Monday, 29 June 2009

Community garden and dinner at home

This afternoon I went to a gathering of people interested in starting a community garden in Kapunda.  In fact,  quite a bit of work has been done, and it is now a matter of facilitating some of the networking with the local hospital and the council and I can probably help there.  
The meeting was quite late in the afternoon.  
I had to call in to sort out a mobile phone issue for my mother,  and then home again, at last... tired but happy!
I am involved with a "Transition Towns" initiative in South Australia and with some work, I think we can introduce the idea of resilient communities here... I look forward to more events that are associated with these ideas of a resilient, sustainable communities for the future.  My wish!
Now to dinner....
I had cooked some chickpeas on the fire after breakfast while the fire died down (they had soaked over night) and they were ready to include in the dinner plan.  
Firstly, I washed some rice and put it on to cook while I went to get the vegetables. I cook rice with just the right amount of water to cook and steam without taking the lid off.  
Here are the chickpeas (garbanzos) cooked, with a little salt and nothing else,  but just soggy and tasty (the beginnings of either dinner or hummous!)
I arrived home just on dark, so I raced straight out to collect some vegetables to go with the chickpeas....  it is quite different when you need to pick vegetables from the garden, rather than choose them from a supermarket shelf.  Here they are....
....  Chinese broccoli and yet another cauliflower...  in fact this is the one that I photographed some time ago with aphids on it, and it was treated with soapy dishwashing water.  The treatment worked perfectly.  The leaves are laying by the garden bed and I'll take them to the chickens in the morning for a treat.  (They are back "on the lay.")
Then I made the curry sauce...
... olive oil, fried onion and garlic, then spices (fairly average, even a bulk powder, but with extra fenugreek, tumeric and asafoetida) until they were hot and smelled cooked.   Then I added water and salt and brought it to the boil.  Once it was boiling and smelling like a curry,  I added the thickest stalks of the broccoli,  then the cauliflower and then the leafy green bits (last because it cooks more quickly) and the already cooked chickpeas.  This is how it looked...
There are two saucepans on the stove (below)rice and the chickpea mix...  dark picture!  except for the fire... but that's what you get on my stove!
By the time it was done (20 more minutes),  it was a bit thicker and smelled very good.
The rice was cooked  and so, while it steamed I added about a teaspoon of aniseed to steam as well on top of the rice.  (You can do this with anything at all,  including raisins or currants or a number of different seeds.)   Aniseed bits just swell up and flavour the rice when steamed....  and it tastes very good.  After about five or ten minutes, you can stir it through and it looks like this....
Dinner was really good, though it should have had something acid added to it.  (I usually use tomatoes for that,   but didn't on this occasion!)  Verjuice would have worked.  Instead,  I had my dinner with some yoghourt and some pickle that was slightly acid!  (The pickle was made about a  year or so ago,  it is a zucchini and onion pickle made with produce from the garden also.)
Then to the wine...  as they do in all of the fancy articles in newspapers here, though their wines are always outrageously expensive, mine aren't!  
This is lovely to drink with a spicy meal... it is a champagne style wine produced at Cockatoo Ridge... right between Nuriootpa and Tanunda, on the main road.   I drive past regularly, so I'll have to get some more next time I go past.  We are lucky around here,  aren't we?
There will be another meeting of the community garden people soon,  and I will take my camera!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Barossa afternoon

This weekend has been the "Barossa at home" event in the valley.  We didn't do a tour of the vinyards,  but visited friends at JB wines.  It was to be a weekend when the attraction at each winery was the actual winemaker, and one could discuss how the wine was made, blended and bottled.  Our winery 
From the website....
Spend the weekend with Barossa's winemakers. Walk into a cellar door in the Barossa over the weekend of 27-28th June, and be greeted by the person who crafted the wine in your glass. Have a chat about the wine, the vines or the weather (or anything else), whether it's in the tasting room or in special sessions.. 
"Our" winery was JB wines, owned by friends from whom we have bought wine in the past.  It is at Bethany, near Tanunda.
As usual, I forgot to run around with my camera and get a lot of pictures, but this is Greg among the barrels....
... and the cartons of wine that have been bottled.
As we left,  it was almost sunset.  I took this picture and I love the sunspots that appeared on the picture.  This is looking out of the front door of the house (at the winery) across the railway line with vinyards in the distance.
I have just got home and had soup (the left over bean soup from a couple of days ago)  for dinner....   and here is the collection of photographs on the cupboard door....  four lovely grandchildren...  Annie, Charlotte, Oliver and Fiona.  Lucky aren't I!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

I walked through the yard.

