Tuesday, 31 May 2016

How to stay calm and relaxed when even the simple life gets a bit too busy.

It's easy to take on too much. I know I do sometimes (well OK, often), but I have found lots of very simple ways to stay calm, grounded and relaxed amidst some weeks that could otherwise feel overwhelming and chaotic.

I recognise that I have a tendency to saying 'yes' to just about everything that sounds interesting, positive and worthwhile. This past month for me has been so wonderfully busy, that I think I have actually found new levels of capacity.

I love being down at the University of Sunshine Coast Community Garden. I'll be there again in the morning.
I am amazed sometimes at how much I can fit in and like many people, I wish I had a few extra hours each day. It's often a bit of a juggle to find those extra hours and maintain a good balance - to keep this balance over the past few weeks I have only written a few posts and been out on my bike less.  I am raring to get back into both.

These past few weeks I have led a workshops most days of the week - permaculture, sustainable living, community gardening...
I do need to remember to be gentle with myself and I thank my family for being onto this - they read my energy levels before I do, and the kids especially encourage me to delight in the present moment.

With a little one around, I am always reminded to slow down, get outside and play.

I am a mum with 3 children under 10, two of them homeschooled. I run an education and design business from home and a not-for-profit foundation. I love to cook things from scratch and tend our edible landscape. Our house is often open to the public so I need to keep it looking relatively neat.

In busy times, doing all this can sometimes be a stretch - we don't have cleaners, gardeners or childcare - but somehow it all works and I love it. The kids are thriving. I feel nourished by my work. Evan and I love feeling productive and active in our communities of practice. We all spark off each other's enthusiasm for what we do.

I value simple living. That doesn't always equate with a 'quiet life', but for me it's a 'good life'.

This is how I stay calm, relaxed and focussed when the simple life sometimes gets a bit too busy....

Be Organised

  1. I actively plan my time.
  2. I have become a supreme list maker - so things to remember are not swirling around in my head.
  3. I always carry a notebook and jot down ideas and new things to do - lots of mindmaps.
  4. We plan our family's week together to make sure everyone's needs are being met and keep a shared calendar.
  5. I aim to get everything ready the night before (lunches, clothes, workshop resources) so our morning can be relaxed and happy. 
  6. I have found my quiet niche - the time when everyone else is asleep - no TV, radio, music - just me and my myself. At this time, I can clearly and effectively think, plan, write, focus, create...
  7. When things do get busy, I let go of some non-essential expectations I have of myself (e.g: writing every day).
I love riding my bike!

Stay Healthy

  1. I eat well and usually take homemade food out and about.
  2. I carry a glass jar of water infused with rosella, lemon myrtle, tulsi, turmeric and ginger (vitamin C, relaxing, refreshing, immune-strenghtening) and sip throughout the day. 
  3. I take a nap cuddling with the kids (I do this at their bedtime) - that extra hour or two makes all the difference especially to be able to do my 'quiet-time' shift at night. 
  4. When I need to 'veg-out' I avoid the telly or shops - instead play, talk, make, read, walk, think, write....
  5. Ride my bike, or play tennis, walk and bounce on the trampoline with the kids.
Baking with the kids - we always love to experiment with healthy sugar free ideas.


  1. I potter in my edible garden - planting, tending, harvesting - noticing the little things along the way.
  2. I cuddle the chooks and talk to the birds.
  3. I spend time outside in fresh air and amongst the wildlife (I make my office on the front verandah - birds visit, kangaroos pass by, waterbirds visit lake below and I cast my eyes regularly to the hills and national park across the valley).
  4. We sit and eat meals together and check in with everyone, tell stories, joke around.
  5. We play music and dance together after dinner. (We have a great big box of instruments.)
  6. I lie down outside with the kids and watch the clouds or stars, chatting about their questions and big ideas.
  7. I love to play with the kids - whatever story they make up. I'm often a horse for little Monty!
  8. I ring my parents (interstate) and have a long chat.
Paint, create, get messy and have some fun!
Cuddling chooks always brings a smile.
A slow stroll through the garden, smelling the flowers and noticing the small things always helps me to refocus and slow down.

Stay Positive

  1. I spend time in community gardens with wonderfully positive and engaged volunteers
  2. I acknowledge the positive things that are happening and think about how I am contributing, and can add more value to that.
  3. I regularly reflect on what is important, try to keep things in perspective, and keep the bigger picture in mind.
  4. I am conscious to not complain about being busy. I make it so. There is a good level of busy-ness.
  5. Smile - and the world does smile back.

