There’s a mole in my head

Hi All

I am in the enviable blogging position of having too much to post today. I have at least 4 posts worth of material ruminating about inside my head and am going to have to divide them (much like amoeba) and sift through their content to make sure that no cross breeding goes on. I have an entire post of how I spent an hour on Sunday with my daughters and what we all created. I won’t be posting about that today because I have photos to jolt my memory for that post and need to document the rest because after a few days it fades into the ether and may never have the opportunity to resurface because my head tends to be constantly crammed full of “stuff” and my poor addled brain spends its days sifting through useless information and discarding it ad hoc (Note to self…you need to pay that poor overworked organ more!). I liken my condition to watching a mole at work. It makes a concerted start on an area of earth and starts flinging soil out in all directions until it achieves its holey goal. Most of the dirt that has been displaced just settles into a moley angle of repose that erodes away to nothing after a few days leaving no trace of mole activity. You wouldn’t even know that a mole had even dug aside from the hole, a few missing turnips and the erroneous dirt. Thus is the fate of my thoughts. The main reason for my visit to town was to attend a Sustainable Food Day. I attended last year and many of you can still remember my aversion to the felt hat brigade. Well I am pleased to say that the felt hat brigades were very conspicuous by their absence this year. It might have been too cold for them and aside from one lady who appeared to have made a career of being negative, the rest of us were there to learn. The most interesting (to me) talk revolved around Biochar and the speaker, Mr Frank Strie, was passionately eloquent about how the process of Pyrolysis can produce carbon negative energy whilst achieving increased soil fertility and locking down carbon in the soil at the very same time. Who couldn’t help but get excited about prospects like that?!

Frank is the very first person in this line of speakers all waiting for us to quiz them about their areas of expertise

Despite morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea supplied free of charge and all being substantial and delicious this is the sum of the local interest in food sustainability in the Tamar region. The speakers almost outnumbered the audience! It did make for a very cosy and friendly atmosphere though.

Here is Franks carrot experiment. The small carrots were grown in soil minus charcoal and the large carrots were grown in charcoal (Biochar) rich soil with the same packet of seeds and the same soil/growing conditions. This alone was enough for me to consider hosing down my burning piles before they reduce to ash in the future

Franks basket of tricks containing various jars of charcoal in different grades from coars through to dust and the “tin” at the back of the basket was actually a small model of a pyrolysis set up where the heat harnessed from slowly burning the charcoal is converted to power. A VERY interesting premise and one that I will be looking into in the near future

I met an amazing array of people and some of them are shaping up to be wonderful sources of discount information. A group of us are having a meeting this Saturday about Permaculture and what exactly “Zone 1” means. To keep the costs down we are going to meet up in each other’s houses and supply our own food for the duration of the meetings. Some of us live in far flung places and have started applying Permaculture Principals already so it is going to be very interesting to see just what other people are doing with their own little patch of Nirvana. We are building our own communities and taking what we are learning to friends, family and the wider community in the hopes that we can develop real community relationships that work. Frances (how could she NOT be an unmitigated genius with a name like that 😉 ) is also talking about Permablitzes where a group of like-minded Permies (cute name…like Kermit the frog is “Kermie”…) get together and blitz someone’s garden in a day. Everyone gets a turn to share in the work as well as a turn in getting their own garden blitzed. Frances is an amazing person who is incredibly knowledgeable about Permaculture and who has applied it in various places throughout the world. I can’t wait to see what we can do about Serendipity Farm and the obstacles that have now started turning from huge blockades into something usable. The more I learn the more excited I get because we can use our “problems” to work for us. Piles of weeds and debris? No problem! Use them to make weed tea, compost, and mulch or row compost.  Soil full of rocks that sets like porcelain in the summer? No problem! Use the rocks to form swales for the problem of the sloped nature and water run-off problem and kill 2 birds with one stone! As our lecturer Nick likes to remind us on a regular basis…”for every action, there is an equal, and opposite reaction”. It’s up to US to work out how to use whatever we have here to gain positive change.

