The Good Life: Barter Economy

While my potato harvest has been extremely good, we are getting a little sick of potatoes here at The New Castle of Corke.  I have been seriously running out of things to do with potatoes!  I’ve made nikujaga, mashed potatoes, irish stew and have even fried the darn things in my airfryer[1]!

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Check it out.  More than half a kilo of potato right there.

Yesterday, I dug up the biggest potato I had ever seen in my life and realised that I had gotten to the end of my potato threshold.  Neither the Boobook nor I felt like eating potatoes anymore.

Thankfully, my friend, Mrs Peacock, was visiting family in Newcastle and she had had far too much citrus.  So, we did the only thing that made sense:

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Have a bag of taters

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Oranges, lemons and tangerines oh my!

We traded produce.

I have now participated in the barter economy!  Check me out being all productive and stuff!

Now all I gotta do is figure out what to do with all this fruit…


[1]With little success, unfortunately.  Some potatoes were not made to fry.  They disintegrated instead.

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The Good Life: Digging my Potato

For optional music for this post, please check out this song – Digging my Potato, by the Seatbelts.  For further immersion, imagine the hot, Australian sun bearing down on your back while listening to this song.

Hey, I know it’s been a while since I last posted.  I underestimated how much energy my previous job took out of me.

It’s been terribly dry in Australia recently, so the soil has been baked solid.  Thankfully, there was a little drizzle last week, so I was able to get some gardening done!  I turned an entire bed of the garden and even managed to plant some seeds!

That being said, I had noticed some significant growth in the potato patch, so I decided it was time to reap what I had sown.  I was planning to make a stew for dinner, so the timing was perfect.

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Look at the size of this hole!

I can totally sympathise with Almanzo Wilder when he complained about potato digging in Farmer Boy.  Harvesting potatoes is difficult even at the best of times and it’s particularly hard when your soil is as firm as mine got this summer.  If nothing comes up once you’ve stuck the fork in the bed and turned the soil a little, you kind of just have to get on your knees and use your hands to feel around for the potato lumps in the soil.

Plus, you have to be careful with the fork when turning the soil – stab too hard and you might just stab right through a perfectly good potato and ruin it, which I managed to do twice.  It’s a lot of work!

Still, I did manage to get a little harvest out of my potato patch.  Each plant produced about four potatoes, which isn’t very much, but look at the size of these things!  For the record, the bowl in the picture is one of those huge ramen bowls, which gives you an idea of how big the potatoes are.

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Awwww… yeah, dem’s good eatin’s!

I’d planted my patch out with Royal Blues and Pontiac potatoes.  These are the Royal Blues, beautiful purple potatoes with firm white flesh that’s perfect for stewing, baking, mashing… pretty much anything you want to use them for.  The Pontiacs aren’t big enough for harvest yet.

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Washed and peeled.  Look at the shine on those things!

I’m going to make a beautiful cream stew with these tonight!  I can’t wait to see how they do!

 

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!

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.

Choo choo! All aboard the blog train!

Hello Owls Well readers!

18296990_10155043212889845_121891817_oThe Mothers Make It Work blog train is starting up today, starting with a thoughtfully written post by Hai Fang from MalMal Our Inspiration!

Hai Fang is a stay-at-home mom to 2 boys aged 7 and 13. She believes in eating healthy but has a weakness for simple sugar. Cycling and running is her way of keeping sane and writing forces her to think coherently.

This is a wonderful post full of useful advice on how to retain your own sanity amidst the current pressures of high-intensity parenting, whilst teaching kids to remain centred and true to themselves.

Hop on over and check her out!

For more inspiring stories, click on the picture below:

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Life Science in a Jar: Caterpillars

Whilst J was busy rearing mealworms, Little E asked me if she could also keep a pet. It just so happened that one of my old schoolmates is a primary school science teacher (henceforth referred to in this post as Mrs Great), and she had access to some caterpillars. She offered to give Little E a few of them and I was so excited to have another opportunity to study some more little creatures up close!

The very next day, Mrs Great rocked up with a clear tupperware that had four spiky black caterpillars, each about a centimetre long, happily nibbling away on spray of lime leaves. I don’t have a lime plant at home, so I was a little bit worried about having enough leaves for all the caterpillars – but Mrs Great assured me that there were probably enough leaves to last the caterpillars about two weeks.

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Some Very Hungry Caterpillars in different stages of maturity

The next day, about half the leaves were gone, and the little black caterpillars had doubled in size, developing streaks of bright green. There were also little dry balls of caterpillar poo rolling about the bottom of the tupperware, which I emptied out into a flower pot on my balcony. This wasn’t a particularly nasty job as everything smelled pleasantly of lime juice.

On the third day, one of the caterpillars had turned a bright green and was the size of my little finger. It was eating up the lime leaves at an alarming rate. I sent a text message to my friend Mrs Great, who was kind enough to drop by with a bunch of lime leaves, but I knew that at the rate the caterpillars were going, I would definitely need to find more lime leaves before the end of the week.

Sure enough, by the start of the fifth day, it was clear that I would need to find more lime leaves for the caterpillars or they would certainly starve.

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Running out of leaves!

Unfortunately, I went to three different supermarkets and three different wet markets and nobody had any lime leaves for sale! By this time, Little E was nearly in tears, upset that her caterpillars might starve to death.

However, as I was driving home, I passed by my local community garden. I stopped by, hoping against hope that I would find the leaves that I needed.

I didn’t think I’d be able to identify a lime plant without it’s signature green fruit, so I ran around taking pictures of various little plants and sending them to Mrs Great for identification. Fortunately, one of the pot plants had a tiny little green lime hanging on the one of the stems! Hooray! Community gardens save the day!

I plucked off a spray of leaves and triumphantly brought it to Little E who was waiting in the car for me.

The Aged P also went to talk to the security guard of her flat who keeps a variety of plants in his little guard outpost – and he so happened to have a lime kaffir plant that he was carefully cultivating. She managed to convince him to part with a few leaves which I kept in a cup of water to keep them fresh.

I was almost down to the last spray of lime kaffir leaves when we noticed that the caterpillars had stopped eating and were curling up on themselves, wiggling very slowly. One by one, they each moulted one last time, forming chrysalids that were securely fastened to the sides of the tupperware by silken threads.

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The Chrysalid and the Lime Butterfly

About a week later, the first butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis! Little E was so excited, watching it pump it’s wings to fully inflate them and dry them out. We released it on our balcony and it rested there for a few hours before fluttering off.

As for the other three chrysalids, we noticed that all three had turned translucent one morning – we could see the black and white butterfly wings folded up beneath the surface of each chrysalis – so I told Little E to bring the tupperware to her kindergarten and share the magic of the butterfly with her classmates.

Sure enough the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids midway through her class time, much to the delight of everyone present. The teachers gently picked them up and released them into the school’s eco-garden, with Little E and all her classmates waving and yelling “Goodbye! Goodbye!”