It can be frustrating when experts speak of a two-metre-square bed just for carrots, as each of my 1.2-metre-square-vegetable boxes has to produce more than one crop. At the end of winter, box one yielded cauliflower (four) as well as celery (lots - probably too much). Box two grew beautiful leeks (two successive crops) and leafy spinach. Box three had amazing capsicum bushes with fruit still ripening as well as carrots and a couple of sprouting broccoli plants.
The wine-barrel salad garden has just been dug over and resown with more babies from my smaller nursery container. I had just finished this task when there was a really hard shower of rain. I felt smug and snug inside, looking out and knowing that the plants were enjoying this perfectly timed soaking.
I'm further frustrated at not having enough space for more tall structures in the narrow front beds. I want to encourage the broad beans to continue producing, but can the yellow climbing beans thrive if they must share the same support? I know they can co-exist, but the result is a bit tangled. The edges of these beds are still producing beetroot, violets, thyme and garlic, which still has several months to go before harvest.
The challenge is to rotate the crops in boxes and on supports so that they thrive and finish bearing just when it's time to change over. Having a tiny hothouse helps. The first tomato seeds have germinated but are still too small for hardening-off or planting out. Popular wisdom says they should be in the ground by Cup Day. I hope so. Sadly, I'll never have the space to grow asparagus and I've given up on potatoes. The farmers' markets will ensure supply.
Everywhere I dig I see worms, many worms, testament to healthy soil and the quantity of sheep manure I spread at the beginning of winter.
Springtime is so exciting in the garden, and every day brings changes. The roses are glorious. Gertrude Jekyll covers the front of the house with exquisitely scented cerise-pink flowers. My gardener installed timber supports at the fence line so that the four Madame Isaac Pereire pillar roses can spill with abandon (I hope). The rose without a name, the colour of raspberries, is also in flower. It has horrendous thorns and is completely without scent but is very beautiful and very generous with its blooms. At least once a season a stranger comes to the door asking for its name. Swags of wisteria decorate the ironwork on the verandah. The quantity of blossom on the miniature peach and nectarines suggest a better crop than last year. I must remember to thin the fruit. The quince tree is exquisite and my crab-apple trees are all displaying fat rosy buds.
It has been an astonishing time for the Kitchen Garden Foundation. I have to pinch myself at these latest milestones. In August we formed a new and important partnership with the Medibank Community Fund, and the Australian government's Department of Health and Ageing has given the foundation $5.4 million in new funding which will enable us to expand our reach to more schools, both government and non-government, and hopefully to achieve our aim of having a kitchen garden program in 10 per cent of Australia's primary schools over the next three years.
The government announcement took place at Altona Meadows Primary School in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The student population represents more than 30 nationalities. In fact, I was greeted by students from Iran, Iraq and Nepal.
Kitchen specialist Ema is from Portugal. She showed me my first Portuguese kale, and told me how it's finely shredded and added to the well-known Portuguese soup caldo verde (made with potatoes and kale and finished with chouriço sausage and a drizzle of spicy oil). The leaves are quite different in shape and colour from those of Tuscan kale - which I have used successfully to make a version of the soup (I have a recipe in The Cook's Companion on page 212). These plants were over a metre tall, with large, deep green, ruffled leaves and white mid-ribs like silverbeet. The most common name I found on the internet was couve tronchuda, but it appears to have various guises. I wonder how closely related it might be to the plant I know as walking-stick cabbage, seen in France and common on the island of Jersey where the stems are traditionally dried and varnished to make an excellent walking stick. No doubt some reader will know, and they may be able to help me find some Portuguese kale seeds.
Until next time.
PHOTOGRAPHY ARMELLE HABIB
This article was published in the October 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.