Kitchen Garden Guides

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Not now.

I have written so many times about the joys, the necessities, the history and many more topics relating to seeds. I don’t think I have ever before written about the chaos of my own seeds! I have a cupboard devoted to seeds and a fine filing system for keeping them in order. I have another shelf for seeds that are drying and nice little bags and vials for storing them in, once dry. I have a wonderful garden that always has a few of my favourite vegetables going to seed. I have everything a seedsaver could want! So why are my seeds a mess and why am I constantly stressed about it?

The short answer is that seeds do not magically move from plant to filing cupboard. It happens more like this: I see that one or more plants has grown tall and lanky, has finished flowering and it is growing a wonderful crop of green seeds. The seeds get heavier and heavier as they grow. Everyday I think to myself I must go and tie it up to a stake so it does not flop over its neighbours. Everyone else’s gardens are so tidy but I seem to have a constant stream of plants adorned with magnificent seeds that make me smile but make others see only chaos. One day I do tie them up with brightly coloured, hay bale twine….. everyone else seems to have eco-friendly, designer twine and home made stakes!

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It looks like rain. I must collect those seeds now, before the downpour. In the middle of getting the washing off the line I rush to the door, grab the nearest container and the secateurs, and in a few minutes I have removed the branches of seeds and plonked the whole thing into the bucket. Then I return to taking the rest of the washing off the line.

Weeks later the stems and seeds are still in the bucket but hey, it is all dry and all is good. Sometimes I even remember to label the seeds and include the collection date! Hmmmm…. sometimes I don’t but I am pretty good at recognising seeds, except when they are identical, like kale vs broccoli or one lettuce vs another.

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One day I put something on top of the bucket that is home to the stems and seeds. Big mistake; out of sight, out of mind. Months go by and it is seed sowing time again and I was sure I had collected the seeds but they are illusive! Well, actually it doesn’t matter because hey, they have self-sown themselves into the garden anyway. Nice.

Then I start saving tomato seeds on paper towel and capsicum seeds into little cups. The whole kitchen becomes a seed drying zone. I want to eat lunch so do not always label the paper towel of tomato seeds I removed before turning the tomato into a salad. Same with the capsicum seeds.

Can you get the idea?

I look into my lovely seed cupboard and try to find space for a stack of paper towels dotted with dry tomato seeds. No room on the right shelf so I put the stack on the shelf below. Bad idea but I cannot sort it out now! Months and years go by….. until now.

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I have spent all day today and half of yesterday spreading out ALL (nearly) my seeds and boxes and buckets and paper towels and cups and packets and containers and little, illegible notes all over my lounge room floor. I am exhausted but I have done it; I have 3 perfect shelves of orderly seeds, all sorted by sowing season again. And I have a bucket almost full of mixed everything seeds; some too old, some too voluminous, some of vegetables I don’t even like eating, which I am going to toss into the garden to fight it out amongst themselves. I also have a box of seeds to take to the seed swap in a week or 2, all neat and labelled but maybe not winnowed perfectly. I do so hope others won’t mind and that they enjoy the bounty.

What about that bucket of purple sprouting broccoli branches that was in my bedroom? Oh no, I just can’t do any more. It will be ok. I will label it in the morning!!

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

When sitting down to write, at 5.30am on the Monday of the week of my monthly garden guide, I look back at what I have written in previous years at this time. April, more than any other, seems to be the month full to the brim with the wonderful joy of food gardening. Topics from the last few years include deep hay, garlic, self-sown winter vegetables, the 3 stages of eating beans, what to do now to keep your fennel producing, broad beans, onions, harvesting sunchokes, bio-char, picking pumpkins, fungi and your soil, lacto-fermented pickling and so much more. I would like these, and all the 5 years’ of my garden guides, to be available for everyone to peruse so I will slowly be adding them to my blog Vegetable Vagabond, where they will be easily found.

