Friday, December 16, 2016

End of the year

I have been a bit slack with my blog over the past month so I thought I will end it for the year and come back at the start of Jan.

It has been a very trying year, starting with drought, and then over three months of bog during the winter and spring, all meaning that growing vegetables has been very difficult to say the least. I was not able to produce anywhere near the seed I should have been able to and it will be another 10 months before this situation will change, not till next spring when the brassicas start ripening and I harvest the next lot of garlic.

The extremely late start to planting meant that nearly all my frost tolerant plants are a total write off - after the third replanting of the melons, corn, tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants and more I have given up as it is too late not to be sure that their seed will be ready to harvest by frost.

Adding to my woes is an explosion of rabbits following the rains and good feed. They have eaten most of my beans that I was testing for heat tolerance so that is a trial that is down the tubes.

 The few melons that are still alive should be big and running all over the place, and flowering heavily but this is how they look right now.

At least I have a few varieties growing, if only with a couple of plants each, to renew seed with.

After the surprisingly good results I had with ulluco last summer in the heat and dry I am trying some of them out in the open just to see how much sun they will stand. I am not expecting much but I put in this row of cuttings just to see.

With so many beds empty of summer crops I have room to experiment with other things.

I usually put in my brassicas after Christmas but I did put in a double row of Bear Necessities kale at the start of the month and they are looking very healthy and loving the mild weather at the moment.

This variety starts off looking like red Russian kale but the leaves get more and more fine and feathery as they mature.
I am so loving this variety that I will put in another couple of rows later.

Because most of the these plants I put in last summer died in the wet conditions of winter I didn't get anywhere near the seed I was expecting.

Another plant which is loving the mild conditions is edible Canna/Achira (Canna edulis). I quite like eating the tuberous roots but I don't go out of my way to cook them. They are a very respectable survival food though.
They could be a tasty staple if needed.

Anyway, I am loving the weather at the moment and have only had to turn on the irrigation once so far for the new seedlings. The ground is still moist and I am expecting a great growing season.

With the drought over now I think the business will pick up greatly. It has been a hard couple of years but at least I learnt a lot and am ready for anything to come.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Perfect weather and mini watermelon

I am so happy with the weather we have been having lately. We will be having a couple of days over 30 degrees from tomorrow but that is to be expected at this time of year. Although many of the frost sensitive plants will be an almost total loss because of the cold and wet spring, I am filling up the beds with other vegetables. Some of my customers won't be getting the seed they ordered but I hope they will be happy with what I will be able to offer.

My first mini watermelon has set a fruit. I had this plant in the hothouse because of the weather and another three outside. Don't want to take chances with these few weeds that I probably won't be able to get again so I separated them to mitigate the risk.

The seeds are so tiny that they are hard to see in the packet. I hope this means that, unlike other small watermelons which tend to be seedy with large seeds, this one will be much more pleasant to eat.

Last year it was too hot for my scorzonera to set seed but they are sending up flower shoots now so if the weather holds up I might get some seed this time.

Scorzonera is so good to eat that it is a shame that it is not more widely known.

I am harvesting broad bean seeds at the moment but not a lot else is happening. Sorry about the short post.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trip to Hollafresh herb farm

Well, I am really enjoying this weather for the last couple of weeks. Although the nights have still been around 2-3C and too cold for many of the veg to grow (we even had a light frost a few nights ago, two months past last frost date) the days have been perfect - hardly any days over 30 degrees.

Praising the weather, that is rare for me, lol.

I spent the day going to Penola to get fertiliser then weeding. With the wetter that normal weather the weeds are getting out of hand.

 On Monday I took a tour with a 11 other people to a hydroponic herb farm (factory) not too far away at Tantanoola in SA. Tantanoola is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere - not the sort of place you would expect to find a facility like this.
This place is massive, and one of the top ten largest hydroponics facilities in Australia, with glasshouses covering over a hectare each. The heating and overheads must be more than the GDP of a small country.

We looked through the glasshouses as well as the packing shed and equipment. All so high tech, makes me ashamed of my little low tech farm. That said, I would not like to farm in that way.

I was very impressed and, although I am not sure that I learned a lot, it was amazingly interesting. The owner was very happy to answer questions and open about all the facets of the hydroponics business.

I really don't have a lot to write about today so here is a pic of a feijoa flowering. All my young, seedling grown trees are flowering at the moment so I will soon be able to select the best to keep for fruit.

