Compost Recipe and Garden Monthly, November 2014

I’m going to start with the most important thing a garden requires- compost. Without a consistent approach to compost making, your garden will not thrive. So let’s head down into the heart of darkness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook inside this bin. Some mornings it sends up little smoke signals as I open the lid. We have five bins in permanent production. I have just emptied two mature lots onto the Spring beds. The other three are in various stages of breaking down.

When we built our vegetable patches five years ago, we had no natural topsoil at all. Our beds have been built up over the years with good compost. After every growing season, they need topping up and refreshing. I learnt how to make better compost from Wendy Mathers of the Food Farm, through workshops run by our local Council. Before I attended Wendy’s workshop, my compost approach was not based on correct layering and so the results were patchy.  I have heard a lot of nonsense over the years about mythological practices and debates about what constitutes good composting technique. Correct layering, using everyday found matter, is the answer.  I follow this recipe and am enjoying great results, with a bin maturing every three months or so, full of lovely fresh black soil alive with pink earthworms.  Here’s the recipe:

Compost Recipe – developed by Ross & Wendy Mather, Food Farm, St Andrews, Victoria 

The base ingredient is one bucket of  green matter, that is, vegetable scraps, or fresh grass/weeds then add to this one item from nitrogen column and any two items from carbon column.

Nitrogen                                  Carbon
1 bucket manure                     1 bucket straw
2 cups pelletised manure      1 bucket paper
1 cup blood and bone             1 bucket dry leaves
1 bucket Lucerne                     1 bucket sugarcane mulch

Too much carbon slows decomposition, and too much nitrogen smells. If you have vinegar flies, add more carbon and check your ratios.

In late Autumn, I have an abundant supply of crunchy oak leaves providing the carbon matter. In summer, I save newspapers and shred them on site. Newspaper ink is vegetable based. You tear along the grain so that it shreds easily. I use cow and chook manure as I keep these animals, but the list provides alternatives for suburban gardeners. Weeds can be used so long as they are drowned thoroughly first to destroy any seed.

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Wandering around the Spring vegetable patch after some welcome rain, my photo lens and I discover the close up beauty of new life. Seeds sprout and develop quickly, young grapes form on vines, last month’s quince flowers are now miniature fruits, the pears and apples are in flower and fruit, and the nectarines already colourful.

butterhead lettuce
butterhead lettuce

Each photo suggests a task. The little lettuce seeds need thinning and transplanting. I often wrap up a few clumps then make transportable containers using wet newspaper. Seedlings were once sold this way from nurseries.

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The strawberries are happy but I need to ‘acquire’ the materials for a walk in cloche. I am always on the look out for stuff in tip shops but thick poly piping is well sought after. We have stolen three veggie patch beds for raspberries and strawberries. Now we are short of room for summer vegetable crops. The children love to pick berries and eat them on site, as do the birds.
The boysenberries have gone crazy and need containing. More freezer space is required!

Boysenberries
Boysenberries

The zucchini plants are well on the way and I should see the start of the plague next week. Traditionally in Melbourne, zucchini begin to fruit one week after Melbourne Cup Day. Melbourne Cup Day ( the first Tuesday of November) is used as a marker for all sorts of gardening activities. Some say that tomatoes must be planted from Cup day onwards. I plant mine much earlier, in the ridiculous hope that I might have tomatoes by Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the surprise bed, one dedicated to out of date seed, the Cucurbit family seeds all germinated ( all were five years out of date) as well as the borlotti beans. These little squash need thinning out and sharing.

squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed
squash and cucumbers from the surprise bed.

Winter crops are now going to seed and I save the best specimen of each vegetable for seed collecting.  The only problem is that these giants take up valuable space. The importance of home seed collecting is that you end up with a variety, after some years, that is most adapted to your particular microclimate, as well as preserving the strongest of the species. Darwin at work! These seeds are swapped and given away. Sometimes, like all things, new genes are introduced. The red lettuce below was found years ago in a mesclun lettuce seed mix. I have saved this one to provide summer colour contrast to a lettuce bowl.

My favourite red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?
My favourite dark red lettuce is saved each year. Anyone know its name?

The grapes will be prolific this year: netting takes place in a month or so.  This year I plan to preserve some vine leaves for dolmade making, and the method can be found on Debi’s site here. I must be selective about this as the leaves shade the grapes from the vicious summer sun.

