Autumn is many seasons rolled into one. Gone now are the Keatsian days of early Autumn, that abundant time when the garden finally comes good with the fully blown fruits of an earlier season’s hard work. Then my mornings were filled with preserving: now I sweep and rake fallen leaves and gather ‘morning wood’, dry sticks and kindling to store for lighting fires. I often think of Lao Tzu when sweeping. An old black and white ink print on rice paper rises again to haunt me, flashbacks of Nepal, Swayambhunath and Francis, friend and Nepalese expat who helped revive the lost art of Tibetan ink printing during the 70s. Daoist, peaceful, impressionistic, the memory of this print and the act of sweeping helps clear the brain.
Autumn’s cold snap, a preparation for things to come, is followed by days of sunshine and warm weeks, a glorious Indian summer, confusing some plants and encouraging others to linger. Chillies have re-flowered, fruit tree buds are swelling: all in vain I’m afraid.
Just as I begin to indulge in the melancholy that comes with late Autumn, along come the Borlotti beans in their splendid pink scribbled coats and plump promise. I’ve been watching them and feeling them for weeks. One of their alternate names in Italian is Fagioli Scritti, a more vivid and appropriate title for this colourful and useful bean. I grow the tall variety and usually plant them late in the season. They are adapting to our microclimate as the same seeds are picked late and saved from year to year.
The cheery colour of pink tinged lettuce is also a mood changer. All the lettuces are better in the cold: cos and romaine, curly endive, bitter escarole, the butterheads and the soft oakleaf varieties, rugola, each one delicious on its own but more so when mixed. Large pink radishes and the ‘heart of darkness’ radicchio are now in their prime. Beautiful colours painted by cold.
This version of Autumn Leaves seems to suit this season. It makes sense of nostalgia, missing and parting more than the crooning versions of the 50s, although the original French version, LesFeuilles Mortes, written in 1945, is also rather charming.
On mid Autumn days when the sun shines and there’s not a breath of wind, my enchantress, the vegetable garden, lures me through her gates. No matter how much I try to limit my work to an hour or so, time just flies by. I read recently that it has a lot to do with Mycobacterium Vaccae, a microbe in the soil, which is said to have a similar effect on the neurons as Prozac. The bacterium found in soil may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Great, dirt is a natural anti – depressant. My fingernails are now full of garden Prozac. Or is it the sun, fresh air and exercise? I feel very content and at peace in the garden, despite what my back is telling me.
In the garden there are late borlotti beans, rambling cucumbers, and zucchini ( of course!). There are a few courageous tomato bushes, some self-sown specimens appearing out of nowhere after a big clean up. The strawberries are re-flowering, fruiting and throwing out runners which are taking up residence in the pathways. The lemongrass has turned into a giant, the chilli bushes are in their prime, and bok choy and celery have self-sown everywhere. There are three metre high amaranth plants, looking like it might be the invasive new crop I do not need. Definitely Triffid material. What was I thinking- grinding up amaranth seed for bread? This one has to go.
Succhini love affair
The heart of darkness. Radicchio hearts beginning to form.
Greek basil hangs on, rows of peas are planted in the middle.
new pumpkins- will they have time to mature?
Huge lemongrass plant.
new crop of strawberries.
borlotti beans are my favourite.
Such a long season. Zucchini Striati still producing well.
new/late tomato plants
A transitional time, our beds are being prepared for new crops. Each bed receives a few loads of fresh compost and some spent straw from the chook house. So far, I have sown broccoli ( Calabrese), Tuscan Kale ( Cavolo Nero), regular kale, rugola, three types of lettuce, dill, radish, beetroot, spring onions, peas, snow peas, broad beans, parsnip, turnip, and cima di rape. Due to good timing- warm soil, followed by good rainfall and mild weather- all the seeds took off. Please dear reader, if you live near by, come and get some seedlings. I can’t transplant them all.
After a garden pick, I feel like one of those contestants on Masterchef, except less stressed. You know that segment where the judges hand over a bunch of odd ingredients and the contestants have to cook something using what’s on hand. Not wishing to see the freshly pulled carrots and herbs go limp, I put together this salad for lunch. As I was eating it, I thought it would go rather nicely with some grilled prawns, or freshly cooked prawns, peeled and chopped through it. But then, who needs to go shopping.
