Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Life to Relish

Weekend Domestic Bliss!  Spent Saturday in the garden, harvesting a bed of Chioggia Stripey beetroot, some as big as two hands - proudly organic!  No artificial hormones or steroids there!  Did some weeding (a bit like housework - never complete!), put up some stakes for tomato planting day (usually Labour Weekend, in New Zealand), watched the "Girls" - our Bantam chooks, for some time, changed their bedding to some untreated cedar wood shavings, planted potatoes into an old untreated kiwifruit crate (Mike sourced 2 for $15 each).  I am hoping there is not too much spray residue left on it as they have been sitting unused outdoors for some time.  I spent a while researching best methods for a small garden like ours and even though some "organic" enthusiasts say that stacking tyres are okay to grow your spuds in, I am still not convinced.  Besides, they just look ugly!
Lizzy and Spence are now laying an egg per day!  Wow!  Would be really cool if we ate them!  One more week foraging on this bed and then we will move the chook tractor to the other bed which had beetroots in, in preparation for tomato plants, eggplants and capsicums (nightshade family).  I also got to spray my stone fruit trees blossoms with organic copper spray to stop fungal infestations and disease.

The precious egg-making factory.

One marvels that these wonders of nature pop out of the
 bottoms of such small fowl!
No wonder they kick up such a ruckus when laying an egg!

Spence, the dark, feisty one!

Liz, the little ginger lass.
On Sunday we awoke to the sound of a moderate rain falling on the the roof.  Aaaah, bliss!  For me, rain means a let up of work in the garden.  I am not an all-weather outdoor girl!  I prefer to stay high and dry and warm in  inclement weather.  So, having harvested a 4L bucket of candy-striped beetroot, I needed to preserve some of it.  The rest will end up as beetroot salad, beetroot and feta soup or simply grated fresh into green salads.  Beetroot relish is one of my family's favourites, so with my daughter to help, we cleaned, peeled and grated 2kg of beetroot and set about making the relish.  The strong smell of apple cider vinegar and spices filled the kitchen................. and while it was boiling, taking full advantage of kitchen help, we made ghee (clarified butter for all our Indian meals), a batch of shortbread (which lasted the day) and a batch of apple slice.  We also managed to make a big pot of guacamole and freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice and pumpkin soup for lunch!  Poor Mike spent the day washing and drying endless dishes from our kitchen witchery.

Phew, after bottling 12 bottles of beetroot relish (the colour was a bit disappointing as the lovely candy-striped chioggia don't give that wonderful deep ruby-red of normal beetroot relish - although it tastes the same!), we felt spent.  Time for a cuppa tea and short bread. The Relish recipe is simple, easy and definitely worth sharing:

Beetroot Relish
  • 1kg beetroot, peeled and shredded
  • 500g onions, peeled and grated
  • malt or apple cider vinegar to cover veggies
  • 700g sugar
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1 TBspn pickling spices tied in muslin bag
  • 2 TBspn cornflour
Place all ingredients in large saucepan, cover and cook for 30 minutes till beetroot is soft.  Remove muslin bag, mix cornflour with a little vinegar and stir into relish.  Cook for a further few minutes, then spoon into hot, clean jars and seal.  
Makes about 3 litres.
Great on thin brown bread or cracker biscuits, and cheese.  Great for summer al fresco lunches.

We had at least 4 of these sized beetroot mothers -
the rest were normal to small!

The Domestic Workers slaving away in the kitchen on a rainy day

The beauty of candy-striped chioggia beetroot all shredded 

10 bottles of Beetroot relish - disappointingly brown in colour!
So the day was one of relishing our lives indoors, working to wonderful heartfelt music pumping on the stereo - Kasey Chambers  "Barricades and Brick walls"  whilst singing along at the top of our voices............  Lucky for the neighbours, the rain dulls the risk of instant rock stardom status!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cedar, Sheds and Slipping Up

As previously mentioned, I LOVE pottering around in my garden shed over the summer.  Mike collects  untreated cedar shutter offcuts from a company who would normally throw them away!  The old adage......... one man's junk is another man's treasure.  We use the cedar offcuts as kindling to light our fires in winter but as we feed them into the wood-burner, I select pieces that may be too good for burning.  In this way, I have selected enough wood to keep me busy for a few summers.  These are some of the projects which have been created in that little blue shed at the bottom of our garden.  I use organic olive oil to coat my creations.  Apparently coconut oil is better as it contains it's own anti-fungal properties - might try that this summer.  I have a few projects in mind.  Each summer I make at least one more nesting box for the birds.  The newer models have openings so I can clean them out for the next occupants.  We have at least 6 of them hanging around the perimeter of our fence currently.

I have made several wooden "box collars" which I plant my cucurbits (pumpkins, melons and squashes) in, to stop the birds from scratching around them and exposing the roots.  Works very well.  My first prototypes were cardboard collars but they didn't last long.  Then I tried erecting a mini fence out of sticks, all around the plants - birds just scratched them right out of the ground!!

Another use for our cedar bits has been garden signage.  I use them to make signs for our herbs (no more excuses from family members when asked to fetch a handful of parsley and they return with a handful of weeds.......)  One of our Helpxchangers, Julee from Germany, made many wonderful "attribute" signs for me - peace, harmony, gratitude, love, joy............ and secretly put them up all around the garden and so for weeks after she'd left, I would suddenly come across "peace" in the garden, or stumble across "harmony"!

Wooden planter boxes, oiled with olive oil

Little cedar boxes for storing Bay Leaves

A garden twine holder and cutter and more Bay boxes

A jewellery box for my daughter, with separate compartments
and ring holder

So apart from looking forward to school holidays in just under 3 weeks and beloved time in my shed, the garden is currently looking like it's starting to wake up from The Big Sleep.  I spied blossoms in my peach and nectarine trees... what a beautiful sight to behold!  And I really am becoming quite fond of our new little chooks, Liz and Spence.  They greet us expectantly as we approach their home and apparently, quite enjoy being picked up (my daughter has cuddled them a couple of times) and they have been laying their little hearts out - 6 eggs in two weeks!  Shayni enjoyed her first egg yesterday and declared it was heavenly!  Pity Mike and I don't eat eggs!  So why keep chooks then, I hear you ask - they are great little backyard workers - we have seen them devour snails and slugs in seconds, silently scratch up scraps and seeds in the soil (alliteration!  my daughter declares excitedly whilst studying for English exams)!

I hope to be able to do much the same as the chooks soon ('scepting the slugs and snails) whilst sitting here with my foot up on a chair after slipping in ankle deep water this morning at work and doing my ankle an injury! I hope I have just bruised or strained it and not actually sprained it but I am finding it very hard to put my weight on it this afternoon and it is quite swollen.  I think I might have left the tap running at kindergarten and the result was a great big flood this morning - much to the children's delight!  The children's stifled giggles might have something to do with the fact that we are an Enviro-kindergarten and  are always teaching how precious water is and to turn the taps off and not waste water!!

Ooops!  Slipped up there!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Chicks, Chooks, Tractors and Bylaws

Hooray!  At last we have the last of the missing puzzle piece in our little Permaculture backyard plan!  But all was not well for a wee while.

This journey started way, way back, on a visit to the Hamilton gardens, when I spied the Chook Tractor in the Sustainable Backyard Garden.  I thought it might be really neat to have one myself but the hubbie was none too keen.  Being allergic to eggs, he questioned the wisdom of raising chickens in the backyard.  "What for?"     That was about 4 years ago.  Since then, I have learned about the essential part of a good working permaculture system, chickens are:  they are hard little workers who till the soil with their constant scratching (working on soil friability) , eat the slugs, snails and bugs left over by a previous crop (pest control), scratch up weeds and sometimes eat them (weed control) and fertilize the soil with their poops.  And the eggs of course, are an added bonus.  Well, I managed to convince Mike of the benefits of these little workers instead of him having to do it all.  And the eggs?  Well, if they do lay eggs, then Shanti, our cat loves to eat a raw yolk once a week.  The rest can be gifted away to  neighbours to keep them happy.  Okay, says Mike, who will build the chook tractor?  (This is a term for a moveable chicken run, that fits over spent vegetable beds, for the chickens to perform their magic.)

Chook Tractor designed to fit exactly over our raised veg beds.

Enter our wonderful Helpxchange guests, Liz and Spencer, from the UK.  On arrival, I flippantly mention the arduous task of building a chook tractor, and undaunted, Spencer proceeds to measure out our beds and design and build a Deluxe Chook Tractor, entirely out of recycled wood salvaged from our woodstore and shed!!  Nails, screws, hinges, chicken wire and latch cost under $40!!  There is a little mezzanine sleeping quarters, which has a little door opening out, so we can change their bedding (straw) and check for eggs.  This he completed within 4 days!  Suddenly, the realization, what about the chooks?  A chance calls from my good friend, Gina, and when I ask if she knows where I can get bantams from, she tells me I can have 2 of her half-bantams destined for the pot!  Now I know I have karma with these two chooks - I have to take them and save them from being eaten!  Liz and Spencer are also excited and we bide our time impatiently, till Friday, when we can go and collect them.  Liz asks if I will name the chooks after them, and I agree, pointing out that they are both girl hens - no problem, she says, Spencer is fine with that.
A pair of good looking chooks - Liz and Spencer!

"Liz and Spence" arrive in a little box and we introduce them to their new deluxe home where they immediately start to scratch around.............. ooops!  Suddenly, my heart falls to the ground as I hear their little calls....Prrrrrrrrrrrrrrk, prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrkeke, prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrkeke!  Oh, no!  What about the neighbours!  We try to shush the chooks but they are oblivious to my panicked state as I suddenly think about Council bylaws............ eeek!  I forgot to actually investigate whether or not we are allowed to keep chooks in suburbia!   Mike senses my panic and assures me the best way to get neighbours on side, is to talk about it.  So he informs our closest neighbour of our chooks but they already know about them, having heard them and the dear old lady says:  "You're not allowed to keep chickens in your back yard!  The council won't allow it!"

Day 1, our chook tractor in the orchard

"Oh, @#$%!" I say, full of dismay!  I spend the rest of the day feeling really sorry that I will have to give up these cute little speckled half-bantams and their deluxe home!   Each time they communicate, I glare in their direction and will them to stop calling out, via telepathic airwaves, but it isn't working.  By lunchtime, I am completely neurotic, anticipating each chook call and angry neighbours beating on our door to complain!  Mike runs down the stairs with a look of excitement..........."Great news!  We can keep the chooks!  I've just read the Council bylaws for keeping poultry and we're allowed to!"  Jubilation!  Now I can relax and enjoy our girls, Liz and Spence.
Liz and Spence, the little half-bantam ladies

Day 3 and no sign of eggs yet but I bet they are just settling in.  Not that we need the eggs, but I just anticipate that thrill of finding one in the sleeping box!  I'll keep you posted.............

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Images of the first week of September

This is the first week of Spring and I'm taking full advantage of the good weather!  Our next helpxchange helpers from the UK, Liz and Spencer, arrived today.  I have a great little project in mind for them - the building of a chook tractor!  We shall see.....
I spent much of my morning sowing more seeds into trays, labelling them and feeling that buzz of excitement that this season brings with it.  The promise of great things to come:  Basil pesto's, tomato salads, grilled capsicums and eggplants, caponata (olives, capers, eggplant and tomato dish), green beans with butter melted on top.................  taste delights!  I sowed 2 lots of beans (one yellow, the other green) underneath our new bean wigwams (bamboo stakes pitched together to create a wig-wam shape, on which the beans can grow up and around), sweetpeas to attract the butterflies and bees, nasturtiums under the fruit trees to repel the nasty insects, asparagus (yes, you can grow them from seed), artichokes, tomatoes, capsicums, gazanias (flowers to remind me of South Africa), sunflowers (lots, so I can plant them in a clump), cauliflower (to make Aloo Gobi with), peas (directly under the trellis they will grow up on), crystal apple cucumber, caper bush (hope they germinate) and okra (ladies fingers used in Indian cooking).  There was a lone ring-necked dove eating seeds which Mike puts out for them every second day, and foraging among the grass for titbits we throw out.  It is so tame, I walk within half a meter of it and it does not even side-step away!  Our cat knows she is not allowed to chase them and she eyes them but never acts upon her instincts.  I am delighted we have bred a bird-proof cat!  We have always admonished her if she looked as if she was setting herself up for the attack.

I mulched the garlic crop today with compost.  They are doing great but I know that they are gross feeders in order to make great big bulbs that will last through the year till the next crop is harvested!  Last year I tried a different location in the orchard and the crop was poor - not as big and healthy as previous years - partly, I think, because the soil was not fertile enough, and they also didn't get "fed" often enough with compost and compost teas.  I noticed our compost I was spreading, was teaming with thousands of worms - I think it is the new addition of pony poos which we are adding.  A local guy who works in the hardware store has ponies and a huge hill of poop which he is only to happy to deliver a few bags at a time, free of charge!  You know what they say about one man's junk is another man's treasure.  Same for pony poop.
So below are merely some photos documenting the scenes in the garden, rather than a blog about what is happening currently in the garden.

After suffering the usual winter and frost temperatures,
 my potted mint has made a miraculous comeback!

Our first early citrus tree has all but fed us through the long,
cold winter.  Now this later variety, smaller and not as sweet, is
waiting to be harvested.

The last of the pumpkins - we have about 5 left.

Our strawberry patch is looking tidy after becoming
totally overgrown over winter.  Ready to "spring forth".
It is located behind our shed, along a little alleyway,
which made it easy to "bird-proof".  The sun reflects off of
 the wall to create a warm little micro-climate.

A new pathway through the orchard, awaiting some mulch or
sawdust from our carpenter friend.  Another great free gift!

Mid-winter sown broadbeans awaiting pollination by bees...
You either love or hate these little guys..... it has taken 4 years
for my tastebuds  to accept them! 

A late daffy - most all of my daffodils bloom in winter
The majority  have not the patience to wait for Spring!!

A birdhouse awaiting occupation....  Every Spring, I make another
birdhouse.  We have 5 already awaiting occupation.  I have the
sixth cut out, ready to be put together.

One of my many bird feeding contraptions - there are spikes inside
to impale fruit on for the little White-Eyes.

The pathway to the herb garden, lined with lavender
Always a fragrant walk as we brush past the lavender bushes!

Our herb  garden is still sleeping but we grow sage, basil, parsley
rosemary, thyme, chives, stevia and oreganum.

The path to the compost bin - an essential aspect of organic
growing!  The worm farm is the little black stack next to the wall.

One of my lovely signs made by Julee from Germany!

The smell of freezias to delight the senses, just outside our front door.

These little snowbells have sprung up under my late-fruiting orange tree.