Soaring Heat In the Kitchen, Abundant Solar Outside
Temperatures reached a record 47c/116F in Sydney, Australia in January. But the second shock was the spike in cost of gas and electricity. The sun burns bright overhead while people turn on the air-conditioning in their kitchen. Despite the impressive range of affordable solar cook-tops and ovens, few people use solar ovens. What is really holding this technology back?
Solar Ovens are dirt cheap. Well, almost. They are as cheap as straw (for insulation), two panes of glass and a a sturdy box. They are popular in countries such as India because they are clean and free to run. You don’t need a chimney, fossil fuels or cow dung to fuel it. A Solar oven wastes nothing – the slow cook version does not waste a single drop of water or spice. The nutrients and flavours are sealed in.
Our first solar oven cost more in shipping than in the actual price. Seems we were ‘first wave’ solar-cookers in our shady village. (It seems were both first and last wave too). We paid about $250 18 years ago – at that price each meal cooked has cost less than 5 cents. If you are off-grid, this technology can pay back in just a few uses.
We now have a handful of different versions including the dangerous parabolic which burnt a hole in a wooden planter [photo below], a lightweight portable and the tubular baker. But I still prefer the old faithful that has survived being caught in the rain and filled up with water.
Solar ovens are durable, free to run, simple to make and easy to use and repair.
Best of all solar cooked food is flavoursome and nutritious.
Our Cultural Addiction to Piped Energy
Whilst ever we depend on a switch and convenient appliances, we are dependent on large scale innovation. If we step outside to try new technologies in the raw we get the chance to fuel our creative side.
The more powerful versions of this technology are rough, hot and glaring. But here is a great opportunity for the modern celebrity chefs and entrepreneurs to cook up a brighter future for everyone.
Did you know the nutritional value of many foods improves with fermentation? Ferments cut toxic compounds, add flavour and increase beneficial gut flora. It seems there are ample reasons to enjoy fermenting your food.
Ferments ooze abundantly in the wild. Yet only a diligent cook could invent a brew fit for consumption. Early brew developers were clever, patient, organised and observant.
Unfortunately, few people today know how to brew their own. Yet traditional brews bubble in every corner of the world. Aboriginal Australians use honey and Banksia. In freezing Alaska, fermented meat is big on the menu. Pulque, in Mexico, takes an underwhelming cactus juice and turns it magically into a popular drink, rich in vitamins.
Consider the remarkable longevity of a bottle of wine compared to a flask of grape juice. Although alcohol has served humanity long, the abuse of alcohol has given ferments a bad rap. In addition to this poor reputation, new inventions began competing. In recent decades, chemical preservatives and canning ended the popularity of fermentation. Yet, ferments exist despite the fact that they not required.
In addition to the acids and bioactive compounds, the ferment breeds micro-organisms which produce powerful enzymes. These enzymes break down some of the tough compounds, making the food easier to digest. By fermenting tough foods like cassava, lactic acid bacteria detoxifies any potentially poisonous substances. In Tempe, the ferment also works to decrease the oligosaccharides gases.
In conclusion, fermentation cuts through a myriad of nasty chemicals. Cereals, legumes, and tubers contain toxic compounds including Phytates, Tannins, Cyanogenic glycosides, Oxalates, Saponins, Lectins, alpha-amylase, Trypsin, and Chymotrypsin. Luckily, fermentation breaks down these anti-nutritional components such as Phytate in whole wheat breads and lectins in soy beans.
Fermenting and cooking are great ways to boost your home production, lessen our footprint and build self-empowerment.
One of the greatest challenges for building a sustainable culture is learning to eat what the climate and soil want to grow and not forcing it to produce what our culture is accustomed to eating. During the recent ‘Hunger Period’ when Cuba was is economic turmoil, the locals grew food on street corners and in government city farms. The power of that community was celebrated yet Cubans hung on dearly to a cultural remnant called white bread. Bananas grew everywhere during that time and still they grace street corners because nobody needs to remove them. (See tips below on how to grow or remove them).
Given that most people around the world can grow bananas and most can keep hens or quail for eggs (if you can keep a cat or a dog, you can find a way to keep quail). Imagine growing and cooking pancakes from your own garden on your home-fuelled stove.
Green Banana Great Cooking
Bananas, green or yellow, make a great flour. In addition, it is gluten-free and full of nutrients. Real Banana Pancakes are super easy. Basically use two eggs for each banana and add milks or spices to your tasting.
Use It or Share It
In our warm temperate permaculture garden we have designed some micro-climates that the bananas love. And best of all our bananas ripen in winter! Winter is usually a lean time our food forest so this abundance is enjoyed. We have thousands of bananas which we readily share. but now we know how to use up the green banana, we can enjoy more of the crop.
