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Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in the garden

Because the weather is so unpredictable in December, we usually have turkey burgers (we have turkey roll rather than a whole turkey) for Christmas Day dinner but I forgot to buy buns and the ones I made turned out more like dinner rolls so we had a salad instead. I pulled some lettuce leaves from the garden and also harvested the first of the Black Russian tomatoes which was rich and juicy. Unfortunately the bugs also think so and I'm having a hard time keeping them off.

For Boxing Day dinner we used up the leftover turkey in this Turkey a la King recipe using a lovely green capsicum from the garden.

Here are some photos from the garden as it is currently. For some reason they are all sideways but I can't work out how to reorientate them.

Pototoes in grow bags. Have had a few early 'new' potatoes. More are ready to be harvested.

Ballerina apple

Capsicum (2nd year production)

Corner bed - tangerine, ballerina apple, dwarf pink lady, asparagus... and some flowers

Raised bed - squash, celery, turnip, tomato, zucchini and a random cucumber that self-seeded

Black Russian tomato - the stockings are an attempt to protect from pests

Christmas dessert - topped with strawberries from the garden

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Roast

In an effort to expand beyond the limited range of vegetables available in the supermarket, I planted some kohlrabi a few weeks ago. Today I harvested a couple of young kohlrabi bulbs, turnips and carrots to roast along with a store-bought chook (chicken). A few early beans added some colour to the roast which was had with chips and gravy. I loosely followed this recipe for roasted kohlrabi with garlic and parmesan. It proved to be very tasty so I will definitely be planting some more as they are easy to grow from seed.

Freshly harvested veggies - washed & ready to be peeled

Thursday, December 8, 2011

All the colours of the rainbow

We are getting LOTS of rain at the moment and the garden appears to be thriving. My silverbeets and spinach are looking particularly healthy and I harvested some tonight along with a couple of decent sized carrots to have in a stir fry. I added a shop bought red capsicum for some colour because my capsicums are still undersized and green.

There are lots of roma and black russian tomatoes growing - some quite large - but all are still green. I suspect that I'll be harvesting a lot of tomatoes once the sun starts shining again!

The two blueberry bushes are still yielding plenty of berries. Here's a handful I picked to add to my morning muesli yesterday:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sewing and harvesting

Today I harvested my first garlic. Garlic is apparently very easy to grow but 2 out of my 4 plantings didn't make it. They were divided between two different beds so I'm guessing that's something to do with the soil types. It's been very interesting to see things thrive in one bed but do poorly in another.

I also pulled up a turnip the size of which almost required me to call for help from the cat, the dog, the duck (or in our case, budgie) etc. Unfortunately my camera battery is flat so you'll have to take my word for it but there seems to be a couple more doing well and hopefully I can take a snap of those. I'm thinking about making this recipe for potato and turnip patties. I have some spring onions (scallion greens) growing and might see if any potatoes are ready instead of using the store bought ones. I was also very excited to see that some asparagus crowns I planted are still doing well after I thought I'd killed them through lack of watering. They are positioned just under the edge of the eave so don't always get rainfall if the rain is being blown outwards.

Rain is forecast over the next few days so today I sewed some watermelon, cauliflower and, in an effort to try something new, kohlrabi. Also as part of the trying-new-things plan, yesterday I dished up some store-bought choko. I've read that choko is easy to grow but thought I should determine if the family would actually eat it before planting any. I tried two cooking methods - steaming and stir frying. Frying got the thumbs up and because of the texture I think it could be used instead of water chestnut in stir-fry recipes. So a second choko is currently sitting in the back of the veggie cupboard where hopefully it will sprout ready to be planted... if I can find a spot in the garden that is!

