Thursday, November 8, 2012

Funky Bugs: composting with Black Soldier Fly

Life as a bug in our garden must be pretty good. there would be no shortage of friends and parties to attend, and no nasty chemicals to make you feel unwell. Life would be darned good, in fact, so long as you were the kind of bug that was willing to pull your weight in the garden and do your bit!

Not so, however, for the slugs and snails whom we introduce frequently to our chookens, nor the uncouth stink beetles that N and G sucked off our citrus trees with the vacuum cleaner (simply the most enjoyable way to get rid of them), nor the white cabbage moth that we use for practicing our backhand,  but there are many bugs that we do appreciate in the patch. Worms, bees and lady beetles are always welcome in our garden, doing their bit to pollinate, cultivate and eradicate pests, but we have recently become acquainted with a new creepy crawly of the good kind, known as the Black soldier fly (BSF).

black soldier fly (pleased to meet you)
Black soldierfly have a rather short and desperate adult life, with the sole purpose of finding a mate, a pile of rotting compost, and a good pick up line before dropping dead. Somehow they seem to manage. But before this fatally frantic paced lifestyle as an adult fly, they leisurely spend their childhood and teens as ravenous compost devouring larve!

BSF larvae eat just about any kitchen scraps including meat and dairy, as well as the usual fruit and vegetable leftovers, and can be cultivated in much the same way as composting worms, to break down food waste.  A BSF composting unit can be easily built from materials found at your local hardware, and once a colony has been established they can consume food waste at an incredible rate (much faster than worms), but best of all, they make a fantastic feed for chickens and even fish. BSF larvae are high in both protein and calcium, which is perfect for chooks. they are non invasive and do not enter houses or spread disease like other flies.

Once we got acquainted to this new bug on the block, we realised it was time for us to try our hand at making our very own BSF Composting unit!

Our black soldierfly composter

TA DA!!!! Our Black Soldier fly composter

Here is how it works. Food scraps go inside and the female BSF are attracted by the scraps. They fly in through the pipe at the top and down into the bin where they lay their eggs (in the hundreds). They like to lay their eggs in crevasses, so some sheets of corrugated cardboard attached to the inside make great maternity wards. the eggs hatch and the larvae fall on the food scraps, and get to work munching it up.

the larvae crawl up the pipes and into Jo's Tupperware container... thanks darling...sorry
 Like all good teenagers they eat just about anything until it is time to finally leave home, at which point, the larvae develop the instinct to climb to higher ground. The larvae find their way to the pipes and climb up them, then slide down into the separate storage container, where they are unwittingly trapped to be fed to the chooks.

the larvae hard at work on one of our defiant choko's and watermelon rind
But does the composter work?

In a nut shell, yes. but getting started can call for some weeks of patience. Its best to start a colony in warmer weather when the adult fly is most active. Every few days we have been checking the tub, and after many weeks, we finally discovered some young soldierfly larvae munching away under the scraps. As the weeks progressed and the temperature rose, so too has our colony and the rate at which they are breaking down our food scraps is quite impressive.

Make your own
there are a number of DIY designs on the net. we made ours using a clip lock tub, some PVC pipe parts, , some hessian and fly screen, a saw and a drill. The key is to angle the pipes at 35 degrees so that it is not too steep for them to climb.include some ventilation holes and cover with fly screen, and some drainage holes in the bottom, which you can cover with hessian.  It takes less than half a leisurely hour to put together and cost us about $40 or you could buy one of the fancy ones online for about $200.

the main benefits are:
1. a very efficient method of waste disposal
2. meat and dairy waste can be added to established colonies, unlike regular composting methods, reducing your waste output.
3. the larvae make an excellent source of food for poultry and fish, and can be frozen for later use.
4. they don't spread disease like other flies, and rarely enter the home.
5. they emit a natural repellent to other flies once the colony has been established.

The smell can be an issue if you add more waste than they can consume. Sawdust or coffee can help here too. This said, ours does not smell.

Initially, we had a problem with fruit fly gate crashing the party. but as the weeks have gone on, there numbers have decreased dramatically as the BSF colony has increased. AHa, dear potential BSF composters, do not be dismayed by these minor downsides. we have an organic, effective and easy solution to manage fruit flies in the patch... read on!

