Home from evacuation

The humpy, without the shade sections at the front and side

We are finally home from being evacuated. There was a blessed rain event on December 23rd-25th which allowed us to assume that the fire is now under control (along with a few other factors). We came home with everyone, only to find that we had to go straight back out again for a medical emergency. I am trying to capture the events here as I know how our memories play tricks and re-arrange things. Here is the sequence of events as I remember them now;

We had settled in to the regular work of being in the evacuation centre; walking dogs, feeding sheep, cleaning cages, feeding animals. We were making multiple calls every day to my partner, who was still at home defending the humpy. One morning, my partner (who never misses an opportunity to shop) called to say he had been looking for a farm 4WD to convert into a ‘Black Ops brigade‘ fire vehicle (unofficial fire fighting crews). The house building account was already under seige due to having to use some of it to buy food for my eldest daughter and I while we were in exile, buying fire fighting equipment and now we were looking at having to dip into it to buy a 4WD.

To cut a long story short, we ended up buying a Mitsubishi Triton that is close to being a registration failure. We had to borrow about half the money to buy it, leaving us with more debt (sigh). My partner arranged for an obliging nephew to pick him up and take him to pick up his new partner in fire fighting (he also did the initial check over of the vehicle, thanks Matt). Now it was time to outfit the old girl as a fire fighter.

The new fire fighting 4WD

We have already bought two fire fighting pumps, two 1000 litre pods and many metres of fire hose to help set up our fire defense system. We have also bought sprinklers for the roof and walls and my partner set them up in a watering system that covers the entire humpy area (now all we need is enough rain to fill the tanks). One of the pods and a pump with hoses will go on the back of the ute (she needs a name now), along with a box for the chainsaw and various other tools, such as a few water backpacks, a McCloud tool or two, shovels and rakes.

This tank and pump set up will go on the back of the 4WD

Before the pod and pump went on the ute, my partner was using it to patrol the fire front closest to us. He did regular night time patrols while a neighbour (whose property the fire happened to be on) did daytime patrols. Not to be political at all, but the RFS have been in short supply ever since this whole thing began. Let me be very clear here; the RFS is doing it’s best to fight the fires. There are just not enough resources to go around. When our little area was under direct threat they showed up with a bulldozer and pushed multiple fire breaks both around dwellings and through the bush at seemingly random intervals. They were around to do occasional patrols of the fire front and the planes and choppers flew over almost daily. The fire jumped over the first fire breaks that were put in because there were not enough patrols to observe and black out the slow moving fire that reached them. As soon as he had a vehicle capable of driving around the fire lines, my partner and other local people made sure there were regular and constant patrols on our section of the fire front. I think this has allowed the fire to be bought under control.

On the morning of the 23rd December, we decided that it was time to go home. The fire was reported as under control on our Northern side, and my partner considered it under control on our Western side, and we were feeling VERY homesick. So we packed everyone up (except the sheep) into their travelling cages and crammed them into my car, my partner’s car and one of the trailers. We set off for home like a travelling circus (or maybe like Ma and Pa Clampett), and reached home by mid morning. I quickly unpacked everyone from my car and set off back to the evacuation site to finish cleaning up the shed.

Some of the cages piled into my little car for the trip home.
More packed cages ready for the trip home.

After hours and hours of scrubbing cages and cleaning out the caravan, I was ready to drop, but I kept going until my partner got there to pick up the sheep. We took the trailer up to the yards and spent some time chasing Kracken around and around as she had apparently decided she liked the lodging and wanted to stay a bit longer. Eventually we managed to drag her into the trailer and I decided to leave the cleaning until the next day. We went home for one blissful night in our own beds with our animals all around us.

