Garden Share Collective: February...

29 February, 2016

I'm back again doing the GSC, that awesome garden share session hosted by Krystie and Kate.

The theme for this month is Preserve, which I've been doing bits and pieces of.

A week or so ago I had a very busy week, and so was picking and shoving the produce into the fridge, to be dealt with at a later date.

On the weekend, I pulled it all out and set it out on the kitchen bench.

I really didn't realise I grew that much stuff. It's easy when its a basket here, and a bit there, and it mostly gets eaten. But a weeks worth really adds up.

The tomatoes I had already planned for stashing for making passata and salsa. These got cleaned and chopped then into plastic bags and into the freezer.

The beans were cleaned, sliced and par-boiled, then cooled in iced water, drained and then into zip-lock bags ready for the freezer.

A few extra corn cobs (not pictured) got sliced off the cob and also went into zip-lock bags for the freezer.

 There is now a nice little stash in the freezer for future use.

Also frozen was some plums for future plum cakes.

I also pressure canned chicken stock (from stashed bones of a few roasted chickens), and while that was going I also bottled some apples I was gifted from a friend's dad's tree.

The preserving has not been limited to bottling, but also included the drying of the Anzac peaches.

Future preserving will be the passata and salsa stash for the year, some more frozen goods including beans and eggplants, and I'll probably try my hand at pickling some cucumbers.

  • Brassicas - broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage seeds have all been sown. Some have already been planted out, while others are awaiting space to be freed up.
  • Carrot, beetroot, parsnip and radish seed.
  • Cucumber seed, in the polytunnel.

  • Lots of tomatoes
  • Beans, though I've now stopped cropping and am letting the rest go to keep for next years' seed.
  • Eggplants
  • Cucumbers, which are now pretty much at an end
  • Zucchini and squash
  • Capsicums and peppers
  • Corn, but all gone now 
  • Plums, though the last of these have been picked this week
  • Figs, though not many are left now
  • Apples, mid season St Edmund's Pippin
  • Blackberries
  • Pears, the first of the Durondeau have been picked

To Do:
  • Keep pruning and tying up tomatoes to try and stave off blight and rust diseases and keep the plants going a little longer
  • Pull out the corn and zucchini currently taking up bed space and plant out the remaining brassicas
  • Prune and tie up the thornless blackberry
  • Graft the plum, apricot and peach
  • Plant more carrot and beetroot seeds
  • Keep watering the late season apples to try and ensure a good crop

That's it for my February garden. How is yours going?

Tomato review 2016...

21 February, 2016

One of the delights of the backyard veg garden is tomatoes. Those flavourless red balls you buy at the supermarket (or maybe like me, knowing their inherent falsity, don't buy) have absolutely nothing on a homegrown, picked-when-perfectly-ripe tomato.

(As an aside I'm totally loving instagram - I always get onto these things way after they were cool and new - and my favourite hashtag in the world is #supermarkettomatoespfft - so true!)

Because of these truths I really only eat tomatoes when they are ripe in my backyard veg patch.

And because I love tomatoes, and can never just stick to one or two types like some gardeners I know, I grow multiple varieties every year. Some are old favourites, some are being grown for the first time.

Either way, it's always an adventure.

This year I grew the varieties: Sweet Bite, Brin de Muget, Champion, Sun Sugar, Black Krim, Black Russian, Sainte Lucie, Potiron Ecaplate, Big Beef (F1), Green Zebra, Gardeners Delight, Heirloom Bicolour, Ananas Noir, Pink Bumblebee, Husky Cherry Gold, Mr Ugly, Pink Grape, Brown Cherry, Black Cherry, Pink Girl, Lemon Drop and saved seed from market bought tomatoes I call Huge Tomato, Yellow Tomato and Black Tomato.

24 varieties in all, which for me is very restrained. I have seed for over 40 varieties, and am sure next year will have quite a few more.

I will post about growing methods in another post.

Of those seeds sown not all made it to fruiting tomato adulthood, but for the purposes of today's post here are the current fruiting varieties.

Sweet Bite - bought as a seedling from the big green shed store after the tomato I planted in its place died. Early fruiting but average flavour. Won't get it again (unless perhaps I need another replacement plant).

Brin de Muget - reliable cropper, tasty tomato, will grow again next year for sure. I was given the seed but don't have many left and it is a few years  old so I may need to save some seed. I'm told the shape is very much like Riesentraube (thanks foodnstuff!) so may need to try that instead and see if it does compare.

Champion - not particularly prolific, standard good homegrown tomato taste but nothing super special. Don't know if I'll grow it again. Doesn't live up to its name.

Sun Sugar - golden orbs of tomato delight. Very prolific, did particularly well in the wicking bed patch. Will grow again.

Black Krim - a bit slow to ripen, but a delight to grow.  Happen to be between ripe ones currently which is why they are missing from the picture. Tasty and beautiful. Will grow again.

