Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's simple, dahl-ing

I spent this afternoon at a 'Food in Writing' event at our local library.  It was a real joy to hear the voices I've seen in writing over a period of time, and hopefully some of their tips improve the writing here.

In the Garden:
When I walk out through our garden, normally in a rush to get to school, or to get into the house out of the rain, I see it in a a greeny blur.  When I took some time this week, to look at how it is progressing and to weed it, I realised that usually, I think about the next thing I need to do, not the learning and effort required to get it to it’s current state.   We aren’t experts by any stretch of the imagination, but overtime, we have formed some good gardening habits.  I thought that I’d elaborate on some of our gardening building blocks today:
 Broadbeans at 40cm...
We have an open compost area ~80cm x 80cm by ~1 m high, where garden waste like grass clippings, leaves, weeds, as well as some kitchen scraps go (onion, banana and citrus peels and egg shells), with some dry chicken manure added, and lime also to reduce any bad smells.  Even in the coolest winter days, the area is hot enough to steam and put out significant heat.

When starting a compost heap, you’ll need some old composted matter to help get the heap going, with the bacteria provided starting to break down the compost matter.  Garden centres supply a product to do this, if you don’t have a friend to provide a starter bucket…

My husband looks after the compost and turns it often (minimum 5 times a week which is definitely excessive) to ensure that everything is mixing through.

There are lots of great, off the ground compost bins that can be easily turned available, but they do cost a bit.   Ours is at the cheaper end of the market, ie just cobbled together.  An off the ground, rotational compost bin may be a good idea moving forward, especially given that a rat plague is apparently winding its way through Melbourne - urgh.

Worm Farm:
All kitchen waste is put in the worm farm except for:
  • Onion, banana and citrus peels and egg shells which the worms don’t like, my husband has noticed their taste over time.
  • Animal products (meat, dairy...) 
Waste paper is added to insulate the space in winter and also as worm food. 
A huge number of worms work to break down the food and paper and create castings (wet poo, as black as petrol).  From this you can put the castings into your garden beds, or use the ‘juice’ or ‘tea’ that goes to the bottom of the container, as a liquid fertilizer, watering it down to 1 cup per 9 litre watering can, and put this over the garden – ideally fortnightly for a veggie patch to help add growth.

Hmmmm, Juicy

Worm farms have to be kept cool in summer, because if the worms overheat and die, it isn’t just sad for them, it is sad for you.  The smell is the most repulsive thing you could ever, ever, ever imagine.  It is the stuff of nightmares.  Thus the the hession bags over our worm farm that are kept damp in the summer months, and left on for insulation in winter.

We have a worm farm from the hardware shop, but there are lots of home made designs around also, if you are looking to make one for yourself.

Clearly, the compost and worm farm are dirty things, full of rotting matter, but create wonderful things for the garden.  ABC Gardening estimates 300kg of waste per household per year can be saved through composting and for us, it has resulted in lower financial costs for gardening, with less bought fertilizer required for the garden due to the worm juice (I estimate ~$90/year, using seasol in lieu of worm juice, fortnightly application to veggie patch only) and bought soil not required for our recent new garden bed addition (~$90 for bagged soil as we don’t have a trailer to bring in unbagged soil from landscape supply centre).  

Coffee Grinds:
Coffee grinds from your coffee pot help flowering plants produce fruit and also, snail and slugs do not like to travel over them, so can act as a barrier to protect  the plants.

Sudden Impact for Roses:
I use 'Sudden impact for Roses' twice a year, in spring and autumn – It is an expensive but v effective pellet fertilizer used on all flowering plants to add flower and fruit production.  I believe it makes a huge difference to the garden overall, though my husband is insulted that I don't rely on this worm juice alone.

I’ve picked up a lot of gardening information over time from the following sources:
-       The local library for various books to peruse, magazines and dvds for gardening.
-       Vasili’s Garden TV show – SBS Wednesdays 7:30pm,
      Vasili is an passionate gardener who visits lots of old school gardensaround Melbourne for tips for food production – It is excellent for lots of tried and tested ideas – This week, he visited a man with an excellent and huge veggie patch who attributed most of his success to ‘chicken manure tea’, chicken manure left to age in water and then distributed through the garden for fabulous results.  The previous week, we learnt about grafting fruit-trees from a master who had an incredible amount of fruit trees on a standard block.  I secretly dream of one day being a featured garden on his show. 

