Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 31

Last day of January and the end of the 1st month of picking from the patch.  A lot has happened in this month.  We have doubled our system.  We've picked a heap of veggies and probably more than I thought we would.  Tomatoes have been going crazy.  We have mad a heap of relish, pickles and sauce.  All up its been a good first month.

So today we decided to do a couple of things.  We pulled out all the tomato plants.  There's a couple of reasons.  We are trying to reduce the nutrient uptake a little as our system needs more fish to keep up with the amount of plants we now have.  We cant add trout for maybe a month, so by removing the tomatoes it means less plants that need nutrients.

The tomatoes were at the end of their life and it was just ripening fruit.  We also wanted to make green tomato chutney.  So we picked everything that was left and ended up with another 4.5kg of green tomatoes with which we'll make green tomato chutney.

We also planted more seedlings in the grow bed that we planted in last weekend and the best part of today was a new experiment we are trying.  We are planting seeds.  Not in the usual fashion of row by row but we mixed a heap of different seeds and then spread them all over the grow bed.  We wont know what will grow where.  It may be a disaster or it may be a great way of growing.  We'll wait and see.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 30


Nothing picked today but we made 8 long neck bottles of the most delicious sauce from our tomatoes.  It reminds me of making sauce with my grandparents many years ago.

Here's the proof.  8 bottles.

On another note our shade cloth seems to be doing a great job as the water temp is only at 22oC which is great for todays hot weather.  We'll monitor it over the next week during the warm days and if it stays around that temp we'll get some trout.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 29

Another revisit of a previous dish tonight with basil and tomatoes from the patch.  Sometimes its the very simple things that are the best.  

The basil amazes me every time with its intense smell and flavour.  Our eldest daughter runs around the house with a bunch smelling it like roses offering it to her younger sister saying, "Smell it Tilly!"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 28

Today again just some more of what we can expect to see over the next few months.

Radicchio is doing well also.  I haven't used this vegetable much at all so I'm looking forward to trying it.  Maybe in a risotto or similar italian dish.

And just tonight I spied this little fellow and a friend nearby.  Another 2 pumpkins.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 27

Things are slowing down in the patch.  We got another 1.5kg of tomatoes today so we are ready to make sauce.   As for other things we are starting to get a slow down of produce.  I feared this may happen as my timing wasn't to well planned initially.  When we put in the original two grow beds we planted everything at once.  This has meant we have got a lot in one hit.  Great for preserving but not so great when things are finishing their season.

We do have some things starting to come on now and so I'll show you them over the next few days.

I am really excited about these.  Two rock melons that are doing extremely well.

And eggplant flowers.  They are a beautiful purple colour.  We had some flowers a few weeks back but nothing eventuated.  Hopefully these ones will fruit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 26

Happy Australia Day.  What a magnificent day it is too.  Its been a great long weekend and we are well on track for making some "dead horse" which is aussie slang for tomato sauce.   We picked another kilo of tomatoes today which now takes us up to 3.5kg of tomatoes.  When we get to 5kg we will make a batch.

You can see in the picture below the ones from two days ago and today's harvest.  I am really amazed at the amount we have got first time round.

We did do some more pickled cucumbers today.  Our little shelf of preserved veggies is slowly building and will mean we can eat some of this summer produce in the other seasons.

I've been keeping this picture for awhile to use when things go a little quiet.  Our first pumpkin.  Its going well.  We had one other but the flower rotted and transferred to the fruit and we lost it.  Cant wait to pick this one in the autumn.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 25

Its been a busy couple of days and now the shade "curtain" is up over the grow beds.  We still need to make one more "curtain" but its doing a great job.  The difference in temperature is very noticeable which will help with those extra hot days to keep everything from getting burnt or the water heating too high.  

Not much was picked today at all.  Our daughter got some more strawberries but they are still small.  We are noticing a slow down in growth at the moment which is probably the dilution of the nutrients due to the extra water.  I checked the water temperature and its right on 24oC.  Too hot for trout so we need to wait.  I'll add some Seasol to keep things ticking along but until we can stock with trout we'll probably not get a lot but thats part of the learning curve.  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 24

Another day of working in the patch.  The concrete has started setting around the poles but its still too early to put up the shade.  I will do that next weekend.  What I did do today was drill holes and attach the fittings that will hold the 5mm wire to run the shade curtain on.  The poles were painted cottage green.

