Apples and Anticipation

If I could, I think I’d be a fruitarian. My incredibly tolerant GP and my always dodgy iron levels would have a fit, but (with an occasional green salad) I’d be perfectly happy – especially this time of year! At the moment, besides all the vegetables, I’ve just finished eating fresh apricots and berries and I’m waiting on big crops of plums and nectarines.

In anticipation, I picked about 2 kg of unripe plums yesterday to thin the tree out a little and a big handful of Green Shiso leaves from the greenhouse. Though these are a European prune plum, I’m going to try and make Umeboshi with them, using this recipe I found on Makiko Itoh’s site. I love the salty, sour taste and I think the sake will add a really interesting note to this ferment.

2 kg unripe plums and aromatic green Shiso leaves – aka Beefsteak Plant

After washing, removing stems and soaking the plums most of the day, I packed them in sterilised glass jars, layered with washed leaves and a fairly high percentage of cooking salt (about 12%). I covered them all with a half bottle of good sake that was never finished (shameful, I know!), weighed them down firmly and capped the jars with pickle pipes that allow gases to escape. The three jars are now on my pantry shelf and this morning I increased the pressure on the fruit, the liquid has risen and they’re starting to look and smell like a good ferment. I have no idea if my makeshift adaption of this simple Umeboshi recipe is going to work – but it’s going to be fun finding out 🙂

Over the last few years I’ve been seeking out interesting fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock that I can grow in wicking barrels. I’ve been experimenting with citrus trees, but living in Tasmania (traditionally called “The Apple Isle”), the obvious choice was a few bare-rooted apple trees that I bought from Woodbridge Nursery and put into wicking barrels. After seeing some very healthy growth and knocking all the embryonic fruit off last year, I thought I’d let them go this spring and see what happened. These strong little trees have all flowered and set fruit – and despite my thinning and some wind damage – the results have been outstanding. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to dealing with codling moth in early spring and will need to put it on my monthly garden schedule from now on.

The flavour of any apple you’ve grown yourself is a lovely experience and something I recommend everyone try if you have the opportunity. I’ve been fussing around the trees like a mother hen, gathering a few Royal Gala windfalls the past couple of weeks and found for the most part, they’ve been quite ripe and incredibly sweet. (Brown seeds are a great indicator of ripeness).

I’ve mainly concentrated on dessert apples such as Royal Gala and Pomme de Neige with a couple of crossover later varieties like Sturmer Pippin and McIntosh to extend the season and for cider. So, when I discovered a McIntosh windfall this morning, I wasn’t expecting it to edible let alone ripe!

The McIntosh is a very old Canadian late variety that’s popular as a dessert apple in the US but never really took off here in Australia. I recall having one as a kid and remembering the name and the flavour, as I have McIntosh forebears from Edinburgh. It’s also listed as a great blending apple for cider, providing copious amounts of sweet juice. Well, I can certainly attest to that! This beastie was a wonderful thing to eat, full of rich flavour and beautifully crisp.

Fresh McIntosh apple slices for morning tea

I also have a Medlar, Fig, Oranges, Pears, even a Lime and a gorgeous Huonville Crabapple all in tubs and growing well. Today’s experience has convinced me to get a few dedicated cider apples to join my mini orchard next year. I’m also currently reading Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols excellent book and being a cider lover from way back, I’m pretty sold on the idea 🙂

Sadly, the last few days have brought quite awful news from the north of the state with respect to all fruit and vegetable growers here. Larvae of the destructive Queensland Fruit Fly (Bactrocera tryoni) has been discovered at Spreyton (a major commercial fruit and vegetable growing area) on a backyard apricot tree. To give you some idea of what devastation they can cause, my friend Rob in Queensland (one of the best gardeners I know) can show you better than I can describe it! (As an aside, Rob’s YouTube channel is an absolute must for any urban farmer and where I initially learned about making self-watering wicking containers!)