Bug eyes and beer goggles - a simple and effective fruit fly trap

With the onset of day light saving and the Spring evenings becoming more balmy, there’s nothing quite like kicking back on the front porch with a home brewed beer or a chilled wine and watching the sunset. But it seems that we aren’t the only one’s who love a beer to celebrate the start of spring.
We have been using some of our beer in our fruit fly traps, and we have noticed that they are more than happy to exchange their bug eyes for beer goggles, which is great, seeing as our nectarine tree is laden with new fruit to be.

got ya succers!

The trap is simple. All you need is a plastic soda bottle, some scissors, and a beer on the balcony. Simply cut the bottle cross ways about a third of the way down from the top. Turn the top upside down and insert it into the lower part of the bottle, like a funnel. Pour an inch of beer (or wine) into the bottle, and if necessary, run some tape around the edge of the rim to keep the trap together. Place the traps around your fruit trees and compost bin, or any other place that fruit flies are being a nuisance. then drink the rest of your beer.
The fruit flies fly down the funnel and get stuck. "Oh save me! Save me! I've accidentally flown into a giant pool of beer. what ever shall I do???". After an initial panic attack, they come to their senses and drink themselves to death. What a way to go. It works surprisingly well, as fruit fly are naturally attracted to anything that is fermenting. We have tried a few variations, such as sour dough starter, orange juice, and vinegar, but beer seems to win hands down.

So if you're concerned about fruit fly this spring, relax, have a shandy, and make yourself a beer trap or two.

Our New chook pen

Talking about grubs and chooks, we decided recently that it was time to make a proper enclosure for our lovely ladies. Up until recently, their pen has been a makeshift tangle of old chicken wire and odd posts. It was a shabby-chic chook pen (but with more shabby and less chic), and so it was time for an upgrade.

We decided to build their enclosure around the fruit trees, to give them shade and also to fertilise the trees. The trees have since gone mad with a flush of blossoms, which have smelled divine this spring. the combination makes a lot of sense. The trees are robust enough to handle the chooks digging around, and the poop makes a much appreciated fertilizer for the trees. Meanwhile the hens can rest in the shade and help keep pests under control, such as fruit fly.

the whole enclosure cost under $250 (about $10 per square metre) . First we dug and cemented in the posts, making sure they were level...most of the time, then connected the cross beams. the wire was fastened into place, and last of all, added the gate.

Next blog, its time to go foraging, dabble in some heirloom guerrilla gardening, as well as try our hand at some simple home made wines from our foraging finds.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

wild yeast and lavender jelly

This October the Crop & Swap began its 2nd season, with over 80 swappers attending, spirits were high and produce was bountiful. Rhubarb champagne, home-baked triple choc cookies, raspberries, broad beans, oranges, lemons, home-made calico print bags, muesli, sourdough and heaps of seedlings were on show. In the lead up to the opening of season 2 we wanted to kick off the swap with a bang. As well as our regular garden produce we decided to try our hand at lavender jelly and sourdough. They were a hit!

our crop & swap produce, silver beet, broad beans,seedlings, potatoes, eggs, sourdough and lavender jelly

A few weeks ago, on an otherwise busy Thursday, I ignored the breakfast dishes with half eaten bowls of porridge, I strode over the unswept morning tea picnic left overs under the kitchen table and confidently donned my martha stewart-esqe apron, declaring to my 4 month old "mummy is making lavveeeennnndeerr jellyyyyy! That's right, you heard me, now don't interrupt, its all in the timing!"

Lavender Jelly Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dried lavender flowers
1 50g box powdered pectin
4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

I successfully started the process using the lavender from our garden that I had dried out and stirred it into boiling water to get the oils and colour out of it. Then I left it to steep for some time, strained it and then added the lemon juice and pectin and continued to stir. Bringing the mixture to the boil and I then added sugar,  and when it reached a hard, 'rolling' boil, I left it for 3 mins, stirring occasionally.

The way to tell if your jam is going to set is to have a glass of iced water, place a metal spoon in it, then put it in your jam mixture and let it cool. If it is thick when cool, it is ready.

