Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Summer harvest - tips to feeling a successful food grower

It is easy when gardening to get disheartened, with the crop yield, the vegetable size or the taste.
It is good to remember that it is likely each year a crop will probably fail. Failure is relatively cheap when growing from seed. One seed packet is an investment of $3-$4. So while it can feel a big fail, it had so much potential for success the investment is worth it.
But the weather plays such a big factor. This year was a fantastic, warm summer. We grew so many cucumbers and dill pickles we still have jars of them preserved. We gave them away, we ate them and we preserved them. The previous year was a very wet, cooler summer and my cucumber plants went brown and died.
Don't give up too early
Sometimes crops just take awhile to get going. I grew runner beans (blue lake runner beans) and in the first part of summer, I thought they were okay but not a great crop yield and they were quite small beans. However through the months they just got better - bigger beans and more of them. We were picking enough for four people every few days.

Spread the risk
Having a wide variety of vegetables planted, that suit different conditions, increases the likelihood of having some good wins.

Enjoy the wins
Watermelons were a stand out achievement this summer. I grew the seeds inside and didn't plant them out until late November. I planted Moon and Stars variety. All summer we watched them grow, watering them frequently and then as they got bigger, lifted them off the garden with plastic trays so they would not rot. We waited until the curly bit from where the fruit was attached to the vine, went brown and when you tapped it, it sounded hollow. A lot of tapping was involved.

The watermelon was sweet and juicy.
Next summer, it may not be the right conditions for watermelon. I am planting them again so we will have to see. I have also saved seeds from inside the last lot. I will plant some new seeds and some saved to see if they grow proper moon and stars watermelons. I only grow the one variety at the moment, so cross pollination should not be an issue.
Kumara were another great performer. I only planted a small patch but it returned 4.5kgs of kumara. This year they were expensive in the shops, so it was double win.

It is not you, it is the variety
Trialling different varieties of a vegetable also allows you to work out what works best for your garden soil and weather conditions. I am still working out the best varieties of tomatoes that suits our climate and also how we use tomatoes. Carrots are another one I am still undecided what variety works best for the soil conditions.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Growing dill pickles

Top tips learnt from growing dill pickles

  • A long, hot summer will give you a lot
  • If you have too many, let them grow bigger and eat as cucumber
  • Make sure you and everyone in your family really love pickles

This year we decided to grow dill pickles. I grew from seed cucumber homemade pickles from King Seeds through September and October indoors, in the sun and with watering every day.
I planted these out in late October when the weather was very warm.
I planted about six plants in the sunny position beyond the kumara patch. They were watered regularly and initially covered with netting until the plants were big enough to not be pulled out by the birds.
Once they started, they didn't stop producing and needed to be checked every day.
At one time the old fridge, my husband uses for keeping fermenting beer at the right temperature, was full of dill pickles fermenting. The photograph below is the first lot before another jar was also added. The pottery crock is full of pickles fermenting. The big pottery crock was filled several times over the season with fermenting pickles.
Fermenting sour pickles start to take over the beer fridge

Letting dill pickles ferment naturally produces the traditional sour pickles. These are delicious but different to the sweet preserved pickles you may be used to from the supermarket.
I used Alton Brown's sour pickle recipe.
I did get sick of translating the imperial measurements of this recipe so below are the metric amounts I used or adjusted to the right ratios, depending on the size of the jar and weight of cucumbers:

  • 155g salt, approximately 1/2 cup
  • 3.78 litres filtered water
  • 1.36 kg pickling cucumbers
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1 tablespoon dill tips
Fermented pickles keep best if the pickles are whole, so you need big jars for storage. The ones I ended up slicing lengthwise to fit in smaller jars, have gone soft as the months have gone on.

If you prefer the supermarket style pickles, Alton Brown's kinda sorta sour pickles recipe are as good as any you buy. They also can be eaten straight away or I have also kept some of these jars sealed and they have lasted the distance and stayed crunchy many months later. In Alton's recipe he uses champagne and cider vinegar. I used all cider vinegar but also - because I was making these a lot - I used rice wine vinegar and any other vinegar we had in the house!

By the end of the cucumber season, the whole bottom shelf of the fridge and some of the preserving shelf was full of pickles! This may be more than we can eat before next season. We may have over pickled.

5 Favourite Sights Seen

  • 1996 Watching tropical lightning turn night to day, outside a little wooden church in a small village in Sabah.
  • 2004 Flying down the Rainbow Valley at 8000ft in a cessna on a clear blue day.
  • 2003 Seeing and hearing Michael Schmacher rolling out of the pit garage in his Ferrari in Hungary.
  • 2009 Chancing upon 100 or more dolphins just off the Kaikoura Coast swimming around, jumping out of the water, doing somersaults and generally having fun.
  • 2006 Finding a pool at the bottom of a waterfall in the bush at Kaikoura that was full of playing baby seals.