Apricot Season

We are cheating by doing our apricot picking and summer pruning at the same time. trimming a branch and picking the fruit off. The fruit on this tree is a lot firmer (Trevatt or Tilton?), but we know when it is ripe because the wattlebirds start crashing around in the tall branches.
Apricot Picking

This apricot tree used to sit next to the old chook shed, so it has a legacy of rich soil (we moved the chooks not the tree). Each year it tries to double it’s size. So it is a good thing it is easy to climb. We’ve picked over 10 kilos of fruit this weekend, some is bottled already, with more waiting for preserving tomorrow. And I think I’ve eaten about 5 kilos of the fruit in the past two weeks. While the rest of the vegies are looking pathetic from the hot and overly dry weather, the apricot and other fruit trees have tapped deep down and are making delicious juicy fruit. Mother Nature at her best.
Apricot Picking

Which of these ones is not like the other one?

We have three pear trees of varying ages in the backyard. Something has obviously confused the Winter Cole. It didn’t have a single flower this year. Pears can be rather biennial in their fruit bearing, but this is dramatic. Compare and contrast:

Which of these pear treees is not like the other one?

L-R:

20th Century Nashi, Winter Cole, Williams

Much of the blossom of the nashi is actually hiding under the leaves. The Williams had a rest year for the 2012 harvest, only about 10 kilos of fruit which was good as we were still eating the bottled fruit from a bumper harvest in 2011 up until a month ago. That tree must be about 10-12 years old.

The Winter Cole is in the sunnier spot of the three, and was planted in the same year as the Nashi about 3 years ago. For a while I wondered if it might be the close proximity of the rabbit cage (and their droppings), but the Nashi has had them alongside for much longer. There has been quite a bit of green growth on the Winter Cole to make up for the lack of blossom.

Ideas anyone?

The last major planting before winter

There are broccolis and cauliflower and lettuces waiting in the greenhouse to be planted out on Anzac Day when the right part of the lunar cycle, a public holiday and space in the garden beds coincide. We spent some lovely time on Saturday playing with the compost bins – emptying mature compost out for use in the garden and refilling a couple of bins with a rich mixture of chook shed litter, shredded comfrey and horse manure.

Using some of the mature compost, I topped off the level of soil around the kiwifruit vines planted in the deck. The cats have been pulling out the mulch around the plants so that they can get down under the desk – adding the compost is a two-angled tactic. Trying to limit their access and therefore stop them pulling the soil from around the roots and also giving the vines a boost before winter.

Elsewhere in the garden we have been picking some beautiful apples, the remains of the tomato crop and feeding the dried out sweetcorn I forgot to pick soon enough to the chickens. The rabbits are gorging themselves on the sweetcorn stalks and some gone-to-seed broccoli plants from the in-laws.

20120423-201209.jpg

Mowing the lawns is like a 5 minute whirlwind tidying session inside the house and a quick vacuum, suddenly the garden with it’s tired summer crops looks more in order, and slightly under control. The tomato plants are hanging upside down from the garden arches allowing the last of the fruit a chance to ripen.

We’re back … but rain stops play

Gee, I knew it had been a while since I’d updated CGF Blog. But not since October? Oops!

We have been busy in the garden, and with other projects too (sewing, supporting exam study, sorting through bookshelves and decluttering)

Let’s recap in reverse chronological order shall we?

Today:

a morning finding places to put the zucchini and pumpkins (me), and turning compost and clearing out the chicken shed (R). As part of the pumpkin quest I put two more out over the back fence, gave them heaps of compost and watered them in well. Not sure how appropriate it is given that it’s a nature strip zone, but we now have a sprinkler permanently set up over the fence in the hope of increasing the harvest by making it easier to water. The chickens did the hard work of spreading this batch of compost around the blackcurrants and blueberries.
Spreading compost - Chickens do it best
Rain stopped play shortly after lunch until I realised a couple of days of rain and showers was perfect for planting carrot seed as it needs to be kept moist to ensure germination. So on with a coat and hat and out in the rain to plant seeds. Interplanted with rocket seed as a quick germinator and easy salad greens before the carrots get too big to need the space.

What’s in the garden at the moment?

