Garden Monthly, January 2015

Summer gardening in Melbourne is an Yin/Yang experience. We need the heat to bring on the tomatoes, basil and beans: too much, and the plants suffer badly from heat stress. The temperatures soared last week to over 40c for two days: this is a taste of what’s around the corner. Melbourne can often experience heat waves of 44 degrees celsius for four days in a row, followed by cooler days in the 30s. On extremely hot days when north winds gust at over 50 km an hour, we self- evacuate in line with the Victorian policy of Leave and Live, which I have mentioned in a previous post. On these days, the garden hangs on, just.

Tomato News. My triffid tomato, the miniature yellow pear, is still growing madly and is covered in hundreds of baby fruit. I will definitely save this seed. My son planted some weird black tomatoes, the seed bought on eBay. They look like some awful deadly nightshade cross between a potato and a tomato. They are still too young to eat so wait for the reports in February. There are six plants so ‘fingers crossed’. The Rouge de Marmande, my favourite tomato, were planted a little late so these fruits won’t appear on the table until February. I forgot to plant a green zebra tomato this year. What an omission; I will miss their green stripes in the the tomato salad bowl.

mini yellow pear tomato.
mini yellow pear tomato.
Spooky black/purple tomato.
Spooky black/purple tomato.

It is definitely the year of the cucumber. I had some old seed to use up a few months ago, and voila, they all came up.  Although not fond of apple cucumbers, I am investigating using them in some lovely Yunnanese dishes, with loads of chilli. I only notice two Lebanese cucumbers for green munching and pickling.

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The strawberries are producing continuously, thanks to the netting which has 20% UV shadecloth, and the addition of mulching with pine needles. At last a use for the dreaded pine trees that inhabit our 20 acre block.

The task of sifting the seed has begun. I found this fabulous sifter in Bas Foods in Brunswick, near Melbourne. A ceelik , I think it is Turkish in origin.

I have saved my own Cos and Red leafed lettuce for years. It germinates in any season and there are always hundreds of seedlings to give away, thus keeping the strain going. The cavolo nero dried seed pods needed splitting open by hand. Seed saving is one of the real pleasures of gardening, knowing that you have selected the best specimen for your own micro climate.

Garlic cleaning has begun. Last year the garlic lasted for 12 months without shooting, thanks to correct storage in the dark, in an airy container. This year, I plan to store them in these old Chinese steamer baskets, covered with hessian, in the larder.

The garlic crop was disappointing in size due to lack of rain in winter and early Spring. Our total rainfall this year was 587mm, compared with 670 mm in 2013 and 711 in 2012. As we are in the midst of an El Nino cycle, watering needs to happen more consistently in Winter and Spring, especially as garlic requires it to fatten up. Winter can often be our driest period. We forget this, thinking that cold equals wet!

I leave all the radicchio to go to seed as the flowers do their job attracting bees and insects for pollinating the tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumber and so on. And their cornflower blue is so stunning.

radicchio flower- bee attractor.
radicchio flower- bee attractor.

Jobs to do: Net the grapes. Mulch the tomato and pumpkin beds, create another green shade cloth bed for lettuce. Remove old seeded silver beets.

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It’s a gardener’s source of inspiration at Lizzie’s The Garden Share Collective every month. Check it out.

39 thoughts on “Garden Monthly, January 2015”

  1. Lots to do in the garden for you and Mr T, but the harvest must rate up there with seed saving in terms of satisfaction. Curious about the pine needles having no affect on the strawbs, however did you discover that?

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  2. I lover your radicchio flowers they are so pretty. prolific and look very inviting. What a fabulous idea to use a seed sifter, I have never seen one before. Your grapes are looking great. Happy New Year Francesca I hope you don’t get many more 40+ days this summer :Dve your rqdicchio flowers they are so pretty and your yellow pear shaped tomatoes are indeed

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    1. Oops I did a bungled copy and paste as my first comment was lost, so please excuse the writing. I was complimenting your gorgeous, prolific yellow pear shaped tomatoes. Very nice 😀

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    2. Thanks Merryn. The radiccio flowers are lovely and add colour to the veggie patch too. They are quite hard to collect as the seed seem to disapppear before you can see them. Thanks also for the hoping that the weather stays clement.

