summer

2016/12/14 deej 2

No matter how much I like the longer days (getting home when it’s still light!) and warmer weather, I also dread summer a little. While the long, hot, dry days and the coastal breezes may be perfect for a holiday or a day at the beach, they’re not so good for growing anything. The dry summer season is as harsh in its own way as the cold winter of the temperate areas of the northern hemisphere.

 

The theory is that our forest orchard will be reasonably self-sufficient once established, requiring minimal irrigation or care. That theory has a downside though – it takes years for a forest (or an orchard) to become established. The trees are going in, gradually but steadily, but for their first few years they’ll need a lot of support. Daily watering through summer, wire cages to protect them from rabbits and kangaroos, spraying for insect pests, and more. I’d prefer not to spray for insects, but there is only so much you can do without poison. The guinea fowl seem more interested in eating my hibiscus plants than they do in eating ticks or grasshoppers, and there are too many trees already to hand pick bugs off them all. We have plans to try traps for the grasshoppers this season, half filling bright yellow buckets with molasses-enriched water to attract and drown them, and spreading bran sprayed with a bit of molasses-water around the trees (the grasshoppers & locusts eat this, gum up their digestive systems with it, and die – in theory), but we’re inevitably going to end up spraying as well.

 

We’ve acquired some Muscovy ducks to free range across the baby orchard as well, in the hopes that they’ll be more motivated to eat bugs than the guinea fowl. I haven’t seen them eating any flies yet, but apparently they do. The surviving juvenile guinea fowl are going to be free ranging soon as well, bringing us up to a total of 6 (4 babies and 2 adults, out of a total of 4 bought as chicks and 18 hatched). They do seem to be keeping the tick population down, but they aren’t having much of an impact ont he grasshoppers.

 

In the meantime, irrigation is a big ticket item on the to-do list. Last summer we hand-watered every day, carrying 10 L watering cans back and forth. This summer we’re trialling a gravity-fed dripper system, fed from the small water tank, for the apples. It seems to be pretty successful so far, so we’re aiming to put in similar systems (fed from 200 L barrels or 1000 L IBCs of water) for each group of trees. With luck that’ll cut our workload down to weekly check-ups, although it increases the workload now as we get the irrigation set up. There are more trees to go in this autumn, so automated watering systems are essential.

Drinking yoghurt and cultured milk products

2016/09/09 deej 0

A few years ago (quite a few, actually) I went travelling through Europe. Some of the trip I did with a dear friend of mine, some I did on my own. One of the things I discovered was drinking yoghurt.

 

Now, drinking yoghurt (i.e. yoghurt which is thicker than milk, but thin enough to drink like a smoothie) used ot be not uncommon in South Africa when I was little, but it’s almost unheard of in Australia to the best of my knowledge. I remembered liking it as a child, so I tried some in the Netherlands, and in Italy. It exceeded my expectations in every way. My cherry-flavoured (but not too sweet) yoghurt drink became a daily thing while I could get it, and I’ve missed it ever since. I like eating regular yoghurt, but there’s something about fruit-flavoured drinking yoghurt on a  hot summer day that is just very appealing to me.

 

I tried making yoghurt and just fermenting it less long, to get a thinner consistency. Did not work out well.

 

I tried making smoothies with yoghurt, fresh milk, and fruit. Those are pretty good, but not what I was after.

 

So I did some research, only mildly hindered by the fact that while I was enjoying my cherry yoghurt drink in foreign climes I couldn’t read the local language so I had no idea what it was called (brand name or generic term), or what was in it. I came up with a variety of alternative cultured milk products which are described as being yoghurt-like, and traditional to various parts of northern Europe. All are heirloom cultures, meaning that they’ve been maintained as live ecosystems over the years, and you can continue to use a sample form one batch to make more basically forever (many store-bought yoghurts only contain a few species, and without the support of their mutualist ecosystem partners will fail and die – and stop producing yoghurt – after a few batches, requiring a new starter).

 

For my birthday this year, my very on-the-ball mother acquired for me a selection of starter cultures. Today I’ve put three of them (viili, filmjolk, and langfil) in to ferment, to see how they go. I would have done the other two cultures as well, but I don’t have enough milk in the house to do that many batches, so the piima and the buttermilk will have to wait for next time. I’ll report back in the comments on the results of the fil mjolk, langfil, and viili experiments.

