Friday, 28 November 2014

The Strawberry Thief

Two years ago we planted two strawberry plants in one of our raised garden beds.  Sadly, the last two years have been a big disappointment.  We have eaten a few strawberries at most. So this is the third season that we have waited in anticipation to feast on the delicious sweet red fruit.

But a change is in the air. In September about ten strawberries sprouted from the remaining plant. We ate a few and they were so sweet! Much sweeter than any I've bought lately.  It all started then.

Not wanting to finish our first flush of strawberries too quickly I left a few almost ripe ones, wanting to share them with Mr Fix It the next day. Well the next day there was no strawberries on the bush! They'd been clean removed, bitten off the stalk.

The tantalising plant
I suspected our younger dog (Zac) since he was caught eating strawberries at my Mother in Laws a couple of years ago. 

Although disappointed, I wasn't too upset because we had enjoyed a few strawberries.  We thought that was it for the season not realising that the strawberry plant was gearing up for its main season.

It has been pretty much covered in fruit since about 6 weeks ago.  About 3 weeks ago there were big, juicy fruits staring to ripen. A day or two more I told myself and we will be eating them. Yum!

But we did not, and have not, enjoyed one piece of fruit since! Every single time I have seen the fruit starting to turn the promising delicious red ripe colour I tell myself, "a day or two more" and then return expecting to pick them but find an empty stalk instead. It is so devastating.

After this had happened for two weeks in a row we decided to take action.  Not having any suitable materials to make anything I found an Opera House Trap (crab net) in the shed and kind of hung it over the plant, hoping it would deter Zac while we thought of a better barrier.  A strawberry was ripening when I did this and the next day it was gone.

Opera House trap and nearly ripened strawberry
Further evidence that Zac was our culprit occurred on the same day I noticed that the crab net hadn't working.  He was frozen to the spot in the Lounge room, apparently overcome by hormones that may have been triggered by the aphrodisiac properties of the strawberry.  I swear he could not move for five minutes!

The Strawberry Thief suffering for his crime
After the failed crab net attempt I made up a simple 5mm bird wire cover (thanks to Mr Fix It's know how).  I bought 2 metres of chicken wire from Bunnings for $10 to make it.  It was two pieces of wire folded twice and laid over each other to seal off the whole plant.  A few days later a small strawberry that was ripening disappeared.  We shrugged it off as Zac having pushed up against the side of the wire to eat it through the barrier.  Cheeky, but we thought the rest should be safe.

The simple bird wire cage
For a week I watched the rest of the strawberries grow and then, at last, start to ripen.  There was a big one that caught my eye (and my taste buds!).   It was definitely out of reach of Zac since it was at the top of the plant under two layers of wire...

But then it also disappeared.  Cut off at the stalk! So it probably hasn't been Zac, or at least he is not the only culprit.  Clearly our simple cage is not up to stopping the Thief.

I had promised myself I wouldn't write this blog until I had eaten a delicious, ripe strawberry.  However, this saga has dragged on for so long I have decided to write about it in two posts.  This one is the dark, angry and unsatiated post.  I hope beyond all hope that there is a second post filled with joy and excitement bragging about how we conquered the Thief and ate some home grown strawberries.

Until then, we remain alert, on guard and united against the Thief.

Do you have any garden crops mysteriously going missing? Do you share our heart ache and pain?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Liming the Lime

After much speculation about our poor lime tree (see Planning a Patch of Paradise) Mr Fix It tested the soil around it's base.  It was acidic!  The pH was about 5 - 5.5.

We bought a pH kit ages ago.  We tested the soil under our lemon tree and it was a neutral 7.  We clearly should have kept testing other areas before putting it away.

I've been periodically adding Potassium Sulphate (pot ash), along with compost and worm juice, to the lime tree soil but it only triggered flowers and then the fertilised buds would fall off.  The tree must not have been able to take up the nutrients it needs to produce fruit due to the acidity of the soil.
The lime tree two weeks after being limed
When the soil is too acidic or alkaline nutrients can become bound into the soil and unavailable to plants... Click here to view a chart showing what nutrients are available at the different pH levels.

