Saturday, 29 April 2017

Passionfruit leaves are edible too!



Passionfruit leaves are edible too - raw and cooked! How revolutionary! 

The beautiful, vigorous vines of the passionfruit (Passiflora edulis) have abundant leaves. Having recently found this out, passionfruit leaves have joined my list of amazingly abundant greens growing freely in the garden - adding to the list of sweet potato leaves (not at all like the inedible potato leaves), pumpkin leaves, cranberry hibiscus, Surinam spinach, Brazilian spinach that I discuss in the film below.


(NB: Don't eat ornamental passionfruit varieties.)

Knowing that passionfruit leaves are edible changes again the amount of food I see in my garden - abundant gardening can sometimes happen simply through a shift in perception. 

I have a passionfruit vine growing wildly up my verandah post and the passionfruit are gradually forming. Another is scrambling along a fence below our compost bays.

No more waiting for the passionfruit to form, I can be eating the leaf too, and of course the flower (but obviously that takes away from the amount of fruit that forms).

History

Passionfruit comes from the Amazon rainforest near Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The leaves were used by the indigenous peoples of this region to relieve pain and as a sedative. They also used it as a poultice for cuts and bruises. In the 1800s, it was used in southern US for headaches, pain, colic, epilepsy and convulsions.  By the 20th century this plant had spread around the world

Where can passionfruit grow?

The passionfruit vine is a vigorous, evergreen climber but is generally short lived (5-7 years). It likes full sun, except in really hot summers. Here in the Queensland subtropics, mine is flourishing with some shade.

It prefers warmer climates, but can be grown in a greenhouse or even indoors. It needs a strong trellis or structure to grow on. 

For a good fruit crop, passionfruit needs lots of sun, plenty of food, well drained soil, lots of water and thick mulch. The fruits start forming after about 18 months.


How to use the leaves?

Young tender passionfruit leaves can be used as a raw leafy green in salads or as a spinach-type cooked green in quiches, curries, stir fries, soups or pastas. They contain vitamin A and niacin. 

The dried leaves are used for calming teas and herbal remedies. 

I've only just started experimenting. I remove the stems, roll up the leaves and then very finely slice. They make a great sambal - with coconut, onion, lime juice and chillies.

Do you have any recipes?


Friday, 28 April 2017

Homeschooling Podcast: Morag Gamble on Queensland ABC Radio Evening Show (20 mins)

Do you do homeschooling or unschooling too? Tonight my simple living segment on ABC Radio Queensland was about this very topic (approx 20 mins - link below).

Each Thursday evening at around 9:15pm I chat about a different simple living topic with the host of ABC Radio's evening show in QLD (ABC612). I've been ABCs Simple Living Correspondent for almost a year now.

We've been a homeschooling family for about 2 years now and I love it. The kids love it too.

Take a listen to the podcast to hear an insight into why we do it, how we do it and how we address the big question homeschool parents always receive .. "what about socialisation?"

https://soundcloud.com/user-523529725/morag-gamble-talks-about-homeschooling-on-abc-radio


  • What is your favourite thing about homeschooling, unschooling, world schooling or other form of home education?
  • Have you wanted to try but are worried about something - what do you think is stopping you?
  • What information would give you more confidence to homeschool your children?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Which kitchen sponges can I compost?



Sponges are a convenient way to wash dishes and wipe up spills, but are they good for you or the environment? I've been detoxing my home and focusing on the soaps, now I've turned my attention to the actual wipe - not pretty!

It turns out they are neither good for our health or the planet. Firstly, they are a source of much waste.  The sponges each household throws away in a year will take up landfill space for more than 52,000 years. Plastic based sponges cannot be recycled or composted. 

Secondly, moist sponges are apparently the number one source of germs in your entire home - great places for salmonella, E.coli and staphylococcus - dirtier than your toilet or your bin. It's not enough to just wash sponges, they need to be sanitised too - boiling, zapping or soaking in vinegar.

The other problem with sponges is that they are disposable and full of chemicals. Even after they have been thrown away, the bacteria-killing triclosan that they’re impregnated with negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems. Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent (and pesticide) that has been linked to cancer, developmental toxicity and skin irritation. 


