Archive | March, 2012

Earth Hour is fun for kids

31 Mar

Tonight we celebrated Earth Hour. Yes, we did feed our two small children dinner after 8.30pm, but they loved it 🙂

We had an hour of great family time around the dinner table eating pasta, singing songs and clowning around.

And of course the candles were fascinating…

Happy Earth Hour everyone!

The front yard heads towards winter

28 Mar

I pulled out most of the crops in the front bed over the weekend. I thought I’d write a post about what I’m planning to grow over winter and how I’m preparing the front yard for the next season.

I do most of my food growing in the front yard. I have beds along the side of the house and a few in the backyard, but due to major shading issues these are mostly unproductive in winter. The majority of produce comes from the 10 square metres of Bed A along the very front of our block – the part that’s on show to the neighbourhood.

Here’s my attempt at stiching a panorama – gives some perspective of the front yard from the house, looking towards the street. You can see that the majority of the front bed is stripped of summer crops, with the exception of the basil (which I need to process into pesto) and an eggplant at the right that is still covered in flowers.

In the middle is the new crop of dwarf green beans that are about to start producing, which are interplanted with beetroot (an experiment).

In the foreground is the very sorry Bed B.  Right up against the house, this gets almost no sun at all in winter. There is a big block of flat-leaf parsley in the middle, my rhubarb plant and a block of celery at the right, some random onions and a self seeded tomato plant. Apart from those it is all weeds.

I’m about to strip this bed of everything but the perennials and plant my onions here. I’ve planted a whole packet of hunter valley brown onion seeds in a large pot, and I’ll transplant as soon as they are a decent size and I’ve prepared the bed properly. Might have to do a better job of keeping the chickens out of them, because they have already been sat on a few times.

Starting from the let of the panorama along the front I have planted out:

A couple of metres of shelling peas (Greenfeast).

And approximately 50cm blocks of:

  • Baby carrots ‘Nantes’
  • Daikon radish
  • Swede ‘invitation’
  • Turnip ‘De Nancy’

And along the rest of the bed I’ve transplanted seedlings (grown from seed after freaking out in this post) of:

  • Chinese broccoli ‘Gai Larn’
  • Silverbeet ‘Fordhook Giant’
  • Evergreen Bunching Shallots
  • Leeks ‘King Richard’
  • Broccolini
  • Broccoli ‘Di Cicco Early’
  • Mini cabbages
  • Mini wombok
  • Mini cauliflower

Tiny cabbage seedling, protected by multiguard (non-toxic) slug pellets

And at the very right hand side of the bed I’ve planted my Stupice tomatoes

So that’s most of the front yard planting done. Now I just need to clean up all the random pots and tomato stakes so it is a little more presentable.

I’m pleased to report that my citrus trees are thriving in the full sun of the front yard. The few fruit on the lemon actually set, and all the masses of new growth are looking lovely. I’ve been sparying with home-made white oil spray every 5 days or so to keep the citrus leaf miner away and it seems to be working.

Unfortunately the back yard and side beds are disgraceful. I really need to get onto them and plant out with climbing sugar snap and snow peas asap.

That and lettuce. I always fail at lettuce.

Harvest Monday – 26th March 2012

26 Mar

Carrots, cucumber, garlic chives and edamame

The summer crops came out! Everything was looking so bedraggled, so I enlisted help from P and friends over the weekend and stripped most of the beds.

7.5 kilograms (16.5 pounds) Edamame soybeans

We pulled out the edamame soybean plants, and despite it looking like there wasn’t very much, the yield was 7.5 kilograms of pods. I am still halfway through the processing, but I estimate that it will equate to 3.5-4 kilograms of shelled edamame, which will mostly be frozen for use through the year. The kids love them as a snack, and they substitute well whenever normal shelling peas are called for.

1 kilogram of carrots

This carrot patch had been in since I got a free packet of heirloom carrot seeds in last July’s issue of Burke’s Backyard magazine! Most of the multicoloured ones had already been harvested, leaving still quite a number of carrots, some of which were starting to go woody.  P pulled out the lot for me, and although I didn’t weight them before I gave a good portion away, I estimate that there was about 1 kilo in total (root weight only).

2 kilograms tomatoes

It was heartbreaking to pull out the tomatoes, but it was time. Some of these will ripen on the bench, but I suspect that I’ll need to make a green tomato cake or similar with a portion. I’m still very hopeful for my winter tomatoes, which are looking promising right down the other side of the front bed.

400g eggplant

The remaining fruits came off before pulling out the plants. I left one plant in because it still looks healthy and productive, but the rest were on their way out.