Pour your jelly mixture into prepared hot and sterilised jars.

our lavender jelly

I thoroughly enjoyed making lavender jelly but have to say I was disappointed with the lack of lavender colour. Other lavender jellies that I had seen were shades of lilac, deep purple and even a gorgeous pink. The initial mixture after steeping the flowers is quite greyish, it is after adding the lemon all of a sudden your greyish mix turns a brilliant .... orangey pink...not quite the purple hues I was planning.
After a little more research I have discovered that ppl sometimes put other ingredients in their lavender jelly to provide the colour, or they use a really rich long dried lavender that must retain its colour much better... either way I have a plan for making more and adding a mulberry or two next time, I figure that will do the trick, Martha and I and even bub (who did interrupt me a lot by the way, thank goodness I have mastered the art of stirring a pot, burping a baby, singing to a toddler, chatting on the phone, making vegemite sandwiches and monitoring glass jars in the oven, all at once ;)...go make some lavender jelly, you'll love it!

Chasing Wild Yeast

after our first season at the Crop & Swap, we came to know a couple who made the most amazing sour dough bread. the crust was crunchy, the inside was soft and the flavor kept us coming back for another slice. We realised that making our own sour dough was something worth doing, and so, we made our own sour dough starter.

date, caramel and coffee sour dough

Making your own Sour dough starter

Sour dough starter is used instead of regular bakers yeast to make the bread rise. It is simply  a mixture of flour, water and wild yeast. The process is very simple. mix together about 200g of flour with 300 ml of water and take it for a walk while whisking, for a couple of minutes. We took ours for a walk in the front garden to make it a truly home made sour dough starter. As you whisk the mix, wild yeast from the atmosphere settles on the mix and begins the fermentation process. As a result, every starter will be unique.

once you have finished whisking, cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave on the kitchen bench over night. By morning, you should notice some bubbles on the surface of the mix. If so, give yourself a pat on the shoulder, you've successfully started your own sour dough starter. for the following week, feed your starter with a cup of flour mixed with water each day. After a week, the yeast culture is strong enough to be used in bread making.

Each day or two, feed your starter with a cup of flour mixed with water to keep it healthy. store it at room temperature, or in the fridge if you are going on holidays... some psycho's take it with them. by the way, yes, you can pour some out when you have too much... you don't have to keep it all.

Making Sour Dough

You can make it as fancy or as simple as you like by adding other ingredients to spice up your bread.

Step 1
add 250g of flour, 350ml of water and one cup of your sourdough maker, mix, cover with cling wrap and leave overnight. Alternatively, you could make it in the morning and leave it until the afternoon.

Step 2
add 300g of flour and a teaspoon of salt. kneed the mixture for 15minutes, sprinkling flour on it as you go if its too sticky. there should be enough dough for 2 loaves. split the dough, shape it, slash the top with a very sharp knife, and leave to rest on a baking tray for an hour or more. we cover ours with a plastic bag. Somewhere warmish is best. If its freeing cold, heat some water in a pot and lay the tray on top of the pot. Just make sure its warm, rather than boiling hot.

Step 3
place in a hot oven (160 - 180 c) for about 45 minutes. to make the crust nice and crusty, place a bowl of water inside the oven also. once cooked, allow the loaves to air, so that they don't sweat.... or, just eat them hot out of the oven. deeeeelicious!

olive sour dough...mmm...mmm

So there you have it, our top secrets for lavender jelly and home-made sourdough. In our next blog we will get grubby with our composting and give the ladies (with feathers) a new chateau...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Choko Cricket

It's been too long, many nights have passed where all we've wanted to do is sit with a glass of red, play some cool tunes and write about the latest goings on in our funky frontyard, but alas we have have been faced with an obstacle...a very gorgoeus, totally cute and delightfully distracting obstacle, our latest little baby.  Our fourth fabulous little addition to the family and the newest farmer on the block, L, was born mid June. She is a delight, sleeping, eating and growing wonderfully. It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed already, yet with the gentle wafts of jasmine and wisteria that have been floating in the back door, the buds bursting on our citrus trees, the poppies popping up all over the yard and the kids jumping away on the trampoline later each afternoon, Spring has well and truly sprung.

We are now back in action, ready to fill you all in on the garden and our goings on and excited about the coming spring.

All choko-ed up

Last summer we decided to plant a choko vine. It engulfed the entire side fence and produced an insane amount of choko's throughout Autumn, which would have been great if choko's didn't taste like they were accidentally classified as a food.Is there a truly good use for choko's, we wondered? After some Internet research, I realised the rest of the world was just as desperate for a decent choko recipe's as we were... and they are hard to find.

