Start Planting for Winter NOW!

I’ve just heard the weather report and they are predicting 36º today and 37º tomorrow so you may think I’ve already been touched by the sun when I say now is the time to start planting for winter. I’m not.

Let’s break this down a bit. As a very new gardener I was surprised, to say the least, when I discovered that winter is actually a very productive time in a Canberra garden. Yes we do swap scorching summer temperatures for frosts but there are many plants that happily survive the frost and require cold temperatures to be productive. So as we plant in late winter/early spring for summer crops we need to be doing the same now to produce winter crops.

The plants that seem to love the cold weather best are brassicas, root vegetables and lettuces. I know the lettuces sound odd but again they seem to cope with frosts remarkably well and don’t bolt to seed as quickly as they do in summer. Rocket is another plant that is also at its best in winter. If you don’t like green leafy veggies then perhaps you can just keep harvesting your current crops, keep up your succession planting and otherwise have a break until late winter.

Here are the planting recommendations from two sources you may consider more reliable than me. Firstly the Organic Gardener Calendar suggests planting turnips and carrots now (we are talking seed here as root crops grow best, not to mention straightest, when planted as seeds in drills). Jackie French who you might already know I consider the best source for Canberra gardening advice, says plant cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas and collards. You can also plant Tom Thumb tomatoes to over-winter in a pot. I won’t be as we don’t have any suitably protected space to over-winter them. BTW she also suggests that you keep planting beans, corn, lettuce, carrots, silver beet, cabbages and potatoes with a view to getting crops out of them before winter.

A winter suggestion from our own personal experience is to grow some kale. Cavolo Nero is now widely available and to my taste has a much fuller flavour that is preferable to your average cabbage. There are also several kale varieties with frilly leaves that will also do well in Canberra. We’ve also had better luck with cauli’s than cabbages, picking off the White Cabbage moth caterpillars is a real chore and if you don’t keep onto it they can strip the leaves of your plants quite quickly. Unfortunately the moths also like kale but the open leaves make it easier to spot the caterpillars. If you really have a problem you can apply Dipel, which is an organically approved spray of bacteria that kills the caterpillars but leaves other good insects alone.

I’ve placed our order for some winter seeds with the Lost Seed company last night ( Our choices this year are purple sprouting broccoli (recommended by both my new ‘friend’ Elspeth Thompson and Hugh F-W), salsify a root crop that looks a bit like a parsnip (sometimes known as the Vegetable oyster because of its supposed hint of oyster flavour), lettuce -Australian Yellow and Red Velvet, onions – Walla Walla and Stuttgart, French Breakfast radishes and Bunching Spring onions.

Of course when you are planting seeds in this weather you must water them daily or you will lose the lot before you get going (just ask how we know!). You will also need to keep an eagle eye out for the first seedling shoots and protect them as you see fit otherwise snails and slugs will ensure nothing green will survive the night. When you are directly seeding a very light sprinkling of sugarcane or pea straw mulch (hold a bunch loosely in your hand and shake it letting the smaller bits fall through your fingers) will help retain moisture but will allow the seedlings to break through easily. Seedlings will likewise need protection from predatory animals, including birds and possibly possums – a half circle of small chicken wire should do the trick for the birds and I know one friend at least raises her plants in wire mesh enclosures to keep the possums off.

Happy planting!

Seasonal celebrations and silliness

In the past week I’ve enjoyed two celebrations associated with the New Year (apart from our New Year’s Day brunch). These were Rock Day and Shinnenkai.

