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There are lots and lots of pleasures to gardening – fresh food, creative space, exercise, frugality – but one of the very best of them has to be this.  Off to visit my sister and family for the weekend, and a box of garden greens to take.  All the things that are so in season you can’t even see where they came out of the garden – lettuce, parsley, silver beet, kale, dill, coriander, mint, spinach, lemon grass, spring onions, chinese cabbage.  And some lemons to go with them, before the cockatoos get them all.

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The first of the season’s broccoli.  Not quite the first – I’ve cut a couple of heads early, before they were really ready – but the first full size head.  This is Calibri variety, and it will keep bearing side shoots for a couple of months.  The early ones will be nearly as big as this first head, getting smaller and smaller the longer I keep picking.  We had this one lightly steamed then sauteed very quickly in sesame oil and sesame seeds, with a little squeeze of lemon juice at the end.  By the time the cabbage moths and heat get them in October, I will be well over eating broccoli, but for now I am looking forward to dozens of recipes.

Do you have some broccoli favourites to share?

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I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, (which is un-put-down-able) and thinking about how lucky we are in Australia.  Our soils are old and mostly not very good.  But a year round growing season is such a bounty. Not many parts of Australia get actual snow, and my garden is pretty near frost free. But even in cold places, there is fresh produce available from within the 100 mile zone, or at least from within the state, pretty well most places.

This time of year is a glorious season for leafy greens for salads and stir fries and sauteéd greens. The short days have convinced things that want to bolt to seed that the best strategy is to wait, so there are lettuces and rocket, endive and sorrel, aragula and parsley, coriander and dill, raddicchio and mizuna.  The cooler weather is favouring things that wilt in summer, so there is celery and silver beet and spinach. The cabbage moths are gone, so even if you are buying non-organic, you will have half a chance, as they come into bearing over the next month, of scoring brassicas (cabbages, caulis, broccoli, chinese cabbages) that are not drenched in insecticide  – the fast chinese cabbages are already on.

Parsnips are at their best now, after the first frosts, and here are also carrots and leeks and spring onions and beets as basics.

This is also the peak of the lemon season – if you are inclined to make Lemon or Lime Cordial, Preserved LemonsLime Pickle, or Chilli Jam now’s the time.  Mandarins are in glut and we have  tangelos and navel oranges and grapefruit . The local farmer’s market also has lots of avocados. The flying foxes got our custard apples, but the farmer’s market has them too.

Macadamia nuts are also in season now, and macas with their monounsaturated fats (like olive oil), protein, wide range of minerals, B vitamins, and phytochemical antioxidants  are really good for you.

Winter sea mullet are super cheap, and really fresh mullet are one of my favourite fish (and a really high source of Omega 3). Tailor are also in season and they are one of the best eating fish there is on the sustainable list.

So that’s the ingredients I’m basing my cooking around at the moment.

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Citrus season has started.   We are picking the first of the mandarins, oranges and grapefruit, and we have so many lemons and limes coming on that I don’t even resent the cockatoos getting into them.  This time of year is the one time I get into making a few different preserves.  The wood fire is going so I don’t feel like I’m using so much fuel. It’s the moment now to make Chilli Jam – finally enough lemons ripe, and the last of the bulk chili season. Lime Cordial and Preserved Lemons are pantry essentials for me, and Rod’s Lime Pickle is a great gift.

The other glut is pumpkins. The southern hemisphere Halloween is just past, and you can see where the tradition of cutting lanterns in pumpkins came from! Over the next couple of months we eat pumpkin most days and I use all my pumpkin recipes!

The last of the local new season apples and pears are coming down from the Tablelands to our Farmer’s market, only for a few more weeks now.  The rest of the year I avoid apples – cold storage uses lots of electricity and therefore creates lots of greenhouse gases, and the result is just not worth it. I just make the most of them in season.  Apple Oat SliceLumberjack CupcakesPear, Almond and Honey TartletsApple and Passionfruit Muffins Apple PorridgeMacadamia and Pear Butter.

I live in an avocado growing region, and local avocados of several varieties are in season. Avocado and Lime Juice on Toast is a favourite this time of year.

With vegetables, you can see the tipping point in the change of season happening. I still have the summer vegetables – chillis and capsicums, tomatoes and eggplants, zucchini and cucumbers, basil and beans – but no longer in glut quantities as plants reach the end of their life.   I have one more patch of corn to harvest, and potatoes ready for bandicooting now and digging up soon.

The cool season greens are just starting to come on – celery and silver beet and lettuce and raddicchio. I have lots of rocket and amaranth and parsley for green salads, and I am even starting to harvest the very first of the pak choi, slightly cabbage moth grub nibbled but no longer completely decimated as they were even a fortnight ago. So that’s the produce I shall be basing my cooking around for the next month.

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Today is the Autumn Equinox.  We are passing one of  the two points in the wheel of the year when the the day and the night are of equal length.  It’s an important marker for gardeners, because from now on the days will be shorter than the nights and shortening fast as we head towards the season of frost and, in some parts, snow.

