Monday, 21 July 2014

pumpkin harvest

So we have a few pumpkins at the moment. Ummm, just a few. These were grown down in my Dad's orchard over the summer. Remember the ones we've been keeping an eye on?  Well, they tend to go wild and multiply.

I know I'm going to be sick of the taste of pumpkin in a couple of months time. The challenge is always on to come up with new and exciting ways to eat it!

Any ideas? What do you guys make with pumpkin?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

the land of citrus

At the moment it feels a little like we are living in the land of citrus. Like we popped our heads through the clouds and the land of orange, yellow and green hues magically appeared.

Anything citrus-y, you name it, it all loves to grow here. Oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, cumquats, grapefruit. We are well and truly surrounded by it at the moment.

Our own citrus orchard is nothing to be sniffed at. We grow more than enough to feed ourselves and have plenty to give away. We grow so much, we could probably sell some as a little side crop if we wanted to.

But my parents, well, they have the motherload. Acres of orange, yellow and green fruit hanging from heavy branches. I remember helping to plant them when I was a kid. Many of them are taller than a house now. Crazy big. Some so heavily laden the trees are groaning under their weight.

This year one tree actually snapped. A little bit of wind and all that fruit, well the poor tree lost a few limbs. I'm sure it will shoot new limbs again. It's a healthy old tree. Goodness, is there ever some fruit though.

It's been a funny old year for citrus. We've had a very dry year with a long summer and the trees are confused. Some trees are loaded to the hilt, while others are quite bare. It's like some freaked out and overproduced while others decided to just close up shop.

Not that we're in any danger of running out of citrus here. Hundreds of trees loaded with fruit is really a sight to behold.

Let's just say Vitamin C is never in short supply.

Monday, 7 July 2014

winter days on the farm

It's holiday time here, which means loads more time to spend at the farm. Nothing like running around in the sunshine on a winter's day.

The mornings are icy at the moment. It's a chilly old winter and Jack Frost seems to have found us again this year. After quite a few warm winters, this one takes me back to my childhood when winters were cold and frosty every morning. Fortunately the days are filled with sunshine which works its magic to warm everything up beautifully. You'd never know it was winter during the day.

But those nights, well they have taken the plants by surprise as well. The frost has wiped out the last of the tomatoes, the pumpkin vines and a few potatoes that were sprouting away.

At the farm, we've spent some time clearing the last of the pumpkins. The grammas that have been growing on the fencing are left hanging on brittle and blackened vines. They must come in as well. The tomatoes are pretty much only fit for the chooks now. They are definitely having Christmas in July.

All the produce that can be stored is carefully packed away, ready for eating over the next few months.

It's not just our bellies that need to be thought about over winter either.

The frost wipes out all the kikuyu grass, which the animals feed on for most of the year. Luscious green winter ryegrass which was planted months ago in some of the paddocks will hold the cattle over until springtime. Silage which was made over autumn will also brought out as it is needed over the coming months.

No-one on the farm ever goes hungry, you can be sure about that.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

how to make ricotta cheese- in a flash!

Ricotta cheese must be the easiest cheese ever to make. Do you have some milk near its use-by date in the fridge that you don't know what to do with? Don't throw it out. Make some cheese. Trust me, you'll be so pleased with yourself, you'll wonder why you haven't tried it before.

This is the simplest ricotta cheese to make. No adding cream. Just basic milk. Super cheap to make and great for using up milk that is about to turn.

Here's how to do it:

Heat 1 litre milk with a pinch a salt until it is almost at a simmer (I took mine to about 85 degrees on a candy thermometer). Then remove from heat and stir through 1/3 cup white vinegar. Don't stir too much! You'll see the curds and whey start to separate immediately. Let it sit for a few minutes in the pot and then strain through a muslin cloth until the whey has all dripped away (about 15 mins).

What you are left with is very basic ricotta cheese!

Dress it up any way you like. I can say first hand, it definitely turns into really great pie!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

this week in my kitchen

Joining in with Heather from Beauty That Moves, showing some glimpses into my kitchen this week.

This pie came about from a "use-it-up" exercise. I am really trying to waste as little food as possible these days (both from the garden and from the fridge/pantry). Our food budget has been playing on my mind. While we save money by growing our own vegetables, I'm trying to cut back at the grocery store as well. To use what we have first, before buying more. To work our way through our pantry and freezer. To really question my purchases before making them.  
Do we really need it? Every bit really does add up.

I had some milk in the fridge that was about to expire, but there was no way I was going to throw it away. Instead I made up some ricotta cheese with it. So easy to do, and it only takes a few minutes! I'll make sure I write up how I made it next week. It's such a useful little trick to have up your sleeve.

Then using some spinach, silverbeet/chard and spring onions from the garden, a couple of eggs, a few potatoes and onions from the pantry and a bit of cheese and homemade yoghurt from the fridge, this pie was born. I even had a few sheets of puff pastry in the freezer.

I love that there was no going to the store to buy new ingredients. I also love that it used up things that might have gone to waste. Everything was on hand (either in the garden/fridge/freezer).

