Harvesting, planting, weeding


Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending a day volunteering on the farm where I get my veggies from, in the West of Amsterdam.  It was a beautiful day with a fresh breeze which made it perfect to be working outside, though I was glad I had my sunscreen and hat to protect me as the sun was really beating down.  I enjoyed harvesting some greens, forking the soil, placing the tarp along the row, planting some pumpkin plants at a regular distance, watering them…

I dedicated the end of the afternoon to clearing weeds from a long bed.  It was the perfect exercise in mindfulness, I was focused on the task at hand, careful to extract as much of the deep roots as possible to avoid the weeds growing back, with the satisfaction of the pile of weeds in my crate getting bigger and the row looking more and more clear of weeds. We finished off the task together with one of the girls who works there, chatting as the sun made its way towards the west and became less harsh.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to experience working there and learning more about how the CSA is run.  The farmers were really kind, patiently explained and showed what needed to be done and answered my many questions. It was physical work and I came home very tired, but in a good way, with the joy of having spent hours with a calm mind and hands in the soil, admiring earthworms, healthy soil and thriving vegetables.  Spending time with passionate people and hearing about their experiences, is wonderful because it opens up a world of new ideas and possibilities.

Modern day barter

barter : (verb) To trade goods or services without the exchange of money

I remember first learning about barter trade in my social anthropology classes at university. When I think of the word barter, vivid images appear in my head of men in the Pacific Ocean taking flimsy-looking canoes to go on expeditions for months at a time, where they would trade beautiful seashells with tribes from other islands.

I recall that the rubbing and handling of the shells would give the outside of the shell a dark patina, increasing the shell’s value the more they were held and exchanged. I loved the idea of trading without money and the notion that the same object was increasingly getting more valuable as it was swapped from hand to hand.

As it turns out, barter trade doesn’t have to be such a far away concept. Yesterday, Eline came over to purchase some of my worms to start her own compost, after contacting me on Marktplaats (the Dutch eBay).

As we were talking, Eline explained that she is just back from Belgium where she learned to bake artisanal bread and she asked if it would be ok to pay half the price in cash and swap the other half for a loaf of bread.


I have to admit I was a little taken aback and I hesitated on accepting because I wasn’t expecting it at all. She explained that her bread is made with local stone-ground flour and French sea salt. But it was when Eline took the bread out of its paper bag to show me, that I was sold (I was bartered?!). As you can see on the pictures, the loaf was beautifully round and full, and had the most mouth-watering rich bready smell.

I’m so glad I accepted her offer, as we’ve been enjoying thick slices of this delicious sourdough bread with butter and jam all weekend.

Eline explained that she only bakes bread once a week at the moment because she is still looking for a place to set up her activity in Amsterdam. I hope she does so soon, so I can pick up some of this tasty bread regularly. I think I could get used to it:)


Eline’s delicious artisanal bread is now sold on Saturdays at Vinnie’s Deli (Haarlemmerstraat 46 HS, 1013 ES Amsterdam), or you can pick it up directly from her home near Westerpark (contact her at elineex@gmail.com for more details).

Making a simple worm bin

Three years ago I went to a wormshop to learn how to compost with worms. The introductory email warned that we would be “handling worms and powertools”, 2 things that sounded like lots of fun to me:)

What you need to start your worm bin:
-2 stackable plastic boxes about 60x30cm
-cardboard and egg-cartons
-cocopeat (not mandatory)
-egg shells
-a handful of Red Wriggler worms
-a banana or a few veggie scraps

First we drilled 12 holes in one plastic box that will serve as the cover (approx. 7mm diameter).  Then we filled the other box which will serve as their home with soaked egg cartons to make the initial bottom bedding.

The next step was to put a layer of coco peat, and wet that too. Then we crushed some egg shells finely in order to make some grit, necessary for the worms to eat. These broken shells were sprinkled onto the coco peat. (I let my egg shells dry, then put them in a paper bag and crush them through the bag by hand or with a rolling pin).


The next step was to put in the worms. We each got a handful of thin red compost worms, otherwise known as Red Wrigglers. They don’t like light so we quickly covered them with another layer of bedding (wet cardboard) after having put in a piece of banana peel for them to start snacking on. Then we put the other bin (the one with the holes) on top.


It’s important not to put too much food for them in the beginning as it takes a little while for them to acclimatize to their new setting. Also, the food bits should be relatively small (peels are great, if you have big parts I recommend to chop them into smaller pieces).

The key for a healthy worm bin is balance, it needs to be moist, but not too wet. If it does get too wet add cardboard. If it is too dry you can sprinkle a bit of water in it. It shouldn’t smell, but if it does stir the contents to add air and put more cardboard.

After the workshop, I rode through the city with the worm bin on the back of my bike and since then they’ve been in a cupboard on my balcony. I keep them there nearly all year round, except on some extremely cold winter days when I brought them in the flat to make sure they didn’t freeze.


The worms have been doing a wonderful job for the last 3 years processing my vegetable craps and cardboard. I love the thought of how much less I throw out with my rubbish, and I have the added bonus of being able to use the resulting compost for my plants.

Composting worms for sale

I thought about calling this post “I’ve got worms!” but then realised it could easily be misinterpreted…  I should know better by now, as I regularly get quizzical looks from colleagues who overhear me talking about ‘having worms’ while standing around at the coffee machine at work.

So anyway, it’s finally (kind of) summer in Amsterdam and my worms are happily enjoying the sweet peel of melon and other summer fruits. They’re processing all the food scraps very fast and having a good time too it seems, as they are multiplying like crazy. So I have lots of worms to sell (fat adult ones and thousands of tiny ones).

Worms are great pets as they need very little attention, and in return they diligently get rid of your food scraps (and not to mention cardboard and toilet rolls). If you give them sufficient food before leaving, they will survive your holiday without anyone coming to feed them (and they won’t chew on your couch while you are away).

If you are interested in starting your own worm bin and want to buy some worms, let me know : simplycultivatingjoy [at] gmail.com


Striving for sustainability

I’m fascinated (and horrified) by how much waste our society creates. Next to that I love hearing about circular economies and getting inspired by sustainable businesses. I am constantly looking for ways of refusing, reducing and reusing things that enter my home.

This is a small scale project and my aim is sell beautiful and healthy plants and do so in as sustainable a way as possible.

Soil: All my coffee, cardboard, egg shells, vegetable and fruit left-overs are given to my worms who do a spectacular job of transforming them into a rich dark compost. I love the thought that all these things destined for the bin are transformed into precious soil full of nutrients. After harvesting the compost, I mix it with some used soil from my pots and the plants grow really healthy on this.

Plants: They are all cuttings, seedlings or shoots from the ‘mother plants’ that thrive all over my apartment. 20150407_181826

Home-grown: Each plant has been watered, transplanted and cared for by hand.

Slow cultivation: Processing the waste into compost as well as growing the cuttings and seedlings takes months. It is a slow process, it’s wonderful to take the time to see the plants evolve.

Pots: I only use 2nd hand pots that are looking for a new home. I mix and match the plant and pot that suit each other best.

Local: People who buy my plants live in and around Amsterdam and come by to pick them up. I love connecting with people and having a quick chat as I hand over these plants I’ve seen growing all along. I feel joy at the idea that the plants will brighten someone else’s home and blessed that they chose one of my plants over a new plant from a shop.