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The young nectarines are already bird attractors. Those hungry birds, mostly Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, white Cockatoos, Corellas,  and King Parrots, will attack young, hard fruit for fun; just testing, they say.  The nets will come out soon, a big task to cover around 30 fruit trees in production. Even olive trees need netting.

young nectarine
young nectarine

The artichokes are late this year, probably because I transplanted them last Autumn. I love their grey -green foliage and will use these small ones shaved in a pasta dish this week

Artcichokes ready to pick and cook
artichokes ready to pick and cook

The broad beans continue to grace our garden and plates. Other currently harvested crops include radicchio, rugola, and lettuce.

broadbean glut. Time to freeze.
Broadbean glut. Time to freeze.

This post forms part of Garden Share Collective  a monthly round up of food growing bloggers.  If you lived next door, we could share seed and seasons of plenty.

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Garden monthly, October 2014

 

Purple flowers everywhere attract pollinating insects.
Purple flowers everywhere attract pollinating insects.

Spring has slowly arrived. September was frosty and windy; only now the fruit trees are beginning to blossom. The ground has been too cold to plant seed, but with a few more hot days and some welcome rain, October will be a busy month. Although the plants won’t notice, an extra hour of light at the end of the day and not the beginning, will be most useful for this gardener.

fave/ broadbean flowers
fave/ broadbean flowers

My tasks include:

  • sow summer crops keeping rotation in mind.
  • planting out the tomato seedlings raised by my son in his hothouse.
  • enriching beds with compost and crumbled cow manure, then mulching.
  • building shade cloth covered fences on the south and west sides to protect the garden in summer.
  • remove dead wood from the strawberry patch and add compost then straw. Look for poly pipe to make a cloche for summer protection.
delicate quince blossom
delicate quince blossom

The most vigorous specimen of Cavolo Nero ( black kale) is now flowering for seed collecting, as well as attracting more bees. I have enjoyed tracking its life through these monthly garden posts. When the seed are harvested, probably in summer, I will have plenty to distribute so contact me if you need some.

Cavolo nero going to seed.  This bush has been going for more than a year.
Cavolo nero going to seed. This bush has been going strong for more than a year.

The overgrown sage bush is in flower, attracting more bees to the garden. When the flowering is finished, I’ll chop it back and make cuttings to pot up. Blue and purple flowers attract bees and other insects, necessary for pollinating summer flowering vegetables. I find that endive lettuce and raddicchio  flowers are the best for this purpose.

Radicchio
Radicchio

I have many out of date seed packets. At the end of Last April, I used old seed to plant a random winter crop garden. I am still eating the produce from that sowing. These seeds will be thrown randomly into a compost rich bed this week. Surprise beds are fun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Harvest includes silverbeet, rugola selvatica, radicchio, beetroot, broad beans ( the early ones), broccoli side shoots, parsley and lettuce. All these make lovely green feasts and are added to pastas, pies, salads and soups.

garden greens and fetta pasties
garden greens and fetta pasties

This post forms part of the garden share collective, a monthly roundup of vegetable gardens around the world managed by Lizzie. It serves two purposes. It allows you to connect to other food growers around the world, but also forms a useful home garden diary where weather events, seasonal change and particular micro-climates are recorded. If you like growing food, check out the others at the collective.

 

Garden Monthly. September 2014

This month my garden news is not good.  I am recording a few disasters.

Heavy frosts have continued to damage the citrus trees, especially the limes. The top leaves are badly burnt. It is too soon to prune these back as more frosts could be on the way.

frost bitten citrus
frost bitten citrus

The next cause of damage is the white cockatoo. This bird is the most annoying visitor to my garden. Cockies are vandals, hoodlums from the sky, descending on the garden in mobs, swooping down and causing havoc.

Not cute, annoying!
Not cute, annoying!

They don’t eat the vegetables, they cut them in half- just for fun! This particularly applies to tall-growing vegetables such as garlic, cavolo nero, and silverbeet. In the front garden, they took a particular dislike to the succulents this year, pulling them all out, leaf by leaf, as if to say ‘ we don’t like you, wrong colour, odd shape’.

garlic patch smashed by cockatoos.
garlic patch smashed by cockatoos.

The next annoyance-  the rabbits. Its seems we have a few gaps in our fencing and so these little devils have heavily pruned my parsley and radicchio. They breed in the nearby gullies and are a continual problem.