I’ve searched over my ripening chillies, nectarines and plums as best I can but will be setting out syrup traps in the next couple of days to see exactly what’s coming in to my yard and greenhouse. I just hope that as a fruit loving community, we here in Tasmania can rally together to keep a vigilant eye out. This is an insect we can well live without!

My first home-grown McIntosh apple!

No Resolutions – 2017 in Review

kunanyi/Mt Wellington sunset from my backdoor

Well, here we are again. Another year has sped by and I’m in the midst of some well-earned time off from teaching and contract work.

The garden beds are looking a little better as I’ve had more time to pull some weeds, which keeps the chickens happy. In turn, they give me and mine enough eggs to make summer pavlova to go with raspberries from the ever-expanding patch. Vegetable peelings go to the chickens and also to the three worm farms that are on constant rotation and in turn, replenish the garden beds with casings and provide foliar fertilizer. So, there’s plenty of salad greens for picking, plus finger eggplants, the first of the zucchinis and chillies coming on.

First eggplant for the year

The rabbits (our other weed eaters) laze in their shady spot near the chestnut tree, which has just finished flowering. The waste from their hutches goes back onto the various veggie beds and fruit trees as a feeding mulch. Although I do bring in some extra materials (particularly magnesium and dolomite), it’s all a circle really.

This past year has been a lot of hard work (especially with respect to study) but it has brought many rewards, both tangible achievements and simple, old fashioned happiness. Above all, I’m well aware of how lucky I am, living in one of the loveliest places on the planet, grateful to get paid for doing things I love and that I’m surrounded by wonderful people (you know who you are – and thank you!)

I have no personal resolutions for 2018, just to be in the circle for another trip around the sun and to continue what I’ve been doing – studying, urban farming, writing, teaching music, watching films, cooking and writing film criticism.

It’s quite a lot really, sometimes almost too much – as my partner and GP both like to remind me! – and while I was preparing photos for this post, I discovered this glorious bee I snapped a couple of weeks ago in the chestnut tree. It reminded me the name Debra comes from the Hebrew and means “industrious, as a bee”.

Seasons greetings to you all and may the coming year be all you want it to be ❤

Chestnut in full flower

Birthdays, Books & Basil

Well, I’ve managed another trip around the sun. I had a lovely, relaxed day, read books, did some work in the greenhouse, hung out with friends, ate junk food for dinner and watched stuff. If I’d have played music and baked myself a cake, I would have covered all my favourite things 🙂

The perfect present for a film-nut like me!

After the unseasonably hot weather throughout November (it was Tasmania’s hottest spring on record) we’ve had a cold and very wet start to summer. I spent some time yesterday and today in the greenhouse, potting up basil seedlings and some replacements for the inundated early tomatoes. It’s currently about 10 C (50 F) and it’s been raining pretty well constantly since Friday.

This morning, there was water pooling in garden beds and I had to empty the overflowing rain gauge. The zucchinis and leafy greens are loving it but I seriously don’t want to think about the potatoes right now! Sadly, the beans, tomatoes and corn are all looking quite poorly and will likely need replacing. It looks like I’ll have late crops again! My heart goes out to folks in Victoria though, who are getting the worst of this wet spell.

I’m hoping it won’t do too much damage to the baby stone fruit and apples but the berries are looking very sad. I’ve braved the rain and picked what I could but they won’t be the tastiest this year. Hopefully, the rain will ease in the next few days and we’ll get some sunshine to help convert the starches to sugars in the remainder of the crop.

Because of Hobart’s unpredictable weather, I tend to grow chillies, eggplants and basil in my greenhouse in pots. I’m really pleased so far with the eggplant (above), which is sporting some beautiful purple flowers and the Habanero chilli (below) is setting fruit already 🙂

I managed to pot up 35 or so mixed basil seedlings, which is about half of what I’d like to have for oil and preserving but I’m going to plant more seed next week. There’s shiso/perilla still to go into pots and I have to see if I can salvage more chilli seedlings from the ravaging slugs – they decimated my early plantings and this wet weather is only going to encourage them!