A Daphne odora at the back door at my daughters home in Launceston. If you have never smelled Daphne in full flower you are missing out!

Some Hellebores that keep on keeping on also at my daughters home in town the irises just starting to emerge are a lovely bright yellow when they flower

A large camellia that Steve and I crown lifted when we lived with our daughters in town before we moved to Serendipity Farm. The dead looking mass of sticks in front of the camellia is actually a small cherry plant

A mass of my favourite flower, violets. I LOVE spring! 🙂

I think that spring is shoving the rear end of winter a little hard this year as it appears to be overriding the cold and ignoring the last bastions of winter. Everything is leafing up and starting to flower and the birds are all agitated and pairing up for the breeding season. I dare say we have a season of chickens just about to land on the doorstep but we are too busy to care at the moment. It would seem that just as nature has increased her activity, so have we. I seem to be steering a course for real activity on Serendipity Farm with all of the information that we have been getting and we are itching to get out into the garden and start working on our first year of vegetable gardening and planting out. We are going to try to get as many of our potted plants into the ground as we can in the next few weeks. Those that remain are going to be repotted and those that we don’t want, rehoused. My mind is a bit of a maelstrom with everything that I am trying to force into it at the moment and all of the new processes that we are starting. Usually winter blends pretty seamlessly into spring around here but this year seems to have an urgency about it that demands to be acted upon so never one to shirk the urgency of a season (who knows WHAT might happen if I did!) we have been rudely awakened from our winter hibernation and flung head first into instant activity. I just received the last of the fermentation books that I ordered from The Book Depository on Monday and an enormous tomb it is. It’s more an explanation of fermenting various things than actual recipes and allows the reader to experiment with ideas. It would seem that just about everything can be fermented and that segues nicely with my next book arrival, this time from Amazon. I had a bit of birthday money burning a hole in my already holey pockets. When pockets as holey as these start blazing its best to spend your dosh while it still lasts and before the bills arrive so spend I did! I bought 3 books, 1 of which isn’t in stock apparently and I have to wait. Guess which book it was Hannah… ;). One of them I have been waiting for most excitedly and with my latest round of fermentation it will fit in wonderfully. I can’t wait for Miyoko Schinner’s book “Artisan Vegan Cheeses” to get here. I have been using the bread prover over Brunhilda to give my ferments a chance to bask in her radiant love, much like Bezial lies lovingly at her feet with his big black head up against the warming oven.  They have been rewarding me with exponential growth and after giving away 3 of the 8 sourdough starters that Steve and I have been cultivating (to share the love) there are still 5 of them bubbling away ready to move to new homes when the desire arises. Up until lunch time today they were sharing the proving rack with a glass jug of wine yeast doing its thang that is now swimming free and winning the Serendipity Farm equivalent of the Olympic 100 metres breast-stroke in 17 litres of “Skeeter Pee”. Skeeter Pee is apparently potent quaffable lemon wine best drunk chilled in the summer after working hard in the garden. At 14% alcohol you wouldn’t want to drink too many of them in between shifts! We are enjoying seeking out alternatives to paying the middle man our hard studied dosh for something that we can make ourselves out of seasonal produce and by harnessing natural bacteria and fungus to work for us.

My idea of the juxtaposition between winters last bastion and the first flush of spring

Rescued rabbits from a battery meat farm in the North rehoused at Big Ears Animal Rescue where the girls rabbits have now found their new forever home. More about this admirable place in future posts.

