Monday, December 3, 2018

Abandoned nests

I have a confession to make. We haven't had chickens for the past few months. The youngest, of the old crew were approaching 4 years. The seven chickens we were feeding every day, were lucky to give 2 eggs, every alternate day. Not enough to keep us stocked in eggs. I would have  kept them as compost disposers only, if I wasn't planning to renovate Hilltop chicken coop soon.

So with our newly abandoned chicken nests, guess who has moved into the old chicken coop? Mice, or native bush rats. I've seen both around. Eeek, right!

Well where there are mice, there's also something else lurking...




Luckily this is just a common carpet snake, or Coastal Carpet Python. I've seen much larger ones up in the rafters, digesting chicken eggs before. This wee one, is just a juvenile though. Perhaps too long for the kookaburras to catch now, but given they're not venomous, we actually like them.

The carpet snake is a lot more common around here, than the browns. So that's a good thing. As is their appetite for rodents!




Someone had a hearty breakfast in the chicken coop, by the looks of that protruding bump! I wonder if it was an adult mouse, or baby rat? The critters that get around our place, are often spoiled for choice! Eat up my reptilian friend, as I do not want any rodents taking me by surprise, when I start renovating.

I expect nothing major (construction wise) is going to happen until after summer. Making it much easier to be outside, working on the chicken coop. But we'll have to see. Life often has a way of changing plans on me!



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Birds of a feather

You know how the saying goes - which is no different at Gully Grove, where many different kinds of birds, flock together. All for the smorgasbord of goodies, nature caters for on our land.

They take turns at the bird bath, and run in consecutive shifts, at visiting favourite trees. Insects don't stand a chance, seeds are spread abundantly, and their many services are invaluable in all that they do! I listen for the birds every day, and even had some close encounters.


Who's a pretty boy?


This colourful guy, is a male King Parrot. He's been so tame over the years I've gotten to know him - letting me stand meters away, to take this photo. Then when I go to walk back inside the house again, he follows me to the outside trellis, just near the back door. I've long suspected he belonged to someone at one stage. It was confirmed recently.

Not long after taking this photo, he followed me to the back trellis again, and turned his head the other way. Sadly, he was missing an eye. But that hasn't stopped him from pairing up and having kids of his own. There's a wildlife rescue centre, not far from here. I imagine he's one of their rescues, and successfully released back into the wild. He's such a charmer though, and completely won me over.

He loves to eat native seeds, but especially adores our sunflowers and pigeon pea seeds. How can I begrudge him?


The fast and timid


The Pale-headed Rosella, often visits our backyard in pairs too. This boy is also enjoying the back trellis, but is a lot more skittish than my King parrot, friend. He just spotted me at the back door, taking his photo, and flew off, not long afterwards. Like the King parrot, they like to eats seeds, fruits and flowers. Additionally, they will eat insects and their larvae.

So these are handy to have around for insect control, and they're just plain pretty. Not that they hang around long, for me to admire them.


Enjoying the sun


We have a plethora of carnivorous birds who love to regularly visit our yard as well. This is not a crow, although we do have those as well. The crow has adapted to cull the Cane-toad population here, by flipping them over and eating them from the underside - avoiding their poisonous glands on the back. So very handy to have around too.

The fellow above however, is a Pied Currawong. They're mostly carnivorous, but will supplement their diet with berries and other fruits as well. They seem to have taken a liking to my Kumquat tree, when it's in fruit - but they also raid the mulberries. So they're somewhat of a cleanup crew for fruit, and do an invaluable service of keeping insects and caterpillars under control.


The stealth bomber


This is my All-star, of the backyard carnivorous birds. Not only do they sound hilarious, but that awesome beak!! It will tackle a snake for breakfast. Not the big ones of course, but the newly hatched and juvenile snakes are fair game. Which helps to keep the larger snakes that make it to our yard, under control.

So naturally, I love to hear a new batch of fledgling kookaburras, being taken out by their parents, for a hunting expedition. If you've ever heard a juvenile kookaburra squabbling with it's siblings - it sounds like someone is being strangled. So that iconic laugh, starts out rather awkward.


