Saturday, 31 December 2016

Contemplating Life's Direction & Following My Life's Purpose: Connecting Head, Heart and Hands

At this time of year (like most of us I suppose) I find myself pondering things in my life and seeking some clarity on how I should best set out in the new year, but also how I think I could better contribute to a more sustainable and just society. I have a self-reflective process I do each year and really look forward to it. This approach led me to this 'permaculture life' - to choose amongst other things to create a permaculture livelihood, live in an ecovillage, build my own eco-home and home-educate our children.

Waiting for the kids program finish - another few moments to be quiet with my own thoughts....

Over the past couple of weeks I have been taking moments here and there to ponder questions like:
  • have I spent my year wisely?
  • what do I feel I have achieved this year?
  • what contribution did I  make is there more effective ways I could make a positive contribution?
  • what I am most proud of that I did this year?
  • what things could I have done differently?
  • is my life in good balance?
  • am I happy/are we all feeling happy with the direction our lives have taken us this year?
  • why do the wheels fall off sometimes and how could I respond to situations like this better?
(of course there are many other questions that emerge, but this is the general gist...)

After this period of contemplation, on new years eve I will mind map my collective thoughts and see what emerges. It's a bit of a tradition I started for myself when I was a teenager and I've continued without fail each year.

It can be really easy to get distracted, following paths that seem interesting, seem to be the right ones, but realising a little along the way that "woops - I really don't want to be in this space". Spending this time each year really helps me feel somewhat in control of where I am going, what I am doing, how I am making it happen, and what it is all for.

When I was a teenager,  I remember noticing an internal gauge for my life direction. This gauge helped me feel if I was 'doing the right thing' physically before I acknowledged it intellectually. Without fail, if I'm off-track, I feel an uncomfortable sense of tightness in my chest, but a radiant warm glow if I'm 'in -tune'.  I've listened to this 'inner voice' for as long as I can remember and it has helped me so many times to refocus and realign my thinking with my actions - connecting my head, heart and hands. I have been so grateful for it so many times in my life.

For me, it's not about setting resolutions,  entering into the new year feels like a good time to contemplate my purpose and priorities, take a close look at where I am actually spending my energy, time and resources and asking "does that fit?" and "are my actions helping me to fulfil what I feel to be my life's purpose/direction?"

I also like to ask:
  • what new things would I love to do in 2017?
  • what things do I really not want to keep doing in 2017?
  • which of my broader life goals can I work toward in 2017?
  • what challenges can I set for myself in 2017?

I quietly write everything in my lovely little handmade book that I keep for this - reflections first on the year past, then new goals. I don't need to make posters or declarations. I find that having made the mental and emotional space to think about it and then taken the time to write it down is enough for it to be clear in my heart and mind.

Evan and I both spend time reflecting and when we feel clear, we chat and share ideas - with the kids too. The areas where we find most points of similarity in thinking is where we focus on first, but interestingly many great new shared ideas come from exploring the differences in our thinking. It amazing - the more we do this, the more we find we are able to grow our ideas together - but also feel very able to redefine our collective direction too, and communicate this to each other. After more than half a lifetime together, we keep dreaming together. I love it.

Of course, it would be great to be in a state of constant reflection all year - in some ways that does happen little by little. But I really do appreciate the clarity of purpose I feel going through this self-reflective process each year, and sharing this with Evan. It helps me to feel strong and clear in my own thoughts and actions, and strong in our relationship and understanding of shared directions.

Being reflective helps me to readjust when I need to. It helps me to refine my perception of what are the most important things that I can be doing in my life and how to make the best contribution I can.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Simple and Eco-Cultural Way to Enjoy Christmas/New Year: Woodford Folk Festival Opened Today

I so enjoyed our simple Christmas at home sharing a healthy summer spread of homegrown and simple raw & home-cooked foods, followed by a walkabout in the ecovillage and forest gully.

Today the incredibly wonderful Woodford Folk Festival opened. This international festival of ecological thinking, action, culture, music, arts is just 25 minutes from us and runs through until New Year's Day. We plan to be there every day enjoying a most amazing cultural, art and musical immersion - all with an ecological twist. 

Here's a few photos from today. 

We started our day today leading our Patterns in Nature workshop in the Children's Festival, joined in a dance workshop, watched raucous children's comedy, got totally into a acrobatic comedy show, heard lots of great music, joined the end of a singing session, saw an amazing group using plastic bags as instruments, enjoyed some fresh mango icy-poles and Indian food, loved the great bamboo structures, created stories in the performance art stages around the site, joined in on the whole festival game.

