Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lenah Valley Links Chook Workshop

This morning I attended a Chook Workshop hosted by a local Lenah Valley family, who also manage a information-packed blog called Hoolio's Happy Hens.  The workshop was organised through the local community association Lenah Links, which was only established the same week I bought this house 4 months ago. LL has already had garden workshops and a market; and upcoming workshops include 'how to preserve fruit' and there's another market planned for the 6th March.  It's great that there are so many people in the local community willing to share their knowledge.

The workshop didn't dampen my chook owning aspirations, however it did impress on me how much of a commitment chooks are.

I have a dog who is pretty demanding, but if I go away I have a number of people crawling over each other to look after her for the weekend.  With chooks however, you can't just drop them off at your friends' places for the weekend.  If Pip has fleas I know it immediately because she'll jump onto my lap while I'm watching TV and start scratching (and will often share); whereas to know whether your chooks have lice or not, you have to catch them, hold them upside down and spread their feathers and try and spot these tiny skin-coloured creatures.  As I found out in the very practical workshop this morning, catching chooks is pretty damn hard, and apparently today's chooks were 'placid' and 'friendly'!  Additionally, while pip is quite happy just to curl up on the end of my bed (although she has a couple of cheap dog beds strategically littered around the house), Chooks need a quite involved house and cage system (if I want to protect both the chooks and my vegie garden, as well as having a damn good-looking chook house).

So it looks like I might need a bit more time and stability in my life before I embark on Chook ownership.  Perhaps it's a post-PhD thing?

The workshop was really useful though, and I'm sure I'll use the information in the next couple of years. After all, I've already picked out the names for my chooks...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mistaken Identity: the white beans

I recently posted about my neighbour who has been handing excess seedlings over the fence.  One of the first things that he gave me was what he identified as 'Broad Beans'.  Now, I don't like Broad Beans, but I thought I'd stick them in (hey, they were the right price) and see if homegrown ones were okay.

The plants have grown lovely creamy white beans, the same size as regular green beans.  Yesterday my friend Mary came around and told me that they weren't Broad Beans (because she's grown them before), but they looked like regular white beans that are ready for eating.  I then spoke to Peter who insisted that they were 'broad' beans (that they were long), not Broad Beans (as in the type). He then clarified and said that he just found an old packet of beans in his father's cupboard and stuck them in the ground.  Oh dear...

I thought I'd give them a go anyway and picked some for tonight's dinner, and had a munch on the way inside.  The skins were coarse and hard to chew, and not very tasty.  The beans inside were green and a bit better.  I could've probably just eaten the beans and not the skin raw.  However, I thought perhaps that I'd steam them and see if the skin softened a bit.

the cooked bean

The skin didn't change at all, however the beans went brown.  The beans were edible still, but the skin definitely not.  I'm not a fan of kidney beans, baked beans, berlotti beans and their texture was kind of like that.

the darkened beans inside the cooked bean

Oh well, I still have my green bean plants. They're happily producing lots of baby beans at the moment.

Dwarf Bean plants, with the two mystery white bean plants top right.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tomato envy

All my tomato-growing friends are waxing lyrical about their juicy friends, yet mine seem to be going through an extended childhood and/or teenage faze.  I have quite a range of tomatoes, all planted at different times, sourced from different places, all still yet to give me a red 'un for dinner.

Here's my flock:

sourced from New Town Station Nursery, it's the only seedling I bought from a shop this year:

A Roma tomato plant given to me by my neighbour Peter.  He's been passing seedlings over the fence for the last 4 months in everything from yoghurt containers to plastic cups.  He admitted that maybe he went a bit over the top last week.  It's great to have neighbours like that though, as I can also thank him for the cucumber, broad beans, a couple of cauliflowers, parsley (which you can see in front of the tomato), and only last week, 3 strawberry seedlings.  Mr Roma has the most green fruit on him so far.

Unidentifiable tomato plant bought as a seedling from Lenah Valley Primary school:

Gardener's Delight climbing tomato.  I have a row of these that I planted from seed a couple of months ago.  I've heard that I should thin them out, but I can't bear to kill plants that aren't 'performing' as well as others.

Another Lenah Valley Primary school plant.  I've had problems in the past with tomatoes doing this weird deforming thing.  It seems to affect all the fruit on those particular plants, but I'm not sure why it occurs.

