Winter pulse

Much as I would like to be sitting in a warm room there are still tasks to be carried out in our winter garden. Soft winter grasses and fleshy weeds are taking advantage of the beds my partner prepared and planted out to garlic and onions. My task has been to weed the beds, which I have done over the past week.

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There is still a bit to complete, but the worst is over and the chooks have enjoyed scratching among the weeds for fresh green pick. While the garlic has grown vigorously the onions have been overwhelmed by the weeds. Today I spent an ‘envigorating’ half hour filling in the gaps where some of the onions failed. It seems that the brown onions have fared better than the red cipollini. The gaps have been filled with more brown onions on the basis that their seedlings were the strongest available at the nursery.
One of our local magpie pairs has started collecting sticks and vegetation for nest building. While we see this as the start of the coldest part of winter these birds are looking forward to their first hatchlings of the year. Oh, and I’d better warn the postman, the magpies love to swoop him when they have young in the nest!

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Small surprises

I’ve been making inroads into the many small jobs that need to be done in the garden.  On the way I have found a few surprising things.

Firstly a tomato plant growing under the protection of one of our gum trees, the delightfully named Eucalyptus neglecta, commonly known as the Omeo mallee. I’m quite astounded that this tomato plant has grown and survived winter so far, even with the tree cover. However there is a lot of winter still to come so we will have to see whether it survives.

Self-sown tomato - will it make it to the end of winter?
Self-sown tomato – will it make it to the end of winter?

Nearby I found a seedling loquat, growing from a seed I assume a bird carried from our back neighbour’s tree. I’ve potted this plant up, rather than let it establish itself where it fell.

Seedling loquat, the seed is still visible, potted up.
Seedling loquat, the seed is still visible, potted up.

As I continued to weed around my pots of bulbs I came across some sad specimens, onions and a kale plant, that had been planted in seed trays before we went on holidays in April. Alas they had lain unfound ever since.

Some neglected onions seedlings and a small kale plant.
Some neglected onions seedlings and a small kale plant.

I found a spot for the onions in the front garden bed, after I did a clean out of the left over bean plants and several large parsley plants.

Parsley in the front garden bed.
Parsley in the front garden bed.

TB has dried all the parsley and all the onions have now found a home arrayed around my scarlet runner bean, sitting in the middle of the plot waiting to see if it will re-shoot this summer. The real question is whether the onions will actually produce bulbs or  just run to seed come spring.

Onions with a home at last.
Onions with a home at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime …

Back home its time to start getting out into the garden and thinking about spring.

TB has been sprouting onion seeds in the polyhouse so they had to be planted out in their bed. It was cold and soggy work so I’m glad he was doing it! It was also extremly fiddly work getting all those small shoots separated. To stop the cat digging them all up again TB had to resort to major barrier construction.

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I’ve been tackling a job that I neglected last year – pruning the roses. Plenty of scratches and catches but at last they are back to a strong framework. Clearing around the base of the plants and seeing how large their bases are reminds me that these plants, with one exception are all well over 20 years old. What gives me greatest pleasure is that several of them were grown from cuttings from the Parliamentary rose gardens and no I didn’t nick them. I asked the gardeners for some pieces when they were pruning and then struck the cuttings myself. My Princess Elizabeth and pink Paris roses both resulted from this process.

The good thing about clearing up the rose bed is that I can throw all the grass to the chooks who have a lovely time eating it and also scratching through any attached dirt for insects.

Chooks

I was interested to see on the Taste Le Tour segment last month the discussion of how much grazing, 10 square metres of grazing, was allowed for each of the iconic Bresse chickens to ensure the quality required for sale.The only problem with this bucolic scene is that after a few weeks these Bresse chickens are switched to a corn and dairy diet and then stuck in a dark cage to finish them off before slaughter – not so good after all!

Speaking of the Tour recipes I made this one Cherry and Hazelnut Torte when I spotted some cherries of markdown at the supermarket (I’m assuming not Australian, but who can go past a large amount of very tasty cherries marked down for immediate sale at $2). Thankfully I can report that the hazelnuts come from a local farm and were purchased at the Environment fair held earlier this year at the Environment Centre, near the National Museum of Australia.

Cherrycake

Very moist and tasty.

Autumn Digging

You may be surprised to hear that I have actually managed to get in some gardening amidst all our other recent exploits, but its plant now or have a slow start to spring. I’ve been working on the front garden bed which feels like less hard work than digging in the back garden  – a completely illusionary feeling as it turns out.

About two weeks ago I started on the least weed-infested part of the bed, clearing it to plant seeds of beetroot and purple sprouting broccoli, or PSB as I shall refer to it from here on in. By the way did you catch the latest episode of the Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain, they were in Worcestershire and everyone kept referring to the aforementioned veg as “purple sprouting” the ‘b’ word didn’t even get a mention. But I digress.

Everything is coming along quite well with only a few plants so far becoming slug snacks. I also have one tomato bush in the bed – the lone survivor of all the ones I tried to grow from seed this year. Then there was the other half of the bed….

