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Roses and Lavender

Roses and Lavender

Just because…..

Its pretty and smells nice and makes me happy.  These are the reasons that we live where we do and live how we do.  Just because.

Winter potatoes

Winter potatoes

Well, here we go again – the seasons have come around but this year we had a wet winter.  Not flooding but consistently moist.  And it appears that we planted potatoes in April and totally forgot about them.  I’m a bit pleased about that because the Victorian floods seem to have inflated the price of potatoes to nearly $3kg (thought I’d put that in there for historians in the years to come).

So having relocated the potato patch that we forgot about, gave no attention or water, we decided that it was time to dig them and voila’ as they say.  Went down there with one bucket and ended up going back for more.  And more.

At least one of the potatoes weighed over a kilo on its own.  Not sure why these did so well.  Ordinarily I would say fresh ground but it wasn’t.  All I can put it down to was the extra water that we don’t usually have over the winter.

Of course, it has destroyed the mango flowers but I guess we all want to eat potatoes a lot more than mangos.  And in the supermarket in August, they trotted out last season’s potatoes that had been cold stored, sold them very cheaply (before the price rise) and they sprouted like mad.  So every day of the last 6 weeks, we have been planting the sprouted bits of the supermarket potatoes in the morning after I cut them off the potatoes we had for tea.  Some of these are already knee high and I have high hopes of them.  It was the perfect staggered planting to keep up digging fresh potatoes all through summer.

Despite being terrifically lazy, I have good snake beans coming on for summer and some butter beans so I’m feeling optimistic about future tea times.  If only I had a pen full of fat piggies, I would be ecstatic.

Put the kettle on love…

Put the kettle on love…

Andrew, put the kettle on love……….I have always told my children that NO MATTER what happens, your first action should always be to put the kettle on.  Boyfriend left?  Dog died?  Just lost a leg?  World apocalypse?  No matter what – always put the kettle on.

This give you a chance to turn away from the others in the room (in order to get your facial expressions into a properly sympathetic mode), busy yourself about a purposeful activity while others run around in panic and get something hot and sweet inside you.  I’m afraid that you just couldn’t ask me to face the apocalypse without a nice cup of tea.

Interestingly, we think of tea as the fermented leaf of the camellia so well known as black tea.  This came to Europe and in particular England from China and the English embraced it with well bred and nasal enthusiasm.  Before that, teas were purely herbal with some evidence found of elderflower tea being brewed in Neolithic settlements.  It lost some popularity when the English population decided that ale was healthy but the Victorians (age wise not the place next to New South Wales) brought back tea drinking.  Partly because they were all competing in the world boring contest and partly because they wanted to support the East India Company in whom they had invested so much lovely money.  Gentlemen do not work.

While in chinese tea drinking mode, they paid a British botanist (actually a Scot) to disguise himself as a particularly weird chinese traveller and find out all the tea secrets of china with a view to establishing the industry within India which was the claytons England.  He did a remarkable job.  Before him, it was thought that black tea and green tea were two different plants.  He discovered it was only the processing that differed.  He commented that on inspecting the green tea manufacturing in China, he saw them putting green arsenic in the tea that they exported.  When questioned about the advisability/ safety of giving arsenic poisoning to all tea drinkers, he was told that the foreign devils like their tea green and are not at all fussy about what is in it.

Now, if you are thinking that you would like a bit of a modern taste sensation, sans the arsenic, I advise you to try blending your own tea.  I start off with black tea in a bodum or tea pot and add a little of something else like fresh peppermint, lemongrass, lemon myrtle leaves, lemon balm or any other culinary herb.  Amaze your friends by adding fresh citrus zest to the black or green tea.  Add some berries.  If you really must, go right ahead and drink this with sugar and milk if you really want to.

If you want to get really fancy, rosellas (see previous post) make a fabulous herbal tea, being the traditional ingredient of red zinger tea that we all thought was so daring in the ’70’s.  Add to them, lemon thyme and mix with black tea or not. 

So black tea with herbs or herbs without black tea.  A new one I saw on the weekend was a normal fresh green herbal tea.  If I want to make herbal tea, I use all herbs fresh because the dried ones just don’t mooove me.  My friend picked whatever he could find in the garden.  In this case, we had rosemary, lemon thyme and other stuff that I didn’t see.  He made a normal pot of tea by pouring boiling water over and steeping the leaves but he put a glob of honey in the pot with the herbs.

