Tomatoes rocking it in February...

27 February, 2015

The tomato harvest is now hitting it's peak:

There is no one tomato plant that is really a stand out at this stage, all have fruit ripening most days and it is a beautiful thing to see all the different colours in the harvest basket.

In the 'to pinch out or not to pinch out' trial it seems the not pinched out tomatoes are still in the lead when it comes to harvests. Having more stems has allowed them to set a great deal more fruit

However the not pinched out tomatoes have been much more affected by late tomato blight. I've been spraying with a copper spray but it's not completely stopping the disease spreading. I'm hoping though that it will keep it at bay long enough to get a few more tomatoes to set fruit and hopefully ripen.

That said, there are still plenty of tomatoes on the plants. I'm hoping there will be a tomato harvest for many a week yet.

How are your tomatoes doing?

Preserving plums...

23 February, 2015

I've been absolutely inundated with plums from the Ziegler plum this year. It's only 3 years old but this year I would have had close to 5kg off the tree, which is way to much for me to eat before they were no longer good for eating.

What was there to do? Why, preserve of course!

I am a fan of the Fowlers Vacola, however this time around I also wanted to dehydrate some. I love dried fruit, mostly as a snack whenever a sweet craving hits. Which is amusingly consistent with the type of dehydrator which I have, which is an Ezidry Snackmaker.

To dehydrate the plums I halved the fruits and deseeded, then laid the halves on the trays.

I did three trays worth of plums, which was maybe a bit over a kilo.

These went into the dehydrator on low (around 40 degrees C) for about 15 hours. I find the low heat is better as these softer fruits (say compared to apples) have a tendancy to almost cook at higher temps.

After about 8 hours I 'popped' the fruit i.e. turned them inside out, which helps to expose more of the cut fleshy side and ensure the fruit are dry all the way through.

By the end they looked back to normal.

They are done when they have no soft squishyness about them.

But still I had more plums. I decided to preserve a few in the pressure canner which I was using anyway to preserve a pot of chicken stock.

This meant getting out the Ball Mason jars.

Using the pressure canner is a little easier to prep than the Fowlers Vacola. No messing about with sterilising jars, because in the pressure canner the temperatures reached are much higher. Just pack fruit into clean jars, top with water or syrup and process.

These also got halved, seeds removed and packed into the jars, as many as I could squeeze in.

25 minutes at 11 pounds and we have preserved plums.

It doesn't look like a lot, but this will let me enjoy the Ziegler plums for a little which longer.

How to summer prune: Belgian Pear espalier...

21 February, 2015

Now is the time to summer prune, being late summer, unless you are more organised than me and have already done your summer pruning.

But what about you out there saying "Summer prune??? I thought you always prune trees in winter?!"

Well, it depends.

If you want to encourage your tree to grow lots of new growth - winter prune.

If you want to encourage your tree to stay small but produce lots of fruit - summer prune.

I know which outcome I'm after.

Generally deciduous trees (including fruiting trees like pears, apple, peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries etc) like to keep their root system and leaf growth equal. In summer an untrained tree will use the sunlight to make energy and grow as big as it possibly can, and produce as many fruit as possible. Then when the tree goes dormant over winter the tree sucks as much energy as it can into its root system, ready to grow nice and big and produce lots of fruit come spring. If you then cut the tree back in winter, come spring the top growth is way out of whack with the roots, and the tree then wants to reestablish the balance by growing lots of top growth. It will still fruit, but all this growth can be counter productive if you are aiming to keep the tree small enough to manage. After all, what is the point of having a tree too big to pick the fruit?

Summer pruning encourages two things: 1. the tree then wants to keep the root:leaf ratio equal, so curtails root growth, and 2. the tree feels threatened. Something is eating the tree. The tree thinks ('cos we all know trees have thought processes) "better put all my energy into fruiting lots next season to ensure survival of my delicious pear genes, just in case these tree eating things stay around". Or something like that. So the tree puts energy into not growing too tall and making lots of fruit. That's the tree I want in my yard.

Of course, summer pruning may not always be appropriate. Young trees you are shaping, or any tree retraining, may be better to winter prune, so you can encourage the growth you want in the next season. But if you have a fruit bearing tree, summer pruning is the biz!

So, anyhoo, back to the pruning.

The Belgian Pear espalier has been looking a little messy. You can barely see any shape, no beautiful diamond shaped criss-cross of plants evident here.

Time to get the secateurs out.

In this instance, not only am I summer pruning to encourage fruiting, but also to reestablish the shape of the espalier. So any branches not growing in a direction conducive to the look of the espalier are first to go. Then any crossing branches, or branches growing too close are either removed entirely (chopped back to the main branch) or cut back to a fruiting bud (more on that later).

The main branch growing tips are then tied to the framework to keep the whole thing looking tidy.

