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Late autumn! Already!

In just a couple of days it will be Halloween in the southern hemisphere – the traditional festival marking the point when the day length levels out again, and we start the 3 month period of short days. The days will slowly shorten now until the shortest day of the midwinter solstice, then slowly lengthen again until the beginning of August.

I’m not a winter lover. I try, but it’s hard to appreciate cold and even harder when it’s wet too.  I live in northern NSW where the climate is really mild, and still I don’t like winter. My garden doesn’t mind it. Winter is actually a really good growing season here, especially for leafy greens. The hard part is getting them in.

Yesterday was a leafy planting day, but it was cold and wet all day. I lit the slow combustion stove in the morning and spent the day baking and playing in the kitchen, trying to ignore all these lovely young kale and cauliflowers and silver beet and spinach and broccoli and lettuces, ready to plant out and itching to get their roots down into the nice, fresh, newly chook cleared garden bed that is waiting for them.

Today is cold and wet again. I could boot myself out into the garden, but the soil is so wet, it will compact really easily if I walk on it and it won’t be good for planting into anyway.  Luckily they are planted in a rich potting mix with lots of compost and worm castings.  They should be right to hang in there till next weekend.  The days are so short now that planting after work in the evening isn’t an option any more.

Their little sisters are in the seed raising trays, and they’re more likely to suffer from lack of nutrients. The seed raising mix is designed to be fairly nutrient poor,  designed for germinating seeds not feeding seedlings. It is half and half creek sand for drainage and half old dry cow pats mown to a fine texture for water holding. The seeds I planted last month are at the two leaf stage and need to be potted on into something more nutrient rich to grow on into the advanced seedlings I like for planting out.

I have silver beet, cauliflowers,  kale, leeks, lettuce, parsley, spinach, celery, coriander, rocket, raddichio, cabbage and broccoli to pot on – just a few of each . So I shall try to use a gap in the showers to do a half an hour in the shadehouse potting on seedlings and call that a day in the garden.  I like the lunar calendar, but I’m not a slave to it.

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Sadly this isn’t one of my better examples of photography! I’ve been waiting all year to post this recipe.  Chili con Kanga is good on its own, but this time of year there is a little window of time when avocados, limes and coriander are all in season together, and the salsa with it makes it sensational.

I always make a great big pot of this when I make it, and we have it for dinners and lunches several times.  It will serve six or eight people for dinner easily, or you can freeze it or keep it in the fridge for several meals.  Or, you can halve the recipe.

Less red meat and more vegetables is a good idea, for health, environment, and hip pocket reasons.  And less factory farmed meat and more wild harvested, free range, organic meat is a good idea for the same reasons.  This combines both.

The Recipe:

Cook 400 grams dry beans till they are soft.  I soak them first and use a pressure cooker so they cook quickly.  The post about Bean Basics has my basic bean cooking method.  I don’t think it matters what kind.  They all add a different character to the dish, but they all seem to be good in their own way.

Brown 1 kg kangaroo mince in a little olive oil in a heavy pan.

In a big pot, saute together:

  • 4 onions (chopped)
  • 6 garlic (chopped)
  • 6 chilis (more or less, depending on how hot the chilis are and how hot you like it)
  • 3 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons smoky paprika
  • 1 capsicum (chopped)
  • 6 carrots (chopped)

Add the browned kangaroo mince and the beans, along with:

  • 1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or a good teaspoon of dried)
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 kilogram chopped tomatoes  (or a big jar of passata)
  • 2 big tablespoons tomato paste (leave out if you use passata)
  • 1 dessertspoon treacle (or brown sugar)
  • 2 cups of water
  • a good grinding of black pepper, and salt to taste

Simmer for half an hour or so until it reaches the right consistency.

Avocado, Lime and Coriander Salsa

Mash together:

  • An avocado
  • Juice of a lime
  • a big handful of coriander leaves, chopped fine
  • salt to taste

Serve the chili in bowls topped with a good dollop of avocado salsa, and, if you like, some warm tortillas to mop up with.

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Time has flown! And I haven’t done an “In Season” post for months. This was first posted in April 2010, and it reminds me how the seasons turn, a familiar cycle that you can look forward to every year, every year a little bit different, every year a lot the same.

Finally there are enough lemons ripe to make chilli jam!  And still plenty of chillies and more coming on.  There’s still lots of limes – I’ve made one batch of hot lime pickle, and I’m hoping to get time to make another batch this weekend, so I have some to give away as well as enough to last us the year.

