From rain to raspberries

It’s been three months since we’ve had any useful rainfall so thunderstorms in November are my last chance to re-invigorate the garden with that magic that only real rain can work on growing plants. With lightning crackling all over the sky, interspersed with sudden intense showers, yesterday was a day spent in the shed doing odd jobs.


Immediately (it seemed) the raspberries chose that moment to ripen their heavy burden of fruit; these will be added to fruit salads, morning muesli and the freezer for fruit ice-cream throughout the year. Raspberry harvest will continue for the next month.

P1060217Up in the kitchen the rest of the family is baking more than three hundred ‘Stollen’ (German Christmas cakes) using the family’s secret recipe, passed down for generations on the cook’s mother’s side. This money-making enterprise is destined to grace the family stall at the Christkindlmarkt in Hahndorf a week or so before Christmas, right around that critical moment when three generations celebrate birthdays: 60 (soon-to-be Oma), 30 (soon-to-be father), 0 (soon-to-be grand-daughter). Just the usual chaos…

P1060188For the gardener, now working single-handedly to sort out all the usual Spring chaos, danger flares with this rainfall; grapevine fungal diseases such as powdery and downy mildew love these conditions of high humidity, 10 mm of rainfall within 24 hours, and wet leaves. As this is an organic garden, I avoid chemical sprays. The best I can do at short notice is to trim off low-hanging canes that are most likely to be infected by rain-spattering of zoospores from the mulch up onto low leaves. Now I wait.

Ah well, I’d hate the table-grape crop to fail, but it will be a bumper year for peaches and those fabulous raspberries…thunderstorms are a one-way blessing for them.

Pumpkin planting and garlic hanging

Planting out the tomatoes seemed a simple objective for a weekend in the garden. After all, I needed only to drop a small punnet of a dozen pumpkin (squash) seedlings into the existing garlic bed first and I’d be ready to get into it.


Fifteen hours later, with the pumpkins and garlic sorted, it had become abundantly clear that the tomatoes would have to spend another week in their pots and I’m left to rue my complete inability to guestimate just how long any particular job in this garden will take.

P1060144Gardening – like painting the house – is 95% preparation and 5% actual doing.

In order to get the pumpkins in I needed to get the garlic dug out and hung in the shed, the watering system tested, the soil profile re-wetted, some ‘blood and bone’ fertilizer in to feed the colossal pumpkin plants that will produce a crop, the drip tubes back on, the pumpkins planted (15 minutes) and the mulch back in place.

P1060165Along the way the cook offered to pull about 100 onions that were going to seed early (the chooks had buried the working end of the drip line and they’d dried out), leaving me to hang those in the shed too.

As for the tomatoes, all I managed was to wet-up that bed, water the pots and get mulch onto the soil to minimize evaporation.

Maybe next week?


How to save pea seed

P1060100In southern Australia peas are a winter crop. So one of the jobs to be done in late Spring is to gather-in the dried pea plants, pluck off the full seedpods and to set aside pea seed for planting next autumn.

This is  a simple and pleasant task consuming a few hours of the gardener’s time and well-worth the effort in the never-ending business of off-setting the high-costs of water and mulch by saving one’s own seed stocks year after year.


I’d run low on pea seed and so had purchased several commercial packets of pea seeds last autumn, planting these in a secluded corner out of sight of the cook and growing them only to produce bulk seed. This is part of  a plan to take advantage of that special skill that all the members of the legume family exhibit; the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil from the air through a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria. Bulk-planting of peas over the winter growing season will thus provide both mulch and nitrogen fertilizer for summer crops.


To harvest pea seed, wait until the whole plant has dried out to a pale brown colour after a spell of hot weather. The dried pea pods are ‘spring-loaded’; they will ‘pop’ open along the sides if left too long, ejecting the seeds onto the ground after this mini-explosion. So timing the collection of the plants needs some care. I just pull up the pea plants by the roots and put them in the wheelbarrow. Inevitably, handling the plants causes seed spillage; all those extra and over-enthusiastic pea seeds can be collected from the bottom of the barrow later.

I first strip the seed pods from the old plants - the latter will go onto the working beds as additional mulch – placing the dried pods into a seed tray that acts as a sieve to separate the fine dust and twigs from the seed. I like to do this job in the shed, on the bench, after dark, and with Tuba Skinny playing on the stereo.

P1060109For a time I simply open each seedcase by pressing on the seams to pop them open then brushing the dried pea seeds out with my thumb. After a while, hunger or the need for speed find me looking for faster methods; rubbing a fistful of the pods together also releases the seeds and allows some small increase in speed. The seed is dry enough to place them directly in the seed tins, but I cover them for a week with another seed tray (against marauding mice) to make sure that all the moisture is gone. It would be a sad end to all this effort to open up the collection next year to be presented with mould and fungus.

So is the job now done?

P1060062Not quite.

These seed peas have been hidden behind a magnificent display of ‘sweet peas’ that are still blooming profusely and giving off a delicate and pleasant scent (I’m told); I take a bunch up to the kitchen for the cook, busy in her own world roasting parsnips, carrots, garlic and onion for some recipe which will provide our Sunday family dinner the next day. Those flowering pea seeds will also need to be harvested, but nearer to Christmas.