Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The week that was....

What a fantastic week we have had with our new helpx friends, Sinnead and Mark!  They arrived from Ireland and settled into our family life with such ease.  We felt such a kindred spirit with them.  Inquiring minds and open hearts!  And Trojan workers!  I had a list of things to do over the week and arrived home the first day to discover they had completed them all!  By their own account, it was an intense week.  When we open our doors to strangers, and are willing to share our lives without playing a part on stage, barriers are quickly dispensed with and we discover the people at the core.  Their  true essence.  Discovering that we are the Same.  Fascinating.  Wonderful.  The World of Helpxchange.  A great way to meet friends and get help around the home and garden.  

2 spent, overgrown strawberry beds were uprooted, sheep poos applied, ground leveled and replanted. Voila!  A job that needed to be urgently done and one which I had been avoiding like the plague!  Not sure why, but then I don't need to worry about it any more, and we can look forward to another bumper crop of strawberries next spring.  Our friends cooked, they cleaned, they weeded, they composted, they moved furniture, they washed dishes, they baked, they chatted, they chopped wood..... and then some!

We realised we knew so little of their country and have done some online research since they left, to bring us up to speed on all-things-Irish (okay, just some, not all).

Our new Irish friends outside our guest cottage

Strawberry beds now ordered and prepped for
succulent spring rewards.  The stakes and upturned
pots are what we use as a frame to drape the bird
netting over for protection.
I planted an asparagus bed 4 years ago - just 12 crowns.  These beds need to be well thought out as they can crop for 15 -20 years, so planning is essential.  Ours is relegated to the East of the house, just alongside the compost bin.  The first year I patiently watched the little asparagus heads, salivated and held back from cutting them (good gardeners don't kill their plants in the first year by harvesting, so that they can establish themselves).  The second year, I harvested over a 5 week window and again held back from continual cutting (the asparagus heads are allowed to grow to fern-like stage, so that they can make food for the underground crowns and strengthen them for the next season).  Gradually you can incrementally extend your cutting season by a few weeks every year after.  Hot butter-cooked pan-seared asparagus on toast - mmmmn!  Mouth-watering!  This weekend I have planted 6 new little plants (which I had grown from seed) to extend the bed - but they will be a long time off harvesting.  Should be interesting as they are purple spears!!
I also managed to prune my bay tree so that one can approach it without having to resort to dwarf stature.  I laid a new sawdust path down the back of our orchard, and Mike helped plant up the leftover strawberry plants as a weed cover along the sides.  Perhaps they will fruit - but they will be exclusively bird fodder as we have plenty in our 2 strawberry-only beds.
I dug up on of our rhubarb plants, divided it and replanted the two plants in sunny spots, hoping for a bumper rhubarb crop next growing season.   Gave them plenty sheep poos too, to boost growth as the nutrients become available.  I usually freeze my rhubarb stalks after cooking with sugar and little water.  Then I make rhubarb slice.  I defy any kid to turn up their noses at that!

The asparagus bed prepped for Spring

Bay branches awaiting plucking before being chipped

A weed-infested path has been cleared with help from our friends.
I discovered that a palm tree we pulled out about a year ago.  It was so fibrous, that we left it to rot down near the banana plantation.  It had all but rotted away to a shell of matted fibre.  I managed to pull them clear of the trunk, coming away in sheets of woven fabric-like sheets.  Amazing!  I put them to good use, mulching the peach tree and two strelitzias, thereby hopefully adding a weed suppressing natural fibrous mat!  I shall see how successful and durable this proves to be next summer.

Home-grown weed matting

The fibrous matting up close
Images from the garden this last week:

These fuscias remind me of a ballerina on points

Over-loaded young easy-peel mandarin tree

New rhubarb mound

Daffy bulbs emerge from their long sleep.  Some are already flowering elsewhere
 in the garden.  I swear our daffodils flower a month or two earlier here than elsewhere.
 Daffies usually herald the coming spring!  We are headed straight for winter!
What's happening??

New sawdust pathway with strawberry plants planted
alongside for a novel ground cover/ weed mat

Tamarilloes ripen under their frost cloth.  A miracle they have
already survived two heavy autumn frosts!

