Archive for the ‘Asian greens’ Category

March update

March 30, 2017

Well, summer is officially over, but the weather remained warm all through March, with temperatures in the high 20’s and sometimes nudging into the low 30’s.

I’ve pulled out most of the tomatoes—the plants looked awful, with dead, shrivelled lower leaves, extending upwards in some cases. Surprisingly, yields were pretty good, especially of the cherries, but then there were more plants of those than the bigger varieties. I didn’t bother to dry any cherries, but instead froze a large box of them, to use for winter soups and casseroles. There’s still one self-sown plant going well in a wicking box down the back, just starting to bear fruits.

I picked 2 more eggplants and there are still 3 on the plants plus a couple more flowers which may produce fruits. I’ll definitely grow these again next season. Six fruits from 3 plants wasn’t a bad effort for a first-time growing :

I decided to try peas in a ‘tepee’. It’s worked well for beans in the past. These are a tall, purple-podded variety. They germinated well….. :

…..and after a week or so I put up the supporting strings for them to climb on :

I’ve put more peas in a wicking box. These are a short-stemmed variety which have a lot of tendrils so they hang onto each other. I’ll just put 4 stakes in the corners of the box with a string around them to keep the whole bunch from falling over and that should do. The tiny seedlings are self-sown chickweed which the chooks will get eventually :

I may get some pumpkins this year. There are 2 on this plant. With any luck they’ll get big enough to ripen before the weather breaks:

Capsicums, sharing a wicking box with climbing beans, are fruiting :

The prize for the top-bearing plants this season would have to go to the 5 thornless blackberry plants I put in 2 years ago. At the height of the season I was picking a small handful of delicious berries every couple of days. I decided I would definitely get more bare-rooted plants from my local nursery this winter and then discovered Bunnings had them for sale in small pots. They’re a Nelly Kelly variety :

I’ve put one in a large tub beside the deck and will train it up onto the deck :

I haven’t decided where to plant the second one yet. I didn’t keep the tag of the original plants and think they were just called ‘thornless blackberries’, without a variety name. They were just pencil-sized, bare-rooted stems when I planted them. These Nelly Kelly varieties have thin little stems and small leaves. Maybe that’s just due to being young plants in pots. It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

It’s been a good year for pepinos :

The new season’s silver beet is also bearing well in a wicking box :

I had a wicking box on the deck with Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) in it. Also known as arthritis plant, it’s native to Asia and is reputed to cure many ills as well as arthritis. I intended to use it to make a herbal tea, but didn’t like the bitter flavour and so it wasn’t used much. I planted a pepino in there to keep it company. A self-sown alpine strawberry also appeared :

The pepino grew well and produced several fruits but eventually got big and woody and I hacked it back, not caring whether it sprouted again or not, because I had others in the garden. It didn’t…..and the gotu kola took over. I trimmed it back occasionally but generally ignored it.  Finally, it occurred to me that the wicking box was just being wasted and I’d be better to plant it with something I would actually use.

So, I tipped it on its side and then upended it :

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As I suspected, the bottom half of the soil mixture was bone dry and the roots in it were dead. I’d been watering it every day, but the water was running out of the drainage holes before it was able to soak into the soil and saturate the lower reservoir. The plant had been living on its daily drink. The box just had too much growth in it.

The dry soil was friable and worth saving. There had been worms in it and they’d either died or moved on, so it was likely most of the soil would be worm castings. I broke it up with the spade and sieved it :

I got a large tub of soil that will be useful as a seed-raising mix :

I filled the wicking box with new compost and sowed seeds of mizuna, a fast-growing Asian green, which both I and the chooks like :

A few weeks later and it looked like this :

The grassy stuff is wheat. The chooks don’t eat the wheat in their grain mix and wherever I use the chook poo compost made with the floor sweepings from their run, I get wheat germinating. I decided to leave it there. The chooks will only eat wheat if it’s sprouted first, so it makes some sense to grow it for them for sprouting. I used to grow it years ago, but gave up when the parrots kept raiding the ears while they were green. Because there are still cabbage white butterflies about (and will be, until the weather gets colder), I’ve had to put a cover over the box to prevent the female butterflies laying eggs on the mizuna :

Mosquito netting is the only thing that will keep the butterflies out. I’ve always used half-inch netting in the past but was stunned to see a butterfly fold her wings back and actually squeeze through it. So now I have a (relatively) new wicking box with a more useful crop.

I planted garlic on the equinox. Only a few cloves have sprouted—not worth a photo. I’ve failed dismally with garlic the last couple of years, but I still keep trying. Last year the plants rotted away in winter; the year before that they didn’t produce any bulbs. I’ve had good garlic in the past—don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I felt a bit better when my Italian neighbours told me their garlic has failed too—if Italians can’t grow garlic, there must be something more at work than my own incompetence.

