Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Creating A Seedling Raising Space

Gardening is something I have learnt to love. Believe me now, I am not a natural green thumb. I'm not actually sure anyone is. However, with a little patience, practice and the right tools, anyone can start gardening and discover the joys of producing even the smallest portion of your own food.

Whilst going to the nursery and buying seedlings is fun, it's not always the best option. I raise most of my seedlings from seed, and it is truly the most rewarding experience. Poking little seeds into pots is such a relaxing job, and the joy when those seedlings sprout is wonderful. Also, growing from seed is more affordable, and gives you the option of growing from organic or non-GMO seeds. I plant most of my seedlings into pots rather than direct into the garden for multiple reasons, but the main one being that they are much easier to care for during the early stages.

Unfortunately, most homes don't come with a beautiful little English glasshouse or Pinterest-perfect seed raising nursery. Luckily you don't need one. All seeds need to germinate is soil, sunlight and water. The best seedling raising spot I've had to date was in a rental several years ago. The verandah was concrete and over half of it there was no roof but thick shade cloth. This filtered in the direct sunlight in just the right strength for the little seedlings. A spot like this is ideal, but if you don't have one there are several easy and affordable options for making a seedling raising area.
I wrote about my current little area here, and whilst it has some drawbacks I still manage to raise most of our plants from seed every year.

Three key things when creating a potting area are:

- Gentle sunlight. Seedlings don't need midday sun shining directly on them, but they enjoy morning and afternoon light.

- Shelter from the wind and rain. Our property gets very windy during winter, but thankfully our house is in a sheltered pocket, and that includes the space I use for my potting area. You need either a tin roof or thick shade cloth over your seedlings to keep them safe during heavy downpours. Light rain is fine for them, actually they love it, but heavy rain will damage them and bounce the soil from their pots when it hits them - rain lands surprisingly hard!

- Close to the house. If you're on a town block it's unlikely that your seedlings would be very far from the house, but this is a very important point. I check on my seedlings first thing in the morning, and it's easy to remember to do when they are right off the back verandah. This is a good time to see what has shot, make a mental note of what needs planting out and give everything a little drink. It's a lovely way to start the day, especially when pots of blank soil have been covered with the green haze of tiny sprouts overnight. The magic of growing!

You may be thinking right now "I have nowhere to grow seeds!" but everyone has a spot. Look around your backyard. You don't need a huge space. I have a small table that I cram everything onto and a little garden trolley that I use to put plants vulnerable to grubs because it is easy to cover with bug proof net. If you have a porch or verandah or deck - however small, put a table in a spot that receives morning or afternoon light and use that as your potting space. Whilst overhead sunlight is ideal, it's not always possible. I simply turn my pots around every day or so to keep my seedlings growing straight, as they do tend to learn towards the light. It works a treat!
A large shady tree is also ideal - it will provide dappled sunlight in the middle of the day and the canopy will slow down the rain. Just don't chose a poinciana - this tree seems to attract ants and they will quickly find a home in your pots.
With a little imagination and ingenuity I'm certain you'll find a spot and before long be discovering the joys of growing from seed.

Sow Grow Eat is a good place to start if you are new to growing from seed, as this Queensland based website is designed to make it easy to know what to plant when for your specific climate. All the seeds are sourced from organic or non-GMO suppliers too, and Ange is also offering you 20% off storewide right now with the code "vday". Yay!

Also The Permaculture Home Garden is a wonderful Australian book, whether you are new to gardening or a seasoned grower, it's well worth adding to your shelves.

Do you have any tips about growing plants from seed?
Share below!

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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Overnight 100% Spelt Sourdough

Experimenting with bread is part of the fun of baking it. When I'm baking bread just as food, I'm happy to use my regular recipe and move on to the next task. But when I'm feeling a bit creative, I like to play with it a little. Sometimes experiments work and sometimes they don't, but usually the end product is still edible.

For the past week I've been playing with rising my loaves overnight. The reason I wanted to rise them overnight is because we've been having very hot, humid days and as a result my sourdough has been proving very quickly. I could have simply put it into the fridge to slow down the process, but then it made the loaf not ready to eat until late afternoon, and I really wanted to try bulk fermenting for 8-12 hours.
By rising the bread overnight it gets to ferment for longer, which makes it healthier for you and easier to digest, improves the flavour, and is still ready to eat by lunch time. Plus I have found it to be a peaceful start to the day to knead the dough and shape it into a loaf, knowing that it will be ready for the oven when I return from feeding the chickens and doing the other chores.

I tried rising it on the bench, and the first few loaves came out of the oven the thickness of a fat pancake. I discovered that it was because I had been too gentle in the shaping and left too much air in. Anyway, I got it to work but the result was a very tangy loaf. It was delicious when fresh, but after a day it was almost too sour for my tastes. (As mentioned in previous times, I don't particularly like sour foods).

