Monday, June 27, 2016

Ras El Hanout - Moroccan Spice Mix

I love Moroccan flavours, so to add to my list I decided to create my own blend of Ras El Hanout which literally translates as "head of the shop."

Traditionally, it is blended with around 20 or more spices. Created in North Africa, every spice shop guards the secret of their own blend.

Ras El Hanout can be used with poultry, red meats, game and even with rice or couscous.

The great thing about making your own version is controlling the heat of the spice, so if you don't like too much then don't add those hot spices, and vise versa.

I've chosen to use only the powdered versions of each spice to keep it simple, but it can also be made from whole spices grounded up with a mortar and pestle. It's completely your choosing.

My version only contains 12. For more heat choose spices such as Cayenne Pepper and Hot Paprika.

2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper
1.5 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1 teaspoon ground all spice (not mixed spice)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all the spices together in a small bowl and then transfer to an airtight container or jar.
Sprinkle over meats during cooking or as recipes instruct.

If using a pepper grinder, use a small funnel beneath the grinder to guide granules onto measuring spoon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Blue Banded Bees - Buzz Pollination

This may come as a surprise to many people throughout Australia, that there are more than one or two types of bees. Most immediately think of the Australian Honey Bee and the miniature Stingless Native Bees of the Eastern states.

Blue Banded Bees are also known as: Amegilla cingulata

I have been wanting to get into bee keeping for many years now, but my chicken addiction and the amount of children in my backyard on a daily basis don't allow for it. So my style of gardening has become very bee orientated to draw them to my garden to make sure all my food crops get well pollinated.

I credit Sophie Thomson, of Gardening Australia fame, who brought up the use of Blue Banded Bees at the this year's Royal Adelaide Show. These bees are native to every mainland state of Australia (except Tasmania) and most certainly another bee to encourage to our gardens.

I had never seen nor heard of the Blue Banded Bee until this year. These beautiful bees made their way into my garden for the first time only this week - October 2015 - visiting my front garden. The dianellas were attracting them in full sun.

Dianellas are a major food/pollen source for the Blue Banded Bee. Lucky me, that was a fluke!

I've learnt over the years that all purple flowers really attract the bees, and dianellas fit right into that group. Meanwhile, all the other standard honey bees were too busy hanging out at the lavender bushes as usual.

What are the benefits of the Blue Banded Bee?

Quite a number of our Australian plants require the visit from Blue Banded Bees, amongst many other plants as they perform a special type of service called "buzz pollination".

Buzz Pollination means that the bees literally shake the pollen out of the plant for pollination. Occasionally the wind is strong enough to do the same job, but in green houses and walled gardens these bees prove to be highly effective.

The sound and size of the Blue Banded Bee is the first thing you will notice about them. Their wing beating sounds quite different to a normal Honey Bee, more of a Bumblebee look. Their bodies are more rounded and larger too, which makes their blue markings stand out. Their wings are key to helping them in their job as pollinators, helping pollen to disperse as well as keeping them hovering. Quite a different movement from the good old Honey Bees.

When they land upon a flower they practically shiver to help stir up the pollen in the plant. They do this by using their muscles that they use for flight.

They collect pollen in their side pouches, nonetheless, and help carry it from flower to flower. The rest they take home with them in their hive.

How do they live?

Blue Banded Bees are not into creating hives in tree hollows like Australian Honey Bees are. Instead they prefer to make their homes in soft mortar between bricks in the sides of homes, mudbrick walls and soft embankments, which is much more like wasps or spiders. Soft sandstone cliffs are also a favourite.

They are solitary in nature, which means that each female mates and then builds a single nest all by herself. Very un-Australian Honey Bee-like who love colony life.

Blue Banded Bees are not kept for honey, but for their unique pollination service that they provide.

How can we provide a habitat for the Blue Banded Bees?

Creating small portable nesting blocks is the best way to encourage Blue Banded Bees to take up residence in our yards.

Here's a PDF file tutorial on how to build your own nesting blocks:

Which plants do they buzz pollinate the best?

Edibles: Tomatoes, eggplants, kiwifruit, blueberries, potatoes, cranberries.
Australian Natives: Dianella - Flax Lily, Solanum Cinereum, Senna, Arctostaphylos, Hibbertia.

Likely to visit up to 1200 tomato flowers a day.

Ideal for use in poly tunnels and greenhouse pollination. For more information the Adelaide University have produced an in-depth and easy to read report. Click here.

Are they aggressive? Do they sting?

No, Blue Banded Bees are not known for the aggression. But yes, they can sting, but it much more of a milder sting if you step on or grab them.

What temperature do they work in?

Blue Banded Bees actively forage between 20°C - 40°C.

