Sunshine at Last! – Day 16 NaBloPoMo 2016

I’m really tired tonight.

Last night I went out and celebrated Meraki Management’s 1st birthday, had a drink (yes, only one!), listened to some wonderful local, original music and caught up with lots of friends – it was lovely! There’s a fabulous vibe in Hobart at the moment valuing live music, which in many ways is bucking against the global trend. Long may it prosper!

This morning I slogged away at more weeding and prepared another area for tomatoes. It was overcast but very muggy, and as the morning progressed, the cloud burned away and it ended up being a really lovely day. But tomorrow is forecast to be increasingly windy and 29 C (84 F), well above average for this time of year.

I hope all my baby beans survive but this is perfect for the raspberry bed, which is looking like a wonderful (and early) crop this season.

With overnight temperatures only predicted to go down to 11 C (52 F) and no rain likely until next Tuesday, I’ll probably be up early and out watering everything before it gets too hot. Although I live close to central Hobart and have mains water, I like to use rainwater out in the yard. I’ve plumbed a gravity feed line down the the back corner and the greenhouse and I have a small electric pump that provides mains pressure. It’s a good system but I’m continually tweaking it. Over the coming months, I’m planning to set out extra lines off the gravity feed with soaker hoses that I can turn on and off as needed. It’s a big job and quite fiddly, so I’m happy to take it one bed at a time.

Tonight I had the house to myself and being tired, I decided on a very simple dinner. A piece of fresh fish, a little butter and everything else from the garden. I cooked off chopped garlic in the butter, added a sliced mushroom (from the compost bags again!) and once that had softened, I pushed it aside and put the fish in. Once I turned it, I tossed in shredded silverbeet and sliced fresh snow peas. I covered the pan for a minute or two while I got a plate and cutlery ready, serves the veggies first and put the just cooked fish on top. It was delicious!

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Tomorrow after watering, I have to finish off my last assignment for my current unit. I decided to put myself way outside my comfort zone and prepare a draft for a children’s picture book. Maybe that’s what I’ll write about tomorrow for NaBloPoMo.

Sometimes I don’t know why I do this to myself!

Goodnight friends, be well and I’ll see you tomorrow ❤

A Day In The Life – Day 7 NaBloPoMo 2016

This post came from an idea one of my friends gave me this afternoon. So here’s a day in my life……..

Today was Monday, and a day off from my usual work at Oak Tasmania. But there were all the usual jobs and dinner to prepare early because I also had a 1500 word essay to upload to my tutor for my current creative writing unit, Writing For Children and Young Adults

First, feed the animals. There was squawking and jostling to get the best position, but the chickens all got their share of seed mix and there was an early egg from dear Hipster, the oldest girl in the flock. Then some quick weeding to gather greens for the rabbits and a big chicory leaf for each of them (because rabbits!) and the obligatory cute Bernard Black Bunny pic of the day……

I'm Cute - But I Will Not Share My Chicory!

I’m Cute – But I Will Not Share My Chicory!

Once everyone was fed, water checked, pats and cuddles given, I watered the greenhouse and picked veggies for tonight’s dinner, a slow cooked beef and veg curry. This involved picking celery, purple cabbage leaves, silverbeet and snow peas and (as always) more weeding around the plants and cutting back flower heads – all of which went straight to the ravenous chickens.

Finally, I managed to get back in the house and make some breakfast for me! This morning I felt like something savory on my toast. So, before I went to feed the animals I went searching through the freezer. I had the last of my current loaf of sourdough toasted with a very decadent and different kind of topping. I was quite thrilled to find a tub of basil pesto (sans pine nuts) from the autumn harvest tucked away. By the time I got back to the kitchen it was defrosted enough to spread thinly on my toast. It was intense, both garlic and basil flavours came shining through and utterly delicious!

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Time then to knock a loaf of sourdough together and put dinner in the slow cooker. I replaced some of the bread flour with rye this time, which makes a nutty, slightly denser loaf. Wee Beastie the sourdough plant is really powering at the moment, so this is what it looked like after a few hours of proving under a damp tea towel in the kitchen.

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I cannot begin to describe how lovely and yeasty these loaves smell at this stage – and without any added yeast! I’ll leave it to prove overnight and bake it first thing tomorrow morning so I’ll have fresh bread for breakfast ❤

Next on my list was getting dinner prepped and in the slow cooker. About 500g diced stewing steak and a couple of diced onions got seared in ghee and tossed into the pot with a jar of home-made tomato based chilli sauce from a couple of seasons ago and a tub of cooked chick peas. Lots of spices, herbs, red wine, plus celery, carrot, broad beans and mushrooms (thanks to the garden again!). All thrown in the slow cooker, switched on and forgotten about until later in the afternoon.

