Saturday at the Allotment – and Sunday afternoon baking

We have had a really wet weekend in Brisbane so I certainly didn’t need to go over to the allotment to water my seedlings. But after listening to Annette McFarlane on Saturday morning at the workshop I realised that I could improve my success rate and I did need to feed the little critters. So I popped over there on Saturday afternoon to give my young plants a good liquid feed.

What I didn’t expect to find was the decimation of half my sweetcorn crop. Don’t know what creature was responsible but half the cobs were on the ground, just the hard middle, all the juicy bits had been chewed off.  The sweetcorn hadn’t reached it’s full size but I decided to harvest what was left anyway. I used one of the cobs that evening in a savoury rice dish. The corn was delicious, real sweet.

So I now have a nice piece of ground where the sweetcorn was, just need to add compost and get it going again with another vegetable and move on to the next challenge.

Didn’t visit the allotment on Sunday, it was such a wet day so I spent the afternoon in the kitchen baking. Fed the freezer with a date and walnut loaf, and my favourite polenta bread. Sliced it all up so that I could remove a slice at a time from the freezer.

I had some organic oats that I wanted to use in a loaf so I googled for a recipe and this is the one I found at Bread Experience. It’s a very interesting website chock full of anything you might want to know about bread making.  I started the loaf off in my bread maker machine but once the dough had been made, I took it out of the machine and completed the final kneading by hand and cooked in the oven. I was really pleased with the result.

The first thick crusty slice was delicious topped with my friend Lisa’s special lime marmalade for my breakfast. I cooked it in an 8″ cake tin, that’s one big loaf. I think I’ll be eating it for days!


Annette McFarlane gave a really good workshop on propagation

Annette McFarlane gave a really good workshop at New Farm Library yesterday on propagation from seeds and cuttings. She started by showing us the best medium in which to plant our seeds for a successful germination and explained how the process of germination works. This information is really important if we are to have a high rate of germination from our seeds.

It was then time for us all to dive in and get our hands dirty, each person taking a seed tray, topping up with the growing medium and planting the seeds.  This was then ours to take home.

After morning tea we went on to propagation using cuttings which was equally interesting and hands on. Using Annette’s instructions we were all back at the work tables trimming our cuttings, dipping the ends into a hormone rooting powder and then planting in the growing medium that Annette provided. Again, this was ours to take home.

It was then time to walk outside into New Farm Park where Annette showed us how to perform aerial layering propagation on one of the trees. Aerial layering is a handy way to propagate plants (and trees) that are very difficult to propagate from cuttings. Fascinating.

Annette is a wonderful teacher. She explains everything so clearly, and encourages us to ask questions as we go along.

There are plenty of opportunities to go to one of her gardening workshops if you live in south-east Queensland. If you want to find out more about Annette just click on this link and visit her website.

For information on Annette’s and other workshops put on by Brisbane City Council (BCC) in their libraries visit the Brisbane City Council website. The BCC library workshops are free and available to anyone. To book them you telephone BCC on (07) 3403 8888.

Happy gardening.

Gardening at New Farm Library

No, you don’t actually have to turn up there with your shovel and hoe – but If you are a gardener and live in the New Farm area of Brisbane I encourage you to pop into  New Farm Library and introduce yourself to the team leader Tatiana.

Tatiana is a mad keen gardener.

She started an informal Garden Group at the library at the beginning of the year.  We meet on the second Friday of each month at 3pm in the appropriately named “Garden Room” which overlooks the beautiful New Farm Park.  Tatiana leads the group but we all have something to say!  We swap seeds, advice, and our gardening experiences. If you are a new gardener, perhaps with just a balcony, doesn’t matter, we are all the same, we love to dig in the dirt and watch things grow. The next meeting is tomorrow, Friday 13th April at 3pm.

And for a real treat on Saturday 14th April Annette McFarlane ABC radio presenter is holding a workshop at the library on Growing New Plants from Seeds and Cuttings. I have been to a few of Annette’s workshops and they are always fascinating, hands-on and full of information. If you have a plant that is diseased and you are worried about it, take along a leaf or a clipping and Annette will give you helpful advice. If you want to attend this workshop it’s at New Farm Library from 11am to 2pm on Saturday 14th April. I know I am repeating myself but no point in talking about it if you don’t have all the info. You can book this workshop by telephoning Brisbane City Council on (07) 3403 8888 or speak to the library direct on (07) 3403 1062. And it’s free. So how good’s that.

Gotta go scrub my nails. Planted potatoes this morning.

“My Life on a Hillside Allotment”

I have just finished reading a terrific book My Life on a Hillside Allotment by Terry Walton. My brother David and sister-in-law Lorraine who live in the UK mailed this book to me.  Thanks to you both for your thoughtfulness, it’s a great read.

Terry Walton, the author, has kept an allotment for over 50 years in the Rhonda Valley in South Wales. He was only eleven years old when he took on his first allotment.