Then it was time to pick something yummy.  My wife's desire is to make tomato sauce so we aren't eating the tomatoes at the moment.  We are holding off to get as many as we can and today we picked a total of 2.5kg of tomatoes.  There would be at least 5kg still left on the vine so we should be able to make a decent amount of sauce.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 23

Today was a big day in the patch.  We have almost completed the build of the new extension.

The last thing I wanted to do was have a shade sail for the tank at the bare minimum.  Having a second one for the really hot days to shelter the veggies would be the ultimate.  So when I mentioned it to a friend he suggested a shade sail that was like a horizontal curtain.  It means we can have it open just over the tank until hot days we can pull it out over the whole aquaponics area and also on very windy days we can push it all away and tie it up to stop it blowing away.

So the plan was set.  I dug out 4 massive holes and concreted in 75mm x75mm poles.

Tomorrow the next part....  but in the mean time.  Grace was awoken with the prospect of fresh strawberries.  She was still in her pj's but wanted to have them for breakfast.

The strawberries never really grow big before they ripen.  I'm not sure why.  Hopefully eventually we can work it out and grow bigger ones.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 22

Tomatoes and cucumbers are in full swing now.  The tomato bushes are dying off and the numbers of fruit ripening each day is incredible.  A very successful first year of growing tomatoes.

We have been using seedlings in our system and I think eventually I'd like to get to the point where we use all seeds.  I think growing heirloom vegetables and using some of the produce to collect seeds for the next years crop would be a fantastic way to go.  Not only would it reduce costs but we'd also again know where our seeds were coming from.  Also learning about seed collecting and how to do it would be beneficial for us and also another great activity for our girls.

Well as you can see from the picture.  Its cucumber pickles and tomato sauce time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 21

My oldest daughter wasn't felling well at all today so we didn't even get the daily question of "Are there any strawberries?".  I snuck out a few hours before dinner to pick some things and noticed about 4-5 nice big red ones that I didn't notice yesterday.  Its almost like the come up over night.  She'll have a strawberry feast next time she asks.

So for dinner I picked tomatoes and rosemary.  We slow roasted a leg of lamb as it was much easier to let it cook over a few hours while looking after our little girl.  I studded the lamb with rosemary and put the tomatoes in the roasting dish to roast at the same time.  The intensity of the tomato flavour was nothing like i've had before and the lamb was tender with a nice hint of rosemary.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 20

When we are kids we love a treasure hunt and tonight was just that as my daughter and I lifted the huge cabbage leaves to see what we could discover underneath.

First it was other old leaves which we put into the compost.  Then a pull on a onion stem, then another and another and we found 2 beautiful tiny brown onions and a white onion.  They looked so good in miniature that we decided to pick a few of the other baby vegetables including our first squash and mini capsicums.

We were trying to decide what dish to make and then decided it would make a fantastic "display" jar of whole baby pickled vegetables.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 19

It was time to visit an old friend tonight.  We had the last of our silver beet and remade the dish from Day 2.

I'd been eyeing of the delicious green leaves for a few days now wondering when it would become cool enough for us to have this dish again.

Speaking of green leaves.  Our system may fall of a little for the next while.  The nutrients our fish are providing are a more diluted in the extra water so we need to add more fish, but it is too early to add trout which is our winter species.  

Unfortunately, water when it reaches 24oC is too hot for trout.  Currently its at 20oC and it wouldn't take much to raise it to dangerous temperatures.  I am going to monitor it over the next few weeks and see how the temperature is fluctuating.  Its a real time thing now.  I dont want to add new plants too early for fear of taking nutrient from the ones already growing.  I also dont want to add trout to early for fear of killng them with the water to hot so we may need to wait a couple of weeks before we can go ahead with it.  