2 bunches garlic chives

I have too much of this for our requirements, so these whole bunches came out.

200g green beans

My old faithfuls are slow now, and the 2oog included some more lazy wife beans from the side garden. The next crop of dwarf beans looks really good – should start picking next week.

1 cucumber

Last ‘double yield’ cucumber as the plant came out. There is still a lebanese one on the other plant around the side of the house, which I’ll save for next week.

Many handfuls of basil

I used quite a bit of basil over the weekend. I need to pull out my massive bush before it starts to die off, but I don’t have the energy tomake that much pesto at the moment. Maybe later this week.

9 eggs

2 eggs on several days, then none at all yesterday.

Bunch of wild rocket (arugula)

I love this stuff – it’s perennial and it grows like a weed because it is one! It is great to add to salads, and because it doesn’t bolt like lettuce I always have it on hand.

1 long green chilli

I pulled out all the chillies/capsicums and put them into pots. I’ve heard that they are more productive in their second year if you can keep them alive over winter, so that’s my plan.  I pulled off the long thai chilli still sitting on one of the plants, and I hope it will be more productive next year, because that was the only fruit the plant produced! To be fair though it was smothered by corn and soybeans, so received practically no sunlight.

1 Rhizome of ginger

Into dinner tonight. The ginger is still very small and I probably didn’t give it long enough in the ground. I might overwinter the remainder and give it a better chance for next year.

Sorry for the lack of photos this week again. For more harvests from across the world, go visit Daphne’s blog.

Signs of a changing perspective

20 Mar

I’m the world’s worst hypocrite when it comes to sustainable living. I love the idea, but I’m still very keen on ‘stuff’.

I have some friends who rib me about my expensive tastes. Whenever they see the most expensive option (in anything) they jokingly refer to it as being L’s one. Don’t make the mistake mind you of assuming that I have good taste – I’m the kind of person who will pick the Prada coat (I’m exaggerating) off the rack because it appeals to me, then pair it with equally expensive shoes that clash horribly.

But I have noticed that my perspective is slowly changing.

  • This afternoon I actually drove past McDonalds (while totally starving) without driving through for a $1 cheeseburger.
  • Tonight I watched commercial TV for the first time in ages. The commercials were really jarring and unpleasant  – I’d never noticed that before.
  • I’ve been enjoying using Freecycle to give away things that I will never use.
  • I haven’t been to Coles or Woolworths since November.
  • I’ve really been enjoying a few quiet weekends at home, without feeling the need to fill ’empty’ days with something, just for the sake of it.

Might be a ‘phase’ (I go through a lot of those), but I’m enjoying it.

Harvest Monday – 19th March 2012

19 Mar
Like me (in my third trimester), it’s slowing down in the garden again this week. I hoped to harvest the second crop of edamame soybeans, but it didn’t quite happen.
The tomatoes are almost finished and I’m keen now to get the front bed stripped out because the brassica seedings are ready and I want to get the shelling peas and root vegetables sown soon.
1kg tomatoes
I’m finally getting some joy with the tomatoes. I’m keeping more than I’m giving to the chickens thanks to the fruit fly exclusion bags. A follow-up crop of black cherry tomatoes is just starting to produce too, so there’s a mixture of Black Cherries, Grosse Lisse, Brandywine and Rouge de Marmande. My real regret has been the failure of my San Marzano crop, which I would loved to have bottled.
I used these in a curry, on sandwiches and in a tomato salad on Saturday night.
I have recently transplanted the winter tomato seedlings (Stupice) into the garden bed, so I hope with a bit of care that these will provide me with tomatoes through winter, when hopefully I won’t have to contend with fruit fly.
1 handful of oregano
Some of the strong, flowering leaves in the tomato salad.
4 Cucumbers
2 Lebanese and 2 Double Yield. More bread and butter cucumbers – I can’t get enough!
3 Carrots
Shredded into some okonomiyaki on Thursday night.
A few mulberries
Picked off and eaten as I (and a few others) wandered the garden.
8 Eggs
We have a second chicken laying! Not sure which one yet, but on Saturday we got 2 eggs instead of our reliable 1, and the second was quite a bit smaller and very pale. I’ll have to keep my eye out for who’s responsible. The photo above is of J with our definite layer – she and the other cross-breed are truly the most patient hens. J man-handles them like this several times a day, and they never get sick of it, or even try to run away. They just patiently let her pick them up, and even seem to enjoy the company. The pure-breds on the other hand are terrified of her.
4 Beetroot
I’ve run out of pickled beetroot and desperate for another batch. I’ll try to track down a few more in the back garden tomorrow to make up enough for a batch.
200g green beans
Some from the bush beans, and a small handful from the self-seeded lazy housewifes. The next crop of dwarf beans is coming close to production now.
1 piece new ginger
I realised that I had run out of ginger when I was cooking a recipe this week. Rather than resorting to the powdered stuff I thought I’d ferret around and see if my plants has actually produced any rhizomes. Not a particularly impressive result in the almost-full-shade location, but easily enough for my recipe. As a bonus, the rhisome was split into 3 other very easily divisible plants. I took the opportunity to split these and relocate to somewhere more favourable.
For more great harvests from all over the world, check out Daphne’s Dandelions.

