Archive for September, 2007

Planting Seeds

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Planting seeds and raising seedlings are two of my favourite springtime activities. Little tomato and pepper seedlings are already raising their heads, along with heartsease, calendula, basil, parsley, tomatillo and numerous others.

These are the tomato varieties we are growing again for a second time this year:

Moneymaker — a medium-sized red tomato that cropped really well for us last year and proved pretty blight resistant. Delicious flavour!
Russian Red — another medium-sized red tomato. Last year it also proved tasty, a good cropper, and pretty blight resistant. It’s semi-determinate and fairly compact, which means less work delateralling.

We are also trying the following varieties for the first time this season:

Gardener’s Delight (also known as Sugar Lump) — a cherry tomato that is meant to bear prolific crops of sweet and delicious fruit.
Green Zebra — a green stripy medium-sized slicer. I grew this one in California for a couple of years, and found it delicious and hardy. The fruit also look beautiful. We’ll see how it fares here in our much more humid conditions.
Humboltti — I got this packet as a freebie from Koanga Gardens. The fruit are meant to be small and yellow with pointed ends, and great taste.

The Farmlet wizardress in action

There are so many wonderful-looking tomato varieties listed in the seed catalogues that it’s hard to choose which ones to try. I struggle to exercise a bit of restraint and to stay mindful of how much space we actually have in our garden! I hope we’ve made good choices for this season. Now we are busy clearing and preparing garden beds so that we’ll be ready when it comes time to transfer the little seedlings to the garden.

Peas and lettuces have already been planted out. The lettuces are doing well, and we have just enjoyed the first leaves for our dinner — in a salad with beets and corn salad (also from the garden). I have finished erecting protective tent-like canopies made of marix cloth over the rows of peas. Now we hope they will be able to recover from the damage done to them by the large family of brown quail who like to visit the garden.

Creatures on the Farmlet: Live Ferments, Quail, Possum, Rattus Fattus

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

The batch of sauerkraut made from the first of our red cabbages turned out well, and I’ve now got a second batch ripening in the kitchen. It is fun to make lacto-fermented condiments from our own vegetables. This ancient and ingenious method of food preservation actually increases the nutritional value of the vegetables, and the red cabbage sauerkraut comes out a fabulous purple-pink colour. These days, our kitchen sports a lineup of live ferments on the bench. As well as the fermented cabbage, we are making kefir and Caspian Sea yoghurt out of fresh milk from our darling Coco, and water kefir using lemons from the garden. A kombucha “mushroom” grows happily in the dark of a cupboard, producing a delicious drink for us. We enjoy having all these creatures living in our kitchen and sharing our food with us. I like to call them my pets.

Purple cabbage pet

Just outside the kitchen window are some more creatures with whom we are less happy to share our food. For the last few weeks, varmints have been raiding our lemon tree, and eating the skin off a whole lot of lemons. We suspect possums, and Kevin has been lurking around at night with the rifle hoping to catch them in the act. So far, no luck. These creatures are mighty stealthy. Kevin also set the possum trap under the tree. To our annoyance, the critters have taken little interest in the trap — apart from using it as a step ladder for reaching more lemons. Finally, a couple of nights ago, Kevin went out and saw the dead body of what he thought was a small possum in the trap. On closer inspection, he found he’d caught no possum, but a very plump and healthy rat: Rattus Fattus. We hoped this might be the end of our problems with the lemons, but the raiding continues (whether by rats, possums, or both) despite the presence of traps and continued forays with the rifle. Very frustrating! We had no such trouble last year.

Other creature trouble involves our newly planted crops of spring peas. We looked out the window one day to see that the marrowfat peas had been almost totally defoliated. I suspected snails, and was out in the garden in the rain that very night, trying to hunt down the culprits. Our search yielded surprisingly few slugs and snails, and we retired for the night feeling rather perplexed. We didn’t have to wait long to gain a better understanding of the situations. Looking out the window yesterday morning, we saw a whole family of fat little brown quail flocking through the garden beds, pecking and nibbling at the tender leaves of our greenfeast peas. We love watching these round little birds playing in the garden, but they are not welcome to trash our whole pea crops. After scheming for a while about inviting my parents’ cat out here for a vacation, or making quail casserole, we resolved to make row covers out of some salvaged marix cloth that we have stashed away in the garage. That way, we hope to continue sharing the garden with our little quail friends while protecting the young pea seedlings from their ravages. The peas look very sad and pathetic, and we hope they will recover from the attack!

AS WE GO TO PRESS: Kevin here. A little while ago, Becky called out and said that she heard a possum. I grabbed the .22 rifle and went outside. Locked and loaded, I scanned the trees with my flashlight. Maybe 20 metres from our kitchen window, there he was: Possum, destroyer of worlds, in a tall eucalyptus tree. He let out his call/bark for good measure.

“Tonight, you die,” I replied.

He won’t be getting any more of our lemons.

The Antics of Herman Beefsteak

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Rosie’s calf, otherwise known as Herman Beefsteak, is growing bigger and meatier all the time. He’s also getting more and more cheeky and unruly as time passes. Fortunately, his respect for electric fences is increasing as he grows in size and becomes more likely to hit the live wires as he dashes underneath. Still, at times we look outside and find that he has managed to become separated into a different paddock from his mother, who bellows at him in annoyance.

