Hi ho seedlings away...

31 August, 2012

Yes, that blog title is pretty pathetic. Maybe I should change it to something more sophisticated... no, bugger it! I don't care if you think my puns are sad and pathetic. So there.

Anyways, back to the planned topic, which would be seedlings. A couple of weeks ago I did my first sowing of the season, and some of them have come good.

The tomatoes and cucumbers are looking good. Not so the eggplants, water and rock melons and capsicums, but I'll give them a bit more time. Maybe they're just late bloomers.

I love how the seed outsides sometimes stick to the top of the emerging seedlings.

The cucumbers are looking a little anaemic. Hopefully they will green up in the next day or so.

Have you had seed sowing success?

Signs of spring... Melbourne edition

28 August, 2012

Clearly I am getting serious about blogging - I'm doing a two part post.

Well, not really. It's just I'm going to the Gold Coast for a conference this week and as I was taking photos around the yard and planning a spring time post I thought it would be interesting to contrast this with what's happening up north. So there will be a part two to the signs of spring, with a Queensland follow up to come.

So anyways, one of the things I love about weekends is having time to do a lazy morning meander around the garden. Often I bring out my camera as there are so many things to capture, one of which is the signs of the change of seasons.

Melbourne of late has been blessed with some intermittent blue skies and a bit of sun, but the wind still is bitingly cold. But somehow the plants must be recognising the barely perceptable warming, as they are breaking into flower all over the place.

Just check out the Magnolia.

The Magnolia was one of the first trees I bought, as I just love their gorgeous blooms.

The Grape Hyacinths are hitting their strides, with multitudes of beautiful bell shaped flowers.

But best of all, the peaches are almost blooming. This is an Anzac Peach, and the first time its in flower.

Please let there be fruit!

Check back next week for part two...

Limoncello update...

26 August, 2012

A few weeks back I made Limoncello. I have three bottles of lemon peels in vodka slowly maturing for different lengths of time, but the first taste should only be a couple of weeks away.

A few weeks in it has taken on a gorgeous yellow hue.

And with the leftover lemon insides after using all that peel, I made cordial - recognise the vodka bottles? I also had whole lemons left so I also made preserved lemons, which I have always wanted to make but never got around to. However I'm a bit intimidated by the quantity of preserved lemons. I plan to give some away, but I'm sure I will have plenty left. That said, there is a bit of time between now and when they will be ready for eating to find some tasty ways to use them up. Any suggestions?

At least the cordial is something to enjoy immediately; everything else is delayed gratification.

Catching up to the crop...

23 August, 2012

After having missed my usual getting into the garden over the weekend, I've been catching up with what's happening in the garden.

And it appears that the broccoli is getting out of hand. Some of them were ideal, but lots really needed to be picked now, before they go fully into flower and become inedible. 

When I got started picking I couldn't stop. I picked a few handfuls of side shoots, but they aren't quite what I had planned for dinner.

Now I've found some home grow produce doesn't last that long after being picked, even when immediately refrigerated. Broccoli is one of those; they go all soft and unappetizing after a couple of days in the crisper.

But (maybe) not anymore.

A few weeks back I found these in the supermarket. They claim to prolong the freshness of produce by their "crushed volcanic rock particles" which "draw out gasses that cause food to deteriorate". Has anyone used these? Are they any good?

I've not tried them before myself, so this seemed like a good time to run a little test.

I've put half the broccoli in a normal supermarket veg bag and half in the Fresh & Crisp bag.

I'm going to leave them in the fridge for a week or two and see how they go. "Crushed volcanic rock particles", well we shall see...

Enjoyable distractions...

20 August, 2012

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front the last few days, mostly because I haven't been doing anything in the garden. I get into the garden when I can during the week (and with increasing daylight hours in the evening this is getting easier) but most weekends I prioritise spending at least a few hours in the garden.

But not this weekend. Because this weekend was my brother's wedding.

And if that wasn't enough to keep me busy, my mother offered to do the flowers.

Now my mother isn't a trained florist, but she has a friend Susie who is and who generously offered to help. So they've been doing test runs to the Melbourne flower wholesalers and getting everything sorted. I was over at my mothers place Saturday afternoon before the rehersal, and as they were running a bit behind, I jumped in to help. 

We finished the flowers at 8.30pm that night. I was exhausted, but they turned out lovely.


The wedding itself was wonderful, despite the mad rushing around the day before.

At the end of the night we gave away as many flowers as we could, and still had mountains left over, so I took some home myself.

They're a lovely reminder of a lovely event.

Peas please...

14 August, 2012

Slowly the garden seems to be coming along. Unlike the last month or two where the garden has seemed suspended in time and plants seemed to hardly growing at all, it looks like things are starting to move.

And racing out of the blocks are the peas.

I sowed these peas outdoors in the raised veg patch in mid May, and they have been creeping along, but the last week or so they've been throwing out flowers galore, and I hope pods of deliciously sweet peas are not too far away.

But in the meantime, just look at those gorgeous flowers.

