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.

The gardener, at the allotment, with a hose pipe

The hose pipe is the tool of choice at the moment.

After two months without rain we’ve had a little rain recently but it has hardly touched the surface so my main job at the allotment yesterday was to give it all a good watering.

The potatoes growing in the bags are coming along nicely, lots of green tops (if that counts for anything) and I gave them a good hose down. Then just to check I opened the little ‘trap doors’ in the side of the bags and the soil was still bone dry.  The hosing seemed to have no affect beneath the surface. How is that?

We need a good downpour.

Having said all that I am having a good harvest so Mother Nature is doing a good job.

Here is what I have in the allotment at the moment.  The aforementioned potatoes, carrots, kohl rabi, parsley (curly and flat leafed), mint, giant endive, freckled lettuce, curly leafed kale, Cavolo Nero Italian kale, leeks and garlic which should be ready to lift in the next week or so.  And I’m awash with silver beet. Which is good because I never tire of it. I just steam it, nothing fancy, and ‘down the hatch’ as they say.

I planted six zucchini seeds a few weeks ago but only one has germinated. I planted six seeds with the idea of choosing the two strongest as that would be enough for my small allotment.  So I still need one more, as I have now lost a couple of weeks I may just buy a seedling from Bunnings.

The big decision now is what to plant for the summer months. The weather will be hot, many days over 30 degrees celsius, and high humidity so we tend to suffer with mildew. (The plants, doh!)

The good news is that Linda Brennan from Ecobotanica is coming to the farm on Monday morning to hold a workshop on organic veggie growing and I’ll pick her brains as to what to plant to get me through the summer. Linda will be giving advice on organic pest control which I am particularly interested in having sacrificed my red cabbages to the caterpillars recently, and it’s almost impossible to grow a tomato at the farm without it being stung by the fruit fly. She’ll also look at the soil and give us general advice on how to improve our harvest.

I’ve been to Linda’s workshops a number of times, she is a mine of information, and I always learn so much.

So that’s the news today.  I’m getting so much pleasure from my little plot, despite the dry conditions my little plants soldier on – except for the baby beets and I have to say their days are numbered unless they lift their act!

And because I can’t resist getting the camera out when I see a nice healthy veggie plant – here’s a silver beet for you.

Happy gardening.

The allotment in pictures

Things are looking pretty good at the moment down at the allotment. We havn’t had rain for weeks but I have kept up the watering and the veggies are thriving so I got out the camera and tried a few different angles.

Cavalo Nero, Italian Kale

The kale bed

Silverbeet

Lettuce, not sure of the variety as the seedlings were a gift

Red cabbage has a long way to go

“Baby Beet” beetroot

A little visitor on the mint

And this post wouldn’t be complete without another pic of the ‘Drunken Woman’ lettuce. As it goes to seed it just gets taller and taller and I think, rather lovely.

Drunken Woman lettuce going to seed

Happy gardening.

The Big Fork gets a work-out

I rolled up my sleeves and got the big fork out yesterday over at the allotment. The Big Fork, in my 16 square metres, is my equivalent of an ‘Earth Mover’.  I grubbed out some poor performing plants that were not earning their corn, take no prisoners, on the compost heap they went.

I wanted to clear some ground and feed the soil ready for the next planting. We had no compost bins ready at the farm so off I went to Bunnings for bags of organic compost.  Then I added blood and bone, and raided a pile of lawn clippings rotting away beside the community garden. The heavy rain we had a few weeks ago had turned some of the soil into a heavy clay-like substance and I dug everything in, in an attempt to break it up.

I had raised the level of the soil so much that the little slabs I use as a footpath vanished.

Never mind, I dug them up, moved the soil around a bit, and re-laid them.

I was quite pleased with my efforts and to make this post even MORE interesting here is a photo of the finished job. Good eh?

The ground cleared, fed, and ready for planting

And just to show that there is something still growing I took a few photos.

The small potato bed

The only silverbeet that seems to be surviving after the wet

‘Artistic’ shot of my Cavalo Nero Italian kale

Curly parsley. doing just fine.

Finally. The last remaining Drunken Woman lettuce.

Parsnip seedlings, been like this for weeks, seem to be going nowhere. But I live in hope.

Back at the allotment

It has been a few days since I went to the allotment due to the heavy rain. But it has cleared up now so off I went yesterday to check out the damage, if any.  The ground was soggy in places and some of the young silver beet plants had snapped off at ground level. So I planted a few more seeds to fill the gap.

There was hardly any weeding to do, unbelievable really when you think of the rain we’ve had. Not even the dreaded nut grass! Mother Nature shining on me at last.

I took a chance that the ground had dried enough for me to plant a row of carrots to keep the supply going.

Then the fun part. I pulled a handful of harlequin carrots. Always a surprise to see what comes up. Here they are after a wash under the allotment tap. The two at the front had strong purple tints, but underneath really they were just ordinary orange carrots trying to be a bit exotic!

Harlequin carrots, yellow, white, orange and a couple of purple/orange mix.

Then I picked a few greens for dinner.

Drunken Woman lettuce, Italian flat leafed parsley, Harlequin carrots and Cavolo Nero kale.

I like to use plenty of parsley in my cooking, but really, I’d grow it anyway just to cheer up the kitchen bench. (No! I don’t have a depressed kitchen bench. You know what I mean.)

Italian flat leafed parsley

“Drunken Woman” lettuce for lunch today

I would grow this Drunken Woman lettuce in my allotment just for it’s name alone even if it wasn’t so beautiful. I love the pink tinge to the leaves, and the abandoned way it throws out it’s leaves.  OK, I’m getting carried away. Thank you Wendy for the seeds. I picked this one for lunch.

Drunken Woman lettuce

No problem, there are plenty more …..

A row of Drunken Woman lettuce

The radishes are coming along nicely. I am not a big fan of the radish but I planted them to mark where I had planted the rows of the much slower germinating root vegetables – parsnips, swede, carrots.

Rows of radishes as a marker

My “Nicola” potatoes are coming along nicely. In fact they are growing so well that when I banked them up with more compost and straw I had to build a cage around them to hold the whole bed together. I fancy I should get a nice crop later in the year. New potatoes dripping in butter – delicious but straight to the hips probably!

Potatoes in their ‘cage’

Here’s a shot taken from the top.

Healthy spuds

Happy gardening.

Jerry Coleby-Williams

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