Sunday, October 11, 2015

  Yo Yotam

Now that the weather's warmed up, its swim time.

I thought I'd stop being annoyed at the ubiquity of Yotam Ottolenghi long enough to try one of his recipes. It was just my cup of tea so I am now a convert. Here's what turned me.

Yolam Ottolenghi's Indian-spiced potato and pea salad
500 g new potatoes, quartered
1 red onion, sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
0.5 tsp turmeric powder
1 garlic clove, crushed
100g fresh podded or defrosted frozen peas
3 spring onions, sliced
1 green chilli, sliced
handful of coriander leaves.

Cook potatoes until tender. Drain. Put onion in a bowl and squeeze over lemon juice. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a pan, over medium heat. Add cumin and mustard seeds and cook until mustard seeds start to pop. Add turmeric and garlic and cook for extra 30 secs, stirring constantly.
Tip in cooked potatoes and fry for 5 mins, turning often. Add peas, spring onions and chilli. Season with salt and toss. Leave to cool for a few mins then toss through onion and coriander leaves. Serve warm or at room temp.

Have been enjoying Mother Jones lately. I'm loving their hipster-dissing series. And this story on weight loss and the microbial community in the gut

I'm so spoiled for fresh produce where I live - heaps of small, local growers and outlets specialising in locally grown produce. Here's one of my favourite - the produce train - a repurposed red rattler that sells local veggies, herbs, honey and fruit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sandalwood: Part 2

 Sandalwood: Part 2

Having last reported on our sandalwood project back in July 2013, I thought it was probably time for an update. It seems to me to have proceeded very slowly, but looking back at all the work that's gone into getting our block to its current state - planted out with indigenous nitgrogen-fixing seedlings which are all about 80-1cm high - I'm not surprised.

Our sandalwood block - if you look hard enough, you'll see the seedlings, which are about 80cm to a metre high. We'll be sowing the sandalwood seed soon.

First of all, my long-suffering partner and father spent many months burning the massive piles of wood left over from clearing the block. We became the biggest carbon emitters in our neighbourhood sending plumes of smoke billowing up into the crisp, clear air all through of winter 2014. Some of the piles burnt for weeks, with huge, partially buried embers fuelling the burn. Not a good look.

Then, we quickly realised that the ground, riddled with roots and holes from removed stumps, was far too uneven to run our tractor over. Actually, it was too uneven to run pretty much anything but the biggest, hairiest machines over. Our ickle 'lifestyle' tractor is not such a beast. We knew we needed to be able to use our tractor to rip sowing lines in for the host seedlings, and also to control the interow grass while the trees become established.

So we brought in the big guns in the form of a local contractor and his array of ridiculously large earthmoving equipment. First a harrow with rakes to drag through the topsoil, bringing the roots to the surface, and dragging them to the remaining burn pile
Harrowing to bring roots to the surface
Then monster offset discs, cutting through remaining branches in the soil, and breaking up bigger clods of dirt. All I could think of as I watched his machines rumble over the ground was "no, the soil structure, the soil structure".

When this destruction was complete, we walked over the paddock, picking up remaining large sticks  and rocks to ensure our tractor wouldn't be waylaid by them.

Then summer came, and we watched as dry topsoil, no longer anchored by vegetation, blew off the block and down the street. D'oh. Should have seen that one coming.

Finally, in Autumn 2014 the rains came and it was time to plant our nitrogen-fixing hosts.  I picked up the seedlings I'd ordered to be grown out by our local nursery: Acacia myrtifolia, Bursaria spinosa, Acacia stricta, Coprosma quadrifida, Goodenia ovata and Indigofera australis. The A. myrtifolia has been the best performer.

Winter and spring turned out wet, and we noticed that many seedlings sat in waterlogged soil for weeks at a time, which may partly account for the roughly 30% attrition rate of the host seedlings. Over the next few months, I'll fill in the gaps with seedlings purchased on the fly from local nurseries, but staying with the same set of species.
Acacia myrtifolia in our sandalwood block, the best performer out of all the host species planted.

My partner, in his usual meticulous way, mapped out the rip lines for planting, curving them slightly to try to keep them partially on contour. It took quite a while for him to do the job - did I mention our tractor is small?

Making the rip lines - single green tine attached to the back of our tractor.

I've been in contact with a nurseryman in central Victoria, regarding his native sandalwood plantation, which my partner and I visited in 2011. He planted his sandalwood in 2006 and by December 2012 it, was showing an average annual stem diameter increase of 15 mm, with growth still accelerating.

This photo, taken in August 2013, shows the largest sandalwood tree in a plantation established in 2006 in central Victoria. The shovel is 1.5 metres, which puts the tree at around 5 metres high. 
And here is a long shot, showing the tree in the row of sandalwood and hosts

We're now waiting for our sandalwood seeds to arrive from Ben Boxshall, the ecologist who advised us on the project way back in 2012. Fingers crossed we can get them in with some rain to get them germinating.

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Move as much as you can and in as many ways as you can.
Push your body hard enough that it complains regularly but not enough that it complains constantly.

