Download our free Illawarra Edible Garden Guide!

 

 

How can you change a typical suburban house in Wollongong into a sustainable, healthy home and organic food garden?


Join us on an adventure to explore the possibilities... 

 


Monday
May212012

Finger limes – tasty bush tucker

With fruits bursting with tiny pockets of limey goodness that look like caviar, finger limes are uniquely Australian and native to the coastal rainforests of south east Queensland and northern NSW. 

Our four year old finger lime shrub had a bumper crop this year, and has been dripping with the small, elongated fruits.

Finger limes can be used in similar ways to other limes, and are said to be good in jams and sauces and as an accompaniment to seafood. We’re just starting to experiment with using our finger limes, and made a nice banana and lime cake with them the other day. A friend of ours enjoys eating them fresh, though they’re a bit too tart for us that way! There are some good suggestions of how to use them at: 

 Have you ever tried finger limes? We'd love to hear any suggestions about how to use them! If you're interested in growing finger lime, check out our finger lime profile. 

Saturday
Apr282012

Permablitz the Gong – National Permaculture Day

We’ve learned so much from the ethics and principles of permaculture, and it’s really inspired the way we garden and live our lives as ‘sustainability in action.’ Next Sunday 6 May is International Permaculture Day, a day for celebrating permaculture with a blitz of permaculture activities and events! There’s a great website at http://www.permacultureday.info/ which has all the details about what’s happening across Oz.

Here in Wollongong, a group of local Permaculture enthusiasts (fondly known as ’permies’) will be using national permaculture day to launch ‘Permablitz the Gong.’ A permablitz is a sustainable garden makeover where a group of people (including at least one permaculture designer) create or add to gardens in backyards and nature strips, turning lawns into edible landscapes.  If participants come to three or so permablitzes they’re then eligible for one at their own house as the permablitz network is based on reciprocal volunteer support! This first Permablitz will be in West Wollongong, and all are welcome – check out  http://permablitzthegong.wordpress.com/    and  http://www.facebook.com/permablitzthegong for details!

Are you doing anything to celebrate National Permaculture Day? 

Thursday
Apr192012

Tales of chicken rescue

There’s a feisty new chook on the block around here – little miss Chelsea. Recently our neighbour down the street woke up to find seven chooks in her backyard! Six of them wandered back home, wherever that was, but one of them stayed, so she kindly fed her and gave her water. A month later she was still there! Worried about her not having a proper shelter and being vulnerable to foxes, our neighbour asked if we would adopt little Chelsea.

A lone chook introduced into a flock can get a hard time from the existing birds as they work out the pecking order. As our gorgeous silkies Gruma and Charma are pretty chilled gals, we thought Chelsea should be okay. Turns out it was the poor silkies we needed to worry about, as this tiny little pocket rocket chook initially lashed out, unprovoked by the silkies! That took us all by suprise!  Thankful after a day she settled down. The three girls are getting along just fine and Chelsea has laid three beautiful white tiny eggs already.

On a sad note, our lovely chook Rosie, passed away a couple of weeks ago. Rosie was a sweet little chook, who rescued herself by jumping over a high fence into our yard, while the neighbours new dog tragically killed her three companions.

We happily adopted her, and she got along with our silkies like a dream right from the word go. We’re not sure why she died, whether it was old age or maybe something she picked up from the wild birds as she free ranged in the yard, but we’re glad she came and joined us here at Happy Earth.

Thursday
Apr122012

Blissing out on homestyle dehydrated bananas

With another bumper crop of over 150 homegrown bananas on our hands, it was time to experiment with our new Excalibur dehydrator!

We sliced some of the bananas about ½cm thick, as the booklet that came with the dehydrator recommended...

And 11 hours later they had been transformed into yummy super sweet treats!

We love to be able to really sink our teeth into scrumptious dried bananas, so we also cut quite a lot into quarters...

And they 24 hours later they were ready for enjoying! The only problem is they taste sooo good, it’s going to be hard to make them last more than 24 hours on the shelf!

Friday
Mar232012

Growing Gorgeous Borlotti Beans

With gorgeous bright pink and white streaked pods, Borlotti beans look stunning growing in the garden.

