Preserving and more preserving!

February has continued to be very hot (the highest we recorded was 44.7 Celcius!! Some areas of the garden suffered in the heat, but a few of the veggies thrived! We had tomatoes in abundance, and despite giving away loads to family and friends there was plenty to preserve.

So we tended to do indoor jobs on those hot days, including lots of preserving the produce that was in abundance, such as…..

Creole sauce is a wonderfully versatile sauce using up the abundance of tomatoes and other veggies. It will make a great pasta sauce, or a base to add meat to, or to add to casseroles in the cooler weather. We are always happy to have plenty of sweet chilli sauce on hand too, so have made quite a few bottles this season with our great ongoing crop of long red chilli.
Batches of stewed rhubarb, zucchini pickles, and more delicious Creole sauce!

With the heat, we have been working on perfecting our sourdough bread in a camp oven on the barbecue rather than having the oven on in the house- it has been quite successful, though more tweaking of the controls to get the best temperature for the final browning is needed.


Guinea pigs and much more!

Yes, that’s right- guinea pigs! We read that guinea pigs LOVE eating grass and weeds, so decided to get some to base in the orchard. Due to the risk of predators, we don’t let them free range, but keep them in an enclosure around a fruit tree. So far we have two groups of boys- the brothers Huey, Dewey and Louie; and the brothers Pinky and Perky. So far it has been successful, in that they have stayed safe and are eating down the grass!

Dewey and Louie in their enclosure around the pomegranate tree
Huey, Louie and Dewey (L to R)

It has been a particularly busy January, not just with the new arrival of the guinea pigs. The ducklings are growing at a rate of knots, and we have now moved the four from mama hen and joined them with the rest of the ducks.

We also cleaned out the yabby tank, and were thrilled with how many there are! After moving to McCarthy Park 2, we kept getting losses and really couldn’t figure out why. The only real difference between the places was that in MP 1 we used bore water (as that was our only water supply), and in MP 2 we used rain water (as the bore water is ok for the garden but is a bit brown and sulphide smelly). Well, in desperation we eventually just started using bore water to see if it made any difference, and it obviously has! There are large, medium and small yabbies, lots of tiny babies, and at least a couple of females ‘berried’- with eggs.

mid way through emptying and refreshing the tank- gorgeous blue yabbies!
Just some of the yabbies, the smaller ones

It has been HOT, far too hot to work outside during the middle of the day, so that is a good time to preserve the harvest.

We have had an abundance of tomatoes, still (!), and have made sauces and given plenty away. We also dehydrated a few, to store in oil for snacks and pasta.

Also the hot weather encourages other inside jobs like saving and storing seeds from our home grown vegetables….

Over the years, we have tried a few different seed storage systems and methods (eg by season, by month), but this is the most successful for us- alphabetical order!

It’s getting chilly!!

Well, we have had a bit of rain to top up the tanks, so no need to buy water for a while at least But it is so cold! One weekend morning it was minus 2.1 still at 7.30am!

A few plants suffered with the sudden chill, so now we are trying to protect them with nets to see if that helps them bounce back in spring.

Preserving has continued, with a bit of a reshuffle in the produce room needed to fit it all on the shelves. It has also been a bit tedious writing the contents on each lid (in case we forget what is what!), so now we write on the shelf directly with chalk!

We had such a great pumpkin harvest this year, so some was chopped and canned in some broth ready to make pumpkin soup, mash or add to casseroles- yum! There are still loads of pumpkins to harvest too!

And in exiting news, our Flemish Giant rabbit ‘Kep’ (Nyungar for ‘rain’) is due to have babies any day! She is looking particularly large around the middle, and has started pulling out fur to line a nest behind her crate. This will be her first litter, so fingers are crossed all goes well for her and the kits.

Orange season again!

Last post was about how many lemons we had, and making Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney- now it is oranges!

We gave our 30+ year old orange tree a good prune as it was getting very tall and overhanging the roof. Timing for pruning has always been difficult with this orange tree as it is always in fruit! As one lot of oranges are ready to harvest, so another lot are forming. We decided to just go for it as we had way too many oranges and the tree really needed a tidy.

After pruning we had so many oranges to give away and preserve.

plenty of oranges!

We gave away a couple of baskets, and made some more of our delicious Orange Brandy Liqueur, which always is well received at Christmas time!

orange brandy liqueur in progress

There will be more of that to come, plus maybe some Orange Chutney……….

orange tree AFTER pruning!

