23 December 2012

2012 - It's a Wrap!

A year ago I decided to start writing a blog as a way to keep track of what was happening in both the City and Country Gardens.  I didn't expect much but thought it would be interesting to use it as a way of exploring my interest in gardening and food sustainability.  

When I started it I didn't understand the whole thing about connecting with other blogs and the communities it could open up.  I was amazed when the first person that I wasn't related to or friends with wrote a comment, and then slowly a whole new world opened up and I have now become part of an online community of lovely people doing really interesting things with their lives as well as having a great journal of the past year in the gardens.  Along the way I've learnt heaps, pondered problems with others and shared monthly updates on ways of living more slowly and thoughtfully.  Not only that, but I've written an article for a book and have just been interviewed for a gardening magazine (both yet to be published).

In the City Garden the produce was boosted by the addition of three gorgeous, hilarious chickens that we hadn't even contemplated this time last year; and from the Country Garden we managed to feed two households almost entirely and provide part of the requirements of a small restaurant throughout the whole year.  And then somehow to finish the year off, after meeting several fabulous farmers during the year, I ended up becoming one (well a farmer but to be honest probably not a fabulous one!) even if only for a short time.  Who'd have thought I'd end the year with "Learnt to drive a tractor" as one of my achievements?!

Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog this past year.  It's been so lovely to "meet" you.  I can't wait to see what 2013 brings and to share more adventures here!  

All my very best wishes for the festive season and for the year to come.

Tobi x

This Week in the Country Garden

While it's still a bit between seasons for us at the moment in the Country Garden, the harvest has included potatoes, leek, radish, lettuce, sorrel, spinach, basil, kale, rhubarb, a few blueberries and the last of the cabbage.  Everything else is now shooting up rapidly and the next month or so should see us back to a bumper crop of summer goodies.  Can't wait!
For all our statements last year about not overcrowding the
tomatoes this season, they grew quicker than expected...! 
Beans and Corn 
Capsicums and Sorrel
The second potato bed
The savoy cabbages have finally been harvested
to give some room for the zucchini and squash
to hopefully take off
After waiting patiently for months and months, we've finally
managed to harvest some red cabbage just in time to make
our traditional Norwegian Christmas Red Cabbage dish
Miniature pumpkins with the first small fruit on them 
Perfect cos lettuce
A  few onions.  They failed last year so we
 didn't bother planting many this year
- wish we had now!

16 December 2012

December in the Vineyard

Getting stuck on a packed tram in hot weather or having to run home from the tram stop if you forget your umbrella is annoying, but working outside day after day gives weather observation a completely different meaning.  The weather over the last month has been crazy.  One day I had to run for shelter when a sudden thunderstorm hit the vineyard (standing in an open paddock holding onto trellis wire is probably not a very healthy option in such conditions!) soon followed by hail, then a couple of days later we were sweltering in 35 degrees, and everything in between has been thrown at us.  
Good weather for ducks as they say...!

Micro Gardens

The City Garden is pretty small, but it is possible to have an even smaller area and still grow great produce.  Here are a few ideas:

Out the front of our house there is a power pole that has been badly graffitied.  By "badly" I mean a) the fact that it's been done at all, and b) the fact that it's not exactly a Banksy!  I've been looking at it for ages thinking about options to cover up the graffiti, and finally decided to utilise the holes in the steel support wings on it to hang pots, and now I've created a street herb garden.  It's still a work in progress and needs a few more pots on it to completely hide the scribbles, but it's getting there.  I hope that as the herbs grow my neighbours feel that they can pick a few leaves as they walk past for their dinner, and perhaps even add a pot of their favourite herbs to the collection.  I've planted some flowers in amongst it for colour, and perhaps next there could be some lettuces or radishes.  Once this pole is full we could move onto the next one down the street...

My friend R lives in a rental house with a tiny front courtyard.  A while ago the owner came and chopped down the one straggly tree in it, leaving a bare space.  R decided there was enough room to create a vegie garden there, so with a weekend's work they built up a garden bed to fit the space and mulched around it for easy access.  They now have a thriving patch with several different varieties of vegies and herbs.  The fence will be used to support some climbing vegies over summer to provide shade for the rest of the garden bed and to give a green outlook from the living room. 