On a positive note, I saved an aloe vera at the start of the year, (it was literally dying of overcrowding and neglect) bought it home, divided it put it into a good potting mix and fed them all. The main plant or “mother” is on a shelf in the bathroom and loving its new home, and I left the offshoots or “pups” in the greenhouse to see if they’d survive. When I was given the plant, the whole thing was a very sickly yellow/green. So I was thrilled to see this morning that the pups are setting out new pups of their own 🙂

Meanwhile, the cricket’s on the TV and that book about the Coen brothers is giving me “come hither” looks again. I’m off to snuggle under a blanket and read.

Maybe tomorrow it’ll be summer 🙂

Storms & Salads – Day 30 NaBloPoMo 2017

So, here it is – number thirty – the last post for this year’s NaBloPoMo.

Traditionally, it’s also a time of contemplation for me, a couple of days before my birthday and there’s only a few weeks left of work and indeed, this year.

It’s hot in Hobart again, and I went into the city today. Got almost all the xmas shopping done (thanks to Richard & Mike at Cracked & Spineless) and went to see my GP for blood test results. This time last year, I was trying to recover after my thyroid decided to simply switch off, and it left me devastated, constantly tired and barely functioning.

Above all things, this year has been about getting back to some semblance of normality. 12 months on, my doctor’s really pleased with my progress – I’m on the right dose of thyroxine, my diet and supplements have brought my notoriously low iron and vitamin D levels back to normal – I feel well again.

One of the major things my GP identified as a contributing factor is my diet. While I eat meat, I always say my favourite meal of the day (year round) is salad, and I have the ability to grow my own.

For that, I’m truly grateful.

Tonight’s salad feast from the garden included a few young silverbeet leaves, sharp and tangy endive, young tender kale, fresh celtuce and crisp perennial rocket. I added a little grated carrot, red onion, sliced mushrooms and a chopped hard boiled egg from the ladies who lay and dressed it with a little basil oil and vinegar from last summer.

And the first of the raspberries for dessert ❤

I’m taking a few days off but I’ll see you again soon. One of the things I want to try and do is write more regularly here apart from NaBloPoMo. Let’s see how much life gets in the way of my good intentions!

Meanwhile, there’s been some thunder and a little rain tonight but it’s still too hot. I hope it breaks soon, I’ve got more gardening to do!

Take care ❤

My stormy mountain

Friday Night Chicken – Day 24 NaBloPoMo 2017

Before I left for work this morning, we decided on chicken breast for tonight’s dinner. We really weren’t sure what to do with it but we wanted it to be easy – it’s been a busy week and the weather’s still very warm!

I’d been to our local deli on the way home and picked up bacon (among other goodies) so we thought we’d stuff the breasts, wrap them in bacon and bake them. But what to use as a stuffing?

Well, when I was a kid, things wrapped in bacon and grilled were a bit of a fad. Angels on Horseback and Devils on Horseback (oysters and prunes respectively) were really popular as hors d’oeuvres – and I still have a jar of prunes from last year’s plum crop 🙂 As I mentioned last week, the early garlic harvest has been less than wonderful but it tastes wonderful and even though it isn’t properly cured yet, we decided to start using it.

It was really very easy and the results were delicious! Here’s the recipe:

Garlic & Prune Stuffed Chicken Breast (Serves 2)


2 skinless chicken breast, butterflied

4 dried prune halves

1/4 cup Marsala or dry sherry

2 full rashers of bacon

4 cloves garlic, chopped fairly finely

2 tabs butter, softened

Herbs/spices for topping (we used a Moroccan-style mix with some chilli – but use what you prefer)


In a small bowl, soak the prunes in Marsala for at least a couple of hours – the longer the better. Once the prunes are plump, drain and chop them roughly. Put them back in the bowl and add the garlic and softened (room temperature) butter.

Open the butterflied chicken breasts and spoon the prune/garlic butter mixture down the center. Close them and press down lightly to seal the edges. Sprinkle with herbs and spices of your choice. (If you like to add salt, this would be the time for a sprinkle)

On an oven tray, lay 2 rashers of bacon diagonally and lay the chicken breasts across them. The tails of the bacon should wrap across the top of each breast.

