Often we are asked ‘What’s growing in the garden at the moment?’.
With this in mind, this post highlights a few of the current plantings and some associated stories. About a week before Christmas we picked a tidy little crop of apricots from our Moorpark apricot. Once again, of our two trees, the same one fruited and the other had absolutely nothing. We have ear-marked these two trees as plantings for the chicken yard in the near future.
Mott’s Beans Phaseolus vulgaris
How the time flies. When the Little Fellas were catching rides on prams and Mrs PP was walking them along the boardwalk at the beach, she made the acquaintance of ‘Mott’. A wise old soul who would also walk along the board walk with a bag of loquats from his backyard. He would get to the second timbered section of the boardwalk and feed fresh loquats to a family of King Skinks in the coastal scrub a metre or two below the boardwalk. In time Mott fed not only King Skinks, but also two little toddlers. He also came to know about our garden and our seed saving and he shared with us some of his own seeds that he had been growing for some 30 odd years. Always locally. Always the same way.
We’ve been growing what we’ve come to call Mott’s Beans for around 7 or so years now. Which means they’ve been grown locally for close to forty plus years. I’ve shared them with other keen gardeners and keen seeders and they have nurtured and saved their own Mott’s Beans over the years as well.
Mott’s advice to us was simple. He plants his seeds around mid-November. Gives the soil a good soak and leaves them to show above ground. Then once they are underway he feeds then from time to time with a liquid seaweed fertiliser. He picks the beans young and he lets a couple of healthy plants mature. From these, he saves seeds for the next year. Space permitting I think Mott said he would stagger the planting so that he had a steady supply of beans during the summer.
These beans grow well. I’ve grown Digger’s Club seeds and other beans from different suppliers, but it’s always the seeds that have a local heritage that do best in our local conditions. This is not a surprise of course, it is the very reason we like to locally adapt seeds. Even just a couple of generations can make a difference. I’ve received beans from which I have grown my own supply and they are sometimes twice the size, plump and healthy looking in comparison to the original commercially supplied seeds I started out with.
Red Runner / Scarlet Runner / Seven Year Bean Phaseolus coccineus
The original supply of seeds came to us from our friend Lorna. From time to time we’ve come across other local growers that have swapped seeds, and in growing the healthier looking seeds we’ve managed to maintain our own virile seeds.
I like them for their flowers actually. As for the bean, I prefer the very young, tender beans or to just let them go through to maturity and store the dried bean to use. The flowers are an unusual addition to salads for those folks that like something a little unique on the kitchen table.
I know these beans prefer the higher temperatures so they are usually a bean I sow around this time of the year once the weather is warming up. In late summer when the heat and dry are a little more intense I find that the flowers appreciate a light spraying of water to allow them to set beans. I have also observed our local New Holland Honeyeaters feeding from the Scarlet Runner flowers.
This is usually a crop that I put in wherever I can find a bit of space. The Little Fellas enjoy digging them out and both helped in planting them out this year as the seed potatoes really needed planting and the rain was on it’s way. So we created a patch, planted them in and left the rest to the rain. Recently I have started to draw from the earth a few potatoes here and there. They are not something that we typically buy, so it’s nice to have a few spuds now and then. Especially from the garden. The best crop this year was from a self-sown plant in a compost bin. The plant was coming through the compost and scraps and looking very, very healthy so I stopped adding fresh kitchen scraps and instead added mature compost from another bin and topped up with a little more sand and some newsprint. More compost and some sand. We managed to get a very nice crop of potatoes. At least a couple of kilo’s worth. We do not have such a great range of variety here in the West as the eastern seaboard does, but what I do grow, grows well. I grow Purple Congo (which readily self sow throughout the garden), a fairly non-de script white potato (which I’ve had growing most years) and Pink Eye Potatoes. This last year we’ve also trialed Kipfler which have also done well and I’ll add to our regular cropping.
After the success of the potatoes in the compost bin (and subsequent successes using this method at other sites) I decided to try something similar with sweet potatoes. The best crop of the year actually came from the salad garden raised bed. It’s prime land though, so when I removed the very large tubers during the year I made the decision to switch the sweet potatoes to the cropping garden instead. Well, come spring, I had a lot of new sweet potato shoots coming up in the salad garden. These got moved into whatever containers I had available to accommodate them during the summer. This turned out to be two bottomless bin containers and two small, raised bed gardens which I have placed into the cropping garden. I’ve also nurtured a few self-sown sweet potato vines at the edge of the garden where the canna lilies are growing. What I like about sweet potato is the ability to eat the leaves also. At first I was quite prudent with my harvesting of the leaves for kitchen table but then my sister-in-law showed me how they use them in Viet Nam. She would harvest quite a decent bunch of leaves telling me that they will make a meal on their own with other vegetables or a little rice, plus it appears to encourage the growth of the tubers.
The plant above is actually a white skin variety with really healthy growth. I decided to move it from the main garden and try it in a container where I can ensure it gets a good watering and promotes more localised tuber formation. This container is bottomless so I anticipate there will be some further growth into the ground, but still making it easy to harvest from a smaller area when the time comes. In the meantime I can harvest the leaves that start to hang over the sides for cooking.
We inherited a number of different rhubarb plants from both grandfathers and I must say, that by and large they really are a collective bunch of neglected plants. Each year I endeavor to muster them together and get them into one localised patch. I’m getting there. I think there is a head count of two strays sheltering amongst the tree nursery that are yet to join the others in the cropping bed. They do however get looked after just enough that they will give a decent crop now and then. More recently I harvested some which Mrs PP turned into Strawberry (& Rhubarb) Shortcake for Christmas.