Who said vegetable gardens aren't pretty?

When life gives you lemons...

11 August, 2012

... make Limoncello!

My lovely colleague Sonia recently moved into a new house, along with which came 2 large and overladen lemon trees. So she brought in a massive bag of the things to work to get rid of some.

Now while I do have a lemon tree it is quite young and probably has only around 10-15 ripe lemons at the moment, plus some green ones doing their thing. And as Sonia still had a generous bagful of lemons left over even when everyone had taken as many as they could use, I took home the rest.

I did this for two reasons; 1. who am I to deny a friend a helping hand, and 2. I've been waiting for ages for my tree to produce enough lemons to be able to make Limoncello!

I'll leave you to guess as to which reason motivated me more.

So I have been looking up online recipes for making Limoncello. They vary a bit, but it appears around 5-10 lemons per litre of flavourless alcohol (vodka seems to be the most common choice) is the way to go. All you need to do is cut off the rind, removing any white pith and infuse the peel in the alcohol for anywhere between 10 days to 3 months. Then you remove the pith and mix with sugar syrup until you reach your preferred level of sweetness, then bottle and store (ideally in the freezer waiting for a hot summer day to sip it from tiny glasses).


So I spent a morning peeling lemons. I started by cutting off the peel with a knife, and then cutting off the white pith, but after a few goes I resorted to the veg peeler and this worked much better.

What could possibly make this picture better?

Oh yes, there it is.

I went with the peel of 14 large lemons for 1.4L vodka. I purely went for the pictured brand of vodka because I liked the shape of the bottle and thought I could remove the lables and reuse them. Although I'm sure my Finnish friend Maarit would be adamant that it is superior vodka.

I have split the peels between 3 smaller bottles and I will do three tests, infusing the peels for 1 month, 2 months and 3 months to see if it makes any difference. Expect results in November... no I didn't plan this just so I would have an excuse to drink Limoncello. I don't need an excuse.

I think infusing them in milk bottles gives it a slightly wholesome look, don't you think?

It's only been 10 minutes, and they're already taking on a slightly yellow hue. Can't wait!

Thanks Sonia! I promise you will get first dibs on the finished product.

PS I have something planned for the leftover lemon insides... I can't let them go to waste after all.

The start of the new season...

09 August, 2012

I have sown my seeds for the coming summer crops. This for me means it is truly the end of winter and the start of the summer garden.

I do feel a bit behind the 8 ball as Liz at Suburban Tomato has already sown her seeds a month ago, but I wanted to wait until I had all my seeds, particularly for the tomatoes as I'm planning a tomato trial (watch this space, details to come...). Unfortunately not all my ordered tomato seeds have arrived yet, but I thought I'd better get a move on, so those latecomers will get sown as they arrive.

I have sown tomatoes, watermelons,  rock melons, cucumbers, eggplants, and a couple of peppers.

Yes, they are sown in toilet paper rolls. I am very classy like that.

But really, its by far the best way I've found to sow seeds, as there is less disturbance when transplanting. When I have grown seedlings in those leftover seedling trays from when I occasionally buy plants (by the way, does anyone else have a mountain of those trays sitting around waiting to be used? Not to mention round plastic tubs; I must have hundreds of those... surely it can't just be me...) the roots of the plants always grow into each other, so I have to tear them apart when planting out, and it always sets them back. I've also tried newspaper pots when I've run out of toilet rolls, but I find them more flimsy, and slightly annoying to make. But I will resort to them when I've run out of the toilet rolls I've saved all year.

These have been sown indoors. I am hoping my predilection for not freezing my butt off and having the home comfortably heated will correlate with adequate temperatures for germination. I've toyed with the idea of buying a proper temperature controlled germinator. But I haven't needed it before. Does anyone use one? Do you find it worth the cost?

(As an aside, I used to work in an agricultural laboratory when I was studying at uni, and the nickname for the lady who worked in the germination lab was 'The Germinator'. As in 'The Terminator'. Geddit? Anyhoo...)

But for now I just have to wait for the seeds to get growing, while anxiously looking at them multiple times a day to see if they've germinated yet.

Surprise garden snack...

07 August, 2012

Today after work I cut back the autumn fruiting raspberries as the plants were looking a bit straggly, which is not surprising given it is the dead of winter after all.

To my amazement there were a few ripe berries still on the bushes.  And so I had a little pre-dinner garden snack.

They weren't the best tasting raspberries I've ever had, but it was a nice change.

That said this didn't earn a reprieve for the berry bushes. I still cut them down. I am a cruel woman.

Challenge update #4...

05 August, 2012

Way back in spring 2011 I challenged myself to grow 50% of my fruit and veg. This challenge will be finished as of 1st Oct 2012.

After the last challenge update I have been a bit nervous. Last month I had dipped below the 50% mark at a measley 46% homegrown, so I have been particularly concerned about how these last 3 months will turn out.

And I'm pleased to say things are looking up (a little).

The July harvest sits at 58%. Yay for being back above 50%.