I love feijoas and you can find the trees everywhere so it still surprises me how many people don't know what they are.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Taste testing my broad beans

This season I grew 9 varieties of broad beans. I would have grown more but I didn't have room for them all without risk of cross pollinating. I only had a few seeds of most of the varieties as they are very rare in Aus but even though the winter and spring were so wet and boggy I only lost two types. It is a loss but it could have been worse.

I have a few more new varieties that I will try this coming autumn.

I decided to taste test them this morning to see what sort of flavour range they have. I didn't cook any of the new varieties as immature beans as with the poor weather I couldn't risk even a single seed until I knew I had enough to replant next season.

Last night I placed three dried seeds of each in a muffin tin (separating of course) and covered with boiling water, then set them aside overnight to soften. This morning I cooked them one type at a time and tasted them. I placed the three seeds in a bowl and microwaved them for 1 minute with a few spoons of water. Of course, if you were cooking more you would cook them for longer, but only till just tender and definitely not till they are mushy unless making dip with them.
I then peeled them - I find them easier to peel after cooking than just after soaking. Young, immature beans do not need peeling no matter what websites or books say. If the skin is tough then they have been picked to old, and peeling wastes time, energy and food.

Here is the results, remembering that my taste buds are not very sensitive, and I prefer food on the bland and sweet side:


This has been my favourite variety up until now. It has an unusual fruity flavour quite unlike any other broad bean when eaten raw or cooked.

I love them raw as an immature bean in salads or as they are, and they are also as yummy cooked as an immature or dried bean. The downside is the small size makes them a pain to peel.


New for this year. This broad bean is highly productive and a good grower. It did not suffer from chocolate spot even with the wet weather.

The beans are distinctly yellow in colour and a good size. It has a mild and slightly nutty flavour.


 This bean is a tall grower and produces large beans containing large seeds. It has a very mild, almost bland flavour, good for adding to dishes for bulk without changing the flavour of the dish.

The large beans are a pleasure to peel.


The dried beans are whiter than these in the pic which were photographed before they were totally dried.
This was another new one. The flavour was very bland and the seeds were less starchy in texture than any of the others.
I liked it but it was nothing special.


This plant has big pods like Gippsland Giant but the seeds are smaller.

Another new one for this season. This one was a surprise with an outstanding flavour, nutty and sweet. This was my favourite for flavour. Only three plants survived so I am glad I got some seeds to plant next year.

I know I said that I only grew 9 varieties but I found that some of my Stone Ear variety must have been cross pollinated with a purple variety so I thought I would trial it just if case it had different qualities.

The flavour and texture turned out to be no different than 'normal' stone ear seeds. Mild.


Another new one for this season. Senoritas hat did not grow well for me but even though the plants struggles they did produce enough seeds to grow next year.
The flavour is very mild, almost bland.


This amazing coloured broad bean also struggled but still produced well on the poor little plants.

It has a mild, starchy flavour, similar to otehr broad beans but it is still worth growing just to look at the seeds.


This is a very productive and early broad bean that produces small, dark purple when mature beans.
When immature the beans are a little bitter. People in most countries outside Australia nd the US prefer their broad beans on the bitter side with the extra flavour that comes with it. This is the only bitter variety I grow, though only slightly so.

When cooked and peeled they lose the bitterness but are still too small to be pleasant to peel.


This one is also new this year. I was blown away with the delicious flavour which was mild and nutty. White broad beans do not have the bitterness that darker varieties often have so are preferred in the US particularly.

This is a strong plant but they did suffer from a fungal disease that looks very similar to Bacterial Brown Spot. I had to send a couple of affected beans away to get them tested to make sure.

All in all, my favourites for this season were - Witkiem Manita, Crimson Flowered and Morocco, but none of them were unpleasant to eat.
There are so many great ways of cooking them (and they are very nutritious) that broad beans should be in an food garden over the winter. I have to admit that up till two or three years ago I always assumed I hated them because I hate other beans. When I actually ate some (not overcooked) I realised just how delicious they are both raw and cooked.

They also make great green mulch which adds nitrogen to the soil. Unlike other legumes, broad beans continue producing nitrogen nodules on the roots right up until they die down so they are very good for the garden.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Selecting lettuces, Island Gems variety, and potato seedlings

Today I decided to do some rogueing and selecting of a half row of Island Gem lettuces. I don't usually grow lettuces but I liked the look of these so much that I decided to give them a go.
They are a one serve heading lettuce in greens and spots.

