Thursday, 30 September 2010

Salvias and my birdbath

I have been out cutting weeds today, and it looks as though my pathways are grassy lawn... at least in the photographs...  in fact,  the weeds are pretty messy though it is easier to walk to the clothes line now...
I have been weeding the garden patches too.... and it is looking healthy enough...
... here the sugar beet is about ten times the size of the beetroot in a tiny row on the left....
... you might have to enlarge the picture even to see the beetroot, though the sugar beet is quite good.

Today I went to the nursery to get a couple of specific plants that I knew were there Salvia gregii and Salvia scabra that I knew were there.  I had seen them a few days ago,  but I had to wait until pension day.  While I was there, I also found an interesting plant among the herbs (I always look there.)
In the middle of this patch is a tall, slightly yellowish salvia....
... this is chia...  it's called Salvia rhyacophylla here   (also known as S. hispanica.)
This is a native of the Southwastern US and Mexico.  "The word chia is derived from the Nahuatl word chian, meaning oily." (Wikipedia)
I can't wait to see how it grows and how it tastes.  I now have a whole collection of Salvias, some are here....
... ane there is a whole other patch that is hidden by some mustard plants that are about 2 metres tall!  (More of that patch another day.)  But this is the patch from the "clothes line" side.  
On the lhs,  is the potato patch (that Jonathon thought looked like a grave) and the rest is mostly food of one sort or another.  The basket on the little table has the dinner vegetables in it.
My other extravagance for the day was a bird bath....
...  I've been admiring this one for some months,   and I was worried that someone else might take it.


And here is tonight's dinner....
... a handful of broad beans, some carrots,  beetroot (we'll eat the tops too) and eggs.  

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cold night (and update)

During the night, last night, I heard the pump turning on fairly often.  The pump is the one that provides water, at some pressure, to the house and it switches on automatically whenever the pressure in the system drops.  This can happen when a tap is left on, a pipe leaks or if the temperature drops too low.  This is because the solar water heater has a thermostat that opens a valve to empty the system if there is a danger of it freezing on the roof.   It was cold enough to do that during the night, last night. The water isn't lost...  it runs back down into the gutters and downpipes  and back into the tank.
However,  I lay there worrying about the garden... the potato plants are well up and growing fast....  and they are very susceptible to the cold.
I went out early in the morning to see how the garden looked....
... frost everywhere...
... and the grass was crunchy to walk on.
The baby zucchini plants looked ok.  They are in a protected spot....
The potato plants looked rather suspicious...  the leaves were slightly dark looking (not a good sign) and definitely a bit stiff....

But by 10 o'clock this morning, the only wilted leaf that I could find was this one....
The rest are all  looking "normal" so far.  I might have been lucky!

The other things that I found this morning....

... the first flower on the fruit smelling salvia plant (Salvia splendens) and the first flower on the Grey sage plant (Salvia leucophylla.)
This Grey sage is the one that had the ladybirds on it the other day.... and a couple of them are still there...
... these are really amazing little creatures.

Update:  I have just been outside to see how that potatoes are going....


... and there is some evidence of the frost,  though not as bad as it could ahve been....  I've been very lucky!  The plants look a little bit the worse for wear,  though they will soon recover from this.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Silver beet

Silver beet is always available in my garden.  It is one of those plants that seems to grow well, against all odds,  doesn't mind the clay soil and even more, doesn't mind the alkaline pH here.  Not only does silver beet seem to grow well under a variety of conditions,  but it seems to be able to hang in there as seasons change with some kind of food available all the time.
In other places,  silver beet is called "Swiss chard"  or just "chard" and to me this indicates the different importance given to the different parts of the plant in other places.  It is worth looking at this very ordinary vegetable again.
Silver beet self seeds in my yard,  but I do collect seeds so that I can plant them where I want to... and also to give them away to anyone who would like to try growing some food.
The seeds are quite large and easy to manage, easy to germinate and not terribly fragile as tiny plants.... I  give them away in small plastic bags....
... and I replace any that don't work.
The tiny plants seem quite hardy too... and not susceptible to many insect attacks...

