Making the Most of Winter

It’s another blowy, blustering cool day, with a wind that is bringing down a few branches. Luckily, it was quite still yesterday evening, so we decided to burn off our pile of garden, orchard and vineyard prunings. We manage to assemble quite a pile of these prunings during the autumn pruning period. We pile them up to dry out for a couple of months and then burn off the pile at the end of winter, just before the spring fire bans come into force. In the past we have waited for a cool damp night after rain, but it just hasn’t rained at all for months, so the pile just sat there. 
Last night was forecast to be damp with the possibility of a slight shower. That was good enough, After dinner we went down to the burn pile site, next to the Pantryfield garden and lit it up. It was a very slow quiet burn that took 3 hours to get through all the sticks, twigs and branches. By 11 pm it was just a pile of white ash and a few glowing embers. It’s a good feeling to get the fire hazard out of the way before summer, otherwise it would have to sit there for another 8 months. Fortunately it started to rain ever so gently later in the night, just half a mm. in the rain gauge this morning, but enough to settle it all down.


 Today a fierce, gusty wind has settled in, so we are back inside, after doing all our jobs, collecting fire wood and stacking it inside ready for tonights fires, watering the small seedlings and cleaning up. Now the sun is fully up, we drove the car down to the high amperage charging station down by the kiln factory. The kiln shed has 3 phase power installed, so we placed the fast charger down there, as there is no electricity in the car port. The kiln shed roof also has 6kW of solar panels on its roof, so direct access to the solar power for charging the car and firing the kiln.
As we’re inside, we decide to deal with kitchen duties. We held our second marmalade making workshop at the weekend, so there are numerous small jars of marmalade to be washed and dried , then labeled and stored away in the pantry. We made 3 batches, each slightly different, but all of them centred on Seville oranges, of which we have a beautiful crop this year. Hard to fathom, as we are currently in a drought. But we have been watering the citrus grove regularly.


Each large boiler, makes between 7 to 10 jars of marmalade, depending on the size of the jars. Our very good friends Toni and Chris turned up and the afternoon eventually wound it’s way into evening and dinner.


The other job on the kitchen list is to make a stock out of the bones left over from a duck that we have in the fridge. I start by browning some onion in olive oil, then garlic and water. Our organic garden garlic is getting close to the end now as the winter peters-out. What we have left is stored, hung up, outside on the back verandah in long plaits. This is starting to sprout now, but it still gives us the good garlic flavour. The new crop of garlic is filling out in the garden, but is still 3 months away from maturity.



I add water, the bones, a lemon, chillies, the very last of our late season tomatoes that we picked 6 weeks ago when they were still a bit green, as the bushes had been burnt off by the frost, and some pepper. After simmering for an hour, I pass it thorough a sieve to separate the bones and mirepoix from the stock. I add a bottle of ‘fume’ wine and return the clear stock to the stove to reduce. It happens in among all the other jobs, slowly and steadily, filling the kitchen with a warm, delicious fragrance that is so welcoming on a cold windy day.
 Domestic jobs can be really engaging and fulfilling sometimes. This is one of those times.You’ll notice that I don’t write too much about cleaning the grease trap!
Our enigmatic friend Annabelle Sloujé sent me this image that she saw somewhere, after I wrote about making a beef bone stock last week.
Best wishes from Steve who is making the most of winter – while it lasts.

The Winter Garden

The garden can look a bit barren at this time of year, but there is still plenty to eat. We have all the brassicas doing very well with the frosty nights. Cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kohlrabi all bountiful and gorgeous. We also have leeks and celery, and we have just finished off the last of the autumn/winter crop of carrots. 

Of course we always have spring onions and lettuces for salads when the days are suitably sunny and warm, as is often the case these days in the global emergency. Winters as we knew them in the 70’s are over. No more snow and many fewer frosts that are much milder in intensity. Fruit trees are flowering now just past mid winter and not in spring. Everything has advanced about 4 to 6 weeks earlier over our 43 years here.

