Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chocolate challenge- the end.

Well it has been a whole month since  this challenge started - to eat only fair trade /slave labour free chocolate. 

I have been a bit slack on reporting my progress, I did a week 1 update then seem to have lost the other weeks....! It wasn't because I had given up, only that lots of other things have been going here.

I have just read Dixiebelle's final report on her blog, and agree with her that some of the challenge was easy, but some a little tricky.

In my week 1 update I said that the things which caught me off-guard was the 'hidden' chocolate things like my morning milo drink, or having drinking chocolate shaken on top of my cappucino. I realised in that first week just how many products have chocolate in them that I might not otherwise think about. And the rest of the month continued pretty much the same ......

I had no problem sourcing fair trade chocolate bars (available in our local supermarket and also a fair trade stall at our local monthly market) although I have only tried one brand- cocolo. I am more than happy with that but will try some others when I find them.

Biscuits were never a problem as I've been making my own for a year now, since I decided to no longer buy commercial ones, so I know exactly what goes into them. I have made cakes (also only make my own) but only non-chocolate ones this month.

So that bit wasn't too difficult.

Now for the confessions......

I have still had a few milo drinks, and still giving it to my children when they want it (how do explain to 4 year olds they can't have milo in case it has slave-sourced cocoa in it?) I'm honestly not sure how we change this one.

I have used normal drinking chocolate on my coffees, because I had it anyway, but will buy some fair trade when it runs out rather than continue buying it. Same with cocoa- I have a box still in the cupboard as I rarely use it, only for cooking. I can buy fair trade cocoa in a nearby co-op so will replace it with that.

And when a friend came round for coffee and brought some fantastic choc-mud cake she had made .... well I have to say it was the best ever mud cake. Hands up, I weakened on that day.

So I'd love to say it was all perfect and easy and I didn't slip up, but I suppose that's what a challenge is.

It has made me more aware of where another product is coming from and the issues around it. It has made me (and my husband) more concious shoppers. And finally it has converted me to fair-trade chocolate bars, which is the major source of chocolate in our home, so we have changed our buying habits again and I'm happy about that.

A final thanks to everyone else who took the challenge, and to Dixiebelle for starting it!


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wyandotte Eggs are in the 'Bator!

Well, now we've gone and done it !

12 little eggs heating up as I write! Here they are carefully arranged before the lid went on.....

The eggs are marked with the hen colour (keep reading for our choices!) and I have marked a 'o' and 'x' on each side for turning purposes.

I bought a Hexabator unit last weekend online after reading a lot of reviews and research done by lots of people more experienced than I am! It ticked all the boxes for our needs. I only wanted an entry-level unit as I'm not sure how often we will use it, and while there are others on the market that are huge or have extra features, the cost was way beyond what we were prepared to pay.

It can hold up to 60 hens eggs, has fan heating, clear top viewing window and digital thermometer. Its also made of plastic which is so much easier to clean after hatching than the other lower priced models made of polystyrene.
I bought it from Planet Poultry, with registered postage cost $230 all up. So far I am really happy with it, so easy to use, the temp is stable, very quiet - no worries.

Chris from Bushland Project had used hers succesfully before I bought mine - see her more detailed review here.

We drove down to Penrith today to meet a Wyandotte breeder named Mick, a great bloke who was very helpful. We even got to see his chicks at around 8 weeks old so we could see what they might look like as they get older. He breeds a huge range of Wyandottes including the popular Silver-laced and Gold-laced, as well as more unusual Blue Laced Golds, Blue laced Silvers, Buff laced, ... and more!

We ended up getting a pick'n'mix! We bought 4 x silver laced, 2 x gold laced and 6 xBlue laced golds- the offspring from BLG's produce a range of the ones mentioned above so we should have a colourful flock!

So now we just play the waiting game for 21 days until they hatch......

All I need to do meanwhile is turn the eggs twice daily, top up the water reservoir if needed (for humidity) and we can 'candle' the eggs in about a week to see if they are all fertile. I will do another post on candling later with the results - cross your fingers for us!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sowing & Growing List

I've been meaning for a while to make a list of all the food plants we have on the go, including those currently in our 2 patches or in pots as well as seeds I have sown.

I have just finished the list and put on as a side 'widget' to the right ... ---> you can find it under my 'followers'.

I am amazed there are over 40 foods on there- particularly as it seems we have hardly anything to harvest! There might even be more as I'm going from memory (it's nearly midnight!) and previous blog posts.You would think from reading it that we were fully self-sufficient, but actually far from it.

The reason is that a lot of the foods are at different stages - things like the herbs are almost always growing and really hardy. However others like potatoes, leeks and garlic have been in for a while but won't be ready for a couple of months yet, and a lot of the others I sowed the seeds recently so are either seedling stage (no food!) or yet to germinate (no food!) Also some need a lot of time and patience, like the hazelnut trees which are just showing their first leaves of Spring, or the Cherimoya fruit seeds that I just started today. Both of those won't produce anything edible for a couple of years. Hmmm... long wait.......!

The bean seeds and some mesclun salad leaves have germinated, and both produced really well last year, lasting us for months.

