Autumn Harvest, Beans and More

Autumn is a time of abundance, when days are mild and the summer harvest is coming to its end. Our tomatoes have ripened and been picked but the last still linger to sweeten salads. A rogue plant has been this season’s favourite, a yellow tomatoe that is fleshy and sweet. Purchased as ‘Sweet Bite’ we were expecting clusters of red cherry tomatoes. This yellow marvel was one of the first to fruit and will be the last served at the table late autumn. I will save seed and try and grow more next year. Let’s see what evolves. An unnamed wonder.

Plump and ripe the unnamed yellow tomato

We have extracted our honey, harvested pumpkins and the larder is full of passata and traditional chutney.

The harvest table with honey, an array of vegetables and chutney.

These last mild days are great to sow early winter crops. The soil is warm and plants can reap the benefit from mild temperatures before the days shorten and the chill sets in.   The broccoli I planted just 6 weeks ago is beginning to head and the first of the dwarf snow peas are ready to pick. Young leeks planted from seedlings are starting to stand straight and will soon offer a first pick, baby leeks for the plate.

Young snow peas, broccoli, baby leeks and rainbow chard nearly ready for autumn picking

Best of all, I have planted a very late crop of ‘Uncle George’s Beans’. These beans have been growing in our garden each summer for nearly 15 years. They are remarkable. A dwarf French bean they will continually crop if regularly picked. I always set seed aside when I grow them and I’m keen give seed away, they are such good performers.

The first pick from a late crop. Flowering Uncle George’s Beans will offer more over the coming weeks.

I planted ‘Uncle George’ during early spring but the last crop of ‘Uncle George’ was planted in late February. They are in a spot protected from wind and catch the mid afternoon sun. I picked my first crop today, 375g of beans, with many more to come. I wonder how late they will continue? I know this will depend on the night temperatures over the coming weeks. There are tiny beans and flowers still appearing. I have spread some coffee grounds to deter snails from the lush growth, the tiny shellbacks are always a problem when the weather cools.

This wonderful bean was handed to me in an envelope with just 20 seeds inside. My work buddy and gardening friend, Macka, had been given them by another gardener. He had been growing them for 15 years before offering them to me. According to Macka the beans originate from up along the Murray River. It was his friend’s ‘Uncle George’, a farmer, who was the original grower of the beans.  A chain of gardeners. Growing beans, harvesting the crop and handing the seed one to another.

I cannot begin to calculate how many beans I have harvested and shared from those original 20 seeds handed to me.

Weighing the beans, just to see how many are grown from a small handful of seeds.
Sweet red hungarian peppers split and strewn with thyme for baking

Just last weekend we shared a table with friends and I took an offering grown from the garden including Kaboocha Sunshine pumpkin, Sweet red hungarian peppers, Beetroot both red and white, garlic, parsley and a sprinkle of marigold petals.   All topped with a good load of Uncle George’s Beans. Delicious.

An autumn plate of garden vegetables baked and finished with parsley and a sprinkle of marigold petals.

It’s Garlic Time

I have been vegetable gardening for 40 years but there is still lots to learn. Last year was the first time we had ever grown garlic. The crop was fabulous. It was so easy and we have been enjoying the harvest since early summer. Some has been given away, some saved for planting this autumn and we still have more in the larder for the coming winter, all this from just two heads (or 40 cloves of garlic).

Garlic can be grown in a small space and offers a good crop with minimal effort. People with a tiny plot, ‘or just a corner’ could easily grow garlic, but it does take time, allow between 4 to 6 months.

Last year our ‘cloves’ were sourced from the local green grocer Greg.  He had great organic garlic grown at nearby Winchelsea. We had been using it in the kitchen, happy with the small food footprint and even happier that we were supporting a local grower. When a couple of the cloves started to shoot I thought ‘what have we got to lose? Let’s plant some!’ We visited Greg’s, selected the best looking heads with the fattest cloves and went to work.

Garlic heads and cloves from last seasons harvest
Garlic heads and cloves from last seasons harvest

If you decide to purchase garlic from your green grocer make sure it is sourced from an organic Australian grower. Some garlic, particularly imported stock, is sprayed with retardants to prevent shooting. Garlic sprayed with retardant will not grow and will leave you deeply disappointed. I recommend trying to find a source of garlic that is grown in the region where you live, then you will be sure that the species is suitable to grow in your area, think a 100 km radius. Local farmers markets would be an excellent source.

