Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ask Your Neighbour for some Sugar!

The First ever Crop and Swap

Now that a few weeks have passed and the dust has settled on our very first local community food swap, we can take stock of its success in a more level headed and objective fashion, without getting all swept up in the giddy pandemonium of positive community spirit that might otherwise blurr our judgement.... Objectively speaking, the first ever Crop and Swap was bloody fantastic! Absolutely Amazing! Awe inspiring! and sooooo much fun!

As we arrived at the community hall to set up, the golden shafts of sunlight were just beginning to warm the  cool mountain air, and it looked set to be a beautiful day. Inside the hall we set up the Crop & Swap banner, a registration desk, a circle of hessian sacks on the floor (the swapping circle), tea and coffee, and a resource table (where locals could bring magazines, tools, or any other resources to share).

We had no idea how many people to expect and thought a modest 25 or so would attend. By 9:30 people started to arrive, and by 10:30am, we had over 80 people in the hall, bringing all manner of home grown and home made produce. Baskets full of garden greens, mulberries, macadamia nuts, mushrooms, seedlings and seeds, beetroots and bread, jams, eggs, honey and even cheese! we met so many fantastic people, and it was fascinating seeing what people brought to swap.

At the end of a hard days swapping

Swappers had come from all over the mountains and even as far as eastern Sydney. The atmosphere was honestly electric, and it was simply a pleasure watching others make swaps, get chatting, exchange numbers and begin building a vibrant community network before our very eyes.

ok, ok, pass me lettuce leaf to dry my eyes, while I mop up the oil spill of community mojo before someone slips over and blows all our public liability. I'll stop wobbling on and on about how wonderful it was, and get down to the nitty gritty; How did it work and what was swapped?

After everyone registered, they chose a mat in the swap circle to display their produce, and then grabbed a tea or coffee, had a chat, and spied on what others had brought to swap.  At 10:30 the swapping began, and people made swaps independently with one another.

Our own swap mat started with broad beans, macadamia nuts, silver-beet, nasturtiums, two dozen eggs, three bottles of worm wee and bunches of parsley. We brought home a super yummy medlar fruit sauce, baby garlics, snow peas, Thai mint and rosemary seedlings, kefir, heaps of mint, oranges, sage, rocket, dwarf beans and baby spinach. Swapping with neighbours beats shopping at Coles any day of the millennium!

What is most exciting about being involved in a local food swap is the way it reinvigorates the connections between neighbours, builds local knowledge, and makes a community more empowered by sharing skills, resources and of course, good food, which is a common bond for us all. Just about everyone walked away thinking, "Right! what can I bring next month that is knock your socks off amazing" or "wow, I'm going to have a crack at growing that in my garden", or atleast, "mmmm... that home baked apple tart smelled delicious"...(that's what I was thinking). We all felt motivated to be more resourceful. But most important of all,, was the fact that it gave us the opportunity to share what we had with others, and without getting all mushy, it seems to me, that in a society where we have more than we need, sharing is oddly something we seem to do less often than we should. Its true what they say, that the fun is in the giving. I think this is why the Crop and Swap will hopefully continue to be a success.

Sorry, pass me another lettuce leaf........
Gourd Almighty!

Our next Crop and Swap is only a week away, and we have been busy preparing our produce. Today Jo made jars of raspberry and Logan berry jam, and in the garden, our carrots and beets are ready or plucking, as well as potatoes, silverbeet and lettuce. But our prize swapping item for this month is our crookneck zucchini! They look totally out of this world! With yellow warty looking skin, they may at first seem less appetizing than the regular zuke. But they taste great, and are incredibly productive. Crookneck Zucchini are one of the most prolific zucchini's and grow as a bush instead of rambling along a clumsy vine like some uncivilised courgettes tend to do.

the crookneck's in the patch

Jo's raspberry and Logan jam

Our beets have been growing particularly well in the raised mounds.

The Garlic Wars

Garlic is glorious! It tastes fantastic, keeps you and your chookens super healthy (just add it to their porridge), and wards of vampires and fair weather friends. But Alas, there simply isn't enough of it grown here in Australia, and we are doomed to purchase foreign garlic from the other side of the world that has been fumed with fungicides, and is months, if not years past its used by date.
our hard neck garlic

I don't know if you have experienced the same, but the store bought imported garlic has recently taken a major nose dive. More often than not, upon cracking open a fist full of garlic, we have found it to be mouldy and rotten. Home grown garlic stores incredibly well for 6 or more months, so it makes one wonder how old our imported garlic is....

