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.

Healthy sweets for self sufficient kids

Our kids aren’t sweet teeth; they don’t give much about candy. But they do love all kinds of fruit! Also dried fruits. We dry plums in the solar dryer, but peaches or strawberries are not suitable for drying. So we make fruit leather with them.

Fruit leather or fruit gums are just dried pureed fruit. No added sugar, no colors or taste enhancers, no preservatives (as if these delicious things would last longer than a week!) or other chemicals. And the recipe, again, is simple!

– Make a puree of your ripe fruit
– spread it on wax sheet or baking paper
– dry it softly (57° Celcius is the best) & slowly in about 5 hours (+ or – 1 hour)

You can think of strawberries, apples or a leather made of plums, or even a puree of tomatoes with oregano. Or mix bananas with peaches, pears with cherries… everything is possible!

Of course you could also add sugar or honey or stevia, but it’s not neccesary with ripe fruit.

We cook on a wood stove so keeping the oven on for 5 hours is no problem. But if your oven works on electricity, you might consider other options. If you have a central heating system you might use that, or something else that’s warm & already on. (don’t take the 57° too serious!)

I’m looking forward to make fruit leathers in our solar dryer next year.

Do you want to learn about self sufficient living in real life? At Bogata Suma in Croatia we organize workshops about several subjects. >> read more

Fresh & ripe fruit for fruit leather
Fresh & ripe fruit for fruit leather
Making pureed fruit
Making pureed fruit
Spreading the pureed fruit in the baking tray
Spreading the pureed fruit in the baking tray
After baking you roll it up in baking paper to store it!
After baking you roll it up in baking paper to store it

Chips for self sufficient kids

We have kids and we want to live self sufficient. So when they ask for crisps, I dig up* some potatoes, slice them really thin and fry them until they’re crispy. (* For real! The best spot to keep potatoes is in the soil, under a thick layer of mulch!)
And when you fry potatoes, you realize that you can also slice carrots really thin. And sweet potatoes. And Jeruzalem artichokes, beetroot and celeriac (the root). Crispy vegetables are surprisingly delicious! And the best thing is that there is ONLY this root or vegetable in it. No MSG, no colors or preservatives.

homemade potato chips
DIY potato crisps

How I make potato chips:
1. I slice the potato as thin as I can (a potato peeler works well)
2. put the frying pan or grill pan on the stove with a bit of grease (oil, or pig fat)
3. fry the slices on medium heat until they curl.
4. put them on paper so most of the grease can drip of

Tip 1: Don’t put too much in the pan at once.
Tip 2: You can add salt, and/or rosemary/oregano/tym/paprika
Tip 3: When you are experimenting with making chips, please give thicker slices a try. They are our favorite because they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Kale chipsKale chips
Something else the kids (and us) really like, is kale chips. Very easy to make and very healthy.
1. tear or cut the kale leafs in bite size pieces (without the stems)
2. put them in an oven dish & sprinkle a bit of oil over them
3. bake in the oven for a few minutes. Keep an eye on them because they burn easily!
4. sprinkle salt over them

Bon apetit!

On Saturday November 1st 2014 we’ll host “Bread with wool”, a workshop about making your own sourdough bread and working (cleaning, carding, spinning, felting) with raw sheep wool. I think we’ll serve a big bowl of kale chips during the break because the kale is doing great this year!

Living self sufficient in 5 years

One of the reasons why we moved from the city (center) to the countryside (middle of nowhere), is that we wanted to live self sufficient. Or at least a lot more self sufficient.

In 2009, when we started living on our farm, I wrote down all the things that I wanted to achieve in the next 5 years, in 2014… NOW! I actually forgot about the paper and it was a nice surprise to find it back last spring. The biggest surprise however, is that almost everything I wrote down 5 years ago, is realised.

Targets in living self sufficient
click to enlarge our list of targets for 2014

Fruits, vegetables & mushrooms all year round: in summer and fall there is abundancy with all kinds of fruits & vegetables. I make an effort to grow a big variety, for more health and to encourage bio diversity. In winter and spring we have fresh kale, broccoli, sprouts, winter purslane, lambs lettuce, rucola and salad greens from the glasshouse.

We have a freezer full with meat and a storage room with big jars full with dried stuff, jams, compotes

For storing, I prefer drying in a solar dryer over freezing. Dried mushrooms, fruits & vegetables take much less space and you can store them for a very long time. A freezer constantly uses energy and there is a lot that can go wrong. Drying by the sun is easy and cheap.

Herbs: we have lots of herbs for tea and for the kitchen

We’re making syrups, jams & compotes, wines, liquers, cider (and vinegar when the apple cider turns sour).

Our chickens produce eggs (and manure) and when they are too old, they provide us with meat. The rabbits and snails we have only for the meat, and we mulch the garden beds with their straw.

What we don’t have, is goats, sheep or a cow for milk. A cow is too much (eats more than 20kg a day and gives too many liters of milk a day), goats are too naughty and sheep milk is too fat to drink (18%). and the fat is too small to skim/filter out. So with sheep you can make cheese, but not butter or milk.
I bake bread in our wood stove (from organic flour that I buy at the mill) and a bread oven is on the to do list.

When I give Peter a starters kit in brewing beer for Christmas (SSSHT don’t tell him!), we can check off the last thing on our list!

Change the world: eat seasonal!

Corn, beans, asparagus, basil or strawberries in winter, apples in spring, squash in summer… a lot of people don’t realize the effort that’s needed to get out of season-food on their plates, and how much more healthy food from the season is.

Tomatoes in summer

We used to live in the city where at the supermarket you could buy all fruits & vegetables all year round, disconnected from location or season. And at that time we did not question that. Really! Maybe because you wouldn’t notice the horrible taste of strawberries in the wrong season because also in the right season they tasted like… nothing. My own strawberries you can crush with your fork on a piece of bread. But I don’t reccommend that with supermarket strawberries! You cannot squeeze them.

Now that I have my own garden, I know that I can only harvest my strawberries in summer, asparagus in spring, Jerusalem artichokes between October and March…
Some vegetables need a lot of warmth, others grow well when it’s colder. Kale and sprouts for instance have a much better taste after the first frost. But strawberries and tomatoes need a warm & not too wet season to get their sweetness.

Apples ripen in August or September, and you can store them in a cool cellar for a few months. So if you go to the supermarket to buy apples in June, you get apples that are picked a year ago when they were slightly unripe, they were sprayed with methylcyclopropene and fungicide, waxed and stored cool for a year. Bon apetit!
And strawberries in winter? Scientists invented red and blue LED light that makes the manipulated strawberry plant think that it is spring and produce some mushy fruits that never see real sunlight.

Local, organic food from the season is also by far the richest in nutrients. It got lots of energy from the sun!
When we need tomatoes in winter or spring, I use my own frozen tomatoes. Or I buy organic tomatoes in glass jars (because of the toxic BPA in the liner in cans). And “fresh” but tasteless tomatoes from some commercial farm or glasshouse far away has traveled too much to be healthy for the planet.

Food from this season is usually local so it’s cheaper and doesn’t need much fuel for travelling. Or energy for storage and packaging.

Gordon Ramsay, the Brittish culinary chef, made a statement by declaring war to restaurants who don’t serve seasonal food. >> Read the article
I hope he has a lot of (political) influence, and with our help in just
doing it, we might change the world a bit. Let’s eat only fresh, local seasonal food from now on!

Living self sufficient

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