Thursday, 28 January 2010

baby melon and fatty pumpkin first pumpkin started to grow but stopped, as sometimes happens.  But this one I reckon is here to stay.  Look at this beaut!  I've already put a net-sling under it as even at this size it could pull the vine down with its weight.  Notice that the flower is still stuck to it.  If the flower falls off right away it ain't going to grow. I finally had a good surprise with the melons.  There are so many flowers that it's hard to tell if any of the female flowers have pollinated properly.  But today I saw this little baby. It doesn't look big but it's bigger than any of the other baby melons so I'm pretty sure this means it's finally pollinated properly.  It's one of the Minnesota Midgets; no luck yet with the Green Nutmeg or the watermelon.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

melon sex, bees and marigolds year I learned a lot about pumpkin sex: how to tell the male and female flowers apart, how to hand-pollinate, and how to tell if the pollination worked.  This year I've had to learn how rockmelons and watermelons get busy.  The biggest difference is that the flowers are smaller and there are a helluva lot more of them.  But I couldn't tell if there were male and female types as there are with pumpkins.  It turns out that was because for the last month it's only been making male flowers.  I'm finally starting to notice more and more of these little ladies with their little baby melons.  They're not easy to spot but it doesn't seem to matter because they're not really practical to hand-pollinate.  I just have to hope that the bees visiting the nearby statice and lavender stop by the melon patch.  I already know that some didn't pollinate properly because a few mini-fruit are yellow which I assume means they're about to drop off.  Hopefully the rest start taking soon. thought I'd compare this patch to where it was last year at about this time.  I was behind schedule this year because I was giving the granex sweet onions a bit of extra time to ripen.  I wish I hadn't bothered because I am indeed behind schedule; at this time last year I had potimarrons the size of two fists put together.  However the pumpkin vine did last until April last year so hopefully I'll get at least a few watermelons, rockmelons and pumpkins.

Speaking of pollination, I've been paying attention this year to which flowers attract the most bees.  They seem to love the lavender, like the statice, and adore the African blue basil (which is near the bird bath, unfortunately, and not near the pumpkins and melons!).  I haven't seen them on the marigolds or the alyssum that's self-sewn around the place.  They also loved the catnip before I tore it out. afternoon I stalked a few bees and his is my favourite photo of one on the African blue basil.  It's a great plant, not a basil for eating but it still smells amazing, it has lovely green and purple leaves and it gets these incredibly long flower stalks.  I believe it's a perennial and over-winters better than culinary basils.  You don't have to worry about it going weedy as the seeds are sterile, but you can propagate it easily from cuttings.  This little bee was hard to snap because he was dashing about so quickly.  If you have problems with pollination in your garden, I highly recommend this plant or its relatives.

And finally, I also got distracted by the marigolds.  I started them from seeds (a French variety called "Sparky" from Eden Seeds) and the ones that get the most sun have grown up into gorgeous plants.  I loved all these photos so I thought I'd share all three.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

mmmm bagels

OK, again this isn't about gardening but we ended up eating the loaf of bread in a day and a half so I thought I'd try making bread machine bagels. Bagels are not easy to find in Australia, not like in America anyways, and the ones you find here aren't that great.

The complete recipe is on the link above but here's how it went for me. First step was to add the ingredients to the bread maker on the dough cycle, let it rise for 20 minutes, then shape the bagels.
After rising for another 30 minutes, you boil them for 30 seconds each side in batches. They get a coating of egg and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or whatever else you like. This part made me feel like I was making donuts except it was water, not oil.
Finally you bake them in and incredibly hot oven for only 4 minutes each side. I thought that surely 280C was too hot so I only had it about 220, but I was wrong. It really does need to be that hot! Still, they turned out looking pretty good for a first go.
The taste was incredibly delicious though the texture was a bit soft for my liking. I like bagels to have a bit of a crust and tear to them. After my first go at bagels I found this website that gives a really good overview of bagel making and has given me some good tips to consider next time around.

Edit: I've made a few delicious meals from the bagels so far that I wanted to share.  First, the breakfast bagel with scrambled eggs, ham, cheese and garden tomatoes.  Excellent way to start the day.
For lunch I had what I call blackened tomato bagel bruschetta, though it ended up more like pizza.  Sliced a tomato and a clove of garlic in half and put them under the grill for a few minutes until the garlic skin and surface of the tomato get some burned black bits.  Carefully rub the garlic on a toasted bagel (the garlic should be at least a bit soft), then scoop out the gooey warm insides of the tomatoes and spread them on the bagel.  Add some fresh basil and Parmesan cheese and put under the grill until bubbling.

rex begonias

I recently discovered rex begonias, a family of begonias known for their amazing and unusual foliage.  I was instantly entranced by them.  They're not easy to grow down here because they love warmth and high humidity so even as a houseplant they often struggle.  But I was determined to give them a try.

