Filtering by Tag: organic vegetables

Gardening is a metaphor for life

Week 13: Urban Farming

I've always tinkered in the garden, but until a few years ago I was an inconsistent gardener at best. I got more serious about it after three loved ones died one after another in a fairly short period of time. Consumed with grief and struggling in other areas of my life as well, I sought solace in the garden.

Forget me not

The thing about gardens is that they reflect experiences we go through in our own lives. Full of hope, we plant seeds, our minds focused on the bountiful harvest sure to follow. But some seeds don't grow and it doesn't seem to be possible to accurately predict which seeds will flourish and which will perish. No matter how robust the seed, how fertile the soil, and how perfect the conditions, some plants just don't grow. The same is true in life. Some things don't work out, no matter how hard we try. That's just the way it is.

Conversely, sometimes the most improbable scenarios come to pass. The seed that's planted in imperfect soil, poorly tended and left to its own devices, somehow thrives against the odds. Go figure.

Solitary Pear

Seasons come and seasons go. Seeds germinate slowly then surge out of the earth ready to take their chances in the harsh conditions of the world. Some seeds live. Some seeds die. Some bear bountiful harvests while others make a start and then wither back into the ground.

Seeing all this play out in a garden helps keep life in perspective. Change is the only constant and we can't control or predict every variable. The perception that we can is a comforting illusion, yet we all seem to be guilty at times of trying to control the uncontrollable. Still, there's much we can control and plenty of things we can do to make life (and our gardens) better. Sometimes the trick is not just in knowing the best thing to do, but in having the strength to actually do it.

Developing Grapes

This week I staked my tomatoes in the rain, celebrating the brief respite from heat as my water tanks filled. I pulled out some weeds, picked zucchinis, salad greens, beets, herbs, and sugar snap peas. And I had enough ripe produce to provide home grown food at every meal. It's not a grand achievement, as achievements go, but it's enough.

Lettuce

By the way, the nest that was built for the baby Magpie Larks that live in our garden fell out of its tree this week, its usefulness outlived. The times they are a-changing.

Magpie Lark Nest

Week 8: Urban Farming

The hot weather has arrived in Canberra and, barring an unseasonal exception, the risk of frost has now passed. Our garden is full of blooms and we're beginning to reap the rewards of earlier labour in our food garden.

LoveInAMist
LettuceandPeas

Our sugar snap peas are covered in flowers - a harbinger of tasty pods to follow - and we've got plenty of loose leaf lettuce ready to harvest. I picked our first crop of strawberries early this morning and we'll be enjoying them for dessert tonight in strawberry pancakes drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with vanilla soy ice cream.

Hannah and I picked a large tub of mulberries yesterday - our first of the season - and I made a vegan lemon, coconut and mulberry slice with them. We've been guilty, in previous years, of not making full use of our mulberry crop and I'm determined to be a better steward of our resources this year. The slice is delicious, so that's an encouraging start.

Strawberries
MulberrySlice

My research on humane ways to deal with snails has yielded some good ideas. I can surround my young seedlings with materials that snails dislike sliding across - things like grit, thistle leaves (or other spiky leaves) or straw. The straw is an obvious solution for us because I make our mulch with a combination of horse manure and straw and I was planning to put this on the garden in a couple of weeks anyway. It looks like I need to get cracking with that.

If this is not an option for you, you can also create a barrier around your seedlings using mesh or netting. The barrier doesn't need to be high and if it bends outwards at about a 45 degree angle, the snails will have trouble climbing over it.

There's a product called Escar-go Snail Spray, made from copper silicate, that snails are reluctant to cross. This is ideal for protecting planter boxes and pots.

Finally, Copper Slug and Snail Tape is an option. You stick the copper adhesive tape along the edges of your garden beds and snails get a small electric shock from the copper. This would be a last resort option for me but it's worth knowing about.

Roses

Love-in-a-mist (nigella) is one of my favourite garden flowers and I let it go to seed each year, throwing the seed liberally once the pods have dried out. I've got lots of beautiful blooms opening at the moment and I've used it for my posy this week.

