This February the 2 folk, the dog and the tractor were decidedly busy on all things NOT tomato related. For the first time in 6 years, our February was not dominated by the tomato harvest and preserving.
The kitchen garden is producing well at the moment. We clearly have a tomato forest, despite the new trellis system, with plenty of green tomatoes just on the cusp of ripening. In the last 2 days of February, I’ve collected 1kg of our expected harvest of 20kg. A year ago I noted tomatoes do not need to ‘ripen on the vine’ to improve in flavour. Ripening indoors certainly takes the pressure off worrying about any insect attack. The kitchen garden supports a small flock of sparrows, geckos, and lizards who feed on the known bugs in the garden. I provide water and real estate in return. The generosity does not extend to the rabbit who has found the kale, just how do you remove this pest? Hopefully, once Ginger the Airedale terrier is back on free-range duty the rabbit will move on.
It is with much joy I can include a picture of my first ever triumphant cucumber flower (with a sister flower hiding behind the leaf – that makes 2!) and our first Cox’s Orange Pippen apple. All previous attempts to grow cucumbers failed due to pest attack, lack of water, and wind snapping stems. This tiny, and I suspect, way too late to fruit, flower gives me hope for next season. Over the failed attempts I have learned cucumbers take much more water than you think and need plenty of protection of their main trunk. I adapted some old plastic pots which worked a treat. As I have not got past this point previously I am sure there are more lessons in store! For the apple, this was the only one of 8 to survive to picking, on one tree of 10 (other varieties). I confirm this variety of apple tree is tough. It has survived years of insufficient water, bad pruning, and sheep grazing. Takeaways for me, water every day, don’t let fruit set for the first 2 years to establish the plant, prune well and keep the sheep out. This apple represents deep patience and looks so good…and I’m too nervous to taste it.
This year I found the time to hedge the rosemary border before it set flower. This sounds at odds with regular wisdom. However, there were no flower buds evident and our autumn is sufficiently warm to ensure a good amount of new growth and flower before winter arrives. Rosemary is a major food source for bees here during late autumn and winter. Last year I felt pretty sick having to hedge the border during its flowering time, so much so that I did it bit by bit to give the hard-working girls a chance. It dragged on a bit, to be honest. I hope this approach will avoid such a palaver.
Fresh produce in the kitchen garden this month includes kale, spinach, lettuce, spring onions, chives, parsley, tarragon, basil, the last of the peas, tomatoes, and rosemary. Plantings to progress are broccoli, brussel sprouts and peas.
To distract us from the looming black hole of no tomatoes, we have put our energies into fencing new paddocks off for sheep, attending sheep farm tours and eating our way around local shows.
We had a great day visiting 10 local sheep farmers in the area for the Gunning leg of the Flock Ewe Competition (a friend of mine burst out laughing when they head this – I’m yet to confirm if its deliberate, which I highly suspect, or country charm). What hit home is how different folk farm differently and it’s been a god-awful year for most of them. We saw plenty of sheep, all in pretty good shape given the drought conditions, and plenty of sheds, some centuries old and others modern monoliths.
The garlic paddock is under preparation, with the sheep now camping in the area where the new beds will go. Where sheep camp is where the manure and urine are most concentrated. Along with mountains of collected manure, organic inputs such as vegetable compost and microbial inputs are my key method for developing our soils into rich dark earth teeming with microfauna and flora.
Planting plan this year includes cultivating the soil to a min of 40cms; heavily fertilise with sheep manure; add soil improvers such as EM1 microbial solutions, and vegetable compost; mulch heavily but ‘fluffily’; and water consistently rather than wait on mother nature.
I thought I’d show a pic of the best and worst garlic from my crop this season. It is disheartening when you get bulbs like the one on the left, but to give garlic its due, this plant, despite the lack of water, attack by Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, and insufficient nutrients, still managed to produce a bulb I can plant. This is what they call a super clove. Typically produced when a garlic plant goes into stress mode. It makes the call to put all its energies into producing one clove rather than several tiny cloves. If I plant this super clove out, in the right conditions, it will outperform a clove from an ordinary bulb. So all is not lost – what a remarkable plant to grow.
The owner-builder adventure continues with the delivery of the solid Blackwood timber we are using to surround our windows, door frames and the huge 4m shelf in the kitchen. We have saved up for this for the last few months and to see it safely inside the house is a moment of excitement. Does anyone else live with scaffolding and bundles of wood in their main living space?
Book List February
Audio book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I thoroughly recommend.
It was a real mixed bag this month. On recommendation from ‘others’ I read the books written by Melanie Benjamin and I was left underwhelmed. I enjoyed The Wife by Meg Wolitzer as the voice of the female protagonist is very believable and authentic (now there is a word for the times). I’ve included Flour and Stone by Nadine Ingham (again) because for the first time ever I made choux pastry, as in profiteroles and eclairs. Oh yes, let me repeat, I can make profiteroles and eclairs, albeit funny shaped and sans cream.
I have (finally) discovered podcasts and the one that has caught my heart is Dispatch to a Friend by Annabelle Hickson and Gillian Bell. What I like about a podcast is that it is not like the radio where you have to suffer the comments by other listeners or topics on subjects from the far right or left of politics, or politicians for that matter! A key reason for why podcasts and audio books are now firmly in my life is that I have worked out I can knit whilst listening to them. How I revel in the double indulgence.
The strongest love is the love that can demonstrate its fragility – Paulo Coelho