Monday, March 31, 2008

We can solve it!

Time is running out fast to stop deadly climate change. We face a challenge bigger than any before. I admire Al Gore for his work and for never giving up.

His latest campaign is We can solve it! I have joined. Have you?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Every Hour is Earth Hour

Or why my family will participate in Earth Hour even though I think it is nothing more than symbolism.

So we are all going to turn off our lights for one hour at 8 pm on Saturday the 29th of March 2008. What a great idea. The time was obviously chosen to make sure that we could still have dinner and we would not miss the news, so we don't really have to change anything at all. We will all sit around with candles lit instead of electric lights and we feel so good that we are doing something for the environment. Then, an hour later, the whole nation will jump up, turn their kettles on, put the lights back on, turn the television on and cause a major jump in electricity use, causing electricity generators to go into overdrive to service the sudden increase. Hurray, we have saved the planet. See you next year.

I am not so sure this makes much environmental sense. I am also not entirely convinced that using candle light instead of energy efficient light bulbs reduces overall carbon emissions. We are "participating" for one reason only - we practice Earth Hour every hour, every day anyway. Here are some suggestions on how we can all reduce our energy consumption every hour, every day, not just during "Earth Hour":

- Drive less, combine trips and use your bicycle or your feet instead of your car where possible.
- Minimise all air travel, otherwise you will blow all your carbon savings in one hit.

- Sign up to 100 per cent accredited "green power" from renewable energy sources or produce your own renewable energy.

- Try not to use air conditioners and choose energy efficient heaters.
- Lower the heat setting on your heater and wear jumpers in winter.
- Make changes to your house so you do not need air conditioners in the first place. There are plenty of examples of low energy houses in Europe that need no heating or cooling all year round through proper siting, passive solar designs and good insulation.

- Turn lights off when not in use.
- Turn appliances off at powerpoint when not in use, particularly those using stand-by power.

- Replace all your incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs (or, if you can, with LEDs, they are even better!)
- Next time you need to upgrade your fridge, go for a smaller model and buy one with the highest level of energy efficiency you can get.

- Use slow cookers and pressure cookers for cooking.
- Do not pre-heat your oven and, if possible, bake several dishes in one go. For most recipes, pre-heating your oven is not necessary, particularly in fan-forced ovens. Instead, leave the dish in the oven a bit longer after you have turned the heat off after the time in the recipe. This saves up to 20 per cent of energy used for baking.

Forget about the Earth Hour hype. Earth hour is every hour, every day.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

At last we get some common sense into the water debate

Australia's Soviet-style, centrally planned water restrictions will hopefully come to an end soon and be replaced by a more rational water pricing system which will reflect the true cost of water and allow people to use their allocated amount of water where and how they wish. I have written about the absurdity of current Australian water restrictions before (see here). Essentially, current water restrictions allow people to waste as much water as they want to flush their toilets, have endless showers or use old-fashioned and water-wasting top-loading washing machines, yet will not allow growing vegetables, as outdoor watering is restricted irrespective of over-all household water use.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 28 March 2008, "A new research paper by the Productivity Commission, to be released today, is critical of governments prescribing what households can and cannot use water for during times when water is scarce.

'Such prescriptive rationing denies households the opportunity to choose how to use and conserve water in ways they value most,' the commission found.

It said restricting use resulted in 'hidden costs' of about $150 for each Sydney household.

They included structural damage to buildings, deterioration of lawns and gardens, the cost of new watering systems, time spent on labour-intensive methods of watering, and injuries sustained from carrying grey water in buckets.

The commission also included the rise of 'water rage with neighbours checking the water use of others in ways they would not contemplate for other services such as phone use'."

Now we just have to persuade some of our local Councils to actually follow some rational advice.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

George Monbiot: How can we win the race against climate catastrophe?

I have a lot of respect for George Monbiot. He has been a relentless campaigner for action on climate change. He has researched the issue in great detail and his book "Heat" was a real wake-up call for me.

In a speech given on Nov 8th 2007 in London at a Campaign against Climate Change meeting, Monbiot moves on from "Heat" and shows that the scale of the problem is even bigger than he or anybody else had previously assumed.

Part 1: Why a 60 per cent reduction target by 2050 is completely inadequate and will not prevent run-away climate change with catastrophic consequences. Instead, we need to make cuts in the order of 90 to 100 per cent.