Root harvests
And to end off, I want to share the Recycling Genius of a Creative Lady I know.  She crafted these fingerless gloves from the top of old socks!!  Embellishments make them simply gorgeous!  Who would ever guess that they were socks in a past life??  Great Gloves Michelle!  To quote Dr Seuss,  "Oh, the places you will go......."

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Rootin' Tootin' Good Times

Yellow and orange carrots, leeks and springonions
What with the arrival of colder temperatures, the garden harvests become leaner in the vegetable beds but root crops start to mature.  I have been harvesting my first carrots of the season, already a lot bigger than I thought they would be, plus Daikon Radishes.  These sneakily take root wherever Mike has wild birdseed feeding trays.  Foraging feathered friends apply the tactics of urban guerilla gardeners, sowing brassica and radish seeds as they fight for feeding space!  And we benefit with an amazing crops of accidental vegetables!  Great in soups and stews.

 Urban-Guerilla Bird Gardeners sow seeds of these Daikon Radishes
Last night I checked out the fridge - not much stored in there, so off into our garden market where I collected this odd clutch of veggies; zucchini rampicante, red chard and carrots from the weekend.  Adding in a potato, I managed to make a really yummy Indian dal and rice dish.  Easy-as.  Deliciously simple recipe and simply delicious!  So, especially for my old friend, Theresa (forgive me if I have published this before, it's a firm favourite in our house):

Odd assortment of surviving veggies make a good dal
Dal Tarkari
1 cup mung dal
8 cups water
3 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
Clean and wash dal, drain, combine all above and bring to boil.  Partially cover pot, lower to medium heat and cook for about 20 mins till dal grains are soft.  Remove any froth that collects on top.
1tspn tumeric
1Tbspn butter
2 cups chopped, assorted vegetables
Add these three ingredients and replace lid, cooking on lower heat till vegetables are tender.  Allow to simmer.
1Tbspn ghee
1 1/2 tspn cumin seeds
1/4 tspn crushed chillies
1 tspn grated fresh ginger
1/4 tspn asafetida (from Indian store)
1 Tbspn chopped fresh coriander or 1 tspn dried ground
Heat the ghee in a pan, toss in cumin seeds and crushed chillies. Add grated ginger, and asafetida and fry for a few seconds.  Swirl and tilt pan and pour seasoning into dal in one fell swoop.  Cover and allow seasonings to blend into dal for 5 mins.  Serve dal with rice and a wedge of lemon.

A good brew
My experiment of making hastened-apple cider vinegar, boosting the stakes by leaving a little vinegar in to quicken the next batch seems to be working.  Obviously helped by the fact that Mike is making us apple and carrot juice most mornings (buying 20kg organic seconds apples). A nice substitute to breakfast, drinking the live enzymes which reach the cells within 15 mins of ingestation.  Real raw, live nutrition. The apple cores are put to good use, creating a wonderful health elixir - ACV!  2 tspns in a glass of warm water and a spot of honey make a great evening drink.

Oscar juicer doing his thang - juicing for health and pleasure.
When we first built our current home 7 years ago, we couldn't really afford built-in cupboards, so we bought cheap and nasty laundry cupboards, which served our needs over the years.  We have recently decided to "upgrade" and purchased 2 similiar looking retired TV cabinets (which everyone seems to be getting rid of for flat screen LCD TV's).  Our score.  We managed to purchase one online for $150 and the other for the high price of $60!  The plan was to add a rail inside the cupboard which would have housed the fat-as TV's for hanging space.  Well, nice idea, but in reality, not enough space for hanging clothes.  So our newly installed TV cabinets look fantastic, but we have to do away with any thought of nicely hung, crease-free clothes.  Oh well, could have been worse!  The crazy thing is that although the cupboards are slightly different, I bought them for their similarities.  On arrival, one coming from Auckland, the other from Wellington, we discovered a little emblem at the bottom - they are both made in the same factory!!  How's that for co-incidence?