Have you started to see any Blue Banded Bees in your garden yet?
Their popularity amongst avid gardeners is growing Australia-wide.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Vines for Garden Bed Fencing

Its been a long time between blogs, but my gardening hands have not been resting. I single-handedly built a lasagna (no dig) garden bed a few months ago for our students to learn the importance of different types of gardening and the value of break-down of materials used to create a rich soil full of worms.

This month we finished off the garden by removing the bright orange plastic fencing in favour of a more natural earthly look to tie in with our Steiner Garden along the same side of the street.

The no-dig garden bed started off quite considerably higher. It has been left to sit for the last month or more now to break down naturally, so it has lost some height.

The challenge has been to keep the school children off of it so the bed stays in tact for its very first planting.

A small opening has been left to create a small gateway so that we can access irrigation
and the children can reach all sections.
So we recruited the Steiner people to collect grape vine cuttings from the vineyards around the McLaren Vale wine district, with July being the best month to score a trailer load.

Our garden volunteers joined me to transform our lovely new garden bed with bamboo stakes and a weaving of grape vines. I must say the finished product is just beautiful. Its organic and harmonious in the garden and seems to command respect for trespasses to leave it alone (which is the fear of any school gardener - so many things get stolen or misplaced).

I am very proud of our team effort to get the garden bed looking so natural that it has inspired the teachers to request that we look into further vine weaving projects for the school that the children could also enjoy in their active exploration play. Its all in the planning.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Self Seeding Garden

My garden has become a blessing this season by proving an amazing array of self-seeded plants.

To be honest, I never thought it would really happen, but I had tried to hedge my bets by giving them a lot more time to sit in my garden in seed, well past their usability. No-one likes to be rushed, so I thought maybe the plants in my vegetable garden might like me to back off a little and let them choose their own timing. And boy did it work!!!

I have always had success with the flat leaf parsley self seeding and living with where ever it came up and gardening around it.

This year its not only parsley, but also licorice herb, coriander, land cress and fennel.

I suspect there might be a few more plant species out there too such as tomatoes, but as we are in autumn they really won't take off when winter sets in.

I'm liking this money saving gardening. I could get quite use to this.

Coriander and more amongst the leeks

Licorice herb, parsley amongst the garlic


Part of this success I also put down to using organic loam soil mixed with vegetable potting mix and the use of coconut coir for the first time to improve soil moisture to stop drying out of beds.

I'm a recent convert to using coir in my raised garden beds. In fact, I was trialing it to see if it would be good to use in our primary school's garden as so many of the beds are dust dry. We've been desperate to find a way to keep the soil moist and the plants alive. So I volunteered my garden and now I can see why all the plant nurseries use it.

For a water wise garden, get a block of coir into your soil.

Retails around $16 per block
Simply place in a wheelbarrow, add the recommended amount of water, wait 20 minutes and then pull apart by fluffing around the edges.

You will have the best soil ever in your garden! It really is worth a try.

TIP: Saw the block in half and only do half a block at a time unless you own the world's biggest wheelbarrow.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chick Update: 1 day old Black Australorps

Now our little chicks are a day old, its off to the brooder box they go.

We made the call by midday that any unhatched eggs were out and the hatched ones were ready to leave the incubator.

Its officially six (6) out of 9 eggs hatched. We have six beautiful and strong personalities to welcome to our family.

With scrupulously clean hands we moved them one by one into the brooder with the heat table (actual brooder), dipping their beak once into their water and once into their chick crumble (food source) to introduce them to their basic necessities.

Then came time for their Mareks vaccinations. I now understand why so many people do not vaccinate their chicks.

  1. They come in enormous batches (doing 125 to 1,000 chicks at a time)
  2. Its expensive for the little we have hatched. (Over $100 for our small batch)
  3. Its a multi-part process to mix the vaccine to become active.
  4. The vaccine has a limited life span of only 2 hours. YES, only 2 hours.
  5. Injecting a chick on the back of the neck is harder than you think, especially if you have never done it before.
  6. Can only be administered on day old chicks.

To learn how to mix and administer the vaccine for Mareks check out:

We put them directly onto newspaper for their first day and sprinkled chick crumble around so that they can get use to their food source before we add any wood shavings. Otherwise they will only peck at the wood shavings and not learn about their food.

The brooder is set fairly low to begin with and will be raised higher as they grow each week.

They are cuteness on legs!

Or you can go for the much clearer picture as to what Black Australorp chicks look like, below. Mine won't stand still for a second for a GOOD picture. :)

via MyPetChicken

We are hatching chickens

Its our first time hatch our own chickens. And these little sweeties are purebred black Australorps.

Its been a tricky slog, first of all using a broody hen which quickly turned into THREE broody hens for only 12 eggs. Made great use of my excessively broody Silver Laced Wyandottes and Light Sussex girls.

As time progressed we lost three (3) eggs.

1. One of my kids accidentally put it into the fridge with the other eggs.
2. One was cracked. Tried to glue it with PVA glue but the hens attacked it and ate the chick's head.

