Belated FitFriday IV.

It seems that being busy isn’t going to die back any time soon. On the plus side, Jon’s happy, I’m happy, the hens are happy, the house looks lovely, the garden’s thriving and I made £357 this week, so all’s well.

I walked and gardened a little most days and sprinted with the dogs every day.

I did a couple of weights sessions and we’re smoothing out my deadlift form.

I’ve been eating much lower carb, some days VLC, and my waist is smaller and my mind more focused thanks to that.

Overcaffeinated, but work is work and needs doing. May need to do another coffee detox soon.

The website ban has generally worked on willpower alone, except when I had minutes to spare between important tasks. Got a lot of writing, sewing and drawing done, so it’s being used productively too. Watching a lot of cartoon films, but I’m in a broody mood and generally only watched them when my hands were otherwise occupied with sewing or sketching, so there’s that.

Next week I need to focus on eating clean, especially considering that the week after that I’ll be at a music festival and living off spam, beef jerky and dried fruits. I also need to practise deadlifting in better form, because I have a feeling I could lift a lot more if only my form was good and my lumbar muscles would work in sync.

Been listening to a lot of Muse lately. Helps me tune out and focus on my work.

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WWW. Creamy Chicken Bake and Fruit Loaf.

Busy lately. Cleaning, hens, Download, workouts, sewing, art, business plan, tutoring, cooking, gardening. Everything’s happening at once!

Anyhow, here’s what we had for lunch yesterday.

Recipe 1: Creamy Chicken Bake.

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Ingredients:

-6-8 chicken thighs or breasts

-200g new potatoes

-200g broccoli florets

-100g butternut squash

-100g carrot

-1 red bell pepper

-5 cloves of garlic

-200ml double cream

-200ml milk

Utensils:

-small pot

-chopping board and knife

-large deep oven tray

Recipe:

1: Halve or quarter the potatoes. Boil until soft.

2: Slice the broccoli florets up very small.

3: Layer the potatoes and broccoli along the base.

4: Slice the carrots, pepper and squash very thinly and layer on top.

5: Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, skin-side up.

6: Cut the cloves of garlic in half, crush them, and wedge them into any gaps between the vegetables.

7: Pour the milk in with the vegetables.

8: Pour the cream on top.

9: Bake at 160C for 2h.

Recipe 2: Fruit Loaf.

I actually made this on Sunday, when I did a lot of home-baking and roasting, but didn’t get round to writing the recipe.

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Jon has his with butter.

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Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):

-5 overripe bananas

-400g applesauce or stewed apples

-200g self-raising flour

-150ml water

-100g mixed seeds

-3tbsp sugar

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and fork

-greased or nonstick baking trays

Recipe:

1: Mash the bananas into the bowl.

2: Stir in the apple.

3: Stir in the flour.

4: Carefully fold in the sugar and seeds.

5: Add water if necessary to make the mixture pourable but stiff to stir.

6: Pour into the trays.

7: Bake at 160C for 1h 30min.

And that’s what we had for lunch on Wednesday.

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Book Excerpt.

From the book in progress, “On A Budget: The good housekeeper’s guide to economizing.”

The previous excerpts were on supermarket grocery shopping, time management, mending clothing and cooking. This one is on online vouchers and coupons, from the chapter “Internet”.

Almost everyone is aware of vouchers and coupons. And anyone who’s shopped on a supermarket’s website or watched “Extreme Couponing” knows that these vouchers and coupons can be found online if you have the time and the inclination. The problem with this is that both of these give the wrong impression. Supermarket vouchers make it seem as though coupons are largely for things you don’t use or need and shows like “Extreme Couponing” make it look like you need to be ridiculously obsessive to do well with coupons. Neither of these impressions is correct. Couponing can be fun, simple and produce useful items at the end of the day.

So, to make it easy, the first step is to find coupons. Most of these are printable, so you just have to save and print any useful vouchers and take them with you when you go shopping. Most social networking sites have groups of couponers and voucher-finders you can follow to get all the news on the latest deals. This also provides the benefit of discussing how to access any hard-to-find vouchers, as well as what ones are more useful and what places won’t accept certain vouchers. However, if you don’t use social media much, these groups may not be particularly useful.

Another way to find them is to keep an eye on websites that track vouchers and offers. An easy way of finding these is just to search for something along the lines of “uk vouchers”. These websites link you directly to where the voucher is, or give you a code to use when next shopping. Just be aware that sometimes vouchers expire and the website doesn’t edit the voucher to tell you this.

