Tuesday, 23 April 2013

growing a SALAD

Gardening tips from Janine - ha ha ha!  It is funny because I am not a gardener and I keep saying that, but I do like to grow things to eat. I know very little about potting-up, planting-out, watering-in and even less about flowers or bulbs or annuals or staking - despite years and years of watching Gardening Australia.

Dad worked in the garden on weekends, when he wasn't at the beach or on a boat, and I often watched but he never suggested I help. He did a lot of digging, mowing and raking and had a compost area, referred to in those days as the 'manure heap', thought it was only grass cuttings and food scraps. Dad kept us supplied with chocos, green beans, (favourites on the dinner table - NOT), pumpkins, and roses - that's all I remember.

My first interest in plants was in my first year of Art College and I was surprised to find I was pretty good at plant drawing. We all had to bring in something leafy and interesting to draw - not as easy as you'd think. Rose leaves all looked same to me and the vegetable garden was down the back and not on my way to the bus so I picked something from the side of the road or in bushland.  This turned out to be a good thing because by the end of semester I had a huge variety of different plants and leaves in my folio, many of them natives which were not in fashion for gardens then. Most of the other students seemed to draw flower garden plants like hydrangeas or nasturtium or gum leaf clumps. 

So without being in the garden I developed an awareness of different leaf shapes growing in different patterns on the stem - pairs or in steps, and colour variations like lighter on the top and darker underneath.  They don't teach this at school, we're all supposed to learn it by ourselves. Maybe everyone else did, it was just me who had to think it through.

Eventually I worked out how to grow things in pots.  I still didn't become one of those people who produce jungles of plants and masses of things to eat - I wish.  At other times I managed to turn soil with a shovel, remembering what I'd seen Dad do in the garden.  I have produced, over the years, varieties of tomatoes and lettuce, corn, silver beet (we call spinach) green beans, strangely shaped brocholi and lots of herbs.  But, apart from the herbs I have never had more than one or two meals to harvest so there is no way my gardening would feed the family. It is exciting though.

Dad grew roses and I managed Roma tomatoes

Now that I live on a ginger farm and have lots and lots of room to grow things - though finding space in direct sunlight is a battle - you'd think I would be out there growing things all day.  I have tried but my inside hobbies always shout loudest to grab my attention. Being so distracted I have planted. but failed to water, I have watered. but not weeded, I used seedling trays and nothing grew and bought seeds not suited to our climate. 

I did have success with frangapini trees.  They are a big favourite and if I saw one I liked, even in the street, I'd pull or break a bit off, much to the embarassment of my children hiding on the floor of the car.  I knew to leave it lying on the ground until the sticky sap stopped leaking out and then put it on a pot and mostly they grew. Some died when the pot got too small. That's a cruel thing to do to a tree. But some lived and I have 7 lovely, if not a tad stunted, frannies growing along the front of our house. Strangely all, except one, have the same multi coloured flowers, sort of pink and yellow and white. I call them fruit salad flowers. The other tree is scarlet. It's gorgeous. A rich, delicious red. I must break a bit off that tree and grow another. I love the colour. I do not have a white flower frangipani. I thought I did but it grew as a fruit salad.

There are 7 other frannies still in a pot somewhere. It's a big pot but with them all sharing it they have decided to become dwarfed frannies though they present me with full size leaves every summer and lose them every winter - for about 9 years now. Isn't nature brilliant? I must plant them somewhere and give them their freedom. Soon..... I promise.

When we started our little farm it was a herb farm. For several years we grew organic basil, parsley, shallots (onions), garlic, rosemary and sunflowers.  When I say we, it's what big R calls the royal 'we', so it means he grew them and I observed. I have cleaned, weighed and packed boxes over the years. I also label things, do the paper work and pay the bills but I don't dig in the dirt or plant anything.

The parsley was the most difficult to store and transport. There were times when our bath tub was full of bunched parsley waiting for shipping the next day. They went off in polystyrene boxes on wet newspaper.  How does polystyrene go with organic? 

Flat or Italian parsley and curley parsley

One day, while researching for a story I was writing, I discovered cycads - the dinosaur plants. They have very sharp spikes and shallow roots. They get upset and go into hybernation if you interfere with them, they grow alien flowers and the baby cycads are called pups. There are some interesting stories about cycads and I might write about them some time, but you can't eat them so they don't belong in this post. We have several now and I leave them alone and they just get on with it.

Growing things to eat, I have found, can be done in a pot.  The pots I really, really like are self watering pots.  That means I don't have to dig up the paddock with a shovel or remember to water, unless it's been months without rain.  These pots have a plastic tray that sits on a ledge a bit above the bottom. As water trickles through the soil it pools in the bottom for the plant to soak up later.  There is an overflow hole in the side and I usually empty them after heavy rain when the plants have had enough.

I have great success with these self watering pots

I don't use potting mix - it's a bit dangerous if you breathe in the dust and I have many allergies and I don't want to add anything else to the list. I've tried to grow seeds in seed trays. They never grow. Either they die of thirst or I over water them and wash the seeds away. Sometimes we grow vegetables in the paddock in the bare areas after the ginger has been harvested, but I can't use the watering system and it's so far from the house .... the self watering pots seem to suit me best.

