Saturday, January 26, 2008

Summer of the Cucumis - 26 January 2008

Summer has well and truly set in and even though we have two 2100-litre tanks in the inner city patch, we've come close to running out of water for the garden. Some plants are also suffering from the heat: kiwi fruit leaves have burnt, as have some of the leaves of the zucchinis and comfrey plants. Watching the zucchinis suffer makes me think I should plant one or two more smaller deciduous trees that might provide some dappled shade in the summer. That's the idea behind having the lemon tree in the middle of one of the patches. Although it is still establishing, it is providing a good climbing structure for a Chinese Snake cucumber (Cucumis melo var utilissimus).
Climbing action
There are a few interesting climbing synergies happening, most unintentional. The unplanned nature of these is fun and educational. It makes me realise the truth of the gardening writers who say that gardening is as much about observation as activity. The Purple King beans (Phaseolus vulgaris, Purple King) have climbed all over a sunflower. Other climbing beans (Phaseolous vulgaris, Frederico) have climbed all over the tomatoes, which are themselves staked to a wire structure. The squash (I don’t know the variety because they’re volunteers) climb vigorously anywhere they can and I’m constantly cutting them back to allow other plants sun. Tomatoes are climbing everywhere – the Tommy Toes (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme) don’t need much by way of ties. I just weave them around any nearby structure.

My partner tied up some string supports for seedlings of the climbing beans (Frederico) that I planted in early December and they have almost reached the pergola.


Much to my delight, we’re now eating most of our veggies and fruit out of the inner city garden and peninsula patches. It makes for a lean fridge – the garden is the pantry. My anxiety about the tomatoes not ripening has proved unfounded – we’re getting a good harvest with some to spare for family and friends. The zucchinis are absolutely rocking on. As well as the ubiquitous zucchini soup, my partner has made a delicious zucchini tart out of Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, Jamie at Home.

A fair sweet corn (Golden Bantam) harvest came out of the Merricks patch.

However, although the the plants all produced ears, the taste wasn’t so good (kind of starchy) and the kernels themselves were unevenly ripe. I’m not sure why – might be inconsistent moisture levels: lack of rain, once-a-week watering.

We’ve also been eating potatoes from the Merricks patch, planted back in July 2007, in the Bill Mollison method.

But the vegetable I am loving most is the Chinese Snake Cucumbers (Cucumis melo var utilissimus), which took off in mid January and are now climbing all over the trellis on the neighbour’s wall and producing the tartest, most delicious cucucmbers. The taste is like a Lebanese cucumber, but with more oomph, and they can grow really big, although I like to pick them small so they are still tender and sweet. This is the first time I’ve had success growing cucumbers and I’m hooked!


Direct seedings: lettuce (Green Oakleaf), chervil, parsley, rocket

Seeds sown in containers (recycled polystyrene boxes that used to hold vegetables): sweet corn (Balinese), silverbeet (Swiss rainbow chard), chervil

Seedlings planted out (raised from seed): eggplant, capsicum, mung beans

Seedlings planted out (purchased): Cape Gooseberry (aka goldenberry), Perennial Basil (Ocimum obovatum), French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus), Cardamon (Elettaria specie),

Seeds collected: running postman (Kennedia prostrata), dill, poppy

Dried poppies, ready for harvest of seeds. Dried poppies are like shakers of seed: you just take that petal-like top off the poppy and hundreds of seeds come tumbling out.

Composting update
The first batch of compost from the whizbang new compost tumbler has arrived.

Time from loading to compost: three weeks
Effort: 1.7 hours (two minutes a day to turn, plus initial collection of material and load into bin)
Verdict: Excellent. Check it out.

The barrel is really easy to turn as it has a chain-driven handle. You are supposed to turn it at least 5 rotations every day, but it doesn’t matter if you miss a few days here and there. Loading it is fairly straightforward – you have to load it all at once though (you can’t keep adding to it). We’ve been storing materials in the old bay that my partner built for me when I was turning it by hand.

The barrel produced two and half wheelbarrows of compost. Emptying the barrel is dead easy – you just rotate the barrel so the opening is over the wheelbarrow, and presto.

Continuing education
On the study front, I made it through soil science, the first subject in my agricultural science degree. Emboldened I’ve upped the stakes and am going to try two subjects this semester: botany and basic chemistry.

Am also doing a lot of reading around pasture cropping and the use of native grasses in farming. This is part of an interest in small-scale speciality grain raising on the peninsula property. I’ve been researching specialty gluten-free grains such as Amaranth.

Grain Amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus), Peninsula patch

Rain is falling as I write, an all too rare occurrence these days.