autumn

The first beehive arrives at Lewisham Farm

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The plan for our new farm includes a having a number of beehives, to complement the three we already have in Sydney.

So when I heard through the grapevine that a Canberra-based beekeeper was looking to downsize their collection of Warré hives, I jumped on it. Beekeeping does end up taking quite a bit of time, so its no wonder that many beekeepers end up trimming down the number of hives they keep.

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The original home for the hive in Canberra

The hive was in a community garden, where it was happily surrounded by vegetables and fruit trees.

Preparations were made the night before the move, putting on a ventilated lid, sealing up the entrance, and strapping everything tightly. It was then just a matter of getting the hive onto the ute, for the 2.5 hour drive down to the coast.

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Moving the hive was a lot easier with a trolly and ramps for the ute!

Within ten minutes of opening the hive back up the bees were busy flying around, surveying their new location. While there isn’t a huge amount flowering on the farm (it’s mostly rainforest), we do have several hectares of weeds that will keep them going!

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We’re looking forward to sitting on the verandah, watching the bees at work

The plan is is to add a second Warré hive, and a Kenyan top-bar hive, and then see how we go from there. And once we get our plantings underway, they will be very happy hives 🙂

Sauteed choko with tarragon

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As posted earlier, we have a lot of choko, kilos worth. Thankfully we’ve discovered that it’s actually delightful, not the horrible make-do vegetable of reputation.

To demonstrate this, I’ll share a few recipes that we’ve used to get the most of choko, starting with sauteed choko.

Sauteed choko, delicious with sausages.
Sauteed choko, delicious with sausages.

Sauteed choko with tarragon

Cut the choko into thin “chips”, discarding the outside skin if tough.

Heat up olive oil in a frying pan, with some butter.

When the oil and butter starts to foam, add the choko, along with a sprinkling of dried tarragon.

Toss in the oil, and cook until the choko is tender, when tested with the point of a knife.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve!

This works wonderfully alongside meat, such as a steak or sausages. Yum!

 

Our first (and only) avocado

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Six years ago I established our guerilla-garden food forest, which included a wide range of apples, plus citrus, avocado and macadamia.

We’ve had a good crop of apples, and an ongoing supply of citrus of various sorts.

Our first (and only!) avocado
Our first (and only!) avocado

And finally, we’ve now had our first avocado. It being our only avocado, we treasured it, and spread it on toast for breakfast. Yum!

Delicious!
Delicious!

Hopefully we’ll have a good crop next season, now that the tree is finally mature enough…

A giant windfall of choko

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That's a lot of chokos!
That’s a lot of chokos!

This is what 22kg of chokos look like, 56 fruit in total.

Two days ago, we had a day of very strong wind as a cold front went through. This dislodged the ripe fruit in our choko vine that had grown all the way up into the trees. A single vine, that is, and there’s still fruit on it!

I needed to get a left-over grain bag to collect them all, and a bunch of them had cracked when the landed on the convent driveway next door. No matter, we’re steaming the broken ones to feed to the chickens, which they love!

The rest we’re eating. Expect to see a bunch of choko recipes posted to the blog over the coming weeks… 😉

Buying a box of bugs

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Whitefly (and a caterpillar) on the underside of our cucumber leaves
Whitefly (and a caterpillar) on the underside of our cucumber leaves

Sydney’s warm weather promotes the spread of a hundred types of bugs, most of which seem to love our pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini.

This includes whitefly, which can multiply to plague proportions, covering the underside of every large leaf in the garden. Whereupon they proceed to suck the life out of the plants.

This tube contains 10,000 beneficial bugs (!), delivered in the mail
This tube contains 10,000 beneficial bugs (!), delivered in the mail

So with the refrain of “whitefly, begone!”, I ordered a box of bugs. Montdorensis to be specific, which feed on whitefly and thrips (of various sorts).

The thrips are too tiny to see in the vermiculite mix
The thrips are too tiny to see in the vermiculite mix

A small cardboard tube contains 10,000 of these good bugs, and I’m hoping that they’ll establish a permanent presence in our garden (apparently they feed on mites and pollen when thrips are absent).

Good hunting little bugs!

Enjoying then preserving our apple crop

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With our first good crop of apples this year, there have been plenty of apple-based recipes. This includes a delightful apple and marmalade cake from River Cottage: Fruit every day!, plenty of apple crumbles, apple pies, and the like.

Still, two people (even with friends) can’t easily get through four buckets of apples. So onto preserving!

I started by creating some jars of apple and mint jelly, using a recipe from Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2.

Apple and mint -- yum!
Apples and mint — yum!
Straining the liquid overnight, to form the basis for the jelly
Straining the liquid overnight, to form the basis for the jelly

The apples are cooked down whole, pips and all, until soft. The pulp is then strained through a muslin cloth (or equivalent) over night. The resulting liquid (thick with pectin) is then cooked with sugar until it sets (this took a bit of convincing!). The result is a light jelly with an enjoyable hint of mint — perfect for roast lamb!

Another pile of apples, ready to be processed
Another pile of apples, ready to be processed

I then moved onto apple sauce. I hunted through my collection of cookbooks, and Canning for a new generation had the simplest and easiest recipe (most of the other ones involved whole days of cooking down the fruit!).

The apples cooked down to a soft pulp, skin, core, pips and all
The apples cooked down to a soft pulp, skin, core, pips and all
Passing the apple pulp through my passata machine, to create a smooth sauce
Passing the apple pulp through my passata machine, to create a smooth sauce

Again, the fruit is cooked whole until soft. It was then passed through my passata machine, which separated out all the pips and skin. The pulp is heated until boiling, and then put into mason jars. These are processed in hot water until properly sterilised.

The final preserve was a straightforward fruit wedges in syrup, using instructions out of Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. This was the quickest process of all: peel and core the fruit, and cook briefly in a light syrup. Then jar and process in a hot water bath for 20mins.

Filling the pantry with apple-related produce.
Filling the pantry with apple-related produce.

I’m pleased with my collection of apple preserves, and I’m looking forward to using them throughout the cold winter days to come 🙂

And the storm came pounding in

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We were glad to make it back before the storm hit. As the sky darkened, rain started sheeting down. We were watching through our back windows when — look — it’s hail! How exciting is that!

That's a serious amount of hail, now blanketing our back yard and still coming
That’s a serious amount of hail, now blanketing our back yard and still coming
Hail covering our back deck
Hail covering our back deck

The hail kept coming in, pea sized, but overwhelming in numbers. Before long, the ground was white, as if it was a European winter scene.

The front garden, as if in a European winter
The front garden, as if in a European winter
The whole suburb was hit, including serious local flooding
The whole suburb was hit, including serious local flooding

And then — water — it’s leaking! — and then pouring! into the house through the ceiling. Damn!

It was the ice piling up on the flat roof, and causing the water to flow up, over the flashings and into the ceiling. Up I went onto the roof in the middle of the storm, with a stiff-bristle broom.

For 30mins I swept the hail into piles, away from the flashings and other vulnerable points. The roof simply wasn’t designed for this, and anywhere it could get in, it did.

By the time I came back down, water was still pouring through the light fittings, and we’d been plunged into darkness. Thankfully the ceiling held, unlike some of our neighbours, who had their gyprock ceilings collapse on them while watching TV.

Pounded by hail into oblivion!
Pounded by hail into oblivion!
The carrots didn't fare any better...
The carrots didn’t fare any better…

The garden suffered badly. While the big trees were stripped of leaves, the smaller natives shrugged it all off. The vege patch and herbs, however, were destroyed. Pounded into the ground, until a mush.

These used to by daikon, surrounded by cabbages...
These used to by daikon, surrounded by cabbages…

Some will recover, but some won’t. There goes much of our winter crops…

The sorrel will undoubtedly survive, but it ain't pretty
The sorrel will undoubtedly survive, but it ain’t pretty

The life of an urban farmer isn’t an easy one. They say this was a once-in-40-year storm. Considering we’d suffered a once-in-a-decade superstorm (600mm over 48 hours) earlier in the same week, I’m not putting money on it…