Thursday, December 30, 2010

Florence Fennel - Fennel Bulb

My wife Izumi likes me to try all kinds of weird and wonderful things in the garden. She kept asking me to grow Fennel so I did. Our first crop of fennel grew fine but it wasn't the variety she wanted – she wanted the Bulb kind known as Florence Fennel. We needed to grow it from seed because the nurseries didn't sell seedlings of such an unusual plant. It's popular with the asians and is usually sold in Chinese vegetable shops. But it's quite expensive – that's why we tried growing our own.

So here it is:

Technically although it's often referred to as Fennel bulb it's not actually a bulb — it just looks like one, hence the name. The cats seems to love rubbing themselves against the foliage which smells sweet like aniseed.
We grew it over the winter months and harvested it in September.

Here's what Izumi did with it:

She sliced up a couple of oranges off the tree...
 Then mixed it in with the fennel (the bulb part) which was also sliced up...
 Then she added a few pitted olives...
I think she added some salt and pepper and some of Paul Newman's salad dressing and that's about it. It was very fresh and full of interesting flavours. It goes well with just about any kind of meat dish you can think of including fish, steak, sausages... whatever you like really.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My first attempt at Cabbage

I really enjoy trying to grow new things. This year I tried cabbage for the first time. I decided to get serious about feeding the soil and WOW what a difference it makes!
At the time I harvested this cabbage (November 28) the ones they were selling in the shops were only half the size and cost about $4. Based on that I reckoned this one was worth about 6 bucks. We cut it in half and gave half to a mate up the road who sometimes drops in with some fresh fish.
We got 2 or 3 meals out of that half cabbage, including a fresh coleslaw, a lamb neck stew (with cabbage of course – done in the pressure cooker), and something else which I can't remember now. Altogether we got 3 green gabbages and 2 purple ones, altogether valued at about $16-18 — not bad for a $3.50 punnet of seedlings.
However if I'm to be completely honest about it, it also took about $1 worth of fertiliser plus a half bag of compost which cost about $5/bag, then there's all the watering...
Still worth the effort I reckon. Very satisfying of course, plus we have the peace of mind knowing there were no sprays used.
I think I'll try that again...

Establishing the Top Garden

One of the bigger tasks I set for myself this growing season was to establish the Top Garden area properly. I knew it was going to take a lot of work because it was covered in scrub and other garden rubbish and that's just what was above the ground. Then came the really important part of establishing any new garden and that is: getting the soil right!
The top layer of soil was kind of loamy which is OK but not far below that was some serious clay and a few stubborn tree roots. I wanted to make sure my new gardens had a reasonable depth of soil as I intended to grow potatoes to begin with.
What it needed was organic matter so I got a mixed load of mushroom compost and organic compost. Having gotten rid of as much of the clay as possible I then mixed the remaining top soil with the compost. I made sure the garden would drain properly by sloping the solid clay underneath.
It was quite a workout which I had to do over a period of a couple of weeks just whenever I had the time. My aim was to have it ready for planting potatoes on Labour weekend (25 October) which I managed to accomplish.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Economy of Space

In the city garden there are many pressures on space. So the time comes when even the most precious of plants needs to be removed to make way for other things. For example, several years ago, a long time before I got around to putting the vegie garden in, I planted a shrub called "Pride of Madeira" . 

Every year around spring it would burst into beautiful purple blooms. As the years went by it got bigger and bigger and the display of colour became more and more spectacular as it grew in size. 
However my vision for the garden has changed since I first planted it and now it's turned out to be in the wrong place. As much as I would've loved to have kept it, considering the fact that it flowers for only about 2-3 weeks of the year and in view of the amount of space it takes up, I could no longer justify keeping it – in the afternoon it casts a big shadow over part of the garden.

So, out came the axe… and that was the end of it!

Thinking Laterally

How to turn the simplest job in the garden into a complicated one... 

Connecting 2 Hoses
Having added 2 new gardens at the far end of the property I came to realise that my hose wasn’t long enough to reach them and they were desperately in need of water. A simple enough problem to fix you might think... All I needed was a simple hose connector for joining 2 hoses together like the one pictured... 

