Category

Gardening

Category

Grow Your Own Luffa Sponge at Home

Recently I commented that you could grow your own natural sponges for doing the washing up or using in the shower or basin.  I found this great post about it on www.gardenamerica.com and although I couldn’t work out how to reblog from their web site I encourage you to go and visit their page for more excellent gardening tips.

8 Easy Steps to Grow Your Own Luffa Sponge

By John Bagnasco

Save on the high boutique prices for all-natural, luxurious bath sponges! It’s easy to grow your own Luffa Gourds and discover even more uses for this fascinating, porous fruit!

Loofah Vine TrellisWhen luffa gourds are harvested young at 4″-6″ long, they are a sweet, tasty vegetable that can be stir-fried, sauteed, or cooked with meats or tofu just as you would zucchini squash or okra. They can also be sliced or diced in a salad like a cucumber and mature gourd seeds can be roasted. Also, the young flowers and foliage can be cooked for greens (great with butter and a pinch of curry).

Train the vine onto a trellis or fence to save space and to produce more rounded fruit. These gourds can reach anywhere from 6 inches to 2 1/2 feet long, and about 4 to 7 inches in diameter. They ripen to dark green in late summer, and for sponge harvest should be left on the vine until the skin begins to shrivel. When this occurs, harvest them and scrub the skin away, revealing the porous, dense network of tan-colored matter within. They will be full of seeds; just cut the gourd to desired size and shake out the seeds. They’re ready to use!

Step 1
Pick a spot to grow your luffa gourd. A sturdy trellis about 5 to 6 feet high along the back of the planting area, which receives full sun is perfect. A fence or arbor also provides good support for the sponge vine.

Step 2
Once danger of frost has passed, plant the luffa gourd in a hole that has 50% of an all-organic compost like Denali Gold mixed into it. Sprinkle 1 cup of Miloranite around the plant and water in thoroughly.  Avoid overwatering established luffa plants, as excessive moisture, especially in clay soils, can cause root diseases and poor growth.

Step 3
Remove all the first flowers that appear and the first four lateral branches of each plant to increase the yield and quality of fruit. Snip off branches using pruning shears and remove flowers by pinching them off with your fingers as close to the stem as possible. Remove any damaged or spotted fruit from the vine immediately, as it cannot be saved.

Step 4
Harvest luffa sponges when they have matured on the vine, usually around the end of fall. Look for lightweight fruit with dry, dark yellow or brown skin. Leave the fruit on the vine as long as possible, but remove all luffa gourds immediately after the first frost or they will begin to rot.

Step 5
Loofah FlowersIf the gourd is dry, striking the luffa pod against a hard surface will loosen the skin and seeds. Slightly crushing the sponges can also loosen the skin. This is especially helpful for peeling less mature luffa with hard green skin. The skin will normally fall off easily if the luffa is fully mature

Step 6
The bottom tip of the gourd can be cut off and many of the seeds can be shaken out before peeling. Use your thumbs to find a loose spot along a seam. Push in to create a tear and pull apart the skin. Tear up the seam. Try to get all the skin off as little pieces left behind tend to turn brown.

Step 7
Harvest LoofahApply water pressure from a hose sprayer to remove most of the sap color. It washes out many seeds also. Washing with soapy water in a bucket and then spraying is another option. Squeeze and shake out excess water. If your luffa fiber is very dark, or has many dark spots, soaking in a bucket of water with one cup of bleach for 3 to 5 gallons of water will remove most stains. Don’t bleach longer than necessary. Rinse well.

Step 8
Finally, allow the luffa sponge to dry completely in the sun. Rotate as needed. Sunlight will also lighten and change the color. Leaving in the sunlight for longer periods will change the texture… it gets rougher feeling. Make certain sponges are completely dry before storing or mold may grow on any remaining sap. Dried luffas can be stored for years as long as they stay dry and dust free.

Loofah 1 Loofah 2 Loofah 3

Day Twenty –

Eco Challenge day 20

One of the joys of gardening is growing from seed.  You stare at the soil day after day, waiting for the first signs of green shoots to poke their heads through the earth.  The about two weeks later they are strong healthy seedlings and then some months later you can reap the rewards of the harvest.

 

So todays challenge is to plant the seeds you harvested days ago, or if you didn’t manage to seed save any, then go ahead and buy some heirloom seeds from The Diggers Club or your hardware store.  Plant them in a sunny spot that is convenient for your to pass daily so that you can tend to them easily and monitor their progression.

 

If you have trouble with little creatures digging them up or birds coming in for a feast of your seeds then here is the perfect opportunity to recycle some of those horrendous water bottles that you may have accumulated BEFORE giving up buying bottled water for good.  Carefully cut the tops off them and use them as mini green houses to protect your seeds from rodents and keep them hydrated.

 

Here’s a little video I made explaining the process.

 

 

Well tomorrow is Day 21, BUT if you would like to follow along with Farewell My Manicure and have the TV Guide to the new Web TV show delivered straight to your inbox then please subscribe by hitting the big GREEN button.

 

Until tomorrow

 

 

Julia

 

x

 

Play in The Dirt.

350023f833f9de2e7a1c76b56af3d4ea This weekend I got down and dirty in the garden.  I planted all the alkalising green leafy veggies that my family SHOULD be eating; kale, spinach, silver beet and rocket.  I also made a cute little strawberry patch out of a recycled clip together garden bed from Bunnings, six bags of organic potting mix, four strawberry plants and some sugar cane mulch, all of which I got from a free Bunnings gift card from spending up big on my credit card!

And as is my want I filmed the project in time-lapse for your (fast) viewing pleasure.

Free Food and My Amazing Poo Plant!

IMG_6447

I posted this picture on my Instagram account the other day and a comment from one of my followers who wanted to know more about FREE FOOD prompted this blog post.

You see I love free food!  I practice the frugal art of seed saving from every vegetable that I prepare for dinner that has seeds hidden inside. They are meticulously scraped out, dried in the sun and packed into labeled envelopes or planted out in cartons, pots or trays on the window sill.

And you should also see my Amazing Poo Plant!  Firstly you need to know that I have not had any luck growing tomatoes, the regular kind that you chop up for salsa, slice for a sandwich and fry up with bacon and eggs, although the cherry kind grow all over the place with gay abandon.  Those big, juicy, ruby, orbs of deliciousness start out strong and one by one the leave go yellow and drop off,  just about right when the first yellow flowers start to open signalling the promise of fruit to come.  BUT, I have the most healthy, beanstalk-esk tomato plant that just “happened” all by itself from what I imagine was the defecation of a passing winged delivery bird.  This plant defies the gardening laws of care and attention, regular watering and fertilising.  It exists because it wants to, and has so far approximately thirty, large and still slightly underripe tomatoes dangling from its limbs.  That’s the sort of free food I love!

IMG_6348

Another free food that we can all get our hands on, comes from the re-sprouting of many store or market bought produce that come complete with its own set of roots attached.  Veggies like hydroponically grown lettuce, celery, shallots/spring onions, leeks, fresh herbs once harvested and used for cooking their nether regions still in tact can be stuck in a shallow glass of water and left for a week on the window sill to see if they will regrow.  Once that fact is established and there are at least some leaves or stalks left to aid photosynthesis, they can be planted out in the garden to go on producing more precious free food!.

Bulbs like garlic and ginger, once they start to sprout can be placed in shallow soil and if tended to will produce prolifically.

Rosemary in particular can grow from a cutting and boy if you want some of that then give me a call because I have the largest healthiest rosemary growing in my herb garden that is just about due for a haircut.  Instead of going out and buying expensive rooting compound to dunk the cut ends in, try organic honey!  Apparently (surely because of some scientific principle) some miraculous transformation happens and the rosemary will sprout roots once dunked and planted in soil.

IMG_6350

In the same space as my Amazing Poo Plant, is a pineapple top that I placed there about 18 months ago and is a massive specimen of sharp, pointed leaves, although slowly being overtaken by the huge tomato it is poised to deliver a FREE pineapple over the next six months.  I would suggest that if you want a pineapple to grow from the discarded spiky top of a store bought one, two years does seem like an inordinate amount of time to tend for it and wait, don’t you think?

Onions that have been left in a dark recess of your pantry, perhaps rolled behind a box of cereal and got themselves lost, once discovered with green stalk sprouting can be planted in the ground and will produce a fluffy white flower at the end of a metre long stalk that if you wait until it dries can be cut off, wrapped in a paper bag and shaken to produce hundreds of seeds which are potentially hundreds of FREE onion plants.

IMG_5114

So there you have it, perhaps you have stories of some free food experiments of your own.  If so then please share in the comments so we can all learn something.  If not then give some of these ones I’ve listed a try.  Anything lovingly homegrown tastes far more sweeter than those that come from the store and you get to get down and dirty in the garden, one of my favourite pastimes.

Chapter 27 – Happy Place

Chapter 27
Happy Place


While I sit here in the slight chill of five o’clock afternoon mid August, swatting the mozzies (surely it’s not warm enough for them already), sipping champagne which sits stable on my newly “made with love” outdoor coffee table, I know I have found my “Happy Place”.  The place I will go to in my mind during the rare chance at meditation (sans mosquitos), the place I will go to when things get me down, and the place I hope to be every afternoon once we move full time to the farm.  
The veggie garden has had a few incarnations over the last three years and finally it is becoming the place I envisioned it to be.  The crop circles which gave us an abundance of eggplant, tantrically entwined carrots, furnace hot rocket, and a pestsometimes known as mint, have now been transformed into the promise of veggies to come.  I know if I look back to the previous Crop Circle Chapter I will get a total expenditure of the project, which of course I am avoiding as just last week I called the local landscaping supplier and ordered three cubic metres of organic potting mix to fill them.  I am sure that done the right way with the proper preparation the “no dig” method of gardening works a treat.  But we all know that is NOT me.  Jump in without all the information, without considering the area, the light, the preparation etc and end up with a tub of plants falling over without sufficient soil to hold their roots, and a tub full of grass that has come through the sparse layer of newspaper and taken over and strangled any veggie that might have existed.
So failure admitted (apart from the eggplant), I physically pulled out all the runner grass and put it in the compost, shoveled out the decomposed mulch and deposited around various trees and plants, layered weed mat, and heaps of newspaper into the circles and started all over again.
I had done a rudimentary calculation of the amount of soil needed to fill the five circles and had come up with an estimate of eight cubic metres.  Thankfully Benny worked out it needed more like two, and so I ordered three.  The guy came with the truck and thanks to the new and improved gates we have at that end of the yard, was able to drive right up to the edge of the pots and dump the load.  Looked like a lot of soil to me and I thanked my lucky stars that Benny had dissuaded me from ordering more.
The weekend came and while I was out being Mum’s taxi, the hard work began.  Benny shoveled soil into four out of five, only because I still hadn’t emptied the last one of the grass infested mulch that was in the fifth.  Once I was home I pulled out all stops and got that done and also shoveled in the soil, thankful that he had left the closest pot to the soil for me to do.  That, my friends, was enough work for the day so on Sunday after reading one of the books I had collected on growing veggies, I and my list went to Bunnings for five packets of seeds.  Yep seeds this time not seedlings.
That afternoon I planted the five things I knew I would eat, and were appropriate for our climate and the time of year, yep I learned something from my previous experience.  As they were circles and I couldn’t very well plant rows, I used a bamboo cane to draw out a spiral in each pot, from the centre out allowing about 15cm spacing.  In the first pot I planted silver beet, the second which received the most shade cos lettuce because it keeps the longest and you can just remove the leaves that you need as you need them.  The third I planted with carrots as it was closest to the awesome fragrance of the rosemary bush which I read keeps “carrot loving” pests at bay. 

I also used a little trick I had learnt from a DVD I bought myself last Christmas “A Year in Pete’s Patch” (available from ABC shops) and mixed the itty bitty tiny carrot seeds in with a jar with sand to disperse them.  With a hole pierced in the lid it is the perfect pouring receptacle to plant a thinned out layer of seeds without having to use tweezers to pick them out individually.  The next pot I planted with snow peas and used a different technique.  

