January update

First thing I did in January was to buy myself a present. A toy oven! So, what’s a toy oven, you ask? OK, read this post from Maree at Around The Mulberry Tree.

Now, I’m nowhere near as good a cook as Maree (let’s be honest, I rarely cook, not fancy stuff anyway), but I thought a bench-top oven would be easier to use, would heat up more quickly (which it does—5 minutes to 180 degrees C, compared with 15 minutes for the wall oven!) and therefore be more economical with power. (For the detail-minded, it’s a Sunbeam 19 litre Pizza Bake & Grill model #BT 5350 and was $96 at the Good Guys.)

I found a spot on the bench without too much fuss :

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When the weather finally cooled down, I tried a tray of roast veggies. Very happy with the result. Cooked in less time than the big oven and the potatoes were nice and floury. Next up was bread—I make a loaf about once a fortnight.

Ooops! Not so good :

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The bread tin almost fills the oven! I let it rise too high in the tin beforehand and watched in panic as it rose towards the top elements, ready to whip it out before it touched them. Luckily it just fell short, but as you can see, not a nicely browned top!

I’d cut the temp back to 165 from 180, following recommendations in the manual, but the rest of the crust was too pale in comparison to my normal loaf, so next time I will put it back to 180. I don’t want to fiddle about with the recipe to make a smaller loaf (there too many ingredients), so next time I will put the tin slightly lower (turning the wire rack upside down lowers it by a couple of centimetres), and try putting a piece of foil over the top halfway through. I won’t let it rise so much beforehand either. Despite the lower temperature, it was cooked right through and wasn’t doughy.

I’ve since made a batch of choc muffins which was a success (no photo…I forgot) and will get the bread right eventually. On the whole, very happy with my new ‘toy’.

Out in the garden, the thornless blackberries were starting to colour up, so it was time to get a net over them :

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They’re ripening unevenly and I discovered I have to be careful picking them because if I leave them to get too ripe, they fall from the bunch when I touch it and I lose them in amongst the ground cover of native violets underneath. I love their shiny blackness :

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So the trick is to wander down the back to the blackberry patch before breakfast and pick the ripe ones, which then end up on my breakfast bowl of mueslii and fruit. I’m definitely going to put in more plants of this variety this winter :

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The ‘mini’ Cape Gooseberry I bought a couple of months ago is doing well and setting fruits :

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They’re much smaller than the normal variety I’ve been growing :

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The flavour is quite different, much sweeter, and am I imagining it, or are there hints of pineapple? It might not be imagination, because some years ago I grew a definitely pineapple-flavoured variety from Phoenix Seeds, called Cossack Pineapple. It isn’t in their current catalogue but Googling will find other suppliers who do have it. It’s another species of Physalis—Physalis pruinosa (the common Cape Gooseberry is P. peruviana—that’s it in the photo above, on the right). I’m going to extract the seeds from the ‘mini’ fruit and grow more. It’s lower-growing and more spreading than the common gooseberry, with a neater habit and is a good plant for a large pot or tub (I put the two plants I bought from Bunnings in large pots). I might even try one in a wicking box.

The hugelkultur beds alongside the main pathway are taking a while to break down. I’ve planted asparagus and rhubarb in the longer one and an espaliered dwarf Granny Smith apple and two pepinos in the smaller one. The rhubarb’s not doing so well—it needs more feeding. I tidied up the beds, removed weeds and covered them with mulched bracken. The blackbirds persisted in tossing the mulch all over the path and I was sick of raking it back onto the beds, so I’ve edged them with short (1 metre long) sticks cut from the dozens of branches that are always falling in the bush. It seems to have done the trick. I’ve only done the edge that fronts the path so far, but will eventually do the rear edge, too :

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I’ve decided I need a dedicated potato bed—one that I can grow an actual crop of potatoes in, instead of just poking odd ones that sprout in the cupboard under the sink into any convenient spot. I can go back to buying a bag of certified seed potatoes again each winter like I used to do. I can also use the bed for other root crops like yacon and Jerusalem artichoke. So I’ve decided to use one of the three second-hand baths I have. Two were being used to grow azolla, the floating water fern, and I don’t really need two for that, so the one next to the compost tumbler is being re-purposed. I bucketed out most of the water and began filling it with weeds and other prunings so they’d rot down and provide a good base of organic stuff. Then it rained and the bath re-filled again. The water is now a rich, black, very stinky nutrient-rich liquid that should grow anything. I’ll have to bucket out most of it again, before reaching through the mire to find and pull the plug, but I’ll use it to water other crops until then :

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The Magpie Larks in their mud nest on the TV aerial finally fledged three young ones :

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They managed to keep them alive in that exposed nest through Christmas day with the temperature in the high 30’s and, a couple of days later, through a downpour that delivered 30 mm in half an hour. They’ve left the nest now and are constantly yelling “feed me” from the branches of a nearby tree. Mum and Dad Mudlark deserve a medal for devoted parenthood.

