Tomatoes rocking it in January...

31 January, 2015

As the tomato harvest is now in full swing, I thought I'd do a monthly tomato debrief to force myself to reflect on how the tomato plants in the 'to pinch out or not to pinch out' trial are growing.

This was today's tomato harvest.

As you can see the Brin de Muget toms are killing it, being by far the most prolific. Green Zebra and Sun Sugar have also been fab. For the other tomatoes there are slim pickings individually, but put together the daily harvest is pretty good, but I'm by no means hitting a massive glut yet.

(I say yet with hope that tomato gluts are in my future.)

All of the above tomatoes, with the exception of the Juanne Flamme, were from the free-ranging-not-pinched-out tomatoes.

There is quite a bit of variability in how the tomatoes have grown. All are supposed to be indeterminate tomatoes, meaning they should all be growing tall and slim, rather than short and bunchy.

The two tomatoes here don't however seem to have gotten the message. Of the three tomatoes here (the white sticks at the bottom are the variety labels, so you can see where each plant grows from), the two left are still barely more than a foot tall.

The far left is the Market - Yellow from saved seed, so may actually not be an indeterminate growing tomato. Either way, it hasn't yet set any fruit so I'm a bit disappointed. The next one across is Siberian, which I've grown before and was a bit, though not a lot taller. It has set a fair bit of fruit despite its small stature, so I'm not too fussed.

Other tomatoes in this patch are now taller than I am and are close to hitting 2m tall.

These are the Brin de Muget (on left), Earl of Edgecombe (centre) and Sainte Lucie (on right, before the garden fork). After the garden fork on the far right is the Green Zebra.

Although Brin de Muget has been cropping well, despite being very tall both the Earl of Edgecombe and Sainte Lucie have not set a great deal of fruit. I've been thinning out the lower leaves to improve sunlight to the lower fruit, to try and get what is there to ripen sooner rather than later.

Compare that growth with the area housing the pinched out tomatoes.

Left to right: Earl of Edgecombe, Ananas Noir, Garden Peach, Riesentraube, Market - Black, Juanne Flamme.

Only the Juanne Flamme has given ripe toms as yet, but I reckon the Earl of Edgecombe and Market - Black are not far away. Only the Riesentraube has not yet set fruit.

Left to right: Pink Bumblebee, Sainte Lucie, Gardener's Delight, Big White Pink Stripe, Husky Cherry Gold, Brown Cherry, New Yorker.

Pink Bumblebee, Gardener's Delight and Brown Cherry are almost ripe. Sainte Lucie has set no fruit whatsoever, so I wonder if it needs to be grown with laterals so that it sets fruit. It is flowering though, so this may not be the case. Also with a disturbing lack of tomatoes is Big White Pink Stripe. I've grown this for three years running and not yet had a single fruit. This is the best specimen I've yet grown, and it is flowering, but the flowers are dying off. I have no idea why it doesn't like me. I will not grow it again.

Now while the pinched out tomatoes are noticeably behind the pace, I can't help but think this has a bit to do with this area getting less sun than where the not pinched out tomatoes are. So while I think so far these are less vigorous, and there are less fruiting branched by wont of there being less branches altogether, I can't say categorically the lesser harvests from this area is entirely to do with the different pruning regime. But I will keep you posted.

So that's the January tomato wrap up. How are the tomatoes going in your neck of the woods? (And if it isn't tomato season where you are, what has performed well for you in the past?)   

Pickled spiced cherries...

28 January, 2015

As mentioned in the weekend post, one of my favourite preserving recipes is for pickled spiced cherries.

This is a little out of character, as mostly I like to keep my preserves simple. A light sugar syrup, a little lemon juice and I'm done. Let the flavour of the fruit shine through.

But this is the exception to the rule, because it is awesome.

Pickled Spiced Cherries
(adapted from Homemade by Judith Choate)

As many cherries as you can spare
(I've just both sweet and sour/morello cherries in the past and I have a slight preference for sour/morello type, slightly on taste but mostly because they are smaller and a more appropriately sized portion when eating)
Enough vinegar to cover the cherries  
(I use homemade apple cider vinegar from a cider batch gone wrong)

Put the cherries (stalk, pips and all) in a bowl and cover with the vinegar until all the cherries are submerged. Leave for 5 days in a cool place.