In the mean time I have water circulating through the new grow beds which will help the bacteria build up so that the nitrogen cycle can start.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 18

We’ve been building up a large quantity of tomatoes because they are ripening daily and as we’d made sauce already we’d thought we’d try something else.  

Looking in a preserves book I’d bought years ago I found a recipe for tomato and apricot chutney.   One of the things we really aim to do is preserve produce and this sounds like a great one to try.  

From the patch we used around 750gms of tomatoes and a chilli just to add some kick.  It was our 1st red chilli and I thought I’d try a bit.  It was unbelievably hot.   

We ended up making 4 jars of chutney and at first taste I think its going to be a winner.  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 17

Today has been a crazy day full of pipework, cable ties, clayballs, tanks, water and wind.  

Amazing to think that less than a week ago we were experiencing temps in the mid 40’s , and by the end of today we get rain. 

Today was the big day.  Installing the long awaiting system expansion.  We had Dean and his wife Jen, from Growfresh Aquaponics come over and lead the way in setting it all up.  

Dean is a perfectionist so everything was done to the utmost level and it looks great.  I have a few things to finish off but the long weekend coming should get that sorted.  I have started flooding the new beds so that they can start to cycle.  

Due to the busy day I didn’t take any pictures of the food we picked.  We did however share a great lunch with  Dean and Jen and it included lettuce, tomato and some of those fantastic pickled cucumbers we’d made up last week.

Janette took some pictures of us putting the system together though.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 16

This weekend just seems to be exceptionally busy.  We are installing the 2 new grow beds tomorrow and today we are running around making sure we have 95% of the things we need to minimise and dramas we may have.  

Avoiding driving back and forth to hardware shops is the main key.  So lunch is on the run and a bit of an old fashioned one at that.  Egg and lettuce sandwiches.  

One day we may put chickens in the yard but it will be a few years away so in the mean time a good quality free range version will suffice.  This is the last of our current lettuce as most went to seed during the hotter weather.  We have planted more but they’ll need a few weeks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 15

Friday night, the end of a long week and we’ve been invited to Taste of Tennis.  It’s a function at the Grand Hyatt, with many of Melbourne’s top chefs cooking some amazing food and raising money for The Starlight Foundation.  So as we are being spoilt with fine food we just need a quick snack to satisfy the after work hunger till we eat later tonight.  

A quick look in the garden and I spied a couple of zucchini flowers.  Just what the doctor ordered, stuffed with goat’s cheese and herbs.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 14

Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes.  That's what we picked tonight.  Oh! and 2 strawberries.
We decided to pick them and we'll let them ripen on the window sill.  The reason is because we are noticing a few starting to over ripen in spots due to the density of the surrounding leaves etc.  Its causing them to ripen in spots rather than all over.  We figure we can control it a little better on the window sill.

No cooking today though.  We have to get out and about and will have to eat on the run.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 13

Pickings were a little light on today which gave us the perfect opportunity to use the spicy tomato sauce we made the other day.

We did scrounge up some snow peas but I guess I should stop eating them while I'm feeding the fish or picking other things.  They are just so tempting though.

We made some fresh pasta

And using the tomato sauce we made the other day added some prawns and chopped basil and came up with this little beauty.

Day 13 was the lightest harvest but we are still getting something every day. Our Daughter managed another 6 strawberries but they are on the smaller side.  I'm not sure why they are small though.

I am hoping to get the next 2 grow beds plumbed in this weekend so that we can plant them out to start our autumn crop.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 12

Its becoming a daily thing that we are really starting to think about what we are going to eat from the patch.  It's a bit of a logistical thing at the moment as we wait for things to ripen or grow but we are still managing to get some great produce.

Tonight again I found a large cucumber hiding.  It's almost as if they grow over night.  We picked rosemary and thyme to marinate some lamb to make souvalaki.  The cucumber made a beautiful tzatziki and lettuce leaves and tomato making up the rest.  The flavours really are amazing and so much better than the crap we pay for in the supermarket.

I was planing on taking some for my lunch to work tomorrow but it was too nice to stop eating so I'll have to go with sandwiches.

