Front-yard veges nurture a sense of community

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A lovely letter left on our front doorstep, along with two rolls of insect netting.
A lovely letter left on our front doorstep, along with two rolls of insect netting.

At a recent dinner party, good friends of ours were complaining that they don’t have any real sense of community where they live. They don’t tend to talk to the neighbours, and don’t connect up with other locals, even when at the school gate waiting for their kids.

This isn’t our experience.

Ever since we started our vege patch in the front garden, we’ve met and chatted with folks from the surrounding area.

When we’re working in the garden, five minutes doesn’t go by without someone saying ‘hi’ when walking past, or mentioning ‘I love your garden’. We’ve had many conversations over the front fence, about gardening, the local area and local gossip.

One morning when opening the front door I found several rolls of insect netting, and the letter shown above.

How nice is this! These are locals that we chat with, but they aren’t our close friends. So it’s lovely that they thought of us, and went out of their way to be of help.

So: want to feel better connected to your local neighbourhood? Start growing veges in your front garden :-)

Growing (and harvesting) our own tumeric

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Our tumeric at the height of its growth
Our tumeric at the height of its growth

A few years back, our neighbours from down the road offered us a few pieces of tumeric from their recent harvest. Following the “why not, let’s give it a go” principle, I planted these into two potato bags.

They grow vigorously, as the photo above shows. Following instructions on the net, I let them die back over the first winter.

Time to harvest!
Time to harvest!

They came back strongly during the following summer, and when they died back for the second time, it was time to harvest. And what a harvest it was!

The tumeric roots, fresh out of the ground
The tumeric roots, fresh out of the ground

The easiest way to harvest the tumeric was to up-end the two potato bags, and to rummage around in the soil. As you can see from the photo above, the tumeric emerged as thick clumps of bright orange tubers.

Washed and ready for storage
Washed and ready for storage

In all, we harvested 2.6kg of tumeric (!), which sounds like a lifetime supply to me.

Half has been peeled and frozen, for long-term use. The other half has been stored in the cool cupboard in a sealed container. We’ll see how both lots go over time.

One potato bag has been replanted with some of the tumeric, for harvesting in a few years time. (From this year’s experience, I don’t think we’ll need two bags worth!)

Would anyone like some tumeric? :-)

Saving the environment, one pavement at a time

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Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!
Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!

The photo above underscores what street trees often have to suffer through.

With the trunk surrounded by concrete on all sides, the results are lifted pavements for pedestrians, and too little water for the tree. Amazingly, some people call for the offending trees to be cut down, but there’s a better solution.

Why not give the trees more space?

Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.
Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.

Marrickville Council is one council pursuing this policy. When a pavement comes up for renewal as part of the regular maintenance (planned five years ahead), a bigger opening is left for trees.

This gives the trees more space, and allows more rain to absorb into the ground, rather than into the stormwater system. I imagine it also saves a small (but measurable) amount of concrete.

Residents can't wait to plant underneath their trees.
Residents can’t wait to plant underneath their trees.

Biodiversity is also increased when low plants, such as lomandras and dianellas, are planted around the base of the trees. With an even larger space, it becomes possible to establish a true verge garden.

Marrickville Council also goes beyond this. At the time of writing, the Sustainable Streets program enables residents to cut spaces out of their concrete verge for a small fee. If the majority of a street requests street gardens then the council will cut out the concrete, provide some extra soil, and even throw in some plants for free.

The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.
The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.

As a final note, this pavement work next to Petersham Park is another small but elegant example of the principle at work. Instead of re-laying the whole pavement with concrete, gravel was laid down for half the width. When I talked to the Council about this, they highlighted the benefits of less run-off, as well as providing more rain for the avenue of trees.

Councils have a big role to play in the sustainability of our local environment. If we can keep changing default policies to encompass environmental thinking, we’re well on our way to saving the planet!

Seven weeks without food shopping? Too easy, let’s keep going

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Still plenty in the pantry!
Still plenty in the pantry!

Priscilla returned this weekend, making it a full seven weeks without food shopping. How did it go, you ask? Was I down to thin gruel by the end? Hardly.

