Thursday, January 2, 2014

(Happy) New Potato

Rooting up potatoes
potato head
Happy 2014! At Rumpty Doo we spent the first day of the year with the  family Farrugia rooting up our potato patch on a drizzly South Gippsland day... and weren't we in for a surprise! After largely neglecting the poor paps (I think I may have watered them about twice) you can imagine our astonishment when we started to uncover some enormous specimens of Solanum tuberosum. In fact, after weighing up each variety we found we had close to 40 kilos of potatoes from two small patches, with very little work! We're now entertaining fantasies of a career as potato farmers, or at least thinking we might try saving seed this year, although we have had people warn us against such a technique as it can lead to the spread of disease.
We grew six heritage varieties - Royal Blue, Nicola, King Edward, Pink Eye, Kipfler & the flamboyantly named Mozart (which yielded far less than the other varieties so we're hoping it makes up for its low yield in excellent taste).
With such a bounty there was nothing more for us to do than crack out the peelers and start making a batch of gnocchi! We used our bumper crop of Royal Blue (weighing in at 9.9kg) and they made a pleasantly soft gnocchi. Their deep blue skin gives way to a creamy yellow flesh when peeled, so, sadly our gnocchi was not purple!

NB: When making gnocchi the Family Farrugia swear by Stephanie Alexander's recipe.

Royal Blue

gnocchi chop

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Being first time beekeepers on our local Bee Club's "swarm list", N and I have been a little tetchy lately. The phone rings and we'll suddenly tense, wishing, hoping, praying that it is someone calling to tell us that an unwanted swarm awaits capture. Ready to drop everything, put on our bee-suits and go catch a swarm of homeless bees to occupy our brand new sparkling hive. As the season dragged on with no swarms on offer we'd been harbouring the dark thought that maybe we'd just have to wait until next year to get our bees. Bees swarm from spring through to early summer but this year, after a hot and dry January, the bees have not been forthcoming. And you can only get bees during swarming season: it was going to be a long wait if we missed out!
But then on Saturday, at around noon, we got our call. We were told there was not one but three swarms at a property not far from our place at the home of an experienced beekeeper. Things were dropped, bee suits donned and we high-tailed it down to the swarms!
According to our bee guru Howard, captured swarms will "take" to a hive (ie. set up shop) around 70% of the time, and we were lucky enough to be in that percentile. It is a truly incredible thing to watch bees take to a hive - once they've made up their mind they literally march right in. And its not as scary as you might think - bees who have swarmed have filled their bellies with honey before swarming so they're in a total post-lunch stupor and its pretty unlikely they'll try to sting you.
 A week of perfect weather later and our bees are still happy and still home. Hurrah!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Broadly speaking

A dinner harvest
We have broad beans. So many broad beans. Can you ever have enough, we thought, way back in Autumn when we planted out four large beds of Vicia faba? Broad bean pasta, broad bean dip, broad bean salad, broad bean felafel... the possibilities were endless, or so we thought. But, used to crappy inner-city Melbourne soil we weren't quite prepared for what would happen to the seeds we've saved faithfully for the last 5 years when we planted them in South Gippsland.
In short: they went mental. Our garden is now home to huge, towering bean stalks of jack-and-the-giant proportions. And of course, now they're fruiting. But as well as providing a bountiful (if tiring) source of food for us humans, the beans are providing much needed nectar and pollen for our bees and shelter for our chooks who have created little hidey-holes amongst them (without, amazingly, totally destroying them). Not only that but I have found an ingenious way to trick people (N) into eating lots of broad beans, and this is: pick them early (when pods are no longer than 12cm) and use the tiny beans as "peas".

Our hen, Bean, investigates her namesakes, while I misbehave with a bean.

Maude's Broad Bean Pasta

200g wholemeal pasta, cooked until al dente
1kg small (>12cm) broad beans in their pods
1 small onion, diced finely
1 tbsp butter
Handful of fresh greens (silverbeet, sorrel, spinach)
Lemon juice
Salt to taste
Cracked pepper
Olive oil

Method: lightly sautee onion in butter. Shell the beans, and add to the pan cooking for a minute longer. Add greens and sautee a further minute. Turn off the heat, squeeze through lemon juice, drizzle over olive oil, cracked pepper and salt to taste. Toss through pasta and serve with grated parmesan.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Feel it hot, hot, hot

Compost king
We're still recovering from the fabulous weather last weekend, when we welcomed a bunch of Melbournian pals to Rumpty Doo for our inaugural Farm Bee. It was so great to have many extra pairs of hands on deck and we achieved many amazing things over the weekend including the enthusiastic scything of about an acres worth of grass! With all that fresh-cut greenery on hand we couldn't help ourselves but make a nice big hot compost pile that will hopefully give us plenty of gorgeous soil for summer planting in a couple months time.

