2017-07-25 10:17 am

Agile permaculture: an introduction (part 1 of a series)

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been wanting to talk about Agile software development methodologies and how they relate to permaculture – Agile permaculture for short – for yearsandyearsandyears, and it finally seems like time to do so. Over on Making Permaculture Stronger, Dan is making an inquiry into permaculture design processes, and how much design […]

2017-07-18 10:31 am

Writing about permaculture’s edges and margins

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

I recently took part in a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) – 15 days of classes and hands-on activities covering everything from ecology to passata-making, spread over the first half of this year. I’d been told that doing a PDC makes you see the world differently. I must admit that I didn’t find this to be […]

2017-07-11 10:56 am

A bike holiday to Castlemaine

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

It’s deep winter in Central Victoria, and rather than being at Deep Winter (in lovely warm northern New South Wales) I’m… still in Central Victoria. While I would have loved to go spend a few balmy days with regenerative farmers and food sovereignty activists, I couldn’t get all the pieces to fit together quite right. […]

2017-02-20 10:30 pm

Elderberries don’t smell of anything much, actually

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

It’s been a long time since I posted, but I’m trying to get going again so I’ll just dive right in.

It’s been a slow, cool summer. Tomatoes hardly ripening (just a few handfuls, mostly cherries) and I wonder whether I’ll have any to preserve this year?  Despite the cool weather, things are slowly coming along including the corn my neighbour is growing for both of us (I’m responsible for pumpkins), enough zucchini (but not too much), and self-seeded greens starting to sprout.  Thanks to the cool weather I also had a crop of mushrooms off a compost delivery, which quickly made it into several meals.

I set up a weighing station by the back door, inspired by hearing of a Melbourne acquaintance who grew 350kg of food on her 1/14th acre block, but I have to admit I’ve only weighed in a couple of kilos in these first two months of 2017.

Corn in my neighbour’s backyard
A cool summer
Weighing station by the back door

Pasta with pesto genovese, zucchini and mushrooms.

A friend left me a basketful of plums, which got made into plum mead. There’s a funny story involving condoms as airlocks – check my instagram.  Just recently, I’ve been picking with a group who are starting a project called the Hidden Orchard, which aims to harvest fruit from unloved fruit trees in people’s backyards, as well as pruning and maintaining the trees throughout the year.  I’ve also been picking elderberries, to make elderberry syrup and perhaps elderberry mead.  I posted an elderberry recipe on my Tinyletter – check the archives.

Plums and op shop books from Carla
Elderberries don’t smell of anything, despite what Monty Python say
Hidden Orchard harvest is donated to community groups

A month or so back I moved into the smallest bedroom of the house – really very small, just enough room for a single bed and a chest of drawers – just to see how I felt about it.  Conclusion: I like being in a small room, like curling up in a nest, with nothing else in there but my personal effects. It is very important to keep it tidy, though, as there’s no room for a “floordrobe” or any other clutter to pile up.

I’ve also been making salves from calendula oil (calendula harvested and dried in spring, then infused in olive oil) and beeswax left over from candles. I made two kinds, one very thick that I use on my cracked heels, any small scratches, or even as a lip balm; the second is less waxy and I use it just as a general moisturiser.

My nest
Keeping things tidy, konmari style
Calendula balms

Visiting Jonai Farms’ happy pigs
Touring Yonke’s property as part of the PDC

Finally, I’ve been out and about. A few weeks ago I paid a visit to my friends Tammi and Stuart at Jonai Farms, then on to Daylesford where I spent a great day with Patrick, Meg and Woody of Artist as Family. It was so interesting I didn’t even take any photos, but they gave me heaps of great info and reassurance about living car-free in smaller country towns, and they have a house that’s very similar in style to what I want!  More recently I’ve been doing a Permaculture Design Course with the local permaculture guild, which means regular treks out to a friend’s farm where most of the course is held, plus additional site visits to other properties.  Everywhere I go now, I think about how I’d get there by bike. Next month, I hope, I’ll have the opportunity to try it!

2016-09-02 07:01 pm

Signs of spring in the neighbourhood and the garden

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

Officially, spring starts on the 1st of September around here.  Although I’ve been seeing the signs of early spring for about six weeks now, there’s something about the official date that still has me excited.

I spent a couple of weeks in August under the weather with a rotten cold, which turned into a long-lasting cough and had me taking the bus to work instead of walking.  When I got back to my usual route, it was actually surprising how much had changed in such a short time – from the obvious to the subtle.