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At this time of year, the days are getting longer and the soil temperature is just starting to warm up a little with the soil just starting to hit 10oC. The asparagus is responding to this minuscule change and starting to sprout. We have our first couple of spears poking their heads up.

Although the beds look barren under their winter mulch, there is the beginnings of spring growth.

There may be some benefits to a warmer climate, but the down side for us is the prolonged drought, with only one significant rain event of 30mm over winter. We are preparing our selves for a long dry and very hot summer with July breaking many records for the hottest winter month. This past July being the 3rd hottest July ever recorded.
On the positive side, there are lots of people starting to wake from their media/Murdoch induced stupor, and starting to take action. I am seeing a lot more positive articles in journals indicating creative, affirmative thinking.

The 1 to 10 of Orchard Pruning

We have spent this winter weekend pruning the fruit trees in the orchards.

I had my good friend Warren over to help me. Warren is the man who a can do almost anything at all, and do it well — with a smile. He is so good to have around.
We started by shovelling up all the ash from the past burn piles of garden prunings over the recent season of garden clean-ups. These piles of vegetation grow during the hot months as we slowly accumulate material. Finally when the cool weather arrives and there are no more fire bans we are able to burn the accumulated bushy piles. The amount of ash is amazing. We are able to fill two wheel barrows to the brim. All this ash gets put back into the garden and orchards. Sprinkled around the fruit trees as fertiliser. Ash contains all the nutrients that a plant needs to grow. We don’t use commercial synthetic fertilisers in our gardens and orchards. We are fully committed to growing organically. We only use chicken manure and ashes from our fire place and stove, plus once a year like this, the ash from the burn piles.
The ash is spread around each of the trees at the drip line and will get watered in when it rains. Ash has sodium and potassium, calcium and magnesium, alumina and silica, plus iron and titanium, all in various proportions depending on the plant material that was burnt.
I also throw the beef marrow bones that are left over after making stock in the kitchen. After roasting and boiling the bones with a vegetable stock, the bones are given to the chooks for a day or two to pick over, then they end up on the burn pile. I fish the fragile, brittle, burnt, calcined bone remnants out of the ashes and crush them up to add back to the garden. Calcined bones contain phosphorous, which is severely lacking in our ancient, depleted, Australian soils. Bone ash is a great addition to an organic garden.
The winter pruning weekend has a kind of old English folk tale, come nursery rhyme sort of feel to the work. It’s a very ancient activity to get involved in at this time of year. It’s a must-do occupation if you want healthy trees and more fruit next year. It has to be done and it can’t be put off. It has to be done NOW! Janine and I have been doing this for over 40 years.
We gave it the old one-two. We started by putting on our work boots. Unfortunately no buckles involved on this occasion  just velcro, laughing sided elastic boots and lace-ups.
Then it was three four. Open the gate to the orchard. It doesn’t rhyme, like ‘door’ would  but it allowed us to come and go at will, while we pruned the fruit trees back into shape for the coming spring time flush of growth. The chooks take the opportunity of the open gate to come on in and help us work, by getting in under our feet. They come in here about every second day, but only stay for an hour or so before wandering off to look for something more interesting to do. Because we are in here working all day, they stay and work all day too! They just love a bit of human company.
Pruning takes a lot of effort and a lot of thinking and planning too. It’s not mindless. It isn’t just chopping off branches willy nilly. We are constantly conscious that neither willy gets chopped off. Especially since we are using a combination of mini chain saw, pole pruner, secateurs and various lengths of garden loppers. We both drew blood on several occasions from the large spikes on the branches of the yellow plum tree, and other spiky objects and sharpe tools. Luckily our willies and nillies survived intact. We have to treat each tree slightly differently depending on its shape and age, but also its individual habit. As well as considering that each variety of fruit tree fruits and flowers on different wood. Some only on old established fruiting spurs, like cherries, apples and pears, but others on 2nd year growth wood only, so old 3rd year wood is removed after fruiting, 2nd year wood is retained for this years crop and new growth is encouraged for next years fruit.
Probably the most important thing is to remove any dead and decayed wood to minimise disease and this all needs to be picked up, carted off and burnt.
Next it was five six, and we spent a lot of time picking up all our prunings and carting them all down to the burn pile at the back of our block. There are 30 trees in the stone-fruit orchard, a dozen cherry trees in the Chekov orchard, a dozen almonds in the veggie garden, a dozen citrus in the orange grove and a dozen hazel nuts in the old olive grove.  We have over 100 fruit, nut and food bearing trees in total. The picking up of sticks actually takes longer than the climbing up and down the ladder and into the branches of the trees to do the cutting and sawing.
The pruning went pretty well, we are getting better at it these days. However, we totally failed on the next part of seven and eight. Try as we might the burn pile of sticks wouldn’t stay straight. The off-cuts of fruit tree branches are just too forky and twisty to lay straight.
We did however have the constant help and supervision of the ’Spice Girls’ at all times. The big brown hens love a bit of garden activity and are keen to be right in the middle of it scratching and pecking, so nine ten was no problem.
Pruning is one of those jobs that it is really good to finish. See you again next year. Same place, Same time of year. I have a new trimming attachment for my whipper/snipper thing. It goes all the way up to 11!