Such a cheap and cheerful meal that the kids just loved.

Cost of pie (8 generous serves, enough to feed our family of 5 for 2 nights):

spinach (from the garden)
eggs (from my parent's chickens)
spring onions (from the garden)
ricotta cheese (made from milk that was about to expire): $3.00
potatoes: $0.50
onions: $0.30
homemade yoghurt: $0.20
puff pastry: $1.50
small amount of tasty cheese grated: $0.50

Total cost of pie: $6.00
Cost per serve: $0.75

It was super tasty, served up with some salad from the garden. Delicious and budget friendly.
Gotta love that!

To read more about how we're saving money in the garden, go HERE.

Wanna see what else has been happening in my kitchen? Go HERE.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

in my garden: right now

So this is what the garden is looking like right now.

The peas are just starting to finish up. I've only got one lot of snow peas left growing along the fence. I've ripped the peas out that were in the beds and replanted with some onions, new lettuces, carrots, beetroots, radishes and more broccoli. The peas along the fence are still producing, but starting to die off a bit, so I'll have to rip those out soon as well.

I've replanted another lot of peas along the fence and I'll also plant a whole heap of peas down in another paddock on our property to make sure we still have plenty of peas coming in. We've harvested bucketfuls of them, but we love them so much I'll keep planting them until the heat of summer forces me to stop. That's a whole lotta pea planting still to be done!

I must say, the garden is feeding us very well at the moment.

Currently harvesting: peas, broccoli, kale, lettuce, rocket, silverbeet/chard, english spinach, wombok, herbs, carrots, beetroots, leeks and early strawberries.

We've had some decent sized frosts this year which have bitten off all the basil. Everything else is powering along though and I'm loving my time out there as the sun warms up these winter days.

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Monday, 30 June 2014

does a vegetable garden save you money?

Garden economics. It's something I think about constantly. Let me just say before anything else, that I would grow a vegetable garden even if it didn't save me money. I love gardening. Also, nothing beats the taste, nutrition and satisfaction of picking fresh veggies straight from the garden. I know I am feeding my family the best food possible, when I give them fresh picked organic vegetables. The garden has also created a love of vegetables in my children. I consider that priceless!

I am a bit of a nerd though and I sometimes find myself drawing layouts of the garden, working out how much each bed of veggies is worth. I love working out which veggies are the best value to grow!

But can a vegetable garden save you money?

If you enjoy gardening, and you normally eat lots of fresh veggies then my answer is most definitely yes! As long as you don't get carried away when you are setting the garden up. Recycle wherever you can. Don't spend fortune on a vegetable garden if you've never gardened before. Make sure you love it before committing to all those raised beds. Do you really need a $500 raised bed when a $40 one will do the same job (or one that you build for free out of recycled goods?) If you spend $16,000 setting up a garden, it's going to take many, many years of solid gardening for it to pay for itself, if it ever does! The $64 tomato is a great read for those who haven't read it before. It's a funny book about a garden that turns out bigger than Ben Hur.

You also really need to think about what to plant. A garden saves you nothing if you plant things you aren't going to eat. If you don't eat it, it will rot in the ground just as it rots in your fridge, when you let food go to waste. Try and plant food that is expensive to buy in the supermarkets to make the greatest savings.

How much can you save? 

Well that depends on what you plant, how much you spend upfront to start your garden and a bit of luck. When you garden you are always at the mercy of the weather and conditions and if a drought, storm, insect plague, plant disease etc comes along and wipes out your garden you can lose everything. Sometimes plants just don't grow well and you will get a bad harvest. There's always risk involved and you can't just count on that food for the table. You may get what you plan. You may get more or you could get less.

What are the costs of a garden?

The biggest cost is the first upfront one. The cost of starting the garden. It can be a whole lot, or a little, depending on how you choose to garden. If you garden in raised beds, then you will have pay for those beds (these actually can be made out of recycled materials very inexpensively), plus the cost of the soil and soil improvers to fill the beds (compost, manure, etc). You may also have to net your garden or fence it off. Do you need to put in a watering system? Will you just use the hose? Those will also cost you money. The raised beds/fencing/watering system are generally a one off cost that should last you many years. Soil improvers are a constant maintenance cost of having a garden.

Even if you garden straight in the soil, a garden will still cost you money. You will need tools (shovels, forks, perhaps a rotary hoe/tiller) so you can turn the soil. You may still need to fence it or net it to protect your crops. Your soil might not be very good (clay or sandy) and need a lot of improvement. This can also add up.

Once you've outlaid this money, make sure you take care of your tools. Don't leave them out in the rain to rust. Lock them up in the shed in the same place each time, so they will last you many years.

A garden will cost you in time as well. I love my time gardening, it's like meditation for me, so I don't put a money value on this time. Others may see this differently.

Once you have an established garden, the costs are much less.

How much does my garden cost? 

