The Good Life: Shelling Beans

Hey Debs! As stated before, I’ve had a fantastic bumper crop of beans this year!  Take a look at it!

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Check out dem beans!

Unless they’re picked at very early in the season for stirfrying, beans need to be shelled.  This takes some time and practise.  I had left the beans on the vine to dry so that I could get some good soup beans.

I’ve learned that unless you pull the strings out of the beans just right, the pod will fight you all the way and you end up with a pile of beans and a pile of tiny bits of ripped up pod as you massacre the pod just to get the beans out.  This may also result in the occasional massacre of the bean as well.  Do it right, however, and the pod will split perfectly into two halves, making it easy to get to the beans.

By the time I was done, I had two piles of beans.  Not all of the beans ripened at the same time, so I divided them as I shelled them.

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The beans divided

The most ripe beans went to the pile on the right, where they would be dried for next years seed.  The unripe flagolet beans and the others that didn’t finish developing a thick skin were put on the left.

The seed beans were spaced roughly apart and placed on a towel to dry for several days.

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From Right to Left: Australian Butter Beans, Rattlesnake Beans and Borlotti Beans

In a weeks’ time, they had shrunk and were ready for planting.

I only managed to save about ten of each bean, but that’s more than enough to plant out my field next year!

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Seed beans are about half the size of freshly picked beans.

As for the rest, well, I cooked the youngest flagolet beans into a delicious chilli using my friend’s freshly dug up sweet potatoes.  They were delicious!

I also saved some up for precooking and drying, but more on that later!

Permission to Grieve (Part 1)

When I was in my first year at University, I met an interesting girl.  Now, this girl was cool.  And I mean cool.  She had an interesting life.  She’d done all these things and seen all these things that I wished I had done and seen.  She was talented – a fantastic artist, singer and dancer.  And I wanted ever so much to be just like her.

We became friends.  And for that first year of University, life was a whirlwind of me trying to impress her with how cool I had become/was becoming.  I did and said a lot of things that I regret now, and did and said more things that I will never regret.

We used to do crazy stuff together – on the weekends, we’d go to Chatswood and busk outside the St George bank.  Not because we were poor or anything, but because it was fun.  And I had a LOT of fun when I was hanging out with her.  With her, I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally have done.

She taught me how to live.  She taught me that if I wanted to do something, that I should go out and do it instead of waiting and fretting until the opportunity passed.

But…

She wasn’t a good friend to me.  Things were said (I only regret some of them).  We had a huge fight (it was horrible) and after that, we stopped being friends.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t the nicest to her after the fight either – I was free to others with my reasons for the friend break-up, as it were, and added a lot to the drama surrounding her life.

So, I didn’t speak to her or see her again for almost 13 years.

Last week, I heard that she’d died.  A car accident.  It was very sudden.

I went to her Facebook memorial and there was a great outpouring of grief.  People left well wishes.  And it seemed that from the time we stopped being friends and the time she died, she’d become a completely different person.

A much better person.

Thing is, though, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole situation.  Her death made me feel my mortality, but that was really about it.  I didn’t have many good memories of our time together and what memories I did have were tainted by the messy end of our friendship.

Sometimes, however, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve, even if it’s over someone we didn’t know well, or whom we didn’t get along with.  They were still part of our lives.

Whether she’d changed or not, though, her death is still sad.  Still sudden and unexpected.  She had a lot of life in her and though she wasn’t my good friend, she had been a good friend to many others.

Her loss will be mourned and it is a tragic waste that she was taken so young.

So, I cried a little, and then I was ready to face the next day.

The Good Life: Make $$$ in Your Spare Time!

I am a huge sucker for seed catalogues.  So, when my favourite gardening company, The Diggers Club, restocked their selection of Autumn and Winter bulbs, I had to buy some.  Besides, The Boobook had recently purchased a special bulb planting tool for me.

