Early one morning

Not much beats the enjoyment of taking a stroll around the garden early in the day. It was a bit foggy this morning and everything was fresh from a bit of overnight rain.

Looking down the garden to the last of the nectarine blossom and a rampant green manure patch. In the fore ground a corner of the new mosaic border for the strawberry patch.

Spring_garden

The chooks pottering around their pen.

Chooks

The first potatoes growing out of the potato stack.

Potatoes

The Japanese maple unfurling its new leaves against the grey sky.

Maple

Last years kale on their ‘walking stick’ legs, going to flower and soon to make way for new plants.

Kale

Encouragement for new veggie growers – pots of seeds being planted ready for the school fete.

Seedlings

 

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Forward Planning

My friends have just moved to a new home which does not have much in the way of a garden, except for lawn, some undistinguished shrubs and a photinia hedge around the back yard (not my favourite plant). On the plus side this does mean that they are not too distressed at changing what is currently there to a new design that will include raised veggie beds, a pergola and a small orchard.

Planning

A design concept from the youngest member of the family.

Before they moved they did at least have sufficient time to transplant some of their prized asparagus plants to the new garden. The asparagus is already taking advantage of their warm northerly aspect and are pushing their spears up out of the ground. Envy, envy, envy. I don’t expect to see our asparagus for the better part of a month yet.

Back at Chez Fork we are also shifting and renewing garden beds. So what’s new? With the Palais des Poules in place we’ve lost several square metres where we used to grow vegs. Next to the chook pen TB has built a mound to grow pumpkins. The aim is to encourage the pumpkins to grow up a trellise (not yet in place) along the western end of the chook pen. Hopefully the chooks will get some shade and the pumpkins will be marginally more constrained than they are most years.

Pumpkin_mound

We have just taken a delivery from Eden Seeds including a new pumpkin for us Styrian Hull-less, the latter referring to its ability to grow good pepitas. We also have two varities of tomatoes to try Lecase di Apulia: a plum shaped red fruit to 50mm, Italian drying type, small bush plants. We like having lots of tomatoes for saucing and pulping. The second is Thai Pink Egg: jade-pink egg shaped fruit to 40mm use fresh and in salads, sweet firm flesh, incredibly prolific, resists cracking even in heavy rain areas.

Springseeds

After last summer’s drenching rains when we lost almost all of our Black Krims to splitting, a plant that resists cracking seems a good idea.

Finding room to grow potatoes is a perennial question for us. A crop large enough to provide a year long supply takse up a lot of space.  We’ve considered getting a plot at a community garden solely to grow potatoes. We already have one lot spuds growing in the giant purple pot, from which we got several kilos of spuds earlier this year.

Potato_stack

Growing up is definitely the way to go so TB made a cylinder out of large chicken wire, supported by several stakes. He then started layering it with compost, straw and some blood and bone, adding potatoes as he went. I’m told that there are three layers of potatoes in here already. Of course it will all settle down over time so more layers and more spuds will be added in the coming weeks. This must be a good idea as they showed how to make one on Gardening Australia last night!

 

 

Getting the Garden Ready

We are preparing the garden for spring. The heavy work has fallen to TB as I have injured my knee.  TB has been busy transplanting self-sewn lettuces from the front garden to a space in a recently cleared bed at the back of the house.

Lettuces

Transplanted lettuces

The Purple Podded Peas in the front yard are well out of the ground but will take a few more weeks before they get a real move on.

Peasjunefront

Purple Podded Peas

We currently have started 3 lots of peas (Greenfeast) and snowpeas sprouting in the polyhouse.

Peas

Peas in the polyhouse

This year we have bought in some new seed potatoes, King Edwards (foreground) and Pink Fir Apples (rear) to improve our yield and hopefully avoid viruses that might be lurking in our previous years spuds. The potatoes have been set out to chit, that is to encourage them to sprout prior to planting. Being left in the light will encourage the plants to shoot. I did see a recent suggestion that you should remove all but one of the strongest shoots to encourage a strong plant. I’ll have to give it a try.

Potatoes

Potatoes chitting in the polyhouse.

Of course if you forget about your potatoes, as we did with these forgotten in the bottom of the fridge in the shed, you can grow a fair facsimile of a coral reef!

Potatoereef1Potatoereef2

 

A purple pot of potatoes

Last year we bought a very large, very purple plastic pot from the tip shop. Its ultimate fate is to be a home for one of our citrus trees, but they are all still too small to warrant a move to a pot this size. So the pot has sat untouched until a few weeks ago.

To be honest the colour was pretty confronting when we bought the pot (nothing that another coat of paint couldn’t fix) but we’ve rather grown fond of it over time. Indeed the colour actually contrasts very nicely with the lush greens of the veggie garden.

I recently found a use for the pot when I uncovered these unbelieveably skanky potatoes, dug up earlier in the year from our garden and then forgotten. I know that the pundits recommend starting each potato crop with fresh seed potatoes, but my inner Scot got the better of me and I decided to rescue these long suffering spuds.

Skankypotatoes

I think some are Pink Eyes and I’m not sure about the others – possibly Bismarcks.

Potato1

As the pot is quite deep I decided to plant the potatoes in the very bottom of the pot and then build up the layers of soil and straw as the plants grow. The idea is that the more the stems are covered the greater the number of potatoes the plants should produce.

It is quite popular to grow potatoes this way in a stack of old tyres filled with soil, adding a new tyre as the plant grows. However I read an article in Organic Gardener magazine some time ago (sorry I can’t find the specific reference at present), that suggested re-considering this approach as there was an indication of the tyre compounds leaching out or breaking down into the soil. Neither nice or healthy.

Potato2

As you can see it wasn’t long before my dodgy spuds responded to a bit of attention and started to shoot through the first layer of soil and straw.

Potato3

And then they really took off!

Potato4

This photo was taken about wo weeks ago and I will need to apply a final layer very soon as the plants are now well about the rim of the pot. The true test of this experiment will come once we finally harvest these spuds to see whether we just grew a good crop of leaves or a great crop of potatoes. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Sunday Lunch

At this time of the year there are plenty of ‘social’ events happening out there, but to my mind catching up with family and close friends is the best. This weekend my cousins’ family came over for lunch.

TB wanted to concentrate on using our own garden produce so with that in mind we started looking at what was to hand. At first it seemed that there wasn’t much to offer (unless you wanted to eat broad beans!), so TB started on different veggie ideas. We also took into account what was in our freezer so a blackberry pie using the last of this year’s crop was an easy choice.

The freezer also yielded spinach for creamed spinach and some horseradish.The latter was used, along with some cooked apple to make a tasty sauce for our corned meat, which had come from my sister’s beef cattle.

We had garlic that was picked during the week so that went into the roasting pan.

Garlic

We were thinking about other sides to go with the meat and and with a quick ‘bandicoot’ into some of our styrofoam boxes we came up with some new season Dutch Creams and Pink Eyes.

Potatoes

Rather than roast them we decided to make a potato salad with wilted sorrel, just about my favourite easy salad recipe courtesy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. TB also made an onion tart, using up the last of our Yondover goats cheese as part of an entree platter.

Onion_tart

However his greatest stroke of genius came when he remembered all those zucchinis flowering away in the back garden.

Zucciniflowers

Stuffed with some mince and herbs and then deep-fried they made a great contribution to the platter for starters.

Zflower_fry

Well as you might imagine we were all rather full by the time we ate all of of this. While the adults rested with a drink in the shady part of the garden, the youngest family member found some yummy raspberries to eat and was distracted by looking around the garden to find where the cat was sleeping.

All in all an excellent day was had by us all – and we didn’t need to eat for a long time afterwards!

 

Spring is here, spring is here!

Well technically spring arrives this coming Thursday, but I think that, given the amazing displays of blossom driven by the warm weather of the past week, we can safely say that spring is defininitely a happening thing.

Already the garden is picking up. Our plants are not only starting to visibly increase in size, but their colour is absolutely glowing. Our snow peas are a case in point.

Snowpeas

The polyhouse is powering on now that we have moved it. Indeed we keep having to leave the door open during the day as the temperature can easily get up to the mid 30’s. Here are our seedlings and styrofaom tubs of potatoes, in the foreground and baby bok choy at the far end.

Inner_poly

Even though we have a large garden area I think that gardening in styrofoam boxes are a very useful adjunct to any veggie growing concern. Our potatoes are a case in point. These ones were planted several weeks ago and now they are already up and growing. We expect to harvest these in November, at least a month and a half before anything will come out of our ground potato plot. While we will not get a massive crop we did pick several kilos when we cleared out three boxes potatoes earlier in the year. Enough for several feeds for us.

Potato_shoots

The bok choy is currently sitting outside in the sun. As you can see one box will readily grow four healthy plants.

Bokchoy

If you get some deep stryofoam boxes you can fill them with some decent potting mix and use them to grow herbs, lettuces, or even some of those potatoes reaching out from the bottom of your cupboard.

In the Mix

You’d probably think that with the onset of winter we would be settling down inside our warm house with some interesting garden reading – but TB isn’t having a bar of that! Last weekend it was out with the wheelbarrow and rake and off for a short walk to a nearby park to collect leaves for our compost heap.

Canberra’s urban parks provide an almost endless bounty of fallen leaves, and often as an added bonus piles of grass cuttings, that are there just waiting to be collected. Think of it as a community service! Several large bags of leaves later we returned home ready to employ that most useful pieces of garden equipment, the lawn mower, to cut our leaves and a big pile of dead plants and weeds into smaller pieces suitable for compost pile building. We also added lots of veggie scraps from the work kitchen (which produces 5-6 kilos of compost each week), some pelletised chook poo, blood and bone and potash. When completed we had a pile of just over a cubic metre. Just what we need to get some good compost ready for the spring garden.

While TB was building the pile I was busy cleaning up and harvesting some water chestnuts. Eash year we grow these plants as an annual saving some corms each winter and storing them over winter (in water in a container in our fridge).

The first step is to turn out the large plastic tub they grow in.

Wchestpot

Then slowly pick through the soil and pick out all the little corms.

Wchesttrug

Our harvest this year was no where near as agood as last years. We think this is due in part to the overall cooler summer temperatures and to some degree of not feeding them regularly (TB was much better about this last year).

I also picked through our styrofoam boxes of potatoes, almost our last to be harvested, and came up with quite a decent amount.

Potatoes

With such fresh potatoes to play with we decided to have some sorrel and potato salad with our dinner. Having planted two small pots of sorrel when we first started the garden we now have a year round supply. Its slight lemony flavour is great in soups and with scrambled eggs. As it is a perennial plant you need to place it where it can grow happily away without being distrubed.

This recipe came from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and is dead simple. Scrub your potatoes, cut them to your preferred eating size, then cook them (steam or boil it doesn’t really matter). In the mean time rinse your sorrel leaves to remove grit and anything else from the garden, cut out the central rib, which can be very stringy, and cut the remaining leaves into broad ribbons. When the potatoes are cooked drain the water and return the potatoes to the hot saucepan, add several knobs of butter and the sorrel leaves. Put the lid back on the saucepan and swirl everything around to mix. Leave it for about 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Potatosalad

Showtime

It’s Thursday morning and at 6.30 am I’m out digging up a raft of potatoes for my produce entry at the Canberra Show. Insane I know, but with friends over the night before I didn’t get a chance to do this in advance. I had three potato entries so that was a lot of spuds to be dug. Presentation also requires the potatoes are brushed – not washed – to avoid damage to the skin. So there I was nail brush in hand, brushing, brushing, brushing.

