new girls on the block – Pepper, Jet and Salt


L- R: Pepper, Jet and Salt

Well, we hope they are girls! Normally people stick to a new skirt or a magazine as an impulse purchase. At CatoGardenFarm we prefer chickens.

I’m a sucker for pekin bantams – they scratch well in the garden but don’t disturb huge tracts of ground, they forage well, and seem to have personalities. Our grown-up black pekins are known as “The Witches”, and there are three of them. Two were named after the aunts from Sabrina, Teenage Witch. And another two were named Clancy and Pepper, but we can’t really tell them apart so they share a name. Except for Cry-Baby who has a distinctive voice. There was another witch but she recently died of old age and is now fertilising the newly planted cumquat tree. Let’s meet the babies…

Pepper is the largest mottled pekin bantam, she is a week or so older and taller.

Salt is the smaller mottled pekin bantam. She has larger patches of white.

Jet is the smallest of the three and is basically black with a hint of white feathers on her head. She may develop more speckle as she moults and grows new feathers.

They came from Debbie in Kingston who had a beautiful assortment of mottled, gold, lavender and black pekins and a few other breeds as well. They new girls are about 8-10 weeks old and are now snuggled up overnight in a bed of dried grass in one of the portable pens under the top Moorpark apricot.

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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!


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

Volunteers: kale, coriander. parsnip, strawberries.


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


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

Volunteer: strawberry runners


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

Volunteer: no room – tight plantings!


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


Planted: brassicas, kale

Volunteer: borage, cherry tomato (too late though)


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



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.

Bubble Bubble – a start on fermenting

This Autumn I have made sauerkraut, kimchi and indian lime pickle for the first time, and ginger beer several times.


The idea of making sauerkraut intrigued me – sprinkling thinly sliced cabbage with salt to provoke the juices, and leaving it on the bench to start fermenting seems so counterintuitive to a lot of kitchen hygiene ideas! The sauerkraut came together pretty quickly – smelling sauerkrauty and producing the slime bloom on top of the brine that is normal. From a large cabbage we got about 6 jars of sauerkraut and I need to buy some more pork sausages to eat with it. I had several lunches of cold chicken and sauerkraut which was delicious. I’ve got red savoy cabbages planted now, and cabbage moths willing, will try some red sauerkraut in winter.


This was inspired by a meal I had in Canberra back in January – pork and kimchi stirfry. And Tigress in a Pickle had a recipe which I’d seen when getting distracted. The final piece fell into place with a beautiful chinese cabbage at the Farm Gate Market.  And I finally found a use for the large No 65 Fowlers jars (capacity 2.25 litres) we sourced in February. Once fermented, this turned out spicier than it tasted when first mixed together. The brine filled bag sits on top to make sure the cabbage stays under the surface and ferments rather than rots. I added some finely chopped to a batch of corn fritters, and gave away a jar to Mum. When we get our pork (yum yum yum, a whole side is coming) I will try to re-invent the stirfry I ate a couple of months ago.

Kimchi made 11th April

Indian Ginger and Lime Pickle

Indian pickles recently came to my rescue at a residential event where the food was rather bland – a quick walk to the nearby supermarket gave the perfect pick-me-up to the dull food.

Again, Tigress provided the inspiration with the recipe. I found a bargain 2kg bag of perfect limes. Eumarrah, the local wholefoods and organic store, had the most gorgeous ginger – pale pink skin which could be rubbed off with a finger tender flesh and full of juice.

Gingery Lime Pickle #1: Ingredients

Gingery Lime Pickle #2: Ready to Sit Around in the sun


After mixing it all together, filling a No 65 Fowlers, and then quickly finding another jar, the pickle began its 6 week sojourn on a sunny windowsill. Over the past few weeks the large jar has sunk down and is now about 3/4 full. It gets the occasional stir and sniff test. Can’t wait for this to be ready. The small jar (small? 950ml) went to try the sun in Sandy Bay.




Many fermenting recipes suggest using a stoneware crock with a closely fitted lid which sits inside the crock to push down the cabbage under the brine. I really like using the glass jars as I can see what’s happening and the brine bag solves the submersion issue. Next year – sour dill pickles done as a lacto-fermentation rather than pickling vinegar. Must plant cucumbers!


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.

