10 June 2021

How one nappy can create positive change

It started with a folded pile of fluffy, white nappies. We remembered our mothers folding them for our siblings, back when disposables were new technology but not normalised yet. We considered the cost and the rubbish pile that would result from all the disposable nappies our baby would need, compared to our pile of fluffy white fabric squares. 

The parenting books warned us not to be martyrs about washing nappies, that we had bigger things to worry about and that the environmental harm probably wasn’t that big anyway. We researched and de-bunked this pretty quickly. New mums at the mothers group raised eyebrows. The health nurse worried that it’d be too much work. We set aside the free sample disposable nappy the hospital sent us home with and did what felt right. We hung those cloth nappies on the washing line, in the sunshine, all beaming and fresh, and knew we were on the right track.


One day, a work colleague handed us a big bag of baby clothes for our growing babe. Amongst the hand knits and grow suits was a nappy cover. I googled the name on the label and discovered the world of modern cloth nappies. Next came the parenting forums - such a great support in those isolated early-parenting days. Before long, we’d found a circle of supportive families who shared clothes, nappies, cups of tea and stories of other ways of doing things. Friends who also researched and questioned things, acknowledged (and sometimes rejected) what had become normalised in the industrial shift away from ecological processes. We felt encouraged to look into the home-birth and water birth we’d felt discouraged from last time. And so our next two babies were born at home, in water. Then we decided the industrial education model wasn’t right for our kids, and we embraced unschooling.

We realise now that we’d begun a lifelong process of research, analysis, taking responsibility for ourselves and doing what feels right for our children and the planet they’re going to inherit. We studied permaculture and realised we’d been implementing the permaculture principles in our home for some time. From there, waste-free living was a no-brainer. It felt straight forward and simple. To this day, we can’t imagine why it took us so long to arrive at living waste-free, but we’re glad we did as we can see that reducing our waste encapsulates climate solutions. Waste is an indicator of the work to do on climate.

Now, making choices that challenge norms seems much less daunting. We’ve avoided the waste of tens of thousands of disposable nappies. We’ve diverted tonnes of waste from landfill, avoided recycling waste, dispensed with education waste and transport emissions (all those trips commuting to kinder became long mornings at home and walks around the neighbourhood). We’ve converted our suburban lawn-filled backyard to food growing plants, and we’ve made ripples beyond our own home, encouraging others to make choices for positive impact. We’ve also normalised this way of thinking and feeling, and the practices that come with it, for our kids. 

Sometimes that one simple choice you make is just the beginning. It’s where you learn the value of following your own head and heart; exercising your decision-making muscle. It might seem benign, but it just might change the direction of your life, and your impact on the planet, for the better. Then the next time a choice presents itself, to do what’s right for the planet and the people you love, you can dive right in. 

With our own simple beginnings in mind, we’ve decided to join our friend Erin, The Rogue Ginger, in requesting our council introduce a rebate on cloth nappies and reusable menstrual products, for local residents. This has the potential to reduce at least 4% of landfill waste generated in our municipality, and clean up kerbside recycling streams. Once food and organic waste composting is implemented later this year, that percentage will rise. A rebate will mean babies born in our area won’t leave a legacy of waste, contaminating the soil where they live, for generations. It’ll also be much more affordable for more people to access reusable options, which will save the council and residents money in the longer term.  It’ll mean a clean, fresh start for all of us. Who can tell the positive ripples of change that will happen beyond that.

As for that pile of nappies of ours, we can report that 18 years later, they’re still in circulation, dusting and cleaning up spills, mopping the floor, cleaning up muddy puppy paws. As each cloth gradually wears out, we place it in the compost, or as sheet mulch in the garden and it finds a new use as worm food, enriching our soil and leaving a positive impact in more ways than one.

5 March 2021

Zucchini, Chocolate + Olive Oil Cake

Weve been knee-deep in zucchinis for a while now. The glut began before the tomatoes ripened, and it continues to surprise us with over-sized veggies most days. It’s a nice problem to have.
Only about half of us actually like eating zucchini on it’s own, so to stay on top of the glut, we’ve been experimenting with zucchini kasundi recipes - we’ve not found a total favourite yet, but have a couple that will clear your sinuses if you’re brave! And we’ve returned to old favourites like pickled zucchinis, spiced zucchini soup (fabulous with fresh bread on autumn evenings, and a great glut-buster), and our favourite, zucchini chocolate cake. 

This is our go-to zucchini chocolate cake recipe. Its a quick mix recipe that makes a large amount of cake to share for a group, or to supply hungry kids with snacks for up to a week (it may depend on how hungry!). The cake keeps moist in an air-tight container on the bench for a few days, or can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen if longer storage is needed.

