Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Growing broccoli

Broccoli is one of my favourite winter vegetables.  It's good to start planting it in January, as soon as you get reorganised after Christmas, and depending on the weather.  This is so that you'll have plenty to eat when the weather turns cold in the middle of the year.  This year (after a very hot and difficult patch early in 2008) I decided to wait until the weather cooled down a bit.  There wasn't going to be enough water for too many small plants.  The first plants went in (with shadecloth over them) at the end of February.   The shadecloth helped a lot and I'll have more of that next summer.
I'll plant a few more as time goes on and any extra broccoli can go into the freezer for next summer, just in case we have a summer that is as hot and dry as the last two.  We will still eat well.

There are white cabbage moths that love broccoli in particular so I check the plants'  leaves daily for eggs.  
The eggs can be either white or yellow and  are left "glued" on the underneath side of the leaves.  They are easy to remove.  You wipe them off with your finger.  There are three eggs in this photo and these are fairly yellow.
As some of you know,  I was away from home for a few days last week... from Wednesday until Friday night.  By that time it was raining and so any eggs that were there had a chance to hatch.  These little caterpillars are like the very hungry caterpillar of the book.  They eat and eat and eat....  and the holes in the leaves get larger and larger...  the biggest one that I found today was about 15mm long.  They were underneath the leaves that they had hatched on.

Today is beautiful and sunny and a good day for a bit of weeding, egg wiping and caterpillar catching.  There are a few interesting things to notice however...  These next two leaves are on two different broccoli plants that are very close together.  One is quite eaten,  in fact it  is the very leaf that I found the fattest caterpillar (above) on.   The other leaf is from a plant with all of its leaves intact.  For some reason those mother moths prefer some plants over others, and this happens all the time.  It's probably a good idea to save seeds from the plants that those mothers don't like.

Interestingly, these so called cabbage moths always seem to prefer broccoli over any of the other brassicas.  Perhaps broccoli is a higher grade food.  After all of this rain, I haven't seen any more adults either, so perhaps the hunt is over for this year.

For anyone who remembers those green and purple kale leaves (photographed a few days ago) with all of the frilly bits, I should also tell you that those leaves have had very few eggs on them.  I had been apprehensive at the thought of trying to find the eggs under those complicated leaves when I saw them start to curl.  I needn't have worried.  The moths didn't take much notice of them... they definitely prefer the broccoli.


This morning I went out to see how those little mustard plants are growing.  they are still thick and like a green carpet on that little patch of garden.  The cumin seeds are up too,  I think. It's hard to tell.  They are still few and far between, and very small.
As I tried to photograph that little patch,  I was covered in biting ants.  There were a lot with wings.  That is supposed to mean that we will have rain.  According to the Herald (local free newspaper) Kapunda has had 46mm over the past seven days.  There might be more to come, if the ants are correct.

Self sewn coriander right beside a cauliflower plant should produce before the tiny plants that I photographed yesterday.  

I went out to see how the olive tree near the gate is going.  The olives have been looking better and better by the day.  I've run out of those that I had preserved last time.  This jar (below) contains those that I could reach this morning. 
There is another olive tree on the other side of the yard, and that is loaded. The olives there aren't as ripe as these though.  They are small too.  I will preserve them in two different batches this time (instead of mixing them) so that I can tell which tree has the best olives.  I suppose that's how people bred the various olive vareties that we have now.  None of these are fancy ones,  just feral.  One of the trees that I collected olives from last time doesn't have any at all this year.  These trees seem to be quite idiosyncratic.
There's not much of those last few garlic cloves hanging there now either.  I'll have to start buying it again!  It's time to plant some anyway.  I plant it near the shortest day of  the year (June) and pull it out at the longest day of the year (December.) 

Beside the olive tree, and under a huge red gum, is a saltbush patch that has been flowering profusely for weeks.  Now it is loaded with fruit.  These are quite tiny.  Each berry is only a couple of mm across, but a handful of them are quite sweet.  I like them.  The birds like these too.  They remind me of tiny bunches of red currants, though they are smaller.

