Friday, October 14, 2016

Exploiting Your Niche

One of the many wonders of a backyard vegie garden is that you can beat commercial growers not in spite of, but because of, your small scale. It would be foolhardy indeed for a commercial grower to start a tomato farm here in Tasmania, unless they have several very large greenhouses, as late frosts can sneakily decimate baby tomatoes even up to November. However, if you have a small plot of backyard tomatoes, and by some miracle have remembered to check the forecast, you can cover up your tiny crop with old sheets (you can also use horticultural fleece, but one of my creeds is, why buy horticultural fleece when you have a stack of old sheets?). If your baby tomatoes are slightly bigger you can crack out the mini greenhouses (er, plastic bottle tops) that Bek has cleverly fashioned for her delicate snowflake tomato babies.

The other thing you can cunningly exploit in your backyard vegie garden is micro climates. I have mentioned before that lemons and other citrus aren't grown commercially in Tasmania because it is too cold. But practically every old Tasmanian garden has a lemon tree tucked in a warm corner. This is where suburban and urban environments can really come into their own - the built up nature of the town creates warm pockets - next to sunny walls, or black asphalt roads and driveways. There are often frost-free patches next to houses because the walls have absorbed sun during the day and release the heat slowly at night. Working out all of the intriguing quirks of your property through the seasons is fun, and can be very rewarding. One of my friends owns a 1950s brick house which has a small garden patch in a sunny sheltered corner where two brick walls meet, with a concrete path in front. This small patch was clearly the perfect place to plant a Tahitian lime and a mandarin, and these are some of the healthiest and most productive citrus trees I have ever had the privilege of cadging fruit from (well, in actual fact I am showered with generous gifts of this fruit, as it is so ridiculously prolific, and I have lovely friends).

Anyway, having managed to dodge Thursday night's frost I am hoping for balmy days and warm nights to encourage the baby tomatoes to reach passata size:)

I'll leave you with a front garden food forest. Here is someone who knows how to make a suburban garden work very hard indeed. Give me two years and I'll be there..

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Green and Thrifty

While walking home from my hair appointment I asked myself, "Why is that large, white fluffy dog sitting on that front lawn in the rain?" The answer turned out to be that the large fluffy dog was actually a tiny cow, or more probably, a calf (I am not an expert on cows, although I do know it is calf season), contentedly chewing its cud in the gentle rain. I was quite thrilled at this revelation that it is clearly possible to keep a cow in the suburbs, and went home to tell Rosy, "We could get a cow." Except we don't have any grass at our new place. But I would plant grass if a cow was coming to stay..

The next morning I took Benson-the-enthusiastic-cowherd-puppy to say hello to the cow, and snapped this photo. No, I hadn't been imagining it, cows in the suburbs are a thing. Until this morning, when it was gone. Maybe it was just having a little holiday. Maybe it is now snacking on the back lawn.. who knows? What I do know is that our local, independent book shop has a new section - small animal husbandry. Chooks, pigs and goats feature prominently. Apparently goats are the new puppy. So just chew on this idea - maybe if you have a lot of lawn, you could get a lovely calf instead of a ride-on mower.

This week I have been on school holidays and I took lots of naps. Naps are both green and thrifty due to not being able to spend any money when you are asleep. Likewise, lying on the couch uses very few non-renewable resources. So win-win. Let us fight climate change with naps.

When I woke up I sliced up the last few kiwi fruit from my neighbour's garden, and popped them in the dryer to add to my morning muesli.

In the spirit of last week's gardening post about cadging garden plants from friends, I drank tea while strolling around and admiring the gardens of three separate friends this week. It is my favourite way to spend time with friends, strolling in their gardens. I came home with a bag of lettuce, homegrown lettuce and mustard-green seedlings for my new vegie garden, and a promise of a thyme plant (originally from my old garden, donated to a friend, now being offered back) and some iris bulbs (also originally from my old garden). So lovely to see plants travelling all over the neighbourhood like this!

When I haven't been napping or strolling in gardens and drinking tea, I have been helping one of my lovely friends lay floorboards in her upstairs room. Really, we have been lackeys for the person who actually knew what he was doing, but it has been an excellent experience in upskilling. I have a blister on my thumb, which means I must have been doing some serious work with a hammer.

