Spring has Sprung

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Even though it is barely the middle of August there is definitely spring (some would say summer) in the air.  Our winter was very mild here and we could be in for a long hot summer so it makes sense to get a head start on the summer growing season before it gets too hot.

I harvested the last 4 purple cabbages and dug over the bed in readiness to plant some beans.

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We have never had quite enough soil to fill these beds to the level I would like so I took the opportunity to add some more material to the bed before I planted the beans.

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This is one of the various mulch/compost piles that are dotted around our property.  GMan uses this one exclusively for grass clippings.  I know that the purists say that you cannot compost just one type of material such as lawn clippings but I can assure you that the underneath of this heap had broken down beautifully into rich compost and was teeming with worms.

We removed the decomposed material from the bottom of the heap and returned the rest to the heap for another day.

Here is the bed topped up and ready to plant.

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Meanwhile, I weeded the carrots which are continuing to grow nicely.  I have harvested some baby ones as I thinned them out.

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The newer blueberry bushes which are now a couple of years old, are finally getting established and showing some real signs of progress.  Some, like this one are covered with flowers and fruit.

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A closer view.

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Finally, a reminder that the garden is not only about growing food.  It is about enjoying our surroundings.  This photo is of the natural sculptural form of the the deciduous white cedar which dominates the back garden.

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What season is it in your garden?  Is it changing?  Have you modified your planting habits or even what you can grow to accommodate changes?

 

Flowers in the Garden

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Most of my limited time and energy in the garden are directed to towards growing food.  However, that does not mean that I don’t love flowers or enjoy having them in the garden.

I don’t have a flower garden in the traditional sense where there were beds of seasonal flower displays such as snapdragons, sweet peas and my favourite, Iceland poppies.

We do have a number of native flowering shrubs which create a screening hedge on the verge but there are also some other gems tucked into various spots in the garden.

This is one of my newest hibiscus complete with a single flower.

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The lavender is thriving in this warm, dry corner of the front garden and has rewarded us with some flowers over the past couple of weeks.

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The marigolds brighten up the tubs on the front verandah.

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The vegetable garden is not devoid of flowers, either.  The rocket has gone to flower and is providing a pretty display.

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All of these flowers provide habitat for the bees and I am always looking to incorporate them wherever I can.

Seasonal Produce

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There are many good reasons to eat what is in season where possible.  Food miles are reduced if you eat local seasonal produce.  It is more likely to have been picked ripe and have better flavour.  An abundance of a particular crop will invariably see the best prices for the consumer.

Most of all though, if you only eat items that are in season you will appreciate the wait for those crops which only bear at a particular time of the year.  Like the first sweet bite of a new season mandarin.  In our climate we pick fruit from our mandarin tree during June and July which are our winter months.

Once the fruit are ripening I have to cover the tree to protect the fruit from the local scrub turkeys.

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You can also see one of the orange trees next to the netted mandarin.

This afternoon I removed the netting and picked the last of the fruit.

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We have picked a lot of mandarins over the past month or so but these are the last 30 of them.

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We will savour these fruit as we know it will be another 10 months before the next crop is ripe.  In the meantime, there will be plenty more seasonal delights as the months roll by.  Imagine if I could eat these all the year round.  They would no longer be anticipated longingly and the delight of that first burst of delicious flavour would soon become ho-hum.

We are fortunate because we live in a temperate climate so many crops can successfully be grown during most months of the year.  However, seasonality still exists for the citrus trees, raspberries, mangoes, passionfruit and avocadoes.

What is in season at your place?

This was our glorious winter day here today.  No, it has not been photoshopped – the sky really is that blue.

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10 Days

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Yes, it is 10 days since my last blog post.  There is no good reason – I just took a break.

I think the biggest news (in Australia) in the past couple of weeks has been the announcement by Woolworths that they will stop using single-use plastic bags.  This was closely followed by Coles announcing that they would do the same.  Here is a news report.  I have not commented on this announcement so now is probably as good a time as any.

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“What a great initiative” was my my immediate thought, especially in the midst of Plastic Free July.  Perhaps the movement was really starting to gain some traction with mainstream consumers?

My optimism was short-lived as I began to hear and read various responses.  In fact, despair would have been a more accurate description of my mood over the following days.

Here is a round-up of the sort of comments that came to my notice:

  • It is only so they (supermarkets) can sell more heavy-duty plastic carrier bags.
  • Green bags are made from a plastic-based fabric – you have to use them 347 times to make the impact less than the single-use plastic bags.
  • What will I use to collect dog poo when out walking?
  • Research shows that the sale of bin liner bags has increased in those states that have completely banned single-use plastic bags.
  • What will I use to line my bins?

Seriously??

It is evident that many, many people have long way to go before they understand the impact of the millions of plastic bags which are produced every year and used only once.  They also do not appear to be prepared to adjust their lifestyle even slightly.

So, how do you counter these and a million other ill-informed comments?

The first and simplest thing is to consider investing in some strong fabric bags that do not contain plastics.  I can assure you that these will last for many, many years and can be repaired as necessary.

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Work towards generating less waste so that you have a reduced need for bin liners.  Purchasing larger packs, from bulk bins, unwrapped, using your own produce bags will all assist in reducing the amount of packaging waste.

Take more care with grocery shopping and buy only what you will actually use.  Remember, first world countries such as Australia, the USA and UK discard around 25% of all food produced.  Make sure you are not part of this dreadful statistic.

Consider composting food scraps to reduce the amount which you currently send to landfill.  Even if you do not have access to a backyard there are numerous systems available which can be used by people living in apartments.  Additionally, there are opportunities to connect with people who may be happy to take your scraps for their compost system or search for a community garden in your area.  Online connections are invaluable in the 21st century for developing relationships which are mutually beneficial.  One such example is Spare Harvest which is building a sharing community for excess produce, plants and garden resources.

