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cabbage moth caterpillar

It’s been a great season.  We’ve eaten cauliflower and cabbage and broccoli and kale and pak choi and daikon pretty well every day for the last five months.  We’ve eaten Okonomiyaki for breakfast a lot of times, and Cheesy Broccoli Omelette has been a regular standby.  We’ve discovered cabbage chopped very fine in the food processor, added to chicken and vegetable soup makes it thick and delicious and not like boiled cabbage at all.  We’ve discovered Cauliflower Cheese Soup doesn’t actually need cheese, or perhaps just a sprinkle of parmesan on top, and that adding a leek makes it smooth and creamy just like cheese.  We’ve had many many Roasted Cauliflower  finger food dinners, occasionally alternated with Greek Crumbed Cauli or Broccoli Tempura.  We’ve had coleslaw or Greens as Themselves as a side dish at one meal or another every day.

And it’s lasted well too.  Here it is, nearly the end of Spring, just about to launch into summer.  I’ve seen the cabbage moths around for a few weeks but the local predators have been knocking them off before they get a chance to lay eggs.  But summer is here, all but, and it’s time to say goodbye.

There are many, many organic remedies for cabbage moth caterpillars (and the web moth caterpillars that will be next to arrive).  There are nets and traps and fake moths and eggshells and trichogramma wasps  and dipel. But the only one I reckon is worth the time and effort for results is timing.

From June till October, sometimes if I’m lucky like this year all the way through to November, I can grow brassicas and do nothing to control cabbage moths at all.  From November till April or May, I can do everything in the arsenal and I still don’t get brassicas that can compete for a place on the plate with tromboncino and beans and squash.

It’s been lovely, but I need the space now for the capsicums and curcubits.  So goodbye Brassicas, till next year. It’s been very nice.

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pea plants

I’ve had to impose some discipline this month.  I have a whole southside,  two and a half metre tall fence around a newly chooked  garden bed that has nothing growing up it.  Normally this is a hotly contested kind of site.  Normally I have a tall climber – in summer beans or tomatoes or curcubits, this time of year peas or snow peas – impatiently hanging out in pots waiting for the chooks to be moved on so they can be planted out. Tall climbers planted around the south side of a bed will never shade anything to the north of them, and with roots in newly cleared and fertilised and mulched ground and all that vertical space for sun capture, this is the most highly productive space in my whole garden.

But I lost rhythm for a little while a few months ago, and the result is that the last lot of peas went in late.  That’s them in the picture.  A month old now and just starting their climb.  In a couple of months time they will be yielding all the peas we can eat.  If I plant the next lot too soon, there will be too many peas and I’ll be down to using freezer space for them or giving them away. And more to the point there won’t be any space available for a later lot, so glut of peas will be followed by want of peas.

So I’ve held my hand.  But today is a fruiting planting day, and I have six metres of fence with wood ash from the slow combustion stove dug in to well composted soil all along it, and some fresh Massey Gem pea seed, and climbing snow pea seed.  I shall plant the seed into wet ground then avoid watering till they are up, or they are likely to rot in the ground.  It rained last night so the soil is wet and there is not much rain predicted for the rest of the week.  It’s a perfect planting time.

I’ve already planted out the rest of the bed with seedlings of broccoli and celery and parsnips and celeriac in front of the peas, and silver beet and coriander and leeks and cauliflower in front of them, and spinach and lettuces and carrots and onions and parsley in front of them – staggered, mixed, sequenced nicely.  Once the peas and snow peas are up, the bed will be nicely planted out.

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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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washing machine beans

We bought a second hand washing machine a little while ago, just by chance from a couple who had retired to Lennox Head leaving a family home with a great big garden to move into a beach house with a tiny garden. They were doing spectacular things in a tiny space and we talked gardens over tea for so long we nearly forgot why we came.  As we were leaving we were offered a packet of bean seeds, a variety that had been passed down to this great grandfather from his grandfather, passed down through at least six generations and who knows before that.

They are really long, flat beans with a dark reddish brown seed, so sweet that two-year-old Teo comes out to “help” me pick.  He’s not tall enough to reach them but he knows he will be able to raid them straight out of the basket (and that’s called “helping” in Grandma’s garden). They are stringless and delicious lightly steamed too, and they’ve survived the run of 40°C  days this last week (104°F for friends in USA).  My new favourite beans.  Washing machine beans.

My established garden all survived the heat wave – tomatoes and cucumbers, beans and snake beans, pumpkins and squash, zucchini and tromboncino, eggplants and capsicums, basil and spring onions, leeks and Molokhia, rocket and carrots, and all the perennial and semi-perennials.  But anything I had planted in the last few weeks that hadn’t had time to get roots down deep and wide enough suffered despite all my Frizzle Weather strategies. I had planted out some well advanced beetroot seedlings a couple of weeks ago and none of them made it through.

