Monday, October 30, 2017

Growing season

What are the cues for your growing season? It was technically Spring here, a month ago. But the garden was still in stasis, due to a lack of moisture. In fact, plants were dying out there.

Storm activity arrived in October, allowing the ground to soak in some much needed rain. But the mere presence of rain, is NOT the cue for our growing season to begin, in earnest. Especially if it's been dry.

What our best cue is, however, is the lower gully, flooding...

Footbridge to cross main flood way ~
click to enlarge

It took several days of rain, for the ground to be soaked and allow water, to run on the surface again. A good week of rain, saw water rising, but it was a gentle flow. Good for avoiding erosion.

Even though we saw water in the gully - moisture in the ground wasn't going to last long, once the sun came out again. Which it did, and the ground slowly began to dry out. But then the second storm, told a different story...

Same footbridge ~
taken from the safety of our verandah

It was a small event, compared to some regions in Queensland, but our whole gully was flooding, because of that storm. Which is the best cue I could receive for the growing season.

Because we have 3 channels of water that disperse in our gully, when it floods. When they all join together, I know the ground is more likely, going to stay moist for the rest of the growing season. So it's not just the gully flooding, which is my cue, but how many channels are flooding at the same time.


It all starts when the water enters our property, from several of our neighbours upstream. The water entering our property, is always red, because no-one attempts to hold the water back, further up. So we end up with soil from the properties upstream.

As it's a narrow channel, the water enters fast. But when it comes onto our property, it immediately disperses as far as it can spread. How much water, determines whether all 3 channels, will flood.


In this particular storm event, all three did! The upper channel (highest ground) is furtherest away. The middle channel is, of course, in the middle - with the lowest channel, being on the bottom of the picture. The lowest, is the least likely to flood, but when it does, I know there's a good amount of water in our gully now.

Here's what all three channels joining together, look like, in the middle of our property...

Mulberry, centre

It flows like a river. When the mulberry is surrounded by water, I know it's set to survive the heat of summer. So our mulberry in the middle of our gully, is another potential cue I look forward to. Although the heat of summer is still yet to come, the ground has been flooded with water. Which is a good sign.

Because when you live in the bush like we do, it's a good to have the ground saturated, before summer arrives in earnest. I must confess to being a little nervous about the prospect of bushfire season, before this rain arrived.

Near the end

Further downstream from the mulberry, the water is dispersing more and therefore, slowing further. Our lucky neighbours downstream, have little to worry about the water entering their property. It's slower, less aggressive, and therefore less dirty water. Especially once it passes through our wide thicket on the boundary.


30 minutes after the rain had stopped, the water receded again. 


So the gully is completely dry again, and will await the next storm to overflow it. I like having this gully in the middle of our property - even if it cuts us off from the other half, when it floods. Because it's the perfect visual to tell me about the growing season.

Summer will still give my systems a hard time, because the heat is always so intense here. But knowing the gully has flooded completely, cues the growing season for us, in earnest.

What cues exist in your landscape, to tell you about the growing season ahead?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sweet-chilli pull-apart

At the sourdough workshop on Saturday, I made a Sweet-chilli pull-apart, for tasting. I'd love to have demonstrated it, but 2 hours wasn't nearly long enough. People may have burned their mouths, on the hot capsicum, after it came out of the oven. So I promised to write a tutorial, on how to make it.

First, start with your basic white sourdough recipe, found here. Once the dough has adequate time to double in size, you're ready to start preparing the pull-apart loaf. It's called a Pull-apart (also known as a Peasant loaf) because the way it's cut and shaped, makes it easier to pull apart by hand. For this reason, it's a great savoury, to take on a picnic or road-trip.

Ready to begin

Remove your ball of dough from the bowl, and give it a light knead. Then reshape the ball, again.


Using the largest, sharpest knife you have, cut the ball into, two separate, but equal pieces. This will make two loaves.


Using a rolling pin, flatten to approximately 30cms long, and 25cms wide. It should be approximately 5-6mm thick. It needs to fit on a large baking tray.

