Answering some questions - UPDATED

15 May 2010
Good morning everyone.  It's another beautifully cold morning here, the temperature is 10*C/50F right now and not 6C/42F like it was yesterday.  Our home is insulated so it's quite warm inside but I know when I go outside to feed the animals, I'll need a cardigan or jumper.

Oh, I just wanted to mention that my sister Tricia (Patricia Margaret) sometimes comments on my blog and did so yesterday.  It was really lovely for me to read her recollections of those times.   It seems to make it better when memories are shared.

I wanted to answer a few questions that have come my way recently.  The first is from Larissa:
"My question is does the oven proof dish rest on the bottom of the water dish or does it rest on the edges so that the bottom doesn't touch??? I hope that makes sense. A bainmarie as I know it (from industrial kitchens) had the dishes suspended over the water with the bottoms in the water. I'm not sure what size or type of pan to buy otherwise to fit my pyrex glass oven dishes."

Larissa, I used my stainless steel baking dish - the sides are maybe 6 inches high - and placed an oven proof bowl into the boiling water, directly on the base of the baking dish.  The bottom touches the bottom of the baking dish, but if you were to put a few smaller dishes in, instead of one larger one, the sides of the smaller dishes shouldn't touch each other.  The temperature in the oven is quite mild so it won't boil and bubble to de-stable the dish and move it around.

The second question is from Rachael:
"From your pictures and from conversations at the local home improvement store, I decided to use cinder blocks to raise my veggy beds. The yard tends to flood in the spring, and I think the raised beds will help with that. I put in my first raised bed, with cinder blocks, a few weeks ago... and those cinder blocks are not straight from any angle. What did you do to get your cinder blocks so straight and level? Did you use a base of gravel or sand? Or perhaps did lots of work to level the ground first? What have you let grow between the raised beds? (my yard is currently lots of drought/flood resistance native green things, which  many might call weeds, so figuring what to pull and what to leave)."

Rachael, the blocks are set in the ground about 2 inches.  Get yourself four short sturdy sticks and tie string to each of them.  The string should be a little longer and  wider than the dimensions of the garden bed.  So, for instance, if your garden will be 15 feet x 5 feet, have two strings of 17' and two of 7'.  That will give you your length and width with enough left over to tie the string around the sticks.  Go to where your bed will be and hammer in the sticks on each appropriate corner, then tie the strings so that you have a little string fence surrounding the garden bed.  You should now have a rectangle with straight sides that you can use as a guide to lay the blocks.  Take your spade and dig out a trench the width of the blocks you have bought, to a depth of about 2 or 3 inches.  Make the bottom of the trench as level as possible and place the blocks into the trench.  They will be touching end to end so that will support them lengthwise, and when you back fill with the soil you removed from the trench, that will support them on both sides.  You should end up with a block border with a straight and level top.

Now, the problem with the flooding.  If your vegetable garden is flooded regularly, it will kill your plants.  You may need to build up the beds quite a bit - I have seen high raised beds where people have used corrugated iron sides.  But if the flooding is minor you'll be fine with the blocks.  You'll have to add quite a bit of compost or manure to your garden soil for good results, when you do that, add some sand to the mix as well.  That will help with drainage.  To give you a rough guide, I'd use a bucket of sand for each bucket of manure or compost  you use.  Then dig it all in.  You will get much better results when you dig.  You'll open up the earth for the tiny roots to penetrate.  This is something you'll have to do every year.   Over time, your soil will improve and give you really wonderful crops.

I thought there was another question but I can't find it now.  If I've missed you, please let me know and I'll slot it in later this morning.

Added later:  I remembered it was for the chocolate cake recipe. Here 'tis.
200g soft butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs 
100g chopped and melted dark chocolate
1 ½ cups self raising flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder 
¼ cup milk
¼ cup boiling water  (boiling water at the end makes a moist cake)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and eggs, one egg at a time and mix well.  Add melted chocolate.
Sift flour and cocoa together and add it to the butter mix.  Add milk to help mix it.
When everything is mixed well, add the boiling water last and mix in.  Place in a 22cm deep cake tin and bake at 170C for about 50 minutes.  Check with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean, if not, bake another 5 minutes.

