Spring Planting

2016/08/21 deej 0

It’s been a busy weekend. As well as finishing off a literature review around implementing dehesa style agroforestry in Australia, for my uni course (once the paper is marked and returned, I’ll put it up here in the Resources section), I’ve planted 17 trees. The bare root trees from Heritage Fruit Trees arrived, so there’s been a lot of digging and planting happening. Five more apple trees for the orchard, five pears and two nashi pears planted in a new little pear grove, and another five stone fruit trees for Zone 1 behind the house.

 

Zone 1 includes the herb garden at the front, the roses, the chicken coops, the somewhat-in-need-of-repair vegetable garden, and most of the stone fruit I’m putting in. There are going to be almonds and cherries around the vegetable beds, to give summer shade for the veges and for people, to make it a pleasant space to be in. Between the vegetable garden and the house I’m planting a miniature hedge maze, made up of productive fruiting plants (plums, peaches, nectarines, persimmons, lily pilly trees, sloes, mulberries, and damsons) and some livestock-friendly fodder plants for cut and carry animal feed (willow, hibiscus) all trained into a hedge form. It’s a challenging mini project, because the soil in that area is very poor and very compacted, with a lot of rock in it. But what’s life without a few challenges? It’ll be beautiful when it’s all in.

 

All the trees are budding, and the almond is in full flower already. It’s definitely spring. The chickens are all laying again, and the wildflowers are out. Any day now we’ll have to harvest the beehive.

 

Meanwhile, K has been in the workshop, building a pair of Japanese-style sliding doors for our media room / meditation dojo / guest bedroom. The wood stain is going on as I type, and they should be ready to go up tonight or tomorrow. Very exciting. (The room didn’t get doors fitted when the house was built because we wanted something special, and also because the doorway is not a standard door size).

 

the first tastes of spring

2016/08/04 deej 0

The wet, cold weather doesn’t feel like spring, but I have other clues to go by. The jacarandas may not be flowering yet, but the early peaches and apricots are, and the coral trees in the swan valley are covered in red flowers and hungry birds. My newly planted bare root Prunus mume trees are starting to flower too, so I’m hopeful that they’ll fruit in a couple’ve years and I’ll be able to make umeboshi and plum wine.

 

Also covered in flowers already are my blueberry bushes. I may have to plant more of these – they’ve been singularly successful. I’m currently enjoying the very first ripe berries – mixed with delicious vanilla bean yoghurt, and macadamia nuts. I know it sounds unusual, but it’s seriously amazing.

 

The chickens are starting to lay again as well, and at least one of the younger pullets is laying now. Five eggs this morning. I’ll have to get back into the habit of eating eggs and baking, and also contact all the people who’ve expressed an interest in buying eggs from us.

 

That’s really all the news I have for this week. The Blackboy Peach (also, apparently, known as the Peche de Vigne – which is a much better name) I ordered from the Guildford Garden Centre arrived last week as well, so it went in on the weekend along with the pair of Prunus mume. I’m hoping the other bare root trees I ordered will arrive soon, so they can go into the ground before they start flowering or budding. Then we can sort out some automatic irrigation for them for this summer – because hand watering a dozen young trees with watering cans is kinda not my favourite thing to do for an hour after work every day through summer.

fruit tree varieties

2016/07/22 deej 0

I was talking to a friend at work a couple’ve weeks ago, about her garden (she’s recently bought a house, and is madly excited to be planting some dwarf fruit trees in the garden), and she asked me what trees I have in the ground. It made me think, maybe other people might be interested in our choices of trees and varieties too. So, here goes. ūüôā

 

Not all of these are in the ground as yet; I’ve noted which ones are planted, and which are on order. The trees without a status note are on the wishlist.

 

Apples:

 

These are for the cider orchard. Most are table / dessert apples (i.e. for eating), but these can be juiced to make cider too. The cider apple varieties usually aren’t well suited to eating fresh, but the two we’ve chosen are reputed to be reasonable for fresh eating as well as cider-making.

 

Citrus:

 

I may have a fruit tree collecting issue. Gotta catch ’em all, right?

 

Dates:

 

These are an experiment. They should get enough heat to fruit, but we can’t be completely sureuntilt hey do fruit. or at least until they flower.

 

Figs:

 

I don’t actually even really like fresh figs – but I very much like dried figs, and fig paste, and fig jam. And caramelised fig sauce stirred through ice-cream. Thus: figs.

 

Olives:

 

 

Yes, olives are fruit. Even if you have to pickle them before they’re edible, or just use them for oil production.

