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Yuletide, 2021

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 tubers

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

Pumpkin Pie made with Burgess Buttercup Pumpkin

PUMPKIN CUSTARD

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.

Keep warm and stay well till spring.

Pumpkins, zucchinis and cucumbers drying out over Easter time
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New Year 2021

Endive flowers

Hello All Gardeners.

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.

All the best for a safe and happy season. Rose

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Spring Surprises

Honesty flowers; also known as Silver Dollar flowers for the papery seed pods used in floral arrangements

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, Salsify and 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 make earwig 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.

Red Flower Broad Bean. Pods beginning to form
Red Russian Kale quickly flowering in Spring

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!

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The Mid Winter Garden

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.

no_dig_garden

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!

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Fertilizer for Free

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.

Comfrey
Comfrey – Symphytum Officinale. A truly wonderful herb.

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.

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Harvest Moon. March 2020

It is harvest time and everything has done really well, except the tomatoes, which just don’t seem to like growing here. They start well, but crash out in the heat. Even the plants that stay healthy, and make flowers, don’t set fruit.

But aside from them, it is amazing how well the Australian White Bush Marrows have done, and the Pomona green rock melons, the National pickling cucumbers and beans – Rattlesnake climbing beans and Zagreb Soldier bush beans. I have more than I can cope with!

Pomona rock melons

The ducks have not been left without greens either, as there is a big patch of Warragul or New Zealand spinach and they get a bunch each night when they get put to bed. And Basil, what a profusion of Thai and Opal Basil! The Thai basil has big pink flowers and wonderful perfume. And finally, the last of the summer tribe, the Chillies, are making fruit, as yet green, but plenty of them now visible.

The garden here in the Wimmera, an arid area in Western Victoria, is a testimony to the fact that even in an average size back yard and even with the ever hotter summers, we can still grow a lot of great plants for ourselves. The biggest challenge ahead is probably going to be the cost of water. It gets more expensive every year, and we are about to get new Smart Meters, so our use will be more closely monitored. As a pensioner, it is a struggle to pay for it, even with a pensioner rebate. Of course, the ducks get fresh water in their wading pool or trough, so I guess, without them, I would use less water. I would never have imagined , a few years back , that I would come to see half a dozen pet ducks as a luxury. But the cost of feed, due to the drought , has gone up 30% in the last 2 years, and the water is really too expensive now. But they do good work, eating bugs and slugs and I get good compost from the straw in their yard. And they certainly still provide entertainment. And a few eggs, in spring anyway. This year they stopped laying after a very few short months in late spring.

Rattlesnake Beans

The Community Markets I go to in Stawell are still a mainstay for me, but disappointingly most people are not very interested in the seeds. I fear we have lost a lot of basic gardening knowledge in the last few decades, as it is just so easy to buy everything from the supermarkets. People feel that seeds are Too Difficult and are more inclined to buy seedlings, often poor value and unsuitable to the local conditions. However, the homegrown fruit and vegetables and herbs have a flavour you cannot buy in supermarkets. I am persisting in trying to curate a few rare and old varieties as a contribution to future food security. And if something grows in this climate, it must be adaptable and tough.

This week it was in the news that our summers are now longer than they used to be in 1950’s. A whole month longer in most areas. So winters are shorter, but also drier, and we have had spring seasons that are still cold and frosty at night, but dry. An awful combination, which damages the soil and inhibits plant growth. The challenge of this includes learning to adapt the timing of planting and sowing. Now, I start beans in the week between Christmas and New Year, not in the traditional time, of spring, and I am wondering if I might have more luck with tomatoes if I can adjust the timing of starting them? In the interests of frugality, I don’t use a hot house, so seedlings must be tough enough to cope with minimal shelter when they are young. I do however, use a shaded area and have shrubs which I use to provide shade to delicate plants that can be kept in pots. And while shady patches are essential in the intense heat of summer, at this time of year, we are chasing the sun already. The Equinox is next week, and then we’ll notice the cooler nights and heavier dew. I hope the garden keeps going though the autumn as much can still be produced, and the winter greens- lettuces, kale and brassicas, need a good start before it gets really cold.

So all you gardening friends, grow well and enjoy the fruits of your work.

Remember, it’s time to plant garlic and sweet peas.

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Summer Solstice 2019

Wow , it has been so hot. 47 degrees here two days ago! I am amazed that I still have a garden! Losses have been minimal . The biggest one was my beetroot plants that were seeding. The seeds were almost of harvestable size but now the plants are dead. I took a few of the best seeds and will see if I can germinate them in late summer.

The summer crops: tomatoes, basil, chillies, cucumbers, rockmelons, marrows, didn’t even droop and I picked Fennel flowers and Broccolini for the dinner. The Warragul Greens are good to eat now too. I have plenty of shallots-actually they are tree onions, and are also called Egyptian onions and Welsh onions and lots of garlic, which is the Russian Garlic ,-really it’s a leek plant. The Giant Russian Garlic keeps well either in the ground or dug up. Its mild bulbs are easy to cut and good to eat cooked or raw. The huge mauve pompom heads held on rigid stems two meters tall, look spectacular in a big vase. I’ll be drying the cloves of small ones and can post to interested gardeners.

The discovery of the Fennel Flowers being good to eat, was one I made by accident, as I heard a TV chef mention this. I just pick the last 15 cm of stem with the flowers and use ones that are really still buds, not open fully. lightly steamed they have a distinct aniseed flavour that goes very well with fish.

At the moment there are quite a lot of fresh seeds harvested and ready to pack, once the Christmas Holiday is over . …..

Uncle Dick’s Turnip produced well and I have lots of fresh seed it and of the Red Flowered Broad beans and Haw Lan Do climbing Snow Peas.

The following flower seeds now available: Red Flanders Poppies, Mauve Sweet Peas, Pink Perennial Sweet Peas, Imperial Stocks-mauve and pink flowers and purple Salsify (which makes an edible root that tastes like Parsnip). Salsify can be harvested all winter like Jerusalem artichokes. These seeds are originally from Jenny Hudson who found the plants growing wild along Mt. William Creek in the Grampians. Probably brought here by early settlers.

Salsify Flower
Imperial Stocks with Pansies

There is fresh Flat Leaf Parsley and Coriander too.

Some of the Radicchio from a salad mix, went to seed and now there’s a cloud of blue flowers that the bees love. The Florence Fennel is equally tall and full of flowers and also the Celery is powering along, so I hope to have both Celery and Fennel seeds soon.

In the 18 months since I moved here, there has been a vibrant change in the backyard. There are always bees , both native and European and many other insects; flies, wasps and beetles that are helpful in pollination. There are too many earwigs , some very large, and they were a problem eating the silverbeet all winter. I have been using some Derris Dust to deter them. It has to be reapplied after rain and I try to keep it away from the parts I want to eat. I tried small containers of of cooking oil, as traps, but did not find they worked very well.

The grape vines are loaded and also the old apricot tree. The new stone fruit trees have a few fruit but late frosts burnt off most of the flowers in spring. This year, the thorn free blackberries are making a small crop and beginning to climb up the wire wall of the duck yard. Progress is steady and less difficult than it was when I gardened on granite country. in Elmhurst.

Only one new little duckling this season!. Three did hatch, but only one survived. He has two mothers as there were two sitting on one nest; mother and daughter duck. I suspect that two died accidentally, because their nest was cramped in under a grape vine root. After the big hatching of last summer, when most of the little ones were drakes, my guess is that this new one is a male too. As I don’t use an incubator, it seems to me that in very hot weather you end up with more males than females hatching out.

Looks like a long hot and dry summer ahead. Lots of watering and maybe will have to put up some shade cloth tunnels if plants start to burn.

Hope your summer is safe and your harvests abundant.!!

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Growing new stock

Happy “Day of the Dead”.. Halloween.. All Soul’s Day; do a skeleton dance. Remember your ancestors! I have a garden full of insects. Native bees and honey bees working side by side in the turnip flowers. Small flies in and out of the blueberry flowers. Dark purple basil and Chinese broccoli, from Eden Seeds and the heading mustard and Pomona cantaloupe from Casterton’s Garden Larder, all germinating in pots right now and Zinnias from Lambley Nursery. Warming up. Summer’s coming!

Ruth’s Sweet Pea. Amazing perfume.. hope to have seeds later.

Ruth's Sweet Pea
Ruth’s Sweet Pea

Flanders Poppies. Bees love them. These flowers are particularly big and bright.

Flanders Poppies
Flanders Poppies

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Peas, Beans, Turnips and Radicchio

Above are the Haw Lan Do Peas doing very well with long pods. The peas originally came from China to Darwin in the Gold Rush days – 1880’s. Jim Ah Toy’s family grew it for generations. He put some seeds in his pocket when everyone was evacuated to Adelaide in WW2, and later shared them with Marie Heindtman of Pine Creek who shared them with me. It performs well under heat and is not a thirsty pea!

Next to the peas is a photo of Uncle Dick’s Turnip in full bloom. Plants over 1 metre tall. Flowers growing in proximity to attract pollinating insects: Calendula, Imperial Stocks and Flanders Poppies.

Finally we have the Radicchio which is about to flower, in front of the red flowered Broad Beans