Monday, 29 December 2008

mutant tomatoes and everything else

Isn't this a brilliant time of year in the garden? Frost is well and truly unlikely*, there's plenty of sunshine without it being punishingly hot, and everything's in fruit and flower. Including one of my tomatoes which has sprouted a strangely large yellow flower which I've never seen before on a tomato. I can't remember whether this one was a self-sown one or one of the seedlings given to me by a friend of my mum, but I think it's a bit of a mutant.

On Christmas day we put in a whole lot of Lemon Rush and Princess sunflowers which we'd raised in jiffy posts (see previous post). They're a bit boring looking in their rows but the reasoning behind the monotony was that we could support the lot with one stake at either end in a clothesline type arrangement. I knew there were a few submerged bricks but I was fairly horrified as to how many we found once we started digging. Anyone need bricks?

We manhandled up the dwarf fig tomato into a frame because it was spreading out of control and going right over/through the silverbeets and strawberries. Foolishly I'd assumed the "dwarf" thing meant it was a miniature variety but I think it only pertains to the actual fruit, which is indeed a tad on the smallish side. So the plant got well and truly bashed up getting pulled and shoved into a tomato frame but I think it will forgive us.

We put in the carrots (shown in jiffy pots in the previous post) in an drip-fed oval where we'd previously had spinach. You can barely see them in the ground so the right hand picture shows the close up.

While it was nice to have fresh baby spinach in salads it all seemed to bolt to seed very quickly despite constant picking of leaves. Maybe rocket rather than spinach in future salad plots. The great herb project, however, is a raging success. We are growing and using basil, chives, dill, kaffir lime leaves, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme. Mostly in salads but generally over everything. Lettuce is going crazy at the moment so if anyone wants, we has.

The red capsicum now has two fruits on it which will hopefully make it to red and ripe without being attacked by a beastie. Possibly about time I put a plastic bag around the fruit but I worry that this would steam them on a hot day and I'd come home to lightly steamed underripe capsicum with the skins all fallen off. I think the reason I never grow things like capsicum is that they're a lot of fuss for so little reward. All this for (maybe) two capsicums!

Figs are looking good, as are the apricots. The figs are actually very large and surprisingly syrupy for so early in the season. Last year at this time the first flush of fruit was spongy and not at all sweet. The apricots are massive and I ate the first one just this afternoon - happy to report it was sweet and juicy and just how you'd hope an apricot to be.

The Jap pumpkin (or Kabocha to those who wish to steer clear of the slightly racist horticultural terminology employed by Australia and New Zealand) is doing well and will hopefully start stealing ground from the rampant spearmint patch.

Exciting news in the kitchen is the addition of a big red plastic tomato mouli thing for making and preserving sugo and apricots. Preserving jars and books have been ordered from the internets. Woot!

* being Melbourne one is ill-advised to rule these things out, especially in print.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Imagine if you will, the words "BEST. DAY. EVER." mumbled through a mouth full of free fairy floss.

And then imagine the words "BEST. DAY. EVER." mumbled through a mouth full of free fairy floss while standing in the new Coburg Bunnings. And imagine the words "BEST. DAY. EVER." mumbled through a mouth full of free fairy floss while standing in the new Coburg Bunnings while a jolly little band of professional merry makers and troubadours walk through the store spreading cheer and giving the place a carnival atmosphere.

And then you begin to get a sense of how awesome the BEST DAY EVER is.

It started with a sleep-in and a mild, but in no way debilitating, hangover. The sort of hangover that just gives you reason to sleep in, take it a bit easy and eat a bit of junk food for medicinal purposes. The morning saw us do a bit of extended newspaper reading and tea drinking in bed, a bit of an amble through the garden in pyjamas, a bit of baking cakes with lots of fresh cherries plopped into the batter.


Next, a trip to Bunnings was in the offing with zucchini seedlings, bird netting and Seasol to buy. Not wanting to go further than absolutely necessary we opted for the Gaffneys Road Bunnings, which is technically a Bunnings but not a Bunnings Warehouse. This makes it a second rate, or a "crap" Bunnings, especially in terms of their range of garden supplies. On arriving we noticed things were not quite right. The enormous gates were locked and there didn't seem to be anyone inside. The sign clearly indicated that they should be open for business. While we stood outside scratching our heads, other would-be customers came and went, all befuddled. Figuring finally that all the head scratching was coming to not much we set off down Gaffney's Road for Northland Bunnings.


A brand new Bunnings had popped out of the freshly poured car park a mere 800 metres down the road. And this was the full warehouse, aisles which went on forever and ever like the arsenal room in The Matrix or that warehouse where the Ark Of The Covenant is stored.


And bought the seedlings, seeds, peat pots, etc. So arriving home in a post retail high (or was that the fairy floss LOL) we set about doing some of this:

We got seeds for purple carrots, regular carrots and two varieties of sunflowers.