Of the first, Rock Day, or more correctly St Distaff’s Day is celebrated on the 7th of January. This is, of course the first free/work day after the twelve ‘official’ days for celebration and traditionally women were set to spin on this day, although Chamber’s Book of Days (Robert Chambers 1802-1871) comments that the farmhands didn’t seem to feel the same urge to resume work ( The reason for calling it Rock Day, which has eluded me until now, is that the drop spindle was often referred to as a rock, because the weight on the bottom of the spindle (the whorl) was often made of stone. Anyway Chambers has collected quite a bit of information about these customs and does make some entertaining observations about his contemporary world of spinning that are just as relevant today as they were in the 19th century, viz, “Now, through the change wrought by the organised industries of Manchester and Glasgow, the princess of the fairy tale who was destined to die by a spindle piercing her hand, might wander from the Land’s End to John O’ Groat’s House, and never encounter an article of the kind, unless in an archaeological museum.”
Shinnenkai or “New Year Parties” are held in January and are a Japanese start of the year get together. (Bonenkai or “Forget-the-year Parties” are held throughout December). Shinnenkai are social gatherings of company workers, business and other friends that usually take place in restaurants. They are not family gatherings, and should not be confused with the New Year celebrations that take place during the Shogatsu holidays (January 1-3) and which are traditionally family events. We joined members of our ‘other’ Japanese language group at our teachers house for dinner. Our teacher had prepared both makizushi (rolls) and nigirizushi (a hand-formed oblong block of rice with fish or other toppings draped over the top), these are at the back of the photo. She had also made Chirashizushi or scattered, I think it was Edomae (Edo or Tokyo style) as the main ingredients, in this case perfectly cooked prawns and avocado were ‘scattered’ over the top of the rice. (, this is the dish at the front of the photo. To finish we had a lovely fruit salad with agar jellies, mochi, icecream and red bean paste for dessert.

Now from the sublime to the ridiculous. While standing in the queue at Target yesterday (7January) I saw that in their usual commercial frenzy the Easter Eggs and marshmallow hot cross buns are now being sold! No wonder no one has any idea of what the season is anymore.


Everything Green Soup

You may recall in my recent diatribe against radishes that I mentioned Radish Leaf Soup, well I actually made some last week (see the picture). The recipe I had was a dead ringer for my favourite sorrel soup recipe. Dice some potatoes and cook them in stock until tender slice up the sorrel [leave it raw] and stick in the blender, pour over the cooked potatoes and stock and give it a whiz. Reheat to bring eating temperature. Well I can’t say that it was a revelation. It was a good soup, but to my mind lacked the zing I expected from the leaves of radishes. It had none of that peppery bite I anticipated, although a bit came through when we re-heated the left-overs the next day.
Yesterday we decided on even more green soup (as an aid to remedy New Year’s indulgences), but this time we added as many green things we could find in the garden into the mix. Several small zucchinis, sorrel, radish leaves, radishes, komatsu, parsley, basil and a few milk thistle leaves made up the green base along with an onion. The only difference was that in our everything green soup we sauteed an onion and the sliced radish leaves together, before doing the blender move. The mix had a few strings (don’t forget to cut the ribs out of the sorrel) so it was sieved before some milk was added to thin it out. Then TB had a great idea – he served the soup and then added a dob of wasabi. We used purewasabi from New Zealand, not the lurid green paste you generally get, [possibly bought at Edelweiss Woden but can’t be sure]. The company offers direct mail order, including shipping than is cheaper than the local purchase price. That hit the spot. Of course you can add a little wasabi, or none at all depending on how much heat you like.
Speaking of green things I’ve included a photo I took this morning of the leaves of our Trombone Marrow, a freebie from the seed company along with part of our order that couldn’t be filled earlier in the year. Just check out the string of water beads around the edge of the leaf.



While speaking to a family member about the coming year, resolutions and such like, they commented that they were seeking to foster a sense of abundance in their child. By this they didn’t mean having an abundance of material goods per se, but rather, being able to instill in a child the sense that life was full of possibility, to encourage a spirit that was open to learning and to challenges and could feel that there were options ahead of them. Perhaps this is something we should all cultivate in the coming year.


