Wins & Losses – An Early Summer Update

Birthday bounty!

Well, life got in the way of this blog again – it’s been four whole months since I’ve posted anything! Apologies to all you lovelies who follow my fractured, meandering posts. I had another birthday on the weekend and (besides attaining full membership of the Grumpy Old Ladies League) was given a generous stack of DVD & Blu-ray releases that I don’t have in my collection or I’ve worn out with over-use and I immediately watched Bridge on the River Kwai when I worked out I hadn’t watched it for well over 10 years

It’s true that you only miss something significant when it’s not there. I’ve come to realise in the last few months how much of a fabulous thing writing this blog has been, is and I’m sure, will continue to be in the future. I’ve realised what a significant stress release it is to randomly type a few hundred words about things that matter to me, not because I HAVE to but because I WANT to. So thank you to a few folks who reached out wondering where and how I was, encouraging me to continue – you are gold!

Most of my time in the last few months has been taken up with my big three passions; music education, urban farming and film criticism/university study. Music teaching is gradually winding back for the summer break but I’m constantly enriched and amazed at my marvelous, talented tribe.

With respect to film criticism, I’ve been keeping brief notes on films watched, and there’s quite a backlog to catch up with, many of which I’ll expand out to reviews here. Also, I’ve just completed a unit on Screen Celebrity and Stardom, which takes a cultural industries approach to the generation of celebrity and I’m proud to say I received outstanding marks. Unfortunately, this is also probably the last Screen Studies unit I’ll be doing for my degree course but the good news is I’ll be completing my studies and graduating next year! I also have to do a major project, which I’ll talk about at length here once it’s finalised with my course convenor.

And of course, being early summer here in Tasmania the garden has been going gangbusters despite unseasonably cold and wet conditions. I have a spectacular crop of weeds as a result but the cooler weather didn’t suit most of my heritage tomato seedlings and I’ve had to resort to buying some Burnley Bounty as my main crop. Similarly, my entire basil seed failed this year and I’ve had to buy in punnets and pot them on for the greenhouse. I suspect it was a dud packet and I’ll be contacting the seed merchants more out of courtesy than just to complain. Meanwhile, I’ve had a lovely (albeit small) first crop from the asparagus I grew from seed a couple of years ago, the salad veggies are leaping out of the ground and the fruit trees are laden.

Pricking Basil seedlings into paper pots in the rain last week

There have been some sad losses too. The elderly Ladies Who Lay have sadly been reduced to five, Hipster passed away peacefully in her sleep in early September at an estimated age of 10 years. This is pretty remarkable for a laying hen and I’m pleased her final years were stress free and comfortable, with lots of room to run around in, plenty of things to eat and good earth to scratch. Harder still was losing my beautiful Bella B. Bunny at the beginning of October. She was a truly awful mother, bordering on incompetent, completely disdainful of any other life form (including me most of the time) but I adored her and I’m still trying to adjust to life in the yard without her nosing her way in.

The beautiful Hipster, late of the Ladies Who Lay

Nevertheless, the seasons turn and life continues. The other rabbits Bernard Black and Boudica are well, though dear Boudica is getting noticeably older and slower. I’m inundated with eggs as usual for this time of year which is astonishing as my chickens are commercially, well past their use by date. It just goes to show what plenty of space, a more natural diet and low stress does for any creature’s well-being. Speaking of which, I’m going outside to enjoy the sunshine that’s finally arrived

Take care lovelies wherever you are in the world and I’ll post again soon ❤

My Bella

Chinese New Year – Spicy Plum Sauce

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, it’s been quite chaotic! As we glide into the back end of summer here in Tasmania, I’ve been busy planning beds for winter vegetables, planting for autumn harvest, cropping the summer bounty, making feta cheese, dispatching the most recent rabbits (filling the freezer again!) and making sure our second doe (the beautiful Bella) is pregnant with another litter for autumn eating. My cupboards are full of cordials, flavoured oils, vinegars, dried fruit, and even home made Furikake, thanks to a brilliant crop of green shiso in the greenhouse this year. (Leave a comment if any of you are interested in a recipe for this).

