Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who said 'Money Doesn't Grow on Trees?'

While I was shopping in the Potts Point Woolworths the other day I noticed packets of curry leaves for sale in the Asian vegetable section. I haven't needed to buy curry leaves for more than 3 years. My balcony curry leaf tree provides an abundant supply. In fact I regularly trim off a few branches and give them to my friend Kham who runs the Arun Thai restaurant across the road.

The potted Curry Leaf Tree is thriving in its semi-shady position. I water it twice a week and fertilise it with a seaweed tea once every couple of months. Apart from the occasional caterpillar attack and mealy bug colony its seems to be fighting fit.

It produces these wonderfully glossy, fragrant, quite pungent leaves that I use to make curries, dhals and saffron rice. They are used similarly to bay leaves.

Our tree produces so many leaves I even sometimes think of it as a slight annoyance.

Not any more.

The Woolworth packets of curry leaves were selling for $2 for a folded stem of about 30 leaves!
Highway robbery!
I rushed back up to our apartment to do a rough calculation of how many stems there were on my curry leaf tree and counted about 500 stems.
At $2 a stem my curry leaf tree is worth at least $1000!!!!! And with a new stem emerging each day it's a veritable licence to print money.
And what's more because I don't use any pesticides or chemicals I bet they taste better than the woolies ones do.

I know most food gardeners grow their own food for the superior taste and flavour but it's good to be reminded of how much money we are also saving in the process - or how much money we could make.

... I can picture the shingle above my shop door now..." Indira Naidoo - Providore of Exotic Leaves."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Edible Balcony - Bugs arrive in the mail

My battles with aphids, mealy bugs and caterpillars have been well-documented on this blog. It often feels as though I'm growing more bugs on my balcony than plants. And pest management without pesticides and chemicals can seem like an impossible task.
But there is help at hand.

I found a company in Queensland 'Bugs For Bugs' that breeds natural predators that only attack bad bugs not your plants. After a short phone consultation with a specialist I decided on purchasing 40 native Australian lady bugs (crytolaemus) which eat mealy bugs and 100 lacewing eggs (lacewings eat aphids, mealy bugs, caterpillar larvae) - all for about $40.00.
They arrived in little plastic cups filled with enough pollen and honey to keep them well-fed during their trip

The lacewing larvae needs to be put in or near the area of infestation so when they hatch they have an immediate food source.

I put them on the chili plant and in the eggplants.

The native lady bugs were parachuted into the watercress and tatsoi which have been battling hoards of aphids.

You sic 'em Rex!

It's a good idea to cover the bugs with some light muslin cloth on the first day. This encourages them to stay and find the food source.
You don't want your pest controllers flying off before they get to work!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Edible Balcony - End of Summer

A hand-drawn plan of what's currently growing on the balcony

Somehow most of the plants survived the wild weather of February - storms, winds, heavy rain, high humidity, pest attacks and mildew.

As I reflect on the toughest month so far on the Edible Balcony I realise why edible balcony gardening is so rare! I'm clearly nuts!

But there have been some small satisfactions...

three eggplants are poking through...

the red oak lettuce is flourishing in the hanging basket...

I'm picking watercress leaves every other day. This variety is not as peppery as the common smaller leaf one.

The zucchini are spreading their large wings....

The tomato plants have had one last gush of fruit. I'll be pulling out the vines next week and preparing the pots for my winter plantings...

The herb wall has taken a battering. The plants are still frail and the tatsoi has had a aphid and mealy bug attack. Hopefully as the sun moves in they'll become more robust.

The common mint sustained a few caterpillar attacks and is slowly forming new buds.

This cherry tomato variety Tom Thumbs has been a huge success ... abundant and sweet.

Still no flowers from the strawberry plants just lots of runners.
The mixed basil has been fragrant and delicious .

The nasturtiums have been my best friends on the balcony. Low maintenance, pretty and delicious!

Just exquisite!

I'll be picking these peppers next week and chargrilling them on the BBQ.
The Thai chilli plant is a slow grower but has just developed a few new fruit buds.
I wonder what March will hold?

Lunch - Marguerita Pizza with Nasturtium flowers

Lunch today was a quick pizza using a frozen pizza base from the Fox Studio Farmers Markets.....

a tomato from the balcony....

some fresh balcony basil leaves....

and some peppery nasturtium flowers and leaves.

