Wednesday, November 27, 2013

For the love of marrows

Courgettes...marrows...zucchini...whatever you call them...but they are a summer staple in our home cooked meals.

I let most of the grow big so we can use them to bulk up stews, pies and pasta sauces or bake them into a vegetable cake. Excess are grated and frozen in portions.

 Tonight I made this galette...sooooooo yummy.
I didn't have ricotta so used feta and used phylo instead of homemade pastry.

And yesterday we had mini courgette omelettes with a spicy home cured bacon and tomato sauce for breakfast.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Being cruel to be kind - pruning tomatoes

Sometimes gardening can feel a lot like parenting as you wait for the fruit to come. There are times when you have to change the direction of a vine tendril, hook up a tailing part of a cucumber, or pull out the weaker seedling so that the stronger one can grow.

After first repotting in cocopeat
There are so many ways that this mimics parenting, directing children to more noble or worthwhile pursuits, picking them up when they have flopped down, asking them to give up something that is either detrimental to their character or is causing them to be divided in their interests. But seeing this is a blog about growing vegetables - rather than children - I will spare you the parenting chat and tell you rather about my bonding time with my tomato plants. 

I have lovingly nurtured these since September when I planted them as seeds. They were carried out into the sunshine on the fine days, hurriedly brought back in on the tempestuous days of early spring when the heavens emptied their watering cans.

We repotted them tenderly into larger pots twice over and then finally set them out into garden beds about a month ago. Each time they were set a little deeper in the soil to make a strong stem and it is said this will produce better fruit.

Traditionally I have always staked my tomatoes as they grow.  However, I found that the wind here in summer causes the gardeners twine to cut into the stems making a weak point where the plant becomes either broken or susceptible to pests and disease. So this year I am trying tomato cages, I think my cages are a bit small, but that's what I have for this year.

Toby - the garden work inspector
A few evenings ago I did the pruning thing. I feel rather cruel when I look at the beautiful strong growth and know that I am about to cut off all the lower branches so that more growth goes upward.

Sometimes tomatoes try to grow two main stems - one is the true stem the other is actually off the main and above soil level. By looking at the one that comes directly from the soil is the easiest way for me to tell which to nip off, which is obviously the one that is not coming out of the soil but off the side of the main stem. Hope that's clear to you readers :)  So that's the first thing to go. The next thing to be pruned are the side shoots until I have about 4 strong growing branches off the main stem.

I have found that this needs to be done within a month of planting out otherwise all the branches are starting to make flowers and then I feel doubly cruel! So snip-snip-snip and I end up with more of a tree shape than a bush shape.

These will be left to grow and I will fed them with worm tea for a few weeks and that should set the on their way to flower production and fruit bearing. 

While waiting at my son's tennis coaching today, I read this delightful memoir of Joe Hewit's first tomato growing experience. I wonder where I can get fish heads from? Not sure if Toby will approve.

I fear the cages are not going to be tall enough!

Linking up at Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Making the most of small spaces

Not everyone has large spaces where they can grow veggies, most of us home vegetable growers have average suburban plots and we try to combine a bit of flowers, grass, playroom and vegetable beds.

We live on 900square meters of which more than half of that is buildings, paving and pool. The rest is gravel pathways, chicken coop and vegetable garden. We have 11 raised beds, some 5x2m others 7x2m. On the paved areas we have wine barrels and pots and planters where we also grow vegetable.

We try to make use of the vertical space with hanging and wall baskets. I had plans to grow a granadilla over the fence as well as berries and espalier fruit trees against the walls. This has proven to be more troublesome that I thought it would be so has never gotten off the ground.

I wish I were able to say that we are able to grow all our vegetables, but I think if would be more than we could manage, so we are happy with the fact that we grow lots of vegetable according to the season and we enjoy it in waves.

For instance it is asparagus season at the moment. From our 10 plants (8in the ground and 2 in wine barrels) we eat more asparagus than we would if we had to buy it. It graces our dinner plates or salads at least twice a week.

All through winter we have eaten cauliflower, kale and spinach. Kale and spinach are still on the go. Yesterday I went peeping under the big courgette leaves and we have lots of them waiting for harvesting. Soon tomatoes will follow as will cucumbers and corn.