Garden Thai Salad
one medium zucchini, grated
2 small carrots- I used two medium white carrots, and one small orange
leaves from mint, coriander, Thai basil, regular basil
one Thai chilli, chopped very finely
two teaspoons of light brown sugar
juice of one-2 limes/1/4 cup of juice
fish sauce to taste/ optional
a little neutral vegetable oil, not olive oil
unsalted peanuts, fried and chopped if you have some
Grate the vegetables. Tear the leaves and mix through. Mix the chopped chilli, sugar, lime juice, oil, fish sauce, together in a jug. Pour over the ingredients and toss well. Pile onto a serving plate and add chopped peanuts.
When I first studied Keats’ Ode to Autumn as a 17-year-old student, I was naive, optimistic and ignorant, full of expectation and youthful determination. The possibilities of life stretched out endlessly before me. I was in the Spring of my life: this metaphor, now considered clichéd, was not lost on me at the time, but then again, how could I have fully understood the real depth of this Keatsian analogy, not having travelled very far through the successive seasons of life. My literature teacher laid strong foundations for future and deeper understandings. Good literature requires frequent visitations.
‘To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.’
I’m now in the Autumn of my life and am delighted to be here: I wouldn’t want to be 18, or 38 or 55 still. Those times were good: each season brought blessings and joys, angst and worry. Each season does. I just happen to love Autumn more and cling to whatever this season brings, knowing that my winter is not so far away.
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.’
I visit the vegetable garden now and am rewarded with the products of our particular Summer: volatile and untrustworthy, youthful and full of energy, promises are made and broken. Patience is important when dealing with summer. Autumn is long and slow, with cool beginnings, windless warm days and soft pink, crimson, turning to tangerine sunsets. The ‘conspiracy’ is now over: we are loaded and blessed with fruits and vegetables and I’m not in a hurry to tamper with the season or hurry it along.
Hiding along walkways, slow maturing pumpkins need another two lazy months before they surrender their sweetness and hard flesh for storing. Meanwhile, the zucchini are on display again, more loud and showy than the petite summer offerings: new flowers, bees and prolific fruits appear daily. Large seed filled zeppelins appear far too quickly now.
‘To swell the gourd’
There could be a part two to my Keatsian story: to think that we have only just begun our gentle waltz through Autumn.
My previous Keatsian posts can be viewed here and the full verse can be found here.
Saturday WordPress photo challenges usually see me trawling through my travel files in search of a colourful response. This week’s challenge, Repurpose, drove me to the garden.
I am rather partial to junk: I’ve managed to successfully refurbish my home with other people’s discards. It’s in the garden that repurposing is most at home. I use old dog beds, stripped of their comfy covers then recovered with shade cloth, as protection for delicate new seedlings. Old worn out pool lounge chairs get the same treatment, their metal frames so handy in the vegetable garden. Black poly piping is bent into hoops, supported by found metal reo from building sites, creating frames for shade cloth or bird netting. Shabby looking clothes airers, long past their prime, become supports for cucumbers.
In one corner of my ornamental garden, found objects create a structure and backdrop for birds, succulents and herbs. Most of these objects, old teapots, vintage metal grape harvest bins, broken cups, beautiful colonial enamel ware jugs and a rusty metal chair, are survivors of the Black Saturday Bushfire. My enamel jugs and teapots added a colonial air to my former home. Rusted and tarnished from fire and rain, they now live in peace in my garden.
I’m reinstating my monthly garden series today, in the hope that it becomes another posting habit in this new year. The January vegetable garden delivers an abundance of food and with it comes the search for novel ways to deal with the glut. Like our ancestors of old, some will be dried, preserved, or frozen for leaner times. Expect that there will be yet more zucchini, tomato, bean and cucumber recipes as the summer months go by. But in the meantime, as I navigate my way through the narrow paths that criss cross my orto, I have once again come to admire the work of my friend and yours, the bee. Without these busy visitors, I wouldn’t be eating so well and neither would you.
If bees are scarce in your neighbourhood or vegetable garden, try to encourage them. Grow more purple flowering plants in your garden and let some of your Spring crops go to seed. Be rewarded with spectacular beauty, whilst simultaneously attracting cross pollinators for your crops and those of the neighbourhood.
Towering seed heads in a vegetable garden look magnificent, adding drama, shade and wind breaks for smaller sun shy lettuces and young plants below. I grow Endive lettuce mainly to watch them bolt after Spring, tying them to poles near the tomato patch. The blue flowers of the bolted radicchio are the brightest of all, growing to around 8 feet high. They open during the morning then close on very hot days. In the meantime, fading leek and artichoke flowers do the job.
I can honestly say that my vegetable patch is a little wild and disordered, but there’s purpose and beauty in all this chaos. The bees agree.