Tomorrow we're hoping to be there longer and catch much more amazing action, and head to some talks too with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, ex-PM Bob Hawke, and Em. Prof Ian Lowe. Can't wait. It's Evan's birthday too - what a great way to celebrate!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Time for Renewal - Refreshing My Garden and Uplifting My Spirit

I've just renewed my salad garden bed after the storms using my version of no-dig gardening. I find doing it this way is not only quick and easy, but it helps create great new topsoil very effectively and rapidly. I filmed the process and I hope to have this film up on my You Tube Channel: Our Permaculture Life before the end of the week. In the meantime, you can see the step by step pictures here in a previous post: Morag's Simple & Successful No-Dig Garden Method.

Right now though, we are all on our way to Woodford Festival until New Year's Day. It's an amazing international festival that is just 30 minutes down the road - I love it - I always discover or learn something new there, hear some incredibly interesting music, watch wondrous performances and come away feeling inspired, refreshed and renewed!

Also, we always give talks or run some workshops there. This year we'll be running hands-on Patterns in Nature sessions in the Children's Festival on 27th, 28th, 31st December and 1st January. Today we've been down at the river collecting items for a nature treasure box to share with the children - there are so many patterns you can see in each and every thing you pick up.

I hope we might see you at the Festival. Our children are so excited to go and hear some great music, run around freely, explore the new bamboo sculptures and cool down with those amazing fresh mango icy poles. We love spending this culturally creative as a family. I can't wait to see what new music we come home with this time - our household keeps going on this for months.

I'll be posting stories and images from the festival over the next couple of days.

Friday, 23 December 2016

16 Best Posts on Our Permaculture Life in 2016: Practical Simplicity for Everyday Life

Thank you and Merry Christmas to everyone who's responded so positively to the writings and films I've been posting on Our Permaculture Life - on this Blog, on Youtube and Facebook,

After decades of 'just doing it', I was encouraged a year ago to start writing about our permaculture way of life and have received such amazing feedback both in person and online. It is so uplifting to know so many people are interested in living a simple &natural way of life.

I so enjoy receiving the comments you write, and participating in discussions about the various topics. I'd love your suggestions too (please fill in the v.quick survey below).

The ripple effect of our actions, our words, our thoughts - our work and the way we choose to live - is profound. It's so important to be thinking about change - exploring the possibilities and taking positive, practical steps.

In 2017, I look forward to writing and sharing more (blogposts, articles .... and a book) and creating new films.


As a recap, here a list of some of most popular posts of the past year:
  1. My Permaculture Garden - a 30 minute tour of my award-winning garden, plus list of species.
  2. Morag's Simple and Successful No Dig Garden Method - a step by step guide (film coming soon)
  3. How to Make Comfrey Tea - a super easy natural homemade fertiliser
  4. Worm Towers - a quick and easy way to turn food waste into garden fertiliser - without digging or turning. and Worm Tower Film Clip - a superbly simple way to put your foodsraps back in the soil
  5. 7 Ways to Use All of Your Pumpkin Plant - simple abundance
  6. City as Farm: City Dwellers Love to Grow Food - weaving food growing into the cities
  7. Ingeniously Simple Idea to Harvest Compost Worms By 8 Year Old Boy - innovative thinking from my young home educated son.
  8. Temporary permaculture for renters - 11 ideas for growing abundant food without owning land
  9. Live simply: 14 Ways to Save Money and Avoid Debt - practical and common-sense advice
  10. Save over $23,000 a Year and De-stress with a Few Simple Living Strategies
  11. Five Easy Steps to Make Cheap Beeswax Wraps & Reduce Cling Wrap Use - make your own beeswax cloths in minutes for less than a dollar.
  12. Five Simple Ways to Improve Your Soil - having great soil is the basis of healthy plants and food.
  13. Did you know our clothes are poisoning us? More Reasons to Choose Simple Natural Fashion for Earth Care and People Care - it's good to know the backstory to where many of our 'things' come from
  14. 27,000 Trees A Day to Wipe Bottoms - What's Your Wipe of Choice? - taking a closer look at a  very common household consumable
  15. Why I Let My Young Children Leave School To Learn At Home... an introduction to the way I home educate my children
  16. 9 Ways to Simply Use Chia: an easy 'superfood' to grow at home - great ways to grow and use chia, and some yummy recipes too.


I'd love to get your feedback and suggestions about the topics you enjoy most and those you'd like me to write and film more about. Either leave a comment at the bottom of this post or click on this survey monkey link - it should take less than a minute to complete.

Create your own user feedback survey 


I want to acknowledge all those that have mentored and encouraged me to write over this past year - you are very dear people and I thank you so very much!

