Archive for February, 2007

Tasty Little Morsels from the Garden

Monday, February 26th, 2007

As well as growing our own vegetables here on the Farmlet, we are hoping that we’ll eventually be able to grow a lot of the seasonings we use on our food. The first step in this direction has been to plant a variety of culinary herbs. We are also keen to grow as many spices as we can. Today I spent some time harvesting coriander and celery seeds. I’ll save some of the coriander for planting, but mostly those seeds are to be kept to fill our spice jars.

Coriander seed pods

In the future, we hope to try growing and harvesting other spices: fennel seed, caraway, fenugreek, cumin, mustard and possibly even saffron, though I’m not sure how it would do here. We are also enjoying the spicy flavours of jalapeño, cayenne and Thai chili peppers in our late summer meals.

Jalapeño and cayenne chili peppers

I picked a bowl of nasturtium seeds a couple of days ago to make nasturtium seed “capers.” They are a lactic acid pickle, the recipe for which I found in Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation. The recipe worked really well, and the nasturtium seeds do end up tasting very like capers! Wild Fermentation is a fantastic book with lots of exciting recipes in it. I recommend it for anyone who’d like to explore the delicious and health-giving world of fermented food. The recipe instructions are clearly written, and I love the fact that they are interspersed with anecdotes featuring Katz’s colourful collection of friends. There is even an anecdote about milking goats. This is my kind of recipe book! I tried out Katz’s recipe for “sour beet pickle” today with the first of the beets harvested from the garden. Can’t wait for it to ripen so that we can taste it! Perhaps by next Autumn we’ll be growing our own caraway seeds for making sour beet pickle.

Best Wishes for the Year of the Pig!

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

The Year of the Pig has now begun. Happy New Year to all!

To mark the Chinese New Year, I thought I’d write a list stating some of our goals for the Farmlet during the year ahead.

1) Have some earthworks done in the middle cow paddock, in order to create an irrigation dam and level a site for a barn. The cows will be fenced out of the dam area. (The area in question is already swampy and damp – not especially good grazing, but an excellent dam site. The elevation of the site will allow us to gravity-feed water to gardens and stock. We plan eventually to plant the area around the dam with trees, creating a special dam-microclimate.)

2) Build a barn/shed in the cow paddock for milking, storage, and keeping calves. We need to have this in place by July, when the cows are due to calve. (In due course, we plan to collect rain water off the roof of the barn. We will install a water tank next to the barn, from which water can be gravity-fed down to to house.)

3) Fix the fences around the goat paddocks. We need to reinforce the fences and put in more electric wires, so that the goats can be kept in the paddocks without their A-frame collars on.

4) Extend the goat houses to give the goats more space, and better access to dry feed during the winter.

5) Build a chook house, and get some chickens. We plan to start with a small movable chook house in the house paddock. This way, the chooks can help us to clear kikuyu and create new garden areas. (Eventually, we would like to have a larger number of chickens ranging on the pasture up the hill.)

6) Plant fruit trees. Build supports for passion fruit and kiwifruit vines.

7) Continue to expand and develop gardens in the house paddock – including barrier plantings to keep out kikuyu.

8) Experiment with making kefir, quark, and various cheeses. (This will be happening after our cows have calved and we have a good supply of fresh milk. We also hope to continue making yoghurt and butter.)

9) Experiment with making assorted fermented beverages – perhaps using herbs from the garden.

10) Grinding flour and making sourdough bread has become part of our routine by now. I’d like to get into the habit of using the sourdough in some other creative and delicious ways.

11) Start growing some “bushman’s toilet paper.” We plan to start seedlings and plant them out in the garden when they are big enough.

12) Install a solar hot water heater to cut our power bill and increase our energy self-sufficiency.

13) Keep a more systematic record of income and expenditure. In particular, I think it will be satisfying to have records that clearly document the changes in our grocery bills as we produce more and more of our own food.

