Elderflowers and pomegranates.

Well this first pic has absolutely nothing to do with pomegranates or elderflowers but I always get excited when I play with compost. We are starting to sort out the area down the west side of the house where the clothesline is and up until now I’ve had one of my 6 compost bins there. This needed to be moved to make way for a couple of garden beds for espaliers and so we can put toppings on the ground. This is the area I mean. The espaliered pear on the left is the one I planted in 2012 before we moved in. This is the thumbnail pic of way back then. So anyway, compost out of the way, now Mr ATMT could get busy building beds and shovelling crushed rock. Just about tamed this area now and the soil certainly smells a whole lot better than it did when we started out. It doesn’t look anywhere near as ‘nursing home’ as this in reality! Trust me.

This is the area when we purchased. No sunlight had touched the house for years and everything was mouldy, damp, smelly and even though it had that ‘old world charm’ feel to it it was pretty gross. We also had fencing installed between us and our immediate neighbour.

So on to elderflowers and pomegranates!

One of the first things I planted was what I had bought as an elderflower plant. The goal was to screen and offer protection from summer afternoon sun to the chook house and to create wonderful cordials and beverages. Sadly this plant has only reached one of these objectives. It has worked extremely well protecting the chook house but sadly not one berry to be had and the cordial I made from the (very pretty) flowers tasted of freshly chopped grass. Time to rethink me thinks.

I’ve started the cut back here so the winter sun can reach the chook house. This plant shoots back amazingly well.

This pic shows the floret remains where berries should form, or so I think. These are the very pretty flowers that adorn the bush prolifically but according to some lovely visitors we had at our food gardens open day, they didn’t have the right fragrance. They were quite experienced in elderflowers apparently so I’ve started to wonder if we actually have a legitimate variety. Further investigation to take place now as I love the idea of elderflower champagne.  I planted a little pomegranate bush near the doors of the greenhouse last season and it is just going nuts. I absolutely love everything about pomegranates, and will be beside myself if we actually get to harvest a homegrown one. The bush has been continually in flower for a  while so Ive been giving the flowers a tickle with a little paint brush between male and female flowers in the hope pollination will be more successful. Well, lookie here! I do believe we may actually have a baby pom in the making. I’ve found another 2 now so these are going to be watched closely to see what evolves. I have such fond memories of fresh pomegranate juice at all the roadside stalls throughout Turkey.

And a couple of tag alongs!

The coriander I have been drying to save seed from is now ready to be thrashed to separate the seeds. I always feel a little bit clever when something so easy takes place. I get better results growing it for seed than I do as a herb as it just seems to bolt quickly. The grapes in the berry house are turning in colour. These grapes taste of passionfruit and are absolutely delicious. Just need to make sure there are absolutely no little points of access for the birds who think they are delicious too. Then there is this! I planted some pumpkin seeds I had saved from a perfectly normal looking butternut pumpkin and this is whats growing. I’m going to let it continue and see what evolves, it may be something stunning. We’ll wait and see. So that’s the little catch up, if you have any knowledge about elderflowers varieties, pomegranates or dodgy looking pumpkin plants I’d love to hear from you.

Converting Tomatoes.

In between having a lovely (although short), overnight Easter camping get together, I have been converting tomatoes into pickles and soup and making stock from scraps from the soup and what I had saved in the freezer.  I was delighted last week to find when I got home, a large box of Periform Abruzzo tomatoes sitting on my verandah. Two years ago, I gave George from Tarra Valley Foods  some of this variety and he saved some seed and has had wonderful success saying the yield has been great. How lovely of him to pass on some of his harvest back to me. If ever you are heading east on the Princes Highway and go through Rosedale, call in and sample (and buy) some of George and Jenny’s beautiful preserves. They also enjoy a chat and would make you feel most welcome.

So these tomatoes were converted into:

Tomato Pickles.

This Tomato Pickles Recipe was given to me a couple of years ago and it has turned into a family favourite. I rarely make tomato sauce anymore as this pickle can be used in so many ways we prefer it and you can knock some up pretty easily. Tomatoes and onions chopped and brined overnight (this is a double batch).IMG_6722 Hopefully this will be the last season I’ll need to resort to this method for cooking. Actually I can guarantee it will be the last, coz if I don’t have the new kitchen next year I won’t be making anything! Brown vinegar, sugar and spices cooked with tomatoes and onions. When cooked for about 40 mins I added a couple of tablespoons of cornflour (real, not wheat) to maintain its gluten free title.