Last month was pruning time for our orchard, and now the plums and nectarines are starting to flower! Hopefully we get lots of delicious fruit again this year!

plum tree in flower

And just to update on the bee hive move- it is going really well! Thank goodness, because it has been very cold and windy in Perth since we did the move. Today was lovely and sunny and we saw plenty of coming and going and also plenty of pollen coming into the hive. Phew!

pollen coming into the hive- a good sign!


Winter time- orchard, bees and animals

It has been a fairly busy month or so tidying the orchard trees, preserving the bountiful lemons, and of course getting firewood for our wood fire!

We generally do a summer prune, and a fairly light prune in winter but there has been so much growth on most of the fruit trees that we have just done a fairly thorough winter prune on most trees. It was a bit late for the apricots so they have been left, but everything else was reduced in height to ensure they can be easily netted and harvested.

Pruned and tidied orchard

We have had some bumper crops this last season, so a good tidy up was certainly needed! Also most of the trees are now big enough to remove the metal surrounds we had surrounding them so the geese and turkeys didn’t damage them. This makes it so much easier to whipper snip, fertilise and generally tend each tree.

Couple of remaining surrounds protecting the growing trees

Our lemon tree has been thriving, as lemon trees so often do! We have cut many into wedges for the freezer (ideal for adding to a refreshing drink- whether it is just water or gin and tonic!), and made lots of Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney to add to the couple of remaining jars from last year. This chutney is a real favourite of ours and used almost daily.

Lemon and Mustard Seed Chutney

We have also sowed our ‘clucker tucker’ areas, adjoining the chook run. This provides a good supply of green food for the poultry when we need to leave them locked up in their pens.

Clucker Tucker

We recently purchased some more guinea fowl which were added to one of the clucker tucker areas to get accustomed to our place. In another week we will let them out to join our others, who free range the property.

New additions

As if there aren’t enough mouths to feed, we have been including a pair of Pacific Black ducks who are regular visitors to the dam and now the food supply!

Wildlife joining in

And another major bee event- we moved our Langstroth from the front paddock because with all the tree growth it is now in pretty constant shade, and hadn’t really thrived over the warmer months. We used the same procedure as when we moved the Warre some time ago- the hive was closed up one evening when the bees were inside, strapped up and tied to a trolly, and moved to its new location nearby the other hives.

Moving the strapped up hive

The hive stayed closed for three days, and a bush placed at the entrance. When the entrance was opened, the bees are forced to reorient due to the bush in the entrance. So far so good, there is coming and going from the hive and even bees taking pollen in. The plan in the warmer weather is to transfer the frames from this Langstroth to the new horizontal hive which was placed behind it ready. The horizontal hive uses all Langstroth components so is easily interchangeable (unlike when we have transferred to or from Top Bar and Warre hives), and has the huge benefit, like the Top Bar, of not needing to lift a full super. Unlike the Top Bar though, it will be easier to manage, and harvest, as it uses the Langstroth frames.

Horizontal hive ready for the transfer

Anyone for champagne?

The elderflowers are flowering like crazy at the moment, so it is time to make elderflower champagne! It is really easy to make, and tastes delicious! Also there was plenty of rhubarb in the garden so made a batch of rhubarb champagne at the same time. It looks so lovely and pink, can’t wait to try it! Every day we have to release a little bit of air from the bottles until the fermentation slows down, then the lids get tightened and it is nearly ready-yum!

Elderflower champagne on the left, and rhubarb champagne on the right

Luffa or Loofah Soap

We love growing our own luffa/loofah, which we then use in a hand soap. It is great for cleaning off the dirt after a day in the garden!

Growing loofah is much like growing pumpkin, though they do have a longer growing season so don’t leave the planting too late. Here in Perth we plant in September/October. If it is cool in September (which it certainly is this year!), it is best to plant in trays under cover. Usually though I have no problem sowing seed directly into the soil. This year we had a good crop, though for some reason they were quite small.

When young, the loofah can be cooked and eaten, but we prefer to grow them to maturity to use the dried sponge inside. When they have matured, they dry out and you can hear the seeds rattling inside. After picking, we allow them to dry out some more, then peel them, and shake all the seeds out-saving for planting the next season of course.

