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41 Degrees (106)

mulched garden

It is tipped to reach 41°C today.  That’s 106°F for those of you in USA.  My garden will suffer. There is no way out of that.  There’s not much in the way of human food plants that are adapted to those kinds of temperatures.  A day or two here or there, we can cope.  But as it becomes the new normal, there’s a limit to resilience.

I have been watching and feeling for those of you in the south who have endured catastrophic fire weather over the last days.  I have a highly defensible house and many years experience in the local fire brigade, and I live in a community that up until recently would have trusted our ability to manage an emergency together. But our fire plan for catastrophic fire weather now is to not to be here.

Tackling the kind of bad habits and addictions that are disrupting the planet’s climate is hard and scary. Change always is. But how many heat waves, firestorms, floods, tornados, cyclones, tidal surges, droughts, food shortages, and extinctions add up to harder? and more scary?

I wrote a post this time last year about Surviving the Frizzle Weather.  This morning I will wet down the ground in the area where the chooks are, and make sure they have secure shade and water. At worst we’ll get wind with the heat and any jury rigged shade would just blow off. There’s not much more I can do, but birds have a higher body temperature than mammals, and feathers are good insulation both ways.

I’ve watered deeply over the last few days – we have better water storage these days – in other years I’ve just had to save the water for fire fighting and let the garden go. The garden is mulched deeply and planted with climbers with an eye to providing shade, especially from the west.  I’ve not planted out any seedlings in the last week. The plants in the photo are the babiest in the garden and they are advanced and established enough to have a chance.  I have another round of advanced seedlings in the shadehouse, ready to fill the gaps after this is over.

Stay safe everyone.  It’s now a cliche in these disaster prone days, but houses and gardens can be replaced

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Surviving the Frizzle Weather

Summer is a much harder gardening season than winter in Australia. Most years there’s a set of frizzle days sometime over the summer – days when the temperature is up around 40ºC for a few days in a row.  It can be really disheartening.  Your garden can be looking good one day, then a few days later it’s all fried.

What to do:

Shade. Don’t be afraid of shade. European gardening advice is go for full sun, but not much likes Australian full sun in summer.   The perfect garden site has full sun from the north east round to the north west (because the winter sun actually rises in the north east and sets in the north west), but it has shade in the east and west. Short lived trees like leucaena work well in my subtropical climate.  I can plant them on the east and west of my circular garden beds and they create dappled shade in summer. They are legumes so as a side benefit, they fix nitrogen from the air, and I can use the prunings for mulch as well.

I also plant very intensively so my garden plants shade each other.  Using up all your water and other resources on a small area makes much more sense than spreading it thin to maximise your garden area.  Closely spaced plants shade each other.  And I use the fencing in my very intensively fenced beds as trellises, and grow climbers in preference to dwarf varieties of everything possible.  Climbing beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash add to the shade.

Mulch. I try to have a good 15 to 20 cm of mulch cover over my whole garden before the start of summer. I use huge amounts of mulch, for no-dig garden bed creation, for sheet composting and for weed eradication.  In summer though its most important functions are water conservation and insulation.  My most important garden tool is my 5 hp Honda walk-behind self-propelled mower.  With it I can get a trailer load of mulch in less than an hour, and it’s good exercise and meditation at the same time.

Unfortunately the better your soil, the less long-lasting the mulch cover.  Mulch cover over very biologically active soil disappears before your eyes, eaten by all the soil-living creatures and turned into compost.

Water : You do need a fair bit of water. I just use sprinklers and a hose because I have to be frugal with water and that gives me more control. I’ve never tried wicking beds but the idea is interesting and the theory is sound.  I avoid fixed watering systems because I don’t think they actually save labour. Luckily I’m a morning person because the best time to water is in the early morning.

This year is a La Nina year and the dams are full. Some years though I am trying to eke every skerrick of value out of every drop of water. But even in La Nina years, I don’t water every day. Seeds and seedlings in the shadehouse get water every day.  My advanced seedlings get watered in well at planting out. But the garden beds only get a sprinkler if there has been no rain at all for a fortnight or so.  If you water too frequently, root systems learn that the best place to get water is the top 10 cm, and they concentrate there – which is exactly what you don’t want in a heat wave. If you water deeply and infrequently, they chase the water down and that sets them up much better for frizzle days.

