Harvest Veggies in Early Morning

When I was a child and stayed with my grandparents my enduring recollections of waking up was to hear the old cockrell crowing with a shrill, manic urgency, soon followed by the sounds of my grandmother bustling out to the garden.  She would take her basket and a sharp knife to harvest the day’s vegetables before the sun got too high in the sky.

Harvesting Silverbeet

Silverbeet can provide on-going harvest supplies – just break off the leaves at stem base.

My child mind didn’t question it until I grew my own vegetables and then found out that they take up the maximum moisture during the cool of the night and are therefore at their best for cutting at first light.

Cabbage harvest

This cabbage harvest will keep two families happy for weeks

I tried it and it is true.  Greens in particular will have plump and crisp leaves which will keep longer in the fridge and taste better when cooked.  Beans, peas, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers – in fact the whole gamut of home veggie bed produce will all be better for a dawn harvest.

Another lesson I’ve learned from the practice of gardening is to always harvest vegetables before they go to seed – even if that means cutting more than you can consume immediately.

Cling film wrapping cabbage

Wrapping freshly harvested veggies in cling film will help keep them fresh for weeks in the fridge

Once a plant has ‘gone over’ or gone to seed it is wasted, but a plant that is harvested fresh at dawn and wrapped in cling film will last a long time in the crisper drawer of the fridge, so why not?  Its better than wasting all that good growing you have so carefully nurtured.

Advertisements

Peas – Garden, Snap or Snow, which is best.

Garden Peas

Whatever happened to the garden pea?  Finding them in veggie shops is so rare these days.  Yet the Chinese Snow Peas or Snap Peas (sometimes called Mange Tout) seem to have taken their place.  Seems a pity really as the common Garden Pea is so sweet and tasty and we were always told they were full of goodness.

Well its one of the examples of how big business technology actually serves us better because 90% of all Garden Peas consumed today are frozen or canned.  And this is simply because they are generally better this way, being blanched and flash frozen within a few hours of picking.  The process really does lock in the flavour, texture, nutritional value and freshness –  unlike any other vegetable.

Pisum sativumGarden Peas – Pisum sativum – do taste best when hand picked and eaten right away but they do become dry and mealy in texture after a day or so.

Shipping them to veggie stores is therefore a very difficult operation with the distinct possibility that they’ll just not be at their best.

Then you have to shell them as the pods are bitter to taste and stringy in texture ! Not many of us want to do that.

Snow PeaSnow PeasPisum sativum macrocarpon – on the other hand have edible shells and can be popped into boiling water for the quickest preparation of any vegetable.  They are sweet and tasty and also go very well in stir fries.

But the drawback is that they are lower in nutritional value.  This doesn’t mean they are not good, just less good than the fuller shaped garden pea that has had more time to develop.

Snap Peas or Sugar Peas are a cross between the Garden Pea and Snow Peas are plumper in shape and have a crisp, snappy texture.  The pods are also edible.  Again though, they are lower in nutritional value and calories than Garden Peas.

So next time you scoff at a slick TV commercial claiming that Frozen Peas are better . . well Mr Birds Eye and Mr McCain have actually  got it right this time.  Unless of course you are patient enough to grow them yourself then you can have the best of both worlds.

What do you reckon?  Is it worth the effort to grow them yourself?

Pak Choi – Power Greens

Pak-Choi

Brassica rapa chinensis, otherwise known as Pak Choi, Bok Choy or Chinese Cabbage has to be one of the best ‘quick grow greens’ to raise in your veggie patch.

 In Australia’s warm climate it tends to grow quite quickly, especially on the east coast where the combination of warm days and nights along with summer rains has the seedlings literally sprouting up overnight to produce crisp and nutritious crops that are a delight steamed or flash cooked in a stir fry.

Pak-Choi

Its best to keep an on-going supply of seedlings to plant out as these brassicas don’t last long at optimum size/condition in your garden before going to seed, especially when the weather is warm.  When you harvest them keep them in the crisper drawer of the fridge but no longer than about three to four days or they’ll go limp.

