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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmasy Smells

Cosmos Mocha
The other day I went to my local big barn hardware store to purchase a living Christmas tree. Of course in the back of my head I knew I would have a little looksie through the rest of the plants and might just get myself some flowers for a basket out the bathroom window. Anyway, I came across this cosmos mocha plant for which I have had a hankering for many months. But I've never clapped eyes on a real live one. This plant smells like chocolate. No joke. Not a strong smell mind you, but nevertheless there is a smell of chocolate.

So I snapped it up and planted it that afternoon in my garden. That night I had some friends come over with their kids. And I got very excited to take them all out to the garden to have a sniff. Littlest Monkey has a strong sense of smell and is rather particular about what he likes. So I was really hoping to surprise him. I led them out to the plant and commanded that they all get down on their knees, sniff and tell me what they smelt. There were a few moments of quiet apart from the sniffing. The adults looked a little quizzically at each other. But there was no holding back with the kids:

"It smells like poo"
"Disgusting".

At first I thought they were just being kids making the usual oh-so-funny poo jokes. But then the adults agreed that it did indeed smell like poo.

And then I remembered that I had lovingly prepared that flower bed beforehand with a pile of pelletised chook poo. And I can confirm that the unpleasant smell of chook poop is quite a bit stronger than the faint chocolatey aroma from a cosmos mocha.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Location Location Location.

Garlic curing in the garden shed
Finally, garlic success. For the past few years I've had no luck at all. Teeny bulbs, rotten bulbs or miniscule amounts. But this year I got it right. I've been reading about other people's garlic on their blogs and there are some interesting analyses going on out there (read Liz's post at Suburban Tomato). So you may ask what insights I have. What expert tricks have I cottoned onto to share with you all? Well, I think it was the location. I finally chose a bed that gets sun all through the winter. That's it. Pretty obvious I'd say now but it took me a while to catch on.

So now I have a year's supply of garlic hanging in the shed to cure for a couple of weeks. And then I will give it the beauty treatment - brush it and trim it and attempt to braid it.

And like a real estate agent I have already scouted next year's bed and will be wacking the garlic in full sun there come winter. Location. Location. Location.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Vacuuming the Garden - Experiment Results

Purple climbing beans
Well for two whole days I got up early in the morning and vacuumed the white flies on my parsley and bean patch near the back door in my dressing gown. (See this post if you're completely bamboozled as to why I would do such a thing). And on day three there was a cracker of a thunderstorm which I was so pleased about as I didn't have to do the vacuuming. Day four was going to be a stinky hot day. Of course it wasn't stinky hot at 7am but I decided that as it was going to be stinky hot later on I might just conserve my energy and give the outdoor housework a miss. On day five I'd run out of excuses... except that I was so exhausted from the stinky hot day I really, really did not want to go vacuum the garden. And that has how I have felt on every other day since.

So - the results of this scientific experiment to reduce the white fly population from the veggies via the vacuum? Vacuuming has absolutely no impact.

Hmmm. You did know I was a lazy gardener didn't you?

I was, dear reader, thinking of you for most of my experiment week whilst in the garden. I was thinking that it would be a bloody pain in the backside if I discovered that vacuuming made a big difference because then I'd have to be vacuuming for hours trying to eliminate them from all the problem patches in my backyard. And I was thinking of that pesky Mark who put a spanner in my works by pointing out that maybe those flies would fly straight out of my cleaner inside and then they'd invade my indoor plants too. So I did a bit of a google and apparently you're supposed to put the vacuum bag into the freezer and then in the bin. But I don't have a vacuum bag - we have a fancy schmancy cleaner with no bag but good suction. Luckily Fiona suggested putting a stocking over the end of the nozzle. Which is what I did. And I am pleased to report I have no white fly on my indoor plants. Yet. And I was also thinking about how disappointed you'd be with me if I couldn't provide any proper results to this white fly experiment... but I'm pretty good with guilt (I did grow up Catholic after all) and your disappointment wasn't enough incentive to keep me vacuuming.

So now I will shut my mouth and just bite my tongue when those swarms of flies flap about in my face. And maybe I'll try the neem oil.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Look Up!


passionfruit vine
Yesterday I was showing my friend Ms. C. around the garden and we were admiring the veggies and so on and then I decided to take the washing off the line. And Ms. C. was playing with Wokee the dog and admiring the garden a bit more. And then she remarked on the lovely passionfruit flowers.

But I don't have a passionfruit vine.

So I cranked my neck in the direction she was pointing and oh-my-googly-eyes I do have a passionfruit vine! A whopping big super dooper passionfruit vine. With flowers.

And of course I let out a shriek and nearly turned a few handstands in glee.

For many years I had been attempting to grow passionfruit up my garden shed. But despite five separate plants, over the years I have only succeeded in growing a few pathetic looking things which have housed only one flower that never fruited. So this winter I bit the bullet and pulled the passionfruit vines out and planted asparagus instead in that patch. But somehow in my pulling I must have missed a bit of passionfruit vine. Or maybe it has sent out a runner. Or maybe it is a vine from many years before that I planted along that wall. It seems to be coming from under the BBQ. However it has happened, it is thriving without any intentional help from me and is now scrambling up all over the neighbour's brick wall. In fact it has almost reached their roof (and they have a two storey house).

