Saturday, 27 August 2011

Solar update

Well, it was definitely worth getting the installers back to lift the panels to the tight angle - it's meant an extra 2kw per day -we're now averaging 15 rather than 12 (across days with the same weather - clear sunny skies). Very happy with this result and can't wait to see what they generate in summer.

Today I also got into the greenhouse (it was lovely and warm!) to plant my tomato, pepper (capsicum) and chilli seeds - they are now on the heat mat in the house for germination. I also pricked out and re-potted the cabbage seedlings (bekana, green acre and cuor varieties).

It's nice to think that this year's growing season is under way - even though it's just in the greenhouse.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Ta-da - take 2

That's better - now at 27 degrees, which is pretty much perfect for our latitude

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Not quite so ta-da

I now know the reason for the panels to hardly stand out at all on the roof - they were installed "flat" on the roof - giving them an elevation of about 12 degrees - they should be at 26 degrees for optimum grid-connect performance across the year given our latitude (36 south) (see here for more details). So the installers will be back on Friday to fix this. I could have a nice rant about how it shouldn't be up to us to find out the panels were not at the optimal angle, and that this surely was the most important part of the whole process....but I'm going to take a deep breath and let it go. OK so maybe a deep breath and a glass or 2 of wine and THEN let it go  :-)

However, in spite of the less than optimal angle, today, on their first full day, our system produced 12 kwh. Given the installer estimated 10 for this time of year I'm quite chuffed by that!

Monday, 22 August 2011


They are hardly noticeable on the roof from the front of the house, but I'm loving watching the meter spin backwards.  The great thing is that because we have an old dial style meter, they were able to plug the panels in straight away and we're already feeding power into the grid, and reducing what we will have to pay next bill.

Today in the 4 hours since installation they have generated over 6 kw, and our meter has rolled back about 4kw. Loving it!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Midweek supper for the time poor

This quinoa and vege pilaf goes down a treat - even Jerry likes it in spite of the lack of meat! The base recipe comes from Coming home to eat: Wholefood for the family by Jude Blereau, but of course I've adapted it to suit. It's quick and easy to get started, then it just sits in the over for 40mins, and then stands a further 10 mins.

Gently fry a chopped onion and a pinch of sea salt for 5-10 mins ins some ghee and oil (or oil and butter) in a flameproof oven dish (with a lid). Add in spices (I used a good 12-14 grinds of Oxfam's cape malay spice mix, but use whatever combination of indian / asian spices takes your fancy, along with some chopped ginger and garlic (to taste), and 125g mung dahl. Cook gently for a minute or so, then add in 200g quinoa, and some chopped veges - I used carrot and pumpkin, but carrot beans and cauliflower were in the original recipe. Add in 625ml stock, bring to the boil, cover and put in the oven for 40 mins. Remove from oven and fold through a cup of frozen peas and a small jar of home grown tomatoes (or a couple of chopped fresh ones). I also added some chopped kale/collards/silverbeet at this point. Cover and allow to sit for 10 mins out of the oven or in the oven with door open and oven off. If you like nuts stir through cashews just before serving. You can also add fresh coriander, but I don't because Jerry doesn't like it.


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Are you with me?

This is one of the catch phrases I will probably remember from a seminar I went to on Monday. I was lucky enough to spend the whole day listening to and learning from Joel Salatin from Polyface farms in the US. What an inspiring day, and just what I needed in the middle of winter to get revved up to do "better" in the garden and with the land next year. Are you with me seemed to be a favourite phrase to make sure we were all keeping up with where he was heading... as he often headed off on many tangents before tying them all together for the "aha" moment.

My head is still buzzing with everything I saw and heard, but in particular I was really inspired by the way they used and re-used everything, and how they stacked and layered animals on the farm to reduce pathogens, and make the most of every input and output they have. I learned a lot about soils too, and making the most of any microclimates you have around.

Joel has a particularly pragmatic approach to farming in my view - he declares himself a capitalist (among other things) and made no apologies for wanting to make money from his farming, and get the best return from any investments he makes in infrastructure. Another phrase that made me laugh in this respect was "It's easier to pick a man's pocket when you're hugging him" - used when illustrating the point that he doens't mind if the "dot-com boomers" come in and buy their "land yachts" as he called them and then want to buy chickens - he's happy to raise and sell them to them.