Black Russian - earlier than Black Krim in my yard, but slightly less tasty to my tastebuds. Might grow again.

Sainte Lucie - quite prolific, nice big beefsteak tomatoes. Good flavour. Well worth growing.

Potiron Ecaplate - did particularly well in the wicking beds, ground sown plants are much smaller and yet to ripen. Massive tomatoes in the wicking beds still to ripen. Flavour excellent. Must grow again.

Big Beef (F1) - thought I'd try a hybrid as an experiment, not worthwhile. Tasteless red balls. Supermarket tomatoes owe more of their inferiority to variety than I realised. Will keep for adding to the passata/salsa/sauce stash, but otherwise would end up in the compost heap. Never again.

Green Zebra - reliable tasty green tomato. Good flavour. Will grow again without doubt.

Gardeners Delight - Reliable, prolific, good flavour, moderate disease resistance. Will likely grow again.

Heirloom Bicolour - I wish I had one to show you, but I am currently between ripe toms of this variety. Big yellow beefsteak type with a pink/red splotch on the bottom of the fruit, through the skin and flesh. Looks amazing sliced. Great flavour. Relatively prolific. Grew for the first time and am sure it will be a garden staple from now on.

Ananas Noir - have heard many good things, but late to ripen. Have not yet tried one and its almost March. Doubt whether the taste will make up for the slowness, but we will see. TBA.

Pink Bumblebee - not very disease resistant but very pretty striped cherry toms. Flavour unremarkable. Probably will grow again though, just for its looks.

Husky Cherry Gold - slow to ripen this year, but has been good in previous years. Who knows. Good medium size yellow tomato, but don't remember it being that special. Might go back to Garden Peach, similar size and colour but GP is more prolific and earlier.

Mr Ugly - finally fruited this year, have grown for the last few years but always died. Good beefsteak type tom, taste comparable to others, nothing special. Was expecting more from the name, more warty and bumpy. Ah well.

Pink Grape - very similar to Gardeners Delight, not as pink as I expected. Another one grown for the first time. Very disease susceptible, though this may be just the plant that happened to grow this year. Might try again, not sure.

Brown Cherry - seedlings died this year, though have grown previously with success. Will try again.

Black Cherry - died, will likely try again.

Pink Girl - another one that I am between ripe toms of. Small beefsteak size, very good pink colour, good flavour though nothing special. Worth growing again for the colour.

Lemon Drop - very old seed, didn't germinate, probably my fault. Might try more pears next year. Have been very prolific previously. Don't remember the taste to be anything super special though.

Huge Tomato - my toms are not as huge as the ones I saw at the market, though this may be due to growing conditions or a mix of genetics. Pretty big beefsteak, rather tasty. May grow again.

Yellow Tomato - not yellow, though looks remarkably like Brin de Muget, so I think I may just have been a bit random with my seed sowing and mis-labelled. Probably will try again next year.

Black Tomato - died. Looks very like Black Krim when grown in previous years. Probably wont try again when I have Black Krim to rely on.

Also grown were two self sown tomatoes that came up in the compost, which added to the mix.

That's the tomato wrap up for 2016, though there are still plenty of tomatoes to ripen and eat.

What are your must grow varieties? Any standouts I should try and source for 2017 crops?

Drying summer goodness...

18 February, 2016

I can't really complain when the Anzac peach tree produced this mountain of goodness during the latter part of January and early February.

Now while I can attempt to eat my own body weight in peaches, I do quite like to share the harvest around. While I could just palm them off to friends and family (although I did that too) I do like to preserve some for future eating for myself.

Hence out came the dehydrator for its first use of the season.

Peaches were halved and thinly sliced (around 5mm thick) then laid onto the trays. The worst of the bruises were cut out, and the end slices (with the most skin which dry much more slowly than normal slices) had extra slices to give more surface area and ensure a similar drying time.

After 20 or so hours on medium (55-65 degrees C according to my machine) they are nice and crispy.

I make sure they are quite dry as they typically soften a little anyway, and any extra moisture means mould and that would be a great waste!

They then go into jars.

After many days of drying, the lot is finally done.

This is the year's stash.

Lets see how long they last.

Harvest Monday...

16 February, 2016

Welcome to Harvest Monday! Make sure you check out the worldwide harvests on show.

This is my February entry in my goal to post to Harvest Monday at least monthly.

And it is easy when the harvests are so good.

Summer crops are killing it, with cucumbers continuing strong (varieties Mini White and Spacemaster), tomatoes starting to hit their peak (varieties visible include Heirloom Bicolour, Pink Girl, Potiron Ecaplate, Husky Cherry Gold, Gardener's Delight, Pink Bumblebee, Green Zebra, Big Beef, Brin de Muget and Champion), corn (can't recall the variety on that one), eggplants (random variety from punnet of plants bought from nursery) and zucchini (Black Jack) and squash (???) round out the veg harvest.

