Monday, May 27, 2019

Getting things done the simple way

We have been getting back to our usual routines, after our lovely weekend on Wadjemup last weekend.

Most days I work in the garden for several hours. As the Joondalup City Council was conducting a special 'green waste' collection, DH got stuck into pruning the olive, lime and a rambling rose. We don't have a shredder so our preferred way of dealing with large garden waste is to have the council take it to the place where they make compost and mulch. We get a couple of free trailer loads per year as part of the council services, and can always buy more if we need it. Given the size of our garden this seems to be a good solution we don't need to buy expensive machines and we don't need huge compost bins. 

Our autumn has been very mild -cool mornings but warm days, and only the occasional shower of rain, so the weather has been great for getting on with garden tasks.

Today I tackled a very large garden pot which we had been gifted. We got it from a neighbour who was moving. I know why they didn't want to take it with them -it was super heavy. I found out why when I removed the celery which had been growing in it- that it was mostly garden sand. I took half of the sand stuff out, gave it lots of fertiliser and compost and potting mix in the top half, and have scattered some onion seed we saved from last year. We will see how it goes. This is one of the fun things about gardening -as soon as I have sowed the seeds, I want to be outside to check if they have come up yet! 

Our broccoli is growing well. Last Friday I used the leaves in a recipe for lemon chicken -the whole plant is edible and the leaves cook down well as a stir fry vegetable. It is a very good addition to our nutrition. When you have a fairly small garden like ours, it is a great idea to eat as much of the plant as is safe and tasty. Lemons, for example, don't just have to be juiced -the lemon chicken recipe I use definitely makes the Meyer lemon slices (including the skin) tender and delicious. 

DH is our jam maker around here. A few months ago I showed him how to speed up the preparation of the fruit by using the 2mm slicing disc on the food processor. He used it this week to make grapefruit marmalade. This particular batch has no other flavours -sometimes he likes to add all sorts of spices like star anise, but this time it was just grapefruit. It is very nice indeed -and because our grapefruits are pink inside it is a lovely orange/ruby colour.

I have been soaking some more of our olives -this time in the more traditional manner, which requires lots of daily rinsing and soaking -weeks of it- before brining the olives. This is the recipe I used last year, and it was great. We have also been using a strong brining solution for earlier batches this year -we will see which we prefer. The set up you see above is outside on our patio. It is the old Ikea butcher's block, no longer needed in our new kitchen, with a cheap galvanised tub under a tap. This is such a good place for washing vegetables from the garden, before they come inside. The tub is easily lifted so that we can put the washing water on various needy plants around the place. In a dry place like Perth, a little water conservation goes a long way!

I often drop into our local Op Shops when out and about. I have several items that I hope to find, in particular glass storage jars for my pantry and preserves. That doesn't stop me from picking up other items that appeal, such as this very pretty and heavy glass vase. Now, I have a LOT of vases, but this one came home with me anyway! This arrangement of Iceberg roses looks so nice on the mantle at the moment!

I have been enjoying reading through back copies of the PIP magazine at the library and also listening to the podcasts. While I have never actually done a proper 'permaculture course" I am generally guided by the 12 principles and working towards a more permie life. 

The two quilts (definitely not my work) above were part of the WAQA Quilt Exhibition last weekend, and for some reason they took my eye even more than others. I like both of them for their use of colour, and find them quite inspirational. I was a volunteer "white glove' duty person, wandering around talking to people and helping them by lifting the quilt up at one corner so they can see the back. I also wandered around the stalls between duty hours, and watched one or two demonstrations. The committee who put the exhibition together work very very hard -I hope they are now relaxing and feeling appreciated. Now that I have so many techniques, colours and quilts in my head, I have come back more determined to just get the borders on the Queen Size scrappy mountain majesty quilt - I need to move on to other projects! 

With sewing in mind, then, I will finish this post here. Thank you if you have read all the way down to here! Leave me a comment if you like - I love reading them and feeling connected to you. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

An Island Get-Away

Off the coast of Fremantle in Western Australia is a very special island. The locals call it Wadjemup. The others call it Rottnest Island. It was named by a Dutch explorer called Willem de Vlamingh in 1696  who charted a lot of the Western Australian coastline, a long time before Captain Cook turned up in the east. 

It had a sad settler history: used as a prison island by the white authorities, there are many indigenous people buried on the island. They were removed from their lands and never saw their families again. 

In later years the island has been set aside as an A Class Reserve (like a national park) and is administered by the Rottnest Island Authority. It is a tourist hot-spot, where people can have holidays and go for day trips. There are very few vehicles on the island, but it is a great place for bike riding, snorkeling and fishing. There is a ferry service which takes you there. 

