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This picture is from an “In Season” post from four years ago.  Oddly, considering how neglected my garden is at the moment, I’m harvesting pretty well the same lot.  This time of year is a season of the first of things and the last of things in my garden, as the winter plantings finally end and the first of the spring plantings start to bear. Today I stripped out all the remaining broad beans and the last of the peas for shelling, so I can feel some broad bean, pea, mint and lemon puree coming on.  There is lots of celery but it is starting to flower so not for much longer now.  The later rounds of broccoli are bearing main heads and the earlier rounds side shoots, but I’m expecting cabbage and web moths to arrive soonish.  They’ll finish off the chinese cabbages too.  The cavallo nero kale has been prolific all winter but it’s starting to get aphids now.

I still have bulk silver beet but all the earlier plantings are now running to seed.  All my parsley has run to seed, and I am now harvesting seed from coriander and dill too.  Rocket has run to seed, but the nasturtiums are rocketing along and providing that peppery-ness in salads.  Though I still have lots of lettuce, the number of varieties is going down.

I’ll have some Eureka lemons most of the year, but the bush lemons are finished and I’m picking the very last of the late season mandarins and grapefruits. The grape vines are laden and though the grapes will be a month or so yet, I’m using the leaves regularly.

I’ve stopped cutting asparagus for the year but just as the asparagus finish, I start cutting artichokes.  The new zucchini are getting to a good size to pick young fruit as well as flowers.  I picked the very first of the Corno de Toro capsicum today, a bit green still but there are lots more coming on.  The first of the season’s new potatoes – such a treat – along with baby cucumbers and the first of the squash.

I am also picking the first of the season’s fresh garlic – early, but then I planted early too.  Fresh, juicy garlic is a totally different thing to the dried up imports from China.  If you don’t grow your own, look out for fresh local garlic at Farmers Markets from now on.  It’s an experience!

With fruit, this is berry season – strawberries, blueberries, white and purple mulberries.  It doesn’t last long so I’m making the most of it.  Paw paws are still in bulk, and the white mulberries are laden this year.

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

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There’s a permaculture principle of designing for disaster.  The same principle applies to big disasters (whoever had the bright idea of building the Fukushima nuclear plant wasn’t taking account of it), or small disasters like a hailstorm or a day of sizzling hot weather when carrots are germinating or establishing. Like many permaculture principles it’s hardly rocket science:  just research, consider and design for the extremes not just the ideal, and apply a bit of hazard assessment and risk management.

It’s the kind of thing that is elementary WHS.  If you were filling in one of those nowadays ubiquitous hazard assessment forms for Fukushima before the tsunami, you’d have to give it a 1 – which means stop, right now, and eliminate the hazard, even if it means you can’t build the power station there.  Same for the risks created by shipping coal and LNG out through the Barrier Reef or continuing to produce unlimited greenhouse gases – we don’t care how inconvenient or costly it is, if it’s a 1 you have to deal with the hazard.  Full stop. Right now.

Der.

Back to carrots.

This time of year, a tiny bit of hazard assessment says there are going to be thunderstorms and there are going to be frizzle days and chances are pretty good that you’ll get one or the other of them during the three weeks or so carrot seeds take to germinate and the further three weeks or so they take to establish to a relatively safe stage.  I know the death of a carrot is not exactly a disaster, but you’d have to give it a 1 – very likely to happen and if it does, almost certain to kill the carrots.

I rarely plant carrots directly out as seed at any time of year (or anything else much).  But if I need to, I can get away with it in autumn and winter.  My autumns here in northern NSW are normally wet and winters fairly mild.  WHS carrot risk drops to 3 or 4.  This time of year though, I germinate them in the shadehouse, grow them out to advanced seedlings, and only plant them out into the garden when they are robust enough to need at worst “Medical attention and several days off work”, and a frizzle day during the week or so it will take them to establish is at worst “unlikely”. Maximum risk a 4

I’ve written about my usual method for planting carrots before.  This week I’m planting out into the garden, besides the carrots, advanced seedlings of beets and spring onions, and I’m going to try sweet potatoes yet again (the wallabies love sweet potato leaves above just about anything else.) I’m also planting another round of seed in the shadehouse for planting out in January.

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capsicum seedling

It has rained, the best kind of rain – overnight storms, not so heavy as to cause erosion, just heavy enough to deep water the garden and wet down the fire danger.  We still need more to fill tanks and dams, but there’s been enough for me to happily plant.