The key to growing loads of food in that small space, I have learnt, is that you must only grow what you like. Recently while reading Animal Vegetable Miracle I was intrigued by all the heirloom names of the potato and tomato varieties. I can only grow two or three types of tomatoes because of the spacing required so I go for the heirloom varieties that give big yields for each plant. Beefsteak is a good choice. Cherry tomatoes don't get to go in a bed, they have to be happy in pots in the back garden.

Potatoes have to be in the ground a long time so I only give two beds to them, and even though we will never grow enough to see us through to the next season we really enjoy the crisp fresh dug up spuds that we can harvest for a period.

The next thing with getting food from small spaces is to harvest the first fruits as young - small spinach leaves, small courgettes, small beans but then to leave a few to get big and freeze those for later consumption. Obviously beans can be grown to full pod stage and then dried and stored in a pantry.

Another technique we have tried is to plant a fast growing crop like radish with a slow growing one like beans. So in the bean tripod area we set up the tripod, planted 2 runner beans at each post then planted marigolds front and back against the edges and radishes and watercress along the long sides of the bed. The radish and watercress will be ready long before the beans cast shade over the lower bed.

When you start to think about growing food in an urban setting you need to look beyond what works in big spaces. Intermingling herbs with flowers with vegetables also works if you want to hold onto a flower border. In one place in our garden we have spinach, lavender, sage and evening primrose growing. I had dreams of pressing the evening primrose flowers eventually but that has not materialized yet.

Well, enough words…lets take a look at some of my small spaces so you can be inspired to grow in your small spaces…

The backyard is covered by brick paving except for one small circular bed which has a fig tree growing in it. This is where the bulk of the wine barrels and hanging baskets and my eclectic collection of pots are. The picture above is one of the two blueberry plants that we have which gave us a great daily snack, or at least some of us, each day for the last while. Planted at its base is a butternut and a tomato.

Another wine barrel with a butternut, asparagus and strawberry. The big flat leaf plant at the back of the barrel is borage which I encourage as it attract the bees.

 Under my bedroom window is a wine barrel with another blueberry which was planted late last summer and is not too happy. Around its base are small cucumber plants. In the pots in front are bush cucumbers, tomatoes and a lovely red chard.

We inherited this pot when we moved in and it held a Delicious Monster. It died :( and I replaced it with a curry leaf tree. Its very slow growing like Bay, and it needs to be in a pot. Around its base I planted rocket and 1 nasturtium plant. In the small pots my elder daughter put some flowers and some chilli plants.

This is a built up bed outside my kitchen which was here when we moved in. Since 2008 it has held runner beans, herbs, chilli plants, coriander and now it has a planting of bush beans. In this area I also have more hanging strawberry baskets and its where we tend our new seedlings.

I also use my compost heap for growing at this time of the year. I don't turn one of them and plant some trailing squash here. It covers the heap and trails up the fence at the back.

Outside our lounge door we have this funny shaped bed. It now holds spinach and kale, yarrow, a butternut plant and bulbenella. The pots around here have basil and sage and some shade loving perennials.

 So that's it. Do you have small awkward places that you can use for veggies or herbs?

I also hope you like the new blog look. I decided to splash out and get the kind folks at Cutest Blog on the Block to make me all ready for summer. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Home Curing Bacon

Pork...lots is said about it and many people choose not to eat it because it is!

But we have always been pork eaters, and I think we will continue to be. Our pork eating has gone from just buying out of fridges at Woolies about 5 years go, moving onto Happy Hog about 3 years ago and now we have a new farmer that we buy from.

We stopped eating pork for a while as I needed to be 100% sure of what the piggies were eating and when we found our new supplier last month we were very happy to give the pigs a try.

The reason that most people steer away from pork is because of the atrocious conditions they are kept in. Pigs will also eat carrion along with their everyday slops and within 4 hours they will have made that yucky "food" into meat or fat. Kept in styes, they wallow in their own filth, which is a breeding ground for pathogens and because pigs are designed to dig with their noses they will shovel around in their own poop too. Eewwww...yeah...gross right!?! Right.

 My son has had a free range chicken supply business for the last 18 months and over the last while he has added new products to his range. We got onto our new pork farmer because of her chickens. I was smitten with her story and decided to try her pork for our personal use, not his business, yet.

Ros is a free range farmer in the truest sense of the word. Her lambs, beef and pigs are never housed. They spend their days and nights in the open foraging for food. The only feed they get is either grown for them on the farm or mixed up from other local farmers.

