In My Kitchen, March 2018

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘In My Kitchen Garden’ as this season’s harvest dominates the show and tell. March sees the tables and benches laden with baskets full of apples, pears, quince, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, lettuce, basil, Thai herbs, and an occasional potato. The garden is wild and I can no longer tame all that rampant life without ending up on the table of the osteopath. The time for clearing and seeding will soon announce itself. I can already sense a crispness in the air. Today, the second morning of Autumn, the overnight temperature dropped to a chilly 10ºc: I pull on some warm socks before the day’s heat sets in. A morning cup of tea, followed by a rummage through the seed box is an auspicious start to the new season.

Sleeping Buddha and tomatoes

The sleeping Buddha was installed in my kitchen window after I was stung by a European wasp last week. These lovely Roma tomatoes enjoy an extra lazy day in the glazed northern sun. From now on, Buddha will remind me to search for smuggled insect terrorists. Did that wasp stare through the windows and gaze longingly at my produce laden table, then sneak in when the wire door was ajar?

Odd tomato varieties

This year we inadvertently grew some rather odd tomato varieties. Some are large and flavoursome but aren’t so prolific. They are grown for show. I bought the seedlings from an Italian man who labelled them simply as ‘red’. It’s rather nice though to completely cover a slice of bread with one large disc of tomato, the jewelled translucent seed and ridged pattern simply blessed with a grind of salt. It must be the perfect breakfast. The Russian tomatoes are lacking in flavour and I won’t bother with these again. They are too big and tend to rot on the vine before ripening. Next year I’ll stick to my favourites, the varieties that are well suited to my micro-climate;  Rouge de Marmande, the best of tomato flavours, Roma, or similar egg-shaped tomatoes which are good keepers, Green Zebra and the large acid free yellows which continue fruiting well into late Autumn, a literal pomodoro, along with a few self-sown large cherry varieties.

Over the last few years, I’ve gathered many old baskets which tend to clutter the verandahs during the colder months. They come to life during February and March when they are filled repeatedly. The long kitchen table is covered with baskets full of colour as they await sorting, freezing, cooking, preserving or giving away.

Jonathon apples- our earliest variety. More varieties to come. Lace produce bag in foreground made by Celia: thank you lovely friend.
Marcella Hazan’s apple and rum cake. One kilo of Jonathon apples dispatched.

It’s always a challenge to find more uses for zucchini. One way of eating a kilo without noticing is to make Indian Zucchini Bhaji. Grate them, mix with onion slices, then add to a thick and gently spiced Besan and rice flour batter, then deep fry them like fritters. Serve with chutney and yoghurt.

Zucchini Bhaji and mild mango chutney.
Fettuccine with grilled zucchini and pesto.

I am still being challenged by the cucumber plague and now give most of them away. Come and help yourselves.

Cucumbers, Hazlenuts, Buerre Bosc Pears.

Everyone and his dog has been waiting for the arrival of my figs. That day came yesterday. I have a few hundred slowly ripening and pick a small basketful when perfectly ripe. Green on the outside, but soft and purple within, they are the garden’s gender antonym to the zucchini. At some point I’ll make some fig jam when the harvest becomes overwhelming. Unusual fig recipes are welcomed, dear reader.

My most successful eggplant this year is this magenta striped variety, Melanzana Siciliana or Graffiti eggplant. I have some wild self sown eggplants still to show their true colours.

Too nice to cook.
Buerre Bosc pears are great keepers.

Thanks once again to Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting In My Kitchen, a monthly event which encourages many to step back from their regular writing or photographic posting and to take a closer look at the engine room of the house, the kitchen.

In My Kitchen, December 2017

I’ve been dithering around in my kitchen since returning from our long trip and am feeling totally uninspired. Where’s the menu and those kitchen fairies who clean up? Returning to an overgrown vegetable patch, and the loss of 13 chooks, courtesy of Mr Fox, has robbed me of fresh ingredients, my backyard larder and the inspiration for most of my meals. When I look back on my December posts from the last four years, I can see energy, seasonal fruits and vegetables, garlic braiding, Italian biscuits, summer fruit cakes and short breads. This year, none of those things have happened -yet. 