We tried Choko chips after a tip off from a sympathetic neighbour, who did his darnedest to make them sound delicious. He and I both knew it was a big green choko-y lie, I could tell by the way that  he preferred to stare at the sun than into my desperate eyes, as he parted with the recipe, throwing in the occasional "MMMM... delicious"! I turned to fetch some choko's to repay him for his kindness, but in a murmur and a flash, he was gone. We made the choko chips all the same. The children ate the herb infused batter and left the choko.

choko chips, mmm....delicious. batter in flour, milk & eggs then bread crumbs and herbs

We tried blackberry and choko pie with some friends. Everyone agreed it tasted lovely, on account of how the choko tasted just like blackberries,  but their furrowed brows of deceit gave away their over enthusiastic praise. Unfortunately, this may be as good as choko gets: they make a great ghost ingredient for under filled pies. They are the "rent a crowd" ingredient, when you run out of apples for a danish, grab some chokos instead.

blackberry (and choko) pie

Several chokos still remain in our worm farm after what feels like years, and even the worms seem reluctant to eat them. In our despair, a basket of chokos sat in our kitchen for months, growing tentacles that started to climb the walls...

I realised one afternoon, while teaching my son a few batting techniques in the backyard that there was only one truly Australian solution for this unwanted Aussie icon. Choko Cricket anyone? Choko's make a great substitute for balls in backyard cricket! Lots of fun...Just make sure your neighbours are not home if you hit a six.

Autumn Planting

Our first wave of brave garlic bulbs have dug in and already springing to action in our offensive on imported garlic. In an attempt to overthrow the tyrannic reign of poor quality garlic flooding our stores, we are trying to grow enough garlic to see us through the following year, and we urge our fellow gardeners to enlist!

planting garlic bulbs in April

Garlic is easy to grow, and is best planted in Autumn. Its as simple as planting garlic bulbs bought from the shop, pointy end up, just below the surface of the soil. they will sprout within the week. prepare the soil with some compost or manure and water regularly. Harvest when the shoots start to brown and lay off watering a few weeks before harvesting to prevent fungal diseases.

We have also planted our largest crop of broad beans to date, including some heirloom crimson red flowering varieties. Between now and next spring they will improve the soil, and provide a nitrogen rich mulch after we harvest them. Harvesting our broad beans has become something of a family tradition in our house, and we enjoy adding them to our meals, but this year we have other plans for our harvest.

broad bean harvest (November)
Having 4 children, Jo and I often find ourselves pondering what to do with our spare time, and so we thought we might try drying the beans and grind them into flour, to make our very own home grown bread...just to pass the time.

earlier this Autumn
Broad beans have been used to make flour for many years, and often mixed with chick peas to make a gluten free flour. if the harvest goes well and our beans don't get eaten by mice, we will let you know how our broad bean bread comes along.

Hard Eggs to Crack!

You may remember from a previous post that we were having some trouble with our hens eating their own eggs. We even tried planting an egg filled with wasabi to try and curb their terrible habit. We no longer have a problem with egg eating, (but no thanks to the wasabi) and didn't have to give any of the girls the chop.

After 2 very wet summers here in the mountains, the snail population in our garden has reached its summit! It is not unusual to see snails sun baking on leaves in the morning sunlight, playing a round of Croquet, or throwing obnoxious parties on the south side of bricks. But their slimy reign is swiftly coming to an end.

Chook egg shells are made of calcium carbonate, as are snail shells, making them an excellent solution to our chookens calcium deficiencies! This morning alone, we collected over a hundred snails within a few square metres, popped them in an old milk container and blanched them with some boiling water, to put them to a swift end, as well as to kill any nasty worms or diseases they might be harbouring.

The chooks love them, and ever since we have been feeding them snails, the ladies egg shells have become super strong, and egg eating has become but a distant memory.

Next post, Joe breeds maggots (we'll explain), the chickens get a home reno and our local food and veg swap, the Crop & Swap, kicks off for season 2!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Artichokes and Autumn winds...

Although the Summer harvest is over, there are still things to harvest in abundance in the garden during Autumn. The quinces and macadamia's are once again falling from their branches, choko's are hiding beneath their leafy rambling vines and the grape fruit are beginning to turn yellow, but one crop, that has been making itself heard about the house is the Jerusalem Artichoke!

