We have spent the past week continuing to work on the new fence.
The fence is now finished the construction phase and we have been getting on with cutting up the dead trees that had to be removed to clear a straight line for the fence.
I had to have a few days off to rest my back and forearms that got a bit over worked.
I estimate that I have now cut and stacked 1200 to 1500 billets of timber. Enough for 2 years firewood, if not more. Of course some of them are only small, down to 50mm dia.
But some are up to 450mm dia. I cut up the whole tree. Nothing wasted.
All the felled trees that were within 50 metres of the house are now cleaned up, cut to stove lengths and stacked near the wood shed, ready for use in the winter.
The other trees that were felled are all still stacked along side the fence line. I may get around to getting out there, right down the back and cutting them up.
However, experience has taught me that by the time I have used up all these stacked timber billets, All the logs laying on the ground will have been degraded by the white ants.
There are still so many standing dead trees within just a few metres of the gateway through the new fence that I will most likely be choosing to work on those trees.
Each morning we get up early and do a few hours work wheelbarrowing broken bricks down the back to fill in the deep gaps under the fence.
This is to stop animals from shinnying underneath the fence in the lowest spots. We have almost finished this job. Maybe just one more cool morning’s work.
Once all the gaps are filled with brick bats and rubble, I start carting some left over crushed gravel from the pottery site footings, down to the fence line.
This gravel and dirt mix will cover the crushed bricks and level out the surface to make it easier in the future to keep the fence line mowed and clear of re-growth.
After lunch, it’s too hot to work outdoors in the full sun for us oldies. So we retire indoors to work on other projects in the shade.
I’m currently working on welding up a set of 3 gates to complete the fence line securely. Our neighbour on the back fence line saw a full size stag in his yard the other day.
I really need to get this unscripted and unfunded crisis done and dusted as soon as I can, so that I can get back to my real work in the pottery.
In the evenings we make Tomato passata, Plum sauce and Onion jam. These all need to be made and stored away for later use to make the best of our excess produce.
Bottling tomato passata
Plum sauce bottled and cooling.
At this time of year every meal starts to take on a certain ratatouille aspect. Tomatoes, basil, capsicum, zucchini, and squash.
Summer garden Ratatouille with steamed fish and hand picked capers in a white wine reduction.
Garden beetroot, home made onion jam, and 2 cheeses tart.
Desert is freshly picked blueberries baked into a tart. We are picking 3 kgs every few days at this time of year. Some get preserved for later in the year. Some eaten fresh for breakfast, some are used in cooking like this and the rest are given away to neighbors and friends.
It’s a tough life, but we just have to work our way through it.
A month or so ago, Our neighbour saw two deer crossing our road and entering our land.
We have never fenced our land. I rather liked the concept that all the local wild life could come in and graze on our grass and drink at the dam quite freely.
After-all, the wallabies, kangaroos and wombats were all here before us.
However, feral deer are another matter. They have been breeding up in extreme numbers out in the Buragorang Valley National Park for years, so now they have reached Balmoral Village.
We live in a small hamlet or village, on a very old road and disused railway line that is situated between two National Parks.
Whether the deer got here from either the East or the West side parks, doesn’t matter. The big problem is that they are here now.
We have been so lucky to have had 46 years of living here without this problem, but now we have to deal with it.
Luckily for us, There is this guy I know who does fencing all summer and sells firewood all winter. His family have lived and worked here since 1906. AND, he’s a really nice guy to boot.
I had been talking to him about getting some help with a fence along the back lane, as some kids had been coming in and yahooing about down the back there.
We have already put a fire-proof steel and stone ‘gabion’ fence along our front boundary as a kind of heat shield for the ground fire in the next big bush fire event, whenever that comes.
We asked our neighbours on the South side if they wanted a fence 30 years ago. They didn’t. So no fence was ever built. We got on really well together as neighbours, so didn’t need one.
Those neighbours were burnt out in the last big fire, and wont be rebuilding or returning to live here.
So now we have deer in the back orchard eating our fruit trees. They particularly like cherry tree leaves. They leave their turds on the grass around the trees as they nibble, and their hoof prints in the soft muddy soil around the edge of the dam where we were clearing out the dead trees and undergrowth from the water yesterday.
and Baby turds, so there are at least two of them eating our trees.
Monday the 16th of January, is the first day back at work for most tradies and small businesses around here. So Phil turned up with his two sons to get a bit of a start on our fance.
A lot has changed since I spoke to him in late October last year. The fence now needs to be twice as long, to seal off the property, and twice as high with the arrival of the feral deer, as they can jump very high. We originally discussed a wire mesh fence 1200 mm. high with 3 strands of barbed wire on top. This is apparently the basic, standard rural fence these days around here. I wouldn’t know. I’ve lived here for 46 years and never spoken to a fencer before. I have done all my own internal fences around the gardens and orchards over the years, cut my own fence posts, crow-barred and shovelled my own holes. Rammed my own posts solid in the ground. But now I am a bit too old for all that hard work these days, as the fence will end up having to be 250 metres long to keep the deer out. I’m learning to relax and to compromise my standards by letting someone else do some of the hard yakka this time. Basically, I trust Phil to do a thorough job.
The new deer fence will now be 1800mm high, at a greater extra expense and a very dear fence it will be.
We cleared a track through the bush that had never been cleared before. I tried to keep as many trees a possible, allowing the fence to wander a bit to find the line of least destruction of the bigger trees. The first thing that Phil said after walking the fence line, was that some more trees will have to go. It needs to be straight, otherwise you’ll be up for the added expense of extra strainer posts and stays.
All the trees in question are already dead. Standing blackened, leafless and burnt dead. Victims of the catastrophic bush fire that raged through here 3 years ago. I have no idea why I wanted to ’save’ them. Just habit I guess? So out they come and the line of the fence is straightened. They drag the trunks out of the way and into the clearing where we stack our fire wood. A place well away from the house. I spend a day chain-sawing. I stop regularly to refuel, re-oil and sharpen each of the three chainsaws. Large, medium and small. I spend all day at it, but can’t keep up with the delivery rate that the fences are dragging the dead wood out.
I cut them up into usable sizes for the pottery oven/heater, the kitchen stove and the lounge room heater. The trees with the largest diameter butts are cut into just 150 mm. long slabs. This is to make them lighter, and easier to lift and stack them, and eventually move them to the hydraulic splitter. Large diameter hardwood logs can be very heavy. The skinny logs and tapered top branches, anything less than 150 mm. dia. are cut to the longer lengths, as their weight doesn’t matter at that size. All the intermediates are cut to 300 mm long. It all works out quite well, but the site looks like a bomb site with timber and branches everywhere.
Phil and the boys have already got most of the iron bark timber posts in the ground by the end of day one. Phil acknowledges that I have worked all day on the saws cutting up the 14 trees that he has dragged out this morning. There a still more to come. He asks if I ever want a job, he’ll give me one as a fencer. He tells me that he has watched me work and says that I work harder than most of the young fellas half my age that he has employed!
They have an antique tractor, fitted with an antique post hole drill and fence post rammer. They drive the iron bark posts 900 mm. into the ground. The gear may be a bit old, but they work fast and efficiently.
Tuesday, the fencers don’t turn up. They have told me already that they need to finish off another job from last year that was waiting for some more parts to be delivered. They are keen to get it finished and get paid. I was pretty tired and achey after working on the chainsaws all day yesterday. So in the morning I weeded some of the garden beds in the veggie garden, then picked just over 3 kgs of blue berries. I sharpen and service the saws from yesterday, then after lunch, I’m back into it, collecting up all the short cut billets of wood and taking them around to the new firewood stack. Once I’ve cleared away all the cut wood from yesterday, I start the cutting again. I want to get at least one side of the site cleared of tree trunks, branches and twigs ready for tomorrows task of doing it all over again, cutting, carting, stacking and splitting.
The wood is stacked more or less 20 billets wide x 6 or 7 billets high x 7 stacks deep.
We have several tonnes, possibly 10 tonnes, of wood cut and stacked, with just 4 more trees to work on tomorrow. I’m trying to get all the logs and timber detritus out of the way of the fencers, so that they can work efficiently and un-interrupted tomorrow. I also get a lot of satisfaction in seeing it all cleared away and neatly stacked.
I’m assuming that the fencers would normally like to take all these trees away with them each day and sell the wood as fire wood over the coming winter? However, we have a need for it, so I’ve kept it for our own winter needs.
We celebrate with an eye fillet mini roast, just for the two of us. Janine makes a traditional Yorkshire pudding with the left over meat juices in the little roasting pan.
It’s one of the best that she has ever made. It’s a beauty!
