Broad Bean Rust

Our little broad bean crop has rust caused by the pathogen Uromyces viciae-fabae. I noticed it weeks ago and despite my best intentions, didn’t get around to treating it in its early stages.

Where does it come from? Generally from infected seed. We did introduce some new seed this year and suspect it came from here. However, it also travels on wind – so it could arrive from your neighbour’s garden. Prevention of rust includes making sure there’s good air flow in the crop, having clean seed and treating it as early as possible.

Two DIY treatment options include spraying the infected plants with 1 part milk to 10 parts water – this is the same mix used on powdery mildew for zucchinis, cucumbers and other members of the cucurbit family. The second option is mixing up 2 litres of water, adding a few drops of vegetable oil (or other type of oil), a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid and 4 teaspoons of bicarb. Mix well and spray on infected plants. The bicarb soda makes the leaves alkaline which can prevent fungal spore development.

Importantly, you need to apply these treatments when its not raining heavily (or about to) so they have a chance of sticking around on the plant surface long enough to be effective.

This diagram on the left from Agriculture Victoria outlines the life cycle of the rust and really emphasises the importance of having clean seed to prevent it from recurring season after season.

We wont save any seed for planting from this crop. Instead will harvest what we can, eat the beans (fresh and dried) and make sure the plant matter is taken out of our nutrient cycling systems in our property. We’re fortunate to have a local council with a commercial composting facility – this is where we take any diseased plants as their large, hot composting eradicates any pathogens so aren’t passed on into the mature compost product. 

As our plants are predominantly being impacted at their base, I’m hoping the hundreds of flowers up top have a chance to turn into beans before too much rust spreading occurs. Fingers crossed.

We’d love to hear about any treatment options you’ve had success with – so comment below to share the goodness :-).

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How To Rodent-Proof Your Compost Bin

If you’ve got unwanted rodents living in your compost bin a simple and effective way of keeping them out is by adding vermin mesh onto the bottom of it.

Vermin mesh (aka rodent mesh)  is made from thick wire (around 2mm) and has small squares that baby rodents can’t squeeze through. While it does start to rust after 5 years or so, it’s an effective way of composting food scraps without inviting all the rodents in your neighbourhood to move in at the same time.

Vermin mesh

The first step is to pick up some vermin mesh from your local hardware shop – we got it in a roll of 5m as we know we’ll use it for bits and pieces around our property. Some shops will sell it by the metre – just call around until you find the best place.

Roll it out, place your compost bin on top of it and cut off the right amount you need, keeping a few inches available around the whole bin.

Next up, cut the vermin mesh into a rough circle shape and then simply start folding the mesh over the edges of the compost bin.

I used my boots to help press it down firmly. It doesn’t have to be perfect – just strong enough that it grips onto the edge, which is really easy. You want to be able to take it off again (when your compost’s mature) so I made it reasonably loose.

And that’s it! So quick and easy. The only tools you need are some good wire cutters.

From here you can locate your compost bin somewhere convenient in your garden. We’ve placed ours near our chooks and goats who we feed every morning, this makes it easy for us to place food scraps in there on the same trip – effeciency plus!

You can also dig the compost bin into the soil 200mm to create another barrier to the rodents from getting in – but generally the vermin mesh is enough to do the job. 

As you can see below, we’ve got a second bin with a lid on it to store dry carbon materials. This makes it easy for us to add a small bucket of carbon with each bucket of food scraps that goes in. We also make sure we chop up our food scrasp to the size of a 20 cent coin to help them break down more quickly.

For something that take less than an hour to do, you’ll be kicking yourself you didn’t do this years ago. Happy rodent-free composting!

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How To Make Goat’s Feta

We’re lucky enough to have a milking goat on our property – a splendid toggenburg called Gerty and her daughter Jilly Love Face (who we don’t milk). You can read about our urban goat system over here. When you have milking animals, thoughts rapidly move to….what do I do with all this milk.  For us (and most others) the answer is cheese.

I’ve (Anton) only been seriously making cheese for around 6 months and finally feel comfortable about sharing our approach to making feta – watch this space for other cheese recipes in coming months. We use raw goats milk as we believe it’s healthier and definitely tastier than anything the shop can provide. Gerty currently milks around 2 litres per day.  So over a week we drink/make yoghurt on around 5 litres and the remainder we transform into cheeses.  Currently we alternate between making a batch of feta one week and then a batch of a harder storing cheeses the next week.

