Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yay Yippee-de-Yahooooo!

Last night we were having dinner outside in the garden when I spied something that made me jump and run. It was AN ACTUAL AVOCADO! On closer inspection I discovered that our avocado tree was housing not one but THREE ACTUAL AVOCADOS.
Please excuse my shrieking but you cannot imagine how excited I am. You see this avocado tree must be over twenty years old. And in the eighteen years that Monkey Man has lived here it has never shown any inclination whatsoever to bear fruit. In fact after that devastating Black Saturday bushfire weekend when we had several stinking hot days reaching temperatures of 46ºC, the tree shrivelled and I very nearly chopped it down. But it survived after I removed the dead limbs and I consoled myself that it was a lovely shade tree even if it didn't produce fruit. BUT NOW IT DOES! Naturally I upset the neighbourhood with my demented squawking and jumping about in excitement. If I had been able I would have done a cartwheel. Or several.

When I first moved in I did a lot of research on avocados in the hope that I could work some magic on the tree. I contemplated getting another one to help with pollination but they grow so big. I also considered getting out a paintbrush and doing a bit of pollination myself. You see avocados, I understand, are rather tricky trees with A and B flowers that open after each other and change from male to female later in the day. It was all a bit bamboozling for me. And I didn't really hold out any hope. But you can rest assured that this year I'll be painting my flowers morning and afternoon. I have already done some googling on pollinating. This site looked simple enough for me to understand.

Now I am sure there's a lesson here about having faith, or patience being a virtue, or reaping what you sow... or something like that. But I'll leave the lessons for you to ponder 'cos I am too busy smiling and shrieking and making repeated visits to the tree.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How I Ought to Be Doing Things

Yesterday we visited the children's garden at Melbourne's Botanical Gardens. It's been ages since we've been and I've forgotten how wonderful it is. While the kids splashed around in the water fountains and streams, I wandered about the veggie patch. I realised of course that I'm no-where near getting it right in my own garden. I need to plant loads more. And why do they put that information about how close you should plant your veggies on the packets. Surely it's wrong? I'd need a farm with loads more space and a ruler if I was to follow their directions. And I'd hardly grow anything. I've started to squish things up much closer than they recommend but now I see that it's possible to successfully do even closer squishes.

I really like these bamboo structures they've made to grow pumpkins and beans up at the Gardens.
I've often admired people who grow artichokes. I once tried to prepare one for a meal and it was such a drama I vowed never to do it again. That was twenty years ago and I have stuck to my promise. I've heard of people popping them in their gardens just for the flowers which I secretly thought was a bit bonkers. Until I saw this yesterday...
I'm a convert. I'll definitely be organising some artichokes for my garden this year. And some purple basil which looks great and smells just like the real stuff. Fancy that! I reckon I'd be able to freak the monkeys out with a lovely purple pesto too.
Another thing I realised I ought to do is grow more parsley. Much, much more.
And all those telly and cookbook chefs who snootily tell you that the flat leaf parsley variety is vastly superior are wrong. I much prefer the curly stuff. It looks better, chops better and I can easily distinguish it from the weeds as opposed to that other flat stuff. Maybe my palate isn't too good but I really can't tell the difference in flavour either. So I'll be aiming for massive curly parsley plantings this year too.

There was also a wee asparagus plot at the Gardens. Some of you may know I've been hankering for asparagus and haven't managed to find a spot that I think will be big enough. But they had only a small patch set aside for asparagus here. Mind you I'm not sure how many mouths they are planning on feeding. So I'm thinking I've found the spot in my garden for asparagus, but I've got a few months to continue my ponderings yet.
I quite like the stuff they've got on the paths there. I could walk on that with bare feet and it'd keep the weeds down. I haven't managed to completely de-grass our place since I last posted about it and am still contemplating what I'll use.