The perennial food garden, expanded

I have patches of food throughout my whole garden, for several reasons. First and foremost because many plants are social creatures and benefit from mixing it with other, complementary friends. This is called companion planting and also permaculture guilds. That is a topic in itself for another day. Second, when something dies down, why not have something else popping up there for a while? Why not have daffodils amongst your sunchokes or scatter coriander seeds amongst your asparagus as it dies down? In my garden, marigolds, rocket and the little, native Tasmanian violets pop up everywhere there is space, all by themselves.
Here are some vegetables that you only have to plant once but can harvest year after year and amongst whom you can dot some flowers or herbs or quick growing greens, for use after the main crop dies down.
·         Horseradish - some people say it can become invasive but mine never has and I wish it would as there is nothing more delicious than hot, roasted vegetables, straight out of the oven, with freshly picked horseradish root grated over. Or, grate it and immediately pack into small jars, with a little salt. It keeps in the fridge for years! Don’t screw up your nose until you have tried it as fresh horseradish is so much deeper in flavour than the stuff in jars. Once you have dug, harvested and replanted your horseradish roots a bit later in autumn, you could plant a quick-growing Asian green like bok choy or mizuna or flowers such as alyssum, which will self-sow as well.
·         Multiplier onions - Walking onions and potato onions – I love these because I am a lazy gardener who eats from the garden everyday and they provide all year round as well as multiplying at the same time. Lucky us! Some multiplier onions are also known as “walking onions” because they form a cluster of little onion bulbs in the summer, on a seed stalk. As autumn sets in, the stalk bends over and the already-sprouting bulbs touch the soil and root. So, after a while, your permanent onion area slowly expands! These onions make terrific spring and early summer green onions and as the patch expands, I pull some up to use as well. You could have them in your asparagus patch or you could plant some in flower beds.
Potato onions also make top-set bulbs, but the great thing about them is that they also make a “nest” of rather large onions underground. Some are as large as smaller storage onions. They taste great and store very well. You can remove the larger underground onions to store or use, taking some of the smaller ones to pickle, as well as some of the larger topset bulbs. Then, by planting the smaller bulbs, both topsets and underground bulbs, you can keep your potato onion planting going forever!
·         Sunchokes – aka Jerusalem artichokes or fartichokes! Wonderful as medium to tall border plants that will grow in the toughest conditions with no care. However, you will get better bulbs for eating if you give them compost and deep mulch. I have them as a narrow hedge and backdrop to part of my garden. Once I dig them in autumn, I replant some, at the same time digging in some compost, then plant lettuce there but you could plant winter flowering annuals. Next spring/ early summer I am going to sow bush beans amongst the sunchokes, which will have started growing by then, to give them some wind protection and support, in a similar way that people sow climbing beans amongst their corn.
·         Other perennial vegetables include globe artichokes, rhubarb, fennel bulbs, chives, garlic chives, asparagus….. and many more.

Garlic

Plant out soft neck varieties such as Tasmanian purple, now, into damp soil but do not water until you see little green shoots appearing, or you risk them rotting. These will be ready to harvest before Christmas, when their soft stems brown off and flop over. If overwatered at this time the water seeps down into the garlic head and can cause rot or cause them not to store well.
Plant out hard neck varieties later and into May. Later they will produce tall, curly, green stems called scapes, which are fabulously delicious. I leave some to grow scapes but most I cut off so more energy goes into growing the bulbs. These will be ready to harvest in January or even February and have a hard stem, right down into the garlic head. In a wet summer, these survive better as they are less prone to rot because of the way they grow tight around the hard neck.

