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Nope, the unhygienic growing practices which go hand in hand with mass production have finally made their appearance on this side of the pond. I’m sure it’s not the first time but it’s bad enough – with 10 people dead in Germany and thousands sick – that people had to sit up and take notice. Tainted cucumbers from Spain are supposedly the culprit, but they’re not sure that this is the only source ( and of course it isn’t). It’s just the one that was spotted.

So in light of this….

(German farmers destroying their lettuce and other  salad  crops)

…I’m so glad that I decided to do this…

You don’t even need to dig, this is a huge tub of lettuce that sits on our porch, nothing could be easier. I bought a pack of 6 starter plants of each type (these are plucking varieties as opposed to head varieties), dumped some good potting soil in the tub and planted them. I water them with a bit of liquid fertilizer once every 2 weeks. They look like this after just one month of growth. I just go out and pick off what I need and it keeps on growing. Lettuce has shallow roots so you don’t need a tub as deep as this one, it just happened to be what I had on hand. You can grow lettuces in window boxes or in any plant pot or container that you’ve got on hand. Anyone can grow safe clean lettuce…no bugs, no slugs, no digging, no pesticides….no E.Coli!

Yay!

Grow your own people!

P.S. yes, I’ve got lots to tell you about, especially with the bees, just haven’t had time to get pictures organized and a post written, I’ll do that in a just a few days, but this seemed more important, considering…

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This spring has blossomed for us with new ideas and a new direction. Many things have remained the same, our view of the world and how we wish to interact with it is the same; self-sufficiency is important to us, living as green as possible is very important to us, eating and living a vegan lifestyle is important to us. Doing our best to NOT support the “Evil Empire” better known as “big business” is also very important to us. We’re only two people who can’t really hope to make a huge difference in the world, but that’s not the point, we feel that our efforts, in concert with two other people, and two other people and two other people, is what will make the difference so we do all that we can even though things look fairly hopeless sometimes.

Our dreams of being totally self-sufficient I think were a bit too ambitious for us. In our perfect fantasy we would have the most beautiful and prolific garden you can imagine, free of pests and disease, we would make all our own clothes, candles, furniture, etc. We’d only use bikes or public transportation as a means of getting around, we’d power everything with solar energy, we’d barter for everything else we needed, our land and home would be paid off, we’d be free from money and all the problems is causes. Nice dream, isn’t it… But for us it simply isn’t possible. So, we’ve reined in our dream just a bit, into something we can actually achieve. Some people will say, “you’re just giving up!” But I don’t think so, rather we are being realistic; given our age, our level of fitness, our experience and knowledge, given that we have to work full-time jobs, we aren’t left with enough hours in the day, nevermind enough energy, to achieve all we’d like to…We haven’t given up, we’ve simply discovered what is actually possible for us and being totally self-sufficient isn’t one of those things.


So we finally gave in and bought a new car which we hope will last us for many, many, many years. It’s a Twingo, the tiniest most fuel efficient, environmentally friendly (ha!) car we could find. We try to only go through 1 tank of fuel a month which means quite a bit of bike-riding during the week for my husband to and from work. It adds about 1 hour a day to his commuting time, but it also adds fresh air, exercise and beautiful scenery and a peaceful quiet time each morning to just think and enjoy being outdoors without the stress and frustration of traffic jams.

Bees…

We hope this year to increase our bee hives. We’ve had a few rough years where we had weak struggling hives and ended up losing some of them over the previous winter. We never take much honey from our bees even at the best of times, honey isn’t the main goal for us, we mainly just like having the bees here and knowing that they are helping to improve the land around us which is a good thing for the planet in general. But we haven’t harvested honey from our bees at all in the past 2 years trying to give them the time and resources to build themselves up again. I think those efforts have paid off because our two remaining hives came out of this past winter very strong, healthy and hardy. We should see some swarms from them this summer which will give us the opportunity to create more hives. We will probably take a bit of honey (20-30 jars worth) and leave them the rest which will be quite alot.

