Small Harvests

Quite often when you start growing food in your garden you wonder if you will ever get enough from the plant to do something useful with. Berries in particular have this annoying habit of not all ripening at once! My first resort was to eat the berries because yum! but it kind of defeats the purpose of growing your own food so you don’t have get it from the supermarket if you are just continually grazing so what do you do?

I have found this is where my freezer or dehydrator come into play. The freezer is an easy option as you can put the berries (or other produce) into a snap lock bag and add to your stash over time as the fruit ripens. Eventually you will get enough to do something with. You can use frozen fruit in jams, smoothies, icecreams and sorbets.

Depending on what fruit or produce you are talking about, if I happen to have the dehydrator going I will add things to the trays if there is space but you do have to make sure that what you are drying will not taint anything else that is drying – onion flavoured strawberries are not a winner! Similarly, I find the dehydrator is a great way to deal with citrus when a recipe calls for only the juice. I pop the rind in the dehydrator and add to my dried stash that I use for spice mixes and general flavour boosts.

How do you deal with your small harvests?

Honey Honey

Sometimes it is just not possible to get it all from your own garden so trying to source a natural, raw product at a fair price is the next best thing. There has been a lot of talk about the purity of commercial honey and in particular of using imported honeys to blend with Australian honey so we have chosen to source honey from a local Beekeeper. Apart from supporting a local business, Commercial honey has been heat treated (to stop crystalization) and the heat destroys most of the nutrient content of the honey. Raw honey is full of antioxidants and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Raw honey does carry a risk factor as it can carry harmful bacteria like Botulism and because of this babies (under 1 year old) should never be fed raw honey.

Hubby’s Honey at Brighton (Brisbane) has been our go to for some beautiful honey, the latest batch being a bit darker because the bees have been visiting the Tea Trees in the area.

You can check out the HONEY MAP to find a Beekeeper near you.

The other great product you can purchase from Beekeepers is beeswax which can be used for candles, home made cosmetics and Beeswax Wraps which are used as an alternative to plastic wrap. You can check out my Lip Balm recipe if you are interested in making your own cosmetics.

I’ve had a go at making my own beeswax wraps following the step by step instructions from The Inspired Little Pot. I found this method very easy with the only real pressure point being to get an even covering of wax on your fabric. The video below was posted in a cooking group I am a member of and demonstrates very clearly the ironing method as well as the oven method for making these wraps. If you have bought a block of wax to use grating it is the best way to break it up for melting but have a grater that is only used for this purpose as cleaning it can be time consuming!

Have you tried raw honey? Have you made anything with beeswax?

 

 

Hydroponic Mint

I love Mint but boy it can take over very quickly. I have planted mint in a couple of places in the garden and of course the place you want it to grow, it wont as there is either not enough water or it’s just too hot in summer. To solve this we have decided to give hydroponics a go and figure at least the mint will be confined to a container of some description instead of choking out the Asparagus and if it is too hot we can move it.

The 2IC has tried a few different Hydroponic systems over the years with mixed results and as mentioned previously we need things as automated as possible to have a chance of success. After a bit of research, he has decided the Kratky Method is the way to go and you can read more about it HERE or watch some videos about it HERE.

You will need:

  • Mint plant with established root mass
  • bucket with lid
  • small net pot
  • planting medium (we used Perlite)
  • Hydroponic nutrient mix of choice

For our Hydroponic nutrient solution we used Autopot Systems High Performance Complete Plant Food Part A and Part B mixed together as per instructions. As you get into the world of Hydroponics you will find that there are all sorts of additives you can put into your mix to improve your results and that’s where it starts getting complicated. We like to keep it simple and this product is a complete all round, general purpose Hydroponic solution. Autopot Systems also provide Hydroponic systems for home gardeners right up to commercial systems. We have the 8 pot kit and have grown with reasonable success tomato, chillis, cucumbers, strawberries and spinach.

Now back to the mint! We used an old bucket we had in the shed which had previously housed a paint render mix. To help prevent algae a dark bucket is best. You can paint your bucket like we have to block excess light. You need to cut a hole in the lid of your bucket so the pot will sit flush in the lid.

We dug our mint straight out of the garden and gently washed excess dirt from the roots.

Gently pull some of roots through the mesh of the pot. The general idea is that the roots of the mint will grow down into the water in the bucket but there will be an air gap around the pot with the water starting at the bottom of the pot.

Fill your pot with your potting medium. We chose Perlite as it will help keep the root mass moist as well as stable in the pot. Clay balls or grow blocks would work too.

Now you need to prepare your Hydroponic nutrient mix according to your container size and packet instructions. Fill your bucket so that when you place your pot in the lid the bottom of the pot rests just in the water. (It is easier to do this step before you pot your plant if you don’t have a spare pot the same size.)

Using the solution from your bucket, water your potted plant to wet the Perlite.

Assemble your bucket and you are pretty much done. Place your bucket in a shady spot that does get some sun and preferably near the kitchen so you can harvest your Mint easily.

