Thursday, April 10, 2014

Planting At Last!

Well, the weather is finally changing. It's still a bit warm in the day but the mornings are relatively cool and hopefully we won't get any more 40 degree days. It's amazing the positive effect the change of season has on my urge to garden.

Tom delivering compost to the vegetable garden
The compost Tom made is absolutely fantastic! It smells sweet and, apart from a few bones, the original contents are unidentifiable because they've broken down so well. It got very hot in the making so there should be no weed seeds still alive.

Because our water is slightly brackish, over time the salt builds up in the soil so, at about five yearly intervals, we take out the top 20 or 30 centimetres and replace it with fresh soil from a nearby pit. Ideally  soil would get better each year as more compost etc is added but unfortunately that's not the case when you are watering with salty water.   My vegetables are always best in the year that we do this soil exchange so I am expecting a good harvest in a few months.

The veggie garden is really getting a makeover this year. As well as fresh soil and compost, I have changed the layout and the watering system. For the last few years I have been watering with sprinklers because it is easy to cover a large area, but it is less than ideal for a few reasons, not least being that it puts salt on the leaves and increases evaporation rates. In the past I've had trouble using drip lines because I've found that they tend to block up, and the hole spacings are too far apart. A fellow outback gardener recommended a John Deere product called T Tape so we are giving that a go. Apparently it doesn't block and the spacings are 20cm which should be fine. If it works well I think it will be a huge improvement.

When finished there will be seven long beds and a couple of potato towers (I'll show you the towers in a separate post after I've done them.) So far I have made and planted up four beds with seedlings of: Asian greens, butter lettuce, broccoli, red cabbage, silver beet, cauliflower, kale, red onions, spring onions and seeds of: sugar snap peas, dwarf beans, coriander, carrots, parsnips, beetroot, Florence fennel, parsley, little gem lettuce and cloves of garlic. I've got leek seeds and a whole lot of flower seeds in punnets. I've snuck some sweet pea seeds in with the sugar snaps and some calendula seedlings in next to the garlic.  I'm planning to add stocks, snap dragons and poppies here and there also.

I have also planted one of my large raised beds with English spinach seeds. This bed is covered with shade cloth as I've found the spinach produces well in this environment. I've been a little frivolous this year and planted the other large raised bed totally with flowers and I am looking forward to having flowers to pick and bring inside.

Since I started writing this a few days ago we've had some quite hot weather. Today it was 35 degrees. The seedlings are hanging in there but they don't like it much. I just have to be conscientious about not letting them dry out and I really should mulch them but I haven't got around to that yet unfortunately.

With the continuation of the warm weather the nights are still balmy here; perfect for cooking and eating outside. One of the best ways I have discovered for doing this was in Vietnam, where everyone cooks their own food on a tabletop barbecue. It takes a bit of preparation but is such a lot of fun and a novel way to entertain.

You might have to be a bit creative about the actual barbecue…. we used the smoker box turned upside down and filled it with heat beads. This worked pretty well, although I should have put a heat proof mat between it and the tablecloth because it scorched the cloth a bit! We also used a traditional, earthenware  tagine base with a 'grill' on top (which I think was some sort of machine part!) I have seen bucket style barbecues in a camping shop which would be perfect.

This is not so much a recipe as an idea really. You can use whatever meat and vegetables you like. I used pork, very thinly sliced and marinated in fish sauce, lime juice and a bit of sugar, along with prawns (deveined, tail on) and a selection of cut up vegetables including: red capsicum, mushrooms, bok choy, shallots, spring onions, zucchini and broccoli (which I blanched first). I think it helps the cooking process to toss the veg in a bit of  oil before it hits the heat.  I also served fresh lettuce, cucumber, coriander, mint and Thai basil to add some clean, crisp contrast to the smoky cooked food.

If you want to create something to wrap the food in you could try making spring onion pancakes. The recipe I followed comes from Bill Granger's Everyday Asia cookbook. A few dipping sauces and some lime wedges make the meal complete. Sweet chill sauce and the nuoc cham, from my Vietnamese Tacos recipe posted earlier, work well. Oh, and it washes down deliciously with a refreshing, minty Mojito!

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