Archive | September, 2011

The folly of self-seeded tomatoes

29 Sep

Have you ever done something that you knew was going to turn out bad, but convinced yourself it would be different this time?

Have you –

Reached between the scalding oven shelves to nudge that cupcake over, because this time you’ll be really careful?

Left the washing on the line for ‘just another 5 minutes’ before the impending thunderstorm?

Eaten oysters at the RSL club buffet?

We’ve all been there, and it ain’t pretty! Why am I so slow to learn these lessons?

It’s the same with self-seeded tomatoes. They pop up with so little effort, reaching decent seedling size before I’ve even noticed them growing. It’s so tempting just to pot them up and let them go, which is what I did in May this year, and what Ali did earlier this year too.

I only started planting heirloom varieties early this year, so I’m certain that this plant is the mutant offspring of some variety of supermarket tomato, or else the hybrid tomatoes I grew last year, possibly one that was carried off by the possums. This plant is now producing fruit that has inherited all the bad characteristics of its parent, and none of the good.

It’s rock hard, and it’s really really small.

I always think that I’ll get lucky and end up with some amazing new variety that tastes fabulous and produces abundantly.

I’m never that lucky.

I am seriously never going to bother again.

Oysters on the other hand…

Seafood night at Blacktown Workers is just such excellent value!

Do I smell a strawberry conspiracy?

25 Sep

I love a good conspiracy theory. Did you know that the US Government conceals proof of aliens, that Barack Obama was actually born in Africa, and that global warming is just a fabrication of the world’s climate scientists?

Just kidding 🙂

But these theories really do capture the imagination. In fact a good friend of mine is looking forward to heaven almost as much because she’ll find out who shot JFK as the fact that she’ll be there with God.

Lyndon Johnson’s never really occupied that much of my thoughts personally…

Earlier this year I planted a Hokowase patch kit from the Digger’s Club.  It has started producing abundantly over the past week, and I’ve been picking about a punnet of strawberries every second day.

These strawberries are absolutely amazing – nothing like the crunchy, tasteless specimens you get from the supermarket. They are both ridiculously sweet and also amazingly soft. You can pick them half ripe and they still taste amazing.

There’s no way you could transport these things without them turning to mush before even reaching the supermarket shelf.

But the thing I find the most remarkable about these fruits is just how light they are. A punnet worth in size weighs about 125grams – half the weight of a supermarket variety.

So I must ask the question – are the supermarket strawberries just heavy, or are they pumped full of water to make them weigh more for sale?

It certainly explains why they taste like they do.

Does this make me a grandmother?

20 Sep

My little baby dwarf banana tree had a pup. It’s very cute, and it has had a growth spurt over the past few weeks.

The accepted wisdom is to leave one of these pups in place to take the place of the main stem, because once the tree fruits you cut it down. But they supposedly send out a few suckers/pups per year, and I’d like to expand my banana operation.

So today I decided to set the little baby free into the big wide world, and just hope the tree sends out another sucker before it fruits.

To divide the sucker from the main stem, I just placed my square ended shovel between the two and cut downwards. The angle was awkward and I’m a 100 pound weakling, but it was remarkably easy.

The resulting division didn’t have any roots like I was expecting, so I hope that isn’t a problem.

The another half of the banana bed was filled with concrete until this past weekend. P graciously pulled out the sledgehammer and broke it all up for me, and the kids had a great time lugging lumps of concrete into the wheelbarrow.

The problem was that the bed was now empty, and I was having problems finding enough soil to fill it up. To make things more complicated, bananas are notoriously hungry, so not just any soil was going to do the trick.

Thankfully, I’d recently filled up my compost tumbler, and although not completely broken down, the contents should be nitrogen-rich and at least fill up the space. If I go crazy with the mulch over summer as it breaks down further, I should be right.

Now after filling the bed and planting the pup I did something quite uncharacteristic of me.

I planted flowers.

I recently ordered some oriental lilium bulbs from Tesselaar. I really adore them as cut flowers, and I’d love them in my house over Christmas time. They tolerate partial shade, so I thought that they would go really nicely under the banana baby.

The bulbs were already sprouting when I pulled them out of their bag, so they should be bursting out of the ground shortly after all this warm weather. Hopefully I haven’t planted them too late to get flowers for Christmas.

So after planting the bulbs I thought I’d get a bit more nitrogen into the soil for the banana’s sake. I sprinked half a bag of cow manure and a quarter bucket of dynamic lifter over the bed and watered it in.

It certainly looks impressive, and I’m secretly hoping for a bunch of bananas every year. That would have been slightly optimistic with one tree in Sydney, but I’m hoping that with two, we should have some success.