This is a from a running blog I follow, the only running blog I follow if I'm to be honest. But its good. Promise. I remembered this quote today when B asked if an exercise I was doing hurt. I said I thought exercise shouldn't be painful, but exerting yourself physically to a point where your mind pushes back, but you push through, builds endurance and is rewarding.

Pictures on the run

Pictures on the run: wattle in full bloom
I love to run off the beaten track, which is not hard where I live. I try to do new routes regularly. If I see a bushland reserve, or a public track that's well vegetated, I'll run through it. In this way, I've discovered many beautiful  pockets of my 'hood. I generally have my phone with me, and if I see a view or sight I like, or I'm just procrastinating, trying to avoid the next few kms, I take a photo. Here are some of the places I've run through over the past couple of months.
Pictures on the run: view from on high
Pictures on the run: looking through the trees
Pictures on the run: watch out for the branches while you run

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A slapdash harvest

Purple king beans and butter lettuce, March 2014

 Now that Autumn is over, and not much is coming out of the patches, I'm remembering the late Summer-Autumn bounty.
  Very chuffed to have picked our first avocados (Reed).

 We picked our first avocados off the trees on the swale in November last year. Unfortunately, since then, the parrots appear to have discovered them. Small, unripe ones have fallen to the ground with peck marks on them (sigh).

Carrots and garlic, Feb 2014.

A good crop of garlic and carrots. I dried and braided the garlic again. We're eating it in sourdough garlic naan, a new favourite with kefir yoghurt.

 Sourdough garlic naan. Good with kefir yoghurt, and tandoori chicken (made with kefir yoghurt, of course!).

 The awesome Sharon Namubiru teaching worm farming in Uganda, Feb 2014.

Sharon Namubiru, who I met in 2009 in Uganda on a permaculture course, has been teaching permaculture again, this time in Tanzania. She sent me some photos. Here is she is inducting people into the amazing power of worms. Go Shazmaz!

Sharon works the crowd.

April harvest

The squash went ballistic this year - might plant a few less next year as I was struggling to use them all. The rats monstered the sweet corn, but we still managed a few tasty cobs.

 Squash madness.

Pulled up the last of the tomatos in late April and set about making passata out of them, using the trusty mouli to separate seeds and skin after cooking.

Despite my slapdash bean teepees, the purple king beans put on their usual stellar performance
Spaghetti squash in foreground, purple king beans in background, cucumbers next to purple kings.
From the one almond tree we got around to netting, came a decent crop of almonds.

 Chestnuts. Removing the VERY PRICKLY hull was a pain in the patooty.

Have attended some great workshops lately, including: 
- a carbon-farming session attended by CSIRO's leading soil scientist, Jeff Baldock. What a fantastic science communicator.
- a farm tour showcasing conservation work done by a local dairy farmer on his property, over a 15 year period. The before and after shots were so inspiring.

Revegetated dam on dairy property in Gippsland, April 2014. Among the benefits of extensive revegetation around the property: reduced erosion, increased habitat for native animals, improved soil health, improved water quality.

"Let us permit nature to have her way, she understands her business better than we do." (Michel de Montaigne, 1533-1592)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Transition Farm

Transition Farm, Gunamatta

In October last year I visited Transition Farm in Gunamatta on the Peninsula with Mr B. The farm is a community-supported agriculture enterprise that supplies boxes of veggies and fruit to Penininsula locals. It is rather awesome. Its designed along permaculture lines with native plantings throughout for shade, soil health and biodiversity, and the produce is grown using biodynamic practices. Sheet mulching was used to establish the initial plots, and composts, green manures, chooks and sheep are all part of the system.

The achievements of Transition Farm's owners are remarkable in many ways. The farm a working demonstration that food production and biodiversity need not be natural enemies. Its a rare demonstration of integrating natives into food production system. And it gives us a picture of what "sustainable intensification"- a hotly debated concept in agroecological circles - might look like in the context of South Eastern Australia.

Native plantings at line the access paths at Transition Farm. Natives are also used to create microclimates, protecting the produce from the strong winds in this coastal region and providing shade and mulch material.

Plants propagated in soil blocks in the greenhouse. The greenhouse is made of framed glass doors that were cast-offs from a construction site.
Demonstration of soil block construction, Transition Farm.

Soil blocker, Transition Farm

House garden at Transition Farm, based on Linda Woodrow's design - check out the geodesic chook dome in the background. The circles are weeded and fertilised by the 'chook tractor'.

All power to the Transition Farm folks. May their land and produce prosper.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

News nuggets from the patches

First of the season's artichokes

I'm thinking of boiling these beauties up, extracting the hearts, slicing them and putting them on sourdough pizza with some kefir fetta. Could be strange, but could also be awesome.

Last of the season's silverbeet.

There's a lot of it, I know. It got steamed, chopped finely and frozen, ready for spinach pies.

Lettuce, munched hard by the rabbits, late August 2013

We didn't get to eat much of this winter lettuce. The rabbits got there first. I got these as seedlings from our neighbour, an expert veggie grower. See the darker variety at top right (I think its radicchio) - the rabbits left those alone.

