Kale Renaissance?

At the end of summer, heading into Autumn the garden is looking pretty ratty. The kale plants are well and truly looking past their best. And yet there is some hope.

I was looking around for some greens for the chickens and was about to pull out this kale plant when I realised it had lots of new leaves sprouting at it’s base.

I took this as a positive sign and only clipped the top off the plant. The chooks are happy and I look forward to seeing if this plant will renew itself.


That’s about the only way to describe the smell in my car this morning as I drove home from the nursery with bags of compost cow manure and potting mix.

Luckily I was able to temper the odours a bit by stopping at the local coffee shop to pick up a large bucket of coffee grounds. I even had time for a cup of hot chocolate and a quick sketch. The coffee grounds will be used as a barrier to dissuade the local snails and slugs from completely destroying the lettuce and kale seedlings.

Much more pleasant was the glorious scent of the broad bean flowers, next to where the lettuce were planted out. And yes I even managed to plant out all the new seedlings and pot up my new Bay tree.

Must be the scent of spring!

On the Table

Just in case you are labouring under the misapprehension that we are living a life of hedonistic indulgence at Chez Fork I offer you last nights’ meal of hearty peasant origin – Lamb neck with lemon and barley.

The recipe is included in Hugh Fearnley-Whitiingstall’s book Rver Cottage Everyday and can also be found here. This is a really flavoursome hearty meal. What I like about it is the great combination of lemon and thyme which can really stand up to the rich lamb. The pearl barley bulks things out and the kale or other greens, in our case we used our cavalo nero and collard greens, extend the meal. Both of these greens are robust enough to take the cooking and still retain their flavour. The preparation and cooking is dead simple. If you have the time the lamb neck could benefit from a longer, slower cook, before adding your pearl barley and completing the recipe as described.

As lamb neck is one of the cheapest cuts of lamb around you should try getting a decent neck from either the farmer’s market (I paid just under $5 for 600 gms of neck from Ingelbrae Meat, Northside Farmers Market) or from a good butcher.


A Green Winter

One of the things that most surprised me when we got seriously into gardening was that you could keep growing some plants all through winter. This was because I ???knew??? that everything stopped growing in winter, duh! Well our garden is currently a picture of green. It may not be as rampantly lush as at other times of the year but it is productive.

It???s green because the predominant plants growing above ground are members of the Brassica family. Currently we have kale Cavolo Nero and also a plant of frilly Russian kale that I bought at the Farmer???s Market last weekend. I read that the various kales taste different to one another but my Russian kale is a bit small to harvest at present so the taste-off will have to come later. We also have collard greens, which are another non-heading cabbage type thingy (which are now recovering from the major Cabbage White caterpillar attack). There are also a few ???normal??? cabbages just starting to form their ???heads??? and Purple Sprouting broccoli.

In the green but not a Brassica category we have plenty of silver beet, stacks of sorrel and also the warrigal greens soldiering on. Snow peas, bush peas and broad beans are all growing happily away but apart from picking the tips out of the broad beans (good in stir fry and encourages energy to go into pod production) we won???t be harvesting anything from those for a few months. BTW those five non-starter broad beans I mentioned several weeks ago were so stung by my comments that every last one of them has now shot! So that is a 100% germination of the Aqua Dulce/Leviathon Longpod I planted.

All of these green things go into the ubiquitous Green Soup. This can be anything green in a home-made meat stock. Favourites at Chez Fork are silver beet with mashed chickpeas, broccoli soup (a bit early for that) and sorrel soup with its lovely lemon flavour.This one is silver beet and chickpea served with some yoghurt and Franquette walnuts.


Kale also goes into soups and stir fry. It is great cut fine and simmered in just enough stock to cook and then served on toast with a dash of olive oil – you can also add some fried bacon (a Maggie Beer recipe). Warrigal greens are for unbelievably good creamed spinach.

We are still harvesting our root crops planted in summer, carrots and potatoes. What is good is that they keep perfectly well in the ground here until you need them. I have had mixed success with growing parsnips. I tried direct sewing into the garden and also sewing into seedling pots. None of the direct sewn plants came up ??? I believe this was because it was difficult to keep the soil consistently moist as parsnip seed has a long germination period. I did a bit better, well three seedlings, in the pots but only one survived the transplant (it???s growing very vigorously now). However the best result I???ve had came with a suggestion from Tino at Gardening Australia to grow parsnips in pipes! Tino suggests that you use pvc pipes that are 40cm long to allow for the tap root of the plant to grow sufficiently deep. So far the germination rate has been easily over 90% and the plants seem to be coming along very well. I???m also trying two plants in an olive oil tin which is about 30 cm deep. I???d like to see if this works as the tins are rather easier to get than cutting up lengths of plastic pipe.

Parsnips on 20 April …


and … today!







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.


Garden update

More sewing of seeds has been happening this weekend. I???ve sewn the seeds of beetroot Tonda di Chioggia, the white and red-striped beetroot and also Beetroot Small Wonders. We also planted more kale Cavolo Nero and some more purple sprouting broccoli.

The snow peas that got ravaged by the overnight munching a few weeks ago are starting to put on some new growth and I’ve also direct sewn some seed in the gaps between the existing plants. The seedlings that have sprouted from the bush pea Massey have also been transplanted into their permanent bed and again additional seed direct sewn – with plenty of barrier protection this time!

If you ever questioned the existence of the Autumn flush in a Canberra garden then doubt no more. On the 1st of March I direct seeded some bush peas Massey and some broad beans Aqua Dulce into the garden. Today we actually have pods on the bush peas (check out the photo) and the broad beans are flowering (but I will not expect to get pods on these before the frosts). The intention of this planting wasn’t to harvest crops before winter but merely to get the plants into the ground and to a size where they could over winter happily but be at an ‘advanced’ stage to crop as soon as they could come spring. We are also still regularly harvesting tomatoes, but I anticipate there will be a large green tomato chutney cook-up before too long.

On the non-veggie front my first Paperwhites (jonquils) of the season have started to flower. Sadly they have to stay outside because although I love the scent to TB they smell as if they were dog droppings. Our compost heap has also been the site of an experimental nest building – well tunnel excavation for nesting purposes – by a pair of spotted pardalotes. As our cat is far too successful a bird hunter we have erected barricades to stop the birds getting chewed while digging. I must say the pardalotes are very single minded and appear oblivious to all other activity while they are digging which doesn’t improve their chances. It is yet to be seen whether the hole meets the requirement and if they can put up with us, the cat and the crows and currawongs that live in our neighbourhood.


Potted plants

I’m obviously not getting out enough these days. While visiting one of the few remaining commercial nurseries in Canberra over the weekend I was somewhat surprised to see a woman leaving with a very large potted kale (Cavolo Nero) plant. Indeed it was large enough to get a good meal off and still be a decent size plant. Further exploration revealed that for $14.95 you could also purchase well established broccoli and cauliflowers in 20 cm pots. At least brassicas should be hardy enough to survive the transplant at this size if they were well looked after. It seemed odd but really this is just a step along from selling advanced tomatoes. I had assumed that this was a clever move by the smaller nursery to keep ahead of the retail giants until my friend M said she’d just purchased some advanced Cavolo Nero, not quite as big as the nursery ones (and nowhere near as expensive), in individual pots at Bunnings. What will they think of next?

Well I can tell you that too because the next thing that hove into view were a selection of black truffle-spore impregnated oak trees! Yes you too can give an unusual present to the gourmet in your life for a mere $145. The trees I saw were Holm Oak, otherwise known as Holly Oak (Quercus ilex) one of the trees traditionally used as a host to grow truffles. You can keep these in quite large containers or even as a hedge but do be warned that according to Wikipedia they can grow up to 27 metres tall, so probably not a specimen for your courtyard garden. The producers of these trees do say that it will take several years for the truffles to be produced and that you should sniff the ground around the tree in winter so you can tell whether truffles are present. Might be hard to explain that behaviour to the neighbours!

Meanwhile at Chez Fork TB has been labouring manfully to convert last years polytunnel into this years ‘glasshouse’ (polyhouse?). TB has been suffering severe glasshouse envy ever since we visited the Stirzaker’s Open Garden?? . As you can see the structure is just about there, minus the plastic sheeting. You can guess who was responsible for the colour scheme!
TB has also done further major digging for the new beds, although we are still in some discussion over the placement of paths – all in good time. I think I’m finally getting to grips with planting a sufficient quantity of plants to provide a reasonable return. I planted out 30 broad bean seeds Aqua Dolce (otherwise known as Leviathon Longpod) an heirloom variety from the 1840s.I’m hoping for a good germination rate. The broadbeans will be the first crop to go into the new beds.