Although it is still cold and soggy in most areas, it’s time to think of spring sprouting. I now have fresh seed of the Australian White Bush Marrow, but only one packet per order, please. Plenty of Virginia White Zucchini available, Joe E Parker Chilli, and delicious Bulls Blood Beetroot seed. Still managing to keep Uncle Dick’s Turnip going, but I have decided to change the sowing schedule for both Beetroots and Turnips from Autumn to Spring. Our winters seem colder and frostier lately, and both of those vegetable have stopped growing late autumn, just sat through winter, and then bolted in spring, for the last few years.
If supermarket lettuce prices are too much for you, try using young Kale leaves and the very tender Lucullus Silverbeet, or the mini Cos Lettuce, Parris Island instead . More raised garden beds are my answer to lack of space: they come flat packed from the hardware shop, and II now have another compost bin to make more soil to fill them. No digging is great, and you can place them in driveways, on paths and lawns, just using the cardboard packaging as a base. Dealing with birds ,including my own ducks, is a constant problem, and the raised beds are easy to cover with domes of netting or cloth. Wishing everyone a successful growing season ahead. Rose
After wonderful spring rain, it was a dry hot summer. This was generally good for plants that love the heat, although the pumpkins struggled and produced poorly. Fortunately, the Marrows did well and a small crop has been harvested and is drying now. I hope there are good seeds inside those Marrows!! The Year of the Tomato resulted in a massive crop, enough to share with the ducks. The Chilli, Joe E Parker, Capsicum, Italian Long Red, and National Pickling Cucumber, have done very well.
Beans were all sowed very late, in early January, after we had some summer thunderstorm rain, and it looks like a good harvest will come in around Easter. The Burgundy Snake beans are a real winner, for growing fast and producing well, and the Rattlesnakes have proved again, to be very reliable. The Zagreb Soldier bush beans are just starting to flower now. After several years of disappointment with Beetroots, I have finally harvested Bulls Blood variety seed, and tested it for germination, which is good. Suddenly the demand for Russian Garlic has picked up: there was a very nice crop of huge heads. Interest in gardening has not waned, demand for seeds remains strong. However, my back yard limits the quantity I can produce, but more raised garden beds are being added. And more grass being converted to vegetable beds. Parsnip seed has been unavailable, so people were telling me, so after trying several brands, I finally got a good germination and am hoping to have fresh seed by the spring. Parsnip seeds are only viable for 12 months, so plan ahead and save your own regularly. Still lots of bees on the garden flowers, many daisies, different sages, sedums and chrysanthemums bring them in to fertilise autumn crops.
Here is a group of herbs and vegetables going to seed. The pink radish flowers are over 2 meters tall, the bright yellow turnip flowers about 1½ meters high and the blue borage is the front row.
Broad beans and climbing peas will soon be ready to pick. Borage and calendula are self sown everywhere, they bring the bees to the yellow flowers of Uncle Dick’s turnips and to the pink flowers of the Fire Candle radishes.
The blueberry in the pot is covered with fruit. Capsicums, chillies and tomatoes in the greenhouse are ready to plant out.
Crowded in the garden and in pots around the water tank, curry plant, sages, lemon balm, oregano and thyme. Pretty with various flowers, colours and textures and close to the kitchen.
The dry inland of Australia covers a vast landscape. Here in The Wimmera, our rains come in winter, usually, and after a long dry summer and autumn, the garden responds as it would to the coming of spring in more temperate and coastal climates.
The grass grows again, and so-called weeds, which make good foraging for salads and medicinal teas. Lettuces, silverbeet, broccoli, kales get going , and beetroot and turnips begin to form nice bulbs.
Nettle, dandelion, rocket, self sown parsley, dill, coriander and fresh garlic shoots like spring onions, all add to the menu for both people and poultry.
The fruit trees are bare, but the wattles are about to burst into colour. Sparrows and blackbirds raid the garden for feed, but avoid all the plants mentioned above, and greedily eat the new pea plants, to the point that they have to be covered with cages to protect them.