Terry lived a quiet life on his allotment until he was ‘discovered’ by Jeremy Vine who had a program on Radio 2.  By then Terry was in his retirement years and he would do a weekly up-date, over his mobile phone, straight to Jeremy’s studio. The program went out ‘live’. Terry proved to be so entertaining (and informative) that he has become a bit of a celebrity in his later years, and much loved by his followers on the radio.

In his book Terry manages to cover his 50 years on the allotment in a very entertaining way.  He is a real character, with a droll sense of humour.  He has a very understanding wife Anthea who he describes as an ‘allotment widow’.  At the altar Anthea knew that in taking on Terry, she also took on the allotment. In the end Terry was cultivating ten allotments. A mammoth task.

I think the other person with a mammoth task is Anthea, she has to cook it all!!!!!!  Actually, not ten allotment’s worth, that went out to his customers.  But Anthea has her own little part in the book as we read one of her recipes for each month of the year.

I loved reading Terry’s book but now I would LOVE it if Anthea would write a follow-up book and give us her side of the story. With the mounds of vegetables Terry dumped in the kitchen, she probably didn’t leave the stove. But she did manage to find the time to raise two sons. What a woman.

I have had this book for several weeks now, and although I am an avid reader I rationed myself to a few chapters at a time, to spin it out. But the day had to dawn of course when the book would come to an end.  And today is the day. When I woke this morning I knew, sadly, that I just had the last two chapters and then it was all over.  But Terry, ever the entertainer, left the best ’til last.

The penultimate chapter was entitled “Pumpkins at Large”. It had me in stitches as Terry took us through his experiences growing massive beer drinking pumpkins which he would use in fundraising for his local charities.

The first year he decided to grow a massive pumpkin was all experiment and his radio listeners followed the success from the moment he planted the first seed.  Jeremy Vine’s program featured serious interviews and the last 10 minutes would be over in Terry’s allotment. By this stage the first pumpkin was fruiting and had one little pumpkin slightly smaller than a golf ball, so it was off and running.

Then disaster struck.

There were two headlines for Jeremy’s radio program that day. In the studio today we will be interviewing ex Prime Minister John Major, and news is just breaking that the slugs have eaten the pumpkin. Maybe it just appealed to my sense of humour but I’m sitting up in bed at 6am today laughing my head off.

I have to go to the library today. I know whatever book I take will be a disappointment ….

Wednesday morning at the farm

Wednesday morning at the farm is always busy. It’s the morning volunteers and allotment holders alike work in the community garden, watering, weeding, planting, composting, mulching and harvesting. This is the time that maintenance is also carried out on the tools, the buildings, the tractor, basically anything that needs attention.  At the end of the morning the harvest is shared amongst the volunteers.

But whatever the weather, we all down tools at 10am for morning tea.

By then Helen will have the urn boiling away and the tables laid. Everyone brings something for morning tea, maybe a cake, a savoury or fruit. We use produce from the farm where we can.  Could be jam made from our fruit, pesto made from the basil, or a choko or sweetcorn pickle to go with biscuits and cheese. This is a great social time where everyone can catch up, and an opportunity to discuss anything that needs doing that morning.

Here is a shot I took this morning with Jo and myself to the left of the photo.  Tim sitting on his mother Judith’s lap is our youngest member and has been coming to the farm since he was born. It’s just lovely to have him around.

Brian, Leonie and Alex ‘taking five’ this morning.

Below – Pat, Helen and Judy on the Wednesday before Christmas. We laid out the ‘best’ tablecloth that day.  There was some serious eating to be done.

Another pic from our Christmas morning tea. I’m on the left, not really dressed for work in the garden. Di is sitting beside me and Dorothea is standing.

So that’s just a few of our volunteers, and that’s what we get up to on a Wednesday morning.

 

Easy tomato sauce

Spent a pleasant hour at the allotment yesterday, transplanted Italian kale Cavolo Nero, Chinese greens and a mixed variety of lettuce including my special favourite Drunken Woman. Who can resist with a name like that. Continued my battle with nut grass and dug out a fair pile of the stuff.

On the way home I managed to buy a bag of cooking tomatoes for $1 a kilo from my local fruitier. He has such a high standard that   once anything is past it’s absolute best he likes to move it on. According to Jamie Oliver the riper tomato has more flavour for cooking anyway, and I believe him!  So today I am cooking a batch of quick and easy tomato sauce using my home-grown Greek basil and the garlic from last season’s crop.

A simple recipe. See below, just these few ingredients.

Chop two medium onions and simmer in a pan for a few minutes with a quarter of a cup of olive oil, the idea is not to brown the onions, just go transparent.  Then add one kilo of tomatoes (quartered), 3 or 4 cloves of garlic depending on your taste, and a handful of basil. Simmer gently for 15 minutes or until everything has broken down. Add salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste. See photo below.

I then put the sauce through my mouli using the medium disk to hold back the tomato skin and seeds. The pulp left in the mouli goes onto the compost heap at the allotment.

So out of the kilo of tomatoes I ended up with five small jars of delicious fresh tomato sauce with no preservatives or nasties.  I will use one jar immediately so it’s sitting in the fridge. The others have gone into the freezer. I made sure there is plenty of headroom in the jars as I expect the contents will expand with freezing. NOTEThis sauce is not meant to go into your pantry as a ‘preserve’ as it has not been through a water bath to sterilise.

