Apricot Day

I really should be writing a post about our inspiring visit to CERES and a Backyard Urban Food Forest over the weekend.

Instead – some of the action inspired by yesterday.

I pruned the oldest Moorpark Apricot. This tree was planted in 1998. In the past it has lost a massive branch, and several years ago we planted a replacement for it. It is still going strong and has a great shape overall. Some years we find it difficult to keep up with picking the fruit there is so much; summer before last we didn’t get a single apricot off it thanks to freakish weather at pollination time. This last summer we lost a lot to brown rot because of too much rain, and there not being enough air circulation around the fruit. Next year? Who knows.

So I have opened up the tree a bit for better air circulation, reduced height in some key areas where strong verticals were getting over excited. There was also an embarassing number of mummifed fruit still on some branches out of reach. Those branches were cut off, and rubbish put in the bin. The healthy branches are piled near the rabbit palace for processing by our willing workers. Apparently they do prefer pear trimmings though. Dutchy and Nutmeg carefully extracted the few pear trimmings from the pile and munched through those first.

Milly helping with Apricot pruning

Milly helping with Apricot pruning

Milly helped by clambering through the tree, walking on branches 1cm thick. Just after I took this photo I bent down to pick up the secateurs and she fell to the ground, via the back of my head. The crazy cat just got up and back into the tree like nothing had happened.

Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

To do this pruning, I had to pick some rhubarb so I didn’t trample it. It seems to love growing in that spot under the tree. About 4 kilos harvested. One kilo is macerating overnight with strawberries and sugar  for jam, another batch is cooling after being baked in the oven. Four bags of chopped rhubarb are in the freezer for thinking about later. Upside-down rhubarb cake anyone? Rhubarb on porridge?

For dessert tonight – simple stewed apricots out of a jar. Apricot Day from start to end.

Wallaby Ragout

A mid-week recipe based on what was in the fridge, freezer and pantry…

Saute until transluscent 1 finely chopped onion in a slurp of Penna Valley Olive Oil.

Add 600 grams Diced Wallaby from Bruny Island Game Meats (in the second half of this article) and sizzle till starting to brown.

Add in 4 chopped carrots, 2 sticks celery chopped fine, the remains of a preserved jar of crushed tomatoes, the dregs of a jar of home made salsa. Stir over a high heat until well combined. Congratulate yourself on emptying two jars from the fridge. Yes the jars have been breeding in there I am sure of it.

Pour in a glass of Moores Hill Cabernet Merlot (and one into a glass for yourself and anyone you really like)

Sprinkle in some dried rosemary and also about two tablespoons of a spice rub based on spanish paprika and pepper.

Toss in about 1 1/2 cups of cooked black beans that were loitering in the fridge. Say a thank you to Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals for introducing you to black beans.

Stir it all around and put on a lid. Turn to low heat to simmer.

Drink half your glass of wine.

Add 2 cups shredded cabbage. Stir. Replace lid.

Drink the remainder of your wine.

Serve 3 large bowls and enjoy.

Realise as you are all finishing your bowls someone should have taken a picture.

NB: Any ingredient can be substituted. Quantities are based on what you find you have. Otherwise it would not be a mid-week recipe. Except maybe the onion. Most of our dinner recipes start with an onion.

 

 

 

End of an Era

The old chook shed met a timely end on the weekend.
Considering how dodgy the construction felt after 13 years of service and many, many repairs, the chicken shed took a bit of effort to demolish. Most of the wood came from the Tip Shop, and the roofing iron came out of a skip around the corner as Martin and Angela were having their house re-roofed the same week. The plastic over the netting on the open area was recycled from a previous greenhouse. The large timbers horizontal on the ground were rotting but still sturdy enough.

Old Chicken Shed demolition

Demolition underway

Ruby cat peering in where the netting was removed

Ruby cat peering in where the netting was removed

Old Chicken Shed demolition

Can you see the smile on his face? Of course you use an axe for demolition work.

Old Chicken Shed demolition

and a crow bar

Reo

The point at which we curse the invention of reinforcing weldmesh for concreting. Who put that in there????