Ah, that's better. At least you can see more of the main shape. Some of the trees are more vigorous than others, so have reached the top of the espalier. After they reach the top I'm letting them grow wild, to see what I end up with. These are dwarf pears (double grafted onto quince rootstock) so are supposed to only grow 2-3m tall, so we shall see what we end up with.

Now, what was that about fruiting buds. Ah yes.

Fruiting buds = flowers = fruit. So the more the better.

Fruit buds are fat, where leaf buds are skinny.

If I see a fruit bud like this, I leave it (so long as the branch isn't otherwise removed for reasons above).

However, sometimes you need to cut back branches. In doing this you can try and encourage the plant to make a leaf bud into a fruiting bud. (I don't completely understand how this works, but apparently its all in the tree hormones.)

Look for a little bud next to a leaf, growing in the direction you want the branch to grow in, and cut above that bud.

Generally you are mean to cut just above the bud (like 2-3mm). But I was given a tip last year that was to cut quite a lot about the bud. This encourages die back in the branch, which in this instance is more likely to produce the plant hormonal mix that develops a fruiting bud. So I'm giving this a go.

I'll also be posting on how I summer prune my peach trees, cherry trees and step-over apples.

So what are you waiting for. Get out there and summer prune!

Biggest almond harvest ever...

19 February, 2015

This is the biggest almond harvest I have ever had:

Impressive, isn't it.


The almond tree is now about two years old. Last year it set one solitary fruit, which dropped early. This year it set around 15 fruit, but this is all that made it to almond adulthood.

It's not quite the spectacular almond harvest I have been envisioning (like these people's) but it is getting there.

Now I just need to let them dry. And try not to eat them all in one go.

Harvest Monday...

16 February, 2015

Yet again it is Monday, which in my world means Harvest Monday, that veg gardeners show off courtesy of Daphne at Daphne's Dandelions.

It is well and truly hitting the end of summer here in Melbourne with today's harvest.

It's pretty much all about the tomatoes in the veg garden. Here is a mix of varieties (New Yorker, Jaune Flamme, Tommy Toe, Brin de Muget, Sun Sugar, Green Zebra, Gardener's Delight, Earl of Edgecombe, Husky Cherry Gold, Garden Peach, Pink Grape and Siberian). The only thing eluding me in the tomato garden is the black toms. I have both Black Krim, Ananas Noir and saved seed from a market bought black tomato, but none are yet ripe. There are two that are almost ready. I'm eying them lasciviously every time I pass them with my harvest basket. One day soon...

Taking a supporting role are the capsicums and peppers (here are Flamingo and Jalapeno), beans (Purple King, Butter beans and bush green beans Polo), cucumbers (Lebanese, Lemon and saved seed grown types hiding below) and zucchini (Black Jack and Trombonico). Also pictured is the world's tiniest eggplant, but its the first of the season so I'm delighted with it.

Fruit wise the plums (Ziegler) are glutting like mad and will be soon to hit the Fowler's Vacola unit, the figs are glutting likewise (mostly given away as I don't really like figs all that much), the blackberries and strawberries are slowing down but producing a respectable handful most days.

The pears (Durondeau) are a bit of a mistake harvest. I was re-doing the stake next to the tree as it was loose and I accidentally knocked off these four fruits. Given they are supposed to ripen in March I don't think I've done too much damage, and you should harvest pears when hard and let them ripen inside as they don't ripen on the tree. Or so I've always heard. I have no real experience to speak of given this is the first time the pears have fruited.

So that's the current harvest highlights. Don't forget to check out other worldwide harvests at Daphne's.

An easy way to pick plums...

11 February, 2015

The Zeigler plum is full of ripe fruit. This is usually a precursor to the local birds decending and pilfering all my delicious fruits.

But not this time, as I have netted the tree weeks ago.

The trade off with the nets is that picking becomes a bit more of a palaver. You have to unwrap the nets to access the fruit, which while necessary is slightly annoying.

But no more.

Witness my patetented plum picking method:

Step 1: Select plum.

Step 2: Pull picked plum through the net.

Step 3: Eat.

While this will obviously only work for small fruit like plums, it is a handy method for garden munching.

Do you have any garden harvest tricks?

Morning meander...

08 February, 2015

Slightly munched brassica seedlings, come up from a random scattering of saved seed. Who knows what these will be...

I cannot believe it! A mango, in Melbourne!!!

In other tropical plant news, the banana is going well.

There are four new plants sprouting from the base. I've read I should chop these out, but am wondering if anyone out there in blogland growing banana's at home wants to add their two cents worth. I'd be happy for any advice.

The cucumbers have well and truly overgrown their frame.

Rockmelon (cantaulope) babies are happening. This is a Delice De La Table.

This one is Prescott Fond Blanc.