It wasn't easy to find them.  I tried three or four different nurseries and most never carried them.  I'd never seen them at my local garden centre either.

My first break came when a nice fellow at the Garden Express forum agreed to send me several leaf cuttings from his begonias.  They're meant to grow readily from leaves but unfortunately they dried out a bit in transit.  Only one's survived so far but I've set it up in a little cup of water so hopefully it'll sprout roots. then came another stroke of luck.  My local garden centre had just received several in stock!  So now I'm the proud owner of this little beauty.  I have no idea what the variety name is but the leaves are thick with a fine fuzz on them and hairs along the edges and stems.  I'm hoping the hairs will keep it happy even though my home is hardly humid.  But it hasn't shriveled and died so far so we'll see if it likes its new home on a high shelf where the cats can't get at it.

a different kind of harvest month or two ago I bought a used breadmaker from eBay.  I've made a few loaves from boxed mixes and a few pizza crusts so far, but yesterday I made my first loaf from scratch.  I'm so proud of it!  It's a three seed loaf (poppy, sesame and flax) with a beautiful light and fluffy texture.  I found the trick is to check the dough 10 minutes into the kneading cycle.  It looked too sticky so I added a few tablespoons of flour and it came out perfectly.  It was pretty dang tasty.

This morning for breakfast I had cheese toast with another one of my RdMs. I reckon the flavour of the tomatoes is getting stronger, especially after they were under the grill for a bit. from my bread machine, tomatoes from my garden.  Couldn't get much more homey unless I made the cheese myself.  Speaking of which, perhaps a cheese-making course is in order...

Thursday, 21 January 2010

the scourge of mint and parsley

I've been very hit and miss with fruits and vegetables in my garden. My designer twig is at least a year away from fruiting. My plum tree isn't actually very tasty. I've hat potatoes rot, tomatoes wilt and peas fizzle. But my herbs have been loyally chugging along, requiring little and giving a lot.

There simply is no substitute for fresh herbs, and nothing like being able to snip a bit from your own garden instead of paying for a massive bunch from the shops. I've got sage, oregano, fennel, chives and spring onions as well as two types (each) of rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley. probably use the most parsley and mint so I go out of my way to keep them happy. The twin scourges of my mint patch are the catnip and caterpillars. Last year I planted a little seedling of catnip in front of my mint bed. It grew like crazy and it's heavily crowding out my mint. I tried chopping it back and it just grew back twice as big. Much as it amuses me to see my cats occasionally roll around in it, it had to go.

This photo gives you an idea of how huge it had gotten. It hardly fit in my compost bin even after chopping it up.

The other scourge, caterpillars, is shared with the parsley. The little green buggers are impossible to see until you go to snip some parsley or mint and you see all the nibble marks (for the record, caterpillars do seem to leave curly-leaf parsley alone but I prefer the flatleaf). The last few times I went to get mint I could hardly find it among the catnip and what I could find was decimated by caterpillars. I've also decided to plant some extra parsley where the catnip used to be. It does OK in pots, but parsley has a pretty long tap root so they're always a bit stunted in pots. But with plans to grow all that caterpillar food together I decided I needed to try some sneaky tactics to keep them safe. tactic you ask? Butterfly scarecrows, idea courtesy of the Garden Express forum - butterfly scarecrows. You cut the shape of a butterfly out of a white plastic plate, punch a little hole, and tie it to a twig. The theory is that when another butterfly visits it'll see the fake butterfly and think "no point laying eggs there, it's already been claimed."

They've certainly fooled the cats. No sooner had I set them up that they did their best to eat them. Do you like how much they flutter in the breeze? Surely this will work. I hope.
In any case, that patch now looks incredibly bare. I ruthlessly cut back the mint, no point in keeping all of that shredded and nibbled foliage. And I'll be planting parsley along the front soon. So hopefully in a few weeks it'll be a thriving herb patch thick with mint and parsley!

more tomato harvests and a cat face off I wanted to post a picture of the yummy quinoa tabbouleh I made last week with the first crop of Tommy Toes.  Quinoa is a rather obscure grain but it's pretty tasty as a pilaf or side dish.  It's not as chewy as the wheat in normal tabbouleh and cooks faster (12 minutes boiling).  All I did was cook and drain the tabbouleh and add the halved cherry tomatoes, a handful of chopped parsley, a few chopped green onions, olive oil and a bit of lemon juice.  We ate it hot but the leftovers were great cold too.  Two thumbs up from me. the fusarium wilt, the Tommy Toes continue to ripen like crazy; I'm now sitting on a small bowl full of them.  And the rouge de marmandes have finally started to ripen!  They're a decent size and I've now picked about a dozen (a few had rot though and I had to throw them out).

