Thursday, December 29, 2011

Summer is here!

I mean here-here, really here, and loaded with tomatoes. The downside to summer is sweeping on us from the west with temperatures of 39c (102f) expected within the week and nothing under 34c (93f) for the next five days. We've had an easy start to summer throughout December, but it's all on from here out. Dry dry dry and hot, and that's not great for gardens, not even Mediterranean-styled ones. With plants, surviving is not the same as thriving.

Anyway, the upside to summer is also on us: veggie harvests! Yesterday I collected the first of the eggplants (two, Lebanese), a decent handful of beans (butter beans, and two other green types I forget the names of), yet more spring onions (Redlegs), and over two kilograms of tomatoes, and that's not even including the tomatoes I have been picking over the last few weeks and forgot to record, or all the ones I have been snacking on as I water the garden. We are going to be overrun. So far I am picking Tigerellas, Grosse Lisse, and Dwarf Figs and there are dozens upon dozens to come. Happy Happy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

More garlic!

I have harvested the rest of the garlic from MIL's garden. She tells me the pantry now looks like something from an Italian farmhouse, so strung about with garlic that it is. When the garlic has been cleaned of its clinging dirt with a dust-brush, the skins look silken and white streaked with purple. Next year, however, I will plant both early and late-maturing varieties so that it doesn't all need to be harvested at the same time.

As for those gloriously purple flower /seed heads, can anyone tell me if I can do anything with them? Can I plant them for next time, or can we eat them?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What we are eating: December, 2011

There is so much going on in the garden right now, and we are starting to harvest some long-maturing crops planted earlier in the year as well as eating early summer veggies. It's all a bit fabulous!

The garlic I planted way, way, way back in April finally flopped over and the leaves dried out, so out of the ground it came. It was such a good crop to grow, set and forget! Needed nothing more than the occasional weed and it did it's thing (albeit very slowly, not a good one for the impatient).

The 'Early White' softneck garlic bulbs were quite small but came out of the ground largely intact and were easy to clean up.

The 'Early Purple' garlic is a hardneck variety. The bulbs are much larger, around supermarket size, but the skins tended to split or be absent from at least half of the cloves I pulled out and were a bit of a bugger to clean all the dirt out of. The skins were also very fragile and a number of bulbs were easily damaged by pulling and cleaning. As that's not good for storing the garlic, I crushed all the damaged bulbs and mixed them with oil and have frozen the mash to use as we go along (the oil makes it easy to just scoop out teaspoons of frozen garlic).

Now these, these are completely fabulous and I can't seem to stop raving about them. They are the first of the potatoes I planted in August. The potatoes themselves arrived in the post in June - you might remember I didn't know exactly what they were! - and I think they're fulfilling all the promise of that mysterious brown paper bag. Now, these particular potatoes I grew in green plastic potato bags and they suffered a Lack of Water while we were away and the tops died off in these particular bags so I unearthed the lot. There are still half a dozen plants growing well in the ground, and a few more still in potato bags for later in the season. So far we've had about 2kg of the beauties! Many of them were a lovely size which fit in the palm of my hand.

And an awful lot of them were the size of peas. After a thorough scrubbing, we boiled them up, then cooked them briefly in a pan with loads of home-grown garlic and parsley, salt, pepper and an unhealthy amount of butter. Despite their small size, they were delicious (of course!)
At my best guess these potatoes include Bananas, Cranberry Reds, Sapphires, and Pink Eyes (or are they Pink Edwards?)

We're also still eating mushrooms out of September's mushroom kit. You might wonder how we kept it going while we were away for a month? Well, I handed it to my mum who got about two mushrooms out of it, and then she went away for a while so she lent it to her mum who got a few more, and then it went back to my mum where it did nearly nothing, and then it came back to us and it's had it's first genuinely decent crop - 200g - of mushrooms, enough for one pot of mushroom sauce!

