Saturday, 30 July 2011

Organic Weed Control

Winter is a really good time for controlling weeds, and you don't have to use harmful chemicals to do it! Many perennial plants are dormant, and it is easy to see under and around trees and bushes that normally have thick growth blocking your view and access. Pulling up any visible weeds by the root is the first important step, but what if you can't get to the root, such as in the paving above? Instead of using chemicals that simply run off into your garden anyway, next time you have a cuppa, use the rest of the boiling water in the kettle to pour onto weeds in the paving. It may take up to three times to kill off larger weeds, but if you've already boiled the kettle it's free! And you don't have harmful chemicals around your garden.

Mulching around plants is important for maintaining moisture and preventing weeds, but make sure your soil has warmed up sufficiently in Spring before you do so, or it will have the opposite effect and prevent your plants growing by keeping the roots too cool. The other thing to take note of is what you are mulching with. Straw, hay and grass clippings, are all good, but they will more often than not contain a lot of seed, which means you will be constantly pulling up volunteer plants! If you happen to have chooks like myself, you can let them do the hard work for you. They love pulling apart hay bales and scratching and pulling out the seeds, and the same applies to fresh mown grass.  A week later rake it out and use it straight onto the garden - the clever girls will have cleaned it out for you! If you don't have chooks, my advice is to use sugar cane mulch, which has far less seed through it. As for lawn clippings, hot compost, or use for dense plantings where soil build up is needed such as on potatoes. 

Hand weeding is best done around plants, but for bigger areas use a hoe. Don't dig down into the soil, but scrape across the top, cutting and churning through the weeds and soil. Rake away larger weeds, but smaller ones chop with your hoe or sharp spade. 

Have you considered ground cover planting to choke out weeds? Initially we had wood chips down between our garden beds, but weeds still got through. I decided to remove the chip and try planting ground cover plants. Chamomile and oregano were both successful and are taking over the paths (as in the photo above). Their growth is so dense that weeds are choked underneath. The lawn chamomile is a good companion plant as well as attracting beneficial insects for pest control, and the scent is heavenly on a sunny day. 

In the vegetable garden, try growing cucumber or pumpkin underneath corn, the dense cover keeps moisture around the roots and you don't have to weed! Or try thick plantings of fast growing lettuce between taller plants such as chillies or eggplants. The taller plants give the lettuce some shade from the hot sun, and the lettuce in turn acts as a mulch keeping in moisture below.

As you can see, there is no need for harmful chemicals, a well planned garden can heavily reduce the backbreaking handwork and make your space more productive. Happy gardening! 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Planning for Spring

I know, I know. It's been a little while since I last posted for the garden, but it's been a tad crazy the last week or two in our little village. Medlow Bath got hit pretty badly last week along with a few other upper mountain towns, by a crazy wind storm. Seriously, parts of it look like a warzone. We were also without power for a couple of days, and a surge early on took out our phone line and computer. But we are all safe and sound, and amazingly, our house is in tact. That includes every single solar panel, which is incredible because they have blown off before. Perhaps it's because my amazingly talented husband put super dooper bolts on the frames after last time?!

Our garden also survived 139km/h winds, not a tree has been lost, not a plant uprooted. I can't say the same for some broccoli plants that were uprooted by a cyclonic chook. This is the third time I will be fixing up the broccoli, and a sturdy net will be going over the top to keep Miss Matilda out. She's a clever chooky, flying over the fence into the veg patch!Anyway, forgive me, I'm rambling.

So what should you be doing in the garden right now? Winter is downtime, so it is the time to plan for Spring. I do a sketch of my beds, what's currently in them, and then write out what is going into them next, and when this will happen. This is the time when I order all my seeds. This way, I know when to start off some seedlings so that they will be sturdy for planting when the changeover happens. It's also a good way to ahem, stop yourself from buying anything that takes your fancy, only to find you have nowhere to grow it!

A garden diary is a good idea too. Get yourself a cute notebook, and start taking notes. Once Spring arrives I write down what I need to do week to week, observations on my plants etc, so that next time I can improve, or when I know I've got something right, I know how I did it last time.  Raising seedlings isn't very far away, for example I start off my tomatoes in August in a heat tray, so that they are bigger and stronger than bought plants when the last frosts are over in November (Melbourne Cup Day is my approximate in the mountains). If I started them from this time, they would not fruit and ripen for summer. So as you can see, it's a good tool for observing and planning your garden.

By ordering seeds now, you will also ensure that you have what you want before the best ones sell out (and trust me, they do). I order my seeds from The Lost Seed, or Green Harvest Harvest also stocks a lot of other gardening supplies and books, it is well worth a look if you are just starting out. Both suppliers are organic and stock heirloom varieties that you just can't get anywhere else. For potatoes, I order form Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes- and once again, if you don't order now, you will miss out. The other place many people go to is Diggers Club, based in Victoria. I personally don't recommend them. I had three separate batches of seed and most of them failed to germinate - and I'm talking something as simple as tomatoes here! Sending emails with questions got me answers...six weeks later! So, I switched to the Lost Seed and haven't had any trouble with them- Kerryn guarantees her seeds, but I haven't had to ask her for a replacement.

So get cosy beside the fire, and get sketching!

Vegan Orange and Cranberry Spiced Muffins

These moist cafe style muffins are instensely orange flavoured, so if you don't like orange, don't make these! The cooked orange is the secret to this, using orange juice by itself, or just zest doesn't give the same nice deep flavour. They are perfect for a winter's afternoon, and best eaten when still warm with a good cup of tea (I make the muffins, Murray makes the tea). I made these in the Bakers Secret loose bottom mini cake pan the Beloved got me for Christmas, which makes 12 x 110g  muffins. You can still make them in ordinary muffin tins.

2 cups soymilk
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups plain flour
2 oranges
1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

In a medium saucepan, put in oranges and fill with water until it just covers the fruit. Bring to the boil on the stove, and then reduce heat to a simmer, cooking for an hour. Regularly check the water and top up if necessary. Take off heat and allow to cool completely. Tip: If you do this the night before, or while doing something else, they will be ready to go when you start the next day. They will keep for a couple of days in the fridge in a sealed container.

Prehat the oven to 180C

In a large bowl, whisk soymilk and apple cider vinegar together, and leave aside for a few minutes.

Puree the oranges whole - don't remove skin or seeds, just blend the whole lot.

The soymilk should have thickened from the vinegar to a sauce consistency. Add the orange, and oil, and whisk again.

Sift flour and sugar with baking soda and powder, cinnamon, and ginger. Mix into wet ingredients.

Fold in oats, cranberries, and walnuts.

Spoon into greased tins and bake for approximatlely 30 minutes.

If desired, drizzle top with melted dark chocolate.

Quick Puff Pastry Tarts with Vegan Winter Pesto

This yummy tarts were made for a Sunday lunch.


For the Tart Base
1 cooked potato, sliced thinly
1 sheet of square ready rolled canola puff pastry ( or more if you're extra hungry!)

For the Pesto
two sprigs fresh rosemary
3 stalks kale ( or a cup of spinach)
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon toasted almonds
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
Approx 1/2 cup olive oil

Whizz all pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender. Add more or less oil and lemon juice to your liking.

Cut a puff pastry sheet into four squares.

Spread pesto over top of square to edge.

Lay slices of potato over the top, and brush with a little oil.

Bake in preheated 180C oven for 20 minutes. Voila!

These would be super cute if you cut them into rounds or smaller squares as an appetiser!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Strawberries for Summer

Strawberry runner planted in June from older plant

Who doesn't love fresh strawberries? Home grown organic strawberries are a taste sensation, so I'm making the effort to grow them properly this year, not just pop them under the apple tree and hope for the best (ie hope the chooks don't eat them before I do). Strawberries are best planted in June and July, so that they establish and fruit earlier. They need a rich well drained soil so this year I'm putting them into a bed inside the veg patch so Miss Scarlett and company don't get a feast! Although strawberries are reputed to grow well in hanging baskets or pots I personally have not had much luck with the method. My strawberries seem to grow best where they are left to themselves under the apple, or the wild strawberries, tiny and sweet which ramble throughout the garden. I think this is becasue strawberries like cool roots, and these parts of the garden are cooler in summer - which is why pots don't work for me, the roots get too hot.
Wild Strawberries
In June I transplanted several runners from older plants. At this time of year they come as runners in bags packed into damp sawdust or peat moss. These will establish far more effectively than those bought in pots and planted in spring. I planted a second batch this weekend, which should fruit in January. My previous planting should fruit in December. Strawberry plants, although perennial, need to be replaced every couple of years. I leave one or two older ones to go to runners, thereby getting some new plants for free, and then pull up the old plant when the runners have established. The plant that begins to send out long shoots that put down roots (the runner) will do so at the expense of fruit, so only allow a couple of older plants to do this. If I had the room I would probably have three strawberry beds to rotate, but since I don't I'll have to make do with one.
Bare root runners
The strawberries, as they begin to fruit, will need to be protected from birds with netting or wire ( I remember my Dad making making hinged cages with lids to grow the strawberries under when I was little). Keep that in mind when choosing a position to plant in, as well as thinking about how easy it will be to slip extra straw or mulch underneath to prevent the fruit sitting on the ground and rotting as they ripen.
Scarlett, the Strawberry Bandit
So what are you waiting for? Plant those strawberries!

Vegan Fruit Mince for Christmas

Christmas! I can hear you exclaim. Already? It gets earlier every year... Well, yes, while I agree that the crass commercialism of mid year toy sales for Christmas laybys, along with decorations up by the end of September certainly take some of the magic out of Yuletide, preparing this certainly won't! Now is the time of year to make a really good fruit mince, so that it will mature over the next few months - and you won't want to buy it again. I love fruit mince tarts and pies. It is a major weakness for me in December, but unfortunately, most fruit mince is not vegan, or even vegetarian for that matter. Traditionally recipes call for suet or butter, and I don't know about you, but I don't relish the thought of chomping on a tart full of fat that was once around the kidneys of a cow. So for the last year or two I've been making my own. The advantage is, you can add the dried fruit you like and leave out the stuff you don't. This year I used some of our own apples that I  preserved in vacola jars. Play around with the recipe to suit your tastes.

100g sultanas
100g dried diced apricots
100g dried diced figs
100g goji berries
50g almond meal
2 apples peeled, cored, grated, or finely chopped (or the equivalent in tinned apple)
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
250g dairy free margarine
100g brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
50ml verjuice
250ml port

Method 1
Put all dried fruit, spices, sugar, verjuice, port, and sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Put margarine into a large saucepan and melt, and add fruit mixture, and apple. Stir over low heat for about 1/2 hour -45 minutes .
Spoon mixtures into hot sterilised jam jars and screw lid on tightly. Put onto a tray into a preheated 180C oven for approx 1/2 hour, then turn oven off and allow to cool completely inside oven. Your jars should be vacuum sealed.

Method 2
Put all dried fruit, spices, sugar, verjuice, port, and sugar into a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Put margarine into a large saucepan and melt, and add to fruit mixture, with apple. Leave for about an hour. Spoon mixture into vacola jars and follow instructions on the vacuum preserving unit to seal. (I use this method as I don't have to watch it, I just leave mine on for an hour and turn off).