Given that this long weekend is the Northern Hemisphere’s Pagan ritual of fertility. We decided to have a few days off from the relentless building jobs and spend a bit of time in the garden to try and resurrect it from the dilapidated state that it has slowly fallen into, we need to restore some of its fertility. We have been so busy building every day that the garden has been a bit forgotten. Luckily Janine has been going in there every day to pick our dinner from the encroaching weeds, and doing a bit of maintenance at the same time. Otherwise it would all be so totally over grown that there would be little to eat. Thank you Janine! I started by spending a couple of hours fossicking through the tomato patches, filtering out all those tiny little last ditch efforts of mini tomatoes. The effort paid off and I collected about 7 kilos of the little gems. They will keep us in salads for the next week or so. I made all the sub-prime ones into a tomato passata sauce.
There were just so many of the little buggers. I stated off with onion and garlic in good olive oil, boiled down to a pulp.
Ten added sweet basil and simmered again for a little while. Finally passing the whole lot through the moulii sieve, then reducing the liquid down to half its volume and bottling it.
Janine also made some lilly pilli jelly at the same time.
The lilly pilli tree is loaded again this year. The rain has done it good. We pick all the low hanging fruit and even the not so low hanging fruit. I use the 8 foot step ladder to collect what I can safely reach. a couple of baskets full.This will ad to our breakfast toast options for a few more months. After I picked most of the last tomatoes off the early plantings. They have done well for the past 7 months. I then spend a bit of time pulling out all the old vines and then weeding the patch.
I also clean up the long row of garden that had all the summer veg. More tomatoes, Capsicum, egg plants, cucumber, chillies and pumpkins.Out they go and I dig over the bed ready for some winter veg.
In the new cleared beds I plant loads of garlic, about 400 cloves. I like to try and grow all of my garlic for the year if I can. This is a good start. I should have got them in a month ago. But this will have to do. I can’t can’t do everything exactly as it should be. There just isn’t enough time. I may put in another 100 cloves later, if I can find the time. If half of them do well , we’ll be OK for garlic for another year. While I was at it, I also planted out some lettuce seedlings and lettuce seeds as well as some radishes and rocket.
In the evenings I made bread, a flat focaccia loaf from rye flour and a few bread rolls for lunches.
They didn’t last long.While I was doing all of this Janine was harvesting out potato negra spuds.
She called out to me. She was cock sure that she had found something interesting, I pricked up my ears!
You can’t beat a good root crop! This was our long weekend. All we have to do now is to think of some sort of pagan ritual involving a potato and a knob of butter.
We are having a weekend off from the brick wall. We need to get into the garden, as there are tomatoes and chillis that need to be picked and preserved.
There are also capsicums, cucumbers and the sweet basil is always wanting to go to seed at this time of year, so it needs a good trim, taking all the flowering tops off to encourage it to put on new leaves and shoots.
I picked a 3kg basin of small egg shaped tomatoes. I didn’t select these plants, they were given to me as an unknown variety. I wouldn’t bother with them again. Too much work for so small a return. But they will make good passata sauce.
8 litres of rough chopped tomatoes, in two boilers, gets reduced and concentrated down to just 3 litres of sauce. But its really nice and intensely flavourful sauce. You can’t buy concentrated, intense, organic home made , small batch passata like this. Or if you could. I couldn’t afford it!
The kitchen smells so good. Especially when I come back in from working outside in the fresh air. The intensity of the fragrance hits me. You don’t notice it as much when you are working in amongst it. It becomes common place. You need a break away from it to realise/recognise the true intensity. Just like so many other things in life. Home made passata is concentrated life in a jar.
We need the weekend break to catch up on other jobs too. We have been collecting timber planks to use a scaffolding. There isn’t a single stick of timber that survived the fire here. I used to have loads of stacks of re-cycled lumber, all stacked under cover, just waiting for a time when they would become useful for some job or other. They all burnt.
We have managed to scrounge enough – I think, to do the job, but it all needs to be de-nailed.