 

Pears:

 

Pears are K’s favourite fruit. So we had to have a variety.

 

Stone fruit:

 

In case it wasn’t abundantly clear, I adore stone fruit. The smell of peaches and nectarines in summer is one of my happy things, and the sweet-sharp taste of an apricot or plum fresh off the tree is.. well, my mouth waters thinking about it. I also love jams made with stone fruit; apricot jam is endlessly useful, and plum jam is actually my favourite of all the jams I’ve ever tried (actually my favourite jam in the world is the plum jam my mum makes, with ruby blood plums from her tree and a touch of fresh orange juice for the pectin content).

 

Miscellaneous:

 

And then of course there are the nut trees. But I’ll leave those for another post.

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 ‚Äď 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

¬ľ cup milk

(optional) 1 egg

1 ‚Äď 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:

June 15: staple crops

2016/06/15 deej 0

A staple crop is one that provides the majority of a population’s diet, generally providing primarily starch and/or protein. Our current primary staple crops worldwide¬†are corn (maize), wheat, and¬†rice. There are also other staple crops or potential staple crops (crops with the capacity to provide the majority of a population’s diet) grown – barley, rye, oats, teff,¬†sorghum (milo), millet, soybeans and other legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, ..), quinoa, amaranth, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, oca,¬†cassava, arrowroot, plantains and sago (derived from the pith of the sago palm). There are probably others, but those are some of the more common ones. Do you notice anything in common between most of them?

 

Of the 23 crops I just listed, all but 2 are annuals, grown from year to year. Plaintains and sago are derived from short-lived perennial plants, and the sago palm is killed when the sago is harvested. Some of the root and tuber crops can maintain themselves if managed correctly, as not all of the roots or tubers have to be harvested, but a commercial harvest will strip the entire plant population out to maximise production. Fully one third of the plants in the list are grain crops.

 

Nothing wrong with grain crops (all the various grains and pseudocereals I’ve tried have been delicious and versatile) or with annual plants in general. Annuals can provide a valuable contribution to our diets. However, large scale commercial production of annual crops (a) requires huge inputs of fertilisers and pesticides to support vast monocultures, and (b) is very susceptible to variability in climatic conditions. In a world running low on fossil fuels from which to cheaply manufacture chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and anthropogenic climate change increasing climatic variability and extreme climate events, that’s not a good thing for our food supply.

 

One option is to intensify our staple production even further – for example, raise rice intensively using aquaponics or other controlled environment production systems. Eventually, the increasingly industrialised food production systems could be moved off-planet along with other polluting industries and our staples could be produced in space stations. That sort of¬†techno-utopic future is not immediately achievable, though – and depending on the political and popular appetite for technological solutions, not to mention the cost of sending payloads into space and back down to Earth, it may never be achievable. At best, there’s a delay before we can get there.

 

We need some ideas to handle that delay, and to act as fallback positions if sending industrial production off-planet doesn’t end up happening at all. Current agricultural policy is pushing the dual strategies of increasing production without increasing inputs (via genetic engineering, better management techniques and technologies, decreasing costs to offset lower commodity prices, and a combination of hope and luck) and increasing ecological sustainability, specifically maintaining soil health. No one is talking seriously about what crops we grow, except in limited areas of developing nations which are suffering from crop failures and extreme weather events. But there are alternative staple crops available.

 

Many, although not all, of the potential staple crops which are more resilient to climate change than our current major ones are  tree crops. Nuts are high in protein and oil (for energy), so depending on climatic zone and soil type that might include pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pinenuts, pecans, macadamias, and so forth. Chestnuts and edible acorns (from holm oaks or cork oaks, among others) are higher in starch than most tree nuts, and can be used more like a grain crop. Tree legumes are also a possibility, including edible wattle seeds and mesquite seeds (high in protein, minerals and fibre) and carob pods (high in starch and sugars). Some fruit crops which are high is starch can act as staple crops; plantains are one of those, but sweet bananas also have potential, as do figs and mulberries (both can be dried and used as a major part of the diet), breadfruit, peach palm fruit, and dates.

 

One plausible option to manage the potential food shortages of the not-too-distant future is using these tree crops. So, to support those who want to start trying to incorporate these alternate staple foods into their diets, I’m going to start posting recipes and instructions for the use of these crops. And we’ll be planting at least a few of each of those trees which will grow well in our climate – so one day we’ll be able to supply these crops or products made from them.

 

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

 


Images sourced from Wikimedia commons:

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