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26 November 2014

Save money - grow your own herbs

Good morning everyone. I haven't quite returned to my previous posting time and I'm not sure I will. At the moment, late morning posting seems to be working for me.  Today I'm writing this on Hanno's computer because mine is being repaired. It will take at least two to three days so we'll have to see how it goes. I hope I'm back tomorrow but if I'm not, I'll be here soon after.

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If you're like me you've discovered the pleasure of eating food flavoured with herbs. Even when our garden isn't fully productive I generally have parsley, oregano, mint, thyme and lemon thyme and a small bay tree in pots to keep me supplied with fresh herbs.  When the garden is in full production I have sage, lemon balm, rosemary, borage and comfrey as well.  But it's the herbs in pots I want to write about today because no matter where you live, they will keep the fresh herbs coming for your meals and save you money in the process.

Above and below: these are some of our in-ground herbs - sage, two kinds of parsley and rosemary.


Most fresh herbs at Woolworths cost $2.98 a bunch. If you buy a bunch of parsley, chives, basil, oregano and bay leaves each week, you'll be adding about $14.75 to your weekly shop for those basic herbs. It will be more if you're adding a greater variety of herbs.  Of course you could use dried herbs, but fresh herbs give a special taste to the meals we cook and they add nutrition, which dried herbs don't. Herbs are really easy to grow in pots.  The added benefit is that if you're renting, you can still grow them, even if your landlord says you can't have a garden. They're also portable, you can take them with you when you move and you can place them exactly where they need to be - anywhere from full sun to full shade, depending on the herb. Most herbs need good drainage. That just means that when you water your herbs, or if it rains on them, the soil needs to drain off the water so the roots don't get water-logged and die. If you have clay soil, herbs will not grow well. So the solution is to grow the herbs in pots - and to vary the size of the pot according to the amount of that herb you usually use.

Above: ordinary thyme.
Below:    lemon thyme.
For instance, most herbs will do very well in a normal pot of about 12-20cm. Remember you need to give the plants enough space for good root growth because the size of the root ball will determine the size of the plant. If you restrict the roots, the plants will usually remain small. So use a bigger pot rather than a smaller one.  Don't go the opposite direction and go too big because most herbs need to be able to fill the pot within a few months and some like to be root bound. Herbs such as mint will easily fill a large pot and grow well if you give it good potting soil and enough water.

Above - our oregano pot which sits in the entrance of the bush house, with morning sun and shade the rest of the day.
Below - our mint needs repotting. I hope to do it today because when I took these photos this morning, it looked very sad. I'm going to put it into a larger container - I have an ancient enamel baby bath - cut the plant back to ground level, moisten the soil and fertilise, and it will grow like the clappers.
I've grown herbs here in plastic troughs and polystyrene troughs but the polystyrene does disintegrate quickly when it's left to sit in the sun. Plastic pots are better for herbs because they retain the moisture a bit better than terracotta ones. So use your common sense. Don't go overboard buying containers if you have something suitable on hand. Recycle old containers, buckets, olive oil tins (minimum size 4 litres/quarts), polystyrene boxes but if you've only got terracotta, use it, you'll just have to water it a tiny bit more. If I were to buy something new to use, I'd go for two 4-5 litre plastic/rubber, two-handled tubs. You could make up two very good mixed herb gardens in two of them. Make sure you plant the herbs together that need the same conditions. For instance, most Mediterranean herbs (parsley, rosemary etc.) like drier conditions, herbs such as mint and oregano like moist, not wet, soil.

Some herbs can be difficult to propagate from seeds so I generally buy seedling herbs or I start them from root cuttings.  Mint and oregano easily grow from root cuttings.  Just get a piece of the plant with a bit of root attached, place in on the top of your filled pot - use good quality potting mix - tap down the soil over the top of the root, water well and leave it in a shady place to establish. After a couple of weeks, when you've seen some leaf growth, place the pot in a suitable place. Most herbs need full or partial sun but oregano and mint both like shade with only a small burst of sunshine in the early morning.


Even though they're classified as a vegetable, if you have a little more room, and you can find them, grow some Welsh onions too. They are perennial onions, which means, if you cut them correctly, you'll have them forever.  As you can see by the photo of our Welsh onions above, we cut them off about one inch above soil level and the onions quickly grow another top. Over the course of a year, they'll flower and multiply to keep you in fresh green onions all through the year. Yet another money saver.  And yes, they too can be grown in a container. I think a 4 litre tub full of Welsh onions would be a great asset to any cook's kitchen.If you have a friend who is growing these onions, they will grow well if you plant up the bottoms. Seeds are available here:

 POTTING MIX 
Buy a good quality potting mix but not the one with all the additives. You'll be doing your own fertilising so you don't need additional time-release fertiliser or water retainer. Potting mix here has a red Australian Standard stamp on it, that is the one we use. If you're overseas, buy your basic standard potting soil. Please note: you can't use garden soil, it will kill the herbs because it won't drain effectively in a pot. Remember to re-pot your herbs every two years.

