The Sweet Spice of Variety – Day 24 NaBloPoMo 2016

It’s been a hectic day, and it’s not going to ease up – so here’s a quick post for today.

After yesterday’s rain and being stuck indoors with books (bliss!) today couldn’t have been more different.

I spent a busy morning with the animals and trying to get my brushcutter working. I only use the thing a couple of times a year but it’s handy when the grass starts to get long, which is certainly the case at the moment. All the rain and then the sudden burst of warm weather meant the weeds have boomed this week and really need attending to.

Because I use it so infrequently, the brushcutter’s not running properly. So it’ll have to be serviced before I can really make an impact on the jungle!

Meanwhile, I had a delivery of sheep manure this morning. This is my preferred means of feeding garden beds and I’m pretty happy to have got 11 bags delivered to my gate by a really nice young guy who’s trying to make a living out of garden supplies. This much should last me almost two years, though a good deal of it will go around fruit trees, asparagus and the ever-hungry rhubarb bed!

Then I had to quickly get changed and pop down to a nearby coffee shop to meet my friend Jenna Cesar. She’s a fellow blogger and another online writing student who lives in Hobart. We had a lovely chat, and she interviewed me about the work I’ve been doing at Oak Tasmania with Callum and The Superstars. Jenna’s writing her piece for uni but will be publishing it on her blog in weeks to come and I’ll put a link up here when that happens.

After a quick lunch it was back to the yard to carefully move all the bags of manure into a pyramid (more like a ziggurat!) so it’s easy for me to access with my problematic spine!

My dear friend and former neighbour called around this afternoon too. I miss her very much – and so does the lovely Oscar. Karen rescued him a couple of years ago and when she and her daughter moved, there was only room at their new home for one bunny. So Snowflake (her daughter’s rabbit) went with them and Oscar stayed here with us, which is really lovely as he’s a beautiful little fellow. He was so excited to see Karen today he really wouldn’t sit still – it was just gorgeous.

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He’s a dwarf lop and such a character! We couldn’t get him to keep still for a photo until we got Bernard out to say hello! This is the first time they’ve come this close to each other as their hutches are quite apart.

There was some growling – but to be expected with buck rabbits! Also, we realised that Bernard Black at 10 weeks old is already larger than Oscar. Not difficult really – but how big is he going to grow?

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But once Oscar was removed from the scene, my little camera hog was his usual chilled and affectionate self ❤

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For something different, tonight I’m going to gather photos together and put up some ads on Facebook for plants that are extra to my family’s needs. I realised that I really do have too many tomatoes and basil plants!

And tomorrow I’m at Oak with The Superstars ❤

Life is good here – hope it is with you too 😀

Volunteers and Patience – Day 22 NaBloPoMo

Hi everyone,

I spent a lovely day out in the yard today – no uni work to do. Woo hoo! So I had a chance to actually pay attention to a few things.

Like the worm farms. I’ve got two of them I bought a few years ago for converting all the kitchen waste that my chickens can’t have, (tea leaves, coffee grounds, potato peelings and so on) into lovely rich compost. I haven’t really taken a lot of notice of them since I emptied the bottom trays some months ago and put the compost out for the potato beds and wicking barrel fruit trees.

Well, imagine my surprise when I looked closely at the plants coming up in the gap between the trays today.

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In the picture above are mostly Roma bush tomatoes that I dried back in autumn, and after saving what I thought was the best of the seed, put in the rest in the compost bucket. Note a tiny potato plant in the right half of the photo – that has come up from a peeling! I’m planning to pot the strongest tomatoes up and let them do their thing. I’ve found Roma is a great variety for growing in tubs.

Volunteers are actually really common in my garden beds. At the moment, I’m picking from several Golden and Ruby Silverbeet (Rainbow Chard) and Curly Endives that have popped up in quite unlikely places and every autumn I have Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta) and of course, there’s the potatoes.

It’s really hard to find all the potatoes at harvest time and it only takes one to see a new plant sneak up in the middle of whatever’s in the bed next. Usually, I pull these out as they are like weeds – unwanted interlopers! On the other hand, in spring, I always find new plants of the perennial Wild Rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) that has made a home in front of the asparagus bed that I like to transplant or put in pots.

