Archive for August, 2014

Another self-sufficiency audit

August 27, 2014

It’s been 3 years since I did my last audit on how much food I’m growing. I wrote about how I was going to do it here and wrote up the results 12 months later.

Last year, with the woefully hot summer weather we had, wasn’t a good year for self-sufficiency with me. In fact I’ve had the impression that I haven’t done as well as I’d like for the last couple of years. So it’s time to do another audit.

A new month and a new season start next week, so I’ll get going on September 1st and go for 12 months again. I hope it’ll be a good year. I need some feel-good vibes to keep me going.

Hen’s teeth?

August 22, 2014

It was a nice day and warmth is forecast for next week, so I thought I’d sow some of the seeds I bought yesterday—the cape gooseberries and the goji berries. The cucamelons will be left for a bit longer—when it’s really warm.

Are goji berries THAT rare?

This what I found in the seed packet:


A tiny glass vial containing 8 seeds. Eight!

That works out at just under 57 cents each!

Now I’ve grown goji berries before—a few years ago. All I did was buy a packet of dried berries in the supermarket, soak a couple in water and extract the seeds. They germinated well but the plants didn’t survive in the garden. Hence I thought I’d have another go and buy ‘proper’ seeds this time, from a seed supplier.

I’ve been well and truly had.

They’d better germinate.


Quick update…

August 21, 2014

…on those Cucamelons in the previous post.

I put a query on the Ozgrow garden forum asking if anyone had grown them and a member replied that they were available in the Johnsons Seed range at Bunnings.

Groan! I had sent away for them and paid postage, when I could have got them cheaper.

So I bought a couple of packets there and added in a packet of goji berries and some cape gooseberry:


Looks like I’m going to have cucamelons coming out of my ears!

(Note to my penniless hippy friend at Serendipity Farm…..there’s a packet of cucamelon seeds in the post for you. Hope the possums like them)  😉



August 19, 2014

Cucamelon, aka Mouse Melon or Mexican Sour Gherkin.

Aren’t they cute?

Never heard of it? Neither had I. It was written up in the daily paper a couple of weeks ago (which I threw out by accident).

So I Googled (as you do).

Here’s a good site (the source of the above photo), that tells you all about it. I’m always looking for new foods to grow so I wanted some seeds. A quick look at the various seed suppliers indicated it’s not common. Diggers sell it, but I don’t like Diggers (actually it’s Clive Blazey I don’t like), but then I found it at 4Seasons Seeds. So I’ve ordered a couple of packets. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tamarillo update:

I had 2 goes at collecting seed from my tamarillos. I couldn’t find any mature seeds in the first lot I picked, so I let them mature for longer on the trees; in fact I waited until they were actually dropping off. I treated them in the same way as you do tomatoes (fermenting the pulp), and eventually got a very ordinary 12 seeds from 6 fruits. Not wonderful. So I’m afraid that I can’t send seeds to those who wanted some, because I’ve sown them all myself. Sorry.

I’ve had good seed set in other years, so I don’t know what was wrong this year. I never noticed any insects at the flowers, but would have thought if they produced fruits, then pollination must have occurred.


Handy Hint Corner

If you’re using slow-release, pelleted fertiliser on tiny seedlings, make sure the pellets aren’t sitting up close against the stem of the seedling. The influx of strong chemicals against the tender stem can burn it and the seedling will collapse. Put the pellets well away, towards the side of the pot.





Larger plants, with a layer of protective bark, should be OK.

Building resilience….

August 9, 2014

….in an era of limits to growth.

I didn’t get to see Nicole Foss and David Holmgren on their recent tour of Australia. For those not in the loop, Nicole Foss is a Canadian finance and energy analyst who has been touring the world in recent years trying to wake people up to the impending financial collapse and energy decline (aka peak oil). She is co-founder of the blog The Automatic Earth, although has been too busy to write much there now.

David Holmgren is, of course, the co-originator of permaculture.

Anyway….I just caught up with a radio broadcast of one of her talks in this country. I’ve downloaded and saved it to listen to, over and over.  The financial system is so complex that I need multiple listens to get it all straightened out in my head.

Find a quiet spot and have a listen. You’ll need the best part of an hour for it.

