Editors Note: Sara blogged under ‘The Nonsuch Project’ on Victorian Flower Garden website after she moved to Nonsuch in Tasmania in early 2005, before she created the dedicated Nonsuch Kitchen Gardens website in mid-2009. These entries were referred to as The Old Diary. 

10th January 2008

My pumpkins have been having illicit sex. A couple of months ago I planted out 3 Turkish Turban vines – the pumpkins are green and orange striped and have distinctive ‘caps’ that look like rolled Turkish turbans. Well, the vines are going great guns, but all the vines are producing half Turkish Turbans and half something else – I think the female flowers have been cross-pollinated from someone else’s pumpkin patch. I can only assume that gardener is now staring bewildered at his or her strange turbaned fruit growing!

Here is one of the Turkish Turban pumpkins – you can clearly see its striped turban developing:

pumpkin01

And here are two of the interlopers. They are twice the size of the turban fruit, are a different colour, and lack the distinctive turban. They are growing on the same vine.

pumpkins02

All three vines are now producing the double fruit on the same vine: Turkish Turbans and something … else.

I love what can happen in a garden. I am not upset about the interlopers – I have heard that while the turbans are sweet, they are the very devil to cut into, so I don’t mind the more normal round shape of these interlopers.

I also have Australian Ironbarks growing and French warthogs (not their real name … I can never remember their real name), but as none of these have flowered yet they could not have had illicit sex with the turks.

The front garden is looking lovely – I will try to take some pictures.

27th January 2008

I am in pumpkin heaven – starting now to process the harvest to pack away for the year. At the moment it is pumpkin time! How many things can you make with pumpkin? Lots!

I am taking a short break from making yet another big batch of pumpkin gnocchi – just the loveliest thing. I freeze the mixture in batches, then defrost and make up the gnocchi for lunches. The recipe is:

500 grams of pumpkins, cut into small pieces and steamed until it is soft but not overcooked. Let it drain while it is cooling so it will dry off a bit, then mash or push through a sieve or mouli.

To the mashed pumpkin add about 100 grams of flour, plus 2 teaspoons of salt, plus about 300 grams of parmesan cheese. Mix into a dough – it will be very sticky and porridge like. If you want to cook immediately, put the dough into the fridge for an hour or so – it is much better when it is cold. (You may want to add more flour, I probably add a fair bit more flour than the 100 gram. Just play it by ear.)

When ready to cook, take a teaspoon, wet it, then put a heaped teaspoon of dough into gently roiling water. The dough should slip off the spoon easily. Keep adding teaspoons of dough, then skim the gnocchi off the top of the water with a slotted spoon when they rise to the surface. Unlike potato gnocchi this will not be formed or even pretty to look at, but it is just the most lovely gnocchi. You can have your favourite sauce with it, or eat it plain like me.

I am also toasting the seeds, and making pumpkin soup, dehydrated pumpkins, pumpkin flour, mashed pumpkin … it is being used in a score of different things, and all being stacked away in the freezer or bottled for the dried stuff.

The interloper pumpkins on the Turkish Turban vine have turned out to be warthog pumpkins – huge and sweet and tasty. I have picked most of them, and now the vine is producing … more. What in the world am I going to do with all these pumpkins?

I have also bought in the bean harvest, and have either dried them, or frozen them. The de-podding of these beans has given me much grief – it really hurt my thumbs, and now my right thumb is almost unusable. If it hasn’t improved by later this week I will need to see the doctor.

The tomatoes are doing brilliantly! I have had to pick them green and ripen them in the greenhouse as the rats were starting to help themselves, but I will still get a spectacular harvest. The leeks are growing on well, and I have just planted peas and kale for the winter.

Life is good.

24th February 2008

Has autumn arrived? I lit the fires for the first time this morning when I rose – rain beating against the windows, cats huggling close, very chill. The leaves are turning, the haws are brightest red, the pumpkins, so many of them, are in and lined up waiting to be eaten or turned into flour or mash. The freezer is chockers of food – yesterday I made up a gigantic batch of flu busting chicken, garlic and chili soup and froze it up into single meals.