Tonight's dinner is salmon and spinach pasta bake made, of course, with homegrown spinach and the aforementioned garlic from the garden.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lemons keep falling on my head

Yesterday I pulled out the snow peas and will improve the soil before planting some carrots and possibly some squash. I harvested what seems to be the last of the broad (fava) beans and used them, along with some carrots and thyme from the garden, to make Don Burke's potato, beans and carrots dish which was had with some crunchy herbed chicken drumsticks. The double shelling of the beans does take a bit of time but I find it therapeutic and it's something the kids enjoy helping with. The dish was simple and rustic but full of flavour.

I also made some vegetable stock concentrate using celery, carrots and herbs from the garden along with some store-bought onion, tomato and garlic (I have all these growing in the garden but they are not harvestable yet). The stock should last a few months and will be used as a base for stews, risotto and dishes like the one above.

And because I literally have lemons falling on my head, I decided to use a few of them in this lemon delicious slice recipe - they were very delicious!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Our home vegetable garden has been established and producing for over a year now. It's been a year of experimentation - some things have worked, some things haven't. It's also been a year of education - I've learnt a lot. Above all I've been suprised by how productive the garden has been. Now that I've worked out what does work and got the timing sorted, we rarely buy vegetables from the shops. Just the occasional bag of frozen corn cobs. There's not a huge amount to harvest each day but I easily get something even if it's just a strawberry and some parsley. Today's dinner vegetables were broad beans, carrots and the last of the snow peas. A couple of home-grown swedes where mashed with a store-bought sweet potato and that was sufficient for our family of 6.  I think our garden could easily provide ample vegetables for a couple, perhaps even a family of four if I planned better.

We have to eat what's in season though, and that can get a bit boring. Peas, carrots and beans are popular because they are so easy to grow but we like a bit of variety so for the following year I am going to try growing things I've never eaten before, like choko, and stuff you can't buy in shops because it doesn't store well. This will also mean trying new recipes to use up the produce we grow. I'm planning to get my hands on a copy of Indira Naidoo's new book, 'Edible Balcony', because it contains recipes and ideas for using home-grown produce. Check out her foodie blog.

I also find Jackie French a great source of inspiration. I came across this great self-suffiency article by her today as I searched for ideas to expand growing space. I'm rapidly discovering that you can never have enough vegetable beds! One thing's for sure, I've been well and truly bitten by the gardening bug. When I woke up this morning my first thought was, "I forgot to put the netting back on the blueberries." Luckily the birds hadn't gotten to them because there are plenty almost ready to ripen to be added to muffins and stacked on to pancakes along with home-grown strawberries.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Peas please

Peas in the pod
Peas are one of my favourite things to grow in the garden. They remind me of my childhood, popping open pods to find delicious plump peas. Knowing when to harvest has been a bit of trial and error but recently we've had a few meals where the greens portion has been solely from the garden, not needing to be supplement by store bought vegies. These snow peas added some lovely texture to a creamy paprika chicken dish.

Today I planted out some tomatoes that I grew from seeds I harvested last year and also some cucumber seeds given to me by a friend as well as some lettuces. We have masses of celery so I pulled up three bunches and gave two away to neighbours.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Snow peas!

My snow peas seemed to have fruited overnight. Perhaps because of the sudden arrival of Spring. I picked four to add to tonight's meal and there are plenty more flowers so it would seem we'll have a glut of snow peas over the next few weeks.

Stir fry chicken with pak choy, brocolli, carrot and snow peas (all vegetables from the garden).

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer in Winter

Strawberries are synonymous with summer warmth and sunshine but I've been getting a few strawberries consistently from one of my strawberry plants that gets full sun most of the day, even though we are now in mid-winter. A top up of some good quality compost and regular watering helps. Some of them are odd shapes but they taste just like the strawberries of summer.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Starting out

I'm occasionally asked by friends who would like to start a herb and veggie garden what plants to start with. The answer varies according to climate and soil type, so those would be the first things to establish. Are you in a cold climate, temperate, sub-tropical? This will greatly affect what you can grow well. The other thing to consider is soil type. This isn't an issue if you're going to use raised garden beds, which I'd recommend. The local soil type here is clay in which not much grows at all, although leeks like it.

