Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

Crop and Swap Feb 2017

I haven’t attended a crop and swap in quite a while; one because they’re an 80km round trip for me, and secondly – I’ve run out of honey! I haven’t harvested honey since November 2016. The season has been a bit odd and a lot of colonies have failed around the Sydney basin due to infestation of small hive beetle overcoming them, or not enough pollen/nectar due to the funny weather.

Up until now, I have just been doing one-on-one swaps, and racking up an incredible number of kilometres on the car.

But for the last crop and swap for February 2017, I figured that I would make an effort to head to the proper event in Lane Cove.

Crop and swap – out:

Crop and swap - out

This is what I brought with me to the swap event. Two pots of thyme. Two jars of preserved guava – from 2015. I didn’t think it would be safe to bring or subject anyone else to my jars of unset seville marmalade (5 years ago), or various guava jams and guava jellies, made even longer ago! Two jars of kombucha scoby “jerky”.Two packets of native frangipani seeds, collected from my own tree. Beeswax (of course), some rendered as cupcakes, and some as it had come out of my solar wax extractor.

Crop and swap – in:

Crop and swap Feb 2017 - in

1.5litres of worm wee. Kale. Warrigal greens. Genovese Basil. Armenian cucumber. 2 cloves of garlic. 2 finger limes. 1 lime. Lemon balm (plant). 3 chilli peppers – one of them was a scotch bonnet. I love getting chillies, I love their shape, but I can’t eat them!

I had put in a special request for bee friendly plants, so I ended up with several kinds of salvia cuttings (black knight, hot lips, something with bluish flowers, one with lilac/blue flowers); Fruit salad sage cuttings and indian borage. There was a shopping bag filled with chocolate mint. I was debating whether or not I could try and and get a curry leaf branch to take as a cutting (since I had failed earlier in the month), and then another crop swapper offered me a seedling from her garden, I just had to pop past on my way home.

For the seeds I got some for crookneck squash, kohlrabi, dill, and ‘warpaint watermelon’ – which were a wonderful iridescent blue colour. With a name like that, I thought the watermelon would be similarly coloured, but a search for information on the seeds says not.

My drive home was in a scented lemon-ish, chocolate mint haze.

I then spent the afternoon potting my newly acquired cuttings in the glorious, glorious sprinkling rain, and playing “identify this cutting”.

I stir fried the warrigal greens as a side dish to dinner

I turned the fruit salad leaf cuttings (which I had had taken off to reduce transpiration loss) into a iced tea tissane:

Herb infusion

Harvest Monday

I have had 1-2 tomatoes so far, all with grubs, but this was the first time I harvested a big lot of them. Ok, so there was a caterpillar munching on one, and evidence of more caterpillar breakfast on another but here is 800g of grosse lisse:

Monday harvest

I had three of them in a slow cooked ‘shakshuska’ breakfast, except that I was so distracted, I forgot to add the egg.

I’m thinking of bringing out my inner wog, and turning the rest of the harvest into my very own passata.

Add various harvestings of thyme, lemon thyme, rosemary and mint.

The cucumbers (300g) are from my neighbour, she’s such a gem!

I don’t know if this is an old wives tale, but she says that if you harvest them in the full heat of the day, it makes them sour. Thoughts?

Monday Harvest, Late November Edition

Not quite a harvest, but a garden update. Yes I know its December, but the photos were taken in November (and the post was started then too)… and so it’s kind of a late spring planting edition.

Native raspberry:

Native Raspberry

It looks like I’ve killed only one cane, but there’s a teeny tiny leaf poking out of the second one. Looking at the leaves, I think it is rubus moluccanus.

Dwarf avocado:
Dwarf Avocado

All the leaves fell off in a recent windstorm. This might be terminal.

Dwarf cherries:

Dwarf Cherry trees

They lost their leaves during autumn. Nothing yet has shooted for spring. Everywhere else in suburbia has done the spring flowering thing, and now has leaves. Also probably terminal. Dang it. I suspect over enthusiastic whipper snippering cut all the shallow surface roots.

So that’s all the bad news.


About 5 strawberries.
10kg honey.
5 Spears asparagus.
Herbs such as oregano, thyme, parsley.


Tumeric Harvest

I also got about the same amount in ginger. I do like a ‘hot’ ginger, but apparently only old ginger is hot ginger. Does this mean I have to put it in the garden again for another season to make it hot?



Bana-na-na-na-na-na-na-NA-NA-NAH, Bana-na-na-na-na-na-na-NA-NA-NAH.

This was planted in November 2013, and only now, 3 years later, do I get a hand of fruit forming. To quote Big Kev, I’m Excited.

I'm excited

Cropped and swapped.

I haven’t had much chance to talk about crop and swap. I went a few years ago to one hosted in Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains. That has been put on hold for 2016, so I joined another crop and swap group which is Sydney wide. The aim is that if you have excess produce, you offer it up for swap and you decide what the ‘value’ of what you want in return, but no money changes hands.

