Wednesday, December 22, 2010

seeds vs seedlings: a tale of garden snobbery

The other night at the pub, I got into an animated discussion with a guy who thought that buying seedlings (vs seeds) was the ultimate gardening laziness.  It was not the first time I'd come across such plant 'purists' (as I think they'd like to be known), and it seems to be the gardening equivalent to competitive backpacking.

As a keen gardener, but also a reasonably time poor (and often cash poor) gardener I believe that seedlings have a valid place in a backyard garden, and here are a couple of reasons why:
  • A punnet of seedlings often costs the same as a packet of seeds.  If you're anything like me, you don't want an entire packet's worth of spotted Turkish gourds, so it makes sense to just buy a ready sprouted punnet, particularly if you know that you can save the seeds for a following year (if the spotted gourds are worth it).  If you're fortunate enough to have a local seedling producer such as Hobart Kitchen Gardens, who sells individual pumpkin seedlings for $1 each, which have been grown from seeds produced by the Tasmanian-based Lost Seed company (they specialise in heirloom, true-to-type seeds, which means that you can reliably save seeds), then you'll actually be saving money with the knowledge that you can grow them again next year with the saved seeds.  A couple of months ago, I bought 3 pumpkins from the HKG stall at the Melville St Farmer's Market. All three were of different varieties and cost me $3 overall.  If I'd bought seeds, it would've cost me almost $10 for the 3 packets.  Yes, I would've had about 25 seeds in each packet, vs the one pumpkin seedling, but considering that I have a number of butternuts that I've grown from seed already (last year's saved seeds), who has room for that many pumpkins in a suburban backyard?
  • Scenario 1: you've planted a packet of basil, and watched as the seeds sprouted, the little seedlings growing under your loving care as the spring weather warms the ground.  You're dreaming of all the pesto you're going to make etc etc.... and then one night, when they're about 3 cm tall, the entire patch is decimated by snails, an evil army of snails.  True story.  In this case, my solution was to buy another packet of seeds, but also buy a punnet of basil, so that I'd have some already started at the same growth as my homegrown seedlings.  When the beasts attack, seedlings are great consolation presents...
  • Scenario 2: you've dug up a patch of weeds, and want to fill it quickly and cheaply with some colour.  So you go buy those tubs of pansies that are always for sale at 5 for $5 or something like that.  The pansies not only fill a gap, but are great for blocking weeds from coming up, particularly as they spread quite rapidly.  (plus, this is kinda embarrassing, but I cannot, for some perverse reason, grow pansies from seed.  If anyone has any tips, please share)
  • You're new to gardening, you want to start off nice and easy, and it's a lot quicker and easier to buy seedlings than seeds, particularly as a lot of seeds need special conditions to sprout.  Don't feel guilty about buying seedlings, there's no shame.
Mr competitive gardener, I'll repeat, there's no shame in buying seedlings, just like there's no shame in wanting to see the Louvre, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Tower of London, the Angkor Wat, the Statue of Liberty, or the Sydney Opera House...

Rant over.

Incidently, I've been growing some things by seed in pots before I transfer them into the ground.  I've had little or no limited luck growing things like lebanese cucumbers, sunflowers, snapdragons, and pansies from seed in the ground, so it's often better to grow them in punnets and then transfer them to the ground later (something that I've only just acknowledged).  Some of the punnets, such as the Tigerella tomatoes and many butternut pumpkins have been given away as Christmas presents.

Pictured below are my 'flower' seeds: Sunflowers in the foreground, Zinnias on the right middle, black pansies and snapdragons in the unchanged pots (of course):

At one week
After 2 weeks. Note the still empty Pansy punnets... Oh and 'Nola' -the grape - is in the front
Below: The 'vege' box (I'm still finding a use for those beloved polystyrene boxes). Tigerella and Gardener's delight seedlings in the far top right, lebanese cucumbers, to the left of them, silverbeet in the middle left, experimental watermelon (I don't know how I'll go in Tassie's cool climate) on the bottom right, and more butternut pumpkins on the bottom:

One week in (note the number of black ex-pansy pots)

Two weeks later (with a couple of presents for friends missing)

Monday, November 29, 2010

catch up post: artichokes, bugs, evil birds and more...