Lastly, could someone please tell me what this flower is? It looks beautiful and was attracting lots of bees.
Only a few more days of school holidays left. I'll certainly miss the lazy days and excursions and fun with the monkeys. I never understand people who hang out for the return to school and back to routine. Don't get me wrong, I won't miss the sooking on the trampoline after one of their wrestling matches or circus shows goes askew or the sniping over who gets to use the last clone trooper lego bit. But I do so love summer holidays.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Amaranth My Newest Number One


Amaranth has overtaken silverbeet to become my current favourite garden veggie.

Most of my amaranth was gobbled by snails in the early days as seedlings along with my sunflowers, bergamot and other stuff in this patch. But these two plants survived and they are more than enough for us. They look beautiful don't you think?

Apparently, you're supposed to eat the leaves before the plant flowers. But I didn't read that until I had flowers and I don't think it matters. I've been chopping off some of the smaller leaves when I need to and they taste good. Not raw mind you - you'll be wanting to cook them. And chop out the stems.

If you haven't tried amaranth before it's kind of like spinach but stronger and chewier and it keeps its shape when cooked. I've been popping a few leaves into my usual breakfast: toast, an egg, tomatoes, mushrooms a bit of basil from the garden (yippee) and amaranth. Tonight's fare is pizza with amaranth leaves. I'll be doing it with bocconcini cheese and tomato and basil. Yummy.

Now I wanted to get NutriNic my sister the nutritionist to comment for me about the nutritional value of amaranth but she is too busy at the moment. So I had to rely on the Great Google. Apparently amaranth is high in protein and very nutritious.  The leaves are similar to spinach and silverbeet but more nutritious. According to this source, the leaves have three times more calcium and three times more vitamin B3 than spinach. 

The seed is apparently very nutritious and high in protein too. But it sounds like a bit of a process to separate the seed from the outer shell so maybe I'll just be lazy and let them drop about for another crop later on.

Have you cooked or grown amaranth? Got any tips or recipe ideas?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Re-using and Planning and Being a Worry-Wart

This highly attractive spot is the down the side of our house. Yep, some of our backyard is a tip. Monkey Man loves to keep everything - timber, bricks, old window frames and doors, pipes, floorboards, tyres, an old high chair... you'll find it all dumped in various corners of our backyard. Apart from being bloody eyesores, these tip spots also make me jumpy and cranky 'cos they are providing a lovely home for lots of creepy crawlies - red back spiders and huntsmen and mice and cockroaches. Although I must admit I have grown to appreciate Monkey Man's hoarding nature because it does come in handy at times. He's whipped up (well actually laboured and strained and swore for days) a chook house, stands for water tanks, a wood shed and various other handy things about the home with stuff from our rubble piles.

In fact in the last two days I've set him to work on an old cupboard door that's been hanging about here for a few years. I've been hankering for a bench in my kitchen. And Monkey Man reckons he can make one using recycled timber. So he's been removing the paint from a cupboard door that once hung in our house. We reckon it's from the 1920s and it'll look quite good. Maybe. If he doesn't poison himself and worry me silly with his reckless ways with sanding and scraping lead paint in the process. Which brings me back to this rubble pile down the side.

It's a waste of space that could be planted out. You can't tell from this photo because it's taken in the late afternoon but it does get a fair bit of sun. At the moment. Next door is a vacant block owned by our neighbour Mr P. and currently housing those rascally goats. But one day they plan to build on it. Three two-storey townhouses. So there'll be less sun one day but still enough to grow things I think. I've been wondering, why not clear it up and make use of it while I can?

Trouble is I am a worry-wart. And there's been a lot of lead paint flaked off from bits and pieces down that side. And I'm worried about the soil being contaminated.  Of course, not worried enough to do a test or anything - I'd rather worry than actually find out the facts. (Remember what a worry-wart I was about this). Anyway, I did do some googling (as I do) and apparently flowering crops like beans and tomatoes and squash tend to take up less lead from the soil. So maybe I could prepare for next spring. Or I've been thinking about espaliering some fruit trees along the house wall. Or even growing some trees up the fence side. And maybe I should put some raised beds for veggies in there. That'd stop me worrying about the soil and would prevent Wokee the puppy from destroying them. 'Cos this is her run when she is not being supervised in the rest of the backyard. And maybe this'd be the spot where I can grow some asparagus. I've been longing for asparagus ever since reading about them all over the place on your blogs. But until now I didn't think I had the space.

