Sunday, March 09, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I was supposed to go sailing today. I was quite looking forward to it, but it's turned out to be too windy. Aah, the forces of nature.

Speaking of which, I thought I might use this unexpectedly free day to give you an update on my own little patch of nature, the herb-flower-maybe-a-vegetable-or-two garden that I'm trying to establish beneath the stairs outside.

(Let's consider this an ad break in the television six-pack series. The idea of the ad break is one I'd been toying with anyway. I've got a few cooking adventures to share that will fit in well amongst the television discussion if you think of them as reality lifestyle segments or, less charitably--I don't mind--as those infomercials in morning television that take you away from your interest of the main show).

Here's a snapshot of the garden in question:

It's not very impressive looking is it? Well, for someone who isn't much of a gardener, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing (boom, boom! Hey, Basil Brush would be proud of that one.)

Let me explain. The chives in the strawberry pot pre-existed this dwelling. They've survived the noxious fumes of the Hale Street Bypass, so nothing will kill them, not even me.

I purchased the mint in the yellow planter from the Wednesday markets at work. When I bought it the man who sold them to me asked jokingly if the mint was going to a good home. At the time, I breezily said 'Yes!', thinking 'What can go wrong with mint? It's practically a weed, isn't it?' Well, who knew that all manner of creatures other than myself liked the taste of mint?

One thing I've noticed since moving to this new place is that the kinds of marauding critters here are different to those on the edge of Hale Street. There I thought I was inundated by the annual migration of hairy caterpillars and Bogan Moths, but now, on the edge of Ithaca Creek, those Hale Street critters seem remarkably benign. All sorts of bugs of the creeping, crawling, flying and hopping variety decided to drop by for breakfast, lunch, and tea in the small yellow planter I'd purchased for 50¢ at K-Mart.

I had to go back to K-Mart and get some pyrethrum spray.

I have investigated companion planting, and honestly, I thought that putting the mint near the basil would deter the critters from munching on the basil, and I guess it did, in a fashion, but only because they seemed to like the mint more, and I want to be able to eat the mint too. Where would tabouli be without it? Well, yes, at almost every kebab place--here in Brisbane anyway. (Why just the other week I ordered a kebab from a shopping centre food court and on the menu board they offered tahini as a sauce after which in brackets they had written 'yoghurt and cucumber'. I asked the person serving me to explain the confusing menu choice and he said that tahini was yoghurt and cucumber. I said that tahini was a sesame seed paste and yoghurt and cucumber was closer to tzatziki--still no mint, you'll notice--and his response was that he didn't write the menu. You can imagine what a great kebab that was).

So, the companion planting. That's what the deceptively empty pot on the right hand of the picture up there is an attempt at. There are some calendula seeds getting ready to germinate in there. When did marigolds aka 'stinkin' Rogers' become known as calendula?

I haven't had much luck with raising rocket and parsley seeds either. Here we get to the shameful extent of my lack of gardening ability. I'm trying to grow flat parsley because I like it more than curly parsley, so you can imagine that I was quite chuffed to learn that it's apparently easier to grow than the curly variety. Obviously the folk who make these kinds of pronouncements about things being fool-proof haven't encountered a fool quite like me.Of course, it's all my own fault. I started the garden during a period when we were getting rain almost every day, so I was lulled into a false sense of security about the wellbeing of the seedlings. Then there were a couple of days of excruciating hotness that zapped any life out of the delicate leaves of the parsley. The jury's out on my personal culpability for the demise of the rocket. I know I should have just put the seeds into the ground, but I'd bought these nifty little bio-degradable seedling containers that I wanted to use. I could have just buried the seedling container in the ground when it came to transplanting, but I thought it would be better to separate the plants out, so they had room to grow. Whether it was an effect of the transplanting or the fact that the patch I transplanted them to received perhaps a little too much sun for such delicate leaves, I don't know, but only one of the rocket plants has survived and not terribly well. I've enough rocket to garnish a water cracker, but that would be the end of the plant.

Anyway, I'm slightly deflated, but clearly not enough to be put off the whole enterprise. It seems the lure of fresh herbs and salad greens is too strong. I'll become a gardener by default, as a by product of being an enthusiastic home cook in search of good ingredients.

I've started again. I have new rocket shoots, this time in the ground. I'm waiting for the parsley to rear its delicate fronds. And I've gone one step further and sown some baby beetroot, already their deep pink stems have broken the surface.