I'm having a temporary break from having the internet at home, so for the next month or so I'll be doing fewer but longer blog posts from the uni library (this post is therefore sponsored by UTAS...).  Today, I have a mega stroll-around-the-vegie-garden-style post.  The baby birds that have been tweeting from the gutter right above my bedhead have finally grown up, and just like their parents they like to dig up all my (not cheap) sugar cane mulch and seedlings, eat my strawberries, and fly off with entire pea seedlings in their grubby beaks.  The other day, as I was netting my strawberries, there was a line of 3 birds watching me from the fence with their yellow eyes, occasionally sharpening their beaks on the palings, plotting their revenge...

Initially, sensing a growing threat from the birds as the blueberries grew bluer, the birds multiplied in my gutter, and the sheer cheek of a bird flying off with an entire seedling in its mouth, I bought some 'humming bird wire' from the hardware store (you can vaguely see it in the above photo - it's running above the white netting).  $17.95 for bird wire, with the capacity to cover my entire yard with ease vs $50 for bird netting? I reasoned that the wire was a better option.  I leapt around the backyard, foolishly triumphant as I hammered in posts and attached the wire to old stockings, designed to take some of the slack (on a side note, what do single men use for garden ties?).  However, the wire turned out to be a false economy.  The next morning I went outside, and three cheeky birds were doing the early shift, checking the strawberries for ripeness and sifting through the mulch for worms. My message: don't buy 'humming bird wire'.  Needless to say, I had to pay the hardware store another visit, returning home with a mass of surprisingly expensive netting.  So much for 'saving money' by growing your own vegies...

Anyone (including myself) who has sneered at my Fine Arts degree and wondered what in the hell I'll use a sculpture major for, should check out my strawberry construction.  It's titled Bird Net Over Strawberries and challenges the notion that art and functionality are mutually exclusive.  In all reality it's just a bodgy construction of bamboo stakes, gaffa tape, netting and old tent stakes, but it's holding up surprisingly well.  The bird wire can be seen in the below photo as well.

Bird Net Over Strawberries (2010), dimensions variable

On another triumphant note, my green artichokes are sprouting well.  The mothership looks fairly ready to eat, and the smaller side-flowers are just about there too.  My purple artichokes, mentioned in previous posts are just about gone.  I had stall at a market on Sunday, where I sold a number of them (along with rhubarb and silverbeet), and I suspect that the stocks are just about drained.  I wonder if the purple variety always flower before the green variety, or whether it's just because the green plant is slightly younger?
The Mothership

et al
I also had my first pea harvest (so peas don't grow in frozen packets?).  I picked a decent bowl of pods (after finally establishing which area I had planted the peas as opposed to the snowpeas - an argument for  naming seedlings as you plant), and bought 300g of prawns ready for a prawn and pea risotto.  Just as the rice was soaking up the wine, I remembered that I had to get the peas out of the pods, and got out a big bowl for the peas in anticipation.  I needn't have bothered.  There are SO FEW PEAS IN A POD! Who would have thought...  Oh and it seems that you can eat the pods too, as I gnawed on a few pods out of hunger as I was cooking, and, well, I'm not dead yet...

A not-quite-ready pea
It's not all stories of triumph:  I'm still having troubles with getting a decent head of broccoli. I've tried planting at different times of the year, fertilising, companion planting, but they still go from here (tiny head)

scungy brocoli head

to here:

"but I never even saw you bud!?!"

The cabbages are also quite frustrating, although I can take my anger out on the green caterpillars that like to munch on the leaves.  They're delightfully fun to squash!

The creatures that I haven't come across before are those on my cherry tree that I just noticed this morning:  little black slug-like creatures (pictured below).  Help! what are they? how do I get rid of them?

The nectarine tree (I think - I forgot to mark the trees too), which has the leaf curl is producing cute little fruit things.  Now, I know that people say that you should break off fruit to encourage growth in the first year, but is it really necessary?  The poor tree's trying so hard despite the odds....

Oh and last but not least, my leeks are going to flower.  They're such beautiful forms with their curved buds and so I really have no regrets not eating them all.

For the last year, I've left a couple of almost all plant varieties to go to seed, simply because I'm curious about their life-cycles.  I think it's a good way of learning, and as an added bonus if you're lucky (like I've been), things like spinach and lettuce will come up the next year without you lifting a finger...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Blue[green]berries, an unlikely flower and a curly problem...

