Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Free Dinners

A few days ago we had rather a late lunch, so naturally didn't feel like much for dinner. So we ate corn.

The corn has done well this year, big chunky cobs with super sweet kernels.
A couple more cobs were grabbed from the garden, boiled for a few minutes and seasoned with salt, white pepper and paprika.

The corn's worked out exceptionally well this year, with the harvest being spread out over a few weeks so none of it's going to waste. Tonight's dinner was a salad, which included lettuce, carrot, a lone radish and yes, more corn. All collected from our magic outdoor larder.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Taterfest 2010

Today was potato harvest day, surely one of the most exciting of the year. No seriously, it's like Christmas as a 9 year-old: you get a big present to unwrap and you're not sure exactly what's in it. It could be that awesome piece of Battlestar Galactica merchandise you've been asking for, or it could be a very, very bad jumper (or cake jumper). It was exactly like that today, except I was hoping for a big load of potatoes. 

I planted the seed potatoes back in August, and showed a few progress photos as they grew. This what they looked like today:

A couple of scraggly plants were still going, most had died back.

The two varieties planted were "Royal Blue" and "King Edward". The Royal Blue potatoes were planted along the back of the bed and died back earlier, about a month ago now. The King Edwards struggled on, and except for a few small plants were pretty much gone two weeks ago. Both weren't helped by being partially overshadowed by the fig tree when it exploded back into life in late September. Anyway, to the diggings!

Royal Blue Potatoes are actually kind of purple

The Royal Blues seemed to have done well and were mostly of a decent size. What's more, I have never seen so many fat, happy wormies in my life. The combination of cow manure and suger cane mulch has made them very happy indeed. I ended up with half a bucketload of Royal Blues. Next were the King Edwards:

King Edwards have attractive pink splodges on them

These guys were a bit less consistent in their size, and obviously a bit newer, having more pale, thinner skins. I could have left them a few more weeks to harden up I guess. But they kept coming and coming..

A lot of potatoes

..until I ended up with a whole bucket of them.

In the blue bucket, weighing 2.3kg: "Royal Blue". And in the Yellow bucket, weighing 5.0kg, "King Edward".

So, in terms of yield, King Edward is the winner. Still, the Royal Blues did very well, despite the disadvantage of growing up against a wall with less space to spread its roots. It was also more exposed to wind and a little more overshadowed from the fig tree. The total potato yield was 7.3 kg, which I don't think is bad for a partially shaded 1.5 square metre bed.

But yields aside, the important part, as always, is the eating. A handful of each type were cut into pieces, parboiled until nearly done, tossed with grapeseed oil, salt, pepper and thyme from the garden, then roasted in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. They then went into our potato salad with chick peas, tuna and finely chopped boiled egg, topped with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, eschallots, thyme and chives. The result was that these were the tastiest potatoes I have ever eaten. EVER. Both had a creamy textured flesh and a nutty flavoured skin. The flesh of the Royal Blues was a bit yellower with the skin slightly thicker, which turned brown when cooked. The King Edwards kept their pink splodges.

One of the reasons I grew potatoes was to have something that would store for a while, so that if there was a glut it wouldn't go to waste. This year however, we are not going to get the chance to store them very long. They're going to be gone. Very soon.

Beets Buying Dinner

We needed a salad for dinner. So a quick trip to the garden and behold: this evening's bountiful harvest!

It consisted of a bucket of lettuce: "Royal Oakleaf", "Australian Yellow Leaf" and "Green Lollo", carrot: "Purple Dragon" and beetroot: "Burpees Golden". For the lettuce I just pruned the tops of a few plants that were starting to go to seed. The carrot is one of a number from a pack of mixed heirloom seed that are now about ready but can be picked whenever needed. The beetroot's the exciting one for me though, the first ones of the season.

Beetroot "Burpees Golden" in the ground..