About the only thing I have to swap is honey. So far, from one 500g jar of honey, I have collected a kobucha squash seedling, cucumber seedling and three dragon fruit cuttings:


Then three jars of honey gave me a fortnight’s worth of homemade granola, made using the honey:


So there you have it, my late November/late spring garden update!

Plastic Free July update

An update on my plastic free July progress so far:

This has been difficult, as I’ve spent half of the time travelling overseas. When you get takeaway food, the server chucks in a plastic fork without thinking. So I shouldn’t get takeaway food. I have used the disposable forks more than once.

With coffee, I have either been reusing my keep cup, or getting the takeaway coffee without the plastic lid.

I have used two plastic straws.

I bought these ‘zippable’ bulk produce bags for $15 USD:

Bulk foods bags

Then I realised that I generally take my own reusable containers to the bulk foods shop Alfalfa house anyway, but these will be useful for buying loose items like fruit and veg.

Other than that, I have generally continued on my merry way, buying shrink wrapped meat (sorry). However, I did buy some avocados recently: the ones on the shrink wrapped styrofoam tray were cheaper per fruit, but I bought the loose ones because they weren’t wrapped in plastic.

Post-post note: I have found a use for those single use plastic spoons I get from my addiction to gelato. I use them as seedling markers in the garden.

Here is an update from my friend, Paul:

15 July: So far my plastic free living is going ok. I’ve used a total of 6 pieces. It’s not ideal but it’s far better than I was doing previously.

Piece 1: A chicken to roast (Pre-wrapped)
Piece 2: A block of cheese (Pre-wrapped).
Piece 3: Some bacon. The butcher could pick it up with the plastic or use a plastic glove to pick it up. I admitted defeat.
Piece 4: Was a loaf of bread that I bought in paper only to find when I got home the paper was plastic lined.
Piece 5: A shoulder of lamb (Pre-wrapped)
Piece 6: A bottle of Coke. This is the one that annoys me the most I was out at a work lunch and all the drinks they had to offer were in plastic bottles so I had one.

The thing that I am most proud of is that I’ve not used a single plastic bag or takeaway coffee cup. They are the two habits I’m trying to break.

I have now also found a butcher that will give me whatever meat I want by placing it straight into my Tupperware containers. Knowing this before would have halved the amount of plastic I’ve used so far.

I think he has tracked far better than myself!

Plastic Free July

plastic free july



The pledge this time around is to try and reduce the amount of ‘single user plastics’ one uses for the month of July.

The ‘big 4’ single use plastics are:
– straws,
– takeaway coffee cup lids,
– bags, and
– water bottles.

Sounds good in theory, but I can already tell from here its going to be hard. Even if I took reusable containers to the butcher/fishmonger for my purchased goods to be put into, there’s going to be a bit of a resistance from the perception of food handling hygiene and advertising for the shop. I will probably end up a vegetarian.

It reminds me a little of the plastic bag advert produced for the tv show the Gruen Transfer:

If you go to a bar, and order a soft drink; more often than not the bar person then sticks a straw in it for you. Then what, do I hand them back the straw and tell them I don’t want it? Or perhaps I should tell them at the point of ordering: no straw please.

I already have a bunch of reusable shopping bags that I forget to bring along with me to the shops:

shopping bags

I generally a carry reusable bag around with me in my handbag, but then when I go shopping after work, not all my shopping fits in my bag! So then I have to get 1-2 additional plastic bags.

I tend to reuse single use plastic bags to repackage sourdough bread for freezing and for garbage bin liners. Sometimes if I remember, I take the bags back to the shops and reuse them for fruit and veg.

My reusable coffee cups:


You can see that these get quite a lot of use! I think ‘Keep cup’ changed the reusable cup market. They produce cups in “standard” coffee sizes (for Australia), so that they fit underneath the espresso coffee machine group head. It also means that the barista doesn’t have to ‘guess’ the right level to fill the coffee/milk up to when you bring your mug/cup along for your morning brew. And yes, I used to do that too. The sizes that I usually see are the 8 oz (227ml), 11oz (320ml), and the tiny espresso shot 4 oz (118ml). The size in the photo here is deceiving – the patterned (ceramic) cup on the right actually has less volume than the 8 oz cup on the left.

My reusable sandwich wrap:

sandwich wrapper

This one I like, because you’re not just limited to bread of a certain dimension which a lot of “envelope” style reusable sandwich bags limit you to. You can also use it if you make a ‘wrap’ for lunch. It cost me about $6 from a kitchenware supply store.

If I get some time, I’d like to try making my own beeswax wraps. I have a few doubts about hygiene and reusability, but hey, honey is a natural antibacterial, and my beeswax smells *intensely* like honey. Perhaps I would have to use colour coded fabric for different wraps – fruit, veg, cheese.