Gas burner verandahThe pickle is then bottled. I did cut back the sugar content by about a third and we find it still quite sweet but not too much so.Tomato Pickles

Tomato Soup

I read on Francesca’s blog a couple of weeks ago about her ‘Moulin Rouge retro Tomato Soup’ and it really appealed to me so on went a batch of that. Francesca used a Mouli to press (puree) the cooked ingredients but I used my tomato passata processor and it worked well. Happy, mine isn’t as pretty as Francesca’s but it tastes lovely and we now have quite a decent stash of ready to go meals in the freezer.

Here are the veggies cooking and the last of my home-made stock going in to the pot.

IMG_6738I ran all the cooked goodies through the tomato mill a couple of times to get the maximum flavour possible extracted.IMG_6748Then into freezer containers (reclaimed take away meal boxes) for a rainy day. When I cook/reheat this I will add some fresh basil and white pepper before serving.

IMG_6749As I said, not as pretty but I was very happy with the taste. We added a dollop of greek yogurt and it was a nice balance.Tomato Soup

Stock

With the end bits of what went into the soup, a few of the onion skins and tops and tails from the pickles plus having used up the last of my stock in the soup, it was time to make up some more stock. This is so satisfying and I haven’t bought stock for years now. It is so easy. As you prepare dishes any trimmings or bones etc just get tossed into a bag or container in the freezer and you add to it every time you have some. when the bag is full, pop the whole lot into the slow cooker (not the bag!) with some peppercorns (I don’t add salt) and let it simmer away overnight.

Slow cooker stockI notice this bag also had a chicken carcass in it from a roast chicken.

IMG_6737I now have about 5 litres of beautiful stock that I know what is in. The chook has had a great feed of pickings and the remainder of the cooked matter will go into the compost. Win, win all round!

Dehydrating

Years ago my friend bought a dryer and I have used it most seasons since to dry something or another. I usually do tomatoes then store them in Spanish olive oil with garlic and chilli and we eat them as a snack. This year though I am making tomato powder. I did this years ago and it was quite good. You dry the tomatoes really well then blitz in a processor and store the powder in a good air tight container and use it for seasoning as needed.

Drying tomatoesThe tomatoes after 6 hours in the dryer.

IMG_6755I love doing this with bananas. Buy them when cheap, slice and dip in lemon juice, dry and munch, munch, munch!

Last but not least-Seed saving

I put all of the dodgy bits of tomatoes and rough tops and bottoms into a bowl. There were loads of seed in some of them so I filled the bowl with water and will let them ferment for a few days then I will separate the seed from the pulp and dry and store the seed. Once the seed is removed the rest will go into the compost and the whole cycle begins again.

IMG_6760Next week or so will be passata time! Now that’s a fun thing to do in a limited kitchen. What are some of your best tomato saving tips?

 

Can’t think of a title for this post!

I was trying to come up with a catchy title for this post but it just didn’t happen. I had toyed with Friends, food and ….mmmm, got stuck, fun, friends and ……. stuck again. SO here it is, the post without a title! We had a lovely evening at a friends home in the Dandenong Ranges on Saturday night. There is something soulful about getting together with people who you can relax with, share ideas with and most importantly, have so many of the most wonderful belly laughs that it hurts! I wanted to take an offering so with the batch of sourdough I was working on I decided to make a couple of sourdough bread sticks to take. Should have proved a little longer but it just had to go on due to time restraints. As most of you know, I have limited cooking facilities so these were baked in the outdoor BBQ with the hood closed. I was very happy with these, the crust was crunchy, the crumb soft with a good flavour, sort of came out with a ciabatta style structure. This was sliced and we ate it slathered with beetroot relish and brie cheese. Very nice! My friend had made some Georgian cheese bread which is similar to puri and it was lovely, rich, but soft and full of flavour. Sourdough ciabatta bread sticksThe bay tree I’m working on establishing as a ball top with a straight stem needed some straightening so I bound it up with soft tie and cleaned any side shoots off. It’s at the right height now so I pinched the top out and will keep trimming to get the desired result.IMG_5622 Mr ATMT started extending the veggie garden path to where it will finish at the old stables. Neatened things up and now just need to infill the pavers with toppings.IMG_5627My garlic is going really well, This lot is planted in a separate box in the garden,IMG_5629 And this lot is in the asparagus bed. I’m a little concerned that the asparagus hasn’t yet started showing and I have read that garlic and asparagus shouldn’t be planted together. Waiting game now to see what eventuates.garlicThe succession planting of the broccoli is coming on nicely,IMG_5647 I pulled the last scrappy beetroot and will make some relish from these as they aren’t pretty enough to serve whole. Couple of baby parsnips here too that I pulled to see how they are progressing.IMG_5650 IMG_5632I put an old sewing machine base in the vegi patch and plonked a surplus sink onto it. This is proving to be a great asset as a workbench, potting bench and I can chuck stuff into the sink and hose it off before bringing it inside. I’m considering adding a foot pump or caravan sink type water tap to it to add to its use. IMG_5648 I’ve bagged the kale seed heads to keep the seed,IMG_5637 Such a lovely afternoon the workers downed tools and enjoyed the sun too!IMG_5635The backyard is shaping up nicely. Mt ATMT top dressed a few patches in the grass and put down some new lawn seed. Last time he’s says, it will have to fend for itself now. Let’s wait and see how that pans out!

