Super sustainable, renewable resource: wool!

With living self reliant, things like sustainability and renewable sources become much more important. We don’t want to repair or replace stuff all the time; things should just work. For a long time.
So the quality of our resources is important. And I have a favorite resource: sheep wool! I love it so much; I wear it, sleep on & under it, put it in my shoes and insulate the house with it. It grows back (on the sheep) every year and woolen products are easy to repair.

Why wool is great

Sheepwool is amazing. Just a few crazy facts:

  • Sheep wool takes 600º Celsius before it starts burning. Try it yourself: it is really hard to burn wool. And therefore it is also a great fire extinguisher!
  • Wool can also absorp up to 30% of its own weight in water, without feeling wet.
  • Wool regrows every year (renewable!) and keeps its good properties for about 80 years (sustainable!).
  • Sheep fur even seems to lower CO2 in the air!
Working with wool
Working with wool

The benefit of wearing woolen clothes

Wool breathes, ventilates, and insulates because of the air pockets. Temperature and moisture are regulated, so woolen clothes are nice in warm and cold weather. It protects your body against sudden temperature rises and falls.
But one of the best aspects according to me, is that wool is self cleaning! Because of the lanoline in it (which works also anti bacterial). I hang my wollen clothes in the sun & wind and after a few hours they are “as good as new”! No washing machine needed.
Oh, and by the way: you never ever have to iron woolen products because wool is sort of elastic & jumps back in shape! 🙂

Sheep wool & health

Because wool regulates moisture and temperature, it is not an attractive environment for dust mites or moulds. So if you have some allergies, treat yourself on a nice woolen duvet or blanket!
Sheepskin prevents (and even heals) wounds caused by bedsores (decubitus).
Wool grease (lanoline) is great for your skin. In hand cream it heals your dry hands and softens them.
With many cold related illness (like stiffness, throat ache, ear ache and bronchitis), wool seems to encourage the self healing mechanism of our body. Raw sheepwool, right from the sheep and still greasy, seems to do the best job in this.

Wool as insulator

So now it is only a small step to use wool as insulation for your house. It doesn’t burn (and even kills flames), it “breathes” and regulates temperature.
And the best part: farmers are happy to give you their wool because they have so much of it every year again!
LINKS to sites about wool:

De natuurlijke eigenschappen van wol


In my next blog I will write about what you can do with wool and how you do it. Spinning, carding, felting…

At Bogata Suma I give wool workshops a few times a year, where you can get enthousiastic yourself.

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A forest garden & self sufficiency

When you want to have a (food) self sufficient life, an edible forest garden can be a great “tool” in achieving this. It is easy to go to a supermarket for your food, and gardening for food is regarded as the hard way. Maintaining a food forest is something in the middle. A relatively easy (and cheap!) way to get lots of vitamins!

Having a vegetable garden is for most people* a battle against weeds, slugs and bugs.
(* people that haven’t heard of permaculture, mulching, no-dig, raised beds and companion planting)
They break their back in fall (digging) and spring (weeding), and in summer they break their back on picking their harvest.

If you have ever had a walk in a forest, you know that there is usually not much human labour involved to keep everything going. A forest is an eco system that maintains itself. No backs involved.

So what is a forest garden (or food forest)?

The layers in a forest garden
The layers in a forest garden. Click for a larger version!

A forest garden is a woodland with edibles. Like a woodland it is built up in layers that are beneficial to each other. The highest trees (canopies) give shade for the shrubs under it. The vines use the bigger shrubs or smaller trees to climb in. The herbs attract bees that pollinate the fruit trees. The ground covering keeps the soil relatively cool and moist in summer.

Our food forest (20×30 metres, inland Croatia) has a canopy of wild cherry trees and mullberry, with small apple trees under it. In between you can find hazelnut shrubs, elderberry shrubs and wild roses. Chards, marigolds and several herbs are growing below them. The soil is covered with winter purslane and lambs lettuce (winter, spring), wild strawberries (spring, summer), and tym (summer, fall). Around the forest garden we have a branches wall with raspberries and blackberries climbing over it, and gooseberries reinforcing the hedge.

Besides fruits, there are also other usefull things growing in our food forest. In general, a forest garden can grow the 7 F’s: Food Fuel Fiber Fodder Fertilizer Farmaceuticals Fun.

A forest garden uses the wisdom of natural woodland. When set up properly, it is a harmonious ecosystem that functions long term, low maintenance. Your biggest worry will be how to collect the harvest in time!