This summer we planted our first crop of borlotti beans, and are already reaping the harvest. The beans can be cooked fresh when the pods are still streaked pink, or if you want to dry and store them for a while, you can let the pods fully dry out and turn brown.

The beans inside the pods are a beautiful white with maroon streaks and flecks. They do loose their markings when cooked though, which is a bit of a shame!

We found there was an average of 6 beans per pod. Thirty pods gave us about 1 cup or 150g of beans.

As well as being a yummy food, beans are great to grow in the veggie patch over summer as they put nitrogen into the soil. Have you grown any pulses in your patch? Or do you know of a yummy recipe for Borlotti beans? We have lots more on the way! 

Thursday
Mar152012

Celebrating the arrival of our little 'Happy Earthling'

A month ago today, our gorgeous little girl made her appearance into the world, born in her bedroom right here at home, looking out into the garden!

She might be smaller than some of the zucchini marrows in our garden, but she is certainly keeping us on our toes!

Tuesday
Mar132012

Basil and macadamia pesto

Summer is the time for basil, and a good pesto is one of summer’s true delights!

We just found a brilliant recipe  for a scrumptious basil and macadamia pesto, shared by NSW macadamia farmer Martin Brook:

  • 1/3 cup of roasted and salted macadamias (we used raw unsalted macadamias)
  • 1 cup of loosely packed basil leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1/4 cup of good parmesan
  • 1/4 cup of macadamia oil (if you didn’t have this you could use olive oil – but the maca oil is delicious!)
  • 1 tbs of fresh lemon juice

Simply pop all the ingredients into a food processor and blend. We also added a bit of salt and pepper at the end after tasting. It was delicious mixed through pasta and makes about 1 cup of pesto, enough for about 4 servings, depending on how much pesto you like on your pasta!

As we enjoyed this recipe so much, we went on to made a big batch! Some we stored in jars in the fridge (with a layer of olive oil on top to help prevent browning) for use over the next couple of weeks. For longer term storage we popped some into ice cube trays in the freezer.

Do you have a favourite pesto recipe, or way to enjoy basil?

Update - Another yummy version of pesto we just concocted is:

  • ¾ cup raw cashews
  • 3 cup of loosely packed basil leaves
  • 3 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1/2 cup of good parmesan
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tbs of fresh lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Friday
Mar022012

Growing mushrooms

Inspired by Milkwood Permaculture and GreenChange we’ve embarked on our first edible mushroom growing adventure. With all this wet weather we’ve been having, it seemed like the perfect time to get fungus flourishing! We couldn’t resist the novelty of growing King Stropharia giant mushrooms that can get up to 30cm in diameter and so we ordered a bucket of spawn from http://www.fungi.net.au. Before we knew it, we had an exciting delivery from the postie – one very big bucket filled with wood chips, giant mushroom spawn (sealed in the plastic bag) and an instruction sheet.

So we took our bucket of mushroom-making magic down to a shady, out of the way spot on the mulch path at the back of our food forest garden. We’re hoping the mushies will eventually spread all through this mulched area, and started by clearing two 25cm by 25cm patches in the path for them.

We then added half a litre of water to the mulch supplied in the bucket and mixed it around...

Placed half the moistened mulch at the bottom of the patches...

Opened the packet of spawn and spread it out...

Covered our mushroom babes over with the rest of the mulch...

Then gave them a good watering and staked them out so we remember where they are!

So hopefully in 4 to 12 months we’ll have some giant mushies popping up, and producing for several years! Have you had any experience growing mushies before?

Wednesday
Feb222012

Garden friend – Black Flower Wasps

With iridescent blue wings and a black body, Black Flower wasps are native insects that are great to have about in the garden. The adults enjoy feasting on nectar and help pollinate native plants, while the larvae prey on curl grubs which live under the ground and eat the roots of plants.

You generally only spot one of these beautiful wasps at a time, as they’re solitary creatures and don’t build communal nests like paper wasps. But in the summer months a number can cluster together in an area that takes their fancy. This summer we’ve had an explosion of black flower wasps on our nature strip, which is planted with lots of native grasses and has a wood chip path. At times there has been about two dozen wasps zipping up and down the nature strip! We love watching them, but need to reassure family and friends that they’re really passive and not at all aggressive or likely to sting you! Sometimes you see the female wasps crawling into the mulch to lay their eggs.