 WATERING 
The sunnier the position, the more water the herb will probably need. Pots need more water than your in-ground plants. I water my pots every two days in summer but watch yours and see how long they can go without wilting. When you know that, water just before you know the plant will wilt.

 FERTILISING 
The slower a herb grows, the more flavour it will have, so don't go crazy with the fertiliser.  A monthly, very week watering with comfrey fertiliser, or an organic liquid fertiliser as a weaker than recommended solution, will keep your herbs in tip-top shape.

 PRUNING 
You'll be using the herbs frequently so that will count as pruning for most of the year. Plants such as mint and oregano love to be cut back about once or twice a year.  Wait till the end of the season when the plant is naturally weaker, and cut it off to soil level. Then fertilise with a weak solution of whatever fertiliser you use and watch it spring back into growth.

It doesn't take much to get a small group of your favourite herbs growing in pots in the backyard or on the window sill. If you put in the time to do that, and to water them, you'll save a lot of money over the course of the year.  When you get into it, work out ways to dry or freeze your leftover herbs so you never have to buy herbs again. That is entirely possible, it just requires the desire and the commitment to do it. I think it's a very worthwhile frugal, self-reliance project.


24 November 2014

Back inside the bubble

I promised another post about my trip, so here it is. Before I go on though, I'd like to thank everyone who commented on the previous post and who welcomed me back to the blog. I sometimes think of giving up this blog. Blogging has changed a lot in the past couple of years but as long as I have such loving comments, I'll keep writing. Although we still live very simply and that will remain the focus here, my thoughts often wander to other things that not many people write about, such as ageing and dying. So along the way there will be a sprinkling of those posts and a few opinion pieces too.

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Back inside the bubble. Hurrah!

First there is the solo drive down to the Blue Mountains. After weeks of anticipation and waiting, THE morning when I get up early, earlier than I usually do, make a thermos of tea, get into my car and drive into the dark-soon-to-be-light. The first part is manoeuvring through local and city traffic to reach country roads before there are too many people and cars around.  I made the trip from home to my first stretch of country road, near Ipswich, in under two hours. Okay, everything's good. Get the music cranked up and let's get this show on the road.  What follows is a lot of loud singing of songs you'd never believe I like, but I filled my lungs with sound and joy and happily drove mile after mile.

There are so many unused railway stations along the way. I think that's such a shame for two reasons: we should have less trucks on the roads and more trains transporting goods around.  And we should be allowing a family to live in these buildings.
Some signs our overseas friends may not have seen.

 I stopped at a few country graveyards that are usually beside an abandoned church.

There was a lot of food growing in plain sight of the highway. Here I noticed some wild fennel but there were also apple and pear trees, and blackberry brambles.

I stopped at a bakery for a cranberry and orange muffin and then sat in the quiet shade of a country lane with my cup of tea, away from the passing traffic (because I'm paranoid that I'll be captured by a serial killer and no one will ever see me again). Looking around I could see cows, a half full dam and over on the hill, a few alpacas. I felt good, a new adventure before me beginning to unfold. I was out of my familiar bubble and loving it.

And the excitement of being out in the world, alone, being able to go where I please without telling anyone where I'll be is almost overwhelming. There is bliss is leaving behind many of the responsibilities of the average day. Being where there is traffic and hussle and bustle, where exciting things can start at any moment, where opinions, values and beliefs change with the wind. It's exciting and sometimes enriching being out there and part of IT.

I spent a week with Tricia out in the world. We ate out, met people, stayed at home and talked, watched movies, knitted and sewed. It was an absolute joy. But as the days passed by, my thoughts returned to home and then after a day or two more, I wanted to be there. There was nothing wrong being where I was, I just wanted to be in my chosen place, doing my work in silence, surrounded by trees.

Tricia's kitchen.

Tricia's beautiful wood stove.
 This is Tricia's backyard. Look at the elephant garlic growing as high as the shed roof.

 This is a little wool shop we visited in Katoomba - The Granny Square in Waratah Street.

There is such a wide chasm between being out in the world, where anything can happen, and my normal days, alone and quiet with Hanno, inside our bubble. Having chosen to live as we do and where we do, it's comforting to know that I can make these solo trips and still come home feeing the same way - that this is where I belong. Home has a way of letting you know where you're at your best. I surrender to that feeling and I'm staying put for a while.