And just to whet your appetite, a sneak preview of what we hope to be harvesting in a few weeks.  Watermelon.

I did a cleanup of the grow beds tonight.  The warm weather and resulting warmer water has sent a lot of things to seed and the lettuces have become a little woody.  I thinned out some new lettuce seedlings to help them grow with more space and trimmed a lot of dead leaves from the pumpkins, cucumbers and squash.  My Daughter came out and asked how she could help which put a smile on my face knowing that she is enjoying it as much as us.  She only managed one strawberry today but there are two big juicy ones almost ripe which she has her eyes on.  Your days are numbered strawberries!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 11

Soaring into the mid 40's today the outside temperature was a major concern.  In fact it reached 45 oC.

I thought we may have poached some Murray Cod, but the work we did yesterday moving the smaller tank actually provided the shade that was needed to keep the water at a reasonable temp.  The water still reached 32oC but its been that high before and the Cod don't seem to mind.

One nice surprise though was the sign we ordered for our garden gate arrived.  So it's now been official named "the patch".

Now on to the harvest today.  Wanting to use up the 600gm of tomatoes we had left over from yesterdays pick we decided to try a oven roasted tomato sauce.  

We picked a couple of chilli's and some basil to add to the tomatoes and chopped it all roughly.  Added some garlic, EVOO, red wine and roasting in an earthenware dish in the oven for 2.5 hours.

Straining it through a sieve and then putting into a jar for later use.  i can't wait to try it.  We are thinking a pasta with prawns.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 10

This weekend was very busy with installing the new tank and grow beds.  I have it almost complete and cant wait to finish it so we can get more planted.  It was a long day in the heat and working beside the tomatoes we could smell them.  Thinking about what we can do with them we decided on something very simple.  We picked about 15 of the ripe ones and using 3 we made Insalata Caprese Salad.

Some basil from the garden, a Shaw River Buffalo Mozzarella ball, some good olive oil, salt and pepper and this is the result.  We pan fried a salmon fillet to add to it and it was fantastic.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9

7am and I was up and out the door this morning to pick up a hire truck and the new equipment for the extension to the aquaponics system.   We are adding a 3000 lt fish tank and 2 new grow beds.  It really should help us get this system producing as much as possible.  It will still take a week or two to finish it off but its not a small job and getting it right first time is the priority.

Here's a picture of us taking a break after moving all the equipment in today's heat which reached 39oC.  Our friends Peter and Sue helped out and bringing their shade tent was awesome.  It's cemented my thoughts of shading the area especially the tanks.

Tonight's dish was fairly laid back as we were exhausted from todays hard work.  A simple cos salad with cos lettuce from the patch.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Day 8

Today's harvest and dish was inspired by a member of the Backyard Aquaponics Forum asking what you can do with Vietnamese Mint.  This is one of my favourite dishes.  Spring rolls wrapped in iceberg lettuce with a leaf of Vietnamese mint.

We made these spring rolls from scratch and they contained from our garden, spring onion, coriander and of course the iceberg lettuce.

They are so good.

It's a Teage Ezard recipe found here. Spring rolls with Vietnamese mint and lettuce

And as promised an image of some strawberries.  They were very much an endangered species.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Day 7

Week one over and its really been an interesting exercise.  Its harder than I thought to be able to take something everyday and also try and have some variety.  Its really making me start to think hard about how and what I will plant in the future.  

Planning will be the key but what a great learning curve.  Seeing the excitement daily in my daughter as she asks me as soon as we walk in the door "Can we see whats ready."  Its gold.  Money can't buy that.

At times I think i may go a day without taking something but so far I have managed to do something different each day.  Some days we have revisited salad leaves but it is Summer, so its salad season.  

We've got some interesting things coming through but they will need a few more weeks.  Yellow zucchinis, squash, capsicums and watermelons.

So onto today's pick.  We've had a little luck with some corn.  Not a huge result but enough to taste the potential.  A piece of steak was on the menu so a fresh "raw" veggie salad made a great side.  We used corn, coriander, celery and spring onion.  The steak was topped with a herb butter using rosemary.

