December update

The season of plenty begins!

The first zucchini :


It looks like a nice specimen of the Lebanese variety. Except that my notes record that I planted a black variety in that spot. Oh, well…

First of the Gold variety forming :


There’s another fruit forming at the top right of the picture. The flower has just opened. I hand pollinate all my zucchinis and pumpkins with this :

monday 009

It’s not that I don’t trust the bees, but if I don’t see many around I just like to cover all the bases. It has a big round head of nice soft bristles—just right for picking up plenty of pollen. I’m sure everyone knows how to pollinate with a brush, but just in case, here are the two flowers of different sexes—male on the right and female on the left :


The male’s whatsit, in the centre of the flower, is small and pointy; the female bits are bigger and sort of wrinkly, but in case you’re still not sure, the male flower is on the end of a longish stalk and the female has a baby zucchini-to-be at its base. You can’t miss it really.

Anyway, what I do is gently rub the brush over the male bit and check to see if the brush has picked up a liberal sprinkling of yellow powder. That’s the pollen. Then just brush it over the top of the female flower and you’re done. The female flower will close soon after and the baby zucchini (or pumpkin) will start to enlarge.

The most infuriating thing about zucchinis and pumpkins is that when there are female flowers open, there are often no males within cooee, and vice versa. It’s always a good idea to plant several plants close together, firstly, because it makes pollination by bees easy (if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of bees) and secondly, it means you’re not running hither and thither carrying a paintbrush full of pollen, like a demented artist looking for a blank canvas.

Here’s a lady pumpkin flower that unfortunately didn’t meet up with a mate. It won’t develop and the pumpkin-to-be is starting to wither away and become a pumpkin-that-will-never-be. Sad, really :


Here’s one that had better luck :


I hope it’s going to grow up into a nice big pumpkin. I have no idea what variety because it came up in the compost. More on that below.


The New Girls are settling in nicely being tolerated by the Old Girls and have taken over the pile of logs in the playground as a sunbathing spot :


They had their first encounter with a fox early one morning (they were quite safe—their run is really secure, but they didn’t know that), and ended up on top of the coop, where they stayed for the next hour and a half (I left them up there to get over it in their own time; these things can’t be rushed). The only problem was after that, they decided all over again that they wanted to roost on top of the coop at night and I had to go through another week of shepherding them in before they consented to go in by themselves (and more important, STAY in once I’ve left). Talk about herding cats!

They’re extremely active and agile and into everything, quite a change from the two oldies. They like going into Molly & Cheeky’s coop and have completely trashed the bedding and nesting material, so that I can’t just clean the poop from under the perches, but have to clean and replace all the stuff, because the poop is all mixed up with it. Their own coop is pristine…they never go in their during the day.

If I thought they were intelligent beings, I’d say they’re doing it in retaliation for being chased by Molly & Cheeky, but that’s too much of a stretch. They’re just having fun, like all kids. Molly & Cheeky, being mature ladies, just sit side by side in the sun, looking like a couple of stately spanish galleons, obviously deprecating such childish behaviour. The newbies are almost 20 weeks old now, so I hope they grow up soon and start laying eggs. If we get temperatures in the 40’s in January though, it might stop laying in its tracks. That’s when the two oldies stopped laying last summer and they didn’t start again until spring.


This Cape Gooseberry came up by itself next to the Girl’s playground. It’s some years since I’ve grown them and I’d forgotten that the little fruits fall off the plant when ripe, with their papery outer coating intact. They’re quite safe from birds and it’s a simple matter to do the rounds every few days and pick up all the fruits :





When I built the new chook run, I put a couple of large tubs on either side of the doorway :


I filled them with compost and left them until I’d decided what to plant in them. In the meantime a couple of pumpkins germinated in one of the tubs. It wasn’t what I would have planted, as there’s not much room for them to run rampant as they usually do, but I let them grow on anyway.

They’ve turned out to be a couple of oddballs. They’re not running everywhere, but growing in a clump like a zucchini :


They’ve flowered already and a couple of fruits are forming (I did my thing with the paintbrush) :


There’s a robust central stem and the new flower buds are in a tight cluster. It certainly looks like a zucchini :


They can’t possibly be zucchinis because I eat all my zucchinis before they go to seed. There would never be any zucchini seed in the compost. They’re not like any other pumpkin I’ve grown. If they came from the compost, it must be something I’ve bought. I normally only buy Butternuts and the occasional Kent. And then I remembered.

I’d bought a variety from Coles I’d never heard of, called Naranka Gold. It had bright orange flesh and was beautiful roasted. I’d Googled it at the time and found it had been specially developed and grown for Coles. They say it’s a cross between a Chilean variety and the Kent. I’d saved seed but some would have ended up in the worm farm and ultimately in the compost.