Their big old tractor almost gets bogged in the low spot where the dam over-flow water seeps down to the back lane. It was almost dry enough to drive over, but we had 30 mm. of rain overnight and on their last pass over the soggy bit, they sank in.
Wednesday morning we spent a few hours loading barrows with broken bricks , left over from the brickwork on the facade of the new pottery building. I knew that all those broken bricks would come in handy one day. I fill the deep muddy tyre gouged trenches with the brickbats and stomp them down into the mud. This may not be enough, but I’ve filled the deep trenches, so we’ll see how the tractor goes over this lot before I barrow another 20 loads down there. I’ll try and finish off with all the smaller pieces and mortar sand and gravel when this is all over.
Enough for now.
The first layer of mesh is tied onto the strained high tensile wire. There will be another 600 mm. of barbed wire on post extensions that fit on top of the steel posts to make the fence more Deer resistant. The extensions are not often called for, so are not in stock and will have to be ordered in.
A very Dear fence indeed.
Phil and his sons have done a very nice job of staying the strainer posts with a mortice and tenon joint in the iron bark posts and a huge flat stone embedded into the soil to buttress the other end of the stay. A very impressive and thorough job.
Thursday morning sees more rain, so I’m putting off doing the last of the wood carting and stacking till later in the day, when the weather is forecast to clear. I’ll spend the morning writing. While Janine is sorting the hazel nuts.
I wasn’t planning on spending my first week back at work after the summer break on chainsawing and wood stacking. I imagined that I was going to be making new batches of clay bodies for the coming year. That will be next week now. The fencers can fit me in just now, between other jobs, so that is what we will be doing. We are lucky to get them.
John Lennon said that life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. So true.
Life goes on. As my friend Anne says; “How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives”.
In my case, that appears to be lurching form one crisis to another.
Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.
This weekend we spent Saturday over at the Village Hall, helping out with the clean-up, maintenance and garden building.
Janine did a lot of pruning and mulching of the existing garden beds, while I helped with the wheel barrowing of several tonnes of road base , then gravel to create new paths, followed by filling the new garden beds with another few tones of topsoil and mulch. The final part , was to plant out all the donated plants to fill the new beds.
A terrific effort from a lot of the Village residents.
Janine shovelling mulch
Road base spread to level out under the gravel paths along the tennis court.
Next we filled the garden beds with top soil and then covered it with a thick layer of mulch before planting out the flowers and shrubs.
Janine watering in the new plantings. It’s a lovely feeling to be part of a communal group activity.
We finished up with a BBQ. A great day of work, that wasn’t too onerous, because everyone turned up and got stuck in.
Many hands = light work.
Today, Sunday morning, Janine and I spent time communing with nature.
Janine engaged deeply with nature by walking into the muddy dam fully clothed to hook some very heavy load chain around the dead tea trees bushes that were killed by the fire, and have been sitting in the water, standing dead and ugly for 3 years now.
We decided that today was the day to snig out as many of them as we could reach safely, and drag them out of the water and up onto dry land, then cut them up for fire wood for next winter.
It has been raining so much for the past few years since the big fire, that we couldn’t even get close to the dam bank without getting bogged. This has been our first opportunity to get this long-term job started.
We have cut about half of the wood that we will need for the next winter so far. Cutting and splitting fire wood is an on-going job all year.
We have achieved as much as we can at this stage. We will come back to it when and if the dry weather continues, so that we can walk further into the dam safely to get to more of the branches.
This small dam used to be our most reliable swimming dam in summer, because it was the deepest, and therefore held water the longest. The largest dam is beautiful to swim in, but only when it is full, as it is quite shallow and the water soon seeps and evaporates down to a waddling level.
Once the dam dries out once more, we will get all the dead tree branches out of the small dam, we will clean it out, so that we can swim in it safely on the hottest summer days once again.
Everything worth doing takes time. This is a long term plan.
Over the solstice break, I’ve been having a bit of time off.
A change is as good as a holiday I’m told. So I took some time out to weld up a steel frame to make a fume extraction hood to go over all the electric kilns.
I have been ‘making-do’ with a bathroom exhaust fan set into the kiln room window, but it doesn’t catch all the fumes.
So we now have a ‘proper’ hood that covers all 3 kilns and there is room for a 4th kiln at the end, if I ever get round to building it.
The frame is welded out of 20 x 20 RHS sq. section tube and then primed, undercoated and top coated with a strong yellow industrial grade paint. Something resembling ‘CAT’ Yellow, just to give it that heavy duty industrial look. Actually, I was thinking of the sort of colour that big factories have to paint over-head cranes, gantries and such.
