Lazy Day Gardening – Day 12 NaBloPoMo 2016

After yesterday’s foray into family history, today was a gardening day ❤

As many of you are aware, it’s been very wet in Tasmania the last half of this year and it’s taken a long time for soil temperatures to rise enough to ensure reasonable growth. Tonight, we’re expecting a big north easterly to come through, which is expected to bring flooding again to parts of the state. I think most farmers and gardeners are holding their breath, as it’s getting late to plant main crop vegetables. Here’s hoping it isn’t too devastating!

I’ve been holding off planting out tomatoes but once this wet passes, I’ll be putting out this year’s plants and hoping we get a long enough summer to produce a reasonable crop. But today I got stuck into preparing the beds in a method I call “lazy gardening”. Because of my spinal problems, I have to be careful about how much I do and how hard I work. It’s a constant trade off between maintaining (and slowly improving) core strength and not overdoing heavy tasks that involve a lot of bending. And today was perfect for me, still and warm but overcast.

I generally do yoga stretches before I start (which I’m sure the chickens find hilarious) and have become very conscious of not doing a heavy, repetitive task for too long, otherwise I stiffen and find it incredibly hard to walk properly for some time afterwards. Today I forked over a relatively new section of a bed that had become quite weed-ridden with all the wet weather. The soil was quite soft thankfully, and relatively easy going.

To break the job today, I planted out a few mixed zucchini in another bed, and some beans – an heirloom climbing Borlotti and a new variety (for me), a climbing Pea Bean that I grew from seed. This has a delightful, perfectly round red and white seed. I’ve no idea what the flavour is like but this slug thought the seedlings were pretty tasty!

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I also had a wander around the garden and discovered loads of raspberries and a few Jostaberries, a complex cross between gooseberries and a black currant. I just hope we have enough sunny weather in the next few weeks for them to ripen and sweeten!

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Lazy gardening involves very blinkered vision and really is a relative term. I try and ignore all the other jobs that need my attention and just focus on one small area, something that I find very difficult. It also involves  a large bottle of water, somewhere to sit, my smartphone and a blue tooth speaker that I put on an upturned pot. This ensures I have to stop regularly, sit down, have a drink of water and listen to something interesting while I work. Today I had Tom Baker reading Doctor Who audio books – The Brain of Morbius by Terrance Dicks, while I variously weeded, looked for snails, fed the chickens the weeds and snails, watered the greenhouse and took some photos of things in the garden.

After a busy day, tonight I grilled Lamb Leg Chops which marinated most of the day in my version of Za’atar (garlic, preserved lemon, sumac, chillies, basil oil, Lebanese oregano and cumin seed) and served with Cous Cous and fresh vegetables from the garden. It was delicious!

And to finish, (because there’s so many eggs at the moment) I made a simple baked vanilla custard – so simple but so wonderful. The recipe couldn’t be easier. 6 eggs and 3/4 cups of sugar well beaten in a large bowl. Then add 2 cups of milk and 1/2 teaspoon of good vanilla essence. Pour into a greased souffle dish and place in a baking tray with some hot water. Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes or until set through. This basic recipe serves four and can have nuts or lightly stewed fruit or fresh berries added.

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Greenhouse Action & Musings – Day 8 NaBloPoMo 2016

Today, I’ll start with an apology – there’s no gratuitous cute bunny pic in this post. In truth, I forgot to take one today. To Bernard Black Bunny’s fans, I promise I’ll make it up in tomorrow’s post!

I went into the city today for lunch, catching up for coffee with a dear friend and calling into my favourite bookshop, but this morning after I fed the animals, I had a little bit of fun in the greenhouse.

I grow strawberries in pots so I can move them around the yard throughout the year and I’ve been picking fruit steadily for the last few weeks. But one poor plant really wasn’t looking great a couple of weeks ago, so I took it into the greenhouse, fed it some of my home made worm juice fertiliser and promptly forgot about it. What a lovely surprise this morning when I discovered this luscious beauty and more on the way 😀

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A few weeks ago, I planted my precious stash of chilli seeds for the coming summer. While I usually keep a few Cayenne and Rocoto in the greenhouse to overwinter, most get treated as annuals, so this is a big deal for a chilli-lover like me. I was thrilled to see the first of this year’s crop poking their heads up this morning. The weather has been downright cold at times in recent days, so I was worried that I wasn’t going to get any to germinate, not uncommon if temperatures are too low. I’ll post some pictures in the next couple of days.

