Australia Day Garden Tour

One month on from the Christmas Day garden tour, the garden hangs on the brink of peak harvest and life in the bottling and pickling department up in the kitchen is beginning to overtake the frenetic activity in the garden these past few months.


Australia Day fell on Saturday 26th January, and the ever-pragmatic Australian government makes sure that we don’t miss out on our public holidays, time at the beach and barbeques with friends by giving us today (the following Monday) off work.

Where the Christmas Day view of the garden was pretty bleak, the passage of a mere month presents a wall of green foliage as cucumbers, basil, beetroot, tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, zucchini, beans and melons all rise from the mulch along the drip lines to provide a semblance of reward for all those days spent raising seedlings, planting out and moving water.


In pride of place this week is the developing ‘cucumber wall’; the daily bucket of peaches and zucchinis will soon be joined by the daily bucket of cucumbers of all sorts.


So its a good time to have friends and work colleagues; we can swap away surplus for things that we don’t have.


Striped Turkish Monastery

Yes. There is such a thing.
And it is a tomato!

Here it is.
Very pretty, don't you think? Tasty, too.

We are picking the odd tomato here and there. The weather was a bit extreme for the garden (stinking hot, etc....) so now with the milder weather we hope it will recover and finally give us something to harvest. How is your garden doing?

Piles of peaches and coping with heat stress


Some folk get Christmas off to lay around the pool or head for the beach; nothing could be more stressful to a gardener at the height of an Australian summer. Cook and gardener did take a one day holiday in late December 2012 down by the seaside at Glenelg, but with temperatures over 40⁰C (104 F) and heading higher, all we wanted to do was to get home to protect garden and chicken flock. Under these high heat-stress conditions, months of patient work can be killed off in a single day.

P1020066Even perfect watering regimes are of little value; solar irradiation burns off the growing tips of potatoes, sunburns tomatoes (white blotches on the westerly face) and wilts just about everything else. P1020067Only extensive covers of shade-cloth and all-over mulching can bring the garden through under these conditions, and the covers have to be deployed early in the morning before the heat rises.


With the vegetables protected, it was time to protect the orchard and the peach crop. Not from sunburn this time, but parrots, possums and other predators. So out with the rolls of netting, some improvisation with poles and pipes, and the orchard was sealed, as was the seed table in the foreground below.


P1020135Inside the orchard, the peach trees are overloaded with fruit, and branches need supporting with posts and strings. Even then, some of the branches are splitting under the weight; I can now understand why commercial growers thin the fruit beforehand to protect the trees. That didn’t happen here.







And those ‘Isabella’ grapes planted 16 months ago as cuttings? Climbing the orchard walls (on the inside), and producing a grape that tastes more like Passionfruit than anything else, though in small bunches. These are just starting to ripen, but make a pleasant addition to the morning muesli, soon to be over-run by fresh peaches.


Strawberry spinach

This is a rather funky little plant. You can eat its leaves, the flowers and the berries.
The berries taste a bit like hazelnut, in my opinion.
 It's just a great plant to have in the garden. Very easy to grow, too.

A Seed Saver’s Rainy Summer Sunday

P1020102It’s noon on a grey Sunday in summer on the Adelaide Plains, and against all the odds, we’ve had an almost decent rain fall over the garden after four months of heat and drought. Only a gardener preparing for the anguish of a $1000 quarterly water bill can know the blessings such a morning brings, garnished with a sense that it has all been worth it as the vegetable garden begins to flourish once again.

While this freak rainfall event has delivered only 10 mm, this means an additional 2000 litres in the rainwater tanks. This at a time when I’m using more than ten times that amount per week, even with the greatest of care. This is the cost to our family of home-grown fruit and vegetables.

P1020103With only another two months of summer to go, it’s time to start the autumn plantings. With every kilo-litre of water now costing top-dollar, its also time to switch over to rain water and draw down the 50,000 litres I’ve been holding in reserve in my tanks from last winter. With luck, and counting heavily upon soil moisture reserves built up over the past month, this will bring me though the last weeks of summer.

P1020098So its out with the seed collection and seed trays; perhaps the best way to use water is to grow only during the shoulder seasons, and to count on a long warm autumn?