It has turned out to be a massive edifice measuring 4.5 metres long by 1.5 m wide and 500 mm. high.
I had to build a special little trolley to manoeuvre it out of the welding area and into the court yard, where I could rotate it so as to allow me to screw in the poly carbonate lining.
I decided to use light weight RHS construction and poly carb sheeting because of the weight factor. I have to lift it up into the ceiling. But I also noticed after the fire, that poly carb doesn’t burn. It just melts, even at really high temperatures. So I thought that I’d give it a try as a fume hood lining. It wont get too hot, so shouldn’t melt. It is very light weight. It lets the light through, adding to the ambiance of the kiln room. It is cheap compared to any other sheeting. BUT most important of all, it doesn’t rust. The big killer of overhead hoods is the condensation of acid gasses and the rust that they create. This could be a solution?
Time will tell.
My son Geordie and my friend Warren came over for our Solstice lunch get-together, so before we ate, we did the install. It took all of 5 minutes, because I had every thing planned out and ready.
Now, the bathroom fan will be more effective at removing all the fumes from the kilns, and there is room for expansion.
Hopefully, a cheap and effective solution to the kiln vent fume problem.
While we had both Geordie and Warren here, I got them to help us move an exquisite old Japanese cupboard into our bedroom.
We were given this gorgeous old Japanese cupboard by my lovely friend Anne, who I have known for a very long time, getting on for 58 years in fact. Where does the time go?
Thank you Anne!
Somewhat disappointingly, we had another flood in the new pottery shed this week. Each time it happens, I look at the causes and find a solution and fix it. This time we had a brief, but severe storm of just 25 mins, but we got 25 mm of rain come down in that short time. It caused the gutters to over flow into the court yard around the kiln. However this time the rain all came it, not from the open wall leading into the courtyard, but deep in the enclosure against the kiln room wall from the gutters that couldn’t cope with the intense volume of water.
It has become apparent that the builders were pretty sloppy with their levels, such that the concrete slab is high at the edges and low in the middle of the kiln/glazing rooms. The result was that all the water flowed in under the gal iron wall and pooled in the centre of the kiln room, with some seeping into the glaze room.
There is absolutely nothing that I can do to change to the contour of the slab to stop this happening again. So my only option is the make a drain that can intercept the water before it reaches the wall and enters the building.
To this end, This morning I used a diamond saw blade to cut two 8 metre long slices through the 115 mm thick concrete slab down to the substrate of compacted rock dust and gravel. It was one of those nightmare jobs that nobody would ever want to do. But someone has to. Meet muggins.
You can see in this image, where I had initially tried (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to create a small diversion channel around the wall using a circular saw and a friction disc. This wasn’t deep enough to cope with the flood of water from this last storm. I realised that the drain needed to be substantially larger and deeper.
Then, I hired a jack hammer to break up the concrete into rubble. That was another big job.
Finally, I removed the broken ‘rio’ bars and the strip of black plastic waterproofing membrane, and then shovelled out all the larger pieces of crushed concrete and re-installed all the finer gravel.
This allowed me to then lay pavers over the rubble to make an ‘agg’ drain.
With my remaining energy, I completed the job by laying a line of terracotta pavers to cover the scar, but leaving a gap all along the trench to allow any future flood water to flow down into the rubble drain and seep out along the alley way between the two sheds. Hopefully a simple and effective solution to yet another problem left by our slack and seemingly incompetent builders. ( who have now gone out of business I’m told). I have noticed that any rain that is driven into the courtyard by the storm, just sinks into the porous pavers and their gravel bed. That paved part of the kiln shed/courtyard never holds any water. It’s just a total bummer that the slack builders cast the slab with the fall in the wrong direction.
It’s been a hard day. I’m pretty worn out from the effort of jack hammering, crow-barring and wheel barrowing all the broken-up concrete out of the trench, but very happy with the out come, now that it’s done!
I’m hoping that it will work. I’m getting too old for all this strenuous high energy stuff.
A new tomato crop is developing. I managed to get a few early tomato plants into the ground in September. I cheated and bought a punnet of seedlings. September is long before our own naturally germinated ‘wild’, self sown tomatoes seeds emerge. I bought a punnet of seedlings from the garden centre. In the past, if I got them in the ground in early September, then we might get a ripe tomato in the week between Xmas and new year. The past decade had been unusually hot and drought ridden here up until 2019. The extra heat allowed the tomatoes to establish so early.
This past year however, it has been cooler and wet in comparison, so the season is delayed somewhat. We do have tomatoes climbing up the tomato stakes, the tallest being about one metre high so far. There are even a few small green tomatoes developing now. However, I doubt if there will be a ripe, red tomato for Xmas, never mind in the next 2 to 3 weeks.
I have planted 4 beds so far, around 10 plants in each bed. The earliest ones are all flowering well now, so it promises to be a good crop in the new year when the warmer weather develops. Well, I’m hoping so anyway. I like to make all the jars of ‘passata’ that will last us all year, as well as all the tomatoes that we will consume in salads and ratatouille dishes over the summer.
Tomatoes need a warm soil temperature and longer daylight hours to thrive. Our own naturally germinating ‘wild’ tomato seeds are just now emerging in among the other beds. So the soil temperature must now be more or less OK. The ‘Diggers Club’ guide tells me that the soil temp for tomatoes must be above 16oC, but I’ve never bothered to go out side with a temperature probe to test the soil temp to find out. Early September seems about right and the plants grow, albeit quite slowly at first. In years gone by I even started the young tomato seedlings off in late August under a sort of home made ‘cloche’ made by wrapping the industrial sized ‘glad-wrap’ that I used to have in the old kiln factory for delivering kilns, and wrapping this around the old wire mesh frames that we used to cover the garden beds before we built the bird proof enclosure. This early frost and cold night protection worked for the important first month, until the weather warmed more, or until the plants got so tall that they out-grew the height of the temporary cover.
Yesterday I went into the garden after lunch to do a bit of tidying up and weeding. I ended up hammering in tomato stakes and tying up the tallest tomatoes. One thing led to another, then I suddenly realised that the chooks had put them selves into their house and were ready for bed as it was after 6 pm. The afternoon had just slipped away while I was being busy.
Tying up tomatoes is such a great job. The season is still early and there is no hope of seeing a tomato any time soon, but just touching the tomato leaves or even brushing against them gives off such an appetising smell. It makes my mouth water with anticipation. I don’t know what chemical is in the tomato leaves, but it is delicious to smell. So spending a few hours hammering in the wooden stakes and tying up the leaders with lengths of soft cloth is a wonderful experience. It promises so much. There is so much optimism tied up in each of those soft little bows.
My go-to reference about my vegetables and fruit growing info is The Oxford Book of Food Plants. It tells me that Tomatoes, ‘Lycopersicon esculentum’ are a native of the lower Andes, and are valued for their high vitamin content. It is part of the solanum family along with deadly nightshade, datura, petunias, the potato, capsicum, chilli and egg plants. In fact eating green or unripe tomatoes can make you sick. Unripe tomatoes contain a toxic alkaloid called ’tomatine’ which is an insecticide, fungicide and has anti microbial properties which are there to presumably protect it from predators, but are easily broken down by cooking, so it is OK to eat them in chutney. No one I know eats them raw when green. However, I did see in ‘wikipedia’ that tests have been carried out and you would have to eat more than half a kilo of tomato leaves, where the tomatine is more concentrated, to get a toxic reaction, which wouldn’t be lethal. I love the smell of touching tomato leaves, but I have no inclination to eat them.
It also tells me that it needs a minimum temperature of 55 to 60oF or 12 to 15oC. This is considerably less than that stated by ‘Diggers’ and may explain why I can get away with starting them in a closh in August here.
The Oxford also tells me that the tomato was originally called ‘pomo-d’oro’ or golden apple, presumably because the earliest varieties brought back from the Americas were a yellow variety? Quite possible? I don’t know. I did read online on a New Zealand web site that only the yellow tomato can be digested properly by humans and that all the red coloured varieties are only digestible by animals!!! Something to do with different forms of lycopene as I remember. However, I have grown a few different yellow tomatoes and they were universally bland and lacking acid in the flavour profile, so I have avoided them ever since. Not worth the trouble to cultivate. I seem to be able to get all the lycopene that I need from the tasty red ones, but do I need any at all?
