Archive for ‘April, 2014’

4 Things To Do With Green Tomatoes

As Autumn starts to wind up, two things happen in our home.

1. We start to wear jumpers again, lots of them, and

2. All our baskets, kitchen bowls, pots and buckets end up in the garden as harvest vessels for fresh produce. Recently they’re been full of tomatoes, especially green ones as it’s time to make way for winter crops and green manures, so we ripped them out ruthlessly.

But what do you do with over 40kg of green tomatoes? Here are some options, some good, some great and some I’m not so sure about -but here they are anyway.

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1. Green Tomato Chutney

This option is quick, easy and tasty – a highly desirable combination. What recipe do I use? Well I used to have an old CWA (Country Women’s Association) cook book with some solid recipes which I loosely followed, but just halved the sugar they recommended. These days I don’t follow a recipe at all, so it’s different every time… Sorry. But I looked around for you and you can see some recipes here and here. We love having too much chutney on our shelves as we gift it to our friends and also use it to feed a lot of our students when running workshops.

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16 litres of tomatoes dedicated to chutney – around 18 big jars worth

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2. Hang the plants upside down to ripen

Again it’s quick, easy and tasty – you’ll find this theme in all food related things with me. I would do this to more plants if I had the space as you get to have fresh tomatoes well into Winter – such a treat for our cold temperate climate. To do this, choose some of the best plants and/or branches and hang them up inside your house or garden shed (as long as they are no rodents). The tomatoes will ripen slowly as the plant’s life literally drains into the fruit – kind of magical.

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A good couple of bunches hanging in our sun room upside down – slowing ripening

3. Fried Green Tomatoes

Apparently this is a southern American ‘thing’. The general idea is you slice your tomatoes, dip them in a thick batter and fry them. The ones we made weren’t so amazing as we didn’t make the batter thick enough and cut the tomatoes too thick – we didn’t follow a recipe, but should have. Anyway, there are heaps of recipes out there you can (and should) follow including this one, that one plus there are also around 20 recipes for green tomato related stuff here.

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A crowded stove cooking chutney on the left and fried toms on the right

4. Fermented Chow Chow

This is the one I’m most excited about and only just discovered – Basically it’s the same as making sauerkraut or kim chi, but it’s based on green tomatoes and cabbage. It doesn’t sound ‘right’, but it works – you can see the full recipe and process here.

We made around 6kg worth of this stuff with green tomatoes, kale from our garden (instead of cabbage) chilli, apple (our own touch) and carrot. It’s been sitting on our kitchen bench for the past two days and it’s smelling and tasting gooooood. Like I said, this is a pretty exciting break through in green tomato world.

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We didn’t have a bowl big enough to massage the chow chow so just tipped it out onto the bench, which I don’t really recommend as it gets a bit juicy and messy – but it was fun.

We also roasted a whole bunch of them as Google told us they’d be great – but they weren’t, they were too acidic to eat without making a strange face, so I added them to the chutney pot instead.

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The tomatoes which are not quite ripe go on our rather crowded and colourful kitchen bench (sorry for the blurry photo) where they’ll ripen nicely over a few days or so. I make sure I put them in shallow trays and small bowls so I can see them all and eat them when they need to be eaten. Otherwise there’s a tendency for them to rot when you put them in big bowls – less air flow.

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And after all that, there’s still more. It’s almost exhausting processing them in between all the other projects on the go – but jeeze, it’s not really something to whinge about, we are blessed.

Thanks to the garden gods and goddesses for an abundant tomato crop, until next year!

* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and love of all things fun and garden-esk.

