Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mushroom cultivation adventures: mycelium running

My mycelium is running! 

Now a few weeks ago I could not have imagined saying such words. Largely because I didn't know such a combination of words existed, let alone what they meant or that I could be excited by them.  But I am very excited.

A few days ago I did my first grain to grain transfer into the jar on the left.  It looked like the one on the right that I did today -  a solid mass of white stuff sitting on top of the grain. But after only a few days you can see that the white has softened, gone fluffy and is seeping down into the grain. The white stuff is mycelium or fungi that will produce mushrooms. And it is running into the grain. 

What I am doing here is allowing the mycelium to expand. When the jar is fully white I will transfer it all into buckets of straw. When that is fully white I will harvest King Oyster mushrooms. 

Its hard to believe I am doing it right and that I truly am going to be able to grow my own mushrooms at home from a tissue sample. Wow. I went to the course with the best intentions of putting it into practice but must admit day one spooked me. I didn't think I could do it.  I wish my science teachers could see me know. In fact I wish they had taught me this. Wow I would have love science class.  

Oh there are so many adventures ahead now I know I can do it.  If I can, anyone can.

Mushroom cultivation: course with Milkwood Permaculture

A couple weeks ago I did a mushroom cultivation with Milkwood Permaculture. Wow it blew my head. By the end of day 1 I was convinced that it was interesting but not something I could do. Too hard, too complicated. I was never any good at science.

The course was in Sydney so I stayed over night with a good friend who took me out to a great vegetarian restaurant. We had fun. And overnight something shifted. I became determined to learn everything I could in the course and give it a go.

Well I learnt the most amazing things. I know how to take a mushroom, take a small tissue sample out of it, grow it in agar in a petri dish, transfer it to grain to give it more space to grow, then to a bigger container of grain, then to a coarse substrate of straw.  Then harvest my own home grown mushrooms. It still does my head in but I know I can do it.
I have spent the last few weeks gathering equipment. I needed a pressure cooker and still air glove box like this:
My order of petri dishes arrived this week.  I am ready to go.

I am very exciting about honing my skills, and will share my stories because I want others to know that you too can grow mushrooms from home. It greatly expands your repertoire of home grown produce, adds considerably to your nutrition and options.  Once I master this and a course comes up I am going to learn bee keeping.  I suddenly feel like I am winning on the homespun front.

Eucalypt logs innoculated with shiitake spawn that we prepared in the class.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Green waste recycling in a suburban backyard

One of the open gardens we went to recently advertised that they recycled all green waste onsite. I think Howard said something like: "So what!" The point is: we have been doing this for years.

Its not really that hard. It does take a little space but I think everyone with a yard could do it. It would be much trickier for apartment dwellers but if the body corporate got together they could do it too. Whether tree prunings, vegetable scraps, chicken coop scrapings or paper we recycle it all back into the garden. Maybe my system will give you a few ideas that you can try for yourself. My advice, pick one new thing, try it until it works for you and then add another. Overwhelming yourself by doing everything at once can lead to giving up.

When we prune trees, hedges or anything woody we chop up the leftovers and mulch as much as we can. For this we have a beast of a petrol mulcher. This was the pile we had from the waratah we had to prune heavily.

The mulch turns out really fine. We spread it under the waratah and a tree fern to make a nice new garden bed.
The thicker, woodier parts we chop up and dry for future firewood. The ash from the fire eventually ends up in the compost.

Food scraps have a few options depending on what they are: they can go to the worm farm, chickens or straight to the compost bin. Egg shells either end up ground up for the chooks or put on plants to fertilise them and keep slugs away.

Paper such as bills or thin cardboard gets shredded and either put into the chickens' nesting box or into the fire if we need kindling. I also bring shredded paper home from work, as well as old newspapers for mulching the garden. We have two plastic compost bins. Just keep layering and stirring.  See my previous post on composting here.