Community Gardens are obviously a great way to get your hands into some soil and grow things, while being surrounded by other people who can share knowledge and friendship.  The Elwood Neighbourhood House Community Garden offers all of this in a secret little spot within a small park.  It's absolutely magical, creatively developed and very much loved by its gardeners.  My friend E, who lives just around the corner in a small apartment was thrilled recently to be given a plot to work with her young daughter.  They walk past every morning on the way to school and stop off to water and check on progress, and then again to pick something yummy for dinner on the way home.  E's plot is quite small but she's managed to fit in cucumber, zucchini, radishes, tomatoes, snow peas and a few herbs.  In fact they're producing enough to give me a couple of vegetable gifts when I visited there this week!
E's garden plot

01 December 2012

Meanwhile, in the City Garden...

 The apple trees have followed up their beautiful blossoms with the development of quite a few apples
The potato patch is thriving, with a sudden growth spurt in the last week of hot, wet weather creating quite a potato jungle
The nectarine tree, while having masses of growth, has sadly only one nectarine that I can find.  The combination of terrible windy weather at blossom-setting time and marauding possums seems to have taken its toll.  Also apparently there is excess nitrogen in the soil, due to the attention I've been lavishing on the vegetables underneath the tree, creating a concentration on leaf-growth.  A lovely horticulturalist I met has recommended a light summer prune instead of a heavy winter prune, which is what I did to try to encourage more even growth as it's quite crooked, and then hopefully it shall improve next year.
The beautiful crepe myrtle is full of leaves and full of gorgeous little honey-eater birds that are protected in its thick canopy
My one remaining strawberry plant that wasn't eaten by the chickens is safe...well at least the bit under the chicken guard is!  Other vegies safely behind wire mesh include a couple of tomatoes and lots of herbs.
And speaking of the chickens, no this isn't a chicken tree, it's just the three girls taking a nanna-nap in a warm spot!  And good news: After two months of determinedly being broody, Mavis has finally gone back to her normal chicken life and is happily hanging out again with her mates.  She even laid her first egg again today, so all seems good.

This Week in the Country Garden

With the danger of frosts continuing for longer in the Country Garden than in surrounding suburban areas, the summer planting is a bit later, so I always feel a bit behind at this time of year! While other people seem to already be harvesting early summer vegies, ours are mostly still at seedling stage.  So in terms of harvesting it's a bit of an in-between time at the moment.  We're being sustained by spinach - no hardship as it is the most succulent, crunchy, delicious spinach you could hope for.  I haven't bothered cooking any of it as it's great raw.  It's being matched with savoy cabbage, sorrel, rocket, radish, basil and lettuce for the first warm weather salads.  There are also leeks and a few beetroots, along with rhubarb that I've been cooking up in Rhubarb and Apple Crumble for desserts.

25 November 2012

Creative Inspiration

Today I wandered through Veg Out, the fabulous community garden in St Kilda.  It was great to see such creativity and whimsy, and a good reminder of the importance of having fun in the garden!

19 November 2012

A Seed Saving Lifecycle Story

Beautiful bee-attracting flowering Pak Choy...

Develops into seed pods...
Which dry out in the sun...
And the contents of just one pod...
Will grow into about twenty of these delicious Pak Choys, that will feed you for weeks!  
How simple is that?!

18 November 2012

November in the Vineyard

Although it's a considerably larger scale than vegetable gardening, I thought there might be some interest in hearing about what happens seasonally in a vineyard.  So here's my first monthly wrap up (based on my very limited exposure so far!) of some of the tasks that I've been involved with in the vineyard to assist in the production of premium fruit for wine.

13 November 2012

A Scientific Experiment Part 2

Back in March I wrote about my "scientific" experiment to try to work out the secrets of growing good garlic.  You can read about it here.  Even though not all the garlic I planted is ready, I thought it was time to do an update on the obvious outcomes so far, although I should really start this report by warning that my brain is not geared toward scientific preciseness...

28 October 2012

This week in the Country Garden...

