Today I am keeping busy. A friend has given me 2kgs of tangelos that I am currently making into marmalade. I have included in the mix a very few of my Australian Red Centre Limes (a cross between an acrid mandarin and an Australian Finger lime). I am not sure if there will be any impact on the flavour, my previous experience with finger limes is that they imparted a noticeable flavour to my marmalade.

My Australian Red Centre Lime is cropping well this year.

This afternoon I am cooking the fruit in two batches. The first to derive the juice and the remainder to include in the jam.

The fruit of the red centre lime.

Here it all is cooking away.

On the boil, my tangelos and limes.

Meanwhile I am preparing some toilet rolls so I can get some pea seeds started. Hopefully it’s not to late to get a crop in. I tape 3 toilet roll cores together before filling them with seed raising mix and getting the seeds underway.

On a roll, sorry about that.

Once the seeds sprout the rolls will be separated and planted individually. This way I can set up the best defenses against the ever present garden snails.

Pick for productivity!

This morning’s harvest of Alderman peas, front; and broad beans, at the back.

A quick reminder to all of us that picking the pods from our peas and beans on a regular basis encourages more flowering and more productivity.

If you don’t need to eat them straight away then pod, blanch and freeze your produce as you go. Smaller amounts are handy for one or two serves and you will be relieved that you didn’t need to spend all day processing those kilos of beans!

Return of the gardeners

It’s always with a degree of trepidation that I return to our garden after being away. While three weeks absence isn’t much, it did coincide with the first big flush of spring so the weeds are rampant and the vegetables are hard to find.

On a more positive note our two new chickens have started laying, so the daily egg count is growing nicely. A friend was looking after our tomato seedlings and they have flourished under their care.

I braved the front veggie patch this afternoon. Brave being the operative word. After half an hour of weeding I had scarcely managed to clear a metre of ground. What was more disappointing was that after that work it turned out that the purple podded peas were so spent that it actually wasn’t worth the effort to free them from the weeds.

Thankfully the shallots that I planted at either end of the bed are growing away reasonably well. I have now mulched them with sugar cane waste to see it I can slow down the ever ready weed population.

A further word on these beds that I planted out so hopefully a few months ago. You might remember that I tried out Tino Carnavale’s method of placing the seedlings near strings so the plants could readily climb to the top of their support. Sadly I have to report that for one of my beds this was almost a complete failure. Not Tino’s fault but my first qualification is don’t try this method where the plants will be effected by strong wind.

My purple Podded peas were growing away quite nicely when our spring gale force winds hit. The plants were clinging so tightly that almost all of one bed were immediately snapped off at the base. A second row of peas, planted in the shelter of the first row managed to survive somewhat better and they are starting to produce quite well. The bush peas planted nearby have just about disappeared under the weeds. However my Alderman climbing peas and my snow peas, planted in the more sheltered back garden, are podding quite well.

Probably best of all is that we are still harvesting some asparagus. Just enough to remind us what we missed out on during our holiday.

Autumn activities

We are still picking saffron flowers, over 230 so far, but now our thoughts are turning towards putting in our winter crops. Peas are the first to go in. Having successfully sown 4 varieties of seeds I’m now trying to get them all planted out into the garden.

It’s not just the digging and planting that is taking time, but I have also been wrapping copper tape around bits of pvc pipe to act as a barrier to all those snails and slugs trying to devastate my plants. My first planting was the Alderman climbing peas. I am growing them up some commercial mesh that I bought in Japan. 

Alderman pea seedlings in their snazzy copper collars

I also needed some new garden stakes, however because I always enjoy painting them interesting colours to make the garden just that bit more entertaining it took even longer to get them dry enough to use.

New garden stakes, painted and ready for action

Having gotten the stakes painted I used them in the front garden for my Purple Podded peas. I am putting in a different support here. Tying double pieces of string to the crossbeam and then securing the lower end to a stone or in this case a few small pieces of concrete. This way the growing plants can be slipped between the strings so the peas have an easy way to climb up. 

I ran out of pvc pipe to make protective collars so I have re-used some seedling pots, cutting the bottom out of them before adding the copper tape. In the background is the mulched area is where I have planted my bush peas. 

Since planting this lot I have also planted out some shallots at either end of the trellis. The shallots can be planted quite close together so it was a good use of the space left over from planting the peas.

And yes I still have to find a spot for my Snow peas!

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!




Christmas collection

In the lead up to Christmas its all ‘go’ as we change over our crops. The tomatoes are in, the beans have replaced the peas and the carrots have been selectively weeded to remove those going to seed. We are working hard to get all the seedlings out of the polyhouse and into the garden beds.

We like to collect seed from our old crops as while we are pulling out the old plants. It is a gift that keeps on giving. After 5 years of veggie gardening the bulk of our regular crops are grown from seed that we or our other gardening friends have saved.

A range of our peas and some Bulbine Lily seeds, ready for the next season.
A range of our peas and some Bulbine Lily seeds, ready for the next season.