Foraging includes olives from wayside trees and big bags of fallen leaves , to supplement the straw in the duck yard, which eventually turns into lovely compost and mulch. More lawn is turned into no dig gardens and small circular gardens are made on the Nature Strip as ever more space is needed.
Yacón is this year’s discovery. A tuber from a friend turned into a tall plant with large leaves. When the frost hit it, it was pulled up and yielded a good kilo of tubers, about 4 very large and some smaller ones. The Seed Savers’ Handbook gives information about propagation but a search on the Internet was needed to learn how to cook and eat it. They look a bit like potatoes, but are very juicy and crunchy, texture like water chestnut, mildly sweet and not unlike a Nashi Pear. They can be eaten cooked or raw. In a casserole, the Yacon took on the flavours of the stock and herbs and eventually softened to a texture like Choko. Chopped up raw, they go well in a fruit salad.
Pumpkins did not give a good yield this year. We had a cool wet summer and only got a couple of decent fruit. Here is a wonderful recipe for a Pumpkin Custard which can be eaten as a custard or used as a filling for a pie. It comes from a little recipe book that was originally sold at Aunt Emily’s Craft shop in Bowraville in NSW. It was contributed by Eva Spring
1 1/2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin, 3 eggs beaten well , 1/2 cup brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and ground ginger to taste, 2 teaspoons grated orange rind, 1/2 cup light cream.
Mix together and pour into a pie shell or dish. Bake in a moderate over 30-35 minutes or till set. Goes well with yogurt , cream or ice-cream.
This Winter/ Spring we have had cool weather and average rain. This has meant rapid growth in the garden, ripe tomatoes before Christmas and zucchinis in plenty. loaded berry vines and good displays of flowers in spring.
As usual, I started the beans later than most people, putting in seeds after the Summer Solstice, December 20th. I do this to avoid rust and fungus in the area which tends to be prevalent in spring .
Still trying to get some beetroot started this season. . The stars must be against me this year. Seeds did not germinate or failed to thrive. And other disappointments included packets of new seeds which also failed to germinate. Given the good weather, I can only conclude that the seed was not fresh in spite of being within the Best By Date on the packets. By scouting around in local garden centers and hardware shops, I have discovered more brands of seeds available than usual, and I am always ready to try something new. But it is disappointing when the seeds don’t come through.
At present I am drying and packing Lucullus Silver Beet, large semi double Peony Poppy, Haw Lan Do snow peas and Telephone shelling peas, Big Big Russian Garlic bulbs, Nigella seeds, Dill seeds, and Endive. Endive makes a good addition to salads. It is slightly bitter and said to be very good for the health.
The Burgess Buttercup pumpkins are making fruit, also small purple striped Egg plants, Tomatoes ES38, too, which are small but quick to grow as they have a compact form and medium fruit. The fruit is round although slightly flattened and the colour, bright red. The skins are thin and the flavour is good, so I hope to start collecting seeds from them soon.
I was disappointed by Sweet Bite cherry tomato, recommended by several friends. It grew well, made big roots , but the fruit is very very small, and the skins tough and the flavour not sweet at all. Maybe the nights have been too cold here, as we had temperatures regularly down to 5 degrees at night, right up till January.
I am trying a bush snake bean with burgundy skin, and some Bulls Blood Beetroot and will sow Uncle Dick’s Turnip later this week.
Warragul Greens and self sown red stem Purslane are providing some leafy greens, very welcome now that the days are getting hot.
Drying herbs such as sage, oregano and coriander seeds ensures plenty of culinary flavour for the year ahead and my loaded nectarine tree will soon be ready to harvest. Drying the fruit is a good way to keep it for a long time and takes minimum space in storage.
