Friday, 24 March 2017

Community permaculture: Shared meals connecting neighbours


One of the things I've learnt living here in the Crystal Waters community is, if you want to see something happen, get involved and make it real, and stay positive - and always add some food, music and fun! Creating a vibrant community and place to live is not about waiting for things to happen, to be served - rather, it is about actively contributing and supporting good ideas.

Thank you to the wonderful group of neighbours who have recently started this new community meal initiative. Now, every Friday night, our community is invited to get together to share a simple meal cooked using produce from our gardens. Some people volunteer to cook and set up and the rest of us pay a $5 donation (kids and volunteers free). The role of cooking and organising will change each week - for different flavours and to avoid burnout. To simplify things even further we all BYO cups, crockery and cutlery.

Having a casual chat with neighbours over some simple and delicious food is such a great way to stay connected with the community and to get to know people who've recently moved in.

The kids have a great time too racing around together - tonight, getting absolutely soaked in the beautiful rain that has finally come. There is even a disco room for them.

This new community meal idea being started by young people who grew up here, and have moved back after being years interstate or abroad, and other newer community members. It's fabulous. I've been here for around 20 years, and the different sorts of community meals hold some of my favourite memories of this place.

There's so much going on here in this village of 250 people - it's impossible to go to everything, and that's not the point. People create activities and events together based on interests and needs.  We have music events, celebrations, bushwalks, workshops, playgroup, cafes, markets, bakery days, yoga, art groups, music groups, choir, tree planting days, gardening days, movie nights, and soon a games cafe with a super-sized chess set and much much more.

People care is a central part of a successful permaculture project and a nourishing neighbourhood that cultivates community and connection to place.



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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Community gardens: learning and action for positive change


I love community gardens and get involved with as many as I can. I love meeting with garden activists, sharing knowledge, and checking out innovative food garden ideas.  Particularly I love them because they are fabulous centres of community action for positive change.

Community gardens are so much more than growing food (this of course is centrally important!). Amongst other things, they are places to grow community and connection to place, and to cultivate a local culture of eco-living in urban and suburban areas. 

I've been leading permaculture workshops in community gardens and centres around my local region and the world for over two decades. These are great places to learn about growing food and living simply. I love getting hands on and practically exploring how we can grow an abundance and diversity of healthy food with ease - sharing practical skills we can take back to our own gardens and keep passing on - and making great friends along the way.

I spent last weekend at Lupton Park Community Garden in regional city of Maryborough - here's a short clip showing the gardens and what we were doing there....


I led four workshops which were free for the members of the Lupton Park Community Garden in Maryborough, QLD Australia. The community garden group (www.luptonpark.org.au) organised sponsorship from the local government, the Fraser Coast Regional Council, to run the event.  

Community gardens are wonderful places for learning about growing food and living sustainably in urban areas. Ever since I was part of the team that set up the Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane in 1994 (www.nscf.org.au) I've been passionate about the social, community and environmental benefits of community food projects.

To help connect and spread these projects further, I joined with others around the country back in the 1990s to form the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network (ACFCGN). It now has a website full of excellent information and an extensive list of projects around the country. ACFCGN also organises events and gatherings of community gardeners, city farmers and school gardeners. (www.communitygarden.org.au)

Next weekend I'll will be leading my weekend Introduction to Permaculture workshop at Northey Street City Farm and will post a short film about the gardens there soon after. The workshop is full again which is wonderful, and I'll be leading another there in Spring. In the meantime, I'll also be opening my garden for a series of one day Permaculture Life workshops in winter. 

My newsletter will let you know when my next series of courses and programs open. You can subscribe here: 



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Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Making rope from garden fibres



We tried our hand at making a little rope this weekend - a super useful skill to have - the kids were enthralled - simple, purposeful and fun. 