Here’s how I make feta…

Clean the kitchen and get materials together

We try and clean the kitchen before starting.  This gives you access to surfaces to put stuff on, as well as reducing the chance of contamination.  The key utensils I use are a saucepan, large spoon, thermometers, measuring spoons, muslin/mesh, kettle.  I also use milk, rennet, culture, and acid sanitiser.

Clean the pot

We clean all the materials that will be touching the milk and cheese.  We use both boiling water and/or acid sanitiser.  The acid sanitiser is pretty handy because you don’t need to re-boil the kettle all the time.  It effectively kills the bugs from 2 minutes of contact.  I generally mix up around 1 litre of sanitiser (uses around 1 ml of the acid solution) and it is enough for the days cheesemaking action.  I get mine from the local homebrew store.

Measure the milk

Its good to know how many litres of milk you are using, as this effects how much culture to add as well as how much coagulant you use.  This batch uses 11 x 750ml bottles of milk – around 8 litres.  From this 8 Litres of milk I get around 1.4 kg of Feta.  If I was making harder, pressed cheese the yield would be lower, between 800g-1kg of cheese from this much milk.

Add the culture

Cultures are used to “ripen the milk”.  Effectively it acidifies the milk and makes it ready for the effect of the coagulants. I have experimented using natural aging and pre-packaged cultures.  As a beginner cheesemakers we have had more success with the prepacked cultures but look forward to learning more about using natural cultures.  That said, we use raw milk and there is undoubtedly a lot of extra microbial action occurring, which helps on improving flavour and aging.

In this case we are adding two “dashes” of “Flora Danica” culture.  We stir it in the milk with a clean spoon.

Yes we have funny little spoons with words like “dash” and “pinch” written on them.  Handy when you are using measurements like 1/8 of a teaspoon.

Warm the milk

The milk is heated up to around 32 degrees C.  To do this, I put the saucepan in the sink and add very hot tap water to the sink (around 60 degrees C).  Over the next twenty minutes this tends to bring the milk up to around 32 degrees and reduce the temperature of the sink water as well.

Use any pot you have, it doesn’t have to be a particular type of pot. 

I keep the milk in the sink at 32 degrees for 30-60 minutes.  I add or remove hot water to the sink to keep the temperature moderated.  It helps to have two good thermometers.  I have one in the milk and one in the sink.  I can monitor the temperature difference and add the right amount of hot water.

Add the coagulant

I use calf rennet, mainly because we were given a jar of rennet to use (waste not want not).  Maybe in the future we will try some vegetarian DIY coagulants such as thistle or fig.  I carefully measure the rennet using a little 1 ml syringe and some cooled boiled water (to remove chlorine).  For the 8l of milk we use 1 ml of rennet.

The rennet/water mix is added to the milk.  I gently add the rennet and stir with a “gentle up and down motion”.  This is so the milk and rennet gets mixed, but does not maintain momentum.  This will stop the curd tearing as it forms.

Clean break

After around thirty minutes the milk starts to coagulate.  This is the classic “curds and whey”.  At a point where the curd cleaves in a sharp line is called “clean break”.  How long it takes to achieve the clean break will depend on how acidic the milk has turned and how much and fresh the rennet is.

Cut the Curd

The curd is cut into as even sized cubes as possible (around 1.5cm cubes).  This is done by cutting into strips, then columns.  Finally the knife is turned diagonally to cut sideways.  The curds are very delicate at this stage so take it slowly and gently.

Curd “strips

Curd “columns”

Curd “diagonals”

 

Rest

The curds are left to rest for around 10 minutes.  As this happens whey drains away from the curd and the curd shrinks a little.

Stir

The curds are gently stirred for around 15 minutes and rested for another 5 minutes.  Any curds that are not “cube” shape can be broken with the edge of the spoon.  I am trying to make the curds a fairly even size.  As I stir the curd it will shrink to around half of its original size.  Many hard cheeses use a similar process up to this point, however the curd is slowly heated and stirred for some time (maybe another blog)

Strain

Pour the curds and whey through a muslin mesh or a cheese cloth.  I use “grain bags” that are also used for homebrewing.  They have a tight effective weave, perfect for this job.

The curds are hung to strain for 6-10 hours.  If I am making the cheese at night I leave it overnight, and during the day I drain until just before bed.

Brine

The cheese is now cut into strips around 1 inch thick and placed in a saturated brine.

