Archive | June, 2011

I just can’t stop buying fruit trees

29 Jun

Vegetable production is fast. You just whack in the seeds, and 60-180 days later they’re on your plate.


I wish fruit was that easy. With fruit trees, you need to plant them, protect them from thieves, diseases, bugs, birds, possums, children, prune them, train them and then, if you’re really lucky you might actually get to eat something.

So my plan has been to start early, and start big. I figure that my success rate is going to be pretty low – I am a complete amateur after all. So I’m going for quantity. Even a newbie like me can’t kill 100% of my fruit trees, right?

Black Mulberry, Imperial mandarin, Eureka lemon, Navelina orange, Golden Dorset apple, Tropical Anna apple (All trees are dwarf)

So now I have quite a few fruit trees, and I just can’t stop ordering more. I like to think of it as an investment in the future.

Now every time I have a craving for a particular fruit, I don’t say Oh, I should go buy some, oh no, not me.

I think – I should buy a tree!

And I’m starting to run out of space.

Along the side of the front yard I have the dwarf fruit trees planted quite densely. I have space for one more between the orange and the apples, but I think I might put a dwarf Granny Smith in there. Apart from the banana in the back corner, the rest of the trees are growing in pots on the back deck.

Second from the left in the above picture is the dwarf Imperial mandarin. This guy has struggled since I gave him root rot through zealous overwatering in the bonsai bags. Since then I’ve put him in the ground and treated him with anti-rot fairly regularly.  Now I’m wishing that he would either get over it and thrive, or curl up his toes so I can replace him with something more successful.

Sulking isn’t very becoming in a plant.

So I’ve now given it a feed with some Dynamic Lifter for Citrus and a good water with some Harvest. A day later, and I think it might just look a fraction better.

Closest to the street I have my dwarf apples. I’m getting a bit nervous about these guys, because I’ve read about the importance of establishing a good branch structure early. I gather that this involves actually doing something, but what exactly eludes me.

This picture shows the troublesome structure of one of my apples. I’m aiming for a central leader style of pruning, so I think I’m supposed to be aiming for a main central trunk with branches that come off at close to horizontal angles. My branches have been growing almost parallel with the main trunk, so  I’m trying to increase the branch angles with the ties. At the ends of the branches the shoots are coming out densely in all directions, so I haven’t the foggiest idea about what to do with those. Help!

Yesterday my stonefruit arrived. I ordered the sunset peach and nectarine trees from Plantnet. Their big selling point is that they are low chill, so they are ideal for Sydney. They also won’t grow more than 1 metre high, which makes them ideal for pots, which is about my only option anyway.

The first problem is, last time I put fruit trees in pots out the front someone absconded with them. The other problem is that I’m running out of pots.

For these two specimens of future juicy goodness, an azalea and some other inedible shrub are about to have a very bad day.

Mushrooms out of the fog

27 Jun

We are slowly emerging from the fog that is Influenza. We have all been confined to our single heated room – all four of us with our high fevers and incessant children’s television. Never again will I be cocky – I’ll just get the free flu shot like all the sensible people at work.

I emerged on Saturday for a few hours to attend a mushroom growing workshop run by Milkwood Permaculture. My friend Aaron came with me, and here we are looking extremely studious. Thanks Cathy for the photo – you can see the rest of the great images she took of the workshop here.

The presenter of the workshop was Will Borowski. He was extremely knowledgeable and also very pragmatic. He understands that the home mushroom grower doesn’t want to control conditions exactly and jump through insane hoops to grow a few mushrooms – we just want to follow a few steps and get on with it. He’s got lots of experience with breaking all the rules and getting great mushrooms growing regardless.

That’s the story I came to hear!

We came away from the workshop with a load of freebies – a pre-drilled eucalypt log (ready to innoculate with shiitake mycelium), dowels pre -innoculated with shiitake for hammering into the logs and cultures for a few varieties of mushrooms. Will very generously gave me cultures for King Oyster, shimeji, and an Indian variety of oyster mushroom. I look forward to giving it a go – look out for future posts.

Once the kids went down for a nap today I set to work hammering the shiitake dowels into my log. The idea is that you put the mushroom cultures (mycelium) into the log, then it spreads through the log over time, and shiitake mushrooms pop out of the log occasionally for 5-6 years. Apparently I shouldn’t expect mushrooms for at least a year, so I want to get the process happening ASAP.

Will gave us a container of shiitake-innoculated dowels, and the guys from Milkwood spent a lot of time cutting logs and drilling holes for us. All I needed to do was hammer them in. The process was pretty simple, even for an unco like me.