I walked through the yard today.  I wanted to see what needed to be done and what needed to be picked.. not a lot.   I did find some flowers.  
This first picture is of the drops of water on the rue.  This is a plant that I really like, though it's probably an "acquired taste."   It has a very distinctive smell and many people don't really like it.  I do, and the slightest touch releases the odour (perfume?)  and it always makes me feel happy.  I have no idea why,  it just does.  
The drops of water look amazing.
The wheat is up.  My crop might be small,  but I think it looks wonderful.  The barley is not as advanced, but I'll be checking it daily.
Lemon verbena (below)...  flowering at the shortest day of the year.  I would have thought is should be flowering when the weather was warmer.  The leaves all look a little strange.  They are funny shapes,  and I am sure that this is because the frost nipped them when they were all a lot smaller.  
During the summer,  all of the leaves dropped off when it was so dry, but here, in the winter the verbena has recovered and is flowering beautifully.
Another calendula... another one with a dark centre, though different from the one that I found a few days ago.  I should have a calendula collection.
Below is my seat in the garden.  It's too cold to sit here and read now, but next summer I'll be out there again.  Notice that the branches are growing out of the back of the chair...  the tree was cut down about three or four years ago, and the stump carved into this shape.... but soon enough the branches began to sprout again.   I will cut them down before the summer... they can dry for fire wood and they should fit into the kitchen stove easily.  This is a very tough red gum!
These are the tanks (below) at the highest place on the block...  so that they can "gravity feed" to the garden if the electricity supply is unreliable.  I am loathe to rely on the grid.   These are each about two thirds full now, making a total of about 12,000 litres of water up here.  If these fill before the rain ends this year,  I will add a third to the array.
The "house" tank (below) and the trusty pump that allows us to shower, flush the toilet, wash the dishes and the clothes and cook and drink and all of that.  As well as the pump supply,  I have a "gravity fed" tap in the kitchen so that we would have a water supply if the electricity was "off".  I check the tank frequently and it's good to know how much is in there... we have used a few "bumps" worth, but it fills up again whenever it rains lately.    Having a supply of water that you can actually watch come and go makes you much more aware of just how much water you are using.  
No matter how conscientiously you care for the supply from the River Murray,  there is nothing quite the same as having a tank sitting there, ebbing and flowing.  
This is the most urgent job (below) to get on with....  this is the wall behind a number of pictures of the broad bean patch.  I have been fixing it, though work has come to a standstill lately.  The house is built of large rocks from a quarry just a little way from here, on Gundrey's Hill.  The rocks are held in place by mud.  The brown "mortar" between the rocks in the picture is pure clay from the yard around about.  This part had broken because the water had got in, washed the mud out and some rocks had actually broken as well.  There are no foundations at all.  The whole house is built on the levelled ground.  I began the repairs from the bottom.  I used a limey mortar mix and in the lowest "course" I added an acrylic compound that makes it waterproof.  I have filled the washed out mud holes with mortar and stones and gradually worked my way up the wall.  In the photograph,  you can see the last mortar addition with grooves carved into it before it set,  so that I can add the next lot onto it and have a secure join. My concreting and plastering started out pretty rough,  but I'm getting better.  Several people have suggested that it isn't really straight enough (it's quite hard to make a right-angle corner) but since the rest of the house is a bit odd shaped also,  I figure that it matches quite well!  
This house has been here for nearly 160 years now,  so it will probably last for a few more years yet.  
I was looking up a quote from Chief Seattle today....  my father used to repeat this quotation to me when I was small.... 
“Only when the last tree has died, 
and the last river has been poisoned, 
and the last fish has been caught, 
will we realise that we cannot eat money.”

Chief Seattle (Sealth) died at the age of 80, in 1866.   My house was already here, and had been for some years.  This gives some perspective to the speed with which environmental damage occurs.
Seattles's fish are almost all caught (this year has marked the third salmon fishery failure in four years in the Pacific North West)  and we cannot eat money!

Thursday, 25 June 2009

voluntary simplicity

Where to begin...  voluntary simplicity seems to be the default position  It is the only way to go unless one wants to make life harder, practically and philosophically.
I have always chosen the easiest, simplest way to do things whenever I could.  This includes maintaining my lifestyle in a way that fits with my philosphical ideas as well.....  and that's called "treading lightly on the earth" these days.  This has led to a fairly basic way of living, and not a lot of physical complications in my life. 
Washing up. 

