. It's probably important to mention that these are only a part of a productive garden, which should have fruit and nut trees and some berry crops such as strawberries or grapes, or whatever suits your climate. There are a wide range of perennial food plants that can contribute much to a healthy diet and add to productivity by utilising spaces (horizontal, vertical and lateral) that may be seen as unsuitable for vegetable beds. I hope this list might provide some good ideas for anyone thinking about what to grow in their garden that will provide a good crop in a reasonably short time frame.

1. Tomatoes

 Tomatoes are so versatile and so productive that it would be hard to go past them in most garden planning. (Yes, I know they are a fruit but let's just call them a vegetable for now, so they can get onto the list.) Excess fruit can be made into a wide range of sauces, relishes and pickles or they can be bottled or dried, extending the harvest over an entire year and beyond.

2. Potatoes

These are one of my staples. I eat potatoes in almost every meal in one form or another. Potatoes can be stored for many months if they are stored well and in raised beds with straw mulching they can be a very productive crop in a fairly small space. Some people prefer to buy certified seed potatoes for growing but I tend to use potatoes I have grown or buy potatoes from the grocery store and plant the healthy looking, disease free spuds when the eyes start to develop. Having a variety of potatoes is a good idea as this reduces the risk of crop loss from diseases and widens the cooking options as well.

3. Beans

There are so many variety of beans that I could fill the garden with them and still not cover the full list. I tend to grow climbing varieties such as Purple King or Blue Lake, as I have a fence line that get's full sun for most of the day and the beans on a trellis do well there in a small space. The harvest of fresh beans can be extended by blanching and freezing the excess and seeds can be saved by leaving some pods to develop fully and dry on the vine. Scarlet Runner Beans are not suited to my region but are a perennial variety that will do well for a number of years in cooler climates. Then there are Broad Beans, which can be planted in Autumn and harvested in the Winter and then there are the varieties that dry well and can be stored and used at any time, such as Borlotti, Red Kidney, Harricot and so on.

4. Pumpkins and Squash

 Pumpkins and squash are plants that need space and sunlight but the planting hole only needs to be small. For a big crop they require plenty of nutrients and good pollination. Pollination can be increased by collecting pollen from the male flowers in the morning and hand pollinating the female flowers in the afternoon. Most varieties are excellent storers that require no refrigeration. Baked pumpkin is a favourite, as is pumpkin soup. 

5. Spinach

A small patch of spinach will keep producing for many months, or years if you plant one of the perennial varieties. The young leaves can be eaten fresh in a salad and more mature leaves can be gently heated as a hot green vegetable. My favourite method of cooking spinach is to wash the fresh leaves, toss in a collander to remove excess water and then wilt in a warm to hot frypan for a minute or two. Salt, pepper, butter or olive oil can be added to taste, as can a small handful of sesame seeds. This nutrient rich food is a great addition to the diet. As this is a cool-climate plant, it's not really suited for the hot summers we have in my area but planting seeds in Autumn will mean I will be able to harvest spinach leaves through Winter and Spring, right into early Summer.

September 13, 2012



I love this tricycle. It would come in really handy for local foraging and shopping trips. I think I need to build one. Unfortunately, the linked site of bicyclelaneindustries seems to be broken but this is a pretty simple build I think. It's going onto my future plans for things to do when I get a roundtuit.

September 12, 2012

Loquat Jam

My loquat tree is fruiting well this year and the fruit is starting to ripen up. (Fruit is ripe when it turns orange and is sweet to taste.) I don't normally do much with this fruit as it has an unusual taste that is nice but can become somewhat cloying if you eat too many, so the birds and my friends have got most of the harvest in years gone by. This year I have decided to make some loquat jam, so I went searching for a good jam recipe and found this one. It sounds interesting, with enough lemon juice to help balance the sweetness of the loquats and butter. I have never used butter in jam making before but I will try it and see how it works out.

Anyway, I thought I would share this recipe here, which I found at Wish me luck, if it works out well (or poorly) I will let you know later.
*Loquats are a problematic fruit. You need to pick them and then make them into jam immediately. They have absolutely no shelf life off of the tree. They will literally rot overnight, even in the refrigerator.

Loquat Jam

  • 6 cups loquats, pitted and skinned
  • 7 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • 1 package Sure Jell/ Jam setter/ Fruit pectin

  • Sterilize your jars and lids. Any other implements (spoons, funnels) should also be dropped in boiling water before they come in contact with the fruit. As soon as you cut the fruit, place it in a large bowl with the lemon juice so that the fruit does not discolor. Once you have all of the fruit prepared, toss the fruit with the pectin and put it in a large pot and bring to a boil. Once it is at a rolling boil take it off of the heat and stir in the sugar.

