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

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.

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!!

Aquaponics update- the system is cycled and ready for A*****e to move in.

It has taken many weeks for the system to go through it’s ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle, but it is finally ready to house A*****e. Today is the day we move him to his new pond.

The lettuce and spinach are growing really well; I have been harvesting them consistently.

This is the lettuce the day I planted it.
Doesn’t the lettuce look healthy?

When I first turned the system on, the sound of running water outside sent me into a near panic every hour (the water cycles through for fifteen minutes every hour) when I heard the sound of our precious water running away. Drought does that to you. Now I am used to it, I find it relaxing and calming; splashing water is such a rich sound don’t you think? (drought does that to you too)

I have continued to add occasional fish food to the system to give the bacteria some ammonia to work with and I added a cap full of Seasol to the water to feed the plants.

Three weeks ago I tested the water to see if it was ready to accept fish in the system; it was not. Water testing is a big part of keeping an aquaponics system healthy (not to mention the fish). Fish can die very easily in high ammonia and nitrite water, so it is important to wait until the bacteria colonies are established before adding an ammonia generator (which is what fish are). Below are the results of the test from the first week;

The pH was 6.6…it should be around 7.3
The ammonia was 2.0…it should be 0.0 (or close to it)
The nitrite was 1.0…it should be 0.0 (or close to it)
The nitrate was 10….it can be quite high

The fact that there is a nitrate level to read shows that both the bacteria that turns ammonia to nitrite and the bacteria that turns nitrite to nitrate are there, living in their little clay ball cities. I just had to wait for the populations to grow enough to get the nitrite and ammonia levels down to almost nothing.

Two weeks ago I tested the water again;

The pH is getting higher.
The ammonia is lower.
The nitrite is very high.
The nitrate levels are high, yay!

Not ready just yet. We will wait another week.

This week I tested again and found a surprising result;

The pH is going in the wrong direction; it is 6.0 when it should be 7.3
The ammonia is close to 0.0, yay!
The nitrite is below 0.25
The nitrate is around 80…perfect level

To begin to change the pH I added 1 teaspoon of aglime to the water and retested after a few hours. I also began to acclimatize A*****e by getting my daughter to put him in a bucket about half full of his water then I poured water from the new pond into it at the rate of 1/4 cup every 15 minutes or so. After a full day of this he was ready to be poured into the pond.

He’s in there somewhere.

My daughter also moved over some sand, weed and a floaty rock thing for him. He seems very happy in there so far. The water test after three days was encouraging, except the pH.

pH is still 6.0 to 6.4
Ammonia is 0.0
Nitrite is 0.0
Nitrate is 80.0. Plenty of plant food.

My next move is to add another grow bed. I am really enjoying the mad scientist element of aquaponics; test tubes, coloured chemicals, wild solutions.

Plants in the garden- Madagascar beans

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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.

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Somewhere in there are 5 little bean seeds

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Planted out as young seedlings

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I have created a monster

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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.

Damned possum…seedling disaster

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This sad pile of sand, newspaper and seedlings greeted me this morning when I went to check the garden. At some point last night one of the resident possums decided that cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus seedlings looked good, so he jumped down onto the pile of milk crates I have been using to house my seedlings and clawed the trays down. It must have been a fun party because there are many little possum pellets (poop) scattered around the pile. We didn’t hear a thing from the humpy so he didn’t even rouse the chooks who sleep beside the vegetable garden and serve as an early warning system by cackling manically when ever something comes near their roost at night.

I managed to save some of them by repotting and careful reassembling of the system. I can’t stop the possum from getting into the garden, but I try. All holes have been patched, and repatched, but like everything, it doesn’t always work. The possums are a welcome part of our ecosystem and we never try to hurt them; they belong here as much as we do, but I do wish they would be less destructive sometimes. I will be having a stern word with that possum next time I see him.

The seedling area looks as good as new and 12 cauliflower seedlings were saved. Maybe it’s time to plant some more seeds.

 

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.

 

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Broccoli and Ceylon spinach growing madly

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

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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.

 

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

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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.

Making pots out of newspaper

I have been doing this on and off for a while now. Up until recently I found the pots would encourage fungus and sprout all sorts of mushroom-y things. Then I found the ‘Under the Choko Tree’ You Tube channel and watched as Nevin made pots from newspaper. It turns out I was using too much paper; the walls were too thick so they were not able to dry out enough to keep fungus at bay.

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This is how I used to make my pots. See how thick the walls are.

So I bought one of those cute little pot making things and off I went. These pots are working very well…no fungus and they hold together  (which was why I made my pots thick to begin with). In fact the whole seed raising system has been working brilliantly, except that my seedling raising area was in the open and the trays kept filling up with water and drowning the seedlings. I fixed that by adding a little roof to the area which I will remove (it can just be lifted off) on less damp days.

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Thinner walls and no fungus…they still get waterlogged though.

On another, but sort of related note; I have been learning how to use an iPad (for work) and have discovered that the camera on an iPad has a time-lapse setting (also a slo-mo setting, but I haven’t played with that yet), so I decided to make a time lapse clip of me making and using my little pots.

And here it is;

What do you think. Does it need to be a bit slower. I haven’t found that setting yet but I will.