Skinflint Sunday: sowing seeds I harvested last year.

Seeds I saved last year from our explosion of tomatoes.

One of the benefits of growing your own food is that you can (hopefully) save the seed from your crop each year and then sow them the next – in effect growing free food. Over time, the theory goes, the plants adapt to your little corner of the Earth and get better and better.

These seeds are from our tomato crop. I’m not sure that I saved any seed from the millions of tomatoes that sprang up from the compost I was bringing home from work, but I DID save some heirloom varieties.

Bev from foodnstuff – I haven’t forgotten that you wanted some “Blue Berries” seeds from the black tomatoes I was growing when you were here. Email me your address and I’ll post some off to you.

Coir pellets

Around 3 or 4 years ago I bought some coir pellets from Green Harvest. The idea is that you poke a seed into the top, then keep the pellets damp. When you see roots poking through the sides, you plant the pellet and the seedling is transplanted with minimal disturbance to the roots.

I haven’t tried them until now. I looked at them, said to David26, “Well, it’s a total waste of money unless you use them!” and I’ve planted some of my precious saved tomato seeds in them.I don’t know that I’d buy them to use again – it’s not a cost-effective method to plants seedlings year after year – but at least if it works I’ll be adding a little more plant matter to the soil, which is always a good thing. Besides, I’m curious to see how they go.

Coir pellets resting in an upside-down plastic paver, so water can stay around them.

This is my record of which variety is planted where, because I’m sure to forget and tomato plants all have the same leaves. From left: 8 X Amish Paste, 4 X Rapunzel, 4 X Tommy Toe and 4 X Blue Berries.

Coir pods on their own – Granny’s Throwing Tomato X 5 – I bought these from Diggers last year and I haven’t planted them before. But who could resist a name like that? The description says ” Italy’s favourite tomato, (like our Grosse Lisse) is used in salads and pastas and is perfect for hurling at your nemesis.”

The Rapunzel is one I’m keen to grow again because David26 gave it to me for my birthday last year. I don’t know if it will grow true to type, but this is why I like food gardening. So many experiments!

Skinflint Sunday: Phew! Finished.

No dig garden completed.

The orchard is now completed, ready to spend the next 12 months quietly killing off the lawn and nurturing the fruit trees. This time next year, I’ll be planting flowers, bulbs and beautiful things to soften this corner of the yard and make it beautiful.

I made a ‘no dig’ garden bed in the old house, so I know it’ll work. I may have to spray some off pieces of grass that push through, but by this time next year it should all be ready to plant the fun stuff.

Give this 5 years and it’ll look lush and amazing.

Skinflint Sunday: Our new orchard.

Look at the sunlight beaming in through the window! You can almost hear the choir of angels!

Long-time readers of this blog will remember that when we lived in the old house we had a thriving food forest garden. Over time, I built it up to over 30 fruit trees, over 12 metres of veggie gardens, (both traditional and wicking) as well as having chooks.

When we moved to The Best House in Melbourne I had to leave all of that behind and start again. Thankfully, I have a lot of friends who also garden, so all of the fruit trees were dug up and rehomed. I kept a few that were in large pots and brought them with me.

Scout with a ball in her mouth.
Gardening with Scout around always involves throwing the ball.

There they sat on the side deck, ignored and neglected. I was working all the time and was also focussed on getting the back yard, with its veggie beds and outdoor room up and running. Last year I planted an apricot, a pomegranate, a lime and 4 apples out there, so at least I was doing something...

Half-eaten lemon tree
My poor lemon.

I don’t know how long this lemon tree has been in its pot. When I went to replant it I was horrified to see that something had been eating the leaves. You can see on the right hand side that the branches are bare. Whatever-it-was had travelled across from the mandarin tree next to it. OOps.

I examined the eaves and found a couple of tiny caterpillars and a few cocoons. Killed them and then planted the tree in the front yard near the path for easy access to the lemons.

This tree has the nicest lemons, with very few pips. I’m hoping it gets a new lease on life.

