Friday, October 19, 2018

The Great Tomato Catastrophe of 2018

Six weeks ago I planted out my first tray of seeds. The daffodils were blooming, the wattle birds were hanging upside down on the crocosmia outside the window. It was cold and the nights were still frosty. Now the daffodils have finished and the herb robert and the foxgloves are blooming pink in the garden.

This spring I am determined to grow all my vegies and flowers from seed. No more plastic punnets from the garden centre. No, I have plenty of plastic punnets in the shed. I have plenty of seed, and I have used so much of it this spring, even the really old stuff. I replanted the beetroot three times. After the first two times I realised that the packet of seed I had just wasn't going to sprout, but luckily I saved my own beetroot seed from last year, and that sprouted within a couple of days. Fresh seed is the best! Having said that, some of the very old seed is sprouting pretty well, too. It all depends on the plant and how well the seed is stored as to how long seed stays viable. I keep mine airtight in the coolest room in the house. Paul gave me a bucket of seed from his place the other day. It is all ancient, and stored in a hot shed, but you just never know. I will plant it and see.

One month ago I had two trays of seedlings living on the kitchen table. I planted out the hardiest ones in the garden - first the peas. It was either the pigeons or the blackbirds which pecked the tops of every.single.seedling overnight. I then made a twig fortress to protect them, but to be honest they have never quite recovered from that first setback. A whole packet of snow peas!

Then came the Great Tomato Catastrophe of 2018. I planted out forty-two tiny tomato plants into pots of compost. I have plenty of compost. But this is fairly woody compost, maybe not cooked quite as long as it needs to be for planting into. Which is ok in general as I am using it as a mulch.. but the poor little tomatoes turned up their toes, turned yellow, and died. I think the woody mulch drew too much nitrogen out of their little leaves..

Lesson learned - don't use the compost as a planting medium by itself.. but.. forty-two tomato plants! aaargh! I have replanted, but straight out into the garden this time. Fingers are crossed. If frost threatens, I will run out and put jars over the little babies. Gardening, such a gamble. Maybe that is part of the excitement.

So far this spring I have planted out lettuce, rocket, broccoli, kale, zucchini and cucumbers into the garden. I have capsicums, more lettuce, beetroot, basil, chilli and a whole tray of flowers still on my table. I take them out for an airing in the sunshine or rain every day, to accustom them to Weather.

I love having the seedlings on the dining room table. Baby plants are utterly adorable. I talk to them at every meal and every time I open my laptop. I think they like me. Although the tomatoes still haunt me with their reproachful little yellow leaves..

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What I Did On My Holiday

So the girls flew away to have adventures with their dad, and I, well, you know how it is.. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to paint the bathroom. It's always difficult to paint the bathroom because it is always in use and anywhere along a continuum from damp to wringing wet, so for three days I painted in the daytime and commuted to the mountain cabin to use Paul's shower and have him cook for me. Oh, the bliss. Apparently I am an Extravagant Wastrel in Paul's kitchen, and turn up the gas too high under the pot, and cut off too much of the vegetables and put them in the worm bucket. Honestly, those poor worms would never get a square meal if I didn't visit regularly. Anyway, for my sins I am banished to read on the couch while Paul cooks. It is very hard.

Then Paul pours the wine and suggests we have a little wander down to the creek to see how the fires are burning.. we won't stay for long, he promises, just a little look and then we'll be straight back up to finish dinner. He puts his pleading puppy dog eyes on. We go and inspect the fires. They are very little fires, smouldering during the day under a blanket of ash, with more sticks and little logs, piles of bark and dried grass thrown on in the evening when the humidity rises and the wind drops. The cool spring night keeps the fires from getting away and burning the trees all around. Paul is clearing a fire break around his house and making a clear path down to the water turbine along the creek. Not long ago I read a list of the most fire-prone native plant species. Paul has them all. So to eliminate brush where he wants paths and a clear space near the creek, he makes these little fires in the spring and autumn. They provide nutrients in their ash for the big eucalypts, and encourage the native grass to grow, so that where he has burnt starts to look like a manicured English park. Well, except for the giant eucalypts and the bush all round. This very small, localised style of burning was practised by the First Peoples of Australia for millenia, to create grasslands for encouraging kangaroo grazing grounds, and to create beneficial conditions for growing useful crops like the yam daisy, which looks like a smaller, more delicate cousin of the dandelion, with an edible root.