    Toss the sliced loquats in the lemon juice to keep the fruit from browning

    Put it back on the heat and bring back to a boil. Let it boil for 1 minute. Add the butter. Stir to blend. Skim the top of any bubbles/scum. Ladle the jam into already sterilized jars. Don’t ladle past the rim, stop right below the beginning of the lip of the jar. Try not to get jam on the rim. If you do, use a clean cloth and wipe the rim before you put on the lid.
    Screw on the tops and the lids tightly. Invert immediately. Leave inverted for about 1 hour and then flip over. Let the jam cool before you move the jars. The jars should ping as they cool. If they do not ping the jar has not sealed. Refrigerate this jam and use in the near term.

    [ I made a sample batch following this recipe with one minor alteration. I left my jam to simmer for around 30 minutes as it improves the storage life of most jams. I ended up with a sweet, dark pink jam that has set very well and I'm sure will keep well in the larder. This test batch is a little too sweet for my tastes and I think that's because I used equal quantities of fruit and sugar by volume, when it should probably be equal quantities by weight. There is quite a lot of work involved in peeling and cutting the fruit and it does bruise very easily. Compared to other fruits, it's probably not the best use of time but my loquat tree is still loaded with fruit and it would be a shame to see it go to waste.]

    September 10, 2012

    Bee Friendly Plants For The Garden

    The bees are in trouble and they need our help. But more importantly, we need the bees' help to pollinate our food crops. It's a mutually beneficial type of relationship and as a species we have been exploiting that relationship for centuries without much thought. Bee numbers are diminishing, both in the wild and in honey production. What can we do to help? Diversity of planting is a good start. Not spraying toxic chemicals helps as well. Then we can perhaps consider planting more bee-friendly plants in our gardens or on our farms, especially those that have good amounts of nectar. Bees need pollen and nectar to make food. Lots of flowers have pollen but I had to scratch my head a bit on nectar. So, I did some research online and compiled these lists. Help save the bees!

    Queen of The Sun; What Are the Bees Telling Us?

    Hi folks, this short trailer from youtube is about the honeybee and it's importance to us all. I'm looking forward to the full length film and I will be thinking more about bees and different things I might be able to do in my garden to encourage their activity and help sustain them.

    Of course, diversity in planting is impotant, and having nectar sources is probably even more important. I know that many species of eucalyptus flowers are excellent sources of nectar for bees and make some of the tastiest honeys I have ever eaten. I think I need to do some more research on bee friendly plants and maybe post a list here for future reference.

    September 07, 2012

    Stocking The Larder

    It's one of the basic truths of growing your own food and living on what you produce - there will be times of feast and there will be times of famine. That's why it's very important to keep a well stocked larder, or pantry, or cellar, or kitchen cupboards. When those times of famine roll around it pays to have a good mixture of supplies on hand to meet all of your dietary needs.

    You can store any excess from the garden in a variety of ways, such as bottling, drying or freezing (freezers are great until the power goes off for more than a few hours, then you can have a problem). Jam, sauces and pickles, dried herbs and fruits, all add flavour and variety to the diet. Dried beans are a good source of protein but it pays to combine beans with a cereal product to get the enzymes necessary to aid in the breakdown of the protein of the beans. That's probably why beans and rice is a staple meal in some places. Beans and rice might sound a bit boring on it's own but with some flavour additives, such as dried chillies and a tomato sauce, it can become an interesting meal. Nuts are a good source of protein and can be stored in the shells for extended periods. Corns and maizes can be dried on the cob for grinding into flour. Smoked meats and sausages (salamis/wursts) will store well in a cool, dark space with good air movement.

    Some vegetables store better than others. Potatoes and pumpkins (and some squash) have excellent storage qualities if they are handled right. Potatoes need to be stored in a dark, cool, dry place with air movement. One traditional method of storing potatoes was to place them in a straw-lined box in layers, with a layer of straw in between and covering each layer. This can keep rot from spoiling the whole lot. On larger farms, this storage might be in an area of the barn that had a low wall to separate the storage bin from the barn floor. Pumpkins can be stored anywhere, as long as there is good air circulation. It used to be common to see pumpkins on the tank-stands in many backyards here in Australia. They would sit there through all weather and still be edible for many months. Brown onions store better than white or red varieties but all can be stored in a vegetable safe of pantry for months. I haven't tried it myself but it's possible to plat the leaves of onions together, with the onions still attached, to make a string of onions that can be hung from a hook in the kitchen or store room. Garlic can be done in the same method as well. Herbs that dry well (most of them) can be harvested on longer stems, tied in a bundle and hung from to dry as well. If you can do it in your kitchen then you will just be able to reach up and cut off what you need as you cook.

    Another old method of storing crops, root vegetables in particular, was to dig a root cellar. This didn't have to be very big or deep, 2 metres (5-6 foot) is enough. A simple roof was made to keep the weather out but the walls were left bare earth and the root vegetables would be stored in the earth of the walls. In more temperate climates, root vegetables can be left in the soil in the garden for many months through winter but in colder climates the earth can freeze and this can damage the crop.