This is a shot of our two hives taken about 1 month ago, as they are just starting to wake up and become active. We have since added additional boxes to the top of the hives for honey storage. We had to add the boxes much sooner than usual this year as they are collecting so much. :O)

Our plan is to hopefully move the bees into Warre’ style hives  as I have mentioned before, and to increase to as many as 6 hives during this season. We also want to build 2 or 3 Kenya Top-Bar style hives and keep those on the other side of the property under our apple trees. Those will be my hives :O) It should be an easier system for me to work with, with much less heavy lifting and shuffling around of boxes. Both of the systems we will use are in general less intrusive and hands-on so that we don’t have to disturb the bees as often as is necessary with the more common/commercial style bee hives.

One problem is that we have always had trouble catching our swarms because our bees insist on sitting in the highest branches of the tallest trees on our property, there is absolutely no way we can reach them. So this year we are doing a little experiment, we anchored an empty Warre’ hive to the roof of our porch, we’re hoping that maybe a swarm will move into it (not necessarily a swarm from our bees because when bees swarm they instinctively move a greater distance from the mother hive so they will have enough food, but there are also 2-3 other bee keepers in the area so we might possibly attract one of their swarms, just as they might acquire one of our swarms… it all works out in the end  ;O)

You can see the hive up on the roof in this picture. The box behind and slightly above it is a bat house…we love having bats in our area and will be adding more bat houses on our property in the coming years.

We’ve decided that our main focus crop-wise is going to be fruit. Fruit trees and berries. The reason for this is that for one thing, it’s the perfect thing to grow with bees. Another reason is that not as much space is required for the yeild you will get, we don’t have much space here. And another reason is that fruit is so very expensive! We eat alot of fruit over the growing season and around here we are paying 4 euro for a tiny 1 cup container of berries, it’s really quite insane! Vegetable crops require alot more space and effort to actually make a substantial difference and besides the prices are pretty reasonable by comparison, so growing fruit makes the most sense for us.

We will of course grow a few select vegetables in and amongst our future flower beds and in containers, but not many and nothing formal. I’ve decided that I don’t want any straight lines in the yard, no square beds, no straight rows, which carry the feeling of being man-made and controlled. I want a very informal arrangement which doesn’t feel forced or “contrived”, but which feels natural. Lots and lots of flowers and flowering bushes. In short, we’ve decided to create a cottage garden which will be created in such a way that it will become a sanctuary. Not only for us, but for the local wildlife as well, including the insects as well as the birds and animals.The wildlife in our area has a very rough time these days  just as it does most everywhere on the planet with all the farming, building, pollution, hunting and the ever increasing intrusion by man into their habitats…really, they need all the help they can get and it is what I want to spend my energy and space helping them with. I want to do what I can to create a place which helps and doesn’t hinder them. Of course with our limited funds, time and resources, this is going to take years but now that we have a clear goal and vision, we are off to a good start.

Currently we are working on clearing the land of all the garbage that has collected over the years, left by two generations of homeowners who lived here before us. They were anything but kind to the land here and used it as their own personal landfill. It will take alot of work to replenish the soil and just get the place cleared of junk so we can start planting. We rented a huge garbage container this week and are working to fill it. It will probably take 1 or 2 more containers before we’re done. Unfortunately these things aren’t cheap! But we can’t do much until the garbage is gone.

Another goal for this season is to plant the rest of our hedge, it will cost about 500 euro to finish. We started our thorn hedge about 4 years ago but couldn’t finish it until this year. The hedgehogs, birds and other little critters especially love living in thorn hedges. We’re using hawthorn, blackthorn, wild dog rose, wild apple and wild pear plants to create the hedge. The hedge flowers in early spring which is good for our bees since not much else is flowering at that time. It will take about 4 years until it starts looking like a proper hedge.

One of the things I’d like to grow aside from fruit trees and berries is tomatoes which are also quite expensive. I’m experimenting with cherry tomatoes in our veranda this year, tomatoes don’t do very well here without being covered or grown in a greenhouse so I thought they might do well in our south-facing veranda.