April jobs
Sow now
  • Lime brassica beds followed by liquid feed with fish emulsion.
  • Make compost in 1 cubic meter bays. Cover thickly with straw. Leave for winter.
  • Plant garlic, shallots
  • Harvest sunchokes, Chinese artichokes, horseradish, seeds
  • Pick pumpkins with at least a 20cm stem and set out to dry in a dry, warm tin shed
  • Look into making biochar from your own garden debris or buy and activate
  • Use natural lactose fermentation to pickle any hard vegetables such as gherkins, carrots, radishes
Asian greens
Radishes
English spinach
Broad beans
Miners’ Lettuce
Chervil
Coriander
Spring onions
Lettuce
Sugar snap peas under cover
Green manure
Sweet peas
Winter annual flowers
Plant now
Spring bulbs
Garlic
Evergreen shrubs and trees

March 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

As we move into March, many trees are telling us autumn has begun, while we all hope for some steady, warm days to ripen our tomatoes. At least the wind has abated!

Garlic

The recent Koonya Garlic Festival has put garlic at the forefront of my mind and I will be preparing beds this week. I went to 3 talks at the festival, all with excellent advice on growing, eating and storing garlic. What it comes down to is that, whatever garlic cultivars you choose to grow, the state of your soil will determine how well the flavour develops. The growth of the bulb itself will be determined by soil and weather.
Garlic does not need a lot of fertility but it needs humus (well rotted organic matter) and for the soil microbes to be well fed. Here is what I am going to do:
1.   Dig to a spade’s depth and loosen any clumps
2.   Dig in plenty of aged sheep manure (cow would be even better, I am saving my compost for brassicas and other greens)
3.   Dig in a well known, pelletised seaweed, fish, humic acid and manure product available in large buckets. Seamungus.
4.   Really concentrate on improving the structure of the soil, with elbow and back grease!
5.   Mention was made of lactobacillus bacteria so I might dilute some kefir or pickle juice and pour it over!
6.   Water, mulch and leave, or sow a quick green manure.
7.   Plant out at times according to what garlic you have.

The planting, harvest and storage times depend on the cultivars you grow. I will be planting my 3 cultivars from late March onwards. I cannot reproduce all the information here but I suggest you search online for “Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic” and a book called “Garlic”.

March in the Tasmanian vegetable garden

Brassicas grow wonderfully in the cold and they are so healthful for our bodies during winter. Use them in winter soups, stews and warm salads. I love a plate of cooked kale, with scrambled eggs on top. There are hundreds of varieties from all over the world. European brassicas include broccolis, cauliflower, cabbages, collards, Brussels sprouts and all the kales etc.  My tips for growing these are:
·         Get good sized seedlings into the ground NOW and cover them with lace curtains or white shade cloth to keep off the cabbage moths which are still active. (The moths will disappear when we get a cold snap.)
·         Plant seedlings into damp soil rich in compost and lime to get them growing fast before the end of May when day length and low sun angle bring a halt to further growth if the leaves are too small to provide enough energy to do more than survive.
·         Protect with iron based slug and snail pellets.
Asian brassicas can be sown throughout autumn because they grow so fast that nothing slows them down all winter. These include bok choy, tatsoi, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, mizuna, mibuna, kalian, daikon, hakurei turnips etc. Most parts are eaten; stems, leaves, flower shoots and some roots. My tips for growing these are:
·         Wet the soil thoroughly. Put your fork into it and check it is wet down at least 15cms. Keep watering until it is!
·         Spread with well rotted sheep manure and some sea & manure pellets or similar then dig it all in well, to the depth of the wet soil. If you have good compost then use that. Asian Brassicas are less fussy about pH than European brassicas but prefer near neutral.
·         Rake to a fine tilth. Sow thinly. Asian vegetable seeds germinate quickly and reliably and will provide a long season of fabulous food right through late autumn, winter and early spring. Sow every 2 weeks for continuous supply.
·         To stop birds disturbing them while they germinate, cover wire crates (from a tip shop) with lace curtains and place over the area. I use this system a lot as rain and irrigation go through, white lets the light through and the lace reduces the wind.
·         Protect with iron-based slug and snail pellets.