The plants produce two different parts that are edible.  (Beetroot is like this also...  one can eat the sweet root of the plant... or the spinach-like leaves.)  Silver beet produces the green leafy part and the "chards" (leaf stalks.)
The leaf stalks can be quite large... up to 5cm wide on some plants.....
here....
and here....

But I still have some that are smaller....
It turns out that the wider stalks and healthy plants are produced when I added boron to the soil.  As I have said previously,  Australian soils are old and many of the nutrients have leached out after millions of years of rain and weathering.  Apparently boron is in short supply in my back yard.  The addition of a soluble mineral supplement has changed the proportions of the leaves to those shown in the first two pictures.  The different colours of the stalks don't seem to have any influence on the way that the plants grow... and having had a packet of "five-colour-mix silver beet" some years ago,  I now have random colour plants all over the place.
But boron clearly makes a big difference.  It also seems to influence other root vegetables and celery stalks from my observations.

Cooking silver beet is easy and varied....  let me count the ways....

  1. In the same way as spinach, the green leafy parts can substitute for any "spinach" recipes... in pastry with feta, in creamy dips (the kind that are served in a fat cob loaf.)
  2. steamed, with butter...  minimal salt.
  3. the green leafy parts can be the last addition to a stir fry 
  4. the tiniest leaves can be added to a salad.
  5. the stalks can be cut like celery and added to soup
  6. "julienned" stalks can be cooked in oil and garlic... though you don't need to add much salt (the stalks always seem to taste just a little bit salty anyway)
  7. Chunky pieces of stalks (chards) are also good in stir fried food....  added at a different time (later) than the green leafy bits.
  8. Cook chunky stalks (chopped roughly) with tomatoes and herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) and garlic for a pasta sauce.
The fact that silver beet seems to survive all kinds of weather conditions means that there is always something to eat out there in the garden and what we can't manage to finish off,  the chickens are able to turn into eggs for us.




Saturday, 25 September 2010

Borage

This morning the garden is definitely feeling like spring.  The perfumed air would give it away,  even as the sun disappeared behind a cloud while I worked out there, planting a couple of new salvias that I found at the nursery this week.
My borage plant is flowering outside the kitchen window so that I am reminded of it whenever I am washing dishes....
I have usually had borage growing wild in the garden...  it self-seeds readily and returns each spring.  Last year that wasn't to be.  The very hot fortnight in November killed a lot of tiny plants. 
During the winter, I found a borage plant at the nursery... among the herbs... and so I took a chance and planted it.  It was risky, only because it normally dies off during the winter (in the cold) and the new plants germinate in the spring.  This is why I planted it in a protected spot and hoped for the best.  In fact,  we had a winter with no seriously cold nights,  though the days were colder than usual... my borage survived well.  
I like the flowers... a favourite colour... with a hint of the ultramarine blue straight from the tube of paint.
The flowers have been constant in recent weeks.  And now that the weather is warmer,  the seeds are setting.  Most flowers produce four seeds...
....  though some have two or three.
The seeds grow rapidly and within a few days,  they turn black and fall out onto the ground to start the whole thing over again....
I have been trying to collect the seeds so that, rather than a forest of borage by the kitchen window,  I can scatter some osf them further afield and have some borage in the "salvia patch."  I'm sure the bees will be happy here too.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Ladybirds

Ladybirds are good for my garden,  They eat aphids and whenever there are lots of ladybirds,  I don't get any aphids.  I did see some aphids on the sickly looking capsicum plants earlier in the spring,  but there isn't much damage.... yet....
I was so happy to see the first ladybird in the garden today.
It was sitting on this salvia plant today.  There is actually another one in the background that I hadn't seen when I photographed it. (If you increase the size of the picture, you should see it.)
Here is a close-up of that particular ladybird....
Then I saw another....
.... and a couple contemplating copulation....
Altogether I found five ladybirds on this salvia.

The salvia is a Californian grey sage and it is about to flower.
I looked everywhere... at every plant that is flowering or getting close to it,  and at all of the other salvias that are in my garden...  no other plants had any ladybirds that I could find.  Apparently they really like this particular sage plant.

