Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living with wildlife

With the rain come the pests. Baby snails are hiding under the soft baby leaves and the the larger snails are doing rude things on the footpath early in the morning. The parrots are fighting over the olives, the last of the figs and the ripening apples. It’s obviously a time to revamp my defences.
The first line of defence for snails has always been picking off by hand. This is fine if you have time or grandchildren you can pay per snail collected. They are then fed to the chickens, who adore them. Don’t be tempted to tread on them as it is said that their eggs will survive if they are squashed on a damp surface. This could be an old wives tale.
Two years ago I made snail ‘peppers’, a witchy Bio Dynamic preparation involving snail cremation, the grinding of ash and the making of a homeopathic tincture when the planets were in certain positions. I won’t go into here, contact your local BD Society for precise explanations. I will say that in a year when the snails had reached plague proportions (I had been ‘picking’ up around fifty every day) it made a stunning impact. After spraying twice, the snail numbers reduced dramatically and haven’t been seen in huge numbers since. It is really worth the effort.
The easiest, most time efficient and safe way I have found to control them is with bird and pet safe snail pellets. These contain a small amount of iron chelate which the snails ingest. It binds them up and they die of constipation. As the amount is very small, other creatures are not affected.  Scatter about two pellets per square metre, in the evening. They seem to work best on damp soil but dissolve in the rain. Two or three applications should keep them under control. You need to store these in a tin as rats and mice love them. I tried a glass jar but they soon discovered that a jar can be pushed off a shelf and smashed. I have to lock my dogs away when spreading these as they will seek them out and eat them one by one.

Twenty eights are the main hassle here, they will taste and try everything in the garden from green olives to under ripe almonds and rose buds. If they don’t like the taste, they simply throw it away and try another one, just in case it tastes different. I am sure they destroy some plants just for fun.
The only way to totally keep them at bay is to net everything. I don’t use nets as they are impractical in a small garden. The last time I netted a tree a caught a snake, which died and a hawk, which I had to rescue with the help of a strong man wearing leather gloves.
These cheeky vandals are fearless.  Nothing works for long, so the plan here is to change methods all the time.  In the olive tree, I have a disco ball and a swinging CD and the fig has a shiny set of wind chimes. Last year I had plastic shopping bags rustling in the branches but as these are not environmentally friendly,I try not to use them. Christmas tinsel, owls on sticks with glass eyes, balloons, hawk kites, dogs trained to see the parrots off - I tried them all at different times. The new addition to my arsenal is Mr Scary, made by my grandson, Christopher. He’s been out there a couple of weeks now and the parrots haven’t been seen landing on him – yet! He certainly scares me when I pass him at night!
It is possible to protect some fruit by bagging. I use paper bags tied with string as they are biodegradable. You can mad bags that last with net curtains or shade cloth. Plant clips or pegs can be used to close them. If the weather becomes wet, check for mould and mildew on your fruit, especially grapes.
You can get one step ahead of the parrots with fruit that will ripen off the tree, like quinces, by picking them when the first parrot damage appears.

Tree house
Dwarf and young trees can be protected by sewing a cube of shade cloth with one side left open. Measure the height of your tree, adding 15 cm to allow a little room and cut 5 squares of shade cloth. Sew together with a bodkin or upholstery needle, threaded with string or nylon knitting yarn, using a simple running stitch.
Hammer four stakes in a square of the same size into the ground around your tree, carefully avoiding the roots. Slip the shade cloth over so the corners of the top rest on the top of the stakes. If the cloth doesn’t reach the ground, hammer the stakes in a little more. Weigh the bottom down with bricks or timber or peg with loops of fencing wire. This will keep rabbits out for a while too.
My worst strategy ever was to provide the birds with extra food. Every parrot for miles arrived to squabble and screech outside the window. They lost all fear of people, seeing them as a food source. As the feeder was next to the chicken pen, they soon noticed there was food to be had there too and began to steal wheat from there as well. With the black cockatoos flinging gum nuts to land like rocks on the tin roof on the other side of the house it was like starring in a Hitchcock movie.

The truth is, I can be a bit lax about controlling pests as I am rather fond of all the wildlife in my garden, even the twenty eights. The fact that they are here, with the beetles and praying mantis, the frogs, the blue tongues and the gecko's mean my garden is a safe haven for everyone. Before we build the front wall we used to have kangaroos visiting too The reality is that we grow more than we can ever eat, why shouldn’t they have their share too?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All by myself

Tempeh is a mystery to most people. Until Amita fell in love with it and the processes of making it, it was to me too. Last winter I spent a lot of time researching, experimenting, testing and writing.
Tempeh is a special food product, especially for vegans and vegetarians. It is an easily assimilated low fat protein that can help with weight loss and other health issues.
What I discovered was that it adapted to all sorts of recipes familiar to everyone. The texture of tempeh is meaty, chewy and satisfying and acts as a sponge to absorb any flavour and can be added as invisible protein boost for people wishing to gain weight or requiring high levels of nutrition during illness.
It's been another marathon battle with the computer with learning curves off the graph but I am happy to announce that my tempeh recipe book has wiggled its way into a pdf and is now available as an e book with full colour photographs.
For book information visit:
For more on tempeh visit
Go on, have a look,

Monday, April 19, 2010

Growing green chickens

There is a lull in the garden at this time of year. As the summer breathes her last sigh, the beds are chaotic with lanky half dead tomatoes, basil going to seed and the last few brave flowers on the zucchini and capsicum. It seems there is little to eat at the moment but with the recent rains, my ‘chicken’ bed has sprouted madly. Two weeks ago I planted (if you can call banging seed heads together over the garden bed ‘planting’) the bed with coriander, mustard greens, rocket, parsley and Chinese spinach.

