Sunday, October 12, 2014

Springtime Harvests and home grown Garlic

The heady perfumes of jasmine and wisteria, grapefruit blossoms and bush fire (back burning), have become the welcome and well known intoxicating smells of springtime here in the Blue Mountains. Walking out on the balcony in the morning time, the rich aroma's hold us in a dreamy suspense, and remind us just how good life in the mountains is. The weather is warming, the Kookaburras are sitting plump & content, and it's time to watch the garden grow.
As you may already have heard we're are doing a 1 tonne challenge! That's right, we are aiming to harvest a tonne of food from our yard in a year..nothing like setting the bar slightly high - that would Joe's fault. However, in the last 80 days we have now harvested 80 kgs! That's a person, and we haven't yet hit peak harvest season, actually Springtime in the garden is the leanest season of the for all the non believers out there (I secretly think we might hit closer to 450kgs) watch and be amazed ;)

Today we harvested the last of our citrus, the final oranges and lemons, though there's an abundance of new blossoms bursting with potential. We've been citrussy spoilt this last season, massive juicy grapefruits, sweet oranges and perfect zesty lemons. The secret to our success has been building the chook enclosure around the citrus trees and wait for it - sucking all of the stink beetles into beetle oblivion with the vacuum cleaner - the old vacuum cleaner, that whilst retired from domestic duties proudly sports its abilities with Joe at the realm any time the stink beetle population gets, well stinky. 

Home Made Orange Juice

Springtime specials
 Over the past weeks the kids have been picking the new season mulberries, cape gooseberries, strawberries and broadbeans. We've also been enjoying loads of Pak Choi, yum, yum, yum and it has without a doubt taken over kale to become our new favourite green. Tonight we enjoyed a noodle, chicken, sweet potato, garlic, pak choi and chilli laksa. Pak Choi can be grown all year round and if it's cooked ever so slightly its deliciously juicy and packs a satisfying crunch with every munch.

Home-grown Garlic

This year we were determined to supply ourselves with as much garlic as possible. Planting well over 200 bulbs, on St Patrick's be sure, to be sure and now, in the last fortnight we have harvested and feasted on our very own fresh garlic. Whilst the bulbs aren't enormous, the flavour has been beyond compare to trashy, out of date Chinese and Argentinian store bought garlic, sprayed with all manner of nasty pesticides and fungicides...(along with strawberries, garlic is one of the most heavily sprayed post-harvest crops to promote longevity). There's no need to wait 9 months though to enjoy your garlic. We've been cutting the green tops off the plant all year and loving them in our cooking, offering the most flavoursome  edge to any dish.

If you have never tasted it home grown, do yourself a flavor, and plant some at the end of summer. mulch well and keep the soil moist. then next spring, pull up your very own garlic bulbs and try them roasted whole, or finely sliced and simmered with a little butter and olive oil and parsley, served on sour dough.

Whilst we've been enjoying some springtime treats, we've also been pretty busy in the patch preparing some of the summer heavy weights - pumpkins, zucchinis, potatoes, cucumbers and of course lots and lots of tomatoes.  So far we have 12 tomato plants (and expect to plant at least another 10 before the end of summer) in and thriving including some cherry varieties lemon drops, dark cherry, tommy toe and also some orange juan flambe which have all produced well here in the past. We've also potted up some heirloom tigerella tomato seedlings which we're hoping will be as prolific as they were last season.

 Our front driveway has been decommissioned to make way for our brand new pumpkin patch, so if you're planning on visiting you may never reach the front door alive...might be best to come in via the side gate ;).

Sunday, August 17, 2014



Finally, last night we had our first decent drop of rain after what seems like months. We took the girls out for a puddle hunt and didn't return until they were sufficiently soaked with muddy water. The water tanks are full again and the vegetable garden is soaking up as much as it can hold. We are 21 days into our challenge to see how much food we can grow on our suburban block in one year, and so far, we have harvested a modest 45kg of fresh fruit, veg and eggs from our garden. We have set ourselves the goal of trying to reach 1 tonne of food production before the year is out, and although it seems ambitious for a suburban block, we're quietly confident that we can at least get close.

You may be wondering what there is to harvest during winter in the mountains, but we have a bounty of lemons, oranges and grapefruit, tamarillos, and plenty of greens. Shallots, bok choi, nasturtiums, kale, and even dandelion greens have been harvested daily. After reading a great little book on edible weeds, "The Weed forager's Handbook", we have been looking at some of our weeds rather differently. Instead of pulling them out, we have been enjoying them in salads, which makes a lot more sense.

R with a double decker tamarillo!

Kale Chips? Anyone? Anyone???

Kale has been enjoying celebrity status in the vegetable isle around the world, it seems, for the past year or so, and all the most chic of herbivores have been desperate to be seen with a bunch of these designer label leafs, preferably wrapped in some rustic brown paper, being peddled in the front basket of a retro bicycle. Scientists have found that Kale keeps you looking healthy, and very, very vogue!

Not  to be left behind in the food fashion world, we decided to grow some this season, so that we too could bask in the Kale haute - couture, of this oh so "in" veg. Yesterday we made kale chips, and were very impressed with ourselves. The feeling of being cutting-edge-cool was almost palpable, until we tried to share them with the kids, who each screwed up their faces and collectively gagged at the taste....philistines!
Crispy Kale chips
Kale chips are actually worth a go. Of course, only a more seasoned pallet will appreciate them. Simply dry off the leaves using a towel after washing them, then toss them with a tiny amount of olive oil. Tear up the leaves into rustic looking bite sized bits, and pop them in a low oven at 130 degrees c for about 15 minutes until they have gone delightfully crispy.

We sat and ate our high society,all organic, home grown kale chips as we casually flicked through the paper, knowing that, even though no-one could see us, the world  somehow just knew, we were bourgeois foodie gods... and then, I saw it, an article in the paper on how seaweed is the new super fashionable green to be eaten... suddenly I felt like a K-Mart end of season sale bin!

From Failure to Falafel
Last year, we got all excited about the idea of making flour from our broad beans. We had giddy notions of making our own broad bean bread, and being oh so sustainable... but broad bean flour just doesn't least, not for bread-making. Our one and only attempt at broad bean bread went from dismal failure to happy accident, when we accidentally made... the worlds best broad bean falafel mix!

                                    How to make a boastfully good broad bean Falafel

1. Grow and dry your own broad beans with pride
2. grind your dried beans in a food processor (we used a coffee grinder)
3. add water, some garlic, a chilli, and herbs of your choice to taste
4. roll the delicious mix into bite sized balls and shallow fry in a pan with olive oil.
5. serve with sweet chilli and homemade yoghurt!

The New Veggie Patch

Take a peek at our new patch. With the addition of another 14 square metres, we have loads more growing space for the challenge, and we are very much looking forward to testing it out this summer. Our perennials and fruit trees are grouped together, south of the vegetable patch, where, hopefully, apples, pears, bananas, tamarillos, strawberry and pineapple guava's, sweet potatoes, strawberries, cape-gooseberries, chillies and yacon will all happily grow in harmony.

We have also updated our in-ground worm-farms. We found that our first ones were too small, so we've added 5 x 20 litre buckets, cutting off the bottoms and drilling with holes. they are working wonderfully under our fruit trees, and the worm population in our patch is getting  a real wriggle on!

Our garlic has also been growing well, so far, despite a few aphids, and if all goes according to our garlicky plans, we should have mountains of garlic to store for the coming year.

In the seedling nursery we have 8 different varieties tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchinis, basil and shallots all awaiting transplanting over the coming weeks. Today we sowed carrots, beetroot and leek, a bounty that should help us reach our challenge target. One tonne here we come ;)!

Monday, July 28, 2014



With spring just around the corner, we have been making some big changes to our garden design in the front yard. We have dedicated almost 100 square metres of the front yard to growing vegetables, while the south east side of the yard is now solely for fruit trees and perennials. We have added 3 more apple trees, another pear, two feijoa trees, a 4th strawberry guava, and a plum tree, taking our fruit tree total to almost 30 trees, not including the community orchard.... We're adding some extra "fruity" to our "funky front yard farm".

This Sunday, after much deliberation, we decided to harvest our giant bunch of bananas, and we were gobsmacked at how heavy the bunch was. It got us thinking... with all the new growing space in the front yard, maybe it was time for a new challenge. I suppose the old question of "How much food can actually be grown on a suburban block" has always remained conveniently rhetorical. Well, not for much longer, as we aim to find out.


Using a highly sensitive set of rusty bathroom scales and a state of the art set of cheap Chinese plastic kitchen scales,  our aim is to see exactly how much food we can produce in terms of weight over the next 12 months.... and diligently record it in chalk on our kitchen blackboard! So, yes, its going to be rather scientific.  It shall be known from this day forth, as ....(drum roll) the Funky Frontyard 1 tonne challenge (clashing symbols). Its highly unlikely, but our goal is 1 tonne of home grown food.

And what better way than to begin our weigh in than with our great big bunch of Blue Mountains bananas! the official bathroom scale weight is 22kg for the Bananas! not a bad start.

The challenge has officially begun, let's see how many more kilos of produce the Funky Frontyard Farmers can grow over the next 365 days!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bananas and Bee stings

The Blue mountains is a magical place, filled with mystery and intrigue. Legends of unusual sightings of black panthers lurking in the bushland, and even towering yowies have been reported by perhaps less credible sources. But I would like to announce the recent sighting of something equally unbelievable....but true.

We have bananas growing in our front yard! (Queue audible gasp of disbelief). But wait, this is where it gets all X files... we have apples too!!!!! (Nooooo, it can't be true... apples AND bananas!!!! I don't believe it!) Doubt no more dear reader, I speak the enviable truth, so please excuse us while we take a little moment to boast openly about our recent success in the patch.

Most of you will hopefully be adequately envious of our climactic situation. Our hometown of Springwood is said to be one of the most temperate climates in the world, allowing us to grow a very wide range of fruit trees, from cool climate to subtropical trees, and if we are lucky, (and our bunch of bananas survive the cold winter ahead, and aren't eaten by yowies) we may be treating ourselves to a home grown banana or two next summer. As for the apples, they were delicious!

This season has been one of several firsts with our fruit trees. Our first harvest of tamarillo's has been very popular with the kids, and they are amazingly tasty. I don't know why they aren't sold regularly at the shops on account of their great flavour and ease to grow. We have also planted two feijoa trees that promise some more fabulous flavours in the seasons to come. Our first pomegranates also arrived in the community orchard this year, and of course, our apples...and bananas.

Our Tamarillo tree grown from seed only a year ago...super prolific - just add horse poo

Beekeeping - to bee or not to bee

Last month Jo and I went on a beekeeping course near Wisemans ferry. the course was run by the Sydney Permaculture Institute, and was well worth its while. the drive alone was spectacular, winding through the rolling green pastures that hug the serpentine bends of the Wiseman's ferry river, but best of all, Gramps was back at home looking after the four kids.

ready for action... oh the drama!
  The course included an induction to bee keeping, the history of bees in Australia, tools and equipment, and so on. Later, it was time to don the white bee suits and venture out to rob a hive. We pried open the hive, and with novice skill, removed four frames of honey comb. The smell was intoxicating and dreamy and sweet... and then I got stung on the ankle...

Once the lid was back on, we stole away with the frames and learned how to extract the honey. As I watched the incredible golden syrup ooze out, I was sold!

"Bees! Bees! Bees! What a brilliant idea!" On the drive home I sung their praises endlessly, but slowly I realised that Jo wasn't as convinced.

"hmm, where would we put them? what about the kids? the neighbours?"

Why was she asking such annoyingly sensible questions! What could I do to make her see that the one thing missing in our lives...was bees. This would take some convincing. I would have to play my cards carefully.

We decided to visit a friend who had bees in their backyard. The kids were very excited.

"See honey! you wouldn't even know they were there" I said to Jo, upon arriving a few feet from the hive. The bee's spun lazy droning swirls around the hive. N was fascinated. "Look dad, that ones going inside the hive, and that one must be a drone...and that one's a worker bee" he continued. I looked at Jo reassuringly, as if to say, "see how much he is learning... bees are good for our children... bees are goooooooood"

That's when we should have left... on a high note, so Jo could have hopped in the car and looked at me lovingly, and said, "you know what darling, you were right all along. Lets get that beehive!"

but no, just as we were saying our goodbyes, a bee, seemingly out of nowhere flew straight toward N and stung him...on the eyelid!

Noooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I watched as N's eye inflated like a hot, itchy balloon, and inside, my dreams of bee glory deflated. How could N bee so selfish!

The Insect Hotel

N's eye slowly returned to its normal condition, and everyone politely avoided the topic of bees at home for a week of so. My beehive building ventures would have to lie dormant until winter. In the meanwhile, I thought I would try my hand at making an insect hotel. I was inspired after learning a little about the benefits of encouraging native bees in the garden, most of which are solitary insects, and don't live in colonies.

Insect hotels are easy enough to construct and make a great addition to the veggie patch. the aim is to provide a habitat for beneficial insects such as lady beetles, wasps, native bees and green lacewing to lay their eggs and build in numbers. There are many insects that help out in the garden, preying on pests, pollinating fruit flowers, and so on.

To build one, simply create a timber frame that is 15cm of so deep. The frame is then stacked with small logs and sticks until it is tightly packed. Small holes are then drilled at various diameters of up to about 8mm. this is where the insects will set up residence. I'm looking forward to seeing who will move in!

If anything, they look great, and could be used as a feature in the patch, as well as help increase the biodiversity and fauna in your garden. Best of all, it costs nothing, if you can make it from left over timber. It also makes for a good pass time for anyone who wished they were really building a beehive, but couldn' least, not just yet.