Sunday, 28 February 2016

Harvesting Olives at Home

We harvested olives today. 

It was a simple thing - something people have done for centuries - but you won't believe how excited we were plucking our first ever crop of olives from our tree. 

I felt part somehow part of a timeless tradition - connected through time and space. Olives, the tree of life, symbolising peace and prosperity, have been part of human culture for more than 5000 years.

I cannot wait to experiment with processing them and to eventually taste them. Being the first time I have done this, I am currently researching simple home-style methods of processing a small batch. 

I'm also keen to learn how to make olive leaf extract, and when we get more olives I'd like to try making olive oil.

Any good suggestions for how to simply process these for table ?  

Our first ever olive harvest today (plus a few Tahitian limes)

We just managed to reach the olives up high on top of our ladder. I must look into pruning olive trees.

Our olive tree is at the top of our food forest zone in a relatively drier section of the garden.

Looking forward to learning how to process these and taste our own home-grown olives.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

DIY handmade cleaning cloth

Learning to knit is proving to be a very practical activity at our house. My daughter's first completed piece has become our milk frother cleaner - and it is very effective at doing this.  I love it!  Not only is it useful, but every time I use it I appreciate her efforts and feel the love of her gift. 

We have seen some very fancy handmade washcloth designs on the internet (both knitted and crocheted) and aspire to this level of skill, but for now we are happy just making a relatively square-ish shape.  These are a great way to reduce waste - replacing wipers that last for just a short period before being destined for the bin.

Maia is learning how to knit and crochet to participate in the Knitfest yarnbombing of Maleny, our local town on June 10-12. We have found an amazing local mentor who is helping her (I learnt how to sew well when I was young, but I have always been just a very basic knitter, and somehow missed crochet altogether).  Maia is a fast learner and patient teacher (she is teaching me!!).

I anticipate there'll be some yarn-bombing of our place in preparation for Knitfest. I am looking forward to the funky colour wraps on our posts, trees, bicycles and animals soon.

Animals - yes. There are plans for the guinea pigs to have winter blankets and I just learnt that chicken capes are becoming all the rage - probably more-so in cooler climes ... but we do get frosts.

Clickety-clack, clickety clack...

The colourful new milk frother cleaner

Just the perfect size for this job.

The hand-knitted cloth cleans super well and rinses out easily. 

Make your own hand lotion: a silky smooth lotion bar for those who love gardening with bare hands.

I love gardening with bare hands  - feeling the soil and sensing it's moisture, being able to gently handle seedlings and seeds, rubbing herbs with in my fingers to release the scent. 

Gardening is a sensory delight. I've tried gloves of all sorts, but always end up bare-handed, and usually bare-footed again in the garden.  I just feel so much more connected.

But I have to admit, my hands do get sore sometimes. To help prevent my hands from getting sore and to rehydrate them afterward, I have made this lotion to use before and after doing a big gardening session. 

Morag's Natural Moisturising Lotion

  • 50 grams coconut oil (I use organic cold pressed fair trade)
  • 50 grams beeswax (I use a local organic beeswax)
  • 50 grams cocoa butter (similarly, I use an organic fair trade product)
  • 15 drops essential oil (in the latest version, I used an organic mandarin oil with a few drops of peppermint)

  1. Melt the oil, wax and butter together in a bowl over boiling water. 
  2. Stir gently until melted and mixed. 
  3. Turn off the heat and add the essential oil. 
  4. Pour into forms
  5. Allow to set (5-10 minutes)
  6. Remove from forms and store.

These are shelf-stable. I am storing mine in a container on the bathroom shelf to use after I wash my hands. 

Just a little is all you need. As you begin to rub it into your skin it melts and is absorbed. 

I used an old ceramic bowl to melt the butter, oil and wax over boiling water.

Pour and allow to set before removing mould and storing.
Today I was having fun today experimenting with various forms to make little samples - little paper cups, big paper cups, waxed paper in mini-muffin pan. They all worked wonderfully. 

These paper cups make excellent forms for the lotion. The little rounds pop out and if handle carefully, the cups can be reused over and over.

More than just a hand lotion, these are great as an all-over body moisturising butter. Excellent too for rough elbows, knees and feet.

I am constantly fossicking around in the garden - tending, planting, harvesting, playing.... I don't mind the dirt under my fingernails, and the short gardeners nails, but when I get cuts or skin cracks they hurt. These little bars of soothing lotion are super at preventing this.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Great reads to inspire living a simple, meaningful and interesting life.

I love to read really good non-commercial magazines. I leave them in different places around the house for months - picking up an article to read here and there, and reread them many times. They are a source of inspiration, points of reflection and motivators for action.

