So many unnamed chilli seeds have been given to me to grow over the years, that we have christened them ourselves. Meet the ‘Thai Bird’s Claw’. Very Thai flavoured and looking like a many toed bird’s claw, pointing towards the heavens. Pretty hot. Should be pointing to Hell. If anyone knows the correct name, please pass it on!
Whether Feeding the family, supplying the restaurant or farming for a community, maintaining a steady supply of produce to match the needs of your group is one of the great skills of the grower. Over the years I’ve either harvested enough for Africa or begrudgingly bought a cucumber when my plants were only flowering. Actually, I prefer the feast over the famine of a particular crop as it allows me to pickle, preserve or give away. Here’s our Elevated Garden; abundant, verdant and in danger of giving all one sunny day. Farmer Jacinta is popping in some Cos and French lettuce seedlings we grew in anticipation of these vacant spots created by a previous harvest.
If you don’t always want to buy from the nursery, raising seedlings is quite simple and an adventure in itself. It can also be done indoors if you have limited space. I will post a few different methods on the farm site soon.
The joys of growing your own. Here are some dill flowers. While still yellow and young I include them in my much-loved Bread and Butter cucumber recipe, which we sell to delighted customers at the next Bowral Farmers Markets. At this stage, the flowers impart an intoxicating more austere and volatile dill character, which sits surprisingly well with the baby cucumbers we grow. Both in season at the same time! Incidentally, this is how flavour combinations have been imprinted on our food psyche; only ingredients that were on hand were combined. This is why when you visit countries with a long tradition of cooking, you encounter a fair percentage of locals who are staunch with what goes with what. I find this charming and in fact look for it on my gastronomic adventures. However, being a cook in a new world country like Australia, I don’t feel confined to the ingredients from the country of origin. Experimenting, based on respect for the country of origin, learning their time honoured skills and never feeling superior is the way of the new world cook. I digress.
Next to our yellow little cucumber companion is it’s older brother. The dried seed flower. He also started out, young, supple and cucumber worthy, and now he has evolved into the father of the next generation of my dill plants. Some seeds will go into my cooking over the following year, but largely, I save dill seeds.
Sneak preview of Gerald’s corn. The bloody Cockatoos have had their eyes on my field of dreams! Seriously… I am not paranoid, I sooshed off one that landed on the top of the strongest plant only yesterday. Anyway, have a look at this little baby wrapped in silky, husky Heaven; safe, secure and one week away from boiling water.
Have a look at my Broccoli, Hopper.
Cardamom. One of my all time favourite spices. Dave diMarco gave me some plants which I eventually stuck into the ground. Thought an apology was to be offered to Dave for being slow to plant and probably killing his gift, but no! The cardamom fairies came to me after all. Here’s evidence of underground activity. New shoots are emerging a few centimetres from the main stalk. I am so, so excited by this. Also, I can’t wait to experiment with cardamom leaves. Like the tumeric, ginger, galangal, curry trees, lemongrass, Vietnamese mint (so far) in my tropical section of the poytunnel, the cardamom will be transplanted there to see if it will survive the Bowral winter… Even if I have to sleep along side to supply body heat. Keep you posted.
Courtesy of Gerald from Bonaccord Ingram Co in East Gippsland.
A few weeks ago I decided to drive to Bairnsdale and meet the Elders team there. I currently hold the land speed record for driving over Mt Hotham in an effort to be on time for dinner after the road was closed for 2 hours. Anyway, Noel took me to visit some of the wonderful farms in this lush part of the world. There’s a point I’ve been making over the years and I’d like to develop it further through the website and eventually an e-magazine being planned with photographer Dean Cambray (more later). That point is that inside every big farmer there is a small farmer. Perfect evidence of this was in the form of Gerald and Murray from Bonaccord Ingram Co. Although hands on and flat out delivering wonderful produce to a very large market, we were able to connect on some really important stuff. I made a passing comment that corn was generally lacking flavour these days; that varieties were heading towards being sweeter (Supersweet Me!). Gerald did a cartwheel in agreement. He gave me a bag of seeds of corn that didn’t follow this shallow trend and they’re planted next to Jacinta in the photo below.
We went on to tackle onions, beans and special tomatoes. Couple this with the seed and seedlings given to me by local horticulturist Dave DiMarco, I have two rows of Bairnsdale “hero” produce alive and growing. Soon I will post a simple but amazing cabbage salad using the Bairnsdale cabbages.
Well, here are the beans. Following Geralds instructions I planted them differently; in straight rows but this time each seed only 5cm apart, instead of 20cm. One hundred percent germination was expected, but I was delighted with the heavy cropping. Each bean seemed identical in size to one other, which some in the restaurant trade could consider an advantage. To me? Not so important. However, the flavour was outstanding. Raw, they were crisp, luscious and full of deep earthy bean flavour. Cooked, even better. I will find out from Gerald what variety they are and if generally available.
My newly purchased curry trees are being planted in my greenhouse in what looks like becoming my tropical garden section. Ta Dah!
Quite exciting. Jonny and I will be on the look out for prowling tigers and take malaria tablets before safariing there.
