Posted in Creative, Family, Home, Life

Seeking The Good Life

 (…or, how would we continue to live after a zombie apocalypse?)

In accordance with the parenthood-induced-paranoia of my last post, and constantly worrying about what goes into our food, I’m increasingly interested in all things related to natural, sustainable living.  My guiding principle in this endeavour being, what if the unthinkable happened (Zombie apocalypse, world-order collapse etc.) and there were NO MORE SHOPS??? (Or cars, or farms…well..ok, there might be some quite healthy farmers laughing at the rest of us but they might live too far away from home to be able to pop over – without a car – for an egg and a side of beef…and how would we pay them?)

There was a TV show on when I was little.  Well, it was being repeated when I was little – it was produced originally before I was born.  It was called “The Good Life“.  Many readers will remember it.  For those that don’t, modern couple in Surbiton ditch their city-jobs and ‘modern life’ and decide to become self-sufficent, living off their garden and things they can make and grow and produce themselves. (My sister lives there, in Surbiton, now…can’t see her living like that though…)

Today, I planted a cherry tree and an apple tree in my front garden.  I also did a bit more weeding and planting in the flower bed just outside the back door.  It’s tough going – it’s been left wild for seemingly years to what used to be a flower bed was solid grass and dandelions before I began.

I planted some strawberries in tubs.  Time will tell but last time I tried strawberries they were rescued from B&Q for 50p per plant at the end of the season before being dumped by them.  By the following year I had a bumper crop.  It may have had something to do with the copious amounts of Miracle-Gro I was using.  Still, it gave me the confidence that I could actually produce something.  Then we moved.  And moved again…and again… (Again, another post…) and so the effort I had put in to that garden has never really come back to me.  Until recently when we moved again and this house, well, this one seems right…

I’d prefer to be doing this chemical free.  Of course.  I do not use weed-killers. of any kind.  I believe the safest and most effective way of removing weeds is..well..to remove them.  Dig up the roots and all and get rid of the whole thing completely,  And no poisons left behind to seep to your other plants.  I’m not much of a scientific gardeer; following rules and testing soil samples and paying attention to acidity levels and all that.  So far I’ve just been a fair-weather plant-it-and-see kind of gardener.  learning by trial and error and giving a bit of care and attention. Because I haven’t had to rely on the results…

Where did it start?:
It’s not a new interest of mine.  I grew up, as I’m sure many of us millennials did, with a grampy & great-grampy whose gardens were mostly given over to cultivating their own foodstuffs for the family.  Vines of beans and peas, greenhouses full of weird and wonderful scents and sights; and the weekly bribe of “ah, but they’re from grampy’s garden” over Sunday lunch to guilt us in to eating our veg.  (It always worked and I’ve been a keep veg&fruit eater since). It’s always been obvious to me that it’s perfectly natural that part of your garden is used for growing food.  In fact, I watch some of the more recent crop of ‘reality’ shows on TV, teaching people how to save money on their groceries, or eat a healthier diet, or a combination of the two, healthier cheaper supermarket shopping, and am at a loss to understand the pre-made roast potatoes and Yorkshire  puddings and the pre-grated cheese; the sauces-from-jars-or-packets and every other over-processed convenience food; the throwing away of the ridiculous over-stocks of fresh foods when it was clear they’d bought too much for them to consume within the time-frame of freshness…and I wonder whether these people are real…was there no hint during their childhood of what was in their food?  Did their mothers and grandmothers not involve them in the cooking & baking (and the washing up)?  Didn’t they pick their own peas from great-grampy’s garden and eat them fresh straight from the pod before even going inside?  Did they honestly think the only way to get lasagne was to buy it ready-prepared in the freezer section?

To me, having the space, even a small patch, in a garden, at your home, to grow at least something edible, is a normal part of life.

The Duck Collection:
We have a duck collection. (Rubber ducks, I might add). I think it would take a whole other post to explain the background to it; but suffice to say, it’s now the theme of our bathroom.

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( just *some* of the duck collection & theme, in our old bathroom)

Since that began, it’s always been at the back of my mind that I’d like to own ducks. Real ones, I mean.  As pets/domestic animals, partly, and partly to provide a fresh supply of eggs (and general amusement).  Actually, I say since then, I actually mean, since there was a 4-legged duck born in the UK, randomly, who became famous and made the news.  I looked him up on the internet (in it’s early days back then I suppose) and discovered that the farm where he was born also supplied ducks.  And they weren’t overly expensive either. And the seed was sewn…if they were that easy to get hold of, how difficult is it to look after them…? So I’ve been researching and procrastinating ever since.  About 10-12 years now.  I’m pretty sure it might happen one day.  I have an aunt who has chickens.  And I’ve learned that ducks not only produce nicer/more nutritious eggs than chickens but they’re also calmer and quieter in general.  I’m sure the neighbours would prefer ducks.   Various moves and living situations and so on have thus far prevented the very thought; but in keeping with the spirit of this post, Ducks for eggs (and eventually meat, maybe?) would be another addition to my Good Life garden.

stumpy bby
Stumpy the 4 legged duck as a chick…
grownstumpy
Stumpy grown up, with 3 legs after an amputation.

