Saturday, August 29, 2009

To Home Grown, and Beyond!

Tonight we watched Buzz Lightyear buckle himself into the Pizza Planet delivery van with an annoying air of virtue. It is with something of the same air that a vegetable grower reports to others about the delight of eating their own crops, and with which food-lovers describe making something from scratch. Stand by; my day has been spent like that!

Earlier this week, I realised that at least one of our three-litre milk bottles was sour, as had been one of last week's. Coles Online has a policy of only refunding goods within 24 hours of delivery, but the helpline lady credited this week's milk anyway -- after all, nobody opens all their milk for the week to check it for freshness. Now a small amount of sour milk is an excuse to make pikelets, pancakes, scones and so forth, but 6 litres of sour milk is another matter.

Then you move to Option B: tvorog. It's pronounced tvaROG, and it is the Slavic word from which we and the Germans derive the word quark: fresh curd-cheese. Of course I asked my Dad for advice; he remembers his mother making both tvorog and ripened cheeses. My adventure in making tvorog I will leave for another time (I used 3 litres of the sour milk). At the end of the process, I ended up with lots of whey, which Dad told me was used in making bread (Rhonda Jean has also mentioned using whey in bread on her blog). I've frozen most of it in two-cup portions; the Geek tells me this means it is "whey cool".

I thought bread rolls with dinner might be nice. We were planning to have quiche while we watched the movie. And I had a brainwave about a salad while I was working in the garden today. So here is dinner:

Silverbeet, onion & mozzarella quiche: homegrown silverbeet and parsley, and homegrown eggs. Confession: frozen pastry. I don't do pastry, unless it's Ukrainian style.
Wholemeal bread rolls from scratch: leftover whey.
Salad: homegrown 'Forellenschuss' lettuce, dill, beetroot leaves, and baked baby beetroot (carrot from shop). Dressing of garlic, tangelo juice and zest, olive oil, salt, pepper.

I'm not sure whether it's increasing experience or the use of whey, but the bread rolls are the best I've ever made. The dough rose impressively to triple its original size!

Friday, August 28, 2009

I'd Say that I had Spring Fever...

No, it isn't spring officially, but today it reached 26 C here and was still 21 C at sunset. We've had a couple of weeks of settled sunny weather. While soil temperatures are still too low for planting most summer crops in open ground, I've succumbed to the warm days and started to plant them in punnets and pots. I'll put the plants in my heating unit overnight.

Last week I sowed cherry tomatoes, which are more hardy. They are already coming up! I have three pots each of 'Tommy Toe' and 'Broad Ripple Yellow Currant'. There is a 'Tommy Toe' in my garden which has overwintered. I'm still not convinced about these; they didn't fruit well last year and I didn't feel the flavour was anything to write home about. 'Broad Ripple Yellow Currant' is a favourite of mine, despite the slight misnomer. If you pick yellow fruit, they are deliciously tangy, but if you leave them to turn golden they are deliciously sweet. The 'Currant' part is because the fruits are so small and prolific, but I haven't fathomed the 'Broad Ripple' bit.

I've planted out the remaining seeds from an out of date packet of mixed heirloom tomatoes, just in case some germinate. Then a few each of 'Principe Borghese' (a cooking and drying type) and of 'Brandywine', which I hear good things about online.

Well, if it's the right moon phase for tomatoes, it's right for all other fruiting plants, so out came more punnets and in went a few seeds of Eggplant 'Listada de Gandia', the pretty striped variety, and a few of the Ground Cherry 'Aunt Molly'. And a few mixed heirloom chillies. And mini capsicums. And the out-of-date Cucumber 'Sweet and Striped', with a few in-date 'Lemon' Cucumber seeds. Then I cleared some weeds from a bed in my garden, as I have plans for some bush beans tomorrow.


I only planted a few seeds of each, all right? Just a few. Wouldn't want you to think I was getting carried away like some garden bloggers I could mention.

But I do get carried away by Bryn Terfel...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No Zucchini, Thanks! Four Tips for Avoiding Garden Gluts

This photo was taken in May. How many different vegetables can you see? (Click to enlarge.)

