Archive | November, 2011

Using lucerne hay as mulch

30 Nov

When I first started my veggie garden I used lucerne to mulch, mostly because it was readily available from Bunnings. At $25 a (smallish) bail it wasn’t cheap, but the benefits were enormous. It suppressed weeds, protected the soil and added much-needed nutrients. Lucerne is high in nitrogen,  so it breaks down quickly to enrich the soil with extra organic matter. The drawback of course is that it breaks down fast, so needs to be topped-up regularly.

Over the past 6 months however it hasn’t been available. Instead there has been a proliferation of cheap sugar cane mulch. It is cheap at $16 a bail, and breaks down slowly so it doesn’t need replenishing as often. I assume people must love it for that reason, but I was getting pretty sick of it really. I had mulched under my artichokes in January, and now in late November it still hadn’t broken down. The soil was looking depleted and crumbly.

Here’s where I am super-lucky that my parents live in a rural area. I asked them to keep an eye out for lucerne, and they came through with the goods. They brought down a huge bail of lucerne hay, sourced from their local stock feed place for the bargain price of $15.

They brought it down over the weekend. It wasn’t exactly like the lucerne mulch I used to get because it isn’t chopped up. It comes off the bail in sheets/layers, and for that reason it is more difficult to spread out.

But for $15, I had enough nitrogen-rich mulch to cover most of my veggie beds. I went crazy around the banana tree in particular, because I really, really want fruit this year – did you hear that, banana?  It’s putting out new leaves before the previous ones have even unfurled, to I think it’s looking good.

I’ve heard that unlike sugar cane, lucerne tends to carry more weed seeds. I think I can live with this considering the benefits, but I’ll let you know how I find it.

I’m fed up! (what else is new)

29 Nov

I have a tendency towards outrage. I can’t stand injustice, and reading about it makes me furious. I sometimes wish that information could just wash over and not impact me so much, but I like to think that the fact I care makes a very small difference.

I’m sure P wishes I was a bit less indignant.

I participated in the Nestle Boycott for a few years before we got married, then his friends teamed up against me and purchased a catering-sized tin of Milo for his as an engagement party gift. I was losing the battle terribly over time, and I’m ashamed to admit that eventually I gave up.

Our current adventures in growing our own food  and eating organically were prompted by the film Food, Inc. I will admit to still harbouring a fast food addiction, but that film has really changed our lives.

And today, once again, I’d fed up. This time the object of my fury is the Australian supermarket duopoly, Coles and Woolworths.

I have noticed lately that some of the products I usually buy are no longer available. The most shocking to me was McCormick spices. Completely gone, from both Coles and Woollies. They lost the shelf-space bidding war to Masterfoods, and now they’ve been replaced by premium home label ranges, Woolworths Select and Coles brand. The same thing has happened to Greenseas Tuna, and the pressure is on all the brands unless they are #1 in their category. John Birmingham was ranting in the Herald this morning that his favourite brand of tomatoes, La Gina has befallen the same fate.

Earlier this month, Heinz hit out at the big two for their aggressive, anti-competitive behaviour. When a big international name like Heinz is crying poor, then that signals to me that there is a big power imbalance in the Australian food industry.

I have already made changes to the way I shop. I order all my fruit, vegetables, dairy and cleaning products from an independent, organic delivery company, Lettuce Deliver. To reduce costs though, I have been purchasing the majority of my general groceries from either Aldi or Woolworths. I particularly like the expanding Macro organic range at Woollies, which are probably half the price of the independant. I thought I was making a difference by buying them (despite the higher prices), and using my Everyday Rewards card, just so they could track my spending. Hopefully my small statistic was registering somewhere!

But I’m not sure I can continue this anymore. This continual push towards private label goods may be good for the consumers in the short term, but long-term it is going to mean less choice. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to imagine Coles and Woollies turning into mega-Aldis who stock mainly home labels, supplemented by a few big name brands like Coca Cola and Huggies. This is going to lead to an environment where the big supermarkets lead product development in this country, and where smaller producers cannot get new and innovative products off the ground. There will be no price signals from the branded products, and so we’ll just have to pay whatever price they decide to set for those products.  There won’t be anyone else to undercut (except the competitor’s home brand product), and I’m ready to bet it will be exactly the same.

Consumers will eventually suffer.

So what to do?