It’s a good reminder.  This week we finally got around to re-bricking our slow combustion stove and cut a load of firewood ready for winter.  In a good permaculture mind-set we cut the firewood from fallen limbs near the house of some elderly neighbours, that needed cleaning up so they weren’t a bushfire hazard – multiple purposes.

The other equinox is the Spring equinox in September, when we pass the balance point again on the way towards the long days of Summer.  The Spring Equinox used to be called Ēastre in Old English. Traditionally it celebrated dawn, new growth, fertility, rabbits, eggs, rebirth and regeneration.  Those themes don’t feel quite right to me in Australia, even in Spring.  Here Spring is often dry with a set-your-teeth-on-edge wind and the constant threat of bushfires.  However, those themes feel even less right in Autumn, when chooks start to go off the lay in preparation for winter moulting and the summer crops are all harvesting and dying off rather than sprouting!

The Autumn equinox is traditionally a harvest festival all over the world – Chuseok in Korea, Zhongqiu in China, Mabon in Europe, and that feels much more appropriate to this season.  It’s a season for getting together with friends and family, feasting and sharing harvests and preserves, remembering how lucky we are to be safe and well fed and that these things can’t be taken for granted.

I’m harvesting  beans – snake beans, blue lake beans, purple king beans and madagascar beans, for eating fresh and for drying.  Zucchini and squash, eggplants and capsicums are at the peak of their season, and  sweet corn is still at the peak of its season. Pumpkins are coming on strong, and I’ve just dug up a big lot of sweet potatoes.   Cucumbers are in glut. I have lots of basil for pesto and more chilis than we can eat.  The warm wet weather is perfect for the ginger and turmeric too, so I have all the ingredients for curries.

The greens are a bit scarce – I have rocket and amaranth, and enough leaf lettuce just starting to come on.  I am picking mizuna, but half for us and half infested with cabbage moths for the chooks.

The figs and the tamarillos are just finishing but the cherry guavas are ripe and the guavas are nearly ready.  We have been  jealously guarding the bananas from the bush turkeys, and have ten bunches coming on in the next month or so, if we can keep them off.  Unfortunately we haven’t been so lucky with the passionfruit they are well in season but the possum is getting most of them. Carambolas and persimmons are also just about to come on. Pineapples are in the peak of their season and watermelons and rockmelons are just ending. The farmers market has apples (royal gala, granny smith and delicious) coming from not too far away, and the first of the season’s pears. Local fuerte avocados are just starting, and our macadamia trees are bearing well.  I’ve picked and processed a good batch of olives this year too.

The citrus season is just about to start.  We are picking the first of the  limes and lemons.

I am profoundly thankful that I, and my children and loved ones, live in such a rich country.  I am stopping for a moment on this equinox to remember how lucky we are.

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This is last year’s “In Season” post for February. It is interesting how different the years are.  This year I will have pomegranates in February, but the wetter year has slowed them down, both in timing and quantity.  Mangoes are bi-ennial and this is their “off” year.  Not a one this year.  And it has been too wet up here for grapes too.

Tamarillos are the crop really booming this year.  We have been picking the first of the figs and the trees are laden.  The passionfruit are a bit later too, but there will be lots of them, and carambolas.  I am glad we have bananas growing, because Yasi will create huge shortages of them.

The vegetable garden is producing pretty much the same mix, no parsley or rocket, and it will be the end of the month before there are any new carrots.  But the yellow squash are filling my picking basket.

In Season in February 2010

Right now I am picking pomegranates by the bucketful, and really enjoying using them. It is often too dry here in Northern NSW, but this year the season has been perfect for them. We have just stripped buckets of mangoes off the trees but that is the last of them, and the last few bunches of grapes.

The tamarillos are all ripening, and the first of a good crop of figs. We have lots of passionfruit if we can get to them before the possums, and we would have lots of bananas if I could ever get to them before the turkeys, parrots, possums, and flying foxes. Our neighbours tree is dripping with carambolas, but ours had too hard a year last year and hasn’t yet recovered. It is the right season for lychees, but they too had a hard year last year.

Thekiwi fruit are not far off – I have been squeezing them every day. Our Valencia orange tree is still young but bearing well for its age, and we are picking the first of the limes and the finger limes, but the rest of the citrus fruit are still a way off yet.

Our local Farmers’ Market has plenty of rockmelons and watermelons. It also has the first of the new season Royal Gala applescoming down from the tablelands (within our 160 km range as the crow flies!) From now on there should be apples that haven’t spent months in cold storage, and new season pears will be coming in very soon. Yum. People further south will still be getting stonefruit, but this far north I don’t bother with them.

I’m picking more beans and snake beans than we can eat as green beans, and drying some for storing as seed for baked beans and chili beans and soups. There’s plenty of chilis for fresh eating but not enough yet to start thinking about making chili sauce (I want the lemons to be ready for it anyway). The ginger and turmeric have been liking the heat and rain.  There are still lots of eggplants, tomatoes, capsicums, sweet corn, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, shallots, carrots and parsnips, and the greens are still scarce. I have lots of rocket and parsley to base salads on, but lettuce and silver beet have been doing very well to cope at all with the 40 degree days, although now in this cooler and wetter weather, they will start to come on.  New season potatoesare here, and though spuds are available all year, like apples, it is only the new season ones that are worth eating!

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One of my best childhood memories is stripping down to knickers (so we didn’t get into trouble for staining our clothes) and climbing the mulberry tree, and my kids did the same.  Mulberries are so soft that they are the classic non-marketable fruit.  I have picked a bowl for baking, but really, the only way to eat them is straight from the tree.

The birds get nearly all our black mulberries, but we have a white mulberry tree that is absolutely laden with nearly ripe fruit and so far the birds haven’t cottoned on to it.  The white mulberries are sweeter – almost too sweet for me – but not as flavoursome as the purple ones and not as rich in antioxidants.

The other fruit right in season now are strawberries.  We are still picking the last of the late season citrus – mandarins and lemons mostly – and the first of the season paw paws.  Rhubarb is also in season, but I don’t grow it – one of the few fruits that none of us like. The local farmers market still has local Hass avocados.

With vegetables, this is so far an unusually cool, wet spring, which means that the leafy greens are still going strong.  I have silver beet and chard of several different kinds as well as English spinach, and chinese cabbages of several varieties.  The lettuces are all beautiful and I have rocket and aragula and amaranth and nasturtiums to go with them.

The cool weather also means things that might normally bolt to seed are still bearing well.  I have big fat leeks and spring onions,  the celery is  loving the weather and the parsley, coriander and dill haven’t bolted yet.

I’m picking the first of the asparagus and finally picking broccoli – the bower birds massacred my first plantings so it’s late this year.  Cauliflowers are not far behind.  The peas and snow peas are succumbing to powdery mildew so the plants are not lasting as long and I am not getting as much of a yield as some years.  But by planting successive lots and separating them, I am still getting a  decent yield. The broad beans are now at the peak of their short season.

So that’s what I’ll be basing my cooking around this month.

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So much is just on the cusp of changing at the moment.  My strawberries are all flowering and before the end of the month I am likely to have berries.  The pawpaws are full size and the first of them just starting to get some colour but realistically it will be next month before they are really good. I’m picking tamarillos.  The mulberry tree is about to burst into leaf and fruit.

I’m also picking the first of the snow peas and peas, and I would be picking broccoli and cauliflowers by now if the bower birds hadn’t massacred my first plantings of them.  Even the zucchini and squash (which shouldn’t be in at all) seem to have decided that the glass is half-full of spring.

And yet so much is still the same.  Still the main fruit is citrus – lemons, late mandarins, navel oranges, tangelos, grapefruit the last of the limes.  Avocados are still in the peak of their season with several varieties all harvesting at once.  The leafy greens are loving the cool weather and haven’t got enough of a whiff of spring yet to bolt to seed, so there’s lots of lettuce, rocket,  parsley and salad greens, as well as silver beet, spinach, kale, radicchio, bok choi and cabbages for cooking.  The celery is gorgeous. Having it in the garden, I can pick it a stem at a time and we are eating it in salads, stews, soups, casseroles, and dipped in cottage cheese and chili jam as an after-work snack.

The root crops are also loving this weather, and also holding fire on bolting, so there are beetroot and parsnips and carrots, red onions, spring onions and leeks.

So that’s the ingredients I’ll be basing my cooking around this month, and I’m appreciating all of them because spring is just around the corner now.
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I went out to pick some greens for lunch this morning, thinking there’s not so much in the garden this time of year.  Before I knew it though, my basket was full and I was using my shirt to carry the extras.  Winter is a surprisingly good growing season in most of Australia.  Most gardens are snow-free, and I’m lucky enough to have a frost-free site.

So although they are strictly speaking out of season now, I am still picking the very last of the Richmond River cucumbers, and I have a zucchini hanging on, and my cherry and Roma tomatoes are doing really well away from the fruit fly of summer. There are also carrots and parsnips and spring onions and beets as basics.

But it is the leafy greens that own this time of year.  Gorgeous deep red radicchio, bok choi and choi sum and wom bok and all kinds of Chinese Cabbages for sauteing, silver beet and chard and the first of the season’s English spinach, lettuces and rocket and aragula and amaranth for salads, celery and parsley and coriander and dill to make soups really interesting.

With fruit, it is still citrus and more citrus.  Mid and late season mandarins have taken over where the early varieties left off.  We have tangelos and navel oranges and grapefruit and more cumquats than I know what to do with.  And even using them for cleaning, I am hardly making a dent in the lemons.  The local farmer’s market also has lots of avocados.

Macadamia nuts are also in season now, and macas with their monounsaturated fats (like olive oil), protein, wide range of minerals, B vitamins, and phytochemical antioxidants  are really good for you.

The other seasonal ingredient I’m looking forward to using this month is sea mullet.  They are now fully in season and cheap as chips to buy.  Mullet is under-appreciated – one of my favourite fish if its fresh – and a really high source of Omega 3.

So that’s the ingredients I’ll be basing my cooking around this month!

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