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.

In the Kitchen Cabinet

On Sunday TB and I went to one of the Kitchen Cabinet???s?? monthly show and tell sessions followed by a lunch featuring the subject of the talk, the chestnut. If you haven???t been to the Kitchen Cabinet before (this was our first time) it is at the rear of Old Parliament House and is incorporated into the Caf?? in the House complex. The Kitchen Cabinet itself is a small retail area that sells fresh local produce and locally produced foods of all sorts.

Growers Richard Moxon and Alison Saunders gave a very relaxed and informative talk on their chestnut growing (they have a chestnut and walnut growing property at Sassafras about 130 kms away from Canberra towards the coast). The joy of the talk was that we were seated outside in one of the courtyards at Old Parliament House. The poplars were shedding their golden leaves and the crisp sunny Canberra winter day didn???t let the organisers down. While we listened to the talk the smell of roasting chestnuts wafted over the listeners as Richard tended the large roasting pan set up for the occasion.

Even better still were the freshly roasted chestnuts passed around for everyone to try. I???ve been a regular eater of chestnuts for several years now and peeling them, particularly getting the inner skin off can be hard work. Not with these babies ??? the Sassafras Reds were peeled so easily and were a bright, almost sulphurous yellow colour, not to mention beautifully sweet.

Richard and Alison shared some very useful tips on selecting, storing and cooking chestnuts. Firstly only select hard, glossy nuts and only buy nuts that have been kept in the refrigerated or cool shelving section of the shop as this is necessary for maintaining the quality of the product. When you get them home store the chestnuts in a paper bag in the bottom crisper section of your fridge. Alison and Richard pointed out that these are seasonal fruits so realistically you should be buying them in late autumn / early winter (the crops start being picked in March/April).

For cooking the main tip whether you are roasting or boiling them is to start them off hot for the first five minutes and then reduce the temperature a bit for the remaining 15 minutes of cooking. For boiled chestnuts this means putting them in the saucepan only once the water is boiling. Boiling is the best technique if you are preparing chestnuts for sweet dishes as you avoid the possibility of burning them. Roasted chestnuts, prepared in your oven or a covered BBQ like a Webber, are great for soups where the toasted flavour will add to the dish. Please remember to always cut your chestnut???s hull before either type of cooking as they will explode if you don???t! Richard suggested a long cut down the longest side of the chestnut, no more than 1mm, enough to cut the outer hull only. In our experience a Stanley knife / box cutter which can be set so just the right amount of blade is protruding is the tool you need. It will also limit the possibility of cutting your finger off if you get overenthusiastic.

There was one more treat in store for the people attending the talk ??? Chef Janet Jeffs sent out cups of the most delicious chestnut soup while Richard and Alison were talking. Talk about hitting the spot. In Susan Parson???s column in the Canberra Times Food and Wine Guide last Wednesday, she gave a recipe for Chesnut Soup. This is very nice (we tried it today) but wasn’t a patch on Janet Jeffs’ version. Janet said her version was from Claudia Roden and included chick peas as well as chestnuts and was made with beef stock.

After the talk we repaired upstairs to what was the original Members Dining Room for lunch. The architect John Smith Murdoch, who designed Parliament House, also designed the building???s fittings, including the wonderful geometric lights decorative panelling in the dining room. With its re-made Art Deco carpets this is a great space to eat.

We were served a two course lunch, (there was also a vegetarian option), of Roasted Creewah duckling galantine filled with chestnuts, apples, pork and walnuts with a pomegranate jus ??? in other words boned out duck stuffed with all the above. The vegetarian at our table received crepes stuffed with vegetables and chestnuts, but her conclusion was that it was on the dry side and it definitely could have done with a sauce. The dessert which I ate before I remembered to take a photo was a chestnut and walnut tart with a vanilla syrup topped with frankette walnuts (also supplied from Richard and Alison???s farm). I thought that the vanilla syrup went particularly well with both the chestnuts and walnuts. Local wines were available by the glass or by the bottle, as were soft drinks ??? cost not included in the meal. TB had a wonderful Lake George Winery pinot gris, I had a nebbiolo but sadly I???ve forgotten from which vineyard.

We left, after 3 hours having had a very enjoyable time. We stopped at the shop on the way out and bought some fresh medlars, frankette walnuts, and chocolate coated cherries.

At $50 per head ($20 for the talk and $30 for the lunch, you can choose to attend either or both) I thought it was really good value. My pick of the day was definitely the soup. More information on chestnuts can be found on the website of the Chestnuts Australia Inc.??

There is a show and tell on every month so if you are interested you can check them out at the link at the top of the page. We???ll probably see you there.


Use your heads

It is a sad reality that over time some of our wonderful Bev Hogg ceramic birds (Gang Gangs in this case) and other sculptural works have not survived the rigours of Canberra winters. We are still reluctant to throw them out even in their less than perfect state. Now I have found a new use for them!

I realised that they would make perfect stake toppers on the stakes around the broad bean bed. This is, of course, in true OH& S (occupational health and safety) fashion, designed to stop you gouging your eye out should you suddenly stoop to pull a weed from your garden bed. I usually use small seedling pots for this task but these remnant ceramics, even in their dilapidated state look so much better. As broad beans tend to become very floppy as they grow taller I???m doing as Tino from Gardening Australia suggested and have set up as series of stakes around the bed which will end up with several sets of twine around it to support and contain the plants as they go. These are the Aqua Dulce/Leviathon Longpods that I planted about a month ago.?? I???m pleased to say that I???ve had a very high germination rate with only about 5 seeds a no show at this stage. The young plants are growing very vigorously.

The other plant which is showing a positive delight in the current frosty weather is one of our silver beets which had struggled through summer. It???s now looking positively lusty!



I know winter is upon us because:

1. my tomatoes, eggplants and other sensitive plants are lying in
mouldering heaps on the ground
2. several doors in the house have started to stick (this is not a
problem the rest of the year), and
3. virtually everyone in Canberra is wearing black!

Why do we wear black in winter? No doubt because black and charcoal grey seem to be the only ‘colours’ offered by the stores in warm winter coats! Personally I’ll like to see some burnt oranges, deep mustards and warm moss greens – that would lift my spirits.

On the plant front not all is bad. We now have open slather to clean out all those remaining summer vegetables and prepare the garden beds for spring. This might be through adding compost and letting the bed lie fallow or planting a green manure crop, legumes, clever clover or bio-mustard to help renew soil nutrients and assist in dealing with unwanted pests. TB is already removing spent plants with gusto.

Of course the frosty days are also one of natures great ways of killing off garden pests. A far more pleasant way of dealing with them than using chemicals.

The polyhouse is up and running, but we are unsure how well it will perform once the temperature goes below minus one and two overnight. Our current temperature readings inside the polyhouse indicate that the internal temperature is sitting some two degrees above the outside temperature. The idea of using the stored heat in the concrete slab the polyhouse sits on to maintain a temperature to over-winter sensitive plants is a good one but we hadn’t fully realised that the polyhouse only gets sun in winter from about lunchtime onwards. There is also obviously a benefit from having overhead cover to keep direct frost off the plants – however this may not be enough. We will have to wait and see.