Peachy preserves...

21 April, 2014

Over the Easter break I've been bottling up some summer peach goodness to cheer the winter months ahead.

My stash has gone from this... this.

This year however I've made two significant changes to my preserving method.

Last year when I preserved my peaches I left the skin on as I couldn't be bothered peeling the peaches. This in hindsight was a mistake as the peach texture wasn't as nice with the skin left on. It wasn't bad, but just not as pleasant as it could have been.

So this time I peeled my peaches. I thought using the standard vegetable peeler on the raw fruit, rather than the traditional blanching in hot water then refreshing in cold to peel the skins off, was a little easier.

Here is my pot of peeled peaches.

I then sliced the peeled peaches into thick slices.

Here is another good reason why you thin peaches.

Large vs. tiny peach. Lets see whats inside...

There was easily double the peachy flesh on the large peach vs. the tiny one. I know which one's I'd rather spend my day chopping up.

The second change I made to my preserving strategy was this time I used my pressure canner instead of the water bath method, allowing me to preserve them just in the water they were pre-cooked in with no need to add extra sugar for preservation.

The sliced peaches were topped up with water to just cover, then brought to the boil and simmered for a few minutes until just starting to cook. They were then hot packed in jars and the cooking water added to fill the gaps. Then the jars were pressure canned for 25 minutes.

Now I have peaches to last until the first crops in 2015. (Plus some Granny Smith apples I had lying about.)

It seems a long time away, but I'm sure these will help me get through.

Why you thin peaches...

19 April, 2014

This is why:

Unthinned vs. thinned.

I think thinned is the clear winner. What do you think?

As you may recall, earlier in the year I partially thinned the peach tree at my parents house. My dad and I have an ongoing 'robust discussion' as to the merits or otherwise of pruning trees and thinning fruit. My dad is adamantly against pruning (except removing broken or diseased branches) and against thinning fruit. I am adamantly for both.

So to try and talk some sense into him test my hypothesis, my dad graciously allowed me to thin the fruit on part of the tree, to see if it made a difference. This was done quite late in the season in February.

Here is the tree now. 

Its hard to see, but the branches in the front and on the right are where I thinned, and on the left and rear of the tree I left unthinned.

This is what the thinned fruits look like.

And here is what the unthinned fruit looks like.

Without some sort of relative object it is hard to see what difference there is on the above photos. So here is some more detail.

Unthinned fruit:

Thinned fruit:

And no, I did not pick the biggest of the thinned and the smallest of the unthinned to sway the evidence in my favour. These really were representative examples of the relative size of the thinned and unthinned fruit.

Which is not to say that the unthinned fruit was a bad size. A handful size peach is a lovely thing. Its just that the thinned peaches were massive things, and when it comes to fruit (particularly ones for preserving, which these late season clingstone yellow meat-y peaches are) I'd rather have the massive ones than regular size if I have the choice.

So, point proved (not that my dad will admit it. Ah well.) I went and picked a basketful to preserve.

Strangely, these look a bit less fabulously yellow in the light of my kitchen. But they will be golden yellow when bottled all the same.

Having picked my peach stash, I went inside for a cup of tea and a cosy family chat. And I'm glad I picked before tea.

Not a moment too soon. At least I was nice and left some peaches for them.

Blueberries in wicking buckets...

16 April, 2014

My blueberries have been variable performers. I've had them since the early days of around 2009, when I first bought three blueberry plants from a pick-your-own blueberry farm.

As I was still in the process of working out the backyard, I planted them in pots. In their first year they produced a handful of tasty berries. However, this was their peak haul. In 2011 I planted them out in the front yard amongst the strawberry plants. Knowing blueberries like an acid soil, I planted them into a dug out pit filled with an acid potting mix and mulched them with pine needles from my Christmas tree. That year they produced a grand total of two berries. But that was ok, they were only newly planted, they were probably still finding their feet. The next year I got barely any better with 11 berries. This year was about the same.

Things are not looking good.

So I have decided to go back to the pots, but with an added extra. Wicking buckets.