The site of the humpy still standing bought me to tears. It may just be a little, rough shed in the bush, but it is our home. I was overjoyed to see the animals that live wild around the humpy still in residence. The big open area around the humpy had been widened considerably, and the chook pen and Hugelkultur garden beds had been pushed away by the bulldozer to make the humpy more fire ready (thank you RFS). The yard fences had been partially destroyed by the dozer too, and all the shadecloth awnings around the humpy had been taken down. It looked bare and strangely neat, but it is still home.

This used to be the chook pen and the Hugelkultur beds.

The next morning, my daughter came to me with Prim in her hands. Prim was struggling to breathe and could not talk to us at all. We took off for the vet (2 and a half hours away) and reached there with her still struggling to breathe. The vet put her in an oxygen tent and recomended that she be transfered to the Gatton animal hospital. I didn’t feel able to make the drive, so we rang my partner and got him to drive up to Killarney, pick up my daughter and Prim then drive to Gatton with them. Meanwhile, I drove back home to watch over the animals still there.

Prim in her oxygen tent.

Prim died that night in the animal hospital. There are no words to tell you how grief striken we are. I will write a seperate post to honour her death. The next morning, my daughter and partner drove home to bury her. The work of settling into the humpy again begins…

We really need to put the toilet tent back up.
We did manage to get a screen door put on the front door.

NOTE: My mother lost her home and farm buildings in this fire. A fact that still seems unreal to me. However, I am not posting about my reaction to this event or any other information as it is not my information to share.

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.

AA655229-BEB0-4E25-B247-08B90D768DD7

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.

BC7C1DDF-B25F-470A-B368-E175CA167B27

B6F6525D-6E63-40A5-895F-788D4D10788F

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.

33AFE5FB-FABD-4032-A886-916B46C42BA6

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.

0C4AE10A-AF8D-44A8-A1A3-0D1F75A279B0

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- Madagascar beans

B77ACBD5-D716-4956-82B0-9874BB21B006

There are a lot of plants in my garden (not as many as my mother’s garden, but still, a lot), and these plants don’t often get to be noticed by anyone other than me. So I thought I would start a series of posts that introduce the plants I manage to grow in my garden, despite animal depredation, insect attack, serious neglect and outright attack with a mower or whipper snipper.

First in the line up is the Madagascar bean; a perennial , sub-tropical lima bean. I planted 5 seeds in toilet paper rolls in the Summer and planted out the sweet little seedlings about three weeks later. I chose a spot in the Hugelkultur garden that would let the beans climb on the fence and would eventually give shade to a couple of beds for planting lettuce and silverbeet in the hot summer months. Little did I know that the plants grow like Jack’s beanstalk and look likely to take over the whole vegetable garden roof area. I think that I will be doing a lot of pruning next Spring to keep some growing areas in the sun.

6F2764BA-29CC-421F-A637-5F253979021D

Somewhere in there are 5 little bean seeds

016BF74E-A7B0-41FB-BC6E-B035232F986A

Planted out as young seedlings

C035A937-B75B-422F-8011-622A74378A16

I have created a monster

35DD7E67-41E4-486B-8D32-0BC8DE4F01D5

Apparently the seeds can be eaten when young as a broad bean substitute (steamed or boiled) and the dried beans can be used anywhere dried beans can be used (soaked, cooked and put into soups, stews, burgers, casserole, etc). My vines have pods, and I am now waiting around impatiently (checking my watch, sighing, pacing a little) for them to form beans so I can try to trick my partner into believing I have grown broad beans for him (he doesn’t know what the plant looks like anyway). I am becoming a big fan of perennial vegetables, I think I will seek out a few more.

New Hugelkultur bed- final update

It’s finished at last, the new bed is built, mulched and planted. Even the path is done. Now to wait for those yummy broccoli and Ceylon spinach plants to grow, and let’s not forget the broad beans I planted today.

 

3D548075-D0F2-43F9-BAC4-A75C11A52F40

Broccoli and Ceylon spinach growing madly

6BE694FB-74E5-40D0-BE20-0CD5D315F525

The dark line on the right of the picture is where the broad beans are planted

D969ACD6-B0BE-45D4-9665-30AB648E8D77

The gum leaf path over cardboard is in place.

I can’t wait until this bed is just a mass of green…it won’t take long. I also had another play with time lapse video, I did a quick video of my daughter (yes, she has pink hair this week) and I putting pig poop and mulch on our trailer bed and planting some snow peas. It is a bit far away from the action for me, I think I need a stand or something to hold the iPad at the right angle. This kind of video has a lot of potential I think, it is certainly fun to play with.

I have been dumping a good layer of pig poop on every bed I can find, covering it up with mulch and planting into a handful of potting mix in the bed to prevent too much nitrogen burn and give my plants something to get their roots into before they get into all that poopy goodness.

 

2D360450-9640-4EB9-89CF-BF233816185A

I also weeded, fertilised and mulched my poor little pomegranate tree while I was going.

444E20D8-0B97-4471-B6C0-1FA9D7307BFE

Doesn’t she look a lot happier now.

What a relaxing and carefree day I’ve had in the garden. This is what we need to do to maintain sanity…or a close facsimile there of.

Update on the new hugelkultur bed

A0F7399B-80BE-4591-9590-B2A5E47DB16EI have finally had a chance to finish the new bed; thanks to some help from my daughters and a friend. After much carrying of wood chunks, shoveling of manure and frequent stops to rest, we have planted the first half of the bed with broccoli and ceylon spinach (which I just happened to have a lot of).

The grass on the path has been smothered with cardboard and I will rake up some gum leaves to cover it with soon. The pig poop (composted) was shoveled into an old bin and lifted into the bed over the period of about a week. Spread over the pile of sticks it has made a really rich bed, even though it is still composting and so is putting out a bit of heat. The broccoli seedlings seem to appreciate the extra heat, even though they are planted into a double handful of potting mix in the hole (because I was worried about the pig poop being too hot for them).

01FABECA-E4AF-428F-95D9-3A38A46712B7

Our big pile of pig poop

B01EF694-3AB5-4891-9AE8-882C52A7F8B4

Happy little seedlings

CF88DBF5-4312-4803-8386-1044D8B4A7D8

The newspaper and cardboard path

I am loving having some new space to plant and it promises to be as easy care as the other hugelkultur beds. I guess it’s on to the next project; the trailer bed needs some TLC.

The first Hugelkultur bed is powering on. I do love this style of gardening. The rest of this post is made up of photos of my powering garden….for inspiration…mine.

20180218_173333[1]

Seedlings all ready to be planted out. My seedling raising area is going well this year.

 

D76DDFE3-1AF8-4308-9429-ADF37FD438C1

A late pumpkin vine….I might be lucky

016BF74E-A7B0-41FB-BC6E-B035232F986A

Madagascar beans on their way up some well placed sticks

1B060414-802D-4010-8AD5-24A93CBCB0E4

A riot of productivity

F5C35C45-D8DF-4500-B742-DF8CB0DC18F7

AE0183D7-9977-469C-8951-10DB88287301

The tamarillo is producing fruit….one at a time

DE5117AC-E8D7-42DA-A938-008A70B0F649

Late corn….it’s flowering

3631A07A-AACA-41DE-B86C-60FAB586568D

Another Hugelkultur-like bed on the go

It has been a while since I posted…life gets in the way. I have been hard at work learning to be a ‘real’ teacher (as one of my students stated), and have had not much time for anything at home besides simple maintenance. I have managed (or we have managed, as my daughter has helped a lot) to start and gradually work on one project; a new Hugelkultur bed.

We have an old chicken tractor made from PVC pipe (electrical conduit) and chicken wire, it is so old that it can’t be moved anymore. We decided it would make a good vegetable bed as it is covered and secure and has a decent amount of space inside.

20180206_155811[1]

Before we started working on the bed. The tin thing is a chicken roost.

We removed everything from the cage, leaving only a weedy, unpromising space. Then we began to gather mulching material (otherwise known as organic rubbish); we found some old rags (cotton and wool), newspaper and cardboard. We also started to gather sticks and wood for the Hugel building.

First we spread the rags, newspaper and cardboard over the grass; there wasn’t enough to cover it all so we are working in sections. Then we piled the sticks and some larger branches where we wanted the beds to be. On top of this we piled the contents of the bottom of the rabbit cage; poop and newspaper litter soaked in pee. We are in the process of collecting manure to add to the beds and a neighbor has offered to bring home some composted pig manure from her work for us (thank you L). Once the bed is piled up with sticks, manure and other compostables we will cover it all  with a layer of straw mulch and leave it to compost for a few weeks. I am looking forward to planting out another low water use bed…more broccoli, here we come.

20180206_163955[1]

20180206_163956[1]

There will be a thin path from the door to the middle of the bed, the rest will be planted out with vegetables

Using gum leaves in the garden

It is really hot at the moment, so the fire danger level is high. I am raking up leaves from around the house at a rate of one or two 20 litre buckets a day (and fighting a losing battle). Summer solstice (or Litha) is when gum trees drop a lot of leaves and shed their bark like a Hollywood actress shrugging out of her overcoat to reveal she is naked underneath. All that newborn bark is exceedingly beautiful to look at and I love walking  in the bush and letting the cicada song wash over me like a sound ocean, but…extra fuel on the ground leads to extra fire danger.

Common knowledge says that gum leaves are no good for compost; they are allelopathic (don’t play well with other plants), highly acidic, slow to compost and hydrophobic (don’t soak up water). In fact the only thing they have in their favour is we have a lot of them, but what to do with them?. I always struggle with where to put leaves once they are raked up from the constant drifts around the house. I usually rake them away from the house and leave it at that. This year I thought I’d try something different.

20171221_082429[1]

The path in my Hugelkultur bed area is constantly sprouting weed seedlings, which I try to keep up with by pulling a handful or two as mulch  every time I go in there (not a very effective method) but missing one day means the big weeds are taller and harder to pull out and there are just too many of them. Every year I try to cover the path with cardboard as boxes come into the house, then I cover the path with something; wood chip, sand, mulch hay, etc, anything that will keep the cardboard down and can be shoveled onto the beds the following winter. This year I have decided to try gum leaves and bark.

20171221_082504[1]

You can see the multitude of weed seedlings on the path in this photo

My reasoning is that most people say the leaves will break down eventually, given a year on the ground and it is best to have the allelopathic qualities of the leaves spent on the path where I don’t want plants. Also the leaves will be broken up by the mechanical action of me walking on them often which will speed up their decomposition somewhat. I can add a high nitrogen source like urine to the path to further speed decomposition (pardon the indelicate reference) and dampness provided by the infrequent watering of the garden and rain will also speed the process. When I add the resulting leaf mold to my garden beds I will have to remember to add some lime with it to counteract the acidity of the gum leaf mold. This is an experiment to see if gum leaves can be useful in soil building, I am not sure whether it will work out well or be a failure, but we will see in six months or so.

In other news;

My Hugelkultur beds are growing well. Here are some photos to prove  it.

20171221_082441[1]

The zucchini are flowering

20171221_082445[1]

The tree tomato is growing new leaves (it isn’t really this pale, it’s just the camera)

20171221_082458[1]

The chia is growing so fast you can see it

20171221_082500[1]

I am picking lettuce and a tiny bit of silverbeet from this bed

20171221_082512[1]

The beans are up at last and the tomato is ready to be tied up (I’m not sure I will do it though)

20171221_082501[1]

I  have continued to build up the beds that were very low on organic matter by adding anything that comes to hand; horse and cow manure collected from beside the road, the contents of the rabbit litter box and any weeds I pull from the garden.

