Grazing with Moose

Moose just can't finish that bone!

Moose just can't finish that bone!

Was going to put up a post about our new chestnut and almond trees, but after catching Moose chomping on a bone in the orchard paddock today I thought the horticultural stuff could wait another day.

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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

The Chinotto – an improbably frost-friendly citrus

Sour tasting, but they don't complain about a bit of frost

Sour tasting, but they don't complain about a bit of frost

It sounded like a dumb idea. A stand of chinotto trees in one of the coldest places in Victoria. Well, maybe the global warming factor is kicking in, but I’ve also seen these handsome citrus specimens stand up to minus five frosts. They don’t shiver. The fruit doesn’t drop off. The leaves don’t turn pale yellow.

The fruit never tastes any good straight off the tree, but it’s not meant to either. And while it might be a relative newcomer to the citrus family, the Italians have ensured that chinotto is an essential ingredient of several beverages, including Campari, and in Australia it’s possibly best known as an ingredient in a soft drink called Bisleri Chinotto, which is owned by Coca-Cola Amatil.

The fruit looks juicy, but ours aren’t. Still, the peel turns out to be a star if chopped into a pot of poached pears or quinces, and I’m sure we’re going to end up making the world’s best marmalade with them if we ever get around to it. But even if their culinary uses turn out to be slight, the beautiful fruit and fragrant spring blossom makes them more than welcome in our midst, especially on those dull, dormant winter days, which I’m pleased to say we still seem to get our fair share of.

American pawpaw trees go into the ground at Icy Creek

Just planted: a pair of American pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) which we bought at Yamina Rare Plants at Monbulk. These trees have long been celebrated in North America as “tropical” trees for temperate climates, and there’s some very interesting posts about them at The Fruit Blog, we as links to newspaper articles about them including this 2005 piece in USA today. The two cultivars we purchased were a Pennsylvania Gold, which was developed in 1982, and and Louis, which Yamina describe as a “large fruited form”.

As our climate at Icy Creek is a milder version of that experienced in the tree’s native New York State, it will be interesting to see how well they fruit. Certainly, the frost and occasional snow we get in winter shouldn’t be a problem.

In the meantime, if anyone else has experienced growing these trees, we’d really like to here from you. How big do they get? (According to the Flora of America site, can get as high as 14 meters, but Daley Fruit Tree site says they mostly grow to only 5 to 10 metres.) How long do they take to start fruiting? And – now here’s one I’m sure I don’t need to know yet – do they taste like bananas (which Istrongly dislike) or mangoes (which are my favourite fruit)?

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.

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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.

First chestnuts of the season

The first chestnuts of 2009

The first chestnuts of 2009

Well I have to admit it was wishful thinking. After all the heat of summer and then a hugely welcome wet spell earlier in the month, we daytripped to the farm just to make sure that the birds wouldn’t be the only ones to devour the season’s first bounty. As it turns out, after trudging around for an hour all so, all we got you can see above. The food mile police will no doubt punish us. But I guess it’s good to know; no matter how fast the climate is changing, chestnuts don’t fall to the ground until April. Which means we’ll be back up there next Saturday.