Wednesday, 21 June 2017

10 things I no longer buy ...

This week on my Simple Living segment on ABC radio (Tuesday evenings 9:30) I chat with Trevor Jackson about the 10 things I no longer buy, and explore the amazing things I have gained from buying way less 'stuff':
  • more freedom
  • more spare cash to spend on important things, experiences with the kids and higher quality/durable/repairable products
  • more time to volunteer
  • more time to grow food
  • more time to spend time with the family
  • more time to homeschool
  • more time to spend in nature
  • more time to write
  • more time to make films
  • more time to read
  • more time to ride my bike
  • more time to just be

I have chosen to buy less, not just to save money, but because of how it enables me to reduce my environmental and social impact, and support respectful practices and products.

Here's just some of the things I no longer buy:


Instead I choose ethical, sustainable, second-hand, well made, hand-made, upcycled and hand-me-down options.


Instead I cook from scratch using good ingredients bought in bulk (plastic free) and from my rambling kitchen garden.


I eat what I grow.


I carry my own and use washable options at parties and events.


No more tissues and paper towels. I use hankies and napkins. (still use toilet paper though!)


I choose to buy and store my food in jars. I also have a few stainless steel containers and sometimes use bowls to store things in the fridge with a plate as a lid.


I use natural alternatives such as soap nuts for the wash, vinegar as a fabric softener and sodium percarbonate as bleach.


I use luffa scrubs, castile soap and vinegar rinse.


I use castile soap as shampoo and aloe vera as a conditioner (straight from the plant).


I use castile soap as a face wash, homemade grapefruit toner, aloe moisturiser (again straight from the plant) and sometimes pure jojoba oil. I also make my own creams using just a few natural products (such as olive oil, beeswax, plants from the garden).

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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

12 ways to use your grapefruit abundance

The grapefruit tree (Citrus × paradisi) in my permaculture food forest is laden. I love to eat the fruit sliced in half for breakfast, but I'm pretty sure I can't eat all of those before they start to fall and rot. What else can I do with this large and hardy fruit apart from half slices for breakfast and making marmalade?

This is what I explore in the latest film I made in my garden.

A dozen ideas of things to do with abundant grapefruits:

  1. Juice it - separately, or added to a citrus blend, or a green juice.  Use whatever is fresh and seasonal now.
  2. Add to smoothies - banana and grapefruit is the simplest, you can add yoghurt
  3. Mix with morning oats, chia, yoghurt and ground nuts.
  4. Chunk it into salads - I love grapefruit, avocado and spinach (read as 'whatever leafy green is good in the garden today!') with a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds.
  5. Add chunks to an ancient grain dinner - steamed vegetables, raw greens, quinoa/amaranth, chunks of grapefruit, juice of grapefruit, ginger, garlic, turmeric, lemon myrtle.
  6. Add chunks to a fruit salad and drizzle the juice over it to keep it fresh. 
  7. Drizzle grapefruit juice over an apple to stop it browning, and for extra flavour - great in lunchboxes.
  8. Bake a grapefruit poppy seed cake (I'll post this recipe soon) or add zest to shortbread biscuit mix (yumm)
  9. Make grapefruit butter (use same recipe as typical lemon butter but replace the lemon with grapefruit)
  10. Grapefruit, honey, cinnamon tea helps to soothe coughs and is a great night-time tea. 
  11. Make grapefruit facial toner - squeeze the grapefruit, place into a jar with water, add fresh chopped herbs (select your favourite, eg:lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint...). Let it steep for a couple of hours then splash onto clean skin. So delightful. This will keep in in the fridge for a week or 2.
  12. Add the peel to vinegar to make a super citrus cleaner (See a previous post: Grow your own cleaner:
I'd love to hear other favourite ways you use grapefruit.

I grow pink grapefruit (just a little pink, not the super red ones)  I know mine are ready to harvest when they blush like this. You can still see the hail damage on the older leaves from the storm at the start of the year. The new leaves are looking good.