Natural plant fibre ropes are biodegradable and strong, and many plants in the garden can be used, for example:

  • Banana
  • Lemongrass
  • Lomandra/ matrush
  • Bulrush/juncus
  • Acacia bark
  • Hibiscus bark
  • Agave
  • Yucca
  • Flax
  • Nettle
  • Straw
  • In cooler climates than here, also plants such asWillow and Maple
Homemade ropes may not always be as strong, but they do have so many uses:
  • for biodegradable plant ties
  • for constructing bamboo trellises
  • for preparing some basket making fibres
  • to create materials for weaving seats (one of the most comfortable chairs I've sat on was a woven banana fibre seat top)
  • for a washing line
  • for making cubbies
  • for a skipping rope
  • for lots of children's games and activities
  • craft
  • gift ties
  •  ...

While I was teaching permaculture at a community garden last weekend, my family was off exploring nearby Hervey Bay by bicycle.  A definite highlight for them was the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum where they learnt how to make the sisal rope from Agave sisalana fibres (above) and hear how rope fibres were extracted from various plants. The kids also tried their hand at de-kerneling a corn cob and watched a treadle-powered wood lathe, and a blacksmith at work.  They were fascinated.

I'd missed seeing this, so back at home the children keenly taught me how to make the rope, demonstrating the method with a piece of used paper - a good way to get used to the technique. It worked really well and made a lovely soft twine (see picture above).  I can imagine this would be great for craft work. 


We're keen to have a go using plants from our garden. I think we'll begin with banana and hibiscus. The bananas need thinning and when the rosellas have finished flowering I will have lots of stems available. 



Banana fibre (Image: ecouterre)

It would be great to have something like the 1911 rope-making machine, but we can manage without it. To make the paper rope, we tightly and evenly twisted 3 lengths of fibre. We then twisted the three lengths together - twisting in opposite direction. That's it - if twisted together consistently, the rope will stay together. Just whip (lash with thread) the ends and voilà!

The key thing to explore now is how to best extract the fibres from the garden plants. A local Aboriginal woman showed us how to simply roll the plant fibres of lomandra to make rope, and the historical centre showed wire brushes that helped to process things like banana.


For more details on rope making, I recommend googling homemade rope and natural cordage. There appears to be lots of information about there. Like everything, you just need to know to ask the right questions! Having said that, I'd love it if you someone could personally recommend some great instructions for the whole process - from harvesting and processing the fibre.


This activity reminded me about the Transition Town Movement which also encourages people to reclaim and remember traditional skills. Founder, Rob Hopkins, called for a Great Reskilling Movement. A great way to get together in the local community to keep useful skills alive and being passed on. Worth checking out, and perhaps finding ways to seek out and share your knowledge locally.

Maia was asked to be the assistant during the demonstration at the historical centre. What a useful machine - 100 years old.

Maia's rope.


Monday, 20 March 2017

Permaculture gardens for early childhood health and education

A group of West Papuan visitors came over to my place today to explore ideas around working with children in the garden - for better health and well-being.  We had a great time talking, tasting and smelling our way through the garden sharing stories, ideas and ways of using plants.

This was a group of early childhood teachers. They are here in Australia to explore ways to improve children's health and nutrition in West Papua; to take a look learning opportunities for children (through food gardens makes such good common sense); and importantly exploring micro-enterprise ideas too.


My 9yo son Hugh took this picture while we were in the garden talking about hardy perennial foods and growing garden medicines. Because they are homeschooled and get involved in the groups I host, my kids get to meet amazing people like this and learn more about the world and different cultures. I love that they are growing up being aware global citizens!
Together the West Papuan early childhood group and I explored my permaculture garden talking about how learning, food growing, health and nutrition, and local enterprise can be woven together through the establishment of robust polycultural food systems. Young Monty was delighted to welcome them here and sent them away with lots of his drawings and paintings as gifts.


Out of focus image, but clear joy in connecting today.

The International Development program of University of the Sunshine Coast are hosting them for over a month and brought them up here today to explore my permaculture garden and garden-based education ideas. Over the past 22 years I've worked in over 20 countries with groups such as this - and particularly women and children. It's been a while since I taught in Indonesia and my Bahasa was very rusty (thankfully an interpreter cam with them) - I am determined to get back into the swing of it. Back in 1999 I led a women's permaculture design course in Indonesia with participants from one end of the country to the other - West Papua to Aceh. 

