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Snake Bypass

Snake Bypass

Its been a bit quiet at the ranch while we struggle with the monsoon season.  Not that it is bringing any downpours.  This time last year, the river was in flood and I could quietly and dishonestly tell work that I was flooded in and have a day at home.  Of course, hubby was actually flooded in to work.  Imagine having to sleep at work.  But me and pets were snugly enjoying wet season 2015.

Not so this year.  We just have to endure the endless humidity and sticky high temperatures with no respite except going to work because there, someone pays for the airconditioning.

But we’ve finally done something worthwhile putting on the blog – the start of the grow tunnel empire.

This all came about because we had a horrendous year for snakes this year, especially the chook eating pythons.  We specialise in hens who sit their own eggs and mother so we are always thrilled when we get some chicks.  Its very different from loading an incubator and coming back in 21 days.  The thrill wears off a bit when we are nightly removing pythons and we started to lose not only chicks but full grown hens and roosters.  That was a bit scary – wondering which Jurassic python was waiting to drop on us when the chooks were no longer enough.

We considered ways to protect the chook pens, from tiny wire to electric wire.  Then at the same time, while patrolling for snakes, we realised how many possums, bandicoots and rats thought we were the mcdonalds of the vermin world and were getting a free feed at the expense of all our produce.  Again, there had to be an answer.

Enter the snake proof grow tunnel.  While rats cannot get through shade cloth, neither can snakes.  So we started building these with the idea that this years half grown chookies could live in there for a while, scratch up the weeds, fertilize to their hearts content and generally condition my grow tunnels.  Then we’ll rotate them onto the next grow tunnel while establishing crops after them. 

So we will not only rotate crops but we’ll rotate poultry as well and everyone will be safe while I turn the old chook pens into pig pens or shade houses or something else useful.

YAY for safe.  I hope to live to eat some more pumpkins.  I have visions of beans or cucumbers growing up strings in the grow tunnel, like you see them in commercial farms while pumpkins or sweet potatoes or just herbs roam the floor.  Hanging baskets or bags may grow strawberries if I’m in luck, all the while hopefully with the chookies handling the weeds on a part time basis.

Sure hope this works.  But thanks, Johnny for appreciating my scheme enough to help.  Enjoy the goodies.

The Decade of Olives

The Decade of Olives

I have a horror of nurturing fruit trees that don’t overwhelm me with abundance.  I expect to drown in peaches or wade through citrus as the seasons go.

So when hubby planted the olives, I expected great things of them, notwithstanding the fact that every one told me we a) weren’t in a Mediterranean climate and b) it was too humid here, leading to peacock spot disease and c) just don’t because we just don’t.

That is what we like to call a “red rag to a bull”.  Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do in my own paddock.  So we planted them and waited.  And waited.  Four years in I called for the chainsaw to get rid of them.  I’d had enough with no return.  Nope, hubby thinks that if they are greenish, that’s enough return for him.  So every six months, I would point out how I wanted them chopped down.

Until this year, year 10 of growing.  After 10 years of heaping hate and vitriol over the olive trees, this year we had a nice crop.  Not huge but more than enough.  I will never hear the end of this self-congratulation from hubby and I’m sure that the trees are looking smug as well.

But then I had to work out what to do with the olives.  Grabbing more of my second hand jam jars, I surfed the web trying to figure out not only how I could process them but what would be the easiest and most efficient way to do this.  Sorted into green and black, I decided to brine the green and layer dry salt into the black.

You know on the movies where they have those lovely homes with big country kitchens that you could just imagine filled with preserves and cooking?  Yeah, well they are movie sets.  And real country kitchens end up with food on the floor under the table because not only have you got tubs of brining olives on the table but jars of summer seeds, plates of drying seeds, the fruit bowl that doesn’t fit in the fridge, cuttings that you just have to plant, fermenting ginger beer and every other half finished job on the place.  So we spent weeks while daily replacing the salt water each day and waiting for these olives to get like the ones in the shop.

Did you know that commercially, olives are processed using caustic soda?  Think about that next time you have a martini.  Any wonder the food chain remains my number one concern.

Eventually, the chief olive taster told me that they were fine and you will see that they have been bottled in brine with a layer of olive oil on the top to seal them from the air.  The black ones were rinsed and soaked in fresh water and I will preserve them in olive oil for use.

All in all, if I do this again, I would brine the whole lot.  It uses less salt and much less olive oil which is an expensive bought input to my household.

Ten years to the first olive harvest.  It was a surprise and I should not underestimate the trees too much.  I’d still like to chop out those useless pecans though.

Autumn in Oz

Autumn in Oz

Not quite autumn yet…..actually we’ve only had the occasional relief from the wet season humidity and heat which they say gets worse every year. 

But pumpkins are so quintessentially autumn in the USA that I thought it was nearly close enough to have Halloween/ Great Pumpkin fantasies.

I love pumpkins.  They just sort of hang around down the paddock and grow madly when its wet and sometime later in the year when the snakes have gone to bed and we are adventurous enough to venture into the weed patch, we stumble over pumpkins just waiting to come up to the kitchen and be eaten.  They come pre-packed in their own storage container and many will last a good few months without refrigeration. 

Just be aware that there is a difference between pumpkins and squash.  And they are not supposed to be able to cross pollinate.  So the previous pumpkin post showing a jap pumpkin is actually a squash:  a softer, sweeter flesh that doesn’t keep as long (but still long enough).