As usual, despite the fact that I do keep all sorts of bits and pieces around the place I couldn’t find what I needed to do the job. It seemed rather a waste of time and effort (not to mention carbon credits) to go all the way to the shop to buy such a seemingly insignificant item. 
After turning the shed upside down looking for what I needed I discovered I had a number of other hose connecting paraphernalia including 2x 3-way hose connectors and at least a half dozen end bits – but what could I do with them? 
This is what I came up with...

As it turned out the whole exercise took about an hour which is longer than the time it would’ve taken to go to the shop and buy what I needed.
By the way, in case you’re wondering how I was able to take a photo of the connector I needed, I actually found one a couple of weeks later when looking for something else I needed! 

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Christening the BBQ

Labour Weekend (Oct 23-25) marks the beginning of the BBQ season for many Kiwis. I'd been looking forward to christening the new barbie since I finished building it last summer. So it was great to finally be able to do it and the weather was perfect. I started the fire about an hour before the guests arrived so there was a good amount of embers ready for cooking by the time they arrived.

The Ti tree I used was great. Being a hardwood it creates really hot embers that retain the heat well. There was a good variety of food to cook including chicken, steak, boorevors sausage, potatoes wrapped in tin foil and a huge snapper that my mate Bruce caught the day before, which we also wrapped in tin foil. The whole evening was pretty good for a trial run although darkness came all too soon making it difficult getting back to the house for some of the guests. There was about 15 people to cook for altogether including 3 kids. I'm thinking that cooking for a larger group (20-30+) will be quite challenging, but that's my next goal for later in the summer. I might have to organise a few lanterns as there's no power out by the barbie which is a good 30 or 40 metres from the house.
This is a Boerewors sausage before it's cooked. If you look carefully you can see it cooking on the grill (all rolled up) on the right hand side nearest the foreground.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BBQ Fuel

One of the advantages of having a BBQ fire place in the backyard is being able to burn a lot of the rubbish the garden seems to produce. When I say rubbish, I mean organic rubbish like tree trimmings, the odd gorse bush that needs pulling and branches that snap off in high winds. The advantage works both ways because there's always plenty of fuel for the wood fired BBQ.
A lot of the wood is Titree which is perfect for the Barbie. Being a hardwood means it retains the heat well. The bigger stuff will produce large glowing coals and it will also give a nice flavour to the food – Ti tree's often used for smoking fish.
I've been gathering up all the wood over a period of years as the BBQ was still in the pipeline, which meant I had stacks of wood in various places around the garden, sometimes getting in the way. So I finally decided to get serious about storing it properly. 
Using bits and pieces I had lying around the property, including some old wet-wall lining out of an old bathroom, I knocked together a handy storage area under the trees only a stones-throw from the BBQ. I kept it nice and open so it gets plenty of blow-through, which helps to dry out any of the wet stuff.

The Plum Tree

When the plum trees blossom (in September), it's the first sign that things are starting to happen again in the garden. I planted 2 plum trees about 6 years ago. One is a Black Doris (top) and one is its pollinator, either an Elephant Heart or a Purple Sultan, I can't remember which, although I do know it's also referred to as the Christmas plum, as the fruit generally ripens around the 25th December.
Looking at them now it's hard to believe they're the same age. Either the Black Doris is a slow grower or I've done something terribly wrong.
Anyway there's a huge Black Doris plum tree growing on a neighbouring property which I believe is more than 20 years old. Apparently (according to the neighbour who's husband planted it) it had seldom if ever fruited until I planted the pollinator, upon which it suddenly sprang into life. The neighbour was delighted.

I'm hopeful the Black Doris will produce its first fruit this year. As for the other one, it's fruited for 3 years now. Last year it was particularly bountiful – there was so much fruit they grew almost like bunches of grapes. The fruit has a dark red centre and each one grows to about the size of a squash ball.
This year it put on a spectacular display of blossoms and I witnessed for the first time dozens of bees working away doing their thing. It was a welcome sight.
Although 6 years probably sounds like a long time to wait for a decent crop of plums, it just adds to the huge sense of satisfaction that comes from growing it yourself. One of my mates has done the same thing in his yard with Avocados. If I had more room I'd plant all kinds of fruit trees.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The BBQ/fireplace