This year – 2020, has certainly been full of surprises. Many have been unpleasant due to extreme weather events and the virus pandemic. But Mother Nature has blessed us here with winter rain and a mild spring after several dry years. This has led to many surprises in my garden. The fruit trees that did not flower last year have done so abundantly and are making bumper crops of fruit. Perennials like Honesty, which did not cope with last year’s heat , and had blistered stunted leaves, suddenly came to life with that winter rain, making lovely new foliage and tall stems of flowers. Self sown seeds of Rocket, Radicchio, Celery, Salsifyand other volunteers started to pop up as the weather warmed up. Birds turned up too, and I heard their pre- dawn songs again after a couple of very quiet years. Nesting time is in full swing, and ducks’ feathers will be lining some of those nests. Apart from the usual Blackbirds and Sparrows, there are now New Holland Honey Eaters, Wattle birds, Willy Wag Tails , Top Knot Pigeons, all enjoying plenty of feed. Such feed includes the insects that also have proliferated since the rains came.
A bit of a battle has ensued with earwigs, snails and slugs. I finally learnt how to makeearwig traps. Using cans and butter containers baited with about 2 cm of cooking oil in them, I find I get quite a few bugs and need to clean out the traps about once a week. Old BBQ grease and soy sauce added to the oil makes it more attractive to the earwigs. I had tried saucers before, but realise now that they are too shallow. Bugs can crawl out too easily. By setting the can into the soil, so that the ground is on a level with the rim of the container, the bugs venture in, drown in the oil, and cannot climb out again! The snails and slugs make good feed for the ducks, who finally came back to work after a long holiday and started laying again in mid August!!
Every year is different and with climate changing too, finding the best time to sow and plant can be difficult. I used to grow beetroot over winter, but nowadays, autumn sown beetroot grows too slowly over winter, then bolts in early spring. I found the same thing with peas too.( they don’t bolt to seed, but they sulk and get eaten by birds etc.). So I am starting beetroot and peas in early spring now. Winter crops of Garlic, Lettuces, Endive, Broad Beans still seem to do well in the colder months. Some Florence Fennel, left in the ground at the end of summer, just to be used as a leafy herb, has made quite good bulbs which are being harvested now. The silver beet, Lucullus, struggled in the cold months but finally looks respectable enough to eat.
A large part of grass has been turned into a no-dig garden and a crop of potatoes-Pontiacs and Kipflers, is now growing well. With vegetables like potatoes, it isn’t money I am trying to save by growing my own, but the better flavour I am looking for. Fresh produce that is really fresh has an amazing flavour that no supermarket can offer. Besides, it is organically grown and so, nutritionally superior.
Of course, there have been some disappointments. Purple sprouting broccoli has been slow to grow, and now the flower heads are very small, or non existent. The brussels sprouts did not sprout at all and the Red Russian Kale has gone to seed much too soon for my liking. But this has happened before with winter brassicas and a few times I had giant leafy plants with no flower heads at all. I think it is due to choosing a spot that is not sunny enough in winter. I’ll try again next year.
In just two years and here in an average size back yard, there has been a good transformation from bare grass to garden beds, trees and shrubs. Biodiversity increases all the time and pleasant, sheltered nooks are evolving. This spring brings much hope of healthy harvests in summer!
Winter is the best time for a wide array of salad greens, both cultivated and wild. A typical bowl now has French Sorrel, Rocket, Continental and Curly parsley, Warragul Greens, Florence Fennel, Red and Green frilly leaf lettuces, Nettles, Red Russian Kale, Silver Beet .
Winter is also marmalade making time; lemon, orange and lime marmalades take advantage of plentiful local citrus. Also Wild Olives that grow along the road side near commercial orchards have been filling up big jars to slowly sit in their pickle mixture till maturity in a few months time, when they will be decanted and then bottled again in oil. Being wild olives means that they vary in size and shape and colour, but all are good tasting when preserved.
This spring I have extended the vegetable garden considerably by turning grass into no- dig beds. I was too late sowing beetroot and turnip seeds last autumn, because I was waiting for other plants with seed heads to mature. In short, I ran out of space.