My very best wishes to you all for a simple, abundant and happy 2017.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Happy Solstice on December 21st: Designing with the Sun

Happy Solstice to everyone on December 21st. It will be the  midsummer solstice in the south and midwinter solstice in the north. What does this mean? Why is it important for good design of our eco-homes and food gardens?

Sunflowers track the sun. Our homes and gardens need be designed with work with nature too - to acknowledge the sun in different seasons. Image: Morag Gamble
For many cultures and people worldwide, the solstices have great significance. It's a time when celebrations and rituals of all kinds take place, and have done since ancient times. Throughout history too, people have built structures (from stone arrangements to temples to megalithic structures) to mark the solstices including Indigenous Australians, Druids, Egyptians, Mayans, Indians, Romans and so many others.

From a purely practical sense (as a permaculture design, gardener or owner-builder) knowing about how the sun moves throughout the year are central to good design, sustainable homes and productive gardens. You need to know when and where are the highest and lowest sun angles in order to place your elements in the best place. 

Where is the sun and where are the shadows cast in midsummer and midwinter at your place? Knowing this is crucial to the good design of your home and garden.

 What are the solstices and equinoxes?

Summer solstice (Southern Hemisphere: approx. Dec 21, Northern Hemisphere: approx. June 21)
  • midsummer
  • longest day and the shortest night 
  • when the sun is at its highest in the sky
  • when the pole closest to us is tilted toward the sun
The word solstice comes from an ancient Latin word  solstitium meaning sun-stopping which is derived from sol ‘sun’ + stit- ‘stopped, stationary’. This term was first used in the first centry BC, although tracking the movement of the sun is much more ancient.

Winter solstice (Southern Hemisphere: approx. June 21, Northern Hemisphere: approx. December 21)
  • midwinter
  • shortest day and longest night 
  • when it's lowest in the sky
  • when the pole closest to us is tilted away the sun.

The precise time and date can vary a couple of days from year to year becuase the path of the Earth around the Sun is an ellipse, not a circle, and because the Earth is off-centre on its axis . You can find out the precise time of the equinox and solstices on websites like time and date.  This year, where I live, the summer solstice is coming soon on December 21 at 8:44pm.

Sun path in southern hemisphere on midsummer and midwinter. (source)

Sun path in northern hemisphere on midsummer and midwinter. (source)

(NB: Equinox - 
The equinox is when there are equal hours of day and night. These happen around March 21 and September 21.  The word equinox comes from the Latin aequinoctium which is derived from from aequi- ‘equal’ + noxnoct- meaning ‘night'.)

Designing with the Sun - home design, energy design, garden design

Use the understanding of the sun path throughout the year to manage sun in your house and garden - to harness it's energy and to protect yourself from it's heat. Your Home: Australia's Guide to Sustainable Housing is a great resource for planning and design, and understanding how to work with local climate.

Sun Angles and Home Design

You could use computer modelling, but when we were designing our house, we checked our home orientation, eave design and window location by building a model and shining a lamp at the angle of the sun in different seasons. It worked perfectly. 

The sun shines through the windows in winter warming the thermal mass floor in the children's area which keeps the space lovely and warm into the night. Now in summer though, the floor is protected from the sun and it remains beautifully cool. On really hot days, that's where they are -  laid flat on the cool floor doing their schoolwork, reading or playing.

Thermal Mass: Source - Your Home (if you are in the northern hemisphere - change north to south)

Planning with the sun helps me to keep my house cool in summer and warm in winter mostly without heating and cooling. Only in the coolest month do we need to use our fireplace at night, and only midsummer (now) do we find ourselves using our ceiling fans. (And then to reduce our footprint - we grow our own firewood and produce solar power to power the fans.)

Considering the sun, the ideal orientation of a house is with the long side of the house running east-west. This reduces the heat absorbed on long summer days - particularly on western walls, and gives maximum surface for light and heat absorption on midwinter days when the sun is lower in the sky.

Home orientation: Source - Your Home (again, if you are in the northern hemisphere - change north to south)

Sun Angles and Solar Panels
We also need to understand the path of the sun so we can gather as much sun as possible on our solar panels and solar hot water systems. Solar panels placed at the ideal angle and orientation will provide maximum energy and heat production. 