In a news broadcast back in the eighties,  a passing comment included the statement that for an economy to work, it was necessary to have a constantly increasing Gross National Product. This was a revelation.  How could anything continue to increase by an annual percentage indefinitely.  I decided then and there that the economists were wrong and that our society could not possibly  survive with that attitude to the world and its resources.
Some time later, I discovered the law of increasing returns in a book called Complexity (by M. Mitchell Waldrop)   I read about the economic theory that proposed a law of increasing returns.    I was aware of the "law of diminishing returns" as I had lived in Newfoundland (and had been studying ecology there) just as the cod fishery was collapsing, so I knew what adding further effort there had achieved.  That had demonstrated the law of diminishing returns better than anything esle I could imagine.  
But this "law of increasing returns" was a revelation. Studies of complexity are concerned with how single elements organise themselves into complicated structures such as ecosystems, economies, galaxies or ice crystals, or perhaps even civilisations?  The description of complex systems that show self organisation in this way was a new idea to me in 1992.  I was intrigued.  Walldrop's book also contains a description of the Santa Fe Institute where complexity is studied, and the people who work there.  (I think that that would be my choice holiday destination.)
Increasing returns and the self-organising properties of a complex system depend on it being in equilibrium though such systems often collapse suddenly such as when species disappear from a fossil record, stars collapse and landslides occur or the stock exchange "crashes."  Apparently "something" disrupts the equilibrium, and a collapse occurs.
Western civilisation has developed along a complex path that appears (from the inside) to be stable and forward moving.  It is a complex and stable system for the moment.   Other civilisations have come and gone, and it appears as though this one is likely to do the same.    In his book "Collapse",  Jared Diamond described the collapse of a number of civilisations in the past.  These were mostly stable, functional societies  in which some disruption caused instability and collapse...  self organising systems that became unstable.  He implied that we may face something similar. 

James Lovelock described the feedback mechanisms that cause the earth to be  a complex self organising system that maintains equilibrium in the same way that homeostasis functions in a living organism.  He saw the earth as being a self regulating living system.  He called this Gaia, after the Greek goddess of the earth.  In any case, living or not, the earth is a self organising complex system that appears to be able to have increasing complexity, increasing returns.

In our civilisation, it is probable that "the straw that brakes the camel's back" will be oil.  It will be necessary to live quite differently without the "200 slaves" in the basement, for that is how much extra work  (currently done by oil) that our standard of living depends upon.
Our predicament is complicated by the fact that the oil that we are so dependent upon is so pervasive (in everything that we use) and so damaging(to our environment.)    We need oil for transport and food production,  manufacturing and mass production, plastics, fertiliser and pest control and even making photovoltaic cells and electric cars.  Meanwhile, the contamination from oil and its products is damaging our ecosystem.
One would hope that we will run short of oil and learn to live more simply before we do too much significant damage.  

People who are more knowledgeable than I are attempting to visualise how our lives will change and there are almost as many scenarios as there are people contemplating these ideas.  I know that there will be some version of involuntary simplicity (as previous civilisations have discovered) and when I see shopping carts full of frozen packaged food, plastic bottles of flavoured water and bundles of indestructable plastic "disposable" products,  I can see that some people will find a simpler life difficult.  Perhaps this culture of voluntary simplicity would be helpful. 
Bean soup for tea.

We live in interesting times (but I wouldn't swap times or places for anything...  life is good.) 
Keeping warm.

Recently, I have been reading Derrick Jensen's "Endgame Vol 1:  The problem of Civilisation" in which his first premise (of twenty) is that "Civilisation is not and never can be sustainable."   An interesting thought!  I will be buying his second volume,  "Endgame Vol2:  Resistance.  I hope he has some suggestions about what else I can do.