My young visitors have learnt to respect and admire bees. They now know that the world depends on bees for the future of 70% of all crops and walk through the purple flowering bee garden with a little more ease, in their hunt for ripe strawberries, raspberries or a crunchy radish.
If you have a vegetable garden to share with us this month, add a link to your post via a comment below and I will then pop it onto the end of this post. Happy Gardening.
Each time I visit Rod’s place, located in the heart of the dry Wimmera district, I do so with a heightened sense of anticipation. I always take my camera along and even the offered glass of chilled Pinot Grigio does not distract me from my snap happy tour. His house and garden is a feast for the eyes. Although he claims that nothing much has changed since my previous visit, I can usually spot major revamping. Lets’ take a walk together through his garden.
One of the major developments is the spill over of Rod’s garden onto the road verge. This began some years ago with a few tough succulents and a rosemary bush or two which thrived in the granulated sand. Since then, he has added some red flowering bottle brush, Callistemon, and a sprawling silver and purple flowering Dusty Miller, some irises and red flowering geranium. Along his fence line are vertical walls of creeping geranium, orange lantana, large agave, and ornate old wire fencing intertwined with rusty bedsteads. Passers by stop in their tracks and gaze in awe. It’s a work of art and enormously inviting in a wild kind of way.
At his end of town, the paths are still rustic, consisting of hard compacted gravel, country paving that suits this rural village. All the town paths used to be so. But sadly ‘progress’ is now just a block away: the local Council is rolling out regimental width white concrete paving. This is happening despite the advice from R.M.I.T’s architectural department, where the students identified that the traditional gravel paving enhanced the visual and historic feel to the town and should be retained. Ugly concrete paving will be another blow to the town. Government grant money, which must be spent, often ignores aesthetics.
The narrow walkway to the front door takes you through a dark forest of succulents mixed with three metre high shrubbery. Rod initially planted out his front garden with rescued agave plants, found growing in abandoned ruins in the countryside or at the tip. To attain height, he has added large pots, urns, and statuary: these are usually placed on top of some found tin object to obtain further height. Other plants, such as geraniums, grow a few metres high in their chase to reach light. There are very few purchased plants in Rod’s garden.
Statues of Buddha feature throughout the garden, but their placements are meant to surprise and amuse. This golden Buddha sits inside a painted corrugated iron tank which is raised onto an old wooden tank platform. The Buddha faces the house, the blue painted tank faces the street. Others can be found about the garden, often in seemingly random positions, on top of fence posts, or inside cages, or lying about, waiting to be painted.
Amid the dense planting in the front yard, Rod recently broke through to create a tiny red brick path leading to another small painted niche and shrine.
The back yard is now a forest. When Rod arrived here years ago, there was an old apricot tree, a sad-looking 100-year-old grape-vine and an old shed. Now the garden is a wonderland. The ancient vine is a monster, twisting its way around the garden and into the front yard. Other statues peep out from the shrubs. One colourful wooden Torii gate is topped with a terracotta chook sitting on a barbed wire nest. Rows of Chinese warriors, bought years ago from the Reject shop, line up in a tall painted wire cage. A classical statue sits on top of an old truck. Frizzle chooks and roosters run amok in the understory. I nearly stepped on a day old lost chicken.
Rod is an artist who is always on the look out for something quirky to add to the mix. He fertilises his garden with sheep manure collected from his brother’s farm and adds thick mulch in summer. He is on town water, but uses this sparingly. The garden thrives due to the microclimate he has created. The garden provides deep shade in summer and protection from frost and wind at other times.
I have thousands of photos of Rod’s garden and have chosen these few(!) to demonstrate what can be achieved with found junk, some good quality statues and urns and plant cuttings from the tip.
There’s nothing more local than a home garden. I often wander around with my camera, capturing seasonal change, growth and decay. The garden takes me away from my moods, my inner chatter, my inside world. In any season, il giardino is quiet and full of sensory pleasure.
This Buddha sits close to our house. It is the stone Buddha from our old garden, one of a handful of surviving objects from the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009 which destroyed our home. When I find an interesting looking stone or rock, I add it to Buddha’s feet. Bushfire is a hot topic in the local area, with extremely divergent views on how to deal with the bush. One local plant, Burgan, is at the centre of this debate, a bush known by the CFA, a fire fighting association, as ‘petrol bush’. Due to its high flammability and tendency to spread like an invasive weed, most locals like to keep this pest under control on their bush blocks. Permit requirements to clear Burgan were dropped by our local shire council (Nillumbik) after the Black Saturday bushfires. Seven years after that fire, which razed a quarter of the shire, with 42 deaths within the council’s borders and hundreds of homes destroyed, the local council plans to reinstate permits to clear this bush on privately held land. Our local Council has become wedded to an extreme ideology which is at odds with reality. Local Madness.
