Category: Experiments


Spring is well and truly here and the remainder of the winter veggies are fading fast. I’ve already harvested heaps of celery and have been freezing a lot of it for future use. The broccoli is long gone, the broad beans are almost ready for picking, and for the first year – I have had cabbage heads ready for harvesting!

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I have tried to grow cabbage before, but haven’t had much luck. Wombok seems to grow easily enough – but with other types like savoy or red cabbage I seem to only end up with outer leaves and no tight heads (I really grow red cabbage as an ornamental plant! Just love the colour in a mainly green winter garden). However this year I have had a few savoy cabbages grow much better that any previously and last week they were ready for cooking. Although small, I wasn’t deterred and thought I might try a couple of different cabbage recipes for some fun (and it beats cabbage soup – sorry cabbage soup fans!)

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Given how much I love Japanese food, I thought I’d stick with a Japanese theme and make gyozas and okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes). The gyozas were made mainly with pork mince and of course – my home grown cabbage. The recipe did say to use wombok , however I did say I was “experimenting” with cabbage. The recipe (from the cook book “Yoshoku”) also included ginger, garlic, soy sauce, mirin seasoning, pepper and spring onions. Teaspoon of the mixture in a gyoza or wonton wrapper and then they’re ready to go. They are supposed to be deep fried, but I gave them a shallow fry in a little sesame oil instead (made me feel as though they were slightly healthier…as long as I’m convincing myself).

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The okonomiyaki were made with shredded cabbage and some fresh celery from the garden, along with the rest of the pork mince (but you can use chicken), grated carrot, shitake mushrooms, ginger, and then some flour and eggs to bind it all together. Then they are fried like any other pancake which made them quite a quick and easy meal.

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Overall the meal was a great success! Quite rich, but it felt like a real home grown treat. The only problem was the meal, and the cabbage, was gone too quickly! Good inspiration to grow more cabbage next year…

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One of my gardening goals this year was to learn how to take cuttings. I have always been envious of more experienced gardeners taking (or stealing) cutting from other people’s gardens – they’ve always given the impression of really knowing what they’re doing! The ultimate step to “you’re not an amateur anymore”. Plus it’s a really cheap way to get more plants! I must admit, I have tried cuttings in the past – but they never worked. In fairness I did absolutely no research into the type of cuttings I had, or the best time of year to try. I did try a little rooting powder but just stuck them in a pot & hoped nature would do the rest… nature didn’t.

So this year I decided I really wanted to learn how to take cuttings in order to move up the imaginary ladder of experience that is in my head. I decided to try again with the variety of correas I have, as I would really like multiples of the ones that are growing well. A little research found the best time to try correa cuttings is in autumn, and also that correas are supposed to be very easy to take cuttings – perfect! Back in March I filled a seedling tray of potting mix, cut tips off a few different correas, dipped them into a cutting rooting gel – and voila my work was done. I kept them covered with the seedling tray lid and all that was left to do was wait…

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My cuttings tray when first planted

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Cuttings when first started (March)

Several died extremely quickly. Way faster than I would have expected. It really didn’t get my hopes up. However I kept watering the ones that had survived every now and again, and after a while, when I’d really forgotten about them – I realised most of the remaining ones had started to grow!! With a joyful little jump and cheer I raced for the camera, and while the growth is small (considering I started them 4 months ago), the only way is up! I’ve now learnt that cuttings can be quite easy – I just needed a little research – and a lot of patience.

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Before and after of the same cutting – it’s grown!!

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Before and after of the same cutting – small amount of growth

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Before and after of the same cutting – 3 new leaves

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New shoots (July)

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Most are growing!

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Current tray (photo taken today) – a few have died, but lots are starting to grow

I think the verdict is finally in on my seedling experiment (see previous posts: breaking the first rule of blogging and seedling experiment update) and now I know what to do in years to come. I’d love to show you a photo of the winning tray – which by far was the tray kept under a sunny window, but I can’t as the tray was so successful most of the seedlings are now out in the garden! Instead here are some healthy looking tomatoes, all grown from seeds from the winning tray and even starting to form fruit.

"Sweetie" tomoatoes

“Sweetie” tomatoes

"Florida Basket" tomatoes

“Florida Basket” tomatoes

"Tommy Toe" (left) and two "Sweet Grape" tomatoes

“Tommy Toe” (left) and two “Sweet Grape” tomatoes

Verdict 4

As the spring weather heated up – I did move this tray outside into full morning sun and then back inside at night for protection, which seemed to work well and the seedlings thrived.

Also a very big thank you to Rosalind (of Just Another Beer Blog) who recommended I try small shallow trays rather than just ready-to-plant paper pots. At first the tray was half demolished by snails in the greenhouse, but after I moved it inside the seedlings have grown really well. Particularly the eggplant seedling – I have never been able to grow eggplants from seeds into full size plants before! Now I know for the years to come how to make it happen – thank you!

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Eggplant seedlings growing

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Eggplants currently out in the garden

I’ve had a couple of chilli and capsicum seedlings growing – but they have been quite small and are growing a lot slower than the tomatoes and eggplants. Hopefully they’ll get big enough to plant out soon.