Time to add the filling...


  • sweet-chill jam
  • dried garlic flakes
  • 1/2 red, & 1/2 green capsicum (thinly sliced)
  • sliced salami (omit if you want vegetarian)
  • grated mozzarella

A mix of red, green and gold, roasted capsicum

Spread the base with Sweet-Chilli Jam (if you cannot make your own, buy a suitable replacement) then sprinkle with garlic flakes. Layer capsicum onto dough. I used roasted capsicum I made previously, for the loaf above, but used fresh capsicum for the workshop tasting. Both are suitable. Just be sure to drain liquid off, if roasted and contained in oil.

Vegetarian filling

Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Not too heavy, or too light. Just enough to cover the base. You can add the salami now, if you're going to use it.

 Omnivore filling

Once all the fillings are down, you'll appreciate why we didn't go too heavy on the cheese. Because now comes the slightly tricky part...


Using a scraper, or suitable spatula with a fine edge, tease dough from counter, and gradually roll-up like a swiss roll. Work your way up, the length of the sausage with your scraper, then roll, and repeat. Until you reach the end. Don't try this, if your dough has over-proved or otherwise, too sticky. You'll have a fine mess on your hands!

So make sure, if you're going to make this loaf, your dough is, "just right".

Seam down

Place your roll onto a baking tray, lined with parchment paper. Make sure the seam is facing downwards. Then find the biggest, most sturdy pair of scissors you have in the house, and...


Cut into the roll, on an angle, approximately every inch. You'll need to cut all the way through, except for a small section, on the base. You should get 7-8 segments, to a roll.


Then nudge each segment out, alternate to the adjoining one, like a fan. These are your pull-apart segments, that will bake into one loaf, at the end.

Bunch together

Final step is to nudge the segments closer together, so they're laying on top of one another. Gently start at one end, pushing segments closer to the centre. Repeat from the other end. Your pull-apart segments should be bunched up, but not spilling the filling.

Now prove in your oven, set to 50 degrees Cecilius, with a shallow bowl of water at the base - anywhere from 50-60 minutes. It should double in size.

Extra cheese

Remove from oven, and sprinkle liberally with more mozzarella cheese. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180-200, fan-forced (200-220 conventional oven, or gas mark 6-7). When fully heated, place back into oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Turn tray, half way through baking.

It's ready to come out, when it's a consistent, golden brown colour. If it's pale on the edges (near the base) you'll want to bake 5-10 minutes more.

Finished ~ click to enlarge

Slide onto a cooling rack, as soon as you get it out of the oven. It should slide easily, off the parchment paper. The hard part is waiting 30 minutes to an hour, before eating. As you don't want to scold your mouth on hot capsicum.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment at the end.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Saturday Sourdough

Thanks to all those who braved the rain on Saturday, to attend the Sourdough workshop. I meant to return to the computer soon afterwards, with follow-up information. However, the sun emerging after a week of rain, had me out in the garden enjoying life returning to it, once more.

 Snapped a Honey-eater, feasting on a Grevillea

I am back again though, and created a new Sourdough Page at the top of my header bar. It will make navigating the learning process, a little easier. You'll find links, to the various posts I've written about different stages of sourdough making.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the Sourdough Page, or, at the end of this post.

Thanks once again, for coming out and enjoying a day with Sourdough making, with me, and the Toowoomba Simple Living Group.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Honey & Sunflower loaf

This Saturday, I'm doing another sourdough workshop, for the Toowoomba Simple Living Group. It will be held at The Range Christian Fellowship, Blake Street, Wilsonton.

I'm not sure how it's going to feature at the workshop, but I intend to showcase the lovely Honey & Sunflower, sourdough loaf. It's simple and delicious.