As I needed to make sure there was room for a trellis to support the growing vines I drew a line through the centre and then on either side a zig zag planting a seed deep in the ground every 5cm.  This way each of the plants will support each other as they grow and all will be able to reach the support of the trellis.  The last pot I planted celery from seeds that I had had for over a year and as yet they are the only ones that have not germinated.  Reckon there must be a life span for seeds? 
Fast forward one week and all the lettuce plants had sprouted, two weeks and the silver beet, and carrots had broken through the ground.  Three weeks later and I have gorgeous little snow pea plants as well, but still no celery.  I have an old wire chair (cushion just inside the front door for ease of grabbing) and a solid timber side table on adjustable feet that can be leveled to adjust to uneven terrain (gotta love him!) to hold my cuppa or wine, laptop, book or whatever floats my boat.  Happy Place in place, the next job is constructing a trellis that can be moved from pot to pot if needed.  Think I might give that job to Benny as I feel that some hand made pavers will be a nice addition to the garden and a crafty project for Lawson and I to do over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned!

PS – One week later…. and my new mobile trellis is installed!

Chapter 25 – Try this at Home

Chapter 25
Try this at Home

Since my chapter “Pickled and Preserved” I have had many requests to share the recipes for Eggplant Kasundi and Holy Guacamole Salsa, so I thought that this week , as the projects don’t necessarily keep up with the blogs, that I would share those with you.  Please bare in mind that these taste all that much better when the majority of the ingredients have been grown in the sun in a particular little corner of your own back yard.  So if you enjoy these recipes I hope that it spurs you on to get your own hands dirty and plant at least two of the easiest vegies to grow; the humble cherry tomato and the exquisite eggplant.
Eggplant Kasundi – this recipe was adapted from an eggplant chutney recipe.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup pure olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced finely
  • 2 jalapeños
  • 3 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger grated
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon seeded mustard
  • ¼ cup water
  • 8 Lebanese eggplants, or 12 dwarf eggplants diced finely
  • ¼ cup chopped coriander leaves
Method
  1. Heat half the oil in a large saucepan and cook onions, chili, garlic until softened. Add spice and cook stirring for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add tomato paste and cook until combined. Add sugar and vinegar and cook mixture until reduced and jam-like. 
  2. Fold through diced eggplant, water and seeded mustard.
  3. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until eggplant skin has softened. Fold through coriander leaves, season to taste.
  4. Pour into sterilized preserving jars.  Great served with cheese on a cheese board, on sandwiches, with egg dishes etc.








Holy Guacamole Salsa

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 15 min
Ready in: 25 min
Yields: Serves 6
< br />
Ingredients

  • 6-8 large Roma tomatoes OR can whole tomatoes, drained OR better still two punnets of your own homegrown cherry tomatoes
  • 2 small or 1 medium onion(s), diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 2-3 hot chilies, seeded and halved, we use our own homegrown jalapeños 
  • 1/2-1 cup (a handful) fresh coriander leaves, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, optional
  • juice of one lemon or lime, optional
Method
  1. If using fresh tomatoes, add ½ inch of water to a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Place cherry tomatoes in whole.  They will break down during cooking at which time you can mash them with a potato masher or fork.
  2. While you dice the onions, simmer tomatoes until water evaporates and tomatoes start to soften. Peel and discard any skins if using large tomatoes.
  3. Toss tomatoes, hot peppers and coriander into a blender container. Blend until smooth.
  4. Heat 1 Tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic in hot oil for about 10 seconds; just a flash in the pan.
  5. Add blended tomato mixture to the pan with the onions and garlic and give it a stir.
  6. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Add cumin if desired.
  7. Simmer on medium-low for about 15 minutes, or until salsa is reduced and thick. You may need to increase cook time if tomatoes are very juicy.
  8. You can add the juice of a fresh lime or lemon at this point, although it’s not necessary and will temper the salsa’s spiciness.
  9. Serve with tortilla chips, enchiladas, tacos, scrambled eggs, etc.

