Bean counting!

The front veggie patch in early March

After the rocky start to our summer gardening season, we have by stint of watering, persistant snail removal and good summer rainfall, managed to get our best ever crop of beans! I have picked over 2.5 kilos of beans in the past two weeks and over the same time 4 kilos of tomatoes. 

The same patch today with bountiful tomatoes barely contained in their frames

Apart from eating a goodly amount of beans and tomatoes I am also doing a lot of saving for future meals. The beans are being sliced, blanched and then frozen … 

Beans ready for the frezer

… I am roasting the tomatoes, to concentrate their sweet flavour, before bottling them in sterilised jars for future use. 

Roasted tomatoes in jars from my latest batch
The best thing is there are still  plenty more where they came from.

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.

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.

Tompulp
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.

saffron
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.

LittleFrizz
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.

garlic
A garlic shoot just peeping out of the ground

Preservation order

With Autumn in full swing its time to get active in the kitchen, preserving the fruit and vegetables that we’ve grown and foraged over summer.

One of my favourite breakfast spreads is quince jelly flavoured with vanilla. I’m making it with the quinces that I foraged back in March – thankfully for me quinces store very well. I’ve only had to get rid of a few pieces of fruit that had gone bad.

Washing the fuzz off my quinces
Washing the fuzz off my quinces

You will notice that these are not your perfect fruit. Manky quinces make perfectly good jelly because all you need to do is extract the flavour from the fruit. The fruit pulp isn’t included in the final product.

Here’s how I did it. After washing the fuzz off the quinces I cut the fruit up, skin, pips and all, removing any dodgy bits as I went. I then added the juice of one lemon to the cut fruit, covered the fruit with water and brought the mix to the boil. Once the mix was boiling I reduced the heat and allowed the fruit to simmer until it became soft.

Now I drained the liquid from the fruit, straining the juice through a sieve covered with a piece of muslin, to catch any stray pieces of pulp. I chose to hang the fruit in a bag and allowed it to drip overnight. But given that I only extracted about an extra half a cup of juice by doing this I’d say it really wasn’t worth the effort.

The quinces dripping out the last of their juice
The quinces dripping out the last of their juice

The final step of the process was to measure a quantity of sugar that was equal to the amount of liquid – in this case 7 cups of liquid and 7 cups of sugar. To add the finishing touch I cut open and scraped the seeds from a vanilla pod and added both the seeds and the pod to the syrup.

The quince juice, sugar and vanilla start to come together
The quince juice, sugar and vanilla start to come together

This mix is then cooked until the jelly has reached setting point. (If you’re not sure how to judge the setting point you can find a good video guide here).

The heat of the stove creates one last miracle. The hard white flesh of the quince turns a sublime pink. What more could you ask for on your slice of toast!

The finished quince jelly, ready to be served with some of my newest vintage teaspoons
The finished quince jelly, ready to be served with some of my newest vintage teaspoons

The recipe I used is based on the Quince Jelly (2) recipe, from Sally Wise’s book, A Year in a Bottle.

 

 

 


At last, my corn has come along! not to mention the tomatoes

It seems an age but our corn is ready to pick and darn yummy with it. Due to our trip in October/November our spring planting was delayed and I had to resort to buying corn seedlings (will I ever be able to live with myself), to get a crop in. Now here it is in all its fully grown splendour, Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn. This is the first time that we’ve grown this variety, (we usually grow Golden Bantam) and I’ve been quite impressed with how it has grown. We have had much better pollination and far fewer gaps in the cobs that we’ve previously experienced. The plants themselves are shorter, but they are still producing plenty of cobs. I’d be happy to go with this variety again next year.

Our Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn, ready for a quick steam and then into our stomachs!
Our Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn, ready for a quick steam and then into our stomachs!

The day I planted the corn seedlings I also planted out tomato seedlings from our friend M. They have also finally started to ripen, although with the rain we’ve been having we are getting quite a bit of blossom end rot – that nasty black patch on the tomatoes’ bottom – you will note that I have carefully designed the photo not to show that bit!.

Ripened tomatoes at last!
Ripened tomatoes at last!