Starting out in Winter will be frustrating because you're limited to what you can grow and it will grow slowly. But it is a great time to plan and prepare your vegetable garden. If buying raised garden beds I have found wooden frames (sleepers) as these have worked best for us. The stainless steel ones tend to heat up and dry out the soil. There are some concerns about wood treatments leeching into the soil but these concerns can be brought up against most types of garden bed containers so it's a matter of going with what you feel comfortable with. There is a big variety of garden bed edging that can be used - truck tyres, hay bales, bricks. What you choose depends on the look you are after and how temporary or permanent you want the bed to be. Stainless steel or sleepers are usually the preferred option because they are easy but if you hunt around, there are cheaper options - especially if you recycle. One of our beds was once a sandpit. I would recommend not skimping on soil though. Our local garden centre recently did an experiment by planting lettuces directly in a bag of their own soil and some in a bag of soil bought from the supermarket. The results spoke for themselves.

Consider the shape of the bed - you need to be able to easily reach the centre of the bed for sewing and harvesting. I love the idea of mandala gardens which are designed to avoid having to tread on soil - something I occasionally have to do to reach the back of one of our beds. This compacts the soil and makes it difficult for plants to grow so I am always careful to tread in the same spot. If you are fortunate enough to have the space, aim to have four garden beds - this allows for crop rotation. There's no such thing 'too much' of a harvest of something, you can make chutney or jam or other preserves and some vegetables (e.g. green beans, corn) freeze well. You can base the size of your garden bed according to your requirements but having more than one will help eliminate any soil problems. I find some plants work well in one bed but not in another according to shade, soil type, depth etc.

Most vegetable plants need full sunshine. Our best performing bed is one that gets full morning sun and dappled sun in the afternoon (shaded by the lemon tree). This is because it's not subject to the harsh early afternoon summer sun. Don't plant along a fence line - the bed won't get enough light - but if planting in the middle of the garden, consider that the bed may need some shade from midday sun in summer, depending on your location.

Radish are often said to be a good plant to sew first because they germinate quickly so you can see them appearing. Carrots take a long time to germinate and look like grass at first so while usually easy to grow, if you haven't planned your bed well, it can be easy to accidentally dig them up. Plant what you eat - there's no point planting radishes if nobody in the household eats them.

There are a couple of great apps and websites that can help you with deciding what to plant and when. One is Gardenate which gives monthly advice depending on your climate. I also like the Yates website for providing advice on what to sew and common problems. I've found that growing plants from seed is the easy part - keeping them alive is the real challenge!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Greenhouses and pizza

Here is my temporary greenhouse. My main aim for it was to reduce frost damage to eggplants but there are also a few butter lettuces that are enjoying the unseasonal warmth and humidity. The rest of the garden is still growing slowly although the silverbeet and celery continue to be regular providers and we've used spring onions in lots of dishes. I'm also still picking some late cherry tomatoes and even the occasional strawberry. The pizza below was made using sill-ripened cherry tomatoes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

You are my sunshine

This is my first Winter as a veggie gardener and I have discovered, somewhat sadly, that the garden does not get much sunlight during the colder months. This is in part due to fences and neighbouring building but even when the sun is at it's highest, it's blocked out by a large gum tree in a neighbour's garden. Consequently things are growing very very slowly.

So mostly I'm using herbs and the occasional stalk of celery for flavouring. And the other night I harvested a first chilli for chilli con carne. It's quite a hot variety, I only used half but it still had quite a kick. Also a couple of potatoes for cottage pie.

There are lots of peas and bean and snowpea plants growing but nothing to harvest as yet. I'm still getting a few cherry tomatoes but mostly they need ripening on the sill. It's easy to see why jams, preserves and chutneys originated. I havested most of the basil to make basil pesto and froze some for when I need a taste of summer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'll 'ave you lamb shanks

A sign of a good gardener is often how big they can grow their produce. Is bigger always better?

