26 June, 2014

Scorzonera. Such a strange name for a vegetable. Of course I had to grow it!

I came across this seed in a seed catalogue and bought it purely for its name. Yes, I am that shallow.

Scorzonera, and its close relation salsify, is an old root vegetable which time has almost forgotten. But luckily gardeners have not. It is closely related to dandelion, and as such has a long tapering root, not unlike a carrot or thin parsnip, which like those other roots is rather tasty.

I have only been qualified to make that statement as of this evening, when I ate my first ever scorzonera crop.

It was not a particularly large crop.

These plants have been growing in my garden for around 18 months. No they do not usually take that long to produce, but I've just been lazy with harvesting. I simply didn't get around to harvesting them yet.

If any good has come from my laziness, it is learning that scorzonera can be left untended with no ill effects. 

This is the entirity of the harvest.

At their thickest the roots had a two centimeter diameter. But they were quite long and needed the long tined garden fork to make sure I got all the roots out.

Where the roots broke, you can begin to see the amazing white flesh, which you would never expect from such a dark skinned veg.

Also amazing was the creamy ooze that seeped from the cut. 

Inside and with a bit of a clean up the culinary potential was beginning to show.

Peeling was quite fascinating as the white flesh contrasted with the knobbly black exterior.

All the peeled and chopped roots went into lemon juice tinted water, as these roots oxidise and go brown quite quickly otherwise.

I decided to follow the only cooking example of scorzonera I've ever seen, which was to make a gratin a la HFW in the River Cottage 'Winter's on the Way' DVD. The scorzonera batons were poached in water with a little verjuice (the original did wine but I wasn't going to open a bottle just for this recipe), bay, salt and pepper until just cooked. The drained scorzonera went into a casserole dish, then a little cream was added to the cooking liquid and it was boiled until reduced and then thickened with a little cornflour to make a sauce which went on the scorzonera. This charmingly creamy, starchy concoction was then topped with breadcrumbs (panko in my case) and a little grated cheese (Holy Goat hard cheese), then baked to a golden, crunchy top.

(Sorry there are no pictures of the finished dish, but at the dinner hour I lack both the good light required for photography, and the patience to photograph my dinner before I eat.)

Flavour wise it was good. It tasted a little like a mildly flavoured celeriac, with a softer texture more like a parsnip than a carrot. I reckon it would do well in a mash, or with other roots in a roast. But I can't in all honesty wax lyrical about it's flavour; it was neither amazingly complex or fabulously delicious (if it were either I'm sure it would have remained part of the culinary landscape). But it was really nice, and interesting enough for me to want to grow again.

And I love it just for those reasons. And for being something I can't buy in a supermarket. Which (to me) is one of the best things about growing your own.

Harvest Monday...

23 June, 2014

Thanks as always to Daphne for the veg gardeners show off (in a good way) that is Harvest Monday.

At the moment winter pickings are a bit on the slim side, with many winter crops like cabbage and cauliflower are still a little while away.

But there is still good stuff. I've been picking:

Heaps of Tuscan kale and perpetual spinach, also a few spring onions from self sown seed in last years' onion patch.

Also loads of red Russian kale. This is lovely and soft, and I mostly just blanch it briefly in hot water from a just boiled kettle, then immediately drain and dress with a herby vinagrette and eat by the bowlful.

To add variety to these lovely leafy greens, I was very excited to harvest my first broccoli of the season this week.

The broccoli don't look very big this year. My soil is still pretty undernourished, so I think I need to do an intensive manure and mulch regime before spring to try and bulk up the nutrient levels. However, the tiny broccoli was still very yum. This one got stir fried, but I have plans for future broccoli involving griddle pan cooking for some charred flavours, maybe with toasted almonds.

Not pictured were lemons (oh, so many lemons...), loads of parsley and the odd Sundowner apple. I have 14 apples left on the tree (yes, I am counting them down) as well as two Lady Williams apples which I hope will ripen soon as I'm eager to try them, this being the first time the tree has set fruit.

Hopefully next Harvest Monday I blog will include them. Also one of these.

