Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Unintended consequences ...

There are often unintended consequences to tasks done enthusiasticly, without risk assessment, etc. In creating this veggie patch, two come to mind, neither of which passed through my pea-brain.

The cats find that their landscape is constantly changing, that their need for sun or for shade has not been taken into account. I ripped out camellias and gardenia - being mere flowers - when that is what they used to bury within. We whacked up a fence, blocking their way into the next property, which provided the warmth of brick walls in winter, and the shade of the tangled undergrowth in summer. So now they lie in the garden beds, which provide warmth, and shade, and gorgeous aromas all at the same time. Should they give two hoots if I have just planted 20 carrot seedlings ("Little Finger") there!

Growing yer own is a little different from a weekly trip to the green grocer where you can buy one of this, two of that and a dozen of the other AND they are all perfect. Perfect colour. Perfect shape. Perfectly uniform, With MY kitchen veggie patch it is either feast or bloody famine, and believe me, them be not perfect in any way, shape, or form. And all this has a massive impact upon the chef. Suddenly there is 5kgs of ripe Roma tomatoes sloughing down before her eyes. She has to make chutneys, or sauces or chilli when that may not have been on the agenda at all, at all. Someone else is calling the shots.

And the herbs go to seed so bloody fast, and the gardener lops them all back just when Jamie tells you you must use Thai Basil, or whatever. Unintended consequences, indeed.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Setting boundaries

Total freedom is not a good way to raise anything, neither animal nor vegetable. Children thrive whem they discover the boundaries. Boundaries enable the child to develop depth rather than simply shooting for breadth all the time. Kids will push and push until they find the boundaries - so it is essential to have some.

The same goes with plants, I realise. Last August, I planted three tomato bushes, but with way insufficient support, and a paltry dollop of care. They ended up in a jungle of squashed fruit down at the bottom of a wind blown tangle of branches. Lots of fruit, but little satisfaction of a job well done. So, I am trying afresh. This abomination is no more, and in its stead I have two tom thumb varieties in pots clambering up an inverted cage. Thank you, Letty. Oops, still not taping them as instructed. But, I am snipping the side-shoots to make it all less crowded, and removing the lower leaves. I also have them both in a pot at the side of the house out of the wind. Fruit has already formed. I realise this is late in the season for tomatoes, but Sydney has such a wonderful climate that I am going to push my luck and see hoe much of the year is open to growing tomatoes.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Essence of eggplant

Luckily, my aubergine is not maturing its fruit all at once, but in pairs. The first two I gave in a parcel to Kirsten's father, and his partner, Pam, and they made Ratatouille, as I had also included tomatoes, spring onions, zucchini, and capsicum. When my children were young, they would not have a bar of eggplant, hence we invented the concept of "essence" to get them into a lather.

This particular plant sure has a bit of get up and go, what with all the flowers it is producing. I am sort of hoping that some will drop off, as I am the only customer under this roof. The plant is about a metre tall and would probably benefit from a cage, too, as the fruit is very heavy and the branches rather slender.

Friday, 27 December 2013

2014 blogsite refresh

In preparation for the new year, the side-bar has been refreshed, and each of the 'pages' (below the blog header) has been checked for currency.

Raspberry reprise

There are two Heritage Raspberry plants in a garden bed along with three Blueberry bushes. This is not a goer. Kirsten complains that I am forever moving plants from one location to another, and not as a rotation cycle, more like an urge to have the sofa in a different spot! And that is true ... but mainly because I am winging this gardening lark by the seat of my pants. Is that even possible?
As you can see from this middle image, the raspberry canes are coming up throughout the bed, and will very soon, choke everything else out of soil. So, I desperately need/want a new location for the Blueberries. During 2013 I had Sweet Corn in three tall planters (two in each). However, Kisten is not keen on the smell of corn cooking and, given her jaw issues, nibbling from a cob presents challenges. So, I will not plant SW for 2014, but instead will refurbish the soil in the planters and whack the Blueberry bushes in. Must read up about their need for how many hours of sunlight.