LoveInAMistPosy

Week 6: Urban Farming

Spring proper has arrived in Canberra this week, and in the blink of an eye we've gone from wearing a pullover outdoors, to getting up early to head out into the garden before it gets too hot.

Pansies
Developing Pink Lady apples

Developing Pink Lady apples

All the flower seeds we propagated a few weeks ago have now been planted out and we've also planted almost all of the vegetable seedlings that we grew from seed, so our garden beds are filling up. Of course, we'd planned - for once - to be sufficiently organised to get our reticulation in first so we could position plants right near the drippers but, as usual, we haven't managed it. Somehow we always seem to be crazily busy at this time of year. So we're going to have to work around the plants now, and the task is becoming increasingly urgent as the heat increases the demand for water.

While our core crop is now in, we received a parcel in the post this week containing a variety of unusual heirlooms that I want to try this year. To give you an idea, here are some of the seeds we started this morning:

  • Beans: Baby Sun and Sex without Strings
  • Chillies: Joe's Long Cayenne (the most beautiful looking chilli plants imaginable), Hellfire Mix, Tobago Seasoning
  • Capsicums: Mini Sweet Mix (these are baby capsicums that you put straight in your mouth after you've picked them), Mixed Italian Fryers, Seven Colour Mix
  • Cucumbers: Little Potato, Mexican Sour Gherkin, Lebanese Mini Muncher (see mini capsicums above - salivating already)
  • Eggplant Heirloom Mix
  • Tuscan Black Kale
  • Pumpkins: Heirloom Mix, Turk's Turban, Kakai (for home grown pepitas), Lakota
  • Tomatoes: Lemon Drop, Wild Sweetie (the smallest tomatoes in the world), Amish Paste and Principe Borghese (ideal for drying)
  • Heirloom radishes
  • Zucchini Costata - this bears an amazing star shaped fruit.
  • Sugarbeets - an exotic vegetable that can be used in desserts as well as savoury dishes.

These varieties are so attractive that I'm keen to grown them for their sheer beauty, never mind their flavour.

Our first tranche of loose leaf lettuce is now ready for harvest.

Our first tranche of loose leaf lettuce is now ready for harvest.

Spring onion flower

Spring onion flower

Just as prey attracts predators, great food attracts hungry mouths, and we've got an army of snails munching their way through our new planted seedlings at the moment. On the one hand, I really don't mind sharing. The poor sods are only trying to keep body and soul together, after all. On the other hand, we'd like to actually eat some of the produce ourselves, so I'm going to have to find a way to limit the damage. Snail baits are not an option as I'm quite fond of snails, and killing them isn't exactly in keeping with a vegan lifestyle. I couldn't live with myself if I did. So...my mission for this week is to find a way to deter these hungry molluscs from our vulnerable seedlings. There must be something else they'd like to eat...

This week's garden posy was made with 'scarlet' carpet roses and white hebe flowers from our front garden. The carpet roses will be in flower now until next winter - very handy when I'm struggling to meet my weekly flower arrangement goal. Expect to see more of them in lean weeks.

    Garden Flowers


    Week 5: Urban Farming

    We've had a few days of solid spring rain in Canberra over the past week, accompanied by a return to cold days and frosty mornings. Happily, I'd held off planting my first tranche of frost sensitive vegetables until after that cold front had passed. We've still got about three weeks of potential frost ahead of us, but my seedlings are small and can be easily covered during that time.

    Climbing Rose
    Blackberry flower and ripening figs

    Blackberry flower and ripening figs

    This week I've braved the elements and planted out red currant, yellow currant, zebra and tigerella tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers, Queensland Blue pumpkins, nugget pumpkins, squash, golden zucchini, zebra beans, and Black Beauty zucchini. The seedlings I planted out over the past few weeks - loose leaf lettuce, beets, silver beet and sugar snap peas - are charging ahead, and there are milder nights forecast in the next few days.

    We've had a break from heavy work in the garden this past week, enjoying instead some less arduous tinkering. It's just nice to be outside at this time of year.