Don't forget to head to Daphne's to see what others are picking.

Growing onions: part one...

19 June, 2014

Today I have sown seeds for what I hope will be a year's worth of onions. I have attempted this before and while last year I grew lots of onions, my technique could have been better.

The previous year in 2012/13 I devoted one bed to onions and grew lots of nice large specimens, as well as some pretty tiny ones, which lasted me from the January harvest until about April.

Last year I grew in a couple of beds but I sowed the seed much too thickly and didn't get around to thinning the seedlings, which meant the onions had too much competition and most were really small, with only a few medium sized onions in the lot. That said, quantity can still be a good thing even if quality is lacking, as I'm still eating homegrown onions now in June. I expect however that my supply will only last a few more weeks at best.

So it is with that in mind that I am embarking on a serious mission to grow a plentiful supply of well sized onions this year. For this I will need both space (i.e. lots of beds devoted to onions) as well as lots of onion plants. Which means I need lots of onion seed.

Luckily I have both requirements covered. To address the first requirement of space, I plan to grow the onions in one bed in the front yard, one bed in the proper raised bed veg patch, and another couple of beds in the orchard under the apple trees.

The second requirement of seed is well covered.

The treated seed (colourfully coated bright blue) is an unknown variety, but the variety 'Contessa' is a hybrid white type which grew well last year. I'm also trying a shallot from seed (unlike my other shallots which are grown from a single shallot which forms more shallots from its base) called 'Roderique' which is meant to store well.

Unlike previous years I'm going to the extra effort of sowing my seed in punnets before I plant them out. I'm hoping this will alleviate the issues of sowing too thickly and will eliminate the need to thin seedlings. More steps now, but less steps later.

With the untreated seed, sowing can be tricky, as seeing the seed amongst the seed raising mix is a challenge.

The bright blue of the treated seed is much easier to spot, and thus ensure a good spread of seed.

It doesn't look like much, but I reckon there would easily be 300 seeds planted in these few punnets.

Now I just need them to germinate and I'll be planting them out into their awaiting beds. I expect I'll be doing this in about 3-4 weeks, so stay tuned for part two.

Lemon culling...

16 June, 2014

The lemon tree has been trying to attack me. And succeeding.

The path from the backyard to front yard bypasses said lemon tree.

Now I'm not usually one to complain about a tree laden with fruit.

It's just that said fruit is all rather inconveniently at head height.

They are hard as rocks, although more pleasingly scented.

More than once I have been almost knocked out by insufficient ducking technique. So I have resolved to remove the necessity for me to creep warily around the lemons.


Look, no more lemon bombs to get me.

Now I just need to think of something to do with all the lemons. I think even with curd, and tart, and lemon cordial there will be lots of lemons to give away.

Make love, not war, lemon tree.

Late wrap up of the long weekend...

11 June, 2014

How quickly the long weekend went. (For us in Aus, we just had the Monday off for the Queen's Birthday - I am not a monarchist, but I'm happy to have a day off anyway!) I can't believe it's already gone and we've hit the middle of the week already.

What did I get up to? Well...

(Forgive me the photo-less post, my camera is playing up.)

I sold the ducks.

I've been planning this one for a while now. I loved having the ducks, but they were a little on the noisy side for a suburban area. Not so much the boy ducks (drakes); their gentle "quack-quack-quack" was totally fine. It was Heston's (the girl duck) early morning "HONK-HONK-HONK" and occasional mid-afternooon encore, frequently repeated at intervals throughout the afternoon and early evening, which was unpleasant.

While the neighbours were yet to complain (note the 'yet' in that sentence) I didn't feel right having animals that made me frequently think "ohmygod, would you just shut up!" on a daily basis. And I was the one getting the eggs, so you would think I could forgive a little exuberance.

But I could not. So I sold them to some people who have an acre in a country area, and I'm sure the ducks will love their new digs.

The duck digs are to become a chicken house. All in all, I like the taste of chicken eggs better, and the gentle clucking of chickens (my grandmother has chickens so hopefully her's are representative of general chicken noise levels) will be more in keeping with good neighbourly relations. So I will be moving things and adapting the duck house to suit chickens by adding some cover (chickens seem less fond of rain than ducks) and adding somewhere for roosting. Further details to follow. Then I shall get me some chickens!

