Monday, 27 January 2014

Boing Boing Boing

One of the continual jobs around here is dealing with wood, be it cleaning up fallen trees and branches, or chopping up seasoned logs into firewood.  The distant hum of Steve with his chainsaw are commonplace.  This massive tree trunk is behind our house, remnant of a huge tree that was cut down to make room for our house.  It has represented a somewhat daunting task being so big, plus it is resting atop some smaller logs and facing downhill, so the potential for it to roll off down the hill, wiping out our cars enroute, when cutting started was always in Steve's mind.
After much pacing around in deep thought, a plan of action was devised, involving huge ropes to hold it in place and big stumps and star pickets in place as a barrier on the downhill side in case of rolling.  After a few deep breaths let the chainsawing begin!
Finally, with us holding our breath, the trunk separated, gently dropping slightly and not rolling at all.  Phew!
Steve is gradually cutting it all down to manageable sizes, to be carted away to a woodpile further away from the house.  He was a bit dismayed to find not one but three other old tree trunks under the big one, so he has done lots and lots of chainsawing!  Good work dear, that's enough firewood for years!!
We had the pleasure of a visit from Steve's good mate Tony, who was thrilled to escape Perth's heat for a few days.  Here we are at Boston Brewery.
The purpose of our visit was for the boys to once again enjoy the beer tasting paddle, which apparently tasted just a good as last year, although there some mutterings about why those glasses are only THAT full and not brimming over the edge!
The boys did a bit of fishing (one King George whiting for Tony, zip for Steve), then the afternoon was booked for the Boules forest tournament.  Much juvenile hilarity ensued, men small boys picking up the balls to give back to their friend, then dropping them again, you know what I mean.  :-)
We were sitting outside one evening, about to have dinner, when a little furry friend wandered through our legs and then did a lap of the outside of the house, checking for tidbits.  I feed the magpies rolled oats, and they had left a few, so our friend, who is a Quenda or Southern Brown Bandicoot (looks like a large rat with a long pointy nose), had a little snack.  They are surprisingly brave, or blind as bats, not sure which.
It's that time of year when roo mums get fed up with dragging massive pouches around and start persuading their joeys to have exit times from the pouch, to learn about the big wide world.  They pop out for short periods of time, all very nervous.
Then joey is off for a quick, uncoordinated, zigzaggy boing boing boinging around the grass.
Then, much like a cat in 5pm psychomaniac mode, joey suddenly freaks out and decides it's all too much.
 Back under mum's protection and time for a nap.
We are so enjoying the abundance of summer vegetables.  The kitchen window sill is the perfect place to finish off tomato ripening.  As much as we would prefer to ripen the tomatoes on the plants, the bright red colour makes them irresistible to various birds and creatures, so rather than encourage the hordes to raid and pillage the vegie patch, instead we pick the tomatoes at turn of colour.  They are still wonderfully sweet being ripened on the window sill, which makes me wonder why tomatoes in the shops are often so tasteless.... I thought being picked under-ripe would do that.
OMG the sweetcorn is sensational.  We eat it raw straight off the plant, we eat it barbequed, we eat it boiled, and I've been stripping the corn from the cobs, blanching it for a minute and then freezing it in bags for later on.
We also have an abundance of beans at present, so I have also been blanching and freezing those for later on too.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to preserve our harvests, be it by freezing, drying, pickling, making chutney or big stews for the freezer. 
 I was at a loss to know what to do with the many many cucumbers we have at the moment.  I knew I could do gherkins with tiny cucumbers, but ours grow so fast that they are huge.  After some research I came upon a recipe for "Freezer Cucumber Pickle".  Easy as pie to make and uses big cucumbers.  I am still amazed it can be frozen (has to be used within a week and kept in the fridge upon defrosting).  I am expecting it to turn to mush, we'll see what happens.  For now we are using some that I didn't freeze and it is very nice, quite mild.
The task I've been putting off was to deal with the shallot harvest.  We grew quite a few and the first thing to do after pulling them from the ground is to let them air outside but under shelter for a couple of weeks, to dry off.  That accomplished the next stage is to trim the roots and the tops, separate the shallots (they grow in bunches of around 6-8) and clean off the excess outer skin.  As they are small it is a somewhat tedious task.
But the end result is 5 kilos of lovely, mild shallots, plus some put away to plant next season.  In the past we have pickled shallots and I will do that again.  I also found a recipe for a slow roasted shallots in balsamic vinegar that are then packed into jars and topped up with balsamic - that sounds rather delicious so will give that a try in the next few days.  They also store well so I'll keep some in the pantry for general cooking too.
Well, it's blowing a gale at the moment, and dare I say, the clouds coming over "look"  like they might bring some rain, but I wont say it too loud in case I scare them off.  Please rain, I want my grass to be green again!  :-)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Up Up And Away