Chicken droppings go into the compost too.  The compost and worm castings go into the garden to produce vegies for the kitchen and chickens.

Round and round it goes.  But none of it goes into the garbage bin or leaves our yard. Sound doable? This isn't a complex system but I'm a bit proud that it works.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

New A frame pumpkin and zucchini trellis

Again Pinterest had provided inspiration for my garden. Lately I have found myself searching for gardening hints only on Pinterest. I admit I go through phases where I concentrate on gardening, or cooking, or craft. I don't seem to be able to balance them all in between work, housework etc.. Life.

So I find I binge on one or the others for a while. When I get tired of that, or its all going swimmingly I'll move on. Right now its all gardening, with a little harvest cooking thrown in. Not overly surprising on the eve of Summer.

Every year I grow zucchinis - they go well here. I have had great success with golden nugget pumpkins too. I always feel I am too pushed for space to plant vine pumpkins though.  Vertical growing sounds like the answer.  And Pinterest provided the concept designs.

I showed Howard a couple of versions, well that was it, off he went under the house to see what we had. Like the other projects we have completed this week, this was built completely from materials we already had.

He has made me a gorgeous A frame trellis to grow my pumpkins and zucchinis vertically. We dug its legs down into into the vegie patch for stability. I have planted a mix of seeds zig-zagged under either side of the frame. I just need the seeds to germinate and thrive to do justice to Howard's carpentry.

I'll keep you posted as it grows. I'm excited about this.  I feel lucky too. Thanks hon.

In the background to the right you can see the rockery I built last year to encourage lizards to my garden. I haven't seen any mind you. Thyme, flat leaf parsley and marigolds are now going well in this corner. 

Teaching soap for Wild Rumpus

Today I ran my soap making class with 12 enthusiastic students at Anchors Aweigh Art Studio near Wollongong. The organisers at Wild Rumpus were great to deal with.  I loved teaching the class.  I used to teach quite a bit and it was great to get back into it share a homespun skill.

Soap making seems a complete mystery but its actually very easy, the equipment will be found in every kitchen and the ingredients from any supermarket. Sure you can buy exotic ingredients like Almond Oil and Shea butter but you don't have to.
We talked about soap before getting in and making a batch of goats milk and olive oil soap together. Everyone took home a cake or two of there own along with instructions on how to make it themselves. I hope everyone does give it go, that they feel they know what they need to.  

Howard was a great help assisting me all through the class, washing up and being WHS officer.  A lot of students were interested in milling soap so perhaps we'll offer to teach that too.

It was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Harvest time inspires potato and broccoli soup

This afternoon I weeded my vegetable patch. After months of dry weather and needing to water every week, we've had rain, rain, rain.

I harvested potatoes, peas galore, garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli and flat leaf parsley.

I was very excited to make use of my new potting shed to wash and trim my harvest.  Instead of carrying all that dirt upstairs into the kitchen and traipsing back downstairs to the compost with all the trimmings, I used a bucket of hot water on my potting bench to clean up the lot. The chickens got lots of greens out of it too. I love the surprise of digging around in the garden to see what is ready to eat!  I had no idea what I was going to eat for dinner but now I have soup planned - one that will use a bit of everything in my basket except the peas and blue borage flowers.

Er, seconds?

Recipe for potato and broccoli soup

2 large potatoes
1 large head broccoli
flat leaf parsley

Wash, peel and chop 2 large potatoes.
Wash and chop large head of broccoli.

Place in a large soup pot with just enough water to cover the vegetables.  Boil until tender. Drain vegetables, then puree in a blender.

Add dollop of butter to saucepan, add peeled and chopped garlic, leek and parsley. Saute until just cooked. Add pureed vegetables with milk to correct consistency. Heat. Just before ready to serve, stir in a handful of grated parmesan.

Enjoy!  I did.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gorgeous potting shed practical and so cute!