As for the Raspberries: they are looking good for a second flush sometime in early February. The number of canes has more than doubled, and each seems to be loaded with potential fruit. I do hope raspberries are not full of their own self-importance!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Brown Turkey Figs

There are three fig trees in our kitchen garden. Two are new this year, and the other I have had since a trip to the south of France in 2008. This is my 2013 Brown Turkey fig. Whilst not more bountiful than the 2008 BTF, it is certainly producing well. The 2013 Black Genoa fig is more sparsely covered, but it is supposed to fruit later in the season. Now for netting to keep predators away as we chugg into the pointy end of the season.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

From the kitchen | Christmas turkey

This is our first year in the Gingerbread House and we're hosting three Christmas lunches this week. For today's lunch, I ordered a free range 4.6kg turkey from Brookvale Meats (which looks like it might just become my new home-delivery butcher).

On the butcher's recommendation, I took the turkey out for over an hour before cooking, put butter under the skin of the breast, dressed it in oil, salt and pepper, and put it on a bed of onions and carrots partially covered with a mixture of red wine, chicken stock and water.  The turkey took about 2.5 to 3 hours in a 175 degree oven (until it reached 75 degrees between the leg joint and the breast, the last place to cook through).  I basted it every 45 minutes with the juices and after an hour or so put foil over the breast and legs.

I forgot to take a photo of the finished turkey, but this is it about half way through.


Delicious!  We served it with a gravy made from the pan juices, roasted potatoes, and tomatoes, cucumber, and capsicum from our kitchen garden.  Grandad and Pam brought cheeses, dips and grapes for appetisers and I shelved more complex dessert plans and served jelly, custard and homemade fruit mince pies (and some blueberry pies for those who don't like fruit mince).

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Creeping under the warming pan ...

Each of these Ladybirds was on my potted Rockmelons. There are so many in the veggie patch at the moment. I was reading that they love Coriander and Dill. Have the former but not the latter. Apparently, there are 100 varieties of Ladybirds in Australia, alone.
The red Ladybird is the eater of aphids. I have plenty of those critters, but a different variety than those which infest roses. The yellow Ladybird is the eater of mould, and as I explained last week, I have plenty of that. The little hairy critter in the centre image is a Ladybird larvae. Astounding, eh?

Monday, 23 December 2013

From the kitchen | Preserving chillies

I'm on the look out for some preserving recipes to use our chillies once they ripen. Here are a few I have my eye on...

 Chilli onion marmalade 

 Cheeky chilli-pepper chutney (by Jamie) 

 Tomato chilli pickles (by Sally Wise)

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Tah-dah! A blank canvas ...

The fence was completed about 1pm today, and all the roots and branches that Darren has dug up, or cut off, all this year have been taken to the tip. Tipping fees = $99.40.
It is so good to have the entry clean and tidy again, and to have the car in under shelter, not for the car's sake mind you, but for the sake of the little ones. That garage door, in the distance, is a facade. Behind it lies a tool shed, a false floor and a drive at such an angle that neither the Captiva SUV nor the Honda Cr-Z is able to negotiate it. Hence, that small 20' of the driveway is yet another garden room. Hee-hee-hee.
And so, the six (6) blank canvases, formerly known as fence panels:
one for a water feature
one for a series of 16mm terracotta pots
one for three horizontal ladders
one for a series of garden art in frames
one for, perhaps, three wooden pallets, and finally
one for three horizontal gutters.
Effectively, an eclectic mish-mash.
I shall take them one at a time and nip'n'tuck my artistic vision depending upon the visual impact.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

From the kitchen | Tomato relish

As head of shopping and cooking in the household, I've been learning some painful lessons about how to incorporate our kitchen garden produce into our meals. Or rather, what not to do. A bit of sleep deprivation hasn't been helping. (And it's only a bit: Juliet is a great sleeper and has slept through five of the last seven nights at only 10-11 weeks old. Last night, it was her big sister keeping me up but that's another story.)

For years now, I have ordered a weekly or fortnightly box of fruit and vegetables from Sydney Fresh (they are excellent). I have moved to an automatic fortnightly order of a small box since the kitchen garden began producing. But we have so much of our own produce now that I need to move to tailored orders on an as-needed basis. Actually, I needed to do that two weeks ago before the last two orders took mildly-sleep-deprived me by surprise.

The bottom line is that we are overwhelmed with veges at the moment. We have a glut of tomatoes and cucumbers and we've just finished a glut of zucchini.