I've been reading a lot about wicking beds from foodnstuff and frogdancer.

They are basically a system where there is a water reservoir in whatever planting area (be it large or small) which maintains moisture in the soil and stops the plant drying out (essential in our climate and especially for plants like blueberries which are relatively shallow rooted and love moisture).

I have decided to go with wicking buckets as I felt they would be a good way of getting a pot size container which I can easily move depending on the season, so I can give them more shade in summer and less in winter.

I bought large buckets from the local big warehouse hardware and gardening store.

I drilled three 1cm-ish round holes around 10cms from the base of the bucket, which left a good 35cms of growing space above the holes.

View from top:

View from side:

I then filled not quite up to the holes with sand, and added my tube which allows me to water directly into the reservoir. These I cut from some old vacume cleaner tubing that has been hanging around in the garage for many a year. A win for re-purposing.

Then a layer of garden mesh was added (sorry for the poor quality photo).

The mesh provides a barrier between the sand and the soil/potting mix in the bucket, which helps to keep the reservior free from blockages. It also covers the holes and prevents soil loss from the drainage holes.

I then filled the buckets with an acid potting mix, and dug up my blueberries and replanted them into the buckets. I also planted out two more blueberries to add to the collection and hopefully extend the season.

This is the current line up:

From left to right we have 'Northland' and 'Reveille' which are the two newer plants, and then the older plants 'Rose', 'Bridgitta' and 'Marg'. I love how the last three all have feminine names.

Now these are not quite done yet. I watered these in well from above, mostly to help settle the potting mix in around the newly planted roots. Though when they settle in I will be watering via the tube directly to the reservior.


Next step is to add some worms, so they will keep the soil airated and fertilised.

Go on, get in there son!

I also added some compost/mulch, to add nutrients and prevent water loss from evaporation.

There you have it. Blueberry wicking buckets.

Hopefully this lot will produce lots of tasty berries come summer. Otherwise I will just have to hang up the blueberry growing gloves, and that is just too sad to contemplate.

Early to mid season apples...

11 April, 2014

Much like with my very early apples, I've been enjoying picking my own apples for garden snacks. Now that the orchard is starting to get a few years under its belt, I'm finally getting some harvests.

First up of the early apples were the Grand Duke Constantine cropping in early March.

These are a gorgeous big bright red apple where the sun hits, and a mottled red and yellow on the shaded side. They have a nice sweet flavour, but are a bit floury when left a little too long and I definitely should have picked the last of these earlier. Note to self for next year.

Next up was the St Edmund's Pippin in mid March.

While not the most impressive looking of apples, this one packs a flavour punch. It is quite nice in flavour, having a slight honey-ish heavy sweetness but with a little tart acid-y finish which was really delicious. Pity there was only one of these this year.

Following closely along was (the apple with my favourite name) Hubbardston's Nonesuch. This one was ready in mid-late March.

I was particularly impressed with this one as it was only planted last year, and produced two very nice apples. They were a gorgeous green with dark red-ish mottling. And it's not just a pretty face. This was an exceptionally crisp apple, with an almost grape-y flavour. I really hope this one comes up with the goods again next year.

Lastly, the current apple gracing my table is the Fugi.

This tree has produced five whopper fruits. They have the usual Fugi flavour, with the added flavour hit of having grown them myself.

The thing that amazes me is how different they all are. I am loving discovering new flavours and favourites with each tree that crops, and know that I'll be experiencing this joy for quite a while as I've probably only had a crop from about a third of my apple varieties so far.

The only sad thing about having a really good apple that you have to wait a whole year to taste it again.

At least now I know its worth the wait.

Garden Share Collective: April

06 April, 2014

Once again it is time for Garden Share Collective.

It feels like March has gone really quickly. We've had a few hot and humid days lately, so I don't really feel as if we are quite in Autumn yet. I am assisted in this delusion by the summer crops that keep coming along. I'm sure it will hit me soon enough though.


I am so bad at planting. I have actually managed to plant out my brassica seeds from February, as planned in March. They are doing pretty well.

