Growing coffee

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Recently I watched a news piece about an impending world coffee shortage due to climate change. This got me thinking about how much I depend on coffee (a lot) and how I would be unable to function for a few days (maybe longer) if I had to give it up. I gave up coffee once, years ago, and the detox is hard and unpleasant. Because I like to do something instead of just worry about it, I decided to grow some coffee trees (the other option was give up coffee again, and that isn’t ideal). Growing coffee trees gives me an interesting learning experience in the future when it comes time to process the harvest. I went and had a look at our fairly local nursery for all things interesting (garden related); Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery their online shop is amazing. They had a dwarf coffee variety called Catuai; so I ordered 2 plants.

While I waited for them to arrive, I did some reading about their care and growing.

Coffee is a rainforest edge species, meaning it likes to have a lot of sun, but protection from the hot Western afternoon sun. It likes to be watered regularly (who doesn’t?) and it is a fairly heavy feeder. The variety I chose is small enough to live in large pots, but I want to see how they grow in the ground in my garden too, so they will need some improved soil to get growing in and a fairly sheltered position.

We recently had one of our old ducks die (she had a good long life and died fairly peacefully), so I buried her in an old cement laundry tub next to one of our geese. I decided that this was the place to plant one of my coffee trees. I hope the pot is big enough and that the nutrients from Puddles (the duck) is acceptable to this little tree. We will see where the other tree ends up.

Accidentally making the lettuce last longer in the fridge

Some of the lovely greens in the trailer bed

The trailer bed is bursting with greens, it is so easy to stroll out and pick a salad base. Of course, I prefer to pick every few days and keep the leaves in the fridge. I’m lazy that way. The problem with keeping the leaves in the fridge is that they go slimy and bad by the second day, and then I need to pick more. That is a problem I may have accidentally found a solution for.

Let me explain… The lettuce and other greens are watered using washing water (the used water from the washing machine) and the remnants of the duck and chicken water pots when we refresh them. This means that the greens have a lot of unsavory bacteria on them (and silt), so the leaves need to be washed well and disinfected somehow.

The day’s haul of fresh lettuce leaves

I wash the leaves in a tub of water (which is then poured back onto the garden) to remove any dirt and silt. Then I soak them in a water and vinegar solution (1/2 cup vinegar to 5 litres of water). I use my home made vinegar for this, and it seems to work.

Soaking in vinegar solution

I use vinegar for all my cleaning; in a spray for kitchen surfaces, in the washing, as a floor spot cleaner, as an emergency bath addative (when I’m really smelly), as a medicinal additive in the animal waters, you name it. Using it to clean bacteria off food is a logical step.

Draining out the excess water

Then I discovered that the vinegar rinse keeps the lettuce fresh in the fridge for a week. You have to be sure to dry as much water off the leaves as possible and line the bag or container with a paper towel though (I keep trying to think of a washable version of paper towels for this).

Chopped lettuce ready for the fridge

I am so happy with this little discovery that I wanted to pass on the tip. A vinegar soak not only makes sure the lettuce is safe to eat, it also makes it last much longer in the fridge, and it is another use for my home made vinegar.

Lots more to pick

Making smudge sticks

There are a lot of herbs in the garden at the moment and I the need to use them (of course). I have made a few tea mixes (made by drying herbs and crumbling them together) and dried some culinary herbs, but there are still a lot of herbs I haven’t used… enter smudge sticks.

Smudge sticks can be used as part of a ritual cleanse of a space or person, they can be used to encourage sleep, or dreams or even love, but the smudge sticks I felt moved to make are for protection.

Herbs have many layers of use to humans; they can be used as food, as medicine, in the production of other things and most also have a magical use, it is the magical use I am tapping into to when making smudge sticks.

I wandered around the garden harvesting herbs… today I was drawn to the mugwort (or cronewort), lavender and rosemary. I looked these up in my handy magical herbal to find that all three can be used in protection spells.

I used three leaves or sprigs each of the three herbs to make a total of three smudge sticks. Three is a special number, and it gives me a nice sense of completion to use three of everything.

I stacked my bundles together and tied the ends with cotton thread.

Then I wrapped the string around the bundles from bottom to top and from top to bottom again. The wrapping needs to be fairly tight and the end knot is tied using the loose tail of the first knot.

The neat little bundles are then dried by putting them on a tray in the griller of the stove (not going), so that when I use the oven, the heat rises up into the griller and dries the bundles. It only takes a night to dry herbs for tea making, but I think it will take two (or maybe three) days to dry these little wrapped bundles.

Finally the bundles are used to burn and waft smoke around the humpy while I hold the image of our home being safe from all things harmful.

Preparing for the passion fruit harvest

After the bumper crop of mulberries this year, and the joy of having such an abundance of fruit, I decided to prepare in advance for the passion fruit harvest (just in case it is similarly huge). The vine is beginning to flower and if there are any pollinators at all around, we should have piles of yummy fruit to use.