We were able to spend a few days there this weekend, staying in a self-catered cottage. As it was our 43rd Anniversary this week, it was a great opportunity to get away and have a break from everything.

We took a bus around the island, getting off and stopping as we liked.
The weather was cool but very sunny and the place looked stunning. The crossing from the mainland to the island is often rough, but we were very lucky and had smooth sailing. This was lucky as I am a pretty terrible sailor! 

One distinctive feature of the island is the presence of a very local marsupial called the Quokka. It is a very gentle little animal, and a great favourite with the visitors. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Living without hot water, and other adventures

Today is the 7th day we have had no hot water! The solar hot water system we put in just over 4 years ago stopped working, and when we got the plumber out he discovered the stainless steel tank had corroded and was leaking. This meant that we needed a replacement ceramic tank -which is now the standard- and that was a warranty job from the manufacturer.

Time passed.

Our washing machine and dishwasher can create their own hot water if we need them to, so we could get most of our household cleaning done with just a kettle full of hot water and a squirt of dishwashing liquid.

Showering was not so easy!  DD cleverly worked out that a kettle full of hot water, when added in little bits to a jug full of cold water -just enough to warm the water- could be used to wash the hair when you are standing in the shower -pouring over your head and thus approximating the effect of a shower but with much less water. One whole kettle full equals about 6 jugs of water! Effective in a way, but we all miss the showers we used to have.

Today a big truck turned up with a HIAB facility to lift the new tank over the roof and into place.

HOORAY! They say that a period of deprivation like this can increase our happiness many times over -I am sure that the next few weeks of hot showers will be very much appreciated!

In the meantime DH is getting into the swing of his new non-paid work routines.  He got a bit of a cold and a cough, so wasn't able to go with me to a wonderful WA Symphony Orchestra concert - we bought seats in the choir, which is behind the orchestra- they are cheaper seats -and this is the view as the hall filled up!

The music was absolutely wonderful! 

DH was well enough however  to come to the May Day march down at the Fremantle Esplanade. May Day is a big commemoration for the union movement. This one was also the centenary of the Fremantle Wharf Crisis of 1919 in which a unionist named Tom Edwards was killed by police during a riot during an industrial dispute. 

We marched with the AMWU! 

I also handed out 'how to vote cards' at Joondalup this weekend for the 'change the rules' campaign.

One of my mother's day gifts was a pair of ceramic hanging pots with some pelargoniums to hang at the front door. I used the occasion to re-arrange the pot display there - this is quite a good place for pots where I can monitor their progress. DH is doing very well with his orchids -one has sent out another big spike of flowers -you can see it on the right of the photo -and there are two more on the way. Some of these plants get to be indoor plants from time to time -and the indoor plants need to come out here to have a spell in the fresh air and shade/sunshine as they require. 

I also got Bonnie Hunter's new book "String Frenzy" and some fabulous new fabric along with a cute little pincushion elephant for Mother's day along with a video call with the grandchildren! 

By the way, I have added a couple of recipes to the page From My Kitchen- a marinaded eggplant recipe and a very yummy kaffir lime treatment for cashews. I found these recipes 'somewhere'- probably in one of the books I have been reading from the library. I often bring home recipe books because there is often one or more recipes which strike me as interesting.  Check them out! 

Monday, May 6, 2019

What I am growing and why

Just last night I ducked out to our kitchen garden to pick some lettuce leaves from the 'cut and come again' tiny patch I am growing in a large recycled tub which the "Buy Nothing" FaceBook group I belong to had provided. The leaves were tender and succulent and sweet. With the pasta we were eating, the leaves helped to make a fresh side salad. I have a variety of leaves to choose from -rocket, French sorrel, nasturtium, basil, mint and parsley can all go in the salad. With such a variety the salad has plenty of taste and each plant has time to recover before we come back to cut them again.

Lettuce  and other salad leaves are one of my favourite things to grow in the garden. We have a pretty small suburban plot -just 700 square metres -so the decisions we make about what we grow and based on some important principles:

1. I grow what we eat. This is pretty obvious: I don't want to waste time and energy growing kale for example. I grew it once, and we all decided that there are much better things in this world to eat than kale! I always have spring onions because we just cut the green tops off and they keep on growing for a long time, and they can fit nicely in a tiny spot in the garden, and I use them frequently in salads and stir fries. This season I have broccoli -once we cut the main florets off we can still harvest the side shoots for a good month or more. Did you know you can eat the leaves as well as the florets and stems?  Peas have gone in to grow on the trellis in the back yard: you can also eat the leaves in salads.