As your plant consumes nutrient you can top your bucket back up. Generally when you have about 10% left top up to no more than 75% of the original nutrient level that you started with. The reason for this is that plants need oxygen around their roots to survive as well and the humidity in your bucket between the water level and lid allows the finer roots to pick up oxygen. Overfilling would more than likely drown the plant, though Mint is pretty bulletproof.

There are lots of varieties of Mint and this technique should work well with all of them. We have also grown lettuce and spinach like this and are thinking about what other plants this would work with.

Once you have your Mint growing, trimming it regularly will encourage new growth quite quickly. So what do you do with all that Mint? The obvious things like Tzatziki, Cocktails (I have a friend who makes a really good Mohito when she remembers to put the sugar in!), marinades and sauces. Growing up Mint Sauce and roast Lamb were a favourite and you can check out my Mum’s recipe HERE. Need some more ideas on how to use mint? Check out this article –http://www.naturallivingideas.com/21-ways-to-use-mint/

Do you have Mint in your garden? What do you use it for?

Herbs, Herbs, Herbs

We use a lot of herbs! I blame my Thermomix. It really is amazing how much flavour you can pack into your cooking with just a few staples in the garden and trust me “fresh” herbs from the supermarket just don’t compare tastewise! You will always find Parsley, Basil, Shallots/Spring Onions (the name seems to depend on where you live), Rosemary, Thyme and Chives in our garden. We also grow our own Ginger, Garlic, Oregano, Mint, Lemongrass and Chillies.

Like most veggies your herbs will need about 6 hours of sunlight a day and a well draining soil with plenty of organic matter dug in to give them a good start. Seedlings are your best bet for good results but many herbs will grow well from seed or cuttings which helps to keep the cost down. Basil and Rocket grow well from seed and will self seed if left to their own devices. If you are really keen you can collect the seed for your next crop. The best way to plant is to put a line of seed raising mix where you want your basil to grow and sow your seeds into that. For small seeds

Bees love Basil

we have found it useful to mix them in an old herb shaker (with big holes) with some sand and gently shake them where we want to plant them. Gently cover them up and water in. Once your seeds sprout you will need to thin them out so they don’t choke each other out. Both Basil and Rocket have the added bonus of attracting bees into the garden.

Rosemary grows extremely well from cuttings. The trick is to take a cutting that is new growth with very little wood. Strip the lower leaves away and dip the stem with honey (antibacterial and acts as a rooting powder). Pot your cuttings in a good quality potting mix and water well. When you see roots coming out the bottom of the pot you need to decide if you are going to plant in the garden or get a bigger pot!

Lemongrass

We have also grown some herbs from supermarket produce. Lemongrass usually still has some root mass on when you buy it. Put it in a glass of water and wait for the roots to develop (usually about a week) then plant in a pot or the garden. If you choose the garden it can take over so keep on eye on it! Ginger that is sprouting can be planted out just below the soil surface and in a shaded spot. It does well in a large pot too. Organic Garlic can be planted out but you need to be aware that some varieties will not do well in Qld and you are better off buying some Garlic bulbs for planting from a reputable supplier (I recommend Green Harvest). Much of the cheaper supermarket Garlic is sprayed with an anti sprouting agent so even if it does sprout it wont grow particularly well so again better to enhance your chances with some bulbs from a reputable supplier.

Shallots/Spring Onions, the name seems to depend on where you live. I’m talking about the long green ones. These grow easily from seed but seedlings will give a faster result. These plants are the gift that keeps on giving too – when you harvest, cut them off at ground level and they will grow back. We love them in salads, soups and pasta dishes. You can also slice and store them in a snap lock bag in the freezer so they are ready to use. Cut chives store well like this too.

I started this post talking about using herbs in cooking so only fair I share a recipe. Click on the link for my Herb and Mustard Marinade for Roasts.

Do you grow your own herbs? How do you use them?

 

 

 

Can I Dehydrate That?

I have rediscovered my Dehydrator. Way back in 2000 hubby and I purchased an Ezidri Snackmaker at the Home Show. We had great plans of growing things and dehydrating them and then life happened and like so many appliances it was consigned to the cupboard and brought out about once a year for a bit of a play.

Fast forward to 2017 and kids are self sufficient, we are even more interested in growing our own produce and converting it to a useful form for storage and the dehydrator still works! Even better than “still works”, the company still exists and I can still buy replacement parts and extra trays.  You can check out their website here – Ezidri Snackmaker. They have those apple slinky machines too! On the subject of buying quality appliances/cookware and the company lasting longer than the warranty I’d like to also give a shout out to Saladmaster.  I purchased a set of their saucepans in 1989 and late last year they replaced some handles for me under warranty!! But I digress.

These days the dehydrator now lives on an open shelf near the kitchen for easier access and has had more use in the last month than it has had for the past ten years. I joined a couple of Facebook Dehydrating groups and have had heaps of inspiration and tips. The Facebook groups also led me to  this site 21st Century Simple Living which has great recipes, tips, ideas and videos on all things dehydrated and some that aren’t. (It is an American site so you have to convert the temperatures to C.)