Seeds

I have staked and tied up several old parsley, kale, chicory and fennel plants. This week I will be harvesting the very dry parsley and kale seeds to share with friends and to sow myself. But I won’t need to sow much because it is all self-sowing where it is falling. I will transplant some of the seedlings elsewhere, give many away and leave some to grow where they fell. Seeds are so easy and, to me, they are the second crop, after I finish eating a plant.
How are your beans? Did you let a few pods get away and start to become knobby? I hope you will leave them on the plants to dry off completely then save them for next year. Beans do not cross and all are so easily saved and shared.
There is nothing better for you and your family, for eliminating food miles, for food security of our region and for the health of the whole earth than saving seeds. Of all the options we are presented with to help reduce our carbon footprint, none surpasses growing food from seed that has been saved and shared in your own area.
If you don’t want to save your own seed, look for locally saved seed at any of our great Huon Valley markets.
Sow in March
Plant out now
Beetroot
Salsify
Burdock
Tas. swede
Carrot
Parsnip
Spinach
Broad beans
Asian veg.
Spring and salad onions
Coriander, pennyroyal, cress
European brassica seedlings
Spring onions
Chives
Leeks
Lettuce
Spinach
Celery
Silver beet

Evergreen shrubs and trees
Spring bulbs (ixias, daffodils etc)


Tips of the month
·         Last chance to do summer pruning of fruit trees. Wounds will heal quickly and you can see where to prune while the leaves are still on.
·         Rake up all fallen fruit to reduce over-wintering of diseases.
·         Let your chooks range under the fruit trees to get rid of codling moth larvae.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to make soil and compost with no work

When it comes down to it, I am either lazy or clever….. probably lazy! As well as that, unlike many people, I don’t like buying things much, especially if they are in plastic bags and come from far away or if I have to get in my car to go and get them. I like staying at home and using what is around me which means I also like to sit on my verandah with a coffee and think about how not to have to go out, but still have things I need!

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I like sowing seeds I have saved and I often need to have plants in pots for a while until there is room in the garden and I like compost; I just LOVE the feel and smell of beautiful compost. All this means I need something to put into my seed trays, something to put in my pots and something to dig into the garden….. and here is how it gets done at my place.

My chooks live in a kind of man made forest….. well, some of it is man made intentionally, some of it is a consequence of people living here. Some years ago someone planted two oak trees and a few fruit trees, all very much too close to one another, if you ask me, but they were there so I left them there when I moved here. Someone crazily planted 2 buddleias, which are now massive, one of which the chooks have chosen to roost in at night, instead of in the funny little tin and apple crate structure which they now lay eggs in, mostly. Then, unintentionally some mallow “tree” seeds probably blew in and a few wild plum trees grew on the neighbour’s side of the fence and some other weeds and plants got a hold and now it is quite a lovely forest for chooks. Add to this a lazy woman who throws most of the weeds from the vegetable garden and elsewhere, into the chook yard for them to deal with.

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Next, the oak trees lose their leaves in winter and half the chook yard becomes literally 30cms or more deep in oak leaves. I keep tossing weeds on top, the mallow sheds its leaves too as do the  fruit trees, the other plants come and go and for months and months the chooks turn it all over, pecking at insects and edible bits and pieces, which they turn into eggs for me. Sometimes I can hardly open the gate because the chooks ALWAYS kick and scratch everything towards the gate! Oh lalalala, maybe the gate faces Mecca or something but I tell you what they NEVER kick it away from the gate!

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So, one day when I was again in there with my spade trying to reclaim my desire to easily enter the chook yard through said gate I noticed how fabulous was this mound, how good it smelt and, kneeling down, how beautiful it felt running through my fingers…. I had discovered gold; a free, easy, continuous supply of beautiful, rich soil, hand made by a flock of assorted chooks of all ages who had been throwing it towards me for years and for which I had cursed them up until this moment.

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All set to sift some gold for seed sowing
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Now I have raked the area and the chooks are back to see what I have revealed for them!
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4 buckets filled. The back right is sifted.
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Here are the buckets, now by my potting bench which is next to the chook yard. All very convenient.

