This year we have grown some raspberries! Yes, we are still surprised that we get any fruit as our canes are growing in a very large pot and even being next to the tap they don’t get sufficient water to produce a mass of fruit.

However this year Mother Nature has taken a hand by providing above average rainfall in November which has kicked along the fruit production. The November rainfall in our part of Canberra was double our monthly average!

We still only get a tiny amount of fruit compared to those whose plants are in the ground, but we plan to enjoy our harvest anyway.

Random harvests

There is never a ‘right time’ to leave your garden over summer. We had taken two weeks off early in December to catch up with family and returned home to a garden that appeared definitely the worse for wear.

Because of the valiant efforts of friends and neighbours we still had something to return to. But several short very hot days had blasted  any lingering traces of November’s rains away.

The first task I chose was to start tidying up the yard. Those chick peas that I planted way too late last summer needed picking. You know what, they actually produced a crop. A whopping 23 seeds, each of which was a quarter of the size of your average bought chick pea.

chick peas
A massive chick pea harvest – not

Then there were the raspberries.They were set to be the largest crop we had ever harvested. Of course they would reach perfect ripeness the week after we went away. By the time we came back they were totally dessicated on their canes. I did not want to lose all that crop and cursed that there was no way to have picked them earlier. Then I looked at them again and realised that they had just been naturally super-dried. I tasted one, and another, they still retained that intense raspberry flavour.

One bowl of very dried raspberries

I  picked the berries over and removed them from their stems. Thankfully this is as easy as releasing the moist ripe berries from the canes. A quick toss in a metal mesh sieve removed the remaining dry bits and the few pieces of left-behind stem. We plan to pulse them in the spice grinder and use them as a base to make raspberry ice-cream.

Next task will be harvesting the broad beans (fava beans). Most have dried in their pods and I think I’ll hang the remaining stems up to dry as well. At least we managed to harvest several bags of young beans earlier in the season and they are tucked away in the freezer.

Sadly the snails and slaters (wood lice) have once again decimated my new beans. I think I’ve planted at least 6 well-grown seedlings and a further 9 seeds after all but one plant got ring-barked at its base. I think I’ll try more seeds, but this time inter-plant them with my Golden bantam corn. The corn is in a slightly drier part of the garden. I can only hope that the new plants will have a better chance there.

On a more positive note some of our garden visitors have been enjoying themselves as we try and give our garden some much needed water. Here young magpies are playing in the front garden. I’m pleased that I decided to leave the white paper daisies to spread across the newly planted garden while the tube stock plants are still small.

Everyone enjoys playing under the spinkler on a hot day!


Berry rennovation

I mentioned before that I was going to rebuild my strawberry beds .. and I have! Like so many jobs it turned out to take a lot less time than I had anticipated. With the strawberry roots taking up all the space in the holes in the bricks, the old plants could be pulled out in one go.

The plants are easy to pull out because there is a solid mat of roots
The plants are easy to pull out because there is a solid mat of roots

Per usual I took the plugs down to the chickens who spared no effort in ripping them apart for the snails, worms and slaters hiding in the soil. I collected what was left of the plants, sorting out useable runners from the diseased older plants. The diseased plants got thrown in the bin. There is no value in composting them as the diseased leaves could spread viruses around the garden.

Never stand between a chicken and it's food!
Never stand between a chicken and it’s food!

Once the plants were gone I mixed some leaf mould, rotted cow manure and potting mix to replace the old soil.

All cleared out and ready for the new soil.
All cleared out and ready for the new soil.

Then the fun part, replanting ready for the new season.

Ready, set grow!
Ready, set grow!

Only a few metres away it was clear that the raspberry plants were in similar need of re-potting. If you look closely you can just see the new seasons green shoots peeking through.

The raspberries are in a bad way.
The raspberries are in a bad way.

When we pulled the raspberries out of the container we realised that lots of the soil we had put in the container over the years had washed down below the false bottom in the container.

Out of the container.
Out of the container.

We decided to split the plant into two as all the space in the existing container was taken up. Luckily we have the other half of the container, a former heating oil tank, which we will also convert into a tub.

One of the unfortunate results of the re-potting was a lot of damage to the few canes which would have borne fruit this year. However, we think it will be better for the plants to develop new canes rather than worry about getting fruit.

Back in the tub and hoping for lots of new growth.
Back in the tub and hoping for lots of new growth.


Small signs

As I look around the garden I’m starting to see small signs of movement towards spring. The first new shoots on the raspberry canes and my Purple-podded peas finally starting to twine up their supports.

Purple-podded Peas 28 July 2013
Purple-podded Peas 28 July 2013

We have also seen the first signs of pardalote’s checking out our newest compost pile for a nesting site. Oh well another year without being able to access the compost. We’ll just have to start a second heap as the pardalote’s are just too precious to evict.

A Pardalote's test hole for a nesting site
A Pardalote’s test hole for a nesting site

I’ve even indulged in that most arcane of gardening activities, pruning the dead leaves off my strawberry plants – it does help remove potential sources of viral infection. I even discovered that in spite of a week of below zero minimum temperatures some of my strawberry plants are trying to set fruit! A bit too early for success I suspect.

Strawberry plants getting a bit ahead of themselves in late July.
Strawberry plants getting a bit ahead of themselves in late July.

Early Autumn

It is a fine irony that on the very last day of summer I spotted my first tomato ripening on the bushes. Today when I checked there were plenty of fruit finally starting to show some colour. As these plants came from self-sewn stock over in M’s garden we weren’t quite sure what we were getting. Quite a few varieties as it turns out. Roma’s and what appears to be at least two ‘beefsteak’ type toms and a yellow one as well.


I’m also pleased to report that the bit of care and attention given to the raspberries a few weeks ago is also paying off. Not only are the plants making some strong new growth for next years fruit but we are also looking like getting an autumn crop of this years canes.


(I will just note that as it is quite overcast this morning the camera is setting the flash so it looks like I’m taking these photos in the middle of the night – not true, not even for me).

I know I’ve gone rather quiet lately on the progress of my ha-ogen melons, but progressing they are. I have one which has even started to ripen …


but the slugs have already started in on it!


Despite my disappointment I did notice that the slugs were getting stuck into the base a few days before the melon started to turn yellow. So I’ll be keeping a closer eye on these two babies which hopefully will come under less immediate threat.


Refurbishing the raspberries

While it is probably not the best time of year for it, I did do some rescue work on our raspberry plants yesterday. They were not in the best of condition having suffered terribly with the hot weather at the start of last week.


There were plenty of dead leaves, not to mention last year’s dead canes which still needed cutting out. The soil level was sinking rapidly and the plants hadn’t been fed in ages. However unlike the fruit trees, and precisely because the plants were too stressed to be bearing fruit, the rain made a positive change to the plants encouraging new shoots at the base of the canes.


Having removed what was left of the mulch on the top of the bed I stuck a whole lot of compost into the container. I tried as far as possible to keep it off the new stems so they wouldn’t rot. I also left a lot of the dead leaves on the plants as there were plenty of new shoots in the leaf axils and I figured that the old leaves would provide some protection for them if we get some more hot spells.

The raspberry container happens to be our old house oil tank cut in half, thoroughly cleaned out and stuck on castors so we can wheel it around. Our other raspberry plant lives (well gets along) in a styrofoam box. Most of the soil appeared, Elvis-like, to have left the container so the soil depth was restricted to only what the roots were hanging on to.


This plant  got, in addition to a layer of compost in the bottom of its new box, some more potting mix and a further layer of compost and sugarcane mulch on top for good measure.

In the past I have pruned our raspberries in late winter and it turned out rather badly for fruit production that year, as it subsequently became clear that I was  unable to tell apart the dead canes and the second year canes on which the fruit grows on. At least pruning at this time of year even I can tell what is dead.

A good mulch over the top and hopefully we might even encourage the plants enough to produce some more fruit for us a bit alter in the season.


Frozen Assets

With temperatures consistently falling to below zero since the beginning of the month, there is not much incentive to go outside to harvest from the garden. Instead we’ve found that our frozen bounty from summer is keeping us in good stead, not to mention good cheer.

Last weekend TB had some ‘left over’ cheesecake mix after making a cheesecake for a work BBQ. He decided that what was left, enough for us and our friends to enjoy, would be decorated with some of those raspberries that I had stored in the freezer. At the time the raspberries were ripening our few small plants were not producing sufficient berries to allow you to do anything fresh with them. Likewise the strawberries. Now we have enough to make some memorable dishes.


The other late summer bounty of tomatoes was also frozen and these have featured heavily in recent stews, incluing the Osso Bucco I’m preparing for tonight. It was so simple to just cut the tomatoes into chunks and throw them into the freezer without any further preparation. Of course you can only the use them in stews or dishes where you don’t need whole tomatoes, but I haven’t really found that to be a limitation. Just throw them in in their frozen state and let the slow cooking do the rest.


Beans and Berries

It’s changing of the guard time in the area of bean production. Last night we combined the last of the Broad Beans and the first Borlotti Beans, along with our Komatsu (Japanese Spinach) and garlic in a quick stir fry to go with our home-made pork and fennel sausages. We also noticed that the Lazy Housewife and a second planting of Borlotti beans have started to produced pods, very tiny ones. The Edamame continue to grow well but I’m on alert because when I was watering yesterday I noticed that there were many small bugs, weevils I think, gathering on the pods – not an encouraging sign.
We have a bit of variety, but not much quantity on the berry front. I have both Lowanna and Nelly Kelly strawberries in production. The Lowanna always out-produce the Nelly Kellys, but the Nelly Kellys have a better flavour (to my taste buds at least). A friend gave me three raspberry plants a few months ago and much to our surprise they’ve produced fruit in their first season. Although, given that they were from a clump of existing canes there should be no reason why they wouldn’t produce. The berries are very tasty but are only appearing in small numbers so far.
We are growing three varieties of blueberries, early, middle and late fruiting types. So far the early variety Denise had an unanticipated setback when it accidently got mown over early in spring – it is recovering but won’t be producing fruit this year. The middle fruiting variety Blue Ray is producing fruit, not a lot, but it looks promising, if it survives summer, for future production. We really haven’t had sufficient fruit to decide on how tasty it is. The late fruit-er Brigitta has produced a few berries, but at this time appears somewhat less prolific than Blue Ray. I’ve given the plants some compost and mulched them this week. It looks like Denise may be suffering from sunburn so I may have to rig up some shade for it if I want it to survive January and February. Blue Ray and Brigitta are getting some shade from the nectarine tree and seem to have escaped frazzled leaves for the time being.

I also cooked up another Hugh F-W recipe (River Cottage Every Day) for Digestive biscuits – I think a quintessentially English contrivance of which I am very fond. I used the spelt flour again and had no problems with the recipe. I will say that I chose to use rolled oats rather than oat meal as suggested by the recipe. Next time I’ll either have to use oatmeal or will give the rolled oats a whizz in the blender as the rolled oats made using my biscuit cutters somewhat less than effective. Not that this is interfering with the taste!