So for my latest loaf I put it into the fridge. The flavour was improved, whilst still having fermented for 12 hours, and the loaf still had a good crumb and crust. In winter I believe I'll be able to rise it on the bench and achieve the same flavour, just not in this summer heat.

If you'd like to try bulk fermenting your next spelt sourdough loaf, I've written a guide to what I did below. Let me know how you go! Or if you've been experimenting with different methods or flavours lately, share in the comments below!

Happy baking x

1. I've been starting my bread any time between 7 and 9 o'clock. Using my usual recipe, I mixed everything together and then put it into the fridge for 20 minutes to let the flour absorb the water. I put it into the fridge because I wanted to keep the dough cold as it was going to rise enough over night, I didn't want it getting a head start.

2. After 20 minutes rest, I kneaded on a floured surface obtaining the same texture as usual, and then put the dough back into the bowl and into the fridge for 40 minutes.

3. Back out of the fridge for a very light kneading and then a series of 6 or so stretch-and-folds, using oiled hands. A stretch-and-fold is simple: flatten the dough slightly and fold one side over to the centre. Bring the other half over to meet it. Turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat. Do this about 4-6 times. The reason I added this extra step to the overnight loaf is because I found it needed a lot more strengthening because it relaxes so much during the 8-12 hour rest. After strengthening the dough, shape it into a ball and return it to the bowl. Poke the dough, it should spring back immediately and feel very "bouncy" under your finger. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and put into the fridge.
4. The next morning, take the bowl from the fridge. The dough should have doubled in size. Gently tip the dough onto the bench. It'll be quite stiff from the fridge and feel tough when you are shaping it into the loaf shape. Be gentle with it, as you want to retain some air, but you do also want to knock some out so that it can rise again. I flattened mine out, and shaped using the stretch and fold method (photo tutorial of shaping here). Dust the smooth side with flour, even if your dough seems dry as it will get quite sticky when it warms up. Place it into your prepared banneton, floured side down with the seam side facing up.

5. Leave to rise for 1.5 - 2 hours depending on the temperature of the room. As usual, you want to bake this loaf while it is still rising otherwise it won't spring in the oven and will come out flatter rather than bigger. When it's grown a little, but no where near double, it's ready to bake.

6. Preheat your oven to 220C. Line a baking tray with grease proof paper and put it over the top of your banneton. Tip the whole lot upside down – as you do when removing a cake from it’s tin. Gently lift the banneton off and using a sharp serrated knife, quickly slash your loaf and pop it in the oven. Throw 10 ice cubes onto the rack beneath and quickly shut the door to trap the steam.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180C and bake for a further 30 minutes. The loaf is cooked when it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

8. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing or eating.

The loaf pictured I made with a double quantity of dough and proved in my round banneton. This loaf baked for a further 20 minutes than the single quantity.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Cast On | Chocolate Shrug

I am very much surprised that my second post for February is one about knitting, given it has been so very hot and humid here these past few days. But, I have still found ways to knit. Early in the morning and then in the evening are perfect knitting times, and I am making speedy progress on my Chocolate Shrug.
I'm taking a break from blanket squares for now, at least until I get this off my needles. I'm planning on finishing it fairly quickly, and then it will be ready to wear as soon as the first cool months arrive.

I'm using this pattern, and working it in my favourite organic cotton, Twilleys of Stamford Freedom Sincere DK. I've got a bucket load of this brown so thought I would use some of it up on a shrug. I plan to it wear around home. I think it will be just the right thing to wear whilst feeding the chickens and milking the cow when the first chilly mornings arrive in autumn.

Initially I was a little daunted by the pattern, as it is written in a style I am not quite used to. To be honest, I chickened out completely and put the pattern into the drawer. A few days later, however, and I was wondering what on earth to cast on, so I decided it was high time I got out of my knitting comfort zone again and I cast on.
And you know what? Aside from one small part that baffled me for a good few minutes, I've found it rather easy to follow and not as complicated as it seemed when I read the pattern all at once.
I'm not looking forward to working the sleeves, however, as they are in-the-round. I know how to work in-the-round, I'm just not a huge fan of it. But, do it I shall, and hopefully I'll get through it and have a warm Chocolate Shrug to wear at the end of it.

Now, in the spirit of Yarn Along (which I am joining again), I am about to start reading Persuasion. Yes, I'm still on my Jane Austen fad and have enjoyed each book I've read so far (I finished Emma just the other day).

What are you knitting or reading at the moment?