This giant tomato (being held by a grub worm), tasted just as delicious as it's regular sized brothers. It formed the basis for these garlic and rosemary lamb shanks using rosemary, carrots, tomatoes and a few green beans from the garden.

It's getting too cold to grow tomatoes and I've pulled up all but the Tommy Toe and one cherry tomatoe. The last of the tomatoes are now ripening on the kitchen window sill. Guess we'll have to wait until Spring to try and grow another whopper tom.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I missed the first two seasons of MasterChef but I've got into it third time round. And like many others I've been inspired to try some new things in the kitchen. I mainly cook meals the whole family will enjoy but tonight I decided to try something cooked just to please me. I didn't follow a recipe, just followed my MasterChef instincts. The result was creamy smoked salmon pasta (using lemon, silverbeet, dill and spring onion from the garden) with a side of bruschetta (using homegrown tomatoes and basil).

The result was as good as anything I've ever had in a restaurant. In fact it was so good there's no photo because it was gobbled up so quickly.

The problem of course, with using fresh ingredients and making tasty dishes is that it's really hard to then go back to eating frozen meals or the sort of bland tasteless foods that busy families often fall back on. But freeing up time to spend more time in the kitchen and garden is not such a bad thing. We are what we eat.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alien plant

I've brought most of the last green tomatoes inside to ripen on the kitchen windowsill which gets the afternoon sun. Tonight's dish was chicken kiev with simple tomato rice using cherry tomatoes from the garden. Simple but delish.

Something I'm far less inclined to taste is this strange looking growth I found the other day. The stalk was quite thick and mushroom like, the flower part about the size of my palm. It's dried out considerably since then so I'm thinking it was the result of frequent rain recently. Anyone know what it is?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spinach and pumpkin frittata

We had some silverbeet in a delicious and simple chicken stir-fry a few days ago so I was inspired to try another recipe. This spinach and pumpkin frittata used silverbeet, basil, and spring onion from the garden. Unfortunately I didn't have any luck with pumpkin this year - I think maybe I planted too late in the season or perhaps just not enough water. We did get a few butternuts but they were too small to do anything with. Next year I'll be more careful about where I plant and also managing them so that they don't sprawl all over the garden without actually producing any fruit.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tomatoes again

Tonight's dinner - currently cooking - is home-made chicken pizza with basil, capsicum and tomatoes from the garden. Smells delicious. My basil plant is doing wonderfully - must be loving all the sunshine. Sadly the dill didn't make it.

I've got several 'sugar snack' cherry tomatoes in two different beds that are producing regularly. At least, I think they're sugar snack - I've been a bit lapse with my labelling. In the original bed is a Grosse Lisse which is the one I've had insect issues with. There's also another that's just begun producing delicious, golf-ball sized tomatoes that don't need bagging. Unfortunately I've misplaced the tag for it because I'd defintely plant them again. I think I've mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of tomatoes but these ones I'll eat straight off the plant. I think they were 'Tiny Tom' but the plant has easily grown a metre and a half so perhaps not. Maybe I should have a go at harvesting some seeds from the fruit and propogating my own. There's also a self-seeded seedling from one of the tomato plants that I'll leave for now and see what eventuates.

Am having a bit of trouble working out what to do with all these tomatoes. I suppose I could make chutney but I'm not a big fan of chutney either. I might have a go at making some homemade tomato sauce.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


It was sizzling hot yesterday so we had chicken stir-fry with sweet and sour sauce to which I added some squash.

It's much cooler today. I finally got to have my Greek salad tonight with plentiful cherry tomatoes from the garden, along with lamb chops.

We had a minor flood in the garden this afternoon (pool collapsed) which took out a couple of beans plant, wiped out the squash which was trying to recover from being trampled by the dog and we're yet to see how / if the other plants survive. Once the pool is taken down I think I'll have to take much of it out and start again. It's a good opportunity to plan better rather than throw things in available spaces which is what I've been doing to date.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Squash squashed!

