A bit of a drought

I’ve had a bit of a blogging drought for the last couple of weeks. That is not the only drought around here as we havn’t had rain for weeks now and my gardening tool of choice is the hose pipe.

Despite the dry weather and the high temperatures (28c degrees yesterday and we are told to expect 32c degrees later in the week) everything at the allotment is coming along nicely and keeping plenty of veggies on my dinner plate – and more lettuce than I can manage to get through.  My Drunken Woman lettuce are doing really well at the moment – the size of a dinner plate.

Here is one lettuce I’m allowing to go to seed.  Looks stunning and the red tips on the leaves seems to grow more intense as it goes to seed and reaches for the sky. It’s almost up to my waist already. (That’s not saying much though – I’m not the tallest fork in the shed.)

Going to seed

Going to seed

I spent yesterday afternoon working on my bed of Royal Blue potatoes. I have already earthed them up once but the plants are growing even taller so I earthed them up again and topped them with a thick layer of straw.  I used the straw for two reasons, firstly in the hope that I might get a few more potatoes, but also because we are expecting some really hot weather and I want to protect the plants. So really the straw layer is a bit of an experiment on my part.

Earthing up is an important part of the growing process. It involves drawing mounds of soil up around the plant. This encourages more potatoes to form from the buried stems, helps to prevent blight infection and stops the tubers turning green and poisonous. If you want to learn more about it check out this link

Earthing up

Earthing up

I’m picking peas and climbing beans now.

Climbing bean

Climbing bean

I have problems with Fruit Fly when I try to grow the bigger varieties of tomato so I’ve planted this Yellow Cherry tomato from seeds given to me by Annette Macfarlane at one of her seed saving workshops.  They are fruit fly resistant so I’m looking forward to giving these a go.

You will see that I’ve also planted sweet basil around the plant which you can just see in the photo. Sweet basil and tomatoes are supposed to grow well together. They also go well together on my plate!

If you think this photo looks like it was taken with a flash, you are right. It was the last pic I took as I was leaving last night and it gets dark pretty quickly here in Brisbane – especially when you are messing about at the allotment and don’t notice the time.

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Yellow cherry tomato with sweet basil

At the moment I’m harvesting lettuce, Asian greens, kale, silverbeet (chard), beans, peas, carrots and more parsley than you can poke a stick at.  Did you know that you can make a pesto out of parsley, doesn’t have to be made from basil!

My allotment space is 16 square metres so I have to make every square foot earn it’s keep but I make sure that I give some space to beneficial flowers too. Gotta keep the insects happy.

I’m growing alyssum and cosmos to attract beneficial insects and fortunately I’m surrounded by nasturtiums.

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Alyssum for beneficial insects

I don’t have room in my allotment for a nasturtium bed as they tend to take over but fortunately we have swathes of this delightful plant all over Beelarong Community Farm where I have my allotment so I reap the benefit anyway. Nasturtium is a wonderful plant, it attracts beneficial insects, it’s so pretty, and you can eat both the leaves and the flowers. They make a pretty addition to any salad – they taste peppery.

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Nasturtium

Happy Gardening

Plot 24

Readers may already have seen plot 24 on an earlier blog post when I cleared it a few weeks ago.

Lovely fresh allotment

Plot 24, dug over, fed and ready to go

This is the update. The dwarf beans are coming through.

Dwarf beans

Dwarf beans

My daughter-in-law gave me some Royal Blue seed potatoes a few weeks ago. I had wondered about growing them in potato bags but in the end decided to plant them into the ground. They won’t be so easy to harvest (as you try to find every last one) but I think they will fare better in the ground during our hot months – I don’t get over to the allotment every day and they would be more inclined to dry out in bags.  When I went to the allotment yesterday I was thrilled to see them popping up their heads.  I love growing potatoes, always a bit of excitement when you dig them up as you wonder “Am I going to cover the bottom of the bucket?”

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Royal Blue potatoes

See below what happens when you don’t concentrate when you are planting lettuce seeds. I remember that day, I had a packet of lettuce seeds Annette McFarlane had given to me at one of her workshops and I was keen to get them into the ground. But. A couple of other gardeners had moseyed over to see what I was up to (as allotmenteers do) and not concentrating on the seeds I dropped the lot.  Not to worry, I used my little fork to spread them out a bit and they germinated just fine. But in a clump.

I’ll re-plant the seedlings now they are up. There will be plenty to share, I can only eat so many.

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“free range” lettuce

Tatsoi is coming up nicely. I like to pick this Asian green very young and use it in salads, picked a few leaves yesterday and it went well with my lunchtime salad. It goes well in stir fry too.  Tatsoi just grows like Topsy for me. As long as I plant it in decent soil I reckon I have 100% germination. This is one plant I have to be sparing with as I plant the seeds or I’d be over-run. I (try to) plant a few every few weeks but the seeds are so small sometimes that’s a bit of a challenge.

Tatsoi

Tatsoi

Below is my first attempt with clumping onions.  This little clump was another gift from one of Annette McFarlane’s workshops. What I love about Annette’s workshops, done through our local libraries, is that as well as the information she imparts you always come away with something to grow and if you have a soul at all you are not going to let it die.

What a great incentive to grow your own veggies especially for first-time gardeners. That’s what started me off three years ago.

And this is the specimen transplanted from a pot a few weeks ago, I am told that once I get this clump growing well I will never be without onions. As they grow I’ll be able to split them into other clumps. Sounds good to me.

