Looking back what’s been grown over the last 6 months

I’ve been reviewing the past six months of growing so I can consider what has happened and what has and hasn’t worked in the garden over that time.
There is no getting away from the impact of our weather in recent times. We’ve had a full-on El Nino in recent years which has seen consistently lower than average rainfall, coupled with high summer temperatures.On the ground this has meant that we almost had a growing season split in two. Plants that got an early start produced well up to early January when our really hot dry weather kicked in. At that point a fair amount of our veggies barring the tomatoes in general and some of the plants such as our Blue and Strawberry popcorns protected by the trees on the western side of our garden basically struggled and it was all we could do to keep things alive. Once the worst of the hot weather passed we had a second growth spurt which allowed many of our original plantings and those second crops we put in to deliver plentifully.

We tried out plenty of new plants this year and the ones which I’m planning on going back into the garden again next time around include:

* Blue Popcorn – short and sturdy plants, much less water demanding
than the Sweet Corn, and produced lots of cobs (small but good).
We are really enjoying our popcorn;
* Eggplant ‘Prosperosa’ – my Italian favourite, beautiful to look at
and a great producer with very white flesh;
* Table King Acorn pumpkin – compact, as promised and produced well.
I’ll be adding more plants of this next year to boost the pumpkin
* Warrigal Greens – still growing despite several frosts, just keeps
expanding, we’ve cut it back to ground several times and its still
over a metre in diameter, makes the best creamed spinach;
* Red Mustard Greens – (also good during winter) the peppery flavour
sparks up a salad and is also good on a sandwich
* Komatsu (Japanese Spinach) – survived the heat well and generally
outlasted the silver beets continuous good cropper.

I’m also saving the seed from my ‘Front Garden’ tomatoes. I’m not sure which variety they are, somewhere between a Roma and an Amish Paste and as they were self sewn in the compost I’ll never be sure of their parentage, but boy did they deliver in the second half of summer. Beautiful to look at and great to eat – these were the ones that I picked 6 kilos of fruit off just before the frosts hit.

Thankfully the Southern Oscillation Index has moved into positive territory in recent weeks and some of the forecasters are thinking we may get a La Nina this year – very roughly speaking more rain rather than less.This is one of the stories slated for Landline (12.00 noon ABC TV on Sunday) so I’ll be watching to see what the outlook over the next few months is.

I’ll leave you with a small puzzle – what made the trails on the wall of the polyhouse? The answer is in the second photo.


Infrequently Observed Autumn

If you asked me I’d probably tell you that I only had one tree, my Japanese maple, that had autumn colour – but I would be wrong.


Looking out the window onto the rainy garden I suddenly saw small patches of glowing autumn colour. So sit back and enjoy Chet Baker and Paul Desmond and share some less frequently observed autumn colours with me.


Raspberry …


Apricot …



Focussed on Food

With the rain setting in this weekend it seems a perfect time to be focussing in on food. It is certainly the topic de jour at present.

The documentary Food Inc is screening in cinemas across the country and here in Canberra Slow Food Australia is holding its first National Congress. Unfortunately we won???t be going to either as we have our own food matters to attend to.

We are off to the Northside Farmers Market to pick up our 1/8th of a Dexter cow. Locally grown, slaughtered and butchered. This is the first time we???ve bought beef like this, although there are a number of producers who now offer this service at both Southside and Northside Farmer???s Markets. Buying the beef has also tipped us over the line of getting a new freezer as our current upside down fridge just can???t cope with all the frozen produce from the garden and cow segments as well. That is the energy downside as we increase our power demands to store food. Hopefully we are offsetting that energy increase by sourcing our food locally and reducing the energy costs of buying in ???long distance??? food. I???m not sure that there is a simple way of calculating this out and my maths phobic brain isn???t likely to work it out any time soon.

If you are interested in following up on the food issues raised in Food Inc you have quite a few options. ABC Radio National, bless its woollen socks, has run quite a few stories around this topic recently. Bush Telegraph had an interesting panel discussion on where Australian food manufacturing stands in relation to the practices shown in Food Inc.

Not to miss the boat Life Matters has an interview with Joel Salatin, who was one of the farmers featured in Food Inc and earlier in Michael Pollan???s book The Omnivores Dilemma (I think I???ll be catching up on that story while I???m pedalling away at the gym this weekend). Salatin is currently in Australia visiting beef farmers in Victoria.

