February

This February the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor were decidedly busy on all things NOT tomato related.  For the first time in 6 years, our February was not dominated by the tomato harvest and preserving.

The kitchen garden is producing well at the moment.  We clearly have a tomato forest, despite the new trellis system, with plenty of green tomatoes just on the cusp of ripening.  In the last 2 days of February, I’ve collected 1kg of our expected harvest of 20kg.  A year ago I noted tomatoes do not need to ‘ripen on the vine’ to improve in flavour.  Ripening indoors certainly takes the pressure off worrying about any insect attack.  The kitchen garden supports a small flock of sparrows, geckos, and lizards who feed on the known bugs in the garden. I provide water and real estate in return.  The generosity does not extend to the rabbit who has found the kale, just how do you remove this pest? Hopefully, once Ginger the Airedale terrier is back on free-range duty the rabbit will move on.

It is with much joy I can include a picture of my first ever triumphant cucumber flower (with a sister flower hiding behind the leaf – that makes 2!) and our first Cox’s Orange Pippen apple.  All previous attempts to grow cucumbers failed due to pest attack, lack of water, and wind snapping stems.  This tiny, and I suspect, way too late to fruit, flower gives me hope for next season.  Over the failed attempts I have learned cucumbers take much more water than you think and need plenty of protection of their main trunk.  I adapted some old plastic pots which worked a treat.  As I have not got past this point previously I am sure there are more lessons in store!  For the apple, this was the only one of 8 to survive to picking, on one tree of 10 (other varieties).  I confirm this variety of apple tree is tough.  It has survived years of insufficient water, bad pruning, and sheep grazing. Takeaways for me, water every day, don’t let fruit set for the first 2 years to establish the plant, prune well and keep the sheep out. This apple represents deep patience and looks so good…and I’m too nervous to taste it.

This year I found the time to hedge the rosemary border before it set flower.  This sounds at odds with regular wisdom.  However, there were no flower buds evident and our autumn is sufficiently warm to ensure a good amount of new growth and flower before winter arrives. Rosemary is a major food source for bees here during late autumn and winter.  Last year I felt pretty sick having to hedge the border during its flowering time, so much so that I did it bit by bit to give the hard-working girls a chance.  It dragged on a bit, to be honest. I hope this approach will avoid such a palaver.

Fresh produce in the kitchen garden this month includes kale, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, the last of the peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. Plantings to progress are broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas.

To distract us from the looming black hole of no tomatoes, we have put our energies into fencing new paddocks off for sheep, attending sheep farm tours and eating our way around local shows.

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Scones with jam and cream – what else?

We had a great day visiting 10 local sheep farmers in the area for the Gunning leg of the Flock Ewe Competition (a friend of mine burst out laughing when they head this – I’m yet to confirm if its deliberate, which I highly suspect, or country charm).  What hit home is how different folk farm differently and it’s been a god-awful year for most of them. We saw plenty of sheep, all in pretty good shape given the drought conditions, and plenty of sheds, some centuries old and others modern monoliths.

The garlic paddock is under preparation, with the sheep now camping in the area where the new beds will go. Where sheep camp is where the manure and urine are most concentrated.  Along with mountains of collected manure, organic inputs such as vegetable compost and microbial inputs are my key method for developing our soils into rich dark earth teeming with microfauna and flora.

Planting plan this year includes cultivating the soil to a min of 40cms; heavily fertilise with sheep manure; add soil improvers such as EM1 microbial solutions, and vegetable compost; mulch heavily but ‘fluffily’; and water consistently rather than wait on mother nature.

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The best and worst 2018 garlic crop

I thought I’d show a pic of the best and worst garlic from my crop this season. It is disheartening when you get bulbs like the one on the left, but to give garlic its due, this plant, despite the lack of water, attack by Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and insufficient nutrients, still managed to produce a bulb I can plant.  This is what they call a super clove.  Typically produced when a garlic plant goes into stress mode.  It makes the call to put all its energies into producing one clove rather than several tiny cloves.  If I plant this super clove out, in the right conditions, it will outperform a clove from an ordinary bulb.  So all is not lost – what a remarkable plant to grow.

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timber, scaffolding and in the background a wood working space – this is our living room

The owner-builder adventure continues with the delivery of the solid Blackwood timber we are using to surround our windows, door frames and the huge 4m shelf in the kitchen.  We have saved up for this for the last few months and to see it safely inside the house is a moment of excitement.  Does anyone else live with scaffolding and bundles of wood in their main living space?

Book List February

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knitting = audio books and podcasts

Audio book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I thoroughly recommend.

It was a real mixed bag this month.  On recommendation from ‘others’ I read the books written by Melanie Benjamin and I was left underwhelmed.  I enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer as the voice of the female protagonist is very believable and authentic (now there is a word for the times).  I’ve included Flour and Stone by Nadine Ingham (again) because for the first time ever I made choux pastry, as in profiteroles and eclairs. Oh yes, let me repeat, I can make profiteroles and eclairs, albeit funny shaped and sans cream.

I have (finally) discovered podcasts and the one that has caught my heart is Dispatch to a Friend by Annabelle Hickson and Gillian Bell. What I like about a podcast is that it is not like the radio where you have to suffer the comments by other listeners or topics on subjects from the far right or left of politics, or politicians for that matter! A key reason for why podcasts and audio books are now firmly in my life is that I have worked out I can knit whilst listening to them. How I revel in the double indulgence.

Last word

The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility – Paulo Coelho

 

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Paddock walk finds. The strength and fragility are so evident.  Can you see the lambswool in the nest?

 

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April

Here at our place, April only hinted at autumn. ANZAC day is the “You won’t look like a wimp if you put a fire on now” day. But this year you would have received some sideways looks because the weather has been unseasonably warm and dry. If there is no rain, the temperatures are still above 25°C, no frosts and soil temperatures and moisture are more like those associated with summer – do we still call it autumn?