The passionfruit vine is planted on top of the transpiration pit for the biogas effluent, so it gets a lot of nutrient rich water. The dragonfruit is planted on the same bed, I am hoping for a big yield there too.

I plan to store a lot of the pulp by scraping it into ice cube trays and freezing them to be used in recipes at a later date. I also plan to make cakes, slices and passionfruit butter with it. If the yield is large enough, I will make a batch or two of wine as well.

Look out for posts about modified versions of; Dead Fly Slice (you read that right), passion fruit butter, passion fruit self saucing pudding, vegan version of marinated chicken with passion fruit sauce and a good old passion fruit tart.

Plants in the garden- port wine magnolia

We have a single Port wine magnolia in the garden. Of course it has a story attached; if the plants in your garden don’t have a story, you are missing an essential element of gardens. My eldest daughter loves the smell of Port wine magnolia (as do we all here), when she was young she called them bubblegum trees and would go looking for the source of the delightful smell if we happened to be near one in Spring. A friend started some from cuttings for me many years ago and I bought them home and looked for places to plant them.

My daughter wanted to plant them outside her bedroom window so the smell would blow into the room on hot Spring nights. I wanted to plant them near the gate so I could smell them as I went in and out of the yard. In the end, we planted one under the window and one by the gate. Of course, the one by the gate was eaten by a passing sheep, but the under window shrub is still going strong.

It began to flower this year, while my daughter was at home (luckily)

The poor little thing has managed to live with ducks and chooks running loose under it. The base is mulched with rocks and the position means that any left over shower water goes to it.

This is an example of a shrub we have planted purely for pleasure. In the garden, as in life, pleasure is important to add flavour to life; without things that give us pleasure, life is fairly boring.

An imposter in the garden- blue passionflower

When we planted our passiofruit it had a volunteer seedling in the pot. Of course I left it there and planted them both on the transpiration pit for the biogas system. They both grew strongly and eventually one started flowering. The flower looked like a passiofruit flower to me, so I eagerly awaited some fruit forming; this never happened, the flowers just withered and fell off.

After a lot of googling and reading in my library, I discovered the blue passionflower; a weed in Australia. My flowers look just like the photos, and I was disappointed.

The flowers are beautiful, but the vine is very invasive and the leaves and unripe fruit are poisonous. So the vine has to go. We cut the stem at the ground and pulled down as much of it as we could. The vine was stuffed into garbage bags and left in the sun to die. I plan to empty the lot into the mulch pit eventually, but I want to be sure it’s dead first.

It looks like we have a few years of pulling up seedlings in front of us as it is a very invasive weed. On the positive side, the actual passionfruit vine is getting buds on it now.

Mulberry wine

Our mulberry tree is loaded with fruit this year; the branches are groaning and sagging towards the ground (much to the delight of the chooks and ducks). I think the huge crop is due to the tree having access to the chook compost for years while the chook pen was beside it, and also the application of a fair amount of washing water and dirty water from duck watering pots. Whatever the cause of the crop, I am thankful. I spent a half hour picking ripe mulberries and there are still plenty left for the birds, later cooking, eating fresh from the tree in passing and freezing for later. That time under the tree, hearing the birds calling all around me, feeling the gentle breeze on my skin and thinking about what I can make from the riches provided by this tree, were a rare moment of peace and contentment… I am deeply grateful. So, to celebrate, I am making mulberry wine.

First, the mulberries need to be frozen while I collect enough for a large batch of wine. Freezing the fruit before making the wine seems to help in the fermentation process anyway. So I bagged up this pick; I need about two kilos of fruit for a decent batch of wine, maybe one more pick of the same size.

Next, the fruit is thawed out and the bulk ferment tub was sterilized.

Two kilos (about) of mulberries and five litres of water with one and a half kilos of raw sugar stirred in were added to the tub, along with a sachet of wine yeast, 300ml of fruit juice ( raw blueberries in this case) and some yeast nutrient. An airlock was added to the tub and the long wait begins.

You can see the mix of mulberries and blueberries in the must

The fruit was stirred daily with a sterile spoon. The ferment started within a few days. It fizzed and bubbled when stirred.

I love the pink froth when it starts to ferment.

After about four days, the bubbles started rising from the airlock and it is time to remove the fruit must from the wine. I carefully scooped out the fruit with a slotted spoon, then poured the new wine through a sieve into a jug. The new wine was poured into a demijohn and an airlock fitted to complete the ferment process.

Second ferment begins

After a total of about two weeks, I siphoned off the liquid bit (the wine) and bottled it in a new demijohn with an airlock attached. I set it to age for a month or so to clear the sediment from the wine and let the flavour develop.

Lastly, I bottled the wine into sterile bottles and stored it to drink and share with friends over the next few months. I bottled 12 bottles from 2 demijohns of wine. I refilled the demijohns from the fermenter and put another batch on to ferment. In total I should get 36 bottles of mulberry wine from this year’s harvest (as well as a heap of baked goods, syrup and cordial); that tree deserves all the washing water I can throw under it.