Drain off the vinegar, keeping the liquid.

Put the liquid in a large pan.

Measure your vinegar sozzled cherries in cups, roughly. For however many cups of cherries, you will need half as many cups of sugar.

This was 4 cups of vinegar sozzled cherries.

Add the sugar to the cherry vinegar in the pan and place on a low heat to dissolve. While this happens, peel a small piece of fresh ginger, finely slice and add to the cherry vinegar/sugar mixture.

Now get out your preserving vessel of choice (mine is wide mouth Ball Mason jars, I generally use a half pint i.e. 237ml jar for these) and sterilise.

Get your cherries and add to the sterilised jars. Now we are going to spice them up.

I use star anise, cardamom, mace, juniper, cinnamon, cloves and bay.

To each jar of cherries add roughly a quarter of a star anise, one cardamom pod, half a teaspoon of mace, 3 juniper berries, a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon, two cloves and one bay leaf.

I just love how the jars look with the spices in.

By now the sugar should be dissolved. Bring it up to the boil, then as soon as it boils take it off the heat and carefully fill the jars (a preserving funnel does wonders here).

Remember as we aren't water bath canning these in the FV you don't need to worry about how much head space you leave. Fill 'em up.

Then quickly add the lids. Tighten as tightly as possible (again, more than water bath canning would generally recommend), then leave to cool.

You may be lucky to get the lids to pop down, giving a good seal (4 out of these 6 did, the two that didn't will be used first).

Now put your spiced cherries in a coolish place to mature for at least 4 weeks.

Eat with pate and swoon.

Harvest Monday...

26 January, 2015

Yet again it is time for Harvest Monday, care of Daphne of Daphne's Dandelions. Thanks Daphne!

Today is Australia Day, a public holiday to celebrate being Aussie. I will be celebrating in time honoured tradition by having a barbeque and listening to the Hottest 100. (If that makes no sense to you just google it.) But that doesn't start until 12pm, so I have plenty of time to head out into the garden and harvest.

On the veg front I have cucumbers coming out of my ears (a mix of some from saved seed, Lemon and Mini White), the overwintered capsicums continue well (the big red ones are Flamingo, and I've just picked the first of the Jalapenos), zucchini's are mostly picked as little ones, just after they flower (here are Black Jack, Trombonico and Jaune et Verte), a few tomatoes (Green Zebra, Brin de Muget, Sun Sugar and New Yorker). Not pictured are lettuce and rocket from the rocket forest that has self sown in my bean patch.

On the fruit front the blackberries continue awesome, the first of the Anzac peaches are here, I picked the last two yellow lemons on the tree and will now have to wait for the current green rocks to ripen, and I couldn't help but pick some slightly under ripe Ziegler plums, which is the first time this tree has produced.

(As an aside, these are almost exactly the same plum as my grandmother used to grow. I have fond memories of the family harvesting plums when I was young, mostly for use as plum jam. I planted this tree trying to emulate that fruit, and I'm happy to report on tasting the fruit for the first time that the taste is pretty spot on. I was even slightly teary at the time. Try and get that experience from a supermarket bought fruit!)

So the is the current harvest in my backyard. Don't forget to check out other worldwide harvest's at Daphne's.

Preserving summer...

24 January, 2015

One of the things I love about growing my own is the ability to home preserve fruit. This is mainly in the summer months when the stone fruit are glutting like mad and you can only eat so many cherries, or apricots, or peaches, or, as has been my case recently, berries.

While having a tree that has produced 20kg of fruit is generally a joy, given that stone fruit is perfectly ripe for approximately two seconds, having 20kg of fruit that is ripe RIGHT NOW is somewhat of a ticking time bomb.

You generally have two choices in this scenario:
1. Foist off fruit onto as many family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours and complete strangers as you can, or
2. Get out the Fowlers Vacola.

While I am happy to give fruit away, I also like to get out the FV so that come wintertime I can eat up delicious stewed apricots at the twist of a jar lid.

Unfortunately I don't yet have any stone fruit tree that I can harvest 20kg of fruit from. But I do have a friend with an apricot tree, who gave me a box of fruit. Thanks Sonia!

