Oh Beautiful Friday!

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My life is a little bit insane at the moment, hence the lack of blogging (sorry!)

I’m as always, up to my eyeballs with uni (getting a portfolio of poetry together this time) and work has started again at Oak Tasmania. This year, I’m doing my musical things with The Superstars and we have some big plans for 2017 but I’ve also started tutoring a Food Gardening group two mornings a week. It’s been hectic!

In the space of a couple of weeks, we’ve started doing experiments with growing carrots in pots rather than in traditional garden beds, resurrected the worm farm, started a vegetable and herbs seed bank, done quite a lot of weeding, cleaned out the small greenhouse that’s on site, potted up some basil and eggplants and planted some lettuce seedlings that are already up and running 🙂

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Future salad!

Eventually, we want to grow enough to pass on to the kitchen and provide the cooking courses with fresh, clean produce to turn into salads, soups and encourage better eating among the Oak staff and participants. I’m also hoping some of the seedlings will go home with the gardeners, most of whom are very keen!

This week we spotted a very old dinghy around the back of the site and we’ve decided to appropriate it. Our plan is to bed it in securely, fill it with sheep poo and some good loam and plant it out. The drainage is good – she came with lots of holes! – and we’re thinking about an experiment with some seed potatoes we discovered to begin with. Although they’re very late, in a raised bed we should get a crop and I think we should dress it up and name the old girl something like “The Good Ship Spudalicious”. (Photos are coming!)

Meanwhile, at home it’s a bit overwhelming with nectarines just finished and plums coming in and I’ll be getting the dehydrator out this weekend to turn most of the plums into prunes for the winter months. And I did get my one apricot off the new tree! A few months ago I cheered that there was one solitary fruit and it ended up perfect and utterly delicious ❤

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The maincrop bush tomatoes (San Marzano and Principe Borghese) are just starting to size up and ripen but the Debarao are still flowering and a little behind the Polish Giant Paste that are very green but already very big! Undoubtedly, the best cropper so far has been the bush Roma’s that were an unexpected bonus. I’ve been picking them just as they’ve started to colour and I’ve got a couple of kilos off them already that I plan to bottle in the next few weeks. Everyone’s tomatoes in southern Tasmania seem a little late this summer, but while the rest of the country’s been in a devastating heat wave, Tasmania has been relatively mild and surprisingly damp this year.

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Last week I picked enough perfect grape vine leaves to put in brine for making Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)

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At least I got the year right even though it’s February now!

and this week I put up two bottles of Pickled Nectarines. This is really simple and relatively quick. All I do is put halved and pitted nectarines into sterilised jars with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and piece of dried Habanero chili in each (totally optional!) and covered them with a heavily sweetened apple cider vinegar (the ratio is 1:1) while it’s still hot. Covered with sterilised lids and put the jars through a water bath for 15 minutes, these nectarines are wonderful with ice cream as a dessert or sliced with game meats. Just leave them for a few weeks for the flavours to develop.

And Wednesday, I had a great time playing a gig at Irish Murphy’s in Salamanca. Because of everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, I haven’t been playing as many solo shows and it was so good to play some songs and catch up with lots of friends 😀

Because I’m working more, I decided to make a mega Zucchini and Ham Slice to freeze and take for lunches – it’s a great way to use up some of the zucchini and egg glut! I used 8 eggs, three grated zucchini, a 1/4 cup of flour, a few left over boiled Nicola potatoes, some cubed ham (about 2 cups) a little fresh sage, thyme, marjoram, a couple of finely sliced Cayenne chilies and a grate of nutmeg. After I’d beaten all this together, I added about 1 1/2 cups of grated Colby cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan and baked it in a greased deep pan for about 45 mins in a moderate oven. I ended up with 7 generous serves that will make work lunches a lot easier!

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But now, it’s Friday night and I’m beat! All I’m good for is watching the cricket on television and drinking cups of tea. I keep looking across at the pile of clean washing and wish it would fold itself up……..

 

 

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 Island. Or 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……

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 ❤