It must be close to winter.  The wattle is flowering.  I smelled it as I picked the olives but I had to hunt around amongst the unopened buds for this little bunch of flowers.  

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Flowers... Tuesday night

I forgot to take a picture of the blood lilies this year.  These are amazing red flowers that appear out of the dry ground near the end of the summer.  The flowers come first (despite the fact that Diggers state that the leaves precede the flowers) and attract honeyeaters by the hundred.  The birds fight over these flowers to such an extent that the energy available must be worth an incredible amount of effort to win.  Right here, the  New Holland honeyeaters and White-plumed honeyeaters put so much effort into defending and feeding on these particular lilies that they must be very nutritious.  
This is something that people need to learn from these birds.  The amount of effort (including oil and oil dependent fertilisers)  that we put into producing the energy that we need (food) should not be more than we get out.  In the 1960's i remember learning that the the number of calories that we used to expend (using tractors and fuel etc) to get one food calorie back (on average) was forty.  Such an inefficient system cannot last indefinitely.  When the oil becomes too scarce or too expensive,  it won't be worth the effort.  It still worries me.
Anyway,  the amount of nectar and insects that the honeyeaters get must be more than they spend in those fights, otherwise they would be very skinny, unhealthy and probably die.
The picture (of the Blood Lily) that I have is one that I drew in my sketchbook... no camera at the time!  Today, the flowers are dying and the leaves are just coming out and I'll take a photograph when they are large.  The plants are also known as "elephant ears" so you can imagine how large the leaves are.   Large leaves, lots of chlorophyll that can change solar energy into carbohydrate, and that makes a huge bulb that waits underground until next year. That large bulb can produce a huge amount of energy for those birds.  You can't get something for nothing, and it all comes from the sun eventually.  

Autumn crocuses....  I have two kinds that flower in my garden.  These yellow ones are Sternbergia lutea.  They appear as soon as it rains, seemingly within minutes.  Perhaps they are forwarned somehow.  Or perhaps there is magic in the world.

Below is Colchicum byzantinum.  These appear quickly also.  They look very much like saffron,  though it is very different and not edible.  
I used to have saffron growing for several years,  and it even flowers at the same time as these purple crocuses but after the third year,  there are no more flowers.  All I can imagine is that the soil is missing something that "runs out" in just a few years.  Soil here is old and minerals and nutrients are leached out because we live in one of the oldest continents on earth.  I will try a few mineral additives to see if I can again have fresh saffron (once again it is much better than the bought kind.)  After finding out that my beetroot wouldn't grow because a lack of boron, I can see how a tiny bit of a particular mineral can change the growth and habit of the plant.  I will perservere with saffron.

Tuesday, lunchtime.

I keep adding the time for these blogs in the title because I can't seem to change the time that is in the system and I hate being a day late most of the time.  It's the same on facebook... if you wait until fb reminds you to wish someone a happy birthday,  you'll be a whole day late.

There was another 3.5mm of rain overnight,  but the sun is shining now.   Not the bright and hot sunshine that we are used to, but it is shining.  The kale in the picture still has drops on it.  I really like the colour combination in the leaves of this kind of kale.  If you click on it and make it bigger the purple shows up more acurately, or at least it does on my computer.  Green and purple are the colours chosen by the women's suffrage movement.  I wonder why.

Here is the chook yard again.  This is the one that I think is certain to be soup.  He seems to have a spectacular tail and it is looking decidedly green.  Notice the one next to him with the funny hairdo...  not the same kind of tail at all.  He hasn't crowed or got agro yet, but I think he might be on borrowed time.  But if you keep chickens, you really do have to deal with this aspect of real life also.