Some of them were a bit split at the top, I think I watered them too much and then we got all that rain.  Maybe it's because of the water but I've been a bit disappointed by the taste.  I had one from a farmer's market last year and they were amazing, incredibly rich in flavour.  These ones so far have been a bit bland.  I'm hoping it's just the early crop and that the flavour will improve. finally, the first of my RdMs was a "cat face".  I have no idea why, it can be caused by a range of things but it seems that sometimes it "just happens."  The misshapen ends supposedly look like a cat's face but you can still eat them.  The weird thing was, that fold of skin went all the way inside the fruit so it had skin in the middle.  Weird, huh?

Monday, 18 January 2010

raindrops keep falling on my head

As I write this post, I'm looking out the window at a dark and stormy summer day with a steady fall of rain pelting my garden. I'm only in my second year of gardening in Melbourne, but I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to have "average" rainfall. Almost every other season I've been gardening has had below-average rainfall, including this winter when we had only 67% of average rainfall and I had to go out and water the garden a few times. Water the garden. In the winter.

But this spring and summer has been an absolute blessing. Sure, November broke records for being the hottest spring on record. Sure, last week we had a night that tied for being the hottest night on record in Melbourne. But we've gotten rain! So far every week or two I've gotten 10 or even 20mm in the rain gauge. Sure I've still had to water my garden. But you know you've been in a drought when having "average" rainfall is something to celebrate. And it's been downright bizarre to want to go out and work on the garden but I can't because this strange liquid is falling from the sky. Oh and in case there are any water wowsers reading this, my household has met the government-recommended 155 litres per person per day, so I'm no water waster.

The rain's now stepped up to a brief downpour with a touch of hail.

This sound is absolute music.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

dreaded wilt

From a distance my tomatoes are doing really well.  Including the pot they're now as tall as me!
And the Tommy Toes harvest is going crazy.  Look at all these little beauties!  I made a great little tomato and quinoa tabbouleh with dinner tonight.  Scrumptious!
But look closer and not all is well with the tomatoes.  Ever since last week's hot spell, more and more leaves have started to die off from the bottom of the plant upward. They start out yellowing in blotches like this:
And quickly half of the leaf dies off like this:
Before the whole leaf shrivels and falls off.

It's the common and dreaded fungus fusarium wilt.  The fungus essentially clogs the pipes of the plant, starting from the bottom.  It chokes it of water and nutrients and there's no real treatments for the backyard gardener except raising the pH of the soil and prayer.  It especially thrives in warm temperatures (check), the plants can appear generally a bit limp (check) but appear to "recover" overnight (check).  This limpness causes gardeners to water them more (check), and the dampness just encourages the fungus.

The only symptom they're not showing is in the stems.  They're meant to show a ring of brown, dead tissue inside but when I checked one stem it's still looking healthy.  Perhaps the brown appears in later stages of the disease.
So now I'm just hoping I can get as many tomatoes from it as possible before it dies, especially my rouge de marmande.  There are now several that are a lovely reddish-orange but the shoulders are still green so I'm giving them another few days.

The mystery is how they could have gotten this disease.  It's generally soil-bourne which is why you're not meant to grow tomatoes in the same place two years in a row.  But they're in a new pot with new potting soil.  It could have come from my trimming shears, I don't sterilize them as much as I should.  Or it could have come with the seeds, which I got from another tomato grower.  And the fungus spores hang on for a long time, which means I have to throw out the potting soil (which isn't cheap!) and figure out a way to sterilize the pot before next year.  And maybe stick to a variety that's resistant to fusarium wilt.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

roasty toasty and rescuing worms

Yesterday was our first 40+ day of the year: 43.6C (that's 110F).  Last night it dipped down to a low of 30.6, the equal hottest night in recorded history, tied with a night in 1902.  Today was still in the 30s until about 3pm.  Fun times in the age of global warming!

I managed it better than last year's heat, though last year we had three 40+ days in a row, another record.  I made sure everything was well-watered beforehand, including the geraniums and some of the younger shrubs and the Japanese maple.  The tomatoes have a shade cloth shield this year which helped enormously.  The multi-graft citrus took a bit of sunburn because unfortunately, it's in the middle of a flush of new growth.