I’ve planted a few each of Hungarian Wax capsicums (in the picture), which are a yellow banana type, and my Supermarket Flats, which are a thicker walled, sweet pepper that is red when fully ripe.  They are at the perfect age for planting out – raised to advanced seedlings (about 15 cm tall) in individual pots filled with a compost/worm castings/creek sand mix.  This means I can plant them out with very little root disturbance and they will suffer very little transplant shock.  It also means they have fairly well developed root systems so they survive a few hot dry days without keeling over.  I’m planting out into a very well mulched garden bed that the chooks have cleared and fertilised for me.  They were watered in, and if it stops raining now I’ll water well again in a week, but from then on they’ll be largely on their own.  I put the sprinkler on if it doesn’t rain for a fortnight or more but otherwise it is just wait for harvest to start.

I’m also planting tomato seedlings – just red and yellow cherries now – it’s too late for the big Beefsteak varieties up here in fruit fly territory.  I have some Yugoslav and Brandywines that I planted early that are flowering now, and I should get some crop from them before the fruit flies move in, but I have learned not to push my luck too far.

I’m planting more zucchini, yellow button squash, cucumbers, potkins, and tromboncino, although I know I already have too many in.

And I’m planting beans.  I have about two metres of tall fence of each of Blue Lakes, Rattlesnakes, and Snake beans in already, at different stages.  We’re eating Rattlesnakes and the Blue Lakes are just about to come on.  This time I’m planting more Snake beans and some Purple Kings on the fences, and some dwarf black Turtle beans as an experiment. The turtle beans are a storing bean and a staple of Southern USA cuisine,  so I’m hoping they do well.  Has anyone else grown them?

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brown mustard seed

It’s a leafy planting day today, but it’s 38°C outside (100°F), with a dry northerly wind that has the zucchinis wilting.  A lettuce has no hope.

I plant a few anyway, on the offchance, selecting varieties that are supposed to cope with hot weather like Cos and Buttercrunch.  But the odds of getting any to harvest are pretty slim.  Salads in summer are based on cucumber and tomatoes and basil, not lettuce and mesclun. The weather forecast is predicting 100mm of rain over the next few days though, and if that just happened to be the start of a wet summer, I’d be pleased I gambled on a few lettuces.

Today I’m planting in a seed tray, besides a few lettuces, a few radicchio, a few amaranth, and the basils (Thai, lime, and sweet). And that’s it for leafies.  I shall try to keep enough water up to the mint and Vietnamese mint, and I’ll plant mustard and coriander for microgreens.

Last week I harvested mustard seed,  lots of it, and coriander seed.  Mustard plants grow insanely easily over winter here, and seed so prolifically that these days mine are all self seeded plants.

harvesting mustard seeds

There’s a (very small) limit to the amount of mustard we eat as leaf – a tiny bit to heat up spinach and feta muffins or add a bit of spiciness to Saag, but that’s about it.  But the seed is valuable.  I make seeded or Djion mustard from it, use it in curries and dhal and pickles, and sow the seed to harvest as microgreens this time of year.

brown mustard seed sprouts

It’s a very simple planting method – a wide mouthed pot or shallow tray,  filled with a mixture of compost and creek sand, sown quite thickly with seed, kept watered and shaded in the shadehouse, and harvested with scissors when the sprouts are just at the two leaf stage (two real leaves besides the first cotyledon leaves).  At this stage they are a little bit spicy but not too hot, and delicious on salad sandwiches or added to a side salad or used as a garnish with egg or cheese based dishes.

The same method works for lots of seeds.  The limiting factor for me is seeds I can harvest in large enough quantities, and that make delicious enough microgreens,  to make it worthwhile.  My favourites are amaranth, rocket and mustard. All of them seed prolifically in my garden, yielding lots more seeds than I need to save for for the next sowing.

The coriander is a similar kind of strategy but I let them grow for about three weeks. I have lots of seed, and the plants won’t survive out in the garden.  So I plant them quite thickly in a pot and keep them shaded and watered in the shadehouse.  They will still want to bolt this time of year anyhow because the days are still lengthening towards the summer solstice and coriander along with most leafy greens is day length sensitive.  But if I plant a new batch every month and harvest them very young, I can keep coriander going through the summer.  It’s way better than the hydroponic coriander in the supermarket this time of year, and there are some dishes where only coriander will do!

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garden in springThere’s lots of leafies to harvest at the moment.  I’ve got a bit of an addiction going for Rocket and Macadamia Pesto, (without chili this time of year).  The rocket you can see on the left of the photo, just next to the spring onions, is just the right stage for pesto.  I have another patch of younger rocket that I like better in salads – it’s that bit milder.  And if you let it get too old and shoot up to seed it gets too strongly flavoured for pesto.

