Building in the sandpit

It’s been a while since we visited the sandpit and this time the team have really outdone themselves. Inspired by the demolition of the building adjacent to our office it seemed appropriate to reconstruct this effort on a smaller scale.


Never fear gentle reader, the ‘kiddie’ who owns this lego isn’t sobbing in their room over their stolen playthings (actually they are on a whirlwind tour of Europe at present), and their mum was overjoyed to find the digger and prime mover along with all the regular bits in the box.

10 points for accuracy in the depiction of the lowering of the window unit, as we see them sailing past our floor several times a day!


Soup at Solstice

Given the difficulty contemporary Australians seem to have with celebrating any ritual, in the absence of a public holiday, it was cheering to see the number of people celebrating that most ancient of festival days this week, the winter solstice, Tuesday 22 June, commonly known as the shortest day of the year. At Davis Base in the Australian Antarctic Territory they really went all out!

No doubt my ancient British ancestors celebrated this turning point of the year with lots of bonfires, food and drink but, in the absence of a public holiday, our friends threw a soup laden (ladelled?) Solstice party on Saturday night instead.


Warmed on our arrival by a cup of spiced apple juice the party then settled down to the serious business of eating. Our soups covered the gamut of the winter favourites. Pumpkin was the most popular component with two different variations on a Spicy Thai-style pumpkin soup, ‘Old’ vegetable soup (based on Stephanie Alexanders’ pumpkin and vegetable soup) and my own roasted tomato and pumpkin soup. Potato and leek, leek and cauliflower, Mexican vegetable soup, vegetable soup, French onion soup (cooks tip substitute cream sherry instead of wine in the recipe) and pea and ham soup filled out the menu, not to mention our stomachs.

Of course the supporting element was bread. Friend A, who so excelled as a barrista at our recent afternoon tea, turns out to be no slouch in the bread making department either! His recipe for ‘No Knead’ bread came from the New York Times (based on a Jim Lahey recipe) was an absolute winner …


and it didn’t last very long! Thank heavens he’d made two loaves.


For those with left over space TB made steamed marmalade and steamed golden syrup and treacle puddings. Our hostess commented that when she heard the happy hum of 16 people all talking at once she knew we were having a great time and so we were.

PSThankfully there was no swimming in the ice pool for us after the meal.



Not compost again!

I think I’m spending too much time in the garden. Where some people like to show you photos of their kids I can show you photos of my recently dismantled leaf litter compost pile …


The joy of this compost is just stick the leaves in the bin and ignore them for two years (the dark brown layer on the bottom). For once slaters are welcome as they do their thing breaking down rotting cellulose (and not my new seedlings for a change!).

As the blessed Saint Peter Cundall says “Good enough to eat!’


Not to mention my recently cleared and sown green manure bed being readied for this coming summer’s tomatoes …


along with some random garlic seedlings I found while I was digging out the weeds.

and the seed that went into it!


Tragic really!

Winter Water

Looking out to see a very frosty garden this morning I was reminded of a tip that I heard many years ago from one of the staff at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. While many plants can cope with frosts (down to -5 degrees) one of the main reasons plants die following a frost is actually due to water stress.

Sounds weird, but what is happening, particularly in a dry winter like we are currently having, is that as the temperature rises during the day there is insufficient water for the plant to access and it wilts due to lack of water. Now I know to us the daytime temperature is not that high, but on a day like today where our overnight temperature is several degrees below zero and our daytime temperature is 13 or 14 degrees you can have up to 20 degrees difference in the temperature. So you can see that you plant might well need some water to help it cope.

Best plan is to water as early as you can in the day, (depending on how quickly your hose thaws out!), focussing on those areas of the garden where the soil is dry. While I don’t think you need to go as far as one garden writer I read recently who suggested that you water your lemon trees with tepid water in winter, keeping an eye on how dry your garden is getting may well help save some valued plants.

Promise of Spring

As the computer’s screen saver cycled through our photos one night this week I saw a photo of the garden in late spring (taken last year I presume), suprisingly luxurious and full of rampant growth – so different from what I can see out the window today. Like everything in the garden it is the work that we are doing now, in preparation for spring, that will deliver the garden I saw I the photo.

