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Friday, December 31, 2010

'taters

For the past week every morning when I'd go out to inspect my garden I noticed the straw on my potato pile knocked off and potatoes lying exposed to the light.  The first time it happened I thought one of the little monkeys had been mucking about in the potato patch.  But I asked them and they didn't know what I was talking about.  Monkey Man said he had nothing to do with it either.  This was getting annoying because I know potatoes that are exposed to light can go green and green on potatoes are poison.  This is the first time I've grown potatoes and it's been very easy - but I know they're not all ready.  There's still some green foilage happening and I need to wait 'til this dies down before all the potatoes are ready. 

Well the other day I was sitting out enjoying the sun with a cup of tea and I noticed a bird flitting about - always with a worm or something hanging out of its mouth.  All day long this bird whizzed from my veggie patch or potato patch and back to a tree near the back window.  And then I realised why.  A nest and three hungry little beaks to feed.  The potato patch must have been a very good restaurant for that little bird family.  So I've picked out the big potatoes and once again covered the rest up to hopefully grow some more and am enjoying the sounds of baby birds being fed. 
This will be the first time I've tasted potatoes fresh, straight from the garden.  I do love roast potatoes but today we're heading for a top temperature of 40ÂșC so turning the oven on is not a good idea. Instead I decided to make potato salad.  When I was peeling the potatoes I noticed some of them had in fact turned green in places so I had to ditch them.  I had a few from the market already in the cupboard so used a combination of fresh and market potatoes and here's what I discovered. Fresh potatoes aren't soft when you cut them.  They sound and feel crunchy like you are cutting celery.  Can't wait to taste this potato salad.  I didn't measure anything out you really just use your instinct - can't go wrong.

Potato Salad
potatoes
mayonnaise
chives
salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Peel and chop the potatoes into bite sized pieces.  Cook the potatoes until just soft but still holding shape.  Allow to cool in a colander.  Dress with mayonnaise, salt, pepper and chopped chives.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Making of a Chick Coop

Monkey Man was hard at work constructing a chicken coop in the week before Christmas.  I gave him Christmas day as the deadline for finishing.  It's now three days after Christmas and ... it's not finished.  Not surprising really because Monkey Man always under-estimates how long things will take.  And you can't predict that the drains will block and you'll have to spend Christmas calling emergency plumbers and when that fails hire for double the price a big metal snakey thing to poke down the sewer.  And encourage your guests not to eat and drink too much because there is no flushing of toilets until it's fixed!  Needless to say, the chicken coop is not finished.  The chicks are five weeks old on Saturday - maybe they'll have an outside home by then.

But I can give you a preview of the work in progress.  The coop is made from re-salvaged timber Monkey Man has lying around.  He won't throw anything away.  He has so much stuff hidden away (or lying around looking messy).  This usually drives me crazy, but occasionally I'm grateful.
Here he is building the frame.  See the monkey expression on his face?  I didn't need much imagination to come up with his nickname.
The floor to the indoor bit is wire that he had in storage.  But a friend suggested that the holes in the wire might be too big for these chicks to manage so we may need to change that.  Any advice?  I got the wire idea from the workshop I attended by Very Edible Gardens.  This way the chicken poo just drops straight down into the the straw run below.  Makes cleaning up a lot easier I imagine.  Here's a youTube link to VEG's chook house and straw yard.
There's a ladder for the chicks to get up - also made from old timber bits nailed together.  Actually, these bits were from Monkey Man's Father's broken bed.
This is their nesting box.  It is made from an old wooden crate we were storing shoes in.  Monkey Man has put some plywood around the outside and made a hinge door with a latch.  We did need to make a trip to the hardware shop to get latches, hinges and some more chicken wire.  And we did have a bit of a tiff in the shop about just what sort of latch would suffice.  I think Monkey Man was starting to get a tad tired of this whole chicken caper at this point.  Not me of course.  I was just loving the whole chook house building three days before Christmas, when I had a house full of inter-state and overseas relatives arriving and more Christmas presents to buy and a bezillion presents to wrap for spoilt monkeys and the market to negotiate for Chrissie food - not to mention chick dust to wipe off the furniture...
Anyway, enough complaining - here's a peek inside the nesting box.
So hopefully in my next post I'll be able to show you the finished coop.  For now we have lots of guests staying with us and a party happening this arvo so I'm off to do some cooking.  Hope you all had a great Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Ripe Strawberry, a Big Basket and Strange Art

First Strawberry
One ripe strawberry.  And no snails, birds, earwigs or mice had yet discovered it.  (Yep, last year I found a mouse nibbling on my strawberry patch!) Yum - the strawberry not the mouse.  Now I must put a net over them because I know once those others start ripening I'll have way too much competition.

