Monday, July 4, 2011

Comments and Cundall

As I've mentioned before, one of the advantages of the Front Yard Farm over a more conventioned backyard vegie patch is that people passing by can see what you're up to and stop to have a chat. Often it's to ask what something is, what's good to plant right now or if I know why their tomatoes didn't do well this year.
Peas in Public
Sometimes they stop and talk for a while, other times it's just a few passing comments like this exchange from a week or so ago:

Teenage Dude: "Hey, your garden rocks!"
Me: "Thanks"
Teenage Dude's Mum: "Keep up the good work young man!"

Now I'm pretty sure that Teenage Dude's Mum was actually younger than me, so I don't know if it was a little lighthearted condescension, she was legally blind or the fresh garden vegies have even greater regenerative properties than I'd previously suspected. Legendary Australian gardener Peter Cundall, now 84, often attributes his good health to hard work and fresh vegetables so it may be having some effect on me. We saw him once at a Gardening Australia Expo where he made the following observation which makes me appreciate all the more the comment of Teenage Dude:

Audience Member: "My question is this: How can I get my teenage son interested in gardening?"
Peter Cundall: "That's easy. You can't. It's not possible."

He then told of how difficult it had been to get his teenage son to get out of bed to mow the lawn. He eventually managed to rouse him by wheeling the mower into said teenager's bedroom, then starting it up.

Thanks Teenage Dude and Teenage Dude's Mum, you made my day.

Peas on Earth

It's far too hot here in Summer to grow peas. The plants go brown and crunchy. But this time of year they thrive, providing some spectacular colour splashes in an otherwise monochromic green Winter garden.
Pea Flower
Lately we've had a few periods of much rain followed by lots of sun, so the pea plants have reached the top of their trellis and are continuing upwards in an apparent attempt to reach the overhead power lines. And despite these exertions they're now popping out purple flowers followed by golden pea pods.
More Pea Flowers
 I planted two varieties, alternating between our favourite Purple Podded Dutch and Golden Podded peas, or at least I think I did. Perhaps I mixed them up because all the plants bar one with pods on them are the golden variety. Perhaps the purple ones will appear later.
..and a Pod
 In any case, the peas look great when the sun's out. And when it's not.
Pea plants discuss the events of the day

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I was showing my 10 year-old nephew around the garden:

Me:  "...and this is broccoli."
Him: "You're growing BROCCOLI? WHY?!?"
Me:  "Because it has a really nice flavour."

Yes, broccoli can actually have flavour. The stuff from the shop does have some broccoli-ish flavour, despite the denials of the boy who refuses to eat anything coloured green. But as usual you need to try the home-grown variety to appreciate how tasty it can really be. Also, like many other vegetables, the varieties best suited to growing at home are not those grown commercially.

Calibrese sprouting broccoli.
You can grow varieties that take months to produce a single large head, like you see in the supermarket. But it's probably more useful to grow one of the sprouting varieties which grow multiple small heads. You can pick these off as you need them, and new heads resprout in a few weeks. This allows continous harvesting for several months. That's the idea anyway. I'd not grown broccoli before, so this was all a bit of an experiment. I received some Calibrese sprouting broccoli seeds as a seed club freebee and planted out a few seedlings in the garden late last Summer. They took a while to get going, and got knocked around at first by the heat, then the humidity, then the white cabbage moth caterpillars, then the aphids.. This actually seems pretty normal for members of the Brassica family (cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, brussels sprouts and the like) which don't seem to be the easiest vegies to grow and attract every kind of chewing pest you can think of. But after lavishing a little extra attention on them involving chilli spray and cow manure (don't try that on your loved ones) they bounced back and began producing the most flavoursome heads we'd ever tasted.
Central head ready to pick.
After picking the central heads, which have thicker stems, taller and narrower heads sprout from around the bases of surrounding leaves. The stems of the new heads are much thinner and can be quite stringy. I tried to eat them but it was actually like trying to eat string.
Extra sprouted heads, destined for the yellow collection bucket.
In case you'd never really looked closely at broccoli before, the heads are actually just big bunches of immature florets, or flower buds. If you don't pick them in time, they turn into pretty yellow flowers. You can just eat them with the rest of the broccoli if you like.
Attractive, edible flowers.
I understand it's best to keep picking them before they flower though, to keep new heads growing. In any case, it's sure made a handsome addition to the Front Yard Farm. I've planted a few more seedlings of a different variety (Waltham) to replace the current crop and keep us in tasty green veg well into next Spring. At least until the bugs return.
Broccoli beautifying the streetscape.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chilli Weather

It's the start of Winter here and despite being warm weather loving plants, our trusty chilli tree has just produced its fourth crop since Spring. We now have more than enough frozen chilli, dried chilli and chilli flakes (with and without seeds) to last us well into next Summer. The plant was grown from seed about 4 years ago, and is the result of my sister-in-law's decade long selective breeding program. They're enthusiastically orange, and to describe them as being spicy is like saying that a Rocketdyne F1 engine is good for warming things.
Chillis. Beautiful yet dangerous.
We had two crops during Summer, which were dried using a combination of sun (on 40˚C days) and oven drying. A few were also used to make chilli spray for spraying aphids with. The chilli spray was pretty serious stuff, I recommend full level A Hazmat Suit or at least some rubber gloves when spraying. And be careful which way the wind's blowing. And keep it away from ladybirds!