Yes, its getting colder. Perfect weather for some warming garden work!
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29th April 2014

Hello everyone! You may have noticed that this newsletter is a week late, if you're inclined to count the days between FIMBY newsletters. There must be one or two of you out there . . . ??? But for the vast majority of you who probably are more inclined to say "oh, another one!" when you see the message in your inbox, welcome to this newsletter!

I was in (warm, sunny) Western Australia last week, and happily away from the computer for several days. What a good thing to do. I noticed I went through distinct withdrawal phases: frantic, teeth clenched enduring, desperate, resigned, and finally, FREE! I recommend a screen free week every now and again!

I love checking out the garden on my return, when I've been away for more than a few days. Even with the colder weather, things are growing steadily (especially soft weeds like chickweed and spurge). The garlic is looking much more robust, the peas and spinach too, and the broad beans are powering along. I still have tomatoes ripening, and will give them a few more weeks in the ground since I'm not waiting desperately for space to plant other things. My newly planted kale and cabbages are also happy, and mercifully are untroubled by the cabbage moth grubs despite no precautionary measures. Maybe the cold weather has finished the cabbage white reign of terror for the season.

Borlotti and friends

I love borlotti beans! For their meaty delicious taste as fresh green beans, and for their beautiful dried seeds that make the best tuscan bean stew. And for their cultural resonances with the cooking of my Nonna, and their invitation to the satisfying talk and laughter of 'women's work' as the final harvest is shelled at the end of the growing season.

Most bush and climbing beans that you grow in summer can be eaten at several stages, just like borlottis. When they're young and tender as a garden snack, when they're at peak 'green bean' stage when they can be steamed and added to salads or sauteed with butter and garlic for a sensational side dish. 
Once the seeds inside the pod start to fatten up, the pod gets a bit tough and stringy. At this stage they can be left on the bush or vine to let the seeds fatten up some more. Eventually the pods dry out, usually changing colour as they do so, and the seeds can be harvested, fully dried, and saved for future planting or soups.

The photo above shows borlotti seeds in the transition between chubby fresh, partially mature, and fully dried. They can be used in soups, even salads when they're still immature, and take much less time to cook than the fully mature and dry ones. Same goes for other bean varieties even if they're not intenionally grown for their seeds. The only one that I'd urge caution with is the scarlet runner beans.

The fully developed scarlet runner seeds are beautiful and HUGE, and make a pretty confronting ingredient when dried and then cooked. Perfectly edible, just beware that there is a lot of fibre and protein in them! Nonna used to make a salad with boiled scarlet runner bean seeds (not the green pods, rather the purple and black seeds), chopped onion and heaps of chopped parsley, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. It totally scoured out the digestive system!

If you'd like a recipe for Tuscan bean stew, there's one HERE on our web page.
If you plan to save seed from beans, its probably best to select a few good specimen plants for that purpose, rather than just keeping the ones you happen to overlook. This way you can select plants with characteristics you want to pass on to the next generations, eg strong growth, resistance to any disease problems, long straight pods (unless you like curly ones!) and good yield.

Beans generally grow 'true to type' meaning they are a great vegetable to save seed from. A great veg to share around at seed swaps too!

Pinchy pinchy

When your broad beans are young, around 20cm high, its the perfect time to lightly 'prune' them by pinching out the growing tip. This will encourage the side shoots to develop from near the base of the plant. You can see a couple in the photo.
Having shorter, stronger, bushier plants with more stems is a good idea, as tall spindly single stemmed broad bean plants will fall about more easily, leaning over and bullying the other plants, and generally need more management by you, the busy gardener. Plants that are pruned a bit will also develop a stronger root system, and will ultimately give you more broad beans to eat per seed planted, and per unit of garden space.

Many of the broad bean varieties that you can find are "dwarf" varieties, but I've lost count of the number of times I've seen six foot tall "dwarf" broad beans in our customers' gardens! Even if you want big tall show-off broad beans, a light tip prune in the early stages will still produce a more robust plant. We usually tip prune again once the first few trusses of flowers have set fruit in October or November. This directs the energy of the plant into fully ripening the pods that it has already set.

AND - don't consign the tip prunings immediately to the compost heap. These terminal leaves are very edible, either fresh and raw in the garden, or lightly steamed or sauteed as a side dish. Have a taste as you pinchy pinchy. But to tell you the truth, they're not my favorite taste. Am I allowed to say that?