Beguiling


This Pheasant Coucal, is one I have admired from afar, for a long time. They have a reputation for being elusive. They prefer to hunt on the ground, and hide in long grasses to pounce on their prey. Which happens to be insects, frogs, lizards, eggs and young of birds. Sometimes, even small mammals. I really hope it's the mice!

I have to say, they're a very fascinating bird. While they can fly and often will, if taken by surprise, they'd rather spend all their time on the ground. And as such...


Hunting mode


...they walk somewhat like a raptor. Low to the ground and streamlined - head to tail. That camouflage is amazing too. This is why I always take them by surprise in the garden. I never see them, until they're flying up into the trees. Which often takes me by surprise, too.

The only reason I managed to capture this one on camera, is because it came towards the verandah. Luckily, I already had my camera in that room. Otherwise I would have missed my opportunity. As they never stay in one area for long.

I haven't been able to capture an image of the brown quails who often frequent, because they are so elusive too! But know that each bird species that visits our yard, is making an important contribution. They keep the natural system in balance, act as propagators and their daily routines - encompassing the rearing of their young and visiting the Gully Grove larder, are more enjoyable to watch and listen to, than a clock on the wall. They tell me about the seasons, and how to set my own daily compass.

Are you a bird-watcher in your garden too? Have any favorites?


Monday, November 26, 2018

Sourdough scrolls

Let's see if we can beat the summer heat, and get a few more rounds of bread making in! A different way to use my sourdough bread recipe, is by baking scrolls. In particular, my kids love the vegemite and cheese variety.

I make a batch a week, so they can each have one for their lunchboxes. Wrapped individually, they're kept in the freezer. By the first meal-break, they've thawed completely, and have lovely soft, sourdough scrolls to enjoy! They're also handy for my husband to pop in his gym bag. Or any time we need to spend several hours in town, and don't want to buy food.


After second rise - ready to start shaping


First, you'll need to make the Sourdough bread recipe (found on this page). After the second rise, instead of shaping into a normal bread loaf, you'll treat the dough a little differently.


Like a giant pizza


With a rolling pin, make a rectangle approx 25cm x 45cm (10" x 18") long. Spread a generous amount of vegemite (or any kind of yeast spread) over the surface, then sprinkle with grated cheese of your choice. My kids like a soft, tasty cheese.


Rolled up


Using a scraper tool (see yellow tool, below) gently pry dough off the bench in a strip, then roll the dough over itself. Do a little at a time, by scraping back the length of the dough, until you can gradually turn it into a Swiss roll, sausage shape.


Cut once


Using the largest, sharp knife you have (or a bread tool designed especially for cutting dough) cut the roll in half, in one clean, downwards movement. Don't saw into the dough, or you'll make a mess of the roll.




Cut the roll again, into quarters.


12 pieces


Finally, cut each quarter, into thirds. By the end, you should have approximately 12 equal pieces of dough. I like to give my end pieces, a little more size than the rest. Simply because they taper off, and have less dough in them. But don't make them huge.


Starting placement


Next, grease your lamington cake pan (24cm x 30cm or 10" x 12") and start positioning your scroll pieces, inside. My two end pieces always go in the centre - flat side, facing up. This is the best place to support them, when the scrolls rise. As they don't have a flat bottom, like the rest.


Ready to prove (or start rising)


Scrolls should fit an even 3 x 4, giving a total of 12. There is more to the positioning to observe, but it's best demonstrated after they've finished rising, for about an hour. Pictures coming soon.

For the hour of rising, preheat your oven to 50 degrees Celcius (your ovens lowest heat setting) for 5 minutes, then switch off. The oven should also have a shallow bowl, filled with boiling water, at the very bottom. Scrolls sit on the middle shelf, while the bowl underneath, creates enough humidity, so they can rise without developing a skin and splitting.