Now I can easily gather up a wheelbarrow of soil, which I sift well if I am going to sow seeds into it. If I want it as compost for the garden, I dig it in, acorns, little sticks and all (but I do curse those innocent acorns when they turn into oak trees faster than a speeding bullet!). If I want potting mix, I take the middle ground (like Goldilocks) and use the stuff that is not too fine and not too coarse and sometimes I mix it with some cheap potting mix from some of those wretched plastic bags I hate!

It does take some management because you have to get at it before the next lot of leaves fall and not just after you have dumped a load of the world’s worst weeds on top! Sure, a few grass seeds etc germinate but chooks have very beady eyes and do not let many seeds go uneaten!

All in all it is a brilliant system and allows me more time to sit on my verandah and contemplate other ways to avoid going out and buying stuff.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

February 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

It has been a blustery summer thus far and many days that I intended to garden were instead spent visiting friends, painting my bedroom or cooking up a storm in my kitchen. Nevertheless I have enjoyed myself and my food garden is in pretty good shape.
 

Pear and cherry slug

If you see tiny little black ‘worms’ on the leaves of your pears, cherries, quinces and even plums and the leaves are turning brown and crisp, you have this slug. A simple control is to spray the entire tree with a mist of water then throw ash or lime all over it. Do this a couple of times and they will be desiccated. Try to stand up-wind!
 

Managing wind

Tomatoes: I have not tied up my tomatoes as they do not like wild wind ripping through their foliage. My tomatoes and lying all over the thick hay mulch and producing lots of fruit. There are several myths about tomatoes. Here are the facts: First, they are self-pollinated so do not need bees. Slight air movement is all they require and there is plenty of that! Second, the tomatoes themselves do not need the sun to ripen; they simply need warm air temperature. Mine are ripening beautifully and I am eating even the quite large Black Krim already. Third, you don’t need to bother pricking out the laterals but you can if you want more order. Fourth, if you pick them when they just begin to colour, take them inside to somewhere warm but there’s no need to put them on a sunny windowsill.
Fruit trees: Quince fruit seems to stay on despite summer wind, as do plums, apples, olives and Kentish cherries. Contrary to what you hear, citrus also seem to thrive on my verandah and in my garden despite the wind. Young trees bearing fruit will snap off in the wind so staking is necessary. I espalier my Bramley apple as the fruit are way too big and prolific for the branches. This means that the trellis takes the weight of the fruit and far fewer seem to drop off. If you live in a very windy area, I recommend you espalier the perimeter of your garden with fruit trees, all the way around. Actually this is a wonderful, practical and beautiful way to grow fruit and is common in many English and French gardens. You can find any number of shapes and patterns online.
 

Interesting snippets:

Strawberries: Did you know that strawberries require bees to visit the flowers several times for full pollination to happen? If you have mis-shapen fruit, the reason can be that bees are not visiting enough. I suggest you plant some other bee attracting flowers nearby, or leave some things to flower and go to seed, such as fennel, globe artichokes or chicory, all of which are magnets for bees.
Sage: This deep hay method has resulted in a vast improvement of many of my herbs. Unexpectedly I have discovered a fabulous way to multiply sage plants, simply by piling damp hay over some of the long sage stems and leaving it alone! This is called layering and came about because I am a lazy gardener. I now have a small forest of my favourite, purple sage. If you don’t cook much with sage, you must start! The flavour holds well so is wonderful in slow cooking or even on the BBQ as crisp sage leaves are gorgeous. Chopped and fried in a little butter or good olive oil, then folded into pasta is a quick and easy and totally delicious meal. Put a sage leave in the pot when you are cooking rice. If you have trouble growing basil, grow sage!
 