Looking at the issue of health and nutrition, particularly for children and women is critical. West Papua has the highest infant mortality (70-200/1000) and maternal mortality rates (4.5/1000). NGOs working in the area say malnutrition is the major underlying cause. More than 20 per cent of people living in the central highlands experience some degree of malnutrition and less than half the children under five are said to be well nourished. (https://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/cline/papua/health.htm)

I was absolutely delighted to welcome these wonderfully warm and knowledgable women, and men, here this morning. I just wish they could have stayed longer and we could have had a big cook-up together from the garden, and the chance to share more. We had just got started!

My heart is still singing, and my motivation to continue this work fuelled immensely.




Friday, 17 March 2017

Tulsi: bee bush, food, medicine and habitat - a great permaculture plant



One of my favourite plants in our polycultural permaculture kitchen garden, a mini food forest, is this perennial basil, holy basil or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctumbecause it has so many beneficial uses for us and the ecological system of our garden: 


  • it is very hardy, drought tolerant and low maintenance.
  • it is almost constantly flowering which attracts pollinators and other beneficial insects
  • its dense form provides protection for small birds that help with pest management - picking of bugs from other plants.
  • it is a beautiful in-garden hedge with aesthetic structure.
  • it provides a year round supply of flavour and nutrients for all kinds of meals - from it's leaves and seeds.
  • the flowers are attractive as table flowers, but they are also edible, the scent they release into the room promotes clear breathing.
  • it provides a year round supply of garden medicine - for coughs and colds, to fight infections, ease congestion and headaches, improve digestion and strengthen the immune system.


A favourite garden tea of mine is: this tulsi, mint, lemon myrtle, lime, turmeric, ginger & a dash of honey. Delicious. If I am feeling a little croaky, this certainly helps a lot.

Tulsi is very easy to take cuttings from, simply trim a section, remove the bottom leaves and plant directly into good soil, or put in a jar of water until roots form. I must have given away hundreds if not thousands of cuttings from my plants over the years. Giving herb cuttings is a great idea - sharing the abundance. Most herbs need to have a regular good trim anyway.

More coming soon about this amazing plant...

(Image by Evan Raymond, taken in our garden yesterday)



Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Five super easy leafy greens: simple, hardy & abundant

We all know that eating our greens keeps us healthy and strong, and that the best greens are the ones you eat within moments of harvest. 

Summers around here can be a real challenge for growing the standard greens without water stress, sunburn or insect attack. 

To avoid the heartache and toil, I encourage the perennial leaf greens to flourish in an edible kitchen garden polyculture. These plants need little water, little care and several parts of them can be eaten.

Simply by embracing a wider range of food, you could suddenly have more food than you could possibly eat growing in a small space.

I love this simple way of perennial food gardening. 


Brazilian Spinach

FIVE EASY & ABUNDANT GREENS 

These are the five greens that I talk about in this short film:
  1. Surinam Spinach (Talinum triangulare): shoots, leaves, flowers
  2. Brazilian Spinach (Alternanthera sissoo): leaves and young stems
  3. Sweet potato leaves (Ipomoea batatas): stems, young and mature leaves
  4. Cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella): young shoots, leaves, flowers
  5. Pumpkin leaves (Cucurbita maxima): young shoots, leaves, flowers, plus of course the fruit, the seeds and the skin.

Surinam Spinach

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Are teabags toxic and can I compost them?


Around the world, it is estimated that 2 billion people drink tea every morning.  Americans consume around 80 billion servings of tea a year and British people consume around 60 billion (96% of these are tea bags). 

What happens to all those tea leaves and tea bags?

Well, after making a cuppa, most people seem to toss the tea bags or tea leaves in the bin. In the UK apparently tea is one of the largest 'avoidable food wastes' in bins. Britain alone throws out 370,000 tonnes of tea bags and tea leaves each year. I am assuming that a similar type of figure would apply to Australia (proportioned to population size).

Can I compost teabags?

