Water Chestnuts and Currawongs

I was brave and put on my rubber gloves and spent a very damp hour and a half on Sunday finishing the water chestnut harvest. At least I got a good haul, over a kilo’s worth. Combined with TB’s early harvest we’ve got over 2 1/2 kilos this year. This is about the same amount we harvested in 2010, last year’s crop was just over 1kilo.


The good thing about water chestnuts is that they are pretty easy to store. Put them in a container, cover them with water and leave them in the fridge until needed. You can also, once it’s warmer, take a few of them out of the water and start growing your next season’s crop.

Of course water chestnuts are great for stir fries and salads, but my sister-in-law tells me that she used some in pasties she made recently and they made a really tasty (and cruchy) addition.


I thought I’d just throw in this photo to show one of our common Canberra winter visitors, the Pied Currawong. He/she is helping themselves to a drink from a plate on our garden table.

In times past these birds were winter migrants to Canberra moving down from the mountains to our ‘relatively’ warmer climes and then returning to the mountains to nest in spring. There is now so much readily available food in the city in the form of fruiting plants, scraps and pet food that currawongs now commonly live here year round. For the past few years we’ve seen some ding dong battles between the currawongs and ravens for a favoured nest site in our neighbours blue gum.

In the Mix

You’d probably think that with the onset of winter we would be settling down inside our warm house with some interesting garden reading – but TB isn’t having a bar of that! Last weekend it was out with the wheelbarrow and rake and off for a short walk to a nearby park to collect leaves for our compost heap.

Canberra’s urban parks provide an almost endless bounty of fallen leaves, and often as an added bonus piles of grass cuttings, that are there just waiting to be collected. Think of it as a community service! Several large bags of leaves later we returned home ready to employ that most useful pieces of garden equipment, the lawn mower, to cut our leaves and a big pile of dead plants and weeds into smaller pieces suitable for compost pile building. We also added lots of veggie scraps from the work kitchen (which produces 5-6 kilos of compost each week), some pelletised chook poo, blood and bone and potash. When completed we had a pile of just over a cubic metre. Just what we need to get some good compost ready for the spring garden.

While TB was building the pile I was busy cleaning up and harvesting some water chestnuts. Eash year we grow these plants as an annual saving some corms each winter and storing them over winter (in water in a container in our fridge).

The first step is to turn out the large plastic tub they grow in.


Then slowly pick through the soil and pick out all the little corms.


Our harvest this year was no where near as agood as last years. We think this is due in part to the overall cooler summer temperatures and to some degree of not feeding them regularly (TB was much better about this last year).

I also picked through our styrofoam boxes of potatoes, almost our last to be harvested, and came up with quite a decent amount.


With such fresh potatoes to play with we decided to have some sorrel and potato salad with our dinner. Having planted two small pots of sorrel when we first started the garden we now have a year round supply. Its slight lemony flavour is great in soups and with scrambled eggs. As it is a perennial plant you need to place it where it can grow happily away without being distrubed.

This recipe came from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and is dead simple. Scrub your potatoes, cut them to your preferred eating size, then cook them (steam or boil it doesn’t really matter). In the mean time rinse your sorrel leaves to remove grit and anything else from the garden, cut out the central rib, which can be very stringy, and cut the remaining leaves into broad ribbons. When the potatoes are cooked drain the water and return the potatoes to the hot saucepan, add several knobs of butter and the sorrel leaves. Put the lid back on the saucepan and swirl everything around to mix. Leave it for about 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper and serve.


Weekend Work

The weekend was spent clearing away the last of the summer and autumn crops, preparing beds for new crops and making compost for the spring growing season. TB focused on clearing some more of the back garden and I got stuck into the front garden veggie patch. As with all things when you are paying close attention in the garden you can find both good and not so good things.

On the positive side we have now harvested our water chestnuts. TB had bought a very large plastic tub to grow them in. Frankly I’m not sure what you would use the tub for apart from growing water chestnuts. It was a bit hard to get the plants out of there but it wasn’t long before we saw the results of all that growth. Round tubers at the end of yellow stems, all throughout the tub. The weigh-in came to just under 2.5kgs. This is a big improvement over last years harvest and will keep us in stock for quite some time to come.

In the front garden I found that the unharvested edamame plants yielded me just over 60 seeds for planting next year. But there were also some of the not so good things as well. You can see the very sorry state of my collard greens. Only the stems have been left by the caterpillars of the Cabbage White butterfly. After prodigious amounts of squishing TB sprayed the plants with BT (the bacteria that kills said caterpillars) so we will leave them and see whether the plants recover or not.

A far more sobering discovery came when I pulled out two of my garden stakes. What are these little white ants I said? Just as quickly replying termites. Yuk. One garden stake had been chewed in half and one was being munched, as you can see from the photo. While these stakes were not the ones closest to the house they were less than two metres away. I’ll have to wait on an inspection to tell whether they are confining themselves to the garden or whether we need to take further action.

We also built a large compost heap of all the old plants, the content of our two compost bins and three large bags of leaves we scavenged from the deciduous trees in a nearby park. To get the old plants to a usable size TB went over them with the mower. A garden tool with many uses!

The reward for all this activity was the delivery of the two ‘poppy head’ plants supports that I ordered at the Lambrigg Open Garden Day. I can’t show you a photo just yet as they are having their toenails painted (marine blue if you need to know) with rust-proofing paint.