I took Posy for a lightning quick trip to the op-shop between appointments because she wanted summer dresses. We found two in ten minutes, for $6, which is my kind of shopping trip. I also found this tea tin, which is perfectly beautiful  and now full of chammomile tea, perfect for bedtime, because, see above, sleep is good for for the planet, and also for me. I am a much nicer person with nine hours' sleep a night, so sweet dreams:)

Tell me about your green and thrifty week. Did you get to nap?

PS, My blog links are back! I did nothing except procrastinate (one of my best talents). And here they are. Life is full of mystery and wonder..

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to Keep Occupied on a Rainy Holiday Afternoon

I mean, really, I could have sat on the couch and read a book. That's how the girls entertained themselves all afternoon. But it is the second week of the school holidays, and I felt an unaccustomed itch to achieve something. This basket of towels has been annoying me for months. I unpacked my towels into this laundry basket the day after I moved in, and it has sat there ever since, in the little alcove next to the bathroom, getting in the way. Lacking a linen closet I have been eyeing off storage options around the house. Should I tip out Posy's teddies from their large, lidded cane basket and use that? ("NO!" shrieks Posy..) Should I get some dedicated storage built in somewhere? I could turn that entire alcove into a large storage cupboard.. but really? I am much more comfortable with my 'less is more' mantra, and using what I have.

Today I decided to move the towels into the chest of drawers behind them. That chest of drawers was the hall table at my old house. So of course it contains, you've guessed it, a lot of useless crap. The bottom drawer contained all the things I have borrowed and need to return to friends. This was actually kind of useful at my old house, because I would check the drawer every time friends left the house. But here? These drawers are nowhere near the front door, and I haven't even looked in them since I moved in. That drawer was easy. Pile everything in it next to the front door. Done. Next drawer was piles of paper tossed in when I opened mail or emptied bags. Again, easy. Everything recycled or filed. These days far more gets recycled than gets filed. I am learning that I do not need to hoard every piece of paper that walks through my front door..

This leaves.. the thing drawer. Who doesn't have a thing drawer? So handy, just to pop 'things' into when it is too hard to decide where to put them really.

This one was sheer agony. Hundreds of tiny things in there, which no more have a home now than they did when I threw them in there over the years at my old place (yes, I really did just throw them in a box and bring them with me from the old house. Then I tipped them straight back into the same drawer when I arrived). Lots of them have gone to bin heaven now. Or recycling heaven. I am pretty fierce about letting crap into the house these days, so the very tiny drawer I decanted the essentials into will be enough (essentials: stamps, pens, pencils and other stationery. Phone books. Address book because I am old school). This was a desperately boring exercise, so I had to take little breaks every ten minutes to do something interesting, like walking the dog, and going to get my hair cut. But finally..

We have a cupboard for towels.. only eight towels, mind you. I had to get rid of some of them too. Not that one ever gets rid of towels. They are too valuable for drying the dog and cleaning up when the roof leaks. But then you store them in the rag pile, which luckily has space to spare. There was no space for flannels or hand towels in the chest of drawers, but this inspired me to man up to a task I have also been wrestling with since I moved in. The bottom drawer in this ridiculously adorable bathroom vanity (made out of an old chest of drawers) has been stuck closed all this time due to being painted in by the previous owners, who clearly did a quick touch up paint job before they left. So far, all I have managed to achieve was to pull off the drawer knob.

The thing I love most about this vanity is that the mouldings on each of the drawers is different. I like to think the long-ago cabinet-maker was having a whimsical afternoon..

But now I needed that space so I messed about again with box cutter blades and knives to no avail, when it finally occurred to me to take out the third drawer and bash the bottom drawer from behind. Der! Fixed, and now all the flannels and hand towels have a lovely new home.

So here ends my small triumph for today. A storage solution that hasn't involved buying anything, and has encouraged me yet again to think about living with less. What I have gained - another laundry basket, less clutter, and an unfortunate case of piles - no, not a medical condition. Bags of stuff at my front door, including, but not limited to: nine pairs of 3D glasses to go back to the cinema, piles of books to return to friends, a dance costume that we borrowed three years ago for a ballet performance, keys that may possibly fit the doors of the cabinet I gave to my dad, a bag of dead phones, chargers and batteries to be recycled. Tomorrow will be the day for schlepping.

Tell me about your thing drawer. Is it scary? Go on, I know you have one..