I have concentrated on "food plants"  over the past several years and only since I have enough fresh food to eat without leaving the garden,  I have begun to plant more herbs and even flowers!  And this Salvia leucophylla is one of those additions.  When I planted this particular specimen,  I accidently broke a piece off of the side of it.  Of course I immediately stuck that piece into my polystyrene box of soil and look at this....
... it has sprouted leaves (and I hope it has healthy roots) and I will have another ladybird home....  and perhaps less and less aphids.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Broad beans in our dinner tonight

This week is busy.  It was bound to be, with the close of nominations for local government elections, council and Carer's Link meetings and a garden that has been ignored.  I have lodged my nomination papers for the election and the ballot paper draw was held yesterday.  I will be at the top of the ballot paper, though with voluntary, postal voting,  the "donkey vote" is minimal.
In my council area,  there have been two women elected members during the last council session.  This year, 2010, is the "year of women in local government"  and so I'd hoped that the number of women in our government would increase.  The other woman on our council is elected uuopposed in her ward.  I will be running against four men for three places in our ward, and in the other wards there are no women candidates at all.  Interesting times!

Meanwhile,  despite my lack of attention,  the garden continues to produce food.  The cold weather that e continue to have seems to slow things down, though the advantage to this is the slower earwigs as well... and the continued production of broad bean flowers.
Here is some broccoli, a cabbage and broad beans!!!
We have also just passed the equinox, when the sun "crosses the equator" on its way south (in fact,  the sun stays just where it is, while the earth goes around it and the tilt on the axis makes it appear as though the sun is travelling south...  being "earth-centric" I imagine the sun doing the moving.
From now on,  the sun will be more intense in the Southern hemisphere rather than in the north... and the chickens seem most effected by this. (I think that people and their moods are affected as well.) Several of the chickens have been laying eggs daily for a few weeks,  but this week,  we are back up to about  6 or 7 eggs per day.  We do have 10 hens,  though some of them are quite old (for chickens) now and probably not laying eggs any more.  I see them as "superannuated workers" whose needs are minimal and who I do feel some obligation to... after so many eggs in the past.
This could launch me into a whole other topic about retirees and the cost of supporting them...  I don't think that it is their lack of ability to take care of themselves for the most part...  (and I know that some people DO need assistance) but the lack of buying "stuff" which is what  it takes to "grow the economy" is the basic objection of "big business" to that lack of consumption... but how much "stuff" can one person accumulate, store, dust and care for?

In that basket of vegetables are the first broad beans (still tiny) that I have managed to get into the kitchen (rather than eating them straight from the bush.)
These will go into the dinner tonight.
Previously I have described the anticipation of seasonal foods (and it's interesting to see that the first three broad beans were picked in August last year.)  ...and it's that
I have written previously...
"These produce at the same time as the broad beans and I can't wait to dig out my "artichoke and broad bean" recipes here and here andhere.  It's interesting that these are "traditional" Greek or Italian recipes... places where these vegetables grow well and those Greek and Italian women (for I'll bet it was women who were cooking the "rustic" or "traditional"  dishes) worked out how to use the harvest efficiently."
.... and it's that the way it is when the first seasonal vegetables start to mature. There's not enough for a whole meal of any particular ingredient,  but it's good to incorporate the variety of edible bits and pieces that appear in the garden at the same time.  This combination of ingredients (and therefore nutrients) might even be good for the eater...  by making sure that we aren't missing any vitamins or minerals either.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Yesterday was the third Saturday

The third Saturday of the month means that I was in the Barossa Regional Gallery in Tanunda for much of the day.  On the way home I saw this canola field...
... definitely canola season...

I did get back to Kapunda earlier than usual for the opening ceremony of the toilet block at the Lion's playground.....
and here are the people who did the work celebrating and being photographed for the event.  Personally,  I am delighted to see the toilets here... taking little people to the public toilet a couple of hundred yards up the road was pretty difficult at times.

In the garden,  the tomato plants are beginning to flower...
... it will be some time yet,  but the ground in ready whenever the weather warms up and the tomatoes begin to produce.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Seed saving

The middle of September has crept up on me.  As we pass the middle of the month (15th) it is definitely spring.  It does seem rather cold and wet for spring,  but it is certainly that time of the year.  For those of us who are trying to grow food, this is the time to plant the summer crops.
This has quite a different significance for the climate here compared with the gardening for the summer in other places that I have lived in North America where the soil is frozen in winter and the only growing season is during the summer.  This is not as difficult as it sounds,  because in fact the much longer daylight hours make summers at higher latitudes quite different altogether...  plants grow so fast!