On the international scene, the British government is one of the few governments pushing for real cuts. Yet, many British government policies currently being developed, particularly those in the transport sector, actually point in the opposite direction, with increases in emissions inevitable. Monbiot believes that British politicians hope to be able to buy carbon credits from other nations to achieve their stated goal of 60 per cent cuts by 2050. Monbiot argues that this is not possible, as everybody has to make cuts to achieve a global reduction in emissions - low emission countries will have to make smaller cuts, large emitters bigger cuts.

Part 2: Monbiot outlines his reservations about the effectiveness of the European carbon trading scheme. He also discusses solutions to some of the challenges currently faced by renewable energy sources based on a recent German study.

Part 3: Monbiot continues his outline of how to de-carbonise the entire economy.

Monbiot argues that while these changes are technically possible and in fact necessary for our survival, we will not be able to get these changes happen unless people stand up for real solutions and against the power of the polluting fossil fuel industries.

In Australia, the government is currently working towards an emissions trading scheme. Big power generators are demanding free permits so that they can continue polluting. This is exactly what happened in Europe, with the result that the big power companies ended up with windfall profits and no or little carbon reduction, as described by Monbiot in his speech.

It will be interesting to see whether in Australia, the government will listen to the advice from Professor Garnaut who wants to see a 90 per cent reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 and advises against free permits.

Certainly, governments have to be very brave to follow the path to a sustainable future against the demands from the big end of town. And citizens need to inform themselves so they won't fall for the propaganda and scare tactics we already see from those who do not want to see any change in order to secure their own profits at the cost of everybody else.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Let's hear it for local foods: the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint

This article was first published in the Palerang and District Bulletin, March/April 2008 edition, page 10.

Conventional farming is under pressure. A large proportion of Australia’s food producing areas are still in drought and facing continued water shortages, despite recent rainfalls. Climate change models predict that Australia’s dry conditions are likely to worsen over time, with more frequent El Niño events putting further stress on our water supplies. Add to that the increasing price of oil, and we may face a real potential threat to our food security.

Modern agriculture relies heavily on cheap oil to run farm machinery and for the production of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Many conventional agricultural practices also cause increased carbon dioxide emissions and are therefore a major contributor to climate change. Organic farming methods tend to be more sustainable up to the farm gate. Unfortunately, the relative environmental benefits evaporate when organic produce is shipped over long distances.

Food transport is a major source of oil consumption and CO2 emissions. In 1999 (the latest estimate available from the Department of Climate Change), agricultural transport accounted for approximately one quarter of total transport emissions in Australia. Current figures on Australian “food miles” are hard to come by, however, the Australian Conservation Foundation website quotes a number of international studies which highlight how typical everyday food items sold in our supermarkets will have travelled thousands of kilometres to reach your plate. No wonder then, that the rising oil price affects the cost of food on several fronts.

Luckily, food is also one of the areas where consumers can have a significant positive impact by making different choices. If you are keen to reduce the carbon footprint of your food, there is no easier way than becoming a “locavore”, that is somebody who mainly eats food which has been produced within a distance of a couple of hundred kilometres. It also means eating food that is in season. This may seem a strange concept to many of us as we have become so used to being able to buy everything all of the time.

However, this all-year round availability comes at a price, as the quality of many food items sold in large supermarket chains is compromised due to harvesting of unripe fruit and vegetables to extend the time they can survive being in transit from producer to consumer. Local seasonal food tends to be fresher, healthier and simply tastes better. We have forgotten how much joy there is in waiting in anticipation for the first fresh strawberries from the garden because we are used to having cardboard strawberries all year round in the shop. Or how wonderful it is to eat fresh asparagus while it is in season and then not touch another one until the next season comes around.

Growing your own vegetables can be the most efficient way to reduce the ecological footprint of your food. This is also the cheapest way of securing your own food supply. The Canberra Environment Centre (located at the corner of Lawson Crescent and Lennox Crossing on the Acton Peninsula, Canberra) runs introductory permaculture courses for those interested in learning more about setting up a water efficient and low impact food garden.

Farmers' markets and small local suppliers specialising in local produce are another great way to access the variety of food produced in your local area, and they are a wonderful way to get out and meet people.

