Oh, my wasn’t it a wet and cold July? We have a lake in the yard, the ducks are happy, the dogs are muddy, the goat is not impressed and the chooks well they just avoid that wet stuff the best they can! “If you want the rain … you gotta deal with the mud too… It’s all connected and part of the same”
But it has held up winter chores. So, it was great to be able to attend Meredith’s first Community Food Swap on the 3rd Saturday in July. Held at Back Creek Café, in the sunny front room, a group of locals came together to swap excess homegrown produce and gardening extras.
At the inaugural swap we had lemons, broccoli, cabbage, spring onions, kale, pickles and relishes, wool, mint, eggs, coffee grounds, egg cartons, newspapers and even young roosters on offer. We shared lemon curd recipes and knitting projects. Other things to swap can be seeds, seedlings, gardening tips, worm juice, sourdough starter and kombucha scobey, jars, and it may also be sharing of skills and tips and seasonal recipes. So how did the swap work? Well it was money free (gasp I know!) and it ran on an honesty system. Swappers brought their produce and then ‘shopped’ from the table of goods left by others. The exchange should be a fair reflection of what has been given. Really no rules except common sense and courtesy to all. Now why should you come along in August? How about to share food, reduce waste and food miles, create friendships and build our community of Meredith.
Now what I noticed was the amazing number of lemons available at the food swap as citrus fruits shine in winter months, with lemons starting to make a good show on many backyard trees including ours. So with our chooks laying well and an abundance of lemons, this of course leads us to the perfect combo of lemons, eggs, butter and sugar –
4 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup lemon juice 2 tsp lemon rind, finely grated 125g butter chopped
Place eggs and sugar into a heatproof bowl. Place bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk constantly until sugar has dissolved. Add lemon juice, lemon rind and butter. Whisk mixture for 20 minutes until smooth and the butter has melted and thickened enough to coat the spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil as it will curdle Pour warm mixture into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately Makes 2 cups worth
Lemon and Mint Cordial Ingredients: 500g sugar (Play around with sugar quantities to suit the sweetness you prefer. It can also depend on the tartness level of the lemons) 500ml water 1 large handful of mint 6 – 8 lemons, zest and juice Method: Bring all the ingredients to boil Simmer for about 10 mins, then leave to cool and strain Serve diluted with soda or sparkling water to taste.
Honey and Lemon ‘Tea’ Recipe Its winter so time for coughs, congestion and sore throats but Nature provides. The lemon juice helps cut through congestion and the honey soothes the throat. PS: You don’t have to wait for illness to enjoy this soothing ‘tea’ INGREDIENTS 1 Tbsp lemon juice 2 Tbsp honey Add a sliver or two of fresh ginger (optional but sometimes I crave the extra warmth it gives) 1/2 cup or more of hot water METHOD Put honey, slivers of ginger if using and lemon juice into a teacup or mug. Add hot water and stir. Add more lemon juice, honey, or hot water to taste.
DIY Citrus Cleaner Now after making Lemon curd and cordials and teas, you will have an abundance of citrus peel and it can start overwhelming the compost and the worm farm. So, a great way to use up citrus peel is to make a chemical free cleaning product. Don’t you just love it when a problem offers a fantastic solution. 1-2 large jars A spray bottle Citrus peel 1-2 litres of white vinegar Fill your jars with citrus peel. Pack them down slightly so they are firm. Pour vinegar over the peels to fill the jars. Tap on the bench several times to dislodge air bubbles. Date the jars and leave too steep for 2-3 weeks. Remove lid and strain vinegar removing any solids> Dilute 1 part citrus vinegar with 1 part water and place in a spray bottle. Use as an all-purpose spray for the kitchen and bathroom. Careful with marble bench tops as vinegar can eat away at it over time. For extra scrubbing power sprinkle bicarb soda on the surface you are cleaning and spray over the top.
August is a good time to clean and tidy your strawberry beds and make an assessment about whether to keep your plants or get a new batch. Our plants are just a few years old, so I will snip off the runners and plant them in a new bed and any extras will be given them to friends or brought to the Community Food Swap. Even if your plants don’t need dividing or runners removed it is a good idea to give them a pretty brutal haircut (gather up and snip off all the big leaves). This will reveal hiding places of slugs and snails – time spent now means less heart ache at fruiting time. But if your patch has been there for 4 years or more, it’s not a bad idea to remove all the plants completely, refresh the soil with some compost, and plant new certified virus free plants that are sold bare rooted from nurseries at this time of year. Once you have found and removed snails & slugs, tuck your strawberries in for the rest of winter with a nice blanket of compost or straw mulch. Don’t cover them too thickly with a heavy layer, or they may rot. But an airy blanket will keep them happy till they send out new leaves in spring, and you’ll be feasting on sweet fruit by Christmas.
What to Plant: Once the water subsides! Potatoes, peas, broad beans, Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb divisions, chive divisions, and all the leafy greens: lettuce, rocket, Asian greens, celery and English spinach. In raised beds and warm spots start with successive sowings of carrot and beetroot, and turnips once it warms up a bit. You can plant seedlings of brassicas such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli – they will grow ok, but I much prefer to plant them in autumn and be eating them now. We will be planting some out as my Autumn planting either drowned or were eaten by the ducks, who due to the lake had access to normally out of reach garden beds.
A bit of Maintenance: The garlic and onions are doing well so they will need weeding, their slim leaves don’t compete well with swamping layers of chickweed and other weeds that will start to grow fast now that the days are lengthening and warming .( the first bit of warmth and we are going to be into weeding mode big time this year !!) Quickly finish winter pruning of apple and pear trees that has been held up by the rainy July. Keep the pruned branches as they will be useful as pea sticks, to support new plantings of bush peas or even climbing peas if your pruned branches are tall enough for a tepee.
Pests: If you’re inclined to spray for curly leaf you needed to have sprayed the entire tree after 90% of the leaves dropped in autumn. Now you need to spray again in the early spring, just before the buds open. The stone fruit are beginning to flower, especially almonds, nectarines and Japanese plums. Many spray regimes suggest an application at “bud swell”. I don’t spray, but rather try to grow vigorous and resilient trees. I will pick off the curled leaves and burn them and if a particular tree is always succumbing to problems, it gets replaced with something hardier! Now don’t forget to store away your wood fires wood ash for throwing over the foliage of infested cherries, quinces, hawthorns, plums, medlars and pears in the warmer months – the ash will dry out and kill the Pear and Cherry Slug – This will need to be repeated a couple of times over the season – Has the added bonus of sweetening an acidic soil Harvest: Did you know that if you pick your citrus a few days before you use them, they get juicier? Asparagus spears are emerging! Snap or cut them close to the soil surface but only once the plants are in their 3rd growing year. If the ducks hadn’t gotten to them the Brassicas would still be producing the bulk of our winter veg intake: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. (I think we will be relying on the community food swap …eggs for cabbages & broccoli anyone?)
At this time of year give we blessings to hot cups of lemon honey tea & warm socks.