The trouble is, you cannot grow just one zucchini.  Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables.  At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt.
Dave Barry

25 February 2015

Hi everyone. It feels like the year has just got going, and now we're suddenly at the end of February. Whoa. Its gonna be the equinox before we know it. The days are passing in a blur of preserving, even though most of the stone fruit are just about finished: zucchinis, beans, apples, pears just starting. I'm waiting eagerly for the quinces. And the tomatoes. We've been getting enough ripe ones for a salad when we want, but I don't have trays of them gracing the kitchen bench yet. 

Don't forget the Tassievore Eat Local Challenge starts on Sunday. The first week's challenge is to become a Tassie food forager. I've been hearing rumours of crab apple and quince trees around New Town (and other suburbs) just loaded with fruit. Get scrounging!

Its a somewhat brief newsletter this time 'round. I'll blame the avalanche of produce.
We'll have a bumper edition next time to compensate! 

Crab apple paste and jelly

I got a big bag of these gorgeous deep red crab apples from my sister. After admiring them for a while on the bench I decided to make spiced crab apple paste.
I chopped them in half, and put them in a big pot with about an inch or two of water in the bottom. I added cinnamon stick and about a tablespoon of whole cloves, and a chunk of ginger sliced up. I reckon star anise and/or cardamon pods would also be tasty. As the apples cooked they softly exploded into a fluffy mass, with the most amazing and weird texture.
Once the apples were all exploded, I put them through a food mill to get the seeds and skin out. Then measured the pulp back into a pot and added a bit less than half the volume of sugar. I stirred until the sugar dissolved, and then let it simmer and glop and bubble and toil for a while. It was very shakespearean, with a most satisfying 'hot pool of mud' sort of texture. You can get the sound effects if you say softly, out loud, "plopp, popp, plloooofffffff". I cooked it for a while then put it in wide shallow jars. Its not runny, but I wouldn't be able to cut a nice neat block like quince paste.
As I'm writing this newsletter I've made another batch, this time with the laaaast blood plums added. I tried draining the pulp through muslin to make jelly, but not very much liquid came out. So I've I made a small batch of jelly with the clear liquid that drained, then put the rest of the pulp through the food mill again. I cooked this one a bit longer to see what evolves! The jelly is magnificent (I tasted the leftovers that set in the bottom of the pot). Not sure if the paste will set firm yet, its still hot!

Postscript: yep, both the jelly and paste have set firm. And taste GOOD!

Asparagus: boys or girls?

Asparagus is a dioecious plant, meaning that there are separate male and female plants. If you buy 2 year old asparagus 'crowns' from nurseries in winter to plant, they are almost certainly boys only. If however you grow your asparagus from seed, or are given little seedlings from somebody, they are likely a mix of boys and girls.
At this time of year, when the spears (that you stopped cutting after Christmas, right?) have grown out into tall leafy ferns, you can easily tell if you have boys or girls, or both. The girl plants will produce little red berries, like these in the picture.

Now, lots of people will tell you that girl asparagus plants are no good, they only produce spindly stems, all their energy goes into the fruit, blah blah blah. That's bs (bullshit). Well, maybe that's a bit harsh, but my girl asparagus plants are great! Some of them produce fatter spears than others, but the good ones are as strong or better than some of the boys.

One thing that all the books caution about the girl plants is that if viable seed is produced, you can get lots of weedy asparagus seedlings which clog up your asparagus patch. 
So the usual advice is to pick all the berries off. I'm not sure about you, but when the zucchinis are rampaging and there are tomatoes to seek and beans to pick every day, I'm unlikely to prioritise picking berries off the asparagus. I've been watching and waiting for baby asparagus for about 8 years now . . . nada.

So, if you want access to interesting varieties of asparagus, by all means grow them from seed. Its cheaper by far than crowns too. You can cull the girl plants out after a year if you like, but its not necessary. Seed is usually planted in Spring, the crowns in Winter. We'll talk more about how to do that when the time comes.