View from my front door. A dam is a wonderful thing and was the first improvement we made on our land after arriving in our current home almost 7 years ago. It is our local water supply for the vegetable garden, a local water supply for the CFA fire brigade should they need it and is also a local watering hole for native animals and birds. Can you believe that our Local Council does not approve of dams on private property? New local planning laws have become fraught with red tape. A line has been drawn on a map which includes this wonderful dam. It is now part of a Core Habitat zone, which, in effect, prevents us from removing any local plants from its perimeter or fixing the walls should it spring a leak, without resorting to a lengthy and expensive local permit process. Local madness.
Planting in purple and blue attracts more bees to the garden. The local bees have been sleepy this season as the weather has been too cold and wet. Now that the sun is shining and the Echium are out, the bees are returning. This blue flower is often completely covered with bees.
Borage flowers can be used in salads, but more importantly, bees also love borage. Many of these flowering shrubs, because they are not native to the district, are viewed as weeds by some prominent local environmentalists. Without bees, our vegetable and fruit supplies would vanish very quickly. There are also many native Australian flowering bushes in the garden. Bees like diversity and so do I.
Whenever I visit friends who enjoy gardening, the first thing on the agenda is a tour around their vegetable patch and orchard, before we settle down to a cup of tea and a chat. So grab a cuppa or something stronger and take a stroll around my garden for a quick tour. The season has been harsh but things are on the mend.
First up we have the tall blue and purple flowering lettuces, my bee and insect attractors and invaluable aid to the continued fertility of all the tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and fruit trees. The bright cornflower blue flowers of the radicchio, now three metres high, are beacons to bees. The purple flowers of endive lettuce last for months, while the blue flowering borage plants magically appear on the lower levels. These lettuces self sow in early Spring, bolt towards the sky in late Spring and flower through summer. They are a gardener’s best friends.
It’s seed harvesting time. All the main lettuces have gone to seed and have been hulled through my Turkish Celik, labelled and packed. The leek seed is close to collecting and makes an interesting garden specimen. Many species self sow, such as lettuce, radicchio, silver beet, coriander,parsley, tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber, though not all are retained. The garden beds become depleted quickly when taken over by the same species.
a mixed bag
Pomodori- golden apples
Romas and zucchini
Rouge de Marmande
The tomato glut has caught up with the zucchini and it’s time to think about preserving. These golden tomatoes, giving literal meaning to the Italian pomodoro, are lovely sliced on toast or a pizza. The Roma tomatoes are prolific and good keepers, while my favourite, the Rouge de Marmande are still green.
As the heat will be with us for another two months, it’s time to apply another layer of mulch and to feed the older zucchini. I use organic sugar cane- it is expensive but goes a long way, and top this with crumbled old cow manure which I soak overnight in a bucket of water. As the zucchini have been productive for over two months now, they need a good feed.
Last year was a pear year: this year is the turn of the Japanese plum. Hooray. I have waited for Satsuma and Mariposa plums for around four years and at last they have begun. Another week and they are all mine.
The Garden Diaries this time last year: https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/garden-monthly-january-2015/
What’s happening in your garden? Do you keep a garden diary or journal?
An old Italian proverb advises,” Quando i mandorli fioriscono, le donne impazziscono“- when the almond tree blooms, women go crazy. I can safely say that I missed this arboricultural, aphrodisiacal or psychotic event a few weeks ago. The almonds already have fruit! Mr Tranquillo is looking for a later flowering variety to extend the season.
My productive organic orto reminds me of the wisdom contained in old Italian proverbs, based on the experience of centuries of vegetable growing by the Italian contadini, the rural peasants, who depended on a productive home garden for crops to be eaten fresh, stored, pickled or dried. Given that this class of farmer was often at the mercy of the landowner, working under the mezzadria, thetraditional share cropping system, a productive ‘home’ patch would have been essential to their survival.
With each turn around the garden, I can hear the vecchi, the old folk, reciting advice in the form of rhymes, the oral history of food and planting. I have selected a few gems to go with this season’s verdant bounty.
Chi pianta le fave senza concime, le raccoglie senza baccello – Those who plant broadbeans without fertiliser, picks them without pods.
Chi ha un buon orto, ha un buon porco. Those who have a good vegetable garden, have a good pig. We find this to be the case with chooks also: they love wild rocket and silverbeet.
Let me out…stamp, stamp, stamp.
