in the garden

It is now March, and the garden is still persevering… Hurray!

It has been scorching hot and we’ve had barely a smatter of rain. We do our very best with hand-watering ALL the plants and trees as the cool of evening rolls around… it is tiring, but we are rewarded with plump tomatoes, herbs, squash, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, lettuce and yes, even the odd sweet watermelon. Summer produce is so very wonderful.

I had a first attempt at planting out the winter vegetables – cabbages, broccoli and kale but all were swiftly eaten to the stump by grasshoppers (yep, still around), then what remained was scorched by the sun on these 35’c days. I have however, sown direct carrots and beetroots and peas with some success, and have more cuciferous seeds raising indoors for later sowing…

It’s a mystery, this garden growing business – last year basil and parsley and pumpkins did famously well, this year we’ve had barely of any. But the chillies and tomatoes are coming in each day, and for that we are thankful!

There’s always jobs to do – more seeds to raise and plant direct, weeds to pull, grass to mow down, mulch to go out on everything; chicken-poo + sawdust from the brooders, compost, sugar cane and straw, excluding + resting parts of the polytunnel that housed (unsuccessful) corn and cucumbers, prolific spaghetti squash and potatoes, beds to build up for the next season…

So here’s to the cool of Autumn,
that she might come soon
and bring a steady patter of rain…
p.s. yes, the polytunnel bathtub has been upgraded to a cast-iron claw foot and also doubles as a wonderful play pen for baby while mama potters!

in the garden

octobergarden8octobergarden5 octobergarden4octobergarden2There is something magical and healing about a garden… I find so much joy in digging around, planting and pottering, watering and weeding – especially when bright flowers and shady trees bring beneficial insects and bees to visit, and healthy herbs and vegetables make their way onto our plates and into the pantry. This home is our most permanent so far, and we have done much to establish a backyard garden where there had only been dry grass, a couple of straggly rose bushes and a hibiscus tree!
IMG_8497sepgarden2octobergarden9IMG_8498So far we have discovered and weeded out garden beds against the sides of the house and planted various herbs, daisies, natives, strawberries, rhubarb, hellebores, wallflowers, pig face, lupins, forget-me-nots, succulents, violets, violas, lambs ears, silver dust… We also erected a round herb bed (which we later discovered previous tenants had once started their own herb spiral!) with a lemon tree in the centre. We set up some apple crates as wicking beds, and built our own long no-dig beds out the front. We put in a line of raspberries, red currants and blueberries against the front fence. We planted a number of trees too – japanese maple, chestnut, different kinds of oaks, ornamental plum, dwarf pomegranate, and fig…
polytunnel1octgarden1And about two months ago we put up a 12 metre long polytunnel hot house (the metal frame and railway sleepers were gifted to us by friends and the horticultural grade plastic we ordered online) – it’s now filled with mushroom compost and the first of the summer seedlings  – tomatoes, chillies, basil, cucumbers, corn, sunflowers, eggplant and melons. I am making use of it’s heat to start off seedlings for planting outside too – pumpkins, zucchinis, silver beet, lettuce, beans and more flowers than I can name…

I have a habit of being overly ambitious for my Summer garden but I am learning the limitations of being a mama to two small people and helping my love run a business. So I am trying to sow (and plant) only what we like to eat and in quantities I think we can realistically get through, with a little left for preserves and ferments of course. I still feel such a novice to growing food, especially in this particular climate, and it has been such a hot and dry Spring so far – who can say what the next season will bring!

Still, we put on our green thumbs, we mulch and weed, we watch oaks grow and water as the sun sets… it is good for the soul, this growing.

