Plant seeds of pumpkins and zucchinis inside now.
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23 September 2014

Spring equinox! A time when day matches night, dark balances light. The question is: can patience balance enthusiasm? Its a timely time to talk about timing. In particular, timing of planting tomatoes! Oh how the debate rages! There are those in the "wait till after Show Day, or even better Melbourne Cup Day" camp, and there are those in the "get those babies in NOW" camp. I have been firmly in the former for years (see HERE), but now find myself preparing to take a tentative step towards the latter.

Not that I'm actually planting tomatoes now. I'm not ready: the green manure has just been chopped, and my tomato babies are still very little. I guess if you've just bought some exotic beauties from the Bot Gardens, you'll be anxious to get them in soon (once they're hardened off properly, please).

I get lots of emails and questions at this time of year from people wanting to make sure they 'get it right'. I'm here to tell you to RELAX a bit about tomato planting. Its a big planting window between now and December. I highly recommend the "try things and see what happens" approach. The real likely difference between planting a bit early or a bit late is a few weeks difference in getting your first ripe tomato. But if you have a precious few plants gifted to you by someone special, then it may be a good idea to err on the side of caution.

To help you decide the right time to plant, I've listed some questions below to ask yourself before planting. I've also included some notes about planting toms and their early care. So this is a fairly hefty, slightly tomato-centric newsletter this week!

Pink Lemonade

No its not a Bloody Mary. That would be waaaaaaay too tomatoey. This is my latest favorite thing, and it comes courtesy of our most marvellous neighbour, Cheryl.
We have THE BEST neighbours in the world, no question. Cheryl and Abe and their boys on one side, and Susie and Jonathon and their little girl on the other. We look after each others dogs and chooks and rabbits and kids, we feed each other delights that we've made, we share garden produce and recipes. Its just exactly what village suburban life should be. We are profoundly blessed. So, when Cheryl told me that she'd used the lemons the boys picked to make pink lemonade for Abe's birthday bash, I just had to rush outside and pick some lemons to try it! The recipe is HERE, but I'd recommend using a bit less sugar - it was pretty sweet with Meyer lemons.
I used Aunty Patsy's frozen raspberries, and I am gonna make a batch per sunny day until I run out of raspberries. Might even try a version with some of Susie's frozen mulberries. That should be an interesting colour! DEE-licious.

Now, about those tomatoes

Imagine you are considering planting your tomatoes today. If you can answer yes (or true) to all these questions (or statements), go for it! If not, maybe wait a bit.

1. There will be no more frosts after today.
Of course we can't predict with certainty the daily weather, but on average for your place, and this season, do you expect to be safe from frosts? The whole "plant after Show Day" thing is intended to be a generalised frost-safety threshold for Hobart. But there have been many years when we get a freezing week after show day. And its true that in some of those years people's tomatoes have survived! You might need to have a frost response plan if it looks like its gonna be very cold at night. Eg some straw to fluff up around your seedlings, or even an old sheet or newspaper to cover them temporarily.

There are some people who live in an area, or have a microclimate, that just doesn't get frost. I've got a precious pocket in my garden against a north facing stone wall. If that's you too, then no frost barrier to planting early!

2. Is the soil warm yet?
One way to tell is to take off your trousers and undies and sit on the bare soil. That's a suggestion from Jacky French. Thanks Jacky. A less exposing way to guess at the soil temperature is to know that raised beds with well drained light soil will warm up much earlier than heavy clay soil in-ground beds. Or look around and see if any self sown tomatoes or pumpkins or sunflowers are germinating. If yes, then go for it!
3. Do you have space yet?
This ultimately becomes the key question. How do you manage your crop rotation and garden planning to have space ready for tomatoes when you want to plant them, without having empty (non-growing, wasted) space for too long beforehand? 

Winter grown brassicas like broccoli might be nearly finished, or quick filler leafy crops like lettuce and rocket can be cleaned up in an almighty salad. 
You can even plant your little tomatoes in between other things (eg spring onions or leafies) that wont totally crowd them. Then finish eating the salad things at your leisure, making more room as the tomato seedlings grow.

My solution to the planning task is to always plant green manure in Autumn where I want next Spring's tomatoes. Then I can chop it up to dig in whenever it suits, without having to wait (hopping from foot to foot) for a harvest. I usually dig the green manure in roughly about 3-4 weeks before planting the toms, then give it a tidy up just before planting. I've just chopped mine up in the last few days.

4. Do you want to beat your mum / neighbour / friend to ripe tomato glory?
Because really, that's the main reason people want to plant tomatoes early, isn't it? To skite "Well I've already picked my first ripe tomato" before anybody else. Not a good reason to rush. I know. I've been there. You can't beat mum. She sneaks hers in before Show Day and conducts secret rituals to make them grow well.

Fimbarista File: Connor and Auntie Kris

Michael (one of our Garden Fairies) and I helped Fimbarista Kristen in Moonah set up two more garden beds today. She has three galvanised raised beds already, and clearly has more growing to do! We had the help of her nephew, 4 yr old Connor.
Connor was well kitted out with tools, gloves, shoes, sunscreen and hat. He'd lost some of those by the end of the job, but I haven't let OH&S fears stop me taking the photo. He was a great help, and we chatted about all sorts of gardeny things while we were working.

Its great when folks come back for more garden space after trying a few beds to start with. Famously, Jacky and Rod, two of our Fimbaristas from 2009, were self proclaimed "clueless accountants" when they first joined the Garden Craft program. Then a season later they were harvesting about 80 kgs of zucchinis from the nature strip in front of their house. Heroes!