Potatodig

Then the green tomatoes and the zucchinis. Bugger one of my tomatoes has been chewed by a vindictive snail so a big hunt around for another set of 3 to enter (most produce entries are done in multiples). Off with the stems. The zepellins are easy to get off the bush the struggle is to carry them inside. Unfortunately some scratches on their skins will detract from my chances.

All bagged up and ready to go, only two and a half hours later!

Showproduce

It was a busy time once I got to the Fitzroy Pavillion, all the more so because my entry form got lost in the mail. Thankfully the stewards were very relaxed and I only had to fill the form out again. Other stewards were on hand to show us newbies how to set up. Done and dusted with 10 minutes before closing time. Phew!

Its Friday night and TB and I are approaching the produce display. TB will tell you I am a tad competitive (well a lot really) so it was with a sinking heart that I looked at my entries, none of which were bearing that small coloured card. Where is that collection of potatoes, 3 distinct kinds?

Prize

THAT WOULD BE THE ONE WITH THE SECOND PRIZE!!!!

 

Sulking Solanaceae

I find it hard to believe that after all this time I have two, yes two only, green tomatoes on my plants. Like many other people have found this year the relatively cool and wet weather has put a decided dampener of the tomato crop. And my eggplants aren’t doing much better.

Of course our limited success is due to the fact that we have been trying to grow our tomatoes and eggplants from seed. So far I think we’ve sewn each crop three times. My success rate? one tomato plant about 25 cm high. The rest have never made it much past the two leaf stage. More pragmatic friends just went out and bought their plants. We were finally saved by M who gave us a supply of her self-sewn seedlings.

As for the eggplants we did end up having to buy seedlings to supplement the few heirlooms I managed to get into the garden bed and growing. All appeared to be going well until earlier this week when I discovered that all my remaining heirloom seedlings had been gobbed by snails and slugs AGAIN!!!! Alright I’m taking long, slow, deep breaths.

The one bright spot on the Solanum scene are our potatoes. We haven’t done a full harvest yet, just the odd tuber bandicooted from the end of the row but the results are promising. So far we’ve picked Red Norlands and Dutch Creams. We have yet to dig for King Edwards, Bismarcks and Pink Eyes (“you know they have marvellous topical creams for that these days”). Once we have cleared these away we will be putting the ground aside as the location for our new chook shed! Now that’s something to look forward to.

Potato Post

Well two milestones to mention this week …

Our dam levels are now past 60% WOO, HOO! If this doesn’t move you then you haven’t been on water restrictions for the past 10 years! According to one of our more weather-minded friends the dams haven’t been this high since 2006. The ACT government is discussing easing back on water restrictions, but I hope they don’t go too crazy as I think it has been a not bad thing that local residents have actually had to think seriously about our water supply rather than go on with business as usual.

On a more personal note the blog has passed its 5,000 site visit! So thank you very much to all my regular readers and hello to the visitors who’ve been dropping by in recent times.

Back to the important stuff. We’ve finally got organised and ordered our seedling potatoes for this year. We left it somewhat late so we’ve missed out on the Dutch Creams. However that does leave the way open to try some other varieties. Per usual we’ve gone with The Lost Seed for our supplies. We’ve selected Bismarck, Pink Eyes and Red Norlands. I think we’ve grown a few Pink Eyes before but the other two are new to me. I also snuck in an order for Purple Podded Peas which are supposed to be both an eating variety and one that can be keept as died peas for winter use. Somehow we’ve never managed to keep our peas beyond the fresh eating stage!

TB is lining up to start his tomato seeds on the heater mat, which we did at this time last year, to get some seedlings off to a good start for the Christmas tomato race. I see that in the ‘new in August’ section of their catalogue that The Lost Seed are offering some 10 varieties of tomato … maybe I need to put in another order. I’ll definitely be growing the seed from my ‘front garden’ tomatoes again this year. I’m not sure whether they are a Roma or an Amish paste or a cross of both but boy did they produce well, particularly at the end of the season for us last year.