All good

While we sat drinking our cup of tea, looking over the garden we became aware of all sorts of life flitting through the plants. The European House Sparrow was making repeat visits to our kale plants carrying off mouthfuls of Cabbage White Butterfly larvae (more strength to her wings). The more and longer we looked the more we saw. First a bee and then a wasp. A green caterpillar was waving its body around, which soon ended in its being fed to one of our chickens.

As we discussed pulling out our really way past it zucchini plant we realised it was crawling with yellow and black ladybirds.

Several Fungus eating ladybirds, Illeis galbula, on our zucchini plant
Several Fungus eating ladybirds, Illeis galbula, on our zucchini plant

As you can see the plant has a bad case of powdery mildew. We though we should get rid of the plant and hope that a small seedling we still had might come good in the remaining warm weather. But we didn’t know whether these were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ladybirds (garden friends or problem pests).

It turns out that these are native Australia lady birds, Illeis galbula, AKA the fungus eating laydybird! Just the ticket. A closer look revealed not only adults but lots of larvae, which I admit do look somewhat like marauding caterpillars, albeit very small ones, as they are about 1 centimetre long.

Larvae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula
Larvae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula

Furthermore we had the pupae as well! If you compare these two photos you can see that the pupae are rather shorter and fatter than the larval stage. Looking all together much more beetle-like.

Pupae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula, the ones on the left of the picture are a bit more mature
Pupae of the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula, the ones on the left of the picture are a bit more mature

It turns out that all stages of this tiny animal love eating fungus. So hang on to your mouldy cucurbits, if you have the space and let the ladybirds have a good munch. Or if you must pull the plants out leave it where the ladybirds and their offspring can readily get to them.

 

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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.

Local Harvest Challenge

In advance of next week’s Local Harvest Challenge, Sunday 6th April — Saturday 12th April 2014, where everyone is encouraged to eat locally, support local and organic farmers and businesses, and discover the face behind your food, I have a simple recipe for a veggie side dish. Zucchini and Green Beans with Mint.

This dish was made by Antonio Carluccio when he was a guest of Poh in Series 1 of Poh’s Kitchen (The recipe is in the Poh’s Kitchen, My Cooking Adventures book).  I caught a repeat of the episode this week and as we are still harvesting beans and have a truck load of zucchinis in the garden this dish was too easy to pass up.

Beans and Zucchini with Mint, ready to serve.
Beans and Zucchini with Mint, ready to serve.

200 grams of beans, with the ends trimmed
300 grams of zucchini (courgette), cut into 15 cm lengths, about as thick as your thumb
3 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
1 small bunch of mint, chopped, (I’d probably put a bit less rather than more)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar or juice of half a lemon.

Boil the zucchini and beans in water (salting optional) for 15 minutes or until tender when tested with the tip of a sharp knife. Drain the veggies then add the mint, drizzle over the oil and vinegar/lemon juice. Mix and allow to sit. Carluccio suggests leaving them at room temperature for half an hour before serving. Too easy!

An alternate serving suggestion is to cook up a big mess of these zucchini and beans and then eat them with some good crusty bread to sop up the juices.

We ate ours with some of our carrots, oven-baked potatoes (not ours) and some pork chops from the free-range pig that we ordered last winter.

The finished dish served with pork chops, roasted potatoes and carrots.
The finished dish served with pork chops, roasted potatoes and carrots.

BTW if you sign up for the Local Harvest Challenge you can see the photo we took picking feral apples several years ago on their site.

See the 2012 Challenge Participants Blogs

Showtime

It’s Thursday morning and at 6.30 am I’m out digging up a raft of potatoes for my produce entry at the Canberra Show. Insane I know, but with friends over the night before I didn’t get a chance to do this in advance. I had three potato entries so that was a lot of spuds to be dug. Presentation also requires the potatoes are brushed – not washed – to avoid damage to the skin. So there I was nail brush in hand, brushing, brushing, brushing.

Potatodig

Then the green tomatoes and the zucchinis. Bugger one of my tomatoes has been chewed by a vindictive snail so a big hunt around for another set of 3 to enter (most produce entries are done in multiples). Off with the stems. The zepellins are easy to get off the bush the struggle is to carry them inside. Unfortunately some scratches on their skins will detract from my chances.

All bagged up and ready to go, only two and a half hours later!

Showproduce

It was a busy time once I got to the Fitzroy Pavillion, all the more so because my entry form got lost in the mail. Thankfully the stewards were very relaxed and I only had to fill the form out again. Other stewards were on hand to show us newbies how to set up. Done and dusted with 10 minutes before closing time. Phew!

Its Friday night and TB and I are approaching the produce display. TB will tell you I am a tad competitive (well a lot really) so it was with a sinking heart that I looked at my entries, none of which were bearing that small coloured card. Where is that collection of potatoes, 3 distinct kinds?

Prize

THAT WOULD BE THE ONE WITH THE SECOND PRIZE!!!!

 

Managing your zeppelins

We’ve all been there. One minute you are admiring the flowers on your zucchini plant, perhaps thinking of a cheeky little Italian-style dish of stuffed zucchini flowers. You turn your back for 5 minutes only to discover that a green facsimile of the Hindenberg has moored itself to your zucchini plant.

This is the summer zucchini challenge. I have armed myself with two fail-safe recipes, one savoury and one sweet, that help to manage the zeppelin avalanche.

Firstly Zucchini fritters with dill, these are guaranteed to appeal even to non-vegetable eaters, (such as some of my family). Its probably because they are fried, but in the bigger scheme of things I don’t think its a problem. The recipe can be found here on that wonderful resource the SBS Food website. For those of you more accustomed to a veggie diet a handful of these can make quite a tasty meal in themselves. You can make a dressing by mixing yoghurt with some dill.

Zuccfrit

My other recipe also came from SBS Food as Simon Logue’s Zucchini Cake, but I can no longer find the original recipe on the site. As I’ve taken some liberties with the original I’ll give you my version and a variation.

Zucc_cake

Ingredients are:

Cake Mix
3 cups of grated zucchini (a starter zeppelin of about 25cms should be enough)
3 eggs
2 cups of brown sugar
1 cup of vegetable oil
3 cups of self-raising flour
3 tablespoons of cocoa (powdered drinking chocolate)
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of salt

Lemon Icing (this is really worth doing)
zest and juice of one lemon, you can cheat and just use a tablespoon of lemon juice if you don’t have a lemon
1 cup of icing sugar
2 tablespoons of butter

Preheat the oven to 180° and prepare your cake tin. This is a big mix – I used a 24 cm square tin, greased and lined with baking paper.

Grate your zucchini. Feel free to leave the skin on. DO NOT squeeze the juices out of the zucchini you need the moisture.

Blend the sugar, eggs and oil. Add the flour, cocoa, salt and cinnamon (sift the flour if you must but I didn’t do this and the cake still came out well). The mix will be quite stiff at this stage.

Fold in the grated zucchini. The mix will now loosen up.

Pour into your prepared cake tin and cook for one hour or until a skewer comes out nice and clean. Cool.

At this stage you may want to cut it in half and freeze part of it for later.

Once cooled you make the icing by beating the butter with the icing sugar and adding the juice and zest. Ice the cake and take a big slice and enjoy!

Variation
I’ve also tried this recipe with grated carrot and pumpkin or a mix of these veggies with zucchini. If you are using pumpkin you do need to peel the skin off. For both carrot and pumpkin I’d grate it a bit finer than I do the zucchini, otherwise they can be a bit too obvious in your cake.

Use same amout or carrot or pumpkin in the recipe above and substitute 1 tablespoon of ginger and 1 teaspoon of powdered allspice for the cinnamon. All other ingredients and methods remain the same.

 

 


 

 

 

Making with Marrows ??? Zucchini

The person who got me started on collecting compost from the office still often visits from the 10 th floor with offerings of excess produce. This week he dropped off one of his zeppelins. Unfortunately it had started going bad on one end, which meant that it didn’t find a home.

As we were having a divisional morning tea at the end of the week I decided to value add to the said zeppelin. I would contribute my own thank you to the people who have so assiduously filled my compostables bucket every couple of days by making a zucchini cake.

I found a good starter recipe on my favourite spot the SBS Food recipe page in their ‘by ingredient’ category.

Simone Logue’s Zucchini Cake with zesty lemon icing.