21 November 2014

I've had enough

Hello everyone!  It seems like months since I've been here with you.  I missed writing my blog but I was so busy doing nothing, I didn't have time to post while I was on the road. And I guess that deep within me I felt I was collecting bits and pieces to share with you later on when I had the chance to think about it all. I really needed a holiday and I've come back tired but reinvigorated and motivated to keep the blog going. 

Tricia and I met in Tamworth. She travelled up on the train from Sydney; I drove down and we met when the train arrived. For those of you unfamiliar with Australian towns, Tamworth is noted for being the country music capital of our nation. There were a few cowboys in ten gallon hats and a huge golden guitar and, of course, lots of country hospitality.

Here is Megan, wrapping my items.

We overnighted in Tamworth and travelled out to meet Megan and Duncan at the Odgers and McClelland Exchange Store in Nundle the next morning. The long and winding road leading to Nundle is an easy drive through rolling hills, passing a few isolated homesteads. I couldn't quite believe it when I set eyes on the store. It was exactly as I'd seen it in photos, an ageing timber building that you could imagine people from a different time shopping at.  We walked inside and there she was - Megan embraced me like we were old friends, I introduced Tricia and we met Duncan, who had been busy packaging up parcels being sent out all over Australia.

I love finding people who live where they want to live and make a living right there in their chosen place. It's not an easy thing to do but Megan and Duncan have built up their customer base by delivering quality goods as reasonable prices. Their family is now reaping the benefits of their decision and all the hard work that followed it.



And then we started looking around. Oh my! What a place. The shop is full of the tools of household production. Cleaning brushes from Germany, enamel cook ware, cast iron pans, beautiful ceramic bowls, soaps, balms, all sorts of washing up kit, tea, tea making paraphernalia, jams, sauces, brooms, buckets and gardening tools. I would like to tell you I admired it all and left, but in fact I took many, things with me. I did take only what I'll use though and everything I have will make my work here easier or more enjoyable.



One of the many reasons I love this shop is that when you're walking around, browsing through the items there, you actually feel like you're in a really old store and you're a part of it. The shop is 125 years old, it's not been renovated, painted or changed. There are no computers, no modern till or cash drawer. My purchases (or a list of my bartering) was written out by hand on a piece of paper. The store is an artefact from bygone days and truly authentic, right down to the squeaky floorboards and hatch to the cellar.



And look at this lovely customer walking around. Yes, it's Tricia. She enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

If you're new to my blog, I'd like you to know that I don't take on the many advertisers who ask me for space with the promise of dollars. I go instead with a select few merchants and primary producers who deal in the things I use in my home. They're good quality, usually hard to find, and they last day in and day out, helping me keep house in the way I choose to. I never recommend a business unless I know I can truthfully say I use their products and I'm happy with them.

Here they are, our littlest loves - Johnathan and Alanna, with Tricia.

The following day we were in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. I had a wonderful time with my sister and her family.  I saw two of my four nephews, David and Danny, met Alanna, Danny and Laura's daughter, for the first time, and reacquainted myself with little Johnathan. He's growing fast and is a real cutie. While I was driving back I reflected on my visit to Tricia's and realised, yet again, how fortunate I am to have the family I have. To celebrate The Family, yours and mine, I've included this lovely song by the Avett Brothers, which was one of the many I listened to on my trip.



Solo driving is a wonderful way to stir up memories and to discover more about our beautiful land. I'll do another post about the trip soon because I had a lot of time to think as I drove those country roads, and I have more photos to share with you. 

And then I arrived home, drove in our driveway, beeped the horn and Hanno walked out. We hugged and over his shoulder I could see our garden. I was sure we'd lose some plants because of the very hot weather that had come too soon. But there it was - cosmos blowing in the breeze, lush parsley, lettuces and green onions. Rows of bok choy, cucumbers almost bursting out of their skins and enough growth on the cherry tomatoes to sink a ship. It was a wonderful way to be welcomed back home. And the best part was that I was missed and I missed being here. So that's it for me for another year. I doubt I'll travel anywhere so far away again in the coming 12 months and I doubt I'll be in another shop for a long time. I've had enough for the time being and enough is all anyone could want.