Until then .... well we are going pretty well in eggs with 12 a week average, and have lots of parsley, (my seed saving  from January worked!) so scrambled eggs with parsley is a popular option!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stocking up on market goodies!

How's this for a burst of Spring colour? I don't usually go for these kind of potted annual flowers, but these were just so cheery!
We went out to the local market today, and it was brilliant. I usually enjoy the markets anyway, but this month there seemed to be so much more 'good stuff' (and less scandalously priced rubbish!)

I filled the tray above with 15 decent size pots - for $22, which I think is a bargain! I could have had any combo of veggies/herbs/flowers. This was my choice today:-

2 hot chillies
2 Black Russian tomatoes
2 curly parsley
1 lemon basil
1 pot of celery (about 10 plants in it!)
 and 6 lovely flowering annuals.

(I don't even know what flowers they are, I let our children just pick what they wanted!)

I thought the flowers can go somewhere in the centre of the back garden, so we can see the lovely colour from our lounge room doors, and they will be near to our second patch, so hopefully attract some bees.

Also at the market today - a new stall which sells vegetable seeds from the local seedsavers and small amounts of herbs/plants/veggies that local growers have excess of. It is such a great idea, I hope it takes off. I bought 5 packets of seeds from there, at only $1 each !!!
Ruby Chard, rocket, New Zealand spinach, curly kale and marigolds (for beneficial insects) are now added to my ever growing seed collection, but not for too long - they will be potted /planted this week. There is info on every packet including the harvest date and where it was grown. Brilliant!
I also bought some beautiful lemons there, and bay leaves (can you believe just 10c a sprig?) so I was very happy with my purchases.

I also picked up a handful of seeds yesterday from a Cherimoya, which is a kind of cool-climate custard apple. Never had one, but apparently it is the fruit of the Gods, a mix of beautiful fruit flavours! I guess it tastes better than it looks ....... !

I got them when went to a talk given by the Cooerwull Plantsmen from Lithgow, about growing fruit and nut trees in the Blue Mountains. It was a great morning, loads of info & tips, nice friendly crowd of about 20 people, and it was in the community gardens in Katoomba which I hadn't been to before, so it was really interesting to have a look around there too. Oh, yes, and of course I got the Cherimoya seeds from a generous man who had brought a bag to share around!

Speaking of nut trees (and yesterday we did!) our hazelnut trees are starting to wake up from their winter sleep. The buds are bursting open with beautiful tiny green leaves, looks lovely. It was good to see some mature hazelnut trees at the community gardens, to get an idea of what our will look like in around 5 years. For now they are in large pots until we build and move, but I was told that they will be fine like that, even for a couple of years.

So lots of planting and seed-germinating ahead for me this week, although I never feel like its a chore, I really love getting outside into the garden and having lots of plants at various stages of growth. Hopefully we will have lots of edibles soon!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Spring means ..... chicky time!

I'm so excited! We are going to get some eggs for hatching! Woo hoo!

We have decided (well, ok, it was mostly me) that it would be a great idea to try hatching some chicks. We can add to our chooky flock, try a different breed and it should provide a bit of fun for us and the children too.

When we started off keeping chooks last year we played safe and bought some mixed point-of-lays (POL's) from a local produce store. That was fine, but now its time to step up a little!

I have always loved Wyandottes (well, since last year anyway!) they are such beautiful birds and their temperament makes them an ideal backyard pet and a good layer.
For the non-chooky readers out there (!) there are a lot of different colours and patterns, check out THIS LINK from Backyard Poultry for heaps of info and pics.

We will be buying a dozen eggs from a breeder who is fairly local, and although he does breed some amazing and rare colours I think I will go for Silver Laced and Gold Laced. (well, for now- ssshhh.... !!!) They are amazing looking chooks!
BTW- a dozen eggs doesn't mean we will get a dozen hens - some may not hatch and some that do will be roosters. (Don't ask what happens to roosters, we will cross that bridge later......)

We also need to buy an incubator to hatch them.
*Unless any of you local chooky gals have an incubator gathering dust you could loan out?*
The alternative is to use a broody chook (none of ours broody at the moment) but also we don't have the space to keep a broody and eggs separate before they hatch and while they are small. Besides, the idea of keeping them inside and watching them hatch is half the fun!

I am blaming Chris at Bushland Project for this latest interest! Click on the link to check out those cutie chicks and her progress of hatching them. How could I resist  :-) And many thanks to her for doing loads of research on incubators!

Hopefully we will have our incubator next week and wyandotte eggs soon after- and of course I will keep you up to date with progress ......


Friday, September 11, 2009

Costa's Garden Odyssey

How great is this new show? I love it! And how wacky is Costa? He is like a hippy Steve Irwin of the gardening world, all animated and arms flying!

I watched the third episode last night and it was so full of interesting and useful bits and pieces. I loved the permablitz idea, where groups of volunteers work to transform someone's garden, and in exchange they learn whatever skills they are interested in by hands-on work and in workshops. It reminded me a bit of the native gardening course I did last year, there was a lot of weeding, planting and mulching! but I learnt a lot both in the classroom and outside.