Our native insects truly are fascinating, yet we often know so little about them. We find the CSIRO website has some interesting info about native insects, as does the website Brisbane insects which is run by a nature-loving family of insect enthusiasts!

Monday
Feb132012

Bunya Nuts – Enjoying this wonderful bushtucker

Bunya nut trees are majestic, towering pines that produce huge cones filled with tasty nuts that are sweet and starchy when cooked, rather like a deliciously nutty flavoured potato, or chestnuts. Growing naturally in pockets of rainforest in Queensland, they have special significance to Aboriginal people, who would have special gathering at the times when Bunya nuts were in abundance.

These slow growing trees were sometimes planted by early settlers, and old trees can be found at various places in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The other week we were lucky to have a friend show us a magical stand of old Bunya trees that had been growing on a property on the far south coast of NSW for many, many decades.  

Every few years mature Bunya Nut pines fruit prolifically between December and March, and luckily for us it was fruiting time! Bunya nut cones are huge, covered in spikes, can weigh up to 10kg, and fall from dizzying heights – meaning they could be quite lethal and not the kind of tree you’d want to plant in a suburban garden! You really don’t want to hang around under Bunya Nuts trees when they’re fruiting. It’s safest to collect cones that have fallen to the ground and rolled out from under the trees. Otherwise make your harvesting run under the trees very swift, not when the wind is blowing, and preferably with a hard hat! Slow Food Australia suggests that cones should be harvested and processed within a week of the cones falling.

The easiest way to break open the cones is with an axe.

Each nut is encased in an individual fibrous packaging that then needs to be peeled off.

Then you’re down to the nut in the shell. We found about 50 nuts in our cone, but there can be up to 100 depending on the size of the cone. There’s different ways to process the nuts, and we went with the method of boiling for about half an hour, and then splitting them open with pillars to reveal the yummy nut inside.

It is quite difficult to pry out the nut this way though, and if we have the chance to enjoy Bunya nuts again we’d try Patricia Gardener’s technique of splitting the tips open with a hammer first, then roasting them for half an hour and cracking them with a hammer.

We enjoyed snacking on our boiled Bunya nuts on their own – they really do have a delicious flavour and texture, like nutty potato. They were also a treat ontop of a veggie pasta dish.

Bunya nuts can also be turned into pesto or blended with honey to make a nice spread for toast. Have you ever seen a Bunya nut tree, or had the chance to enjoy the nuts? 

Sunday
Feb052012

The fruit fly menace

There’s little more disappointing than opening a gorgeous fruit to find it infested with fruit fly maggots! Fruit fly is a serious agricultural pest in our part of the world, and summer is when they’re in full swing. There’s over 250 species of fruit fly in Australia, but thankfully only a handful damage food crops. The worst offender in our region is the Queensland fruit fly.    


For the most part, our strategy for dealing with fruit fly is to grow trees that have a high resistance to fruit fly in our climate. Bananas, paw paw, cherimoyas, babaco, Atherton raspberry and many more fruit trees generally don’t get fruit fly in our area (for a full list see details in our Illawarra Edible Garden Guide!). We find in our coastal climate the trees fruit fly love the most are the stonefruits – plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots. Guavas and fejoas are also quite susceptible. Our neighbours have a peach tree which is badly infested each year, with all the fruit ruined by fruit fly.

Stonefruit are just delicious, and grow so well in our climate. So the way we manage to grow them organically is by keeping dwarf varieties in a pot. This way it’s easy to bag individual fruit with fruit fly exclusion bags when they are very young. As our trees grow, next summer we plan on netting the whole tree in the pot, to prevent fruit fly getting in. Netting trees that are growing in the garden, rather than being kept to dwarf size in a pot, is much more challenging and high maintenance – hence off the cards for us in our low maintenance garden! In the same way, rather than grow large tomatoes which can be highly susceptible to fruit fly, we grow small cherry tomatoes in the veggie patch as they’re much more resistant and generally don’t require bagging for protection.

The Victorian Department of Primary Industries recommends to minimise fruit fly infestations that backyard gardeners: 

  • Prune trees to a height which makes fruit picking easy
  • Remove fruit as it ripens
  • Don’t place infected fruit directly in your compost bin, worm farm or garbage bin
  • Collect and dispose of infected fallen fruit by sealing fruit in a bag and leaving it in the sun for 5-7 days or placing it in the freezer.
  • Remove unwanted trees from your garden (and we would add, replace them with fruit trees that are not so susceptible to fruit fly!) 