A very impromptu sort-of greenhouse was formed by sandwiching the Jiffy Pots between two plastic storage bin lids.

We're going to try a new fine leafed basil called "Spicy Globe". Also got some more marigolds: we planted some about 6 weeks ago and some bloody snails thought the leaves were really delicious.

This is the bird netting in action. Well, not in action in any real sense - for that I'd have to get a shot of a bird swooping down to eat something in the garden but being foiled by the netting he'd have to swoop off again, pretending that he was actually just larking about to save face. We really only wanted it to cover a small patch of strawberries but when we took it out of the pack and realised it was 4m x 4m we decided on a "big top" type arrangement with a tomato frame propping up the centre.

The eggplants are coming along well this year with a few fruits forming already.

Things are looking a bit sparse - I have to keep reminding myself that it's only just the beginning of summer and there's plenty of growing time left in the season. Hopefully we'll get some joy from the carrots and sunflowers because I've never grown them before.

Will keep you posted.

Friday, 5 December 2008

time for a little update...

My summer veggie garden is a little less ambitious this year. Until we get a water tank, the veggies are all watered by hand from a bucket - something that restricts the number of plants I've time to nurture. Grey water goes on the fruit trees (um, there's a few of them now...). I head off to work on one of the permitted watering mornings and the other is my one sleep-in morning of the week and much as I love my garden I'm not prepared to set the alarm clock for it just yet.

The plus side of this style of watering is the way it forces one to consider which plants are worth hanging onto. The raspberries are now gone, they gave so little fruit for the water they needed, and I'm debating how much I need a red currant bush.

Our poor old shed has no gutter so I collect the water that drips off it with the my collection of buckets. The last downpour was enough that the the green wheelie bin was filled as well. Will probably empty the last of it tomorrow.

Tomatoes dominate the garden. The first I planted was a cultivar called 'Stupice'. The bloke at the market stall said it could withstand frosts and I'd have fruit before Christmas, and he was right. Not perhaps the tastiest tomatoes and they are on the smaller side but it's not something I've ever achieved before, and I plan to save some seeds and grow a couple next year. Probably not so clear in my photo, but the leaves have far fewer leaflets than a typical tomato, the plant looks quite distinctive.

The bulk of what I'm growing is a San Marzano - the fruit above is is what I usually grow from seed from the local Italian supermarket. This year I'm also trying out a variety from Greenpatch Organic Seeds 'San Marzano Lapadina' (see the photo below). Both are intended to be cooked down and bottled. I've trying out a couple of plants of 'Daydream' from Eden seeds, no fruit there yet, and one plant has succumbed to a virus and been ripped out.

There are two zucchini plants which are already producing ferociously...

some Lebanese cucumbers and some pickling cucumbers - the prickly little fruit below (yesterday I attempted my first batch of cornichons)...

and a couple of yellow peppers which seem I have less trouble with than capsicums (plus my bloke makes a very nice dish with chorizo with these).

Then there's half a garden bed of spuds, Dutch Cream, my favourite at the moment. I don't know much about growing potatoes, I've just dug them in, mulched heavily and left them to their own devices. They look really perky so I've not been watering them.

And finally a small bed with a mix of salady things, rocket gone to seed, and some of the best spinach I've grown. It's gone a little yellow and sad in the last month, but we've harvested masses of leaves from it. I've had little luck growing it from seed - these were seedlings from the bloke at the farmer's market at Collingwood Children's farm that sold me the Stupice tomato.

Fruit-wise there are 6 apples on the dwarf apple tree, lots of divine apricots which will be ready soon, lots of blood plums and a sadness for my missing pears. The cute little buggers were there one day and gone the next, and I've no idea what happened, they certainly weren't ripe enough for birds. I planted the tree about six years ago and this was its first ever fruit.....

The blood plum tree and some of the plants around it have this odd yellowing to their leaves. I've been puzzling for a while as to what might be wrong, when by chance I read somewhere about nutrient deficiencies caused by alkaline soil which lead to this sort of yellowing. As the backyard was full of bits of concrete before we dug it up I suspect this may be the problem.

Another mystery is the mulberry tree. It fruits prolifically (below are some immature berries), but the fruit are utterly bland and tasteless. I've tried watering more, and not at all with no change. If I can't work out what's going on by autumn I think it might get replaced.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

What A Difference A Day Makes

Well, well! Thank goodness for the Kevin Rudd Surf Team, as I now have time to throw myself headfirst into the gardening before it gets too hot (= vegetables for Christmas lunch... maybe) and a major working bee was had yesterday from midday onwards. Remember what the back yard looked like before? Check it out after a day fuelled by Huggie on Gold FM with the radio sticking out of the bathroom window:

But as Talking Heads said, how did I get here? Well, I'm glad you asked. The first star of this amazing makeover has to be my trusty mini-greenhouse. Bought from Bunnings many years ago for about $25, it's moved with me from house to house and is a fabulous way to raise seeds and oompf-up seedlings before planting them. Smile for the camera:

I keep bowls of water at the base of the house, mainly to keep the climate humid, but also to catch any runoff from watering and save it for use somewhere else in the garden.
And inside, its precious cargo:

As you can see, I've currently got some rocket and basil seeds coming up. The parsley seems to have gone dormant but that's not much of a drama. Today I'll be sowing some carrots and zucchinis, too.