Now I know you must think I am completely bonkers (especially after the vacuuming the garden post) - how on earth could I not have looked up and noticed that vine? I do hang clothes on the washing line quite often and that does involve looking up.  Well, in my defence I did notice the vine. But I thought it was the Happy Wanderer native creeper that has been plodding along up that wall. I even recall a few weeks back doing the dishes and Monkey Man coming inside and informing me that the passionfruit along that wall was going well. And I of course corrected him telling him that I had pulled out the passionfruit months ago and he was talking about the native creeper.

I think it may have been the preparation of that patch that went on before I planted the asparagus - lots of manure and compost. And perhaps passionfruit prefers the east facing brick wall rather than the north facing tin shed wall. But I will give Monkey Man some credit in the success. Apparently he has been doing a bit of twisting and training of that passionfruit vine. Monkey Man's favourite past time is twisting a bit of a vine up a wire. That and doing a bit of twig pruning. Whenever we are in a hurry to go somewhere Monkey Man gets sidetracked on the way out the front door by a bit of twig pruning or foot scraping of the path that the blackbirds have messed up or twisting a little vine around a wire. Goodness knows what effect he thinks he's having because our front garden is an absolute jungle and really requires a proper sweep of the path or a proper prune with proper pair of secateurs. But bless him Monkey Man has been working his magic on the passionfruit vine with his little twists.

passionfruit flower
There are quite a few flowers too - don't you think passionfruit flowers are the most beautiful flowers ever? So, I think after all these years we might finally get some passionfruit. Only trouble is I don't know how on earth we are going to reach the fruit. We will need a rather long ladder to get way up there. Or do passionfruit fall to the ground when they're ripe?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Vacuuming the Garden

Yep you read right. Vacuuming.

This morning I got the vacuum cleaner out and vacuumed my parsley and beans. 

Now before you go thinking I'm completely bonkers let me tell you I don't usually use the vacuum cleaner on the garden. In fact I don't even use the vacuum cleaner in the house as much as I should. But you see I have a problem with whitefly.

It started last year on my beans in the back corner. Over winter they all went quiet but with the warmer weather those teeny whiteflies are back in their swarms and taking over my veggie patches. If I run my hand over my parsley great swarms of them fly up to my face making me cough and splutter and get rather cranky. And apparently they're not harmless little pests - they're sucking the sap right out of my veggies and making them less vigorous. They can spread diseases from plant to plant. And they multiply like mad.

Oooh they're a problem.

So I turned to my favourite friend the google and discovered one of the remedies is to get out there early in the morning with one of those little vacuum cleaners and suck them up when they're all sleepy. So that's what I did. Except we don't have one of those little hand held vacuum cleaners only a normal one. And I didn't do it first thing in the morning because I have children to make lunches for and ensure they have clean underpants on and pets to feed and hair to wash... So it was morning, but not first thing. And those little whiteflies didn't look all that sleepy to me. I'm not sure how many I managed to suck up. And I'm not entirely sure this remedy will do any good at all. But I'm willing to give it a go for a week in the patch closest to my back door and the power outlet.
You can't see them but there are masses of nasty little white fly under those parsley leaves

I'm also going to get out the eco oil and and spray it on the underside of the leaves in that patch. It'll be my little experiment for the week to see if the numbers reduce there. And if I have success I'll be getting the extension cord out and vacuuming right up the back. Earlier in the morning - maybe before I've showered while still in my dressing gown. Gee I hope the neighbours don't wonder what I'm up to and peep through the fence.

Apparently lacewings and ladybirds and birds are natural predators. So I'm encouraging those in my own way - whenever I see a ladybird I get all excited and say "oh goodoo a ladybird. Come on eat up little ladybird". 

The whiteflies are also attracted to the colour yellow so hanging sticky yellow traps above your plants might work - but I don't think that'd have much impact when they're in great swarms like I have. Neem oil also apparently works at the nymph stage.

Anyone else tried the vacuum cleaner trick or have other ideas? What's worked for you?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mr. P. & Tomatoes & Peppers

Peppers
Well, we managed to carry out my neighbour Mr P.'s instructions more or less to his satisfaction by the end of the week.

It took Monkey Man many days to get around to taking out the kids' slide. But now that he has, I have more veggie space. Yippee! Is it wrong for me to get excited when the kids grow up and relinquish more of the garden space for me?

The state of my garden must have been worrying Mr. P. because following my last post he visited and told me that an idea had come to him in his sleep. My soil was not up to scratch. He informed me that I needed to organise Romeo. (Romeo is Mr.P.'s nickname for Monkey Man - who is still a playboy in Mr. P.s eyes despite being married to me for 10 years.) Anyway, I needed to organise Monkey Man to dig up the soil on his vacant goat block and to wheel at least 6 barrow loads full of it to deposit on my tomato patch. And this needed to happen on Sunday morning. Now Monkey Man is a musician and he has gigs on Saturday nights and he doesn't get to bed til 4am on a Sunday morning. So it goes without saying that Monkey Man was mighty unimpressed with Mr.P.'s instructions. Come Sunday morning I let him sleep for a few hours and started the digging myself with a little help from Eldest Monkey Boy. And I received a compliment (I think it was a compliment) from Mr. P. that I "should have been born a boy".

Anyway, by lunchtime Monkey Man had woken bleary eyed, eaten his muesli and came to help. By the end of the day, the kids' slide had been removed and the tomato patch soil level had risen. And on Monday night Mr. P. came over with a bunch of tomato and pepper seedlings and planted them all over the place for me.

