Introducing Callum!

Hi everyone,

I’ve got some fabulous news! I’m proud to announce that one of my students is going to make his debut performance with me at Meraki Management‘s UNLOCKED gig Thursday 25th August at The Waratah Hotel in Hobart.

Callum is a really great guy who is working towards a Duke of Edinburgh award through OAK Tasmania. For those who aren’t familiar, the DofE is open to young people under 25 and comprises four areas the participant has to complete – service, physical recreation, skills and an adventurous journey. We identified that learning to play the guitar is a skill and performing in front of an audience in a public place would certainly be an adventurous journey. It takes a lot to get up in front of a group of strangers for the first time but this man loves music and is determined to do well. And it’s that level of passion and commitment that makes it all worthwhile from my perspective as a teacher.

Both Callum and I are indebted to the wonderful Amy Fogarty from Meraki Management who has been so supportive, everyone at OAK but especially Teena who has guided both of us through the process.

It’s been a lot of really hard work but Callum is a great student and a natural performer. I’m really looking forward to it:-) If you’re in Hobart Thursday 25th please come down and support us. We’re on at 7pm❤

Rock star in the making!

Rock star in the making!

PS: The Superstars have been making a video! More about that next post:-)

 

Celebrating – Achievement Unlocked!

Hi everyone,

I know I’ve been a bit lax posting lately but I’ve been busy with all manner of things. Despite it being winter, a time when a lot of folks think there’s nothing to do, I’ve been flat out!

I’ve planted dwarf apple trees in wicking barrels, made sauerkraut, started shooting a music video with The Superstars, preparing for a debut gig this month with my student Callum, also from OAK Tasmania – all of which I’ll write about in the coming weeks.

But last month I reached a milestone – I’m officially halfway through my online Bachelor of Communications with Griffith University and Open Universities Australia. I won’t pretend – it hasn’t been easy! And there have been times when I’ve thought (however briefly) about giving up.

So to celebrate my achievement, tenacity and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness I bought myself a little present. Below is a fresh Tasmanian black truffle that arrived Friday via courier from Perigord Truffles. There were two in the pack, which are now nestled in tissue paper in a glass jar in my refrigerator. While I’m working out what to cook with them, they require daily airing which makes the whole house smell utterly divine…….

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With the chickens laying again, I’m definitely having scrambled eggs with shaved truffle in the coming days and I’m planning to make ravioli with some herbs and vegetables from the garden too. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know how it goes:-)

Meanwhile, I have to get back to researching another assignment. Take care one and all, and don’t forget to be nice to yourselves occasionally as well as others❤

Playing a Gig and More Winter

Hey everyone,

A very quick post. My fruit trees have arrived but winter’s decided to come back with a vengeance this weekend, so I won’t be doing anything until next week, once the rain and wind leave. These are mostly apples on dwarf root stock and I’m going to grow them in wicking barrels.

And before you ask – yes, I will do a full post about it with lots of photos!:-) I made some boxes for the front balcony last summer that have been fabulous and I’ll be using the same basic principles. But I got the idea from a very extensive and instructive video on Rob Bob’s Backyard Gardening YouTube channel. Despite the fact Rob is in south east Queensland and grows a very different suite of plants to me, it’s well worth a look at his practical and cost effective ideas.

Also, I’m playing a set this Sunday – a rare thing for me at the moment! University study is taking a lot of my brain space and I’ve actively pulled back from live playing to concentrate on getting my degree. But I love this Noteworthy gig a great deal – not to mention the woman who runs it and her business, Meraki Management:-)

So if you’re in Hobart this Sunday, come down to the Customs House Hotel. The gig starts at 2:30 with Duxie Franklin, I’m on at 3:30, followed by the excellent Finn Seccombe at 4:30. Hope to see some of you Hobart folks there😀

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Therapy with the Bees

Since I last updated this blog, Britain voted to leave the European Union, lost its Prime Minister (and most of the Brexit big wigs along the way) and gained a female PM. Australia has seen a painfully protracted election count (to follow the longest campaign I’ve ever seen!) And this week Hobart had snow to sea level, followed by cyclonic level winds and finally, flooding in the south of the state.