11 November 2014

A road trip

I'm off to visit my sister in NSW tomorrow and I'm so looking forward to it. I have most of my bits and pieces packed, later today I'll pack my clothes and toiletries. I feel like I'm setting off on the Queen Mary for an extended trip in a luxury suite (with butler service), but in fact I'll be packing a sandwich and driving myself along the New England Highway to meet up with Tricia in Tamworth. She's travelling up on the train from Sydney. We'll overnight in Tamworth then visit the Odgers and McClennan Exchange Stores in Nundle, about an hour's drive away. Meeting Megan and Duncan and looking through their store will be one of the highlights of the trip for me.



I'm looking forward to meeting Tricia's granddaughter for the first time, seeing Jono again and catching up with my nephews. I have this little sunsuit for Alanna. I bought it from one of Sarndra's friends in Gladstone at her Facebook shop. This lady does beautiful work. I can't fault it and will be very proud to give it to Alanna, even though I didn't make it myself.

Although I don't want to do much while I'm away, I've packed my embroidery cottons and needles to finish off a small sampler, and an embroidery I will make into a cushion cover.  I've also packed a book or two and my camera. I'll be taking photos.



Also packed is my current knitting project - an organic cotton blanket for my soon-to-be third grandchild. It's a big job but it feels good knitting up this beautiful cotton. I think our little baby will be comfy cozy under that blanket.


Okay, only two more things to do before I go - pack my bag and, just before I leave, make a sandwich and drink to have along the way.  I'm making a havarti sandwich on pumpernickel to have with my Thermos of black tea and a bottle of plain sparkling mineral water. That's probably not the standard they serve on the Queen Mary but it's fine travelling food and will keep me happy and alive.

Farewell my friends. I'll post a few photos along the way and be back late next week.  Look after yourself while I'm gone.  xx

7 November 2014

Weekend reading


It's been a whirlwind week here with a lot happening as we cruise into the end of the year.  Over the weekend, I'll start getting myself ready for a road trip to visit Tricia. She's travelling up to Tamworth on the train, I'm driving down to meet her there and then we'll visit the Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores in Nundle.  We're really looking forward to that.  But I have a lot of organising to do before I take off, so I'd better get to it.

I hope you have a delightful weekend.  Thanks for your beautiful comments during the week. It gave me a lot to think about.  Till next week, friends!

   x x x ♥︎ x x x

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6 November 2014

Question what you do

I really don't have any concrete answers. I think life is too chaotic and changeable to have answers that I'm always sure of. I have plenty of questions though. My strategy in my own life is to reassess all the time. What is working stays, what doesn't work is changed or dropped. Of course I have the values I live by, they're ever present, steadfast and unchanging, but day-to-day life, how processes are carried out, how things are organised, how often I do this or that - all that is changeable. How I do things may change. Why I do things never does. My life is values-driven. I hope yours is too.



Many years ago, when I lived a more mainstream life, there was  no self-evaluation and life stayed pretty much the same year in and year out. I followed fashion and didn't question much. Money was spent, and when it ran out, credit cards were used.  I find it surprising now to know that there was no long-term view. It was instant gratification on a daily, if not an hourly basis. It was all such a waste.


Now I question most things and even if I did they same thing yesterday I'll question whether it should be done, or done the same way, today. The way I do these mini-audits is to question my method and ingredients every time I make something we use here.  Soap, for instance, almost every time I make it, I ask myself the same question: do you want to add essential oils to this soap?  So far, every time, the answer has been no. It's not been quite the same with laundry liquid. Over the years I've questioned the sometimes lumpy consistency of it and started processing the finished laundry liquid with the stick blender to get a smoother liquid with fewer lumps.  Sometimes I'll read something at the forum or hear in a conversation, something that I want to try and when I start doing that thing again, I'll think about how the new way might be an improvement. I might try it once and then evaluate again. I always try to improve what I do. I never think that what I do is perfect and can never be changed and I've left behind forever the mindlessness of mainstream living, so the questions are simple but they're always asked. Sometimes I question the process before I do it, sometimes it's during the task.  It doesn't really matter when you ask the questions of yourself, but it does matter that you do.


As your life changes, as you grow older, when babies are born, when older relatives die, when money is tight and when the good times visit, you'll probably need to change your routines, methods and what you do to fit in with the new circumstances. Sometimes those changes will be long term, at other times they'll be fleeting. If you're happy for the time being about where everything sits, then question your values. Nothing is set in stone. You may have new information about certain things that you can incorporate into your life plan. Question it all, don't be afraid, an unexamined life doesn't amount to much.


If you've been living a simple life for a few years now it might be time to reassess, regroup and start asking questions. Do an audit to assess what is working, what needs tweaking, what can be left alone. But if you're like me and question what you do every time you do it, you may not need an audit, you'll be modifying your routines and processes as you go. But one thing is for sure, simple life will never be static.

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