The coriander is all starting to flower. There’s a lot of it around the garden.  We have been eating lots of  Asian and Mexican food lately using the young leaf, (avocado and coriander and lime juice is a heavenly combination), but now it is fully grown there’s way more than we will eat as leaf. It makes good pesto too, but the rocket is winning that taste war at the moment.  But the flowers are excellent attractants for ladybeetles, parasitic wasps and predatory flies, so it’s a good way to boost the populations ahead of the aphid and scale season. Then I’ll harvest the seed for saag and dhal and curries and pickles.

The mustard is also setting seed.  There’s lots of it self seeded along path edges and in corners.  The flowers are gorgeous in salads and spectacular added to home made mayonnaise, giving it a lovely buttery colour and a nice mustard kick, and the seed will be harvested for pickles and curries.

The kale and broccoli are just starting to get cabbage moth caterpillars, so they won’t last much longer.  The spinach is finished but the silver beet is still going well, and the loose leaf lettuces are still bearing well. And there’s parsley and dill and celery all still bearing too.

But the season has turned the corner now and we’re into the hot dry weather of late Spring, with the alternating thunder storms and frizzle weather of summer to come.  In the corner of the photo you can see the summer crops coming on, beans and cucumbers to climb the fence, tomatoes and basil and capsicums and squash and amaranth to fill the beds.

I’m planting minimal amounts of leafies this time of year. Today I’m planting seed of basil (sweet and lime and Thai and Greek), leaf amaranth, successive rounds of rocket to harvest very young, some aragula (wild rocket) as insurance so there’s some greens even if it gets very harsh, spring onions, and that’s about it.

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bolting

I used every trick in my arsenal for preventing bolting, but still, just a week or so after planting out,  this little Chinese Cabbage seedling has decided it’s just feeling too sexy for its shirt.  The days are getting longer at an exponentially faster rate now so everything wants to flower and set seed.  OK if you want to harvest the flowers, seeds, or fruit, but not much good for leafy greens.

It’s too late now for planting new seed of lettuces.  By the time they are bearing, we will be into the sizzle weather of summer.  Too late for celery – it would just get tough and fibrous in the dry heat of spring, and bolt to seed in the lengthening days.  Too late for silver beet – it just gets leaf spot in warm weather, and the tiny grasshoppers will be around by the time it is bearing anyway. Much too late for spinach – it will just bolt. I might get some flat leaf parsley if I’m lucky, and the basils have all been bred to hold back from bolting for a while.

I’ve tried lots of things called “spinach” of various kinds that promised to be good summer spinach substitutes – Ceylon spinach, Egyptian spinach, New Zealand spinach.  My favourite summer leafy so far is amaranth, and my favourite variety is Mekong Red, which means it’s not exactly a leafy green. Mekong Red grows a metre or more tall and has dark maroon red leaves that you can pick and pick again all summer. You can add leaves and stems to stir fries or sautee in olive oil and garlic and a splash of oyster or soy sauce as a side dish.  It’s hardy and productive and tasty enough that we actually choose to eat it when there are beans and zucchini and squash and all the other summer fruiting vegetables to choose from.

Next week will be fruiting planting days, and this time of year that’s easy. Beans and cucumbers and zucchini and squash and tomatoes and capsicums and all their relatives. But this week it’s just a small box of seed – lime and Thai and sweet basil, parsley, amaranth, and I think that will do.

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I am really loving tromboncino. Usually by this time of year, my garden is so full that I skimp on the sweet corn because I just don’t have room for it in my intensively fenced beds.  And if I plant it outside the netting, the bandicoots dig it up, then the wallabies and padimelons eat the plant, then the parrots and possums and brush turkeys eat the corn.

This year though, I haven’t planted any zucchini, and it’s amazing how much space that saves. Tromboncino work with all my zucchini recipes and the climbing vine is sharing the south side of a garden fence with tomatoes and taking up no ground room at all.  I learned last year how prolific they are, so I’ve only got four vines in, one in each of the last four beds I’ve moved the chooks off and planted out.  So they are at four different stages.  If I pick them young (like the ones at the front right in the picture) I can just about keep up with them, so far anyhow.

It means I have room for another round of sweet corn.  I have two lots in so far, one planted in August that will be ready for the first picking in just a few weeks now, and one planted in September that will follow on.  I missed sweet corn in the October planting – just not enough room to plant enough of a block so that it would wind pollinate.  Sweet corn is a herd plant – if you don’t have enough of them, the wind cannot blow the pollen from the flowers of one onto the silks of its neighbours, and you get cobs with lots of kernels missing.

I also have room for some endamame.  Or I will have by the time they are ready to plant out and I have moved the chooks on again. I love endamame but don’t plant them every year either.  Now is about the latest I could plant them, since they are day length sensitive and like long days to flower.  These ones will be flowering in  February, just in time before the days start to shorten at an ever increasing rate.