The Curd strips and then placed in a saturated brine.  A saturated brine has all the salt it can absorb in suspension.  I salt the cheese for around 4-6 hours, any exposed pieces are sprinkled with course salt.

Storing

The cheese is then transferred to a container with around 40% brine and 60% whey.  The container is stored in the fridge and pieces are removed as desired for eating – yum!  The cheese can be stored in the fridge in brine for months, although each batch lasts us around 2 weeks

Texture

The texture of the end feta is influenced by many of the steps taken along the way.  For a smoother “Danish style” feta, I stir the curd less, drain for shorter periods and salt with a less salty brine.

Want to know more?

  • We have been reading Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking by Gianclis Caldwell, Chelsea Green Publishing  (Thanks to our mate Sam Cramer for the lend).
  • We’re looking forward to reading “The Art of Natural Cheesemaking  by David Asher!
  • We have purchased materials and cultures from Teros.eco in Hobart and cheesemaking.com.au
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A Permaculture Holiday

A couple of months back I took myself on a little holiday to central Victoria. I left my family goats and garden and went and hung out with someone else’s goats, family and garden and it was good. Where to? To Melliodora – home of David Holmgren and Sue Dennet *and* the mob from Milkwood, Nick, Kirsten and Ash.  You’ll also find permaculture illustrator, Brenna Quinlan living there in a tiny house. So yes, an unusually wonderful place to visit for a tired permaculturalist.

I spent my time planting some of their crops, harvesting crops, eating crops, patting goats, reading books (luxury), drinking tea, drinking cider and admiring a range of gardens. The wonderful thing about  admiring other’s gardens it that you don’t see any of the jobs that need to be done, just the beauty that’s been created.

Here’s some of my admiring I unearthed from my phone today – forgotten amongst hundreds of work photos from client’s properties. What a beautiful reminder of a brief, but beautiful holiday. I’m putting it here to remind you all to take a break and go admire gardens (in the company of amazing humans – or not) as needed.

The red soil garden 

Ash and I had a lot of quality time in the fig tree – one for the basket, three for me. 

David and Sue’s home flanked with their zone one veggie garden.

While in the region, I dropped by Artist As Family’s home to officially meet them in the flesh (we’ve been social media friends for a while) and drink tea.

Meg, Patrick and Woody live here and are a little bit extraordinary in how thoroughly they live their ethics. Their urban block is on the edge of town and pumping with food and community, but they’re not aiming for self sufficiceny – rather, community sufficiency.  So instead of trying to produce all their practical and emotional needs themselves, they’re working on fostering a regional community that lives lightly on this planet and tightly in each other’s connections. I love them.

  

And no – I didn’t take any photos of people (except Ash)  I was too relaxed to think about that. Of course now I wish I’d lined everyone up for at least one shot as it’s so rare you get to spend time with the people you admire most. Instead I have their gardens immortalised in film – which is the next best thing.

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How To Make Ravioli

Home made ravioli is wonderfully simple. Ignore anyone who tells you that you need fancy equipment or ingredients – seriously. They are not helping you live your best life.

This is how we make ours. 

First we make a pasta dough – read how we do this other really simple process here. 

Pasta dough is simply eggs and flour – these days we use 100% buckwheat flour. 

While the dough’s resting in the fridge we make the filling. This can be pretty much anything you like. For this batch we made the filling from roast pumpkin, goats fetta and wild greens – all from the garden.

Importantly, we whizz the ingredients all up together as this helps them bind and the whole package is less likely to fall apart.

Some people do a meat based filler, others vegan – anything will work as long as it has good moisture content and isn’t too bulky (hence whizzing it up).

Put the mixture to one side while you get the pasta dough back out of the fridge (where it’s been resting for at least 20 mins).

Roll the dough out until its around 2mm thick (or thinner if your dough can handle it). You can roll it through a pasta machine if you have one, or just roll it by hand with a rolling pin (a wine bottle also works brilliantly).

Lay the sheets of pasta out on the table and cut them into rough sections with a butter knife. They don’t have to be exact at all – in fact the roughness of the shapes is part of their beauty.

Next up, put a big teaspoon’s worth of filling onto each section as shown below.

Have a cup of water nearby so you can dip your fingers in and gently moisten the edge of the pasta around the filling – not too much otherwise it’ll desolve into a bad mess.

Then you can fold each pasta section in half and press down the edges with a fork so it binds together – and looks pretty.