This winter was so mild, there’s more chillies than usual held over from last summer, including a few Poblano Ancho and I’m really pleased the Cayenne are starting to flower already.

After, I went into the city and (not for the first time) I was quite astonished at the difference between my oasis here and being in town. All the more so that it’s a 10 minute drive or a 25 minute walk from here to central Hobart – it’s not like I like in the bush or even an outer suburb.

I had a great time with my friend but my last stop was the best – catching up with Richard and Mike at Cracked & Spineless New and Used Books. I love bookshops but this one is really something else. It’s not uncommon to bump into friends there, it can be hard to navigate around the shelves depending on how many boxes of books have arrived that day, sometimes you’ll even see the shop’s stick insects fornicating in their tank (I have photographic proof of this!) and for me it’s almost impossible to keep track of time once I set foot in the door.

And while I always come away poorer in monetary terms, I’m always enriched by the books I buy. Today I picked up a new sci-fi thriller, The Tourist by Robert Dickinson, and a very important book from my early adolescence, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

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My father gave me a copy of this same printing when I was probably 11 or 12 and it quite literally changed my life. It caused me to think about making a smaller footprint on this fragile planet, something I still strive to do to this day but above all, it brought me even closer to my father. I’m looking forward to re-reading it and remembering my dad ❤

Finally, for those of you in southern Tasmania, I’m playing a short set Thursday night at the Waratah Hotel in Murray Street. I’m opening the wonderful UNLOCKED show that, now the days are getting longer (and sometimes warmer), is back to being a weekly event. I’m really looking forward to playing 😀

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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……

Therapy with the Bees

Since I last updated this blog, Britain voted to leave the European Union, lost its Prime Minister (and most of the Brexit big wigs along the way) and gained a female PM. Australia has seen a painfully protracted election count (to follow the longest campaign I’ve ever seen!) And this week Hobart had snow to sea level, followed by cyclonic level winds and finally, flooding in the south of the state.

Then I switched on the television news a few days ago and saw what had happened in France and (at that stage) 50 or more people dead. I immediately switched the TV off. Yesterday, it was a failed coup in Istanbul, another 250 plus people dead and I wondered, not for the first time, what happened that the world got to be such a mad and angry place. My response was, as it is to most traumatic things, is to hide in the garden, pull weeds and talk to the animals – they seem far more sensible than a lot of people at the moment.

The wind did some reasonable damage to parts of the garden and I had to spend some time Friday morning making sure the baby bunnies were safe and secure after their hutch was damaged in the gales. Apart from being pretty skittish, they were ravenous as ever and settled back to normal once food appeared. I think the greenhouse roof is going to be okay after tightening roof bolts but I really hope it’s solid for September and October, the traditional months for high winds here.

All in all, we got off fairly lightly compared to many homes and gardens but I’ve been stitching up bird netting today and there’ll be a lot more of that over the coming weeks. Some of it ripped branches of fruit trees and they’ll need attention too.

Over the weekend I finished weeding and pruning the raspberry bed, moved some escapee canes from the path back into the bed, top dressed it with straw from the rabbit hutches and repaired the netting to keep the blackbirds out. I think it looks pretty good and hopefully we’ll get another bumper crop this coming summer.

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I finally got around to liberating the cabbages and some of the kale from the mass of weeds that sprung up during the mild, wet weather. This winters’ crop are an Italian purple savoy type I haven’t grown before and I’m really impressed with the colour and the growth they’ve put on for this time of year.

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All in all, this weekend’s been gloriously sunny and despite the damage that had to be dealt with, it’s been a joy to be out in the yard and away from the madness of the world. Also, I met a lovely young woman who came around to do a plant trade and found we had a lot more in common than a love of growing things. I hope that’s a friendship that develops.

Sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed with sadness about where we’re heading globally, and I tend to retreat into things I have some modicum of control over, such as the yard and tending the animals, providing clean food for my family. And then I meet people like Kate and things start to make a little more sense again. Perhaps that’s where the real revolution is waiting – one yard at a time 😀

Finally, both my rosemary plants are in flower despite the time of year, and they’ve been literally covered in bees the last few weeks. It’s been lovely to take a break and just sit and watch them 🙂

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Take care of yourselves people, be kind to one another and when you have the opportunity, plant more seeds and take time to watch the bees ❤

Surviving the Storm – A Sunday Night Recap

Well, it’s been quite a week! I’m not sure where it disappeared to, but I’m rugged up on the couch and it’s Sunday night here in Hobart.