...and when harvested. Look at those golden beauties!
Beetroot are super tasty when this small and fresh, and dead easy to cook. We either roast them in foil or simply boil until a skewer can be easily pushed through them. Don't cut the roots off and leave an inch or so of stems to stop them bleeding too much. When cooked the skins peel off easily and they look like this:

Golden orbs of sweetness.
All this lovely produce was assembled into a salad with some of our tasty volunteer tomatoes and some store-bought (gasp!) shallots with a honey mustard dressing. Can't get much fresher than that. Noms all round in this household.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Beans Part 1

Beans are another vegetable that's easy to grow at home, taste much better than the ones from the shop, and come in all kinds of strange varieties you would otherwise never encounter. They also grow alarmingly quickly, even without magic seeds that cost a cow or help from your friendly neighbourhood Totoro. All they need is a well drained soil with lots of organic matter, lots of sun and regular watering. Also keep an eye out for snails and slugs that just love the seedlings. Being a legume they don't need a high nitrogen fertiliser, they extract nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil where it becomes available for other future crops. For this reason they're one of the plants that can be used as green manure.

Anyway, from the point of view of eating (which is especially important to me) beans can split up into those you grow to maturity to shell for the bean inside, and those you pick at an immature stage to eat pod and all. Today I'm talking about the latter, which may be either climbing beans or bush (dwarf) beans.

Climbing beans on a trellis and stakes, plus a few bush beans for good measure.
Climbing beans can reach 3 metres tall or more and require a tripod, trellis, stake or some other structure for support. They make more efficient use of space and are ideal for narrow garden beds alongside a wall or fence. Bush beans can just be planted in any regular garden bed without the need for a support structure.

Dwarf Beans "Bountiful Butter"
 I've grown both in my tiny garden, and while they both produce well, the climbing beans do make better use of the little space I have. Last year I grew climbing beans "Blue Lake" and "Purple King" together on a large trellis. The Purple King matured sooner and gave better yields, but perhaps the Blue Lake was out-competed and would have done better on its own. Another trick to growing productive plants is to keep picking the beans before they mature to keep the plant producing new flowers and pods. Otherwise it'll produce some beans, decide its job is done and head for an early retirement. Don't let them off that easy!
Beans "Blue Lake" and "Purple King"
 In any case I prefer the Purple King (and other non-green beans) not because I like strange purple vegetables, but because they change colour when ready to pick so are much easier to spot amongst the foliage. Interestingly, they change back to green when cooked. Both varieties tasted wonderful: succulent and sweet and not at all stringy unless picked too late. Once your beans get going you'll need to be out there picking every second day or so to keep on top of things. Yes, you'll have a LOT of beans, but trust me, when eaten fresh they are tasty enough to become the main focus of a meal, rather than just some token green boiled matter on the side of the plate. Cooking for about two minutes in boiling water seems to do it, then serve with a shallot confit and chopped, toasted macadamia nuts. Fantastique!

Bean Factoids: 
- Bush beans are preferred for large scale production as they are easier to mechanically harvest
- I do not know of any mazes made from beans or bean-related theme parks
- Jellybeans are not actual beans
- The beans in bean bags are not actual beans
- Beanies are not made of actual beans
- Mr Bean is not an actual bean

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Maizing

A small bunch of corn (maize) plants may not appear particularly interesting or exciting to anyone who's driven through the vast oceans of the stuff in the US Midwest. It's not exactly uncommon either, being the world's most produced crop by weight. But a home-grown crop of the freshest, organic sweet corn is one of my favourite things about Summer. It's fast and relatively easy to grow, productive and makes any garden look satisfyingly farm-like.

How the corn looked about 8 weeks ago...

..and how it looks today.
Before too long the corn plants, actually a kind of grass, are rocketing skywards and deploying their flowers.

This year I'm growing a hybrid variety called "Honey & Cream" with variegated yellow and white kernels. Last year's crop of open pollinated "Golden Bantam" wasn't very successful, mostly because I left them too long before harvesting, so they were pretty starchy and dry. I might try them again next year. The hybrid varieties tend to be sweeter and keep longer so are a little less crucial with regards to timing. Nonetheless I've been gently opening one up to have a peek from time and checking if it's ready.

The corn should be ready for harvest when the silk at the end dries out and turns brown.
Today it looked about right so I picked it to try out. The husk was peeled back to reveal:

Glossy yellow and white kernels
Very pretty but the kernels towards the tip seemed a bit underdeveloped. I cooked it up anyway and we had a taste; not bad but probably needed a few more days. So, the more mature ears should be about ready for Christmas. I've also underplanted the corn with "Purple King" climbing beans, which will grow up the stalks and help replenish soil nitrogen. And give us more tasty beans of course.