And I have something –  I think a blue tongued lizard – eating seedlings in the shadehouse as they come up.  The lizard is prime suspect because whatever it is is strong enough to break through the netting I have over the seedling boxes.  Today is cool and drizzly, perfect gardening weather.  This week is predicted to be showers.  I have gaps in the garden and nothing in the shadehouse to fill them.  This is cruel!

I’ve planted some Nantes carrot seed directly this morning, which might well be folly – we only need another day of heat wave next week or the week after and they’re gone.  But I’m betting now on the start of Autumn-ish weather.  I’m also planting out into the misty rain another round of beans, and just a couple each of all the curcubits – squash and zucchini and cucumbers and tromboncinos.  And some spring onions and beets and the first of the season’s parsnips.  And in the shadehouse some more basil and lemon basil, Paris Island Cos and red mignionette lettuces, leeks and mizuna.

And some strong wire over the seedling boxes.

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Jack and Kaela

Sisters and brothers, cousins and second cousins, grandmas and great aunts.  Nineteen of us this time and missing just a few for the annual (most years) few days at the beach.

It was nice this time feeling the change in the generations.  My sister and I firmly in the great aunt’s generation, our daughters stepping firmly into the mothers’ roles, wrangling great gangs of kids, “nobody is coming to the beach until they have a hat and sunscreen on”, “you have to eat something or you’ll get low blood sugar and be miserable and cranky”,  “find an aunt to watch the little kids in the lagoon and I’ll take the big kids out into the surf”.  Grandmothers and great aunts taking long beach walks talking about vocation and staying fit.  Long conversations about the ordinary extra-ordinariness of new babies and teenage angst and aging. Including by proxy ideas from grandad, died this time 5 years ago.

Two year olds and five year olds and twelve year olds and young adults and all the generations of parenthood and grandparent-hood and great grandparent-hood sharing and comparing the challenges of each life stage, and how to live them to the fullest.  I know too many people stuck in one life stage or another – young adults stuck in the dependence of teenagerhood,  Peter Pans in their 40s afraid to become men,  grandparents reverting to sex and drugs and rock and roll, exploring the world and trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up. One of the things I appreciate about my family is its midwifery of us through the stages, maiden, mother, crone, better and better.

Ollie Tayla and Kaela collecting seaweedJack and Emma collecting seaweed Kaela and Bella collecting seaweed
And, on top of all the phenomenological stuff, there is the practical issue of collecting seaweed to take home. Jack and Michaela, Emma and Tayla, Ollie and Bella helped me collect.  The best is half dry so it isn’t too heavy, shaken out of sand, varied kinds.  At home I tip the bags out in the driveway and give it a little hose off, not too thoroughly, just enough to wash off most of the sand and some of the salt.  Then I put it all into a barrel and cover with water and allow it to ferment.  Every week or two, I take a bucketful of greenish water out, dilute it, and use it to water the seedlings in the shadehouse, the potplants in the bathroom, any fruit trees or garden plants I think deserving of a treat.  Then I top it up again with water. Eventually the brew gets weak enough that I decide a beach trip is needed, and the magic pudding barrel is filled up again.

It’s especially valuable having a nice thick new brew this time of year.  We are past the summer solstice now, and heading into the wet season in my part of the world.  It’s time to start planting seeds of leafy greens again in the shadehouse and they specially like the micronutrient boost in seaweed brew. The curcubits in the garden are at risk of downy mildew and a bit of seaweed brew helps keep it at bay.  And it’s coming close to the best season for planting trees, and a bucket of diluted seaweed brew helps them recover from transplant.  So thank you nieces and nephews, sisters and brothers, mother and daughter, on every level.

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garden in JuneSequential planting is such a lifesaver!  This whole year seems to have been routines-out-the-window so far.  I love routines.  Once you have worked a system down to the point where it just works and you turn it into a habit,  it just gets done in incidental time, and incidental time doesn’t count.

My sourdough baking is like that now – so routine that it feels to me like it takes no time at all.  Lunar planting is sometimes like that.  I get on a roll.  I have had some good mowing sessions, there’s been horse manure and azolla available, and the chooks have made compost so I have a nice mature pile ready to use.   I have collected enough creek gravel from the flood bank at the crossing on the way home from town so I have a stock. There are no late stragglers of crops holding up a bed. The seed box has no gaps and the seed is fresh and viable.  And a planting day comes round and it just flows together in no time.

Then something like Bentley comes along and throws all my routines out, and it takes months to get all the ducks lined up again.

