Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chilli Heat: "el mas picante de los picantes"

"the hottest of the hot"

A friend from the community garden gave me some seed of the chilli variety rocotos (Capsicum pubescens)  It is possibly a rocoto longo which is native to the Canary Islands. It is pictured on the plate at 2 o'clock and is dark red and oval shaped. At this time of the year, the chilli plants drop a lot of leaves but the fruit continues to ripen. I want to save seed from these ones and start off new plants in spring. July is my month for browsing the seed catalogues and dreaming about what to grow next summer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Winter Salad: leaves and flowers

Edible Flowers


Mizuna (Brassica rapa var nipposinica)
Winter and spring in the vegetable garden is a great time to grow and harvest a wide range of tasty and tender salad leaves. These are a few of the ones I am using at the moment. Mizuna pictured above is a Japanese green which is now grown commercially for use in supermarket salad mixes. It is very decorative in the garden and forms a small fountain of jagged leaves which can be picked individually or in bunches. It is closely related to the stronger tasting Mibuna or Mibu Green (pictured below). Mibuna has more elongated leaves and grows into a spray like clump. It originates from Mibu in the Kyoto prefecture of Japan.

Warrigal Greens /New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides)
A local coastal native plant , this sprawling ground-cover just appears in the garden from time to time as a self-seeded specimen. The tips make a useful addition to salads and are loaded with Vitamin C. Older leaves can be steamed or added to stir fries.

'Bulls Blood' Beetroot leaves.
Now grown as a "micro-green". the rich dark magenta leaves make for a wonderful contrast with others greens. I plant this beetroot seed thickly and use the thinned out plants in a salad mix.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Winter is the best time for growing chervil and the delicate aniseed tasting leaves add an interesting flavour to salads. It is one of the fines herbes of French cuisine together with parsley, tarragon and chives.

Mustard 'Ruby Streaks'

First time I have grown this lacy mild tasting mustard leaf. It is very decorative both in the garden and on the plate.

Silverbeet/Chard 'Rainbow'
The very small young leaves are good in a salad mix.

Cavolo Nero/ Laciniato / Nero di Toscana Kale
The very young leaves have a wonderful texture ,and the dark colour makes a great contrast in a salad with pale lettuce leaves or ruby grapefruit pieces.

French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus)
Crinkly leaves with a lemony tang from a perennial plant which appreciates a bit of soil moisture for best flavour.

English Spinach 'Galilee'

Baby English spinach leaves are now quite popular and it is a very easy plant to grow in cooler weather . This variety has arrow shaped leaves. I sow the seed thickly and thin out the excess as baby leaf and allow some plants to reach maturity. Spinach prefers light or sandy soil for best growth with adequate soil moisture.

Pea Tendrils Pisum sativum
Pea tendrils are very sweet and are like eating fresh peas. They are also very easy to grow. If you buy pea straw to use as mulch there is always plenty of peas which come up amongst the mulch once it has been on the ground for a couple of weeks. The shooting peas can be cut when quite small for their tendrils.In Japan they are known as Tohbyo and are used as a garnish not unlike the way we use parsley.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pigeonpea, Cajanus cajan

 Cajanus cajan
The Pigeonpea gets its common English name form Barbados where the peas were once used as pigeon feed. It is actually a native of India and the highly nutritious seeds which can be brown, pale grey or speckled are used as toor dhal. It is also known in Malaysia as kacang dal.
In this southern part of Australia, Pigeonpea grows well as a sparse open shrub to about 3 metres and is crowned with brown yellow pea flowers for a large part of the year. Unfortunately it is not quite warm enough for the flowers to set seed and it really needs a dry tropical climate to do well. As a nitrogen fixing legume however it will improve the soil and its open habit means it has potential to be used as a support for summer crops such as cucumbers or french beans.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Choko, Sechium edule

Ready for picking now Choko fruit on vine, Sechium edule

From Tasmania to far north Queensland, the much maligned choko was once a feature of most backyards, covering fences and outhouses and climbing 30 metres up trees if allowed and always capable of producing an abundance of fruit . Last year I planted one to try and out-compete a Morning Glory vine which is growing from a neighboring property. It is doing a good job so far and has just produced its first crop which has sent me on a search for ways to cook with them. I have always liked what Sam Orr aka Richard Beckett had to say about the choko in his book The Gourmet's Garden. He said it produced fruit in such enormous quantities that it 'frightens you out of your wits' and that 'because of this over-production people attempt to find virtues for the choko where none exist, producing such execrable concoctions as choko jam and choko chutney. He recommends that it is boiled whole 'so that any taste it has doesn't escape into the water' and nice with cheese sauce or melted butter and a lot of pepper so that in this way you taste either cheese sauce or butter or pepper. You'll never taste choko as it doesn't. The choko is one of nature's little jokes.' Harsh words indeed.
So one interesting way of cooking them I have found is in a Caribbean cook book where the choko is given the French name of christophine. A Gratin of Christophine involves cooking choko in milk for about ten minutes, pureeing them and then adding egg yolk, butter, cream, chives, ginger, salt and pepper. This mix is placed in a baking dish and topped with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and baked for about 20 minutes until golden and bubbling. Sounds like just the dish for a cold winter night.

Choko Illustration from Curtis Botanical Magazine
London 1917

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Salvia involucrata 'Timboon'

Salvia involucrata 'Timboon'

Just coming into bloom now, the warm, velvety red flowers of this Salvia are most welcome on the cold grey days of winter. This is an excellent cultivar of the species and does not suffer from the brittle stems of other varieties such as 'Joan', instead it forms a well rounded shrub of 1.5 to 2 metres with strong stems and olive green leaves.The flowers are well formed and are massed right across the top of the bush. It is a hardy shrub and not particular as to soil type as long as it is well drained. Pruning after flowering is recommended to help retain its compact shape.
2017 update: I am currently out of stock but will have more plants ready soon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Seemannia sylvatica, Goldfish Plant

Seemannia sylvatica syn Gloxinia sylvatica
Growing to about 30 cm, this is a neat small shrub to grow under a deciduous tree to provide some winter colour in a frost free climate. The small tubular flowers are shaped like goldfish and the stems are equally bright and felty in texture. For those who experience a colder winter it also makes an ideal indoor plant . I have mine in a decorative container which sits on an outdoor table in full sun and I will probably plant it out in the garden come spring. Propagation could be carried out in summer from stem cuttings and cutting grown plants would flower the following autumn.

Potted Colour for winter

Pansy and Allysum in flower now

I always have one large container in the garden filled with whatever seasonal flowers are available. At this time of year I grow Pansies which are probably the most popular winter flower because the flowers are large, bright and cheerful. They need no special care other than removing spent flowers and being given an occasional dose of liquid fertilizer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Aloe striata

Aloe striata
Winter is Aloe flowering time and many are budding up or coming into flower already. This species is one of the smooth leafed thornless Aloes which forms a neat ground hugging rosette making it a perfect specimen for small gardens or for growing as a container plant. The name striata means marked with lines and the blue green boat shaped leaves have a fine pin stripe over their surface. Being from South Africa it has an Afrikaans common name which is unusual to say the least : Gladdeblaaaraalwyn
2017 update: I do not have any stock of this Aloe.