Plant the right things: Leafy greens have a really hard time – I generally don’t plant them during summer much at all.  Big leaved things like cucumbers and zucchini like the heat but have a hard time unless you really have lots of water and mulch, so I plant few of them and give those few all the water, rather than having too many and spreading the water too thin.

Plant sequentially: A week of frizzle weather will wipe out everything adolescent in the garden, but seeds and seedlings in the shadehouse are likely to survive, and mature plants with well developed root systems are likely to survive. If you have used up all the space you have available for pumpkins, for example, in one planting, you’ve put it all on black. If instead you have some at every stage, you’re only likely to be facing a few week gap in the harvest.

We are close now to Lammas, the traditional festival that marks the point when the day length passes the point, half way between the solstice and the equinox, when the days begin to shorten at an exponentially faster rate.  (There’s a nice simple graph that explains it here.)  The odds of getting more frizzle days now are rapidly shrinking.  The season coming, at least here in northern NSW,  is a much better one for gardeners.  The best thing I can do for my garden this time of year is go to the beach. The chooks need some cuttlefish and shell grit, the seaweed brew needs refreshing, and I’ve already ticked off one of my New Year’s resolutions.

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Mango Upside Down Cake


Picked the last of the mangoes this morning.  Maybe a week more of mango gluttony, then it’s over (except for the chutney and the pickles and the icecream) for another year.

So here’s the mango upside down cake recipe, so I remember it for next year.

The Recipe:

Turn your oven on to heat up to medium (180°C or 350°F).

Grease a 20 cm cake tin and line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper.

Make the mango topping first.

Slice enough mangoes to nearly cover the bottom of the cake pan in a single layer.  Arrange them in a decorative circle if you like. Sprinkle half a cup of chopped macadamia nuts in the gaps.

In a frypan, melt a good dessertspoon of butter and a good dessertspoon of raw sugar. Cook for a few minutes till the butter sugar mix just starts to caramelise and go sticky, then drizzle this mix over the mangoes and nuts.

Now make the cake batter.

In a food processor, blend together 100 gm butter (just under half a cup, or most of a stick) with half a cup of  brown sugar.

When it is nice and fluffy, add three eggs, one by one, and half a cup of chopped mango.

Then a teaspoon of vanilla, or scrape half a pod, and a cup of self-raising flour.

Pour this over the mango topping.

Bake for around 40 minutes in a medium oven till a straw comes out clean.

Cool for ten minutes or so in the pan, then carefully turn out. I run a knife around the edge of the cake in the pan, put a plate over the top, then invert and tap lightly on the bottom of the pan.  Carefully peel off the paper. Voila!

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Forty Little Mango Cheesecakes

Our glut crop at the moment is mangoes. Mangoes have a good year every second year, and a great year every forth or sixth. We had mango salsa with our poached eggs for breakfast and mango icecream after dinner last night. I’ve made  mango pickle and mango chutney, a year’s supply and some to give away.  Every visitor leaves with a bag of them, and still they come. So tonight, for Brett and Johanna’s anniversary party, it has to be a mango plate.

I thought about mango cake – I have a good recipe for a mango upside down cake I should post – but my favourite dish to take to a party is always little tarts.  They make such easily transportable finger food, so easy, and they look so party-food. I’ve made mango cheesecake before, mixing the mango pulp through the cheesecake mix, but it wasn’t a keeper for me.  This one though is. Simple shortcrust pastry, lightly blind baked, then half filled with a slightly lemony cheesecake mix, topped with mango jelly.

The Recipe:

The Pastry:

In the food processor, put

  • 3 cups of plain flour (I use wholemeal because that’s what I have, but for party food, I sift the bran out, so it is more like unbleached flour).
  • 6 big dessertspoons of cold butter
  • 1 dessertspoon sugar

Don’t overprocess it – little flakes of butter are fine.  The key to making good pastry is not overworking it.

Then add cool water, little bit by little, till the dough holds together in a ball.

Roll the pastry out on a floured benchtop till it is ½cm or so thick, then cut rounds with a small bowl.

