Archive for November, 2012

More on dehydrated pumpkin

November 26, 2012

Even though I’ve bought a food dehydrator, my preferred method of drying food will always be the sun. Why use ancient sunlight*, when you can use the current version without the cost and associated problems.

Last week I bought a full butternut pumpkin and only managed to get half done in the dehydrator.

With 34 ºC and northerly winds predicted for Melbourne last Saturday, I thought  I’d try the rest outside on the deck, in the sun.

My drying racks are simple wooden frames, with flywire stretched across. The flywire is actually wire (as in metal), because I figured the cheaper plastic stuff would soften and stretch in the heat and all the contents would end up in a heap in the middle. What I have has worked well for many years, long before I bought the dehydrator, which is really only intended for winter use.

As usual, I chopped up the pumpkin in the Thermomix. Out on the deck, the sun was already coming up over the yardarm. Look at that golden glow:

The second tray goes over the top to keep insects out. However many trays you make, you’ll always need an extra one for this job:

I haven’t shown it here (because I can’t find it), but I’ve also made a reflector out of a thick piece of cardboard covered in aluminium foil, which goes under the tray to reflect sunlight back up onto the bottom of the food.

I expect it to take a few days to dry out there (I always bring the trays in at night), but if we get a cold snap, I can use the dehydrator to finish off.

*fossil fuels


While I was out on the deck I took a photo of the nearby garden showing the massed flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi) which have self-seeded everywhere:

They really are beautiful. Hard to propagate (they don’t like root disturbance) but leave them be and they’ll do it the way nature intended:

Not has-beans now

November 21, 2012

I wrote this post about a month ago, about the punnet of Bonaparte beans I’d bought at a Sunday market. I said that I’d always sowed beans direct and wasn’t happy about buying large seedlings in a shallow punnet, but wanted this particular variety and had never seen seeds of it for sale.

Here they are after I’d planted them out in a wicking box:

And here they are today, a month later:

They’ve grown better than the seeds I sowed direct!

I think I’d better take back everything I said about not planting large seeds into small punnets!

Maybe there’s hope for the world

November 19, 2012

Today I took the car for service and as I usually wait for it, I grabbed something to read as I shot out the door. Although there’s a waiting room with tea and coffee facilities, the only thing to occupy the mind is a TV tuned to a commercial station’s breakfast program (yuk!), a pile of car magazines (double yuk!) or a pile of out-of-date women’s magazines (oh, you’ve got to be kidding!).

What I grabbed was “Introduction to Permaculture“, by Bill Mollison & Reny Mia Slay, still, I think, one of the best books on the subject.


I made a cup of coffee and settled down. A young guy came in, made himself a coffee and plopped down beside me. He looked over at my book, the pages covered in line drawings and permaculture designs and said, “Uh, landscape gardening?”. I showed him the cover and said, “permaculture”.

“Oh, I’ve got that one too, isn’t it great?”.

What followed was a delightful conversation in which we each shared our permaculture and home food-growing efforts. Composting toilets, worm farms, fruit trees, the flavour and nutritional benefits of home-grown veggies, water tanks, grey water systems and the rest. He turned out to be a primary school teacher in a neighbouring suburb and was hoping to get a food-growing program going at the school.

The amazing thing was that he was peak oil aware. After a disastrous  and nasty confrontation with a neighbour over the subject, I’m reluctant to ever mention it to anyone again, so I broached the subject with apprehension, expecting the usual, ‘that’s-a-lot-of-crap/technology/electric cars/renewables will save us’ stuff, but he was up with all that and knew what the consequences would be.

It is really uplifting to find an aware young person who’s knowledgeable and accepting of the changes that will happen as the world runs out of oil and is preparing to cope with it. I hope he has lots of young, similarly-minded friends who are doing likewise.

Maybe I should stop trying to convince ignorant fuddy-duddy neighbours of the need to change and focus on the youth of the world.