Almost ready to go in the oven


After about an hour, the scrolls double in size. Remove from the oven. You can see in the image above, how each scroll end, is butted towards the centre. So there are no ends, facing the side of the tin. This ensures they don't become misshapen, as they rise. But it also makes it easier, to pull apart, after they've been baked too. So remember this when positioning your scrolls in the tin.


Topping


While your oven is preheating to 200 degrees Celsius - fan-forced (220C - conventional, 425F, Gas mark 7) grate some cheese, for the top of the scrolls. An even covering of cheese - not too thick or too sparse.


Tasty-cheese browns more easily, than mozzarella


Bake in the middle of the oven, for approximately 20-25 minutes. Or until golden brown. I aim for 23 minutes in my oven. You should turn the tin, half way through baking, for even browning. This is also applicable to a fan-forced oven (like mine) if it's not as young and efficient at pushing air around any more.


Scrolls, pulled apart


Turn onto a cooling rack, and when almost cool, break into individual pieces. That's if you plan on freezing them in your packaging of choice. Wait for them to cool completely however, before wrapping.

I find it easiest to turn the slab of scrolls upside-down, in order to locate the seams, to tear apart. The cheese top, disguises where the seam is. So you could be tearing directly into a scroll, if you're not careful, rather than tearing it from a neighbour.


Ham & cheese variation


Another option is cheese and bacon scrolls. Or ham and mustard/relish of your choice. All have the grated cheese inside the scroll, as well as sprinkled on-top. I prefer making anything with meat in it, a winter offering for my kids' lunchboxes. So I don't have to worry about excessive heat, turning them bad.

Any scrolls leftover in the lunchbox, should be discarded. I rarely find any though.

Once you learn the technique behind making scrolls, you can pretty much put anything in them. I even make a cinnamon scroll. Maybe I'll write about that one another time? But feel free to experiment, with your favourite flavours.



Thursday, November 22, 2018

Devloping delights

Strawberry season is gone, the mulberry is half way through producing, and I thought I would share a few more fruiting delights, currently in production.


A promise of something...but what?


I think this is a Loganberry flower. Or a youngberry. It's a thornless bramble berry, nonetheless. Once it ripens, I can tell for sure!


Hanging in there


Another pineapple, is emerging from the crown. This fellow needs a good feed, because red leaves on a pineapple, is an indication they're starving. I will have to spray the plant with a bit of seaweed solution, and Epsom salts.


Several clusters


The Pink Thai, cherry tomatoes grown in my container, kitchen garden, are coming along nicely. No splitting and no signs of disease, of yet. These are the biggest I've seen these cherry tomatoes grow!


 Tiny but spicy


Hot Tabasco peppers are emerging, and will be ready to make my delicious Chilli jam, in the new year I hope. If prolific enough, I'll have some to dry as well. This particular plant, is in it's second year of production. I'm impressed by how little water it requires, to bear a lot of fruit.


So many


The Tahitian Lime was absolutely hammered by the dry spell, a few months earlier. But is now bursting with fruit again. As are the rest of our citrus trees.

For the size of my garden, I don't have much in production at the moment, but I'm still looking forward to tasting it all. I'm expecting new plants to arrive in the mail soon. Who knows if they will live to make it to the blog, lol?

Right now though, my garden is enjoying a slow soaking rain, which has set in today.


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stacking functions

While permaculture may encompass many different things, what I love about it from a land management perspective, is the intelligent design. It saves effort and resources, if you can align just one element, to do more than one thing! Or to put it another way - stacking functions.

Nothing can demonstrate this better, than a simple Mulberry tree...


Beginning to ripen


This was my breakfast, yesterday morning. I love nothing more than to meander under the mulberry, and pick black fruit, during spring. Those fruit, the birds leave me behind that is! Thankfully, this is a particularly large tree - being the first one we ever planted.

Nonetheless, before the spring rains arrive, causing the leaves to grow and hide all that emerging fruit, the birds always threaten to strip the tree bare. Even before the fruit has a chance to turn black! But somehow this mammoth tree, always manages to offer us (and the birds) a delicious bounty, before all the fruit is gone again.


