Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I'm afraid gardening time is a little hard to come by lately, and it's even harder to find time to write about it. So I'm putting this blog on hold.

But I will be posting recipes and gardening hints on the Warrandyte Community Garden site instead.

And if you're on Facebook, you can find us there on the Bush Backyard page.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Water, water, everywhere

Most of us in south eastern Australia have spent the last few years focused on retaining and re-using every last drop of water.

Now, we have a different problem. What to do with it all?

Gardens created in the last decade or so are showing themselves in a new light: rivulets running down driveways, swamps which were once dry beds, soggy bits and overflowing drains and burgeoning weeds.

Drainage, I admit, is not the most romantic of gardening concepts. But fine weather or foul, it can make or break any garden.

So here are a few helpful resources if you, like me, find yourself slogging through the muck where once you were lugging precious buckets of shower water:
Drainage basics
Paving and textures for small backyard areas
Raised garden beds
Build a rain garden

Yes, a decent drainage plan and system can be hard work, or expensive, or both. But it is, literally, the underpinning of a good garden structure. Most importantly, working with the way the water wants to run can help you plan your garden around nature, instead of against it.

And if all else fails, there are always...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Owl nights

We hear an awful lot from the local owls on these dark rainy nights. Tawny frogmouths lurk in the branches. Moreporks call across the valley. The odd Barn Owl flashes through the car headlights.
But nothing like these orphan Tawny owls, rescued by a British wildlife hospital, looking for all the world like something out of a children's book (more info and even cuter photos in The Daily Mail)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Autumn colours

We like a spot of autumn colour here in the Bush Backyard, and I don't just mean the changing leaves.

Something about the time of year draws the eye, and the mind, to the colours of autumn - berries, rosehips, drying grasses, the red tips of new grevillea shoots, sedum, rhubarb and russet apples, late bottle-brushes, rocks and tree trunks bared by the fall of leaves.

Even in the vegetable patch, the beetroot and rainbow chard are coming along nicely, as are the red oakleaf lettuces.

The frenzy of summer growth is over, but there's still plenty to do.

So best not sit about a moment longer...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Green tomatoes

Right now, it's time to harvest everything that's left of the summer tomatoes, basil and eggplants and settle in for a frenzy of bottling and freezing and pesto-making.

Don't know about your place, but around here, after that odd summer, we have plenty of green tomatoes still on the vine as the plants give up the ghost beneath them.

This year, for sauce tomatoes, I tried the variety called First Class and it really is. I just planted one, as a trial, and it has been cropping heavily for months. But next summer, I'll put a few in pots and ought to have enough fruit for several batches of sauce and sugo.

Unfortunately, the bloody millipedes keep getting to the fruit before me so I've been harvesting them green and ripening them inside.

You can do the same for any late season tomatoes, which have trouble ripening in the cooler weather and become more susceptible to ravening beasts. You can pick them when they are a decent size and sit them somewhere warm - perhaps on a window sill. They'll slowly turn red and delicious.

Or you can use them green. Australians tend not to do this much, but of course it's very common in the US, especially in the South.

I tried this recipe for green tomato chutney from Cuisine:

You need

  • 1kg green tomatoes, chopped
  • 500g brown onions, chopped
  • 200g apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 300ml cider vinegar
  • 225g brown sugar

What to do
Place tomatoes, onion, apples, garlic, ginger, salt, spices and half the vinegar in a heavy-based saucepan (or, even better, your Nana's old preserving pan - but that might just be me). Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring, for one hour. Add remaining vinegar and the sugar and simmer for 90 minutes or until thick. Stir regularly to prevent catching. Spoon hot chutney into sterilised jars and cover with airtight lids for one month before serving.

This makes about 1kg - four or five jars depending on their size.

I found my batch grew a little too thick early on - indeed, in danger of catching. So I added a splash or two of water. That will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are, but there's not that much moisture in green tomatoes. I also added a slosh of verjuice since everything's better with verjuice.

Sterilising jars
Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse. As you get closer to needing them, scald the jars and lids in a large saucepan of water and dry on a rack. Make sure the jar is still hot when filled - you can keep them warm and dry in a low oven if you like. Once the lid is on firmly, turn the jar upside down for two minutes, then set it back upright and leave until cool.

Bitter experience leads me to remind you to label it and add the date. We have a jar of pinkish something in the cupboard and I don't even know if it's sweet or savoury.

I use recycled jars but buy replacement metal lids from Green Living Australia, so I know they are clean and will seal well - they have a little pushdown button in the middle of the lid so you can tell if the seal is right.

Another hint: don't think too hard about the book or film Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe while you're chopping them up, or you might cry. Just saying.

I forgot completely about waiting a month before eating it and hoed in straightaway. Not much of a one for reading instructions. It was mighty fine - which was lucky, really, since I'd never actually tried green tomato chutney before. But I'm sure the flavour deepens if you wait a little. So the next jar should be even better.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I started young, obviously

Nothing is secret when you equip a 75-year old father with a digital slide scanner.

I still remember the feel of that lovely spade in my hand. And I love that shirt.

I may be helping in the garden here, or just causing trouble. But it could be during my career as a trainee sewerage man - they became my idols when the pipes were put in to replace the nightsoil man and his weekly pan collection. Oh, the excitement. I spent all my days either watching the drainage men, or digging a very large hole, just like they did. And what good training it's turned out to be.

Ironic, really, that I now live in a house without sewerage connected.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Planting time in the kitchen garden

Loving this rain.
So do the damn Portuguese millipedes, though, and it's Thermopylae out there in the veggie patch each morning: one seedling to 3000 millipedes. Nothing kills them except Baysol and it's really too risky with wildlife and pets around. So I swear a lot instead and jump up and down on them. Not very Buddhist, I know. Not even very Spartan.
But with the summer harvest nearly all disposed of - in freezers and jars and fondly-remembered meals - now it's time to get the garden back in some kind of order after a silly summer of head-high weeds and feral fruits.
So what to do next?

With the weather a little cooler, you can get out there and dig over the patch, yank out any summer plants that are really only hanging on by a thread, and cut back things like summer raspberries and artichokes. Clear up rotting mulch and compost it properly - the slaters and millipedes are just a little too fond of it and don't discriminate between mulch and small lettuces. It's a good time to compost - give a little back to the soil after a hard summer, especially where the rain might have carried off the nutrients with the topsoil. Chuck a bit of lime about, if it needs it.

I've put in rainbow chard (silver beet, except it isn't silver) and Tuscan kale. The beetroot seeds I sowed a few weeks ago have come up nicely.
You can plant spinach around now, peas if you don't get any frost, and even broad beans. Lettuce can go in and it won't bolt straightaway as it has over summer. Carrots, cabbages and broccoli should get going (sooner the better). If you let coriander, rocket and parsley self-seed, they will start to sprout everywhere shortly.
I had a ton of garlic last year (that's a slight exaggeration) and now's the time to get some more into the ground. Well worth it.
We're still harvesting beans, tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes, and when they're finished (which won't be long) I'll get the next season ready: broccolini, I think. Another round of beetroot and lettuces. A million onions (I never grow enough).

Never ends.
But isn't it fun?