The humble Jerusalem Artichoke means many things to many people. Some garrdeners rave about its massive yeilds, others warn of its ability to pop up year after year wihtout invitation, but one notorious reputation that seems to reoccur amongst all reports of this fine vegetable is that it causes terrible bouts of wind of inconceivable proportion!

Impressed by this tubers bad-boy reputation, Jo and I wondered if it really stood up to its name, or were these wafting accusations simply a lot of hot air? We decided to take this trumpeting tuber head on in a culinary test, and see if we'd be blown away, or vise versa.... sorry.

For those who are unfamiliar with this root vegetable, Jerusalem artichoke is related to the sunflower, not artichokes, and grows as a flowering bush, about 1.5m tall, bearing pretty yellow flowers over summer. The roots develop an impressive amount of bulbous tubers, which look similar to ginger. Plant in spring or summer and harvest the roots after the flowers drop (in Autumn) through to winter.

Jerusalem Artichoke flowers in Summer

This is the first year that we have grown Jerusalem Artichoke, and we have been impressed by its abundant harvest. From just one plant we dug up more than 5kg of tubers. In our harvesting excitement, we made the silly mistake of pulling up all the tubers at once, which, I suppose, is exactly what any first time Jerusalem Artichoke grower does, out of sheer curiosity. However, they do not store as well as potatoes, and need to be used within the week. Instead, what we should have done is left the tubers in the ground and dig them up as needed. Keeping them in the ground seems to be the best way to store jerusalem artichokes, keeping them fresh for months.

found one!

the harvest from a single plant

Consequently, we now have a lot of tubers to eat in this coming week, and will bravely feed them to our children and make careful observation from a safe distance for any evidence of these explosive accusations.

unsuspecting guinea pigs

Artichoke or fartichoke?

Night one, we peeled and shredded the tubors to make patties,, mixing in some egg, chives and a little flour, and fried them in the pan. served with some sour cream and sweet chilly sauce, the flavor had a  pleasant earthy taste. the kids ate what they were given, and no overt signs of bloating seemed to follow.

Night two, we became more daring, and had an old friend over for tea. We served artichoke again, this time sauteed in olive oil, garlic, bay leaves, sage and diced bacon. This recipe tasted significantly better, and.... no gastronomical blowouts... at least for Jo and I. Our guest, however, seemed a little squeemish... hmmm interesting.

Night three... We made a J. Artichoke soup, adding some tyme, diced bacon, potatoes, water and vegetable stock.... quite delicious.... and no signs of gas to be heard of. Much to our delight, it seems that we were spared of  the said affects of Jerusalem artichoke. I suspect it affects some and not others, which makes this vegetable quite an exciting one to try.... a little like russian roulette.

As far as our tummy's are concerned, it seems that th J. Artichoke has been unfairly stigmatised, and has nothing on falafels.  Be a dare devil, and try some J. Artichoke this season.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Goosberries...going, going, gone

Over April we have been harvesting our first season of Cape-gooseberries! the taste of a cape gooseberry is tangy with a real Zing of fresh fruity flavour. the fruit grows in thin paper like pods, like delicate little Chinese lanterns, on a vine, similar in growth to a tomato plant. the flesh is yellow both on the outside and in. Ours have been fruiting throughout march and April, and are said to keep fruiting until the first frost.They also grow particularly well in poor soil. If you can get your hands on some seeds or a plant, they are definitely worth while growing in the patch.

the fruit stores remarkably well, for several months when left inside the husk, but around here, they disappear off the vine in no time at all. Our kids keep a constant greedy vigil by the gooseberry vine. I overheard G, yesterday, despairing that she could find only one cape gooseberry to eat! As for mum and dad, we shall simply have to wait until our kids have left home before we can enjoy them without being ambushed by midget gooseberry connoisseurs. 





Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pumpkin soup!

Summer Bummer

 The weather has been miserably wet and dank, and with the summer sun being a no-show this year, there is already a veritable Autumn chill in the air. To herald the start of Autumn, we lit the fire and ventured into the soggy garden to cut some of our wonderful QLD blue pumpkins... it was time to make some home made pumpkin soup and lift the spirits.