Sometimes, the retailer will give you vouchers directly, as you find with supermarkets. So going onto your favourite coffee shop’s website to have a look around can’t hurt. You get to read about the coffee shop, see any current offers and there may be a voucher or two available.

A similar technique is to write a short letter or email to the company complimenting them on the quality of their product or service. This sometimes results in them sending you a voucher so you can enjoy an amount of their product or service for free.

Finally, shops also offer vouchers in their magazines. If you normally buy a gossip magazine, a cooking magazine or are looking at getting a catalogue, it can be good to switch onto your local supermarket’s magazine. A lot of them offer free pamphlets and magazines also, or at a discount with a certain purchase.

It’s also worth having a look through any magazines or newspapers you already buy or subscribe to. Some health magazines will have vouchers for specific supermarkets or brands. The RSPB magazine has discount vouchers for RSPB products and advertisements for bird and garden related companies that offer you a discount or a freebie if you mention the offer in the RSPB magazine. Newspapers often have a vouchers, discounts or freebies section, where, if you collect a couple of days worth of cutouts, you can get a free or heavily discounted product. It’s usually more worthwhile to look for vouchers and discount codes in magazines with a certain focus, as you’re more likely to be interested in bird feed if you subscribe to the RSPB magazine than to be interested in a brand of shampoo if you subscribe to a newspaper. However, it’s always worthwhile to find out where the vouchers and discounts in your regular newspapers are, just in case there’s something you’re interested in, someone you know is interested in or that you could sell.

Next, is the issue of how to sort and store your vouchers. The best place to keep them will be an agenda, a memo board, a fridge door, a wallet or a diary; somewhere where you look on a daily basis before you go shopping or when you’re making a plan for the day. I keep mine pinned to a cork board in my kitchen, because it’s where I keep important phone-numbers, is in a very visible place, in a room I use every day (also the room I go into when making a shopping-list) and right next-to my calendar. You will want to keep them somewhere that you visit just as frequently. Don’t get an agenda or a diary specifically for your vouchers, at least not until you’re used to it. In my experience, getting a new folder or agenda or calendar for them usually means they’re entirely forgotten. However, if you keep important memos on the fridge door, then you’re highly likely to find your vouchers there. How you store them is also important. Most retailers won’t accept a damaged voucher, so you’ll want to cut it out with quite an extra margin, maybe a cm border after the cutout line. This way if you pin them or they peek out of your agenda, the edge that is scuffed or has a hole in it won’t be the actual voucher. Another thing to consider, especially if you’re keeping them on the fridge door, in a highly messy room or have pets, children or out of control adults, you will want to put them in a transparent plastic sleeve, like the ones you get in ringbinders. This way you can see what vouchers are, where they are and keep them clean and safe.

How you sort them is a matter of some debate. Many people sort them by expiry date, but I find this to be more awkward than it’s worth. For starters, if your voucher is pinned to the day it expires, it’s more likely you’ll only see it when it’s too late to use. On the other hand, if you just bunch them all together you’ll find it harder to throw away the expired ones and to find the ones you need on a particular shop. I find it more useful to sort them by shop and by the date you’ll use them. If you stop by a certain shop or supermarket daily, then keep the vouchers you can use there always on you. If only shop at another one weekly or monthly then you’ll want to collect all the vouchers you intend on using whilst there and make sure you go to the shops before ANY of them expire. To make sure you remember them, pin them to a calendar sheet or diary page on the day when you’re going, or pin them to a memo-board or the fridge with a note saying what day they’ll be used. That way, you’ll always use them up or take them with you when you’re going to the appropriate shop. Whenever you get a voucher, think of where and when you’ll use it (“Pet-store; next Tuesday.”) and put it with the other vouchers for the right day and shop.

Now that we know where to get coupons and how to store and sort them, the question is: how do we spend them? Here are some answers geared towards making the most of your coupons and not losing out or getting things you could otherwise get cheaper.

1: Is the product as cheap as it could be?

Sometimes, just because a product is discounted doesn’t mean it’s good enough. As an example, my fiance and I are happy to get value brand mouthwash and soaps from pound stores. This means that, even with a £1 voucher, a lot of the more expensive brands aren’t worth it. However, when multiple vouchers or offers are combined, you can often get the expensive brand at a reasonable price. For example, we had one voucher for £1 off a certain brand of kitchen towels, we also had a voucher for 50p off it. Combined with a discount that was running, a product that would normally cost £3 cost us 50p.

2: Can I multi-coupon or combine it with another offer?

