Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chapter 7: Woo Hoo for home-brew!

Woo Hoo for Home Brew!
Welcome back our fine followers. It seems that the number of followers is becoming less exclusive by the week, increasing by a staggering 130% in seven days! Is cyber space big enough to fit all 7 of you... who can possibly tell. There you are, all hot and smelly after building your compost heaps, crammed together in that possibly unventilated cyber space you currently share... you must be thirsty. They say you can get it milkin' a cow... I wouldn't know, but i believe you can get it brushing your hair, or even sitting on a chair. Yep, you can get it any old how... matter'o'fact I'm getting one now... right out of the fridge... a home brewed beer!

There is something inexplicably satisfying about drinking beer that you have brewed yourself and best of all, its remarkably cheap and easy! We are by no means guru's at brewing. In fact, we are relatively new to it all. But if we are going to survive this F.F.F.C., a home-brew is most certainly required at the end of each day of the challenge. Currently we have only brewed about 10 batches of beer, and we have also dabbled with making our own wine from mulberries and grapes that we have grown on our yard.

What do I need to make home brew?
There are plenty of resources online about brewing, but if you want to keep it simple, you can buy all that you need to get started from K-Mart or a home-brew shop for around $100 - $120. We actually found most of what we needed on ebay for around $60. Your bare essentials include a carboy (that's a big plastic container), an air-lock (a squiggly tube that sticks in the top of your carboy - it lets gas out but stops air getting in), a bottle topper, a cleaning agent such as bleach (cheap), bottles, lids, and the yeast/malt/brewing sugar kit (about $20). Once you are set up, a batch of 65 beers or so will only cost you about $25. That's pretty good for 2 and a half cases. A brew will take about 1 week before you can bottle it, and another 2 weeks minimum before you can drink it. It is better to leave it longer (6 weeks or so).

Mmm is for Mulberries
In our yard we are lucky enough to have an established and very old mulberry tree. It is huge! We are also very lucky to have a grape vine which produced some lovely grapes, although most of them were eaten by the Rosella's. Throughout spring and early summer, Joe and the kids spent hours picking mulberries. They are truly delicious. If you have the room, a mulberry tree is a must. Very low maintenance, grow from cuttings and grow quickly. Just remember, they can get big, so plant them in the right spot.

By the end of spring, we had collected about 5 kg of mulberries and stored them in deep freeze. We also managed to save about 1kg of grapes from the birds. The mulberries are delicious in pancakes, or heated into a syrup to drizzle over ice cream, or in apple and mulberry pie. mmmmm.

Mulberry wine
Also as it turns out, they are not a bad fruit to make wine from. After some research and a visit to a brewing store, we mushed our grapes and mulberries in the blender, added water, sugar, lemon juice and some cinnamon sticks and of course some wine yeast, to make our very first home made batch of mulberry and grape wine. How exciting! That said, wine takes much longer than beer to mature, and ours is still in the carboy, so we have no idea how it will turn out. Fingers crossed it will be a wonderful summer wine that we can serve at our end of challenge dinner party.
Why don't you give it a try? The whole beer thing is dead easy. Okay, you may not have a grape vine, but why not take a trip to the hunter and snip yourself a few cuttings before next spring? (because its illegal). Alternatively you could visit your local nursery or Bunnings and see what vines they have in stock. A grape vine costs about $10. Surprisingly, you can make wine out of lots of other fruits, including just about any berry, even kiwi fruits and bananas!

I know, its a big step... but we have already inspired you to have chooks, right? Not to mention a compost heap and a veggie garden, and your neighbours already think your a hippie. Hell, what does it matter if they call you an alco too. How awesome would it be to invite friends around for a dinner party and pop out a bottle of 2011 uniquely home made wine. And if it tastes really bad, don't despair, give it away as a Christmas present, someone will drink it.

What's growing in the Garden
OK, enough about the home brew, back to the garden. In preparation for the funky front yard challenge we have decided to expand out vegetable garden. With the onset of Autumn, we have planted several new crops, including Papa's broad beans, beetroot, pak-choy, bok-choy, swedes, more all season carrots, garlic, shallots, lazy-housewife beans, red kidney beans, chick peas, silver beat and radishes. Spinach, strawberries, turnips and leek are also good to plant now.

Hot Potatoes
Most exciting of all is our potato experiment. Some months ago, a friend mentioned the mysterious method of growing potatoes in sacks in order to increase the yield. The general idea is as follows. A sack or porous bag, such as an old potato sack is rolled down so that it is only about 20cm deep. Add soil and 2 or 3 potatoes (eyes facing up). As the potato plant grows, unravel the bag by 10cm or so and add more soil, leaving the top of the potato plant exposed. Continue this process until the bag is full. Throughout the process the potato plant is tricked into growing new tubers, growing far more potatoes than usual.

We thought we would give it a try. If it works well, we can start a potato bag or two every month and work out how many we would need to grow. Potatoes take about 120 days to mature, and can be grown almost all year round in temperate conditions. Traditionally they are planted from about July through to December, although this will vary depending on your climate.

Potatoes are super easy to grow, but it is recommended that you don't plant them in the same soil again for 3 years to prevent diseases building up in the soil. This is another benefit of planting in bags. The soil can be tipped out and used elsewhere. Potatoes are good companions for cabbage/corn/peas/beans. Garlic and French marigolds are good at preventing pests and diseases with potatoes, and nasturtiums help improve their growth.

We took a trip to one of those hippie organic produce shops in Katoomba last weekend, and did our best to blend in with the tie-die and long, naturally greying heads of hair cleaned only with blossom oil and herb extracts. To their benefit, and ours, they had a wonderful range of organic fruit and vege and dried beans and grains. The purpose of our visit was to select seeds, and vegies to plant for the winter. We left with some lovely Dutch cream, Kipfler and Pontiac potatoes which we have used in our potato bags. You might be wondering why you would bother growing your own potatoes when you can buy them relatively cheaply from the shop? Just wait til you try your own home-grown ones, oven-roasted, drizzled in olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt, totally more delicious than anything you have ever bought. Home-grown potatoes store for much longer than those you buy as well.

Bags of poo

Joe and Noah also took a trip down into the Richmond farming district in search of horse manure for the garden. If you live near any farms its worth doing a poo-patrol. The occasional farm will sell their manure for about $2 a bag. Big, heavy, 30kg bags of poo. For 20 dollars, you can fill your entire car with 300kg of poo for the garden and drive home with the windows open and a satisfied smile on your face. If you live near the Richmond district. Our top poo stops are on Londondary road and The Driftway. Use well rotted manure in your compost, or dig it into your garden beds before planting hungry vegetables such as pumpkins and tomatoes. For the brave hearted, make a potent poo-tea and use to fertilise the garden every week or two.

There you go. You have no excuse to pay extortionist prices for beer or poo ever again.

Next week, we will give you a tour of our funky frontyard garden, and look at some crops in more detail, such as the our super spicey chillies, purple carrots, and blueberries which are all wonderfully high in anti-oxidants. We might even share with you where to buy such rare heirloom vegetables right here from your very own computer.

1 comment:

  1. the problem of not being able to comment unless you sign up should now be fixed, testing...