Tea bags could be thrown in the compost - or could they?  I used to think that the paper ones were fine, but now I find out you probably need to tip out the contents and bin the bag! Who except the most dedicated person is going to do that?

There are different types of tea bags and it seems that a small percentage of them are actually biodegradable.

Quite a lot of 'premium' tea bags are now made of nylon, rayon, thermoplastic or PVC  and cannot be composted. These tea bags by the way leach when hot water is poured on them - so avoid them, also because these plastic teabags are definitely not biodegradable. 

Nylon teabag pyramid - non biodegradable.

You'd think you'd be safe with the old paper version, but sadly most paper tea bags are also plastic infused, making them only 70-80% biodegradable. Also in order to stop some tea bags bursting open, many are sealed with a strip of heat-resistant polypropylene plastic.

Interestingly, paper tea bags are typically not made from wood pulp but from the fibres of a plant called abaca, similar to banana.

Unless you buy from an environmentally-friendly company which uses unbleached bags, most tea drinkers consume clean, white tea bags that are the result of intensive chemical processes. 

Many paper teabags are also treated with epichlorohydrin to strengthen the paper bag in water. 

Epi-what??!


Here's a couple of facts I found out about epichlorohydrin:

  • It is a compound mainly used in the production of epoxy resins. 
  • It is considered a potential carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health2 (NIOSH).
  • Epichlorohydrin is used as a pesticide.
  • Dow Chemical Co is one of the largest producers of epichlorohydrin. Dow is the company responsible for the Bhopal Disaster in India -was the worst industrial disaster in human history. Twenty-five thousand people died, 500,000 were injured. The Dow Chemical Company is also the second-largest producer of toxic chemical waste in the U.S. 
  • It is also found in coffee filters, water filters, and sausage casings.

Worse still, when epichlorohydrin comes in contact with water, it changes into a chemical which has been shown to cause cancer in animals, and also been implicated in infertility and suppressed immune function1.

Chemicals in tea growing?

In addition, it's a well known fact that many tea companies use pesticides in tea agriculture. A report from Greenpeace released in 2015 said that 34 pesticides were found in typical tea.  This is not great for your health, but it is also atrocious for the health of the tea workers. Check out this report from the BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34173532 . 

(Source: Essential tea)

What to do?


  • Buy loose leaf, fair trade, organic tea and then you can happily drink and afterwards compost the used tea leaves or add them to your worm farm.
  • Choose unbleached, untreated paper teabags
  • Grow your own teas - blog coming soon about this
  • Use a teapot, a plunger, infuser
  • Make or buy reusable muslin tea bags


Loose leaf organic, fairtrade tea and homegrown tea are the best options.
Some extra links:http://www.countercurrents.org/shiva190710.htm
http://michiganradio.org/post/dow-chemical-co-ranked-second-largest-toxic-waste-producer-nation

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/04/24/tea-bags.aspx



Monday, 13 March 2017

Abundance of leafy greens: Surinam Spinach


Surinam spinach (Talinum triangulare) is an abundant, hardy perennial green definitely worth growing if you have a warm but semi-shaded spot in your garden.  I rely on plants like this for a reliable and tasty source of diverse leafy greens in my kitchen each day.

Because Surinam spinach is so robust, pretty, easy and productive it also makes it a great plant for children's gardens, school gardens, kindy gardens, office gardens, community gardens, verge gardens ...

Surinam spinach is one of the many leafy greens that I rely on for a steady supply of greens in my garden.
It's an attractive, low maintenance and adaptable plant to add into your garden. I'm surprised it is not more popular because it is such a nice looking plant that is easy to grow and is very productive and useful.
Easy to harvest leaves. The stems and flowers are edible too.
Surinam spinach is found growing wild in many parts of the world. Common names are Waterleaf (90% water in it's leaf), Surinam Purslane, Florida Spinach, Philippine Spinach. It's one of the most important vegetables in Nigeria, and in Brazil it is grown along the amazon. It is found a lot around central and South America, but was originally from West Africa.

Where to grow Surinam spinach?

