That’s about the only way to describe the smell in my car this morning as I drove home from the nursery with bags of compost cow manure and potting mix.

Luckily I was able to temper the odours a bit by stopping at the local coffee shop to pick up a large bucket of coffee grounds. I even had time for a cup of hot chocolate and a quick sketch. The coffee grounds will be used as a barrier to dissuade the local snails and slugs from completely destroying the lettuce and kale seedlings.

Much more pleasant was the glorious scent of the broad bean flowers, next to where the lettuce were planted out. And yes I even managed to plant out all the new seedlings and pot up my new Bay tree.

Must be the scent of spring!

Over the garden fence, again

I’ve checked and it’s been five years since I last posted about visiting an open garden! During that time the Australian Open Garden Scheme has met its end and it’s been left to the various states and territories to keep the movement going. Here, Open Gardens Canberra has taken up the challenge and is running the new scheme.

Last week I saw a notice that three gardens were open this weekend, two private and one community garden. We only made it to two gardens but they both turned out to be worth the visit.

First stop was Isobel’s garden in Dickson, where her back and front yard have undergone an almost complete re-vamp since the house was rebuilt in 2001. I must say I’m biased because she has a similar layout to Chez Fork, with a combination of predominantly Australian plants and a big veggie garden.

The view across Isobel’s back garden

As the internal divisions of the garden beds are not fixed, Isobel has used off-cuts of artificial grass (left over from the local school) to form temporary pathways. It’s apparently worked quite well, both at suppressing the weeds and providing a readily moved path. However she did warn against walking on the ‘grass’ on a hot day with bare feet!

Artificial grass paths between the potatoes and the tomatoes

She also has some lovely, simple water features under a large specimen of Silver-leaved Mountain Gum (Eucalyptus pulverulenta), which she grew from seed  she collected near Bathurst.

Simple water features under the Silver-leaved Mountain Gum
Another view of the garden across the pumpkin vines

Our second stop was the Charnwood Community Garden, which was established in the late 1980’s by the Canberra Organic Growers Society. Here there are over 40 plots of varying sizes. There were a number of plot-holders on hand to discuss the finer points of their gardens.

Looking across the Charnwood Community Garden

I really enjoyed seeing the variety of colourful crops and flowers being grown in the plots.

I was pleased to be able to talk to one of the plot-holders who had the most  vigorous crop of sweet potatoes (a.k.a. yams, kumara) growing. I hadn’t realised that it was possible to grow these in Canberra, because our winters are so frosty, but here is the proof.

More sweet potato than you can poke a stick at!

Even better I was told that the yield was more than three times that of the potatoes he also grew. I know that this is one crop we will be trying out next year! He also had a great crop of snakebeans, which his partner preferred over regular climbing beans, as she had less ‘top and tailing’ to do for the same weight of beans. This tropical variety of bean (Vigna sp.) has turned out to be a good grower in Canberra’s ever increasing hotter summers. I also saw that these beans were growing in Isobel’s  garden.

Of course being gardeners it wasn’t long before we were sharing tips and favourite tool recommendations. The best ‘idea I plan to steal’, came from the community garden where one gardener was using an old bicycle wheel, atop a hardwood pole as a frame for growing his climbing beans. Pieces of twine were hung from the rim of the wheel and as the beans started to send out tendrils these strings were directed to where the plant could find them. The twine was only secured at the top, the beans kept things secured at the bottom.

I have to conclude with thanks to the gardeners who so generously offered me some seeds from their patches (and I didn’t even ask!). A variety of long tomato called Sherry’s Sweet (which I have only spotted in US lists, but was previously available through the Diggers Club in Australia). Also a climbing butter bean, which the grower’s father bought commercially from the now defunct Walton’s department store in the mid-1970’s and which, the family has been growing ever since. (I see that Diggers Club is now offering these beans, which I understand to have come from this same grower).

Sherry’s Sweet tomato and climbing butter beans


Broad Bean rules

It’s undeniable, but some people on this planet of ours do not like Broad Beans! Hard to believe, I know.

But if you’ve only ever been served these beans in their nasty thick overcoats, then that’s hardly surprising.

This is NOT how to serve broad beans! These need second peeling

So getting a bit ahead of myself, Rule#1 is always double peel your broad beans! That means take the beans out of their pods then blanch the beans in boiling  water 1-2 minutes (if you’re not sure of this technique I suggest you ‘google’ it). Then take the beans out of the boiling water, using a slotted  spoon, let the beans cool enough so you can handle them and  then squeeze the inner bean out from their outer leathery pod. This is the result.