This is the way we know what is in season- from now on there will only be tomatoes in the shops which have travelled a long way from the north of our state up near Kununurra or Carnarvon where the seasons are warmer in winter than down here. Their prices go up from now on too, so I will need to make our salads from other ingredients which are in season. Once when I was in Switzerland I was served a salad made of finely sliced carrot dressed with lemon and olive oil- there are other cultures than ours who can show us how to make fresh local ingredients work even when the cucumbers and tomatoes and capsicums are gone for the winter. Coleslaw is great in the winter- we add fennel fronds and seeds for extra flavour. We will add the frozen pomegranate seeds now in the freezer to our couscous and sprinkle them on hummous. Roasted root vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato can make a great salad with some rocket, parsley and nuts.

2. I grow what is expensive to buy. We don't grow carrots, potatoes or cabbages- they are cheap and good quality from the shops, and they take a lot of ground, which I don't have. This season I have put in a lot of garlic -it is easy to grow in tubs and costs about $24 per kilo. I grow a lot of herbs for the same reason -they are expensive to buy, especially when you only need a sprig of this or a pinch of that. Fresh herbs are so much more flavoursome than dry herbs, and in our climate most of the common herbs like basil, parsley and rosemary do very well. I can't grow coriander though -it bolts to seed in our warm weather- instead I grow Vietnamese Mint as a suitable substitute. I have curry leaves, makrut  or Thai lime leaves, a bay tree, and lots of thyme and lemon thyme.

Most herbs will self -seed here if left to set seed at the end of summer. I have some tiny dill seedlings popping up all over the place at the moment, and flat leaved parsley is everywhere.

We also grow fruit for this reason -lemons, pomegranates, olives, limes, mandarins, grapefruit and quinces. Our grapevines give us both shade and fruit. We usually have so much that after we have harvested and stored as much as we can, we still have lots left to give away to friends and neighbours.

I have strawberry plants growing -but haven't had much fruit yet -and have a new rhubarb plant which I have great hopes for!

This autumn season is a time for some concentrated gardening. The old beds at the end of summer needed a bit of tender care -out came the tomatoes and eggplants and then we fertilized and improved the soil with minerals and compost. I have been working most mornings for the past two weeks to get the winter crops in -but after that concentrated work I won't have to do much more than harvest things for several months.

3. I grow what I can manage. 

I have some sore joints, so I don't want to do lots of digging, but I really enjoy working in the garden, which is for me the best kind of gymnasium. I was a member of a gym a couple of times - I really didn't like the loud music and the fact that I couldn't even see outside. The garden provides me with mental and physical stimulation and challenge in the open air where I can notice the birds, smell the herbs and flowers and feel a sense of accomplishment.

We grow in wicking beds and have an automatic watering system which covers most of the garden. If we leave it to go away for a while most of the garden will survive.

Each watering can weighs at least 9 kilos, so I get some strength training lifting them around the place, when I am using the water from the rain tank and the home made liquid feed I make from the liquid from the worm farm. The worms are the only 'livestock' sadly -no chooks here for us. The garden is a bit too small and I don't want to cope with the extra work of cleaning the chook pen.

I have three big steps up to the upper level in the back garden, so I am getting my  'step class' going up and down them. I have to kneel to weed, and stretch to get under a bush for that last straggly bit of couch grass.

DH and I like to keep the trees pruned to a manageable size where we can reach the fruit without a ladder and move around the garden easily.

If we ever get to the position in the future where we can't manage the work I will just get a gardener in to remove some of the fruit trees and the veggie beds and we will turn it over to local native species which will need less work.

4. We do it because fresh is best and it is fun 

The whole point of the fruit and vegetable garden is that we can grow organic fresh fruit and vegetables right here at home, with no carbon miles (because they have been flown in from far off places), just picked before being eaten.  Our diet is thus more varied as a result, than it would be if I was buying everything from a supermarket or green grocer.

We are not aiming at self sufficiency, but it is clear we can fit a lot of food growing in this small space  using pots to supplement the bigger vegetable beds and mini orchard.

The best thing, however, is the tremendous sense of achievement that you feel when you go out with a basket and a pair of scissors and come back with the makings of a meal, or when you hand out bushels of fruit to your neighbours as you have such an abundance.  You plant a seed and then you go out each day to see if it has come up. You experiment with your food because you try a new taste and you like it (or not, see Kale above!)