  • Under food forest plants in moist locations, it creates a lovely living mulch once it becomes established.
  • In a vegetable garden, it has some height (up to 1m) and structure, but will also tumble nicely over a wall.  
  • It's also great in pots, so while this is mostly a subtropical/tropical plant, it could be grown indoors in protected niches in cooler climates.
In my vegetable garden is is reaching 1m.

In the kitchen:

The light green shiny leaves leaves are slightly tangy and have high nutrition and it's little pink flowers are edible, plus the stems and roots too.  The stems, leaves and flowers ended up in a quiche last night, and last week they were one of the ingredients in my superfood pesto.

  • leaves stems and flowers used raw in salad, sandwich, juices
  • leaves, stems and flowers and roots cooked in stir fries, quiches, curries, stews, soups ...

Nutrition:

Surinam spinach is a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin E, Omega -3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, magnesium, soluble fibres (pectin), potassium, β-carotene, proteins and dietary fibre.


It's edible flower add lovely colour into the garden and as I took this photo, I was watching native bees visiting it.

In the garden:

Surinam spinach survives well in heavy rainfall, but also tolerates drought conditions however the leaves are more delicious when they're well watered. With the intensity of the sun here, it does quite like a little shade so it's OK planted beside a fruit tree, or as an understory of a food forest (as long as it does get light).  NB: A reader from Ghana just said that there it needs an open sunny spot.


Propagating

Last week I took a cutting and just put it straight in the ground next to my lettuce, purple basil, rocket and coriander - it has struck really quickly and has new leaves already. You could also pop it in a jar of water first until it gets new leaves. It would also work well in a reasonable sized pot filled with good potting mix/compost.

I'm really impressed, the little cutting took well, despite being very hot weather and little rain. 

It is a self-seeding plant and can spread as a patch - mine has never taken off since I always have so many uses for it's abundance.


Note: 

Because Surinam Spinach is high in oxalic acid, it is best to eat cooked. Also because of this, please note that if you suffer from kidney disorders, gout, and rheumatoid arthritis, you should avoid or limit your intake of this plant.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

My neighbour's tempeh & a simple vegan recipe for delicious tempeh slices

Village Tempeh

I just discovered a neighbour of mine in this ecovillage has started making organic tempeh - free of GMOs.  I love tempeh and I have been meaning to make some for ages, but unfortunately it has only stayed on my wish list so far. I fell in love with it in Indonesia when I was teaching permaculture over there in 1999 (and the many times I returned), particularly the fresh local village made tempeh.

Tempeh is a good way to eat beans and grains because they usually lose a lot of their lectin and phytate contents in the fermentation process. I really enjoy it added to a big cook up of our homegrown veggies and spices.


The texture and taste of my neighbour's tofu was amazing - not like the hard and sometimes slimy tempeh in supermarkets. I had thought that was OK (because really I wanted to like it), but now I know where to get the 'real' stuff, I'll be putting in a standing order! Luckily I have lots of plants and food in my permaculture garden to trade with them.

What is tempeh?

Tempeh is typically made out of fermented soya beans but can also be made out of other things such as things such as mung beans and chickpeas, but also grainsPartially cooked whole soybeans are aged overnight in an incubator at a tropical temperature with a starter culture. During that time a thick, white mat of mycelia, a kind of fungus, covers the tempeh and this binds the beans together as a 'cake'. 

A local fresh source ...

Every Monday the tempeh maker and his family invite people over to their place for a falafel and baclava feast - a lovely opportunity for people in this community to get together informally and chat.

It was there a few days ago, that on the table I saw the tempeh they had prepared as a taste test.  My three year old son absolutely loved it and asked if I could get some for his kindy lunchbox. How could I resist such an earnest request?


I picked up a couple of blocks up today - it was still warm. Fresh tempeh! 


This is how I prepared it.



How to make simple and delicious tempeh - for meal protein, or a snack.

