Spring at last,

Today is warm and blustery, typical for spring in Canberra. Before the expected cold change hits this afternoon I took the opportunity to plant some cold tolerant seeds out. This included beetroot, lettuce, kailaan (a brassica) and snowball turnips.

I have tucked them away in a plastic bag, to make a mini-greenhouse for them.

A quick update on the chicken greens – as you can see below they are growing away nicely. Time to plant out some new trays.

And a final picture from my spring garden. Daffodils and jonquils against a backdrop of wattle.

Getting moving!

Mid-afternoon it hit me, OMG I haven’t planted any seeds for summer crops! I’d like to blame it on any manner of distractions, including re-planting the front garden (going pretty well), but I’ve clearly been drifting along these past few weeks.

Wahlenberia, aka 'Native' Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden
Wahlenberia, aka ‘Native’ Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden

Luckily we have boxes, I do mean it, of seeds so I pulled out some trays and pots and got stuck in. Peas and beans are at the top of the list. Purple Podded Peas, Snow Peas and Lazy Housewife Beansand some White Eggplants. All of theses seeds have come from our own plants so they are well adapted to our garden.

I also planted some Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour that was such a success last year but #### I just checked and confirmed my suspicion that this variety is a hybrid so the seeds will either be sterile or revert to one of the parent stock. So I’ll have to get out some other corns seeds instead. 

Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons
Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons

I made labels for the pots from an old milk container, but couldn’t get my pencil or marker to stay put. I ended up covering the end with masking tape and writing on that. As I worked I settled in to the rhythym of the afternoon, not too hot and a pleasant breeze. I could see House Sparrows moving around the old kale plants, a sure sign that the plants are failing and as they do so attracting insects to their decaying leaves. I also noticed that my Alpine Strawberry already had some fruit – which disappeared shortly after this photo was taken!

Alpine Strawberry with fruit.
Alpine Strawberry with fruit.

I checked out the regular strawberries and found my first ripe fruit of the season there as well. Time to feed the chooks their afternoon scratch and toss the chicks some green weeds to tear apart with their voracious little bills.

Time too to pick young broadbean pods and asparagus from the garden which are joining an eggplant for a Japanese inspired dinner this evening.

Dinner is on the way.
Dinner is on the way.

Happy spring seed raising to you.

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!

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.


Whiling away winter

It’s always slow in the winter garden, not that nothing is going on, but there is less of that urgent feeling you get with gardening in spring. I think the chooks feel the same way. Our egg supply is so intermittent that we actually had to buy eggs last week – oh the shame! Not that that has stopped them from taking the opportunity to jump out of their fenced in area to grab some of that ‘greener grass’ before they get spotted and herded back into their enclosure.

Chooks on the run, out and about in the back yard.
Chooks on the run, out and about in the back yard.

There are also those clear sunny winter days that Canberra residents love so much. If the wind isn’t too strong we’ll sit outside and soak up some warmth. It also gives us the opportunity to spot some visitors, such as this Grey Butcherbird.

A Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus).
A Grey Butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus).

Actually the Butcherbird was sitting just above the foraging chickens and I couldn’t help but think it was calculating if it might just catch out one of our chooks – even though they are about five times the size of this fellow.

We are also trying to keep up with our bike-riding, despite the chill winds. We took a bento box lunch to a nearby lake last week, but forgot the chopsticks. Well at least there were some shrubs nearby – needs must!

Lunch by the lake with improvised chopsticks.
Lunch by the lake with improvised chopsticks.

Of course there is also the chance to eat some hearty soup made from our own garden veggies. I was particularly keen to try this roasted beetroot soup recipe which I found in the magazine Kinfolk that I bought in Tokyo (something to read in English!). It used pomegranate molasses as an additional flavouring! We have, so I now find out, not one but two unopened bottles of pomegranate molasses collected on our various travels. What an opportunity to use some.

So things don’t always go quite the way you expect. I supplemented the beetroots, of which we have only a few, with some carrots which we have a lot of. The roasting went fine until I got distracted, sitting in the garden, and returned to find my veggies were more char than roast. I was able to peel the worst bits off, although this did reduce the size of the meal. I used just 2 teaspoons of pomegranate molasses, instead of the quarter cup I had anticipated, oh well. To finish it off we grated some of our freshly dug horseradish into some cream and swirled it in. It was a great combination of flavours, even though we only ended up with one serve each and no leftovers.

Roasted Beetroot soup flavoured with pomegranate molasses.
Roasted Beetroot soup flavoured with pomegranate molasses.

Winter is what we make it and some days the chooks even give us an egg for breakfast!

Some winter sunshine on a scrambled egg from the 'girls'.
Some winter sunshine on a scrambled egg from the ‘girls’.





Getting Ready for Winter

Call that a beetroot!
Call that a beetroot!

Well we’re still waiting for the onset of the cold weather, but in the interim there’s been lots of preparation of new crops. Our broad beans, garlic and carrots have been planted and seeds of broccoli and turnips are sprouting in the polyhouse.

The carrot bed is prepared with very thorough weeding, on the left; and a covering of hessian to maintain an even moisture level, on the left.
The carrot bed is prepared with very thorough weeding, on the left; and a covering of hessian to maintain the even moisture level that is needed for the seeds to germinate.

We are leaving our pumpkins on the vines until the frosts start.

Butternut pumpkins waiting for harvest

There are still plenty of veggies to be harvested. A quick whip around the plants we were tidying up yielded this haul of zucchini’s, potatoes, eggplants and warrigal greens.

veggie harvest
What we found when cleaning out the last of the summer crops

Dinner that night was a cheesy vegetable bake, stuffed zucchini flowers and roasted potatoes.

Straight from the garden onto the plate.
Straight from the garden onto the plate.

Autumn Digging

You may be surprised to hear that I have actually managed to get in some gardening amidst all our other recent exploits, but its plant now or have a slow start to spring. I’ve been working on the front garden bed which feels like less hard work than digging in the back garden  – a completely illusionary feeling as it turns out.

About two weeks ago I started on the least weed-infested part of the bed, clearing it to plant seeds of beetroot and purple sprouting broccoli, or PSB as I shall refer to it from here on in. By the way did you catch the latest episode of the Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain, they were in Worcestershire and everyone kept referring to the aforementioned veg as “purple sprouting” the ‘b’ word didn’t even get a mention. But I digress.

Everything is coming along quite well with only a few plants so far becoming slug snacks. I also have one tomato bush in the bed – the lone survivor of all the ones I tried to grow from seed this year. Then there was the other half of the bed….


Thankfully TB came along and gave me a hand with digging out some of the worst of it. This ‘summer’ with all its rain has certainly bumped up the weed quotient in the garden. Not surprisingly working in the front garden attracts visitors. My first just popped in quite casually and started helping clear behind me.


I can’t say that the second visitor, while friendly, was quite as welcome. Spotting a chance for some neighbourly interaction the Staffordshire Terrier from up the street came bounding across my newly seeded beds to get a pat. After which I decided to put some sort of structures over the beds in the hope of some degree of protection. At least at seed stage there wasn’t too much damage. In this area I’ve planted seeds of onions, Welsh bunching onions, and some Spring onions, Cimi di rapa, also called turnip greens, which are an Italian brassica very similar to broccoli, and some turnips.

I was also somewhat surprised to see that a new ‘branch’ has sprouted off last year’s Collard Greens (think of it as a loose-leaf cabbage, that’s it in the very front of the photo below) which I had saved for seed production. Apart from the seed I’ve already collected I see that it has also dropped some seeds which are spouting away nicely.


The finished garden bed ready for winter, ta da!


Sitting Around

The drive up to Newcastle and back over the weekend certainly seems to have taken it out of me. I managed a small sortie out this morning to see that my edamame (Japanese soybeans) are ticking along quite well. But I can’t say the same for my Tongue of Fire beans – they keep getting eaten and not by me! Even plants that are well over 15cms in height are still being chewed by oportunistic snails and slugs – I console myself that should I ever get to eat some that they at least must taste good.

My strawberries are going very well this year. I picked a big handful this morning, having picked an equal number three days ago. Which reminded me that I still had bags of frozen fruit from last summer. I’ve taken care of that and now have several jars of strawberry jam.


Thankfully it is one of the quickest jams to cook – per usual a Sally Wise recipe – so I managed it before my enthusiasm for work ran out – which it did once I saw the state of the back garden!


Oh my god! The grass is long, the sorrel (in the front needs hacking back), the purple sprouting brocoli (yellow flowers) along with the curly kale needs ripping out while the broad beans and the snow peas are collapsing under the weight of growth (and not much else where the snow peas are concerned!). Not to mention the tomatoes that need planting, which Friend M has kindly given us as there has been virtually no progress with our own. Now why didn’t I buy those tomato plants which were already fruiting that I saw at the Newcastle City Farmers Markets yesterday?

Anyway I’m now feeling so much better because I’ve decided it can all wait for another day.

Goodbye to the ‘Little Aussie Bleeder’

Alright that title is a quick shuffle down memory lane for those of you who fondly remember the character of Norman Gunston, created by the actor Gary Macdonald in the 1970’s


(Image courtesy of the ABC)

but like Norman, who was known for his social faux pas, I too must admit to having a problem with that other little Aussie bleeder, the beetroot. I wear it just about every time I eat it.

Now I love my beetroot – no not the tinned stuff we were bought up on – but the home grown variety. Here we like to eat it baked, or preserved in a sweet and spicy pickle or a la your Turkish dip (Pancar Salatasi). I had never really thought that there might be a non-stain inducing method of enjoying beetroot, that is until we harvested our first of the over-wintering beetroots this week.


The beetroot in question was an Italian variety, Tonda di Chioggia. You may have seen pictures of this variety before, it has a pink and white candy stripe appearance when it is cut.


We had purchased our seeds from The Italian Gardener, but you may also be able to find similar varieties in Italian delicatessens (Canberrans can try Tutti il Mondo in Mawson which stocks a range of Italian vegetable seeds).

For our first beetroot meal of the season TB made his version of the Turkish beetroot dip. If you want detailed instructions you can follow the version through the link above otherwise here’s TB’s version. Of course this can be made with any variety of beetroot you have.

First bring some water to the boil throw in your beetroot (skin on) and simmer beetroot until it is tender (up to an hour or longer if it is a big one). See how pale this one is on the inside.


While the beetroot is cooking fry off some thinly sliced leek or onion with some carraway seeds in some olive oil. Once the beetroot is cooked peel the skin off and grate it into the fried leek mix.


Add several tablespoons of yoghurt to the mix, use your judgement, you don’t want to swamp the beetroot with too much yoghurt


Mix and its ready to go! We had ours for lunch served on TBs flatbread, or you can have it with toast or as an accompaniment with your meal.


You can see how pale the resulting salad is. The next day when we gobbled the remainder down the beetroot had turned to the palest shade of blush pink.

Now is a good time to be planting out your beetroot seeds so get on the web or down to your local deli, find some of these babies and get planting. In fact I’m off to do that now.



Veggie update

Yes, we are still actually growing veggies at Chez Fork, but our recent major works have tended to overshadow the more routine aspects of gardening. Having finished and planted my wicking bed I got back into starting some more seeds off. Now if, like the rest of us, you never remember what to plant when I would recommend that you print off a copy of the attached PDF, which is Peter Cundall’s guide (everyone genuflect) to planting in cool climates, and make sure you place it somewhere where you see it everday.

Our tomato seedlings have been pampered in their seed tray, going outside during the day and coming back in at night – to avoid death by frost this week. So far the Cherry, Wapsipinicon Peach and my own Front Garden Bed varieties are up and growing. But we are still waiting on the Amish Paste and Siberians. I can’t see us ‘winning’ the tomatoes before Christmas race this year as we did start several weeks late.


Along with the Purple Podded Climbing Peas in the wicking bed, I’ve also planted out another round of snow peas.More climbing peas have been planted but these will probably go to friends. The Massey Bush Peas planted in Autumn are producing pods now. But still no sign of Broad Bean pods.

Our beetroot, Forono and Little Wonders are starting to sprout so we will have plenty to be getting on with. Their older siblings planted out in Winter are now starting to form their bulbs so not long to wait for a feed from them. Don’t forget that beetroot leaves, the young ones at least, make a nice addition to a salad.

The new seeds I planted this week were parsnip, turnip and edamame (Japanese soy beans). They have all been planted in loo rolls! Sounds tasteful – not, but this is a really good way to plant individual seeds of crops such as root vegetables that do not like their roots disturbed. Once the seedling has reached a good size you plant the seedling, still inside the loo roll, straight into the garden. The cardboard rots down quickly and the plant grows happily on its way.


Eating joy is being provided by our aspapragus and Purple Sprouting broccoli. While it was slow to get started (seven months from original planting!) the PSB is now in production overload. The more you cut the more it grows back. Plus it just looks great with those purple heads contrasting with the dark green leaves.


Here is one of this week’s dinners. Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Asparagus with beef, Domburi style.



Late in Autumn

I spent two hours this afternoon working on putting in another new bed. This is number four in the series. I’ve planted Beetroot, Tonda di Chioggia and Kale Cavolo Nero. All the handsome Italians in one bed!

I also enjoyed stepping back from my work to look at the play of colour between my Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) and those colourful garden stakes.