Tomato plants are doing well – nice sturdy plants and gaining height. Some small green ones on the plants. More to be planted out. Especially on the side fence behind the chook shed. I *did* plant some there and have had to replace several already as the chickens dug them up. And my best anti-chicken measure? Which also does double duty as a heat bank? Two bricks, one either side of the stem with a gap just large enough for the stem. Even the big chickens can’t move the bricks!

We put in a bed on the uphill side of the chook shed as it became apparent the path would be quite wide and a potential maintenance issue.We put the portable pen there with some broody chooks in it. The sunlight and lack of a nice dark nesting box helps them stop being broody. They got a pile of horse manure and grass clippings to mix into the soil. After about a week they had done a lovely job of garden bed prep. In there are 4 tomatos, basil, and a cucumber (Shh, don’t tell Robin about the cucumber)

Our horse manure mountain has proved a wonderful resource. Bags are emptied into the compost and spread on garden beds.

The semi circular bed in front of the chook shed has been doing well for a first year bed. The plants are all thriving, but I do notice the difference between the section that has roof overhang – quite a bit drier, so that needs a bit of extra care.

Current harvests:

Snow peas, lettuce, purple cauliflower, herbs

Back in late October we harvested the first of the pink eye potatoes from the Poly Bed – the carpet underlay and chook shed litter has rotted down beautifully to make a rich compost. The potatoes are buttery and luscious.It will be fabulous to plant into for autumn/ winter crops.
First Pink eyes of the season

The kiwi fruit vine now has a steel reinforcing mesh trellis. The mesh is set out from the wall so the plant won’t cook in the heat of summer sun. We finished putting it up last weekend and the vine is already twirling around the mesh, growing visibly each day.

Trellis up now for Kiwi Fruit Vines

 

New Water Features

Something to please the toddlers – depending on where you are in the garden you can play in the stream, the puddles or the mud slide.

Gee, it's rained a lot! It is now officially dangerous to feed the rabbits. I have resorted to putting some carpet underlay over what was left of the lawn near their cage so I didn't end up looking like a mud wrestling contestant. On the carpet underlay I still get puddles forming if I stand still too long. The stepping stones we put on the compacted soil near the chicken shed door are sliding downhill – I had to move one back up hill so that the door could open.

Yes I'm a little tired of the mud – largely because I would have liked to spend the weekend outside digging holes.

 

Ah well, ;

We had a rip snorter of a gardening year after the last time the backyard got such a drenching so there is some silver lining to look forward to.

Positives to be seen or eaten:

Carrots by the dozen, I planted lots, and the most successful have been those in C3 where I used Steve Solomon's sludge recipe for the seed sowing. I don't think he called it 'sludge' in the book, but basically you cook up a sludge using cornflour and water and when it is cool mix in your carrot seeds. I used an old squeezy maple syrup bottle to draw lines on the garden bed.  And the seeds came up! Having killed so many packets of carrot seed in the past I have to pinch myself with the success I have had this year. I know I've said it before. Yeah, things like a little care and attention, none more so than carrot seed. 

carrots, beetroot, spuds

Last night I picked the massive purple cauliflower head that grew in defiance of the failure of it's compatriots in the same bed. Never thought Robin would like the flavour of raw cauliflower stem but that is the magic of fresh picked vegies picked after generous rain.

Also a success is the salad box on the deck. This insulated box is providing salads – lovely tender lettuce, and a smattering of punchy wild rocket. Yum.

Gardening at this time of year is so much more about harvest except for the infrastructure projects or tree planting. And tying things down so they don't blow away.

Garden work this past weekend

Tasks complete

Compost played with – tick!

Old chook shed site:

- concrete bits and wire netting grubbed out – tick!

- area levelled – tick!

- new edge placement discussed – tick!

- mint plants saved and potted up – tick!

Sleeper moved from clothesline mound down to the…

New bed made behind new chookshed – tick!

Peas planted in new bed – tick!

Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop attended – tick!

Ivy removed from under Gala apple – tick!

End of Autumn in the Orchard

Harvest –

Enough for a few meals: carrots, beetroot, potatoes

A laundry tub full of apples

Cherry tomatoes nibbled in the garden

New term learnt on the weekend – “Urbanite”: not quite a type of rock, rather the name given to lumps of concrete.