Christi and The Bearded One land safely on Serendipity Farm. I am going to put this little picture in a small frame as original artwork by Keith to accompany the wonderful book that Christi sent to me along with some amazing Farmlet jams and some long gone dog treats that are but a fond memory in a sleep twitching dogs dreams now. I am going to use a little bit of this wonderful jam in a small cake that I am taking over for Glads 90th birthday this Saturday. Thank you SOOO much for you open friendship, your incredible generosity and your sisterhood Christi 🙂

I was chatting to the owner of Inspirations Nursery in Exeter the other day when we were picking up some mushroom compost. I love mushroom compost and its propensity to give. Why spend $25 on a mushroom kit when a few bags of mushroom compost will give you pretty similar yields and a whole lot of usable compost to hurl into your garden for quarter the price. We have 7 bags and are just about to lug it into the hidey hole under the house. I have some interesting ideas about what we can do with this wasted space directly beneath the house and growing mushrooms might be a good way to utilise it. After we picked up the mushroom compost we headed inside the nursery to have a little look at the range of seeds that were developed along with Steve Solomon and that are now propagated by a school as a partnership project. I found out that one of the local Resource Management groups is also partnering with the school so the children grow native plants for revegetation. It’s a win-win situation all round and a great way to show children that trees aren’t just for cutting down (it IS Tasmania after all 😉 ). While Steve was roaming about the outside looking at plants in pots I had a look at this amazing seed range and was struck by the wonderful rare old bean selection that was being offered. Apparently the owner has also partnered with another man who is passionate about cold climate beans. This struck a chord with me because one of the points that came out when one of the speakers was talking about food security was that Tasmania doesn’t grow its own grains or legumes. The selection of wonderful looking beans got me very excited. Most of them are grown to dry out and store for use as pulses and ground for high protein flours. Once the owner realised that I was very interested in his selection of beans he opened up and told me about some of the history of the beans. One long black bean was an American Indian variety called “Field of Tears” and was their staple bean crop named after their displacement from their homeland. There were beans of all shapes and colours and one particular kind of bean got me very excited. Getting excited about beans is lame, by the way, and only a fellow vegan could understand how excited I got with this one ;). It’s called a Tepary bean and is a Northern American bean that is just starting to discover a new audience thanks to its incredible drought tolerance and good texture and flavour and keeping qualities. The beans were grown in the desert and living on one of the driest countries on the planet anything edible that promises to perform well in drought conditions is my kind of food! Inspirations Nursery sells 2 kinds of Tepary bean, one nondescript light brown squarish bean and its gaudy white with blue spots cousin, also drought hardy and very nutritious. Here’s a good website with some quality information about Tepary beans if you are interested…

The lazarus almond that was stone dead only last year, so much so that I had thrown it up the back of the garden and completely forgotten about it where it spent all summer devoid of water has apparently decided to live! My girls told me that it was alive and I didn’t believe them. It goes to show that plants can be a whole lot more resilient than you might initially think and it also goes to show that I have at least 1 almond tree ready to plant out on Serendipity Farm 🙂

This poor little Pieris japonica had been completely squashed by vegetation all around it last year. We liberated it and gave it a hair cut and it is repaying us (and the bees) by putting on an amazing floral display this year.

The chickens are not content with being able to roam freely all over Serendipity Farm horizontally, now they are determined to conquer the vertical! If they start laying on the chook shed roof you can just about forget paper, rock, scissors Steve!

