Greengages!

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One of the big pluses about our new(ish) house was the quantity of mature fruit trees. Indeed it was one of the things that won me over, despite the fact the block was a lot smaller than I had originally hoped for. Already we have been losing a lot of produce to animals (mostly possums I assume), including our whole cherry crop which disappeared while I was over visiting Perth *sniff*. We’ve also lost pretty much all the fruit off the first two plum trees to become ripe.

A lot of this is due to the fact that the trees have not been properly pruned in a while, so many of them can’t be easily netted. However, it seems the critters have had enough of plums for a while, as we are starting to get a few. We have a one largish sized and one small plum just starting to produce, and also what is apparently some sort of greengage.

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Oh. My. Goodness. I had never tasted a greengage before – they are absolutely divine! The other plums are pretty darned gorgeous as well. There is another plum tree absolutely bursting with small grape-shaped type fruit, so I think it is a Victoria.

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In other sightings around the garden, another pumpkin coming along. I thought I only planted Golden nuggets, but this is very different from my other vines, so not sure what is going on there… maybe this is the nugget, and the other plants are something else? IMG_0418 And still we are waiting for the first ripe tomato. Lots of fruit on lots of healthy looking vines but no glimpses of red as yet. When we first came to Tassie in May our rental house still had quite a few cherry tomatoes still hanging around, so I still have hopes of a few months of tomatoes to come….

Home-made Yoghurt

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So finally I get to blog about one of the things on my Green Goals Mega List. I can’t actually cross it off yet, until I have gotten into the habit of doing it regularly.

Miss 8 and I eat a lot of yoghurt – we like thick, plain nothing added yoghurt, and I have been buying local whenever possible so not cheap. I have made it before but the ‘recipes’ were always a little fussy in terms of what to put or wrap the yoghurt in over night (and I didn’t want to use a yoghurt maker). I got inspired by this technique so tried it out, with a few variations.

I sterilised some jars in a water bath in my stock pot, then originally was going to put my pot of milk into this using the same water as a double boiler. However it was taking too long, so I just put my pan straight onto the heat. Lots of ‘recipes’ say to just bring the milk to 80ºC then let it cool, so this is what I did (although the above technique says to keep it at this temp for 10 minutes or so). Cool it down to 45ºC then stir in some yoghurt. I’ve seen varying amounts recommended – I went with 1 tablespoon per litre. Whisk it in, then pour into the glass jars, put the lids on – and here is the genius bit which worked so well – put the jars back into the water bath (which had just been sitting on the back of the stove), put the lid on, wrap it in a towel and leave till the morning. The result?
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Three jars of perfect yoghurt! I took the largest jar to strain off and turn into a thicker greek style. I might have left it too long and turned it almost into labneh. Had it on my usual breakfast with raspberries from my neighbour’s friend, strawberries from producer down the road, and some rolled oats. Very pleased with this process, so now I just need to soruce some local milk and get into the habit.

Belated January planting diary

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The bed I planted out in early January is growing well now. Luckily I have all the varieties written down even though  I  can’t remember what order they went in. This bed is yet more evidence of my new, ordered approach  to planting. Not only did I plant in neat little rows, I have also thinned the seedlings already. I might be moving more towards the Steven Solomon school of planting, though no doubt he would have been horrified to see how close together I put the rows, as well as the actual seeds. This was not entirely my fault – I was using for the first time a seed dispenser given to me by my Dad – turns out for the fine seeds you still really need to mix them with sand.

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So I took the plunge and thinned out seedlings early, something I usually fail to do. I feel so sorry for those poor little seedlings that are growing so strongly, their only fault the fact I put them too close to their neighbour. Usually I leave this stage until it is too late and too tricky to disentangle them. So we will see how this lot grow. I haven’t thinned the lettuce, spinach and silverbeet as I figure I can be eating those as baby leaves once the seedlings get a tiny bit bigger.

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(The bed a few weeks later – looking a bit wilted, but now all watered and happy). So this bed contains:

  • Carrot – Amsterdam Forcing (Southern Harvest)
  • Swede – Laurentian Yellow (Golden Valley Farm)
  • Turnip – Hakurei F1 GVF
  • Parsnip – Melbourne Whiteskin
  • Beetroot – Early Wonder GVF
  • Lettuce – Salad Mix GVF
  • Lettuce – Oak Leaf Read SH
  • Spring Onion straight leaf GVF
  • Spinach – Steadfast SH
  • Silverbeet – Fordhook Giant SH (I think)
  • Zucchini – Costata Romanesco (SH) just two plants right at the end.