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Forest Floor Gardening (modified hugelkulture)

It’s all about the soil. You’ll hear Suzi say this more than once as she shows you around her incredibly productive, stunningly beautiful and much loved food garden in South Hobart. Suzi is a self-taught, meticulous, ever-curious and bloody good food grower. Over the past couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to pop into her garden a few times to see how it’s evolving, which is significant.
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One view of Suzie’s garden, it’s impossible to capture the fullness of her garden with one shot.
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Vibrant healthy rainbow chard, yarrow and goats – she has 5 glorious miniature goats… and I love them.
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Each time I’ve visited this garden there’s always something changing – a new technique being tried on improving soil health, holes everywhere as clay’s being excavated and replaced with this or that. It’s constantly in flux and I’m coming to realise (and accept) that all working gardens are, because we’re always looking to improve and refine. Nothing is ever fixed or finished – and that’s completely ok, and somewhat perfect.
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Suzi’s garden has really heavy clay and receives significant water run off from the road above her property. This results in severe water logging in her garden where there is so much ground water that it literally pools in place and the plant’s roots can sometimes drown.
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Suzi showing how water pooling occurs in her heavy clay soils
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After trying numerous approaches to moderating this, Suzi has developed what she’s calling ‘forest floor gardening’ inspired heavily by hugelkulture. This includes converting all pathways between the garden beds into deep swales paths which involves removing the existing soil and replacing it with coarse woodchips, where possible, Suzi has made these up to half a metre deep. But she doesn’t use just any woodchips, she tries to source only ramial woodchips and ideally from deciduous trees.
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Ramial woodchips are young branches up to 7cm in diametre (Suzi prefers branches up to 5cm) which have higher levels of nutrients and are therefore are effective promoters of the growth of soil fungi and all round soil building. You can read a great article on regenerating soils with ramial chipped woods here.  She also makes a solid layer of these woodchips within the garden bed, she caps this off with a mix of garden soil and ramial woodchips which she plants directly into as shown below in my rough sketch.
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forest floor sketch
Sometimes Suzi will build tiny walls on the edge of her swale paths in summer to dam water and prevent overflow. Pushing the soil around like plasticine in strategic little ways achieves dramatic changes to water movement.
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A close up of a pathway in the process of being turned into a swale path.
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In Suzi’s own words – this is what forest floor gardening is all about…

“An intrinsic aspect of the system is the deeply woodchipped paths between the beds. The paths perform many functions: they sponge up run-off, harvest and store rainwater, provide in situ habitat for close-to-surface-dwelling composting worms, provide an abundant on-site source of worm compost for planting holes, enhances soil air flow and helps control weeds. Once set up, occasional top-up makes good use of a recycled resource.
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The best time to set these beds up is in the autumn to take advantage of rainfall and weathering and to be ready for planting in spring. That way the nitrogen draw-down will be minimal. However, if I am going to plant into a freshly treated area I use a light dusting of blood and bone (N) and make sure the ground is well-watered because the wood sucks up a lot.
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The woody matter not only conditions the soil with its long-life humus, but also offers a significant nutrient profile. I believe that heavy clays benefit from the mechanical action of the coarse chips literally propping open the soils to let in the air.
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The best performers in newly treated beds are curcurbits. Green leafy vegetables take some months to cope. The second year everything grows better and the root systems of all plants are vastly more extensive and complex. Can’t wait for the rotation to swing around to carrots!
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The method works perfectly for sandy soil too I imagine, just deleting the clay removal and water with clay slurry.
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Building beds too high in the air in Australia (eg  6′) is probably not a worthwhile option with our relatively mild winters and drought-prone summers (not to mention the desiccating winds Hobart sees). Tall beds would be too vulnerable. And the whole exercise is of course about balancing air and water in soil.”
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The high beveled edges of beds you can see above is something Suzi emphasises going into cold weather as it increases the warm sun hitting the soil. In Summer she lets them slump so they don’t dry out too quickly. 
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A close up of Suzi’s garden soil
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What’s happening with all the clay Suzi’s removed from her garden (by hand). She’s building a clay bank in the goat paddock which catches extra sun and provides the goats with a warm spot to hang out. Perfect.
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Suzi’s place backs onto the Hobart rivulet, she’s been able to use her goats to eat back the blackberries which once swamped the creek bed.
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I’ll be trying this method out in our own garden in the next few weeks and am genuinely and deeply excited about it. As, while we already do swale pathways in our garden – using ramial woodchips in the way Suzi is is all new to me. I’ve seen how it’s transformed Suzi’s soil and I can’t wait to see what it does to ours!
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Suzie with one of her bird nest inspired compost piles, she is the coolest person ever. You can keep in touch with Suzi and her gardening journey via her blog.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things garden-esk.