This is the asparagus I grew from seed last spring and planted out in autumn. Despite needing a thorough weeding, it’s doing really well – much better than first year crowns should – but I did spent quite a few months preparing the bed with copious amounts of sheep manure, seaweed and spent straw from the rabbit hutches. Also, I haven’t seen any berries yet (which identifies female plants) but with the slow start we had to spring, they might not appear until next month. The biggest stem was about pencil thickness so I might take a stem or two next spring but I won’t start cropping properly for another couple of years.

Most of the food I grow is fast to produce and crop – gone in a season. Apart from the fruit trees, asparagus is the only really long term food project I have, but I know it will be worth it. After weeding, I’ll be piling more manure and seaweed over it – and wait.

Patience is a virtue 😀

Speaking of which, this young fellow has no patience! This is Bernard Black charging in to eat ALL the food this morning, giving me the “get out of my way woman!” look on the way ❤

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Well Hello Summer! – Day 20 NaBloPoMo

Today was quite spectacular – brilliant, sunny and really quite hot. Too nice to be stuck inside with assignments, so I spent the day working on getting the garden up to date because it looks like summer’s here!

It was too hot to work in the greenhouse today, so I set up a work area outside on top of the currently empty rabbit nursery hutch. With a cold bottle of water and a good audio book (Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester) I spent quite a lot of time getting seedlings into tubes.

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It was a lovely place to work but here in Tasmania the sun is deceptively intense. I’m quite fair skinned and burn easily so I usually wear long sleeved cotton shirts, long pants and a hat when I’m out in the yard. Silly me forgot to roll my sleeves down after I did the watering this morning and after 10 minutes sitting working, I could feel my forearms burning. It’s not too bad tonight after a shower and plenty of soothing skin cream but I really try and avoid getting too much sun.

I potted up a lot of seedlings today – especially eggplants and basil – into toilet roll tubes. It’s an effective means of recycling an otherwise useless product and because the cardboard tubes disintegrate, it pretty much eliminates transplant shock when the seedlings go out into a garden bed or into a larger pot. If you’re interested in reading more, I wrote about it here.

Later in the afternoon, I made a wonderful discovery. I was weeding the path in front of the main raspberry bed when a flash of colour caught my eye – raspberry season has officially  started!

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And they were delicious – worth getting a little bit of sunburn earlier in the day 😀

To finish, Bernard Black is very well settled in and getting very inquisitive about his surroundings – and eating lots!

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Tomorrow is submission day for final assignments and discussions about future units. In particular, what am I going to do for my final year project. I’ve got a few ideas but I really need to run it past some of my tutors.

Lots to think about!

A Taste of Summer – Day 17 NaBloPoMo 2016

So it’s Day 17, over halfway through NaBloPoMo for 2016 – which is pretty amazing in itself! But today we had a proper taste of summer!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post the forecast was for 29 C (84 F) and the Bureau of Meteorology got it right! I managed to get some gardening done early and watered everything thoroughly. And when I went down to do the afternoon feed it looked like I hadn’t lost any of the new beans I recently planted.

Before I went down to the yard, I took the opportunity of a warm day to knock a small loaf of sourdough together. No yeast – just 2 cups of sourdough starter, 2 cups of bread flour, a little olive oil and water. After I kneaded it and put it in a greased loaf pan it looked like this. I covered it with a damp tea towel and left it to rise in the warm kitchen.

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Earlier this evening (about 6pm) just as I was about to put it in the oven it had risen to the top of the pan.

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And the finished loaf  ❤

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And this afternoon I pulled all my notes together for my last assignment, a treatment for a 16 page children’s picture book with instructions for the illustrations. Just as I finished the body of the book, I got a phone call from a friend who’s started keeping gorgeous little Netherland Dwarf bunnies – mini versions of my giant breeds. She had come home and found a tiny newborn in the middle of the floor!

After carefully checking the newborn kit and making sure it was warm, she checked her two does, one of whom she’s only had a few weeks. I suggested her new girl might’ve come to her already pregnant, But it appears her other doe was really a buck! I’m happy to say mother and baby are doing well. Human mother has calmed down now and is doing a fabulous job for a first-timer 😀

It’s quite tricky to sex (identify the gender) of very young rabbits and this kind of mix up happens more often than most of us want to admit. I’ve been caught out before and I find it difficult to reliably tell under about 10 weeks.

For instance, Bernard Black came to us a couple of weeks ago as a fully weaned, 8 week old identified buck. The day he arrived I checked and think that’s probably correct but I couldn’t be 100% sure.