 

Autumn colours

it seems hard to see where the old shed fitted on the left. The apricot tree and black currant bushes were leaning over it, so they occupy the now empty air space.

 

Mid-Week Update

Being back at work has meant a shift in my garden time. At the end of yesterday I came home in the dusk, slid on my gumboots and dug some carrots to add to dinner. The need to reconnect with the mud soil was strong. The carrots were a nice addition to a feed of cannelini beans simmered with a pork hock until it all went sticky and delicious. Carrots and leeks added last night upped the vegetable content.

carrots, beetroot, spuds

carrots (orange and white), beetroot, spuds

Yesterday, the chickens were noisily settling down for the night and sorting out who was sleeping where in their new shed.

Tonight, the negotiation was less intense between the chickens. The turkeys (just large chooks really, but that is their nickname) were nesting in the hay under the nesting box. Ginger had managed to get on the lid of the nesting box, for which she has my admiration – only last weekend I clipped their wings to minimise their flying ability. I picked Ginger up and tucked her inside the box with all the other bantams. There’s plenty of space in the nesting box for all of them, but I suspect the turkeys haven’t figured out how to use the ramp up into the nesting area yet. The term ‘bird brain’ definitely applies to those three.

The babies are getting noisier and noisier – they must be missing their late afternoon tea I was feeding them as there is a racket when I come down the back stairs at the end of the day. Jet is growing well but still the smallest. She prefers to stand in the food bowl to eat.

The garlic planted a few weeks back is up and about 10cm high in C2. No sign of life in C4 yet but that was planted two weeks later.

Preserving – 6 bottles of stewed apples last night, 5 bottles chicken stock are just about done in the pressure canner as I write. The pressure canner seemed like a crazy but good idea (number #45 i think) and yet it has been lovely to open jars of mexican beans and mince, or chickpeas and pinto beans ready to use. The chicken stock won’t take up space in the freezer, and won’t need defrosting on the nights we want to make a quick risotto.

Beep beep – there’s the alarm. Off to tend to my bottles of preserved goodness.

Girls Moving House

The chickens are finally in their new shed. As the dark fell tonight we watched some of them figure out the ramp up to their nesting area. And others just got up on top of the lid. Yes, talking about you Goldie and Cinnamon. This is despite me clipping their wings to cut down on their flying this morning.

Girls in the new shed finallyGirls in the new shed finally #2Ready and waiting for the chickens

Ready for chickens

Milly testing out the hay - approved!Nesting/ Roosting boxCutting the legs to size

Today the doors went on, the nesting/roosting box went in, and a bale of hay and some scattered grain welcomed the chickens to their new home.

The new shed was a major project for our house – Robin, Zac and I spent a lot of Easter with Ross and Glen helping and advising tirelessly, Ross’s concrete mixer and Andrew’s mitre saw worked hard, Andrea and Bill donated timber and helped with finishing touches today, Anita ordered concrete fixings, the guys at Uptons cut timber to size and tied stuff onto the roofracks for me, and the tip shop had some bargain timber and the perfect base for the nesting box.

There is some more to do, but the girls are now in and we can tackle the finishing touches each weekend.

Pig, Pig, Glorious Pig

I think we may have enough bacon now. At least for a week or two. And a wee bit of ham on the side. And a couple of pots of pea & ham soup in the pipeline. And some smoked chorizo for flavourbursts.

Assorted To-Be-Smoked bits

Assorted To-Be-Smoked bits L-R Back Row: Thyme Bacon, Maple Bacon, Leg Ham, Hock. Hiding: Brined bacon (2 small squares) Middle: Fennel/Caraway Bacon, Mum's Herb Bacon, Shoulder Ham. Front Row: Hock, Mum's Gammon, Mum's Dry cure Bacon, Hock.

Fully loaded smoking set up

Fully loaded smoking set up 5 sorts of bacon, plain brined hocks, gammon, leg and shoulder ham, chorizo went on later.

 

Mid- Smoking

Mid- Smoking

Adding more Chips

Adding more Chips We rotated the meats around the bbq to make sure heat was more evenly distributed.

