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This is a post from this same day, five years ago.  And here I am again, with even the mice reliable as ever.

We went to Brisbane last weekend and I missed the leafy planting day, so this weekend is a garden catch up.

I’m planting in seed trays:

  • silver beet
  • cauliflowers
  • kale
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • parsley
  • spinach
  • celery
  • dill
  • coriander
  • rocket
  • raddichio
  • cabbage
  • yukina
  • broccoli

Just a few seeds of each – there will be at least a couple more rounds of most of them before the season is over, and I don’t want to run out of room.  Most of these are frost hardy, at least for the very light frosts I might get, and some (like kale) will cope with heavy frost.

I’m planting into pots filled with a mix of mature compost, creek sand, and wood ash from our slow combusion stove:

  • the leafies that I germinated last planting break, now at the two leaf stage and easy to transplant.
  • Climbing peas (Telephone)
  • Snow peas (Oregon Dwarf)
  • Broad Beans (Aquadulce)

The mice got about half of the pea seeds I planted last time.  The cold snap has brought them in.  But that’s ok, I potted up about a third more than I wanted to plant out anyhow, so  I’m not too far down.

I’m planting out into the garden:

And that will bring me back up to date!

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It’s the southern hemisphere equinox at 3.30 pm today, the moment when the earth is exactly half way on its journey round the sun between the short shadow full face to the sun days of midsummer, and the long shadow late mornings and early evenings of midwinter.

In gardening terms, it’s time to start planting things that need the threat of winter to persuade them to store  food- garlic and onions, cabbage and turnips, celeriac and cauliflower.  There’s a whole set of posts about what I plant, in northern NSW, this time of year at Early Autumn Planting.  It will be different in your part of the world but the concepts are the same – with a few exceptions like broad beans, it will be plants that hunker down and store food to see them through till the lengthening days signal good times ahead and time to seed.  Except by that time, they will be  harvested and eaten.

It’s also time to start thinking about firewood and crafts and good books and the idea of balance.  The spring equinox I think of as being about balance by planting and growing, but the autumn equinox is about balance by harvesting and culling.

I don’t usually like winter much.  The days are too short, the quality of the light is wrong, I have to wear boots.  I like the long days of summer when you can do so much in a day.  But I think maybe this year I need winter.   Some time contemplating the bare framework without all the leaves and flowers and fruit that can hide as well as yield.  Some time to sift what is important out of the ongoing urgent, to cull and whittle.

The equinoxes and solstices, and the cross quarter dates midway between them, are wonderful calendar markers. A reminder to that it is useful to step back from the daily flurry every so often and let the philosophical have a moment.  So that is my philosophical autumn equinox musing  – cull and prune so the framework is strong enough for the load.

Happy equinox!

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May planting

One of the things I like about planting advanced seedlings is the instant gratification of it.  This is the garden bed I planted out today – advanced seedlings of lettuce, raddichio,  parsley, chinese cabbages, cauliflowers, leeks, silver beet, spinach, celery, red cabbage, broccoli, kailan, plus some parsnips, broad beans, peas, and snow peas.

This is the bed I planted out just last month with a similar, but not quite the same mix.  I tried a late button squash in that bed, and it’s survived this week’s cold snap and is flowering, so I might just be lucky and get some May button squash. We’re already eating lettuce and mizuna from it.

April planted bed in MayToday I also planted seed in seed trays:

  • silver beet
  • cauliflowers
  • kale
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • parsley
  • spinach
  • celery
  • dill
  • coriander
  • rocket
  • raddichio
  • cabbage
  • yukina
  • broccoli

My garden is pretty near frost free and winter is my best growing season for leafy greens.  I shall plant a very small amount of each of these in successive plantings for the next few months, and I’m already looking forward to the first spinach and feta pie of the season, in just a few weeks now.

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It’s glut season for pumpkins, and though the brush turkeys have made a serious dent in them, we have more than I want to try to store.  By the time the season ends we’ll be over pumpkin.