The close scare was the worm farm.  The day before the heat I soaked some newspaper and put it in the freezer, then put it into the worm farm in the morning.  This morning I went to check on them and got a real surprise when I opened the lid.  It was like and exodus of worms desperately trying to crawl out the lid, but too scared of the light outside.  They were obviously not happy.  I got all the ice in the house, wrapped it in newspaper and put it in the worm farm.  I also hosed it down with some cold water and hoped for the best.

This afternoon I checked on them again and the ice obviously helped, they were no longer trying to climb out the top.  Next time there's a hot day coming I'm going to freeze a few plastic bags full of water and use those. watered the box down again and as I listened to the water trickle into the lower box I thought I should check on the worm wee box.  I'm glad I did, because it turns out they were trying to escape through the bottom too!  So I filled half a bucket with my first harvest of coffee-black worm wee ... straining it through shade cloth of course and rescuing a golfball-sized clump of worms in the meantime.  I didn't take any photos of the worms, partially because I was too busy trying to rescue them and partially because they're not pretty to look at.  But I did take this photo of my first worm wee harvest, the January 2009 vintage Petit Chateau.

Watered down, it's meant to be a great liquid fertilizer.  I'm looking forward to trying it out and seeing how my plants like it.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

back corner and veggies

The back corner garden is also coming into its own.  This is what it looked ago about 18 months ago, not long after I moved here.  Pretty desolate place innit.
This is what it looks like today.  Marigolds and nasturtium, perennial statice, and the dichondra "silver falls" is really coming along.  I planted it hoping it would drape over the brick to shade it a bit and keep the roots of the oak-leaf hydrangea from getting too hot.
The melons back there are coming along well, you can just see the Minnesota midget is starting to grab onto the wall.  The watermelon in the tub is doing ok too and the pumpkin is now covered with both male and female flowers.
Unfortunately despite some hand-pollination it doesn't look like any of the female babies have set.  Something I learned last year is that if the pollination "takes", the pistil (the female part of the flower) sticks to the fruit as it first starts to swell and grow.  These ones, as you can see, have a flat end because the pistils fell straight off.  I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure this means they didn't pollinate.  No worries, it's still a small vine, it's got plenty of growing to do.
And although these are on the front porch, not the back corner, I wanted to update you on the tomatoes.  I've not eaten 3 or 4 of my lovely little Tommy Toe tomatoes and eagerly awaiting the first rouge de marmande ripening.  I took a photo to show you why I'm impatient.  They've reached a lovely size and may be still growing.  Most of the bunches are quite full, one of the clusters in this photos has 6 of these puppies all squeezed together!
When will you be ripe!!?

Unfortunately I lost a full set of RdM blossoms before I realised they weren't getting enough water.  So there's one "layer" of almost-ripe fruit, one empty layer of no fruit where all the blossoms dropped, and finally a new layer where it seems the fruit has properly set.  The Tommy Toes didn't have this problem, they kept powering along all the while.

the plums are ripe

I was trying one of the plums and it came off in my hand, so I guess they're about ripe.  It had a bit of a caterpillar nibble at the stem end which may have made it drop early but I wanted to try it anyway.

Look at this lovely colour.  It looks like a nectarine!  So small though.
Here's the inside.  Very juicy, but the flesh flavour was quite bland.  The skin is the classic soury plum taste which I personally dislike.  Hopefully the next few are sweeter to counteract the tartness.
Or maybe I just don't really like plums!

bird bath and the corner garden little corner of the garden is really coming along.  On the left we have the catnip patch which has gone crazy.  Once it's finished flowering I'm going to cut it back ruthlessly because it's crowding out the mint (yes there's mind under there somewhere).  But in the meantime the bees love it, and so does my cat when he remembers what it is.

Next along is the little gem magnolia tree with two stella bella daylilies.  In front of the birdbath is an African purple basil - it's an ornamental basil, not tasty enough for eating but it smells lovely and it covers in blossom. There's a bit of alyssum next to it that self-seeded, it's scattered itself around the garden. the bird bath is my new "tequila blue" salvia.  The one on the left is now in full bloom and I love that the blossoms drop into the bird bath where their blue colour lingers for an extra day or two.  The one on the right got snapped off somehow unfortunately so no blooms this year.  But next year it should be even taller and bushier, I want it to shield the birthbath a bit for the more timid birds.

Here's a close up of the salvia blooms.
I reckon it's come along beautifully from this time last year!  This is December 2008: