Harvest Monday...

29 September, 2014

Welcome to Harvest Monday, that international gardeners show and tell, led by the awesome Daphne.

This is a typical current harvest down Melbs town way.

I've harvested the last of the carrots, as they were beginning to show signs of going to seed. This is but a small sample. Also ongoing are the brassicas, mainly kale (here Red Russian and Tuscan), broccoli side shoots including some Purple Sprouting Broccoli and cabbages (this is a Savoy). In new spring crops we are starting to get some decent amounts of asparagus, peas continue prolific and I'm picking the first of the spring onions.

Only missing is fruit. I've picked some rhubarb of late, but I can't truly call it fruit. It's now a count down to the first of the stone fruit crops. My guess is cherries or plums. We shall see. Or berries. They will probably get in first. And I cannot wait.

What are you harvesting? And be sure to check out other harvest's at Daphne's.

Surprise harvest...

26 September, 2014

Yesterday I went out to pick some broccoli for my dinner. This is the main broccoli patch I'm currently trying to keep up with.

This patch is in the orchard, where earlier in the year (in around February from memory) I chucked a whole heap of saved mixed brassica seeds from last year's harvest. What came up was a bit of a mixed bag, with most of them ending up as some oddly flowering but nevertheless tasty broccoli's.

Due to my admittedly poor thinning they were a massively crowded with not a bit of space between plants.

I picked a nice main head and a few side shoots.

And then I saw this:

OMG! Mushrooms!

This bed benefited from a heap of mushroom compost when I planted the previous crop, which was potatoes.

It seems the dark, moist space beneath the brassicas was enough for some mushrooms to come up. And there were quite a few.

I had to go inside and get another basket.

Now of course I double checked my five mushroom reference books to be sure these weren't going to kill me. But I couldn't possibly have mistaken these for anything poisonous. The only other thing they could possibly have been were Yellow Stainers, which I've had in my garden before, but these didn't have the yellow staining upon bruising. So I felt pretty safe.

These went into my dinner (a warm salad of freekeh, broccoli, preserved artichokes with leftover roast beef). 

The mushrooms were an excellent addition. Yay for surprise harvests.

Planting out tomatoes...

22 September, 2014

Over the weekend just gone I planted out some of my tomatoes.

Now typically in Melbourne town it is said that you should not plant out tomatoes before Melbourne Cup, lest they be stuck down in a late frost which we can get in early spring.

To that I say: pfft!

Plant out your tomatoes now, but with the protection of garden fleece.

Garden fleece is a fine fabric which is excellent for keeping frosts off tender young tomatoes, while still letting through light. In the past I have individually wrapped each tomato seedling in a teepee of garden fleece which was both time and garden fleece intensive although it worked.

This year I tried something different, which was to plant out the toms (about 30cms apart, into compost and manure enriched soil) and then cover the whole bed in an enclosed fleece wrap.

There is a series of small stakes forming a structure to which the garden fleece is attached. I wrapped one length all the way around, and then three lengths over the top.

The fleece is held up with a bunch of bulldog clips.

Inside the tomato seedlings are all cosy.

Note snail pellets to prevent seedling loss.

To water I stick my arm in between the side and top sheets of fleece and use my trusty bottle top waterer to gently water the seedlings.

The bed is approximately 6m square and I've fit 21 tomatoes in (of 26 varieties I'm growing this year).

This is just one of my tomato beds, with the remainder of the seedlings to be planted out in the tomato bed in the raised bed veg patch, in my four bed crop rotation system, with any I can't squeeze into the two beds allocated to solanums to be fit anywhere else in the garden I can manage.

These seedlings are still inside to get a bit bigger before I plant these out. Thus hedging my tomato seedling bets.

It will be interesting to see which of these crops earlier, the earlier-planted-out-under-fleece or the coddled-inside-and-later-planted-out seedlings.

When do you plant out your tomatoes?

Growing raspberries from seed...