When the cake is completely cold, slice in two horizontally so you have two layers and add the icing of your choice.  I used this:
200g soft cream cheese
1 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons milk
Mix all the above together until smooth.  I put some of this in the centre and topped the cake with the rest, plus some fresh ripe raspberries.
Happy baking!

Sandra asked about growing passionfruit.  Sandra, they need lots of manure and water in a free draining soil.  And FULL sun, never attempt passionfruits if you can't give them full sun.  In that photo of my passions,  that is the end of the row that gets the most sun.  They love it.  So sun, manure (cow, horse, chook or goat), water and well draining soil.  Oh, and they like to be mulched but ours aren't because the chooks walk there and they pick it off.  BTW, we have wire over the top of the soil so the chooks can't scratch the roots.  Good luck, love.  Let me know if it works for you.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend doing a few things you love.


  1. Rhonda, i am so glad that you came back! I like so many things you write, I sympathize whit that and it is useful! I don't speak your language so i cann't give respons very often. I live on the other side of the earth than you, so here it is springtime.
    Blessings! Margriet

  2. We too have used cinder blocks for our raised beds. We also dug into the ground before laying them, which helped with the leveling and the sturdiness. They aren't perfectly but who is going to get out level and tape to check? Ours are three bricks high because the ground where we live is like concrete. We had to bring in all our soil. Happy gardening!

  3. Like Stephanie G, our ground is like concrete. We used iron sheets. We cut them down the middle so they are about 400mm high. It took alot of soil to fill (we have 2 gardens that are about 12m long each) but our aim with this project is not to save money. We want to know what goes into our bodies, we want to show the kids how we can look after ourselves, we want more opportunities for us to be a family in the fresh air instead of in the house, and it's an excuse to try more recipes (I adore cooking).
    The one thing we did find in the first year is that our soil was a bit 'fresh' and so seemed to drag alot of the nutrients out of our plants. Next time we'd leave the soil longer to settle in!!
    Good luck with the vegies :)

  4. Oh! what a beautiful garden!

  5. I love the garden beds! In fact, you gave me the idea for my raised garden beds here. My growing season is just beginning. We're having a salad tonight of lettuce, spinach, and an onion that I just harvested. You're a gardening encouragement! Blessings!

  6. Hi Rhonda, I had question about how to produce passionfruits on vine, is this the one you couldn't remember? ... wanted to know how you managed to get so much fruit in a small space, ours has staggered fruits, my husband hand pollinates but still we don't seem to produce that many. He wanted to know what your secret was! Thanks, Sandra.

  7. THANK YOU for answering my question as Custard is my all time favourite dessert and now I can make it anytime! Your explanation makes perfect sense, it was what I was hoping, as I have something I can use to do that already and I won't have to buy anything. Have a wonderful, if chilly day (we got down to 2.6c here last night and I'm in thermals under my normal clothes as I type this! In MAY - not JULY crazy!)

  8. Thanks for answering my question. I'm a carpenter's daughter, you'd think I'd thought to put out a plum-line, but I didn't. I think I will redo the blocks for the bed I've already done and now I have the right idea for the new bed.

    Our soil is heavy, heavy clay, so I'm turning in as much compost and such as I can afford to. I know the soil will improve with each year, so I'm not going all out this year.

    Again, thanks for answering questions; I learn something new each time!

  9. Hi Rhonda
    Great blog, I also prefer the cooler weather. I live in England on the south coast, so it's spring-time here and today the weather's beautifully sunny.
    I just have a question, sorry if it's been asked before, but I've been wanting to try some of your recipes but am not sure about cup measurements. Is there an approximate equivalent in grams (or ounces) for, say, a cup of sugar or a cup of flour?
    best wishes, from Anna

  10. Love this blog, I gave you an award at my blog

  11. Spunky, do you have 2 plants? I think you need 2 to pollinate. That's how ours seem to work anyway!

  12. That cake recipe looks amazing... the problem with being a 20-something is that your friends are always on diets ;-) but I have lots of little cousins who would love this, so I might try it for the next birthday. Hope you're enjoying the cool weather! I'm in the northeast US - it's high 80s F (don't know what that is in C), and I spent the day at the beach :-)



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