Anyway,  it is spring and I need to be planting for the summer crops.  The "rule of thumb" is that one should plant something whenever one picks something from the garden, or at the least weekly.  This week I have bought four zucchini plants and four cucumber plants from the nursery.  They are planted and all looking healthy.   I prefer to start my own seedlings usually... it is much more economical...  but having just participated in an election campaign,  the garden and the plantings have been rather ignored.

In recent times,  I have also been saving my own seed from plantings in the garden.  At first I tried the easiest varieties...  broad beans, clary sage, borage, parsley, kale and broccoli.   These are all easy to grow, easy to collect and can be sown directly into the garden again.
I am ready to branch out into some other, more difficult varieties...  tomatoes?  capsicum or chillis?  and onions and leeks.

What has reminded me of this is the Chinese broccoli (gai lan) that has finally gone to seed because I stopped picking it...  it is flowering, and I'm waiting for the seed pods....
If you look carefully at these plants,   you will see the strange shape of the main stems...  this is caused by picking the broccoli shoots for months from the same plants.  We have been eating the new shoots at least weekly (sometimes more often) for months....  and they continue to produce leafy green stir-fry (or soup) ingredients.   I planted these as seeds at the end of last summer and they have produced the most food (with respect to effort) compared with any other plants in the garden.  (I will look at other Chinese vegetables... perhaps this is something that the Chinese have learned...  the most food for the least effort.)
Now that we have so much food available in the garden,  I have decided to collect seeds from these plants... to be planted at the end of summer again.  Not only are the seeds that I collect inexpensive, but they are actually better.

There are two reasons for the better quality of the seeds that I collect from my garden.

  1. First of all,  these seeds are definitely "fresh",  having been collected in the seaason immediately before the one when  I plant them.  
  2. The other reason for my superior seeds is that they are particularly adapted to the soil and conditions in this micro-climate.  

The seeds that convinced me of this second advantage are those that I collected from my broad bean plants several years ago.
When I had an abundance of these seeds (broad beans), even after adding some of them to soup in the winter, I planted them in a couple of rows...  but I also planted some "bought" seeds of the same variety at the same time...
Both of these groups grew well and produced beans, but the "local" seeds grew significantly larger, had bigger leaves and more beans.
While I know that this is not a scientifically controlled experiment, and I would need to be much more disciplined to be able to make a definitive conclusion,  I have seen enough difference to encourage me to use my own seeds when I can.

And so today,  as spring arrives, I am planting more, and more often, in an attempt to catch up after the planting hiatus during the recent election in which I was a candidate...  back to the real world...  for that is what food growing and eating is.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

More rain and a dark sky...

During the night, last night, we had a lot of rain.  At one time, the rain was heavy and I could hear the dripping onto the top of the ceiling in the bedroom.  A little disconcerting, but I thought about the people who are washed out of their houses by the floods in Pakistan over the past few weeks and really couldn't take that dripping very seriously.   I'm sure that there are any number of people in the world who would think tha they lived in absolute luxury to find themselves, warm in bed with a steady dripping on the ceiling above.  
I couldn't wait to check the rain guage this morning.  The funny thing is that as I lifted the meassuring cylinder out of its place,  I couldn't believe it...  22.5 mm.  It rare to get so much in 24 hours,  but this means that we've had nearly 100 mm so far this month and nearly 300 mm for the year.  (Our annual average is about 480 mm.)
The tanks have been overflowing.  We can have showers that are as long as we like for the moment.  Luxury!  I have a slight feeling of unease in the back of my mind that I might wish that I'd spent the money that I'd saved on another 9000 litres of storage rather than a slow combustion heater for the living room.  The heater has made quite a difference too,  but I know I may well have some second thoughts in the summer if we have no rain at all for very many months.
By lunch time the sun was shining...
... but there are clouds aaround.  Notice the yellow bucket of fertiliser, always ready and the hoop ready for shadecloth in the summer.