It’s all a bit tough on our wrists, elbows and lower back, so we spread our attack over the weekend, a bit each day. It’s all done by Sunday lunch time. We are taking part in the ‘Clean-up Australia’, so need to be all done before that.
I also picked a load of spinach from the garden, so Janine made a couple of spinach and 3 cheese pies for dinner. Ricotta, feta and gorgonzola, extra yummy.
While I finished the de-nailing, Janine was inside milling up the red and green chillis into chilli paste with a little salt and olive oil. This will keep us going for a another year.
Then finally she stews up some pears for breakfasts, later in the week. This is self-reliance.
Finally, a post that isn’t about building!We have been working hard every day. We work outside until dusk, but that isn’t the end of the day. We have to deal with the days produce from the garden.
Summer is always such a busy time, but this year it’s so much busier with all the building work taking up so much time. Janine has put in nearly all of the garden harvesting work this last few months, as I have been up the ladder, on the roof, or in the ground digging trenches. The tomatoes keep on coming, so before we cook dinner, we slice and dice the red globes and simmer them down to pulp, while we prepare dinner. The following night I push the pulp through the moulii and then re-cook and simmer the passata down to half it’s volume, concentrating the flavour, before bottling it while it is still hot.
I start by browning onions in olive oil with pepper corns and chilli, then as the sauce pan fills, I add in the herbs and bay leaves. When the pan can’t take any more it is left to simmer all the aromatic sauce down to pulp, so that it will pass through the moulii easier.
The grapes have started, so we are making regular batches of grape juice, grape jelly and red grape ice cream. As the citrus trees are still producing, Janine also made batches of juice from navels and sevilles, using some of that juice to make a seville orange ice cream.
Geordie called in, so he helped us roast and bottle peppers in oil, cucumbers in saline, while Janine made orange juice.Then stuffed capsicums for dinner, with marmalade for breakfast.
If there is nothing on the idiot box, which is most nights. I sit and do a few repairs to my worn out clothes. I added another patch to the arse of my old jeans, as they slowly fade away into a threadbare riot of tears and patches. Finally I sit quietly and darn the holes in my woollen socks. Janine made a lovely porcelain darning mushroom a few years ago. It works a treat. I do these repairs to save waste, prolong use and preserve the embedded energy in the items. I don’t like to throw anything out until it is really beyond repair, but like Paul McCartney’s Father McKenzie. Nobody cares!
We are in the middle of a few days of high temperatures now. The real summer heat has set in and the garden is showing it. Everything is looking droopy and tired already at 11.00am, even though we watered everything last night and again this morning. By lunch time it was 42 oC in the shade.
We were up early at 5-ish and were out in the early morning cool to clean our quota of 100 sand stock bricks before breakfast at 8.00am. We knocked off as soon as the sun came up over the pottery roof and took our shade.
Yesterday we had our friends Ami and Kate here for the day to give us inspiration and encouragement. We managed to work most of the day, out under the portable gazebo shade cover, and got 200 bricks cleaned. A good effort for a hot day. We worked slowly and steadily with watering breaks, lunch and finally a treat of ‘Splice’ style ice creams at the end of the day around 4.00.
We now have a very modest pile of 300 bricks in the ‘clean’ pile. Just 10% of the total, but a good start. Thank you Kate and Ami!
After our breakfast this morning, we went back out and watered the garden and picked the produce. We are just past peak tomato. We started the month picking a couple of baskets full each week, then it was every 4 days, then every 2nd day etc.
This first early planting of 8 bushes were planted in September. The second planting of a dozen bushes were put in in November and are just flowering now, so will take over in a few weeks as the older bushes slow down.
Every few days we make a batch of passata. Before I cook dinner, I fill a 5 litre copper boiler with chopped tomatoes after first frying off a brown onion in olive oil with half dozen cloves of our garlic. I add in a sprig or two of fresh herbs from the garden, always a big bunch of sweet basil, but then a couple of bay leaves fresh off the tree and perhaps some thyme or sage, depending on how I feel on the day. Pepper corns and a little salt, just a tea spoon. As I want to keep my salt intake to a minimum.