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Then it was down to the nitty gritty – wrangling all my notes into a cohesive discussion about what I consider to be “an area of childhood that hasn’t been satisfactorily written about”. It’s a potentially huge subject and I only had 1500 words to work with. Chained to my laptop for the next few hours, I referenced, edited and pulled it all together – with Brahms in my headphones and the first cricket test against South Africa on the television. It was a bit mad for a few hours, I remember getting up and making a cup of tea at one point but apparently didn’t drink it, and some kind soul put food in front of me at lunchtime. But I managed to get it all done, correctly formatted and uploaded to my tutor who lives in a different time zone.

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After a cuppa with a friend who called round, it was time for the afternoon feeding of the hungry hordes, more egg collecting – and bunny cuddles ❤

I also picked some snow peas that I’d missed that were way too far gone for the table but rather than waste them, I shelled them and set them to dry on my seed shelf. They’ll form the basis of the next crop and/or traded with other fellow gardeners.

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Finally, I prepared the veggies to finish off the curry, silverbeet, purple cabbage and snow peas while some nice person cooked rice.

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And now, dinner has been devoured (delicious!) and there’s plenty of leftovers to refill the freezer. I’m currently crashed on the couch with my laptop watching my favourite current affairs show, The Feed on SBS and once I publish this I might get back to reading my new book, Jennifer Livett’s Wild IslandOr maybe think some more about that song I’m starting to write. Or perhaps do a little work on my final assignment for this unit, a creative piece of writing and exegesis.

Or maybe go to bed early.

And this was a day off……

Garlic Goodness – Day 2 NaBloPoMo 2016

Hi everyone,

It’s been raining again, something I’ve been saying a lot this year! For November in the southern hemisphere however, this can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing. Root crops can be susceptible to fungal diseases and I’ve seen potatoes rot in the ground from too much water. I noticed last weekend that a few of my garlic plants (the ones I could see through the weeds that keep coming back!) were sending up flower buds so this morning I took the time to check near the edge of the bed.

Usually, this involves removing the mulch and then gently (and patiently) scraping the soil away from the stem until I can see the shoulder or top of the bulb. But today the soil was so soft and damp it was very easy – a little bit too easy really! At this stage of the year, my garlic is usually just starting to swell and hasn’t as a rule formed a head yet.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled this monster out of the ground!

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There was a little bit of mould on the outer layer but with careful curing I think the crop should be fine. Last year I lifted my main crop in mid November but I think I’m going to be looking seriously at getting most of it out of the ground this coming weekend.

Knowing when to harvest garlic is another one of those arcane arts, and there’s a lot of disagreement about it. Some people wait until the leaves are turning brown, but I find the heads have often separated and don’t store as well if I leave them in the ground that long. Usually, I look for any where flower heads (also called scapes) are forming and if the lower leaves are starting to die back, all the better!

Curing is another often overlooked necessity if you want to store your heads into winter. A friend in the UK lays his garlic out in a greenhouse for a couple of days until the outer skin starts to harden and any soil in the roots dries and falls off. If I did that (even here in Hobart) I’d have mushy baked garlic by sundown! I like to hang mine by the tops behind the laundry door for about a week. It’s warm and dry there but with good air flow and very importantly shaded from the fierce afternoon sun. After they’ve got a tough outer skin, I clean up the roots with a paring knife and roughly plait them for storage – again behind the laundry door. Last year my household ran out of home-grown garlic in August (a record for us!) but I’m hoping for September this time 🙂

For the sake of being logical and making a comparison, I checked another garlic plant further in the bed – and pulled out another fully formed monster. Do note, my hands are quite small but these heads are really big!

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Ultimately, no one knows your garden better than you, all its microclimates and idiosynchrasies. What works for one gardener might not work for another. You have to make your own decision about when to harvest and be prepared to get it wrong sometimes, as I have some years. The key is to learn from it and not give up!

Let me know what your experiences are too – I’m always keen to hear from other gardeners 😀

A Month of Blog Posts – Day 1 NaBloPoMo 2016

Hey everyone,

It’s that time of year again! November means my annual writing challenge – a month of daily blog posts, otherwise known as NaBloPoMo. With the year I’ve had, it would be very easy to rehash the sadness and grief but I mean to focus on the many positives that surround me.

Having said that, I’ve recently been quite seriously ill, but with support from those closest and my GP providing the right medication I’m feeling much, much better.

Also, today has started out especially wonderful. Early this morning, our new (and rather dashing) black British Giant buck arrived. He’s only 8 weeks old and impossibly cute. Like most British Giants, he’s also very affectionate and loves being held and petted, but if he gets to the size of his parents he’s going to be a handful to cuddle! In keeping with the household tradition, we wanted a “B” name for him. And given our love of the iconic comedy series Black Books there was only one thing to do.