Since the corner of shame has been revived, ready for a beehive later this year, the plum tree has loved all the extra attention and yielded a decent crop. As I write there’s three huge trays of plums in the dehydrator becoming prunes for use over winter and a couple more big bowls to do things with. Chinese New Year is coming up on Monday so I’ve decided to make Spicy Plum Sauce with 2 kilos of fruit.

I only make this every couple of years as my household aren’t big sauce or chutney fans but it’s a wonderful addition to stir fries, a marinade for barbecue chicken or rabbit and is fabulous as a dipping sauce with spring rolls, dumplings or just about anything! Also, we are all chilli lovers, so if you’re not as keen on the hot notes, adjust the number of chillies, remove the seeds, try a milder variety or even omit them altogether. Some of my treasured Habanero chillies got sunburn in the greenhouse while still green a couple of days ago, and this seemed an ideal use for them. I personally feel it’s important to make any recipe your own, rather than following someone else’s to to absolute letter. So this is my take on Spicy Plum Sauce this year – go and make it yours 🙂

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Spicy Plum Sauce

Ingredients:

2kg plums     1/2 cup soy sauce      1/2 cup Chinese cooking sherry   2 cups cider vinegar or white wine    1/2 cup brown sugar    1 red onion, finely diced    1 tab grated ginger      3-4 cloves garlic      6 habanero chillies, finely chopped

In a small square of muslin:  1 cinnamon quill    1 star anise     2-3 allspice berries   1 tsp cardamon pods   1 tsp coriander seed

Method:

Tie the spices in the muslin and hang off the handle of a stockpot. Halve and pit the plums, add them to the stockpot with the sherry, onion, ginger, garlic and vinegar or white wine. (If you like the sauce sharp, use vinegar).

Simmer it all together, stirring occasionally. Once the plums are starting to soften add the chopped chillies. Cook until the plums are falling apart. Allow to cool (I left mine overnight) and remove the muslin bag. If you like your sauce smooth, pour into a blender jar and blend thoroughly. If you like your sauce chunkier, use a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon.

Reheat and pot up into sterilised glass bottles (or jars if it’s chunky) and process in a water bath for extended shelf life.

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Meanwhile, have a wonderful Chinese New Year wherever you are 😀

A Day of Quiet Bliss – Day 29 NaBloPoMo 2015

It was very overcast and quite humid in Hobart most of today. Although I was supposed to go to an event nearby, I decided to stay home and potter around the garden. The girls were very pleased because this meant lots of extra treats for them and they rewarded me with eggs as usual. Boudica Bunny is also eating enormous amounts at the moment and all the babies are out and starting to get the hang of this eating solid food caper.

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I potted up more basil, chillies and Green Shiso (Perilla fruitescans var. crispa), a wonderful Japanese annual herb, which I primarily use in stir fries and salads. I’ve grown it in the past but never had such a fabulous strike rate as I did with this year’s seed supply. It’s looking wonderful and already has that unmistakable flavour and aroma. I find it likes a rich potting mix and lots of warmth for quick growth, similar to basil.

And then there was the completion of half the “corner of shame”. This is a classic before and after situation.

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Before

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After

Admittedly, we’re only half way there but that’s a lot further than we were a few weeks ago!

After removing the worst of the perennial weeds, I put some dolomite limestone over the area and covered it with several layers of cardboard.  Then we laid some cotton mats, donated by family members, that were old and worn and heading for the rubbish tip. (I think half our garden is recycled!)

A thick layer of coarse sand went over that and it was topped with some well composted native bark mulch, which I’ve found considerably less acidic than pine bark mulch. We did the same thing behind the chicken house and I’ve planted two Australian Tea-Trees (Leptospermum sp.) there to provide some extra wind protection for the ladies who lay.

The weeds will grow back – but not as quickly or as vigorously as they have in the past. I want to plant a couple of English Lavender here in the next few days and I’m planning to put netting or shade cloth above the fence to give a little more height for growing climbers in tubs and privacy both for and from our neighbours. Next spring, this is the likely spot for my beehive, angled in towards the garden.

