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.

Local insects and animals – social native bees

We have social native bees at the humpy. They have been visiting the garden since we moved here. I do love to see them busily picking over flowers or having a drink at the rock tray in the garden, they remind me that life holds a lot of joy. They always seem so happy in their work.

Australia has 1700 (approximately) species of native bee. Some are the familiar stingless, social bees, others are solitary species who only talk to another bee for mating purposes.

We see many species of native bee in our garden, both solitary and social. The species I am talking about today is Tetragonula Carbonaria (the Sugarbag bee). These little beauties build a spiral shaped hive and have an irritating bite, but no sting.

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We have a tray filled with rocks in our garden on a low pedestal which is regularly topped up with water. This is our insect watering station, for bees and other insects that need water during the dry months. The honey bees love to gather here and have a cool drink; they buzz and struggle to be the first to the water. I often sit nearby and listen to the buzzing and squabbling. The native bees are quieter and more patient; they can be seen earlier in the morning, in the cool of dawn, having a quiet drink before work. They do make a noise, but, like so much of Australia’s wildlife, they are understated and require a bit of work to notice. If you are still and silent yourself, you can sometimes hear the subsonic vibration that is the native bee buzz.

These little bees pollinate tropical crops such as macadamia, mango and watermelon. Something that was surprising to me when I first started learning about different species of bees, was that individual species are better at pollinating certain flowers. Some species are evolved to pollinate a certain flower shape (or is that co-evolved?) efficiently, for example; solenaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, chilli, etc) plants are best pollinated by ‘buzz pollination’ which needs the bee to be heavy and rounded and a little clumsy to get the best effect. Honey bees, Blue banded bees and Bumblebees are all good at buzz pollination. The small, delicate and gentle social native bee is not so good at pollinating tomatoes, they are designed to get their small bodies into narrow and deep flowers, like the mango or macadamia flower. That small fact is why we need the many species of native bee to survive and thrive; without all those different pollinators, we run the risk of losing fertilisation of many plant species (some we eat and others that support non-human species).

We grow some annual flowers in our funeral forest, to encourage insects and to enjoy the colour and joy that flowers bring. We also grow as many vegetables as the season and our time limits allow, to make use of those insect pollinators we attract.

Tomato flowers in Spring
Elder flowers, theses are perfect for native social bees
A small patch of green vegetables, just because they make me happy
Peaches on our peach tree, Honey bees are the most important pollinator of this kind of fruit tree

Consider putting a tray of rocks out for insects to drink from, in long dry periods, it could be the difference between surviving and dying for many insects in your garden. We need all the species around us to survive, I am not equipped to pollinate flowers all day, are you?

Spring flowers at the humpy

Lately, I have been forced to slow down and look at the ground more (to avoid falling over a lot), that has led to noticing a lot more of the small and unnoticed flowers that grow here. I don’t have any idea whether most of these are native plants or not, I don’t know what they are called at all, but they are beautiful. I thought I would share the beauty with you. If you know the names of any of these little beauties, leave a comment.

And a few from my garden (I know what these ones are).

In some ways, I am grateful for my dizzy spells; they have let me slow down and really see all the beauty that surrounds us again. On the other hand, it will be wonderful to be able to move around fast without falling over again too.

The funeral forest – sort of gardening

In the front yard of the humpy is my funeral forest. This is the place we keep the memories of our lost family members close. When a family member dies, we either bury them directly into a pot with a memory plant in it or we send them off for cremation and bury the ashes into a pot (in the case of large family members). For example; Sid the sheep weighed in at 71kg when he died, too big to put in a pot, so we sent him off to be cremated and when he returned we planted him in a big pot with a dwarf mandarine tree. All our lost family are here in these pots, and I love to sit at my little table, light a fire in the fire pit and visit with them.

This little oasis of green is sanity for me. There is a sprinkler on a pole in the middle of these pots. It is designed to spray water over the walls of the humpy and the garden beds and pots if a fire is close. We have set aside a 24000 litre tank to spray the humpy and animal shelters, which leaves us a little short of water for day to day living, but it may help when the next fire threatens.

As you may have guessed (or possibly hoped), the family members we bury in our funeral forest are our feathered, furred and scaled members. I wish we could include the human members as well (not right now, but in time), but there are rules about where humans can be buried.

In Western Australia there is a new innovation; a memorial forest where you can bury your human family’s ashes under a tree. This seems like a great idea to me; these funeral forests will be considered sacred by just about everyone, the trees will never be cut down for timber or dozed out because they drop limbs or to build a house. They will provide homes for a multitude of native animals and a seed bank for local plant species. Why don’t we have one of these in every council area? I would love to be buried under a tree, to become part of that tree and it’s ecosystem.

Planting potatoes – sort of gardening

It is now the full moon in August, which is my signal from the planet to plant potatoes. Since the fires six months ago I have lost a lot of my incentive to garden, but I am feeling the Springtime urge to get my hands dirty again. I have been maintaining the tiny patch of potted green in our front yard for a few months and it is planted out to the full extent of possibility, so potatoes will not fit.