Meet Bernard Black ❤

Bernard B Bunny

Bernard B Bunny

There’s heaps of good things happening in the garden, a bumper crop of broad beans and snow peas as well as the the usual forest of kale, silverbeet and various salad greens that produced right through winter. This is despite a very wet spring that’s kept the soil temperature quite low and of course the chickens are in full laying mode at the moment. But at the moment I’m focusing on university and my current unit, Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Because I’ve been ill, I’ve fallen behind with the work but I have a fabulous tutor and I’ve been granted an extension on a major essay. It’s not an area I feel particularly comfortable with despite teaching music to young folks as well as adults. I think it’s because I’ve never specifically thought about writing for those audiences and I tend to read so voraciously that I make little or no distinctions about genres. For example, I think of novels such as Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wind in the Willows or The Hobbit as great fiction rather than children’s books – and of course, all those titles fulfill both criteria. As a result I’ve learned a tremendous amount and found the unit quite interesting at many levels.

But I must get back to work, slaving over academic papers through the Griffith University online library and trying to make sense of my early notes. Then I can justify spending some quality time with Bernard, Boudica and Bella later this afternoon 😀

I’ll be back tomorrow, be well friends!

Wild Weather and Gig News – Day 25 NaBloPoMo 2015

We had a reminder today that it’s spring, and really only one small step away from winter. Although it hasn’t been too cold, the temperature is dropping this evening and the wind has been very fierce. And of course, this is the only day this week I had time to go and buy a trailer load of sand and another of composted bark. I’m certain the universe knows these things!

The reason I needed these landscaping supplies is a problematic back corner of the garden. I think everyone with a reasonable sized yard has one of these. That area furthest away from the house that you don’t look at every day, where you’re not sure what to do, everything you plant dies yet weeds seem to thrive! I haven’t done anything with this area for ages, it must be two years since it’s been weeded.

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The Corner of Shame

This is what it looked like a few weekends ago – arrgghhh!!! We’d already ripped the Morning Glory (Ipomea sp.) off the fence but the roots are trailing and are difficult to remove. I personally think this is one of the worst weeds in southern Tasmania and if left unchecked it will completely smother vegetable beds, while stripping all nutrients from the soil.

In the middle of this bed is a very old fashioned prune plum, which is a prolific bearer of very sweet, yellow fleshed purple skinned fruit. The tree is old but in good health, despite the competition from blackberries, ivy, mallow and thick clumps of onion twitch. We’ve cleared about half of the area – from the fence up to the bole of the plum. It’s a slow, hard job but we plan to keep chipping away (literally) over the coming weeks, laying thick cardboard and old cotton rugs, covering it with coarse sand and top dressing with composted bark.

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Today’s landscaping supplies

Once the bed is finished, I’m putting up shade cloth around the fence to add some height and screen the corner and we’re considering putting a beehive here next year that will face in to the yard. It’s a big job, but like all these things, ultimately worth all the effort.

On another note, I’ve got a gig coming up at The Homestead next month on December 15th, doing a short set for the Australian Songwriters Association. The feature act will be my dear friend, Matt Sertori (of Butterscotch Pony fame) and I’m really looking forward to it. Matt is one of the most interesting performers I know, his lyrics are often insightful and scathing and although he doesn’t do it often, I love his solo shows.

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Meanwhile, I’m off to find a jumper, the temperature’s starting to drop. It was 21 C today (about 70 F) and tomorrow we’re expecting 12 C (about 54 F) and possible snow on Kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Typical Hobart spring weather!

The Joy of Flowers – Day 19 NaBloPoMo

Hi everyone,

I’ve got a really busy day/night ahead (it’s gig night with Cassie O’Keefe tonight) so I’m going to offer you all some photographs from my garden this week. All these gorgeous flowers are edible or the precursors to edible fruit. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do 😀

IMG_20141005_164143I particularly love salad greens and grow a large variety throughout the year. One of the most cold tolerant plants I’ve ever come across is Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta aka Lamb’s Lettuce or Mache) and it grows particularly well here in Tasmania as a winter green. In fact, I think (like Kale) it tastes better for a good frost! It’s one of those plants that’s been in cultivation for hundreds of years that is coming back in fashion again and it really is quite delicious and very mineral and vitamin rich.

As soon as spring comes, it produces lovely, tiny flowers followed by masses of seed! It self-seeds now throughout my garden but it doesn’t transplant well. Fortunately, the chickens love it and I weed out any unwanted plants for them.