Harvest. Cavolo nero ( black kale) is now picked from one side of the plant (cockies stripped the other side) to make my favourite pasta dish. Silverbeet, coriander, and herbs are abundant. The broad beans are coming along nicely.

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On the bright side, these two calves, Dougie and O’Dannyboy were born in the last fortnight, adding a touch of Spring joy to our paddocks. They, and their mothers, provide our garden with manure.

O'Dannyboy and Dougie, the Dexters.
O’Dannyboy and Dougie, the Dexters.

To do list:

  • I think the time has come to build a netted cage over the whole veggie patch. Out damn cockies, out.
  • Build some shelters or breaks to protect citrus before next winter.
  • Sow plots of lettuce, spring onion, rugola.
  • Prepare and enrich other beds for the big planting which will take place in early October.
  • Collect more manure from the Dexter paddocks.

Garden Monthly. August 2014.

It’s winter here in Melbourne and the veggie garden was thriving until last week. A few severe frosty mornings set some vegetables back as the temperatures dropped below zero, and snow was recorded in the nearby hills. The leaves on the lime trees are now burnt but will survive. Old Jack Frost has killed off the remaining chilli plants and the rows of new potatoes. The frosts in the last two years seem to be more severe than I can remember in past years.

frost covered patch of turnips and lettuce.
frost covered patch of turnips and lettuce.

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One sad looking potato crop
One sad looking potato crop

Nothing can kill a turnip which has led to a flurry of turnip recipe experiments. I feel like Tess of the d’Urbervilles, grovelling about the turnip rows. Where is my hessian gown and curtained hood? They are mostly added to old fashioned vegetable soups or roasted.  I tried some turnip rostis and I cannot recommend this dish, as gorgeous as it looked topped with sour cream and feathery dill. It was just too turnipy!

Turnips anyone?
Turnips anyone?

The cavolo nero ( black kale) has turned into a perennial triffid and needs staking. I don’t mind. I add the leaves to soups and risotto or cook it then add to orecchiette pasta, the latter with garlic, anchovies, EV olive oil, and chilli flakes.

cavolo nero or tuscan kale.
cavolo nero or Tuscan kale.

The lettuces are nice and crisp in winter. The Cos are prolific as are the red and copper leafed varieties which are self-sown.

self seeded lettuce
self seeded lettuce

These broccoli were grown from old seed thrown into a bed in late March.  We are slowly working our way through the heads and looking forward to some side shoots. Some years ago, I kept a broccoli plant going for 18 months, eating lovely side shoots the whole time. The trick to semi perennial broccoli? Never let the plants flower. This works well if you don’t get that nasty little white butterfly in summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFreshly picked broccoli is nothing like its woody retail counterpart. It only needs two minutes in boiling water, drained, then tossed about in additional chosen flavours. A simple Neil Perry Recipe can be found here. I also love them tossed with a little oil, garlic, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In late May, I moved a whole lot of plants into a perennial bed, artichoke and rhubarb for example. They enjoyed a winter dormant spell and are showing signs of recovering for Spring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The To Do List is always too long.

  • Mulch the garlic before the Spring weeds get a hold.
  • Manure and mulch the perennial bed of rhubarb.
  • Finish off the third compost bin and begin the fourth.
  • Prepare spare beds for Spring planting with ready compost covered with mulch.
  • Espalier the fruit trees in the second chicken run orchard. Urgent Mr T!
  • Gather more cow manure from the front paddocks to add to the compost bins with dried leaves and green matter.

And on a sad note, here is my favourite Dexter cow, Derry, who gave birth last Sunday to a beautiful shiny black calf. Sadly the calf couldn’t stand to suckle due to a crippled leg. The vet instructed us to take the inevitable course of action.  Derry is our lawnmower, pet and keeps us in manure. She has recovered.

Derry the Dexter.
Derry the Dexter.

 

Garden Monthly. June 2014

This is a quick round up of my June garden.  More importantly, it is my garden diary which compels me to record the seasonality of my own produce, as well as enjoying other garden stories from around the globe.

                                                The Harvest.

Firstly, the Asians:  limes, lemon grass, chilli, coriander and Kaffir lime leaves. I can see a curry or guacamole coming up soon. Or perhaps some lemon grass tea.