Michael Pollan, in ‘Defence of Food’ (p67), advises that red lycopene can be easily digested when cooked in olive oil. Italian cooks have always seemed to have known that. Dr Norman Swan in his book, ’So you want to live Longer’ (p 81). Lycopene reduces oxidative stress in the body from free radicals. “There’s a multi-billion dollar industry which sells this idea in a bottle. – Trouble is that they don’t work.” “you’re on much safer ground betting on what’s on your stove”. He consistently returns to the idea that tomatoes cooked in olive oil are really good for you – as part of a Mediteranian diet, low in meat and high in coloured vegetables and whole grains.
I have read elsewhere that all domesticated tomato varieties today are descended from the red-fruited wild tomato, Solanum Pimpinellifolium. Perhaps named after the scarlet pimpernel? One of the other early names for tomato, besides ‘love-apple’ and ‘golden-apple’ was ‘wolf peach’. Which accounts for the latinised name ‘lycopersicon’ used by Linnaeus to describe them in 1753, and still in use today. Tomatoes first appeared in Europe in around 1535 on the return of the Spanish conquistadors from Peru, It took over 150 years for the tomato to be integrated into everyday cuisine, starting in Italy, then slowly spreading across Europe. It’s acceptance was rather slow.
John Ray, The English Botanist, son of a village blacksmith, went on to study at Cambridge, Trinity College, He became the college Steward. He travelled widely in England and Europe, and while in Italy in the 1660s he wrote. ‘The Italians cook tomatoes with marrows, peppers, salt and olive oil’. Perhaps the first ever reference to ratatouille?
Some time ago I watched a TV program about Rock Stein floating down a canal in France on a barge.
I must say, I was rather taken by all the visits to small gardens and little farms in the south of France where so much food is still produced by families.
We’ve lost that, if we ever had it. When I was young, just starting out after leaving Art School, I spent 2 or 3 years traveling around, mostly in NSW, building kilns for potters groups. I saw a lot of the country. I was working mostly on farms, for farmers wives. (They were the potters). Those farms out in the west of NSW were huge. Often 4,000 or 5,000 acres, run by a father and son and the two wives. Broad acre farming using huge machines. Mega 4 wheel drive tractors as tall as a house with tyres taller than me and ploughs and combines so wide that they had needed to install double wide gates to get them in and out of the paddocks. They had an arrangement to fold-up the outrigger arms, so that they could just fit through the extra wide double gates. The harvesters were even bigger. When traveling from farm to farm block on the narrow country roads, they took the reaping head off and towed it behind them like a long trailer.
I loved working on those farms and meeting and working with those straight forward, down to earth people. For a short time I even considered being a farmer. However, at that time I would have needed quite a few million dollars to buy into such a farm. That completely put the thought out of my mind. I would have had to inherit a farm like that. No one could afford to buy one. With long working hours and poor returns, it just wan’t feasible. I was unable to raise a $10,000 loan from the bank as a home loan to buy a few acres. They wouldn’t even lend me a cent. Nothing, zilch. I had to go to the fringe market, and then I could only raise $5,000, but at a premium interest rate of 23%. Can you believe that! The off market interest rate was 23%! Extortion, but that was the reality in 1976. People today are concerned about 6% interest. 10 years later in the 80’s we bought the vacant block of land next door and had to pay 17.5% interest for that. Such is life.
Back to Rick Stein and his French holiday on the barge. I really enjoyed watching that show. It re-kindled all those thoughts of French food and landscape. Janine and I were very lucky to get a few jobs in Europe a decade ago, before Covid. We worked in Switzerland, Germany, The UK and of course France. They were wonderful experiences. I loved the people that we met and got to work for and with, the different foods that we were introduced to and the different landscapes that we drove through. We really loved our time there, so this short TV series of 8 or 10 shows traveling across the South was enjoyable entertainment. I even tried my hand a making the prune tart that he demonstrated in one of the episodes.
We have a load of squash and zucchinis coming on at the moment, so we have to think of ways to enjoy them every few days. This time around I decided to do a zucchini bake with tomato passata, garlic, olive oil and a sprinkling of cheese on top. 20 mins in the oven at 180. I suppose that I should have used Parmigarno cheese, but I don’t have any at the moment, but there is some ubiquitous Cheddar in the fridge, so that is what I use, with loads of fresh picked basil leaves.
It went down a treat with our guest, almost nothing left. It was this image that made me think of Rick Stein. How his director/producer, the late David Pritchard, used to take a shot of the knives and forks being dropped onto the empty plate at the end of a meal. Well, this is my Pritchard shot.
I got interested in Pritchard and Steins working arrangements after seeing a short one show doco of the behind the scenes filming and interviews made by another crew who were on the barge at the same time. Apparently it wasn’t all plain sailing and bonhomie. In fact quite the opposite.