Once I’d hammered all the dowels in, they looked like this. We were told at the course that you need to coat the dowels and the ends of the log with beeswax, but I didn’t have any, so I’m going to see if it works without it.

I’ve put the log between the garage and the side fence – in a spot where moss grows like crazy, so hopefully fungi will do equally well.

Thanks to Jodi from Every Day in the Garden for the heads up about the workshop – Milkwood Permaculture run some really great courses, and I suspect I’ll be doing more in the future.

An undisclosed side effect

19 Jun

I have the dreaded lurgy, and I swear it was caused by our renovations.

I have no kitchen you see, and as a result we are eating staggering amounts of take away and restaurant meals. Who goes to a restaurant and says “oh yes, give me the steamed vegetables and grilled fish, please?” It just doesn’t happen.

Over the past 24 hours I have eaten: Mcdonalds for breakfast, nothing much but carrot cake for lunch, and 2 Panadol, 2 Nurofen and some Sudafed for dinner.

No wonder I feel all shimmery.

On the positive side, the renovations are going swimmingly. The new tile floor is down, the plastering is mostly done, new skirting boards are mostly in place and the painter and carpet people are due to arrive over the next few days to measure and quote. I’m trying very hard not to think about the fact that we have spent almost double our budget. Double our budget.

It’s going to look fantastic.

Our builder is a magician. He speaks Chinese and I have no idea what he’s talking about, but he seems to understand me, so I’m ok with that. That and he’s finished his stuff in 10 days, despite a leaky roof and an ever-expanding scope of works. Did I also mention he’s cheap and reliable? If you need a builder in Sydney, give me a shout.

View to the kitchen area from the dining room. Structural stuff done, ready to paint

Now I know that this post is useless without pictures. As much as I would like to hold them back now until it’s all finished, August is a very long time to wait. Believe me, I know – that’s how long the kitchen company is going to take before installation. I’m going to be sick forever.

Brassicas brighten the darkest day

15 Jun

It has rained in Sydney. Then rained some more. It’s lovely not to have to water the garden, but the leaking roof is a bit less convenient. This leaking roof also happens to be covering the ceiling we just gyprocked, so on the convenience scale it rates up there with speeding tickets and nits.

First Cauliflower

On the bright side, my broccoli and cauliflower have come into harvest. We’ve been picking broccoli all this week, and my first cauliflower was ready today. They have gone from tiny things to large heads in a really short space of time. They seem to take ages to start forming heads, then *poof* they’re ready.

Us with broccoli

We have a pot luck dinner with our bible study group tonight, so J and I went out to pick some broccoli and cauliflower this afternoon in preparation for some au gratin to take along. Pot luck is such fun – I love the element of risk – the danger that everyone might bring dessert (not such a risk really).

New tiny plantings in the broccoli hole

After I cut the heads, I pulled out the plants entirely, and off to the compost they will go. I know they would send out side shoots, but space is at a premium in the front bed. They left pretty large holes, so in went some replacement seedlings immediately. I have some Broccoli de cicco and some pak choy in the greenhouse, so I’ve put them in. They seem so tiny in comparison to the huge plants they replaced.

I hope that they grow fast enough to harvest before I want to put the summer veggies in in late August.

J with broccoli

Era of uncertainty

13 Jun

P was made redundant this week. They’re axing his whole group, and after more than 6 years in the job, it will be hard for him to leave the great friends he’s made. Having just extended our mortgage, the timing could have been better.

We are right in the middle of major renovations and life is quite crazy. I’m writing this post from up the coast at my parents’ house. Our floor has just been tiled, so we can’t walk on it yet. Thankfully the builders should be finished tomorrow, so we’ll be back in our house, just waiting until August, when our kitchen will be installed.

The kids’ behaviour has been challenging. J is particularly difficult, but I guess that’s not surprising, given that our house has been full of tradesmen 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The builders have been very very kind to get the work done so quickly, because it could have dragged on much longer than this. Of the three quotes we asked for, two builders estimated that the work would take 3 months. This builder quoted three weeks, and they will be all done in 10 days. Brilliant doesn’t cover it.

So P finishes up at the end of October. He’s been given quite a bit of notice, and our labour laws in this country are quite generous so we’ll be OK. We just find uncertainty difficult.

I guess we can be confident that we won’t go hungry – in November my garden should be producing bumper crops of Spring/Summer veggies, and my lifetime supply of garlic will be ready for the picking. Bring on frugality!