The rest of the citrus fruits are just beginning to colour.  We’re picking the very first of the early season mandarins and grapefruit and  tangelos.

I had given up on carambolas – a neighbour’s tree was loaded but ours showed no signs of fruiting and I thought it had been too hard a year last year.  But it has surprised me with a late and laden crop. The guavas are ripening and we spend our evenings listening to the flying foxes chattering and screeching in the tree. It has distracted them for the moment from the bananas.

I am picking pecans and macadamias, and almonds and walnuts are also in season.  Fresh nuts are a different thing and I love  pulling out all my nut-based recipes this time of year.

In the garden, there are still plenty of capsicums and eggplants,  and still too many cucumbers, zucchini and squash. We are picking the first of the season’s pumpkins, and they will take over as the glut vegetable in the next couple of months in the lead-up to Halloween (in the southern hemisphere in early May).

This year has been a low year for tomatoes.  Normally I would be making tomato sauce around now, but I planted too many last year, with the result that this year I have too few places to put them where they have not been recently.  So, predictably, I have more than usual diseases and lower than usual yields.  That will teach me.  Still though, we are picking enough for eating if not for bottling.

There is still lots of turmeric and ginger for curries and Middle eastern recipes, and enough lettuce, rocket and amaranth for salads and basil for pesto.

And I am picking and drying bulk beans now for the year’s supply.  The change to up-gardening required me to experiment with substitutes for the standard varieties of beans for drying, which all seem to be dwarf beans rather than climbers.  I have four varieties this year – perennial Madagascar beans that yield large maroon mottled beans perfect for minestrone, blue lake that are great fresh as green beans but also good for drying as small white seeds like cannellini beans, purple king that yield a good substitute for kidney beans, a lighter colour but a similar flavour and texture, and brown seeded snake beans that make a good substitute for azuki beans.  All are so prolific that I can easily grow enough to last the year (with a partner who’s a bean fiend)  in a very small area.

The local Farmers’ Market has new season avocados, apples and pears from the Tablelands (within 100 mile zone). So that’s the produce I’ll be basing my cooking around for the next month.

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Remember this garlic? Planted into potting mix a month ago.  Look at it now. I think every single clove sprouted, and some of them now have leaves 30 cm tall.  I have three boxes like this for planting out today, and I’ll put in another three boxes of cloves for planting out next month.  Not that I need successive crops with garlic – they all get harvested at more or less the same time –  but rather to give me a bit of insurance against weather or in case a wallaby gets in to my fencing.  I’m planting them out in three different beds for the same reason.

Today I’ll also plant out my onions – Hunter River Browns and Lockyer Gold – varieties carefully chosen to suit the relatively long winter day length this far north.  And I’ll put in another box of seedlings.  Like the garlic, they’ll all get harvested at more or less the same time.  Garlic and onions are so picky about day length that I can’t stagger them much.

I’ll plant out carrots and put in another box  for successive crops, using my standard method.  I have a bit more choice in varieties this time of year, but I’m liking Nantes so much and they’re doing so well for me, I think I’ll just stick with them. I shall put in a box of parsnips using the same method. Parsnips planted now will be ready for harvest in late winter, and they’ll be the best ones of the year.

I’ll plant a few beetroot seeds in a seed raising box, select half a dozen of the strongest of the ones germinated last month to pot on, and plant out the ones germinated the month before.  That way, I have about 25 beets on the go, but only about half of them taking up room in the garden at any one time, and about half a dozen ready for harvesting at any one time.

It’s perfect garden weather here today, and not sensible to be inside on a computer!

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These are my favourite capsicums these days. I call them supermarket flats, just because the seed originally came from some capsicums I bought in the supermarket. I picked them up hoping they might be non-hybrid and got lucky. I think they are actually Baby Reds, and they are doing brilliantly for me – a sweet, crunchy, thick walled, fruit fly resistant, small capsicum that bears well and long.

So for this week’s   Tuesday Night Vego Challenge, I stuffed them with a current-sweetened, nutty couscous pilaf and baked for just 20 minutes in a fairly hot oven and they were gorgeous.  The concept should work with other kinds of capsicums too.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to heat up.  You need a fairly hot oven.

To stuff 6 of these little capsicums:

Sauté

  • one small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ¹/3 cup chopped macadamias
As soon as they start to colour, add
  • a good handful of currants
  • 8 or so cherry tomatoes
  • ¹/3 cup  couscous
  • a pinch of salt
  • ¹/3 cup water

Turn the heat right down and cook for a minute or so until the couscous is softened.