Design of our forest garden

Forest garden design
The first design of our forest garden

Our first forest garden design was made with too much enthousiasm. On a 20×30 metres area we planned (not planted; only planned) 160 trees, shrubs and plants! But by the time the season was right for planting, we realized that it was a bit too much.

So we started simple. With lots of ground covering plants that were already growing on our terrain, like thym, wild strawberries, winter purslane/claytonia, lambs lettuce and mint. The trees (cherry, chestnut, mullberry) were already there, except a dwarf apple tree that we planted. In between the trees we planted hazelnut and elder, of which we had many babies growing in our nursery. On the edges (next to the branches walls) we planted the baby raspberries and blackberries, and some gooseberries we propagated.

Learning from nature

Now it is time to monitor how everything grows, how all trees and shrubs are doing together, and which spots need attention or different solutions. We’re making notes for next year and I already noted that I’m glad we didn’t stick to our initial plan!

The crowded first design would probably have worked for a year or 2 when the shrubs were still small. But when they grow bigger, they still need light and air.
It would also have been a birds walhalla with all the berry shrubs. And since our food forest is situated on a 2 minutes walk from our house, the birds would probably have taken over.

The food forest in our self sufficiency

Some people live a few minutes away from a supermarket; we live a few minutes away from our (starting) forest garden.
When I go shopping I bring a bag; when I visit our forest garden I bring a bucket. And usually I come home with many surprises! A bunch of peppermint with a small bucket of wild strawberries, a bucket of apples with marigold flowerheads (nice on salads and the rabbits love them).

At the moment our forest garden is still in baby phase, but the raspberries and blackberries are already producing many jars of jam. We can harvest mint enough for a year’s supply of tea, enough lambs lettuce and claytonia for our late winter/early spring salads and we harvest many sweet chestnuts in fall.

I’m looking forward to our food forest growing into maturity!

Forest garden design workshop

In the weekend of 16-17 May 2015 we’ll host a forest garden design workshop at Bogata Suma.
Mail or call +385 95 5555 677 if you have questions or want to make a reservation!

forest garden workshop
Forest garden workshop at Bogata Suma, 16+17 May 2015

The joy of living self sufficient

Imagine eating as many organic grapes, sweet as candy, as you can. The pride you feel with a colorful salad from the garden, edible flowers on top. Or the joy of crispy potatoes, full of taste, fresh from the soil.
Growing your own food is so different from shopping for it!

Enjoying a good, natural meal
Enjoying a good, natural meal

Have you ever tasted a juicy & sweet homegrown tomato after you had one from the supermarket? Did you ever do a blindfold test with just another apple and one freshly picked from your organic orchard? Or have you heard the incredible difference in sound when cutting a bought potato and a fresh-from-the-garden-one? (“pfffffft” versus “kkggt”)

Convenience food is convenient, but eating can be so much more than just putting something in your stomach! I can get excited by the looks of the first ripe yellow tomatoes in early summer. Or a green apple that turns red. Or can you imagine the joy of bright green lambs lettuce or claytonia when the winter snow is melting! The first fresh greens!

Reasons to live self sufficient

For some people, living self sufficient is like returning to their roots. And I can imagine that this back to basic approach is appealing! Even when I lived in the city, I loved to “hunt” and gather food (fruits, nuts, goose eggs) from public parcs.

In the USA you can see more and more people preparing (“prepping”) themselves for “when disaster strikes”. They build up a self sufficient life out of fear for natural disasters or unexpected attacks. Also an option.

For others it is a money thing. You can save a lot of money by growing your own organic food. Not only on food but also on the doctor’s bill and the fee of a gym.

Our reasons for living more & more self sufficient

Fleur picking dandelion flowers
Fleur picking dandelion flowers

Our reasons for living more self sufficient are born out of love for nature, self respect and an urge for living healthy. I am at the point that I’m not able to call these bright colored shiny candy things “food” anymore. And thank the universe: our kids (11 & 4) think alike! They don’t trust things in plastic packaging that others call “food”.

For me living (food) self sufficient fits into my values and vision. I value sustainability, renewability, independence and love and good care for living beings. It also fits into my wish to incorporate permaculture in all aspects of my life.