Then I switched on the television news a few days ago and saw what had happened in France and (at that stage) 50 or more people dead. I immediately switched the TV off. Yesterday, it was a failed coup in Istanbul, another 250 plus people dead and I wondered, not for the first time, what happened that the world got to be such a mad and angry place. My response was, as it is to most traumatic things, is to hide in the garden, pull weeds and talk to the animals – they seem far more sensible than a lot of people at the moment.

The wind did some reasonable damage to parts of the garden and I had to spend some time Friday morning making sure the baby bunnies were safe and secure after their hutch was damaged in the gales. Apart from being pretty skittish, they were ravenous as ever and settled back to normal once food appeared. I think the greenhouse roof is going to be okay after tightening roof bolts but I really hope it’s solid for September and October, the traditional months for high winds here.

All in all, we got off fairly lightly compared to many homes and gardens but I’ve been stitching up bird netting today and there’ll be a lot more of that over the coming weeks. Some of it ripped branches of fruit trees and they’ll need attention too.

Over the weekend I finished weeding and pruning the raspberry bed, moved some escapee canes from the path back into the bed, top dressed it with straw from the rabbit hutches and repaired the netting to keep the blackbirds out. I think it looks pretty good and hopefully we’ll get another bumper crop this coming summer.

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I finally got around to liberating the cabbages and some of the kale from the mass of weeds that sprung up during the mild, wet weather. This winters’ crop are an Italian purple savoy type I haven’t grown before and I’m really impressed with the colour and the growth they’ve put on for this time of year.

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All in all, this weekend’s been gloriously sunny and despite the damage that had to be dealt with, it’s been a joy to be out in the yard and away from the madness of the world. Also, I met a lovely young woman who came around to do a plant trade and found we had a lot more in common than a love of growing things. I hope that’s a friendship that develops.

Sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed with sadness about where we’re heading globally, and I tend to retreat into things I have some modicum of control over, such as the yard and tending the animals, providing clean food for my family. And then I meet people like Kate and things start to make a little more sense again. Perhaps that’s where the real revolution is waiting – one yard at a time😀

Finally, both my rosemary plants are in flower despite the time of year, and they’ve been literally covered in bees the last few weeks. It’s been lovely to take a break and just sit and watch them:-)

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Take care of yourselves people, be kind to one another and when you have the opportunity, plant more seeds and take time to watch the bees❤

Winter, Seeds and Sunshine

Well, we’re over halfway now – past the winter solstice! As I said to the chickens this morning, that means the days are getting longer again and they should start laying a few more eggs soon. At the moment most of my girls are freeloading but one of the Isa Brown hens (affectionately known as B1) is still laying about five eggs a week, for which I’m very grateful❤

Although we’ve had some cold weather, it’s been surprisingly mild the last week or so, with cold mornings and mostly sunny days. But this is Tasmania, and we usually get our worst weather through July and August.

Also, I’ve been sick again. There’s been some horror viruses doing the rounds and I seem to have caught most of them this year! Nevertheless, my immune system is better than it was. A few years ago I would’ve ended up with bronchitis or pneumonia instead of a cold, and I’m sure these last few years of eating mostly home grown, organic produce has contributed positively.

Today, I spent some time in the yard after feeding the animals and really enjoyed the sunshine. The mild weather has seen new (and relatively large) spears on the asparagus, heaps of growth on the cabbages, broccoli and salad greens and flower buds forming on the broad beans. Unbelievably, there’s still a few raspberries on my neglected canes but I’ll be cutting them back over the next week, weeding the bed and mulching it heavily in preparation for another summer of delicious berries.

In the greenhouse, I collected another pocketful of fresh chilies, which is incredibly impressive for July and some of my potato experiments are starting to shoot. I also did a quick check of some blueberry cuttings I did in autumn and they look very promising. Some of the chilies are starting to show classic signs of magnesium deficiency, yellowing of the leaves.

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This is really common in pot grown heavy feeders, such as chilies and citrus is an indication that the plants have exhausted nutrients in the potting mix. It’s also quite easy to rectify, with a foliar spray of manganese sulphate, (aka epsom salts) and feeding with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser. In the case of this particular chili, it’s been flowering and fruiting non stop since last September. I’m planning to cut it back at the end of winter and repot into a fresh, rich mix for the growing season as well. Epsom salts is easy to find in supermarkets or hardware stores and I mix two tablespoons in a bucket (about nine liters) and use a misting bottle to make sure both sides of the leaves are covered.