The first no- dig bed is ready for potatoes, Kipflers and Pontiacs. I always buy certified seed potatoes if I have not saved any seed myself. Potato blight is a terrible thing and once in the soil, it takes decades to eradicate. Be sure of using clean organic certified potato seed if you have to buy any. It’s too ear here to plant yet as we are still having frosts, but I hope to do so next month.
The unusually damp foggy season has also prompted me to hold off with most of the pea sowing, as I do not want plants to get rust in the spring. A wet spring in this area often means the local Faba Bean crops get hit with rust problems. The snow peas I did put in are slow but so far healthy.
The broad beans, both the Red Seed Peruvian and the Red Flowered ones, are doing quite well, and this year I also have Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Lucullus Silver Beet , -also called Southern European Silverbeet, Red Russian Kale coming along-slowly. A few more sunny days needed now we are past the shortest day. The winter lettuces, Endive, and NZ spinach are providing plenty of greens to pick and side salads for the ducks as there is not much grass for them to graze on at this time of year.
Multiplier onions and shallots are thru the soil now and the Russian garlic is really getting a move on. I had good returns with the Jerusalem artichokes and have been replanting them along fences and under trees. And this year, the Horseradish roots made a decent size for using in the kitchen.
Our local markets are going to start up again soon, at least for outside stalls, and we have been lucky to avoid the covid virus here in Western Victoria. When you live in a small country town the cost and quality of fruit and vegetables in local supermarkets can be disappointing, and most of us appreciate the fresh food we can get at farmers and community markets. Some other stall holders I know have been selling from the farm gate and have had such success with it, they are wondering whether to continue going to markets. A lot of driving and the cost of petrol has been avoided by them by selling from home. Others I know are now selling products online instead of at markets.
For me, markets are more than buying and selling . A lot of stall holders are retired as I am, and the markets are a hobby. A way to catch up with friends, to exchange , to share, to be part of a community. I have a feeling that cottage crafts and self sufficiency will be more popular than ever if the economy suffers from the predicted long downward slide due to the current global situation.
But here’s to spring and warmer days and recovery , which will come eventually!
I make two lots of Green Fertilizer each year. One is spring and one in autumn. It is late April and I have just cut the Comfrey and stuffed it into a large plastic garbage bin, which has a vermin proof lid. I simply added water and will let it ferment over winter in a nicely sheltered sunny spot.
In spring I will strain off any plant solids and dilute the green tea at a rate of about 1 litre of tea to 10 litres of water ( a regular watering can capacity). Comfrey fertilizer has many minerals, and vitamins and also protein. It is good for all garden plants and is a real Universal plant food.
In spring there will be plenty of nettles. Stinging Nettles. The nettle is as valuable as food and medicine as is comfrey. How sad that most people do not understand this. Nettle is also full of minerals, and protein and is a blood cleanser. It is an ideal tea for humans especially in spring when the bodily systems can be sluggish from poor winter diet and lack of exercise. Fresh young nettles make a delicious spinach when lightly steamed or stir fried. Pick them with gloves on but once cooked the sting goes.
In spring there are usually other good deep rooted green weeds that can be added to the fertilizer; Burdock, Dandelions, and lighter plants such as Chickweed, and left over vegetable plants of kale, silver beet or spinach can also go into the brew. Likewise, herbs such as chamomile and thyme, mint and sage made good additions to this batch of plant food.
If harvesting wild weeds from outside your own garden, try to be sure that no herbicides have been sprayed there recently. Woody green waste can also be used to make fertilizer. Old garden plants of annual flowers and vegetables will break down nicely over time. It helps to roughly chop up the tougher stems, and bigger leaves.
Autumn leaves of deciduous trees such as oaks and stone-fruit trees, which are relatively small and fine, also can be added to fertilizer.
In winter, I place the bins in a sunny spot, but in summer, they go along a shaded fence line.
These green tea fertilizers are also good for adding to compost bins and heaps, as well as for seedlings and as foliage feed for all garden plants.