Theme and variation

There are as many styles of vegetable garden as there are people growing them, which means its always good to check out what other people are doing.

I was in the front garden planting out some chicory and lettuce seedlings when my neighbour called me over to see the progress she’s been making with her new vegetable garden. Wow! she and her husband have created two large raised beds which she has filled with tomatoes and capsicums. Corn and other seedlings are sprouting away. While it’s still a touch early for outside plantings of tomatoes in my more exposed garden, I think her plants will do well as they are inside a solidly fenced sun trap. Short of a dire frost I expectour neighbours will definitely be eating tomatoes for Christmas lunch.

Later in the day I popped over to friend M’s to check out her new green-house. Made of clear polycarbonate panels which slide into an aluminium frame it is just the right size for her small garden.


She also has a great crop of red cabbage underway. I just love the variegated colour of their leaves.


Fashionable Times

You know that vegetable gardening is the ‘latest thing’ when Vogue Australia (yes the fashion mag  and not the lifestyle version) extols the virtue of growing your own veggies while posing a model in a tailored suit next to a row of veg.

Perhaps she could use her spike heels to dig holes for the seedlings!

The young ones – care of seeds

No matter how many times you’ve done it before or even if its your first time, there is nothing so exciting as seeing the first leaves of your seeds pushing through the soil. If you are new to sowing seeds then you will need to keep an eye on them particularly in their early stages of development.

Having selected your seed from the bewildering array available from shops and on-line (our recommendations for suppliers are listed at the bottom of the page), you need to get them planted. It’s fairly obvious, but read the package before you plant. You need to check the time of year/season you should be planting your seeds and finding out whether they should be planted directly into the ground or raised in pots and then transplanted. There is no point planting things in the depths of winter if they need the warm soil of spring or summer to germinate and many crops that are producing now needed to have been planted months ago. Weather that is too hot for seeds is just as bad as that which is too cold. Root crops such as carrot, beetroot and parsnips really prefer to be sown directly into the soil where they will grow permanently. Transplanted seedlings of these crops tend to develop very odd-shaped roots or do not grow well at all.

We do use a seed raising mix and sow our seeds in small flat pots (the ones that look like takeaway food containers), or pots which consist of 10 or so individual cells. Have a look around the garden centres for used pots like this as they are often thrown away after one use, they also frequently turn up at the tip shops. Keep an eye out as well for the flat platic trays with lots of drainage holes in the bottom, grab them if you see them. You can either plant directly into these ‘flats’ or use them to corral your other seedling pots – which is what we use them for – as they will help keep your seedlings together for easy maintenance.


When planting make sure your soil is ‘moist’ as opposed to wringing wet, before you put your seed in the pot. Cover the seed with a small amount of soil for small seeds or push larger seeds, such as beans, corn and beetroot, in just under a centimetre below the surface. Water and put them to one side is a protected spot, not too sunny and away from strong drying winds. Check the seed pots every day and water, as necessary, to keep moist (this will probably be most days). These small pots dry out very quickly. Once your seeds have sprouted (again the pckage should tell you when they should appear) leave them until they have grown several centimetres tall and have developed at least a second set of leaves, before you transplant them.

Now the bad news is that not everything grows well and even with good care some seeds may just never germinate. Don’t despair, it happens to us all. And then just sometimes amazing things happen. We’d given up on some asparagus seeds that TB had planted months ago, and being lazy he’d re-planted different seeds into the same pots. So now months later, we have aspragus seedlings alongside the lettuce.


Carrots in a clamp

We planted a crop of carrots in late January and have been steadily picking them through the winter months. This past weekend we’ve lifted what is left of the crop – a respectable 7 kilograms (minus all the leafy bits) – before they all start to go to seed. We will be turning the bed over to a crop of brassicas, kale and collard greens along with some dill.


As you can see we grow a range of different coloured carrots – purple, yellow and white – and since we’ve been harvesting our home-grown seed over the past few seasons we now have quite a few colours in between.

We are taking several approaches to keeping our carrots in good enough condition to eat while our new crop matures. The bulk of the carrots are being stored in a ‘clamp’ of damp sand. We first saw this technique used on the The Victorian Kitchen Garden (an endlessly fascinating BBC TV series from the 1990’s that was re-released as a DVD in 2006). This technique was used to store all sorts of root crops such as parsnips and carrots, prior to the advent of refrigeration.


It’s pretty straight forward. The cleaned carrots, with most of the green top removed, are placed in a suitable box on a layer of damp sand, (we used a 20kg bag of river sand from the garden centre) with more sand placed around and over them. The good thing is that the sand can be recycled for future use for storage or other projects


It turns out that I needn’t have been so careful about placing the carrots, it would have been OK to have them much closer together. Anyway they are all packed away now and we will be storing them in the shade on the cool side of the house.

While the bigger carrots went into the clamp I was left to deal with a stack of what we jokingly refer to as our ‘gourmet micro-carrots’.


While they are fiddly to clean these little guys are just the perfect size for blanching for a few minutes in boiling water before I spread them on a tray to freeze.


Once frozen they can be happily packed into bags for long term storage.

Of course we still needed to complete the cycle so before we packed it in for the day TB sowed our new carrot crop.


