Monday, 25 April 2011

Worms, worms glorious worms

Yesterday i had no plans to do anything in the garden. But I was aimlessly wandering in the back yard before the kids woke up (as you do), staring at my garlic and wondering if it had grown overnight, and I noticed a slow dripping from the tap on one of my wormfarms. So i had a look and found it was absolutely chokkers with worm juice. For animals that dont drink they produce a surprising amount of sewerage.

Worm hotel!
 The last time I left the bottom tray completely full of juice, by the time i drained it, it was full of rotting drowned worms, which made the level above putrid and i had to empty the entire thing and it took a huge amount of scrubbing to get the smell off my hands afterwards (I ended up even scrubbing my hands with lemons to get rid of the dead worm smell). So I gave them a quick hosing through the top and drained and bottled about 15 litres. For my little weeny garden, two worm farms produces about as much worm juice as it needs. I bought a big bottle of Seasol when we first moved in, and once the worms got cracking and paying off their 4 storey black plastic palace i stopped using it entirely.

And since I stopped messing around with it and trying to force feed them the worm farms have been largely maintenance free. I inherited one from my father in law, and I bought another one thinking they could chew through all our kitchen scraps. After a couple months of piling the scraps in, I ended up with a putrid stinking mess that the worms were hiding from in the bottom drip tray. After that near miss I slowed it down, stopped force feeding them and let them do their thing.

One last thing, I can recommend running 2 farms....a few months ago i fed some radish leaves to one of them and it turned to mustard gas and killed every last worm in the entire farm. They’d all crawled down into the bottom tray were they were gassed to death and I had to repopulate it with worms from the other farm.

So there you have it, Worms 101 J

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Parsnip soup

The little bed of parsnips, i should have grown more!

I received an sms from a good friend tonight asking for a recipe for a parsnip soup I'd made. The problem is, i rarely follow recipes. I prefer to have a quick look online, get a feel for the key ingredients other people use and then make the rest up. Fortunately it wasnt that long I still have it (I think). 
Hollow Crown (Monteith beer for perspective only)

In October I planted a bed of Hollow Crown parsnips. I had no idea which variety to grow so I looked up my trusty Digger's catalogue and bought whatever they had which turned out to be this one. For most of my life i never really fancied parsnips and even bought some recently that had a rubbery outer flesh around a woody core which confirmed my take it or leave it attitude to them. But my wife likes them so i put in a small bed. I cant believe how good they are! I've made them into soup, baked them with a lamb roast and tonight we cut them into chips, par boiled them, then baked them in a tray with Maldon salt, pepper and rosemary till the outsides were crispy. They were still smooth and creamy inside. All round its a very under-rated vegetable and one i'll be growing again.

Anyway, to the recipe. Use your discretion with amounts, as i'm not that particular, and i tend to cook for an imaginery army so this will make a bucketload:
  • 2 onions
  • 2 leeks (because they were sitting in the fridge and i wanted to get rid of them)
  • 1 whole bulb of garlic
  • butter and olive oil
  • 500grams of bacon rashers
  • 1L of water
  • Herbs: 2 sprigs of sage, 6 sprigs of thyme, a handful of parsley, 2 sprigs of rosemary, oregano or marjoram, 2 bay leaves
  • 1 optional chilli (i put it in everything)
  • pepper to taste (no need for salt as the bacon and chicken stock has plenty unless you really need more)
  • 2-3 large parsnips, should be about 1-1.5kg (my largest has been 750grams)
  • 3 large potatoes
  • chicken stock
  • 100ml cream
  • 3 chorizos
  1. Chop the onion and leaks, roughly bash the garlic
  2. Brown the onions, leeks and garlic with the oil and butter on a heavy based saucepan
  3. Reduce the heat, add the bacon rashers whole and simmer it slowly to let the juices flow from the bacon
  4. Add the water, pepper and chilli, and all the herbs. I throw them in on the stalks and then fish out the stalks afterwards, or you can tie them in a bouquet garni if you're a little bit shmansy
  5. Turn up the heat, cover the pot and let it boil like crazy for about 20-30 mins to release all the flavours. I intentionally do the heavy boiling at this stage before adding the potatoes or parsnips. The starch burns easily and if you do all your heavy boiling prior to adding them, its easy sailing and burn free
  6. Once your herbs are thoroughly boiled so all the leaves fall off the stems, the bacon fat has disappeared, and the onions are no longer recognisable, you are ready to fish out the herb stalks and bay leaves, and pull out the bacon (whats left of it). I pull the bacon out so when you blend the soup you can add the bacon back afterwards as the hard little round bit of the bacon has a gritty feel when blended.
  7. Add the chopped potatoes, parsnips and the chicken stock and boil on a low heat till they are thoroughly cooked
  8. Add the cream and blend the lot
  9. Its ready to go! Slice and fry the chorizo and drop it on the top with a sprig of thyme if you're out to impress
Happy eating peoples, its a winner.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Who puts broadbeans in the front yard!?