I have been hooked on the convenience of the big two. My local Woolworths is open until at least 11pm every night. I guess I’m going to have to be more organised, and try to shop within the opening hours of my local Franklins (soon to become IGA). The latest they stay open is 8pm, and they have no fresh produce! I think I’ll be expanding the list of products that I buy from Lettuce Deliver and further limiting our consumption of processed food. That’s really the only type of food that I struggle to find organic, and let’s face it – organic french onion dip is still french onion dip 😉

I think I also need to write to Woolworths and explain my behaviour. They need to know that their strategy is making customers walk. I’m sure I’m the type of consumer they want to keep too – frankly, I’m not cost conscious, I don’t chase specials, and I’m willing to pay a substantial premium for organic products.

What do you think? Are you feeling outraged too?

Saving dinner with home-made ricotta

28 Nov

Today was lovely and warm, so I planned a risoni salad with smoked salmon, rocket, ricotta and capers for dinner. I make variations on this often over the summer months, because P and I love it, and the kids enjoy most of the ingredients too.

Just don’t mention the leafy bits.

I had everything ready to go this afternoon when I realised that I didn’t have any ricotta. I called P to ask him to pick it up on his way home, but he was running late, and then I realised- I’ve made ricotta before, and it’s dead easy…

So I set to work.

1. I poured about 3 cups of whole milk into a saucepan and heated to simmering point. Published instructions tend to specify exact temperatures, but I couldn’t find my thermometer and I think it works fine if you pull it off just before it starts to look close to boiling. You can see the bubbles and froth forming on the surface and around the edges.

2. Once I was happy with the temperature, I pulled the saucepan off the heat, and poured in the juice of 1 lemon.

I stirred it briefly just to mix the juice evenly through, but you don’t want to stir too much, because it will disturb the forming curd.

3. You can see that the milk separates almost immediately, but I leave the curds to knit together for 5-10 minutes.

(This step isn’t strictly necessary, but you will improve your yield if you do so).

4. I then poured my ricotta gently into a strainer lined with my makeshift cheesecloth – a clean flour bag.

You can use almost anything to substitute for cheesecloth – paper towel, chux, coffee filters, a tea towel- the finer the weave the greater the yield, but the longer the straining takes.

I then poured out the first few minutes of liquid strained off so the strainer wasn’t sitting in the majority of the whey, then put the entire thing into the fridge to strain further and cool. I then set to work on the rest of dinner:

Smoked salmon risoni salad with rocket and capers








250grams dried risoni (rice-shaped pasta)

180 grams hot-smoked salmon (I like Tassal brand)

Large handful of wild rocket, washed (sometimes I add baby spinach too)

2 tsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

150 grams fresh ricotta

1/4 cup capers (I use Sandhurst baby capers in wine vinegar)

salt and pepper to taste

Cook the risoni to al dente in salted boiling water, then drain and cool with cold water. Strain completely, then drissle with the olive oil to prevent the risoni from sticking together.

Flake the salmon and add to the risoni, along with the capers and rocket.

Add lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, then scatter small spoonfuls of fresh ricotta over the top of each plate. If you like, you could also drissle with a little extra olive oil.

All up, the ricotta took about 40 minutes, and was ready when P walked in the door. So It was faster that heading to the shops to buy the stuff. I use biodynamic milk, so 3 cups of it is pretty expensive by supermarket standards, but if you used Coles/Woolies milk at $1/litre, then home-made (whole-milk) ricotta is a bargain too.

Happy 4th birthday to my beautiful girl!

24 Nov

Today was J’s 4th birthday. She’s growing up before my eyes and is super excited that she’s now tall enough to go on a roller coaster. Probably not any roller coaster, but big enough for the Scooby Coaster at Movie World (the only one that matters really!)

Today we kept her home from daycare and we went to the movies for the first time. It was wonderful how she was amazed by the simplest things, like the darkness in the cinema and the number of speakers on the walls. Stuff I take for granted that she was seeing with new eyes.

We saw Arthur Christmas, which is a new animated film by Aardman Studios about how Santa manages to deliver all of the presents in just one night. I really enjoyed it, but I think much of it was lost on J. I was impressed that she managed to sit through the whole thing though.

It occurred to me just tonight that the first movie I ever saw at the cinema was ‘Santa Claus: The Movie‘ – funny how things repeat themselves.

Tonight we had P’s family and a couple of J’s friends around for some party food and her cake. I’ve been frustrated with the tendency for kids to have parties every year, so I thought I’d simplify a little. It was fine – big enough for her to feel special without me feeling overwhelmed.

J's 3rd birthday cake

The kids’ cakes are a special thing in our family. P and I like to make them together – it’s a special time for us to take time out together and do something special for the kids. We normally plan carefully and spend a lot of time getting it right. Last year’s cake was something very special – we were just about to move into this house, and J was really excited about having a veggie garden, so we made a veggie garden cake.