All other fruit were purchased from the farmer's market (nectarines, plums, sour cherries), except the blueberries which were from a pick your own farm, and the blackberries which were from the front yard.

I generally use a variety of recipes for my preserving, gleaned from a number of sources.

I also love using my grandmother's timer to ensure the fruit gets the correct time in the FV unit.

For apricots I do prefer pre-cooking lightly rather than raw packing, event though it is slightly more time consuming. I halve the apricots, then add a little water (this was around 1.5 cups for around 5kg of apricots) to the cooking pan and put on low. The idea is to just soften the apricots. They give off a massive amount of liquid, so I then strain the apricots and reduce the liquid by about half, then add around 50% sugar to fruit and the juice of a couple of lemons. When the sugar is dissolved I add back the apricots, then bottle. (At this point you could also, as I did, boil it until it jels, then you have jam.) This only needs around 20min in the FV. I couple of them I flavoured with vanilla as an experiment.

The remaining fruit I raw packed, squishing the fruit down as much as I could without turning it entirely to mush, and then covered with a 50% sugar syrup with lemon juice added. I also did a batch of pickled spiced cherries which are fabulous with pate (separate post to come later this week).

Now here is where I let you in on my most recent preserving tip - chalk pens. (Saw it here.)

So easy to write on the jars, then wash off with water when they're emptied. No messing about with labels, sticky residues or pens that fade. Believe you me, this was a revelation.

This is just the beginning of the summer preserving. Long may summer last, both now, and in these jars!)

Blackberry bonanza...

22 January, 2015

The blackberries have well and truly taken over from the other berries as the best performing berry of January.

I'm quite happy with this arrangement as the raspberries have really slackend off (I'm barely getting a handful a week now) and the strawberries didn't really like that bit of hot weather we had a while back (before all this lovely temperate summer we've been enjoying, yay for no 40+ degree days!) and are only now getting back to flowering.

But the blackberries. Oh my.

The blackberries are both thornless varieties (one called 'Waldo' and another I can't recall the name of and appear to have neglected to document in my gardening book) which I think from memory were planted in 2013. Last year in early 2014 I got a few berries from the plants.

But this year they have gone beserk.

Like all berries they have to be netted. I have them grown on wires strung up between star pickets, so they are relatively easy to net (just chuck a net over the whole thing and weigh down with bricks).

There is a multitude of still ripening red berries, but joy of joys there are lots of rotund blackberries ready to go.

I've been picking at least 2-3 handfuls most days.

Some of them have been amazingly fat berries.

Most of the time they get squished to a blackberry-y juicy mess then I add a dollop of yoghurt. But lately I've been saving most of them for a spot of preserving.

Yay for blackberries.

And the winner is...

17 January, 2015

... well, its a draw, actually.

In the race for first tomato of the season, two toms have hit the line neck and neck.

Husky Cherry Gold

Brin de Muget

There are quite a few more almost ripe, namely the Green Zebras and Tommy Toes. We will see who comes second. Edit: Yes, they were next, along with a few Sun Sugar's.

I was very happy to add these to the harvest basket for my pre dinner garden pick.

Tomatoes with cucumbers, many blackberries and alpine strawberries

I always get so excited about the first harvest from any plant. Long may tomato season last.

OMG fermented cucumbers are delicious!...

14 January, 2015

I am in love.

Let me tell you how we met.

It was day 5 post pickling, and I was keen to give the trial fermented cucumbers a go.

They had gone all cloudy.

Just to compare, this is what they looked like when first bottled:

And now:

I removed the top grape leaf and fished out a cucumber.

OMG! Sour and a little sweet, tangy and slightly cruchy and overall amazing. It seems a miracle that a little salt water and a few days on the benchtop has delivered this tasty morsel.

5 days was perfect. I replaced the pickle (didn't want to spoil my dinner!) and the grape leaf.

Lid on and these are off to the fridge to await a day of pate making, or perhaps a burger night.

Nom. I am so getting a bigger pickle jar for the next cucumber glut. And I cannot wait to try fermenting more vegetables. Never shall a veg glut bother me again.

What to do with a cucumber glut...

11 January, 2015

I've actually hit a point where I simply cannot, no matter how much I love them, eat all the cucumbers the garden is producing.

What to do when you hit such a sad state? Why, get fermenting of course.