“A condensed look at Rick Stein’s journey from Bordeaux to Marseille during the making of ‘Rick Stein’s French Odyssey’ including his favorite dishes along the route and behind-the-scenes DV footage of the highlights and the trials and tribulations of such an undertaking.”
I decided to read both of their auto biographies.
Having read both books, I didn’t think that much of either of them as people. Wish I hadn’t read them actually. I rather preferred the illusion and the romance.
I looked out the window and there are 17 wood ducks relaxing on the lawn. Peaceful and tranquil. A lovely idyll.
I make a coffee and eat a slice of tart, then I bake some rock cakes, and everything is all right and life is back to normal.
It’s Sunday, the day of rest. So I’m taking my rest in the vegetable garden doing a little bit of weeding and planting out some seedlings that I bought yesterday.
I usually prefer to grow nearly everything from seed, often from our own self saved seeds, but when we came home from our little break away down the coast, I found that the lettuce seeds that I had planted a few weeks before had mostly all dried up and shriveled in my absence from lack of water and too many hot dry days.
I gave in and bought a punnet of seedlings. I don’t like to buy seedlings unless there is a very good reason. In this case it is because we will run out of lettuces for our salads in a month or so if we don’t have a follow-on crop coming along. So I planted out the seedlings and sprinkled out a few more seeds alongside to come up in the same bed and take over the spaces as the seedling crop is harvested as sunlight and space allows the the new seeds to flourish in the same spot.
I often do a mixed planting of lettuce and radishes for the same reason, as radishes are such a quick crop, they mature and are removed as the growing lettuces need more space and light.
I also spent an hour plucking out small emerging grass seeds from the leek bed, the carrot bed and the beetroot bed. All these three beds were planted out at the same time about a month or so ago. But the grass seeds germinate so quickly and grow so much faster that if I don’t get down on my hands and knees this weekend and pluck the little buggers out now, with my finger tips, they will out grow and crowd out the vegetables. Pulling them out later, when they are bigger, isn’t an option, pulling them when they are larger and more established with a larger root system will disturb the soil and lift out the tiny, fragile vegetables seedlings in-between them. It’s a job that just has to be done NOW. So it’s done, early on, before the sun gets too hot. I also whipper-snippered the edges and mowed the centre of all the paths. I feel proud of my effort when it’s all done. It’s looking good and loved, well cared for and productive. A great way to begin summer.
We spent a bit of time before lunch picking blue berries and young berries. We will have the blue berries with our yoghurt for breakfast and I make a agreeable fruit tart with the youngberries.
We now have our breakfast berries picked and in the fridge, our dinner of zucchinis and squash picked, and now desert is taken care of. Time for a little afternoon nap.
There are still loads of weeds germinating in the paths in-between the rows of veggies, but they can be dealt with using a hoe at a later date. That’s a job for another day.
Tiny basil seeds just germinating.
Small parsley seeds germinating and just showing their first leaves. Sown in-between a few purchased early seedlings.
We have new plantings of Sweet basil seeds, coriander seeds and curly parsley on their way. They all need to be precisely finger tip weeded to allow them to thrive. Just a bit of TLC goes a long way. We all need it to thrive. Even me.
During the past week Monday to Thursday, we drove down the coast to visit a few friends that we hadn’t seen for a few years. We haven’t seen a lot of people for the last 3 years, while we have had out heads down and our butts up rebuilding everything since the fire. We are gradually getting to the end of the building phase now, and we are also getting to the end of the fitting out phase as well, but there are always things that need to be done. I suppose that there always will be.
Our few days away are a chance to relax. It may seem strange, but it’s only when I’m away and can’t possibly do anything that needs doing around our pottery, house and garden, that I am forced to admit that there is nothing that I can do and I might as well just zone out. Talk, eat, drink and sleep are our only possibilities. Actually, I tell a lie. While we were visiting my old PhD supervisor, who has become now, a very good friend, We went for a walk around his new acreage and I couldn’t help but stop every few yards to pull out weeds all along the path. It’s just a habit. Denis said that I’m welcome to come back at any time at this rate! We would of course be welcome back anyway of course! Then, later when we were walking around the national Park at Mimosa Rocks with our friends Janna and Yuri, We were occupied all along the walking track picking up fallen logs and sticks that had dropped across the path, clearing the way as we went. Always busy.