-       ABC Gardening Australia, Saturday Nights 6:30 – they visit lots of gardens, including their own in Hobart’s Botanical Gardens to display lots of horticulture and permiculture techniques, and also have a bit at the end of the show regarding what is good to plant throughout Australia in the current time.
-       3AW Saturday/Sunday mornings 8-10am: Garden star Jane Edmanson is on the radio to answer any garden questions you might have specific to your own patch and often, if she can’t help, she’ll find out or a caller with ring in with a tip.
-       Yates Garden Guide. My copy belonged to my Pop and is from the 70s, and has heaps of tables and info to help plan your garden, I used it intensively when we were planting a summer flower garden for our wedding at home – was a great help.
-       Anyone who has a garden – gardeners love to talk, if you see something in someones garden and want information about it, just ask, they are bound to love to tell you all about it.  We’ve had lots of help from parents and friends, and some of my favourite plants have come from cuttings from other people’s yards…

Creating a garden can be so simple and easy, with occasion bursts of energy required for a long term benefit.  With rising food costs and food miles increasing, and food quality becoming more and more questionable, a veggie patch is an excellent way of doing something awesome for yourself.

If you wanted to check out the produce from a veggie patch before investing, you could visit Annie Smithers restaurant in Kyneton - the duck there is supposed to be to die for:

If I was starting a patch today I would:
  • Ask gardening friends for help, including trying to get some ages compost or worm castings to use
  • Mark out a small area to use in the sunshine, probably making a raised garden bed with lumber either from the hardware shop (recently, this has cost us $36 for a bed 2.4 x 1.2 m) , making sure it is suitable for vegetable patches, cobbling it together with brackets that you can hammer into the corners.
  • Failing that, I’d do something in some containers, anything with holes in the bottom will do at a pinch…
  • Fill in the bed or containers with soil from a landscape supply centre (ring around for best cost – if in trailer and unbagged, you can make big savings).
  • Plant for winter, choosing from: 

                                    Broadbean seedlings (possibly too late for seeds now)
                                    Parsley seeds
                                    Rocket seeds
                                    Coriander seeds
                                    Carrots seeds
                                    Broccoli seedlings – brocollini if you can find them!
                                    SPINACH seeds – Yates Winter Queen worked excellently for us last year.
  • Water in if not raining but in this weather should look after itself, throw on coffee grinds daily to reduce the incidence of snail attack and sit back, watch it grow and wait to enjoy the spoils in no time at all.

It is ok to just have a go in the garden, vegetable gardening can have great rewards.
Sometimes it doesn't work and that is ok too.  In the heavy and unusual rain this year, I 've found some mushrooms growing in the veggie beds, that aren't supposed to be there and are most likely poisonous.  Given that until that last few months, we have struggled with water supply, lugging water from the bath to the patch, this amount of damp is a tad disturbing.  Around the corner from us, a gardener grew bananas on his banana tree for the first time in 20 years!  They didn't grow to full size but it shows what an incredible change in weather we are seeing in 2011.

Spot the mushroom?

In the Kitchen this week:
In Melbourne, the weather has bypassed autumn, heading straight for winter.  We swapped the school sunhat for a beanie and my sandles for boots and trudged through the rain with an umbrella mangled by the wind.  With the rain continuing to fall, possibly aiding unwanted mushroom growth in the veggie patch, we have been eating soup, glorious soup, to stymie the damp settling into our bones.  

These are lentil soups, to follow on from the diet started last week.

Red lentil Soup (Steph’s soup, as provided by my sister in law Jackie – thanks!)
Onion diced
2 carrots diced
~200g of dried red lentils (½ pack of McKenzies Red Lentils)
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1.5 l of stock/water
Cumin a teaspoon or to taste
Paprika a teaspoon or to taste

  1. Fry onion over medium heat until golden brown (3 minutes), 
  2. Add carrots, and spices, tomato paste and then lentils 
  3. Add stock and cover and simmer for 20 minutes 
  4.  Serve, with a dollop of yoghurt to mix through…

With ~800 mls stock/water in lieu of 1.5 litres, this soup becomes Dahl which is also a very yummy winter meal, particularly with chunks of left over roast lamb stirred through it.  Delicious.

Chickpea, Sweet Potato and Leek Soup
2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped thinly
Large Sweet Potato peeled and diced (or pumpkin)
Tin – chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Water/stock to cover the soup in the saucepan (~1.5litres)

  1. Fry up leeks for ~5 minutes or until golden, (a spoonful of butter can help to reduce the chance of the leeks burning if your attention wanders and the pot is not stirred regularly in this time)
  2. Add in sweet potato and chickpeas, heat through for a minute.
  3. Then add stock, and cover, simmering for 30 minutes and serve with chopped parsley and parmesan if desired.

Hopefully as the days darken, this kind of healthy comfort food can warm the soul but not thicken the hips- enjoy.

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