I knew I'd need to look into preserving and a few months ago I got myself a copy of the Women's Weekly Preserves bible. First cab off the rank was a relish to deal with the roma tomatoes. 1.5 kilograms of peeled(!) tomatoes, a couple of onions, half a bottle of malt vinegar, a load of brown sugar, and some mustard powder, curry powder and cayenne pepper resulted in about one litre of tomato relish.  It looks rather handsome in four "Bonne Maman" jars that I sterilised in the dishwasher (hot rinse cycle without detergent does the trick according to Women's Weekly).

What I have learned from the experience is that peeling tomatoes is a sloooooow process. If anyone has tips on peeling tomatoes, I am all ears.  I also learned (or at least remembered) that my cheapie kitchen scales are not particularly accurate or easy to use. But I do happen to know that one of the presents for me under the tree this year will be a set of electronic scales.

p.s. I only just read freefalling's comment about tomato relishes on a previous post after I attempted this and wrote this blog post.  For future reference, I should definitely try this recipe and this one too.  And I have to wait three months before opening one of these little jars to let the flavours improve.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

If there's an empty space, fill it

I have been collecting succulents for a while now. Not sure how many I have, but enough to want to do something with them. I have snafooed a section of the veggie patch where all the meters are, but noiw have a way better idea. As Kirsten has pointed out, I am forever shifting the poor bloody plants when my pea-brain goes into over-drive.

Our fence is nearly complete. My son and a mate are erecting it, so we fit into that spare couple of hours. I think he has promised to finish it off this coming Saturday. What I had intended to do, was to establish a passionfruit vine along the fence, as it faces nor-east and gets good sun until about 2pm. However, the space between the fence and the concrete of the driveway is very narrow and we do not want the driveway obstructed at all. So, Kirsten had a brainwave. Why not create a series of vertical gardens.

So ... I am onto it!

Sourced from Google images
Here are some images that appeal to me. Chep wooden pallets would hold enough 'soil' but they may weigh more than the fence can manage. I do not know. If possible, I would like to shift my strawbs into a pallet garden, where they can spill to their heart's content, rather than, at the moment, spilling onto a footpath with all its dire consequences..
Sourced from Google images
I worry that the soil will tumble out, but I suppose if I put enough organic stuff in there it should hang in. I gather you leave the created structure in a horizontal position for a few weeks until it settles and the roots start to bind it all together.
Sourced from Google images
These 16mm terracotta standard pots look great, don't you think? I would get Alannah to paint them for me one at a time, using her favourite colours, the colours of the rainbow. And finally, there is the garden within a picture frame. I am forever seeing frames on the verge for cleanup days. Suppose I won't see another frame from here to kingdom come!
Sourced from Google images

Monday, 16 December 2013

We're smokin' ...

Give them another month, and both the Aubergine/Eggplant, and the Caysan Chilli will be heavily laden with fruit. I do not want to leave the eggplant much longer, as I do not want it to be 'woody' inside. It is an exciting looking plant. Quite prehistoric, it seems to me.

The chilli is not for me. Definitely not for me. We have to wait, apparently, for them to turn red. I think Kirsten has in mind to make a sauce along the lines of a concoction that Darren buys by the vat-load from Woolies. It is called "Hickory Hollow Smoked Sauce: Chilli & Garlic".

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Recovering from a tomato disaster

There is so much that I have learnt about vegetable gardening this calendar year, eg quantity, soil quality, gross feeding, and trimming and staking. Perhaps plants in a veggie patch are like children: know where the boundaries are, and apply a set of rules.
Take my tomatoes, as an example. A glaring example, mind you. I put in three seedlings (from B ... b ... b ...) without adequate knowledge of their growth habit. If you give tomatoes a weekly dose of Dynamic Lifter and water them every other day, they grow like buggary! I did not train them onto the plastic cones well enough (the cones were also inadequate). And when the winds came in September. they were blown again and again into a tangled mess. Now, the weight of a bounteous crop is weighing the mass down, down, down. The fruit is underneath with precious little sun and light, and absolutely no air circulation.
I have started hacking off the mass/mess that is overhanging the raised bed, and have oodles of green tomatoes. No idea if I should expect them to ripen or not. However, I have three more plants ready to take their place as from about mid-end January. And I am trying new methods. Still not sure if the teepee structure will be strong enough. What that means though, is that I will have to keep the vines trimmed AND trained.