Honey & Sunflower loaf

You'll need some sourdough starter, you can make yourself, or borrow some from a friend who makes sourdough. Here's what you do:

Step 1 - Make Sponge:

In a clean bowl, add;

  • 1 cup bakers flour
  • 1 cup room temperature water
  • 1 cup starter

Mix together and leave on the counter, between 2-4 hours. It should look like the picture (below) when it's ready. Lot's of bubble action.

 Sponge is ready for next step

Step 2 - Make Dough:

To that bowl of sponge, add;

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons powdered milk
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 cups of bakers flour (add last)

Little kitchen helper

I add everything in the above list, to the sponge - all, except the flour. Make sure the rest of the ingredients, are mixed in thoroughly, then add one cup of flour, and continue to stir. A sturdy spatula is good, because you can scrape down the sides as you go.

 Ready to turn out

Add enough flour, until it's too firm to comfortably mix with a spatula. This picture (above) is after 2 cups of flour have been added. Then turn onto a clean surface, and incorporate however much flour, to make a tacky dough.

Tacky dough, means, it will stick to your hands, but will come away easily, from you or the bench. If it's sticking like glue, then you need more flour. I only needed another half cup - so 2 and a half cups, total, out of the 2-3 cups, required in the recipe. It will change every day, how much flour you'll need, so learn to read your dough. I've written a post All about the dough.

After kneading

Once your dough has enough flour incorporated, it's ready to knead for 10 minutes. It should look like the above picture, when it's finished. It will be firm, and hold it's round shape, without slumping.

Now the dough is ready to place in an oiled bowl.

 First Rise

If you're wondering what the two balls of dough are about, my son helps me make sourdough. He handles a small portion of it and gets to make a pizza.

Step 3 - First Rise:   

Given, you'll face the dough downwards into the bowl, first, then flip it over again - the oil on the surface of the dough, will ensure it won't form a skin, as it rises. The above picture is what it should look like, when you're done.

Next, cover the bowl. There are several options: a dinner plate, a moist tea towel, or a round glass casserole dish, lid, like I use.

Ready to mould

Leave dough to rise anywhere from 4-8 hours. The warmer the ambient temperature, the less time it will take to grow. Your dough will need to double in size, but mine often grows a little more!

Now it's ready to place in a lightly oiled, loaf tin. Roll your dough into a cigar shape, then place the seam side, facing down into the tin - see below.

Dough in tin

Step 4 - Second Rise:  

Last rise now. It will take anywhere between 45-60 minutes. Check at 45 minutes and see if it's doubled in size, or needs a little more time.

I place my loaf, in a warmed oven (50 degrees Celsius) with a bowl of water at the bottom. Once the tin goes in, switch off the oven. The aim is to use the residual warmth and water, to create humidity, so the dough doesn't form a skin as it rises.

My dough was ready at 50 minutes

Step 5 - Score & Bake:  

Now remove the tin out of the oven, then preheat it again, to 180-200 degrees Celsius (fan forced) 200-220 for a standard oven. Leave your bowl of water, in there.

While waiting for the oven to reach the correct temperature, score the top of the bread gently, with a sharp knife, or clean razor. Then place in the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes. Be sure to turn after 10-15 minutes though. Even in my fan forced oven, I need to turn the tin, for consistent browning.


The bread should be a lovely, golden brown colour, when done, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. I always take my bread out of the tin, as soon as it's removed from the oven, and place on it's side (on a cooling rack). This ensures the bottom isn't too moist, which makes slicing, easier.

Still just a little warm

Leave at least, half an hour to an hour, before slicing, so it will hold it's shape. Lovely with just butter, or served with honey or marmalade.

To get a better indication of time, if I start this loaf at 8am, it will be ready to go in the oven between 2-3pm. It all depends how warm or cool your kitchen is. The cooler it is, the longer it will take.

Tip: Use your oven on a low temperature, to speed the process up, when it comes to making the sponge and rising the bread (both times).

See you all, on Saturday!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Greening the Desert?

We finally got some of that rain, predicted for our area. And as always, only received the outer edges of the rain system. It was still welcomed though, and both our tanks, are roughly 85% full now. So we definitely got something out of the exchange.