But for now it’s a treat. This is a very fast, healthy, easy, seasonal, meal in a bowl. It will generously serve two on its own, or four as a main side dish. The key ingredient, besides the pumpkin, is a Moroccan spice mix. You can use a ready bought mix but I have fresh turmeric, ginger, and chili in the garden, and besides turning very ordinary ingredients into something special, they also fend off the viruses that change of season can bring.

For this recipe, I use a mortar and pestle to crush together a nut sized knob of fresh turmeric and one of ginger, a fresh chilli and a handful of fresh coriander with teaspoon of mixed dry cumin and cinnamon, a pinch of cardamom and nutmeg and just a whisker of cloves.

Put half a cup of couscous in your serving bowl and cover it with boiling water. Let it absorb the water, topping up as needed until it is a good texture.

Meanwhile, heat a swig of olive oil in a heavy pan. Peel and chop pumpkin into bite sized pieces. This recipe uses about 2 – 3 cups of chopped pumpkin, but as always you can vary. Saute the pumpkin along with a roughly chopped onion, a couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and your spices. If you use dried spice mix, use about two good teaspoons.

When the pumpkin is nearly there, add a handful of sultanas, ½ a capsicum cut into thick strips, and about 2/3 cup of cooked chick peas (garbanzos). Salt to taste.

While all this is happening, roughly chop some parsley, halve some cherry tomatoes and tear up some rocket. Toss the lot together with the juice of half a lemon and serve into bowls.

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This year, I’m going to grow enough onions.

I’ve never yet grown enough onions. I’ve got close-ish, with leeks and spring onions and chives as the support team, but never quite enough to last the whole year.

I have excuses.  For the last thirty years I’ve been living in a subtropical climate not ideal for onions (or garlic).  Here there is a limited window of opportunity for planting, a limited number of varieties to choose from, and a lot of ways to be seduced by seed catalogues into dud plantings.  In my seed box are  Welsh onions and potato onions and pearl onions and shallots that looked so good in the catalogue but behaved like Scotsmen when they found themselves in what used to be called “The Big Scrub”.  We eat a lot of onions and since they all have to go in pretty much at the same time, they don’t fit well with my rolling successive planting style of gardening, or, for the last decade, with my intensively fenced “Up Gardening“.

It was a little bit of maths that led me to the resolution to try to grow enough storing onions to last out the year.  I don’t know why I’ve never actually thought this through before. Average five onions a week (with leeks and perennial leeks and spring onions and chives to round it out) equals 250 onions a year.  Add another 50 for casualties. Split into two plantings a month apart (the most I can manage here), in two beds, that’s 150 onions a planting.  At 12 cm spacing, that’s just over two square metres in each of two beds, really not much space at all.  I think I have been failing to appreciate how truly productive for space onions are.

I’m not getting seduced by seed catalogues this year. Most varieties of onions, especially the keeping varieties, are long day length which means they need the long days of summer at lower latitudes to set bulbs.  This year I’m sticking to Hunter River Brown and Lockyer Brown varieties, both good keepers and bred for the shorter day lengths we have in summer this far north.  I’m planting a box of seed of each, and will transplant them out into the garden next month, aiming for about 75 of each, planted in patches of about a dozen onions scattered throughout the bed. I’ll plant another box of each then, to be planted out in May.  I’ll companion plant them with carrots but since I can plant carrots all year and I’m aiming for a year’s supply of onions in one go, it will be a token amount of carrots.

By the time I get a year’s supply of onions as well as a year’s supply of garlic both in, I’m going to be very glad zucchinis and squash don’t grow over winter. By the time they go in again, in September, I should be able to tell you how the onion challenge has gone.

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winterI’m naturally not much of a gambler.  I think that’s one of the reasons I like permaculture – that focus on systems and design and elegant patterns of relationships that mitigate risk.  It’s not that I’m a control freak, it’s just that I’ve learned that “lets stop and think about this” is a good mantra.