Sunshine again... shining through the kitchen window and into my evil eye.  In the summertime we get so blaze about the sun, but it seems to be more precious in winter.  The evil eye is a reminder of Woodford.  I love that ultramarine colour and it matches my window frame.  Outside is a messy collection of polystyrene boxes.  I use these for starting seeds off or even growing leafy stuff in the back verandah in very hot or very cold weather.  

Update from yesterday (picture below)...  in the very front is the mustard that came up with the rain.  There is even more now if that is possible.  For those of you who know my yard,  that is the tree that is carved into a seat behind the little patch of green and the leafy green shade is produced by branches sprouting from the chair itself.  I don't need an umbrella, though it does need some trimming to keep it under control.  It will be firewood and kindling for the stove very soon.  The table is for my wine glass.  This is a good spot for reading in warm weather.

I walked around the whole yard this morning to see what the rain had done.  There are autumn crocuses flowering, but the best thing is this bay leaf tree.  It will survive.  There is enough green left.  The brown bits on the leaves were caused by a couple of weeks of 45 degree weather a couple of months ago.  The leaves were crispy and cooked, but still greenish for a few days.  Then they mostly went brown, and I wasn't sure how the whole plant would go.  The rain has turned it very green (in parts) and I'm sure it will live.

Monday, 27 April 2009

monday 10 o'clock at night

I have just got home from two council workshops.  the first was about the naming of streets in new developments and also naming properties in line with the new system for rural household identification.   After that there was  lengthy briefing about a number of developments in our council district.  One of these was in my own town,  and of great concern to my community. 
When I arrived home, the fire was going, and the kitchen was warm.   This is my "new" stove.  My old one is in for repair, in Lobethal and will be home soon I hope.  The old one is about a 1900 model and much better than this 2008 version...  the stove is due to be home again in about the middle of May... I'll keep you posted.  

Monday, still raining...

We have had more rain overnight and the total now is 40mm.  It has been wonderful for plants that have been struggling until now in the garden.  I have an overflowing tank.

And now back to the little patch of kale, peas, onions and carrots.  I included the very front bit this time also.  This is coriander.  I put a handful of seeds  (last year's clump of coriander that went to seed before Christmas)  in this corner of the garden and it has sprouted in the rain.  There are a few lost coriander plants amongst the cabbages and cauliflowers also...  seeds that fell from the plants there last year.

Last week (on Wednesday) I planted some mustard seeds.  In fact I used some mustard seeds that I mainly use in cooking, though they are pretty old, and I thought I'd see if they are viable. I took a handful of seeds... it was a big handful because I thought they might not all sprout,  and I had to allow for the sparrows that live nearby...  well here is what I found this morning... and if you click on the picture to make it bigger,  you'll see how very viable they are!  Every one of them must be growing.
The soil is pretty awful in this spot. It was hard to get water to soak into it, not much organic matter and I didn't have any gypsum on hand...  no extra minerals or "blood and bone."  It was like a dry powder that the water couldn't soak into at all.  Even spraying it with the hose caused a little cloud of dust!  It will be interesting to see how these plants manage.  I've put some cumin seeds next to these (not up yet) and it will all probably be dug in ready for the spring.  Perhaps this will improve the soil anyway.   I'm going to try the mustard leaves though.  They are supposed to be good to eat.

The basil has almost all died off.  I have planted some Greek basil.  I bought the plant at the "Gardening Australia" event in Adelaide some weeks ago.   It tastes and smells very similar to the usual basil, though the leaves are a bit tougher.    It is supposed to be perennial.  We'll see.  It is growing near the jalapeno plant where I can protect both of them if the weather gets too cold in the winter.  It is a beautiful plant...

Back to the broad beans.  The rain has helped them along.  Just as I was photographing them, Jessie came around the end of the garden.  (She knows that she can't run across.)  I included this picture for Chris, so anyone who is talking to him should let him know that there's a current photo of her right here.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

sunday night

I have been at a Greens meeting all day today and when I arrived home,  it was too late for a photograph.