This time of year I find I pine a bit for the lush green of winter, our open ground is so dry and brown, crunchy brown as our neighbour calls it.  But with the bad comes the good, I am happy to see strong growth on our fruit trees, shrubs and vegies.  Every day we wander back from the vegie patch with a good load of produce, 2 or 3 cucumbers a day, a handful of tomatoes, a lettuce a week, as many kilos of potatoes as we choose to dig up, and now the start of the sweetcorn harvest!  We've had one meal of corn so far and declared it magnificent.  Most of the cobs are still a week or so off being ready but we are hunting though looking for the early ripeners, being impatient as we are.  :-)

Birds are in abundance.  The green 28 parrots are everywhere, and there are small birds twittering all over the place.  We are delighted to see not one but two wedgetail eagles in our airspace most of the time.  One is much bigger than the other so I guess that would be the male.  He was going crazy yesterday flying around calling loudly and repeatedly, obviously looking for his mate.  We were worried something may have happened to her but we were pleased to see them both flying around calling to each other this morning.  They both fly low over the chook yard, methinks looking longingly at potential breakfast!  Lucky we netted the top hey! 

The magpies are at our door a couple of times a day looking for a top-up feed of rolled oats.  I love how one arrives, sees the food, then launches into magnificent caroling to tell the others to come and get some grub.  This is the newest juvenile and my goodness is she a squawky, noisy young lady.  Even though she is quite capable of picking up rolled oats herself and eating them, if her mother Peg (only has one foot) is nearby then she'd rather squawk and squawk and Peg being the good mother she is, gathers up a beakful of oats and stuffs them down this one's throat to shut her up!
The thing I really love about this time of year is the explosion of butterflies.  We have lots and lots of orange butterflies in summer, two or three different varieties I think, but the predominant one is the Western Brown.  The male ones specifically.  They are everywhere, dancing around the dappled shade of the forest and now my little garden has some flowers they are also to be found there.
I love their daintiness.
Have a look at the size of this caterpillar, bigger than my biggest finger!  It was attached to a piece of acacia branch that had fallen down.  Upon perusing Google  I worked out that it is the caterpillar of the Emperor Gum Moth.
It all makes sense actually, we have been seeing these big moths ever since we had the shed built, as they used to sneak in occasionally over summer and then flap around like crazy at night.  Then you would see me crashing around in the dead of night, in pjs with hair askew and slightly wild-eyed, trying to catch the buggers with a net - it is NOT NICE having one, no matter how gentle, flap around your face in the dark!  They are very big moths, this one has its wings tucked in, stretched out they would be about 10 centimetres across.
This week we had the pleasure of the company of my brother Pete and nephew Dylan for a few days.  They tried their very hardest to catch lots of fish, Pete managed a nice flounder and a couple of squid, which he kindly donated to our freezer (thanks Pete!), Steve caught a nice King George whiting, Dee almost landed a couple that were to size but the slippery little suckers escaped.  Never mind Dee, next visit I'm sure you will land the big one! :-)
We visited the Wind Farm, a terrific outing for an hour.  It is very beautiful and also very well maintained with walking paths in easy to manage loops.  It even caters for wheelchairs.  You can get right underneath one of the wind turbines and it is quite amazing to see, hear and feel the raw power as they whizz around.
We had a little walk around the aptly named Stony Hill which provides a lovely panoramic view of Albany, King George Sound and the ocean.  This was the site of a Australian Naval radio station during WW2 and a lookout during WW1 I believe.  Here is Dee showing off his superpowers.  :-)
It was lovely to have you both to stay!
Steve and I took ourselves off for a drive around yesterday.  We cruised slowly though the beautiful remnant Karri forest of West Cape Howe national park and drove to the lookout high on the cliffs above Shelley Beach.
As luck would have it, there were half a dozen people hang gliding so it was wonderful to watch them.  There are big sloping ramps atop the cliff where the rigid wing hang gliders run to take off, and they slowly cruise around up in the air overlooking the beautiful beaches and rocks.  If there is enough uplift they land back on top of the cliff, if not they land on the beach below and their support person drives down to get them.
Free as a bird...
I was fascinated with the soft, parachute-like hang gliders, I'm sure there is a proper name for them but I can't be stuffed looking it up.  The person just walks over near the cliff edge with a large backpack on his back.  From that he unpacks the parachuty hang glidery thing, it takes all of 30 seconds.
He puts the backpack back on his back and clips the sail thingy to the ropes at the front of the backpack, which also takes about 30 seconds.  Then he foofs the sail thingy to get some air in it and it lifts slightly.
Another foof when the wind is right and up it goes!
Then it's a wee jump in the air and he's off into the wide blue yonder!  And what is even more amazing is that the backpack turns into a armchair of sorts, so he is sitting down for a wonderful ride through the sky!  The rigid wing hand glider people do tandem stuff sometimes, I think it is on my bucket list... :-)