Be Mindful

  1. Mindfully do housework. When I wash the dishes, I am just dishwashing (or daydreaming out the window) not thinking about the next thing. 
  2. When I go to bed - I empty my mind, slow my breathing, relax my body before drifting off to sleep. Sometimes I set my self a challenge - to come up with new ideas in my dreams - but usually I aim to just 'be'.
  3. I remind myself to breathe - especially when there's a need to finish some work and the kids also need my focussed attention.

Flowering rocket and in the background, mustard spinach - it's great to just sit and watch what happens around these flowers - so much life!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Amazing Edible Greens: Okinawa Spinach

I added another great green to my garden today - Okinawa Spinach (Gynura crepioides).

I was given a cutting from the lovely community gardeners at Mitchelton Library. I was doing a presentation there about permaculture gardening as part of the Brisbane City Council Sustainable Living series and delighted in finding this beautiful little food forest at the entrance.

Some of the Mitchelton Community Gardeners holding the cutting of Okinawa Spinach I now have in my garden. They meet at the gardens in front of the Mitchelton Library every Saturday morning and they welcome new gardeners.

Okinawa Spinach will join the wonderful array of hardy perennial greens I have growing in my garden. I love these edible leafy greens. I eat a wide range of them every day.

The attractive leaves of the Okinawa Spinach (image source: edibleplantproject.org)

Okinawa Spinach is a really attractive perennial leafy green. It has shiny dark green leaves that are purple underneath. It's a dense little bush that responds well to regular pruning (harvesting) but can grow up to 70cms. It's hardy and relatively pest-free and propagates easily from cuttings.

The nutritious leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked in soup, stirfry, quiche and many other dishes that spinach would be used. It can be steamed, used in tempura too. It's recommended to not overcook the leaves as they can become slimy. The youngest leaves have the nicest flavour.

It is super easy to grow in the tropics and subtropics. It can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Great as a ground cover around fruit trees. Likes being in a fertile mulched bed that received adequate water.

It grows well in containers, hanging pots and window boxes.

The edible leafy green Okinawa Spinach makes is also an attractive landscape plant.

Other hardy perennial greens

Over the next couple of weeks I am going to feature a number of other edible perennials I have in my garden. Here's some of my favourites including:

Brazilian Spinach
Surinam Spinach
Cranberry Hibiscus (well this is not green, but...)
Hibiscus Spinach
Sweet Potato leaves and growing tips
Pumpkin vine leaves and growing tips
Perennial Welsh Onions
Society Garlic
Kang Kong

And self-seeding annuals such as:
Red Mustard Spinach
Green Mustard Spinach

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Celebrating Local Makers, Bakers, Farmers and Growers

Extra special making and baking has been happening at our house lately. It's local show time. 

The agricultural shows of little towns like Maleny are such important annual events for the community - places where the local growers and producers, makers and artisans come together to share, appreciate, congratulate and celebrate.

As a child growing up in Melbourne, the annual show - the Royal Melbourne Show, was also a big deal.  For me, back then, going to the show meant seeing lots of animals, going on scary rides and of course getting a show-bag or two and trying to make those treats last as long as possible. 

The little country shows are much smaller, far less commercial, less about the rides and show-bags, and more about sharing and learning, recognising and inspiring. I think it's also more about participating in your local community show, rather than being a consumer of a big spectacle. They are a huge undertaking by the local communities who put in countless volunteer hours to make them happen each year.

Our kids love the local show - it's an annual highlight. This year Maia spent hours reading the show handbook. She worked out all the categories she wanted to enter - marking each of the relevant pages with labelled sticky-note takes (so delighted to see someone in this house is super-organised!).

Maia's painting entry to the Maleny Show
She painted a watercolour of a sunflower, hand-crafted toy animals and both Hugh and Maia have photographed nature in our garden - all inspired by wanting to submit pieces of work for display at the local show.

Maia's hand-crafted animal creations have been crocheted. A couple of months ago, she didn't know how to crochet, so for weeks now she's been working with local fashion designer and textile master, Terrii, to learn how crochet and knit.  Not only does Maia now have something to enter into the show, she has also has cultivated a lifelong skill and a passion for craft and making. (thanks Terrii!)