Solar panels should face due north (south in the northern hemisphere), but the tilt angle varies depending on location and your main loads (eg: electric heating in winter, or refrigeration and cooling in summer). See the link below for more information on tilt:

As a rule of thumb, if the main loads are in winter months when solar availability is reduced, tilt angles should be more vertical (approximately equal to latitude plus 15º) to maximise exposure to the low winter sun. If major loads are cooling and refrigeration the tilt angle should be reduced (approximately latitude minus 10º) to maximise output during summer. For grid connect systems the summer optimum angle should be used to maximise annual output of the modules. Source: Your Home
Example of idea solar tilt from Sydney, latitude 34 degrees.  Source - Your Home

Vegetable Garden
In the garden too we need to plan with the sun of course. Food gardens will not produce unless they have enough light. We need to consider the shade of our home, our trees, and the homes and trees too of our neighbours too. I always look for a spot in the garden that has a minimum of 4-6 hours of sun a day.

It's important also to know how the sun angles and shadows in each season affect different areas of your garden. For example, there's a big section in my terrace garden that is shaded in winter by my neighbours big trees to the north. I have designed this area to have resilient shade tolerant perennial plants in that area, and in summer interplant with some fast growing annuals.

I also design the layers of the garden to ensure that sun can penetrate to the herbs and vegetables growing underneath the fruit trees.

In my garden, I use the slope to gain more solar access and build in more layers of food. Image: Morag Gamble

Worm Farms need shade
A good winter spot for a worm farm might be far too hot in summer. Make sure you work out a place that gives year round protection, or have a movable set up.

Chickens need a good balance of sun and shade
I designed my chicken pen to ensure they have protection from the strong summer sun and long hot afternoons. I have a a partial wall screening the sun and a deciduous mulberry on the west, and I allow pumpkin vines to clamber over in summer. By midwinter, the mulberries and pumpkins have gone so the sun can shine in for the girls, although here in the subtropics the winter sun can still be hot, so I've ensured some areas of year round protection.

Our chicken pen in midsummer (east elevation) - good chicken protection. The gap in the pumpkin vine allows morning sun to flood into the chicken pen, and the mulberries protect them in the afternoon. Photo: Morag Gamble

Observe and document the sun path where you live.
Do you know where your midwinter and midsummer sun rises and sets, and how it tracks over your house and garden in the middle of the day? Draw the sun path for your these and understand the significance for design.  Do a mudmap of your site and note the solar qualities of each area.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Want to Grow and Eat Garlic Without the Bad Breath?

If you love garlic but not the bad breath, try Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea).  It is so very easy to grow, looks great and both it's leaves and flowers have wonderful garlic flavour without the renowned bad breath after eating. This is why it was called Society Garlic - a good choice for 'polite society' dinner parties. 

Society Garlic flowers have a more potent flavour than the leaves - very delicious and attractive.

If smell is not an issue for you (to be honest, I don't mind it), I still highly recommend growing Society Garlic because it adds so much to the garden - great colour and flavour, it attracts beneficial insects, it repels pests and it requires such little care. 

I particularly like it because whenever I want garlic in a meal, I can simply reach out and harvest the leaves and flowers fresh from my garden anytime. In this climate (subtropics) it flourishes all year and is perennial whereas growing good garlic bulbs here is a challenge. This plant does not need planting and harvesting each year - it's just there to pluck whenever I need it.

Society Garlic, not to be confused with Allium sativum (Garlic), is also known as Sweet Garlic, Wild Garlic, Wildeknoffel by the Afrikaans and Isihaqa by the Zululs. It is native to Natal, Transvaal and the eastern Cape region in South Africa. Society Garlic is a member of the lily family (Alliaceae), as are onions and garlic, but it is not an allium. 

Society Garlic - a hardy edible plant

Society Garlic is a definite favourite in my edible garden. I use it all the time and have it growing throughout my garden - in the salad garden, in the vegetable terraces, in the food forest.  It is an incredibly robust, low maintenance, pest resistant and drought tolerant perennial. It withstands summer heat, humidity, thunderstorms, hailstorms and retains its attractiveness throughout. You can understand why I love having it in my garden - it is so hardy, resilient and abundant.

Here in my garden, you can see the Society Garlic clumps at the end of each bed

Society Garlic Border

In the garden, I often use it as an edge plant too as it doesn't mind this drier spot. It helps to prevent mulch from spilling onto my path and because it stays upright so does not take over the path either. I also like it on the edge because I am reaching for it every day - for salads, for omelettes and quiche, for soups, for stir fries, for curries, for dips, for sauces ...

Society Garlic - a landscape plant

Society Garlic is an attractive landscape plant - sometimes even referred to as pink agapanthus. Its strappy green edible leaves stand tall even on hot days and it often has shows of pretty violet-coloured edible flowers - actually with more potent flavour than the leaves. It typically grows around 30-50 cms, but taller if you include the flowers.