Ah how cute is this! I have the nicest, most homespun potting shed. I am so, so happy with it!
For weeks I have been researching photos of potting sheds on pinterest for inspiration.  I scoured op shops for bits and pieces to make it even cuter.

Then in just one day, Howard and I turned it from the dumping ground under the verandah:

to this organised and pretty potting shed.

Howard chopped the top off our old entertainment unit to make me a new potting bench. It was a lovely piece of furniture in its day: retractable doors to cover the TV, a glass door to cover the stereo. But in this day of flat screen TVs it was redundant, heavy and bulky. It has a new lease of life here as you can see. The shelves on the right were here when we moved in: a steel frame with vinyl covered chip board shelves that were all swollen and disgusting.  Howard fit left over, recycled flooring to make shiny new shelves.
I washed all the pots before replacing them, organised by size, on my new shelves. I know exactly where everything is for the first time in gardening history. The blackboard is an old picture frame I bought for next to nothing without glass and painted with chalk board paint. 

The quote is from the sublime Audrey Hepburn: Those who garden believe in tomorrow.  
The tray holding gardening tools came from an op shop, the tea pot with succulent from the lovely Laura. 

I bought new galvanised bins for chicken feed. Originally I misguidedly bought plastic ones but the local rodents ate right through the lids. Take it from me, go steel and ensure the lids fit tightly.  
The rest we had, just cleaned and recycled.

I love gardening so much more now that I have a space to potter. I potted up some seedlings after dinner one evening. I can even clean and trim vegetables before bringing them up to the kitchen. 

A little planning, a lot of recycling and a lot of courage and look what you can do.

New home for our chickens: a great garden compound

Howard and I are holidays for a week. Applause please!

We are spending a week at home working in the garden. 
Despite rain we are going well on our to do list.
One of our top priorities was to move the chicken coop from the back garden into a spot 
along the side of the house.
The near side fence and gate has been here all along. Today Howard added a second gate higher up the path.  This little corner has just been wasted space up until now.  We put up mesh under the house and voila the chickens have a new compound.  Benny is checking it out.
We gave the coop a huge spring clean, emptied, scrubbed, sprayed with eucalyptus oil and moved it to its new home.  They have clean shredded paper in the egg box, sawdust in the straw yard, a sparkling clean water bottle.  And so many green weeds to eat and scratch out. 
We could take bets on how quickly they get rid of it all!  First job done.
Another job that has waited years was pruning this monster waratah. It has gotten taller and taller over the years until, as you can see it towers over the house.  We had two but the other collapsed one wet, windy weekend. This one was at risk of the same fate. It has finished flowering and is yet to produce buds so now was the time. Howard sawed this down by hand!  The biggest job is still to come as we chop up and mulch the smaller bits tomorrow. The bigger bits will become firewood one day.
Here's the new view from our verandah: Kate and Scully enjoying their new home and the shorter waratah that will quickly thicken up and give us beautiful blooms to enjoy.
Good day's work!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Exeter open gardens

Today we went to the four open gardens at Exeter, here in the Southern Highlands, completing the trifecta of gardens at Robertson and Bundanoon.

Sadly they were mostly disappointing.  The last however made up for the others and I am glad we did experience it last, to end the trek on  high note.

A large garden called Allways was truly delightful.  And the volunteers on the gate were friendly and kind and offered to mind Benny so he didn't have to stay in the car.  My photos do not do it justice.

Monday, November 4, 2013

I now believe in UFOs

Isn't this an amazing cloud! There was a bunch of them floating over the paddocks of Bowral but this was the most spectacular. I believe it is called a lenticular cloud, but come on, surely this added to the UFO legend.

Stuffed cabbage rolls

A new tradition: preparing Tuesday night's dinner on Monday night.
This week it is Savoy cabbage rolls stuffed with spicy lentils and topped ith a tangy tomato sauce.
The cabbage came from my neighbour's spectacular vegetable garden.