Both Maia and Hugh entered some close-up photographs - they've been entering photographs since they were 4 years old. Kids love taking pictures. This year they headed out into our permaculture garden and photographed what inspired them.  Maia took a great picture of a bee landing on a blue salvia indicating the importance  of incorporating flowers in a veggie garden, she also took a close-up of the yacon flower indicating that the edible roots are forming - time to start bandicooting some out. Hugh's photo is a close-up of a lettuce seed head beginning to form - the start of 10,000 seeds! 

Hugh's picture of the lettuce seeds forming. A lettuce can produce up to 10,000 seeds per plant - amazing abundance. 

Maia's picture of the Yacon (peruvian ground apple) flower just opening. It is a relative of the sunflower. When it opens this means the yummy edible roots are ready to start harvesting soon.

My participation - a practical talk in the Small Farmers Tent about permaculture and a cake - an organic sugar-free, spelt orange poppy seed cake (in the oven as I am writing - recipe below). The kids will help me ice it in the morning. 

Both Maia and Hugh are entering as junior cake judges, under the guidance of a local chef - they love the idea of this. Maia to be the assessor, Hugh I think just to eat lots of cake!

I look forward to seeing the rare breeds of animals, the handcrafted items and locally produced foods of my neighbours and friends at the show on Friday and Saturday, and simply having time to catch up with friends from around the community.

My special show creation - a sugar-free, spelt poppy seed cake.

Simple Orange and Poppy Seed Cake 


  • 2 cups organic spelt flour
  • 2 tspn baking powder
  • 2 blood oranges - half peeled 
  • 2 mandarins - peeled and added whole
  • 3/4 cup milk (of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup organic desiccated coconut
  • 3/4 cup poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
  • 2 eggs from our chooks
  • 4 drops vanilla stevia liquid
  • 1 capful of vanilla essence


  1. Preheat oven to 180/165 (fan-forced)celcius
  2. Place oranges, mandarins, poppy seeds, oil, coconut, eggs, milk, honey, stevia and vanilla into a food processor and blend, add flour, baking powder. (Add a little extra milk if too dry or flour if too moist - I am for it to be just pourable).
  3. Pour into a baking pan and cook for 34-45 minutes. You can smell when it's ready.
  4. Cool before attempting to tip it out

Friday, 20 May 2016

7 Reasons To Make Your Own Toothpaste

Natural homemade toothpaste is easy to make and makes your teeth so clean, and it can include ingredients from your garden, for example stevia and mint.

Your mouth is highly absorbent. Conventional toothpaste is filled with lots of things you'd rather not put in your mouth. Unfortunately the healthier versions are quite expensive so most people don't buy them. 

Fortunately making your own toothpaste is a healthy, cheap, and easy option.

Try my recipe below. My teeth and gums feel so clean and smooth. This blend should also help whiten, kill bad bacteria and draw toxins from teeth and gums. 

All natural ingredients of this homemade toothpaste - coconut oil, bentonite clay, bicarb, activated bamboo charcoal, himalayan salt.

7 Important Reasons to Avoid Conventional Toothpaste

Firstly, here are some potent reasons to avoid conventional toothpaste. It typically contains:

Triclosan: an antibacterial chemical to help fight gingivitis, but it is a pesticide and there are concerns that it contributes to antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): a surfactant (makes the foam) made from palm oil (think orangutans). It interferes with taste buds, has been linked to skin irritation and canker sores. It is registered as an insecticide and may have toxic effects on marine life. Carcinogenic volatile organic compounds are also released into the environment during it's manufacture.

Artifical Sweeteners: aspartame can lead to a wide variety of ailments. Some of these problems occur gradually while others are immediate, acute reactions. Saccharin was linked to cancer in clinical studies in the 1970s, but it continues to be used as a food and hygiene product additive, including for use in sweetening toothpaste.

Diethenolamine (DEA): creates a thick lather or creamy consistency and found in many cosmetics, creams and toothpaste. It’s a known hormone disrupter and can react with other ingredients to form a potential carcinogen. The greatest risk to human health is when it is applied directly and repeatedly to the skin. DEA is also used in the manufacture of textiles, pharmaceuticals, and herbicides and as a gas scrubber in the fossil fuel industry.