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The baby turnips and pepper were baked with some other ( stored ) home produce.ImageImage

                                            The Veggie Garden

These two beds below were seeded on March 25th and are now ready to pick ( except for the broccoli). Young turnips, tatsoi, lettuce, radish, dill and coriander, silverbeet, and self sown bok choi are now abundant.Image

ImageThese strawberries think it is Spring, due to the unseasonable warm weather we have experienced this May. Will they have a chance to colour? The crazy yellow eggplants refuse to die. Shame that I don’t really like them.ImageImage

                                                 The ‘TO DO’ list.

  • plant broad beans in patches that could benefit from a nitrogen fix.
  • finish off planting out the garlic ( an endless task)
  • make a few more beds of winter lettuce and rocket.
  • remind the family to pick the broccoli heads in our absence, ensuring a future supply of side shoots.
  • protect the lemon grass from future frost.

In the photo below, Renato farewells the girls, my Dexter cows, Delilah, Derry and Duffy. Renato has been working as a volunteer Wwoofer on our property, on and off for two months. From Milano and a high tech working world, he loves farming and Australia and is always researching interesting approaches to everyday tasks. He has gathered endless quantities of manure from these paddocks, spreading it on all the fruit trees and olives and adding it to the compost.  Good gardening depends on good compost and manure.  Grazie Mille Renato.

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Garden Monthly. May 2014.

As April draws to a close, it’s time to take a spin around the veggie garden. The seeds I planted on March 25th are up and nearly ready for transplanting or thinning out. In this bed are: radicchio, cavolo nero  (Tuscan kale), rainbow chard, beetroot, French radish, cos lettuce, mixed lettuce, spinach and turnips. Lots of good things for winter soups and salads.ImageThe next bed is my Surprise bed. I had too many packets of out of date seeds, most dating back to 2009, so I threw the whole lot in this bed. So far, the results are good, with tatsoi, mustard, coriander, and other mysteries popping up.Image You have to congratulate the zucchini plants. They bear from late November to late April-that’s five months and still producing. I picked another three this morning, which formed the basis of a grilled zucchini and marinated fetta salad.

ImageThe chilli are so slow to colour. If we stay frost-free, they will hang on for a few more months and finally turn red.ImageThe raspberries are putting on a repeat performance, some as big as strawberries. First up, best dressed.  When there are so few, they never quite make it to the table.ImageThe Greek Basil bushes remain healthy and the Cavolo Nero from last winter is having a renaissance.ImageImageTo do list includes:

  • preparing beds for garlic planting. I prefer to plant garlic cloves in May, but so long as they go in before Winter Solstice, June 21st, they will be fine. I have a huge stash tucked away in a dark corner of my pantry. My new trick is to bury some whole bulbs under the cold earth in May, ( weather depending) and when I see green shoots, I lift the bulbs and separate the cloves into neat rows. I attempt to grow around 300 plus a year- one whole bulb for every day plus more for planting out the year after. Garlic loves rich soil and requires Winter and Spring watering if the season turns dry.
  • cleaning up the last remaining tomato bushes and adding the stalks to the bonfire stack (not safe to compost old tomato vines, they say) and tying up the stakes for next year.
  • Preparing the beds for sowing broad bean seeds. More manure and more compost needed. Our Wwoofer, Renato, is happy to help.
  • Thinning out and/or transplanting seedlings from last month’s sowing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Around My Edible Garden, March.

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I have been recording my vegetable garden activities in a hard covered journal for the last four years. It documents the sequence of planting in our 14 garden beds, as well as recording garden fantasies, drawings of fabulous arches, borrowed designs from garden visits. But there are no photos of each month’s results. Let’s face it, written journals are portable, flexible in style and very ‘Victorian’ when it comes to gardening but blog journals allow one to creep on all fours amongst the plants with camera on Macro, capturing the flowering, fruits, beetles, and worms.

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Yesterday the perfect weather, with the promise of rain in the next few days, took me back to the garden to plant seed for the next round of crops. My poor veggie patch has been neglected for months, mainly due to the heat and drought conditions in and around Melbourne, Victoria for the last three months. I plant seed only when

  • the soil is the right temperature ( not too hot/cold)
  • there is no wind ( which dries out the beds)
  • when there is a possible rain event, or even better, an electrical storm
  • when the day time temperature isn’t too hot/cold. If it heats up too much, I throw on my ‘dog beds’ for protection. ImageImage

These perfect conditions usually occur in Autumn and Spring, the busiest time in my garden.

