winter

Our first (and only) glass of home-made orange juice

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Our first three oranges!
Our first three oranges!

If it’s one thing that fruit trees teach you, it’s patience. While our lime tree has been fruiting strongly for 18 months now, the two orange trees have been taking their time.

Still, we were finally blessed with our first oranges this winter. Unfortunately there were only five in total. Yes, five.

Three went into a glass of fresh-squeezed juice, which had a nice edge to it (not like the super-sweet and somewhat bland juice that you get in the supermarket).

The last two went into the steamed marmalade pudding that was part of our ploughman’s lunch last weekend.

Onwards to greater crops! 🙂

Our first (and only) glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Our first (and only) glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Ruby grapefruit

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Ruby grapefruit, in all its glory
Ruby grapefruit, in all its glory

We’ve ended up with not one, but two ruby grapefruit in our front garden. This year we’ve had several fruit off each tree, and they are absolutely delicious!

While it may look pithy in the photo above, once the white flesh is removed, there’s plenty left to eat. We’ve been using them in salads, which we’d highly recommend 🙂

Turning broccoli and weeds into compost

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The newly created compost heap, alongside the weed tea

With the winter growing season drawing to a close, it’s time to clear the garden beds to make space for spring planting. So out come the huge broccoli plants that have kept us so well feed over the last few months.

With our two compost bins and one worm farm already full to the rim, a new plan was required if all this green material wasn’t to go to waste.

So I decided to construct a hot compost heap, consisting of layers of green and brown material, at least one cubic metre in volume. In went the old plants from the garden beds, and all the weeds from out the back. The brown material is mulch donated by the local tree trimmers and a pile of old leaves.

Hopefully if I turn it a few times, I should have a big pile of rich compost in time to top up our raised garden beds.

And in the same vein, beside the new compost heap is the council green bin containing our weed tea. With an unlimited supply of weeds, they get drowned in water and anaerobically “brewed” for at least a month. The result is a liquid that smells really nasty, but when diluted keeps the fruit trees extremely happy.

Nothing goes to waste!

Purple sprouting broccoli

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The first of our purple sprouting broccoli

This is what I love about growing heirloom vegetables: the surprise at creating something so unusual. This is one of four varieties of broccoli that we’re growing this year, all delicious so far!

This year’s approach to potatoes

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Last year, I constructed a huge enclosure for our potatoes, built from salvaged fence palings. It didn’t really work, and I suspect it’s because it didn’t drain properly. The potatoes therefore rotted rather than grew.

So, another year, another approach (or two).

The new potato bed, constructed out of chicken wire

The main potato bed has been constructed out of chicken wire, bent around some wooden stakes hammered into the ground. Quite a lot smaller, much simpler to construct, and hopefully better draining!

Two lots of potatoes have been planted:

  • 8 x dutch cream
  • 8 x nicola
Some potato bags, just for an experiment

I also purchased two potato bags, just to see how they go. These are a potentially brilliant solution for those living in flats or units, but let’s see how productive they end up being…

I’ll report back at harvest time.

Bright red radishes

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Bright red French breakfast radishes

These French breakfast radishes are super cute! Baby-sized and bright red, these are ready for the picking. They are also one of Miss P’s favourites.

We’ve got plenty of other root crops in the ground at the moment, some fast-growing but most taking their time:

  • beetroots
  • heirloom radishes (various colours)
  • heirloom carrots (various colours)
  • daikon
  • onions (various)
  • turnips
  • spring onions
  • leeks
  • shallots
  • potatoes (going in soon)

Chinese cabbages and more

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Chinese cabbages in the ground, sugar snap peas on the climbing frame

It’s surprising how much can be grown during a Sydney winter. With no frosts (at least near the coast), and less bugs, we’re getting plenty out of the garden each week.

The chinese cabbages are my current pride and joy. These grow very quickly, and are just about ready to be harvested. They have, however, had a mixed track record to date. Last year, they rotted in the ground, after non-stop rain for a month. This year I protected them with plastic, but the slugs have found them. Picking 3-4 slugs off them each day has meant they’ve been growing faster than they’ve been eaten, but it’s a close-run race.

I’ve also tried a different approach to climbers. The teepee structures I used last winter were fine, but took up a lot of space. So this time around I screwed together some garden stakes and attached wire mesh. So far the sugar snap peas are very happy!

These are just two of the above-ground plants we’re growing this winter. In addition we have:

  • savoy cabbages
  • mini savoy cabbages
  • purple cabbages
  • silverbeet
  • warrigal greens
  • pak choy
  • bok choy
  • kale (two varieties)
  • snow peas
  • rhubarb
  • salad greens
  • herbs (various)

(I’ll list the root vegetables in the next post.)

Attack of the killer daikon!

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Just one of the many daikon we've pulled out of the garden; normal-sized carrot for comparison

There’s something supernatural about daikon (Japanese white radish). They grow amazingly fast, and are immensely large when pulled out of the ground. They’re quick and easy to grow, and are hard to get in Australian supermarkets.

I’d have to say that the first ones we picked were an acquired taste. Miss P didn’t warm to the surprisingly bitter flavour, so I had to hide them in soups and the like. I had read that they become milder in taste during winter, and thankfully this turned out to be the case.

In a recently-acquired cookbook, I found a receipe for pickled daikon, so I gave that a go. It’s an absolute winner! Once pickled, the daikon takes on a very different flavour; sweet and fruity. Great as a side dish during a Japanese meal. We now have two jars of pickled daikon, with more plants still in the ground.

The first savoy cabbage

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The first savoy cabbage out of the ground
The first savoy cabbage out of the ground

With the unpacking of boxes in our new house, the autumn planting ended up being very late. So quite a lot of things sat in the ground during winter, waiting for some warmer weather.

It was therefore with considerable excitement that we harvested our first savoy cabbage on the weekend. It was huge by our measure, even though it’s really just a baby compared to the store-bought variety.

Still, it made for a very nice cabbage gallete (layered cabbage, baked with a pastry top). We still have 3 or 4 in the ground, steadily getting bigger…

Fresh and crisp, ready for the pot
Fresh and crisp, ready for the pot

Broccolini going to seed

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Broccoli in flower is an impressive sight
Broccoli in flower is an impressive sight

While we were away on holiday, the biggest of our broccolini plants bolted to seed. As you can see above, it’s quite a sight! This seemed like an ideal opportunity to practice our seed saving for the first time.

Important tip:

Reading up the Seed Savers Handbook, I discovered that broccoli is self-sterile. That is, you need bees to spread pollen between more than one plant for seeds to form. You then let the seeds form on the plant, cut the whole lot out, and let it dry inside.

In this case, my timing was a bit out. One plant was flowering profusely, while the others were still catching up. I’ve stopped harvesting the rest of the broccolini, and hopefully this will get enough plants flowering at the same time to generate some seeds. I’ll report back.

No shortage of flowers (and bees)
No shortage of flowers (and bees)