I've just come in from an arm-buggering session mowing the grass.  I own a handmower partly because it's better for the environment (not using petrol or electricity), partly because I can't afford to get someone to regularly mow my lawns for me, and partly because it's a lot cheaper than a gym membership (that is, it's good exercise).  I haven't really needed to mow all winter, but now that it's spring, it seems to be a weekly calling, which a bugger 'cause i really don't like grass (and have evil plans afoot to kill it all...).

However, spring has also brought a few other surprises: the very unlikely flower that bloomed out of the otherwise unremarkable spikey plant has bloomed again (pictured above).  I don't know what it's called.

The blueberries are starting to form.  It's the first time I've ever seen blueberries that have not come from a plastic container,  so I'm pretty damn excited.  The particular plant variety pictured right is called 'Denise', but 'Brigitta' is also starting to produce.

As an experiment, I planted the two trees in different areas - Brigitta is in full sun in the front yard, and Denise is down the side of the house with partial sun, particularly in winter.  Now I know it's not a true experiment as they're different varieties; but because blueberries apparently like full sun, I just wanted to see what would happen.  Interestingly, Denise, who lost all her leaves in winter, has actually produced more flowers (and hence will produce more berries) than Brigitta, who retained a few of her leaves.  They're actually very beautiful bushes, with leaves that turned a lovely artichoke purple in autumn.  You can see a few of the white flowers that then turn into the berries in the picture.  The berries are still quite small and not ready for eating, but I suspect that I'm going to have to net them this weekend before the ruddy blackbirds cotton on.

Meanwhile, the artichokes are on super-productive-mega-drive.  I can't keep up with the sheer pace, particularly as the one plant seems to have divided over the 8 or so months I've had it, and so I have twice as many artichokes. I didn't realise until this morning, but the buds are forming all the way down the stem, not just at the top.  I had a few friends around last weekend and decided to see what they were like to BBQ.  I boiled the artichokes for about ten minutes, then halved them and BBQed them with some olive oil.  They're fantastically versatile vegetables once you get over the initial fear of cooking them.  Additionally, while people say 'oh you have to get out the choke', 'you can't eat the choke', I believe that's rubbish.  I eat the choke every time (and I've never choked...).

The strawberries that the crazy neighbour gave me last year, too late in the season to actually produce, have quadrupled in size and have the lovely white and yellow flowers that I'd be quite happy having in the garden even if they didn't produce fruit.

One thing that disappoints me however, is that my nectarine tree seems to have leaf curl.  This morning, I trotted off to the nursery that sold me the tree in August to get them to confirm the problem, and they seemed surprised that it had the problem so soon.  Apparently, there's not much I can do about it at the moment other than pull all the 'curled' leaves off and burn or tightly bag them and stick them in the bin to stop the spread of the fungal infection.  Then next winter I need to spray them with anti-fungal spray, and again as the tree's budding.   

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bloomin' Progress

Well, all but one of my expensive 'sticks' has bloomed.  When I say sticks, I mean the fruit trees I bought and have been anxiously waiting for them to flower and greenify.  The exception is one raspberry cane, which definitely just looks like a prickly stick.

A few of the trees have flowered and well as growing leaves, and I wonder if they'll actually produce one or two edible cherries, apricots, nectarines, apples, or greengages this year?  I proved last year with dear little Figly (the Genoa Fig tree) that I'm unable to pull off fruit in a tree's early formative years simply to encourage growth, so they definitely have to be edible. 

In regards to the artichokes mentioned in the previous post, since I last blogged I've had 5 more smaller artichokes to play with.  They're wonderful boiled for 20mins in salted water and then eaten with oil and balsamic.  Just watch out for the boiled baby slugs curled up in the 'petals'.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I'm having a few image transfer issues.  I hope to post photos of the trees and get back to more illustrated blogging soon.  What's the fun in just words?!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Help! Artichoke advice needed

Mr artichoke and sons
 I'm notoriously bad at knowing when to pick fruit and vegies, and tend to leave it that little bit too long.  I have my first globe artichoke here.  I blogged about it earlier in the week but it seems to have progressed quite a lot since then and now has two tiny hangeronerers on each side.   My question is: is this artichoke ready for the picking or should I leave it a bit longer.  Part of me says 'pick it!', the other bit of me (and I suspect it's the dominant 'leave it' part) says 'don't be a fool, it's only young'.  Does anyone have any suggestions? Advice?