Society Garlic growing as a landscape plant in the Melbourne at the Burnley Horticultural Gardens.

Growing Society Garlic

Society Garlic can be grown in warmer climates with ease (for those of you in the USA, it is hardy in USDA zones 7-10). In cooler climates it is better grown in pots then moved inside. The leaves will withstand temperatures below zero degrees celsius (around 20 degrees fahrenheit), and if damaged they will re-sprout quickly. 

Society Garlic does best in full sun but grows well in shade too, however you will get few flowers in the shade. It prefers light sandy soil and fertile soil with lots of organic matter. The rhizomes may rot in waterlogged soil - although I have noticed in my garden that it lasts really well through the wet season, as well as the dry. I love it's adaptability.

Because of it's hardiness, Society Garlic grows well in a container, a rock garden and as a herbaceous border too.

Propagating Society Garlic

Over the period of a year or two, one stem of Society Garlic will form a dense clump that can be separated and spread further around your garden, or shared. 

The best way to propagate society garlic is by division. Simply dig up a clump, gently separate the stems each with a piece of root attached, trim off the leafy tops and plant out. I usually plant them about 20 centimetres apart.

Society Garlic for Pest Control

Society Garlic rubbed on your skin can repel mosquitoes and tics, also fleas on animals.  It's not an issue that I have to deal with here, but I read somewhere that if you have an issue with moles, a barrier planting of Society Garlic could deter the moles from your vegetables and flowers. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has tried that successfully.

A popular duo at our events - Society Garlic Pesto with Seedy Spelt Crackers

Society Garlic Recipe

I mentioned earlier that I used Society Garlic a lot. This recipe was a clear favourite at my recent cooking workshop.

Society Garlic and Coriander Pesto Dip
  • 4 Society Garlic flowers and a dozen or so leaves
  • 2 cups coriander leaves and flowers (could use basil, or a mix of other greens too)
  • 1 lime juiced
  • 1/4 cup toasted ground sunflower seeds or almonds
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Toast and grind nuts/seeds
  2. Mix coriander, lime, seeds/nuts, garlic, cheese in a food processor 
  3. Add oil slowly until desired consistency reached
  4. Transfer to jar
  5. Top with some extra oil to cover surface

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Art for Busy Minds: Finding Peace and Calm in Painting

For something different, our kids are in the city for an intensive week of arts programs at the University of Queensland. They are usually home educated in a vibrant rural community surrounded by nature and permaculture.

Most of the extra programs that they've chosen before have been typically been maths and science based. It's great to see that they are trying new things. Not surprisingly, they are loving delving into the arts and I'm impressed with what they are experiencing, creating and learning.

Today's focus was painting. They learnt about Monet and Impressionism. They had a go at painting Claude Monet's Waterlilies and Japanese Bridge painted in 1899, and enjoyed a guided tour of the University's Art Gallery. Yesterday was cartooning and illustrating which they loved too.

To create these paintings, they first had to mix their own colours. It apparently took them all morning to paint these pictures, and I know for Hugh in particular, it would have really taken quite an effort to be so focussed and patient. These are such good skills to cultivate - almost a meditative practice. 

Such active young minds need opportunities to be calm and develop strategies to access that peace. I can see a painting studio being developed in the midst of our permaculture garden, and I think I might just join them. It's been a long time since I painted and I remember just loving it! I may need some pointers to get going though ....

These photos were taken at night so don't do their colours justice.

10 yo Maia's version of Monet's Waterlilies and the Japanese Bridge

8 yo Hugh's version of Monet's Waterlilies and the Japanese Bridge
In case you were wondering, this holiday program is run by Kids College QLD. They run regular holiday programs on a range of topics (maths, science, the arts) - but usually just one day sessions. This 5 day intensive is a great chance for kids to delve more deeply into the topic and to form some new friendships.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

How Do I Know My 'Unschooled' Kids are Learning with No Tests or Reports?

This year my kids had no tests, no reports, no school awards or medals - they are home educated in the midst of this permaculture village and local community. How do I know that my unschooled kids are learning or feeling that they are achieving?

This semester, Maia and Hugh have chosen drama as a key theme that links a lot of their their language learning. They've done speechcraft, singing, they've had leading speaking parts in a play (had to remember lines), they've been part of two drama teams, taken part in a couple of drama workshops, explored character and plot development, helped design and make props .... it's been fabulous to develop so many skills in such a fun, active and engaging way. They want more!

