Gourmet Farmer – the next series

News just in from Nick Haddow at the Bruny Island Cheese Company:

“… Matthew, Ross and I are preparing to start filming a fourth series of Gourmet Farmer. This one is a bit different though, with the whole series based on board a 46 foot wooden boat, as we circumnavigate Tasmania, sourcing produce as we go. It should be on the telly towards the end of the year.”

I’m looking forward to seeing that!

Tomatoes at last!

Sunset in a smoky sky - bushfire smoke blown in from interstate
Sunset in a smoky sky – bushfire smoke blown in from interstate, during our last spell of hot weather.

As our second forecast heatwave this summer sets in, I’m pleased to find that our tomatoes have finally decided to ripen. I was actually expecting that they might just kark it with all the heat we were having.

Our first ripe tomatoes of the summer.
Our first ripe tomatoes of the summer.

While I’m very glad to be picking ripe tomatoes I expect our overall crop to be very small this season, as the bushes seem to be struggling to stay alive.

Speaking of staying alive, I had another look at our adzuki beans and realised that part of the problem they were having was hydrophobic soil – that is the water we were giving them was running off rather than sinking in. To quote from the Gardening Australia fact sheet:

“Soils become hydrophobic when they are dry for extended periods – particularly when the dryness is combined with a high organic content”

That was the problem for our adzuki beans.

I’m not really a great fan of using wetting agents in my garden so I use another method. I scratch the surface of the soil then give it a light watering. I leave it for an hour or so and then water again. I do this three or four times during the day. It may take more than one day to get the soil absorbing moisture again. I also like to make one of the 3rd or 4th waterings with weed water or other plant tonic mix. I’m thinking that any plant trying to cope with poor water uptake probably needs a tonic as well. I also mulch the bed, after watering, to help retain the moisture. Just pull back the mulch from the plants before you water if necessary.

This method is certainly labour intensive so it’s probably best for small areas. If you are having a widespread problem in your soil then maybe using a wetting agent is the answer. After your hard work you will still need to maintain a regular deep watering regime to prevent any further problems, which I know can be a big ask when you are dealing with prolonged dry spells.

The long and the short of it

One of the best results we are currently having in the garden is with our bean crop – well at least some of it. Two of the five varieties I planted in November have really taken off, those are the Gourmet Delight bush beans

Gourmet Delight bush beans, don't even reach to my knees, but are producing quite a lot of pods.
Gourmet Delight bush beans, don’t even reach to my knees, but are producing quite a lot of pods.

and the Lazy Housewife climbing beans.

Lazy Housewif climbing beans, needed an extension to their trellis and are still heading skyward.
Lazy Housewife climbing beans, needed an extension to their trellis and are still heading skyward.

The Scarlet Emperor climbing beans are definitely a case of the ’emperors new clothes’ – lots of lovely flowers, but no pod set due to the hot weather. A few of our Edamame (soy beans) that grew are producing a meagre handful of pods, but the bulk have been choked by weeds, no ones’s fault but our own! The Adzuki beans, at least those that have survived random raids by our chooks, are sitting pretty much as they were when they were planted out. There are no signs of them even growing, let alone producing flowers or pods.

But I’m going to dwell on the positive. The Gourmet Delight bush beans are a new variety to Chez Fork. The plants don’t even reach up to my knees, yet under the deep green leaves are clusters of succulent pods. The plants are so compact that I didn’t even register that they had pods on them. The pods are of moderate size and are juicy all the way through. I presume these are the characteristics that have earned this variety its name.

A handful of Gourmet Delight pods.
A handful of Gourmet Delight pods.

They also seemed to cope quite well with our recent week of 40 degree C temperatures. Clearly this variety would be a great choice for a small garden given their high yield. We will certainly be growing them again.

By comparison our Lazy Housewife climbing beans seem to have been crossed with Jack’s beanstalk. They are already well over head height and new tendrils continue to sprout upwards. The pods are much larger and coarser than the Gourmet Delights, but are still a good eating bean. My strategy for these is not to be too lazy myself and pick them at a slightly smaller size than their full pod growth. This way I’ll have a much juicier pod for cooking.

Lazy Housewife climbing beans. Pick the pods before they reach full size for a tastier bean.
Lazy Housewife climbing beans. Pick the pods before they reach full size for a tastier bean.

While it might seem contradictory the Lazy Housewife bean would also be good in a small garden. They do not make much sideways growth. Where you have a narrow bed, say against a wall or fence, which got good sun they could do well. Ours are planted in a bed no more than 30 cm (12 inches) wide.

All five types of beans were raised from seed, each planted individually in a toilet roll. They were planted out, still in their rolls, directly into the garden beds when they were between 10-15 cms tall. The benefit of this approach is that the plants are fairly well established and seem to better withstand the onslaught of snails and slaters, which have previously demolished all our direct sown beans as my notes from 6 January 2008 glumly report, “Back from Newcastle – all beans destroyed by slaters.”