Well, we have a plan. Our aim next February is to plant as much garlic as our garden will hold, after the equinox, as is the tradition. I became very excited recently when one of our hard neck garlic bulbs went to seed last week. With dreams of replanting the seed and becoming a major global exporter of garlic from our very own front yard, I started to become deluded with garlicky grandeur,  only to find out after some research that they rarely grow true to type from seed, and even if they do, it takes 2 years before you can harvest them. bugger!

 Needless to say, we can still plant the bulbs, and in time, our plans of world garlic domination may one day still become a reality. Garlic is easy to grow. Prepare the soil before planting with compost or manure. plant the cloves about 10cm apart, pointy end up, about 5cm beneath the soil. There are many varieties, but are largely divided into soft neck and hard neck varieties.

We are looking for volunteers to enlist in our guerrilla garlic war. So if you too are sick of bad imported garlic, join the ranks and plant some garlic in your patch this Autumn. Who's with us?!!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thorny thistles and beautiful berries

Beautiful Berries

As the weather warms up and you prematurely start to hum away at Christmas carols, the simple summer berry is never far away. Fruiting in the garden at the moment we have mellow mulberries, luscious loganberries, bountiful blackberries, sweet, sweet strawberries and last but not least, whimsical wild strawberries.

Last week we shared our very first loganberry, the taste was amazing. It is similar to a raspberry but with a punchy pomegranate-like after taste, a total wow factor. The berries grow on lazy weeping canes that need some support but their taste is sensational and definitely worth growing in your backyard, (we planted our loganberries last year).

our very first Loganberry

Our thornless blackberries, whilst not yet ripe, are plentiful. We will have net them very soon so as not to loose them to the birds who keep eyeing them off.

Last year we lost most of our strawberries to slugs with exceptional taste, however this year those slugs will be sorely disappointed. This year we have hung our strawberries up off the ground in Joe's very ingenious invention - the used milk carton hanger pot. It works too, we are claiming those delicious berries before any slugs...and the taste of home-grown strawberries, well just an experience that needs to be had by all.

Another little strawberry treat that has been popping up throughout the front garden are the wild strawberries. They are smaller and less tasty but still an exciting little treat for the kids to pop into their mouths as they find them in the garden.

wild strawberries
I would love to make a frozen berry cheesecake or mulberry smoothies for Christmas day, but most of our berries rarely make it through the door, there is something magical about popping a berry into your mouth whilst standing in the shade of the garden trees... ahh those beautiful berries.

Thistle wet your whistle! Thistle beer recipe.

Last week, I noticed a very healthy thistle popping up in one of our garden beds, which had sprung out of some old horse manure. Normally, I would get rid of these sort of weeds immediately, but then I remembered hearing of a recipe for nettle beer, and while this Scottish thistle wasn’t technically a nettle, it got me wondering whether or not a brew from thistles was a possibility. But one little thistle wouldn’t be enough for a brew, I thought, and put the idea in the back of my mind with the list of other crazy ideas I’d one day like to try.

And that’s where the idea stayed until this weekend, when Jo and I took the kids for a bush walk just a few minutes from where we live. As we entered the reserve, I noticed the tell tale purple flower of a Scottish thistle growing next to the track. “Careful kids, there’s a nasty thistle there” I said... and then, in one of those divine moments of enlightenment, I noticed that there were hundreds of thistles popping up everywhere. Suddenly, the beer idea came rushing back to the forefront of my mind again - ahem, and the need to preserve our wonderful bushland from this terrible noxious weed, and later that day, N and I took a large bucket, some gloves and big scissors, and returned to stoically do our bit for bushland preservation against these nasty weeds.

my trusty thistle picking wing man

After some Internet research, I found some interesting facts (?) about the humble thistle. Apart from being a medieval cure for baldness, thorns aside, it seems that all parts of the plant are edible. The young flowers can be eaten in the same fashion as a globe Artichoke.  It has been used to make tea’s for liver ailments, improve memory, make oil. the roots supposedly taste similar to Jerusalem artichoke, but beware, can cause massive bouts of gas.  

With such positive acclamations, it only seemed right that we craft the following (very experimental, and as far as I am aware, World's first)  THISTLE BEER RECIPE!!!!!!!!