I also enjoy our simple way of life. We eat what nature provides so our choices are limited. And that is a GOOD thing!
We love a more natural living, with the cycles of nature. In winter we live inside and take care of our personal insides. In summer we’re outside and more open to the world. When the snow melts, we’ll be able to pick claytonia and lambs lettuce. When the wild strawberries are ripe, we can exchange our winter clothes for t-shirts. When the apples are falling, the weather gets bad. And when the rose hips are sweet, it will be Christmas soon. (Who needs a calender!)


Imagine a world where everyone would live self sufficient and mind his own business!
Live will be about living, and taking care of the earth, your food and your body. We can skip the whole idea of money or ownership. Life will be more about creativity and what you can exchange with your neighbors for more variety.

The “mind your own business” part is to make sure there is no jealousy, suspicion, greed or war. Not necessary because nature gives abundant. Put 1 grain of corn in the soil and you’ll get 200% – 300% return on investment! And add a 0 or two with fruit trees.

So when I am queen of the world, my only law will be: live self sufficient and mind your own business!

Designing this year’s garden

At the moment there’s a good layer of snow in our garden, so this is my time of the year to start with a blank sheet of paper and design this year’s vegetable garden! I love to think ahead about all meals we will have in the coming seasons, what ingredients we need & what extra’s would be nice. I like to fantasize about a 3D explosion of colors, scents and how to realize that.

To get inspiration, I like to browse around on Pinterest, and re-pin the pictures that inspire me for our own garden. You can have a look at my collection of nice garden pictures on

Design starting points

Polyculture at Bogata SumaWhen designing our garden I use a few “musts”. Everything in our garden must be:
1. ecological,
2. decomposable,
3. harmonious, and
4. adding at least 3 benefits.
Those benefits can be: edible, bee or bird attracting, repelling bad bugs, good companion plant, adding nutrients to the soil, food for animals, nice to look at, nice to smell, providing shade, making good mulch…

It must be ecological because I love the earth and its beauty and I don’t want to destroy or interfere too much with artificial things. So that also explains why I want only decomposable materials. Wooden sticks for my peas to climb in, hemp rope where needed and no plastic will be seen in my garden.

Polyculture at Bogata SumaCrop rotation at Bogata Suma

I start the design process with choosing a main vegetable family for each bed. You should know that my garden has many round patches where I grow many different plants together. So when I speak about my tomato bed, there is definitely also basil and parsley in it, carrots to loosen up the soil, chives, marigold flowers, and perhaps some lettuce in the shade.

This “ main vegetable” I choose according to my crop rotation system:
1st year bean family
2nd year tomato family
3rd year easy greens,
4th year cabbages.

If I would grow the same vegetables in the same spots every year, my soil would be depleted from nutrients. But with crop rotation, the previous crop could even provide the nutrients for the next one! Like legumes which fix nitrogen in the soil. I don’t pull these plants out, but snap them off so their roots stay there fixing nitrogen. And after these nitrogen fixers, I grow tomatoes in the same place. (more on crop rotation:

Polyculture example 1
Polyculture example 1. You see lots of marigold flowers between the strawberries and lettuce.

Polyculture at Bogata Suma

Because we also do polyculture (multiple crops in the same bed), it is a bit difficult to be strict with crop rotation. So that’s why I always take a “main vegetable” around which I sow and plant companions in this bed.

Why polyculture? Because it makes bettter use of space (more 3D) and time (later crops germinate when the earlier ones are picked), because I like the abundance of colors and shapes, and I like to be surprised by lettuce under a big Swiss chard leaf. Or a surprise carrot in the shade of a tomato, that loosens up the soil under the tomato plant.

Another important (for us) benefit of polyculture: these surprises in the garden make us more creative in the kitchen! When I’m on the hunt for dinner vegetables, I find many useful herbs and ingredients that can go with it.

You’re welcome!

If you want to see or taste our garden yourself, you’re welcome at Bogata Suma!

Polyculture example 2
Polyculture example 2. Cabbages and a sunflower in the middle, marigolds around and all kinds of salad ingredients in between.

Rosehip wine & other crazy but delicious wines

Since we were out of homemade wine, I looked around on our terrain to see what options I had. And I saw beautiful red fat rosehips. Rosehip wine!? Yes, everything is possible! Wine is just fermented juice so anything you can make juice of, you can make wine with.