While North Queensland is waking up to check out the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Yasi, we woke up to discover some destruction in our back yard. The dog had got out of his yard and into the pool area where it appears he slept on one of the squash plants after first knocking most of the cherry tomatoes off the vine and trampling the carrots and capsicums. The squash is squashed but I've restaked the capsicums and think the carrots will bounce back. We've got cherry tomatoes growing in another part of the garden but they are not ripe yet. It seems I may have to wait a bit longer for my Greek salad...

The original tomato plant is yielding nicely so today's garden fare is avocado, ham, cheese and tomato melts for lunch. I'm planning a hot pot for dinner (yes, despite the heat - I accidentally got the wrong meat out of the freezer yesterday) to which I will add some squash and beans (harvested yesterday before Canine Jack hit).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pizza topping

We're having a heatwave in Sydney with 40+ temperatures predicted all this week. I finally braved the heat at 6pm this evening to find something to put on our homemade tuna pizza. I ended up with a leek and a banana capsicum. There's a few carrots and squash ready for picking and I also harvested a few cherry tomatoes to have with a Greek salad once there's enough of them.

Tomorrow's dinner will be lasagne made with carrots, onions and tomatoes from the garden.

Today a friend sent me a book she thought I might find helpful for my ventures into veggie growing: Seasonal Tasks for The Practical Australian Gardener, by Peter Cundall. I'm hoping it will help me understand rotation planting better and why I'm not having any luck with growing cruciferous plants (broccoli, cauliflower).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

You say tomato

My tomato plant took a while to get going. The fruit took ages to ripen and when they did, insects got to them before I did. It's fruiting well now and I've got around the insect problem by using bags over the fruit which I purchased from Green Harvest. Yesterday I harvested three tomatoes just turning to red (I put them on the kitchen sill to ripen further). We're having better luck with cherry tomatoes and enjoyed some of these for dinner yesterday in a salad along with some mixed lettuce. I'm looking forward to making a greek salad and only having to buy the feta and olives.

Home grown tomatoes are yummy under the grill on top of cheese on toast.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I went out this morning to check on the garden and found this brazen cocky (cockatoo) eating my sunflowers! I've since put a stocking over the top which will hopefully prevent further scavenging and act as a catch net for the seeds when they eventually fall. Sunflower kernels are apparently high in Vitamin E and make a great snack.

Have not yet decided what we're having as a main for dinner - probably fish or quiche - but there's plenty of squash to have as a side. I plan to lightly fry them in some butter.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Anyone for squash?

Australia Day was spent at the beach where we had fish n chips for lunch and I got badly sunburnt. So dinner that night was scrambled eggs on toast with fresh dill from the herb garden.

Still in a lot of pain yesterday, so for dinner we had easy chicken wraps using crumbed chicken strips from the freezer and salad stuff including tomato and lettuce from the garden.

I've harvested some button squash (pictured) so we'll be having those tonight along with some beans and rice with our chicken in french sauce. The biggest squash weighs 160gms.

My dwarf macadamia arrived yesterday from Daley's Fruit Tree Nursery. It looks very healthy. We are perhaps a little too far south for it to fruit (temperate zone) but hopefully will be able to protect it from frost. I've placed it in the position where it will go permanently but left it in it's original pot for the time being to ensure it likes the spot.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do the salsa

I picked the first of the summer squash today but it wasn't going to go far between the six of us. So to go with our steamed barramundi - that my 4yo insisted on buying at the fishmongers today - we had steamed beans and from the herb garden I picked basil, mint and parsley to make this salsa verde. It's too hot for mash (34 degrees today) so we had potato salad and beetroot as a side.