Lightly grease muffin or tartlet tins with butter and line them with the pastry.  It will flute a little since the pastry is flat and the muffin tins cups, but that gives a nice shape to the finished tarts.

Bake the pastry cases for around 10 minutes till they are firm but not yet colouring.

The Cheesecake Filling

Blend together

  • 1 tub (250 grams) cream cheese
  • The same tub three-quarters full (around 200 grams) of plain yoghurt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 dessertspoons sugar
  • a teaspoon lemon rind
  • juice of half a small lemon
  • a little vanilla essence 

Pour the cheesecake mix into the pastry cases. It should two-thirds fill them all. Bake for another fifteen minutes or so till they are set and the pastry is lightly golden.

Cool before pouring in the mango jelly.

Mango Jelly

You need enough gelatine to set 1 litre of water, so that is two sachets, or 6 teaspoons of powdered gelatine or 12 sheets of leaf gelatine.  Follow the instructions on your gelatine.

The mango pulp though doesn’t set as readily as water, so you need 500 ml of mango pulp.

Dissolve the gelatine in 250 ml of boiling water, then mix the gelatine water into the mango pulp to give you 750 ml altogether.

Pour over the cooled cheesecakes to fill the tart cases.

If you can find enough room in the fridge, they set quicker, especially given mango season is summer! In my fridge they take about an hour and a half to set.

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Simple Things

seed packets

Like these little origami seed packets, taught to me by Morag Gamble from Our Permaculture Life. Such a pleasure chopping up junk mail and turning it into these, and it makes sharing seed so barrier free.

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Summer Fruit Bowl

summer-fruit-bowl

Back in midwinter, I posted a picture of my new, very beautiful fruit bowl – a Yule gift – filled with winter fruit – oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit.  
Yule bowlThen in Spring I posted a picture of it filled with spring fruit – pawpaws and strawberries in my part of the world.

spring-fruit

And now it is full of mangoes and grapes. The first of the mangoes is j-u-st getting ripe. I admit we’ve cut a few a bit too early, impatience winning out. And still, really not quite there.  Another week or so and it will be properly mango season. I have some jars of green mangoes salted on the bench and tomorrow I’ll make green mango pickle with them, and in a few weeks when the stringier, later mangoes get ripe I’ll make some mango and tomato chutney. But most will be mango smoothies and mangoes in salads and mango oatcakes for breakfast and lots just eaten as they are.

The grapes too are just coming on, maybe enough for a small batch of mosto cotto this year, but most will just be eaten as they are.  Always something to fill the bowl.

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Surviving the heat wave

I went out and mowed this morning early.  Not as early as I would have liked – the mower is noisy and there are neighbours within a hundred metres of the community centre lawn,  so I held back till 7.30 am.  I’m normally up before 5 these mornings, so it meant I had a couple of hours in the garden and shadehouse before mowing.  And still, that gives me a nice hour and a half before 9 am, then another half an hour to unload the mulch and I am in, showered and cool by 9.30.

Next week is predicted to be heavy rain and a nice thick layer of mulch will mean the chooks aren’t squelching around in mud.  The garden needs lots of mulch to survive days like this, and I need an hour or two of physical activity.  I can spend the whole middle of the day writing now without compunction.

I put sprinklers on when I first got up, and moved them around in those few hours, so that by 9.30 every bed had had a good deep watering.  It is days like this that I reap the value of soil with a lot of water holding capacity.  Years of adding organic matter pay off in being able to water heavily and have it all sucked up by the soil. Luckily, though it is a much drier year than average, our water storage is good enough now to afford the water.  Some years I have just had to watch the garden die on days like this.

We don’t have enough to water all the fruit trees, but I use all the grey water on them. We have a couple of trees full of mangoes just about ripe too.  It looked like a bumper year a few months ago but a spell of severe dry made them drop most of the fruit.  Still though, there are enough in our seven fruiting trees to make a few year’s supply of green mango pickle and mango chutney and  still have more than we can eat.

I have heat tolerant tall climbers – snake beans, indeterminate cherry tomatoes, tromboncino, cucumbers helping to shade beds.  In winter and spring, tall climbers are restricted to the south side of beds where they will never shade anything else.  But starting in mid-spring I begin planting them with an eye to heat waves, so that they extend around the western side and give the lettuces and rocket and beets and basil a bit of respite from the afternoon sun.

