Archive for the ‘Seeds’ Category

Keeping records

February 9, 2017

In the last post I quoted information from my records on propagation and planting dates and a few commenters said, wow! (or words to that effect 😉 ) about my record-keeping. Being science-trained, I suppose keeping records is second-nature to me—and I know how unreliable memory can be. Besides my gardening records go back through years of propagation and planting and no memory is that good.

I use an ordinary exercise book for day-to day records. A double page to a week. It looks like this :

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At the end of the week I transfer those records to a computer database. I use Microsoft Works, which is a 3-in-1 program incorporating a database, spreadsheet and word processor. I don’t think it’s popular now, but I’ve had a copy on various computers for years. I don’t use the word processor much, but the database and spreadsheet are invaluable for storing and retrieving large amounts of information. I use the spreadsheet for anything requiring calculations—household and personal finances, my solar panel outputs, etc. The database is used for just data and the ability to sort columns into any order or find any records is a great feature. The propagation database deals with all my plant propagation records. It looks like this (photo of computer screen) :

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In separate columns I record—the date; the name of the species; an ‘S’ for seed sown, or ‘C’ for cuttings and the number (e.g. C4); the date the seed germinated or the cuttings struck; the source of the seed and the date on the packet if purchased, or the date collected if from my own garden; the number of seedlings or cuttings potted up and the date; any notes, like, ‘poor germination’, ‘mouse dug up seed’, ‘snails ate all the seedlings’, (shit happens!) and so on.

The database allows me to search for any and all records of a species—amazing how consistent germination can be when you have dozens of records of the same species to look at and compare. It can also show the best time of year for sowing seed, for instance, some seed will sit there for weeks if sown at a particular time of year and yet germinate very quickly when sown at another time. The seed knows when it’s ready and I know to wait until it is. I’ve learned never to throw out seed trays until I’ve checked the database and I’m certain the seed is long past its usual time.

The database was very handy when I was growing plants to order some years ago. I could look at the germination times of a particular species and give the customer a fairly good approximation of when the plants would be ready for planting out.

I also have a planting-out database where I record what plants I plant, how many and where (just for shrubs and trees, not annual vegetables). Each major area of the property has a number, or other designation (FF is food forest and so on), so I was able to look back and see when I planted the Japanese Raisin Tree, which was the subject of the last post.

I have a seed bank database too, where I record my seed collection which is stored in packets in various boxes. This is a great help for knowing where I’m at with respect to seed, especially how fresh it is and whether I’m out of a variety and need to buy or collect a new lot.

While I admit I’m a record-keeping geek, even though I don’t spend a lot of time on it, I realise it isn’t for everyone. But it can be an invaluable aid to making a successful garden, especially if you grow and collect your own seed.

 

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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.

January update

February 5, 2015

The best thing about January was the weather….only a few days with 30+ temperatures and rainfall (64mm) which exceeded Melbourne’s average for the month (57mm). I was well pleased…living on a bush block in a bushfire zone, with a warming climate, I tend to get rather paranoid in summer now.

Tomatoes were the biggest bearer. I seem to have a lot of cherries this year, but that’s alright. They’ll be sun-dried :

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The goal is to fill this jar with dried tomatoes :

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San Marzano, a Roma type. Most of these will be frozen for winter cooking :

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There are still Black Russian, Green Zebra and Debarao to come. This is my first time growing Debarao (sometimes called De Barao). It’s a Roma-type too, with egg-shaped fruit with less watery pulp and will also be useful for cooking. I freeze a lot of tomatoes and use them over winter for making relish and pasta sauce. Rather than juicing them and bottling and storing the juice, it’s much easier to just defrost the quantity of whole tomatoes that I need, when I need them.

 

Pepinos are forming. This plant is in a wicking box on the deck. When I plant them in the garden, the rabbits demolish the fruit. I wish I could fit the whole garden up on the deck! (then I suppose the pesky rabbits would learn to negotiate steps!) :

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It’s amazing how much growth can be fitted in a wicking box. Not only is the pepino in this one…:

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but there’s gotu kola…:

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self-sown lemon balm…:

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a cucumber…:

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and what looks like a self-sown tansy…:

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but wait, there’s more…:

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…a self-sown alpine strawberry.

An example of what permaculture guru Geoff Lawton likes to call, ‘abundance’.

 

I forgot to mention in the December update that I had a visit over the Christmas period from Maree, who writes Around The Mulberry Tree blog, and who brought me a healthy-looking elderberry plant :

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I’ve sent away for elderberry seeds so many times and have never had any germination, so I was delighted to get an established plant. I can see elderflower cordial and elderberry wine somewhere in the future. Thanks Maree!