20171223_092954[1]

Building up the bed ready for planting…probably in winter now, unless I can get some late corn in soon

20171223_092913[1]

The rabbit litter tray; the litter is compressed paper pellets which soak up water and break down very fast, also rabbit poop, pee and hair

Challenges to gardening

20171203_183151[1]

In our garden we have three major challenges to gardening success;

Lack of water– We live on tank water, harvested from the rain that falls on our roof. This means that when it doesn’t rain for a long time we start to get worried. The garden makes do with water from our washing (and hopefully our showering later on) once a week and whatever rain falls on it. Of course generational pampered vegetables don’t really like this arrangement and many either die or sulk their way through life producing nothing.

Lack of time– I am a teacher, which means that most of my time is taken up thinking about the educational needs of my students (I even dream about lessons), my partner works full time and my daughters visit but don’t really live here (although my eldest picks up her mail here). All this means that the garden is left to it’s own devises a lot, and tends to revert to a Dionysian jungle during the course of each school term.

Predators– Aside from the usual (for our area) bower birds, insects and possums, we also have domestic predators; sheep, chooks, ducks (and now a goose). All these predators love the taste of carefully nurtured vegetables and fruit. We grow our vegetables in cages, but they fail with alarming regularity.

Over the years I have tried many different solutions to all these problems but nothing works all the time. I have some success and quite a lot of failure, like all gardeners. Small, regular changes make the most difference in the long term. With that in mind I have put the following solutions in place;

lack of water;

compost- Compost from the chook pen (that used to be cardboard, paper, food scraps, grass clippings, straw and garden waste) is added to all the beds on a fairly regular basis. I also buy compost to add to the garden when I run out. The humus in compost helps to retain moisture in the soil.

mulch- Mulch at our humpy consists of anything organic that can be spread over the soil. The raked up straw from the sheep shelter, rough compost from the chook pen, grass clippings, bought mulch and raked up leaves (not gum leaves though) all become mulch in one area or another. Mulch helps stop moisture from evaporating from the soil, it also protects the soil from erosion during heavy rain; mulch is truly a miracle.

Hugelkultur- Hugelkultur is basically the art of sweeping your rubbish under the rug (or mulch) and calling it tidy. By piling up old, rotting wood and covering it with mulch and soil we have created new garden beds and tidied away mess. We have also made a water retention system that is hard to beat. The rain (and occasional watering) soak into the buried wood which retains moisture for a very long time, plants send roots into the softened, rotted wood looking for water and in the process help to break it down. This is probably the most effective water saving system we have in  our garden.

03ce1-sam_9991

This is how our Hugelkultur beds began…as piles of rotting wood.

70267-sam_9990

ac065-photo0164

 I covered the wood up with piles of compost and soil

Second planting of the Hugelkultur beds

I kept adding woody weeds and cardboard to the beds until over time…

20171203_183151[1]

It has become a rich and fertile growing space.

20171203_183154[1]

shade cloth or old sheets– At the height of summer when plants wither and die by lunch time no matter how much water they have, I cover some plants with shade cloth or old sheets. Just this little bit of extra shade can slow evaporation enough to let sensitive vegetables like lettuce and silver beet survive the heat.

80fcf-dscf7335

lack of time;

mulch- mulch is such a useful thing to put on the garden; it not only slows water evaporation it also stops a lot of weeds from popping their heads up. This means I don’t have to spend as much time weeding (in theory). It also means that the soil is being fed, slowly and evenly as nature intended. Reduced weeding and not having to fertilize saves me a lot of time in the garden.

buying seedlings- I have been buying a lot of seedlings lately. I haven’t started seeds for such a long time. Buying seedlings is not ideal and doesn’t really fit my philosophy, but it does fit my time constraints at the moment. Buying seedlings means I can bypass the messing around with seeds and potting mix. When I have more time I will start planting seeds for seedlings again, but for the moment time constraints win.

