Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Winter garden

Don't plant spring onions in winter in temperate regions. Either the chickens or the frost took most of these plants. It may be the particular bed I used, which I have noticed is more shaded so the spring onions were in frost much of the day. I have planted spring onions in raised beds before through winter so it is important to think about where these are planted. Now it is spring, I have planted more.
The leeks haven't grown much but are most are still present and not dead so I am hoping with spring they will decide to grow bigger.
The garlic is looking great and I am excited to see if we actually will have a decent garlic haul come December/January.
The shallots are not as successful. Not all the shallots have sprouted. Some have disappeared, possibly eaten by a chicken. But some have sprouted and are looking strong so we will at least get some shallots.
The red onions were only planted a few weeks ago in late winter. They are mostly still in the garden, not dead but not thriving as yet. Hopefully like the leeks they will take off with the warmer spring weather.
The garden is an ongoing experiment of trying different things, trying to repeat the same for what works and changing what doesn't. The advantage of our increasing garden space is hopefully we will have room for failures while still having enough vegetable supplies. I think I need to plant in excess, now we have the space, to see how much survives. It is definitely still a learning experience for the garden.
I have just improved our cloches from bird netting, held up by a random selection of bamboo. Now I use three hoops of flexible black pipe from the Bunnings plumbing section. It is black water pipe. It is relatively narrow, quite flexible, already cut into lengths and was only $5 something for each one. I push each end into the ground, bending it over the garden bed, then I put the next one in about a metre down and stretched the bird netting over the top, pulling it tight at each end to keep it up in the air above the plants. I was looking at buying the netting off the roll but ended up buying a 4m x 4m piece already packaged as part of my experimental kit. I used tent pegs at each end to tie it down to the ground. It looks a lot more organised than the previous set up. I use mulch across the garden so some of the bigger sticks are also now holding down the sides of my cloches to the edge of the bed.
I could buy also frost protective material for next winter and use it over the same black pipe, if they prove up to the task. My only concern is the cloche will not be tall enough for keeping my tomatoes all summer away from the birds. Once the current plants are big enough, not to be eaten by the pesky black birds, I plan to take off the netting. This won't be the case for the tomatoes, so I will need to find some long lengths of flexible pipe.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Firewood on the lifestyle block

Now I have worked out how to maximise food out of the chickpea can, back to the farm.
We cut down two massive tress but firewood has been in short supply from the property.
While we had cut down the two trees just after we arrived on the property, this was only six months before winter so particularly the gum was not properly dry to use for this winter's firewood.
The cat enjoying the new fire
We put a new fire in May. We decided on the Pyroclassic because it is designed to be heat and fuel efficient. It is also supposed to be able to heat a 220 square metre house. This fire burns wood from front to back so we can chop our firewood at 40cm lengths and they will fit in the firebox.
The firebox has restricters so you can only load a certain amount of wood. This means very dry, hard wood works the best. This year we have been experimenting with the different types of wood because we got in two wood deliveries, one in June and a smaller one in early August. This year we probably went through about 6-7 square metres of wood. The dense, dry, hard woods really push out the heat.
This fire is designed to run all day and night and long term this is the plan. It is more like a central heating furnace. So if it is cold, it does take a couple of hours to crank out the high heat and then it will keep pushing out the heat even after the fire has gone out as the ceramic firebox releases the stored heat. In the morning, it can still feel warm to the touch even when the fire inside is out from the night before.
It would seem good hard woods are woods like gum, tree lucerne and Australian hard woods. Kanuka is one of the best but we don't have much of that currently growing and it seems to be frowned on to burn.
Next year more of hard wood will be dry so we are hoping to be able to keep the fire going while we are at work so we can come back to a warm home. We also hope to keep it going all night so in the morning it is still putting out the heat and we can just add more wood. We need the dry, dense, hard word for that as to fit enough in to keep it going, the logs need to be smaller.
In the middle of winter this fire did all the heating for our hot water too. We turned off the electricity to the cylinder. Sometimes it also cooked our dinner on the top hot plate too or roasted our harvested nuts in their shells. So despite buying in firewood this year, rather than being able to use our home chopped wood, we think we haven't paid any extra for heating because our power bills were the lowest they have been all year.
The fire didn't heat our whole house, but this is more to do with the windows not being air tight and the ceiling needing an upgrade in insulation.
We also bought a fan (the valient ventium III) that is purely driven by the change in heat between the base sitting on the hot fire and the top. It is very quiet and helps push the air down to the other end of our large living room.
As we have attempted to work out our firewood supplies for next season, we see they are linked to sunshine and insulation.
Our home is well positioned for sunshine. In winter, in the middle of the day, the living room can reach 26-28C purely from the sunshine. The insulation in the roof does need improving so while we try to capitalise on the sun heated room with the fire, we are losing heat out through the roof. In time for next winter we hope to have at least completed roof insulation in the living room and had the window seals fixed so they all seal properly. It will be interesting see what sort of difference that makes to the room temperature and the amount of firewood we need to burn to keep it warm.
Unfortunately it was only at the end of winter, that we had the brainwave about the pile of macrocarpa prunings in a far corner of the property. We had looked on this all summer as a fire hazard but despite this, it didn't occur to us to use the dry wood as kindling. Now it has. We fill the firebox with broken off sections of the slender branches and the fire starts with a real roar, kicking out the heat.
We hope in the future to grow a kanuka patch that we can enjoy but also harvest and keep sustainable to have a continuous supply of dense, dry, hard wood. For next year and several more years to come, our clean up work on the property has given us enough wood to store for the winters. But we will need to start planning that firewood of some kind to have mature enough to use once the clean up work is complete.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The night chickpeas blew my mind

Here are some meringues.
aquafaba meringues

Here is the mixture before I cooked them.

