Plants in the garden- Madagascar beans

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There are a lot of plants in my garden (not as many as my mother’s garden, but still, a lot), and these plants don’t often get to be noticed by anyone other than me. So I thought I would start a series of posts that introduce the plants I manage to grow in my garden, despite animal depredation, insect attack, serious neglect and outright attack with a mower or whipper snipper.

First in the line up is the Madagascar bean; a perennial , sub-tropical lima bean. I planted 5 seeds in toilet paper rolls in the Summer and planted out the sweet little seedlings about three weeks later. I chose a spot in the Hugelkultur garden that would let the beans climb on the fence and would eventually give shade to a couple of beds for planting lettuce and silverbeet in the hot summer months. Little did I know that the plants grow like Jack’s beanstalk and look likely to take over the whole vegetable garden roof area. I think that I will be doing a lot of pruning next Spring to keep some growing areas in the sun.

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Somewhere in there are 5 little bean seeds

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Planted out as young seedlings

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I have created a monster

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Apparently the seeds can be eaten when young as a broad bean substitute (steamed or boiled) and the dried beans can be used anywhere dried beans can be used (soaked, cooked and put into soups, stews, burgers, casserole, etc). My vines have pods, and I am now waiting around impatiently (checking my watch, sighing, pacing a little) for them to form beans so I can try to trick my partner into believing I have grown broad beans for him (he doesn’t know what the plant looks like anyway). I am becoming a big fan of perennial vegetables, I think I will seek out a few more.

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New Hugelkultur bed- final update

It’s finished at last, the new bed is built, mulched and planted. Even the path is done. Now to wait for those yummy broccoli and Ceylon spinach plants to grow, and let’s not forget the broad beans I planted today.

 

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Broccoli and Ceylon spinach growing madly

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The dark line on the right of the picture is where the broad beans are planted

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The gum leaf path over cardboard is in place.

I can’t wait until this bed is just a mass of green…it won’t take long. I also had another play with time lapse video, I did a quick video of my daughter (yes, she has pink hair this week) and I putting pig poop and mulch on our trailer bed and planting some snow peas. It is a bit far away from the action for me, I think I need a stand or something to hold the iPad at the right angle. This kind of video has a lot of potential I think, it is certainly fun to play with.

I have been dumping a good layer of pig poop on every bed I can find, covering it up with mulch and planting into a handful of potting mix in the bed to prevent too much nitrogen burn and give my plants something to get their roots into before they get into all that poopy goodness.

 

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I also weeded, fertilised and mulched my poor little pomegranate tree while I was going.

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Doesn’t she look a lot happier now.

What a relaxing and carefree day I’ve had in the garden. This is what we need to do to maintain sanity…or a close facsimile there of.

Update on the new hugelkultur bed

A0F7399B-80BE-4591-9590-B2A5E47DB16EI have finally had a chance to finish the new bed; thanks to some help from my daughters and a friend. After much carrying of wood chunks, shoveling of manure and frequent stops to rest, we have planted the first half of the bed with broccoli and ceylon spinach (which I just happened to have a lot of).

The grass on the path has been smothered with cardboard and I will rake up some gum leaves to cover it with soon. The pig poop (composted) was shoveled into an old bin and lifted into the bed over the period of about a week. Spread over the pile of sticks it has made a really rich bed, even though it is still composting and so is putting out a bit of heat. The broccoli seedlings seem to appreciate the extra heat, even though they are planted into a double handful of potting mix in the hole (because I was worried about the pig poop being too hot for them).

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Our big pile of pig poop

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Happy little seedlings

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The newspaper and cardboard path

I am loving having some new space to plant and it promises to be as easy care as the other hugelkultur beds. I guess it’s on to the next project; the trailer bed needs some TLC.

The first Hugelkultur bed is powering on. I do love this style of gardening. The rest of this post is made up of photos of my powering garden….for inspiration…mine.

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Seedlings all ready to be planted out. My seedling raising area is going well this year.

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A late pumpkin vine….I might be lucky

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Madagascar beans on their way up some well placed sticks

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A riot of productivity

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The tamarillo is producing fruit….one at a time

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Late corn….it’s flowering

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Another Hugelkultur-like bed on the go

It has been a while since I posted…life gets in the way. I have been hard at work learning to be a ‘real’ teacher (as one of my students stated), and have had not much time for anything at home besides simple maintenance. I have managed (or we have managed, as my daughter has helped a lot) to start and gradually work on one project; a new Hugelkultur bed.