He’s not planting a mix of sand and carrot seed here (as is frequently suggested to help the fine seed spread eavenly) – this is pure carrot seed. We’ll just stick to our standard approach of letting all the carrots sprout and thin by eating them from micro size and upwards.


Not dead yet! – a late visit to Floriade

I don’t normally visit Floriade so late in the proceedings, but this year I haven’t been able to get there any sooner. At just over one week left to run I’m pleased to report that, despite rumours to the contrary, there is still plenty of colour and Floriade is still worth seeing.


What was clear was that while the tulips were not as numerous, the underlying strength of the planting scheme was holding up really well. In a lot of beds it was the humble viola that was providing additional colour. The sheer variety of colours available in this simple plant makes highlighting the colours of the tulips an effect that any gardener could employ.


Two other variations included this wonderfulgrouping of blowsy pink candy striped tulips and pink Bellis perennis in the ‘Farmers Market’ bed…


and a slightly more complex combination of yellow tulips, jonquils, daffodils and yellow ranunculas, picked out against pale mauve violas in the ‘Flaming Barbeque’ bed.


Of course I was also interested to see the ‘Victory Garden’ which was developed by the Australian War Memorial and grown by the students at CIT. The veggies are looking good – beetroot, silverbeet, broad beans and onions. But the design seemed to be pretty much a repeat of the kitchen garden last year.


Half barrels of rosemary and a pine tree pick up on the war theme. The most interesting aspect of the garden is the growing wall where the symbol of the War Memorial is picked out in flowers and vegetables. On the wall are Baby Beetroot, Violas, Sweet Marjoram, Triple Curled Parsley and Thyme.


For my money the ‘Tasteful Sensations’ garden which was made by the ACT Government and Yarralumla Nursery really showed what you could do with vegetables and an engaging design.


Curly parsley and ornamental kales surrounded cabbages, red lettuces, rainbow chard and a centre of kale Cavolo Nero. A similar planting was in the boat which was edged by pea plants.

Going back to my earlier comments about ideas for home gardeners I was also impressed by some of the half barrel plantings …


and the display of new plant offerings shown in a collection of wheelbarrows.


I’m thinking that my own wheel barrow planting of Ixias may just be getting an overhaul next season.

Speaking of new offerings I was very interested in this Tulipa ‘Bakeri’ Lilac Wonder with the mauve petals and golden centre.


I also liked the fringed tulips (Crispa tulips) in the ‘Flaming Barbeque’ bed …


and I have to finish on a parrot tulip.


So get going and go to Floriade!




Cereal efforts

I’m not sure why but growing cereal crops in your backyard always sounds so ‘wrong’. Perhaps we are too used to scenes of combine harvesters moving across acres of golden wheat, when we may be better off contemplating how farmers in Japan still grow rice in the suburbs (this case in outer Kyoto).
So really there is no reason not to give cereal growing a try. Our thinking is that if your have space in your yard to grow potatoes you could try growing cereals as well or instead. According to an article on growing grains in he current issue of Organic Gardener magazine (Sept-Oct 2011) you need a 10 x15 metre plot to grow enough wheat to be self sufficient for a year (at 2kgs flour per week).

A few years back we grew some wheat. To be honest it was not a great success. We were probably too inconsistent with the watering and it was during the drought. Indeed our total output was probably enough to made a cake or a loaf of bread. However that hasn’t stopped TB from exploring further options with growing rice. Now before you get overly agitated about excess water use what we are growing is a ‘dry land’ strain of rice. The seed was easily obtained by buying a bag of organic brown rice from the local supermarket. Said bag of rice also noted that it was not grown with flood irrigation so we think we have made a reasonable choice. Another option is to grow paddy style rice in an old bathtub.

The rice grains didn’t take too long to sprout on their bed of wet paper towel.
And while our transplant method is clearly unsuitable for larger scale plantings,

at least the grains have continued to sprout.

The biggest drawback to growing rice in Canberra is, of course, the temperature. We are just not in the right climatic zone for this plant, not that that will stop us trying. TB expects to grow most of the crop in pots in the polyhouse and we will try some in the garden as well.

Our most regular grain crop is corn. Most years we grow sweet corn – Golden Bantam to eat fresh and to save some as dried corn for later use. We also grow popping corn, Blue Mini and Strawberry pop corn, which are quite amazing in colour.

Sadly when these varieties are popped they look just like any other popcorn. I’ve just planted some seeds of both Golden Bantam sweetcorn and also some Blue Mini popcorn to get us underway for this year.


Backyard self sufficiency?

I’ve said before that we are not trying to become self-sufficient at Chez Fork – it really is a lot of plain hard work! Not that that should stop you if that is your goal.

Like most of us from an urban background I find it hard to visualise what ‘self sufficiency’ looks like. That said, I’m getting a better idea as each year we are providing more of our own food, either grown or wild collected. Thankfully someone else has had a crack at this task. The folks over at One Block off the Grid – as US solar power group have made a great visual of what it would take an American family of four to live off the land for a year. (Thanks to Bishlet for sending me this link).

For something more ‘local’ you might want to check out Michael Mobb’s website on what he and his local community are up to in suburban Sydney.