 There are a couple of dedicated farmers’ markets in our region, such as the Capital Region Farmers Market at the Exhibition Park in Canberra (held every Saturday from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM) or the Wamboin Produce Market at the Wamboin Community Centre, Bingley Way, (held every third Saturday in the month from 9:00 AM to 12:00 noon, opening times may change in winter). Other regional markets also include stalls with fresh local produce.

A renewed focus on local food production is a good way to revitalise our communities, and the locavore movement has been gaining momentum overseas. The word "locavore" was chosen as the "2007 Word of the Year" by the Oxford American Dictionary.

Recommended reading:
Linda Cockburn, “Living the Good Life. How one family changed their world from their own backyard”, 2006

Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Our Year of Seasonal Eating”, 2007

Rosemary Morrow, “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”, 2nd edition, 2006.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Only 40 days of global grain stocks left

Two days ago, the newly appointed chief scientific adviser to the UK Government, Professor John Beddington, warned of coming food shortages for the whole world. In a speech given at the Govnet Sustainable Development UK Conference in Westminster he said: "There is progress on climate change. But out there is another major problem. It is very hard to imagine how we can see a world growing enough crops to produce renewable energy and at the same time meet the enormous increase in the demand for food which is quite properly going to happen as we alleviate poverty." (quoted from The Guardian, 7 March 2008)

Professor Beddington also pointed out that as of two days ago, "global grain stores are currently at the lowest levels ever, just 40 days from running out." So what are global grain stores, what is a normal level of stores and should we be worried? According to the Energy Bulletin, "World carryover stocks of grain, the amount in the bin when the next harvest begins, are the most basic measure of food security. Whenever stocks drop below 60 days of consumption, prices begin to rise."

The Earth Policy Institute website has a number of graphs showing world grain production and world grain stocks from 1960 to 2006. The following graph which shows "World Grain Stocks as Days of Consumption" is quoted from their website. The graph shows that the previous low point was 56 days in 1972, and 57 days in 1973 and in 2006, with data for 2007 not yet available.

When I heard this report on the news the other day, I found it hard to believe that this information did not seem to make any impact whatsoever. Hidden among other topics such as football results and road accidents, it was just another soundbite in a normal news bulletin.

What would it mean if the world ran out of grain? For those of us who live in the developed world and who are so used to being able to get whatever food we want any time we want it, this is totally unimaginable. I guess that's why we don't even try to imagine it. For many in the developing world, this is already a daily reality.

It is also a scenario that Bill Mollison, one of the two founders of the permaculture concept, has been warning us about for some time.

Honey, I shrank the fridge...

A couple of weeks ago, our old fridge died after twelve years of service. When we bought it, it was ranked as highly energy efficient but still used 770 kWh annually "when tested according to Australian standards".

I have a suspicion that it may have been using more over recent times as the thermostat had been playing up for a while, making it increasingly hard to maintain the optimum temperature. We initially thought about getting it fixed, but in most cases, repairing an old fridge is actually a less environmentally friendly option than replacing it with a newer, more energy efficient one.

So we decided it was time for a new fridge in the kitchen.

People may wonder whether it really matters all that much whether their fridge at home is energy efficient or not. It may come as a surprise but household energy use does play a significant part in over-all greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Australian energy efficiency website, "With 7 million households in 2001 and a good standard of living, Australia's residential energy consumption is a significant proportion of the national total (around 40%). A large proportion of our household energy needs are met with electricity, which on mainland Australia is generated with fossil fuels. This means significant greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the residential sector. [...] While appliances only account for about 30% of total energy consumption, they account for 53% of residential greenhouse emissions, excluding space heating and cooling (air conditioners) and hot water requirements for appliances."

Energy efficiency of white goods has significantly improved since the mid-1990s. This improvement is in a large part due to government regulation to improve minimum energy performance standards for appliances (known as "MEPS" in Australia), and energy rating programs, such as the "Energy Star" in the US and the "Energy Rating label" program in Australia. These allow consumers to make an educated choice of consumer products based on their comparative energy efficiency.

In fact, energy efficiency of fridges and freezers has improved so much, that in the US, "ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerators require about half as much energy as models manufactured before 1993." ( see US Energy Star website for more information).