Un piatto di lattuga l’insonnia mette in fuga. A plate of lettuce chases away insomnia.
L’insalata vuole il sale da un sapiente, l’aceto da un avaro, l’olio da un prodigo, vuol essere mescolata da un matto e mangiata da un affamato. A salad wants salt from a wise man, vinegar from a miser and oil from a squanderer, mixed by a madman and eaten by the hungry.
Lattuga romanella ripulisce la budella. Cos lettuce cleans the gut.
Simple dishes star this season,the cucina povera of theItalian contadini:
freshly made egg pasta with sage leaves browned in butter
frittata stuffed with herbs and wild greens, with ricotta saltata
orecchiette with turnip tops, garlic and anchovies
green salads wisely dressed
pies and tarts with silverbeet, dill, spring onions and mint, along with fetta
silver beet dolmades
salsa verde to dress fish or dill and walnut pesto to dress hard-boiled eggs
risotto with cavolo nero or radicchio
It’s all very green with the odd touch of bitter crimson. The planting of the summer fruiting vegetables has begun.
Julie’s Spring garden in the North Island of New Zealand is always inspiring, especially given her brilliant photography. Find her at frogpondfarm
Winter is a great time to check the vegetable garden’s infrastructure before being overwhelmed by the tasks of Spring. Five years ago when we moved into this property, we installed a tall fence around the perimeter of the garden. The base of the fence was then boarded, allowing mowing and brushcutting up to the edge, but the fencing wire was not buried. We should have known that the rabbits would keep finding weak points and enter by digging under the boards. Task number one is to rectify this problem. Time to call a working bee.
Last summer we installed hoops over half the garden beds, enabling us to attach shade cloth over the summer crops during the hot summer months. The hoops are made from ‘found’ reo ( metal reinforcing rods) which are cut into 1½ metre lengths then inserted into flexible poly piping. More hoops are required this season, to cover the remaining beds with stretchy cheap bird netting as a deterrent to the winter vandals, namely the cockatoos. These large birds love a winter raid. The guard cocky sits in the tallest tree, alerting his friends of our imminent arrival, though all our loud shooing and yelling has little effect. Down they swoop in large gangs, bombing any plant that they consider too tall, ugly or in the way. Last week the slow-growing broccoli plants became winter’s first victims. Some were sliced in half, others were pulled out of the ground. Just for fun! The 300 garlic plants are getting some height and look like the next target.
Keeping accurate rainfall records is an ingrained habit: we have records from this area dating back to the 8os. Winter rain tallies are important for many reasons. Melbourne can often be cold and dry in June and July, so watering becomes essential. This July we have received 104 mm, with a cumulative total of 491 mm for the year, comparing favourably with the figures from the July aggregate totals from recent years. (July’14- 340 mm, July ’13-300, July’12- 457, July ’11-537, July’10- 483). Let’s hope that the rain keeps up in Spring.
Our vegetable garden relies on dam water. The house is supplied by rainwater collected in tanks and is reserved for home use, topping up the swimming pool and emergencies, such as bushfire. We extended the dam, making it deeper and wider, soon after we arrived in our new abode. It filled quickly during a Spring downpour: we watched in awe as it went from empty to full in one afternoon, like a giant cappuccino in the making. During the dry months, water is pumped from the dam up to a 5000 litre holding tank on the ridge. The water is then gravity fed down to the garden, via underground pipes, as the vegetable garden is sited well below the tanks. Sometimes the lines get blocked or are slowed down and need the filters changed. This is another winter task.
Our beautiful Dexter cows, Delilah (the bitch) Sad Aunty Derry, Skinny Duffy and the boys, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy (the rogue), give us a bountiful supply of manure as do the chooks. The manure is layered into large bins, along with dry leaves (carbon), and green matter (kitchen waste and green clippings): the resulting ‘lasagne’ puffs away for three months until ready for use with each new season. We have around five bins in various stages of maturation. Well made compost is the answer to successful organic growing, along with adequate water, mulching, and siting the garden away from shade or large rooted trees. East and north sun are key factors, along with protection from the South West, the main source of our destructive winds.
Winter lettuces come in all colours and flavours. They are picked every few days, washed then spun and bagged. Unlike the supermarket packets of uniform ‘baby’ leaves, gassed and given a mandatory wash in bleach, home-grown lettuces are delightfully irregular, and often come with stems attached. The current mix includes Cos, butterhead, red oakleaf, red butterhead, rocket and baby radicchio.
Looking for more garden inspiration? Check out this month’s vegetable garden posts on Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective from Monday, August 3.