Pink Jam

One of the interesting things about reading a lot of foodie/preservation blogs from the northern hemisphere is being out-of-step with their seasons. Many bloggers seem to be excited by rhubarb at the moment, and there has been an explosion of recipes as it is one of the first fruit to emerge at the start of spring.

Well, mine was growing all spring, summer and autumn, and this morning I finished what was probably my second batch of rhubarb cooking in 12 months. It doesn’t really go dormant in my garden. The original plants, (thanks for the correction Dad!) came from Marie who worked in the same building as Dad and had this variety in her family for generations.I think the story goes, came from Marion’s mother, Marion lived next door to my parents for a while. It is a lovely thick stemmed red-just-tinged-with-green rhubarb. Because it just sits there, quietly growing and not demanding attention I rarely pick it. The chickens dose themselves on the leaves from time to time (self-medicating for worms perhaps?).

Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

Recently I picked a batch to aid pruning access to the apricot tree growing above it. There must be a good six to eight corms there now, from an original two. I suppose I should mulch it or sprinkle some compost on it to provide encouragement.

Last night I made Pink Jam – Strawberry and Rhubarb combined with a touch of lemon. But it didn’t set. I think I am being impatient with my jam making, and many North American recipes use less sugar than a 1:1 ratio, but ensure a good gel with added pectin.

This morning, I emptied the jars into a saucepan, added another 1.5 cups of water and a packet of jamsetta, boiled briefly and rebottled. Within an hour it was a firm set which I do prefer. The taste is nice – neither rhubarb nor strawberry dominate, the flavour is very PINK! I think I need to stock up on Jamsetta or consider making a batch of pectin stock from green apples before the apple season is out.

Now, it’s morning tea time and I’ve got a pot of baked rhubarb to enjoy :-)

Mid-Week Update

Being back at work has meant a shift in my garden time. At the end of yesterday I came home in the dusk, slid on my gumboots and dug some carrots to add to dinner. The need to reconnect with the mud soil was strong. The carrots were a nice addition to a feed of cannelini beans simmered with a pork hock until it all went sticky and delicious. Carrots and leeks added last night upped the vegetable content.

carrots, beetroot, spuds

carrots (orange and white), beetroot, spuds

Yesterday, the chickens were noisily settling down for the night and sorting out who was sleeping where in their new shed.

Tonight, the negotiation was less intense between the chickens. The turkeys (just large chooks really, but that is their nickname) were nesting in the hay under the nesting box. Ginger had managed to get on the lid of the nesting box, for which she has my admiration – only last weekend I clipped their wings to minimise their flying ability. I picked Ginger up and tucked her inside the box with all the other bantams. There’s plenty of space in the nesting box for all of them, but I suspect the turkeys haven’t figured out how to use the ramp up into the nesting area yet. The term ‘bird brain’ definitely applies to those three.

The babies are getting noisier and noisier – they must be missing their late afternoon tea I was feeding them as there is a racket when I come down the back stairs at the end of the day. Jet is growing well but still the smallest. She prefers to stand in the food bowl to eat.

The garlic planted a few weeks back is up and about 10cm high in C2. No sign of life in C4 yet but that was planted two weeks later.

Preserving – 6 bottles of stewed apples last night, 5 bottles chicken stock are just about done in the pressure canner as I write. The pressure canner seemed like a crazy but good idea (number #45 i think) and yet it has been lovely to open jars of mexican beans and mince, or chickpeas and pinto beans ready to use. The chicken stock won’t take up space in the freezer, and won’t need defrosting on the nights we want to make a quick risotto.

Beep beep – there’s the alarm. Off to tend to my bottles of preserved goodness.

What’s in the Garden at the moment?

Bed Naming Conventions

In the main vegie garden we have seven circles – one central (C0) and then 6 more in a circle around it, numbering starting from the closest to the house. And then we have another few beds, and a few more on the drawing board.

Plan of Plantings - not to scale!

C0

Planted: this week snowpeas on trellis, and about a month ago about 5 brassicas – broc, cauli, cabbage mix

Volunteers: kale, coriander. parsnip, strawberries.