I learnt a few more things from Mr. P. about tomatoes. Firstly, because we had too many seedlings and some of them were looking wilty, Mr. P. suggested we plant two in the one spot and and then pull one out later - keeping the "master". Mr. P. also first plants his tomato seedlings in little trenches. This is so the water can get to them at the beginning. As they grow, and to help them get stronger, he gradually pushes the soil up around them until they are on little hills and the trenches are either side for the water.
tomato seedlings (only the master will be kept) in a trench
hilled up tomato seedlings with mulch
Mr. P. and I also discovered that my veggie patches are extremely dry. And that I don't know how to water. I thought I'd been giving everything a good drink but when I was done Mr. P. pushed aside the dirt (something I never do) and everything was bone dry! My watering was barely penetrating the surface. Mr. P. gave me remedial lessons in watering which involved holding the hose right to the ground where the seedling is planted and virtually drowning the thing.

So, now I have a load of tomato seedlings planted much more closely than I would have thought right. And they have damp soil. And I have masses of peppers. I don't know what sort of peppers they are because Mr. P. wasn't sure himself - except to say that they would be beautiful. I sure hope they turn into red capsicum or chilli plants 'cos I am not at all fond of any other peppers.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Return of Mr. P.

Mr. P. paid a visit to my back garden last night. You may recall Mr. P. from previous posts. He's our Italian neighbour. The one who owns the goats that broke in and feasted on my veggie patch last year. Mr. P. has a massive, rambling garden with loads of veggies and feral cats and a few broken down cars. He also used to have chickens and too many roosters until someone got fed up with their racket and dobbed him in to the council. So he ate them. Mr. P. likes to have a good old chinwag about what's wrong with the world and how the council rates are too high. He harbours a fondness for Berlusconi. Mr. P. has some kooky ideas.

Mr. P. and his family have become family to us. We exchange gifts at Christmas and get invites to their children's weddings and grandchildren's birthdays. But he doesn't often visit our backyard - maybe once or twice a year. So last night, just as I was putting the monkeys to bed, Mr. P. knocked on the door in search of a wheelbarrow. But he got distracted by my veggies.

First he clicked his tongue at the seedlings I'm attempting on the outdoor table.

"These no good!" 
Unsatisfactory seedlings
Mr. P. informed me that he had loads and loads of much better tomato seedlings that were very big. And that he would bring them over in a minute. Then, as he made his way down the back, he saw my artichoke bush.

"Why you no eat?" he admonished.

But before I could stutter an excuse, he'd plonked his boot into the patch onto an emerging corn seedling and started pulling off the dead leaves of the bush. Evidently Mr. P. was having trouble seeing the little brick paths I'd made in the fading light 'cos he was ripping and tossing and stomping all over the place. He demanded rope and a stake and a hammer and started yanking out weeds and a few teeny carrots and attempted to straighten out the artichoke. It was too dark in the shed to find the rope so Mr. P. told me he would be back himself tomorrow to tie up the artichoke - because he didn't trust that I would do it.
bald artichoke bush
Next he started searching about for a place to plant his tomato seedlings.  He reckoned we could squish a few more plants in my tomato patch. But he was shocked when he started digging into the bed. It was too hard.

"You water this?" he questioned in amazement.
Tomato bed - clearly in need of more water and digging
Then he sent me back to the shed in search of a pick and informed me that you could dig down several feet into his veggie beds. I figured Mr. P. wasn't interested in my no-dig-garden explanation so I tentatively went to peer into the dark shed again.

When I came back empty handed Mr. P. was eyeing off another patch.

"What about here?"

Nope, that was where I'd planted my bean seeds a couple of days ago. Mr. P. asked what sort I had and told me that he would bring over some beautiful climbing butter bean seeds for me. He didn't seem too interested in accepting my offers of heritage lazy housewives or climbing purple beans. 

I suggested that maybe I could manage a new veggie patch in front of the potatoes where the kids' slide was. We are in the process of dismantling the kids' slide. Actually we've been in the process of dismantling the kids' slide for a few months now with not much progress. This seemed to appease Mr. P.  who put his hand on the frame of the slide and gave it a bit of a shake. He looked just about ready to shake it down then and there himself but I managed to persuade him to leave it to Monkey Man to dig out properly tomorrow. He instructed me to get Monkey Man to dig up the other tomato patch too (clearly I was not up to that job).
Climbing frame for the slide - ready to come down
Mr. P. decided that it was too late to get the wheelbarrow now. And Mrs. P. was shouting over the back fence for him to come home. He told me that he'd come back tomorrow and to make sure that everything was ready. He would bring tomatoes and chillis and maybe some peppers.

So I've spent a few moments this morning tending to the artichoke and watering the garden and pulling a few weeds. But Monkey Man is going to need a lot of persuading to dig that slide out when he finishes work today. And I suspect that Mr. P. will be most displeased with our efforts.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Preparing for the Summer Stuff

Don't you think veggie gardens are cool the way they can transform the whole look of your garden with the seasons?

I just chopped out my broad bean plants. They didn't do as well as last year - I suspect I could have grown a few more if I'd left them longer. But I needed the space. Wow the corner near the chooks looks different since they've been chopped.  I also cleared out my brassicas plot where I'd left a few plants to save the seeds. But I didn't get 'round to drying and saving the seeds. Sigh.

