We’re back!

There was a short hiatus as we were gallivanting around Europe for three months. We left in early autumn and have returned in late winter.

Prior to leaving we planted garlic and broadbeans, which with the help of friends and the watering system, are growing strongly. Starting to clean up the spent summer crops yesterday I harvested these bean seeds. The strong, healthy seeds in the larger bowl will be used to grow next summers crop. The smaller seeds, some damaged by too much rain, will be used as part of a green manure crop.

Production line

Today we have been spending some time doing prep work for making doubangjiang, or chilli bean paste. My partner does the fun work and I get to help with peeling the skin from dried broadbeans and here, scraping the membrane and seeds out of the chillies.

After de-seeding, the chillies are left to soak in a salty water brine for several days before the prepared broadbeans are added.

Having made this style of chilli bean paste in previous years, my partner is going ‘off piste’ this year with his own version of the recipe.

If you would like to try it yourself, here is a recipe. The pictures will guide you through the process.

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.

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.

Some light in the winter dark

We may have passed the shortest day of the year, but here in Canberra we still have quite a bit of winter still to live through. Like my garden I’m slowly coming to life again.

On the weekend we read in the Sydney papers that now was the time to start tomato seeds. In Canberra tomato seeds would be facing this prospect with all the ‘excitement’ of a small child being forced into a cold swimming pool. Here it’s not going to happen unless you have a warm space inside to protect your seeds.

On the other hand our broad beans, which were planted very late this season have now stuck their leaves up out of the ground.

Young broadbeans making an appearance
Young broadbeans making an appearance

My friend M who was far better organised this year actually has pods on her broadbeans!

The new front garden has survived, to some degree the vicissitudes of the people doing the guttering and roof repairs, but the ongoing frosts have really had a big impact on my smaller plants. Just how bad the damage is can’t be fully assessed for another two months when chances of frost have passed, when I can see what will re-shoot and what will need pulling out.

TB’s wasabi plants are growing away quite happily and the citrus trees will shortly be having a new lot of potting mix in their pots ready for growing away into spring.

Wasabi is growing well in our cold climate, under the protection of the tree canopy
Wasabi is growing well in our cold climate, under the protection of the tree canopy

My first hellebore flower has opened.

My first Hellebore flower (well the plant did it really!)
My first Hellebore flower (well the plant did it really!)

But best and most promising of all, our boss hen has started laying eggs again. So far we’ve had one every second day. Let’s hope the other two hens get the message soon!

There is no such thing as a gratuitous chicken photo!
There is no such thing as a gratuitous chicken photo!

May Clearances

I’m grateful that the warm weather has extended to the end of Autumn. It’s meant that I have still been able to plant some crops for spring. First I had to clear out the bed that had held the corn over summer. After our experience this year with the Scarlet Emperor beans re-growing from the previous season’s plants, I’ve decided to leave this year’s two Scarlet Emperor bean plants in the bed with the hope that they will also re-grow in summer.

The corn has been cleared and the bed has been reconditioned ready for our spring crops.
The corn has been cleared and the bed has been reconditioned ready for our spring crops.

I did buy two advanced Romanesca broccoli seedlings to give me a bit of a head start. I have also planted out two rows of Bulgarian Giant Leek seeds and put in 18 broadbean seeds. Over the coming week I will be looking out for the young shoots and hopefully I’ll find them before the snails do!

Two rows of leek seed in front of my Romanesca seedlings and broadbeans at the back.
Two rows of leek seed in front of my Romanesca seedlings and broadbeans at the back.

My seedlings are being protected from pecking by birds and or possums by a cage that I picked up at the re-cycling centre. I’ve already started putting support structures up for the broadbeans, (at the back of the photo), in this case the collapsible legs from our old camp chairs. I’m hoping they will keep the lower foliage in check as the plants grow and then I can put some strings around the poles to hold up the plants as they reach full height.

Meanwhile in the back garden TB has been planting garlic. We have lots of spinach, carrots, Jerusalem Artichokes, fennel and sorrel to use for warming winter soups. And bang on queue the first day of winter started with a drop in temperature and 14 mms of rain.



Changeover tactics

We are now hovering between the spring harvest and the summer plantings. TB has just harvested our garlic. There are not as many heads of garlic as last year – we did get a bit carried away there – but there is sufficient to get us through well into the new year.

Garlic harvest drying prior to storage.
Garlic harvest drying prior to storage.

Where the garlic was growing is where the first of our tomatoes will be planted. Although the gloss has worn off the annual Canberra tomato challenge with the news, reported in the pages of The Canberra Times, that one gardener in the suburb of Campbell, has already harvested his first bush-ripened tomato! Infamous!

We continue to harvest good quantities of peas and broadbeans. For once I’ve been picking pods of both plants frequently which has helped with maintaining the production of pods for as long a period as possible. What we are not going to eat straight away is blanched and frozen for future use. Of course our cat, not to mention one of our close friends, cannot see why we bother to eat them at all!

Can you believe that my owners actually eat these things!
Can you believe that my humans actually eat these things!

I am happy to say that my strawberries are already producing a steady amount of fruit. I enjoy being able to pick a juicy handful of strawberries to eat as I potter my way around the yard.