Now you’re ready to cook them. Bring a big pot of water to the boil and plop them all in. They’ll automatically sink when you first put them in, once they float (after a few minutes or so), they’re ready, Strain the hot water off them and eat immediately with your favourite tomato or herb sauce.

And that’s it!

Yes, it does take a bit longer than buying instand pasta or ravioli, but the taste will ensure you never go back. Life is too short for crap food.

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Urban Goat Keeping

We have two female toggenburg goats, Gerty (the mum) and her daughter Jilly Love Face.

Despite having some wonderful “goat friends” locally and in other parts of the country, I still found it hard to get information on how to set up our urban system which we did in September 2017. This is the blog I wish I could have read at the time – hopefully it helps a few folks out there looking to give urban goat keeping (and milking) a go.

Our context

Our main incentive to have goats is to be able to access ethical dairy. While we have just over 3/4 of an acre, we’re less than 3kms from Hobart city, so it’s very urban all around us. Our property is incredibly steep which meant we terraced it to form some functional spaces. Our two goats live on one of these terraces. They don’t free-range across the whole property as we have extensive vegetable gardens and large orchards they would destroy, instead we tether them around the garden at key points where they can eat grass and shrubs. We also take them for little walks down the local bush track to get some exercise.

The front gate leading into the goat yard. The chickens also share this space – that’s their blue house on the left. 

What goat breeds are good for small spaces?

The two breeds I know that are appropriate for this type of goat keeping are toggenburgs and saanens. I’m sure there are more, I just don’t know about them.

What do we feed them?

We feed our goats four main things, rolled barley, dry pasture hay, mixed oat/lucern chaff and a range of fresh fodder.

What fresh fodder? We have a lot of weedy bushland to the south of our property that’s on Council land. We harvest weeds from here and occasionally allow them to graze there (with us). We also chop and feed them fresh prunings from our weedy windbreak (featurning Cotoneaster and Pittosporum trees).

We also tether them around our garden on a 4m chain in key areas where they can eat grass, herbs and shrubs – but not our food crops.

Plus we’re growing fodder trees for them. This includes silver wattles and tagasaste (tree lucerne) that have self sewn on our land. We tansplant the baby seedlings to where we want them to grow and will prune them over the coming years to an appropriate shape for our garden. Here’s a list of plants you can and can’t feed your goats.

Mineral supplements: We also have a mineral lick permanently available in their shed, it has 16 ingredients ranging from copper, calcium, phosphorous, bentonite, iodine, iron and more.

I also have some seaweed meal I add into their feed bucket occasionally, however if they don’t want it, they’ll somehow manage to leave most of it in the bucket.

Interestingly, goats don’t eat everything. They’re incredibly fussy eaters and I spent a sh*t load of time working out their diet for our urban context. We’re now in a good rythym, but those first few months were hard work.

Frida with Jilly who’s being tethered near a comfrey patch for her munching pleasure. 

Gerty and Jilly eating the weedy banana passionfruit vine that’s trying to eat our house!

How big is their permanent yard?

Their permanent yard is approximately 70m2 which includes their shed.

Importantly, we make sure there’s always a thick layer of woodchips and/or straw on the ground so there’s never any risk of them being on bare soil or mud.

We’ve also arranged some timber pallets and logs for them to run and jump on – goats will get board if they don’t have an obstacle course they can play on.

Isn’t that a bit small?

It would be if that’s where they spent all their time. We also walk them and tether them around our garden, so they get a lot of diversity.

What about their fencing?

We don’t have an electric fence – just standard wallaby fencing with star pickets. This has been mostly fine – with one exception when Jilly was on heat* and somehow got out. We assume she jumped the fence, but we didn’t see it happen and it hasn’t happened again – fingers crossed.

*Goats turn into lunatics when their on heat – she’s since returned to her normal, chill – but perky self.

You can see the fence to the right – it’s a bit wavy as they like to scratch their backs on it. We just need to tighten it up a bit, otherwise it’s fine. 

What’s their milking shed like?

We built the shed from recycled timber, timber flitches and other materials inlcuding relocated slabs of concerete the excavator pulled up from our garden – this forms the floor (which has straw on top). The shed has three sections;

  1. The general hang out section which includes the milking stand,
  2. The food storage section (that they can’t access), and
  3. The pen, which is  a small room we put Jilly (the younger daughter) in while we milk Gerty to stop her from jumping all over us. When she was a baby. Jilly would spend each night in this pen – read next section for how this worked.