As in the example above, sometimes a voucher is only good if you can use it at a time when an offer is running or use it alongside another voucher or coupon. Almost all coupons say that you can’t do this. However, many supermarkets and stores simply view them as an IOU or a form of alternative currency from the manufacturer. In other words, whilst some stores stick to one coupon per item and one item per coupon, others will not scrutinize them or have a system that will tell them “This person already had a discount on that sweetcorn!” If you’re unsure, get the products, try and apply the coupons and, where the coupons aren’t accepted, return any more expensive items at the till.

3: Is this a product I’ll use?

Sometimes, the product on offer is one you don’t normally buy. Here we apply the same tactics for working out what we need to do as we apply with supermarket discounts and offers. For example, we had a voucher for 50p off brand-name face-wipes. This would have been useful if we used the wipes often, the voucher made them cheaper than the cheapest brand or if there had been another voucher or offer available, to make it incredibly cheap. It’s not like we WOULDN’T use it, if we could get it cheap enough. There are plenty of uses for face-wipes. However, it would still have cost over £2 for a small pack and, at that price, we’d be better off getting the value brand. On the other hand, the kitchen towels in question 1, whilst we didn’t normally get them, were a fairly unique product at such a price that they were worth getting. Not only was there no alternative, but, after the vouchers, they were cheaper than the closest alternative products.

FitFriday III.

This week has been a busy one, but I managed to keep at it.

Almost every day I’ve done some lifting, either as a 1 or 2 exercise workout or whilst getting the new chicken coop or the garden ready.

I’ve walked quite a bit and got a lot of sunlight. My hands have dried fairly easily, but they’re still elastic and they sweat when I have a break, so it’s still within natural boundaries.

I’ve been VLC some days and LC others, so my water-weight has literally melted off. It seems I can store up to 6L of extra fluid when I’m eating high carb. Considering I’m not obese, that is quite a feat. Goes to show that a lot of the jigglies some people have could be lost by cutting back on water retention.

My diet has largely consisted of low-calorie starches, mixed vegetables, tomato sauce, meat and eggs. And coffee, of course. A bit of chocolate and some sugared almonds here and there, as well as a banana and rice for a carb refeed when I wasn’t feeling fully recovered after a VLC day with endurance activities.

Got to get back on track with my regular weights and walking.

Finally, I have banned myself from certain websites that distract me easily and am only allowing others, such as the blog, or social networking sites, to be used for 1h/day before my chores are done or whilst completing small jobs. Productivity feels like it’s gone up 200%!

Here, have some beautiful Finnish pop.

Wonderful Wednesday Wok. Beef Wellington and Ice-Cream Cake.

Today’s Wok was for dinner instead of for lunch. So I decided to go a bit crazy and make some more complicated things. Considering the number of elements, this had the potential to go very wrong. But it didn’t, and was actually one of the best Wok’s I’ve made yet. 😀

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Recipe 1: Beef Wellington.

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A British classic that the rest of the world doesn’t regard as awful or pure pub food. Roast beef in pastry with a nice, usually mushroomed, gravy around them.

The ones I made were individual portions, and the pastry was a bit soft, so it spread.

Jon’s rating: 8.25/10.

Ingredients (serves 2):

For the filling:

-2 thick steaks

-5 closed-cap mushrooms

-1/2 a cooking onion or 1 shallot

-2tbsp olive oil

-1tbsp chilli oil

-1tbsp pepper

For the pastry:

-400g flour

-200g salted butter

-150ml cold water

-1 beaten egg

Utensils:

-frying pan

-mixing bowl and spoon

-rolling pin

-greased or nonstick baking tray

Recipe:

1: Mix the butter and flour together until the mix looks marbled.

2: Gently stir in the cold water until the dough is thick and stretchy.

3: Leave in the fridge to cool.

4: Seal the steak in the pan with some olive oil. Put to one side to cool.

5: Very finely dice the mushrooms and onion/shallot. Fry in the same oil used for the beef.

6: Take the pastry from the fridge. Divide into two halves.

7: Roll out one half into a rectangle. Place the steak in the rectangle and pile the mushroom onto it. Drizzle some chilli oil and the pepper. Fold the short ends over and press down. Fold the long ends over to seal the “parcel”.

8: Turn over the parcel and place on the baking tray. Brush all over with the beaten egg.

9: Bake at 160-180C for 45-55min.

Recipe 2: Stuffed Squash.

Jon wasn’t so keen on this, but filled himself on the Beef Wellington and the filling, so all was good.

I personally loved it with a sprinkle of salt, so I’ll make some for myself again sometime soon.

Jon’s rating: 7.5/10.