Chicken Shed Working Bee

Construction Works in progress

Construction Works in progress




Last year we planted 55 cloves of garlic with the plan that would give us a head of garlic a week for the year. It grew well, produced well and we harvested in late December/ early Jan with only a few losses.

Garlic Harvest Jan 2011

Garlic Harvest Jan 2011

However the plaits hanging in the garage are looking a lot less ‘full’ than this photo. The garlic is rather nice.

We’d already decided we’d need to increase the volume. At the workshop down at Paul Healy’s farm last week he planted garlic which reminded me I must get ours in the ground. We’ve bought a few heads to plant. Eaten them and bought more.

Following Paul’s advice I sorted through the  cloves more carefully than last year – only the largest were planted, and the smaller ones put aside for cooking.

Garlic for planting

Garlic for planting

I have planted a quarter circle of garlic in C2 this week [about 25 cloves], and the chickens have been helping clear C4 for another garlic patch. That will go in over the next few days.

I also saved the tiny bulbils from those that sent up a centre stalk and will plant those in a pot to make garlic greens or grow them on for the following year.

Garlic Bulbils


Pears – a new romance

I don’t think I’ve written about the revelation pears have been this year. In past years somehow I’ve managed to eat a few good pears but more often than not they’ve been picked green and turned straight to mealy mush on the bench, or windfalls have been eaten by chickens.

Being on leave during peak pear season has been wonderful.

We had a bumper harvest from our Williams tree towards the bottom of the garden. We bottled 31 jars and ate quite a few. Each morning through late February and early March I went out with a bucket and collected up on average 3 kilos of fruit. There must have been a good 30 – 40 kilos of fruit off this one tree.

Bountiful pears

Williams pears


The Winter Cole is now ripening after being in the ground since Winter 2008. The fruit is more squat and just as delicious. More like a maximum 3 kilos of fruit I estimate.

Nashis! These are a completely different creature to ones you buy in a regular shop. Being able to pick when ripe makes all the difference. They are crisp, juicy and delectable. I’ve bottled one jar as I read they stay crispy to see if we like them. Mum and Dad looked after that harvest while I was away (5 kilos? def more than the Winter Cole, planted at same time). Apparently they make great juice.

I also scavenged a few kilos of pears from Jack’s family over the road. They have a large pear tree which may be from when the whole valley was an orchard at the start of the 20th Century (see here for some background info – Samuel Joseph Cato is the relevant Cato Family member mentioned) . The small brown pears are plentiful and stay firm when cooked. I used them to make pear and vanilla jam from this recipe. So I ended up tossing the lot in the blender to make for a more jam-like consistency.

Pear and Vanilla Jam

Pear and Vanilla Jam

This is a magic recipe! Next year we will make more jars. I am sure it could be used as bribery.

Pear and Vanilla Jam

Pear and Vanilla Jam

Yes that is a kitten tail leaving the photo.


Dangerous Activities

One should neve go to a fruit tree orchard open day after already placing an order for fruit trees. It’s not that you get disappointed that you wish you’d ordered this one over that one. It’s more that you discover you need these new ones as well as the ones you’ve already ordered!

Pear name tag
this pear was a stunning maroon red

After last year not planting any fruit trees (just didn’t happen – lots else did) I was determined to get an order in to Woodbridge Fruit Trees early in the season as they sell out quickly of some varieties. I had my list written ready to go when orders opened and snaffled:

  1. Kentish Cherry
  2. Opalescent Apple
  3. Prune Splendour Plum
  4. De Vrajna Quince
  5. Fullers Quince
  6. Moorpark Apricot (we need a third one don’t we?)
  7. Ziegler Plum
  8. Bonne de Maline Pear
  9. Almond
  10. Sugarloaf Pippin Apple

Okay, that’s ten. I’d remembered 9.


Court of Wick Bonza Apple

Jim Reilly Apple Kidds Orange Red

After the open day we needed:

  1. Court Of Wick Apple
  2. Burwood Apple
  3. Bonza Apple
  4. Jim Reilly Apple
  5. Kidd’s Orange Red Apple
  6. Beurre D’Anjou Pear
  7. Doyenne Du Comice Pear
  8. Belle De Boskoop Apple
  9. Flemish Beauty Pear

Hmm. I’d remembered 7 from the second order. 19 rather than 16 spaces we need.


