Getting Ready for Winter

Call that a beetroot!
Call that a beetroot!

Well we’re still waiting for the onset of the cold weather, but in the interim there’s been lots of preparation of new crops. Our broad beans, garlic and carrots have been planted and seeds of broccoli and turnips are sprouting in the polyhouse.

The carrot bed is prepared with very thorough weeding, on the left; and a covering of hessian to maintain an even moisture level, on the left.
The carrot bed is prepared with very thorough weeding, on the left; and a covering of hessian to maintain the even moisture level that is needed for the seeds to germinate.

We are leaving our pumpkins on the vines until the frosts start.

Butternut pumpkins waiting for harvest

There are still plenty of veggies to be harvested. A quick whip around the plants we were tidying up yielded this haul of zucchini’s, potatoes, eggplants and warrigal greens.

veggie harvest
What we found when cleaning out the last of the summer crops

Dinner that night was a cheesy vegetable bake, stuffed zucchini flowers and roasted potatoes.

Straight from the garden onto the plate.
Straight from the garden onto the plate.

Marrow Madness

It is the time of year when marrows run amok. Just about everything in the cucurbit family – this includes, marrows, zucchinis, squash, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers and chokos – is currently attempting world domination one suburban garden at a time.

It’s a small compensation that at last our zucchinis have exhausted themselves for this year at least. The last zucchini zeppelins are being dried, even as we speak, into tasty rounds to eat with dips.

A recent visit to Variegated’s garden revealed a butternut pumpkin simultaneously scrambling over the courtyard garden fence into the great beyond as well as climbing up the verandah stairs. Our pumpkins are somewhat more restrained but there is no stopping our Spaghetti Squash or our Trombone Marrows. One of our Spaghetti Squashes managed to grow a fruit right between the stems of a nearby rose bush – ouch! We’ll have to cut both to get the fruit out.

In mid-December we received a bonus pack of Little Trombone Marrow seeds. These were planted out into the front garden and have proceeded to rampage across the pumpkins already growing in the bed next to it. I’m not sure whether the fruit will have time to grow to maturity but I’m hoping so. The almost complete circular shape of the Little Trombone fruit is very familiar and reminds me of a variety that my grandparents grew, which I knew by the name of a grammer. My Grandma’s grammer pie (a dessert pie) is something I recall with great fondness from my childhood – particularly because the hot pie was often served with a splash of milk and a sprinkling of sugar.

Per usual our ‘self-sewn’ pumpkins are doing far better than anything planned and planted. Our current self-sewn appears to be one of the Red Kuri’s we grew last year – although this one is really yellow. Maybe it cross pollinated with something else or perhaps it will still change colour. I’m not sure. Here’s hoping it too ripens before the first frost.


Trial and error

Oh dear, several of my recent garden trials have gone somewhat pear-shaped lately.

The most obvious of these was the pumpkin pruning. I returned home to find that my pruning trial had been, as the saying goes, terminated with extreme prejudice. To be blunt no pumpkin was in evidence, gone, disappeared, nada. I can only guess that it got knocked off by the hose as it was pulled past the garden corner it was sitting on. I won’t be asking my neighbour who was kindly watering my garden when we were away as I may need to call on her for help in the future. I’ll have to try Monty Don’s suggestion (The Ivington Diaries, Bloomsbury Publishing 2009), of using his childrens spare cricket stumps on the corners of garden beds to stop the hose demolishing plants on the edges of garden.

Well the corn may be as high as an elephants eye, but the cobs are somewhat less than impressive. Those kernels that have been fertilised are very moist and tasty but they are in the minority as you can see from the picture. Thankfully subsequent cobs have had a greater number of kernels develop fully.

While I was trying to find out if there was any way of improving the fertilisation of the corn I came across the University of Illinois extension services website who, if nothing else provided this somewhat useful bit of trivia. Sweet corn may be divided into three distinct types according to genetic background: normal sugary (SU) which is where our Golden Bantam fits in, sugary enhancer (SE) and supersweet (Sh2). Details on some of the varieties that fit into these categories can be found at their website. I’m not surprised, but also not impressed that corn is being developed with increasing sweetness – I think its rather overdoing it.

We are still waiting for the pop corn varieties to ripen. Their cobs however are far more numerous than those of the sweet corn as well as being quite a bit smaller. However we may yet fall foul of Uni of Illinois dire warnings about cross fertilisation as we have a rogue Golden Bantam plant currently flowering amidst our pop corns.

I’m starting to believe that enthusiastic posting is the death knell for any plant mentioned. This could seriously limit my topics of conversation on this blog. No sooner have I said encouraging things about my broad beans soldiering on beyond their normal growing time than we had two weeks of really ugly hot weather and the poor remaining plants started curling up their toes. I also was a bit too enthusiastic with sprucing up the soil around their roots and probably disturbed them which didn’t help either. Several, which are being protected by the corn, are still hanging in there. Dare I hope?

The Borlotti beans haven’t fared much better. For once eating them while they were young and were tender enough to be treated like string beans meant we did have several feeds before they too started to whither and die. For them I suspect it was the hot weather in combination with a virus in the soil. It was probably not a good idea to plant them in the same place where we had beans gorwing last year.


The gentle art of pumpkin pruning

No it’s not a touch too much of the sun, I really have been out pruning my pumpkins. This is something new for me too. Pumpkin pruning is intended to direct growth into the fruit of the pumpkin, as opposed to encouraging those tendrils and runners which are prone to rapidly take over your back garden.

Last year we had the lushest pumpkin vine in the suburb but no pumpkins. The problem was ‘rank growth’, what a wonderful term. Basically the plants were too well fed and spent their time growing leaves rather than fruit. The only pumpkin that produced was one of the self sown ones which was subsisting on a much more meagre diet.

First step is to look at your pumpkin plant, which may mean sticking your head under the leaves to see if you can spot a female flower with a young fruit forming underneath. These can be as small as about 1 cm in diameter so you may need to look hard (check out the first photo). Having identified said fruit you then cut off everything growing beyond this point (photo 2). With any luck this should encourage your plant to make a bigger fruit faster. My last pic is one of the fruits on my Table King Acorn pumpkin (photo3). This fruit is about the size of a grapefruit and when I pruned the stem about a week ago it was about the size of a golf ball. TB is skeptical about this being due to the pruning, but I disagree and besides which I can’t be bothered leaving a ‘control’ plant, unpruned to see if there is any difference. I selected this variety of pumpkin as it was described as a compact bushy plant. After spending last season tripping over vines and being scratched by their rough stems – don’t stand on the stem or you will kill anything growing after where you stood – I decided that these were the magic words. So far they seem to be producing the goods, although some of the early fruits did go yellow and perish. The seed catalogue says to expect up to eight fruits per plant.

Yesterday I cooked one of our starter zeppelins into delicious zucchini fritters. The recipe, Zucchini fritters with dill comes from Greg Malouf, via the SBS food website ( As I had just about every herb under the sun except dill I used tarragon instead. They still tasted great. I’ll be having some cold for lunch today. Last Friday in the office there was a flurry of excitement as one of our team bought in her zucchini recipes to share with those of us in need of saving from the zucchini over production. Sadly my best source of zucchini recipes has just de-camped on a 12 day cruise in the Pacific so I will be bereft of their counsel until the end of the month – I hope I can cope with the glut until then!