Mandarin tree without leaves.
My nude mandarin tree.

Speaking of oops, here’s the mandarin tree.

The branches are all still limber, so I’m hoping that being in the ground will make it bounce back. I’ve placed it close to the edge of where the garden bed is going to be, near the letter box. If any of the boys end up spawning children, I figure this will be the perfect spot for little hands to pick a mandarin or two.

Health(ier) looking blood orange tree.
Blood orange.

This one isn’t quite so bad, probably because it was out on the front verandah so I saw it more often.

I’m not a huge fan of blood oranges, but Mum and Tom28 adore them. I bought this one at Aldi a couple of years before we left the house, so it’s ONLY been in the pot for 6 years or so. The leaves are yellowing a bit but the fertiliser I popped in the hole with it should fix that.

Sickly looking avocado trees
Avocado trees.

But by far the stupidest thing I did was buy these avocado trees last year, then leave them on the deck sitting in a dog water dish. I thought they’d be fine – they’d retain any water and not dry out.

A couple of months ago I went out to feed the worm farm and saw that the avocados were looking AWFUL. They were dropping their leaves and the water dish was full around them.

I raced indoors and googled. Sure enough, avocados don’t like getting wet feet. Another OOps! I lifted them out and let them dry. Hopefully, they don’t have root rot. Honestly, I don’t expect them to live, but I feel bad for neglecting them so we popped them by the fence and made the sign of the cross over them. We’ll see if they survive.

Plum tree
Satsuma plum. Fortunate Frogdancer strikes again!

The only trees in this section of the garden that I have no worries about are the plums. This is because I bought them the day before, so they haven’t suffered the out-of-mind, out of sight beneign neglect that I inflicted on the others.

Honestly, Fortnate Frogdancer is a real thing.

I woke up on the first day of Spring and thought, “I’m going to buy some plum trees and get the boys to plant them in the front yard. Today’s the day!”

A sensible person would have thought this a month or two ago, when bare-rooted fruit trees were being sold. Now at the end of the season, they’re not so easy to find, particularly if you are fixated on a specific type of plum.

Gran’s favourite plum was Satsuma. They had one in Inverloch and I can remember her picking one, biting into it and savouring the taste. One of the plum trees HAD to be a Satsuma.

Which of course were all sold out all over the state. Just as I was about to give up, I found one! I ordered it, with a pollinating plum (did really care which one) and 4 columnar apple trees for beside the driveway. I was so happy.

I debated about getting them delivered but decided to save the $30 delivery fee and pick them up myself. Thank goodness I did that.

To days later, when I was at the nursery, I glanced at the trolley full of my plants and gasped in horror. The plum trees were labelled ‘Santa Rosa’ and ‘Mariposa’.

“NO!!!!” I said. “I ordered a Satsuma! It HAS to be a Satsuma!”

They looked at my receipt and one of the guys offered to go out and check if they had one left. I saw another guy shake his head at him, and I was sure that I’d have to go home with one plum tree and a store credit to get a Satsuma next year.

But he came back with one. (Turns out it’s a regular sized plum, not a dwarf, but I can keep it pruned.)

“You’re very lucky”, he said as we manoeuvred the plums into my car. The plums were so tall that the tips of the branched were touching the windscreen.

“I know,” I replied. “I think this is the last one in the whole of Melbourne.”

7 trees in the ground.
My orchard.

Here’s the final vista. I plan on keeping them well-pruned so they don’t get too big and entangled. The next job is to create a ‘no-dig’ garden bed around them all and next year, once the cardboard under the mulch rots down, plant some flowering shrubs and ground covers here and there to make it all look pretty.

I’ll have stepping stones to the trees so we won’t step on the soil very much. It’s going to look beautiful – an oasis of calm as you step through the gate from the world outside.

Skinflint Sunday – make those food supplies stretch!

Scout before we trimmed her beard.

Sitting here on the couch, listening to the rain drumming on the tin roof of the verandah, looking at the slick brick paving of the driveway, it’s fair to say that I’m still enjoying lockdown.

Maybe I’m enjoying it a little too much? After mentioning to a mathematically-minded friend that I’ve signed on for another year of part-time teaching, he queried why. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m really worried about Covid, especially working in a school. No one can force those kids to socially distance. You’d need to point a gun at them, and even then they’d forget.

After selling my sweet little urban farm and moving 16kms away to The Best House in Melbourne, I released enough equity so that financially, I’m pretty well set up. I haven’t quite hit “the number” that I’m aiming for to feel safe enough to retire, but honestly, if I pulled the pin now I’m pretty sure I’d be ok.

But… I’m a little leery about what is going to happen to the economy once all of the government payments like Job Keeper and Job Seeker start getting wound down. I really don’t want to retire and then have the bottom fall out of my nest egg.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for years will know just how hard the struggle was when the boys were little. I think that once someone goes through poverty like that, it’s very hard to let go of the safety rope that is an ongoing wage. I know that mentally, I won’t want to let it go until I feel VERY financially safe.

At the same time, I don’t want to go to work and catch the virus, either.

I’ve nearly finished all of the retirement-proofing that I want to get done on The Best House in Melbourne. I just have the ensuite and the side fence to go and I already have the money set aside to do them, once lockdown eases and people can go back to work.

For the moment, I’m going to let my decision to go back to work stand. We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months. Maybe these harsh lockdown weeks will do the trick and the virus will simmer down and it’ll be safe to go back to work. I suppose there’s nothing stopping me from pulling the pin if I feel unsafe once I’m back. My fear of slipping back into poverty will mean that it’s a decision I won’t make lightly!

Balancing this, of course, is that I don’t want to leave the school in the lurch if I DO decide to leave. I’d definitely want to allow enough time for my 2 heads of department to find a decent replacement. They’re good people – I don’t want to create drama for them. Ugh. Bloody pandemic! I had it all sorted out until covid came along!

Decisions, decisions. Still, the really good thing about all of this is that all those years of frugality, making the hard money decisions and sticking with them, and finding pleasure in the simple things around me means that I have given myself options.

In the middle of a pandemic, that’s probably a good place to be.

Now, speaking of frugality – it’s Skinflint Sunday! What have I been doing to stretch our dollars?

* I’m aiming for serving a vegetarian dinner every second or third night, to make the meat in the freezer last. News stories have been saying that the border closures are going to make the prices of goods rise, particularly meat, so I figure that eating more lentils and veggies will have the economic benefit of eking out the meat we have, plus it’s better for us.

Also, Past Frogdancer bought heaps of dry beans, barley, nuts, rice and lentils. It makes good sense to use them up. I have lots of thermomix cookbooks from Thermobexta and Skinnymixers which have DELICIOUS vegetarian curries, soups and, well, everything else you could think of. We’ve been dining like KINGS! Vegetarian kings. Every second night.

Bread rolls made the old-fashioned way – with added yeast.

* Years ago, when we were driving to the bread shop and getting their leftover bread for free every Tuesday night, I used to use the baguettes as garlic bread. I’d make them and freeze then in foil, then pop them in the oven whenever we had pasta. It’s a good way to fill up teenage boys and make them think they’re having a treat.

It occurred to me that I could use the yeast I bought in a mad panic as the first lockdown hit – the yeast I haven’t touched because I’ve been making sourdough bread – could be used to make thermomix bread rolls. Once cool, slather them with garlic butter, wrap in foil and freeze. Voila! Garlic bread!

Home-made garlic butter with parsley.

We tried them out last night, served on the side with our macaroni bolognaise. Smelled so good, cooking in the airfryer. The boys loved it. The best thing is, I made 2 batches of the rolls so I still have 10 rolls in the freezer, ready to go.