I uprooted the orange trees and put them in wicking pots.

My orange trees have never really been happy. Last year I moved one from the front to the back yard, at which point I got the second orange tree and planting it out too. They survived, but have never really looked happy. So I'm trying wicking pots. I've taken some old pots and have lined the inside with heavy duty plastic bags, then cut a couple of slits at the usual wicking hole level and added some gravel for good drainage, then done the usual sand, garden fleece and potting mix/compost to plant into, as per my blueberry wicking buckets. I haven't added the usual tube down to the water reservoir and am hoping watering from the top will suffice.

These are now lined up along the back fence, and I'm thinking I may also do this to the mandarin and lime I'm espaliering. Yet to be decided.

On a similar note, I also wicking potted a self sown avocade (it came up out of the compost heap) and my evergreen blueberry.

I moved a few things around. 

To fill the gap where the orange trees were I've uprooted two roses from the front yard. This both makes more space in a bed with good sunlight which I don't think has been fully utilised, and makes the back yard where I do most of my lounging about reading books a more ornamental place. 

I also moved an artichoke plant to where the evergreen blueberry was, dividing the plant in the process, so yay for more artichokes.

Then I moved the sage bush and golden marjoram and dug up a heap of violets to make room for a new strawberry bed. 

All in all a productive long weekend. What did you get up to?


03 June, 2014

As of Sunday, I had four Pink Lady apples left on my step-over apples.

This is all that was left this morning.

The other three are nowhere to be found.

Thank goodness I had already netted the Sundowner and Lady Williams apples, just in case.

It's not fair. I was really looking forward to those Pink Lady's. They are such a nice apple.

I did eat the non-pecked side of the pictured apple, though. I refuse to let it go to waste.

Bastard birds! 

Garden Share Collective: June

01 June, 2014

Welcome to this month's installment of Garden Share Collective, where gardeners across the globe share their gardening adventures. Many thanks to Lizzie for putting this all together.

We are officially in Winter. Days are short and I barely see the garden during the working week. A quick apple pick to get a workday snack before I head off to work, or picking in the dark when I get home to grab veg for dinner (I still haven't gotten around to getting one of those head lamp thingies to make picking in the dark easier).

Weekends are where winter gardening is at for me. Not that there is much to do. A bit of a potter around, weed a little, stick a few twigs into the ground to give the peas something temporary to climb up when they get too tall for their current ad hoc twig situation, that's about it.

But I like to garden as much in winter (such a winter as we get here in a temperate climate) as I do in summer. Getting around to any general maintenance and making changes to the garden layout and such is only ever done at this time of year, as in spring, summer and autumn I'm way too busy planting, harvesting and weeding/mulching to do any of that.

Winter is a time for garden contemplation and plans.


Nothing much here. I planted out my bunching onions (potato onions and shallots), but that's all.

I'll be sowing seeds for my onion crop in the next week or so. 


Surprisingly there is still a lot going on, thanks to the unusually warm May weather.

Capsicums are still coming along in the greenhouse.

There are the usual overwintering crops of carrots and beetroots. I've also got some scorzonera which I'll finally be able to try.

But the real stars at the moment are the brassicas.

The kale have been harvestable for weeks, including these tuscan kales and some red russian kale not pictured.

Cabbages (including these savoys) are starting to form hearts, and the caulis and broccoli and getting nice a big and hopefully will be forming their flowers soon, so I can pick and eat them.

I also have been harvesting miscellaneous things like perpetual spinach and lettuce, as well as stored onions and potatoes and a heap of herbs.

For fruit there are still plenty of apples and the lemon tree is going gangbusters. Lemon curd will need to be made soon. So sad.

To do:
  • Sow onion seeds, then plant out seedlings.
  • Pull out orange trees (which don't seem to happy in their current environs) and replant in wicking pots.
  • Go through seed collection and see if I need (note: need, not want) any extra seeds for summer plantings.

What are your winter gardening plans?