To plant my new additions, I dug a decent hole and half filled it with composted cow manure. Flooded the whole hole and then planted the curry trees finishing them with composted hay (from the local mushroom farm), a sprinkling of organic Rapid Raiser and a watering in with a bioactive organic mix of GoGo Juice. They will be watered daily and hopefully (actually, no doubt) establish secure roots by the dormant winter months.
My concern is that the Bowral winters can be fierce. Frosts seem to have a way of burning plants, even in the greenhouse. That said, my previous curry trees have lived for years in the glasshouse, baring many rich harvests of uniquely scented leaves for my authentic curries.
Incidentally, here we are sorting through the piles of just-picked curry leaves. These will be packed in tightly sealed containers and frozen. That’s right, frozen. It is a technique I have been successfully employing for decades. Curry leaves very quickly lose their flavour after harvesting; however, by freezing them, and using the leaves in your cooking straight from the freezer, you lose none of their culinary impact.
For recipes on Geoff Jansz Food using leaves from the curry tree, click here.
Curry leaves are also a necessary ingredient in my Spicy Tomato Relish. That’s as much of the recipe you’re getting! Please feel free to purchase this wonderful product hand made here on the Farm. Proceeds go towards malaria tablets and camouflage clothing.
I’ve put this photo of my chillies here to highlight a water point. Notice how healthy and vigorous my plants are but how dry and lifeless the soil around is? Well firstly, the seemingly barren ground is actually quite fertile. It’s been top dressed with Seamungus, and Gogo Juice was used to invigorate plant growth. It’s just water deprived. Intentionally water deprived. This is my first year of growing under bed cover. I’ve used a degradable black plastic called “Degricover”, with a 30cm spaced drip line underneath on automatic watering to provide water directly and specifically onto my crops. This system is really a trial, but without jumping the gun, so far, things look promising.
As you may or may not know, I have a particular star performer growing every year on the farm. It’s a variety of tomato that has become so dear to my family as well as me professionally. It looks like an Ox Heart, but tastes like no other Ox Heart. Could be bundled in with the Beefsteak gang of tomatoes, but doesn’t behave in cooking like any Beefsteak. In this intermediate naming vacuum, it has been affectionately called ‘Geoff’s special tomato’. Poor thing… A bit like having called Mozart ‘Mummy’s little piano darling’. Nevertheless, until a box full challenges me for inflicting emotional anguish and wins the right to rename itself, then ‘Geoff’s special tomatoes’ they will remain.
You may know by now that I have reserved the front patio of our house for my elevated garden and a variety of edible pot plants. North facing, additional reflected light as well as stored heat emanating from the dark tiles beneath. Its pride of place for, here we go again, my “special” crops. These plants are provided the sort of treatment that can make my other veggies green with envy (maybe a good thing) and red with rage. Ever been to a proper outback sheep station? Totally remote and enduring the full harshness Australian climate can deliver. Here every breathing entity has to pull their weight. Rations are hard earned and never excessive. Unless, you ‘re that fluffy little lap dog that gets to live inside with the farms matriarch. That blow dried, clipped little yapper sits at or under the table, hand fed morsels of the lamb it’s canine brothers and sisters have toiled under 45°C heat to herd into submission, only to be thrown working dog rations of a shot kangaroo and trough of water. Yep, that’s my patio!
It actually goes completely against my nature to single out favourites and I feel shameful describing the patio with literary license to be a place of privilege. It’s more accurately a growing space under my watchful eye, and constitutes being the standard to which my proper crops need to perform. Somewhat a horticultural guilded cage but I actually recommend having a trial area like this for seriously curious gardeners on the quest of intelligently assessing their season’s efforts with an eye towards better future crops.
Anyway, getting back to my pampered pomodores, ‘Geoff’s special tomatoes’. Here is a prechristmas (20 days into summer) photo of the tight little clusters of fruit (berries to the pedant). Very exciting. Can’t wait to harvest and show you great tomato recipes.
In addition to the ‘Geoff’s Special Tomatoes’ I have growing on the patio, I planted several rows (amounting to around 100 plants) of my special tomatoes in the field. They were sown 3 weeks later than the plants on my patio, and just after Christmas, I sent a cry for help to Noel and Vince regarding my vigorous plants needing more flowers. Noel responded with some great advice (see comments); however it turns out, Noel, Vince… I need to relax and trust the pre-preparation on which we all collaborated.
In preparing the tomato beds, we performed a soil analysis. Vince, you looked at the report and knowing my crop expectations, asked me to feed the soil with only Seamungus. And Noel, we formed the beds with Gino to be able to capture sun. All other characteristics of ample water supply, great soil texture, pH balance, and general soil quality were in place (Angela and I have always been soil -respecting farmers). Lo and Behold, our preparation actually paid off. Because 10 days after my mayday call regarding needing more flowers, THEY APPEARED.
Pleased to report I am the proud father expectant to a vibrant crop-to-be.
