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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.


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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Winter Update

In The Wimmera

Well,the Winter Solstice has come and gone and we are half way through the season.

Good rain has encouraged people to plant and sow again. I am trying to turn a bare grass block into a tiny oasis of bird and insect friendly garden. Many different acacias have been planted and Eremophilias, Emu Bushes, which have such a variety of form and color, ranging from prostrate to bushy . Nectar eating birds and bees love them . They are totally drought hardy and frost tolerant, flowering all through winter. The pretty tubular bell shaped flowers range from pale lemon to deep purple in color.

All my Native plants come from the Wimmera Native Nursery in Dimboola, which has excellent tube stock of sturdy plants at a good price. They do mail order and have many rare varieties. They propagate a wide choice of trees, grasses and shrubs suitable for dryer areas.

Tubestock from last year flowering already (Acacias)

Winter and early spring are Pea Planting times. I have snow peas coming up now. Some have interesting stories behind them. The Haw Lan Do snow pea came to me from Marie Heindtman of Pine Creek in the Northern Territory. It came into her family from Jim Ah Toy at the time of the Second World War when they were all evacuated from Darwin down to Adelaide. Jim’s ancestor had brought those pea seeds from China in the 19th century in gold rush days. He put a few seeds in his pocket before the trip south then later shared them with Marie’s family. They are a heat tolerant and vigorous climber, with white flowers. Perhaps the pods are not as long and flat as the newer varieties, but their reliability and disease resistance is second to none.

My first seed exchanges came through the Grass Roots magazine, as these pea seeds did. I used to write letters and articles for the magazine and enjoyed giving away excess seeds from my garden to other readers. I have been lucky to get some real treasures this way. When the Seed Savers Network was more active, local groups used to have regular meetings and seed exchanging. In the Pyrenees/ Grampians area we were very active for over a decade but now the Network has devolved into a friendship group with very ad hoc communications.

I am also growing some of Dr. David Murray’s pea varieties. His book “Growing peas and beans in Australia” is an invaluable guide. I have sown Delta Moravia snow pea. It is a compact variety with pink/mauve flowers. It is powdery mildew resistant and reliable in a wide variety of areas and will produce right up to early summer here.

I have started Rainbow Silver Beet seedlings and white stem ones. I grow a lot of these leafy greens both for myself and for my ducks. The Florence Fennel is growing so quickly it is almost ready to pull. The ferny leaves make a good substitute for dill in cooking, especially with fish and mushrooms. Most books will advise starting Fennel in the spring but I and my friends have found consistently better results with autumn sowing and spring harvesting for this vegetable in areas west of The Great Dividing range.

The Egyptian Beetroot started from seeds in Autumn too, is growing fast and could be picked as baby beets. This is my favourite variety and is great tasting . It is a very old kind with good flavour.

The leafy salad greens that grow over winter here include Curly Parsley, Flat Leaf – Continental Parsley, Coriander, French Sorrel and Celery. These do better here on the winter as do heading lettuces and Chinese Greens. Summers are too hot for them and they tend to run to seed. So far we have had reasonable rain this season but the cost of water is rising and it is predicted to be a dry spring. This puts extra pressure on us to find water saving ways of growing our food. The pea straw in the duck yard is turned into compost and mulch improves the water holding capacity of the soil in dry times. Compost making is on- going and year round. There are three heaps on the go at present.

That’s all for now. The jonquils and daffodils are beginning to flower, the almond trees have burst into bloom. The wild birds are getting busy but my lazy ducks are not yet laying!

Spring has Sprung