Rosehips in our garden to make wine with
Rosehips in our garden to make wine with

I’m not a professional wine maker and to be honest I even never made wine from the most common thing to make wine with: the grape. I only made fruit wines, berry wines and flower wines. Most of them delicious, some disastrous. My first dandelion flower wine was horrible but the second and third time I got a beautiful light white wine with a hint of spring dandelion on the back of my tongue :-). My plum wine was great for 3 years in a row, but every year it was a completely different wine. Wine from blackberries and elderberries is always delicious, and when I add a bit more sugar the elderberry wine is like port. In the year that we had many kilos of peaches from our trees, I made a delicious sweet desert wine.

Picking rosehips
Rosehips are best picked at the end of fall or in early winter, because a night of frost makes them sweeter. But if you’re in a hurry, pick them when they are red and put them in the freezer overnight.
You might think that it is more macho to pick them without gloves, but please try fingertip-less gloves or wrist warmers at least! Picking rosehips hurts.

Making wine with rosehips
I asked my best friend Google and found some useful rosehip wine recipes. Some of the recipes told me to crush the rosehips softly and others said to boil the hips for 5 minutes to make them softer. Not longer than 5 minutes because otherwise it’s hard to clear the wine. But because after the boiling you have to puree the hips and take the seeds out, I thought the crushing-recipes would be much easier.

So I chose the easiest recipe I could find:

The cat guarding 2 big bottles of fermenting fruits  for watermelon wine and blackberry wine
The cat guarding 2 big bottles of fermenting fruits for watermelon wine and blackberry wine

Rosehip wine

1,5 kg rosehips
1 kg sugar
1 teaspoon citric acid|
wine yeast
3,5 liter water

Take the ends off the rosehips and wash them. Crush them softly (don’t crush the seeds). Put them into a 5 liter fermentation vessel, add the sugar and pour on 3,5 liters of boiling water. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Let it cool to 20-25C before you add the wine yeast.

If you’re using a 5 liter bottle, you can close it with a water lock or with some cotton balls. The purpose is to let the air out but no fruit flies in.

Put it in a warm room (kitchen?), 18-20 degrees Celcius, for about 10 days, giving the mixture a good stir each day. After a few days, when it is fermenting, you should stir it 2 or 3 times a day to prevent the wine from turning acidic.
After 10 days, filter your pulp and strain off the liquid into another clean, sterilized 5 liter bottle, topping up to if necessary. Fit an airlock (or cotton balls) and allow fermenting out.
After 2 to 3 months, use a tube to siphon the liquid over to a new, clean bottle and throw away the sediment in the “old” one.

Allow the wine to mature for a minimum of three months before bottling.

Sparkling elderflower wine
Sparkling elderflower wine

Making wine is easy*
So, how hard was that! Fruits, sugar, water, yeast and time. The hardest part is probably having the patience to wait for the maturing.
Wine yeast you can buy in the super market (in the middle & south of Europe), in an agricultural shop or on the internet.
I also made wines without adding wine yeast, but there is a chance that it turns sour. When you start the fermenting process quickly, other micro organisms don’t have a chance to ruin your wine.

* Of course there are many advanced techniques and tools, not to mention problems and “diseases” to make the process of making wine very difficult. But the wines that I make are simple, easy & delicious, I usually make 10 or 20 liter batches and it’s not the end of my world when something goes wrong.

I usually siphon my wines about 3 times: after 1, 3 and 5 months. The first time depends on the fermenting process. When it stops fermenting or when I think my wine has enough alcohol, I start siphoning.

Tomato port, stinging nettle wine and carrot sherry
These crazy wines are on my wish list; I didn’t make them yet. But what I did make, with great result, is elderflower champagne. A beautiful sparkling deliciously refreshing summer wine from the earliest blossoms in April. It was such a nice surprise to drink the first glass on a warm summers day!

Also very nice was my peach wine. I wasn’t able to clear it (too much pectin? Or too much starch in the wine?) so it looked like juice, but this was delicious juice to get very drunk with!

You can make fruit wine with almost all kinds of fruits (including tomatoes), even dried or canned fruits. If you make a flower wine: don’t wash the flowers because you’ll wash off all the good. With most berries it’s best to make a port like wine: add more sugar and let the fruits, ferment longer.

For me the best part in making wine is that I can drink organic, tax free wines that are impossible to get in a store. And that gives my wines an excellent taste!

Designing the garden with maths!?

Yes! It’s not rocket science; I just calculate how much of what we need to have enough for a year. And how much space that takes in the garden.

At school I used to ask myself why we had to learn mathematics. Why learn to handle those complicated formulas about nothing!? Now that we’re living (more & more) self sufficient, I use maths almost on a daily basis! I use it for the bread baking formula (100% flour, 35% water, 35% milk, 4% fresh yeast and 1,8% salt) and to design the garden.