I thought I'd write some tips about gluts after several posters asked Rhonda Jean of Down to Earth how she dealt with them. Now deliberate creation of a glut can be useful, if you like (or need) to preserve your own food. If all your cooking tomatoes are ripe at the same time, it's easy to make passata. But I can't spare the time to do preserving, nor is my vegie patch large enough to provide us with all the passata we'd need in a year. So I don't want gluts. Here is how I avoid them:
  1. Keep an eye out for long-cropping varieties. Some plants, especially tomatoes, have been bred to suit commercial growers; they produce their crop in a short space of time. For the home gardener, a tomato plant that gives you two tomatoes a week for eight weeks is an asset. One that gives you 16 tomatoes in a week and promptly carks it is... not quite so useful. Heirloom varieties tend to be longer croppers, but check the documentation before you buy.
  2. Stagger your plantings through the entire growing season. In Sydney, I can plant peas any time between March and July and they will crop in about two months. Now I could plant all my peas in March and be sick of them by June, or I could plant a section of trellis in March, a section in April, and so on, and have peas over the whole winter. Which sounds better to you? Of course this does mean that gastronomy beats aesthetics -- no serried ranks of uniform vines any more. Not a problem for me as I use guild planting anyway. An advantage is that early and late plantings tend to attract fewer pests; pest numbers aren't as high as at the peak of the season.
  3. Don't plant what you don't like. Zucchini grow easily here in summer and crop well. They can be cooked in many different ways. There's only one problem. My family aren't keen on zucchini. So I don't plant them... not even one. I have therefore saved myself a square metre of garden bed and that whole Sneaking Zucchini thing I've been hearing about.
  4. Don't plant more than you will eat. OK, there is no such thing as too much asparagus, or tomatoes, or cucumbers. But how many cabbages can you manage in a year? My family would probably only manage to eat through a cabbage a month. If we allow for some losses, that's all of 18 seedlings planted out in a year. I raise them from seed, so I'd only sow about three punnet-cells with cabbage seed a month. If you know you won't eat a lot, don't plant a lot, even if you don't want to calculate it as precisely as this.
(The photo shows lettuce, broccoli, pumpkin, beetroot, celery, pak choy, eggplant, and silverbeet. I can also see a parsnip leaf.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Picture This: Under the Nanking Cherry

August’s Picture This Photo Contest subject at Gardening Gone Wild is Down on Your Knees. Photos had to be taken from knee level or lower. I'm not quite sure how this photo acquired its psychedelic look, but it did, so I'm submitting it in the “Oh my goodness!” category!

I was simply trying to take a photo of the blossoms against the blue of the sky, and I liked this branch because it shows you the blooms in different stages, in sequence. I have taken another photo of the same branch below, for which I did not have to lie down.

I've always loved this plant, which we didn't know by name (it's Prunus tomentosa) for many years, and which I now know has many common names. It branches from the base, like Chaenomeles japonica, and the canes grow to about 60cm high. After about 30 years it may spread to cover more than a square metre and be rather taller... that's how long my Dad has been growing it. My plant is a cutting from his, and has delicate pale-pink blooms. A garden nearby has a variety that has musk-stick pink flowers with so many petals that they look like pom-poms, and more deeply wrinkled leaves than on our variety. It also seems to be taller, but it might just be a very old plant. I prefer our variety.

I'm growing my Nanking Cherry as part of a mixed informal hedge. It's a quiet, unobtrusive plant when not in flower, and even when it blooms the flowers are dainty rather than spectacular. It would be a lovely inclusion next to a reflective pool or some other place where it could be contemplated rather than passed over.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Couple of Lists

Firstly, a list of the seeds I planted last weekend. August is still too cold to plant warm-season crops in Sydney. While the day temperatures are lovely, it's still too cold (and occasionally frosty) at night, so my punnets stay either on a heating pad or on the porch overnight.
  • Beetroot 'Globe'
  • Broccoli 'Romanesco'
  • Pak Choy
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leek 'Elephant'
  • Lettuce 'Australian Yellow Leaf'
  • Silverbeet 'Five Colour Mix'
  • Coriander and dill
Unfortunately for me, the Sprig trod on a watering tray and upset two punnets. I shoved the contents back in but am now expecting two punnets of mixed seedlings!