 

For anyone wanting to carry out the experiment themselves, this is what I did:

  • Start with some full-cream dairy milk. It can be whatever milk you like – goat, sheep, camel – but I used regular cow’s milk from the supermarket. Avoid UHT milk if possible. If you can get non-homogenised milk, that’s better as well, but go with what you can get.
  • Heat some of the milk (300 – 500 ml per culture type) up to almost boiling (about 60 – 80 degrees C, the scalding point or point where small bubbles start to form on the surface but before you reach a rolling boil). Be careful not to burn it. Once the right temperature is reached, turn off the heat and cover the milk; wait for it to cool to just below body temperature (about 25 degrees C if you have a thermometer, or luke-warm if you’re going by touch).
  • Stir your starter (about 1 tsp of dried or freeze-dried starter, or 1 – 2 Tbs of active cultured milk product) into the luke-warm milk. Pour into your cleaned and sterilised container (either a small thermos or a glass jar – sterilise with boiling water) and put the lid on. If using a glass jar, wrap a towel or tea towel around it for insulation.
  • Leave it alone for 12 – 24 hours, depending on the ambient temperature (less time if it’s warmer). The ideal temperature is 20 – 25 degrees C; if it’s warmer, the fermentation will happen faster and the result may be grainy. If it’s too cold, you might need to put your culture in a warm spot, like on top of the fridge or in the oven with the light on to keep it form getting too cold. During this fermentation period try not to move or knock the container. After 12 – 24 hours check the result. If it hasn’t started to change consistency and set or firm up, leave it for another 12 – 24 hours & repeat. (Making regular yoghurt I’ve had batches that fermented fully overnight, and batches which took a week to firm up, so give it some time.)
  • Once the yoghurt (or whatever) starts to firm up or change consistency, place the container in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours before eating. Remember to save some for the next batch.

 

All the cultures I’m using are mesophilic, which means they ferment at room temperature (around 20 – 25 degrees C). Standard yoghurt is thermophilic, meaning that it likes warmer temperatures to ferment properly. That’s why you use a yoghurt maker for regular yoghurt, and mix the starter in when the milk is around 30 – 37 degrees C.

 

FYI, the cultures I’m trialling are these:

  • Piima is a Scandinavian yoghurt which is known to have the thinnest consistency of the mesophilic (room temperature) yoghurts, similar to buttermilk. It is sometimes described as having the consistency of honey. It also has a mild, slightly nutty or cheese-like flavour. When used to ferment cream, it makes a good sauce for vegetables. Apparently it originates from natural (wild) cultures found in the milk of Scandinavian cows which have eaten the butterwort plant. It contain the following probiotic species: Streptococcus lactis var. bollandicus and Streptococcus taette. ; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Cultured Buttermilk (as opposed to the liquid left after churning butter from cream, which is also called buttermilk) has a fascinating history. It can be consumed as a beverage (sometimes sweetened, but also sometimes as a savoury tomato-juice style beverage with salt and pepper and no sweeteners), but is more often used in baking and cooking. In baking, the acidity is used to activate sodium bicarbonate as a raising agent, or increase the activity of baking powder (which is itself sodium bicarbonate with an acid added to activate it when wetted). It can be used in marinades, where the acidity helps tenderise meats, or in sauces and salad dressings where the sour flavour works well. According to Wikipedia, the probiotics in cultured buttermilk are: Lactococcus lactis (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis biovar. diacetylactis and Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris); note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Viili is thought thought to originate in Sweden, although it is consumed throughout Scandianvia under various names. It has a viscous consistency like thick honey, and forms strands and trails the way sugar syrup does. The flavour is reported to be mildly sour, almost faintly sweet by comparison to other cultured dairy foods. Contains the following probiotic species: Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris, Lactococcus lactis* biovar. diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris and Geotrichum candidum; note that Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis. used to be known as Streptococcus lactis.
  • Langfil is a variant form of fil mjolk which has a ‘long and elastic texture’, a little like viili, due to the presence of yeasts and bacteria which form polysaccharides during fermentation. It can be thicker than regular fil mjolk, but the flavour should be very similar – sour and tangy. It’s sometimes eaten with ground ginger. In addition to the probiotics found in fil mjolk, it contains Lactococcus lactis var. longi.

 

There are some good comparisons of the probiotics in each culture online.

June 22: wattleseed pancakes

2016/06/22 deej 0

Of the many species of wattle native to Australia, several produce seeds which are suitable for use as human food. Edible wattleseed has rich nutty, chocolate and roasted coffee flavours, and is well suited to both sweet and savoury uses.