Corn Factoids*
- 2009 world production was over 817 million tons.
- Only 2.5% of US production is for human consumption. Most of for animal feed. 
- Almost every kind of processed food has some sort of corn-derived ingredient in it.
- GM maize allows greater use of glyphosate pesticide.
- Australian maize commands a premium as GM maize is not grown here so there is no risk of contamination.
- In the US there are maize mazes, corn theme parks and even conferences about maize mazes and corn theme parks.
- Home grown corn is yummy.

*from Wikipedia and other unreliable sources

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sunflower #2

Last year's sunflowers were a big success and much admired by passers by. In fact so admired by one individual that they felt the need to take one home with them. All part and parcel for anything within grasping range of a public footpath I suppose, but still disappointing.

This year we'd planned to plant more, but with only six out of ten seeds germinating, then two plants uprooted when small, we ended up with four once again. This was all right, because thanks to more careful soil preparation this year, they got kind of huge.

It also helped that they were planted a bit earlier and the soil in that part of the garden has been raised up by 20cm or so, meaning they're less shaded by the wall as seedlings. With the soil level being about 50cm above the footpath, they tower over passing pedestrians.

 Sadly, there's still someone in our neighbourhood who doesn't know how to share. This year it was sunflower #2 that was brutally beheaded sometime between 7:30am and 5:30pm yesterday.

It's obviously not the work of the big white bat, ratties or especially hungry caterpillars, but rather something with two hands, opposable thumbs and significant psychological problems. After a few seconds of disbelief followed by a minute or so of anger, I resolved to put that aside, have a good think about the situation and not let it ruin my day. It was after all the beginning of my holidays.

Today I'm feeling better. You see there are a few lessons I've learnt about growing things: the need for patience, persistence, close observation and making adjustments when required. Adaptability in other words. And having some humanoid rip off sunflowers is no different to suffering damage from under-watering, over-watering, too little sun, too much sun, the wrong soil, nematodes, fungus or fruit fly. It's just another of those unavoidable factors in need of consideration when choosing what, when and where to plant.

Staring down the street at oncoming pedestrians.
Sadly, there are no (legal) organic remedies for large mammalian garden pests. And my initial thoughts of attaching razor wire or electrodes to the stems would probably spoil the sunflowers' cheerful appearance.

So for now I'll have to be content to enjoy them while they last and plan to grow them somewhere else, out of arms reach, next year. Either that or install a Buddha statue with motion-tracking head and laser beam eyes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lettuce Be Thankful

Leafy greens, especially fast growing ones like lettuce, must be some of the easiest vegies to grow. Some half-decent soil, lots of water and a bit of sun and they grow faster than the snails can eat them. Almost. Probably the first thing you need to realise about growing lettuce is that you shouldn't expect to produce a perfect supermarket-sized Iceberg on your first attempt. The second thing to realise is that you actually don't want to. There are far more tasty, nutritious, attractive and productive varieties available especially for the home gardener. Some have been around for centuries, and with good reason. Here are a few varieties currently growing in the Front Yard Farm:

Australian Yellow Leaf
This is the first time I've grown Australian Yellow Leaf. It appears to be fast growing, heat tolerant and so green it's practically fluorescent. I haven't actually tasted it yet but it's going in tomorrow's salad so I'll let you know.

Royal Oakleaf
Royal Oakleaf is a great lettuce for sandwiches and contrasts nicely with the more solid-leafed varieties. It's something of an old fashioned variety, having been first listed in 1771.

Lollo Rosso
The frilly Lollo Rosso looks as good in the garden as it does in mixed leaf salads. Mine never seem to grow as fast as the green leafed varieties but I'm still going to keep growing it.

So what do you do with all these fancy lettuces? You make an edible ornamental border of course.

Lettuce Collection
So far these are all loose-leaf lettuces. The advantages of these are that they're slower to bolt to seed and you can harvest them as needed rather than the all-or-nothing production of headed lettuces. This year I also planted some Green Mignonette lettuce, which are almost a heading variety, with the leaves quite closely bunched. It's really a bit hot here in Summer for these guys and they ran to seed before getting very large. They do well over Winter in full sun, and last Summer did fairly well in partial shade. Unlike some other varieties they don't go bitter when they bolt, so all is not lost if you let them turn into skyscrapers.