So what do you think? Suggestions gratefully considered.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Noooooo... Goats!

Goats don't belong in the suburbs. They belong on a farm. In a big paddock with lots of thistles. Surrounded by a very tall, strong, impenetrable, thick, brick wall to protect everyone and everything from their rotten, munching teeth and smashing hooves.

We came home from a holiday yesterday. I know I have turned into my nana because before we even unpacked the car I was in the backyard inspecting the veggies. Corn as tall as me, tomatoes everywhere, loads and loads of beans. Even Monkey Man delayed unpacking the car to get up the ladder and twist a few beans while I spent half an hour tying up the tomatoes that had grown wild while we were gone.

The little monkeys are spending a couple of nights with their grandparents so Monkey Man and I had the luxury of a sleep in this morning. I got up three hours later than usual to the sound of a yapping puppy. Naturally, I immediately took her outside and went to check on the chooks and the veggies.


The rotten goats from next door had knocked down part of the fence and had been feasting on my garden.
Corn decimated.
Eggplant and capsicum munched.
Strawberries gone.
 Butter beans finished.
Oh I am cranky. In fact I nearly shed a tear. Now I know it's not as bad as poor Phoebe who lost all of her veggies in a storm on Christmas day. Or Hazel who is foolish enough to own goats who prevented her from growing veggies all last year. But still. I was only the night before patting myself on the back about the bountiful, beautiful garden full of veggies I was managing.
Well at least they left me the basil and they must have been full by the time they reached the tomatoes 'cos they've only been nibbled.

Just as I was inspecting and moaning my loss for the second time I looked at the hole in the fence and I saw the culprits. Peeping through the crack contemplating dessert. And for a moment my heart melted because it was the cute baby kid who is so friendly and fearless of humans. But then I saw her ugly mother hovering nearby and I came to my senses. So I roared and jumped at them and set Monkey Man to work fortressing up the fence.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Completely Plumed Out

Thanks for all your suggestions about what to do with my plums. However, I don't think I quite conveyed to you all the magnitude of our plum harvest. We have a rather old, quite large plum tree. Monkey Man and I estimated that we picked about 80kgs of plums this year. I'm completely plumed out.

I made: jam, pavlova with plum syrup, plum cake and pancakes with stewed plums. I snuck plums into pasta sauces. I spent two days searching the internet for the plum chutney recipe I made last year that was a hit and couldn't find it. So I settled on another and made a batch. And then I discovered last year's recipe. On my own blog. So I made some more. Monkey Man forbade me to do any more cooking because the weather was getting hot and he's a complete control freak about curtains and climate control in the house when it gets over 30º. In fact he's rather keen on the weather and is always telling me tedious facts about which direction the wind is blowing from and how cool it is in the front hall compared to outside according to our thermometer. He loves to check the weather radar and alert me when rain is coming. He gets very excited when he reckons a big storm is on the way. And he can't stand it when I do a cook up on a hot day.

So I waited 'til he had a late gig and a sleep in and I cooked up some more jam and chutney.

We gave bags to all our neighbours and friends. I froze plums (thanks africanaussie) and I was about to stew some and pop them in the freezer when I discovered a big tub of poached plums... from last year. So I stopped.

I am sick to death of plums.
Plum picking

Elaborate pulley system erected by Littlest Monkey to collect plums
Plum cake

Oh, and we are heading for a top temperature of 40ºC here in Melbourne tomorrow so I'd better close up the house and plan for salads if I am to keep Monkey Man happy.
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