Connecting our community to a more sustainable way of living.

Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening – Three (well four) tips for Leafy Greens

RAttractive Vegie Gardensunning a small business with a young family can be challenging; add in a major renovation and it’s chaos. As a result, months after the building dust has settled, it’s only now we have found time to establish our family vegie garden…. Yes, just in time for winter unfortunately!

My priority for our family vegie garden is always leafy greens. Lettuce and spinaches are a favourite to smuggle into sandwiches and meals. You can really taste the difference between fresh and store bought, which is probably linked to the fact that fresh produce such as spinach can lose up to half of its nutrients within a week of being picked. I also think the ‘modified atmosphere’ bagged greens use to keep items fresh sounds terrifying 😊

My top three tips for Winter Leafy Greens

  • Winter Garden TipsMature compost, or worm tea is the secret ingredient, particular for a winter garden. This year having only just established the garden, we are still working to improve our soil, without the usual help from mature compost. I can really notice the difference with our young garden void of compost, compared to our previous patch, particularly in terms of soil nutrients and water retention. We eat a lot of fresh food, and so generate a lot of food waste. Composting is such an easy process and it means our food waste isn’t wasted as the nutrients all go back to nourish the soil for new crops. I usually add mature compost when the plants have approx. 4 leaves.

 

  • Tips for growing fresh lettuceSpacing is really important. Planting seeds, particularly with kids, is a chaotic random process. Once the seeds have sprouted and have at least two small leaves I spread them out in our beds, to approx. 12 cm apart if possible. If they are overcrowded, you will end up with a smaller harvest overall, so if you have too many seedling, share with friends.

 

  • Mulching helps retain warmth and moisture in the soil and it also great at suppressing weeds. This is important as spinach in particular tends to have sensitive roots, so it often doesn’t like the soil being disturbed as weeds are pulled out nearby.

 

  • Actually one more tip!  When harvesting leafy greens, cut the outside leaves first right to ground level to get the most out of your season-long harvest.

 

Growing Vegies in Winter

This year’s harvest for us is not going to be a bumper crop, given we are still working on our soil quality. Even our carrots look quite…. unique, having being planted during flooding rain which compressed the newly filled planter beds.

Regardless, of the harvest, the benefits of getting into the dirt with the kids is significant. In fact, scientists have even discovered that the mycobacterium found in soil can improve brain function while boosting moods. Gardening with the kids, and enjoying our fresh food certainly makes me happy!

Winter Gardening Tips

Our Kitchen Caddy is now made of Recycled Bottles and Food packaging

Placing items such as milk bottles and food packaging into the recycling bin is something nearly all households now do in Australia, however I wonder how many people consider where their items will go next…

It is an important question, and one that our team, and family, are passionate about. The idea of treating our ‘waste’ as a ‘resource’ seems quite logical, particularly when you consider the impact sourcing virgin materials has on our environment. Purchasing mindfully, reusing and recycling is critical.

After significant investment, trials (and errors) and hours of research, we are really excited to announce that we are now contributing towards Australia’s Circular Economy, by making our Kitchen Caddies from our old milk bottles and food packaging.

Our new caddy is now made in Melbourne from 100% Post-Consumer Recycled content. 

We have always used a proportion of recycled material, however like many businesses, the material often came from commercial sources and was mixed with virgin material. The traditional thinking was that this mix was required to ensure quality.

With deliberate sourcing through council MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities), we are now diverting items such as milk bottles and food packaging which are collected in roadside yellow bins in Melbourne, processing the material, and then using this material to manufacture new Kitchen Caddies. Saved from an endless life in Landfill, these products now have a second life helping people divert their food waste to compost, as FOGO (Food Organics + Garden Organics) rolls out across Australia.

After thousands of production runs for council FOGO programs, we are excited to say that the quality of our products is as fabulous as usual, and the only disadvantage is that depending on the batch, we can’t always achieve the bright white finish. With a gorgeous new Woodland Grey Caddy now available that hardly seems a concern. Let’s hope more businesses make the switch to Post Consumer recycled content, allowing Australia’s circular economy to continue to expand.

You can purchase the new Woodland Grey Compost-A-Pak Caddy on this link.