doubling up on jobs- By this I mean never going anywhere with empty hands, for example, I go out to feed the chooks, taking their grain bucket and the kitchen scraps with me, on the way back I notice that the washing is dry so I take an armful of clean clothes back into the house (one trip to the chook pen = chooks fed, scrap bucket empty and washing in). This saves time because I am not spending a lot of time walking back and forth. Another method for doubling jobs is to make work do more than one job, for example, if the lawn is being mowed (everyone has a go at that job) the wheelbarrow is nearby to empty clippings into, the clippings then go into the chook pen or straight onto a garden bed as mulch (lawn mowing = lawn mowed, compost making topped up and garden mulched). While each little thing saves only a minute or two the cumulative effect of all that time saving is huge.

predators;

fencing- Our yard is fenced, the garden beds inside the yard are caged. Still the possums and goannas manage to find a way in. We have electric fencing that helps keep the sheep out too, but cloudy weeks mean the solar unit goes flat and they still get in.

over planting- This year I have started to plant about three times more of everything than we need in the hope that some would be left over for us. I also plant the same thing in different areas so that if something happens to one bed there is always another to go to. This strategy is only just successful; it seems that more food equals more predators.

 

If all that fails…I sigh and start again.

What are your gardening challenges? How do you get around them (or try to)?

 

 

 

 

Update on the Hugelkultur beds

20171129_161132[1]

Hugelkultur beds tidy…sort of

I just love Hugelkultur; not only is it a great way to grow vegetables with minimal water, it also gets rid of piles of unsightly woody weeds and sticks. I first posted about my Hugelkultur beds way back in 2013, when I began building my beds in a chicken run/vegetable growing area. Since then the beds have been planted, harvested, laid fallow, used as a chicken run, used as a duck run, housed wildlife, been tidied up and replanted and finally laid fallow again.

This time the whole area was a terrible mess of weeds, mostly paddy’s lucerne. I spent the day digging out or cutting off all the large, woody weeds in the path and beds, these weeds were then piled onto the areas of bed that needed building up. Weeds have a lot of nutrient in them which would otherwise go to waste, by piling them onto the beds I can allow them to break down and keep the nutrients in the garden where my vegetables can use them (most of them had not seeded yet so they won’t add to the weed seed bank in the soil much).

20171129_104002[1]

Weeds piled up in the beds

Before i got too carried away with gardening, I made a planting plan, partly to help me remember where and what I planted in there and partly so I could put some thought into placement of plants to provide shelter to those that need it.

 

20171129_174301[1]

I then shoveled as much soil from the path to the beds as I could and collected chook compost from the chook pen to pile on top. This was topped off with some bags of bought compost (there is never enough compost is there) and mulched with bought sugar cane mulch. All this was only enough to finish the front third of the total area of beds, so I planted that out according to my planting plan

20171129_161157[1]

Lettuce, eggplant and silverbeet in this section

20171129_161200[1]

Tomato, basil and beans in this section

It rained just as I finished mulching (conveniently) so they all got a good watering in. I just love planting out garden beds; everything is so full of hope and potential.  I will have to finish the rest this weekend, I am going to buy a trailer full of compost to top up the beds. It is extravagant to buy a huge amount of compost and I could simply wait until the chook pen compost is ready for harvesting again, but I am really enjoying making this section of the garden productive once more and I want to keep my momentum up.

We have been making plant labels by painting stones at school lately. They are so pretty I think I will make a few for home too. I just love seeing the little pops of colour around the school gardens, and they will look amazing in my garden too.

20171128_152307[1]

Plant label stones we have been making at school.

20171128_152322[1]20171124_144142[1]
Gardening is so therapeutic isn’t it? I love to try new things in my garden and potter about wasting whole days. Unfortunately I also get distracted easily and forget to maintain entire sections (or the whole lot sometimes), I guess that is the kind of gardener I am…sporadic.

 

 

 

 

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.