Ingredients (serves 2):

-the “bowl” of a butternut squash

-100g cooked rice

-2 duck eggs

-1tbsp chili oil

-1tbsp mixed herbs

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-fork

-baking tray

-mixing bowl and spoon

Recipe:

1: Cut the squash in half. Use the fork to scrape out the lining and seeds.

2: Bake at 200C for 35min.

3: Mix the rice, oil and herbs.

4: Spoon the rice into the bowl of the squash and make a large indent.

5: Break the eggs into the indent.

6: Bake at 160C for 35min.

Recipe 3: Berry Ice-Cream Cake.

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A sorbet, an ice-cream and beautiful layers. Jon liked it but found the last layer of berries a little too much. I’m just pleased that it looked and tasted just as I’d planned. But next time I’ll add more banana to the sorbet for Jon. 🙂 There were two tureens, but one was more than enough for both of us.

Jon’s rating: 9/10.

Ingredients (serves 4):

-150g mixed berries

-2 small bananas

-300ml double cream

-2tbsp blueberry or blackberry jam

-50g 90% chocolate

Utensils:

-freezable pot

-2 freezable tureens

-2 mixing bowls and forks

How Jon thinks it was made:

 

Apparently this is exactly what I look like when I'm cooking.

Apparently this is exactly what I look like when I’m cooking.

How it was actually made:

1: Take the double cream and freeze it.

2: Defrost it quickly using the stove or a microwave setting.

3: Pour away the watery residue and keep the creamy parts in one bowl.

4: Mash the jam into the cream.

5: Crush the chocolate and spread it evenly between the bases of both tureens.

6: Spread 1/4 of the cream mix evenly into the base of each tureen and place them in the freezer until solid.

7: Mash the berries with the bananas in the other mixing bowl.

8: Take the tureens from the freezer and layer 1/4 of the berry mix in each tureen on top of the frozen cream. Place in the freezer again.

9: Repeat processes 6 and 8.

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10: To remove from the tureen, fill a bowl with hot water so that it covers the sides of the tureen but doesn’t flow into it. Once the cake is loose, turn it upside down on a plate.

 

Layers!

Layers!

And that was what we had this week. 🙂

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Perfect Agriculture.

Recently I have been pondering, both for my own practical uses and for a bit of attention for the ego, how, in a state of power, I would go about designing an agricultural system that functioned most efficiently, providing the most food or the most varieties year-round for the least cash input. What follows is an overview of the systems I have integrated into this design. At the end is my explanation as to how I will personally implement it.

This is almost entirely idealistic and assumes that businesses want the greatest eventual profit, rather than the greatest monthly turnover or the lowest quarterly output. It also assumes that the government has an interest in protecting the country and the people and that financial assets, employment for all who can work, food for all and conservation of the environment are weighted evenly.

System 1: Medieval field rotation.

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A tried-and-tested method for getting the most out of your lands.

You divide your fields into three. One of them bears the fruits and vegetables that need the most nutrition. One is full of staple foods that require less nutrition. Another is left to rest. Every season, year or two years you cycle through the fields. You move your staples into the near-depleted soil from the vegetable field, your vegetables into the enriched soil from the resting field and proceed to rest the previous staple field.

For reasons that will be more evident under the following systems, the most benefit would be derived from three hexagonal fields that were rotated on a two year basis.

System 2: Polyculture.

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It should go without saying that monoculture is not the height of efficiency we though it to be. But it apparently doesn’t, so allow me to explain.

Monoculture is efficient in as far as it’s simple. But, much like a single-wheel pulley, simple doesn’t always mean efficient and, if more efficient, it definitely isn’t the most efficient.

The issues with monoculture are as follow.

1: It’s harsher on the soil. There’s a reason wheat fields need artificial fertilizers routinely spread over them and even sometimes need nutrients to be added to the irrigation system. Put simply, no natural environment needs chemical fertilization or nutrients added to the water. This is in part because in nature plants grow in diversity. Some plants put out certain minerals. To them it’s a waste product. To the plant next-to them it may be a life-giving supplement. When a plant dies it decomposes into the soil, shaded and aided by other plants, and its roots return to simple sugars. In a monoculture we don’t get this, so one crop is continually consuming zinc, for example, and there’s nothing to replace this zinc, so we need to add it back ourselves. Phosphor in wheat fields is a perfect real-life example of this.

2: It’s water-expensive. In fact, the mere need for an irrigation system should be a red flag. Most wheat fields used to be grassy hills, woodlands, shrubberies and forests. You may notice that no natural environment needs watering to sustain its plant life. Rain and rivers suffice. This is because the plants that grow in a particular area are adapted to the climate. It is also often because the presence of roots in the earth allows for water-retention, much like the gravel you put in the base of a plant-pot. Finally, plants naturally sweat and will hold this water, along with dew, where vegetation is dense, as in a rainforest. As monoculture is rarely climate-adapted or densely planted, water retention can be very poor.