Garlic in the garden
Garlic in the garden

Enough garlic for freaks (I’m speaking about us now)
Garlic is an easy one to calculate because you can easily store it for a year if you treat it right*. Fresh vegetables are more difficult because they have to be ready at the right time.

How much do you plant when you really like garlic? When you make risotto with 1 whole bulb of garlic, or spinach pie with 6 cloves, or roasted paprika with a lot of roasted garlic, chicken in the oven with 30 cloves… 🙂
And to make it a bit more complicated: we have an average of 4 people at the table in winter and 8 people in summer, you can plant garlic in March & October and harvest in July or August.

Let’s see how much we have to plant in October in order to have enough in July and the rest of the year.

Garlic plants grow on 15×10 centimeter so you can grow up to 70 plants on a square meter. But with 35-40 plants per square meter you have better, bigger bulbs. You also get bigger bulbs with October planting.

I use around 3 bulbs of garlic a week in May-September (22 weeks), and 2 the rest of the year (30 weeks). So in October I have to plant (3×22)+(2×30)=126 cloves of garlic in order to get enough bulbs for a year. That’s 126/40 = around 3,5 square meter in the garden.

* More about garlic
How to harvest & store your garlic so you can keep it for a year? First you snip off the scapes in summer, as soon as they appear. Now all the grow-power will go into the bulb. (the young scapes are edible! Nice in salads, soups etc.)
Harvest garlic bulbs when the lower five leaves of the plant have turned brown. If you wait too long, the cloves within the bulb begin to seperate. Bulbs with seperated cloves don’t store as well.
Let them dry in a shady, windy place to form their protection peel. That takes up to 2 or 3 weeks. When they are dry, you cut of the top leaves and store your garlic in boxes in a cool and dry place. Now you can keep them for a year!

Back to maths
So in order to have enough garlic for a year, I need to plant 126 cloves on 3,5 square meters in October. But what to do with all the other square meters in the garden?

Winter menu for a week
Self sufficient winter menu for a week

We love Brussels sprouts, but we don’t like to eat them 3 times a week. In winter you cannot sow something extra for harvesting 6 weeks later so winter vegetables have to be planned carefully.
We sow sprouts from March until May and harvest them between December and March. That’s around 16 weeks in which we eat them weekly. One plant usually gives more than one meal, but let’s be on the safe side and say we need 16 plants. So I sow 2 or 3 seeds every 2 weeks in spring.
The plants need 60 cm space and if I plant them in a bed that’s 3 meters long and almost 2 meters wide, I manage to get them all in there.

We can harvest our kale from September until May. That’s 9 months, or 35 weeks. In which we can eat kale once a week (in a stew or as kale chips). We harvest a lot from one plant and the plant even grows better when you harvest the outer leaves regularly. But let’s not be optimistic and say we can harvest twice from one plant. So we need 18 kale plants.
I start sowing kale from the end of March (a few weeks before the last date of frost) until the end of May. That’s about 10 weeks and when I sow with a 2 weeks interval, I sow 4 seeds at a time.

Calculating nature
So now you get an idea of how to calculate for what you need. But you can’t really predict what you will get because of the big unreliable factor NATURE. Your soil, your seeds, your effort, your compost, the weather… When it rains a lot, some crops will grow like crazy (green leavy things) and others can go bad (garlic, onions, pumpkins). Or when it’s too dry, your greens will not grow well but onions and purslane will be fine.
So don’t rely too much on your calculations & use common sense!

You spread your risk with sowing with an interval, always sowing a few extra seeds, trading seedlings with neighbours, with mulching and with being flexible. And of course you can store more of what keeps well, like (butternut) pumpkins or dried beans, for when something goes wrong with your crop.

To get an idea of the needs of a family in a year, you can ask me for our annual family food planning in a spreadsheet. Send me an e-mail.

Fresh & healthy salads all year round

pic_eating3Salads are healthy. Duh! But how to make your salad a fresh & delicious part of your meal?
We like salads especially when they have a big variety in taste and texture. When every bite is a surprise. So we assemble a salad with a few types of lettuce, some fresh herb leaves and anything wild and edible that I can find. Like chickweed. Or young dandelion leaves. Or wild garlic or chopped sorrel. Or any young vegetables from your garden.