Okay, so we'd bought the house and moved in in July, mid winter 2010. The front of the house had a succulent garden on a bed of rocks, with a small patch of lawn on either side of a central path, about the size of a double bed. I mowed the lawn once and decided it was going to go! Over the next few weekends i borrowed a neighbour's wheelbarrow (i think they felt sorry for me) and we picked up about 10 wheelbarrows of rocks, lifted the black plastic and gave away all but one of the large succulents to neighbours and work colleagues. The only succulent I kept from the original garden was a medium sized fan aloe which is now in a pot on a pile of pebbles near the back door.

There were 4 big variegated yuccas in either corner which actually looked quite nice but they had to go, so they went to a good home with work colleagues, one of which had young boys who I was sure were going to lose an eye on the yucca.

The last of the original front garden plants

I was racing against time a little as we'd bought the house in July so we had limited time to get some standard roses in as bare rooted specimens before spring. The roses went in as we lifted out the succulents and yuccas. We settled on alternating white Iceberg and dark red Camp David 3 foot standards. The neighbourhood is full of white Iceberg roses and they look great in the cottage gardens and period homes, but we wanted to break it up a bit with some colour against our white house.

The last to be removed were two tall strappy purple yuccas which I cut off about half way up the stem and potted and they quickly resprouted.

A freind from work has horses so we took a couple of trips with the trailer and forked in about 4 loads of horse manure and then planted an array of herbs. The "microclimate" out the front faces west so even in winter it gets a heavy dose of sun so they quickly thrived. We planted a row of standard roses along the front, with lavender between them, and filled the beds with parsley, sage, about 6 types of thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, chervil, coriander, chives, borage (which i still cant quite work out what its good for!), and tarragon.

The only original succulent we kept!

I also made quite a large error which came back to haunt us for the rest of the year....i bought a bag of Jerusalem Artichokes and pushed them randomly into the central bed amongst the broadbeans. Almost a year later, and they are 3 mtrs tall and i've just started pulling them out. My wife hasnt stopped threatening to pull them out all year. God bless her, she put up with it and now we are eating those things for breakfast lunch and tea, but thats another story.
My wife hated the broadbeans, but the neighbour's kids loved them

The last photo was taken in October, 4 mths after we moved in and shows one of the beds, full of broadbeans (which eventually grew 3ft tall), with the roses and lavender in, the parsely doing well, and the big yuccas still in place. I also naively planted some garlic in there somewhere but it died off when the broadbeans grew.

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to the backyardvegiefarmer blog. It was going to be backyardfarmer but that was already taken....there are so many farmers farming their back yards these days! Actually i've grown as many veges in the front yard as out the back (something my wife wants to stop!) so dont get hung up on the name.

9 months ago we moved into our newly purchased double fronted victorian house on a meagre 400 sq/mtr block in inner suburban Melbourne, hardly large enough to swing a cat in, with the house and a large rear garage taking up almost two thirds the available real estate...not exactly prime farming land.

The previous owners had established a low maintenance cactus garden on a bed of rocks and black plastic, not my style. So i set about establishing a period garden in the front more in keeping with the era of the house, and a vegetable patch in the back yard.

Over the next few months i'll post about the changes made, what worked and what didnt, and plans for the future. Thanks for reading...