Added to that mushroom sauce was a glorious FAT Red Legs spring onion. I much prefer spring onions over normal onions. They are easy to grow (but much slower than I realised they would be) and they don't hurt your eyes when you cut them.

And for dessert? Muffins made with the first of the rhubarb.

And finally, though not for eating - unless they have seeds and then our future-chickens will get them - are my sunflowers. The yellow variety is beginning to open:

And the reds are open all the way and are much lovelier and more varied in their colour than I imagined they would be, shot through with russets, golds, oranges, and stems of deep purple.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chicken fortress

Continuing on the mammoth updating sessions I have been posting, here's tonight's: Our Chicken Fortress! It's still a work in progress and nowhere near finished yet (as you'll see), but you can see the bones of it at least.

We've never kept chickens before. The total sum of our chicken care experience is one week a few years ago house - and chicken - sitting for friends. Nonetheless, they're on my 'must have' list, and nearly everything I've read about chickens makes me want them. I even know what kind I want (I want to say 'cultivar' because I work in a nursery... what's the word if it's an animal, 'breed,' right?) Anyway, I'd like to get some Wynadottes if I can, because they're apparently quite docile, good layers etc, and pretty too (I'm not really an animal lover, I like 'em small and manageable if they're close up, anything bigger than a cat I keep at arms length).

I've been reading books on chook care, but the part that worries me the most is foxes. Most Australians will know they're an introduced pest, but the amount of environmental damage they have done to our native wildlife and agriculture is staggering. It's estimated that foxes are responsible for environmental and agricultural impacts valued at $200 million each year. $200 MILLION! (Click here for reference). Ecological impacts aside, there's nothing a fox likes better to eat than a chicken, and I've read and heard far too many stories about foxes eating urban chickens lately. Driving around our area at night we will often see foxes scurrying off into the undergrowth on the side of the road so they are very much an active presence in our area.

Anyway, bearing that in mind, we're attempting to build an impenetrable coop for our chickens. 'How to fox proof your chicken coop' was one of the most useful articles we read with regards to choosing appropriate mesh for our fortress. Although a lot of our coop (so far) has been built with recycled materials we did have to buy all the wire, and it has not been as cheap an exercise as we'd hoped, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

The coop is going in the back right hand corner of our yard. It will have a boxed in part for sleeping and egg-laying, and an enclosed open part for the chickens to roam about in when I don't want them destroying my veggie garden. As much as possible, I want to let them roam about the yard too but appreciate it's not always practical (I value my seedlings too highly!)

So, here goes: progress so far!

Chef D measuring up (note ginormous peastraw bale! It's slowly shrinking as I make inroads on the mulching). Can hardly wait until the piles of renovating rubbish can go... ahem.

Chef D cutting recycled hardwood timbers: (These timbers are part of the batch our neighbour gave us to use to say thank you for getting rid of the pine tree. The straighter ones are under our floorboards, and these were the leftovers.)

Miss SP 'helping' with the building:

Just to prove I really exist, here is a rare photo of me. I'm only putting it up because I look relatively normal in it...

This whole structure will be eventually enclosed with wire mesh. It's quite big, but we hope to keep between 4-8 hens in it at one time over the years.

And here's the beginning of the fox proofing. Don't worry, the wires go more than partway across the base! The mesh size, by the way, is 100mm squares and 2mm thick. It goes roughly 30cm past the edge of the coop (like a skirt) and we're digging it into the ground so that the chickens can still scratch around over the top. We've started putting the wire 'walls' in with a smaller mesh size but I haven't got a picture of that part yet. Probably because it was a total pain to do - literally! - as the hardwood is so hard to hammer the nails into (odd, that) and wiring the floor wire to the wall wire was much harder to do than I thought it would be and I ended up hot, bothered, scratched, and grumpy by that endeavour and I'm only halfway around so far.

