Monday, 25 February 2013

Amanda's Garden

Feed barrel wicking bed
A garden group I'm part of runs monthly garden visits.  During some fine weather at the start of February we made a visit to a relatively new garden in the south-west of Brisbane.  The garden hosts a variety of spices, fruit, herbs and vegetables and is also home to a small flock of chickens and ducks.  Stepping stones spell the names of all the family members and the kids' trampoline and cubby house form the enclosure and protection for the chickens which reflects how well the family works together and is included in garden.  Most things are imaginatively created from repurposed materials like the feed-barrel wicking beds and concrete sinks on their side for the ducks' nests.

It was a wonderful day to explore the garden, gather new ideas, chat about gardening in general and share seeds and plant cuttings with other members over a little home made morning tea (complete with home made wine and icecream tasting).  I was even fortunate enough to have the time to stay for lunch and sample some freshly baked bread.

Thank you Amanda and Mark for sharing your garden and food with us.
Beautiful lush rosellas

Bishop's cap chillies

An orange loaded with fruit

The ducks live under the citrus and help with keeping the weeds down and fertilising

Awesome biplane made from beer cans. The propeller works!
Herb hanging pots make a nice screen for the deck.  A pineapple steals the show in the middle.
Basil and a chilli bush with pumpkins quickly closing in
Home made stepping stones make a path around the banana and pawpaw (papaya) circle
Chickens in their safe pen, although the new hen managed to escape during the visit somehow
The raised beds will be converted to wicking beds due to water and nutrient leach from a nearby humongous fig tree (Ficus benjamina)

Friday, 22 February 2013

Mulling over mulberries

My boss gave me a big bag of frozen mulberries from her tree a long time ago.  Having too much jam in the pantry I was at a loss as to what do with them so they sat in the freezer for nigh on a year while I mulled over their fate.

Then a couple of weeks ago I needed to make dessert for two dinners a fortnight apart.  Cue mulberries!  For the first dessert I made a tried and true tart (originally for blueberries) for my sister's engagement party.  I'm glad to say it went down a treat.  So well in fact that I forgot to take photos before it was all eaten.  The next time around I endeavoured to be a little more organised.  

I like to try new recipes as often as possible to get the most out of my recipe books and experiment with new tastes and techniques to expand my palate and repertoire.  For this dessert the new recipe was clafoutis with mulberries substituted for the usual cherries.  A lovely recipe with practically no fat and very little sugar as far as desserts go.  It uses up a decent amount of eggs and to top things off it's also very easy to make.

The recipe is from The French Kitchen - A Cookbook by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde.  Of course, I couldn't help myself and I did a tiny bit of tweaking so here it is:

500(ish)g mulberries (the recipe asked for 750g but this was far too many mulberries)
125g flour
50g unrefined caster sugar (I had run out so used regular unrefined sugar)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used a slosh of blackcurrant liqueur instead)
300mL milk
icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 180 deg C
Butter/grease a shallow ovenproof dish
Place the berries in the dish
Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl and make a well in the centre
Whisk the eggs, vanilla/liqueur and milk then slowly pour it into the well, beating with the whisk
Continue whisking until you have a smooth batter
Pour this over the berries
Bake for 40 mins or until firm
Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve either warm or cold with dollop of cream or custard on the side.

Monday, 18 February 2013

She's gone stark roving mad!

My apologies for the delay in posting a follow up to my post on alpaca fleece.  I've recently started a new job so my time is now much more limited with only two days a week to experiment around the house and somehow catch up with friends and family as well.  So I'm sad to say I have left the fleece alone for some time now.  

Orange roving - looks like something a ginger cat threw up
After returning from a trip to NZ to visit friends and family, my mother produced a bag with a few packets of roving which a friend who no longer spins had pulled out of that black hole at the back of her sewing cupboard where all lost fabric remnants seem to disappear.  At last - a way around the carding conundrum; I could experiment on this roving before outlaying money on the carders and also practice on some wool roving instead of destroying the lovely first clippings from Duchess the alpaca in my first attempt (read failure) at self-taught spinning. 

Makeshift scotch tension system
Contemplating the new bag of wool from my desk every now and then didn't lead to me getting any yarn spun, so after a couple of months I bit the bullet and decided I would have a go.  An afternoon of frustrated attempts on my own eventually led to me roping hubby into helping me.  The problem was that it took me quite a while to figure out that the spinning wheel is missing a part.  After trawling through a few pictures and videos  on spinning I realised that the scotch tension system wire is missing.  Note: substituting a piece of wool for this does not work all that well.  A few broken pieces of yarn later (both as the temporary tensioner and the roving I was failing to transform), an exasperated me resorted to getting hubby to hold the piece of wool and to hand spin the wheel  so I could figure things out at a snail's pace.  I was going to get some yarn out of it today dammit!

So here it is, photographic proof of my dodgy first dealings with the spinning wheel.  As you can see there is huge scope for improvement.  It looks as though I've snagged someone's dreadlocks and wound it onto the bobbin.

Friday, 15 February 2013

B-lime-y that galls me

Finally the tahitian lime tree has set fruit!  The recent rains have sent it sprouting shoots everywhere and now setting fruit.  I've also cleared a circle around the plant and mulched it to stop the grass from overgrowing the poor shallow root system.  In the process I also found the mound had been converted into green ant international headquarters which can't have been helping either.  To help it along that little bit more I've been trying to keep it well fed with my own worm wee and some free horse poo tea (thanks Green Dean).