Grapefruit is delicious and so good for you

Grapefruit is high in Vitamins A and C, high in fibre and is high in anti-oxidants (more so with the red ones). It's good to help fight colds and reduce fevers.

Grapefruit has been consumed for such a long time as a detox food, to help improve digestion and there is much written about it for use in weight-loss diets.  

Embrace the bitters
Our diets have been so overridden by sweet things that we have often abandoned bitter things. Bitter however is important. Bitter foods stimulate the liver to produce bile, which is important for good digestion.  One of the ways to improve our diet is to re-cultivate a taste for bitter food. Bitter foods moderate hunger and blood sugar .

Other sources of bitters from your garden:
  • Vegetables - bitter melon, chicory, rocket (arugula), endive, old varieties of lettuce and carrot
  • Culinary Herbs  - thyme, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon, bay leaves, sorrel, dandelion greens
  • Spice - ginger, pepper, cardamom
  • Cereals - millet, amaranth
  • Fruit - lemon, lime

Note: if you are on medication, grapefruit can interfere with this so check first whether it's OK.

Where to grow

Grapefruit's ideal environment is a warm sheltered position with well-drained loamy soil. If your site is open, consider planting some pioneer species to help provide protection while it gets established. (A pioneer such as pigeon pea could be helpful - see previous blog post here which also includes my short clip about the plant

Preparing the soil

In this grapefruit film I talk about preparing the soil with a compost tractor. Essentially you place your compost bin on the spot you want the plant a tree and make a compost there - simple really. (You could dig the hole first). When the compost is finished, the soil will be so alive, enriched and opened by the soil life and added materials. Simply lift off the bin and spread out the compost in situ. 

Watch this previous video from my Youtube Channel for some more explanation about compost. Compost Simply

I hope you are enjoying your grapefruit abundance too!

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Monday, 19 June 2017

12 Ways to Use Abundant Mandarin Fruit and Peel

It's mandarin season 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: 
  • gentle face scrub (grind dried mandarin, mix with honey, put on face for 5-10 minutes then wash off)
  • 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 on now in my garden are the abundant ruby grapefruits which are starting to get yellow with pink patches.  

      (reposted from my Our Permaculture Life, May 2016)

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      Friday, 16 June 2017

      I'd love your feedback

      5 Minute Survey

      Thanks everyone for finding your way to my blog, and also to my youtube channel. Thanks too for all your comments and feedback over the past 18 months.

      Through Our Permaculture Life I have been exploring many different, but interconnected themes - in the home, with my family and in my community. I typically write about what inspires me, what motivates me and what I am observing around me - exploring practical and accessible ways to live simply, nourishing people and the planet.


      I am interested in hearing from you about what you have enjoy reading and watching (or not), and what other things you'd like to hear about. 


      I would also love to get your input on my workshops and courses - in my permaculture garden, in urban centres and online. 

      If you'd take about 5 minutes to consider these 7 questions and send your feedback to me, I would really appreciate it.

      The survey can be found on the Survey Tab of this website, or by clicking this link ...

      5 Minute Survey

      With many thanks,


      Wednesday, 14 June 2017

      Food waste - a huge polluter. This has to change!

      Food waste needs to be centre stage on our agenda for change.

      Food waste is one of the biggest pollution issues on the planet. It produces more emissions that steel and iron ore industries combined. At least one third of all food grown in the world is wasted. In my part of the world (Australia), around half of our bins are filled with food waste.

      If we spend time to think about how our food is grown, how it reaches us, how it is transported, cooled, processed, cooked, packaged, served and stored we begin to realise the enormity of the problem with wasting it.  Embodied in food is enormous water use and water contamination, soil loss, fossil fuel use, chemical use, deforestation, plastics and a huge amount of human labour.

      Did you know that food waste is the number one material sent to landfill - more than plastic and paper. In landfill it doesn't biodegrade in that oxygen-starved environment. It is not enriching the soil like in a compost system. Instead, as it rots, it releases methane - a greenhouse gas with 25 times the impact of carbon dioxide. It also contributes to the leachate that contaminates groundwater. Meanwhile our food system relies heavily on chemical fertilisers to feed plants.

