Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it.

I have given up trying to explain it to my friends in Oz who don't. Most Aussies know it's a big day for Americans and that its centerpiece is a huge family feast featuring turkeys the size of which astound people who haven't grown up with genetic breeding and steroids for their farm animals.

And for some strange reason, Aussies know about the dessert. "That's where they eat pumpkin pies, isn't it?" they will ask, with the tone of their voice leaving no doubt they consider it excessively weird to use pumpkins as the chief dessert ingredient. When you think about the fact that most Aussies start out each morning spreading on their toast a black paste made from the yeast left over during beer fermentation, you get a sense of just how weird it must seem to the rest of the world to eat a pie made of pumpkin.

That is, of course, until you feed them one as LK and I used to do many years ago when we would host our new Aussie friends so they could sample a genuine Thanksgiving dinner. But those annual extravaganzas were when we were younger and much more energetic. Even then, though, our energy had its limits and we finally gave it up when we realized we had served turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie to about 30 people and had barely had the time to chat with our guests. In fact, we weren't even sure we knew all our guests.

So now Thanksgiving is just another day for us. Which is a shame, really, because for the first time in our lives we are emulating those 16th centuries Pilgrim refugees in America, finding ourselves on a fast track to filling the cornucopia with, among other things, lots of tomatoes, radishes, beans, peas, squash and beets.

And this doesn't include the 2 dozen she's repotted!
Lacking the guidance from the native Americans that the Pilgrims received, we have already made several errors as we plant our garden. LK, for example, did not have great faith in her ability to get seeds to germinate. As a result, she is trying to figure out A) should we go ahead and plant the 60 or 70 tomato seedlings she now has; B) assuming we do, what will we do with the several hundred tomatoes they should yield and C) how much will it cost to buy all the jars and other gear to preserve these things.

I would laugh at her, if only I wasn't trying to figure out what you can do with 60 or 70 radishes. I am quite sure that's the number I will end up with based on the number of seeds that have already germinated. And similar excessive yields are likely for beets, carrots, cucumbers, zucchinis and turnips. Turnips! What in the world was I thinking of?

It will be January or February when most the great harvest begins here in the southern hemisphere. That is also about the time that I should be considering renting a stall at the Sunday Farmers Market. But lacking that, I guess we could revive the tradition and invite our neighbors over to share in our bounty and offer thanksgiving for our plenty.

Or perhaps I am jumping the gun. This morning LK stormed into the house. "Something ate one of my strawberries," she growled. Obviously many gardening challenges remain, but today I think it is nicer to just hold onto my Aussie Thanksgiving fantasy. And make sure I pay special attention to those squash growing in the corner patch. They should make good pies.

Who's been eating my berries, Mrs K wants to know

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


"I have a pea!" -- MLK (Mrs Linda Kennedy)
LK burst through the door yesterday with a wide grin on her face.

"Donald," she said excitedy, "we have a pea!"

Now, because I often burst through that door yelling, "I have to pee!" I at first misunderstood her. But then I realized what she was saying. Our garden was starting to make some food for us.

It should. We have put more work into growing our own veggies than just about any of the other 30 or 40 projects we embraced enthusiastically for a week or two. You know about moving the dirt to set up the bed, but since then we have each spent hours every day planting, thinning, pruning, transplanting seedlings, watering, staking and - as often as not - just standing there admiring our agricultural skills and trying to convince ourselves we really can notice a difference from day to day.

This is a bit surprising to me. It's not like we left Sydney to move to a farm. Our house is in a suburban cul-de-sac near the beach. Real farms are a good 7 miles away.  But for some reason, LK and  I have it in our heads that we are starring in the sequel to Green Acres - with the very surprising difference that both of us have chosen the Eddie Albert role and LK shows no interest in reprising a latter-day Eva Gabor.

The (Patient) Big Green Egg
And it's not just backyard farming. We're pretty much going the whole Nine Green Acres Yards. We are now baking our own bread a couple of times a week and LK has bought a new sewing machine and some quilting kits.

Yesterday we discussed whether we should make some of our own cheese, and the Big Green Egg is waiting patiently for us to begin making our own sausages and smoking them. (Yes, that's the two-year-old Big Green Egg, and when I say it is waiting patiently, I mean very patiently.)

The Herbal Deck
We love roasting chickens now so we can use the carcass the next day to make our own stock, which is especially rich in flavor because I use the parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and tarragon that LK is growing on the deck. Those are the herbs, by the way, which LK visits first thing every morning. "They're looking good," she will report or, less happily, "I'm a little worried about some of the basil." That's a worry, of course, because LK needs it to make her own pesto.

Growing your own does bring us back to the New Age Victory Garden out back. That has more than its fair share of great moments -- like this morning when LK rushed in the door and told me excitedly, "We have a second pea plant with a pod!"

"I have another pea!"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


A big - a very big - pile of dirt

became a little pile of dirt
until eventually it wasn't even a pile of dirt any more

So how did this happen?

