Small packages

This week has seen the start of the harvest of our smallest and most valuable crop – saffron. These little bulbs really seem to like our climate. We started out with 10 bulbs three years ago and we now have over 40 – I know because I recently had to transplant them form their old bed to a new permanent home.


You have to keep a sharp eye out for the flowers or the tasty stamens will be eaten by some snail gourmand before you can get to them. The flowers only last a day or two, the stamens never last that long.


We hope to have a ‘haul’ this year that will go further than one meal, but we have a way to go yet!


Grand designs in the garden

Autumn always seems to herald the start of construction at Chez Fork. Last year was the Autumn of the polyhouse and this year its the turn of the long awaited chook pen & coop construction.


TB is chief designer, builder and project manager, a combination that would have Kevin McLeod expressing deep concern at the folly of such an approach. Of course I’m been in charge of decorating, which basically means the timber treatment, stained, not painted (well the chook pen at least). Athough I have been told that a finial for the ridge-post would be a good idea.


I chose the dark stain after I started to stain the timber with a product whose colour was rather imaginatively called ‘Natural’. I say imaginatively because its orange glow would put a well known orange-flavoured drink to shame.

The frame is now roughly in place, although it is yet to be permanently fixed to the concrete edges, and as TB has fixed the ridge-pole to the rest of the frame we have followed tradition and held a topping out ceremony. In our case the branch fastened to the highest point of our timber structure is a branch from our snow-gum (Eucalyptus gregsonianna).


So here we are ready to fix the roof beams in place and then start fixing the frame onto the concrete. I’m not sure how far we will get over Easter but fingers crossed for some progress.




The Machine in the Garden

If you are looking to spend some time away from the garden at present then perhaps you will be interested in visiting an exhibition at Craft ACT called Machine in the Garden by the South Australian-based artist Christine Cholewa. Christine works in glass that is cast, slumped etched and printed on tiles and in bowls and glasses.

Christine uses images of machinery and family photograhs in her work, these need to be seen at close range to fully appreciate the intricate detail of her work.


Christine Cholewa, The Harvest, 2011, hand blown glass, kiln formed, etched (Photograph Creative Image Photography), image courtesy of Craft ACT

She also has a wonderful graphic sense which is shown in her collection of small brooches.
While you are visiting don’t forget to check out the Craft ACT shop which is full of fantastic items from local artists, great quality and variety fantastic for a gift for yourself or some other lucky person!
Opening hours
Tuesday to Friday   10:00AM – 5:00PM
Saturday   12:00 noon – 4:00PM
Admission to Craft ACT exhibitions is free of charge.
Sundays and Mondays
Public holidays

Hung up to ripen

Little by little I’ve been setting up my garden beds for winter. In the front garden, which I worked on several weeks ago, my seedlings of beetroot, purple-sprouting broccoli and cimi di rapa (another brassica) are heading upwards. The turnips and onions are proving a bit slower out of the ground but they are finally starting to appear.

Today was the turn of the back garden and the tomato bed in particular. While my tomato plants are still producing fruit I really want to get ahead and get my broad beans into the ground. I had quite a task ahead of me.


I could have left the tomatoes a bit longer but once I see these shield bugs having a go at the fruit there doesn’t seem much point in persisting. As you can see from the second photo they really are turning out in numbers to suck on the ripening fruit.


The only consolation was that, unlike some of these relatives, these ‘shield’ beetles don’t exude a pungent smell when disturbed. It took quite a while to clear the beds and then dig out as much as I could of the couch grass which was starting to invade the bed. While I didn’t get to plant my broad bean seeds I did find a cluster of spring onions which I split up and transplanted into one end of the bed.


Apart from picking the ripe fruit I chose to hang my healthy tomatoes under the carport so the remaining fruit will ripen on the vine.


In the same bed was our large bush of Vietnamese Mint, which I know won’t survive the winter. So out with the secateurs and after a quick trim back I dug it up and transferred it into a pot which is now inside the polyhouse ready to over winter. This worked quite well last year.


You might just see behind the pot a milk bottle filled with water. This is my new polyhouse experiment for this year. Following on from a suggestion of Lolo Houbein (the author of One Magic Square) I’m placing water-filled bottles around the base of the polyhouse walls to provide some extra insulation for the over-wintering plants. While the polyhouse does stay several degrees above the outside temperature. The plastic walls don’t stop the temperature from dropping below zero on really cold nights. The theory is that the water-filled bottles will build up and retain some heat, which should benefit the plants at night. I suspect that I might need a whole wall of bottles to be really effective, but its worth a try!

A peek in the pardalotes’ nest

Try as I might I can’t find the photo of the pardalotes that took up residency in our compost heap at the start of spring. What I can show you is the picture of their nest, now that they have moved out of it.

TB has obviously been watching too much Time Team as he ‘sectioned’ the compost heap so I could clearly see the nest (no doubt he’ll be sinking sondages next looking for Roman pottery).


If you are having trouble following their construction method here is a tarted-up version …


The birds dug an entrance hole in the side of the compost heap and proceeded to dig a tunnel some 30cms into the centre of the heap. here they dug out an oval chamber and in the chamber they built their nest. Every so often they had to do some more digging as the compost heap slowly sank down over summer.

Here in my hand is the nest itself, which seems pretty standard as nests go.


I thought they might have just lined the cavity and sort of burrowed into its centre to lay their eggs, but I clearly got that bit wrong. The nest seems to be mainly constructed out of the coir fibre from an old hanging basket liner that we left out for all the garden birds to use. We never did see any hatchlings but these little birds were so swift in and out of their burrow that it was hard to see just who was coming and going. As the birds had occupied the nest until about a month ago they certainly had the time to raise several sets of young. Apart from limiting our access to that particular pile of compost it was really rather special to have our our pair of pardalotes in the garden.



Get cracking!

Its taken awhile but this week I’ve finally had a go at hand grinding my own corn. If you remember I’ve been trying to track down a grinder so I can turn our corn into polenta and other useful products. To date all I had been able to find was unbelievably expensive grinders only available from overseas.  Our luck changed last month when we were at the Sunday market at Bairnsdale. There, lurking amongst the old hand mincers, TB spotted a hand cranked grain mill. It was not cheap, but as it was all intact and appeared to be in working condition we were willing to take the chance.


Since then the grinder has languished while we dealt with our self-inflicted apple glut. I finally got the grinder set it up this week and gave it a go. Wow it actually works!


The initial effort to break the dried corn kernels is definitely the hardest part of the exercise and I’m quickly convinced that I would be able to eliminate all upper body exercises from my gym program if I took this up on a regular basis! 
Anyway, the job needs to be done in stages. Each time the corn is passed through the mill the space between the grinders is closed and a finer grain results.The best thing is that each successive grind is easier to do than the one before.  It took me four grinds to get to a nice size suitable for polenta and I gave the corn an additional run through as I was wanting a fine grain to make polenta  & apple muffins. I was pleased to get just under two cups of polenta from two cobs of corn with virtually no wastage.


I’m also sure that once I get the grinder fixed to a really solid surface the whole process will be easier. I came to this conclusion after I noticed the slots which allow the grinder to be bolted to a bench!  Believe me you don’t want to try this exercise with your grinder clamped to a flimsy table.

I used dried cobs from last years harvest. I’m not sure how good the quality of this years corn will be as those cobs we’ve left to dry seem to have been infested with some type of aphid. Next up my blue corn – watch this space.