In early spring, we dug in five bags of horse manure to a 2 square metre bed in preparation for our pumpkin seedlings. With all the rain over summer, the 3 little pumpkin seedlings that we planted have since grown into rambunctious monsters spreading over the yard, along the front hedge, down our side fence, and up and over our camellia tree, which now has 2 pumpkins growing in it. While they are a truly unruly vegetable, we love them! Their large leaves make for great hiding spots for the kids, while they look for grass hoppers or snails for the chooks. This year we have around 15 or more pumpkins for harvesting from 3 vines. We hand pollinated most of them this year using a small paint brush.

Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the stalk starts to go corcky and the pumpkin sounds hollow when tapped.

Nothing quite warms the cockles like some home made pumpkin soup and hot bread, especially when it is made with your very own pumpkins.

Our home made Pumpkin Soup Recipe

1 pumpkin, 3 cups water, Cumin, Rosemary, salt, cracked pepper, fresh cream, sour cream, olive oil, butter, chives.

First, cut the pumpkins in halves and scoop out the seeds. Cut the flesh into wedges, leaving the skin on.
Place on a baking tray with rosemary, a little olive oil and grated butter. Roast in the oven until soft and starting to brown.

once cool, remove the skin, adding the pumpkin to a pot with 3 cups of water, some garlic, 2 tea spoons of cumin, and blend or mash. Allow to simmer on the stove. Add a good pinch or 3 of cracked pepper, salt, and a cup of cream.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top and sprinkle with diced chives.

Of course no pumpkin soup would be complete without some hot and crispy home baked bread, enjoyed by the fire on the next cold and drizzly day that comes your way.

Summer Harvest Highlights

One of the funnest things to do with kids in the garden is potato hunting. The kids found it as exciting as digging for treasure, and best of all had a good reason to play in the dirt. Many of these potatoes found their way to the crop and swap this year, but we still enjoyed plenty at our own dinner table.

Beetroot Beauties

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Cows and Kimono's

Staying With a Little Black Cow

Last year we received an exciting invitation to attend "The Little Black Cow" farmstay from one of our fellow bloggers, Kim. She had kindly invited our family to stay free of charge for a trial run of their new farm stay in the beautiful Hunter Valley. Arriving on Friday evening, as we drove our station wagon through the farm gates, packed to the hill with gumboots and our farmiest farm clothes, we were all very excited. There ahead, down the long, dusty drive, past the quaint tree- lined creek sat "The Little Black Cow" Farmstay, amidst paddocks that were peppered with beautiful Angus cattle. Unlike our 750 sq metered suburban frontyard farm, this was the real deal, a real, working farm.

After meeting our lovely hosts and unpacking the car we donned our farmer's hats and were put promptly to work, job no 1, a trip in the jeep to herd the cattle and shift the electric fence. We've all wizzed past a paddock of cows on the freeway but standing within arm's reach, with only a thin electric cable between you and 50 Angus cows and their two tonne and somewhat territorial bull, can  get the suburban heart pumping.

 But in true country style Kim's 11 year old son made light work of rounding them up on his dirt bike sending the herd thundering off into the next paddock... There is something beautiful about a cow, maybe it's the eye lashes, maybe it's the glossy coat or the lazy moo cow stare they seem to give (which is quite different to the way a bull stares at you) that makes them so endearing as they munched the grass a foot away from us.

As David and I shifted the electric fence, walking through knee high lucerne, I was tempted to ask him a question about bovine that had been on my mind for many years... can cows really explode? Instead, I decided to ask about the growing patterns of lucerne (so as not to reveal my grose urban stupidity). David is a wealth of knowledge, and we learned a lot from him on our trips about the farm on the jeep.

As the sun set on our first afternoon, we returned to the homestead for a traditional country meal and glass of wine with Kim and David, before retiring to our very comfortable beds. Next morning, Kim and the kids herded the sheep into their paddock, collected eggs from the chooks, and played with the Guinea pigs and rabbits. Kim showed us how to milk Honey the goat, and we each had our chance to show Kim a thing or two about how NOT to milk a goat.

We had a great time at The Little Black Cow Farm Stay, and it was wonderful meeting Kim and David, who are so passionate about sharing life on the farm and the experiences that come from it. One day soon, we would love to visit the Little Black Cow farmstay again, and maybe this time, Joe will muster the courage to ask David about exploding cows.