This year we are growing two varieties, 40 cloves of the best from last years harvest and a further 40 cloves sourced from Diggers. The new variety is ‘Ail de Pays du Ger’, is a hard neck variety that should store for up to 12 months. Our own garlic, of Winchelsea origin, is an unknown soft neck type and we are yet to discover its storage life.

 How to Plant and Grow Garlic

Preparing the soil properly is the key to growing most vegetables successfully.  The soil on our East Geelong property is heavy, black plastic clay and forms big clods. It needs lots of organic material worked through to be friable enough to plant anything. Firstly the garden beds were forked over (I prefer a fork to a spade, its kinder to the worms and helps to comb through the soil) and a generous sprinkling of gypsum applied (about a handful per sq metre). This is done every time an area is prepared and is gradually helping to break down the ‘clods’. A good layer of manure (well rotted chicken and cow blend) was added as well as a good lot of homemade compost. If you don’t have the homemade good stuff on hand you could purchase manure at your local nursery and mix this with mushroom compost.

Garden bed forked over after being spread with manure and compost
Garden bed forked over after being spread with manure and compost

I also added coconut fibre, this material is extremely light and mixed with the heavy soil produces a fine ‘tilth’. Tilth is a descriptor for a magic soil texture that is neither too heavy nor too light. A texture that is fine enough for plant roots to grow through but heavy enough to anchor them.   An old gardening term with poetic qualities.

Garlic heads are made up of a cluster of cloves. The outer cloves are always the largest and the best for planting.  Every cook has found shooting garlic cloves and discarded them as ‘old’ and low grade for cooking. If these were planted the young shoots would grow, feeding the bulblet at the bottom to form a new head of garlic for harvesting, if planted now it will be ready in time for Christmas.

Each clove is attached at the bottom to a woody base where last years root system grew.   The base of each clove is also where new roots will develop for the next crop. The top of each clove is pointy and is where green shoots will appear and grow through the winter and spring.

Garlic head showing the dried woody stem and roots at the base.  The woody end of each clove must be planted downward so roots can easily form
Garlic head showing the dried woody stem and roots at the base. The woody end of each clove must be planted downward so roots can easily form

Different varieties of garlic have different shapes but planting rules are the same – plant the cloves with the woody bit down and the pointy bit up. Plant each clove about 10cm apart and about 4cm max deep. I have allowed 20cm between rows, this is enough room to put in a quick ‘catch crop’ such as radish or lettuce.

This year our garlic is set out in two beds, with two rows to each bed and 20 cloves in each row. If it is successful there will be 80 heads of garlic. We have marked the beds with small stakes to remind everyone that something is growing there. It may take a week or a month (depending on variety) for the new shoots to appear and in the meantime we don’t want big feet tramping over the bed, compacting the soil and crushing the shoots.

Rows of garlic cloves spaced at 10cm intervals and ready to plant
Rows of garlic cloves spaced at 10cm intervals and ready to plant

A gentle reminder, keep the water up during the cooler months. Dry cold conditions are terrible for plants. Gardeners often forget to water during the cooler months and lose plants to ‘winter drought’.  As the garlic grows we will list new blog posts so you can follow the crop to harvest. But in the meantime, try some, you may be surprised by how easy it is to grow this no fuss (low fuss) crop.

Final update: Yahoo……… over the past week while I have been preparing soil, planting, taking photo’s and writing some of my garlic is shooting, these are the cloves planted from last years harvest.

First garlic shoot for the season, less than a week from planting

Happy gardening and good luck with your garlic planting


Dancing Apple Walk – Columnar Apples

A relatively recent addition to our garden that has come into its own is the ‘Dancing Apple Walk.’ This section of the garden helps divide the lower produce garden and the upper decorative garden leading to the house.

Dancing Apple Walk

The apple trees that line the walk are Columnar style sold as ‘Ballerina’, a variety of apple tree that grows as a column rather than a standard apple tree shape. These apples only grow to 2.5m-3m in height and don’t require substantial pruning unlike traditional apples. They are a grafted variety and naturally grow in a column shape meaning they simply require thinning of the fruit and subtle shaping to maintain their structure. Columanar or Balleria apples are not heritage but they are a group of registered apple species in Australia. It a smart choice for someone who is either not confident with the pruning process, or has become or will become unable to physically prune trees with confidence as they grow larger. In other words, an ideal choice for gardeners who are getting a little bit older.

