Let there be light...

30 May, 2013

Picking garden produce when I got home from work after a long day has been slightly more problematic lately. Because it's already pitch dark when I get home.

How to overcome this problem? A torch was the obvious solution, but I didn't have one.

I finally bought one at the supermarket on the way home from work.

Now I can finally get back into picking food for dinner straight from the garden.

I guess you could say this produce is courtesy of the supermarket. But not really.

Do you have any tricks for getting around picking in the dark?

Saving seeds - cucumber...

26 May, 2013

This year I'm trying to save more seed. I've saved seed from beetroot, beans, pumpkins and carrots, but this year I'm trying something different with cucumber.

As I've not tried this before, I turned to the great seed saving book 'Seed to Seed' by Suzanne Ashworth.

"All cucumbers, Cucumis sativus, will cross with one another."

Damn. Did this mean that attempting seed saving would be a futile effort, with no chance of being able to keep growing a good performing cucumber?

Thankfully, in the next paragraph there was better news.

"The success rate for hand pollination is around 85%. Slightly higher rates are possible if two or more male flowers are used to pollinate each female blossom."

Excellent. So earlier in the year I picked my best performing cucumber and prepared to hand pollinate my designated seed saving cucumber.

The most prolific cucumber was this Double Yeild so that is the one I have chosen to trial seed saving with.  I diligently hand pollinated with more than two male flowers from the same plant, hoping these strongly producing genes will be passed on.

Feeling fairly confident I had a good start, I went back to the book to see what was next.

"Cucumbers that are being saved for seed must be grown to full maturity and allowed to ripen past the edible stage. The fruits will be large and beginning to soften. Depending on the variety, the fruits will change from green to white or deep yellow or orange."

Suzanne was spot on.

To illustrate, when picked at eating size these cukes looks like this:

Today, I picked my cucumber, as it was both large and beginning to soften (tick) and was a greeny-yellowy colour (tick).

This is the inside, which was very spongy and fleshy and not at all tasty. I tried it. Not nice.

From here, I have gone my own way with my seed saving method. It has worked for pumpkins so I'm hopeful it will work for cucumbers.

I scooped out the seed, leaving the fleshy bits for the compost.

This leaves lots of chunky bits and a gelatinous coating around the seeds.

Now while Suzanne advocates leaving the seeds in a bowl of water and letting them ferment, after which apparently the seeds sink to the bottom and the seed coating floats, then you wash the seeds and dry.

I didn't want gunky fermenting seeds sitting in my kitchen, so I have given them a good rinse in a sieve, which has removed a fair bit of the gelatinous gunky bits.

I then spread the seeds out on some kitchen paper to dry. I will let these dry very, very well (I once did this with melon seeds and didn't dry them enough and they went mouldy).

When absolutely dry these will join the other seeds in the seed box, waiting to be sown for next summer season. Which right now seems so far away. 

Picking purple produce...

23 May, 2013

The current standouts in the veg garden just begging to be picked are two purple foods:

Purple Sicily cauliflower.

Even though the top is purple the floret stems are bright green...

...but they have a slight white at the tip.

The main stem has hints of purple.

The other purple produce are the Dutch Purple Podded Peas.

The peas inside are a normal green colour though.

So there you are, two gorgeous coloured veg. Try find that in the supermarket!

Growing onions...

21 May, 2013

Just recently I have planted what I hope will be a year's supply of onions. It feels a little strange to be planting as it gets so cold, but apparently onion seed germinates in temps as low as 2 degrees, so these should be fine.

Now last year I grew a fair few onions in around three square meters of space. They lasted me until about April. I'm back to buying onions and I don't like it.

So I have planted two areas with lots and lots of onion seed. I have sown Sweet Domenica, which was the best of last years planted varieties, as well as a mix of Spanish White, Early Cream Gold, and a bunch of others that I don't know the names of as I got unnamed seed from my mother (who works in a seed lab and sometime gets horticultural seeds when the companies don't want them back.)

One thing I have learnt about growing onions is that they like full sun. Given the low winter sun and the increased shade in some parts of my garden, finding prime winter growing space for onions takes some planning.

The recently finished melon bed is smack bang in the middle of the front garden and will get lots of sun over the winter months with minimal shading, so this was an obvious choice.

However the artichoke plant in the middle of the bed seriously limited the useful space.

So I moved it behind the bed next to the buddleja.

This left lots of space for the onions. I've sown three types here, and divided the bed up with some big logs left from chopping down a half dead cyprus tree a few years back. I put the mess of sticks over any newly sown ground to stop the birds and local cats digging the fresh ground up, which they are wont to do.

I've also sown a heap of seeds around the back yard garden around the pond under the young apple trees, but unfortunately by the time I finished it was too dark to take a picture. This isn't great soil so I think lots of duck pond water will be dumped here and hopefully feed these onions, an I find they like a bit of feeding. I've read that lots of fresh manure means onions that don't have great keeping qualities, but we'll see.

Hopefully with the rain we've had they will germinate well. Which will hopefully grow into big fat onions which will last me a longer time that four months.

Morning meander...

