Sunday, May 3, 2009

New crops

There's a number of different shops where it's unsafe to leave me unsupervised. Bookshops are one. Garden centres are another. The wonderful thing about books is of course that there's always room somewhere at home for yet another book, even if the shelves are chockers. However, in a small garden like mine the competition for space is fierce, and there are precious few vacancies for impulse buys.

So these days I'm more likely to come home with a new packet of seeds. They don't take up much space, they're cheap, and I don't have to plant them straight away, either. And that's why my old biscuit tin in the garden shed is crammed with a ridiculous number of seed packets. It's only a minor vice, I tell myself. And besides, every now and then I sow some seeds, just to make my little foible seem like respectable forward planning, which it's not.

Seeds of lettuce, silver beet, shallots, spinach and coriander were sown four weeks ago in a motley collection of leftover punnets and other containers.

The lettuce won the race to be first seeds up after the big Saturday sowing. The following Tuesday they set a blistering pace in the ideal autumn conditions.

Unfortunately, I became very busy with work since sowing the seeds back then, and the little seedlings just grew and grew, thanks mostly to the steady showers of April. They were not quite neglected, but almost, and definitely were ready to be transplanted this weekend. This is a little pot of what are called 'shallots' here in Sydney, although others might think of them as green onions or scallions. Anyway, they're the long, straight, thin oniony things that are white in their lower third, green at the tops. A good row of these is now in the ground.

Similarly neglected and well overdue for thinning, this mixture of baby lettuce looks pretty. While some of them are destined for a friend's garden, there are so many I've popped a few in a pot for myself as well.

Ditto the coriander (cilantro or Chinese parsley) plants. There are too many for my friend's little patch, so I potted up a couple for myself as well. Coriander is at its best as a winter herb here in Sydney. In summer's heat it bolts from leafy to seedy far too willingly, to the point where growing it in summer is a bit of a lost cause unless you're collecting the seed. Plants raised now, in May, when things are cooling down, can last happily leafy for a couple of months in our mildly cool version of winter here in Sydney.

In another spot in the garden a little patch of lettuce, English spinach and pak choy is progressing nicely. At around this stage it's a good idea to sow some more pak choy seed, as these plants will be ready to harvest in about three or four more weeks. And, miraculously enough, I've remembered to do this!

The cute willow tower which served me well as a frame for climbing beans last summer is back in business, this time as a frame for climbing peas. I've chosen a dwarf variety which will reach about 60cm tall, so says the seed packet. In summer I made the mistake of believing that the climbing beans would obediently listen to their seed packet and stop growing at the 1.5m mark, which is the height of the willow frame. Honestly, those abundant beans would have climbed twice that height. So, I figure, even if the dwarf peas go berserk, surely they won't outgrow the frame? Time will tell.

Thought I'd slip in a photo of a lemon flower, given that I'm blogging about new crops. Sure, it's a slow crop, but lemons are lightning-quick compared to my last crop for this blog...

My slowest crop of all, but I think I can report some progress, that is if "it hasn't died yet" can be regarded as progress. This dramatic looking chap is a pineapple plant that is now eight months old. That means I probably only have another 12 to 18 months to go to get my magnificent crop of precisely one pineapple. I've raised him in the time-honoured fashion of planting the top of a shop-bought pineapple (did this last spring) into potting mix. It took a while to do anything but progress has been good in the last three months, with a spot of light feeding helping things along. Sydney is about 1000 km south of the ideal pineapple growing climate, but I've been assured that it will produce fruit, just more slowly than its brethren further north, in subtropical Queensland.

It's so nice to get out into the garden again! The autumn weather here in Sydney is the nicest time of year in our fair city. The mornings might be a bit cool, so too the evenings, but the days are lovely, around 20°C a lot of the time. We've had above-average rain in April and the soil is in great condition. It was so frustrating to be tied up with working on weekends, madly writing my allotted 25,000 words as part of a book project into which I was conscripted. All that's over now, praise be, and so I can get back to what weekends were designed for – gardening in this beautiful climate!


patientgardener said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one with a guilty box of seeds. I have organised mine in to what month they need sowing in to kid myself I will do this. Thanks for the reminder about the pak choi - mine should be ready to harvest in about 2 weeks so better sow some more. Here in UK we call your shallots - spring onions

Sakura said...

That's so cool about the pineapple. Really, you didn't have to put any rooty-sprouty-stuff on it? Just whacked it into potting mix?

What's your book about?

Jamie said...

Shallots are also called spring onions by some people here too, but, rather confusingly, we also have a vegie with a notably swollen white base, rather like an immature onion, which is also called a spring onion. It has a mild flavour that's lovely in salads. The names for these vegies also differ, depending on which state of Australia you're in – perfect confusion!

Yep, with the pineapple you just cut off the top end (with the leaves) plus a bit of flesh (not much, just half an inch or so) then plant it. It's best to do the planting at the beginning of a warm season, so it's established by the end of the summer. Some say you should let the flesh dry for a few days prior to planting, to prevent rot, but I didn't and it's growing fine. It likes occasional fertilising but not too much.

Charlotte said...

I'm inspired - love that pineapple! I suppose it needs full sun? Jamie, can you post some photos of your whole garden some time? I am soon to return to a post-renovation garden (well, courtyard really) in the inner west and would love to somehow get more food plants into the new garden beds. Just have to figure out how to make it beautiful as well as productive, with enough structure and so forth. Your garden sounds very inspiring....

Jamie said...

Hi Charlotte.
Yep, the pineapple needs full sun. I also put the pot (up on pot feet) on a little brick path, to give it a bit of extra bottom warmth.

Good luck with the post-reno garden. Starting from scratch is sometimes easier than working with existing plants, so it's not such a bad thing to do, and autumn is a good time to get started, if you're hot to trot. However, winter is also a great time to fix up soils, do some thinking/planning, maybe even construct some paths if needed, then plant out the vegies and flowers in spring.

As for photos of the whole garden here, some previous blog posts might help. Check out these ones:

February 09: "constant change" (mapping how one bed changed in 2008)

February 09: "Beautiful soggy grevilleas" (this includes at the beginning a wide panorama shot of all 9m x 7.5m of Amateur Land.

December 08: "Patchy Potagers" (shows a little experiment with a potager-style bed that was only a partial success).


November 08: Evolution of a garden, 1991-2008
shows all my mistakes and follies over the full 17 years of being here. Lots of "what not to do" here!

Chookie said...

Books... plants... you and me both. I've been enjoying the gardening weather here too, and eating some delicious autumn veg.

hughesy said...

Gorgeous blog! I just found my way here from Charlotte's Oyster. Where's your follow box?
Anyhoo - I'm putting you in my links.


Jamie said...

I've been blogging 10 months now and I'm still a hopeless newbie. My first reaction was "what's a follow box" and then I went searching. Everyone else has a follow box and now I've got a follow box, too! There must be a heap of other gadgets and stuff I could add. I thought I was getting very techno with my Sitemeter thingy. Now I've got a follow box!

Chandramouli S said...

Whoa! I can see how difficult it must have been when they all grew up in no time. I'm surprised that you managed to save them all! I remember ignoring the seedlings of Cornflowers, Gaillardias, and Sunflowers last year which ultimately killed them all. :( I know I was a horrible gardener, but I'm trying to improve :D
Well, your pineapple looks healthy, but I read that they're a bit fussy about watering - that you should water only when the soil is dry and take care not to pour water at the centre.... Wooof! That's a bit of work for a careless gardener like me.

The Garden Monkey said...


You are nominated for a Fork'n Monkey garden blog award