No, not how did the dirt pile get smaller. I mean how did it happen that I managed to start a post with two shots of my big fat ass. Every time I get on the scales, I realize I am overweight. But it is pictures like these that drive the point home most cogently. I mean, honestly, I could sell billboard advertising space on the back of my shorts.

Of course, if you look closely (and I doubt that any of you have had the courage to look that closely) you may notice that my BFA is ever so slightly less B in the second picture.

And that's because I have been on the 3-Day Garden Bed Workout and Fitness Regimen as we set up a "No Bend Over" garden bed in our back yard. Our 8ft x 4 ft x 2.5ft corrugated bed was delivered on Saturday along with veggie mix soil.

Unfortunately that 2.25 cubic metre (80 cubic feet) of soil that was delivered with the garden bed couldn't get past the front yard, while the garden bed sat in the back yard. So this past weekend has been spent moving dirt. Lots of dirt.

For the better part of three days, my life became quite routine. I would fill the wheelbarrow in the front yard, catch my breath, push the wheelbarrow about 35 yards to the garden bed, catch my breath, shovel the dirt into the garden bed, catch my breath and go back to the dirt pile.

There were a few steps in between. LK had researched how to properly set up one of these planting containers. Trusting the Internet to be accurate, she recommended a layer of straw near the bottom and, closer to the top, a layer of lucerne mulch and finally some cow manure.

Now here's the shocking news. The cow manure was virtually odorless, not even remotely similar to the smells I recall from my grandfather's dairy farm. But the lucerne mulch? As our friend Jaki often says, it was nasty. I mean rank, rotting smells that rivalled the worst sewage pits. You can see in this picture how enthusiastically I embraced putting that into the garden bed.

But you can also notice in that picture that the level of dirt is getting pretty high in the bed. It would have been nice to complete the dirt transport on Day 2, but I was discovering that one day of moving dirt doesn't really get you ready for the second day.

About the time this picture was taken, I was getting ready to give into my aches and pains and head into Day 3 the next morning. But after putting down this layer of foul mulch I felt I absolutely had to cover it up. So a couple more barrows and then I called it quits.

It was interesting to see that LK was still researching on the Internet. Only now, instead of finding out how to set up a garden bed, it seemed she was watching a YouTube video of how to administer CPR. That's what I like about her - she's always prepared.

Anyhow, yesterday the bin was finally full; we went to the nursery to buy seedlings since we're a bit late to be planting from seeds for most veggies. They will, we are pretty sure, turn into the most expensive vegetables we have ever eaten.

And then we started planting. And much to our surprise, that was a pain in the butt, too - although admittedly not the same kind of pain as you get lugging dirt back and forth. We took turns putting in carrots, spring onions, leeks, tomatoes and peppers before agreeing that the rest could wait until today and cocktail hour could begin early.

It's funny to realize that now that I am retired I get satisfaction from the strangest things. Whereas once I got a buzz when our company won publishing awards, now I am energized by moving dirt around.  Somehow it didn't even matter that all this effort was only so we could have fresh vegetable. If we were planting barley, hops and malt, I could understand. But carrots and onions? Yep, things are different.

And now it's time to finish planting. We've got turnips and parsnips and squash and peas  and beans to fill out our garden above the ground.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Boo! Boo Hoo!

Mr Jack O'Lantern staring from behind the bars of our porch railing

Happy Halloween!

Or not.

The eve before the Feast of All Hallows (now All Saints) Day has become a unique fun night, with kids in their costumes trick-or-treating their neighbors and hauling in bags full of sweets. Well, let's just say some kids are trick-or-treating because others are not.  I am pretty sure kids in Burma don't do it, nor do kids in Iran, Libya and certain conservative Christian neighborhoods in the US.

Nor Kingston Beach, regrettably.

They were doing it in Sydney by the time we left. At first Lily and a couple of her friends were among the few who door-knocked in fancy dress, but five years later there were good, solid numbers of kids who had caught on that all you had to do was put on a funny face and you could get enough candy to stay awake until Christmas.

And we loved it. Cute kids, scary costumes and all we had to do was open the door and hand them a miniature Snickers bar. No turkeys to cook, no presents to wrap. Just buy enough bags of candy to keep the goblins happy and enjoy yourself.

But we have apparently lost our Halloween in Oz now that we've moved here. It's not like LK didn't try her best to get the neighborhood in the mood. She carved a great jack o'lantern and with his gap-toothed grin he stared at the neighbors from behind the bars of the porch railing, virtually begging them to knock on the door and demand one of the dozens of treats we had optimistically bought for the big night.

Oh well, we can't expect every holiday from our youth to translate into Strine. It's just that we more or less hoped this fun one would have made it. Our expectations rose here in Tassie when the local grocery stores started selling American-type pumpkins for carving (the "flesh" of the Aussie kind are too thick to carve).

But perhaps we could have figured that they really hadn't quite mastered all the details when they cut the stems off the top so you couldn't easily lift the "lid" you carve in order to light the candle. LK solved the problem with a stroke of Halloween ingenuity. Like Dr Frankenstein himself, she held her creation together with your standard bolt and not quite so standard wing-nut. Now she just has to be as creative figuring out what to do with 47 miniature Snickers bars.