The woodfired BBQ has been a long time in the planning so it's really good to see it finally realised, although there are still a few finishing touches (and attachments) to add. There were several objectives I wanted to accomplish with it hence the need for some careful planning. 
I wanted to create not only a BBQ but a structure I could use as a fireplace, an incinerator (for burning all my tree trimmings), and an outdoor oven for cooking wood fired pizzas. I wanted it big enough to cook for a large crowd if necessary and to be able to cook large items on a rotisserie (ie. lamb, chicken or pork on a spit). Many of my mates are South Africans, some of whom like to hunt and fish, and who swear by the wood-fired method, so there'll be plenty of expertise available when it comes to doing the cooking.
The whole idea started when I acquired a load of recycled bricks from a mate. But before I could get started I had to chip off all the mortar from about 500 bricks.
The first thing I did was to establish the dimensions, which essentially is based on a standard NZ-BBQ Factory hotplate or grill which will be very easy to replace if needed later plus I can borrow them from mates or from my other gas BBQ when needed. I got an engineer to weld me up a frame out of 40mm angle iron which will house 4 hotplates or grills in any combination depending on what I'm cooking. 
Then based on that size I got him to build a steel grate – slightly smaller to allow for the brickwork. I designed it with skids so that if I needed to move it I can drag it with a hooked rod as it will be too heavy and at times too hot, to lift. 
Once these dimensions were established I set about laying the concrete pad on which the whole structure would sit. I set the first layer of bricks into the concrete, then built it up from there. Once I got it to the right height I cemented in 4 steel shelf brackets for the grill to sit on, all the while making sure everything was level (see pictures).
I left some spaces in the brickwork so I could attach a rotisserie setup later. I boxed up inside the fireplace to create a concrete shelf that the grate will sit on when being used as a BBQ so that everything's at the right height for cooking. When using as an oven, fireplace or incinerator the grate will simply turn 90 degrees and sit on the bottom. Next, using a curved piece of boxing I created a platform on which to build the chimney. I strengthened it with a piece of galvanised steel pipe to help support the weight of all the bricks going on top.
The chimney's still not as high as it needs to be. I concluded this when I tested it the first time. I was burning a lot of tinder and when it flared up the flames started leaping out the top of the chimney by at least a foot.
Needless to say I'm looking forward to using it for all its intended purposes. I'll post some pictures later when I do.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pergola

My purpose in building a Pergola in the garden was two-fold. Firstly I wanted to create a nice sunny place to sit where there was a good view of the garden but I also wanted to grow grapes in my garden. They would not only need a nice sunny position but they would also need some kind of structure to grow on (and over) – hence the Pergola.

I really like the atmosphere created by grape vines. I also really enjoy those outdoor cafes and wineries in places like Kerikeri or Waiheki Island where you can sit in the afternoon sun in the shade of a grapevine drinking a nice cold beer or glass of wine. The grape I chose was Albany Surprise (a red grape) This is the second year it's been in the ground and it's just starting to come away again.

The Pergola itself is comprised of 4 dressed tanalised pine posts. The top part is made out of landscaping grade Macrocarpa. I still need to finish it off with 3 more beams across the top and the paving also needs to be re-levelled. I still have plenty of Macrocarpa left which I intend to also use to build an outdoor table and chairs (I'll post a blog about this later).

See more about the grapes growing over the pergola here

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Companion Planting

If there's one lesson I learned last year it's the value of companion planting. This was my first attempt growing anything in the Top Garden area. I tried a small test area growing potatoes for the first time and I planted a few brocolli as well.
Because I generally try to avoid using sprays and pesticides, this means some of my vegies tend to look a bit 'knarly' — although perfectly healthy I'm sure.
However I was pleasantly surprised to see how perfectly both the brocolli and spuds turned out. I'm sure it was because I grew them right next to each other.
I made a point of feeding the soil well as I'd heard potatoes are gross feeders which may also have helped the brocolli.
Anyway I'm keen to try it again this year on a larger scale. Brocolli and spuds never go to waste in our household.

Click the following link to find an interesting and helpful chart with some other vegie combinations:

I'll be sure to try some of these ideas too.