I tend to divide my growing year into 2 seasons—spring/summer (October-March) and autumn/winter (April-September) and always grow more food in the spring/summer season. In total, in the season just finished, I managed to grow about 30 varieties of food, including more than a dozen different fruits; 6 greens; 4 root crops; onions and leeks and asparagus, plus a variety of herbs. Oh, and eggs (the Girls helped with those). There wasn’t a huge amount of anything (except maybe tomatoes), but I’m aiming for diversity anyway. Pretty happy with what I’m able provide for myself.

We had 37 mm rainfall in March; 32 mm in the 3rd week and 5 mm in the final week. Melbourne’s average is 44 mm. Let’s hope the warm weather and rain continues through autumn.

Postscript

Those thornless blackberries from Bunnings—

I went out to take a few more pics for this post and noticed that the blackberry I put in the large tub by the deck had a flower on it :

It’s white! The other thornless blackberries I bought at the local nursery had pink flowers :

So there is a difference. I think I need to do some research on thornless blackberries. As I understand it, they’re hybrids of the normal blackberry with something else. Something else what? The first 5 plants I put in have had really good yields. I hope these 2 new varieties are as good.

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March update

April 2, 2016

The Big Dry persists.

In the first 8 months of last year, we had 424 mm rain, an increase of 17 mm over Melbourne’s average for that period. In the last 7 months since then, we’ve had only 50% of normal rainfall and that was in the critical spring/summer months, when plants are putting on growth, flowering and setting seed and fruit is swelling. I’ve tried to keep water up to all the fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs and my latest water bill shows I’ve used much more than normal. And that was with 18,000 litres in 3 tanks, which quickly ran out. The 3 large pools at the rear of the property have dried out; the third one (which is up to my waist when full), has only ever dried out once before in the last 16 years.

The rest of the plants—mostly natives and those in the bush have been left to survive as well as they can. Many have died. Even the bracken fern in the bush is looking peaky and when that happens, you know it’s dry!

So, I wait and hope. The ground is cooling down and without rain soon, I don’t expect to find many edible mushrooms, not that there are ever many of those anyway, but it is nice to get at least one hunt-and-gather meal.

Rain or no rain, life goes on.

All the summer veggies have been pulled out and the wicking boxes and tubs topped up with fresh compost. I’ve sown peas at the rear of most boxes, where there is wire for them to climb on :

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I planted my garlic on the 21st of the month….it being the autumn equinox. I had prepared a bed down the back earlier in the year, but it is all so dry down there that I decided to plant it in the other half of the new bath, where the soil is richer and moister :

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That’s self-sown mizuna on the left. The chooks are getting most of it.

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Within 10 days green shoots were showing :

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I am so pleased with my quinces. I put apple socks on some of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have harvested any :

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This is what the birds did to those that weren’t protected :

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When they had turned yellow I picked about half a dozen and left them on the kitchen bench for a couple more weeks. There are still another half dozen on the tree. It was my first real harvest. Not bad for something that was grown from a seed :

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I cooked them in the slow cooker for 10 hours. 700 ml of water, a cup of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a dash of lemon juice and one star anise (thanks to Y for the recipe). The flavour is superb and while the colour isn’t the deepest I’ve seen, it’s the best I’ve ever achieved :

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If the tree fruits as well next season, I’ll protect more of the fruit and do some serious bottling.

The leaves on the persimmon are starting to colour up and fall and the fruits I’ve ‘apple-socked’ are becoming more visible :

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Are they starting to colour up under their socks? :

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Yep, looking good :

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Now I can see them more easily, I can count them and it looks like about a dozen :

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The critical time will be when all the leaves are gone and just the fruits are left hanging on the tree. I’ll have to pray the socks will do their job and keep birds and possums off, or failing that, sit under the tree 24/7 with a shotgun. This will only be the second year I’ve had a harvest off the tree and it’s 8 years old. Persimmons are one of the most beautiful fruits I’ve ever tasted. This variety isn’t the one that’s eaten when it’s crunchy; it’s the one that goes soft and the inside is like rich apricot jam. You slice off the top and spoon it out. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Tamarillos are starting to ripen, too. There won’t be as many this year as something caused most of the flower buds to fall :

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My Naranka Gold pumpkin has lost most of its leaves and I’m hoping the single fruit will be ripe enough to contain fertile seed. I used my last seed to grow it and haven’t seen any more for sale (it’s grown exclusively for Coles) :

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Seedlings of kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage are waiting in the wings. I’m keeping them in the polyhouse as there are still white butterflies about :

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I’ve sown carrots in 2 wicking boxes and leeks are on the way for winter. There are a few green capsicums still on the bushes and chickweed has self-sown in a wicking box. The chooks will get most of it, but I’m cutting it for scrambled eggs for me.

