Plight of the humble bee.

The bee is one of nature’s most amazing creatures. Its social habitat, ability to pollinate a huge variety of food plants and the production of their beautiful honey is just some of their interesting factors. Unfortunately, worldwide bee populations  are under threat. Indiscriminate use of pesticides and fungicides  are leading to a massive reduction in bee colonies. Viruses and diseases are taking their toll and some consider genetically modified crops are adding to reducing resistance to these diseases. It is with this in mind I am conscious of planting many ‘bee friendly’ plants in our garden. We should all be mindful of these great agricultural helpers who reportedly travel an average 800km in their lifetime. Even if you are not in the position to have a garden you can help by sponsoring a beekeeper and beehive. Go to www.amazingbees.com.au and see what you can do to help. Was very happy to see this little worker on my young lavender plant.

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Spring, joy oh joy!

What a welcome start to spring! The weather this weekend was absolutely beautiful. Sunny, light breeze, bees a buzzing and great for getting stuck into jobs in the garden/yard.

With the chooks being confined to their house more, I thought it best to have a dust bath in there where they can do their ablutions. I grabbed an old tyre from the discard pile at a local tyre centre, trimmed top curve off and filled it with sand, some toppings from where they choose to do their bathing in the garden and some diatomaceous earth (DE). DE is a powder made from fossils and is purported to be great for mite control as well as a host of other conditions. Apparently the sharp cell structure from the diatoms of the DE kills mites. I’m all for trying to treat these things organically, so we will see how it goes.

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I’d bathe in that!

Good to see some birds

Native birds are starting to appear at our feeder, so far crimson rosella, lorikeets, king parrots and galahs. It is really interesting watching the hierarchy of them coming in to feed, they all take their turn and get very ‘snippy’ if one variety comes along at the wrong time. Although galahs aren’t our target, they are obviously spreading the word. I don’t think there have been any where near as many mynah birds recently, that’s a big bonus! Hopefully, once we get some of the bird attracting plants established we will be able to cut back on the manual feed.

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Strawberry heaven!

I planted some new strawberry plants into my self watering ‘Auto Pots’ and put them in the berry hut. These pots have a great little valve that releases nutrient enriched water into the reservoir of the pot as needed. Can go away for weeks not worrying about watering and it means the problems that sometimes crop up from overhead watering are eliminated.

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I am on the hunt for a small fridge or freezer that I can use as a stand for the nutrient solution that is in the olive drum on the pile of bricks. This drum holds approx 80 litres and feeds into the pots in 4mm tubing.

Potatoes/Spuds

My spuds have gone gang busters and grown too high for the bird proofing I installed, so I have to raise the height so when flowers form they wont be cramped. No drama just used some slightly longer bamboo stakes to elevate the poly pipe a bit.

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Dinner of a quiche made with home grown broccoli, asparagus and eggs from the girls and it was lovely testimony as to why we do this!

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No sooner than the last leaves of the oak tree have fallen, new ones are appearing. Next years compost in the making!       IMG_0548      Plasterer has finished the bedroom and hall ceiling. Photos yet to be taken but we are very happy with it!

Long Weekend

 

I love having a bit of extra time to be able to address tasks that are calling. With this weekend being an extended one, we have been able to go to Melbourne and catch up with my son and his partner, go to the Footscray market to stock up on asian cooking basics and go to some specialist shops sourcing some items that will go into the reno. All this and still home in time to do some work in the backyard where the sun is actually shining for a welcome change.

I find it very difficult getting quality supplies for asian cooking locally and the Footscray market offers a little feel of being back in Vietnam along with having great asian grocers and the most amazing fruit & veg and meat stalls. It takes a lot of willpower to not buy so much more, but experience has taught me that I end up overloading and not being able to use all the fresh things I buy, particularly now we are empty nesters! I did buy a stack of red capsicum at $3.00 kg and will have a go at roasting and storing in olive oil for future use.

Asian groceries

Spud bed finished.

The chooks have had a lovely time scratching through the compost I added to the new bed I made last weekend so I added some soil, manure and rooster booster fertiliser and planted some Dutch Cream and Kippfler potatoes. Topped off with some bird (chook) proofing and hopefully we will see some action in a few weeks.

SpudsFinished spud bed.

Manadarins

Last year I planted a mandarin tree and we have had a grand total of 4 fruit. I wasn’t going to bother testing them as they were the size of a tom bowler but today we cracked them and oh what a blast of juicy flavour! Just beautiful, I cant wait for next season.

Golf ball mandarins

The fruit

Some more edging.

Hans finished the first section of garden edging today. Really starting to see the final shape taking place, tomorrow will be planting quite a few shrubs into this bed.

Garden bed edging

The Icing in the cake!

Finally have our garage started. Frame up, roof and roller doors are on. We will be filling in the walls in a style to match the main house either rendered or a blend of render and weatherboards. Still deciding which. The main benefit of having it in situ is we can now make definite decisions on where the raspberries, garden shed, compost and chooks will have their permanent place. Very excited about that!

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Tomorrow will be busy with planning layout of vegie patch and utility area, planting trees and shrubs and cooking up some of the mushrooms I bought at the market. I read somewhere risotto works well in the slow cooker so I will give that a go. Will update on the results later.

Snagged on Snags!

I had some feedback that my comments regarding the quality of food available locally was a bit harsh so I thought I’d just clarify my point. My reference was directed mainly towards the supermarkets more so than the family businesses of which there are a few making a difference to the range but not necessarily the quality available. There are a handful of businesses who are really making a difference to the quality and range available and they are predominantly butchers rather than purveyors of general produce. I still claim that it is near on impossible to get fresh, high  quality (mostly fruit & veg) as a matter of course in most towns in Gippsland. There doesn’t appear to be the demand  by the consumer which is what I find distressing. Most people I work with or know are quite happy accepting what the majors offer without question, along with all the packaging they throw in and nothing will change while this is so. I can only keep spreading the word!

We only eat meat  couple of times a year and when we do I really want it to be a treat, not a trial. This is where lack of planning ahead can strike you down as it did with my hot potato salad last weekend. Having to rely on the local supermarket, I was sadly disappointed. I decided to prevent this happening again so today went to our excellent local butcher and stocked up on some Chorizo sausages to freeze so I wont get caught out next time, and some honey, lamb and rosemary sausages to have for dinner. Very hot day today and a good snag (sausage) and a cold beer are a match made in heaven. I wasn’t disappointed by the lamb sausages, along with gorgeous freshly picked spuds tossed in butter, parsley, mint and served with a little salad of freshly picked offerings. Oh, and a lovely cold beer of course!

Lovely looking sausages from Trafalgar Butcher Shop. Note, no nasty little plastic tray!
Honey, lamb & rosemary sausages, fresh spuds with mint, parsley and a little butter and salad made from, carrot, grated beetroot, lettuce and cherry tomatoes.

 

Small pickings

It really is very satisfying when things are at a pick-able size and you reap the rewards of patiently waiting and nurturing them into fruition . With broad beans now at their peak, I am trying to use them while they are still small enough to avoid the double peeling that larger ones need. Some of the beetroot is also ready to harvest and some young beets are following giving me  succession harvesting. Along with some silver beet, lettuce and young beetroot leaves there is a great base for a salad. I had to remove some rogue potato plants from a pathway so the young spuds were also put to good use. Fresh lemon juice, some marinated feta cheese and it was a great salad!

 

Warm Chicken Salad

I always seem to have run out of steam when its dinner time and I’ve had a busy day at work. I like to keep evening meals really simple to prepare, not taking up too much time to cook and to be relatively healthy. As usual I don’t really deal in measurements, it sort of evolves around how much is needed and adjusted accordingly. Too much and it ends up in a lunch box, too little and we can always have an extra treat after dinner! This was tonight’s fare.

Chicken ( cut into short strips), put into a bowl and pour enough sweet chilli sauce in to give chicken a thin coating, stir through and sit till ready to cook.

The other things I am adding to this salad tonight are some onion bread crouton, crunchy potatoes, cucumber, seared cherry tomatoes, beetroot, feta cheese and some fresh herbs. As my bok choy has bolted (if anyone has any solutions to this I’d welcome them), I am throwing in a few leaves and a few of the thin stems. I will quickly throw them in with the chicken for no more than the last minute or so. This changes according to what is available, which tonight isn’t all that much!

I had baked an onion and rosemary loaf of bread on the weekend so used a bit of that to make some crunchy croutons. Cut bread  into whatever size you like, put into pan with smallest amount of olive oil and keep turning until they are nice and golden and very dry and crunchy. Put aside.

Spuds – Wash, peel and cut into small enough bits that they will mix through salad well. I just bunged them into the microwave (covered) for about 5 minutes, waited till steam had evaporated and put them into pan with a ‘plop’ of olive oil. Turn and stir until they have reached the colour you want. There is no reason why both the croutons and the spuds could not just go in the oven and do their thing in there while you prepare other items.

Toss the halved cherry tomatoes into pan that is still hot and cook until they just start to soften, don’t overdo it! Put them aside.

Add chicken to pan and start cooking it off, not too hot, not too cool. Stir occasionally. While cooking tear lettuce into pieces the size you like, slice up some beetroot, finely chop some herbs (tonight mint and oregano), crumble some feta or goat cheese, slice some cucumber  and green capsicum and put with the croutons and spuds. I actually like to put everything into a bowl or plastic bag and swirl everything around to make sure flavours have combined well. When chicken is cooked add this and turn through the mix.

Looks a bit ordinary at this point!

Turn everything out onto serving platter, top with some more cheese, herbs and maybe some spring onion. Really does taste quite tasty!

Weekend of both taking and making stock.

We have been well and truly under the hammer for time recently with trying to sell two houses, (so we can make improvements to the new one) moving my mother-in-law who is down-sizing and trying to move forward with getting our new property fit for human habitation. That along with the ‘doldrumish’ style weather we are having I just felt I needed to try to take stock. I dutifully made a list of jobs that needed to be done and started ploughing through them, first up was to make the stock for the Vietnamese Pho I planned to ho into once the tasks had been completed. I knew at the end of the day I wouldn’t feel much like cooking so this would be a welcome sight to come home to.

I am trying a method I found on the The Steaming Kitchen Blog where a slow cooker is used to slowly simmer the stock. Makes sense to me!

       

Added some fish sauce and sugar. I also added a stick of celery because there was some in the fridge that needed to be used. Left simmering all day, happy in the knowledge I wouldn’t have to stress when dinner time came. Now to knock off those jobs on my list!

Note:Wasn’t as thrilled with this version as previous ones I’ve made. I don’t think the stock reduces enough in the slow cooker to concentrate the flavours. Was still a pleasant result though.

Tomato Seedlings-time to pot up.

The seeds I planted a few weeks ago have done really well and need to go into a more substantial growing medium. I have been requesting donations from people at work for used milk cartons, wine cask boxes and any other suitable container for planting the seedlings into. So far have I have achieved about a 95% success seed germination rate which is great.

Interestingly, germination has been 100% from my saved seed and the 95% comes from the newly purchased stock. Maybe the different variety has something to do with this.

Next on the list……………..

I’ve been driving around for a week with my car chock-a-block full of ‘stuff’ that we culled from my M.I.L’s house that needed to go to the Op-Shop. Boxes gripped tight, head down, eyes not veering away from the loading stage, I deposited all the treasures. Kept my eyes straight ahead and did not dare look around on my way out as I didn’t want it to just be an exchange trip where I left with my car full of different ‘stuff! Tick that one off the list!

Next…..

Time to check on how the things I have planted at the ‘new’ house are settling in. Spring is starting to show its cheeky grin and I am bursting with the hope that things will do well.

The Update on plantings there.

Raspberries:

Yep, they are doing nicely.

Asparagus:

     Tick to that too!

Spuds (Potatoes):

The potatoes are looking a little bit ‘leggy’ but I am not surprised with the lack of sun we have had.

Garlic and Broad Beans:

            

Going well, broad beans flowering and garlic on track. Fed the bed with some blood and bone and a couple of handfulls of ‘Rooster booster’ pelletised organic  fertiliser. Can’t wait to have a few of those beans with some butter, olive oil, garlic  and a grinding of black pepper !

Back to the list…………….

I have removed a wisteria from the house we are selling and replanted it near where the future greenhouse will go. I am hoping to train it over the old woodshed frame to give a lovely backdrop at the rear of the vegie patch. Just hope it goes OK. Make note to quickly replace asparagus bed border edge with permanent one, not likely to happen once growth is established.

Rhubarb:

Plant me, plant me! I dug up some of the rhubarb for relocation and forgot about it. Seems pretty good so that has just been ‘plonked’ into the general garden space and can be divided later if need be.

See the little shoot starting at the bottom of the basket?

The rewards!

I actually achieved everything I set out to do, plus some. Quite happy with that really, taken stock and made stock at the same time.

Very productive day!

I have been very frustrated with planning and getting started on the new garden layout. For one thing we have been having exceptional levels of rainfall and everything I think of can’t happen until something else happens first, the domino effect! For example where the compost will go will just be in the way when we build the car port and garage. I’ve just wanted to ‘rip’ into it and achieve something. I had planned on putting in a temporary bed for my raspberries but when I started clearing some of the oak leaves between the “Fowlers Room’ and the fence I decided that would be a perfect spot to establish the permanent raspberry bed . Close to the kitchen for easy picking, easy to net for bird protection and good position in relation to getting enough sun and rain.

I shaped two beds allowing enough room to access a barrow between the beds and leaving enough room for the canes to spread while still having room for covering with bird netting . Compost was then added to the beds and sprinkled with blood and bone. I have several old bales of hay that are breaking down so some of that went on top. This will break down beautifully over time creating a great feeding base. The edging of the beds will eventually be replaced with a more attractive and permanent product but this recycled timber will do for now.
 
 
This is my four-year old pear tree ‘sensation’ that I have espaliered onto the driveway fence. It is too big to transplant (so my husband says!) without destroying a large area of the driveway. Have to start over! I Purchased the bare rooted stock yesterday.
Espaliering trees gives you the opportunity to create productive or picturesque plantings of trees or large bushes in narrower spaces. The technique can be used for both ornamental and flowering plants but I love the way you can turn small spaces into productive food banks. It makes it easy to manage pests and to protect from birds.

First pruning cuts have been made. What would normally grow into the main trunk has been cut just below a bud, this should encourage more sideways shoots which will make the second layer of the espalier. The two lateral branches will be tied and weighted down to encourage horizontal shaping.
 
 
We cannot establish a more permanent potato (spud) bed until the vegetable patch wicking beds are in place and the area is more organised. I have decided to put a temporary spud bed in the area under the mulberry tree behind what was originally stables for the property. This temporary bed will also work as a productive compost heap while yielding some very delicious produce (hopefully).