Holiday reading and other nice things

One of the best things about holidays is having the time to settle in with a good book or three, or more. These holidays I’ve had some great books from the public library which all arrived just in time for me to collect them before Christmas. The one I have enjoyed most from these is A Castle in Tuscany – the Remarkable Life of Janet Ross by Sarah Benjamin (Pier 9 2006), which I have spoken about previously. The second book I’ve read over Christmas but I’m somewhat ambiguous about is The Garden at Highgrove, by HRH Prince Charles and Candida Lycett Green (Weidenfield and Nicholson 2000). I’m probably just jealous that Rosemary Verey just popped over to help him with the borders and that not surprisingly all sorts of talented people were on hand to assist where necessary. I also covet the kids tree house, designed by William Bertram, on the theme of the holly tree in which it rests. To be fair the house and grounds were extremely boring before HRH got stuck into it. I was also very interested to see that the whole garden is run along organic lines which was not considered a very sensible approach at the time but the results have been quite spectacular. It’s also good to know that just because you are the heir to the throne not everything necessarily goes right – a delivery of very large garden pots addressed to the Prince of Wales, Tetbury, was dropped off at the local pub of the same name, rather than to himself!

The other, other gardening book I’ve been enjoying is A Tale of Two Gardens by Elspeth Thompson (Cassell Illustrated 2003). This is a collection of Thompson’s Urban Gardener columns that she writes for the UK’s Sunday Telegraph. Thompson writes about both her very small garden at her house in Brixton, largely ornamental, her allotment nearby and the garden at the house she and her husband rented on the English coast. As the entries are in the form of weekly columns the topics are varied and entertaining. I enjoy reading about someone else’s garden problems! I’m not quite finished with this book yet and I will be sorry when it is done. With any luck she will have another compilation out about the new seaside garden that she and her husband have subsequently bought. I bought this book as a pressy for myself so if you are lucky Cloustan and Hall (Academic Remainders) will still have some copies left ($18).

I also wanted to show off some rather choicy things that came my way this Christmas. The first was a role of vintage Christmas paper that TB and his Mum spotted in one of the local op shops. Apparently from the 1950/60s it looks like it was from a shop as it appears that it could be mounted so the paper could be pulled off easily. And yes I am using it!

Secondly M was visiting family up north and managed to fit in a visit to Ikea. Not only did she bring me a 2010 catalogue to spend hours looking at (oh happy days!) but she also bought me a good length of furnishing fabric, Gunilla, designed by Sissi Edholm and Lisa Ullenius. Now all I have to decide is what to do with it.


While I was sleeping

With the good rain on Christmas and Boxing Day and the distractions of the holiday season I haven’t been in the garden so much lately. I was therefore pleasantly surprised as I watered my way around the beds this morning to see that things have moved on since I last checked.

First of all I can say that friend M has definitely won this years tomato competition. While her tomatoes didn’t quite make Christmas eating when we went over to check on her moggy on Boxing Day the tomatoes were only one or two days off being edible. Ours (see photo) spurred on by this acheivment now look like they’ll be edible next week.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was the corn cobs (although TB tells me he drew my attention to them last week), three on the Golden Bantams that I can see. Out the back the Green Feast peas have put out their first pods and the zucchinis will need picking lest they turn into Zeppelins!

The Italian variety Eggplant Prosperosa (seeds available from, that I purchased at the Allsun Organic Farm open day in November, has just started to flower. Given its ‘bella figura’ I think that this plant would be one to seriously consider if you want to mix flowers and vegetables in a small garden. The combination of deep purple stems and the pink flowers against the wavy-edged green leaves is just lovely.


Happy New Year

Well we have moved into 2010. We followed our established tradition of skipping New Year’s Eve and getting stuck into a big relaxed brunch/picnic with our friends on New Year’s Day. This year sixteen of us made it to the shores of Lake Tuggeranong for a BBQ of bacon and eggs, hotcakes with maple syrup, TB’s justifiably famous baked beans, french toast (cooked by our Italian friend), pikelets and breakfast cheesecake (River Cottage Everyday). As you can see from the collected gear in the photo below we look more like an expeditionary force than a group of picnic-ers!

It certainly looked like kayaks were the big item Santa bought this year. Our picnic table was the perfect spot to see all manner of kayaks, including stubby ones, foot paddlers, single, double and inflatables launching off into the lake. A wide variety of paddling skill levels were also on display. All in all a great time was had by all and sundry and we plan to do the same again next year.