Hay time

Our Tasmanian soil was never meant to grow vegetables so the things we add to it and do to it cause changes that are not well documented, here at the bottom of the world. Imagine a forest floor, deep in leaf litter, old, fallen trees and tree ferns and dappled light….. now picture a cleared vegetable garden bed in full sun. Hmmmm how can we encourage the soil life, microbes and worms that once did live in our forested soil, to live there again and help make nutrients available to our vegetables?
The answer is deep hay, at least 20cms thick, all year round. I have written about this now for well over a year and, since now is the time to buy hay, I have some tips for you. Hay ain’t hay! Hay is made up of all the plants in a paddock so, watch out for cheap hay full of thistles, dock and gorse. You will curse buying it for 7 years while the weed seeds torment you and you will blame me for suggesting it!! Ask the farmer about the hay. Look at the hay, look at the weeds growing in the ditches nearby and don’t buy hay from a farmer that cannot answer your questions or a farm surrounded with thistles and bad weeds. And don’t buy hay from a farmer that uses chemicals as they also will be in the hay and end up in your vegetables. I can direct you to where I get hay. Email me at katevag@gmail.com
 

Zucchinis, berries and more

If you need some recipes, check out Gardeners’ Gastronomy blog.

Seeds to sow now
Broccoli raab
Kale
Beetroot
Shungiku
Lettuce
Asian greens (late Feb.)
Carrots
Spinach & silver beet
Spring onions
Hakurei turnips
Tas. swedes
Parsnips
Radishes












Plant out now, yes now, or before!
Brussel sprouts
Cauliflower
Broccoli – regular, sprouting and raab
Lettuce
Jobs for February
Plant or move citrus
Summer prune stone fruits
Prepare beds for autumn plantings
Save seeds for next spring
Give pots and the veg. garden some seaweed and fish liquid feed in a hosable spray.






















Saturday, January 28, 2017

Seeds that made me smile

Today was one of our regular Southern Food Gardeners get togethers. I was determined to put my best foot forward and take some things to showcase my garden, which I could also share with others.

My garden is a rabble of nationalities combining anything that will grow at 43 degrees south, with Japanese mizuna alongside Italian parsley edged with a border of young Tasmanian pepperberries and Chilean guavas. As I wandered around during the previous week, standing and watering or weeding, I noticed that several of the vegetables that I had let go to seed months ago in fact had seeds approaching dry enough to collect. So, that was it, I would take a fine collection of seeds from the edible world, to share.

This morning, as I clipped twigs of kale pods, strings of rainbow chard clusters, umbels of parsnip seeds and literally tree branches of purple sprouting broccoli pods I was in heaven. The basket I took out to put them in was not big enough and soon I had 2 boxes and a huge plastic bag full of future food for all who wanted them.

I had intended to shake off all the seeds, winnow them and put them into lots of little, labeled bags but, for one thing, I am far too lazy and secondly I had an idea! These days everyone buys seeds in fancy packets with photos but many people have no idea what the seeds look like on the plants so I would take them unshelled; in the raw, so to speak.

When it was my turn to say my piece at the meeting, I told them that this seed experience was like the difference between buying salad greens in a plastic bag from a supermarket, compared to picking it leaf by leaf from your garden. Then I let them at it and I watched on, answering questions along the way.

The first person approached the sharing table with a coffee in one hand and attempted to wrestle a kale pod off a stem with one hand. Of course this did not work and the seeds spilled out of the pod as it sprung open. I wanted to help but another person went over and called out to me that this method did not work and that next time I should put them in bags for them.

Luckily all the naysayers soon dispersed, leaving my seed experience for others. Someone asked if I could come and help as they were new to seeds and were not sure what to do. It was then that we had a wonderful time, me snipping pods and twigs and umbels with my secateurs and placing them into paper bags that the members were busy writing on. We were really focused on the job and talked about sowing methods, varieties and recipes. We all had a ball.

For the first time in absolute years I felt I was connecting people to seeds and bringing a sense of understanding of the importance and relevance of seed saving to people, some of whom have never grown anything from seed before.

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Hopefully, when we meet next, some will have these vegetables growing from the seeds from my garden, in their gardens…..

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