Yes a lot of different varieties, planted in very short rows across the width of the bed. I will be doing some succession planting of many of these but wanted to give them all a try, and only this bed was ready at the time! I also planted in punnets a load more of the Silverbeet, some Kale (Toscano/Cavolo nero – SH) and Broccoli di cicco (SH). I love my greens! You can never have too much spinach or silverbeet in my book. They still need to grow on a bit, which is good as I have run out of space again!

 

Home made fettucine

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Another cooking first for me yesterday – I finally made my own pasta from scratch (and in the process finally cracked out the pasta maker hubby received for his birthday about 4 years ago). I was inspired by re-reading through my Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Companion, looking for some nice pasta recipes and ways of using up peas and broccoli. I used the pasta instructions from Stephanie’s  Pappardelle with Peas, Lettuce and Prosciutto recipe, but played with the ingredients for the rest of the dish – omitting the meat, obviously, and also cream as I didn’t have any.

The pasta  is simple: 300g flour (I used the Italian 000 pasta flour), and 3 eggs. Mix it all together and knead lightly – you can add one more egg yolk if needed. Rest covered for an hour at room temperature, then put through the pasta maker. I was so impressed at how well it rolled and cut. Sadly my pictures of the freshly made pasta draped over the back of the kitchen chairs didn’t work out.

I made up some fresh basil pesto (basil, garlic, few cashews, olive oil, parmesan), and sauteed up spring onions, broccolini spears, baby spinach and fresh peas. Cooked the pasta (which only takes 2 minutes if it is fresh), stirred through the pesto, added the vegetables, then sprinkled a bit of extra parmesan on top.

IMG_0414Not the best photo ever, but all agreed it was delicious and the pasta was a total winner – it really does taste better fresh. Can’t wait to try making spaghetti and linguine next!

Making from scratch

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One of my big goals for the year is to try and avoid as much processed food as possible, in order to try and reduce our waste, eat better, and avoid or cut out the supermarket. Dinner the other night was a good reminder of how easy this can be, and how rewarding. I made Felafel kebabs, with some cheating as cans and a premix were involved. I have tried to make felafel balls from scratch before but haven’t cracked the right recipe – the boxes of premix are always much tastier (my search will continue).

First assemble the mix with water, rest, firm into balls and fry – easy. Next up homemade hummus – chickpeas (from a can – obviously would be better to have started with dried beans), garlic, chilli, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper – whiz up together. Also home made tabbouleh: cracked wheat soaked then mixed with chopped tomatoes, spring onions, lots of chopped parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. Finally, home-made wraps. I’ve never made these before but they were ridiculously easy. I used this recipe – not traditional I’m sure but it worked beautifully: easy to work dough, lovely light and flexible wraps that were easy to roll up.

IMG_1563Here it is the next day for lunch  – so not only did we have a lovely light dinner, but got a couple of meals out of the left overs as well. With a bit of experimenting with flour types and using different grains, this could easily be a gluten-free meal as well as dairy-free – not an easy ask in our cheese and bread-loving vegetarian household!

 

Confessions of an ad-hoc gardener

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I am the first to admit that I am not the best-organised of gardeners. In the past I have gone through bursts of enormous enthusiasm and planting, often dissipated by failed crops, too-hot summers back in Perth, bad planning, and neglect.  For years now I have usually grown (or tried to grow) some kind of food, but in reality, I have not made a very good job of actually consistently harvesting and using my produce.

I first got into veggie growing after the break up of my first marriage, 15 years ago. This is not to say I had no experience of gardening – growing up my Dad always grew veggies and kept chickens. I’m not sure how much of a help I was in my childhood, but have clear memories of scrabbling through shovelfuls of dirt to harvest potatoes as Dad dug them up, eating peas off the vine, turning my nose up at the fresh brussels sprouts, eating mandarins, plums and mulberries in the back yard. When I got into making my own little patches, first in a few rental houses, there was much sharing of ideas and talking about methods amongst  my Dad, sister-in-law and myself – all keen gardeners. I’m pretty sure it was my Dad who gave me the first of what would be many, many books on gardening, food growing and the like – Jackie French’s Backyard Self Sufficiency.