But other than that planting has been limited to chucking a few brassica seeds (some saved broccoli/cauli mix, so who knows what I'll get in that bed, and some mustard for a green manure in the raised bed veg patch which was the brassica bed and will house the solanums this summer, so I'm hoping they will enjoy the extra nutrients). But that's it. It doesn't feel like much.

I need to plant out my garlic, and start thinking about onions. Another one for the to do list.


Summer crops pretty much.

Zukes continue well. The milk/soap spray (thanks Lizzie!) has worked well to keep the worst of the powdery mildew at bay and they are still hanging in there.

I've been harvesting tomatoes, the first chillies (finally), some corn.

Some have gone into preserves, as per the plan last month.

The melons are pretty much ready.

Apples are also coming along nicely.

To Do List:

  • Plant garlic. 
  • Think about where onion beds will go this year.
  • Plant blueberries into wicking buckets.
  • Move mini greenhouse to chilli bed.
  • Harvest basil to make pesto.

That's my garden for April. How's yours going?

The tale of Bek's orchard...

05 April, 2014

In the final installment of how my garden grows, I will spin you a yarn about a girl with an unhealthy addiction to buying more apple trees than a person could conceivably fit in an average backyard.

When I first moved in, the area which has become my orchard was pretty much a wasteland.

It is the triangular space in the below diagram to the left of the garage and driveway.

Apple trees have always been on my to-do list, and not surprisingly they were one of the first fruit trees purchased for the yard. I had always loved espaliers, and in my apple tree research I stumbled across Woodbridge Fruit Trees. They have some excellent articles on both simplified and standard methods of espaliering apples (and other trees, but here I'm focussing on apples).

The thing that sold me is that most of their trees are sold on M26 rootstock, which is one of the more dwarfing rootstocks available. M26 rootstock trees grow to about 2-2.5m high, but more importantly, are suitable for espaliering. Most of your average Bunnings variety apple trees are sold on M111 or MM106 that grow to about 3-4m trees. Great if you want lots of one type of apple. Not so good for me when I love variety and want one of everything, which is not possible when there are thousands of varieties of apples, but I can try.

So in 2009 bought my first three trees from them; a Sundowner, Grand Duke Constantine and Fugi.

This is them in 2010, which is the earliest photo I have of this area. I had used the old roof tiles from the backyard stack to construct edging for raised beds. I had extra gravel from where I graveled the backyard and raised bed veg patch so I decided to gravel between the beds here too.

The bed in front of the apples has (from left to right) a gooseberry, rhubarb, a red-currant and a white-currant. To the left is the asparagus patch.

This is the view standing from that spot looking towards the far corner. Each stick is an asparagus plant I raised from seed.  The green mass of weeds is pretty much what the area consisted of when I first moved in.

Later in 2010 I aquired 9 more apple trees from Woodbridge Fruit Trees, to take my apple tree total to 12. (Varieties: White Transparent, Devonshire Quarrendon, St Edmunds Pippin, Bramley's Seedling, Esopus Spritzenburg, Pine Golden Pippin, Huonville Crab, Court Pendu Plat and Granny Smith, if you were interested).

I originally had these in pots, as I hadn't quite yet figured out exactly what I was going to do with them. Then, having made the raised garden beds and quite liking the ease of use, I decided to develop this area into an espaliered fruit tree haven.

I then laid out a rough plan, allowing me three beds of espaliers. 

"Look at all that space", I thought. "I'm just going to have to buy more fruit trees."

So I did.

In 2011 I purchased 10 more apple trees, including Tydeman's Early Worcester, Summer Strawberry, Fenouillet Gris, Forfar Pippin, Red Cleopatra, Australian Beauty, Caville Blanc D'Hiver, Freyberg, Lady Williams and Duke of Clarence.

In 2012 I finally got around to building proper wooden sleeper raised beds for them. 

I used start pickets to build wire supports for the espalier, and espaliered them in the formal T-shape.

However in 2012 I had a little rethink about how I could grow my espaliers after having a little chat to Pete the Permie. He grows his orchard of 300ish types of apple in a cordon espalier, which is essentially an angled single stem, from which I reckons he gets about 30kg of apples on an established tree.