Last week I had a moment of doubt about the learning opportunities I am offering my children. We were at the annual primary school concert where Maia and Hugh used to go. "Am we doing the right thing? How Maia and Hugh feeling? Are they learning enough? Are they learning the 'right' things?" These and other questions flooded my mind. Since then I've been checking in on my thinking about our choice to educate our children at home, and more importantly checking in with the kids, their learning, and how they feel about it.

I think my doubts started because I was worried that the kids would be feeling left out and unacknowledged for their efforts this year (they've been unschooled all this year - their choice). The other kids were getting awards. It used to be them. They are very academic kids and their walls used to be plastered with certificates. I wasn't sure we should go to the concert, but they were determined. They wanted to watch and encourage their friends, and perform in the school concert band (they constitute 20% if the band!).

The kids play saxophone and trumpet in the senior concert band at the local primary school.

I sat back and watched for signs of discomfort, but Maia and Hugh were confidently hanging out with their friends, sitting with their old class groups and loudly cheering them on. They didn't seem to have any issues. Even though they don't go to school anymore, they still maintain their old friendships - they play music together, swim together, play tennis together, play in the park together, have sleepovers, go on adventures together ...

Just to be sure, I checked in with them....
Me: "How do you feel about being there tonight?"
Kids: "Great - no worries - wasn't it great - which bit did you like the best Mummy?"
I fished again ...
Me: "Would you like to go back to school and be part of that next year?"
Kids: "NO!  
OK, my unschooling doubts are starting to wane - but still, what about their learning and sense of achievement for the year?

The next day after the concert, on the last day of term, we sat down as a family and asked the children to think of all the things they feel that they'd learnt, achieved and felt proud of doing (kind of like doing their own report). They wrote their thoughts up on a big whiteboard side by side - excitedly chatting and reminding each other of the things they'd done and we talked about it as they. Hugh was literally bouncing! Eventually they ran out of space, but not ideas.

Maia and Hugh's lists of what they felt they achieved during this year of unschooling. 

Now I feel great!  Not only do the kids feel confident with their social life, with old school friends and also all the other friends they have in the community and their various learning groups, but they also feel totally excited by all the things they've been learning this year (and this list is just a snapshot). When I sit back and look at the year in total - it's been quite a journey. One example from each - 10 year old Maia has found amazing writing mentors (Story Slingers) and written the first book of her trilogy.  Eight year old Hugh invented his Worm Extractor method  - a simple way to extract worms from worm farms - revolutionary. We made a youtube clip about it and people have written to him from around the world.

After taking this picture above as a record, the kids rubbed it all off and filled the board again - this time with things they'd like to do in 2017. But I'll leave that for another post ...

I am genuinely impressed at how much the children learn in this relaxed way, and how motivated they are to get into so many things. Learning, not reward is their motivation - their environment and curiosity drives them. Overall too, I have noticed at how much happier, confident and calmer they are, and how less stressed and anxious they have become over these past 18 months - also how much more helpful they've become too.

Maia performing in the recent Maleny Players pantomime. 

So far, my experience is that homeschooling/unschooling has been so rewarding. It does not require lots of resources and money - really just time, a shared curiosity, a willingness to respond actively to interesting questions, and to get in and do things together.

My take home message from this is:
Homeschooling doesn't mean just sitting at home isolated, as much as unschooling means you're not doing any learning.  In fact, learning this way helps to cultivate such deep connections with community and place, and to cultivate broad and deep learning through extended inquiry and connection to context.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

A Resilient Garden: Home Food Growing in Unpredictable Weather

Droughts, storms and unpredictable weather can be challenging for the home food gardener.

It's important to get to know what are the resilient and robust plants in your garden that can provide food reliably despite the challenges. My strategy is to make sure these plants form the backbone of my garden and I then interplant with the more delicate plants. That way I'll be sure to always have something in the garden to eat.

I've had a good chance to check this out again recently, and to refine my strategies. The dry season here went on much longer than usual, and in transition to summer we've had massive storms with huge hail and very strong winds.

After the storm I wanted to find out what plants were still thriving in the garden and what we had left to eat.

I also wanted to look at where in the garden things survived the best. Not surprisingly, the diverse layered food forest area was the least affected.

Take a look at my new film as I show you through the garden a week after the big storms hit.

Monday, 12 December 2016

7 Reasons to Grow and Eat Amaranth - A Simple Ancient Superfood

Amaranth is an amazing food - quite overlooked as a powerhouse. It's simple to grow, simple to cook and super delicious.

Amaranth is an ancient food with similar qualities to Quinoa. It has been cultivated as for 8,000 years and was a staple food of the Aztecs.