    Steve's photos this week are gorgeous, as always, and our garden flower arrangement (bottom image) is white azaleas with camellia foliage.

    Our passion fruit vines are covered in blooms

    Our passion fruit vines are covered in blooms

    This week's bouquet of garden flowers - white azaleas.

    This week's bouquet of garden flowers - white azaleas.

    Week 4: Urban Farming

    It's been a flowery week in our urban farm. We have lots of gorgeous flowers in bloom and more about to burst out of their buds. I was therefore spoilt for choice when it came to choosing flowers for our weekly arrangement - it will be a very different story in winter, I can assure you. In the end, I settled on snowballs with arching tendrils of banksia rose, and Steve's created a wonderful rustic pedestal using found materials to display the arrangement for photographing.

    SnowballArrangement

    Courtesy of Steve's hard work creating more infrastructure, we now have a large, new flower bed ready for planting and Hannah and I have been busy propagating summer annuals. This week we've started:

    • Nigella (Love in a mist)
    • Moonflower
    • Edelweiss
    • Sunflowers (Italian and Giant Russian - don't ask me where we're going to plant the latter)
    • Sweet peas (Highly Scented and Painted Lady to drape over the pool fence)
    • White Cosmos
    • Marigold and Nasturtium for companion planting in the vegetable patch
    • Californian Poppy (Jelly Bean and Red Chief - for planting in pots or we'll never be rid of them)
    • Corn Cockle
    • Poached Egglplant
    The top photo in this diptych is cause for great excitement in our household. I planted passion fruit vines last spring, taking pains to find a location that would protect against the heavy frosts we get in Canberra. The vines have done well over winter and are now about to fruit.

    The top photo in this diptych is cause for great excitement in our household. I planted passion fruit vines last spring, taking pains to find a location that would protect against the heavy frosts we get in Canberra. The vines have done well over winter and are now about to fruit.

    Peaches and plums

    Peaches and plums

    Still on a flower theme, we've planted out delphiniums, blue salvia, foxgloves and coreopsis. We also planted some pansies at the front of Hannah's rose and lavender garden to grace us with colourful blooms while the rest of the garden gets established.

    In the vegetable patch, we've planted out a variety of loose leaf lettuces, radishes, beets, lovage, rosemary, tarragon, and another batch of sugar snap peas. I really don't think we can get enough sugar snaps, but at the rate I've been propagating and planting, we'll soon get to test that hypothesis.

    And I've had home grown micro greens in my sandwiches all week. Delicious!

    Big thanks to Steve for all the awesome photos this week.

    Our alpine strawberries are flowering and there's fruit on our cumquat and fig trees

    Our alpine strawberries are flowering and there's fruit on our cumquat and fig trees

    Granny Smith apple, grapes and passion fruit

    Granny Smith apple, grapes and passion fruit

    Week 3: Urban Farming

    Every spring, the fragrant climbing roses that frame our front window burst into bloom, showering us with generous crimson flower heads that shine all too briefly before dropping their petals onto the deck below. These roses always serve as markers for me, delineating the passing of winter, and sending a promise of warmer and, perhaps, happier times. They're in full, luscious bloom at the moment, and I've picked enough to create this week's garden posy without making a visible dent in the rose frame around our window.

    Roses

    The spring winds have arrived in Canberra, almost as if they were scheduled for delivery on the first of October. The sun is warm - we've even breached 20 degrees Celcius a couple of times - but the nights are still cold, with the threat of frost an ongoing consideration. So there are limits on what we can plant out. But that hasn't kept us out of our garden. It's a great time to get all the infrastructure in place to maximise our chances of being able to grow food year round.

    Determined to use every possible square metre, we've created a garden bed this week alongside our pool, on terrain that was previously only growing weeds. We're going to plant some herbs in this new bed, with some flowers at the back to make decorative use of the obligatory pool fence.

    Our new pool garden bed: Before and during construction.

    Our new pool garden bed: Before and during construction.

    New poolside garden bed, ready for planting.

    New poolside garden bed, ready for planting.