Looking at bees in a new light

18 Sep

I used to be wary of bees. A childhood sting taught me to steer clear, and when pain is involved I’m a very fast learner.

Why did I have that second child again?

Now as I attempt to grow food, bees really matter. For without bees, there’s little pollination.

When I walk past my broad beans I can often hear the buzz of bees at work, and I know that my plants will be setting lots of pods.

And I smile.

This year I have a lot invested in my fruit trees. They are all very young, and I’m desperate to get fruit off them, even if it’s only one piece. Just a promise for the future.

Everything has been in full flower – a glorious invitation. These apple blossoms were beautiful, along with the wonderfully fragrant citrus and stunning stone fruit. I must find more space somewhere for another stone fruit tree, because I think I’d grow them for the flowers alone.

But of all my trees, I am the most hopeful for the avocados. I have a Type A and Type B for pollination and they are covered in flowers, but I haven’t seen a bee within coo-ee of either.

I’m getting desperate. Today I even went out with a paintbrush.

I don’t think my little trees could support more than 2 or 3 avocados, so my requirements are small, but please…

At least one!

On each.

How to use gypsum

13 Sep

Drainage isn’t one of our strengths around here. We’re on good ol’ Sydney clay, and if you fill up a puddle you could probably take a short bath.

So in Bed B which is against the south side of the house, many things struggle. During Winter, when it gets almost no sun at all, I get moss growing on the surface.

This year I used the winter season to grow a green manure crop in this bed in an attempt to improve the soil with organic matter, but it hasn’t done much for the drainage issue – that layer of clay is still there, about 30cm down.

Bed B before the gypsum

So the obvious way to go is raised garden beds, but I’ve invested quite a lot of money already this year getting the fruit trees established and stocking my seed supply. The materials for raised garden beds are quite expensive if you don’t have stuff on hand to repurpose.

So for Bed B and the fruit trees bed (both unraised), I thought I’d give gypsum a try.

Now I’m really the last person who should be writing a ‘how-to’, seeing as this was the first and only time I’ve used it, but here goes.

Gypsum is a naturally occurring mineral that is used in the garden to break up clay soils. It improves the soil structure and therefore increases the drainage. They use it in the manufacture of plaster of paris, and the texture was reminiscent of that.

The instructions indicated that I should use between 1 and 2 kilos per square metre, and I bought a 25 kilo bag. That was about the right amount for the area of both beds.

I scattered the gypsum by hand over the area and raked it in lightly. If the soil is particularly dry you should water it in  little, but I figured that the rain should do the trick over time.

I did this about 2-3 weeks ago now, and I can’t say I’ve noticed any major difference yet. I hear that it is a slow process, but it will eventually work well. I will need to repeat the process yearly over three years, and I should see a big difference.

So I might add that to my yearly treatment schedule for Bed B during winter. 1st step green manure, 2nd step gypsum.

No more baths!

So now the bed is ready for its summer schedule. I have grand plans for pumpkins, zucchini and squash.

It’s your time to shine, Bed B.

Just in the nick of time

12 Sep

I grew up eating globe artichokes. You may now be imagining I’m Italian, and we used to eat them as part of an antipasto.

But no.

My Mum is American, and she prepares them in a very American way.

No, its not what you’re thinking – not covered by cheese from a can.

Mum boils the artichokes in salted water until the flesh is tender, then serves them individually in a bowl with dressing on the side. We then carefully peel a petal off, dip in the (always ranch) dressing, and scrape the flesh off between our front teeth. You don’t really get much in your tummy at first, but as you get closer to the heart of the artichoke you can eat more and more of each petal until you reach the heart. The heart is the best bit – you can eat pretty much all of it.

The artichokes in late July

I planted my globe artichokes in January, and they have grown enormously. So huge in fact that they take up a disproportionate amount of space in my front garden bed, and they are commented on by most people who visit or even just wander past.

I’ve read from most sources that artichokes flower (fruit) in the spring, but to date I have had zip, zilch, nada. I was getting to the point that they were onto their final warning.

My first artichoke

And then last week they began to emerge. In clusters of 5 or 6, and conveniently they seem to be staggered slightly, so I won’t have 20 at once.

Now I better get started on the ranch dressing and summon the family. We’re in business, people!

Church, chokos, a chicken and chocolate puke

11 Sep

Me at Agape Restaurant for organic high tea

My mother in law is lovely. She’s always very thoughtful, so it really shouldn’t have come as any surprise when she interrupted my organic high tea yesterday with a phone call:

Hey, L… I have a little problem that I was hoping you could help me with.

Oh yeah?

Yes, we have a chicken in our front yard and I thought you might want it.

A chicken?