This huge basket I've planted the strawberries in was given to me on my 21st by a bunch of friends who thought it was hilarious at the time.  I don't know why they thought I would like it.  It was completely impractical.  I carted it from rented house to rented house and it would take up most of my room in those share houses.  It wouldn't even fit through the front door in some of the places I lived and so stayed in storage for quite a while.  Then I had kids and used it as a toy box for a while.  But even for that it was impractical - too big to reach into.  Although occasionally the monkeys would cover it with a blanket and hide inside.  Finally, 20 years later it has found a good home in the garden.  I filled 2/3 with sticks, lined the rest with the plastic from the potting mix bags and poured in the soil.  I suppose it'll eventually rot away but I like it now.  It's right beside our wood shed, little water tank and Harry Ubu.
Harry Ubu
Harry Ubu is another strange present (sorry mum) I received years ago.  He is supposed to be a CD storage unit - but he's enormous and kinda ugly and scared the life out of the monkeys when they were little.  So he's gone into the garden too.  And he likes it there much better.  Especially now I have managed to train this pretty creeper up his CD stacking bits.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Fallen Branch Christmas Trees Revealed...

So here they are.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to send me their photos.  I reckon they all look great.


Ali claims she failed 8th grade art and that her contribution won't be impressive but that we all "have to make impressive noises".  
Ali's decorated branch

My mum's Christmas tree entitled "Sticks in a Jar".  Well done Mum!  Sorry mum's photos is smaller than everyone else's when I tried to make it big the photo wouldn't work. 
My mum's tree
Phoebe wrote:  "I have no children, so christmas isn't a big deal but I still like things to be festive"
Phoebe's tree

Sophy's first fallen branch Christmas tree.  She wrote: "I found these branches steps from my door. It looks quite pretty in person...better than the photos :-) I hung a paper lantern in the back so it kind of looks like it's floating there and stuck with mini ornaments. I thought it was cool that the ornaments were almost exactly the same size as the pods on the tree!  I may do another for a centerpiece and spray the branches, or I thought about tipping them in fake snow."
Sophy's tree
Close-up of Sophy's tree
Magazine tree from Sophy

This year's veggiegobbler family tree. 

And a new edition from Diana at Elephant's Eye.  Thanks Diana love your blog.

Happy Christmas everyone.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Re-Using Bits for the Garden

Our silkie chicks almost 3 weeks old.
Even though it is almost Christmas and like everybody we are busy, busy, busy, we have had some time to fiddle about in the backyard.  Mind you Monkey Man had to be strongly persuaded.  Our little chicks are now not so little and they still don't have a coop!  In a couple of weeks they'll be able to regulate their own temperatures and will no longer need a heat source so they will go outside.  You can see them in the photo above having a scratch about on the grass.  I've been taking them out for a few minutes on warm days and they love it.  Monkey Man is the type to under-estimate how long everything will take.  So I know he needs to get cracking on this coop-building job.  And I'm useless with that sort of stuff.  If it were up to me I'd have bought something flimsy and expensive and even then would need help assembling it.  Luckily, Monkey Man is handy and thrifty.  We have all the materials already.  He's using recycled timber that he salvaged from our neighbours and we have some leftover polycarbonate from a friend's cubby house making.  We'll use that for the roofing.  Monkey Man was most impressed by the heritage nails he removed from the old timber.  He reckons they must be about 120 years old. 
Littlest Monkey has saved them for some craft making.   He loves to make things.  I'm a bit the same. I found this old bit of piping while clearing space under the fig tree for the chook run and I'm planning a bit of garden art.  Not sure what it will be yet but I'll take a pic when I'm done.  
So with a bit of luck we'll have a chicken coop before Christmas. 

Don't forget to send me your fallen branch Christmas tree pictures if you haven't already.  I've had a couple of terrific photos sent to me which I'm looking forward to posting next week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Impatience is no Virtue

Garlic - not ready yet
Garlic
I couldn't wait any longer.  The garlic looked like it must be ready.  The leaves had all flattened to the ground and they were yellowy brown... ish.   Surely those garlic would wither and die if I didn't get them out of the dirt right now.   I had checked one a week or so ago and it was small and the cloves not quite formed but I was kind of pushing this information to the back of my memory and imagining a startling, dramatic growth spurt.
Hmmm.  Small.  Not ready.
And I thought I'd planted much more than that.
I'll try again next year.  I need to plant more and I need to plant them in a sunnier spot and I need to be patient.

Chicks
The garlic may be slow growing but the chicks aren't.  They have doubled in size and already seem to be entering their teenage years and getting a bit ugly.  Today their brooder box was upgraded to the kids old shell swimming pool with a bit of gutter guard around the top so they don't jump out.  They have lost some of their fluff and now have wing feathers.  When we put our hands in they come up and stand on them.  I was secretly hoping that I would be their mother hen and that they would love me best, but when Monkey Man put his hand in the other day four of them hopped up.  I tell him it's just because he has bigger hands and the chicks are too busy pecking at my freckles to want to all stand on me - but I'm a bit miffed not to be top chick. 