Making do with what’s available, I made a huge batch of dolmades using leaves from our grape vines. Blanched in boiling water for two minutes then drained, they are ready to rock and roll. Although tedious to stuff 65 little parcels, once made, they become a staple in the fridge for hot summer nights, preserved with oil and lots of lemon juice.

The berry crop is huge this year, especially the boysenberries. They make a sweet addition to home-made yoghurt, something cool and luscious for breakfast. Making the weekly yoghurt is such an easy thing. I’m finding that 1 litre of organic milk creates a firmer and tastier yoghurt than the cheaper milks. Yoghurt is added to tahini and lemon for a quick drizzling sauce for falafel, or as the basis of tzaziki, or whipped through puréed mango for lassis, or served on the side with red lentil dhal and a few stir fried greens.

Another frugal standby is Pasta e Ceci, one of my favourite soups. I ordered it twice while in Italy this year and on both occasions I was disappointed. I put this down to the use of canned chickpeas, which retain a bullet like texture when used whole in these soups, and the lack of depth in the accompanying brodo, which should have hints of rosemary, a touch of chilli and tomato and good olive oil. The old Italo- Australiane, the Italian women migrants who cooked for their families in the 1950s and 60s, brought with them the old contadine ways of  turning cheap ingredients into something deeply satisfying through slow cooking, herbs, and knowledge based on tradition. Modern Italian restaurant cooking has lost much of this old knowledge and has turned to economical shortcuts and speedy cooking. 

I have resumed bread making. Despite our local and wonderful artisan baker in St Andrews, I can turn out two large loaves for $2 and there’s no need to leave home. It’s a way of life now thanks to Celia.

Last week’s loaves. I need a new slashing tools. Everything is blunt.

And in my kitchen are these gorgeous gifts from Alberto’s family in Pavia, Italy. His grandmother edged this tablecloth and napkin set. The work is exquisite. Grazie ad Alberto, Dida, Stefania e Claudio per la vostra meravigliosa ospitalità e amicizia durante il nostro soggiorno a Pavia.

Hand crocheted edging by Alberto’s grandmother.

Two litres of Campari jumped off the duty-free shelves on my way back into the land of Oz. I developed a taste for Spritz in Como, but based on Campari, Prosecco and soda, rather than Aperol which is not so pink and a little too sweet. Summertime drinks by the pool? You bring the Prosecco.

Hand over the pick stuff.

Thanks once again Sherry for making In My Kitchen happen so smoothly each month. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more posts on the kitchen theme: you might even find the C word in some of them.

 

Rod’s Place. Gardening with a Magician.

Each time I visit Rod’s place, located in the heart of the dry Wimmera district, I do so with a heightened sense of anticipation. I always take my camera along and even the offered glass of chilled Pinot Grigio does not distract me from my snap happy tour. His house and garden is a feast for the eyes. Although he claims that nothing much has changed since my previous visit, I can usually spot major revamping. Lets’ take a walk together through his garden.

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Gardening on the verge and the last of the gravel country lane.

One of the major developments is the spill over of Rod’s garden onto the road verge. This began some years ago with a few tough succulents and a rosemary bush or two which thrived in the granulated sand. Since then, he has added some red flowering bottle brush, Callistemon, and a sprawling silver and purple flowering Dusty Miller, some irises and red flowering geranium. Along his fence line are vertical walls of creeping geranium, orange lantana, large agave, and ornate old wire fencing intertwined with rusty bedsteads. Passers by stop in their tracks and gaze in awe. It’s a work of art and enormously inviting in a wild kind of way.