We have an old chicken tractor made from PVC pipe (electrical conduit) and chicken wire, it is so old that it can’t be moved anymore. We decided it would make a good vegetable bed as it is covered and secure and has a decent amount of space inside.

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Before we started working on the bed. The tin thing is a chicken roost.

We removed everything from the cage, leaving only a weedy, unpromising space. Then we began to gather mulching material (otherwise known as organic rubbish); we found some old rags (cotton and wool), newspaper and cardboard. We also started to gather sticks and wood for the Hugel building.

First we spread the rags, newspaper and cardboard over the grass; there wasn’t enough to cover it all so we are working in sections. Then we piled the sticks and some larger branches where we wanted the beds to be. On top of this we piled the contents of the bottom of the rabbit cage; poop and newspaper litter soaked in pee. We are in the process of collecting manure to add to the beds and a neighbor has offered to bring home some composted pig manure from her work for us (thank you L). Once the bed is piled up with sticks, manure and other compostables we will cover it all  with a layer of straw mulch and leave it to compost for a few weeks. I am looking forward to planting out another low water use bed…more broccoli, here we come.

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There will be a thin path from the door to the middle of the bed, the rest will be planted out with vegetables

Using gum leaves in the garden

It is really hot at the moment, so the fire danger level is high. I am raking up leaves from around the house at a rate of one or two 20 litre buckets a day (and fighting a losing battle). Summer solstice (or Litha) is when gum trees drop a lot of leaves and shed their bark like a Hollywood actress shrugging out of her overcoat to reveal she is naked underneath. All that newborn bark is exceedingly beautiful to look at and I love walking  in the bush and letting the cicada song wash over me like a sound ocean, but…extra fuel on the ground leads to extra fire danger.

Common knowledge says that gum leaves are no good for compost; they are allelopathic (don’t play well with other plants), highly acidic, slow to compost and hydrophobic (don’t soak up water). In fact the only thing they have in their favour is we have a lot of them, but what to do with them?. I always struggle with where to put leaves once they are raked up from the constant drifts around the house. I usually rake them away from the house and leave it at that. This year I thought I’d try something different.

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The path in my Hugelkultur bed area is constantly sprouting weed seedlings, which I try to keep up with by pulling a handful or two as mulch  every time I go in there (not a very effective method) but missing one day means the big weeds are taller and harder to pull out and there are just too many of them. Every year I try to cover the path with cardboard as boxes come into the house, then I cover the path with something; wood chip, sand, mulch hay, etc, anything that will keep the cardboard down and can be shoveled onto the beds the following winter. This year I have decided to try gum leaves and bark.

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You can see the multitude of weed seedlings on the path in this photo

My reasoning is that most people say the leaves will break down eventually, given a year on the ground and it is best to have the allelopathic qualities of the leaves spent on the path where I don’t want plants. Also the leaves will be broken up by the mechanical action of me walking on them often which will speed up their decomposition somewhat. I can add a high nitrogen source like urine to the path to further speed decomposition (pardon the indelicate reference) and dampness provided by the infrequent watering of the garden and rain will also speed the process. When I add the resulting leaf mold to my garden beds I will have to remember to add some lime with it to counteract the acidity of the gum leaf mold. This is an experiment to see if gum leaves can be useful in soil building, I am not sure whether it will work out well or be a failure, but we will see in six months or so.

In other news;

My Hugelkultur beds are growing well. Here are some photos to prove  it.

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The zucchini are flowering

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The tree tomato is growing new leaves (it isn’t really this pale, it’s just the camera)

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The chia is growing so fast you can see it

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I am picking lettuce and a tiny bit of silverbeet from this bed

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The beans are up at last and the tomato is ready to be tied up (I’m not sure I will do it though)

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I  have continued to build up the beds that were very low on organic matter by adding anything that comes to hand; horse and cow manure collected from beside the road, the contents of the rabbit litter box and any weeds I pull from the garden.