 

I’m disappointed in the cucamelons. The plants have climbed skywards and wound themselves around the deck railings, but there’s no sign of fruit. There are plenty of female flowers with little pre-cucamelons behind them and some male flowers, but it seems no pollination is occurring :

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The plants in the strawberry wicking buckets have done well after a poor start in which the first fruits were badly deformed, due I think, to poor pollination :

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I’ve picked a steady supply of strawberries, not a huge amount, but enough to have a few on my breakfast mueslii each morning, so I’ll plant a few more buckets for next year. I haven’t even had to net them because they’re up on the deck where birds don’t usually come. The plants are putting out new runners at the moment and it’s easy to pot up a few. Runners grow a tuft of new leaves along their length :

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At the base of each tuft of leaves is a collection of roots-to-be :

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I peg the runner down into a pot of potting mix with a piece of bent wire, but leave the runner attached to the parent plant :

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Once the roots have grown down into the new pot, the runners can be cut away from the parent plant. I wish all plants were as easy to propagate as these.

 

The New Girls are 24 weeks old and there’s still no sign of eggs. The Old Girls laid at 22 weeks, so I’m anxiously checking daily. The Newbies are so full of beans; any unsuspecting butterfly stupid enough to get through the wire is snatched out of the air with a huge leap; they rocket up and down the 7 metres of connecting corridor between the two runs like mad things; they come when called (well, most times); they love the green grubs off the kale (Molly and Cheeky won’t touch them), and they’re into everything—a perfect trio of lively, alert, naughty kids. That’s two of them on the left (looking good, eh, Julie?) :

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And the remainder of the trio. She’s wondering if the camera is something to eat. (Cheeky behind on the right and Molly bringing up the rear) :

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If I can ever tell them apart, which seems unlikely, their names will be Bonny, Missy and Clover (the last after the rabbit in Watership Down….there’s no connection, I just like the name), but until then, they’re just the Newbies, or Newbs, for short.

I’ve been giving Molly & Cheeky a daily treat of grated carrot and yoghurt, which they love. At first the Newbs weren’t interested—they didn’t understand ‘treats’—but lately they’ve taken an interest. Of course, M & C won’t allow them anywhere near, but Molly is moulting and a bit off-colour so less aggressive and Cheeky has become a bit indifferent to them (only whacks them occasionally), so they’ve managed to elbow their way in and steal some and they like it. So I call them down to their own quarters and give them a bowl on their own. The squeals of delight as they wolf it down and peck splattered yoghurt off each other’s faces has me in stitches.

Not a happy Moulting Molly :

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I’ve finally got my act together and planted kale and broccoli seeds early. I always seem to leave it until autumn and then have to wait as they grow too slowly through the cooler winter. I was reading someone’s blog where they said they sowed their winter brassica seeds at the summer solstice (21st December), so I did the same and now I’ve actually got kale in a wicking box growing well. Of course, Cabbage White butterflies are still around, but if I inspect the plants every few days and rub off all the eggs before they hatch, I’m able to keep on top of the problem :

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These are Tepary Beans. I have to thank Fran of Road to Serendipity blog for sending the seed a couple of years ago. The first year I grew them I just left them to set seed. I forgot to grow them the following year and thought I’d better put them in this season and collect more seed. I’ll probably leave them for seed again this season then finally grow them to eat. They’re said to be extremely drought tolerant :

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Pods are forming :

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Basil & endive going well together in a wicking box :

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And what’s that in the back left corner? Looks like a seedling plum :

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You wouldn’t believe it, but under all that growth on the left, there’s a planter box just like the one on the right :

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In the left-hand box there are two cherry tomatoes and some beans that didn’t have a label (looking like climbers). This box had a liberal dose of chook poo compost before planting, hence the rampant growth :

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The other one has Purple King climbing beans at the back and basil, kale and silver beet in front. These aren’t wicking boxes, so they need watering every day :

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Well, that’s about it for the January wrap-up. I hope February will be as good temperature-wise, but next week is forecast for over 30 C every day, so all I can say is, “roll on autumn”.

Before I go, here’s a really useful post from the Permaculture Research Institute about tomatoes. And check out the link to fix.com given in the article. Another useful site worth bookmarking.

Detective work

December 2, 2014

A few years ago I noticed an unknown plant had appeared in the garden. It was right at the top of the slope above the food forest, on the edge of a narrow strip of indigenous plants. When I first saw it, it was about a metre high.