 Of course I didn’t have the walnuts she used in her recipe so I decided to use that old standby chocolate. I modified the recipe by bumping up the amount of zucchini to about 3 cups, and added 3 tablespoons of cocoa. This worked out really well and the cooking time was pretty much what was indicated in the recipe. I kept the lemon icing which worked a treat. I didn’t have any fresh lemons so used lemon juice in stead. This worked out just fine. The voracious hoards devoured the cake without a second thought.

The next day I used the remaining piece of zeppelin to make a second cake, which we ate after we’d been out to the Loriendale Apple Day – more of that anon. As I’d used up all the self-raising flour for the first cake I used the same quantity of all purpose flour and two teaspoons of bi-carb soda instead. The second cake was a bit denser than the first but the flavour was still very good. My friend’s Italian-born mother was wondering out aloud after eating a slice, why Italians had never traditionally turned zucchinis into cakes.

Zucake1Zucake2Zucake3

The gentle art of pumpkin pruning

No it’s not a touch too much of the sun, I really have been out pruning my pumpkins. This is something new for me too. Pumpkin pruning is intended to direct growth into the fruit of the pumpkin, as opposed to encouraging those tendrils and runners which are prone to rapidly take over your back garden.

Last year we had the lushest pumpkin vine in the suburb but no pumpkins. The problem was ‘rank growth’, what a wonderful term. Basically the plants were too well fed and spent their time growing leaves rather than fruit. The only pumpkin that produced was one of the self sown ones which was subsisting on a much more meagre diet.

First step is to look at your pumpkin plant, which may mean sticking your head under the leaves to see if you can spot a female flower with a young fruit forming underneath. These can be as small as about 1 cm in diameter so you may need to look hard (check out the first photo). Having identified said fruit you then cut off everything growing beyond this point (photo 2). With any luck this should encourage your plant to make a bigger fruit faster. My last pic is one of the fruits on my Table King Acorn pumpkin (photo3). This fruit is about the size of a grapefruit and when I pruned the stem about a week ago it was about the size of a golf ball. TB is skeptical about this being due to the pruning, but I disagree and besides which I can’t be bothered leaving a ‘control’ plant, unpruned to see if there is any difference. I selected this variety of pumpkin as it was described as a compact bushy plant. After spending last season tripping over vines and being scratched by their rough stems – don’t stand on the stem or you will kill anything growing after where you stood – I decided that these were the magic words. So far they seem to be producing the goods, although some of the early fruits did go yellow and perish. The seed catalogue says to expect up to eight fruits per plant.

Yesterday I cooked one of our starter zeppelins into delicious zucchini fritters. The recipe, Zucchini fritters with dill comes from Greg Malouf, via the SBS food website (www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/709/Zucchini_fritters_with_dill). As I had just about every herb under the sun except dill I used tarragon instead. They still tasted great. I’ll be having some cold for lunch today. Last Friday in the office there was a flurry of excitement as one of our team bought in her zucchini recipes to share with those of us in need of saving from the zucchini over production. Sadly my best source of zucchini recipes has just de-camped on a 12 day cruise in the Pacific so I will be bereft of their counsel until the end of the month – I hope I can cope with the glut until then!

Pprune1Pprune2BluepumpZuccfrit

While I was sleeping

With the good rain on Christmas and Boxing Day and the distractions of the holiday season I haven’t been in the garden so much lately. I was therefore pleasantly surprised as I watered my way around the beds this morning to see that things have moved on since I last checked.

First of all I can say that friend M has definitely won this years tomato competition. While her tomatoes didn’t quite make Christmas eating when we went over to check on her moggy on Boxing Day the tomatoes were only one or two days off being edible. Ours (see photo) spurred on by this acheivment now look like they’ll be edible next week.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was the corn cobs (although TB tells me he drew my attention to them last week), three on the Golden Bantams that I can see. Out the back the Green Feast peas have put out their first pods and the zucchinis will need picking lest they turn into Zeppelins!

The Italian variety Eggplant Prosperosa (seeds available from www.theItalianGardener.com.au), that I purchased at the Allsun Organic Farm open day in November, has just started to flower. Given its ‘bella figura’ I think that this plant would be one to seriously consider if you want to mix flowers and vegetables in a small garden. The combination of deep purple stems and the pink flowers against the wavy-edged green leaves is just lovely.

Tomat31decCornCorncobGreenfeastZucchiniEggplant