I’ve missed planting days but I have managed to plant a new round of seeds in seed trays and seedlings out into the garden every month and I’m really quite pleased about it.  Small amounts of seed put in and small amounts of advanced seedlings planted out every month – the small amounts is the secret. It makes it so do-able and the payoff is that all the balls stay more or less in the air.  I know from having experienced it once or twice too often that once I let them all drop it takes ages and real work to get it all going again.1-image (1)

Last week I potted on a big variety of leafy greens from the seed trays – lettuce, radicchio, sorrel, mizuna, pak choi, cabbage, cauli, broccoli, kailan, kale, celery, celeriac, parsley, coriander, nigella, spinach, silver beet, leeks, spring onions, mustard – just a couple of each.  Winter is the season for leafy greens in my part of the world – my garden is pretty well frost free and so far this year hasn’t even got cool.  Then I planted another round of seed of all of them, just a tiny pinch of seed presorted so that one packet lasts all season.  Yesterday I planted leaf pots with peas and snow peas.  Too late now for broad beans, and it’s been such a warm winter I’ll be lucky to get a yield from the ones planted in April and May.  Today I planted out the new bed that the chooks have just moved off with advanced seedlings of all these from last month – peas and snow peas along the fence on the south side and leafy greens stacked tallest to the south side – just a few of each. Next week I’ll plant out advanced seedlings of beetroot, carrots and parsnips, and put a new lot of seed in.  Too late now for onions or garlic here but I have pretty well enough in already.

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The compost stocks are low, that’s the last of the creek gravel used, I’ve run out of horse manure and I’ll need to do some mowing soon.  And in July it will be time to think about coldframes for planting the first seed of chilis, capsicums, eggplants and tomatoes. But I have the top bed bearing, the middle bed just starting to bear, the bottom bed planted out,  the chooks preparing the next bed ready for the seedlings in their compost rich pots in the shadehouse, and three more beds finishing out all the summer crops, still yielding tromboncinos and squash and potkins and cucumbers and tomatoes and amaranth and chilis and carrots and spring onions and beets and basil.

The coal seam gas battle is a long way from over and it is one that is so worth winning that my garden may just have to slide this year.  But so far, it’s all good.

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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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the bucket and the basket

Most times I do my picking walk first thing in the morning before breakfast.  The day is fresh, the birds are just starting up, the chooks are coming down from their roost, the dew is still on the leaves.  Vegetables are cool and lush this time of the day.

It’s a meandering walk.  I notice what is getting eaten by wildlife, what is looking sad, what is flowering and getting near to bearing.  I let my mind wander to what I could make with the crops coming on, and try to make a mental note of any ingredients that need adding to the shopping list.  I tie up a straggling tomato, pick some grasshoppers off the silver beet and some cabbage moths off the kale, free up a poor baby pigeon pea from a tromboncino vine that is trying to climb it.  I put the sprinkler on a bed that is looking too dry, feel the compost to see if it is still hot, try to identify whether a strange bug is a predator.

It usually takes about half an hour, and its the most productive garden work I do.  I walk with a bucket and a basket.  This late in the season, the fruit fly are laying eggs in a fair proportion of the Bishops Crown chilis.  That’s a good thing.  There’s too many for us and I’ve done most of the chili preserving I want to do.  The chooks love the little fruit fly larvae, and don’t mind a bit of chili and some chili seeds to go with them so I pick all of them, and scour the ground under the bush for more.  There’s three or four good ones for the basket, and the rest for the bucket.

Some of the tomatoes are splitting from the recent rain after so much dry.  There’s still plenty for the basket, but a good few for the bucket too.  A lettuce is starting to bolt to seed.  I always pull out the first to try to bolt – I don’t want their genes as the paternal genes in any seeds I save.  The best leaves for the basket – they’ll go in the lunch sandwiches – and the rest for the bucket.  Some rocket is going to seed too, but I’ll let the seed mature for a few more days so they will be good chook protein.

The tromboncinos and cucumbers and zucchini all need to be picked every day. If one of them gets away and gets to seed-bearing size, the vine will figure it has done its job and die off.  So one of each for the basket and the excess for the bucket.  The kale with cabbage moth caterpillars for the bucket and some without for the basket. A handful of nut grass for the bucket – the chooks love it – and some amaranth with seeds.  We like amaranth but don’t need  a lot of it – most goes to the chooks.  Some dock and dandelion leaves and cobblers pegs for the bucket, along with the last of the pigeon peas, shell and all.  The parrots have gotten into one bed and attacked the snake beans.  I fix the gap they got in through and pick the chewed snake beans for the bucket and the unchewed ones for the basket.

I like giving the chooks the grasshoppers live – they so enjoy catching them.  Maybe I should have more empathy for grasshoppers. But last thing I collect a handful of them and throw them into the bed the chooks are clearing and fertilising for me, along with the bucket, and a bag of grass clippings from my mowing last weekend.  Back to the house to unpack the basket and put the bucket back where it goes for the house scraps. In a few hours time, that bucket will be transformed into eggs. In a few weeks time the garden bed where the chooks are will be ready for replanting. It’s a magic walk.

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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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