 

Australian aboriginal peoples ground dried wattle seeds to form a flour, which was then baked into damper (traditional campfire bread). The green seeds of some wattle species were also eaten, cooked and consumed as a green vegetable like peas or fresh beans. Wattle seeds have also been used as food in some areas in West Africa, where the wattle trees were introduced to provide a fast growing tree for firewood and windbreaks.

 

Laboratory testing and human dietary trials have shown that wattle seeds are highly nutritious and safe to eat as a base or staple foodstuff. Nutritional analysis shows an average protein content of approximately 26%, an average available carbohydrate content of 26%, and a fibre content of around 32%. Wattle seeds also have a low glycaemic index, as their starch content is digested and absorbed slowly, although their energy content is high (approx. 1480 kJ per 100g). The seeds can be stored for up to a year, or sometimes longer, before being ground, with no perceptible deterioration in flavour or food quality.

 

The main species used are Mulga wattle (Acacia aneura), Elegant Wattle (Acacia victoriae), Silver Wattle (Acacia retinodes), Coastal Wattle (Acacia longifolia var. sophorae), and the Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha). Coles Wattle (Acacia colei) is widely used in West Africa. Coastal Wattle is described as having a rich, nutty flavour, while the Elegant Wattle has a darker, more coffee and chocolate flavour. All of these species grow happily across a range of Australian dryland environments, and will thrive on 400 – 800 mm rainfall per year, in well drained soils. The Coastal Wattle and Elegant Wattle tend towards a shrub form, growing 3 – 5 m tall and branching lower towards the ground; Mulga may do the same, or may grow as a tree, depending on the environment. The otehr species grow as small trees, 6 – 10 m in height.

 

Wattleseed is often used as a flavouring agent for bread, ice-creams, pastries, cream, pancakes, biscuits, or cakes. Adding up to 1 tablespoon of ground wattleseed to baking, or 1 – 2 teaspoons to ice-cream or cream gives an elegantly aromatic effect. Ground wattle seed can, however, also be used in place of ground sorghum, millet flour, or other gluten free flours in baking; this will give a richer wattleseed flavour to the end product.

 


 

Gluten Free Wattleseed Pancakes

 

2 cups finely ground wattleseed (or 1 cup ground wattleseed and 1 cup millet flour)

1 – 2 cups lukewarm water

¼ cup milk

(optional) 1 egg

1 – 2 teaspoons honey (or to taste)

pinch of salt

oil for frying

 

Instructions

  • Combine the milk and warm water. If using egg, beat the egg in with the water and milk.
  • Sift the ground wattleseed into a bowl and gradually pour in the warm water, mixing well as you do so, to form a smooth batter. If the ground wattleseed is not fine enough to sift, you may wish to grind it more finely with a mortar and pestle – otherwise thepancakes come out with a gritty texture instead of a smooth crisp finish.
  • Set aside and rest the batter in a cool place for 1 – 4 hours.
  • Beat the batter with a wooden spoon (do not whisk), while heating a pan or skillet.
  • Pour or ladle batter into the pan to make a saucer-sized pancake (or several smaller pancakes) and cook until crisp. You can turn it once if desired, but it is not essential. The pan or skillet should be quite hot; the batter will stick if the pan is not hot enough.
  • Serve with honey, jam, or fruit chutney. These pancakes are reminiscent of dark, nutty rye bread.

 

NOTE: For a vegan version of these pancakes, omit the egg and replace the milk with orange juice.

 

 


 

Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:

the great livestock debate

2016/05/23 deej 0

As may have become clear by now, I adore animals. Fur, feathers, scales – they are all awesome in their own special ways. Even guinea fowl (noisy, dumb as bricks, but pretty and useful and lovely) and rabbits (destructive, tree-ringbarking wild versions are annoyingly hardy, while the tame meat-breed ones die far too easily) are pretty cool. My problem is deciding which animals to keep.

 

I mean, I obviously can’t have them all. That would take more space than we have, and feeding them and taking care of them would take more time and $$$ than we have available.

 

Gypsy CobA pony, for example, is totally right out. They’re far too expensive to keep, and the vet bills are killer. No matter how lovely it would be to have a horse to ride, and love, and brush, and feed apples and carrots to. No matter how much my inner 9-year-old self cries out at the injustice of finally living somewhere that I could plausibly have a horse and not having one. No matter how many wistful sighs I direct at pictures of Gypsy Cobs and Shire Horses. (Yes, my favourite ponies are the gentle giants of the species, with their emo hair and big, brown eyes, and silky smooth gaits).