      The first thing to do is acknowledge that it is a significant problem, then work together to actively find solutions in our homes, our communities, cafes and restaurants, our offices, our schools, our hospital - wherever we gather and eat. Our actions inform system change.

      Here is my recent Simple Life segment from Evening show on ABC Radio Queensland with Trevor Jackson. I discuss simple ways that even a novice composter, with a small space, can make a difference. Food Waste Recycling:

      Here are just a few of the ways we can personally reduce food waste.

      1. Eat more of your our homegrown produce
      We overlook so much food in our garden because we don't realise it is edible, for example:
      • pumpkin leaves and shoots, flowers, plus seeds and skin too. 
      • sweet potato leaves and shoots
      • beetroot leaves
      • carrot leaves
      • cauliflower leaves
      • broccoli leaves
      • snow pea leaves
      • pigeon peas (fresh and dried) and growing shoots
      • weeds such as chickweed, purslane, dandelion ...
      There is a huge range of plants we can eat. I'll keep talking about these in my blog, and please do share how you stretch your plant foods further.

      Also read: More Food: Less Waste and listen to my ABC Segment on this topic:

      2. Reduce wastage
      We need to get serious about not buying and wasting food, and change our perceptions - e.g. too much food on our tables is offensive, rather than as a symbol of affluence and wealth. So for less waste:
      • buy just what you need
      • cook just what you need
      • eat everything on your plate (judge portion size well)
      • plan your meals 
      • create a shopping list
      • avoid buying food when you're hungry
      • store food supplies well
      • store leftovers well
      • freeze surplus for meals during the week
      • share your meals with others to distribute surplus
      3. Reuse Leftovers
      Re-fashion your food into imaginative new dishes. It's a frugal thing to do, something that many of our grandparents did because they needed to. We need to reuse leftovers too, perhaps not because we can't afford more food, but because of the reasons explained above.

      A simple example of using leftover pumpkin soup, it can be reheated, it can become a tasty pasta sauce base, a perfect ingredient for a curry, mixed into scones and so much more.

      There is no really limit except in our imagination.

      4. Recycle Food Waste 
      Turn food waste into food for the soil. The best way to compost food scraps is in closed bin systems to avoid vermin and insects accessing rotting food. For this reason I use these systems for food scraps:
      • compost bins and tumblers (bays I use for garden waste, and chicken pen waste)
      • worm farms and worm towers (worms are superb recylcers)
      • bokashi (I use the bokashi mix to sprinkle into my food scrap caddy to stop it smelling - I then add this to both the worm farm and the compost bins)
      • chickens - our chooks get a lot of our scraps, as well as veggie garden scraps which they turn into protein (eggs) and fertiliser (manure for the compost bays)

      Here are some of my Youtube Clips about recycling food scraps:

      Worm towers: 

      Compost Bin:

      Bokashi: coming soon

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      Monday, 12 June 2017

      Pigeon Pea - a perennial permaculture pioneer plant with Morag Gamble

      Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan) is a super useful permaculture plant. This legume has so many valuable uses in the garden, on the farm and in the kitchen. It would have to be one of my favourite permaculture plants and you'll always find it somewhere, if not in many places, around my garden.

      Getting a garden started with Pigeon Pea

      It is so useful in helping to get a permaculture garden started. It is a hardy pioneer plant which grows quickly and improves the soil and microclimate for other plants to grow.  It grows only for 4-5 years which is good because in that time, your fruit tree that it was protecting should be hardy enough.

      I add the easily harvested leaves to compost, to no-dig gardens and regularly use it as a chop and drop mulch. Because the leaves are soft and small, they decompose rapidly.

      It can start off in some pretty difficult conditions, tolerate a variety of soils and is very drought tolerant. It gets going in the warm season and produces an abundant harvest.  It really doesn't mind being hedged too so you can fit it into smaller urban gardens.

