It’s one of those funny little sayings that’s known all around the world. Yes, some of us say “Tomato” differently, but we all mean the same thing. Those juicy bright red fruits (yes, fruit !!) that we just love to eat. I know I do !!!
Which is a good thing as at the moment we have so many tomatoes ripening all at once, so we’re getting really creative with how we use them.
When growing your own produce you’ll find at times there’ll be an abundance of fresh fruit and veggies coming out of the garden. It’s such a great feeling to harvest so many bowls of fresh home-grown food, but the trick is how to enjoy it all.
Here’s a few of my ideas….
- GET CREATIVE..
Ask friends for recipes, or better still ask your Mum or Grandparents. They’ll have some great ideas on how to use fresh produce (I’ve included one of my Nana’s old recipes below) Search the net, dig through old recipe books and read blogs (like mine) as you’ll always find a great idea you hadn’t thought of.
- PLAN MEALS..
This really helps me use the fresh produce we have to it’s maximum potential. Plan meals around what’s growing seasonally. This is a great way to save time and money. Have a read of this blog HERE, which includes my weekly meal planner.
- SHARE WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY..
One reason we are blessed with abundant crops is to be able to share with others who don’t have fresh fruit and veggies growing. It’s also a great opportunity to swap with friends who are growing different things than you. Wrap gifts of produce in brown paper, or place in baskets or bottle and preserve and share with friends. All these would make lovely Christmas gifts.
A few recipes…
Here’s my garden fresh tomato sauce (great for pasta dishes, stews, soups or pizza topping)
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic chopped
about 700g fresh ripe tomatoes
Place oil in pan to warm and add onion and garlic. Stir until tender and add tomatoes. Add about 150mls water.
Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and simmer until tomatoes are soft. (about 15 mins)
Either puree in blender, use a Bamix or other food processor to blend well. We cook our sauce in the Thermomix and it’s delicious !!
Can be used immediately or frozen for later use.
If you have plenty of tomatoes you could make a large batch and freeze in separate containers ready to use as needed.
To add flavour try fresh basil, thyme, oregano or marjoram and lemon scented myrtle leaves add a nice citrus flavour to the sauce.
My Nana’s Tomato Sauce – (in old imperial measurements converted)
10 pounds (approx. 4.5kg) tomatoes
1 oz (approx. 28g or half to one whole bulb) garlic
1/4lb (approx. 113g ) dried peppercorns
1/4lb (approx. 113g) whole spice
1/4lb (approx. 113g) cloves
Boil together for two hours and strain through fine colander. (not sure if they really need to boil for that long, but that’s what she’s written !!)
Then add 1/2lb (approx. 226g) sugar
1/4lb (approx. 113g) salt
a small teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 pint (approx. 425mls) vinegar. If too thick add a little more vinegar
Boil gently for two hours.
Bottle and store in cool, dark cupboard.
This would taste so much nicer than the tomato sauce found at the supermarket !!
I hope these tips have been helpful with all the delicious produce you’re harvesting from the garden.
© cath manuel 2012
I’ve written this article for a local publication so I thought it would be good to share with you all. No matter where we are we’re all effected in someway by the dry weather. All our gardens need some extra help !!
I’m sure most of us are looking at our gardens and backyards and noticing the effect that this dry weather is having on our gardens.
Here’s a few ideas to create a garden that continues to grow and thrive in these dry spells…
Planning your garden is the first thing to do before any gardens are built. By using good planning techniques you can effectively use plants and other landscaping materials to create areas of shade, deep soil and use taller plants as protection from the hot sun and winds.
This helps plants to retain moisture during hot, dry times.
Work on improving your Soil.
The foundation of all good gardens, either edible or ornamental, is having great soil. Healthy, ‘living’ soil has the ability to retain moisture and nutrients and is loaded with organisms that provide the plants with essential nutrients. The best way to improve soil is
by adding organic matter, which are things that are natural products, eg compost, garden prunings, lawn clippings, rotted animal manures, worm castings and mulches. These ingredients all decompose and create ‘Humus’ which is the ideal growing medium. Humus retains more moisture than dead dry dirt, so the more organic matter, the better your soil and the more moisture it will retain.
As mulch is organic matter it helps improve the soil and also keeps moisture within the soil and prevents it from drying out. If the soil is left uncovered the top few cm will dry out within a few hours in warm weather, so by covering the top layer of soil with at least a 10cm layer of mulch, the soil will stay moist and the plants will access moisture as needed.
Irrigation Systems are useful if they’re working properly and used correctly for watering plants. When installing an irrigation system I’d suggest using drippers, instead of sprayers. I’d rather see water drip straight into the soil layers for the plants to access rather than see the water sprayed over the plants foliage (most of which evaporates) and then make it’s way into the soil.
During warmer seasons it’s best to use the irrigation systems during the late afternoon. This allows the plants to access the moisture at the most needed time. Always check your pipes and drippers are working properly and not releasing water in areas not needed. It’s a shame to see irrigation sprayers watering driveways or pathways, what a waste of water !! If your system is not being regularly used check parts for ants and other critters as they can block pipes and holes and create blockages in water flow. If used and maintained correctly irrigation systems can be a great advantage to the garden as the water usage can be controlled, but always remember to turn the system off or install a timer.
