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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

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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