Monday, August 31, 2009

September's Chocolate Challenge

September's challenge -(should you choose to accept it!) is to eat only fair trade /slave free chocolate for one month. I'm joining Dixiebelle HERE and Daharja HERE , amongst others, in taking a stand on this one.

I've committed to it. And for good reason. A couple of weeks ago I read about child slave labour in the cocoa trade on Eilleen's blog. You can find out much more at her blog Consumption Rebellion She has posted an extensive list of companies who do /do not use slave labour, as well as various brands and where to buy them (so I won't bother copying it all here!)

Once I read about it, I couldn't let it go. It stuck in my mind and gave me that awful uneasy feeling that happens when you know your actions and your morals are not on the same path........

Could I really enjoy it now, knowing that young children (or anyone) has suffered so that I can have a few squares of chocolate? Could you? Somehow the sweetness turns to a bitter taste in the mouth after that.


There is an alternative-hooray! There are many fairtrade chocolate and chocolate bars available, many of them in Coles, Woolworths and IGA supermarkets here in Australia. So no excuses about not finding any!

Just yesterday I bought these .....

Whilst having a lovely day at the Gardening Australia Expo, I stumbled across a fair trade stall. I bought 2 boxes of herbal teas (the white spicy tea is the BEST herbal tea I've ever had!) and some Cocolo chocolate, which is organic and fair trade. 1 bar of milk and 1 of dark chocolate with orange ..... yummmmmm......

They had tasters available of all chocolates- I think there were 6 types- and also the teas. The stallholders were so lovely and even gave me 2 free packets of sample teas as well!

Cocolo is available in coles (and maybe elsewhere?) and Qi tea in woolworths, IGA and foodworks.

Wondering about the cost? Well, I was quite surprised to find the Cocolo chocolate was about the same as Lindt per 100grams (who, according to Eilleens research, DEFINITELY source their cocoa from slave labour and unethical practices).

The tea is about the same price as other organic herbals, which I usually buy anyway.

I have tasted both of the ones I bought (research of course!) and they both pass the taste test. I may well have to try a few other brands throughout September (oh, the things I have to do!) so I will keep updating my efforts and trials.

And if you think such a small gesture can't make a difference, did you know that CADBURYS have finally given in to consumer pressure and will at last be producing their best-selling Dairy Milk from certified fair-trade sources by 2010? (Not all Cadburys products will be fair trade, but it is a big step in the right direction).

Check out the Fair Trade website for more details.

If anyone wants to join me on this one, leave me a comment to let me know or sign up on Dixiebelle's blog. You know that this is a challenge worth taking. And it's do-able. Even for chocoholics like me.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Age of Stupid

After much anticipation, the movie 'The Age of Stupid' opened in Australia last week, and I went to see it yesterday.

Lots of you will know about it, and I know some have already seen it, but for those who don't know it is a 90-minute movie about climate change, set in the future (2055) starring Pete Postlethwaite as an archivist looking back at media footage from 1950-2015 and asking why we didn't do something about climate change when we had the chance.

check out the website for more info --

Here is the trailer --

The Age of Stupid Trailer Feb 2009 - SD from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

I have been thinking about how to review it, and have decided I can't do it justice with my interpretation. But I can tell you I came out of the movies like a stunned mullet. I am pleased I went alone to see it, as I couldn't talk to anyone for a while. It thought it was really well-made, engaging, fascinating, shocking, terrifying .... and definitely thought-provoking.

There was more documentary footage than 'movie', which was great as all of the footage shown from 1950-2008 were genuine events, and the fictional component to the movie is based on projections from factual scientific data that is widely available now.

It delves into the effects of extreme weather conditions, peak oil and the big oil companies, consumerism, alternative energy and more, but presents it all a 'watchable' and very humanistic way, and some of the characters in the movie will stick in my mind for a long time.

I thought I was quite aware of what is happening around our earth, but this movie still managed to shock me. The way it was presented was like an alarming wake-up call at full blast.

If you possibly can, go and see it.

And then check out what you can do about it ---

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spring Seed Plantings

Maybe its the lovely weather we've had lately, or maybe I just need a bit of optimism in the garden, but today was time to start off my vegetable seed plantings for Spring.

I have a lot of seeds left from last year so no need to buy any more yet, and I enjoyed picking through and seeing what I could start off now. We have quite a mild climate here, mostly it is safer to wait until the soil is a little warmer before planting in the garden, however most veggies can be started off in pots now ready for planting out in 4-6 weeks. (Its only 9 days until Spring officially starts anyway!)

