Glorious garlic

If I had only a small patch of soil to grow things in, I’d grow garlic!

Measured by weight, good quality garlic (as distinct from the tasteless white imported garlic) costs more than the best fillet steak, clocking in at over $30/kg at certain times of the year.


Yet once a gardener can manage to surreptitiously lift a few bulbs of garlic from the cook’s precious horde, one can double or triple that weight each year while still retaining enough of the very largest and best-formed bulbs to grow on in the following winter and spring.

Garlic grows easily on the Adelaide Plains, often without the benefit of much irrigation, as it does most of its growing through the winter and spring rainfall periods.

Garlic is typically planted on the shortest day of the year (21st June) and harvested when the foliage has died back on the longest day of the year (21st December). It stores well for about six months if hung in a dry cool and dark place.

Six months ago, I started with a dish of 16 bulbs (link here, scroll down), splitting them into about ten cloves each, where each clove develops into a whole new bulb. I estimate that I’ve harvested about 200 bulbs from that initial batch, though my stock has already been depleted; a small bag of garlic makes a wonderful Christmas gift from gardeners to cooks.

Harvesting potatoes

We plant and harvest potatoes all year round. There are always some potatoes chitting somewhere, to be planted next. Or the next lot is ready for harvesting. This ensures a good supply of fresh, very tasty, organically grown potatoes.

Berry Gnome does not only enjoy growing berries, but also a variety of potatoes. Here is the 'miscellaneous' bed. Mainly Kennebec and some Pontiac.The chooks are eagerly watching - there might be a tasty treat for them somewhere.
The containers are overflowing with big potatoes.
A very happy Berry Gnome bandicooting underneath a potato plant that is still producing heavily.That should keep us going for a while. :)

Home-made ice-cream

...with rapadura sugar. The rapadura gives a lovely caramel flavour.

The best thing about home-made ice-cream - it is super delicious, very easy to make and you determine which ingredients go into the mixture.
So, freshly laid eggs from our free-ranging chooks. Raw cream from a place just around the corner. Plus the not so local, but organic rapadura sugar.

No need for anything else, really.

3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks (next time I will use 4 whole eggs and no extra yolks)
3/4 cup rapadura sugar (or 1 cup, if you like it sweeter)
420 ml cream

Put eggs and sugar into a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan with simmering water.
Whisk eggs until the mixture is heated through.
Take off the saucepan, then whisk until the mixture is very frothy and thick-ish.

Whip cream until soft peaks form.
Fold the egg/sugar mixture gently into cream.
Pour into a container of your choice. Lick spoon. Lick bowl.
Cover container. Freeze. Eat.

Harvesting garlic...

... must be one of the most satisfying jobs this time of the year.

The weeding, sowing, planting, pruning, shredding and mulching seems to be never-ending. There is still so much more to do. Luckily, there is the garlic we planted in March, and the foliage is finally starting to dry up a bit.

Ahhh... not even half-way through the first garlic bed and it is looking very good.
Lovely! Let's dry them a little bit - while you have a cup of tea, or so.

All bundled up and drying on a rack.

There are some real rippers in the bunches!

These will be stored in a safe spot, to be planted next season. It does seem a shame to plant out the biggest heads (and not eat them!), but you will be rewarded with tons of big cloves.
There are a few small heads of garlic (Not taking a picture of them!), as I planted them a bit close together at one end of the bed. Lesson learned! Space them apart, so that all of them can grow big and fat.

The secret to a bumper crop? Good soil (I usually plant into a garden bed where we had potatoes the previous season), plant the fattest cloves of garlic you can find, space them well apart, water them well the first few weeks after planting. Then sit back and relax. :)

How to cook broad beans…

Broad beans (Vicia fava) – or ‘fava’ beans as they are sometimes called – are a big meaty bean grown over winter here on the Adelaide Plains, and provide good nutritious accompaniments or light meals in their own right during Spring when other pickings from the garden are at their leanest. DSCN0001 Before the explorers brought green beans back from the Americas, broad beans were the only bean known to Europeans and folk from the Middle East, where it had been cultivated since pre-historic times.

This past winter I’ve grown two different varieties of broad beans; one for eating (Early Long Pod) and one for seed propagation (Aquadulce). As broad beans are partially self-pollinated and partly cross-pollinated, there’s some small chance that I’ve crossed the two varieties, but may yet be saved from that small embarrassment by the different time of flowering of these two varieties.

DSCN0025 Broad beans are grown in blocks and fenced with stakes and strings to help them present a broad shoulder to the gully winds that blow during Spring and which threaten to bend the heavily-laden plants in two.