I liked this idea so much I re-designed my orchard espaliers to cordons, and realised I could fit in a few more trees. Make that 16 more trees.


So I then bought Egremont Russet, Stayman's Winesap, Cornish Aromatic, Reinette Doree, Rome Beauty, Democrat Black, Pink Lady, Sturmer, Early Victoria, Sugarloaf Pippin, Sweetman, Ribston Pippin, Belle Cacheuse, Berner Rose, Hubbarston's Nonesuch and Catshead.

This is how it looks now.

This is the layout from early apples through to late.

Now that's enough apples. I think.

The espaliered apples is the greatest proportion of fruit trees in the orchard, but not all.

Along the fence bordering the neighbour I have a nectarine and a flat peach, as well as the gooseberry, red-currant and white-currant which I moved earlier this year, as they didn't love the full sun of their original position.

And that pretty much rounds up the orchard.

37 - Grapevine (was here when I moved in, green seeded type, variety unknown)
39 - Peach Donut (flat type)
40 - Gooseberry Champion
41 - Gooseberry unknown variety
42 - Nectarine Giant Queen
43 - Redcurrant
44 - White Currant
45 - Peach/Nectarine seedling (to be grafted with my parents' excellent late yellow cling stone variety)
46 - Apples (33 varieties) espaliered in a cordon espalier style
47 - Apples ( 3 varieties) espaliered in a modified KNNN (knee, navel, nipple, nose) style

The two other beds are just spares, which I usually shove some veg in. Currently there are some brassica seeds just coming up in the triangular bed, and the remnants of the summer corn and some purple sprouting broccoli seedlings in the other.

So that is my orchard.

Who knows what I'll decide to do with it next.

The tale of Bek's raised bed veg patch...

04 April, 2014

In this extended series of short stories of how my garden has developed, the next tale is the tale of the raised bed veg patch.

Way back in 2009 starting fruit and veg growing was a priority. The area which got the most sun, and therefore was (as the gardening books told me) the best area for a veg patch, was to the side of the house.

The area chosen was between the ugly tree and the garage driveway in the above picture. I chose this space because of the plentiful sunlight, and because this is where one of two outdoor taps was located, figuring this would make for easy watering.

When I first moved in it was a barren area of fairly crappy grass and lots of weeds. My plan from the start was raised beds. Mostly because I thought they looked better and were less muddy than a standard veg patch of soil. I also thought crop rotation would be easier with a designated bed system (see here for post how I rotate crops).

So I bought wood sleepers at the local big warehouse hardware store to build 8 beds. Each bed was 2.4m long (as that was the longest I could get home in my car, but putting all the seats down. I'm sure all the staff thought I was a crazy lady. Which I guess is true.) and 0.8m wide, with a 0.8m gap between beds.  

Thus it looked like this in around 2010.

That's one of the things I love about veg gardens; they happen so quickly. Plant a fruit tree and it can take years to grow and fruit. Plant a veg patch and weeks or months later you're reaping the rewards.

In early 2011 when I gravelled the backyard I also gravelled the grass between the beds. This was much easier to maintain than trying to mow between beds and then needing to either whippersnipper or hand trim the grass close to the beds which the mower couldn't reach. 

Then in 2012 I extended the veg patch beds. I had realised that I didn't need anywhere near 0.8m between beds to get the wheelbarrow between and for enough room to garden and harvest.

So I  made them 50% bigger with a 1.2m wide bed and 0.4m space between.

Much better. I find I can still access the beds easily as they aren't too wide to get to the middle, but I get a lot more in the beds.

Since then they have stayed very much as is. The only problem I have is they do dry out more quickly than I would like. The extreme heat of the summer in Australia (remember the 4 days over 40 degrees C anyone?)is a challenge and I find this area gets perhaps too much sun.

This season just gone I experimented with some shadecloth, which I think I will repeat next summer. But I have been thinking perhaps it is time to try another strategy.
This may well be an ongoing tale, with the potential plan (just need to work out the details) to change these to wicking beds.