Fruit wise the figs (variety unknown as the tree was here when I moved in) are starting to ripen, while the plums (Ziegler) continue with good crops. The last of the peaches has been picked, and I picked two St Edmunds Pippin apples that fell off the plant when I accidentally knocked it. I hope they are properly ripe. But best of all was the surprise harvest of grapes.

The grapevine was like the figs, here when I moved in, so I don't know what type it is. In previous years it has produced a meagre harvest, and I didn't bother to net so most got eaten by birds. However this year there were a few bunches I could see, so I went' out with my individual net bags to net the fruits. However on closer inspection there were so many ripe grapes, most of the bunches got picked that I completely filled one of my net bags (an old 3kg orange bag) and had to get the basket to bring in the rest. There were a few bunches still under ripe, so they got netted, but I reckon I picked at least 8kg of ripe grapes. They look a bit green, but are sweet. Yay for surprise harvests!

That's my harvest for this week. Don't forget to check out other worldwide harvests.

Morning meander...

13 February, 2016

I love a morning meander around the garden, especially on a weekend morning, so see what is happening with what in the garden and to prioritise the gardening tasks.

First view of the backyard wicking bed garden, straight out the back door onto the verandah.

I start under the fig tree, on the far right side wicking bed, currently containing zucchini and squash.

I already pulled out one of the two squash due to overcrowding, but clearly it wasn't enough to stop powdery mildew getting a hold. Must spray with milk/soap spray asap.

Ditto cucumbers, which have started to look a bit sad and clearly are reaching the end of their lives. Hopefully this will give them a few more productive weeks.

Second sowing of corn shows cobs almost ready for picking.

Recently sown and thinned seeds of bush beans are coming along nicely.

The climbing beans have completely taken over their string teepee structure, and I've had to reinforce the post  by tying it to the opposite fence, otherwise it would have collapsed by the weight of beans long ago.

Which has turned out well, as the beans have grown along the support and are producing way more beans than I know what to do with. Ideas for preserving anyone?

Tomatoes are ripening nicely but there are many green ones on the way. I am totally going to do these string structures again.

Into the front yard and the ground grown, regularly staked tomatoes are likewise doing well, with lots of green toms to come.

These have been more challenging to stake  and tie up, so I need to figure out a way to do a string structure with ground grown toms in future years.

Hard to see, but there are still Ziegler plums to be picked.

Strawberries are sending out runners. I'm going to put some in wicking buckets like foodnstuff.

I planted out more climbing beans, knowing the day will come when I have to pull down the structure in the wicking beds. These are getting big enough that I need to put up their supports so they can climb.

Remember that golden raspberry?

Not so golden it seems. Clearly golden raspberries are my nemesis.

I've put a temporary net over these espaliered apples (variety Red Cleopatra) which should keep them safe from birds who might like to taste test an under ripe apple.

Grapes have been harvested, while these under ripe bunches have been protected with single net bags recycled from onion and orange net bags.

Cor, look at that corn...

10 February, 2016

Yes, another of those quintisential summer crops has finally arrived: Corn!

I've been testing corn with my usual method.

I start with a cob that the silk has mostly dried back on, and peel back the husk and check that the kernels look well developed.

I then stick a fingernail into a kernel. If the ooze is clear, wait a few more days. If it is opaque, it means the corn has developed its starch and will be sweet and fully flavoured.

These ones look good, so off to the pot they go.

As a side note, it looks like planting a block of 12 to 16 plants around 3 weeks apart is going to give a nicely paced crop. Which is an improvement on last years' corn craziness. A win for succession sowing. Too bad I was too lazy/distracted to do a third sowing. Ah well. Maybe next year.

Catching peaches...

04 February, 2016

I hate wasting garden produce.

But I especially hate wasting the most delicious of the things the garden produces, and this for me has to include peaches.

In the house where I grew up we had peach and nectarine trees which I loved, but inevitably some of the peaches/nectarines would ripen on the tree, then fall and rot. What a waste.

I am determined that this fate shall not befall my peaches.

In previous years when I individually netted my small peach crops, one of the benefits was the bags caught the peaches when they fell, meaning they didn't fall and bruise and end up wasted.

However this year I had hundreds of fruit and so net the whole tree. What to do to ensure the fallen fruit were not wasted.

Solution: fold the nets up underneath the tree to create a peach net.

This ended up being a spare net as the main net was not quite big enough. This was tied to the nets around the side and then around the tree trunk to ensure no gaps for a wiley bird to enter. 

This method has worked incredibly well, to the point that instead of picking fruits by hand I simply get into the net and shake tree branches, then harvest whatever fruit falls into the net.

Which happens to be quite a lot.

Not a single peach is wasted. Just the way I like it.