Pears in Prague...

29 August, 2013

Oh how I love alliteration. In this case it is both amusing and true.

Garden - pre-holiday...

22 August, 2013

As I have previously posted, I'm off for the next five weeks touring about Europe. I'll be travelling around Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and France, including the main touristy sights and a few biking travels (slightly) off the beaten path. Thanks to all those who have wished me well on my travels; I can't wait and am sure it will be fabulous.

Of course, being a lover of gardening I've planned my trip around seeing some gardens, particularly in France, so I will likely blog along the way when I come across anything garden related.

But before I left I thought it would be nice to see the garden now, and then compare it to the garden when I get back in early October.

Back garden, still in early morning shade.

In the far right of the above pic you can just see the Magnolia. I love this tree and am so glad it flowered before I left, as it would have been really disappointing to have missed it. It's blooms are so beautiful.

Other side of back garden. (There are 4 apple trees in there - can you spot them?)

Moving to the front yard.

Front yard view from the other side.

Raised veg patch - still a bit happening.

In the raised veg patch I've planted my tomato seedlings. They are in the first two beds in the picture. In the first bed they are protected by the assorted plastic bottle mini-greenhouses you see, and in the second the garden fleece is their protection. I have no idea if this will be successful. It's a bit of a gamble. They seem to have survived the last few days, so fingers crossed.

View from under the fleece.

Beyond that are peas growing great guns, then the second last bed has parsnips, and the last bed out of sight has lots of celery. The bed along the fence has carrots and beetroots that I've been picking over winter.

Self sown lettuces coming up. Who knows what else will volunteer while I'm away.
And lastly, here is the orchard where most of my apple trees are. They're difficult to see, but each stick is one apple tree, which are grown as cordon espaliers. I will blog in more detail about this when I'm back, hopefully with some better photos so you can actually see the trees.

Also along the left is a peach and a nectarine tree which are flowering. The tyres are where my potatoes are planted. Please ignore the roof tiles scattered around - they were the bed edging before I put in the wood sleepers and I've yet to put them away. They are a low priority.

The orchard, looking a bit sparse.

So that's the garden right now. Lets see what its like in October.

Fruit and Veg Growing Challenge - the final countdown 2013...

20 August, 2013

As many of you are aware over the last two years I've set myself a couple of fruit and veg (not quite) self-sufficiency challenges.

The first ran from 2011-2012 where I challenged myself to grow at least 50% of my fruit and veg for a year. I grew 65% which was a lovely surprise and very rewarding.

This spurred me on to then up the anti to aiming to grow at least 80% of my fruit and veg for a year. This challenge started in October 2012 and was meant to go for 12 months.

However, I set myself this challenge before I made plans for a long anticipated holiday which I will be leaving for in two days time. This is much of the reason why I have been stupendously busy lately, and will also mean the blogging will be quiet while I'm away for the next five weeks touring Europe. But I will check in with any fruit and veg growing I come across on my travels as well as any garden inspiration.

But all that aside, while I have cut short my challenge by a month and a half I feel it still bears a post challenge debrief.

Firstly though, an update on the last month and a half of the challenge. July saw the garden produce a slightly lower than target 77% of my fruit and veg. While August is not quite over, I've seen fit to tally up the garden vs bought produce for this month, which has seen the results bounce back to a respectable 88% homegrown.

Just one example of a recent harvest.

So, overall over the past 10.5 months the garden has produced on average... 83% of my fruit and veg needs.

Yay garden!

Here is the homegrown produce wrap up:
Fruit: 1.2kg apples (hey, the trees are young...), 1kg alpine strawberries, 0.6kg blackberries, 6kg figs, 4.3kg lemons, 20kg peaches, 6.3kg raspberries, 4kg rhubarb, 3.4kg rockmelons, 14.8kg strawberries, 1.3kg watermelon.
Salad: 30 bags mixed lettuces, 30 bags spinach, 3 bags beetroot leaves, 5 bags rocket.
Root crops: 2.9kg beetroot, 1.9kg carrots.
Cucubits: 5kg cucumbers, 6.6kg zucchini.
Beans/Legumes: 0.3kg snowpeas, 2.9kg broadbeans, 1.5kg french/climbing beans, 4.6kg peas, 0.3kg borlotti beans, 0.2kg yin yang beans.
Brassicas: 2.4kg broccoli, 2.3kg cauliflower, 2.8kg kale, 1.7kg cabbage. 
Alliums: 0.2kg garlic, 9.9kg onions, 0.6kg spring onions.
Misc: 30 artichoke flowers, 0.8kg asparagus, 15 cobs corn, 9.6kg tomatoes, 1.5kg eggplant, 0.4kg capsicums, 16 bunches parsley, 9 bunches basil. (These are the only herbs I harvest by the handful, so I count them. The others I don't bother documenting.)

