I’m sitting in our study, chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven cooling on the kitchen bench, and wondering where to start updating you on what’s been happening around the farm. Finally things have got back up and running after a chaotic last few months. 🙂
The Orchard Begins
After months of on-and-off again research and planning, the first few trees for our official orchard have gone in. I know “research” sounds a bit heavy for a few fruit trees, but given our climate and my desire to grow things that really shouldn’t work here, I did need to do my homework. Living in our subtropical-verging-on-warm-temperate climate, many of the trees have to be selected carefully to make sure they’ll set a crop given the limited number of chilling hours we experience (i.e. it’s not much fun having an apple tree that doesn’t bear fruit).
Here’s my take on some background info about chilling hours (feel free to skip and continue reading below if this is old news for you) I’m no expert, but I’ll give it a shot to explain what I’ve learnt…Basically each type of a particular fruit tree has its own requirement regarding number of hours under 7 degrees Celsius they need to accumulate before they’ll flower and fruit. So, for example, a Sunshine Blue Blueberry only requires 150 hours under seven degrees to fruit, but another type of blueberry, BlueCrop Blueberry, needs over 700 hours! It pays to do your research. For some strange reason the number of degrees below seven doesn’t make any difference to the total hours accumulated, but a patch of unseasonably hot weather can undo the chilling hours and cause a tree to fail to set fruit that year. (*this isn’t the only way of measuring chilling hours but it’s the one I find easiest to understand)
Since moving to this area I’ve noticed plenty of citrus trees growing in backyards and some bananas and mangoes, but not a lot of other fruit trees. I know there are commercial avocado and blueberry farms so obviously they grow here too, but apart from the very occasional peach tree, I really haven’t seen any stone fruit growing…which makes me nervous.
Why the angst over planting stone fruit? Well, growing up in an extremely hot tropical town, I’ve always desperately wanted to be somewhere cold enough to grow peaches and plums. I’d never even seen a stone fruit tree until I was thirty. For me, those kinds of fruit trees I only ever read about in story books. You know how some people think of tropical fruit as wonderfully exotic? That’s how I feel about home-grown plums, peaches, nectarines and apples. I spent my childhood standing on rotten mangoes that had fallen from trees in the playground, so mangoes don’t exactly hold a lot of mystique for me. Peaches, on the other hand…well that’s a different story 🙂
Theoretically, with our climate accumulating a maximum of 350 chilling hours (info courtesy of a lovely local fruit grower I met at the markets), if I’m careful with what fruit tree varieties I select, we *should* be able to grow just about every fruit you can think of with the exception cherries, gooseberries, blackberries, red currants and black currants. However, with our area’s high humidity and incredibly high rainfall (so high it is measured in metres!) we may have more challenges ahead with the threat of fungal disease wiping out our crops and/or trees.
I really should just accept that this is dairy country, and what we’re good at growing is grass, not fruit. But…well, I want to at least try growing our own fruit.
Here’s the list of what we’ve planted:
- Peach – Aztec Gold
- Dwarf Mulberry – Black
- Dwarf Apple – Dorsett Golden
- Dwarf Lemon – Eureka
- Nectarine – White Satin
- Peach – Tropic Snow
- Plum – Gulf Ruby
- Plum – Gulf Gold
- Apple – Coastal Cropper
- Apricot – Glengarry
- Peach – Tropic Beauty
- Blueberry – Blueberry Burst
- Lychee – Kwai May Pink
- *still planning on planting Dwarf Apples: Tropical Anna and Tropic Sweet*
And the list of what we planted previously that didn’t make it:
- Black Sapote (aka Chocolate Pudding Fruit) – eaten by Wallabies
- Passionfruit – Panama Gold – eaten by Wallabies
- Blueberry – Sunshine Blue – died of fungal disease
Mini Greenhouses Go Up
One of the reasons this post is late is that we’ve had a lot of visitors to the farm lately. In the last few months we’ve racked up twenty seven visitors (all family and friends). Some visiting more than once 🙂 So it’s been busy!
Two of our wonderful visitors, having heard about the destruction of our seedlings, came bearing an incredibly thoughtful gift – two mini greenhouses to protect our seedlings from those mischievous guinea fowl! We’ve yet to complete the final step and put on the shadecloth, but here they are, almost ready to go… Can’t wait to get sowing 🙂 We’ve been totally spoilt 🙂
Spelt and Dark Choc Chip Cookies
The cookies are just about cooled, which means I’m just about to go and grab one. But before I do, the recipe as promised…They’re made with dark chocolate and spelt so they could almost be healthy, right 😉
Here’s how I make them:
Spelt and Dark Choc Chip Cookies
150g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, lightly beaten with a fork (the fresher the eggs the better)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
225g white spelt flour (or 50% wholemeal spelt, 50% white spelt)
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g dark chocolate chips (70% cacao dark chocolate chips are really nice if you can find them)
1. Preheat oven to 180Celsius/360Farenheit (160C/320F fan-forced)
2. Line large baking sheet (or two) with non-stick baking paper
3. Put butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer. Beat on slow speed for one minute then beat on medium speed till butter and sugar form a pale cream.
4. Add lightly whisked eggs and vanilla extract to mixing bowl and mix on medium speed until eggs are well combined throughout mix.
4. Remove bowl from mixer. Sift flour and baking powder over top of butter/sugar/egg mix. (Ok, ok. Really I just plonk it in without sifting it – I’m too lazy). Fold in flour using a spatula until just combined but no lumps of flour remain.
5. Add choc chips to bowl and carefully fold through mix, being careful not to stir too much (which can break up the choc chips or make the batter tough once baked)
6. Place teaspoonsful of mixture on tray, allowing space between each cookie to spread (they do spread a reasonable amount when baking)
7. Bake in the preheated moderate oven until a light golden brown (about 15 minutes)
8. Remove from oven. Leave for a minute to firm up before carefully removing to cooling rack with spatula to cool completely
*There are a lot of eggs in this recipe. I find the better the eggs, the better the cookie.
Have a great weekend!