Ever since I read about Asparagus Pea's pickling adventures I've been planning to try a fermented cucumber pickle.

After a bit of google searching I decided to try grape leaves, which supposedly keep the pickles crunchier due to imparting their tannins into the pickle liquid, and which I so happened to have in the garden. Also from the garden was the garlic, however the peppercorns were not homegrown (its just a matter of time, surely). I figured for a first pickle I'd do a half brine solution (on seeing AP's results with a full brine) and so used 40g salt to 500ml de-chlorinated (by boiling) water.

The remaining cukes after I had my fill. I kept the slightly under ripe ones for the pickle. These are from kept seed so are probably a mixed breed of varieties.

I had some extra 'Mini White' cukes as well, so why not throw some of them in?

A few grape leaves.

Spices: homegrown garlic and peppercorns. Keeping it simple.

Final product! Now I just need to wait 4-7 days and then refridgerate.

And I still had some leftover cukes. So sad. I managed to just bring myself to eat those.

Protecting the peaches...

08 January, 2015

The best time to get into the garden at this time of year is twilight, for me. The sun isn't beating down on you, the air is a little cooler and it's a nice time to water, or tie up the tomatoes or do any of those bits and bobs type gardening tasks that always keep a gardener busy.

Today's task was a belated protection of the soon to ripen peach crop.

This is the now 5 year old tree.

The variety is Anzac, which is a white freestone peach of great deliciousness. Hence why I am adamantly NOT sharing with the birds and possums.

As in previous years, I am protecting them with leftover nets from onion bags and the like.

See here for a how-to, although it is hardly rocket science.

Now my peaches are protected. 

I also like this strategy as its has the bonus of catching the peaches, should they be so ripe they drop from the tree.

Last year they ripened in late January. I cannot wait!

Garden Share Collective: January...

04 January, 2015

Hiya all. It has been (like for many I'm sure) a hectic few weeks over the festive season and the last days of 2014, hence the silence on the blogging front. But with the new year here and things slowing down on the social side of things I actually have some time to devote to sharing garden happenings.

Which ties in nicely with the timing for Garden Share Collective, brought to us by Lizzie at Strayed from the Table.


I've planted out some bush beans and climbing beans, basil plants, watermelons and some successive sowings of cucumbers.

Also in a first for me I've tried planting the pinched out side shoots of tomatoes from the pinched out vs. free growing tomato trial.

The lower leaves were removed then I whacked them straight into the ground under the apple espaliers. They are partially shaded which I think has helped them not die. They looked a bit droopy for a week but are looking pretty good now.

I will definitely be continuing this way of multiplying my tomato plants.


Loads more summer crops are coming along now. I'm getting heaps of capsicums and peppers from the plants overwintered in the greenhouse.

Cucumbers are growing well up their supports and I'm harvesting a few each day.

Zucchini are coming along well.

I also am growing for the first time a 'Trombonico' zucchini, which I've got climbing up the thornless blackberry plants. It has set its first fruit. Yay!

In almost harvests there are lots and lots of green tomatoes.

I think either some of the grape type varieties or the Green Zebra's (last photo) will be the first to ripen. I'm hoping in the next two to three weeks there will be a ripe tomato to nom.

The only current fruit are the berries. Strawberries have gone past their main flush and don't crop that well over the hottest of the summer months, so I'm only picking a few each day or two.

Raspberries likewise have slowed right down. Luckily I've managed to get about 2 kilos in the freezer. But I'm still getting a small handful every day or two to keep me happy.

Overtaking the raspberries has been the thornless blackberries. I have two plants which I'm training over a wire and star picket arrangement. These are likewise giving a handful or so, but excitingly are only starting so I'm also hoping to have more of these babies to freeze, or even preserve some blackberry sauce.

It may not look like much but it's enough for my breakfast yoghurt, or a mid afternoon snack, or on ice-cream for a lavish dessert.

To do:

  • Succession sow more cucumbers and beans.
  • Keep planting out tomato side shoots as I prick them out.
  • Start some brassicas for winter crops (every year this feels way to early to think about winter crops, but it makes all the difference!).
  • Net the plum and peach to make sure the birds and possums are foiled in their fruit thievery.

Don't forget to check out other GSC contributions at Lizzie's.