Planning & plantings.

With the school term break upon me, once I recuperate from the incredibly heavy-duty term and the massive task its been getting through the EOFY (End of Financial Year) this year,  I will have time to get a few jobs done both inside and outside. Although, if the weather stays like this it may be mostly inside I think!

I made a start at the weekend mainly because I had a lot of seedlings I started a while ago that should have been tended to. They were looking a bit sad and in dire need to spread their roots, I was determined they would not be wasted so spent a fair amount of time planting. There is a mix of coneflower, various poppies and other cottage garden plants in this lot. SeedlingsIt’s not the planting that takes the time, it’s all the other jobs you find along the way, such as trimming back perennial clumps (the hedge trimmer is great for this), dividing and thinning out plants, weeding, trimming suckers off the magnolia and feeding and adding compost to the bed.IMG_4500Hopefully, this bed will be full of cheery, bee loving flowers in spring and summer.

IMG_4533Time to check through the seed packets and plan what I need to use and what needs to be started at this time of year. Any old seed will go in, might only work as green manure, micro greens or chook food. Nothing goes to waste-it’s better to try to get some sort of return from it than to throw it away! All my attempts to be really organised and systematic with seed just seems to head out the window when I see something I like or someone offers to share!

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Reclaimed bricks

Our neighbours demolished an old garage and generously offered all the old red bricks to us. They’ve been stacked out the front for a while and needed cleaning, a job Mr ATMT started at the weekend. They are still stacked in the front yard, but mostly ready for using in various landscaping projects we have planned.

IMG_4507A few of the other jobs I have planned for the break are:

  • Put new wire on the chook house-small enough so sparrows don’t treat it like a smorgasbord fly through restaurant!
  • Set the greenhouse up so I have much better growing space. Thinking of putting a couple of wicking beds in there.
  • Clearly mark out fence line around veggie patch-Design gate and fence
  • Plan fruit tree planting sites and plant
  • Set up new bench in berry house for the strawberries
  • Clean up the strawberry pots, plant up runners and top up with good compost etc
  • Clean out the old stables/shed
  • Sort out back corner of yard where old timber and building stuff is stored
  • Build some potato planting boxes
  • Succession planting in the veggie patch beds.
  • Put more support wire over broad beans
  • Give the worm farm a service-take out castings and generally refresh it.
  • Clean up the garden shed and give the tools an oil, sharpen and sort out.

Gee, getting tired just thinking about it. Haven’t covered much in the way of inside reno jobs have I! If it’s too crappy outside I will endeavour to get the hallway wallpaper finished ready for painting and work out a colour scheme for the front ‘snug’. Piece of cake really!

 

 

Hot, hot and more hot!

With yet another sweltering day here in Victoria Australia, it is more about survival of existing crops, plants, pets and people rather than establishing new plantings and doing succession crops. The temperature hit 38 today and is forecast to hit 39 tomorrow. Up until now the evenings have been dropping back to 18-20 so the house has had a chance to cool, the crops have been able to drink up their water  the wicking beds have stored and we have been able to get a decent (relatively) nights sleep. Changing now though, with the current temperature still at 28 and not predicted to drop until early morning. Not looking forward to a hot day at school with tired and hot kids and staff and no way of cooling off.