Oh and any cooking suggestions while you're at it?

mf of an artichoke plant

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

artichoke no longer choking

My artichoke is finally doing something other than leaves!

I have two artichoke plants.  I bought one, and once I was satisfied that I was unlikely to kill it, I purchased another.  I knew they grew quite tall, so I planted them both at the southern end of two different garden beds, but I wasn't expecting them to cover over a meter in width each with their massive green fronds. Nor did I expect the plants to take so long to produce a flower (it's been about 8 months).  The photo above is of the original plant. The other is still quite small, strangely enough.

I bought them both from the lovely woman at Salamanca markets - the one that I waxed lyrical about a couple of posts ago.  I spoke to her about what I wanted it for, and she advised me to get the green artichoke.  Now, call me stupid, but I reckon I might have accidently received the purple one....

My posts have dropped off lately, unfortunately.  This is partly because of a bad back and mostly because the only way to get images of my garden onto this blog at the moment is to take a photo with my iPhone, post it to Twitter, drag the photo off twitter onto my desktop and then post the image.  Obviously, I'm not going to do that with the 50-odd enthusiastically snapped garden photos currently on my phone.  Some parting wise words: don't accidently bin iPhoto from your mac and don't expect a digital camera to survive a pond experience...

Friday, August 27, 2010


I found this beautiful creature dead outside my back door today:

We've had some crazy weather in the last couple of weeks: snow down to 200m (it was snowing just up the road from me), ghost-imitating howling winds, rain, cold.... 

It seems like an odd place for it to die, but a friend suggested that it probably just had a wee steering problem and smacked into the window.  It's currently wrapped in tissues in a takeaway container in the freezer.  I was going to bury it, but a local woman who makes jewellery out of animals who have died of natural causes is going to pick it up and give it a new life, so to speak.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Real Estate Poison

When I moved into my house, I didn't assume my garden was 'organic'.  Who knows what the last owners got up to with poisons and additives.  But then again, the Real Estate agent never pretended that it was organic.  When I finally found the key to the garden shed a couple of months later, a couple of squirt bottles of round-up and some snail bait confirmed that the previous owners were trigger happy. Case closed.

However, in some Real Estate sneakiness, Raine and Horne are currently selling a house in Bathurst Street with the description 'A Very Peaceful Organic Garden' (their capitalisations, strangely).  Now, I know the tenants currently renting that house, where they nurture an admirable vegie patch.  While they don't use poison in the garden to my knowledge, the real estate agent never asked them if they do, which means that there's no way that the Raine and Horne should be advertising the garden as 'organic' (although they'd probably something along the lines of 'it's organic in that most items are carbon-based'). 

Luckily, most people have a healthy scepticism of real estate agents, and this probably just reinforces the profession's bad image. Still, I think it's ridiculous that they advertise happy organicness, and then... wait for it... tell them to kill all the oxalis in the front yard NOW (in your dreams, estate agent).  Personally, if I were my friends, I'd take poison to the oxalis. 

Next house inspection, I'd probably also leave out those buckets underneath the  'great use of [leaking roof and] skylights' and let potential buyers see for themselves just how  '[dodgily] well restored & extended with quality [makeshift] fittings and [common] exceptional [mould] taste', the house actually is.

Buyer beware.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Brassicas and Composting

I pulled out all my cauliflowers a couple of weeks ago.  My inability to judge when to eat vegies meant that I missed the short period in which the flowers are tight and good to eat, and so a lot of them went to seed.  They were riddled with aphids.  Due to the aphid problem (which couldn't be fixed with white oil, derris dust, or any other organic housemade mixture found on the internet), I'm not sure if I'll grow them again the near future.  For me, aphids are just too hard to rid of on cauliflowers. 

Anyhoo, I had these massive cauliflower plants with their quite sculptural heads, and I was about to stuff them into my already very full compost heap when I remembered that I'd read somewhere that cauliflowers (and other brassicas) shouldn't be disposed of in compost heaps.  This is apparently for the same reason why you should wait 3 years before planting brassicas (cauliflowers, broccoli, cabbage etc) in the same garden bead - they carry brassica-specific diseases in the soil.   So I guiltily squished the mature plants into my garbage bins, aphids (+white oil) and all.  Does anyone know if this 'no brassica in the compost' rule is true?

