Return of the gardeners

It’s always with a degree of trepidation that I return to our garden after being away. While three weeks absence isn’t much, it did coincide with the first big flush of spring so the weeds are rampant and the vegetables are hard to find.

On a more positive note our two new chickens have started laying, so the daily egg count is growing nicely. A friend was looking after our tomato seedlings and they have flourished under their care.

I braved the front veggie patch this afternoon. Brave being the operative word. After half an hour of weeding I had scarcely managed to clear a metre of ground. What was more disappointing was that after that work it turned out that the purple podded peas were so spent that it actually wasn’t worth the effort to free them from the weeds.

Thankfully the shallots that I planted at either end of the bed are growing away reasonably well. I have now mulched them with sugar cane waste to see it I can slow down the ever ready weed population.

A further word on these beds that I planted out so hopefully a few months ago. You might remember that I tried out Tino Carnavale’s method of placing the seedlings near strings so the plants could readily climb to the top of their support. Sadly I have to report that for one of my beds this was almost a complete failure. Not Tino’s fault but my first qualification is don’t try this method where the plants will be effected by strong wind.

My purple Podded peas were growing away quite nicely when our spring gale force winds hit. The plants were clinging so tightly that almost all of one bed were immediately snapped off at the base. A second row of peas, planted in the shelter of the first row managed to survive somewhat better and they are starting to produce quite well. The bush peas planted nearby have just about disappeared under the weeds. However my Alderman climbing peas and my snow peas, planted in the more sheltered back garden, are podding quite well.

Probably best of all is that we are still harvesting some asparagus. Just enough to remind us what we missed out on during our holiday.

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Bean and Gone

It’s taken a while for me to get back into the swing of summer planting, but getting some beans into the ground has been a priority. I like to plant both climbing beans and bush beans.

The bush beans are generally very heavy croppers and I want to have some for freezing. The choice of bush bean was easy because I already have several packets of Cherokee Wax bush beans in my seed stash.

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Young Cherokee Wax seedlings springing from the ground. These have protective collars as they are closest to the path and easiest trodden on.

I didn’t have any climbing bean seeds so I bought some Blue Lake seeds, as they were the only climbing beans available at the shop. Thankfully they are a widely recommended variety to grow. I had previously planted out seedlings of an unknown variety of climbing bean, that had been decimated almost immediately by snails.

This time I was taking no chances. I direct sowed a number of Blue Lake beans into the area previously demolished by the snails. These sprang of of the ground really quickly and almost as quickly were chewed to the ground yet again. Some people never learn.

I also sowed a further 15 Blue lake beans into toilet rolls to try and give them some protection. Once I saw the roots popping out of the bottom of the toilet rolls I planted the whole lot into a new bed that I had started in the front garden where, I hoped, that they would survive long enough to develop tough unpalatable stems.

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My Blue Lake climbing beans growing happily in the front garden

These Blue Lake beans were doing really well as were the Cherokee Wax beans I planted next to them. For more than a week they shot upwards, until two days ago I went out to water them and found this.

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Chewed to the stump!

Of the 15 beans I’d planted there were only six and a half left. I nearly wept. I then did something pretty unusual for me – I put out some snail bait. We normally run an organic garden, but this is a major lapse. Since laying the bait I have literally gone out every morning and collected dead and dying snails and slugs (nearly 50 so far) so that our local birds don’t eat them. So far there have been no more depredations on the beans.

Surprisingly the Cherokee Wax bush beans, corn and tomato seedlings planted in the same area were almost untouched by the snails. Clearly Blue Lake is a gourmet variety for more than just humans.

This morning I have re-planted more seeds directly into this bed. I will continue to hope that they new beans will develop quickly enough to avoid death by snail. We will see.

POSTSCRIPT 

This evening it was raining so we went outside to see if there were any snails in the bean crop. We collected just shy of half a kilo of snails (420 grams) in under 10 minutes. I would not have had any beans left by the morning. We will check again before we head to bed.

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.

Strange behaviour in the garden

Even as I’m sitting to write this post there’s a bump on the front window – it’s that Red Wattlebird again! For the past few days I’ve seen them scouring our windows and those of my neighbours, not for insects as I first thought, but spider’s webs. It’s nest building time! Try as I might I’ve not caught their activities with the camera as yet, but the Peewees (or mudlarks for those from further south and west from where I grew up) are another matter.

Checking out some nest building material
Checking out some nest building material

It took me a while to realise that they weren’t digging around our water chestnuts for insects or the corms. They wanted that muddy spent foliage for their nests. Peewees build the most beautiful mud nests, somewhat smaller than the large mud bowls built by Choughs. The Peewee’s mud bowl is built on a branch high enough and far out along the limb enough to make it hard for predators to get them. In the past I’ve seen these nest built out over creeks, or in the absence of a watercourse built over a busy road.

About to fly to the construction site
About to fly to the construction site

These birds are nesting in our neighbours tree, one of the few large trees still around us. I fear that the number of really tall and old trees that have been cut down in our area will be having a negative impact on the number of birds nesting in our suburbs. I’m pleased that in our own small way we are providing ‘garden services’ for those who are trying to raise their young.