Green Mignonette
Some tricks for successful lettuce production are:

- Prepare a well drained soil with plenty of manure and/or compost. Mulch to retain moisture.
- Water lots. All the time. Every day or even twice a day when it's really hot.
- Water with seaweed extract and/or fish emulsion every week or two. On a quiet night you can hear them growing.
- If they bolt to seed or just die then don't despair, try another variety.
- Keep them coming. You need to start raising seedlings soon after you've planted out the last ones to keep a constant supply going. Stagger your planting to avoid gluts. If you want. Sometimes gluts are fun.
- Grow lots. If you have too many, give them away to friends. Everyone likes fresh organic lettuce. Just warn them that you don't use pesticides and if they're very lucky they may find a little bonus slug inside.

There, you no longer have any excuse to not grow lettuce. Get a pot, a polystyrene box or a spare spot in the garden and off you go. Now!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Spring Sputters

Spring has departed. Like a slinky down the stairs, it slunk away from me. I know where some of it went, but there's still a large portion of it unaccounted for. One week was a quick trip to Tasmania. That was followed closely by a work trip to Germany which was supposed to be for only a week but turned into three. So that's one third of it gone. The rest, I don't know about.

I have to send a special thanks to Suyin, who kept everything alive while I was away. Even lugging a watering can down my annoyingly convoluted path when she was sick with the flu. She even did some weeding, despite her wormyphobia. Hopefully the fresh peas and radishes were some small compensation. Oh yes, the peas. Here's what they looked like back in late October, just before I went away:

Golden Podded Peas mit Golden Pods!
 The golden podded peas matured first and tasted great pods and all when eaten like snow peas.

They can be picked at this stage and eaten as snow peas or left a bit longer to use as shelling peas.

The purple podded Dutch peas took a little longer but have magnificent purple flowers.
By the time I got back they were all but done. There were a few of the purple ones left which had got a bit old and hard. No matter, they were all a bit of an experiment to see if I could get a Spring crop before the sun got too hot and toasted them. I'll plant some more in Autumn.

Now on to proper Summer crops, and here's the amazing circle of corn, again from late October:

Crop Circle
You'll notice that I have two sizes of corn. For some reason most of the seeds I planted on the left side didn't germinate. Either that or some little rattie dug them up and ate them. I suspect the rattie. 

Corn, lettuce and very small tomato seedlings
 Here you can also see the trellis for the tomatoes and some lettuce seedlings alongside the path... But NOW:

Big corn, big lettuce and not-very-big-at-all tomato seedling

Everything is huge. The corn is now flowering, or at least the large half is. Corn normally likes to be planted in a big enough clump to ensure good pollination. Hopefully my two slightly staggered half-clumps will be ok. The tomatoes got off to a very slow start and are only now really taking off. I'll have to work on my tomato seedling raising technique. However careful I am, they always seem to sulk for a month after I plant them out.

There's lots more happening, but that all I have time for tonight. Back soon.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

One Week at a Time

It's been a busy week, unfortunately not in the garden. It was so busy that I never found the time to post some photos I took last weekend. But never mind, because I thought it's be neat to compare them with this weekend's photos to get an idea of how quickly things are moving along. So here they are..

Here's my army of pea seedlings from last weekend..

..and this weekend. Soon they shall be ready for battle! I mean, making peas.

The apple trees continue to awake from their Winter slumber with new leaves and blossoms.

The Granny Smith from last weekend.
And the same branch today. Pretty!
The potato plants also seem to have doubled in size, thanks to a little rain and a lot of sunshine.
Happy potatoes. Note the amount of visible dirt.
Very happy potatoes. Not much dirt to be seen.
You might have also noticed a couple of volunteer coriander plants in with the potatoes. They're doing fine and welcome to stay as far as I'm concerned. The main coriander patch is now flowering and going to seed but looks great. See random coriander shot below:
Coriander is pretty enough to put in a vase. Which we did.
 Anyway, that's about all for now. But just because I like them, here are few more pics of apple blossoms. This time on the Pink Lady tree:
Pink Lady blossom

More Pink Lady blossoms. Just because they're nice.