Not many lettuces in.  They need a lot of water and still they bolt to seed this time of year.  I have a few, of heat tolerant varieties, but my summer salads are not much based on salad greens.  This time of year, salads are best based on tomatoes (at their best now) or beans or capsicums  or cucumbers.   A heat wave sometime about now is so predictable that my garden is pretty clear of the things that are really vulnerable, and the few there are I can afford to sacrifice and replant when the weather changes.

The shadehouse is full of fairly advanced seedlings, each in its own little pot of good compost mixed with creek sand.  It is much easier to keep them watered and cool in the shadehouse.  I’ve recycled quite a few seedlings over the last month.  Germinated them in the seed raising boxes, transplanted them into pots, waited for a spell of the right kind of weather for planting out, recycled them into the seedling raising mix again and planted a new batch of seed when it didn’t happen.  There is a small amount of work wasted in doing this, but it saves a lot off work trying to establish seedlings in tough conditions.  I’m hoping that the rain predicted for new year will herald a few weeks of good planting weather and I can get all the seedlings in the shadehouse now out and established.

I don’t get frost in my sub-tropical garden, so winter is a good growing season here.  It is the frizzle days of summer that are the challenge, when a whole garden can be wiped out in one brutal day.  But just like gardeners in frost-prone climates, you develop a range of strategies to work the odds.

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grasshoppers love kale

Because the chooks love grasshoppers…

chooks-love-grasshoppersAnd I love eggs….

egg-salad

My favourite lunch at the moment – salad from the garden with a soft boiled egg – aka grasshoppers – aka kale – through it as dressing.

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Greek Marinated Slow Roast Wallaby

If you are a vegetarian, probably better if you click away now.  But if you eat meat, I’d be interested to hear what you think.

We hit a wallaby on the way home a little while ago.  It was just on dusk, right when the wallabies become most active, and it just jumped out right under the van.

We stopped.  We always stop. I can’t bear the thought of an animal dying slowly and painfully injured on the road.   But this was a clean hit on the head at speed on the main road.  A fully grown but fairly young male red neck – the most common species in my area – in good condition.

I think if you eat meat, you have to accept that an animal dies.  This wallaby had a good free range life, and everything  becomes food for something, one way or another. Throwing it off the road didn’t seem like valuing the life. So we took it home and my partner skinned and butchered it into roasting pieces while I made a marinade.

Wallaby is very very lean meat with muscles that have done some work.  In some ways the meat is like wild goat meat, and so the kind of methods used in the Mediterranean countries to cook goat work well – curries, tagines, khoresh, and long slow roasts. It was the Greek slow cooked goat shoulder last week that prompted this post in fact.

For the wallaby, I decided on a Greek-style marinated slow roast, and invited 15 people for dinner the next night.

The Recipe:

Cut the wallaby into large roasting pieces and put them in a plastic container with a lid.  For a large wallaby, or a kangaroo, an esky makes a good container.

For this wallaby I made three cups of marinade.  Adjust to size.

Blend together:

  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup of fresh oregano, thyme, lemon thyme and rosemary (go easy on the rosemary and heavy on the oregano).
  • lots of garlic

Pour the marinade over, toss to coat every piece, and leave in the fridge or on ice for 24 hours.

Roasting:

To get to falling off the bone tender, it should roast for about 4 hours in a low oven, being basted every hour in the beginning and half hour at the end.

Spread the meat out in baking trays in a single layer.  I fitted it in two large baking trays.  Divide the marinade up and pour over.  Add a cup of water to each baking tray. Cover with a lid.

Cook in a medium-low oven for about 4 hours.  After an hour, using tongs turn the meat.  Repeat after another hour, then every half hour. Don’t let it dry out.

Depending on how tightly lidded your baking trays are, you may have to add more water, or, at the end, remove the meat and turn the oven up high to reduce the last of the liquid.  You should end up with falling off the bone meat in a very small amount of concentrated jus.

This wallaby served 15 people for dinner.  It was tender and lemony and not at all gamey.  The opposite end of the spectrum to the polystyrene trays that meat comes in at the supermarket, but it felt very honourable.

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