Water: tank vs tap

August 7, 2014

I’ve been drinking tank water (and cooking with it), since we put in our tank 14 years ago, although we do have town water on tap also. The tap water gets used for washing, because the tank isn’t plumbed to the house and there’s not enough of it to do everything.

The main reason for doing so is that fluoride is now added to our water supply. I did some research at the time, decided that it was a poison and that I didn’t want to put it into my body any more than was necessary (remembering though, the well-known saying that the ‘poison is the dose’).

I did some more research some time ago, because someone commented in a letter to the daily paper about a TV program on fluoridation, complaining that it was all up-market, feel-good stuff and the downsides weren’t mentioned. The writer said it accumulates in the body and that made me sit up and take notice. I hadn’t remembered that.

The jury still seems to be out on the benefits/problems with fluoride. Dentists are way in favour of it, my own included, but there are still many people who are against it. Not all countries fluoridate their water supplies. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on water fluoridation in Australia.

Getting back to that comment that ‘the poison is the dose’, makes me wonder:

  • what about people who drink a lot more water than others?
  • what about children and babies? They’d be getting a lot more fluoride relative to body weight than adults. Has that been considered?
  • what about elderly people, probably already coping with numerous co-morbidities. What’s the effect on them?
  • how rigorous is the quality control of the addition process?  (In Ipswich, Queensland, 12 months ago, a double dose of fluoride was accidently added to the city’s water supply).
  • if its only benefit is for dental health, what about people who no longer have their own teeth?

Another reason for walking away from town water supplies is that I just don’t agree that the government—any government—has the right to decide what I put into my body. That should be my choice and my choice alone. It’s one of the reasons why I want to produce as much of my own food as possible and why I’m such an avid reader of supermarket labels on the food I do have to buy.

I’m not going to put links here to pro/anti fluoride websites (and there are plenty); I think it’s better if you do your own research and make up your own minds. Let me know what you think in the comments box.

It concerns me, that for something as vital as water, we don’t have a choice.


August 2, 2014

So I made kimchi. It’s loosely based on the method of Sandor Katz in Wild Fermentation:


My only regret is that none of the ingredients were home grown. Kimchi Fail. Nonetheless it’s very tasty and counts as something preserved that doesn’t need fossil fuels to preserve it (aka refrigeration).

I started with half a wombok chinese cabbage, sliced into shreds. Added grated carrot, a sliced red capsicum (for colour), sliced onion, finely chopped garlic and ginger and some red cabbage that had nearly reached its use-by date. Plus half a leek that was keen not to go to the worm farm. You can add chilli, but I’m not a chilli person. I would have added some home-grown sliced kale, but the rabbits….

Put the whole lot into a large bowl and mix (hands are good for this):


Make up a brine with 4 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of salt and pour over the vegetables. Push them down till the brine covers them and weight down with a dinner plate or similar. Leave for a few hours. I started mine late in the afternoon so left it on the bench overnight:


Drain off the liquid, reserving some to top up if required and pack the vegetables into a jar. Weight down again with what ever suits (I use a smaller jar filled with water) and push it down hard till liquid comes to the surface. Make sure all the vegetables are submerged:

sunday 003

Cover with a cloth or plastic bag and leave on the bench for a week or so while the fermentation proceeds. You can see the tiny bubbles of CO2 forming and they will rise to the top as you push down on the weight. Once it’s fully fermented, it’s ready to eat.

You can store it in the fridge if you really want to, or just leave it in a cool place.

Note: Sandor Katz recommends non-chlorinated water and non-iodised salt. Chlorine and iodine inhibit the fermenting bacteria.


July update

August 1, 2014

It wasn’t the sort of month you’d write home about….cold, wet & windy, so I spent much of it hibernating inside by the wood fire. I did manage to get some inside jobs done, the most important being making and finishing the new chook coop for the new girls I hope to get in spring. I also did some work (necessarily outside) on the new secure run to house them and the coop. There’s an ongoing post about the process in the drafts folder, which I’ll post when the whole project is finished.