Flouride: a toxic chemical that accumulates in your tissues over time, wreaks havoc with enzymes, and produces a number of serious adverse health effects, including neurological and endocrine dysfunction. Children are particularly at risk for adverse effects of overexposure.

Artificial colourings: linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children. We don’t need red and blue toothpaste!

Microbeads: while being phased out now, many brands have used plastic micro-beads to polish teeth. The ocean is contaminated with microbeads - it is everywhere. Our waste systems have not been able to filter it.

Ingredients of my homemade toothpaste

Bentonite Clay: Mild, natural polisher that gently scrubs and polishes teeth, rich in minerals and draw out toxins in the mouth.  It’s also alkaline, so it helps reduce acidity in the mouth.

Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate): Baking soda helps to remove the yellow and brown stains on the teeth. It too helps to create an alkaline environment in your mouth that decay-causing bacteria don't like.

Activated Charcoal: An antibacterial and antifungal powder that's excellent for gum health and sensitive teeth. Charcoal powder has shown to absorb bacteria, toxins and heavy metals in the mouth. It helps counteract bad breath.

Himalayan Salt - this finely ground salt contains 84 minerals.

Coconut Oil: can help boost the microbiome in your gut (the gut begins in the mouth) and naturally prevent candida in the mouth. 

Stevia - a natural plant-based sweetener. I grow it in the garden too.

Blended homemade clay and charcoal toothpaste.

Recipe for Homemade Toothpaste 

There are many recipes posted on the internet. Here is the one I am using right now. Try it as a starting point and keep experimenting to get the taste and consistency you and your family will like.

  • 1/2 cup bentonite clay
  • 1 tbsp activated bamboo charcoal
  • 2 tbsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate/bicarb))
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (warmed to be liquid for mixing)
  • 2 leaves of stevia (dried and crushed) or 1/4 tsp stevia or 2 drops (optional)

For mint taste add 3 leaves of peppermint (dried and crushed) or 4 drops peppermint oil.
For cinnamon taste add 1 tsp ground cinnamon.
For chocolate toothpaste: add 1 tbsp finely ground cacao nibs to promote remineralisation.

Blend all together - by hand or in a blender.
Store in an airtight jar.

Dry Tooth powder

You can simply mix the dry ingredients and store in an airtight jar and dip your toothbrush in. 

If you want to keep it totally simple - just use clay, baking soda, and salt. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Pay Your Mortgage with Jam

I met a man on the weekend who pays 6 weeks of his mortgage by selling jam from one tree in his garden. Impressive!

I met Jerry Coleby-Williams, ABC Gardening Australia presenter, on Sunday. He makes 900 jars of jam from one Tahitian lime tree in his suburban edible garden (Bellis) which pays for 6 weeks of his mortgage. He also sells seeds, plants and more, plus hosts open days. 

Jerry's Tahitian Lime jam. As well as selling it, he also makes enough to give away as gifts of thanks. I will enjoy this  on some lovely sourdough soon.
I love community gardens. They are great places to be inspired - to learn how to garden and live simply and sustainably.

I was delighted to be invited to be the MC for the 2016 Open Day at Yandina Community Gardens Hundreds of people came to find interesting new ideas, to learn, to see, to taste, to smell, to share, to meet new and old friends. Parliamentary Speaker and local Independent Member of Parliament, Peter Wellington, officially opened the event.

Jerry Coleby-Williams, ABC Gardening Australia presenter, was the main speaker for the day. He talked about many things, but there were a couple of things in particular that impressed me. His jam-making prowess for one (which he attributes to his Nan's instruction - she had a Dig for Victory garden in London). Jerry's garden in Wynnum Brisbane, is somewhat like an old-style mixed market garden from which he creates many products for home use and for sale.

Secondly , I loved Jerry's deep connection with his garden (a diverse edible oasis in suburban Brisbane) and how closely he observes and documents what happens in it.  He set it up to be a demonstration of sustainability - but it has also become a site of scientific interest.  In his garden he has found many new species of insects and he suggests that if we take time to look, we probably have some too.

Exploring the Yandina Community Gardens with Jerry Coleby-Williams - and searching for new bugs.
How great - being discoverers of new species in your own little garden.  Jerry suggests if you don't know what a bug is, take pictures and send it to BowerBird for identification from leading experts associated with Museum Victoria - you never know! The kids are keen to do this as a homeschooling project.