Here is a drawing of one of my chickens from my sketchbook... from last year.

Sunday morning 7am

Sunday morning, and the rooster is crowing again.   I took a photograph of the chickens the other day (before the rain.)   I still can't tell which ones are hens.  If any of them start to crow, they'll be soup!  Most of those in the picture hatched at the beginning of December.  The fertile eggs came from someone else's yard.  They are a motley lot,  different shapes, sizes and colours.
Eggs for breakfast?  I like this egg basket.  It comes from a second hand shop in Nuriootpa.  

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Sweet potatoes

I love sweet potatoes.  During the summer, one of them started sprouting in the cupboard so of course I planted it.  It is in a pot because I needed to keep it in the shade during the hottest days.  It grew very fast.  I made a makeshift trellis for it.  So here it is,  growing very tall...
It has outgrown the trellis and it's still going...
Despite the rain,  it hasn't been very cold yet.  When the weather turns colder,  I will take cuttings of the vines and start some more plants in a poly styrene box inside.  They are supposed to grow easily from such cuttings.  Next summer I plan to transplant those vines into the garden and eventually harvest some sweet potatoes. 

Ordinary Potatoes
This is the first "ordinary" potato plant to come up.  Potatoes are supposed to be planted later in the year than this.  In fact,  if you order them from Diggers, they send them out in June or July.  This is supposed to avoid the frost getting the leafy parts of the plant.  The problem in Kapunda is that plants grown at that time of the year do most of their growing in the summer and there is no way that I have enough water to grow potatoes during the summer.
At the beginning of last winter,  not much later than this time of year, a few "lost" potatoes came up by themselves.  There were about seven or eight of them.  I left them where they were.  The frost didn't do them much harm.  In about November, they died off, along with the potatoes that had been planted at the right time.... it was so hot and dry and watering twice a week (as allowed under current regulations) just wasn't enough.  None of them actually flowered, but those few plants produced about 15kg of potatoes.  The ones that were planted at the proper time produced very little.
This year I have planted a few more potatoes at the "wrong" time, and here is the first one to come up out of the ground...  surrounded by sour sobs, and looking healthy.

Saturday and still raining

There has been nearly an inch of rain in the old measurements.  In fact we have had 21mm over two days and there are a few showers to come.  
Here is the "kale,peas/fennel,onion, carrot" patch again... a little bit greener than before.
And the kale is finally out of the ground.  Kale is another brassica,  so it has these special shaped leaves when it's little, just like broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower.

This is some curly leafed kale that I planted as seedlings a few weeks ago.  It is a Russian variety, with purplish stems and frilly leaves.  I had thoughts that it would be hard to find cabbage moth eggs or caterpillars underneath them, amongst the frills.  I keep those under control by checking for the eggs and removing them daily.  Interestingly though, the moths seemed to prefer the smooth leafed broccoli some distance away and there were very few problems with these plants.  In fact the moths even preferred particular broccoli plants even though they all looked the same from what I could see.
I've been picking the bigger outer leaves of the Russian kale already.  The taste is similar to the other kale varieties and a bit like cabbage.

Amaranth is one of the vegetables that is used in India to supply vitamins that are missing from rice, without having to genetically modify the grain to add vitamins and change its colour to yellow.  I first tried growing it a couple of years ago when I read about its high vitamin content and thought that a plant from India might tolerate heat.  It is hard to grow "leafy green food" in summer but amaranth proved to be very tolerant of heat and resilient even if it dries out.  
I saved the seeds and now I'm trying them during the winter.   They are coming up all over the place.

This is a baby cabbage with the middle leaves jsut beginning to curl over.  The cabbages are still a while away, but I like the shape of the leaves when they are showing what they are programmed to do...  curling into a sphere...  seems like magic to me.  