Last year I had a go at growing eggplant, but the seedlings didn’t make it into the garden. This is this year’s effort :

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If I’d known it was going to have such huge leaves, I’d have chosen a shadier spot. It has flower buds already so I’m hoping for some fruit this year.

My dwarf Stella cherry didn’t do so well in its third year, with only a dozen or so fruit. Last year it had about 20 and I sowed most of the pips in a pot and left them through the winter. Disappointingly, only one germinated. I’ll plant it somewhere and see how it goes :

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I had better luck with seeds from the Concord grape variety which produced one small bunch last year. I potted up 6 seedlings from this pot :

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Oak-leaf lettuce, endive and carrots in wicking boxes—all direct-sown. So much easier than potting up and transplanting seedlings :

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This, believe it or not, is 2 cucumbers in a recycling crate (not wicking—there are drainage holes in the bottom) :

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Ordinarily, I’d be assuming I’d mixed up the labels and planted pumpkins instead, but I knew I didn’t have pumpkins sown at the time. The crate was filled with chook poo compost and just shows what lots of nitrogen will do for leaf size. Here are what my normal cucumbers look like, in a wicking box on the deck, only topped up with a bit of chook poo compost :

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I thought I’d have another go at growing Goji berries. I tried several years ago but they didn’t survive in the garden. I think I wasn’t au fait with my soil types then, in terms of what should be planted where and probably put them in the wrong spot. So I took some dried berries out of a trail mix I’d bought (previously, I’d just bought a packet of berries in the supermarket) and soaked them in water till they swelled up, then I scraped out the seeds and sowed them and I have 4 plants to play with. This time I’ll do some homework before I plant them. I’ll probably try one in a large pot as well, just to be on the safe side :

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Still no ripe tomatoes or beans. This is the latest they’ve ever been, owing to the cool wet spring we had. I’m starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms for a nice, home-grown tomato sandwich.

That’s about it for January. We had 18 mm of rain in one event mid-way through (the average for Melbourne for January is 47 mm) and another 25 mm a week later, which will help swell the February apple harvest. We’ve had some hot days, but nothing over 40 C as yet and no really hot, northerly winds which freak me out because of the bushfire risk. I always count down the days to the end of summer and breathe a sigh of relief when we get through another summer without a fire.

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13 Responses to “January update”

  1. narf7 Says:

    My eggplants flowered last month but the flowers dropped off and the eggplants are refusing to budge in size. I am thinking that I will have to source some Japanese finger eggplant seeds next growing season as they are the only eggplants that I have ever grown successfully and gotten a decent crop from. We have had a few (sparse) cherry tomatoes from our tomato plants. Lots of green ones but nothing on the larger tomatoes (Grosse Lisse and San Marzano) at all. The only beans flowering are the scarlet runners that grew from the old tubers in Sanctuary. It’s been a crazy season here. Your cucumbers growing in the chook manure show that they truly appreciate nitrogen. I wonder if it affects the amount of fruit that the plants set? I have tremendous growth in the wicking beds (basically just horse manure and oak leaf mulch) and have plenty of greens growing. Hopefully the roots set as well as the greens have. Steve’s round carrot experiment seems to have paid off as they are growing rapidly and he should get a decent crop of round carrots. Goji berries are true ugly plants. They are straggly, lay all over the place, snap off and the end results are not worth all of the hassle as far as I am concerned. I will save my growing efforts for plants that I actually want to eat ;). Loving this post. It is full of fantastic possibilities and tonnes of excellent growth. Make the most of it, I am sure 2018 will bring back “the usual” with a vengeance.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Japanese finger eggplants sound interesting….I’ll look them up. With the cucumbers and all the nitrogen, yes, it does affect the flowers in a way….the plant makes all leaves at the expense of flowers, at least that’s what’s happening here. The cucumbers in the wicking boxes with chook poo compost only on top are flowering and setting fruits already. The ones with the huge leaves haven’t got any flowers yet and they were all planted about the same time. I expect they’ll flower eventually.

      The Goji berries will be interesting. Is it actually a vine? (see Frogdancer’s comment below). I’ll have to look that up too. I thought it was a shrub.

      Liked by 1 person

      • narf7 Says:

        I am not sure if gogi are a vine. I think that they are just a straggly (as all get out) shrub. Ugly buggers! Sanctuary had a bit too much nitrogen in it (than’s to the heap of aged horse manure leaching into the soil above it) and I found that I got luxurious leafage but the fruiting suffered. Any eggplants that grow either small or long and skinny will fruit and develop much faster than the big eggplants. Try those small Thai egg ones as well. I am sure diggers will have them (or Ebay). I am not going to bother with the big ones again. I didn’t bother with zucchini this year as they turn to mildew at the drop of a hat here and for some reason corn HATES it here. It always ends up covered in black sooty mould and aphids so I didn’t bother with corn either. Might have to start mucking around with beans in their place I think.

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        • foodnstuff Says:

          Eden Seeds and Green Harvest are the two seed suppliers I mostly deal with over here and they both have the Long Finger eggplant seeds, although Edens are currently out of stock. Too late for this year but I’ll order some over the winter for next season and will email before to see if you want some too.

          My Goji seedlings are growing quickly and they do have spindly stems, so I can imagine they’ll be straggly vines/bushes. I’ll put some in a big tub on the deck and they can scramble through the wires and cascade down the side.

          I’ve given up on corn too, as I get very poor germination from commercial seeds.

          Liked by 1 person

          • narf7 Says:

            I bought heritage black corn and it did exactly the same as the shop bought seedlings so I just gave up in disgust. I wonder if maize would suffer the same consequences? I hear it’s a lot hardier. I keep lusting after Green Harvest seeds as they too won’t sell to Tassie. The second season of gardening here I planted out some finger eggplants and they grew like topsy, had a huge amount of eggplants on them and our soil wasn’t even halfway as decent as it is now. Get them in early and I am predicting it is going to be back to usual (long, dry and hot season) so they should love it. This year has been very slow for everything due to the rain and the cooler weather but what we lack in fruiting plants we more than made up for in greens. I guess its horses for courses really. Cheers for emailing me Bev. That will be amazing of you 🙂

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  2. Frogdancer Says:

    You’re making me miss my garden! I had a goji berry vine growing on the chook yard fence, The berries were ultra sweet – a totally different taste to the dried berries. Enjoy!

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Well get that new garden going then! 😉

      Is the Goji berry a vine then? I thought it was a shrub. Did it grow OK? Did you grow it from seed or buy it?

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  3. Chris Says:

    Lovely garden pics! You’re always so productive out there. I’ve wondered about those portable ovens myself. They do consume less energy to heat up, but need the right portion sizes to make best use of limited space.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts long term. If it’s manageable though, I think they do make better sense than a large oven.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      The oven will suit me as I’m only cooking for one. It might not be big enough for a family of four, as you are, but still could be useful in tandem with a microwave. It could also be used outside on a verandah or patio if power was available and in conjunction with a BBQ (grill meat on the barbie and roast veggies in the oven). It will certainly save on power, although there may actually be something wrong with my big oven which is why it’s taking so long to heat up.

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  4. Jane Says:

    Such a lovely productive garden, it makes you want to get out and plant something. So encouraging to see. I was interested to read about your cape gooseberries. I tasted one for the first time a few days ago and found it delicious. My first thought was tomato, but quickly thought no, passion fruit. I’ve no idea what kind it was. I was given two, so am trying to grow the seeds of the second one.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Are you in Australia, Jane? If so I could send you seed of both the Cape Gooseberry and this little new mini one, whatever it is.

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  5. Jane Says:

    Yes I’m in Australia, in Victoria, if you have seeds to spare yes please. Would you like some of my seeds to try in case they are different again? I’ve no idea what kind they are or even if they are viable. My friend who gave them to me thought she had lost her plants but found some fruits whilst weeding.
    I found this on goji berries
    http://www.liveability.com.au/liveabilityguides/growing-superfoods-organic-garden-goji-berries/
    Also I forgot to say loved the story of the mudlarks. Never thought about them much but I assumed they nested on the ground, like plovers. I do love a happy ending.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the link—good information. It seems it can be a vine or a shrub. If you want some seed of Cape Gooseberry send me an email at bevcourtatbigponddotcom and I can get your address.

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