Our friend Liz owns it as a weekender and is about to put it on the market as an ‘airbnb’ for the Xmas season. We were very lucky to be allowed to stay there and enjoy the tranquility for a few days white it was vacant. Thank you Liz!
We caught up with people that we hadn’t had time to see for a few years, walked along the deserted beaches, walked in the National Pack, had lunches and dinners with our potter friends. Went to bed early with the sun and rose again with it and the dawn chorus. A very lovely time to relax and do almost nothing for those few days. If I’m not at home, I can’t do any mowing, weeding or pruning. If Im not in the pottery shed, I can’t be mixing up clay bodies and glazes. All those seemingly important jobs just have to wait and take their turn until I come back.
Walking along that beach was so much more important for a few days.
When we got home, there were heaps of things to pick from the garden. Zucchinis, squash, beans, strawberries, youngberries and basil are all in profusion
During the week between the two Open Studio Weekends, I ventured out to check out the mulberries. The crop wasn’t good, but there were quite a few coming on. Possibly ready to pick in a week or so once they ripened up a bit more.
After the last weekend sale, when I found some time to get to the orchard again, I realised that the birds had eaten all the mulberries. ALL THE MULBERRIES!
Recently, we have had quite a good number of wattle birds, Dollar birds, Frier birds and the constant regiment of endemic bower birds
There were just a very few immature pale hard berries left. So no mulberry tarts this year.
Instead, I decided to make a youngberry tart, using last years Youngberries that I preserved and bottled on the 4th of December ‘21.
It’s a lovely tart. It isn’t quite so good as when I use fresh berries, as fresh berries retain a lot more texture and structure to the substance of the tart.
This years berries aren’t ready yet, but the pantry has a few bottles of last years berries that have survived the hungry gap. Principally because we are trying to cut down on our sugar intake.
I don’t add any sugar to the preserved youngberries. They are sweet enough, and every little bit of sugar adds up. But they are wonderful, so rich, so lively with that special mix of acid and sweetness. I love them. They are so special, really unique to this time of year. I really look forward to their season. They follow the mulberries and preempt the cherries.
I couldn’t net the mulberries, the tree is too old and too big, so they are all gone, but I can net the youngberries, as they grow on canes at ground level.
I blind-bake the pastry first to cook it through and then add the fruit, and bake it again to set the fruit.
As soon as we could find the time, we were out in the garden and netted the youngberries. Safe for this season now.
The chickens come out to see the new Tesla Battery. Perhaps they want to know what it is like to be a battery hen? They don’t appear to be very impressed. Battery hens! What’s all the fuss about?
In the garden, we have picked the last globe artichokes. They are a bit past ‘best’, so need to be cut in half and have the ‘choke’ taken out.
I cut them and trim them down to the essential core of flavour and drop them in lemon juice acidulated water, eventually to make a pasta sauce out of them with our home-made tomato passata sauce from last summer and some little zucchinis and broad beans from the spring garden.
I stuff the zucchini flowers with broad beans, olives, cheese and some chopped gherkins. Not my filling of choice, but I am committed to use what we have in the garden and live with the seasons. We have a lot of broad beans at the moment, and
the last of the winters cauliflowers.
We eat the cauliflower raw with just a little bit of mayonnaise. It makes a lovely entrée.
Over the past week, since the first Open Studio weekend, I have managed to do a bit of catching up in the veggie garden, mostly watering and weeding.
I pulled out half of the ‘Flanders’ Poppies. They are really beautiful. I love them to bits, such a great explosion of bright colour. They self sow every year and fill every space where I don’t weed them out. I need the space now to plant out more summer vegetables, so out they go. Well, half of them. I still want to keep the rest as long as possible.
The French beans are all up and doing well. I have no idea where I found the time to plant these during the hectic work load that we had up to the opening of the studio sales?
Half the poppies are gone to the compost heap to make space.
In their place there are now sweet basil, tomatoes and spinach, Further back, there are cucumbers and pumpkins.
I took a little bit of time out from gardening and weeding this week to glaze the last of the bisqued pots and get a stoneware firing done in the bigger electric kiln, fired entirely on solar energy from our new PV panels and battery. The results are good, just a few more lovely pots to refill the gaps in the gallery shelves from last weeks sales.
We are open this weekend each day from 10 till 4 – ish. on Saturday and Sunday , and also for the rest of the summer by appointment. Please ring or email first to make sure that we will be home.