 At least, 12 metres (40 ft) tall


This tree, is taller than Middle Ridge chicken coop - now my shade house for propagation. If you live in a suburban area, perhaps a tree like this would be better managed (as recommended) by heavy pruning. This encourages more fruiting and allows you to access more of them - rather than the birds.

But this is where stacking functions, and intelligent design enter, for larger acreage. Our problem is too much sun exposure. It dries out the land. So in this instance, I require the tree to reach it's absolute maximum potential. The more it grows, the more it shades. With less moisture lost to evaporation, during the hotter times of the year, I'm getting better water efficiency from what does fall from the sky.


March 2015


The mulberry tree was planted in 2010, and by 2015, I was implementing a new swale behind the mulberry. It's another one of those, stacking functions, concepts. For I needed to irrigate the mulberry, as well as prevent soil erosion. The water formerly ran straight down slope, taking soil with it.

The mulberry became a catalyst to observe, how we could alter the design of the slope for a better outcome. Primarily aimed at reducing soil erosion, and improving water efficiency - a swale became the perfect design element, in this instance. Remember, when dealing with a much larger scale, a tree is not JUST a tree, any more. It's never a lone ranger. Rather, it becomes a catalyst of interconnected functions.

My job is to find as many ways as I can, to assist those links to evolve. So the natural sequences can simply do the rest. Intelligent design, allows you to step back for the most part (eventually) with minor tweaks to assist the process along.


 2016 Addition


I'm always looking for ways to improve the design. Most recently I've incorporated vetiver grass on the side of the swale. Not only to help stabilise it, in large water events, but also to grow mulch I can throw into the swale. It will break down and disperse nutrients, while immediately protecting the soil from sun exposure.

Plant: vetiver grass (1) Functions: dynamic accumulator & soil protection (2). Whenever I prune the vetiver grass, it goes straight into the swale. Over time, this will improve the quality of the soil, feeding the mulberry. Over time, this will increase the quantity (and quality) of fruit which grows.


Changing seasons, for the mulberry


This will be a familiar sight to those in the Northern Hemisphere, at present. Fall. We call it Autumn, in Australia. Whenever the weather turns cooler though, leaves start dropping. Which is no different for the mulberry tree, given it's deciduous nature too. It drops a giant nutrient bomb, every year, on the ground - to help feed the soil.

So the mulberry is a dynamic accumulator, as well as a fruit bearing one. A single tree, with so many functions. I will be happy to list them all at the end.


 My hideaway


This is where I access the mulberry, through all those low hanging branches. I'm actually standing in the swale. I could prune those branches back, making it easier to access - but I prefer the benefit of shade, keeping the soil as moist (and as cool) as possible.

In the heat of the day, under the mulberry is the best place to be. Which is why I recently planted one, up near the permanent chicken coop! Once it gets some size to it (a) the shade will keep the chickens cool (b) keep them protected from wedge tail eagles, flying overhead, and (c) bring a network of bugs to the soil, for them to eat, as well as the bounty of fruit that falls.


Down-side of berm


Back at our most mature mulberry, I have plans to utilise the down slope berm, further. Always evolving this particular design. Because there are so many opportunities to stack functions. At the moment, the lantana downhill is benefiting from the mulberry and swale. Lantana is a weed, we're attempting to remove gradually - as we find something to replace it with.

The very edge of the mulberry's treeline, I hope will be perfect for growing goji berries. I germinated some from seed during winter, and proper placement in this evolving design, could see them bearing fruit successfully, as well.

A tree is not just a tree, on the larger scale. It's potential for expansion, and support for transitional periods - such as I've outlined, in the evolution of our mulberry. Intelligent design, can only continue to evolve. Stacking even more functions together, over time.


Yummy!


Remarkably (if that were not ALREADY enough) a tree can also be valuable medicine. Rich in antioxidants, these mulberries help the immune system fight against infection. My little Mister, is home sick today and wanted strawberries for breakfast. They're all but done for the season, but I had a perfectly productive mulberry tree, just outside. Best to beat the birds to it!