Ah well, there are compensating joys to the endless worries about the cost of water…I’ve been asked to give a workshop on seed-saving to the Rare Fruit Society of South Australia.


Seed-saving in many ways offsets the cost of water and mulch, and its fun too. Fiddling about down the back shed with the seed collection is just about the perfect occupation for a gardener on a rainy summer morning…

Purple okra

It just looks stunning, doesn't it?

Picked the first ones, and I am looking forward to eating them. I'll probably just slice them and fry them till they are crispy. Any other serving suggestions? :)

How to cook zucchini flowers

Zucchinis (summer squash) never fail to overwhelm gardener and cook at some stage during the summer, so just after Christmas in Australia is the perfect time to exact revenge.

Zucchinis have separate male and female flowers, as in the photos below, which insects visit for their nectar, completing the act of pollination in the process. Eating the female flowers kills a few birds with one stone; left-over turkey stuffing can be loaded into the blossoms, which are then dipped in batter and pan-fried, thus nipping in the bud the problem of how to dispose of yet another huge zucchini.


And how do you know which one is a female? And when to pick them?

That’s easy – the flower closes up once pollination has taken place and the zucchini starts to develop behind it as a thickened stem. Leave enough of the developing fruit to grab the nutritional value and tenderness of the infant zucchini, while simultaneously providing enough of a handle to grab them hot out of the frying pan. Female zucchini flowers have five to seven buds (the style) in the centre.

Male zucchini flowers - with a single pistil in the centre - are found on separate skinny stems, and can be eaten also, especially if you really do want the female flowers to go on to make more zucchinis. Just rub the male and female bits together first to make sure the pollen is not wasted and that fertilization takes place.





How to save parsnip seed


Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) was once a food staple in Europe – during the Middle Ages – but fell out of favour when the Spanish introduced the potato in the second half of the 16th century. Consequently, the Latin name for parsnips is based upon pastus – meaning “food” – and sativa – meaning “cultivated”.

File:Parsnips-1.jpgParsnips are related to carrots, which also belong to the family UMBELLIFERAE (now renamed Apiaceae), and both share a similar ‘umbel-shaped’ seed head seen in this diverse family, which includes angelica, anise, arracacha, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, Centella asiatica, chervil, cicely, coriander/cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, lovage, Queen Anne's lace and various parsleys. (Source: Wikipedia).

Like carrots, parsnips develop a large tapered (creamy-white) root that can be used in stews, roasts, purees and soups.

Parsnips are planted out in autumn here on the warm Adelaide Plains and grown through winter. If left until the following Spring, they suddenly leap up to be two metres high and become a most attractive plant. As summer proceeds, the huge yellow flower umbels – like umbrellas in a wind storm – are pollinated by insects, most noticeably in our garden by green and gold ‘bottle-flies’ (Phaenicia sericata). The large central umbel is considered the best for seed production.

P1020009If left too long, these large flat roundish seeds will be spilled into the wind and onto the ground, so need to be monitored closely if they are to be collected directly from the plant whilst still in the garden. P1020029I prefer this method, as the plant releases seeds directly into my hand with just the gentlest of tapping, suggesting that I’ve timed it to perfection. A hot day is best, as the seed can then be cleaned of sticks and dust (by sieving) and placed directly into storage.

An alternative method is to cut the stem of the umbel and leave it to dry upside-down in a bucket, tapping the whole thing against the sides now and then to release the seed.

P1020036Either way, parsnips have the unique distinction among vegetable seeds of needing to go straight back into the ground for autumn germination; seeds are only viable until the next growing season.

P1020016As always, plants produce far more seed than I need to plant out a new crop – it’s time to seek out some gardening friends to share my seed bounty, comforted in the knowledge that is fresh enough to germinate once the autumn rains come.



This was the first year our jostaberry bushes have yielded enough berries to experiment with jostaberry jelly. I rather like the fruit. It is a cross between a blackcurrant and a gooseberry. And you can taste both fruit in the one berry. Really nice.
It is also a very hardy plant, easy to grow and near maintenance-free. But I decided that come autumn or spring, I will give it a bit of TLC (weed around the plants, give it a layer of compost, some fertilizer, a layer of mulch and even some water come fruiting time). This may give an even bigger yield, and maybe even bigger fruit. We shall see.