An American market gardener recommended to me a wonderful preserving book: Preserving Without Freezing or Canning. It is a collection of traditional French methods of preserving, and I have been in hog’s heaven ever since it arrived … and storing all my green tomatoes wrapped individually in newspaper in the pantry for winter. If you like preserving, or just want to know how to get the best storage possible out of your harvest, then this is one brilliant book.

Most of my time this past month has been spent turning garden produce into preserves, or preparing it into meals for freezing. I have stored away 30 bottles of my best tomato ketchup (and am thinking about 20 more bottles), have dehydrated tomatoes and ground them into flour (as I have also done with pumpkins – pumpkin flour makes the best thickener), have frozen something like 20 kilo of tomatoes for cooking over winter, am collecting walnuts, have dried and stored many herbs, included the haws from my hawthorn hedge, I have more pasta sauce than I know what to do with, likewise pumpkin gnocchi and mashed pumpkin.

Oh, and I am also in beetroot heaven – roast beet and sweet potato chips, garnished with rosemary and salt and garlic – are just the absolute best … I have planted more beets and hope the autumn weather will prove beneficial to them.

On the other hand my winter crop of onions have not kept well. They did not do well at all, and I suspect this is because, just for once, I did not grow an heirloom variety but a shop bought hybrid. Total disaster. Well, almost. Some have kept OK, but most have rotted or just were not good enough to start with. Thank God for my garlic and shallots and leeks (now coming in again), because without them I would have been lost..

I have kale seedlings which I might transplant today, and I will start off some more leeks and even beets for the greenhouse.

I am so happy with my tomato crop this year. I have got almost 50 kilo from just 4 plants. The only hassle I have had with them was with the rats … but by taking the green tomatoes from the vines and ripening them either inside or in the greenhouse, I brought the loss to rats down to almost nil.

Has autumn arrived? Well, it has dashed in and taken a nip out of my heel, but I feel sure we will still have some warmer weather left. But in the meantime, I am out to see if there is snow on the mountain today.

8th March 2008

I am taking a break from clearing out a huge shrubbery (how had they managed to grow so big in just 18 months?). I am growing ever more enthusiastic about growing my own food … and need space for some peach and cherry trees, as well more soft fruits.

The shrubbery simply had to go.

So, talking of growing my own food. How has my experiment in self-sufficiency gone this past growing season? Better than I had hoped! All I have bought in the way of fruit and vegetables this past 6 months has been a bunch of celery and 2 bags of apples. My apple trees are yet to fruit, but I made do with the soft fruits – strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries.

I grew and ate: capsicums, pickles (gherkins), tomatoes (50 kilo!), potatoes, leeks, beetroot (beets), silverbeet (swiss chard), spinach, peas, beans, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, rocket, sundry other saladings, pumpkins (such a huge harvest!), onions, shallots, the soft fruits (raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries), squash, all my herbs, garlic and I have no doubt I have left many things off the list. All of which I have grown enough to feed me over summer and put away enough for winter and through to next spring.

I have also just planted out my autumn and winter crops – more leeks, cabbage, beets, peas and have ordered in more seed from a local heritage seed seller, The Lost Seed.

You have no idea how enthusiastic I am! It has been so much fun, and the feeling of being to eat out of your own kitchen garden is incomparable. The lady at Coles (local supermarket) asked me where I’d been … had I been ill? She’d not seen me for ages …

Anyway, I am awaiting with desperate impatience the local nursery’s fruit tree list to come out, and have contented myself in the meantime with five or six currant bushes to go in. I may pop down there later this afternoon to see what other soft fruits they may have left.

And cooking and preserving! I have spent days and days dehydrating, cooking and bottling. I’ll have to start a new section with my favourite recipes.

It has been a new way of life for me, eating what I have on hand rather than what I suddenly decided I wanted to eat. Another big plus has been the savings in grocery bills – I eat more vegetarian meals now.

Excuse me – I must get back to clearing out that shrubbery.

Later: a bit more work done – two more huge shrubs removed and cut up for compost and mulch – woody bits left out to season for firewood. I went down to the nursery and came home with two blueberry bushes. I haven’t had much luck with them in the past but will make a more determined effort this time.