The stems tend to take a little longer to cook than the green parts of the leaves so boil or steam the stalks first for two to three minutes then toss in the leave for the last two.

Like all brassicas they provide plenty of good dietary fibre to aid digestion and are loaded minerals and vitamins like Thiamin, Niacin, Phosphorus, Vitamin A,  C,  K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.

But Pak Choi also contains powerful antioxidants and phyto-nutrients which help destroy free radicals to protect cells and reduce inflammation.

All this and its easy to grow – therefore clearly deserves the title of ‘Power Greens’.

Tomato Hats – now a fruit-fly-free zone.

Fruit Fly InfestationBeing rather prone to fruit fly in our area we have had most of our tomato and capsicum crops decimated by fruit fly in recent years.  Pesticides and sticky insect traps made a small impression but most fruit were still being attacked.

Its not easy to see at first, as they burrow through the fruit skin to lay their eggs which then hatch and turn the insides to mush.  So initially there is only a tiny hole to indicate that we had squatters inside our tomatoes.

Then I read that fruit fly only land on the top of the fruit – be it tomato or capsicum so we made some small cloth hats which were tied over the top of the green fruits.

Cloth Hat for Tomato

Essentially they are no more than a square of cotton, just large enough to tie over the fruit like a sunhat.

Green tomatoes

Hat raised to show how it works.

I was eager to see if it adversely affected ripening, but it soon became clear that ripening is an internal chemical reaction that doesn’t require sun rays on the fruit skin to make it happen.

Ripe tomato harvestTwo weeks later we were harvesting perfect fruit – made doubly satisfying knowing that it didn’t need washing because it had never been sprayed.  We washed it anyway to be 100% safe but now feel very happy that we have another Integrated Pest Management technique to add to the armoury.

P.S. before posting this blog I did an internet search to see if anyone else had had the same idea but only found fruit fly bags which require sewing and draw strings to attach.  I’d suggest that fruit do not need 100% enclosing – just the top only as we have proved.  But, as always, am keen to know your thoughts.

Author: Bob Saunders

Savoy – King of Cabbages

I had an old packet of Savoy Cabbage seeds that had gone a few years out of date but couldn’t bring myself to throw them out without giving them one last chance at life.    The germination rate wasn’t good but half a dozen seedlings emerged that seemed strong and healthy so they were dutifully planted out in to the veggie patch in early spring.

Savoy cabbage

Savoy cabbage – distinctive crinkly leaves

Not everything went to plan but I did end up discovering a great new recipe.

#1. These are large headed cabbages so they need to be spaced wider apart than a regular Sugarloaf Cabbage – I’d say that an extra 20 centimetres all round would be good.

#2. If you don’t give them space then the restricted airflow will encourage disease and pests.  In this case it was cabbage aphids which hide in the folds close to the stem and in the underside crinkles so are not easy to spot.  When I eventually discovered the cause of the brown leaf edges I gave the plants a good blast with a water jet which dislodged around half of the infestation then sprayed twice with Confidor – ensuring it got into all the tiny crevices.

Cabbage aphid

Cabbage aphid – Brevicoryne brassicae

They soon regained some vigour and hearted up nicely, so as this was my first time with Savoys I needed a recipe to try out and found this in an old (falling apart and faded) cookbook of my mum’s, circa. 1929

#3. Cabbage Rolls: (an cooked Eastern European version of the Chinese dish San Chow Bow)

(First of all I washed the cabbage heads thoroughly in running water and individually washed each leaf as it was broken off from the stem.  This is good practice for any harvested vegetable that has been previously sprayed with chemicals.)

Drop some cabbage leaves into boiling water for 2-3 mins to soften them up and remove the stiff stem part of the leaf.

Mix minced beef and sausage meat with a chopped onion, add salt and pepper, a dollop or two of tomato puree and one egg then mix thoroughly with your hands.  Then shape a handful into small sausage shapes and roll into the cabbage leaf which should now be soft enough to stay closed after wrapping.  If not then secure with a cocktail stick.

Cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls – Eastern European dish full of goodness

Place into a skillet and cover with a can of tomato soup then let simmer for 30-40 mins.  (an alternative is to simmer in a little beef or chicken stock instead of the tomato soup – less oomphf, but still very tasty).

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)

Easy Seed Raisers

Stuffing the last juicy strawberry into my mouth I was about to discard the container when it occurred that it would make a perfect seed raising tray for the windowsill.

Stawberry punnet

Stawberry punnet – also excellent as a seed raising tray

Nice and compact, drainage holes in the base, breather holes in the top and clear plastic body with click-secure lid – perfect.

Of course it was the best excuse ever to go and buy some more strawberries, just because I had a lot of seeds to plant – well that was my rationale.

Pak Choi seedlings getting going

Pak Choi seedlings getting going

Just a few handfuls of fine seed raising mix to fill it, and its worth getting good seed mix which will always be better than a more coarse potting mix as it will hold each seed nice and snug and keep it moist.

Its important to firm it all down when you’ve planted the seeds and set each tray in a water-retaining dish.  Don’t let the trays sit in deep water but it is important to keep them quite moist as well as warm.

Instead of pouring water onto them I chose instead to apply with a water mister which is easy to use and allows precision control of water quantities.  It also means that the newly emerged foliage gets a regular misting too, keeping them moist and supple.

Beetroot seedlings

Beetroot seedlings looking good

I chose to keep the lid latched closed until the seeds germinate, the moisture will then recycle within the tray.  Then as they grow I prop the lid open to give them headroom – you’ll also not want them to get too humid as they start to grow as the leaves breath – which is of course where they get a lot of their carbon from to build growth.

As you can see I’ve had some successes with Pak Choi, Beetroot and the out of date onion seeds went ballistic.  I planted them all not expecting them to grow as the ‘use-by-date’ was ten years overdue.

Onion seedlings

Onion seedlings going ballistic

You can purchase a single propagation container for about the same cost as buying six punnets of strawberries – they key advantage is here that you can pig-out first.

No contest.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)

Mulching Vegetables

In planting out the raised veggie beds recently I decided to try some different approaches to see if yields improved.

The most obvious is the addition of mulch and this time I’m trying sugar cane mulch.  This should help maintain soil moisture, keep roots cooler on those hot Sydney summer days and (I like this one the most) keep weeds at bay.  The most depressing thing about being a lazy gardener is watching the weeds stealing the nutrients from your prized crops.  Not only do they yield less, they become more susceptible to disease and pests.

So rather than be a slave to weeds I thought we’d give them less chance this year.  One or two have poked through since but its a lot easier to spot them now.  Overall I’d say the incidence of weeds has decreased markedly already.

Sugar cane mulch on vegetables

Sugar cane mulch on vegetables

Then there’s the leeks – recognising that they’ll need earthing up as they grow, I’ve planted them in a trough with the soil already piled up alongside to earth them up with later.  Essentially this will mean longer and whiter leeks come harvest time.  And I reckon leek soup on a cold winter’s day is pretty damn good.

Those are Pak Choy, by the way on the left of the photo.  If you haven’t tried Chinese vegetables yet then I’d highly recommend them. Quick and easy to grow and a wonderfully fresh, crisp ingredient in stir fry.

They’ve all had regular waterings with Nitrosol which is essentially a sort of liquid blood and bone with a few extra nutrients thrown in.  Excellent at promoting good root growth which is what we want at this point in the growing cycle and also loaded with nitrogen for good leaf growth.

Mulched Tomatoes

Mulched Tomatoes – well spaced out

I’ve also been more careful to give all plants a bit more room. Its easy to crowd them in, wanting to grow as much as possible but in a moist summer climate the threat of fungal attacks are high so lots of room for air to move around is vital.  These tomatoes have plenty of room to breathe so instead of filling the gaps with companion plants like lettuce as I’ve done in previous seasons, this time they are left open.  I’d say that comparatively growth is above average already simply from leaving all the nutrition to the tomatoes.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)