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Thankfully TB came along and gave me a hand with digging out some of the worst of it. This ‘summer’ with all its rain has certainly bumped up the weed quotient in the garden. Not surprisingly working in the front garden attracts visitors. My first just popped in quite casually and started helping clear behind me.

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I can’t say that the second visitor, while friendly, was quite as welcome. Spotting a chance for some neighbourly interaction the Staffordshire Terrier from up the street came bounding across my newly seeded beds to get a pat. After which I decided to put some sort of structures over the beds in the hope of some degree of protection. At least at seed stage there wasn’t too much damage. In this area I’ve planted seeds of onions, Welsh bunching onions, and some Spring onions, Cimi di rapa, also called turnip greens, which are an Italian brassica very similar to broccoli, and some turnips.

I was also somewhat surprised to see that a new ‘branch’ has sprouted off last year’s Collard Greens (think of it as a loose-leaf cabbage, that’s it in the very front of the photo below) which I had saved for seed production. Apart from the seed I’ve already collected I see that it has also dropped some seeds which are spouting away nicely.

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The finished garden bed ready for winter, ta da!

 

Weeding – getting down and dirty

It’s been fairly quiet on the garden front in recent weeks, partly due to having distractions such as visitors and mostly because the cold temps and the reasonably frequent rain lately has made gardening a less than pleasant prospect. Anyhow the day has been sunny and weeding the onion bed beckoned.

This was a task that needed to be done. While it was hard to sometimes distinguish between the onions and the winter grass sprouting through them at least it was easy enough to replant the onions when I dug one up by mistake! Checking back on my notes I see that the onions were planted almost exactly two months ago. The Cream Golds currently have the sturdiest stems while the Rosa Longi di Firenze are still having a bit of a grow slow. If not much is happening above ground then at least down below there is some action. While digging out the grass, which invariably is growing right next to your onion plant, I discovered that the root systems did seen to be growing quite actively and spreading out quite a way from the slender stems. I hope this is a sign of good things to come.

As you can see from the photo there isn’t much to see after all my hard work.

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Back to the Garden

You’d be right in thinking we haven’t been in the garden much lately but on Saturday we did get stuck into some Autumn chores.

Firstly I’ve harvested all of our Blue Popcorn and most of our Strawberry Popcorn. We had hoped to leave all the cobs on the plants until they’d completely dried out but the rain last weekend has encouraged what appears to be a mildew or fungus to get into the leaves of the Strawberry Popcorn in particular. I didn’t want to risk it infecting the cobs. I’m also pleased I picked the cobs as there were a few too many earwigs and slaters falling out of the cobs as I picked them for my liking. Not a big haul by any standard but an indicator of what I’ll focus on next year. The Blue Popcorn cobs were noticeably bigger, both the ears and the individual kernels, than the Strawberry Popcorns, (in the photo Blue is on the right and Strawberry is on the left). I can also confirm that we did get some cross-fertilisation from our one stray Golden Bantam plant that got mixed up with the popcorns. There are some decidedly non-yellow kernels in this cob.We are currently planning on grinding some of our corn, particularly the cobs that remain from the Golden Bantam Sweetcorn. We may only get one meal out of it but that’s a start.

TB also picked a great many Japanese Eggplants. He’s used 1.5kgs of eggplants to make Rose’s Pressed Eggplants, a recipe from Maggie’s Harvest (Maggie Beer, Lantern, Penguin Books, 2007) of salted, pressed and dried fennel flavoured eggplants. The feral fennel was harvested from down near the Mugga Lane tip. Unfortunately for TB he discovered too late that the fennel was growing on a Bull Ants nest and he has the ugly bites to prove it. It will take several weeks to process the eggplants so he’ll have to save it for the April Grow your Own collection.

Before we went away last weekend I direct seeded some bush peas and broadbeans into one of the garden beds. Some have come up already and some have also (from what remains of their stems) been just as quickly demolished by slugs and snails. I’ve now planted my second line of defence into pots. The two varieties I’ve planted are Bush Pea Massey and Snow Peas which were saved from last year’s crop. To encourage pollination, should they get that far, I’ve also planted seeds of 6 heritage Sweet Peas. I’ve read this tip in several books so I plan to give it a go. If nothing else I’ll hopefully get some nice flowers out of it! I also spent some time this planting onion seeds, Creamgold, a brown onion, and my favourite Rosso lunga di Firenze, a long red Italian variety.

Finally we had to do some pond cleaning today. When we got back from our weekend away we discovered our largest goldfish floating upside down on the top of the pond. Vale Klim! we had had him for 10 years. He (the goldfish that is) is survived by Thorpy who we also got at the same time. We are very impressed with the longevity of these two as most domestic goldfish are lucky to survive a year or more. Indeed their other two companions Van den Hoogenband and Suzie didn’t make it for more than a few years. Oh well we’ll just have to go and buy some new swimlets to keep Thorpy company.

It turns out I’m not the only one preparing for spring. During a walk in Commonwealth Park last week I spotted these strange markings on the grass. The work of a deranged grafitti artist? or the start of Floriade preparations? – you choose. From what I could see there seemed to be stars (or perhaps pentangles) and lots of clouds. I can’t see any mention of the 2010 theme on the website. Just remember you saw it here first!

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