Tag Archives: Self sufficiency

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.


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!

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.

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


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!

The art of self-sufficiency; adventures & tips of a family

We are on our way to live self sufficient. We are a family with 2 kids and usually some people at our table like volunteers/guests/friends/family.
Health combined with sumptuous joy of life is our challenge. Once you’ve tasted your own apples, potatoes or tomatoes, you’ll never be the same 😉

Welcome at our table!Right now we live mostly food-self sufficient. We have many sorts of vegetables all year round, many types of fruits that we dry or freeze for winter use, and chicken and rabbit meat. This spring we bought a lamb at the neighbors and we can eat from it at least 6 times.

2013 was a great fruit year and we made many jars of jam and many bottles of wine from our plums, peaches and mulberries. But what to do when nature is not so abundant (like this year 2014)?

We are on our way, finding out how it works for us, and in this blog you can read all about it.