I cut broad beans from their plants with a sturdy pair of pizza scissors for the same reason; pulling on them only breaks the self-standing plant in two. The larger bottom beans are left on the plants for later podding and drying for next year’s seed.

DSCN0020Once I’ve got a bucketful of young tender beans, its back up to the outside veranda, where the pod can easily be split down the side with a sharp knife, and the big beautiful beans flipped out into a large dish ready for presentation to the waiting cook. DSCN0009






Thinly-sliced onion and crushed garlic are then cooked on low heat in butter and a little olive oil until the onion is almost soft, then the broad beans are added with another dob of butter and a pinch of salt at the end. Don’t over-cook broad beans – just let them warm up and soften a bit. Sometimes  we finish them with grated parmesan cheese to lift the flavour and quell a little of the bitterness.


Rare seeds from an old gardener

The old blokes in my neighbourhood have been quietly passing on one by one this past decade, leaving me with the sinking feeling that I’ll soon be the last gardener left standing in the district. ‘Urban in-fill’ is the current euphemism for turning once-productive kitchen gardens into houses packed cheek-by-jowl onto the old quarter-acre blocks that once represented the Australian Dream; one’s own home with fruit trees, chooks, vegetables, compost heap, rain water tank and wood-heap in the backyard, with a patch of lawn at the front for the kids to play on.

The gate the kids built... Nowadays, modern folk drive all sorts of distances to ‘work-out’ in gymnasiums or ‘tan-up’ in solariums – all under cover – where once the simple pleasures of bending and lifting, twisting, kneeling, pulling, reaching, climbing and carrying stuff around our gardens fulfilled all those needs out in the fresh air and sunshine. No gym fees back then. Instead, our kitchen gardens returned nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle, neighbourly connections and a place to show the grandchildren at first hand how nature works her daily miracles.DSCN0014

Kitchen gardeners have traditionally been the custodians of our old heritage open-pollinated non-hybrid vegetable seeds – seeds that have been passed along from generation to generation. And so I’ve been quietly adding the last seed collections of these older chaps to my own, growing them on year after year to keep these locally-adapted and tasty varieties alive.

DSCN2649 From a rather vociferous Sicilian chap down the corner has come my collection of broad beans, which produce huge pods over 25 cms long on short plants – I suspect this variety are what the heritage seed companies call ‘Aqua Dulce’, which dates back to about 1844.

The widow of the old Italian man over the road let me fossick around in the ancient rusty shed down the back of his garden, and I took over his seed collection and grow on his zucchinis and ‘Rapa’ – a bitter broccoli that tastes just fine when stirred into pasta.

Some of the old Aussies in the district fought in the Second World War, and came home as young men to start gardens and raise families. Two of these old Diggers probably fought my German wife’s uncle, who was part of Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa.

Watermelon flower with bee Basle – just a few doors down – was a sergeant in the Australian Transport Division, and his seed collection consisted of packets of Yates Seeds that are still available down the local hardware store. Nothing too exciting there.

But then there’s Bert – the subject of this small yarn – who died in March this year aged 101. Bert was one of the famous Rats of Tobruk – the beleaguered Australian forces who defended the Allied toe-hold in North Africa at Tobruk in Libya for nine long months during the darkest days of WWII, preventing the German panzers from gaining access to vital re-supply routes by sea across the Mediterranean.

Bert lived in a 1910-era cottage surrounded by an industrial estate that I walk through on my way to work each day. 16112010Bert was as fit as a Mallee bull right up past his one hundredth birthday, and could often be seen walking down to the local shops or trimming the fruit trees around his house. Bert’s son – himself in his sixties – knew of my interest in heritage vegetables, and turned up at my office last week with Bert’s remnant seed collection, stashed away in old tins and jars of the sort beloved of seed-savers.

Bert was the last of his kind around here; one can only imagine what view he might have formed of the modern folk around him, especially the ‘boom-boom’ coming from the converted warehouse opposite his front yard where all the young Mum’s leap out of their cars to leap up and down inside to the window-rattling exhortations of some young chap whose main mode of communication seems to whooping and yelling. (I should know – I walk past twice a day, every working day!)

Bert’s gone now, but his seeds remain. Most intriguing of all are those in an old jar that once held Jalapeno stuffed olives, and bearing a pencilled scrap of paper cryptically marked “Johns Bush Pump 86”.


There’s only one way to find out what those seeds are – I’m off to plant them!