Now, after what my friend has gone through, I plan to check Bernard again on the weekend – just to be sure!

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A very beautiful and much bigger bunny than when he first arrived a few short weeks ago ❤

Rainy Day Self Care – Day 13 NaBloPoMo

I’ve been really struggling today, feeling physically unwell but also quite inexplicably sad since I woke this morning.

Perhaps it’s the weather. It’s been very wet and bleak almost all day, so I didn’t have much chance to be in the yard. I’ve become very aware of how sensitive I am to such things. So I decided to remain as positive as possible, do things that made me feel better and generally engage in some self-care.

I got out my uber-fabulous rain jacket, found a beanie and went to splash around, feeding the hungry hordes and finding little things to photograph – something that always makes me feel good.

First stop after feeding was to check the greenhouse. Usually by November I need to water fairly thoroughly in there but today it was so damp it wasn’t necessary. I did find breakfast though 😀

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I only picked the one on the right and while it was lovely, we really haven’t had enough sunny days to encourage fructose production. I’m concerned the raspberries will be the same too but it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before they start producing significantly. And surely the sunshine will be back by then!

Of course, the best way to cheer me up is to see new things happening and I was very pleased to discover several flowers on the Cayenne chillies this morning. I really love these long, thin skinned chillies. They are great fresh but dry easily and they have a light and bright flavour, that lifts all manner of dishes.

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Meanwhile, I decided to make a really hearty slow-roasted organic chicken for tonight’s dinner so I headed for the French Tarragon patch, which is booming at the moment.

This is my take on Tarragon Roast Chicken.

I had some chestnuts left in the freezer that I dry roasted and shelled back in autumn. They were chopped up finely with a couple of the small garlic heads and the Tarragon and thrown in a bowl. I beat in an egg and a little olive oil, and mixed in about half a cup of fine sourdough breadcrumbs to help bind it all together.

In the slow cooker I made a trivet of a halved onion, some small carrots, a few celery sticks from the garden that were too big for using in salads, a few more little garlic heads and the rest of the Tarragon. I put the stuffed chicken carefully on top of the vegetable trivet, seasoned it and poured over about a cup of white wine. Then I put it on low and forgot about it for a few hours.

After some quiet time reading, watching trashy Sunday afternoon television and a long luxurious shower, we prepared potatoes, parsnips and carrots for roasting. Now, this is totally decadent but it was a household decision to add some home made garlic butter to the roasting pan – because fresh garlic!

After the veggies were starting to brown, the chicken was carefully lifted and finished off in the oven with all those lovely vegetables. I decanted off about 3 cups of rich liquid from the slow cooker as a sauce base and made a cornflour roux. A tablespoon of homemade mushroom ketchup and a dash of cream finished off the sauce.

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This was utterly fabulous. The Tarragon and garlic shone through without overwhelming, the chicken was succulent but cooked through, vegetables crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, and the stuffing was nutty and rich but not stodgy.

I’m now going into a food coma – but feeling much better than I was earlier in the day 😀

And to finish, here’s Bernard Black Bunny, telling me to “go away woman, can’t you see I’m eating?”

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Take care friends, and don’t be shy about looking after yourselves ❤

Making Room – Day 10 NaBloPoMo

This will be a short post as I’ve got to get ready for an early set tonight as I mentioned here a couple of days ago and I’m still not absolutely certain what songs I’m going to play. Something short and vitriolic feels kinda right at the moment.

While the world seems to be coming to terms with the US election, I gardened hard this morning. I picked heaps of snow peas, and there’s loads of new flowers and peas coming on. It’s been a wonderful crop and hopefully with last another month or two.

I also ripped out a couple of giant Italian Parsley plants that are going to seed and stripped them for use in the kitchen over the next few days. Then I got stuck into the broad beans in the next bed and picked the largest pods I could find and shelled them into a bowl while the chickens looked on. Again, there’s still heaps of flowers and new beans forming, so this is going to be a good crop. All the parsley heads and bean husks got chopped up and fed straight to the chickens, who are giving us loads of eggs this year.

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I’m the only one in the house that likes broad beans as a fresh vegetable but they dry very well, and we go through a lot of dried beans each year in curries and stews to make meat go further. I’ve laid out what I imagine would be a meal’s worth and I’m going to see how long it takes for them to dry out. It could end up being a dehydrator job but at least these will have a start.

