Getting moving!

Mid-afternoon it hit me, OMG I haven’t planted any seeds for summer crops! I’d like to blame it on any manner of distractions, including re-planting the front garden (going pretty well), but I’ve clearly been drifting along these past few weeks.

Wahlenberia, aka 'Native' Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden
Wahlenberia, aka ‘Native’ Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden

Luckily we have boxes, I do mean it, of seeds so I pulled out some trays and pots and got stuck in. Peas and beans are at the top of the list. Purple Podded Peas, Snow Peas and Lazy Housewife Beansand some White Eggplants. All of theses seeds have come from our own plants so they are well adapted to our garden.

I also planted some Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour that was such a success last year but #### I just checked and confirmed my suspicion that this variety is a hybrid so the seeds will either be sterile or revert to one of the parent stock. So I’ll have to get out some other corns seeds instead. 

Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons
Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons

I made labels for the pots from an old milk container, but couldn’t get my pencil or marker to stay put. I ended up covering the end with masking tape and writing on that. As I worked I settled in to the rhythym of the afternoon, not too hot and a pleasant breeze. I could see House Sparrows moving around the old kale plants, a sure sign that the plants are failing and as they do so attracting insects to their decaying leaves. I also noticed that my Alpine Strawberry already had some fruit – which disappeared shortly after this photo was taken!

Alpine Strawberry with fruit.
Alpine Strawberry with fruit.

I checked out the regular strawberries and found my first ripe fruit of the season there as well. Time to feed the chooks their afternoon scratch and toss the chicks some green weeds to tear apart with their voracious little bills.

Time too to pick young broadbean pods and asparagus from the garden which are joining an eggplant for a Japanese inspired dinner this evening.

Dinner is on the way.
Dinner is on the way.

Happy spring seed raising to you.


Hot pods!

Selfie with snow peas, the first of the year. Straight into tonight’s dinner.

First pods of spring
First pods of spring

Just remember to keep picking your snowpeas. The more you pick, the more they flower, the longer you get pods to eat. I think that’s a ‘virtuous circle’.

And just because I can. Here is a shot of my rose’s leaves last week. They look like they have been beaded with crystals.

Roses with dew beads - just beautiful.
Roses with dew beads – just beautiful.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.

Pigs in Winter

There is, apparently, a Portuguese saying that the happiest times in life are the first year of marriage and the week after you slaughter a pig. While we do not grow pigs ourselves I know that TB would love to be able to do so, if only for all the wonderful products that can be made from this animal.

As we are now in the depths of one of our coldest Canberra winters in some years (we had a minus 5.8??C during last week and we are regularly going down to minus 3??C) this is the perfect time to be making pig products. You need the cold weather to be able to hang your products for air drying without them going off. Last year TB bought a pork leg and made his first prosciutto, he???s also tried his hand at various salamis.


Take one shoulder of pork ….


Use one big boy’s toy …


Produce salamis and hang to dry.

This year, encouraged by a range of authors, (see the list at the end) he has stepped up a notch and has purchased two shoulders of pork from Inglebrae Meat at the Northside Farmers Market. These come from Black Pigs which were grown free range. The aim is to make a number of salamis, a picnic ham and sausages. There will be other treats along the way, including Chinese Pork Bones for tonight???s dinner!


Pork Bones on rice

Meanwhile in the garden the Broad-beans continue to grow and it is definitely time for tying them up. I???ve noticed with the hard frosts that several of the taller plants have fallen over so this is a job that needs doing now. The Snow Peas, in the Red Poles bed, are growing so vigorously up their support that I will need to put another row of twine even higher up the poles to help them. Clearly no one has told the Warrigal Greens that they are not supposed to be frost hardy as the plant continues to grow outside with no protection.

Alas all is not so well in the polyhouse. Our transplanted capsicum has definitely keeled over after the hard frosts of this past week. However the Vietnamese Mint which we are also trialling by over-wintering in a pot is looking quite chipper. It never ceases to amaze me how hardy some of the Asian vegetables are.

Our broccoli is still growing but so far not producing any heads. By comparison friend M???s broccoli is producing regularly ??? a sign of the much more favourable microclimate in her garden which, while it is only a few suburbs away from us, is much more protected than Chez Fork.

For those of you looking to go down the pig product route TB recommends the following books: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn, Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli, Meat by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Preserving The Italian Way by Pietro Demaio.

Garden update

More sewing of seeds has been happening this weekend. I???ve sewn the seeds of beetroot Tonda di Chioggia, the white and red-striped beetroot and also Beetroot Small Wonders. We also planted more kale Cavolo Nero and some more purple sprouting broccoli.

The snow peas that got ravaged by the overnight munching a few weeks ago are starting to put on some new growth and I’ve also direct sewn some seed in the gaps between the existing plants. The seedlings that have sprouted from the bush pea Massey have also been transplanted into their permanent bed and again additional seed direct sewn – with plenty of barrier protection this time!

If you ever questioned the existence of the Autumn flush in a Canberra garden then doubt no more. On the 1st of March I direct seeded some bush peas Massey and some broad beans Aqua Dulce into the garden. Today we actually have pods on the bush peas (check out the photo) and the broad beans are flowering (but I will not expect to get pods on these before the frosts). The intention of this planting wasn’t to harvest crops before winter but merely to get the plants into the ground and to a size where they could over winter happily but be at an ‘advanced’ stage to crop as soon as they could come spring. We are also still regularly harvesting tomatoes, but I anticipate there will be a large green tomato chutney cook-up before too long.