Magic sponges - not compostable and create microplastic waste

White magic sponges are made from melamine foam. Melamine foam is made from the compound formaldehyde-melamine-sodium-bisulfite and is not compostable. In fact they contribute to microplastic pollution of oceans and marine animals.


Standard foam sponges - not compostable and emit toxins

Most sponges are now made from synthetic and petrochemcial materials. Polyurethane, often used in sponges, can emit formaldehyde.  They are not compostable.

Standard cellulose sponges are compostable but usually contain chemicals.

The common kitchen sponge is made of cellulose fibre (eg: wood pulp), which is compostable, but it is typically soaked in chemicals to prevent bacterial growth.

What can you use instead?

  • Grow your own sponges. Loofahs ( Luffa acutangula), a type of gourd grown in warmer climates (edible when young, leaves too). Once they are full size, harvest and soak them in a bucket for a few days until the skin starts to come away from the 'skeleton'. It's easy to remove at this point, and the seeds can be shaken out.  Wash and dry the loofah in the sun and it's ready to be used as a bath or kitchen sponge.

  • source 100% cellulose fibre sponges. These are completely biodegradable and can be fully composted. Some you can fine are made from hemp or bamboo.

  • cotton rags
  • crocheted dishcloths from natural fibres

Important maintenance of natural wiping cloths:

  1. After use, rinse with hot water, wring and hang to dry.
  2. At the end of the day, soak sponges and dishcloths in full strength vinegar for at least 5 minutes, preferably overnight. Other suggestions include boiling or microwaving them, but vinegar kills 99.6% of the bacteria. Pretty good really. No need for bleach, boiling or zapping.
  3. After a week or two, compost it.

Have you tried making or growing your own sponge growing, or do you compost your wipes? What's your sponge of choice?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Simple life birthday gifts

 

A gift does not need to be a thing - it can be time, kind words, a song, a shared experience, noticing beauty in nature with your children...

It was my birthday on Sunday.  I had such a wonderful day - a quiet family day full of love, laughter and sharing. There were no presents bought - my family's gift was being present. No plastic, no wrapping, no unnecessary things just because it's my birthday.


Thank you too to all the people around the world who sent me wonderful birthday messages.

I really have no need for extra things as gifts. In fact, I am in the process of shedding 'stuff'. 


My children were so wonderfully attentive all day and made me feel very loved and special.





  • Maia created a delicious dragonfruit salad breakfast, a specially brewed garden tea and a lovely dinner table setting. She also sewed me a cute little felt bunny to keep on my writing table.
  • Hugh made me an amazingly scrumptious cake all by himself. 
  • Monty collected beautiful leaves for me on our walk and held my hand. He also sang to me lots and lots, and gave me wonderful cuddles.

Other wonderful gifts today were:
  • time to reflect, think and just be;
  • time relaxing and chatting together as a family;
  • playing together;
  • cooking together;
  • walking in nature together;
  • love and hugs;
  • listening to, or playing music together;
  • sharing a special but simple meal together.

In fact these are quite usual things we do together as a homeschooling and work-from-home family, but sometimes in our daily lives I forget to value them. I spent time on my birthday reflecting on what is most important in my life. What came most clearly to my mind was having quality time and shared experiences with the people I love - in nature and community.

Of course there are other important things in life, but we can often allow those to override the things that are the most valuable - which are generally quieter and more subtle.


What's your favourite way of sharing a birthday?

The children played tennis on the local courts in the morning and I had a chance to catch up and share a coffee with my friends while we watched - lovely outlook out across the Mary Valley to the forested hills behind - and gorgeous Autumn weather. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Simple DIY all purpose vinegar


Did you know that you can make your own natural vinegar at home simply and cheaply - something very much like natural apple cider vinegar? Kombucha vinegar.

Vinegar is so versatile - for your health and as a great non-toxic cleaning product around the home. I use it for:

  1. drinking - diluted with water - helps create alkaline environment and balance my system, lots of vitamins too.
  2. sprinkling on salad as part of a delicious salad dressing, blended with lots of garden herbs too
  3. adding to soup for extra flavour
  4. hair rinse - leaves hair feeling shiny and soft, and free of build-up from products
  5. face toner - cleans face mildly and well
  6. foot soak - helps to reduce my cracked gardening feet
  7. dishwashing rinse - leaves glass and cutlery sparkly clean and removes soap suds
  8. add to rinse cycle in washing machine to soften towels
  9. everyday surface cleaning - antibacterial cleaner
  10. window cleaning - for no-streak cleaning
  11. toilet cleaning - great for the compost toilet 
  12. add to chickens water to help them stay healthy




I just found out how to make my own simple vinegar at home (by doing nothing actually). I can't believe how simple it is. I'm wondering why I'd never learnt this before! I find this kind of information liberating. 