The ‘Ballerina’ species selected were ‘Waltz’ and ‘Flamenco’ – hence the name ‘Dancing Apple Walk’. It is astounding by how well they have adapted to this spot. The crop in their first year numbered 12 apples – all ‘Waltz’. This year ‘Flamenco’ has taken off and has put on great growth. They have also proven to be particularly robust trees, requiring little maintenance and thus far have not attracted any unwanted bugs or needed to be sprayed.

Flamenco Ballerina Apple
Flamenco Ballerina Apple
Waltz Ballerina Apple
Waltz Ballerina Apple

The reason these 2 varieties were planted together is ­­­­for their ability to cross-pollinate. If you just have a single species of apple, they may flower beautifully but they might not produce fruit. Almost all apples need cross pollination to set fruit, other species that need cross-pollination include pears and cherries. For successful cross-pollination of apples you need at least 2 species of apple and importantly, they need to flower at the same time. Species selected for cross-pollination must all fit into the same flowering cycle and be all either early, mid or late season. With no cross over in flowering the apples will be unable to cross-pollinate. It is best to check on a horticultural website to see what the cross pollinators are for the apple variety that you select.

You can plant Columnar apples in very narrow spaces compared to traditional apples. The trees grow to about 600mm round. They shouldn’t be planted directly next to fences as you would an espalier but you could still plant them relatively close and train the tree by pruning off the small rear branches and sacrificing some of the rear fruit to have a front facing only tree. These species of apple would work well as a lower height garden screen, and have the benefit of producing delicious fruit! We planted our apples at 1.2m intervals. If you wanted a solid screen you could plant them closer together, but it loses the ability to enjoy each tree’s individual shape. They will also grow well in pots, but it is imperative the pots are kept watered. No pots like drying out!

walk 4

Eight of the apple trees were originally planted along a boundary fence as a hedge. This was until we discovered that the fence line was ‘possum highway No. 1’! If the apples had remained in this location we would never have seen a crop. They HAD to be moved.

The apples were transplanted to their current location during winter when there was no fruit and few leaves – when the trees become dormant in the cold weather. After marking out the spacing the ground was prepared and proper large holes were dug for each apple. We put gypsum into each hole and worked it through, we then used a manure and compost mix through the soil. After that the trees were mulched with a compost mixture. Over the last year to continue their growth they have been mulched, treated with organic pelletized manure and top dressed with sheep manure and a bit more compost. They have adopted to their new home exceptionally well and while it’s not advisable to transplant trees if possible, they seemed not to suffer at all.

walk 2

You can buy Columnar Apples bare rooted, only ever buy them in this way during the winter. If you wanted to purchase them now or during the warmer months you may be able to buy them in pots, depending on your nursery. You will pay a premium price for a potted rather than bare rooted tree. 

The fruit from both our varieties, ‘Waltz’ and ‘Flamenco’, tastes wonderful and we recommend them for all gardens, not just where space is limited. At such a young age these trees are already heavy with fruit for this reason the apples are especially wonderful because they are both decorative and productive. It has been a joy to watch the fruit fatten and then colour through the summer.

walk 3

Happy Gardening

Helena and Frankie


ArundelOur garden is currently three years into a ten (or maybe more) year plan. When we purchased our home the garden was dominated by agapanthus and vast stretches of kikuyu grass, really ‘just a yard’. But what that ‘yard’ offered was a league of possibilities and an opportunity to create an inspiring and exciting space from scratch. A garden ‘renovators dream’ was the way we saw it. arundel yard 1 IMG_0225 Lucky for us earlier owners had planted a number of trees and these now form the garden’s main structure. We are forever grateful for these trees, especially the Golden Elm, the shade of which has seen many gatherings of family and friends. IMG_0583 Creating a garden that provides for the kitchen and the soul has been our aim. Hopefully we can show through this website our continuing journey and provide you with some helpful tips for your gardens along the way. IMG_1127 Helena and Frankie