And another thing…
It’s always bugged me…well, since I’ve been trying to research stuff on the internet, it’s bugged me…that when you look up an instructional for something; say, how to make a home-made hair-conditioning or face-mask from scratch using household ingredients; invariably, it involves getting some exotic essential oil from your nearest branch of *insert name of US niche chain store here*.  Another example – I recently began working as a costumed medieval tour guide and so researching history has become more than a hobby, and actually sort of work-related.  So looking up ways to make certain things the old-fashioned way came in to play – cheese, butter (I play a dairy maid 😉 ); bread, wine, herbal medicines and so on. We have an apothecary nun who grows all kinds of things so learning what certain native British plants used to be used for is interesting. It annoyed me that everything online, suggesting how to ‘make this yourself at home without buying shop-bought stuff with preservatives and additives in’ STILL included having to ‘go and get something from the bakery aisle of your local supermarket ‘ …
Take Yeast for example. I looked up how to make simple, basic, home made bread.  Invariably “get some dried yeast from the supermarket” was always one of the steps.  With a little more digging I found that with a little starter yeast it’s easy to produce more; a bit like when I make home-made yoghurt with my Easiyo yoghurt maker, without the use of their pre-packed sachets, using UHT or pre-heated milk and some starter yoghurt.

But in a bit like ‘the chicken and the egg’ – where did the FIRST sample of starter yeast and starter yoghurt come from?  What happens if you run out inadvertantly?  Does the medieval village baker close down and wait for the next trader from the holy-lands to wander through the village and hope he’s carrying a sample of yeast?  How do you explain that to his Lordship and hope his lack of Pain-de-Main doesn’t cause him to close down your oven and chop your hands off? How do I get some starter yoghurt if I’ve run out (alright I had an unplanned house party, made a mint-yoghurt dip and a lamb curry with my yoghurt and forgot to save some for the next batch…). Now, the fermentation of milk into yoghurt & cheese was discovered by accident in the middle-east thousands of years before (or holy-lands I suppose as they were better known at the time). Fresh milk for drinking would be stored in a drinks container made from a sheep or camel stomach or intestines, for example, and after a few days riding across the hot desert, they’d find the milk, well, not quite as it should be.  It wasn’t just soured and gone off; but had been preserved in some kind of slightly solid and quite tasty substance.  Rennet has been used in cheese & yoghurt making ever since. There are alternatives such as certain vegetables that produce a coagulating substance

Now, with a little more digging I’ve discovered that it’s possible to recreate the yoghurting (is that a word or did I just invent it?) process without a starter, or the rennet, believe it or not.  There’s a few web posts dedicated to it.  I haven’t tried it yet but am anxious to try…y’know, so I know I can make yoghurt & cheese after the apocalypse…

Apart from some sources I’ve found mentioning that a bread starter can be made using just water and flour, I have discovered that yeast is a natural substance that grows on the outside of various fruits.  Raisins are good apparently.  It (basically – look up more in depth instructions if you want to try this...) involves soaking the fruit (I used raisins and orange peel) in water and leaving it to ferment.  Eventually, a film of solid…well…mush, separates from the fruit and sinks to the bottom. After a few days, remove the fruit and save the yeast and the water it’s contained in.   Now, I *have* tried this….I think it was successful (it certainly *smelled* a bit yeasty…well, like a brewery so I think that was close enough 😉 ) but I’ve yet to test it in the making of bread.  Well, I tried, but it was after moving house meaning the jar had not been refrigerated constantly (it was kept at room temp during the move while the fridge was unplugged, moved, settled and then plugged back in) and also, I think I may have stored it too long…and I dind’t exactly follow instructions to the letter, so it didn’t seem to have much of a reaction to warmth and the ‘bread’ was a bit, well, like a brick!  I am determined to try again, properly. Y’know, so I know I can still  make bread (if I figure out how to grow a good yield of grains in my garden) after the apocalypse.

So, once I’ve got the gardens cultivated and growing (also, without relying on buying Miracle-Gro from the shops that may not exist after the mentioned apocalypse!) settled the ducks in (and maybe a pygmy goat or two) and have figured out the yoghurt and yeast thing, we might be pretty well off!Oh, and I’ve even looked into which plants make a good soap-like substance 😉

Anything else I’ve forgotten?

*Disclaimer* Nothing in this post is meant as an instructional of any kind.  If you decide to have a go at the things I’ve described, please look elsewhere for full instructions and don’t hold me responsible 😉 !!
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Writer; Mother; (nonpackageholiday)Traveler; Actor; Petowner; Homemaker; Coffee drinker; liver of life.