I also finished the garlic crop, which has been curing inside the last two weeks. It’s now cleaned up, the tails have been clipped and it’s in three plaits, hanging off the laundry/kitchen door. It’s quite a decent amount this season, considering I’ve used and given away at least half a dozen or so heads already – and there’s more in the ground that needs pulling!

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Tomorrow is back to music work and teaching, the beginning of my birthday week, first day of my next university semester and the last day of NaBloPoMo – and I’m picking up my birthday present to myself tomorrow too 😀

 

 

Winter – Southern Style

March Snow 2015

Wow, it’s June already! Who stole my year and can I have it back please? I don’t know about the rest of you but life’s been a blur the past six months.

Yesterday was the first day of winter here in the southern hemisphere and it was a reminder that the year is marching on. Firstly, there was snow on the mountain, our second reasonable fall in a couple of weeks. Yes, we had heavy snow in March this year, very unusual for this part of the world (see the pic above, snow to approx. 200m/220 yards!) The garden is looking a little shabby as it always does this time of year, with fallen leaves that need raking and using as mulch, fruit trees that need attention and weeds competing with winter vegetables. Nevertheless, I love winter gardening in Hobart on those crisp, sunny days that we generally see so many of through June and July.

The chickens are looking equally tatty, all five of the old girls are in various stages of molting, and because of the shorter day length, no eggs at present. On the up side, the rabbits are thriving. They much prefer the cooler weather and all three have very luxurious winter coats, plenty of food, bedding straw and shelter.

Bunnies at Breakfast 2 June 2015

 

Out of view in this photo is a heavy duty enclosure that I’ve fitted with a tarp, where each of the bunnies gets a chance to run around, feast on grass and get plenty of exercise. I have been known to go and have a break in there with them, which usually means rabbit cuddles. Life’s hard ❤

And June heralds a new study period at online university, this time my first unit for a Creative Writing major. It’s really interesting as a much-lauded songwriter and lyricist that I’m going back to basics but my mantra throughout life is that you can never know it all – there’s always new things to learn.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m studying online through Griffith University and even a few days in, I’m really enjoying the course material, meeting new people on the discussion board who have a similar passion for words and the prospect of learning new things, new ways of doing what I love.

Hopefully, this will mean more regular blog posts!

Take care everyone and see you soon

Debra ❤

When Barabas Met Boudica – A Rabbit Romance

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Today, the last hutch was finished and finally set up under the chestnut tree. This meant that our pretty Boudica (British Giant cross) was introduced to the handsome Barabas (Californian cross) for a morning of frivolity and yes, bunny fornication!
They’ve been giving one another longing looks across the yard for a few weeks now, and with spring in full force, it was high time to let them have some fun – and make some more rabbits!
It was a torrid affair – but unlike a lot of bucks I’ve observed in the past, Barabas was a most gentle, albeit persistent, suitor! Boudica responded in kind and although she played hard to get for a while, she was grooming him and playing her rabbit games within minutes. In fact, she was very cross when we took her out of the bachelor pad and into her new nesting pen.
It’ll be a few days before we can find out if she’s pregnant, but with a gestation period of approximately 30 days, we should have babies by mid December.
Rabbit sex is hilarious, but I think all sex is pretty funny – or it should be. I think human beings as a rule take it all too seriously.
Maybe if we all wore furry coats, we would laugh more……

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Hidden Treasures on a Sunny Day

After a wonderful couple of days recording and mixing at Belfry Studio, I really felt a need to get out in the garden and get my hands dirty today.  I wanted to get some space before listening to the CD again.
Hobart turned on a fabulous spring day for me and I had a great time. Lots of playing with the rabbits, who had their hutches cleaned out and then planting sunflower seedlings and climbing beans, mulch courtesy of the rabbits. It was a perfect day for cutting Tarragon for drying too.
All the time I kept thinking about the recording, even sang a few bars to the chooks, who didn’t mind at all – they had silverbeet and kale leaves to peck at.
As I was finishing up for the day, I noticed some garlic at the front of a bed. Now, I have garlic everywhere in my garden, I love it and can never grow enough but it tends to get overlooked as it dies down. I realised these were cloves I forgot to pull last summer. So tonight’s stir fry had fresh garlic – and I have about a dozen or more heads to cure and plait for keeping.
After dinner, I sat back and put the CD on – yes, there’s minor tweaks that I need to make but wow – I’m very pleased and proud.