On the topic of flowering plants, I've left quite a few of my vegies to go to seed, and as a result I have a stunning flowering display in one of my vegie patches.  The rocket flowers are particularly lovely: tiny brown and white flowers on tall stems.  The bok choi has tiny yellow flowers, which are lovely against the light green leaves, and like the rocket, the plants are now huge.  I suspect that I'm going to have to get a bigger compost heap...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Newspaper mulch, weeds and those birds (you know the ones...)

This was going to be a happy post.  I was going to wax lyrical about the benefits of using newspaper as a weed prohibitor and mulch.  But alas, the blackbirds have hatched for the season.

It takes quite awhile to lay newspaper, particularly if it's around those stupid roses in my front yard which are thankless at best, leaving marks on your wrists that suggest that you're not really coping with life (I know I should just rip the pink-flowering devils out, but I feel guilty at the prospect of killing them).  You have to water the ground underneath, lay some compost, then layer wet newspaper over the surface of the compost (it takes longer than you think), and cover it in pine bark, sugar cane mulch, straw or other similar mulch, so that it doesn't dry out too much or fly away into your anally retentive neighbour's backyard.

The newspaper is fantastic for keeping down weeds and will break down readily, feeding your plants.  Excuse my scepticism, but I believe it's also a far more efficient way of recycling newspaper than the council bins.

However, I didn't take into account the blackbirds.  I can hear them making spring babies in my gutters in the morning.  By mid afternoon, they're digging up the newspaper: scratched up flakes of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull lying in the dirt amongst the hybernating roses. 

The weeds are rebuilding their empire, and so Spring begins.

Monday, August 9, 2010

'The Metaphysics of Cutting Grass'

I just want share a link to this wonderfully poetic article by Jerry DeNuccio published on the Smart Set, a website managed by Drexel University.

'The Metaphysics of Cutting Grass' discusses the connotations of grass, the zen of mowing, and varying relationships to the plant (and to the weeds that wage war amongst the blades).  He explains that "mowing is applied art; in doing it, one edits the lawn, grooming the ragged, shearing the shaggy, making the unruly ruly," relating this 'transformative' activity back to his job as a university teacher and his relationship to his students.  I read this article just as I finished teaching my first year class, so it definitely struck a chord.

What do you think? Is cutting grass a zen activity? Do you wage war on the weeds that invade your grass, or do you coexist?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

asparagus, raspberries, and a lot of patience

I bought some raspberry canes and asparagus crowns today.  I love the names: 'crowns' and 'canes'.  Last September I launched into my 'in-ground' gardening with more ephemeral plants: lettuce, spinach, cauliflowers, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, rocket etc.  Yet one of the major benefits of having your own garden is that you can invest in long-term plants.  I posted recently about planting my fruit trees, which won't be fruitful for a couple of years.  I've also planted globe artichokes, blueberries, lemon and lime trees, and I was lucky enough to inherit some rhubarb from the previous owners, the only edible plants still in the vegie garden beds when I moved in.  However, I'm an asparagus addict, and I love raspberries (which are always disappointingly mouldy when you buy them in the shops), so I thought I'd invest in a couple more long term plants.

Like something out of Harry Potter: one of my soon-to-be-buried asparagus crowns

For an asparagus lover (particularly a gen-Y one), these plants are surely torturous as you can't eat them for at least 3 years after planting them, and it takes a further couple of years until you can eat them with vigour.  They're a similar plant to rhubarb in that respect.

Raspberries don't require so much of a wait, however, I don't think I'll be getting any fruit this season.  I bought the Chilliwack variety, which is not the most popular Tasmanian variety (Lloyd George), but is a popular commercial variety.  I haven't actually planted the canes yet (that's tomorrow's task), because I'm reconsidering where I should plant them.