There’s also another good website at http://preventfruitfly.com.au/ which has info for backyard gardeners about fruit fly and control strategies.

We usually dispose of any infested fruits by freezing them. After freezing we add them to our compost bin.

Do you get fruit fly where you are? How do you manage gardening organically with this cheeky pest?

Sunday
Jan292012

Magical handmade eco baby quilt!

What could be more magical than a biodiversity-themed baby quilt that’s been handmade ethically and sustainably with love? We just had to share with you our excitement about receiving this most beautiful gift from our super talented crafty friend Annie from Pearl and Elspeth!

Featuring flowers, birds, and even cucumbers and oranges, it’s the funkiest baby quilt around. We can’t wait for shortly-to-arrive bub to enjoy it!

Annie is a such star at making gorgeous clothes and other amazing creations from recycled fabrics, including tea-towels, sheets and tablecloths. You can find her unique creations at Georgie Love - blatant plug for a friends ethical and sustainable business here! Be inspired by her latest eco makings and her beautiful families exciting adventure as they embark on creating a strawbale, passive solar house and food garden at http://pearlandelspeth.blogspot.com!

Sunday
Jan152012

Our new Facebook page!

We’ve just started a new Happy Earth Facebook page – so if you’re on Facebook, like us at http://www.facebook.com/ourHappyEarth! As well as notifying you about new posts we put up on this website, our Facebook page will be updated with additional snippets of inspiring info about sustainable living and growing good food.

We love being inspired by the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/MilkwoodFarm. Do you have a favourite Facebook page that inspires you on your adventure in sustainable living?

Sunday
Jan082012

Zucchini Slice/Muffins

Zucchini and squash are the gifts of summer – and indeed they are now in abundance! Zucchini and squash are one of the fastest growing and most productive summer veggies, making them great for beginner and experienced gardeners alike. If you haven’t planted any yet, it’s not too late, pop some in the garden now!

A friend of ours passed on a recipe for zucchini slice – and it was so delicious we just had to share it with you!

Ingredients (serves 4-6 people):

  • 2 large zucchini, grated
  • 4 carrots, grated 
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 1 and a 1/2 cups of grated cheese (if you have a dairy allergy, you can just leave the cheese out - they still taste great and hold together well)
  • 7 eggs, lightly beaten (if you're short on eggs, we have had success using just 5 rather than 7)
  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • salt and pepper to season

Steps:

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl
  2. Place in large baking tray or slice/cake tin (we used a 23cm square silicon baking tray that’s 4cm deep). Alternatively, you can use a muffin tin to create zucchini muffins
  3. Bake at 180 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown on top (if you cook them in a muffin tin, they will cook quicker - in around 25-35 mins)

What’s your favourite way to use zucchini and summer squash?

Saturday
Dec312011

2011 highlights, 2012 dreams

The thing we love most about sustainable living and permaculture gardening is there’s always something new to learn. Always some fascinating new area to dabble in, to research, to discover, to have a go at, and open up new and exciting possibilities for connecting to the simple joys of life. Learning about top bar bee keeping and getting our first swarm of bees was a real highlight for us this year. Watching them come in and out of their hive, legs loaded with bundles of bright yellow or orange pollen is a true delight.

Dabbling in publishing and having the opportunity to produce our Grow Local Illawarra Edible Garden Guide in partnership with the local Councils was such a wonderful highlight of 2011 for us. Who knows, maybe one day a book will follow...

As for 2012, well a precious new little one will be joining us on our adventure in urban sustainability, as we journey together from a couple to a family. We now produce enough food now in our little suburban food forest for a third mouth to enjoy! We also dream of doing a little eco renovation of the back part of our house, transforming a poorly designed unusable space with solar passive design and innovative building techniques...

With a lovely visit today from the wonderfully amazing permaculture visionaries, educators and farmers Nick and Kirsten from Milkwood (pictured below in our garden), we’re also now inspired to get into growing edible mushrooms down the back of our garden. Their upcoming Milkwood Permaculture mushroom workshops sound just brilliant!