I produced this sauce for just a few dollars, and the ‘shop stuff’ doesn’t compare when it comes to taste.  (Is it bad manners to eat the last spoonful out of the pan whilst standing up in the kitchen?)

Choko – a wonder vegetable?

I enjoyed a couple of hours tidying up the allotment this morning and was given a few chokos much to my delight. Thank you Judith.

When I first emigrated from the UK over 30 years ago I had never come face to face with a choko.  That is, until my neighbour gave me a bucket full.  He had a vigorous choko vine growing up his fence and he could have fed the whole of Brisbane from that vine.

The choko is a vigorous perennial vine which is easy to grow in mild climates and I am told that years ago no self respecting Brisbane suburban garden was without a choko vine.  But for some reason this much maligned vegetable has been treated by so many with disdain.

Like a lot of things I reckon, if it’s easy to come by then the item is considered of little value. When you consider how prolific a choko vine is, this humble veggie falls into that category.

Well, I want to change all that and speak up for this versatile vegetable – the under-dog of the veggie world.

The choko itself has a very delicate flavour (I have heard the word ‘tasteless’ bandied about by some unbelievers).  Ignoring those sort of remarks, I enjoy it steamed and served with salt and pepper and a knob of butter.  But what I find most interesting, and adds to it’s versatility, is that chokos will take on the flavour of what ever they are cooked with.

For instance, if you are making an apple pie and are running a bit short of apples, chop up a choko, add it to the apple, and most people wouldn’t know the difference as it takes on the flavour of the apple. Cook it with pears and the same thing happens.

It is just as versatile in a savoury dish. Great when used in a curry or a stir-fry.  And Heather, one of the ladies I meet regularly at Beelarong, makes the most wonderful choko pickle from her vine.

I could rabbit on all day on the subject, but to save your eyes glazing over (I hope) I have attached links to a few websites with choko recipes.  Live dangerously, go on, have a go!

Choko pickles 

Choko Greek style and for dessert Poached Chokos

General information and Fried Choko with Mint Pesto recipe

Sharing and socialising on the allotment

If your social life is looking a bit sad – get yourself an allotment.

I took over my allotment 18 months ago to grow my own organic vegetables but I got much more than that. I can guarantee before long you will find yourself sharing and socialising with a generous bunch of fellow gardeners and allotment holders.

We all hand out seeds and seedlings when we have a glut. That’s how I came to be growing kohl rabi last season. Never heard of it before but suddenly, due to a generous neighbour, we were all growing it. Reckon she won’t be planting so many seeds this year.  If you have read my earlier blogs you may have cottoned on to the fact that nobody leaves without a handful of my snake beans (yes, they are still cropping).

I find it very satisfying to be able to hand out a bunch of herbs or a bit of something that someone else is short of. A lady approached me at the farm yesterday. She must live nearby  because she explained that she was cooking lunch and needed a couple of tablespoons of parsley. Shops were shut it being Good Friday. I sent her off happy. Last week a retired fellow turned up looking for a bit of lemon grass for a new recipe he was trying. My lemon grass is ready to take over Brisbane so he went off happy too.

And there is nothing more generous than an allotment neighbour who will water your plot if you are sick or on holiday. Nobody wants to find their months of work devastated if for whatever reason you cannot get to your plot.

But I find the best part of the whole experience at Beelarong is the comerarderie of a bunch of like minded people who will always drop by for a yarn.

Happy Easter.

Pomegranate – Back in the Orchard

Another trip into Simon and Lisa’s orchard with Lisa’s decent camera gave me some really good shots of their pomegranate tree.  Still only at the flower stage, with one little tiny pomegranate already set. When I was asked ‘do you know what this fruit is going to be’ I gave a blank look because to me the tiny fruit looked like a rose hip.  Anyway, here are the photos. I have been promised a visit back when the fruit matures.

A morning in the orchard

I have spent the last couple of days with good friends Simon and Lisa at Mt Tamborine. The air is so fresh up in the mountains and we spent a very pleasant morning in the garden.  My allotment is too small for fruit trees so I particularly enjoyed time spent in the orchard. I took lots of photos – here are just a few.

This cumquat tree gives a good yield and I’ve received many a jar of Lisa’s home made cumquat marmalade.  I think there is something rather special about cumquat marmalade which is so different in taste from the citric fruit varieties.

Lisa makes beautiful marmalade from this grapefruit tree, in the centre of the pic below. I think I should treat myself to a better camera because this shot could be a bit sharper, or maybe I should read the instruction manual!  But you can still see what a beautiful morning it was, lovely and sunny and with that clear blue sky.

This is a clearer shot, a lovely lemon. Not quite ready to pick yet, but I have my eye on it!

When lemons are harvested from this tree, below, I usually find myself sent off home with a bag of wonderful organic lemons.

It has been a very relaxed couple of days and I’ll be on the road back to Brisbane this morning, invigorated by the fresh mountain air.

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