Over the past couple of months I have dehydrated Rosellas, Oranges, Lemon and Lime rind, Mushrooms, Zoodles (zucchini noodles), Apples and Bananas. My next dehydrating adventure is going to involve Vanilla Beans so I can make my own Vanilla Powder and some red Capsicum so I can make Red Bell Pepper Flakes for pizzas.

Dehydrated Goods

Do you have a dehydrator? What have you dried in it?

 

 

 

Citrus Trees and Possum Wars

Citrus do very well in Brisbane and we have several trees in our garden including a Fruit Salad Tree (one tree with a graft each of Lemon, Orange and Pomello), two Navel Oranges, a Patio Lime and a Tahitian Lime. For our tips on growing, harvesting and storing citrus check out our Citrus Tips & Ideas Sheet. The Tips & Ideas Sheet also contains suggestions for ways to use your beautiful homegrown produce like my recipe for Lemon Pepper Chicken and my grandmother’s Orange Cake recipe.

Normally at this time we would be drowning in citrus but the local possum population has been on the increase and because the 2IC was tardy about getting the trees netted they managed to eat most of the blossoms at the crucial time #sadface. The delightful little critters have also been doing quality control on the fruit that did make it through the blossom harvest and we have had quite a few hollowed out oranges left on the tree. War has been declared and hubby is currently building a citrus enclosure. I suspect the possums will manage to get in but wont be able to get out! They will be fine though as there will be plenty to eat!!

Possums!
Potential possum enclosure

Update from our neighbour Pete, the possum may have met it’s match! WARNING and SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT WATCH THE VIDEO IF YOU HAVE A MORBID FEAR OF SNAKES!!! Thanks for the video Pete.

Rumour has it that Pete has not used his bar and BBQ area since …..

Preparing The Garden Space

You have decided you want to start a garden and grow your own herbs and veggies, now what? Before you rush out to buy your seedlings you need to get your garden space ready. There are a ton of sites on the internet that will give you good information on what particular plants need and we don’t plan to reinvent the wheel here. Over on the side is a collection of links to sites that have good information. The aim of this post is give some tips on getting your space ready for planting, we will talk about the specific requirements for particular plants when we do blog posts about them.

Tip #1 – know what your plants need and prepare the soil accordingly ie do they need a lot of composted matter, are they heavy feeders? Blueberries for example need lots of peat moss dug in where they are going to be planted to get the soil pH right. We mostly use chicken manure, blood and bone and seaweed extract (not all at once). We are also looking to do better on the composting front and recycle kitchen and garden waste into a useful soil improver.

Tip #2 – check how much sunlight your proposed garden will get. Most vegetables need 6 hours sunlight a day but many will tolerate shade. Also remember in a Queensland summer temperatures can hit 40°C or more so shade cloth might be required.

Tip #3 – plan your watering system before you plant. Hardware stores have a huge array of irrigation systems for the home gardener and in these days of water bills it is a great way to make sure you are not wasting water. Mulching well is another great way to save water.

Tip #4 – automate where possible. Gardens are a lot work and we are alternately busy or lazy so automating what we can ensures simple things like the garden getting watered. We put in a computerized watering system years ago and it was one of the best things we ever did. Husband has dabbled in hydroponics over the years too and has automated timers to turn pumps on and off in case he forgets.

Tip #5 – have an organized work space where your garden tools and supplies are kept. Nothing worse than spending an hour looking for something because it was never put away! You can also see quickly if you are running low of particular garden supplies.

What about you? Do you have any tips for planning your garden space that you would like to share?

Where To Start?

We have always had a garden of some sorts as I have long been interested in growing and using herbs in my cooking. Over time that has evolved to include vegetables, fruit trees and lately blueberries. So if deciding what to grow for the first time, where do you start? A few things to consider –

What do you like to eat? What plants do you use a lot of in the kitchen? No point growing something or using up valuable garden space on something you will ultimately throw away.

Will it grow easily where you live? Some plants just wont grow well in particular climates or soil types so you need to figure out if it is viable for your area. Some varieties are better suited to particular climates/areas as well eg garlic, most supermarket varieties wont grow well north of about Coffs Harbour. Google truly is your friend here as there is a wealth of information on the internet about how to grow various food plants and where they grow best and we don’t intend to reinvent the wheel.

Is it cost effective to grow it? Once you factor in the cost of water, fertilizer, time and effort, degree of difficulty, space available, pest control, etc you might just be better off buying that particular fruit or vegetable. Carrots for example are very cheap and readily available so we tend not to grow them. Garlic on the other hand is something we do grow because freshness and quality cannot be guaranteed at the supermarket. Fresh herbs are hideously expensive and generally don’t last long so it makes a lot of sense to grow them especially if you use lots of them.

Having your own herb and vegetable garden can be extremely satisfying as well as frustrating but nothing beats the taste of fresh produce from your own garden! We have chosen to try and eat real food and to steer away from the additive and preservative packed supermarket brands where possible so for us that means growing what we can and learning how to effectively preserve and use it in the kitchen.

What about you? Are you growing herbs or veggies in your garden?