I presented too about my adventures in getting out of the consumer-waste trap and I enjoyed listening to the other speakers including:

  • Anne Gibson who shared a simple way to easily create nutrient-dense food using micro-greens.
  • Elizabeth Fekonia who shared how to properly prepare legumes so they don't cause stomach upsets (and gas!). I'll write up the lessons I learnt soon.
Anne Gibson demonstrating how to make microgreens in a reused strawberry tub. I'll write more about these soon.

Elizabeth Fekonia demonstrated ways to use legumes grown in a permaculture garden. This year is the International Year of   Pulses (legumes).

The kids had a great time too. Maia and I found a couple of extra plants for our garden including sweet leaf. They loved the bicycle-powered smoothie maker organised by Living Smart program of the local Council. They also entered into the photographic competition judged by Leonie Shanahan of Edible School Gardens.

There's a great permaculture nursery at the Yandina Community Gardens. We were delighted to find some extra plants to add to our diverse garden.
Maia and Hugh with Living Smart's, Sharon Stott and Council's bike-powered smoothie-maker. I'd love one of these at Crystal Waters!
Maia's 2 photographic entries above - a bee landing on Salvia in our garden, and the emerging flower of Yacon indicating the swelling of the edible roots below. Both Maia and Hugh were proud to enter pictures of their garden in the exhibition.

Congratulations to Michelle, Cristina and to all the amazing volunteers for the beautiful Yandina Community Gardens and making your second open day such a fabulous event! Amazing effort - thank you!!

Friday, 13 May 2016

How to Make Natural Laundry Powder - save money, reduce waste and chemicals in the home.

Making your own laundry powder is a quick and easy way to save money, to get rid of unwanted chemicals in the home, reduce packaging waste, and know what's in your products - and still effectively wash clothes. It literally takes minutes and costs just a few cents per wash.

Grate natural fair trade and organic soap - this one is peppermint castile soap and it smells amazing.

I am also so delighted that I don't need to walk down the smelly aisle anymore searching high and low for the eco-options. I really have to hold my breath.

This is the absolutely most simplest recipe I could find that is also suitable for greywater systems like mine. I discovered that a lot of homemade recipes contain borax - which can accumulate in the soil if, like ours, the greywater outlet is in a fixed location.

Even though I have typically used a liquid, I chose to make a laundry powder rather than the liquid for a couple of reasons - it is simpler and it does not require borax (liquids do).

After just a few moments of buzzing the ingredients together in the food processor, it is ready.



  • 1 bar of castille soap or coconut soap (organic and fair trade vegetable oil-based soaps)
  • 2 cups washing soda (Sodium carbonate - it easily removes dirt and greasy stains from clothes)


  • Finely grate soap.
  • Mix together in food processor with washing soda until fine powder (cover top with tea towel if needed so that powder does not escape).
  • Transfer into an airtight container.
With my water, I find 3 tbspns for a full load just fine (I have a 5kg washer).

Extra tips

  • I like to add a capful of eucalyptus oil in with the wash - anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, kills dust mites, and makes washing smell really fresh
  • It is useful to add half a cup of vinegar in rinse cycle to balance pH, soften clothes and help get rid of soap residues.

How to create a bee-friendly garden.

Bees are essential to life, to food, to gardens, but bees are in real crisis. Every garden, even on a balcony or rooftop, needs bee plants and habitat. What can you do to help....

Our 'bee bush' - the perennial basil.

What's wrong?

Globally, honey bees are disappearing at an alarming rate because of the spread of urban development, increasing pesticide and chemical use, parasites, disease and loss of habitat. Bees struggle to survive in our cities and suburbs because of these impacts

Why are bees so important?

  • 1/3 of all food in the world is dependent on pollination
  • 3/4 pollination of main crops are pollinated by insects (most efficient are honey bees)
  • so many vegetables and fruits require bees for pollination
  • other pollinators include birds, bats, mammals and wind
  • without bees our food sources would reduce to some grains, a few fruit species and fish. 
  • grazing animals rely on clover and other bee pollinated pastures
  • the more bees in your garden, the bigger your harvest will be 

.What do bees need?

  • range of flowering plants makes them stronger and healthier
  • plants flowering throughout the year
  • open simple flowers - these are easiest for bees to collect nectar and pollen from - avoid modern hybrids with many petalled, dense flowers 
  • access to fresh water
  • habitat and protection - logs, hollows and homes 
My vegetable garden infused with flowers to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Open cosmos are great, so are the fennel landing pads.
What can you do?