Maybe things won’t be so bad after all.

Still more mini cuttings

November 16, 2012

First there was tomato:

Then capsicum and lettuce:

And now  basil:

I’m wondering what to try next.

Other stuff….

Sometimes it’s good to be a carrot…..

…..and sometimes not.

Kitchen window view:

Dehydrated pumpkin

November 7, 2012

I read this post at Not Something Else blog and thought, “now that’s interesting”. I have a dehydrator,  and hadn’t thought of drying pumpkin before.

At first I thought, “why bother?” Pumpkins store pretty well and if there’s been a good harvest it’s possible to have pumpkin to eat right through the winter.

Then I thought of those times when I’ve had a poor harvest (pretty often, unfortunately), and have been given a monster pumpkin by a neighbour, and once it’s cut into, there’s a fair chance it will go to god before I can eat it all — buckets of pumpkin soup and lavish plates of roast pumpkin nothwithstanding.

So I thought I’d have a go at drying some pumpkin.

Not Something Else roasted his pumpkin first, then mashed it, spread it on the dehydrator tray and in the end had a lot of trouble with the dried product sticking to the tray. I watched the video he linked to and wasn’t impressed with the greyish-looking product the woman in the video produced.

I didn’t want to go down that path and thought of the Thermomix (when am I not thinking of what I can do in it!)

I peeled and cubed a small amount for starters (a quarter of a small Butternut), and gave it 5 seconds at speed 5 in the Thermie. Nicely chopped. Put it in the dehydrator on a piece of baking paper over the top of my tray, because the basic frame of my trays is covered with a piece of perforated plastic. It took a few hours to dry at a temperature of about 40º C (I had a batch of yoghurt curing in there at the same time, so couldn’t increase the temp).

It dried pretty well and didn’t stick to the paper. Some of it had stuck together in lumps so I put it all back into the Thermomix and gave it a few seconds to free it all up and make it more friable.

The dried mix contained some coarse pieces and some fines. I sieved it through a couple of sieves and ended up with three particle sizes:

Next day, I finished off the rest of the Butternut and also did a piece of Jap that had been in the fridge for a while. Here’s the Jap just going into the dryer. It was a coarser chop than the butternut, even though it was chopped for the same speed and time. Lovely colour!:

The dried Jap pieces didn’t stick together as much as the Butternut; I think the coarser chop was the reason.  And I think the reason why I got a range of particle sizes with the Butternut was that it chopped much finer than the Jap initially and putting it back into the Thermomix to break up the dried pieces ground some of it to smaller particles. I didn’t need to sieve the Jap pieces because there were no visible fines.  Probably, it’s all something to do with the different textures of the pumpkin flesh.

Now I have some dried pumpkin. What next?

Well, I’m going to put a couple of tablespoonfuls into my next loaf of bread. Should give it an interesting colour. I’m thinking of a batch of biscuits using the very fine stuff. Savoury or sweet, I think the pumpkin will complement them. It can also be used in casseroles as a thickener — there are loads of possibilities. Of course, the Thermomix will reduce dried particles of any size to a powder, so it doesn’t matter what the initial chop is like, just that smaller pieces will dry more quickly.

How much did I grow?

November 3, 2012

Back in November last year I wrote this post about recording all the food that came into the house in one year. I wanted to see how self-sufficient I am. That year is now up and it’s time to look at the results.

I put all the weights as they came in on a spreadsheet and it’s been calculating totals and percentages along the way.


Food picked from the garden          139.104 kg

Fruit & vegetables purchased          176.011 kg

Groceries (non-green) purchased          417.314 kg

Total food purchased          593.325 kg

Total food in (purchased + grown)          732.429 kg

Food grown as % of total food in          19%

Food grown as % of total greengrocery items          44%

#I don’t buy greengroceries at the supermarket. I buy them at Sunday Markets or a local roadside store.
#Food picked from the garden doesn’t include leafy greens or small things I pick and nibble on the spot, like alpine strawberries or the occasional carrot.