I hadn’t sown any of that seed this season, so I got it out and sowed some in a large tub. It will be interesting to see if that’s what’s in the chook house tub. I hope so, the flavour was exceptional.


I can’t grow parsnips. At least not the root bit. I can grow the top bit—the leaves and the flowers. The bees love the flowers and so I toss seed everywhere and grow a parsnip forest :


One day I’ll get around to studying parsnips seriously—making a bed with a reasonable depth of friable soil and working out exactly when to sow the seed. In the meantime all is not lost. I collect buckets of seed from my parsnip forest and share it with my neighbour. And he brings me beautiful parsnips in return.


Remember the self-sown plant I thought might be a cherry, but turned out to be a cherry plum?

The fruits ripened, the birds left them alone and I picked and ate them. Wow! Delicious! I want more of these. I saved the seeds. I’ve never had plum seed successfully germinate just by sowing it in a pot. This time I’ve put the seeds in some moist cocopeat and put them in the fridge to stratify. I hope that might do the trick. In the meantime, I think I’ve found another self-sown seedling. Amazingly, it had reached almost waist-height before I discovered it. It’s in an ideal spot, in the middle of the food forest where I can give it lots of TLC. I missed it because it’s surrounded by parsnips! :


Of course it might be a real plum which germinated from a seed I tossed in there as I was snacking on my own plums.


The first ripening tomato :


Only a cherry, but oh, so special. The first time I’ve ever had a tomato ripen before Christmas! This one made it into the record book by just one day. It coloured up on December 24th.


A couple of years ago, I made my first hugelkultur bed alongside the path that leads to the rear of the property :

At first it was one long bed, but I realised I would be needing to access the area behind it and so I broke it into three parts so I didn’t need to be leaping over the top. I used it initially for zucchinis and pumpkins, but eventually planted rhubarb and asparagus in one section and this year, planted raspberries in another. The third section has no perennials in it and this year I’ve planted zucchinis there. I’ve been watering from the tank either by hand or with a microspray head mounted on a hose holder, moving it from place to place to cover all the bed. It’s time consuming, so I decided to put in three separate watering systems, one for each bed. I’ve put in the first one to cover the zucchinis and I’m really chuffed with it :



There are four microspray heads each covering one zucchini. In between the zucchinis and slightly behind them are four button squash plants. Now I just have to click the hose from the tank onto the end of the pipe and the whole bed gets watered in one go. I’ll do the other two beds in the same way. It will save a lot of watering time.


I’ve worked out what’s going on with the cucamelons. I was seeing tiny little yellow flowers with even tinier cucamelons-to-be behind them :


Then they were dropping off without forming. I realised that these are melons and probably will have both male and female flowers, so I kept watching and sure enough, tiny groups of male flowers began to appear :


I have no idea what pollinates them, but it’s got to be a very small insect. If I do it with a paintbrush, I’m going to need one with about 3 hairs and a magnifying glass to see what I’m doing.


We had 64 mm of rain in December; Melbourne’s average is 57 mm. There were no really hot days, so no stress on the garden. Growth has been good and it hasn’t been hard to keep the water up to the plants. I hope that continues for the rest of summer but doubt that I’ll be so lucky.


Happy New Year to all my readers. I hope 2015 is filled with delicious food for you. Home grown, of course!

12 Responses to “December update”

  1. rabidlittlehippy Says:

    Oh, do NOT look at the forecast for the 2nd and 3rd my friend. Not pretty I’m afraid. And tell your ladies not to look either. 😦

    Your garden looks fabulous. Can’t wait to see what comes from it over 2015. 🙂


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Oh, I’ve looked already. Not nice. I’m battening down the hatches and putting shadecloth over everything I can. Roll on autumn!


  2. fergie51 Says:

    I so wish I’d had the time to have a look around! Best come on a day when I’ve not got deadlines and a hungover husband with me. It all looks fabulous and lush and productive. Happy start to 2015, thanks for sharing everything you do. I learn so much from all these likeminded bloggers and its a fantastic journey. 🙂


    • foodnstuff Says:

      It was great to meet you and thanks again for the elderberry cutting. I hope we can make a day for you to come again and have a decent look around (and some lunch!).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. narf77 Says:

    An update! I LOVE Bev’s updates! It is almost like Christmas seeing what you have been up to in the garden and what you have grown. I prefer the Lebanese zukes to green. 2 years in a row the green have succumbed to blossom end rot where their yellow and Lebanese counterparts have thrived. I am thinking that green zukes are not my best mates. I am blushing! I never expected to get sex education on your page Bev ;). I must have regular visits from the bees that the apiarist behind our property keeps as my pumpkins are going great guns with lots of fruit on them. I think I am the pumpkin queen. Now I just have to keep the sodding possums from breaking into the mix and stirring up a furry fist full of trouble! I have Earl patrolling on one side and fortification on the other. Fingers crossed it’s enough…

    Poor chooks! I bet they were terrified when that furry interloper came sniffing around their tasty fluffy nether regions. Our girls (and Yin) are locked in at night now after a spate of quoll thefts of cluckies that had decided to hunker down outside. A very sad way to go for a poor clucky chook and so we make sure to count them each night and go hunting for the (daft cluckers) girls that decide that a nice outside nest is the go. Sometimes we are muttering for quite some time as we hunt down the regular stash of outside nests but better than than the alternative…fingers crossed that the heat doesn’t stop them laying and that they are made of sterner stuff 🙂

    My chooks and the possums tag team the cape gooseberries. The chooks peck anything that they can reach in the day and the possums trundle down the deck and scoff everything else at night. At least they are making do with the cape gooseberries (at the moment…)

    We don’t get Naranka gold here but I will keep my eye open for it. My pumpkins this year are all a golden skinned variety that looks like a Queensland blue with golden skin. It had lovely orange sweet dense flesh with very little moisture to it and Steve bought it from a small local grocer so goodness only knows where they bought it. I eat a LOT of pumpkin so lots of seeds went into various piles of compost inside Sanctuary. Now I just have to work out how to stop the pumpkins from taking over the world! I love that pumpkins cross pollinate and we end up with weird and wonderful varieties. Let me know how your new one goes. Fingers crossed it is the variety you bought from Coles and it grows true to type 🙂

    Ditto on the parsnips…no roots, only shoots. I am glad you love that cherry plum. I actually dug a few seedlings up when I found them on a walk with the dogs a while ago. They are growing on nicely and will be planted out when I can find the time and energy to do so (in autumn most likely). I adore plums, the possums could care less about them and they are so very hardy they should be in everyone’s orchards. I think my plum growing experiments (throwing the seed directly into the compost) has yielded me sloes alone, but whatchagonnadoeh? 😉

    Awesome share about the cucamelons Bev, and again, I get to learn from your experience prior to having to panic about them myself. My babies are going great guns and fingers crossed, I will be in the cucamelon flower money soon 🙂

    I am with you on the weather wishes. We had spring for the first month of summer and I think we are about to have summer for January, February and March. For the last few years March has been hot and dry like February used to be.

    Happy New Year Bev and ditto on the well wishes and the excellent crops. Here’s to experimentation, to clever gardening, to listening and observing and learning from our gardens and being able to suck it up when something doesn’t work and move on to the next great idea. I love this blog, thank you SO much for sharing your own little patch of the world with us all 🙂


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Well! Live & learn. I knew about blossom end rot in tomatoes (although I’ve never had it), but I didn’t know zucchinis and pumpkins get it too. I think I’ve had it, but I was blaming lack of pollination for the fruit rotting away. I knew it was a calcium deficiency and that would make sense in the beds where the zukes and pumpkins are, because they were hugelbeds over the natural sandy soil here (not having a lot of nutrients of any sort) and they only got a sparing amount of chook poo compost on them. So I’ve just been out and sprinkled a bit of gypsum around.

      Your pumpkin sounds very much like Naranka Gold:

      Thanks for the share and the comment…almost as long as one of your posts 😉 No wonder you get up so early 😉


      • narf77 Says:

        The skins of the pumpkins that Steve buys me are not as gold as those beauties, more a sort of light butter yellow but then they are a lot bigger than those Naranka golds so maybe they are just mature versions ;). We have acidic soil here in Tassie on the whole and I have been crushing up eggshells and using organic lime to try to amend it but every year the green zukes end up semi mush thanks to blossom end rot :(. The yellow ones seem immune and I have one plant of the 4 that I planted that seems to be immune to it (or be planted right on top of an eggshell dump 😉 ) but the rest are producing pure mush (ech). I always save my longest comments for the best blogs 🙂


  4. Chris Says:

    Lots happening in your backyard. It’s great the plum cherry tastes good, and since its a volunteer, may well cope better with the climate. It’s always those ones which pop up by themselves, which leave the others we attempt to plant, behind.

    The rain has been fantastic, and I hope the heat predicted for the South, leaves fairly soon!

    I was told the best way to get male and female flowers, was to tip prune. Come to think of it, the most productive crop of pumpkins I’ve ever had, was when I prune it right back!

    Glad your chickens are safe. They’re only following their instincts to get up high – you may have a losing battle on your hands. 😉


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Yes, I must prune pumpkins. I know everyone says it promotes more growth and hence more flowers, but somehow I want to leave the vine alone when it starts to run, Which is silly really.

      Yesterday’s heat was horrendous, but surprisingly there wasn’t much damage…just a few leaves with frizzled edges. We had a beautiful cool change last evening and a nice cool day today.


  5. narf77 Says:

    I reckon I found my pumpkin all the way over in an American blog that I follow! This looks exactly like the pumpkins that Steve buys me from the little local grocers…


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