I’ve never planned this far ahead

8 Jun

I’m a last-minute kinda girl. Every time I have a bad night with the kids, I get flashbacks in the morning to the many times I pulled an all-nighter during my uni days.

I guess I just work better under pressure.

Well it’s early June, and by my calculations summer is 175 days away. Just the time not to be planting strawberries on planet

Today my Hokowase patch kit arrived from the Diggers Club. I was actually wondering what I had ordered when I found the parcel this afternoon, because it was so small.

In the parcel was 20 bare-rooted strawberries and some black weed matting – all in a box about 15cm x 10cm x 10cm.

Strawberries poking through the weed mat

The instructions urged me to plant them immediately, so I got to work. I had some polystyrene boxes, so I filled them up with a mixture of bokashi compost and cow manure, then mulched with sugar cane. I planted the crowns (probably too densely), then stretched the weed matting over the top, cutting holes for the plant positions.

Baby Hokowase

I’ve watered them in well and placed them along the front garden bed.

Hurry up summer! Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, Hurry Hurry!

Did I mention I’m impatient too?

I’ve been quiet – because my house looks like this!

6 Jun

Renovation - Day 4

I’ve been slightly distracted this week, caught in the flurry of live-in renovations.

It’s a bit hard to make out what is happening, but the baby gate you can see is doing a great job of of protecting little D from an utterly fascinating circular saw.

Baby Coriander

I thought I’d share a few images from garden even though I’m not getting much achieved.

My experimental coriander is growing nicely on the window sill.I love it how they turn to face the window, even when I turn the planter box round each evening. I’ve sown another lot of seeds so I can ensure a continuous supply, because the germination rate was pretty low.

Lemon flower bud

Project lemon is flowering enthusiastically and putting out new growth. I think I have about 20 flowers on there now.

I have a complete glut of turnips. Of all the things to have a glut of…

Making Soy Yoghurt

1 Jun

I’ve turned into the person I used to mock.

During uni I lived in Glebe, which is a surburb filled with ‘alternative’ types. I used to laugh at them with their dreadlocks going into the heath food store – bloody hippies!

Well now I’m buying organic food, growing my own vegetables, and today I sank to a new low. I made soy yoghurt.

In my defense, it is because Little D has recently been diagnosed with an allergy to cow’s milk protein. This means that not only can he not have milk, but also cheese, butter, yoghurt and anything that has casein or whey added to it. That includes a large percentage of processed foods, even those which you wouldn’t normally think contain milk. Soy cheese for example commonly uses casein as a starter. All kinds of plain crackers use milk protein in its various forms.

Thankfully, D has taken very well to soy milk. He didn’t even seem to notice it was any different. Depriving him of cheese and yoghurt however has been a different story. Whenever J eats either, D reaches out desperately, making a sound that I can only liken to the sound that kids make when they have their hands up in the classroom and want the teacher to pick them.

Eh, Eh, Eh, Eh!!!

Then we have tears.

Soy milk goes into the canister

So being reasonably familiar with the yoghurt and cheesemaking process I set out to make some soy yoghurt. I’ve outlined the steps for cow’s milk yoghurt previously, and the process is essentially the same.

I used (Woolworth’s brand) Macro organic soy milk. I poured it into the yoghurt making canister, and added the culture. I’d read that the yield on soy yoghurt was lower, so I used approximately 3 times as much culture as I would for normal yoghurt.

Adding the culture

I then added a large pinch of sugar to give the cuture something extra to eat. Soy milk does have some sugar that is digestible to yoghurt culture, but not as much as cow’s milk. I didn’t want to make the yoghurt sweet though, so I only added a little. I then closed the container and put it in the yoghurt maker for about 16 hours.

Soy yoghurt before straining

After that time I put the yoghurt in the fridge for a few hours to firm up a bit more before straining it.

Now you’ll notice from this picture that it differs quite a bit from normal yoghurt. The whey is yellow and the yield is much lower.

With cow’s milk you don’t even need to strain the whey off, but (with this batch at least), quite a bit of whey needed to be strained off before the consistency was right. I strained it through a normal wire sieve, but I think I could have increased the yield by using a finer sieve or some cheesecloth. Not spilling it all over the window sill may also have helped.

Finished Soy Yoghurt

In the end I yielded a little over 500g from 1 litre of soy milk. Not bad I guess for about $2.50.

The flavour is different to cow’s milk yoghurt. It has the required sourness, but there is that definite soy flavour.

A flavour that only a hippy could love.