Saturday, November 29, 2014

Delicious surprises

Regular readers of this blog will know that Pam and I have been on a short holiday break. Well, when we returned home we had a few delicious surprises in store for us. One was the amazing way our zucchini plants have grown and started to produce crops, and the other pleasant surprise was a package containing a new kitchen gardening DVD created by the man I worked with for many years, Don Burke. But first the zucchinis, then I'll tell you about Don's new DVD...

Our neighbour Katerina always does a brilliant job watering
our garden while we are away, but this time she excelled
herself. When we left the zucchini (courgette) plants were still
relative babies, but in just one week they had turned into monsters
and were starting to produce both flowers and fruit.
A small harvest for dinner that night: small zeeks with the flowers
still attached. Pam loves these! These vegies can grow into monster
marrows, of course, but they do taste best when small, like this.
Meanwhile, out in the garden, lots more little zucchinis are
already popping out. Yes, we're going to have a zucchini glut!
One extra detail that I am pleased about is that the chervil I sowed
to go with our zucchinis is starting the thrive. The chervil plants are
in a row of pots in a semi-shaded spot under the lemon tree
 and just behind the zucchinis. So, when I pop out to harvest more
zucchinis I also harvest a handful or two of chervil, a herb with
a delicate, slightly aniseedy flavour which teams superbly
with zucchinis. Isn't it nice when plans work out well!  

And now, for the second delicious surprise awaiting me when we got back from holidays was a little parcel containing this new DVD by Don Burke. It's called "Backyard Farming: Back to the Kitchen" and so it's all about my favourite topic, which is growing your own food, then harvesting it to enjoy in the kitchen. As you can see there's a chook on the front cover, so Don has also included some segments on keeping chooks so you can have a supply of freshly laid eggs to accompany your homegrown organic produce.

I'm sure many many readers of this blog were also fans of the popular 'Burke's Backyard' TV show that was for many years a regular part of Aussie Friday nights at home with the family, watching the television. This DVD is what I would call "classic Don Burke". He really knows his stuff and deals with an incredible array of backyard farming topics, and the treat is the sense of fun and good humour he brings to every segment. It's very easy to watch, very enjoyable viewing – just like tuning in to the Burke's Backyard TV show once again.

While I scored a freebie from Don, it won't set you back much – just $24.95 – to enjoy the fun of watching the DVD at home. At this time of year, of course it's a great Christmas gift idea! Either drop some major hints around the home, or buy a copy for a gardening friend (or do both). You can order it direct from the Burke's Backyard website,, but you'll probably also see it sold at leading retailers such as ABC shops, Sanity and various other outlets. If you Google "Backyard Farming: Back to the Kitchen" you'll get lots of hits from all sorts of online retailers, so it's very easy to get a copy.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Holiday snapz

Today is the last day of a mini holiday Pammy and I have been enjoying on the far south coast of New South Wales, one of my favourite parts of the planet, and so I have a few holiday snapz to share with you.

All the photos this time come via my iPhone, and this time I discovered the iPhone's "Panorama" setting, which allows you to sweep your camera from left to right – and the iphone takes care of the rest, getting rid of all your wobbles to create a nicely postcard-like image. I love it, and if you click on the photos all of them should pop up much larger and look nicer.
Camel Rock beach, just north of Bermagui.
Looking south from the Blue Pool, near Bermagui
Mount Dromedary, viewed from Bermagui.
Old Tathra Wharf, 40km south of Bermagui
I tried to make the edges of this sandbank, which is about
four feet high, look like it's an impressive cliff formation that
you might find while dying of thirst in the Sahara.
Mystery Bay, so named because in the 1880s a boat was found
washed up on the shore. It should have contained three locals
plus a Government Surveyor and his assistant, but none of
the poor souls was ever found.
Mystery Bay contains a seemingly endless series of beaches.
Wander each beach's length to the rock platform at the end,
round the corner and another beach stretches ahead. 
That's the beauty of the South Coast. Hundreds of miles of
unspoiled beaches, crystal clear water. I hope it stays like this
forever, but the best I can realistically hope for is that it develops
as slowly as possible, and large stretches are marked as
"never to be developed" so future generations can experience
the joy of wandering along miles and miles of natural coastline.
Finally, a few close-ups to finish. Whenever I look down while
walking on beaches, I momentarily think I am in a desert.
What a dazzling colour for a beachside flower. If I was a
bee I could spot it from the next headland.
Seashells, seaweed, bluebottles and driftwood
Finally, here's the best part of the town where we stayed:
the wharf at Bermagui, where fish and chips is a way of life.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Heading for the mountains

I hope you like looking at photos, because that's what I have in store for you this posting. Lots of photos (taken by Pam and me) of flowers, foliage, lichens, water cascades and more, all of them a highlight of our wonderful day spent with friends at the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens at Mount Tomah.

This is our 'cool climate' botanic garden, as it does get very chilly (and occasionally snowy) in winter up here in the mountains. The spectacular spring flowers are mostly South African proteas of various kinds (although there is a NSW Waratah as well among our pix). Pam's camera kept on heading for the lichens (I expect to see some paintings of them in coming months), while I gave my iPhone a thorough battery-flattening during our post-lunch walk. At the end of the post I have a few notes on how to get there, etc. And whatever you do, book a table at the restaurant there. It truly is fine dining up in the hills. 

