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18 January 2017

Hi everyone, and welcome to our first newsletter for this year. As I write on this windy afternoon, I can't help wondering why oh why is someone down the street using a noisy fossil fuel powered leaf blower for some futile job?? They're horrible machines at the best of times, but on a day like today SURELY the user can see the irony?

Sorry, rant over. All is pretty good really, I've just been snacking on scarlet runner and cascade giant beans in the overgrown front garden. And marveling at how productive and forgiving a vegie garden can be even in the face of near total neglect. OK - I have watered it several times lately with the warm and windy weather. As reward, the near-wild pumpkins, beans, sunflowers and tomatoes are scrambling through or towering over much of the weedy understorey. And naturally the zucchinis refuse to be bullied by anything - even the shy and timid carrots are holding their own in a fairly grass infested patch. Thankyou wild and messy vegie patch!

Garlic galore: from green to golden to black

In the last newsletter I wrote about harvesting our first row of garlic. Well, since then, we have harvested all the rest. It was a bit of an epic effort. We harvested, root trimmed, bunched and hung the lot, in the lovely breezy covered area between the shed and the container. No rain gonna get that lot, I thought. Then we had 3 days of three dimensional wetness - remember? We were inside a cloud, and all the lovely dry harvested garlic got dripping wet. So then it was 'operation save the garlic': piling it all into the back of mick's car, and re-hanging it upstairs in the house in South Hobart. I borrowed a fan from our lovely neighbour, bought another one, and had them going 48hrs on the dripping bunches. We saved it!

In another week or two we'll have lots of this for sale. This year it will be properly cured and free of any rot (unlike last year) and you'll be able to purchase 1kg or 500g plaits, as well as baskets of topped and tailed heads. We'll let you know when we are ready. The heads are small, but the cloves are a good size, and taste magnificent!

Confit that thing

Continuing the garlic story, I tried a new thing this year with the heads that were side-split and that wouldn't be any good for long keeping: garlic confit.

Its so easy: put on your favorite music or radio program, or invite a friend around for some chat and activity. Peel a heap of garlic cloves, right down to the clean clove - no thin skins left.
Then simmer very slowly in good olive oil for about an hour. Pack into sterilised jars, top up with hot oil, let cool, and refrigerate. It keeps for ages but all the books say to eat within a month. Shouldn't be a problem - its DELICIOUS! Here's a link with lots of ideas about how to use your confit garlic. I'll be making more, and happy to sell some, so keep your eyes open for the sale info in our next newsletter.

The reason we are told to keep this refrigerated and eat within a month is that garlic is a low acid vegetable. When preserved in the low oxygen / low acid environment of oil, there is a risk of breeding up the bacteria that cause botulism. If you just peel your garlic and cover in oil, without cooking, you'll almost certainly get a fizzy foul smelling result that will make you VERY SICK. So please use caution and follow instructions! If it seems suss when you open the jar, throw it out.

You can safely preserve garlic using vinegar and salt, as described in our newsletter from January 2015. Scroll down to the bottom to find Annie's recipe.

But wait, there's more!

More garlicky goodness that is. We've made an experimental batch of BLACK garlic this year, just to see what all the fuss is about. AMAZINGLY DELISH, and very easy!
Simply wrap a small number of garlic bulbs in alfoil. I crimped the edges carefully and used two layers, to limit moisture loss during the process. I then stacked several parcels into a second hand slow cooker. I put a trivet in the bottom so they weren't in direct contact with the bottom of the pot.
Then put the slow cooker on the "keep warm" setting (you can use a rice cooker too), and find a safe spot outside to leave it on for an extended time. It can smell quite strong, so let your neighbours know in advance!

The books all say to leave for 30-40 days, but I checked after 7 days and the garlic was already dark brown and licoricey gooey molassesy sweet and balsamically gorgeous (see pic at left).
Another two days on, and some of the smaller cloves were completely black, but a bit dried out and overcooked. The ideal temperature for the long slow cooking is around 60 degrees C, so I suspect our slow cooker keep warm setting was a little bit too high. I'll stick a thermometer in with the next batch. Perhaps longer slower cooking will give a better result. But even with the perhaps-too-fast process that we just did, the alchemy of turning hot sulphury fresh garlic into a rich condiment is astounding. Worth trying, and experimenting, some more!

Up, up, and away

Have you ever grown pumpkins up a vertical or angled trellis? Quite a few members of this vining cucurbit family will happily take up vertical rather than horizontal space. Many, like pumpkins and cucumbers and gourds, have tendrils that will grab onto any supports. But they also need a bit of help to stay attached, especially as the fruit fills out and starts to get heavy. I've been tying this gem squash pumpkin to some reinforcing mesh, and as the fruit get bigger might make a sort of sling for the fruit out of old onion bags or such like. Small fruited varieties are probably best for vertical training . . . it might be a bit hard on the stem to support a big Queensland Blue!

Gifts in black and white

I think gardeners are generous people, don't you? There's a joy in being able to give away bags of snow peas, heads of lettuce, baskets of lemons and bowls of berries to neighbours, family, friends. As Jackie French said, even when we don't have lots of money, it feels rich and bountiful to be able to give away wonderful fresh produce.

Another aspect of generous gardeners is that of passing on seeds and cuttings of precious of rare things. Last year I was given an amazing selection of tomato and bean seeds by the lovely Jill from Carlton. One of the tomato varieties was Indigo Rose, which has these incredible glossy black fruit.
Out of six seeds, I got four seedlings. Lets not talk about the great fungus infested potting mix saga. Two plants are growing strongly in my garden, and beginning to produce fruit. The others are with other growers, hopefully producing fruit there too.

If these taste as good as I remember, I'll be saving seed from some of the best fruit, to pass on to other growers for next season. And so it goes around.
Here's another chance for me to 'pay it forward'. I established a self seeding white borage population in the garden after collecting seed from the gardens of the very generous Rachel and Ruth. We had a story about that back in our May 2015 newsletter.

In a converstation with the wonderful Paulette from Provenance Growers, I discovered an easy way to harvest the seeds: pick a bunch of flowering stems, and put them in a vase. As the seeds mature they'll drop onto the bench or table top, and you can sweep them up to plant. Now I've got some babies growing in punnets. Who wants some? Let me know . . .

Astounding rebounding

About 4 weeks ago I cut back the French tarragon. Savagely. Like, right down to the ground. It had grown tall and wild and was bullying the recently planted garlic chives.

I had a huge mountain of tarragon to use, some of which I"ve dried and some I used to infuse vinegar for making Bearnaise sauce. See our Feb 2015 newsletter for a simple how-to.

Anyway, the tarragon has made an astounding recovery (see pic below). Its looking lush and rampant again, so quickly. Its a good reminder that most mat-forming herbs, like oregano, thyme, savory, and others like sage, and mint family herbs like mint and lemon balm, actually benefit from a good hard trim. Especially after they have flowered. At this time of year they will bounce back with fresh new growth really quickly. Go forth and fragrantly trim!
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