Five out of seven ain't bad...

30 September, 2012

Alas, tomorrow I have to go back to the working world after my lovely week off, but I can go back with a sense of pride.

I did have quite a few tasks I aimed to complete. And I managed to do five out of the seven.

Things to do in the garden:
  1. Extend veggie garden beds - done
  2. Finish raised beds in orchard - done
  3. Finish gravel paths - done
  4. Make potted herb garden in veggie garden corner - done
  5. Fix lattice supports for pear espalier - done
  6. Revamp nature strip - not even attempted
  7. Get compost delivered and spread around yard - would have been nice, but meh, you can't have everything.
I am a bit of a sayings person, and one of my favourites is "Aim for the moon, for even if you miss you will land amongst the stars." Or it's something along those lines. I can't even remember who the quote is from, but I feel like for this week it's pretty apt. I didn't quite get everything done I would have liked, but I got reasonably close and I feel I've achieved a lot. To have done everything on the list would have meant I couldn't have read the books I read, or gone to the movies, or any of the many R&R related things I did. And I don't regret any of that.

The last tasks I completed today (talk about leaving it to the last minute!) was the raised beds in what I call my orchard, and finishing the gravel paths in that same area. This was the biggest job of the lot, and took up a fair bit of my time. But it was worth it!

My orchard is where the majority of my espaliered apple trees are, my juvenile lime, orange, flat peach, nectarine and avocado trees, my asparagus bed, the grapevine, and a bed of two gooseberries, one redcurrant and one whitecurrant bush.

I didn't take any "before" photos, so this photo is from back in mid 2011.

This is not dissimilar to what it looked like at the start of last week.

After much hefting of wood sleepers, drilling and dragging around buckets of gravel it now looks like this.

To the left is the garage, hence why the beds continue around the corner where I am standing for this shot. I just realised my cat Holly has managed to sneak into the photo. A pity I didn't manage to get a shot of her supervising the staff (me) - i.e. napping while I worked.

This is the view from as far as I could get into the corner.

As you can see there is still much work to be done laying down newspaper and filling the beds with compost (I am definitely a no-dig gardening girl!), but for now it will do. I'm buggered.

Even my gloves have given up.

Three down, four to go...

27 September, 2012

While I am not particularly pleased that tomorrow is my last day off, even if the following days are the weekend, I am pleased that another two tasks have been crossed off the to do list.

Today I completed a couple of small tasks; I made a little herb corner in the veggie garden, and I straightened the pear espalier lattice.

The far corner in the veggie patch is a bit of an awkward space. It does get a good few of hours of sunlight, with some afternoon shade, but with the setting sun beating down on the fence it still is quite hot. I previously had two cherry trees and three blueberries in pots in that corner until I revamped the front yard and they all went into the ground. Since then that corner has been unadorned, except for many milk bottle covers and an old semi-broken barrel pot into which I threw any odds and ends I came across and couldn't be bothered putting away.

So lately it has been looking pretty unappealing.

While I have some herbs in the rest of the garden - Rosemary, Sage, Chives, Thyme, Golden Marjoram and Parsley - I thought having a distinct herb garden would work well, and a lot of herbs are pretty tough, especially the perennials which should do well in that corner.

So I tidied up and put things away, and then set out my pots. I had some pre-purchased herbs ready to go - Oregano, Lemon Thyme, Olive herb (which a friend put me onto, so I had to get one for myself), Garlic Chives, Mint and Thai Basil. When I was happy with the layout I put a container or plastic bag in each pot, and then filled it in with rocks.

I'm hoping this will be kinda like a self watering pot, with a reservoir of water for the plants so they are less likely to dry out come summer, while still allowing for good drainage.

Then I semi filled the pots with potting mix and added water holding granules for extra drought protection.

After they were mixed in well I planted out the herbs. The Olive herb got the biggest pot as it will grow the largest, but the others should be pretty happy with their lot.

However on standing back it all looked a bit too matchy matchy and symmetrical, so I thought I'd add a few other pots with some seeds of Parsley (all mine is starting to go to seed so hopefully this will grow quickly), a mix of Purple Leaf and regular green Basil, and Coriander. Who knows if they will germinate yet, but I can always sow more if it doesn't work out.

Now I may have mentioned that my mother works in an agricultural laboratory as a seed analyst, and as such when they test horticultural seeds she often brings home seed that the owners don't want back. So I had asked her if she had any Coriander seed. And this is what she gave me.

I don't know about you but I think I have enough Coriander seed to last me for the rest of my days.

With the extra pots the herb corner now looks like this.