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Small Farm, Big Hearts

Small farms feed the majority of the world – this is an actual fact and an under-celebrated reality. We need to be kinder to all of of our farmers – but small farms especially, as we need them.

We recently paid a visit to our long-time friends at the Fork and Hoe Collective, a farm in Nichols Rivulet around 50 minutes south of Hobart. The Fork and Hoe Collective is Jonathon Cooper, Thea Webb, Scott Graham, Natasa Milenovic and their boys Sen and Jethro. They moved onto their farm just under 2 years ago and promptly got cows, chooks, ducks, bees, pigs, started a market garden, planted an orchard and built a tree house. They’re busy, really busy, so much so, that the only way we get to see them these days is if we come and work with them and cook them dinner.

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 The Fork and Hoe Farm includes sweeping valleys, green rolling hills, creek flats and forest. I know, it looks awful doesn’t it. 

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Family photo, L-R: Scotti, Jethro (the littlest one), Sen, Natasa, Thea and Jono on their hay harvest. Image: Fork and Hoe

The UN has declared 2014 the international year of the family farmer, they believe that “both in developing and developed countries, family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector.” They go on to outline that family and small-scale farming are inextricably linked to world food security.

Throughout Africa and the Asia Pacific region family, small-scale farming is incredibly common (between 60% – 85% of land is small-scale family farmed).  In Australia some people still think it’s strange to start a farm which is smaller than 100 acres, however it’s been shown again and again that small-scale farming is more resilient to climate change, healthier for the land, water and people involved in running the show. How is this so? Generally, small farms take a more holistic approach to farming, have more diverse cropping systems, integrate animals into their food cycle, operate on a local economy so money stays in the region and run on strong social ethics ensuring people are looked after.

983951_595535237136281_1138063022_nThe official logo for the Fork and Hoe mob is this donkey drawing a cart with two pairs in it – cause there are two pairs of adults running the show. And the donkey? Well, they really like them and may even get one… one day (fingers crossed). Local artist, Tonia Gretschmann from The Paper Shed whipped this beauty up and we all love it.

 

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Anton and Bridget getting shown around by Thea: The delightful new’ish market garden is pumping out the produce – all up the market garden covers around 3 acres.  2014-04-21 08.52.31

Steaming compost goodness – Thea, Bridget (and me) turning the compost pile – a great way to wake up!

Making compost is a constant event. Eventually they’ll systemise their composting process with tractors and windrows, but for the time being every pile helps build healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people.

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Some of the colourful and tasty produce coming out of the garden at the moment.

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 The propagation hot house is a happy place – full of new life.

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A small army of wwoofers, friends and kids helping to prep some fresh beds for garlic planting. We added some gypsum, chook poo pellets, rock dust and lime before planting. If you’re wondering what to add to your soils – get a soil test first to tailor the inputs to your site.

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James (a wwoofer) uses the roller to mark out the spaces for where we’ll plant garlic – this ensures that weeding is super easy as everything’s in neat rows and evenly spaced.

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Yours truly… It helps to have long legs when planting

The planters can then quickly come along behind the roller and pop in the garlics really quickly. We prepped and planted out eight 30m beds before lunch time  –  where we ate a lot.

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Other delights on the small farm are Doris and her 12 piglets, the cows, ducks and chooks of and the turkeys are hilarious.