I was disappointed in how uneven the plants are, some produced heads and some didn't. I am looking for a pretty heading lettuce with a firm heart and crisp texture.

Unfortunately these lettuces tend to be buttery instead of crisp but I will have to cope with that.

First I went through and pulled out any that did not produce heads, then went through again, tasting each one, and pulling out any that were bitter.
I ended up pulling out about 60% and will go through them again in a couple of weeks. By the end I will end up with about 30 plants that are closest to what I am after which I will then let go to seed.

 This is an example of the type of lettuce I am aiming for. Small enough to put on a plate whole, nice little heart, and pretty.

Island Gems is one of the lettuce blends from Wild Garden Seeds. They breed the most amazing lettuce varieties and I am always drooling when I visit their website.

I planted a few rhubarb seeds for something to do earlier and planted them out a couple of weeks ago. They are now going through their rapid growth stage and it is amazing to see how much they have grown every day when I look at them.
It doesn't look like much in this picture but when both small rows have mature plants in them I will post a better pic.

These are seedlings from my 'Red Rover' variety.

This boring picture is of a tray of true potato seedlings. It was a few days ago but today there are about 100 seedlings in this tray.
I am so excited as they are a mix of different colours and shapes and I have in mind trying to get a blend of golfball sized, multi coloured potato varieties that can be sold in large punnets for potato salads or boiled potatoes for restaurants.

I can't wait to start playing with them.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Garlic harvest, garlic grassy top, and nasturtiums

I know I complain about this every year but I just want to add more to my discussions on what I call 'Grassy Top' in garlic. For some reason I just can't find mention of this problem online or in books but I can't imagine it is limited to my garlic.

I have found that a few varieties of garlic (all hardnecks in my experience so far) will produce this before they are ready to harvest. It looks like grass growing out the top of the garlic stems.

It seems to be caused by the soil getting too wet in winter. My main culprit is Monaro Purple - shame because otherwise it is my favourite variety. Nearly all our rain falls for the year in two months - August and September, and that is when the garlic is putting on their main growth.

If you take off the outer wrappers you will see that it is actually the cloves that have started to shoot while the main plant is still growing.

Sometimes only a few plants will be affected, and sometimes nearly all. it seems to affect the biggest and most well grown/healthiest plants.

In severe cases you will see that the plant puts so much effort into the shooting cloves that the whole plant is stunted.
Also, there is often not much of a bulb as the cloves begin to fill out so there is not a marked difference between the stem and the bulb.
 Fortunately, the shooting cloves can still be dried and stored but with a reduction in the storage time to a couple of months or so. This does not bother me as I replant my garlic at Christmas time instead of waiting till autumn so they sit happily in the ground till the rain in autumn comes.

I have just finished my garlic harvest today and left one grassy top plant in the ground to see what it does over the next few months and into autumn. I think it will just go dormant naturally as it gets drier and hotter and then all the cloves will reshoot when the weather cools down.

The garlic harvest was just as bad as I expected but I did find that the Monaro Purple variety coped much better with the heavy weed competition that all the other varieties. I did completely lose a couple of varieties due to the weeds and wet.

The bulbs were small but I will have enough of this variety to replant for next year. I was banking on a good harvest and crop for sale but the winter destroyed that hope.

I will have to rebuy some bulbs of the other varieties when they come on the market.

On a happier note, the nasturtiums have had one of the best springs ever, they are looking magnificent.
I will have a lot of seed to offer and put in packets. There is already a lot of seed setting.

I have decided to change the picture on my nasturtium packets to this picture that I took today.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Broad beans and garlic

After a couple of hot days over 30c all the vegetables I have in the ground have really put on growth. I was away for the weekend at Ballarat markets and when I got back yesterday afternoon I was surprised at just how much difference that bit of heat made. The soil is still moist so heat was all the plants needed.
I am still resowing most of my cucubits and corn after a couple of very late frosts, and predation from earth mites, but the plants that have survived have taken off over the last couple of days. I just hope the frosts hold off a bit longer at the end of the season.

How beautiful are the seeds of this broad bean 'Stone Ear'. This year I put in a few new varieties but since I only had a dozen seeds of each and the wet whether killed some I didn't dare eat any of the seeds. Luckily it doesn't take long to build up stocks.
Next year I should be able to report on the eating quality of all the new ones, and possibly have a little seed for sale.

