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This is a blog about frugal living in Australia.

I’m someone who aspires to prudence, thrift, frugality, and an abundant vegie patch, but I struggle with the basics (like budgeting!) and with my excellent early training into a being a good indivdual and consumer.

I love to cook, which is a good start on a frugal lifestyle, but I’m not someone who has any talent/desire to ‘craft’, or handy, or sew. So my great house-improvement projects have so far be limited in scope to scrounging, cleaning, painting, and potting. But you can get pretty far with a can of electric-blue spraypaint and some rainbow chard seedlings from the hardware store.

Spraypaint

Blue Table photo

This is my absolute favourite of any of my upcycled furniture projects. I always loved this set of mahogany-stained nested tables that my parents brought with them from Melbourne to Adelaide to Cairns. When they got wobbly and in the way and Mum finally wanted to throw them out, I rescued them and brought them home. Where they continued to be wobbly and in-the-way, and also very fussy and old-fashioned looking. The mixture of textures and styles – and especially of woodgrains – that marked our hodgepodge of hand-me downs was starting to get to me, so I adapted an idea from a Real Living magazine for spraypainting a fussy wooden-backed chair in a vibrant modern paint colour.

I brought home a sample pot of “Wing Commander Blue” from Bunnings, borrowed an electric sander to strip off the varnish (but ended up using a sandpaper ‘sponge’ and elbow grease instead) and dipped my table in a bright new hue. Now I love the contrast of fussy old-worldy and funky devil-may-care blue. I also feel that somehow the deep electric blue colour defies the horribly ugly bluey-green carpet in some small way.

The hugely important thing about this project is that it required no craft skills or aptitude for design. Just the ability to like a pretty colour, and the willingness to get covered in specks of mahogany varnish-dust.

Silverbeet

Since I was about 12 years old, I have been trying to grow things. Sacred plants and herbs for witches’ teas and tisanes, food herbs and edible flowers, fairy flowers and finally, after a happy day of hammering together some vegie crates (and a happy second day of the weekend when I read my book and Dad finished off the crates) a full-blown ‘vegie garden’.

I moved out of home and reclaimed bites and chunks of the grassy back garden of our sharehouse for every kind of kitchen herb, nastirtums, zucchini, spinach, tomato, passionfruit, and peas, and when I ‘moved in’ (a different life experience from ‘moving out’) I dealt with the courtyard back-garden by lining pots in stripes along every edge (and then adding another layer and another; in some places it’s three pots deep!)

But all in all, despite my groaning shelves of books on herbalism and organic gardening and the history of vegetables and medieval flower gardens, I’ve pretty much always harvested my grown food by the handful rather than the bushel.  Summer harvest

Despite crop rotation, seasonally grown vegetables, companion planting, and even thinning out ( I hate thinning out), I still listen glumly when I hear others grumbling about their glut.

In all that time and all those pots in all those different gardens, I’ve never had the experience of growing food in abundance.

Except for the one plant that always returns, unfolding in dark green wrinkles.

If I plant silverbeet (and if I have planted at any point in time) then there’s always some silverbeet in the garden, always enough to harvest for a meal, and then for the next night and the next, and if not the next then at least the week after that. A forceful slice of the scissors or a quick sharp pull at the bottom of the plant produces crunchy spicy stalks and shiny leaves for the pot or the pan.

Silverbeet is easy to grow, it thrives on neglect but will also put up with well-meaning bouts of feeding and regular watering, and it is a prince among cut-and-come again vegies. It’s the staple of my garden, and adding it to just about anything makes it feel healthier, and homegrown.

What plant do you find you can always rely on in the garden?

Summer Harvest 2009

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