Harvest Monday... And a new look...

30 December, 2013

Welcome to the new look. Part of my delightful Christmas present from my IT saavy brother was this domain name. Ain't it cute. So now I have a 'proper' website. Yay for upgrades.

My brother also re-did a few design changes I wanted made, and I've got some more new content to come (mostly that which is in the headers which will be forthcoming in the next few weeks) and a few more little changes to be made. Nothing different in terms of what I like to blog about i.e. growing and eating my own garden produce, but just a bit of design polish. Thanks Thom! I owes you some cider.

But now to the main event: Harvest Monday, courtesy of Daphne's Dandelion's.

Today I picked this:


The strawberries and raspberries have slowed down considerably. The first of the early fig crop has been mostly eaten by birds, although I got this one. The very early apples (White Transparent on the left and Early Victoria on the right lower corners respectively) have started. While these are acceptable, they aren't as tasty as later season ones but its nice to have fresh apples at this time. Also fruit related and quite exciting is the flat peaches in the centre. There were four. Only two made it into the photo.

On the veg front we have continued pickings of perpetual spinach and self sown lettuce, carrots are going gangbusters and are needing to be picked for thinnings as the bed is totally crammed, and the first beetroot and green beans are here. Also a first for the year is tomatoes, with the nursery bought cherry tom I have planted in a hanging basket has produced its first fruit. Seed sown varieties are far, far behind.

Also picked this week are the whole of the 2013 cherry crop.


The first of the white nectarines.


And a few potatoes from a plant that died back in the heat, and I thought I may as well see if it produced anything worthwhile before it kicked the bucket on one of our recent 30 plus degree days.


It had.

So that's been my recent pickings. Check out Daphne's for more worldwide harvests.

Freezing raspberries...

29 December, 2013

Firstly, I hope everyone has had a lovely Christmas. Mine was a prime example of our usual family Christmas: a get together Christmas Eve (our family background is a mix of German and Ukranian, so we do Christmas Eve) with lots of seafood (beautiful prawns, oysters and scallops), roast pork with the best crackling, mum's awesome roast potatoes (her new pride and joy in the newly renovated kitchen is a double stove - I'm so jealous - which makes THE BEST roast potatoes! If mum made a roast nowadays without these potatoes I think there would be a mutiny) and a salad picked from her garden, then games (this year was Smart Ass which is a trivia type game - very fun), watching a bit of Carols By Candlelight on tv and of course the obligatory present opening. Unfortunately my present has been slightly delayed by Australia Post, so I will have to wait to share it with you. But even so many happy fun times were had.

But now it feels a bit back to normal. I'll take the decorations down today and away they will go and Christmas will be over for another year.

So back to it. For me the number one task of late has been getting up a stash of raspberries. And for me the best way to preserve raspberries is to freeze them. Bottling them makes them lose their raspberry structure and fall into syrup, which is nice but not ideal for later baking which is primarily what I want them for. So freezer it is.

However it's not quite as simple a process as whacking picked raspberries into a container or bag and letting freeze. (Darn!) Doing that just leaves you with a frozen clump of raspberry which needs to be hacked apart into pieces before cooking with, which is both dangerous and annoying.

A better strategy is to lay out the raspberries on a tray. Put the tray in the freezer (usually a couple of hours is sufficient.


 I love how they develop this frosty coat when just out of the freezer.


I then put them in a usual plastic bag. When I feel I have enough, or I run out of raspberries to freeze, I will change these over into a more hardy zip lock bag. But in the interim this works well. I don't use containers because it wastes space in the freezer as you empty the container, and I think completely unobectively that the freezer 'burn' (when icicles form on the frozen product, which is actually water from inside the produce making its way out, causing dehydration and flavour loss) is worse in containers.


See how nicely they play together. No clumping.


Back into the freezer it goes.


This stash ought to last me for a while.

An early Christmas present...

18 December, 2013

Sorry its been few and far between posts lately. Like many others it has just been too busy and hectic to post, but I just had to share this with you.


Yes, that there is a baby mango!!!!

In Melbourne!!!

My mango tree has set fruit. I'm so excited.

My mango tree is a variety called Florigon, which is a dwarf variety (i.e. can be kept to 5m tall as opposed to the 30m wild mango tree specimens) alleged to be happy in a more sub-tropical/temperate climate. I planted it in 2011 in an area which gets morning and early afternoon sun, and against a house wall which is where the heater is with the idea that in winter the waste heat from that wall will help protect the plant from colder winter nighttime temperatures. (For those not familiar with Melbourne's climate we get a couple of overnight frosts a few degrees below zero degrees C  with daytime temps between 8-12 degrees C in winter, where as summer time day temperatures are generally in the late 20's and 30's degrees C, with a few 40 degree plus days for spice.)


As you can see it is also where there is a dwarf Lady Finger banana, and a few rhubarb plants (one of which is under the inverted pot in a rhubarb forcing experiment).