Green manure

I know that sounds a bit strange, but "green manure" refers to a crop of annual plants that are grown especially to improve the soil. In a Tasmanian winter, green manure seed mixes usually contain some legumes (eg lupins, tic beans, peas) and some grains like oats and ryecorn.
All these species will germinate and grow in cold wet soil, and put on lots of root and leaf mass through winter. Its always healthier for the soil to have something growing in it than being bare over winter.

In early spring, the 'green manure' plants are chopped up and dug into the soil, and provide lots of lovely organic matter to feed the soil microorganisms. The nutrients from all the biomass of the green manure plants are released as they break down, ready for the following crop (eg tomatoes) to take up.

Green manure can be planted any time from April - August, and can be chopped and dug in when its quite small up to quite large. I usually chop and dig in late September, ready for October tomato planting. If you sow early and have big strong plants before you're ready to turn it all under, you can chop the tops of the plants off to prevent them flowering. If you let them set flowers and seed they're much woodier and wont break down quickly.

I like having a green manure crop in before my tomatoes, since its a very flexible kinda thing: you can plant when you like, and dig it in when you like, without waiting for a crop to finish. The alternative to this is using peas or broad beans as a soil enriching winter crop, but then you gotta wait to harvest the peas (because its pretty hard to sacrifice them!) and that can delay planting spring things until late November.

So this time of year I do a bit of planning and thinking and watching and head scratching, and work out where the tomatoes will go next spring, and then put green manure in that spot. If I still have things growing (this year the 'future tomato spot' has spring onions, lettuce and silverbeet still growing) I either wait a bit, or just throw the seed down around the existing plants. It will take a while to germinate and start growing, and in the meantime the other plants can grow a bit more before harvest.

Biochar trials - update

Well, our most spectacular trial site so far is Lissa's with lots of the leafy green things growing fast and furious in all plots. Trouble is, a rogue wallaby or two have broken in and had some lovely gourmet salads, complete with extra smokey flavour in the biochar plot. So for the time being Lissa has barricaded the garden further and added lots of local cage protection. We'll let the site recover a bit before we do any assessment of the different treatments.

Fimbarista File: garden with a view

Here's Cheryl from Sandford putting up some bamboo stakes as pea trellis in her brand new vegie garden. With a bit of guidance from FIMBY she has purchased four lovely dovetail timber garden beds from Bodie Cavanagh, installed them with some carpet underneath to stop invasion by nearby eucalpyts, and filled them with a mixture of rubble from the site and some good 'raised bed' soil blend from a landscape supplier.

Once Cheryl and her husband Ron had done all the hard work, Christina from FIMBY came along for a planting day with Cheryl. That's how we like it! We planted the four beds in planting guilds or 'tribes', as follows:
  1. peas and broad beans
  2. brassicas (kale, broccoli, cabbage)
  3. leafies (lettuce, spinach, rocket, asian greens)
  4. roots and alliums (spring and salad onions, carrots, beetroot, turnips, swede)
Eventually Cheryl will complete carpeting the area and cover with mulch to make it look nice. In the meantime, she and the emerging vegies are enjoying that view!

Cutting back herbs

As the winter weather begins to assert itself, many of the perennial herbs in the garden start to look pretty tatty and bedraggled. Mint, oregano, sage, thyme, lemon balm: they  can be cut back fairly hard to remove all the old flower stalks and mildewed leaves. French tarragon, which might still look ok, will be dying off for winter soon, so a trim now means you can get some good leaves to use in the kitchen.
You can make tarragon vinegar, essential for a good bearnaise sauce, by stuffing the trimmed tarragon branches and leaves into a big glass jar (after you've shaken off any spiders or ants), and filling it with white wine vinegar. Stick it in a dark cupboard for a few weeks, and then strain into pretty bottles. Voila! Pots of flavour to brighten up winter cooking.

As you tidy up your herbs, the cuttings can be consigned to the compost, where they add valuable micronutrients. But if you find a few tender leaf tips amongst them, consider making yourself a herbal tea. My current fave inputs, shown below, are lemon verbena, mint and lemon balm. With a squeeze of lemon. Aaahhhhhhhh.
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