Stripping the seed from our Red Mustard plants (Brassica juncea) turned out to be an unexpected  pleasure. The seed pods are divided in two by a fine membrane. As you split the pods the outer parts fall away leaving the membrane attached to the stem.

A partially stripped stem of Red Mustard. The full pods are to the left and the membranes are to the right in the picture.
A partially stripped stem of Red Mustard. The full pods are to the left and the membranes are to the right in the picture.

Then I had one of those ‘duh!’ moments – I was stripping mustard seeds! Just how many mustard seeds do I need for replanting? A quick search of the interweb revealed that apart from eating the leaves, which is what we grow them for, this type of mustard can be used for making mustard oil and is also known as ‘brown’ mustard. Home made mustard anyone?

Bulk mustard seeds and some kale seeds, to be dryed for mustard seed.
Bulk mustard seeds and some kale seeds, to be dryed for mustard seed.

We figure we should get a small jar of seeds from this lot. At least enough for us to get a reasonable sample of mustard. We’ll let you know how it turns out.

Changeover tactics

We are now hovering between the spring harvest and the summer plantings. TB has just harvested our garlic. There are not as many heads of garlic as last year – we did get a bit carried away there – but there is sufficient to get us through well into the new year.

Garlic harvest drying prior to storage.
Garlic harvest drying prior to storage.

Where the garlic was growing is where the first of our tomatoes will be planted. Although the gloss has worn off the annual Canberra tomato challenge with the news, reported in the pages of The Canberra Times, that one gardener in the suburb of Campbell, has already harvested his first bush-ripened tomato! Infamous!

We continue to harvest good quantities of peas and broadbeans. For once I’ve been picking pods of both plants frequently which has helped with maintaining the production of pods for as long a period as possible. What we are not going to eat straight away is blanched and frozen for future use. Of course our cat, not to mention one of our close friends, cannot see why we bother to eat them at all!

Can you believe that my owners actually eat these things!
Can you believe that my humans actually eat these things!

I am happy to say that my strawberries are already producing a steady amount of fruit. I enjoy being able to pick a juicy handful of strawberries to eat as I potter my way around the yard.

Peas Please

With spring well underway all those peas I planted out several months ago are now starting to deliver. We had our first meal incorporating them last night – TB’s version of Mapo Tofu with some peas and asparagus for added flavour.

Massey bush peas, great for a small garden.
Massey bush peas, great for a small garden.

The first out of the pod are the Massey bush pea (above) which grow lots of pods on compact bushes. They are great for a small garden.

It will only be another day or two before we start harvesting our climbing peas. This year I have planted Alderman and Purple Podded Peas.

Alderman climbing peas.
Alderman climbing peas.

The Aldermans are galloping up the wire so quickly that we’ve had to tie a rather Heath Robinson arrangement of ex-curtain trim around the top of the stakes to try and provide some more support.

I’ve planted my favourite Purple Podded climbing peas in the front garden, where their striking two tone pink and purple flowers have already been mistaken for sweet-peas by a passing neighbour.

Purple Podded Peas, both the flowers and the pods make an attractive display.
Purple Podded Peas, both the flowers and the pods make an attractive display.

I do plant some peas just for the shear pleasure of their flowers. I love the many varieties of Australian native peas, such as this Mirbelia oxyloboides. I purchased this plant from a weekend market while I was on holidays in Bairnsdale several years ago – now I wish I’d bought more.

Mirbelia oxyloboides.

These plants bring to mind a scene I experienced in Namadgi National Park many years ago. Walking along the fire trails at Mt Ginini we could see the surrounding mountain slopes covered with thousands of flowering orange pea plants – quite amazing!

A job done

It feels good to have worked in the garden today.

I started to clean up the ‘three sisters’ bed last week

Fisrt stage of the clean-up, cutting back the corn and beans
First stage of the clean-up, cutting back the corn and beans

and found some unexpected bounty among the spent plants.

A butternut pumpkin and some small cobs of blue popcorn
A butternut pumpkin and some small cobs of blue popcorn

I was going to leave what was left of the corn plants on the bed. This would have protected the scarlet runner bean plants from the frost. But then I decided it would be better for the soil if I planted another crop there instead.

So today I planted out some red mustard and komatsuna, a Japanese brassica. The bean plants are still there and we hope they will re-shoot in spring. Scarlet runner beans are also called seven year beans, a reference to their ability to grow for several seasons. So far we have only had one season from them, but this year …

A seedling red mustard
A seedling red mustard

The red colouring in this seedling will become more obvious in the mature plant. I welcome its colour in my garden. Apart from tasting very good the other reason I was keen to plant the red mustard is that as it grows it will release compounds that naturally suppress soil pests and pathogens. All the better for my garden bed ‘s next crop.

I also managed to plant out my last batch of pea seedlings. These plants are Massey Bush peas. They have been slow to germinate and I’ve had quite a few that haven’t shot at all. I think that the seed may have been a bit old. Before planting the seedlings I dug some blood and bone into the soil and found about 10 white curl grubs (larvae of Scarab beetles) which were greedily eaten by the chooks. Talk about natural pest control.

Having worked for several hours it felt good to go and relax in a hot bath.