Friday, September 30, 2016

Green and Thrifty

This week's green and thrifty plots and plans begin in the garden (where else?). While the girls were away I devoted hours to ripping weeds out of what must once have been a lovely flower garden outside my front door. Under the weeds I have uncovered some lovely plants, but I also have large areas of bare earth. Part of me would love to pop down to the nursery and come back with an instant garden, but where is the fun and adventure in that? Besides, think of all those plastic pots, and how ridiculously expensive that would be.

Pink geraniums have self-seeded all over the garden.

What I have done to fill up my garden beds so far: I brought plants from my old house in pots, which I am now transplanting into the garden. Also, my old garden was full of self-sown annuals, many of which were accidentally transported in my large pots. I am lifting and planting these little seedlings as well - calendula, nigella, erigeron, forget-me-nots, alyssum, viola, feverfew - all a bit weedy, but pretty. I am also finding interesting plants in other parts of my new garden, mostly choked under a jungle of weeds, so have been rescuing these as I find them, to mass them all in the one weed-free bed in a sort of plant-rescue operation. A refugee camp for oppressed plants.

I am also taking photographs of bulbs that have popped up in all sorts of odd corners, so that when their foliage dies down I can dig them up to re-plant them in the flowerbed for next spring. I have had dozens of jonquils, a tiny plot of grape hyacinths and a brace of yellow tulips blooming right where I want to grow vegies, also daffodils where I want to build a deck. I am waiting for the roses to bloom to see if I want to preserve any of the rose bushes which will be doomed in the event of deck-building.

Look! Bluebells popped up among the weeds!

The next plan for filling up the garden is raiding the gardens of friends. The most wonderful thing about plants is their passion for reproduction. That is their entire life's work; that we find them pretty or useful to eat is neither here nor there to the plant, all they want to do is to make baby plants. Really, there is no need to buy new plants ever, except that we get a little impatient. Seeds, cuttings, divisions, or digging up self-sown seedlings - this is the way that gardeners have grown beautiful gardens for thousands of years without the benefit of the nursery industry. The way you go about this historical activity is, you go and have a nice cup of tea with a friend, then ask to see their garden, then extravagantly admire all the plants, then say, "Ooh, yes please," every time a spare plant, cutting or seedhead is offered. There you have it, historical re-enactment, garden-style.

Ok, let's leave the garden now, and head into the kitchen, where this morning Posy made her first ever loaf of bread. It was magnificent. We don't eat much bread, but when we do we buy $7 loaves of sourdough from the farmer's market. It is delicious but extravagant. Posy plans to make make bread every weekend now, so that will slash our bread budget.

Here is my Super Simple Bread Recipe in case you have a 12 year old at your place who wants to bake bread for you:

Put 4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of yeast into a large bowl. Stir. Make a well in the middle. Pour in two cups of warm water. Stir again (I use a metal soup spoon) until you have a shaggy, flour-covered lump of dough. Knead for a few minutes on a floury bench. Add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky.

Half-fill the bowl with warm water and scrape out all the doughy bits with your finger nails. This is the most efficient dough-cleaning method I have found so far. Rinse the bowl, swirl a little olive oil in the bowl, plop the dough in, then turn it over so that it is oiled all over to stop a skin forming on your dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, let the dough rise for about one and a half hours.

Turn out the dough again, knead it again for a couple of minutes, brush a bread pan with oil, form your bread dough into two balls, pop them into the pan next to each other, brush the top with oil, and let it rise for another half hour. Put it into a 200C (400F) oven for half an hour to 40 minutes. When it is done the bread will fall out of the pan when you tip it upside down and will sound hollow like a drum when you rap on its golden, crunchy bottom. Leave to cool if humanly possible before cutting.

In other green and thrifty kitchen news, I attempted to make crackers. They were ok, the thin ones were best, very crunchy. I need to roll the dough out thinner so they all have that nice crunch. Also, the recipe I used wasn't very tasty. I am aiming for a cracker that the girls will happily take to school to nibble on, so I don't have to buy any more over-priced, over-packaged crackers. Also, it is important to have something nice to put cheese on. I am very proud of myself for having a go, because I have been meaning to try crackers forever. But could do better..

Also, in our Living Better With Less Group last night, we made cheese! Ok, so it doesn't look very pretty, but it was very easy, a paneer, made with milk and lemon juice. Lots of fun too. The best way to try something new is with a bunch of friends, having a laugh. Tonight we are going to add the paneer to our butter chicken. Paneer is a fresh cheese and is part of the Indian, Afghani and Bangladesh cuisines, so goes well in curries. Two litres of milk makes a rather small amount of cheese and lots of whey. We have plenty of whey left over that Benson has been enjoying and I am just smacking myself up the side of the head because we could have used the whey in the bread this morning, instead of water. Anyway, next time we can concentrate more on presentation, and use the whey for breadmaking, and we will be total experts..

Tell me about your green and thrifty week..

PS Evil Blogger has disappeared all my blog links. I know! What will you read now?? I do not know how this happened - I left internet world for two days to finish my book, came back and they are all gone. Sigh. Hope to put them all back soon.. did this happen to anyone else?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Garden Days

The girls have headed off to Melbourne for the first week of the school holidays, and it is eerily quiet in a very peaceful way. This morning I decided to sleep in for an hour, because I can. I heard Benson pacing around the house and hopped up to see what he was up to. Well, what he was up to was weeing on Rosy's beanbag. Honestly, that dog can sleep in with the girls until midday without a morning toilet break, but on the day I decide to sleep in until half past eight he has a bladder malfunction? And why the beanbag? Really Benny? The beanbag? Sighing loudly for effect, I stand in Rosy's room contemplating what to do next. I have to empty the beanbag to wash it, but into what? There aren't any garbage bags in the house because plastic = evil. I finally decide to use a doona cover (what are these called elsewhere? Quilt covers maybe?). This is quite a brilliant idea as it is so large, and the beans transfer with a minimum of spillage and I tie some string around the top to keep them in. Happy holidays to me.

For the rest of the day I have been pottering in the garden. There has been intermittent weather. Rain, no rain, sun, rain, sun, rain. I have spent the day putting on my raincoat and/or sunglasses and taking them off again. But pottering. In the garden. Happy, happy. There were about a million and fifty seven baby weeds in my newly tilled vegie garden, but this meant that I could get the hoe out. I like hoeing. I also like chanting "Ho, ho, ho," under my breath as I hoe, and chuckling to myself, as this is the sort of thing I find hilarious, which is why normal social discourse is often somewhat of a trial for me (and others).

There were also approximately eleventy-six tiny baby tomato seedlings emerging in the herb garden where I dumped all the compost from my old house. I have great faith in tiny self-sown tomatoes. It usually means that it is safe to plant tomato seeds in the open garden. I might wait another week, just to be sure. I will also transplant the eleventy-six self-sown tomatoes, and see what kind of tomatoes they turn into. There is also baby lettuce popping up out of the compost, and something that may be a melon.. it is always an entertaining lucky dip. Vegetable roulette..

Today I dug lime, blood and bone, pelletised chicken manure and sheep manure into the vegie garden. Tomorrow I will find my box of trace elements and sprinkle some of that over as well. As I plan to grow most of my own vegetables in my back yard, I will get my soil tested for its nutritional profile, but until I do that I will add trace elements (a smorgasbord of most of the minerals that plants and people need in tiny amounts) to make sure that neither the plants or us end up with any nutritional deficiencies. This is especially important in areas, like most of Australia, with nutritionally poor, very old soils. Land masses that have had geologically recent contact with glaciers grinding through the countryside, or volcanic activity (much of Europe, New Zealand, Japan, lots of the Pacific) have much younger and more nutritionally rich soils. Lucky you. For the rest of us - we must take precautions.

Yesterday was the last day of school. We did some cooking and then wrote about it. One of the six year old poppets wrote that she had cooked a CKON. Think about that for a minute.  What did we cook? Here is a picture of a pretty flower to contemplate while you work it out..

 Do any of you clever gardeners know the name of this small, lavender bulb? It has popped up in my garden. The photo is turned sideways but I can't seem to fix it..

Yes, you are absolutely right, we made SCONES. Isn't the English language wonderful?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Let's Get This Garden Started..

This is what my back garden looked like in April, when I had just moved in.

Within a fortnight I had marked out the site for the first vegie garden, and began piling moving cartons onto the weeds.

All done. I had to hold them down with bricks as I hadn't bought any pea straw yet. Cardboard is brilliant for suppressing weeds. You need at least two layers, so flattened cartons are perfect. Make sure they overlap generously. Don't worry about tape or stickers - as the cardboard biodegrades, it is very easy to pull the remaining tape up and bin it.

 I didn't take a photo after I covered the cartons with pea straw, but here is the patch three months later. As you can see, only one very deep rooted perennial weed has made it through the layers. I have started digging over this patch as it is intended for greens, and I need a seed bed with a fine tilth. As I pulled up the cardboard that hadn't yet disappeared into the soil, I piled it into the compost bin. I piled up the remaining pea straw to use again. The soil under the cardboard is mostly weed-free, although there are some sad, white roots still struggling to survive, but those were easy to pull out. All the green matter has died back into the soil, acting like a green manure and adding a lovely extra layer of nutrients to the new garden. Yesterday I planted two rhubarb plants which had struggled through winter in pots. I think they will be very happy in their new home.

This is the second vegie garden, which will receive full sun. It is the same view as the photo at the top of the post, four months later. I waste far too much time gazing fondly at my lovely retaining wall.

This is what it looked like last week, complete with a crop of giant green weeds. I squash them down by stamping on them with my gum boots, and then again, the cardboard carton and pea straw treatment. This time I had run out of boxes, so I popped down to a gift store a couple of blocks down the hill, and the toy store around the corner and asked for cardboard boxes, which they were delighted to give to me.

This garden I do not plan to dig over - I will give it a few weeks then plant seedlings straight into holes poked in the cardboard. This works well for big sturdy plants like tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber etc. I may dig out a trench to plant bean seeds into. It is also an effective way to plant potatoes.

Remember the space behind the retaining wall? I filled it with gravel, then rubble, then soil from a large pile probably dumped in the garden during renovations done by the previous owners. When I left my old place I cleared out the old compost bins (to bring with me, of course!) and also (of course!) saved the compost, transferring it into big bin bags and old seed sacks. It has been sitting in my garden all winter, and yesterday I used it to add a layer of nutritious goodness to the top of this garden bed. Then I popped down to my local garden centre, which makes its own compost out of green waste and whey from a local dairy. It is amazingly potent stuff, and I added a layer of that as well.

Now I have a herb garden, which should receive many hours of sun each day in the warmer months. The herbs are currently very small, having overwintered in the pots I brought from the old house. So far I have French tarragon, echinacea and sage. I also have some thyme sprigs from a friend, and Benson the helpful puppy has kindly aerated the whole bed for me with his paws and ever hopeful nose.

When I designed the retaining wall I accidentally forgot to design a side wall as well. Oops. Can't be expected to remember everything. So I used lengths of log left for firewood when I had some trees cut down. I am calling it rustic..

I am so excited to have 'nearly gardens' which will soon be ready for spring planting. Spring! Gardens! Only the most thrilling words in the English language!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Weed Salad

I have been reading Violet's incredibly detailed and information-rich herbal blog. Her most recent post is about the virtues of the common garden weed. I had never heard of chickweed, but on looking it up, discovered it has grown in just about every garden I have lived in. Lo and behold, there is a patch, flowering madly, just outside my front door.

This week I have been adding chickweed and dandelion greens, and violet and nasturtium leaves to my salads. I feel virtuous, de-toxed and bursting with green goodness.

If you are growing broad beans right now, which I will be this time next year, the new leaves are also a very good and tasty addition to salads, or just for chewing on thoughtfully as you stand in the sunshine, planning your Spring garden. Also delicious are the new leaves on pea vines. I love to discover new ways to eat the food I grow, and to discover that I can eat weeds as well is just a wonderful gift. Free food! Of course, weeds have a venerable tradition in both food and medicine. I remember reading a French travel book where the author turned up to the town market expecting stalls full of delicious vegetables, only to find piles of wilting green leaves - it was the weekly weed market. Spring is prime time for harvesting weeds. Because they have not been extensively bred they are often quite bitter, and they bolt to seed quickly, so picking their tender new Spring leaves and flowers gives the most delicate flavour, and will keep them producing new leaves for longer. But also, because they haven't been bred for sweetness like much modern fruit and veg, they are much better for us - that slight bitterness will detox our over-burdened livers like nobody's business.

I will need to weed the plot right outside my front door soon. It is being choked with some kind of virulent and inedible large-leafed decorative garden plant which I plan to destroy without mercy. However I will keep that patch of rather tasty chickweed..

Maybe I can start a weed garden..

I already have a weed garden, of course, but maybe if I locate all the weeds together in one place it will look intentional:)
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