At the moment, Tasmania is in the path of a series of westerly fronts, bringing much needed rain but some very damaging winds. There was some respite yesterday so I took the opportunity to spend some time in the garden, rearranging mulch, repairing torn bird netting and salvaging what I could of the broccoli crop.

And of course, I got to spend some quality time with the chickens and the now month old rabbits ❤

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Earlier this week I processed the rest of the chestnut crop, which was pretty poor this year due to very little rain in summer and no water to spare for the trees. But I find them so delicious and useful that every little piece has become precious to me and my family. I’d never really paid much attention to chestnuts until I moved here, with a mature tree in the backyard that provides several kilos of nuts every autumn with minimal care.

For any of you interested in how I process them, I did a post here a couple of years ago.

On Friday, I got a parcel in the post from a woman I met through Facebook, who lives in northern Tasmania. In it was a self addressed post bag for some chilli seeds – and two beautiful, handmade beanies.

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The photo doesn’t really do them justice, they are really a very dark black and a luscious purple – my favourite colour 🙂  Fran is also a blogger and you can find her here. I finished packaging her seeds during the week, I’ve been drying them slowly on paper.

IMG_20160513_210229Like most repetitive tasks, I think there’s something incredible meditative about sorting seeds. For me it’s akin to weeding or planting but a little more demanding, particularly when you’re trying to keep track of numbers and sort out obvious broken or dud seeds – much easier with peas and beans!

Nevertheless, it’s one of those jobs that I really enjoy doing on a cold night with some good music or a favourite movie on.

One thing I should’ve done though is wear gloves. Despite using broad head tweezers, I still got enough capanoids on my fingers to sting!

Once sorted, I put the seeds into paper packets I make from old (preferably heavy weight) paper. The recent batch for all my seeds this autumn came from some old (and quite dreadful) music books I found in the local tip shop. Although I revere books, I’ve recycled these so that no innocent child is ever forced to play those songs again – they are truly dreadful!

 

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I think the finished product looks rather nice and I hope Fran and her family enjoy the produce. One day we’ll meet in person I’m sure 🙂

The rain and wind came back with a vengeance today, so I took the opportunity to catch up with my current studies at Griffith University. I’m doing an online degree and this unit is Television Studies. My head is still full of textual analysis and particularly David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. For something most of us take for granted, television is really quite a complex and surprisingly demanding area of study – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning some of the history and depth of the medium. This week I have to finish drafting my major essay on the enduring appeal of Doctor Who which has meant I’ve had to watch quite a lot of it (mostly David Tennant) in recent weeks.

Seriously, I love my life 😀

Stay well and be happy wherever you are ❤

Boxes and Bounty

As a gardening experiment last month, I made a few wicking boxes for my front balcony. It faces east, across the River Derwent and while the view is lovely, it gets all the morning sun and can be quite windy. This time of year, we can’t walk on the concrete in bare feet before 2pm! I’ve grown salad greens in containers out there since I moved in, over six years ago but it’s a lot of work and difficult keeping water up to them with baking sun and drying winds.

IMG_20151215_102432I started out buying two food grade plastic crates from my local hardware store (I think they were 23 litre size), the kind that are often used as recycling boxes. All other materials were either recycled or things I had on hand.

Old hose was spiked with holes and laid in the bottom, with the refill end slotted into a length of larger diameter poly pipe to make it easier to pour water into. It looks pretty ugly but it works!

Next, I put a layer of gravel over the hose, making sure the refill end IMG_20151215_102947didn’t get buried as you can see in the photo. By the way, this gravel wouldn’t be my ideal but it was sitting in a pile begging to be used up and there was just enough to do all the boxes 🙂

At the top of the gravel, I carefully drilled a small overflow hole diagonally opposite the refill hose. This means water won’t build up and start getting smelly and the plants won’t rot in overly wet soil.

IMG_20151215_103048Next, I covered the gravel with some old tea towels that weren’t really wonderful for wiping dishes anymore. They allow the water to pass through but not the soil. Eventually, they will rot away and I’ll have to replace them but it was good to recycle them. Old shade cloth would be ideal if you have it.

At this stage, I put a thin layer of good quality potting mix over the top, and I recommend not cutting any corners with this. The better the soil, the better the plants! I mixed well rotted sheep poo and plenty of mushroom compost in large bucket and worked this through layers of potting mix until the box was fairly full. The result was a friable, rich mix, perfect for quick growing summer salad veggies.