My vegetable garden cost less than $2,000 to set up. Keep in mind we have 24 corrugated steel raised beds. That amount was spread over 1.5 years as we could afford to add to the garden. I kept a strict spreadsheet at the time to track to costs. That amount included the raised beds, the bulk compost, the pebbles, mulch, all our gardening tools, our irrigation system, the fence and netting. It included the first lot of plants and seeds. The good thing was we didn't spend it all upfront, but over time as the garden started to produce and pay for itself. We expanded the garden when we were confident that we were going to be able to keep up with the gardening. We also tried to save costs where we could. 

We bought the raised beds as we could afford them. We started with 12 and gradually added 12 more. I talk more about building and transforming our garden here. The pebbles went in the following year, after 1.5 years of shovelling and lugging free woodchip mulch. They were a big expense, but the woodchips were breaking down too quickly we wanted a longer term solution. They've been brilliant for weed prevention and I'm so pleased we put them in. No more soggy garden underfoot after a lot of rain as well. We recycled where we could. The fence was built from leftovers from our house renovation. We DIY'ed and designed everything ourselves. We shovelled everything ourselves and transported all bulk loads of compost ourselves. We used the topsoil we already had. We collected free pots to put around the edges of the garden. We installed a recycled gutter for growing. My husband fashioned a cheap watering system out of poly pipe.  

I believe my garden paid for itself and was in profit within the first 2 years of gardening, because of the large amount of food we are able to grow. We eat a high percentage of what we grow because our family of 5 consumes a lot of vegetables. We have a wonderful growing climate here (plants grow very quickly here so we have high returns) and generally very high rainfall, which enables us to grow all year round.

Now that I have an established garden, and am well equipped with tools it costs me roughly $250- $350 each year. We also manage our own tank water to water the garden, so don't have water costs.

$70- $90 seeds 
$10- $15 seed raising mix
$40-$60 seedlings and plants (for succession plantings)
$100- $150 approx for soil improvers (compost, blood and bone, manure, liquid fertiliser)
$40- $60 pest protection

Right now, by my estimations I have more than $1000 worth of vegetables in my garden this season. As long as nothing comes along and takes them out, we'll be eating well for some time! My pricings are based on non organic produce from Woolworths (which is where I figure most Australian people do their shopping). My vegetables, however, are organically grown. The cost of fresh food at the supermarket is so high!

Over the course of the year I will probably grow more than $3,000 worth of veggies and herbs, from a $250-$350 investment. (This figure does not include the fruit from our orchard.) My vegetable garden is a super productive place where I can grow all through the year. I know not everyone is this fortunate. We will eat a high percentage of this, as well as barter or give away some of this produce to friends and family. Last year I gave away a lot of produce that was sold to raise money for our local community. I also grow enough seedlings to supply ourselves, plus family and a couple of friends and the local preschool.

Could I save more on my garden?

Sure. I could do more seed saving from my plants. I also often buy more seeds than I need (I just LOVE seeds!) I could stop buying seedlings altogether. I could scrimp on my soil improvers. Vegetable gardens can be very frugal places, or they can cost a fortune (if you let them!).

How can you get the best value out of your garden?

Firstly I only plant things we will actually eat or will be useful. I also make sure to plant vegetables that are expensive to buy. For example I have several beds filled with herbs that would cost hundreds of dollars to buy in the supermarket. I use a lot of herbs so these save us heaps of money.

I also have a large space dedicated to leeks (these are $2 each!! in the supermarket- I have more than $80 worth in my garden all grown from $0.70 cents worth of seeds), and another bed of garlic because this is expensive to buy.

I also make sure I grow plenty of leafy greens in the garden, because these can be pricey to buy, but go off quickly in the fridge. They will keep for weeks/months in the garden depending on what you grow (lettuces will hold for many weeks, cabbages will hold for over a month, silverbeet/chard/perpetual spinach will keep growing over months). I don't pick a whole lettuce when I harvest. Just the leaves I need, so the plant will keep living and growing (and I can continue harvesting).

Other than that, I plant lots of things we would regularly buy. If we can pick it from the garden, it's one less thing we need to put in the trolley and that saves us money at the supermarket.

Most importantly- Don't forget to harvest. Obvious right? Actually I reckon it's one of the easiest mistakes to make, especially when you get busy and forget to visit the garden for a week. If you don't harvest food on time, it will ruin.

Also if your garden is full of food, stop buying fresh stuff from the shops. Eat what you are growing. Plan meals around the fresh produce you have. If you are in a routine of buying cauliflower and zucchini from the shops, but your garden is full of carrots, lettuces and broccoli, it's time to start rethinking your menu. If you forget the veggies in your garden and they spoil you lose all the time and money you spent on growing them. Think of it as part of your pantry/fridge/freezer inventory.

Bottom line- Is gardening worth it?

I think gardening is definitely worth it! It's a great hobby, that helps keep you and your kids fit and healthy and has the potential to pay for itself many times over. What's not to love about that?

Want to start a garden with the kids? I've got a bunch of tips on gardening with kids HERE

To check out more of my garden and see how we built it, go HERE and HERE.

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