I left it there, in the hope it might be a seedling fruit tree from my neighbour’s garden over the way, since he has a lot of fruit trees.  Last spring I noticed it had a few small white flowers on it, but didn’t recognise them and nothing came of them. It’s in a very dry spot and gets no water other than rainfall and has to compete with several large wattles and a eucalypt. This spring it must have flowered again, because lo and behold, it has fruits :

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Now, it just happened that my small cherry tree flowered for the first time this spring and produced a half dozen fruits :

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Could the unknown be a cherry? Nah, that’d be too much to hope for. I don’t even know if cherries can be grown from seed. It’s probably something completely uninteresting like a crab apple. I bet they grow easily from seed, because all apples do.

But I haven’t got a clue what crab apples look like…either trees or fruit. From memory (last year, because I didn’t see the flowers this year), they didn’t look like apple flowers.

Then I thought…if it’s a cherry, it ought to have a single stone like a cherry. If it’s an apple, it won’t have a stone, it’ll have a number of seeds in little cavities.

So I picked one, plus one of my precious cherries (which was ripe anyway) and a baby apple from the Red Delicious. Here they all are…unknown, real cherry and baby apple :

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It doesn’t even look like an apple. It doesn’t have the remains of the flower at the base and it has a crease (suture) like the cherry…and it’s shiny.

I cut them all in half :

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Yay! It has a single stone! It’s not a crab apple. But is it a cherry?

I Googled and it appears that cherries are relatively easy to grow from seed. I consulted Louis Glowinski (The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia).

Oh, blow it! Cherries are in the Prunus genus. Same as plums. It could be a plum. But why hasn’t it set fruit before? Didn’t it get pollinated? My plums flower and set fruit each year. Why didn’t they pollinate it? Was it waiting for a pollinator? Did my new cherry which just happened to flower for the first time this year pollinate it? Is is really a cherry?

Dunno. But I’m going to protect the fruit from the birds (there are only half a dozen), prune away some of the nearby plants and give it some water and TLC.

And pray it’s a cherry.

Hen’s teeth?

August 22, 2014

It was a nice day and warmth is forecast for next week, so I thought I’d sow some of the seeds I bought yesterday—the cape gooseberries and the goji berries. The cucamelons will be left for a bit longer—when it’s really warm.

Are goji berries THAT rare?

This what I found in the seed packet:

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A tiny glass vial containing 8 seeds. Eight!

That works out at just under 57 cents each!

Now I’ve grown goji berries before—a few years ago. All I did was buy a packet of dried berries in the supermarket, soak a couple in water and extract the seeds. They germinated well but the plants didn’t survive in the garden. Hence I thought I’d have another go and buy ‘proper’ seeds this time, from a seed supplier.

I’ve been well and truly had.

They’d better germinate.

 

Cuca…what?

August 19, 2014

Cucamelon, aka Mouse Melon or Mexican Sour Gherkin.

Aren’t they cute?

Never heard of it? Neither had I. It was written up in the daily paper a couple of weeks ago (which I threw out by accident).

So I Googled (as you do).

Here’s a good site (the source of the above photo), that tells you all about it. I’m always looking for new foods to grow so I wanted some seeds. A quick look at the various seed suppliers indicated it’s not common. Diggers sell it, but I don’t like Diggers (actually it’s Clive Blazey I don’t like), but then I found it at 4Seasons Seeds. So I’ve ordered a couple of packets. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tamarillo update:

I had 2 goes at collecting seed from my tamarillos. I couldn’t find any mature seeds in the first lot I picked, so I let them mature for longer on the trees; in fact I waited until they were actually dropping off. I treated them in the same way as you do tomatoes (fermenting the pulp), and eventually got a very ordinary 12 seeds from 6 fruits. Not wonderful. So I’m afraid that I can’t send seeds to those who wanted some, because I’ve sown them all myself. Sorry.

I’ve had good seed set in other years, so I don’t know what was wrong this year. I never noticed any insects at the flowers, but would have thought if they produced fruits, then pollination must have occurred.

 

Handy Hint Corner

If you’re using slow-release, pelleted fertiliser on tiny seedlings, make sure the pellets aren’t sitting up close against the stem of the seedling. The influx of strong chemicals against the tender stem can burn it and the seedling will collapse. Put the pellets well away, towards the side of the pot.

No-no:

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Yes-yes:

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Larger plants, with a layer of protective bark, should be OK.