Compostable Fruit and Vegie Bags

Historic ban triggers awareness on what’s really ‘green’

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Compostable Postal SatchelsThis week South Australia’s historic ban on single use plastic products starts, with items such as straws, stirrers and cutlery now banned, however that’s just the start. Next year the ban will expand to polystyrene containers, and … drum roll please … oxo-degradable plastic products. We are really excited to see oxo-degradable plastics being banned, and hopefully it will raise awareness of their risks and trigger further bans across Australia.

To our horror our Compost-A-Pak products are often compared to oxo-degradable products, mainly due to the success of marketing strategies which make Oxo-degradable seem ‘green’, however this is far from the truth.

For nearly 15 years we have been campaigning for more transparent ‘honest’ labeling, and encouraging our customers to research and better understand what they are buying. Below we have broken down some popular marketing terms including Oxo-degradable and provide our take on what’s really green, and what to look for when you are purchasing.

Australian Certified Home Compostable AS5810  – RECOMMENDED

  • Products with this certification, like Compost-A-Pak® are proven to breakdown in a home compost with no harmful residue. They are plastic free!
  • The Australian Certification (AS5810) is one of the strictest certifications in the world, and so to be accredited, products need to pass an additional toxicity test. As such you can be confident bags with this certification will breakdown as nature intended, with no harmful residue or micro plastics.
  • Given we compost our bags and use the resulting compost for our family vegie patch, we always look for the AS5810 or AS4736 certification before purchasing any compostable products.

Australian Commercial Composting Standard  AS4736  – RECOMMENDED

  • An Australian Certification confirming that the products are suitable for Commercial Composting Facilities such as those used by councils as part of FOGO programs. You can be confident products with this certification, like Compost-A-Pak® are made of plant based materials and are plastic free.
  • To be accredited to this standard, compostable products must biodegrade at least 90% within 90 days in a commercial composting facility. Despite being so durable, the Compost-A-Pak® products were shown to biodegrade 99% in half the time!

Oxo-Degradable – SOON TO BE BANNED, THIS IS ONE TO AVIOD. 

  • These materials are usually plastic based with added chemicals to speed up the time in which the plastic breaks down with heat, oxygen and UV light.
  • Whilst the material may disappear from sight, it breaks down into microplastics. In contrast, compostable products breakdown at the molecular or polymer level.
  • Microplastics are considered by many to be more dangerous to the environment than larger pieces of plastic, as they so easily spread into the environment as pollution, and can enter our food chain. Their effect on human health is still being studied by scientists, who estimate we may be ingesting up to a credit card of plastic every week! Definately one to avoid!

Degradable

  • For a product to degrade, it simply means it will breakdown into smaller components.
  • Usually plastic based, often this degrading will occur faster because the plastic has been treated with chemicals to speed up the process.
  • Alternatively, these products can also be a combination of plant based and plastic made material.
  • In both these cases the resulting material is micro plastics, which should be avoided given the pollution risks.

Landfill Degradable

  • Similarly, these bags are usually a plastic based material which breaks down more quickly given chemicals or plant based additives.
  • Interesting, when placed in Australian Landfills, often the materials are compressed with other wastes to reduce the oxygen content, and so slow down the rate at which all materials breakdown given this process actually adds to carbon dioxide emissions and the leeching of pollutants including microplastics.
  • Whilst a clever marketing term which sounds environmental, we believe this is one to avoid.

Biodegradable

  • A biodegradable product relies on organisms rather then chemicals to break down the product into smaller components. Often however, material promoted as bio-degradable contains a combination of plastics and plant based products. As such, whilst the bags do breakdown faster than they normally would, they may breakdown into microplastics.
  • If products do not have Compostable Certification, it’s best to assume they are not completely organic and so contain either toxins or a proportion of plastics.

Flushable

  • Usually made from a polyvinyl alcohol, these solutions are being presented as a water soluble bag which provides a way to save plastics and dog waste from Landfill. Unfortunately the bags are proving less water soluble than promised, and so are causing significant issues in our sewer system. When trapped, they are then removed at enormous expense, and placed into landfill.
  • Despite some recent rebranding of a key brand following a War On Waste Report, these bags are still suggesting they can be flushed. This is another one to avoid!

What ‘eco’ marketing terms have you questioned? We would love to hear your feedback and experiences.

dog pick up bags

How our family minimise waste at home

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We often get asked about our waste routines at home, and as you can probably guess, we are obsessed with recycling!

