You may have noticed a few gremlins in the Self-Sufficientish machine.
Unfortunately it needs more than a nice cup of tea to get it working again.
The site is nearly 10 years old which is more like 120 in computer years. It is starting to forget things, it is stubborn and there seems to be a bit of smell coming from its general direction.
We are trying to fix all these problems and rejuvenate the site too.We hope to have it as sprightly as spring lamb in the coming months.
Please be patient with us, we are only able to work on the site in our free time.
Normality will return, please do come back!
The easiest way to cram a lot of plants into a small space is to grow them in pots on weather-proof shelves. Cheap(ish) plastic garden shelving can now be bought from major retailers. However, in my experience these are a false economy as they only have a limited life span – the plastic doesn’t seem to hold up to extremes in temperature and in time they become brittle and start to break. This is no doubt a ploy by the manufacturers to get us to invest in a new set when they start to deteriorate!
For a very similar price you can buy metal shelving units or if you are a regular visitor to a recycling centre/tip/dump, like me, you may come across metal shelving units for as little as £2 ($3 US, $3.40 AUS). The shelves should allow some air circulation and water to drip down from one tray to the next. Mine contain large perforations (a number of holes punched at regular intervals) but slated shelving should also do the trick. The shelves also need either tying in place and/or weighed down by placing heavy objects on the bottom shelf. Clay pots full of soil are sometimes adequate or if the bottom shelf is used for storing heavy items such as bags of potting compost.
Using UV stable plastic covering on your shelves is a perfect way to avoid seedling becoming etiolated (long and leggy) as they reach for the sun on a windowsill. I’ve found (again) the cheaper shelving units with plastic covering to have a short life span as the zips break and they tend to shrink. Finding scrap clear plastic from damaged poly-tunnels or again at recycling centres can be a cost effective way to cover your shelving.
As I don’t currently have a plastic covering for my shelving, I use them early in the season to harden off my seedlings slowly swapping them for pot grown summer crops in the warmer months (tomatoes, summer salads, herbs) and winter salads (rocket, mini iceberg lettuces, land-cress) later in the year.
If the shelves are south facing all the crops should get enough sunlight but it might be worth placing tall sun-loving plants on the top shelf (tomatoes, aubergines etc) and shade tolerant plants such as lettuce, parsley and salad greens lower down. You may find that lower plants do struggle a little but you can always move them up and down in much the same way you would a Sunday roast in the oven.
I first came across a version of this recipe not far from the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. After a number of visits to Spain I think it is safe to say the Spanish are not really known for their vegetarian food. However, many bars and resturants will serve a vegetarian Paella and it is well worth a try.
I’ve tried to recreate this traditional recipe with allotment produce which should be in season towards the end of the summer holiday season when many may be returning back from Spain.
300g Paella Rice (Can use risotto rice)
1 Medium Courgette
4 Cloves of Garlic
Large Handful of Beans – Pods Removed
2 x Corn on the cob
1.2 Litres/ 2 Pints of stock
Pinch of turmeric or if you’re posh saffron
Pinch of Paprika
2 Beef Steak tomatoes
Juice of 1/2 lemon
A little oil for cooking
Elderflower Cordial 2 An easy recipe for bulk amounts
There are countless recipes for elderflower cordial. Here is one for making bulk amounts taught to me by a Swedish girl. We do have a recipe for making a smaller amount.
• Place a layer of elder flowers in the bottom of a bucket and cover it with a layer of sugar
• Repeat this until the bucket is full
• Cover the bucket’s contents with boiling water and leave overnight.
• Strain and bottle the contents of the bottle.
Elderflower cordial can be put in plastic bottles and frozen if you are not using citric acid.
The classic self-sufficient writer John Seymour claims the secret of good cordial is, ‘never put too many in your brew’ and ‘harvest on a sunny day when the fragrance and nectar are at their height’.
It’s very cheap to make, with sugar being the most expensive ingredient, so it is worth experimenting with until you perfect your own recipe. The sugar content does seem to be on the high side but as with jams this is ensuring the food is preserved. Other ingredients such as citric acid and lemon juice do appear in many recipes and I usually use a bit of both.
Citric acid can be found in many places such as chemists, some ethnic supermarkets and health food shops. It is worth having a little bag in the kitchen, as it is an antioxidant and will increase the shelf life of many foods I did find when I bought mine I got a strange look from the shop-keeper and I later discovered that citric acid is widely used by heroin addicts.
