Archive for March, 2013

Thermomix hamburgers

March 27, 2013

I like to make my own hamburgers because then I know what’s in them. No sawdust or possum!

It can be done in a food processor, but naturally I use the Thermomix.

What you’ll need (although apart from the meat, it’s pretty much up to you):

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About 500 g beef mince (I buy King Island mince because it’s pasture-fed)
Some greenery (I’ve used parsley and nettle here—did you know nettles have 8 times more iron than beef?)
An egg
Large onion or a couple of small ones
Some garlic (quantity up to you)
Some herbs (I’ve used zaatar this time—a sort of stronger version of oregano. I’m told it’s used in Lebanese cooking)
Tomato puree or tomato relish
Anything else you fancy (that’s dried pumpkin in the photo)
Salt, pepper, whatever (I used dried flakes of Mountain Pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata), because I’m growing it.

Put the greenery, etc, onions and garlic into the Thermomix and chop a couple of seconds. Speed 6-7 will do:

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Add the egg, the mince and some tomato puree/relish and give it all a gentle stir. If it looks a bit on the wet side add some LSA* mix to dry it off. I added it anyway, for extra goodness.

Set the dial to closed lid position and knead the mixture for 3-4 minutes on interval speed. Check the consistency and add more LSA or puree as needed.

Tip it all out onto the bench or your Thermomat and divide into roughly 12 portions:


Now get hold of a large tray that will take a dozen hamburgers and sprinkle some seeds or similar stuff over it. I used sesame seeds, oat bran and some dukkah (also made in the Thermomix):

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Now here’s the nifty bit. Use egg rings to form the burgers. Put a dollop of mince in each ring and flatten with a spatula. When you’ve done the lot (and removed the rings) sprinkle more of the mixture over their tops:

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The tray goes into the freezer and when they’re frozen, pack them away in a container. It’s much easier to do this when they’re frozen.

*LSA = linseed, sunflower seed & almond mix. You can buy it already ground, but I make my own in the Thermomix (linseed 50 g; sunflower seed 33 g; almonds 17 g and chop to desired texture).


March 25, 2013

They eat together.

Sleep together.

Dig holes together.

Sand bathe together.

And rest from their labours together.

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Bubblewrapping the windows

March 24, 2013

I wrote this post three years ago, so you’ll need to read it to understand what I’m going to write now. Go and have a look and I’ll wait here.

Right. Well, the bubblewrap was starting to disintegrate, particularly at the bottom of the windows which is the area that gets the most sun. The eaves protect the top of the windows. After three years I think that’s pretty good going.

I was in two minds about whether to replace it, since it meant sending a lot of plastic to landfill and that’s something I try to avoid. Luckily I managed to save some half-decent stuff which I can use for packaging. I researched other means of protecting windows, but most of the focus was on keeping the sun out rather than keeping the heat in. One is a summer thing; one is a winter thing. I’m interested in the winter thing.

This time I haven’t done all the windows I did last time; just three of the four bedrooms and the bathroom. The fourth bedroom is a messy workshop cum junk room which I can close off from the rest of the house on winter evenings and the living area has heavy(ish) drapes.

Here’s one window two-thirds done to show the difference:

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I bought the bubblewrap from Officeworks again and I couldn’t believe that a 25 metre roll STILL costs $16! Something has to have changed—maybe this is inferior plastic. We’ll see how long this lot lasts.

Further note: I was lucky that the roll of bubble wrap is 37.5 cm wide and my windows are exactly three times that, so all I had to do was cut three lengths for each window and put it up. The bathroom window is the only off-size one and that meant cutting a length vertically into a less wide strip, but it’s no problem; it cuts easily with scissors.

Further further note: Regarding sending plastic to landfill. I’m pretty confident than somewhere in the dim mists of the future, a species of bacteria will evolve that can eat plastic. All the atoms in it are Earth atoms in a novel form; no part of it has come from outer space. And come to think of it, even it it had, those atoms would still be ones common to the entire universe and therefore probably common to Earth. In other words, Life is such that, if there’s a resource going free somewhere, eventually something will evolve to utilise it. [But that’s not to say I—or you—should be shoving as much plastic as I/we please into landfill. After all, plastic is made from crude oil and I’d rather we kept that stuff (which is diminishing) for future energy needs, while we work out how we are going to live without it. (Rant over)].