*I’m still working on the garden. I have brussels sprouts (YUM), caulies and cabbages growing, although I’m not too sure if they’ll be successful. They seem to be growing a lot of big outside leaves but nothing much is happening in the middle, which is the business end for these vegetables. I have a MASSIVE silver beet plant which has gone to seed but is still producing viable leaves, so that has been my go-to for leaves to include in just about everything. I loves me some fresh green leaves to keep the Covid away!!

I have a rule that, if at all possible, something from the garden has to be used in our lunches and dinners. Even in these lean wintry days, there’s still the green leaves from the silver beet and warrigal greens, chives, parsley and other herbs, as well as things like the bay leaves from my little potted tree. Surprisingly, even the rhubarb is still going strong. I expected it to die down.

Soon I’ll be dragging out my seeds and starting to plant for the spring and summer gardens. With today being so gloomy and rainy, though, summer seems an eternity away.

*Reading. Boy, have I been doing a lot of this! I set a stretch target on Goodreads of reading 80 books this year. So far I’m 10 ahead of schedule. I’ve been listening to audiobooks from the library as I do things like painting fences and quilting, while also borrowing kindle books as well. I read so quickly that spending $40 on a book that would only take me a day or two to finish isn’t a good use of my $$$.

Around 30 years ago I read a book called Ringworld, by Larry Niven. It wasn’t especially well-written, but on the other hand, I never forgot it either, so it had to have had something going for it! He wrote 3 sequels to it, (of which I read 2). A few weeks ago I found out that he also wrote 4 prequels, plus a final sequel.

Hmmm… I checked the library but they only had hard copies of some of the books. I wouldn’t be able to access them until the libraries open up again after lockdown, and who knows when that’ll be?

I ferreted around and found where I could download these books for free. Since then I’ve been in a deep dive in the worlds of Known Space. I’m up to the stage of re-reading ‘Ringworld’ now, before I tackle the rest of the series. It’s been HOURS of fun. Some of these books are definitely more entertaining than others, but I’ve set my hand to the plough and I’ll finish this job.

Then I’ll tackle the pile of physical books beside my bed. As long as there’s books in this world, there’s no need for anyone to be bored.

Anyway, that’s probably enough Skinflint Sunday for one week. I’d be interested to know what you think about my job dilemma – and also if you have any hints and tips for things that you’re doing to stretch your resources a little futher. There’s always more to learn!

Skinflint Sunday: take an unnecessary nap.

Jeff, with Scout in the background.

I was doing a few things in the kitchen this morning, when I looked up to see Jeffrey looking at me. I walked over to take his photo.

However, Scout, in the background, doesnt ever like Jeff to get any attention…

Jeff and Scout
Poor Jeff.

The second she saw him get his picture taken, she was over there. She’s the annoying little sister…

Jeff and Scout.
An angel.

… who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Today is a rainy day, so I played around in the kitchen with a few frugal things – perfect for a Skinflint Sunday.

Sourdough loaf.
Sourdough loaf with oats on top.

It’s been 4 months and I’m still baking sourdough bread. The boys and I love it and I’ve also found out that a loaf of sourdough bread makes a good present. David26 takes a loaf with him whenever he goes to stay at Izzy’s place and her whole family celebrates. Before this latest lockdown my sister took a loaf and she loved it. She sliced it, froze it and had a slice of toast for breakfast each morning.

I was making a loaf for Dad each week and when the 5km rule came in he was really missing his bread. Yesterday Tom28 rang me at 8AM – his car wouldn’t start and he couldn’t get Mum and Dad’s groceries for them. Imagine Dad’s delight when I turned up with not only their groceries?

Big ceramic mixing bowl.
Old mixing bowl.

Mum bought me this mixing bowl DECADES ago, probably when I got married. It’s the same as hers. I never used it very much, but I hung onto it for sentimental reasons. Now it gets used all the time – it’s my sourdough mixing and initial proofing bowl.

Ground linseed.
Ground linseeds for our bread.