Anyway, everything looks open and bare and now I don't need to duck and weave and push my way around the little veggie tracks. And I can see the chooks going about their business. And so can Wokee the fluffy canine which is keeping her amused and keeping the chooks flapping and squawking about.

I've wacked in a load of summer stuff.  I've got: beans, tomatoes, canteloupe, lettuce, spaghetti squash, cucumber and corn. And I'm hoping that when my garlic is out I'll have enough space for capsicum and eggplant and zucchini and more chilli. And probably other stuff that I've forgotten. Anyway, those seedlings are growing on my outdoor table. Slowly. I do hope I have some success this year with the capsicum and eggplant but I'm concerned my plants aren't advanced enough now. They really should be in the ground I reckon. I do dislike green capsicum and I know they need a long time in the sun to ripen up. Oh well, fingers crossed.

So now I need to cook up a storm with all these broad beans. I'm leaving them on the kitchen bench and every time I make myself a cup of tea I shell a few while I wait for the kettle to boil. Otherwise it seems like a very big job.

What have you all got growing for summer?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Before & After

My friend the lovely Smiley Nyree took me on an excursion the other day to a picket fence making factory in a neighbouring suburb. And we came back with a ute-load of sawdust. For free! I have been wondering for months and months what to do with those nasty weedy spots in my garden since embarking on the de-grassing project. I contemplated all different sorts of mulch and paving and hadn't gotten 'round to doing anything 'cos it all involved effort and money and research. But Smiley Nyree and local industry saved the day.

And now I feel like one of those recipients of Backyard Blitz or 30 Minute Makeover. But without all the crew and trucks and cameras and snotty hankies.







Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My New Number One

I've got a new number one. Parsley.

I know, I know I keep getting new favourites but parsley is surely it right now. And I promise I won't make a new number one anytime soon.

As you may remember, I have been attempting to rid my garden of grass by filling all the spaces.  So way back in winter I grew a load of parsley from seed and then I planted it everywhere. And now I am reaping the rewards. Loads and loads of parsley.

I've got parsley with the silverbeet at my back door.

Parsley (and not much else) in the herb spiral.

Parsley growing in the cracks between the paths and garden beds.

And parsley growing with the weeds and grass (yep I've still got grass to be rid of).
I do love parsley.  A finely chopped parsley garnish makes any dish look better. Oh and taste better I think. Well at least it'll make it taste fresher and you'll feel better 'cos you are doing some good for your body.

Did you know that gram for gram, parsley has twice as much vitamin C as an orange? I only know this 'cos my sister is a nutritionist and I nag her for little tidbits like that sometimes.

Anyway, I was reading Vegetable Vagabond's Spring herb post a few weeks ago and was reminded that I wanted to make a parsley pesto. She recommended parsley and walnut. But I happened to have pine nuts in my cupboard so thought I'd try the usual sort of pesto - except with the parsley not the basil.
Now if you're expecting a parsley pesto to taste super yum like a basil pesto unfortunately in my opinion it doesn't.  Next time I will add parmesan to the pesto to give it a bit more bite. But anyway it looks good and it's good for you. And I kidded myself that when greens are smashed up like that my Littlest Monkey may not be able to pick them out and may just inadvertently eat them. But I was wrong. Little Monkey Boy just doesn't like all those green bits spoiling his pasta. So I decided to do a little tricky thing with my remaining pesto - put it in a muffin. What kid can resist a muffin after a hard hungry day at school? Once they get over the disappointment of it being savoury not sweet. And green.

Parsley Pesto Savoury Muffin 

(Makes 24 mini muffins)

• 4 T parsley pesto (the same as a basil pesto but with parsley)
• 50g melted butter
• 2 cups SR flour
• 2 eggs
• 3/4 cup milk
• 1/2 cup tasty grated cheese
• 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
• salt & pepper to taste

Grease your muffin tray & pre-heat the oven to 180ÂșC.

Mix together flour, cheese, pesto, salt & pepper in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle and pour in the eggs, milk & melted butter.  Fold it all in until just combined.  Be careful not to over-mix - that'll make a nasty, chewy muffin.

Divvy the mixture up in your muffin holes and cook for 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dancing with the Hoses

I've just come back from a water fight with the garden hose. And I am cranky. Who else hates garden hoses? 

We have a whopping big water tank that has never run dry since it was installed 5 or so years ago. And I use it with a hand held hose for most of my gardening. Trouble is, it's out front and a long way for the water to travel so it only comes out in a bit of a trickle. It takes a long time to water things in my garden. But I am not going to get a pump for the tank. I just can't bring myself to use electricity to get water.

Monkey Man was always telling me I'd wreck the super long hose from this tank if I didn't pay more attention to the kinks and if I didn't stop yanking on it. And I have. Wrecked it that is. Anyway, I find myself constantly cursing and stomping and re-tracking my steps to figure out where the blasted hose has bent and why my water is no longer flowing.

Anyway, deep breath. Every now and then when things are looking dry I use mains water to give things a good drink. Like today. After I got fed up with stomping and cursing about untangling and unkinking my tank hose I resorted to the mains water.