Fairy Apple Jelly
have made the first batch of crab apple jelly from left over crab apples which were donated to our kindergarten by a kindly neighbour.  Never saw them before and not sure why they are called crab apples, they look like miniature apples - a more apt name would be fairy apples.  We made a batch at kindergarten and then I took the rest home to repeat the experience, so chuffed by the success of the jelly-making experience at kindergarten.  I have made heaps of jams before - simplest jam recipe is to add a cup of sugar to a cup of fruit and boil until setting point is reached (I use organic golden sugar, and try to use 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup fruit).
I thought jelly-making was going to prove to be difficult but no-siree!  Easy-as!  The crab apples are halved, topped up with water to just cover, then boiled furiously for 20 mins.  Then all is packed into a muslin bag and hung up to sieve the liquid from the pulp.  The most difficult thing is to hang it somewhere and catch all the liquid.  My efforts were accidents waiting to happen - a real balancing act. Then one adds 1 cup of sugar to each cup of juice and this is then boiled until setting point is reached.  Easy Peasy.

The final and last of the green olives have been herbed, brined and bottled.  Look great!  Hope they taste as good once they are opened.  Sob!!  Will have to wait 3 months before we can taste - no wonder olives are expensive!  It's a labour-intensive, waiting game!!
I made our first pumpkin soup the other night - wow!  Few condiments, little salt, nothing more than pumpkin, water and  half a jar of coconut milk.  Buzzed till smooth with a hand blender and Mwah!  Stunning.

Fairy Apple Jelly

Final batch of green olives bottled and awaiting maturation.

Not sure what this pumpkin is called, as it comes from seed I have collected
over the years but is is bright orange, with a greyish green skin.  A fully realised
flavour.  Beaut!

Our wonderful helpers who arrived to help us make sense of the chaos!
So with help arriving in the form of 2 wonderful Irish folk, we set about making good use of all the good weather - icy mornings and evenings but stunning, sunny days.  Long may they last!  I have a list of things to do................

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Painting for pleasure and composting comfrey

Painting for Pleasure.  That's what I term painting a picture on canvas, for no other reason than wanting to.  Not like painting because a room needs an infusion of colour.  That's a different kind of painting.  
I had a little dilemma.  A friend's birthday.  A shopping trip weilded nothing that I quite felt was right.  So spying a painting of a buddha, I had one of those "Aha!" moments.  What about painting a picture for her?  Seemed like a good idea.  But what?  I knew she loved all-things-Indian, so something in that genre.  Then it came to me - I'll paint an Indian elephant.  But I can't draw an elephant just like that!  So I went and googled images of Indian elephants and found 2 that I liked.  One to give me a basic shape and stance, the other to inspire patterns.

No gesso to seal the canvas?  No problem!  My canvas was hastily primed with gibboard sealer, 2 coats and then I began, filled with an air of adventure.  As my elephant shape unfolded, it became a project of discovery.  Throwing caution to the wind, I grabbed the first pot of paint that caught my eye.  Test pots of acrylic paint collected over the years.  A background of orange-red slapped on with gay abandon.

Then came the dangerous part.  Once I had mixed up some grey, I started to really let myself go.  Gold.  I must have a touch of magpie within me.  I just love gold - it conjures up an impression of richness and gaudiness in the same breath.  The OTT factor.  I had to really hold back!  My magestic fella was endowed with golden toenails and head-dress.  Stop now, while you are still ahead, I had to keep on telling myself.  So I packed it in for the night.  

A couple of days later, I trusted myself to finish the painting.  Just as well.  In this time, I managed to establish the fact that my friend's new kitchen colour infusion was orange, not red!  Ooops, can't change the red background at this stage, but I could add some orange to the elephants shawl!  Hooray, a personalised present for a special friend.  A little garish, but then definitely Indian inspired.  No other like it.  It is easy to create special gifts for others with just a little fore thought and planning.  Even if it is just a few days before!  And one doesn't even need to be an artist, just to have a little flair for creating and for having fun!

And on an entirely different note, Compost Tea Making:

Every month I make up a new brew of compost tea, most often, Comfrey tea.  I fill a 10L bucket with sealable lid, with as much comfrey leaves as is possible to fit in (use gloves to avoid the prickles and tear the leaves, packing them in tightly).  Fill the bucket with water and seal.  Leave this to brew over 4-5 weeks and stir.  When you open and stir, the smell hits you in the tummy like a sledgehammer and in no time at all, the flies from a 4km radius screech in to buzz in excitement around the heady brew.  I filter the mix through an old metal sieve to remove all the solid sludge and decant the liquid into a plastic 20L drum (with lid).  Later on, during the Lunar Calendar compost feeding window, I make up a weaker solution of this foul-smelling potassium-rich liquid and feed all my veg beds with a light watering.  Potassium is responsible for flower, seed and fruit production.  Smelly work but beats working with chemical fertilisers.  Several handwashes later, the smell is almost non-existant!