Our goat shed plan – not to scale

While we’ve planted lots of trees all around the goat yard, there’s currently no natural shade – hence the shade sales. Over this next year I’d like to make them another shade shelter as the summer’s are so hot here. 

Two 44 gallon drums for storing feed – keeps the rodents out of it. 

Jilly with the milking stand to her right

You can see the mineral lick and hay feeder to the right of the goats

How do you milk for yourselves and still have enough milk for the baby goat?

We keep Jilly and Gerty together all day, meaning when she was still feeding, Jilly could help herself to milk as needed. Every night around 9/10pm, I’d place her in the small pen (with straw and water) so she wouldn’t drink all the milk over night. Early each morning (at sunrise) I would then milk Gerty for our own use. Directly after this, I’d let Jilly out of her pen and they’d be together for the next 16 hours of so. This worked well up until Jilly was weaned…

How did we wean Jilly, the young goat?

We didn’t. We let Gerty (her mum) make this happen. Recently (in Autumn 2018) they were both on heat, as Jilly was only 7 months old (and we want to rest Gerty) we didn’t mate them with a buck. Interestingly, once they came off heat Gerty would no longer let Jilly anywhere near her teats.

This was great for us as we really didn’t have a way of weaning Jilly in such a small space. A common way of weaning kids is to put them in a separate paddock than their mums. They can still see each other and kiss noses, but nothing else. We don’t have this option in our space – so we’re quite releaved it happened naturally.

How do you treat worms and other health issues?

These two goats came off an organic goat farm where they were treated with herbs, minerals and good pasture/food. When they arrived, Jilly was just two days old and in perfect helath, while Gerty was a bit run down from being pregnant and living through a rough winter on pasture. She had a small section of staff on her udder which was spreading, was a bit under weight and had signs of worms. This is what we did…

Staff: After doing an enormous amount of research, spending too much time on goat forums and trying every natural rememdy we could, we ended up treating her with zinc cream and lavender oil which our good friend and naturopath, Thea Webb, actually recommended. Within hours this treatment started working – to my absolute relief!

Weight: You can actually buy a product called “weight gain” for livestock, it’s a rich mix of high protein grains you add into your chaff mix. For unknown reasons Gerty would eat around it and not consume any. In small amounts (no more than .6kgs per day per goat) oats and barley are highly effective options as well. I initally ended up spending a bit too much money of organic oats (I panicked) and eventually learned rolled barley is a fraction of the price and just as effective. These days I mix in a small amount of barley (rolled) in with their chaff each morning and night.

Worms: I ended up getting a vet out to check out Gerty as her poo which was forming big clumps instead of small pellets and her eyelids were a pale pink when they should be a vibrant pink colour – both potential symptoms of worms. The vet tested her poo which showed she had small levels of barber pole worm – blood sucking parasites that cause anemia and even death. While they had previously been treated only with essential oils, minerals and fresh pasture, I chose to drench Gerty this one time (at least) as I was sooo out of my depth and wanted to get her back to top health asap. It worked really well and I’m relieved we went down that track. She started putting on weight easily, was a lot more perky and generally “happier”.

These days I’m on a preventative treatment program with worms. Every month I add organic oregano oil mixed with some water into their feed for one week on and one week off – I repeat this for two cycles. So far this appears to be working well. I’m still on a steep learning curve with goat health, so watch this space for more preventative approaches.

How economical is having a milking goat compared to just buying dairy products?

Buying organic, ethical dairy from farms we believe in isn’t overly cheap – and neither should it be. We would easily spend around $50 per week on milk, yoghurt and some cheese.

Buying food for our two goats for one month is *roughly* around $150, so a bit cheaper than buying organic, ethical dairy. However we (happily) spend between 30mts – 1 hour a day with our goats, so it takes a lot of time – as they should. If we were to price our time in looking after them, then it isn’t economical at all.

But I don’t believe economics should be the only way to measure whether something’s worthwhile doing. Conventional dairy is cheap because it has nasty practices that have negative impacts on the environment and disasterous ramifications for animal wellbeing.

Should everyone keep goats if they want ethical dairy?

No. I don’t think everyone should run out and get dairy goats as it’s not for the faint hearted. They’re very real, big, beautiful animals that need a lot of attention. I think for most people, they should just spend a bit more and buy organic, ethical dairy – in Tasmania, that’s Elgaar Dairy.  We chose to have goats for a few reasons;

  1. I couldn’t think of a more ethical way to access dairy. On this micro level – our goats get a lot of attention and care. 
  2. We work from home, this means we can really invest in our landscape and the animals that live here. 
  3. I love goats and want to spend a lot of time with them. They’re not just milk suppliers for us – they’re wonderful, caring, smart animals to hang out with – better company than a lot of humans.

