Garlic Sunday

It’s the last weekend in autumn down-under in southern Australia and therefore ‘Garlic Sunday’ on the Adelaide Plains.


P1020862Faced with the annual pilgrimage to Germany, as of next weekend, it’s also my last chance to get the early garlic planted out and the winter mulch onto the garden paths. Pretty much everything else is in order after eight months of effort since our return from Germany at the start of the Australian Spring in September last year. Summer crops have come and gone, autumn and winter crops are planted, all thirteen garden beds are full, but my stock of seed garlic is dawdling along and refusing to be ready…

P1020897So there’s nothing for it but to go along with Mother Nature at her own pace; I can clearly only plant out those garlic varieties that have sprouted in readiness for the new season. The two varieties that are half ready – ‘Monaro Purple’ and ‘Shantung’ – get picked over and the garlic cloves broken out ready for dropping (sprout up) in the trenches.


The other varieties  - ‘Printanor’, ‘Ail de Pays Gers’ and ‘Italian White’ – are still locked down hard inside their skins, and so will be placed in the shed on my work bench in the sun for the five weeks of my absence to shift them along a bit. By then the cold weather will have set in, and I’ll be able to occupy myself planting out the last 8 kg of seed garlic during the sunny middle hours of our winter days. 

Broadcasting broad beans

P1020852One of the great end games of seed saving is that you can grow decent crops of a decent size providing only that you have the ground to sow this surplus seed into. With winter now only two weeks away and the annual pilgrimage to the Fatherland ahead for cook and gardener, the pressure is on to complete autumn plantings and to clear the seed table.

Broad beans (Fava beans) are an important crop to get planted before the cold settles in and the chances of germination slow. At the same time, delaying the planting of the broad beans gives me the best shot at getting the biggest possible crop of beans off these plants in early Spring when the flowers are no longer threatened by frost. That way beans can set for harvest at a  time when the soil is still too cool for anything much else to be producing. Finally, a good crop of broad beans - because they are a member of the legume family - locks nitrogen into the soil from the air, and improves the size of the follow-on crop of tomatoes or capsicums. In short, timing is all with broad beans.

P1020847Despite the importance of this crop to cook and gardener,I’ve got to get more than 500 broad bean seeds into the ground as speedily as possible. I’ve a tin and a half of these large ‘Aquadulce’ broad beans, so I can literally ‘throw’ them into trenches hurriedly cut into some good fallow soil. These beans are going in ‘dry’; elsewhere I’ll be throwing clumps of lettuce seedlings into trenches also, but they will be more demanding of moisture. So I deep water those trenches with rainwater from the tall tanks while I’m blasting in the broad bean crop. Slow soaking wets up the sub-soil and gives the lettuces every chance of getting their roots down early.

P1020854Back in the broad bean bed, I just walk down the trench lines and through the bean seeds into the trenches at 10 cm (6”) spacing. I can push the crop density because I’ve spent so much effort making great friable soils high in nutrients and with good structure.Only after each trench is seeded and backfilled do I cut the next trench in the plot. Even the rows are closer together than normal; this block of free-standing bean plants will then have a better chance of supporting itself during the windier weather of Spring.

After two solid days of gardening, the seed table is empty and only garlic remains to be planted. There too timing is important, and I’m waiting for my seed garlic to show just a little more enthusiasm by sprouting; that’s the best sign that the cloves are ready to be returned to the soil.

Mother’s Day Soup

P1020831Mother’s Day dawns, and the seed trays are still awash with autumn seedlings – beetroot, English spinach, sweet red onions, royal oak-leaf lettuces, rainbow chard, golden celery, celeriac and about ten thousand lettuce seedlings. Just finding space for these new seedlings – the last to be planted out before winter begins next month – requires major bed clearing, cutting down a huge olive tree (a story for another day) and trenching and watering to bring back sub-soil moisture that has been neglected over the summer months for lack of water.

All that gets done, and yet Mother’s Day dinner (with the cook as guest-of-honour) looms large over the gardener’s agenda. Fear and panic thread through the garden chores as the unfamiliar approaches with all the uncertainty that the cook faces when she finds herself in the gardener’s shed among strange and inscrutable tools. It’s not that the gardener can’t cook – he just doesn’t. Where exactly is the coconut butter and chicken stock within the cook’s domain?

P1020823What I do have access to (because I grew them) are pumpkins, garlic, chillies, bay leaves and sweet potatoes, so its pumpkin soup to kick off with. Salads too are provided fresh from the garden. My son and daughter-in-law live with us while they save for their own home, and she is working on the main course – stuffed capsicums; I grew those too. In the background, the cook is keeping an eye on the elephant in the kitchen, and spends her time turning pizza dough from the freezer - plus tomatoes, basil, olives and red shallots from the garden  - into pizzas for later in the week.

Finally, it all gets done and Mother’s Day dinner has pumpkin soup on the menu for entree. Someone should wake the gardener – snoring softly in the corner – to let him know that dinner is on the table…



‘Summer pruning’ of peach trees

P1020117Although only a month of autumn remains ‘down-under’ in Australia, the failure of follow-up rains to fall, following the break of the season, has meant that our soils have stayed warm and that deciduous fruit trees have remained in leaf. So summer pruning still remains a very real option in gaining control of next year’s peach crop.




That pruning is necessary at all, following such a spectacular peach harvest, comes about because of the sheer magnitude of the damage done to the trees; branches broke under the weight of dozens of peaches despite my best efforts to tie and prop them up. They had gone unpruned in the previous autumn while I was away in Europe for four months for the family’s sake.

P1020120Whereas ‘winter pruning’ is useful for getting control of a tree’s shape, ‘summer pruning’ of peaches allows me to control next Spring’s vegetative growth – I need to restrain the amount of light-weight fruit-bearing shoots that the tree produces. Specifically, I’m looking to grow fruit only on stubby limbs of the tree that point upwards; these tend to bear the weight of fruit better than those longer ones that already hang somewhat downwards. P1020735


And because these trees are inside the netted orchard, unless I get control of their height this autumn, they will punch up through the net next year and damage it. So two months after harvest, with no rain in sight and while the tree still has a chance to use its energy to heal the saw cuts, the pruning saw and secateurs reshape the tree to this purpose.

Meanwhile, up nearer the house, my espaliered peach is easier to prune – I just use secateurs to prune it back to a set height while maintaining its basic chalice shape. Some of these cuts take the shoots back to last year’s wood, but others merely take out half of the vertical risers. Not only does this keep fruit at a respectable height for picking by the cook, but it allows the winter sun to reach into the kitchen over the coming months when it is most needed.