End of season summary

March 21, 2013

It’s the equinox and autumn is here, thank God! Shorter days and longer nights. Less heat and more coolth. I am thankful, even though it means the spring/summer growing season with its wonderful gluts of tomatoes, beans, cukes and the rest, is over.

Time for a roundup summary of what worked, what went wrong and what might be needed in future.

Major concern is weather. I haven’t been overly worried about climate change, thinking I’d be pushing up daisies well before things got hairy, but it seems to be progressing faster than anyone thought. We’ve just had a very dry summer with only 120 mm of rain and a dry spring before that. Average for Melbourne over the three summer months is 150 mm. Add in periods of extended heat with no cool breaks and all the plants were stressed way beyond their comfort zone. Of course, it may be just another el Nino year and the wetter la Nina years will be back. But climate change may well put its own cycles atop these two and we really don’t know how that will play out. We’re playing russian roulette with a system we don’t fully understand and I don’t think Homo sapiens is going to come out on top, if at all.

I had trouble keeping water up to the food forest, particularly the fruit trees. As a result fruit was small and I let the parrots have most of it. The individual swales I dug behind each fruit tree were a godsend. I just filled them with water once a week—from the tank at first and then from the mains when the tank got low—and that helped the trees to just hang on. Swales are great, but no good without rain to fill them. Because that part of the garden is on a slope and the soil sets like concrete in summer, it’s no good putting on a sprinkler—the water just runs off rather than in. Even though I’ve mulched and mulched, the soil structure hasn’t improved for more than a few inches in depth. I long to see it deep and friable, full of life and able to absorb more water. I suspect the shallow root systems it forces on the plants are a major part of the problem.

Annual veggies in wicking boxes were fine, although they had to be watered every second day in 30-plus temperatures. Deeper wicking boxes would have helped. Those not in wicking boxes had to be watered every day. Temperatures in the high 30’s (celsius) really rip the water out of plants and the leaves curl and brown.

Redcurrant with burnt leaf edges in the food forest:

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Tomatoes bore well and I picked over 30 kg, but by late February most had yellowing, shrivelled leaves, even those in wicking boxes and tubs. I think it was a tomato thing (probably late blight), because other plants sharing the same tubs or box were perfectly healthy, lettuce and basil, for example.

Plants in the greywater line were fine, except redcurrant here too, which browned at the leaf margins as it did in the food forest. This probably indicates that it needs more shade. Tamarillo and feijoa right next to the redcurrants were fine. That’s an amazing result for tamarillo with its dinner plate-sized leaves. They’re very leathery, maybe that helped.

Tamarillo in the greywater line:

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Plans for next summer:

Wicking boxes:
*Will be fine, just need plenty of nutrients, aka chook manure compost applied regularly, but will be better with shade on really scorching days.
*Probably need more of them and close to the house (permaculture zone 1).

Annual veggies in wire rings in the food forest:
*Being built-up beds means they dry out more quickly, so maybe it’s pointless to grow in these areas in summer anyway, if I can’t keep the water up to them.
*Certainly more organic matter is needed in them, so will add as much as I can get.
*Might be more sensible to keep them for winter crops only.
*In any case shade is a virtue, so the plan is to erect polypipe structures over them to hold shadecloth in summer.

Fruit trees:
*Keep them pruned small so they can be easily netted against parrots and possums.
*Deepen individual swales behind each tree.
*Dig swales where there still aren’t any (new plantings).

Hugelkultur bed:
*Surprisingly, it went very well. The underlying bed of sticks is nowhere near broken down, yet pumpkins grew well. Zucchinis weren’t so good, but that was more due to lack of flowering or female flowers aborting before they even opened. Maybe lack of nutrients was a problem there (?potassium).
*Plan is to build more hugelkultur beds and to keep building up the first one with compost and chook manure. They’re a much more sensible way to use up excess branches, sticks and leaves, rather than burning them.

