First tomato! 

Finally one of our new season tomatoes for lunch. Actually the chickens got the first ripe tomato  – it got ‘sunburned’ on one of our really hot days and then started to rot. The girls thought it tasted just fine.

The first tomato of the season, Genuwine tomato, a cross between Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese

This is the first time we have grown this new variety of tomato ‘Genuwine’, which is a cross between Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese. The flavour is definitely there but it’s performance in our hot weather, in the high 30s° C, is still to be proven. One of our bushes is in the full sun and the second plant does get shade in the afternoon. It will be interesting to see how they go against our more traditional varieties Break O’ Day (1932 Australian commercial variety) and Moneymaker (an English heirloom from 1913). We also have a bush of Black Cherry (bred by the late Vince Sapp), and are looking forward to adding these to our salads.

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Summer Summary

Well here we are into Autumn at last and a week of days over 30° C has been forecast. This is the pattern of recent  years. Our summer results have been influenced this year by the time we spent away from the garden as much as anything else.

To start where my last post finished off, the final number of roosters we gained from our intake of 5 chicks was 3.

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We have eaten two of the roosters so far and are saving the last one, in the freezer, for a forthcoming dinner. The birds tasted very good, as we expected, but as they all had a large dose of game-bird genes they dressed out with the longest drumsticks I’ve ever seen.

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Speaking of salads we have had a bumper crop of roma tomatoes this year. For once we broke the Canberra tomato rule (only plant after Melbourne Cup day) and this worked in our favour. We didn’t quite get toms for Christmas but we did have them a week later. Sadly my open air tomato drying was a complete failure. The day I took the photo heralded a wet and cool period that was lasted more than a week (quite a common experience this past season). Even with trying to dry the tomatoes by fan inside, they soon collapsed into a very furry mess.

Just after Christmas I planted out my second batch of tomato seedlings. The variety is Soldacki (bought several years ago from Cornucopia Seeds, although the seeds are not included in their current offerings). This is a Polish variety, meant to do well in cooler climates. The plants are powering away and we have plenty of fruit coming along, but nothing to taste as yet.

As always growing out punnets of lettuce seedlings has kept a steady flow of greens for salads, along with our regular herbs such as basil and nasturtium leaves.

What has been  bumper this year is our fruit crops. The apricot fruit set on our tree was good, although like many trees I heard of, the fruit was small and really long in ripening.

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Apricot dessert

We generally harvest apricots around Christmas and nectarines at the end of January. This year we didn’t pick the apricots until mid-January and the nectarines came along in February. The apricots were remained small in size but made up for it in flavour.

The nectarines came in a rush. It was a bumper crop this summer, but the fruit only started to ripen days before we were due to visit family interstate. It was all hands to the dehydrator to deal with the bulk of the crop. I did stew about 2kgs of fruit down, but that barely made a dent in the proceedings. I do have two large bags of dried fruit.

Our legumes were a let down, with the exception of our ever reliable broad beans.

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Broad bean harvest

I managed to get a tiny crop of purple-podded peas, enough for one and a half meals! Every bush or climbing bean that managed to get out of the ground was immediately ring-barked by slaters or chewed right off by snails.

The one area that has improved markedly over summer is our rennovated front garden.

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Early December and the white paper daisies dominate the new garden

It’s been a lot of work doing weeding and mulching, limited as I was by my dodgy knee. Tackling the project a few metres at a time worked. Today things are looking much better, the weeds are few and far between. I cut back the paper daisies afew weeks ago to give the other plantings a chance.
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One of the stars of the new plantings has been Brachyscome ‘Pacific Sun’, a yellow version of the familiar blue flowers.
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Over time we will continue to nurture out grassland plants with a view to providing food sources and homes for insects and small reptiles.

Water, water everywhere

I was all set to play ‘Summer is icumen in’ but I suspect that given our current weather forecast Handel’s Water music would be more appropriate. However just because I like it I found Helen Shapiro for you instead!

Yes it’s official this has been our wettest spring since 1983 when Bob Hawke’s elevation to the Australian Prime Ministership miraculously broke the severe drought of the early 1980’s (well at least some are convinced of it – there wasn’t much the old ‘Silver Bodgie’ couldn’t do in those days).

Yesterday I took the opportunity, during a somewhat less than torrential period, to go out and plant the tomato seedlings and basil, praying that they might survive the nightly slimy onslaught. So far so good. If nothing else the rain shows up the colours on our street trees beautifully. This is Eucalyptus mannifera plated on our nature strip.

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Looking back what’s been grown over the last 6 months

I’ve been reviewing the past six months of growing so I can consider what has happened and what has and hasn’t worked in the garden over that time.
There is no getting away from the impact of our weather in recent times. We’ve had a full-on El Nino in recent years which has seen consistently lower than average rainfall, coupled with high summer temperatures.On the ground this has meant that we almost had a growing season split in two. Plants that got an early start produced well up to early January when our really hot dry weather kicked in. At that point a fair amount of our veggies barring the tomatoes in general and some of the plants such as our Blue and Strawberry popcorns protected by the trees on the western side of our garden basically struggled and it was all we could do to keep things alive. Once the worst of the hot weather passed we had a second growth spurt which allowed many of our original plantings and those second crops we put in to deliver plentifully.

We tried out plenty of new plants this year and the ones which I’m planning on going back into the garden again next time around include:

* Blue Popcorn – short and sturdy plants, much less water demanding
than the Sweet Corn, and produced lots of cobs (small but good).
We are really enjoying our popcorn;
* Eggplant ‘Prosperosa’ – my Italian favourite, beautiful to look at
and a great producer with very white flesh;
* Table King Acorn pumpkin – compact, as promised and produced well.
I’ll be adding more plants of this next year to boost the pumpkin
numbers;
* Warrigal Greens – still growing despite several frosts, just keeps
expanding, we’ve cut it back to ground several times and its still
over a metre in diameter, makes the best creamed spinach;
* Red Mustard Greens – (also good during winter) the peppery flavour
sparks up a salad and is also good on a sandwich
* Komatsu (Japanese Spinach) – survived the heat well and generally
outlasted the silver beets continuous good cropper.

I’m also saving the seed from my ‘Front Garden’ tomatoes. I’m not sure which variety they are, somewhere between a Roma and an Amish Paste and as they were self sewn in the compost I’ll never be sure of their parentage, but boy did they deliver in the second half of summer. Beautiful to look at and great to eat – these were the ones that I picked 6 kilos of fruit off just before the frosts hit.

Thankfully the Southern Oscillation Index has moved into positive territory in recent weeks and some of the forecasters are thinking we may get a La Nina this year – very roughly speaking more rain rather than less.This is one of the stories slated for Landline (12.00 noon ABC TV on Sunday) so I’ll be watching to see what the outlook over the next few months is.

I’ll leave you with a small puzzle – what made the trails on the wall of the polyhouse? The answer is in the second photo.

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