Elderflower as a food should never be eaten raw as the flowers, like the berries, contain a mildly poisonous alkaloid which is destroyed by cooking. It has widely been used as a food and native Americans would cook them as elderflower fritters.
I have cooked cakes using a sponge cake recipe and adding a couple of handfuls of elderflower. The result is very light and very tasty. It has been suggested that they can also be added to muffins and pancakes.
An early summer delicacy and very easy to make.
200g Plain Flower
250ml (half pint) milk
medium sized egg
Elderflower Heads – 2-3 per person – with enough of a stalk to hold onto
Salt and pepper
Oil for deep frying
1.Mix all the ingredients apart from the elderflower
2.Heat some oil in a pan or deep fat fryer,
3.Dip flower head in batter holding onto the stalk.
4. Dip the flower head into the oil with the stalk facing upward out of the oil. Fry until golden brown, take out the fritter of the hot oil* and serve.
*You may be able to remove the fritter using its stalk. Only if the stalk is sufficiently out of the oil and the oil isn’t bubbling too vigorously. If in doubt use a chip basket or slotted spoon.
A pinch of cinnamon can be added to the batter to add extra flavour. The fritters can be rolled in sugar or dusted with icing sugar if you have a really sweet tooth.
Another variation is to mix gram or chickpea flour with fizzy water to make the batter. You can also add spices such as coriander and chilli to make an elderflower barji. Serve with raita (a minty yoghurt and cucumber dip).
In this forth part of the series we look at Energy and water.
We all use energy in out lives, to cook our food, power our car and TV, even to purify our water so it is important to have some way of harvest our own energy without relying on the national grid or the oil companies (well, reducing our reliance on them anyway!)
In a suburban setting, the easiest method that is least likely to offend the neighbours is direct use of the suns rays – assuming you location gets enough. The sun can be used directly to cook food, heat water or dry food for preservative purposes or heat rooms. We have a solar oven which was home made and works remarkably well, a solar food drier which is also home made and works well, a commercial solar water heater and I am in the midst of making a reflecting solar cooker so that we can boil, fry and stir fry as well as bake.
Most equipment that makes direct use of the sun can be made fairly cheaply (sometimes even out of discarded cardboard and aluminium foil) by almost anyone with a few tools and who is moderately handy. This keeps the costs down and, depending where you live, it may be the only way of getting hold of some of the gear.
Electricity generation has more options but requires more investment and you need to know more to manage your personal energy supply. The easiest (but not cheapest) option is to buy a stack of solar photovoltaic panels and mount them on the roof or wherever. Then get an inverter (converts 12 volts direct current to 240 or 120 volts alternating current) and plug the panels into an inverter and then have an electrician wire your inverter back into the national grid through a meter that can run both ways. That way the power you produce goes into the grid and then you use the power back from the grid as required. This is good financially and environmentally but if the grid goes down, you’re still stuffed!
To be independent of the grid you need batteries which are heavy, expensive and do eventually require replacement. You also need to know more to operate the system, but you can run on 12 volts as well as the normal AC voltage for where you are and you are independent of the system
You can also buy or make a wind generator – an electricity generator or alternator powered by the wind. Most home made ones are based on a car alternator that is rectified to 12vdc. You can pay thousands of dollars for a commercial wind generator but they tend to be more quiet and unobtrusive and require less maintenance. The problem with wind generators is that they are obvious. They can upset the neighbours with noise and they may be regarded as unsightly – I like ‘em but I am not your neighbour. You may also be required to get government approval. I am in the process of discussing this with our local council and their fees have a potential to double the cost of the wind generator, although it was a cheapie!
Water requires energy to collect, treat, store , filter and transport to your home and is remarkably cheap for all of that! If you want to be self sufficient or more sustainable then it makes sense to harvest the water from your roof. Depending on your climate, size of your roof, size of your storage and needs it is possible to be run your house off rainwater alone. People in the outback have been doing it for many years, but to do it successfully you may need to make some changes.
Some automatic washing machines can chew through gallons of water per wash and toilets can use 9 litres or more of drinkable water to get rid of 100ml of urine, which doesn’t make sense. There are many ways to save water such as putting bath or clothes washing water on the garden or using it to flush the toilet, or installing a dual flush – or even better – a composting toilet.
As with electricity, the more water you can store, the better and water tanks tend cost less per litre stored the bigger they are, but it depends on your situation how much you can store. Even a 200 litre drum or 60 litre (new) garbage tin will allow you to store some water and any water storage is better than none.