I went to find the baby broad beans...
... I can't wait now,  for them to be big enough to pick for dinner.  As I poked around, looking for these, I could smell the distinctive "broad bean" aroma.

The tomato plants are in pots.  I want to push them into flowering sooner, rather than later, so I am constraining their roots, stressing the plants, so that they panic and try to produce offspring before they die.  In fact,  I'll transplant them into the soil before that happens, but it will make them produce tomatoes sooner, rather than later.
This one is already flowering....  all we need now is some sunny, warm weather.


We still have plenty to eat....
... swedes, fennel, lettuce, and all kinds of leafy green stuff.

One of the new potato patches....
.... there are actually two rows of potatoes here. The left hand one is going well, though the right hand row is barely poking through.  These were tow different types of potatoes,  but they were planted at the same time in exactly the same way.  I wonder which will be the best for my garden.

As I poked around in the garden, the clouds darkened....
... the dark sky is all grey and cloudy.  The whipper-snipped area is looking better today.

I can even find some hidden bulbs.... tulips....

and hyacinths....
(ignore the weeds.)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Boronia

One sure sign of spring in Australia is boronia.  I used to find it in Santa Cruz, CA, in September, and I knew that it must have been flown from the southern hemisphere...  but here it is a sure sign of spring in September.
I have tried to grow it in the past, with little success.  This time I have a plant that I have taken extra special care of... pretty ordianry looking,  even in flower....
...... it doesn't look very spectacular, but the flowers are very unusual....
(I remember using a cross-stitch to duplicate the flower as an embroidery piece when I was a child.)  In fact, though,  it is the perfume that is so impressive, though I have also read today that some people can't smell it at all.
I have planted this outside the back door and every time I walk out,  I am reminded of it by the perfume.
Having had little success with boronia plants in the past,  I bought some new soil and some compost... I dug a big hole in my alkaline clay soil and replaced it with the kind of soil that one uses for azaleas or rhododendrons...  more acid and more friable than the soil here....  brown boronia is a native of southern Western Australia.
This boronia is called Boronia megastigma.  Presumably the "megastigma" refers to the large stigma inside the flower that I represented with a big cross stitch years ago.  "Boronia"  is named for  Francesco Borone, an 18th century Italian botanist.

A few facts that I found today....
 "Boronia is used almost exclusively in the perfume industry and for it's aromatic signature. Amongst absolutes used in perfumery, Boronia is considered one of the most exotic."


" Boronia has a very complex floral base undertone with sweet melon and fruit notes."


" Boronia blends well with Sandalwood, Clary Sage, Blackcurrent,Bergamot, Violet, Helichrysum, Costus, and any oil from the floral family."
 Interestingly, one of my other favourite perfumes in teh garden is that of Clary sage leaves.


"Now in terms of fragrance, most orchids can not compete with landscape trees or shrubs like Daphne odora or Boronia megastigma."


My boronia is doing well. I found some information here.  Apparently it is always hard to grow... not just for me....  but now I will look at the possibility of propagating it to make it last. I found some instructions for commercial growers here,  so I think I'll have a serious attempt after Christmas.   In the "farmnote" about boronias,  it even mentions the fact that Boronia megastigma is grown for essential oil production.  They also suggest that boronias are all hard to propagate and to maintain.
From the Australian Native Plant Society website....
"Many plants in the Boronia family are readily propagated by cuttings using hardened, current-season's growth. Cuttings about 75-100 mm in length, taken in January in southern Australia would normally be suitable with the leaves carefully removed from the lower two-thirds. "Wounding" the lower stem by removing a sliver of bark and treating with a "root promoting" hormone both seem to improve the success rate."
Who knows,  it might even work this time!

I have been weeding outside as well.  There is a lot to do with the weeds growing so well after all of the recent rain.  I have uncovered the artichoke plants... these will be able to produce some hearts while the broad beans are abundant... or at least that's my plan....
The big plants are the ones that should produce the most this year... the smaller plants in the front are the ones that have been started from the division of the biggest one at the beginning of winter.  (I usually divide the biggest one to produce the new plants, each year.)