A couple of tomatoes that my friends Tim and Mary gave me (Mary incidently has a great food/life blog called Utter Obsession with Foody Goodness).  It seems that a pumpkin or cucumber-looking plant has snuck in with it.  Tim and Mary also (deliberately) gave me a pumpkin plant that is going great guns.

Lastly, my precious 'Tigerellas'.  Like the Gardener's delight, I grew them from seed, and am having dilemmas about whether to thin them or not.  I really want to see the stripey tomatoes!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cucumbers: 'insert the male flower carefully into the female flower'

I trotted off to the Hobart Bookshop to buy The Royal Horticultural Society's Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in Australia.  I browsed a massive selection of gardening books before choosing this one because it's

a) focussed on Australian climates and seed availablity,

b) has lots of colour pictures and good diagrams (great for visual people like me)

c) covers everything from compost and weeds, to individual plant varieties in detail,

and most importantly...

d) is clearly written in everyday language.

I really wanted to find out about the spikes on my Lebanese Cumber that I was querying in my previous post, and whether or not at 12cm it's ready to harvest.

They don't answer my hairy question, but I have learned what seems to me, a kinky fact about cucumbers (and pumpkins, zucchinis and melons, apparently for that matter.  My confusion in distinguishing between my pumpkin and cucumber plants is not because I'm stupid after all!).

I'll admit at this point that I often giggle my way around the garden patch.  Last night when I was out measuring my cucumber with a ruler (while sucking on an icypole), the old woman behind me stuck her head over then fence and said

"hello dear, what are you doing?"

"oh [embarrassed, blushing]... I'm measuring my cucumber [waving the ruler in the air]. I want to see if it's bigger than my mother's.  Do you know why it could be so hairy?"

Now, the conversation was totally innocent.  But for some reason, everything I said seemed to have some sort of sexual connotation, and it was all I could do to keep myself from laughing.

Then I was looking in this gardening book this morning, and came across this handy hint about hand-pollinating cucumbers:

Help cucurbit plants [cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, melons etc.] to set fruit by pollinating them by hand, rather than waiting for insects to do it.  Pick a fully open male flower - one with no embryonic fruit at the base - and carefully pinch off all the petals to expose the stamens, which bear the powdery yellow pollen.

Insert the male flower carefully into a female flower - one that has an embryonic fruit - so that the pollen is transferred from the male stamens onto the stigma of the female flower.

Surely after almost 3 decades on this earth, I should be more mature as to not get amused/slightly grossed out at the thought of 'assisting' cucumber plants in this way.  But no.

Still, I want my garden to be successful, so I went outside to give it a go and discovered that I seem to have only female flowers:
female flowers are the ones with the baby cucumbers between the stem and the flower

It looks like my poor cucumber will just have to pleasure itself.  At least it won't have to argue about who will put the garbage out though.

Oh, and I ended up picking and eating the cucumber, despite its spiny features (I peeled it in the end):

It was a lot milder than the Lebanese Cucumbers I buy in the shops, although it quite sweet and not as bitter.

The cucumbers have started hatching!

This afternoon I took a closer look at my Lebanese Cucumber plants and discovered to my surprise that I have quite a mature cucumber on my larger plant, measuring 12cm long!

It has little spikes all over it, and I'm wondering whether the spikes fall off when the cucumbers are fully matured, or whether they're just 'despiked' before they appear in shops?  Obviously I've never grown cucumbers before.

When I looked at the flowers on the rest of the plant, they appear to have little cucumbers ready to take off between the flowers and stalks:

v. cute.

I also have pictures of the only two lettuces that survived the snail attacks when they were babies (note the space around them filling with weeds - that's how many I planted and lost!):

And my relatively more successful spinach:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Front Garden update

I've been interstate for the Xmas break, so I've had a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I thought I should post the developments of my front garden.  I had been doing a vegie garden course, so most of my posts have been on the backyard which is the 'practical' garden, whereas the front garden is my flower/ornamental garden (for now anyway).  Apparently the previous owners had a system where the husband had the backyard, which was all produce, and the wife had the front, which was all flowers and pretty.  I'm trying to do both.

Here are photos of the front yard at the time that signed the contract for the house (late August '09):

And just before I went interstate for Xmas (mid December '09):

And this afternoon (it was very very hot in Hobart!):


Those big things in the front centre are my giant sunflowers, which I'm very proud of.  I should point out that I was wrong about the transplanting, as here are the sunflowers that were looking very sad in my last pessimistic post: