In ground

The tomato harvest continues and this week we picked several of the Soldackis and prepared them for later use. I decided to roast the tomatoes with a bit of olive oil some salt and pepper. A slow cook resulted in two jars of pulp.

Two jars of roasted tomato pulp

To date we have collected nearly 200 saffron flowers or about a gram of the spice. This is our largest harvest to date and we’ve even had to find a larger jar to store the threads in! We still expect to be picking flowers for another week at least.

A picking of saffron, one of our better day”s harvest

Our chickens are, for the large part, taking it easy. Of the four of them only the smallest new chicken, called Little Frizz, is laying eggs. It seems amazing that this funny little animal is doing all the hard work. I do worry that her poor feather coverage will make winter very hard for her.

Little Frizz in the back garden

However it’s not all harvesting around here. Given that “April is for alliums”, as Tino was reminding us on Gardening Australia the other week, TB has been out planting onion seedlings and garlic bulbs. After a week the garlics are just starting to push through the soil and the onions are standing up.

A garlic shoot just peeping out of the ground

Morning has broken

There’s not much that can beat walking in the garden after a night of rain, (16mms for the record) unless you also come across six saffron flowers sitting proud above their slender leaves.

Saffron buds in the early morning
Saffron buds in the early morning

Our harvest last year was pretty limited as it happened while we were overseas. This year we have our fingers crossed for a better harvest.

And just as exciting to come inside to some ‘shower rolls’, surely one of the easiest bread making recipes I’ve come across in ages. I found it over on Mike’s Pad and I’ll direct you over there for the details. Basically you make a sloppy bread dough before you go to bed, stick it in the fridge overnight then bake however many rolls you want the next morning. Any leftover dough can be put back in the fridge for another day.

These may not be the prettiest rolls I’ve ever made, (I think I need to practice my roll-shaping technique) but there’s not much to beat a bread roll fresh out of the oven!

Shower Rolls fresh from the oven
Shower Rolls fresh from the oven

By the time the rolls were baked not only did I have my shower, but the saffron buds had opened enough so they could be picked.

Within the hour the buds are open ready for picking
Within the hour the buds are open ready for picking

The saffron stigmas were then dried in the cooling oven cools, prior to being stored.

Saffron stamens ready for oven drying
Saffron stigmas ready for oven drying

After all that activity it was good to be able to sit down to a breakfast of fresh bread spread with my friend J’s plum jam.

Freshly cooked 'shower rolls' and plum jam
Freshly cooked ‘shower rolls’ and plum jam

I’m now looking forward to tomorrow morning as I can see at least 4 more saffron flowers ready to burst.


I’m just mad about saffron …

If our apple harvest this year was on the small size our saffron harvest is our best yet. Image

Today we picked 12 flowers, OK it doesn’t sound a huge amount but it is more in one day than the rest of our harvest so far this year.  And if your wondering if the steel mesh is some advanced planting system – it’s not – it’s just there to stop our cat digging the garden bed up.


If you haven’t seen saffron flowers close up the red part of the flower, the stigma, is the part which you use in cooking. Each of these has to be carefully removed by hand and then dried before being used.


This is today’s harvest ready for drying.

For such an expensive spice it turns out to be as easy as pie to grow in Canberra. Our climate of hot  dry summers and cold winters seems to suit them just fine. We got our original 10 bulbs from Greenharvest in March 2009 (I’ve also seen them in Bunnings), and they have been multiplying every year since. This year we have over 200 bulbs, of which TB estimates that there were 40 bulbs that were sufficiently large to produce a flower. The rest we have planted out to keep growing to flowering size.

We estimate that our harvest this year will amount to about 2 really good pinches of saffron, sufficient for flavouring two dishes or maybe three. Crazy perhaps, but for the smell of the fresh saffron alone (and perhaps the price of the purchased spice) I think this is one plant that is well worth including in your  home garden.

Radical Radishes

In late December I planted three rows of radishes as a gap filler before our winter planting. We’d eaten the French Breakfast radishes pretty quickly, but I got put off the Winter Round Black radishes by their really pungent taste. I can’t even remember eating the China Rose radishes. After a few weeks I pretty much forgot about them.

Last weekend I decided that it was about time I dug the radishes up  and dealt with them. I wasn’t expecting much as my previous experience with old radishes was completely un-edible. However I certainly got a surprise with this lot.


Not only was there was a decent harvest, but some of them were absolutely gi-normous!


The largest one in the photo weighed in at 685 grams.

OK I certainly wasn’t going to eat all of these in a hurry so I decided to try a recipe from my new book on canning – Canning For a New Generation by Liana Krissoff (canning is what making preserves is called in the US). Liana’s blog can be found here. The recipe for Pickled Radishes was the one that caught my eye. I even had a hopefully willing target for the food as Variegated was visiting for lunch the next day.

Now one day is not long for a pickle that I’m pretty sure will develop a more mellow flavour over time. TB had the great idea of cutting its currently sharp vinegary taste with some of our freshly-picked feral apples. Not only did the sweet crisp fruit balance the vinegar to perfection, but the pickles also helped cut through the luscious flavour of TB’s terrine of pork and veal liver.


The main dish was an autumn risotto of garden veggies. The flavouring was our own saffron which this year has been producing a steady, if small, crop of stamens.


The colour of the saffron is rich and the aroma of the infusing stamens is even better.

Here is the finished dish.


We all enjoyed eating this meal out in the back garden, experiencing one of those wonderful Autumn days which we have been so blessed with over the past few weeks.


Small packages

This week has seen the start of the harvest of our smallest and most valuable crop – saffron. These little bulbs really seem to like our climate. We started out with 10 bulbs three years ago and we now have over 40 – I know because I recently had to transplant them form their old bed to a new permanent home.


You have to keep a sharp eye out for the flowers or the tasty stamens will be eaten by some snail gourmand before you can get to them. The flowers only last a day or two, the stamens never last that long.


We hope to have a ‘haul’ this year that will go further than one meal, but we have a way to go yet!


Hung up to ripen

Little by little I’ve been setting up my garden beds for winter. In the front garden, which I worked on several weeks ago, my seedlings of beetroot, purple-sprouting broccoli and cimi di rapa (another brassica) are heading upwards. The turnips and onions are proving a bit slower out of the ground but they are finally starting to appear.

Today was the turn of the back garden and the tomato bed in particular. While my tomato plants are still producing fruit I really want to get ahead and get my broad beans into the ground. I had quite a task ahead of me.


I could have left the tomatoes a bit longer but once I see these shield bugs having a go at the fruit there doesn’t seem much point in persisting. As you can see from the second photo they really are turning out in numbers to suck on the ripening fruit.


The only consolation was that, unlike some of these relatives, these ‘shield’ beetles don’t exude a pungent smell when disturbed. It took quite a while to clear the beds and then dig out as much as I could of the couch grass which was starting to invade the bed. While I didn’t get to plant my broad bean seeds I did find a cluster of spring onions which I split up and transplanted into one end of the bed.


Apart from picking the ripe fruit I chose to hang my healthy tomatoes under the carport so the remaining fruit will ripen on the vine.


In the same bed was our large bush of Vietnamese Mint, which I know won’t survive the winter. So out with the secateurs and after a quick trim back I dug it up and transferred it into a pot which is now inside the polyhouse ready to over winter. This worked quite well last year.


You might just see behind the pot a milk bottle filled with water. This is my new polyhouse experiment for this year. Following on from a suggestion of Lolo Houbein (the author of One Magic Square) I’m placing water-filled bottles around the base of the polyhouse walls to provide some extra insulation for the over-wintering plants. While the polyhouse does stay several degrees above the outside temperature. The plastic walls don’t stop the temperature from dropping below zero on really cold nights. The theory is that the water-filled bottles will build up and retain some heat, which should benefit the plants at night. I suspect that I might need a whole wall of bottles to be really effective, but its worth a try!