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  3. Plenty to keep us all busy in our gardens this month. The rain in my parts have been fantastic and unexpected after the forecast for hot and dry weather. I’m guessing that’s on its way. Best wishes for 2015.

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  4. Just checked it. All is Ok. The soil for strawberries require a PH of 6 or slightly acid soil. The pine needles are acid and so help. It is also a better mulch than straw or sugar cane as the bugs don’t like it, and don’t seem to cllect under it. The crop is fabulous this year.

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  5. Hope things don’t get too hot for you and your garden. It’s hard to imagine anything even approaching 40C as I pull on another jersey and stare out at a frosted garden. Happy new year from the other side of the world!

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  6. So glad to see a new post from you. I’ve been watching the news and hoping the downgrade in conditions were a good thing for you. Are you back at home now? I don’t know about you, but the plants and I both wilt in the 40+ temps. What I can’t get done before 10am, doesn’t get done on those days. I can see that saving seeds would be very gratifying indeed. Those tomatoes are VERY interesting. Hoping the rest of your summer is peaceful and delicious!

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    1. Things are going well here with the return of the cool weather and there is rain on the horizon, if you can believe weatherzone!!! The storm blowing in on Sunday, after all the heat, came with predictions of hail and glorious heavy rain, but turned out to be a fizzer. My little family is obsessed with rain: we sit chatting on facebook when there is a rain event due- waiting for the sound, the count later in our rain guages, the comparisons between districts.
      The tomatoes are called Indigo Rose and were bred in Oregon State University. Hardly heirloom, however my son has a little hot house in hhis backyard, and so likes growing strange varieties. Thanks for your kind thoughts Ardys.

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  7. Hey Francesca … oh your garden looks amazing! And what about those black toms. Woohoo .. I wonder what they are. Be interesting to know what they taste like. Love your seed saving vessel, brilliant! I’m with you, anything to make use of those pine needles. We have about 600 pine trees – the bane of my life! You have reminded me, it’s time to store away my garlic. Happy gardening to you lovely 🙂

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    1. How annoying- 600 pine trees. We had a monster pine tree near our house which cost $4000 to remove. One of the other large specimens serves the functionof blocking out a neighbour’s yard full of cars/trucks/horse floats/caravans/boats and assorted other vehicles. Sometiimes we get those lovely orange pine mushrooms growing underneath.
      Thanks for dropping y my garden Julie- now, please take home this basket of zucchini!

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  8. Love reading all about your garden. You’re so knowledgable!! Inspiring. This year I’m having success with a small herb garden and two tomato plants – I might plan what else I can do in my small courtyards over the course of a year. Thanks Francesca xxx

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  9. As an Adelaidian I know exactly how you feel about the heat! I love the raddiccio flower, it’s not a veggie we have grown before but I shall definitly plant some next Spring just for that glorious blue. Really love the ‘triffid’ tomato too. Would you like to swap some of their seeds for some of our fabulous Amish tomato seed?

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    1. Yes I would love some Amish seed for sure and sing out if there’s any seed you fancy. The Cos are consistent, and the red lettuce is a dark crimson colour, or I have sorted the Tuscan Kale.

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  10. Oh gosh those black tomatoes look very interesting. We get some in the supermarket called klamato. They are a purplish colour and very low acid. I love different coloured tomatoes, and this year had yellow grape tomatoes too which were awesome.

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    1. They are called Indigo Rose and were bred in oregan, USA. The bottom turns red when ready, the top remaining black.
      It’s great to have a colourful tomato salad bowl for sure.

