Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chapter 14: Winter Chills and Kerosene Blues

Currently, Jo and I are slowly falling into a foggy kerosene fumey coma. 2 weeks ago we ripped out our oil heater, patched the holes in the wall and bought a fire combustion heater on ebay, which is yet to be installed. Consequently, we have borrowed Gramp's Kerosene heater, which, while slowly heating the house, also slowly overwhelms us with kero - smello fumes. It is a delicate balance of deciding whether to let the cold but fresh air in, or suffocate slowly, but warmly. 

buying a fire place

Apart from the dreamy notions of snuggling by a cosy fire place with a glass of mulberry wine and toasty bed socks, our reasons for buying a fire place (slow combustion heater) was primarily to save on energy bills. Our old oil heater cost over $470.00 to refill each year and we realised we could save this money by installing a wood fired heater instead.

We enthusiastically jumped onto ebay a few weeks ago and bid on a heater (along with 22 other bidders) that was being sold 2nd hand. Despite the lack of information about the fire place and that the seller's name was 'Wayne' or something equally as alarming, Joe and I were thrilled to win the bid. However,  when joe arrived the next evening at the pick up address in the pitch dark, the transaction that was to follow seemed more clandestine than conspicuous.  'Wayne' was illuminated only by the head lights of Joe's car. Joe was slightly suspicious. "Nahh  yeahhh mate, yeeeah sorry but me powers out aye." Joe's suspicion grew. Being the trusting soul that Joe is he paid the money and drove home leaving Wayne to be swallowed by the darkness, most likely never to be seen again...we wonder now wether Wayne actually even lived at that address.

Anyhow, in the light the fireplace wasn't in too bad a condition although it needed a new seal for the door and a few less dings. Regardless, with stoic optimisim, the fireplace will be installed by Joe this weekend or we will all succumb to consumption from the cold dank air, that is if we haven't been suffocated by the ever present kerosene vapours.

Although nobody bothered to take part in our last poll, we have decided to include yet another fascinating moon planting chart for the coming month. Why? because we care!

In the Graden
This month, we planted many, many broad beans, and harvested carrots and parsnips that we had planted last spring. They were lovely with our pork roast. We have pruned the mulberry tree, mulched the fruit trees, and heaped more soil into our potato bags (which have bounced back since being netted from the possums).

Henrietta, Charlie and Billy Holiday still defy the onset of winter and are continuing to lay 3 eggs a day. Perhaps it is the warm porridge that we have been feeding them each morning, or Georgie serenading them with "Up jumps the scarecrow". Whatever the case, we are very proud of them.

Its official, only 202 days left to prepare for our Funky Front yard challenge, when we attempt to live off only what we can produce in our suburban front yard! This means its time to get busy. Next week, Joe plans to expand and rebuild the vege garden, and 4 weeks to go before I get out the old bassinette for bumbina numero tres. All shall be blogged in the up coming weeks.

Stay warm or perish. :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

chapter 13: descent from domestic goddess to jam lunatic

I know... where on earth have we been? It seems that no amount of excuses can possibly suffice for our apparent hibernation, and no excuses will be given. All you really need to know is that we are back, and ready to talk all things jam, luna cycles and why Joe won't be eating snails afterall.

Like any good domestic goddess, I can be forgiven for toying with the idea of using my many lazy hours about the house to produce a little home made jam, as an expression of my love and appreciation for neighbours, family and of course my dear husband. With the children playing quietlty in the garden, of course, I slipped on my appron, put down my martini, and liesurely set about wipping up my very first batch of home made (organic, of course darlings) grapefruit, lemon and orange marmalade... Perhaps I'll even open up a little jam store in my spare time. I mean how hard could it be???

My goodness, I am never doing that again! After plucking 14 grapefruits, 4 oranges and 2 lemons from our trees, I set about grating off  all the rind (and part of my knuckle). Then I had to peel off the stupid white bit between the skin and the fruit, and finally cut the fruit up into cubes. TZhe citric acid from all the juice on my cut finger, made me less and less goddess like by the second, and by the time I put the diced fruit into the simmering water I was cursing and sweating like Gordon Ramsey in an Aldi's shopping line with two kids. 