Top Garden

The Top Garden is a much larger area and is still a work in progress. This is the sunniest part of the garden so I'm looking forward to seeing what will grow here. Being on the brow of a hill means it's a bit more exposed to the wind but the surrounding bush provides a bit of shelter. Last year I spent most of my efforts building a pergola and brick barbeque/fireplace which I'm yet to 'Christen' with friends. Now that they're basically finished I plan to concentrate on getting a couple of large gardens established. I've made a start as you can see in the area on the right hand side of picture (above).
This is the first of the 2 gardens which will again be terraced because of the slope. I've used landscaping grade macrocarpa timber to build a small retaining wall. At this stage I'm trying to get the soil prepared for planting which is proving difficult because of the clay and tree roots under the surface.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Middle Garden

The second garden up the bank is the one I call the Middle Garden. It gets a bit more sun than the Bottom Garden. I've successfully grown all sorts of vegies in this garden so far including broad beans, brocolli, beetroot, lettuce, kale, spring onions, tomatoes, silver beet, peas, basil, parsley, cauliflower, rhubarb, globe artichoke... I'm sure I've missed a few.
The tomatoes did particularly well last year and I'm sure the keystone retainers have something to do with that. Being charcoal gray in colour they absorb a lot of heat during the day and are still warm at night especially at the height of summer, which the tomatoes seemed to love.

Bottom Garden

The first garden I simply call the Bottom Garden. It was built using timber retaining materials and gets a lot of shade, so I have to be careful about what I try growing there. It gets the morning sun only but I successfully grew potatoes, sweetcorn and basil there last year over the warmer months. My wife Izumi has a permanent plot of Japanese Myoga Ginger (pictured at the end nearest the bridge). Only the tender new shoots are harvested and are used in Japanese cooking. She also grows a broad leafy vegetable called Burdock which is a root vegetable a bit like parsnip.
I also have a rhubarb plant parmanently growing at the other end which doesn't seem to be doing so well.

The bridge

The bridge across the gully is probably the most obvious feature of the garden on arrival. The bridge has many stories to tell. It's a nice cool place in the summer, perfect for viewing the fantails and tuis who are regular visitors to the garden. It also makes for an interesting entranceway to what I refer to as my 'secret' garden — secret because most people don't even know it's there — it can't be seen from anywhere except from the garden itself because it's completely surrounded by bush. It's so well hidden even Google Earth can't find it.
My ultimate aim is to create a garden that is a pleasure to visit not only because of the fruits and vegies that grow there but because of the various pathways and points of interest along the way, of which the bridge is just one.
For me, aesthetics and layout are just as important as the actual produce I plan to grow. I want my Garden to be more than just a functional area but a beautiful place to share with friends and family.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Overview of Garden

It's very hard to give a complete overview of the garden in one shot. The property has a natural water course or gully running through the middle of it cutting the front off from the back.
Some years ago I built a 10m foot bridge across the gully to give better access to the land at the back which is where I've established my garden.
Because it was on such a steep slope I decided to terrace it using Stevensons Keystone retaining stones. It took me more than 2 years to build. It was a lot of hard work and very slow, as each block had to be carried in by hand in a wheel barrow from the front of the property.
The end result is a number of separate garden areas which makes the whole setup rather interesting, especially for first time visitors to the garden.

Using photoshop I have tried joining a few pictures together to show a more complete view of the garden. However this view still does not show the new Top Garden which is over the brow of the hill (top right).

Welcome to Dave’s Garden Blog

A garden full of fresh vegetables is a sight to behold and quite an achievement with todays busy lifestyle, but for me it's more than that — it's "therapy"— I just love it. There's so much to learn and it's a good excuse to get outside in the fresh air. It's about the only exercise I get sitting behind a computer all day!
Anyway, I decided to start this blog so I could share my experiences with family and friends. Who knows, perhaps I'll inspire someone else to give it a go too. If you've got any tips to share, please feel free to post a comment.

After trying my hand at growing a few different vegetables last year (and really enjoying it), I decided to give it another go this year. I got so carried away last year I ran out of space. I counted about 25 different varieties of fruits and vegetables all growing at the same time, but more about that later.

Anyway this year I've decided to extend the garden, effectively doubling the area I have for planting. So I'm looking forward to trying a few new varieties as well as trying to repeat some of my successes from last year... like the 10kg of spuds I grew on my first attempt (as pictured). They tasted great but only lasted a few weeks with 5 hungry mouths to feed. So I'm keen to give it another go this year, but this time on a larger scale.