19 May, 2013

Today's morning meander has a mix of the last summer crops, and the beginnings of the winter crops. And lots and lots of yellowing leaves...

Yellowing Cherry leaves

The solo passionfruit is darkening - could it be ripe soon?

I'm not sure what this is, as it was in the garden when I arrived here. But its purty.

More autumnal shades, this time courtesy of one of the apples.

Autumnal shades of strawberry.

Lots of lemons.

Smoke bush going golden.

Suprise, some of the late sown eggplants are still fruiting!

This one too! I'm not sure if this is Casper or Snow White as the labels are missing.

I think I have to accept that the zucchini is really gone now.

Some transplanted red cabbages are doing ok.

Others are fighting for their lives.

Millions of beetroot seedlings are up.

Cabbages forming.

OMG! I have a cauliflower!

Self sown peas still coming along.


Chillis hanging in there.

More autumnal leaves, this time on the espaliered pears.

Bought parsnip seedlings - my sown seed didn't come up.

Self sown broad beans already flowering.

Leeks thickening up just in time for soup weather.

Still some corn cobs coming along.

How I calculate my fruit and veg challenge...

16 May, 2013

A little while back Jodie asked how I calculate my fruit and veg grown vs bought for my fruit and veg growing challenge.

Here is my secret: my excel spreadsheet.

I apologise for the poor quality photo. I tried to get a screen shot, but my IT skills (which are negligible) did not stretch into making a screen shot into a jpeg. So I resorted to my camera.

All fruit and veg are listed on the left, with a columns for each month split into bought (in the grey - bleugh grey) and grown (in green, which is a fresh and lovely colour deserving of homegrown produce data.)

For ease of entering I've listed all veg under categories like salads, brassicas, cucubits, root crops, alliums and then of course the ubiquitous miscellaneous category for all the others.

The quantities get documented in either 100g lots, or single lots (for things like corn cobs and artichokes, or bunches of herbs.) Obviously this isn't perfect, but I figure it's close enough.

Now the magic part of the spreadsheet is right down the bottom, where it magically totals the 100g lots and single items then averages them and spits out the total for the month.

At the end there is also the total for year column, which will be handy in writing up what I've grown for the year come October when the challenge is up.

But how do you know how much you bought and grew, I hear you ask. Excellent question.

By my trusty fruit and veg challenge journal, which houses all the bought and grown veg that enters my house.

This sits right next to the scales in the kitchen, so whenever I bring in some produce it all gets weighed and documented. Weights get rounded up or down to the nearest 100g. I do guess some things, but I'd say 90% gets onto the scales. Bought stuff is easy, as I generally can check the receipt, except produce from farmers markets. That gets weighed like the grown stuff.

Come the end of the month I just tally it up, whack it into the spreadsheet and voila. Results.

So there you have it. Just a bit of excel magic.

Saturday Spotlight - Autumn raspberries...

11 May, 2013

After growing predominatly summer fruiting raspberries, over the last couple of years I have purposefully sought out and grown autumn fruiting raspberries to extend the season.

I'm not sure that it is worth it. They don't taste anywhere near as good as summer fruiting raspberries in my opinion.

But they are fruiting, and I am eating them, which tells you something.

Interestingly, raspberries do have distinctly different tastes with some having a much better flavour than others. I suppose its not that much of a surprise. Think of apples, pears, plums, strawberries and many other fruits, let alone veg - all have varietal differences and everyone has their favourite!

For autumn fruiting raspberries I have the following varieties: Heritage and Autumn Bliss, as well as the dual cropping varieties Willamette, Sandford and Chilcotin.

I have written before about pruning methods, so I won't recap that here, but instead focus on the eating qualities.

The first specifically autumn fruiting raspberry I grew was Heritage.

I have always been a little disappointed with both taste and texture of this variety - I find it grows a small, dense, somewhat tasteless berry. They aren't terrible, just a vague semblance of what a good raspberry can be.

I thought it was maybe a variety thing. So I moved onto Autumn Bliss. I planted these out last year in the same area as Heritage so that I knew if there were any taste differences it would not be due to the growing area and more/less sunlight, rain, different soil, microclimate etc.

Unfortunately, as you can see, they have been pretty popular with the local birds. The few I've managed to get my hands on are better than Heritage, but still not that delicious full raspberry flavour.

Willamette is probably the best flavoured I've found, but being a dual cropper I only get a few berries at this time of year. There weren't any quite ripe for picking, this is the closest.

Sandford is the best cropper so far, producing luscious full berries.

Again, they don't have the best raspberry flavour, but they are on a par with Autumn Bliss and definitely better than Heritage.

Chilcotin is quite a good cropper. The taste is slightly better than Sandford and Autumn Bliss I think, but I don't like the way the berries fall apart when you pick them.

Here is a comparison of picked berries from what was good for picking this morning.

L to R: Sandford, Heritage and Chilcotin.

So overall, there is no real standout variety. If I had to pick one on pain of death, I'd go with Sandford.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for other contenders? And does anyone grow Australian native raspberries? I've always wondered about those...

I'm contributing this to Liz's Saturday Spotlight series.