For me, a positive has meant the extra sunshine and warmth continue to keep us in tomatoes. I certainly don’t broadcast my positive read of this situation – it shows a complete lack of regard for the seasoned farmers whose livelihoods depend on key weather events. So I just keep preserving the tomatoes…

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Myth buster! Tomatoes do not need to stay on the vine to ripen. Pick with a blush on the shoulders and they will ripen within a few days. It means you are not battling pesky critters to get the perfect fruit.

My focus this April has been planting out the garlic patch. I have planted 4 varieties so far; Early Australian Purple, Monaro Purple, Italian Red and Flinders Island Red. In May I will plant another variety called Dunganski.

5 days after planting and the first shoots started to appear in the Early Australian Purple beds. As the month has progressed all the beds have started to shoot – highlighting just how tough and forgiving this wonderful plant is out here.

I have been having fun sheep training my small flock of 50 to come to me: rather than me having to chase them all over the paddock in long grass on foot, or train a dog or ride a motorbike. Its nothing new by any means but I am getting some funny looks from fellow sheep graziers when I mention it to them. I’m using a ‘Ship’s Bell’ and luring them with bales of lucerne. It’s a giggle when the boys come piling towards you, totally driven by anticipation, and how fast they slam on the brakes realising “crap it comes with that lady!”

With our focus on the garlic patch and the sheep, the house build has slowed right down. Despite this, the marvels of engineering are harnessed and on display with the deployment of the mini solar system to run the bore pump – automatically. That is to say, we have water pumping automatically into our storage tanks. Did I say automatically? If it were not for the high quality of our water, you would think we were living with city conveniences!

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Water on tap – automatically.

April Book List

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One last thing…

Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes

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March

March is a month of change this year – which is a good thing.

In the last week I reached my goal of 30 bottles of tomato sauce.  The crop has peaked in flavour and size so I use the smaller tomatoes to make chutney.  This chutney is tangy with loads of herbs and spices.  It supports a cheese board admirably, but for me, I think it is unsurpassed as the flavour hit in a toasted tomato chutney and cheese sandwich.  Grand reward for hard work on a cold day.

Remember the garlic patch pic from last month?  It’s amazing the effect of a bit of rain, albeit a very small amount.

You definitely start to evolve an opinion on how much and what sort of rain you require.  I’m definitely a fan of the 2 days of steady drizzle, the sort that resembles the curtain of rain that seems to permanently delineate Durham County in the UK.  Rain days like that are gentle and regenerating.  Out here we tend to get the 5 minute dump and drench type rain.  With a metal roof it is deafening and we find ourselves riveted into silence. And then we find an excuse to race out and ‘rescue’ something just to be part of the chaos. One day we will have an outdoor undercover area to watch from, raise a glass of vino and be very adult about it all.

The garlic patch is underway.  We have created the first planting beds and added some Ag Lime as all the growing guides state ‘garlic loves lime’.  Broad anecdotal statements aside, our soil analysis results show we need to adjust our soil ph.  Tomato, Potato – same outcome (GhostBusters II movie). The 10m x 1m beds will take 1,500 cloves of 5 different varieties of garlic.  Planting is scheduled for 5 & 6 April – the first best planting period for root crops after the full moon.

March Book List

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I finally got my butt to the local library and enrolled then came home, jumped online and ordered a pile of books to read over Easter.  I actually think it is better than having a voucher to your favourite bookstore.  In those instances you are really careful about what you spend the windfall on – at the library absolutely no control required.  It was open slather.

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Sheep and dogs – a comedy everyday

 

Greater confidence begins with a ritual of telling oneself solemnly every morning, before heading out for the day, that one is a muttonhead, a cretin, a dumb-bell and an imbecile. One or two more acts of folly should, thereafter, not matter much at all. http://www.theschooloflife.com

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February

 

Its now mid to late summer and February is the month for tomatoes.

By end of month we are harvesting 3-4kg of fruit every other day and my focus shifts to washing, roasting, pureeing and bottling whilst the fruit is at its finest.  There are so many ways to bottle tomatoes, its another entry for another time.  Perhaps you are blessed to have been raised in the craft.

Fundamentally and most paramount it all comes down to the tomatoes.

We eat so many of them with the type of ‘one pot wonder’ cooking I do. The plants are hardy and generous.  I think no shop bought tomato can compare on flavour to those homegrown. I also suspect our keenness in growing them is an impatient response to waiting for our trees to grow something that resembles fruit.

Short term gratification indeed.

I find the whole process an absorbing mix of learning and honing horticultural, cooking and preserving skills, daring experimentation and diligently (aspirationally!) recording outcomes. I like assessing and working on a plant, to maximise its potential, and the reward, as you harvest and bottle potentially wonderful meals for the year.

Effort and reward – I do wonder who is controlling whom here.

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The first Longview Garlic patch

Watch this space – it’s the new bed for the Longview Garlic crop this year.  This 1,000sqm space has to be mowed (with my trusty skateboard and blade aka the ride on mower), sprayed, fertilised, limed and ripped (yes I will be on the tractor) to make space for the bulbs to be planted in April/May weather permitting.  Whilst I don’t aim for organic/biodynamic certification I am very conscious of limiting my use of sprays and additives to those identified as suitable by these farming practices.  I now have to work this out so feel free to tell me what you know – what fun!

February Book List

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Read Ruby Wax!

“We too often fail to state our needs as clearly as we should, say yes to everyone else’s demands, and then from this grow increasingly ragged, angry and bitter. A lack of selfishness can turn us slowly into highly disagreeable, as well as ineffective, people.” http://www.theschooloflife.com

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