This article has been a rough overview of how you can set yourself up to be as self reliant as possible to reduce your outgo and maximize your income in your retirement and as a by-product you may find one or more fascinating new hobbies. If you are interested I suggest you enquire further and see what possibilities suit your tastes and interests. Give it a go, every little bit helps………………….. and it’s fun!
Most retirement strategies focus on “wealth creation”. The aim is to provide you with enough cash to maintain your extravagant pre-retirement lifestyle. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but there is a better way – using self sufficiency as a retirement strategy!
In this third part of this series we look at keeping livestock as part of self-sufficiency in retirement.
Animals can be problematic, you need more space than vegetable growing and they will need a greater or lesser amount of care. Chickens are probable the ideal livestock for the backyard pastoralist. They are cheap to acquire and feed, comparatively quiet and easy to house and they provide eggs, manure and hours of entertainment. I house mine in a moveable house or “chook tractor” which I then locate over my veggie beds. They clean up bugs and weeds (after the veggie cycle is completed) dig up the beds and manure them in situ. A winner all round but you must make sure they can’t dig there way out and get access to your growing veggies – they are very abrasive and where you have chooks and veggies together you wind up with just chooks!
If you don’t have enough room for vertebrates, maybe you could try insects (bees) or mollusks (snails). Of the two, snails are the easiest but you have to be able to consume the end product – escargot – or there is not much point. Bees do require some knowledge and equipment but give you honey, wax, propolis and pollination in return.
You may want to look at keeping rabbits for meat, but around here we even have trouble dispatching a chook when required, so something as small, furry and cute as a rabbit is perfectly safe. Again, if you can’t bring yourself to “harvest” the produce, you have just saddled yourself with an extra pet. I did see one group who located their rabbit pens over a worm farm and got some product out of them that way.
Most retirement strategies focus on “wealth creation”. The aim is to provide you with enough cash to maintain your extravagant pre-retirement lifestyle. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but there is a better way – using self sufficiency as a retirement strategy!
In this second part of this series we look at food as part of self-sufficiency in retirement.
This is one of those unavoidable expenses, we all have to eat! But growing your own veggies is not just about saving money……..it is about taste, convenience, nutrients and reducing your environmental footprint. Your veggie garden can be as big or as small as you want, or are able to cope with and two tomato plants in containers on a balcony are better than nothing!
There are many ways of growing your own produce and perhaps the simplest is digging up part of your lawn and planting seeds or seedlings. If your soil is not what it could be, you can make raised beds by importing organic materials such as manure, straw, hay, compost etc and or good soil and then digging it into your garden, some edging material to build up the bed and there you have it. Raised beds are a bit easier to wok with and veggies love the rich loose soil, so draining is not a problem.
You may have difficulty with digging or poor soil so another easy way is to plant a no dig garden. This is based on making up a bed with compostables such as Lucerne hay and straw and chook poo (well rotted) and then planting your seeds or seedlings direct into it – as the bed rots down, lots of nutrients are released. My main argument against this is that all of the components have to be bought it, but if your soil is poor etc. it could be worthwhile.
Maybe you don’t have the space for a large veggie patch – so how about containers? They are easy to move around and a surprising number of veggies grow well in containers. A container garden can also be very attractive is you get a bit creative with your containers, drainage is assured and you can take advantage of companion planting. They do need the water keeping up to them on hot days and, again, everything need to be bought in although recycling things into veggie growing containers is good for the environment too!
To get the maximum out of a small space, there is always hydroponics – growing your veggies in a water solution of tailored nutrient. These can be simple or complicated, such as the set ups used to grow certain “recreational” drugs. I have experimented with organic hydroponics but without much success to date, so unless you have better luck than me it means using chemicals. There are books around that tell you how to make up your own formulae, but most people seem to buy them from hydroponic suppliers. For a small area, if you have the interest, hydroponics may work for you
For my money, whatever way you choose to grow, organic gardening (fertilizer and pesticide free) makes the most sense. Not just because it is the most environmentally friendly and gives you residue free food but because if you are going towards self sufficiency you don’t want to be forced into buying expensive chemicals.
Some other concepts worth reading up on are permaculture, crop rotation, green manure, mulching and composting.
Part 2 Following on from part 1,What did I do wrong in the vegetable garden? Half the battle is finding out what we did wrong! This article should help all the problems you had with your vegetable seedling and hopefully you’ll get it right next time!!
The next stage things can go wrong is when transferring seedlings to a larger pot.
