Sunday, 17 February 2013

The $3.80 veggie shop

Last Saturday I spent exactly $3.80 on my veggie shop for the week. That consisted of  a hand full of red onions ($1) and three red capsicums ($1) from the "one dollar, one dollar" ladies at Vic Market and a punnet of "tomatoberry" ($1.80) basically the latest novelty cherry tomato that's been bred in the shape of strawberry- mmmm if only it weren't for the dammed rats I would have had a $2 shop!

I must confess it might be cheating slightly to admit I was mostly cooking for one last week and I did have a few left overs but thanks to the abundance of zucchinis and eggplants coming out of the lane way at the moment I was well set up for the week.

Here's a run down of the week.

On Saturday I pulled up the last of the carrots  from my first planting in the planter box. They were steamed with a zucchini and some chat potatoes (ok cheating I bought them the week before) and served with a piece of fish.

On Sunday I cooked up one of my favourite season recipes Ethiopian roast chicken with roast veg based on a recipe by Cath Claringbold's (founder of Mecca Bah). See below.

Zucchini and Lebanese eggplant (note one plant seems to be on steroids)
And later in the week I cooked up a yellow curry. I normally don't use the all in one sachets (but oriental merchant- the curry import people were having a crazy sale at their stall for  Chinese New Year). Despite the made in Thailand pedigree it tasted more like 'Japanese' Curry-  but with the bonus is was minus the palm oil! (the blocks of Japanese curry is full of it! so banned from my place).

More zucchni and eggplants ready for Thai curry with chili and Thai basil

This week I am hoping for a similar effort (I think just over $5). My one item a day challenge has been a cinch. To add to that- Boss laid her first egg post babies which was also a nice surprise because she is still moulting.

Ethiopian Roast Chicken:

The first step for the dish is mixing up a Berber spice rub for the chicken as follows:
  • 1tbs coriander seeds*
  • 1tbs cumin*
  • 1tbs black peppercorns*
  • 8 cloves*
  • 1tsp ground cardamon
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp all spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • dried chillies to suit
  • 2tbs sea salt
*roast whole seeds in a hot pan before mixing with finely chopped chillies and sea salt and pounding with a mortar and pestle (adding in the pre-ground spices at the end)

Take a whole chicken (or for shorter cooking time use chicken pieces- skin on. I used thigh pieces on this occasion). Rub with olive oil and spice mix. Depending on how generous you are with you measuring out of the spices the mix should do about 2 smallish chickens.

The next step is to prepare the other ingredients used in this dish:
  • coarsely chopped eggplants, zucchini. and red onion wedges
  • cherry tomatoes
  • jar of marinated goats cheese (eg. Meredith brand)
  • red wine vinegar (40-50ml).
The original recipe suggests baking the chicken and veggies in separate roasting pans. But I took a short cut by using a large roasting pan with a rack. I placed the chicken on the rack and the veggies (eggplant, zucchini, red onion) underneath. Generally the veggies don't take as long so its wise to kick start the chicken and add the veggies in later (10 minutes or so if using chicken pieces - slightly longer for a whole chook- the veggies should take around 30mins).  Prior to placing the veggies in the oven coat generously with oil oil (or use some of the oil marinating the goats cheese) and for a bit of extra flavour you can sprinkle on more of the spice mix.

Bake the chicken and the veggies at around 200deg C. Five-ten minutes prior to the veggies being ready, add the tomatoes.

If cooking the chicken separately collect the pan juice and add to the red wine vinegar. With my cheating version I just splashed the vinegar over both the chicken and veggies prior to serving. After you have turned off the oven mix some pieces of the marinated goats cheese through the veggies and leave to warm in the over for a couple of minutes.  If using the two pan method, splash the vinegar and pan juices over both the chicken and the veg as its being served.

Ethiopian roast chicken with summer veg.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Regarding rats versus tomatoes

The great thing about blogs is that you soon realise that whatever is going on in your patch, you're very rarely alone. So it was with some trepidation that I read Liz's accounts of her rapidly disappearing pumpkins and tomatoes on her Suburban Tomato blog.

It goes without saying that if you have poultry you have mice and possibly rats ( just don't tell the neighbours that! let alone they are actually coming over from that side of the fence).  We are very careful and had mouse proofed the chook feeder (rats are probably a different story) but unfortunately chooks are messy eaters and fling their feed out all over the place. So even with Pixie the guard cat sitting sentry outside its pretty much a losing battle.

The first hint the rats were getting a little bit out of control was when I saw one pop over the fence in broad daylight and run down the PVC pipe running the length of the chook pen. As time went on 'ratty' became more and more brazen and you could stare down the pipe and see him looking back at you - quite happy, safe and content. Then there was the instance of my rapidly disappearing bumper  raspberry crop. Any one who knows me will know I hate killing things - bug spray is completely banned at my place- so I wasn't really keen in facing up to the inevitable rat killing.

