Saturday, 16 August 2014

Winter wrap up

Its cold outside Spring is just around the corner.......

Last week I sowed my summer seeds and my girls are back laying (and letting me know very noisily all about it)

In the meantime my winter garden is still ticking along. At home I am picking bok-choy, sprouting broccoli   and a sneaky winter capsicum (I think its the my personal record for latest harvest capsicum). To add to that, a few weeks ago (before it got too frosty) I picked a handful of pink cherry tomatoes from the community garden and let them ripen in the banana bowl.

It's my first winter with a plot at the community garden and my plants have been going well out in the sun.

Last week I thinned my first baby leeks for pumpkin and leek risotto.

My garlic is growing well and I am confident of some nice big heads.

Japanese daikon- are bursting out of the ground- quite literally! Stay tuned for another installment where I attempt to turn these babies into Japanese pickles (starting off my 'nukadoro'- rice bran pickle pot is my next project on the list).

Finally, here's my savoy cabbage. Last year the cabbages in planter box ended up infested by aphids, so this looks like my first successful cabbage harvest!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Recycled green house

The warmest spot to sit on a winters day

Thanks to some IT issues..... seriously how hard can it be to change internet providers? its been a while since I last posted... so now we are deep in the depths of winter I am finally able to post about my new recycled green house.....

The most important part of any green house is the glass.. in this case it's the old hinged shower screen taken from our bath during the renovation.

the screen lends itself to an A-frame design which was created using left over timber and plywood. The piece of wood at the front is a prop to hold open the door. 

Due to the combined weight of the screen and the timber we have added  caster wheels to help move the green house around to maximize exposure to the sun. The casters were taken off a dumped mattress base that my partner G found somewhere in the neighbourhood.

Inside are the left over remains of my winter seedlings, my new baby curry tree and a piece of spouted ginger. In addition to help maintain the thermal mass G added a piece of  water filled PVC piping, spray painted black.Once again this was recycled from a previous down pipe diversion that we no longer needed once the water tanks were installed.

 Not long to go before I test it out for real with seed sowing for summer.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Work versus 'work'

Having just spent the last few weekends and the period in between Easter and our Anzac Day public holiday (another long weekend) scraping, sanding and painting my way through the last of our bathroom and laundry renovation (thankfully we had professionals do the rest of it!), I can confirm I won't be auditioning for any home renovation shows soon. After about day 4 of trying to strip of 80 years of paintwork off the bathroom window I have decided if I have to do manual labour I will stick to the garden and looking after 'livestock'. Anyway in between it all I somehow managed to get my garden under control and hopefully ready for winter- so hopefully now there's more time for sitting back and other activities like blogging.

Its funny how the time spent out in the garden digging, weeding and collecting chicken poop for the compost bin doesn't seem like work to me and painting does.... but my increasing efforts to grow and expand the productivity of my own garden and to take on additional growing space is paying off!  This April I have met my challenge and included homegrown food on the table for every day in the last month! (apart from a few days when we have eaten out with friends etc). Last year I came pretty close but this year there was a lot more variety and multiple ingredients.

A summary for the top ingredients for the month of April is as follows:

  • egg plants
  • capsicum
  • tomatoes
  • beans
This year these mini heritage eggplants that I grew from seed saved from last years fruit (my first successful attempt to germinate eggplant seed) were my best yielding eggplants. I have mostly been including in various versions of Thai style curry and combined with my regular 'Lebanese' eggplants to make 'Chinese chilli' eggplant' with free range pork mince.

Italian heirloom- Listada Di Gandia - from 'Diggers' seedling stock 
Here are the very last of some sad end of season tomatoes- no good for salad but can honestly say there's no way you can tell the difference in the flavour after they have been slow cooked with a pork shoulder for a couple of hours and popped into a tortilla from our local yet authentic 'tortilleria' called La Tortilleria.

Sad tomatoes- the yellow ones have me stumped- they refuse to turn any shade of red- but seem ripe as is. I didn't knowingly plant any yellow varieties?

Its been a big month for Mexican with my first attempt to grow and harvest tomatillo, a massive success! I have yielded a couple pf kilograms from my two plants at the community garden patch. I have seen them  for sale for $19.99kg at gourmet grocer at the Vic Market. My girlfriend and I are therefore seriously contemplating whether we turn the community garden plot into a tomatillo farm. Last year I posted a recipe for tomatillo green salsa which I have subsequently found not only makes a great topping for tacos, but also for poached eggs and as a spread inside ham and cheese toasties- YUM! other friends have been experimenting as a topping for pork chops and in a 'vegan' Mexican dish..... 

A bowl of tomatillos, 'surprise' padron chilli and the finished salsa.

