Saturday, June 30, 2007

ONC Farmers Market

Most Saturday mornings start with a quick cuddle and tea in bed, followed by a dash to the Canberra Region Farmers Market. We are very lucky here in ONC*, with a wonderful weekly farmers market that attracts two huge pavilions full of growers from a 200kmish radius. Even more happily, around 3000 ONCish folk travel past numerous supermarkets each week to relish in the wonderful experience of buying the freshest, tastiest food and meeting the folk who grow it.

Yup, between 8.00am and 11:00am, its all on at the Canberra Showground. Sometimes I go with a friend, sometimes I meet up with my sister or mum and dad for a coffee but today I had to go early and get back so that Mr Duck Herder could take the car to do the Googong Half Marathon.

Today I bought some lovely King Edward potatoes from some folks who farm out at Murrumbateman. Here is a picture of their stall. The other picture is of half the farmers market, from a distance.




Other purchases included restocking on Olive Oil. The olive oil folks are also from Murrumbateman. They sell lovely reusable 1 liter bottles of cold pressed olive oil. A quick wash out with hot water and bi-carb and we are ready to go again! It is lovely oil – they usually have between 2 and 3 varieties to choose from, all cold pressed and grown without pesticides or artificial fertilizers.

Really we don’t need to buy many veggies – most of what we need is here. The main reason I go is for the meat – beautiful, free range pork from happy pigs, organic lamb from a lovely family farm up at Ando, and salt bush lamb from the western slopes. Oh, and oranges.

Well, that’s it really! Time to get out side and potter about in the garden. Joe just rang – he is coming to pick up Byron tomorrow morning to do the Hall Markets. We love Byron! And it is unusual to have a chicken that is gainfully employed to sell chicken runs!

*Our Nation's Capital

Friday, June 29, 2007

Lacuna Sabbath

Lacuna Sabbath is the word coined by the Cougarnaut (also known as the Mountain Man and Pa Kettle in Sherdie’s blog) to describe my duck herding attempts to wrangle Fridays off work for the specific purpose of pottering in the garden and communing with my fury and fluffy friends.

The Lacuna part likens the princess castle duck pond to that wonderful world of Mr Curly, the Leunig character who lives at Curly Flat on the shores of Lake Lacuna. (I wonder if it is OK to have a cartoon character as a spiritual leader…..) The Sabbath, obviously referring to the weekly day of rest and worship practiced by many religions.

Things that happened today include jogging down to the community garden to let the girls out and undertake a bit of impromptu weeding and keening over the self seeded poppy plants coming up amongst the spinach, weeds, and in the paths. I then kept running down through to the Molonglo River to be amazed at how high the water was.

The wonderful thing about being a grown up is that you can have desert for lunch whenever you like (unless your folks are coming to lunch). I used to work with a beautiful woman who whenever she was having a bad time, used to make herself fairy bread for lunch! Recently my beautiful friend Pickle introduced me to baked custard – and what a wonderful, cheap, old fashioned, healthy way to do justice to fresh chook and duck eggs!

Here is my Recipe for Baked Custard:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice milk (no cows milk here!)
  • 4 chook or duck eggs
  • Sugar or sweetener to taste
  • Vanilla to taste
  • Ground nutmeg to sprinkle on top
Method:
  • Pre-heat over to about 160 (low – moderate)
  • Grease an oven proof bowl with butter
  • Pop ingredients into bowl and mix with housewife’s magic wand or similar
  • Stand bowl in a baking dish of hot water from the kettle – try and get water up sides of bowl as much as possible
  • Sprinkle nutmeg on top
  • Bake until set
  • Eat hot of cold.
  • Can also be made in ramekins
  • Too easy!

So in celebration of the Lacuna Sabbath, I made baked custard with some freshly stewed quince and pear. For Lunch. DELICIOUS!!

Other things that happened today was a nanna nap in the warm sun streaming through the windows, and a quick canter down to the garden once more to pick dinner and lock up the girls before dark, and then do the same back here.

I picked leeks to make a big batch of pumpkin soup. (home grown too of course!) It is just bubling away now. When it is cooked it will be frozen in containers to take to work each day for lunch. Yup, lunch for two weeks all for the price of 6 chicken stock cubes. We have herbs and parsely growing in the office car park/worm farm/veggie garden and a microwave - perfect!