3: It requires pesticides. In the wild, when a parasite, pest or fungus starts killing-off a specific plant we often find the spread of this disease halting. This is because most parasites, pests and fungi feed on only a few plants or types of plant. If there are twenty potato-plants in this area, but the next twenty are a kilometre away, a potato borer will move into one group, start consuming them and breed to its very limit. If it breeds too much, they kill off the twenty plants and, being far from the other twenty, may die before they find them. This way a plant specie is given a better chance of survival. In a monoculture, you could have thousands of acres of only potatoes. A potato borer infestation will quickly expand and render almost all the potatoes useless for human consumption. The only way to fully control this in monoculture is by use of pesticides. Plants in pesticide-rich soil are likely to need more nutrition and may even be genetically modified to survive the high pesticide load.

4: It works on a very small profit margin and crops require subsidies, as they often fail. Most of the extra profit of running a monoculture comes from not hiring as many people. But wages are cheap and machinery, machinery maintenance, copyrighted GMO plants, pesticides, irrigation systems and artificial fertilization are expensive. At the end of the day, the profits made by the farm are marginal. To boot, oftentimes they would make repeat losses due to crop failure if it weren’t for subsidies, as evidenced by what happened when Monsanto GMO crops where introduced into traditional Indian farms.

Overall, monoculture may be the simplest way of farming, the easiest to manage and the cheapest in terms of initial investment. But running and maintaining a farm over several decades is more realistic in terms of polyculture, especially where fruits are concerned and albeit not regarding modern strains of wheat.

To make this polyculture effective, we need to consider the rich field and the staple field. All three fields will always have fruit- and nut-bearing trees bordering them. Your rich field will carry leafy vegetables, fruits and beans. Your rich field should be the most biodverse. If you’ll need people with what amounts to rakes, their hands and a hoover to harvest them, then the slightly jungle-like nature the biodiversity brings won’t be as much of an issue. Meanwhile, your staple field should carry two or three crops, kept in rows a tractor’s width wide, so it can be harvested with more ease, but with minimized risk of pests.

System 3: Companion plants.

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And, whilst we’re planting a polyculture, we may as well do it right. As mentioned, some plants secrete certain compounds or minerals and absorb certain others. Some release a lot of certain substances when they decay. Planting a plant that secretes a lot of sodium near one that will die if exposed to excess sodium is a bad idea. Likewise, planting several that need a lot of zinc withing touching distance isn’t much good either. What we need to do is pair off plants that go well together, ones that release a nutrient the second crop needs, or that decay to form the perfect mulch for the second crop to thrive. Here are a few ideas:

Alliums with nightshades. That would be onions and their relatives with tomatoes, potatoes and their relatives. Their nutrient balances seem to work together, as observed by many a seasoned gardener.

For mutual benefit, plant alliums with carrots. Yep. No idea why here.

Don’t plant brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli) with nightshades. They can poison or choke each other.

Plant lettuce between your bean plants. The bean plants will shelter and nourish the lettuce and it makes use of the otherwise empty spaces between.

By using a complementary planting system you can make the most of an area, encourage all to grow strong and healthy, discourage pests naturally and basically start creating your own micro ecosystem of foods you can use.

System 4: Allan Savory’s pasture model.

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This is where we get a bit more intense. Every viable ecosystem involves animals. Now, of course, we understand the purpose of bees, worms and other such helpful critters, but we need to start considering two other groups

a: wild animals that are sometimes considered pests

b: domestic animals that produce.

The first group is a bit of a challenge on one front and that’s that we don’t like them. Not usually. I’m talking wasps, ants, beetles, snakes and rodents. Of course, we don’t want our fields or garden overrun with any of them. But the idea is just to let some of them be. Wasps eat some of the more troublesome insects. Ants and beetles clear surface debris the same way worms clear it in the earth. Small mice eat scraps and bugs and snakes keep the mice in check. The ecosystem is likely to form itself. Unless you’re overrun with one specie or another or you have rats, measures needn’t be taken to eradicate an animal from the environment. Control its population? Yes, sure. But embrace the presence of the critters, albeit within your own boundaries.

The second group is a challenge on another front: that they’re hard work. However, Savory’s pasture model requires livestock. And the benefits parched soil receives when animals start grazing on it is incredible, as you’ll see if you click the above link. This is what will tie-in with the resting field of the three-field system.