Comfrey leaves steeped in water

I grow comfey under most of my fruit trees - as the leaves die
and decompose, they feed their nutrients back into the soil.
Their long tap roots also mine all the wonderful nutrients from
deep, deep down, not normally accessible to ordinary plant roots.

Old 20L shop containers make great storage
containers for an assortment of liquid feeds.
A plastic tap allows for easy decanting of the
liquid gold.
Ripe olive

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Bamboo, Bumblebees, Plastic and Preserves

A snapshot of the deity that watches over us in our living room
Listening to Deva Premal and Miten, which I chanced upon on Youtube.  Great devotional music, as I write my blog.   Full moon.  I have slept surprisingly well, considering my normal pattern of wakefulness over full moon phase.
A weekend of preserving!  Or so it felt like.  Made 5 small bottles of feijoa jam and 3 large bottles of Tamarillo chutney.  A wonderful feeling when all fruit and vegetables come from the garden!  I thought I was being super-clever by using cellophane covers to seal my chutney but CURSE!  They didn't seal properly - am still novice at using them and I think I pulled them too taut accross the tops and so will have to refrigerate them instead of storing them in my preserves cupboard.  Oh well, we shall be eating Tam Chutney for the next few weeks!

Tamarillo Chutney Recipe (Digby Law's)
24 tamarillos
750g apples
500g onions
600ml apple cider vinegar
1 Tbspn salt
1 1/2 tspn powdered mustard
1 tspn mixed spice (I used a blend of coriander, cumin, clove, chili, cinnamon)
1kilo brown sugar
Peel and chop tams, core and chop apples, peel and chop onions.  Add all to saucepan and simmer gently, covered for about 2 hrs, stirring often.  Pour into hot, clean jars and seal.  Makes about 2 litres.

I cut the cooking time in half by using my pressure cooker.  Sooo easy.  "Suzie Home-maker", that's what my friend calls me!  I quite like it!

Tam Chutney and Feijoa Jam 

Feijoa and Ginger Jam
1kg feijoas, peeled and sliced
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
4 cups white sugar
Place feijoas, water, lemon juice and zest in saucepan and bring to boil until fruit is soft, about 15 mins.  Gradually add sugar and bring to rapid boil, until jam reaches setting point, about 20mins.  Pour into warmed, sterilized jars, cool then seal.  Makes about 6-8 cups.

I doubled the quantity of fruit, added 2 extra cups sugar and added about 1/4 cup of crystallized ginger then buzzed the jam with my hand blender till smooth. My family confirmed with a taste test - delish!

OLIVES: The next batch of black Manzanilla olives have been bottled in brine, olive oil and herbs.  They have been rinsed in cold water every day for 20 days.  I will leave the greens for a further 10 days before bottling as they still taste extremely bitter.
Next batch of 20 day water-cured olives.  Can't wait to try them out!
GARDEN: The feijoas are coming to an end but the little red cherry guavas are coming into grand production.  I picked about 1 1/2 kilos on the weekend.  My son returned home for the weekend and headed back to uni with a big bagful to boost his Vitamin C intake (along with Tam Chutney and Feijoa Jam).  Nature is wonderful, providing us with exactly what we need at each new season's arrival.  I picked a small bowl of chillis, not quite enough to make Thai Chilli sauce but enough to dehydrate and grind into chilli powder.
Extraordinary delectable guavas...
Assorted chillies in the dehydrator

A trayful makes just one small half-jar, but there's  a sting in
them thar small flakes....  A little will go a long way.
We have discovered the most wonderful waste-busting invention!  Well, actually my eco-aware work friend discovered them first and bought a couple of boxes as a kindergarten fundraiser: Bamboo Toothbrushes!  They are simply the best!  Their tapered bristles get right into all the crevices with ease.  Soft and super efficient!  Spread the word!  Unlike plastic toothbrushes that crowd out our already bursting-at-the-seams landfills, bamboo toothbrushes can be thrown into your compost bin!  Exposed to the usual micro-organisms in a compost bin, the nylon bristles will also totally biodegrade within 3-4 months!  End of unsightly plastic throw away toothbrushes. Yeeha!  Apparently 57 000 plastic ones are thrown away each year in NZ and Australia alone!!  That's a lot of plastic!  The Bamboo toothbrush website have great links to info on plastic pollution like the one on The Magestic Plastic Bag, a mockumentary.  And toothpaste?  We use Weleda's Calendula Toothpaste - brushing teeth just got elevated up there to oral super-sensory-stimulation!

I also make my own hair oil, have done for some years now.  Hair oil?  What's that??  Well, for those with oily hair, you might want to skip this part.  You definitely don't need this product!  But for people like me who endure dry, coarse, frizzy hair, hair oil is The thing to use!  I make up a small bottle of organic cold-pressed sesame seed oil, add a few drop of essential oil that takes my fancy at the moment of making, give it a shake and Voila!  A teaspoonful is massaged into the hands and rubbed through the hair to produce a more "controlled" look.  Not that you can totally control dry, curly hair!!  But it works much better than conditioner.  And totally natural.  The scalp is so close to our body computer - the brain;-  the less chemicals up there, the better!
Our beautiful, earth-friendly, user-pleasing new bamboo

And while I am singing the praises of the Bamboo Toothbrush company, I would also like to mention Sistema, another great NZ company who puts out plastic food containers as well as stainless steel drink bottles.  I dropped mine on it's head and broke the sipper part, rang them up to see if I could get a replacement and they posted 2 sipper tops, free of charge!  Now that's sustainable!!  And worth spreading the good word.  In the Brick bats and Bouquet awards, this is definitely a bouquet!

And now, the Humble Bumblebee.....

Cute little bumble bee spied curled up on my pumpkin in the
late Autumn afternoon sun.
One of my next shed projects will be to make a bumblebee nesting box and see if I can attract them to make a home in our garden.........such fascinating little creatures!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Bay Tree in The Bay

Our first fire for the season - what a thrill!
As the nights and mornings grow colder, we have begun to light our wonderful warming fires to keep the night-time spirits up.  There is something truly magical about a roaring full-flame fire.
We had the strangest thing happen last week.  Strange but wonderful.  We are friendly with our local Indian store owners and they know that we own a Bay tree.  Someone came in looking for fresh Bay leaves and they passed on our number.  Whilst at kindy last week, one of our mums came up hesitantly and inquired if I had a Bay tree.  When I affirmed that I did, she then sighed and said she had suspected it was me as she didn't think there were any other Jizzy's in Katikati!  Well, turned out that her husband is an exporter of herbs to Hong Kong and he needed to collect 2kg of Bay leaves urgently that day.  I laughed, imagining that  picking anything close to a kilo would take a whole day, let alone 2 kilos!  I consented to them picking and was surprised to arrive home to this amusing sight!

Bay pickers!  5 in total
Well, I hadn't counted on so many Bay pickers, and within an hour they had collected 2kg of Bay - and the best news is that we were paid $60 for our trees offering!  How exciting!  I shall use it to purchase our summer seeds!  The garden sure does pay dividends!  And not always in predictable ways!  And the Bay tree - doesn't look any worse for the wear!

This is for Jasmine Sparrow - HOW TO MAKE LIP BALM (by popular request)
On Thursday night, I whipped up a batch of lip balms and some heel balm, literally, in 10 mins.  The hardest part of making lip balm is ensuring you have all the ingredients on hand.  You need several little containers, washed and dried/sanitised in the oven (100degC for 10 mins).  I never measure anything exactly - it is just a case of intuition.
Ingredients:  (Please note - all measurements are APPROXIMATE)
 1TBSPN beeswax
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used organic cold pressed olive oil and sesame seed oil from Ceres)
5 drops peppermint/rosemary essential oils (if you can imagine eating it, then use the oils that appeal)
6 drops Rescue Remedy
Melt beeswax in small steel pot, whisk in oil gradually, remove from heat and add essential oils and Rescue Remedy.  Pour into warmed up containers (I also use little recycled sage pastille tins).  Wait to cool and set before capping.  Label and give away as gifts and keep one for yourself.  It lasts close on a year.