Winter Marmalade Workshop – Everthing Good Takes Time

Winter brings on the lemons and not just on Monday or Friday!

All the citrus a coming on and although it is very early in the season, we have a load of fruit to get through.

Our citrus grove is now 7 years old and the trees are starting to produce more fruit than we can eat. We could manage it if it were spread out over 12 months, but it’s all coming on in a bit of a rush now. Even though we are in a drought, we did have a surprising down-pour of rain last week that gave us 27mm. Just at the right time to swell out these citrus crops nicely.
The mandarin and cumquat are not really fully ripe yet, but the Seville oranges are almost there, there are just a few ripe fruit on the North facing side of the tree. Everything else is booming. Lemons, lemonades, tangelos, limes, navels and grapefruits. All these are just ripe enough for making marmalade now.
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Janine decided to offer a marmalade making workshop to help us use up this fruit productively. All we ask people to do is turn up with their glass jars, so that they can take home their produce, and something to contribute to a shared lunch. We offer to provide everything else. The fruit, sharp knives, cutting boards, sugar, big copper boilers and a couple of citrus juicers.
Janine spread the word through the local ‘greens’ and the ‘Seed Savers’  + the organic gardeners and the Picton art group. It just so happens that all these contact points are almost exactly the same people! Gentle, creative, thoughtful sensitive caring people have the same interests it seems.
Fortunately for us the Wollondilly Art Group had their monthly meeting postponed a week so that it clashed with our marmalade making workshop. I say fortunately, because we had 8 people and if we had had any more it would have been a bit tight in our little kitchen.
We started by walking down to the citrus grove and picking the fruit. Each person filling one of our wicker baskets with a different fruit.
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We spend the morning peeling, slicing and dicing. Everyone brings along their own individual approach to dissecting the citrus fruit quite finely, some more finely than others. Janine and I have different approaches and we each demonstrate our own way. We also have two vastly different cooking methods and we prepare  batches by both methods.
I get the job of peeling the grapefruits, Seville oranges and eureka lemons, as they have a thick white pith. I have no trouble in being told to ‘pith-off’!
I’m told that the white pith isn’t needed in marmalade. So off it goes, the thin curly ‘peels’ can then be sliced very finely.  To very thinly slice the peel takes a lot longer. But I like it that way,  I don’t mind the time, I’ve set the day aside for this, it’s a pleasant activity and I know that I’ll enjoy the reward. Everything good takes time!
The remaining whole peeled fruit are cut in half and juiced, as we only use the juice, the peel and sugar. We don’t use water, nor do we soak the fruit over night. Just our very own ‘quick and dirty’ whole fruit method.
Once the fruit is on the stove, we settle down for a shared lunch and a chat while our handiwork simmers and fills the kitchen with that devine smell. One by one, as each boiler begins to ’gel’, we fill the glass jars as they come straight from the oven where they are sterilised for 10 minutes at 120oC and cap them off with simmered lids.
Everybody got to take home 2 or 3 jars of different marmalade blends. We made 4 different batches altogether.  I think that everyone enjoyed the day. I notice that no one was in a hurry to leave.
We are left with a dozen jars of different blends for our own pantry. It takes all day, but it’s a really pleasant day, well spent. Everything good takes time.
My car has just sent an email to my phone to up-date me on the progress of our driving. We have had our Hyundai Ionic ‘plug-in’ electric hybrid car for 5 months now. We have driven 5,000 kms so far and nearly all of that has been done on our own solar power. We have driven the 5,000 kms on just $70 worth of petrol. We have filled the petrol tank twice with $50 worth of fuel, but we still are only a third of the way through the 2nd tank full.
The first image that I have downloaded here shows that for the time period of one month, and the mileage that we covered over that time, the car should have generated 26grams of CO2 per kilometre. In actual fact we generated only 2 grams! It seems that the Hyundai software aggregates all the information from all the cars of the same make and model in Australia and rates the usage accordingly.
On this basis, we were rated 1st for the month February
This second image shows that our average litres per kilometre. was 845 km/L. Apparently the expected amount for this car should be closer to 20.
For this month our fuel consumption was 0.64 litres to travel 545 km. The expected fuel consumption should have been much higher, closer to 26 litres. So we are achieving 50 times better than the average.
I’m very pleased with this information, as this is just what I hoped to achieve when I bought this plug-in hybrid car. We have demonstrated that we can drive almost totally on sunshine. However, when we need to go on longer trips, there is no ‘range anxiety’, as we can use the small, fuel-efficient, petrol engine to go up to 1,100 km when both the battery and fuel tank are full.
It’s no accident that we can do this. We have spent all our lives working towards this situation. Making our own livelihood from our own small business, growing our own food, collecting our own water supply, dealing with our own sewage, making our own electricity and storing our excess solar power in our battery, all these choices leading up to this point, so that we can simply plug in our electric car and drive on sunshine.
Everything good takes time.
Best wishes
Steve
Dr. Steve Harrison PhD. MA (Hons)
hotnsticky@ozemail.com.au
blog; tonightmyfingerssmellofgarlic.com
Potter, kiln surgeon, clay doctor, wood butcher and Post Modern Peasant.