At home we have four bins all set up for unique streams, which makes it really easy for the kids, and even visitors to recycle correctly. We built our kitchen around a convenient pull-out drawer system, to which we added Source Separation Systems’ Slide and Sort lids for Recycling and Organics. These convenient lids are perfect for visitors, ensuring we don’t end up with contamination in our streams. Everyone always stops to read the label and instructions before using.

We line both these bins with Compost-A-Pak 60 litre liners, and when emptied, the liner goes in with the food waste either into our Home Compost, or Council FOGO bin. The Recyclables are tipped out of the liner, which is reused a few times, then composted.

We then complement this with two smaller under sink MURFE units, one for Soft Plastics, which we collect weekly and take to Redcycle, and one for any remaining Landfill, which is normally the odd visitor’s coffee cup, and small things like meat tray satchels, band aids and broken drinking glasses.

 

However, whilst it is great to be in an effective recycling routine, we passionately believe the most important part of living sustainably is consistently reviewing what we are purchasing and bringing into our home. You can read more about how we minimise waste when out of the house here.

How our family minimise waste when out

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As you would probably expect, our family are passionate recyclers with an entire four stream recycling setup!

However, we believe the key to living more sustainably is actually reducing the amount of recyclables and landfill we purchase. Here are our three top family’s tips.

 

OUR PRECIOUS CANE BASKET

We never leave the house without my favourite cane basket. It sits near the front door, waiting for adventure. The basket is always packed with my reusable bags, a fold of Compost-A-Pak Singlet Bags and a number of Fruit and Veggie Bags (or 8 litre bags) which I pull off the roll as needed. Always having this when we are out of the house means we never have to use plastic carry bags, even for our fruit and vegetable selections at the markets or for meat at the butchers. Whilst I love my reusable bags, I don’t like to use them for any meat and fresh produce. Instead I pack this fresh food straight into my plant based Compost-A-Pak bags, and then throw them straight into the fridge or freezer as needed.

OUR PICNIC STASH

We also have a picnic stash in the car with a blanket, reusable cups and cutlery, which means we are always prepared to eat out, even if it’s unplanned. Whilst obviously we still generate some waste, eating in or choosing carefully and eliminating drink containers, straws and cutlery does make a difference. The kids are also in the habit of grabbing their water bottles every time we leave the house. It’s a great way to reduce single use bottles, and of course that we don’t hear “I’m thirsty!” as soon as we leave the house.

 

THOUGHTFUL PURCHASES

This is where I would love to tell you we purchase all our fruit and vegies direct from the farmers with no packaging, and make all our own snacks from scratch. We don’t! We are a very busy family, and as is the case with so many modern families, as parents we both work very long hours. We do however have sustainability as one of the driving forces of all our purchasing decisions.

  • We consistently aim to buy quality rather than quantity, and particularly with our clothes, we try to choose natural fabrics to minimise the microfibres released when we wash. This doesn’t always mean you have to spend more. It’s just about spending time researching and buying at the right time.

 

  • We eat lots of fresh food, and try to purchase them plastic or packaging free, either at the markets when we can make it or instore. We place loose items in our plant based Fruit and Vegie bags or 8 litre bags.  We will sometimes even pay extra for the loose items, however if not unreasonable, we think it’s worth it to make a stand against the unnecessary packaging. Often these loose items are also fresher, without the protection of bags and the ‘modified atmosphere’ used to make them look fresh.
    • With all this fresh food, we rely on some really easy and quick recipes that ensure dinner can be prepared quickly. Food marketing is designed to convince us that we need to buy extra packets and jars of flavour for speed and convenience. In my experience they are not necessary.
    • We also pack the kids lunches without packaging. This can be achieved with simple changes like purchasing a large block of cheese to cut rather then buying precut packaged cheese.
    • We also avoid store promotions and giveaways. I’m actually amazed how well our kids embrace this when you sit down and explain why our family chooses to say no.
  • Presents, particularly with kids can be challenging, however we try to avoid plastics when possible. For our own kids, we try to focus on experiences and the kids just love it.

 

We would love to hear more about your family’s sustainability tips. It’s certainly a journey, and we find we get a little bit better each year.