From the open day we learnt lots about espaliering and training apples and pears in particular. I’ve been reading the articles on the Woodbridge site and getting various books from the library and digging into some books we already had. Robin’s been reading about tensioning wires and posts.

Pears Espaliered Apples in Cordon Opalescent Apple

We’ve been eyeing off the inside of the front fence, the side fence at the bottom of the garden near the blackcurrants, the nature strip over the back fence.

Quinces will go out the back as we figure they are less susceptible to the neighbourhood kids raiding the trees. Peaches and nectarines along the fence near the driveway as they get protection and sun.

Chicken Shed Progress

Finally the holes are dug!

Our original plans were measured to fit within the space between the strawberry and blueberry bed and the Pink Lady Apple tree near the straw shed. After a Permaculture workshop I wondered if we could include the apple tree inside the shed. This was Plan B. And it seemed to make sense until we marked it out on the ground and came to the conclusions that:

a) it was freaking big

b) where would we put the compost bins (currently 3!)

c) it was BIG!

So we scrubbed out the marked holes and trenches at the bottom and went back to Plan A. A sensible sized chicken shed. One cube 2.4m square completely enclosed in Laserlite, with an attached netting run the same size.

View from up the slope

Holes for poles marked on the grass. Dimensions 2.4m x 4.8 m in total. Current shed is 2.4m x 3.8m but A frame which cuts down the usable space and makes it a pain to clean out and catch chickens in.


You can see on the left the Pink Lady Apple that nearly became a caged beast. It was simply too close to the back wall of the shed.


Tim and the Digger making mountains of dirt

Dirt seems to expand when it is dug up. Interestingly the dirt here is good to quite a depth. Well, good for sticky black West Hobart clay. When we went this deep in the front yard for French Drains Robin very quickly found a charming yellow sticky clay which we still find pockets of over a decade later despite lots of mulch and gypsum.

Holes for Fruit Trees on the Back Nature Strip

While Tim had the digger here we also had four holes dug on the back nature strip for some quince, pear and almond trees. They are now filled with either compost that was nearly ready or litter straight from the chicken shed. Today we will add a scoop of worms to 1 of each, bit of an experiment with rotting down material before planting time in winter.

What’s next with the chicken shed?

  • Figure out how to build something with right angles on a slope. Ross (Robin’s father) is coming over for morning coffee to lend his expertise.
  • Mix concrete for the 9 post stirrups
  • Get the poles up and basic roof elements

The pile of concrete mix adorning the driveway is looking ominously large… Will report back.


2010-11 Tomato Season Roundup

This summer was exceptionally mild and un-tomato-y.

We bought our tomato plants at the sale held by the Friends of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens on 18/9/2010 which is quite early for Tasmanian tomatoes. They lived in the newly built greenhouse until the first ones were planted out on 22-24 October being Show Day weekend into C4. Others were planted out on 20-21 November into C1 and on the side fence. Wire cages to support the tomatoes were used to simplify tying them up.

Despite being planted out a month apart, Stupice and Victoria fruited within a week or so of each other.

Ones to Repeat

Victoria – 2nd earliest to ripen, table and bottling fruit, nice eating and ideal for grilling, lasted well through the season, still bearing in April.

Tomatoes from the garden

A mixed selection - ready to made into sauce and passata

Stupice – 1st to ripen in greenhouse (and only about 10 days behind the Newcastle competition!), small to medium pointed fruit, lower seed to flesh ratio, lower juice, keeps well off plant, still bearing in April.

Mortgage Lifter – mid to late season, medium/large fruit, beefsteak (but not field) shape, later season.

Hungarian Mobile – needs more staking/ cage training, large plant, mid season fruit.

Don’t bother next year

Azochyka – overly large yellow field tomato, skin marked badly, mild flavour.

Black Russian – perhaps a victim of mild summer but flavour not very tomato-y, very soft almost mealy flesh

Zogola – short season, peach coloured, moderate yield.

To investigate further

A staking cherry tomato to be planted close to path for easy picking

A yellow table tomato

A ‘paste’ tomato


Overall - add more compost (as always), stake wire cages using hardwood stakes, plant into C2 and C3 next year, move side fence planting downhill to avoid disease buildup as I’ve used that spot quite a bit now.