What is refreshing though is that none of this capitalism comes at the cost of animals - all the animals get to express their innate traits, and more than once he referred to them as co-labourers - using pigs to plough and help regenerate pastureland as well as aerating compost, rabbits and chickens and turkeys as lawnmowers etc.  It is a highly managed system - cows are moved daily - but just looking at the quality of his grasslands (which were the worst farmlands around 50 years ago), and the fast regeneration once animals are moved, it clearly works. His farm also generates enough income to employ 1 person per 25 acres. I suspect many farmers would be pretty happy with that kind of return. Even more inspiring is all of this he's done in a  climate that has more extreme temperatures then I have here (+40 to -20), and less average rainfall.

Of course there was a lot more in the days talks and Q&A sessions, like
  • all about herbivores (well, he is a cow man!)
  • how to beat the "food police"
  • how to develop an enterprise that's easy to scale up and scale down
  • how to get into farming with no capital and no debt / raising the next generation of farmers
  • the importance of diversity in creating a stable ecosystem
  • a very entertaining introduction about how we all feel we're worse of than everyone else / how it "won't work for me"
I was, however most inspired by his obvious enthusiasm and passion - particularly as he had been in Australia for 7 days and this was his 6th seminar. However it certainly didn't show - there was no sense that he was jaded / tired or just rattling off "the same old story". He was lively, witty, funny, engaging and passionate. And not a blind passion either, but an informed passion, as he clearly reads widely and is able to draw on many sources for information.  He'd definitely make the guest list of my fantasy dinner party, and I really hope I have the chance to see him again next time he comes out. If I was 20 years younger I'd be tempted to try and get an internship on the farm, just for the experience! I don't necessarily agree with everything he said, and I'm still thinking about some things, but I can't argue that he is the most morally/ethically grounded capitalist I've ever come across :-) , and I guess that was the real core appeal for me about him. His system is on that satisfies me on both an ethical and a 'real world' level.

If you're interested in learning more about his methods you can visit the website, and there are some clips on YouTube - and I also recommend another blog I read - Throwback at Trapper Creek, where you can read about and see many of his ideas in action - not to mention some very fine recipes for pies and muffins!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Yakking about Yacon

I've grown yacon for a two years now, but I realise I've never posted about it  -thanks Dixiebelle for the reminder . What is it? I hear you ask - it's a crunchy tuber vegetable, aka Peruvian Ground Apple . I've grown it successfully here in the least frosty part of the garden near the water tank - always planting out after the last frost has passed.

This year I planted four plants, and I have a generous basked full of tubers. Raw they have a lovely crunchy apple/cucumber like mild flavour (peel the skin and the white part) - great for a salad.
Last night I made a pork stir-fry and cut up some chunks of yacon  (the pale/translucent chunks in the right photo) to include with the courgette, basil and mushroom. I must say it was pretty good - it retained a crunch (a bit like water chestnuts), but also soaked up the flavours of the sauce (a mix of mirin, tamari and fish sauce). Served with rice it was a dinner winner!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

It is still winter, right?

I had to check the calendar, because for the last 2 days I've been outside working in the garden in a t-shirt and jeans in gorgeous sunshine. Temps have been up around the 16/17. Crazy! Although (of course) it's predicted to be back to 12-13 and raining in time for the weekend...phew!

Here's a few garden snapshots:
Rooster and hen - why do they always hang out (and poo) on the verandah?! and Yolki hiding amongst the jonquils

Freddie and Lily doing what they do best....sunbaking :-)
The passionfruit has done very well since we extended it's bed - over winter potatoes by the fence and giant red mustard (self seeded) in the foreground. I planted the garlic 7 days ago eh voila! All cloves were grown here last year - it's the first year I haven't bought any garlic to plant...yay me!
I spent quite a bit of time turning garden beds from this
and then to this.  I'm not going away for 10 weeks again!!  It is too much work  :-)
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