 

FOGO bins

‘It doesn’t require a lot of effort’: Sydney council’s food recycling trial extended

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Our team have been promoting Food Composting Programs for multi-unit dwellings for such a long time, and are really excited to be working with local Sydney Councils, who are proving how easily it can be done!
This article was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Pictured is our Kitchen Caddy customised specifically for the trials, and Australian Certified Compost-A-Pak® liners. This Kitchen Caddy has been made in part of Recycled Material (Milk Cartons, food containers etc)  collected in Council Roadside Recycling programs.

When Erin Clay moved into an apartment, the last thing she wanted to do was contribute to landfill by throwing food waste into the rubbish bin.

So Ms Clay, of Potts Point, was quick to join the City of Sydney’s kitchen recycling trial.

Erin Clay recycles her food scraps under a City of Sydney program. 
Erin Clay recycles her food scraps under a City of Sydney program. CREDIT:JACK CROSSING

“We’ve never really had compost solutions for inner-city living, so I think it’s good when you don’t have a backyard and can’t do it yourself,” she said.

She was familiar with the trial, having initially joined while living in a share house.

The city’s food scraps recycling initiative would be expanded to more than 21,000 households this year, a City of Sydney spokesperson said.

The council provides a small kitchen caddy, a supply of compostable caddy liners and a food scraps bin to residents.

Lord mayor Clover Moore said: “An average Australian family throws out an astonishing $3500 or more worth of food every year, amounting to about one tonne of food waste.

“With approximately 8 per cent of our total greenhouse gas emissions generated by waste, it is vital that we divert as much waste from landfill as possible.”

While other Sydney councils have a combined food and garden organics waste service, the City of Sydney said this option was unworkable given the city’s large proportion of apartment dwellers. In 2021, the council will be assessing more permanent food organics recycling solutions.

“Preliminary results indicate the trial is on track to success, with good recovery and participation rates, low bin contamination, high customer satisfaction, and delivery of multiple environmental benefits,” the council said.

In Woollahra Council, residents can get a free kitchen caddy and caddy liners. “Our residents can create compost simply by placing their scraps into their green-lid bin,” a council spokesperson said.

Woollahra operates under the Food Organics and Garden Organics system facilitated by the NSW Environment Protection Authority. It allows for the disposal of food and garden organics in a combined system that converts food waste to compost and fertilisers.

Penrith City Council has been part of the program for 10 years and Randwick will join in 2021.

 

“It doesn’t require a lot of effort, but you’re still doing something good for the environment,” Ms Clay said.

Having experienced a more specific waste disposal system while living in Japan, Ms Clay believes it’s a matter of education just as much as an issue for councils.

“I think that Australians have a really limited knowledge of where things go … people put coffee cups in the recycling,” she said, calling for more education and accountability, as well as consistency across councils.

The City of Sydney continues to recruit apartment buildings for the food scraps trial.

FOGO

81,110 FOGO Deliveries with only 78 Community Enquires

Our team recently hit the steep hills of Wollongong, working in partnership with the fabulous team from Remondis to deliver new FOGO (Food Organics, Garden Organics) kits to the residents of Wollongong.  Whilst it was a great way to get fit before Christmas, there were also some interesting learnings.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM visiting our distribution facility

Wollongong’s FOGO roll out commenced in November 2020 with a strong community communication strategy outlining the benefits of the program.

In this region alone, the team expect to divert a staggering 6,000 tonnes of food waste from their landfill site at Whytes Gully each year. In results similar to other Australian communities, the Wollongong team had found that residents were filling up to 40% of their red general waste bins with food scraps, which equates to approx. 150kg of food waste per household annually. The environmental and financial benefits of implementing a FOGO Program as quickly as possible were compelling, particularly in the context of rising Landfill costs.

During the rollout, each registered property received a FOGO kit comprising of a roll of Compost-A-Pak liners, Education Pack and a Source Separation Systems Kitchen Caddy. This Kitchen Caddy was made in Australian in a customised colour with the base and handle made of Post Consumer Recycled content. The recycled content for this production run was sourced from material originally deposited in council roadside collection bins in Melbourne. As a result, by simply choosing this solution, and so using Post-Consumer recycled content, the council contributed to Australia’s emerging circular economy which is imperative for an effective recycling industry in Australia.

