Bean counting!

The front veggie patch in early March

After the rocky start to our summer gardening season, we have by stint of watering, persistant snail removal and good summer rainfall, managed to get our best ever crop of beans! I have picked over 2.5 kilos of beans in the past two weeks and over the same time 4 kilos of tomatoes. 

The same patch today with bountiful tomatoes barely contained in their frames

Apart from eating a goodly amount of beans and tomatoes I am also doing a lot of saving for future meals. The beans are being sliced, blanched and then frozen … 

Beans ready for the frezer

… I am roasting the tomatoes, to concentrate their sweet flavour, before bottling them in sterilised jars for future use. 

Roasted tomatoes in jars from my latest batch
The best thing is there are still  plenty more where they came from.


Hard yakka

First cob of corn for dinner

It was a perfect afternoon to get into the garden, sunny enough with a nice breeze. I was working in the front garden, planting out some daisy cuttings and pulling out a dead shrub.

The biggest issue was whether the bull ants (inch ants) were still nesting next to the dead shrub. And yes they are. However I did manage to dig out pretty much all the dead stuff before the ants came charging out. Having been bitten earlier in the week I was being quite careful.

I rounded out the afternoon by harvesting all the good sized Blue Lake climbing beans and picking our first cob of corn. We are now getting a steady feed from our tomatoes and fruit from our fig tree is making dessert choices easy.

Fig tart for dessert

Although we are not the only ones lining up for a feed. Our resident Grey Currawong loves our figs as much as we do.

Not bad for a bird with only one eye! We gave him/her this one.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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!




Local Harvest Challenge

In advance of next week’s Local Harvest Challenge, Sunday 6th April — Saturday 12th April 2014, where everyone is encouraged to eat locally, support local and organic farmers and businesses, and discover the face behind your food, I have a simple recipe for a veggie side dish. Zucchini and Green Beans with Mint.

This dish was made by Antonio Carluccio when he was a guest of Poh in Series 1 of Poh’s Kitchen (The recipe is in the Poh’s Kitchen, My Cooking Adventures book).  I caught a repeat of the episode this week and as we are still harvesting beans and have a truck load of zucchinis in the garden this dish was too easy to pass up.

Beans and Zucchini with Mint, ready to serve.
Beans and Zucchini with Mint, ready to serve.

200 grams of beans, with the ends trimmed
300 grams of zucchini (courgette), cut into 15 cm lengths, about as thick as your thumb
3 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
1 small bunch of mint, chopped, (I’d probably put a bit less rather than more)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar or juice of half a lemon.

Boil the zucchini and beans in water (salting optional) for 15 minutes or until tender when tested with the tip of a sharp knife. Drain the veggies then add the mint, drizzle over the oil and vinegar/lemon juice. Mix and allow to sit. Carluccio suggests leaving them at room temperature for half an hour before serving. Too easy!

An alternate serving suggestion is to cook up a big mess of these zucchini and beans and then eat them with some good crusty bread to sop up the juices.

We ate ours with some of our carrots, oven-baked potatoes (not ours) and some pork chops from the free-range pig that we ordered last winter.

The finished dish served with pork chops, roasted potatoes and carrots.
The finished dish served with pork chops, roasted potatoes and carrots.

BTW if you sign up for the Local Harvest Challenge you can see the photo we took picking feral apples several years ago on their site.

See the 2012 Challenge Participants Blogs

The where have you Bean?

I’ve previously mentioned my Scarlet Emperor beans, which I like to grow in my front garden for their colourful flowers. Another reason I started growing this variety was their reported ability to re-grow year after year, a habit that gave them their alternate name of the ‘Seven-year’ bean. That is they are supposed to re-grow, perhaps in other people’s garden, but not our garden.

That was until about a month ago. I was picking some of my Gourmet Delight bush beans (a bean that does live up to its name), when I realised I was looking at a very non-bush bean like tendril climbing up from the garden bed!

Scarlet Emperor bean shooting out from under the Gourmet Delight beans.
Scarlet Emperor bean shooting out from under the Gourmet Delight beans.

It was a Scarlet Emperor Bean, noticeable because of its red flower. I am assuming that it has re-grown from the roots of the plant that I left in the bed from when I grew them here last year. Even if the plant happens to have grown from a seed that I missed when I picked them what is notable is that the plant has waited until the very end of summer to grow. It hasn’t germinated in spring, as you might expect. I won’t finally know what has happened until the bush beans have died back. Only then might I be able to see whether the Scarlet Emperor has sprung from last year’s plant.

As for the Scarlet Emperor beans I planted this year, they have, as in previous years, only just started to set pods now, after the worst of the summer heat has passed.

Pods starting to set on this year's Scarlet Runner Beans.
Pods starting to set on this year’s Scarlet Runner Beans.

Like they say better late than never.

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.

Too Easy!

What is with this weather of ours? Barely any hot days this summer, lots of rain and temperatures more like those of autumn. Then the next day back up to full on summer! Of course it is demonstrating a perfect La Nina climate pattern. While the tomatoes are having a hard time of it, for once our beans are growing really well.

I’m putting the beans’ productivity down to the cooler weather and the fact that we planted most of them as large seedlings. The size of the seedlings along with some snail pellets meant that most of our plants made it to adulthood (one got ‘dead-headed’ by a snail the first night it was planted out and another got ‘ringbarked’ possibly by slaters some weeks after planting). Still this is our best result yet.


We currently have three types of beans in the ground, Purple Amethyst (a climber which hasn’t made it past 30cms), nameless yellow Butter Beans (bought as Blue Lake, another climber, but obviously a ‘changeling’ bean whose label got mixed up somewhere along the line) and a green Bush Bean, which remarkably is both bushy and green.


The next question is what to do with all these beans – insert post title here with the sound of the smug assurance of your choice of tradesman – braise them in olive oil! It really is that simple.

Heat your oven to 180 ° C. Lay your beans in in a shallow baking dish (those old shallow pyrex dishes that your mum has are perfect) throw in any random herbs you have hanging around, (I’ve used both sage and tarragon to good effect), add any other stray veggies that might be to hand, but cut them to to a similar thickness to your beans. Drizzle pretty generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and whack them in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes. The main thing to remember is keep your veggies to just one level, some overlapping is OK, but too many layers will impede the cooking.

Here are the before and after shots of my first lot of beans, cooked with some fennel bulb and sage leaves.



Now I will admit that once they are cooked they are not much to look at, but boy do they taste delicious. Serve the beans with lots of fresh bread because you will want to sop up all the delicious oil that’s left over after cooking – trust me on that one!


We served these beans with a lovely piece of Ocean Trout and some sorrel and potato salad.

Garden re-boot

It’s harvest time at Chez Fork. The past week has been devoted to picking what’s left of our current crop of peas, beans and garlic.

The purple podded peas are all dried out, way beyond being eaten fresh, so I’ve harvested them to use in soup next winter.


This photo was taken just half way through the podding so I was pleased to ultimately get about 400gms of dried peas. A much better harvest than when I grew them last year.

The broad beans which have been so productive again this year are now in.


The fresher beans, the ones in the right-hand bowl and the right-hand side of the trug will be podded, then blanched and frozen for use throughout the rest of the year. The ones that have already started to dry have been podded and place on racks to dry – again for soup and casseroles.


As you can see from the picture TB has also started harvesting the garlic, which is looking very good.

Well now that the initial rush of spring produce has just about petered out we are contemplating what comes next. Being away those few crucial weeks in October and November meant that we didn’t get our planting continuity happening. So, (oh the shame of it!), we went and bought some seedlings to get our next crops underway. In this case it is Blue Lake climbing beans, next to the stakes and bush beans further along the row.


We were also given a lovely egg-plant plant (if that makes sense) by one of our friends to go with  purchased Lebanese egg-plant seedlings. I did get some seeds underway at the same time I bought the seedlings and it looks like they are catching up already.


On the left are Soldacki Clinbing Tomatoes (Lost Seed Company), a Polish variety which reportedly has a shorter time to fruiting than other tomatoes – and yes I also was tempted as I had never heard of climbing tomatoes before. On the right are Purple Amethyst Climbing Beans (Vilmorin). I bought these seeds while I was in Tassie and they are new varities for me. Now I just need to find that perfect spot to put them.

Having pulled out the broad beans there should be a place for the egg plants and tomatoes at least. Those beans might just find a home where our now very tough and leggy celery plants are being pulled out.