A few other things

  • We only milk once a day – in the morning.  Currently we’re getting around 2 litres each morning – this will slow down over winter.
  • With the milk we get we make yoghurt, feta cheese, halloumi cheese and ricotta.
  • We feed our goats an oat/lucerne/barley mix twice a day for breaky and dinner.
  • Every 6 – 8 weeks we clip their hooves, it’s such an awkward, hard job that’s our least favourite thing to do (just a little heads up for you).
  • Now Jilly is almost adult size, walking them takes two people as if they get spooked by a car – they can *really* run. They’re stronger than me.
  • If you have small kids of the human type, watch them around the goats. Our goats like to head but our 3 year old Frida as she’s smaller than them (and really loud).
  • You can never have just one goat – you have to have at least two, otherwise they can get depressed (seriously). And no, having chickens or other types of animals doesn’t replace the company of another goat – it has to be another goat.
  • Unlike the goat milk you buy from the shop, fresh goat milk doesn’t taste “goaty” at all. It’s quite sweet, clean and darn tasty. The goaty taste comes after around 5 days (ish), it’s not a bad thing at all – but I personally don’t like it very much.
  • Will we have goats forever? It’s highly possible, but we’re very realistic about it all. If our goats obviously weren’t happy and needed a different context we’d give it them, i.e. find a farm for them to live on. We only want a wonderful life for them.

Want to know more?

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How To Store Potatoes When You Have No Space

We don’t have have a shed (yet), or a basement, cellar or even a room that’s cool enough in our house to store bulk potatoes. In the past we’ve lined our loungeroom floor with boxes of potatoes with blankets on top, however inevitabley they get too hot and end up sprouting too quicky and/or go soft before they should.

Potatoes like to be stored in a cool, dark place whereas we only have warm, light spaces available in our house. This year we grew around 60kgs of potatoes and would like them to last longer than previous years. So after asking our very kind social media community for ideas, we’ve settled on the no-frills recycled filing cabinet!

Our requirements were that it had to be rodent proof, weather proof and compact – the humble filing cabinet does all these things. After a trip to our local tip shop, we collected two filing cabinets and set them up near our back door which has juuuust enough space and eave coverage to make it ok for them to last there for a season or two.

Before storing the potatoes, I made sure they had at least a few days in the open air drying – you really don’t want to be putting in damp spunds into a small space – bad things will happen. I just had  them in stacks of old milk crates with a blanket over them for a few days.

Back to the filing cabinet… Before loading them up with potaotes, I added some cardboard sides to prevent the spuds from falling out the sides and added a layer of paper on the bottom.

I also sorted through all the potatoes and removed all the ones with “wounds” from my garden fork – we’ll just eat these ones first.

I then started layering in the spuds….

After each layer, I added a sheet of paper to help absorb any moisture – just in case.

Finally, I added one apple per drawer on the top layer. Thanks to members of our social media community, I now know that apples emit ethylene gas which apparently prevents spuds from sprouting. Slightly counter-intuitive as ethylene gas is known to aid ripening some fruits. But after some research across the internet, I’m convinced to give it a go.

The last stage was to place find them a home near our boots, raincoats, bike helmets and pumpkins. This is the coolest microclimate we have for them. It faces south, gets no direct sun at all and is mostly weather proof (sometimes we get sideways rain).

All up, we’re feeling pretty good about the whole thing and will use this system for the next season or two while we build our multifunctional shed with great food storage, including a large cool cupboard.

Special thanks to our friendly social media community for helping us out when I was scratching my head about what to do!

 

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DIY Worm Farms for Tiny, Medium & Large Gardens

At our recent Real SKills for Growing Food workshop at Fat Pig Farm, Nadia (their head market gardener) joined our teaching team and gave us all a tour of three worm farms for tiny, medium and large gardens. While we currently haven’t got a worm farm set up at our own place (we will soon), we’ve kept them quite a lot in the past and have written about their many benefits here. 

But just quickly, compost worms are different to the common earthworm you see in your lawn… Compost worms are red wrigglers and tiger worms – you can buy these from nurseries, but you can usually find them at your local school/community garden if you ask nicely. Do not put the common earth worm into a worm farm – they will die.