Lip Balm and Foot Balm
Foot Balm is made much the same way.  Solid perfume can be made in this way too, simply by increasing the drops of essential oils of your choice to about 20 - 25 drops.  I use patchouli, bergamot, geranium, rose and lavender in decreasing quantity.  Again, I never really measure too much - just "what feels right".

Another fun activity happening in my kitchen right now, alongside the curing olives, is the apple cider vinegar making.  We have been buying "seconds" organic apples and Mike juices them every morning.  What to do with the cores?  Make Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV).  Dump all the cores into a bottle filled with filtered water, remove froth that collects and any spongey old apple cores and replace with new apple cores.  Slowly the brew begins to ferment to the point when you can smell exactly what is being created - and a final taste test will determine the strength.  5-7 weeks does the trick.  I am experimenting with shortening that time by leaving a little ACV in the bottle and refilling with water to start a second batch.  Seems to be working just fine!

On left, a recycled Braggs ACV bottle filled with "home brew"
On the right, I have left some old mix behind to accelerate a new batch

Small red cherry guavas bursting with tropical flavour
A great Autumn fruit filled with Vitamin C to boost the immune
system against invading winter viruses

Some of our feijoas are rather large

Still harvesting feijoas, the bigger ones are dehydrated for winter
supplies - they taste like candy!

What to do with overgrown Rosemary?
So exactly what do you do with an abundance of Rosemary?  Well, the miracle of Google is still an amazing tool in sharing information.  Not only can you make a tea for rinsing hair, but you can also make mini-wreaths.  So I did.  Several, in fact!  Not terribly sure what you do with a Rosemary wreath, but there you go - my motto is always give something a go once, at least!  And no, I don't think I will try surfing at this grand old age.  Just not my thang!

Double Rosemary wreath

It was rather a pleasant, aromatic outdoor activity.
This last weekend Mike and I planted out a bed of garlic that the chooks had just vacated.  Usually we grow enough to last a year of culinary garlicking, as well as enough to plant out for the following year.  However, our last crop was not that successful.  In fact, it was a dismal failure!  So Mike bought a few bulbs of organic garlic - fat, juicy ones.  Usually we also follow the advice of planting them out on the shortest day in winter, and harvest on the longest day in summer.  This time we are cheating - planting out now while there is still some lovely warm sunny weather and hopefully  this will kick-start their growth.  Grow little garlics, grow!
Another experiment is unfolding - we were given a bag of ginger that was all wrinkled.  Nothing wrong with it, just a little past Best Before.  I have planted out a bed of ginger - it will be very, very exciting if it is successful!  Apparently garlic is not a root crop (ascertained so that I could schedule it into a crop rotation plan) but that the bulb is really a rhizome, a modified stem!  There is nothing like a cup of Rooibos tea with a slice of ginger added for effect - mmmn.  Or a smidgeon squeezed through the juicer into apple/carrot juice blend.

We are collecting a basketful of fruit a day - feijoas, guavas & tamarillos

Cherry Guavas netted against marauding birds
This tree is like a candy shop for birds, they LOVE guavas!
We have planted a corridor of red and yellow cherry guavas, the yellow ones ripen much later, giving an extended picking season.  The yellow ones are sweeter and slightly larger.  The gravity bound fruit usually tends to end up growing several little guava plants, which are easily transplanted out as we have done, and given away.  I love to give fruit plants away to people - it is a gift which keeps on giving, year after year!

Delightful jewel-like orbs encrust our little guava bush

These little delights won't last long on the journey to the kitchen

Feijoa Factory ....... smaller specimens are utilised in crumbles,
purees, baking and of course, eating.

A feijoa crumble to be baked, alongside a bottle of feijoa puree

First batch of bottled olives, with rosemary, lemon slices, coriander
and Bay leaves
On the Forgotten Spring Project, things are spiralling into control (no, not out) with amazing synchronicity, but more about that in another blog.  Exciting times ahead!

Could I have invented the World's First Organic Flea Collar?
Could call it the Ceasar Collar......