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Building up the bed ready for planting…probably in winter now, unless I can get some late corn in soon

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The rabbit litter tray; the litter is compressed paper pellets which soak up water and break down very fast, also rabbit poop, pee and hair

Challenges to gardening

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In our garden we have three major challenges to gardening success;

Lack of water– We live on tank water, harvested from the rain that falls on our roof. This means that when it doesn’t rain for a long time we start to get worried. The garden makes do with water from our washing (and hopefully our showering later on) once a week and whatever rain falls on it. Of course generational pampered vegetables don’t really like this arrangement and many either die or sulk their way through life producing nothing.

Lack of time– I am a teacher, which means that most of my time is taken up thinking about the educational needs of my students (I even dream about lessons), my partner works full time and my daughters visit but don’t really live here (although my eldest picks up her mail here). All this means that the garden is left to it’s own devises a lot, and tends to revert to a Dionysian jungle during the course of each school term.

Predators– Aside from the usual (for our area) bower birds, insects and possums, we also have domestic predators; sheep, chooks, ducks (and now a goose). All these predators love the taste of carefully nurtured vegetables and fruit. We grow our vegetables in cages, but they fail with alarming regularity.

Over the years I have tried many different solutions to all these problems but nothing works all the time. I have some success and quite a lot of failure, like all gardeners. Small, regular changes make the most difference in the long term. With that in mind I have put the following solutions in place;

lack of water;

compost- Compost from the chook pen (that used to be cardboard, paper, food scraps, grass clippings, straw and garden waste) is added to all the beds on a fairly regular basis. I also buy compost to add to the garden when I run out. The humus in compost helps to retain moisture in the soil.

mulch- Mulch at our humpy consists of anything organic that can be spread over the soil. The raked up straw from the sheep shelter, rough compost from the chook pen, grass clippings, bought mulch and raked up leaves (not gum leaves though) all become mulch in one area or another. Mulch helps stop moisture from evaporating from the soil, it also protects the soil from erosion during heavy rain; mulch is truly a miracle.

Hugelkultur- Hugelkultur is basically the art of sweeping your rubbish under the rug (or mulch) and calling it tidy. By piling up old, rotting wood and covering it with mulch and soil we have created new garden beds and tidied away mess. We have also made a water retention system that is hard to beat. The rain (and occasional watering) soak into the buried wood which retains moisture for a very long time, plants send roots into the softened, rotted wood looking for water and in the process help to break it down. This is probably the most effective water saving system we have in  our garden.

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This is how our Hugelkultur beds began…as piles of rotting wood.

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 I covered the wood up with piles of compost and soil

Second planting of the Hugelkultur beds

I kept adding woody weeds and cardboard to the beds until over time…

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It has become a rich and fertile growing space.

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shade cloth or old sheets– At the height of summer when plants wither and die by lunch time no matter how much water they have, I cover some plants with shade cloth or old sheets. Just this little bit of extra shade can slow evaporation enough to let sensitive vegetables like lettuce and silver beet survive the heat.

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lack of time;

mulch- mulch is such a useful thing to put on the garden; it not only slows water evaporation it also stops a lot of weeds from popping their heads up. This means I don’t have to spend as much time weeding (in theory). It also means that the soil is being fed, slowly and evenly as nature intended. Reduced weeding and not having to fertilize saves me a lot of time in the garden.

buying seedlings- I have been buying a lot of seedlings lately. I haven’t started seeds for such a long time. Buying seedlings is not ideal and doesn’t really fit my philosophy, but it does fit my time constraints at the moment. Buying seedlings means I can bypass the messing around with seeds and potting mix. When I have more time I will start planting seeds for seedlings again, but for the moment time constraints win.

doubling up on jobs- By this I mean never going anywhere with empty hands, for example, I go out to feed the chooks, taking their grain bucket and the kitchen scraps with me, on the way back I notice that the washing is dry so I take an armful of clean clothes back into the house (one trip to the chook pen = chooks fed, scrap bucket empty and washing in). This saves time because I am not spending a lot of time walking back and forth. Another method for doubling jobs is to make work do more than one job, for example, if the lawn is being mowed (everyone has a go at that job) the wheelbarrow is nearby to empty clippings into, the clippings then go into the chook pen or straight onto a garden bed as mulch (lawn mowing = lawn mowed, compost making topped up and garden mulched). While each little thing saves only a minute or two the cumulative effect of all that time saving is huge.

predators;

fencing- Our yard is fenced, the garden beds inside the yard are caged. Still the possums and goannas manage to find a way in. We have electric fencing that helps keep the sheep out too, but cloudy weeks mean the solar unit goes flat and they still get in.

over planting- This year I have started to plant about three times more of everything than we need in the hope that some would be left over for us. I also plant the same thing in different areas so that if something happens to one bed there is always another to go to. This strategy is only just successful; it seems that more food equals more predators.