Sunday, 12 January 2014

101 Uses For A Breadmaker

Well, here we all are in summer.  Today our temperature gauge on the outside of the chook shed said it got to 39.3 albeit briefly.  Most of today it's been around 34 but we have been pretty comfortable in the house with the curtains and windows closed.  It's 5.30pm and it is nearly time to open the house up, one great thing about living down here is that it always cools off beautifully at the end of the day. 

Steve and his mate Laurie went fishing a couple of days ago, first time for ages.  They came home with a nice haul of King George Whiting, which would have to be the ants pants of fish in our humble opinion.  The bag limit is 12 per person and they caught 10 each so we have a few packs of fillets in the freezer, yay!
Meanwhile my friend Ruth and I solved the problems of the world, drank tea and wandered Ruth's lovely garden.  Ruth is a resourceful soul, and her birdlife have many choices of water receptacles for their daily bath in the variety of old frypans she tastefully positions under the shrubs in her garden.  I discovered that Ruth's recycling of receptacles holds no bounds however, she has very healthy little African Box shrubs growing in three old breadmakers in her garden!!  Crazy woman ha ha ha but by gosh can she grow plants well.  :-)
This year I am hoping to get started on some garden around our house.  As we have been concentrating on establishing the food growing areas, the sand dune around the house has been left.  Not exactly a pretty picture and it is just useless white sand that sustains virtually nothing.  In a couple of months we will get Mark the bobcat man in to do some earthmoving around the house, removing excess sand out near the driveway and creating some terraces at the back of the house.  Then we'll chuck some yummy stuff on the soil and try and get some grass growing along the front.  Out the back I need to cajole Steve to stabilising the terraces with sleepers then I want to start planting up a small kitchen garden.  It will be nice to not have the sand blowing all over the place!