  • Plant bee-friendly plants
  • Avoid bee harming plants and chemicals
  • Create habitat for bees and other pollinators

Create homes for native bees which also do a fabulous pollination job.

What plants attract bees?

Here is a selection of plants that are super-attractive to bees.

My garden with flowering comfrey, chives, yarrow, salvia and geranium plus a little source of water for the bees.

  • Basil, chives, comfrey, coriander, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rocket, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow,

I love watching the bees come down to land on these yarrow flowers.

Vegie flowers
  • Brassicas, capsicum, chilli, cucumbers, leeks and onions, pumpkins, squash….

Female pumpkin flower
  • Alyssum, calendula, cornflower, cosmos, daisies, echinacea, geranium, marigold, roses, salvia, sunflowers, zinnia

At the end of the garden bed is a collection of pollinator attractors - basil, marigold, chives, comfrey.
  • Backhousia, Banksia, Brachysome, Callistemon, Eucalyptus, Grevillea, Leptospermum, Melaleuca, Westringia 

What vegies can we grow without bees?

If you are in a place with few bees and have issues with pollination, here are some common vegetables that self-pollinate and do not rely on bees - lettuces, peas, beans and tomatoes.

A lettuce just beginning to flower.

Some favourite bee attractors in my permaculture garden

Perennial Basil
When she was just a couple of years old my daughter called this the bee bush - and the name has stuck in our household. With sweet basil we snip the flower tips off to encourage more leaf growth, but with perennial basil, I grow it particularly for the year-round flower spikes that attract the bees into the garden. I see both native and honey bees always buzzing round this 

In hot dry corners and along the edges of paths lavender is great. It is hardy and tolerant of dry conditions. I love the scent as I brush past it. When in flower it is just so abuzz.

I always scatter small red and blue salvias throughout my vegetable garden to help attract bees. They are so easy to grow and last many years. When they become a little leggy or overgrown, I simply snip off some nice pieces and plant them out somewhere else. This not only refreshes the main plant but   brings many new plants too.

Red salvia is a great bee attractor that flowers for much of the year here.

Flowering brassicas 
The abundant flowering spikes of brassicas are so attractive to bees. I always leave lots of mustard spinach and other flowering vegetables in the garden to provide a good source of food for the bees.

Lemon Myrtle
Throughout my garden are many native plants that belong in this area - Lemon Myrtle is one of these and in it is covered with masses of pale bee-atracting flowers in Autumn. I selected many of the natives particularly for attracting bees with their flowers, but also because of their habitat for insectivorous birds which help so much with pest management. I use Lemon Myrtle in so many recipes too - teas, sweets, savouries

Lemon myrtle attracts bees in Autumn to it's blossoms

For more information:

More about bees, what plants to grow, and how to make an effective bee hotel, I think this resource from Valley Bees is just so useful.  Click here to read and download this fabulous free information sheet from Valley Bees.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Zero Waste : Simple Life - aspiring to a life lived well

I aspire to a zero waste household. We're not there yet, but we are actively working on it. Rather than just trying to reduce my impact, I want to overall be making a positive contribution in regenerating the earth's systems.

In our house there will always be biodegradable waste. We separate this into food for the chickens, 2 worms farms, 3 worm towers, 4 guinea pigs and the compost bin. We use a dry composting toilet which we love and our grey water is processed through a reedbed and returned to the garden.  Everything biodegradable is returned to the Earth through one of these systems.

While compostable waste is our main output, we still do create other waste which I aim to reuse first before any 'recycling' takes place. Our absolute waste bin has been getting far less use of late, which  am so pleased about.  I want it to be far, far less though. It's a big challenge for a family and something I need to keep coming back to regularly and have an ongoing commitment to.

Each week we try to make some lasting changes - shifting the household culture in a way that will stick.  Going all out and making sweeping changes seems appealing, but I am worried that sustaining this would be a challenge.

Not only does this way of thinking and living help protect the environment and humanity, I find it is good for my health and happiness, and in many ways connects me with my place, my community, the land, the seasons and the Earth.

Here are a few of the books I have been using as inspiration and guidance. They are so full of practical ideas for making easy shifts to zero waste and simple living.