Autumn Draws to a Close and the Cooler Weather Arrives

As autumn draws to a close we have been in and out, travelling to the National Folk Festival, listening to some very good music. Then, recently I was speaking at the National Ceramics Triennial Conference, where I delivered a paper on sustainability. In between, as always, we were in the pottery making and firing our pots, both before, in between and after these events. Making pots and growing food are the two constants in our life.

 

We were also in the garden planting more veggies for the cool weather. The tomatoes are still hanging on with just a few tiny fruits ripening every few days, so that we can have salad sandwiches for lunch with our lettuce from the garden. The garlic that I planted in March is up and doing well. I planted 5 small beds of about 50 cloves each. A smaller crop this year. I was busy and didn’t find the time to get more in. I have planted another 100 cloves today. Maybe a bit too late to do well, but this is real life.

  

Tonight we will have baked vegetables, yesterday it was minestrone, with everything from the garden. Our gardening efforts feed us well.

I planted a couple of new avocados a few days ago. One more type A and another type B for our collection. We now have 6 different varieties. When these trees mature in a few years time, we will have a much longer cropping season and bigger harvests. The chickens love to get involved in any event that involves fresh dirt. They hop in and excavate the hole a little more, but then hop out and start to fill it in again. The don’t get it! but they have fun doing it and their eggs have super, deep, rich, yellow yokes.

 

The latest young avocado tree freshly planted with its with mesh guard to keep the kangaroos from eating the top out. As they most surely will, with any new tree that we plant in the orchard. They can’t resist having a taste of what ever is new. You can see the original 40 year old avocado tree behind the this new one. and the bare branches of the leafless cherry tree to the right.