Also, they possibly did it because it is enormously fun. Of course, no sooner are we at the fires than Paul seizes the shovel leaning handily against the nearest tree, and starts shovelling on more debris. Up crackle the flames and the sparks fly in the twilight gloom. "Shall I set this patch of cut grass alight?" he asks himself meditatively. Cut grass grows in huge clumps and is immensely flammable. Paul digs out a shovelful of glowing embers from the base of a fire and tips it into the middle of a cut grass clump. It smokes like a chimney, then smoulders, then busts into a column of flame and sparks. Paul's eyes begin to gleam insanely in the firelight. "Maybe that one over there as well? While we're here.." Soon it is deep dusk and periodically a man jogs past me with a shovelful of live coals, cackling with the glee of a confirmed arsonist. I peer interestedly at a tree, wine glass in hand. "This one seems to be on fire," I mention. "Should I do something?"
"Bash it with a shovel," comes back the advice from the pyrotechnics expert. "Then rake the burnt bark out."

It really is the most addictive kind of fun. Just one more branch on the fire, one more tea tree seedling to uproot, one more pile to light up. Eventually I remember the dinner, which must be saved. Clearly it is up to me, kitchen ban or no kitchen ban. The cook is too busy lighting another clump of cut grass. I look back and see the fire licking upwards, with Paul leaping like a demented goblin in black silhouette in front of the flames.

Dinner will be slightly late tonight.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Why I Quit The Gym

Last week I had 3 cubic metres (about 4 cubic yards) of lovely organic compost delivered. It is very nice compost and I hope it will grow me all the vegies I can possibly eat this summer, because it almost killed me getting it down to the vegie garden.

I don't have any off-street parking, so I had the compost delivered in the street and then shovelled it into the wheelbarrow then barrowed it down 17 steps and around 6 corners to get it down to the bottom of the block. Then I did it again. And also again. For six hours. Next time I am planning to order less than 3 metres of compost. Much less. I made these raised vegie beds in the bottom garden. I am going to make paths in between them with bark chips. Currently, the unplanted garden beds look slightly sinister, like graves. At some points on Monday afternoon I thought I was going to need one..

But then I remembered I am practising Stoicism, and began to enumerate all the virtues of my situation. I am strong and healthy enough to barrow compost onto my garden all afternoon. What a blessing!  I am only going to remain strong enough to barrow compost if I continue to barrow compost. I am a fortunate person who has the means to buy compost and the ability to grow organic vegies for my family. The rain gods went somewhere else for the afternoon so I could barrow compost in the sunshine. I never in my life worked as hard at the gym as I do at barrowing compost, but lifting weights at the gym never contributed in the slightest to the production of organic silverbeet. In fact, the gym cost me $12 a week, and now I work in other people's gardens and my own, get an amazing workout and earn money instead. Ha! I try not to feel smug as I work in the sunshine in other people's gardens and get to play with their lovely dogs and talk to their chickens and listen to birds and develop great back muscles as I shovel mulch onto their gardens, and get a very nice shoulder and upper arm workout while pruning their apple trees. And all the while they are working in an office somewhere. Poor poppets.

At sunset, my lovely neighbour from up the road brought me a glass of wine and we sat on the back deck and watched the sun go down and the stars come out and I looked at the quite large pile of compost that is now at the bottom of my garden instead of in the street, and planned my next vegie beds and was very quietly happy. Then I went to bed and slept for thirteen hours straight.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Table to Grow Old With..

So here is the beautiful centrepiece of the kitchen - a hand-crafted table made entirely of pre-loved timber. The table top is one slab of Huon pine, which is the Holy Grail of Tasmanian specialty timbers. This piece had been sitting in the builder's shed for years and he is pleased it has gone to a good home. The side rails also came from the back of his shed, and the legs were hardwood sleepers left over from my retaining wall project two years ago. The builder and I were deliberating over how to find re-used posts for the table legs (fence posts?) when he saw my pile of unused sleepers in the front walkway, and ripped them down to make posts. There is a lot of character left in all this timber, and a couple of coats of oil just makes it shine.

