What do you do when life hands you lots of lemons – and grape leaves? Make dolmades!
After a Christmas heatwave followed by MORE heavy rain, the conditions are set for rampant growth – of fruit, veg, plants in general – and everything fungal. Again. So, while some of the grapes have downy mildew and the lemon tree is so loaded that it’s drooping under the weight of its engorged fruit, we also have the key ingredients for some really yummy party food. There are so many good recipes on the internet I’ll let you choose your own, but here’s how our vegetarian dolmades worked out. It’s the first time I’ve done them in a slow cooker, and I recommend it if you’re nervous about them burning, unwrapping or splitting during cooking, as it’s so gentle. Only don’t start it late in the afternoon like I did, unless you’re staying up to see the new year in.
What else needs to be harvested? Strawberries, mulberries, cape gooseberries and raspberries – daily as they ripen. Apricots, nectarines, peacharines and cherries before they split from sudden swelling with the late rain – get that Vacola going to preserve as much as you can, or dry them and store in sealed bags or jars to exclude moths. Some growers have missed out on stone fruit this year, depending on location and timing of blossom – if you have varieties that bloomed during the wet, overcast weather of September, the bees in your patch may have just stayed in bed with a nice cup of tea that week. Pick beans daily too, so they keep producing.
The heavy rains have ensured deep soil moisture for months to come – but this doesn’t mean you can set and forget those raised beds and pots, which will dry out much more quickly. Particularly keep up regular watering for seeds and young seedlings.
Plant: basil, beans, beetroot, start broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts from seed in sheltered punnets; carrots, chives, corn, cucumbers, spring onions, squash/zucchini, lettuces in part shade (keep seed and tiny seedlings really moist), mint (cuttings), parsnip, radish, rocket, silverbeet, tatsoi and mizuna, tomatoes.
Keep adding a few seeds or seedlings wherever you remove mature veg or herbs. If you have planted seeds thickly in spring, remember to thin out the plants as they grow, allowing enough room for their mature size. If you don’t do this, the plants can’t reach their full potential.
Subtropical trees may have put on a spurt of growth but protect this new growth from sunburn and drying winds. Mangoes and limes have set fruit. Thin out if there are too many clustered together starting to weigh down branches.
Continue netting fruit trees and vines to protect fruits that attract lorikeets and noisy miners, e.g. stone fruits, apples, grapes. Our trees are mostly of mature size and have put on excessive top growth thanks to the spring rain. This new growth won’t bear fruit until next year and since it’s so tall I’ll be pruning it off later anyway. So I bend the flexible top branches over and tie them together with string. This makes it easier to slide the net over the tree, and gives the fruit a little extra shade. Pruning the branches to fit the tree into a smaller net is a trap – nets snag too easily on the sharpened branches. Save the pruning for after harvest. Holes in nets can be repaired by stitching up with string. If you have room to drive strong stakes in next the trees and arch some polypipe over the canopy, this can provide a framework to slide the net over. Whichever approach you take, I think it’s the one garden job that demands a strong coffee first.
Stake or support tomatoes and tall capsicum and eggplant. Trim out laterals on tall staking tomatoes. For bush varieties, use a tomato cage or weave taller varieties into a sheet of mesh to keep them off the damp ground.
Grapes, zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins are prone to downy mildew in this humidity. If you wish to prevent this, use milk spray (full cream milk 1:10 with water) on both sides of leaves at the first sign.
So, with some cooler, partly overcast days upon us and the soil well soaked, I feel like a gardener who is truly on holidays. But the shadecloth is ready to protect those vegies should another heatwave sneak up on me, and every few days there’s a little more snipping and securing new growth in case of more strong winds.
Enjoy your dolmades, and happy gardening in 2017!