Mulberry syrup

The mulberry tree is still giving us a bountiful harvest, and supplying the chooks, ducks, guinea fowl and various wild birds and possums with enormous amounts of food. I pick an ice cream container (the 4 litre size) every day, and knock off a lot of ripe fruit in the process. Nothing goes to waste in nature; the wild birds fly in for a feed at various times of the day, they knock fruit off onto the ground in the process of eating. The chooks and ducks camp out under the tree in the shade and eat the fruit that drops from the birds, the wind and me picking fruit. No fruit sits on the ground to rot. My harvest so far has led to mulberry cake (a basic yoghurt cake with mulberries added), mulberry pie, the first batch of mulberry wine, a lot of smoothies and fresh fruit snacks and now I am making mulberry syrup. The syrup will be stored in the fridge to use as a topping for waffles, ice cream and to use in milkshakes (and other as yet unthought of things). I think I will make a batch to freeze too (for later in the year).

The formula for making syrup is fairly easy to remember; make your fruit juice, then add sugar to it in a ratio of 1:1, cook it down to get the right consistency and you have a great syrup. Of course you can jazz things up a bit by adding spices and herbs, or a dash of a good vinegar to bring out the fruit flavours, but the basic syrup is just juice, sugar and water cooked down into a sauce.

To make the juice; I filled a pot with mulberries, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water and put the pot on a low heat to start the berries breaking down. The juice starts to run out fairly soon, and when the berries are heated through, I turned the heat off. The sugar starts the process of drawing the juice out of the fruit (osmosis) and the heat weakens the walls of the berries so that they are easier to juice.

The entire pot is blended up into a pulp in the blender and the juice drained out using a sieve. Then I measure the juice yield in my handy jug.

Straining juice through a sieve

The juice and an equal amount of sugar are added to the pot and the beautiful purple potion is bought to a simmer for about five minutes. You could simmer for longer to get a thicker syrup, but I like the runny effect.

Simmering away. I had 4.5 cups of juice from a full pot of mulberries

Bottle into sterilized jars or bottles and seal straight away. Once it is cool, the syrup can be stored in a cool, dark cupboard, in the freezer (for a longer shelf life) or in the fridge. Once a bottle is open, it should be stored in the fridge.

Two bottles and a small container of syrup for this batch
The syrup is ready when it coats a spoon; just thick enough to be a syrup rather than a liquid

I have plans for using this syrup to flavour a batch of kombucha, and to make a Lebanese night-time drink called Sharab el toot.

I am loving the harvest of fresh food at the moment, this is what makes life feel abundant and rich; the ability to eat from the garden.

Making kunnu aya or Tigernut milk

I discovered a new staple crop!!! It’s amazing how many plants we eat as a species, and how many plants we don’t know we can eat as individuals. I had only heard one reference to tigernuts in my life before (that I can remember); an old Woody Allen movie I watched as a child, where he asks for tiger milk for breakfast on being woken from cryogenic slumber in the distant future. I remember being puzzled at why anyone would risk milking tigers when goats are so easy to find. I dreamed of this scene one night a week ago (don’t ask me why, my mind is an enduring and deepening mystery to me) and I decided to google tiger milk. What I found has sent me on a whole journey of discovery.

Tigernuts are closely related to what I have always known as yellow nutgrass. I have spent years trying to get rid of this plant from various gardens, only to now discover that their relatives taste great and crop hugely. I have planted some seed in pots in the garden to see if I can grow them in captivity.

My first experiment with tigernuts is to make kunnu aya (a traditional nigerian drink) or tigernut milk. Woolworths sells tigernuts, so I bought a small packet to play with. I put a cup of tigernuts to soak overnight, then rinsed them off.

I put the tigernuts and some dates into the blender with just enough water to cover them. I then blended the lot until it was soupy.

I strained it through a nut bag into a jug, then I returned the pulp to the blender with a bit more water and blended it all again. The second lot of milk was not as rich and creamy as the first, but it did boost the yield a lot.

The resulting milk is smooth, creamy and refreshing. The flavour is slightly nutty and a little coconut like. I do love it as a drink. The left over pulp was spread out on a baking tray in a low oven and dried to make tigernut flour.

This little tuber has real potential as a crop here at the humpy. I hope my plants grow and produce in their pots, so I can process my own kunnu aya from tigernuts I grew. The flour is useful as a gluten free option in baking and as a thickening agent. The nuts can be ground as a base for vegan cheeses and creams (in place of cashews) and they can even be boiled and served as a vegetable or added to soups, casseroles and stews. What a useful little plant.

Sort of gardening- growing potatoes

The potatoes are starting to come up! I have one peeking it’s head above the mulch.

I have been dragging triple used hay up to the potato patch for a month in an attempt to tidy up the sheep feeding area before fire season (not very successfully) and watching every day to see when the potatoes would pop up… and now one has.

The potatoes I planted in the yard garden have been up for ages and have just been mulched for a third time (and need more already). These potatoes get more water than the ones in the patch, and I think that has made a huge difference.

We will see if this experiment is a success.