All good

While we sat drinking our cup of tea, looking over the garden we became aware of all sorts of life flitting through the plants. The European House Sparrow was making repeat visits to our kale plants carrying off mouthfuls of Cabbage White Butterfly larvae (more strength to her wings). The more and longer we looked the more we saw. First a bee and then a wasp. A green caterpillar was waving its body around, which soon ended in its being fed to one of our chickens.

As we discussed pulling out our really way past it zucchini plant we realised it was crawling with yellow and black ladybirds.

Several Fungus eating ladybirds, Illeis galbula, on our zucchini plant
Several Fungus eating ladybirds, Illeis galbula, on our zucchini plant

As you can see the plant has a bad case of powdery mildew. We though we should get rid of the plant and hope that a small seedling we still had might come good in the remaining warm weather. But we didn’t know whether these were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ladybirds (garden friends or problem pests).

It turns out that these are native Australia lady birds, Illeis galbula, AKA the fungus eating laydybird! Just the ticket. A closer look revealed not only adults but lots of larvae, which I admit do look somewhat like marauding caterpillars, albeit very small ones, as they are about 1 centimetre long.

Larvae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula
Larvae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula

Furthermore we had the pupae as well! If you compare these two photos you can see that the pupae are rather shorter and fatter than the larval stage. Looking all together much more beetle-like.

Pupae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula, the ones on the left of the picture are a bit more mature
Pupae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula, the ones on the left of the picture are a bit more mature

It turns out that all stages of this tiny animal love eating fungus. So hang on to your mouldy cucurbits, if you have the space and let the ladybirds have a good munch. Or if you must pull the plants out leave it where the ladybirds and their offspring can readily get to them.

 

Plummy accents

I wrote earlier this year about using up some plums my friend had given me. I never did get around to showing you the ice cream I made, mainly because I made the spicy plum ‘swirl’ mix and then froze it until I got around to making the ice cream several weeks later. Now I will warn you that the photo looks somewhat alarming. I made a custard as the basis for the ice cream, but my hen Letty lays eggs with such dark yellow coloured yolks that they made the ice cream very yellow.

Yellow ice cream courtesy of Letty's eggs
Yellow ice cream courtesy of Letty’s eggs

 I don’t think it looks so good with the plum mix – at least it tastes great.

Plum swirl ice cream, lurid but tasty!
Plum swirl ice cream, lurid but tasty!

Our other plum taste this month is the Sparkling Plum wine that TB made from plums we were given in early 2014. The colour may be pale and interesting but the alcohol level turns out to give quite a kick.

Sparkling Plum wine, taste with a kick
Sparkling Plum wine, taste with a kick

Now we just need to put the rest of the vintage aside for special occasions.

 

First blackberries of the year

Blackberries would have to be the most readily foraged plant in Canberra. They grow throughout the territory along roadsides and in an amazing number of scrubby areas tucked into the city’s suburbs. Yet given the cost of blackberries at the markets or shops, (or worse still potential infection from poorly handled frozen berries) very few people are actually out there picking.

Ripe and ready to pick
Ripe and ready to pick

One of our fellow foragers commented that as a child in country Victoria, any spot like the one where we were picking would attract quite a number of cars. Yet here we were with only the company of passing cyclists and Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos calling in the nearby forest.

Passing traffic on a Sunday morning
Passing traffic on a Sunday morning and yes those are black berry bushes on both sides of the road!

People tell me that they are put off by the thought of snakes – I’ve never seen any while picking yet – and the potential for eating berries that have been sprayed by poison. On the latter point the ACT government is so civilised that it gives fair warning of spraying with signs and by using brightly coloured dye when they do spray. The biggest danger I have experienced is getting thorns stuck in my fingers, as I don’t use a glove on my picking hand. I even got a top tip recently for fixing that problem – just put some PVA glue on the spiked finger and after the glue has set, peel it off and the thorns will come out with it.

To say there is a large quantity of fruit to pick is an understatement. In about an hour and a half of easy picking we managed to collect a good 6 litres of fruit between four of us. Even better once we got back to our friend’s place we ate some of what’s left of last year’s harvest served up in this cake dolloped with yoghurt mixed with maple syrup.

Blackberry cake served with maple syrup flavoured yoghurt
Blackberry cake served with maple syrup flavoured yoghurt

What’s not to like about that. See you on the roadsides!

Meanwhile …back at Chez Fork

I know I’ve been rather slack when it comes to posting lately, of course lots has been happening in the garden. I was thrilled when our tomatoes finally started ripening and now they are in steady production.

One of the major blips in this years garden program has been the total failure of us to harvest our nectarines. I couldn’t believe that I would miss picking the fruit I’ve been watching ripen over the past month, but miss it I did. When I thought about it, two weekends ago, TB went to the tree only to report that all the fruit had fallen on the ground. All I can say is that I hope the chickens had a good feed so the fruit wasn’t completely wasted!