Last summer I wasted money on one of those tough, curly hoses in the hope that it would be neater and stop making kinks. And that is attached to the mains tap - 'cos it doesn't bloody work on the water tank one 'cos that is too long. More deep breaths. Anyway, this hose just keeps getting caught up in the trees and rocks and is coming off at the trigger and spraying everywhere. So I was simultaneously pulling the trigger, pushing the rubber hosey bit into the connection, attempting to plug the spray that was escaping with my thumb and dancing about to escape the shower. I soldiered on but came inside sopping and my hippy hemp pants were stuck to me. I suppose they needed a wash anyway. But whew I really need to take a deep breath 'cos I am cranky. Actually, if only I had set up a a camera and videoed my antics with the hoses and set it up to some slapstick Charlie Chaplinesque music I would be a youtube hit.

Watering should be one of those peaceful, meditative garden actions that gives pleasure.

I really need to set up a drip irrigation system like I have been planning to do for many a year. But they seem way too simple! I wonder if my tank is too far away for the water to trickle to my veggies. And I fear all the clogs I am bound to get. How do you stop the clogging?  What do you do? Who's got suggestions to help bring back the peace to my watering before summer comes along? 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Artichoke - to Cook or to Flower?

Oh dear.  Who's been a slack blogger eh?!  Well, I won't go into my excuses (I am sure I could come up with quite a few entertaining ones but I will spare you.) I will say that life has been a bit tricky lately. But I'm back. And wondering what to do with this artichoke that I've managed to grow.
Once, many moons ago, I decided to attempt to cook an artichoke. I recall that it was a big fat pain in the bottom that wasted way too much time. And it didn't even taste good. All I got was a measley nibble of artichoke flesh to suck on. I vowed that I would never again waste my life on an artichoke unless it came in a can. Or marinated in the deli section of the supermarket. So I'm not sure what possessed me to purchase this plant at the Melbourne Garden Show earlier this year.

The fellow who sold it to me made a point of asking whether I was planting it purely for ornamental purposes. And I lied. Because he looked like he was going to snatch the thing out of my hands if I wasn't prepared to eat it.  And he seemed mighty relieved with my lie. He told me a whole bunch of people had been buying them just for the flowers and that artichokes were truly delicious. And then he went into a lot of tediousness about peeling and searching for fuzzy hearts and olive oil and some other stuff that I pretended to listen to.

But I don't think any artichoke on this tree is destined for the pot. Not this year anyway.








Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Great Sprout Experiment

Image from here
I bought a packet of sprout seeds a year ago and never grew any. Probably because it required a jar and a bit of muslin and a little research reminder about how to grow them. So they sat in my seed box reprimanding me for my wastefulness and laziness.

And then the other week, with the beginning of spring, I got all inspired and excited about growing them. Along with a renewed interest in getting 30 minutes of exercise a day and eating healthily... oh and keeping the house tidy, never shouting at the monkeys, watching less telly... I kinda make all my new year's resolutions at the start of spring. Doesn't last long.

Anyway, I got myself a jar and popped in a couple of tablespoons of seeds, let them soak overnight and the next day started my twice daily vigil of rinsing and draining. I also tried to inspire the little monkeys to get excited by them.
"Oh sprouts. I'm sure you love sprouts". I told them.
"So healthy".
"And look they will grow right in this jar in a matter of days".
"And then we can have them in sandwiches. And salads."
"So healthy".

The monkeys glanced my way and nodded. And then proceeded to show not the slightest bit of interest in those growing sprouts for the entire week.

By about day five, my sprouts had all sprouted and were filling the jar. So that morning I chirpily thrust the jar under the little monkeys' noses hoping they would oooh and aaah at the wonder of nature. But they grunted. And when I suggested that I put some sprouts in their sandwiches that day for lunch they both politely declined.

So I decided that I should probably start eating those sprouts instead. But the idea of munching on a sprout did not make my mouth water. In fact I could think of nothing I would prefer to eat less than a bunch of sprouts. But sprouts are sooooo healthy I reminded myself. And I had grown them and no-one else was going to eat them so surely I could think of something tasty to do? But when I opened the jar and looked closely, I discovered spores of mould growing all over the place. I think I had too many sprout seeds in too small a jar and there hadn't been enough air circulating.

So with a sneaky feeling of relief, I chucked the lot to the chooks. Who went completely crazy with excitement.

Sprouts make good chook food.


Friday, September 21, 2012

The First Avocado


Well I finally picked that first avocado. Actually I had to enlist Monkey Man to do the picking 'cos I was too short. He picked two and I popped them in a paper bag with a brown banana to go ahead and ripen. I was rather impatient with the ripening and gave them both a bit of a squeeze every day which I'm surprised didn't result in big bruises. After what seemed an age but was actually about 10 days, one of them was ready. And it was delicious. As delicious as the first avocado ever grown on an avocado tree is sure to taste.

But I'll let you in on a little secret. I am the only person in my family who likes avocados. Every other monkey calls avocado "green slime" and refuses to eat it. I know. Weird. Both the little Monkeys will go out of their way to make a big mess and poke out the avocado inside a nori roll. The only way they will eat it is as a guacamole dip and only then if it is part of a selection of toppings to go inside tacos. Which makes no sense to me - what's the difference between guacamole on bread or a biscuit compared to in a taco? Anyway, I would happily eat an entire avocado with a spoon straight from the skin in one sitting. Actually I would probably eat all three in one sitting. When I was a teenager I remember chopping them in half, taking out the stone and topping each half with grated cheese. Then I'd pop them under the grill 'til the cheese went brown and bubbly. Which sounds a bit horrid to me now. Too rich. And warm avocado yuck.