For the basis for your all year round salad you need a garden or a balcony or window, and the seeds of “four seasons lettuce”. Sow the lettuce periodically (every month) and never pull out a whole plant. Pick only some of the outer leaves so the plant can keep on growing.
If you have a garden, you can also grow all kinds of other lettuce leaves in different periods of the year. Like lamb’s lettuces or rucola or any type like in our salad calendar below.


Edible flowers to spice up your salad (picture source:
Edible flowers to spice up your salad (picture source:

Edible flowers for your salad
There are many edible flowers that make your salad look and taste great. Like those spicy nasturtium flowers in red, orange and yellow. The darker the color, the spicier the taste.
You can also use daisies (little white flowers that grow in grass) to make your salad more happy, or orange calendula flowers, violets, the leaves of roses, clover flowers, blue cornflowers are edible, blue borage flowers, blue chicory blossoms…

If you want a more colorfull meal, check out Wikipedia where you can find a list of edible flowers and their colors and flavor.

Fresh herbs in the salad
So besides lettuce and flowers, we also use fresh herbs like basil, parsley (both good for your digestion system), coriander/cilantro, oregano, marjoram, lemon balm, mint or sage. We forage wild herbs like nettle, plantain and wild garlic.
I usually chop these herbs small because their leafs are firmer than lettuce leafs. The small chopped pieces also spread the flavor.

A herb that is packed with vitamins and minerals, is alfalfa. Well known as sprouts but of course you can also sow a bit in your garden to get the plant (and grow more seeds yourself).

Borage gives nice edible flowers and you can eat the leaves in your salad. Add the blossoms and leaves especially when you have skin problems.

And what else?
We like to put fennel greens, chopped hazel nuts, green onion leaves and garlic sprigs in our salad bowl, besides the more common additions like boiled egg and tomato quarters.

Most vegetables that are still young and small, make a great addition to your salad. Think of young carrots, small broccoli shoots, young pea snaps or green beens and young zucchini’s (courgettes). Since nature provides us with plenty, you can use some baby vegetables before you harvest the mature ones.

Also great in salads, is grated carrot/cabbage/turnip/jeruzalem artichoke, or even a bit (because it’s so spicy) of grated horse radish. Or “al dente” broccoli, cooked corn, young pea snaps, young carrots, radishes spinach leaves…

When you grow sunflowers or pumpkins, you can add their seeds to your salad. Or add flax seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds or the big (fresh & green) nasturtium seeds.

The bigger the variety the more delicious the salad!

My fresh salad leaves calendar (middle of Europe)

January: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach

February: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, young dandelion leaves, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach

March: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, young dandelion leaves, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach, chickweed

April: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, young dandelion leaves, witloof, chickweed

May: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, young dandelion leaves, onion sprigs, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

June: lettuce, chards, rucola, young dandelion leaves, fresh herbs, spinach, celery, onion sprigs, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

July: chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, young amaranth leaves, spinach, celery, onion sprigs, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

August: chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, young amaranth leaves, celery, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

September: lettuce, chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, young amaranth leaves, celery, calendula flower, purslane, mustard, beet leaves, chickweed

October: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, nasturtium, n-z spinach, fresh herbs, winter spinach, celery, calendula flower, mustard, beet leaves, tatsoi, cress, chickweed

November: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane, nasturtium, witloof, winter spinach, tatsoi, cress, chickweed

December: indoor lettuce, chards, rucola, lamb’s lettuce, winter purslane, witloof, winter spinach, tatsoi, cress

Planning self sufficiency

We like to have a wide variety in vitamins all year round. Yes you do get creative when you have heaps of zucchini (courgette) in June or daily kilo’s of tomatoes in July and August, but after a week of daily zucchini it’s definitely not your favorite vegetable anymore.
And besides that: more diversity is more nutritious. Eating a variety of foods can help prevent diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. And did you know that all different colors of food have different nutrients? (Read: “Eating well by color”)

Sowing with an interval

Seedlings in our glasshouse. A bit too many...
Seedlings in our glasshouse. A bit too many…

Prevention is easier than curing, so make sure you sow your seeds not all at once, but make a “sowing program”. For instance: I have tomato seeds that officially you can sow indoors in February and March. For me, that means that I start 2 weeks earlier (to give it a try), and sow just a few seeds with a 2 weeks interval, ending 2 weeks later than the official date. Half of January I sow 3 or 4 seeds, then 3 or 4 seeds again on 1 and 15 February and 1, 15 and 30 March and half of April.
After half of May most of the babyplants go into the garden, but I like to put a few of them in a pot in the greenhouse or behind a window. Especially the ones I sowed late, that are still small. Behind the glass they get a good chance to grow well and give tomatoes until late in the season.