Years ago I read the magnificent ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver. I always remembered a sentence from it, so I grabbed the book to find it for you. It took me AGES of skimming each page, but I found it. Now I’ve decided to re-read it.

Anyway, she was talking about how in the olden days, winter foods tended to include a lot of fatty acids and omega-3s. Things like salmon and tuna are chock full of the stuff, which tends to guard against depression. Our diets nowadays have far fewer of the things like this.

She wrote that they were going to include grass-fed beef and egg yolks to get them through winter, and “Steven threw extra flax seeds (also rich in omega-3s) into his loaves of bread, to keep the troops happy.”

Ever since then I’ve done the same thing. One of my boys had a really tough time with depression back in his teens, so I’m happy to do something like this to help keep us all on an even keel. I figure that it’s better to grind the flax seeds, since the body has no choice but to absorb it, instead of just letting the flax seeds pass right through.

In the midst of a lockdown and a pandemic, I suppose we could all use the help!

Roasted pumpkin seeds.
Roasted pumpkin seeds.

I also read something else years ago that I never forgot. Spo talked on his blog about saving the pumpkin seeds from his Halloween pumpkin and roasting them as a snack.

I’d never heard of this before and it seemed like sheer madness, but seeing as, back then, I was a struggling single mother with 4 boys desperate for food at any hour of the day, I thought it couldn’t do any harm to check this out. I was only throwing the seeds away, anyhow.

Turns out they’re not too bad. Lightly sprayed with olive oil, salt ground over them, then in the oven for about 5 minutes. Ryan25 absolutely LOVES them, so he had a nice little snack. What made this even more satisfying was that the seeds came from one of the pumpkins I grew myself.

Details of Evan23's podcast episode.
Hilarious episode.

A girl I went to school with is currently working in aged care. Yep. She’s front-line in the pandemic.

I called her a coupe of nights ago for a chat and she was really down and exhausted. We were talking about what our kids were doing and I remembered Evan23’s podcast – specifically the ‘Love Shack’ episode.

Once I made sure she knew the lyrics, I told her about the podcast ep. She said she’d listen to it but we all know what that usually means.

Anyway, an hour later I got a text.

‘Bloody hilarious, thanks so much! It was just what I needed. Love Shack will never be the same!’

I highly recommend this. Bonus points if you can work out which of the boys is Evan23. 🙂

Bay tree in a pot.
Bay tree.

Probably 25 years ago, when the boys were small, I bought a very expensive little plant. I paid $7 for what can only be described as a mere twig of a bay tree, but I had visions of never needing to buy bay leaves ever again.

I planted it in the biggest terracotta pot I owned. I then pretty much ignored it from then on, apart from watering it and clipping a bay leaf from it every time I needed one.

When my verandah rails needed fixing, the carpenter moved most of the pots down to the lawn. They’re still there, my bay tree being out n the open instead of tucked into a corner. It looked like a mess.

So on Friday, in between classes I was teaching, I took the secateurs and gave it a good pruning. Been meaning to do it for years!

It looks so much better.

Half painted fence
Pandemic painting underway.

You may remember that during the last lockdown I painted my front fence. Two coats, front and back. I’ve decided that my front yard will have a backdrop of all the fences being painted, so lockdown #2 is the side fence’s turn.

Yu can see that I can’t quite reach the top and I haven’t yet cut in at the bottom, but the big job of doing the middle is all but finished.

My plan is to get the other side fence replaced after lockdown #2 finishes, then if we’re unlucky enough to have a third lockdown I’ll have a ready-made project just waiting for me.

But why did I call this post ” Take an unnecessary nap’?

Because I wrote this post after waking up from a totally self-indulgent 2 hour nap after lunch. I woke with Scout’s nose wedged into the back of my neck, the sound of rain falling on the tin roof outside and I was snug and warm under the doona and quilt.


Things I’m doing in the pandemic.

Row of hand-made masks.
The masks I made for Mum and Dad.