I’m not sure why we are having problems with the adzuki beans, because this is the first year we have tried them. As for the Edamame it may be that I planted them too late in the season. Looking back over notes from previous years I got the Edamame into the ground in late October, compared to this year when I planted the seeds out nearly a month later in mid-November.

The Red Emperor and all the other varieties of scarlet runner bean we have tried over the years tell the same story. They need Canberra’s cold winter to germinate well, but our hot summers delay pod production until late summer or early autumn. We only ever seem to get a handful of pods. I wonder why I persist in growing them? On the plus side their flowers do make an attractive show in the garden and they are fixing nitrogen into the garden beds but I suspect I just like seeing those amazing beans!

The crazy coloured scarlet runner beans.
The crazy coloured scarlet runner beans.


It’s raining again!

At last after 4 days of 40 degree heat the cycle was broken with a tremendous downpour – 25 millimetres of rain!

Raining again! 18 January 2014.
Raining again! 18 January 2014.I

If I seem somewhat delerious it’s because the last few months here have been rather on the dry side. Our biggest fall in November 2013 was 40 mls and in December 2013 our total was just 15 mls. It’s been a long time between drinks!

Havin’ a heatwave

I wouldn’t quite describe the weather as tropical, but a heatwave we are definitely having. Keeping a productive garden going when you are on your third day hovering around 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) is no easy task, particularly when we are trying to use our water responsibly.

The back garden in January, another 40 degree day to come.
The back garden in January, another 40 degree day to come.

Thankfully the drip irrigation system that TB installed before Christmas is taking care of the bulk of the veggies. However some beds still need additional watering by hand. The ‘3 sisters’ bed with its thirsty corn gets an extra 10 minutes watering every second day.

But sometimes just water isn’t enough. These tomatoes got a nasty case of sunburn.

The pale patches on these Roma tomatoes are sunburn.
The pale patches on these Roma tomatoes are sunburn.

To help the remaining tomatoes get through the hot weather I’ve put up a shade cloth barrier, which will hopefully provide enough protection for the rest of the fruit.

Not attractive but at least practical. Shadecloth barriers to protect our tomatoes
Not attractive but at least practical. Shadecloth barriers to protect our tomatoes

It’s not just the veggies that need extra care. We are letting the chooks out to forage in the cool morning air, while we enjoy the garden eating breakfast in the shade of our Japanese maple.

Three free-ranging chickens
Three free-ranging chickens

Like us the chickens are not fans of hot weather. They spend the hottest part of the day lying in their specially dug hollows underneath the hen house. To help them feel a bit cooler we are also giving them cooked veggie mash straight from the fridge.

Cooling veggie mash is a welcome treat.
Cooling veggie mash is a welcome treat.

It must be working because the girls are still laying despite the heat.

Our resident brushtail possum has been helping itself to the leaves of our young beetroot plants. I found this converted double birdcage – designed to protect your plants – at the tip shop this week. It’s enough to let the plants regrow their leaves and the possum can still get to eat other leaves in the meantime.

Possum protection for our beetroot.
Possum protection for our beetroot.

Stakes and cakes

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I love using colour. One of my favourite tips for quickly bringing colour into my garden is to deploy some brightly painted stakes around the beds.

Stakes at use in the 3 sisters bed last year.
Stakes at use in the 3 sisters bed last year.

Yes, it might seem a bit of an effort to paint the stakes in the first place, but I find it one of those soothing, mindless activities, just right for a bit of post-Christmas relaxation. Not to mention the fun of going and looking at all the colour cards at the paint shop to select what I’m going to use. This time, apart from the intense Iris (blue/purple) and Yellow I’ve chosen a pastel Aqua blue. It will be interesting to see how it ‘works’ in the garden. I find that the stronger colours work really well against the greens of the veggie beds, but that could be due to the very intense light we have in Canberra.

Garden stakes in different sizes and colours.
Garden stakes in different sizes and colours.

I also have some friends who are not afraid of deploying a bit of colour. Last Sunday our spinning group (as in spinning and weaving) met for the traditional Rock Day, or St Distaff’s Day celebrations (7 January), the day when women traditionally resumed their work of spinning post-Christmas. It was a ‘bring a plate day’ where everyone bought food to share. The most colourful and also very tasty offering was this rainbow cake. Makes my garden stakes look quite subdued!

The Rainbow cake in all its splendour.
The Rainbow cake in all its splendour.

Always greener

The chickens are really enjoying their new free ranging activities in the garden and we are enjoying watching them digging around.

Our chickens 'free ranging' in the back yard.
Our chickens ‘free ranging’ in the back yard. We can’t say what they have spotted, but it must be interesting!

But while the girls are stretching their legs one of their avian cousins, a Pied Currawong (Strepera graculina), decided to check out the chicken’s accomodation through the door that was left open so the chickens could get to their water bowl.

Who is checking out my house?
Who is checking out my house?

Of course I did need to go and gently shoo it out as there is a possibility of disease transmission from wild to domestic birds.

You're going the wrong way!
You’re going the wrong way!

Order was restored with the minimum of fuss and  I don’t think the chickens even looked up from their scratching.