I have a few more varieties that didn't go in this year due to me not having enough room so I will have to juggle my varieties next season.

This seems to happen most years - if late winter is very wet some of the garlic varieties, especially Monaro Purple, start growing shoots out the top of the plant.
This is caused by the cloves growing as you can see here after I have removed the outer wrappers.

This problem is really annoying as it lessens the storage capabilities of the bulbs, and sales for them. It is more unfortunate because this is a particularly good eating variety.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Damn the magpies

A few days ago I went out to check on one of my blocks and found that magpies had gone around every bed of corn and pulled out every single seedling, Ggrrrr. I was going to replant but I figured that they would just do it again so I ended up planting other melons in those beds instead. The corn can wait til next year.
One of my neighbours feeds the magpies so I figure that they hang around the back block all day because they don't have to go and find food. They have nothing to do but play about and be naughty, just like bored teens.

 My pepinos are starting to set fruit now, wel the inside plants. The ones outside have taken a beating with Earth Mites and cold weather so are a bit behind.

I have a couple of seedling plants in this year. I know that the chances of getting something different with just a couple of seedlings is remote but I will try to germinate a lot more seed next year.

I was sent a few duck potato (Sagittaria latifolia) tubers some time ago. They have suffered from the cold and are just starting to leaf out now.
These are water plants that produce tubers that look like water chestnuts in winter.

I am hoping they taste good as they might be a better alternative to water chestnuts. They don't have to be peeled, which is a fiddly job with the water chestnuts.

One of my favourite brassicas is Purple Peacock broccoli. It is an all round plant as the small heads are eaten as well as the tender leaves.
I haven't grown it for a couple of years after I lost all my seed when they accidently got left out in an open container. I finally bought some more even though it cost me a heap of money for the packet.

The plant is quite striking with its purple veined leaves and is very ornamental.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Chinese toon tree and more

I am exhausted after nearly a week of hard work from dawn till dark. Since planting has been so late everything is having to go in at the same time. I am busy planting, weeding, digging and laying out new drip tube to extend my area under irrigation. The weather has been perfect and to top it off we are due to get a good amount of rain again on Sunday which will be perfect timing. It will wash the new lime into the newly dug beds.

 Last year I planted three Toona sinensis (Cedrela sinensis) trees from seed, also known as Chinese toon.
I know these can be aggressive suckering trees I will try to keep them under control with regular harvesting of the new shoots which are delicious.

The shoots are often used in Asian dishes, especially with eggs. Although websites say they taste like onion I don't find that. I think they have their own taste which is incomparable to anything else. I really enjoy nipping off a young leaf or two as I walk past to nibble on. The trees are still too young to take whole shoots but they should be bushy enough next spring if I trim them to force branching.

I know it is a very poor photo but this is a row of young Island Gems lettuce from Wild Garden Seed. So far I am very impressed with the colours and shape. These are a small, single serve crisphead lettuce that I think will become very popular, especially with people like me who are sick of large lettuces going off in the fridge when you can't eat them all in time.

I am really looking forward to eating some of these. So far the rabbits are leaving them alone so I should have a fair pick to choose those I want to save seed from.

My poor, poor garlic. When I planted them I was sure I was going to have a great harvest, but that was before all the wet where I couldn't weed them. The beds are totally covered in weeds and I can't do anything about it.

At least it looks like I will get enough to plant the same number of beds again next season, even though the bulbs will be small and with fewer cloves.

They are struggling valiantly and some are even strong enough to send up scapes.

They should be ready to harvest in about three weeks.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Pollinating melons and malabar spinach

After spending a couple of days at a friends open weekend showing off their eco friendly home and wildlife refuge I was back to digging and planting today. I put in a heap of corn and beans even though the weather is still cold at night. I am hoping that in about 7-10 days when they are germinating the nights will be warmer.

 We noticed a couple of days ago that the high winds a week  ago had almost pushed over this young gum tree that was shading our greenhouse. It is in a place we don't often go to so we didn't see it sooner - I don't know why it is not on the ground as the roots are pulled up and barely holding it. We are getting it pulled down in the next week as it is likely to fall on something important if we get more wind.

Too bad as it was handily shading the greenhouse and mum loved it.