PS Pardalote Palisades seems to be keeping the Currawongs and neighbourhood cats at bay. Fingers crossed.

 

Morning has broken

There’s not much that can beat walking in the garden after a night of rain, (16mms for the record) unless you also come across six saffron flowers sitting proud above their slender leaves.

Saffron buds in the early morning
Saffron buds in the early morning

Our harvest last year was pretty limited as it happened while we were overseas. This year we have our fingers crossed for a better harvest.

And just as exciting to come inside to some ‘shower rolls’, surely one of the easiest bread making recipes I’ve come across in ages. I found it over on Mike’s Pad and I’ll direct you over there for the details. Basically you make a sloppy bread dough before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge overnight then bake however many rolls you want the next morning. Any leftover dough can be put back in the fridge for another day.

These may not be the prettiest rolls I’ve ever made, (I think I need to practice my roll-shaping technique) but there’s not much to beat a bread roll fresh out of the oven!

Shower Rolls fresh from the oven
Shower Rolls fresh from the oven

By the time the rolls were baked not only did I have my shower, but the saffron buds had opened enough so they could be picked.

Within the hour the buds are open ready for picking
Within the hour the buds are open ready for picking

The saffron stigmas were then dried in the cooling oven cools, prior to being stored.

Saffron stamens ready for oven drying
Saffron stigmas ready for oven drying

After all that activity it was good to be able to sit down to a breakfast of fresh bread spread with my friend J’s plum jam.

Freshly cooked 'shower rolls' and plum jam
Freshly cooked ‘shower rolls’ and plum jam

I’m now looking forward to tomorrow morning as I can see at least 4 more saffron flowers ready to burst.

 

Fig time

I love figs and several years ago we bought a White Adriatic fig to grow in a pot. The trickiest thing to get right about this particular breed of fig is working out when it’s ripe. The fruit has a green skin which doesn’t darken like other figs do when they are ripe. Instead it turns a paler shade of yellow-green, which can be a bit tricky to spot.

A ripe White Adriatic fig
A ripe White Adriatic fig

So far this year we’ve actually managed to pick more fruit than the birds have stolen!

Our tree is still quite small so our yield is solely for eating fresh. Our neighbour has a much larger tree which bears more fruit than they can manage. A bucket turned up the other week and I wouldn’t have know what to do with it except that a friend had recently fed me some Roasted Figs baked with thyme. It sounds unusual, but boy does it pack a lovely syrupy taste. The recipe comes from David Lebovitz and I can highly recommend it. Sadly I forgot to take photos so you’ll have to check the link to see how good it looks.

Here comes the sun

The hot weather has set in and we are still technically not even into summer yet. Although we are well into sprummer – the new word coined by Tim Entwisle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, for southern Australia’s late spring / early summer season.

I got up early yesterday so I could get some planting done before the day really started hotting up.

It's Sprummer! getting ready for the gardening day.
It’s Sprummer! getting ready for the gardening day.

In fact I’d started preparation for this morning’s work, the evening before. I was planning on planting out my corn seedlings, Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour (oh the shame, we’ve had to buy seedlings in this year) and I knew the soil in the front bed is very water repellant. I spent quite a bit of time with my garden hose and a 3 pronged hoe watering and turning the top soil to get the water actually soaking in. In the end I put a fine layer of mulch over the top to help retain the soil moisture, banking on this to help the moisture spread evenly through the soil overnight.

Corn seedlings under a fine mulch with protective milk carton collars.
Corn seedlings under a fine mulch with protective milk carton collars.

It worked to a good degree, although I did see that the water still hadn’t penetrated below the top 20 cms below the surface. You can see that after planting I also put a milk carton collar around each seedling. This creates a micro climate for the plant and in this case helps channel water right down to the plant’s roots. Once the plant has grown these can be easily torn off from the base of the plant.

In the back garden I was planting the tomato seedlings that our friend M got started on before we went on holidays and which were kept alive by our house sitter. I still had to add some compost into the bed and get it watered in, but I was able to use our tank water to gravity feed the sprinkler just enough so it worked. (We have sprinkler use restrictions in the ACT as part of our permanent water restrictions).

Soaking the bed prior to planting.
Soaking the bed prior to planting.

Again the plants were lightly mulched and collared prior to watering in.

Tomato seedlings off to a good start.
Tomato seedlings off to a good start.

By the time I’d finished TB had come out and planted some eggplants and zucchini. It was very obvious that the temperature was going to be quite high so I used a piece of shade cloth to cast some protective shade for the day.

Shading the tomatoes.
Shading the tomatoes.

The chickens are also feeling the heat. Indeed it’s too hot to lay in their boxes so one of the girls has taken to laying her eggs in the grass in their wider free-ranging area.

Free-range laying in the garden.
Free-range laying in the garden.

 

In the end the temperature rose to 39 C. Thankfully today the temperature is much lower and we are having some very welcome showers of rain.