Tomorrow I promise, finally a strawberry picture.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Day 6

Picking through what is starting to become a jungle I found some baby leeks.  We planted these early on and I'd actually forgotten about them as they are right in the middle of the grow bed surrounded by cabbages and tomatoes.

I know these leeks are wonderful when picked at this stage so after looking through some cook books I found a recipe for a creamy leek risotto*.  An added chicken breast and this is the result.

*Recipe from The Silver Spoon

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 5

Two days without Internet access right at the beginning of starting this journal has been an untimely incident.  My aim is to write everyday but with unforseen and uncontrolled outages it may not always go as planned.

We have however continued to harvest and take pictures of what we have picked from the patch and also what we have done with it.

The upside is, I guess, that the downtime has given me time to plan the logistics of picking up our new 3000lt tank and 2 new grow beds.  Pick up is this weekend and I will be adding the extension over the coming weeks.  I have hired a 3 tonne truck fit for the job and all is ready to go.  Exciting times.

So on to the harvest of Day 5. We really wanted to try our cucumber pickles with something.  I took my 3 year old out to the patch and after she swiftly consumed 6 strawberries , we noticed our watermelons are really starting to take shape.  They are now the size of a weird shaped golf ball and seem to get bigger everyday.

But onto what we’ll eat today.  We found some Cos lettuce and tomatoes.  Perfect for a lamb burger with our pickled cucumbers.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day 4

Back at work for the first time since starting this adventure into using our aquaponic produce daily and I can see its going to be a challenge but one I really want to strive to achieve.

I think some days, like today, it may just be slices of tomato or a sprig of fresh herbs, until I get used to the timing of planting and harvesting.

This will be crucial for the success of my aim, which is to be able to harvest something everyday.

We are about to double our garden size this weekend which really should help in giving us a lot of produce.  I will also time the planting of each of the 4 grow beds about 2-3 weeks apart so we get a longer time frame of harvest and also so not everything is becoming ripe and ready all at one time.

So after a long day at work we wanted to do something quick and easy.  A free range chicken breast crumbed and topped with roma tomato, freshly picked and warmed from the sun, was the ideal choice.

Unfortunately with the distractions of my children I only remembered to take this initial picture before we topped with fresh Italian mozzarella and finished it off in the oven.  In future I will have to make sure we don't tuck in to quickly and make sure we show you the final result.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day 3

One of the things we really want to do with our garden is keep to the seasons.  Why try and grow a winter vegetable in summer or vice versa.

But how can we have some of the produce that we love from one season right through the year?

What do we do when we have excess of something.  I don't want to turn into a rabbit and eat 50 kg of tomatoes and cucumbers.

Preserving.  Its what our grandparents and their grandparents did many years ago.  Its a way to value add to a product as well.  Yummy pickles and chutneys, tomato sauces and many other things that add that little bit of something to your dishes.

Lately we have been picking about 1 cucumber a day from our patch and initially we were just eating them in salads.  Lots of crunch and sweetness, but trying to eat one a day was too much.

We decided to pickle some and have made a batch of Diana's Bread and Butter Pickled Cucumbers* this morning.  It was so easy and took no time at all.  We'll continue to pickle them every 3-4 days as we get more and more cucumbers.  They taste amazing and we'll now be able to use them all year long.

We are so excited about making preserves from our produce that we have cleared an area of the pantry to start stocking up.

*Recipe from Kitchen Garden Companion by Stephanie Alexander

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day 2

Day 2 and another pick from "the patch".

We were looking for something we could have for lunch so decided on the silver beet and a bit of English spinach.  We also found 2 more cucumbers that were hiding so picked those as well so we now have a total of 3 to use.  We may see how a fourth is going and tomorrow we'll pickle them.

Todays lunch was a delicious dish called One-pot Silver beet, Potato and Sausage "comforter"*.  A very basic dish and I'd almost say peasant style but the flavours were amazing.  The spinach was crisp and sweet and not at all like spinach bought from the supermarket. A real hearty meal which was perfect for today as its a little cool and has been for a couple of days.

*Recipe from Kitchen Garden Companion by Stephanie Alexander