One of the key plants we’ve put in recently are peas. Sadly not all peas can be grown in winter for an early spring start but Snow peas and some varieties of podded peas, such as Bush Pea Massey and Purple Podded Peas (we got ours from the Lost Seed company) are good to go. So far I’ve planted two lots of Purple Podded Peas. The first lot planted in the last week of April took one week to appear above ground. This is what they looked like about 10 days ago and they have put on more growth since then.


I planted a second lot on the 28th of May and they have just appeared above ground this past week. No doubt the cold ground temperatures have slowed the germination down.


So watch this space!

While veggies and natives form the bulk of our garden I just can’t resist adding a few bulbs as well. I found this beautiful blue-glazed bonsai pot at the tip shop a few weeks ago and decided that I could use it to plant some small bulbs. I’m hoping for an attractive colour display so I’ve planted it with purple/blue muscari. Fingers crossed.


Eat your shallots and grow them too

Its the time of year when you can be planting members of the onion family. We currently have Welsh bunching onions and and brown onions and red Italian onions Longa di Firenze on the go. TB has also planted some shallots, the ones like small onions with papery brown skins, also called French Shallots or eschallots (don’t confuse these with the thin green leek-like plants). While you can get the offsets from seed suppliers you can also grow them from the bulbs at the supermarket. Yep those little dry shallot bulbs will actually shoot if you plant them out now. TB planted these 3 weeks ago.


I’m also pleased to see that the broad bean and purple-podded pea seeds are going well. TB has also planted snow peas which are also off and running.


I planted some more purple-podded pea seeds last weekend to give me a sucession of plants. I love these peas for eating and their two tone purple flowers and purple pods make them a showy plant for the garden. I never seem to have enough of them to eat. I will plant some more in the next few weeks to keep the harvest extending over the longest possible time.

In the Mix

You’d probably think that with the onset of winter we would be settling down inside our warm house with some interesting garden reading – but TB isn’t having a bar of that! Last weekend it was out with the wheelbarrow and rake and off for a short walk to a nearby park to collect leaves for our compost heap.

Canberra’s urban parks provide an almost endless bounty of fallen leaves, and often as an added bonus piles of grass cuttings, that are there just waiting to be collected. Think of it as a community service! Several large bags of leaves later we returned home ready to employ that most useful pieces of garden equipment, the lawn mower, to cut our leaves and a big pile of dead plants and weeds into smaller pieces suitable for compost pile building. We also added lots of veggie scraps from the work kitchen (which produces 5-6 kilos of compost each week), some pelletised chook poo, blood and bone and potash. When completed we had a pile of just over a cubic metre. Just what we need to get some good compost ready for the spring garden.

While TB was building the pile I was busy cleaning up and harvesting some water chestnuts. Eash year we grow these plants as an annual saving some corms each winter and storing them over winter (in water in a container in our fridge).

The first step is to turn out the large plastic tub they grow in.


Then slowly pick through the soil and pick out all the little corms.


Our harvest this year was no where near as agood as last years. We think this is due in part to the overall cooler summer temperatures and to some degree of not feeding them regularly (TB was much better about this last year).

I also picked through our styrofoam boxes of potatoes, almost our last to be harvested, and came up with quite a decent amount.


With such fresh potatoes to play with we decided to have some sorrel and potato salad with our dinner. Having planted two small pots of sorrel when we first started the garden we now have a year round supply. Its slight lemony flavour is great in soups and with scrambled eggs. As it is a perennial plant you need to place it where it can grow happily away without being distrubed.

This recipe came from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and is dead simple. Scrub your potatoes, cut them to your preferred eating size, then cook them (steam or boil it doesn’t really matter). In the mean time rinse your sorrel leaves to remove grit and anything else from the garden, cut out the central rib, which can be very stringy, and cut the remaining leaves into broad ribbons. When the potatoes are cooked drain the water and return the potatoes to the hot saucepan, add several knobs of butter and the sorrel leaves. Put the lid back on the saucepan and swirl everything around to mix. Leave it for about 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper and serve.