I also learned something new...

House in background

The new pond we dug over winter, holds water. There was sufficient clay in the soil, to hold it for 3 days. Although it did diminish quicker, than the pond above the house. Still, it was wonderful to know, we're able to capture water in the landscape, and store it for longer than before.

This was a naturally occurring gully, cut into a slope, after many years of erosion. We simply dammed it up, by putting soil at the bottom of two hills. The small dam wall, between them, is now a walkway for people and kangaroos.

Eventually, I'll dedicate a post to how that pond, came into being. As for now, it's still under construction. We're presently building, a long swale, to take any overflow from the pond, away safely. But I digress...

 22 corn seedlings, went into the ground, today

What I actually wanted to make this post about, was working with climatic conditions in our area. More specifically, in relation to food production. I was inspired by the "Greening the Desert" project, compliments of Geoff Lawton. He basically grew food in the desert.

Surely, his permaculture design strategies, could work here too?

Well, sort of...yes, and no. In theory (well, Geoff has proven it) they work. But here's what the Greening the Desert project had, that we didn't. Earth moving equipment, access to large amounts of resources on a "continual" basis, fencing all around their sites.

I've built swales, but the rain never fills them for long. I bought another tank to water the edibles, but a protracted dry spell, saw us conserving water for house use, only.  I chose drought tolerant plants, but without water, I couldn't establish them. Or to put it another way, get their roots deeper, into the ground. Overexposure to sunlight, was another killed non-established plants, in an hour of intense sun. The continual access to water, is what keeps plants alive. Something we just didn't have.

New leafs emerge, on stripped pigeon pea trees

Any plants we did get into the ground, to grow canopy protection, quickly became new food for the local kangaroo population. So they were stripped of their leaves, when nothing else was growing. Rewind. Back to overexposure, again

I'm happy to share with the local wildlife, but when you grow food in a desert, expect the hoards of wildlife to clean you out. They're desperate too. I still appreciate the permaculture principles, and still use them, but reality is different when applied in the desert.

I noted in the various Greening the Desert, projects (there's now Greening the Desert II) all sites were fenced in. I thought, maybe to stop people trespassing? Now I can appreciate, how it's needed to prevent the hoards of animals from devouring all that hard work.

Immediate relief

We've now erected a shade sail, to create man made shade. It will help deal with overexposure, more permanently. We're building some growing areas, around it, to have vegetables. All this to say, as climate changes, how we grow food becomes more important.

I've noticed, the drier it gets in our area, the more man-made interventions we require, to get a return. Those interventions, come with a price tag too. I'd love to just stick seeds in the ground and watch them grow, but we're dealing with a region that sees periods of dry, hot conditions. It's lovely when the rains arrive, but you can lose plants when they don't. Even, supposedly, drought tolerant ones.

Old-man saltbush, sacrificed limbs to survive the drought

After growing in these conditions, for nigh on a decade now, I've come to some conclusions, for food production success, in dry, hot conditions.

  • Water is CRITICAL, there needs to be a continuous supply
  • Maximise water efficiency, by limiting the growing area
  • Shade it permanently
  • Only grow drought tolerant plants
  • Fence it off

Further to the above, only grow what you'll eat the MOST. If you're going to mollycoddle, make sure the crop will be used on a regular basis. Long storage crops too, like sweet potatoes, pumpkins and chokos, don't have to be eaten immediately. So you can spread it out, instead of having to eat, as soon as it's harvested.

I'm trying some new varieties of vegetables too, reputed to do well in hot climates. I'll let you know how that goes. I didn't write any of this, to diminish the insights and attributes permaculture design has. But there are some misconceptions, as to what it can achieve. It CAN green the desert, but only with a lot of interventions, a lot of resources and a lot of barriers to admittance.

This is just the reality, of growing food, in the desert (or desert-like) conditions. This is what we have to deal with, so these are the realities I share. I expect drier conditions will be revisiting us, more often than not. So we still have to plan to eat.