Watermelons, where are you...

29 February, 2012

As previously blogged, I have grown watermelons this year. However I was unsure how much return I was going to get from these efforts. Watermelons sprawl and like most vine growing fruits - namely pumpkins, cucumbers and the ever rampaging zucchini - seeing the fruit can be somewhat of a challenge.

Until the rain we've had over the last few days. The plants now look a bit battered and soggy. But with the limping leaves drooping aside, at least now I can see the watermelons.

Just look at the Golden Midgets.

There are three Sugar Baby's hiding in there (trust me...)

There's a Blacktail Mountain peeking out.

This one's a bit easier to spot.

Challenge update #2...

28 February, 2012

Upon careful calculation (involving excel spreadsheets no less) of the fruit and vegetable items bought vs grown in the Great Fruit and Vegetable (not quite) Self-Sufficiency Challenge 2011/12 the current tally is...

(Drumroll please...)


Yes people, that's right. I have grown (so far) 77% of my own fruit and vegetables in the first five months of this challenge. And that's not including the produce eaten while pottering about in the yard, which would be considerable - I'm amazed I manage to get any produce in the door to the scales at times.

If you will recall, way back in August last year I challenged myself to grow 50% of my fruit and veg for a year. I started roughly documenting this in September, but unfortunately I seem to have lost these early records, so my calculations only go from October onwards. But in these five months it would seem I've been punching above my weight. I'm not sure how things will go over the winter months, but I have started planning and have planted a few brassica seeds (blog on this to follow). I think by the end of it all (Oct 2012) I'll be closer to the 50% mark, but for now I'm feeling pretty darn pleased with myself.

So garden, thank you!

Preserving the harvest...

22 February, 2012

By now all the tomatoes are growing great guns, the zucchini are cropping as fast as I can pick them (and sometimes faster) and the successionally sown corn is giving a plentiful supply of fat cobbs.

But with so much produce, and the risk of winter-time starvation if I don't get some food in the cupboard (either starvation or shame to have to buy food - I'm not sure which is worse...) I've started preserving.

And my first method of keeping the crop has been dehydration.

By far my most prolific crop over summer has been tomatoes, and I've been loving it!

But as much as I love fresh homegrown tomatoes, I also love homegrown tomatoes in the depths of winter. But as I have no greenhouse/polytunnel (but I have ideas - watch this space!) so far my methods of achieving this have extended to making passata (i.e. italian pasta sauce). I learned this from a sicillian friends parents (actually I went and made passata with her family and she was mysteriously absent... but I loved it, the whole ritual and comraderie of it all, not to mention taking home enough passata for two years! But I don't eat that much pasta.) and have since had no tolerance for any other pasta sauce - there is just no comparison!!

But now I want to extend my repertoire, and so in addition to passata I will be drying my tomatoes. And as the Melbourne sun can be unpredictable this will require the use of my dehydrator. So to keep the red tomatoes for passata, I have mainly been drying the yellow pear tomatoes.

My gorgeous yellow pear tomatoes are sliced in half and arranged on the dehydrator levels, and were dried on medium (~60-65 degrees) for about 12 hours.

As I don't like leather (at least not to eat) I've left them somewhat pliable and not entirely dessicated.

And thus I have my own homegrown sun-dried tomatoes (yes, they aren't sun dried per se, but I'm in agreement with Spring Warren from Quarter Acre Farm - such a great book! - that dehydrator dried tomatoes just doesn't sound the same!)


16 February, 2012

Add 3 home-raised chicken eggs to make an omelette and here is dinner! And it was delicious!

The first watermelon!!!!

12 February, 2012

I have grown a monster watermelon!

At least, it is a monster watermelon in comparison to any other watermelon I have ever grown. I have grown watermelon over the years occasionally, mainly when I was still living at home. They were only ever baby watermelon, but I was still proud of them. Then over the last few years of renting I never had the space, or a large enough pot to attempt watermelon again.

But now I have space, and watermelon seeds.

Last year I grew watermelon over a trellis, and the plants managed to produce 6 watermelons from around 18 plants, ranging in size from reasonable (i.e. not quite volleyball size) to pathetic (i.e. barely larger than my fist).

This year I grew them in the front yard and let them ramble. I have grown 6 varieties; Moon and Stars, Sugar Baby, Sweet Siberian, Cream of Saskatchewan, Golden Midget and Blacktail Mountain.

This baby is a Sugar Baby (does this make me a Sugar Mama???!!) and is by far and away the most impressive watermelon ever. I took a photo if it next to my phone to give an idea of the sheer size of the thing.

I've been watching it with awe over the past few weeks swelling amongst the leaves, but of late have been torn with indecision - is it ready to pick yet??

The trouble I've always had is telling when a watermelon is ripe. Because if you pick it before its ready it is a complete and utter disappointment and waste of a good melon. The signs are supposedly that;
1. The melon sounds hollow when tapped (what exactly does a hollow sound sound like? does my melon sound hollow enough? or should it sound more hollow?).
2. Underneath the melon where it is resting on the ground turns from a white-ish colour to a yellow-ish colour (not so useful when you grow them on a trellis).
3. The bit at the end of the melon goes dry, apparently like a curly pigs tail (the stalk end, or the flower end?)

In the end I tapped away, and the melon sounded more hollow than any of the younger melons. Tick! (I think). The bottom of the melon was a nice yellow colour. Tick! (whoops to not taking a photo before I cut the melon)

The end of the melon (not the stem end) was dry and wrinkly, but the stem looked in fine order. Not sure on that one. But with two out of three I felt brave enough to harvest.

And it was gorgeous!

Winning the battle...

08 February, 2012

... but shall I win the war?

The Great Fruit and Veg (not quite) Self-Sufficiency Challenge 2011/12 continues to roll on and the pretty-fied notebook constantly resides on the kitchen table waiting for when I bring the harvest inside and can document the pickings.

I feel so proud that the last two weeks I haven't had to purchase ANY FRUIT OR VEGETABLES WHATSOEVER!!!

Witness exhibit A: The last two weeks of documentation....

Here come the tomatoes...

04 February, 2012

Finally the tomatoes are really hitting their strides. This week I've been having tomatoes most days, either in salads, or pasta, or omelettes; tomatoes are versatile.

I have a few varieties this year; Principe Borghese, Yellow Pear, Isis Candy, Black Russian, Tommy Toe, Lemon Drop, Beefsteak and Grosse Lisse. The Principe Borghese and Yellow Pear were germinated in August, and the rest in September. The Principe Borghese and Yellow Pears were planted outside into the regular garden in around October, which is a bit early for Melbourne with the potential for late frosts. Traditionally the tomato planting day is the Melbourne Cup holiday. But I was brave, and also armed with garden fleece. This was tenderly wrapped spaciously around and over the seedlings, and when they grew to the top of the fleece pyramid (by which time there was little risk of frost) I opened up the top, but left it around the base. This seems to have worked pretty well, as the Principe Borghese had its first ripe tomato just after Christmas, and the Yellow Pear has been not far behind, and if anything is now killing it with around 1.5kg of golden delight just this week. Meanwhile all the other tomatoes planted out later and without fleece protection have lagged behind a bit, and while have set fruit, they are still green. I'll definately be following the early germintation and plant out with fleece protection system with all my tomatoes next year.

However, in the meantime I'm eating lots of tomatoes, giving plenty away and will soon have to start thinking about freezing tomatoes and making sauce. But for now I'm basking in the joys of a multitude of tomatoes. Who knows what I'm going to do when the other varieties are ready though...