I share the stories I read with Evan, discuss the ideas with the children, and pass around the magazines to friends, family and our WWOOFers.

I have tried online versions, but there's just something about the print version that is so appealing - particularly a really well-designed magazine with excellent photography and inspiring and challenging writing.  It's often the unexpected articles, the ones I might not click on in the online version, that surprise and intrigue me.

It's a simple joy, but I love the anticipation of receiving my magazines by mail and sitting down with a cuppa to do the initial scan, working out what I am going to read first and then making the magazine last as long as I can.

One of my all-time favourites is Resurgence Magazine which has recently merged with another of my favourites, The Ecologist.  I have been subscribing continuously since 1992. This magazine is filled with articles about ecological thinking, peaceful and sustainable living, and positive activism.

 After writing about plastic waste and the impact of microbeads the other day, I was delighted to read an article about California banning plastic microbeads in the new issue of Resurgence. Vandana Shiva, one of the environmental activists I most admire, writes too about a Manifesto for Sustainability

Another magazine I stumbled across more recently is Dumbo Feather. I love delving into the long, deep conversations they have with extraordinary people who are doing very amazing things with their lives, following their passions - being 100 percenters as they call it. They wrote  an article about three steps to becoming a 100 percenter - asking 'What is you were able to align your values with how you live? "Pass it on" is printed on their cover page - I always do.

And finally, I have to say PIP Magazine: Australian Permaculture is another favourite too - full of absolutely practical information about ways to live a simple and sustainable life, I've been writing for this magazine since issue 2 - contributing articles, an overview of permaculture projects around the world, and now also contributions to the kids page.  In the latest issue includes an article I wrote about Nature Kids and the importance of connecting children with nature.

There are of course so many other magazines I enjoy reading. I find them in the newsagent or library and occasionally buy, but these three I think represent my favourites.

Have you got any amazing favourites? I'd love to learn about other wonderful reads.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Plastic-free shopping - how to avoid coming home with a bagful of unnecessary plastic.

When reducing plastic waste is a core goal while out shopping for household needs, there are so many other positive ripple effects. The food is typically more local and fresh - straight from my garden, from a local farmer, market or coop. 

The food is also predominantly whole and unprocessed and bought in bulk. I notice that I don't come home with the spontaneous purchases of snack foods which are all wrapped up in plastic (often happened when I went shopping while I was hungry). My thoughts go instead to the things I can make with the kids when we get home using healthy ingredients. 

I am not only reducing waste, but saving money and reducing the amount of processed food we are consuming. The food is so much healthier - for us and the planet. The kids are also really into this project and embracing the shift.  They are super helpful in selecting products and accepting why some things just aren't in the house anymore.

Today's shopping at my local coop - plastic free - hooray!!  Bulk organic flour, organic tahini, freshly crushed organic peanut paste, local organic honey, organic buckwheat, organic rolled oats, organic chia, organic nicola potatoes, organic Australian dahl, and toilet paper.
My dinner tonight was salad with tahini, and I'm looking forward to buckwheat and chia porridge with honey for breakfast.

I love taking my own glass jars and buying in bulk - honey, tahini, olive oil, tamari, fresh peanut paste ...
Another way I reduce plastic coming into my home is buying loose fruit or veg. I just pop them straight in my shopping basket as is - no need for plastic carry bags. I will wash and peel these spuds before I eat them anyway.

Buy loose vegetables to reduce plastic waste.

My kids love pasta. All pasta at the shops comes in plastic wrapping. The other day, we dusted off the pasta maker and refreshed our memories of how it worked. Young Hugh was chief paster maker and of course therefore loved it (which is great, because he is also chief food critic). On his request, I purchased that big bag of flour today for him to make more and more pasta - experimenting with adding various herbs and vegetables, perhaps even some bamboo charcoal. We plan to dry some too. I'll post more about our home-made unwrapped pasta-making soon.

My old pasta maker is probably 20 years old and a little rusty on the outside, but it works just fine.
Hugh's first pasta experiment - organic wholemeal spaghetti and fettuccine. It was absolutely delicious.
In trying to reduce plastic, I also notice that many of the personal items and cleaning products I buy are now in refillable bottles and unwrapped.

In the local food coop, there's a whole range of household cleaners and personal items available in bulk - dishwashing liquid, laundry liquid, body lotions, conditioners, shampoos and body wash...  I simply take my containers in and refill.
This hand-made soap is made by Self Managed Soap, a South-East Queensland co-operative. They are a community based group who have social justice and environmental ethics. Their soap is made from pure vegetable oils with no added chemicals. Actually, the cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is extracted by the coconut farmers themselves which means the oil is fresher and of higher quality, and more profits stay in the local community.  The world coconut oil trade has been controlled by trans-national corporations, buying copra cheaply from tropical producers and sending it to Europe or Asia for processing.  

