Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 - The Gardening Year in Review

As far as years go, I'd be the first to admit that 2015 has not been a "biggie" in the scheme of things. We didn't set any growth records, we didn't redesign the garden, storms didn't destroy it, bumper crops were not harvested ... in fact it proved to be a perfectly normal year all round. Phew!

Yes, there were successes and failures, lots of fun with plants and plenty of fascination with nature, plus a little sadness, and so there remains but one more thing to do before we pop the champagne and declare "Happy New Year" to friends and neighbours: and that's to hand out some awards to the deserving. Now, if Pammy could hand me the envelopes, let's begin the 2015 Garden Amateur Awards!

Plant of the Year/Blog of the Year

And the winner is a happily resettled refugee! Pam's former potted office plant, this delightfully spotty Begonia maculata, was forced to move from its original home simply because it had outgrown the space. It has now settled in superbly into its new outdoor home under the murraya bush (still within view of Pam's office), where it shares the moist shade with other former residents of Pammy's verdant office, some maidenhair ferns. The big suspense surrounded the begonia's chances of surviving its first winter outdoors ... and it not only romped it in — it kept on growing. 
Now, this begonia is a bit like those Hollywood blockbusters that take out all the prizes on Oscars night, because as well as winning POTY (Plant of the Year) it also took out the prestigious BOTY (Blog of the Year) award for the most-read blog posting here at Garden Amateur. It seems lots of people wanted to know about what does well in a shady spot.  

Wildlife of the Year

The winner of WOTY (Wildlife of the Year) is Mr and Mrs Native Paper Wasp, pictured here building their new creche just outside our kitchen window. Much maligned by the ill-informed anti-insect crowd (the Taliban of nature lovers), paper wasps are beneficial insects which are nowhere near as cranky as the Taliban says they are. 

Idea of the Year

Turning little punnets of supermarket sprouts into crops has proved to be a runaway success, and deserving winner of the IOTY (Idea of the Year) award. Pictured here is the chervil sprouts loving life as thriving crops, and elsewhere in the garden the same idea has produced great crops of both flat-leaf parsley and coriander. 

Crop of the Year 

Though they are small in size, the little Lebanese zucchini takes out the 2015 Crop of the Year (COTY) award through its production of healthy flavour in good, steady numbers. These tasty little fruits just keep on coming, despite the fact that their foliage growing overhead looks like a hospital ward of powdery mildew disasters. Doesn't bother the little workers down at ground level, they just keep on producing.

Surprise of the Year 

After more than 20 years of being quietly green and very fragrantly leafy, our false cardamom plant decided it was time to be flowery, which makes it the standout choice for SOTY (Surprise of the Year). However, big questions remain to be answered in 2016 (which might put it in line for Suspense of the Year): Will it flower just once every 20 years? Will it flower every year from now on? What in the hell prompted it to start flowering? Does it know something about climate change that we don't know? Stay tuned...

Fish of the Year 

This special one-off award has been inaugurated purely to honour the passing of our little goldfishy mate, Paul, who passed away late this year, just a few days short of his sixth birthday. Most little goldfish never achieve much in the way of internet fame, but at least Paul has been read about by hundreds of readers of this blog, and he also has been immortalised artistically in this lovely painting by his honorary mum, my slightly biased pick for Artist of the Year (AOTY), Pamela Horsnell. RIP Paul, you did great.

And so that's it for our 2015 Awards Show here at Garden Amateur. Pammy and I and all the regulars here at the Garden Amateur blog would like to say a big "thanks" to everyone who has visited our blog, left a comment or just accidentally found us while looking for something else. We'll be back in 2016 but in the meantime, have a happy and safe New Year and we look forward to continuing to share our love of gardening, nature and anything else that we fancy all through the coming year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lebanese flavour

Here in Australia, and in my part of Sydney in particular, we have a sizeable Lebanese community, and they're wonderful, hard-working people. As is the case with many established Anglo Aussies (like myself) and migrant communities (such as the Lebanese) where we first get to know a bit about each other is in our shops and restaurants. 

Pam and I love Lebanese cuisine. As well as their famous kebabs and koftas, their many vegetable dishes are superb. Our supermarkets always have in stock big piles of Lebanese cucumbers, Lebanese eggplant and Lebanese zucchini. These vegies aren't just sold to people whose family's roots are in Lebanon. Everybody buys them, and that's because the Lebanese people have bred over the centuries a wide range of vegetables that presumably suit both their climate and their palates. 

And so this year I'm having a go at growing the little pale green Lebanese zucchini, and so far the results have been delicious. I prefer them to the prolific, larger, dark green 'Blackjack' zucchini which I have grown here in previous years.

Here's two zucchinis with the flowers attached
picked this morning. These aren't as prolific
in production as Blackjacks, but they keep
well. So, after washing and drying, I pop them
in a plastic container. After a few days we
have enough for a delicious side dish.

Here's the plants in the garden, with the mirror
on the shed wall making the plot look a bit
bigger. And no, they are not a special variety
with variegated foliage! Sad to say, they have
powdery mildew on the leaves, and nothing I
am doing is really helping much at all.
The powdery mildew is quite aggressive, and though I am
regularly spraying plants with an organic treatment, it doesn't
seem to get rid of existing mildew. All it does is slow its spread
to other zucchini foliage. I'm also careful when watering to
keep water off the foliage and direct it to the roots, so I can't
think of anything else I can do.

This is the product I am using. eco-fungicide.
It's organic, a powder that you mix up in a
spray bottle and spray all over the foliage, on
top and on the underside. It's based on
potassium bicarbonate.
In previous years I've tried the other well-known organic treatment of milk sprays, and they were even poorer in performance than the eco-fungicide. Pictured below is the healthy foliage of the other Lebanese zucchini plants which haven't yet succumbed to the powdery mildew. This is a much better result with the eco-fungicide than anything I ever achieved with milk sprays, so I am sticking to the eco-fungicide.

There's one or two faint spots of mildew on the
leaf on the right, but the foliage still looks good.
The good news is that the powdery mildew, while it slowly harms the foliage and the plant, isn't instant death or anything like that. The foliage on one plant has looked crappy for a few weeks now and the plant is cropping away happily. So mostly the powdery mildew weakens the plants, probably brings the cropping to an early end, and certainly looks very dodgy!

I've always said that the baby little zucchinis you get attached
to zucchini flowers in restaurants and supermarkets have a
much better flavour than the fully grown zucchinis that are
sold without (the short-lived) flowers. Well, it's the same with
the small Lebanese zucchinis. These never grow to any great
size anyway, and they are best harvested when only 3-4 inches
(75-100mm) long, and they taste great, whether you steam
them, fry them or cook them any which way.