Friday, 19 October 2012

Trev's Olives

We had a community olive pick this year. A member of the community had 60 olive trees in full production but was not intending picking or processing them. Would the community like to come have a go?

Well, um, yes! Ours are still very young and the ducks decided they like them too and ate every last leaf, the poor things are struggling back and the ducks are looking ridiculously healthy (and ripe for the pot).

Over 30 of us descended one Saturday morning and Trev and I alone left with about 20 kilos of olives. We gave away half of these along with a recipe on how to preserve them. The rest we split with a sharp knife while drinking wine and nattering with friends who were, likewise, splitting theirs.

The process involves lots of soaking in brine for 24 hours before replacing the brine with a new batch and repeating this process for 8 days. This draws out the bitterness and preserves them. Trev has bottles and bottles of them and is eating them at much the same pace.


Soapmaking only happens a couple of times a year. I think to make it only once but I tend to hand it out freely. This is lemon scented soap using a local organic essential oil.

I like to colour them and this is a plant based annatto seed colourant. We usually use it to colour cheese, but it works well for soap too.

I have lots of books on soap making but in the end I tend to just drop into Australian Soapmaker. They have a great calculator that you feed in the oils you propose to use and it calculates the amount of caustic soda, water (though I replace the water with goats milk) and essential oils.

While it could potentially be a dangerous sport, donning safety glasses, long sleeves and rubber gloves and having a clean, clear work space, no children and everything I need at hand it's easy. Kind of like making a super large batch of fudge.

The first time I made soap I just stirred it by hand (for an hour and a half) till I achieved what they call trace -  when you dribble it over the surface of the soap mix sits proud. The second time I used an egg beater (electric) and acheived it in 20 mins. The trick is not to get it to saponify too quickly, but also not to fall asleep over it either.

I use a shallow plastic tray about 50 centimetres by 25 for each batch. This was last weeks, this weeks is organic vanilla and cinnamon oil. I'll plonk in real cinnamon to give it a brownish colour. But first I'll take out a litre or so  of white soap first, put the vanilla oil in that and  mix it back in to make it  multicoloured like this batch.

Once cut up it will take a few months to cure.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The kind of bed that if you make it you don't have to lie in it

Every year we struggle at spring time to get control of the garden beds. We've planted green manure crops and while they're great there is a wonderful profusion of weeds along with it. This year, aware that my shoulders and neck can no longer handle being on the end of hoe or grubber, we decided to try do things a bit differently.

We have an enormous high quality black tarp we'd bought to cover up strawbales. We chopped it into three 10 metre long  4 metre wide strips. Whippersnipped the green manure crops and laid the tarps over top.

One of the big problems is the occasional 120km an hour wind we get around here, so lots of bricks are required to keep them on the ground and not 50 miles away. But the effort's been well worth it.

We lifted this tarp a week or so ago and the ground had eaten all the green manure crop without even having to dig it in.  A great sign of microbial activity. No weeds, still nice and  moist, lush and loamy and ready for potatoes.

Trev's dug four shallow ditches, lined them with a compost material he's made from our chicken poop, placed a thin layer of soil over that and then the potatoes.  This is one of the first years we've had to buy potatoes (a 10kg bag), ours liked the warmer climate in the house and made great efforts to grow legs and come join us in the lounge room. 

Definately have to find somewhere cooler this year.

The Rhubarb Cure

Every year, despite valiant efforts, our peaches and nectarines  get leaf curl and as such have been severely 'curl-tailed'.  The apricots planted at the same time are now massive and highly productive, while the peaches lag behind.

This year Trevor took on the job confident that he would beat the fungal affliction. But, sadly, failed. (though there was some degree of schadenfreude on my behalf.)

Each year after several all over doses of either copper hydroxide, lime sulphur or copper sulphate mixes, which, while not strictly organic, is still better than what shop bought fruit is sprayed in - and especially  if it results in managing to grow our own fruit. 

Despite our efforts we've failed to eliminate leaf curl. I go around with a bucket and pinch off the leaves and buds affected and burn them. It helps control it, but obviously doesn't do the tree a lot of good, especially as it can mean having to strip the whole thing back.

My title is a tad bit premature as it only appears that I have found a cure. I could still be proved wrong on this. But the organic rhubarb leaf spray seems to have done the trick. I've always known they're strongly anti-fungal and even though all the books say once you've got  leaf curl give up till next year, I decided to give it a go. First I stripped off  affected leaf material and burnt it.

The Recipe

500grams of rhubarb leaves boiled in 2 litres of water for 20 minutes and strained through muslin.

Add a teaspoon of soap (that's been dissolved in a cup of water), and then add another 2 litres of water and spray it over the tree, leaves, bark, the lot making sure to get complete coverage.

It's a good idea to check the weather forecast first and chose a time where you're going to have at least 24 hours without rain.

It's over a week later and I've had to hunt hard to find a leaf showing leaf curl to photograph.

I'm planning on continuing this regime for the next three or four weeks (once a week). Anyone  have a sure-fire cure for leaf curl?

 An added bonus ... rhubarb and vanilla custard :)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Mice with Wings

Trev's had enough of the sparrows.  Apart from nesting in the eaves and making a mess (which we tolerate for native species) they outcompete small native bird species, eat the chook food, peck holes in our vegie greens, eat raspberries, pull out seeds and even small seedlings and we have hundreds and hundreds of them. And in the past years they've been the vector for strains of salmonella that has passed from birds to other species.

They're non-native having been introduced in 1862 (though one would assume that their descendants should be able to claim nationality by now?)
Trev looked up traps and found this plan. The guy who build it claims to have wiped out his sparrow population with no by catch.  We're not interested in wiping them out, only reducing their numbers in order to allow native birds to co-habitate. The trap doesn't kill them, only catches.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Almond Blossom

I took this photo a few weeks back, they've now small almond fruits which look much like peaches. Not surprising as they are close relatives. This is the first time the trees have flowered, (they're four years old) I can't wait to harvest the first nuts. Perhaps I shouldn't count my almonds before they've hatched.

I've been reading up about medieval times of late (research for a new book called Jiva) and I discovered that 75% of the population were directly involved in food production, the same proportion of people in modern day Cuba since they've had their Special Period (enforced peak oil due to the breakdown in relationship between Russia and due to US sanctions).

I suspect, no I predict, it will be a proportion that will be adopted across the world  as oil availability decreases. I also suspect that food as a commodity will once again be valued and our farmers revered. They're the mob that keep us from starvation.

Interesting... but not what I set out to say. In medieval times a common drink was almond milk.