26th March 2008

Finally it is raining here – a cold front has swept through and it is raining steadily outside – yay!

I have spent Easter cleaning out the garden beds, either prepping them for their winter crops (kale, collards, onions, garlic, beet, carrots etc, all save the garlic already started in seed trays) or bedding them down for the winter to rest for spring cropping. When I was digging out one of the compost bays to spread over the beds, I found an extra 10 kilo of King Edward potatoes nestling in there – a nice surprise. Also a nice surprise were the extra 10 pumpkins I found when I ripped out the vines. So … I am set for potatoes and pumpkins this winter.

The walnut crop is in and the walnut stains now almost completely gone from my fingers. The fruit tree list from the local nursery is still not out. *sigh*

I am still in the process of grubbing out that shrubbery. Four big shrubs to go – I have been taking a break from it since my last entry, spending the time on the vegetable bed preps instead. Also today I cleaned out the greenhouse for the winter – I have the capsicums still in there producing yet more peppers, and seed trays for the winter crops. I hope I haven’t left them too late.

In a bit of spare time I have been working on crop rotation schedules – it should be as easy as … the schedule I am following is:

Year 1: Legumes (peas, beans etc.)

Year 2: Brassicas (cabbages, Kale, collards etc.)

Year 3: The Nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes etc)

Year 4: Curcubits (pumpkins etc)

Anything not in those four families goes wherever, just not in the same place again for four years.

This should be easy enough to follow, but … all my beds are of different sizes, and I grow different amounts of different crops … so it is proving impossible to neatly swing them around from bed to bed. So … tomatoes will always be grown in pots, and two of the four years I’ll be planting potatoes in containers as well, or wire cages which can be placed just about anywhere … and if I do that then I have a hope. I think. I still have to check for companion planting, and then I hit those crops and beds which will have two or more crops in per year … ah … it is all too much …

30th April 2008

I almost didn’t make it this month!

I have been busy writing and not much gardening. But, bit by bit, the summer garden is being cleared and manured and mulched for its winter rest. The shrubbery, which i have still been working on, has finally been cleared of all the shrubs, if not yet all the weeds … but after those shrubs and their stumps, the weeds will be too easy.

I’ve taken delivery of my big autumn order form the landscape suppliers. Many bales of pea straw and many many bags of sheep shit. This is the first time I have worked with sheep manure and I have to admit I am liking it. Easy to spread and work with and doesn’t have quite the same aroma as chicken manure. Pea straw is 50% more expensive this year than last – apparently the only supplier still growing it in Tasmania is the University of Tasmania.

I have ordered two peach trees – one Golden Queen and one Red Haven, although I am unsure if the rather vague lady at the local nursery will actually ever manage to order the trees in. I will live and pray, I guess.

There are still veggies growing in the garden – peas and leeks and beet all doing well.New onions are growing. There are seedlings in the greenhouse – cabbage and cauliflower and kale, but I wonder if I left them too late to grow well. I might try transplanting out the kale today. The potatoes in their containers in the greenhouse, however, are going great guns – they are just surging ahead. I may plant out a few more today. I’ve been staggering the pot plantings so I will have a continuous supply all winter.

I keep meaning to do a photographic tour of the kitchen garden. I will do it, I promise – bit it is such a mess right now!

Sunday 15th June 2008

May didn’t quite happen in the garden, did it! Well, it did and I was doing lots of work, but I think I needed a mental break from writing about it.

I have, I think, dug out almost a full half, if not more, of the garden. Some of it I am leaving for soil improvement over the next year and likely putting into soft fruits (mostly strawberries), the rest of the cleaning out that I have done has been to extend the food growing capacity of the garden. I am convinced there are some tough times ahead (climate change, the disintegration of the Green Revolution – industrial agriculture based on petrochemicals – and easy food supply, peak oil, financial market disasters, invasion from Mars … oh wait, that last was the product of one of my wilder nightmares, I think) and growing more of my own food to help with rising prices and supply problems just seems a good idea.

Besides, I enjoy it, the food tastes great, and there is such a profound satisfaction from supplying your own food that it becomes addictive. That’s what I say when I’m not whining about my bad back from digging, anyway.

