A friend from Berry, NSW, has had a huge crop of lemons and limes this year, and I was lucky enough to share in the bounty with a small sackful. The limes had ripened beyond green and were – apart from the size – almost indistinguishable from the lemons. Their unwaxed skins help fill the kitchen with their clean, fresh smell. Citrus is one of my favourite scents. Continue reading
Pleasingly purple fruit
Part of the quest to only plant food or medicinal plants in the back garden raised a quandary – what to cover the functional but godawful colourbond fence with. We settled on passionfruit vines – a golden, and a regular. Not having grown one before, I somewhat rashly planted two, close together, and now have a pleasingly tangled mass of plants crawling over both sides of the fence. Much to my neighbours’ delight, as she likes to make passionfruit curd. It’s strangling everything in the beds in front of the fence too, but hey ho, that’s what vigorous use of secateurs is for.
Fence. And fruit. Mostly fence.
As another rainy weekend loomed, I grabbed the fruit I’ve saved up in the fridge and made some curd of my own, using a Stephanie Alexander recipe of eggs, sugar and butter.
The result, a small batch of coma inducingly sweet curd which, as is necessary when cooking jams & preserves, I’ve devoured wholesale from the still warm inside of the pan, swirling my bread through the thick sugary globs and basically eating myself stupid. I’m still buzzing slightly from the aftereffects of of the sugar rush. I’m not sure it will last until it’s cooled enough to refrigerate…
In my little kitchen garden is a shiny black knight, resplendent in one corner of a raised bed.
Not a medieval horse-backed hero however, but a gorgeous variety of chilli pepper, grown from seeds given to me by my brother. The plant is a luscious dark purpley black from it’s stems to it’s leaves, and bears jet black fruit which ripen to deep red. Even the little flowers are a lovely purple-blue.
It’s cropping heavily at the moment and has been for weeks now; they’re quite hot, so I can’t use too many at once. Consequently my freezer is full and I’ve given them away to everyone I can think of.
Obviously, therefore, my thoughts turn to preserving. We both love Stephanie Alexander’s harissa recipe and have guzzled bottles full in the past. I loved the idea of a black harissa and resolved to give it a go one quiet weekend.
The recipe is disarmingly simple – simply whizz together all the ingredients, lob in a jar, and top with olive oil. Knowing how damn hot these chillies are though I decided to ‘thin it out’ with a green capsicum and remove as many of the seeds as possible, as well as knocking together a pure chilli one for the hardier Mr C.
Taking green capsicum, the deseeded chillies, caraway seed, coriander seed and leaves, garlic, sugar and salt, I blitzed them with loads of olive oil. The results were disappointingly green:
I bottled it, straining out some of the excess liquid, and tried again with the pure chilli version. Again, quite green:
I knew that the black form of the chillies is the unripe one and therefore would be green in a normal coloured variety, but I was surprised by how the black pigment was lost when liquidised. Could it be the greenness of the extra virgin olive oil? Surely not the small amount of coriander leaf? Who knows.
So: no black harissa for me. Less drama, but as to flavour, I’ll have to give it a week or so for the flavours to mingle, but I’ll let you know!
Due to Attack Of The King Parrot, I lobbed a net over all my tomatoes a few weeks back. That kept the blighters off. Trouble is, it kinda kept me off too; I stopped nipping out side shoots and so on because it was a bit of a faff to negotiate the netting.
This weekend, as I surveyed the rampant growth issuing forth from every net hole, I realised I’d have to cut it out of there. And so I did, painstakingly. For about half an hour, until I realised the net cost about 5 bucks, and then I started hacking at it with a craft knife. Obviously.
In the resulting confusion, there were some green tomato casualties; about a kilo worth had grown through the netting, and had to come off.
So it was that I found myself yet again wondering what the hell to do with green tomatoes; and, just like every other year, the inner dialogue went like this:
“well, I could fry them, like in that film. Y’know, the one with the green tomatoes in the title*. But then, what would they go with? Frying seems like a faff. It’s not that healthy either, right? Maybe I should just make more chutney. And give it all away again, because I have shedloads of chutney already. Everyone loves my chutney though. So that’s OK then.”
And at this point, my heart sinks slightly, because, of all the preserving there is in the world, I like making chutney the least. It’s not the results, which are super; it’s the hours of prep and the eye watering boiling vinegar, and since we moved to Australia, the additional heat when it’s already kinda stuffy.