Green Bananas of any variety can substitute for plantain in most recipes. If you want a quick and yummy snack, you can make green banana crisps. simply slice the green banana, salt it then fry it. This fast food will keep for weeks because it dries out crisp as it cools. Alternatively, you can dry your bananas in a solar dryer.
There are many recipes out there for banana beers. Most use a cereal crop such as maize to get it going, but anything once living will ferment. If you are keen to make pure banana beer beware it just may take a few conventional beers prior to get the stamina to like it.
Bananas are Tough
In all honesty, in good soil and mild climates, Bananas are hard to remove. If you need to remove them simply dig up the pups to give to other people, cut the main stems with a bread-knife, cover the area with an old tarpaulin, you can cover that with mulch and potted plants for a year.
Did you know?
Did you know that the banana stool is not a tree? Bananas are a herb. In fact, it is the tallest flowering herb.
Bananas are more than just a lunchtime companion. Every part of the banana is useful. For permaculture designs, the banana is a great erosion stabliser, good to grow on fast eroding banks and in gullies and shallow or intermittent water courses to slow the water down. They have a tendency to travel slowly over the years because the new pups need to grow in the shelter of their parent. Each mature banana stool will only fruit once so you can chop it down and feed it to the poultry, or a worm farm, use it as mulch or garden edge. With some practice you can cut tall fruiting stems whilst keeping the stem vertical. This way, the bunch is not damaged as you chop. This also means you don’t need a ladder to access a big bunch.
Design To Exclude Wind
The biggest thing that will limit your crop is wind. Wind rips at their leaves, reduces the local moisture available to their roots and can spread disease. Bananas love sun-traps. In your permaculture design, sun-traps have multiple functions.
Sadly, the main threat to commercial Bananas worldwide is disease. So, check that you are not violating agricultural restrictions. These restrictions are there to limit the spread of disease. The modern banana was predicted to become extinct by 2020, but we can all help turn that around by choosing unusual, organic and less than perfect varieties when we shop. Diversity is the key to our resilience.
And Wait, There’s More!
Nothing need go to waste from a banana plant. The leaves can be used for fencing, temporary roofing, bedding in the hen house, even as a compostable umbrella. Many people cook foods in the leaves and big leaves are a beautiful throw-away platter. It is also possible to make paper out of the banana fibers. This video shows a school girl making banana paper.
Do you love your garden to death? Most gardens thrive on enthusiasm but this can accidentally kill it in just a few easy steps.
The good news is that a garden doesn’t usually die quickly. But the flip side of the slow decline is that it is a quiet, sulking kind of demise. You might wonder what you’re doing wrong. Or perhaps you wonder now what is really lost in a the death of a garden?
Essentially, poor design kills a garden. Step outside and ask yourself: How can a garden suffer and die?
Few people understand their landscape. Fewer discover what gardens really need in order to thrive. Basically, it’s all about the soil. There are 5 simple, yet vital, components in soil for growing healthy plants.
The 5 ingredients needed for good soil are: Air pockets, in-ground stored Water, Minerals, Organic Matter and Organisms. Plants need little pockets of air in the soil so they stretch out their roots and grow. Luckily, air is free. You don’t need to rush out and get any specialist aerating tools. Just sit down and observe how the air is being lost. Most commonly, air is lost from a garden by people treading all over it. Secondly, air can get pushed out by poor water management. The third way to suffocate the garden is to allow visitors, children, pets, wind and rain to bare the soil. If your garden is doing poorly then leaving the soil to lie naked to the elements will certainly top it off.
It is easy to kill a garden with bad water management. Check that there is water in your soil. The best test is to see if you can actually dig a hole. If you need a machine to dig a hole then you have soil that is perfect for making pots but not growing plants. If you find your soil blowing away, you have soil perfect for making children’s sand-pits. Build up the organic matter and this should start a beautiful habitat for micro-organisms.
In an era when we are rushing from one activity to the next, it is easy to think “if a little bit is good then a lot is even better” This is not true of Garden-Love-Potions like fertiliser. Even natural, organic and locally sourced fertiliser is only required sparingly and only as a kick-start. Once the organisms are thriving, let them be. Don’t let your relationship with the soil become toxic.
Enthusiastic people are prone to over-commitment. They put their hands up at community meetings, cook-up great feasts for family and friends, work on the board of directors for lots of projects and then, OUCH – the inevitable mishap brings their plans tumbling into chaos.
