My Pins

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Before You Drop That Bomb...

Some green beans climbing the federation fencing wire. Lush, happy and producing loads of beans.
Let's have a closer look though....

Does the sight of this cause you to gasp and quickly head for the pesticide? 
It certainly does for most people. Even organic growers reach for pyrethrum (because it's safe and natural right?) or some other concoction of rhubarb leaves or tobacco. 
WAIT, can I ask you to spend 10 minutes before you do and really look at the plant and ask yourself a couple of questions first.

There is some leaf damage but there are also more flowers and plenty of beans. The vines seem to be in good health. Healthy plants should tolerate a reasonable amount of attack from pests.
Don't reach for poison just yet.

There are a couple of dead cabbage moths (bottom left) within but I think they have sought shelter here. I bet they have laid their eggs elsewhere. I can't see their eggs hanging from the underside of the leaves or their chubby bright green caterpillars munching away.

I've searched and searched but can't give you a definitive identification of this common garden moth we get here in Tasmania. It is sheltering from the mizzling rain. The moth itself is not a problem but the larvae that hatch are leaf eaters. During my quick inspection I only see two so they are clearly not in outrageous numbers yet.

Here is a green shield bug. Shield bugs make up a large common category and are sap suckers. In great numbers these could definitely ruin your plant. They are easy to spot because they don't particularly hide from predators. They do tend to be a colour that blends with their surroundings but they also have stink glands that secret a foul smelling liquid, hence their other common name of stink bugs. Because of their harder shell, pyrethrum is usually not effective anyway. So hold that spray!

Ahh, the nymph stage (young before adult stage) of the above green shield bug. I am no entomologist but I suspect the colourings are for warning or "foxing" as it probably hasn't developed it's stink glands yet.

This is significant though. I can see six nymph shield bugs in a small space. Numbers are multiplying and definitely could do significant damage but experience has shown me that the plant will take a bit of sap sucking.

Some baby spiders show me that other predators are in the area.
Consider first and remember that spraying a control substance will also kill the predators that are helping you with your problem. Within this vine is probably small frogs and stick insects who also rely on bugs for food.

So standing back and weighing it all up....
The plant has been producing well and I have been picking beans for about six weeks. yes there are some holes and webbing leaf damage but the beans are tender and juicy. Reasonably I can expect another few weeks of picking and I weigh that up with wading in and killing the bugs. What would I gain? Another week or two of cropping? By then the beans are getting tired any way.
The shield bugs perhaps look like they are increasing but natural predation could take care of that within the next week. Given that pyrethrum isn't effective there is no point spraying. My preferred method of control is manual in most cases anyway. In this instance you would use a small brush to move them into a jar or a pair of forceps because remember, they secrete smelly stuff and you don't want that on your hands.

From my experience in the garden, I find the key is to keep things in balance and everything will cycle and take care of itself. 
You definitely DO NOT want to eradicate any one thing.
 Just because it is a pest doesn't mean that it doesn't have a vital part to play. Everything is reliant on something else. It's all part of the cycle  or the chain. Think of yourself as the custodian of the garden rather than the controller. Your job is to aid and assist not to seek and destroy.
I haven't used any sprays in my garden, organic or otherwise in at least 20 years. 
Spend a little time and weigh it all up, including the consequences of wiping out not one but several species. Could you be in fact doing even more harm than a few chewed leaves?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Education In The Home

My youngest daughter hosted afternoon tea for family and friends recently.
White damask and vintage doilies.
Cut crystal and silverware.
Old family bone china with delicate patterns.

Pretty vintage frocks that reminded me of my grandmother.
She was a big fan of Osti in the 70's.

The grooming and the up-do.
The multiple ear piercings are a modern give-away though.

The young ladies served,
cucumber sandwiches
cheese biscuits
mini quiches
zucchini slice squares 
scones with home made jumble berry jam

The circles keep turning and what was old is new again.
While we have been embracing the cafe culture, young girls have been missing the opportunity to practice their developing skills;

deportment, cooking, flower arranging, home making, grooming, conversation, manners and grace.

I have found myself pondering whether we have blurred some lines, confused some forms and given ground where we had not meant to in our fight for feminism.
Some play that took a domestic form is quite frowned upon now. Mothers I do hope you are encouraging your pre-schoolers to play with tea sets and wash dolly clothes. I hope you throw impromptu high teas for them on rainy days after school and I hope you are giving teens an opportunity to entertain guests in your homes too. We must keep encouraging our children to learn to be ladies and gentlemen. The home education is just as important as the school education.

(Disclaimer: Emma is a real person and in her spare time loves to hang out in daggy track pants, has a small tattoo and is older than she looks at 23 and can produce dimples on demand)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sunflower Central

This is my attempt to try to show you how tall the Russian Giants are reaching. They are not fully open yet but they are climbing amongst the apple tree boughs. 

It's sunflower central around here this year with multi-headed bronze varieties

So cheery and enchanting to the children visiting our garden this year.

They tower above everyone's heads but the Russian Giants are reaching about....

8 feet tall !

Friday, February 15, 2013

Anatomy Of A Tragic Soap Batch

It was apparent two days after pour that things were not going well.
We had a sudden cold snap in the middle of our summer...
right when I was making soap.
I wrapped it just fine in towels and blankets but in my heart of hearts, I knew I should have put it in a cosier spot. In the back of my mind a little voice was saying "it might loose heat too quickly".

I still haven't found a soap calculator that I am happy with since the demise of Snowdrift Farm but I can't totally blame the calc. I think the problem was really because of the failure to maintain the heat in the soap.
The seepage on the top did not bode well.....