I think May could be a more difficult month than April- as I am waiting for winter crops to come on board. Thankfully I still have the last of the eggplants, heaps of capsicums and chillies and tomatoes in the freezer. The beans (that went in late) are showing no signs of letting up yet and I have one hen still laying for now!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Breaking the rules

Ok so the theme of this post is about breaking the rules

1. Thou shall pull your tomatoes out right about now?!

It seems everyone is busy pulling tomatoes out. Am I the only one who's hoping mine will linger on a little longer? A few weeks ago I got an email from my one of my planter box neighbours to say that she had noticed that the tomatoes I had put into the planter box that had been abandoned by its original owner had been pulled out and replanted. My neighbour was curious as to who had taken it over. Turns out it wad another neighbour N who 'thought it was time to pull tomatoes out and plant winter vegetables'. Never mind I was hanging out for my last batch of yellow pears that were hopefully only one more 29 degree day away from ripening. Over at the community gardens I can sense the old guys getting tetchy because the weeds are coming up between my tomatoes there. With days in the last week hitting the 30s I will leave them for the next week or so before I bite the bullet!

April tomatoes and a leek from last year that's taken this long

2.Crop rotation versus use of micro climates

Gardening rules 101 talk about the principal of crop rotation. Beginners gardening books feature nicely drawn diagrams of how to rotate your crops between nicely arranged square beds. The problem with this is that it assumes you have access to each bed with the perfect conditions for each kind of plant. My original garden bed runs along my southern boundary (12m x 2m), with the sun/shade patterns moving the sunniest areas throughout the year. The soil on the western end is sandy as a result of imported  top soil whilst the soil at the eastern side is the original heavy clay. As a result I have never really been able to rotate my crops in any significant way because certain things grow better in certain spots.  Moving things around for the sake of 'rotation' seemed to create less results than keeping them in the same spot with the bests conditions for that particular plant year after year. Now that I have opened up new growing options that should allow rotation I am still finding other issues over-riding crop rotation. Differences in sun, heat, soil, pests (harlequin bugs), pilfering rats, chooks and neighbours will be guiding my planting schedule over the coming year. For the winter I have decided the focus of my backyard will be on plants that are regularly picked- leafy greens, peas and broad-beans. I am moving root veg- daikon, leeks, onions, garlic and parsnips out to the community garden and using the planter boxes and laneway for back up brassica crops- (away from chooks- see rule 3)

My back lane has performed well for heat loving plants- like these 'capsicums' (urmmm surprise padron chilies) and my first baby bitter melon)  

3.Disobedient chooks- Rule: don't keep chooks in the same space as your edible plants-

The impacts of this form of rule breaking goes without saying. There is a simple reason why your average chook yard is a dust bowl. Mama hen 'Boss' has recently figured out a new way to 'pull' the wire fence so the pegs holding the fence panels together come away and she can squeeze in. As a result my late crop of climbing beans is now one significant plant down.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The tomato project part three.

Ok so its well over a month since my last update on my tomatoes. So much for my idea of providing regular updates on on my 2013-14 harvest. In a quick round up here's whats been happening in each of my growing locations:

Street planter boxes:

The planter boxes have been what's keeping my salads stocked over the summer. I have ended up with 2 yellow pear and 2 regular cherry tomato plants that have been producing a couple of punnets worth per week.

I also have a mini roma (which suffered from blossom end rot early in the season and is only started to ripen unblemished fruit) and this large unknown variety (below), Its one of the varieties from Bek's seed collection and whatever it is, the tomatoes made a fantastic rich sauce for my pasta the other night!


The rats have come back and have been busy stripping all the cherry tomatoes from along the back fence. We have recently started trapping again and I tried some mental deterrent for the rats by placing a small bit of the cats poo (relocated from the chooks dust bath pit URGH) on the fence railing that they use as their entry point. To date both deterrents have failed.

Community garden plot:

The hopes and dreams of my community garden plot tomato crop have largely now faded thanks to a plague of harlequin bugs that have pretty much taken over. They seemed to have dropped off over recent weeks but its now too late to rescue any kind of serious harvest. Here's a selection of harvested tomatoes showing the little white spots indicating harlequin bug damage. Basically it seems that by sticking their sucking mouth parts in into the flesh it encourages the development of a thickened skin. This doesn't make tomatoes conducive to salads so I pretty much chop them up and freeze or use straight away in any dish that calls for a tin of tomatoes.