But no more. Now I’ve cracked it, you see. OK so the prep is still a bit boring, but the rest is cured by boiling the chutney outside on the barbecue. Yes folks, another fantastic use for the barbie side burner. So glad we bought that thing.
This recipe is adapted from Delia Smith’s; I’ve been using it successfully for years, it’s brilliant. I find she’s a bit light on spices generally for my tastes, so the below is a beefed up version.
- 1.2 kg green tomatoes
- 1.2 kg Granny Smith apples
- 1 kg onions
- a bulb of garlic
- 500g sultanas
- 500g soft brown sugar
- 1.5 litres malt vinegar
- 6 chillies, more if you like heat, less if you don’t
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon all spice berries
- 2/3 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 cloves
- 2/3 tablespoon black peppercorns
- muslin square
Place all the spice mix ingredients into the centre of the muslin and tie into a little pouch with string. I have some of those silicone chicken trusser ties so I used 2 or 3 of those. You could just put the whole spices straight in, but I find it annoying to accidentally bite down on a whole peppercorn – or worse, coriander seeds.
Pop the lot in to a large (preferably preserving) pan, and add all the other ingredients. I usually tie the spice bag to the pan, so that it hangs just under the level of the chutney, but you could let it bob about.
Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours, or until you can run your spoon through and leave a channel that doesn’t quickly fill with vinegar. You’ll need to stir it often, and I like to give the bag a good squeeze occasionally to get all the spicey flavours out.
* upon reading this, Mr C positively recoiled and moaned – no more yucky fried green tomatoes. So I guess chutney was a given then….
Australia is really crap at moderation. One minute it’s drought, blazing hot and fire prone, the next it’s pissing down with rain for 5 days straight and everywhere is flooded. Makes it hard to work out what’s best for my wee veggie patch. One thing I did work out quite quickly, is that mosquitoes bite really hard at dusk. Since this is when I tend to do my watering, this quickly became a chore neither myself nor Mr C were in a massive rush to volunteer for.
So I looked into getting an irrigation system installed. This is something that you can do yourself, but being as we were novices, and also we wanted the water to be pumped from our bore rather than use town/drinking water, we went to a local specialist (Total Eden) and asked them to put in the irrigation system for us. It’s fantastic! We can set it to run whenever we like, for however long we wish, and it switches on and off automatically, even when we’re away! (I’m easily pleased!) It’s also valved so that we can turn off water to one part of the garden but continue watering the rest, depending on growing seasons and need. Plus, if it hoikes down with rain for a while, I just push a button to tell it to not water until I push the button again. Easy peasey. You can even get sensors to work out when it’s raining so it suspends irrigating automatically. Or sensors next to the pampered plants to work the whole thing out automatically. The cost of those extras made me whistle through my teeth though and I went for the basic set up!
This consists of some big (25mm) black plastic pipes running from the bore pump tap, all the way round the garden to the fruit trees and the veggie beds, and then on to the bamboo beds. These can be buried so they don’t detract from the look of the garden. Wherever we needed water to go on the actual plants, there are smaller brown plastic pipes pushed into the black pipe. This smaller pipe has teeny holes in it at regular spacing (I think it’s about 30 cm intervals) and it’s all set up to drip 1.6 litres an hour, and obviously the brown pipes lie right next to the plants, on the surface. I’ve covered most of them with mulch to stop the water evaporating off again, although I run the irrigation at night for the same reason. Total Eden suggested watering for a short period, waiting for half an hour, and running it again for a short period. This allows the water to penetrate the soil slowly, rather than just running off. So they get 2 lots of 20 minutes, every other day. Unless it rains! There are 2 valves in the big black pipe so I can chose to:
- switch off the raised beds but water everything else, or
- switch off the bamboo beds and water everything else.
We know that we can add extra brown dripper pipe anywhere around the garden in future as we slowly dig out the weeds and plant more stuff, so it’s pretty flexible. And apart from a) a few teething troubles with the pump coming on at random times to prime itself (no water wasted, but the noise was annoying) which they sorted out for us at a discount, bless ‘em, and b) the pump thingy being very sensitive to lightening storms, tripping off and needing to be switched off and on again, it’s been a god send!
I love that I don’t have to feel guilty about using treated drinking water on my plants, and that we’re using the most efficient way to water them even with the water we do use. To me, it’s a huge difference between that, and my neighbour, who sprinklers his lawns with abandon during the hottest part of the day – it always makes me grind my teeth when I see it!
Last time, I described the building of our new, cedar plank raised beds. Once they were full of our lovely new soil, I initially left them alone for about 3 weeks, as a weed test. Happily, nothing untoward popped out.