18 September, 2014

One thing I've always wanted to grow has been golden raspberries. Those golden orbs have been tantalising me ever since I started growing my own fruit, and despite my best efforts over the years have evaded me.

Raspberry, growing and harvesting tips

I mean, who isn't jealous of this sort of harvest.

I have tried three lots of golden raspberry canes to no avail. They all survived, but nary a one has produced a yellow berry. Plenty of red ones, but not a golden berry in sight. I have no idea why. (Feel free to illuminate me should you have the answer.)

So I have defaulted to the next (and perhaps only other) option: growing from seed.

I'm sure seed grown raspberries have all the perils of any other seed grown plant i.e. it is somewhat of a genetic gamble. But I'm prepared to give it a go.

I purchased two lots of seed (on ebay, so it must be legit); a golden raspberry and an orange raspberry, whatever that may be.

The seeds are funny looking things, kinda like a peanut.

These were actually purchased a while ago, and have been sitting in my fridge doing the required time, to stimulate a cold winter.

Now that we are in spring I am eager to see if they will actually grow. So out of the fridge they came.

The tricky thing about raspberry seeds is that they have a very tough outer coating, which makes getting water in to allow the seed to germinate very challenging.

In the wild the seeds rely on animals eating them, which exposes the seeds to stomach acids which break down the protective coating, meaning after they have passed out of the animals systems the seeds are more easily able to absorb water and germinate.

Given I don't exactly have an friendly neighbourhood wild animal I can ask to kindly process the seeds for me, I needed an alternative plan.

Doing a little online investigative work I found three main strategies to emulate the action of stomach acid:
1. Scratch the seed coating,
2. Use another acid (most commonly peroxide), or
3. Pour boiling water over the seeds.

So I thought I'd hedge my bets and give each of these a go, doing a little trial in the meantime.

Strategy 1: Scratch the seed coating.

The easiest way I found to do this was with a sewing pin and concentrating really hard (raspberry seeds are really very small). Occasionally the seeds were so hard the pin actually slipped off and the seeds pinged off in crazy directions. After a while I realised stabbing the seed coat with the pin worked much better than trying to scratch the seed coat surface.

The stabbed seeds look a little like this.

Strategy 2. Peroxide.

I used a 9% peroxide solution (as it was what it happened to be easiest to get my hands on) and let the seeds wallow in it for about 30 minutes, then rinsed it off.

It would be slightly ironic if this works best, as it just makes me think I've bleached out all the red colour of the raspberry. Of course I know this is scientifically absurd, but it makes me laugh.

Strategy 3. Pour boiling water over the seeds.

I simply poured over just boiled water from the kettle and then left them to cool.

The post-treatment seeds have all been laid out on kitchen paper, which is easier to keep moist compared to seed raising mix. It is also easier to inspect to see if the seeds germinate.

Each of the three methods have been clearly separated on the paper towel, so any obvious difference in germination rates between strategies should be able to be determined.

The paper towel then got lightly sprayed to moisten the paper towel.

The it all got folded up and put in a plastic bag.

Fingers crossed this works!

I just went out to pick something for a salad...

16 September, 2014

...and somehow I ended up with enough for a meal. Or three.

I just couldn't stop picking. There was always another pea pod to pick before it got too starchy, or another broccoli side shoot to chop before it goes to seed.

All of a sudden my basket was overflowing, and I hadn't even gotten to the lettuce yet.

(The asparagus was just a bonus, and what every salad needs a little finely sliced onion for flavour.)

Does anyone else suffer the pain of too much produce?

I try and preserve as much as I can. Broccoli and peas will be frozen over the coming weeks, to provide for future meals after the plants give up the ghost or succumb to aphids.

I try and give as much surplus away as I can. I'm taking two massive bags of lemons into work this week from when I pruned back the tree, as just one example. I try and foist my excess onto anyone who will take it, but as garden produce can be a little ad hoc, so sometimes I still just end up with too much to deal with.

I keep meaning to get to a garden swap near me, but the time it runs often clashes with other commitments of mine so I haven't yet gotten around to this strategy yet.