So I grew almost half of my fruit and vegetables but this was only one-fifth of my total food. I suppose I’m doing a lot better than anyone else I know, but I’m still a long way from being totally self-sufficient in food.

As an added extra, I broke down the various foods into type and here are the totals to the nearest 0.1 kg.  (Sorry about the snake-like appearance of the figures. I had all this tabbed in MS Word so that the numbers appeared in a nice regular column, but on copy/pasting, I find that WordPress doesn’t support tabs. Dumb! Why do I pre-write posts in MS Word? Because b_ WordPress has lost too many posts on me!):

Tomatoes        29.6
Potatoes        22.9
Eggs            15.0
Oranges        12.3
Limes            7.0
Lemons            5.0
Zucchini            6.3
Carrots            6.3
Beans            3.9
Asparagus        3.9
Apricots            3.0
Mandarins        3.0
Pumpkin        2.7
Rhubarb        2.3
Oca            2.2
Yacon            2.2
Cucumber        1.8
Persimmon        1.7
Tamarillo        1.6
Apples            1.2
Celery            0.8
Plums            0.6
Peas            0.5
Beetroot        0.4
Capsicums        0.4
Guava            0.3
Leeks            0.2
Jerusalem artichokes    0.2
Broccoli            0.2
Mushrooms        0.2
Blueberries        0.1
Radish            0.1

Tomatoes and potatoes are way out in front, with eggs a reasonable third (thanks, Girls). Citrus aren’t too bad either, with oranges on top for the group, but then I do have 4 orange trees! Zucchini are easy, but I’m pleasantly surprised at carrots, because I’ve always struggled to grow them successfully.

It wasn’t a good year for fruit. I didn’t net the trees (let them get too big), so the possums/parrots got most of it. The single blueberry plant was in its first year (in a pot) so I’ll excuse that. Wasn’t a good year for pumpkins either, or cucumbers, although I still have bottles of pickled cucumbers in the fridge, but I shouldn’t have had to buy pumpkins over the winter, as I did.

I need to pick up my game with celery and beetroot; they’re not that hard to grow after all. Peas are a dead waste of time and space, although not so much in space, as they can be stacked above other plants, but so much of the harvest gets thrown away in the pods (I can’t eat edible-podded peas). I grew sprouting broccoli instead of heading broccoli and there wasn’t much of that. I’ll go back to heading broccoli, I think, for next season. I remember having some really good heads in past years.

I didn’t want for greens—there was plenty of silver beet, kale, lettuce, endive, chicory, bok choy and what have you, but I didn’t bother weighing just a few leaves each time.

The spreadsheet drew a week-by-week graph (which I can’t reproduce here—Wordpress would have a cardiac arrest) and as I expected, harvests dropped off considerably over winter. Fortunately I had bottled, dried and frozen quite a bit of the summer harvest excess.

So that’s it. I’ll still weigh the eggs (so I can see how the Girls are performing), but I won’t continue with the exercise. I’m happy I can go back to pulling up a carrot or an orange off the tree and eating them on the spot. Taking it all inside to weigh was a bit of a pain.

What the exercise did do was reinforce my belief that if we are to survive the coming collapse of industrial civilisation and have enough food to eat, then we have to get together as local communities and work at growing it together; not only growing it, but sharing the excess in true permaculture fashion. We need animals in the system for protein* and we need people willing and able to keep animals while sourcing their other food needs from those who specialise in vegetables & fruit. (I was pleased that keeping chooks for the first time enabled me to have, at least, a minor source of protein).

But how to get the average Joe to understand what’s coming and to begin to prepare for it, I don’t know. Privately, I think we’ve had it!

Oh, well, it was an interesting exercise……

*I’m not a vegetarian and never would be by choice. I believe humans evolved to eat meat and need meat protein and other meat nutrients in their diet. Besides, I like meat.