I shall plant the seed in the shadehouse today, coating each seed in innoculant and planting two to a pot in leaf pots filled with a mixture of compost and creek sand. When they are about 10 cm tall I shall plant out.  They grow to about 50 cm tall, so I’ll plant them out in a closely planted row around the southern side of a bed, in front of the climbers but behind all the shorter carrots and beets and lettuces and spring onions.

The dam is dropping but if we have a normal year, it should start to get wetter from now on, so with luck I’ll be able to keep the water up to a fairly full garden.

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We are coming up to the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere.  The days have been lengthening rapidly over the last three months – here in northern NSW, we’ve gained over two and a half hours of daylight every day and further south it would be more.  But the days are now nearly at their longest.  Between now and the solstice they’ll lengthen only very slightly.  Then over the next 6 weeks they’ll ll very slowly shorten again.  Over the next three months we’ll gain twenty minutes then lose them again.

It’s really a very noticeable change if you are in the mood for noticing it. Our ancestors did – all the traditional festivals in most cultures (Easter, Halloween, Groundhog day, Christmas, Mayday) are held on these day length marker points , and plants most definitely notice. Most garden crops are highly sensitive to this cycle of lengthening and shortening days. Plants that evolved in the tropics are less sensitive, but crops that evolved in temperate parts of the world got frosted if they got it wrong.  The ones that survived were the ones that could discern, reliably, whether the year was heading towards winter, and the best survival strategy was to hunker down, or whether it was heading to summer, and there was time to bring up a new generation.

Humans have had a say in it over the last few thousand years, breeding varieties that are “slow bolt” and turning bi-ennials into annuals and vice versa.  But a few thousand years isn’t long in the scheme of things. Generally, lengthening days signal plants to set seeds, and if you don’t want them to (parsley, celery, lettuce, silver beet, chinese cabbage, broccoli…) you’re going to be fighting them. Shortening days signal plants to heart up and store food (onions, cabbages, celeriac…) and if you plant them at the right time they co-operate beautifully.

So, if for the last few months it’s been an uphill battle to get leafy greens, you can blame photoperiodism.  The little lucullus (Italian chard) in the picture came up from self-sown seed, and I left it although I knew it would just bolt at the first opportunity, and it has. From now on, it gets easier! Kind of. For the next few months, there’s aphids and grasshoppers and cabbage moths and sunburn weather challenges, and not much room in a garden full of rampant cucumbers and zucchini, but at least the urge to bolt to seed will be more manageable.

So this time I’m planting lettuces, radicchio, parsley, coriander, basil, rocket, aragula, amaranth, and Warrigal greens.  I’ll wait a bit longer for the silver beet – the grasshoppers like it too much, and the brassicas – the white cabbage moths like them too much.

On the plus side, I’m harvesting my coriander, mustard, dill, and celery seed now to store for the year.

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These are the Rattlesnakes planted in July in the shadehouse and planted out in August, the seed a gift from Deb at Footprint Reduction in the Burbs. We’re picking enough to eat every day now, and they’ve joined the ranks of my favourite beans.

 These are the Blue Lakes and the Purple Kings, seed planted in August, planted out only a month ago.  They’re just starting to bear. They are saved seeds, two of my old favourite varieties.  The Blue Lakes are classic french beans, round pods that are tender and crunchy and green.  They are gorgeous young and steamed very briefly.  The Purple Kings have big flat pods a stunning purple colour.  They go green when cooked, and they have a robust beany flavour.  They’re best in slow cooked dishes. They both work well as beans for drying and storage too.  The Blue Lakes have seeds a bit like cannellini beans and the Purple Kings make a good kidney bean substitute.

These are the brown seeded snake beans, seed planted at the same time in August.  They’re a tropical bean, so they’re a bit slower to get going early in the season, and they really like it a bit wetter than it has been.  I’m looking forward to them – they are my favourite bean for salads and stir fries and anything where you want a bean that keeps its crunch.  They bear really prolifically, and the seed makes a decent azuki bean substitute.

And I was going to finish this post with the snake beans I planted out yesterday, seed planted a month ago and raised to lovely, healthy, 15 cm tall seedlings in the shadehouse, planted out this time of year they should just about catch up with the earlier ones.

Except a bandicoot got into the garden bed last night – I didn’t shut the gate tightly enough and he pushed it open a crack – and dug them all up, along with the capsicums and the eggplants and the tomatoes and the zucchini and the squash and the cucumbers.  I spent this morning trying to repair the damage, but he’s broken lots of stems.

I remember my son as a tiny tot answering one of my bandicoot blaspheming sessions with “But mum, bandicoots just like to dig”. They do indeed.

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