Bake in a moderate oven until the chicken is cooked through (20-25 minutes).

I made a very quick couscous with vegetables as a side.

It was absolutely delicious and a lovely quick dinner to make together at the end of another frantic week. The chicken was succulent, fragrant with garlic and the bacon was lightly crisped on top. The Marsala soaked prunes pieces added some sweetness without overwhelming the dish. Couscous was the perfect companion to this – light, fluffy and full of garden herbs and vegetables.


We’ll be making this again for sure ❤

Tomorrow The Superstars are performing at an Oak luncheon. Hopefully, there’ll be some photos too 🙂

Too Much Too Soon – Day 22 NaBloPoMo 2017

I thought it was unusually warm for this time of year but apparently it’s a record-breaking heatwave for Tasmania. The forecast for tomorrow has been upgraded to 31 C (about 88 F) and hopefully a thunderstorm in the afternoon.

Despite all the mulch I use and regular watering, things are looking a bit dire out in the yard. The chickens and rabbits have good shelter – the bunnies even have their own umbrella – and plenty of fresh water and greens, but I always think this is the hardest time of year for them.

This evening when I went down the yard to feed everyone and water the garden, Boudica our British Giant doe was stretched out next to her water bottle and demanded to be hand fed her fresh grass ration. As you can see, she’s a dreadfully vicious creature – not!

Although I’ve been at work, I’ve had a week off from study and was hoping to get a lot of gardening done, but all I’ve managed to do so far is pull some garlic and try to keep things alive.

As I write at 10:40 pm, it’s still 18 C (64 F) and very hot in the house. I hope we get the forecast thunderstorm tomorrow. This is too much too soon for my taste!


Apples! – Day 19 NaBloPoMo 2017

Spring is such a busy time around here. There’s so much to do – planting, weeding and watering are starting to take up a lot of my time – apart from the daily routines (aka playing with the bunnies and talking/singing to chickens) and making sure the greenhouse doesn’t dry out. And there’s always lots of eggs and plenty of salad greens to eat.

Berry fruit is starting to set and I think we’ll have a good crop of raspberries again this year. I was incredibly heartened to see my grape vine is setting fruit. It’s a pretty common Thompson’s Seedless table grape, but I planted it about 18 months ago to climb up over the chicken’s run and give them some shade through summer. It’s really thrived after I pruned it back in early winter and I’m hoping the fruit will make it to maturity. I’ve got a couple of other varieties that I bought in very small pots and I’m growing on. Hopefully, they’ll be ready to plant out at the end of autumn next year.

The vine is strong enough that I’ve been harvesting the biggest, most perfect leaves to preserve in brine and make dolmades, one of my favourite snacks. I’ve got enough now to make up a 1 kg jar (about 60 leaves) and I’ll do that sometime this coming week.

I’ve been experimenting with wicking boxes and barrels the last few years to cut down the amount of watering. This system uses a water reservoir that I fill up through a poly pipe and run off outlet just below the soil level so the plants don’t get inundated. I’m having a lot of success growing fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock by this method. In particular, the apples I planted in winter 2016 are doing incredibly well. I bought a Pomme de Neige (aka Snow Apple or Lady in the Snow), Sturmer, McIntosh and Royal Gala (all bare rooted from a local grower). They’ve all thrived in their wicking barrels and after taking all the embryonic fruit off last summer and light pruning this winter, they’re developing into healthy and strong small trees. I’m going to let them bear this time and I’m especially thrilled with the Royal Gala, which will be the first to harvest.

Baby Royal Gala

Now that we’re past the windiest part of spring (fingers crossed!) I’m going to thin the fruit soon – the Pomme de Neige is particularly laden – but I’m very happy with their progress. Despite living in Tasmania (traditionally called the Apple Isle), it can be hard to find good apples and difficult to know if they’ve been sprayed. It’ll be fabulous to have some home grown beauties! ❤


Previous Older Entries