I LOVE leeks, and have two varieties growing all the time – Cartesian Giants, and a leek variety that has naturalized at the Holder Community Garden. This variety is short, fat, blue and incredibly hardy to cold, hot, wind, wet and dry. Once cooked, it is very tender, sweet to eat and self seeds readily.


These are some cartesians. I love how big the root systems of my leeks are. I must be doing something right! I also love that they cost $2 in the supermarket! Same with broccoli - $7 kg! Home grown produce makes me feel very rich indeed.




And finally, for Sherdie the Rocketeer, here is today's picture of Nefley, and on the right, the working girls in their chook tractor - Charlotte and Gretel, with a tiny piece of Bianca on the right.

All in all, an excellent Lacuna Sabbath!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Random Fungus Flat Rooster Sunday

Well. Another bone crunchingly cold night followed by a crystal clear sunny day. The poor old avocados are taking a beating. They have spots and splotches and crunchy leaves. None of this is good! The Bacons seem to be doing a bit better. The Gwens – well, they look like crap! I am not sure what the specific problem is – is it the cold? Is it the “green with envy” spray? Did they get wet feet? Have they caught a fungus? Will they die? Sigh…. there are many avocados questions.

In other random news, I got two flat tires riding to mum and dad’s this morning. I changed one tube, and then the replacement tube went flat as well. I think my tire is worn out – all those 25km commutes to and from struggle town for work! In the end I had to walk home with the bike.

I am not sure if it is bad blog etiquette to talk about pre-blog experiences, but I wanted to show you the slippery jacks and saffron ladies my friend from the community garden gave me. He found them just up the road in the pine forest a few weeks ago, a few weeks after some rain. I have always wanted to find out which of the mushrooms growing in the pine forests are edible, but have never been able to find anyone who knew before! So here they are:

Both are quite distinctive, and I think I will be able to find them again in the wild next spring - the safron ladies especially
There is some more information about them here.

I fried them up in some butter and home grown garlic – DELICIOUS!!! The saffron ladies especially! Mr Duck Herder refused to eat them, but I thought they were wonderful.

And finally, true to my word – here is a picture of Nefley and her boyfriend Byron. Byron is a regular visitor to the princess castle and he is very sweetly in love with Nefley, and Nefley is very sweetly in love with him too. Jenni however, hates him with a passion. Thats half of Jenni there on the right.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bokashi to you too!

I have been playing around with Bokashi, and it is GREAT fun - especially if you are like me and are not very good at taking the overflowing container of rotting veggie scraps out to the compost pile each day. Everything you have heard about Bokashi not smelling is all true! It is easy and fun and nice. Yup, Bokashi is wonderful, expensive stuff. And a trendy custom made Bokashi bucket can cost you $100!!!!!

Well, Happy News my duck herding friends. You can make Bokashi your self, and you can make your own Bokashi buckets! Here at the Princess Castle we have been using 3 x 10 liter plastic containers from the supermarket. The main thing is that they should have a tight fitting lid. Originally I played around with putting a little tap into the bottom of one of the buckets to drain excess liquid, but have found that if you only put dryish scraps into the bin, then excess liquid doesn’t become a problem.

Having 3 rotating buckets means that while one bucket is in the kitchen, two other buckets can be outside fermenting a bit more until you bury the fermenting scraps into the compost or garden, where everything will break down really quickly and you will have a pile of beautiful compost in a matter of weeks. I have been playing around with my buckets of fermenting kitchen scraps - they are in the glass house where it is warm during the day. Even after WEEKS there is no rotting odor when you take the lids off- just a sort of pickle smell.

And even more exciting, here is a recipe to make your own Bokashi. You will need to buy some magical microbe soup - I have been using VRM's Effective Micro-Organisms (EM-1) Solution. This is magical, wonderful stuff that can be used for activating compost, applying to plants and soil, and as a vital ingredient in making super compost teas. One bottle of EM-1 goes a very long way - you rarely use more than 15 mls at a time, and 15mls tends to make at least 2 liters of tea, or in this case, 15 liters of Bokashi. That’s what is so cool about micro-organisms!

This recipe for Bokashi is from VRM's Application Manual.

You need: A large sheet of plastic, tarp or a heavy duty garbage bag, a 2 liter ice cream container or similar to measure out ingredients, a 2 liter plastic bottle and:

  • 6 liters Rice Pollard
  • 9 liters Bran
  • 15ml Molasses
  • 15mls EM-1 Stock Solution
  • Approx 2 to 2 1/2 liters warm water (if you need to use town water, leave it out over night so that all the chlorine can evaporate off - chlorine MURDERS good bugs!)

