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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

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Spring Update


“Nothing is more beautiful than spring

When weeds in wheels shoot long and lovely and lush”

As the poet, Gerald Manly Hopkins said

Alas, most farmers and home owners waste them and poison the soil destroying them. A sort of scorched earth policy is being enacted around here, with heavy applications of glyphosate turning nature strips and road sides into dead brown areas. Saturday’s paper, 21/9/19. revealed that North America has lost 30% of its song birds in the last century and even house sparrow numbers are declining. And people wonder why there are more insects in our gardens when we make life so hard for those who would happily eat them!

If a weed is just a plant out of place and most of the ones which have European origins were bought here by early settlers, because they have useful properties, we should be using them as a resource. Broad leaf plants like Docks and Dandelions are full of minerals and make excellent green tea fertilizer for the garden. Even put into compost tumblers and heaps they add their goodness. And more immediately, made into cleansing teas they help us with a spring tonic too. The Nettle is a marvelous blood cleanser and young leaves steam up into a good soup, or can be added to stir fries. All these plants make good green pick feed for chickens and ducks too.

French Sorrel

Bitter greens are very good for the kidneys. I have plenty of French Sorrel and nettle and radicchio to add to salads right now. Rocket leaves, celery stems, coriander are ready to pick now as well as Russian Garlic ( really a leek) Rainbow Silver beet , Florence fennel and Egyptian beetroot. Here is my favourite recipe for beetroot chutney.

Beetroot Chutney


4-6 nice firm beetroot, 2 medium onions, 4 large cooking apples, peeled and chopped, 2 large oranges, peeled and chopped, 1 cup brown sugar, juice and rind of a lemon, 2 cups of real apple cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons fresh coriander seeds.

Simmer the beetroot till tender then peel off the skin and chop into small chunks. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered , stirring occasionally for about an hour or till mixture thickens. mash lightly with a potato masher or fork. It should be slightly chunky but nor not a sauce. Put into sterilized jars and seal when cold. Excellent with all red meats.

The ducks are finally laying too and finally I have surplus eggs to sell. The rhubarb is very good now, with wide red stems and it blends wonderfully with strawberries in any kind of dessert or jam. The Florence fennel goes well with any fish meal and can be sliced raw into salads. It has a slight aniseed flavour and a lovely crunch.

The local hardware store and supermarket have tomato plants for sale, but we have had late frosts and I think it is much too soon to try growing tomatoes around here. Accepted wisdom in Central Victoria is to have the plants ready to put out on Melbourne Cup day, early November, but in recent years we have had frosts right up to December. I will get out my heat tray soon though and start some tomatoes, basil and chilli. In the meantime, a bed is ready for more peas, Hurst’s Green Shaft shelling peas go in next. The Haw Lan Do snow peas are doing well. They are growing under a tent of an old nylon curtain which protects them from birds and frost. My Delta Moravia snow peas have been continuously attacked by earwigs which lurk in the middle of nearby celery and silver beet plants. i am going to try a saucer of beer to maybe trap and drown them !

protected from the birds and frost with a nylon curtain

Uncle Dick’s Turnips are doing OK but they did not get enough sun over winter, so next year I need to be aware of shadows cast by adjacent buildings. There are still plenty of Jerusalem Artichokes in the ground. In the USA they are called Sunchokes, and I noticed with astonishment that Sunchoke Ravioli was on the menu at the State dinner in The White House last weekend! No one around here wants them and I gave away a lot to the pet pig of a friend. Food has fashions too.

I am getting plenty of exercise mowing the grass but it is great to see everything green and many plants growing again.. We have had enough rain to encourage us and the local crops look magnificent. The Desert Ash trees are wearing spring green and the fruit trees have flowered well. Long term planning is the key to success in the garden, although every year is different now and climate change adds increasing challenges. The olives I got from the wild trees are ready to be put into smaller jars and can be enjoyed in summer salads.

Here’s hoping for more sunshine and more rain and a good growing season this spring.

The Ark of the Future is the Home Garden.

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Florence Fennel


Just pulled this one up from the garden. The bulb is crisp and crunchy. It has a slight aniseed flavour. Can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked, steam or stir-fry. Traditionally paired with fish. Tasty with poultry and mushrooms. The ferny leaves can also be eaten. Best to use young leaves. Also a good substitute for dill when it’s not available.

One of my ducks pulled out a large bulb from the compost, took it to the water dish and had a nibble!

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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

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Weeds for butterflies

This is my latest project to encourage butterflies. Helen Quince and her son Bernard are propagating special plants to encourage butterflies. So many butterflies need plants that are disappearing because gardeners and farmers consider them to be weeds. Butterflies need special weeds to lay their eggs on, like nettle and Swan Bush.

I got a little Swan Bush and this caterpillar from Helen. The bush is being eaten but the caterpillar is getting bigger! I just hope the birds don’t get it. I put it in the shrubs near the Buddleias – Butterfly Bushes!

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Early Autumn sowing

Jerusalem Artichokes now taller than the garage March 2019

This week I sowed a winter Turnip, a local heirloom that was developed by Dick Smithson of Beaufort. It’s a Swede or Rutabaga, with a sweet, mild flavour and very easy to grow over winter.

Florence Fennel was also sown because it seems to do better started now and grown in the cooler months, although most books tell you to start it in the spring. Our summers are too hot for it and it will tend to grow tough and stringy bulbs in hot weather.

I started  an old variety of Beetroot, called Egyptian. It’s very reliable and the leaves can be used like spinach too.  In ancient times beets were cultivated in Egypt, as were Broad beans, or Faba Beans, which were a staple part of the diet. They can be sown now . I have Red Seeded Peruvian broad beans which are a compact bushy plant , less susceptible to wind damage. The pods and seeds are smaller than the common varieties, but this means less tough skins on the seeds and a sweeter flavour. 

This is the time to start onions, and garlic of all varieties as they do well over winter and can be harvested in spring. I grow easy varieties, such as the Russian Garlic, which is really a Leek which makes giant cloves and tall stems with big purple flowers which are very ornamental. and the very old Walking Onions which go by many names, and develop into a clump of bunching onions like French Shallots.

Many flowers for spring can be sown now; Peony and Flanders Poppies, Honesty, Hollyhocks and Calendulas. Away from the humidity of the coast, they are free of rust and mildew. Californian Poppies which also come from an arid climate, do very well, and like the Calendulas, will naturalise. Similarly, the Australian Paper Daisies, Helichrysums, can be sown now for a late winter flowering.