In fact, the seven weeks have been super-easy, and I’ve hardly made a dent on our pantry supplies. There’s even meat still in the freezer!

It’s proven to be a worthwhile exercise, for a number of reasons:

  • I uncovered a number of items well past their best, including a tin of malted milk powder with an expiry date of 2005. (The usual story, happens to everyone.)
  • There were bugs in a number of the stored items, including a whole civilisation of crawling things which had made half-opened packets of pasta their home.
  • Some of these dead items went to the chickens (pasta, yum!), the rest to the worms.
  • As a result, I spent some time getting most things into sealed jars, with good labels. That should keep things longer, keep out the bugs, and make them easier to find stuff.
  • It’s also uncovered some hidden treasures: bottles of vegetable oil, lost at the back of shelves; a lifetime supply of tinned chickpeas and lentils; plenty of tinned tomatoes.

So far Priscilla has dinners such as roast lamb (frozen left-overs) risotto with kale, and sausages with mashed potato and steamed home-grown cauliflower. So we’re not starving!

We’re going to keep going, to see how long we can last. Nine weeks? Perhaps ten? Or even twelve?

I’ve bought some breakfast cereal for Priscilla (she’s not keen on porridge), plus some milk. On the flipside, with plenty of oranges and grapefruit in the garden, no need to buy orange juice.

I’m looking forward the challenge of still cooking delicious meals, as our supplies drop and the options narrow. :-)

Insect hotels are all the rage

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Insect hotel in Warsaw
Insect hotel in Warsaw

Priscilla’s recent work trip took her around the world, and across Europe. Taking a break in a park is always a great way to get over jetlag, and in the process she stumbled across a number of marvellous insect hotels.

The one above was in Warsaw, while the big art/environmental installation below was in Paris.

They’re clearly in fashion at the moment, and they put our insect hotel to shame!

Insect hotel meets art installation in Paris.
Insect hotel meets art installation in Paris.

A post by Gerry to the natural beekeeping list also highlight this great Bee walls, habitat and nesting blocks (PDF) resource.

The more the better I say :-)

Creating a hidden drawer under the deck

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Drawer, what drawer?
Drawer, what drawer?

There’s no such thing as too much storage, particularly when it comes to bulky and odd-shaped items.

So as part of my ongoing process of improving the house, I decided to create a hidden drawer under the deck.

The starting point was to cut the slats around the deck to create an opening.

I then created a sturdy box to enclose the drawer, to keep the weather out. This was made of exterior-grade ply, painted with two coats of black paving paint.

Oh, that drawer!
Oh, that drawer!

The drawer itself, made of two layers of ply glued together, runs on heavy-duty runners (rated at 250kg).

The final step was to attach the front face, also painted black, and to attach the slats to that.

The screw holes were puttied up, and then touched up with paint.

Plenty of space for bulky garden tools.
Plenty of space for bulky garden tools.

The end solution works rather well, I think. It’s a large size for the inconveniently-shaped garden tools, but is practically invisible.

Onwards to the next project!

Fermented chilli and garlic paste

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One jar of chilli and garlic, ready to be fermented for a full month.
One jar of chilli and garlic, ready to be fermented for a full month.

If there’s one challenge about chilli plants it’s how abundant they are. A single plant can produce 100+ chillis, easily overwhelming the capacity of our household, all our friends, and fellow workmates.

The obvious solution is to preserve the chillis, so they can be used throughout the rest of the year.

Following my first fermented vegetables, I took the plunge, and created a jar of fermented chilli and garlic.

Just a few of the chillies our one plant has produced.
Just a few of the chillies our one plant has produced.

Wearing gloves, I finely diced approx. 275g of chillis and garlic. I measured out 2% salt, and then crushed the lot by hand until the liquid started to come out.

Finely chopped, ready to be crushed by hand (wearing gloves!).
Finely chopped, ready to be crushed by hand (wearing gloves!).

Unlike the previous quick pickle, Sandor Katz recommended fermenting it for a full month, before storing in the fridge. Which we did.

The result is a single jar, shown above, of serious chilli-ness! It’s very hot indeed, and should keep our stir-fries and other meals lively for at least a full year…