I think it beats the other 'lifestyle' shows on tv hands-down (Better Homes than mine etc) there is a lot less fluffing around sticking lace onto plantpots (or whatever!) and a lot more gritty, useful permaculture-based ideas.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, despair no longer! You can watch them online and get all the info HERE on Costa's website.

I'm looking forward to episode 10 at the end of next month, he has done a segment from right here in the Blue Mountains!

Costa's Garden Odyssey - SBS Thursday nights 8pm

Thursday, September 10, 2009

All is Good in the Garden

Today was one of those days I walked around the back yard and thought "yeah, actually things are going pretty well". The sun was shining and things are growing again.

The seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago here are coming up great - all 4 types of beans, 2 types of tomatoes, beetroot, vegetable spaghetti, basil and peppermint. Even one of the watermelon seeds is peeping out early.

The potatoes are showing through the mulch in my trial-spud-sacks .......

And the second 'patch' we started a couple of weeks ago in our bare centre of the garden is looking ok, instant green at the front with lots of herbs that were outgrowing their pots, and a few new ones I bought from the Gardening Australia expo including this Chocolate Mint .....

I don't know what I will use it for, but doesn't it sounds great? And it smells exactly like one of those after-dinner mints!

I also put in 2 rows of mixed lettuce and a row of parsley from my saved seed. Parsley is slow to germinate, but hopefully there will be a mass of green by the summer!

And these new plants in our old patch - some rhubarb kindly given by a lovely friend who was moving house, they have settled in nicely and I made rhubarb muffins the same day I planted them in! I'll give them a rest now to grow a bit before harvesting again.

We planted this beautiful wax flower years ago as a tiny plant, its now taller than me and about 2 metres across, and fills the garden with a lovely scent. Luckily for us, it is one of those plants that thrives on neglect! It is an aussie native and has never been watered other than the rainfall we get. So pretty.

Even the chooks are happy ..... although their needs are few .....warm safe house, bit of space and exercise, food and water ..... and they are giving us around 12 eggs a week between the 3 of them (although one is laying as much as the other two!) They didn't even stop laying all through the winter which most chooks do. They are such great pets.

All was good today in the garden of Mountain Wildlife...... :-)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chocolate Challenge- week 1 update!

Well, further to the challenge of only eating fair-trade chocolate for a month .... I have a few things to report!

I was pretty confident the actual chocolate wouldn't be an issue as I was prepared and armed with some good bars of Cocolo (!) and I was right, that wasn't a problem at all. Yes, I managed to eat both the milk and the dark orange chocolate perfectly fine LOL!

HOWEVER, there were a few little 'issues' I hadn't actually thought about......

For instance, the very first day, the first thing to pass my lips in the morning (as every morning) was my usual cup of milo. DOH! I didn't even realise until later in the day, then it dawned on me that of course milo has cocoa in it. Oh, dear - fell at the first post. Well never mind, I thought, at least my mind now connected it.

Which then made me realise, of course Cadburys drinking chocolate is off the menu. Not that I drink it (or very rarely) but I do treat myself to one really good cup of coffee a day (with this coffee machine I bought with Xmas money) and whats a cappucino without a dusting of choc on top? I have little salt and pepper shakers on top of my machine, filled with drinking chocolate and cinnamon, just for my coffees. Indulgent? Yep, maybe, but thats my daily treat to myself. So, now its a coffee, but hold off on the chocolate dusting.

My third issue of the week happened when I took my children to playgroup, and had to pass on the fine looking homemade slice with my tea, because it had chocolate in it. OK, my will to succeed wavered a little then. Luckily I wasn't alone, Xena who is taking the challenge too, also passed on the cake and we had a good discussion amongst the mums that day. Talking about important issues -not a bad thing I think.

And my last test for the week was yesterday, at a friend's son's birthday party. We had a lovely time down at Wascoe Siding, with loads of miniature steam trains keeping everyone happy. I watched anxiously as she cut the cake ..... yes, of course, chocolate. Luckily my lovely friend knows about my chocolate challenge, although I still felt a bit bad not having a piece of birthday cake. I had made a lemon and coconut cake so joined in with that instead.

Am I being too strict? Maybe, but -its difficult to justify the indulgences if people have to suffer so I can have sprinkly chocolate on my coffee. When I think about it that way it seems ridiculous to complain about it.

So onto week 2 a little wiser! The fact that I have become more aware already is good enough reason to keep on with this.

By the way, I haven't thrown any other chocolate products out. My cupboard still has the drinking chocolate, milo and choc chips in it. I am not sure yet, but I think I will use them up once the challenge is over and then replace them with fair trade products. My reasoning is firstly that they have already been bought, throwing them out would be wasteful (which I am really against) but also it seems worse, even insulting, if someone has suffered in the making of these for me to buy them and then throw them in the bin without even using them.
Any thoughts?

Oh, and I have to give a big, very honourable mention to my amazing mother, who stunned me this week by casually revealing that she ALWAYS buys fair trade chocolate and herbal tea. I had no idea! OK, in my defence, she lives in England, its not like I see her pantry shelves every week! The shops there have many more fair-trade products in the general supermarkets, even clothes. Good on ya mum!!!