The main bought items were mainly:
Fruit: apples, oranges, grapes, mandarins, plums.
(Of these only the grapes are not already in my garden. I have many, many apple trees (59 at last count - yes I am a crazy apple tree lady), two oranges, one mandarin and 4 plum trees, but these are all young and yet to fruit. I plan to get some table grapes when I eventually extend the varandah and grow them up to provide both summertime shade and fruit.)
Veg: celery, onion, carrots, potatoes and parsnips.
(I already have celery in the garden, but it is still pretty young. I'm hoping for a bumper crop of onions this summer to get me through next year. Potatoes have been planted so here's hoping for a crop - I've never been great at growing potatoes. Parsnips are in the ground at the moment, so I need to sow some earlier ones to have some at cropping size come next winter.)

So that's the garden wrap up for 2012-13. While I have derived a huge amount of motivation (it was painful to write down bought produce I could have grown if I was more organised) and knowledge about what I like to eat so I can better plan what I grow, I don't think I'll continue with the fruit and veg growing challenge. I'm not sure if I will set myself another challenge of a different sort either. I think I will just wait and see what inspires me.

But for now I will bask in the glory of the 83% homegrown fruit and veg result.

Duck egg vs. chicken egg... sponge cake...

18 August, 2013

Which is duck egg and which is chicken egg? Stay tuned to find out...

Before we get into the relative merits of duck and chicken eggs in cake baking, a word of apology. I've been very quiet on the blogging front for reasons of busyness, not from any lack of desire to blog. I have been thinking blog posts, but not having the time to write them.

But today was (finally!) a day where I didn't have 50 other commitments; places to be and things to do. I had time. And I spent that time baking.

I find baking relaxing. I know others do not share this feeling. For me pottering around in the kitchen, mixing things up, making concoctions that I know will turn into delightfully scrumptious offerings that go perfectly with a cup of tea come afternoon time, is an enjoyable way to spend a few spare hours.

And as for some time now I've been meaning to compare my wonderful duck eggs (I'm getting about 6 a week) to chicken eggs in a sponge cake.

Now I must confess I've never really been into sponge cake. My family background is German and Ukranian, so my respective grandmothers baked more fruit tarts, cheesecakes and plain cakes, occasionally adorned with layers of cooked apple (geez I loved that cake!). The very proper Victoria sponge was something I viewed from afar at school cake sales and read about in cookbooks, but never really part of my conciousness.

Until I had an amazing sponge cake last year at a work event. It was all that a sponge should be - light, fluffy pillows encasing cream and strawberries. It was heaven. I've wanted to make one since, and today I finally got around to it.

In my search on the interwebs for a recipe, I had read that duck eggs were supposedly better for making sponges as their albumin (the protein in the egg white) was stronger, hence when beaten they were stronger and didn't collapse as much as chicken eggs, giving a lighter sponge. I decided to put this to the test.

I followed the recipe by Not Quite Nigella, which also gave many tips on how to make a great sponge. I made two recipes - one using duck eggs and one using chicken eggs. Like my initial duck v. chicken egg trial, I used similarly aged eggs from both my free ranging ducks and my grandmothers free ranging chickens to be as comparable as possible.

And the result: duck eggs hands down!

Chicken egg on left, duck egg on right.

The duck egg, using exactly the same recipe, the same method and the same oven, gave easily a 30% higher sponge.

Yay for duck eggs! I think sponge will easily become part of my baking repertoire. Now the layers just need some time to cool before I can add cream, and given there are no strawberries at this time of year and I refuse to buy them, and lemon curd. Bring on afternoon tea!

Crazy busy, and yet stuff grows...

11 August, 2013

In my world it has been madness lately. No time for gardening, and no time for blogging.

Hopefully this week things will slow down. A little.

But stuff is still growing...

Tomatoes have germinated.

Nectarine blossoms about to burst.