For instance, her chickens get a grain and legume mix with a little added locally grown heirloom corn which is untainted by the Monsanto modifications. Her pigs are happy to eat from their own home grown snack bar as she plants up the river banks with vegetables for them to root. They also spend time foraging in the woods and around the farm. Her cows, likewise. And all this for her passion - to finance horse rehabilitation which she has been doing from her teen years - 500 horses so far in her lifetime. Truly inspirational.

So we are eating pork again, raised with the highest standards we can find and we are happy. But she doesn't do bacon. Bacon is too expensive to do as a small time farmer and we do so love our bacon, so she gave me a home curing recipe to try on her thick sliced belly "bacon" cuts. She has given me permission to share it here.

1/4 cup natural sea salt
1/4 cup moist brown sugar.
Mix well
Add a dash of balsamic vinegar
20ml melted maple syrup.

4 - 6 slices

Rub into bacon and place into covered dish to sweat in the fridge for 7 days. Dry out in the fridge for 2 days by removing the cover, cook and eat.

The outcome -  a salty sweat smoky flavour that 3 of us loved and 3 of us were a bit on the fence about. I was one who liked it!

I am going to try it again for definite thumbs up or next time I think I will order the full belly and try to cure it according to the new book my dear Sis just sent me - sugar salt smoke.

Half went into a chicken caesar salad

The others were fried...
For a good old traditional breakfast

Monday, November 4, 2013

Slow Living October

I haven't joined up at Christine's series this year as it felt a little hypocritical with the fast paced life we live at the moment but this month that was has been a relatively slower one with lots of lovely things happening so I cannot resist adding my post to the mix.


 Our garden has been very generous over the last while with asparagus, spinach, kale, herbs, blueberries and strawberries. I have been planning meals around what vegetables need to be used. This post shares some of the meals made this past week.

I used up a 2kg bag of kumquats in a scrumptious marmalade.

REDUCE I reduced my computer time to bare minimum but this is tough as I have two blogs and two websites which need attention as well as an offline business that brings online queries. Seriously though, I am reading a book with my middle two children called "The Next Story - Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion" and it is really challenging in many areas. I do not believe my technology owns me, but rather I use it for the purpose it was created. Even thought I don't do Facebook or other social media, nor do I have time for lots of blogs (there are three or four I visit intermittently) I do feel that I can have a bit of a clean up of the cyberspace "noise" in my I reduce :)

Due to a cash shortage this month I have again returned to some old favourites, like homemade washing liquid and I discovered Cocopeat to use as a seedling starter. I think so much of our daily routine include simple wise stewardship ideas that its hard to do this category now with something new. We compost, have a wormery, recycle, reuse, rethink and have for the most part since 2008 that it is all a little old hat.


Growing month here in the Southern Hemisphere - so beefsteak tomatoes, green zebra tomatoes, golden, black and Italian striped courgettes, pumpkins, corn, potatoes, cucumbers - bush, lemon and climbing, butternut, winter squash, queen squash, onions, carrots, bush beans and climbing beans all are growing along with the days of October.


We created a rather funny looking cucumber frame from what we had lying around. I hope the trailing cucumbers will cover it and give shade to the chard underneath. A garden experiment.

I discovered kohlrabi...pity, it was the end of the season. I think I may grow some next season.

I like to think that my life enhances others, that is one of the reasons for this blog. I like to encourage others, perhaps they are sometimes bowled over by my enthusiasm and can take it as I am a know-it-all but I love to share what we have discovered or learnt.

I also have two fellow gardeners down the road who every now and again get the overflow of my garden, so when I sowed too many bush cucumbers I sent them along their way as well as some kale plants that were being moved and there were too many just for us.


I feel like I live in my car Monday to Saturday from 2-6pm. The last thing I want to do is get into a car on a Sunday, but Superman and I have been heading off to gym to swim on Sunday mornings, just the two of us.

I swim 2 other times in the week but it is always in a pool with young studs showing me just how slow I actually am :)) so it's a pleasure to have the pool to the two of us on a Sunday.

When we get home our elder son has cooked lunch for us and then I relax for the afternoon. Generally the Lucky dog AKA Precious Baby Lamb and I along with a friend and her two pups also enjoy a long walk in the forest.

Sunday is my day. I enjoy that.