Why the tradition? Howard works Monday nights so I ususally just have left overs or something on toast. Tuesday nights I go to a dance class and get home late. It helps to have something ready to pop into the oven. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting home late today - homespun dinner is all prepped

I get home late tonight so dinner is all prepped and just needs to go in the oven. I am excited about this dinner: spinach and quinoa bake as its almost all harvested from my garden.

It contains spinahc, silverbeet and mustard greens, garlic, onions, leek, dill, fresh asparagus and an egg.
The only bought ingredients are butter, milk, quinoa and the cheese topping.

I sauteed the greens, onion and herbs lightly in a little butter, which I mixed together with cooked quinoa, an egg and a dash of milk. Pressed into a lightly gerased baking dish, topped with asparagus spears and cheese.

It should be golden brown and bubbly on top when I walk in the door. A little home preserved peach relish on the side and dinner is ready to eat.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A homespun day working in the vegetable garden

I have had a very homespun day at home today.  I am exhausted but satisfied with what I have achieved.

My vegetable garden is all weeded and mulched at last. I used a hoe to pull up all the weeds, laid newspaper and lucerne to suppress any new ones from appearing. This area will be planted out with tomatoes and corn before long.

The garden is starting to fill out as plants grow. Today I added borage to enhance my companion planting of flowers, herbs and vegetables all mixed in together. And I am beginning to harvest: today I came in with onions, herbs, a few peas and arm fulls of silverbeet and mustard greens.

The greens have self seeded all over the garden. I dug most of them up, transplanted some in other areas of the garden. The rest I have planted in pots, to give away and to nurture the smaller ones for staggered plantings later on.  There are still a few in between the paving stones of the path that I need to get to. I made a new batch of seed raising mix: all my planting this weekend used up the last of my store.

My mini greenhouse is full of seedlings: tomato seedlings donated by a colleague now all planted out into individual pots; Rouge d'hiver and Amish deer lettuce; mixed heirloom beetroots, Paris market carrots small enough to grow in pots; zucchini; Australian butter pumpkin; Asian vitamin green, wormwood, mustard greens and I can't remember what else.

I have made yoghurt, and dinner for tonight and the next two nights.  All the laundry is done. Now it time to head back into the working week.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Delightful photos from the Bundanoon Garden Ramble 2013

This weekend we went to the Bundanoon Garden Ramble.  Bundanoon turns on an event so well - they had a plant market, a scarecrow competition and a courtesy bus driving between each garden. Town was packed with people.  Some intrepid types cycled between each garden.
Here are some highlights from one of the most astonishing cottage gardens I have ever seen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Swapping seedlings at work

I swapped some seedlings with a friend at work this week.

Mustard greens from my garden swapped for:
Tomato seedlings from hers. Both lots had self seeded from last summer.
The tomatoes are KY1. Her's the description she gave me.

Tomato 'KY1' - Lycopersicon esculentum
A very popular Australian heirloom that originated in Victoria (also known as Scoresby Dwarf). Loved for its flavour and being a good all-rounder that produces medium, smooth round red fruit that does not need lots of attention. A bush variety.
Mine grew to about 30 cm high x 50 cm wide and had a continuous crop for several months.  They are full of flesh so are great for salads or sauces.

I can't wait to plant them out. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Need help interpreting clouds

Can anyone tell me what this cloud type signifies?

I'm hoping for rain. What are my chances?

It's hot, dry, there are bush fires raging here in the Highlands as well as the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. As far away as we are, the air is thick with smoke.

Am I going to get my wish or will I keep hoping some more?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Robertson open gardens Spring 2013 - the vegetable garden highlights

We enjoyed the wonderful Sping sunshine viewing open gardens in Robertson this weekend. The gardens varied from huge estates to small but well designed suburban spaces.
I have chosen highlights from some spectacular vegetable gardens and orchards. Ah, so delightful to see the humble vegie patch be turned into works of art.


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