Worth pointing out, my 28 years of growing wonderful tomatoes has been more akin to witchcraft than scientific analysis; very successful witchcraft, mind you. Naume was the grand Wizard, Merlin, and I the sorcerer’s apprentice (Shut up Geoff!) He had a more intuitive approach to growing; something that couldn’t be passed on without professionals like Noel from Elders and Vince from Neutrog applying their explanations to what Naume taught me, and then recommending accessible ways for you, the reader, to follow our approach of planet, plant and people friendly growing, without boiling the cauldron. Mind you, I still do a little cauldron work from time to time in honour of my mentor. Looking at this years crops, However, I think Naume would have had a beer or two with Noel and Vince.
Working with Elevated Gardens was my first and most compelling foray into encouraging urban dwellers and anyone else interested in low maintenance, high yield self supply where available growing space is limited. Self contained units of various size, in which water and nutrients are circulated under solar power are set up where a reasonable amount of sunshine can trigger the photosynthesis required for healthy plant growth. Furthermore, being elevated and multi layered, gardening should be easy on the back. I loved the theory.
The brains behind Elevated Gardens are Andrew Olley (inventor), and Tracey Perez (Manager of Sales and Marketing), who were recommended to me by the Elders experts at Bairnsdale, visited me in Bowral. We shared the same enthusiasm for having more Australians experience the rich rewards that come from successful self supply. Successful being the operative word . What’s the point of spending time and money setting up a system, only to be frustrated along the way and ultimately crestfallen when at the end of it all, there’s no salad! Andrew and Tracey were confident, so we set up a Sustain 3D model right at my front door, facing north.
I would like to point out two things. Firstly, no money changed hands and secondly, I don’t personally require extra growing space. This was an open experiment so everyone visiting my site could watch the journey from set up to success or failure and make up their own mind.
Here are the images from when Andrew and I put my unit together.
Andrew Olley contemplated what was the best spot to set up my garden: an open airy site, relatively wind free and with access to at least a few hours sunlight each day, both for plants and the solar panel.
We carried the main body into place and systematically attached the various components. Andrew wanted me to do most of the setup – we need to show “even an idiot can do this!”
First we set up the base lining, wrapped in porous cloth to allow excess water to pass through the growing medium. The upright was first assembled, then attached and the baskets simply clipped on. There were a series of screw in pieces: water gauge, overflow valve and reservoir lid.
Next the cocopeat – I found the texture to be quite unique; an organic by-product from coconuts, it seemed to be both friable and sturdy.
Finally the pipe system and filters, followed by the solar panel and pump, then a pre wetting with the hose before filling the reservoir to the recommended 300 litres. This was all achieved in under one hour.
Time to plant. According to Andrew, it is best to transplant seedlings directly into the cocopeat even though seeds can be scattered directly on to the cocopeat. I will nevertheless try seeds later and let you know.
When planting seedlings, it’s important to wash off as much of the potting soil mix so we don’t fill the reservoir with soil. Simply immerse roots into a bucket of water and shake about.
Then pull away some cocopeat and pop the roots straight in and tamp around the base to secure the plant, much like planting into the soil.
Now we play the waiting game…
10th September 2013 – Two weeks down the track. I’m pretty amazed that without nutrients, my plants were able to stay so Perky. Really impressed in fact. By the way, Andrew explained it’s a good idea to let the plants embed and settle for two weeks without nutrients. I expected saggy seedlings. However, not the case. The cocopeat is truly an excellent product. It’s texture is perfect for plant roots to take a secure hold and have immediate access to water. Surprisingly, not one seedling wilted – even in full sunlight. The solar pump kicks in only once in 24hours and delivers enough water to saturate the cocopeat, with the excess flowing back through into the reservoir, which means just the right amount of water is retained to keep the plants happy until the next watering. I wonder how adding nutrients will affect things.
Unbelievable! The liquid fertilisers were added as instructed and the plants just loved it. Have a look and listen to the video shot 2 weeks after planting. Notice the plant vigour (also, my excitement with the bug management).
There is an Elevated Gardens product to suit everyone who wants an easy to use, sustainable growing solution for vegetables, herbs and flowers. Elevated Gardens thrive even in densely populated, urban spaces, as long there is sun. They are ideal for apartments, rooftops, backyards, schools, restaurants, resorts, office buildings, aged care homes, correction facilities and community gardens.
It seems, most people trying to prune their own fruit trees simply cut back the wood without having an understanding of how and precisely where on the tree apples actually grow. Poor pruning results in the tree putting it’s energy into a lot of wasted growth, which translates to less nutrients and flavour being provided for the fruit itself. If you want to maximise your fruits’ quality, listen to master pruner, Geoff Brooke, as he shares his knowledge and techniques.
Please note, pear trees , plums and other varieties are pruned differently to apple trees shown above.
Older fruit trees were shaped like a vase. These days, the modern orchard, striving for higher yields per hectare and employing advanced scientific methods have dismissed this approach. However, in the transition to smaller upright trees, many older varieties of apples were thrown onto the scrap heap. Luckily, I managed to get a few from surrounding orchards and Geoff Brooke taught me how to care for them.