Well, this post is getting quite long now so I will wrap it up here. I’ll continue to post on our progress over the season and share pictures with you. I will leave you with this shot of a trellis my husband built the other day. One of the first plants I bought this year was a climbing rose called “Zephirine Drouhin”. No true cottage garden would be complete without a few climbing roses. So we’ve made a beginning! The rose hasn’t been delivered yet, I had to order it,but it should be here and planted by next Monday :O)

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This is a subject that literally leaves me feeling sick inside. It infuriates me, it scares the Hell out of me, it makes me despair for the future of this planet, it leaves me feeling sad and confused as to how and why any sane, rational, caring human being could involve themselves with this. Something has got to be done about this company…

Many countries are resisting, they are banning GMO crops and Monsanto’s products and technology but it still creeps in around the edges. Many countries have tried, but are now losing the battle. Globally, thousands of farmers have had their lives destroyed by this company. Many cultures have lost their native crops, they’ve become ill and have unwittingly become dependent on Monsanto for their very livelihoods.

Hundreds of seed companies are now owned and controlled by this company and thousands of plant varieties are disappearing, never to be seen again. Thousands of people are sick and dying due to illnesses caused by the pesticides, chemicals and animal growth hormones made by this company. Why aren’t more people talking about this? Why aren’t people doing something about it?

I think many people simply don’t know the whole story, don’t realize how serious it is. And what can the average person do about it anyway?

I think that voting with your wallet and your fork, is a step in the right direction. Buying locally grown food from small farms will help, support your local farmer’s markets and CSA programs. Avoid pre-packaged, processed and refined foods, most of them contain GMO ingredients. Avoid fast food restaurants. Prepare more meals at home using fresh, local, whole food ingredients. Cut back on, or better yet, eliminate all meat and dairy products which are full of cancer-causing hormones (not to mention antibiotics and other nasty things). Let your representatives know what you think. Be vocal about it! Stay informed and do your research. If possible, join and support organizations created to fight against this company (see links below). This problem really does affect us all. So assuming that lack of knowledge is the biggest factor, I’m providing a link to this in-depth documentary. Please watch it and spread the word, we can’t continue to sit by and let this happen!

“The World According to Monsanto”
This is part 1 of a 10 part documentary. You can watch the other parts on YouTube, just click on the video screen below. The whole thing is about 90 minutes long, it’s time well spent!

For more information, check out the following links…

Millions Against Monsanto Campaign

The Campaign – Grass Roots Political Action

The MonoCulture of the Mind

Farmers Launch Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against Monsanto

Global Research – Biotechnology and Gmo

Films and Documentaries:

Food, Inc. (at theaters and on DVD)

Food Matters (view online, DVD)

HOME (view online, DVD)

The Future of Food (view online – USA only)

GMO Trilogy – Unnatural Selection (view online)

Seeds of Deception (view online)

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a film by Yann Arthus Bertrand

Just a quick note to tell you about a film that I think is of huge importance and which carries a strong and impacting message for us all. I hope you will take the time to watch it and to consider the message it brings. It is so important to our world, to our way of life and to the future generations who follow…

This movie was made and sponsored so that it could be shared freely and watched by all, so please do!

Here is the trailer…

You can watch the entire film directly from the official website or on YouTube.

Here is the official HOME website:
http://www.home-2009.com

YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU



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I’m not sure how well known this show is so I wanted to mention it here  because I think it’s wonderful. Peak Moment Television originates from the west coast of the US. The birth of Peak Moment Television was “in response to awakened Peak Oil awareness” and all the issues surrounding it…Peak Moment Television is a series of “conversations” with local residents and educators which offer “perspectives and initiatives for local self-reliant living in the face of energy, climate, and economic uncertainty.”  It’s a weekly 28 minute show which airs on public access tv. Or you can watch it like I do, on YouTube.

For those of you who want to walk a bit more softly and self-reliantly, and who want to see the words “local” and “community” actually mean something again, I think you will find this show informational and inspiring. I’ve linked to just one episode here, one of my favorites, just to give you a taste of what the show is like.

Peak Moment episode 87: In summer 2006 Judy Alexander embarked on an experiment to see how much food she could grow, and how many neighbors could benefit from the garden around her house. Check out her homegrown rainwater collection and irrigation system – watering her 60+ edible crops. Meet the bees, the chickens and the worms. And catch her joy in producing so much food for so little effort.

If you enjoyed that, you will find another 141 episodes available on YouTube. And here is the Peak Moment main website. And here is Janaia’s Blog. If you’d rather watch this on tv you can check here to find a station and viewing time, in your area.

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splitpeaspinach

I had a huge bag of fresh spinach in the refrigerator that I  needed to use today. I also had half of a butternut squash left over from last weekend’s chili. Along with half a bag of dried split peas and a few other veggies, this was a fantastic soup!

