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!

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.