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Part of the front fence

At his end of town, the paths are still rustic, consisting of hard compacted gravel, country paving that suits this rural village. All the town paths used to be so. But sadly ‘progress’ is now just a block away: the local Council is rolling out regimental width white concrete paving. This is happening despite the advice from R.M.I.T’s architectural department, where the students identified that the traditional gravel paving enhanced the visual and historic feel to the town and should be retained. Ugly concrete paving will be another blow to the town. Government grant money, which must be spent, often ignores aesthetics.

Eww
The front entrance.

The narrow walkway to the front door takes you through a dark forest of succulents mixed with three metre high shrubbery. Rod initially planted out his front garden with rescued agave plants, found growing in abandoned ruins in the countryside or at the tip. To attain height, he has added large pots, urns, and statuary: these are usually placed on top of some found tin object to obtain further height. Other plants, such as geraniums, grow a few metres high in their chase to reach light. There are very few purchased plants in Rod’s garden.

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An icon within an icon.

Statues of Buddha feature throughout the garden, but their placements are meant to surprise and amuse. This golden Buddha sits inside a painted corrugated iron tank which is raised onto an old wooden tank platform. The Buddha faces the house, the blue painted tank faces the street. Others can be found about the garden, often in seemingly random positions, on top of fence posts, or inside cages, or lying about, waiting to be painted.

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Dense shrubbery and Buddha head

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Amid the dense planting in the front yard, Rod recently broke through to create a tiny red brick path leading to another small painted niche and shrine.

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New shrine in the front garden

The back yard is now a forest. When Rod arrived here years ago, there was an old apricot tree, a sad-looking 100-year-old grape-vine and an old shed. Now the garden is a wonderland. The ancient vine is a monster, twisting its way around the garden and into the front yard. Other statues peep out from the shrubs. One colourful wooden Torii gate is topped with a terracotta chook sitting on a barbed wire nest. Rows of Chinese warriors, bought years ago from the Reject shop, line up in a tall painted wire cage. A classical statue sits on top of an old truck. Frizzle chooks and roosters run amok in the understory. I nearly stepped on a day old lost chicken.

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Statues, statues but not all in a row.
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Statues with creeping geranium
A Chinese emperor
A Chinese emperor midst the shrubbery out the back.
a cage full of Chinese warriors.
A cage full of Chinese warriors.
old truck with xx
Old painted truck with statue and urns
A head floating in thick creepers
A spooky head floating in thick creepers
chook, barbed wire nest and Torii gate
Chook, barbed wire nest on Japanese Torii gate.

Rod is an artist who is always on the look out for something quirky to add to the mix. He fertilises his garden with sheep manure collected from his brother’s farm and adds thick mulch in summer. He is on town water, but uses this sparingly. The garden thrives due to the microclimate he has created. The garden provides deep shade in summer and protection from frost and wind at other times.

the back yard.
The back yard walk.

I have thousands of photos of Rod’s garden and have chosen these few(!) to demonstrate what can be achieved with found junk, some good quality statues and urns and plant cuttings from the tip.

Coming soon: Rod’s house.

Beguiled by Autumn’s Beauty

Summer is a harsh season in Melbourne and I am pleased when it’s finally over and the softly lit, warm and more mellow Keatsian season commences. This year there have been a few false starts, with cold snaps followed by intense heat waves. I recognise Autumn’s arrival when I begin to feel intensely melancholic and given to reflection. Still days, long shadows, and subdued bird call give rise to a gentler pace. Time to take stock, to shake off the overbearing intensity of summer’s hold, of its stifling grip on nature.

Garden crops mature more slowly, with tomato survivors providing a discreet bowl full each day, even if the ostentatious zucchini refuse to bow to the season. The beans continue their climb towards The Giant above, with a few ripening here and there, the coco rouge and the coco blanc. Late planted leeks now soften with the season: pumpkins peep from under sheltering leaves, as their vines drift through the garden beds, on a course of their own making.

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A Shy Pumpkin

Only a few apples survive the blasting heat as hungry birds find their way through the nets.