Protect your baby brassicas

If you've planted broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower or kale in the last month you might have noticed the white butterflies around. If you're unlucky they'll lay eggs on your baby brassicas. The eggs hatch into teeny tiny green caterpillars, which eat the leaves and quickly become big fat green caterpillars. They can decimate young seedlings before they've even really got growing. You can take direct action against the grubs by finding and squishing, or using Dipel to kill them.
Another approach is to protect the young plants with a cover such as GrowCover, which is a knitted polyethylene product that lets the rain through, and will provide light frost protection as well as keeping insects off. It's very light and can be used over low hoops, or greenhouse frames.
Our fimbarista friend Martine from Woodbridge is a Tasmanian distributor of this product. You can read all about her adventures in vegetable gardening on her Growing Good facebook page. Martine is charming and engaging, and writes like that too! All her contact details are in the links provided here, and she is very happy to answer questions about the product.
You still have time to plant more brassicas by the way. In warm areas or where you have raised beds, we continue planting broccoli and friends right up to May. And sometimes even carrots and beetroot too. Don't tell Peter Cundall! But brussel sprouts need the warmer months  to get established, so don't leave them too late.

Beautiful beans

I've grown a range of beans specifically for their seeds this year. They're left on the bushes until the beans start to dry out, and the 'pods' become papery. Then you can harvest these jewel like seeds. 
We'll do a taste test on these ones above, to see how long they take to cook, and their relative deliciousness. I'll give a batch to Lissa, all round veggie growing, community building, sustainability championing HERO, to make a tassievore meal from too.

You can eat the seeds of any beans, even if they're not so pretty and photogenic. So if you miss some butter beans, or idelights, or purple kings, and they get a bit tough and stringy, you can leave the pods on the bush to dry, then collect the seeds to cook like any other dried pulse. Great to add body to soups and stews in winter. Or you can use the recipe from our website for Tuscan Bean Stew as a starting point.
If you're planning to save seed for next year, you might like to be a bit more strategic than just using the ones you missed, and deliberately select plants with desirable characteristics to keep seed from. For example, long straight pods, or specially tender, non-stringy ones. Eat the rejects!

Book review

Its called "Garlic" by Penny Woodward. It was released late last year, and its fantastic! I bought a copy directly from Penny's website, and it came within a few days, with a personalised message and autograph! Wooo! I'm a little bit star struck! There is interesting info in there about history and uses of garlic, and lots of good detailed and relevant info about ground preparation, growing, harvesting and storing. There is a recipe section too that has good ideas. I particularly love the section where she interviews growers all over Australia, including some Tassie growers, about how they do their garlic thing.
We went to the Koonya garlic festival on Feb 14th (a romantic Valentine's Day outing!) and that was pretty wonderful, if a little damp. We bought a huge haul of garlic 'seed' (which is really just garlic bulbs for planting) from a few different growers. You can see some of it in the photo above. We hope to grow a nice big crop down at the farm this winter.

One thing to beware of if you're buying garlic 'seed' is to buy whole heads of garlic, rather than the individual cloves already broken up. The cloves lose viability and vigor once they are broken up, so this should be done just the day before, or the morning of, planting. We saw some growers selling individual cloves at Koonya. I managed to resist ticking them off, but did ask one quite well known grower why they did it. He said that people wanted to buy them that way. Hmmmphff I thought. They ought to be educating people, not just supplying what the market thinks it wants. Rant over.

In praise of floral abundance

Parsley, gone to seed. Not so useful for harvesting leaves any more. But the flower stalks produce these beautiful umbels of tiny flowers that offer abundant nectar and pollen to a host of beneficial insects. Even 'weeds' that are doing their thing in an unkempt corner of your garden can be providing valuable habitat or food for helpful garden critters. 

Its not so great if the weeds are harbouring pest species or pathogens, but usually, on balance, the benefits of having more floral abundance outweigh the down sides.

And speaking of floral abundance, check out the photo below of the OUTRAGEOUS flower truss on one of our Paul Robeson tomatoes. Ridiculous! There are hundreds of flowers, and they will become hundreds of small toms about the size of a marble. Delicate skinned, pale purply coloured, and last year's taste test winner!
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