A New Measuring Device

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We used to have a rain gauge but we removed the last one when the verandah railings were replaced. Like most rigid plastic items which are exposed to the weather, it had become brittle with time and a couple of pieces were cracked/broken so we decided that we needed to replace it.

This did not happen immediately and time went by. Fast forward about 4 years and a couple of things have changed. The local Council have done some remedial work to the verge adjacent to our driveway where the water used to pool. This had been our unofficial rain gauge for some time but now that the water seems to run off properly the ‘rain gauge’ is no longer much use.

GMan received some money for his recent birthday along with a suggestion that he put it towards buying a new rain gauge. This was just the impetus we needed.

After considerable research he made a decision about which one to buy. One of the considerations that needed to take into account is that we can receive in excess of 250mm rainfall in 24 hours so the rain gauge needs to have substantial capacity. However, he discovered a digital rain gauge which does not need to be manually emptied but the amount of water passing through it is measured using the sensor.

The gauge with sensor is mounted on the pergola (top right-hand corner).

The information is recorded on the screen which sits conveniently on the kitchen bench.

As an added bonus, it also records indoor and outdoor temperature as well as the indoor humidity.

He is very pleased with the new rain gauge and all we need to do now is to wait for it to rain. The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a high chance of La Nina (significant rain event) occurring in 2020 so we will wait in anticipation. At least we are ready.

Bug-Free Brassicas – Part 2

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Remember this post?

Well, here is the first result of my endeavours.

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One of the things I am passionate about is eating local, seasonal produce wherever possible so this freshly picked broccoli from our own garden was destined to become part of our evening meal.

A simple stir-fry of chicken and broccoli.

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CHICKEN & BROCCOLI STIR-FRY (Serves 2)

1 chicken breast fillet, cut into strips
1 small onion, cut into wedges
1/2 head broccoli, broken into small florets
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
Oil

SAUCE

2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon powdered chilli
2 teaspoons arrowroot

Heat the oil, saute the chicken until cooked then add the onion and broccoli.  Combine all of the ingredients for the sauce.  When the broccoli is lightly cooked add the sauce and stir until it has thickened and coated the chicken and vegetables.  Stir in the sunflower seeds.

Serve with rice.

Delicious and the money spent on netting the raised beds containing the brassicas has definitely been a worthwhile exercise.

I am looking forward to plenty more meals featuring our homegrown broccoli.

 

Lemon Curd – My Way

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It is early winter where we live and that means we have citrus fruit in abundance.  The fruit on the Meyer lemon were ripe and we picked them all as this particular variety does not seem to hold well on the tree.

We gave away heaps as well as freezing some juice and using it generously in drinks and recipes.  GMan asked if I would make some lemon curd, also known as lemon butter.

Apart from wanting to use up some of the lemons, I was keen to find a reasonably ‘healthy’ version of this sweet treat.  So, I turned to the ever-useful Google.

This is an indication of the usual lemon butter offerings.

  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 125g butter

After a bit more research I found a recipe which seemed to align with my goals.

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • 4 tablespoons lemon zest

I was keen to try it but moderately sceptical as the proportions are vastly different.

The full recipe is here.  My slightly amended version is below.

First I collected the utensils I needed.  You can read more about my kitchen utensils here.

Low Fat Lemon Curd

Ingredients

2 large lemons, juiced
Lemon zest from 2 large lemons
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs

Grate the zest from the lemons and set aside.

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Juice the lemons.

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Place the strained juice and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low and stir until sugar has dissolved.

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Lightly beat the eggs in a medium bowl.

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Remove lemon syrup from heat and pour slowly into beaten eggs while stirring the mixture with a whisk. Continue to whisk by hand for one minute.

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Return mixture to saucepan; add lemon zest, and heat on low until it thickens―about two minutes.

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Allow to cool then refrigerate.
NOTE:
My concerns were realised as the mixture did not thicken as much as I would have liked.  So, I resorted to my back-up plan.
2 teaspoons arrowroot blended with a little water.
Gently reheat the lemon curd until it reaches boiling point the stir. Add the arrowroot mixture slowly and continue stirring constantly.  Cook for one minute.  Cool and refrigerate .
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This version of lemon curd does not have the smooth richness that additional eggs and butter creates but I am very happy with the result.  It is definitely worth trying if you are looking for a healthier version of the traditional lemon curd recipe.

Cold Frame Completed

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Following on from this post.  We retrieved our jigsaw on Tuesday and were able to cut the polycarbonate sheeting for the final step of the cold frame.