In Australia, the energy rating label has proven so successful that the Australian Government revised their energy rating system in 2000. According to the Australian energy rating website "Energy efficiency is now measured against a tougher standard. This change encourages improved technology and more efficient products, which will save consumers money and help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions." As a result, newer fridges with less stars under the new Australian system may be more energy efficient than fridges with more stars under the old Australian system.

It is great to see the energy efficiency success story for household goods.

Unfortunately, energy efficiency improvements on their own do not necessarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some people feel it is a shame to throw out an old but functioning fridge and keep their old one going in the shed to cool their beer, resulting in an overall increase of that household's energy needs. Also, at the same time as we have improved the energy efficiency of our fridges, the size of typical household fridges seems to have increased, thus wiping out some of the energy savings achieved through the energy efficiency program, a phenomenon known as the "rebound effect". This is one of the areas where consumers could really make a big difference.

It always surprises me when I visit other households and see the bulging fridges in their kitchens. It seems as if the obesity crisis in the Western world does not stop with people, it has engulfed fridges, too! I sometimes wonder whether the size of the fridge has now become some sort of status symbol. Or maybe people don't realise that the stars on the energy label translate to real dollars that have to be spent year after year to run the appliance (more stars means cheaper to run). I like the way India is dealing with this issue. According to the Hindu Business Line, the Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency adopted the Australian/New Zealand standards for testing frost free refrigerators and introduced an energy efficiency label scheme similar to the Australian one, with one interesting difference: It also shows a hand holding a fistful of rupees, representing the ongoing cost to consumers for running the appliance.

So when it was time for us to choose a new kitchen fridge we decided to buck the trend. Our new fridge is half the size of our old one, roughly the size of a bar fridge. It uses around 290 kWh annually, that is approximately 38 per cent of the energy requirements listed on the label of our old fridge. Thanks to the many changes I have put in place over the last two years, this is actually plenty of fridge space for our family of five. Here are some of the ways we have reduced the amount of fridge space we need:

I used to go shopping once a fortnight at a supermarket in the next bigger town and cart home kilos of vegetables and fruit plus many litres of milk and yoghurt. This helped to cut down on petrol costs but meant that most of the food I had bought would have to be stored in the fridge. Now, all our vegetables either come straight from the garden or have been canned by me for later consumption.

Any left-overs from dinner get used the next day for lunch, so there is never more than one small container of left-overs in the fridge. Unfortunately for the busy family cook (I actually like left-overs, it saves on having to cook!), this does not happen all that often in our family.

As my fruit trees are still rather small, I buy fruit once a week from our village greengrocer who sells direct from local farms. The fruit tends to be fresher than the supermarket fare which has often been in cold storage for many months. Most of the fruit sits in a fruit bowl as it gets eaten quickly enough not to go off. I hope that in years to come, we can simply eat the fruit off the trees.

We are using powdered milk which I mix up as needed. See this link on my thoughts on powdered milk.

I make fresh yoghurt on an as need basis in a small yoghurt maker (which needs no electricity) so I only have one small container of yoghurt in the fridge.

We drink water from the tap instead of juices or soft drinks. This is healthier and needs no storage.

We make our own bread daily fresh, so there is usually only one loaf that needs storing in the fridge.

Which leaves plenty of space for some cheese, some margarine and butter, a loaf of bread, a couple of open jam jars, a bottle of home-made tomato sauce and the odd open jar of pickles or relishes. We eat well and nobody goes hungry. What else do you need?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

An (almost) magic pudding - make your own yoghurt

It is quite easy to make your own yoghurt. All you need is a good quality yoghurt with active yoghurt bacteria as a starter, and some milk. The usual yoghurt making recipies then require you to warm up the milk to a certain temperature, add the yoghurt and keep the yoghurt warm for several hours until it sets. I used to be quite successful with this method but I have found that the yoghurt sold in Australian supermarkets doesn't work quite as well as the yoghurt I used to buy in Europe. Not sure why that would be - is the yoghurt too old? Do they process it differently? Maybe it is me who is doing something wrong? Then there is the issue of making sure that the milk is exactly the right temperature - too hot, and it will kill the yoghurt bacteria, too cold, and the bacteria won't multiply and therefore not turn your milk into yoghurt.

I am now using a small yoghurt maker which requires no electricity. This is working really well for us and has resulted in major cost savings, too.