Since the fire, (a lot of sentences start with that phrase now) I have become very aware of flammable material close to the humpy and gardens need a lot of flammable material to be fertile. To answer the conflicting urges to be fire safe and to grow some food, I decided to start planting staple crops out on the edge of the fire break in a little fenced off area with it’s own water supply (to be wet down in the event of a fire coming close). The fenced off area is yet to happen, but potato planting time is here, so I just ignored the lack of a fence and planted.

This year, I am trying the Ruth Stout method (sort of) and planting in hay mulch. As I am incapable of following any sort of instructions without modification (oppositional child here), I used the hay cleaned out of the animal pens to plant into.

The hay for planting is well traveled; it starts life here at the humpy as sheep fodder, we keep a round bale in the sheep night pen for midnight snacking purposes (which is why the vet says our sheep are heart attack risks). Once the sheep have eaten the bits of it they like, and pooped and peed into the other bits on the ground, the hay is raked up and used as bedding for rabbits, chooks, geese and the sheep. Once it is raked out of the pens (every two weeks or so), it is piled up to be used as mulch. This hay is now damp (with spilled water pots and pee) and filled with a variety of fertility boosting poops. It is also starting to break down into compost.

A random potato planting.

I began the potato planting with a little row of eight tubers in the designated area for planting staple crops; near our new cardboard/mulch hole. More potatoes will join these ones in a mulched field around the compost hole. My partner is going to move one of the fire fighting tank units up to this patch so that the hole and the mulched garden can be wet down really well when a fire threatens.

Yes, it looks like a dump.

The compost hole is huge; at least five metres across and about two metres deep. The purpose of this hole is to hold (and compost) any materials that are waste from the humpy, but will break down into nutrient rich compost (eventually). In there are broken furniture, cardboard, floor sweepings, paper (from cage cleaning, so covered in poop), natural fibre clothes, old or damaged fleece, hair clippings, etc. All the things we used to dump in the chook pen to be turned into compost are now thrown into the hole. The idea is that eventually (in a few years time) we will have a huge ‘pot’ of compost to plant fruit trees into. I don’t know if this will work, but I am willing to give it a go.

#coronavirus- Re-imagining the front yard

The front yard has gone wild, since the fires went out and the rain began the green has threatened to take over the humpy. There are weeds everywhere and I have been very slack about pulling them out. It has become a jungle and it looks so messy. I decided that now is a great time to begin the tidy-up cycle (again).

The weeds need to go; a huge job in itself (as you can see in the photo). Also the pots and things laying about need to be cleaned away to make way for more productive areas.

The Funeral Forest pots (that’s what we call the collection of large pots with fruiting plants that contain the ashes of various family members) are scattered randomly around the area, leaving no space for living in.

The fence around the hugelkultur bed serves no purpose now (other than preventing me from working on the bed easily), and I plan to remove the side facing the front yard.

I would like to put a small table and some chairs out the front so I can sit and admire the results when I am done. I will see if I can fit something in.

The progress is slow on this project; I am only putting in a half hour of work at a time. Suddenly , the need to finish a project is gone. I am just enjoying the process and when I have had enough for the time being, I leave it. This is (sort of) how I have always been (and this is why the yard turns into a jungle on a regular basis), but the current situation has bought me back to my true self; easily distracted and pleasure driven.

That big mass of aloe is actually in a pot. It took the trolley and a crow bar to move it.

The Hugelkultur bed looks so much larger with the front fence and the big pot of aloe removed. I piled all the weeds up on the bed to become soil food. There are seeds on a lot of the weeds, but I will cover the lot with cardboard when it collapses a bit and put compost or soil over it; that should slow down the weeds until the plants I choose can get their roots into the soil.

The wooden shelves I moved from beside the front gate to the tank will look nice covered with plants in terracotta pots (I think). I am just waiting for a chance to pick up more cuttings and some larger pots.

The Funeral Forest of pots that were scattered around randomly… are still scattered around. I did try to group them a bit more artistically though. I love to visit with all the animals who have passed on and remember the joy they have given me.

I managed to find a desk I am no longer using and some camping chairs. For the moment that will give me somewhere to sit. I am on the lookout for a small outdoor setting though (second hand of course).

Now I can properly appreciate my wall art. A very talented friend made these wall panels for me as gifts. I love the way they brighten up the entrance to the humpy and I plan to cover the whole wall with them (if I can).

There is still a fair way to go on this project; I have a patch of weeds behind the tank, and plants to be potted and planted out, but I am happy to be pottering around outside again and thinking about the future.

The herb beds…er…logs and a new bed

Note: you may notice that the first part of this post was made in the days when we had rain. The second part is in the current situation of deep drought. This is because I got distracted by other pursuits and didn’t get to finish the post. Because I hate to waste anything, I thought I would just update the post with some photos of the current state of the area.

Read on…

Living in the bush as we do, wood is easy to come by, we use it for everything; burning as fuel, structural building material, even in the garden. I have several hollow logs cut in half placed around one of the water tanks that were always intended to become herb beds. Unfortunately I sort of lost interest in the project for a year or two and they have sat there, looking messy ever since. I guess it is time to tackle that problem opportunity.