Aaaaand, back to the tomatoes

I got a question from Jess the other day: "What soil preparation do you do for tomatoes? Steve Solomon says do this, Peter Cundall says do that . . . who's right?"

It can be confusing when you read conflicting information, and I wouldn't dare wade into a critique of our much loved gardening luminaries, so I'll just tell you what I do, and then let you muddle through yourselves with lots of trial and observation. OK?
As mentioned above, I always plant a green manure crop before tomatoes. This helps with garden planning, and gives me flexibility with timing. It is also is great addition to soil organic matter and fertility, and I use both legumes (tick beans, peas, lupins) and grains (ryecorn, oats). Incorporating the bulk of these plants into the soil increases phosphorous uptake in the following crop (tomatoes), which is useful. 

But, I hear you cry, I didn't plant any green manure last Autumn and I don't have a time machine. Never fear. The alternative method I use for "extra" toms that don't fit where I had planned is this: drop a handful of COF (complete organic fertiliser as per Steve Solomon's recipe) at each planting place on the soil surface. Drop a double (or triple) handful of yummy compost or worm castings on top of the COF at each spot. Then dig that in to about a spade depth and width, and plant your baby tomato. Put in a stake at the same time if you're using them.
If you have a blackbird problem (like I do) you might want to protect the seedlings with a wire cage for a while. I don't mulch the bed around the tomatoes straight away, but wait a few weeks till they get growing. Then I sprinkle a good handful of COF around each seedling, and mulch deeply with straw, hay, compost or the litter from the rabbit runs (rabbit poo and wee and hay - a tasty combo!).

If the seedlings are still quite small, as above (photo taken in November last year) I leave the wire cages there so the blackbirds dont kick the straw to cover the babies.

Then, if I remember, I give the plants a feed of COF about every 4 weeks, just sprinkled on the surface of the mulch and watered in. But I usually forget after the first or second application. Sometimes I make a 'tea' out of nettles, and water them with that - great if they are looking poorly for some reason.

Once they are tall enough to tie up to the stakes, their rigorous training begins. But more on that another day.

Fab enclosure

In late winter I did some pruning with Vicky at Ridgeway. 
But be warned: this is what can happen when I do some light 'tip pruning' with my trusty little chainsaw!

Nah, don't be scared, the tree was dead as a doornail before we started. Too many seasons of being monstered by maurauding possums.
So what do you do when the wildlife is just too enthusiastic and you absolutely wont shoot, trap or poison? You build an enclosure of course! Vicky asked if we could recommend anyone, and with wholehearted enthusiasm I passed on the details of Iain Whyte, an all roung top notch bloke who has built fab enclosures for a few FIMBY customers now. For Vicky he built a sturdy, creative, roomy enclosure, for a very reasonable price, and added bonus swings! Vicky is totally delighted, and her fruit trees are starting to leaf out and flower in peace for the first time in many years.
I know some of you will be clamouring for Iain's contact details, and I'm happy to pass them on. Be notified however that he is very busy over summer with tractor slashing, and so can't commit to any enclosure jobs till Feb 2015. Jump in line!

Getting carrots to germinate

I'm always jealous of FIMBY clients who have an easy time getting carrots to germinate and grow in raised beds. My lumpy clay soil isn't the best carrot habitat. 
Carrot seed is very small, and slow to germinate, and needs constant moisture in the agonisingly long time (weeks!) it takes for them to pop their leaves up. But Vicky, a fimbarista who lives around the corner has a fail safe method for protecting the little wimps as they germinate. 

Sow your crarit seed in a shallow drill, and water (For new subscribers who don't know why we are calling them 'crarits', see our recent newsletter HERE for some insight!).

Then place a wooden plank (sort of floorboard width and weight) directly on top of the row. You can also use a strip of cloth, anchored so it wont blow away. Leave your plank / strip in place for a week, just lifting it to water every 3 days or so.

After a week, prop it up on bricks so that the emerging seedlings can, well, emerge, and be shaded. After another week, remove the plank altogether. 

Warning: in slug infested gardens the plank will be an irresistable hiding place for the slimy critters. This can enable you to collect them for mass slaughter, but if you don't check regularly you're basically just serving them up a smorgasbord of baby carrot seedlings.

Salata de Boeuf

This sounds French, but is a very traditional Romanian dish, influenced by Russian cuisine. How very international of us! Our wonderful Romanian fimbarista Nica has kindly provided the recipe for this dish, usually served as an entree on special occasions like Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Easter and birthdays. 

And lucky lucky me, Nica not only provided a recipe, but a sample! A very substantial sample too! It was utterly delicious, and I'm ashamed to say I didn't eat it as an entree, it was my main course! I was home alone, and just couldn't stop eating!

Nica was very modest about her sweet presentation (below) and said that people often decorate the salad with capsicum, and make flowers and pretty patterns. She's right - I googled it and the pics are awesome.
Anyway, here's the recipe:
(made in larger quantities for parties)

300g carrots

300g potatoes
300g meat (beef, or chicken)
300g pickled cucumber
150 - 200g canned peas
(or fresh - cook them before using)

home made mayonnaise (see below)
lemon juice for extra sour taste
Boil the carrots, potatoes and beef, then cut them and the pickled cucumbers in small pieces (Nica's were very regular sized less than 1cm square, indicating that patience is helpful).

Make a mayonnaise with one or two egg yolks, one teaspoon of mustard (of your choice) and a lightly flavoured vegetable oil.

Mix all the cut ingredients with the peas, then with as much mayonnaise as you like. Because the pickled cucumbers have enough salt, some people do not add extra salt. For an extra sour taste, lemon juice can be added.

I don't know how to say thankyou in Romanian but google tells me its "Multumesc".
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