Compost worms in mature worm castings – soooo good!

When compared to the parent soil (the original soil), worm castings (the worm’s poo) have approximately:

  • 7 times the available phosphorous
  • 6 times the available nitrogen
  • 3 times the available magnesium
  • 2 times the available carbon
  • 1.5 times the available calcium

(‘Earthworms in Australia’, David Murphy, pg 26)

Pretty impressive! The good news is that pretty much anyone can keep worms – whether you have a balcony garden or a paddock. Here’s how. 

The worm farm tower

The smallest type of worm farm we know of is dead easy to make yourself. There are quite a few methods, this is one of our favourite. All you need is a 20 litre bucket with a lid. Drill holes in the side (covering around 2/3 of the bucket), the bottom and a few in the lid. These holes are there to let the worms come in and out, as well as air and small amounts of moisture.

Bury the bucket into the garden bed, or into a raised bed on your balcony/courtyard. You want to have at least 2/3 of it buried – basically the area which has all the holes drilled into it.

Add some moist straw/mulch and a big handful of worms (with mature worm castings) into the bottom of the bucket and then add a small amount of food waste (not shown).

Keep the lid on top to control moisture (from possible rain) and to help create a mostly sealed bucket (with the exception of those holes) which will help prevent rodents getting to the food scraps. And that’s it – so easy and so effective in making delicious compost for your garden insitu. The worms travel in and out of the bucket, spreading the nutrients to the area immediately around it.

Once you’re bucket’s full of food waste, let it rest so you allow the worms to eat it all. In this time, you can start a second worm tower, or use another type of compost system as well.

The bathtub worm farm

For those that have a bit more space and food scraps, you can make your own worm farm from a bathtub and timber frame. I’m quite fond of this method as its rodent proof (with the addition of a lid), you can catch the worm wee out of the drainage hole which is beautiful fertiliser for the garden (dillute it 10:1 with water before watering), and if you want to, you add a timber lid which can then double as a work bench! You can also store pots and other gardening materials beneath the tub. So good.

To get started, biuld a timber frame that can support your bath and then create a false floor as seen below. This will help the whole farm drain liquid into a waiting bucket.

Next up, add a layer of straw, followed by a healthy layer of worms and mature worm castings. You can then start adding food for the worms, including leafy greens, coffee, animal manures (not cats) and food scraps (go easy on citrus, onions and meat).

Put a blanket of hessian or ink-free cardboard on top and water it in. Once water starts coming out the drainage hole, that’s enough. The hessian helps maintain an even temperaature and moisture levels inside the farm.

Finally, add a protective lid on top to keep out rain and rodents. Nadia uses some corflute on a timber frame for her lid.

As I mentioned earlier, you could built a timber lid into your frame which can then double as a bench top. *OR* you can lower the height of the whole thing and turn it into a seat for your garden as we did below on one of our past permaculture design courses. Cool hey! You can read all about it over here. 

The windrow worm farm

This is one we’re really excited about as it’s sooooo low-tech and sooooo effective in processing large amounts of food waste. As Fat Pig Farm have an onsite restaurant, there’s a lot of food scraps coming back into the garden to be composted. Recently, Nadia and friends built what I call a windrow worm farm and we’re thoroughly impressed with the speed of scraps being processed (8 weeks) into nutrient-dense worm castings.

It’s simply a pile of hay or straw in a small, long mound. Food scraps are added to one end of it with moisture and a tarpoline on top. Every few days, take the tarpoline off and – using a garden fork, casually mix the food scraps in to make sure they’re getting processed evenly.

Slowly, you move along the windrow, adding more food scraps and letting the “full” area behind you be processed by the worms.

The worms will naturally follow the food, so most of them will move along the row as you move along the fresh injection of food scraps.

Nadia also makes sure that she puts in some crushed eggshells to provide grit for the worms – this helps the worms digest organic matter and adds calcium to the system.

After 8 weeks, Nadia harvests mature worm castings for her garden. There are still some compost worms in there, but it doesn’t matter if some find their way into her *beautiful* market garden, they’ll be more than happy there.

The only down side to this system is that you can’t harvest the worm juice. But really the benefits far outway this, and of course, you could build this system uphill or a productive garden which would benefit from the natural leachate – which is what Nadia has done.

If you’d like to see more examples of worm farms, have a read of one of our older blogs here. 

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How to preserve tomatoes using the fowler vacola system

There are *many* variations on how to preserve tomatoes, this is how we do it using the fowler vacola system. If you have a better way, we’re very happy to hear about it :-).