Chapter 24 – All in a Day's Work

Chapter 24
All in a Day’s Work
I am constantly amazed at how much can be accomplished in one day of solid work on our little patch.  
How something can be transformed from a weed covered wasteland to a crop producing aesthetically pleasing place of peace.  Inevitably though to devote an entire day to the garden means to ignore our son in the process.  We just can’t seem to get him involved in any of our projects and in all reality I remember being just the same when I was a teenager.  Can I remember planting vegies in the garden or weeding a patch of lawn…NO fear!  So I guess I cant really blame him, I just wish that it would be something we could do together.  So now we are getting a little smarter, organizing lessons on a Saturday or workshops for him to attend, or phoning a friend to come and hang out in the yard for the day to help get him outside at least and pries  him away from his laptop and the internet.
Just recently I wanted to tackle the “garden bed” on the left hand side of our driveway because frankly as a first impression it was leaving a lot to be desired.  As Benny was on a motorbike ride with his mates from church, I called up one of Lawson’s friends to come and hang out with him and viola I had several hours to myself.  We had weeks previously bought six bags of sugar cane mulch from the local Bunnings and they were stacked neatly in the shed waiting for the opportunity and time to arise.  This particular garden I had neglected for quite some time and so now it was full of weeds (I wish I had taken a before photo), and so I set about pulling most of them out physically which took the best part of the first back breaking hour.  Now from previous experience I knew that if I meticulously laid wads of our accumulated local newspapers and covered them with a healthy layer of fresh mulch, then before I could turn around the chickens would be in and scratching it all up again.  So I had to become a fence builder before I could go any further with the project.

In another little garden bed near the tennis court I had recently planted jalapeños and bell chilli peppers and had kind of taken a punt that I didn’t really need a high fence to dissuade the chickens from getting in there and digging up new plants before they got the chance to get established.  I bought some half metre garden stakes, hammered them in the ground at intervals and cut the snake and vermon mesh to about the same height.  This I ran along between the stakes and secured with zip clips which I later trimmed off to make them virtually invisible.  This provided me with a low fence that protects the new plants but will allow harvesting to be easy once the bushes have gained some height, at which point the fence could be reused and relocated to an area of new planting.  Tricky hey!

So using my newly acquired expertise I used the same technique and created a long low fence on top of the brick garden edging (one day that will go) that would provide a barrier to the chickens and prevent the layers of mulch washing away in the event of heavy rain.  Then I turned on the sprinkler system and wet the ground for a while.  Another technique I have learnt which stops newspaper flying away with every gust of wind before you have the chance to put the mulch on to hold it down is to turn on the sprinkle system as you are laying the paper.  Not something I advise in the height of winter but very successful on a scorching summers day when you are wringing wet from sweating your guts out building a fence!  The black poly pipe and its little jets created a fine mist of water which was just enough to soak both myself and the paper and wet the ground sufficiently underneath it.  Once a metre or so of paper was laid I would turn off the sprinkler and lay the mulch, then on again with the sprinkler and paper and then off again for more mulch.  This is when I really could of used a hand because each run to the tap which was not located close at hand, involved hopping over the fence and back again, way too many times.  But the boys were playing and I wasn’t going to interrupt them just to stand there and be my tap turners so I got more exercise than I bargained for and persisted.  Until I ran out of newspapers.  Do you know how many papers I went through and it only covered half the area I needed it to, and of course it was too late to stop the project now mid way through.  So I had another brainy idea, I took all the discarded plastic bags the mulch came in, cut the welds, flattened them out and lay them on the ground like a weed mat.  They covered a lot of ground and were much easier to handle than the paper and seemed to be just as effective.  So six bags later the garden was covered and the project complete.  In this particular garden I have a hibiscus to attract the bees and for some colour, a Tahitian Lime, Avocado, Olive, some stray Bird of Paradise that  I think run under the fence from the neighboring property and my Lemon Chicken Tree which will be the subject of my next chapter so I wont spoil that with an explanation just now.
Weeks, nay months later and the garden still looks fresh and weed free.  There has been sufficient rain which is hopefully retained in the soil much longer now for the mulching and lots of beautiful sunshine to boot.  Just this weekend I noticed some new growth on the lime and what looks like some buds on the lemon so fingers crossed my hard work has paid off.
The best thing was later that afternoon while I was cleaning up, Lawson and his mate came out to the yard t
o skateboard on the tennis court and his mate looked at the garden with a big dopey grin and amazement on his face and exclaimed “Did you do all of that in just one day?”.  Amazing what you can achieve in one day, isn’t it.

Scroll Up