This brings the years' overall tally to 64%! With only two months to go I'm feeling a bit more confident that I'll make it.

I think the difference this month is I've been much more conscious about using my preserved fruit and veg from summer. I still have a bit left - some peas and broadbeans in the freezer (as well as pesto but I doubt that will get me very far, flavoursome though it is!), and a fair bit of passata, stewed apple and rhubarb.

The garden still has a lot of potential, with caulis still to produce, plenty of purple sprouting broccoli that I hope will start soon, kale, peas that are forming pods, celery, plenty of lettuce, spinach, endive, rocket and radicchio, and the remnants of summer sown carrots and beetroot that have slowly grown throughout the winter.

So I shouldn't starve, but it will be a race to the finish line I'm sure (the Olympics must be rubbing off on me...)

Friday night leftovers...

03 August, 2012

Earlier this week gardenglut posted about forgotten favourite recipes which I found quite amusing as I was reading it just after I had enjoyed a dinner consisting of a forgotten favourite of my own.

In my humble opinion, this is just about the tastiest thing you can do with cauliflower.

I call them Spiced Cauliflower Fritters, and they are delicious.

They are loosely based on a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from the awesome Veg Everyday cookbook.

However, I can't say I really follow a recipe for these. It's more of a chuck stuff togeather and mix, cook and eat type recipe.

Spiced Cauliflower Fritters with Radish Raita
(makes about 4 adult size meals)

1/2 large cauliflower*, cut into florets and finely sliced
1 onion, sliced**
roughly 1cup flour
roughly 4 big heaped tablespoons of spice mix - I use some premixed spices that I found at a lebanese greengrocer, and they are mixes of oragano, sumac, cumin, coriander, fennel, chives and chilli. I reckon any mix of cumin, coriander and fennel seeds (ground or whole, or a mix) plus any herbs, plus some chilli if you like the heat will work. Go on, live a little, be adventurous!!
1 tsp salt
enough water to moisten the mix without it being sloppy, around 1/2 to 3/4 cup
Oil (I use sunflower oil, but another oil wouldn't be a deal breaker)
4 large handfuls of spinach leaves, or other leafy greens of your choice
1 cup plain or greek yoghurt
1 bunch of radishes, finely sliced (French Breakfast is my preference)
juice of half a lemon
pinch of salt

*You can also use a mix of cauliflower and broccoli which is a little more colourful.
**This was the first time I've put onion in it, and it was FABULOUS! I will never leave them out again!

Put cauliflower and onion into a large bowl. (Trust me, the veg should only take up about 1/3 of the bowl otherwise mixing will be a pain. Don't say I didn't warn you...) Add the flour, spices and salt and mix well to combine. Add about half the water and mix well. If it's still dry and floury add more water and mix again, until there's no more flour. If it's dripping off a spoon its too wet, so add more flour. It won't look like much is holding the mix togeather, but it will be ok. I promise.

Pour enough oil into a frying pan to a depth of 1cm, and heat on medium. When hot cook 1 teaspoon of cauliflower mix as a test run. When cooked and cooled you can taste and see if the seasoning needs adjustment. I frequently need to add more spices as I like it quite full on.

Cook tablespoons of the mix until browned on both sides.

(Yes, that is a lot of oil. Yes, I am a dietitian. No, I don't use this much oil all the time, even though sometimes I would like to.)

Drain on kitchen paper.

To make the raita mix the yoghurt, radishes, lemon juice and salt. Done!

Serve the fritters on the spinach leaves, with raita generously dolloped on top.

They also make faboulous leftovers, which is how I'm enjoying them tonight. Nom, nom, nom!

Pumpkin problems...

01 August, 2012

Part of the reason I like growing fruit and veg is that a lot of it tastes SO MUCH BETTER that the supermarket bought stuff.

(Sorry for shouting, but that's how strongly I feel about kitchen garden produce.)

But pumpkin is one of the exceptions to the rule, assuming you are selective with your veg purchases and don't buy the watery, anaemic excuse for a pumpkin that is occasionally seen for sale to the undiscerning public. A pumpkin's flesh should always be bright orange!

A good pumpkin (shop or home grown) is just that - a good pumpkin. I haven't found a variety that is particularly special - but feel free to enlighten me if you feel different!

I grew 6 medium size pumpkins over summer, and these have been decorating my back verandah since. Slowly I have been getting through them. I've even been keeping the seeds to roast and have for snacks.

Now I like pumpkin, but I'm getting a bit bored of pumpkin soup and winter pumpkin salad. I even made a catering size batch of pumpkin tortellini and froze it. And I still have two pumpkins to go!

The have been staring at me sullenly every time I go into the backyard, which is often. I try to ignore them, but my food wastage conscience  is getting to me. I don't like wasting food at the best of times, even if it ends up in the compost and isn't really wasted. But wasting my own home grown veg is unforgivable.

So I've been making my way through my cookbook collection looking for inspiration, but nothing seems to be tempting me. 

Does anyone have any good pumpkin recipe ideas?