It was only hours into its life as a table that Posy started using it to whip up pancake batter. It is wonderful to have extra bench space, because as you can see, we tend to spread ourselves around on horizontal surfaces.. although sometimes I do actually do the dishes and tidy stuff. Here are the beautiful proteas gifted by one of my garden clients from her prolific giant protea bush.


Yet again, I am thrilled to have commissioned a beautiful piece of furniture from a local craftsman, a piece that will no doubt outlive me and be just as beautiful in a hundred years.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Politics, Or I Have a Cunning Plan

Australian politics is having a crisis this week. For a while there we didn't have a prime minister. Now we do, but it's a different one to the prime minister we had last week. It's hard to keep up. I have been doing what I can, which isn't much. I have written to my local politicians letting them know how they could be running the country so that I would actually vote for them. I am helpful like that.

My main points: stop stabbing each other in the back long enough to come up with some useful policies on climate change: hint - leave the carbon in the ground.

Stop torturing and locking up asylum seekers.

Let's live within our means. Let's begin this process not by cutting welfare payments, but by making sure that corporations pay their taxes, and let's create jobs, not by subsidising large corporations, but by getting out of the way and allowing people to create their own businesses. Let's cut back on globalisation and favour our own locals with our business. Were tariffs really so terrible?

And while we are in the mood for change, let's cut politicians' salaries to the point where they would only possibly be in politics because they want to serve their country, not because they want to play power games or be best buddies with rich mining magnates.

That's probably enough to go on with.

Carry on.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Shelf Upgrade

These are the old wonky shelves in my kitchen. They were shed shelves at my old place, and for two years they have held onto my kitchen paraphernalia quite adequately, albeit in a fairly wobbly and precarious manner. One of the first things the builder did when he came to build a verandah for me back in February was screw these shelves to the wall, right after he nearly knocked them over while drinking tea near them. Fast forward to last week when I asked him to build me a small table for the centre of the kitchen. I have a small house with a large kitchen that has very little bench space. What were the previous owners thinking? Well, the builder suggested narrow shelves on the wall to create more floor space, and somehow, the project morphed into this:

Posy and I spent three days painting. Posy allowed me to photograph her arm for the blog:)

And then we added a beautiful recycled tassie oak benchtop:

When I say 'we' I mean I said to the builder, "Please can you find some pre-loved timber to make a lovely, lovely benchtop?" and he did all the actual work.. well, I spent ten minutes oiling it to make it look pretty.

And now replete with all the jars:

I am so excited to be the possessor of this most beautiful piece of furniture. It has caused a revolution of efficiency in my kitchen - instead of getting down on hands and knees to haul out casseroles or soup bowls from the bottom of cupboards, I just elegantly whip them off the shelf..

But wait, there's more - just inside Rosy's bedroom door (to the right edit, left of the dresser in the photo above), up the precipitately steep stairs on the way to her attic room, is a void of a space that up until last week held a large, untidy, precariously balanced mass of food in various containers. We called it the pantry, but it was more like a robber cave. Here it is after I cleaned it all out prior to shelves going in:

Now with shelves:

This is so thrilling because I have been able to haul all the jars of preserves out from under my bed, and the backs of cupboards, and put them all in one place so I can see whether I have any salsa left. I discovered two jars of fig jam. My favourite! I also now have places to store the big stock pot, the dehydrator, the preserving gear. Bliss. There is also space for big buckets which are storing my bulk dried goods - chickpeas, lentils, pasta, flour, rice. Come the zombie apocalypse I won't have to search under the bed to find the lentils. The children will be pleased.

What I love about all of these new shelves is, well, shelves. Can you ever have too many shelves? I think not. But more than that - they were made by a local craftsman and all round nice person. We have used some nice old timbers for parts of the job. Everything has been measured to fit. We were there with the tape measure measuring my jars, wine glasses, the potato box - everything was designed to fit perfectly.