Broad beans, shiny and ready to go

You could just toss these in a bit of butter or oil and dress with salt and pepper and serve them as a side dish to just about anything . Another option is to saute them with some pancetta or bacon, cut into small pieces and swirl them through some pasta!

OK getting pretty excited here so I will just back track to some other thoughts.

Rule #2 don’t plant too many plants (guilty). Those large seeds encourage over planting. This year I planted out about 10 plants, some of which got dug up by an escaped chicken. But really that’s enough for two people unless you are a vegetarian,  in which case I’d say go your hardest as broad beans are great croppers for the ‘hungry gap’ and you can certainly store and use them frozen or dried all year round.

Rule # 3 pick early, pick often! I don’t completely agree with people who say you can eat the smallest broad bean pods just boiled, but picking when pods are smaller will allow you to get beans that blanch and shell more readily. Also regular picking encourages more flowers and therefore more beans.

Stoage options are to freeze the double peeled beans (you will be grateful you made the extra effort up front when you pull them from the freezer ready to go). Drying is the other main option just ignore all those pods, leave them on the plants and harvest them when the plants die back. Beans in this form are great for making earthy dips like ‘ful‘.

So, broad beans, not so scary after all. Enjoy!

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.

Seed saving?

It’s in our shed, perhaps our darkest  gardening secret, a massive collection of pre-loved, left over, surplus to requirement seeds. Blame frugality or whatever but I have real trouble throwing out old seeds even if they are past their use-by date. That is until a few weeks ago. The revelation came when I was listening to one of Gayla Trail’s Whatcha Growing podcasts. Gayla was confessing she had also shared the same tendency, but with one clear explanation, she was able to change her dark habit and I am also a changed gardener.

Just short of a quarter of a bucket of out of date seed!!!
Just short of a quarter of a bucket of out of date seed!!!

What changed? A plant scientist pointed out to her that just because a seed could germinate didn’t mean it would make a healthy plant. Indeed old seed will most likely produce dodgy or low viability plants, a state which seems to be obvious to any pest or passing disease.

So we began a major clean out (see results above). Maybe I haven’t changed completely because we didn’t chuck the seeds in the bin. Instead we decided to use them as a green manure in the area where our chooks have been undertaking soil renovation.

After the chickens, this part of the garden needs re-seeding.
After the chickens, this part of the garden needs re-seeding.

Believe me this part of the yard was completely covered in grass before we let the chooks in. This should also be a warning to anyone who thinks chickens look good roaming around the garden unsupervised – have you seen what strong digging claws they have? The chooks are now off rota-tilling another section of garden, where the polyhouse normally lives.

Having spread the seed on the ground and raked it in, we just waited for the local Crested pigeons to come along and have a feed. Oh, what a surprise! the Crested Pigeons have arrived.

Half an hour after seeding and the pigeons have arrived.
Half an hour after seeding and the pigeons have arrived.

Despite regular visits the pigeons haven’t eaten all the seed yet. Indeed with several bouts of rain in the past weeks what’s left of the seed is actually sprouting.

And what was the oldest seed we had kept? Several packets of herb seeds from 1997 – now that’s bad.

Truffle chooks and box birds

Those chickens! You give them an inch and then ….. We’ve let the chickens out into another part of the garden while we renovate the area they’ve been in over winter. It took them a few days to settle in and then they really start exploring.

Letty and Arty checking out the long grass in the polyhouse.
Letty and Arty checking out the long grass in the polyhouse.

Unfortunately for us they have found several types of mischief to get into. The first I knew was the sound of pecking – it really shouldn’t sound that loud – weren’t they just eating the remains of the warrigal greens? No. They were eating the polystyrene box that the plants were growing in.

Yum, tasty box!
Yum, tasty box!

A quick leap into the yard to remove that box and another they had also been eating. So much for organic chickens!

We had a bit of a hunt around and couldn’t see any other obvious problems. That was fine, until this morning when I went out to look for eggs only to see Dotty and Arty buried in the pot containing TB’s truffle oak! Boy had they been digging. Perhaps they found a truffle, we will never know, so now it’s a Fort Knox oak tree.

Dotty returns to the scene of the crime.
Dotty returns to the scene of the crime.

Only time will tell what they will get up to next.

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.