Each year the tree has flowered, and then grown from the flowering point at a rate of about 30cms a year. Given that mango trees can get up to 5m and this is way too close to the house for that to be allowed to happen, I think this slow growing is going to help me keep this tree cropped to a more manageable 2-3m height. Around November the mango tree flowered. 



Around the start of December it looked like fruit was setting.



But now I'm sure.



There appears to be at least 20 little baby mango fruits. I'm sure many of these will drop off the plant in the coming weeks. But I hope at least one stays on to become a homegrown mango.

That would be an awesome Christmas present. What more could any gardener ask for?

Snail detering copper tape trial - update...

12 December, 2013

Since planting out my melon seedlings with my trial copper tape protection I have been keeping an eye on how they have survived the voracious appetites of the snails and slugs that inhabit my garden.

Result: The copper tape seems to partially protect seedlings.

Some of the copper tape protected seedlings have survived.

Lambkin's Hybrid melons - 1/3 has been eaten.


Tigger melon - 1/2 remain
 


I suspect this may not be snail inflicted damage, as it would have had to be a very dexterous snail to avoid all that snail bait. Although maybe it was a Mission-Impossible-wire-hovering-snail or dodging-lasar-beam-cartwheeling-cat-burglar type skilled molusk. Either way I am down some melon seedlings.

However it seems evident that the copper tape does not completely deter snails.

Yes, that there is a snail foiled by the snail bait secondary protection.

This one made it past the copper tape only to be foiled by the snail bait back up.

So it would appear that copper tape does protect the seedlings, as the majority protected by the copper tape survived. But it is not a completely effective barrier, and further protections strategies may need to be employed.

Harvest Monday...

09 December, 2013

Once again it's that time of the week to show off your harvests and marvel at the wonders of kitchen gardeners around the globe. Thanks as always to Daphne for starting the institution that is Harvest Monday.

My harvests from this week have included:

Plenty of broad beans.


The strawberries keep growing like crazy, and the raspberries have caught up and are now cropping really well.


The last of the parsnips (after cutting out the woody cores there was enough for a meal), some baby carrots, the only leek that hasn't gone to seed, a few early beans and the first radishes.


The first bandicooted potatoes.


For those not familiar with the term, bandicooting is the Australian term for when you rummage around in the soil around growing potato plants and pick off some of the still growing potatoes, while allowing the plant to keep growing and continue producing. These kipflers were a little on the small side, but were delicious.

Not pictured but picked has been lettuce, rocket, lemons and spring onions.

For more harvest goodness, check out Daphne's Dandelions.

Snail detering copper tape trial...

07 December, 2013

Now it has been for quite some time that I've been waging a war on the snails. For many years they have been the bane of my gardening existance, when newly planted seedlings or direct sown seeds just coming up would either completely disappear or would be eaten down to barely discernable stumps.

Not even feeding them to the ducks has prevented this from happening.

So of late most of my snail protection strategy has relied on copious amounts of snail bait. I don't like this as I like to be an organic gardener and I don't use any other pest managing poisons in my garden apart from pyrethrum. But if it was organic gardening and no crop, or snail bait and a chance at some produce, I went with the snail bait.

http://www.easypestsupplies.com.au/images/detailed/0/Slug_Tape.jpg
Source

But for a while now I've been meaning to trial another option: copper snail tape.

This supposedly works be deterring snails as traveling over the tape gives them a mild electric shock. Hence placing this around plants stops them from getting in and having a munch.

I bought some of the aforementioned product about two years ago, and for that time it has sat in my garden shed. Not particularly useful. But I finally got out the tape and have put this strategy into practice.

Today I planted out my greenhouse raised melon seedlings. And I am trialling the copper tape to see if it stops these being immediately eaten by snails.

Now I had assumed that this copper tape was a thin solid tape of copper. I had planned to make circles of it and place it on the ground around my seedlings. However, this plan was foiled upon my opening the packet and discovering it to be a very flimsy tape which has an adhesive side and is intended to be stuck onto something more solid. Back to the drawing board. I ended up taking some of my drink bottle circles and sticking the tape onto those.


Hopefully this will work.

Now while I am generally a very trusting person, when it comes to my melon seedlings I am suspicious and over-cautious. In case this copper tape is unsuccessful, I have added my usual snail bait.


This will also serve the purpose of showing if any snails get past the copper tape, before dying a snail bait induced death.

Sorry snails, but if its going to be you or the plants, it'll be you.

Does anyone else have any other snail protection success stories not involving snail bait? Coffee grinds? Crushed eggshells? Please tell.

What to do with slightly over-ripe strawberries on a hot day...

02 December, 2013

Take slightly over-ripe strawberries. (Although at a pinch perfectly ripe ones will do.)


 Cut off tops and any dodgy or squishy bits. Add to blender (or Thermomix, in my case).


Add about two teaspoons of sugar for each big handful of strawberries. Blend. Add a big handful of ice. Blend again.

Pour into a glass.