Tuesday Night Vego – Egg and Vegetable Curry

14 Mar

We were out for a family birthday on Tuesday, so it was really Wednesday night vego for us this week.

As the egg production from our chooks ramps up I’ll be looking for more and more creative ways to incorporate egg as a main form of protein in our diet over meat. The problem is that you can really only eat so many frittatas. Using whole boiled eggs in curry was something I discovered in my web trawling, so I thought I’d give it a go. This recipe may be a complete travesty to all Indian people, but it was healthy, quick and the family loved it, so I’ll be making it again.

Egg and Vegetable Curry

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs
  • 500g tomatoes, pureed.
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 large or 2 small onions, sliced thinly.
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 small piece of ginger
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 handful green beans, cut into short lengths.
  • 200ml can coconut milk or cream
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Start by trimming then pureeing the tomatoes, then set aside. Separately, puree the onion, garlic and ginger to a paste. I did all the pureeing with my stick blender.

Heat the oil in a pan, then add the cumin and mustard seeds. As they heat up they will start to pop like popcorn, so have a lid ready. You want them to splutter, but not to burn.

Once they have spluttered a bit, add the onion/garlic/ginger paste, then cook down slightly until the onions are no longer raw-smelling. Add the tomatoes, and cook on medium heat while you peel and diced the sweet potato.

Add the diced sweet potato, then cover and cook until the sweet potato is tender. Blend all these ingredients with the stick blender until smooth.

Add the powdered spices (turmeric, coriander and garam masala) and continue to cook for another minute or so before adding the coconut milk.

I used 400ml of low fat coconut milk, but this was a bit too much liquid. I think in future I would use 200ml of coconut cream. Do not boil from this point onwards because you don’t want the coconut milk to split.

Cut the eggs in half, and crumble the yolk of two of the eggs into the curry. Add the rest of the egg halves in, along with the beans. Simmer until eggs are heated through and beans are tender.

Serve with brown rice.

You can add chilli to this recipe, but my kids prefer it without, and I just added chilli on the side of my serving.

For more great simple vegetarian meal ideas, head over to Linda’s blog where you can join in the Tuesday Night Vego challenge.

My Struggles with Citrus

13 Mar

Garden Glut posted on Sunday about her citrus trees. She has a huge glut of lemons, which is my dream ‘problem’. She also has this amazing tahitian lime that she espaliered against the fence – I’m in awe!

I on the other hand, can’t take a trick with citrus.

As one of my first (clearly enlightened) gardening acts I killed my kaffir lime tree by overwatering it. I then took custody of my friend Sarah’s Eureka lemon tree, which despite the appearance of early success, I have since failed to induce to produce a single fruit.

Satsuma mandarin, eureka lemon and navelina orange trees - all on dwarfing root stock.

I thought I’d hedge my bets by planting a dwarf Eureka lemon of my own in the ground in the front yard, along with a Navelina orange and a Satsuma mandarin. The mandarin was a replacement for my dwarf Imperial mandarin that I also managed to kill by overwatering.

So far, I have had a few unripe mandarins, no oranges, very little growth or even flower activity from the dwarf Eureka. In pots on the back deck I have had my dwarf tahitian lime and Sarah’s lemon, but these have both suffered terribly from bronze orange bugs (stink bugs) that love to chew on all the new growth. These are rampant out the back, because our rear neighbours have a large neglected orange tree that is covered in them.

At the moment my stonefruit trees are living in the chicken coop in an attempt to get the girls to eat all the fruit fly larvae that may be in the soil. So I thought it was time to give the potted lime and lemon some time in the sun (so to speak) and put them where the stonefruit normally live.

P lugged them through the house for me out to the front yard and placed them in the corners. In these locations they will get full sun from dawn till dusk, although they are not at all protected from wind, so I hope that’s not a problem.

Looking at my lime, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t grown at all since I bought it. In fact, I think it just looks more sickly. Every time it puts on new growth the stink bugs would attack it and the flowers always just dropped off. Hopefully in the front yard it will be out of harm’s way.