Probably the most obvious sign of spring: daffodils seem to happen right on schedule around here.
moss in bloom
Even the moss knows it’s spring. I captured this pic of a crack in a neighbour’s fence on my way to work.

Read the rest of this entry »

2016-08-11 11:13 am

Low impact living slack chat

A quickie: I started a Low Impact Living chatroom using Slack. You can invite yourself here if that sounds like your cup of tea.

(If I don't seem to be around when you arrive, just @ mention me (@alexbayleaf) and I'll pop in to chat.)
2016-08-01 07:50 pm

July 2016 in review

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

The days are lengthening, which means July saw the change from true winter, with its frosts and even occasional snow, to what I call “first spring”.  That’s the season recognised in the six-season indigenous calendar by the wattle blooming and the birds going a bit nuts. The mulch-obsessed blackbirds are starting to rip up my garden again, and though I’ll be infuriated by them soon enough, right now I’m glad of the signs of impending warmth.

Technically it snowed here. Just.
Frost on thyme in my herb garden
Wintry holly in a neighbour’s garden

Wattle blooming over a neighbour’s fence

At the end of last month, just after I’d made my monthly roundup post, my friend Maia came back to Melbourne (she’s been working overseas) and managed to get up this way for a day’s mushrooming.  She brought two friends, one of whom is a professional mycologist – bonus!  We gathered a lot of saffron milkcaps, and learned a lot about other kinds of fungus.

One of the other fungi we saw was the turkey-tail fungus, which is used in herbal medicine as an immune booster. I brought some home and made an attempt to propagate it onto the fungus-friendly stump in my backyard (seen above with snow on it), so I guess we’ll see next year if that worked.

Alison and Maia, mushrooming
A basket of saffron milkcaps
Saffron milkcaps, close up

Turkey tail fungus is used to support the immune system
Saffron milkcaps sauted with garlic, for dinner
Dried saffron milkcaps (via the dehydrator)

Read the rest of this entry »

2016-07-22 11:39 am

The Spinster’s Bayley printable sourdough guide

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. You can comment here or there.

Here is a guide to the care and feeding of a sourdough starter, in the form of a downloadable booklet.  It contains most of the advice I’ve been sharing with people for the past few years, whenever I give them some of my starter.

This sourdough guide contains:

  • How to store your starter
  • How to feed your starter
  • An easy method to make a basic loaf of bread
  • Scheduling/timing for making bread in winter and summer
  • Tips for better sourdough bread
  • Adding flavour
  • Out of bread? Can’t wait two days for a loaf?
  • Health and wellbeing of your starter

Download the sourdough guide:

Like what you see here?  Subscribe to my Tinyletter newsletter for other recipes, tips, and thoughts on resilient living.

Some examples of my sourdough

Fresh baked sourdough bread
Pumpkin and rosemary sourdough bread
Baguette style loaf

No-knead style loaf baked in cast iron
Crostini with garden tomatoes and ricotta
Dough rising

A dryish starter
Sourdough veggie fritters
Sourdough pancakes with caramelised apple

Long rolls replace crackers in my house
Sourdough foccacia with leek and olives
Walnut and rosemary bread

2016-07-12 01:30 pm

Good stuff: resilience, cast iron, Venezuela, beekeeping, regional rail, herb salts, and more.

Originally published at Spinster's Bayley. Please leave any comments there.

Resilience, generally

A practical infographic on increasing your personal resilience to adversity: practice mindfulness, beware of skewed perceptions, get enough rest, and other good advice.


NYT: “Well-seasoned cast-iron pans are the new broken-in jeans: proof of both good taste and hard use.”

On consolidation in the food industry: “In California, where I used to live, large food companies were encouraging farmers to have no wildlife whatsoever on their land.” (and other stories of what happens when big food businesses take over small ones.) In Australia, farmers fear retribution from huge supermarkets if they complain to the ACCC.

Drought stricken peaches are smaller, but taste better.  Have farmers been over-watering all along?

Meanwhile, a straightforward shopping list for decarbonising food: better farming, zero food waste, energy efficiency, less but better meat, healthier diets.

Growing and husbandry

Wishlisting this book (available later this month): The Ultimate Guide to Soil. (non affiliate link)

I enjoyed this video tour of Morag Gamble’s permaculture garden in sub-tropical south-east Queensland.

Grassroots urban agriculture and cooperative food distribution as a response to food shortages in Venezuela.  I’m watching this closely – it could easily happen here, dependent as we are on long food supply chains.

Uh oh, varroa mites in Queensland.  I like the idea of “sentinel hives” though. Fingers crossed.  Meanwhile on Milkwood Permaculture’s blog, keeping beehives in with the chickens help reduce small hive beetle infestations.