St. Erth

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A few weeks ago we took a trip to the not so far away garden of St. Erth in Blackwood. It is a beautiful old garden lovingly maintained and expanded by the champions of heirloom-seed – the Diggers Club. It gives a wonderful insight into the way that edible, decorative and native plants, flowers and trees can complement each other. I especially love the terrace of narrow vegetable beds with simple trellis for tomatoes and beans, espalier orchard and berry and herb walk. We left inspired and eager to dirty our hands with earth. I also took the opportunity to stock up on seeds for a spring and summer market garden – all old, nutrient rich wonderfully named varieties of leek, squash, zucchini, cucumber, pea, bean, nasturtium, comfrey, carrot and beetroot. Oh what harvests await us!

Autumn Garden

(this post was written back in April in the throws of busyness and moving – please accept it belatedly)
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autumn garden17IMG_4809autumn garden02autumn garden03autumn garden06autumn garden10autumn garden08autumn garden09IMG_4400IMG_4396April 15th, 2014
The green summer flush is gone… the leaves begin to curl and brown. The mornings are cooler and the afternoons darker. We stoke the fire on the occasion. We ready the freezer for fresh beef and pork. I remember that Autumn is my favourite season. It is especially wondrous in the garden with return of rain and mild weather. We have had a bountiful harvest of red and green apples, rhubarb, pomegranates, plums, kilos of zucchinis, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin and more tomatoes than we have the time to deal with!

Needless to say the pantry is laden with spaghetti squash, jars of tomato sauce, passata, pickles, stewed plums and apple sauce – and the freezer with zucchini spaghetti, blackberries and basil pesto.

The garden beds are being slowly dug out and replenished with compost. Seeds for english spinach, dill, coriander, beetroot, carrots and radishes have been sowed and are sprouting. The first radishes have been harvested (and devoured with salt and butter).

I have also been busy preparing for the winter garden with trays of seedlings for purple sprouting brocolli, romanesco cauliflower, florence fennel, russian kale, purple and green cabbage, leek, brussels sprouts, celeriac, asian greens, endives, moss curled lettuce plus garlic and walking onion bulbs to sow as soon as possible…

Below is a recipe for a classic French vegetable stew – ratatouille – I have happy memories of eating my mum’s version when I was a child. It’s so easy to prepare – I use a heavy based cast iron or similar pot on the gas stove though traditional recipes use the oven. I love that it uses so much of the late summer/autumn vegetables and can be frozen or preserved for a quick dinner or pasta sauce at a later date.
Ratatouille (Eggplant, Tomato, Zucchini + Capsicum Stew)

2 large eggplants
sea salt
3 zucchinis
1 red Capsicum 
2 red onions
2 garlic cloves
500ml crushed tomatoes/tomato passata
2 tablespoons mixed herbs dried or fresh (rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano)
2 bay leaves
2 cups grass-fed beef stock
big handful of parsley (1/2 cup) finely minced
sea salt and pepper to taste

Slice zucchinis lengthwise and sprinkle liberally with sea salt – sit for 30 minutes, rinse with cold water and pat dry. Chop into big pieces. The salt draws “tears” out of the eggplant and reduces the bitterness. Meanwhile slice onions in thin half circles – fry in a heavy based pot with 2 tablespoons of butter. Add sliced capsicum and minced garlic cloves. Cover with a lid and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in eggplant and chopped zucchini. Cover with tomatoes, herbs, stock and bay leaves. Stir and bring to a low simmer for 45 minutes. Add more stock or water if stew is reducing too much. Season with 1/2 cup of finely minced parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy with crusty bread and butter or steamed rice or even creamy mashed potatoes.

Summer Garden

IMG_3896IMG_3902 IMG_3884IMG_3858IMG_3876IMG_3864polytunnel10IMG_3852IMG_3856handtoground09IMG_3634IMG_3500IMG_3505Each season this year I want to share our experiences in the garden. How much of our fruit, herbs and vegetables can we grow ourselves I wonder? Can we learn to eat within the season, with what grows best here in the heat or cool of the months that pass? What an exciting and daunting prospect for the novice-vegetable-grower that I am. The past four months we’ve been on the farm (and blessed with the space and opportunity to garden) I have been busy thinking, reading, experimenting with keeping a worm farm, composting, saving seed, raising seedlings, cooking and preserving the harvest, connecting with other growers in the community, involving the kids in the process too. I am learning to cultivate and grow in myself self-discipline, planning and patience – because the process and rewards are so satisfying. There is nothing quite like helping a corn stalk grow so that you can savour it with your loved ones: fresh raw cobs so juicy and sweet on the tongue.