I love this soap - unpackaged, palm oil free and really affordable - and just $1.50 a bar. They have a great range of natural scents - my favourites are the peppermint and cinnamon scrub. 
I'm sorry Mum, I know you would say "That's a bit rude!" about the name of this loo paper, but I am a real fan. It is a long roll of very nice 3 ply, 100% recycled paper with no dyes, inks or scents. The wrapping is made of thin paper which can go down our compost toilet, or popped into the worm farm. An added appeal for me is that half of their profits go to Wateraid. I buy it at my local coop for $1.50 a roll which is comparable to other high quality papers. It's even cheaper if I order it by the box online.  

Paper wrapped 100% recycled loo paper that's nice on your bottom.
I sometimes get caught out and don't have enough cloth bags so I grab a box from the shops instead.  The boxes always find another few good uses - for mulching, for craft projects my children are doing, or for workshops I run. I dislike the poly reusable bags. they don't last that long, then become rubbish too. I think it's better to buy or make strong cotton bags instead that go back into the soil when they can no longer be repaired.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Healthy Future for Children - Nature Kids design an ecovillage

Children designed and made an ecovillage at Crystal Waters Permaculture Village this Saturday. They immersed themselves in design thinking and creating a collaborative model from recycled and natural materials. The creative vibe was just absolutely amazing. 

This was the first Ethos Foundation Nature Kids programs for 2016.  I have many more planned. The kids and I had a ball and so many parents joined in. It was a great family morning at Crystal Waters - bringing so much activity to the village green - fantastic.

Over 30 children participated with their parents and siblings.
After an initial design brief and discussion the children set off to design and build.  In self-selected teams and individually, the children designed and built a vibrant ecovillage around a central community space. In the centre, they included a community centre, a bakery, a cafe, a shop, a medical clinic, a farm, and around the edges were several homes. They considered orientation, materials use, energy production, rainwater harvesting, access and much more. 

Exploring the design brief and sharing suggestions of what features might an ecovillage include.
Raiding the resource piles for building materials.
All ages worked collaboratively.
The children made their structures from cardboard boxes, bamboo, hemp string, pegs, clips, old sheets, fabric offcuts, and decorated with paint and found items from the garden.  The structures went up quickly, then the exciting part came - crafting the details, creating ecovillage stories together, and visiting each other's places in the ecovillage.

There was rich and detailed thought processes embedded in the designs of these ecovillage elements.
Many focussed on getting their structures stable first before adding the detail.
This household complex was complete with garden, energy and water systems.
This little ecovillage house was tucked away in the bushes, away from the central zone.
A 'tiny house'.
This big collaborative structure became the 'ecocentre' community meeting space complete with mailboxes. 
Setting up the internal village systems.
There was a big rain the night before this event, and so many ants had come out of the ground. There were quite a few bites unfortunately, but this led to the design and construction of a bite clinic complete with aloe vera sticks inside.

New services evolved as the morning progressed - responding the the needs that emerged. For example, the anti-bite clinic became a necessity, with aloe vera treatments available.
A patient in the clinic - reportedly feeling much better after she'd been there!

The workshop enabled the children an opportunity to explore permaculture and systems thinking in action, and the notion of simple ecovillage living - they considered too what features might be included in such a village.

Bakery complete with a variety of sourdough breads on offer.
The wind-powered cafe - connected to one of the community energy systems.

Careful what you order....!!!
The children were very resourceful, finding ways to use a stack of boxes, bamboo, string and pegs and collecting materials from around their environment to add detail and form. I was so impressed at how focussed they were and how cooperatively they worked together to create a cohesive village environment.  I was so impressed too by the rich fabric of stories woven about the spaces the created.

The children showed intense focus and concentration for a couple of hours while they made their village elements.
Sharing the stories.

Ecological design, creating sustainable living environments and considering what it means to have a sustainable lifestyle are such important skills for this young generation to be cultivating. My goal with designing and offering Nature Kids, Young Ethos Scholars and Earth School programs is to create opportunities for children of all ages to delve deeply into thinking about the future in positive ways, experiencing ecological thinking and action, and finding ways to apply that knowledge and experience.