Mellow Yellow

I was cruising past the Lost Seed website the other day and noticed they are advertising saffron and garlic bulbs are available,  my advice – get in quick!

Saffron really seems to like our Canberra climate. Even though we generally only produce enough saffron each for one dish each year we still loving growing this plant – following the advice of growing that which is otherwise expensive to buy.

As part of the preparation for the arrival of poultry sometime in the hoped-for future we uprooted our ‘permanent vegetable bed and as a result had to find homes for our asparaus, rhubarb and saffron. We were very pleasantly surprised to see that our original 4 bubs had multiplied into 42. We will be planting them ASAP.


You may also be able to find some locally – we were stunned to see saffron bulbs in Bunnings last year. But of course their plant delivery can be somewhat random. Recently spotted were peanut plants and lemongrass which, if they had arrived at the start of summer they may have stood a chance of being productive. At this time of the year I don’t like their chances (think Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry), “Are you feeling lucky today punk peanut?”

How does your garlic grow

When we were at Lambrigg the weekend before last TB bought some packs of garlic from the Gundaroo Tiller – Allsun Farms stall , the Late Pink and the Hard-Stemmed Red, which he planted later the same day. Well blow me down if the Hard-Stemmed Reds aren’t already leaping out of the ground!

We got an even greater surprise when we were doing the standard garden tour for our friend’s Mum on Monday when we saw that our saffron was already flowering! Three flowers already open. We made a very bad decision and didn’t pick them on the spot. When I went to pick them this morning another garden gourmet had eaten the pistils of all three flowers. At least they didn’t get the two flowers about to open because I got them first.

By the way if you are still after saffron bulbs I actually spotted them at Bunnings Tuggeranong on the weekend, three bulbs for $10. Just remember to check that you buy Crocus sativa, (and if you don’t let on that I’ve been to the evil giant of hardware I won’t tell anyone where you got your saffron from.)


Sitting in the garden

Today I was determined to get out into the garden … and just sit. This is as good a time as any to enjoy the Autumn weather, which is an extremely pleasant 26º today, clear skies with a light breeze. Most of the summer growing frenzy is past and while effort is being put into preparations for next Spring’s garden I can put my feet up for a bit.

I hand some hand sewing to do so I took that out and plonked myself at the table, under our Japanese Maple and Omeo Gum (Eucalyptus neglecta) along with a cup of coffee. Before long the cat came along and crashed out on the chair next to me. When I have one of my ‘sitting’ days I do prefer to leave all electronic devices, radios and MP3 players inside. I really like to just sit and listen to what’s going on around me, birds, neighbours, traffic (often there is none for quite surprisingly long periods of time). The bonus today was that I finally got to see the newest members of our family.

You may recall that last week I mentioned the demise of our largest fish Klim, to causes unknown. Well it turned out that there was something else happening down in the pond. Yep, notwithstanding our clearly erroneous naming practices, Klim and Thorpy have produced a happy batch of little swimlets of their own. TB spotted them last week and rang me at work to ask when I’d gone out and bought the new fish! He managed to get one, not very exciting photo (look to the left of the arrow), but they are very nervous about large shapes moving around above their watery home. It’s taken over a week for me to spot them. They have clearly been around for some time as they are two to three centimetres long already. Some are sporting orange and black colours but there seem to be quite a few not so colourful ones as well.

Other welcome Autumnal returns include our saffron bulbs (Crocus sativus). We grew ours from corms from The Lost Seed. You’d have to contact the company directly to see if any were still available (I notice that their website says available from December to February or until sold out). Despite their high value as a crop it turns out that in Canberra these bulbs, in our experience at least, can be pretty much left to their own devices as far as growing is concerned. Ours are planted in the raised bed along with the asparagus and rhubarb, that is with other things that get planted and then get left undisturbed for the rest of the time. I’ve included some photos we took of the flowers and the harvested stigmas from 2009. The bulbs do seem to have multiplied so hopefully we’ll increase our harvest this year. Yes, we did get more than just this one flower.