How do you deal with garden excess? Am I missing another option?

Experimental greenhouse wrap up...

13 September, 2014

This year I trialled a couple of greenhouse/glasshouse/ad hoc winter protection systems for some of my summer crops of early 2014.

The first was the so called 'proper' greenhouse of mine, a small plastic greenhouse bought on sale a while back at the big-garden-shed-store-that-shall-not-be-named. I set it up around the end of May over my capsicum/pepper bed, carefully positioning it to cover the maximum amount of plants.

I've left it well wrapped up over winter, not wanting to open it and potentially let in the death winds of cold in and kill off the plants.

Outside view of greenhouse from side. Is the green weeds or did some plants survive?...

However, now that winter is out and spring is in I've felt ok to peek in and have a little squiz.

The capsicums/peppers are looking a little bare, but amongst the weeds (which I pulled out) there were not only surviving plants, but even a few ripening fruits!

There also was plenty of new growth happening, which I was very pleased to see.

I call that a success! Not only alive plants, but a few fruits over winter as well.

The next greenhouse type arrangements were much more ad hoc, and as such I wasn't expecting much.

Here is the mini glasshouse I set up around a couple of eggplants, also in late May.

All I did was stack up a few sheets of glass, along with a few bricks inside, the idea being that the bricks would hold the heat and release it overnight and hopefully stave off the cold.

Overall the result was mixed.

The corner plant pretty much looks like a goner.

 However, the other two plants look alive. Maybe only just, but still alive.

I also feel that this has been worthwhile, given the extent of the effort involved was about 10 minutes to stack up a few sheets of glass. And as I have been fairly unsuccessful with getting fruit from eggplants over the years, I'm feeling positive as to the possibilities of early fruit.

In other minimal effort, maximal result endeavours, at the same time I set up the makeshift glasshouse I covered some of the other eggplants in this bed with a couple of plastic boxes I had to hand. Surprisingly, this even less effort method has shown some success.

While one eggplant has died,

the eggplant in the box just next to it looks very healthy.

I have no idea why there was such a difference. My best guess is they were different varieties, and maybe the one that survived was just a stronger plant.

To put all this protective whatnot in perspective, here is an eggplant that was exposed.

Didn't stand a chance.

So that's my winter survival strategies wrap up. I'll definitely be trying all these again next year.

Any other ideas/successful strategies you have tried?

Morning meander...

07 September, 2014

The sunlight in these early spring mornings is just beautiful. With these mornings of blue skies and gentle dappled light it truly feels like the grey days of winter behind us, even if the mornings are still a bit chilly.

Even with the chill, I just have to get outdoor for a gentle morning meander about the garden.

Evergreen blueberries beginning to flower.

Self sown lettuces are coming up.

If there are self sown lettuces, I may as well put some in too. This is where I sowed some lettuce seed yesterday.

Espaliered orange putting out lots of flowers and new shoots.

Ditto mandarin.

Gaah! Just look at that horrible shed. The house in the back has been sold and the new owners are sub-dividing and putting in a new unit. They have been aggressively pulling out all the plants and have chopped back the passionfruit growing up the fence and thrown it all back on my side. Not nice. But at least they are chopping out the horrible tree growing  just behind the fence.

Still more broccoli side shoots.

The cabbages appear to be multiplying. I am picking them, but there doesn't seem to be any less of them.

Plum starting to flower. Joy - hopefully this will mean the first fruit from this tree.

In the veg patch, mustard grown as a green manure is going nuts. Need to pull this up soon.

Peas. So many peas. Yay.

Onions that I planted out are doing ok.

Maybe it was a bad idea to let this nettle grow in the path.

Still just one asparagus plant sending up spears.

But what's this?! Look, asparagus seedlings are coming up!

And in another good news story, remember that tomato plant that self seeded back in May?

OMG! It has flowers! I will need to try and replicate this. Was it the bricks of the mass of weeds that kept it alive, do you think? Either way, I'm super excited to potentially have very early tomatoes.