So now Melbourne is in stage 4 lockdown. We’re not allowed to go more than 5KMs away from our homes; mask-wearing when leaving home is mandatory; only businesses deemed ‘essential’ are allowed to open, so many people have lot their jobs; we have a curfew from 8 PM – 5 AM every night… the list goes on.

The other states in Australia are calling Victoria “Sicktoria” and want nothing to do with us. Borders are closed and everyone’s hunkering down and waiting for the numbers to start falling.

Evan23 and his girlfriend went to Adelaide a few weeks ago to spend time with her family. Then Victoria’s numbers started rising. They’re doing their uni courses online and have no plans to come back any time soon. This worked out well for me, as I was able to get him to buy some elastic for facemasks and send it over, as Melbourne was running low.

Never seen Mum and Dad look more attractive!!!

A few days before lockdown happened, I drove down to see Mm and Dad and gave then their masks and a loaf of fresh sourdough for Dad. He loves it. When the first lockdown happened, the two of them weren’t taking the situation all that seriously, but now they realise the gravity. It really brought the situation home to them when they learned that their next door neighbour’s sister was one of the nursing home deaths.

I guess it’ll be 6 weeks before I see them again. Tom28 is still doing their shopping for them every Saturday, so they get to see him and have a socially-distanced chat. As of today, he’s now working from home, so I guess the Saturday shopping will do him good as well.

David26 is teaching piano from home – thank goodness for Skype – and Ryan25 has completed his Remedial Massage course and has now begun a 12 month Myotherapy course, also being conducted online at the moment. We’re very fortunate to be able to work from home – I feel for the people who have to go into workplaces because their jobs demand it.

Full gatbage skip.
The skip that I worried would be too big…

I’ve been meaning to order a skip to clear away some rubbish and builder’s rubble that we’ve had lying around ever since I had the back verandah put on. Friday last week, my feet hit the floor and I vowed, “I’ll do it today!” We ordered a 3M X 3M skip and I knew it’d be too big, but I figured we could ask the neighbours if they had anything they wanted to get rid of to fill it up.

As it turned out – it was the perfect size. We got rid of everything we wanted to and I honestly don’t think we could have fitted another thing in there. Our council only gives us ONE free hard rubbish collection a year and it doesn’t accept mattresses or concrete, so the skip was a must.

Tell you what, it’s motivating to get the job done when you know you only have a day!

Verandah railings.
Another Pandemic job done!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before about the verandah having some rotted pieces in the railing. Turns out that the original railings only needed patching, so the job only cost 1K. I was gritting my teeth, expecting the quotes to be far higher, so that was a win.

An even bigger win is when the first guy said that the railing could be lowered – it was way higher than the current code allows for. Happy days. You can see how much lower it is now – not nearly so claustrophic!

Now I just have to paint it to match the fence.

Speaking of fences, I’ve started painting the side fence the same colour as the front fence. It’s going to look amazingly good when we plant out the (yet to be started) garden bed and we have green leaves against the dark blue.

Give me a coupla years and this place will look SO much better!

First day of remote learning – mark 2.

Scout ready to learn. Or to chase a ball.

So today starts Remote Learning 2.0 in Melbourne. For those not in the know, Australia has been doing pretty well with the whole coronavirus thing, with deaths around the 100 mark for the whole continent. Things were starting to loosen up, but then here in Melbourne the quarantining of overseas travellers was badly botched and the virus escaped. We’re back in stage 3 lockdown, with the wearing of facemarks being compulsory from Thursday onwards.

Fortunately, I’ve been making facemarks for the family for a while now.

Here’s a nearly-finished one that I made for Ryan25. He’s got 6 masks now – 3 are sensible, ‘manly’ ones and 3 are more whimsical. When the directive from the premier came through on Saturday I was inundated by requests from friends and colleagues about whether I’d make masks for them.