I'm also working on creating good nutrient rich soil with the contents of the Bokashi All-food Composting bin. I've managed to mix up some of the liquid that drains off the bin into a fertiliser, and just yesterday, I emptied the bin for the first time since I began filling it and buried the contents which will break down into hummus--definitely not to be confused with hommus.

In closing , a few words about my Bokashi experience. First of all I was fairly concerned that since I knew I wasn't 'an average family' that I would take far longer than 3-4 weeks to fill the bin. In all, judging from the date of my post about setting up the bin, it 's been closer to 6-8 weeks that the bin has been sitting in my cupboard slowly filling. Just writing this now, I realise I could easily have buried the contents, whatever they were, at 4 weeks, but even after the extended period, the bin didn't stink in the way that plain garbage sitting for 6- 8 weeks would. Of course, there is a smell, but it's a sweet, pungent smell, a fermented smell, and it's not one that attracts flies to create their wriggly offspring. After 6-8 weeks, the bin is certainly 'sweeter' than it was at 3-4 weeks, but while it would have been ready to bury earlier, I 'm sure it's more than ready to be buried now. Plus it might turn into hummus a bit sooner. We'll see.

The whole burial process was fairly painless, although I suppose I should have warned you I was going to be showing you filthy pictures. Sorry if you were eating. Rest assured, I've now rinsed the bucket and set it up again. I'll see how I go with emptying it earlier next time.

Hmmm, I think that was an infomercial. They do tend to go on for longer than the main program, don't they?


Payton L. Inkletter said...

That was a good update Kirsty, even if it was in the form of an infomercial.

Let me encourage you with flat leaf or 'Italian' parsley rather than the curly leaf. I have grown the flat leaf for fifteen if not twenty years, and it not only is easier to grow and faster, it tastes stronger, is easier to wash the gunk and bugs off, and all round is more vigorous. Even the stems can grow almost like celery and are a delight to chew. If you ran off the road and hit one of my flat leaf parsley plants of years past, your car'd be a write-off.

The Bokashi thingy sounds successful, so well done. All the best with your herbs, and I hope you manage to get some mint to eat. By the way, the picture of the basil looks great: what a lovely herb it is - a smell to sigh for.

Oanh said...

Ha! It's only an infomercial if you exhort us to buy the Bokashi unit :-) I'll consider it if steak knives come if I am one of the first 30 to order.

Have you possums? They will eat *anything* in your garden and the only defence is chicken wire. Or sitting out there at night with a chilli garlic and water concoction in a spray and spraying it at them when they come close. Guerilla gardening for the compulsive. I and a former housemate had (ahem) great fun doing this to protect our incipient veggie garden. I'm a nice person, really.

Good luck! I'm v jealous.

dogpossum said...

Go, gardener, go!

I have used the individual egg pockets from egg cartons as biodegradable seedling planters.
Also: mulching is super important for keeping moisture in the soil. I use a layer of newspaper (as in, about 5 pages worth) or a layer of those moulded paper tray things that apples and pears come in in the boxes at the green grocer - ask your grocer to give you some), then a layer of straw. It forms a massive, dense layer that keeps the dirt moist, and eventually breaks down to make the dirt really nice.
Quite a few keen gardeners down here are getting into shade for their exposed plants, esp seedlings. Could be a good idea.
Also, we've used home made green houses to keep the bubby seedlings in a nice microclimate.... but you can buy tiny 'green houses' from most gardening shops.

Try planting some beans - bush beans'll be better if you don't have much room. They're usually not too tricky to grow. And you should try bok choy - it grows super fast. Though you have to watch out for bugs.

lucy tartan said...

dwarf beans are a good idea. They're very easy to grow & not many bugs care to eat them.

I'm beginning to wonder if the toughness of mint is a myth. It's quite had to keep it alive long enough so that it can grow to a size where the caterpillars don't decimate it. I let a monstrously large flat parsley bush entangle itself with the mint and I think that provided it some protection.

If the mint does give up, you could tip all the dirt out of the planter and put a pot of vietnamese mint in there and just fill the planter with water. I always found vn mint really hard to grow but treated as a water palnt it goes gangbusters and it's very satisfying to see it thrive.

The soil looks lovely and black.

Anonymous said...

Yes, mint always seems to thrive or die - nothing in between. My garden has been taken over by its weevily little roots, but in my last garden I couldn't coax it to live.