Seed Saving

I was suffering from a bit of a troubled tummy on Saturday so I was happy to just sit inside and do some seed storing from collected plants. Take my hat off to the way mother nature creates poppy-seed heads, they are beautiful artistically designed heads with little holes under the umbrella top so that seed can scatter. I stored some purple hollyhock, coriander, oriental poppy and a couple of varieties of Aquilegia (granny’s bonnets) seed for both starting new plants and using the surplus for swapping.

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I also planted up some beetroot seed I had started inside that have sprouted. I never seem to have a lot of luck with getting beetroot seed to germinate in the garden beds so I thought I’d try starting off inside first. I have read that they don’t like transplanting much but I’ve got nothing to lose by trying and if I do it when they are still really little it may work better. Interested to hear if anyone else has had any luck with this. I soaked the seed for 24 hours then put onto damp paper towel for a few days and I have had a great success rate. Will be interesting to see how they go once I transplant them!

Beetroot seedlings

New Sweet Potatoes (hopefully)

I posted on another blog the other day that “I was having a go at starting some sweet potato plants. Not that positive it will work, as the tubers are from the fruit market. I suspect I may have more success sourcing some organically grown ones, but well give it a crack!”

Well, I have roots appearing and the little nodules on the main body are swelling o I just may be lucky!

Sweet potato cuttings

Yay, some tomatoes!

We are finally getting some tomatoes coming in. I am a little concerned that unless the weather changes we will have a very short season. I would like (Santa) for the temp to just drop to a consistent 25-30 degrees for several weeks (about 12) so the flowers actually develop into fruit and don’t just get fried! My issue of losing name tags early in the season is now rearing its head. What I thought were cherry tomatoes are huge and what I thought should be huge are small. Don’t think I’ll rely on seed saving this season!

IMG_2733Ive also harvested some zucchini, shallots, strawberries, chillies, spring onions, cucumbers and various herbs.

Cool relief!

We are so lucky to have a friend whose farm allows access to the loveliest little oasis which is perfect to go to when the weather is so bloody awful. We spent today playing like kids in a delightful lolly shop, good food, great company, bad outboard motor on the HMS Hunter, but the tyre tubes and air boat came good!

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It was such a lovely night on the river bank that we didn’t want to leave!

IMG_2782But we did and I’m here doing this blog post in a hot house, but at least the outside temperature has dropped to 24. Stay cool everyone!

The one I forgot!

In last weeks post I mentioned that in the garden I had a special thing to show but had forgotten to take a photo. I’m proud, excited and really looking forward to seeing what these taste like. I attended a grafting workshop 2 seasons ago and grafted  this cherry myself. Supposed to be a smaller rootstock so overall tree won’t get too large. So happy to see such jewels  appearing. IMG_2011

IMG_2008These exclusion bags have proven to be very handy. I’ve used them on tomatoes, mulberries, mandarins and now cherries. I have also put some on the heads of plants that are setting seed and will see how they go as seed saving bags.

Heronswood

Its been a busy weekend travelling all over the place for family functions so there’s not much to report. I did have a lovely day today visiting the historic homestead and magnificent organic gardens of Heronswood, the headquarters of Diggers Seeds.  Diggers Seeds is a company that supplies heritage and organic seeds and plants and they are active champions for seed saving and keeping our food chain free from GM produce. They have subscriptions you can pay for in order to get detailed seasonal catalogues and be eligible for members discounted prices. I wasn’t going to renew my membership but because I really like their commitment to the cause and the amount of work it would take to maintain both the gardens and property which is a vital part of Melbourne’s history, I did renew. Well worth a visit if you are on the Mornington Peninsula and worth going seasonally to see how things change through the year.

Heronswood

Wrong, wrong, wrong! In  more ways than one.

I’m sorry Mr/Ms Coles, but what you are selling as Raisins are in fact Sultanas!

Raisins that aren't

Not very impressed when I opened the packet of ‘Raisins’ to add to my other Christmas Pudding  fruit soaking in port. Lodged a complaint Monday have had no response back. I believe some parts of the world do classify sultanas as raisins but here in Australia, raisins have been big, fat, juicy fruits since I was born and I’d reckon a hell of a long time before that! Is this another example of American indoctrination that we have to contend with?

Need to rest up from a busy social weekend so hopefully there will be more to report next week!