Now I just need the herbs to settle in and grow.

The second task I did was also a small one. You have probably noticed the lattice fence which separates the front yard from the veggie garden. Along that fence I have espaliered eight pear trees in a Belgian fence style.

Its a bit hard to see them as they're only just breaking into bud, but they basically one day its meant to look like this.
Mine is only three years old now, but if you look closely the lattice is all uneven. Which annoyed me every time I looked at it. But now my mind is at ease, as it now looks like this.

Much nicer.

So all in all a successful day. Tomorrow I get the last of the wood delivered to hopefully finish the orchard raised beds and gravel paths in that area over the weekend. Then I will be most definitely done!

One down, six to go...

26 September, 2012

At day 4 of my annual leave, I have accomplished one of the seven garden related tasks I set myself to do. Granted it is one of the big ones, but I do feel I am a bit behind.

Anyhoo, you do what you can.

The task I have completed this afternoon is extending the veggie patch raised beds. When I originally put in the eight raised beds I made them 800mm wide with an 800mm gap between. In hindsight I didn't need that much room between the beds to allow for access, and so I have extended them to 1200 wide, with 400mm gaps between. It may not sound like a lot, but 40 extra cms width adds an extra 50% more growing space.

This is what the veggie patch looked like previously.

And now it looks like this.

I don't think the photo's quite show the increased space, but anyway. I'm pretty pleased. And now I get to move onto some of the easier jobs. Phew!

Working holiday...

20 September, 2012

As of 5pm this afternoon I am FREE! Free as the wind. Until 1st October. Because then I have to go back to work.

Yes, I have all of 6 whole days away from the working world. This is the first time I've had off all year, and I just managed to scrounge a week. And as I'm of the belief that holidays away are pretty ineffectual unless they are of least two weeks in duration (I mean, by the time you factor in travel times, settling in etc you barely have any true holiday time before you have to pack up and leave. Pointless in my opinion.) I have decided to have a stay-cation.

I plan to use this time wisely. As well as lots of sleeping in, catching up on films I've been meaning to see, losing myself in art galleries and generally enjoying myself, I have a gardening to-do list. And I'm blogging about it in the hope that it will help make me actually do most, if not all, of it. By posting it here I now have to face up to the shame if I don't deliver.

Let us see how much of this I actually complete during my time off.

Things to do in the garden (in no particular order):
  1. Extend veggie garden beds
  2. Finish raised beds in orchard
  3. Finish gravel paths
  4. Make potted herb garden in veggie garden corner
  5. Fix lattice supports for pear espalier
  6. Revamp nature strip
  7. Get compost delivered and spread around yard
Some of these things are big jobs. Some of them are small. I will attempt to complete them all.

We shall see how it goes. I will be posting updates as they get ticked off the list.

Garden gathering...

18 September, 2012

In the tired haze after work, I'd much rather gather food from the garden than from the supermarkets.

Yay for the first Artichoke of the season. Long may it last! (The season, not the Artichoke.)

Now I just have to decide what to make for dinner...

Morning meander...

16 September, 2012

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning is meander around the garden.

This mornings' meander holds the promise of lots of good things to come.

The Cherries are just starting to blossom.

So are the Blueberries, thank goodness. I've been enviously reading of others' (particularly Sydney-siders) Blueberries forming fruit while mine are barren sticks, but now I feel a little better. Hopefully I will get a slightly better Blueberry crop than last year (well it could hardly have been worse!).

Alpine Strawberries and regular Strawberries are getting in on the action.

Also on the berry front, the summer fruiting raspberries are not far away from flowering.

Apples are almost blooming.

This one is called Huonville Crab and is thought to be a cross between a culinary apple and a crab apple, and had red fleshed fruit. It hasn't fruited yet but hopefully will this year. Fingers crossed!

On the fruit side of things there's lots of promise but not much more than that. Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Yet.

Luckily the veg is doing its bit. Flowers of the veg sort are blooming and edible. Take that fruit! Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB) is hitting its stride.

Side shoots are coming along nicely.

Artichokes are almost at eating stage.

As is the Asparagus (if you can find it).

What promises does your garden bring?

And they're off...

15 September, 2012

"Crushed volcanic rock particles"...

13 September, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I had an excess of broccoli and so I decided to do a little trial. I had come across these bags that claim to prolong the fridge life of fresh produce due to their "crushed volcanic rock particles" which "draw out gasses which cause food to deteriorate".

So I thought a little objective testing was in order.

