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.

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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!

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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.

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Simple water features under the Silver-leaved Mountain Gum
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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

Chickens, Choughs and chickpeas

It’s been an interesting week at Chez Fork. The older chooks have finally started laying again after nearly 6 months rest and our little black hen, having laid eggs for a month has now decided to go broody and get some ‘me’ time in the nesting box.

Earlier in week the chickens got quite a shock when a family of six White-winged Choughs decided to drop in for a breakfast visit. I know from a health perspective that having wild birds in the chook pen isn’t ideal, but when we let the girls into their larger run there isn’t much we can do to keep other birds out. In this case the choughs weren’t accessing the feeder, but were cleaning up some partially wet pellets I’d cleared out of the feeder earlier in the day.

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The choughs are very relaxed about helping themselves to some chook pellets

We have seen the chickens drive wild birds out of their pen so we found it a bit odd that they seemed quite intimidated by the choughs. I mean there are four chickens and even our smallest chicken is twice as big as a chough.

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The confab at the Chez Fork Corral “What do we do now?”

On the cooking front I’ve been testing out some new recipes developed by the Queensland Country Women’s Association to promote a healthier approach to the afternoon tea table. The recipes they have been promoting include Bean Brownies and Orange Pistachio and Chickpea Cake. As you may gather from the title, the recipes incorporate alternative ingredients, as well as lower quantities of sugar. These two recipes are also gluten-free. I tried the bean brownies first. Although the flavour was good I found the actual brownie quite fragile in the way that most gluten-free baked goods are. As we do not have problems with gluten I plan to re-make this recipe using plain flour.

From the outset the Orange Pistachio and chickpea cake was much more successful. For a start I didn’t waste any time going gluten-free, I just substituted an equal quantity of plain flour for gluten free flour. I also used tangerines rather than oranges, as I had some that my friend had given me.

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Dense and moist with great flavour

This cake has proved popular with all who have tried it. It has a moist crumb which is flavoured with the pistachio nuts and citrus. To finish it off I made a drizzle topping using some more of the tangerines. This one is staying in the repetoire.

Finally tonight we had a hearty vegetable soup including lots of greens from our garden.

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Broccoli, broccoli leaves, bok choy flowers and leaves and parsley

Add in some smoked ham hock, courtesy of my partner’s annual pig processing and for additional flavour some of the dried mushrooms we foraged for earlier in autumn.

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Ham hock and veggies ready for the soup

Finally we had an extremely tasty bowl of hot soup.

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Soup for dinner!

Waking up from my summer torpor

The somewhat shorter and cooler days of Autumn have finally seeped into my brain. Time to stop lying around, avoiding the garden, it’s time to dig in the garden! The change is almost as obvious to me as the impact that those lengthening spring days have. First job, as always, is clearing away the last seasons crops.

At the outset, what's left of the last season's plantings
At the outset, what’s left of the last season’s plantings

There can be no hiding here. There is the only beetroot that survived when I forgot to water the beetroot seedlings on a particularly hot day. The Scarlet Emperor beans have reverted to their normal habit of not re-growing. A lanky stem of Calabrese cabbage is lurking with the odd tuft of leaves at the top. The corn was a success and as for the rest, the flat leafed parley has taken over in the absence of any other crops.

At least the soil is good and easy to turn over. All the spent crops and weeds, barring the parsley, are tossed to ‘the girls’. If you ever doubted the dinosaur origin of these animals just stop one day to watch them use those strong legs to tear into a potential food source!

The girls get stuck into the weeds
The girls get stuck into the weeds

While the girls were cleaning up the weeds I was leveling the garden bed and broadcasting carrot seeds all over. The only plants I left behind were the solo beetroot and the Calabrese cabbage which had several new shoots sprouting from its base. I’ll keep and eye on it and decide whether to keep it or remove it, depending on how those shoots grow.

Cleared and ready to go
Cleared and ready to go

Every year we collect seed from our carrot crop. Over the years the distinct yellow, red and white forms have interbred and produced a vaguely yellow, often white and white tinged with rose coloured roots. And for the record, we never sow our carrots in rows nor do we thin our carrots out. The only time we thin carrots is when we pull them out to eat, starting with baby carrots as long as a little finger. This way we enjoy a massive crop of carrots over several months. The carrots are quite content to keep themselves fresh and tasty in the ground without any help from us. It saves a lot of work!

Having sown the carrot seed we cover it with hessian to keep the seed moist while it germinates
Having sown the carrot seed we cover it with hessian to keep the seed moist while it germinates

The trickiest thing with carrots is to keep the soil moist while they germinate. Over the years we’ve settled on putting some hessian over the top and then making sure we keep the hessian watered until the seed shoots. Here we are a week later and already the seed is sprouting!

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New carrot seeds sprouting

We’ll keep the seeds moist over the next few weeks, gently lifting the hessian so it continues to act as a sun shelter until the plants really start to take off.

 

Meanwhile …back at Chez Fork

I know I’ve been rather slack when it comes to posting lately, of course lots has been happening in the garden. I was thrilled when our tomatoes finally started ripening and now they are in steady production.

One of the major blips in this years garden program has been the total failure of us to harvest our nectarines. I couldn’t believe that I would miss picking the fruit I’ve been watching ripen over the past month, but miss it I did. When I thought about it, two weekends ago, TB went to the tree only to report that all the fruit had fallen on the ground. All I can say is that I hope the chickens had a good feed so the fruit wasn’t completely wasted!

On a more positive note I have at last found a use for my lovage plant. Lovage,  Levisticum officinale, is a perennial herb, which in flavour is like a very intense version of celery.

Lovage leaves on the chopping board
Lovage leaves on the chopping board

Like a number of plants in my garden I put the lovage in without giving much thought to its use. Its leaves can be used to flavour stews and other hearty winter dishes and I have also read that its seeds are used as a flavouring in southern mediteranean countries. Trixie Pin has a beautiful recipe for a savoury celery and cheese shortbread which I adapted by substituting the lovage leaves for the celery. Just lessen the amount of lovage you use as the flavour is quite strong and could easily overpower the shortbread.

Lovage and cheese shortbread, just about to go into the oven.
Lovage and cheese shortbread, just about to go into the oven.

OK so it wasn’t my best month – I forgot to take a photo of the finished shortbreads because I was packing them to take to a friend’s place the same day. Suffice to say they didn’t remain uneaten for long. I’ve since found out that the shortbread can keep for several weeks in an airtight container. This came about because we’ve just found the remaining shortbread that I’d left for home consumption in a tin that got put to one side and then forgotten. Perhaps not the best way to find out but they were still very tasty and there have been no side effects – which may be due to the lovage’s reported antiseptic properties!

The Pardalote and the lawnmower

How cute is this little guy. He’s a Spotted Pardalote, one of our favourite visitors to the garden.

A male Spotted Pardalote in our garden
A male Spotted Pardalote in our garden

The reason he’s visiting is so he can set up his nest in our compost heap, something that has happened for the past few years. Unfortunately when we first spotted him several weeks ago he was attempting to dig his nest into the pile of rubbish that was sitting next to where the compost heap should have been. We were rather embarrassed that we hadn’t got his heap ready so we set to, to rectify the matter.

Deconstructed compost heap.
Deconstructed compost heap.

When I was a newly recruited veggie gardener I was told that the best tool you could have for composting was a lawnmower. Strange but true. However it was good advice. If you want to build a good compost heap quickly a mower will help you shred all sots of dead grass runners (we are currently over-run with couch grass in the garden beds) and leaves into useful sized pieces.

Part way through the proceedings with a good bit of work ahead.
Part way through the proceedings with a good bit of work ahead.

TB raked the pile over the ground while I attacked it with the mower. It took just over an hour to shred all the heap and build up the pile, along with leaves and some compost we had pulled out from one of our other compost bins (you can see them at the back of the photo above). In the end we had a much tidier garden and a decent potential nesting site for our paradolte friend.

Compost heap composed!
Compost heap composed!

It must have turned out to meet the specifications as today we saw several pardalotes flying in and out of the heap and a tell-tale pile of dirt has appeared outside the heap, indicating that they are excavating their nesting chamber.

Another view of our Spotted Pardalote (thanks to my new camera).
Another view of our Spotted Pardalote (thanks to my new camera).

If you want to see what a Spotted Pardalote’s nest looks like you can see it here.