Over the last month I’ve been drafting this summer garden update. I get ready to post then events unfold, or we get our hands busy, then the scene has changed and more has grown or finished for the season. Above are photos of our plants growing, vegetables picked, quiche made… you can see Reuben and I among the lush green of the poly tunnel, our hands clutching french beans, sweet corn. Truly a feast for the senses and the product of much hard work from us (and the plants). This past week has been challenging though – the weather has been extreme and at times unrelenting in heat and wind.

About a week ago we had such strong winds the steel pole frame of the poly tunnel snapped from their joints and in a matter of minutes became mangled and bend beyond repair. We slashed the plastic too late and what remains is a sad reminder of the power of nature. Flaws in the design (height, strength) would inevitably show themselves, it’s just a pity it had to happen this way. The plants are alive, though wind beaten. It’s now a battle between me and the late afternoon birds who want to get at the just-ripening tomatoes. I don’t know what the future of this site will be, though I will move ahead as much as I can with the late summer and autumn planting. I have trays of seedlings waiting to be sown once the weather cools down and space is made – we shall wait and see!

harvesting: kale, silver beet, rainbow chard, lettuce, chicory, nasturtium flowers, zucchinis, cucumbers, beetroot, parsley, chives, basil, sugar snap peas, french beans, sweet corn, tomatoes (just beginning), eggplant

growing: capsicums, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, spaghetti squash butternut + jap pumpkins, english spinach, heirloom carrots, celery, potatoes, sunflowers

in the orchard: recently had a harvest of white peaches and apricots, watching the nashi pears, apples and pomegranates swelling for autumn…

raising seedlings: celeriac, brussels sprouts, fennel bulb, radishes, endives, asian greens, coriander, dill, nasturtiums, cabbage, sprouting broccoli, sweet peas, sugar snap peas,

reading: The Polytunnel Book: Fruit and Vegetables All Year Round, Wild Fermentation: The flavour, nutrition and craft of live-culture foods, Nourishing Traditions, Allsun Farm polytunnel growing notes…

preparing: salads with nasturtium flowers, cold zucchini and lettuce soup, chicken and corn salad, rainbow chard quiche (recipe below), herby mayonnaise

preserving: basil pesto, nasturtium pod capers, peach and apricot chutney, green tomato chutney, pickled cucumbers, lacto-fermneted vegetable relish

– Rainbow Chard + Bacon Quiche –

1 tablespoon butter
1 brown onion
2 rashers of bacon, chopped (with fat)
8 eggs
1 cup pure cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
handful of fresh chives, chopped finely
handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely
bunch of rainbow chard – washed – you need 2 cups chopped leaves and enough rainbow stalks to top the quiche with.
quantity of homemade pastry (I make Maggie Beer’s Gluten Free Puff Pastry because I’m Coeliac)

Preheat oven to 170’c. In a pan melt butter and sauté onions for around 5 minutes on low heat or until onions are soft and slightly caramelised. Add bacon and stir till cooked. Stir in 2 cups of shredded chard leaves, remove from heat and cover (the steam will partially cook the chard).

Meanwhile in a bowl whisk together eggs, cream, cheese and herbs. Line a pie dish with baking paper and your desired pastry – you want the pastry to come up the sides of the dish as well. Blind bake for 15 minutes until golden. Scatter onions and bacon over the bottom of the pastry. Cover with eggy mixture and top with rainbow stalks into a striped pattern. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden and set to touch in the middle.

Cool and remove from pan. Enjoy with a crunchy salad. Makes a particularly lovely picnic lunch…