The system is quite a simple one and you might have all the ingredients to replicate it at home without having to buy any commercial units, although the one I bought was not very expensive either.

It consists of a large thermos with a small perforated holder tray placed inside. The thermos gets filled up to about half with boiling hot water. The initial batch of yoghurt is made up from a small bag of powdered yoghurt which is available from any supermarket. Made that way, 1 kg of natural yoghurt costs about $3.00. This is around half of what you usually pay for yoghurt off the shelf.

The yoghurt powder (which is a mixture of milk powder and yoghurt cultures) is mixed up with cold water in a 1-litre jug and then put onto the tray inside the thermos. It stays there for between 6 and 12 hours, depending on your time frame and how strong you like your yoghurt.

I found that the resulting yoghurt is very fresh and can easily be used as the basis for another batch of yoghurt, which is what I do. If you need a fresh starter yoghurt, you can either buy another sachet with yoghurt powder from the supermarket or purchase fresh yoghurt cultures from cheesemaking suppliers.

Some thoughts on powdered milk

I would love to have a family cow. I dream of having access to all that beautiful milk, cream, making my own cheeses...

Unfortunately, at this stage this is not practical at all for most families, including us. At the same time, milk is a major on-going household expense, as all my kids just LOVE milk. The adults in our household also use a fair amount in beverages and on our muesli.

We have been using powdered milk for some time now. Powdered milk is significantly cheaper than UHT milk, which again tends to be cheaper than fresh milk. However, it is worth shopping around a bit, as there are some big price differences depending on where you buy. The cheapest I have been able to find so far is the supermarket chain ALDI, where powdered milk currently costs $4.79 a kilo. The instructions say you should use 140g of powder to make one litre of milk which yields about 7 litres of milk per pack of milk powder. However, I find that there is no taste difference whether you use 120 or 140 grams, and as we drink a lot of milk, I just use a bit less powder and usually get around 8 litres from each bag of milk powder. That means I pay just under 60 cents per litre of milk. This is a significant saving for us as a family with a children who all love drinking milk.

I had tried using milk powder before and hated the taste. I hadn't realised then that there is a bit of a knack to mixing it up. I prefer to use my scales rather than relying on cups to to measure the amount of milk powder I need. Don't use a spoon to mix the powder with water, as that will result in lumpy milk. Instead, fill the right amount of milk powder into a one-litre bottle. Add enough water to make about half a litre of milk, put the lid on the bottle and shake until all powder has dissolved. Then add the remaining water to make up for one litre. By the way, cold water works better than hot water. If you mix the milk in the evening and leave the bottle in the fridge over night to settle and chill, there is no discernible difference in taste to other milk.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any comparative life-cycle study of powdered milk versus bottled "fresh" milk versus UHT carton milk so I am not sure how powdered milk stacks up with regard to its environmental credentials.

I do know that producing powdered milk requires a large amount of energy. If that energy was produced by using renewable energy such as solar or wind, this would not be such an issue. If the energy is produced by burning coal, then this is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, powdered milk does not require refrigeration for storage and transport which saves a lot of energy. In addition, 1kg of powdered milk is roughly the equivalent of 7-8 litres of "standard" milk, resulting in a massive reduction in fuel used for transport. Powdered milk also requires far less packaging, which again translates to significant savings in resources and energy.

Taking all these considerations into account, there seems to be an environmental benefit to powdered milk. It is definitely kinder to the family budget.

However, if you know of a reputable life-cycle analysis of milk and milk products that proves me wrong, please let me know.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Take a garden tour

I don't know about you, but I tend to be intensely curious about other people's gardens. I find there is always something to learn, something new to find out and different ways of doing things. Which is one reason why I enjoy growing our own food.

Our own garden has been productive enough to keep us fed for the last year. I no longer buy vegetables. And as the onion harvest is finally in, I don't even have to buy onions or garlic any more. Now I would like to invite you for a 'virtual walk' around our garden, if you like!

The tomatoes had a very slow start but are finally picking up. Provided we do not get an early frost - which is always a possibility, particularly with the very cold weather we have been experiencing over recent days - we may again get enough tomatoes to keep us going until the next season starts again.

My first lot of corn seed got all eaten by birds but the second lot has come up nicely. We have had some corn dishes already and I hope there will be more to come.