This time of year in this part of the world (northern NSW), fruiting annuals are all a gamble.  I might just squeeze in another round of the summer annuals, especially the faster ones like zucchini and squash and cucumbers and beans.  My site is pretty well frost free and with luck they’ll bear into June, but an early cold snap will zap them just as the first fruits are ready to harvest.  I might just get away peas and snow peas but if it stays warm too long, and especially if its wet with it, they’ll all just succumb to powdery mildew.  I might get away with both, or very easily neither.

So I’ve planted  just a dozen each of peas, snow peas, and broad beans.  The first real planting will be next month but if these succeed, they’ll give me an early start and a bit of insurance if the mice steal my pea seeds next month  (as they’ve been known to do in the past).

And I’ve planted one, exactly one, pot of each of zucchini, button squash, cucumber, and potkin pumpkin.  Two or three seeds in each pot so that I can weed out the weaker ones, but aiming to plant out just one of each as a late bet.  And a dozen rattlesnake beans to get a last hurrah on the bean harvest.  And another few cherry tomatoes in the seed box, aiming to have just five or six to plant out.  They’ll be slow and a bit sorry for themselves being asked to grow through winter, but I can usually manage to get a few to bear right through.

All the big seeds are in leaf pots, three to a pot aiming to thin to two before planting out. By the time they are big enough to need planting out into the garden, the chooks will have prepared a bed for them.  It will be an oddly planted bed – a small set of peas, snow peas, beans, cucumbers all climbing the south side fence, with broad beans in front of them, then zucchini, squash and potkins round the north side (where they won’t cast too much shade), and leafy greens, onions and garlic in the middle.  The picture is that kind of planting from last year.  Lacking a crystal ball (sadly), oddly planted is my next best option.

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box of vegies

In my kitchen is a box of vegies that I’ve packed to send to the Bentley CSG blockade vigil.  A small group of hardy souls are maintaining a vigil there,  so as to be able to let us all know when we’re needed to stop the drill rig.  It means all the rest of the 90% of the region’s population who oppose gas mining can get on with their lives meanwhile. It’s tedious work, just watching a gateway and I thank them for being willing to do it.  Metgasco is imposing a huge cost on us all in making us do this – we have way better things to do than defend against looters.

tomatoes

In my kitchen is a big bowl of mixed tomatoes – cherries, Principe Borghese grapes, yellow cherries, and Yugoslavs. I’ve had a bowl of tomatoes on the bench for several months now.  I’m lucky that there are some tomatoes in my garden most of the year, but this late summer peak of the season is such luxurious excess!

olivesIn my kitchen are this year’s olives, now in their brine solution for the next three months.  We still have four big jars of last year’s olives left and they are perfect for eating now after three months in brine then nine months marinating in oil and spices.  This year I held my nerve a little longer and we have more black than green ones so I’m very happy!

persimmons

In my kitchen is a bowl of persimmons.  There were more but my partner loves them.  I thought for a bit too long about what I could make with them and now there are so few left that I don’t have to think any more.

beans

In my kitchen are some pie dishes full of shelled beans drying.  We’re at the stage in the year now when the bean jars start to fill up.  The white ones are Blue Lakes, the mottled ones are Rattlesnakes, the brown ones are Purple Kings, and the black ones are Turtle Beans.  All except for the turtles are tall climbers that we’ve been eating as green beans up till now, but now we can’t keep up so I let them mature, shell and dry them, and store them to cook over winter.

sunflower

And in my kitchen is a sunflower in a vase, just for making me happy every time I look at it.

I love seeing what’s happening in others’  kitchens.  Head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for the list.

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planting in March

I’d never noticed it before I started blogging, but there’s a pattern here.  Every year I seem to be thanking my lunar calendar that I got anything stuck in during early Autumn at all.  What is it with March?