I prefer to grow from seed than buying seedlings for a few reasons - it is definitely more economical to grow from seed, depending on what you buy and the company you can often get 200 seeds or more in a packet costing around $3, whereas a punnet of just 6 seedlings of most things will cost around $4. Even factoring in a few failures you are still way ahead with seeds. Also you can choose non-hybrid, non-genetically modified, open pollinated and organic seed much more easily than finding seedlings of the same. By growing these types of food, you can then save your own seed if you wish for the next year, with a much greater chance of growing true-to-type plants. These types of seeds are also more disease resistant, hardier, produce over longer seasons, have more nutritional value and are tastier !!! (Have I convinced you to try yet??!!)

Some good online companies I have seeds from currently are --- The Lost Seed, Cornucopia Seeds, Green Patch Seeds and Diggers (Check out their websites by clicking on my links.) I have found The Lost Seed (based in Tassie) to be most generous and have loads of helpful info on their packaging including germination info and seed saving tips (do you know any other industry that tells you how to NOT buy their product again??!!!!)

I also have a few odd packets from swaps I have done with other seed-savers, and some seeds I saved myself from last year.

I use commercial seed-raising mix, and whatever I have for containers. The best I found (from many experiments last year!) are the containers from strawberries/alfalfa/cherry tomatoes etc, they already have the drainage holes and have their own little lid, which is handy until the seeds germinate.

So today I planted -----

Bush Beans -Cherokee Wax
Climbing Beans - Purple King
Climbing Beans - Blue Lake
Broad Beans (only 2 left from last year)
Vegetable Spaghetti/Squash (never tried it, but looks interesting!)
Butternut Pumpkin -Waltham
Watermelon - Moon and Stars
Beetroot - Rainbow Mix
Tomato - Grosse Lisse (full size)
Tomato - Tommy Toe (cherry size)
Cape Gooseberry - Golden Nugget

I have some more to plant but ran out of time today, lots of lettuce varieties and some more herbs, but will do that another time .... they will go direct into the soil.

So hopefully in a few weeks I will have a whole load of seedlings ready for planting into warm soil. Until then I will keep them covered on my back deck, and for the containers that don't have lids I will show you my incredible germination greenhouse-system ......

Yes, its a plastic bag. Came as excessive packaging from something or other. I think if I can't avoid plastic bags at least I can reuse them!

Works well to keep heat in without drying the soil out, with a few little breathe-holes. (If you use these, remember to take the pots out when the plants germinate or they can rot).

I always like to know what others are growing, and what works for you, so let me know!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shameful gardening update ...

I haven't blogged about any gardening for a while ... and if you continue reading you will understand why!

I wrote about the state of our backyard recently HERE after the chooks had 'moon-scaped' it, I am thinking I will put a mulch-type pathway through, going around the middle section, and up to the top corners where we go a lot (washing line one side and chook pen on the other) which sections off the centre. Still thinking of what I can put in there, as it is shady and has lots of tree roots, but need to do something fast as the soil is turning to dust..... any ideas welcome!
That leaves the front rectangle to become grassy again, and the fence sides ... well, not sure about them.

On the food garden front - well that has been somewhat shameful too. Practically nothing grew over winter, even though we didn't get frost. The patch is looking very sad :-(

The little bits of green that are growing are parsley, a handful of lettuces and a few silverbeet.

My cauliflowers didn't work at all, the few that survived long enough to transplant into the patch have just sat there providing food for the odd snail, but not displaying anything that looks like a flower.

My leeks, which I grew from seed in April, still look like skinny, spindly grasses sticking out of the soil. I was dreaming of leek and potato soup over winter- no chance!

I have about a dozen or so garlic plants in, which seem to look ok (above the ground anyway) but when I sneakily dug one up yesterday for a peek, there was just lots of roots.
Times like this are so disheartening! I really thought we could have a patch full of healthy, organic produce over each season, but instead it is depressingly empty.

Ho Hum, life goes on. Spring in a couple of weeks, and the weather is warming up already, so I will simply get my box of seeds out and sort through what can go in next. Its does seem that leafy greens do fine in the patch, but root vegetables and fruiting ones don't, so I wil bear that in mind. Perhaps the soil has lots of nitrogen but not much else? Nitrogen produces lots of green growth but not so good for fruiting or flowering, although by composting our chook manure it is supposed to stabilise all the nutrients ...... oh, I thought this was going to be easy - so wrong!

