Saturday, March 22, 2014

Coriander time again

The rhythm of the the seasons is one of the slower heartbeats within me. I love it. And as we approach autumn (slowly and sweating profusely in this still-sticky March weather) it's time to plant some coriander again. Autumn? Yep. Here in Sydney at least (but I guess anywhere temperate on the southern side of the equator), coriander is a much better autumn, winter and spring crop. It's a lousy summer crop, as many of you have probably discovered for yourself. 

This isn't this year's crop, it's from a previous year, as I have
just planted my coriander seeds and seedlings now. I plant
both, as coriander is a good crop to grow from seed or
seedlings. The seedlings merely get going with usable leaves
quicker, while I find the seed-grown plants last a bit longer.
And the good news is that coriander grows equally well
in the ground and in pots. All it hates is summer's heat,
when it zooms through all the stages of life, going from
leafy to flowery to seedy in just a few weeks. Autumn
and winter, it takes a more leisurely stroll along life's journey,
and plants sown now should still be good through to
early spring at least. So, plant some coriander now!
Coriander is also a good plant to grow in pots, and another
advantage to this great herb is that it can cope with less than
all-day sunshine. But it won't grow in shade. Coriander roots
aren't especially deep-growers, so a wide pot like this is fine,
if that's all you have. As well as some sunshine, coriander needs
water and liquid feeds about once a month. The more frequently
you harvest the leaves, the bushier it grows, so even if you don't
need to use it, giving it the occasional trim actually helps.
Coriander is relatively easy to grow from seed, but I find that
my best method is to sow about double the number of seeds,
compared to the number of plants I want. Germination rates
are OK but not brilliant, so just sprinkle the seeds into a shallow
trench about 6mm (1/4 inch) deep and cover with soil. They
should come up in about 10-12 days, on average. If it's cooler
they might take a bit longer to come up.
As well as getting into the rhythm of planting coriander in autumn, I've checked back and realised that I have previously blogged about it at this time of year as well, so consider this posting a community service announcement, if you will.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Petty jealousies

It was a comment from Jo in Melbourne, complaining gently about her fair city's recent lack of rain, that got me thinking about this next, not very serious, post. We're a jealous lot, we gardeners. Talk about "the other one's grass is always greener"! There's always someone else who we gardeners can envy in a very green way. Usually it's for their idealised climate. So often I wish I could do some gardening in another climate zone, just for a year or three. Where else would you like to do some gardening, if you had your wish come true?

Jo's comment arrived on the same weekend that a friend showed me a photo of her wonderful crop of fresh quinces from her backyard tree. No, that's not her quinces in this photo above. They're some I bought in our local 'Banana Joe's' fruit and vegie supermarket here in Marrickville. At least the quinces are in season now and I guess that's what really counts. But I would love to be able to grow my own. 

And so, here's my list of petty jealousies, in no particular order. 

1. I am jealous of those in cool climate gardens who can grow what I can't grow here in Sydney, in particular quinces, raspberries, cherries, Seville oranges, Cox's Orange Pippin apples, plums and pears. 

2. I am jealous of those in tropical climate gardens who can grow what I can't grow here in Sydney, in particular great mangoes, mangosteens, rambutans and pineapples. And cardamoms and nutmeg trees, too. And zillions of orchids, and flowering gingers...

3. And woe is me for residing in a place with humid, clammy summers, instead of somewhere nice and hot and dry and Mediterranean in summer (like Perth, Adelaide, or California or South Africa, or Greece or Spain) where I could much more easily grow pomegranates, olives, grapes, caperberries and huge drifts of lovely lavender. 

Before everyone leaps in and says "you can grow mangoes in Sydney, pineapples too" and "we grow olives, figs and grapes here in Sydney town too." I know, I know. But it's such a lottery when you garden in the wrong climate. Some seasons it all works fine, others are disasters. Besides, all the tropicals grow too slowly down here, and the Mediterraneans cark it in a really humid Sydney summer. In the ideal climate zones for all these crops, most seasons are good ones. Trying to grow these crops in the "wrong" climate zone, out of sheer bloody-minded "I'll show them" gardening envy, is utterly normal for gardeners, but a tragedy waiting to happen, as it does again and again. 

