These are weird times in which we live, but I’m glad we have the homesteading lifestyle to give us at least some security in our food supply. The Husband is still working as usual and I’m flat-tack in the Autumn homestead tasks. I sometimes joke about us being ok if there was a zombie apocalypse because of what we grow, preserve and have the skills to do here at home, yet I don’t really want all that to be tested out. However, we have got vegetable and fruit crops available to eat at the moment, plus a bunch of stuff that we’ve frozen, dried or canned.
Homesteading skills are not just something fun to do or something to be proud of, they’re seriously useful. It’s times like these that I realise how many people aren’t prepared for emergencies and don’t know basic home survival skills like how to make food from what they’ve got, how to make double or triple recipes to have meals or baking stored in the freezer or how to make their own cleaning products. You don’t have to live in the countryside to do these things. I think everyone should know how to grow at least something for themselves or their family and it isn’t hard to chop vegetables or fruit and freeze them for later use. It just takes time. And time might be something people have a little more of as many activities in the public sphere are temporarily being taken out of the picture. I’m going to try to be more intentional about teaching others what to grow or cook or anything else that’s useful.
I’m not sure why, but there’s one item that’s been instilling panic in people. Toilet paper. Why? I don’t know, I really don’t. I mean, there are other things you can use. In a pinch, you can just use cloths and wash them. I am not on the stockpiling toilet paper train. You will not find a storeroom dedicated to toilet paper at our house. But I can offer a helpful alternative and that is to plant Brachyglottis repanda (Bushman’s Toilet Paper) in your garden. Yup. The large leaves with a soft, white underside can be used as toilet paper, although more usually in the bush than in a residential setting.
I can’t help but find it hilarious that I purchased a purple Bushman’s Toilet Paper (Brachyglottis repanda ‘Purpurea’) a few months ago, before the current crisis was even a thing. It is the shrub I bought to plant in the gap in ‘the forest’ along the side of the house, where The Husband helped me clear out some of the overgrown shrubs. I like how this plant looks but I’m also planning to propagate it. ‘Tis a pity I haven’t got any for sale yet or I could be helping to answer the perceived toilet paper problem. But, well, drought. Perhaps I better get it planted soon, just in case.
Aside from all this, it’s a weird time of year here, with the mornings starting off cool, yet still maturing into fairly hot days. The evenings are darkening faster and faster and my to-do list seems to be growing faster and faster as well. It’s taking a lot of willpower to wrangle that to-do list and make it sensible. We’re continuing to harvest and preserve crops and the dehydrator has come out. We’ve dried some paprika peppers and cayenne peppers, which will be ground into their respective powders, and some tomatoes. We have yet to dry some of our fruit.
This is the time of year when perennial herbs really must be trimmed and harvested for winter use. If you leave it too late to trim them they may not grow back well as cooler weather enters, or fresh growth or whole plants may get damaged by the cool weather. If you want to dry herbs for winter use, the time is now! Cut them while they still have lots of green growth as they will start slowing down soon. Of course, you can cut them earlier in summer as well. But that ship has sailed now. I think my oregano has sailed off on that ship. I have harvested rosemary, sage and thyme, which are drying in the house, but the oregano got a little bit forgotten about. It was smothered in flowers, which was exciting for the pollinator insects and little blue butterflies, but that meant there wasn’t much green growth to speak of. I’ve trimmed it and now I must wait for some good green growth before I can harvest any for drying. Let’s hope that happens before winter. It does still grow during winter, but very slowly, leaving only a little to be useful for cooking.
Meanwhile, The Little Fulla put a bunch of lemon verbena trimmings into a barrel of water and by the time I got to dealing with it he had effectively brewed a batch of lemon verbena compost tea. I hope the plants like lemon verbena tea.
We’ve got a bunch of seedlings growing for autumn planting: lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, kale and tatsoi. I went a bit nuts with the broccoli seed-sowing but I figured we could plant some of them in the Front Plot to grow over winter. The appearance of some tiny carrot seedlings in the Veggie Garden is most delightful. If you’re wanting to grow some vegetables at this time of year (early autumn), here are some things you can sow or plant now:
- Leafy greens – lettuce, spinach, orach, mesculun mix, beets/chard.
- Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, kale, Asian greens.
- Root crops – carrots, parsnips, beetroot.
- Leeks and onions.
If you’ve only got room for a few veggies I would recommend:
- Broccoli – it will grow through winter and you can never have too much because you can chop and freeze it in bags.
- Carrots – just water them enough when they’re germinating. Sow in squares and you can thin out the excess ones later.
- Leeks – low maintenance and a good alternative to onions for cooking.
- Beets – I love the red-stemmed beets for growing year-round. Can be chopped and fried as part of breakfast, mixed in with other veggies for breakfast hash, in scrambled eggs or omlette, in quiches, stir-fries and so on.
- Lettuces – a quicker crop with small roots that can be plonked around other crops and will finish before slower crops need more space. ‘Great Lakes’ (an iceberg) is my best performer, surviving into winter.
I seem to be spending most of my days either harvesting, preserving, cooking or cleaning at the moment. I’m dying to sink my teeth into a building project or two but other things are taking priority right now. I did get a wee bit of quick building done. I’ve been cleaning up a few things in my potting shed and the garage for a break from the other activities (funny that I’ve been so swamped with the other activities that decluttering constitutes a break) and came to the door of the old chicken coop that I built. We had no need of it so The Little Fulla took to it with the drill with great delight, unscrewing all the screws. We were left with a bunch of pieces of timber and I decided it was time for some shelves in The Little Fulla’s cabin. The Husband did the first two, then I took one out after I found some wider pieces of timber and installed a few more in there. The Little Fulla was so stoked that he had shelves and some ‘hooks’ (screws) to store and hang things on, that as soon as I had finished he said, “Bye!” and shut the door in my face. I made him say thanks. Well, at least he appreciates this very quick, hotch-potch job.
Today I finished mulching the pile from ‘the forest’. It took us a few sessions at different times, as it was such a big pile. The wood was getting a bit hard and I’m really glad to have it done, tiring as it was. We’ve still got the big branches to cut up for firewood. Now we can mow the grass properly to stop the paspalum grass from staging its takeover.
We are expecting rain in the next few days so we’re praying for it to be abundant. The drought still holds and aside from the fact that everyone needs water, the farmers really need rain for grass to grow before winter.