Everything is peachy

Australia Day once again, but no time for festivities for cook or gardener – the peach harvest is upon us.

P1060714This is a good time to have friends and to cement friendships; peaches make a welcome and delicious gift in most households. And we’re grateful just to get them off the property – there’s the usual glut.

Still, this harvest of fine fruit has somehow to be stored for the coming winter, when family dinners are usually finished with fruit ice-cream made from frozen peaches, raspberries, strawberries, grape juice and bananas from the garden.

P1060704One way to store peaches – limited only by freezer space – is to stone, trim then puree them and put them into ice-cube containers, freeze them, then bag them for final storage in the freezer drawers.

Peaches also go into trays in the outside fridge (the inner fridge being always full). These will be used as fresh fruit once the peach harvest is over.

P1060710Another method is to cut up the peaches and place them in a large pot on slow heat on the stove; the stewed peaches also go into jars in the freezer, because we don’t use sugar to preserve them.

And if all else fails – and it always does – then we make ‘peach leather’. The pureed peaches are poured into shallow trays on grease paper and placed in the summer sun to dry. P1060712This peach leather is cut into squares and placed in jars in the cupboard for snacks over the coming months. A jar of toothpicks nearby is essential.

Night falls, and its back to work tomorrow. Yes, it will be raining peaches for the next month – we haven’t even begun to see the late clingstone varieties ripen.

Now, if only we had a cellar…

First coffee flowers

P1060443As a seed-saver, there aren’t many vegetable flowers that I don’t recognise. But the first small flower buds along the inner branches of the coffee bushes caught me by surprise.

I’d never seen a coffee bush before I purchased these two in pots some years ago, and I’ve watched them with some concern each year as they weather the hot Australian sun during our long summers. Burning at the leaf margins – despite plenty of water – suggests that solar irradiation might be the problem. Far from their cloudy mountainous home in Ethiopia, and adapted to a narrow range of temperature and humidity, growing coffee on the Adelaide Plains half a world away is a longshot at best.

P1060647For all of these reasons, I’d left stand a large comfrey plant that has been growing between the two coffee bushes, shielding their lower leaves with its own broad hairy ones and stabilising the humidity within the microclimate of its canopy. Comfrey plants are also valuable for their ability to draw up nutrients such as potassium from deep in the sub-soil.

P1060645But enough’s enough – the comfrey plant was starting to provide altogether too much shade and had to be cut back. And lo and behold – the first coffee flowers were there!

It’s a shade too soon to be putting the kettle on, but there’s sufficient pleasure in raising new  unfamiliar plants. And with recent rain gathered into bins below the chicken shed eaves, there is also the bonus of comfrey tea  - a natural fertilizer - that will come from soaking all those comfrey leaves.


‘Soft-staking’ tomatoes

If I simply grew five tomato plants I could afford to mollycoddle them like everyone else, shaping and trimming and tying each plant up a stake and making the garden beautiful.

P1060627Indeed, I’ve tried all the standard methods of staking tomatoes, but things fall apart when you are growing north of 50 plants and strapped for time. So I’ve been experimenting with faster methods of raising uglier tomatoes, safe in the knowledge that I win kudos for volume of fruit produced rather than the exquisite geometrical symmetry of my tomatoes beds.

P1060604Along this journey I’ve learnt that the tomato plants don’t actually appreciate all that servicing either. Heavy gardeners compact soil, break off shoots inadvertently and spread disease from one plant to the next through tools or touch.

So these days I try to go into the tomato beds only once – to ‘soft-stake’ them. After that, the cook – at half my weight – moves more gently among them to harvest the final produce for sauces and salads.

P1060598How does this work?

Firstly, I grow the tomatoes on thick straw mulch so that they are lying about in cleanliness and comfort rather than on the soil surface. If this barley straw ‘shoots’ from barley seed buried inside it so much the better – the stiff straws and tough leaves serve to hold up the branches of the young tomatoes as they get established.

Many of these tomatoes are grown along mesh fences; these too serve to support growing tomatoes which, at the 300 mm spacing of the drip irrigation system below the mulch, tend to intermesh and prop up each other. This works on rich soil – the hallmark of a well-managed kitchen garden, where planting density has to be maximised.

P1060606For those rows of tomatoes out in the middle of the bed, individual staking would create an impenetrable forest of vertical hardwood stakes. So I wait until the plants are deep-rooted and sturdy so that they themselves form the anchor-point for the ‘soft stakes’ that are tied loosely at their base and spiral around central stems up to a horizontal pole overhead. These Jolly tree ties are soft biodegradable expanding cloth strips that come in a 40m roll.

P1060615It looks messy, but the bushes stay lower and spread wider and stay healthier longer. And I save lots of time mucking about pruning them.

Manzana chillies and rinse water

Oops! - nearly lost my last Manzana chilli plant in the latest heat wave…

My fault of course - I lost track of which one of the 50 watering cycles this particular plant relies upon. And although I’ve grown this chilli in the past I’d somehow failed to keep the seed-line alive except for this single plant. As Manzana chilli seeds are simply no longer to be found in my favourite heritage seed catalogue this is something I can’t afford to happen. It’s my favourite chilli, now rare and irreplaceable.


Permanent wilting point’ is the scientific term for ‘death’ in plants – lack of soil moisture causes the remaining water in the plant tissue to be drawn out in a last ditch attempt to maintain life. So tissue – and hence the leaves and stems – wilt and droop as cell turgor is lost.

This extremity can be reached very quickly in hot weather and particularly in sandy soils that aren’t as good as loams and clays at holding soil water available to the plant root system.

To cap all that off, this particularly chilli bush is exposed to the full heat of the westerly sun, so must deal with this source of water stress in addition to the gardener’s inattention.

There is only one thing that saved this rare heritage chilli; the fact that I was on holidays and so around the garden all day. As this small chilli has been planted right outside the backdoor in easy reach of the cook, it caught my eye just in time.

So which irrigation schedule is it on? It turns out that its alone, by itself, outside the norm and utterly reliant on the gardener to keep it alive. For I water this one plant by hand, stealing the occasional bucket of rinse water out from under the cook’s nose, as she has her own favourites to water.


And that rinse water?  Lots of small items just aren’t worthy of the trip to the dish-washer and so get rinsed over a 5 litre bucket in the sink. This water is saved rather than allowed to run to waste down the drain. All it takes are a series of routine trips to the garden to dispose of each bucketful as it become available.

So rather than wait for the ‘wilting point’ symptoms to manifest themselves I have installed a GDot soil moisture sensor dedicated to this one Manzana chilli.


Maybe even the cook will spot its plight next time and make a rinse-water donation when needed?

Shade House

Summer has struck with a vengeance. 42C are forecast today.
Even when the plants receive enough water (not always the case around here), the sun can burn some of the bigger-leaved plants.

These shade houses are easy and quick to put up. They are also very quick to dismantle, and can therefore be as temporary or permanent as you want them to be.
Take a length of light-weight rebar, push one end into the ground, then form a tunnel and push the other end into the ground. Put some shade cloth over the structure. Tada!