J's 4th birthday cake

This year she requested a rainbow cake from one our cake books, so we used up pretty much all the wilton colouring paste in the house, and came up with this. Would you believe that there was more sugar in the icing than there was flour in the cake? I actually ran out of red Wilton paste – anyone who makes cakes would know how much a full bottle of the colouring paste normally stretches. I couldn’t even bring myself to eat a slice.

Didn’t stop little D though – he had 2!

I’m losing control of the garden

22 Nov

We’ve had almost tropical weather in Sydney. It has been a strange mix of 30+ degrees, thunderstorms, then patches of set-in rain for days at a time. I’m trying really hard to keep control of the garden, but the lawn has gone balistic (almost as much as the weeds), and the back yard is scattered with random mess (mostly toys and leaves).

Over the next week or so we have so much on around the house. We have J’s 4th birthday on Thursday, two birthday celebrations on Saturday, then we have lunch guests on Sunday. The garden looks like a bomb hit it, and I really don’t have any time to do anything about it.

This endless rain and humidity is causing havoc with a lot of my veggies. My tomatoes are really not thriving – I think they are suffering from some fungal thing – much like the roses. This breaks my heart, because I really want them to succeed.  I think I may need to break out the dreaded tomato dust.

Very sad potato bed, with raspberries behind and corn interplanted

My potatoes (and beans) have been attacked by green caterpillars. They’ve even had a go at the raspberries- Is there anything that those things won’t eat? I fought back with some dipel, and that worked pretty well, but I think most of the damage was done. I’ve tried to salvage something from the situation by interplanting them with corn – even if the potatoes are a flop, hopefully the corn will do ok.

The side of the house is a total disaster. The broad beans have well and truly finished, but they still in the ground looking- well disgusting, frankly. Every time I get a few minutes to venture out I feel overwhelmed by everything required.

So this afternoon I went out and weeded the front yard, deadheaded the roses and pulled off all the blackspot-infected leaves. I pulled out the stupice tomatoes, which are finished now thanks to fungus, fruit fly and my lack of staking. I wonder how long it needs to stop raining before we can mow?

Next post – I promise optimism!

I may have just bought $200 of bacon…

21 Nov

Berkshire Pigs raised by Pasture Perfect Pork - Image from them.

You might remember reading my cranky rantings earlier in the year where I was frustrated by the lack of organic bacon.

I had discovered that Pasture Perfect Pork make this amazing chemical-nitrite-free bacon, and yet it wasn’t currently available.

Well it’s back! And I may or may not have just ordered $200 of it! They are having a limited offer where orders of $200 or more are delivered free within metro Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Bacon stores really well in the freezer, so buying in bulk is a great idea.

If you’re on facebook, you can see their page here, and they have a shop on the page where you can order their Christmas hams and bacon. Being pregnant, I’m giving the ham a miss this year, but next year, try and stop me!

Where are all the Sydney garden bloggers?

18 Nov

There’s a real community of veggie gardening/sustainablity bloggers in Australia. I love reading about Ali‘s exploits, Barbara‘s gorgeous children, Liz‘s amazing cooking, Mrs Bok‘s flock, Veggiegobbler‘s  monkeymen and Hazel‘s tree change adventures (amongst many others). But after reading about blogger meet-ups in Melbourne I’ve been feeling pretty lonely around here.

Where are the garden bloggers in Sydney?


So I’ve been searching, and I’ve found some!

My recent discoveries are:

The Green Backyard – Another mum (like me),  attempting to live a more sustainable lifestyle in North-West Sydney

Edible Urban Garden – Lani is achieving simply amazing things on only 280m2 in the Inner West

Under the Choko Tree – Nev and Linda living the permaculture dream in Western Sydney – I’ve visited them!

And in the Hunter Region:

Purple Pear Organics – Kate and Mark are simply amazing, and so generous in sharing their knowledge

Merewether Life – Bwendo has a beautiful family, and shares my passion for chickens and veggies

Have I missed anyone?

Rocket – a bolt to seed with benefits

16 Nov

Rocket is such a silly name, don’t you think? Normally I prefer the English/European versions of vegetable names, but I love the American version in this instance – Arugula.


It sounds so exotic!

Normally I hate it when things bolt to seed. The silverbeet at the end of its life, the parsley that doesn’t taste the same anymore, and don’t get me started on the coriander.

I enjoy rocket while it’s young and mild, but I confess that I prefer wild rocket with its milder flavour and delicate leaves.