Thanks to the reader who commented on my recent post about making citrus cleaner using homegrown citrus peels and vinegar. I'm so glad she mentioned that she used kombucha vinegar as a cleaner.

There on my bench was a big jar of the stuff and I hadn't realised how wonderfully useful it was till recently. I'd just recovered this big jar from the back of the pantry shelf. In February I had made a batch of kombucha (took about 10 minutes maximum), but forgot about it. I can't believe I was about to tip it out and start again.

Kombucha tea needs only a few days to a week to brew and if you let it ferment for too long it becomes sour to drink  - it becomes kombucha vinegar.  Mine however has been there for just over 60 days - well and truly brewed!

Kombucha vinegar has around 2% acetic acid while apple cider vinegar has around 5% which makes it milder, but it is still very effective.

Now I am going to brew kombucha both for the tea and for the vinegar.  (How to make kombucha tea is the topic for another post - but there is so much information about there to discover.  Stay tuned too for a film about kombucha vinegar.)

How to make get a kombucha SCOBY

If you don't have a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to get yourself started making kombucha, ask a kombucha-brewing friend, or simply use a good quality local unprocessed and unflavoured kombucha tea from the shops. Put 1 cup of it into a bowl, cover with a fine cloth and let sit for a week. You will see a new SCOBY beginning to form.

How do you use kombucha vinegar?

Do you use kombucha vinegar? Do you have any favourite ways of using it for cleaning, personal care, or gardening perhaps too?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

We unplugged our television ... and it feels great!



We unplugged the television in January and after just one day the kids forgot to ask for it.  I have to say I was more than a little surprised at how easy it was. I had braced for big (huge) arguments.

Something had to change!

We were never huge watchers and avoided commercials, we had constructive conversations about what we watched, but something had to change. Things were out of hand around the telly.

The turning point for me was noticing that our 3 year old boy was starting to become addicted. We had clear limits but he threw tantrums when we refused to turn it on, and when it was time to turn it off again. I thought we had been managing it well, but it was becoming clear that a big shift had to happen to change this pattern. He was watching 'educational' programs on ABC but still, this wasn't healthy. 


Impact of television

There's a lot of research out there about the impact of watching too much television (for all ages) and you've probably heard a lot about this - from obesity, depression, anxiety, decreased brain function, behavioural problems and more. 

There is really so much more to be doing with our lives - playing, telling stories, hanging out with friends, reading, connecting with nature, watching the stars, riding a bike ...


Redesign our living space

It's been 3 months since we disconnected our television and honestly we don't miss it at all, in fact we are so very happy we did this. The big black screen is still sitting up on the wall - a relic perhaps. We don't know what to do with it, and haven't got around to creating a replacement piece of artwork to put over the holes we drilled into the wall - aha - a great task for the kids! 


Got to get rid of the TV still hanging on the wall. We'll remove it soon, and the shelves. We've decided to turn this corner into an art and picture gallery displaying colourful pieces we create and images of fun active things we do together.

One huge bonus is that we have re-designed our living space to ignore the telly on the wall. The couch is no longer looking toward the wall with our backs to the room. Now when we relax on the couch, we face into the room, toward the people in it, and toward a beautiful view out across the lake and forested hills in the distance...a much better outlook!

Without even realising it, we allow the television to dominate the way we design rooms, even house layouts.  I love the way our main living space feels now ... sans telly.


Selective media watching

We still do watch some media, but we are all far more selective of content because we can manage that now. The children can select specific things to watch online as part of their homeschooling, such as:
The computers they use are in a shared space so the screen is easily visible and we can monitor and share the experience with them. They take notes while they are watching, and what they learn becomes part of their interesting table conversation.

Little Monty is allowed select from the ABC iView app for a short periods.