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clumping onions

Last but not least I have a few Drunken Woman lettuces. My favourite, they are so pretty. They grow so large that I only need a few at one time to pick at. I just take a leaf or two when I need them. The original seeds came from my friend Wendy. I now have my own stash of seeds which I seed-saved from my last planting.  I have never seen these seeds in the shops so I think that is when seed-saving becomes really important.

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Drunken Woman lettuce

Happy gardening,

A post script. I have just read through this post prior to printing and I’ve realised that plot 24 is almost solely planted with gifts from others. So thanks to my daughter-in-law for the spuds, Annette for my clumping onions and “free range” lettuce and friend Wendy for the original Drunken Woman lettuce seeds.

Seed saving workshop

The seed-saving workshop given by Annette McFarlane at New Farm library yesterday was two hours well spent. It’s a fascinating subject once you get into the why’s and wherefores of plant reproduction and Annette makes it all so interesting.

She started the workshop by explaining how plants produce their seeds, how they pollinate, the best time to harvest and the best way to germinate. I found this part of the workshop fascinating as she explained the reproductive organs of the plants. Some veggies self pollinate, some pollen is spread by the wind, some need the birds and the bees (takes you back to the schoolroom).

And, did you know that the brassica family are promiscuous! It’s all happening at the bottom of your garden. Wonder why you can find purple cauliflowers on the supermarket shelves? Yes folks. That cauliflower has been generous with it’s favours and cross pollination has taken place. By this time I’m on the edge of my chair.

Time for a cup of tea.

We then spent the second hour washing wet seeds, winnowing dry seeds and getting the hands-on experience in the handling and storage of seeds.

At the end of the session Annette shared a wonderful collection of seeds, cuttings and plants and we all left with a real bounty. This was also an opportunity to take along seeds you had harvested from your own garden to share. My friend Wendy had given me some “Drunken Woman” lettuce seeds a year ago and I had had real success with them. I saved the best specimen  and allowed it to go to seed which gave me a seed-head with (what looked like) hundreds of seeds. I dried them off in the garage and took them along with me yesterday.

I took a few photographs of this lettuce in my allotment last year.

I think it looks even prettier when it’s going to seed. 

Thank you Annette. It was a lovely morning. And thank you Tatiana for organising this workshop.

These workshops are put on in Brisbane libraries by Brisbane City Council and they are free. Brilliant.

Incidentally, I did show my diseased silverbeet/chard leaf to Annette and she told me it was a fungal problem so I’ll be spraying the plants with a natural fungicide and giving them a good dousing of seaweed as a tonic. That will cheer them up.

Happy gardening.

Create your own herb garden

This morning I went to a workshop at Annerley Library “Create your own herb garden”. This workshop is part of the What’s on at Brisbane City Council Libraries program.

It was a great opportunity to create our own mixed potted herb garden to take home and enjoy.  The workshop was presented by ABC Radio gardening presenter, Annette McFarlane.

Annette is a great educator and I’ve attended lots of her gardening workshops in libraries around Brisbane. It was attending my first workshop with her that set me on my path towards renting my allotment and growing my own vegetables.

Today was an opportunity to learn more about herbs. Growing your own herbs has got to be one of the best gardening investments you can make. So often I find that a recipe will call for one, or perhaps two, fresh herbs and if you have to buy a bunch from the supermarket or fruitier you can part with $3 each with no problem. You might only want a sprig or two and you are left with the rest sitting in the crisper at the bottom of the refrigerator.  Good enough reason to plant a few of your favourite herbs. If you don’t have a garden – they do well in pots, as was demonstrated at this morning’s workshop.

The first hour was spent indoors as Annette took us through the ins and outs of herb growing answering our questions as she went. We then moved outdoors where morning tea was served – and then onto the practical part when we were able to get ‘down and dirty’ planting up our herb garden.

Everything was set out on tables and under Annette’s instruction we mixed the potting mix, fertiliser and coir peat before planting up our chosen herbs into the troughs provided.

I learned so much. Here are a few pics.

Annette is explaining how to “possum proof” our herbs using a fine net.

Annette McFarlane

Annette McFarlane

This is my trough of herbs. I chose the herbs that enjoy a more mediterranean climate and are happy growing together; oregano, rosemary and garlic chives. We tested the potting mix prior to planting the herbs and found the pH was a bit low.  The white powder you can see is a sprinkling of garden lime to raise the pH.

My trough of herbs

My trough of herbs

And here is the result – a herb garden to take home. All I have to do now is make sure I take that JEAN label off before I go to the shops!

A happy gardener

My herb garden

Thank you Annette. It was great fun and I learned heaps.

Exotic Herbs and Spices

I spent an interesting morning today at a workshop on “Exotic Herbs and Spices to Grow at Home” given by Annette McFarlane as New Farm Library.

This was something new for me.  Raised in England I know a lot about growing mint and parsley!

It was an opportunity to learn about the sort of herbs and spices that we can grow in South-East Queensland, except for saffron – you would need to move to Tasmania or New Zealand to be successful with that.  We covered garlic, tamarind, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, galangal, peppercorn, coriander, saffron, vanilla and horseradish.

I already have a bed of garlic and coriander at the allotment but I’m certainly going to be more adventurous after what I learned today. After morning tea we went outside into New Farm Park and potted up turmeric and ginger and were able to take them home. So that’s a good start.

If you want to know more about growing these exotic herbs and spices you can check out this link to Annette’s website  where she has posted a PDF of the workshop.

Jerry Coleby-Williams

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