One of the speakers at the Sustainable Food day talked about spreading various hardy edible plants around your garden and allowing them to go to seed and take up residence all over your property. I dare say this man’s garden isn’t ever going to feature in “Home and Garden” magazine but the idea struck a chord with me. He suggested broadcasting silverbeet, parsley, coriander, rocket, bok choy, chicory and another lady chimed up with celery, carrots, fennel and parsnips as also being easy to let run free on your property. The same man turned what is an incredibly invasive pest plant, Allium triquetrum (Three cornered Garlic) from something that was almost impossible to remove without herbicide to a positive asset by showing that it was indeed a culinary herb, edible and delicious! I love finding ways to turn a negative into a positive and the ultimate revenge is to eat your pest! Making weed tea or piling weeds up and covering them with black plastic for a few years is also a wonderful way to expunge your pent up frustration at a garden full of nitrogen scoffing weeds. Make them work FOR you. Everything has at least one positive (and usually several negative) points and if you can exploit that positive, you are ahead as far as I am concerned. I have a small patch of nettles in the veggie garden area that Steve has been itching to whipper snip since it grew. I am saving my nettles. Not only are they a good vegetable source of iron, make excellent soup and wine BUT they encourage beneficials, they are an indicator that the soil is very fertile (especially in phosphorus) and that the soil has been disturbed. They can be used as a compost activator and can be used to make weed tea that is low in phosphate but has good amounts of magnesium, sulphur (which is low in Tasmanian soils) and iron and coincidentally, they are one of the few plants that can tolerate and flourish in soil rich in poultry droppings ;). For every action (negative) there is an equal and opposite reaction (positive). Cheers Nick! Permaculture teaches us that everything has a use. We were just about to burn some piles of debris and wood and I mentioned this to my new Permaculture guru Frances and she said “DON’T”! She and I had talked about how water runs down our property and how we can’t dig swales to slow the descent and keep the water in our own soil thanks to the rocks. She pointed out that forming the vegetation into rows will act as a swale along with rocks heaped over them. I have SO much to learn but I am going to enjoy every single minute of it :o).

All kinds of fermenting bubbling experiments on Serendipity Farm. This bread proving rack is situated above Brunhilda and is the perfect place to ferment warm cultures. After receiving my latest big book of fermentation I can see this place being populated by some pretty weird foodstuffs…watch this space!

Kipfler seed potatoes ready to be planted into bags…having soil full of rocks is NOT going to stop me from enjoying my new kipflers fresh from the ground! The brown rice in the jar was used last night for blind baking Steves chicken, bacon, mushroom and beer pie pastry.

Another couple of thousand words just flew out of my fingertips. Get in line Merlin I have the magic touch! I might just spend the rest of this evening formulating my next post because I am just getting started and it’s time to finish. Steve is making me vegan pea and “ham” soup by substituting smoked paprika for the ham and green split peas for the regular yellow ones so tonight I will be dining on experimental food. I think that spring is full of experimentation. All sorts of new chances to mess about in the garden, to spend time working on projects outside, to give new life to our poor long suffering potted plants that are envious beyond belief at their already planted brethren. So much to do before the heat sets in and robs us of our energy and will to head out into the garden as surely as the winter rain does the very same thing. Serendipity Farm is awakening to all of the possibilities of spring and it would seem that so am I :o). See you all on Saturday and here’s hoping that all of you in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying the heralds of spring. Sorry you lot in the North, you HAD your turn! 😉

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christiok
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 04:07:26

    Holy Moley! I can feel your exuberance across the globe! Great plant photos this week, and the one of Keith’s drawing is wonderful, too.:) I’ve framed a few of his cartoons myself. lol

    I loved your idea of “planting” mushrooms under your house — since we live in a pole house 4 feet above ground, there’s a nice space underneath. I told my mushroom-loving husband the idea, and he was concerned about mushroom spores getting into the exposed insulation. A good point. We probably will find another place.

    We’re heading into Fall here, having barely had any summer. We have corn ears now, but I wonder if they’ll have a chance to mature. It was 9 degrees C on our deck this morning, and supposed to peek at 18. (I’m trying to think Celcius when I write to you!) Happy pre-spring in Tasmania!!