Secondly, a list of the new seeds I've ordered. I have several different kinds of tomato, bean and lettuce already, so don't assume I won't be planting things because I haven't bought them! My mother has a collection of shoes; I have seeds.
  • Sweet Corn 'True Gold'
  • Sweet Corn 'Golden Bantam'
  • Leek 'King Richard'
  • Bean 'Yin Yang'
  • Broad Bean 'Aquadulce'
  • Beetroot, Heirloom Mix
  • Cabbage 'Mini'
  • Capsicum Mini Sweet Mix
  • Cucumber, 'Lebanese Mini Muncher'
  • Eggplant, Heirloom Mix
  • Kale, 'Tuscan Black'
  • Onion, Borrettana Yellow
  • Pea 'Greenfeast'
  • Pea 'Purple Podded Dutch'
  • Florence Fennel
Also ordered Windfalls, a lovely little preserving book by Sue Ruchel. I have read the original version (it was recently revised) and it is for people like me, who don't make a habit of preserving food but like to do it occasionally, in small quantities (as the title suggests). Bottling a year's supply of tomatoes is not in my plan, but the occasional batch of chutney or lemon butter might be.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New Wildlife Discovered!

Well, new to me. I took a couple of photos earlier this week of a strange phenomenon on my bolting broccoli. There were two little nets of yellow... eggs?... No, too big for that... pupae? Each net had one very large but crook-looking Cabbage White caterpillar next to it. I fed one caterpillar to the chooks but left the other in place to see what would happen. It's disappeared now too.

I knew that some parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars, but couldn't figure out what was going on here. Then I read Lyn's post today, and now I know that these are indeed pupating parasitic wasps, small Braconids. More information here about them.

I have seen quite a few varieties of wasp in my back yard but haven't been stung by any yet. Once I saw an enormous wasp fly onto my washing line. It took a large bite out of the Cabbage White caterpillar it was holding. Left a bit of green goo on the sheet it was on, but I forgave it immediately!

Apart from their interesting behaviour, there's another reason to have a good look at the wasps in your garden, and that is to make sure you aren't harbouring the European Wasp (if you are Australian, I mean). This page has good pictures of the wasp and its amazing nest, but far too many capitalised words. If you happen to find a European Wasp nest, leave it alone (they can contain up to 100, 000 workers, each with a reusable sting!) and contact your Council for advice.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Glorious Wattle

A shot of the same garden bed as before, taken last Monday morning. You will have to imagine the scent for yourself -- light, sweet, polleny.

The taller fringe wattle and scribbly gum, backed by the magnificent gum tree two doors over. I wish I knew what it was.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eggs and Wattle

I must show you some of the new produce from the Back Yard. These offerings formed part of our lunch today. I hard-boiled them, but they were too fresh (up to a week old) to peel well. Annie's eggs are white (she's a White Leghorn) and Lizzie's (she's a Rhode Island Red) are the pale brown. The Sprig described them as "pink"! Being only four, he has not encountered the word "puce" yet.

Annie and Lizzie seem to be quite reliable layers.I should also report that they are doing a great job at clearing kikuyu from under the lemon tree, to the extent that they are desperate for more green food. It is amazing to see the quantity of green pick that hens will put away; no wonder battery eggs don't taste or look very good. Our eggs have yolks about the same colour as the nasturtium.

I have a workmate of Italian descent, who was telling me about the pasta sauces which are thickened with raw egg. I only knew of Pasta Carbonara, but there are a number of others. My colleague had tried to make them at home, but somehow they tasted wrong. Inedibly wrong. I suspect that the egg has to be very fresh to work well in such a sauce.

I shall put aside the smugness of the chook owner quickly, because I know this isn't a great photograph. This one corner of my back yard, as it appeared at sunset today.

No matter how I fiddle with the settings, I can't quite reproduce the stunning brightness of the wattle in my garden at the moment. If you haven't seen wattle but have seen a group of laburnums in flower, you might be able to imagine what my back yard is like -- except that laburnums are a stronger yellow and coarse in comparison: a marching band, while wattles are a corps de ballet.

The Twig isn't just included for scale. He's included because he needs to put that ball away. Yes, over there. It's been outside for a week. Now! And those other toys you've left lying around too! No, you can't do it 'later'! Nor can you pack up with a book under your arm! Give it to me and I'll put it on the table while you put those things away!