We need to take some animals that will control our pests, eat the waste and refertilize the soil. For larger operations herds of cattle could be used, but for smaller ones we need smaller scavenging animals. For gardens rabbits and hens should suffice. For now, let’s focus on the medium-sized land and the goats, pigs and hens. These animals are known for eating anything and everything they can fit into their mouths.

We measure the size of the field, work out how many animals could feed off it for a year and set them free. They will strip out any resurfacing plants from the first year, tear down the remains of the staple crop and clear the weeds from the soil. They will dig and turn the earth, eat worms, beetles and wasps. They will make a mess of everything and leave the soil rich for a new crop. They will produce eggs, milk and later meat. Their feed can be supplemented with scraps, weeds and bugs from the first two fields and maybe with some extra feed near the end of the year. The third field becomes useful again, not only providing the fruit and nuts from the trees around it, but providing year-long eggs and milk and a good supply of meat at the end of the year. To make the most of this, the two-year model comes into its own again, with the goats and hens providing two years of milk and eggs before being killed for meat and the pigs being slaughtered as yearlings before the drove is replaced for another year. On a smaller farm or a large garden the rotation may be reduced to one year, but it would really make more sense to reduce the amount of animals kept and make the most of the hens and goats.

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System 5: Conservation model.

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This is especially for larger gardens and actual farms, but I will go into how to apply it in a small-medium garden in the extensions section.

This is, again, to protect the biodiversity of the area and encourage the right sort of bugs to visit. We still don’t wholly understand how intricately an ecosystem interacts, so the only way to ensure that polyculture and Allan Savory’s pasture model can fully function is to not rely on them. This is where the hexagonal shape of the fields starts to come into its own. As three fields meet at the centre, you can create pockets of land to return to a wild state between your three fields. A good way of doing this would be to assess how much land you can spare and prioritize the planting and maintenance of endangered species, allowing the more common flora and fauna to move in on its own.

This land would have to be accessible, but also generally left alone unless there’s a problem such as a fungus spreading among the trees or a rabies outbreak.

Generally just leaving some land alone and later reintroducing endangered species is all it takes. Most land that has been used for crops or neglected for a while can recover and rebuild its ecosystem naturally if left alone.

If the land has not been wild for a very long time, there are several models to follow with the conserved land.

1: Forest. Plant thickly with trees and populate with forest insects and tree animals.

2: Dunes. Plant sparsely with thickets and gorse and let it populate itself.

3: Water. Make an artificial pond, lake or stream. Populate wit water-life.

4: Plains. Sow thickly with grass and wildflower seeds with a border of hedges and trees. Allow to populate itself or populate with game animals.

There are many more, but those are the main ones.

By encouraging biodiversity in the centre of your fields you are encouraging a natural balance of small fauna within the fields themselves, allowing for ladybirds to eat your aphids, worms to turn your soil and bees to fertilize your fruit-bearing plants.

By keeping it in the centre you are allowing other farmers next-to you to create their own wholly different ecosystem pockets inside their fields, creating a diverse spread of plants and animals across the country’s farmed land.

By adding new biodiverse space for endangered animals you contribute to their survival and the survival of ecosystems outside the farmland.

System 6: Local business.

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This is something consumers are starting to strongly push for, which is excellent news for smaller farmers, smallholders, allotments and gardens.

But everyone talks about buying locally, few talk about selling locally. When we talk about big industries and chain shops, of course we start seeing the benefits of not doing so, but what benefits are there to selling locally?

Firstly, it’s cheaper and easier, especially for the small producer. Minimal transport, waste issues or middle men. Which means lower costs all round.

Secondly, the product can be made cheaply for your customers. It’s easier to charge less for something when it has cost you less to produce.

Thirdly, it’s easier to establish business connections. Selling your eggs, wheat and berries to a local bakery is easier to do when you are in regular contact with other local businesses.

Finally, selling locally needn’t be a restriction, especially not in terms of agriculture. People will always need food and by promoting local business and seasonal eating you are moving them away from imported foods and onto local, national foods. This way you have more customers without moving afar. The closer to home something is produced, the cheaper you can sell it, the easier it is to encourage locals to buy it.

It also plays into the Ford wage-structure mentioned under System 8.

All in all, selling locally can be very beneficial to our agricultural system, especially pertaining to small and medium operations.

System 7:  Man-power.

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So if we have a rotatory system with one particularly diverse field and a field of animals, we need to embrace another thing we all but gave up on a few centuries back: good old-fashioned man-power. Of course, we can expect innovation to catch up very quickly and reduce the number or workers needed. But, in principle, part-time, hired man-power is going to be cheaper and more efficient and, to boot, more people in work means more people with money to spend on your goods. It may not be in the short-term interests of the business, but in the long-term interests of a country and all who reside in it and depend on it. Again, idealistic, but oh well.