Oh, almost forgot, I did do something today! I found these in the back of my veggie cupboard .....

Oh yes, the shame again! I couldn't believe the enormous shoots on these potatoes, (my children thought they looked like 'aliens' !!) and decided they would be great for planting. Certainly not going to eat them anyway!

I read recently about planting them into sacks, with compost and mulch, a bit like the potato-cage idea. As they grow, you just roll up the sack a bit more and top up the compost to cover the stems (so you don't get poisonous green potatoes!) We have loads of big sacks from the produce store (they give them away, used to have bulk chook grain in them) and also loads of compost to use (2 compost bins full) so with my 2 little helpers we planted the wrinkly spuds into a sack each.

We spent quite a bit of money and effort last year on certified seed potatoes, only to yield -nothing. So, this time ....

If they work - bonus! Lots of free spuds!
If they don't - well, we will have neat sacks of compost ready for the next experiment!


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sticks in Pots!

Well, they may look like sticks at the moment....

I wrote a little while ago about buying hazelnut trees as part of my overall plan to one have a fruit and nut tree orchard when we build our next home (sounds mightily impressive but really talking about a handful of apple trees, couple of citrus and few others)

I collected them from Blackheath Community Market on the weekend. They come as bare-root stock ready to plant, but as we don't live on our building land and haven't planned out where exactly the trees will go, I had to put them into pots for the time being. (Hopefully this will only be for a year maximum). They all have loads of buds so I will looking forward to watching them develop!

So, the stick family are .... Butler, Ennis, Halls Giant and Willamette. No, I haven't gone completely insane and named them, they are the varieties which will hopefully cross pollinate each other and give us lots of hazelnuts over a long season.

I may have to wait 2 years before gathering a feast, but it certainly beats walnuts, they can take 10- 25 years before bearing any nuts!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The New Chook Corner

At last, it is done! (well, actually, almost done....!) But at least Emily, Lady and Ruby are finally in their new place, scratching around to their hearts content.

It was one of those jobs you would look at and think "hmmm, couple of hours work at the most....". Well, I can tell you it was waaaaaay more work than we thought, possibly due to our amateur building skills. (which is a teesy bit of a worry since we are planning on building our own home at some point!!!)

We used -
5 star pickets (mostly 2.4m) and post driver
9 metres of chicken wire
fence wire to tie to posts
asst nuts/bolts/screws
1 gate ($10 from ebay last year, I just KNEW it would be useful! It even matches our shed!)

We picked the 'best' site in our back yard, (which was mostly the corner that previously was a huge compost pile!) It is mostly shady, not much will grow there (certainly not veggies anyway) Also it has strong existing fencing on 2 sides and a shed on another.

So after a clear-up we only had to fence 1.5 m behind the shed, and 7.5 m across the front. I dug the bottom of the fence into the ground and 'splayed' it out a little to deter any 'diggers' from trying to get in. The gate needed different size hinges and fence was bolted onto the tin shed.

Sounds pretty simple? Well truly - it was like a comedy of errors. We could have been doing a scene from 'Thank God You're Here'.

There were many cringe-worthy moments, but the highlight would have to be when we finally finished, late Sunday, the gate posts finally straight and the gate hung, and then hubby said ..............

"So, do you think the ark will actually FIT in through the gateway?"
AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! *$##!!!#$^*^&^^$!!~~## !!!!!

What a couple of dopes. I still can't believe we built it without putting the ark inside first. Lesson learnt.

We had to take out the end section which involved about 12 'u' nails through the fence, and re-do it. It was actually dark when we finished.

Anyhoo, the chooks now have a lovely corner with thick straw carpet, and their house on the INSIDE.

There are 6 small trees inside the enclosure which are giving lovely dappled sunlight most of the day, and when the Japanese maples grow back in Spring, the area will be fully shaded for the heat of summer.

I need to fix a small square of fencing to the top of the gate, (just in case they decide to learn to fly properly) and a lock on the outside of the gate. Also I want to put a couple of low horizontal tree branches in for them to roost. (like a chooky-gym!)

Looking at it positively, I learnt a few lessons, gained a few new skills, and now have happy chooks and dog. The area is much bigger than needed for 3 chooks, but we are considering getting some chicks in the Spring so the extra space will be appreciated.
Now, I just need to regenerate the rest of the garden that has become a moonscape....!