This is one of my favourite trees. Our variegated elder tree.
One of our sheep seems to like it, too.
The flowers are beautiful, abundant and very fragrant. We made elderflower wine last year for the first time and it was an absolute hit.
We have already started a new batch, but will probably do several. I will also dry some flowers for teas - as it is supposed to be very good for when you have a cold or flu. Also good to fight hay fever.

Maybe after all that wine making and drying for teas, we still have some flowers left on the tree and they can mature to berries? I have never tasted anything made from elderberries, so would be keen to experiment. Jam? Wine? Drying for medicinal purposes?

Birds, bed-bases and bulbs

Springtime for the kitchen gardener is the most hectic time of the year, and particularly so here in southern Australia where Spring and the approach of Christmas coincide to muddle social pressures into the life of the harried gardener. ‘Spring-cleaning’ makes sense in the cook’s particularly European tradition, where sunshine and warmer weather bring on a frenzy of activity in the house, and things that have lain dormant inside get kicked outside into a warmer clime to make way for the new.


My one relief from all this activity is to rise early before the cook is astir, and to sit outside overlooking the garden each morning to watch the dawn chorus. Dawn is the busiest time of the day for all those small birds foraging through the kitchen garden in front of me, and the changing patterns of the clouds in the sky over the garden never fail to bring me some peace.

DSCN0021 Except for that bloody bed-base down there on the left, leaning up against the chook-yard fence!

It sticks in my eye with all the irritation of a burr under  a horse’s saddle, and I’ve finally been forced to dispose of it.

DSCN0025So I’ve turned it into a growing frame for my wife’s favourite cucumbers, located as near to the kitchen door as I can get it!  True, it looks a bit junk-yardish at the moment, but in a few months time it will be covered in a a wall of cucumbers, and our summer salads will be blessed by the cook’s smile…

DSCN0027Other useful things salvaged from this bed-base include the felt underlay – perfect for starting carrot seeds – and swatches of cotton waste from the corners; I leave these lying around for the birds to find as they hunt for nest-building material.DSCN0030 DSCN0031Only the synthetic covering goes out in the rubbish.







While vegetable gardens lack the floral elegance of more formal cottage gardens, vegetables flower also – especially in a seed-saver’s garden - and many of these small flowers are irresistible to birds and bees, such as those of the broccoli and lettuces to be seen in bloom below.


And all those wonderful garlic plants in the foreground? It was only six months ago that they were bulbs, planted out into the cooling soil of mid-autumn, and now finishing up to add flavour to the cook’s welcome meals for months to come…























Clockwise from top-left: Flowers of Italian parsley, purple-sprouting broccoli, bitter lettuce and chives.

Saving Manzana chilli seed

Chillies and capsicums (‘peppers’ in the USA) belong to the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes.

While the most common types of chillies belong to the Capsicum frutescens genera, ‘Manzana’ chillies (Capsicum pubescens) are an altogether different beast, having purple (not white) flowers and black (not cream) wrinkled seeds. Manzana chilli leaves are covered with a light fuzz, as its Latin name indicates (Reference: Seed Savers Handbook).


Of all the chillies one can grow on the Adelaide Plains – and I’ve grown over a dozen different varieties – Manzana chillies have become my favourite. As a perennial, one bush is all one generally needs if you’re an Aussie, and this one bush will provide chillies pretty much all year round, especially in spring when other annual chillies are still just seedlings. Manzana chillies are hot but not deadly (3 out of 5), and the bushes survive the heat and poor watering with ease. This single bush (below) has been under-watered to the point of neglect, but keeps on hanging in there year after year. It needs staking and regular pruning to keep it looking respectable.


Saving chilli seed is a dangerous business best carried out in a ventilated fire-proof bunker in full protective clothing, face mask and breathing apparatus! Don’t touch your face and eyes while saving chilli seed, as the burning sensation that follows is right up there with the pain more often associated with knee capping and having your finger-nails pulled out with pliers. Wear rubber gloves, at least. I should.

To save the seed, chop up the chillies and place them with water in a blender, where they are minced up at the slowest speed, allowing the seed to settle to the bottom (with a bit of help). Sieve the debris if necessary, then pour the seeds out onto an absorbent paper towel and let dry in the shade before storing.

DSCN0043 DSCN0047


What bean is that?

Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) have the most colourful and rewarding of seeds, which probably explains why gardeners have been growing them on now for over 6000 years. Given this length of time since beans were domesticated in the temperate regions of South America (Peru), it is no wonder that hundreds of varieties of beans exist today.