In the meantime I have planted a very small garden bed at the end of the house, where it meets the driveway.  This is the Orphan, Damaged and Malnourished garden bed, made up of sad little plants that have been struggling elsewhere.  So I ripped them out of the ground and planted them here, in holes fortified with some compost, straw and manure and liberally mulched with straw.  I am watering them a couple of times a week and I can already see new growth on a few things.  So, if the roos and rabbits don't eat them, there is hope! :-)
 Steve is still harvesting heaps of potatoes.  Look at the weight of this monster!
My lavender plant is settling in nicely and I think it looks rather pretty amid the Queen Anne's Lace, which is a annual beneficial insect plant.  The bees and hover flies love it, although I notice in this photo the midgies are hogging the flowers.
We have had the pleasure of the company of more visitors.  Our friends Doug and Jenny escaped Perth's heat and spent a couple of days with us.  Much wine and hilarity prevailed.  Good to see you both.  :-)
We of course had to challenge them to a Boules forest tournament.  We are getting more organised with our tournaments, prior to this one had to juggle ones wine glass whilst flinging a heavy metal ball, but this time we took a wine table with us that worked very well I might add!  One bottle of wine per round, one game to us, one game to them, very pleasant afternoon.  We might have to paint the little jack ball bright pink though, as we like to throw the jack into challenging spots under the tree canopy, often we have no idea where it is and just throw the boules anyoldwhere!  But by the time the wine bottles are empty do we care?
We had a spend-up in the January sales.  We've been meaning to buy new settees for at least 10 years, they were about 30 years old and ever so saggy with shredded fabric on them from decades of pussy cats sharpening claws sneakily.  Anyway, it so happened that we found the matching settees to our comfy red rockers we bought last year, so it was a done deal.  Took us a few days to get used to the sea of red but we really like red with timber coloured floors and it all looks like it's been there forever now.
We have been looking for a nice wall clock for ages, waiting for just the right one.  We fell in love with this one, bought from Bunnings of all places!  It has a Steampunk look about it which we like very much.  I might comment here though, that the clock hands don't stand out hugely, so one needs to be sober as a judge to tell the time.  :-)
Well, it's dropped to 25 degrees outside so I best be off and open up all the windows to let the lovely breeze in.  Hoping you poor Perth people get some relief from the heat soon!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Mum, The Roos Really Do Visit!