I stocked up on Saffron Crocuses, nine bulbs in all.  Saffron is, after all, the most expensive ingredient on the planet.  At today’s prices, saffron costs about USD$1,500 per pound, about $250 more per pound than gold.  My accountant brain was mesmerised by the possibilities!

I was going to be RICH!

On my day off, I planted the crocuses using the tool that The Boobook had bought.  It was a relatively simple tool to use.  Simply shove it into the ground and twist it until it reaches the desired depth, then pull it out and empty the dirt over the side.  Unfortunately, the ground in my area is as hard as rocks, so shoving the tool into the ground was not the easiest thing to do.  The clay also gummed up the works, making it harder to empty than I had initially thought.

Still, I persevered, and in-between hanging up laundry and feeding the rabbits, I finally got all nine of the bulbs in the ground.

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Behold my glorious handiwork!

Having completed all my chores, I took a nice hot shower and then had a nap.

When I woke up, my arms had fallen off.

This was not conducive to productivity.

You see, arms are essential tools to doing a lot of things, like getting out of bed, for example.  Also, I couldn’t post about my exploits because typing requires hands, and armless people don’t have any hands.

The Boobook returned to find me wriggling around on the couch like a dying fish, arms flopping uselessly by my sides in a futile attempt to get up and cook dinner.  He sighed and then went to fetch the hot water bottle.

The heat on my sore muscles felt glorious.

Also, he sent out for pizza, which was really great.

A week later, the saffron crocus plants bloomed.  Each tiny flower had two little strands of saffron in it.

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Saffron crocus in full bloom.  Each flower is about the size of an Australian 50 cent coin.

Ah well, so much for my get rich quick scheme.  At least I can still cook some saffron rice to make myself feel better.

The Good Life: Field of Beans

Good soil is the foundation of any garden.  Fertile, well-drained soil is necessary to support plant life.

Unfortunately, the soil around my home is absolute rubbish.  It’s a lifeless clay-filled mess, which will probably take me a few years to get up to speed.

Thankfully, there is a solution to the problem.

BEANS.

I love beans.  They’re nutrient-rich, buttery little packets of awesome.  They’re a great source of proteins and trace minerals and contain hardly any fats or cholesterol.

They’re also excellent for marginally conditioning the soil.  Their roots contain nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria that pull nitrogen from the air into the ground, fertilising it in a form that is easily usable by other plants.

Beans are seriously the best plant in any condition that I know of.  They’re easy to sprout and grow, needing only a little bit of water and warmth to get going, which is why they’re a favourite of Primary School science projects.  I pretty much ignore mine once they’re in the ground past the sprouting stage.  As Ursula Vernon of Kevin and Ursula Eat Cheap says, “If God wishes the beans to be watered, He would send the rain.”

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Check out dem Beans!

I mean, just look at them.  All I did was stick them in the ground with a tiny bit of compost and they thrive!

Admittedly, I did have to stake the beans to ensure the best harvest – we grow pole beans at the New Castle of Corke.  However, particularly lazy gardeners can always plant a bush variety of beans, like green beans, which don’t need staking at all!

We’ve had a pretty good harvest of Borlotti, Rattlesnake and Butter beans here, but more on that another day!

Check out the rest of The Good Life challenge series here.

Aldi Adventures: Episode 1 – The Quest for the Cookie Spread Begins

Last week, one of my colleagues brought this delicious spekulatius cookie spread to work.

Spekulatius cookies are a variant of the Dutch/German spiced shortcrust biscuit that are made out of sugar, spices and almonds and joy.

This spekulatius cookie spread tasted like sugar, spices and almonds and joy.

So, of course, the Boobook and I just HAD to get some.

My colleague told me that she got it at Aldi.

This was going to be a challenge. Shopping at Aldi is like, in Forrest Gump’s own words, “a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Aldi’s goods are seasonally influenced and rotate about twice a week. So, each time you walk into a store, the items are completely different.

And thus, began the Aldi Adventures.  Here’s what we found this time (hover over pictures for helpful captions!):

The Muesli Clusters were actually pretty tasty, though I’m unsure as to their nutritional value. We used the stud finder to mount the TV on the wall.

The Boobook was satisfied by the Mountain Bar.

Well, we couldn’t find the cookie spread, but… maybe next time on Aaaaaaaldiiiii Adveeeeentureeeees!

The Good Life: Field of Dreams

Summer’s finally over!  It’s time for the Autumn harvest!

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Behold!  My glorious field of two radishes!

As you can clearly see, the harvest has not exactly been bountiful this Autumn. The field you’re looking at was planted with onions, carrots, beetroots, leeks, daikons, radishes and an entire row of parsnips.

Unfortunately, the harvest failed.

There were several reasons for the failure, of course. Early in the season, the Boobook thought to help me out with the weeding and managed to weed out the baby leeks before I managed to stop him. We’ve also been having issues with the neighbour’s cat digging up some of the seeds when it comes to hang out in our garden.

But the biggest reason for major crop failure was the weather.

It has been hot in Australia, and I mean severely, extremely hot. The hottest it’s been since 1896, even. It was so hot that the remainder of seeds and sprouts basically fried in the earth before they got big enough to thrive. The only plants remaining are the two radishes you see in the picture.

The reason for the survival of the radishes is simple. They were the only plants in the garden be in the shade for the majority of the day.

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Happy little radishes.  Diagram courtesy of The Boobook

So there you have it. It’s slim pickings this Autumn, I’m afraid, but there’s no reason to fret. The backyard vegetable gardener has to be prepared for disappointment.

After all, perseverance and trial and error is how one gets a good garden.

Check out the rest of The Good Life Challenge series here.

The Good Life: Protecting the Babbits

Rabbits have long since been considered a pest in Australia. I mean, the longest unbroken fence in the world was built in the country to keep the rabbits out of precious farming territory.

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The Greater Bilby, endangered in Queensland.  Photo courtesy of DHP

Besides, there’s well documented evidence that the introduction of rabbits can vastly alter the ecosystem. Heck, the adorable little rabbit is believed to be responsible for the decline of several Australian native species such as the Greater Bilby through habitat destruction.

It is no surprise that the Australian government works to control the feral rabbit population through regular releases of biological agents like the Calicivirus[1] (aka Rabbit Haemorrhagic Diseases). In fact, a planned release of the virus is happening across 1,000 sites across Australia as we speak!

For those of you not in the know, the Calicivirus is a very nasty killer. It basically makes your rabbit bleed out internally, until it finally dies from the stress. BUT! A vaccination for this horrible disease does exist and is available at most local vet clinics! Both Bonnie and Clyde are regularly vaccinated against Calicivirus, so they’re covered in the event of a planned release.

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Bonnie and Clyde after being vaccinated.  They’re very upset about the whole situation, but it’s for their own good!

That being said, it doesn’t hurt to take extra precautions to protect the rabbits from the dangers of horrible diseases. Both Calicivirus and Myxamatosis are spread by flies and mosquitoes, so you should take steps to insect-proof any rabbit play areas.

To protect our precious bunnies, The Boobook and I lined Bonnie and Clyde’s outdoor hutch with UV protected mosquito netting. It’s a little bit expensive, but at least it’ll keep them safe.  Plus, we’ve lined the bottom with thick gauge chicken wire so that they can’t dig their way to freedom and get themselves hurt.

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Mosquito-proofed babbit home!

So, now our babbits are free to dance and play in the sun and are safe from the virus come rain or shine!  If you’d like more information on how to protect your rabbits during this viral release, RSPCA Australia has some very useful information and advice available.


[1]Calicivirus is pronounced Khaleesi-virus, but doesn’t have anything to do with dragons, unless you count the fact that it kills kinda messily.