I made sure the soil was damp before planting out the first seedlings and watered them overhead for the first couple of days, until the water reservoir started to do its thing. I ended up doing eight boxes in total and crammed in fast growing Pak Choi, Portulaca, Red Amaranth, Grumolo Verde Chicory, Garland Chrysanthemum and even Silverbeet. The results have been fabulous

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The pic above was taken 15th December 2015 and the pic below a month later, the 14th January 2016. The results have been incredibly successful and I’m only having to refill the reservoir about once every three or four days instead of overhead watering morning and night. Despite the fact salad is my favourite meal of the day, I can barely keep up with the amount of food these boxes are producing!

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Do you grow vegetables in containers? What are your top tips? Please leave a comment below – I love to hear from you all! 

Smoke and Lemons

I’ve had a stomach bug since the weekend and today was the first time I felt safe to move more than a few steps away from the bathroom. I haven’t done any gardening since Saturday afternoon and had to cancel a gig on Sunday, which I hate doing. But I’m definitely on the mend, as I got into “making mode” this afternoon. Most of Tasmania has been wreathed in smoke for the last few days and that in itself makes me a little restless.

As I write, it’s hazy in Hobart and there’s a distinct smell of bush smoke through the open window. There are at present, approximately 80 fires burning across Tasmania, mostly started by lightning strikes last week on the less populated west coast. Nevertheless, this afternoon, it spread up into the north west, putting property, livestock and potentially lives at risk. My thoughts and best wishes go out, not only to friends who live in the areas affected, but also to state fire services, who are pretty much at their limit right now.

Yesterday, my lovely neighbour traded a box of lemons from her boss for a dozen of my eggs – I love bartering! After moping around the house yesterday, I decided to get creating some healthy lemon-based goodies that wouldn’t be too harsh on my tender tummy right now and pickles that will be ready in the months ahead.

First, I decided I needed the sweet, comforting tang of old fashioned Lemon Curd, something I haven’t made in years. This versatile cream doesn’t keep very long but I understand it freezes quite well so I’ve got half (about 250 ml) in a plastic container, ready to freeze. The recipe is very simple.

 

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Old Fashioned Lemon Curd (Makes approximately 500 ml)

Ingredients:

zest of 4 lemons    3/4 cup lemon juice     3/4 cup white sugar   4 fresh eggs     125g butter, cubed

Method:

In a heat proof bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar over a simmering pot of water. When the sugar is dissolved, add the lemon zest, juice and continue whisking until the mixture becomes creamy. Add the cubed butter and continue mixing until it’s thoroughly absorbed.

This tangy delight is wonderful as a base for lemon mousse, spread over a pie base for simple lemon tart, mixed with whipped cream and a little home made yogurt for Lemon Fool or just used as spread on toast. Tonight, I’m having it on pancakes as a treat.

The other thing I made was another jar of Pickled Lemons. I don’t think you can ever have too many jars or variations of this most wonderful condiment. For this batch I reverted back to my old recipe I’ve been making for nearly 30 years. Measurements are fairly arbitrary – it depends on how big a jar you’ve got handy and how many lemons you want (or need) to pickle! Also, experiment with adding different spices throughout the jar. I particularly like bay leaves and chillies – something I’ve got plenty of at the moment.

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Deb’s Pickled Lemons 

Ingredients:

Lemons    preserving salt   Optional spices – bay leaves, chillies, cinnamon quills, mustard seed

Method:

Start with a scrupulously clean jar, preferably a sterilised preserving jar. I used one with a swing top lid and a good rubber seal. Put a tablespoon of salt in the bottom of the jar and a little of the spices and put it to one side while preparing the lemons.

Wash the lemons in plain hot water and remove any diseased fruit, stem pieces and cut out any blemishes that might spoil the finished pickles. With a sharp paring knife carefully quarter each lemon almost to the base. (See the photo above). I recommend cutting them over a bowl to catch any juice that can be poured over the finished pickle.

Put a generous spoon of salt into each cut. Again, do this over the bowl, it can get a bit messy!

Now, put the salted lemons into the jar, layering with more salt and any spices you want to use. In this jar I used a cinnamon quill broken into pieces, a few bay leaves and two fresh cayenne chillies that I poked a few holes in to let the lemon juice and salt in. Use a wooden spoon (even the handle) to really cram the lemons in and release their juice. This, combined with the salt preserves the fruit. Close the lid and leave the jar on a shelf for a month, shaking it every day.

Use a little as a condiment with curries, chopped up very fine in marinades or stuffing and in recipes such as Lemon Chicken.

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