Limoncello

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Earlier this year we had a glut of lemons, so I decided to make Limoncello as an experiment. I don’t remember where I found the recipe (it was many months ago when this experiment took place!) but it went something like this:

Ingredients

  • 5 lemons
  • 1 bottle of vodka
  • 200g sugar

2016-11-27-18-50-30

Method

  1. Zest the lemons. Mix the lemon zest with the vodka.
  2. Add a little bit of lemon juice.
  3. Close the lid and store it for 2 weeks.

Two weeks later

  1. In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar over low heat in 160ml of water.
  2. When the syrup is cool, add it to the vodka.
  3. If you want to, you can strain the Limoncello to remove some or all of the lemon zest.
  4. Store for another 4 weeks to allow the flavours to mature (hence why I’m only drinking it now!).

This limoncello is delizioso! It’s best served from the freezer and/or over ice, and a great way to use up some of your excess lemon crop.

A permaculture citrus guild (in Australia)

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At Lewisham House, we love growing citrus. But it’s a hungry crop, and high maintenance.

Now one of the core concepts in permaculture is that of a “guild”. The idea is that instead of just planting a tree by itself, you plant it with a community (a “guild”) of other plants, which provide supporting services. This might include extra nutrients, attractants for beneficial bugs, and the like.

If you search the net, you’ll find plenty of diagrams for apple tree guilds, hazelnut guilds, and other northern hemisphere deciduous trees. But not for citrus trees (that I could find).

So I did a fair bit of reading and thinking, and these are my draft citrus guilds, for Australian warm temperate conditions. All feedback welcome!

Design principles

  • Citrus trees are gross feeders. So the guild has to produce a lot of nitrogen, and other fertilisers, to support the citrus.
  • Design for full-sized and dwarf trees. Dwarfed citrus trees are widely available, and can be very useful in a permaculture context.
  • Minimal maintenance. Ideally, once setup, the guild runs itself.
  • Plants have to be available in Australia. There are plenty of great permaculture plants (like goumi), which I just can’t find in Oz.
  • Australian natives wherever possible. Rainforest plants are particularly useful, as they’re acclimatised to shade and competition.
  • Warm temperate or sub-tropical. Some of the species I’ve chosen would likely struggle in colder conditions.

Citrus guild (full-sized trees; version 1.0)

Citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of citrus guild (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of citrus guild (version 1.0)

Citrus guild (dwarf trees; version 1.0)

Dwarf citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Dwarf citrus guild, drawn to scale (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of dwarf citrus (version 1.0)
Linear arrangement of dwarf citrus (version 1.0)

Notes and questions

  • I’ve packed in as many nitrogen-fixing species that I can, with a mix of native and introduced species.
  • Acacia (wattle) are great nitrogen-fixers, and they thrive in most conditions. But the big question from what I’ve read is: do acacias release that nitrogen into the soil for the benefit of other trees, or just keep it for themselves. An answer please! (I’ve done a lot of looking, and I’m still uncertain.)
  • A linear arrangement is just one possibility, and it happened to match some other design work that I was doing at the time.
  • Does this guild work in practice? I’m just starting to experiment in the real world, so all feedback and suggestions welcome.
  • Have I missed any good plants that can serve a productive purpose in the guild? Again, all suggestions encouraged.
  • Are there other citrus guild drawings that I’ve missed? Please post links in the comments below.

 

Railway passage garden going strong

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My guerrilla gardening alongside the railway passage
My guerrilla gardening alongside the railway passage

Back in 2014, I started planting alongside the pedestrian pathway that runs from Lewisham Station through to West St. There have been ups and downs, but I’m now up to 30 metres of garden, with a mix of small trees, bushes and ground covers (all natives).

And then I paused, as I’d been reported to the council for planting trees (shock horror!).

I ended up having a visit from the tree officer at Inner West Council, who turned out to be delightful. Not only did he approve of the work (his first question was: “are you going to do the rest?”), but he offered some free trees.

Council-planted native trees alongside the railway passage
Council-planted native trees alongside the railway passage

A month or so later, the council planted eight Lilly Pillies, plus a variety of other trees. This has doubled the length of the garden, to approximately 60 metres. Which is about half of the entire length of the passageway. Now we’re getting there!

I offered to mulch under the council trees, so I collected free cardboard boxes from the recycling bins at Pig and Pastry, plus free mulch from the Council. Two full ute loads of mulch later, I’m only half way. Phew! Still it’s good exercise, and there’s a palpable sense of progress now.

I’ll be at this for a few years yet, so say hi if you see me working away. And any volunteer help would be gratefully received!

First bee swarms of the season

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Swarm of bees, in Camperdown Memorial Rest park
Swarm of bees, in Camperdown Memorial Rest park

We’ve had a week of warm weather in Sydney, and this has kicked off “swarm season”. This is where happy hives all across Sydney decide it’s time to divide into two: one group staying in the hive, and the second group off to find a new home.

I’ve already caught two swarms, one in Camperdown, the other in Rozelle. Both are fairly big, so they’re likely to be “prime swarms”, the first (and largest) swarm from each hive.

Both swarms are now happily in hives, temporarily sitting in our front garden. Later this week, they’ll be heading down to Kangaroo Valley, to some eco friends of ours who live in the middle of a jungle. Lucky bees!

The bees in their new home, temporarily sitting in our front garden
The bees in their new home, temporarily sitting in our front garden

Pumpkin and choko dauphinoise

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Sliced ingredients, ready for the baking dish
Sliced ingredients, ready for the baking dish

In another of our series of choko recipes, this is a variation on the classic potato dauphinoise, only with pumpkin, choko and radishes.

The method is simple:

Slice the ingredients thinly, using a mandolin or knife.

Layering up the vegetables
Layering up the vegetables

Then layer the vegetables in a small, high-sided baking dish. Alternate the ingredients, adding small knobs of butter as you go. I also added some dried sage (home-made of course!), salt and pepper.

Then pour in cream, to come up the level of the vegetables.

Bake in a 180°C oven for 45mins. I then added a layer of grated cheese (why not!), and baked until golden brown.

Delicious!
Delicious!

The result was delicious with pork sausages and peas🙂

Lewisham Library

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We first found out about street libraries after hearing about them on Bookish, comedian Jennifer Wong’s ABC iView series about books and reading. A street library is a painted box outside our house containing a selection of books. You can take a book, or leave a book; it’s up to you.

Lewisham Library
Lewisham Library

Given that many people stop outside our house to discuss the garden anyway, we figured having a street library would give people another reason to stop by. So we decided to create a street library and put it in our front garden.

We built our street library out of plywood, and added a couple of old slates on top of the roof to give it a cottage feel.

We also ordered a sticker from streetlibrary.com.au that tells the neighbourhood this is a registered street library. Every sticker is numbered so that each librarian can register their library on a map. There’s already several street libraries across the inner west.

We put a selection of books in the street library this morning, some come by when you’re in the area!

Lewisham street library

A video about our eco house renovation

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A few months ago, the environment team at Marrickville Council (now part of Inner West Council) came by to film an interview with me, about our eco renovation. This has now been published, along with insights from two other houses. Enjoy, and I hope it will be useful!

PS. the Inner West Council provides some great resources and support for households wanting to reduce their environmental footprint. Their team is passionate and effective, and I’d encourage you to get in touch.