Sometimes I add in a zucchini, or some artichoke hearts, other batches get a good dose of capsicums, a chilli, whatever we have in excess on the day. Sometimes, it’s all the above.
I simmer this for 20 mins or so until it all softens and then lid on and put it aside while we cook dinner, and leave it to cool overnight. The next day, before dinner. I pass the whole lot through a mouli sieve and then re-heat it to reduce the sauce to concentrate it down to half its volume.
After dinner, we pour the concentrated passata into heated and sterilised bottles straight from the oven and cap straight away while everything is still almost too hot to touch. As the bottles cool, we can hear the lids make a loud ‘POP’ noise. They are then sealed and safe to put away in the pantry for use later in the year.
One 5 litre boiler of fresh tomatoes reduces down to make just three 750 ml. bottles of sauce.
Last nights passata bottles and this mornings pick of zucchini flowers, this will be dinner. Plus baskets of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums, artichoke hearts and cucumbers.
We’ll be making more passata again tonight as well. Every alternate night and new batch and every other night the simmering and concentrating, then bottling. It’s our summer evening ritual.
Every bug in the garden wants to attack and share our tomatoes, slugs, snails, caterpillars, but as yet no fruit fly. I got in early in the year with half a dozen Dak pots and lures. so have managed to keep them at bay for the time being. Fingers crossed.
Self reliance is a lot of work, but it is the most rewarding work. I wouldn’t work this hard for a boss!
On Wednesday afternoon, my neighbour Mitch called in with his excavator after he had finished work on another job.I had asked him to come when he could just a couple of days earlier. We needed a seepage trench for the pottery sink to be dug 10 metres long and at least 600mm wide and 600 mm. deep. This will be for clay water/grey water seepage.I felt that as the weather is getting hotter and I’m wearing down. I copped out and got the trench dug. But it is money well spent. Mitch dug the trench in just 10 minutes. It would have taken me all day – and then some. 3.5 cu.m. of crushed stone gravel is about 7 tonnes of material.
Yesterday I was in town, as I had a favour to repay and then I was off to Moss Vale to the plumbing supplies to buy all the parts for the seepage trench. Today, with everything in stock, we lined the seepage trench and built the stop ends/access/inspection ports, then filled 5 of the 7 tonnes back in again. A big day in the hot sun. We still have a couple of tonnes left over to deal with.
I’m so glad to see the end of that job. It was over 30 oC here today while we did all this digging. After we finished all the earth works, we watered the garden and I picked all the days garden produce.
I picked tomatos, zuchinnis, capsicum, cucumbers, chillis and artichokes. This will be dinner. Janine cooked a vegetable risotto for dinner, while I made a big 5 litre stock pot full of tomato passata. We had our risotto with a small piece of fish, fresh off the south coast fish truck yesterday.
We harvested our first few tomatoes on Friday, 4th December. That is so early for us, reflecting on our more than 40 years of history here.
This variety is all folded wrinkly and is called Rouge de Marmande. It’s one of several different varieties that I planted this season. There a many more on the way just turning colour now. I’m really looking forward to cooking up some of our summer garden ‘passata’ or ‘sugo’ sauce.
The thing that I really enjoy most at this early stage of the season, is just brushing past the tomato bushes while weeding or watering and getting that distinctive smell, that the leaves give off when touched. That’s the promise of summer. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.
We used to say the first ypungberries of the summer, but over the years of global heating progressing apace and nobody in government prepared to admit it or do anything to cut carbon emissions, we are almost certainly heading for a difficult future.
You can’t fix a problem, until you admit that you have one. The carbon industries through their financial leverage on both political parties and continued deceptive advertising have brought us to this critical point and show no signs of letting up.
So now we have to say the first young berries of the season, because it’s nearly all over in the late spring. We only have to put put one net up this year, as all the other fruit trees are either burnt , or badly damaged and cut back very hard to remove the damaged wood, so there will be no cherries or peaches, no apples, pears or plums, no avocados. Just the youngberries. They survived the fire because they were directly behind the house. I am grateful for what I have.
Youngberries are so special, just the right balance of sugar and acid. Unlike the mulberries that we have been feasting on for the past few weeks that have a mild sweetness, but with virtually no acid. They need lemon juice and zest to give them a bit of a kick. See previous recipes.
These berries are so nice, that we will be just eating them fresh off the canes for the first few days, until the crop overwhelms us and then we start to bottle them for later in the winter. We’re pretty lucky to have something so simple and so special fresh from the garden.
It’s now 3 1/2 months since the fire cleaned us out. We have been working hard to clean everything up and bring our life back to some semblance of normality. Well, the sort of ‘normality’ that we chose as normal for us.
I keep thinking, well hoping is probably a more apt term, that I have finished with chainsawing blackened logs. But they are every where and I still find myself at it after all this time. I haven’t even started t think about clearing up the rear section of our land, down the slope behind where the pottery used to be. There is a lot of blackened sticks down there that will have to be tackled one day. For the time being, I’m concentrating on just the front half of our land. The part that will face the next fire in 5 or more years time after the forest grows back.
With global warming increasing at an increasing rate, and world leaders with their heads in the sand, its going to come around again in the next decade. A long dry spell with increasing temperatures, The east coast will burn again. I need to work now to set us up to be better prepared for the next episode. I thought that I was well prepared before, but you learn from experience, and I had never experienced anything like that before. I had no idea what a catastrophic fire event could be. I’m a bit wiser now. No-one should have to go through that.
So with this idea firmly fixed in my mind, we are back into it, cutting and stacking the last of the stumps, fallen branches and pruned dead limbs from the front garden. Of course it’s not a front garden any more. It’s now just a front yard of bare scorched earth. We will keep it as a meadow of wild flowers into the future. something that we can mow down when required to keep a clear space to the west, where the next fire will most likely come from.
These logs are so heavy that I can’t lift them onto the truck, so I use the tractor to do the lifting, but even then, the tractor has a load limit of just under 200 kgs. and one load was so heavy that I could only get it just 100mm. up off the ground. I learnt to limit the load to just one lump at a time.
So now it has become the time to make that really big decision. it’s one of the toughest decisions that I have had to make. We have decided to take out the stone fruit orchard and move the pottery up the slope a bit onto that site, farther away from the bush at the back of our land and closer to the centre. We will re-plant a new orchard in the front area, on the other side of the entrance driveway. This new ‘orchard’ location will be easier, and therefore cheaper, to build on.
We rented a weathboard pottery studio up in Dural to the north of Sydney when we first started out in the early 70’s. It burnt down in the bush fires of 1976. We moved to Balmoral and built a pottery out of galvanised iron, hoping that it would be more fire proof. It burnt down in 1983. The next pottery was build of mud bricks, I hoped that it would be more fire proof. but it still had a timber ceiling and roof framing. Now it has burnt, I’m slowly getting the message. This time I will build in steel. I’m a slow learner!
The first pottery we built here in 1976 was on 3 levels to accomodate the slope of the land. We build it over several years, one room at a time as we could afford it. When it burnt down in 1983, the next pottery was rebuilt on the same sloping site on the same 3 differing levels. We had no money, or any prospects of earning very much of it, so we worked with the lie of the land to save money.
As this will hopefully be my last pottery building. I need it to accomodate me in my zimmer frame and wheel chair in the future. This pottery needs to be all on one level. This also probably means building it on a concrete slab. I have strictly avoided using concrete in the first 3 potteries because of the huge carbon debt that cement incurs, but I need to be both practical and economical. a slab is looking like the smartest option. So I’m selling out my green credentials and going with concrete for the first time in my life, thinking of our old age.
So the orchard is gone. We planted all those trees as bare rooted whip sticks in 1976. That’s 44 years of nurturing, pruning, fertilising, watering and mowing. It’s all gone now!
We have engaged our friend Ross, to dig up all the top soil that we lovingly created over the past 4 decades. The top 200mm of soil has become a rich dark brown humus rich soil. Far too good to bury under a concrete slab. The original native soil here was an orange/yellow sandy loam when we started. I was delighted and surprised to see how deep the top soil had become over time. So good in fact that we couldn’t bear to waste it. I decided to ask Ross to dig it up and transport it to the front garden to fertilise and enrich the new orchard site.
We piled up all the best dark soil into a heap, not unlike a mini Mt. Everest in the garden. The chook formally known as ‘Ginger’ decided to climb the mountain of soil looking for bugs and worms. This top soil is extremely rich and alive with life.
I noticed that she attacked the problem from the North Face, the hard way, without ropes or carabinas. She will now be known as the chook called ‘Hillary’!
We will plant another orchard on the new front site, where we will plant all new trees that are mostly grown on dwarf grafted rootstocks. This will make the orchard easier to manage in the future as we grow older and less vigorous ourselves. The opposite of the fruit trees. We will grow the new orchard under a full netting cover, just like the vegetable garden has been now for 15 years. What we have learnt from the veggie garden experiment, is the kind and size of netting to keep out the fruit eating birds and rabbits, but let in the smaller insect eaters.
Once all the top soil has been moved to the new site, I will to start extending the poly pipe watering system all around the new orchard site to allow for access to plenty of irrigation water in the future.
So many jobs and so little time. I hardly notice that the rest of the world is in lock-down, we are happy being busy here on our own little piece of land and our self created world. We have been living ‘self-isolation’ voluntarily for decades.
In the afternoon I set fire to one of the many piles of dead trees and branches that we have stacked up, and in the evening after dinner, I roast, sweat, peel and pickle the huge crop of bell capsicums that the recent rains have brought on.
Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts! I’m grateful to be still here doing this. I have to try and creative a positive outcome from the unmittigated disaster that this is. I take up the challenge that has presented itself to me. I could never have pulled down the old pottery to ‘improve’ it for my old age. I couldn’t have ever concieved of digging out our beautiful old orchard that we had worked on for so long. This is an oportunity to re-define ourselves here on this piece of land that we love. We have been offered this once in a lifetime opportunity to make our homestead age sensitive and apropriate to our coming frailties. Gone are the steps and in with the ramps.
We will be better prepared for both natures next holocaust and our old age.
With the recent rain and the last of the summer heat, the vegetable garden has grown like crazy. We came back from WOMAD and the Writers Week to find the garden was totally overgrown.
I had a couple of attempts to tame it with the strimmer, then Janine could get in with the mower. We spent a day pulling out weeds and clearing space for the new plantings. I should have been a lot busier in the garden a lot earlier, but have been distracted with fencing and other jobs around the place. Everything needs doing no! I still haven’t finished chopping up the last of the pine trees in the back of the house. My tractor broke down and needs some work, so it’s gone off to the tractor whisperer to be made good again. So until I get it back, I can’t move those last few huge logs.
I have finally got around to planting out the winter crops of brassicas, quite late, but better late than never. I’m also planting out the garlic, also a bit late, but OK.
We have recently harvested our rather poor crop of red grapes, What with the drought, then the fire, now the very hungry wild life, and in particular, the bower birds, we were lucky to get any crop. Janine has been maintaining a wildlife feeding station down at the back of our land where there are a few possums and we don’t know what else eating the fruit and veg that we put out for them. She has created a an ‘apple’ tree out of a burnt out native tree and its charred branches.
She places the slices of apple there each afternoon and they are all gone in the morning. There isn’t much else to eat in the burnt out forest, but there are now some green shoot appearing from the trunks and root lignotubers of the blackened trees.
We made a small batch of summer wine from our tiny harvest. Best enjoyed straight from the keg as it ferments after a few days. A delightful combination of sweet grape juice, spritz bubbles and a little alcohol.
We may be burnt out. We may be unemployed. We may be in self imposed C19 isolation, but we are eating well as mostly vegetarian and gifted with an amazing group of tremendous friends that have given us so much support and assistance, up until lock-down.