I find it easy to grow a variety of brassica plants... these include cabbage and cauliflower, a few chinese vegetables, broccoli and kale.  The fact that I am able to grow all of these easily means that they must be very flexible in basic nutrition and needs.  The soil here is very "clayey" and depleted in trace elements ( old continent)  but with plenty of  compost and my stinging nettle fertiliser,  these vegetables all grow very well.
The first kind of kale that I grew was "Tuscan black kale."   I tried to collect seeds from my own plants,  but I was too late in letting them go to seed...  and it became too hot to produce any.   These plants are still young,  but the leaves are beginning to show "black kale" traits.  (The seeds came from a company that produces "open pollinated" seeds, and I'll be more careful to collect some seeds from these plants this year.)
This variety is "Siberian kale" and is also easy to grow and tastes remarkably similar... 
... and here is "Red Russian kale" that has the frilliest leaves of all.  You'll notice more stalks than leaves,  as we've eaten a lot of this one lately.  
If you look carefully here,  you will see my crop of clothes pegs.  (I think you can click on the picture to see it in more detail.) These are three more cauliflowers covered by their outer leaves... and there are more to come!  It does look a bit like a crop of clothes pegs at the moment though! 
Below is a portrait of one of the young hens.  It's the one with the funny hair do...  it makes her look very grumpy... or perhaps it's just a '60's bouffant job!!!   

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Cold and windy outside

It's a cold and windy day (the Roseworthy data says 13.9 degrees) but with the promise of rain,  I'll manage though  I really hate cold weather.  
Roseworthy is the closest weather station to us...
I have been out and about and, having not planted anything for more that a week,  I put some green pea seeds in the spot that I had removed the cauliflowers from yesterday. (Two of those are in the freezer.)  I have covered the peas with wire so that the blackbirds can't get them, and they are nice and wet.  At this temperature, they'll take a while to come up,  but I'll check them regularly.
After the rocket photos that I'd posted yesterday, I realised that I hadn't shown the leafy parts at all.  This is what we eat, but they grow wild now, so I don't think of them as "garden vegetables"  really.   They are good though.
I also found some dark centred calendula that I had ben looking for yesterday.  I like these flowers very much, but they don't seem to be as vigorous as the all-yellow ones.   I always save the seeds from these and put them in the most advantageous places, where they are most likely to succeed. 
I went on to pull some weeds from one of the vegetable patches... and I found this funny sour sob leaf (below).  There is one normal leaf and the funny one (same plant) showing here.  The little lobes of the leaves look a lot like horse shoes.  (Small things amuse small minds!)
The picture below shows a patch of broad beans growing near the back fence,  beyond the neat rows that I have planted and photographed before.   This is where I threw the last of the seeds from the jar after planting.  I won't be staking them or caring for them or anything,  but I'll harvest any beans that they produce!
This is yet another cauliflower that is growing rapidly.   This is the plant that I photographed a few weeks ago with a nice crop of aphids on it.  I poured the soapy dishwashing water (yellow bar of laundry soap) over them for a few days and this is the result.  Another cauliflower.... without aphids.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Weeding again

My documented weeding of the garden in this blog makes it sound as though this is a very onerous and time consuming job.  In fact, it isn't at all.  I find that when plants are small, it's a good idea to reduce their competition by removing particular weeds, but is also gives me a good chance to see what is happening to them in other respects.  Regular observation of plants, in the same way that you would keep an eye on a pet is part of the plan.
It is also good to spend a little while outside in the sun if it's shining (especially in winter) and helps anyone who ever feels miserable sitting inside during inclement weather.
This is the patch that I weeded today.  The artichokes are doing well,  and are just to the right of this picture.  I have planted a row of garlic between those and the potatoes... seen getting going here though the closest ones are larger because they get more sun.  They were planted in a dip that you can still see, and they'll have straw on them soon.   Then you can see my pathway to get along the rows....  then the onions (not thinned yet), coriander, and some more broad beans...  with the baby fig tree behind those.
Here (below) is the next weeding patch.  This garden has mostly herbs and hardy plants that don't get much water in the summer.  There's also a bean teepee that will be used again  early next summer, though hanging there right now is the fly trap, still full of dead flies!  I'll be weeding this and making some more soil here before the summer.  With 100% clay soil,  it's quite a job and a lot of organic material before it becomes real soil.
In the herb patch is this bush of French lavender...   just beginning to flower....
And here is what happens to the weeds.  These chickens love them....
While I was in there donating some grass and weeds,  I checked for eggs.  Here is just one small one, with a couple of plastic ones to indicate where I'd like them to lay... chickens are communal breeders,  and so tend to lay in the same nests.
Flowers are beginning to appear on the calendula plants also...  this one has a pale centre.  I'm still waiting for the dark centred ones to grow.  This variety is so much more prolific than those.  They self seed all over the place and I leave them unless thay are in a completely inconvenient spot.  In fact i do that with quite a lot of plants that have become naturalised.