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Today it began to rain.  I have the pump attached to the "house tank" and the electricity connected to the pump.  All I need now is the plumbing attached to the house and we'll be "off the grid."  That is the pump beside the green tank. I think it is lovely.  That tank in the picture holds 9000 litres and it is full.  I have two more 9000l tanks, and I'm saving up for the fourth.
If you look very carefully,  you can see the rooster in the aviary behind the tank.  He is the one that the dogs cornered on the verandah some time ago (I rescued him and put him in that aviary to see if he would survive.)  I think he'll be soup if he keeps on crowing at 4 in the morning...  and only 10 metres from the bedroom window.  The alternative is to leave him in with the chooks and raise some more chicks next summer.  There are a couple of roosters among last summers chicks...  so there'll be rooster soup sometime soon...  one way or another.
These are a couple of the trees in the yard.  It's very dry,  but I think that if red gums as large as this can grow here, then there must be enough water for the garden.  And look at all of the kindling wood under the trees.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


I know that jalapenos are usually green,  but if you let them get ripe they become sweet and so easy to dry.  This plant has produced quite a few this year and hopefully there are enough to get us through the winter.  I dry them beside the fire and then keep them in a jar.  Chris used these in his cooking quite often.  A single red jalapeno added to a sauce or soup could make all the difference.


Wikipedia has a better description of a Green man than I could reproduce...

"Green Man is a sculpturedrawing, or other representation of a face surrounded by or made from leaves. Branches or vines may sprout from the nose, mouth, nostrils or other parts of the face and these shoots may bear flowers or fruit. Commonly used as a decorativearchitectural ornament, Green Men are frequently found on carvings in churches and other buildings (both secular and ecclesiastical). "The Green Man" is also a popular name for English public houses and various interpretations of the name appear on inn signs, which sometimes show a full figure rather than just the head.

The Green Man motif has many variations. Found in many cultures around the world, the Green Man is often related to natural vegetative deities springing up in different cultures throughout the ages. Primarily it is interpreted as a symbol of rebirth, or "renaissance," representing the cycle of growth each spring. Some speculate that the mythology of the Green Man developed independently in the traditions of separate ancient cultures and evolved into the wide variety of examples found throughout history."

The Green man in the photograph above is made by Nick on the back wall of the aviary in my yard.  I hope he represents a vegetative deity that represents the cycle of growth, if not inspring,  then at least in autumn.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Seed sowing

I have planted three rows of broad beans here.  These are just a little bit early.  Usually I plant them after Anzac day (April 25th) but they seem healthy enough.  In the background you can see the wall of the house that I am repairing.  There was quite a hole where the stones had fallen out and the mud that held them together had washed out.  I have refilled it with stones, bricks and limey mortar.  It looks pretty uneven,  but it matches the rest of the house and I did it myself so that I'm pretty pleased with it.

These little onion plants have been growing for a couple of months.  They grew from seed that I saved from the onion plants last year.  I don't remember what colour or shape the onions were,  but I'm sure that they'll be edible.

I have prepared some long rows of good soil and planted an assortment of seeds.  Here are four furrows with (from the right) kale that is still invisible; peas (close) and florence fennel (far); then onions; and lastly carrots.  I can see them when I get close and I'll take another photograph when they get a bit bigger.

The beginning of the winter garden

The last two summers here have been so hot and dry that it has been impossible to raise any vegetables unless they are covered with shade cloth and watered more than daily.  Two weeks of days that are over 45 degrees (C) is so hard for veges.  
I have decided to try a winter crop that is more than we can eat, freeze some and grow less during the summer next year.  More about my plans for summer later.

So far this year I have planted some broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower,  a few onions,  lettuce, herbs and so on.  The first of these have been in the ground for some weeks now and it looks as though we should have some early broccoli.  The silver beet (above) was self seeded from last year's crop and it came up near the broccoli plants.  We have eaten that while waiting for the rest of the garden to grow.  Tiny leeks are there as well.  Once the broccoli is finished, we'll have leeks with our potatoes.