    We've also created a large, new bed out the front, expanding on the existing garden by including areas that were previously covered in red wood chips. This will significantly reduce our weeding burden and also give us much more growing space. This bed is going to be devoted almost entirely to flowers so we can achieve our goal of being able to pick fresh flowers every week.

    Our new, expanded front garden bed.

    Our new, expanded front garden bed.

    There's been a frenzy of seed starting in our urban farm this week (organic and open-pollinated, as always) - loose leaf lettuce of every possible kind, lebanese cucumbers that were prolific last year, red and yellow currant tomatoes that fruited for a full six months, a few different varieties of eggplant and capsicum, some little nugget pumpkins that I plan to bake whole with a savoury stuffing, some zebra beans, pak choi, squash and the golden zucchini that grew enormous, club-like offerings that continued last year until we could no longer stand the sight of them.

    Two weeks ago today, I started some micro greens as a kitchen table crop to give us something to harvest early in the growing season aside from our constant, generous supply of silver beet and Asian greens. I'm pleased to report that our kitchen table crop is now ready for use - once I overcome my reluctance to take to the lovely shoots with scissors, that is.

    Thriving micro greens

    Thriving micro greens

    Week 1: Urban Farming

    Spring comes late to Canberra, from a planting point of view at least. We've had frosty mornings these past few days and more frost predicted in the week to come. This is a trial. After all, 'be patient' is not an instruction that fits well with our fast paced lifestyle (perhaps that perspective re-frame is one of the benefits of gardening). But the upside is that it provides an opportunity for winter hibernators to get cracking in the garden on a warm, sunny day without missing planting opportunities.

    Hannah's daisy posy

    Hannah's daisy posy

    A lot's happened in our garden this past week, much of which I can't take any credit for. Steve's begun some serious re-structuring work. He's been digging holes and putting in upright posts for a U-shaped fence that will a) allow us to extend our vegetable garden quite significantly b) keep our energetic, marauding dogs out of mischief and c) create a safe enclosure for chickens, which we plan to add to our urban farm in the coming months. Thanks for pitching in with the hole digging, Henry!

    See why we need the fence?

    See why we need the fence?

    Microgreens

    Microgreens

    Hannah and I have been propagating some more seeds. We planted out our sugar snap peas during the week. The blurb on the seed packet says they're better direct sown, but I get better results if I start them in seed trays and nurture them for the first few weeks of their remarkably productive lives. The kale and silver beet (Swiss chard) that we propagated a couple of weeks ago will need to be planted out in a couple of days. And today we set some more sugar snaps, along with some beets and radishes, to germinate.

    To kick start our harvest, I've started some microgreens as a kitchen table crop. I grew these last year and they were a huge success, aside from the fact that we developed a pronounced reluctance to eat them after Hannah named them - collectively - Barry. You get attached to things you care for each day. Anyway, I'm trying some new greens this year, and in a couple of weeks we should have some lovely, vitamin-filled shoots to add to our salads.

    You may remember that one of my goals is to be able to pick fresh flowers in my garden every week. Well, we're spoilt with the proceeds of past labours this week. Hannah has arranged a little daisy bouquet for her room. I've picked some daffodils for Georgia's room - a surprise for when she gets home from Sydney this evening. And I also arranged some gorgeous white flowering quince sprays, just for the joy of it. Early spring in our modest urban farm is resplendent with blooms. Long may that last.

    Daffodils and flowering quince

    Daffodils and flowering quince

    Day 30: Creative Challenge

    Having threatened to go out on a whimper instead of a bang, opera singer and strange bedfellow, Kanen Breen has had a startling return to form today. He's been eyeing his unsuspecting and beloved boots with a glittery eye for some time, fantasising about gold sparkly boot caps. The problem was, he could never bring himself to be so radical and permanent with a boot that has served him so well and that suits so many occasions in its current, unadulterated form. Cue his Warhol costume, which has elasticated sparkly arm bands that go under a jacket and are never seen. He was so sad at this prospect, that he wore them on his orange boots instead of under his jacket - and a genius and temporary transformational idea was born. Off to Lincraft he went. Two lengths of black elastic, some glue and sequins later, and a cheap as chips make-over has come to pass. Knock 'em dead, cowboy.