 

If all that fails…I sigh and start again.

What are your gardening challenges? How do you get around them (or try to)?

 

 

 

 

Update on the Hugelkultur beds

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Hugelkultur beds tidy…sort of

I just love Hugelkultur; not only is it a great way to grow vegetables with minimal water, it also gets rid of piles of unsightly woody weeds and sticks. I first posted about my Hugelkultur beds way back in 2013, when I began building my beds in a chicken run/vegetable growing area. Since then the beds have been planted, harvested, laid fallow, used as a chicken run, used as a duck run, housed wildlife, been tidied up and replanted and finally laid fallow again.

This time the whole area was a terrible mess of weeds, mostly paddy’s lucerne. I spent the day digging out or cutting off all the large, woody weeds in the path and beds, these weeds were then piled onto the areas of bed that needed building up. Weeds have a lot of nutrient in them which would otherwise go to waste, by piling them onto the beds I can allow them to break down and keep the nutrients in the garden where my vegetables can use them (most of them had not seeded yet so they won’t add to the weed seed bank in the soil much).

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Weeds piled up in the beds

Before i got too carried away with gardening, I made a planting plan, partly to help me remember where and what I planted in there and partly so I could put some thought into placement of plants to provide shelter to those that need it.

 

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I then shoveled as much soil from the path to the beds as I could and collected chook compost from the chook pen to pile on top. This was topped off with some bags of bought compost (there is never enough compost is there) and mulched with bought sugar cane mulch. All this was only enough to finish the front third of the total area of beds, so I planted that out according to my planting plan

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Lettuce, eggplant and silverbeet in this section

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Tomato, basil and beans in this section

It rained just as I finished mulching (conveniently) so they all got a good watering in. I just love planting out garden beds; everything is so full of hope and potential.  I will have to finish the rest this weekend, I am going to buy a trailer full of compost to top up the beds. It is extravagant to buy a huge amount of compost and I could simply wait until the chook pen compost is ready for harvesting again, but I am really enjoying making this section of the garden productive once more and I want to keep my momentum up.

We have been making plant labels by painting stones at school lately. They are so pretty I think I will make a few for home too. I just love seeing the little pops of colour around the school gardens, and they will look amazing in my garden too.

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Plant label stones we have been making at school.

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Gardening is so therapeutic isn’t it? I love to try new things in my garden and potter about wasting whole days. Unfortunately I also get distracted easily and forget to maintain entire sections (or the whole lot sometimes), I guess that is the kind of gardener I am…sporadic.

 

 

 

 

Making pasta sauce

The tomatoes in the Hugelkultur bed have been supplying us with yummy Roma tomatoes for some time now and we have added them to most lunches and dinners (and the occasional breakfast), we are all at the ‘I don’t like tomatoes any more’ stage, reached at some point in every harvest season when there is a glut. Therefore, I decided (this morning) to make some pasta sauce and bottle it using my trusty but under utilized Fowlers Vacola (FV) unit. That way we can have our tomatoes to eat in the winter when we are all craving them. I decided to use glass jars with metal lids (the ones you buy pasta sauce in in the supermarket) instead of the traditional FV jars because the FV jars I own are all huge (1 litre is the smallest) and we use our pasta sauce in small lots so the smaller jars are more practical for us.

A bucket of Roma tomatoes from the garden

Stage one of the Hugelkultur beds cleared and waiting for a compost top up and mulch before replanting.

I found a fairly easy recipe for tomato pasta sauce that can be preserved using the water bath method. The recipe below has been copied from the Brisbane Local Food site and changed only slightly. The link in the title will take you to the original post.

Home made pasta sauce
Makes 1.5 cups

You need a large non stick frying pan or a wok and a stick blender

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
500g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
8 sprigs of basil, oregano or mint
sea salt, ground black pepper. About 2/3 tsp of salt per 1 1/2 cups of sauce is recommended.

