Getting down to it

Since arriving back from our overseas trip to our mini suburban savannah, TB has mown the grass down, at least to the point where we can find the garden beds. I have also unpacked the garden hardware we bought back from Japan. (No plants or seeds because we are not into causing bio-security problems and our wooden handled tools were declared at Border Security, no problems there).

Several packs of rope garden mesh for our climbing plants and some serious hand tools.

As you can see from the close-up below, both the mini hoe and the triangular tool that looks a bit like a ho mi, have sharpened edges to help remove reluctant weeds. The mini hand saws have a sharp serrated edge which will be useful for cutting back all manner of vegetation.

Quality hand tools made in Japan

I have also picked a slew of broadbeans, small and very tasty.

We are also getting a steady supply of eggs from our chickens.

Now it’s just a matter of clearing some spaces ready for our summer veggies.

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Summer Summary

Well here we are into Autumn at last and a week of days over 30° C has been forecast. This is the pattern of recent  years. Our summer results have been influenced this year by the time we spent away from the garden as much as anything else.

To start where my last post finished off, the final number of roosters we gained from our intake of 5 chicks was 3.

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We have eaten two of the roosters so far and are saving the last one, in the freezer, for a forthcoming dinner. The birds tasted very good, as we expected, but as they all had a large dose of game-bird genes they dressed out with the longest drumsticks I’ve ever seen.

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Speaking of salads we have had a bumper crop of roma tomatoes this year. For once we broke the Canberra tomato rule (only plant after Melbourne Cup day) and this worked in our favour. We didn’t quite get toms for Christmas but we did have them a week later. Sadly my open air tomato drying was a complete failure. The day I took the photo heralded a wet and cool period that was lasted more than a week (quite a common experience this past season). Even with trying to dry the tomatoes by fan inside, they soon collapsed into a very furry mess.

Just after Christmas I planted out my second batch of tomato seedlings. The variety is Soldacki (bought several years ago from Cornucopia Seeds, although the seeds are not included in their current offerings). This is a Polish variety, meant to do well in cooler climates. The plants are powering away and we have plenty of fruit coming along, but nothing to taste as yet.

As always growing out punnets of lettuce seedlings has kept a steady flow of greens for salads, along with our regular herbs such as basil and nasturtium leaves.

What has been  bumper this year is our fruit crops. The apricot fruit set on our tree was good, although like many trees I heard of, the fruit was small and really long in ripening.

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Apricot dessert

We generally harvest apricots around Christmas and nectarines at the end of January. This year we didn’t pick the apricots until mid-January and the nectarines came along in February. The apricots were remained small in size but made up for it in flavour.

The nectarines came in a rush. It was a bumper crop this summer, but the fruit only started to ripen days before we were due to visit family interstate. It was all hands to the dehydrator to deal with the bulk of the crop. I did stew about 2kgs of fruit down, but that barely made a dent in the proceedings. I do have two large bags of dried fruit.

Our legumes were a let down, with the exception of our ever reliable broad beans.

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Broad bean harvest

I managed to get a tiny crop of purple-podded peas, enough for one and a half meals! Every bush or climbing bean that managed to get out of the ground was immediately ring-barked by slaters or chewed right off by snails.

The one area that has improved markedly over summer is our rennovated front garden.

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Early December and the white paper daisies dominate the new garden

It’s been a lot of work doing weeding and mulching, limited as I was by my dodgy knee. Tackling the project a few metres at a time worked. Today things are looking much better, the weeds are few and far between. I cut back the paper daisies afew weeks ago to give the other plantings a chance.
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One of the stars of the new plantings has been Brachyscome ‘Pacific Sun’, a yellow version of the familiar blue flowers.
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Over time we will continue to nurture out grassland plants with a view to providing food sources and homes for insects and small reptiles.

Berry rennovation

I mentioned before that I was going to rebuild my strawberry beds .. and I have! Like so many jobs it turned out to take a lot less time than I had anticipated. With the strawberry roots taking up all the space in the holes in the bricks, the old plants could be pulled out in one go.

The plants are easy to pull out because there is a solid mat of roots
The plants are easy to pull out because there is a solid mat of roots

Per usual I took the plugs down to the chickens who spared no effort in ripping them apart for the snails, worms and slaters hiding in the soil. I collected what was left of the plants, sorting out useable runners from the diseased older plants. The diseased plants got thrown in the bin. There is no value in composting them as the diseased leaves could spread viruses around the garden.

Never stand between a chicken and it's food!
Never stand between a chicken and it’s food!

Once the plants were gone I mixed some leaf mould, rotted cow manure and potting mix to replace the old soil.

All cleared out and ready for the new soil.
All cleared out and ready for the new soil.

Then the fun part, replanting ready for the new season.

Ready, set grow!
Ready, set grow!

Only a few metres away it was clear that the raspberry plants were in similar need of re-potting. If you look closely you can just see the new seasons green shoots peeking through.

The raspberries are in a bad way.
The raspberries are in a bad way.

When we pulled the raspberries out of the container we realised that lots of the soil we had put in the container over the years had washed down below the false bottom in the container.