I came to my raspberry variety decision after speaking to the peeps at Stoneman's Garden Centre in Glenorchy.  I'm a recent convert to their nursery.  They seem really knowledgeable, and they have a wide variety of stock, and the prices aren't bad.  Obviously, the seedlings aren't as cheap as the ones at K&D, but for things like fruit trees and asparagus, they're very good.  My other favourite place to buy seedlings and plants is the stall at Salamanca Markets, usually outside Salamanca Arts Centre (but I think they're on winter holiday at the moment).  Like many of the plant stall holders, they grow the plants themselves, and can give you excellent growing advice, and as a bonus, they're much cheaper than regular nurseries.  The only drawback is that you have to walk the entire length of the market to compare produce as Hobart City Council irritatingly doesn't bunch the produce stalls together.  The Hobart Farmers Market on Melville St on Sundays also has some good plant stalls.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

garden beast compromise

They scuttle, hide, scare and slide.  The bugs in my garden, that is.  I don't like them, they don't like me, but we both like vegetables.  A bit of a problem perhaps, but something on which I guess I need to compromise.

I just hate picking up a rock and seeing some alien-like creature squirming in the sunlight, I hate picking a bulb of fennel and having a spider crawl up my wrist, cut off a cauliflower head and see it crawling with tiny aphids, or dig into the compost heap and find that a family of rats call it home.

What's started this rant?  Well, tonight I dug up my first ever leek (hurrah), and jumped with surprise at the fat worm entwined in the plant's roots:

 'oh thank duck, it's just a worm'.  
It was just a worm this time, but I garden in fear always....

ps. the leek was delicious

Monday, July 19, 2010

In two years time I'll be rolling around drunk on fruit

The rest of my fruit trees went in today.  I didn't plant them though.  I'm slightly ashamed to say that I hired a gardener to clear the weeds up the back of my garden and he put in the fruit trees at the same time.  The garden[weed]beds had been there since I moved in last September and the ground is prohibitively dense and hard to dig.  Many of the weeds had mega roots and I destroyed two gardening forks in an attempt to clear them.  In the end it seemed like a happy compromise to get someone stronger than me to dig them up.

The decided order in the end (from the left) Granny Smith/Pink Lady Apple; Stella/ White Cherry, Moorpark Apricot, Goldmine Nectarine (white), and Santa Rosa Plum.  The decision was mainly due to sunlight.

 From the other side, with the rhubarb in the foreground

The Greengage/ Goldendrop Plum tree planted yesterday

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The first of the fruit trees is in!

Today I planted the first of my fruit trees: a Greengage/Golden Drop Plum combo.  While the cherry, apple, apricot, plum and nectarine trees are going to be planted along the southern fence in my backyard, I thought I'd plant the mini plum tree out the front for a bit of variety (plus I kinda ran out of space along the boundary fence in the backyard but still wanted a greengage).

I read quite a bit about planting fruit trees - many of them say things like 'start preparing your soil early, 6 months is best' (!).  Despite my best intentions, I haven't had time to even so much as weed the area out the back and the front year patch has only had a bit of minor digging in of mushroom compost.  However, I've spoken to a few v successful gardeners since then, and they all say that as long as you mix some good compost or well-rotted manure into the soil when you dig the hole for the tree, that should be more than enough.  In fact, if you believe some of Peter Cundall's recent articles in the local paper, fruit trees are pretty resilient and can actually benefit from a little neglect!

I mixed in some compost with the soil, and planted the tree in an earth mound for drainage as I have very dense clay soil and plum trees appreciate good drainage apparently.  I then laid wet newspaper over the soil and spread sugar cane mulch over the top.  I've got a lot of crazy little annoying weeds in the area and the newspaper coupled with mulch will stop the weeds from making home in the area and also keep soil damp come summer (that's if the black birds don't dig it all up like they do the pine bark).  I'll also extend my front yard watering system next weekend to include the tree.

I did a wee bit of remedial weeding as well.  As a result of my 3 week leave, I've got a mini weed jungle in the back yard including some very irritating, quick-spreading weeds that have a clover like leaf and a root that stems from a bulb like thing at the bottom.  It's quite hard to pull up the plant without leaving the bulb.  Additionally, if you leave it more bulbs grow on the root stem, and so it spreads.... ergh!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I've had a bit of a hiatus from blogging due to a 3-week trip to Turkey.  I left my flatmate in charge of watering the garden (if necessary in damp, wintery Hobart) while I was away and frolicked amongst the very different landscape that is Western Turkey.