And in this book Plastic: a toxic love story, Susan Freinkel delves into the history, science and economics around plastic. She says we have produced nearly as much stuff in the last decade as we did in the entire 20th century!  A very thought-proviking read...

Here’s just a few online resources I've come across that offer some other information and inspiration:
  • www.zerowastehome.com
  • www.trashisfortossers.com
  • myplasticfreelife.com/
  • www.lifewithoutplastic.com
  • aplasticfreeyear.blogspot.com
  • lastplasticstraw.wix.com/laststraw
  • www.coolaustralia.org/the-great-pacific-garbage-patch-primary/

Monday, 9 May 2016

12 Ways to Use Abundant Mandarins (fruit & peel) including Homemade Sugar-free Mandarin Chocolate

At last - mandarin season has begun at our place. We've been patiently watching and waiting - every now and then doing a taste test. Now they are ready and the fruit all over the tree is turning bright orange. Yummm....

At the moment, the bowl of mandarins on our table is always full. 

Sure, you could buy mandarins all year round, flown in from various parts of the world, but there's nothing quite like the flavour intensity and nutrient-density of freshly harvested mandarins that are just in season in your local area.  Waiting for fruit to come in season builds greater appreciation for each fruit, each taste.

This Imperial Mandarin is the first fruit tree inside our garden gate - a perfect spot to grab a few ripe ones on the way home, or on our journeys out and about.

Besides the Tahitian limes and some lemons, this mandarin is the first of the citrus to come on this season in my garden. We are now closely watching the blood oranges, navel oranges, ruby grapefruits, Buddha's hand (citron), lemonades, and tangellos.

The kids absolutely love mandarins (Citrus reticulata) and so do I.  The fresh uplifting scent of often-peeled mandarin zest surrounds us at the moment. Mandarins are nutrient-dense, full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytonutrients. 

It's so great that mid-winter coincides with peak mandarin season - an delicious fruit packed full of vitamin C for helping to the coughs and colds away.

I grow mandarin for the flavour and nutrients of the delicious fresh fruit of course, but also for:
  • the scent - the flowers have an incredible scent, but so do the ripe fruits. I love the smell when someone is opening a mandarin.  It's easy to make a citrus room spray (I need another post for that one).
  • the colour - orange is my favourite colour - a bright happy positive colour - some walls on the main house are mandarin orange.
  • its abundance
  • its hardiness
  • its ease of growth
  • the versatility of its fruit

7 Ways We Regularly Use Mandarin Fruit

Apart from just peeling and eating the mandarin fresh in the garden, we love them in:
  1. fruit salad
  2. juice - squeezed in a citrus juice - straight or blended with other citrus fruits such as orange and lemondade
  3. salad - segments tossed in
  4. salad dressing - add freshly squeezed juice
  5. dinner - scatter segments on top of a stir fry
  6. teas - dry the the peel and use in teas
  7. baking - sugar-free mandarin and chocolate cake is delicious. I just toss an entire mandarin into the food processor while mixing up a sugar-free chocolate cake, or make mandarin poppy-seed muffins. Here is my recipe for  sugar-free choc-banana cake - just swap over the fruits.
There are of course just so many ways to use mandarins - too many ways to describe here. They freshen up breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Then there are many ways to preserve mandarin too - bottling, drying, jams and marmalades, sorbets.

5 Ways We Use the Mandarin Peel

To keep enjoying homegrown mandarin flavour well after all the fruit is gone, it's a great idea to dry the peels. Because I have grown my own, I know there are no chemical residues on the skin, but if you have bought yours, make sure your peel off any stickers and wash them well before drying.  

It's possible to lay them out in the sun for a few days, but if you live in a humid climate like me, a dehydrator might can be handy - or an oven turned on very low. You know they are ready when they are crisp. 

Dried mandarin peel is delicious added to things like ...
  1. Soup - toss in a little segment of peel while cooking
  2. Rice and quinoa - add a small segment of peel to the cooking water
  3. Tea - use by itself or as a blend with other teas or herbs.
  4. Baking - grind up and add a lovely zesty flavour to many cakes, biscuits, muffins and icing
  5. Homemade Chocolate - cacao, coconut butter, coconut oil, stevia and ground mandarin peel. Here's the recipe:

Super-Easy Sugar-Free Mandarin Chocolate

A delicious and healthy treat using mandarin peel, that takes about 5 minutes to make...