Also, I gave up waiting and decided to lift the rest of the garlic. Some of it is a little small but it is what it is – and with the parsley, I want to make that other great Italian garnish – gremolata.  I’m going to experiment with reconstituting some of my dried lemon zest and adding that instead of buying fresh lemons. My lemon tree is flowering but no fruit until next year.

And the big reason to harvest these plants is the amazing realisation that I’m running out of bed space! I really need the room to plant out more beans, tomatoes and zucchinis. It’s hard to imagine that I’d ever run out of space in this yard. When I arrived here (7 years ago next month) the back yard was a huge mess. Many of the fruit trees were diseased and some were dying. What is now the greenhouse was an overgrown shed that had suckers from a cherry tree growing inside and most of the yard was a jungle, with weeds almost as tall as me.

This year’s garlic was in the first bed I made. I remember the soil was impoverished, dry and hard, with little worm activity. After all my layers of compost, mulch and crop rotations, today it’s black, rich and alive. When I first started here it was easy to get overwhelmed by all the mess and everything that needed to be done, but over the years I’ve created 6 more beds plus the greenhouse and got it to the point of producing almost all our vegetable needs and some of our fruit year round. One is dedicated just to asparagus, another just to raspberries and one is in the permanent home of rhubarb and acid-loving berries.

Now I go down the yard and still get overwhelmed by everything that needs doing – and because of all the rain the weeds are out of hand again and the grass is tall – but that’s good for the rabbits and there’s food to pick while I consider my options 😉

Today’s cute bunny pic is a double feature. Bernard Black has undoubtedly grown

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But this is my British Giant doe, Boudica. She is a lovely girl, very good tempered, but HUGE – especially when compared to BB!

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I love the “one ear up” pose from both of them 😀

I’m off to get ready to play music. Go gently and be well friends ❤

Strange Days – Day 9 NaBloPoMo 2016

Well, that was unexpected.

Before I get to my usual blog topics (gardening and cute bunny pics) I may as well talk about the elephant in the room. Like many people in Australia, I thought Hilary Clinton would make it over the line, and Donald Trump would be remembered as a “what were they thinking” candidate. Mind you, Australia has a fairly mixed record when it comes to voting.

And if you think it isn’t going to impact Australia, too late – it’s already started. The ASX200 dropped something like $34 billion dollars today according to an ABC report. It remains to be seen what happens next but it appears that the US has certainly had their Brexit moment.

Meanwhile, I had a lovely morning in the garden, but with the dawning realisation that the weeds are definitely taking over. It’s been so wet and with a little bit of warmer weather everything is booming! So I spent some time clearing the way for more veggie planting. I’m trying out some different beans this year, I want to find the best for my conditions for both fresh green beans and for drying and storing. Today I planted some Italian Romano beans that I got through a seed swap. From what I can gather, this is an heirloom dual variety but I’m unsure if it’s a bush or climber, so I planted them fairly close to a north facing wall. So far, they look very strong and healthy.

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Next will be a lot of weeding so I can plant out tomatoes. This year I’m planning San Marzano, Polish Giant and Principe Borghese bush varieties and Debarao climbing. My household don’t eat fresh tomato (I have difficulty digesting them raw) but use them cooked in curries and stews so I decided to try and grow enough to bottle for use throughout the year. It’s another great garden experiment – and I’ll keep you updated!

The cute bunny pic was pretty easy work today. After just over a week living here, I think Bernard Black Bunny has got used to the crazy lady who keeps intruding at meal times ❤

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Tonight, I decided to have something a bit decadent for dinner. Back in August I treated my household to a fresh Tasmanian truffle and made ravioli and froze it in packets for just such a night. I cooked the ravioli quickly, drained it and put it in a bowl. Returning the empty pan to the heat, I added a little basil oil, a couple of tablespoons of pesto with shredded silverbeet and sliced snow peas. Then I tossed the ravioli in to coat it in the basil mix. It was at that point I realised that everything on the plate was home grown or home made. An incredibly satisfying revelation and a simple, totally delicious meal 😀

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And finally, I looked out the kitchen window and saw this. It was too good not to photograph. Despite the state of the world, and the uncertainty many of us feel, I took a deep breath and a moment to appreciate the small things.

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Take care friends, wherever you are ❤

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