The landscaped gardens around the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

The one thing I noticed the most about the Turkish landscape was the number of Oleander trees.  My travelling partners and I were all taught by our parents at an early age to be very very afraid of the Oleander.  Luckily, my parents just taught us not to eat them, but my friend was told that if she touched them, she'd be gone.  As a result, when we passed by the strangely named 'Oleander Restaurant' in Olympos, none of us were very keen to try our luck.  Despite their deadliness, the pink flowers were very pretty growing by the country roadsides.

hardy Oleanders growing in the salty slopes of the travertines, Pamukkale

We hired a car and drove down from Istanbul, stopping at Iznik, Bursa, Bergama, Çeşme, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Fethiye, Olympos, Göreme, Ankara, then back to Istanbul.  We drove over some amazing mountain ranges, saw the unlikely Pamukkale salt springs and rock forms of Cappodoccia. 

 My sister sitting on the salty Travertines, Pamukkale

  the town of Göreme, Capadoccia

The optimistically named 'Love Valley', Cappadoccia

The mountain drives through the coniferous forests and steep alpine peaks in middle of Turkey were well worth the petrol money (they do need to do something about the lack of guard rails and massive car-sized boulders that occasionally appear on the mountain roads however).

 a somewhat speedy image taken from the moving car

Turkey's meant to be one of the few countries in the world that is self-sustainable agriculture-wise.  It doesn't surprise me.   Crops of all descriptions were planted in any spare bit of ground available.  Along the roads, we'd see olive trees, citrus or cherries, and amongst the trees would be silverbeet, curcubits, tomatoes or other low-growing crops.  We stayed in fantastic accommodation in Olympos called Saban Pansion, where the log cabins were surrounded by such diverse planting, particularly citrus trees, and the ingredients for the home cooked dinners were all sourced from either their garden or local farmers.  The bar and dinner area was cloaked in shade by mulberry, fig, apple and lemon trees, as well as twisted grape vines - very welcome in the intense Turkish summer heat.

 the citrus trees and impressive cliffs that surround Saban Pansion, Olympos

Additionally, along the roadsides throughout the country, local producers set up temporary stalls selling watermelon, cherries, figs, peaches and greengages.  On our first day, we stopped by one such stall and bought an entire shopping bag of cherries for only 5 lira (about $4 Australian).  We couldn't believe our luck.

My garden might be weed-ridden and overgrown now, but Turkey was really inspiring produce-wise.  I can tell this weekend is going to be happily spent in the backyard.

smart chickens hanging out by their house on the road in the middle of Goreme.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Snail Poison Castle (and more)

Today, furious that many of my seedlings planted last week are now skeletal stalk, I upped the ante on the snail war.  I made a snail poison castle, complete with moat drawbridge (edit. moat is such a lovely word, my mistake) for easy access:

you can see a few cabbage stalks behind the newly installed weapon

The reason for a castle, rather than a scattering of blue pellets, is due to my small fur child, who for some reason quite likes to eat dirt.  I also don't like the idea of the poison getting into the soil.  My initial model (1.1) didn't have the drawbridge over the sharp cut edge.  I thought it was a nice touch, even if only aesthetically....

The seedlings that this castle is protecting are broccoli, red cabbage and mini cabbage. I have a few more broccoli plants growing a few beds away, and they're just starting to sprout:

Over the last 8 months that I've been working on this garden, I've discovered that while the beds are relatively small, to access the plants in the centre of each bed requires me to step into the garden bed. I have heavy clay soil and so when I step onto it, I compress it, which makes it harder to dig into later.  So in the newly planted beds, I've been lying old planks along the centre of the beds.  When you step onto the planks, your weight is redistributed slightly, and it means that you don't get dirty feet either (I have a bad habit of walking out in ugg boots to the garden patch at night to get last minute vegies for dinner, then having to wash my ugg boots when I come back in. Der)

Last weekend's planting of garlic and beetroot seeds 
between the planks.  Plus leeks, spring onions.

Access planks in my cabbage/broccoli/established cauliflower bed

On another note, my rocket and one of my lettuces are going to seed.  I've never seen a lettuce go to seed as it's the first time I've successfully grown them, so I thought I'd sit back and watch the show!

seeding rocket in background and foreground, 
a seeding lettuce centre left, and some happy lettuces separating

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

tidying up for a change of seasons

I returned from Sydney on Sunday to pumpkin, cucumber, tomato and basil plants that were shrivelled and dead or dying.  You see, while I was frolicking in the sun at the Sydney Biennale, Hobart experienced the first snow for the year. 