Cheeky beast

A couple of evenings ago, Kevin and I wandered down to the cow paddock to milk Coco. Kevin had separated Coco from her calf in the morning, and we were eagerly anticipating all the creamy milk that would be saved up for us. When we reached Coco’s paddock, there was Herman Beefsteak, licking Auntie Coco’s neck and looking very pleased with himself. We were soon to find out why. Once Kevin started trying to milk Coco, he found that her udder was almost completely empty. Little more than a few miserable squirts of milk could be coaxed into the bucket. That cheeky little devil Herman Beefsteak had managed to feed off Coco and had drunk all the milk.

Soooo cheeky!!!

Poor Rosie was very disgruntled and eager to be reunited with Herman. Her udder was full of milk, but Herman Beefsteak showed no interest in feeding off his mother. His belly was full. Henrietta Hamburger, on the other hand, was ravenously hungry after having been separated from Coco for the day, but she had to be satisfied with the little bit of milk left in Coco’s udder by Herman. Coco was getting fed up with people and calf messing with her empty udder. Kevin then suggested that we try to milk Rosie. Problem: Rosie has not yet been trained to go into the bale, and was very distracted by all the goings on with Coco and the calves. We tried to coax her into the bale. Alas, she seemed to suspect that we were luring her into some kind of vile trap and would have none of it. As we trudged back to the house with our almost-empty milk bucket, Kevin declared that as far as he was concerned the cows, calves and milk could all go to the devil. None of it was worth the bother. Indeed, it had been a very frustrating evening in the cow paddock (for all but Herman Beefsteak).

The next time we separated Coco for milking, Kevin took extra care to shore up the electric fence around the gate. We needed to be doubly sure that Herman would stay in his own paddock. Kevin’s efforts were rewarded with an abundant haul of milk from Coco. Things were back to normal, and we walked back to the house feeling blessed to have such lovely cows and delicious milk. . . not to mention two healthy calves fattening for the freezer.

Preparing for Our Little Darling

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Now that the cows have all had their calves, I seem to be the only pregnant creature left on the Farmlet. The baby is due in just over two months, so my belly is pretty big by now. Fortunately I’m still feeling comfortable, despite being a lot bigger and fatter than usual. When Kevin wanted to take my photo, I started thinking about the photos he took of Esmerelda before she calved, and wondered what kind of caption he would put on the photo: perhaps “woman the size of a mini-van in the morning light”?

Becky in the garden

As well as sorting out the garden for spring, we have been busy preparing for our new arrival. Several months ago, we found a good deal on a second-hand rocking chair in the local paper. The rocking chair was in perfect condition, except for the cushions, which were looking very shabby and dusty. I’ve finally finished washing and re-upholstering them. Nobody who knows anything about uphlostery would be fooled into thinking that a professional fixed up that chair, but we think the result looks like a very comfortable place to rock a little baby. Actually, the rocking chair has already become a popular spot for Kevin and me to relax.

Rocking chair, with baby wraps and wipes

I’ve also been busy sewing cuddle rugs, muslins, and re-usable cotton baby wipes, as well as a selection of baby slings and carriers. It has been good to work on these projects over the colder, rainier months, and it’s nice to have things almost in order now that spring is here and the due-date edges closer.

Early Spring in the Garden

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

It is beginning to feel like spring here, and there is a lot to do to prepare the garden for the new growing season.

Recent work in the garden:

* We have covered the area designated for the maize patch with black polythene, hoping to knock back the kikuyu grass before digging the new bed. We have also covered over another area for a new potato bed.

*The first potatoes have already taken off, and I’ve been outside weeding and mulching them. We hope to have new potatoes in time for Christmas.

*Jerusalem artichoke and yacon tubers have been planted in a well-dug bed, and Chinese yam is just beginning to sprout inside the living room window.

*We have been clearing out some of the crops that have over-wintered to make space for spring planting. Some of last year’s collards are now massive. We are giving them to the goats as we pull them up.

Becky with collard. Bonnie the dog likes to help.

*We have harvested the first of the “red drumhead” cabbage and globe artichokes. We enjoyed the artichokes last night, with a dipping sauce made of melted butter and juice from freshly-picked lemons. The cabbage has been transformed into two jars of stunningly purple sauerkraut. We are waiting eagerly for the sauerkraut to ripen, so that we can sample it!

Early bounty

*The chamomile I dried last summer for tea has kept us supplied right through the winter — and I drink a lot of chamomile tea! Now the chamomile is flowering again, and it is time to start harvesting it once more.

*I have planted out the first of the spring lettuces in the garden (green “tree lettuce” and “asian red”).

*Three kinds of peas have germinated, and are almost ready to transplant into the garden. This year we are growing “green feast” (a green shelling variety), “purple flowered snow pea,” and “marrowfat” peas to dry for winter soups. We have to hurry up and fix the trellises for all these peas to climb on.

*Carrots, beets, salsify, cilantro and summer brassicas are also sprouting.

*It still feels a bit cold outside for summer crops like tomatoes, peppers and beans, but I plan to start sowing seeds for summer crops in pots inside the living room window next week, so that they will be ready to go into the garden as soon as possible.

We are hoping to have the summer garden quite well established by mid-November, when our baby is due. We’ll see how we go!