...I gardened in the rain yet again.  Although when it got really heavy I retreated inside with a glass of sparkling to watch the rain over the vines, until this rainbow that told me it was time to get back outside!
 I harvested 3.5kg of broad beans, on top of approximately 1kg already harvested and another 1kg still left on the plants until next week.  Now I just have to pod and freeze most of them...
I sacrificed some of the brassicas that have been a bit disappointing this season, to try to get a crop out of the rest, creating a bit more light and air around them, and providing space for the new season planting.  Many of the cabbages haven't yet formed hearts, or have been savaged by slugs.  The broccoli which thrived, outgrew the brussels sprouts, so they didn't get enough sunlight and space to grow.  I did harvest the first cauliflower though, with a couple more on the way.  I've planted zucchini, squash and cucumber seedlings under the remaining brassicas, just to get them in the ground.  Hopefully they can survive together for the next week or two.
The broad beans were hit badly by wind in the last couple of weeks, so after harvesting all the beans that were ready, I pulled out everything that was finished and tied the remainder together to stakes to get them through another week or two of growing time.  Not very pretty at this stage, but my love of broad beans outweighs the aesthetics!!  Even though I planted out the broad bean bed in phases, they all seem to have ripened at once.  I also tried three varieties, with seeds from the Diggers Club producing the most.  I must remember to just plant those ones next year.  The metal towers in the photo below are to grow Scarlet Runner Beans up to give height and colour in the garden this summer.  The flowers last year were superb, even though the beans were rubbish!
The tomatoes are all in.  I have now staked them all and planted basil, parsley and marigolds around them.  After we seriously over-planted the tomatoes last year, we've tried to be sensible this year, spreading the plants out and just putting the herbs around the edge of the beds.  The potatoes in the third new bed are thriving, with straw being added to build up the bed as much as possible.  As soon as the other brassica bed finishes we'll plant out that as well, hopefully giving us a much longer potato season than last year.
We try to keep up a good supply of lettuce for the restaurant all year.  We've managed to keep the oakleaf going all winter and the rocket is rejuvenating after the last lot finished.  Last year we did really well with cos lettuce, but have struggled this year, expect for this one beautiful specimen that no-one can bring themselves to pick because it looks so great!!
My planting plan (that I have rejigged a bit this week as we planted an extra bed of tomatoes not originally planned) says that it's time to plant the capsicums, but the weather this Spring has had other ideas.  The bed they are to go in still has last season's brassicas, and the seedlings are progressing slower than expected.  Hopefully with a bit of warm weather this week both will get their acts into gear and realise they are running behind my schedule!

A Day at Taranaki Farm

Yesterday we joined a tour of Taranaki Farm in central Victoria lead by the "World's most innovative farmer" (according to Time Magazine) Joel Salatin.  It was a great opportunity to learn more about innovative farming practices that focus on thoughtful regenerative and integrated systems, applicable to all scales of farming.  

13 October 2012

Still Broody

At the start of September I wrote about our chicken Mavis who had just started to go broody.  At that stage it seemed that it was nothing to worry about, just a strong natural instinct in a breed known for their good mothering skills.  So we basically let her be, making sure that we took away the eggs from the other two so she didn't get a chance to bond with them, and kicking her off the nest a couple of times a day to make sure that she ate and drank.  But little did I realise her commitment to having babies.  It's been about 6 weeks now, and she's still at it.  The extent of that determination is amazing.

07 October 2012

Slow Living Month - September

Flowering Blueberry plant
Suddenly I turned around and it was the end of the first week of October, don't know how that happened!  Anyway, with apologies to Christine at Slow Living Essentials for my slackness this month, here's my contribution to the Slow Living Journal.  You can check out what Christine and all the other contributors have been up to here.

Nuts about Spring Food

Spring Pie
Have you ever had the "What is your favourite nut" discussion?  In my experience everyone has a definite favourite.

01 October 2012

This Week in the City Garden

Lemon Thyme
And now a more positive post on new growth and beginnings in the City Garden.  The crazy Spring weather (it snowed in the nearby hills on Saturday but will be 27 degrees later this week!) has meant happy times for all the plants.  There are flowers, new buds, bees and seedlings all taking off:

The last of the sprouting broccoli is going to seed which I'll
collect (and besides the flowers are beautiful!)
Rocket, cress and coriander seedlings

The potato patch (being helped along with rich fertilizer
from the chook shed straw)
Some potatoes growing in a bag as an experiment
Apple blossom
The Echiums are now flowering
The first buds on my beautiful Crepe Myrtle came out yesterday!
New growth on the bay tree
The sage is about to burst into flower