Install water tanks.
This is an important tip for any gardener. If you’re on town water it will get more expensive to water the garden, so installing a small tank can save lots of $$$. Have a look at your home and property and find a small place to place a tank and ensure you have a tap installed with easy access for filling watering cans and using hoses.
Your choice of Plants.
Choosing the correct plants will save you water, time and money.Only grow plants that are suitable for your climate and also for the current season. This will ensure the plants grow to optimum level, will thrive and also produce a good crop. There are plants available that suit warm climates, for example tomatoes that grow well in warm, humid conditions, green leafy plants that enjoy the heat and taste delicious and also many fruit trees to choose from to suit your climate. Choose ornamental plants that require little water like Aloe Vera and other succulents or one of my old fashion fav’s Geranium or Pelargonium. They love the summer heat and produce stunning bright flowers. Also try Rosemary, Lavender and Sages for low maintenance gardens.
So you can see that with some good planning, having healthy soil and the correct plants nicely mulched you can have a gorgeous, thriving garden even during the dry times.
Happy gardening !!!
“Soil to Supper is a specialist service that educates and supports people to gain the skills and knowledge to grow, harvest and cook their own food.”
© cath manuel 2012
Our main garden beds are large raised beds surrounded by pathways, fruit trees, potted herbs, flowers and ground covers. When working in the garden we mainly focus on these large growing spaces which produce high yield crops. Unfortunately, this little garden along the fenceline is hidden by a mandarin and lemon tree so as the saying goes “Out of sight, out of mind”
I’ve walked past this area many times and just looked at the garden, knowing one day I’d stop and give it the love and attention it needed. So now I’ve finally stopped, had a good look at the space and thought about what could grow there and I realised this is valuable, vertical, growing space.
It’s positioned along the side of our kitchen garden fence, about 2 m long and 300mm wide…perfect for climbing plants. Now coming into the warm growing season there are many plants that I’d like to grow….I’m thinking cucumbers and cherry tomatoes !
My first job was to clean out all the plants and weeds. There were loads of Gotu Kola growing all through the garden and as much as I just love this amazing plant, I decided that I had enough growing in other areas. So out came the Gotu Kola and other weeds growing there. I found a lovely Cape Gooseberry that had self seeded (my boys love eating these) and also two Brazilian Spinach growing, so I decided to keep these and after some TLC they would grow beautifully.
The soil’s very healthy here as it had a good load of compost applied last year and had a cover of mulch and ground covers, all great for keeping the soil in good health.
I lightly turned over the top 10cm with a garden fork to loosen the topsoil and I found it teaming with worms !!!
I then covered this with a great mix of compost and rotted horse manure, mulched over the top and added a few watering cans full of diluted molasses and Dr Grow It All. These are my favourite products to use in the garden.
The garden will now rest for about 3 weeks to allow all the ingredients to blend through the soil and for the earth worms and microbes to have a feast, then after this time it’ll be ready to either sow seeds directly to the garden or plant seedlings, whichever I have available.
So you can see how quick and easy a mini makeover is in a small garden space (this was about 1 hr of easy gardening…) and now I know this little garden will flourish with all the love and nurturing it’s received. And it will reward us with a delicious crop of fresh veggies and herbs !!!
If you have a small garden space that’s been neglected then try these simple steps and allow it to become a productive, gorgeous space.
© cath manuel 2012
There are a few foods that I can’t live without and one of those is Bananas. I love their taste, the easy way of just peeling and enjoying them and also the many ways to use bananas. They are nature’s little energy snack, packed full of vitamins and minerals so should be eaten daily instead of other so called ‘healthy’ sports snacks.
Another thing I really love about bananas is the way they grow. They are a stunning, multi stemmed plant that produces beautiful large bell flowers and then very cute little flowers, that grow into the fruit that we eat.
Bananas are one of the easiest plants to grow and are best suited to a sub-tropical to tropical climate.
They’re not trees or palms, they are perennial (many life cycles), herbaceous (soft moist flesh) flowering plants and they grow from a rhizome or corm in the ground. A stem is produced from the corm and the stem then produces flowers and fruit.
How do they grow?
Once the stem finishes fruiting it’s cut down to allow for more suckers to grow. To start a new clump of bananas build a banana circle or group 2 or 3 suckers together on a mound of compost or good humus. The best suckers to use should be about 1m high and have long, thin leaves. Always use suckers from a strong, healthy and disease free plant.
You can also use a part of the rhizome that carries a mature bud or eye. To find this choose a healthy plant that is at least 6 months old and has not produced a bunch. Remove the plant roots from the rhizome, split the rhizome and plant stem in sections so that each piece has a prominent centrally placed eye.
What do they like/ dislike?
Bananas are best suited to a sub-tropical or tropical environment. They can handle higher temperatures, but won’t grow as well and require plenty of water. They can tolerate cooler temperatures for a short period of time, but if the temp is too low (below about 14 deg) they will die. Bananas are suited to temperatures of 25 – 30 deg and require temperatures closer to 30 deg for fruit to ripen.
The best time for planting Bananas is from Spring until mid December. As bananas prefer a warm climate with high humidity it’s best to plant them during warm months to encourage good new growth.
The stem takes about 9 months to grow from a sucker to produce a flower and then a bunch of bananas.
Bananas grow well in rich, well fed soil with plenty of organic matter and mulch. They prefer a moist growing situation with a pH level of about 5.5 – 6.5. Banana circles are ideal for this as they can be built in line with water flow and assist with damp areas of a garden. Consider the size of your space as they require plenty of room to grow, although dwarf varieties are available and will grow to about 2.5 – 3m in height. Bananas also like to have shelter of other trees, similar to a rainforest situation, but with plenty of sunshine and they prefer to be grown together, so plant a few suckers close to each other.
To produce a quality crop of bananas it’s recommended to keep up a good feeding program and water well or better still allow your grey water to run into circle, then your bananas will grow into happy, healthy plants loaded with delicious, sweet fruit. Feed your bananas around the clump as they don’t have large root systems and use old stems and leaves as mulch around the clumps or grow support species close by to use.
Planting and caring for them
Planting bananas can be either in a circle or a mound grouped together. Banana circles ( a horseshoe shaped mound) are suited to larger blocks of land and acreage as they require about 1500mm diameter and 300 – 400mm depth for the circle. If you’re growing bananas in a suburban setting then starting with a mound with 2 suckers is suitable for this space.
When growing bananas in a suburban backyard it’s suggested to keep 3 stems on each clump. The smallest being the ‘daughter’, next size the ‘mother’ and the tallest and ready to flower is the ‘grandmother’. After grandmother flowers and fruits cut down the stem (sorry granny!!) and allow for mother to grow into grandmother, then daughter to mother and the next sucker is new daughter, and so on. Any new suckers that appear can be cut off at ground level to allow for the three ‘girls’ to grow.
Bananas will die from lack of water and will not produce good fruit if nutrient deficient. So keep up the moisture – not too much when first planted – and keep adding lots of good organic matter and mulch well. Remove brown, dead leaves and any suckers not wanted. This will encourage better fruit.
Bagging is necessary to keep animals away from the ripening fruit and also to increase the temperature around the bunch to assist with ripening and a more abundant crop.
The blue bags are used to increase the temperature within the bag, whereas the silver bags are used to repel the heat away from the bunch during times of higher temperatures. Bunches should be bagged after all the smaller flowers have finished and all the hands of bananas have developed. I remove the bell before bagging, but many people prefer to keep this intact while the bananas ripen.
When and how to harvest
Bananas are ready to be harvested when they are more rounded in shape. The bunch can be left on the banana stem to ripen each hand at a time or each hand can be individually removed to ripen inside. The whole bunch can be removed and hung in a shed or other protected area. This is useful during winter or if small animals are a problem. When removing the whole bunch all at once all of the bananas will ripen at the same time.
You can view a video on harvesting bananas here – Organic Food Growing – Harvesting Bananas
Banana suckers can be purchased from Blue Sky Backyard Bananas, Tully, Qld. www.backyardbananas.com.au
They have a good variety of bananas and will provide information on a permit through the DPI in your state. The DPI regulations on backyard bananas are that you must have a permit to move or plant bananas in Queensland. This is to reduce the risk of transferring Bunchy Top virus through crops.
Ripened bananas store well in the freezer. Just peel them and place in an airtight container and freeze. They can also be dehydrated and eaten as dried fruit or used in cooking.
Here’s my favourite frozen banana recipe (and the kids love it !!)
Roughly chop about 8 – 10 frozen bananas. Place in a kitchen food processor and blend until bananas are fine and grain-like pieces, but not too long so bananas stay semi frozen. Add approx 150 – 200 ml coconut cream and blend for 30 seconds or until smooth. Serve straight away with fresh fruit or refreeze for another time.
© cath manuel 2012
Here’s a plant profile on the very versatile Yacon !!
Many people haven’t heard of the Yacon, which is surprising considering it’s such an easy plant to grow and a highly versatile plant to use.
Yacon is a perennial plant which produces sweet, crunchy tubers underground. It’s grown by small red rhizomes which grow best in deep, rich friable soil. From the rhizomes the larger tubers are produced and this is the part of the plant that’s eaten. The tubers have a taste similar to apples and carrots, a kind of mix of both !!
Plant Yacon year-round in warmer climates in deep, rich soil with added compost or rotted manures. Plant the rhizomes to about 10cm deep in soil, ensuring they are well covered. Mulching and watering in after planting will ensure the rhizomes are well settled in the soil.
The plants take about 6 months to mature. In this time the Yacon will grow up to about 2 metres in height and produce a small, bright yellow flower, similar to a daisy. After flowering the plant will die back and the tubers can then be harvested.
To harvest the tubers and rhizomes, use a garden fork and gently lift the roots of the plant, similar to harvesting sweet potato. Remove the red rhizomes and store for future planting by covering in mulch or other dry matter in a dark storage area. I find old cardboard boxes handy to store the rhizomes in for future use. The tubers are gently removed from the plants roots, washed and stored in a pantry or other dark place ready to eat and will retain the sweetness during storage. Chop and drop the old foliage and cover with some blood and bone and then mulched to help enrich the soil.
Yacon can be eaten raw or cooked and also peeled or just washed and enjoyed !!. Here are a few ways we enjoy Yacon…
• My boys enjoy it sliced up and placed in their school lunchboxes as a snack during the day.
• Peel and thinly slice Yacon and use with dips as an alternative to crackers.
• Peel and dice and use together with apples to make stewed fruit. Add peeled and diced yacon and apples to a small saucepan, add a tspn of honey and 2 tspn of water. Simmer until fruit is cooked. Serve with yoghurt, custard or ice-cream.
• Peel and chop yacon and use in soups, stews and curries.
• Yacon can also be used in fried rice and stir fries as an alternative to bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.
Rocket, Yacon and Walnut Salad.
Harvest a large bunch of fresh Rocket or other salad greens and herbs.
Peel, half lengthways and thinly slice Yacon
Peel and slice a red onion
Walnut topping -
melt 1 tblspn butter with 2 tspn honey in small pan over medium heat.
add 1 cup chopped walnuts and half cup of dried currents.
blend until nuts and currents are warmed (about 2 mins on stove top)
Place greens, yacon and onion into large bowl.
Toss through warm walnut mixture and garnish with bright edible flowers. Serve immediately.
(images used are authors and also courtesy of www.greenharvest.com.au and http://toads.wordpress.com/category/yacon/)
© cath manuel 2012
Healthy soils are a living system that we can’t see. Most of the millions of organisms that live in the soil are beneficial micro-organisms such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and nematodes offering systems that encourage good plant growth.
This is known as the Soil Food Web.
These organisms provide plants with most of their needs to grow and thrive, which includes the availability & retention of nutrients, disease resistance and the improving of soil structure. The use of chemicals will kill the beneficial organisms, resulting in a dead soil which is then more likely to have an increase in diseases and nutrient deficiencies.
The Soil Food Web is a diverse community of organisms living all or part of their lives in the soil. Microbial diversity is larger than the diversity of organisms that live above the soil.
They range in size from tiny bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, to nematodes and micro-arthropods, to the visible earthworms, insects, small vertebrates, and plants. As these organisms eat, grow, and move through the soil, they make it possible to have clean water, clean air, healthy plants, and good water flow.
Functions of a healthy food web
- The food web improves soil structure by binding pieces of soil (clay, sand, silt, organic matter, roots) together and by building airways and passageways through the soil. Unrestrained movement of air and water are vital to maintain healthy plants and the soil food web itself. Good soil structure allows water to drain from too wet soil and assists soil to hold water when it starts to dry out.
- The microbes provide nutrients that are held in the soil until the plant requires them and are in the proper forms that will enable a plant to access them.
- Retains nutrients so they don’t leach from the soil. Retaining the natural nutrients means less need for fertilisers.
- Building the soil structure, so that the oxygen, water and other nutrients can be easily absorbed into the soil which allows plants to develop a deep root system.
- Suppression of disease-causing organisms.
- Fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, making it available to plants.
- Control of toxic compounds through the breakdown or decay of organic materials.
The Soil Food Web is an important part of the landscape processes. The soil organisms decompose organic particles, including manure, plant residues, and pesticides, preventing them from entering water and becoming pollutants and also assist in building up soil levels to allow for good plant growth. All living organisms eat, excrete and are then food for something else. This is called a closed loop system occurring in nature.
Many organisms increase the clumps of soil particles, which are essential for the storing of water, air, nutrients, microbes and organic matter. Soils with a high level of soil clumps are more stable and less susceptible to erosion and surface runoff.
Plants depend on beneficial micro-organisms in the following ways:
- to protect them from pathogens.
- to retain nutrients in the soil so they do not leach from the root zone.
- to process nutrients into an available matter for plants to absorb.
- to assist with the absorption of nutrients.
- to break down pollutants in the soil.
- to create air passageways that enable air and water to enter deep into the soil and be retained. This enables the plants roots to grow as deep into the soil as possible enabling them to obtain water and nutrients at all times.
If the organisms that perform these key functions are missing, they need to be replaced.
Organisms contribute in a variety of ways to the condition of soil so we must care for the small creatures which form a part of The ‘Web’.
To create a healthy Soil Food Web we need to ensure a correct soil pH and soil structure, containing organic matter, to then provide the nutrients in a way the plant requires.
So next time you’re out in the garden consider these microscopic organisms that live in the soil who are working hard to provide everything your plants need.
References and more information on Soil Biology available HERE
© cath manuel 2012
A few months ago I asked all subscribers to email me with any questions they have about their garden. I received many fantastic emails asking so many questions, it was great to hear from so many people.
I thought I would share a few of those questions in this week’s Blog Post. These are questions that I’ve been asked many times over the years.
As my life’s busy with family, business and looking after our home and garden I have time scheduled into the week to get gardening jobs done. I spend about 10 hours a week in the garden, but keep in mind that I’m growing a lot of food for my family.
In the “From The Ground Up’ Workshop we cover planning your garden. A few things I get everyone to think about is how many people in their household, how much growing space you have and how many hours can you spend in the garden. These things will help you plan how big your gardens will be and then how much time you spend in the garden. If there are two people in your household and you live on a town block and work fulltime, then I would suggest starting with one or two small garden beds, plant a few dwarf fruit trees and have a compost bin or worm farm. This is a good start and each season if you’re all enjoying the garden and find you’d like more fresh food then expand your kitchen garden to grow more. My big tip for starting to grow is always plan BIG, but start small.
Some days I only have time to walk through the gardens with a cuppa, harvest a few veggies for dinner or pick some fruit and that’s it. Other days I could spend hours in the garden and easily lose track of time.
Another common question is “What should I grow first?” Big decisions here…
When I start working with new clients I ask them, as a family, to complete a Shopping List. We then plan to have the foods growing that the family enjoys the most.
To start your list first write down the foods you all eat most of, then record other foods you would like to have. If you have only a small garden area then start off with your favourite foods. My family enjoys loads of fresh salads through summer so these are the things that I would plant the most of. If you love Asian cooking then consider ginger, galangal or turmeric and then grow plenty of asian greens, coriander, parsley and maybe also cucumber if you have the space. If you plan on having a few fruit trees it’s a good idea to get these in first as they will take a few years to fruit. Look for the sunniest positions with good drainage and also consider the size of the tree when fully grown so the trees don’t block the sunshine from the veggie garden. Do a garden plan before you begin any gardening work to save time and money in the long run. Also consider the seasons and plant what is suitable for the time of year, eg cool or warm climates.
This is one question that is always discussed at our Workshops and a lovely lady recently emailed me about this. Sowing seeds can be a little confusing as there’s so much information available. Most people ask “how to water and how much to apply and also do you mulch over seeds??” I’ll keep this simple so you all have great success when sowing seeds.
Seeds come in so many shapes and sizes. When watering freshly sown seeds I always use a small hand sprayer filled with water. Once the seeds are sown I give them a light spray (about 4 or 5 sprays) just enough to dampen the soil. I place them in a part shaded position until they germinate (sprout) and I then slowly introduce them to more sunshine. Once the seeds have germinated I then add a small amount of liquid fertiliser (comfrey tea, natrakelp, worm juice, etc) to the spray bottle to make a very weak foliar spray. I then spray the seedlings (sprouted seeds) twice per day to keep them slightly damp. When they are strong enough and have about 6 leaves I then plant them into the garden. After this I use a hose or watering can to lightly water them. Use this same process when sowing seeds straight into garden beds and you can also use a hose with a fine mist to lightly dampen them.
There’s no need to mulch over the seeds as this can stop the seeds from germinating. Mulching suppresses weeds and seeds from sowing so if you mulch over your seeds they may not grow. You can mulch around seeds sown in the gardens and then as the seedling grows gently mulch around them. They’re like new babies, so treat them gently and with care and they’ll grow and thrive for you.
Many years ago while working as a landscape gardener I was always asked about lawn care. Recently I received an email about caring for lawns and also lawn grub. There are a few misconceptions about this and you may get different answers if you ask someone at a hardware store about it.
Living on acreage the only thing we do is cut our grass. Part of this will be cut with a ride-on (Paul and Archey’s job!) and I also use a push mower with a catcher to collect grass clippings for the compost or no-dig gardens. We don’t feed or spray our grass with any products as I don’t think there’s a need for this.
If you live on a smaller block and would like a nice lawn the best thing to do is use an organic slow release fertiliser like blood and bone or organic chook pellets. Treat your lawns as you would your garden and improve the soil. Most lawns are growing on poor soil either very sandy or rocky. To have a thriving lawn just improve the soil it’s growing in (having good humus) and add organic fertilisers each season (3 months) You’ll find your lawn with then be more resistant to lawn grub, weeds growing and any other problems. It’s better for your soil (and the environment) to apply organic fertilisers to strengthen the grass rather than spraying with unnecessary chemicals to treat one condition. This will be more harmful to the lawn than beneficial. If you are using grass clippings in your compost and garden it’s better not to use any ‘weed and feed’ lawn products as they contain synthetic chemicals and fertilisers which are harmful to the compost, earth worms and your soil.
If you notice your lawn dying off or going brown in patches it may not be lawn grub, just lawn die back. This occurs when the grass is cut during warm, dry conditions or if the grass has dried out. To prevent this happening I would suggest mowing lawns in the late afternoon or shortly after rain as the grass will be moist and will cope with being cut. Die back is usually caused from the grass being exposed to the sun and heat after being cut. It will grow back again after rain, so no need to apply any products.
I hope this has helped you with a few things you may have been thinking about. If you have any other questions that you would like to ask please send me an email. I would love to hear from you.
Also, if you have any plants that you would like identified please email a picture to me and I will send you some information.
Enjoy your day,
© cath manuel 2012
One of the best rewards when you have your own garden is being able to harvest and enjoy all the delicious produce you grow. I find it so rewarding to head out to the garden with my basket or bowl and harvest some fresh food for dinner. Sometimes I’ll be really organised and I’ll harvest any produce I need during the daytime, but usually pick veggies and herbs fresh just before our meals.
Actually, sometimes I run to the garden with my apron on, wielding my kitchen scissors in a mad dash to pick something while dinner’s cooking !! This is a bit hard during winter when it’s dark, as I can’t see in the garden, so I’ve learned to hold the torch between my knees while picking whatever it is that I’d forgotten…not a good look !!!
When planning the food that I’d like to grow for the season I have a list of all the things that we eat the most of. Some are part perennial crops (continually grow through the season) like eggplant, tomato, capsicum and beans, and other crops like lettuce, carrots and bok choy are annual crops which only have one growth cycle and then they’re finished. These annual crops are inter-planted throughout the garden beds amongst herbs and perennial plants. Inter-planting or poly-culture crops have many types of plants growing together, which is a great way of reducing pest and disease problems in your gardens.
One thing that can happen though, with annual crops, is that once all of these veggies are harvested and eaten there aren’t any left to eat for the remainder of the season.
This is where you must consider ‘Succession Planting’….it helps to keep the food coming !!
To keep a constant supply of your favourite produce you’ll need to consider succession planting. This is when you have a plan for what you’d like to grow and eat and follow that plan to have a continual supply of produce growing. This is an important method for maximizing your garden’s yield.
“Farmers use succession planting to ensure a constant supply of vegetables to take to market; you can use it to produce a consistent supply of vegetables to take to your table.”
When something’s harvested you then replace it with another small crop and just make smaller plantings in about 4 weeks intervals, rather than planting everything at one time. Following this method allows us to have a few crops of veggies each season.
By having a succession plan you’re eliminating the guesswork out of what and when to plant during the season. Start by making a list of all the vegetables you want to grow and get to know their growth habits. Then mark on your plan when to plant another round of these plants.
Another way is to diarise 4 weeks after initial planting, a reminder for when you need to plant again. Keep in mind that seedlings produce crops faster than sowing seeds, so you may want to try both.
Another method to try is when you harvest something you just plant something else straight away near that spot. It can be the same or a different plant. Always apply good planting techniques and use compost or worm castings and liquid fertilisers when planting. Re-mulching may also be necessary after planting.
In my climate (sub-tropical) our Cool Season begins from about March. During the end of February I’ll prepare the garden beds ready for planting and also start sowing seeds for the season.
From March onwards I start planting the crops of cool season veggies like broccoli, cabbage, pak or bok choy, cauliflower, silverbeet and carrots. I’ll also plant lettuce as we use this year round.
To have a continual supply of these vegetables throughout the cool season (which ends here about early September) I would replant another crop of annual veggies again during April, May and June.
This means we’ll have the first round of veggies from April and then continue enjoying them until Spring when we plant our Warm Season crops. I also like to mix up the different varieties of each vegetable I grow to give my family an assortment of foods. By following this method I know that we’ll be enjoying a range of vegetables throughout the cooler months.
For our Warm Season, as this flows through Christmas and holiday time, I like to have a continual supply of lettuce, asian greens, plenty of parsley and coriander and also chinese cabbage. I’ll plan to have these in during early Spring and then replant again before the heat of Summer’s upon us.
This will vary in each climate, so please make a plan for your own climatic zones and conditions. Get to know your seasons and the plants that grow well during those times, consider what you like to eat and how it grows, then make a plan to have plenty of the vegetables and herbs growing and ready to harvest as needed.
I’m sure by taking a few simple steps and using some planning tips, you’ll have a fresh supply year round of your favourite foods to harvest and enjoy. It really is enjoyable and very rewarding to enjoy the benefits of a planned garden.
If you’d like some help with your planning please contact me and I will be happy to help.
© cath manuel 2012
Green Manure Crops are just as the name suggests, green lush foliage grown as a crop to provide nutrients to the soil. This can also be called a cover crop. The method of growing greens to help improve soil has been used in sustainable agriculture and farming for a very long time. The crops provide valuable nutrients to the soil and also provide many other great benefits to the home garden and broad acre farms.
Green manure crops are usually a combination of a legume and a grass or grain seeds. The legume provides vital minerals, such as nitrogen and the grass provides the bulk green organic matter.
There are many benefits to applying a green manure crop to your gardens. Here are a few –
* They provide cover to the soil when the area is not being used
* The legumes will add nitrogen to the soil by the process of ‘nitrogen fixation’
* The organic matter provides nutrients to poor soils and improves the soil structure
* Increases humus level
* Increases the microbial activity in ‘dead’ soils
* Increases soil’s moisture level and retention
* Adds organic matter to soil
* Assists with soil erosion
* Increases the resistance to pest and disease problems in soil and plants
* Assists with weed control
* Can be used in conjunction with crop rotation to assist with soil improvement and pest and disease resistance
So, as you can see there are many wonderful reasons to apply a green manure crop to your garden.
Here’s how you do this…
Firstly check the pH level of your soil. It’s best to be around 6 to 7 pH. If you have acidic soil (lower pH level) apply some agricultural lime and compost at least 2 weeks before sowing.
Pre-soak the legume seeds overnight.
Rake the soil over to remove large lumps and sprinkle seeds, mixed legume and grass together, over soil area. Ensure that you use the inoculant mixed in with the seeds. (see note below on inoculant). I use a small bucket to mix a small amount of soil, inoculant and seeds together and then spread over soil.
Rake over the seeds to cover with soil and water well. Seeds should be covered to about 2mm deep.
Depending on the types of legumes and grasses sown, the seeds should germinate in approximately 3-5 days. Keep moist, but not too wet during this time.
During dry weather water regularly to ensure good growth during growing period (only if no rain).
When the plants reach about 10-15cm in height and before flowering, usually around 6 – 8 weeks, depending on the season, the foliage is then cut back to ground level and left to lie on the soil surface. You can use hedging shears or other hand cutters to do this. Don’t remove the roots as they provide stability to the soil and extra food for the microbes.
The green chopping can be left as a green mulch or covered with a light sprinkle of blood and bone and then brown mulch, eg sugar cane or straw, to assist the decomposing process of the green cuttings and increase organic matter in the soil.
Suggestions for legumes and grasses.
Before sowing green manure crops you need to consider what season you will be growing them in and what climatic situation you live in.
You can purchase cool and warm season green manure crop seeds which will include the appropriate plant species for the season. Try Green Harvest for your seeds.
Cool Season Crops include – woolly pod vetch, sub clover, oats and fenucreek
Warm Season Crops include – mung bean, cow pea, buckwheat and millet
(This information is from www.greenharvest.com.au where they have fabulous information on seeds available)
Information on legumes
Last month I wrote an article on Pigeon Pea and how to grow it. Here’s an extract from that article on growing legumes…
Being a legume, Pigeon Pea has the ability to obtain and store nitrogen. This happens with the aid of bacteria called ‘Rhizobium’. These bacteria live in nodules on the plants roots and can take nitrogen from the air and convert it for the plants use. This is called ‘Nitrogen Fixation’. To allow for this process and to use Pigeon Pea and other legumes as a nitrogen improver, the seeds of this plant must have an inoculant present when sown. The inoculant contains the bacteria needed for the specific legume.
So you can see why green manure crops are so beneficial to the health of the soil and such an easy process to create rich, friable humus to grow your plants in.
Give it a try, your garden will thank you for it !!
© cath manuel 2012
Most of us on many occasions find creating healthy meals for the family such a chore. I know there’s times that I’ve been busy and running around after school with the boys that I can’t even think about what I’ll cook for dinner…Sound familiar ???
Many working parents find a quick solution to meals, but usually choose an unhealthy or expensive option. Meal times don’t have to be this way and I’ve put together some ideas that I hope will inspire you to try a few quick and easy methods to create delicious, healthy meals.
To save time and money I regularly use a meal planner. I plan the meals around what’s available from the garden and then I’ll shop each week for the extra ingredients I need. Many items I’ll buy in bulk to save more money and time and where possible make most foods from scratch. This saves loads of money as I only buy what I need from the planner. It’s also good to use up things left in the freezer or cupboard by planning these items into meals.
Here’s a copy of the meal planner that I use, it’s just a basic table but easy to read when stuck to the fridge door.
WEEKLY MEAL PLANNER
I’m happy for you to copy this and give it a try !!
When following this to plan meals I always know during the day if I need to soak legumes, take meat or chicken from the freezer or to harvest fresh ingredients during the day. This saves so much time and stops that last minute rush to decide what to cook.
Follow a plan like this one and I’m sure you’ll find that you will save money and time and also find that busy time of the afternoon a little less crazy!!
Another way to create healthy meals is to grow the foods that you eat the most. We love having plenty of greens with every meal so I always plant a selection of lettuce, asian greens and other veggies in season like kale, broccoli and silverbeet with loads of parsley and coriander. I can then get a little creative with meals that are always so delicious.
Here’s a list of the foods that I’m regularly harvesting and a few ideas on how to use them.
(image courtesy of Green Harvest)
As mentioned, I always have plenty of lettuce growing. I’ll use them fresh from the garden and also throw them into many dishes at the last minute to lightly wilt and soften. This is handy if you don’t have other greens to use in curries, soups, stir fry or stews. I find Cos lettuce works well like this. At the moment we have a lovely large leafed lettuce called Iceberg ‘Great Lakes” (seeds available from www.greenharvest.com.au) I’m not a fan of iceberg lettuce, but find this one deliciously crunchy. Here’s one of my families favourite ways to use this lettuce.
Garden Fresh Tacos
(feeds 4 people)
8 or more large fresh lettuce leaves – try Great Lakes or Cos
750g beef or lamb mince
1 tbspn oil
1 clove garlic
6 fresh tomatoes or 1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbspn tomato paste
half red capsicum chopped
fresh basil or parsley chopped
sweet chilli or taco sauce
sliced fresh veggies – mushrooms, cucumber, beans, carrots or try roast pumpkin or sweet potato.
any other toppings you like (jalapenos are great too!!)
Wash lettuce leaves and place aside to dry.
Place oil in heavy based frying pan and heat. Add peeled and chopped onion and garlic and stir while cooking.
Add mince and cook until browned and then add fresh chopped tomatoes or tin tomato, capsicum, tomato paste and fresh herbs. Stir while cooking.
Add about ½ to 1 cup water during cooking time.
When mince is cooked through and vegetables are softened remove from heat and place into a heatproof bowl.
Have the rest of the ingredients ready to serve.
Using lettuce leaf as the shell, place a tablespoon of mince into the lettuce leaf, top with cheese, other veggies and sauce.
And of course enjoy !!!
The table all set and ready for eating !!
One thing I love about this dish is that most of the ingredients come from the garden and I don’t need to buy taco shells or other wraps which saves us money and wasted packaging.
This is one vegetable that’s easy to grow (I usually forget about it !) and provides us with loads of a delicious food to eat. Sweet potato grows all year round in my climate and for me is more convenient to grow than regular potato. I use it for mash (especially the purple one with white flesh) roasted, on the bbq or in soups. It’s a great veg to have an hand to feed hungry kids !!
This one dish is so quick and easy to make and is a great accompaniment to many dishes.
Sweet Potato Fritter
Approx 600 – 800g sweet potato, peeled and grated
1 egg lightly beaten
¼ cup plain flour – I use gluten free products so try rice flour, buckwheat flour or gluten free flour
1 tablespoon water (may need slightly more)
oil for cooking
**If you like a slight curry flavour add 1 teaspoon of curry powder with other ingredients.
Mix together sweet potato, egg, flour and water and also season with salt and pepper.
Heat oil on medium heat in a frying pan and add tablespoon scoops of mixture to pan. Cook on both sides until brown and crisp. Continue cooking all mixture.
Serve with roasts, chicken or curry dishes. Also great to serve for lunch with a green fresh salad.
One of the most common vegetables grown in our backyards and usually just self seeded from the compost……I know most of mine are!!
This incredibly versatile veg is loved by so many people around the world. I think it’s one of the first veggies my boys ate as babies as it’s so soft and sweet. I still use it regularly and my boys always enjoy it. Most people roast pumpkin and I do this as well and also make delicious pumpkin soup, scones, cake, bread, curry, salads…and on and on. I feel like Bubba from Forest Gump. (you know the shrimp guy ??)
Here’s one of our favourite pumpkin soups and I find it so easy and quick to make.
I’m not great as measuring quantities, just a guestimate, so you may have to change this a little to suit your taste…
Thai Pumpkin Soup
Use a half a large pumpkin, chopped into 2cm cubes. If you prefer to remove the skin, do this before chopping
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 tblspn curry paste – either Korma or a red curry works well
Approx 1 to 2 litres water
About 200g coconut cream – try organic as there’s no additives
Your choice of fresh greens – bok choy or other Asian greens, cabbage, broccoli, beans, silverbeet, brazilian spinach, rocket or other leafy greens
Fresh coriander and lemon or lime for garnish
Add 2 tspn oil to a good size, heavy saucepan and heat. Add onion and curry paste and stir until strong smells are released (about 2 mins) and onion is soft.
Add chopped pumpkin and enough water to cover all pumpkin pieces. The more water you add the thinner the soup will be. I like a thick soup so I’ll only just cover the pumpkin with water. You can add veggie stock for a richer flavour.
Cover the saucepan and bring to a low boil. Cook until pumpkin flesh is soft.
Using an electric mixer like Bamix or other hand blender, puree the soup until smooth. If you don’t have a hand mixer then try using a blender or food processor.
Place the soup back on the heat and add the coconut milk and any fresh greens. Stir gently to heat through and serve warm into large bowls. Top with fresh coriander and a small squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
I’ve recently purchased a Thermomix (just love it) and now I’m making this soup all in one machine. It chops, cooks and purees all for me. It even stirs the mix while cooking, so I can now set the timer and walk away!! If you’d like more info on this amazing machine visit – http://www.thermomix.com.au/. I’ll be using this to cook up a storm at the “Grub’s Up” Workshops.
With our fruit trees laden with juicy lemons, limes, tangelos and mandarins I’m being very creative when using these fruits. One thing I am making regularly is lemonade, limeade and mandarinade. Yes, these are a few variations on fresh lemonade. I’ve also pureed the fruits, skin and all, and placed in freezer to use in summer for delicious cool drinks.
Here’s a quick and easy citrus drink…
2 large or 4 small lemons, limes or mandarins or mix all together. If not home grown rinse fruit before use.
1 tray ice cubes
1 litre water – plain, mineral or soda water
Place fruit (skin on and quartered) and sugar into blender or food processor
Puree until all fruit is like pulp then pour the pulp through a strainer to get the juice.
Add the fruit juice to ice and water and blend all together.
Serve in a tall glass garnished with fresh mint.
This mix can also be frozen to make ice blocks for the kids.
Growing herbs around the garden has so many benefits. When in flower they attract bees and good bugs to the garden, they can be used regularly in cooking and raw dishes, most are perennial which means they grow continuously and are ready whenever you need them.
I plant perennial herbs throughout the garden for this reason and also use many of them just dotted throughout all the gardens to add colour.
One thing that I regularly use fresh herbs for is a healthy green smoothy. This recipe was given to me by a client and she enjoys it every day. She makes sure the fresh herbs are always growing so they can be picked daily. It’s a good idea to plant loads of herbs or veggies if you are using them regularly.
2 kale leaves – or try small comfrey or silverbeet leaves
2 cups chopped parsley
10 common mint leaves
5 peppermint leaves (or less depending on your taste)
1 tblspn desiccated coconut
2 stevia leaves (herb used to sweeten) or tspn honey
either 1 chopped orange or 1 cup papaya/paw paw
2 frozen bananas
about 1 cup water
Blend all ingredients until smooth and enjoy each morning.
I hope this has given you a few ways to use your produce and also some ideas to create healthy and easy meals.
If you would like more recipe ideas or have something to share please send me an email or message through Facebook or Twitter.
© cath manuel 2012