I did a test where half of my freshly pricked broccoli side shoots were placed in the special Fresh & Crisp (henceforward to be known as F&C) bags, and half went into the bog standard supermarket fruit and veg crappy plastic bags. This is what they looked like at the start of the trial.

And after just on just on three weeks in their respective bags in the fridge crisper, this is how they look.

Not much to pick between them on sight, in my opinion.

On closer inspection, the F&C bags' contents retained a smidgeon more crispness.

That said, the supermarket bags' contents were not much the worse after a few weeks sojourn in the fridge, albeit a little on the soft side. (Apologies for the slightly out of focus photo; I blame the auto zoom).

Overall, even though the quality was better in the F&C bags, I'm not sure its worth the purchase price over free bags. Particularly when I store so little of my produce for future consumption.

So there you have it. Now I get to make orecchietti with broccoli with the leftovers.

Challenge update #5...

08 September, 2012

It's now the home straight for my challenge to grow more than 50% of my fruit and veg for a year.

This past month August was the second last month of recording all fruit and veg grown vs bought and as part of the slowest part of the year in the garden was sure to be the weakest link.

But I'm happy to say things continue to look up.

The total garden produce for the month of August sits at (drumroll please)... 65%.

This is a slight improvement from last month and gives me a pretty good feeling that the garden has managed pretty well during what is traditionally the hungry gap, although that may be yet to come with winter crops slowing down and summer crops not yet ready for eating.

This past month I picked English Spinach, Perpetual Spinach, Broccoli, Kale, Gai Lan, Beetroot (roots and leaves), Radishes, (a very few) Peas, Celery, Lettuce, Parsley, Spring Onions and (the very, very occasional) Alpine Strawberry and (all of 5) Raspberries - remember them.

The current total for the last 11 months is now 65% - marginally up from 64% at the end of last month.

So yay for the garden! You deserve a gold star!

Come on cauli, come on, come on...

07 September, 2012

Finally it looks like I might just have a cauliflower.

The cauliflowers were sown in early February with the rest of the brassicas. I have grown three types; Purple Sicily, Mini White and Macerata Green. These were direct sown outside in the front yard in the cherry tree bed after I pulled out the last of the corn crop.

As well as the aforementioned caulis I also sowed Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Romanesco in the same bed. I aimed for about five or six plants of each. Some seedlings were eaten early on my bugs, so I repeated sowings in March thinking this would also be good for staggering the crop.

Obviously I was getting ahead of myself expecting a crop at all.

There were a few set backs due to these bastards attacking the plants over late summer and autumn.

But some dipel soon fixed that. Over the late autumn months they grew well. But then we hit winter and there they stayed.

I've been reading a few bloggers posting about their cauli harvests over winter and have been thinking 'surely it can't be long now'. But alas, despite weekly checkups they have remained stubbornly cauli-less.

Until now.

Only one of the Purple Sicily plants seems to be doing anything, and it is by far the biggest of all the plants.

I'm hoping the others will catch up soon and I will get a crop before the summer weather makes them bolt and not produce decent heads.

But right now I want to know what I did wrong. Perhaps as the soil had previously grown corn, which is a heavy feeder, the soil was a bit depleted. I did lime the soil well, as brassica's need the calcium (or is it to do with pH and availability of nutrients?) so that shouldn't have been an issue. Is it that I planted too late, and should have sown seeds in December or January for winter crops?

And so I have gone back to my books. I have many books on growing veg which have been invaluable along the veg growing journey, and so I went straight to my favourites.

Looking up cauliflower I picked up the following, with my notes in italics;
From 'The Practical Australian Gardener' by (my hero) Peter Cundall
  • Sow or plant types of cauli that mature in 4-6 months in Feb.
  • Soak the seed in seaweed concentrate prior to sowing to prevent whip tail (or alternatively use a weak solution of sodium molybdate - a thimbleful in a bucket - for the first water after sowing or as a foliar spray)
  • Brassica's can be easily be grown all the year round in most parts of Australia. Hmmm. Does anyone grow brassica's all year round? I thought they didn't grow well in the summer months, but this may just some gardening old wives tale.
  • Cauli's can be fed heavily using plenty of manure. Damn, I think this is one of the main areas I fell down. Perhaps if I sprinkle a bit of blood and bone it might just give them a boost?
From 'Fork to Fork' by Monty and Sarah Don
  • Cauli's prefer a well-drained (tick), well manured (fail) in an open position (tick).
  • It is suggested that brassica's should be planted out in mid-late summer where peas or broad beans have been grown. This makes a lot of sense due to the nitrogen fixing properties of these legumes which should ensure the brassicas get enough nutrients. I think I'll try this next year.
 From 'Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion' by (you guessed it) Stephanie Alexander
  • As long as the soil is well drained and rich in organic matter no additional preparation is required
  • Plant December to April in a temperate climate and harvest after 4-5 months. Well, this is their 7th month now, so I definitely think mine are a bit behind the times!
  • Cauli's are very fertiliser hungry (I think I'm seeing a theme here) and a comfrey tea or liquid seaweed fertilizer around 4 weeks after sowing helps meet their needs.
From 'The Australian Fruit and Vegetable Garden' from The Diggers Club by Clive Blazey and Jane Varkulevicius
  • Cauli's have similar needs to other brassica's but are more demanding to grow (now you tell me!).
  • They insist on a pH of about 6.5 and they are prone to clubroot, so add some lime to your well manured soil. 
  • In warm regions plant your seedlings in late summer to autumn to avoid the heat which will make them bolt.