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Small bins that do not contain wet food scraps can be lined with newspaper.  So, the naysayers point out that not everyone gets the newspaper anymore!

The real point of this post is to encourage everyone to take a positive, solution-based approach to change.  We need to be looking for innovative ways to reduce our environmental footprint rather than railing against any change which may happen to impact our wasteful lifestyle.

I live in a semi-rural area and our local town has a Woolworths and IGA supermarkets as well as a selection of independent retailers.  Almost all of these businesses routinely provide plastic bags for purchases.  I believe that the impending phasing out of plastic bags by the retail giants can taken up by all retailers and set a precedent by making Maleny plastic bag free.

I intend to promote this idea and encourage others to become involved.  My first strategy will be to contact the IGA supermarket and ask them to match the Woolworths ban on plastic bags.  I am also looking into the Boomerang Bags project which would be a perfect way to introduce people to the options available to fill the void left by the removal of plastic bags.

 

Garden Expo

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Tonight I am taking a break from the Plastic Free July posts and want to share our day that we spent at the Garden Expo in Nambour.  This 3 day event is held each year in July and attracts over 35,000 visitors.

Although we do not go every year this was our third visit and we spent several hours looking at exhibits, buying plants and listening to some of the many presentations.

Here is a selection of the goodies we bought.  They include a finger lime, 4 hibiscus, 3 kangaroo paw, 6 lomandra and 4 punnets of flower seedlings as well as a new pair of secateurs and a bottle of organic herbicide.

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There was a reason for everything we bought.  I have always wanted a finger lime (native citrus) and was excited to see them available at the show.  The hibiscus will join the existing ones which are planted in front of the verandah.  We already have a yellow kangaroo pay so am hoping to have success with the new ones – dark red, orange-red and pink.  The lomandra  will be planted on the steep escarpment at the back of our block.  We will be using the organic herbicide to reduce some of the nasty weeds beforehand and hope that the lomandra will help to suppress the regrowth of weeds while the previously planted trees become more established.  The secateurs will replace 2 pairs that have well and truly seen better days.

Aside from our purchases, we saw several exhibits offering items which are of interest to us including solar exterior lighting  and gabion walls.  Thanks to the internet we will look into these in more detail at our leisure.

There were many booths and exhibits promoting a huge range of products and services relating to gardening, home and leisure.  One which was a standout for me was promoting an online platform called Spare Harvest.  This has been set up right here on the Sunshine Coast by Helen Andrew, however, it is designed to be able to be accessed by people all over the world.  I am reminded of the phrase, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”.  This great new example of the power of the sharing economy is in its early stages but with your participation and promotion could grow to become a global phenonomen.  If you are interested in buying, selling, sharing or swapping garden produce, plants or resources please take a look and get involved.

We were excited to attend presentations by Jerry Coleby-Williams and Sophie Thompson from ‘Gardening Australia’.  Jerry’s topic was ‘Sustainable gardening in context’ and he made some very interesting points.  The talk included many examples from his personal experience and having had the opportunity to visit his garden some years ago we were able to visualise exactly what her was talking about.  The first talk we saw was Sophie Thompson’s presentation on ‘Gardening for health and wellbeing’.  Sophie is a passionate speaker and knowledgeable about her subject.  Many of the statistics she quoted from well-regarded studies bore out what many gardeners have known for years.  Sophie’s other talk was titled ‘Saving the world with gardening’ and while the title may have been slightly tongue-in-cheek, she clearly showed how this can be done but we have to start with ‘saving’ ourselves, our families, our neighbourhoods and communities.  The point was that we really can make a difference.

I have come home inspired to do more – gardening, growing and sharing.

 

Saving Scraps

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I have read many times about people saving their vegetables scraps/peelings and using them to make vegetable stock.  I take a slightly different approach and dehydrate them to make stock powder.  The end result is the same but I find it easier to make and it takes up minimal storage space.

This is my dehydrator.

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I had some broccoli stalks, kale stalks as well as some carrot and onion ends stored in the freezer so I spread them on the tray of the dehydrator and let it work its magic which took about 24 hours.  You need to make sure that the vegetables are thoroughly dried.

This was the result.

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I place the dried pieces in the small spice grinder attachment for my food processor and blitz them until they are a fine powder.

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I generally store the jar in the freezer as it does not contain any preservatives.  This partially filled small Vegemite jar is the yield from my tray of vegetable scraps.

While I have chickens and a compost heap, it is nice to actually be able to use these scraps and not have to buy packaged stock powder.

A Lasting Legacy

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When we consider what constitutes a legacy, recipes handed down through the generations may feature.  However, it is not often that the recipe for a salad eaten in a restaurant would be remembered in these terms.

The salad we ate at Antique Taco in Chicago last year was no ordinary salad.  Fortunately, there is a reasonably detailed description on the menu.

I have made my version of this salad several times and it is an absolute favourite.

The kale we have growing has reached a suitable size so it was an obvious choice for dinner last night.

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ANTIQUE TACO SALAD

Finely chopped kale (remove and discard the thick central stem)
Finely chopped onion
Diced capsicum (bell pepper)
Spiced peanuts
Dried cranberries

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Combine the ingredients and then make the dressing.

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DRESSING

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon lime juice

Mix thoroughly and season with a little salt and pepper.

Drizzle dressing over the salad and toss to thoroughly coat the kale.

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This was our dinner – soft corn tortillas filled with refried beans, spicy pan-fried capsicum and onion strips and grated cheese.  Served with kale salad, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes.

I am trying to incorporate something we have grown into each of our meals and last night it was cherry tomatoes and kale.