    Shopping For The Larder

    Being 100% self sufficient is hard work and may not be possible for most people but we can all learn to be more self reliant. So buying in food is still going to be a part of most gardeners lives but what we buy is important as well, especially when it comes to stocking up the larder for long-term storage.
    Here's a list of bought foods I like to keep on hand for emergencies and general use.
    Dried beans - as many varieties as possible.
    Dried green and golden peas - great for hearty winter soups.
    Dried chick peas - these have many uses, they deserve a whole page.
    Rice - this is a basic staple, a source of carbohydrates and the basis of many fine meals.
    Pearl barley - goes well in soups and stews, especially with lamb.
    Sugar - it's a preservative as well as a sweetener
    Salt - another preservative and flavouring agent but it's also a dietary requirement in small amounts.
    Pepper - I prefer cracked black pepper and peppercorns can store for years without losing flavour.
    Olive oil - can be used for cooking and salad dressings, or even just brushed onto fresh bread or toast as a butter substitute.
    Vinegar - another preservative that can also be an ingredient in many recipes to balance flavours.
    Dried herbs and spices - I buy the more exotic herbs and spices that I cannot grow, in small amounts for cooking. What would life be without a little spice?
    Dried pasta - spaghetti, fettuccine, macaroni and shells all have a place in my larder.
    Rolled oats - for breakfast or baking.
    Flour - I tend to buy plain flour and add some baking powder when required.
    Baking powder- this is a mixture of tartaric acid and baking soda.
    Dried yeast - for baking breads and buns.
    Curry powder - I like curries and the powder will store for many years.
    Breakfast cereals - I keep some basic cereals in rotational storage, such as corn flakes or wheat biscuit types.
    Canned baked beans - sometimes, a quick meal is a good meal and baked beans can fill the spot. (I have a homemade baked beans recipe but it's a slow-cook recipe, not exactly fast food.
    Canned sardines - not everyone likes the taste but sardines are rich in omega oils and store well.
    Canned tuna - stores well and has a variety of meal applications
    Canned tomatoes - they are very cheap to buy and store well.
    Canned pineapple - I can't grow pineapple where I live but the canned product is pretty good.
    Canned fruit - peaches, pears and apricots in cans are all good, usually they are canned in a syrup made from pear juice or a sugar syrup. (there are many exotic fruits available in cans as well)
    Canned soups - I prefer canned soups rather than canned stews as the taste and textures are usually better. I like to keep a few cans on hand, mostly in the winter.
    Tea & coffee - these tend to lose flavour over time, especially coffee, so keep rotating from storage to use to maintain quality.
    UHT milk - ultra heat treated milk has a shelf life of 3 years. I prefer fresh but keep some UHT milk on hand as well, for those times I run out and can't get to the shop.
    Dry cracker biscuits - some varieties keep for years without going stale or soggy as long as the pack stays sealed.
    Sprouting seeds - alfalfa is the best known sprout but there are many seeds that can be sprouted to provide fresh and nutritious greens for salads and sandwiches.
    There's a lot of other things in my larder that reflect my personal tastes in food such as balsamic vinegar, bottled olives,  custard powder etc. It's up to each individual to make their own choices as there's no point buying and storing foods you will never eat. Of course I prefer to eat fresh foods whenever I can but a well stocked larder can enhance meals and help us cope with shortages.
    * You might like to consider storing some candles, safety matches, batteries and bottled water as well for those serious emergencies when services are down and shops are cleared out.
    * It's been estimated that the average supermarket has only three days worth of stock on hand and this can vanish in hours when an emergency situation arises. Be prepared!

    Watch out for pests such as rats and mice and insect pests such as weevil's and ants. Make sure everything is in well sealed containers or packaging or kept out of reach of pests. Try and maintain a high level of cleanliness in your larder as well for food safety and maximum storage life. Light, heat and moisture are the enemies of food storage, good air circulation will be beneficial as it helps reduce the risk of mould or fungal growth.

    September 05, 2012


    If there is one thing that could be said about all human beings, one thing that is common to everyone, it is fear. We all fear something or other. Some fears are reasonable, some fears are important to keep us alive, some fears are projections of other peoples' fears and some fears are nothing more than tricks of the mind.

    Some people seem to fear nothing and other people seem to fear everything. Those who say they have no fears are not being truthful. They fear admitting to having fears because that could be seen as a sign of weakness and that might bring ridicule. That is a very common fear, as is the fear of being proved wrong in some way. For some people, their greatest fears revolve around being exposed as a fraud or a failure, or having their dirty little secrets (sins?) exposed.
    Then there is fear of pain and death. The hero might steel his heart and put aside those fears for the cause, fully prepared to face whatever comes, including death. But they are still there at some level, nagging away below the surface. These are natural fears that help keep us from accidentally killing ourselves, maybe a thousand times a day. Problems only really arise when we let our fears rule our minds. Being mindful of danger and avoiding it is sensible. Being fearful of the world and seeing danger in everything in it is a form of illness and it can destroy lives.

    I don't mind admitting it, I have known fear intimately, even though I'm a big strong bloke who lives in a safe place with no serious security threats.