Something I learned this year is that rocket really comes into its own when it bolts to seed. You see, the flowers are edible. Not edible in the sense that most ‘edible’ flowers are – they actually taste really lovely. They have the mild peppery quality of really really young rocket and also the true rocket flavour, packed into a small and delicate flower that also has a great texture. They are really pretty in salads.

They also keep on giving. The stalks just keep getting longer and longer, putting out more flowers until you get sick of them talking over your yard. Maybe they do die eventually, but mine are still going like Jack’s beanstalk – giving lovely salad flowers regularly.

As the flowers die off, they form seed pods (fruit) like most flowers. These dry out, and you then crack them open to save the rocket seeds.

I’ve been throwing the seeds at the ground, hoping that I’ll get another crop, but they could be saved in envelopes once they are completely dry, and labelled for next year.

Give it a go – I think you’ll enjoy rocket flowers even if you don’t like rocket.

My front bed is turning Japanese. And French

15 Nov

After the winter crops the front veggie bed was looking pretty tired. All the brassicas came out, leaving a random medley of marigolds, parsley, onions and weeds. Normally an ugly veggie bed is just part of the yearly cycle – it can’t be attractive all of the time. But seeing as this bed basically forms my front fence and my street has a reasonable level of foot traffic, I try very hard to keep it presentable.

The onions had gone to seed without forming a bulb, and I was just sick of waiting for them frankly, so on Sunday afternoon I pulled everything out. I replenished the bed with cow manure and dug it over with a garden fork, then I planted out about 2 metres with edamame.

Edamame is a variety of soybean. It has fat, flavoursome pods that are eaten as a vegetable. As you can probably imagine by the name, I first encountered them in Japan, where they are hugely popular. They are typically boiled briefly, then salted and served hot/warm. In Australia you can find them in sushi places in the little plastic sushi boxes. They’ve been cooked and salted the same way, but are typically cold.

Unlike most beans, edamame are quite high in fat. I’m not talking avocado proportions, but if you eat a whole plate of them, then there’s about 14 grams of fat. Combined with the fibre and protein, this makes them a brilliant snack for kids, particularly ones you are trying to fatten up.

Actually, if fattening them up is your goal, then clearly it would be more effective to serve them a mars bar, but personally I like to keep my mars bars for myself 🙂

Edamame is a summer crop, and last year I was bit late with my planting. It started to cool off, and the pods really didn’t have the opportunity to fatten up properly.  This year the timing is perfect and the position is much better – full sun. I’m hoping to get enough of a harvest to freeze significant amounts.

So along the front bed now I have a metre of corn, a metre of capsicums, chilli and eggplant, my 2 metres of Edamame, then the rest of the bed.

Also, an update on my grapevine. I’ve constructed a (very) basic trellice  for it to grow along, but I think I left the pruning and training a bit late. The vine is a flame seedless grape, and I was worried, because I’d read that they fruit in December, and I’m running out of time. Was it possible that I wouldn’t get any fruit this year?

So I went out and examined it closely, and sure enough, there is one cluster of flowers. Right down the bottom, under the canopy. A single bunch of future grapes. I guess I should be happy that the vine only has to put energy into a single bunch, but I was kinda expecting more. Is is possible that the bunches will form progressively, or should they all form at once?

Not so simple Mondays

14 Nov

Barbara from The New Good Life blogs on Mondays in the theme Simple Mondays. I’m inspired by that, but it dawned on me that my Mondays are rarely simple!  They are hectic in a wonderful way, because a good friend of mine visits on Mondays.

She has a daughter who is exactly the same age as J, and a 4 month old son who’s exactly the same size as Little D. Actually, that’s a slight exaggeration seeing as Little D is about to turn 2, but the difference in size is remarkably small considering the age gap.

So we have two little girls with completely different personalities running about, yet they know each other so well that they are more like sisters.

Imagine the arguments!

To keep them entertained, we often do projects in the garden or the kitchen.

Today we made orange cupcakes, and inspired by Rhonda at Down to Earth, I pickled some beetroot.

Then after our friends went home, the kids were in the playroom (and quiet), when D came running out with black hands. Horrified, I followed him back with trepidation, where I found this!

What do you do when confronted with a sight like this? I had no idea what caused it, so I didn’t want to flush the toilet, only to find out that it was a ball point pen, which is now stuck in my plumbing.

So I did what a mother does, and plunged my hand into the abyss.

It could have been a giant squid, you know. A baby one – so frightened by D that he inked himself.

I was pretty brave, wasn’t I?

It was party streamers. Black, crepe party streamers – a whole roll.

Now my hand is black too. And I am soooo verryy tiiiirrrred.