Luckily we had a bag of garden lime in the shed, which we have added to the lime tree's soil (and the worm farm, which was also a touch acidic!).  The garden lime is calcium carbonate so it is supposed to act quickly to neutralise acidity.  This is opposed to dolomite, which is slightly slower acting but also contains magnesium.

After finding out about the pH we have decided not to relocate the lime tree to Paradise Patch anymore.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a fertile and fruitful lime season! I will keep you posted.

Do you have any pHantastic pH garden stories to share? or lime tree tips? Do tell..

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Our New Bed - A Good News Waste Story

So I have a neck/shoulder problem that started about three years ago and has become much worse (boo hoo! poor me!) since having a baby.  All of the feeding, carrying, rocking and lifting while doing a million other things clearly isn't helping.

One of the things I had never considered doing about it, despite seeing a chiropractor, doing stretching and yoga, then an osteopath and currently a physiotherapist, was to buy a new mattress.  Silly, I know, but true.

The osteopath was the fist specialist to suggest it, bless her!  It took a good 6 months for us to do anything about buying one though.  I'm pretty sure I whinged to poor Mr Fix It for at least that amount of time but finding time to go mattress shopping is difficult.  Let's face it, the idea of buying a new mattress is daunting so that didn't help either.

We finally managed to get there on what could have been the worst possible day.  My neck had been quite sore for a couple of weeks and I had gone out for a friend birthday the evening before so I had a slight hangover from the few wines I had consumed.  In short, I was a desperate woman seeking an answer to all of my problems.

We tried to play it cool but of course the smooth talking salesman, who had a toy box that kept Turtle happily amused while we compared various mattresses, helped us buy a (rather expensive!) mattress in the first shop we went into.  In our defence, it was great service and we just don't have the time or energy to shop around anymore.  We're still not sure that we made the right decision but I do feel so much more supported in bed and my neck isn't sore in the morning when I wake up.  Definitely an improvement.

The point of this whole post (apologies for the rambling about my neck!) is that when we bought the mattress we were given information, at our request, on how to recycle our old mattress through Garbologie.

Garbologie had approached the bed shop to see if they would promote their recycling service to customers.  I'm not 100% sure if our Local Council does recycle mattresses as part of the hard rubbish or verge collections since we are in the southern suburbs.  I know that the northern suburbs do recycle mattresses.  However, I decided that I wanted to support this entrepreneur regardless of whether we have a free service from our Council.

The service we received from Garbologie was efficient and professional.  I went to their website and booked the collection online.  I requested that they let us know before they arrived (in case Turtle was napping since our dogs go crazy barking when anyone comes up our driveway).  Mr Fix It was home on the day that they collect from our area.  In response to my request, he received a text message a short while before they came to collect the mattress.  He left $25 in an envelope taped to the mattress and that was it.  It was collected with no hassle.  I wanted to share this experience because I love seeing such motivated and inspirational people starting businesses that are so environmentally focused.  Particularly dealing with waste, which is such an important environmental issue.  I encourage you to look out for Garbologie and use their services too.  I am planning to visit their tip shop to see if we can find anything there to upcycle.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Seasonal Organic Fruit & Veggie Boxes: Creative Cooking

When Turtle began to eat solids I decided that our household needed to increase the amount of organic fruit and vegetables that we eat.  My main reason: to reduce the amount of pesticides in our diet.  Particularly Turtle's diet since she is so small and it seems like food is becoming more of a commodity and less of a natural product every day.  Another benefit is that organic produce is grown to promote and nourish the soil and environment.  It is a holistic process that minimises damage to the environment.  I believe that this has so many benefits and definitely should be supported and encouraged.

I started scouring the shelves of our local fruit and vegetable stores for organic produce (since we were time poor and struggled to get to the local Farmers Markets).  I found their range to be limited and I had an ethical struggle regarding the amount of plastic that the organic produce was wrapped in.  What a choice, buy the standard food without packaging or the organic food triple wrapped in plastic and sometimes even on a styrofoam (I know, shops still use styrofoam in Perth!!) base.  I needed another alternative.