250 grams of thistle leaves/flowers

12 litres of water

4 oranges

Cream of tartar

Brewers yeast (or baker’s yeast is ok)

1.5 kg of sugar

3 kilos of extreme optimism


Remove leaves and buds from stems (around 250 grams) – use gloves and scissors.

Bring 12 litres of water to the boil in a large pot

Add thistle leaves and buds and simmer for 30 minutes (enough to fill the pot)

Strain through muslin  into a sterile brewing keg – the colour was that of tea, and a quick taste test had a similar taste to green tea...or was it grass... let’s say green tea for now.

Add 1 tbl spoon of cream of tartar, the juice of 4 oranges, and 1.5 kilo’s of sugar. Stir well until sugar is dissolved. You could also add other ingredients here such as ginger etc for flavor.

Allow to cool to blood temperature (this took hours), and then add the brewer’s yeast (15 grams) – I used baker’s yeast which is an adequate alternative.

Leave to ferment for a few days and then bottle and leave for a further 2 weeks.

boil and bubble...

the strained thistle tea

Whilst we are hopeful of the final result, I suspect that it may be on par with our Mulberry wine. But on the off chance that it does work, it would make for a great way to control the spread of noxious weeds in our local flora, and help improve the liver function and and memory amongst beer drinkers worldwide... on the quiet, we may be about the revolutionise the beer industry and become ridiculously rich, but perhaps its best to keep it under your hat until the taste test.

The Thistle Beer Verdict
After  4 or 5 days in the keg, we bottled the batch adding a sugar drop (about a teaspoon of sugar) to each bottle to carbonate - make it fizzy. It only seemed right to try a quick little swig, albeit premature  from the barrel. The Aroma was sweet and citrusy, and the taste.... bitter, almost suck on a lemon bitter, almost enough to make me loose any interest in bushland preservation, altogether.

But there was a glimmer of hope. with the added sugar in each bottle, perhaps it might just pull through. After a few days in the bottle it was time for another taste test. Surprisingly, it was significantly better, with a zesty citrus flavor and refreshing bitter-sweet tang... my interest in bushland preservation was once again restored.

a modest 3 out of 5

With a few more weeks in the bottle, I expect the brew to improve further, and I am confident to say, that the thistle beer experiment was a success! If you are inclined to give it a try, make sure you are confident that the thistles are healthy and have not been sprayed with any herbicides. A trusty pair of gloves and scissors are also recommended.

Our next post will be out shortly, with all the details about the very first crop and swap...85 swappers and counting!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Worms and Wasabi

There are a number of milestones that our 15month old daughter has achieved recently, such as the ability to eat an entire apple down to it's core with only 4 teeth; say the words "happy" and "thank you", hide dads wallet in obscure locations and scream at a decibel that Joe believes has caused him permanent loss of hearing.  Apart from her ability to dump any valuable item into the toilet without making a splash sound, her other incredible skill which makes us incredibly proud revolves around the simple broad bean. I challenge you to find another 15 month old on this planet who can stealthily slip out the front door, crawl down the front stairs and into the broad bean patch, then pick, shell and devour our beloved broad beans at a disturbingly ravenous rate. We are so proud! If only she could learn to walk....

But I guess, on a more serious note, it is something that we really are proud of, that to our kids, eating from the garden is a normal thing to do. We can send our 3 year old to fetch any number of herbs, as she already knows her basil from her rosemary, and sage from parsley. Our 5 year old gets excited at the prospect of pollinating pumpkins, and understands which broad beans to leave for seed saving on account of their healthy growth and high yields. Kids learn at an incredible rate.

Speaking of children, thank goodness the school holidays are over! Joe has a theory that the wild September breezes have nothing to do with global warming and are in fact caused by the universal sigh of relief from parents all around the world, when their children finally go back to school. Despite the relentless rain during the school holidays we did manage a little fun with a backyard camping session complete with tent, camp-fire with scary storey, marshmallows and two-minute noodles. It was quote - unquote "the best time of my life" , according to our 5 year old son who stoically stayed solo in the tent until brought in by Dad at 9 pm.

A few days later, Joe and N set off on N's first real hike and camp through the Megalong Valley and camping at the Cox's river overnight. It was an initiation. As a 5 and 1/2 year old N had to carry his own backpack, water and distress beacon (which Mum insisted be collected from the local police station). Before arriving at the camp site N had to cross the suspension bridge that spanned the river, if he made it to the other side alive, he was allowed to light the camp-fire.