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Beautiful and delicious Wasabi Greens

During winter, I bought a random punnet of vegetables to fill a spot in the salad garden. It’s been a real winner in every respect. Wasabi Green (Brassica juncea aka Wasabi-na) is an Asian mustard, bred for its hot, wasabi-like flavour. It spiked up my winter salads and even the flowers were lovely addition to the bowl. An added bonus was they were flowering when the bees first came out at the very end of winter.

I also managed to save seed from it in early spring before the other Brassicas started to bolt, and I’ll certainly be planting more in the autumn.

IMG_20151116_173836Speaking of bees, one of my favourite edible flowers is also a favourite of the bees, Common Sage (Salvia officinalis). Although the flowers are starting to look a little shabby now, I pick stems to brighten up a vase in the kitchen – as well as brightening up salads and marinades.

Recently, we had a roast leg of lamb and I placed a long stem of Rosemary and Sage (both in flower) underneath the joint. Delicious and very pretty when pieces of the flowers appeared in the sauce we made from the pan juices!

Last year I planted Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus) quite late but still managed to get a quite reasonableIMG_20151116_174026 crop of beans from them. A couple survived our unusually harsh winter and they are already in full flower. Unlike ordinary beans, Scarlet Runners are a perennial vine and are also called Seven Year Beans by some gardeners.

These gorgeous flowers are not only bee attracting but also bring native birds into my garden – absolute bonus! The beans are lovely to eat whole when they’re young but get very fibrous very quickly and are then only good for the beautiful multicoloured beans that I love to dry and use in soups and stews through winter.

And finally there’s the flowers that are the heralds of spring and summer fruit. My family are especially fond of Boysenberries and currently it’s a mass of quite large, white flowers, which the bees also adore!

Boysenberry

Boysenberry

What are your favourite edible flowers? Please leave a comment!

 

 

Freaks or Future? – Day 8 NaBloPoMo 2015

Late last week, Woolworths Australia released a new advertisement, featuring high profile personal trainer Michelle Bridges. The ad is spruiking a new line of frozen meals the supermarket chain developed with Bridges. During the advertisement, Bridges described people who grow their own food as “freaks” and suggested that precooked frozen food was preferable to fresh fruit and vegetables. As you can probably imagine, the uproar on social media was big enough to make the supermarket pull the ad almost immediately. There’s an article worth reading at the Guardian Australia.

Well, I guess I’ve been called worse in my time.

But it got me thinking about all the ways growing my own food makes me healthier and happier. First and foremost, I get a lot of physical exercise all year round gardening. Some of you might be aware I have a degenerative spinal condition, coupled with body-wide osteoarthritis. Over ten years ago, my then GP told me that I’d most likely be in a wheelchair within a couple of years. Not bloody likely! Occasionally, it lays me low and I need to use a walking stick but fortunately, acute episodes are rare these days. My current GP is convinced that my half an hour minimum in the garden has improved my core strength, muscle mass and general well-being – not to mention raise my normally low vitamin D levels and provide me with food.

And then there’s the food.

I started gardening at this house a week after we moved in, almost six years ago. I have potatoes for eight or nine months of the year and free range eggs about ten months. I grow enough garlic now for almost the whole year. I still buy brown onions and some carrots but stopped buying salad greens and herbs after about three months. The last couple of years I’ve been breeding meat rabbits as an ethical source of protein and I’m researching growing mushrooms and installing a beehive next spring. I’ve tweaked my salad greens into seasonal delights, and now we look forward to winter too because that means sweet, frosted kale, silverbeet, chicory, endives, corn salad and (my favourite) English spinach.

Baby raspberries

Baby raspberries

Fruit begins with rhubarb in September, and progresses through strawberries November and December, raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries, loganberries, silvanberries and (for the first time this year) blueberries from December to April and apricots, nectarines and plums from January to the end of March. I also have a peach and double graft apple I’m espaliering that will probably fruit next summer and a lemon tree that will be planted out in the autumn. And everything is picked fresh the day it’s needed so the nutrient levels are high.  There is excess – I always grow too much – but it’s given to family and friends and I make cider and peri with excess fruit, fruit leather and dried chillies, beans and kale chips as well as freezing.

Blueberries starting to form

Blueberries starting to form

Also there’s a creative aspect of getting my hands in the earth – it makes me feel good about the world and gives me inspiration to write. When I’m in the garden, I lose all track of time and get to think about things I need to. I’ve solved some really big problems over the years out in that garden. I plan and plot and think about the season to come as well as the one I’m living in, it’s a window to the future.

And finally, there’s those wonderful moments when you can sit back, rest, enjoy and just be…………….. ❤

My favourite spot under the Chestnut tree

My favourite spot under the Chestnut tree

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