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Do Rabbits Dream of Long-Eared Sheep?

Late Afternoon From My Backdoor

Late Afternoon From My Backdoor

I try to structure my week into bits where I work and bits where I don’t do so much. It gives me time to breathe, think and enjoy. And it’s a really good thing for my creativity. It means that I don’t earn as much as I probably could, but the payoff to my health and wellbeing is incalculable.

Having said that, my “day off” is full of activity and little work-related tasks, sadly necessary to meet current deadlines. And of course, there’s the daily blog promise to uphold throughout November. Yes, this is another NaBloPoMo post!

At the moment, I’m in the middle of a preparatory course for going back to formal study. (This is bound to be the subject of a blog post later in NaBloPoMo!) So, this morning I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading for an assignment due at the end of this week. It’s fun, I’m learning about learning again and thinking about thinking! And it’s a lot more inspiring than I first thought it would be.

Next, is some time out in the secret garden. I live in a wonderful area, 25 minutes casual walk into the city of Hobart and yet I have an urban farm. You’d never think it from looking at the front of my place! I manage to grow most vegetable needs for this household and the excess gets spread out amongst family and friends. I also have the “timewasters” out there – my lovely hens, who are laying so many eggs at the moment, and my beautiful pet rabbits – the buck, Barabas Beefcake, and two does – Bella and Boudica. I eat meat and want to take some responsibility for at least part of my diet, so their offspring will be food for me and mine. But these three characters are absolutely pets!

Barabas Beefcake

Barabas Beefcake

At present, it’s mid-Spring in the southern hemisphere but the weather has been so very strange (we had snow on Mt Wellington a few weeks ago) right across Australia. So it’s only been the last few days that it’s finally felt like the busiest time of the gardening year!

Today, I’ve been weeding the rhubarb patch, getting ready to plant more corn seedlings, which also involves a lot of talking to the hens, feeding them weeds and collecting eggs. They live in a hutch built mostly out of scrap, so it’s not the prettiest structure but it’s safe and secure for my precious girls. We call it either “Frankenhutch” or “Cluckingham Palace” but it provides a one-stop shop for eggs and chicken poo enriched mulch for the vegetable garden. All chickens are quite silly things but I have one, Henrietta who is utterly mad. Everytime I look at her I can see the link back to the dinosaurs. Nevertheless, she eats out of my hand, loves cabbage and kale leaves, and is becoming quite tame.

Henrietta of the Mad Eyes

Henrietta of the Mad Eyes

Another of today’s jobs was potting up Basil (my favourite summer herb) in the greenhouse. When I first moved here a few years ago, the greenhouse was a badly neglected shed with a young cherry tree trying to grow inside it! Now, it’s clad in clear polycarbonate roofing plastic and is where I grow chillies, basil, tomatillos, cucumber and eggplant as well as raise my vegetable seeds.

The Start of the Basil Crop

The Start of the Basil Crop

At lunchtime, there was a coffe break with friends under the chesnut tree, which will be a mass of bees in a week or two when the flowers come. Here, rabbits were cosseted, fed little treats of chickory leaves and generally loved. In recent months, I’ve been putting a cane lounge out when the weather’s been good, and it’s become one of my favourite places to take a break, read a book, listen to music with the bunnies or just think about nothing at all.

Because we’ve had so much rain the last few months, there are more weeds than vegetables at present, but there’s still enough to provide me and mine with all our salad needs and green vegetables for steaming and stir frys. It’s wonderful, keeps me healthy and keeps me connected to the earth 😀

Bella & Boudica

Bella & Boudica

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