I’ve done it again this year – all but missed the leafy planting days, determined to get something planted no matter what, and had a post half written in my head about “one of the things I like about the lunar planting calendar, that it pushes me to rescue my gardening from the “things that can be put off for a week or so” pile”.  Till I realised that’s exactly what I wrote this time in 2011.

In my part of the world – northern NSW – it’s the turn of the seasons time.  We’ve probably seen the last of the heat wave days when it’s a waste of effort planting out leafy greens and you can feel the coming coolness in the air.  It is coming into our wet season so we’re likely to get rain. It’s past Lammas, the festival marking the point when, though the days are still long,  if you graph the day length the graph starts a steep downhill plunge towards the winter solstice.  So bolters are not in such a hurry to set seed into what they think is the approaching snow, and instead they bunker down with food stores to survive till the days start lengthening again – food stores like bulbs and hearts and tubers.  The summer insect pests are still around but they’ve lost their head start on predator populations.  I see hover flies and lizards all over the garden now and a grasshopper needs to be lucky to run the gauntlet.

All of that means I can, for the first time, plant water loving leafies like lettuces and celery with some hope.  I can plant bolters like coriander and parsley and silver beet and they’ll hang in there for a while.  I can plant cool season things like leeks and spinach, and cabbage moth targets like kale and cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower.

Not too many of any of them – there’s several months of successive plantings to fit in yet, but today I’m making time to get these seeds into the seed boxes in the shade house.  The boxes are sitting ready in the shadehouse, the same ones I used for summer planting recycled.  It will take a matter of minutes, and, like every year it seems, I’ll thank my lunar calendar that it made me do it.

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self sown garlicEvery year a few garlic plants manage to escape harvesting in early summer.  The leaves die off and I lose them in the garden.  Every year in autumn I suddenly find them again, green shoots poking up from forgotten patches.

The thing is, every year it is getting earlier.

For years I’ve planted garlic around Anzac Day.  In 2010, my first year of this blog,  I wrote a post about self sown garlic shooting of its own accord in early April.  In 2011 I planted my garlic  in mid March to see if the early planting trick would work again, and a couple of days later I found the self-sown garlic agreed with me.   In 2012, after finding the self sown garlic sprouting in early March I wrote a post about planting the garlic, and how “Gardens are polite, quiet, undemanding, and utterly implacable” about timing.

It’s hardly a proper scientific experiment. I save some of my own garlic to plant every year but I also mix up the genes a bit by buying some locally grown garlic to plant too.  It’s only a four year experiment, and lots else changes every year too including soil and weather and shade.  But it is an interesting little oddity.

This year, after finding this garlic happily sprouting this week, I’m planting my garlic in February.  Crazy early by standard wisdom, but I’m not going to argue with a plant.

Garlic is one of the most worthwhile plants to grow.  It doesn’t take a lot of space to grow a year’s supply and it’s pretty hardy with dry or cold or hot weather.  Supermarket garlic is mostly imported from China and there’s a reason it’s cheap. It’s treated with methyl bromide at quarantine, and methyl bromide is a nasty chemical.  It’s also bleached to make it that shiny white.  Chinese regulation of agricultural chemicals isn’t confidence inspiring and the garlic has travelled a long way.  The varieties used are mild and the growing practices push it along so hard that you use masses of it and don’t get the flavour.

If you are planting garlic, go to the effort of finding a good local variety.  Garlic is highly day length sensitive so a variety grown at a different latitude won’t work for you. If you can’t find local garlic, next best option is to do some good research about a suitable variety for your region – short day or long day, hard neck or soft neck.  If you are much north of me in Northern NSW, you are in a marginal area for garlic of any kind.  This far north I have to choose short daylength varieties, or they go to seed without developing a bulb at all.

Then just plant individual cloves in good composted soil, pointy end up, as deep as their own diameter, about 8 cm spacing, well away from peas or beans.  Give them a nice sunny spot and don’t overwater. And dream of braids of garlic to hang next summer.

garlic braids[relatedPosts]

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