Design the garden to provide for itself. Let the leaves sit to decompose in flower beds. Design to let the water slowly percolate through the garden beds. Let the plants self-seed.
In truth, plants like being part of a community. A sapling that is planted all on its own has to endure full sun, hurling winds, stinging rain and children’s misguided footballs. Whereas, deep in a forest, a sapling is nurtured by its elders and then rises to fill their void when they are struck down by the elements. A harsh adolescence for a garden will either kill it or forever bear the scars.
Some gardens are on high alert. They are cracked up and full of weeds because they are desperately trying to correct imbalances and build a habitat for wildlife again.
Lets talk about weeds. When a garden has weeds this means the gardener has neglected to plant anything else that would thrive in that place. Sometimes weeds are your friend, helping you rejuvenate an exhausted soil. Pulling out the weeds can be akin to pulling out the life-support for a garden. If your garden needs a lot of maintenance, it will not give you much joy. Vandana Shiva challenges us “What will life look like when we finally win the war against nature?”
Some gardens are Fashion Victims. They are in a constant stateofhystericalraptureorecstasy. They try everything possible to be dramatically striking.
Is you garden desperately screaming for your attention? Do you make it change the colour, shapes and philosophies just to stay lovable? Perhaps, one year its Minimalism next its Abundantly White.
Being trendy is not gentle on the planet or your wallet. Anything that is in right now is highly likely to be out next season. Garden fashions include vast areas of lawn. Worst of all is the fashion that covers a garden with hard surfaces. These kill the soil underneath and concentrate fast flowing water onto the little remnants of natural plants and soil. A resilient design includes rain gardens, and soft landscaping. A resilient garden gently adapts over the decades.
A new way of growing food has emerged in this modern era. Some factories can grow food without any living organisms in their soil. [In the hydroponics industry it isn’t even called soil – it is called a growing media]. Factory garden systems need a constant supply of nutrients, climate control, sophisticated water systems, reliable energy supplies and very close monitoring. Sitting in a hydroponics factory really doesn’t feel the same as sitting in an abundant permaculture glade full of food and wildlife. What this tells us is how amazing a natural system truly is.
Let’s pause before you really kill that garden. Would you be better off with an amicable split? Can you afford the guilt? OK, maybe, but can you really afford the diminished real estate value? You could sell up before the relationship gets really ugly.
If you are too busy for a garden, you might need a garden that doesn’t need you? Luckily for you and the planet, a forest doesn’t ask for any input except to be allowed to exist. The forest plans to be there for you whenever you want to connect. Help protect a forest for a better future for us all.
Needy gardens have a weak structure that will break under the slightest neglect. These gardens have grown accustomed to a regime of control. They expect to be pruned as soon as possible after the wind has ruffled them. They cry for water then as soon as the sun gets too intense because they have developed shallow root systems or have been kept contained and imprisoned in a totally man-made environment. It is not the garden’s fault. It is the original set up that created this dysfunctional system.
The only hope for a needy garden is to redesign it. Accept that nature is more powerful than you, even when you think you are the one in control. Learn to let go. Masanobu Fukuoka developed the art of letting go and observing what is most the productive and compatible way to garden. Everyone’s garden is different and every solution requires observation before action.
Your garden doesn’t understand you. You stand outside on a beautiful, sunny day but you feel cold. The pergola vine doesn’t drop its leaves to let the winter light. That shrub your Aunt gave you is now a huge tree and keeps dropping leaves into the neighbour’s pool. They never invite you to their parties. Your washing line is covered in pollution from the city, so you use the clothes dryer. The electricity bill is ever-increasing. The path to the bin is mossy and slippery. The friendly neighbour’s weeds are all over the fence. You wave politely. A flock of birds roost in the branches of a tree that hangs over the driveway. They sing joyously as they poop all over your car. The children’s play area is burning hot. So, they beg to play virtual reality games instead but they are full of energy.
The house gets noisy so you decide to drive them to their favourite playground miles away. It is attached to a take-away restaurant. Your Grandfather asks why the children are getting fat. Is this garden determined to kill you? The lack of garden design is the culprit.
The garden media push is intense and at times, irresistable. Garden expos, magazines and television shows love making us feel that our garden is inadequate. Getting home, we view our own space as dated and full of chores.
We want that totally NOW garden. Go get that enthusiastic and uncommonly attractive design team in the Video. Yes, throw out the existing plants, get in some fancy trees, truck loads of soil, plastic weed-mat, mountains of cement and bright paint. Crush the old garden!
But there can be happy memories and cozy familiarity in tending something old. It costs a lot (emotionally and financially) to kill a garden. Yet it costs very little to be kind, observant and reconcile your love affair with your garden.