Once the pieces of polycarbonate sheeting were cut to size, it was relatively easy to screw them to the timber frame.  The only thing left to do was to fill the post holes and level the ground.

Finished and ready for use.  You may be able to see the tray of basil seedlings near the left-hand end of the structure.

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Another view of the cold frame as part of the wider vegetable garden layout.

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Since our winters are really quite mild, this is really only necessary for overnight protection.  I will need to make sure I open it up everyday or otherwise the basil will be cooked by the end of the week.

 

Cold Frame Construction

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What is a cold frame?  The best description is a mini glasshouse which is low to the ground.  You can check out one from Gardening Australia here.  They are predominately used in much colder climates than ours, however, the primary reason that we built one is that I want to grow basil throughout the winter months.  It will also be perfect for starting spring seedlings a bit earlier than usual.

For the past few weeks we have been taking small steps towards building a cold frame.

Two hardwood sleepers form the back wall.

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Deciding on a location, sourcing materials (the majority secondhand) and developing a design have all taken time.  GMan has cut and painted timber as well as replacing putty in the window frames.

Everything has moved up a notch in the last couple of days as we began building in earnest.

The construction is almost complete with only the polycarbonate sheeting to be added to the front and ends of the enclosure.  This last step is on hold until we retrieve our jigsaw (lent out recently) to cut the sheeting.  Hopefully this will happen early next week.

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We won’t win any prizes for our carpentry skills but the structure is solid and functional.

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A pair of casement windows from the timber salvage yard form the top of the cold frame.  They are hinged at the back and we attached some old cupboard handles to the front edge to facilitate easy access.

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Apart from the polycarbonate sheeting on the sides, we also need to finish levelling the ground and filling the holes around the uprights.

In the meantime I have put the tray of basil seedlings in this space overnight as even without the sides completed it still offers a warmer and more protected space than their previous location.

The components which we purchased new for this project were the sleepers, hinges, window putty and long screws for the frame.  The windows, handles and timber all came from the salvage yard while the screw used with the hinges and handles came from our collection of odds and ends at home.

I would love to hear of anyone else’s experience  with a similar kind of set-up.

Construction Progress

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Today I thought I would share some of the progress on a couple of construction projects.  After some time in the design and preparation phase, the cold frame is beginning to take shape.

We bought the 2 hardwood sleepers to create the back wall of the cold frame.

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They are now in position.

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The compost tumbler which can be seen in the background was quite close to where we were working so it has been moved.  GMan is yet to decide on a final location for it.

The area under the house is perfect for storage of materials and construction jobs.  The panels of wire on the left hand side are earmarked for the top of the pergola.

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The wire will be installed once a couple more crossbars are in place.  But first the crossbars need to be painted.

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We normally do the painting under the house but on a sunny and windy day like today it was perfect to paint outdoors.  The shorter pieces on the trestles at the right of the photo are the corner posts for the cold frame.

There will be more photos when the construction is completed.

Bug-Free Brassicas

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I have occasionally managed to grow cabbages, broccoli and to a lesser extent, cauliflower but it is a constant battle to keep them bug-free.  I choose not to use pesticides, therefore, exclusion remains the best option.

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After much research, I finally bit the bullet a couple of days ago and ordered a quantity of Vege Net from eBay.  I was particularly pleased to discover that the seller was located in my home state.

The order was dispatched promptly and I received it within 2 days of placing my order.

Then it was time to wrestle with 120 sq metres of knitted polyethylene fabric.

My plan was to make a reasonably fitted cover to slip over the hoops we had positioned over the garden bed.

I cut a large rectangle which would cover the majority of the bed and 2 semicircular pieces for the ends.  Pins are useless on this type of fabric so I used some old pegs to hold the pieces in place while I stitched the seams using a regular sewing machine.

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Once this was done, it was simple matter of slipping the cover over the hoops.  Because this is a raised garden bed the extra fabric simply hangs down to completely enclose the desired area.

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View of the new seedlings safely undercover.

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I anchored one end with some rocks so that it will not blow off.

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I am considering adding some lead weights to the other edges or making a long elasticised tie to go right around the raised bed.

There is another cover to be made for a second garden bed which is not raised so I will just anchor that one with rocks all the way around.

The total amount of fabric I used to cover the 2 beds was about 24 sq metres or 20% of the total.  The remainder is back in the bag for use to cover fruit trees or other garden beds in the future.

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I spent $125 on the fabric (including postage) and believe that it has been money well-spent as it is an investment in our future food production.