There might as well be no fence on this goat paddock

The milking shed will go somewhere around here

Thirteen is a lucky number, so I’ll stop there. Of course, there are lots of other projects on the horizon, big and small, but I feel as if this is a good enough list for now. It will be interesting to look back at the end of the Year of the Pig to see how many of these goals we have accomplished!

Summer Harvest

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Despite earlier troubles with blight, our tomatoes have survived and we are finally enjoying their tasty fruit. “Russian Red”, “Money Maker” and “Yellow Currant” have shown the best blight resistance of the varieties we planted, and are now healthy and laden with fruit. “Orange Cherry” has fared less well. Also disappointing was “Tommy Toe” — a variety I selected in part because the seed catalogue claimed it had good resistance to early and late blight. It certainly hasn’t proven very blight-resistant for us! We’ll be keeping all this in mind when we choose what tomato varieties to plant next year.

We have now harvested our first jalapeno chili, and most of our “Buttercup” winter squash. I have wiped the dirt off the squashes and put them on a rack in the back room for storage. I’ve shelled the first of the borlotti beans and mung beans. Those will be put away in jars once they are thoroughly dry.

Buttercup squash

Purple “Maori” Potatoes

Tomorrow, it will be time to dig more potatoes, most of which will be dried off and stored away in paper sacks. Our kind neighbours from down the road gave us three kinds of heirloom seed potatoes, all of which are obviously well adapted for this area. They’ve done really well, even though we didn’t have the ground very well prepared for them. I’ve just planted another late potato crop, to be dug at around the first frost. If the weather turns cold early this year, then I guess we can put shelter-cloth over them to extend the season for a little longer.

More delights from the garden may yet be in store. We are watching in anticipation as the fruit ripen on the eggplant, bell pepper, pepino and okra. With all the rain we’ve had this February, it’s a slow season for the hot-weather crops. They look healthy enough, though, and we trust that they will be worth waiting for.

Farmlet Reader Contributes US$20

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Farmlet reader and repeat contributor, IL, sent another US$20! Thanks, IL!

Barrier Garden

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Recently I’ve been working on a new garden. It’s at the edge of the house paddock, between the olive trees and the boundary fence. We want to turn this area into a “barrier garden” between the main vegetable beds and the rampant kikuyu grass in our neighbour’s pasture. The area faces into the sun, so despite its proximity to the olive trees, I think it will get plenty of light.

Bill Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture discusses the use of plant barriers to keep invasive plants like kikuyu out of gardens. In particular, he suggests comfrey and lemon grass as good barrier plants against kikuyu. Inspired by these suggestions, I started a whole lot of lemon grass from seed recently, and have planted a line of it along the fence at the back of the barrier garden. The rest of the barrier bed will be taken up with other useful herbs that we’d like to grow, but which are rather too large and/or rampant to put in beds closer to the house. These plants include:

lemon balm
tansy (too invasive to plant in the main garden, but must have it in the garden as it’s very useful for de-worming the goats)
willow herb

I’ve planted annuals, such as marigolds and calendulas, to fill in spaces in the bed for the time being. Eventually some of these will probably be replaced with valerian and astragalus (milk vetch), which I’m starting from seed at the moment. A neighbour has offered us some more comfrey, so we will probably end up trying that as a barrier plant also.

Barrier garden

As with our other garden beds, the area for this barrier garden was covered with black polythene for a couple of months to kill back the kikuyu. Before digging holes for the young transplants, I sprinkled the area liberally with lime and dolomite to loosen and sweeten the clay. Then I mulched with wood chips. I made a barrier of corrugated iron against the fence to keep out the pasture plants until the lemon grass and other barrier plants can establish themselves properly.

It will be interesting to see whether this barrier garden works. If it proves successful, we will probably make similar plantings around most of the edge of the house paddock. We anticipate keeping a further strip of weed mat or mulch between the barrier gardens and the vegetable plots.