 

Small ruminants to turn pasture (the pasture seed is starting to sprout! We may in fact have pasture by next winter) into soil-improving manure, milk, and meat for the household are definitely in the plan. I was all set on goats a couple’ve Anglo-Nubian or Nubian / Boer cross goats, but now I’m not so sure.

 

Anglo-Nubians are one of the largest breeds of goat, as well as producing milk with the second-highest butterfat content of any of the dairy goat breeds (the highest butterfat content goes to Nigerian Dwarf goats). A full size goat, not even as large as a big Nubian doe, can reach 3m if she stands on her hind legs and stretches up – and goats eat trees. They will ringbark them if they can, and eat any foliage or branches that are witbrowsing goatshin reach. This means that (a) all trees in the pasture area need to have goat-proof (read: expensive, heavy-duty) cages around them up to the maximum reach height of a goat, and (b) I can’t effectively have the trees branch at < 3m, so any fruiting trees in the pastures would be very difficult to harvest.

 

Even Nigerian Dwarf goats (and there are some in Australia now, courtesy of First Fleet goat stud, which imported a number of frozen embryos, and Stoney Creek Miniature Goats which is breeding up to grade using a Nigerian Dwarf stud over Miniature Nubian does) can reach up to 2m by standing up on their hind legs and stretching. Which is a thing goats will happily do for a mouthful of fresh greenery or bark. Plus, because they’re still very rare in Australia, Nigerian Dwarf goats are pretty expensive. And since they’re a rare breed, I’d need to keep my own buck, which I’m not that keen to do. Buck goats pong something awful, and you can’t keep them with the does even if you don’t mind the smell or the continuous breeding cycle, because the buck pheromones taint the milk and make it taste “bucky”.

 

Dexter heiferA cow is on the long term plan, but cattle lean on trees and scratch on them, so the baby trees would need to be either a lot bigger or very well protected before that could work.

 

Alpacas are lovely, graceful, and economically not really viable. They produce beautiful wool, but you can’t milk them, and they breed every 2 years instead of every year, producing one baby per pregnancy, so they’re not really a good meat animal (although they are delicious). On the other hand, they don’t destroy trees.

 

I’m kinda wondering about sheep. I actively dislike sheep; I’ve always found wool sheep to smell bad, not just the musky warm-animal smell that all farm animals have, but a sour, sickly, old-urine-in-wool smell which makes me reluctant to go near. They’re the one animal that I have never considered keeping. Until now.

 

Sheep are grazers rather than browsers, so they tend not to damage trees unless they’re very hungry (so a much less significant tree cage would be sufficient for protection) and they don’t stand up on their hind legs to reach for greenery. They’re less fussy than goats about their food, too. And if you go for a hair-type sheep or one which sheds its wool, then you don’t have the hassle of shearing – and hopefully you wouldn’t have that awful smell either.

 

The typical meat-breed sheep in WA is the Dorper, although there are other breeds available (In the Perth area, it’s mostly Dorpers, Damaras, Wiltshire Horn,crosses and Merinos) and . Or there are miniature ‘Harlequin’ meat sheep, bred from small individuals of the Persian sheep breed crossed with a white Dorper ram. They’re a pretty sheep, and apparently easy to manage. Or I could try milk sheep – the Chequers breed is a cross of the Harlequin mini meat sheep and Finn sheep, with (it appears) all the benefits, plus extra fertility and high milk production.

 

harlequin mini meat sheep

Sheep milk is not low in lactose the way goats milk is (it is actually slightly higher in lactose than cows milk according to the FAO, or about the same as goats milk according to Meredith Dairy *), but it is creamy, high in butterfat, and good for making cheese. Manchego, a traditional Spanish sheeps milk cheese, is one of my favourite cheeses, so I trust that sheeps milk cheese is plausibly something I’d like. And with a bit of planning, the same machine (a Dansha battery- or hand-powered vacuum pump) could be used for milking sheep, goats or cows..

 

Looks like I have some more sheep research to do. I’m currently leaning towards Chequers mini milk sheep as a first choice, Harlequin mini meat sheep as a second choice, and Dorpers or Dorper / WIltshire crosses (mixed flock) as a third choice. We’ll see.