Above from left to right is a blue hubbard squash, an ironbark pumpkin and a Cinderella pumpkin.

The squash is supposed to be a long keeper.  I have never grown and never tasted it so I’m looking forward to that.  The ironbark pumpkin was said to be a hard skinned Australian breed.   It has not given a good result but that could be the season, not the breed.  So it will be tried again.  The Cinderella pumpkin was an absolute surprise, given that I had forgotten that we planted it.  I did wonder what the big orange thing in the garden was.  We were waiting for the stem to brown off to pick it and it nearly doubled in size in the last few weeks of growth – possibly because we got some heavy rainfall after a dry summer. 

All of these are heritage non-hybrid so I will be saving the seeds.  The lovely thing is that each pumpkin have lots of seeds for me to be going on with next season.  So only one pumpkin represents a paddock full in the new growing year.

Next year, these three plus the japs which are super reliable and the Queensland Blue, in an attempt to keep fruit all year round. 

Ultimately, I want to try more breeds, especially the cow pumpkin which grows huge for feeding stock and the other one from which pepitas are made from the pumpkin seeds.  We’ll see what happens with that. 

And when the pumpkins stage a takeover, I’ll either have to eat faster or move out.  This year, Great Pumpkin, I would like to wish for less possums and bandicoots to eat my garden.

Finger Lickin’ Lemony Goodness

Finger Lickin’ Lemony Goodness

At the bottom you will see the finger limes.  They are the newest thing (almost) in haute cuisine and an oz native.  Inside them are tiny beads of citrusy taste.  Like the microbeads that they are trying to ban at the moment, except these are naturally occurring and fully edible.  They look and feel like caviar and are tremendous fun.

Except for trying to figure out what to do with them.

Real chefs put a dollop on a plate for garnish which is OK.  But a dollop here or there is not going to use up a tree full of fruit.  Hubby adds them to drinks where they promptly sink to the bottom or stick to the side of the glass.  They’re nice when you can get a mouthful of them.  And they DO NOT dissolve.

One good use of them is in tabouleh which is traditionally made with cous cous balls.  So the lemony balls fit right in and keep the nice lemon taste in the salad which is normally added with the lemon juice.

So today I decided to make a batch of lemon cheese (or lemon butter or lemon curd, depending on your nationality) and I added what seemed like a huge amount of finger lime balls into the batch when I cooked it.  It took 90 minutes to cut open the little fruit and scrape out the flesh.  If you were to look real close, you’d be able to see a hint of the little green balls in the yummy.  I’m fairly happy with it because they stay in one piece while you’re cooking and they keep the burst of tart lemon taste in the lemon cheese which can tend to be really too sweet.

So that was fun and worked.  Just a note about bottling the lemon cheese.  These are old jam jars which are cleaned well and kept for jams.  I sterilize the jars in the oven while I’m cooking the jam so they are heating for quite a while.  Then I take them out of the oven and bottle the batch straight away.  So you are putting quite warm jam into quite warm bottles.  While yelling and blowing on your finger tips, put a double layer of greaseproof paper over the top of the bottle and put the lid on tightly.  So the unsterilized lid never touches the jars or the batch.  When the whole thing cools down, it creates a bit of a vacuum seal which helps to keep the jam good. 

Lemon cheese contains whole egg so I refrigerate it at all times.  But with a fruit jam, sauce or something that doesn’t contain protein, I can use the warm bottling method and some things keep for a year on the shelf with no cool storing.   Some last for longer.  Always use your own judgement when you should eat something and unlike me, it’s often nice to label with date of making so you don’t die from 5 year old jam.  But honestly, I haven’t killed anyone ever….with jam.

Which Witch

Which Witch

There has been a lot of media coverage lately on the use of the word “witch”.  Well, in a totally gender free and non derogatory way, I thought I would introduce you to history’s greatest witch deflector – the elderberry.

There is evidence of the flowers of this being used in Neolithic times as a tea flavouring (before real tea from China was invented).  When I was a kid, all the old farmhouses in the bush had an elderberry tree planted generally by the front or back steps and I was warned never to eat the little black berries as they were poisonous.  Even then I wondered why you would bother with something you couldn’t pig out on.  It turns out that all those little old celtic and teutonic farmwives understood the importance of witchproofing your house entrances with a good, old elderberry.  I must say, that I have not had any problem with roaming witches since planting these.

Also the fact that the photo is taken hanging out my bedroom window should tell you that its summer here and I’m not going outside, even for a photo opportunity.

But in the grand scheme, elderberry – despite its propensity to get away and feralize the entire garden – is worthwhile planting.  The flowers contain natural yeast and every year I make elderberry champagne by simply soaking the flowers in a weak sugar syrup (or honey syrup), bottling and waiting until they go critical and fizzy.  The flowers can be used to bring along a sour dough or natural brew.  They can be made into a tea which is then used to make a herbal cordial.  The berries must be cooked but they contain a high degree of vitamin C.  And the berries have recently been exploited as stabilised elderberry compound which is bought as a pharmaceutical line and used to reduce the impact of colds and flu.  I must say that I make a rather good elderberry syrup cold cure and I personalize it with extra herbs to fix what ails you at the time.  Sore throat?  Thyme.  Fevers and malaise?  Echinacea.

And bonus?  Lack of witches.