Sunday, 29 May 2011

Roots, fruits and gifts galore

We have had the most incredibly warm May weather - certainly Spring-like, with gorgeous sun-shiney days and chilly mornings and evenings that send us rushing to light our fire.  That neatly stacked woodpile is diminishing at an alarming rate!  
I never really enjoyed Autumn or Winter before but this late in life, I find a blossoming appreciation for the joys of seasonal fruits and the more laid back lifestyle these seasons bring to the back yard.  Evenings see me inside much earlier, creating wonderful dishes at leisure.  Usually I am frenetically working in the garden till about 6-7pm summertime, so evening meals are a rather hurried affair, eaten much later than the stomach would prefer!  Now we eat much earlier, relax a little and tackle studies or other tasks.  
Other tasks

Last weekend saw me making the most of the sunny weather and pruning our feijoas and peach trees, like a little guerilla gardening commando.  Eeek!  I am not sure that they will recover enough to fruit next autumn!  I think I went just a tad overboard!  However, the prunings were put to good use, mulched down by my hungry little Masport mulcher.  This is used to anchor the cardboard layer in the central garden bed.  The cardboard serves to suppress the weeds and is eventually broken down by all those gobbling micro-organisms in our soil.

I have been harvesting potatoes, jerusalem artichokes and some bird-sown turnips.  Combined with pumpkins, Italian zuchini rampicantes, the last of the capsicums, a few green chard or kale leaves and of course, the ever-available chillies, these few humble ingredients can be rustled up into some exceptionally tasty soups, stews and bakes.  We have a huge supply of home-grown fresh garlic and plenty of dried basil for seasoning.  And of course, plenty preserves as a side serve.  Simple.  Delicious.  
Simply delicious!

We are harvesting mandarins, persimmons and yellow guavas at the moment.  What amazing sumptuous fruits!  Wow!  Biting into home-grown fruit is such a wickedly decadent treat!  Our little yellow guavas are super sweet and the persimmons are juicy and sweet- nature's lollies!  There are many limes on our little tree - I have even made up a lime juice cordial, to be drunk hot or cold, diluted with water.  It's a simple recipe I use when my lemons are in abundance - 1 cup squeezed juice, mixed with 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup hot water.  Keeps in the fridge up to 4 weeks.  Simply dilute with water to taste, hot or cold.

Gifts Galore:
The garden gives us so many gifts and brings so much pleasure.  It is where I like to spend time.  Down time, up time, any time.  I wish I shared the same love of housekeeping.  Alas, my poor house survives on minimal attention!  So saying, I did clean 2 lots of windows this week, only so I can better keep an eye on what's happening outside in my garden!
And talking of gifts, our Indian neighbours who work in the kiwifruit industry, brought us a huge bag of golden kiwifruit this week!  Yum!  We don't really do the green kiwifruit - too tart and acidic but the yellows............mmm!  Makes wonderful jam, and I have never yet figured out, in a country that is renowned for it's kiwifruit production, why you cannot buy kiwifruit jam in the supermarket?!  Boy, there sure is a gap in the market here! 
 I do however, make sure I wash the kiwifruit well, in soapy water, to remove the chemical residues left over from conventional growing.  Deadly stuff!
Shayni, my daughter, just completed a 12 hour shift on her second day ever, working in the kiwifruit pack-house!  I now have two children in the workforce!  Amazing!
Painting by Shayni - our fireplace


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Reduce, Recycle, Re-invent and Re-use

Recycling is now a way of life for us.  We compost all our kitchen food scraps, along with all the garden prunings and waste.  Cardboard boxes are stripped of their tape (which goes into the recycling bin) and is then used to either feed our hungry winter fire, or to lay over bare earth in the garden before being mulched with leaf and branch chippings.  This is broken down by the many micro-organisms in our soil and recycled into nutrients for our fruit trees.
Toilet rolls?  Well, they get squashed and popped one into the other, like a small child's stacking toy, until it becomes a compact roll of tight inner pieces - a drop of meths or other accelerant and it becomes a great little fire-starter!  Have you ever given a thought to how many toilet rolls are discarded in the Western world??  I mean, since they banned their use in kindergartens (too much bacteria?!) for all those wonderful binoculars and rocket ship constructions - what exactly are they good for?  We started to tear them up and place them in the compost bin (for that carbon element) and worm farm but this fire-lighting cracker gives me much more of a thrill!  I have tried so many little experiments - once E even went as far as to collecting sawdust, which I mixed with a small amount of wallpaper paste, and then stuffed into those little  roll.   Once dried (takes about 2 weeks), I did the accelerant drips and hey, presto!  Fire ball!  But I have this curious nature, once it is satisfied, it goes onto other ideas.  Can't see myself filling toilet rolls with gummed up sawdust every summer to feed our voracious fire-lighting habit. No, siree!  The stuffed toilet roll habit is far less time-consuming and fun - you can do it while on the loo!  A great little time filler while you wait!