For those of you who would like to know, Chocolate Shrug raveled here

Also joining Frontier Dreams for Crafting On

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Rosella Tea

I thought using rosellas for cordial and jam, and the leaves for salad, was all I could do with it. It turns out though, that this amazing little plant has a few more uses.
One evening I was wandering around on the internet, and I stumbled across a mention of being able to dry the petals for tea! I had to learn more, so I went straight to Green Harvest and found out that not only do the petals make a yummy tea, it's also high in vitamin C. Knowing the rosella bushes were laden with fruit again, the next morning I took a bucket into the garden and came back with it brimming with rosellas. To tell you the truth, I nearly turned the fruit into jam, thinking that perhaps the tea wouldn't be that good and that I would really like some more jam. But then it got hot and sticky and the last thing I felt like doing was standing in the kitchen stirring jam, so I put the petals onto the trays of my food dehydrator and set them to drying.

They took four or five hours to dry and I didn't get around to collecting them from the dehydrator until the next day. I put the kettle on to boil and popped the crispy petals into a jar, and a spoonful into a tea strainer to brew.
Steeped for five to ten minutes and sweetened with a little honey this tea is soothing and lemony, with a strong colour and delicate flavour that, like most herbal teas, improves on cooling. I've been meaning to try it garnished with mint and I also think it would make a nice iced tea. It would look so pretty in a glass anyway.

If you'd like to make rosella tea, all you have to do is peel the petals off the green pods and put them into your food dehydrator for four to five hours or until dry and crispy. I had the temperature somewhere between 40-50'C and it seemed to work just fine.

Have you been trying any new teas lately?
Discovering new ways to use things from your garden maybe?

We're in the second month of 2016 now - can it be true? I'm afraid so. I usually prefer February to January so I'm quite looking forward to this month with it's extra day.

Have a lovely day!
Sarah x

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Change Your Life - Buy A Chicken

I once heard someone say that chickens are a gateway animal. And since then I have from time to time reflected on the fact that they certainly are.
In my experience, most people seeking this "simple life" often start with chickens. Sometimes they are purchased whilst still living in suburbia, and what seemed like a harmless trio of happy layers turns out to be a dangerous rabbit hole to fall down. Dangerous, that is, if you planned to retain your way of living. Exciting, however, if you'd dreamed about something different, a simpler life perhaps, or were discontent with your day to day. Those chickens have the power to potentially change your way of thinking, eating and ultimately, living.

Even if you don't complete the tree change by leaving your town abode, you can still head down the simple living path. As you collect eggs from your new feathered friends, and discover that they have personalities, and even a brain, you'll find you're no longer able to consider buying factory farmed eggs from the shops. Even when your layers decide to take a holiday.
If you can't find a free range pastured alternative you'll find yourself going eggless. Exactly how it should be, I say. This is seasonal eating, appreciating animals for what they are rather than just seeing them as a natural machine for producing food.

We purchased our first chickens nearly a decade ago. Three point-of-lay crossbred pullets, who we named Hilary, Harriet and Caroline. Those three layers where the first step towards this life we live now. I learnt so much about animal care in the first twelve months of owning those three hens. I enjoyed eating eggs for the first time in my life, and had the thrill - for believe me, it is a thrill - of putting our fruit and vegetable scraps into a bucket knowing they would not be wasted, but enjoyed and eventually appear back on my plate in the shape of an egg.
Those three chickens are responsible for where we are now. I grew my first veggies in the soil that they had worked, we hatched our first rooster from eggs of friends under those hens, which led to breeding our own meat. Now here we are, with two dairy cows, a small herd of cows, a flock of sheep and several acres to care for.

I'm still amazed that we are here. As I write this I have a cup of tea by my side and a plate of cheese and crackers. That cheese on my plate is one that I made months ago. Romano, crafted from raw milk from our darling Missy-Moo, and left in the cheese fridge to mature so that it could be enjoyed on an evening such as this. I mean -  we made CHEESE! 
We're also eating our own meat, and planning all these farmy things that a few years ago weren't even in my mind. I've become a gardener, from someone who was really only interested in harvesting I have turned into someone who enjoys the whole process, from seed to sprout to the end product. I've also become a sheep owner. Sheep, an animal I never even considered thinking of until I brought home Rilla 3 and a half years ago. And from an interest in herding has grown my love of sheep.

Those sheep and those chickens are perfect proof that you don't know where your road will lead. But, if you follow that road you'll find out what you're destined for and although there might be a few bumps and even some potholes on the way,  and everything - even the things you don't particularly like - are the way they're supposed to be.
And in the end life will take you exactly where you're meant to go.

So, if you're meant to start down the path to what is commonly referred to as The Good Life, I suggest you start with some chickens.

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PS If you're interested in chickens read my chicken buying guide.
PPS If you'd like to know more about our cheesemaking, check out this, this and this.
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