My fluffy bits are bigger than your fluffy bits!

November 1, 2013

Which is what I imagine a salsify seed would say to a dandelion seed:

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As you may have guessed, the salsify has flowered and the seed heads are maturing:

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Imagine how far those things are going to travel in a stiff breeze! I don’t want to be responsible for introducing salsify to my local environment. I’d better make sure I collect every one and excise its fluffy bits. We don’t need any more environmental weeds here.

Hibernation

July 21, 2013

A while between posts I know, but I’ve been hibernating. Sitting by the fire watching the grey skies and the rain coming down and longing for the longer, warmer days of spring/summer and the time for sowing seeds, planting out seedlings and watching tomatoes fruit and ripen. Even the Girls are hibernating; there have been no eggs from Cheeky and Lady since late December and none from Molly since early March. Their combs and wattles are redder than they were, so I’m hoping. Maybe an egg is what I need to dispel the winter blues and prove that spring is really coming.

Anyway, three seed catalogues came in during the last fortnight; from Edens, Green Harvest and Phoenix.

From Edens I got Sweet Basil, Wild Bergamot, Broccoletti, Capsicum Cherrytime (this variety did well for me last year), Chervil (I believe it goes well with egg dishes) and Red-veined Sorrel. I’m growing the ordinary green sorrel and hope the red-veined variety will add  a touch of colour.

From Green Harvest I got Mixed Basil, Borlotti Beans (I’m going to try growing beans for drying for the first time), Redbor Kale, Onion Mini Purplette, Golden Purslane, Silver Beet Red Ruby and Yellow Crookneck Squash.

From Phoenix came Bergamot (the ordinary one, not the wild), more Chervil (I forgot and doubled up), Wild Rocket (I grew this years ago and liked it better than the normal garden variety), Cumin and some unusual fruiting trees and shrubs from the northern hemisphere—Bunchberry, Chinese Date, Salal, Sand Pear and Saskatoon. Phoenix is a good source of unusual seeds. I remember seeing Chinese Date in Louis Glowinski’s Melbourne garden many years ago. It was a huge tree, covered in fruits (Glowinski is the author of The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia).

This is saskatoon, with edible blue berries:

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The leaves of oca died back and I harvested a small crop of tubers:

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Small, because I didn’t sow many last spring. There’ll be enough for pickling and nibbles. I’ve been growing the pink variety and will be ordering the cream variety from Yelwek Farm in Tassie, where I bought potato onions and garlic earlier in the year.

I started sowing tomatoes on the 1st of July and most are coming up now. I’ve planted three seeds per small pot and will thin to the strongest seedling when they’re bigger. They’re inside in a sunny window, but not on the heat mat which I usually use. That’s in another window with cuttings on it. I was surprised that they germinated just as quickly without bottom heat as with it.  Twelve days is about what it’s taking.

When I thin to the strongest seedling I’ll take mini cuttings. I wrote about doing this here, here and here. It’s a great way to get extra plants without waiting for seeds to germinate.

This mandarin is fruiting well:

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It’s a variety called Japanese Seedless. It’s not exactly sweet, but then not exactly sour either and it’s easy to peel. I also have an Imperial Mandarin which is a healthy-looking bush, but the fruit are always tiny and don’t have that lovely typical mandarin flavour of shop-bought Imperials. I have read that the Imperial doesn’t do well in Melbourne, so maybe it’s not anything I’m doing wrong, just the nature of the beast.

Seriously healthy stuff

May 13, 2013

In my last post I linked to a recipe for the Life-Changing Loaf of Bread. I made it yesterday.

I made a few changes to the method. I used honey instead of maple syrup. I don’t have one of those fancy flexible silicon pans, so used an ordinary (small) loaf tin, but lined it with baking paper. I mixed the dry ingredients in a bowl instead of the tin and added the liquid phase (water, honey & coconut oil). If I was doing it again (and I definitely will), I’d use my Thermomix to blend the oil onto the dry ingredients first, (a food processor would do it as well). This is the way I make my mueslii, which has coconut oil in it. The reason being that coconut oil is solid at room temperature and I warm the jar in the microwave to be able to measure it out. In the recipe it has to be added to the water and honey and so the water has to be warm so that the oil doesn’t solidify again. When you whisk it up and pour it into the dry mix, you end up with oily smears over the inside of whatever you use to mix it in. Therefore much easier to blend the oil onto the dry ingredients and then add the water/honey mixture.