Here's the proof - I grew tomatoes in 2012-13

With all the warm weather, the tomatoes were the best they had been in years- the hybrid cherries were draped in bunches of big fat cherry tomatoes just beginning to ripen and my standard tomatoes (I think they are 'Mortgage Lifter' ) had set fruit en-mass for the first time in years. I had a smug sense of achievement of abundance in my garden.....until seemingly over night about six giant tomatoes vanished off the vine. This was followed in quick succession by the complete and utter stripping on my potted cherry tomatoes at the other end of the yard. The war had now begun.

The damage done - cherry tomatoes picked off the stem

My partner G went down to Bunnings and spent his Saturday morning comparing rat traps with a bunch of other Bunnings tragics (apparently  the news was they are growing giant ones all over the suburb of Sunshine with testicles the size of walnuts... so big they take on fox terriers....).

We set snap traps using rolled oats and peanut butter and put them out at night in strategic places under broken pots (to keep birds away) and hidden in the worm farm (showing signs of rodents digging). The worm farm yielded success straight away- 2 kills in 3 or 4 nights... but there was less progress elsewhere.

Still the tomatoes disappeared- and coming home after a bad day and in a fit of pre-dinner hungry grumpiness I pulled out a box of talon pellets I had bought but not used. So as not to poison the chooks I put one out in the lane next to my fence and covered with another broken terracotta pot (so its like a little cave) and one more brazenly on the rail of the neighbours side of the back fence where the rats cross over. (I will add the yard is so overgrown the neighbours would have no idea). I returned first thing the next morning to find both boxes (yes the cardboard boxes) and their contents gone. Later after a scour of the back corner of the garden (to check no pellets had been dropped on this side of the fence) I found a rats nest under a bush-  an empty cardboard box was amongst the various husks of seed pods it had been eating. The fact it dragged a box a good 5 metres through various vegetation has made me paranoid to use that method again (how easy would it be for one pellet to drop out). So we have now invested in a closed bait station box using the waxy style blocks (which don't seem as popular with the rats). Touch wood none of the large tomatoes have been taken since. The last rat we caught was 'drain pipe rat' - I came home one day to find it flailing, head stuck in the snap trap.

All this battling with nature has got me thinking..... it reminded me of an article I read a while back. It's a somewhat uncomfortable discussion (a warning to vegans- your diet most likely  DOES  kill warm fluffy animals on an epic scale!). It also reminded me how easy it is to sit back and shield ourselves  from plague and pestilence in a little cocoon of fast food and supermarkets. Unlike many people in the world I am lucky enough to see the destruction of my produce as nothing but a little interruption to my hobby. If growing my little garden has taught me one thing.... survival (man versus nature) outside the modern suburban world is not an easy or pleaseant task. No doubt despite adversity my rodent adversaries will prevail.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Reaping what you sow.

Back in October I posted about my project to turn a disused block of land into a productive oasis. We are now a few months into the trial  and while the garden has struggled a little of late, due to access to water (there is no tap) -overall I would rate it as a success. Here's an update of progress to date:

This is a shot of the garden I took back in mid December. (The sky looking deceptively stormy - since the planters were installed back in November I think we have had only had one or two rain events that were capable of soaking the the soil)


Here's my box with my first harvest of radish, some beetroot and some baby carrots. (Sitting in the middle of a gravel patch didn't deter the hungry little caterpillar that took to the radish on the left)

Here's just a couple of the beets that I have successfully harvested over the last month or so.

Fast forward to February.......... (and is starting to look like my 'artists impression' from my before and after shot on the promotional flyer)

Someone is growing some awesome eggplants!

And here's what the neighbourhood playgroup have been busy planting....
More produce from my box.... the last of the beetroot and the first of my carrots. I moved the eggplant (in the foreground)  from the back garden (it was being overshadowed by other stuff). Not sure how much it will go? Perhaps not quite as well as the picture above but its worth a try.

So in summary

Whats worked?
  • Adding to my home grown produce haul.
  • Cleaning up the block and turning a vacant wasteland/ car parking area into something attractive and worthwhile.
  • Creating a space that's respected by the local community. Even though its still technically possible, no ones parking on the block, people smile when they walk by and no one has stolen anything we have grown.
What hasn't worked:
  • Council delivering on the water tank they promised. Apparently due to some bureaucratic issues it sitting at the depot waiting for permission to be able to fill it!
  • The wicking beds...... while I know they have their dedicated supporters ....I wonder if our wicking beds have achieved anything at all.  As the dirt was never watered in I am sceptical if the water in the reservoir has been able to wick up to the surface- its like the dry dirt has created a barrier between the water reservoir and the plants above. Some of the boxes have practically died off while the little water level monitor is showing water still in the reservoir. As I have been growing from seed I have mostly been watering from the top.
Whats next:
  • Here's hoping council extends our trial and makes it a permanent fixture. I reckon there's space for a few more planters yet!