I noticed last week that where I had planted the Malabar spinach last year was hundreds of young seedlings coming up. I really don't need this many so I will pot them up and take them to a market.
It looks like it could become a weed if not controlled, or if you don't harvest all the berries. Last year was the first time I had grown it so I didn't realise every left seed would grow.

I don't tend to like leafy greens but I did not that this plant was more pleasant than 'normal' spinach as it doesn't have any background bitterness.

With all the hand pollinating of melons I will be doing this year I decided to buy a heap of small brushes to do the job - I am just too rough with my fingers and end up damaging too many flowers. One for each variety.
I am hoping that using a brush might help with the setting ratio too.

I bought a heap of cheap toothbrush holders too protect the brushes so I can just leave them sitting next to each bed and there won't be any accidental cross pollinating.
Some of the brushes were too long but I just broke them off so they would fit in the holders.

I went out and used the brushes to pollinate some other flowers in the garden to make sure they hold pollen well - it was a complete success.

I already have the clips ready that I use to hold the flowers closed, and tags so I am all set for the onslaught.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Start of seed harvest

The weather is finally warming up even though the nights are still quite cool. I have taken a chance and started sowing the beans and corn. I will be away from tomorrow till Sunday afternoon at a friends farm open weekend so I won't get any more done till I get back but I did get quite a few beds in today.

The first seeds to ripen for the season are these Giant Chinese Spring Onions. I have only picked a few heads today but I think they will all be ready to pick next week.
The onion family ripens its seeds very quickly after pollination.

The next to ripen will be some of the brassicas that survived the winter wet - heading mustard, kale and a cabbage variety.

I found a broad bean affected with what looks like Bacterial Brown Spot which I never knew occurred around here. It was only one plant and the leaves are not affected, just the pods so I am not sure of the disease. I sent a couple of pods to the biosecurity dept of the department of ag to have it analysed. They should get back to me on Monday.

I don't take chances with disease, even if it gets me into trouble. Better to be safe than risk having it spread to other gardens or farms.
 I have one plant of gooseberry 'Captivator'. This is a very poor producing variety and the only reason this plant survives is because it is in an out of the way place and never gets any attention.
I notice today that it has quite a bit of fruit setting. It must be because of the wet winter as it usually only sets fruit every couple of years and only a handful when it does.

The fruit this season is not enough to save it though if I ever need that spot.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Lots of spring working, digging and planting

While I was writing this post yesterday evening the house was shaking under gale force winds. I was just typing that I hope the power doesn't go off while I was writing... then it did. It didn't come back on till 3am.

Anyway, we have had some fine days so I managed to get a heap of work done. I had a few tonnes of lime delivered so I started putting that out - by hand in buckest. Whew what a job. And the soil is finally form enough to work so I have been digging heaps of beds. I am exhausted at the end of the day.
Although the nights are still cold, only around 3-4C I have started putting in my corn, and replanting the cucurbits. I just can't wait any longer.

Compared to last year at this time my soil has come on marvelously. It actually has some body, and heaps of worms, it is also much darker in colour than the pure sand that it was. It is amazing what a year can do when you get the ph to an acceptable level and add heaps of organic matter.

Many people may not agree with my way of adding the organic matter but it has certainly worked. I originally let all the grass and weeds grow to a good height and then sprayed it with Glyphosate. All the masses of underground runners from the running grasses (couch and buffalo mainly) rotted into the ground, helped with a good rotary hoeing.

Then I laid down all the corn stems on the beds that I grew corn in and they rotted down quite quickly too. I am just amazed at how many worms there are now. When I started I could barely find one. I think raising the ph level was great for the worms as well as the veggies.

I got this broadfork made by a local metalworker> it cuts down time with digging, doesn't damage worms, and makes things easier. The only downside is the weight. I might get the next one made with wood handles. At least it is building up my arm muscles, and better on my back as there is no bending.

I am very happy with it otherwise.

I thought I had lost all my Chinese yams in the swampy conditions but I notice this one shooting in the raised bed I had a couple in last year. At least I will be able to build up numbers again.

It looks like I still have at least a couple of every root crop that were in the ground over winter so I can build up again. I might have to raise some beds for the root crops just in case we get another very wet winter/spring.

Here is a very overcrowded clump of seed raised bearded iris that did not get separated. I may have to ask around if someone wants to come and take them away. Hmmm, but they are very pretty.

It looks like only two of my hosta plants survived the wet. At least I can separate them next season to make more. Most people don't realise that the new uncurled leaves are tasty.