Fallen Branch Chrissie Tree Photos
I have so far had ONE response to my request for photos of your fallen or pruned branch Christmas tree and that was from my mother!  Ali from Mud Pie has promised me one and I have promised not to laugh at her attempt. And Greenfumb, Hazel, EcoMILF, Phoebe either have done or have seen these sorts of trees around.  But I have no evidence!  Now there is no deadline - some time before Christmas will do.  Although, I think we'll all get bored reading my repeated requests for photos by then.  So I am now extending the request.  It doesn't have to be your Christmas tree.  It could be a friend, relative or neighbours.  Come on now internet friends - help me out. Send me a photo. My movement is losing momentum before it's even started.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Fallen Branch Christmas Tree

Littlest Monkey decorating last year's fallen branch Christmas tree.
For the past fifteen or so years I've been using fallen or pruned branches as Christmas trees and I reckon they look great.  I was first inspired by my cousin Kath who one year had draped a branch with lights around her mantlepiece and I've taken her lead ever since.  But I've never seen anyone else do it.  Why not?

I was inspired to write this piece after reading a post from a blog I like www.ecomilf.blogspot.com/
There is a debate about whether real trees or artificial trees are better for the environment.  I did a little research and according to wikipedia it takes at least 20 years of re-using for an artificial tree to leave an environmental footprint as low as a real tree.  Real Christmas trees can be mulched but you only have to take a drive around the neighbourhood in January to see that lots of them aren't.  In my local municipality only 15% have a green waste bin and I'm not sure there'd be too many others doing their own mulching and chopping.  So my guess is lots of these trees are ending up as landfill.  And I wonder about the distances real trees travel to end up in our homes?   Of course, those potted Christmas trees that are brought in and decorated each year can't be bad but they've never really appealed to me.

Wikipedia artificial Christmas Tree
Unlike most of my friends and acquaintances I LOVE Christmas - especially since having kids.  I loathe the shopping centres of course (I loathe them at the best of times but at Christmas eeek) but I do love lots of the other little rituals and excitements of Christmas.  And the hunt for the tree and decorating it with the family is fun.  For the last two years finding the branch has been easy - our Silver Princess gum needed a prune.  Actually last year the whole tree blew down in a storm so we had a fantastic tree.  The white trunk on the Silver Princess looked beautiful. Fortunately, the tree sprouted from the roots again and it is growing back.  But it's not big enough to use a branch this year.  And after last year's beauty this year the branch from the maculata doesn't quite measure up.  We haven't gotten round to decorating it yet but I'm sure it'll look better than this one from the wikipedia site don't you think?!
Monkey Family Fallen Branch Christmas Tree

Whenever my friends visit I always boast about how great my fallen branch Christmas tree is and they make affirmative noises but I'm beginning to suspect I'm a tad delusional.  No-one I know is doing this too and certainly none of my friends have followed me on this one.  So come with me internet friends -
I'm starting a movement!  I can't believe more of us aren't making our own trees from fallen or pruned branches.  Check out my tree last year.  Tell me it doesn't look good?!!  

So send me a pic with your fallen or pruned branch Christmas tree and I'll feature it in a post before Christmas.  Email your pictures to veggiegobbler@gmail.com.  Now don't disappoint me - I know there must be someone out there who wants to do this?!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Day of Summer - Eat the Leeks!

Leeks
The problem with me in the garden is I very often grow something, use some of it and leave the rest neglected.  I keep looking at it thinking I must make something with the rest of that but weeks pass and I don't.  That's what happened with my leeks.  I picked the fat ones ages ago and made soup and leek fritters and then left the little ones to fatten up.  Well I think they're as fat as they're going to get.  In fact some of them have started to bolt.  I was wondering if I'd wait and and collect the seeds but really it is time to use them.  The patch where they are is soon be converted to a chicken run and I have purchased two of those skinny ballerina apple trees to squeeze in there either side of the fig tree.  So, given that today is the first day of Summer they'd best be gone.  No-one wants to eat leek and potato soup in Summer. Yesterday I picked them all and made this leek and mushroom risotto.   My leeks were a bit of a miserable bunch.  I didn't hill them up enough and by the time I chopped off the green there wasn't much white to actually use.  But that's OK.  I'll still grow them again.  I keep learning tricks with each thing I grow each year.

I also could not resist pulling up a couple of my garlics to see what was happening.  This is the first time I've grown it and I'm really excited.  You are supposed to wait until the leaves have yellowed and are starting to become brown.  Well mine aren't quite there yet - too small.  But they didn't go to waste.  I chopped an entire bulb up and popped it into the risotto too.  Young garlic isn't as strong as the matured dried type but is good.  

Leek & Mushroom Risotto
•  1.5 cups aborio rice
•  2-3 leeks, chopped
•  1/2 glass white wine
•  1 ltr vegetable stock
•  6-8 mushrooms, chopped
•  2 tbs butter
•  1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
•  1 tbs chives, chopped

In a large saucepan, cook the leeks slowly in 1 tbs butter until golden.  Heat the stock in a small saucepan and allow to simmer.  When leeks are cooked, add the rice and stir until coated.  Add the wine and stir.  Add a ladle full of vegetable stock at a time, stirring frequently.  Keep adding stock as the rice comes away from the edges of the pan and it is absorbed.  Continue until the rice is cooked.  In a separate pan cook the mushrooms in 1 tbs of butter.  Stir the mushroom mixture, chives and parmesan cheese through the rice when it is cooked and allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving. 
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