Monday, August 30, 2010


 Suyin was inspired by my comments regarding beetroot the other day.

Signs of Spring

Spring, it would seem, is upon us. The fig tree is about to explode into greenery and the very first fig for the season has appeared.

The first tiny figlet
The just-planted fruit trees are getting ready for some growth. I hope they'll be happy in their new homes with plenty of space to expand.

New leaf on the Dwarf Pink Lady

New flower (?) on the Dwarf Pink Lady
The potatoes, planted two weeks ago, have also emerged in their usual hairy green manner.

Yay for Spring

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gemüse-und Apfelbäumen

Today was another busy day in the Front Yard Farm, although with some trees planted and not a lot of vegetable action going on yet, it's looking embarrassingly ornamental at the moment. To address this sad deficiency, I went through my seed collection and picked out what's going in for spring. I won't spoil the surprise by revealing everything, but thus far I've planted:

Purple Podded Dutch Peas
These are a favourite, with pretty purple flowers followed by dark purple pods with normal-looking green peas inside (see title picture at the top right of the page).

Golden Podded Peas
I haven't grown these before but apparently you can eat them pod and all like snow peas when they're small. I usually grow peas over Winter, so hopefully these will mature before being fried by the Summer sun.

Frost Beans
I got these in a mixed bag of beans last year and they were so pretty I just have to grow them again.

Mixed Heirloom Radishes
I'll remember to pick these before they turn into scary monsters this time.

Golden Beetroot
I admit it, I used to hate beetroot. Even now there is a limit to how much I can eat before something inside me says "ENOUGH BEETROOT!". These little guys though, I could eat like lollies. They're sweet and golden and don't run, so you don't end up with your entire dish turning a deep purple. 

The peas and beans were planted beneath the trellis along the front of the house. The beetroot and radishes I've planted to act like a border alongside part of the path. Speaking of the path, it's now finished (YAY!) and I'm very pleased with the result. Not bad for a stack of old bricks and some bark. Oh, and a ton of back-breaking labour too.

And today we planted the apple trees!

Dwarf Pink Lady and Granny Smith apples planted!

You can also see I've been mulching. The shop was out of my usual sugar cane mulch last weekend, so I got pea straw instead. It's full of goodies that help feed the soil as it breaks down but it is a bit more stringy to deal with. My usual technique is to mulch everything, then clear away the spots where I want to plant things. Its easier doing this with the more finely chopped sugar cane so this will remain my default option in future.

Comment of the Day
Passer-by: "You know I had it in my mind that this garden was the work of a Chinese gardener."

Apparently it's "oriental looking".

So, we got a lot done, and after all that activity I needed a nap. Tomorrow I'll be planting some seeds in punnets.

Planting and Barking

The plants have been letting me know that Spring's almost upon us. The fig tree is about to explode into greenness and the dwarf Washington Navel Orange was starting to show signs of new growth. That meant but one thing: I had to get the trees planted tout suite!

So last weekend we got stuck in, and while Suyin was engaged in the therapeutic task of picking rocks out of the garden bed, I was digging holes for the citrus trees.

Here are some holes, and here are some trees. You can guess what comes next.

You may also have noticed in the above photo that the path is looking more path-like and less like a ditch. We decided to try some finely chopped pine bark as a fill but I was too chicken to buy more than one bag in case it looked bad. It didn't, so I've since bought some more to finish it off. Now, back to the citrus..

Final preparation before planting the lemon tree. Nice path, yes?
Still being paranoid about drainage after the untimely demise of the resident lychee tree from fungal root rot, I tested the holes by filling them with water and seeing how long it took for them to drain. The nursery we bought the trees from has a handy page on planting citrus where they suggest you should plant your tree elsewhere if it takes more than 30 minutes for the water to drain away. Mine took more like 5 minutes, so I was pretty comfortable with that.

Lime, lemon and orange trees ready for a good watering in.
After that it was pretty straightforward to plant the trees and water them in. With grafted trees you're always supposed to plant them with the graft above the ground, and in this case it was no problem as there was about 15cm to play with. Now it's just a matter of making sure they have enough water to get established (but not too much!) and looking out for any signs of distress or pestilence.