Add a good handful of chopped mint. (Be generous)

With the point of a sharp knife, cut around the stem of the capsicums, pull out the core, and use a teaspoon to remove the seeds.  Teaspoon the stuffing mix into the capsicums to fill them right up. Place on an oiled baking tray, and bake in a medium hot oven for around 20 minutes till the capsicums are softened.

Did you do the   Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week?  Links are welcome.

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The Broad Bean seeds I planted nearly a month ago are up and looking healthy, and I have a spot where some zucchini and squash have just come out, so today they’re going out into the garden.  It marks a real turning point. The autumn planting is here!

They were potted up in my usual compost and creek sand mix with some wood ash mixed through, and I’m giving  each a good double handful of compost mixed with wood ash as I plant them out.  My soil is a bit more acid than they like it, and the ash will bring the Ph up a bit, and the potassium levels too.  I’m watering them in with some seaweed and nettle brew to help them stave off the last of the summer’s aphids.  I’ve been using Aquadulce variety the last few years, and planting earlier than I used to, and it seems to be working except that it means I’m planting out while aphids are still around and broad beans would have to be one of their favouries. But by planting earlier, and an early variety, I”m getting decent crops even this far north, right on the margin of broad bean territory.

I shall plant another round of seed in the shadehouse today too, so as to have at least one successional crop.  And I’ll plant the first round of peas and snow peas. I only plant climbing varieties these days.  The return on space is so good. I have Telephone and Massey Gem peas and Oregon Giant snow peas.  The Oregon Giants did well for me last year but I’m still looking for a variety  I used to have  that was such a good bearer – a relatively short climber – about 1.8 metres – and very mildew resistant. If anyone knows what it might be?

Last year the mice got my early rounds of peas and snow peas and in the end I had to bring the potted seeds inside and rig up our Weber barbeque as a sort of temporary propagation house.  This year I have my fake owl, and the broad beans all survived without being stolen, so I’m hopeful.  But I’ve brought one pot inside just so I can monitor when they should have germinated.  If the mice get them, I won’t wait so long to replant this time.

I shall also put a couple of kinds of tomato seeds in a propagating tray.  Yellow cherries and Principe Borghese have both done well for me as winter tomatoes in the past.

A nice easy, slow Sunday morning in the garden. Then time to bake bread, read the papers right the way through, go for a walk and see how the creek is faring, chat on the phone to my kids for ages, and maybe even light the fire under our outside bathtub for a “star bath” tonight. Mmmm Sunday.

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It’s nut season.  Here it’s macadamia nuts, but further south it will be almonds and hazelnuts. We’re getting decent harvests from our trees now, and I’m loving learning to use them in savory food as well as baking. Pesto is a bit of a staple, and nut based curry and satay sauces, but I’m only just getting into extending the range.

Nuts are calorie dense but also really really nutrient dense. Super food sources of whole range of vitamins and minerals, as well as protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates, and monounsaturated, good fats. Even if you don’t grow them, you’re likely to be able to pick up fresh in season nuts in shell from Farmers Markets or wholefoods retailers at the moment.

I’ve tried these in a lot of versions.  They’re good just plain, or with basil and semi-sundried tomatoes, or with chili and garlic, but these parsley and lemon ones are our favourites.

The Recipe:

Nut Rice Balls

Makes around 13 balls,  probably about three adult serves.  They make great leftovers for lunch.

Cook ½ cup brown rice in 1½ cups of water with a little salt, to give you just over a cup of cooked rice.  In a pressure cooker, this takes 15 minutes so the whole recipe is do-able in less than half an hour. How I love my pressure cooker!

While the rice is cooking crack enough macadamias to give 1 cup of whole maca kernels, or about ¾ cup of chopped nuts. How I love my Maca Cracker!

Mince the macadamias with the rice, along with

  • one egg
  • one onion,
  • a good handful of Italian parsley, and
  • a scant teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest.

My trusty Braun food processor will do this in one lot, but it’s a heavy load. If you’re not sure, rather than risk burning out the motor, do it in a few batches. Or use a mincer. (I know this is getting boring now, but how I love my Braun processor).

The aim is a coarse meal, a bit like the texture of couscous. Using wet hands, squeeze spoonfuls of mixture together into small patties, about the diameter of an egg. Shallow fry in hot olive oil for a few minutes each side till crisp and golden.

Roast Vegetable Salad:

I served these with roast vegetable salad, and if you are going to go that way, to do it in half an hour, you need to get the rice on first, then get the vegetables on to roast.