After being peeled, cleaned and air dried they look like this:

Home grown loofah, cleaned and ready to use

The loofah need to be really dry, so we leave them another week or two to be sure, then make up a batch of melt and pour soap. This is a really quick way of making soap, though we have plans next time to make a cold press soap and see how that goes. Melt and pour soap comes in a block- we just got the plain glycerine soap from Aussie Soap Supplies and added some lemongrass essential oil and a hint of yellow colour. The loofah were cut to size and placed inside these handy, non stick cylinders (we also tried in the soap moulds to see how they would work).

Once set and cool, the soaps in the moulds were turned out-but a lot of the detail of the mould is lost with the loofah inside so next time we will try plain moulds. With the cylinders, we just carefully cut off the closed end and pushed out the soap, then cut into slices.

The final product, is a gentle, lightly antibacterial (from the lemongrass) loofah soap that works a treat after a day in the garden- you know?- when the dirt is ingrained in your fingers and you think they will never be the same again!

Oranges, oranges and more oranges!

We have the most amazing orange tree- it fruits prolifically and the oranges are delicious. Only problem is, there are SO MANY oranges we can’t possibly eat them all so we need to preserve them.

One days picking

One days picking


Another day’s picking, after giving loads away!


One of our favourite ways is to make Orange Brandy Liqueur. It uses up lots of oranges (and brandy!) and tastes divine, however we still had plenty left from last year so really didn’t need to make more with this year’s harvest.

Last year we also froze a load of whole oranges so we could juice them when we wanted- except we didn’t and they were still in the freezer! So out they went, and after a search of the recipe books we settled on:

  • Litres and litres of orange juice- some to drink straight away and plenty for the freezer.
  • We also cut heaps of orange wedges for the freezer- these are great to add to a drink instead of an ice block and are great to suck on on a hot summers day.
  • Orange chutney (18 jars!) – this is delicious, and while it took ages to peel the oranges the result was worth it.

Orange Chutney

Orange Chutney

  • Orange, coconut and apple crisps-we happened to have some apple sauce left over, so whizzed up some with oranges and coconut in the Thermomix to make a paste. This was then dehydrated and broken into pieces for a delicious snack!

Orange crisps and orange, coconut and apple crisps

Orange crisps and orange, coconut and apple crisps

  • Orange crisps– we did this last year too, and is well worth maintaining a supply for quick snacks or to add flavour to cold drinks or tea. The oranges are sliced with a mandoline and then dehydrated.
  • Orange infused vinegar and oil- the dehydrated orange slices give a great flavour to white wine vinegar or a light olive oil. Great for cooking with or for salad dressings.

Orange infused vinegar and  orange infused oil

Orange infused vinegar and orange infused oil

  • Marmalade- it is hard to not make marmalade with a surplus of oranges, so 20 jars were made, which is more than enough for us and for gifts!

Orange marmalade

Orange marmalade

  • Orange paste– by now we were wondering what else to do with so many oranges still. We kept giving them away, the last basket was starting to linger, and we love the fruit pastes that go with cheese so decided to try Orange Jelly (paste). It is quite a simple recipe and really delicious! We made 16 jars, so plenty to last a long time!

Orange jelly- a fabulous paste to have with cheese

Orange jelly- a fabulous paste to have with cheese

And that, finally, saw the end of the baskets of oranges. Now we can enjoy  the wonderful flavour in so many different ways for many months to come, and we have added to the shelves in the produce room!

Full shelves

Full shelves!


We have so much honey, and a lot of it crystallised, so we decided to try Sandor Katz T’ej (Ethiopian style honey wine) as described in his book ‘Wild Fermentation’. It is delicious, and so very easy to make! It has helped put the crystallised honey to good use- we just warmed it enough to liquify before mixing with the water.

Naturally fermented mead (T'ej)

Naturally fermented mead (T’ej)

Honey, honey, honey…….

Well, the hives are going well. We decided to re-queen both hives- we had read a lot of advice on re-queening annually, plus with the billabong hive still behaving aggressively we decided that replacing the queen was the only option. Never having done it before, we did some research and found it surprisingly easy. The hardest part was finding the old queens and removing them!

After re-queening, we left the hive for 10 days and then checked, and sure enough the billabong hive was calmer already, so we knew we had done the right thing. With the weather getting cooler, it was also time to reduce the number of supers again. We had already removed one super from each of the kitchen and billabong hives, and harvested heaps of honey, and we now reduced them further. For winter, each hive has the brood box and one super, which is more than half full of honey. We will keep an eye on them but hopefully this will keep them going over winter. Mind you, it has been amazingly mild so far and the bees are continuing to bring in pollen at a great rate!

Produce room full of honey

Produce room full of honey