  • 100 grams raw cacao butter 
  • 100 grams raw, extra virgin coconut oil
  • 30grams cacao powder
  • 4 drops stevia - or to taste
  • 1 tspn ground mandarin peel

  • Melt the cacao butter and coconut oil over a low heat.
  • Just as it melts, add the cacao powder, mandarin peel and stevia and mix well.
  • Pour into moulds - mini cupcake baking cups work well.
  • Put it into the freezer to set.
  • Store in an airtight container

Dried mandarin peel can also be used as: a gentle face scrub (grind dried mandarin, mix with honey, put on face for 5-10 minutes then wash off) even a moth repellent  (place dried peel in your cupboard).

Gifting Abundance

Mandarins have a short shelf life (2-4 weeks). We cannot eat all the Mandarins on this tree in the next few weeks so most places I go, I find myself taking little handfuls of mandarin gifts to share. I love being able to share my produce like this.

Our abundance - our Imperial Mandarin tree is now covered in fruit.

A Little Mandarin History

Did you know that the mandarin, citron and pomelo are the ancestors of most of the other citrus? Mandarins are the only sweet ones of these original citrus and therefore really important to the development of all the sweet citrus we have grown to love.

Mandarin was originally from Southeast Asia but has ended up around the world. It was highly prized in China and the bright golden glow has long been considered to be an auspicious symbol of good fortune and abundance. Originally mandarins were strictly reserved for royalty. Mandarin is actually named after the deep orange robes traditionally worn by Mandarins - high ranking Chinese officials of the Imperial Court. 

In 1805 a few mandarin trees were taken to England from China, and eventually they ended up here in Australia where they are now a prized fruit. 

A few of the Hickson Mandarins are starting to turn and will be mostly ready from June-August. 

Planning for Mandarin Abundance

At our place, we love them so much, we planned our garden to have mandarins from May until October - the entire growing season.  To do this, I researched what mandarins were suited to my region and planted a few varieties to keep us in fruit throughout this time. We have:

Early Season Mandarins

  • Imperial (May) is the first Mandarin to harvest each year in my garden. This is an old Australian variety from Sydney (circa 1890). It is a small-medium fruit that is easy to peel and has few seeds. We've been eating these for about two weeks already.

Mid Season Mandarins

  • Hickson (June - August) is the very popular mid-season mandarin. It originated in Queensland in 1941. It has bright orange skin, is easy to peel later in the season when the skin becomes slightly puffy and loose.

  • Emperor (June - August) is an excellent large fruit that is easy to peel and segment and has few seeds.

Late Season

  • Honey Murcott (August - September) is an attractive medium-large fruit with excellent flavour.  It is sweet and great for juicing.

Plant Mandarins With Complementary Plants

To help Mandarins grow and to make the best use of space in my garden, I plant my fruit trees with a group of complementary plants. For example, underneath my Imperial Mandarin tree are: 

  • Sacred basil to attract bees.
  • Aloe vera which likes the shade and can tolerate dry conditions.
  • Comfrey to feed the plant and provide mulch.
  • Brazilian spinach - which is shade tolerant, drought-hardy and works as a living mulch.

Growing Mandarins

For most of the year Mandarins can pretty much look after themselves, but here's a couple of tips:
  • When planting, prepare the hole with a good amount of chook manure and water it in well.
  • Place mandarins where they can get at least 5 hours of sunlight. It's often recommended that they have full sun, but I have observed that in these warmer parts, some of my healthiest looking citrus actually get a good deal of shade through the day.
  • Mandarin plants are drought-hardy, but for good fruiting they do need water and well-drained soil. It's better to water deeply less often. Make sure you keep up the moisture as the fruit is forming
  • Give a really good feed twice a year in February and August. I use chook manure and compost. (pots need feeding every 6-8 weeks)

Mandarins for Small Gardens

If you have limited space but still would like a variety of mandarins, try:
  • multi-grafted varieties - where a branch of a range of varieties is grafted onto a strong rootstock
  • 'duo' planting - where you plant two fruit trees in the same hole. This is sometimes preferable to multi-grafted varieties that may end up having one dominant variety take over.
  • grow your mandarin a large pot - preferably a dwarf variety, although being in a pot will ensure it remains dwarf anyway.

Enjoy the delicious flavours and juiciness of mandarin season!

Coming soon in my garden are the abundant ruby grapefruits which are starting to get yellow with red patches.