My chickens lead a penned life and so can’t forage for fresh greens. I try to address this by planting forage plants along the fences. They nibble on comfrey, red clover, silver beet and fennel. They get handfed other greens that grow wildly such as upland cress, nasturtium and dandelion and other useful ‘weeds.’

In summer when extra green feed is scarce I grow oat or wheatgrass in trays and in autumn fatten the roosters on sprouted lupins. The wheatgrass is grown from wheat soaked overnight then sown in seed trays in a commercial potting mix. When it reaches 10cm high, I put the tray into the pen and watch them graze. Before they begin to scratch and dig the seed out, I take it away. The wheatgrass will regrow in a few days. Two trays rotated allow ten chickens to graze every second day. I have a friend who grows his in half circle hanging baskets which he hangs on their fence, which prevents the scratch attack from happening.

To make the lupin sprouts, the lupins are soaked overnight and laid on kitchen paper which is kept moist until the first leaves are seen in 3 or 4 days. The sprouts are then vitamised with bran, bread scraps or stale biscuits. For some reason, they won’t eat them without putting them through the blender. Just too spoilt, I guess. Sprouting the lupins increases the protein content as well as giving them tasty greens.

I have just raided the chicken bed for our dinner, using the thinnings of mustard greens, coriander, baby nasturtium leaves and upland cress. They will make an ever so trendy green salad. In posh shops they are known as ‘micro herbs’ and command a massive price per kilo. They are not hard to grow so I guess it’s the fussy washing you pay for. The chickens won’t mind, they are all busy picking over the newly pulled sweet corn!
go well,

Monday, April 12, 2010

No festival blues

We have just returned from the Fairbridge Folk Festival. Looking through the photos I took, I notice that not one has a picture of any of the performers. Wondering about this, I realised that it is because Fairbridge is much more than music.
Every year since 1993, at Fairbridge Farm School, 100 kms south of Perth, music lovers have come together for a weekend of music, dance, street theatre, good food and heaps of fun.  The 5000 people who camp in the cow paddocks and on the oval or stay in the old school buildings are joined daily by up to 10,000 more day visitors, depending on the weather.

What is special to me is that this is such a safe event for families. From grandma in her deluxe caravan to the kids sleeping in their swags under the stars, all ages are catered for, and the growing number of young adults who have attended since they were tiny now have areas with events that cater for them. 
Each year there is something that doesn’t go quite to plan - it’s often the weather. Two years ago a sudden downpour literally washed a lot of tents down the hillside and filled others with mud. Last year the portaloos were in meltdown, unable to cope with the crowds. This year we had a fierce easterly wind arrive in the middle of the night to cause havoc. Tents were down, awnings flapping; no one got much sleep and woke to everything covered in yet another layer of dust.

Surprisingly, amongst all those tired people, I saw no evidence of bad temper. The evening before, some of the younger crew had been playing some loud music and their neighbours had bribed them with a whole packet of Tim Tams to get them to shut up (which they happily admitted when they wandered over to see what was happening at our camp.) The many small children around the place were watched for by everyone and there was only one child lost its’ parents for a short while. That is the easy camaraderie of camping.

The children who busk around the market stalls, more each day as they proudly show off the new skills they have learnt in workshops; the humility of the Burundi Childrens' Choir, so grateful to be welcomed to Fairbridge and to Australia; the Giant Seagulls, gently pecking the hand of a disabled girl and the men helping to push a wheelchair over the gravel, it is the small acts at Fairbridge restore my faith in human beings.

Oh, the music was amazing too!
Happy camping,

See more about Fairbridge :

Monday, April 5, 2010

Picking for pectin

The quince outside the kitchen window has the most magical flowers looking like enormous single apple blossoms with a blush of pink and a delicate scent. As it grows in the chicken pen and gets the overflow from their water bowl and the garden sink, it thrives. This year we picked 21 kgs, leaving the highest fruit for the parrots, who adore them too.
Preparing quinces for cooking is a tedious job. You need to rub them under running water to remove their fuzz before peeling and coring. Cutting out the core of a quince is rather like trying to saw your bread board in half with a vegetable knife - hard and woody.
After I had made four and a half kilos of quince paste and a quince crumble, I was well over processing quinces. Fortunately, you can pick quinces green and they will ripen off the tree, so I left the rest for a couple of days while I did some research and scrubbed the sticky goo off the kitchen walls.

My trusty Times Life preserving book mentions that you can make pectin out of quinces, as well as apples and as I use pectin often, I was happy to try.

4.5kg quinces or apples
Water to cover

Roughly chop the washed fruit, including the peels, cores and seeds.
Place in a large pot and barely cover with water.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer till soft.
Drip contents through a jelly bag, at least overnight.
Return to the clean pan and boil until the quantity has reduced by half.

Test for pectin...exciting

You can test how strong the pectin content is by putting a teaspoon of juice into  bowl and mixing in two tablespoons of methylated spirits.
Swirl together.
If the pectin content is low, small separate lumps will form. Juice high in pectin will form one large mass.
Discard the mixture from the bowl...don’t attempt to eat it.
If the set is not strong, continue to reduce the liquid and test again.
Filter through muslin before bottling.

Pour into sterilised bottle and seal or freeze in ice block trays

To use:
Rule of thumb, according to the book, is 150ml of pectin to 1.25 litres of fruit juice for making jelly. It should be enough for 2kg of soft fruit when making jam.

Quince pectin has the lovely red colour of cooked quince and a distinctive flavour. It is particularly good with berries, pears and apples.

Happy preserving