Category Archives: Hobby Farming

So these are prunes

From the first crop from our Prune D'Agen tree

As a kid I was made to eat them. As I got older I gradually started to love them. But the notion that a prune is actually a dried plum has never quite clicked in my head. So when we planted our Prune D’Agen tree five years ago in our orchard paddock alongside various other plums, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It didn’t fruit at all during last year’s summer from hell, so when we noticed bucketloads maturing on the tree about two months ago, we realised we were going to have some questions answered.

Two weeks ago, the fruit were ripe enough to eat straight off the tree, but they tasted like that of any other other plum, albeit a bit sharper. Then we noticed one caught in the net (not the internet) and one mouthful of this confirmed just how sugary they are when fully ripe.

Fruit on Prune D'Agen tree

This weekend we picked the lot of them – not quite bucketfuls, but two baskets worth (the birds did well to get the rest), and they’ve been in the drying machine ever since, where they are starting to look like – well, prunes. Yet however delicious these turn out to be, I reckon that the ripe but undried version of the prune – which originally comes from the south of France – is pretty special in itself. And so do Moose and Elka, who seem to have managed to eat quite a few of them whole that had landed in the grass before we picked them. Prunes might be good for dogs, but I can already assure you that there are repercussions.

Moose before the prune effect kicks in


Mulberries – an insanely sweet seasonal treat

And now for 2009's biggest sugar hit

Just when it felt that the last of the seasonal indulgences of the year were being processed by my increasingly stressed digestive system, we find that our mulberry tree is, for the first time, laden with deep purple fruit, thanks to the miraculous success of my net strategy (and no, I’m not talking Web 2.0 here).

Mulberries are relatively slow-growing trees, and our five-year old Hicks Fancy – which is suitable for cooler climes – is still more or less contained by the cage that surrounds it to keep out the deer and wallabies that are constantly marauding the block.  We scored a handful of berries last year, but it wasn’t until this week that I got to pick a whole punnet’s worth from the tree.

I’m always been told that the primary reason that you don’t often see mulberries in markets is because they’re notoriously hard to store. This might be true, but I know that for me such talk is merely hypothetical, because I can’t imagine why I’d allow even the smallest fraction of any yield out of my sight until I’ve consumed it. For despite the sinfully syrupy taste – imagine eating jam straight off a tree – there’s enough sharpness in these berries to ameliorate what might otherwise become, after a modest binge, an almost nauseating sweetness for all but the most ardent of dessert tragics.

Still, if you want to tone them down just a tad, combine them in a fruit salad with some genuinely tart berries – we tried this with our black currants and jostaberries and plain yoghurt – a concotion that can only be conjured for a few days at the end of the year. And perhaps that’s just as well.

Broad bean and invasive weed pesto

Broad bean pesto

Hey Pesto!

Guess what, it’s spring! I only say that because of course it isn’t really. Picking broad beans is meant to be easy work, something you do on the first sunny days after what in these parts is usually a damp and cold winter, but over the last two weekends it’s been so hot that I’ve been making heavy weather of it, if you’ll forgive the pun.

But the heat has certainly got these beans going, and after completely filling the fridge with this morning’s harvest, I realised I’d have to do something with the pile of pods on the dining room table. I found a few recipes for broad bean pestos, but none of them addressed my other immediate problem: the profusion of once welcome herbs into monsterous clumps.

With the broad beans now finally all out of the ground, I thought I might as well see if I could at least begin to address the issue of the out of control mint, the rampant oregano, and the plain silly dill. With modest quantities of this terrible troika bathing in a brew of freshly picked garlic, the juice of several Meyer lemons, and some pretty basic olive oil, I boiled up as many beans as I could pod, and whizzed them into the blender with the other ingredients, and then applied the pesto to an unsuspecting bowl of penne.

Having some parmesan cheese handy in  the fridge (I completely forgot to bring any food with me this weekend) turned my morning of torment into a solo if sorrily solitary triumph. So I thought it might be a good idea to gather some photogaphic evidence, and luckily the industrial quantities I’ve managed to conjure from our productive patch means that this pesto is set to star in an assortment of scratch meals in the coming week.

Aside from my culinary cunning, however, I’m not sure what I’ve really achieved today. A few hours and several glasses of Italian plonk after the heat of the day has subsided, I’m watering the garden, including the patch where the broad beans stood so tall this morning, and I could swear that those herbs have already found a new haven.

Invasive mint

This mint took just hours to grow

Soggy September

Even too wet for a leek

Even too wet for a leek

We knew that Icy Creek was famous for its inclement weather, but over the last few years really soggy weather has been disappointingly rare. But between the start of the Grand Final on Saturday and this morning (Monday) it rained pretty much continuously, with more than 100mm falling in less than two days. I can’t get an accurate reading on the September total because our rain gauge has overflowed twice, but nearby Noojee has just topped the 200 mm mark for the month (compared with just 65 mm in September last year).

The spuds are loving it, but the parsnips (pictured above) seem to have started to brown up with all that water, and even the leeks seem to wish someone would turn the tap off (there must be some reason why I can’t pull them out of the ground with them snapping at the base).

As for Moose and Elka (thanks for asking), they only demanded one swim all weekend and, uncharacterstically, were pretty happy to just curl up on the couch. I confess I did nothing to discourage them.

Raining and nothing on TV

Quince buds – an early sign of spring

It’s still the first half of August, and Icy Creek’s elevated enough to experience something approximating a period of winter dormancy. But today there were signs of spring, and not just the precocious daffodils and the exhuberant weeds. The budswell on our quince trees suggests that those awesome white/pink flowers might be about to unravel.

It must be spring - almost

It must be spring - almost

Also planted ten chesnut trees today  – an air of mystery surrounds the identity of the varietal, but I’m betting that they’re called Bouche de Betizac. I’m tagging the name, ever so hopefully, in case anybody else has heard of them.

Also planted this weekend, some Alinta strawberries, thornless blackberries (no, they’re not digital devices), and a couple of marionberry plants to boot.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s partly because of the aforementioned dormancy (which I enjoy) and also because of a new publication a few of us have set up at La Trobe University called upstart – it’s an online magazine which is specifically designed to publish student and staff work, and to become a resource for emerging journalists. Our twitter address is http://twitter/upstartmagazine

Train your Labrador to harvest chestnuts


And then please tell me what I can do to train mine. 

So where are all the chestnuts?

So where are all the chestnuts?

Labradors are legendary for lots of things, including various forms of human assistance, and, increasingly, truffle hunting. But when it comes to chestnuts, it seems that Moose and Elka could deal with their very own guidance program. I’m sure that it’s not that they don’t want to help. It’s just that the enormity of the task of prising open all those prickly chestnut burrs seems so utterly ridiculous. Maybe they have a point. Something to sleep on.


A good time to be a certified nutter


Landed safely, now straight into the fire

Landed safely, now straight into the fire

As a paid up member of Chestnuts Australia, it is with considerable excitement that I got up to the farm today to find that the cockatoos hadn’t got to all of the nuts, and that the chestnuts from the first planting five years ago and bigger and about 100 times more plentiful than they were last year. There’s plenty of saffron milkcap mushrooms too. And a thunderstorm. Autumn is so much better than summer.