Hot Compost Ingredients:

45% green (kitchen scraps, fresh cut grass/greens)
45% brown (hay or straw)
10% manure
Some sticks
A hose with running water


Start with sticks
One week later and the compost was hot to
touch and had sunk right down!
Loosen a square metre of soil and cover with a layer of thin sticks (we used wattle branches, largely because they were on hand). Amass a large pile of brown materials and another equal pile of green. They need to be big - your finished compost needs to be a minimum of 1 metre cubed. Have manure at the ready as well as your hose too. Start by putting a thick layer of hay over your sticks, keeping it nice and square. Water well. Follow with the same thickness of green, continuing to water as you go and still aiming to keep it as square as you humanly can. Keep adding alternate layers of green and brown with a couple of special manure layers thrown in along the way, and keep watering/squaring up the edges as you go. Once you've reached a metre high or run out of materials cap with a layer of brown. You're done! Over the next few days the compost pile will heat right up and sink right down. It may even steam!
Leave it for 6-8 weeks before using - the longer you leave it the better.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Give me shelter

This is Beverley. We got her cheap in the local paper, due to a severe bout of leaky windows and teenage angst graffiti that had left her insides looking a little more than undesirable (see below left). "There's nothing a lick of paint and a dash of windex can't do," thought we, naively as we approached Beverley's insides with scrubbing brushes in rubber gloved hands. Six days, three tins of paint and four metres of vinyl flooring later we were licking our wounds and vowing NEVER again to entertain the fantasy of renovating anything - not even a goat shed - for it seems renovation often means just as much work as starting from scratch.

But with a few days distance and a candle-lit evening spent inside Beverley's freshly painted, water-proofed and cosy interior we're feeling the rewards of our pains. We've even given in and strung up a line of twee-as bunting in celebration (see below). 
Beverley 2.0
And it did feel a little bit celebratory as we worked, despite the effort, as each brushstroke obliterated the hate-speech and scrawlings of male genitalia that had been grafittied across poor Bev's fake-wood laminex interior. As each scraping of revolting 70s lino was peeled away, centimetre by centimetre. As each leaky bump and dent was patched and plastered. As we grew to love this hulking old dame we now call shelter.
We've still got quite a ways to go before Bev will be finished (she's still on candle-power, there's nowhere to sit, and her exterior still needs seeing to), but she's habitable for the moment, and somewhere on the way to being a place we *might* just call home.
That is, if we were really, really desperate.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Art of Bee-ing

As huge fans of both terrible puns and the TV comedy Community, N and I were *so* excited when we found out that there was an actual Community College in our area, and that they run a course on bees! Beekeeping seems to be one of those things that you just can't learn from books. I've read quite a few of them and decided that the secrets of the bee-world are best learned hands on (or bare-hands-on in the case of our brave teacher, Howard). With the last day of winter being a glorious sunny one we suited up today for our very first "prac".
I am bee man hear me roar!

Smokin' bees
As one of last year's graduates from Bee School described it, your first experience of beekeeping can be pretty life-transformative: being surrounded by all these bees, and feeling completely safe within your suit and with your smoker by your side. And it is a pretty incredible feeling, once you get over the fact that you are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of little venomous creatures who may or may not want to sting you. After trawling through half a dozen hives though, not one student got stung and we all happily hoed in to some of Howard's honey harvest (not before admiring Howard's amazing bee-mobile... see below...)
Apis mellifera ligustica (Italian honey bee)

Howard (our teacher's) sweet ride

Saturday, August 17, 2013


As bare-root season comes to a clattering halt we've be doing our darndest to get as many fruit trees as we can in the ground, which naturally has involved digging many, many holes. Digging holes, while exhausting work, is also kind of fun. You get to dig up all sorts of exciting things like the charred remains of bush fires from the 19th century or giant earthworms. Yes, giant earthworms are a bit of a South Gippsland "thing", or so we've discovered lately via Melita Rowston's new play which we saw last week at the Malthouse.  Melita's play "digs up" the zany and slightly unbelievable history of the Giant Earthworm Festival held in Korumburra during the 1970s and 80s (think hundreds of tiny school children carrying a giant pink plastic earthworm puppet ridden by Daryl Somers down Main St kind of zany and you're halfway there).
But I digress.
Back to fruit trees. So far we've popped in half a dozen varieties of heritage apples, a couple of figs and some lovely red mulberries which have been bursting to go into leaf. If you're new to planting fruit trees it can be somewhat of a daunting task. Here's how we do it, the way that was shown to us by Jo from Kahikatea Farm, and so far all fruit trees seem rather happy:

Step one
Dig a big square hole, twice as wide and deep as the diameter of the roots on your tree. You want to encourage the roots down and outwards, which is why a square is better than a circle. Keep your topsoil in a separate pile to your subsoil.

Step two
Pop most of the subsoil back in the bottom of the hole. Cover with a layer of topsoil and then shovel in a good few lashings of nice compost (we used well composted pig manure). Mix a little so that the compost integrates with the topsoil.

Step three
Add more topsoil, and build it into a conical mound - you don't want the roots touching any of that compost or they'll burn. Sit your fruit tree on top of the mound and see if its about the right height at ground level.

Step four
Spread out roots into the corners of the square gently. Remember, roots don't really like being handled that much.

Step five
Fill in your hole with remaining topsoil. Gently stamp down the soil around the tree - you want the soil to be compact around the roots so that they don't oxidise - this is what kills young roots more than anything else.