 

* P.S. If you get the opportunity, try the Meredith Dairy marinated goats milk feta cheese. It is absolutely delicious. I wish I knew how they made it so I could duplicate the process.


Images from:

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinker_(Pferd)#/media/File:Tinker1.jpg

http://articles.extension.org/pages/19409/goat-pastures-considerations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dexter_cattle#/media/File:Red_Dexter_Heffer.jpg

http://ausminisheep.com.au/mini.htm

 

summer holiday tree planting

2016/01/05 deej 0

This has been a lovely, idle, summer holiday. To be honest, you could replace ‘idle’ with ‘utterly slack’, and not be far off. I’ve read books, gone to the beach (twice already this year, which is impressive given that it’s an hour’s drive each way), played with my cats, and barely checked my email. It’s been wonderfully relaxing.

The regular household chores have continued to be done though – pot plants watered, kitty litter cleaned, the chickens and the guinea fowl fed. The guinea fowl are hardly keets any more at all, they’re almost completely feathered out. We did put up their run (a dog run, bought off of ebay, with a coop inside it) just before Christmas, so they’ve been outdoors for just over two weeks now. The run is still enclosed, with a heavy duty bird net over the top to keep them in; at the end of Jan they’ll theoretically be accustimed to their run as “home” and we’ll take the lid off so they can range around and eat bugs. Hopefully they come back at night, so we can lock them in the coop, safe from foxes. Haven’t done this before, so we’ll see how we go.

We put a few trees in the ground, even though it’s the height of summer and not an ideal time for planting. I decided that they’d have a better shot in the ground where their roots could stay cool, rather than in pots. So, two fig trees have gone in, and the Fuyu persimmon and D’Agen plum that I got for my birthday, as well as a dozen young jacarandas along the driveway, and a couple’ve the bigger frangipanis. We’re hand watering them every day, and so far they’re responding well. The jacarandas have grown substantially in the month they’re been in the ground, and two of the frangipanis are flowering. The lemon trees which the grasshoppers had scourged are putting out new growth, and we’ve sprayed them thoroughly to keep the new growth from being eaten. In spite of the heat, all the trees are doing really well.

The other thing I’ve been doing over the last few days is re-potting all the baby trees. I counted, and I have 176 seedlings and saplings which needed to be in larger pots so they can grow over summer and go into the ground either this autumn or next autumn at the start of the rainy season. Soil for that many pots is a bit problematic, but we’re going with a mix of compost and rehydrated coir fibre blocks. The bigger problem was pots. 176 plants, and I already had around 50 pots large enough to re-use.

Anyone who’s done much gardening will know the pain which your wallet feels just at the idea of buying more pots. Even for the not-amazing black plastic ones which break down in the sun and start to crack after one summer aren’t actually cheap when you’re looking at large ones (5 – 10 L capacity). The minimum I could find was $4 per pot, which adds up when you’re in the market for 130 pots. On the other hand, I thought, 130 pots is a valid bulk order. Smallish for a wholesale purchase, but still. So off I went to Aliexpress and Alibaba. Where I found that unless I wanted to order 2000 of them, the pots still cost about $4 each. Go figure.

After a small grumble to myself about the maturity of 3D printing technology, which would sort this kind of issue out completely, I went looking for alternatives.

My solution, in the end, was grow bags. Not custom made-to-purpose grow bags, because those are (weirdly) even more expensive than plastic pots, but re-purposed polypropylene shopping bags. If ordered in bulk form Aliexpress, they cost anywhere between $0.30 and $1.50 each, in lots of 30 – 100. Perfect. They arrived within 2 weeks of ordering (Aliexpress has actually been really good with just about everything I’ve bought there, I thoroughly recommend it if you want anything made in a factory in China or Korea).

So I’ve been potting up my honey locust, guava, blue lilly pilly, apple, paulownia, sweetgum, and jacaranda seedlings into the bags. It has only been a couple’ve days, but they look good so far. And there will be more; I’m collecting the seeds from every delicious fruit that I eat and trying to propagate them – peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, mangos, oranges, apples, pears, everything. The polyembryonic ones will probably grow true to type, but the others have a lot of potential too. After this much time domesticated, most of our fruit tree species don’t have the genes for inedible fruit any more; the worst you’ll get is something unexciting, or closer to the wild type (e.g. a crab-apple-ish apple, or a small, sloe-like plum). Some of the best varieties we have were chance seedlings grown in someone’s back yard.

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