Winter is coming, the happy times are over. 

Ok, maybe I sound a bit macabre, but that's how it feels.  The days are so short that I can no longer see the vegies to pick when I come home, let alone garden at 9pm (which I enjoyed in the peak of summer).  I've never been successful with winter vegie growing, although maybe that has to do with my method of gardening.  Polystyrene boxes are great for moving plants around to take full advantage of sun/rain/wind; however, things take so long to grow in winter, and I just am not quite as enthusiastic and the plants consequently would historically suffer quite a bit of neglect. 

This winter I plan to be more organised, more enthusiastic, and try a bit harder.  After all, I have an entire backyard begging to be used.  So on Sunday, I covered everything in blood and bone (which the dog was later caught munching on. Etch); I pulled up and composted the beans and pumpkin and cleared the weeds, dug in mushroom compost into the pumpkin and bean beds where I will plant cabbages/ broccoli in the latter and garlic/onion/ potatoes in the former.

For the first time in my life I've been confronted with the need to practice crop rotation.  I've never rented a house for more than 16 months in a row really, so crop rotation was not really an issue.  It's quite confusing, as the crop rotation 'groups' are not the same as companion planting 'groups'.  I'm not much of a planner so it's proving quite hard to manage.

The one thing I have planned though, is the row of fruit trees that will be down the back of the yard, along the southern boundary so the vegie beds aren't shaded.  I've ordered from Stoneman's Nursery in Glenorchy a Granny Smith/ Pink Lady tree, a Greengage/Golden drop plum tree, an apricot tree, a Japanese plum, a Stella/White Cherry Tree, and a white nectarine.  I tried to order a Plumcot, which is a divine apricot/plum hybrid, but apparently it wasn't available after all.  Booo...

Now to weed the back beds in preparation for the trees... [groan]

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Picked Cucumbers

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of cucumbers in my garden, I finally took a couple of my friends' suggestions and pickled them.  I pickled 10 of them, but bear in mind that they were massive mofos.

Immediately after pickling.  They're now a darker colour.

I chose a Pickled Cucumber recipe from the website after considering pages and pages of recipes.  I was also tempted by this recipe, and a couple of bread and butter cucumber recipes, however, in the end I couldn't go past the sheer simplicity of the Taste version.  It basically required you to thinly slice the cucumbers, stick them in the jars (note, the recipe states a preparation time of 10 mins, yet it took me about 2 hours to cut and arrange the items in the jars and sterilise the jars) along with dill and black pepper (I added black mustard seeds as well), then pour over a boiling mixture of water, white wine vinegar and salt.  Too easy! 

You have to wait a week before eating.  I was a wee bit nervous this evening when I performed the ceremonial pop of the jar, however, they tasted perfect.  

I'm feeling slightly smug right now.  Happy times.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The cutting of the pumpkin

I cut my first pumpkin tonight.  Quite a ceremony!



oh shit the knife's stuck

oh so orange!

Like many of the plants I've grown in the last 6 months, pumpkin's a new experience for me.  My friends gave me a small plant which they grabbed from their compost heap, and it seemed to appreciate the mushroom compost and fertilizer I fed it, as it grew across two garden beds (I built a bridge from some lattice for it).

Pumpkin in its peak.  It's now spread beyond this image frame.

It's now dying off, and there are 6 mega pumpkins lying in the leaves.  I've been a wee bit anxious about when they'd be ready to eat, and have received quite a few suggestions, such as 'when it sounds hollow' (hollowness is subjective), when the skin turns grey (hmmm...), when the plant starts to die off.  I chose the latter and evidently it was a good decision. 

We're having roast pumpkin tonight with our Garlicy Lemon Roast Chicken (recipe courtesy of last week's Weekend Australian Magazine).  But for this week we have planned: pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin and spinach curry (two birds with one stone), and pumpkin risotto.  My flatmate is planning pumpkin soup too (unfortunately, my brief career as an aged care nurse means that I have a severe aversion to all liquid foods, and will be sitting that one out).