This photograph is really a post script,  if ever there was one.  
After the blog was finished and I was out and about (getting wood to cook dinner, in fact)  and saw the first rocket (arugula)  flowers in the "orchard" patch.  These are beautiful flowers and we have a permanent crop of rocket (arugula) here now....  I took several photographs of these flowers.... this is not the one that shows best view of the dark veins in the petals,  but if you enlarge it (I think you just have to click on it) you'll see a tiny black ant... how lucky is that!  There'll be plenty more rocket flowers....  and plenty more rocket for salads also.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Solstice today

It is the shortest day of the year today.  We will soon be back on the way to summer and the chickens will be back "on the lay."
It's been a busy few days...  a trip to Adelaide on Thursday... for a meeting that might lead to a real Transition Town movement in South Australia.
On Friday I went to a clearing sale in Tanunda.  I wanted a lawn mower,  but the prices were much too high.  Instead I found a flue kit (for the "modern" fire place when it moves to the studio in the shed),  a tiny Hibachi grill that will be perfect for inside barbecues (I have a chimney above the kitchen stove) and best of all, some garden tools (several home made) including two hoes!  Just look at  this lot for $18.  I am so happy with these.
On Saturday, after a trip to the Barossa market, I sat in the Tanunda gallery for most of the day. It turned out to be the "volunteers morning tea" day and so I caught up with a lot of Barossa people....  more of that in the next few weeks,  I think.  I bought a few things at the market that I can't get in Kapunda,  including grass fed meat,  potatoes from the potato man (I've run out here) and some carrots, garlic and onions.
Today (solstice sunday) I went to a talk by a woman who is encouraging people to grow their own vegetables for health, sustainability and food security reasons... a woman after my own heart.  I didn't learn much new information,  but it's good to see how many people are growing food around here.  
I had been so busy that I had hardly checked my vegetables in the last couple of days.  With the current cool and occasionally rainy weather, I haven't had to watch  things very closely. But look what I found....
.... these are the first jonquils to flower this year.  It will be interesting to see if they always flower at the solstice!  The perfume is wonderful and they are so lovely when there are few flowers around.
I also picked a few vegetables.  Here are those pieces of broccoli that have grown as side shoots from those that we ate a couple of weeks ago.  I have four cauliflowers to pick, but I'll leave  the others til tomorrow when  I have time to freeze them.
The broad beans are flowering still.  Look at these red flowers now!  If they keep this up,  we should have plenty of beans... I'll keep them for seed, as I only have a few of this variety...
...and the black and white flowers are getting underway too.  These are my standby crop.  We have plenty of these most years and I save seed from year to year also.  
Broad beans are a wonderful crop...  young leafy tips are good in a leafy stirfry, the baby beans are good whole,  then, as they get bigger,  you can eat the individual beans when they are out of the pod.  Then, when you can't keep up with them,  you can freeze or bottle them (those are good in risotto later), and finally,  when all else fails,  the last beans ripen and dry on the stalks and these are for seed (for the following year)  though if there are too many,  they are good in winter soup.  
These are also the beans that can be ground up to make falafel (with spices etc added.) Every year I plant still more, hoping to get to the falafel stage,  but so far, up to 10 sq m of beans haven't produced enough for that (...remembering that I try to save more seed each year) but perhaps 2009 will be the year... we'll see...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Eggs and baby vegetables

It's another cold damp day... but I was out checking the garden as usual, and found a few bits and pieces.  This picture is from right down the backyard... near the artichokes.   The onions haven't been thinned here yet, not quite ready. Then the coriander that is actually looking different from the weeds,  and the  broad beans are doing really well.
These chickens were watching me while I photographed the little plants.   The reason that they watched me is that I usually throw some weeds to them while I'm there... they're not silly.  The three closest ones are all young ones the black one behind was one of the incubators.
Eggs!  These are all funny little ones... presumably from the learners!   It is almost the shortest day of the year.  Once we get past there,  they'll all get back to it!  I think it's the increasing day length that must get them going again.  
Those onion babies are what is left from the "thinnings" recently.  John planted some of them elsewhere, but these might make it into dinner tonight.
This is my favourite of the "babies" though she's not a baby any more.  She's very friendly.

I think these broad bean flowers are lovely.  They will flower for months,  though there won't be any beans until the weather gets warm enough for the fruit to set.