Posts in Vegetables

Harvesting Onions 2011

Onion Harvest 2001

The Onion Harvest 2011

I have just completed my onion harvest for 2011 and by my standards it has been quite a success. Usually by the time I get to harvesting onions they have gone to seed. However the journey to getting to that point can be just as challenging.

I usually start with planting my onions from bought seedlings in June (December for those in the Northern hemisphere). I often find that many of them are eaten by slugs and snails, or disturbed by the scratching of the feline menace (cats), so they never even get started.

However once they get going I find that onions are fairly tough plants. Apart from some really dedicated snails, there doesn’t seem to be many pests that will impede their growth. You do however need to keep the weeds down as they compete with the onions and will decrease their final size.

I tend to have a problem with the onions going to seed before they are fully grown. However I have discovered that even if the onion has gone to seed, once you remove the tough core, the onion can be used as normal. It is just that they won’t keep as long as they normally would. Perhaps a bowl of French onion soup is in order.

After harvesting onions you should really let them sit out in the sun for a few days to dry out the outer skins so they keep as long as possible. Then just make sure you store them in the dark where the air can circulate around them so they don’t go mouldy.


Crop Rotation Plan – Summer 2011-12

Spring is well and truly here and summer is coming up fast.  If you have subscribed to my newsletter you will have received a copy of my crop rotation planner spreadsheet that I use to plan the crops I am going to plant in the coming season and how they will fit into a crop rotation system.  In this post I would like to share my plan for the coming summer.

My summer 2011-12 crop plan

My summer 2011-12 crop plan (click for full size)

As you can see I haven’t necessarily kept to a strict crop rotation program, but it is pretty good!

So if you would like to use a copy of my planner just sign up for my newsletter.  Thanks!

Time to start chitting those potatoes


My seed potatoes on the window sill chitting.

My seed potatoes on the window sill chitting.

Wintertime is coming to an end here in Melbourne and it is happening early. It’s just into the start of August here and already the blossom is swelling. According to my usual timeline I won’t be planting my potatoes till September, but given the warmth we’ve had I’m starting to chit mine a bit earlier. For those who aren’t familiar with this, chitting is the process of starting the potatoes off by exposing them to light. This causes shoots to form so by the time you should be planting them outside they already have a head start. You can see, I have mine on the window sill in an old egg box to keep them upright.

So how to you start yours off? Do you chit your potatoes or just pop them in the ground straight away? Let me know by posting a comment below.


How to Protect Your Plants from Frost

Protecting tender plants from frost is an good skill to have in the garden.  While I think you should grow plants that are suited to your local environment and timed according to the time of year, sometimes it can be worth trying to keep tender plants going.  In this short video I have given a couple of examples about how I am protecting some more tender plants from the cold.  Specifically we look at overwintering an eggplant (aubergine), some capsicums (sweet peppers) and Thai chillies, and lastly some celery (that I planted at the wrong time of year).  Each has different challenges and in the video I present different solutions for each.

continue reading..

How to grow saffron

Saffron isn’t a spice that we use a huge amount of but like most gardeners I like to experiment with growing as many different things as possible in my garden.  Saffron is quite easy to grow.  It is produced from the stamen of  Crocus Sativus.  The crocus are a group of small flowering bulbs.  Most types of crocus flower in the spring, but the saffron crocus flowers in the autumn, not long after the leaves are produced.  For me this year it was in April.

Saffron -  the red stamens of the saffron crocus growing in my garden.

Saffron - the red stamens of the saffron crocus growing in my garden.

Saffron is produced from the stamens which are the bright red strands hanging from the flowers in the picture.  To harvest you simply pluck the stamens out of the flower, preferably as soon as possible after the flower opens, but I have harvested a few days after opening and they seem to be fine.  However it can be a bit of a battle to get to them before the snails do.  After harvesting you just have to leave the stamens in a cool dry place, preferably out of the sun to dry for a few days.  Then you can store the saffron in a sealed jar or the like.  In the picture below you can see some fresh saffron laid on some paper towel to dry along side some that has been drying for a few days.


Growing saffron is really quite easy.  Try to choose a site that will get full sun and has very good drainage.  Like most bulbs, saffron crocus bulbs will rot if the drainage is poor.  If you have heavy clay soils consider growing the saffron in a raised bed, or at very least dig in some grit to open up the soil.  Remember that many bulbs are originally from mountainous areas with freely draining soils and lots of sunshine. continue reading..

Raised vegetable beds in the garden – how and why.

One of the new raised beds in the vegetable garden

I have just this weekend completed another stage in my garden by edging two beds I built last year.  Our block of land is on a slope and in order to get a level planting surface raised beds are necessary, effectively as a form of terracing.  The edging of the beds created semi-raised beds (see photo).

I am a fan of edging vegetable beds for a number of reasons.  Firstly it makes an effective barrier to weeds/grass entering the bed, particularly if you have invasive grass species in your lawn like cooch or kikuyu.  Once these get into a bed they can be difficult to eradicate, and prevention is better than cure.

Raised garden beds also provide easy access, particularly for those who find it difficult to bend.  My beds are a little low for this to be a benefit but I that was one of my aims I would add another row of sleepers for height.