Ingredients: 

  • Tempeh
  • Cononut Oil
  • Chilli
  • Fresh Ginger Root
  • Garlic


Method:

  1. Slice tempeh into 4mm slices
  2. Heat fry pan and add the following - 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, a sliced chilli, 5 mm ginger root - grated finely, a crushed and chopped clove of garlic, a sprinkle of himalayan salt.
  3. When oil hot add the tempeh to the pan. 
  4. When brown on one side, turn over and brown the other side


 
The freshly fermented tempeh.

Chopped and cooked with a 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, grated ginger, sliced chilli, crushed garlic, and a sprinkling of himalayan salt.

After a couple of minutes, they were brown on one side, so I gently turned them over for another minute or two before moving them to a towel to absorb the excess oil.

I laid it out ready for my family to come back home from their outing.

Then I realised that it didn't quite looked enough, so I cooked up the other half. 

... and in the few moments after they walked in the door, it was gone! Even my picky food critic son loved it - so it must be really good. Now I have to make some more at 6:30am so that little Monty can have some in his kindy lunchbox.

A goal of mine is to grow some grains and more legumes in my permaculture garden to make my own tempeh!!! I'll let you know how I go when I get to this point, and I'd love to hear your experienced of making various sorts of tempeh.



Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Hygge: Live simply, live well, find enjoyment in the small things.



Hygge (pronounced hue-guh, not hig) is a Danish concept of living well and living simply - and I read that other countries in that area also practice hygge.  They must be doing something right because they are consistently topping the polls as the happiest people on earth - and it's often put down to hygge.  

There's been a huge buzz in the UK and USA about hygge in the past couple of years - trying to work out how the Danes and their neighbours do it. So what does hygge mean?

There is no literal translation, but I understand it's from a Norwegian word for well-being and it broadly means an approach to living that embraces positivity and enjoyment of everyday experiences. 

Hygge is more about a feeling or mood than a thing, and about a state of mind than a physical state - a feeling of contentment and well-being gained through enjoying the simple things in life.

Hygge is essentially the art of connecting in any given moment - being present - appreciating the small joys in life - connecting with self, with family, with friends, with place, with nature. 

Hygge is about finding deeper meaning with ordinary life and establishing a meaningful, mindful connection with the world.

In my context here in subtropical Australia, some of the things that translate as hygge for me are:

  • Spending quality time with friends and family.
  • Keeping things simple in the kitchen - simple garden salad, or vegetable soup, wild greens stir-fry or perhaps vegetable omelet - all from just out our door harvested with the kids just a few moments before we prepare it together.
  • Sitting down for dinner together every night as a family - especially when the kids decorate the table with drawings and flowers from the garden.
  • Washing up together and just chatting.
  • Picking up a warm egg that has just been laid.
  • Taking my jar to my neighbour for some fresh warm jersey milk.
  • Adding a splash of this milk to freshly ground and brewed coffee, and sitting with Evan to vision our day together and share great new ideas we've had or read. 
  • Sharing a delicious homemade chocolate cake made by our 3 year old (with a bit of my help) using our friend's honey, our own bananas, fair trade cocao and plastic-wrap free local organic flour.
  • Drinking lemon myrtle, chocolate mint or rosella tea just harvested from my garden.
  • Cuddling and playing with my kids every day, laughing, telling jokes, making up stories and songs together
  • Taking a walk with my kids in the natural areas around our house and talking about what we see and hear, or actually, whatever thought or question pops into our minds.
  • Curling up with my little one with a pile of good books.
  • Watching Maia (10) and Hugh (9) swinging in their hammocks totally engrossed in their books.
  • Playing chess and other long board games with my family.
  • Watching my 3 yo smiling at the visiting king parrots on our verandah.
  • Sitting in the garden chatting with the wild kangaroos that also live here.
  • Going with our children and their friends to the river to splash, rock-hop and toast marshmallows on a little campfire.
  • De-commissioning the TV
  • Living in a place where there's no mobile reception - we are still in a pre-mobile state of being
  • Going for a ride up the country roads and talking with the cows, watching the clouds, and spotting rainbows up the valley.
  • Waving at all the neighbours as they pass
  • Having a good laugh and chatting with the ladies from my ecovillage in our aqua-aerobics class a few times a week
  • Walking down the street in my local town, Maleny, and meeting up with so many friends along the way, and sharing smiles and a friendly greeting with everyone, whether I know them or not. It usually takes much longer that I expect, but that is just fine.
  • Living in a home that we designed ourselves and built by hand with our family. Every little corner is infused with memories.
  • Embracing a livelihood that allows me to work from our home and garden doing permaculture-related work that I love, with my husband, who I love working and being with.
  • Learning with our children as we engage in fascinating homeschooling and world-schooling projects based on their curiosity and questions and meeting with passionate mentors. 