And how would we assign labour? The most people will need to be employed in the rich field, sowing the seeds, checking for disease and harvesting the plants. The best way to run this would be with part-time employment that allowed people to move around whenever work was slower at their usual farm. A few steady workers who can manage all round and some who can do the more permanent, more specific jobs. These people should ideally have housing provided, either for free or as rented property, so they can live nearby, which would keep their travel costs low. The more you do for them, the happier they are to work for you. Those who don’t stay year-round will need temporary accommodation so they can come and go as they need. Considering their situation, this would have to be catered or at least stocked with food, so they don’t have to worry about driving to town and finding the nearest shops after a hard day’s work.

We would also need permanent trained workers to care for the livestock. Collect eggs, milk the herd, feed the animals, check for injury, let them out in the morning and put them to bed at night.

Finally, we’d need trained staff or visiting specialists to keep an eye on the wild ecosystem to ensure it thrives.

Ideally, our lands would have enough space to house the owners and the largest number of workers present at any given time and we’d be able to keep maids and cleaners employed so that the land workers don’t have to dedicate too much time to ordering the house before setting off to work.

Essentially, it would be a return to Victorian labourers, just with hopefully better pay thanks to the reduced number of them.

System 8: Ford’s wage structure.

Whilst it is often misinterpreted, allow me to explain the concept of Ford’s wage system. Henry Ford doubled his workers pay. Now, first we will discuss his actual reasons for doing this and next we will discuss the beneficial effect this act had on the consumer population. These are not to be confused.

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Ford’s intentions were, as mentioned in the link, to make his investment more efficient. By paying his permanent workers more than the competition he was guaranteeing that they would stay, rather than getting trained by him and leaving for a better paycheck. This should be applied in terms of your permanent workers also, however it can be done in many ways. By providing them with reasonably-priced housing you are already starting to encourage them to stay. Next, adding perks such as days off on a rotatory system, free food from the farm and the likes will keep them around. Finally, whether you give them a competitive salary depends on the environment. If other farms are paying their workers far more than you, you will need to raise your wages, or at least match those of the competition. If they raise theirs in response you may be looking at a wage war, which means there’s a short supply of those workers and/or they need costly training. If other farms don’t mind you matching or exceeding their pay, chances are the workers are abundant. This presents a different issue. If there are many workers there’s a chance yours may leave for a place where people with their training are scarce, hoping for a higher pay. This means you need to out-compete other areas. Make it less financially viable for them to move. Unless there’s a ridiculous excess of people in their position, these workers will stay local and hopefully stay with you.

Of course, with less valuable workers it’s much easier to let them migrate as they need to and just ensure your turnover isn’t too high.

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Next comes the unintended benefit of the wage wars between automobile manufacturers. This is sometimes interpreted as Ford’s intention, but to be fair it’s unlikely that’s what he had in mind. However, there is still much we can learn from it.

The concept is that by paying your workers enough so they can use your product, you increase your consumer base. Now, this makes sense in terms of cars the same way it makes sense in terms of aeroplanes: it doesn’t. If every manufacturer were making a product affordable to the masses through this method we’d all have jets by now. On the other hand, the cars and jets are eventually consumed by the masses, some of which may have helped build them. They just aren’t directly purchased by these people. However in terms of agriculture, it is possible that your workers will purchase your food directly, or having been processed by other local businesses. This means a suitable balance between salaries and product should be found, so that when the produce reaches the customers they can afford to buy it. As between five workers and a machine you may be able to produce food for a hundred or more, this wage structure shouldn’t leave you out of pocket.

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Extensions.

Of course, there are things we could add onto this, on a larger scale, to make it run more efficiently. Rather than go into them in depth, I’ll keep these short and sweet. If you’re interested in why I decided any of these was practical, how it would work or how it could be implemented, feel free to comment and ask.

*Extra tax on imported sustenance foods.

*Lower tax on imported luxuries.

*Subsidies for crop failure of main crop or disease outbreak in animals.

*Limits on how many of a certain crop can be grown in one area.

*Incentives to employ local youth in the non-permanent local jobs.

*Subsidies for those farmers looking to branch out into second tier business.

*Any farmland that doesn’t abide by the main laws can be seized, transformed and sold on to another farmer.

*Big businesses have a limit on the number of farms they can own, but not on the number they can sponsor or invest in.

Using the structure in your own back yard.

So, how about for us everyday folk who aren’t interested in starting a farm anytime soon? Well, many of the above principles can be applied to your own gardening exploits.