On the non-veggie front my first Paperwhites (jonquils) of the season have started to flower. Sadly they have to stay outside because although I love the scent to TB they smell as if they were dog droppings. Our compost heap has also been the site of an experimental nest building – well tunnel excavation for nesting purposes – by a pair of spotted pardalotes. As our cat is far too successful a bird hunter we have erected barricades to stop the birds getting chewed while digging. I must say the pardalotes are very single minded and appear oblivious to all other activity while they are digging which doesn’t improve their chances. It is yet to be seen whether the hole meets the requirement and if they can put up with us, the cat and the crows and currawongs that live in our neighbourhood.


Good Friday in the Garden

I spent most of the day outside today catching up with a whole lot of end of summer tidying-up. First I tackled painting the remainder of my first batch of garden stakes. Having run out of ‘Burnt Brick’ I segued on to a very deep greyed pink called ‘Zircon’. I think I’ll take a jump over to some different colours for the next batch of stakes, chartreuse perhaps. It dawns on me that getting your little forklets to paint garden stakes is possibly a good way of encouraging them to take an interest in the garden, not to mention another exciting way to get messy.

The heavy rain that interrupted my stake painting spree on Tuesday also stopped me from getting around to that other boring but necessary job – the mowing. Unfortunately for us the currently dominant plant in our ‘lawn’ is paspalum going to seed, yuk. So in hope that the rain will hold off so one of us can mow tomorrow I decided to get a head start in cleaning up a whole lot of stuff loitering around the grounds of Chez Fork. Of course we only have bits of stuff lying in the long grass that will jam or break our mower. Mainly this consisted of kilometres (or so it seemed) of various diameters of irrigation pipe, the large pipe last used to drain our washing machine water on to the afore-mentioned ‘lawn’ and various pieces of one dismembered polytunnel. All the tubing has been tidied into very large wreaths of plastic hanging at the back of the shed. On the upside I uncovered a whole lot of new stakes to paint as I tidied my way around the place.

Another not so happy discovery was that the snow peas I planted out the other day have been seriously munched on by something. Those planted in the Red Poles bed have had most of their leaves removed as they were sprawling across the ground rather than twining up the string. Foolishly I’d neglected to provide them with any barrier protection as I thought they were too big to need help. Some others planted nearby were eaten to the ground. I have carefully tied some fine soft weaving wool around each of the plants so what leaves they still have are no longer within easy reach of their munchers – I hope.

I’ll leave you with two pictures that were accidentally left out of recent posts. The first is a photo of our saffron crocus bulbs as they currently are (previous photos were from last year). Secondly a Lambrigg leftover, a picture of the Strezlecki Apple display. You can see they have fared better this year in Gippsland than the local apple growers have in Canberra.


Autumn Colour

Today I “screwed my courage to the sticking point” and faced the queue at the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition. Alright it really wasn’t that hard for me as I am a member of the Gallery and was able to walk past the line and go in at the members express entrance. At last a real pay-off for all those years of membership fees!

I had been to see the exhibition in January when there were, by comparison, next to no crowds. Short of people lining up to see Uncle Ho in Hanoi, I’ve rarely seen such devotion to a cause. At least there is a reward at the end of this queue. I personally think that the Van Gogh’s alone are worth the entry price to the show, not to mention a few Gauguin’s and other individual works.

It seemed as I bobbed through the mob that quite a few of the paintings were looking back at the visiting crowd – who were fascinating study in themselves. Vincent’s eyes, should you get in range of his self-portrait, can skewer you right through. Gauguin’s Tahitian women watch the crowd from slightly lowered eyes, while Lautrec’s Woman in the Black Boa looks on with scarcely restrained amusement. If it’s all too much for you then you can join Hammershøi’s Danish woman and turn your back on the lot of them.

Another deep impression – all puns intended – comes from the use of colour. Strong reds, chalky blues and Nile greens, acid yellows and startling purples. This was of the course the first generation of artists to take full advantage of the newly developed synthetic pigments developed by the European chemical companies. The results can be stunning, or in some cases just god-awful.

I’ve been looking at my garden, over the past few months, and noticing more than ever the impact of strong colours and shapes that can be found in the vegetables we grow. My Italian eggplant Prosperosa,  was the first that caught my eye. Our metre high amaranth with its deep crimson leaves is also an obvious choice. However, close observation of many plants brings its own rewards. Our sweet corn, way past the harvest time has developed dark mahogany red stems that contrast with the pale yellow and the still bright green of its remaining leaves.

Not all colour comes from the plants themselves. TB has dismantled, or perhaps that should be dismembered, the bed where our poly-tunnel experiment was carried out last year. One discard was a whole pile of bright blue synthetic twine that had been used to tie the pea straw bales that surrounded the bed. As I’m planting my snow peas into this bed I’d decided to use the string as the support for the peas. Half way through the job I realised that this was a great colour and it would really look striking against another strongly contrasting colour. Luckily for me I’d gone through a whole stack of different colour options when the kitchen was renovated a few years back and I still had the sample pots to prove it. Voila, my first foray into putting colour into my garden. I’m thinking of calling it ‘Red Poles’.