The autumn equinox is upon us - day and night are the same length of 12 hours - as southern Australia slides gently towards winter while the northern hemisphere Spring commences. Summer crops of tomatoes and capsicums, basil and zucchini, climbing beans and pumpkins, cucumbers and eggplants are being harvested, while winter crops of cabbage, leek, broccoli and kale are coming off the seed table and entering the still-warm soil.
It’s been a harsh southern summer, and to have brought the garden through these extremes has taken even more effort and care than usual; someday soon the water bill will turn up and is likely to be approaching $1000 for this last quarter and this huge garden.
On the positive side of the slate, some of that expensive water has brought the citrus and banana crops through the summer in good order; they are ripening and healthy rather than marked with that weariness of trees water-stressed for too long.
We grow rows of basil plants for pesto which we freeze and eat throughout winter; this past summer’s crop has also been healthy and productive despite the heat. Chopped basil leaves over sliced tomatoes and bocconcini cheese make a pleasant addition to lettuce, capsicum and cucumber salads with our main meals.
The surprise runner this year is the early autumn garden developed after an unexpected rainfall of 111mm (4.3”); here Chinese cabbage, five varieties of dwarf bean, spring onions, lettuce, broccoli, late zucchini and cucumber crops are growing well in the cooler shoulder season.
In among the rarer vegetables in this garden, ‘Triamble’ pumpkins are maturing, delicate ‘Purple Tiger’ chillies are adding beauty, ‘Lazy Wife’ climbing beans are producing at last in the cooler conditions and ‘Chocolate capsicums’ (peppers) and ‘Freckled Cos’ lettuce add novelty to our salads.
Regular Butternut pumpkins coexist with the Triambles without cross-fertilization; they are different species.
Coffee (‘Arabica’) bushes and comfrey share a spot in the orchard, chestnuts are ripening, Willemette raspberries are producing a small autumn flush and German filderspitzkraut cabbages are coming along on the seed table beside lettuce, leek and Italian broccoli.
The floor of the orchard – turned over and fertilized this past month by the scratching of the hens – has been raked and free-seeded with silverbeet and bulk lettuce seeds that are so abundant in a seed-saver’s garden. When the rains pick up, these green plants will provide further food for hens and humans.
Sadly, its been a totally unproductive year for the many peach trees scattered over the property; there were simply insufficient ‘chill hours’ of cold temperatures during the previous mild winter to set fruit properly this past spring.
Down the back of the production garden, the last of the summer zucchinis flank the bed of ‘clucker tucker’ being grown for chook feed.