OMG! The first duck eggs...

29 June, 2013

This morning was a joyous morning, because today when I went to let the ducks out of their house (where they get locked up each night while I slowly, slowly fox proof their pen) there was a surprise.

I believe I danced a jig.

When I got my ducks back in late January they were 12 weeks old. Being a complete duck novice, I had to go by books and the interwebs which told me ducks take between 4-6 months to start laying. These being their first eggs at 8 months-ish they may be a bit behind the times. But better late than never.

My ducks are Welsh Harlequins, which are meant to be quite good layers (around 200 eggs a year in peak laying years) as well as quiet enough to keep as pets in a suburban area, which I am. So I'm looking forward to a good many more of these.

They are the most amazing delicate green-blue colour, as good duck eggs should be. And size wise they are pretty close to chicken eggs, which the below pic (with chicken eggs provided by my grandmothers chickens) shows.

Both Bloom (rear) and Thal (front) got extra greens today as a treat.

Thanks ladies!

Edit: Turns out I am a complete idiot, and these are the two boy ducks. Given I had two eggs, I thought it was these two. Not so. So now I have to go and apologise to Heston (the girl duck) and give her extra greens.
Stay tuned for how they taste...

The never ending spring onion...

27 June, 2013

A few weeks back Gavin blogged about getting a second crop from spring onions.

Now while I think this is an awesome idea (and incidentally I also do with those little potted basil herbs you can buy from supermarkets - so much better than the chopped herbs in that you chop the top then plant the rest. Bonus!) there is another way that takes it to the next level.

I can't for the life of me recall who I learned this from - so to the blogger who's idea this is (or was also cheekily scrounged from someone else) I apologise that I cannot give you due credit.

Instead of a dual cropping spring onion, this method gives a never ending spring onion crop!

Somewhere about 6-7 months ago I, like Gavin, bought a bunch of spring onions. I chopped the tips off for cooking, but the bottoms with the roots got planted into a pot with regular potting mix. I give them the occasional feed with duck pond water for some extra nutrients. I also had some red spring onions that I had grown elsewhere in the garden that also got the chop and went into the pot, so you can do this with homegrown ones too.

I've been cropping the same lot ever since. This is how they look now.

Unfortunately many of the red ones died young. But the rest have prospered. I would say I've had about 8-10 bunches of spring onions from this pot so easily a crop each fortnight, without replanting once.

"How?" I hear you ask.

By base cropping. Instead of pulling the spring onions out, I just chop them off at ground level whenever I want them.

The bases of the spring onions stay in the ground and aren't disturbed at all.

Not long after the spring onions regrow.

Here's one I prepared earlier:

I will say that now in winter they are (not surprisingly) taking a lot longer to regrow. I think I may need to plant a few more in the pot for a steady supply.

But that said, this is such an easy way to have an endless crop of spring onions, which I often do prefer for cooking when I need less than a whole onion amount.

Now I'm sure for many people out there this will not be rocket science. I'm sure plenty will have heard of this before, or been doing it for many years. 

But for me coming across this idea was a moment of blinding clarity, and the actual doing has lived up to the idea fabulously. I highly recommend the technique. It takes no effort; no ground preparation, recurrent sowing of seed, weeding etc for this endless supply. Too easy.

Do you have any genius garden ideas that you couldn't imagine not doing?

Harvest Monday...

24 June, 2013

Happy Harvest Monday!

I don't usually get around to posting for the institution that is Harvest Monday, care of Daphne of Daphne's Dandelions. But today I had an ADO from work and thus was at home and able to take pretty pictures of whats been good in the garden this week.

There's plenty of rhubarb (this lot is for some work friends who assist me with getting rid of the massive amount of rhubarb my four plants seem to produce), some tiny orange carrots which are just the right size for snacking, some purple carrots (all of mine seem to fork like crazy), leafy greens including lettuce (Baby Cos), Kale (Green Curly) and perpetual spinach, some tiny broccoli heads from the plants that get very little sun, a cauli (Mini White), some peas (Dutch Purple Podded) and a few beetroots (from a multicoloured pack so I don't know the individual varieties).