Pots, balconies, windows and patios.

To make the most use of these, choose large, heavy pots that you can put more than one plant into. Make sure the area is diverse and the plants are matched well. It could be good to keep beans trailing up the balcony rails, for example, or use a small kumquat to shade some herbs.

Keeping animals would be hard, but encouraging bees and getting some worms to put in the pots can really make a difference.

Small gardens and conservatories.

Keeping animals still isn’t much of an option. Focus on the diversity of the garden plants first and foremost and encourage useful insects. Maybe consider getting a goat or a couple of hens or ducks.

Large gardens.

You can start moving into more interesting territory here. I’d advise using a reasonable number of small animals, like rabbits or hens and other fowl. They can be kept in a run or allowed to roam freely.

You can also start cycling crops a little. Try and move potatoes and cabbages, for example, into earth where you kept beets or carrots last year.

Small fields.

Divide the field into three and start a small operation involving hens, pigs or goats, a staple and some assorted vegetables.

In the above examples, try and encourage biodiversity by assigning a pot, a corner or a strip of land to the sort of flowers bees will like. Let some areas grow a bit wild and keep a compost heap wherever and whatever you’re growing.

How I’m doing it.

1: I have four areas to my garden. One on the compost heap, which will always be for pumpkins, melons and marrows; one on the hill which is currently for pepper plants, tomatoes and leeks; one near the house, which is for cabbages and potatoes and one near the hedge which is for beans and lettuce. I will rest the potato earth and the lettuce areas over Winter and plant the potatoes and cabbage on the hill next year.

2&3: I plant plants together, to ensure they balance each other. Night-shades with alliums, beans with lettuce, berry bushes with sunflowers.

4: I am keeping hens and, when they can be trusted and the bean plants are stronger, they will be allowed to walk among the permanent plants to fertilize the soil in-between. There are currently four of them and they provide 1-4 eggs a day.

5: I have corners of flowers for bees and am planting flowers between my food plants. I am letting some corners of the garden stay wild so as to encourage natural life in. I am corralling  the local ant population into the hedge, where it’s useful.

I’m not currently selling any produce, but may do so in the future.

WWW. Lamb Bake and Banana Cake.

Ooh, rhymes. Lovely meter too.

Anyhow, first post since Jon came down with the plague bronchitis and nearly died needed much care and attention. I have another for tomorrow, a FitFriday worth mentioning and a book extract for Saturday. Yay for return of writing!

Today Jon came home for lunch and this is what we had.

Both need to be prepared in advance. I did Stage 1 on Tuesday and Stage 2 on Wednesday, but you can just leave 2-5h between the two if you like.

Recipe 1: Spicy Lamb and Potato Bake.

Ingredients:

-4 lamb chops

-400g potato (I made more, but that was so I could make good use of it for a breakfast tortilla de patatas)

-2 small onions

-4 small carrots

For the marinade:

-6-10tsp hot sauce (tabasco or green habanero sauces are good)

-1tsp Worcester sauce

-2tbsp honey

-2tbsp herbs

-1tsp ginger

-1tsp salt

-1/2tsp paprika

Utensils:

-chopping board and knife

-cup and teaspoon

-baking tray

Recipe:

Stage 1.

1: Mix the marinade ingredients in a cup.

2: Add warm water to dissolve them.

3: Slice the potatoes into 1cm thick rounds. Layer along the base of the tray.

4: Place the lamb on top of the potatoes.

5: Pour the marinade over. Use any thicker parts at the bottom to coat the lamb.

6: Add water until everything is just covered.

7: Leave to rest.

Stage 2.

8: Chop the carrots into sticks and the onions into quarters.

9: Submerge the carrots in the marinade and place the onion quarters on top.

10 Bake at 160C for 120min.

11: Bake at 200C for 30-60min.

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Recipe 2: Brandy and Banana Cake.

Ingredients:

-5 ripe or very ripe bananas

-300-400g flour (self-raising or plus suitable raising agents)

-200g raisins

-150ml rich brandy

-100ml double cream

-1tsp ginger

-1tsp cinnamon

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and spoon

-baking tray (greased or nonstick)

Recipe:

Stage 1.

1: Mash the bananas into a bowl.

2: Add the raisins and spices and the cream. Mash more.

3: Mix in the flour and raising agents.

4: Slowly stir-in the brandy.

5: Leave in the fridge to raise.

Stage 2.

6: Pour into the baking tray. Spread evenly and smooth the top.

7: Bake at 160C for 2h.

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8: Serve with thick cream or ice-cream.

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