All I’m picking now from the garden is silver beet, a bit of rhubarb and some Asian greens. Oh, and Bonny the chook is still laying but only a couple a week now. But there are tomatoes, tomato puree and beans in the freezer, 2 large jars of dried tomatoes in the cupboard and pickled cucumbers in the fridge. Summer’s bounty is over until next season.

Brassica time

March 14, 2016

Brassicas are all those members of the cabbage family—cabbage itself, plus broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and all the numerous varieties of Chinese and Japanese greens.

In this part of the country brassicas are generally considered winter vegetables, so sowing seed should commence in late summer and autumn, to get a winter and early spring crop. I’ve heard that some gardeners sow as early as mid summer, but I’ve never managed it, because tending to summer veggies usually takes all my time and effort.

However, I’m into it now and have been sowing seed daily, some direct sown and some in punnets to be potted up later.

The wonderful thing about brassicas is that they germinate so quickly. Here’s some of my seedlings; the fastest (black kale, on the left) took 2 days and the others took 3-4 days. As well as the black kale, there’s Wombok Chinese cabbage, Dwarf Siberian kale and mustard Osaka Purple (just coming up on the right) :

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The problem with brassicas is that they are the food plant for the Cabbage White Butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves and the green caterpillars which hatch set to straight away and demolish all the leaves. I can keep my seedlings in the polyhouse until the cooler weather puts an end to the butterflies (or they’ve laid all they can manage and have gone to god with the satisfaction of a job well done), or I can put them out in the open when the butterflies are still around and monitor them daily for a caterpillar squashing session (of course I can net them too, but that gets a bit cumbersome). I like to get them out as soon as possible because they tend to get leggy in the polyhouse, owing to the shadecloth over the top of the plastic (which I can’t get at to remove now and in any case it gets far too hot in there in summer without it).

There hasn’t been nearly as many white butterflies around this season as normally, but there are still a few to make life difficult for the ardent brassica grower. So inspecting and squashing becomes part of the daily routine.

If I get in early before the eggs have hatched, I can simply rub the eggs off the leaves with my thumb. They’re quite easy to see (glasses on) and are usually on the underside of the leaves (the butterfly thinks I won’t see them there, but she doesn’t know I have a (slightly) bigger brain than her and worked that one out long ago) :

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Sometimes I’ll leave eggs on a few trap plants to hatch and wait till the caterpillars get to a reasonable size, because the chooks love them as a treat.

I’ve also direct-sowed a lot of seed too. This is Mizuna, a Japanese green that comes in both green and purple-leaved varieties. This was mixed seed collected from the garden, but it seems to be all green :

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I’ve sown it in the second-hand bath which I received from a family member for Christmas. I harvest it by cutting handfuls of leaves just above the growth point with scissors and it keeps growing back :

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That’s a really good net—the openings are too small to allow the butterflies in and it will also keep the rabbits from browsing the leaves around the edges. In a couple of weeks I’m going to plant my garlic in the other half of the bath.

This is broccoli in a large tub :

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Although all these self-sown seedlings are very close together, I’ll be continually thinning them and either eating the thinnings or giving them to the chooks. They love all brassicas, especially kale.

Spring at last!

October 1, 2015

Well…the mornings are still colder than I’d like, but there have been some warm days and all the fruit trees and wattles are flowering and we have passed the equinox.

So what’s happening at the foodnstuff residence?

Asparagus. I’m eating about 3 meals a week. When there’s not enough for a meal on any particular day, I just stand whatever I’ve picked in a cup of water until there are enough. They will continue to grow (elongate) in the water but don’t seem to get any more woody at the bottom :

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Raspberries. The raspberry bed is in its second year now. The original five plants have morphed into a random cluster of suckers, which, I’m hoping, will all flower and produce much more than the couple of cups I picked last year. The whole bed is permanently under a net now, because the rabbits love raspberry leaves (and of course the birds will love the berries) :

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I’ve had to put a net over the rhubarb. The rabbits were eating all the leaves. I know I only eat the stalks, but no leaves…no photosynthesis…no stalks :

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The lettuces in the milk bottle planters are thriving. I’m going to put up three more with alpine strawberries in them :

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I love the lacy look of this purple mizuna. It’s in a wicking box with purple bok choy :

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With all these fancy hybrids around now, veggie gardens are looking so attractive it’s a shame to have to pick the plants and eat them.