The tomatoes have been besieged by disease (probably tomato blight but I'm by no means an expert) so I've chopped out all the lower leaves to let in extra air and sun, and ripen the lower fruit.

Trombonico zucchini growing amongst the blacberries.

In other melon news, there is a tiny tiny watermelon. Not sure it it is properly fertilised though.

The pumpkin (Potimarron) has one pumpkin on it. At least it is keeping the solo pear on the Belgian Fence Espalier company.

Bramley's Seedling apples are getting huge!

The parsnip seed will need collecting soon. Also purple sprouting broccoli seeds.

Ditto fennel seeds.

Sometimes seeds grow in the most unlikely places, like old decomposing tree stumps.

And lastly, the sunflowers are out. Both pretty and seed producing. Yay for sunflowers!

Garden Share Collective: February...

03 February, 2015

This time around the GSC (led by the fabulous Lizzie) has kinda crept up on me. But I will do my best to reflect on what is happening around the garden and what things (many) need doing.

This is the garden currently.

Most of it is looking pretty ok for summer, due to the relatively cool weather we've been having. Summer crops continue to flourish (mainly tomatoes, capsicums/peppers, cucumbers, eggplants (yet to crop but growing well), climbing and dwarf beans, corn, zucchini, rockmelons, watermelons, blackberries, plums and peaches.


I recently planted my first sowings of brassica seeds. Other than that, not much. I have been planting out the bigger pinched out side shoots from tomato plants, and most seem to be surviving. It will be interesting to see if they actually produce any crops. I have been meaning to sow some more corn, but I think I'm a bit late for that now.


As mentioned there are lots of pickings in the summer garden.

The tomatoes are cropping well, with lots of green tomatoes still on the way.

The capsicums continue to do well, with lots turning red in the occasional warmer days. I've had the first Jalapeno peppers which went into a salsa for a Mexican dinner and were pretty delicious, although not as hot as I had expected.

Cucumbers are growing great guns. Lots get eaten as garden snacks, but plenty make it into the kitchen for proper meals. The Lemon cukes are really starting to hit their strides, as well as the first of some later sown Lebanese types. The home saved seed variety are still going but slowing a little, and I pulled out the Mini White cukes to make way for the brassicas as they really weren't providing much.

The first of the beans are here (I was very late in sowing these) with both bush beans and climbing beans starting to crop.

Fruit wise the blackberries continue awesome, and I'm eating the first of the Ziegler plums. I've also got about eight Anzac peaches left which I'm keeping in the fridge and am rationing myself to one every couple of days to make the most of them.

To do:
  • Summer prune the apple and pear espaliers, and the peach and cherry trees.
  • Plant another lot of brassica seeds later in February.
  • Hoard enough tomatoes to make a batch of passata.
  • Keep the aphids coming up under control with pest oil or pyrethrum.

That's all I can think of at the moment.

Make sure you check out other GSC contributions at Lizzie's.

Sowing the seeds of winter harvests...

01 February, 2015

Now I know it seems crazy in the midst of summer to be planning for winter crops, but that's how it is in the life of a veg gardener. You are always thinking about what you are going to be eating in three or four months time.

I like thinking about what I'm going to be eating, so this suits me just fine.

I have found that sowing brassicas (i.e. broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, amongst others that fall into the brassica category) in January gives me a good winter time harvest. They just need to be watered well in the early days of late summer hot temperatures and protected from the ever rampant White Cabbage Butterfly.

So with yesterday being the last day of January I got my ass into gear and planted some brassica seeds.

This necessitated pulling out the Mini White cucumbers which were nearing the end of their days anyway, and also ripping out the raspberry plants that had wandered over from their designated bed along the fence and were attempting to take over the cherry tree bed.

Into the cleared out bed I planted:
Cabbage: Red Acre, Savoy Drumhead, Chinese Matilda (sound really weird when you think about it), Sugarloaf and Red Drumhead. Savoy Drumhead I've grown before but the others are new. I have never had much success with red cabbage so we shall see how these go.
Cauliflower: Mini White. I've grew these last year and they did well so I'm going with them again.

I also planted a heap of bean seeds (Valentino and Polo) to:
1. See if a mixed planting confuses the WCBs,
2. Add nitrogen as brassicas love feeding, and
3. Also to act as a ground cover and weed deterrant as the brassicas grow.

Also I may even get a bean harvest.

On the broccoli front I've planted into the current watermelon/capsicum bed.

Note Milford the cat having a wander around

I've planted three varieties: Gizmo, Italian and Winter. Italian was a variety I grew last year which lasted me through the whole winter. The other two are new and it will be interesting to compare the three.

The wooden lattice is there because I was too lazy to put it away in the garage after dismantling the cucumber trellis, and I'm kinda hoping it will stop the birds from scratching up the mulch and displacing the seeds.

Are you sowing brassicas? Any recommended varieties?