Anyway, problem is, avocados although healthy, are rather fattening. And I have gained a few too many kilos this year. Which I am gradually successfully shedding but only by carefully watching everything I put in my mouth. So I was very restrained with my avocado consumption. I sliced half of it up and popped it on some dry biscuits. And I ate them slowly, savouring every mouthful.Yum.

Now as you may remember, this avocado tree is over 20 years old and has never ever produced a fruit until now. And even though there was only the miniscule crop of three avocados, I am massively excited. But a little anxious too. Look at the tree at the moment.

It is full of flowers. Which is not unusual. Every year there have been flowers - but until now, no fruit. I don't know what went right last year. I'm wondering how much finger crossing I will need to do for a repeat performance or if I should interfere with the pollinating process. I have read that to increase your chances you can get out there with a paintbrush and spread the pollen about. 'Cos avocado trees have A & B flowers which open and close at different times. Or something like that.

So what do you think? Should I interfere or cross my fingers hope for the best?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why I Love my Bokashi


A few years ago, my mum offered to get me a bokashi bin for Christmas. But I declined. Mostly because I didn't know what she was talking about. And I didn't like the sound of a second composting system sitting about in my kitchen which is grotty enough as it is.

We already have two compost bins outside and a worm farm. But I must say they don't work as well as they should.  Our compost takes quite a while to break down and I don't have as much of it as I'd like. I would say there is too much wet matter in there. And we have mice. And we don't help things along by turning it often. I do have one of those twisty metal stick things to jiggle it all about but you need a pretty strong arm to turn the compost. And my arm would prefer to be planting seeds or depositing water or other stuff that doesn't involve decomposing scraps and mice. I know there are more things I'm doing wrong too but I just can't be bothered getting too finicky about the compost bins.

As for the worms, they don't require much attention but by golly I could grow old waiting for worm wee or worm compost or whatever you call it. They are slow to do their business. And one year during a heatwave I completely cooked them and had to start all over which wasn't very nice for anyone. Especially the new worms which I just dumped in with the carcuses of their expired ancestors.

Anyway, Monkey Man's sister got a bokashi bin but she never used it. So she gave it to us and I have grown to love it. Especially over winter.  Now I don't use the bokashi bin exclusively. I alternate between it and the regular compost bins. It takes a few weeks for us to fill the bokashi bin and during that time no-one has to make the trek to the outside compost bins with the mice and the dark and drizzle and cold.

For those of you uninitiated, a bokashi bucket is an airtight bin that sits in your kitchen and in which you drop your kitchen scraps. It has a draining system down the bottom and once a night I give it a squish with a specially dedicated potato masher and sprinkle over it a handful of the bokashi activator and let it do its work fermenting. At first I thought it might be a bit of a waste of money buying that bokashi activator stuff - it's a bag of grainy stuff (apparently usually rice bran and molasses that've been innoculated with composting micro organisms). But I have found this stuff doesn't cost much and lasts a long time.

But the number one, super-dooper, best thing about the bokashi is the liquid fertiliser that it produces. There is a draining section down the bottom and every so often I turn on the tap to release some of the liquid into a container and dilute it to fertilize the garden.
bokashi liquid ready to be diluted and watered on the garden
When there's no more room in the bokashi bin, we dig a trench, bury it somewhere in the garden or a dormant veggie patch and start all over again. Because the composting process has already started, it only takes a little while to break down underground and provide nutrients.

Oh yeah, I'm so in love with my bokashi bin. 

NB - this is an ad free blog. I'm not into taking money or gifts for blog review. Those annoying emails go straight in my computer rubbish bin. I'm just writing here about something that works for me.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ricotta Gnocchi with Silverbeet & Parsley

OK. So here 'tis. The recipe I promised last post but didn't have the time or eyesight to write up. A guaranteed hit with all - especially if made with fresh ricotta. And it's a good one for the kids to make - it's simple and all that rolling about and mucky hands is fun.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Silverbeet & Parsley
• 500g fresh ricotta
• 1 cup parmesan cheese
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 cup 00 flour
• a bunch of silverbeet, stems removed, finely chopped
• a bunch of parsley, finely chopped (optional)
• olive oil
• parsley & grated parmesan extra to serve

Drain the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl in the fridge. I've been told you're supposed to do this overnight but I never start dinner the night before. Draining for a couple of hours has worked fine for me.
Cook silverbeet in a pan with a drizzle of olive oil until wilted. Allow to cool and then squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can.
Place the ricotta, parmesan, eggs, salt, silverbeet and parsley in a bowl and mix until combined. Add the flour to make a dough. Don't work it too much.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into logs and then chop them into bite sized pieces. (Or if you want to do it Littlest Monkey style just roll them into little balls from the bowl.)
Bring to boil a large saucepan of lightly salted water and gently drop a few of the gnocchi in at a time.  They are ready about a minute after they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with the rest.
Serve with a tomato sauce and more parmesan and parsley.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Striking and Herding and Making Some Cheese

Yep. I've been fiddling about making changes to the blog. In fact, I've been staring at the screen so long that last night my eyes started wobbling around and everything went a bit blurry. I blame it all on the newly discovered picmonkey which has dragged me from pinterest. Oooh yeah, I'm loving the picmonkey.

Littlest Monkey was enlisted to pose for my modelling shoot yesterday arvo so I could get the header photo right. I think he has a new calling. He was prancing and preening about like a professional.
See. He can do the serious look with a funky sideways hat.