The greens are doing ok, with kale, chinese cabbage, bok choy, mibuna and silverbeet all producing enough to provide us with a varied menue. The salad greens did fine during spring but all bolted to seed or collapsed from heat exhaustion in the January heat wave.

A particular surprise this year was my first attempt to grow "bush tucker" (native Australian food). I bought a package of seeds of "Warrigal Greens", also know as "New Zealand spinach", which is a native of both Australia and New Zealand (see photo on the left). I put out five seeds, nothing happened. Then I read somewhere that you are supposed to soak the seed in hot water over night, which I hadn't done. I found that puzzling because I had also read somewhere else that Warrigal Greens are self-seeding. How could that be if it needs hot water treatment? After a little while, three of the seeds produced some seedlings. And they grew. And grew. And grew. The mass of green I have produced from those three seeds is quite astounding. It is drought-hardy, tastes great, and can be used as a substitute for or complement to any of the other greens. Warrigal Greens are fairly high in oxalic acid, it is therefore recommended to blanch them for a couple of minutes, then quickly drain them under cold water (and throw the cooking water out) before eating them or adding them to other dishes.

I also have another kind of bush tucker growing in the garden. At first I didn't even realise and thought it was a weed. In fact, it is a weed. It is known as pigweed (portulaca oleracea) and grows wild around this part of the world, including in my garden. All parts of the plant can be eaten. According to the excellent book on bushfood by Keith and Irene Smith pictured on the right, the seeds were "a staple foood of desert Aborigines" as it contains "18 to 20 per cent protein, more than wholemeal bread (11.5 per cent) and double that of rice (6.9 per cent)." We have so far tried the leaves, they have a slightly acidic taste and would make a great addition to any salad.

The beans (both climbing beans and bush beans) are producing reasonably well, albeit not as prolifically as I had hoped they would. Last year I had fewer plants but I seem to remember a sustained and prolific harvest. I had rather optimistically imagined I would be canning kilos and kilos of beans this year, but so far it has only been enough for a number of meals plus about a dozen jars of beans. Maybe, if the season is long enough (no frost!), I may still get to do my big bean canning session. Otherwise, I just have to plant much more next year! We also had a great crop of snow peas, with those plants that had self-seeded being the most prolific.

The potatoes were a bit of a mixed bag. I had planted a range of heirloom potatoes from the Digger's club into a straw bed. The first lot came up, flowered, withered and died off, with only smaller potatoes forming, and not a hell of a lot of them, either. They were superb to eat, though, but not really enough to feed my hungry brood. Another lot came up, never got to flower and fell over - it was obviously too hot for them! The last lot is still going, and going strongly. I am hopeful that we will get a decent crop from them! It just goes to show how important it is to grow a healthy variety of potatoes or other crops, rather than relying on one kind only. I just wonder whether I need to grow my potatoes in a more shady spot next year.

We got an excellent crop of artichokes this year, enough to can some artichoke hearts as well. The Jerusalem artichokes have come up nicely and have formed a dense hedge on the western side of the chook yard. I have also planted another tuberous vegetable that I had never heard of before, an ancient Inca crop that goes by the name of "yacon" (Polymnia sonchifoli). It struggled initially (too much sun!) but has since grown to a very impressive bushy plant. It has not flowered yet, but from the photos I have seen, it may look similar to Jerusalem artichokes. The tubers are supposed to taste like "a cross between a fresh apple and a watermelon."

Another excellent and prolific food source is spaghetti squash. Once ripe, the large yellow squash should be steamed whole (or, if too big, cut in half and then cooked) for a short while (I put them in the pressure cooker for about 2-3 minutes). You then remove the seeds and take out the flesh with a fork. It produces spaghetti-like fibers which are a bit bland by themselves but do taste very nice with Mexican-style chili con carne (or chili without the 'carne', if you are a vegetarian!). And of course there are all the other relatives of the cucurbita family as well, the pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchinis!

Oh, and by the way - I didn't use huge amounts of water to grow my vegetables, either. Seeds and very young seedlings need to be kept moist until established, which can be a struggle in very hot weather. It helps to use shade cloth for that purpose - my garden did much better after I set up some shade cloth over my main vegetable bed . For established plants, use plenty of mulch and compost and only water when a "finger test" shows that you need to add moisture. Stick your finger into the soil - if it feels dry below the knuckle of your index finger, it is time to water.