Saturday, November 25, 2017

The sweet spot

Stepping out into the garden this fine late November morning, I was struck by what a sweet spot the garden is in at the moment. Everything is growing well, all the vegie crops are already being picked and producing more every day, and all the woes of a Sydney summer seem like they're an eternity away. Late spring is just about the perfect time of year to be a gardener in this part of the world.

As is my custom, here's an iPhone "Panorama" shot taken 10 minutes ago of all the happy campers in their park.

I'm often struck by how different the human eye is from a camera. From inside our house, looking out, this big yellow star of a zucchini flower is what catches your eye. It said to me "if you don't come out with your camera and take a photo of me, you're missing out". And yet in the panorama above you can barely notice it.

This is the first year I have grown Lebanese zucchini, and they're different from the more conventional 'Blackjack' zucchinis which I tend to grow most years. For one thing, as you can see here, the plants are very susceptible to powdery mildew, but this doesn't affect the crops. In fact, this light dusting of mildew almost looks nice. I'm sure it'll end up being much worse, and I'll pull the plants out prematurely in midsummer, but right now, in this late spring "sweet spot" I can live with spotty leaves.

Zucchini flowers don't last long, but they are fun, and besides, you can always fill them up with ricotta cheese and herbs, coat them in tempura batter and do some fancy dining with them.

The reason I'm growing these pale green Lebanese zucchini is mostly just to try something different, but also because I think these smaller zucchinis have a better flavour than the bigger, dark green ones.

"Lebanese" this, "Lebanese" that: it's an accidental theme this year, and here's my Lebanese eggplant looking young and healthy. Lots of flowers but no fruit yet. They'll appear in summer.

But wait, there's more! Lebanese cucumbers, too, climbing up my frail, spindly teepee of skinny bamboo. These things don't merely "crop", they "glut". We've already harvested several and have given a few away, but fortunately Pammy loves snacking on little bits of chopped up cucumber, so she's my main customer. 

It's taken a while to turn a dozen or so tiny little mixed lettuce seeds into this delicious salad starter pack, but the idea of having a nice mixture of salad greens in a pot that's within a few steps of the kitchen is working out nicely.

I haven't grown silver beet in years, but by chance I ended up with half a punnet of seedlings and in just a few weeks here they are, very big ready to go. I love cooking Indian food, and so a lot of these leaves will go into things such as a lamb or chicken saag, or a vego palak paneer.

I suspect this whole crop won't be here in two weeks' time, but right now they are looking splendid.

Call it a portent of summer pests to come, but here's the only problem popping up during this gardening sweet spot. I suspect it's slugs, because I can't find any snails nearby, but someone is munching on my pot of basil and they're having a delicious old time of it, too.

I've moved the pot to another spot and I'm on the lookout for culprits. So far no luck, and more leaves eaten last night. 

Maybe it's caterpillars? In that case, in my current sweet mood of spring gardening contentment, I am adopting the benign policy of feeding our garden's future butterflies some tender young Genovese basil, and I hope they appreciate its flavour.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The hydrangea blues

I thought as much ... the "blue" hydrangeas I planted recently are just completely normal hydrangeas which turn pink in alkaline soils, or turn blue in acid soils. Mine are a lilac colour, which isn't what I want, and so here's the story of giving my lilac hydrangeas a case of the hydrangea blues. It isn't rocket science, but it is science.

See what I mean? Those large flower petals are the originals. They're not a deep enough colour to be truly purple, they're a bit further along the colour wheel towards the pink end of the spectrum. And so that means my soil pH in this spot is probably somewhere about 5.5 to 6. The next lot of baby buds coming through are looking a lot bluer, though.

Normally, my garden soil is more down the acid end of the spectrum, somewhere about pH 5, and that should produce nice blue hydrangeas. However, the soil in this part of the garden is about 50 per cent homemade compost, and I guess that's why its pH is a bit higher (my guess is something closer to pH 6). 

None of this is a problem, of course. In fact it's just another excuse for some good gardening fun. After much Googling and reading, I realised there are two ways you can go about turning your hydrangeas blue.

Option A is to change the soil pH itself on a semi-permanent basis, using either sulphur powder or liquid sulphur. (And it is also spelled "sulfur" on some product labels, which apparently is how the scientific community has agreed it should be spelled). This is slower acting than option B, but is a more long-lasting, possibly permanent, solution as it changes your soil's pH. It's often used by gardeners growing acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias and blueberries.

Option B is to apply a "hydrangea blueing" mixture (liquid or powder) which is made from aluminium sulphate. This is faster acting, but it needs to be reapplied every month or so to keep the hydrangeas nice and blue. I didn't like the sound of that, so I was "yeah, nah" to this method.

This is what our local Mitre 10 store had in stock, so I bought it and applied it to the soil around each plant, then watered it in. The pack comes with a spoon and a guide to how much to use. I've taken a cautious approach and applied half a dose to each plant, and I am sure it is already affecting the flower colour a bit. If it's not that effective, I'll add a bit more later on.

This is the alternative "Option B" product, the aluminium sulfate "blueing" mixture. I didn't buy this and don't intend to, but lots of people prefer a quick fix to a slow fix, and so if you want to turn your pink hydrangeas blue within a few weeks, get some aluminium sulfate.

Finally, in case you're wondering, you can't change the colour of white hydrangeas. In the same soil that's turning my blue hydrangeas into a lilac haze, Pammy's white hydrangeas are looking splendidly healthy, handsome and dazzlingly white.

Those white flowers on a backdrop of deep green leaves really do look nice. This plant is still, of course, a baby, but the plant label says once it is is mature it will be 1.2 metres (4 feet) tall and wide, which is something I am looking forward to enjoying for many years to come.