As the hard work of finishing up all the Christmas food and goodies finally draws to a close, life begins to return to normal.  The chookies have had a marvelous time helping out with finishing up the food, here they are breakfasting on chopped up vegie scraps highlighted with accents of whipping cream and custard.  Those heads didn't come up for ages, they loved it!!
Interestingly I noticed that their feathers have lightened up a lot recently, perhaps the weather?  I know they moult in autumn so perhaps that is the way it works, they go lighter first?
It is very dry here now and as we are on tank rainwater we are watering sparingly just to keep native plants ticking over,  but also employing other methods of water retention in our sandy soil.  Everything has been given a healthy pile of barley straw as a mulch, along with a shovelful of cow poo.  And any work done outside is done with the addition of the trusty fly veil and hat.  Gosh they are a pain those bushflies.  Thankfully they are only at their worst for about six weeks
These are the natives I planted in autumn, and the bigger ones in autumn last year.  Considering that I was frugal with native plant buying and only bought tube stock, which are teeny tiny plants for 75 cents each, they are all growing well.  I've only lost 2 plants out of 70.  They all have their mulch and poo and if there is no rain I am only trying to water them once a week.  Tough little cookies they are.
The fruit trees and vegies on the other hand, are being watered every other day.  Last year we grew virtually nothing in the vegie patch last summer as we were too scared to water sufficiently, but we have wised up this year and worked out how much garden watering we could spare from the tank.  The citrus have suddenly exploded into growth which is very heartening, this is the Eureka lemon tree and all the burgundy coloured leaves are the new ones.
We have a tiny fig tree that has been in the ground for about 18 months, but with the extra summer watering this year it is dripping with about 40 figs which is a hell of a lot for its small size.  And look how big the figs are!! 
The tomatoes plants are growing at a rate of knots.  Only a dribble of fruit so far but that's fine.  We have had to get used to the fact that things ripen later here than in Perth as it is so much cooler.  Perth is the place to grow magnificent tomatoes before Xmas that's for sure.  We are planning to build ourselves a greenhouse of sorts during this year, so hopefully that will give us the ability to grow warm loving things a little earlier.
 The pumpkins are starting to set fruit.
I have a number of rogue pumpkin plants that have sprung up from the compost I used to fertilise other plants.  This beautiful one is threatening to block the gate to the chook yard!  I have read that chooks like a fresh pumpkin just chopped in half so they can hollow it out, so as it appears we will be overrun with pumpkins again, the chookies can feast too!
Steve is thrilled to bits with the progress of his scarlet runner bean plants.  This is something that is impossible to grow in Perth as it is too hot, but they grow well here.  Aren't the flowers pretty.
Far out, take a gander at the sweetcorn.  Can you see me in the middle there, completely dwarfed by the plants?  We have about 80 corn plants in, each with about 4 cobs forming, sooooo, in a few weeks we will suddenly be harvesting a few hundred cobs!  Lots of eating fresh, lots of blanching then freezing, I need to check out some preserving recipes, give some to friends and neighbours, that's what it's all about!  Just got to keep the watering up for the next few weeks.  In front of the corn are the many many potato plants, which we are eating now.  Yum.
Of course when one grows food, one can expect visiting wildlife.  Once we get our orchard fence done we will net fruit trees and berry plants but for now I have my strawberries in pots and I keep moving them and putting a bit of straw over them in a vain attempt to outsmart the parrots.
Hmm, what is that luscious red thing I spy in that little claw?  Yum yum said the parrot, and aren't I cute?  I will just sit here on this handy fence and wait for your strawberries to ripen, human.
In the meantime we will sit atop the net over the potted apple trees and try and work out how to get inside, and gobble up the few little apples that are slowly changing colour.  Little devils!  They haven't got at the apples yet.
There are rabbits everywhere at the moment, and in areas within the forest there is furious digging going on.  Thankfully our vegies are well fenced and the rabbits can't get at them.  Yet.  I suspect the day a rabbit burrows into Steve's precious vegie patch might be the day he goes and buys a gun! :-)
The kookaburras are very active this time of year, 4.30am is their favourite time to start their group hysterical laughter.  With the increased insect life of summer, they like to hunt at dusk for bugs.  One of them regularly sits on the corner of the roof just outside our bedroom, watching for the huge flying beetles he so like to catch and crunch up.  The feathered sentinel.
Mum and dad, these kangaroo photos are for you.  Remember how there were virtually no roos around during your stay?  Our fickle visiting roos often seem to nick off when we have visitors, perhaps the strange car upsets them.  Poor mum would get up early each morning and race to the window hoping to see roos everywhere, to no avail.  Anyway, they are all back again, lounging around just down from the house.  Here is the huge male we call Brutus having a lie down, and his latest female interest sitting in front.  We are very happy to see Brutus actually, he disappeared about six months ago and another big male was around instead.... we thought he may have been usurped.
This is Felix, the newest big male.  We seem to have a lot of male roos around at present, normally we have lots of females and joeys.  The roos seem to have have spread out lately, I suppose with the dwindling green grass they are moving further afield to graze.
This is Lucy, the only female we recognise enough to name.  We think she is quite an old girl, her face is a bit sunken in and she is a bit bony.  But she has bred again and her cute joey is peeking out at us.
I'm sure I've shown you our teeny tiny view before, we see a hint of Wilsons Inlet sparkling in the sun occasionally, and behind that the Denmark hills off in the distance.
Here it is on full camera zoom.  It is an interesting, ever-changing view, depending on the weather and the season.  See that dark green strip above the foreground trees?  That is potato fields in full growth.  Then it will turn yellow then after winter it will be black after they burn the field.  This direction is WNW and our storms come from here.  It is interesting to watch the clouds roll in, and when the view is obliterated with distant rain, we know we are going to get a soaking.  This week however, that view has been virtually invisible as there is a big fire (deliberately lit by some lowlife) burning north of Denmark and the smoke has travelled far and wide.
Smoke makes for interesting sunsets.
The Albany Half Triathlon was held on Sunday.  My sister-in-law Cathy and my niece Steph were officials and after their work was done, came to visit us for the night.  It was lovely to catch up.  They had one of the elite athletes staying with them so he came to visit too.  Here we are saying cheerio to Cathy, Steph and the tall and muscly Eric, who came second in the triathlon.
We are off to visit some friends today, hopefully the boys can catch some fish, whilst Ruth and I can talk gardens and sewing and all the other important things of the world!