The first reason plant may struggle is by leaving them far too long in a seed compost. Seedlings should be potted on well before they really start to compete with each other or exhaust the minimal nutrient supply in the potting media. This can be overcome by sowing directly into multi-purpose compost and thinning out all but the strongest plants. However multi-purpose may not have suitable drainage or water holding capabilities that the seeds need to germinate.
Seedlings should be transferred once they have formed their first true leaves. Each plant as it first pokes its head out of the soil will produce one or two leaves depending on the type of plant, these are known as the cotyledon or the seed leaf. The majority of crops are dicotyledons, that is they have two seed leafs but grasses, such as maize or sweetcorn are monocotyledons or single leaf plants. The seed leaves often have a very even shape which is in contrast to the first true leaves which are often more characteristic of the adult plant.
These seed leaves can be useful when potting on as they act as ‘handles’ in which to more the emerging plant. Plants can easily be damaged at this stage but the bonus with using the seed leaves rather than holding the stem or the pushing a plant up by the roots is that these leaves have already done their job and it doesn’t really matter if they come off. They act a bit like an umbilical cord for a human or an egg white a hen giving the seedling a start in life by photosynthesising just enough to produce the first true leaves. Once they have done their job they are surplus to requirements.
Step by step – Re-potting using the seed leaf.
Dampening off refers to a number of fungal problems that can effect seeds and seedlings grown in pots. Sometime seedlings just won’t germinate and at other times they will seem to be doing fine but the plant mysteriously keels over and dies. Tell tale signs are a wet soil and/or a thinning of the stem at the soil line.
Like most fungal problems excess water, or more importantly persistent damp rather than wet, or bad circulation of air can exacerbate the problem.
Inadequate nutrients can lead to all kinds of problems for young and established plants. If the soil or potting media is not adequate for the growing plant it will be more prone to pests and diseases and may struggle to become established. Yellowing of the leaves, spindly growth, burnt looking leaves can all be symptoms of inadequate nutrition and the first thing you have to ask if a plant is struggling is, ‘how healthy is the soil?’
You can top dress with compost and feed plants (see ‘Grow your food for free’) to deal with this imbalance of nutrients but if you have a problem soil you may have to count your losses for this year and spend time improving it for next year.
Overly lime or alkaline soils can lock up nutrients a plant would otherwise take up. This can often be seen as a failure for a plant to thrive or a yellowing of the leaves between the leaf veins (a condition known as interveinal chlorosis). Chosing the right plants will help as will balancing out the soil condition with plenty of organic mater
Cabbages (and all cabbage family)
Celery, carrots (and most carrot family)
Plants which may struggle in lime but do well in acid soil
Acid soils have similar problems and again adding compost or similar bulky organic matter will help. Choosing the right plants will really help but if it is too acidic you should aim to improve the soil overtime.
First time allotment holders often remove the top layer of weeds and couch grass in order to remove competition and give their plants a fighting chance. In doing all too often they also remove the healthy top soil robbing their plants of nutrients. Whenever possible the soil should be worked when it is not too sticky or wet and as much of the top soil should be knocked from the weed roots as possible. If it is already too late for this then add plenty of compost or farm yard manure or add some pelleted chicken manure when you sow or plant out.
At times even with the best of intentions life can have a habit of getting in the way of growing and we may simply not get the time to put the effort in needed for a productive plot. One year a broken wrist right at the wrong time of year meant my plot resembled the jungles of South America rather than the gardens at Wisley. There is little you can do in these cases other than try and get help, clear the weeds and plant or sow what time allows. Although it may go against the grain you can always buy in seedlings or even ask friends of family or on websites such as freecycle or justfortheloveofit.org if anyone has spare seedlings so you can catch up. Cabbages can be planted out right up until late summer and onions and broad beans can be planted very late (October, early November) for an overwintering crop.
If you know time is going to be an issue you can always cover some of a plot for a year or plant perennials, such as fruit bushes, rhubarb or perennial salads (sweet cicely, Siberian purslane) that need less attention. Planting through mypex or similar mulches can also help with weeds as can growing ground cover plants such as squashes and nasturtiums or sowing a green manure. Heavy soils can benefit from having a deep rooted green manure such as Alfalfa in for a year or more so if you have a baby on the way this can be a way of keeping the plot alive whilst your attentions lay elsewhere.
I may not have covered all the problems you may encounter but hopefully this will give you some idea of some of the things that can go wrong. I always console myself in the fact that even some of the most established gardeners have ‘I will get it right next year’ as their motto.