To summarise,a mulberry tree has many stacked functions:

  • Dynamic accumulator
  • Soil stabiliser
  • Earthworks enhancer
  • Overhead shade
  • Air cooler
  • Protection for shrubs
  • Livestock guardian & fodder producer
  • Fruit bearer
  • Medicine

This barely scratches the surface. I haven't even mentioned how trees are natures', original climbing trellis for vines, and also acts as a windbreak for my shade house.

Do you think I should attempt to grow a vine on my mulberry? I was contemplating a passionfruit, but knowing how vigorous those are, they'd cover the goji berries in no time. I don't want to make extra work for myself, keeping the passionfruit in check. Plus I like the fact, the leaves drop in winter, and let the light in. So maybe a deciduous vine?

What are your recommendations/experiences, for a suitable vine under a deciduous tree?



Monday, November 19, 2018

The Tiniest Pickles I've Ever Seen...




I came across this video, about Cucamelons, or The Mexican Sour Gerkin, yesterday, after I wrote my blog post. The Google AI, must have pegged my interest in this delightful morsel, and dropped a suggestion in my Youtube feed.

Anyway, this video is made by Roots & Refuge Farm, which is a newer Youtube channel I've subscribed to recently. Not only was I surprised they grew them in the US, but also the fact she pickled them! Refrigerator pickles, no less.

If you've never heard of this cucumber before, or want to learn how Jess makes her refrigerator pickles, enjoy watching the video.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pickle me this

Something about the warmer weather, makes me feel like getting an engine to work, after a while in storage. There may be a few false-starts to begin with, and it may struggle to turn over, but once the pistons get revving, it's time to go!

My food is no different. As the weather starts to warm, the bacteria in food requires a serious look at safe food preservation. There are many ways to go about this, but one of my favourite ways, happens to be the easiest too. It's called pickling.

This is EASY pickling, using equipment you already have at home.


 One litre/quart jar


I'm guilty of buying cucumbers, and a few weeks later, finding them rotting at the bottom of the crisper! So instead of that debarkle, I learned about pickling my cucumbers instead. They're just as delicious as the fresh ones, and keep for longer in the fridge too.

This recipe is not just for cucumbers either. I also use it to pickle fresh beets. Which are far superior to the floppy ones, you buy in a can. I just cook the beets whole, for 25-30 minutes - then cool in the pot, peel, slice and store in the pickle juice. Kept in the fridge, I get firm beets for far longer. Which is handy if you find a great bargain on beets, and don't want them to go floppy in a week.


Ready to go


Waiting for me to serve a salad, my pickled cucumbers and beets stay in the fridge. Next to that is my faithful sourdough starter, Griffin. Who has been getting a workout lately, baking vegemite and cheese scrolls, for the kids lunchboxes. What I love to see, is a fridge full of vibrant bacteria and nutrients, in my food. Not the mould spores variety!

There is no fancy equipment involved, no heavy canners for this pickling, and the recipe is flexible enough to change with the amount of produce you have to hand. This one-litre jar of cucumbers, that held two med-large fruit, meant I had to TRIPLE the original recipe, below:



 

Easy Pickle Juice:


1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves.

  1. Bring to the boil, on the stove
  2. Set aside until cool
  3. Remove bay leaves
  4. Pour over produce and store in the fridge

I've successfully stored these jars for months in the fridge. Just make sure you use a clean utensil, whenever you dip into the jar. Because if you introduce fats or meat to the juice, you'll compromise the acidity, and start growing mould on the surface.


Germinated from seed - a perennial vine

 
I'm attempting to grow some Mexican sour gerkins (Melothria scabra), this summer, and want to try pickling them. I'm told it's a prolific producer, even if the fruit is only tiny. Although it makes up for it, being hardy and disease resistant. Something we really need for our hot summers!

I'll let you know how it goes. To be continued...

PS: let me know if you've had any success, growing the Mexican Sour gerkin. Or if you love to pickle too!