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Being 5, it’s critically important Sen has his own hide out where he can sit and keep an eye on everyone and dictate his wisdom to the world – which he’s really good at.

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Freshly baked sourdough happens each morning to feed to masses.

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We had a sleep over and converted their pile of hay bales into a bale room within the barn for a feast. We crammed in around 20 wwoofers, kids and friends – it was pretty cosy and darn yummy.

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Sticking cloves in an orange to make mulled wine for our feast – a critical element to warming up folk on a crispy cool Tassie night.

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James (one of the wonderful wwoofer) is in the final stages of building this beaut rocket stove fire bath. We hope that they use it regularly (and the hammock behind it) to rest their hard-working bones and to admire the stars and their stunning market garden.

You can find the Fork and Hoe Collective selling their produce every Saturday at the Salamanca Markets and follow them on facebook to keep in the loop with their small farm and big hearts.

Want to read more about small-scale family farms?

  • Explore the UN’s report which highlights how small farms are key to a sustainable food system.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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How to Grow Garlic

Garlic is by far one of our favourite crops to grow. Once you do your soil preparation you can literally pop it in the ground and forget about it (with the exception of a few weeding sessions) for 6 months. You can then harvest, make garlic braids and decorate your home against vampires –  definitely one of the more perfect crops out there. Even though Winter is still 6 weeks away in Tasmania, we plant ours in the first half of April to make sure it gets some ‘warmth’ to kick-start it into life before the real Winter kicks in. 

Earlier this year, we went to Koonya’s (a little town in S.E Tassie) first ever garlic festival which was as amazing as it sounds. We had an absolute ball, ate ice-cream, saw some of the biggest garlics ever, made new ‘garlic friends’ and came away with $100 worth of the finest garlic you ever did see which we’ve just planted this week. The varieties we came home with have names like Chris’s split purple garlic from Koonya, Jenny’s Deloraine purple garlic and elephant garlic from Oatlands – this personal naming approach is so Tasmanian it’s not funny.

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 Some of the beauties on display for the garlic auctions – which we were enthusiastic bidders in.

Garlic likes full sunlight and well draining soils. We’ve got ‘so-so’ soils at our home, heavy clay on dolerite bedrock. We’ve had an excavator through our site, so some of our subsoil is a bit too close to the top soil regions for our liking. In some patches it’s  like gardening in lego blocks – clods of clay, so we add things like sand and certain mineral inputs (more on that below) to remediate it, slowly but surely. Always get a soil test before you add starting things to make sure your inputs are spot on.

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We added some sharp, washed sand (ideally we would have liked potting sand) that we had on hand, we could have easily put in 3 times as much as we had available to us at the time – but this is better than nothing. The sand’s job is to increase our heavy clay soil’s drainage, air pockets and therefore friability.

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Next up, we put a mix of copper sulphate and gypsum on which will improve our soil’s structure and ensure we grow nutritious food. The soil test we got informed us that we needed these two elements and also provided  particular quantities. Your soils may need something completely different, so be sure to get your own soils tested. 

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A thin layer (a few centimeters) of compost is the last thing we put on

Lastly, we added a layer of compost (a few centimetres) to provide some extra nourishment for the soil food web and ‘massaged’ the soil with the garden fork to integrate these inputs and aerate the soil. Importantly, we’re not turning the soil, we’re jiggling it with the garden fork and working/walking backwards so we don’t compact the ground with our body weight.

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And then? The we document everything we’ve done in our garden book so we don’t forget – because no matter how much you think you’ll remember – you’ll forget.  This little book holds all the garden records of each of our beds and therefore is like gold in our home!

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Planting time. It may sound obvious, but make sure you plant your garlic with their flat bum down (this is where the roots will spring forth from) and pointy hat facing the sky. Only plant your biggest, healthiest cloves – if you do have smaller ones take them back into the kitchen and eat them.