So just what did I do wrong in the vegetable garden!? Some years, try as we might, doing everything by the book, things seem to conspire against us. At other times our plants either fail to germinate at all or have got off to a good start then all of a sudden they just wither and die without warning. Of course pests and diseases can be an issue but these are covered elsewhere on the web. Instead here I’ll try and address some of the things we may have done wrong ourselves and how we might get it right next year.
There are countless reasons why your seeds may not germinate with temperature, water and viability being the major three.
Seeds too old/not viable
Always check the sow by date on the back of the pack before you sow. If they are saved seed look up how long the seed should last (there is a handy chart in my book, Grow your food for free, published by Green Books. Even if the seed is out of date you can do a quick germination test by putting a 10 seeds on a wet piece of paper towel and counting how many sprout. If you have 5 sprouting then you can expect 50% germination, just 1 and only 10% will germinate.
Wet or cold soil
Early this year (2013) we had a very late spring, it was cold then wet and pretty miserable. If the soil is too wet or too cold, seeds can fail to germinate and eventually rot. To prevent overly wet soil, plenty of compost should be added at the time of planting. Although the composting material is usually under the area you sow into, creating a bean trench can be enough to loosen and aerate the soil and prevent rotting.
Black plastic sheeting can heat the soil up a degree or two and this can aid germination as can sowing into a cloche. If a packet says ‘sow March’ but the soil temperature is near to freezing in March then nothing will germinate. I took the very useful chart below from an obscure website . It illustrates why things like Aubergines need the extra heat of a green house or heated propagator.
|0-25 °||Cabbage lettuce||5 ° +|
|0-29 °||Crisphead lettuce||5 ° +|
|12+ °||Sweet corn
|5-32 °||Broad bean
Broccoli / Calabrese
|8 ° +|
|13 ° +||Courgette
|15 ° +|
|15 ° +||Pepper (capsicum)||21 °|
|7 ° +||Beetroot
|10 ° +|
|7-21 °||Chinese cabbage
|12 ° +|
|18 ° +||Celery (golden self blanching)
|21 ° +|
|21 ° +||Aubergine
Indoor sowings or using a heated propagator can give plants a good start and ensure an even germination. Plants can go through what’s known as planting ‘check’ when they seem to struggle not long after re-planting. Most will bounce back but it is a good idea to harden off seedlings before planting them out.
To harden off a seedling, put it outside during the day and bring it in at night for around 2 weeks before planting in its final position. Alternatively start plants off in a cold frame, opening the frame in the day and closing the top at night.
I may be acting like an old man by repeating this story but it does always spring to mind when I think about problems with seed sowing. While planting peas and beans on my Bristol allotment I was dismayed to find very few of them germinating. I was at a loss to what was going wrong. I soon found my culprits in the nearby population of large, intelligent birds, such as magpies and crows. They would watch me sow each seed, memorise its whereabouts before swooping down for an easy free meal. After that I decided to sow my beans in the safety of my bay window before planting them out as seedlings. You could also net the seeds to prevent birds swooping in. In my experience nets are far more effective than putting up ‘bird scarers’ such as old CDs or bits of foil. Mice and rats can also be problematic with larger seeds and if yours have vanished look for tell-tale droppings.
Broad leaf plantain can be a sign of overly compacted soil. All seeds will find it hard to germinate in this kind of ground but peas and carrots will especially struggle.
If the soil is made up of large clumps the roots cannot make contact with the soil surface. If this happens a plant won’t get the nutrients it needs and it will wither and die. Clumps can form from working the ground when it is too wet or from insubstantial cultivation. Clumps should be broken up with a spade, the back of a fork or with a garden claw. Again add plenty of organic matter to ensure the soil is aerated and has a workable texture.
|Crop||Common reasons for no germination|
|Peas, Beans and Corn||Compacted soil, birds or small mammals eating seed, wet soil, cold soil (corn)|
|Carrot||Compacted soil, old seed|
|Lettuce||Slugs, chunky soil preventing root contact|
|Squashes||Seed rotting in wet soil, Slugs eating seedlings|
|Tomatoes, Aubergines, Chilli||Too cold, seed sown too deeply|
|Cabbage||Seed sown too deeply, Soil not properly cultivate (too chunky or compacted)|
Planted too deeply
If you have no frame of reference then who’s to say how deeply something should be sown? It is easy for new growers to bury seed far to deeply making it have to work that little bit too hard in order to push its emerging shoots through the soil. To prevent this as a rule of thumb a seed should be planted no more than two to three times its size. Some smaller seeds won’t need covering at all but a dusting of soil or compost sometimes helps.