We wouldn’t be be here now in this lucky position without you!
Thank you. You have been so wonderfull to us and helped us through this testing time.
The summer started with extremely dry weather, then the fire. closely followed by loads of rain, slight flooding and now cool autumn weather with a flush of green growth. This is our life. lurching from crisis to crisis, extreme to extreme, drought to flood, fire to rain, barron soil to flush greenery.
I have spent two days mowing to keep the new growth of grass down. I spent a day in the vegetable garden with the whipper-snipper shredding weeds and grass, clearing the fallow beds ready for the autumn planting. and clearing all the paths.
I should have got these winter veggies in a month or two back, but have been otherwise distracted by my close encounter with death and then the never-ending cleanup. I’m just starting to sleep through the whole night again. I have had two good nights now.
I put this down to our holiday escape to Adelaide for Writers week and WOMAD. We had booked and paid for this annual sojourn 6 months ago. If it hadn’t been prepaid, we wouldn’t have gone. There is just so much still to do here, just to get back to tors. Luckily we had paid for it all in advance, so we had to go. I’m very glad that we did. I really needed a break. My neck was so stiff with tension. However, after our time away, where we couldn’t do anything except engage with ideas and concepts, as well as walking several kilometres per day into the city and back. It did us a lot of good and I’ve come back relaxed and able to sleep better. I can now turn my head freely again.
So our time away was good for us, but the garden went to ruin, over-run with weeds after the rain and the last of the warm weather. Under all the over growth there is still a lot of food still to be picked. I hacked and slashed my way through the paths, then returned with the strimmer. Usually, not too much stops this machine, but this level of weed growth really slowed it down. I had to work very slowly, otherwise the cord just slowed down and didn’t work. The same applied to the ride-on mower. I had to drive very slowly to allow the mower to cope with the high level of wet grass. Consequently, the mowing took far longer than usual.
We mowed and whipper-shipped until we ran out of petrol and I ran out of plastic strimmer cord. I used to keep stock of all these consumables, strimmer cord in a big roll, spare chain saw chains and sharpening files, two-stroke mix, ear muffs, chain saw tool kit. They are all melted and burnt. I still don’t know all the things that we have lost. Not until I go to the shed to get something that I always have, but realise that I don’t have a shed anymore. All those small items and tools all gone. Still, all the mowing is now done for at least a week. Time to re-stock all the consumables. I have a long list for tomorrows expedition to the hardware shop.
The garden is starting to take shape – a little. It’ll look a lot better by the end of the week, when I have finished weeding all the beds and planting out new seedlings.
Once I could see what was still in there, I picked a load of vegetables and herbs for a mirepoix. A parsnip. some celery, a few carrots, the herbs, thyme parsley sage and bay leaves, plus a little salt and pepper corns to flavour it up. I bought a beef femur and a pigs trotter, which I boiled in an excess of water without roasting this time, as I usually roast the bones first to caramelised then a little, but this time, to save time, they went straight unto the pot. Another boiler had the herbs and veggies.
Last night we had the wood stove on for the first time this year, because of the sudden drop in temperature with the rain, so I was able to let them both boil down nicely over the evening and into the night. Today I separated the marrow from the cooled bones and drained the mirepoix, discarding the green matter. Then both liquors went back into the big boiler together with a bottle of good red wine and some tomato paste. Here I deviated from the normal script. We have run out of tomatoes, so I indulged myself in the use of a packet of bought concentrated tomato paste. Australian of course!
So this is our new life post fire. All the old standards have fallen. I didn’t roast the bones! I have bought tomato paste from a shop! where will this all end?
I finished reducing the stock down from the initial 9 litres to less than 1 litre. I must say that it is really delicious, savoury, sour, salty, and ever so slightly sweet – just a hint, and very viscous and creamy in the mouth.
You can’t buy stuff like this. its real food! This will be stored in the freezer and just a sliver of this frozen gel with be like a stock cube added to any wintery dish. Beautiful, and so rewarding.