Head on over to Daphne's to see amazing harvests from across the globe.

Baby it's cold outside...

22 June, 2013

Another surprise harvest...

18 June, 2013

Well what do you know. The garden has done it again. Just when you think you've got it's measure... Bang! Surprise harvest.

This one came courtesy of a stall at the weekend farmers market. My mum and I were perusing the stalls, as is our wont, when we came across this:

Cardoons! (This is not the surprise harvest. Hang in there, it's coming.)

Now the stall owners, rightly guessing that many people (myself included) wouldn't have a clue how to cook this fearsome looking vegetable, had also set up a little table where they were selling cardoon fritters.

They were delicious! They had also very kindly decribed how they prepared the fritters (in the very vague recipe that is typical of Europeans - 'surely you know how to cook so this is as much info as you need...' - Don'cha just love their positivity!)

But even more excitedly, as I was talking to the lady cooking these delicacies, it turns out they aren't true cardoons, but just regular artichoke stems.

Oh! My! God! To think of all the times I've cut back the artichoke plants and the stems have just been chucked in the compost. Oh the waste! 

So this week I resolved to give these a try. I knew from garden walkabouts that one of the artichokes was overshadowing the garlic. A good opportunity to both give the garlic plants more sun and make artichoke stem fritters.



Having a basketful of leafy stems, I de-leafed them into the duck pen. Turns out ducks also like artichoke leaves.

I now had a few artichoke stems to fritter.

These were a bit stringier than I expected, so I pulled off the worst of the strings. Kinda like celery.

Then chopped into 10cm pieces they were put in a saucepan of water and boiled for around 20mins until they were soft enough to pierce with a knife.

The cooked stems were roughly chopped.

Then a batter of around 3/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan, 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and pepper, and about 3-4 tablespoons of water made a thick-ish batter.

Fried in the pan with a little olive oil they came up great.

The taste pretty darn good, with a faint flavour of artichoke heart. The only things I'd do differently is not use the top part of the stems i.e. anything less than 1 cm width, as these were a little more bitter and stringier, and make a bit more batter so they stick together better.

But either way I'm definitely not letting any more artichoke stems go to waste.

Surprise harvest...

15 June, 2013

I love how the garden can surprise me sometimes. Whether that be some self seeded watermelons cropping up way earlier than I would have sown them, or crops lasting well beyond when you thought they would, or even sadly trees you had waited years to fruit somehow cropping something which was most definitely not what you had expected.

Today's harvest was meant to be potatoes. It was rhubarb.

Let me explain.

Many months ago (I can't remember exactly when, but I guess around mid summer) some volunteer potato plants came up next to one of the rhubarb plants. Never being one to deny a plant the right to life, I let these potatoes grow. I even encouraged them by stacking up these wide cardboard rings around the plants and filling them with compost so the potatoes grew higher, which supposedly means more potatoes.

They grew well over the summer months. They were lush and green potato plants, and as I kept stacking and filling they kept growing. Then over the recent cool spell they died back, and I left the cardboard compost stack alone thinking I can wait until I want some potatoes before pulling down the stack and rummaging in the compost for the lovely starchy tubers.

So it came to a dreary day like today where the grey clouds were out and it was cold and I felt in need of some carbohydrate induced cosiness. I braved the outdoor chill and removed the stacked layers of cardboard and rifled through the compost layers.

And there was not a potato to be found. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

It was so depressing.

But as I dug down I did find something unexpected. Some of the nearby rhubarb had made its way into the base of the cardboard stack and was attempting to grow through the compost. The effect was exactly the same as forcing rhubarb as the light deprived stems were a gorgeous delicate pink and a complete contrast to the grey-red of the exposed plant.

The thin light deprived stems are to the right, with the exposed plant to the left.