I wasn’t picking much in the way of food. There are just a few tamarillos left and I need to keep some of those for seed. In the greens department I picked silver beet and also warrigal greens. This has taken off again thanks to the rain:


I haven’t used it much in the past, but I must say I’m warming to it as a steamed green. Plus it makes an excellent groundcover and the rabbits don’t touch it, which earns it 10/10 in my book. I saw a recent TV program where an aboriginal chef steamed it lightly in butter and added a sprinkling of freshly ground nutmeg, something I’m going to try (for those who may not know, it’s native to Australia).

The yacon finally died back and I dug it up. There isn’t a photo, it was so bad. Just one decent-sized edible tuber and almost no vegetative tubers. Lack of food and summer watering was probably the reason. I’ve replanted the meagre lot of vegetative tubers in a spot where they’ll get shade and more summer water. I don’t want to lose it altogether, or I’ll have to buy more tubers. This is the harvest in better years:

The edible tubers are the elongated brown ones and the vegetative tubers are the knobbly pink ones with the white tips, which are the developing leaf buds.

My delivery of shiitake mushroom spore plugs finally arrived during the month, thanks to Bernie from Not Something Else blog who contacted the supplier on my behalf through their Facebook page (I don’t do FB). I had selected a couple of logs from recently-fallen large eucalypt branches and set about drilling the holes for the plugs (the instructions said, “using the drill bit supplied”. Oh, right…only it wasn’t).

Easier said than done. The drill labored and stopped. I thought it had died. I tried again with a fully-charged battery. No go. No wonder they call them hardwoods. Eucalypt and some softer timbers are nevertheless recommended for shiitake logs, but I don’t have access to poplar, elm, willow or birch, so this needs to be rethought. If I use a partially rotted, therefore softer log (plenty in the firewood pile), then I run the risk that it will already have been colonised with foreign fungi which will out-compete the shiitake. Maybe all the problems I’ve had are telling me that growing shiitake mushrooms is not my thing. I’ll do something with it, just don’t know what, yet. In the meantime, the spore plugs are languishing in the fridge.

The solar panels produced 110.4 kWh for the month, 16.4 kWh more than for June. I’m hoping it will keep going up from now on. I still managed to send 75.6 kWh to the grid and imported 91.3 kWh from the grid. All up cost for the month, including credits, service charge and GST was $36.45. That service charge is the real killer. I need to send a bit over 3 kWh per day to the grid just to cover it. My April bill, which was wrong (again!), still hasn’t arrived with the corrected amount of credits and I was due for another meter read on 28th July. What’s the betting that will be wrong, too? I’m heartily sick of dealing with energy retailers.

I’m heartily sick of rabbits, too. I have a row of 10 wicking boxes placed up on polystyrene fruit boxes to keep them away from the long-eared pests, who demolish anything at ground level. It has worked up to date, but I’ve noticed a couple of very large rabbits running around. They’ve obviously been able to jump right up onto the wicking boxes and have demolished about 2 dozen plants…mainly celery, bok choy and kale. I was absolutely ropeable and now have to put a wire fence around all the boxes. What really irritates me is that there’s a huge breeding burrow on a neighbour’s property and he won’t fill it in. I’ve managed to stop them breeding here by filling in every attempt at burrow-digging. It’s bloody annoying when others just don’t care.

The bok choy was looking so good, too. This is the best of what was left and will probably recover:


So will the celery:


And maybe the kale:


It continued to rain. Melbourne’s average rainfall for July is 49 mm and we got 124 mm. Still very soggy right down the back.

I was given a couple of chokos a few weeks ago and I put them on the kitchen widow sill to see if they would sprout. One did:


I’ve put it in a pot to grow on a bit before planting out. This is my second go at growing chokos. I killed the first one, many years ago, probably by putting it in an unsuitable spot and forgetting to water it. I think the rabbits might have been implicated, too (when are they not!). I’ll try harder with this one:


I’ve had this patch of Queensland arrowroot down the back for ages. I’ve never done anything with it, cooking-wise. It gets little or no water in summer, so it doesn’t thrive, but then it hasn’t died either:


I’ve dug up a few tubers to propagate and will spread it around a bit more and experiment with cooking the tubers.

Well, that was July. Here’s hoping August brings some more warmth. Meanwhile I’m off to make another batch of kimchi.