Archive for ‘October, 2018’

Charcoal & Cheese

As the seasons turn, we are changing our cheesemaking.  Over winter our outside “cheese room” (rodent proof metal cage with a towel over the top) worked quite well.  But as the weather warms, the hard cheese wants a cooler life and have migrated to the fridge. We’re now finding that our home is the perfect temperature for making soft cheese, including a few types with a funky white fur coat.

We’ve been turning a basic curd or a long acid set Chevre cheese into these fluffy little pillows of joy  (they call these Crottin in French , another name for little turd).  And to up the anty, they are coated in our own charcoal from this years fruit tree prunings… lets see what we did.

The Curd

We make cheese from our goat’s milk and are making this particular cheese like our feta (see here for details).  We are also adding some white cheese culture Penicillium candidum as the milk ripens.  After the curd has set, ie reached the “clean break” stage, we ladle the curd into little moulds.  The remainder of the curd we turn into feta or whatever cheese we are making.  The P. candidum will only thrive in the correct moisture, temperature and Ph, so it wont effect other cheese styles

The curds are turned a few time as they drain.  This takes around 24 hours and 4 flips/turns.  The more they are turned, the less likely they are to stick in the mould.

Each little cheese is covered in 1 teaspoon of salt and air dried for another 24 hours

The cheeses are covered in a thin layer of charcoal (often referred to as ash, but really its charcoal).  The charcoal is sifted over the cheese.  Its purpose, once upon a time was to stop flies, but nowadays it adds a funky stripe in the finished cheese, a pinch of crunch and some smokiness to the flavour

We then cover the cheeses in a glass bowl and leave in a shady part of the house for around 3 days.  Over this time you’ll see the white mould (P.candidum) colonising the cheese.

The Charcoal

Here’s how we prepared some nice, even and tasty “food grade” charcoal.  The first step was collecting some wood.  We used our fruit tree prunings because (a) they are fruit trees (b) they were handy and in a clean pile of relatively same sized year old growth.  The wood was chopped with secateurs’ into a “camp oven” (that’s what they call them around here anyway).  It’s a cast iron pot with a close fitting lid, used for cooking dinner or bread over an open fire

We used some varied sizes, but in the future I will try to stick to branches of a consistent dimension, around 7-10mm diameter works well

Then I put the whole pot in the fire place before going to bed.  As you can see the coals were well burnt down.

Overnight the wood undergoes a process called “slow pyrolysis”.  That is the wood is heated in a “low oxygen” environment and all the water and volatile organic compounds are removed in the process.  The end charcoal is close to pure carbon.  This process is the same as making biochar, and this simple method could make those winter fireside evenings a little bit more productive if I made 10L of biochar an evening

As you can see the charcoal still has the wood characteristics, shape and even growth rings and “carbon buds”

To make the cheese ash we smashed it in the mortar and pestle.

And sifted out the chunky bits and then stored in a dry jar for later use.

The cheese

Here’s one crottin in the photo to the right about 2 weeks old (with our friend Thea’s home made salami).

These little nuggets get eaten pretty quick.  Fun fact:  The standard curds develop a runny center like a brie cheese.  Those made with a Chevre (acid long set curd) stay smooth and creamy.  Enjoy this cheesy magic!

 

 

 

2 Comments

An Urban Permaculture Home

A beautiful photo story of an urban home Jane Hilliard from Designful and I (Hannah) designed together and that’s just been finished!

But first a little “before” photo. The site was 97% grass with an old double car garage (which was replaced with the small house), a few raised garden beds growing rosemary and weeds, one gloriously old and special apricot tree and a couple of dead’ish fruit trees.

The clients were a grandmother, her daughter and her two teenage kids all lived together in the main house and wanted to build a small house for grandma to move into so they can all grow old *together*. They wanted no grass, a low maintenance edible and beautiful garden. You can see the design we completed for them and read their vision statement below.

.

Vision statement: “Our urban garden is productive, low maintenance and beautiful. It is where we forage for food, enjoy the view and each other’s company.”

This is what guided us throughout the design process to create this…

The central bed beneath the existing apricot tree has a baby food forest planted in it – this a multilayered, perennial plant system. This includes layers of white sage shrubs, globe artichokes, comfrey, a border of sweet alice flowers and a groundcover of prostrate rosemary. I’m looking forward to seeing it in 12 months time when it’ll be a flurry of thriving green layers!

The raised veggie beds on the left are for annual vegetables and the fence directly behind them has cable wire which the young passionfruit vines will grow up and along – soaking up the hot sun hitting the fence. On the far right are some existing rose bushes with a floral understory of mixed daisies – yes, even permaculture values flowers of all types for beauty and the bees (they need to eat too).

The bed with the steeping stones is also based off a food forest model with ground covers of mixed edible herbs, sweet alice flowers, mixed currants, native Hardenbergia vine growing up the funky vertical structure and one blueberry shrub (out of shot). The Hardenbergia will eventually create some “soft” privacy between the two homes, creating different garden spaces/rooms.

A baby native Hardenbergia

This bed leads around the west side of the house to the communal compost station shared between the two houses.

Where you’ll find this worm farm made from a recycled bath and hardwood timber.

The northern patio area (seen below) welcomes sunlight into the house and creates a warm, protected microclimate to grow grape vines up the fence line and eventually beneath the laserlite roofing. This will provide summer shade (and food) while still allowing winter sun into the space once the grape’s drop their leaves in late autumn/early winter.