...which prompted us to rescue the eggs and pop them into the new incubator.

3. One went bad! It was oozing a honey-like substance and it stunk out the entire incubator!

Then there were incubator dramas. Mostly all humidity based or rotational.

Day 18 was 'lock down'- no more turning, and the sections were removed so there would be no more movement of the eggs.

On the morning of Day 21, today...they started to hatch.

Signs were apparent at breakfast but they held off on coming out until the kids got home from school, with the first two popping out in the 4pm hour.

There are big breaks between hatchings and we are still awaiting the remainder to hatch as I type this. (My hubby wants to show off the pictures at work!)

Tomorrow morning we will be vaccinating them. I think we might have an all-nighter on our hands to maintain the correct humidity (65-75%). The kettle is regularly on. And kitchen paper towels are on-hand. No opening the incubator until they are all hatched in the morning.

Our first two hatched black Australorp chicks. Black beak and Pink beak.

We are completely in love with them all.

This is better than TV! This is ADDICTIVE!!!

If you are hatching eggs too, we would love to hear from you and any tips you can share.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Eggplants: What a difference a soil makes

This is my first year of growing Eggplants and I have discovered just how easy they are to grow. But the curious situation in my garden is that even though all the plants are the same age from the same punnet, they are at two very different levels of growth.

Its amazing what a difference a soil type makes.

The plants in the planter was given fresh potting mix while the smaller plants have been planted after a crop of leeks with minimal rest time to that bed. There was some digging through of potting mix and chicken manure, but it hasn't produced the growth like that of the planter. Wow!

I'm using a potting mix that is especially for Vegetables and Herbs containing a wetting agent.

And speaking of potting mix, I've been on top of my potted fruit trees this year keeping them hydrated with Wetta Soil watered in.

Since adding the Wetta Soil the Naval Orange tree has sprouted some surprise new growth, growing oranges as well as sprouted some new orange blossoms.

How are your soils coping this summer?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Banana Coconut Bread

Too many ripe bananas in the fruit bowl?
Need a gluten-free recipe?
Need a little more fiber in your diet?
A cake for a sugar-free diet?
This delicious recipe covers it all.

This cake not only surprises on taste, but its a remarkably healthy alternative.

Banana Coconut Bread


12-14 dates, seeded and chopped
3 bananas, mashed
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbspn chia seeds
1 Tbspn brown rice protein
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tsp bi-carb soda
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup brown or white rice flour


  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF).
  2. Line or grease a loaf tin.
  3. In a medium sized bow, mix melted coconut oil with vanilla, eggs, mash bananas, dates and bi-carb.
  4. Add shredded coconut, chia seeds, brown rice protein and rice flower. Mix through well with a whisk.
  5. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
  6. Bake for 45-60 minutes. Test the centre with a skewer to see if it comes out clean before removing from the oven.
  7. Let loaf sit in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

Coconut Oil, Bananas, Dates, Bi-Carb

To that is then added the Shredded Coconut, Chia Seeds, Brown Rice Protein and Rice Flour.

Lined loaf tin - baked at 180ºC for 50 minutes

Very yummy! Even sugary cake addicts will love this as a change.

Food that Magically Regrows Itself

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Naked Ladies OR How To Have a Pink Garden in Summer

My garden has suddenly turned pink. Blushing from all this sunshine with pink hollyhocks, a rose generosa bush rose and the most amazing flower grown from bulb, Naked Ladies.

Naked Ladies flower just before Autumn, and are also known as Amaryllis (Amaryllis Belladonna) or even Lady Belladonna.

Amaryllis are sometimes mistakenly called Easter Lilies.

They are special because the leaves and the flowers do not appear together at the same time.

And their fragrance is really something else. Its one of those aromas that leave you curious as to whether you like it or not. Some even say it is apricot like. I remember talc powders given to me as child in the 1980s that smelt just like these flowers. It is completely reminiscent.

Amaryllis love hot and dry conditions, just perfect for the South Australian climate. These bulbs are the true survivors. No bad seasons ever seem to knock them off!

Plant the bulbs in early summer time when the bulb is dormant, just before flowering. The bulbs have a habit of clumping over the years.

The first year or two they may not flower after being transplanted as they have a reputation for being a little temperamental. Once established, they come back year after year.

They also reproduce through the flowers. After each flowering season they go to seed which then expel small juicy round bulbs that scatter themselves a little further a field in the garden. They do sprout well in the next leafy season, although much smaller than the established larger bulbs.

I have never found them to be invasive in my garden. I like to plant them in sections of my garden that go bare over summer. Even mulch doesn't keep them down. They love to pop up when they are ready, to give your garden a pink make-over.

Guillot Rosa Generosa Bush Rose

Pink Hollyhock

Thursday, January 15, 2015