Those will heavy soils will also find raised vegetable beds to be of benefit.  Nobody likes to stand with their feet in water, and vegies are no exception.  One downside of this increased drainage though that I have found is in summer the drainage can be too fierce.  I have lined the walls of several of my other raised beds with plastic to reduce the passage of water out of the bed through the sides. continue reading..

The snail blitz worked!

My un-eaten beetroot seedlings!

Maybe I am soft but for many years I have felt terribly guilty about squashing snails, feeling that they had a right to exist in my vegetable patch as much as I did.  The result, however, was that I could never grow anything from seed – it would always get eaten – and even bought seedlings rarely lasted the week.  I tried beer traps with my duff homebrew batches, but the snails seemed to prefer my lovely seedlings to the beer.

But this year I toughened up.  No more mister nice guy.  Any snail or slug found within slithering distance of the vegie patch was promptly dispatched to a better place (not on this earth if you catch my drift).  My strategy has included nightime forays into the garden, torch in hand, squashing shoes on foot.   As a result I have managed to grow a whole punnet of basil, a crop of lettuces and the beetroot seeds you see above have burst forth unmolested.  I still don’t like squashing them, but the results have been worth it.

Wrapping the garden up for summer – mulch

All tucked up for the summer.

You might think that the title sounds a bit strange, especially those who live in the more extreme latitudes who are more used to wrapping their plants up for winter. But here in Melbourne the summer heat can get very fierce, and soil that doesn’t have the protection of a mulch soon dries out and forms a crust that become impervious to water.  In addition the roots of the plants seem to suffer heat shock and the plant copes less well with the heat.

Our days have just started to heat up – so far it has been a mild summer.  But now we are into January  2-3 days of temperatures over 35 degrees are not uncommon and I don’t want to be caught off guard.  So today I went out and spread a 3-5 cm layer of sugarcane mulch over the bare soil.  For those not in Australia you may not be familiar with sugar cane mulch.  It is a by-product of the sugar cane industry and the shredded sugar cane makes a good ground cover.  Light enough to let water through, light in colour to reflect the heat and relatively cheap, which becomes a consideration when you have a large area to cover.  Barley straw is another option but less readily available.  So if you are heading into summer heat like me, consider tucking your plants up for summer.

Buy big leek seedlings to grow at home

Whenever you buy leek seedlings I would recommend that you get them as big as possible. Leeks really need to be planted deeply, the deeper you plant them the more white stem you will get without having to earth up them up.

Many of the leek seedlings you can buy are too small which means you can’t plant them deep enough and they are easily consumed by snails. Try and get them at least as big as the ones below.

Good tall leek seedling

Good tall leek seedlings.

The only downside of buying seedlings this size is that they can end up root bound in the pot. While looks like a major issue, the roots on leeks are quite tough and roots like this actually means the pant will have a good root run as soon as they are planted. Just take care as you tease them out and you should be fine.

Just a bit root bound.

I plant my leek seeds using a dibber, which in this case is the handle of the pointing trowel I use in the garden. I stick the handle of the trowel in as deep as it will go, then gently pull it out. I then poke a leek seedling into the hole as deep as it will go without jamming it in. Don’t worry if the roots don’t appear to go in easily, they will be fine. As you can see from the third photo they go in quite deeply, with really just the top third of the plant poking out above the soil. This method only works with soil moist enough to hold it’s shape. If yours is too dry or too sandy you may need to dig a trench instead.

Leeks and dibber in situ.

Once you have planted all your seedlings the final thing is to go along and give all of the leeks a good soaking. This will collapse the hope around the leek and cover the roots up giving the plant a firm foundation. Easy huh.

Watering in the leeks.

Broadbean glut

My broadbeans are in full flight now.  Actually, just as I am about to go on holidays for a few weeks.  Frustrating, but at least I have had a few meals from them before I go.  I am sure the neighbours will use the excess.

I thought I would be smart this year.  After speaking to a few people who have been gardening in the Melbourne area longer than me, I decided to plant my broadbeans early in the hope of getting a winter, or at least an early spring, crop.  Alas it was not to be and they have all come into crop at towards the end of the spring.

This may be due to the fact that we have had the coldest and wettest winter for many years.  And while that has done wonders for our dams and given the fruit trees a deep watering, it has buggered up much of my planting.

I also thought I would stagger the plantings to get a prolonged crop.  This too has proved to be pointless, as they have all come on together, leaving me with a big glut that I can’t use.  If only I had got the chooks (chickens to those not in Australia), I am sure they would have loved them.

Anyway, I like to eat my broadbeans before they get too big.  Usually when I talk about broadbeans, at this point people recount horror stories of childhood experiences where they were forced to eat big leathery overcooked beans.  I, however, was lucky in that respect.  We never had broadbeans at all as children.  But I suspect that this was because my mother had had the aforementioned horror stories herself and probably vowed never to cook them for herself.  I must ask her one-day if that is the case.

So the cooking moral of the story is pick the pods when they are small (but not too small or the beans are microscopic).  My guide would be no bigger than the diameter of your thumb, ideally more like middle finger size.  It does mean you’ll have to pod a lot more beans to get a meal.  But those beans you do get will be sugary sweet and very tender.  Just as nice as freshly picked peas.

I like to cook them in just a bit of butter (actually a lot of butter – I believe in giving the middle finger to the cholesterol police whenever possible) until they are just cooked.  Lovely!

So post me comment.  Did you have any broadbean horrors?  Or are you a lover of them?  Please let me know.