On a more positive note I have at last found a use for my lovage plant. Lovage,  Levisticum officinale, is a perennial herb, which in flavour is like a very intense version of celery.

Lovage leaves on the chopping board
Lovage leaves on the chopping board

Like a number of plants in my garden I put the lovage in without giving much thought to its use. Its leaves can be used to flavour stews and other hearty winter dishes and I have also read that its seeds are used as a flavouring in southern mediteranean countries. Trixie Pin has a beautiful recipe for a savoury celery and cheese shortbread which I adapted by substituting the lovage leaves for the celery. Just lessen the amount of lovage you use as the flavour is quite strong and could easily overpower the shortbread.

Lovage and cheese shortbread, just about to go into the oven.
Lovage and cheese shortbread, just about to go into the oven.

OK so it wasn’t my best month – I forgot to take a photo of the finished shortbreads because I was packing them to take to a friend’s place the same day. Suffice to say they didn’t remain uneaten for long. I’ve since found out that the shortbread can keep for several weeks in an airtight container. This came about because we’ve just found the remaining shortbread that I’d left for home consumption in a tin that got put to one side and then forgotten. Perhaps not the best way to find out but they were still very tasty and there have been no side effects – which may be due to the lovage’s reported antiseptic properties!

Purple Haze

Rows of lavender at the
Rows of lavender at the Crystal Brook lavender farm

The pleasure of a drive in the country and an event to enjoy saw us driving at the end of January to an open day at Crystal Brook Lavender farm, near the small hamlet of Laggan, some 50kms north of Goulburn.

As you can see it was a perfect day and the farm had planned an interesting program of talks for the visitors. We arrived just in time for a presentation on lavender cultivation and the their properties, by the owners of Renaissance Herbs. Lavandula angustifolia (true or ‘English’ Lavender) is the one that is used for fine oil for perfume, not to mention cooking purposes. The oil of Lavandula x intermedia, has camphor overtones which means that while the oil is not suitable for perfume, it can be used for scenting common household products, such as dishwashing liquids and such like.

I think one of the most useful tips we were given was that if you want to get that purple haze of lavender over an extended period in your garden you need to plant multiple varieties of lavender. English lavender will only flower for a limited period of time so you can extend the ‘look’ by inter-planting other lavender species and cultivars, such as Italian lavender (Lavandula stoechas) which has the ‘wings’ at the top of the flower.

We were interested to see Michael, one of the farm’s owners, harvesting lavender, in this case L x intermedia, with a hand sickle.

Harvest with a hand sickle is a viable option for small areas.
Harvest with a hand sickle is a viable option for small areas.

Michael was cutting the lavender for a demonstration of oil extraction. He told us that for the amounts he needed for his distiller hand harvesting was quite a viable option.

The oil distillery
The oil distillery

While the distiller did look a bit ‘Heath Robinson‘ inspired it certainly did the trick. A short while after the boiler was turned on the lavender oil and water mix was dripping out of the machine.

Oil and water don't mix
Oil and water don’t mix

Like they say, oil and water don’t mix. The lavender oil, as you can see in the photo, is sitting in a layer above the water. The clever little tap at the bottom allows the water to be drained off. The water doesn’t need to be discarded as it can be used as a scented water for ironing.

We had a really pleasant lunch, sitting under the shady verandah. Afterwards we strolled around the veggie and rose gardens which are currently being expanded. Of course I couldn’t leave without purchasing some plants to take home. I chose several plants of L angustifolia ‘Bee’ for their fine scent and dark flowers. These plants are also said to grow well in containers. So far I haven’t killed them. I hoping they will survive winter under our tree canopy.

At last, my corn has come along! not to mention the tomatoes

It seems an age but our corn is ready to pick and darn yummy with it. Due to our trip in October/November our spring planting was delayed and I had to resort to buying corn seedlings (will I ever be able to live with myself), to get a crop in. Now here it is in all its fully grown splendour, Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn. This is the first time that we’ve grown this variety, (we usually grow Golden Bantam) and I’ve been quite impressed with how it has grown. We have had much better pollination and far fewer gaps in the cobs that we’ve previously experienced. The plants themselves are shorter, but they are still producing plenty of cobs. I’d be happy to go with this variety again next year.

Our Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn, ready for a quick steam and then into our stomachs!
Our Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn, ready for a quick steam and then into our stomachs!

The day I planted the corn seedlings I also planted out tomato seedlings from our friend M. They have also finally started to ripen, although with the rain we’ve been having we are getting quite a bit of blossom end rot – that nasty black patch on the tomatoes’ bottom – you will note that I have carefully designed the photo not to show that bit!.

Ripened tomatoes at last!
Ripened tomatoes at last!

Thankfully our eggplants and zucchini are producing steadily and at least one of our chickens has started laying again. Ah summer bliss.