Customised Wollongong Kitchen Caddy

After initial trials, the caddy was designed with simple and effective symbol-based imagery within the in-mould label, providing a permanent reminder for resident of the items accepted through the FOGO program. This was also reinforced across the other communication channels.

As Christmas loomed, the team set a very ambitious program to have the full distribution of 81,110 FOGO Kits in place within four weeks. Leveraging our unique distribution software in which many of the complexities of distribution are managed proactively in our preparation phase, the Source Separation Systems team successfully visited over 4,000 households on average everyday and met the timeframe. Which such large numbers, the risk of gaps and duplications obviously increase, however with our unique software, this risk is effectively mitigated. This is most powerfully reflected in the number of enquiries received into the council team, with only 78 Community Enquiries lodged during the distributing. That’s a call rate of  0.009%, which for anyone familiar with delivery logistics is quite remarkable!

As a result of the successful distribution the new program was effectively up and running in time for the Christmas period in which food waste tends to peak. As Wollongong City Acting Lord Mayor Councillor Tania Brown explained to local media ahead of the program, this type of FOGO strategy is really a win-win for the environment and residents.

“The big problem is that food waste in a landfill decomposes and creates the greenhouse gas methane. Diverting food scraps is a win-win as it reduces the amount of waste going to landfill, saving valuable landfill space and reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emitted into our atmosphere,” Cr Brown said

To find out more about our custom products, distribution program and how we can have you up and running for FOGO, simply contact us here.

Nana’s Pickled Cucumbers

I remember vividly standing on a stool to reach Nana’s kitchen bench as I ‘helped’ her with preserves. Nana and Pa loved Christmas. Presents were ready for us to investigate in secret months before, carols played throughout December and rather than writing names on tags, Pa would create rhyming poems about each person so we had to guess who the gift was for.

They are memories I treasure, and I love to find time to make preserves for the Christmas period to continue such family traditions. This recipe is my favourite! To confess, that’s mainly because it is so quick and easy that I can either involve the kids, or do it quietly in the limited time after they go to bed. It also works really on platters when entertaining before Christmas, and it is amazing with left over Christmas Ham!

Pickled Cucumbers

  • 1kg Small Cucumber (I like to make a few large jars)
  • 1 Bunch Dill Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon Peppercorns
  • 1 Teaspoon Yellow Mustard Speeds
  • Between 1/2  – 1 cup White Wine Vinegar*
  • Between 3 cups – 6 cups water*
  • Between 3 – 6 Tablespoons Sea Salt*

 

Four Easy Steps for Pickling.

Before you start you will need to sterilise your jars. I used to two 850ml Glass Jars. To sterilise, I find it easiest to simply place the jars into a deep saucepan, cover with water and then bring the water to the boil as I prepare everything. The jars are obviously very hot, so take extra care when removing, and filling the jars.

  1. Wash your Cucumbers, dry and cut. I like to quarter mine longways, as I think they look their best, however you can cut into slices for a more traditional result if you prefer
  2. Combine 1/2 cup White Wine Vinegar, 3 cups water and 3 Tablespoons Salt into a saucepan and bring to boil*
  3. Layer the Cucumber, Dill Leaves,  Peppercorns and Mustard Seeds into jars
  4. Pour the hot mixture over the jar contents and seal the jar immediately. *The amount of Vinegar, Water and Salt you require will vary dramatically depending on the jar size and design, and how closely packed the cucumbers are. If your jars don’t fill to the top, simply boil extra Vinegar, Water and Salt to the same relative quantities until you have enough to fill the jars to the brim.

Your Pickles Cucumbers will be ready to eat after a week, and will continue to get better for up to 6 months. Store the jar at room temperature until opened, and then once opened in the fridge to stay fresh. The jars will last up to 6 months unopened, and a few weeks in the fridge once opened. (Although they never last that long in our house!)

We would love to hear your favourite food traditions for the festive summer period.

We will be spending the season enjoying Nana’s Pickled Cucumbers and Matt’s Chill Jam,  as we gather together under our native Christmas Tree, and for the first time, share presents we have wrapped with our Handmade Reusable Wrap. I can’t wait!