I decided to cut it up and chop it fine in the processor and re-batch it in the slow cooker.

The further I cut into the block, the uglier the truth and layers of separated ingredients are revealed. Gloves are a must at this stage as I am dealing with raw lye solution seeping out of the brown looking layer there. 
After chopping finely I also included all the liquid seepage too.

I'm in two minds about the success of the re-batch.
I'll let them dry out and cure some more.

I was so looking forward to working with creamy soft lard but it has left me feeling a bit flat so far.
After conferring with another soap making buddy of mine, she and I have concurred on a number of points.
Please, please share your thoughts;
on soap making with lard as opposed to other fats,
any suggestion you have for a great on line soap calculator,
on re-batching....

Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy (Chinese) New Year

On Saturday we had a ball hosting a Chinese New Year party.
It was a fun date/theme for a BBQ get together with friends.
It was a real winner with the children of our friends too.
I was rapt when with each arrival of little people, we were greeted with the Cantonese 

"gùng héi faat chōi"

They had been practising with their parents all week and looking forward to the party with so much anticipation. They brought us presents of lolly snakes in honour of the year of the water snake.
We hid some lollies around the garden and had the fairy garden lit with bud lights.
They all played in the cubby house and around the garden and the dogs were beside themselves with so much activity.

Just in case we needed indoor activities, I downloaded these from here but they ended up as going home gifts. I also had cardboard and glue and red cellophane ready for making Chinese lanterns too.

We got out picture books and fairy stories and the bamboo cards for fortune telling.
Mostly everyone was happy mixing outside and when it turned cooler and dinner had finished, we gathered around the fire pot

Made from an old enamelled inner bowl from a washing machine.
Craig's plane that he is building in the garage was also a popular male hangout spot during the hours. (Amazing how men love to congregate in sheds)

I love this photo that a young 13 yr old guest took of the lanterns swinging in the (high) wind as night descended. He has his own page for his photography and works for sale here.

Another reason we enjoyed the party so much was all the help we had with the night.
If someone offered to bring something, I took them up on the offer. 
Some people were allocated a salad, or a dessert, or bread or even just a bag of chips.
In the past I have tried to do everything but allowing people to help when they wanted to really made the party a shared and joyful experience.

If people offered to help with the washing up,
I let them.
It made for some great conversation doing the dishes.
And boy were there dishes! I almost succumbed and bought plastic plates but neither Craig or I could bring ourselves to add to the plastic dilemma of the planet and when all is said and done, after hunting through cupboards I really do have more than fifty plates and bowls that I have bought inexpensively from the local op shop and was happy for them to be used outside. True to Murphy's Law, not a single 20c plate was broken.

I finally got to use "stuff" I had been storing in the cupboard for such a party for about 15 years now! Bits and bobs that had been purchased very inexpensively from China Town in Sydney. The children were rapt with the bundles of Chinese "money" that they got to take home and play with.

Too soon it ended.
Just when I got to sit down with a drink in front of the fire, people were starting to break up and wend their way home. We tend to have a large party every couple of years and the only thing I would love to do if I could afford it would be to hire staff to get the food out and clear away simply so that we could really enjoy every moment with our guests. Our aunty Lettie does that and she really gets to enjoy her time with her guests.
Have you got any great party tips to share? 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I'm Getting Soft

I'm making lunch box food for Craig's lunches. Being bent over the way he is all day he needs light food in his stomach so he eats lots of fruit, jelly, yoghurt and fruit cake.
I've just made him double decked blueberry and raspberry jellies with blueberries in them but I won't show you a photo, the colours are truly garish and ghastly. Come to think of it, so are the electrolyte replacement fluids he mixes. Shudder! That's technology for you, we can now make our food look neon.

OK, changed my mind, truly horrendous and this is what you should NOT do. I solemnly vow to make proper jellies next time (because I am not going to use the excuse that I don't have time).

Back to the cake.....
I'm mixing up Aunty Lettie's Easy Fruit Cake (p50. in the cook book if you have it) and I realise how soft and unfit I have become. Once upon a time in my poor just moved out of home days I always mixed cakes by hand but in recent years I have used the food processor or the Kenwood mixer. 
The butter was well softened because of our halcyon summer we are having but it was still more work than I remember. By the time I started adding the flours and eggs alternately I was starting to huff and switch from my right hand to my left and then back to my right again. This is really hard work!

I really came to appreciate the double handle design of the classic "grip-stand bowl" allowing one to get a good grab either side. I had forgotten how ambidextrous I used to be with these methods. I think I should do a bit more manual cooking from now on, just to keep my kitchen fitness up.
(While we are here on this photo, please note the colour of my eggs!)
It got me thinking about how strong housewives were. It wasn't just the baking and cooking which was more labour intensive, chores in general have become so much easier. As I pottered in the kitchen I threw on several loads of washing, walked away and all I had to do was hang them out. There was no building a fire or boiling water, no standing and stirring, no wrestling them through a mangle then carrying it all, twice as heavy as it comes out of the machine now days. 
I washed down several walls and ceilings with my long handled enjo floor fibre that cut the job from a few hours down to about 30mins.
Our working lives have got so much easier. Is it really valid to say on a daily basis to people 
"I don't have time. I'm so stressed. I'm so busy"
maybe rather we should be saying
"I don't prioritise my time well enough and I have wasted too much of it"
I know I squander a lot of time. For instance, in a very short moment I am going to finish this post and then franticly race around the house getting ready for work bemoaning all the time I frittered this morning on the computer! 
I'm getting soft.

Now that's a cake! One pound of butter and 8 eggs and I can taste every last one of them.

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