My other garden laws are as follows:

  • Crop rotation ( hence the need for a written journal, with numbered beds). Crops such as silverbeet (chard), lettuce and parsley drop seeds in the same bed year after year, depleting the soil of essential minerals. I now move them along as they pop up. I attempt to rotate tomatoes throughout the beds, never planting them in the same spot for two years.  I have also removed potatoes from the beds completely, growing them in containers as they tend to leave small potato seed behind, which have a detrimental effect on other crops, especially tomatoes.
  • Leaving beds fallow for a season is also advisable. Like us, they need a rest too.
  • Companion planting is great for bug reduction. Certain plants like each other, for example, tomato and basil, but this includes growing nasturtiums and french marigold.
  • I let curly endive and radicchio go to flower each spring: their blue colour attracts bees and assists in fertilising the summer crops. The best specimen of any plant is left to go to seed for collecting. I rarely buy seeds. I have one lettuce variety that has been collected from my gardens for 25 years.
  • Mulching is essential to keep the plant roots moist in summer and warm in winter. I use pea straw. I used to use Lucerne, which is dynamic  but it tends to drop too much weed seed.
  • Composting in layers- one part green, one part brown, one part manure- helps to keep the pile active and sweet, whether in a closed or open bin. Newspaper is collected and shredded by hand- the ink dyes are vegetable based. Leaves are collected too. Manure comes from our three cows and assorted chooks (hens). The kitchen provides the rest. In spring grass clippings are added, as well as an occasional sprinkling of ash from the open fires. There is always plenty of material about.
  • Rain records are kept

Documenting the crop each season is also important. This March ( 2014)  is the year of the eggplant. Last year, capsicums ( peppers), the year before, tomatoes. We do plant all these crops, but each season, one crop ‘stars’ due to the weather conditions. Of course zucchini will always do their thing! This season’s garlic bulbs were huge in size due to abundant Spring rain: last year’s lot were much smaller due to a dry Spring.

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Do you have a vegetable garden? How big is it and what system works for you? Do you rotate crops or grow herbs in pots? Are our summers getting hotter? Do you grow your veggies in separate beds or in amongst the flowers?  What are the main pests or problems? Do you share the abundance or make preserves? Do you have an orchard and what is your best crop? Please leave a comment and if you like, add a link to your vegetable garden round-up for March in the comments below, with stories or pictures or both.  Also refer to my blog in your garden story so that it can be included.  This will become a monthly event for me, and I hope you can join too, to document our success and failures in the garden.

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This is such a great response from Davide, I am moving it from comments to this spot.

                                              Stealing Kisses

I have 3 beds that I have been using now going into my second winter. I dedicate this space to my “ major” veggies, so eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli and beans. My “minor” veggies get relegated to other parts of my garden. For example, rocket and leafy greens. My main problem is the location of the beds, which receive filtered sun during summer and typical issues like aphids ect. Trying to be “organic” and avoiding spraying with nasties is a time consuming process. Having the TIME to dedicate to my veggie patch since the birth of my son is a “ problem “ too 😦
I often feel like I have to steal “ kisses” from my veggie patch 😦
Despite all this, we have surprisingly great crops and, especially in my first summer, was able to hand out to relatives and friends. (I think the best part of growing your own veggies)
We preserved our basil and made homemade pesto, which was incredible! And pickled loads of veggies “ Italian style” …mum helped me out with that and we are still eating to this day. I forget the Italian name for that.
This summer eggplants, cucumbers and capsicum were my big winners. They are still in the ground. The cherry tomatoes grown over an arch did well, but not as well as last summer. I grew 2 on our fence and they did very well. My son loves eating them straight off the vine 🙂 I tried being more sophisticated with my tomatoes plants by pinching out the new growth and having just a main vine, however they struggled again. Lack of mulch, inconsistent watering and no fertilizing cost me I think. (due to a lack of time)
I will give them one more go, before I pack it in and only grow the cherry tomatoes.

I will be purchasing a couple apple creates in the next couple of weeks to build on what I already have, so would like to use them for my leafy greens! I love your idea with the dog beds to protect the seeds. I have loads of problems with falling leaves ect with my seeds.

I love your blog. Thanks Davide

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Also check out this delightful edible garden from Deborah ( My Kitchen Witch)  in Sheffield, UK.  Romantic stone walls, Morello cherries, herbs and bay trees, gooseberries look so romantically English and historic.

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