Pumpkins in the hugelkultur bed:

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The pumpkin harvest. The Butternuts are embarrassingly small; the Red Kuri are small to average and the Blue Ballet I know nothing about. It was my first time growing them:

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This Butternut that came up by itself in a wicking tub is going to be better:

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Remnant bush:
*Occupies about two-thirds of the property and there’s more on surrounding properties. Fire is a constant worry in summer. Last fire in the area was 16 years ago (we weren’t living here then), so we’re well overdue for another.
*Major decision in the management of this area is to remove all grass, native and non-native. Some of this area was cleared by a previous owner, the sand taken out and sold and replaced with weedy fill. I had planned to remove all the non-native grasses and replace with native and had done quite a bit of that, but even the native grass dies off/back in such dry weather and since I only have a hand mower, it’s more than I can cope with, considering there are more important things to do than mow grass. I’m certainly not going to buy a noisy, fossil-fueled mower or pay someone with one to do it, so, over winter, the grass is going to go (yes, glyphosate, unfortunately; I can’t hand-weed it all). I’ll keep a small area of representative species somewhere, of a size that I can handle, just to maintain the diversity of species and as a seed bank. The vegetation community here is Heathy Woodland anyway, not Grassy Woodland, so its understorey should only contain minimal grasses.
*Bracken will continue to be removed and mulched on a weekly basis. It makes great mulch and I need plenty.
*I’ll continue to remove fine dead fuels and keep the bush as clean and green as I can. The cooling effect of the large eucalypts in summer is something it would be pretty stupid to eliminate. In any case there’s a protective covenant on that part of the property, which bans any clearing, in perpetuity.  But nothing is forever and climate change is a whole new ball game. Things change and we must change with them if we want to survive.
*Also, rather than have an area of continuous shrubbery, I’ll keep some areas open, with just a minimal ground layer of wildflowers and small herbaceous species and intersperse that with clumps of shrubs for habitat. It won’t eliminate fire, but might minimise its effect. While I intended this to be a conservation property, in a warming, drying, fossil fuel depleting world, conservation will eventually become dead in the water as people attempt to just survive. Anything that competes with humans for food will be killed (including, in the later stages of collapse, other humans), and anything that will carry wildfire (and can’t be eaten), will be chopped down. It’s too late for anything now, except to try and survive what’s coming. Major cultural change isn’t going to happen. (Some see that, most don’t).

The bush:

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Notwithstanding all that, I’ll keep plugging on, enjoying the bush and my food forest and the healthy, tasty food it gives me in return for all the work. Shopping till I drop and unhealthy supermarket food just aren’t options for me and even without climate change and energy depletion, still wouldn’t be.

Postscript: Because it’s the equinox, I’m supposed to be out planting my garlic and potato onions today, but instead I’m having an indoors day. It rained last night (only 8 mm, but not to be sneezed at), and there’s a vicious nor-easterly blowing which is unpleasant to work in (everything I put down blows away), AND too many inside jobs have been building up. I’m having a much-needed tidy-up, making yoghurt and mueslii and re-bubblewrapping the windows (before you say, whaaat?… I’ll be explaining that soon).

Happiness is a bag of cow poo

March 19, 2013

Absolute bliss is four bags of cow poo!

My late husband’s daughter and her husband run beef cattle in South Gippsland. They don’t come up to Melbourne very much, but when they do come, they bear wonderful gifts:

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I unpacked one of the bags this morning. Huge, dried, dinner plate-sized cow pats:

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I’ll put them in one of the compost bins and let the rain soften them till I can make them more friable. Already, grass seedlings are coming up in them, so I’ll keep turning it all over letting the seedlings die in the sun until it’s safe to use.

Autumn jobs

March 14, 2013

While it’s not autumn yet (my seasons follow the solstices and equinoxes), it’s time for some particular jobs.

Taking out tomatoes

They’ve all pretty much had it and I’m beginning to think I’ll go bonkers if I see another tomato! I picked almost 30 kilos in all. There are whole tomatoes in the freezer. There are tomatoes in the fridge, in pasta sauce, green tomato pickle and tomato relish. There are tomatoes (cherry types) out on the deck in the sun, drying. I’m all tomato-ed out. These are my dried tomatoes. Last year I managed to fill both jars. Not as many this year:

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After taking out the plants, each wicking box gets a top-up with chook poo compost and mulch:

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Wicking tubs likewise:

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Planting new seedlings

New seedlings are ready to go in. These are broccoli and kale:

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And in a wicking tub, more kale and senposai, a green I haven’t grown before:

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Collecting seed

Tomato seed pulp fermenting:

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Dill seed, bean pods and a head of lettuce seed:

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Drying herbs for winter teas

This is Lemon Verbena. It makes a lovely morning cuppa. Since it dies back over winter, I need enough dried to get me through to spring:

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Well, the Girls do that, not me. Cheeky and Lady had an early moult and have finished re-feathering, but not re-laying. Molly decided to be late for some reason (so like a woman, some would say), but she’s well into it now. Her bald spots fascinate the others who can’t resist pecking at them (especially her bare bum…yuk!), but she’s quick to retaliate with a clout around their ears:

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Planting garlic, potato onions and shallots

This is one of the major autumn jobs, but I don’t do it till the equinox, on the 21st. I’m hoping this oppressive heat will be over by then. 10 days in a row above 30 C is just too much!

Chook news

March 12, 2013

Cheeky stopped laying in the middle of December and went into moult.

Lady stopped at the beginning of January and went into her moult, looking rather bedraggled:

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Molly kept laying valiantly, producing an egg every second day until a couple of weeks ago, so I expect she’ll moult now, too.

So it’ll be back to the neighbouring free-range egg farm for a few months.

Eventually I’ll get more chooks. While three is fine for me at the moment (with a dozen eggs a week, I have enough for myself and can share with a friend), it’s obvious the Girls will get old and laying will drop off over time.

Terry Golson, at my favourite chicken blog HenCam, has two barns for her chickens. One houses the ‘old girls’, those that have all but stopped laying and are just kept till they’re ready to go to that Great Chookyard in the Sky and the other houses the younger, still actively laying hens.

That’s what I’ll do. I’ll build another yard and coop for the ‘new girls’. I won’t risk mixing them, because my three would probably not exactly welcome any others (they’d either freak out or attack) and in any case the present yard and coop isn’t big enough for more than three.

Barring accidents or sickness, I expect my Girls to lay for another 3-4 years yet, so there’s plenty of time for leisurely work on the new set-up.

If you’re a frog, water = sex

March 2, 2013

It didn’t take the frogs long to discover that that the first pool was full of water again and to come out of hiding for a bit of what you fancy.

And here’s the result. Those white spots floating on the surface are rafts of frog spawn:

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The only frog species calling is the Marsh Frog. There are two Marsh Frogs that could be in this area—the Spotted Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) and the Striped Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes peroni). I’ve seen one, but couldn’t tell whether it had short stripes or long spots.

To identify frogs, the male’s call is usually a dead giveaway, but in this case I can’t tell. My frog book* says the Spotted has a single short sharp call—’click’ or ‘plock’—similar to the sound  made when two stones are struck together. The Striped has a similar call—a ‘tock’ or ‘poc’. I’ve also seen it described as the sound made when two sticks are struck together. Stones? Sticks? To me it sounds like ‘bok’, so until further notice, I just call it the Bok Frog.

I’m sitting up in bed writing this on the laptop and they are bokking away like crazy down the back.

I love the look of the first pool since I cleared out all the water plants that had spread and taken over:

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I’ve started work on the second pool but the recent rain has part-filled it and I’ve only cleared around the dry edges. You can see the remains of the water plants on the right of the photo. They had completely taken over so that there was no water visible, even when full:

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The pool system consists of three pools. They’re in a line, one after the other and each one is slightly lower than the previous one. The first one is only ankle-deep, the second knee-deep and the third about thigh/waist deep. They’re at the rear of the property and apart from rainfall, are fed from the tank overflow. Most of the recent rain went into the tank, but now it’s full, all the roof water will be going into the pools, so I expect them to fill rapidly when it next rains. Water fills the first, then overflows into the second which overflows into the third. Except in very wet years, there’s virtually no overflow from the third pool as the soil is sandy clay and doesn’t hold water permanently. Most years they dry out in summer—a combination of soaking-in and evaporation.

The length of the whole system is about 50 metres and each pool is about 3-4 metres wide. I’m going to try and keep the water plants from invading in the future. The trick is to only grow plants around the edges that that (a) don’t have spreading rhizomes and (b) won’t grow in water.

* Frogwatch Field Guide to Victorian Frogs (Hero, Littlejohn & Marantelli).