Roma Beauty, a heritage apple

A dear friend arrives with a large bag of Beurre Bosc pears, which she carefully protected from the birds. I watch them slowly ripen and dream of French desserts, pears slowly cooked in wine and saffron, a pear clafouti or gallette. Beurre Bosc from Dianne

Oh for a perennial Autumn.

The Garden Diaries, January 2016

Whenever I visit friends who enjoy gardening, the first thing on the agenda is a tour around their vegetable patch and orchard, before we settle down to a cup of tea and a chat. So grab a cuppa or something stronger and take a stroll around my garden for a quick tour. The season has been harsh but things are on the mend.

Purple flowers of endive lettuce
Bee Attractors- the flowers of Endive lettuce

First up we have the tall blue and purple flowering lettuces, my bee and insect attractors and invaluable aid to the continued fertility of all the tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and fruit trees. The bright cornflower blue flowers of the radicchio, now three metres high, are beacons to bees. The purple flowers of endive lettuce last for months, while the blue flowering borage plants magically appear on the lower levels. These lettuces self sow in early Spring, bolt towards the sky in late Spring and flower through summer. They are a gardener’s best friends.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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It’s seed harvesting time. All the main lettuces have gone to seed and have been hulled through my Turkish Celik, labelled and packed. The leek seed is close to collecting and makes an interesting garden specimen. Many species self sow, such as lettuce, radicchio, silver beet, coriander,parsley, tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber, though not all are retained. The garden beds become depleted quickly when taken over by the same species.

The tomato glut has caught up with the zucchini and it’s time to think about preserving. These golden tomatoes, giving literal meaning to the Italian pomodoro, are lovely sliced on toast or a pizza. The Roma tomatoes are prolific and good keepers, while my favourite, the Rouge de Marmande are still green.

cucumber flowers
Cucumber flowers through the mulch

As the heat will be with us for another two months, it’s time to apply another layer of mulch and to feed the older zucchini. I use organic sugar cane- it is expensive but goes a long way, and top this with crumbled old cow manure which I soak overnight in a bucket of water. As the zucchini have been productive for over two months now, they need a good feed.

early morning in the orchard
Early morning in the orchard

Last year was a pear year: this year is the turn of the Japanese plum. Hooray. I have waited for Satsuma and Mariposa plums for around four years and at last they have begun. Another week and they are all mine.

Satsuma plums
Satsuma plums
Quince in hiding
Quince in hiding
Table grapes ripening.
Table grapes ripening.

The Garden Diaries this time last year:  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/garden-monthly-january-2015/

What’s happening in your garden? Do you keep a garden diary or journal?

Zucchini Bhaji, Gluten-Free Vegan Snacks.

Zucchini Bhaji
Zucchini Bhaji

Here they are again, the summer zucchini growing like triffids, their dazzling yellow flowers opening loudly in the sun, enticing insects to enter, then closing snugly with the tramonto or sunset. Their fruitfulness is always a mixed blessing as most zucchini growers will attest : there are always too many for one household. Catching them while they are discreet in size is part of the game- come back from a weekend away and you’re in for a rude surprise. Big ones sap the energy of the plant, reducing flowering and productivity. The larger zucchini are also rather bland in flavour, a case of bigger not being better! Constant harvesting is wise, as it is with all vegetables. Pick often and be rewarded.

Morning bees busy with cross pollination

Many folk  have a swag of favourite recipes for dealing with their annual zucchini glut, I am sure. I have at least 20 standby recipes and am always looking for more. Throughout summer, we use zucchini in:

  • simple soups,
  • fried and tossed through pasta alla carbonara
  • grated and incorporated into fritters, patties and bhajis
  • combined with cheese into old-fashioned baked slices
  • gutted and refilled with ricotta and baked in the oven
  • pickled with mustard seed
  • grilled to lay on a pizza
  • substituting eggplants in a parmigiana bake
  • vinegared with balsamic and garlic
  • sliced vertically into carpaccio salad
  • fried with their friends the tomatoes to make Provéncal tians and tarts
  • grated into breads, muffins and cakes

They are summer’s green gifts. When their day is done, sometime down the track in Autumn, we say Addio for another year.

