Summer Summary

Well here we are into Autumn at last and a week of days over 30° C has been forecast. This is the pattern of recent  years. Our summer results have been influenced this year by the time we spent away from the garden as much as anything else.

To start where my last post finished off, the final number of roosters we gained from our intake of 5 chicks was 3.


We have eaten two of the roosters so far and are saving the last one, in the freezer, for a forthcoming dinner. The birds tasted very good, as we expected, but as they all had a large dose of game-bird genes they dressed out with the longest drumsticks I’ve ever seen.


Speaking of salads we have had a bumper crop of roma tomatoes this year. For once we broke the Canberra tomato rule (only plant after Melbourne Cup day) and this worked in our favour. We didn’t quite get toms for Christmas but we did have them a week later. Sadly my open air tomato drying was a complete failure. The day I took the photo heralded a wet and cool period that was lasted more than a week (quite a common experience this past season). Even with trying to dry the tomatoes by fan inside, they soon collapsed into a very furry mess.

Just after Christmas I planted out my second batch of tomato seedlings. The variety is Soldacki (bought several years ago from Cornucopia Seeds, although the seeds are not included in their current offerings). This is a Polish variety, meant to do well in cooler climates. The plants are powering away and we have plenty of fruit coming along, but nothing to taste as yet.

As always growing out punnets of lettuce seedlings has kept a steady flow of greens for salads, along with our regular herbs such as basil and nasturtium leaves.

What has been  bumper this year is our fruit crops. The apricot fruit set on our tree was good, although like many trees I heard of, the fruit was small and really long in ripening.

Apricot dessert

We generally harvest apricots around Christmas and nectarines at the end of January. This year we didn’t pick the apricots until mid-January and the nectarines came along in February. The apricots were remained small in size but made up for it in flavour.

The nectarines came in a rush. It was a bumper crop this summer, but the fruit only started to ripen days before we were due to visit family interstate. It was all hands to the dehydrator to deal with the bulk of the crop. I did stew about 2kgs of fruit down, but that barely made a dent in the proceedings. I do have two large bags of dried fruit.

Our legumes were a let down, with the exception of our ever reliable broad beans.

Broad bean harvest

I managed to get a tiny crop of purple-podded peas, enough for one and a half meals! Every bush or climbing bean that managed to get out of the ground was immediately ring-barked by slaters or chewed right off by snails.

The one area that has improved markedly over summer is our rennovated front garden.

Early December and the white paper daisies dominate the new garden

It’s been a lot of work doing weeding and mulching, limited as I was by my dodgy knee. Tackling the project a few metres at a time worked. Today things are looking much better, the weeds are few and far between. I cut back the paper daisies afew weeks ago to give the other plantings a chance.

One of the stars of the new plantings has been Brachyscome ‘Pacific Sun’, a yellow version of the familiar blue flowers.
Over time we will continue to nurture out grassland plants with a view to providing food sources and homes for insects and small reptiles.

Meanwhile …back at Chez Fork

I know I’ve been rather slack when it comes to posting lately, of course lots has been happening in the garden. I was thrilled when our tomatoes finally started ripening and now they are in steady production.

One of the major blips in this years garden program has been the total failure of us to harvest our nectarines. I couldn’t believe that I would miss picking the fruit I’ve been watching ripen over the past month, but miss it I did. When I thought about it, two weekends ago, TB went to the tree only to report that all the fruit had fallen on the ground. All I can say is that I hope the chickens had a good feed so the fruit wasn’t completely wasted!

On a more positive note I have at last found a use for my lovage plant. Lovage,  Levisticum officinale, is a perennial herb, which in flavour is like a very intense version of celery.

Lovage leaves on the chopping board
Lovage leaves on the chopping board

Like a number of plants in my garden I put the lovage in without giving much thought to its use. Its leaves can be used to flavour stews and other hearty winter dishes and I have also read that its seeds are used as a flavouring in southern mediteranean countries. Trixie Pin has a beautiful recipe for a savoury celery and cheese shortbread which I adapted by substituting the lovage leaves for the celery. Just lessen the amount of lovage you use as the flavour is quite strong and could easily overpower the shortbread.

Lovage and cheese shortbread, just about to go into the oven.
Lovage and cheese shortbread, just about to go into the oven.

OK so it wasn’t my best month – I forgot to take a photo of the finished shortbreads because I was packing them to take to a friend’s place the same day. Suffice to say they didn’t remain uneaten for long. I’ve since found out that the shortbread can keep for several weeks in an airtight container. This came about because we’ve just found the remaining shortbread that I’d left for home consumption in a tin that got put to one side and then forgotten. Perhaps not the best way to find out but they were still very tasty and there have been no side effects – which may be due to the lovage’s reported antiseptic properties!

Enjoy the moments

Enjoy the moments when you pick off your ripe fruits and vegetables, knowing that you have maintained a long and noble tradition of growing healthy, delicious, homegrown produce. – Owen Pidgeon, Canberra Times, 12 February 2014

Owen’s words were a timely reminder to put aside worries and enjoy the results of our garden labours. The day his comments were published I was harvesting my nectarines, well half a trees worth. I used most of them for dried fruit and stewed up the small amount remaining for more immediate consumption.

Nectarines picked and ready to be cut into quarters for drying.
Nectarines picked and ready to be cut into quarters for drying.

While we were sitting cutting up the nectarines friend M dropped by. She’d just been to her mother-in-laws garden to harvest tomatoes. M has taken over several garden beds at the MILs to grow larger crops than her own small space will allow.What she had grown was an Australian heirloom tomato called a Palmwood. These are a climbing tomato, which M tells us have grown taller than the largest commercial garden stakes she could buy.

The fruit is long and tapered, growing to about 12-15 cms in length. They certainly looked different to any tomatoes we’d seen previously. These are a paste-style tomato and are good for slicing as well as cooking. If you are interested the seeds can be purchased through Eden Seeds.

Palmwood tomatoes, an Australian heirloom variety.
Palmwood tomatoes, an Australian heirloom variety.

The day before Spring

Here we are, the last afternoon before the official start of spring. The broadbeans have grown up beyond their third string and my nectarine is bursting into flower.

Braodbeans and nectarines, 31 August 2013
Broadbeans and nectarines, 31 August 2013

On the food front today, we are preparing for our regular food night with friends. The theme this time is food from our childhood. I opted for easy to make Chocolate Crackles, with some adult additions of  dried blueberries and a topping of dark and white Lindt chocolate (a la the Republic Cafe, on Alinga St, but not quite as stylish).

Chocolate Crackles for adults.
Chocolate Crackles for adults.

When I thought about it I realised that this was probably the first food I ever made as a child. Of course Mum handled melting the copha and putting the mix into the patty pans, but I definitely did some stirring. If you would like to take a trip down the nostalgia road you’ll be happy to know that the recipe is still included on the packet of copha. Come to think of it did/does anyone use copha for anything but Chocolate Crackles?

Soft Fruit

If you were in any doubt before I think we can all agree now that we can have too much of a ‘good thing’ – in this case rain – as much of Queensland, Victoria and a fair bit of the Eastern coast can testify!

It certainly hasn’t helped our fruit crops either. First we managed to harvest 1 apricot. To quote my old gardening book “Apricots do well when spring and summer are dry …”. The apricot was having one of its quiet years so there wasn’t a mass of fruit to worry about. We actually got the net on the tree before the birds ate everything and then it started to rain. Too much rain as it turned out. The fruit began to split and literally rotted on the tree. In the event we picked and shared the one ripe piece of fruit between us.

Last week I harvested my nectarines. Given the proclivity of the local sulphur crested cockatoos to demolish the fruit just before it ripens, it too had been netted at the first sign of avian interest. Given the disappointment over the apricots I was happy to take a photo of my small but useful harvest of nectarines.


Again not a big harvest but enough to add to the homemade breakfast cereal. Three drying trays worth.


The weather was perfect for drying over 36 degrees C and those westerly winds blowing as they do to mark the real onset of summer. Off they went to the polyhouse and all was well until we got 100 mm of rain from Wednesday evening to the weekend. But when I went to check on the progress of my fruit today …


There was no one else to blame but moi! Given that I was languishing inside in front of the fan complaining about the humidity I’m not sure why it never dawned on me to see whether the nectarines felt the same way.

It’s a bit hard to go back to the drawing board with the fruit. This morning I went down and stripped the last dozen or so fruit from the tree and they are currently drying inside my oven. Who knows I might get enough for one batch of cereal.


PS there was also another casualty associated with the nectarine harvest. I managed to stand on my blueberry bush (which is quite small). It didn’t survive the impact. So now we are down another plant.

Dried and Leathery

After the aerial assault on my nectarine tree the cockatoos scouted for other opportunities and soon found my neighbours’ plum tree. She also took drastic action and picked all the remaining fruit off the tree. Apart from sharing it with her family we also received two shopping bags full of extremely tasty plums. You may recall that we have already made apricot, strawberry and blackberry jam this season, along with nectarine chutney. Somehow the thought of more jam just wasn’t so appealing.

Thankfully I’d just read Christie over at Home Grown , another Grow Your Own entrant, who inspired us to make plum leather instead. Yummo, not to mention dead simple to make.The recipe details are on Christie’s 8 January 2010 post. You can see our before and after photos below that the colour change was quite dramatic.

In the excitement of going out for even more blackberries (another 3 kgs) on the weekend I didn’t check my nectarine tree until Monday morning when I discovered that about a third of the fruit had already fallen on the ground, making a lovely meals for my arch nemeses the slugs and slaters. While they were distracted I picked what was left on the tree, about 3 kgs worth. Ditto the above re jam. This time I decided to just dry the fruit. This is so simple and TB already had the dryer out (he made it himself after our commercial one died). All I needed to do was cut the fruit in half, remove the stone and place it on the racks. As we’d only just had a big rainstorm even the skin was clean. We don’t do anything to the fruit other than dry it.

Our new dryer is a large cedar box with racks that can take five large fly mesh trays. The heat source is one of those trusty old electric fry pans with a thermostat. Even after one day of drying we’ve had a fair bit of shrinkage. It will be a few days yet before we get to the fully dry version like last year’s crop. They may not be pretty but these dried nectarines are great in my muesli or used in slices and cakes.


Air superiority

When Variegated and I were dyeing (fabric that is) in the backyard last week we could hear a regular plopping sound. After some investigation we worked out it was the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos munching into my Kurrajong tree’s pods. They eat the seeds and then drop the leftovers onto the ground. Should the pods have survived to maturity I could also have eaten them, fresh or roasted, having first removed the hairs from the seeds. There seem to be a few pods hanging low in the tree that the cockies can’t reach so I may get to try these native seeds a bit later in the year.

That was all well and good but this changed on Sunday when TB called me to the window to see what was happening in the back yard. At first I thought he was just pointing out the cocky hanging upside down on the power line. But no, it was the team of cockies determindly stripping all the almost ripe fruits of my nectarine tree. We quickly got the net over the tree which stopped the damage. Unfortunately there was already plenty of fruit on the ground. The birds had also broken one of the branches off along with 1kg of fruit. I was able to retrieve the situation by making a batch of Nectarine Chutney, recipe courtesy of Stephanie Alexanders’ Cooks Companion.