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The elephant garlic up close. Did you know that it’s technically not even a garlic and actually classified as a variation of a leek? I didn’t, the things you learn at the Koonya Garlic Festival!

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How deep should you plant them? at least their height in depth – I’ve also heard of some people planting them deeper (twice their height). The good news is that they’re pretty hardy, so you an afford to play around with these details to see what provides the best yield.

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Plant the bulbs as close as you can. Imagine a fully grown corm (corms are the complete ‘casing’ which house individual garlic cloves) and plant to allow room for the corms to fully develop and add a few millimetres on top of this – this way you can literally pack in hundreds or thousands of bulbs into a compact space.

One of the main threats to healthy garlic is getting wet feet which can lead to white root rot. This disease basically erodes your garlic corm and you’re left with nothing, or severely damaged goods. If you do get this (I’ve been there, don’t worry) it’s important to avoid growing anything in the allium family (onions, shallots, chives etc) for up to 7 years (eek) in the same location as there’s a strong chance it will come back.

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Image from here

To prevent this from occurring, only buy clean planting stock with no history of white root rot and plant them on little mounds to help excess water drain away from the roots. If you have really well draining soils you don’t need to do this – lucky duck.

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As this particular garden bed is fairly wide we’ve added a basic plank path down the centre to help us access everything easily and to avoid walking over the beds.

Want to get your sols tested?

We got our soils tested with Tasmanian based, Steve Solomon (author of Growing Vegetables South of Australia and The Intelligent Gardener) – Steve will test for nutrients ONLY, you can find him here. If you’d like to test for heavy metals and other contaminants (and you’re in Tasmania) go through either;

Good resources to investigate…

  • Growing Great Garlic: A good book which was recommended to us by Jenny from the Koonya garlic festival – FULL of good information for the beginner and experienced grower.
  • Another ace garlic blog from Northwest Edible Life.

* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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DIY Dandelion Coffee

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Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) is easily recognisable from it’s serrated bright green leaves, vibrant yellow flowers and “puffball” seed heads. In Australia it’s usually referred to as a weed, sprayed with poison and/or pulled out. As soon as you start looking, you’ll notice it’s pretty much everywhere.

However, did you know that you can use the flowers to make dandelion wine, the greens in salads and the roots – well the roots can be turned into a scrumptious tea/coffee substitute. It also boasts a decent list of medicinal qualities.

Dandelion takes no effort to grow and will thrive between pavement cracks, compacted gravel, roadsides and pathways. It is also obscenely nutritious, much more so than any of the more common vegetables we cultivate so carefully in our veggie garden.

Fostering our ‘weeds’ is actually one of the more clever things we can do in our gardens. When we first moved into our Hobart home we were stoked to see that the ‘weeds’ we were to inherit included the likes of yarrow, plantain, dock and dandelion – awesome.

This plant has a few nicknames including blow-ball referring to the seed heads, priest’s crown for the stem after the seeds have flown, and swine’s snout (my favourite) for the unopened flower. The word ‘dandelion’ is derived from the French word, dent de lion, meaning ‘teeth of the lion’ – a reference to the pointy teeth shaped leaves.

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Image from News Discovery

FYI, I took a a lot of photos when making our dandelion coffee of which 99% turned out truly badly – I seemed to have forgotten how to take a photo in focus. So I’ve drawn on some clever photo people to fill in the gaps (and referenced them all super clearly). All photos that aren’t referenced are mine… all mine.

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If you can, wait until it’s rained or give your garden a good soak before you harvest the dandelion. Otherwise it can be a bit tricky to get all the roots out as they have incredibly deep tap roots which tend to snap easily.

Once harvested and back in the kitchen, chop the leaves off (try eating them in a salad or green smoothie) and wash the roots, removing them of any soil – there’s no need to peel them.