I like to use the lovely black dirt that we have in the paddock. Sometimes I mix in a bit of sand and sometimes I forget.  I just scatter the seeds over wet dirt, push them down gently with my finger and walk away.  I look at them each day but don't dare to touch.  So far I have managed to grow salad, even if not every vegetable or herb comes up in the same year.

Here is my salad -

Tomatoes - I have grown some amazing tomatoes in years gone by. I prefer the low acid Roma Tomatoes.  The secret seems to be to grow them in front of a wall that soaks up the morning sun and reflects back onto the plant and also warms them after the sun has moved on. They'll grow in pots too, big pots, but they still like a warm wall behind them.

Chives - they grow very well in pots and are great chopped over any salad or stir fry, in a sandwich or soup to add a light onion flavour.  They are lovely sprinkled over hot potatoes with butter.

Nasturtians - grow anywhere including pots - these are the boring round leaves some people brought to art class.  They have a good peppery flavour so I use them whole in salads or sliced for stir frys, sandwiches, stews and soup.  The flowers can be eaten too or used as edible garnish.

Parsley - also does well in pots -  and is so good for you. I prefer the flat or Italian parsley for a pretty garnish that you can eat, and it goes into any salad dish or stir fry or soup, stew, sandwich - you can even add parsley to bread or scone dough, with cheese and spices.  It goes anywhere.  You can eat it right out of the garden.  Big R likes the curley parsley because it looks good. I usually grow both.

Rocket - grows in pots or in the ground - one of my favourites to eat but i have not had success this year - other people get tons of rocket.... sigh .....

Lettuce - in the ground or a large planter is not hard to grow but it's best to buy good healthy seedlings. A variety is nice. If you stagger the planting you'll have some ready to harvest every week.

Rocket and chives go with everything

English spinach - plant seeds in the ground or a large planter. I'm planning to try it in my raised garden next spring - it's a lovely lettuce alternative or goes with lettuce and again, into almost any salad or hot dish, even on pizza - raw or cooked it's good.

So, there is a salad - growing in pots or a small garden - lettuce, tomato, chopped herbs, whole spinach and rocket.  Add a cucumber - not hard to grow depending on where you live. I did grow one, once.  There are many other good herbs that grow in pots, sage, thyme and dill are popular and the traditional mint is one I intend to have next summer.

Nasturtians and mint in every Aussie garden

My grandmother and all her friends had mint, if nothing else, in their gardens.  
Rosemary was also very common, and both went with the traditional Sunday roast lamb. 

Mint smells nice in the garden, is easy to grow, though cuttings are faster than seeds. It likes a damp corner with shade and once it's established you have it for years. In some gardens it takes over so a large pot is a good option but it  needs damp soil so water regularly.  (Listen to me giving that advice!)  Often is was found growing by a leaky garden tap or outside the laundry where the maid emptied the wash tub.

Of course we are very fortunate to have fresh ginger available at our place, for most of the year, and it adds a lovely lemon-pepper flavour to hot and cold dishes but that is another post for another day.

How a seed tray should work and my result of planting 50 kale seeds - this one shoot lived one day.... sad

Now I am humming the song that Simon and Garfunkel called Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. 

Originally the "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" it ian English folk song from the 16th century 

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme
Without no seams nor needlework
Then she'll be a true love of mine

This is such a long post - I do ramble on but then some people tell me they like that.

There is a comments facility below for your gardening tips and experiences or your comment on how much I do ramble - but it's not like facebook, there is a process to keep the spammers and hackers out.  

Click comment
type in the box and then 
select from the drop down menu for your identity (anonymous is fine if you aren't on google) and then click publish - but that's not the end .....
you will be asked to retype some numbers and letters into another little box, it's not the easiest thing to do, but if you get it wrong you get a second turn.... like a game.  
Once you've done it you'll find it easier the next time, 
and I will reply to your message so it's worth it.... (smiley face)


  1. So sorry I have to revise the post AFTER it has been emailed to those of you who are signed up for that. Somehow overnight blogger changes my font sizes and spacing and it annoys me so much I have to fix it. For this post I've redone all the pictures because they were not showing up on email properly. I will learn to private post the pages before they are public so I can edit on line.... blogger problems. Thanks for your patience.

  2. Comment from Ann - Ann Jensen I read your blog but it wouldn't let me comment. I think you are a gardener....everyone loses plants and makes wrong choices....just loving it is enough. Anyway, you got a ginger farm!

    1. Ha ha ha, yes it's funny, I have a farm!
      Don't know why the blog is misbehaving - did you read the complicated steps?

    2. Ann Jensen: No I take after my students and write without following instructions

    3. Ann Jensen: PS does your seed tray have a heat source underneath?

    4. no heat source, just little holes to let the water drain. Heat source is the warm air - it just sits outside on the table - Ror has grown seedlings in it from seed but it never does anything for me

  3. Good page, I like the way you write. S

  4. I remember that song.


Thank you for your interest in my blog.