20 January 2008

Organic vegetables in the backyard

From this (above), to this (below) in a few short weeks. The picture above was the garden at Christmas time, below was last week. We were grateful for the rain but it hit the garden hard.

We've had a lot of rain here since Christmas and while that is wonderful it has really devastated our vegetable garden. We're still harvesting tomatoes, capsicums (peppers), eggplant, cucumbers, radishes, chokos, Welsh onions and herbs but most of the garden is either bare patches of dirt or weeds. Hanno and I are going to tidy it up today. We'll pull out the weeds and some old vegetables, cut back the plants we'll keep and then leave it until mid March when we'll do our main planting for the year.

This avocado is in its second year. It was one of the beneficiaries of the rain. You can see all the bronze new growth.

I was surprised at the amount of damage the rain caused. We have plants that bent over and snapped, some that died because of the water logged soil and some that grew like mad but didn't produce any fruit. We appreciate the rain so much though. It's saturated the ground that's been dry for a long time and the trees are putting on new growth and look healthier than they have in years.

The last of the potatoes were dug up two weeks ago. We still have some of these in the cupboard but I think they'll all be gone at the end of the week.

I love our vegetable garden. It gives us the freshest organic vegetables possible and if we didn't have it, we couldn't eat as well as we do. Going into the garden in the late afternoon to pick what we'll eat for dinner has become a ritual I enjoy and look forward to. I can also check out the health of the plants and plan future meals when I see vegetables almost at maturity. The garden feeds us all - the humans, the dogs, chooks, cat, worms and the fish, as well as many wild birds. Our silver Perch love munching on parsley and silver beet leaves and I sometimes give them little pieces of left over cooked food.

For the past week we've let the chickens into the garden to scratch around and find grubs, insect eggs and grasshoppers. They love it in there and so far they've been too interested in scratching around for grubs and seeds to realise there are tomatoes and cucumbers for the taking. Yesterday they focused on little green grasshoppers and while I watched, they chased several of them. I helped them a bit by shaking the pigeon peas and all of a sudden the great chase was on again with chooks and grasshoppers in a mad frenzy. Free entertainment. What can't this garden do?

This photo was taken yesterday afternoon. As you can see, there are bare patches and lots of weeds. Gardening is based on time and balance - it will grow in its own time and you get out of it what you put into it. That's how I look on weeding and the less pleasant aspects of gardening. Our work today will make way for lots of fresh vegetables to balance out the weeding and the time we put in.

Planning will start soon for our March garden. We will definitely plant the staples like potatoes, pumpkins, beans, peas and salad vegetables but what type we'll grow this year is anyone's guess. Luckily for me, Green Harvest, that fabulous Australian seed business, is just one street away from where I work. I'll get their catalogue soon, work out what seeds I have here and then my plan will take shape. I would love to try German Johnson tomatoes this year but don't know if I can get the seeds. If anyone out there in Australia has German Johnson seeds to swap, let me know and we'll do a deal. That's half the fun of gardening - swapping heirloom seeds and trying new varieties each year. I've grown the Brandywines for the past few years, along with other smaller tomatoes, it's now time to move on.

If my step son gives us some raspberry canes we'll be planting raspberries too. We had them growing well in the first year we were here but moved them to enlarge the garden. Sadly, they didn't like being relocated. The raspberry Jens has is native to Queensland (where I live) and is a sweet juicy fruit, full of flavour. I wonder if I will get my six jars of raspberry jam. I have my fingers crossed.

This is a shade structure that Hanno put up last summer. We didn't need it this summer. It is a good way of protecting your delicate vegetables from the mid-summer sun. Cucumbers, lettuce and silverbeet happily grew in this tunnel whereas they would have died without it. It might be an idea for all those readers in very hot climates to put up some shade during summer. This one is just star pegs bashed into the ground with a shade cloth top sewn on to poly pipe. The shade can be easily lifted off the pegs and be put away until it's needed again.

I suppose readers in cooler climates are planning their spring and summer gardens now. Isn't it a lovely thing to do? Everything is possible in the planning stage and if you're anything like me you want to try new fruits and vegetables as well as having the comfort of growing your old favourites. I hope we all have healthy gardens and abundance harvests this year, along with the pleasure of gardening. I feel it's a privilege to have a garden - not just the space for one but to be able to work away in the yard, tweaking this and that, cutting back, building up, mulching, making comfrey tea for the lettuces and spinach, banging in stakes and tying plants to a steady and firm support. There are many things to find pleasure in the vegetable garden but I guess my favourite time is when those tiny seeds emerge as a new green promise. That signals for me the real start of the garden and all the joys that will spring from it.
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