So this is a not-very-serious griping post for me, and I'm not really jealous of others, either. It's just sometimes I feel a little fleeting pang of garden envy, comforted only by knowing that someone else, somewhere else, is envious of lucky little Jamie and Pam in evergreen, lush, easy-grow, warm-temperate, cuddly Sydney. 

However... if I was a rich man, I would definitely buy a property in all the climate zones that I'm currently jealous of, and flit between them cultivating all the forbidden fruits I can't really grow all that well in Sydney. That's a sensible plan for a jealous man. Shame I'm poor...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The changeover season

Every move you make here in Sydney at the moment, you sweat. It's sticky. On these uncomfortably humid, end-of-summer days, the weather forecasters endlessly repeat their "chance of a shower" chant each morning, and that means it's very warm and humid, mostly sunny all day, then in the late afternoon there's rain or, if we're lucky, a storm as well.

While it's not my favourite time I year (the humidity knocks me around more and more as I get older), I do enjoy this season because it's time for the changeover from the spring/summer crops, to the autumn/winter plantings in the vegie patch. Rip out the old crops, plant new ones. That's what I call fun.

So the garden looks like a mulch farm at the moment, with not much to show for all the effort, but I do like digging soil. That's one of the best bits about gardening. Digging over soil. I also enjoy adding a bit of dolomite lime to sweeten the soil's pH, then working in some cow manure and compost to give the worms and all the other soil-borne critters a treat. At the end of it all, smooth over and level the rich dark soil, stand back and admire your work... 

The digging takes some time, the planting seems to be over in minutes. I've been a bit lazy this time round. Instead of conscientiously raising everything from seed I went down to the garden centre and bought some punnets of seedlings. I've sown seeds, too, but only here and there. Here's how things are going, in the Changeover Season of autumn 2014.

Wild rocket in front, lettuce (raised from seed)
behind. The wild rocket is the serrated-leaf kind
seen most commonly in shops. It's a perennial
plant that should last some time here. It's a much
better bet as a garden plant than the ultra-fast
growing annual type of rocket. Mind you, baby
annual rocket (with the rounded leaves) is still
my favourite rocket to eat, but it's so much work
to sow, re-sow, re-sow, re-sow. Eventually I
tire of the effort, and give it a rest. At least
with this wild rocket you get an easier supply.
Here's the mulch farm. There are spinach seedlings in the
centre, spring onions as well, perpetual spinach on the left.
The perpetual spinach will crop well until spring and is one
of my favourite leafy greens. The English spinach is much
shorter-lived, but it is so nice in Japanese cuisine. The big
leafy greens on the left are more chicory plants, and they are
another excellent leafy green that we turn into Greek-style
horta, boiled greens dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.
There is such a thing as too many Thai limes. They're falling
off the tree now. It's a wonderful choice if you're wondering
which citrus to grow in a pot. It reaches a bit over 1m tall
and wide and seems quite hardy, too. Just brushing past the
leaves or the fruit is such a fragrant thing to do.
Huge, green and unproductive. I've tried watering in some
sulphate of potash to stimulate flower production on our
18-month-old passionfruit vine. No luck. Plan B is do nothing
at all. Pretend it's not there. It's a bit hard to do when it
is so huge, so it's now my 'elephant in the room' plant.
At least the lemon tree is flowering its head
off. It smells lovely in the still morning air,
and hopefully the recent rains and the big
dose of chicken poo I gave it will restore it to
health and happiness.
Have you ever anxiously watched a plant, hoping
it would flower in time for the big Sunday lunch
that you've invited some friends to? Well, our
Tibouchina 'Jules' is letting us down. It has
18 hours left to burst into purple glory by midday
tomorrow. Otherwise it's just another green blob
in our very green blob of a garden. Healthy, yes.
In flower, not yet. 
As for the things I can't show you, I have sown more seeds of collard greens, as these big cabbage-family leafy greens were such a success over spring and early summer. They're meant to be even better in the cooler months, so here's hoping that's true. And I have also sown a few rows of seeds of the love-in-a-mist (Nigella) seeds I collected in midsummer, following the end of its spring flowering. 

The first of the collard green seeds are already up, after only five days in the soil. The Nigella seeds are on a more leisurely schedule. They'll appear in a couple of weeks, and the flowers won't do their thing for at least another six or seven months. I can wait. It's one of the very nice things about growing plants from seed. They offer the chance to share in a full life-cycle, especially if you harvest the seeds at the end of it all. I like that idea.