Casting all rational expectations of a 5 and 1/2 year old aside Dad gave him a manly slap on the back and said "I'll see you on the other side". That night after N had lit his very first camp fire, and had talked in depth about his new found fear of heights to Dad,  he exclaimed in a moment of campfire serenity, quote, unquote "this is the best time of my life"! Only at the age of 5 can you have the 'best time of your life' twice in one week.

happy camper

Egg Eaters Anonymous:

Each morning Henrietta, Billy Holiday, Thelma, Louise, Noella and Georgie (our chickens) enjoy a very balanced breakfast of porridge, silverbeet, left-overs, nasturtiums, pellets and fresh water. In addition we dig up the soil in their coup to expose the hundreds of worms (great for protein) which happily take residence in the now very rich soil. We also let them out most afternoons for an hour or so to scratch around the garden, eat grass seed, bugs and small pebbles (to help with digestion).

chooky breakfast

Despite this wonderful life style and gourmet meals, there seems to be something missing in their lives. Lately, we were shocked to realise that one (or maybe more) of our hens has taken to the shameful and disturbing vice of egg eating.

It seems, from all accounts, egg eating is a heinous disorder from which no hen in living history has ever been corrected, and the only cure for such a fowl act is...the guillotine! the prospect of chopping a chook was daunting, and after some research, we stumbled on an old and less fatal way to correct this behaviour. Step one was to blow out the yolk and white, leaving the shell intact, then refill the egg with ... wasabi. The egg would then be left for the hen to eat it and learn a very nasty lesson indeed! It seemed like a  devilishly good idea, so we put it to the test.

Slinking into the pen with our wasabi laden egg and casually placing it in the middle of the pen, we stood back and watched with giddy anticipation. This will show them, we thought, those deborturous chickens. A little fire and brimstone to set them on the clucky path of righteous non-egg eating. Beedy eyed, they flocked in a sudden frenzy and descended on the egg, tearing it to bits in an instant... then.... nothing.... absolutely nothing... anyone would have thought they liked it! I was devastated.

Later that night, jo and I discussed the options. It was agreed that one of our ladies must learn the way of the Samurai, and get the chop! If anyone has any other alternative, we would be happy to hear it, time is ticking.

'Crap' soil
On a more positive chicken note, we have been using the chickens to help out with reconditioning the soil in our front yard one square metre at a time, by swapping the soil from their chook pen for the clay in our front yard. The chooks make light work of digging around the new clay and mixing it with the rich soil in their pen. As they have been in the same spot for a couple of years, the soil is super rich and packed with worms, which also do their bit to improve the soil.
diggin up some worms for the ladies

Speaking of worms, our worm farm has been great for our spring garden. We use the worm wee as a natural fertilizer on many of our plants, and the worm castings (mixed with sand) make a rich soil for seedlings. All they need in return is some damp newspaper, vegetable scraps and the occasional heap of weeds.

Apart from our bumper crop of broad beans our two potato beds are raging and our tomatoes, crooked neck zucchinis and pumpkins are all off to a flying start. We are also enjoying the first strawberries and mulberries of the season, with a promising amount of blackberries and loganberries on the way too. We have been eating loads of silverbeet, parsley, rocket, rosemary and good ol nasturtiums in salads too.

first strawberries of the season
Our quality control team leap into action

our first crop of Romanesco Broccoli

With only 28 days to go before our first Crop & Swap we are beginning to see more realistically what we will have for the first swap; plenty of eggs, parsley, broad beans, silverbeet, mulberries, macadamia nuts, nasturtiums, chamomile and some home-baked breads. We have had more neighbours and potential crop & swappers stop for chats and email us, everyone sounds as though they are bringing along some great produce.
painting our Crop & Swap sign

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chapter 34:Tick. Tick. Tick....KA-BLOOOM!!!

Garden Make-over

Recently we had two large trees cut down from our front yard. Whilst it is always sad to see a tree go, it has let in a lot more light, which is always a gardening bonus. It's taken some time to get used to not having the trees there anymore. It has been funny watching our neighbours stroll by then looking around in earnest trying to work out whats different. It's like when a friend has waxed their own eyebrows (somewhat frivolously) can't quite put your finger on it..."have you had a hair cut? you look different...what is about you today?...ohhh...did you do your own eyebrows?...(awkward silence) they look greeeat."