We have a bore on the property rather than a water tank, so I also bought a bore water testing kit online (about $70) to make sure I wasn’t about to pour salty/heavy chemical/non pH neutral water all over my lovely fresh organic-ish soil. The bore passed with flying colours. Well; muted, test stick colours actually:
So then the planting started! I knew that even with quite large raised beds, it isn’t a huge space overall, and I have ambitious plans for my vegetable output! So the most important thing I wanted to plan out first was crop rotation.
The idea behind this is that different families of veggies have differing nutritative requirements, and suffer different pests and diseases. To avoid building up colonies of pests, viruses, fungi or bacteria in a particular area, you ensure you plant from each of the half dozen or so main families of plants we like to eat, in a particular location for a whole season, and then plant that family somewhere else for the next 3 – 5 years.
Without crop rotation, you’re more likely to need to use non organic pesticides & fungicides. This is because as the soil becomes depleted in essential nutrients, plants become increasingly more stressed, and a stressed plant, like a stressed person, is more susceptible to sickness. I want to garden organically, so crop rotation is critical.
The families I’m interested in are:
- Brassicas aka Cruciferae: cabbage, turnip, beets*, bok & pak choi, mizuna and radishes, salad greens
- Umbrelliferae: carrots and parsnips
- Legumes: dwarf beans, peas, broad beans
- Aliums: garlic, leeks, onions
- Solanaceae: tomatoes, peppers, chillies, aubergines
There are plenty more plants in the families above; I’ve just listed the ones I wanted to grow. There are other families too, such as the cucurbits (squashes/cucumbers/courgettes); but I only wanted to plant one or two of those dotted around the garden so I didn’t include them in my raised bed planning. *Strictly speaking beetroot is from another family but my beet seed packets called them brassicas so I popped them in that group for my planning. What the heck! Rules are there to be sidestepped!
Once I knew how many families to factor in, it was just a question of splitting the available space into 4 (the allium group I intended to grow in all parts of the raised beds at once; because they are good companion plants (of which, more later)). I knew I wanted to grow lots of tomatoes and aubergines so I gave them the biggest space. Next up were the brassicas in terms of size allocation, and then legumes and carrots/parsnips. This may mean I have a smaller space in coming years for my favourites, the tomatoes, but I can always have a go at intensively rearing them – basically squishing them closer and fertilising more often. I’ll work something out!
Another thing to bear in mind about rotation from year 2 onward; some families of veg will perform better if they follow another family (eg leafy salad crops like lots of nitrogen, and legumes produce lots in the soil, so it makes sense to follow legumes with salad the year after). As this is my first season, I don’t need to worry about that just yet.
So, does this all make it just too much like hard work? Nah. The great thing is, you only have to plan this out once, at the beginning, to get the benefits. And anyway, this is a counsel of perfection – who’s to say it won’t work just fine if you just plonk your seeds in wherever you like. After all, this has been mother nature’s gambit for quite a while now!
This is just one way to rotate crops – there are other methods, for instance, based on the types of plants rather than just the families (root veg, leafy veg, fruits and legumes where for example root veg need less nitrogen so best not to follow immediately after legumes) but it made the most sense to me and my little space. I probably won’t see any real benefits this year but I’m hoping this is a solid base for my future gardening!
Once we knew we were going to stay in Australia for a while, I’d started collecting odd trees I’d spotted in garden centres, usually in the ‘Wounded: About to Die’ section; cheapo misfits unwanted by anyone else. All of them on dwarf root stock, suited to a smallish garden and pots. They hung on to life, despite my mistreating them, but didn’t really thrive in their containers.
This year, we were ready to start planting them out – and within weeks they were green, happy and much healthier looking! Our success made us braver about fitting more into our little plot, so as well as the Meyer Lemon, kaffir lime and Tahiti Lime we already had, we invested in a feijoa, a lychee, a native finger lime, and a ‘fruit salad’ – basically 3 trees grafted onto one root stock – of two plum varieties and a peach.
The great thing about grafted trees is that you can grow stuff that, were it full size, would require an orchard of English country house proportions. For a small garden – or even a balcony – you can have fruit bearing trees galore without crowding out all your sunlight and space. Some fruit trees pretty much have to be grafted, regardless of size – apples being the best example, as they don’t ‘come true’ when you try to grow them from seed.
So what the heck is a graft? Well, basically it’s the root bit of a tree, with another tree stuffed on top of it. Continue reading