The rhubarb is still an ongoing project – I got sick in the middle of lifting and dividing all the crowns but the ones that don’t have new homes yet are heeled into the side of the bed until I’m well enough to get that job finished!

Wandering around the garden in the sunshine did get me thinking about what I want to plant this spring and summer and seeds arrived in the post today from Rangeview Seeds who are up in Derby in northern Tasmania.

So tonight I’ve sat on the couch and sorted through all my packets of seeds, something I do every winter. It’s a daunting but oddly satisfying task, working out what’s out of date and what to keep. This year too, there’s been an outrageous number of my own packets, particularly with chili seeds! (I will do a post devoted to propagating chili seed in the next few weeks too).

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I think it’s the sheer potential embodied in all those packets that intrigues and inspires me. All the possibilities of delicious salads and preserves, food shared with loved ones and flowers that occasionally grace the table too❤

Tomorrow, Australia votes in the longest federal election campaign in something like 80 years. Frankly, I’m well over it, despite being a student of politics and having worked as political analyst many years ago! I’m not a big fan of either of the old parties and sadly, I think it unlikely that the Australian people will be winners no matter who forms government. Nevertheless, I refuse to submit to cynicism and intend to make my vote count – particularly in the Senate. And after the mandatory voting, I’ll be retreating to the garden for some more sunshine therapy😀

As always, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing on this beautiful planet, go gently, be safe, happy and well❤

Gardening, Food, Art, Music – What Else Do I Need?

After spending a very productive day in the garden yesterday, I went shopping this afternoon.

The short version of the story is I probably shouldn’t be allowed out alone. I came home with a Tahitian Lime (Citrus x latifolia). As most of you are likely aware, Hobart is the southernmost capital city in Australia, and we can get quite fierce winters, with frost and occasional snow. Trying to grow any kind of lime is tempting fate here, but I recently heard about a tree in a nearby area that yielded 9 kilos (just under 20lb) of fruit.

While I was in the garden yesterday, I had a look around and thought about where the warmest place in my patch would be. So today I bought a very healthy little tree that’s been grafted on dwarfing lemon rootstock. And I think that’s the trick with selecting trees for your climate – look carefully at your site, determine what it can and can’t accommodate and choose trees that are grafted onto rootstocks that suit. The plan with this lime is to overwinter it in the greenhouse and plant it out in spring into a tub against a concrete wall that gets a lot of sun. Fingers crossed! I’ll keep you updated.

And around the corner from the garden centre is one of my all time favourite food shops – Ziggy’s Supreme Smallgoods. These folks make and sell their own smallgoods as well as local and imported cheeses, pickles and (mostly Polish) biscuits and canned goods. I restrained myself to Cabanossi and Ukrainian sausage, Chicken Kiev, Chorizo (both for later in the week), fresh sliced Ziggy’s bacon and a couple of cheeses – because cheese! So tonight’s dinner was a veritable feast of the two sausages and one of the cheeses, served with thin sliced, toasted home made sourdough and slices of fresh apple. It was bliss!

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Hobart is the place to be at the moment. Dark Mofo, one of my favourite festivals is in full swing this week but it’s not the only thing happening.

Tomorrow night is the grand opening of The Gentle Void, a new art and performance space in Campbell Street. The idea behind this new gallery is to give room to alternative voices and provide a welcoming space for audiences. I’m really looking forward to seeing the opening group show, featuring artists from around Australia.

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And finally, Thursday night I’m taking a night off from the Uni books and playing the UNLOCKED gig at The Waratah Hotel. It should be a heap of fun and there’s some lovely performers on the bill, including the very talented Cassie O’Keefe. I’m really looking forward to it😀

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As to the title of this post – what else do I need? A book, always a book – and that’s where I’m off to now.

Wherever you are on this beautiful planet, go gently, be safe and be happy❤

 

Winter Bits – Potatoes, Strawberries and Raspberries

Hi everyone,

It’s been a busy week in the garden despite (or because of) all the rain we’ve had down here in Tasmania. Last year because I was late getting my last crop in, I determined that despite the frosts we get in this garden, it could be possible to grow potatoes year round with careful preparation and the right site. So today I’m putting it to the test!

A few weeks ago, a dear friend gave me a Pink Fir Apple potato. She’d been given a handful of tubers by another gardener, who claimed this is the absolute, all time best waxy potato for boiling, steaming or salads. The long, knobbly, pinkish tuber is an heirloom variety that can be traced back to 1850’s France. It’s been sitting on the coffee table in my loungeroom for month or more, starting to get a few small buds from the multiple eyes.

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The Pink Fir Apple is a late season maincrop variety so I’m really stretching the boundaries planting it now but while I’ve been off work sick, I’ve been doing some research. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos about wicking barrels in preparation for the dwarf fruit trees, which should be arriving next month.

Along the way, I discovered Dan and his Yorkshire Dales Allotment Diary and something I’d never thought about before – growing potatoes in plastic pots! I remember growing them in drums when I was a child with my father and a couple of times in grow bags over the years but I’d never considered putting one or two in a pot and gradually earthing up as the shoots appear. Now the greenhouse is gradually emptying – it is no longer the House of Basil😦 – I’ve got room to put a few tubs in to overwinter.

Frost is the big issue for potato crops and every autumn I get “volunteer” spuds coming up in random spots. The first good frost of winter and they’re done. And there’s no denying it, potatoes take up a lot of garden bed space! But in the greenhouse they are protected from the 8-10 hard frosts we get here each winter and by the time spring comes I can move them outside to finish off.

So, I used spent potting mix from the basil crops, mixed it with a few handfuls of old mushroom and put some in a IMG_20160610_111227clean 30 liter pot. I cut the Pink Fir Apple into four pieces, each with an at least one active eye and covered with a layer of the potting mix. Importantly, I remembered to label the pot!

IMG_20160610_120641Then, I did a few more pots with the early Pink Eye, possibly Tasmania’s favourite potato. I’ll keep you up to date with the progress, but my aim is to grow potatoes year round, or as close as I can get to it. Potatoes take 100-140 days in summer depending on the crop, so I anticipate I’ll be testing the first of the pots in mid-late September.

While I was mucking about in the greenhouse today, I checked up on another of my gardening experiments. About a month ago, I took my three first year Tioga strawberry plants and trained their runners into prepared pots. Strawberries need to have their crowns above the soil, so I cut pieces of soft, flexible wire to pin them to the top of the soil. I’ll be reusing these in spring to layer herbs such as thyme, oregano and marjoram.

The results were impressive. I now have six more Tioga plants and about another eight or so that are just starting to put down roots.

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I grow my strawberries in pots because of slug problems and generally only keep plants for a few years as they produce less and less the older they get. Again, the key is making sure the pots always have a dated tag, it’s too confusing otherwise!

IMG_20160609_111344And yesterday, I discovered not only a ripe and utterly delicious strawberry but IMG_20160609_112056(for me) a first in my garden – ripe raspberries in June! While they were delectable, the flavour wasn’t as good as the summer berries. And no wonder really, these are (supposedly) a summer only variety! Along with the raspberries, there was a load more chilies – mostly Habaneros but there’s still Cayenne, the wrongly labelled Inferno and the last Jalepenos of the season. I’ve started cutting back a lot of the chilies now and retiring the weaker plants to make room for new plants in the spring.

Weirdly, the Poblano Ancho, Hot Portugal, Razzmatazz, Serrano and Rocoto are still ripening, which I suppose also underlines how mild overall the weather has been. While it’s been wonderful to have such a long extended growing season, it worries me too.

Many of the crops I grow – the brassicas, winter salad greens and especially the fruit trees – really need the cold weather. The apples, apricot, nectarine and even the espaliered peach need a certain number of chill hours in order to stimulate flower production at the end of winter.

Well, I won’t have long to wait for some cold weather – tomorrow’s forecast is for a possible thunderstorm, hail and snow on higher peaks. Maybe winter is here at last?

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Winter harvest!

 

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