A friend told me about an organic fruit and vegetable box that she had delivered at around this time.  She wasn't 100% happy with it because she had received lots of oranges and didn't eat them.  I also saw a conversation about organic food on a Facebook site where someone said that they had organic fruit and veggies delivered and then would top up what they needed at the shops.  It took a little while for me to get onto it but I found The Organic Collective's website and have not looked back.

For the first few weeks I would ring up to place an order (rather than immediately organising an ongoing weekly order) for the Couples box.  We wanted to find out what type of things would be included and to make sure we were happy with the amounts we received.

The thing I noticed straight away was that we ate so much more fruit because the fruit bowl was full.  It was also convenient having the food delivered, rather than having to go to the shops and trawl through the produce, looking at prices and labouring over packaging.  Most of the time there is no packaging in the box.  Sometimes the pumpkin is in a plastic bag.  Apart from that there is generally none.  I also loved that we were receiving seasonal produce and some products that I would never usually buy.  Examples are squash, fennel, kale, corn and cabbage.  This has caused us to become a lot more creative with our cooking.  We have become huge fans of kale chips, quinoa and corn salads, fennel risotto and squash ratatouille.  All of these meals have been tasty and really healthy.

Mr Fix It was pretty sceptical of the value for money we would be receiving.  He actually weighed everything we received in a box one week on our kitchen scales and calculated (estimated) what he thought it would cost.  He decided that we weren't getting ripped off.

Of course, it's not all bliss and good news.  Some weeks I look in the fridge and see so many vegetables and I feel pressured to cook.  While this is a good thing in some ways (at the moment I have piles of potatoes that I'm planning to make into a potato salad and I want to make tabouli with the copious amount of parsley growing in our garden) it can also be exhausting.  Particularly when Turtle is teething and we haven't had a proper sleep in almost two weeks.  The novelty also wears off when you have received oranges for weeks and you don't feel like eating oranges at all.  You can ring up and ask for items to be added to your "dislikes" and stop them being delivered but I feel like that defeats the purpose of working with the seasons and natural rhythms of what is available to eat.  We tend to only "dislike" things that we can pick from our garden.

Although we got sick of the oranges I have made some amazing orange cakes this winter and now that the weather is heating up (I don't think we got any oranges this week actually) I have really enjoyed putting oranges into salads.
Beetroot, pumpkin, asparagus, corn, quinoa and lettuce salad
Last week when there were lots of veggies in the fridge I cooked up the corn (boiling it for 5-10 minutes), blanched some asparagus and roasted some pumpkin and beetroot.  While I was doing this I also cooked some tricolour quinoa on the stovetop.  All of this didn't take too long although it meant I was pretty active in the kitchen for about an hour.  I cooked everything with a plan to make two or three salads over the next couple of days, reducing the need to cook again so soon.  I cut the corn kernels off the cobs and mixed them through the cooked quinoa.  This is a winning combination, I highly recommend you try it.

Then I cut up one orange and the asparagus, threw it in with the roasted beetroot and pumpkin, lettuce, and quinoa and corn mix, added some orange juice (squeezed from part of the same orange), olive oil, some seeded mustard, and balsamic vinegar.  This was a beautiful salad to accompany the scotch fillets that I got at our local butcher when walking Turtle and the dogs.  I also had plenty of leftover quinoa and corn, lettuce and pumpkin to make another salad within the next couple of days.  I used these ingredients, along with avocados (which weren't ready when I made the first salad) and fetta to make the next salad.  Both salads provided enough leftovers for at least one lunch the next day.  This was definitely a winner!

Pumpkin, fetta, asparagus, avocado, quinoa, corn and lettuce salad
I'd love to hear about any seasonal recipes that you like to use when you have lots of vegetables to use up.  I'm always keen to try something new.  Well I best be off - I have to get started on those salads before Turtle wakes from her nap.