Method:

  • Dissolve molasses in a little hot water, then add warm water and EM-1 to a 2 liter bottle.
  • Measure out all dry ingredients onto plastic or tarp and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour on EM-1/water, mixing with hands until you get an apple crumble like consistency. The mix should remain clumped when squeezed, and on touching should crumble away easily. If you are unsure, it is better to be too dry and too wet. VRM suggests leaving the mixture overnight and checking the following day as sometimes the dry ingredients take a little while to absorb the moisture.
  • Pack bokashi into a drum or thick plastic bag and seal. Try to exclude as much air as possible. Making the whole thing in a heavy duty garbage bag makes this process easy. A few pieces of newspaper or absorbent paper towel helps to soak up any extra moisture and will prolong the life of your bokashi.
  • Leave to ferment in a warm place for a minimum of 2 -3 weeks depending on climate. The idea temperature should be around 35-45 degrees C. If the temperature rises beyond 50 degrees C mix the bokashi to aerate it. In cooler climates or in the winter it may take 4 - 6 weeks to be fully fermented, and the mixture may not seem to heat up as much.

The bokashi will have a strong sweet-sour smell and may give off a strong vapor. This indicates the bokashi has fermented and is ready to use or dry for storage. If the bokashi gives off a sour odor it has failed. If you are intending to keep the bokashi for any length of time VRM recommends drying it out by spreading it out in a warm dry place until it feels dry to the touch. This can take a couple of days. Store in sealed containers, in a cool dry place.

It might be helpful to purchase some premade bokashi so you can get used to it and know how it should look, smell and work. Then you can make your own and reuse the original bokashi containers to store your homemade bokashi. You can buy premade Bokashi from VRM as well as EM-1.

Duck Herder Hints for having your own Kitchen Bokashi setup:

Sprinkle a good layer of bokashi into the bottom of your bokashi bucket. Add a good handful of bokashi for every addition of kitchen scraps. Try and sprinkle the bokashi lightly over the entire surface of the scraps. Press down the scraps regularly. Remember that Bokashi uses an ANEROBIC process. Remember to put the lid back on tightly after every addition. If you are using a very large bucket, perhaps use a smaller plastic lid that can fit inside the bucket as well. When you are adding fish or meat scraps, add a little extra bokashi. You can also spray with EM-1 to speed up the process. When the bucket is full, store in a cupboard or shed for 3-4 weeks in summer and up to 6 weeks in winter. During fermentation drain off any liquid in containers, dilute and use immediately as a liquid fertilizer or compost activator. After fermentation, your kitchen scraps will look not unlike pickled kitchen scraps. The whole lot looks like it should PONG to the stars, so it is quite weird when you take the lid off and it all smells fine! Especially when you know that there has been some serious meat scraps fermenting away in there for the whole time!.

The final step is to bury the whole lot in the compost pile or garden. Beware that the whole lot is still a little acidic at this stage, and will take a few weeks for the final decomposition to occur.

Wash out the bucket and start again!



and Happy Bokashi to you too!



Monday, June 18, 2007

Clever Amelia

In other news today, Amelia the youngest child of the flock laid this ENORMOUS egg! Amelia has been laying everyday since the 13th June. Her eggs have been quite little by ducky standards, but we have been impressed with her innate nest making capability - (how did she know to make a perfect little nest in the straw in the exact spot her mum does, before she even laid her first egg? Did she ask her mum for help? Unbelievable!) TJ her mum will not be ready to start laying again until July - so we are very impressed with Amelia’s capacity to work it all out herself!

The picture above shows some big brown Charlotte eggs for comparison, and two of Amelia's eggs - the big 90gm monsta egg, and one similar to those she has been laying all week. And here is a picture of Amelia with her mum and dad. That is Amelia right there - front and centre!

Clever Amelia - we are so proud!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A New Farm for the Duck Herder?

Looming stage 4 water restrictions have generated a low level hum of anxiety for the duck herder. Some of you will know that the vegetable growing limitations of the princess castle are augmented by a 135 square meter plot plus roaming chicken tractor at the Holder community garden. This is where the bulk of the duck herders veggies are grown.