I am wanting to find out more about the harlequin bug life cycle with a hope of finding out if there is anything that can be done to stop their development because nothing seems to kill them. Information seems very thin on the ground. In the past I have tried sprays both natural (garlic,chili) and chemical (yep I was really that desperate to get out the Confidor spray). Recently I have tried drowning them in a spray of soapy water- I reckon that kills about 10% them,  but even then I am not sure if its real death or suspended animation until they dry out.  Based on my observations I wondering if they need undisturbed soil or mulch to commence their life cycle as they have been very much absent from my garden since I introduced my chickens. Either way any subsequent harlequin plague may be a deal breaker for my continued participation in the community garden next year.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Weird and wonderful

One of my favourite parts of growing my own veggies is experimenting with lesser known plants that go beyond your normal standard beans, tomatoes, eggplants and chillies. Luckily for this article most of the plants I have been meaning to feature here have miraculously survived the extreme heat we have had in Melbourne last week. So here goes a list of my top unusual edibles.

Japanese Burdock.

I usually refer to this by its Japanese name 'Gobo'. I came to know this vegetable on my trips to Japan including two years living there. I got my original plant from a Japanese native, Melbourne resident and avid back yard gardener who was selling plants at the annual Box Hill Japanese Festival.

The edible part in Japan is the root. There are various methods to encourage the growth of a single straight ridiculously long tap root using poly tubes etc. But I am lazy and just grow it in a pot and work around the wonkyness of what ever grows. (Based on my experience do not attempt to grow in the ground unless you have very sandy soil or you want to excavate half the garden to get the root out). The plant is a bi-annual that dies off over winter and seeds every second year. The leaves are quite tasty and subject to attack by various pests- including large patrolling feathered variety. The leaves grow large and broad so it needs a lot of space to grow. Based on these factors I am growing them in a dedicated planter. The seeds are prickly and sticky so will end up stuck to you and your pets! (Apparently they were the inspiration for velcro!).  My main use for burdock is to saute with carrot, sesame, mirin sugar and soy sauce. It has a fantastic nutty taste.

Japanese burdock (looking a little wilted from the heat)

2. Tomatillos.  

This is my first year growing tomatillos from seed I saved from tomatillos sourced from the Gasworks Farmers markets, so I have no idea what the outcome of this experiment will be.  Wikipedia tells me you need more than one plant to germinate fruit. I have two plants that are looking fantastic. Last year I made green salsa from my purchased tomatillos.

tomatillo plants

Bitter melon. 

This is another experiment inspired by my travels in Japan, to Okinawa where 'goya' (as its known) is the national dish (Okinawa is currently politcally part of Japan- but culturally and ethnically quite different). This is my second attempt to germinate and grow goya (it needs warm weather) but in my first attempt it was too late in the year to flower and fruit. The birds killed one plant so I am sowing more seeds in case it needs cross pollination.

bitter melon seedling

Water chestnuts.  

These were gifted to me by a work colleague as a single plant/ corm last year. The plants need to be submerged during the warmer summer months and are harvested when they die back and dry off in the autumn. I am looking forward to my first harvest later year and am planning a water garden (water cress and water chestnuts) in my soon to be removed bath (renovations are about to kick off) next spring.

water chestnuts

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The tomato project- Part two 'Going Pear Shaped'

At last my first tomato for the year....

And the winner is a 'yellow pear' variety

Harvested on Tuesday 7 January- that has to be a record for tomato harvesting lateness?

This little one was harvested from one of the tomato plants I popped into an empty spot in one of the street planter boxes way back in August! I thought that would be way too early, but it seems to have worked,

The fact it was a yellow pear in that planter means something strange has definitely gone on with my seed sowing? There are little baby pear shaped tomatoes springing up everywhere! in the planters and in my back garden.

It's strange because last year I got two spindly little 'yellow pear' plants very late in the piece from our local veggie swap. They were soon swamped and over-shadowed by the standard cherry tomatoes- (I call them 'feral cherries' because they seem to spring up everywhere). All in all I must have harvested only about 3 or 4 'yellow pears' last year. One of which I kept for seed. Normally the way this works is that I take the seeds and spread them onto a piece of paper towel. I write the name of the variety on the paper towel fold it in half an put it on the window sill to dry for a few days or so. After that I pop the piece of paper with the seeds still stuck to it into an envelope, maybe with a couple of other folded up pieces. When it comes time to plant the seeds I peel each seed gently off the paper. It's amazing that so many seeds from just one tiny tomato have managed to grow and I am pretty sure they were supposed to come from the piece of paper that said regular 'feral' cherry so I am thinking that in some stage of  the process the yellow pear got mixed up with the 'feral cherry'. I am wondering even if they have cross pollinated? I will find out when the others ripen.

In other tomato news down at the community garden plot where I am testing Bek's varieties the only ones that appear to have fruit at last count were the Ned Kelly and the Big Beef. With hot weather finally on the way I am looking forward to some more tomatoes soon.