So … yet more shrubs have gone, more fruit trees ordered, and more soft fruit bushes awaiting transplant (which I may get around to this afternoon). As usual the Tasmanian pea straw and sheep poo industries have been thriving from my orders. I currently have carrots, leeks, onions, kale, beetroot, silver beet, peas and cabbage in the garden (must pick peas this afternoon as well) and I have rampant potatoes in the greenhouse. This is the first winter I’ve had the greenhouse in and the potatoes are loving it! I am growing them in large pots and the vines are about 5 feet high. They’re a far brighter green than when grown outside, and seem to be very soft so they require staking (when I have time, otherwise they just flop happily everywhere), but otherwise they are just doing splendidly.

Otherwise, in the food garden area, it is mostly all cleaned out, manured and mulched waiting for spring. The rhubarb, which I thought would die down over winter, is still forging ahead, intent on world domination, as are several of the perennial herbs which are also supposed to die back. Oh well.

The ornamental garden, now mostly confined to the front garden, is an overgrown mess, but I am not too fussed about it right now. I’ll get in there by late winter and prune and weed and clean and mulch (providing I can get the straw in). Part of my clearing out involved taking out lots of my climbing roses about the veranda – they were truly ugly, they were truly thorny, and their time was up. The veranda will need make do with its spreading clematis, which is prettier all round and doesn’t have thorns. I still have a few rose shrubs remaining that have survived only because they produce truly beautiful roses – one a deep red, so deep it is almost black.

I have decided to branch out into livestock. I was thinking either rabbits or chickens, and took a while to decide. The final deciding factor was that I thought I’d find it easier to kill chickens than rabbits, and rabbits don’t lay eggs, which was a big negative. I can convert part of the cat run into an overnight hen house for the chooks and I have some cages that will do as tractor runs. I’ll just need to get some laying boxes for them … oh, and the chooks themselves, of course. Anyway, that is my spring project.

It hasn’t been a cold winter as yet (thus explaining the rhubarb, I guess). I’ve had no frosts and the nights have been far milder than this time last year. But, oh, I need some rain!

The best thing about the garden this year is that it hasn’t required so much weeding – I am sure that about this time last year I was smothered in weeds and looking forward to winter as a time to really bring them under control. There are still weeds, but far less of them, and I don’t feel under any pressure about them… a good thing.

Sunday 22nd June 2008

This has been the Winter Solstice weekend, and thus this weekend has been garlic and shallot weekend. All the garlic and the shallots now planted out – mostly under the peach trees (now in!!) and the current bushes. Someone told me that garlic keeps peaches free from leaf curl … who knows? It is an interesting combination of tastes, anyway.

I’ve had a few light frosts, and the blackbirds (those horrors on wings) have been into one of the onion seedling beds (my fault, I should have netted them) but otherwise all going well.

Thursday 20th November 2008

There has been a terrible break, and a somewhat terrible reason for it – I have been very ill over the past four months and have struggled with numerous debilitating symptoms, the worst of which has been deep exhaustion. So then I found out the exhaustion was caused by anemia, and then discovered the anemia is being caused by a nasty case of spreading cancer. So I haven’t actually been doing much gardening, and the resulting mess in the garden has been a source of deep guilt and horror for me – a garden this size you just can’t let go, and I have been forced to do just that. *sigh*

So now I face about 6 months of chemotherapy with some major surgery in the middle of it. The garden is, unfortunately, going to have to take a back seat. I got some food in before I became so ill, so currently I have a big crop of onions maturing, as well garlic and shallots, some silverbeet (swiss chard) and today I struggled out to plant out some Australian Butter pumpkins which were just about dead in their seedling trays. And, apart from trying to keep up with watering, that will be it in the garden for me for quite some time. I can’t even bear to sit out on the veranda now because of the destruction.

This will be quite a journey for me and a fair old struggle for the garden as well! I will try and keep the diary updated, but this is the first day in many months I’ve been able mentally to struggle close to making an entry, partly because I remain so exhausted and partly because what is happening in the garden is so dispiriting.

I might get some apples this year, though!