Random harvests

There is never a ‘right time’ to leave your garden over summer. We had taken two weeks off early in December to catch up with family and returned home to a garden that appeared definitely the worse for wear.

Because of the valiant efforts of friends and neighbours we still had something to return to. But several short very hot days had blasted  any lingering traces of November’s rains away.

The first task I chose was to start tidying up the yard. Those chick peas that I planted way too late last summer needed picking. You know what, they actually produced a crop. A whopping 23 seeds, each of which was a quarter of the size of your average bought chick pea.

chick peas
A massive chick pea harvest – not

Then there were the raspberries.They were set to be the largest crop we had ever harvested. Of course they would reach perfect ripeness the week after we went away. By the time we came back they were totally dessicated on their canes. I did not want to lose all that crop and cursed that there was no way to have picked them earlier. Then I looked at them again and realised that they had just been naturally super-dried. I tasted one, and another, they still retained that intense raspberry flavour.

raspberries
One bowl of very dried raspberries

I  picked the berries over and removed them from their stems. Thankfully this is as easy as releasing the moist ripe berries from the canes. A quick toss in a metal mesh sieve removed the remaining dry bits and the few pieces of left-behind stem. We plan to pulse them in the spice grinder and use them as a base to make raspberry ice-cream.

Next task will be harvesting the broad beans (fava beans). Most have dried in their pods and I think I’ll hang the remaining stems up to dry as well. At least we managed to harvest several bags of young beans earlier in the season and they are tucked away in the freezer.

Sadly the snails and slaters (wood lice) have once again decimated my new beans. I think I’ve planted at least 6 well-grown seedlings and a further 9 seeds after all but one plant got ring-barked at its base. I think I’ll try more seeds, but this time inter-plant them with my Golden bantam corn. The corn is in a slightly drier part of the garden. I can only hope that the new plants will have a better chance there.

On a more positive note some of our garden visitors have been enjoying themselves as we try and give our garden some much needed water. Here young magpies are playing in the front garden. I’m pleased that I decided to leave the white paper daisies to spread across the newly planted garden while the tube stock plants are still small.

magpies2
Everyone enjoys playing under the spinkler on a hot day!

 

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Here comes the sun

The hot weather has set in and we are still technically not even into summer yet. Although we are well into sprummer – the new word coined by Tim Entwisle, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, for southern Australia’s late spring / early summer season.

I got up early yesterday so I could get some planting done before the day really started hotting up.

It's Sprummer! getting ready for the gardening day.
It’s Sprummer! getting ready for the gardening day.

In fact I’d started preparation for this morning’s work, the evening before. I was planning on planting out my corn seedlings, Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour (oh the shame, we’ve had to buy seedlings in this year) and I knew the soil in the front bed is very water repellant. I spent quite a bit of time with my garden hose and a 3 pronged hoe watering and turning the top soil to get the water actually soaking in. In the end I put a fine layer of mulch over the top to help retain the soil moisture, banking on this to help the moisture spread evenly through the soil overnight.

Corn seedlings under a fine mulch with protective milk carton collars.
Corn seedlings under a fine mulch with protective milk carton collars.

It worked to a good degree, although I did see that the water still hadn’t penetrated below the top 20 cms below the surface. You can see that after planting I also put a milk carton collar around each seedling. This creates a micro climate for the plant and in this case helps channel water right down to the plant’s roots. Once the plant has grown these can be easily torn off from the base of the plant.

In the back garden I was planting the tomato seedlings that our friend M got started on before we went on holidays and which were kept alive by our house sitter. I still had to add some compost into the bed and get it watered in, but I was able to use our tank water to gravity feed the sprinkler just enough so it worked. (We have sprinkler use restrictions in the ACT as part of our permanent water restrictions).

Soaking the bed prior to planting.
Soaking the bed prior to planting.

Again the plants were lightly mulched and collared prior to watering in.

Tomato seedlings off to a good start.
Tomato seedlings off to a good start.

By the time I’d finished TB had come out and planted some eggplants and zucchini. It was very obvious that the temperature was going to be quite high so I used a piece of shade cloth to cast some protective shade for the day.

Shading the tomatoes.
Shading the tomatoes.

The chickens are also feeling the heat. Indeed it’s too hot to lay in their boxes so one of the girls has taken to laying her eggs in the grass in their wider free-ranging area.

Free-range laying in the garden.
Free-range laying in the garden.

 

In the end the temperature rose to 39 C. Thankfully today the temperature is much lower and we are having some very welcome showers of rain.

 

It’s raining again!

At last after 4 days of 40 degree heat the cycle was broken with a tremendous downpour – 25 millimetres of rain!

Raining again! 18 January 2014.
Raining again! 18 January 2014.I

If I seem somewhat delerious it’s because the last few months here have been rather on the dry side. Our biggest fall in November 2013 was 40 mls and in December 2013 our total was just 15 mls. It’s been a long time between drinks!

Havin’ a heatwave

I wouldn’t quite describe the weather as tropical, but a heatwave we are definitely having. Keeping a productive garden going when you are on your third day hovering around 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) is no easy task, particularly when we are trying to use our water responsibly.

The back garden in January, another 40 degree day to come.
The back garden in January, another 40 degree day to come.

Thankfully the drip irrigation system that TB installed before Christmas is taking care of the bulk of the veggies. However some beds still need additional watering by hand. The ‘3 sisters’ bed with its thirsty corn gets an extra 10 minutes watering every second day.

But sometimes just water isn’t enough. These tomatoes got a nasty case of sunburn.

The pale patches on these Roma tomatoes are sunburn.
The pale patches on these Roma tomatoes are sunburn.

To help the remaining tomatoes get through the hot weather I’ve put up a shade cloth barrier, which will hopefully provide enough protection for the rest of the fruit.

Not attractive but at least practical. Shadecloth barriers to protect our tomatoes
Not attractive but at least practical. Shadecloth barriers to protect our tomatoes

It’s not just the veggies that need extra care. We are letting the chooks out to forage in the cool morning air, while we enjoy the garden eating breakfast in the shade of our Japanese maple.

Three free-ranging chickens
Three free-ranging chickens

Like us the chickens are not fans of hot weather. They spend the hottest part of the day lying in their specially dug hollows underneath the hen house. To help them feel a bit cooler we are also giving them cooked veggie mash straight from the fridge.

Cooling veggie mash is a welcome treat.
Cooling veggie mash is a welcome treat.

It must be working because the girls are still laying despite the heat.

Our resident brushtail possum has been helping itself to the leaves of our young beetroot plants. I found this converted double birdcage – designed to protect your plants – at the tip shop this week. It’s enough to let the plants regrow their leaves and the possum can still get to eat other leaves in the meantime.

Possum protection for our beetroot.
Possum protection for our beetroot.