Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Not-So-Quiet Winter

If you believe the gardening books, winter is supposedly a quiet time in the garden. A time for rest and reflection, maybe planning ahead for the following year. Are they kidding??!!! I have been busier than ever this winter working in our garden.

I posted about building our veggie patch a few months ago after we moved here. I am pleased to say that although it was a fairly rushed job, with me desperate to get something (anything!) into the ground before winter hit, it has done extremely well and has fed us many greens over the colder months.

 Plenty of kale, spinach, silverbeet, rocket and lettuce through the winter

Following that, in the past 2 months I have :-

  • Planted a row of 6 bare-rooted rose bushes, outside our main front window (as a bit of a privacy screen from passing bushwalkers and locals walking their dogs!)

I have since made this into a long strip of 'rose bed', with mulch to keep out competing grass

  • Planted a hedge- row of  5 hazelnut trees I bought 2 years ago. see here   for the original post. Somehow they have miraculously survived living in large pots (thank you) and hopefully will thrive now they are in the ground.

  • Planted over 500 flowering Spring bulbs throughout the front, back and side gardens, and in pots which can be moved around to suit our window view when they flower. Some of the daffodils are just starting to flower now. I also planted tulips, freesias, jonquils, muscari, anemones, ranunculi, ixias, snowflakes, dutch iris, chincherinchee.... so many more!

  • Established a small garlic patch of both Australian Purple and White bulbs (around 30 plants) and a separate potato patch (around 30 seed potatoes) including Sebago, Nicola, Desiree and Ruby Lou.

  • Planted 2 varieties of blueberry bushes -Northland and Anna- in the back garden. The area I chose to plant them in is a sunny spot but has pine trees hanging over the fence from the property behind- this means the soil here is naturally acidic which blueberries love, and the pine needles that fall create a natural acidic mulch. Ideal conditions for them, less work for me!

  • Planted a variety of dormant berry canes- thornless blackberry, boysenberry, and 13 raspberry canes. All are against fences where they can be tied up when they start to grow (hopefully profusely!)

  • Started transforming the side garden into a mini orchard (we call it the side garden, its the equivalent of a normal front garden but our house is long and sideways on a corner block). In there we have planted 3 apple trees- (Granny Smith, Red Fuji and Gala), 1 nectarine and 1 peach (all dwarf varieties) along with rhubarb and the raspberries. I am thinking of buying a double-grafted pear as well, if I can make a space! The garden was already quite full with deciduous trees and a few other random trees, including a huge cypress which is beautiful but creates a lot of shade Luckily this is a sunny North facing garden so the fruit trees should do well. Our daughter has claimed the Gala as her tree, and our son has always loved Granny Smith apples and wanted his own tree since he was 3, so it was a happy day when he got to plant it :-)

    This corner was not even visible when we moved in- covered in overhanging trees
  • Oh and of course not forgetting our feathered friends! We put up a brushwood fence along the back boundary to hide the tangled mess of ivy and other weeds in the property behind us (after lopping off several huge pine tree limbs that were overhanging our garden). We then built the chook pen similar to the first one we made. Chicken wire and star pickets, old gate, A-frame inside for shelter, sleeping and nest boxes. It is approx 25 m2 so plenty of room to scratch around in.

Our hens were so happy they immediately started laying again! After our egg-less winter, the very next day 3 of our 5 hens had laid! And they haven't stopped since. we are now getting over 20 a week from the 5 chooks which is great.

It is exciting to see my vision coming into reality, although I can be a little impatient at times (!) and the vision is a pretty fluid one, and often morphs into other ideas.
Our ultimate aim is not to be self-sufficient here, but to provide as much as we can for ourselves of fresh, healthy food, whilst enjoying our garden and also living in a practical and beautiful space.


Watch this space.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bread.... and the book that inspired me

I've been making a lot of bread lately, and I've been so pleased with the results. I have been making no-knead bread like this for quite a while now, but still had that niggly little voice in my head pushing me to try making bread the 'real' way again.

So, for a bit of inspiration I bought myself this book -

Its part of the River Cottage series of book and I have to say, it is the best bread book I've seen (and I've borrowed A LOT from the local library!) It goes into a lot of detail initially about the ingredients and the whole process of making bread, as well as the history and why we should all try making our own, before it shares a whole load of recipes. I found it strangely interesting! It even has instructions at the back on how to build a clay oven ... something I would love to do with the ugly old brick bbq we have out the back.

I've been making Roti breads -fabulously quick and simple, great to make with kids. The whole process takes about 10 minutes from getting the ingredients out to flopping the big puffy pillows onto plates (or maybe 5 mins without children helping!) We were all cheering as they puffed up in the pan! Perfect with winter curries and casseroles and they cost next to nothing to make (flour, water, salt).

bread dough using 1kg flour (note my daughters hand for size!)

Then after making a batch of dough that could rival the 'magic pudding' story, we made 2 loaves and 4 large bread rolls with this lot above. I generally use both unbleached white and wholemeal flour, often around 3 parts white and 1 part wholemeal (or whatever I feel like!)

Some I left plain and others coated in oats. All turned out perfectly! The crumb of these breads is very different from my usual no-knead loaves, which is much more like a sourdough texture. The traditional bread texture is much more even and is much easier to slice and use for lunchbox sandwiches.

I think I much prefer the free-form shape, rather than baking them in a loaf tin. Perhaps its the more home-baked look, with each loaf taking its own shape :-)

I have made quite a few now, each working well, and trying different shape loaves and coatings. I have recently tried using bakers 'strong' flour, but actually found the cheap brand plain white worked better for me. I think I will try half/ half next time.

Last week we made pizza bases for the first time and it was so easy I am kicking myself we haven't been doing this earlier! No photos unfortunately, I forgot this time and the pizzas vanished so quickly, even though from 500g flour we got 8 smallish pizzas (about 15-20cm across)
I put out bowls of various veggies and pineapple, and the kids delighted in making their own combinations- all 8 different to each other. So different to greasy take-away pizza, much more like the traditional style.

I am looking forward to trying more recipes from my book, everything from focaccia to croissants, and poppy and caraway crackers.. mmmm!
I bought my copy from The Book Depository online- only cost me around $16 which was a bargain, (amount changes daily with the exchange rate) I've easily saved that in bread already, not to mention it was the only book that actually got me great results!