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Chilli and friend

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Capsicums

As for the control tray that was left outside open to the elements – I have planted out a couple of tomatoes from this tray, but that was really all and they haven’t thrived like the others. As for the greenhouse seedlings – it was a complete disaster. I have planted out nothing from this tray, and they barely grew after germination. Once slightly warmer weather during spring kicked in, despite leaving the door open during the day and watering daily, all the seedlings died.

So I may not be the best salesperson for greenhouses or paper pots – but at least I’ll be enjoying my very own tomatoes and eggplants this summer (and still hopeful for capsicums) – all grown from seeds. But I won’t be getting rid of my greenhouse just yet – because apparently I’m not the only one who uses it…

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It’s been a month since I started off my seedling experiment (see previous post – breaking the first rule of blogging), but given the small amount of growth I wish I’d started a month earlier. By far, the winner at the moment is the seedling tray that has been kept inside under the window. The seeds germinated over a week earlier than the other two trays (greenhouse and “control” outside) and the seedlings are now visibly larger as well. A few tomatoes have even been large enough to plant out into the garden, which already feels like a success compared to last year.

Tray 1: kept inside under a sunny window

Tray 1: inside

Tray 1: inside

Seedling from tray 1 planted out in the garden

I was surprised that the seeds in the greenhouse tray took so long to germinate, but I think despite watering them daily they were drying out too much. After moving the tray to the middle shelf (rather than top) they seemed to do better. That was until snails found them…. I would have thought this tray would have been the safe one! But alas, having basil seedlings growing in there too – snails devoured the basil and a few of my other seedlings at the same time. Nightly snail checks over a week found a new snail in there each night, so I’ve moved some of the seedlings into the inside tray to keep them safe.  The seeds in the tray left outside (open to the elements) germinated around the same time as the ones in the greenhouse and growth has been at about the same rate. No snail attacks as of yet, but a few seed pots were obliterated by what appears to be a cat attack. Well I did say they were open to all elements…

Tray 2: greenhouse

Tray 3: outside

Tray 3: tomato seedlings (quite small compared to tray 1)

While I will still be updating on the progress of the three trays, I think I have already discovered why I have been struggling with small seeds – I bought a greenhouse. Two years ago I had a lot of success with small seeds, but I didn’t have the greenhouse then so I would move the seedlings outside during the day, and bring them inside (sheltered from the cold and snails) each night. The seedlings loved the attention and thrived. Last year I bought a greenhouse and grew all my seedlings in there. While it made sense to me at the time, the temperature fluctuations (even when keeping the door open on hot days) was obviously enough to stop the success of my small seeds.

Tray 2: greenhouse – eggplant seedling

I won’t be throwing out the greenhouse just yet though, larger seedlings do really well earlier in spring when it’s a bit too cold to be in the garden yet, and some plants can be moved in over winter to help keep them warm. For now though it looks like our house will be turning into a nursery each spring…

From what I can gather, the main idea of a blog is to demonstrate a passion, projects/ideas and a skill in an area you want to share with and demonstrate to others. Well I’m about to break the first rule of blogging – admit my skill is still growing and ask for help.

Here is my dilemma: apparently I’ve become appallingly bad at growing vegetables from small seeds. I know I can do it – the first year I started gardening I grew dozens of tomato plants all from seed, however over the past couple of years my ability to grow vegetables from seed into full size plants seems to be highly correlated with the size of the seed.

Give me zucchinis, beans, squash, cucumbers – no problem! These easily end up as harvestable plants at the end of the season. However tomatoes, eggplants and capsicums all seem to germinate, but grow so slowly that despite my best efforts they never get large enough to be transplanted out into the garden. I then end up admitting defeat and buy a tray of seedlings.

At first I blamed it on the brand of seeds I was using – but there’s only so long you can keep that up. So help me out – what am I doing wrong???

I’ve set up a “small seed experiment”, which I hope will uncover the solution. I’ve started three trays of seeds – one will be kept inside next to a sunny window, one will be kept in my small greenhouse, and the other will be left outside as a “control” as it will be completely unprotected from the elements…and snails. Each tray has the exact same number and type of seeds growing – a mix of tomatoes (both new and seed saved from my garden), eggplant, capsicum and chilli. I will be updating the progress of each every few weeks, and any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated so that hopefully my skill level continues to grow.

Tray 1 – inside

Tray 2 – greenhouse

Tray 3 – outside

Success!

My sourdough starter had been going crazy this week – growing to the top of the jar on a daily basis, really crying out “bake with me”. So I set out to try sourdough again and see if I could succeed with the previous undercooked loaf from last weekend (see previous post). I am very pleased to report that I did and the results were worth the wait! With absolutely no commercial yeast, I was able to create two sourdoughs – one half white/half wholemeal and the other a pumpkin & linseed loaf (as an experiment). Both rose (after a very patient wait for almost a full day), and the taste is just fantastic!

Well the sun is out, so I’m now heading out into the garden. But trust me, right now – you wish you were here eating this bread.

