4 steps to keep your worms happy in a heatwave

Do you have a worm farm?

Hugh explaining how to care for your worm farm at a workshop
Hugh explaining how to care for your worm farm at a workshop

Worms are wonderful workers and are the best (and cheapest) way to produce quantities of fabulous organic fertiliser for your trees, but like all workers, they’ll give you their best if they have excellent working conditions.

Throughout summer, but particularly in a heat wave, it’s really important to give them some extra care and attention.

Climate change means that summer conditions are becoming more extreme (as we’ve already noticed here on the farm), so here’s our top 4 tips for keeping your worms happy in a heat wave:

  1. Keep your worm farm as cool as possible. Worms don’t like extremes of temperature – either heat or cold. It’s also best if you can put your worm farm somewhere where the temperature stays relatively constant and doesn’t fluctuate too much – a cellar is ideal, but a garage or even laundry (depending on size of the worm farm) is also good.
  2. Make sure the worm farm is not in direct sun, as worms also don’t like direct light.
  3. Cover the top layer of your worm farm with something to help keep the moisture in and the hot dry air out. Newspaper, cardboard, old carpet or underfelt (woollen) can all be given a good soak and then placed directly on the surface of your worm farm – it’ll make a huge difference. (Just be careful with old underfelt as sometimes it might have been treated with insecticide.)
  4. Keep your worm farm moist. This is probably the main reason worm farms fail. There should always be a bit of moisture dripping out of the bottom, or if you grab a handful of the contents it should feel very moist, and you should even be able to wring a couple of drips out.
Hugh with a handful of happy, moist worms
Hugh with a handful of happy, moist worms

If you follow these tips there’s no reason why your worms won’t happily keep devouring your kitchen scraps and other organic waste right through the hottest weather.

It sounds simple, right?

Unfortunately we find that a lot of people have trouble with worm farms, or worse – assume a worm farm is too much work, and never try to start one in the first place.

That’s why we created the 6-unit short course Give Worms a Warm Welcome, which includes all the detail about how and why it’s so important (and rewarding) to achieve success with a worm farm in your garden, no matter how big or small it is.

If you’re yet to venture into the wonderful world of worms, please take the time to find out more about how to reap incredible benefits from these powerhouse workers in your garden.

A miracle-worker worm in the compost
A miracle-worker worm in the compost

Which apricots make the most delicious jam?

We get a lot of questions in apricot season about which apricots are best for jam. There are dozens of different varieties of apricot available to grow, so it’s a fair question!

Ripe, juicy Moorpark apricots
Ripe, juicy Moorpark apricots

Old Australian favourites include Trevatt and Moorpark apricots (see a Moorpark above), which both have fantastic flavour and consistency for jam, and make a beautiful bright coloured jam that’s not too dark.

These two also share the characteristic of ripening from the inside, which means that if include some fruit that still looks a little green on the outside it will probably already be sweet and soft enough on the inside to make good jam, but will also have a little bit more pectin in it than overripe fruit, which means the jam will set more easily.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter which variety of apricot you use for jam, though if you’re not growing your own fruit it’s always better to buy organic if you can, as they’re better for you and are more likely to have that true “apricot-y” flavour that’s essential to good jam.

Here’s a few tips to help you achieve success and good flavour every time. 

The basic jam recipe is equal quantities of fruit and sugar, and you should add as little water as possible – if you add water, you have to cook the jam for longer to get it to set, and you risk it developing a dark colour which can look quite unattractive.

Cook the fruit first to the consistency you want, then add the sugar. If you add the sugar at the beginning, the fruit tends to stay in whole pieces rather than break down (if you like chunkier jam, then use this method).

Apricot jam, just coming to the boil
Apricot jam, just coming to the boil

Stick to small batches, especially while you’re learning:

  • 1 kg of fruit will make about 6-8 medium jars of jam, and is a great quantity to start with. 
  • If the batch is bigger than 2kg, it can be hard to get the jam to set, and you may end up with a dark coloured jam from having to boil it for too long.
Danny making apricot jam
Danny making apricot jam

As long as you’ve properly sterilised your jars and lids before pouring in the jam, it should keep well in the pantry for a couple of years at least (except you’ll probably eat it waaaaay before then).

If you’re not familiar with making jam, don’t be daunted, just give it a try. As long as you manage not to burn it (pay attention, and stir often), nothing really bad can happen – the worst you’re risking is that you end up with rather runny fruit sauce (delicious on ice-cream) rather than jam.

Delicious apricot jam
Delicious apricot jam

There are lots of variations on this basic recipe of course, so feel free to improvise and experiment. 

To save you on time and mistakes, we’ve included detailed instructions for making jam, as well as bottling and dehydrating fruit, plus our tried and true recipes (including a sugar-free jam recipe), in Fabulous Fruit Preserving.

Happy preserving!

Apricot bottling and a recipe for berry tarts!

Have you done any fruit bottling this year? Never tried it before? It’s really easy, and a great way to preserve the summer bounty to enjoy through winter.

Cutting up apricots for bottling (photo: Biomi)
Cutting up apricots for bottling
(Photo: Biomi)

Our farm is a demonstration of how you can grow and preserve an entire year’s supply of fruit for your family, so each year we practise what we preach and bottle a heap of fruit to see us through winter.

We aim to preserve enough each year so we don’t need to buy fruit at all, so we’re busily filling the pantry at the moment.

Putting the ring seal on a jar
Putting the ring seal on a jar

It’s still early in the season, so there’s not much fruit around, but apricots and cherries are some of our favourites, so we’ve filled lots of jars with them already.

It goes without saying that we also eat as many as we can while they’re fresh and in season, as well as cooking with them.

We’re also harvesting lots of berries at the moment as well, and for the first time have been bottle them as well, as we find that even though they freeze really well, we tend not to eat fruit out of the freezer as much as we do from a jar, so it suits us better to preserve by bottling.

Boysenberries in the farm shop garden
Boysenberries in the farm shop garden

This is one of our favourite ways to eat them – berry tarts! They are quick, delicious and really easy to make, the whole thing only takes about half an hour from start to finish.

Berry tarts
Berry tarts

Here’s the recipe to make about 24 tarts:

Gluten free pastry

  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 1/4 cup cornflour
  • 1/4 cup besan flour
  • knob butter
  • milk

Make pastry your usual way. Roll out, and use a glass or pastry cutter to cut tart-sized rounds. Cook in greased tart tins (like shallow muffin trays) for about 8 mins or until done.

Berry filling

Put about 400g berries in a saucepan, add about 1/2 cup sugar (or enough to sweeten to taste). Cook, stirring all the while until the sugar is completely melted and a syrup is forming. It’s great if some of the berries retain their shape.

In a cup mix 2 heaped tsp cornflour with just enough water to make it liquid. Add to berry mixture, and stir until the cornflour is completely cooked and the mixture starts to thicken. The mixture will go cloudy when you add the cornflour, so keep cooking until it has gone clear again.

Fill pastry cases with berry mixture and set aside to cool and set.

If you’re interested in finding out more about fruit preserving for home use, try Fabulous Fruit Preserving. It includes instructions for how to bottle fruit using equipment found in most home kitchens, as well as details about freezing, jam and dehydrating (and even includes instructions for making your own fruit dehydrator!)