Matt’s ‘borrowed’ Chilli Jam Recipe

A few years ago, one of our gorgeous team members Natasha missed our Christmas Party, and so she came to visit with her family over holiday period so we could celebrate the year together. Natasha arrived with a festive cheese platter, including a bright red jar of her husband’s Chilli Jam. I was addicted immediately, and eventually managed to get my hands on the recipe. Since that Christmas, Matt’s Chilli Jam is always in our fridge. It’s so easy to make, that you can do it while cooking dinner, and it transforms cheese platters, meals and my Sunday Eggs into a feast!

With permission, I’ve listed the recipe below.

Matt’s Chilli Jam 

  • 5 large Red Capsicums (Seeded and Chopped ready for blending)
  • A handful of Chilli’s (Homegrown if possible) Matt recommends 3 Bird eye Chilli’s and 1 Habanero.
  • 8 Garlic Cloves (Peeled) Aussie Grown if Possible
  • 12cm Ginger Root (Peeled and Chopped ready for Blending)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sea Salt
  • 2 1/2 Cups Sugar
  • 1 1/3 Cups Organic White Vinegar
  • 2 Bay Leaves

 

Four Easy Steps.

  1. Placed the Capsicum, Chilli’s, Ginger and Garlic in a food processor and blend until finely chopped.
  2. In a large saucepan, combined this mixture with the Sugar, Salt, Vinegar and bar leaf. Bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer for approx. 40-50 minutes, stirring regularly and removing any surface scum. To check if it’s ready, you can lift the mixture with the back curve of a spoon to see if it has thickened.
  4. Remove the Bay Leaf. Pour into sterilised jars and seal immediately.

Once cool, I then store these jars in the fridge waiting for visitors!

We would love to hear your favourite recipes or any tips you have for catering for unexpected guests over Christmas without risking an increase in food waste if people don’t drop in.

 

Three Steps for Simple Reusable Wrapping Paper

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Each year we like to challenge ourselves to live more sustainably. As a result, we very rarely put out our Landfill Bin and have managed to establish a really easy plastic-free packed lunch routine for the adults and kids alike.

 

At Christmas time, it does often seem a little more challenging. Our Christmas is a very large extended family affair with lots of children, and so after sharing gifts, we often end up with a floor of wrapping. Whilst we always purchase recycled paper and reuse or recycle, there is no doubt we can do better.

This year we have committed to making our own reusable Christmas Wrapping, which we will repack with the decorations for next year. I’m certainly a sewing novice, and am hoping that no one looks too closely at the stiches, however in truth, the process was a lot quicker and easier than I expected. Our 10 year old even ended up sewing for the first time and took over the production side!

Step One
Choose your Material & optional Trim. We were unable to purchase any recycled material unfortunately, so selected a Linen option, as it is a little more sustainable using much less water to produce compared to cotton. We purchased 5 meters, with a number of presents to wrap. We also decide to use a trim, and given the kids chose, we selected the brightest most festive options possible.

 

 

Step Two
Cut the material to size. We wanted to have a generous gathering to knot the top, so we simply folded the fabric over on the diagonal to mark out large squares and then cut. We then cut some squares into four squares, resulting in a few large and some smaller wraps.

Note – The knot design we have chosen does use a lot of material. Instead if you use ribbon to secure the material in a more traditional way, the fabric can be cut closer to the size of the gifts being wrapped. This will means you will get more wraps out of the same material.

Step Three.
Fold the edge and then iron to secure the fold. Repeat this again to create a double fold. Using a sewing machine, sew the double fold into place. We also added our ribbon trim as we stitched to save time, however you can separate these steps if you prefer. Given the wrap will only be used to secure gifts, a single stitch will suffice.

 

 

It’s as simple as that. We then placed treasures such as the Christmas Kitchen Caddy Kit onto the centre of the wrap and knotted both corners to fold. One thing to note, the gifts are easily unwrapped, so I will be adding some extra ribbon to secure the knot for those who won’t be able to resist peaking at what’s under the tree.. like the kids and Pete!

We would love to hear any other ideas you have for making Christmas even more sustainable.

Our family always gather under our Native Australian Christmas Tree, and we have some favorite old-fashion recipes we prepare every year to help us reduce our food waste. You can check them out here, Matt’s Stolen Chilli Jam Recipe, Nana’s Pickled Cucumbers