This kitchen revamp has been rather expensive, and tomorrow comes the next part - the kitchen table that started this whole process - but the money has been spent on locally made sturdy furniture which should last as long as the house does, and which will be a beauty and joy to use every day for as long as I live here. I call that a very good return on investment.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Green and Thrifty

Another week, another slightly wholemeal sourdough loaf. I am fairly unimaginative with my bread, but it is consistently satisfying and good. Except that Rosy doesn't like sourdough and pleads for bread with actual storebought yeast in it. Which just goes to show.. something.

I have been growing ugly carrots, small parsnips, leggy broccoli that has been grown in the shade, and perfect beetroot. Pretty much all the veg I grow would fail the supermarket test, but we don't discriminate against ugly veg here, because it's all beautiful on the inside, right?

 My favourite way to eat ugly veg is to chop it all up and roast it with dabs of ghee, olive oil, salt, spices (cumin, ground fennel), rosemary and sage, 200C (390F) for 15 minutes, then turn it down to 180C (350F) until done. Each veg has a different cooking time, so you have to keep checking and taking out the done veg with tongs.

Then (and this is the good bit, but no photo), you make a salad with everything green from the garden, the roast veg, and sunflower seeds that have been dry roasted in a frying pan for a couple of minutes. My favourite salad dressing on top, and there is lunch. You can add all the other salad veg, quinoa, chick peas, boiled eggs or anything else that takes your fancy. Yum.

In other thrifty news, I think sometimes it is good to re-examine our social habits and maybe notch back the spendy side of them while keeping the social part. I do brunch with some excellent girlfriends every couple of months at a cafe, but this month I invited them over to mine, and we had a delightful and satisfying brekky this morning, with everyone bringing something. This worked out well because the busy full-time worker can still pick up her contribution from the gourmet deli, but we all have the choice to cook from scratch on the cheap if we want/need to.

Today I went to visit my mum, and goodness, I never come home from hers empty-handed. Half a packet of out-of-date brown sugar (2016) which she decided she was probably never going to use, an Agatha Christie novel from the op-shop (The Mysterious Affair at Styles - her first novel, and I didn't have it), packets of blank cards for the girls to make cards with, which came from.. someone at Craft Club?? Just guessing here. Some cellophane bags to put Christmas goodies into when Christmas baking season comes round again. A jar of jam. Some slices of fruitcake. It's sort of the opposite of Red Riding Hood. We come home from Grandma's with the basket of goodies..

I love the going around and coming around cycle of goods that travel back and forth between friends. You know how at some point you start getting hand-me-ups clothes from your teenagers? Well, this week I was given a pair of hiking shoes by Posy's friend, who had grown out of them. This is a child I have known since she was born, whose feet are now bigger than mine... anyway, it was wonderful serendipity, because my decade old hiking shoes are literally falling apart and I was wondering if I was going to have to break my six month streak of buying no clothes, even second-hand ones. I will have to soon though, because I have no jeans left without holes. Either op-shopping, or creative patching is in my future.

This week I have have had lots of free reading matter to hand. Library books, of course, three Monthly magazines from a friend, books borrowed from another friend's book case, the offer of new reading matter from yet another friend who just arrived back on Australian shores from the US, with, as far as I can work out, a suitcase full of books. All of that, along with the Agatha Christie novel from Mum equals a cornucopia of literary happiness.

For the last week I have been over the moon to - be doing the washing. My washing machine broke three weeks ago, and I have been lugging baskets of dirty washing around various kind washing machine owners. The part finally arrived, and the nice washing machine repairman fixed it up for me, and two-and-a-half minutes after the front door shut behind him I had the first load on. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I love my washing machine. And I love clean sheets. And even though it is way more inconvenient than going out and buying a new washing machine, I love that my machine could be fixed with a tiny metal part, rather than throwing away 70kg of metal and plastic. That feels good.

And more free food - I walked the dog right past a box of free lemons on the pavement outside someone's gate. Ooh, yes, lemons. I took three.

From the garden this week: lettuce, broccoli, broccoli leaves, parsley, rosemary, sage, kale, carrot, beetroot, parsnip.
Dried: lemon verbena tea
From the shed: garlic
From other people's gardens: limes, lemons, apples, kale, rhubarb

Tell me about your green and thrifty adventures this week.