“I’ll pay you…”

It’s amazing how things have changed! Fifteen years ago – hell, five years ago I would’ve been up till 3 AM every morning sewing masks to make a bit of extra money. Now, I’m able to knock them back and say that I’m only sewing masks for my family. It’s honestly not the sort of sewing I enjoy, so if I don’t need the money I’m not going to do it. Past Frogdancer wouldn’t be able to believe it!

Bored Poppy, waiting for me to stop teaching those darned kids and get off the computer..

In Victoria all VCE students are back at school, but every other year level from prep to year 10 are back to remote learning. Teachers of junior classes, such as my good self, are allowed to stay at home to teach at their principal’s discretion. Thankfully, my principal gave the go-ahead for this, as long as we all came into work last week and set up 6 week’s worth of lessons, resources and Google Meets.

It was a very productive week. Last time we were thrown into remote learning, teachers were pretty much doing things on the fly and making things work. It was an intense time.

Now, we had a week to meet and to talk. We found out what things worked well and what didn’t. We were able to refine our lessons and give the kids far more face-to-face time with their teachers this time around, because all of our prep has been done. It was really good.

Sleepy Jeff.

This time around, our lessons run as follows:

Every class has a Google Meet. The kids and I log on, I mark the roll and then we begin the lesson. I might play a quick game with them or just launch straight in – it depends how ‘meaty’ the lesson is.

I talk for maybe 10 minutes, setting up the expectations of the lesson and what it is that they’re expected to do. Then the kids log out of the Meet and go and do their work. I stay on the meet, mic and camera muted, in case any kid has a question or a problem. If a kid jumps back into the Meet, I switch my mic and camera back on and I’m able to fix whatever the kid needs help with.

So basically I stay available for them for the whole lesson. So far, it’s worked really well.

Last time, some kids avoided doing work. But now I’m able to see what they’re doing in real time and shoot them a quick message if they seem to have gone AWOL. A boy in one of my year 7 classes who barely did any work last time was so surprised by my email that he jumped into the Meet to talk to me.

Turns out he couldn’t find the document that had the questions he was supposed to answer, so he was on the verge of giving up. Two quick chats later, he completed the work, I made him laugh when he thanked me by saying to him, “That’s why I earn the big bucks!” and we now have a kid who has finished the school day with a success, instead of feeling like a failure.

A VERY satisfying interaction was with a kid from my other year 7 class, earlier in the day. The kids were expected to do some research on the Holocaust and WWII – we’re studying the novel ‘Once’ this term – and put whatever they’d learned onto a slideshow in our Google Classroom online. This kid just wrote “I’m a lizard” and another kid wrote underneath this, “Just answer the questions, Liam.”

I shot an email across to him with nothing in the body of the email, just a subject line which read, “Liam, you lizard!! Do the work, please.”

Within 5 minutes I could see him working on the slideshow. Heh heh.

I felt a bit like Orwell’s Big Brother.

The Canterbury Quilt.

Photo of diamond blocked quilt in pinks, blues and sage green.
I finished this on the 5 year anniversary of when I bought the fabric!

It seems strange in these locked-down times, but 5 years ago I was on my epic trip around the UK and Europe. A couple of days ago was the 5th anniversary of my trip to Canterbury with Deana. Fittingly, I finished the first Canterbury quilt on that anniversary.

When I was in the UK I stayed with a couple of blog readers who invited to put me up (or put up with me!) for a few days. Pam showed me around Edinburgh and Deana showed me around Kent and Hampshire.

While we were in CanterburyI bought some fabric at a local quilting shop – and the shop is in the blog post I wrote at the time – and an idea formed in the back of my mind that I’d put together a quilt for Deana using some of this fabric as a thank-you. I’m glad I didn’t mention it to her because if she’d been holding her breath waiting for it, she would’ve passed out by now. Still, better late than never.

Earlier this year I broke out the Canterbury fabrics from my stash and made The Outlander Quilt for my sister-in-law. But I still had enough left over to FINALLY fulfil the promise I’d made to Deana – even if that promise was only in my head – and make The Canterbury Quilt for her.