Anyway, hope you like the new look blog.

I must say, I managed to be rather productive yesterday. I successfully herded two monkeys and a borrowed one through the streets of Melbourne on their first teachers' strike. Without losing them or getting them run over by a tram. And I only snapped at Monkey Man three times when I was told to stop stressing. I also managed the more incredible task of keeping three little monkeys in their seats during the speeches and simultaneously quiet and rowdy at the appropriate moments (thanks to chocolate and gadgets and the possibility of appearing on telly if they waved their placards and booed and cheered loudly enough).

Then when we got home I fed them more sugary stuff that we'd forgotten to bring to the rally and let them play on more screens while I made ricotta cheese. Since Gavin from Greening of Gavin came to my place to run a cheese making workshop I have made ricotta a couple of times but haven't yet attempted the mozzarella by myself. Anyway, ricotta is super easy and super satisfying and super yum. You can find a recipe here at Green Living Australia and this is also where I bought a starter cheese making kit.
Ricotta making
 So. After all that striking, herding, modelling and cheese-making I turned the ricotta into dinner - ricotta gnocchi with bits of parsley and rainbow silverbeet from the modelling shoot. I will post a recipe for you all but it will have to be another day because I have had way too much screen time and I am a bit concerned about my googly eyes.





Thursday, August 30, 2012

Things I'm Still Learning About Seeds

I'm fairly new to this growing from seed business.

I wonder how long I can keep getting away with saying things like that? I kid myself that my novice status excuses and covers up my actual disorganisation and laziness. Truth is, I've been attempting to grow from seed for a couple of years now. But usually I end up with big gaps everywhere in my patches and go out and buy seedlings too. And I have way too many seeds some of which get wasted. I do love my little packets of seeds (which I've only recently started housing in sealed containers in the back of the fridge as instructed). I could happily while away many a minute with pen in hand circling interesting things to grow from a catalogue.

The thing is a germinating seed makes me very, very happy. It never ceases to make me smile when I see a little stalk poking its way up through the soil. But I'm still learning and playing around with what works for me. So I have a few questions for you.

To Soak or Not to Soak?
I've read that you ought to soak your seeds first. But I've never done it. I've also read that soaking the seed in diluted seaweed solution is a good trick. But I've never done that either. Who does and is it worth the effort?

When to Plant the Seeds?
Again this year, I've started my spring seeds off too late. I don't know how I managed it but I have. I am following some ripper local blogs and that, I've discovered, is a great way to keep you on track with your own planting but nevertheless, I'm behind. I think I need some diary system that'll tell me each year when to plant the seeds and pop them indoors or in the green house and then when to relocate them outside. Oh and I mustn't forget that annoying hardening off period you're supposed to do. I think my diary system needs to come with reminder alarms too.

Old Seeds & New Seeds & Why Are Some So Slow?
I had half a pack of tommy toe tomato seeds leftover from last year and they still haven't germinated. They're planted in the same container as some freshly bought yellow pear. The yellow pear is all up and has been for a week but not the tommy toe. I wonder if it's 'cos the seeds are older or if it's just the different variety? You could learn lots growing seeds and conducting little experiments. If I had more energy and my kids were less obsessed with soccer or minecraft maybe I'd do just that.

What to Grow them In?
(Jiffy pots. Image from here)
I'm also wondering about the best containers to grow your seeds in. When I started out, I purchased these little jiffy pots. But I've given up on them cos it seems a bit of a waste of money. Then I felt oh so pleased with myself rolling out these newspaper pots. But they're starting to fall apart. Mine seem to be a bit flimsy. I have collected a few plastic pots and things which work well. But I must admit I'm not diligent enough to wash them with soapy water between uses. I'm just spreading my diseases around I suppose. I had read that toilet rolls were a bit too firm and tricky for the roots to get through - the cardboard being a bit thick. But I decided to give them a go anyway. I hope they'll work.

Is it Worth Making Your Own Mix?
And then there's the seed raising mix. Does anyone out there make their own? I wonder if it'd work out cheaper to make your own? Maybe if you got stuff in bulk - but you need the space to store it. And let's not forget I am kinda lazy.

Where to Put Them?
I've got a bunch of seeds sprouting in my laundry but there's not much more room there for any more. And last year I bought a super dooper mini greenhouse which was very reasonably priced and just needs a couple of bricks to keep it from flying away in a storm. But where to place it? It's currently in a protected spot down the side of my house which gets morning sun. It can get warm and humid in there. I think I might be cooking the poor things. Are you supposed to open the greenhouse up during the daytime and just close it up at night?

How Hard is it To Save Seeds?
But what I really want to get my head around and my fingers organising is to save my own seed. I mean how hard can it be? But shamefully I haven't really managed it yet.  Only with sunflowers and that was so easy it surely doesn't count.

So many things still to learn. This gardening caper could be a full time job if you were to do it well. What works for you and what have you learnt along the way?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Chook Chasey

My puppy is getting growled at a lot lately.

She is desperate for a fluffy playmate her own size and has decided that the chooks are just the thing. And she thinks her love for them is reciprocated. But it's not.