Alas since starting to write this post the "large" fruit at the bottom has dropped off.  The top few are still clinging to the branch; however, so here's hoping they will stay put.

The lemon tree is also going well and despite being the second last planted it has been the first to set and hold its fruit.  The two largest are just starting to yellow up.  The sooner the better too as I get through quite a lot of lemons in salad dressings, drinks and cleaning the bathroom and toilet.

I've discovered a new pest on my citrus that I've never had before: citrus gall wasp.  This morning I had to snip off a few of the new branches to prevent further infestations of this little blighter.  This branch has a lemon developing on the end so I'll take my chances and leave it until after I've picked the fruit.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Zin, Zin, Zinnia

I bought a packet of Zinnia seeds on a whim and sowed some in the experimental flower bed. Along with plants it's pretty much the only thing I impulse buy, so please forgive me.  Fortunately my guilty purchase  also coincided with me finally managing to get Wheelie under control and not escaping from the pen every morning or conveniently whenever I had planted a new lot of seeds in the flower bed (which happened on no less than five occasions with many expletives and a fair amount of arm waving).  I suppose you have to learn patience somehow. At least I get eggs in return and plenty of practice at designing and redesigning the layout of the flower bed.  For once the packet instructions were right for Brisbane and the seeds have grown well into beautiful plants that resemble a cross between gerberas and dahlias, both of which I love.  Needless to say I'm delighted with them.  Although I wasn't originally aiming for a pink scheme as I'm not the biggest fan of the colour, it turns out that's what I've got and the varying shades from red to peach are tying in quite nicely with the pinks, white and purple of the existing flowers.  I've sewn some of the zinnia's cousin cosmos in white at the back of the bed when viewing from the bottom of the back door ramp, so hopefully that will set the colours off nicely when it has matured.

Friday, 8 February 2013

A case for invasion

The pigeon peas have been swamped with sap sucking bugs over the last six months.  After a little research on this incredibly informative Brisbane bug spotting website, the culprit turns out to be Riptortus serripes (so I have hence nicknamed them Ripsnorters for their infamous ability to suck the life out of the pigeon peas).  There are hundreds on the poor plants and their juice drinking has led to the bushes becoming susceptible to other pests such as aphids and sooty mould.  I can't complain too loudly, however, as my only attempt at keeping the suckers at bay has been to give the bushes a good prune.  The recent rainfall has also prompted the pigeon peas to put on new growth and hopefully given them a little more fortitude in fighting off these ferals.  

By ignoring these ignoble insects I've unwittingly provided the perfect place to position pods for one of our most popular protective pals: the praying mantis.  Please allow me to digress for a moment to tell you the story of how we became friends.  

Hubby came in the front door one afternoon having been out in the garden.  When he turned to lock the door I noticed a tiny insect clinging to the back of his shirt sleeve.  Resisting my immediate instinct to slap him (ermm, I mean squash the insect), I instead took a closer look at this tiny creature rocking back and forth.  It pivoted its little triangular head as only praying mantids do and looked at me with innocence and great big eyes as if to say "Oh I was going to ask but he was right there. Thanks for the lift!" Knowing that it wouldn't last long without food, hubby took it back out and lifted it gently onto the lillypilly.  He came back inside and was taking his shoes off when I noticed that a little someone had hitched a ride back into the house.  Obviously inside was much more appealing.  So hubby then had to make the trek back to the tree to drop off his little friend again.  It was almost like taking a child to kindy and turning to leave only to find them clinging to your leg.  Ever since then whenever we find a little praying mantis in the garden we say hello to our little friend.

Back to the original story, I was delighted to find an egg case (ootheca) from one of these amazing creatures on one of the pigeon peas.  On closer inspection while taking some pictures today I found that there was not one but two cases (cue delighted Wallace & Gromit "cheeeese" hands and hopping from foot to foot).  Fingers crossed our little friends will soon pull their ninja moves on the sap-suckers.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Pines and Petals

The rain has caused the garden to instantly spring back into life.  It's quite magical to sit with a cup of Earl Grey or Rose and Vanilla tea of an afternoon post-commute and survey the sheer splendour of succulent shoots stretching out their tendrils and new leaves glowing a brilliant green in the setting sunlight.  The garden seems to have taken a big breath in and a long refreshed sigh out, letting its hair out in the process.  Speaking of luscious locks, the grass has also shot up again and returned to its former glory, quickly crowding out the bare patches that were coalescing to form one large brown mat in the January heat.  The drone of lawn mowers can now be heard echoing from backyards in the afternoon and on weekends.

Another two surprises greeted me this week.  I had given up hope of any pineapples producing this year despite their age (two years for most of them) and having had one last year, however, upon checking the plants that had nearly grown half their size again since the rain, I spied the reddish tinge and tiny spines signalling the formation of fruit.  The top that this has grown from is a twin.  While the other hasn't produced as yet, I'm hopeful that it will soon begin to flower also.  Even better if they manage to stagger themselves so that we aren't overwhelmed with too much tangy pineapple at once.

One of my favourite flowers has gone beserk after the rain - living up to its names 'Storm Crocus' and 'Rain Lily.'  The blooms nod gently in the breeze under the lemon tree.  One day I hope to divide them sufficiently that the delightful display features under all my citrus in the more formal part of the garden (the front orchard).  They complement the Murraya (paniculata) which has also sprung into glorious white bloom and wafts its scent through the house at night.

Please excuse the rampant lawn - it has since been tamed by the roaring mower beast.