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First of all the weeds have to go. I need to clear around the tank in general in fact. As I was staring at the mess, wishing there were an easier way, inspiration struck. Why don’t I just lay cardboard over the weeds behind the hollow logs and cover it all with gravel? It would make it look neat and reduce the fire hazard as well. That will have to wait until I can go and get some gravel.

The hollow logs were easy to fix. I dug out the old soil and mixed it with pig poop and lime, then shoveled it back in. Once the beds have settled down and composted a bit more I will plant some herbs in there, I will probably have to fence them off too, because everything wants to eat anything newly planted.

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All inspired by this bit of progress, I decided to build a new Hugelkultur bed in the front yard. This area used to have a trellis made from a couple of bed bases tied to poles and some tires planted with choko vines, unfortunately the ducks managed to break into the choko vine covers and ate the lot. So the whole mess sat, doing nothing for a year or so; the chooks dug the soil out of the tires, the trellis fell down and the grass grew over the lot. Time to jazz it up a bit.

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First I needed to put the trellis back up. A couple of pieces of scrap metal about 1.5m long and a star picket later I had a trellis again, of course the zip ties helped too (what did we do before zip ties?). Sometimes I am so thankful we are too lazy to take stuff to the dump.

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Now for the garden bed. Time to collect wood and bury it in pig poop…fun.

I gathered branches and stray bits of wood from all around the humpy for a couple of hours. Thanks to my trusty wheel barrow I can collect quite a large amount in a trip. Then I filled the gaps in between with partially composted pig poop from the conveniently placed pile up the hill (thanks Lucille), remembering to sprinkle the whole lot with lime periodically (which helps reduce the smell and adjusts the pH from acid back down towards neutral).

This new bed is going to take a while to settle down into a rich, fertile growing area so I need to gather plenty of mulch to cover over the pig poop and reduce the smell. Mulch also gives a bed that finished look, whether it is finished or not.

Now for the present day photos…

Nothing really likes to grow in the log bed, but the zucchini really go well in the compost in the bed in front of the log. Everything is in pots at the moment because it is easier to water everything with our second use water.
The bush beans seem to love growing in the log on this side.
We moved the aquaculture set up to the shaded area near the humpy so that A****e wouldn’t cook. The pots with herbs and veges are our way of keeping a bit of green about.
The new Hugelkultur be became a compost heap that was over a metre high. It has broken down really well and is ready for seedlings as soon as we get some rain. The tree in the middle of it is an Elder, I hope to get berries from it one day.

Yes, our humpy is a place of half-assed half-finished projects, but we have a lot of fun doing it and what else is life for, if not to follow your joy? We are messy people, you won’t find much order here, what you will find is interest and new ideas (sometimes the same new idea that has been long forgotten and then suddenly rediscovered). I do love my life!!

Plants in the garden- mulberry tree

Mulberry really is the Giving Tree. This simple little tree has so many uses and does so many jobs that I am just thankful every time I pass it. Our little tree is growing at the bottom of the chook run, it has access to the nutrients that wash or leech out of the compost material we dump into the chooks to be turned into humus rich soil. It doesn’t get much water (only what we tip out of the duck and chicken water pots) and has had no pruning except from the sheep and once a stray herd of cattle.

The leaves feed my silk worms (although not this year, as the leaves are more valuable as shade), the fruit feeds the humans and birds in our family, and the wild birds and possums that visit (and probably bats too, although we haven’t seen them), the tree shades the chooks in the pen and the ducks outside the fence and the leaves feed the sheep. The leaves also have medicinal uses for humans; treating colds, regulating blood pressure, regulating digestion and adding iron to the diet (to name just a few benefits). What else could we ask of a garden plant.

They can be invasive, this particular tree was grown from a seedling dug out of the river bank, but everything has it’s down side and I feel the benefits far out weigh the risks here.

Making vege burgers from Madagascar beans

Madagascar bean, growing like a weed.

The Madagascar bean plants have continued to grow and now it is Spring again, they have decided to bear a huge crop of beans (even though it is so very dry). I thought I would share a recipe for using the dried beans in vege burgers as a way of using my stash of last years crop in preparation for harvesting a new batch.

The new harvest begins.

I didn’t use a particular recipe to make my burgers, just added things I had on hand, but I did manage to find a similar recipe here.

There is a mix of Madagascar beans and bush beans in this batch.

First; soak a cup of dried beans in hot water for a few hours (or overnight).

Then boil the beans for about two hours (or until they can be squashed to mush with a fork).

Blend the beans together with; 1 cup of grated carrot/raw beetroot, 1 onion, 1 cup red lentils (these can be boiled with the beans if they are dried), 1/2 cup boiled sweet potato, 1 chia egg (1 tspn chia seed in 1 tblespn hot water), garlic, soy sauce, salt and pepper.

Carrots, onion, garlic, capsicum (and a sneaky chilli)
Sweet potato and a chia egg or two.

Put the whole mess in a bowl and mix in bread crumbs or oat bran until you can form patties that stick together.

Shallow fry the patties and serve with vegetables or as a burger. Yum.

Yum

They can also be frozen before cooking to have a quick, easy meal ready to cook.