 

Finished Smoking #1

Finished Smoking #1 On Top: Mum's Herb Bacon, Under Clockwise from Left - Gammon, Mum's dry cure bacon, My brined bacon

Finished Smoking #2

Finished Smoking #2 Clockwise from top: Shoulder ham, Thyme Bacon, Hock, Maple Bacon (under), Brined Bacon.

Finished Smoking #3

Finished Smoking #3 Two hocks, chorizo sausages, leg ham.

 

 

Baby Chickens Update

One of the witches got put in with the babies to be their foster mother. So far it is going fairly well – The witch is not pecking the little ones, and they all scramble for the food together. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are friends yet though. Time will tell. Jet

The witch got chosen using a sophisticated selection process – who could I catch most easily. My efforts to get the babies eating out of my hand are being thwarted by the kittens – they love following me around in the garden and use the opportunity to roll around on the roof of the pen the babies are in. Not conducive to chick training. Maybe tomorrow I should try when the kittens are asleep.

The larger chickens are getting more interested. I have seen them hanging around the baby’s pen during the day and peering in.

 

Sowing Seeds and Planting Seedlings

Today’s activity in the garden:

  1. Sowed some pea and snow pea seeds into seed raising mix in the greenhouse.
  2. Planted out some brassica seedlings into C6 with scoops of compost to boost them along.
  3. Cleared out a recycling bin of plants so it can be repurposed into a layer of worm farm.

When I went into the greenhouse it had obviously been a while – some plants were dead, others on the brink. So I’ve gathered the corpses and put them in the worm farm. The plants needing some TLC are now in plain sight and watered with diluted worm juice. Rather surprisingly we have two eggplants ripening. I spotted one afew weeks ago but hadn’t given it much more thought.

 

 

Apple experiments

Magic apple tool

Magic apple tool

This will be the first year I turn my hand to preserving apples. I know you can buy apples for a lot of the year thanks to cold storage, but we are going to see how useful some jars of stewed apples are in mid-winter to quickly rustle up desserts. During the apple season we will easily eat 4 kilos a week between the three of us.

Never having done this before, my interest was piqued by Sally Wise’s apple and apricot charts. And there are more varieties both grown my garden and available at the farmer’s market, so I have some additions and annotations based on initial experiments.

I purchased a range of apples at the Farm Gate market to test out, and also picked more from the garden. Thus expanding our possibles to:

  1. Fuji (Cato)
  2. Gala (Cato)
  3. Pink Lady (Cato)
  4. Jonagold (Purchased, ours ripened weeks ago)
  5. Jazz (Purchased from the corner store)
  6. Mutsu (Purchased)
  7. Granny Smith (Purchased, ours not ready yet)
  8. Democrat (Purchased)
  9. Golden Delicious (Purchased)
L- R: Golden Delicious, Democrat, Granny Smith

L- R: Golden Delicious, Democrat, Granny Smith

So far we think:

Jazz are blah, we don’t like them. Granny Smith went to mush too quickly for my liking. Democrats I am now keen to get as an eating apple, but didn’t like them dried. They kept their shape well when cooked

Dried Apples Elimination Contestants

Dried Apples Elimination Contestants: Based on tried and tested Masterchef approaches, I went for a top three and bottom three. Clear winners - Mutsu and Jonagold. Mid field - Golden Delicious - Fuji (no pic). Blah - Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Democrat.

For drying – our Fujis are spectacular, Jonagolds and Mutsu are equal second, Golden Delicious are great too.

For stewing – Fujis, Jonagolds, Mutsu and Golden Delicous.

After preserving

After preserving: L- R: Mutsu, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Democrat, Granny Smith, Jonagold

Before Preserving

Before Preserving: L - R: Granny Smith, Democrat, Mutsu, Fuji, Golden Delicious

 

The Pink Ladys and Galas from the garden are wonderfully juicy. Mutsus have been disappearing into bags for lunches this week at a fast rate of knots.

 

We might experiment with storing some wrapped in paper under the house and see how they fare.

 

There are many more varieties to try out! But I didn’t order a Mutsu tree :-(   Maybe next year… I’m sure we have room for more.