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.

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.

The Good Life: Conversations about Carrots

So, I had my first carrot harvest at the New Castle, so obviously I had to share the joy!

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That carrot knows it’s got it

ABC:  Debs!  Check out my carrot harvest!

Debs G: It’s like looking at a runway.

ABC:  Is it because of the leggy purple carrot?

Debs G:  Yes, it is stealing the show.

Much later, I ate the leggy purple carrot in a stew.  It was terrible.

Oh well, them’s the breaks.

The Good Life: Mr B

So, for my first post in The Good Life series, I would like to talk about pollinators.

This is Mr B. Mr B is a stingless Solitary Carpenter Bee that lives in a hole in the wall next to our front door.

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As good a picture as I can get of Mr B.  He’s quite a shy fella and I don’t have a very good camera!

Mr B moved in the day after we took down the ornaments that were hanging on the outside wall and removed the nails. When Boobook went to fill in the holes in the wall, there was Mr B. Sitting there. We decided not to evict him because he is a Beneficial Insect.

Pollinators are essential for any garden. Without them, we can’t get any good fruit or veg, as nothing would sprout. Insects are, of course, by far the best pollinators in the business, so we’re not at all shy of having a few buzzing around our home. This is why, despite all the problems I’ve been having with Thrips lately (more on this later), I haven’t done any pesticide spraying at my home.

The boand I have been discussing the possibility of getting a bee hive for the garden sometime in the future, but in the meantime, we’re doing all we can to attract good pollinators. We’ve recently purchased a bird bath, which we’re planning to load with marbles and smooth river rocks so that both birds AND bees can take a drink in this hot Summer weather. Only the oldest bees are sent out of the hive to get pollen, so it’s important to give these little old ladies a rest!

Australia also has a number of interesting stingless native bees. We’ve had a few of the really tiny ones buzzing around our garden – they live in a small nest inside one of the gum trees. It’s really important that we don’t disturb the nest, which is REALLY TINY (smaller than the size of my palm even!). Native bees are quite rare and they don’t have stings.  They do not make a lot of honey, but their nests have quite a complicated spiral pattern that interlocks honey with larvae, so we risk killing the baby bees by harvesting the honey or even touching the nest!

I’ve saw a Blue Banded Bee in the flower patch the other day! They’re massive critters, golden and fuzzy, with a blue and white butt. They have a really loud buzz too, owing to the fact that they’re buzz pollinators – their method of gathering pollen is to flap at the flower really hard until the pollen flies out and sticks to them. Inefficient, yes, but it does a lot less damage to plants, so you end up with healthier, larger fruit.

EDIT: It has come to our attention that Mr B may well be a Mrs B, as she has recently been attracting suitors to the little hole she lives in. Also, an astute friend of mine pointed out that she’s not as golden in colour as a Mr B should be. Mea Culpa!