There's so many more hours in the week without television

Evan and I thought we might select interesting documentaries, but typically we don't watch anything in the evenings any more. I feel far more productive, energised and uplifted doing other things in the evening. We:

  1. spend more quality time with the kids and each other
  2. share our ideas 
  3. play music
  4. research things we want to learn about
  5. read great books
  6. write
  7. design and plan eco-living workshops
  8. make short films
  9. do some exercise

There are suddenly so many more hours available each week.

Even though we were always quite selective in what we watched and we never turned the telly on until the kids had gone to bed, I realise in my adult life I have wasted an enormous amount of time just sitting watching - just to switch off for a bit - just for some downtime at the end of the day. 


Turn off the TV for the kids and for yourself.

What started out as an action motivated by wanting to improve things for our kids, has ended up being a huge bonus for us 'grown-ups' and the family as a whole.  

Many of you reading this have already done this too, perhaps a very long time ago. I am happy to be joining you and if you haven't tried it yet, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a go.


Have you tried? What impact did it have in your life?



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Monday, 17 April 2017

How I downshifted my wardrobe by 80 percent.


Today I downshifted my wardrobe by 80 percent and it feels great! It has simplified things, given me lots to redistribute and and helped me to unclutter the room leaving it feeling fresh, clean and airy.

I have big bags of clothes ready to give away and a good collection of old stuff to feed the worms.  I realised I actually wear only a handful of my clothes, so while I like the others or had sentimental attachment to them, there really was no need to keep them. Also some of them I liked so much, they were threadbare and holey. It was time to let go.


Some of the bags of clothes waiting to head up to the charity stores in Maleny.

Living like a backpacker

Back in the early 1990s, Evan and I were travelling around the world a lot with our backpacks and lived amply on a handful of simple clothes. However, since we've had kids and settled a bit more, things have accumulated. As much as I promised myself this would never happen, it did. It was definitely time for a big clear out. I'm pretty sure what I've kept would be able to fit into a backpack again.

I love wearing sarongs here in the subtropics - they are lightweight and easy to store and care for.

Special souvenirs of musty space-fillers?

Not only were my own clothes filling up the wardrobe space, but clothes I had kept from when our children were little - things I thought were special souvenirs of their baby days. What they had become really were musty, stained and old (storing things in humid subtropics is difficult). I have kept just a few really special items and packed them very well.


Getting up my nose

All these surplus clothes were collecting dust which I was really starting to find was getting up my nose - literally.  Today, everything got washed with soapnuts and eucalytus, and the entire wardrobe and room was wiped down with diluted vinegar. It feels so fresh again.

How did I sort through it all?

Basically I just made one big pile on the floor  in the middle of my bedroom and methodically went through each piece.  It took me half a day to sort, wash and clean out all the dust from the back of the wardrobe  - a big commitment of time, but one that is going to save me lots of washing, sorting, putting away etc. later.  

As I went through the clothes I placed them in nine different piles and bags: 



  1. Keepers -  I went through this pile a couple of times to refine my choice to pick natural fibres, ethical items and ones that are biodegradable.
  2. Storage box - a selection of a few things for different seasons and some favourite skirts which will be good when I lose a few kilos (!?)
  3. Gift bag - almost new children's clothes that are suitable for friends with young children.
  4. Hand-me-down pile - some retro pieces of my clothing that now fit my daughter
  5. Charity store bag - all the good quality clothes that were left
  6. Upcycling box - a few pieces I liked that had fabulous fabric, but no longer a good style are awaiting redesign (when I get a new sewing machine pedal - Monty was experimenting with scissors recently).
  7. Rag bag - too bad to fix but good for rags.
  8. Worm pile - too bad to fix and fully biodegradable.
  9. Rubbish - too bad to fix and not good for rags or worms. (thankfully this was the smallest pile)

My small selection of clothes for storage for another season.
Tomorrow I'll give the worms a big feed and take the bags to the charity store in town to free up my hallway.  

Working out what to wear in the morning is going to be so easy!

This is all that is left in my wardrobe -  a couple of skirts, shirts, singlets and long sleeve tops - and my favourite jacket with all the pockets for collecting seeds while I'm out and about.
My next declutter project - my office!  Now that's a real challenge.


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