In general, what kitchen gardeners call ‘beans’ are either the French bean, eaten when tender and green, or the dried Kidney beans stored for later use in soups and stews. So this range of beans excludes such ‘beans’ as Broad beans (Vicia fava), Guada beans (Trichosanthes anguina), Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus [P. limensis]), Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), Snake beans (Vigna unguiculata var. sesquipedalis), Soya beans (Glycine max), Winged beans (Psophocarpis tetragonolobus) and Yam beans (Pachyrrhizus erosus).

French beans and Kidney beans are further divided into dwarf (or bush) beans and climbing (or pole) beans. Climbing beans needed richer soil than dwarf beans, but produce over longer periods. Climbing beans are grown on stakes or trellises, whereas dwarf beans are self-standing as a small bush.

My own interest in beans was fired many years ago by Bill Hankin’s collection, shown during a talk Bill gave in Adelaide to home gardeners back in about 2003. Bill’s bean seed collection consists of some 72 bean seeds, which sounds like a lot, but which represents just a fraction of the hundreds of varieties known. Still, it was with great pleasure that I was able to look over this collection at close quarters for myself, as Bill lent me the lot to show off in public at our local seed-savers display in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens today.




Some of the beans in Bill’s collection have been attacked by bean weevils, which lay their eggs under the skin of the bean while they are still in the pod, and which hatch out in the stored beans and bore small holes through the beans, destroying their fertility. DSCN0030 (The solution to weevils is to seal the beans in an jam jar and place them in the freezer for 48 hours to kill the eggs. The jar has to be airtight to prevent the seeds dehydrating in the freezer, which will kill the bean).

All of the beans in the collection have faded somewhat with time and are likely no longer viable, as bean seeds cannot usually be stored beyond three years, and those in this collection are over eight years old. Nevertheless, here they are (below) in close up, to help identify the shape and colour of various beans collected by Bill from heritage growers and commercial seeds companies over many years and grown on before the thrill of it all wore off, and Bill just put the remainder into this collection.


Top from left: Rattlesnake pole bean, Macedonian butter bean, Bert Goodwin’s bush bean.

Bottom from left: Nardi Zebra bean, Ukrainian butter pole bean, Magpie bush bean.


Top from left: Honduran Landrace bean, Yin Yang pole bean, Scarlet Beauty (runner) bean

Bottom from left: Deb’s Greek dry bean, Pearl climbing bean, Macedonian pole bean


Top from left: Honey Key bean, Vermont Cranberry bean, Macedonian Twiner bean

Bottom from left: Ah Chow bean, Tarahumara Laja bean, Croatian bush bean


Top from left: BOG (Brisbane Organic Growers) Half Runner bean, Hawkesbury Wonder, Sun… (illegible)

Bottom from left: Green Flax bush bean, Krasner Barlotti bean, Swedish Brown bean


Top from left: Garcia Twiner bean, Staley’s Star bean (Bill Hankin believes that this bean is extinct now), Lemon Yellow Twiner bean

Bottom from left: Maine Yellow Eye bean, Purple Queen bush bean, Bellotti Twiner bean


Top from left: Lohrey’s Special pole bean, Spanish climbing bean, Penguin bush bean

Bottom from left: Yugoslavian Purple Twiner bean, Zera climbing bean, Goodwin’s Purple bush bean


Top from left: Wondergold climbing bean, Yigevano Fire Tongue bean, Windsor Longpod bean

Bottom from left: Hayes Brown bush bean, Admire bush bean, Redlands Pioneer bush bean


Top from left: Yates Romano bush bean, Sunray bush bean, Baker bean

Bottom from left: Victory Green bush bean, Coco Bicolor bean, Zagreb Soldier bean


Top from left: Low’s Champion bush bean, Black Runner bean, Tan Yugoslavian Twiner bean

Bottom from left: Scottish pole bean, Jacob’s Cattle bush bean, Black African Wax bush bean


Top from left: Tasmanian Heirloom pole bean, Anderson’s Purple King bean, Macedonian bush bean

Bottom from left: Painted Lady Runner bean, Hutterite Soup bean, Dutch Brown bean


Top from left: (illegible) bean, Preston bush bean, Agate Pinto bean

Bottom from left: Dragon Langerie bean, Cuban Black (USA) bean, Westralia climbing bean


Top from left: Scarlet Emperor runner bean, Spanish Red climber bean, Lazy Housewife pole bean

Bottom from left: Kentucky Wonder Brown pole bean, Cherokee Wax bush bean, Anderson’s Wonder bean