Baby grapes getting ready to grow up that whole fence!

The paths are intentionally generous to allow for easy movement between the two houses and visiting grandkids to run and ride their bikes round and round and round.

The new gate cut into the side of the existing fence to access the new small house is just so special and inviting…

You walk straight into this…

The site that welcomes the residents home every day.

Me with Danny Lees and Sam (from Earth and Wood), being our best smiley selves – eating cake with one of the delightful clients to celebrate completion.

  • Special thanks to Jordan Davis for the photos.
  • If you’re looking for a skilled and friendly landscaper trained in permaculture, talk to Danny from Earth and Wood: 0468 667 633 (website coming soon).
  • For more information on the building side of things, contact Designful.
  • If you’d like to work with us to design your house and landscape, drop us a line at hello@goodlifpermaculture.com.au
9 Comments

Tagasaste (tree lucerne): Friend or Foe?

Tagasaste or tree lucerne (Cytisus proliferus), is a small evergreen tree that grows 3-6m high (depending on soil and rain) and is a popular plant for people looking to regenerate poor soils and feed livestock.  It’s indigenous to the dry volcanic slopes of the Canary Islands and was introduced to Australia some time around 1879 when seeds where sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England to the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Image from Pastures Australia

It has a varied reputation across Australia. While some farmers and land holders love it and swear by it for its incredible ability to grow in the shittiest of shittiest soils and provide nutritious fodder for their livestock – others dedicate their lives to removing what can become an invasive species if left unmanaged. So if you’re looking to start a lively conversation with folks who only want natives in Australia, this plant will deliver just that.

Permaculture has some baggage around spreading weeds. I’ve heard people say things like “permaculture is nothing but a strategy to spread weeds” and “permaculture gardeners are messy, they’re just propagating invasive species and they’re so lazy they let them get out of control.”

I’m sure sometimes this has been true. But I bet $5 (I’m not loaded) that when it comes to spreading invasive plants, I reckon ornamental gardeners have more to answer to than permaculture gardeners. I write this as I look out across a hillside of “native” bush which has thick understory of cotoneaster. A local who’s lived here since the 1960s told me that after the devastating 1967 fires that literally burnt most of Hobart, cotoneaster was one of the few plants that thrived in a burnt landscape, so ornamental gardeners planted it. Fast forward to now and it has firmly integrated itself into our whole peri-urban bushland – it’s become naturalised. I should know, as every day I harvest large branches of it for our goats. That and hawthorn – the other ornamental weed that’s making itself at home in local bushlands.

But this is not a blog about who’s a worse gardener or land holder. It’s a little dive into our relationship with plants and how we respond to the inevitable traveling of plants from one continent to another and the naturalisation that occurs after plants exist for decades, thriving in particular climates and soils.

I sit on the fence with this one. We live in urban Hobart where plants such as ornamental weeds including cotoneaster, willow, ivy, privet, and mirror bush (to name a few) are fostered in private gardens. As small-town-Hobart is also tightly hugged by bush, there are also a range of “environmental weeds” such as gorse, tagasaste and boneseed that *pop up everywhere*. I do believe that to remove all these weeds is impossible now. Their seeds are in the soil waiting for the right conditions to grow. Most, if not all – have naturalised, meaning they’re here to stay and now it’s up to us in how we respond to them.

Before we go any further, let me be very clear that I do not advocate actively introducing ornamental or environmental weeds into areas that don’t have them. For example properties neighbouring national parks, wild grasslands, pristine coastlines or vibrant water ways should be protected and maintained for the precious, unique ecosystems that they are. For these places, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE)  promote planting native “tagasaste alternatives” to get a similar function, specifically Prickly box (Bursaria spinosa) and hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) in dry areas and local Tasmanian native acacias for high rainfall areas.

But for urban and peri-urban areas where weeds are naturalised, wouldn’t it be interesting to look at how we can co-exist and evolve side and side? Again, I’m dead keen on maintaining native biodiversity *everywhere*. I’m just not keen on spending the rest of my life poisoning weedy plants in the name of native is best and everything else must die. 

So what do we do in our own garden? Tagasaste has popped up everywhere. We pulled out most the baby trees as we don’t need 1000 of them. However, we saved around 10 and interplanted them between our fruit and nut trees to act as nurse trees for the next 5-10 years or so. Nurse tree functions vary, in this case the tagasaste is fixing nitrogen into the soil (improving its health) and growing more quickly than the fruit and nut trees – therefore providing eventual wind protection (we have gnarly winds). As a major side bonus, they’re already providing fodder for our goats who love the fresh branches and leaves. You can see its nutritional benefits for livestock outlined below.

Comparison of tagasaste foliage with other common stock feeds

Chart from Permaculture Plants, Jeff Nugent & Juilia Boniface – sorry about the bad scan. 

Let it be know this is the only “environmental weed” we’ve actively fostered on our property. I’m always pulling out baby boneseed and gorse. We happen to have inherited an old windbreak made up on cotoneasta and pittosporum which we’ve chosen to keep due to those gnarly winds I mentioned above. Other than this, we plant only natives and fruit/nut trees and diverse shrubs.

So is tagasaste a friend or foe? I love and respect all plants and all unique ecosystems.  At the end of the day it comes down to your environmental and social context. In our case, tagasaste is a friend, but a bloody well managed one.

7 Comments