Well, after all that I definitely think I need to give them more manure next year and will try planting earlier and see if this helps. But for now all I can do is try and give them some extra feeding to help them along.

Does anyone have any other cauli growing tips?

Tomato trial...

05 September, 2012


This year I have gone a bit nuts over tomatoes.

Ok, so I use the term "a bit" loosely.

This year I am growing 16 varieties of tomato. But I am doing this not only to justify my previously described addiction to purchasing endless varieties of seeds, but for serious scientific endeavour!

Ok, I also use the term "serious scientific endeavour" loosely.

I am planning a tomato trial.

Said trial will include testing the aforementioned 16 varieties of tomatoes across three parameters;
  • Time to first ripe fruit (number of days from sowing)
  • Taste (score on system yet to be determined, but sure to be thorough)
  • Production (in kg - see, I am an optimist - per plant)

I have decided to sow 10 seeds of each variety and will choose the strongest two seedlings for planting out. They will all be grown in the same two beds with the same soil conditions and so will have an equal growing environment. 

The varieties to be tested are:
Principe Borghese - red, oval
Beams Yellow Pear - yellow, pear (I know, yellow and pear! Who would have thunk it?!!)
Lemon Drop - yellow, very small round
Isis Candy - orange, round
Tommy Toe - red, small round
Black Cherry - black/red, small round
Big White Pink Stripe - white/pink, beefsteak
Green Zebra - green/yellow, small round
Rouge De Marmande - red, beefsteak
Siberian - red, oval
Ned Kelly - red, medium ribbed oval
Earl of Edgecombe - yellow/orange, medium round
Garden Peach - red, oval
Black Krim - black/red, small round (thanks to Liz from Suburban Tomato for the seeds!)
Mortgage Lifter - red, large beefsteak
Gardeners Delight - red, small round

Hmmm, it does look a little excessive when written out like that.

All these are indeterminate tomatoes and will be grown with single stakes for support.

But for now all I need to do is wait for them to germinate and make sure they survive the planting out process, then see what the results bring.

Whichever variety wins, its sure to be a tasty ride!

Signs of spring - Gold Coast edition...

03 September, 2012

As promised here is the Queensland comparator to the previous Melbourne edition.

After sitting at the conference listening to presentations of varying interest most afternoons I tried to get out for a walk to clear my mind and get my legs moving.

And there were many beautiful things to draw my attention as I wandered the streets.

(I make no attempt to correctly identify the following plants, so be prepared for extreme horticultural ignorance. As I told one of my walking companions; if I can't eat it, I don't care what it is!)

There were lots of leafy succulent type plants in amazing colours.

Many lovely native type plants.

Quite a few plants were sending out their brightly coloured new foliage.

Bird of Paradise was just everywhere.

Frangipane about to bloom. Pity it was too early.

While it was mostly ornamentals, there were some edibles to be seen.


And someone was planning some gardening.

So a very different springtime experience. But, although I enjoyed the sunshine, I'm glad to be back.

What happened while I was away...

02 September, 2012

I got back from my conference today, and after five days away it was straight into the garden to check on how things were going.
The Purple Podded peas have started flowering.

I just love pea flowers.

The Greenfeast peas are forming pods, and peas are on their way.

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli has started to form heads. 

They must be pretty tasty as some have been attacked by bugs, who I'm sure are loving the tender new shoots after a winter of tough old leaves.

However I don't fancy they will add much to my eating pleasure. They got a pyrethum spray this afternoon. Hopefully that will fix them.

Also on the brassicas front the Tuscan Kale has gone to seed.

I will see if I can save some seeds from it.

And joy of joys the Artichokes are on their way.