The olive oil adds depth of flavour that prevents the cake from being overly sweet. If you prefer a milder flavour, another vegetable or seed oil like sunflower oil might be a good replacement. The cake is dairy free and can be made gluten free with the alternative mentioned below. We haven’t tried an egg replacement so it’s not vegan, but let us know if you find a method that works for you! You can also add your favourite nuts or seeds to the cake, and ice it if you like.

Like all our recipes, we recommend you experiment and have fun finding what works best for you! 

2 cups (250g) plain flour
1.5 cups organic raw sugar (coconut sugar or rapadura also work, but can change the texture slightly).
3/4 cup cocoa powder (or raw cacao) 
3 teaspoons baking powder 
1 teaspoon bicarb
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups grated zucchini, firmly packed

1. Preheat oven to 180°C
2. Grease and flour a lamington tin.
3. Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarb, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl, then stir.
4. Add the eggs and oil to the bowl, and mix well.
5. Add the zucchini and mix together evenly.
6. Pour into the prepared lamington tin.
7. Bake in the preheated oven for one hour. 
8. Cool the cake and slice it into squares. 

Gluten free version: Use a gluten-free flour mix and add one extra egg. 

5 February 2021

Marvellous Mulberries :: Our favourite cordial recipe

Our very favourite garden tree is our mulberry. It's the biggest in the food forest, planted 9 or so years ago, over Tiny Owlet's placenta. It grows generous amounts of fruit, provides cooling shade, juice for ink-making, leaves for tea and silk worm fodder, and a stunning autumn display as it's leaves turn yellow where the sun lands on them. Actually, all the plants in our perennial food forest are wonderful. They’re super low maintenance, and feed us huge amounts of food each year. We’re so glad we planted them when we did. If you’re strapped for time, but have some space in your garden for perennial food plants, throw some in and feed your family (friends and neighbours), for years to come. It’s well worth the investment. But back to the mulberry.
Last year, we made the mistake of not throwing a net over our mulberry tree. The tree had grown so much in the year prior, it outgrew the nets we had, and we naively thought there would be enough fruit for us and the blackbirds to share. We didn’t pick a single ripe mulberry.

So, this year we were prepared. And the extra rain we’ve had meant mulberries as far as the eye can see. The laden tree’s heavy branches are sweeping the ground, and every leaf has berries waiting underneath to be picked. Unfortunately the combination of wind, rain and heavy fruit mean the tree is almost lying horizontal at this point. It won't be the same beautiful upright tree, and the food forest is somewhat changed, but that's the adventure of gardening and tending to an ever-changing ecosystem. We’ve still been sneaking out to the garden to scoff and slurp on juicy mulberries all month - bright magenta juice staining our fingers and toes... And, of course, we've been putting some aside for winter.

Bottled mulberries for the cupboards for winter guzzling. Fresh berries and mulberry cordial to enjoy right now. We'll make some cordial into jelly and some fruit into jam. We've been playing with mulberry cordial recipes for a few years now, and here's our ultra-simple favourite. We make a habit of simplifying things, because we find we're more likely to find time for an easy recipe we can remember by heart. Mulberry Cordial

1kg mulberries 1L water 750g sugar 2 lemons 1. Place the mulberries in a large saucepan, with the water and sugar. 2. Add the zest and juice of the lemons 3. Place the pot over a medium-high heat and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. 4. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, continuing to stir when you remember. 5. Line a large bowl or jug with a fine mesh bag, cheesecloth or strainer while you wait for the pot to simmer. 6. Remove from the heat and pour into the mesh bag/strainer/cloth lined bowl.

7. Allow the liquid to drain from the fruit pulp. We like to use a mesh bag and suspend it from a kitchen cupboard handle over the bowl. Set the fruit pulp aside. 8. Use a funnel to pour the cordial into clean bottles. Sterilise the bottles first if you're going to store the cordial for a while. 9. Seal with lids and move to the fridge when cool if you're planning to enjoy the cordial over the next couple of weeks. Pasteurise the full bottles in a large pot of boiling water if you plan to store them for up to 12 months.

Enjoy your cordial mixed 1:4 parts water. Mulberry fizz is lovely if you have a Sodastream, and mulberry mixes well with alcoholic drinks, too. Use the fruit pulp (and lemon zest) in your favourite crumble, pie or muffin recipe. It's delicious added to an apple base filling. Alternatively, freeze it for smoothies or nice-cream, or for baking another day. 

Happiest Mulberry season! 