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  11. Those spooky black tomatoes look amazing – if you do find out what variety they are I would love to know. They sure look interesting nothing like the black krim or black russians I have. I hope some cooler days are on their way for you. Nothing worse than a heat wave burning tomatoes and singing leafy greens. Happy New Year to you too.

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    1. No they’re not Black Russians. Its called Indigo Rose and was bred in oregan, USA. Apparently the bottom turns red when its ready and the top remains black.I used to grow Black Russians but found they went mushy very quickly. I think we are in for some fabulous rain if weatherzone isn’t telling fibs again. F

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  12. Rouge de Marmande are one of my favorite varieties also, I am looking forward to hearing about those black tomatoes, they would certainly look striking in a salad. Fantastic tip for garlic storage thank you. Your seed saving has inspired me, I really should do that too but to date have really done so except for tomatoes and pumpkins because they are so easy to collect!

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    1. I must be more organised with harvesting my tomato seed this year, and label it correctly. Do you put your seed in water for a day or so and thenstrain and dry it on a plate? Or just dry it as is?

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  13. There is so much to take on with this post I had to read it a couple of times to digest it. Very similar things happening to us as far as timing goes. Last season I bought some ‘purple’ tomato seed from eBay that looked like yours on the packet but just grew as normal littler pink things, maybe a tinge darker. Were tasty though! Do you need to pollinate the cucumbers by hand or is it happening naturally? I need to get the paint brush out on ours or no fruit even with dedicated bee attractors. This usually improves later in the season but early its IVF! Love that sieve, might have to investigate. Might also have to check out radicchio to take over where the borage has now finished. Thanks for showing such a smorgasbord of your garden!

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    1. Thanks Fergie. No IVF is necessary due to the radicchio flowers. Their bright blue flowers seem to last for ages and they are around 6 feet tall. So they do a great job in attracting pollinating insects. The other plant to let seed for this purpose is endive lettuce- which also stands tall at six foot and is covered in mauve flowers. These two take over when our borage dies down. Being tall, they are good attractors.
      I loved that strainer the moment I saw it. I know it will also look quite handsome hanging on a wall somewhere.
      Those black/piurple tomatoes are mighty strange. I’ll report on their taste next month. I didn’t mention the zucchinis, they are almost too boring and rude but I still love them. Happy Gardening Fergie, F

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  14. What wonderful bounty your garden is producing! Though, I have to agree with you about those black tomatoes. The sifter is likely to be Turkish, but they are also common in Greece. I have had one for decades, bought in a tiny agricultural store in a village in Southern Crete. They are great for all sorts of garden and kitchen jobs. Are you going to make verjus with thos rather luscious looking grapes?

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    1. The young woman serving me reminisced about her grandmother using these sifters for the wheat to make breaad in Greece. She wasn’t familiar with the Turkish word on the side- but then I am sure it is the same thing. She is a recent Greek migrant- one of the up sides of the problemaatic economy in Greece is that Melbourne gets more young Greeks to replenish our numbers. I am very happy about that and now the young Italians are following, I asked her more questions about her grandmother:Her face turned happy and melancholic simultaneously as she punched the price ( $13.00 ) into the machine. A lovely occasion.for me.
      Good luck with that cleanout.

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      1. I used to watch the Cretan village ladies pick through beans and lentils for stones and chaff using these sieves. Mine is hanging on my kitchen wall – a kind of ethnographic object. You should ask the Greek girl where her grandmother was from. One of my friends studies pre-mechanised agriculture in Greece and is forever talking to elderly people who remember farming in the old days. He’s just written a book about the subject called “Two Oxen Ahead”.

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  15. Hello and Happy New Year Francesca, I grew those same black small tomatoe in my garden last summer and waited to see what would happen. They eventually turned a very reddish hue of black and were delicious (and very interesting). However, although being small, they were among the last to ripen in my garden. Be patient.

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