But unlike spent eyebrows, we put both our trees to good use. We chopped one for firewood and the other was chipped and used for mulch in the garden and community orchard.With loads more sunlight on our frontyard, we expanded the veggie patch. Instead of raised beds, this year we are growing straight into the ground. In preparing the new bed we began by laying down a carpet of old newspapers, then barrowed in a layer of woodchips. Bags of $1 horse manure was spread on the woodchips and then we splurged on some topsoil and sugar cane mulch to finish it off...The patch is now 2mtrs wide by 8 mtrs long, and is set for planting as soon as our seedlings have grown.

Our new extended patch

 Slow Seedlings

 Eons ago, in the depressing dead of winter, we ordered some seems from Diggers, in the anticipation of Spring...we were getting in early...a head start, or so we thought.

Our local Thai is ready in 15 mins, hats off, very impressive. You can order a case of wine online and have it delivered within 3 days...if you cared to you could fly to 'Puke' in Albania in under 24hours...or canoe to New Zealand in...I don't know...2 weeks...or 4 weeks with one paddle....or even six weeks with your bare hands. Receiving our seeds from Diggers....wait for it...took 7 flippin weeks, or for you winos out there 16.3 cases of wine later our seeds had FINALLY arrived. You can imagine our dismay when we realised we had forgotten to order the crookneck zucchinis we desperately wanted. Suuurely there was another option... we purchased our crookneck zucchinis from Eden seeds instead and they arrived 3 days later. Diggers have a great variety but they are notoriously slow. Eden seeds in Brisbane also supply a good range of heirloom and non-hybrid seeds and are speedy with their deliveries.

Found this little hot house in a local council throw out. Score!
Toilet roll seedlings - super easy

 With all our seeds finally ready to go we chopped our toilet rolls, packed them with damp seedling mix and planted a range of heirloom tomatoes including Black Russian, Tommy Toe, Tigerella, Black Cherry, Lemon Drop, Green Zebra, Black Crim, Pink Brandy Wine and Orange Jaune Flamme...they will be a hit at the 'Crop and Swap'. We also planted Golden Midget Watermelon, Queensland Blue Pumpkins, Lebanese cucumbers, beetroot, silverbeet, Purple Dragon carrots and Lantern chillies. We have also planted German Chamomile, Peppermint, Giant Sunflowers, Basil, Coriander, Thyme, Rocket, Fat Bastard asparagus, sweet purple asparagus, sweet potato, kipfler potatoes, royal blues, Desiree's, dutch cream and other varieties. But it doesn't end there, we have planted chokos, passionfruit, kiwi-fruit (which has bloomed), a Cab. Sav. and a Merlot grape vine and three strawberry guavas.

fancy meeting you here

G and her magic home grown asparagus wand

Jane and the Gooseberries

Lately we’ve been spreading the word about the ‘Crop & Swap’, our local fruit and veggie swap starting in Nov has generated a load of local interest. We were chuffed to receive our first piece of mail from a lovely neighbour in our street who also grows her own fruit and veg and is embarking upon an aquaponics venture in the next few weeks. Jane’s lovely letter explained that as a local grower and resident of many years, she has been dying to be part of something like the ‘Crop & Swap’ simply, to be more involved with the community and like-minded gardeners. We visited Jane and her husband, they are delightful and have now invited us to visit their garden and make use of whatever they grow including kiwi-fruit, cape gooseberries (which we have since planted ourselves), calendula, oregano, paw paw, beetroot and parsley. We were equally as excited to find people as enthusiastic about growing food as we are and are thrilled about the possibilities of learning from Jane and her husband in the weeks, months and years to come. So what about the gooseberries...well we tricked you, they’re not gooseberries at all, they are best known as Cape Gooseberries, or Chinese Lantern. They are a distant relative of the tomato and belong to the Nightshade family (potatoes and tomatoes). The fruit grows inside a papery, lantern-like pod (much like a Chinese lantern). Other than the berries, all other parts of the plant are poisonous...whilst we are talking about poison, the red berries on asparagus plants are also poisonous fyi. But back to the gooseberries, they fruit in late winter and apparently are fantastic in fruit salads, adding to jams, dried for meat dishes or just popped into the mouth fresh...we are excited.

a cheeky cockatoo staking out the patch

Community Orchard Part 2:

Speaking of our wonderful local community and neighbours, another 7 trees have been added to our community orchard. Thanks to our wonderful neighbours on Chaseling we planted an apricot, the most exquisite nectarine and a very cool peacharine. We have also planted a Maqui Berry tree, 2 Fig and a Pomegranite tree. The community orchard is now well and truly full. It is great to see neighbours walking through it and checking out the plants. It has become quite the local thoroughfare.

Next post we will tell you more about the adventures of the 'Crop & Swap', hitting the Glenbrook markets, giving away free seeds and heirloom seedlings, planting our seedlings and some of our latest renos.

our nectarine tree in bloom

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Crop & Swap

The Big Swap

Our old neighbours in Umina, David and Nancy, are 86 and still gardening. Surprisingly their passion for veggie gardening was only really ignited three years ago when David first happened to hang over the fence and notice our two small raised garden beds. At the time we grew lettuce, spinach, shallots, carrots and garlic...that was it.  Unbeknown to us David was incredibly fit and competitive for an 83 year old. Within 2 weeks he had single handedly built 4 garden beds twice the size of ours, researched green manures,planted  ten times the amount of vegetables than we did, and to top it off would hang himself by the ankles in his garage to improve circulation...we're not kidding (it was a disconcerting sight to behold).

Anyway, in time it seemed perfectly normal, and after many gardening tips had been exchanged over the fence and summer was drawing to a close, David had accumulated more cucumbers than any retiree needed and so, handed us a big bag of them over the fence (we have never had luck with cucumbers). It only seemed natural to give him something in return. Later that evening we left a bag of our lettuce on their doorstep, without even realising it at the time, we had made our first neighbourly produce swap. From that point on we became good friends. Just as with any friendship, it's the act of sharing that brings people together.

Joe and I got talking later that night about how neighbourhoods can be lonely places. We didn't know anybody else in our street after having lived there for a over year and no doubt this is a common experience in many neighbourhoods. A small seed had germinated.

When my sister and her husband moved to the mountains a year ago we got talking. We wanted to unite our interests in gardening and the community. After many a Thursday night dinner, bottles of red wine and enthusiastic banter, the idea of the "Crop & Swap" was born.

This November we are beginning a community fruit and veg swap at our local hall. Just as we had done with David and Nancy, neighbours can swap home-grown fruit and veg and maybe even home-made breads, teas, seedlings, seeds and recipes. but more importantly, neighbours can meet each other, make friendships and share those all important gardening tips about varieties that grow in their local climate, or chat over a chamomile or peppermint tea, grown a stones throw away. We are excited to see how the idea develops and hopefully it will grow into something vibrant and positive!

The Big Sell
Between now and November we want to drum up as many followers as possible. This weekend we are doing our first covert crop & swap advertising operation. Just like David, we too will be spying over neighbours fences, sussing out who has a veggie patch  or a laden lemon tree then drop a flyer in their letter box. Flyer's will be going up in all the cool local cafes, and we are even thinking of putting an add in the local rag. We have already started a ''Crop & Swap" blog ( where people can get more information about dates and details. The Blue Mountains already has a vibrant interest in growing fruit and veg with groups such as the slow food movement, the fruit and nut tree society, the permaculturalists and the seed savers. With this sort of enthusiasm, we're hoping the Crop & Swap will thrive.

With the Crop & Swap deadline looming we have been busy preparing the garden to have produce ready to swap by November. The front yard has undergone a major garden makeover...we will be back soon to tell you all about it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chapter 32: Sublime Lemon Marshmallows

The Arctic breezes have been making themselves felt over the past few weeks. It seems as though every seedling hasn't grown for weeks, and so we have had to busy ourselves with other wintery chores such as pruning, fertilizing and various forms of therapy for gardening angst. Its funny how winter affects the avid veggie gardener. We become fidgety and on edge. Any tree that has looked the slightest bit unruly has copped it this week. The Japanese maple, grape vine, macadamia, grapefruit, mulberry, wisteria and even the chili bush, have all succumbed to the secateurs. Pruning has its therapeutic benefits for the depressed winter gardener. Rather than lamenting over slow growing carrots, take out your frustrations on some dormant fruit tree. But sometimes, winter calls for more potent methods to overcome the gardening blues.

Winter Basket Case
For the severe cases, there are other therapeutic pruning possibilities that my basket case husband discovered while hacking back the wisteria...that's right, the old school art of basket weaving. Wisteria runners make for excellent weaving. they are extremely strong and flexible. So if you have wisteria and are feeling close to winter gardening madness, give it a try... Joe has made three so far, which is better than rocking back and forth somewhere out in the vegetable patch, in eye shot of the neighbours. We thought they would make lovely hanging baskets to grow strawberries in for the summer months, or just as regular baskets to collect the morning eggs or veg from the patch.

Lemon Marshmallows Recipe
As any good domestic goddess knows, Winter is best spent indoors (although I believe less gifted people know this too) doing something thrilling like mending socks, or better still whipping up some lemon flavoured marshmallows for depressed gardening husbands and hyperactive cabin feverish children. Sugar solves everything.

If you have ever had a glut of lemons, we have a recipe that will bring them back into a high demand. These are absolutely delicious.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups caster sugar, 2 sachets gelatin, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut (we used the longer length coconut), food colouring, one lemon

Choose a pan/dish/plate and line it with baking paper.Combine sugar and 2/3 cup of hot water in a saucepan over medium heat. cook and stir for a few minutes until sugar dissolves and syrup is clear. Mix 2/3 cup of cold water and gelatin in a jug and add to your sugar syrup. Cook and stir for a few minutes or until gelatin has dissolved and mixture is clear. Set aside and cool til room temperature. Then use electric beaters or we just used our bar mix to wizz mixture until thickened. Add vanilla, a little lemon rind and a teaspoon or two of lemon  juice. Wizz.

 Scoop the mixture into separate bowls (one bowl for each colour). Add two drops of food colouring to each and wizz til colour is mixed in. Spread into prepared dishes. Smooth the top over, although don't worry too much if it is still a little lumpy, you can serve it upside down.

Set aside, at room temperature until set, (about an hour and a half). Lift out your marshmallows and cut them into bite size pieces using a wet knife. Place some coconut in a ziplock bag, add marshmallow pieces and give it a gentle shake. Display on a beautiful plate, choosing one deserving of magical childhood memories and sweet delights.

Being winter and all, we decided to roast our homemade marshmallows by the fire. The stuff perfect memories are made of we thought...that is of course until G burnt her finger on the fire place door and wailed down the house, and N's marshmallow melted right off the stick. Tears all round. Sigh, the perfect hazy marshmallow memory I'm sure the kids will cherish forever...oh well, at least try the recipe..roasting is optional.

Around the patch
While things may be slow in the patch, we have also busied ourselves with some frivolous planting ventures. Recently we planted two kiwi fruit vines (male and female), a choko vine, some lazy old carrots and sneaky shallots, and about 150 more broad beans. Our red paw paw, residing in the green house for the winter, is still looking happy, and dare I say, may be ready to bear fruit before the end of next summer.

Our citrus trees have been busy making fruit galore. The mandarin and orange trees are bursting with deliciously sweet fruit and our lemon tree has produced a much better crop than last year. The lemonade tree however seems to have carked it, the lime tree remains beautiful but barren, while our grapefruit, which had a bumper last season has taken this season off. So it got the hack, and a generous mulching. 

Chook Tractor Triumphs
With the six chooks, letting them free range sadly became something that we could not afford to continue, unless we wanted to live in a barren dusty chook poo waste land, or so we thought. Since the end of summer, the chookens have been kept within the confines of their chook yard, where not a single scerick of greenery remains. Despite our garden once again flourishing, it didn't seem right, and the ladies were stroppy. A compromise needed to be made, so we set about constructing a prototype chook tractor from some poly pipe and chicken wire.

 It was time to get the girls back onto some greenery and give those thighs a good work out before summer. The results have been surprising! with a diet of worms and leafy greens, the egg count is back up to 3 or 4 eggs a day (in winter don't forget). We have been placing the tractor where ever we intend to prepare for planting, and within a day or two, the chooks have the ground weeded, dug and fertilized. Each morning, 3 lucky cluckies are grabbed and bagged, then carried to the chook tractor, where they are released to spend the day scratching up worms and eating grass seeds to their hearts content. At sundown N and G help herd the hens back to their pen. then by night fall the cage doubles as a possum force field for some of our winter crops. Hi five chook tractor!

Next blog, its time to get serious for the big sow. Winter will be over before we know it, and spring will have us springing into seedling action. we have been storing our toilet roles, and soon, our planting shall begin!

this years challenge is set to be all together different!

Speak soon.