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Image from 18th Cuisine

Chop up the roots roughly so they all cook in a similar amount of time, pop them in the oven at 180 degrees and cook for around 20 – 30 minutes. After 10 minutes, start checking them every 5 minutes and remove the smaller pieces as needed (which will cook super quickly) – once they’re dark brown and brittle they’re ready to come out.

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Image from Hunger and Thirst for Life

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When they’ve cooled down you can grind them – we just use our mortar and pestle to do this, however they could also go into a coffee grinder if you have one.

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2 minutes of work leaves you with a really good smell in your kitchen and a fine dandelion powder in your bowl. From here you can store it in a jar until you’re ready to use it – it keeps really well so there’s no rush to use it all quickly.

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When the moment’s right, find your favourite teapot, put 2 – 3 teaspoons of the fine ‘dande’ mix in, let it brew for 5 minutes and then find somewhere comfy to sit and savour the flavour -it’s seriously tasty stuff.

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Have it with or without milk and enjoy! Image from Elana’s Pantry.

You can also roast dandelion root like you would parsnip or potato and eat it like any other roast vegie, it tastes bitter… but in a yummy, ‘I know this is good for me’ way. If you’d like to find out more about edible weeds, our friends wrote a really ace book, Eat That Weed – which is a fine addition to any good book shelf.

A word of warning: If you are harvesting dandelion from public spaces (parks, roadsides, alley ways and vacant lots etc) please be mindful that there may be contaminants in the soil. This is especially likely in big cities and industrial areas. If you’re unsure of how the land is used or when poisons are sprayed (if at all), check with your local Council.

*Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things garden-esk.

**By the way, the botanical image (first up) is from here.

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The Chimera Apple

What’s up with this apple?

No, it hasn’t been photoshopped and isn’t the result of some freaky genetically modified experiment. It’s called a chimera apple (pronounced shimera) and it’s a real and rare thing that happens when grafted fruit trees try to revert back to be their original type because of the genetic instability. I know, it’s totally wild.

Apple-2Mel Staples with THE apple. Image from ABC Tasmania.

It’s so incredibly rare that the odds of it actually happening are literally more than a million to one. So we think it’s pretty amazing that the apple you can see above is from Greg and Mel’s garden in little ol’ Kingston around 15 minutes south of Hobart, where we live.

The term chimera describes;

a) any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals, or

b) anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative or implausible. Like this cat for example – the mind boggles.

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We were lucky enough to get invited to Mel and Greg’s home for the apple TASTING. After one month of constant radio and newspaper attention they had decided it was time to crack it open… And we got to be there, for which we are eternally grateful.

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Mel and Greg’s home overlooks Kingston beach where they have a small yet very beautiful and productive garden. They’re not sure which apple tree the chimera apple actually came from as their son harvested the apples and didn’t notice it at the time. They do know that it came from one of the two dwarf heritage apple trees they planted on their verge (just outside their fence line) for the community and themselves to enjoy. The exact variety of the apple trees is also unknown as they rescued them from a local parkland where they were being vandalised.

Apple treesThe chimera apple came from one of these two dwarf heritage apple trees.

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    Greg and Mel, enjoying their last moments with the apple before eating it.

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 Ken Morrish, 2009. Image from diditarena.blogspot.com.

The last known occurrence of a chimera apple was in 2009, UK where Ken Morrish discovered this beauty while he was harvesting from Golden Delicious tree. Apparently he had neighbours cuing up to his gate for weeks on end to take photos and make sure it was real.

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Crunch time: After admiring this rarity we finally got down to business.

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I’m pretty sure everyone was holding their breath at this point. Sorry for the fuzzy photos, at this stage I was way too excited to concentrate on taking a half decent photo.

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I was kind of hoping that there would be some colour differentiation inside the apple as well. I mean, I knew  it was super unlikely, but I really wanted it to happen.

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We also spent ages tasting each side of the apple with our eyes closed to see whether the sides tasted differently. Greg swears that he could detect a difference, but no matter how much I wanted to – I couldn’t.

hannah.1Big thanks to Mel and Greg for inviting us over for this once-in-a-life-time opportunity and letting us do daggy photo shoots with their apple – we had a lot of fun.