Oh, and then there are the cost saving recycling exercises, like paint.  We have only bought two cans of paint for this house - one a deep crimson red for our Indian-inspired Bollywood bedroom, and more recently, a bright Mediterranean yellow for our passageway.  The rest (and our house is definitely colourful) was all gleaned from a commercial painter who was getting rid of some of his old stock (every time they paint someone's house or office, they are left with little bits of paint).  I loaded up my boot with various tins of paints and when I got home, my daughter and I pretended to be paint scientists - what fun!  If they were the same type of paint (i.e inside acrylic or outside acrylic), they were mixed together to create a genuinely unique colour (unfortunately, 5 years down the track, we cannot buy touch up test pots - the colours don't exist in paint shop swatches!)  I still highly recommend the exercise!  Beats all those commercial paint residues ending up in the landfills.

From coffee pouches.......... usually designated to the bin..

Onto gifts, I get a thrill out of taking something old and giving it a new lease on life.  Gift giving is just such an excuse to get creative.  Recently a friend was given a recycled or upcycled coffee pouch bag, lined with the leg of an old pair of denim jeans for her birthday!  She may never use it but it was definitely a one-off personalized gift made specially for her.
To this trendy little shopping bag.

 This week I was thrilled when my teenage daughter set about making a "denim jeans" bag for her friend's birthday - a successful, unique little hip bag!  Thinking outside the ka-ching shop-shop square, life can really be quite a whole lot of fun, fun, fun!  We are always looking at ways to re-use or re-invent things useful out of things we would normally throw away.  It is evident in our home and lives and I am proud to be a little Earth Fairy, even if it is supposed to end this weekend!
(People been talking about Mayan calender prophecy)

My daughter's cool recycled jeans handbag.

PS: 13/08/14  Obviously those people were mislead, here we still are!!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Autumn Abundance

So here we are, with all the leaves falling down and lying in untidy piles in the garden - autumn gardens are not in their best dress!  But we do enjoy the less frenetic pace of autumn, as opposed to the hectic pace of spring and summer gardening.  Instead of going into the garden for an everyday harvest, we now only wander around every second or third day - collecting a large box of feijoas (yes, they still fall!), potatoes, carrots and the amazing old-fashioned jerusalem artichokes!  Yumm!!  I love to be able to give some away to others who have not been aquainted yet, to this old vegetable!  Most tend to have a favourable reaction.
Autumn harvest includes figs, courgettes, capsicums, limes, feijoas and chillies!

On the weekend I made spicey sweet Thai Chilli sauce - 2 batches (10 bottles)!  Mike had brought me a little bell-shaped looking pepper, which I bit into the end of and thought - "how lovely and sweet - wouldn't they just taste divine, stuffed with feta cheese and baked in the oven?' - so I set about saving the seed and then proceeded to sow them.  They came up - every one of them, and so I went a little overboard and set about planting them all over the garden, wherever I could find a space.  Well, they grew!  And grew!  And they produced these angel-winged bell-like fruits.  I was ever so excited as I patiently waited for them to turn red.  Then realising that I would be harvesting 100's of them, I decided to give some to my work colleagues who marvelled at how lovely and sweet they were, until they went home with them and ate the whole "pepper", only to discover that my lovely winged peppers were indeed, actually chillis!

Eek, apart from possibly frightening the hell out of their taste buds, I wondered just what I would do with so many chillies!  We have given bags of them to any innocent visitors, including all our lovely Indian friends, who are most likely the ones to be able to use these hot little wonders, easily!  Then I had an epiphany - sweet Thai Chilli sauce and hey presto, Google did the rest for me!

For any of you out there who would like to use up your homegrown chillies - here it is:
Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce:
500g fresh red chillies
3 cloves garlic peeled 
750ml apple cider vinegar (3 cups)
3 cups caster sugar
Halve the chillies and place in a bowl of a food processor, along with garlic.  De-seed the rest of the chillies and place in food processor.  Add 250ml vinegar and process.
Place chilli mixture, remaining vinegar and caster sugar in large saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring for 5 mins until sugar dissolves.
Increase heat to high and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occassionally for 35-40 mins until sauce thickens.  Pour into sterilised, airtight bottles and seal.

Not sure how hot this is yet...........  The seeds pack a power punch of heat, so de-seed all the chillies if you prefer less heat.

Feijoas looking for a good home.....

Oh, and to fill in some time, I have enrolled in an organic horticulture correspondence course over a year, hoping to get a good deal of it done over the winter months.  Learning about what I know quite a bit about through practice, but now I shall gain the theory behind why I do what I do, sometimes out of intuition, sometimes from what I have read and sometimes from advice from others who are successful at what they do!
Our ripening hand of bananas, with many more to follow.

I best go and put in some hard graft with the course..................... perhaps I will learn what else one can sustainably do with chillies.........