Ideas and Inspiration for Sustainable and Self-Sufficient Living

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Kindergarten Food Forest Design Part 1. What is a Food Forest?

There is a kindergarten in Tauranga, New Zealand, that really cares about the health of it’s children. They are keen on putting in a self-regulating food forest or forest garden, that will provide a variety of nutrient-dense  and organically grown, fruit, nuts, berries, vegetables and herbs all year round, without the high maintenance and inputs of a conventional orchard.

A forest garden in winter in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, was planted 10 months ago during a local Permablitz. The trees and plants have been planted along water harvesting swales that are filled from the overflow of the nearby water tank. The paths among the swales have remained grassed.

A ‘food forest’ is exactly like the name implies – a forest of food, and it should mimic a natural forest which has various ‘layers’ and is self-regulating, but the difference being, most of the plants within the food forest produce food or useful materials for us!

The Layers

A key component of creating a food forest or forest garden, is to include all seven layers of a natural forest ecosystem.

  1. ‘Canopy layer’ consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
  2. ‘Low-tree layer’ of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
  3. ‘Shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
  4. ‘Herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
  5. ‘Rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
  6. ‘Ground cover layer’ of edible plants that spread horizontally.
  7. ‘Vertical layer’ of vines and climbers.

credit: Wikipedia/Graham Burnett

Generally they are perennial plants, and by including all layers there is less opportunity for undesirable ‘weeds’ to get established. We must include maximum diversity and maximum interconnections. Each plant plays a different function within the food forest, and supports the other plants whether it is through providing shade, providing mulch through leaf drop, breaking up compacted soil with a deep tap-root, ‘mining’ minerals from deeper in the soil or fixing nitrogen from the air and making it available to other plants. One thing is for sure – it is a regenerative, soil fertility building system.

Kay Baxter from the Koanga Institute, New Zealand’s Permaculture Research Institute recently held a workshop around the country – “Design Your Own Forest Garden”. The workshop was based around an amazing little booklet by the same name that draws on Kay’s extensive gardening experience, and information relevant to New Zealand’s climate, gleaned from various forest garden textbooks.

Through a series of charts and tables, the booklet takes you through a step-by-step process of how to design your backyard forest garden and can be summarised by:

  1. Measure and analyse the area for wet and dry spots, cold and prevailing winds, sun path, soil pH etc
  2. Choose no more than 50% of the total forest garden area to be taken up by the mature fruit tree canopy. Select the fruit trees you want taking into account canopy size, fruiting times (to get fruit all year round), rootstock for the right soil conditions, and climatic factors such as wind and sun.
  3. The fruit trees need nitrogen to grow bigger, so nitrogen fixing legume trees are planted around each fruit tree. For heavy feeding fruit trees such as citrus and apples, 80% of their total canopy area needs to be planted as the canopy area of nitrogen fixing trees such as tree lucerne or tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis).
  4. To supply the potassium needs of each fruit tree, 1 comfrey plant should be planted for every square metre of canopy area. For example, a 30m2 peach tree should have 30 comfrey plants around the north-facing dripline. As well as supplying the tree’s potassium needs, the comfrey makes an impenetrable border to invasive grasses.
  5. The rest of the space should be filled with ground covers, small shrubs, and vines of the specific guilds to make up the seven layers. Guilds are a group of plants, animals, insects and fungi that have co-evolved together in the same regions and climates, and act like companions.

Guilds

In New Zealand we can divide our main fruit and nut trees into the following guilds:

  1. Temperate Guild
  2. Mediterrannean Guild
  3. Citrus/ Loquat Guild
  4. Feijoa Guild
  5. Subtropical Guild

Each of these guilds are suited to a certain set of climatic and soil conditions, and when choosing plants for each guild a good guide is to choose the conditions the plants like best and group these plants together, whilst trying to fill each layer and role in the food forest.

The Koanga institute have created a database of suitable forest garden plants for New Zealand- an amazing resource for those of us wanting to design a forest garden. It is constantly evolving and can be downloaded here as a spreadsheet file:-

Food Forest Database for New Zealand

We have designed the Kindergarten food forest using this method and permaculture principles, and will be blogging about the design and the rationale behind it in our next blog post, “Kindergarten Food Forest Design Part 2. The Design”.

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Picking Olives at the Police Station

I’ll never forget my partners face when he picked an olive from the tree for the first time and tried it! As those of you who have experienced this know, olives straight from the tree are disgusting and need to have the bitter oleuropeins removed. That is why the olives you buy have already had the oleuropeins removed through soaking, curing and fermenting.

Where I currently live in Mt Maunganui, New Zealand, the climate is coastal and cool temperate; warm and dry in summer and cool and wet in winter (without frost) and alot of people plant olive trees in their urban gardens as ornamental trees that do well in our mediterranean-like climate.