“Cars, no matter how propelled, will still be atomistic, privatized, individualistic forms of mobility that undermine arrangements based on cooperation.”  How driverless cars will still wreck livable cities.

private car vs uber vs driverless car: they all take up the same space

From the Ottawa Citizen, the cycling myths that won’t die (like licensing and registration), and from the Washington Post, serious talk about why cyclists break traffic laws. And in case you needed reminding, bike infrastructure is great for small business.

More regional rail services in Melbourne’s west have brought increase in public transport use.  Of course, it hasn’t been that great for Ballarat, where our experience of the new regional rail link rhymes with “fluster duck”. Meanwhile in SA, The Indian Pacific is cutting economy class, leaving no affordable train from Broken Hill to Adelaide. One step forward, two steps back?

Energy and climate

The window for avoiding dangerous climate change has closed. This is why I talk about resilience more than sustainability these days. This guy knew the deal back in 2008 (I didn’t even realise this article was 8 years old when I retweeted it):

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when “we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn’t know what to do about it”.

Still, let’s not make it worse than it has to be. Bendigo’s aiming to go carbon neutral by 2036.  Time to step up, Ballarat!

Plus, energy poverty. Almost 1 in 4 Australian families finds it hard to pay power bills. Will solar+batteries change that?


Plastic free July is in progress. France bans plastic shopping bags, across the whole country. “Each of those 17 billion plastic bags [used in France each year] takes several hundred years to biodegrade.”

The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery had “offal” as its theme this year.  As well as following all the tweets about duck tongues and liver divination, there’s this interesting article on their site: Who ever heard of vegetable offal? Indian recipes for spiced cauliflower stems and stir-fried potato peel.

Indigenous culture

For NAIDOC week (3rd-10th July), Five things about indigenous history you probably didn’t learn in school.


Vegan sweet potato chocolate cake. Whoa.

Rhubarb simple syrup looks good, but feels a bit summery for right now. Saving it for spring!

Salted spruce tips and pine infused garlic salt from Root Simple. Huh. I don’t know if we even have any spruce around here, but I really should make herb salts more often, especially on popcorn as they suggest!

2016-07-12 08:21 am

A tinyletter

I just posted a Spinster's Bayley tinyletter about natural cheesemaking. As a taster, here's a short quotation from David Asher, author of "The Art of Natural Cheesemaking":

Cheese comes from the land and is one of our most celebrated foods; yet its current production methods are environmentally destructive, corporately controlled, and chemically dependent. In its eating we are not celebrating the traditions of agriculture but rather pasteurization, stainless-steel production, biotechnology, and corporate culture. [...] We need a more radical cheesemaking, a more natural approach to the medium of milk.

You can read more in the archive or subscribe to future letters at https://tinyletter.com/spinstersbayley
2016-06-25 08:08 pm

An update in point form

1. Still alive and kicking. Living a quiet life. Slowly digging out from under the dark pile of crap that has been the last year or so.

2. I'm still checking in on DW every few days at least to follow those who are still posting here, especially those who access lock. I might not always comment but I am reading and appreciating the insights into your lives. Thank you :)

3. As you may have seen I am handing over Growstuff to people who are better able to look after it. Sad to let it go, but glad to be letting go of the guilt about not having the mental wherewithal to deal with it. Pretty much all my old personal websites/domains are also expired/gone. I'm glad to be leaving it behind.

4. Please note username change. While I hated being forced to use my birthname, I actually like my current name, and have been using it more often online of late. Feel free to refer to me as "Alex" when talking about me in the third person. Pronouns are still "they" or "she" - either is fine, though I aim for mostly being gender neutral when refering to myself.

5. I have a new blog, Spinster's Bayley, which more or less replaces the old "Chez Skud" blog, in that it's about domestic life, but is less just "random crap that I feel like writing about" but has a bit more intent around it. I'm tossing up whether to crosspost it here - feedback welcome. If you're interested in simple/sustainable/resilient living, homegrown and homemade stuff, and subjects of that variety, go take a look.

6. I also recently started blogging at Eat Local Ballarat about locally produced food in the Ballarat region. Don't imagine it'll be of much interest to people beyond this geographic area but if you're interested in local food or relocalisation in general, take a look :) Definitely won't be crossposting that one here, but of course there's the usual collection of RSS, newsletter, and social media for those who want to follow it.

7. I would welcome suggestions of any DWs that talk about simple living, or related topics (as above). Anyone got recs?