Be creative with overproduce
But when you can’t manage your sowing, what do you do when you have heaps of the same vegetable in a period? Google around and find nice ways to eat or store your harvest!
Zucchini (courgette) for instance. What to do with a few zucchini plants that all produce their fruits at the same time? First: pick them when they are young: 15-30 centimeters (6-12 inches) long. Bigger fruits don’t taste as good and also the texture is not so good.
You can grate them in a salad, cut them in halves and fill the “boats” with rice and raisins, make Greek moussaka, fry them, use them in stews or soups… And when that is still too much, you can freeze or DRY thin slices of your zucchini!

If you have too much fruit, try making fruit leather with it! I wrote about it in a previous blog.

Drying is a healthy option

Solar dryer with shelves
Our solar dryer (there needs to be glass in the diagonal frame) with mesh racks to dry our harvest

I like to cut my zucchini’s thinly and dry them in our solar dryer. Or in a not so hot oven with the door open.
Dried zucchini “chips” are a nice and healthy snack and you can use them in winter soups. For all dried fruits and vegetables: the calorie content does not change, but is concentrated into a smaller mass as moisture is removed. There is no change in fiber content, vitamins (except A) are mostly destroyed in the process of drying, some minerals may be lost during rehydration if soaking water is not used, and iron is not destroyed by drying.
For the best retention of nutrients in dried foods, store in a cool, dark, dry place and use within a year.

Storing your harvest in many ways
What also helps to have a wider variety, is to store your harvest in many ways. Besides drying, you can freeze it of course. Another way is fermenting your food and storing it in jars. More about that in a next blog!

Planning your meals ahead
That sounds a bit over-organized, doesn’t it? To me it sounds too Supermum. But in a way I do plan our meals. For instance: we like to eat meat only in the weekends. And we like to eat beans or lentils once a week, and pasta (spaghetti or lasagna) not more than once a week. So that’s potatoes 5 times a week.
Potatoes 5 times a week, 52 weeks a year, is 260 meals with potato. One person eats around 200 gram potatoes and we’re on average with 5 people so we need 260 times a kilo per year.
With those calculations I know how much to plant. (More about garden maths in a next blog)

If you want to see our annual family food planning to give yourself an idea, send me an e-mail


Barbara’s pumpkin soup with options

With Halloween and the pumpkins getting ripe in the garden, I’d like to share my basic pumpkin soup recipe. It is a basis with many flavor-options!

Frying onions & pumpkin before you add water
Frying onions & pumpkin before you add water

The basis:
1. Chop an onion (or 2) and fry it golden
2. add crushed and chopped garlic, as much as you like
3. add a pumpkin/squash in cubes, and fry a bit
4. add options “A”
5. add water so everything is covered and boil 15-20 minutes until all is soft.
6. add options “B”
7. mash the soup with your potato masher or with a blender.

And now the options that make it an even more delicious soup! “A” for the ingredients that need a bit frying & cooking, “B” for the optional ingredients that you should add just before serving.

Options A:
– Add potato or sweet potato or jeruzalem artichoke with the pumpkin cubes to add more volume, vitamins and fibers
– Add coconut cream (goes well with the sweet potatoes!)
– Add thym and/or oregano and/or rosemary
– Add 10 or 20 whole cloves of garlic. They become soft & sweet & delicious in the soup!
– Add red hot chilli peppers, cayenne pepper and/or paprika powder for a spicy soup
– You might like to experiment with cumin seeds, fennel seeds and crushed pumpkin seeds

Delicious pumpkin soup
Delicious pumpkin soup

Options B
– Add a chopped bunch of coriander leaves before serving (don’t boil cilantro!)
– Add fresh, chopped parsley before serving
– Add fresh lemon juice or orange juice (nice with the cilantro!)
– Add walnuts, 1 whole on top & some chopped small in the soup
– Add a spoon of sour cream and chives to each serving

And what to do with the seeds?

Don’t throw them away! They are delicious & healthy (loaded with protein and fiber). With rinsing them under the running tap and rubbing the sticky orange stuff off, you’ll get:
– your next year’s seeds
– a great snack when you roast them.