We don’t have enough space to grow all the tomatoes we would like to preserve in our garden as we prioritise growing a diverse range of crops, meaning the tomatoes we do grow are for eating fresh only. So when Autumn comes around we buy a big stash of tomoatoes from a local grower (it’s different every year). This year, I got a little carried away and bought 60kgs worth – cause being able to crack open a jar of tomatoes in the middle of winter or spring is one of the better things in life. I have my priorities right.

First step in the whole process is get a mate (or mates) over and start chopping – it’s a great way to catch up with dear friends.

The second step involved us realising/remembering we could just use the fancy food processer my sister recently passed on to me. While a bit noisy, this was infinitely quicker – we loved it.

Because our tomatoes were a bit on the funky side, we chose to put them in a large pot and bring them to the boil to get rid of any unwanted bacteria.

If you’re using fresh tomatoes you don’t have to cook them before putting them into the jar. You can chop or whiz them up and place them directly into the jar you’re storing them in. You can see how our friends over at Milkwood do it here.  

UPDATE: (April 2nd, 2018). A community service announcement from our expereince of whizzing them up in our food processer and NOT cooking them before we put them into our jars. We’re not 100% sure why, but around a week or so after they were completed the jars that hadn’t been pre-cooked popped their lids and started going mouldy. The tomatoes we whizzed up and pre-cooked before putting them in the jars are currently fine – however they’ve seperated into liquids and solids within the jar so look strange. I opened one to see if it was going funky and it was fine, but we’re keeping an eye on them. Our conclusion is that whizzing them up in our particular food processer seems to have given them a strange consistency. Maybe if we used purley sauce tomatoes this wouldn’t happen? We’re not sure – but felt we had to tell you. For now, we’re back to chopping, pre-cooking (just bringing them to the boil) and THEN putting them into tjars and water canning them as outlined below as we knoe this works fantastically…

After we had bought it to the boil, we took it off the heat, let it cool down (so it was easy to handle) and filled the jars. The fowler vacola lid involves putting a thick rubber preserving ring on the glass rim, then the metal lid and finally the two clips to keep it all together.

Once you’ve filled your jars, put them in a large pot. We hapen to have a fowler vacola pot (from the op shop), it has an inbuilt false floor so the glass jars aren’t directly touching the bottom of the pot. If you don’t have one, you can use any large pot – in the past I’ve put a whole bunch of cutlery on the bottom of the pot to act as a false floor and sat the jars on top of them – this works fine.

Once the jars are all tucked in, fill the pot up with water to around 3/4 of the jar’s height. Then bring it to the boil on the stove. Once boiling, turn the heat down to a healthy simmer for around 40 mintues.

After this you’re finished! Take them out of the pot and keep the clamps on for another 12 hours or so to make sure the heat seal has worked.

Remove the clips and add them to your shelves/pantry/kitchen cupboards. Only once our pantry shelves are full do we feel like we can enter winter with our heads held high.

And I’ll just leave you with a photo of our daughter with one of our home grown toms (unknown variety), because – well, love.

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Zucchini Baba Ganoush

For everyone looking for something new to do with your zucchini glut – I’m pleased to be able to introduce you to  zucchini baba ganoush. It’s actually awesome and is a wonderful recipe to add to your “dealing with heaps of zucchini” tool kit.

This is a great recipe as you can use both small and large zucchinis, plus you can use dozens of zucchinis in one batch without becoming overwhelmed with the end product as they cook down significantly. Here’s how it works.

Step one

Roughly chop up your large zucchiniz into large chunks. You can leave the smaller zucchinis whole and just chuck them onto some oven dishes with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. If you’re using really large zucchinis with mature seeds inside – scrape these out and put them in the compost.

Step Two

Put them into the oven at 200 degrees. You want them to get charred on each side, so turn them every 20mts – 30mts (or as needed). This process can take around 2 hours to get them evenly “burnt”. The charred, burnt flavour is delicious and actually tastes like eggplants (I think).

Step three

Gather some desired flavours together. At least have garlic and a bit more salt – we also like adding paprika.

Put everything into a food processor and give it a big whiz until it’s all creamy looking.

Step four

Pop it into a bowl and serve up with carrot sticks or some delicious olive oil crackers – it’s that easy!

Special thanks to Sadie from Fat Pig Farm for sharing this recipe with us – it’s changed our current view on zucchini :-)!

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