Thankfully our eggplants and zucchini are producing steadily and at least one of our chickens has started laying again. Ah summer bliss.

Gone to seed

Hi! It’s been a long while since I last posted because we were traveling overseas. Since we’ve been away spring and even an early dose of summer have seen most of our veggie garden leap from edibility to seediness.

Gone to seed, Red Mustard, sorrel, carrots etc, November 2014
Gone to seed, Red Mustard, sorrel, carrots etc, November 2014

The asparagus has yielded it’s last spears, at least our house sitter got the benefit of most of them.  The peas are producing lots of pods, but it’s not obvious whether we can encourage further podding or will have to make do with the current yield.

The peas are podding beautifully.
The peas are podding beautifully.

The strawberries have struggled with the early hot weather and the berries have literally dried on the plants. At least with this past weekend’s rain I’m sure they will come good again.
We have been pleasantly surprised to find that both our perennial mountain yams that we put in last year have actually done what they should have and are re-sprouting. One had started growing before we went away and it’s already making it’s way into the lower branches of a nearby wattle tree.

Mountain yams, off their support and into the tree.
Mountain yams, off their support and into the tree.

The other has only started re-growing in our absence, but I’m thinking that we may need to provide an even higher support for it to climb on. Hopefully this means we might get some useable tubers this year.
So now we look forward to some major pulling out of old plants and planting summer crops of tomatoes, beans and corn.

Small surprises

I’ve been making inroads into the many small jobs that need to be done in the garden.  On the way I have found a few surprising things.

Firstly a tomato plant growing under the protection of one of our gum trees, the delightfully named Eucalyptus neglecta, commonly known as the Omeo mallee. I’m quite astounded that this tomato plant has grown and survived winter so far, even with the tree cover. However there is a lot of winter still to come so we will have to see whether it survives.

Self-sown tomato - will it make it to the end of winter?
Self-sown tomato – will it make it to the end of winter?

Nearby I found a seedling loquat, growing from a seed I assume a bird carried from our back neighbour’s tree. I’ve potted this plant up, rather than let it establish itself where it fell.

Seedling loquat, the seed is still visible, potted up.
Seedling loquat, the seed is still visible, potted up.

As I continued to weed around my pots of bulbs I came across some sad specimens, onions and a kale plant, that had been planted in seed trays before we went on holidays in April. Alas they had lain unfound ever since.

Some neglected onions seedlings and a small kale plant.
Some neglected onions seedlings and a small kale plant.

I found a spot for the onions in the front garden bed, after I did a clean out of the left over bean plants and several large parsley plants.

Parsley in the front garden bed.
Parsley in the front garden bed.

TB has dried all the parsley and all the onions have now found a home arrayed around my scarlet runner bean, sitting in the middle of the plot waiting to see if it will re-shoot this summer. The real question is whether the onions will actually produce bulbs or  just run to seed come spring.

Onions with a home at last.
Onions with a home at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the moments

Enjoy the moments when you pick off your ripe fruits and vegetables, knowing that you have maintained a long and noble tradition of growing healthy, delicious, homegrown produce. – Owen Pidgeon, Canberra Times, 12 February 2014

Owen’s words were a timely reminder to put aside worries and enjoy the results of our garden labours. The day his comments were published I was harvesting my nectarines, well half a trees worth. I used most of them for dried fruit and stewed up the small amount remaining for more immediate consumption.

Nectarines picked and ready to be cut into quarters for drying.
Nectarines picked and ready to be cut into quarters for drying.

While we were sitting cutting up the nectarines friend M dropped by. She’d just been to her mother-in-laws garden to harvest tomatoes. M has taken over several garden beds at the MILs to grow larger crops than her own small space will allow.What she had grown was an Australian heirloom tomato called a Palmwood. These are a climbing tomato, which M tells us have grown taller than the largest commercial garden stakes she could buy.

The fruit is long and tapered, growing to about 12-15 cms in length. They certainly looked different to any tomatoes we’d seen previously. These are a paste-style tomato and are good for slicing as well as cooking. If you are interested the seeds can be purchased through Eden Seeds.

Palmwood tomatoes, an Australian heirloom variety.
Palmwood tomatoes, an Australian heirloom variety.