The peaches are loosing their leaves, the cherries have finished and are barren, the apples and pears are turning yellow in preparation for the fall.

 

In the evenings it is cold enough now to start to light the fire every night. We sit by the fire and shell our dried beans. We shell them and then dry them out fully in the oven after we have finished cooking dinner. This extra heat ensures that they are fully dry and won’t go mouldy in the jars in the pantry. It also kills any little bugs and critters that may have bored their way in to the shells hoping to hatch out and consume the lot over winter. They are ideal for minestrone.  We will make many lovely wholesome meals out of them over the winter.

The Last of the Summers’ Tomatoes

We have reached the point where the tomatoes have lost most of their leaves. There are still loads of fruit on the vines. But the vines are looking pretty much dead. We pick all the remaining fruit for the last batch of concentrated tomato passata sauce. We have over twenty jars of the stuff from this years harvest, safely stored away in the pantry cupboard.

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We pull out all the vines and compost them and remove the stakes. We pull out all the weeds. The beds are then ready for a load of compost and a new planting.

There are a basket of capsicums and chillies to harvest as well. I decide to roast them and pickle them to preserve them. They are sweated, peeled, de-seeded and then dressed with oil and vinegar. They will keep for a few weeks in the fridge treated like this.

We have only just finished the last batch of capsicums that I preserved in this way a week or so ago.

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This is all standard autumn fare.

Summer Wine

We are harvesting the last of the grape harvest. It’s been a long vintage this year, stretching over 8 weeks. We have been making dark grape juice out of most of the vintage. However, with these last few baskets full of rich dark red sugary deliciousness, we decide to make ‘Summer Wine’. We first came across this wonderful stuff in France, then Germany, followed by Switzerland and finally in northern Italy. As the season developed and the grapes ripened. We had to have the experience introduced to us by our hosts in Germany at that time. We stopped the car on the side of the road to buy vegetables and fruit from a farmers road-side stall. Our friend asked if we had tried ‘Niue Wine’ or ‘summer wine’? We hadn’t, so we did and it was a bit of a revelation.

We have been making our version of concentrated red grape juice for a few decades and always look forward to it. We manage to bottle 20 or so litres each year for us throughout the year. We pasteurise it so that it will keep and not ferment. Then sealed in sterilised glass bottles. It works well. But this was an eye opener.

We don’t make wine from our red grapes, because it is too much work for the reward. Good quality wine is cheap in Australia, why bother, but good organic red grape juice is extremely expensive. So thesis where we put our effort. What we experienced in Europe that autumn was just like our red grape juice, but very slightly fermented, possibly for just a few days. The outcome was a sweet grape juice with all the fruit flavour, but also enhanced with a little sourness and tingley, cabin dioxide induced spritzig. I might hazard a guess that it was fermented to about 2% or so of alcohol. It was a  light,  really refreshing and satisfying draft.

We have since  started to make a small batch of summer wine each year. It has to be drunk within a few days of the fermentation starting, while it still has plenty of sugars left in solution. We asked about the roadside wines that we saw and were told that it will only be available for a few days from each stall. Once the barrel is emptied, then that’s it. find the next farmer’s stall.

They might possibly use the wild natural yeast bloom on the grape skins, but this can be very variable. Because we don’t know what we art doing, and don’t have parents and grandparents on hand with generations of local knowledge about such home based, home-grown, organic production. We decide to pastures the juice as usual and then add a known wine makers yeast to get a more-or-less predictable and reliable outcome.

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We wash and de-stem the grapes to make the juicing process easier. Either way it is a lot of work. This is just the way that we have got used to doing it over the years. After sterilizing by briefly simmering the juice, we let it cool over night and then add the yeast. , somewhere between 16 and 24 degrees C. We let it sit for a day to allow the ferment to get going and then bottle it. We start to drink it from the 2nd day. After the third day, or when we feel it has reached a good point in the sugar/acid balance, we bottle it and keep it in the fridge to stall any further fermentation. it keeps for a week like this. and then it all gone. If you try this at home, don’t screw the caps on. LEAVE THEM LOOSE.

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