After it had cooled a bit, he poured half a glass of tea, dropped in some ice cubes and finished with half a glass of soda water and a twist of lime.  I can recommend this and I’m thinking that you could get super imaginative with this, even to the point of using a sugar syrup in the tea rather than honey and combining different herbs.

Don’t forget that many herbs make a good medicinal tea.  But I really have to be sick to try them.

Onions is onions

Onions is onions

To know one’s onions.  As sure as eggs are eggs.  Two fabulous and interchangeable sayings that are probably unique to the English language.

But is any meal complete without onions?  I have to say no, both from a culinary aspect and from a nutritional aspect.  Onions contain sulphur which allows the body to use amino acids.  So therefore, all meat meals need onions.  And virtually everything else.

Luckily they store so well, both dry stored and pickled.

But I read on the internet (where else) that you could regrow onions.  So every onion you cut for a meal, cut the root end off with about 2cm of flesh and just pop into the soil to regrow.

As you can see, these sprouted good green leaves in double quick time.  They just shoot up from the base within a week to ten days and keep growing from there.

I’ve yet to see if they form an onion base or how long this takes.  But I’m positive that they might do this.  I grew a beautiful onion in a load of horse poo that I threw on the garden one day.  I’m not sure how it got there but I’m thinking that some kitchen scraps may have been thrown in with the stable trash.

As they grow leaves, I have to assume that they form roots.  I’ll move the ones with leaves into a more permanent garden and leave the boxes just outside the kitchen so I can pop out with the onions bases anytime I’m cooking.  It doesn’t matter if they dry out for a day or two before you plant them.

Ultimately, once I have built up the prerequisite number of onions for my household and I have some idea of how long the new fruit will take to form, I should theoretically never have to buy another onion.  It also gives me a chance to grow some speciality onions like the Spanish red and I will only have to buy a few and keep recycling them, rather than having to try and source them and pay the extra when I want them.

Up until now I have bought exclusively brown onions because of their better storage but I can see me diverging into a sweet white onion.  Well, hoping for the best and remember, things are always worth a try at least.

Rosellas, obviously not feathered

Rosellas, obviously not feathered

For all the Victorians out there, rosellas grow on a bush.

For all the hipsters out there, you know when you go to a very special cocktail bar and they offer you “wild hibiscus in syrup” with your champagne cocktail (making it that lovely shade of pink that ladies like so much), that is also rosellas.  Baby boomers may remember the ultra-trendy red zinger tea that we scandalised our WW2 parents with.  It was based on dried rosellas.

Rosellas or wild hibiscus are an extremely traditional Queensland and northward crop.  I always heard that they originated in Hawaii but as they grow wild in the Northern Territory, I’m inclined to think they may have come from Indonesia or Polynesia. 

A stringy, leggy bush, they grow while flowers that look a little like a single small hibiscus.  The petals drop and the bush develops waxy red sepals over a large seed pod.  Its the waxy red petals that you use.  The seed pods are kept for next years sewing or for putting in the chook food.  Either is fine.

SO!  Rosella jam, cordial, chutney or dried for herbal tea.  They are all good and more importantly, basically free.  Today’s effort was rosella cordial which uses quite a bit of lemon juice also and gives a very tangy drink, ideal for children or for mixing with spirits.  Bottled while hot, it will keep in the fridge for quite a while.  Quite a long while, in fact, as I tested this on some of my unknowing friends and they didn’t die from cordial kept for well over a year.  (Hey friends, remember those beans I gave you in the casserole – I had a problem identifying them but apparently they are fit for eating……..)

You probably won’t find these products anywhere outside of Queensland, Australia.  I had some talks with a foliage wholesaler and told them that the seed pods burst and these babies just grew back through the lawn.  They suggested that was a good point if you are looking to build an industry on them.  In saying that though, they absolutely hate being transplanted.  The seeds are so plentiful that I rake some ground, strew plenty of seed over and water well.  If you can’t get a harvest out of that, you are being too particular.

Tradition has it that rosella is good for high blood pressure.  I wouldn’t know about this but I’m figuring it can’t be bad for it.  When the moment comes that I can no longer buy tea leaves, I will replace this completely with the dried rosellas.

Don’t those bottles just glow like a CQ garnet?  Try some if you can get your hands on it. 

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.