Here’s ordinary old green mizuna, direct-seeded into a wicking box. Too late in the year for it really…..it will flower before I get much from it, but the Girls will enjoy it :

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Direct-seeded calendula. I’ll really have to make that calendula flower ointment this year :

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Red-veined sorrel. It was looking rather tired. Amazing what a dollop of chook poo will do :

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I’m trying carrots in a wicking box this year (there’s a self-sown lettuce trying to muscle its way in) :

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Brillant red flowers on pineapple sage. I must plant more of this :

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Tomato seedlings waiting for the real warm weather :

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This is my new friend :

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A King Parrot. He’s been coming nearly every day recently, sometimes with his lady friend. He’s very tame….she’s a bit more reticent. When he can’t see me outside, he props on the laundry window ledge and whistles. When I come into the laundry and he sees me, he gives what I can only describe as a joyous shout. I go out and spread a handful of sunflower seeds on the deck railing. He’s no more than a foot away from me. So beautiful!

This quince tree (grown from seed) has become such an attractive specimen that I wouldn’t care if it didn’t produce any fruit. It did produce last year but something ate all but the few I managed to rescue. I hadn’t bothered about bagging the fruit because….well, who would eat a raw, unripe quince? Something was either very hungry or has no taste buds to speak of :

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My little cherry is out in flower. Support for a net is already in place as soon as fruits start forming :

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Pear blossom is beautiful :

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But apple blossom wins the prize every time :

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Last but not least, the Girls are still producing 8 or 9 eggs a week; even 4-year-old Molly is still doing her bit occasionally. Grated carrot and yoghurt goes down a treat :

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July update

August 10, 2015

Despite the cold and the rain, I managed to get a few jobs done last month. The first was to get the dwarf Stella cherry ready for the new season…..its second year of growth. I dug a small swale behind it so I could keep the water up to it in the summer :

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Then I installed a support for a net :

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I picked only about eight cherries last year and I’m hoping for a bigger crop this year.

I bought a dwarf Granny Smith apple and planted it on a hugelkulture mound. I’ll eventually put in a couple of posts and a wire framework and have a go at espalier :

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It will get more TLC here because I’ll be planting my zucchinis on the mound when the weather warms and there’s a sprinkler system from the tank in place. The original Granny Smith I planted is right down the back where I never seem to want to drag the hose and the apples are always small. It’s too big for a net, but I try and protect a few with bits of netting, otherwise I generally leave them to the birds.

I also bought 5 bare-rooted, thornless blackberry canes and planted them on a new hugelkulture mound I’d been building up for a few months, with raked leaves and sticks from the walking tracks in the bush :

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This mound is on contour and on the slope that leads to the first of the three pools on the property. Although I haven’t yet dug out a swale in front of the mound, water is already collecting there and running underneath the mound and into the pool.

I’d love to have nasturtiums growing everywhere, but the rabbits love them as well. The only place I can keep them is inside a wire circle. These are keeping a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple company :

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Fortunately, the rabbits don’t like Warrigal Greens, so they’re doing a great job as a ground cover in the food forest :

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These climbing peas have just started to flower :

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Attractive foliage of Jagallo Nero kale :

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And Red Russian kale :

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I’m not picking much from the garden at the moment….just some greens and a few yellow tamarillos. The red variety has produced very few fruits because of an aphid attack last spring when they were flowering and most of the flowers dropped off.

On the chook front…..two of the New Girls have started laying again and I’m getting about 8 eggs a week from them. For the first time since I started keeping chickens, I went through the winter without having to buy eggs. Good one Girls!

I gave the pepino in the wicking box on the deck a haircut :

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It will be interesting to see if it recovers.

The blueberry in a pot on the deck is flowering :

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In the bush, Victoria’s floral emblem, Pink Heath (Epacris impressa), is flowering :

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And a large patch of native Nodding Greenhood orchids :

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Meanwhile, I’m hoping for spring and some warmer weather.

Wombok

July 7, 2015

I finally harvested my Wombok chinese cabbage. It looked like this a couple of months ago in a wicking box :

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The plants were starting to push up flower stalks from the centre of the clumps, so there wasn’t much use leaving it any longer. The chooks got the outside leaves :

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and I got a couple of stir fries :

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and probably will do a small batch of kimchi.

I’m sure this isn’t the same variety that is sold in greengrocers. The leaves don’t seem as crinkly to me; just elongated stalks with leafy bits at the side. There’s another similar variety called Michihili; I don’t know which is which. My seeds came from DT Brown and were labelled Wombok. It took 5 months from woe to go (seed sowing to harvest), so I don’t know if I’d bother to grow it again. OK if you have plenty of space and time to wait. One reference said the outer leaves should be gathered together and tied around the centre. Maybe this would develop bigger heads. Has anyone grown it? How did it go?