The recipe is very simply a tray of vegetables, chopped reasonably small, tossed in olive oil and some herbs, and roasted in a hot oven. I used a beetroot, a carrot,  a parsnip, a red onion, and a trombochino zucchini, tossed in oregano and lemon basil, for this batch.

Allow the vegetables to cool a little, then toss with salad greens, sliced cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Dress with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil.

Did you do a Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week? Links welcome.

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Leafy planting days from Sunday through to tonight, and I meant to post this on Sunday, but I was having too much fun in the garden to come in.

In Spring and Summer, it’s the fruiting annuals that dominate the planting calendar. In Autumn and Winter, it’s the leafies. This is a big and interesting planting break, the first one for the season in this part of the world when I plant brassicas – kale, cauliflowers, broccoli, cabbages and chinese cabbages. It’s also the first when I plant spinach, silver beet, celery, and parsley.  I plant some lettuces and rocket all year round, but this time of year I swap from the heat-hardy varieties to the bigger collection of more interesting winter varieties.

We are past the equinox now (I missed the celebration this year – it was a hard toss-up but the need for a long bath and an early night won out). It means the season of long nights has started. Up here it never snows and rarely even frosts, but plants don’t know that. They store food and hunker down, waiting for lengthening days to signal that it is safe to go to seed. So all the bolters are now safe to plant.

It has, all of a sudden, got cooler too.  I put an extra blanket on for the first time last night, and had to heat water for a morning shower after a night cool enough to undo the day’s work of the solar hot water system. Very soon we shall start lighting the slow combustion stove for cooking, heating, and to boost the hot water system.  There are still a few cabbage moths and aphids hanging around, but not for long now, so it is now safe to plant a whole range of vulnerable vegetables.

I planted all the seed in the photo – just a few of each – there will be five or six more successive plantings of them all to come and I don’t want to use up all the space in the first month. Plus there are still zucchini and squash and capsicums and cucumbers bearing that will gradually die off over the next few months.

I find it hard to love winter but the winter greens are some compensation – I’m really looking forward to pulling out the kale and cauliflower recipes again.

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The big thing I’ve learned in 30 years of gardening is that if you have a good design that uses the permaculture idea of stacking functions, and you get in a nice rhythm, you can keep a kitchen garden producing really well with amazingly little time or work.  The other thing I’ve learned is that if you lose the rhythm, and the stitches in time start missing out on saving nine, those stacked functions can start looking like a Dr Suess tower.

Two years ago at just this time of year I was writing about A Garden With Stamina. Last year this time I missed the leafy planting altogether. It’s a bit of a pattern in my life.

So today was a catch-up day. The chooks finally got moved (remember, I was going to do that weeks ago). That meant that the bed they were in was able to be planted out, which meant that I could clear out the shadehouse, planting the overgrown tomatoes, Hungarian Wax peppers, beetroots, lettuces, beans and basil, and the seed potatoes that I was also going to plant weeks ago. I ditched the zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and corn – they were just too lanky. I planted out  the brussels sprouts I’ve had in the shadehouse, in big pots,  since November.  They are still vulnerable to cabbage moths, but my climate is so marginal for brussels sprouts, I have to plant them too early to have any chance of getting a crop.

And that meant I that I had space available again for planting a new batch of seeds. It’s a little bit early up here in northern NSW  for peas or snow peas – we still have a last burst of warm moist weather to go yet. I’ll wait for the next planting break for them. It’s also a little early for the brassicas – they are still vulnerable to warm weather pests. And it’s a bit late for the longer bearing summer annuals now – there’s only just over a fortnight to go now till the autumn equinox – so no more capsicums or eggplants.

I put in broad bean seeds. It’s a bit early, but any later and it will be a bit late. I’m right on the margin for them too. I’ll plant some this time and some next month, and hope that either the too early or the too late will meet the right weather conditions. I planted some more beans – I should get one more round of them. I put in a few cucumbers, squash and zucchini but that may be a bit hopeful. That’s it for the fruiting annuals. Since I missed the leafy planting break last week, I put in a tray of seeds of lettuce, silverbeet, celery, parsley, coriander, radicchio, leeks, and dill. I thought about cauliflower and kale but decided to wait.

I still have a heap of mulching to catch up on, and mowing the paths, and a last compost pile for the summer to build, and lots of harvesting and clearing out spent plants.  But I’m starting to feel like the Dr Seuss tower is a little more stable!

And the picture – she was a gift a few years ago. I love her. She reminds me that sometimes it’s best to just let what is be.

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