The bread is from a local bakery, it’s a typical German whole-grain bread. I love German bread, when they say “whole-grain”, they are not kidding…this bread is D E N S E! It is jam-packed with whole sunflower seeds and other grains, it is moist and chewy and it’s hard to eat more than one slice.

Split Pea, Spinach and Butternut Soup

1 tbls olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 leek sliced

1 stalk celery, chopped

2-3 large carrots, chopped

2 cups butternut or other squash, chopped

1 1/2 cups dried split peas, rinsed and drained

250-300gm fresh spinach leaves, washed well and chopped (approx. 1/2 lb)

8 cups water

2 bay leaves

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. basil

1 – 2 tsp. salt to taste (optional)

In a large soup pot, heat oil. Add onions and leek and saute for 5 minutes. Add cumin, thyme and basil, stir through. Add water, bay leaves, peas, and celery. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer with loose lid for 35-40 minutes, until peas are soft. Add squash and carrots, simmer for another 20 minutes or until squash and carrots are soft but not mushy. Add spinach and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add salt to taste (I used 1 1/2 tsp.)

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tofufinish1

There is just no comparison when it comes to fresh vs. packaged tofu. The flavor as well as the texture are far superior! I find packaged tofu to be totally lacking in flavor and unpleasantly rubbery, while fresh tofu is creamy and smooth with a surprisingly pleasant flavor, although mild, all its own… and it’s definitely NOT rubbery. Another great reason to make your own tofu is that you’ll know exactly what is in it. Most soybeans these days come from genetically engineered crops, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my soybeans, or any other food I eat, to be “engineered” thank you very much!

I won’t lie to you, there is some work involved but probably not as much as you might think. It takes me about 1 hour to make a batch of tofu which is time well spent in my opinion.

If you’re thinking that you’d like to make your own tofu but don’t think you’ve got the time, with the use of a soymilk machine you can cut the time down to just a few minutes! SusanV over at FatFree Vegan Kitchen has a great article on making tofu with a soymilk machine, you can check it out here.  Since I don’t have a soymilk machine, I’ll show you how to do it the “old-fashioned” way :O)

tofusupplies

Here’s what you need to make tofu at ahome.

1. Soybeans – The most important thing to consider when buying dried soybeans is to make sure that you buy soybeans that are NOT genetically-engineered. Buy organically grown dried soybeans.

2. Coagulant – there are two coagulants that are commonly used to make tofu. Nigari (magnesium chloride) and gypsum (calcium sulfate). I use nigari salt. I don’t recommend tasting the nigari, it tastes nothing at all like table salt, trust me on this! Nasty…just plain nasty..lol! You can also use gypsum as I mentioned, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Images of drywall dance in my head whenever I think about it.

3. Water

That’s all tofu is…soybeans and water mixed with a coagulant!

You will also need a blender, a large soup pot, a colander, a cooking thermometer, a tofu press (you can also use a colander to form the tofu if you don’t have a tofu press), a piece of cheese cloth or thin piece of muslin, a stone, jug of water or something similar for weight.

Homemade Tofu

400gm dried soybeans (approx. 2 1/2 cups)

13 cups water

2 tbls nigari or gypsum

The first step is to soak 400gms. soybeans in water for about 8 hours (or overnight). Rinse and drain them.

You are now going to blend together your soybeans along with 13 cups of water. Unless you have a gigantic blender, you’ll need to do this in batches. I add 1-2 cups beans into the blender and then add 3-4 cups of the water. You don’t need to measure exactly. Just so long as you use up all the beans and water during the blending process.

tofu-blender

tofublend3minute

Blend each batch for about 3 minutes. You want the beans to be completely pulverized.

In the meantime get your large soup pot and set your colander inside (if they don’t fit together, set your colander in a large bowl, you just need to catch the liquid while filtering out the pulp). Line your colander with a large piece of cheese cloth or muslin.

tofupour

When your first batch of beans and water is finished blending, pour the resulting foamy liquid into the colander. Start your next batch of beans and water to blending.

tofusqueeze

When most of the liquid has drained through the cheese cloth, fold the edges together and using your hands, twist and squeeze the remaining liquid into the pot.

tofuokara

After you’ve squeezed all of the liquid out, this is what you’ll find in the cheese cloth. This is the bean pulp or fiber…it’s called okara. You can set the okara aside for now (I’ll talk more about it at the end of the article), shake it out of your cheese cloth, rinse your cheese cloth and repeat the blending, draining and squeezing until all your beans and water have been processed.

tofupot

Place your pot full of liquid (you’ve just made soymilk!)) on the stove. You want to bring it to a simmer gently over med. high heat. Stir frequently or it will begin sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot.

tofusimmer

Once it reaches a nice simmer and is just on the verge of bubbling over, turn the heat down to low. You want enough heat that it continues to simmer very gently, but doesn’t bubble over. Stir frequently so it doesn’t stick and let it simmer like this for 10 minutes.

tofutemp

When the soymilk has simmered for 10 minutes, shut off the heat. If you didn’t want to make tofu, you could then use this liquid as proper soymilk. For tofu though, there are a few more steps. Let the liquid cool down until it reaches a temp. of 80 C° (176 F°). This will take about 8-10 minutes, check temp. often.

tofunigarisalt

Nigari

While the soymilk is cooling measure out 2 tbls. nigari salt (or gypsum) and put it into a cup. Add 1/4 cup water to it and stir to dissolve.

tofusaltpour

When your soymilk reaches the proper temp. pour the coagulant into it and then give it a stir or two.

tofucoag

The coagulant works very fast and almost instantly you will see the curd beginning to form. Let this liquid set for 10 minutes.

tofureadypour

While your liquid coagulates, prepare your tofu press. I have a little plastic one. It is large enough to make a block of tofu a bit larger than 1lb (about 6oogms). Tofu presses come either in plastic or wood. I’d love a wooden one but haven’t found one in my area. Anyway, if you don’t have a press, you can use a colander, your tofu will just have an odd shape but who cares :O)

Line your tofu press (or whatever) with a piece of cheese cloth. Place the tofu press in a pan or something to catch the liquid so it doesn’t run all over your counter. I just set mine on my sink drainer.

tofupour1

When your liquid has set for 10 minutes you can begin to pour it slowly into your press. It will appear to fill your press very quickly, but don’t worry there is plenty of room.

tofupress1

Fill the press and then fold the edges of the cheese cloth over the top of the curd, use the top of the press (or a plate or something for a colander) and press down hard to push the liquid out, add more of the curd and then stop and press again. Keep repeating this until you’ve got all your liquid into the press.

tofupress21

When your press is full, fold the cheese cloth over the top of the curd, place the top of the press in place and set a stone or some other weight on it (my stone weighs 4lbs or 2000gms)

tofupressstone

Let it set like this for 20-30 minutes for firm tofu. If you want silken tofu, you don’t really need to add weight at all, just press out the water by hand and it’s good to go.

tofuwater

When the pressing is finished, tilt the press upsidedown into your hand and gently remove the tofu, unwrap it and place it into a container full of water. Make sure that the container is large enough to hold plenty of water, don’t crowd your tofu. Store tofu in the refrigerator. If you change the water everyday, your tofu will hold for 7-10 days, but for this the water change is critical. If you plan on eating it with in 5 days or so, you don’t need to worry so much about changing the water. You can also freeze your tofu. I have never tried frozen tofu, but I have heard that some people actually prefer it this way, they say it gives the tofu a firmer texture, but it also changes the color to a darker yellowish color? I have no idea, since I’ve never done it.

tofufinish

A finished block of homemade tofu! Enjoy!

A few words about Okara…

Okara is the fibrous pulp that is left over after the soymilk is squeezed out of the pulverized bean/water mixture. It can be used for cooking, it makes a great filler in certain recipes, it is great for the compost pile (which is what I usually do with it! Here’s the nutritional breakdown for Okara. It’s fairly nutritious so I encourage you to try cooking with it. I don’t have much experience in this area so I will refer you once again to SusanV at FatFree Vegan Kitchen, who has been experimenting with what to do with all that left over Okara! If you search the web you’ll find other recipes for it as well.

Update: I just found a fantastic blog dedicated specifically to discovering recipes and other uses for okara! It’s appropriately titled Okara Mountain, have a look it’s fascinating!

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