Thanks Mr. Policeman for the Olives

Mr Policeman has planted a beautiful big olive tree next to the footpath and it is loaded with olives after a really dry summer. I have added it to the For Greenies Communal Food Plants Google map. Olives in New Zealand are ready to pick in Autumn, around April/May when some of the green fruit is beginning to turn purple. Curious passers-by asked us what they were and were surprised to know they were olives. As we explained the process of curing them before eating we had lost about half of them. This is because curing olives requires time and patience, and alot of it!

How to Cure/Ferment Olives

This is the first time I have cured olives and all of the information I have read requires soaking of the olives in a saltwater brine solution, for up to six months, changing the brine every so often.

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Love Food Hate Waste? [HD Video] Stale Bread Salad & Leftover Greens Smoothies

It really is atrocious to waste food especially when there are people in the world going hungry.

In the state of New South Wales in Australia every household spends about $1036 a year on food that gets wasted, totalling $2.5 billion across the whole of NSW. This equates to about 800 tonnes of leftovers that are thrown out and end up in landfills. What a waste!

The reasons for all this food going to waste could be poor meal planning, cluttered fridges, buying and cooking too much, not storing food correctly, buying low quality food that doesn’t taste good, and not utilising leftovers.

Domestic Goddess Alison Drover, a farm to fork cook from www.forkinthefield.com believes in cooking sustainably and using locally grown seasonal and organic produce. In this 4 minute video she shares some ideas about how to use leftovers and reduce food waste (and $) in your kitchen, and makes Panzanella Salad, Gazpacho Soup and Green Smoothies to get your tastebuds watering.

Video filmed at a Love Food Hate Waste Workshop run by Ace Community Colleges in Bangalow, New South Wales

VOTE FOR “STALE BREAD SALAD & LEFTOVER GREENS SMOOTHIES” IN THE LOVE FOOD FILM COMP!!!

If you enjoyed this video and think you’ve learned how you can use your leftovers more wisely, please help us out and vote for us on the Love Food Film Comp Facebook Page. To vote, ‘Like’ Love Food Film Comp‘s Facebook Page then ‘like’ our film.

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Make a Natural Body Scrub at Home

Slough off those dead and dry winter skin cells and give your skin a natural and healthy looking glow ready for bikini weather this summer! Using a body scrub not only smooths your skin but also improves circulation, brightens and softens the skin and possibly reduces cellulite.

You can make a body scrub at home with ingredients in your cupboard, so it doesn’t need to cost you a thing! And if it is edible is is usually not toxic like some skin care ingredients in commercial products.

Coffee and Coconut Body Scrub

I made a body scrub with coconut oil, used coffee grinds, and used chai herbs to give it a yummy spicy cinnamon smell. I used about 2/3 cup of coconut oil, about 2 heaped tablespoons of used coffee grinds (or whatever is in your percolator), and a teaspoon of used chai herbs from my last cuppa.

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Make Mozzarella Cheese in 30 mins. No Microwave Needed.

photo: creative commons/ paPisc on Flickr

I was surprised at how easy it was to make low-cost fresh mozzarella cheese in only 30mins and without the dreaded microwave oven. As long as you follow the directions closely your cheese should turn out wonderfully. I learned how to do this at the local farmers market with the guidance of Debra from Cheeses Loves You who teach cheese making.

The basic principal is to gradually heat the milk until it is warm, and then add rennet which helps the milk to separate or curdle. The curd is the milk solids and the whey is the watery yellowish liquid, which is by the way nutritious and too good to throw out. Mozzarella is formed from heating the curd, stretching and making a ball with your hands. The remaining whey can be added to soups, curries, dough, or anything that requires a slightly salted liquid. Apparently animals like dogs and chickens and pigs will gobble it up too.

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Yacon – The Uses are Many and Varied [HD video - Harvesting]

About 8 months ago I noticed an interesting looking plant with large furry leaves that had started growing in our garden. It had obviously been planted before we moved in and lay dormant until conditions were just right for it to burst forth from the ground.

The Yacón is still an unfamiliar food plant to many gardeners, but its popularity is rapidly increasing due to it being quite hardy, adaptable to a variety of soils and climates and with a unique flavour.

This is all from 1 plant!

The Yacón is yet another one of South America’s gifts to the food world. It is a root crop that has an incredibly sweet and crispy tuber that can be eaten raw or be prepared in a multitude of ways. In a sub-tropical climate like ours, we have a long growing season and it can be considered to be a perennial. When we harvested our Yacón, the leaves had started to die off. We made this short video to show you the difference between the edible tubers and the parts of the root that can be divided and replanted to make more Yacon plants!

I couldn’t resist peeling it straight away and tasting it for the first time. It was exactly how it had been described from internet searches I had done – juicy, with a delicate crunch, a sort of ‘underground pear or apple’.

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