~ Lauren. xx

17 January 2021

Ode to a worm farm :: How to make a pet poo worm farm

If there’s something we didn’t expect pet ownership would make us grateful for, it’s poo. Growing up, there was always lots of it - dog poo, cat poo, picked up before school, tied up in two plastic shopping bins, and flung into the bin for rubbish day. It was taken away so we didn’t need to think about it, or smell it anymore. When we both moved out of home and adopted pets, we continued the same daily tradition of double-bagged poo-flinging, into the stinky bin, and away. 

But then we started living waste-free, and we stopped shopping at supermarkets, so there were no smelly bins, no plastic bags, and no more away. So along came our worm farm, and the piles of poo (just poo), and the re-used brown paper bags we use to pick the poo up on dog walks, land in there. Our worm friends turn all those stinky piles into incredible compost - black gold for our fruit trees. There’s absolutely no smell. And very minimal need for us to do anything other than dig out the amazing compost, tickling the worms out of it as we go, once a year or so. 

This is what’s normal for our kids now. A life where everything is a valuable resource, and we take responsibility for what happens to it, right here, where we are. A life where we’re all part of an interconnected system, even our pets (both dogs and worms). And that’s a lesson that will last our kids their whole lives. 

How to set up a pet poo worm farm*

It is possible to use the waste pets create as a resource in your garden. You can convert their poo to compost in a dedicated worm farm and use the compost to feed ornamental plants and fruit trees (we’d keep it away from veggies and edible herbs so as to avoid any immediate toxins). A worm farm can fit in a garden, a courtyard or on a small balcony, and when working well will produce no smell. Just luscious compost for your garden.  

A container to keep your worms in. Some ideas include an old bath, Styrofoam boxes, an old bin or barrel, old car tyres, a purpose-built box or a kit from your local nursery.
A piece of mesh to cover any holes and keep the worms in. Fly screen or shade cloth are ideal.
Some bedding material. Some ideas include mushroom compost, garden soil, coconut fibre or garden compost, or lightly dampened shredded paper (this is ideal if you’re planning on composting pet poo).
Worm food. For composting pet poo, don’t feed them other food along with the poo as they’ll just eat the food and ignore the poo (who wouldn’t!). If you want a regular worm farm for your veggie scraps instead of poo, make sure to stay away from citrus and onions. Worms love soft food scraps, hair clippings, crushed egg shells, vacuum cleaner dust, coffee grounds, tea bags, sawdust, soaked cardboard and shredded paper.
Worms! You’ll need about 1000 worms specifically bred for farming. Look for tiger worms or red or blue wrigglers. Common garden worms are great for soil improvement, but not so effective in a worm farm.

If you’re creating a layered box system to collect worm tea, you’ll need something watertight for your bottom layer. In a bath, you might choose to place a bucket under the drain hole. If you’re using a Styrofoam box, place a watertight one on the bottom. Grab the box or container where your worms will be housed and make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage. Place it on your watertight, tea-collecting bottom layer, if you have one.

Place mesh over the holes. If you’re using a bath, cover the plughole.

Place your worm bedding material in the box or container.

Add your worms to the middle of the box. If you’re using a bath, place them at one end.

Add some poo for the worms to eat. Use your worm farm when you’re cleaning up your kitty-litter tray or dog poo, in conjunction with carbon matter like shredded paper or recycled paper kitty litter. We collect dog poo in re-used paper bags when we take the dogs for a walk, and this feeds the worms well. Try and keep a good balance between the carbon and nitrogen based matter in your worm farm, as you'd do when making compost. If you’re using a bath, just feed the worms up the end where the worms were placed.

Make sure not to overfeed your worms. Start with a small amount of food and watch to see how quickly they can break it down. Keep an eye on them as you add more.
Don’t feed pet poo to your worms if you’ve recently wormed your pets – worming medication may kill your worm farm! Technically the medication should be benign when it leaves your dog, but if you want to be sure, leave it for a few days before adding it to your worm farm. 

Place a doubled-up sheet of dampened newspaper on top of your worm farm to retain moisture and keep your worms comfy. Then pop a cover on your worm farm – a layer of hessian, or the lid your kit came with will work.

In a few weeks you’ll be able to collect worm tea to feed your garden! Stick to ornamentals and fruit trees if your worms are eating pet poo.

As your worm farm fills up, you’ll be able to place another box or layer on top and fill it with bedding and food for your worms to migrate to. If you’re using a bath, start feeding the worms at the other end of the bath and they’ll move along to their new feeding place.

Harvest the beautifully broken-down compost from the previous nesting/feeding box and use it on the garden. If you have cats, you might like to bury it under some soil and mulch to keep native wildlife safe, while making valuable nutrients available to your plants and out of landfill or waterways. Happy farming!

*This is an excerpt from our book 'A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living', published in 2019 by Plum. You'll still find it at most good bookshops and libraries, or signed copies in our shop