From disaster last week, to success this week!
Half white/half wholemeal

Pumpkin & linseed loaf

Although it’s not from my front yard, really one of my main aims is to try to be as self sufficient as I can – so over the past year I’ve been making my own bread. I had a bread maker prior to this, however I was never happy with the results (overcooked/undercooked & generally inconsistent). I took a bread making class with a friend last year – loved it & never looked back! I’ve found I get a lot more reliable results from making bread by hand, and I also find the kneading process quite fun (and a tad therapeutic!) Not only does the house smell great while the bread is baking but I also know exactly what is in, and more importantly, what is not in my bread.

After the class my friend and I both tried to make sourdough – and I have to admit I was pretty envious of the loaves she ended up with compared to my many, many bricks… The standard loaves seemed to work fine but I just couldn’t get the hang of sourdough and eventually I threw out my starter (leaven). I’m not quite sure what drove me to try again – but this week I thought I’d give sourdough another go. I started making the leaven last weekend and have been pretty good at feeding it every day (I may have been a tad neglectful last time). By this weekend it was looking pretty healthy.

My sourdough starter (leaven) showing signs of activity

Given all my previous failures I wasn’t sure which recipe to try, so I decide to try three different recipes & see what worked. I picked two white sourdoughs (which I ended up making as half white/half wholemeal) and a half white/half rye all from different recipes. I’d forgotten how long sourdough takes compared to standard bread – each requiring around 6 hours of proving time in total, but worth it in the end. Along the way I had my doubts that any were going to work, hoping for at least one – but all three rose!

Unfortunately when I cut them open this morning one white was undercooked, however the other white and rye worked really well. I’m so pleased I gave it another go and proved to myself that I can make bread from simple beginnings of flour and water. I might experiment around again in the next few weeks and see what else I can create. Spending all morning eating bread trying to work out which loaf came in at number one – probably the best part of the whole experiment…

Rye

White/wholemeal sourdough

Sauerkraut … fail

I promised I’d post about failures in the garden, so I can’t leave out a post about sauerkraut. With so much wombok ready to harvest this week, we just couldn’t eat enough of it (despite my best attempts!). So I thought I’d give preserving it a go. I realise sauerkraut is generally made from standard cabbage, but I thought it was worth an experiment (might have been my first mistake).

I followed the recipe in one of my preserving book… (basically chop, salt then pack the whole lot to a jar) …until it reached the point of needing to cover the cabbage with a muslin cloth. Which I didn’t have… so I just had to skip that bit (probably my next mistake) and covered the jar with stocking instead (an internet search recommendation).

For the first few days it did nothing. Couldn’t see any change at all, despite being promised bubbling etc. Then mould grew on top – which I thought probably meant the end of it. But I thought I’d scrape it off, let it go for another couple of days just to see what happened. I mean the recipe did say to scrape off “scum”. I really should have thrown it out… definitely another mistake. The whole thing turned cloudy and the stench was absolutely foul! Stank the whole kitchen out! So not a success… next time I might try freezing any extras instead.

While I may have a small garden – I try not to do things by halves. I try to squeeze in as many plants as will successfully grow, use every inch of space I have and am ever hopeful of getting the kind of plentiful harvest most other gardeners enjoy. In saying that, if you saw the size of my garden you’d probably laugh at the 2kgs of seed potatoes I bought to plant out… but as I can’t hear you from here – they’ve gone in!

A lot of people can’t be bothered growing potatoes given how cheap they are at the supermarket – but they are just so easy to grow! Last year I got some grow bags to put them in (so I could pack them up at the end of the season, and move them as our renovations progressed) and it was so exciting tipping out the bags to see how many had grown. I planted this year’s spuds out last week and will be harvesting them in summer. I bought a variety pack including 1/2kg each of Inova, Nicola, Coliban, Desiree, Sebago, Pontiac, Ruby Lou and Dutch Cream. I’m growing them all under the same conditions, so I’ll be interested to see which ones grow better and give a larger harvest. Will keep you updated with the results…

It’s been a bit over a month since I started my experiment to see if leggy seedlings could be saved by planting them deeper than normal into soil – and I have good news! Don’t throw out your leggy seedling, because so far a lot have survived….

The verdict for the veggie seedlings:

 

Kale – huge success! All three types of kale (Red, Tuscan and Blue) that I’ve been growing have continued to grow and do well. Even so large now I transplanted a couple into the garden. While doing this I found than new roots had formed in the section I had planted up.

Red and Tuscan kale leggy seedlings out in the garden!

Broccoli/Cauliflower – mixed success… some have done quite well, others growing slowly. They haven’t died, but when checked hadn’t formed new roots either… will have to keep watching these ones

Purple Sicily Cauliflower

Silver beet/Ruby Chard and Kohl Rabi – all died. Don’t bother trying to save these ones.

Cabbage – will have to let you know for next time, because unfortunately these were all eaten by snails in the first week…

And in the flower department:

Honesty & Stock: Mixed success – still alive but growth extremely slow

Cornflower & Calendula – huge success! Growing well and looking good!

 

So there you have it. Turns out you can plant up leggy seedlings – some will form new roots and others will benefit from a bit of extra support. Overall leggy seedlings are certainly not a waste!