    • narf77
      Aug 23, 2012 @ 06:33:00

      We headed off to the Exeter Nursery with bargaining egg power in hand as the man at the nursery is going to give me (free…my favourite penniless student word! 😉 ) some rare old varieties of beans to try planting on Serendipity Farm. He can’t justify keeping them going when there simply isn’t a market here in Tasmania but if we grow them, he knows that he can get some seed whenever he likes. I LOVE the power of bargaining :). Its 16C here today. A heatwave! I can feel the culmination of winter and the cusp of spring at a junction and its making the mole in my head dig furiously! I found some interesting black heritage corn that has a short season which is most definately what we (and apparently you) need here in our flash in the pan summer Tasmania. I will check it out. Your growing conditions are quite different to ours. Do you get a lot of rainfall in Olalla? We have a distinct lack of rain for 3 months over summer and have to plan accordingly. Perhaps if we moved the mountains closer to Serendipity Farm it might give us a bit more but short of becoming Hercules in my sleep tonight, I don’t think that is an option 🙂


  2. Hannah (BitterSweet)
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 11:30:18

    Yipeee! Having the book go out of stock is an excellent problem to have! I really did quietly “squee” out loud when I read that. Hope they get a new stock in asap though, because I don’t want you (or anyone else) to wait too long.

    I’ll be curious to hear what you think about the artisan cheese book, too. I just got a copy for review and have only begun to dig into it, but initial impressions are good. I can’t wait for my first air-dried cheese to finish culturing… Only one or two more days now! I think that the real problem with this review will be knowing where to stop. I usually make 3 – 4 recipes, but I can easily pick out a dozen “must makes” already.


    • narf77
      Aug 23, 2012 @ 13:15:54

      I agree totally and as cheese was one of my passions in life, I doubt that I will EVER stop making it if its as good as it is hinting it will be ;). I may even go into production and make my own for all of the poor long suffering vegan’s living in isolation around Tasmania lol! I figured you would like to know that they can’t keep up with copies of your new book…”flying out the door” was bandied about… I do have your wonderful (most appropriate with summer coming on) book Vegan a la mode winging its way clutched to the spine of Artisan Vegan Cheeses. Its very fitting that I get both highly anticipated books together and hopefully My Sweet Vegan will be hot on their heels. Cheers for the thumbs up about Artisan Vegan Cheese and hopefully we will get to read about your exploits in the blog soon 🙂


  3. Kym
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 19:32:31

    All this talk of cheese is making me hungry! I have had a very busy week at work. It seems that the stars have aligned to make everyone a bit cranky, and so we have to deal with the fallout. My autistic lad even hit someone, something he hasn’t done since year 3. He must have been very frustrated in deed. We had a little chat about it and practiced some things he could do instead. He has started to squeeze out a couple crocodile tears and pout his lip whenever he thinks he has to do some hard work. It looks a bit silly when a 12 year old does it! I told him that he looked a bit silly, he wanted to know why he looked silly, so I had to explain that he is 12 years old, very tall, with a deep voice and it looks silly. It’s something little kids do. He is very proud of being a “big kid now” so he just said oh. After that he worked really well. If only all things were that easy to solve eh 🙂


    • narf77
      Aug 23, 2012 @ 21:46:21

      I Agree! I wish I could just say “be a big boy and cut it out!” to all of the idiots around me (male and female ;)). Sounds like you managed to reach him on a level that he could completely comprehend AND understand, well done! Sometimes there are rewards to being a teacher :). I will be sharing my vegan cheese making experiments (hopefully not from a laptop in the back of an ambulance after I poison myself 😉 ). I hope your week settles down and you are able to mellow out into your weekend. I think its something about spring. Everything seems to have caught the spring fever around here and there are birds pinching other birds nest building materials, wattle birds zipping all over the place, blackbirds watching everyone else with beady little eyes and sourdough breeding exponentially! We are going to attempt to bake some of our starters into real sourdough bread in the next 3 days. A long time for making a loaf of bread but hopefully the flavour will be worth it! Have a great week till you can settle into your most deserved weekend 🙂


  4. Kym
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 18:07:05

    Good luck with your cheese, I’m sure it will be both tasty and safe 🙂 I am going to my local pub with some girls to have a drink and enjoy the thought that it is two days before I go back to work. Haven’t done that in weeks so will be great to catch up and enjoy a glass of wine, or maybe bubbly, or a cocktail mmmmm choices, choices 🙂 Enjoy yours too x