I love abundant plants like this and welcome them into my garden. All of the amaranth plant is edible - the roots, the leaves, the flowers and the seeds. It is a hardy, drought-tolerant annual that self-seeds and is easy to grow - particularly in hot times. Many varieties have spectacular flowers too.

Amaranth is a very popular food in many parts of the world and is known by many local names. Unfortunately in Australia, we underutilise it -  mostly I see it sold as a popped breakfast cereal, but there is so much more to this amazing food, and it's so very easy to grow.

Here’s seven good reasons to add it to your diet:

  1. HIGH IRON: Did you know that one cup of cooked Amaranth grain (actually a seed*) can provide you with much of your daily iron needs? I was amazed when I read this.  Having been a vegetarian since early childhood, finding new ways to keep my iron levels up is always interesting news to me.
  2. HIGH CALCIUM and Magnesium - also high in manganese, vitamins B and E, zinc and potassium.
  3. HIGH PROTEIN: Amaranth is one of the most protein rich plant based foods. Its seed has 20% protein. 
  4. HIGH LYSINE: Amaranth offers the highest source of vegetarian Lysine. Lysine, an amino acid, is a building block for protein, and it helps with calcium absorption and collagen production.
  5. GLUTEN FREE: Amaranth is gluten free. It can be ground as a flour or cooked as a psuedograin.
  6. HIGH FIBRE:  A diet high in fibre keeps the digestive system healthy
  7. EASY AND FAST TO GROW: Did you know you can get up to 100,000 seeds from one plant!  Amaranth is super easy and fast to grow. It takes less than 30 days before harvesting small leaves and just 50 days to maturity. It can cope with heat and dry conditions a lot better than any other leafy green. It grows easily in many contexts and self-seeds readily. You can eat the young leaves, but older ones are best cooked and used like spinach. I add amaranth leaves to all sorts of meals - stir fries, soups, quiches, omelettes, frittata, curries etc. (Typically people have cooked amaranth leaves to reduce their oxalic acid content.

I love the look of amaranth in the garden - it's flowers are amazing.

Cooking with amaranth is easy too. I love the added flavour it brings. Also I like its versatility. It’s good in breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Since amaranth seed cooks more like polenta than rice with a consistency more like porridge than rice - it is great for breakfast. Actually amaranth porridge is a traditional breakfast in India, Peru, Mexico and Nepal. 

For other meals, I simply add Amaranth seeds to quinoa or rice to create a fluffier texture and nuttier flavour. It’s great in salads or with a curry. Like other seeds and grains, it’s a good idea to soak and rinse amaranth before cooking.  

You can eat the young leaves, but older ones are best cooked and used like spinach. I add amaranth leaves to all sorts of meals - stir fries, soups, quiches, omelettes, frittata, curries etc. (Typically people have cooked amaranth leaves to reduce their oxalic acid content.)

I also eat the immature amaranth flowers cooked and in salads.

What is your favourite way to eat amaranth?

Friday, 9 December 2016

40 Simple & Fun Holiday Activities - Mostly in Nature and Unplugged

It's school holidays - a great time for getting out and about, having the freedom to explore new places and ideas and doing things we've been waiting for the time to do. 

The kids and I just made a long wish list of things to do over the holidays. I encouraged them to think of simple, creative, local activities that include many unplugged things to do.  

I've just had a forced week of being unplugged - because of thunderstorms and changing over of computer. It's been challenging but refreshing too! I spent more time playing, more time riding my bike, more time making things. I did miss writing though.
Anyway, during the holidays we hope to find a balance of activities - between indoor and outdoor, active and quiet, home-based and out, individual and shared - and things that don't cost the earth.

Our holiday list includes things like:
  1. Make Christmas cards and gifts for friends and family
  2. Create gardens together - after the storms, there's lots of places needed renewing!
  3. Plan and cook a simple but delicious meal to share with the family on Christmas
  4. Go to the community disco at the local hall
  5. Have sleepovers and playdates with friends
  6. Visit family and invite them to visit us. Hang out with cousins
  7. Borrow the maximum amount of books from the library and read, read, read - join the library's Summer Reading Club
  8. Make an adventure pack - a backpack with binoculars, magnifying glass, blank page notebook, clips to hold notebook open, stickytape (to stick things in book), bag (to collect things in), pen, greylead and colour pencils (to make sketches and notes), small local field guides, pen knife, hat, sunscreen, water, snack.
  9. Go for nature walks - in bushland, at the beach, through local parklands, down the street, to the river - write notes, take pictures, sketch what we find
  10. Go bird watching - take a field guide to local birds - write notes, take pictures, sketch what we find
  11. Go bug spotting - take a bug guide  - write notes, take pictures, sketch what we find
  12. Each find a favourite quiet spot outside where we can go to think and be alone, watch nature, cloud watch.