This is our living/dining room... a warm fireplace for winter using wood we collect onsite, a plate full of freshly harvested chillies, a vase of freshly picked fennel seeds, the vase is a wedding gift from my brother - it was made at the pottery where my gran used to go, the wall hanging we brought back from Turkey and reminds me of the amazing world adventures we have had with permaculture and all the amazing things people are doing around the world, the timber kitchen benches are hand crafted from a tree that fell just a few hundred metres from our home, the chairs are from the local tip shop, the walls are painted with non-toxic milk paint, the floors are from reclaimed timber, the top of the wall is made of glass to allow a gentle glow to reflect in from the external orange wall, children's artwork decorates our walls, the banana smoothies are made from our homegrown bananas and sweetened a little with our friend's honey, the bookshelf is full of interesting books for all ages, we placed the window above our kitchen bench just at the right height so we could look out to the trees and the Conondale Mountain range beyond.


Maia and Hugh chat about their homeschooling projects over a morning tea of banana smoothie they made using our own fruit. Their straws are reusable stainless steel. We usually go barefoot indoors and out - it's certainly warm enough. The couch with lots of cushions usually has someone curled up reading or thinking. The louvre windows and doors are typically open allowing fresh air to flood into the house. There is a huge indoor-outdoor connection at our place.


My nine year old son took the picture of me (at the top of this post) last Saturday while I was working - touring 75 people through our ecovillage, home and garden.  I think it captures how I feel about my hyggelig life. 


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Fifteen reasons to grow fabulously flavoursome gourmet florence fennel



I just harvested Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var azoricum) seeds in my garden, nibbling a few as I garden. They are sweet and flavoursome and help to stave of the hunger pangs before dinner. 

I now have a great bunch of seed stalks as a centrepiece in my living room. They are an interesting structural decoration while I get organised to pull off the seeds. I love their star-like form. 

Fennel is another of the easy abundant plants I value highly in my garden and as you read this I think you’ll understand why I feel this way. 


1. Fennel contributes to an abundant harvest

You can harvest over 100,000 culinary and medicinal seeds from each mature every year, and the amount of leaves are so copious, there is no way I can eat all of them in my salads.

Fennel takes about 90 days to produce bulbs, but don’t wait just for that bit!  You can start eating little bits of leaf as soon as it sprouts - the micro greens are delicious in salad too. Just before fennel flowers harvest the bulbs, but leave the main root system in the ground. it will keep producing more.

Star structure of seed heads

2. Fennel is hardy and adaptable

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean area but is now cultivated around the world. Fennel can grow in all different types of zones - for some it’s an annual, others a biennial, but for me, it’s a hardy perennial.  My patch of fennel has been growing for several years now. It’s the start of spring and mine is just starting to re-sprout from the base. I gave it a good serving of compost, a bit of a water and a large covering of mulch.

Here in the subtropics it is flourishing over winter and dies back in the summer - just too hot!  In cool climates however, it’s a summer plant of course (in northern hemisphere plant at the start of summer)

So here in the subtropics, it is beginning to grow now in autumn, and throughout autumn and winter I am eating the leaves in salads. In spring I am eating bulbs and leaves, and in late summer I am eating the seeds.  In cool climates, sow in summer and you can overwinter it if you cover it over. It’s not a tropical plant.

3. Fennel is completely edible

Did you know all of the fennel plant is edible?