    • narf77
      Aug 24, 2012 @ 23:05:54

      Have one of each and you won’t remember that you only have 2 days till you go back as you will be having so much fun! I am off to learn about Permaculture, to bake sourdough bread and to hopefully spend some of the weekend walking the dogs as today was a total wipeout as it rained all day…sulking dogs laying about all over the place for us to fall over giving us depressed seal eyes… have a great weekend 🙂


  5. Allotment adventures with Jean
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 19:14:07

    The carrot experiment had me breathless. I want to grow carrots like that!
    I am still working my way through the rest of your post – but I got so excited when I saw the difference charcoal can make to the soil.
    Also, I would love to know if you are happy to be Narf when I respond to your comments on my blog. Or Fran? Sometimes when I respond to comments on my blog even though I try to do it in order, it gets out of order and I want you to know it’s you I’m talking to. Does that make sense?
    I love reading your blog, I should comment more often.


    • narf77
      Aug 24, 2012 @ 23:00:33

      Hi Jean, narf…fran…so long as you don’t call me late for dinner I really don’t mind ;). I am glad that you got excited about those carrots because so did I! I actually got up from my chair halfway through a lecture to take that photo as I didn’t want to forget to take a photo of them ;). I love reading your blog as well 🙂


  6. Allotment adventures with Jean
    Aug 24, 2012 @ 19:56:23

    Me again. A really interesting post. I am looking forward to hearing more about your fermentation experiments. It’s an area I want to explore in more detail. I notice that like me you use The Book Depository. I reckon TBD is brilliant. Much as I would prefer to purchase my cookery books in Australia and support home industries – when I can get them half the price from the UK it doesn’t make sense.


    • narf77
      Aug 24, 2012 @ 23:04:22

      I am up to my armpits in sourdough starter and 2 ENORMOUS batches of sourdough bread that take 3 days to reach maturation (apparently…but one of them decided to do it a day early and I have had to wrangle and tackle it before it engulfed Brunhilda and set fire to Serendipity Farm!). I should have known that it was a rebel when I opened up the bag that it arrived in and it had escaped! I too can’t understand why anyone would pay so much for books here when you can get them so much cheaper from TBD. I was on Ebay today and noticed that people are actually buying books from TBD, adding on a hefty price tag and onselling to their customers on Ebay! I actually left a comment on one seller, selling a book that I just bought from TBD for $4.13c for $20!!! They are power sellers so they are obviously doing a lot of business. I would never have thought that we Aussies were that gullible! (I most CERTAINLY am not! 🙂 ).


  7. Katie Glenn
    Aug 25, 2012 @ 05:40:39

    The real world has been taking up far too much of my time lately and I haven’t been able to check in on the farm for a bit but I’m back now and this post is just lovely! That’s so cool about the mushroom compost, I had no idea it would work like that, just toss in the dark and viola! yumminess 🙂


    • narf77
      Aug 25, 2012 @ 06:24:36

      Welcome back to the fold Katie :). We often get 2 flushes of additional mushrooms from each bag. I dare say there aren’t enough mushrooms generated to justify their place in the pack after a certain time. I see my mushroom compost bags as the equivalent of battery hens that are a little bit older…I rescue them and when their shrooming days are over they are reused in the compost heap ready to generate new life on Serendipity Farm. Hopefully they will spread their delicious mycellium all over the place! There is enough chook poo around here to spawn a nettle frenzy! Have a wonderful week and see you when the world lets you take a break 🙂


  8. Roz Takes
    Aug 25, 2012 @ 12:42:35

    Hi Fran, your mention of nettles reminded me of my grandmother who was also into the wonders of nettles and also many common weeds the benefits of which have been long forgotten.
    My oldies at the Association are growing all sorts of flowers and veg in those re-usable shopping bags. Wonderful idea as no back breaking digging is required. Will have to tell them of your mushroom compost idea.


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