  13. Set up a treasure box or collection - make a box or shelf to display things found on outings and other curiousities collected throughout the holidays.
  14. Make cubbies - inside and outside - from sheets and tables, from sticks and leaves
  15. Create a free play area - a place where games can be left set up for days on end, and where things can get a bit messy. (I have fond memories of holidays as a kid where my brother and I created games and cubbies that lasted weeks and we didn't have to pull them down till the end of holidays).
  16. Set up a craft corner - lots of paper, pens, paints, crayons, glue, scissors, wool ....
  17. Go outside and do large splat paintings (like Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles)
  18. Set up a sewing corner - make some summer clothes and gifts for people
  19. Do some natural dying - using vegetable dyes from the garden.
  20. Set up a woodworking area - our first project is to make a workbench, but we also want do to things like build a microbat box
  21. Create eco-art sculptures.

  22. Book into free local children's activities at libraries and other community centres 
  23. Start a holiday journal - a scrapbook of holiday momentos, sketches, notes and stories 
  24. Create a photo exhibition - take a camera on your next outing and get the kids to take photos of what interests them - either print out and display, or make a slideshow
  25. Make a movie - write the script, act it and film it
  26. Stay up late and watch the stars - count the satellites and shooting stars, spot constellations - go to the local observatory
  27. Go on a night walk with torches - wildlife spotting
  28. Perhaps go camping in a nearby natural area, or set up a tent in the backyard.
  29. Go sailing - Grandad has been restoring his beautiful wooden trailer sailer.
  30. Swim - at the beach, at the river, at the local pool
  31. Ride our bikes locally and organise a longer  ride
  32. Visit local museums
  33. Visit local artisans and galleries
  34. Play music together and write some songs - make an instrument too
  35. Play board games - scrabble, chess, strategic games ...organise a games day with friends
  36. Make board games to share with each other
  37. Do puzzles
  38. Write stories and make little books for Monty (our 3yo)
  39. Write letters and postcards to friends and family.
  40. Host a community cafe/street party

What's on your holiday wish list?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Celebrating the Rain: Heatwaves, Hailstorms and Hardy Plants

Heatwaves, hailstorms, supercell storms - summer has just begun here and in the past three days, we have had four hailstorms like we've never seen in our lifetime, and experienced gusting winds shredding leaves and snapping old trees in the valley in half.  The winds were dangerous on Saturday and knocked out our power for about 12 hours and ripped apart parts of our garden. The rain has been so very welcome though! It is a reminder too about the value of resilient perennial food systems.

Collecting hail and celebrating the break of the monthlong heatwave. 

Above is a little clip of the first hailstorm - the droughtbreaker. There have been another three hailstorms since (hail is not common here) some of which lasted half and hour and some up to golf ball size. Further up the valley there were images circulating of ones the size of tennis balls.

The main street of our local town looked like a shredder had been through - all the trees leaves were ripped up and covering the ground. The local school-kids were disappointed because their end of year concert was postponed - no power, smashed windows...

I will harvest what I can and then completely redo my salad garden. It was smashed by the hail and wind, BUT much of the food forest, including the perennials, tropical root vegetables and areas of vegetables growing amongst it are just fine. The hardiness of these plants and the resilience and protection that is created by interplanting is evident during periods like this.

Shredded rainbow chard and zucchini in my salad garden.
Hail-damaged Welsh onion - I will collect the tops for a sauce and leave the roots in the ground. They'll quickly form new shoots and keep going... and going....
Hail damaged comfrey - we'll harvest that tomorrow and add it to the liquid fertiliser bucket (problem is the solution). New leaves will grow quickly with this heat and rain.
The wind and hail cleared out a lot of plants. I'll mulch things back in and begin this area again - working my way around the perennials such as tarragon, Brazilian spinach, garlic chives, thyme ...

This amazing section of garden, nestled amongst the mini food forest has survived the heatwave and the hailstorm way better than any other vegetable garden bed. It is protected!
Society Garlic is a little battered by the hail, but a super robust plant and bouncing back already.
Anoher hardy perennial, Cranberry Hibiscus, hardly looked affected at all. Beside it lemongrass and Surinam Spinach are also fine - so too the pepino melon and sweet potato vine closeby.
All these storms have come after more than a month of intense heat with no rain. It certainly has been a challenging time to grow food! The kids excitedly welcomed the rain and hail. We collected some hail and made a hail slushie to celebrate the water soaking into the garden soil.

Hail slushie - delicious!