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!


Waking up in Autumn

It happens every year, after a summer of tending plants through stinking hot days, you wake up one day and the overnight temperature has dropped and those tomato bushes are past their best. Well that’s where it starts.

About a week ago we did decide to pull out the spent tomato vines and in the time-honoured way it has led to job after job in the garden. Once the tomatoes had gone the rest of the bed needed to be cleared of weeds. Then it was clear that the whole bed needed re-aligning to rectify some long-forgotten design decision we made years ago.

Thankfully our garden beds are not permanent, so up came the concrete block edge. Three days in and all the strawberry and sorrel plants that lived in those concrete blocks were transferred temporarily into tubs so the blocks could be re-laid. In the interim one of the chooks offered ‘assistance’ by eating the one sorrel plant remaining in the main part of the garden down to it’s roots.

Then it was off to the tip to buy a trailer load of compost. I’ll skip over the hard work of shoveling soil etc, because I was lucky enough to avoid that task. I injured my shoulder some days earlier, (the other half did an excellent job of the task).

At last we reached the fun bit, planting out. This bed now has lettuce, spinach and kale planted in it. Today the strawberries have gone back in. The sorrel, having proved such a hit with the chickens, has now gone back into the main part of the bed. Around the edge I have transplanted an allium, possibly a variety of garlic chive, whose white flowers look quite decorative. Of course the finishing touch is miles of plastic mesh and spiky sticks and tubes, which we hope may forestall chicken attack. Although we doubt it will work. 😊

PS defences were broken through, but we are retaliating with bigger and better defences.

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.

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!




Warmer winter produce

My sister lives about 400kms north of Canberra on the coast. You can tell it’s warmer there because she’s still picking passionfruit from her vine!

Leeks, lettuce, spinach and passionfruit from a warmer winter garden.
Leeks, lettuce, spinach and passionfruit from a warmer winter garden.

Indeed her passionfruit vine is the envy of the family. Even her father-in-law an extremely experienced veggie gardener is trying to work out what her secret is. As the real estate agents would say, “location, location, location”. The vine just adores growing on the east-facing garage wall with plenty of protection from hot westerly sun and winds.


Out and about

The day has come when we have finally let our chickens roam freely around our back yard. We have finally clipped their wings so they couldn’t readily fly over our fences. Now before you get upset on behalf of the ‘girls’ wing clipping is far less drastic than it sounds. There are no nerves or blood vessels in the tips of a chicken’s wing and all you need to do is cut off about 8 cm of the tips of the flight feathers on one wing. The idea is they can still fly up if threatened but they can’t fly far because they will be off balance.

Anyway having carried out this minor operation the girls are now free to get out into the garden.

"One of these chooks is not like the others ..."
“One of these chooks is not like the others …”

Here they are helping to rotovate part of our auxilliary asparagus patch. We still have to be in the yard while they are out because our garden isn’t completely fenced in.  So far they haven’t eaten anything they shouldn’t and they are having lots of fun finding all sorts of grubs to gobble.

While I was poking around the garden I noticed that where we had pulled the top out of our cos lettuce plants to feed to the chooks the lettuce plants had started re-shooting. It will be a week or so before we find out whether the new leaves can be eaten or are so bitter that we can only feed them to the chooks.

Re-shooting cos lettuce plants.
Re-shooting cos lettuce plants.


A warm breeze

This week’s sudden burst of warm weather has certainly sent everyone into a tis – and at Chez Fork we have been enjoying the pleasant weather in the garden. Even though we know that the cold weather will return we haven’t been able to stem that first sniff of spring rush of blood to the head.

We’ve been really feeling the lack of salad greens lately as some of the seedlings we planted in autumn have just sat there without putting on enough leaves for us to pick.TB has set up a tray of seeds on the heaterpad. Not suprisingly within 2-3 days most of the seeds had germinated.


 First out of the pots were the wrinkled cress (see picture below) and cos lettuce, closely followed by the chicory and buttercrunch lettuce.


The Siberian tomatoes have also sprouted, but if my memory serves me correctly we did the same last year and the plants stalled as seedlings at about 3cms high.

Speaking of tomatoes one of my siblings, who lives in slightly friendlier climes in the Hunter Valley, tells me that they have just picked the last tomatoes from their bushes. I’m pleased to say that the bushes were grown from seed that came from my favourite “Front Yard Tomato” last year.

Cut and Come Again

I’ve been bartering with work colleagues, their eggs for our veggies. Todays swap was silverbeet and leeks for a half a dozen eggs. As I was cutting the leeks I remembered the tip I learned from Sister Mechtild, the nun responsible for looking after the gardens on the program The Abbey, (which was shown on the ABC a few years ago). Sister Mechtild pointed out that if you cut the leeks off above their base, that is don’t pull them out of the ground completely, they will re-shoot and grow another edible stem. Why throw away all the energy already invested in those strong roots.

These are leeks that I’ve harvested over the past week. You can see the strong re-growth already.

Likewise when you cut the centre flower out of a broccoli  plant, the plant will go on to produce multiple side shoots all of which are edible and come in small convenient sizes for stir fries or florets that are the right size for cooking without the need for futher preparation.


This apparently scraggy specimen has been producing edible side shoots for over a month and will probably do so for another month. However, you must keep cutting the shoots to encourage more to grow before they start to flower. 

When we grow veggies for our home consumption, unless you are feeding a very large family, we do not need to grow them as if we were farmers raising a commercial crop. If you grow plants to harvest all at the same time then all you end up with is a glut of food and a storage problem. There are any number of strategies that you can try to extend the harvesting time of your veggies and the overall productivity of your garden.

I’ve found that the most useful veggies in my garden are those that you can cut and come again. That is pick a few leaves for your meal and leave the bulk of the plant in the ground to keep producing. Loose leaf lettuces, spinaches, celery all fall into this category. This is a really good principle for anyone who is thinking about what they will be planting over the coming months.

Staggered growing or sucession planting, that is planting a few seedlings each week over a period of months rather than all in one hit is definitely the way to go. I think it was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that suggested sewing a new tray of seeds before you go to plant out your seedlings to ensure that you keep the plantings going. Which reminds me that I need to plant some more beetroot seeds today!

Another approach that extends the productivity of your garden is to take a harvest of young shoots, such as garlic, broad beans or peas, while the plant is growing, before harvesting the main crop of bulbs or pods. These shoots are great to throw into stir fries or even a salad. If you want to check this out in relation to garlic shoots you can pop on over to the Guardian vodcast of Earth to Alys, where Alys Fowler (host of the UK’s Gardeners’ World) shows how to use the flowering shoots of hard-neck garlic. BTW if you check out the earliest of her vodcasts on her allotment the timing is right for spring.

First Steps

I think it is important that we don’t forget the excitement of starting on this journey of growing our own food. So I was very excited when I heard the news yesterday that one of the Fork family has just made her first Ceasar Salad with her first homegrown Cos Lettuce. I’m sure she felt a great deal of achievement with this apparently simple step. So we say congratulations and well done!