If we are unable to source a non potable supply of water for the community gardens, it will be very tricky to continue! We are looking at putting in a community water fund grant for a tank and pump to get water from a nearby creek/soak. Alas, the ACT Health Protection Service refuses to let us use the free recycled water available from the Lower Molonglo Treatment Plant. I drafted up a submission for the Canberra Organic Growers Society to put into the Water Conservation Office to try and get a limited exemption for the community gardens, but I am not sure how successful it will be.

Obviously I need a Plan B!

Up the road there is a horse agistment farm. At the bottom of the farm is a little valley with amazing views and piles of sawdust and manure from the stables. Living at the farm is a nice man who in exchange for some fresh produce has offered me a HUGE space to grow veggies!

There are some definite good things about this new site - reticulated dam water (no fluoride or chlorine!) no COUCH!!!! (the PLAGUE of the community garden) and an unlimited supply of sawdust and manure. Unlike the community garden, it is NOT in a frost hollow, but rather nicely aspected on a gentle slope protected from the west north-west wind by a big mountain.

Less good things are that it is 4.5km away, is no longer on the way to work and I would be leaving my beautifully nurtured soil and starting again with basically a paddock covered in 20cm of nitrogen deprived sawdust/manure. I would have to bring my super you-beaut mega chicken tractor home (and try and find room for Bianca, Gretel and Charlotte somewhere in the backyard) as there are way too many foxes out there to monster and stress the girls.

On the plus side again, if the girls were home with the rest of the flock, then all my Zone 1 things would be near the house, and I could concentrate of setting up the new plot to only being visited every second day or so.

Well, at least there is a plan! In the mean time, all the winter crops are in at the community garden, there has been a bit of rain, we have water for another 2 weeks and the girls are still laying through the cold weather – bless their little red combs.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Avocado Confessions

It is probably best to start my blog off with a confession. The confession is that yes, I AM trying to grow avocados in Canberra. It is a medium scale obsession that creates much mirth amongst my friends, and the Avocado Man at the Canberra Farmers Market thinks it is hilARIOUS.

Now I wouldn’t want any of you to think I had gone down this path of fancy sans research and preparation. I have read EVERYTHING I can get my hands on about growing the things in extreme climactic conditions. You may, for instance, be interested to know that according to Louise Glowinski, the latitudinal range of avocados is between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south. That 40 Degree southern latitude is right through the Bass Strait, and that my friends is WAY south of ONC*.

Yes, I know, there is that whole mountainous 600 meters above sea level thing....and the relentless frosts.....the -8 frosts that is...the odd snowfall.........and the heat......the 40 degree days......and that particularly parching west/north-westerly wind in summer.....I could go on listing all the things Avocadoes hate and that Duck Herders have in abundance....but I wont.
Instead, we will talk about variety selection and micro-climates.

The varieties I selected are Bacon and Gwen. There are two of each. The Bacons are generally recognised as being very cold hardy (up to -4 once established). In a temperate climate, the protogynous diurnally synchronous dichogomyness is knocked around a bit so they are also self fertile.

The Gwen is a new variety which is also meant to be cold hardy, but needs an appropriate pollinator friend (such as Bacon). All my little avocado friends came from Sunraysia Nursury. Here is a little picture of Bacon #2 on the left, and Gwen #1 on the right.


You might notice the swathes of shadecloth, the polystyrene panels, the 2.4m star pickets and mountains of mulch. You may not notice the shadecloth roof. Combined, all these bits and pieces constitute what is known locally as "The Avocado Shanty".

Here is a view from a distance. The Avocado Shanty faces almost north, is sheltered from the west wind by our house, and the east wind by a huge box alder. The curtain along the front of the Avocado Shanty can be adjusted or dropped down so they are totally enclosed. The avocadoes are protected from cold air coming off the metal fence behind by panels of polystyrene (free from car battery outlets).

The water tanks to the right will hopefully function as a heat sink. The house behind hopefully radiates additional warmth in the winter. The row of lomandras stops cold air and frosts from getting into the shanty as well. You can't see if from the photo, but there is a path behind the lomandras. Eventually, I hope my avocados form a wonderful, abundant, productive, thick hedge between us and the neighbours. They have been in there for almost 9 months, have grown well and already survived a very hot summer and some -3 frosts. I have sprayed them with a product called "green with envy" to provide additional frost protection - and it certainly hasn’t done them any harm. Oh, and our ducki friends are Amelia and Miriam.

Well, that’s it really. If I can just keep them alive for another 2 summers and 2 winters, we should be right. There might even be avocados one day.

*"our nation's capital"