What are your dreams for 2012?

Saturday
Dec242011

Summer rainbows and Christmas wishes 

It’s been a summer of rain in our part of the world, scattered with those magic moments where rainbows shine spectacularly behind the Illawarra escarpment...

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and festive season scattered with your own moments of magic!

Friday
Dec092011

Blue tongue lizards – our backyard buddies 

Four years ago blue tongue lizards were a sight unseen in our suburban garden of lawn, the odd palm and in-ground swimming pool surrounded by concrete. It took two years for our garden to become attractive to these gorgeous reptiles, and as our food forest has come to life they’ve come to make our garden their home. This time of year they’re often out and about sunning themselves – and we’re so pleased they’re here!  

Removing all the lawn and replacing it with ground covers and shrubs is one of the most important ways we’ve helped create a habitat for local bluey’s to enjoy. Gardening organically, without pesticides and herbicides is a great way to encourage our reptilian friends. We also have a few rocks in various places around our garden - they especially love our handbuilt rock retaining wall. Our blue tongues also love sunning themselves on the mosaic path we made from the driveway we ripped up. Here on the path they are within easy reach of vegetation to hide in, compared to when it was a large barren driveway surrounded by lawn!

We also leave a few small pieces of broken terracotta pipes tucked into corners of the garden for them to shelter in.

Blue tongues are great at eating snails in an organic garden – that is when they’re not too blissed out sunning themselves!

Do you have blue tongues in your garden?

Thursday
Nov242011

Free Illawarra Edible Garden Guide 


Following a fantastic ‘launch’ yesterday attended by over 250 people in Wollongong, the Illawarra Edible Garden Guide is now here for all to see!

You can now download a free PDF version by clicking on the cover icon on the right hand side of our homepage. If you live in the Illawarra, you can also pick up a free hardcopy from the admin buildings of Wollongong, Shellharbour or Kiama Councils. We’ve created the guide in partnership with the three local Councils, through the Illawarra Biodiversity and Local Food Strategy for Climate Change project, which has funding support from the NSW Environmental Trust. There’s also a brilliant new Grow Local: Illawarra Native Garden Guide, which is a wonderful ‘sister’ booklet to the food guide.

We think the 47 page booklet looks pretty fantastic – many thanks to the talented Bettina for her amazing graphic design work! It’s packed with photos not only from our garden, but other gardens in the Illawarra including some of our fantastic local community gardens. Though the focus is Illawarra specific, no matter where you live, we hope you find it an inspiring taste of growing food in the suburbs! 

Sunday
Nov202011

Chocolate pudding fruit 

With a name like this, how could one resist growing this delightful subtropical fruit tree? Native to Mexico and the forested lowlands of Central America, the Chocolate pudding fruit is a lush evergreen tree (Diospyros digna) that’s also known as Black Sapote. It’s closely related to the persimmon and it’s green fruits look similar to a persimmon being rounded and about the size of an apple. We have one Chocolate Pudding fruit tree growing in our backyard, and another in a large pot. 

The flesh of the Chocolate Pudding fruit is rich and dark, like a chocolate mousse. The texture is also like a chocolate mousse, and the flavour is sweet, but quite mild. As they’re flavour is mild, we most enjoy eating them mixed with yogurt and honey, or blended into fruit smoothies. In Mexico apparently they enjoy mixing them with orange juice, or fresh passionfruits to enhance the flavour.

Chocolate Pudding fruits are grown commercially in northern Queensland but like with many subtropical fruits you rarely find them in the supermarket as they don’t transport or store so well. The green fruits are picked from August – December, when the calyx (the cap on the top – like with a tomato) has started to turn upward at the edges, and the fruit is still hard but of mature size.  Off the tree the fruits will then darken slightly in colour and progressively soften over a few days to a week or two. At the ripe stage fruits should be very soft and squishy, and you should be able to press the skin easily with your fingers and leave an indent.

For more info about this interesting fruit tree that grow really well in the Illawarra, check out our Chocolate Pudding fruit tree profile

Thursday
Nov032011

October in our suburban food forest garden 

Harvesting an abundance of garlic....

Delighting in mulberries....

Admiring our beautiful bees...

Listening to frogs frolicking...

Watching spring seedlings unfold...

What did you enjoy in October in your garden?