So that's where our chicken coop is so far. I don't know when we'll get time to continue work on it, Chef D tells me he's working every day from now until Christmas Eve, and I have an 'active' toddler to look after who makes doing anything other than running about after her near impossible. But, since we're not back home yet, our chickens-of-the-future don't need a completed coop until next year some time (early next year, fingers crossed!)

Blooming beauties

Next update! This time on the flowers I've planted about the place.

Out the back, I had dreams of sunflowers and hollyhocks all the way along the west-facing fence. I sprouted loads of seedlings of the above, and planted them out. Unfortunately, the snails, slugs, and similarly minded critters thought this was a fabulous idea, said 'thanks for the supermarket,' and ate their way through nearly all of them. I had, perhaps, three or four dozen plants out there, and only half a dozen sunflowers survive (both dark red and yellow) and a miserable two, lonely hollyhocks are struggling along. The remaining sunflowers, at least, are not struggling. They are impressively tall and looking grander and more stately by the day. They are developing flowers already. This is one of the yellow varieties (I'm hoping it's an enormous Russian sunflower, but so many have gone that I can't remember what was planted where now, it may be an ordinary Sun King)

And this is one of the red sunflowers. These beauties had red stems even when they were tiny seedlings, and now that they are bigger they have a distinctive purple tinge to their veins and margins.

Most of my flowers are out in the front garden as the back is dedicated more to veggie and fruit growing. Slowly slowly the front 'rose garden' is taking shape. I never really meant to have a rose garden, but the 23 Icebergs already out the front pushed me along that path. We missed the first Spring flush, but they'll continue to bloom all Summer and Autumn.

Over Winter I added five David Austin roses to the front garden; all are apricot/yellow tones. They were Jude the Obscure (my all time favourite), Graham Thomas, Lichfield Angel, Crocus Rose, and Charlotte. Unfortunately, the Charlotte rose did not survive the winter which is a bit of a bummer, but the rest of them are thriving and have their first flowers or buds. The Graham Thomas is as lovely as I expected(but I was too slow with the camera!) and smells gorgeous. The rose pictured is Lichfield Angel. I notice, that just like the Icebergs, the rain leaves pink spots on the flowers! I am waiting eagerly for the other two roses to flower so I can see what colours they are in real life.

When we bought this house I planted a hedge along the fence of Hidcote Lavender. There is a definite 'wellness gradient' along the fence, I've found. The first two lavenders by the gate at the Eastern end of the fence did not survive, but as you go down the fence line the lavenders look better and bigger until the Western end when the look like this! So pretty, and by next year I expect they would have filled out more completely and will have more of an informal 'hedgey' look.

Then, on a whim, I planted a couple of Catmints (Nepeta spp) after reading that they are traditional in rose gardens (the pretty lavender coloured flowers are supposed to help hide the leggy stems of the rose shrubs). I have fallen in love with the Nepeta completely, and have already planted a couple more (in both lavender and white) and I'm trying to grow some from seed too, so I can have loads of it.

And then there's the borage, which I've been trying to photograph because the sunlight in those little hairs is so very pretty, and the Dodonaea viscosa purpurea, which has no flowers yet but is a lovely wine colour.

I have realised that I've unintentionally begun to create a rose garden with a white/lavender/yellow theme which should be quite nice if it all comes together as it looks in my head. Here is how it looks so far - without a rose in sight because they are all behind me! - getting there, getting there... I want to put in more silvery foliaged plants next, and more of the creeping thymes, and more Nepeta of course (and a few more roses, ones that are more yellow than apricot). That's my wish-list anyway, to begin in Autumn when we get back into a planting season. (Northern Hemisphere readers: Summer in Southern Australia is a bad time to plant most plants as it's very hot and much too dry. It's not impossible, but new plants need to be lavished with care or they will not thrive.)