The lemon, on the other side of the yard is much the same. It has actually set its first (single) fruit at the moment, but the rest of the young fruit that set dropped off very early and there is almost no new growth on the poor tree due to stink bugs. Like the lime tree I have fertilised it fairly regularly with dynamic lifter and mulched with lucerne, but the leaves always look a bit sick. I also occasionally give it a foliar feed with trace elements, but I must have the concentrations wrong, because it always leaves burn marks on the leaves and I think I do more harm than good.

So any tips and comments would be warmly received. It’s probably all pretty obvious stuff – what am I doing wrong, and is the move to the front yard in full sun likely to improve things?

Harvest Monday – 12th March 2012

12 Mar

A much smaller harvest week this week. The garden is slowing down – so much is finishing and I have a hungry gap awaiting me soon.

400g Green Dwarf Beans

The leaves are yellowing and definitely finishing up. I’m impressed that they are even producing at all. I’m really willing the next crop to come on, because we use so many of these. Added some to the pumpkin and prawn laksa I made last night.

350g Eggplant

Into (even more) baba ganoush

1kg Tomatoes

The tomatoes are definitely coming to an end now. I pulled out a few over the weekend, and although I didn’t weigh the harvest, it was at least a kilo. Would have been much more without fruit fly damage.

1/2 cup Coriander

Also into the laksa.

2 Lebanese Cucumbers

I’m about to make another batch of bread and butter cucumbers with these.

4 Carrots

A little in a variety of dishes, mostly the fried rice I made on Saturday night.

2 stalks of Celery

Also into the fried rice

25 grams Mulberries

Just the few picked by the kids during the week whenever they ripened.

6 Eggs

Still only 1 layer I believe, but she’s doing a great job. This made up our first dozen during the week and we ate them as a very unglamorous but delicious meal of poached eggs on toast. If I had been feeling more energetic I would have made a hollandaise sauce to go with it.

For more wonderful harvests around the world, head on over to Daphne’s Dandelions.

Dodgy DIY – A self-watering pot from an olive oil tin

10 Mar

I’m pretty much useless with my hands. Not an artistic bone in my body, no handywoman skills to speak of, and frankly I hate any type of ‘craft’. So anything home-made by me definitely falls into the ‘dodgy’ category, even if it does serve a useful purpose.

Liz has posted in the past about her olive oil tin pots and I think they look fabulous. So once I finished one of my tins off I thought I’d do something similar. The only problem is that I’m hopeless at remembering to water, so it is far better for me to have self-watering pots rather than the normal kind with drainage holes. So I thought I’d set about to make one of those, in my own ‘dodgy DIY’ way.

I started with the olive oil tin, 4 litres and empty.

Next I took to it with a can opener, taking the top off cleanly.

But this left the top far too sharp, so washed the residual oil from the tin, then I stole P’s hammer and beat down the edge in the tidiest way I could manage.

I was then left with a perfectly serviceable pot, minus some drainage holes.

But before that, I cut the bottom off a milk bottle

And placed it in the bottom of the tin.

Then I retrieved the top of the tin that I originally removed with the can opener

Then beat the edges in with a hammer to make it very slightly smaller so it would fit into the inside of the tin. I needed to try to insert it a few times to see which parts needed hammering in. Then I covered it with an old holey pantyhose:

I used the handle to hold onto while I pushed in into the tin, on top of the milk bottle bottom.

Then I estimated the height of the lid in the tin, and punctured drainage holes just slightly below this level.

Any sensible (skilled) person would use a drill for this, but I didn’t trust myself, so I just used a nail and the hammer.

So now, I had a pot with a water reservoir in the bottom, set up so that the soil wouldn’t just fall through the holes in the old lid.

This would now be perfect for any herb that hates drying out, like coriander.

But I have this poor neglected Kalamata olive tree that is growing horizontally, is overgrown with weeds and has been infested with scale and ants. I couldn’t resist the thought of potting it into an olive oil tin.

I brought it up onto the back deck and sat it in water for a while to try to drown the ants

Fricassee even helped!

The ant-drowning didn’t really work. I just got bitten lots of times and eventually had to hose them off the roots by hand.

But then I potted it in my lovely new self-watering pot, and I think it looks kinda spiffy!

Our first Dozen

8 Mar

We’ve identified the layer. We caught her in the act yesterday:

She’s definitely one of the cross-breeds, and P thinks she’s the one he calls Fricassee.

And what an act it was.

65 grams! I struggled to close the egg carton.

We now have our first dozen eggs, and we’re having eggs on toast tonight…