For next year’s seeds you use only the thickest ones. Let them dry on a few layers of toilet paper for a week before you store them cool & dry.

If you want to make a great snack with pumpkin seeds, try this:
After rinsing/cleaning the seeds, let them dry a bit.
Salty roasted seeds: sprinkle oil over them and add seasoning like salt, garlic, paprika powder or cayenne pepper, grounded ginger….
Sweet roasted seeds: stir them with some honey and add sugar (and cinamon).

Bake the seeds on an oven tray in 10 minutes on 160 degrees Celcius (300 Fahrenheit) and don’t forget to shake them after 5 minutes.
Let them cool down so they become crunchy.

Eat them by biting off the pointed tip to crack the shell, and enjoy the tasty inner seed.

Have a nice pumpkin time!

We love chickens

We love our chickens because we love their eggs, their meat and we love to play with them. Yes: we play with our chickens! Games like: “find the hole in the fence” (their favorite) or “Jump to the bread”. They also like to be petted and to be carried around. And I think our chickens love us back because we take good care of them.

Chickens checking out the rabbits
Chickens checking out the rabbits

Good chicken housing
We made a great bedroom for them. It has a north facing window so they can enjoy the first and the last light of the day, but it will never be too hot from direct sunlight. Their bedroom has 2 sticks on the same level so they can all sleep in the same rank.

In the morning we keep them in stable (so we can find their eggs) and after lunch they can stroll in their garden. The chicken garden is a fenced piece of terrain with 2 plum trees and a walnut tree, and lots of blackberry shrubs. It also has a “tipi” made of branches to give them shelter and to make it difficult for birds of prey to find a landing strip.

There is a cage connected to their sleephouse, which they can access through a little door. We only let them use it in winter for extra vitamins (although they eat all these vitamins in no time), and to have a safe outdoor area to get some extra light. It gives us some more time to sleep 🙂

Our chickens in their garden
Our chickens in their garden

Healthy chickens

Of course it is better to prevent diseases than to fight them when they are there, so I have several ways to boost my chickens health. Like giving them the left overs from our herbal tea, especially nettle tea. Or a clove of garlic that I crush, and put in their water. Garlic helps against worms, lice and mites.
Nasturtium leaves and seeds have antiseptic and medicinal properties and are also good wormers.

In their chicken garden we grow lemon balm, rosemary, lavender and fennel to help them being clean from mites and lice. And those herbs grow also on the other side of their garden fence because they like to eat some of the plants!

When I have vegetable seed leftovers, I throw them in their chicken garden for some surprise veggies.

Egg!Fermented grains booster
What yoghurt is for our intestines, are fermented grains for chickens. I fill a big glass jar half with oats or wheat grains, sometimes acompanied with sunflower and/or flax seeds. I fill up the jar with rainwater (or well water or mineral water), leaf the cap off and wait for 2 or 3 days. When it smells good (you can smell the fermenting process), I start feeding my 10 chickens with 2 spoons a day stirred under their regular (corn) food.

Fermenting grains for your chickens improves its enzyme content and increases its levels of vitamins B, C and K. It also makes food more digestible, and boosts the protein level. Their shit is more solid and smells less.

You can find a great article on fermented food for chickens on Natural chicken keeping.

Chicken rescue tea
When a chicken accidentally eats chicken shit (because it fell into their water or the chicken ate something from the unclean ground), it can become ill. It just sits there, and doesn’t want to eat or drink. And when you don’t do anything, it dies.

My chicken rescue remedy is a herbal tea with:
– 50% chamomile (anti-bacterial, anti inflammation, with stomach problems, painkiller)
– 15-20% nettle (full of vitamins, minerals. cleans and strengthens the body, diuretic, strengthens immune system, stimulates intestines, diarrhea & flatulence).
and the other 30-35% are herbs like
– wild marjoram (boosts the immune system and cleanses the body of bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast and other germs),
– dandeli
on (detoxifies, cleans blood, cleans lymphatic system),
– hyssop (anti septic, stimulates the gastro intestinal system),
– calendula (anti inflammation, detoxifying, blood cleaning, stimulates liver and stomach, helps digestion)

I feed the chicken this (cooled) tea with a pipet, at least 3 times but more if I can, and the next day she is better!

Eating our chickens
We don’t have our chickens for meat. We have them for the fun of it (they are definitely in our top 3 favorite animals) and for their eggs. Only when our chickens are old and they retire from laying eggs after a happy life, we will eat them.

Living self sufficient

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