Now this is the sort of fast food that leaves maccas for dead!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Edible Balcony - First Eggplant Peeps Through

My two eggplants share a pot on the Eastern side of my balcony. I planted the two seeds on November 28th almost three months ago so they certainly like taking their time. They probably don't like sharing a smallish pot either. Next time I'll give them more room.

They've sustained flea beetle attacks and caterpillar assaults....

high winds and heavy rains....

but miraculously the first fruit appeared this morning!

This long purple variety will be delicious chargrilled on the BBQ and made into a babaganoush.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recipe: Heavenly Flourless Chocolate Cake - It works!

This recipe is adapted from Stephanie Alexander's 'chocolate and almond cake' recipe from her cook's companion.

125g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon brandy (I used kirsch left over from Christmas)
1 tablespoon black coffee
100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
3 eggs, separated
icing sugar

Preheat oven to 160 C. Butter an 18cm round tin and line it with baking paper ( I used a lined spring form flan tin). Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over a double boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar. Mix well. Add ground almonds and stir very well. Lightly beat egg yolks and stir into bowl off the heat. Beat egg whites until firm. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of egg white, then fold in the rest of the egg whites and spoon into prepared tin. Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a little gooey in the centre. It will have developed a crust and be very fragile. Cool completely in the tin, then carefully invert onto a serving plate and dust with icing sugar.

This cake was delicious. Moist and deeply flavoured with the chocolate and coffee. I served it with some King Island vanilla bean yoghurt and some fresh raspberries.

Edible Balcony - Zucchini dreaming

 a zucchini outcast

This morning I had to thin out the zucchini seedlings from 6 to 3 to make room in the pot. This is one of the hardest jobs for a gardener - sacrificing some of your tenderly cared for babies so the others will grow strong and prolific. Gardening infanticide in a way.
I selected the runts of the crop which was hard to do when they all looked pretty robust - one Yates blackjack zucchini, one organic lebanese zucchini and one Mrs Fotheringill's lebanese zucchini. With three gentle tugs three lives ended. I consoled myself by thinking with my track record the caterpillars would have eventually got them anyway!

the three zucchini seedlings that didn't make the cut

Speaking of caterpillars, I found this fellow hiding under one of the seedling's leaves. He was getting ready to pupate by the size of him.

I allowed him one last freedom crawl before I ended his life as well.

a green squirt, a spasm and it was all over.
(to the strains of The Last Post....You gave your life so many, many zucchinis could have theirs....

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recipe: Basil Ice Cream

Well, as summer draws to an end so does the first crop of edible balcony basil I planted as a companion plant for my tomatoes last September. Time to harvest!
 Last year I came across a few recipes for an unusual basil ice cream I've been itching to try out. Unlike traditional ice creams this recipe does not start with a custard base and uses greek yoghurt and mascarpone cheese. It's a simple recipe but it does make it easier if you have an ice-cream machine.

First I needed a big bunch of fresh basil....

well-washed making sure no caterpillars were lurking....

Recipe: Basil Ice Cream (makes 1 litre)

1 large bunch of basil leaves, picked no stems (about 80 g)
500g sugar
250g mascarpone cheese
1.25kg thick Greek-style yoghurt

Put the basil leaves and the sugar in a food processor and blend until you have a coarse green powder. Add the yoghurt and the mascarpone and pulse blend until the mixture in smooth.
Put mixture into an ice cream machine and churn for about 20 minutes or according to the manufacturer's instructions. Leave to firm in the freeezer for an hour or so. Serve with fresh basil leaves.


I found this ice cream quite a revelation. Tangy and herbaceous. Quite delicious really. It is not one to shovel down while sprawled on the couch with a DVD. More a dinner party palate refresher after a spicy curry or Asian meal.
An exquisite way to feature the aniseed flavours of fresh basil leaves.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Edible Balcony - Lady bugs to the rescue

The hot humid weather in Sydney has been terrific for the plants on the balcony.

The zucchini seeds I planted on Saturday sprouted in just 5 days.

The downside is that the bugs have also exploded exponentially- particularly the aphid 'Woodstock' population partying on my tatsoi and Japanese greens. 

Then this morning I found the cavalry had sent in reinforcements....

The first lady bug observed on the edible balcony was steadily hoovering up the aphids. Aphids are the preferred food for lady bugs. Apparently a fully grown adult can eat up to 100 aphids a day.

Welcome to the war zone Ringo (named in honour of my favourite beetle). You don't know how glad I am to have you onboard.