While you are over visiting Aunty you may want to listen to another story about the people of Moruya who have an ambitious goal of returning to producing all their food locally. It???s more than just grow your own and is also linked to the Slow Food movement. You can also read about this group in the current May/June issue of Organic gardener magazine (page 8).

If you prefer your media in a more traditional format you could even read the two books that were the basis of the Food Inc documentary. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Both books are in the Chez Fork collection and were a part of what has made us change our approach to the food we eat. Both books are available through the ACT Public Library.

To round off the day we will be heading out on our own Italian food safari. We are off to our Italian friend???s Mums place for dinner! I???m looking forward to that.

Late in Autumn

I spent two hours this afternoon working on putting in another new bed. This is number four in the series. I’ve planted Beetroot, Tonda di Chioggia and Kale Cavolo Nero. All the handsome Italians in one bed!

I also enjoyed stepping back from my work to look at the play of colour between my Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) and those colourful garden stakes.


Weekend Work

The weekend was spent clearing away the last of the summer and autumn crops, preparing beds for new crops and making compost for the spring growing season. TB focused on clearing some more of the back garden and I got stuck into the front garden veggie patch. As with all things when you are paying close attention in the garden you can find both good and not so good things.

On the positive side we have now harvested our water chestnuts. TB had bought a very large plastic tub to grow them in. Frankly I’m not sure what you would use the tub for apart from growing water chestnuts. It was a bit hard to get the plants out of there but it wasn’t long before we saw the results of all that growth. Round tubers at the end of yellow stems, all throughout the tub. The weigh-in came to just under 2.5kgs. This is a big improvement over last years harvest and will keep us in stock for quite some time to come.

In the front garden I found that the unharvested edamame plants yielded me just over 60 seeds for planting next year. But there were also some of the not so good things as well. You can see the very sorry state of my collard greens. Only the stems have been left by the caterpillars of the Cabbage White butterfly. After prodigious amounts of squishing TB sprayed the plants with BT (the bacteria that kills said caterpillars) so we will leave them and see whether the plants recover or not.

A far more sobering discovery came when I pulled out two of my garden stakes. What are these little white ants I said? Just as quickly replying termites. Yuk. One garden stake had been chewed in half and one was being munched, as you can see from the photo. While these stakes were not the ones closest to the house they were less than two metres away. I’ll have to wait on an inspection to tell whether they are confining themselves to the garden or whether we need to take further action.

We also built a large compost heap of all the old plants, the content of our two compost bins and three large bags of leaves we scavenged from the deciduous trees in a nearby park. To get the old plants to a usable size TB went over them with the mower. A garden tool with many uses!

The reward for all this activity was the delivery of the two ‘poppy head’ plants supports that I ordered at the Lambrigg Open Garden Day. I can’t show you a photo just yet as they are having their toenails painted (marine blue if you need to know) with rust-proofing paint.


Syrup Fit for a Princess

Just in case you’ve missed it in numerous previous posts I’ve just about worn out my copy of A Year in Bottle by Sally Wise in the past few months. Lately I’ve made bottles of Green Tomato Pickles (the 3 kgs of Green tomatoes picked before the frosts struck) and Tomato Sauce (the 3 kgs of red tomatoes ditto the frosts).

Idly flicking through the book the other day I found some recipes for rose petals. As my dark red roses (Mr Lincoln I think) are flowering like the clappers at present I thought I’d try the recipes out. The recipe is dead simple. Take 4 cups of rose petals (no pesticides please), 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 cups of sugar and two cups of water. Whack it all in a saucepan and bring to barely simmering and keep it that way for an hour. After that strain the lot through a sieve and put the syrup back into a clean saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour into sterilised bottles and seal . You can use it straight away.

What surprised me most was that less than a minute after putting the petals in the saucepan the syrup was already going pink. By the end of the hour it was a very deep crimson and the smell was divine. I was concerned that the syrup may have proved too cloying so I first tried it with some good quality plain yoghurt and the combination worked well. I’ve also subsequently had it with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled the bowl with those lovely walnuts I bought at the Kitchen Cabinet last weekend.

While Sally Wise recommends using deep red roses for the syrup I think that just about any strongly scented rose would yield a good result. Now I just have to wait for some different roses to flower, perhaps next spring!

Not content with that experiment I’m now trying Sally’s Sparling Rose Petal which is supposed to make a fizzy drink. Stage one of leaving all the ingredients to work together in a food safe plastic container (read ex-ice cream container) for 48 hours is underway. After that I need to wait another week before I can try it. I’ll keep you posted.


This post has been submitted for Grow Your Own – May.