Thursday, 23 January 2014

Weird and wonderful

One of my favourite parts of growing my own veggies is experimenting with lesser known plants that go beyond your normal standard beans, tomatoes, eggplants and chillies. Luckily for this article most of the plants I have been meaning to feature here have miraculously survived the extreme heat we have had in Melbourne last week. So here goes a list of my top unusual edibles.

Japanese Burdock.

I usually refer to this by its Japanese name 'Gobo'. I came to know this vegetable on my trips to Japan including two years living there. I got my original plant from a Japanese native, Melbourne resident and avid back yard gardener who was selling plants at the annual Box Hill Japanese Festival.

The edible part in Japan is the root. There are various methods to encourage the growth of a single straight ridiculously long tap root using poly tubes etc. But I am lazy and just grow it in a pot and work around the wonkyness of what ever grows. (Based on my experience do not attempt to grow in the ground unless you have very sandy soil or you want to excavate half the garden to get the root out). The plant is a bi-annual that dies off over winter and seeds every second year. The leaves are quite tasty and subject to attack by various pests- including large patrolling feathered variety. The leaves grow large and broad so it needs a lot of space to grow. Based on these factors I am growing them in a dedicated planter. The seeds are prickly and sticky so will end up stuck to you and your pets! (Apparently they were the inspiration for velcro!).  My main use for burdock is to saute with carrot, sesame, mirin sugar and soy sauce. It has a fantastic nutty taste.

Japanese burdock (looking a little wilted from the heat)

2. Tomatillos.  

This is my first year growing tomatillos from seed I saved from tomatillos sourced from the Gasworks Farmers markets, so I have no idea what the outcome of this experiment will be.  Wikipedia tells me you need more than one plant to germinate fruit. I have two plants that are looking fantastic. Last year I made green salsa from my purchased tomatillos.

tomatillo plants

Bitter melon. 

This is another experiment inspired by my travels in Japan, to Okinawa where 'goya' (as its known) is the national dish (Okinawa is currently politcally part of Japan- but culturally and ethnically quite different). This is my second attempt to germinate and grow goya (it needs warm weather) but in my first attempt it was too late in the year to flower and fruit. The birds killed one plant so I am sowing more seeds in case it needs cross pollination.

bitter melon seedling

Water chestnuts.  

These were gifted to me by a work colleague as a single plant/ corm last year. The plants need to be submerged during the warmer summer months and are harvested when they die back and dry off in the autumn. I am looking forward to my first harvest later year and am planning a water garden (water cress and water chestnuts) in my soon to be removed bath (renovations are about to kick off) next spring.

water chestnuts

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The tomato project- Part two 'Going Pear Shaped'

At last my first tomato for the year....

And the winner is a 'yellow pear' variety

Harvested on Tuesday 7 January- that has to be a record for tomato harvesting lateness?

This little one was harvested from one of the tomato plants I popped into an empty spot in one of the street planter boxes way back in August! I thought that would be way too early, but it seems to have worked,

The fact it was a yellow pear in that planter means something strange has definitely gone on with my seed sowing? There are little baby pear shaped tomatoes springing up everywhere! in the planters and in my back garden.

It's strange because last year I got two spindly little 'yellow pear' plants very late in the piece from our local veggie swap. They were soon swamped and over-shadowed by the standard cherry tomatoes- (I call them 'feral cherries' because they seem to spring up everywhere). All in all I must have harvested only about 3 or 4 'yellow pears' last year. One of which I kept for seed. Normally the way this works is that I take the seeds and spread them onto a piece of paper towel. I write the name of the variety on the paper towel fold it in half an put it on the window sill to dry for a few days or so. After that I pop the piece of paper with the seeds still stuck to it into an envelope, maybe with a couple of other folded up pieces. When it comes time to plant the seeds I peel each seed gently off the paper. It's amazing that so many seeds from just one tiny tomato have managed to grow and I am pretty sure they were supposed to come from the piece of paper that said regular 'feral' cherry so I am thinking that in some stage of  the process the yellow pear got mixed up with the 'feral cherry'. I am wondering even if they have cross pollinated? I will find out when the others ripen.

In other tomato news down at the community garden plot where I am testing Bek's varieties the only ones that appear to have fruit at last count were the Ned Kelly and the Big Beef. With hot weather finally on the way I am looking forward to some more tomatoes soon.