Our mint grows wild in the dog's yard and is quite strong so next time I'll use less as the salsa verde was very minty. Overall a very yummy and fresh-tasting light meal, perfect for a hot summer's evening. Now I'm craving mango and ice-cream...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sweet capsicum

There's a lot of stuff almost ready to harvest but not ripe enough to eat yet - tomatoes, leeks, summer squash (button squash). So for dinner last night I just picked a couple of long sweet capsicums (pictured below). These are similar to the bell-shaped capsicum (bell peppers) but milder and seem to be a lot easier to grow. They added some texture to our meatballs with spaghetti - great to use in place of onions if you want texture but not too much flavour. Into the tomato sauce I also threw some oregano and basil leaves from the herb garden which made it smell divine while cooking.

It amazes me how much the garden changes from day to day. I usually pop out in the morning to check on things and again in the arvo - do a spot of weeding or watering if needed. Yesterday I was thrilled to see a chilli on one of the chilli plants and that the cucumbers seem to be coming back to life after looking a bit sickly. Sadly, the beetroot, brocolli and cauliflower don't seem to be faring too well but there's a fair bit of rain forecast for the next few days so we'll see what that brings.

Tonight's dinner will be crumbed fish with jacket potatoes topped with sour cream sprinkled with chives. I'm going out now to see if there's any beans ready to have with some mushrooms.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day one - salad

We had a busy day today and nothing was planned for dinner. It was five o'clock and the kids were asking, "What's for dinner?" before I put any thought into it. So it was something from the freezer. To go with our chicken tenders and chips I plucked a few lettuce leaves from the garden and used up half a cucumber that was harvested a couple of days ago.

One of the challenges I have as a newcomer to growing vegies is knowing when to harvest things, particularly those that aren't obvious (like tomatoes are, for example). I came across this excellent guide today - excellent because it covers all the main vegies and doesn't go into too much detail.


I got into gardening a few months back after an innocent request to remove a small tree turned into a full-on landscaping epic. We are a fairly typical family on an average suburban block (around 610sqm total) on the outskirts of Sydney. Our yard is L-shaped and by no means large. A portion is fenced off for the dog, another section houses the blow-up pool (in summer, trampoline in winter). Some of the rest is given over to a play area and what will hopefully be a deck, and also a meditation garden.

We have four beds assigned to vegies, another which I haven't completely decided on yet and is currently home to some lovely sunflowers and another bed which is for flowers only. I probably could have planned the bed rotation better but because the whole set up was a bit haphazard (made up as we went along basically) there are plants alongside plants that probably aren't recommended to be together. But hey, Brooke Shields and Michael Jackson were happily dating for a short time so why not corn and beets?

Here's a list of what's currently growing (to varying degrees of success):

Bed 1 (kitchen garden bed)
Tomatoes, lettuce (various), capsicum, dwarf beans, lavender, basil, marigolds and a sick zucchini.

Bed 2 (along a fence)
Ballerina apple, cucumber, lavender, watermelon, leeks, carrots, capsicum, squash, cherry tomatoes, rosemary. And just planted runner (climbing) beans.

Bed 3 (the organised bed)
Cherry tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, capsicum, zucchini and newly planted runner beans.

Bed 4 (the anything grows bed - pictured below)
Ballerina apple, dwarf beans, squash, sunflowers, chia.

Bed 5 (new raised bed)
Corn, butternut pumpkin, cos lettuce, beetroot, cauliflower, radish, broccoli.

Also around the place are dotted a few pots containting various herbs, strawberries, blueberries and a dwarf peach. Nearly all of the plants have either been purchased as seedlings or grown from seed in the past six months.

This blog was inspired by a tip I read in one of Jackie French's books. She said to get the most from your garden, as motivation for doing all the yakka if you like, eat something from it every day. Even if it's a sprinkling of herbs. So for the past few days that's what we've done. Yesterday it was a handful of dwarf beans cooked with mushrooms to go with our sausages and mash.

Can we keep it up for 365 days? Let's see.