Friday, July 01, 2011

Taming the tamarillos

Aaaaaaaaah . . . I've come up for air after the end of first semester. Doing a fourth-year agricultural science subject, soil management, meant learning basic stats on the fly - an ugly proposition. But dogged determination, and some crazy late nights, got me through and I'm glad I persevered. I understand a heap more about nitrogen and carbon cycling, soil structure and its relationship to tillage practices, soil acidification processes, and the role of organic matter in soils. I'm also closer to being able to interpret soil tests and make recommendations based on them.

Preserving the neighbourly spirit

Tamarillo tree, inner city patch, May 2011.
I managed to find time to pick the tamarillos off our tree in the inner city - and my partner made chutney, a LOT of chutney, out of 'em. The process involved boiling them first to split the skins for peeling.
Tamarillos, skin split after boiling
It seems home preserving was in the air, because the day after, there was a knock on our door and I opened it to find a neighbour bearing gifts: preserved olives and lemon butter. The olives he had picked a couple of weeks earlier from the olive tree in our front garden tree, at my invitation, and the lemon butter he'd made with lemons from his backyard tree. Little did he know that lemon butter is my absolute favourite breakfast spread - it was one of the first things I learnt how to make on my own as a child. Of course he got some chutney.
Lemon butter and olives in brine - neighbourly spirit is a fine thing.
Gordon and Gwen Ford's garden

When a friend invited me to accompany her on a visit to this garden in Eltham, on the north eastern fringes of the city, I jumped at the chance. Gordon Ford was a pioneering Australian landscape gardener whose naturalistic bush-like gardens are both monumental and intimate.
Gordon and Gwen Ford's garden, Eltham

His wife Gwen now maintains the garden and is adding her own stamp to it. I loved every nook and cranny of it.
Pond outside Gwen Ford's house, Eltham
Outdoor oven, Gordon and Gwen Ford's garden, Eltham
Bamboo happiness
A nursery worker at Red Cloud Bamboo shows off a stand of (I think) Bambus Oldhamii.

Back in February, I made at trip to speciality nursery Red Cloud Bamboo to pick up a couple of clumping (i.e. non-running) species for the peninsula property. The long term plan is to grow a (very) small grove there - uses would include garden stakes, fencing, and furniture. The shoots of the two species I bought, Ghost bamboo (Dendrocalamus minor amoneous) and Oldhamii (Bambusa oldhamii) are also edible.  Lots of useful info on bamboo silviculture in Australia, including in particular the effect of thinning regimes on shoot and culm production, can be found in this publication by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research: Silvicultural management of bamboo in the Philippines and Australia for shoots and timber.

Australia actually has a native bamboo species, Bambusa arnhemica, that grows wild in the top end. A small number of Australian growers produce edible shoots for the restaurant and gourmet market but not of the native variety (see, for example,
Bamboo grove at Red Cloud Bamboo.
Bambusa oldhamii in the inner-city patch
More kefir adventures
After mould developed on my first batch of quick-method Kefir-parmesan, I tried another, and this time it seems to have worked. I've produced reasonably tasty hard, parmesan-like cheese, following Dominic Anfiteatro's excellent instructions in the booklet he gives you when you buy kefir off him. Because I wanted to see whether it would work before embarking on the more involved process of making a proper round of hard kefir cheese, I used his quick-and-dirty method, which involves cutting the as-yet-non-matured cheese up into little cubes and setting it out to air dry. This avoids the need to seal the cheese in wax for maturation.
Kefir parmesan maturing on day 1 (total maturation time approximately 7 days)
I think I'll try my hand at Dominic's recipe for Kefir fetta next. Maybe I'm putting off  making a proper round  of hard cheese because I know it will be the start of an obsession akin to my sour-dough craze.

Peninsula goings on
On the peninsula, the main activity over the past month has been pruning the nut trees on the swale, and pruning back the nurse trees around them. The latter has been a big job as the Tagasastes in particular are fast growing and threaten to shade out the nut and avocado trees. But on the upside they produce lots of mulch, which means less wheelbarrowing of mulch in from elsewhere.

My partner and I also brewed up and applied a late (May) batch of aerated compost tea. We brewed up enough for both a foliar spray and soil application. Pest damage to trees so far is minimal - some feeding on leaves but not significant; no sign of overwintering pest mites such as Bryobia (Bryobia rubrioculus), or Coddling moth (Cydia pomonella) cocooning. But I did spot a Painted apple moth (Teia anartoides) on one of the almonds last weekend, which gave me a fright.

In late June I planted out garlic bulbs, sowed some onion seed, and sowed field peas in the beds that grew corn over the summer. Corn is a nitrogen-hungry crop so hopefully the peas will put some nitrogen back into the soil.

Salt pig from Stonehouse gallery, Warrandyte
 At the 'Canvas and Clay' exhibition opening of my partner's talented mum Sue at Stonehouse gallery in Warrandyte (Sue did the canvases), I couldn't resist buying this handmade oversize salt pig for the kitchen in the new house. Here it is with its big maw open, ready for some sweaty cooking hands. Everyone needs a salt pig, honest.

Marie Antoinette