Heat oil to medium heat, add onion and bay leaf, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until onion is softened but hardly coloured. Add tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Cover, cook on medium heat, stirring frequently until tomatoes have collapsed. Add seasonings and blend until the sauce is a pleasing consistency and you are ready to bottle.

Preserving
Put sauce into clean, sterilised jars with good lids that will vacuum seal. If the pulp is still really hot, put a sterilised spoon in the jar before filling to prevent cracking. Place jars in a water bath up to their necks and bring the temperature up to 93.3 degrees Celsius (or 200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Hold at this temperature for two hours. Remove from the preserving pan and press down the lids to encourage vacuum sealing.

N.B. The Fowlers Vacola manual states that unless you use all their gear they won’t be held responsible for these instructions being no good.

The chopping begins
But not before they get a good wash
Pasta bottles; found, de-labeled and washed by my eldest daughter (thanks hon)
The sauce; boiled, seasoned and blended, ready to bottle.
My good old FV stove top unit. Isn’t she a beauty?
The bottles in their bath, all carefully positioned so they don’t touch each other or the sides. Fowlers Vacola frowns on touching in the bath.
The final result; six yummy bottles of pasta sauce. I had better label them before I forget what they are though.

I want to do more preserving, it’s so much fun.

Hugelkultur beds update

Stage four of the Hugelkultur beds has not yet been completed, but stages one, two and three are producing lots of food. The beds look like a jungle with plants fruiting, seeding and new plants emerging, there is a good mix of vegetables and flowers too. At the moment everything growing in these beds are annuals as I have plans to top up the soil at some point and I don’t want to move perennial plants to do it.
The jungle on the right are the Hugelkultur beds, the potato towers can be seen on the left, against the fence and the whole floor is layered with cardboard. The chooks stare longingly through the fence at this little oasis of green.

The corn is doing well in stage three, but there will only be enough for one meal from this tiny planting. I need to put more in, looks like another bed building day is required.

The zucchini are producing lots of fruit and providing shelter for eggplant seedlings.

Green and purple sprouting broccoli are still producing enough heads to feed us. 

Roma tomatoes are giving us enough vine ripened fruit to qualify as a glut.

Good old silverbeet just keeps on giving, although only one plant remains of the original three; the other two have gone to seed. The climbing beans are picking and the second lot of bush beans are almost to flowering now.

The amaranth towers above it all and provides some colour to the scene as it seeds. After collecting seed from it for more plantings, I will give the seed heads to the chooks.

I am really pleased with the Hugelkultur method of building garden beds; it retains moisture, it is an attractive looking bed, it makes piles of rotting wood useful and it encourages me to build new bed space. I will be continuing to build more beds in the future (as time permits).

This is me, mowing the lawn. We put up an electric fence around all the stuff we don’t want them to eat first. Sheep are nature’s mowers and whipper snippers.

Dry days of spring and Hugelkultur update number two

The hot, dry, windy months of spring are here. I am using lots of water on the garden and there is no rain in sight to refill the tanks. I water the garden with the water from the washing (about 160 litres a week) and from the chook and sheep water buckets when I refill them (about 30 litres); I also use about 20 litres a day straight from the tank to water the seedlings and potted plants. I am happy to be re-using the water from the washing and animal waters but I think I need to start putting a plug in the bath when we shower too, so I can scoop it out and water more. This drying wind really affects the vegetables.
In an effort to save my seedlings and tender plants, I have been covering the seedling hardening off area with old sheets to conserve water and provide a little shade. 

My seedling raising area.

Happy seedlings in pie trays to give them time to soak up the sprinkle I give them every day.

In the Hugelkultur beds everything is growing well. I still only water these beds once a week with the washing water (about 80 litres). This bed badly needs re-mulching to further conserve water (that is my goal for this week).

I know it looks dry, but the soil under the plants stays reasonably damp.

In the hugelkultur beds I have……
zuchinni

Roma tomato, just little fruit at present.

Cabbage

brocolli, just starting to bud.

And good old silver beet.

The trailer bed has broad beans and some really late snow peas; so I covered it to provide some protection from wind and sun. We might get lucky and get a crop.

The heirloom lettuce in the trailer bed is going well and we eat off it every day.

We are looking forward to beetroot soon, but in the meantime the leaves are added to stir fry and salad (when my partner isn’t looking)