Yeah, I heard it clucking earlier, but R (father in law) thought I was mad. Then we went outside  later, and it was in the front yard.

Hmm, I’m in the middle of high tea at the moment and P is babysitting the kids, so I’m not sure I can help, but thanks of thinking of me. I’ll give you a call later to see if it’s still there.

So I continued eating my yummy treats and drinking coffee in a very high-tea-spoil-sport kinda way.

Today was Sustainable House Day, and I’ve been looking forward to visiting Nev and Linda from Under the Choko Tree for months. Nev and Linda have been pursuing a sustainable lifestyle in Western Sydney for 25 years, so their house was bound to be packed with great ideas. Their block is not a whole lot bigger than mine, so I hoped I could learn a lot about how to improve my garden and energy efficiency. Sustainable house day runs from 10am to 4pm, so it was a perfect outing for the family after morning church.

This morning J had a blast eating chocolate cupcakes and making a paper model of Jesus walking on water. Afterwards we bundled both kids into the car and headed down the M7.

We were just 5 minutes away when she started vomiting. Luckily she contained it to her lap and didn’t cover her brother. She seemed to feel a bit better afterwards.

“I had a chocolate puke…” Difficult to maintain a sympathetic straight face.

So my heart sank, we turned around and headed for Grandma’s. I thought we’d give her advance warning of the incoming disaster, so called her mobile.

“Hi, we’re in your area, and J has puked in the car, so we need to borrow your house to clean her up”

“Yes, the chicken’s still there”.

Must have been a bad line.

“No, J has been sick in the car, so we need to gave her a bath at your place”

“How do you think you can get it home?”

“No, we don’t want the chicken”.

By this time, P is laughing so much that I’m worried about his driving, but we sorted out the miscommunication and made our pit stop to their empty house, using the hose, the bath, the washing machine etc.

And sure enough, the chicken was still there.

So then we headed over to P’s sister’s place to do some computer maintenance, leaving the chicken behind. I reckoned if it was still there when we got back to pick up the washing, then it was fate and we were meant to be together. P had a different interpretation.

So not wanted to leave P without our car, I borrowed his sister’s (manual) one and headed over to Nev and Linda’s place. I managed to avoid bunny-hopping down the street like an imbecile, albeit barely.

So I arrived in St Clair not to long afterwards and had a great time chatting to Linda and other members of the family. They seemed to have a steady stream of visitors, even at 2pm when I arrived. Must have been an exhausting day for them. I tried to refrain from taking photos in their backyard, but I snapped one of the front of the house, where they have wicking beds, bananas, herbs, dwarf fruit trees and a huge mulberry.

I learnt about chooks, solar power and cooking, growing water chestnuts and making your own seed raising mix. It was really worth the visit.

After I arrived back to my family, J fell asleep on the couch, so I really should have know something was wrong. When she woke up she stopped talking entirely, so that really should have been my red light warning. She then puked all over me, herself and her aunt’s brand new lounge.

We left sheepishly with borrowed clothing and a bucket. We dropped by to pick up the washing, but alas the chicken was gone. I guess we just weren’t destined to be together.

Before we put J to bed tonight, P taught her how to use the bucket if she needed to puke during the night.

I think the message was somewhat lost in translation.

J sleeping with bucket, precious toys stuffed inside

I’m still alive! But about that mandarin…

8 Sep

I once was good at housework. It really was only once – it lasted about 6 months. I got onto the Flylady bandwagon, and I was spotless between the time J started crawling and when I fell pregnant with Little D. Then I puked constantly for 5 months and it all fell apart. Now I live in a hovel.

And it was for this reason that I have neglected you all in blogland. The weather got warmer, I started wading my way out of my normal winter-induced malaise, and I realised just how much I had let the house go.

I know people sometimes say stuff like that, and you nod and think whatever… but I mopped the bathrooms the other day for the first time since we moved in. I really am that bad at housework. Much to P’s frustration, I fall into these funks where I literally don’t see the dirt. Maybe that’s why I like gardening so much – I get out of the revolting house, and I don’t get judged for the layer of grime.

Thankfully, I almost have my new kitchen too. It is pretty much all in apart from the splashbacks, so I’ll be ready to post photos in a couple of weeks when they arrive. I’ve been cooking away merrily and dishwashing with gusto!

The garden is going well. My fruit trees are flowering and setting fruit, my spring seedlings are ready to be planted out, and I’ve started already with the some of the warm soil things like cucumbers and melons.

I’m am however sad to report that my long-suffering dwarf Imperial mandarin finally gave up the ghost. I’ve replaced it with a lovely dwarf Japanese seedless mandarin, and I have high hopes for it.