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I adored this book. I must have read it 10 times or more. I loved the hopeful, encouraging, can-do attitude. The you can make anything you need approach, tempered with the practicalities of how much work true self sufficiency actually is. Most of all, I loved the idea of low-work, messy gardening. Oh yes, that one hooked me right in. Messy, organic, letting the garden do its thing – that absolutely characterised the chaotic, all jumbled in together, riotous messes my veggie patches often were.  I looked with fond amusement at my Dad’s organised, patches, all neatly planted in rows. I’m sure he looked at my patches with similar bemusement.

I kept the ad-hoc approach up with varying degrees of success as I built from scratch new vegetable gardens in each of the four houses I bought over the last 14 years. Recently I have been reviewing and totally rethinking the way I approach food gardening.  I knew that my approach  would have to change once we moved to Tasmania – not least because of the very different climate, and soil. (Soil! I have Soil! This still excites me, having planted most of my gardens on Perth’s coastal sands.) Part of our reason for moving here was to be able to have the time and motivation to become much more self-sufficient, which means my garden has to be more productive. And I need to be much more organised, which means planning, keeping records, and being open to different ways of doing things.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have spent a lot of time reading one of the Tasmanian Veggie planting books everyone tells you to read, Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables South of Australia, which has been a revelation. I’m not sure I will follow all his suggestions, but I am taking note. A good example is to look at the way I have approached potatoes.

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On the right, the way I always used to do potatoes. Dig a little hole, put in some compost then cover with straw. keep adding more straw and ‘hilling them up’ after a fashion with the straw. Given this bed was started on top of cardboard, with potatoes I had started out in pots then transplanted, this bed hasn’t done too badly. I’ve started getting a few nice pickings from here already. However, to the left is my new experiment…

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Yep – your good old-fashioned hilled-up potatoes. I always knew many people grew potatoes like this. So when Steve Solomon said this is the way I should–nay MUST– grow them I thought I would give it a try. (Steve is not afraid to assert that his way of doing things is the best and only way!)  So I popped  some lovely King Edward seed potatoes from local Golden Valley Farm into a shallow trench. Luckily I had gotten some light top soil delivered in order to speed-construct half the veggie patch, so I just kept piling it on and hilling up. The result? A wonderfully lush row of potatoes more than waist high. I have assiduously refrained from even having the slightest thought of bandicooting (another habit learned from Jackie!) and am waiting for the plants to die down before I get out my shovel. Well, maybe I should dig up one plant to get some lovely new potatoes…

My next challenge is to really get my head around planning, documenting and keeping track of my planting, varieties, methods used, and harvests. To that end I have joined an online  gardening site and journal, My Folia which I have yet to really make use of. They have a ‘seed stash’ function which sounds awesome (put in all the seeds you have with planting times etc and it will send a reminder of when you’re meant to be planting). In the meantime I will keep trying to document what I am planting here.

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Which reminds me I haven’t updated that big plant I did a couple of weeks ago…

More Random Garden Moments

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We have been having some glorious weather recently, including a few days that felt, well, too hot. Still nowhere near the usual Perth extremes, or recent awful weather in Melbourne, but still, over 30 degrees here feels really hot! IMG_0387Beautiful blue sky, looking up through the top of the enormous old apple tree at our front gate.

IMG_0371Midnight the chook having a stroll through the Veggie patch. The girls are pretty restrained, and since I have taken up all the path coverings (down to kill off grass) they have been very helpful weeding the paths for me.

IMG_0374Thriving calendula, given to me as seedlings by a friend, snuggling up to some tomatoes.

IMG_0388The view from our front gate. Never gets dull.

IMG_0285This pic is a bit fuzzy, but it is hard to get snaps of these little squatters. Black bunny and grey hare rocked up about a month ago and hop around with the wallabies and occasionally scare the chickens. (You can’t really tell from this photo, but these are BIG bunnies!) So far they haven’t done much damage to the veggie patch, but I’m increasingly getting anxious to fence it all in!

Evolution of the Veggie Patch: bed no.12

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I’ve been a bit lax in keeping up with the gardening updates, due largely to either being out in the garden, or hiding inside because it has been too HOT!

Earlier in the week I finished off my 12th bed (if I count the asparagus and strawberry bed, plus the pumpkin patch plus salad bowl as roughly equivalent to two beds) and planted it out.

IMG_0361Getting the new bed ready – in the background you can see the new shed! I took a bit more care preparing this bed than many of the others, which were done in a rush and mostly raised over paper on top of the grass. This one didn’t have much grass, so I actually weeded and hoed it, sprinkled on lime, laid down pea straw, then composted manure, mushroom compost and top soil, then mulched with straw. I’m glad I did as two days after planting we had a couple of 30 plus days.

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New bed all planted out and netted up to keep out the chickens/wallabies/rabbits. The bed has a row of cosmos down the middle; a row of Golden Valley Farm Spring onion seeds down one side; then half the bed has Southern Harvest ‘Snow Queen F1′ Cauliflower, the other half ‘Copenhagen Market’ Cabbage. I tried to follow Tassie gardening guru Steve Solomon’s advice (for a change) and space these out at a decent interval. For the caulis, about 40cm apart, a mound with 3-4 seeds each; and about 30cm apart for the cabbage. This is a smaller spacing than Solomon reccomends, so we will see what happens. I’m a bit chastened by seeing the crazy crowding resulting from my last seed sowing efforts (see next post), but still find it hard to have so few seeds in one bed. I’m very conscious of the fact that as fast as I am building these beds, I fill them up and still end up looking around for space for my next lot of seedlings!

I managed to find a bit of space where my broad beans used to be:IMG_0382
(The view from pretty much directly outside the kitchen door, looking toward our driveway gate).   Under the shade cloth you can just glimpse above I planted my third variety of carrot “Little Finger” from another local guy who sells his seeds at the Cygnet market. My mate Ken informs me he is commonly known as ‘Pointy Pete’ so I guess that is what I will call his seeds!

Another bed is on the way of course, but will be a while before it is ready as I am doing the sheet-mulching approach, again using no cardboard or paper to smother the straw, so it will really need a month before I should plant in it. IMG_0357
Well, when I say bed, I mean a rather large space which should hold another 8 beds! Here you can see the first layer of the mulch down – I need to get some more poo, compost and more straw on top. Whether or not I can actually resist planting anything in here for another month remains to be seen of course …

 

 

redux: the not-so-lovely bumble bee

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Lovely and cuddly though they may appear, it has come to my attention that the bumble bee is not that great a thing to have around, in Australia at any rate.

In the process of settling an argument between two 8 year olds as to whether or not bumble bees sting, I did some research. Of course, I knew the bees were European, but I hadn’t really thought through the consequences of their colonisation. Bumble bees as far as we know have not yet entered mainland Australia. They have been in Tassie since 1992 and since then have spread to every bit of the island (and also to islands like Bruny and Maria). More research needs to be done, but they have a pretty devastating impact on native bees, through competition for food, as well as European honey bees, and other fauna including birds. More detail in this article.

Sigh. I’d better hurry up and plant some more native local flowering plants in the hopes of providing enough food for the native bees.

Oh to bathe in pollen like the lovely bumble bee …

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Trying to capture bumble bees on camera is tricky. Wandering around the garden this morning trying to get a good shot I got up close and personal with a bumble bee having a total party in a poppy flower. It dived in right under the stamen and literally rolled around like a dog rolling in… well something more stinky than pollen. Twas a gorgeous sight. I didn’t quite manage to capture it, but did get a few good shots.

IMG_0317coming in to land…

IMG_0318dive! dive!

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IMG_0315If you look closely you can just see the bee mid-roll inside the flower at about 5 o’clock.

These gorgeous little creatures also love to frolic in my pumpkin flowers, one of the reasons I assume my vines are so prolific.  Three Golden Nugget plants (from Southern Harvest seed – a fabulous local seed company) are currently sporting 50 or so pumpkins.

IMG_0323Some are only little and obviously they won’t all make it – a few young ones have been eaten by slugs, or are rotting.

IMG_0322There are still plenty that are already at a good size, so fingers crossed this will be a good crop!

A few more seedlings started later are scattered around the garden so will be interesting to see how they go compared with the main patch, which were planted out quite early (October I think) into mounds covered by black plastic to help warm up the soil.