Zucchini Bhaji with minted yoghurt

Zucchini Bhaji

These little fried morsels are a cross between an onion bhaji and a vegetable pakhora. They don’t last long, and are often eaten as they exit the wok and don’t make it to the table. This recipe would feed two very greedy people or make snacks for four. It can be doubled for a family- kids love them. Different spices may be used, such as cumin or coriander. The batter needs to be thicker than cream but not too stiff.

  • two medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • ¾ cup besan/chick pea flour
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teas salt
  • ½ teas garam masala
  • ½ teas chilli powder
  • 1 garlic clove crushed
  • ½ cup or so water
  • plain oil (not olive oil) for frying

Grate the zucchini and leave in a colander, covered with a weight, for 1/2 hour or so. Slice the onion.

Make the batter by mixing the dry ingredients with the water. Also let the batter sit for 1/2 an hour or more, un refrigerated so that the batter begins to ferment a little.

Add the vegetables to the batter and mix well. Add oil to a wok and heat until a bread piece sizzles. Deep frying is recommended as the fritters stick to the pan with shallow frying and tend to retain too much oil. If the temperature of your oil is hot, the bhaji should fry quickly. Turn once or twice using tongs, and then draining on paper towels.

Serve with Podina Chutney if you have an abundant mint supply, or a mint laced yoghurt dressing.

This snack is gluten and lactose free and vegan. Many zucchini recipes, quite by chance, are.

Crisp zucchini bhaji snacks.

 

 

Garden Monthly. December 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Garden Monthly diary is a beautiful thing. It’s handy to be able to scroll back to last month’s post to see if anything got ticked off the list. And I am happy to report, YES, we did achieve most of our goals.

We keep two kinds of lists here:

  1. The Daily List, a list of things that need doing, the demanding list, and
  2. Eric’s List. Eric’s list is more of a concept list. Named after a wonderful Swedish man we met when wandering through Laos, Eric’s list is more about desirable things to do-
    there is no need to mark anything off with a big black line. Once you have written the list, you have achieved your goal. Drawings and colouring in are acceptable too. Arches, designs, fantasies, as if we had all the time in the world. We keep a special book for this list- Eric’s book. Sometimes things get upgraded from Eric to Demanding Daily.

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But back to the garden. We finally installed the shade cloth and bird netting over all our berry beds and the results speak for themselves. We have an unbelievable berry crop. I am picking a kilo a day. We cut some metal reo into manageable lengths and with poly- piping, made hoops over the beds, then covered these with bird netting. When the season becomes even hotter, we will add some shade cloth. I have a few lads in the building game keeping an eye out for discarded reo. I love the stuff.

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The cucurbits and lettuces will need shading too and maybe by February, the tomatoes. The season is predicted to be hot, dry and windy. I am not looking forward to those days.

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Below is the largest tomato bush I have ever grown. Talk about a Triffid. It is already a metre wide and a metre tall. It bears miniature yellow pear-shaped fruit. If the crop is as good as the bush, I might open a market stall. I gave it some manure ‘tea’ when it was little and it went berserk. Next month, I hope to be able to report on the crop. It is out of control. I don’t usually prune laterals as our fruit needs as much shade as it can get. We have already eaten a few miniature tomatoes. This has never happened before Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe zucchini have started their long march into the season. The early ones are always most welcome. I try not to buy zucchini between the months of April and November. Six months of zucchini and six months of no zucchini seems about right. These will make some little Greek fritters this week.

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Further tasks this month.

  • build more hoops over other beds
  • collect more manure to balance the compost.
  • collect and preserve more berries
  • harvest garlic and dry out, then clean and braid.
  • water more often as the season is predicted to be nasty
  • fix fencing in the front paddock.
boysenberries  and youngberries.
boysenberries and youngberries.
mostly raspberries
mostly raspberries

This post is linked to Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective. Check it out here.

 

 

 

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. 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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