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 pasta sauce

The tomatoes in the Hugelkultur bed have been supplying us with yummy Roma tomatoes for some time now and we have added them to most lunches and dinners (and the occasional breakfast), we are all at the ‘I don’t like tomatoes any more’ stage, reached at some point in every harvest season when there is a glut. Therefore, I decided (this morning) to make some pasta sauce and bottle it using my trusty but under utilized Fowlers Vacola (FV) unit. That way we can have our tomatoes to eat in the winter when we are all craving them. I decided to use glass jars with metal lids (the ones you buy pasta sauce in in the supermarket) instead of the traditional FV jars because the FV jars I own are all huge (1 litre is the smallest) and we use our pasta sauce in small lots so the smaller jars are more practical for us.

A bucket of Roma tomatoes from the garden

Stage one of the Hugelkultur beds cleared and waiting for a compost top up and mulch before replanting.

I found a fairly easy recipe for tomato pasta sauce that can be preserved using the water bath method. The recipe below has been copied from the Brisbane Local Food site and changed only slightly. The link in the title will take you to the original post.

Home made pasta sauce
Makes 1.5 cups

You need a large non stick frying pan or a wok and a stick blender

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
500g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sprigs of basil, oregano or mint
sea salt, ground black pepper. About 2/3 tsp of salt per 1 1/2 cups of sauce is recommended.

Heat oil to medium heat, add onion and bay leaf, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is softened but hardly coloured. Add tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Cover, cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until tomatoes have collapsed. Add seasonings and blend until the sauce is a pleasing consistency and you are ready to bottle.

Preserving
Put sauce into clean, sterilised jars with good lids that will vacuum seal. If the pulp is still really hot, put a sterilised spoon in the jar before filling to prevent cracking. Place jars in a water bath up to their necks and bring the temperature up to 93.3 degrees Celsius (or 200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hold at this temperature for two hours. Remove from the preserving pan and press down the lids to encourage vacuum sealing.

N.B. The Fowlers Vacola manual states that unless you use all their gear they won’t be held responsible for these instructions being no good.

The chopping begins
But not before they get a good wash
Pasta bottles; found, de-labeled and washed by my eldest daughter (thanks hon)
The sauce; boiled, seasoned and blended, ready to bottle.
My good old FV stove top unit. Isn’t she a beauty?
The bottles in their bath, all carefully positioned so they don’t touch each other or the sides. Fowlers Vacola frowns on touching in the bath.
The final result; six yummy bottles of pasta sauce. I had better label them before I forget what they are though.

I want to do more preserving, it’s so much fun.

Making calendula ointment

When I cleared the trailer bed for square foot garden planting, I harvested my calendula flowers. Calendula in the vegetable beds helps to reduce insect attacks (and looks very pretty). The buttery yellow petals were stripped from the flower heads, packed into a glass jar and covered with sunflower oil. This very pretty jar was placed on and eastern facing window sill (well, on a shelf below the window) and shaken occasionally. At this stage it looked like a natural themed lava lamp. After four weeks the infusion was ready to use.

I made three 100ml pots of calendula ointment for my friends and family. Calendula ointment can be used to treat cuts and grazes, hives, eczema and skin rashes. The recipe I use is simple (in the extreme) and easy to make;

Calendula Ointment
35g natural beeswax
1 1/2 cups calendula infusion (sunflower oil based)
1 ml Benzoin tincture.

Melt beeswax and calendula infusion in a small double saucepan, do not exceed 50 degrees C. Remove from heat and add benzoin tincture. Pour into dark glass jars while hot and leave to cool.

Clean jars ready to be filled.
The ointment on the stove. I know I said double saucepan, but I couldn’t find mine so I used a small copper bottomed pot on a really low setting.
Beeswax being weighed.
Pouring the warm ointment into a jug makes it much easier to pour into little jars.

See……..

Now I screw the cap on and wait for them to cool and solidify.

The ointment needs to be stored in a dark, cool place and will last for six months or so. Other herbal ointments can be made this way too; I have made comfrey, chickweed, chilli (herbal deep heat), golden seal and echinacea. The only ointment I would not make this way is aloe vera; it rots very easily and is best used fresh off the plant (although, I have used it in soap making).

Have a go at making your own herbal ointments; they are effective and safe as well as a lot of fun to make.