Out of the container.
Out of the container.

We decided to split the plant into two as all the space in the existing container was taken up. Luckily we have the other half of the container, a former heating oil tank, which we will also convert into a tub.

One of the unfortunate results of the re-potting was a lot of damage to the few canes which would have borne fruit this year. However, we think it will be better for the plants to develop new canes rather than worry about getting fruit.

Back in the tub and hoping for lots of new growth.
Back in the tub and hoping for lots of new growth.

 

All the signs …

Spring is nearly here, just under two weeks to go until the official start of the ‘growing’ season. The wattle is flowering, the chickens are laying more consistently (well at least two of them are), the days are getting longer and most incontrovertible of all, I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nursery and spend up big on any plant I see.

Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.
Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.

I’ve found it all so hard to resist. We gave in last week and bought a few punnets of plants, pak choy and lettuces, that will be able to survive in the current low temperatures and will survive the inevitable frosts. And yes, at the back, that is a tray of pea seeds that I planted in their traditional loo roll tubes, yesterday. By the time they are up they will be well able to cope with the outside temperatures. Parsley, at the front, was transplanted from tidying up in the front veggie garden. Most of these are destined for give-aways to friends and neighbours.

I am also trying to be a bit more logical in assessing what we have in the garden and what we need to source for the garden. A case in point are the strawberries. Our current crop are well past their use-by date as can be seen in the spotty, virus laden foliage. These have to be rooted out, quite literally and replaced.

Bad strawberry!
Bad strawberry!

I have some previous years runners in pots, but I still have to check whether they are clear of viruses. I did buy four new plants of the strawberry variety Hokowase, which originated in Japan and friend M says she will give me some of her runners. So once I wrestle with digging out the old plants, tossing them in the bin to avoid any further infection and replacing the soil in the brick niches I will be able to replant.

I’m working off, or perhaps working up, my spring gardening urges by reading gardening books and listening to gardening podcasts. Top of the reading list at the moment is A Year at Otter Farm, by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury Press 2014).

A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.
A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Yes, I was sucked in by Andrew Lyons’ beautiful cover illustration, but equally so by the fact that Mark has a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke cake. Anyone who grows these yummy tubers will know that, like zucchinis, you can never have too many recipes for using them all up! This book ticks all my boxes. It’s seasonal, the recipes are sorted by main ingredient and the recipes are sensibly listed on the page where the vegetable is discussed. Such an obvious idea and yet I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Mark is also growing some of the less common veggies and it’s great to get his growing tips and learn from his experience. While Mark is living in the UK it is easy enough to follow the seasons through the book by simply ignoring the month listed at the chapter heading.

I’m also going overseas for my favourite podcast over at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail’s blog (Gayla is based in Toronto, Canada) was one of the first gardening blogs I found all those years ago. I must say that I had not been catching up with it recently so I was pleasantly surprised when I dropped by the other day to see that she is now podcasting. Her podcasts go under the title of What’cha Growin. I like what she is doing – I’ve listened to four podcats so far – Gayla has some really interesting guests. Some are experienced, others raw beginners from both rural and really urban gardens – have you ever had a gunshot victim laid in your garden while waiting for the ambulance? I’ve been really disciplined starting from her first podcast, but I’m building up to episode 7, when she interviews Alys Fowler, one of the UK’s leading veggie garden promoters.

Bring spring on, I’m ready!

 

 

 

Taking the Local Harvest Challenge

It’s on again, the Local Harvest Challenge for 2013.
Monday 1st April – Sunday 7th April 2013

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The idea is to eat as ‘locally’ as possible for one week. There are plenty of ways to participate, whether you have your own garden or not. We participated last year, you can check out our posts on the Local Harvest website. We are also quite excited to see that the photo used to promote the 2012 posts is one of ours!

Tonight’s dinner is a good example of what you can do for the challenge.Image

Here is a plate of zucchini fritters (recipe from Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall), which includes our own onions, garlic and eggs, not to mention zucchini; along with a tomato and lettuce salad also from the garden.

You also have the option to buy from local farmers markets or producers and you can also set the level of challenge you want to take. There are plenty of suggestions on the Local Harvest website and if you’re not sure what is in your local area you can enter your postcode and find out.

So are you ready to take the challenge?

 Take the Local Harvest Challenge
Monday 1st April – Sunday 7th April 2013

Put into practice the art of eating locally, supporting local and organic farmers and businesses, and discovering the face behind your food.

  • Versatile, fun and FREE!
  • Choose your challenge – Bite-Sized, Meal-Sized or Feast-Sized
  • Form a team with your friends or neighbours
  • Link up with other people taking the challenge in you locality
  • Organise a ‘local pot-luck’ dinner to celebrate the week
  • Blog your discoveries and experiences (see 2012 blogs)

Use the Local Harvest website to find resources close to you. Enter your postcode to find farmers’ markets, farm-gate produce, local food swaps, community gardens, organic retailers and more.

 

Register for the Challenge at localharvest.org.au/challenge

Support local growers & reclaim your food choices. One week, get involved!