This shows even more clearly the difference.

So I picked as many of the pale pink gorgeous stems as I could. They needed a bit of a wash to get the compost off.

But once clean their fairy floss pinkness was even more evident.

Now I've read that forced rhubarb is a delicacy, but I've never thought that the homegrown rhubarb I've had needed much improving. But this surprise harvest was an opportunity to try something I'd probably never bother to try growing on purpose.

The rhubarb stems were cooked as I always cook rhubarb: chop roughly, put into pot, scatter with a little sugar and lemon juice, put onto medium heat, wait until boiling then turn of heat and leave on the hob for 5 mins with the lid on. Do not even consider stirring, as you will end up with mush. Don't say I didn't warn you.


Now, I still felt like a carb hit was in order, so I made some porridge. Actually the thermomix made it. 40g oats, 220g milk, pinch salt, on 100 degrees, reverse, for 10 mins, speed 1 with the measuring cup off (this will make sense to thermomixers.) For all those who don't speak thermomix, just put 1/3 cup oats and 1 cup milk in a pan, heat on medium until boiling then cook, stirring frequently, until oats are soft.

Porridge for lunch. It was a delicious, warm, carby hug of a meal and totally hit the spot. Don't knock it til you've tried it.

And the rhubarb? Let me just say that I'll be purposely forcing rhubarb in future. So much less fiberous than the regular stuff, and a gorgeous colour and texture. But the taste was to die for!

The onions are up...

13 June, 2013

After waiting a few weeks since sowing my onion seed, I was a bit worried that nothing was happening.

But it appears that they have loved the recent rain we've had, as there are millions of onion seedlings coming up.

Some thinning will definitely be in order at some stage.

I love the way seed coats stick to the top part of the seedlings.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a year's worth of onions.

What a difference a month makes...

09 June, 2013

For the first time I've been having some success with growing cauliflower.

Hopefully I won't jinx myself by saying that.

In previous years I really struggled to get any crops at all. This led to a rethink of how I grew caulis (come on, don't you just bung a few seeds in the ground come autumn and then feast on tender cauliflower all winter??? Isn't that how it works?...) and did a bit of reading on their growing requirements.

Armed with the knowledge that they will take months to grow (4-6 seemed to be the consensus in various garden books I consulted) and knowing that they really, really need lots of feeding, I planted out seeds of varying types of cauliflower in Janurary this year with my other early sown brassicas. I dutifully planted them in soil to which copious amounts of manure had been added, and I additionally periodically fed them with duck pond water.

Now when my first cauliflower was ready in only May I thought it was a fluke. (But actually in hindsight that is right on 4 months for a crop.)

But it was not a fluke. Witness exhibit A: the second cauliflower!

This one is a Mini White which I've never grown before. True to their name, they form a small, slightly bigger than fist size cauli, which is perfect for those times when a massive economy size cauli is just too much.

Now having thought it over, I think it has mostly come down to early sowing.

I think this because in late February I sowed another lot of seed, also in manured ground and regularly fed with duck pond water. This is them now (please ignore the weeds in the pic.)

They are nowhere near cropping size. While they have been a little munched by the brassica nemesis, the white cabbage moth larvae, I don't think that totally explains why they are so far behind the other caulis.

With caulis, for me, it seems timing is everything.

When do you plant your caulis? Any other cauli growing tips?

Rechallenge update #7...

02 June, 2013

Things feel like they slowing down for the fruit and veg challenge 2012/13 as we head into the winter months.

The list of crop-able produce seems to be shorter, but surprisingly the great excel spreadsheet tells me that this does not mean a decline in the % home produced.

For the month of May the garden produced (dah dah daaahhh)... 85% of my fruit and veg.

Crops have been limited to: Spinach, corn, autumn raspberries, (a few) strawberries, kale, peas, lemons and (the first) cauliflower and broccoli.

Yay garden! Lets keep it up for the home straight.