That shabby brown plant in the top left is a native pelargonium (Pelargonium australe). It was looking wonderful before we went away, but has suffered in the hotter weather because it's in a bit of an exposed spot. The flowers are pretty though, typical pelargonium flowers, and I have started to collect a bit of the seed - they are fluffy and parachuted, like daisy seeds - to see if I can grow more plants from it (it can also be propagated easily from cuttings just as you could an introduced pelargonium).

Most of those plants pictured are on the western side of the front garden, the eastern side is very much a work in progress. This link shows you roughly what I have planned. The main eastern garden bed was just grass which I dug up, and then I transplanted a heap of the Icebergs into that space into a kind of wedge shape. There was a path down the side of the yard past the house here, which was dug up as we are bringing gas into the house from the street main supply. Until just a few weeks ago, this space was a giant ditch. It's finally had the gas plumbing put in and it's been filled FINALLY! I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to walk easily down there again! The roses are all totally fine and blooming - I had a picture which I accidentally deleted, oops! - but a couple of the other plants I had in here got squashed by plumbing/ditch-filling efforts. The gardener in me was horrified to lose a Lomandra (pictured!), a little Kunzea, and a chamomile (which may yet recover) but my inner-renovator is just happy that the plumbing is done.

Speaking of renovating, that's what I'll update you on next. :)

Edibles update (long)

I am making up for a slow posting in November by posting nearly every day in December so far... and I have five more rough drafts full of photos waiting in the wings, too!

So, as you know, we recently spent a month away on holidays and left the garden care (IE watering) to someone else. When we got home the garden was overrun with weedy grasses and thistles, and to my horror a couple of my veggie pots looked like this:

Eek! We'd had an early November heatwave, and some plants got frizzled! For the record, that pot of strawberries and the other heatwave casualties have been lathered with love, water, and Seasol and all are showing signs of recovery, thank heavens! And once I got weeding like a madwoman, the rest of the garden didn't look such a shambles.

But, onto the good news: Tomatoes!
Lots and lots of tomatoes are on their way, and the 'dwarf fig tomato' (Diggers) out the front in my rose garden has a few red fruits already (which I have eaten as I did my rounds deadheading all the icebergs).

I planted my pepino back in March or thereabouts after buying the plant for $2.50 at a market and having never eaten it before and no idea what it tasted like. I have since seen plants in biggish pots selling for $20, but mine has grown to at least four times the size of a $20 version in about 8 months. I got a bargain! I first noticed the flowers in June, so it has been a long wait over winter and spring for ripened fruits, but now there are flowers on the bush again already. It's quite a low scrambling and floppy shrub, about 1m across, and some of the stems are self-layering along the ground. The leaves are dark green and quite lush and tropical looking in our Adelaide garden. Occasionally something will nibble on the leaves but overall it has been pest and disease free.
The fruit are a muddy yellow colour and striped with mauve, and they don't taste too bad. They're not fabulous, not hugely delicious, but they taste quite a lot like honeydew melon and can be picked and eaten straight off the bush after a quick rinse under the garden tap which is always nice. The skins are edible but a little on the tougher side, but easy to peel, and I haven't found any seeds in any of the fruit yet.

I have loads of plants growing in Styrofoam tubs now, thanks to reading about it on KMKG's blog. The plant at the bottom of this tub is some sort of mini melon, but now I can't remember if it's a Minnesota rock melon, or a Tigger melon. The plant above is... I don't know! It looks kinda like basil, but has no scent so I don't think it's a herb at all. I think it's vegetable that I planted but then forgot to label, as with the melon plants. This tub is a clear demonstration that I must remember to label everything more diligently! I will have to wait and see what I'm growing here, it will be a surprise, I just hope it's not a weed which I'm carefully cultivating in a prime position...
Other herbs, however, like this apple mint are doing brilliantly and are rapidly becoming massive. What's the bet I will regret planting this one directly in the ground? It's in my 'difficult' spot, out in the front garden on the dark south side of the house. Over winter this area gets soggy and almost no sunlight, which I'm hoping will help keep this mint in check.

Unlike the poor potted strawberries above, most of the plants I put out in the front garden are doing very well despite getting minimal water. We get a couple of strawberries a day (so still not the overflowing baskets of berries I dream of), the only issue is trying to get the fruit before the millipedes do.

Still out in the front garden, my new Pineapple quince has seven fruits on it, which leaves me with a dilemma: the tree was only planted over winter (though it is about 6 feet tall). Will it be able to support the fruits? Will they get too heavy and make the slim branches snap? Or will they take too much energy from the baby tree? Should I remove them now, or can I leave them to ripen? Still, one way or another, these fuzzy fruits fill me with joy.

Another delicious 'fruit' I am waiting for is my rhubarb. Also planted in the front garden in amongst the roses, this plant is doing brilliantly and it huge with chunky stems one inch across which I'm eagerly waiting to redden so we can eat it.

Ironically, this teeny tiny unhappy rhubarb is planted only 1m away from the enormous one, and came from the same bag of rootstock! It's so small I had to go poking around in the borage to see if it was still there. Why one plant is 20 times the size of it's brother is a mystery, makes me wonder how different the soil must be even so close by.

Along the fence by the rose garden, facing west, is my banana passionfruit. It was one of the first plants I planted when we bought our house. I have childhood memories of eating these passionfruit when I was a child out of a family-friend's backyard. In the last 18 months it has grown enormously but still not a single flower has ever grown on it. Does anyone have any idea how long a passionfruit vine normally takes to flower? I have read that an excess of nitrogen with inhibit flowering (the vines will make leaves instead), but to be honest I'm a bit slack with fertilizing so I don't know if that is an issue or not.

And lastly, a little promise for the future: the raspberries planted all along the above fence. These babies I dug out of MIL's garden over winter. I had perhaps 10 plants all together. A couple have been lost since I planted them out, but most have survived and while they are small I am hopeful that they will be as wonderful as they are in their 'homeland,' here at MIL's. I don't know what variety they are, but I do know they are delicious.

Happy weekend gardening, all!

Next post: a bit of a floral update.

It's alive!

Back in autumn this year I planted a Fuyu persimmon by the house in the front garden, and then quickly followed it up with a Nightingale persimmon nearby (which I forgot to document in the Blogosphere). The Nightingale twiglet has done quite well over spring and has lots of lovely big leaves. The Fuyu treeling, however, I thought had died. I waited and waited and my heart sunk as my twig did nothing. I decided I would leave it in the ground until the end of September, and if it still showed no signs of life then I would take it out. Then as September's end rolled around, I figured I may as well leave it there until we got back from our trip and deal with it then.

Well, much to my surprise, my little Fuyu persimmon is just a late bloomer! I thought these leaves might have been from the rootstock (it's a grafted tree), but no, the graft is at the bottom of that painted white section, and the leaves a good two inches above that, so my baby tree is alive after all! Happy days!

Lots of gardening updates to come over the following week: stay tuned!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Just briefly...

Blogging world, I have not forgotten you, but the Internet at our house has forgotten how to work properly over the last week: today it decided to work at 11:48pm, when I had 'one last check' before I intended to go off to bed (of course, Murphy's Law, it did work and now I am still sitting here half an hour later instead of being curled up in my bed with babe and boy).

I have loads of garden photos to show you; since I have tidied up the worst of the holiday weeds it looks much better, but haven't got them off the camera yet since I didn't think I could get onto the 'net to share them. Since I'm not up to date there, let's just scoot back a couple of weeks to Thaton, shall we?

I didn't take masses of photos in Thaton on this trip, but here are just a couple of my favourites:

Flowers on the side of the road;

Feeding time at the zoo (there are actually two cats missing from this shot because they are shy of people and not as piggy as these five);

And lastly, SP making her 'monkey face' (she looks like a bit of a grumpy, overtired monkey in this shot...)

Summer's here! Bring on the tomato harvest...