Kale, mid July 2013

Shamefully, I let most of this go to seed. Turns out not many people in my family like Kale. Next year I'll do a smaller crop and try the kale chips option.

Mizuna, July 2013

The rabbits also monstered the mizuna - bloody gourmets they are. But we ate it anyway, munched leaves and all.

Lemons, late July 2013

We turned our glut of limes and lemons into lemon cordial which turned out to be tasty in lemon cordial icypoles. The lemon cordial recipe called for what seemed like a lot of sugar so we cut the sugar by 25%. Still lovely.

Lemon cordial, July 2013

Our veggie-growing neighbours, lets call them J and B, have been giving us so much delicious produce, including this gorgeous pumpkin. Pumpkin soup is a favourite for school lunches in the new whiz-bang wide-mouthed thermos.

We exchange fermented goodies too. J is learning the ins and outs of all sorts of natural fermentation tactics. I've had the pleasure of trying her ginger kefir soda, a naturally-carbonated fizzy drink that packs a punch. And the latest loveliness from J is kimchi - korean pickled cabbage. Unfortunately I'm the only one in the family that thinks this is a truly awesome condiment. I think it would be bloody good as dumpling filling. Wonder if there is such thing as a sourdough dumpling?

B and J's sourdough loaf, made using my wholemeal starter, and a Thermomix.

I gave some of my wholemeal starter, which is now at least 4 years old, to B and J. J used her Thermomix to produce this ridiculously proficient looking loaf - wha!, as Tashi would say. It inspired me to crank a loaf out - even though the demand from the family is for pizza bases rather than bread. I can't really complain though - we certainly do not have what you'd call a fussy kid. B eats pretty much anything we give him, loves salads and most veggies, and loves to try out new things. Among the foods he's added to his palate lately are tuna, avocado, chutney, prosciutto, steamed dumplings, and homemade sourdough garlic naan. He often hangs around the kitchen while I cook, helping with various tasks, and I encourage him to taste dishes at various stages of their preparation. We describe the flavours together, so his taste vocab is also expanding. He's starting to use lemon in a distinctly middle eastern way ;)

 Sourdough, September 2013
This is Dan Lepard's Mill Loaf, from his book The Handmade Loaf, with an increased % of wholemeal (versus white).
Red wine vinegar in the making, September 2013.

J and I are experimenting with making red wine vinegar. Back in July I pulled a bottle of organic shop-bought red wine vinegar out of the pantry and noticed a bloody great big disc of slimy stuff floating in the bottom. I did not panic. No, not I. I was pretty sure it was a 'vinegar mother', and indeed it was.

Vinegar making is basic science. In the presence of oxygen, Acetobacter bacteria feed off of alcohol and convert it to acetic acid. That acid, plus the water from the wine, creates vinegar. Even industrial vinegar makers rely on this basic biology. - See more at:
Vinegar making is basic science. In the presence of oxygen, Acetobacter bacteria feed off of alcohol and convert it to acetic acid. That acid, plus the water from the wine, creates vinegar. Even industrial vinegar makers rely on this basic biology. - See more at:
Red wine vinegar mother, July 2013

A red vinegar mother is a thick slimy disc , the colour of liver. It is a biofilm of acetic acid bacteria (Acetobacter spp.). In the presence of oxygen, the Acetobacter feed off the alcohol (red wine) and convert it to acetic acid. Too high an alcohol concentration however, is not tolerated by the Acetobacter so when you add wine to your mother, you need to dilute it. I've used the rough proportions given in this website:

I gave some of the mother to J and off we went to ferment ourselves some red wine vinegar. After a couple of weeks, when I pulled out the jar and smelt it, I knew something was wrong. It smelt like nail polish. A quick spot of internetting revealed that because I hadn't aerated the mixture regularly, the bacteria had produced too much ethyl acetate (produced in anaerobic conditions), over acetic acid (produced in more aerobic conditions). D'oh. So I threw half out, added some more red wine and water and stirred it every couple of days for the next few weeks. And lo and behold, its now smelling very much like the shop-bought red wine vinegar I have in my pantry. If I don't stir regularly, the vinegar produces a thick disc of bacteria that completely covers the surface.

Some newly formed vinegar mother.

Additional vinegar mother is continually formed. Like sourdough starter and kefir culture, this can be given away to friends.

Lemon and rhubarb pie - rhubarb from the patch - about to go in the oven. Witness the fine food stylings of my partner.

First avocados - Reed variety, September 2013

I'm pretty stoked to have avocados on one of the trees planted 3 years ago. This is the Reed variety. The other 3 trees (Bacon and Hass) haven't produced anything yet. The one I planted from seed (variety unkown) died so I replaced it with a grafted Reed from Diggers.

Reed avocado, planted to replace a failed attempt to grow an avocado tree from seed.

There's been a lot of action in the patches over the past few weeks, with Spring well underway - clearing, sowing, fertilising and so on. But that will have to wait till the next post. Also in the next post - reports on an inspiring agroforestry tour, and an update on the Sandalwood project. There has been movement at the station folks.