Admire the gorgeous rosy red hue.


Drink.


Repeat for as long as the hot weather holds out or you run out of strawberries.

Working weekend...

01 December, 2013

It seems this time of year the garden is lots of work and the reward is still so far away. I had approximately one million tasks on my gardening to-do list for this weekend, or so it felt to me. This is what I actually got done.

I put another layer of newspaper and compost in the wire column potatoes.


I have left about 10 centimeters of potato plant above the compost level.


I started staking my gifted tomatoes (thanks Tim!) with pantyhose ties. A good way to use up holey pantyhose.


I pulled out the celery and parsnips gone to seed, except for two celery's and one parsnip for seed saving.


I also sowed some more carrot seeds; three red/purple types; Ruby, Purple and Majestic Red. The stick mess is one of my ways of stopping local birds and cats from messing up my newly sown seeds.

I thinned my bean beds.
 

The front bed has my seed beans; Yin Yang and Dwarf Borlotti. The rear bed has my bush beans: Polo, Valentino and Butter Bean.

I have spaced all the plants around 10 centimeters away from each other, as I have previously grown them around 30 centimeters apart and they got too dry in our hot summers, even with copious mulching. I'm hoping this closer spacing will reduce water loss while not affecting yield.  We shall see.


I then spread out the seedlings in the corn bed.


These are also around 10 centimeters apart. I haven't grown corn this closely before, but while I was cycling around the Loire I rode past many, many corn fields and they were all very closely planted like this. I have no idea why they do this as most resources I've seen say to plant 20-30 centimeters apart, but I'll give it a try.

Lastly, I put up the individual stone fruit protection on my Anzac peach tree.


I've blogged previously about how I do this. But the short description is I save net bags from bought produce over the year and tie these around the swelling peach-lets.


Sometimes I also add sections of cut plastic drink bottles for extra protection.


This serves two purposes; one, it protects the peaches from the birds, and two, if the ripe fruits drop the net bag catches them, saving fruit losses from fallen fruit. Double win!

I counted the crop while I was at it, and all going well I have 31 gorgeous white peaches to look forward to.

So that there is my weekend in the garden just gone. What garden tasks did you get up to this weekend?

Strawberry jam epic fail...

26 November, 2013

With the glut of strawberries I have been experiencing of late I had planned to start building up stocks of goodies that fit well into hampers that may come in useful around Christmas time in the type of hamper style gifts that I like to give.

So I decided one way of using up too many strawberries is Strawberry Jam.

Who doesn't like Strawberry Jam. Nobody, because it is fabulous.

So I went into the yard and rounded up a collander full of berries, including some slightly under-ripe ones as these make a slightly better jam. The slightly under-ripe berries are less likely to turn to mush, and I like a few still whole berries in my jam.


The berries were prepared by washing well and then chopping into similar sizes. I am getting a mix of small, medium and large berries.


So I left the baby ones whole, chopped the medium ones in half and anything larger into quarters.


Now my preferred jam making method is in the Thermomix. It is so easy!  I used the basic Strawberry Jam recipe in the book as a base.

500g strawberries
250-300g sugar, or jam making sugar, or added pectin
1 lemon, juiced
As I had slightly more than 500g strawberries, I upped the recipe accordingly.


Now the process is simple in the Thermomix.

I like to blend the sugar with the rind of the lemon, for an extra lemony kick.

This becomes...


... this in mere seconds.


Then take your de-peeled lemons, remove as much white pith as you can and cut into pieces.


Add to Thermomix.


Blend.


Now I have made Strawberry Jam before, and know the soft fruit needs a little jelling helping hand, so out came the pectin.


I never realised before that this was made by the Fowlers Vacola people. They say 1 sachet for 1.5kg strawberries, so I used half the packet.

Must not forget strawberries.


Cook according to the directions (100 degrees C for 30 minutes, speed 1).

Done.


Meanwhile, sterilise your jars. I do this by rinsing clean jars in very hot water, then putting in a 150 degree C oven for at least 10 minutes.

But before you decant your delicious jam into your sterilised jars, get out your secret ingredient. This is mine.


This stuff transforms even a very good Strawberry Jam to amazing heights. Truly. Try it.

I added about 1 tablespoon to my jam batch. Then it went into the jars.


I purposely made some very whole strawberry heavy, and others not so.


Now here comes the bad news. When it was all cool, it was evident that the pectin was not sufficient.


I do not like runny jam!

So I thought either I can put it on the stove and boil it longer where it may, or may not, properly set. Or I can admit defeat and call it Strawberry Sauce.

Strawberry Sauce it is!

Although I did sterilise some proper sauce jars and re-heat the jam in the Thermomix, while also giving it a blend so the sauce would be smooth, and then re-bottle it.


I left the strawberry-full jars as I quite like those.

So in the end, not quite Strawberry Jam, but still very delicious.


The texture of the blended sauce looks quite good.


Not quite what I had planned, but still should make someone happy on Christmas morning.