      Pigeon Pea on the farm

      On the farm, pigeon pea is a great fodder plant for animals such as cows, pigs and chickens, and makes a great alley-cropping plant in an orchard situation.

      Pigeon Pea in the kitchen

      In the kitchen, the green peas can be used like standard peas, but have way more vitamin A and C. The way I mostly use it is as a dried pea. I let them dry on the shrub then harvest and shell them. This makes a great dahl and people in India have been doing this for thousands of years.

      Pigeon Pea Film

      Here's the link to my latest video all about Pigeon Pea (5:20 min).

      I'd love to hear about how you use pigeon pea in your garden and also your favourite recipes using both the green and dried peas.

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      Our Permaculture Garden: Before and After Photos

      It only takes a few years to create an abundant food forest garden.

      I was reminded again of this recently when I was going through some old photos of our garden. Here are some before and after shots with annotations. I hope you enjoy looking at how we evolved this diverse permaculture garden. Getting the design and earthworks right to begin with was so important and I value the effort we put into it. We are really happy with how the garden is working, and how low maintenance it is.

      I will try to find the absolute beginning shots, when the place was just a bare paddock growing only bladey grass. Everything in this garden we have planted.

      Three year old Maia helps Evan to spread out the topsoil across the newly constructed terraces.

      A couple of years later there is abundant perennial and self-seeding growth across the garden
       Evan working on the wall. We chose this because it is termite resistant, can be made in curves, is simple interlocking bricks that can be easily dismantled, and it makes a great seat and workspace. You can see the abundance of Canna edulis on the left - a great pioneer plant to grow to build up biomass.
      The terraces have been very successful gardens. I am so glad we decided to do this. It has made gardening here on the west slope all much easier - helping to build up soil and slowing and directing water along the contour pathways. The wide top is used as a seats, as pot holders, as balance beams, as a coffee table. It did cost a bit more in the outset, but well worth it.

      You can see in this photo, taken this year, how the garden is now looking more like a food forest. There is just so much food wrapping our house.

      ...and every now and then we get some strange visitors of all sorts.
      There is amazing bird life here. We always have the bird book at hand.
      Looking toward the house:

      Shaping the contour pathways...

      A few years on and it looked like this.
      The lemon myrtle and it's friends - comfrey, aloe vera, pineapple sage, yarrow, geranium ...
      We used a dingo (mini bobcat) to shape terraces and paths first before we begin planting. Our design collects rainwater and soaks it into the gardens in the keyholes beds. You can see the self-seeding mustard spinach that still fed us even when it was a construction site - love this plant!

      At the end of the wall you can see the young Lemon Myrtle tree starting to grow. It's not that much taller now because we keep it well trimmed.
      You can see the curvature of the wall here. This helped to create more of a circular open grassy space for the children to play and to extend the terrace widths at either end for more garden space. To get the shape, we lay a hose on the ground until it looked and felt right, then started building the footings. 

      This is the same view as above, a couple of years after the garden was constructed. 

      Still in the beginning pioneer stages. groups have been coming to our garden since it's inception and have witnessed it at every stage..

      Maia amongst the abundant growth of chia and bananas - same spot where people are standing above.
      The bananas have become really productive on the top terrace. They are located just below the 3 bay composting system which helps. The nutrients flow down the hill and feed these plants.

      Laying the decking. The terrace wall and pavers were next. The area of the garden to the left is now my main salad garden. For a long time it was a construction zone while we built the house.
      Creating no-dig gardens in the old building site.
      The children and WWOOfers have contributed to creating the gardens.
      This was the first garden in this spot - using the no-dig method.
      Another view of the abundance of this new no-dig garden
      The gardens have come alive around the house.

      These outdoor spaces and terrace walls work well as classroom spaces when we have groups here.

      The kids loved the mud piles - we had to make a special mud zone elsewhere when this became a garden. Even now, they still love mud play.

      Ready for a Harvest to Kitchen workshop on our verandah. Another one coming soon in August.

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