Both quilts were made using half-square triangles using white and coloured fabric. You can see that they look entirely different. The good old HST just keeps on giving…

The binding was made with fabric from my son’s Bees Knees quilt, with scraps from the body of the quilt thrown in at haphazard intervals, just for fun.

What wasn’t so much fun was when I was racing along, trying to get the quilting finished and I ended up sewing my quilting glove to the front of the quilt. It took some VERY delicate cutting to ensure that I didn’t leave a gaping hole right in the middle of the whole thing.

There may have been some expletives uttered. But I don’t think Poppy, Jeff and Scout were at all psychologically damaged by this as they blissfully slept right through all of the drama. Anyway, all’s well that ends well and I finished the quilt the next day.

I hope she likes it and that it’ll be a warm, comforting thing to snuggle under when watching tv in those freezing English winter evenings!

I grew ginger! In Melbourne!

Some readers may recall that I’ve been bringing home the food waste for composting from the school I work at for around a year or so. Last December, the Food Tech room had some sprouting ginger in its offering for the day. Honestly, it was still good enough to use for cooking and ordinarily I would’ve done so, but the gardener/experimenter in me wanted to see if I could grow it. I had a wicking box free, so why not?

Ginger in a tupperware bowl.
The sprouting ginger from work, chopped and soaking. Don’t do this.

I googled and the video I watched said to chop it into smaller pieces, soak them for a day and then plant. Leave them until the above-ground plants die down and then harvest.

Too easy. So I did what he said and then pretty much left them along for 6 months.

Ginger is a tropical plant which likes to grow in dappled shade. I figured that I should put it on the north-facing side of the house where it’d get the most sun, seeing as how I’m in a temperate/cool climate. Over the 6 months I ignored it. Sure, I topped up the wicking box with water and I liquid fertilised it a few times, but that was about it.

Then a couple of days ago I glanced at it and saw that the plants were dying back. I thought it’d be a hard job to harvest the rhizomes, but it took all of 5 minutes.

My impressive harvest.

Honestly, if I was looking to feed a ginger-starved family, I’d conclude that it wasn’t worth it. I think I got LESS new ginger than the ginger I planted!

And yet…

I’m encouraged to think that with almost total neglect, I was able to get a crop, no matter how small. I wonder what would happen if I actually gave another crop a little more TLC?

He used to be a Simple Savings member, like me!

So over breakfast this morning, I did a little googling and found Rob Bob’s channel. He has a food forest garden up in Queensand so his climate is far more conducive to growing ginger, but he also gives advice to people in cooler climates like me.

Turns out I did quite a few things wrong.

  • First up, he says that I should’ve kept the ginger chunks big, not cut them smaller. It gives more energy to the growing plant. Whoopsies.
  • I had about 9 chunks in the one pot. Again, not such a good idea. Too crowded.
  • The wicking bed isn’t great for ginger. Apparently they like to have some air around their roots.
  • I should’ve been fertilising them every 3 weeks or so – not every 3 months. My bad.
  • And the final kicker – he says that in cool climates, you should let the plants die down AND THEN LEAVE THEM IN THE GROUND FOR ANOTHER YEAR TO RESHOOT AND GET REALLY GOOD GROWTH!!!

Damn that American guy I listened to the first time!

Anyway, I’m going to do this again in Spring. I think it’s important to earn how to grow the little things that add interest and piquancy to our food. I remember reading somewhere that if/when supply lines get stretched and things are no longer easy to get (a typical peak oil scenario), the staples will always be around, but the little luxuries like herbs and spices will be a lot harder to get. Presumably they’ll be a whole lot more expensive too.

Ginger, garlic and chilli chopped up in the thermomix.
I wish I could convey the smell. Glorious!

Anyway, I won’t save any of these baby ginger roots for planting. Here is the first lot being used for a satay chicken dinner, with a home-grown chilli as well. (Garlic from Costco. I’m not perfect!!)

It’s really satisfying to cook with ingredients that you’ve grown yourself!