Once simmering, I composed myself, added the rind, and decided to taste test the fruit of my labour. It was disgusting...and tasted more like a new form of bio-fuel than a perky marmalade should. So over a period of 2 hours I added 2 kg of sugar. It tasted much better... well it tasted edible, and I was sick of making jam by this stage.

Meanwhile I sterilized 15 jars by boiling them in water, before removing them with tongs, and lining them up in anticipation of my almost deliciously semi-edible jam.  When the time had come to spoon in my marmalade delight, I couldnt believe that it only filled five jars... actually 4 and 3/4 jars... 3 and a half stupid hours later. one for joe, one for dad, one for Joe's sister and my neighbour (because I bragged to them about how I was soon to be a Jam queen), and the 3/4 full jar I am selling on ebay. 

Never ever, will I make jam again... and if joe cant make wine from the grapefruits, I will cut the tree down myself. 

would you like to see a photo?

The Garden
On a brighter front, things are improving in the garden. We have had a successful crop of sweet potato which taste delicious and we are now the proud owners of two planted apple trees. They are both dwarf varieties, an 'Abas' (which is a universal pollinator) and a 'Jonathon'. At the moment they are three feet tall and won't bare fruit for a few more years but we have dreamy notions of one day in the future and saying to the kids, 'run along dears to the pear and apple orchard and collect some fruit...mummy thinks she might do some preserving' (I'm also thinking about planting a martini tree).

Moon Planting
We have also been looking into moon planting. Moon planting is a method whereby certain varieties of fruit or vegetables are planted in unison with the cycle of the moon. Like any sensible person I too was suspicious as soon as I saw the word lunar. Initially I expected I would have to perform midnight rituals such as howling at my broadbeans or dancing around the greenhouse whilst Venus alligned with Uranus and the neighbours quickly pulled their blinds was terrified of the possible repercussions of yet another of my new found interests.

Thankfully, there is a rationally scientific explanation for moon planting. Throughout the lunar cycle the moon varies in its gravitational pull towards the Earth which directly effects water (e.g. the tides). During a 'waxing moon' (new moon to full moon) the gravitaional pull increases, drawing water in the soil upward, this promotes upward growth in plants. As the moon wanes (full moon to new moon) the gravitional pull also wanes, drawing more water downward towards the roots, therefore promoting root growth.

In short there are four stages in the lunar cycle. From the New moon to when the moon is half full is known as the 'first quarter'. During the first quarter plant 'leaf' vegetables (such as lettuce, cabbage and pak choy). The second quarter (from the half moon to the full moon) is the time to plant anything that fruits above the ground (such as tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini and strawberries). The third quarter (from the full moon to the half moon) is a time to plant 'root' vegetables (potatoes, parsnips, beetroot, garlic and carrots). The forth quarter from the half moon to the new moon is a resting period, avoid planting during this time, instead mulch, prune or transplant. 

We are by no means lunar gurus but are going to give moon planting a try and see if it makes a difference to the garden.

Here is a chart of this month's moon planting:

Many thanks to all those who took part in our recent poll as to whether or not Joe should prepare snails for eating. Whilst the votes were overwhelmingly in the positive, after the recent headline news of a man contracting a rare form of meningitis after eating a slug?! for a $10 bet I have made the executive decision that no snails will be harmed in the making of this blog (except for all the ones we stomp on).

Green grubs
Last of all to all those who want to know how to get rid of the green grubs that turn into white cabbage butterflies, we have a break through. Since our last blog Joe trialled spray-on vegetable oil, normally used for cooking. Simply spray it on to your affected plants and laugh despotically. The oil suffocates the grubs...hooooheeee ha ha ha haaaaa.

Next week we attempt to install revamp and install a second hand fire place combustion heater that we purchased on ebay, before we feeze to death.