C1

Planted: mixed brassicas, parsley – flat leaf going to seed, curled in fine form, Tiny Tim cherry tomato still producing, lettuce going to seed (for the rabbits)

Volunteer: parsnips galore, chervil

C2

Planted: ready to eat – carrots, beetroot, spring onions, planted this week – garlic. ready to come out – beans, strawberries to relocate

Volunteer: strawberry runners

C3

Planted: ready in a month – carrots, beetroot, Bellstar tomato

Volunteer: no room – tight plantings!

C4

Planted: this week – garlic, waiting to ripen – tomatillos, ready to eat – celery

Volunteer: parsnips, calendula

View down the garden

View down the garden - C1 in foreground, C0 directly below/behind

C5

Planted: brassicas, kale

Volunteer: borage, cherry tomato (too late though)

C6

Planted: brassicas,

Volunteer: cherry tomato ripening now, borage, chives

C7 (closest to new chicken shed)

Planted: strawberries, blueberries

Volunteer: weeds – couch grass

Under clothesline

more brassicas

Side of driveway

more brassicas, snow peas.

Orchard picking now:

Lots of apples – fuji, gala, pink lady

Pears – the last winter cole

Persimmons

Lemons

Over Back Fence

Butternut pumpkins about 15 cm long. If the weather gods smile they might mature.

Front Yard

Strawberries – very few and the birds are beating us to them

Notes/Learning from this summary:

Yup, we have a few different growing areas!

Possibly we have more than enough brassicas, partly due to some red ones that lost their label from my regular seedling supplier, so they were a freebie. They are now labelled “Random Brassica”, I’m hoping they might be purple broccoli. But I’m thinking another 3 broccoli planted now will extend the season further…

Planned beds – when we remove the old chicken shed, two or three will snuggle in between that side fence and the Williams pear. And another between the nashi pear and citrus grove as that is wonderfully sunny even at this time of year compared to say C5.

And I need to think about not planting brassicas next February in so many places – a few too many beds have them which risks disease buildup. It was an issue of wanting to plant where the tomatoes were, and not having the centre bed properly cleared.

Quinces

This year I scavenged about 20 kilos of quinces – most of which came from Jack’s family across the road who have an old tree in their sheep paddock. I picked those ones back in early March before my trip away – bottling about 18 jars before I went away to NSW. And eating a few.

Fresh quinces

Fresh quinces

Quince and Pear Scavenging

Quince and Pear Scavenging

In the past I’d never quite cooked quinces enough. The hand-me-down slow cooker from Robin’s sister made all the difference. The quinces turned the most amazing maroon overnight, fragrancing the whole house. And begging to be scattered on muesli, warm and juices dribbling, at breakfast time.

 

Bottled Quinces

Bottled Quinces

 

I came home from my trip to a kitchen smelling of quinces – Sheila, Jack’s Mum, had dropped over another large bag full so I bottled some more, made some quince paste by accident, made some quince-cardamom-orange marmelade and also two delicious cakes, one of which worked it’s way over the road as a thank-you.

Quince Cake

Quince Cake

Quince Cardamom Orange Marmelade

Quince Cardamom Orange Marmelade

Quince Past by Accident Recipe – prep quinces as for bottling but do a few too many. Put those in a saucepan and cook at higher heat. The quinces will go fluffy instead of holding their shape. Add sugar to taste and cook until the right colour. Set in a silicon muffin tray lightly oiled.

Quince Paste

Quince Paste

 

The final batch included some from a family friend at Kettering. Inspired by Christine Ferber’s book Mes Confitures, I made some quince juice ready for later addition to apples. And bottled some with both grated fresh ginger and crystallised ginger as a delectable dessert. This was an adaptation of a jam recipe from the same book but we eat more stewed fruits than jam. Still debating whether to tell Robin there is a pot of this in the fridge or quietly eat it myself. Let’s see how quickly he reads this post!

Quinces with Ginger

Quinces with Ginger

Quinces with Ginger

Quinces with Ginger

And I thought I’d dealt with all the quinces. Then this morning I found the puree made from the quinces I’d turned into juice – the gently stewed fruit still had some good flavour so I’d pureed it, and popped it in the fridge to make paste later. This morning I made another 6 blobs of quince paste, and …

A sheet of quince paste about 5mm thick for cutting into rounds and putting in the middle of macarons. Sigh :-)

And that is the end of the quince harvest, I think.