  • Seeds
  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Stems
  • Bulbs
  • Roots
  • Microgreens

Fennel bulbs (Image: Pixabay)

4. Fennel is delicious

Fennel leaves and seeds have a mild liquorice flavour, big white bulbs I enjoyed in salad last spring have a mild crunchy flavour. I always leave a few to go to seed. I’ve been watching them for some time now - flowering, forming seeds, and finally drying off. Unlike the seeds of plants like brassicas and lettuces, these seeds hang on quite some time once they are dry. 

5. Fennel is a good concentration of minerals

Fennel seeds are a concentrated source of minerals like Copper, Potassium, Calcium, Zinc, Manganese , Iron, Selenium and Magnesium. They also have a lot of Vitamin C.

6. Fennel is versatile in the kitchen

Use leaves, bulb, flowers and seeds raw in salads, or you can cooked in an array of delicious savoury or sweet meals. You can also dry fennel or preserve it in olive oil to extend the harvest.

Fennel seeds as decoration at home


7. Fennel makes a great tea

Fennel tea is good to suppress appetite and soothe coughs. It has even been said to help to clear mucus in the lungs. It can be made from the seeds or leaves.

For a strong fennel infusion tea:

3 tablespoons of crushed leaves for every cup of water
or
1 and a half tablespoons of seeds for every cup of water

  • Boil the water
  • Add the leaves or seeds into a teapot
  • Pour boiling water over them
  • Soak for 5 minutes
  • Strain and enjoy


8. Fennel attracts pollinators and beneficial insects

Flowering Fennel is a beautiful addition to the garden. it adds lots of colour with it’s bunches of large yellow flowers, it also adds height and structure to a vegetable garden and obviously a lot of bee landing pads with their large umbelliferae flowers.  It also attracts so many more beneficial insects - butterflies, lady beetles …

9. Fennel removes toxins

Regular sipping of fennel tea helps to flush out excess fluids - it works as a diuretic. Fennel seed helps remove toxins and reduces the risk of urinary tract problems. It also stimulates perspiration.

10. Fennel for a happy mouth

Fennel seeds are chewed as a breath freshener.  This can also relieve gum disease and toothache. In India, it’s common for households to have a few fennel seeds (widely known as Saunf) at the end of each meal.

11. Fennel for a healthy and happy digestive tract

Fennel tea stimulates healthy and happy digestion and the production of gastric enzymes. It is considered very useful for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, bloating and constipation because of the oils found in these seeds. Indians don’t just chew them for nice breath, they also use it to help digestion and prevent the formation of gas. In Indian restaurants, you’ll see them typically as the colourful sugar coated seeds, but avoid these and go for the real thing - fennel seeds are naturally sweet without the sugar.

12. Fennel for easy breathing

Fennel seeds can reduce asthma symptoms. Because the seeds have expectorant properties, a fennel seed tea helps also to ease bronchitis, congestion and coughs.

13. Fennel for women’s health

Fennel is considered be an important women’s herb. For over 2,000 years it’s been used to stimulate breast milk flow and reduce period pain.

14. Fennel reduces hunger

Chewing on fennel seeds acts as a natural appetite suppressant and can therefore help with weight management. It was often used in fasting periods to suppress hunger. Apparently it has been used to assist weight loss since pre-Roman times. The leaves, stems, and seeds all stimulate digestive fluids which fights hunger.

15. Fennel wards off fleas

Fennel is a great repellent for fleas. There’s an old adage “plant fennel by the kennel.” many people have told me that this really works. We don’t have dogs here at Crystal waters because we are in a wildlife reserve so I can’t give you my own personal experience on that one.

Would you like some of my fennel seeds?


If you’d like a packet of my fennel seeds that I collected by hand from my totally chemical-free permaculture garden in the subtropical ecovillage, please visit the new link on the side of this post - Morag's Store. 

A packet of my seeds costs $3.50 plus $1 for a stamp. These I can only send within Australia.

Morag's New Store

At the time of writing this, my fennel seeds are the only item in my store, but over time, I will be adding things that I make or grow, and sometimes other items that I highly recommend and use myself.  There will only be things that I truly think are useful for simple living and permaculture gardening.