I think my biggest challenge will be my partner, who loves his cling film to death and wraps any thing and everything in it instead of using a re-usable container.

So, dear reader, will you be giving Plastic Free July a go? Or will you be targeting your consumption of the top four disposable waste plastics?

Buy nothing new month 2015

My normal practice is to see that buy nothing new month has already happened, and then do my own thing for the month of November.

This year, I was about to buy (another) yoga mat. Not because I needed it, but because I couldn’t be bothered carrying my yoga mat between offices. There is a yoga program at the office in the CBD; and there is a yoga program in my main office out in the western suburbs.

Carrying the yoga mat between the two just too much effort; have you been on a sydney train in peak hour?

The document obtained by Fairfax Media shows patronage on the Western Line is expected to increase 4.5 per cent a year until 2021, the fastest growth on the network. This is followed by the Northern Line (3.7 per cent) between Epping and Strathfield and the Airport & East Hills Line (3.3 per cent).
The documents show the average load on Western Line services arriving at Parramatta would be more than 1400 passengers a train. It is difficult to run services on time when trains carry more than 1200 passengers because people take a long time to get on and off carriages in the crush.
Punctuality figures released last week show the Western Line, Sydney’s busiest, is already struggling to cope. The line recorded the city’s lowest punctuality figure last year at 92.2 per cent, just above the government’s 92 per cent target and below the overall rate of 94.7 per cent.

So the existence of buy nothing new month has worked! I checked my desire for a new yoga mat up until the end of October. After that, I’ll have to re-evaluate after seeing if carrying it in between locations is really all that bad.

Did the “buy nothing new month” campaign make you re-evaluate the need for a purchase? What was it?

Preserved Guavas

.. or guavas in syrup.

My usual method of dealing with the guava crop gives you a giant zip lock bag of frozen guavas, and no easy way to use them. Because they haven’t been individually frozen, the only way to get at them is to kind of whack at the bag until bits fall off, and then use it in a fruit smoothie (which I don’t do).

I had such success with the guava pie, that I have also frozen rectangular takeaway containers of guava pieces, already dotted with butter, sugar and cinnamon. I had planned to premake pies, and freeze them for a later day baking, but it was too much effort and time consuming to do so, what with holding down a full time job, studying, and trying to have a life. I then thought that I could use lay out the guava slices in the rectangular takeaway containers, so that I could pick up individual pieces later for cake making and such. That turned out to be much too fiddly and time consuming – not doing that one again.

Then I discovered the Guava Producers’ Association website, and in particular their recipe corner.

Guavas, deseeded

I had already quartered and deseeded a bunch of the better looking fruit, with the vague idea that I would bottle/can it somehow. I guess guavas are a bit of a rare fruit, because it was really hard finding any information on what type of sugar syrup to pair with the guava. Is guava a more acidic fruit, so can I use a light sugar syrup? Or is it less acidic on the ph scale, so I have to use a heavier sugar syrup? At last here was a solution – 250g in 500ml water, to me is equivalent to a medium sugar syrup.

Here, instantly, was a recipe.

I actually ended up using apple juice (Do you know how HARD it is to find actual apple juice that has been produced in Australia at the supermarket?!!) which I had already purchased (10% sugar solution) – 7 cups of which I then added 1/2 cup of sugar. So that’s ~um ~ 15 % solution. Okay. So it ended up being a very light sugar syrup then. Probably not the best if you’re reusing pasta sauce jars for your preserving.

1 x 2 litre ice cream box of guava quarters
1750 mL apple juice (only 1000mL seems to have been used)
100 g sugar
= 4 small bottles of preserved guavas.

These were then hot packed into their jars, and boiled in a water bath.

Preserved Guava

I tried to leave enough headroom in the smaller jars for water bath processing, but the fruit is not fully covered with the syrup. I think that I’m going to have to open these jars, either remove some fruit/add extra sugar solution, and re-process. I’ve had some green tomato relish go nasty because there wasn’t enough liquid in the jar. Although, pickyourown – preserving peaches seems to indicate that not enough water is OK.

“If fruit is not covered by liquid it may darken during storage (but does not necessarily mean it is spoiled, as all fruits will darken somewhat).”

I later on found the Technical Manual of the FAO of the United Nations (whew, what a mouthful!):

“The packaging medium may be constituted by the juice of the guavas, obtained by squeezing the pulp that contained the seeds. Add sugar to the juice to obtain a certain Brix°, according to the final degree of sweetness desired (usually, the syrup should be of about 30-35 Brix°.”

but I had no idea what a brix was. It turns out that it is a fancy way of saying “percent”; so 30-35 brix means a 30-35% sugar solution.

Apparently a guava in syrup is a totally different beast to fresh guava. So I can’t wait to try it!