I would definitely recommend this product if you are considering exclusion netting for any plants.  It is available in smaller quantities and you could also simply drape it over the area rather than making fitted covers.

Not Only Food

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The past couple of days have focused on food recipes but those are not the only recipes on the blog.

You may have seen a recent episode of ‘Gardening Australia’ which featured a recipe for making an exfoliating hand scrub/balm with lemon and rosemary.  I have lemons growing and access to a source of rosemary from a friend so it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Here are the details in case you missed them.

Lemon and Rosemary Hand Scrub

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Rind of 1 lemon
Sprigs of rosemary

The ingredients and utensils assembled.

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Finely chop the rosemary and lemon zest.

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Add the chopped ingredients to the sugar and combine.

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Add lemon juice and oil.  Mix thoroughly.

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Transfer to a sealed container and store in the refrigerator.

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This could make a great gift for a keen gardener.

This recipe is indexed on the tab ‘Recipes – Other’ along with other non-food recipes.

Site Preparation

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In my last post I mentioned that we had ordered a garden shed. We have been debating the need for a shed for a number of years and have finally bitten the bullet.

It will be a very simple 3m X 3m structure with double opening doors at the front. There are no windows, no side door and no power. It is really no more than an oversized lawn locker to store the mowers, mulcher, brushcutter and possibly wheelbarrow as well as some storage shelving for accessories and fuel.

This will create some real workspace in the area known as the workshop.

It will probably be 3-4 weeks before the shed is ready to be installed but there was a bit of site preparation to be done beforehand.

This is a view of the area where the shed is to be placed.  There is no ‘before’ photo but it had become somewhat overgrown so we cut back shrubs and some heliconias as well as moving some logs which had been dumped there.

The impending construction is certainly motivation to clear up the area surrounding the new shed.

We have quite a large stand of heliconias so we removed a few that were encroaching on the access to the would-be shed as well as using the opportunity to clean out some of the spent ones.  The edge of the clump is clearly visible on the left-hand side of the photo.

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The shed will be in the centre foreground of the photo.

Looking slightly to the right you can see the area where we have almost finished moving what was a huge pile of mulch.  We will be planting several shrubs once the mulch is cleared.

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The shed site is not the only one we are preparing.  Yesterday we moved all of the furniture from our verandah which extends around 2 sides of the house in preparation for the floor to be sanded and recoated.  The sanding was supposed to happen today but it rained overnight and some of the flooring was wet so the start has been delayed.

This is the long side at the front of the house.

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The shorter end which looks out towards the vegetable garden.

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In other garden news, GMan planted clivias along the western edge of the driveway.  These were sourced from multiple plants we had in pots.  Most are orange but there are also some yellow ones.  My $20 investment in a single orange clivia which I bout almost 20 years ago has paid handsome dividends.  The yellow ones have also multiplied from a single plant which was a gift several years ago.

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I think the clivia plants will make a nice border to the edge of the driveway.  The area behind them is a work in progress.  The shrubs were planted in mid-December and are growing quite well.  You can see some of the piles of mulch which have been moved from the site near the shed.  We plan to lay some sheets of cardboard to suppress the weeds then cover them with the mulch.

Gifts From the Garden

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When you have a productive garden, there is frequently more available than you can reasonably use.  So, we are often giving away produce to family and friends.

It is not all a one-way street and we are grateful for goodies which are gifted to us in return.

My sister and brother-in-law recently gave us a large pumpkin and some chillies.  The pumpkin was put to good use and you can read about it in this earlier post.  I used the chillies to make a bottle of sweet chilli sauce.

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A few days ago we visited my brother at his newly-purchased inner suburban unit.  I hardly expected that we would come away with fresh produce when he had been there for barely 3 weeks.  However, I was surprised to find myself returning home with a container of macadamia nuts which we had collected from the back lawn of the unit block.  This bounty is falling from a tree overhanging from a neighbouring garden.

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Also, some friends gave us a quantity of rosemary.  We have planted some cuttings so that we can add this to our own garden and I stripped the leaves off the remainder and dried it in the dehydrator.  Once it was dried, I ground it and then mixed the ground rosemary with Himalayan salt and I now have a jar of rosemary salt which will be be perfect for seasoning.  I am looking forward to trying it on some oven-baked potato chips.

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I was watching Gardening Australia last night and saw a segment about making your own Lemon and Rosemary Hand Scrub.  I am going to get some more rosemary from my friend and try that one out.  The recipe and details will be a future blog post.