Finally, one of my infamous pan shots courtesy of You Tube, looking over the gardens on what was a beautifully warm but unfortunately hazy day.

Here's the details.
Blue Mountains Botanic Garden is on the Bells Line of Road, which runs from North Richmond/Kurrajong over to Lithgow. The Gardens are a few kilometres past Bilpin. It took us a bit under two hours to drive there from Marrickville, and I do suspect that October and November, when all the spring blooms are out, is one of the two peak seasons (the other is in April and May, when the autumn colour is on show). 

The restaurant there is truly a fine dining experience, not cheap, but as good as you'd find anywhere in Sydney, and all the produce used in the restaurant is locally sourced. If your budget is tight, pack a picnic basket, as it's a super picnic spot.

Here's a link to the Gardens' website: 

Friday, November 14, 2014

A snob's progress

Being called a 'snob' is something we don't like to hear, but recently I called myself a snob, so that's OK. Because it was true. There I was at the garden centre, in the seed section, looking for radish seeds. They didn't have the packet of 'round' radish seeds I was after, but they did have round radish as seed tapes. Seed tapes? I'm a nut-case keen gardener who grows all sorts of stuff from seed… seed tapes are too easy… they're for beginners

That's when I called myself a snob: I took it on the chin (because it was true) and so I bought the packet of radish seed tapes, planted them, and harvested some of the proceeds this morning. Now I love them! Nice crops and so easy to sow, too. 

Small but perfectly formed, what a sensational combination of
red and green. Now, I don't eat a lot of radishes in salads, but
I do like to chop them finely and use them as a flavour zinger,
much in the same way as you use salad dressings. Besides,
I just love the way they look in bunches. I'd grow them just to
look at them, come to think of it.
Yes, the seed tapes are easy. Just lay them on prepared soil,
cover with a bit more soil, water in and wait. They worked
well and all the seeds came up nicely and grew well. But the
cool thing is that a few weeks after the first sowing, I thought
to myself "I need another 20cm of radishes" so I snipped off
a length of tape, laid it on the soil, covered with soil, watered
in and in about 1 minute the job was done. 

And so this little gardening snob has learned his lesson. Gardening doesn't have to be a test of skill, all it has to do is grow things. Doesn't matter how. I am now a seed tape convert (well, as far as radish growing goes, I am). Not sure what else is available in seed tapes, but next time I see them I'll think "oh goody, seed tapes".

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Garden haikus

Though I rarely these days open a book of poems, I do enjoy reading poetry when I come across it by chance. Recently, an excellent local Sydney food blogger, Padaek, ( has been posting a poem a day, in the form of haiku, and I am inspired to do a couple of my own, thanks to Padaek.

You probably already know what a haiku is. It's from the Japanese literary tradition, and while it may take one of several forms, the most common is this:
3 lines long, 17 syllables in total, first line 5 syllables, second line 7, third line 5.
Or, in haiku style

humble three lines long
just seventeen syllables
sweet short poetry

And so, folks, my first attempt at garden haikus, decorated with photos.

morning dew droplets
twinkling brightly like diamonds
garden jewellery

flowers turn to seed
pods open under sunshine
rain adds green magic

who invented worms?
congratulations all round
excellent idea!

EDIT: I'm on a roll! Just thought of a few more...

visitors drinking
grevilleas’ sweet nectar
breakfast on the wing

tomatoes ripen
slowly, but the insects are
already feasting

lemons juicy sour
glossy green leaves aplenty
such an abundance

brush past sweet basil
pesto fragrance arises
suggesting what’s next

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Splashing out on herbs

It's amazing what a difference a pot can make to a plant's personality. In the case of my traditional 'Mediterranean' herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay leaf, they have turned out to be very different plants to care for, compared to how they grow in ordinary garden soil. Yes, of course they need more maintenance in a pot, but I am surprised how thirsty they are. They all love a drink (well, at least in springtime they do).

Let's put this discovery another way. Since I have started watering these potted herbs a lot more often than I ever did in previous years, they are much happier. And yes, I am slow on the uptake sometimes. (Just ask Pam!) 

Much happier now that it is being watered
every morning, the rosemary is lush, deep
green and very fragrant to be around.
As I water the rosemary now, I can smell its 
sharp scent wafting around in the air.

Same goes for my potted bay tree. More water
this season has produced more growth, and
much nicer looking foliage. 
The thyme is flowering its head off at the moment. It needs the
most clipping to stay bushy, plus, you guessed it, water.
I've already done a blog posting recently on this potted oregano
patch, but it needs lots of watering as well.
Though hardly classic Mediterranean herbs,
the two pots of mint (common mint in the
foreground and basil mint behind) lap up the
water like a pair of thirsty hounds. 
When I grew rosemary, oregano and thyme in the ground I never watered them. Sydney's relatively abundant rainfall took care of all their needs for many years. And so I always thought of them as almost drought-proof and definitely not thirsty. I knew that transferring them to a pot would mean I'd have to water them more often, but I have, until now, underestimated how much water they need.

And so, Aussie gardeners, if your potted Mediterranean herbs aren't looking too terrific this spring, think about giving them more water more often. It might be what they desperately need. 

I'm not sure what they want once summer comes around, but my new hunch is that it will be more water than I gave them last summer...