Anyway…..what happens is that the water is rapidly absorbed into the mixture. I think it’s the psyllium husks that take up most of it, but linseed also forms a gummy layer when water is added to it. So if you’re doing it this way, you have to get it into your tin reasonably quickly. Don’t take a toilet break before you do it, otherwise you’ll find the whole lot has congealed into a sort of seedy jelly. All the water will be absorbed as it stands. I left it a couple of hours before baking.

The mix in the tin, ready to bake. It’s quite solid and gelatinous:

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After baking:

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Sliced (with an electric knife for a good clean cut):

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I had a slice with my morning coffee. The flavour is bland. It needs either something in the mix to pep it up or something tasty spread over it. A herby cream cheese something-or-other, or vegemite if you’re desperate.

The original writer says it’s delicious toasted. Read her blog, especially the Q&A’s for the comments. I’ll try it toasted next. I’ll also put a couple of tablespoons of dried pumpkin into my next batch. Should give it a few colourful flecks.

There’s no doubt that this is seriously healthy stuff. A couple of loaves in your pack the next time you go trekking in Nepal and you’ll sail effortlessly to the top of Everest. Well…almost.

Later edit:

I toasted it under the griller. Takes a while to brown, but verrrry nice, with real butter, not that imitation stuff with the trans fats (margarine, in case you didn’t know).

Bits’n’pieces

May 9, 2013

Orange capsicums
Those orange capsicums I wrote about here are slowly ripening. They’re right out in the open and it’s just not warm enough now to ripen them quickly. Where I am, 50 km south-east of Melbourne, the season isn’t quite long enough for capsicums, unless they get an early start, and I try to do this by sowing the seeds on a heat mat, in June. Putting them out in the open wasn’t a good idea—next year I’ll try to get them into wicking boxes against a north-facing wall and see how that goes. I could pick them green, of course, but I want at least some ripe so I can collect seed. They’re so attractive but so expensive to buy:

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New seeds
I love getting seeds in the post. Today was a bonus—two deliveries. One from Rangeview Seeds (first time I’ve ordered from them) and one from a member of the Ozgrow garden forum. I went purple & red with Rangeview:

Tatsoi (Chinese cabbage)… Deep Purple
Traviso Chicory… Early Red
Mizuna… Purple Peacock
Mizuna… Red Robin
Mustard Greens… Ruby Streaks

and a non-red
Salsify… Black Duplex (because I’ve grown ordinary white-skinned salsify and wanted to try the one with black skin).

The red pigment in these plants is due to anthocyanins—powerful antioxidants that can scavenge free radicals in the body. I’m on an anthocyanin kick since discovering how much I like red cabbage steamed with a sprinkling of sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Gotta knock off those free radicals!

Plus look at this photo of Red Treviso Chicory. So pretty I’ve just got to grow it:

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How’s this for seed packaging? Just like Christmas presents. Beautifully done:

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And just as beautifully done inside the pack:

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The second pack of seeds, from the Ozgrow member, were all tomatoes. I’d sent him some asparagus seed and got these in return:

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He says Nicoleta is one of the best varieties he’s ever grown, so I was keen to try it. These are all new ones for me. Roll on tomato season!

Chooks:you gotta larf… or… how I wish I’d had the camera!
Oh, not my chooks…although they are laugh a minute sometimes. No… I’m talking about the ones in the free-range egg farm at the end of our street.

My girls still aren’t laying after their moult, so I’m buying eggs. I was going out, so threw the egg carton into the car to call in on the way home. Normally I’m there early in the morning, but this day I was later. The chooks are let out of the sheds at 11 am, after most of the laying has been done. They stay out till dusk. There are 2 sheds. I once asked how many they had…I can’t remember whether there are 5000 to a shed or 5000 in total. Either way that’s a lot of chooks.

It was after eleven so masses of chooks were foraging in the grass, dust bathing and generally digging holes. I parked the car by the shed, went over to the fence and yelled, “hello girls!”. I thought they’d ignore me, but a seething mass of moving feathers made a dash to the fence, all talking at once and wanting to nibble my fingers. I was a bit panic-stricken, as more and more came over, thinking that the ones against the fence would get crushed in the melee. I took off and went into the shed to collect my eggs and chat to the owner. When I came out they were still massed by the fence. Did they think I had a treat for them? 5000 treats?

I got into the car and drove off. LOL. They ran along the fence following the car until I was out of sight. How I wished I’d had the camera!

The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread
I came across this recipe recently. It looks ultra-healthy. I have all the ingredients to hand except the maple syrup so I’ll use honey and give it a try:

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