 *Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things garden-esk.

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A home for chooks

Building a new chook house?  That’s what we wanted to do.

Apart from being beautiful and joyful to behold, our new chook house is also fulfilling some important functions – shelter, a nesting place and a roost for our feathered friends. We need to be able to easily access the space to remove manure and eggs and clean it in the event of any disease problems.  What’s more, we are on a very steep block of land and need a chook house that can be moved to different locations.  So we present you with our super duper guide to our wacko dacko chook house.

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A word of encouragement: Just about anyone can build a chook house.  Our chosen materials are low cost and reused, the construction techniques simple and the tools required are minimal.  If you are having doubts follow the Urban Bush Carpenter’s motto: “Close enough is good enough”.

A word of warning:  I (Anton) have a pallet fetish- I love them, hoard them and use them to create functional and beautiful things from them. All our shelves in the house, kitchen bench, tables, garden seats and now, our flashy new chook house are all made from pretty much pure pallet.  Being a ‘waste’ product, we salvage them from around town from building sites and warehouses for free, as soon as you start looking, you’ll see them everywhere. We only harvest the heat treated pallets which are chemical free, you can recognise them by the “HT” stamp they have.

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“HT” stands for “Heat Treated”  avoid pallets marked “MB”

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A classic “house” shape design – half built with an undercoat of paint. Photo by Kirsten Bradley

The only tools required to build such a thing are a paintbrush, saw, hammer and drill. The two sidewalls where made from pallets (with their base removed).  A sturdy rigid base was made by screwing large section timber perpendicular.  A “roof truss” made of 3 x 2 timbers joined at right angles was attached to the corners of each pallet.  A roosting box was attached to the rear of the structure and all of the parts infilled with light weight pallet timber

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Inside isn’t quite as fancy as the outside, but here you can see a couple of the best features.  The cross pieces are some prunings from the garden, these are the roosts for the chooks to sleep on.  Below that is a mesh which allows the chook poo to fall straight through to the ground where it gets collected for our compost pile.  Without something like this a chook house can get pretty messy, stinky and potentially cause disease and/or sickness.

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As well as looking good, we painted the lightweight pine to protect it from the elements. The lid for the egg hatch is a bit of sheet metal cut to size which we scrounged from the local tip shop, it’s 100% rain proof and built to last. The corrugated iron roof sheeting is also from the tip shop and finished with a nice ridge cap.

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Here we can see the laying box in action.  It has this handy hook which conveniently holds itself up while you harvest eggs.

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“Rocky” walking the plank from the chookhouse to the yard.  On the left of the chook house you can see some hinges, this entire side of the house is one big door so we can easily get inside if needed.

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My favourite bit! This chook house also has legs – and buggy legs at that. Each one of the legs can be adjusted in the metal guides.  This way we can set it up in any location/slope around the block (although we don’t want to move it very often).

Fox or fort knox?: Since we are in Tasmania the dreaded fox problem doesn’t exist (yay) so we don’t need the extensive lock up facilities others do on mainland Australia.  If you do have fox (or other predator issues) we recommend you invest in creating a “straw yard” as seen below. A small section of the chook run that encloses the chook house that can be completely sealed from Mr and Mrs Fox.  This allows you to go away for a night or two without requiring a neighbour to lock and unlock your little ladies each day. Our friends from Very Edible Gardens taught us this trick while we were living in Melbourne.

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An older chook house we made with a fox proof straw yard (all from pallets of course), Melbourne rental 2012

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This is by far our best chook house yet, we love it’s functionality AND its capacity to stun and inspire people when they see it for the first time. Function should always come first when designing anything – but gee, it sure does help engage people when things are also beautiful!

*Your blogger is Anton Vikstrom, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and a total renaissance man.

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