Nosireebob they do not like her.  When they see her, they go scuttling. And that is her cue to start chasing them up and down the chook run. I have been spending way too much time fortressing up their runs with rope and bricks and super dooper pet wire. But every so often Wokee finds her way in. And then she sets about tormenting the poor creatures. If it has been quiet inside for a while I get a sudden panic up and go in search.  Sure enough I'll find Wokee in the chook shed, cuddling a poor fluffy chook. She hasn't seemed to do much damage to them. Yet. Most of them squawk and flap their way to safety in their upstairs house but the tamest ones just squat down for her and subject themselves to the torture. Sometimes I'll find feathers in her mouth.

I just wish one of them would give her a good peck on the nose to teach her to keep her distance. But they are too friendly. Or stupid.

Anyway, it does serve me right because when I was longing for a dog I did consider the chooks. But secretly I was thinking that I would raise the perfect dog. One who not only did her business where I told her, but also never barked or dug up the garden or chewed the lounge suite.

Oh well. She is only a puppy. And I really need to do something to make the chooks happy again.

So unless anyone in blogworld has some fabulous tips to train dogs to ignore chooks I think I am going to have to take the drastic measure of running a fence down the middle of my backyard and splitting it in two. Unsurprisingly, Monkey Man is adamantly opposed to this proposal. But I think it could work. The half up close to the house is where we have our table and chairs and fruit trees and mostly ornamental plants. The back half houses the chooks and veggie patches. And it is from here that Wokee would be banned. Unless a human was about to supervise her. We have an ancient, peeling gate that I am imagining in the middle of the yard painted turquoise or purple.

But this is a job for which I will require Monkey Man's labour and skills. And I am yet to convince him. When we first started co-habitating he needed persuading to re-locate the stinky old kitchen compost bucket to the cupboard under the sink instead of on the bench for all to sniff. He sees the extra effort required to open a door as a big problem. Sigh.
Who me? What did you say I was doing?!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Enough to Put a Spring in my Step

Flowering bulbs.

Blossoming plum tree.
Blue skies.

Broody chook.

A sunny spot.

Germinating tomato seeds.

Asparagus.







Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Edible Spiral Garden

I finally got 'round to one of those jobs I've been wanting to do for ages.  Remember those bluestone rocks that were dug up outside our place? 

Well they'd been sitting in our front garden for months.  But on the weekend we got cracking into action and the whole family hauled the rocks to our backyard to make a spiral garden. What incited this sudden garden activity you may ask? No, it was not the result of the iron tablets I'd been consuming. Merely a prickly conscience a consequence of this blog.

The lovely Bek from Bek's Backyard offered me some strawberry plants. She didn't go home empty-handed mind you - I gave her a couple of comfrey plants for her kindness. And on Saturday arvo I discovered a lovely package of strawberry goodness freshly delivered to my front door. I was a wee bit embarrassed. Bek offered the plants way back when I posted about the bluestones. She suggested I make a garden with the stones and pop the strawberries there. But the bluestones have sat in my front garden ever since. I am way full of good ideas and good intentions that sometimes don't eventuate. And now I was sprung bad with my messy front garden (actually I take no responsibility for that - the front is Monkey Man's domain) looking even messier with a whopping big hole dug down down the side, half the fence missing (we have a plumbing problem) and that neglected pile of bluestones.

So I was spurred into action. Those strawberry plants would not survive long un-planted. And I didn't want the lovely Bek to think badly of me! So the whole family started lugging the rocks 'round the back. Surprisingly (given my last pocket money post), we didn't even need to bribe the Monkey Boys. They just uncomplainingly helped! Later that night I did see Littlest Monkey admiring his muscles in the mirror so I'm sure our comments about how fit and strong we were all getting had something to do with it.
And over the following couple of days I got muscle-sore puffing and pulling the rocks into the right spots and digging and hauling loads of dirt from various nooks and crannies in the garden. Then I dug through some bags of manure and 'cos I'm the impatient type and couldn't wait for my seeds to grow I went off shopping for some seedlings.

Now I had done some research into these permaculture herb spirals but in true veggiegobbler style I broke some of the rules. The traditionalists I'm told have a theory about the way the spiral ought to run according to which hemisphere you're in. But I wasn't about to go re-arranging things once I was happy with my setup. My spiral runs in a way that I thought would look good. Also I remembered that I was supposed to lay down wet newspaper under my first layer of rocks to stop the weeds. Naturally I remembered this after I'd hauled the first layer of massive rocks to position. And I wasn't about to re-haul them for the sake of a few weeds.

I did place my spiral garden close to the back door which I'm hoping will be handy. And by coincidence it runs right into my pond which apparently is a good thing. The pond mind you is looking dreadful but that's a whole other story. The idea is that these rocks will warm up in the sun and provide a lovely growing place for herbs. Also, you can access everything easily and grow a whole lot of different stuff in the same place - dry, drought loving plants up top and water loving boggier things down low.

I'm not just growing herbs - naturally, the strawberries went in. Although I suspect the slugs and snails who'll no doubt live in the rocks will have a feast if I manage any of these. And I also popped in some veggies. From top to bottom I've got: olive herb (don't know much about this but it smelt good), oregano & thyme (these two like it drier I think), spring onions, chives, strawberries (they're up the back and just get morning sun which I think will work for them), perennial basil, perpetual spinach, lettuce mix and parsley.

Anyway, I'm mighty pleased with it. Thanks Bek.
Wokee likes the smell of the manure and those rocks provide a good launching pad to the adjacent chook run.
View from the back - strawberries and chives

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