Summer Rain

Back on our own enormous 750 sqm metre farm, the relentless wet summer had brought good times and bad in the vegetable patch. The endless rain has brought us gluts to gloat over, and the odd minor gardening tragedy too. This season we have had an especially good crop of tomatoes. Planting a selection of heirloom tomatoes, we have enjoyed the most colourful mix of green zebras, tommy toe, black russian cherry, orange juan-flamme, beautiful yellow lemon drops, and brown berry and other varieties. For the backyard farmer, the smaller varieties are worth their weight in gold. Ripening faster, they provide an ongoing supply and are less prone to pest damage. They taste fantastic and provide a colourful array for any salad.

just out of reach!

Our cucumbers also had a bumper crop, yielding about 60 fruits from 3 vines. Unfortunately though, they fell prey to the dreaded giant extra spotty lady beetle, which devoured the vines in a matter of weeks. Unlike their smaller cousins, the larger variety of lady beetle are not so friendly, and should be squished on sight. They eat the leaves of cucumbers working in circles until their is nothing but a lacy skeleton of the leaf remaining.

unlady like lady beetles

Our crookneck zucchini's could not withstand the powdery mildew without the dry weather and consequently shrivelled up prematurely but still gave a good yield while they lasted. Whilst we are on the topic of tragedies, our store of broadbeans (several hundred) were discovered by a barbaric hoard of field mice and seemingly disappeared over night. Joe was devastated! The little buggers took every single last one.

But on the upside, we have new cucumber vines fruiting and a new crookneck fruiting as well. Just goes to show its worth doing a second round of seedlings in early summer.

New to the Patch

With our Crop  and Swap (food Swap) well under way, we have been discovering so many new varieties of foods that grow well in the mountains, and it has provided us with the unique opportunity  to grow some new plants in the patch. We now have loads of Comfrey (from Cath) that we use to feed the chookens, as well as for liquid fertilizer (amazing stuff). Our Jerusalem Artichoke is growing extremely well and looks to promise a good harvest, and we tasted our very first home grown cape gooseberry,  which we planted some months ago thanks to Jane and Peter (neighbours that attend the Crop & Swap). Our choko vine is running wild and making light work of covering our fenceline, and our pumpkin vines are doing laps of the frontyard, but perhaps our most  intriguing new edition to the garden is a plant called Yacon.

Young Yacon plant

Yacon is a root vegetable, which grows in a similar fashion to Jerusalem artichoke, although the tubers are high in a sugar known as inulin. It can be eaten fresh, is said to be crisp and sweet, like an apple.The tubers can be grated to extract the juice, which is then reduced to make a sweet syrup similar to molasis. Most interesting of all is that the sugars in yacon are not absorbed by the body, so its sweet to eat, but doesn't contribute any unsightly kilos. Our plant is growing well, and if all goes well, we will trial making some Yacon syrup and let you know how it goes.

Crop and Swap Continues to grow

Our local food swap, the Crop and Swap, is going from strength to strength. Every second Saturday of the month we have been meeting with around 60 other locals who grow or make their own food. Now with our 5th swap on the doorstep it has been so rewarding to see the variety, creativity and quality of homegrown or home-made produce. Although no money changes hands at the swaps, a unique bartering currency has developed. We are able to access items that money can't buy. You can't go to your local shops and buy Peter and Amber's artisan sourdough, nor Miriam and Russel's honeycomb fresh from their hive, or Melanie and Alexander's pink rhubarb champagne.

Likewise, another benefit for us is knowing that our organically grown potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, eggs, cucumbers, zucchinis and  macadamia nuts aren't just enjoyed by our own family, they are being shared amoungst our local community.

Our homegrown produce at last months swap

The Crop and Swap has opened up an exchange not only of goods but ideas, local knowledge and resources. From these exchanges we've discovered local trees down quiet laneways, when to forage for local mushrooms and who to ask for advice on fruit trees. It's conversations like these that have got a whole neighbourhood talking seems though that someone has been doing more than their fair share of talking, as news of the Crop and Swap has reached the shores of Japan...last week we were contacted by a Japanese ecological magazine called Konichiwa who want to write an article about the swap...consequently now that we are internationally acclaimed superstars, Joe refuses to be seen in the garden in anything less than a pure silk kimono...and gucci riding boots... Not to mention a large pair of Audfrey Hepburn sunglasses in case the paparazzi pop out from behind the choko's, or Google earth decide to update their satellite images.

take that grasshopper!

A shout out to Brad and Ange... we know youre reading.