So far so meringue. But there are no eggs in these meringues.
I had known about this idea for several months but hadn't made a recipe. There are many ingredient substitution ideas floating around the internet and one gets a little jaded.
Even if you are no vegan or can eat as many eggs as you like without an allergic reaction, this is well worth doing because it feels magical.
These meringues are made with the juice/brine from a can of chick peas. Yes that brownish liquid you normally pour down the drain. It even has a name, a website and a Facebook group these days - aquafaba. These are aquafaba meringues.
Here is the basic recipe I made:

Egg free meringues
The juice/brine drained from one can of chickpeas (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla essence (I have also seen a recipe use almond essence and perhaps coffee is also worth a try)

Tip the chick pea juice into your mixer and start the mixing.
Once it starts to look frothy and and closer to cream coloured than brown looking (about 5-10 minutes on a med-high mixing setting), start to add in the sugar slowly, letting it mix between additions.
Add in your flavouring and mix to the thick consistency of meringues (stiff peaks as they say - see picture above).
Pipe or spoon onto a tray and cook at 115C on fan bake for 60-90 minutes. Then turn off the oven and just leave to cool in the oven until completely cold.
Store in an airtight container or serve as you normally would meringues to the amazement of your friends and whanau.
It is the protein in the chickpea juice (just like the protein in the egg white) that makes this work. You can do other things with this juice like make egg free pancakes. J Kenji Lopez-Alt is a great person to tell you all about it. Here is his pancake recipe with aquafaba and he has made egg free mayonnaise too using it.
Obviously the next big question is - can you make a pavlova? There are recipes on the internet but in my first browsing, they all just seem to be big meringues - light and crispy.  Can you make a pavlova with the proper crispy on the outside and marshmellowy in the middle? It is definitely on the list to try next time I make Chana Masala with my chickpeas.
Now buy a can of chick peas and blow your mind.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Winter mesclun salad pots

A fresh green salad in winter when dinners start to look mostly brown from slow cooked stews and tangines or to set off the deep red of a tomato based Italian dish, what a great plan.
At the beginning of April I ordered the mesclun winter greens seed mix from King Seeds.
I prepared 3 pots and 2 buckets with soil and some compost, and sprinkled the whole packet between the different pots. I put them out on the edge of the verandah - so they would get some rain - and waited.
I was thinking of the term 'microgreens' and I expected the growth to edible size a lot sooner. By mid-May so approximately 6-7 weeks later, I had pots of low greenery but they looked like weeds.
I was disappointed with the whole mesclun idea. I had successfully grown 3 pots and 2 buckets of little weeds. My one optimistic thought was the uniformity of what was growing in all the pots, perhaps it was the beginnings of a salad after all.
Before I pulled them all out in disgust, I regoogled the seed mix. It has arugula, miner's lettuce and minutina in it.
So I googled each of those separately. It was then that I realised what I thought was grass was actually very young minutina. I plucked some pieces and had a taste. They were definitely flavoured in the green salad genre - fresh, not bitter and not grassy.
This is what the different leaves look like when small:

Arugula (Diplotaxis tenuifolia)
Miner's lettuce

These pots have been excellent. Now I know they are mostly my salad greens, I can pick out the few weeds in the pots. I clip the salad greens with scissors, as much as I need for a particular meal, and then it grows back in between.
Having more than one pot means I can cut an entire pot for a salad and while it is regrowing use the other ones. The pots on the verandah has meant quick access during meal creation to grab some salad making the salad grabbing a more regular occurrence than if picking required putting on boots and heading out into the winter dark to the vegetable garden.
We have used the mesclun greens together with some pepper, balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for a quick side salad, in sandwiches with cheese and homemade chutney, and on top of an omelet made from our chickens' eggs.
Based on the success of winter mesclun greens, summer ones will be added to the seed selection. Mesclun is a funny word. It is French for mixture, this is really one of the old salad ideas possibly back from Roman times. Mine should include flowers and more herbs as well to give it variety in flavour. Next time, I think I will include rocket, perhaps some mustard greens and add some edible flowers too like violets and nasturtiums. I like the idea of putting together the leaves to create the flavours pepper or mustard dressings would add to the salad. I will have to wait until we have finished eating the winter mesclun.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How to make hard shell almonds palatable

We finally cracked into a hard shell almond only to taste bitterness. It was strongly almond but also, according to the internet containing a glycoside, amygdalin, which metabolises to prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) that is not good for you and mildly toxic.
We have three soft shell almond trees but these have been planted behind the hazelnut grove so don't get much sun. They are suffering from their lack of sun and also the other trees growing close to them. The almonds we did get off these trees were delicious. They were also easy to remove the almond out of the shell and we just ate them raw off the tree. But we didn't get very many at all, perhaps a handful per tree. We will cut down the extra trees around the soft shell almond trees to give them more of a chance and we have pruned them back to the healthy branches to hopefully help the development of the trees and more nuts next season.
We also have three hard shell almond trees situated in a sunny position and these were covered in nuts. The difficulty was the bitter flavour. We decided one is definitely a bitter almond tree but the other two are not quite bitter to the same degree. From the reading online and offline, it would seem, having the bitter tree is good for pollination purposes. So we started just collecting the nuts from the two trees we don't think are as bitter.
I tried cracking the nuts out of the shells and blanching them in boiling water but they were still bitter.
I tried roasting just the nuts in a frypan on the stove and they were still bitter.
I was about to suggest cutting down all three trees, when we tried the method we use for the hazelnuts. We put the nuts in their shells in the square cake tin on top of the fire for several hours. This makes them quite nice and gets rid of the more intense part of the bitter flavour.
These nuts we have covered in melted chocolate to create a sort of rough looking, scorched almond.
But we mostly end up just eating the almonds after they have been roasted over the fire.
The hard shells are definitely harder to get into. Come July they do seem to open up more and currently there are many split shells lying under the tree. So next season, I will keep a closer eye on what is happening to the almonds that have fallen from the tree and see if their shells can be more easily opened if left until late June/early July.
The vice grips do work for getting into the shells but more strength is required.
If I was planting almond trees, I would just plant soft shell almonds for ease of getting into the almond and the less bitter flavour.
But this article (and other similar articles from Italy and other European countries) about the superiority of hard shell almonds still has me wondering if the hard shell are better after all, just more almondy than I have experienced previously.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hazelnut recipes

There are no fancy nut crackers here. We have found the vice grips work the best. You can adjust them to the size of the nut. It also means you know where the vice grips are because they are by the bowl of nuts.
The hazelnuts started falling at the end of February, through to end of March. Each day I would go out and collect them off the ground so they didn't go mouldy. It also meant the job of collecting them was not too big. One walk around the grove after arriving home and the nuts were collected.
We had half a shopping basket full of hazelnuts by the time they stopped falling. It looked a big cracking job. What would we do with all the hazelnuts?
What we found worked best with the hazelnuts was just cracking them as we needed them. We found the best way to roast them was in their shell. We put a layer in a square cake tin and sat that on the top of our logburner during the winter months. In the shells they have a barrier so depending on how hot your fire gets, it can take several hours to gently roast them, with no effort from you. Every now and then we might crack one and eat it to see if they are done. Sometimes the outer shells go a bit black looking so we figure they are roasted enough. Then we tip the nuts into a bowl. We have a had bowl of roasted hazelnuts sitting on our bench, ready to be cracked for a snack for the last five months. We have gone through a lot of hazelnuts this way - they are just so tasty, especially if still warm from being on the fire.
We have made our own hazelnut, chocolate spread. You do have to keep it in the fridge and I think shouldn't be kept for too long. We used Felicity Cloake's recipe. It is more hazelnutty, less sweet and much more like a breakfast spread than the commercial versions in the supermarket.
Other excellent uses of hazelnuts included adding it to homemade bircher muesli, filling for scrolls or sweet buns, any recipe that requires some nuts like loaves. I used hazelnuts in this persimmon loaf recipe.
The interesting one, that was thoroughly enjoyed was the hazelnut and anchovy spaghetti. It sounds an odd combination but the anchovy adds salt and the hazelnuts sweetness. It just works well. It did involve a serious session of nut cracking.
We haven't ground the nuts into a hazelnut meal for use in baking. Maybe in a few years when we are less excited by the hazelnuts we might have enough uneaten to do this.
We have almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts - hazelnuts are the most popular.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Our block is just outside the rubbish collection areas. So while our neighbours down the road and around the corner put their supplied bins out for collection, we take our recycling and rubbish bag to the refuse centre ourselves.
This is okay. I like that it makes me think more carefully about what I put in the rubbish bag so we can lengthen the times between trips to the refuse centre. It is also free to dump the council rubbish bag at the tip and the recycling.
Just after we moved. I set up our recycling bins. I went to the hardware shop, knowing the measurements of our car boot and the number of bins I needed that matched the council's recycling streams. I bought the bins, that would mean I could fit all the recycling bins in the car boot but were still a decent size. I bought two different styles because their slightly different shapes, meant they would fit better in the back. I have four 50 litre lidded bins, one for the rubbish bag, one for glass, one for paper and one for recyclable plastics. I have a smaller 10 litre bin for cans. They all have lids and I didn't want lids that would blow away in the wind.
The bins are close to the kitchen for ease of getting the recycling into them and close to driveway, for ease of loading them into the car.
Since I set up this system, I have realised that I don't take them all to the refuse centre at once because we don't fill them all in an even way. I usually take three big bins and the smaller bin for cans. Having the separate bins also makes me aware of what we are using most. Plastics is our most used recycling bin, despite reusing plastic containers where we can.
Every time I go to do the recycling, I am glad I took the time to set up our bins. Others are at the refuse centre picking through their recycling, working out what needs to go where. We drive up, open the back of the car, empty each bin into the appropriate recycling section and we're done with the bins all fitting back into the boot. We are off to add our rubbish bag to landfill while the others are still picking through their assorted bins.
Glass is the only more difficult one because I have one bin, while after the first visit to the recycling centre I found they separate them by colour. I am wondering about dividers down the bin but currently our glass recycling is our least filled bin because we reuse a lot of the glass bottles. I don't take it very often to the recycling centre so it is pretty easy to empty into the right bins. I could have  3 smaller bins for this and we may make this adjustment in the future, if our glass recycling grows.
It is definitely worth the time and the expense, doesn't have to be much, to set up a recycling system in an easy to use way that matches where you need to take it for recycling.


The quinces started ripening in April. 
Quince jelly is one of my most favourite things so I had been waiting for the quinces to ripen.
I made several batches of quince jelly. I love how it changes colour as it cooks. The first big batch I also made quince paste from the pulp. When I know that I want to make quince paste I peel and core the quinces.

Quince Jelly
Peel and core quinces 
Chop into quarters and put in a pot and add just enough water to cover the quinces.
Add the juice of a lemon.
Bring to the boil and let simmer until the quinces are soft.
Strain fruit through some muslin or a jelly bag or a pillow case so you end up with the light amber liquid separated from the soft pulp of the quinces.
It helps if you can strain the liquid into a bowl with measurements on the side, otherwise work out how many cups of the liquid you have.
Bring the liquid back to the boil.
Add in the same number of cups of sugar as you had liquid and stir until dissolved.
Let it boil away until it reaches setting point of 105C or alternatively use the setting point measures of putting a little onto a cold saucer from the freezer and seeing if it sets by pushing it with your finger to see if it forms creases or when you run your finger through it it stays divided.
Once it has reached the setting point (it is usually quite a red colour by then),  pour it into sterilised jars and seal.
 ( You can make some of this jelly for use in meat dishes but adding sprigs of thyme. I washed the thyme in boiling water and then dropped the sprigs into the jars before sealing.)

Quince Paste
Use a big pot, with plenty of room - with the cooked quince, weigh how much you have and add that much sugar and the juice of a lemon. Stir it in.
Put over a low heat and keep stirring it until all the sugar has dissolved.
Then simmer it gently. You have to be careful that it doesn’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pot and also beware of it firing hot, molten lumps out of the pot. 
It will gradually change colour. Don’t be tempted to speed it up by turning up the heat as it just sticks and burns. Keep stirring intermittently to make sure it hasn’t stuck to the bottom.
After about 1, 1/2 to 2 hours it should be done which you can tell by when you draw the spoon across the pot, for a moment you can see the bottom.
Tip into baking paper lined tins and leave out to set or you can put it in the oven on a really low heat such as 40C to set.
It should be set over night.

I wrap it in the baking paper and keep storing it in the fridge. Others say you can store it in the cupboard but I haven’t tried that.

Another use of quinces we tried was peeling, quartering and adding to the slow cooker. I covered them with enough water so that they would not go brown and added brown sugar as much as I felt would be nice. I set it on low overnight. By the morning we had soft, sweet quinces to have on our breakfast.
We also made spiced quinces that are currently preserved ready to go in a savoury dish. 
You can make these in the slow cooker too or on the stove top. I peeled and cored quinces. put enough water in the pot to cover the quinces. To the water I add one sliced lemon, 2 star anise, 1 cinnamon quill, 4 green cardamon pods and 1/4 cup of brown sugar. This simmered away until the quinces were red and soft.

Stars for free

Taking on a lifestyle block, especially an overgrown one, is a lot of work. It requires money to be put into it to fix things, buy the right tools or replace worn out parts.
For us, it also means a much longer commute.
Despite this, there is one aspect that does just seem a free bonus. It is the stars. I haven't got bored of them yet. Many a night we go out side and just stand, look up and marvel at what we see in the pitch black of the country.
We got up at a ridiculously early time to see the planets aligned and we have put on warm jackets so we can stand outside for longer on crisp, clear winter nights. I have seen a shooting star leave a blazing trail behind it as it fell.
They are beautiful and there are just so many of them. They feel a spectacular free gift for country living.
One night I was standing looking up close to the feijoa grove. It was quiet, other than the occasional bird squark and I was admiring the Milky Way when I heard feijoas thud to the ground. I had just picked up a basketful that day to process. When it is harvest time, the fruit doesn't stop but stars don't either.
June night sky from the country

Monday, July 4, 2016

Nashis and pears

The nashis ripened a lot quicker than I was expecting. They were ripe in late January, early February. From my reading on the internet, I was expecting March. The birds gave me the hint by digging in. This is a good way to find out if your fruit is ripe, but does mean you sacrifice some fruit.
The nashis were delicious - very juicy. One tree, they were quite small but these trees had no thinning done. Next season I will do some thinning to get bigger fruit.
We ate a lot of the nashis fresh and I also preserved some. I used the pressure cooker method. I peeled and cut them up, put the pieces into 500ml jars, filled them with a hot sugar syrup and then pressure cooked them four at a time in the pressure cooker. I half fill the pressure cooker with water, put in the jars, get it up to pressure and I can put the timer on the ring to keep it at pressure for 15 minutes before it automatically turns it off.
The other pears ripened much later in April. We have three different type of pear trees. We ate many of pears fresh and preserved some, again using the pressure cooker method. I don't do many jars of each fruit because they only have to last until the fruit starts again next season. I don't want to get sick of any of our fruit types.
I did make a couple of 500ml jars of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Mustard pears from his Fruit Everyday recipe book. This is a great book for new ideas of using up your fruit. We did try quite a few of the recipes as our fruit ripened and we had made all the usual recipes.
Mustard pears are quite easy to make. The hardest part is judging how much liquid you will need to cover the pears. I made too much and have a jar of the liquid as well.
Apples can be difficult to tell when they are ripe. We kept trying apples off the trees from January. we found the apples could be very tasty even when they are not quite ripe. We also used them in muffins and other dishes before some of the varieties were properly ripe. Once fully ripened, I have tried preserving some jars of apple pulp, again using the preserving method but cooking the apple down first. It will be interesting to see if these work. I haven't opened a jar yet.
We have a couple of Sir Prize apple trees. When the fruit were ripe they were not crisp but floury, easily bruised and not very nice to eat fresh. But these apples are amazing cooked up. I just peel them and then use one of those plastic round slicers to cut them into eight pieces and core them. I fill a large pot with all the pieces, add a small amount of water to stop the bottom ones sticking and let them cook down on the stove, stirring occasionally. They will cook down to about half the original amount. These apples don't need any added sugar (my hands get sticky peeling and slicing them) and they make the most delicious pulp. It doesn't last long in the fridge, despite how big a pot I make of it.We eat this pulp on breakfast, pancakes, use it in crumbles, with yoghurt - the kids would just eat it all in spoonfuls if they could.
The apple and pear season lasted several months through April, May and into June. The quinces started ripening in late April.
The ease of picking fruit and the number of fruit trees we have, is making me work towards the goal of pruning our trees so they are not more than 2 metres high. This should make all fruit collecting easier. We do have a fruit picking ladder and it is great but I notice I use the most fruit from the trees I can easily pick at any time, without needing to collect extra equipment. Currently our Sir Prize apple tree still has apples higher up that I couldn't reach.
We keep a selection of baskets in our kitchen. We have black plastic shopping baskets and some cane baskets. It is useful having a selection and different sizes for taking out to collect the fruit at any time. The baskets can then sit in the kitchen as we deal with the fruit.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Portable dinners

We are at the start of a long process.
At the moment we are using more fossil fuels than we ever did when living in town. The car, the ride on mower, the quad bike, the chain saw - all use fuel and all are being well used at the moment. This is just for a time while we get everything back under control.
Our current lifestyle does mean due to some child activities we end up needing to stay in town longer during the day. To avoid even later evenings, we are getting good at creating portable dishes, that we can make the night before and then take with us.This also saves on buying takeaways all the time. In the summer we treated it like a picnic.
These are the dishes we have made, taken in the coolie bag and that can be eaten watching sport or waiting for activities to finish.
toasted sandwiches
pita pockets with salad, cold meat and hummus
curry puffs 
Picnic rolls - this was in summer, when we just took sliced tomatoes, sliced cheese, sliced cold meat and lettuce, and made them on the sidelines
Grilled and sliced toasties
soup and bread

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dealing with Plums

The plums started ripening at Christmas in December, just as the loquats were finishing.
It is difficult to find the exact type of plums. I spent a lot of time googling plum types.
I found McGrath Nurseries page of plum types one of the most useful because it gives New Zealand based information. This page also helps to work out what a plum variety might be and then I would google the type of plum I thought I had for potential recipes.
We have something like 12 different types that ripen after one another.
Cherry plums can be seen as a useless plum but I found Sally Wises' blog and she has great recipes.
All summer we had the Sparkling plum drink on the go. The cherry plums were the best plum for this. We also messed around with her recipe a bit. We tried to reduce the sugar but if you reduce it too much then it will grow mould. Below is the adapted recipe we used but you can experiment with what works for you. It is the natural yeast on the plums that makes it ferment. Sally's recipe has cider vinegar in it but with a expect home brewer in the family, we stopped adding this. Partly because in beer the acetic acid flavour that is added by the vinegar is a flavour to be avoided in beer.

Sparkling Cherry Plum Juice

900g sugar
1kg clean but not washed cherry plums (or other plums). The plums should be unblemished.
1 lemon chopped
1 litre of boiling water
3.5l of water

Mix the sugar and the boiling water together in a large pot - big enough to hold all the ingredients (I used our big stock pot). Stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
Add the cherry plums and crush with a potato masher so they split.
Add the second measure of water and the chopped slices of lemon.
Cover with a clean teatowel and leave sitting on the bench for three to four days depending on your summer temperatures. Keep an eye on it after day 3 to see if little bubbles are appearing on the surface.
Once it has fermented a little, strain out the fruit and lemons using a sieve or lift them out with a slotted spoon and pour your light pink liquid into very clean plastic soft drink bottles. Put the lids on tight.
Leave sitting on the bench until the bottles are tight with the carbonation. You really want to make sure they are tight or it won't be fizzy enough. This can take another 3 days, depending on your summer temperatures. Once they are tight put them in the fridge ready to drink. This is a very refreshing drink on a hot summer's day.
This recipe makes 3 1.5l bottles of drink. We continuously had a stock pot of this fermenting on the bench so there was always more juice to refill the bottles.
Cherry plum tree in the overgrown orchard

With our many varieties of plum we made jam, we preserved some as pulp and as whole plums, and froze sweetened pulp. A large mouli makes life much easier when dealing with a lot of plums. You can quickly separate the stones and skins.

We also made a spiced plum chutney recipe, which is very nice. Unfortunately the internet has many spice plum chutney recipes, I think the one I made was this one. Note to self it is important to bookmark recipes so if they are a success we can make them again.
It is also important to label the jars. I didn't used to label my preserves because I knew what they were. Now we are preserving so many, I found it is important to date and label.
One other method I tried was this one of preserving whole fruit, supposedly so it tastes like fresh fruit. I tried this with some tasty doris type plums we had that were very good eating fresh. I opened a jar of these recently - 6 months later. At first tasting, these have definitely preserved, they have not gone off, but they certainly don't taste like fresh fruit. I don't think I will use this particular method again.

Using the yellow plums I tried this yellow plum salad but with the ingredients I had available. So I used a red capsicum and left out the beets. I had a tangy cheese so substituted that for the goat's cheese, that I didn't have on hand. The recipe I ended up making as below. It was very tasty and used up some plums.

Yellow plum salad

4-6 yellow plums, quartered and stones removed
red capsium cut into strips
two tomatoes quartered
tangy cheese like goat's cheese or feta or whatever you have available

Dressing ingredients:
2.5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
1 tspn fresh thyme
1 tspn dijon mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
several grinds of black pepper

Combine the salad ingredients - feel free to adjust amounts to what you have available and to your taste. Combine dressing ingredients and mix well together before tipping over your salad.
We ate a lot of the plums fresh and it was the plums that started the practice of having stewed fruit in the fridge to go on breakfast cereal. The plums were still going when the nashis and peaches started ripening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dealing with an overgrown garden

Next growing season we are going to have a proper big vegetable garden to have more vegetables and a more continuos supply. We want to start towards being self sufficient in vegetables like we are for fruit.
In the summer I laid one trial bed in the overgrown garden area using cardboard over the grass and then a thick layer of wood chip mulch. My plan was by next season the cardboard would have broken down and the mulch would be weed free and ready to plant my new vegetable crops. This first bed I didn't know that the cardboard needed to be really wet, I learnt this later.
Alongside the first bed we put our three loaned chickens in a large run and they did a fantastic job of changing the grass and weeds into a cleared area over six months.
Garden when the chickens were first added

Garden area after a few months of the chickens clearing it. 

Once they had cleared most of the area but a few larger plants, we shifted them and laid another two beds. I used the wet cardboard (after removing all tape and plastic) and then mulch. We had a lot of mulch from the trees we had cut down on our arrival but we have gone through it pretty quickly putting it on the gardens to keep the weeds away.
I used string to lay out the beds. I made the three beds the same width so when I make bird covers etc, they will fit all the beds. The paths in between, I made wide enough for the wheelbarrow and to crouch down in, without hitting the other bed.
The mulch goes across all beds and the paths as one big layer so weeds don't grow up in the margin between the path and beds.
There is one more bed, which already has the rhubarb growing in it. This one has not been mulched and at the end of the rhubarb is an asparagus bed. I will have to wait for spring to see exactly where the asparagus bed is planted or if it is not producing anymore.
A few weeks a go I planted one of the beds with leaks, garlic, shallots and spring onions. I covered it with the protective netting to keep out the blackbirds. Despite that something still seems to manage to dig up the garlic but it is good to see, the garlic is already creating roots.
Last week I made a plan based on these three beds being four metres long. I ended up using an Excel workbook with each worksheet being a different bed, with what will be planted, if a seedling or a seed, when it will be harvested and what will be planted next in the bed.
Once I had my three beds planned, I had one more worksheet that is by month and what needs to be bought to be grown from seed, or transplanted etc. each month. This plan covers a full year.
The garden is organised.
Now back to the summer fruits. Plums followed the loquats.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Garden planting

Before we moved I had planted up a number of seeds ready to transplant when we got to the property
But there was a bit of a problem. When we moved, there was no garden. It was all overgrown. In fact I had less garden than my container garden.
I decided to use the sandpit by the house because I didn't want the children playing in it as I was suspicious cats had used it for a toilet. Using wood we had ripped out of the kitchen, I made one square at a time and filled it with compost that I found. This made it manageable to build a new garden, rather than attempting to clear the overgrown old garden. It is not a very big garden, about 1.5m square.
But I surrounded it in chicken wire netting, that I found in the over grown grass, to keep the roaming chickens out.
I transplanted my seedlings shortly after we moved. This meant they were planted in early December rather than October or November. They loved the compost and they all started growing well until I came home and found most of the plants dug up and some of them missing. I replanted the ones I could but I wasn't sure what was causing the problem.
It was blackbirds and they did it again.
I bought netting to cover the little garden but I did lose many of my seedlings. Fortunately I had always thought of this first season as experimental. First lesson - blackbirds are worse in the country than town.
We did successfully harvest quite a few tomatoes, zucchini and also a couple of capsicum from the one capsicum plant that survived the black birds. The zephyr zucchini were yellow and green. They looked great and had a great nutty flavour. The mortgage lifter tomatoes were more successful than the Brandywine blends. The Brandywine was a nice tomato but not as densely flavourful as a cherokee tomato variety I have had previously. Maybe because it was a blend, but I no longer adhere to the rhetoric about the Brandywine being the best tasting tomato in the world. Next season I will use mortgage lifters again but I will likely try a cherokee variety of tomato or Isle of Capri.
I also planted some climbing peas at the end of summer. These were very successful, providing peas into the autumn and early winter. Next season, I will plant many more and I am aiming for two plantings one in spring and then when they die done as it gets too hot, another in the later summer. Fresh peas off the plant are so delicious.
We also had a watermelon plant that grew from a seed in the compost. It had one very good watermelon, so we saved some seeds. Next summer we will plant it deliberately and much earlier.
The issue with this new small garden, is the same issue I had previously. In a small garden, it is not possible to have vegetables growing continuously. The old vegetable plants have to be removed to make way for the new ones. I think this is the biggest advantage of having more space in the future. I will have many beds and while some are still producing the others will be being replanted.
This does take planning.
Towards the end of summer I was wondering if I should be doing any seed preparation but my plants were still producing so I didn't want to rip them out yet. Once they finished I replaced them with broad beans and beetroot. But now we are waiting for them to grow enough to produce.
Next growing season will be in the much bigger garden. To make sure it will be ready, the chickens are at work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ripening fruit on the lifestyle block - Loquats

Once the fruit starts ripening it is a very busy time.
The loquats were first. They were ripening as we arrived in late November.
I had never tried a loquat before. It is a flavour cross between an apricot and a pineapple. It has a low flesh to stone ratio.
We have quite a number of trees. The precise number is too many. There will be some chopping down done as we move into winter.
Loquat tree
If you also find yourself with loquats, these are the loquat recipes we have loved.
Firstly loquat liqueur. This uses the large seeds. I believe it is an Italian thing.
My Aunty passed on this recipe to me.  The almond flavour that results is quite surprising. It tastes like Christmas - like the marzipan on the cake.
Loquat Liqueur
200g loquat seeds
400ml vodka (higher alcohol content the better)
3 pieces of lemon peel (or as much as you prefer or have)
vanilla bean
300g sugar
300ml water
Remove 200g of loquat seeds from their flesh. (This is a large bowl of fruit to get the required number of seeds.)
Leave the seeds in the sun for two weeks to dry. (If you are going away for Christmas, it is ideal to lie out your seeds before you leave and then they are ready when you return.)
Remove the papery shells from around the seeds.
Place the seeds in a bottle with the vodka, the lemon peel and the vanilla bean. Keep covered in a warm place for a month. Shaking every so often as you remember.
Once the month is up. Make a sugar syrup by boiling the sugar and water together. Let it cool. Once it is cool, filter your alcohol to remove the seeds, lemon peel and vanilla bean and add the sugar syrup to the alcohol.
Keep to season for at least two months before drinking.
Loquat liqueur with home dried fruit, home grown nuts
and  quince paste (see quince blog post)

Loquats make an interesting tasting jam, using the flesh (not the seeds). We just used the same recipe as you would for apricot jam and adjusted the sugar to taste.
They also make a very a good crumble if stewed up.
This loquat chutney recipe is also a winner. I adjusted the amounts to match how many loquats I was prepared to prep. Mine took much longer than she says in the recipe to get to chutney thickness. The best test is to drag the wooden spoon through the mixture and when it leaves a trail so you can see the bottom of the pot before it closes over, it is done. We have just started eating this chutney now. So it had 7 months to meld the tastes together.
When preserving you realise the true genius of chutneys. They use a whole lot of fruit and it condenses down into a very small space. My big bowl of loquats became 2 jars of about 500ml of chutney.
Preserving, while quite fulfilling, takes time. My aim is to be preserving efficient. I want to use up my supplies from one season before the fruit kicks off again in the next season. I have created a spreadsheet and I am recording how many jars and of what, I am preserving so that I can map our usage and see how many are required in the future.
We purchased two boxes (35 in each) of these 500ml jars and lids to use for preserving, as well as our motley collection of other sizes. We went with 500ml because previously we have bought the 400g fruit cans from the supermarket and these seem to suit most recipes and our family size quite well. I didn't want to end up having too many half empty preserving jars cluttering the fridge. As the loquats fell off the trees or were all eaten by the birds, the cherry plums started ripening....

Good neighbours

When we first moved, we made a decision to work on the street frontage. The neighbours had put up with ugly overgrown broom and gorse hanging over onto the grass roadside verge. The grass had only been cut where the council cut it for fire safety. The rest of the grass was long and scaggly. It was an eyesore.
We wanted to have good relationships with our neighbours so we set to work with scrub cutter and a pruning saw.
The good news was even before we had made much of a difference in improving the street frontage our neighbours were already offering assistance and useful advice.
Nothing beats the value of good neighbours. We share homebrewed craft beer, they share their years of farming and local knowledge.
They are always willing to help, even with the palm that took out the fence.
The palm was dying and behind the fence on the street frontage. Its brown dead fronds were heading towards the power lines. It was time for chainsaw action.
Big palms are very unpleasant. They have sharp spines that pierce your gumboot or your skin. The spines break off and are impossible to remove the small pieces they leave behind, irritating and inflaming the skin. Dealing with the palm did leave swollen arms for a few days and almost a trip to the doctor but the inflammation subsided.
Although dropping the palm was thought about quite carefully. It was early days in chainsaw education and it didn't quite go as planned. The fat palm drunk hit the fence and the section of fence was lying on the ground underneath the weighty palm trunk. Now the street frontage looked even worse.
Time to call the neighbours.
She laughed and said it was no bother, "We're always getting ourselves into these scrapes."
The four wheel drive soon had it off the fence. A couple of waratahs (y posts or those metal fence posts you see with the holes in them) and cable ties later, from the outside the fence looked the same as pre palm flattening.
We did lose the hammer. It was finally located after the palm trunk was removed, again with the neighbour's help. There was the hammer lying underneath.
While we have much to do on our property, I have never regretted prioritising the street frontage over other perhaps more useful self sustainable work. The building of relationships is worth the effort.
There really is nothing like good neighbours. There is nothing like standing in the middle of a flooded road with them either.

Chainsaws and lifestyle blocks

We did buy a chainsaw. It wasn't the best one. The advice is for all tools for the block buy the best you can - especially the chainsaw as you will use it a lot. I think this is the right advice.
We had been going through our money quite quickly on many things and I couldn't bring myself to spend a fortune on a chainsaw. Yes we will probably buy another better one in the future when the purchases are less frequent. We did spend $500 so acquired not a super cheap model. There there was the $130 chaps to protect one's legs while using the chainsaw. If an ex-forester's wife recommended the chaps I was fully on board. We already had the face and ear protection equipment from the rotary slasher.
What substantially improved the chainsaw was breaking the chain after a few months use and replacing it with a Stihl one. The Stihl shop could sell it off the reel to the required length.
Using a chainsaw is not as simple as just slicing it through the wood. The ex-forester provided some useful lessons, tips and also some demonstrations on how to keep the chain sharp.
Nothing teaches better than getting your chainsaw stuck in a tree. The theory seems obvious about slicing so the branch falls open away from the chainsaw but sometimes putting the theory correctly into practice doesn't work out and the branch starts to close in and the chainsaw is jammed.
One incident took two of us to remove the chainsaw. One lifting the branch, the other holding the chainsaw so it didn't drop and carefully sliding it out as it came loose.
Then there was the large palm that was easy to cut through but took out the fence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Seasons on the lifestyle block

No writing in 6 months. Since we took the property it has been busy. But I had a plan. We took over the property at the beginning of summer.
Summer and autumn are busy times on a lifestyle property. Everything is growing, ripening and requires processing. So time is at a premium.
Summer is the time for outside work. In winter the growth quietens down, the days are shorter and the weather is not so good for being outside.
Winter is the time for writing. 
Joel Salatin in the book I have read, but no doubt the others as well, talks about the importance of seasons. I think John Seymour in "The Fat of the Land" also discussed the seasons. Part of our reason for doing this was getting back in sync with nature. We are beings of nature and we have spent many thousands of years working with these seasons. It means there are still times for holidays and it means the work varies. It is not the same every day, there is a cycle to go through during the year.
I am intrigued that many of our older traditions fit with these seasons. Matariki, the Maori new year, is at a time of entering the coldest period of the year. It is a fun event of coming together as whanau, remembering those that have gone before and looking forward to the new year. It is the shortest days, it is time to plan for the coming year of growth.
If you look at the older church traditions such as the Anglican church, these also follow the rhythm of life for the majority of the people of their time. It makes no sense to us in the southern hemisphere but the northern hemisphere, where the traditions started, you can see how the church weaved in the narrative to the daily life of its followers.
There is the Christmas celebration in the middle of winter when it is cold and miserable. Coming up to Easter and the start of spring we have Lent, a time of fasting. This fits in with the time of least food, the last of the winter stores is running out and the spring new season's food has not come in yet. Instead of being a trial it is turned into a ‘thing’, a conscious activity. A time to reflect on the run up to Easter. Easter is at the start of spring. The church’s message of new life fits in well with the new life all around. Then the church calendar has about six months of ordinary time. In the northern hemisphere, this would have been the busy time of growing, harvesting and preserving so less time for thinking and church activities. 

We are living a little in each camp, enjoying the seasons of the land while still being part of the every day is the same office work world. Now about that chainsaw buying.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.