Back to the garden! Upon consultation with a Bunnings fellow who had not one but eleven Outstanding Customer Service medals on his apron, I decided that building up the plots would be a) too expensive and b) take longer than I'd like, so we decided upon doing a modified version of the 'rows' mounded up by commercial growers. Here they are in the beginning stages:

I stomped down the 'walkways' between them and laid in some wet newspaper and mulch/tanbark from the front yard (yes, Super Mario's "pruning" leftovers), patting it up the sides for a little extra strength. Then I dug in some organic potting mix at the top of the rows to give the prepared soil a little sum'n sum'n:

Then the vegetables started going in! Above you can see the three tomato varieties that I've been bringing up in the greenhouse, and some baby corns along the back. That wall (photo taken at 6pm) gets sunlight for the bulk of the day and will be great for sun-loving vegetable frenz. I have some potted chives for companion planting, as well as some insect-repellent pelargoniums nearby. Eventually the basil will go between the tomatoes and the corn.

Finally, as you saw in the first photo, the pea straw went on and one third of the backyard was finito! Now it's time to enjoy my favourite bit of compost bag artwork ever:

More updates after today's continued working bee!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The Beginning Of A "Beautiful" Friendship

The bloke and I just moved into a delightful West Preston house with both a front and back yard. Having lived in concrete boxes and flats for the past five years, you'd think this would be cause for whooping in the streets.

Unfortunately, the previous tenant did everything they could to destroy the garden: concrete "tiles" compacting the dirt! "Pruning" the trees with a chainsaw! Tipping paint into the planter boxes!! (Then the landlord came and "pruned" some more trees, leaving stumps and piles of mulch and tragic, amputated leaves. I cried for an hour.)

This is the front yard (or at least, the bit that we'll plant):

As you can see, unimaginitive '80s "ornamental" planting (read: lame state school "garden area" trees that no one likes) and totally buggered soil full of couch grass and deathly looking violet tubers hanging on for dear life. That metal pole? That's the TV aerial!

And out the back (the bloke had arranged the tiles into their eventual final resting place under the washing "line", the extra tiles had covered the rest of the soil):

I could barely get my shovel in more than 5cm! However! Onward and upward, and after a few good rains, the soil softened up enough to be dug and then have the first of many bags of organic matter/rotted cow poo/mulch from the landlord's "pruning" applied:

Looking better already, non? Since then (two weeks ago), more poo/mulch/etc has been dug in, and I've started some seeds and seedlings in the mini greenhouse while they wait for the soil to be ready. I haven't even started thinking about the front yard yet; first things first.

Stay tuned for updates!

Friday, 18 January 2008

garden update

Hello gentle reader! A long while between updates I know, but I picked these little beauties this morning from one of my 4 delightfully fruity tomato bushes and couldn't not share them with you. The variety is Mighty Red, which has proven to be the early fruiter out of the four. The others are Apollo 3, Grosse Lisse and Roma (green fruit pictured in abundance, below).

Also picked up these great olive tins and planted three varieties of cherry tomato. Fruit is a bit sparse but extremely sweet and juicy.

So here's the garden overview. The big garden plans were put into effect exactly as drawn up and it all seemed to work out great. We had the addition of a scarecrow which didn't seem to scare anyone but me. Compared to the bleak "before" picture I think it's all pretty gret, aktuly. The fake turf is courtesy of my work. Officially, it's "lawn on loan". Unofficially, I'd be very unhappy to see it go back given that it's doing a great job of hiding a large expanse of cracked grey concrete. A lovely outdoor rug. Which is what good lawn should be. Even good fake lawn.

Ebay came through for us when we were looking for a big outdoor seating area for outside. $126! Seats 10 - 12! Chunky! We parked it under the fig tree...

So you look up and see this...

And soon you'll be able to reach out and pick these.

Looking up the fence you get a better view of the scarecrow *shudders* and the corn. I has a corm! Many to be picked tonight to go with us to a mate's bbq. Chives in front of the corn.

Baby eggplants! Awwww.

And the mighty green zucchini machine. This tireless baby just keeps pumping out the zukes.

And lastly, some basil. Just starting to get seed heads so I might have to pull up the lot if I wanta batch of pesto before it goes 'leggy'.

All in all, yum. God I love summer. Not the heat. Just the produce.