    Kanen's boot innovation

    Kanen's boot innovation

    Trish's carrot, coconut milk, passion fruit and lime smoothie

    Trish's carrot, coconut milk, passion fruit and lime smoothie

    The creative challenge team's cooking guru, Trish Urquhart, who runs Allaboutwriting, works as a documentary producer for Left-Eye Productions, and tries very hard to live up to the title chef extraordinaire, was awake in bed last night plotting a celebratory offering for the final day of our creative challenge. Given that her culinary creations are usually consumed at breakfast on account of the time difference between Canberra and Johannesburg, she ruled out sparkling wine with lavender or black pepper syrup. Even creatives have to draw the line somewhere.

    After much deliberation and having decided she absolutely had to use ingredients she had on hand, she decided on a selection of celebratory juices. Celebration of not, I'd be ecstatic to get any one of these for my breakfast. Feast your eyes on her rose and cardamom scented lassi, coloured with the juice of a beetroot and spiked with lavender syrup. Join me in drooling over her carrot, coconut milk, passion fruit and lime smoothie. Or win the health award of the day with her green juice made with lettuce, Swiss chard, mint, ginger, lemon, clementine, and pink grapefruit. Now these are my kind of cocktails. Cheers!

    For more exciting food adventures, check out Trish's blog.

    Trish's breakfast cocktails

    Trish's breakfast cocktails

    Steve's microphone and music - all ready to go

    Steve's microphone and music - all ready to go

    Stephen Bennett has been channeling his inner beast today, planning a creative contribution that he knew would delight me. I've long been at him to record some of my favourites out of all the things he's sung over the years, and he thought he'd ease into it by recording a music theatre piece (from Beauty and The Beast) that one of his students has been working on. This is a radical repertoire departure for him because his background is entirely classical and, although opera companies quite often put on music theatre productions, Steve's never been involved in them. Mozart, Bach, Handel and Schubert have been his core composers.

    Anyway, when I left for a meeting this afternoon, he'd arranged himself in our living room with his very basic recording equipment and he was about to launch into action. This is the result - an absolutely stunning effort given the inadequacy of our recording equipment and technology. This is going to be awesome. I have my recording 'to do' list at hand and I'm all set to keep him very busy indeed.

    Classical oboist and textile designer, Telena Routh, has been busy responding to a commission. She displayed one of her exquisite scarves recently, at an exhibition of the North Shore Craft Group (their spring exhibition is on this coming weekend at the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden) and picked up a commission from a visitor who just loved what she'd made.

    There's a lesson for all of us in this. The lady who commissioned the scarf had walked past Telena's display early, spotted the scarf, and then wandered off to enjoy the rest of the exhibition. When she came back to buy the scarf, she found that someone else had beaten her to it. Don't you hate it when that happens? It all ended well, of course. Telena made a custom scarf, just for her, in her favourite colours and with added length because she was very tall. All's well that ends well.

    Telena's gorgeous scarf: Before and after

    Telena's gorgeous scarf: Before and after

    Scarlet's Tiger's Eye Pendant

    Scarlet's Tiger's Eye Pendant

    Like the rest of the creative challenge team, I wanted to make something special to mark the end of our 30 day challenge. I have a friend who's going through a painful separation at the moment, so I decided to make a pendant for her featuring her favourite gemstone - tiger's eye. The stone itself is absolute exquisite. It has texture that looks like animal fur and radiant golden highlights that change depending on the angle and the light. My friend is going to love this piece.

    I also thought I'd report on the progress of the seeds I propagated on day 20. They're shooting out of their trays and will soon need either planting out or transplanting. There's still the ever-present threat of frost to contend with, but it's looking good for my organic vegetable crop this year.

    And finally, a word of thanks to my partners in crime. The 30 day challenge has been a wonderful adventure which owes much to my traveling companions. Thanks for all the inspiration, fun and laughter. It's been beyond awesome.

    Scarlet's early season seedlings

    Scarlet's early season seedlings