Friday, 13 December 2013

This Rocky is gonna fly now

I have had dozens of flowers on these two Rockmelon plants. Early on, a fruit set but could not hold-on. Finally, here is a fruit that looks likely to go the distance. Cannot see any more on the mass of vines though.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A-moulderin' in the soil

This first one is the Zucchini. This thin layer of white mould is creeping over the entire plant, and the fruit production has dropped away dramatically. There is one (1) fruit coming, plus another flower, plus down at the base, what appears to be a suckered on plantlet which is forming flowers. I want to cure this plant, but shall buy another seedling tomorrow to ensure continuous supply.
This second one is the Rockmelon. All these plants here - the zucchini, the rockmelon, the cucumber, and the watermelon - have a similar habit even though from a different genus. The head of the rockmelon is a bit crowded in the pot, so I will clear that away a bit tomorrow. Mostly, I water these plants with a 3-litre bottle of water every other day. I think it might be more lack of circulating air, rather than overhead watering.
This next one is the Cucumber. This is not a white mould, rather a form of rust, which is probably just a variation upon mould. These cucumber plants (there are three in the same pot) are very fecund.

And the final image is that of the Watermelon, which is showing no effect from mould - yet!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Beginning to look a lot like ...

We are new at this house decorating lark, and most definitely don't want to be OTT about it. So, started out tentatively and shall see how we go. Two houses down has pulled out all stops, which is good for them, but not really us.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Left to my own devices, and with space not an issue, I might venture to grow pumpkin, and potato, and yam, and cabbage. However, space is at a premium, and the household is not a fan of the three veggies mentioned. So, adventures are of a herbal variety.

Kale, I gather, is a bit like cabbage, and a bit like spinach, and good for the garden soil. To quote the label:
Kale is a sweet tasting leafy vegetable, that is high in Vitamins C and K, antioxidants, and betacarotene. All parts of the plant are edible, and the more it is picked, the more it will produce. The leaves make a great side-dish tossed in the wok with some garlic, Thai Basil, and Soy Sauce.
Hence, the next choice was Thai Basil. Actually, we went to Bunnings for Thai Basil to begin with. We fluked a Kaffir Lime tree in the backyard which, I gather, is essential for authentic Thai flavours, and the Thai Basil was in a recipe Kirsten wanted to try out. Perhaps, I can encourage her to post this recipe, in her copious free time, of course. The Thai Basil label opines:
Attractive and delicious variety of Basil with aromatic, dark, green leaves, smelling of spicy Aniseed. A fantastic herb for flavouring Thai dishes, such as curries and stir-fries. Best used when freshly picked to ensure maximum fragrance is retained. Prefers regular watering. Remove flower heads as they occur to encourage leaf growth.
Which brings me to my third brain-snap, Vietnamese Mint, which was requested by noone and was simply plucked from the shelf like low-hanging fruit. It is not even a real mint, but I will let the label speak for itself:
This is not a true mint, but has a similar appearance and aroma. The pointed leaves have distinctive purple markings. Prefers rich, moist soil in a partially shaded position. Flavour is pungent and spicy, and a bit like Coriander. Use in salads, soups, stews, and laksa soups.
Mmmm ... the the rich, moist, shaded spot will be a challenge. I wonder if it will team well with Coriander, which I have finally had success with having moved it into a shadier spot.
Once these three plants are 'flourishing', I will update the images together with my thoughts on how to grow each such that it thrives.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Courageous, Ma!

Whenever Jim Hacker did anything from out of left field, something that was sure to come back and bite him on the bum, Sir Humphrey would aside, "Courageous, Minister!"

The first shot is my Lebanese Eggplant (aka courgette). I guess (I hope) that it is 'lebanese' because its growth habit is similar to that of the Lebanese Cucumber. Courageous, because I am the only one in this household who likes eggplant.

The second shot is my Caysan Chilli which I planted on the same day as the eggplant, October 13th. For this one, I have to be patient until the fruit turns red. Courageous, because I cannot abide hot chilli, but my SiL loves it.