I think it is critically important for children to hear about and experience more ecological and nature-connected forms of human development and to share this with other children - to explore ideas together, to teach each other, and to explore what a regenerative, positive and joyful future may look like.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Plastic-wrap free food - DIY beeswax cloths

(for the latest version of this post, and a link to my 5 minute film showing how to make these, please visit  Five Easy Steps to Make Cheap Beeswax Wraps & Reduce Cling Wrap Use. Film #10 with Morag Gamble (5 mins)

Original post:

Our household is determined to find ways to reduce plastic. You could say we are on a plastic wrapping diet - a diet to reduce the volume of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in our bins each week, and thereby help to reduce the garbage burden on our planetary system.

I wrote recently in plastic-free food wrapping, about testing out some beeswax cloths as a plastic wrap alternative. I love them.  They are great at keeping fruit and veg fresh. Some of the ways I have used them are:
  • sealing opened pumpkins 
  • wrapping around a half-used eggplants
  • keeping bowls of leftovers fresh
  • wrapping the kid's lunchbox items
Over the past week I have been experimenting with making my own and think I have come up with a really nice mix.

I found this old off-cut of fabric in my sewing box. It is lightweight cotton with a tight weave. 

My first attempt turned out like stiff parchment.  I used a light calico and beeswax.  It works OK, but does not have the texture of the ones you buy. It doesn't mould as well so the effectiveness of it would not be so great. 

Attempt 1: stiff parchment. I think my fabric was too thick and porous and I didn't use enough beeswax.

A better result using the thinner and more dense fabric and my new mix. The fabric seemed to be more supple and pliable and able to better withstand being folded.
I am really happy with the the beeswax cloths I made yesterday. They feel like the ones I bought for $30 for 3.  The difference - I used a thinner material with a denser weave and a small teaspoon of coconut oil drizzled across the tray. The cloths end up being far more flexible and don't seem to crack when bent. They also seem to create a far better seal.

In my later attempts at finding a good mix, I used more beeswax and a drizzle of coconut oil and put the tray in the oven for just 5 minutes at 60 degrees celcius. I used a paintbrush (one that I didn't want to use for anything else later) to help spread the beeswax to the edges.

Once out of the oven, I hung the cloth to dry immediately. It only takes a minute.

From cotton fabric to beeswax infused cloth in under 10  minutes

In terms of cost, it does work out much better to make these yourself.  I went out and bought some new pinking shears to do the edges - to help prevent fraying. I decided to buy high quality ones which cost $31. The beeswax cost $7.50 for the tub. I only used a negligible amount of coconut oil and the fabric were off-cuts. This initially is more expensive than the $30 for 3 cloths, but I plan to make many cloths -  the beeswax tub will last for at least 25 more and I'm sure I will get lots and lots of use out of the pinking shears.


Another method is using a flatbed toasted sandwich press to melt the beeswax and oil onto the cloth. It only takes a few seconds. You can even fold up quite a large piece of fabric (to wrap bread etc) and press this - just add proportionately more beeswax and oil.

Friday, 19 February 2016

The simplest, easiest and healthiest homemade ice-cream

Most kids love icy-poles or ice creams on hot summer days - my kids are no exception. As a mum I am always looking for the healthiest options for my three young children. I appreciate that a cool sweet treat is nice, but I don't like to feed my children things that contain overly processed ingredients, contain lots of sugar and additives, and have non-biodegradable packaging.

At home, I always make my own icy poles for them - then I know what is in them. Typically I juice our own fruit, or buy a local organic or biodynamic juice. Sometimes when we make yoghurt honey banana cinnamon smoothies, I freeze the leftovers in icy pole moulds.

Even simpler is this banana ice-cream. It would have to be the simplest, healthiest and least processed 'ice-cream' on earth.  I can't believe I'd never thought of this before. It is absolutely delicious with a wonderfully soft and creamy texture - just like a solid ice-cream.

This ice-cream is of course naturally vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, low-fat, low GI,  high-fibre and contains lots of potassium, vitamin C and B6!

How to make it:

Simply peel and freeze ripe bananas, then stick in a re-usable stick when you want to eat it - a chopstick or icy pole stick...That's it.   If you are making it for smaller child, just use a smaller chunk of banana.

Who'd have thought straight frozen banana would have such a great consistency.  I had eaten it before, but processed through a champion juicer, sometimes with mango pulp too. I didn't realise it would be so soft. I've now taken to slicing frozen banana into some plain yoghurt with a sprinkling of cinnamon and chia for breakfast. Yummm...

I have a freezer (solar-powered) full of deliciously sweet frozen bananas from our garden, and there's three more bunches on their way.  I love my garden!!!

Thank you so much to the reader who suggested this way of eating bananas in response to my post about our bountiful banana harvest.   This idea is by far the simplest and least processed ice-cream I've ever tried.

Does anyone else have other simple healthy iced treat ideas?