We made it! We’re past the winter solstice and the days are getting longer again. But the good news pretty much ends there, because now the proper cold sets in and only the diehard gardeners are still at it. I’ll get to what you can still plant, but first, a short rant.
Being a lazy gardener – therefore one who is much more inclined towards perennials than annuals – I have a garden that produces a lot more fruit than vegetables. The same is true of my Mum’s garden and many others that I visit. But because most trees produce a lot of fruit all at once, it is all too easy for much of it to get wasted. The great thing about winter is that fruits don’t go off too quickly in the cold (perhaps not quickly enough, if you’re keen to ferment them!) – but they can just slowly turn ugly in the fruit bowl while you’re busy dipping toast in your soup.
So I just want to take a moment to appreciate the ugly fruit, and how well it supports our family.
It’s not just my photography, these specimens truly are unattractive. Even worse if you had seen their skins all over. The grapefruit is spotty; the mandarin hiding up the back has a scungy top where it was ripped off the tree; the passionfruit has a blackening, gangrenous calyx; the persimmons are dull and crusty-headed (can anyone relate at this time of year?), the kiwi is wrinkling, and the guava, frankly, nearly went into the compost when I discovered its underside was mouldy. You wouldn’t buy fruit like that. Oh, and the pumpkin? It’s been stored on the laundry bench for months, and we’ve been chipping away at it for a couple of meals each week for the past three weeks as well as sharing it with friends – it was that big. (BTW, only two items here came from our own garden, although many others have been flowing out of it – because it’s much easier and friendlier to be cooperative than to be utterly self-sufficient.)
But here’s the silver lining – or should I say the rainbow lining. The pumpkin has made great curry, soup, roasts and vegetable bakes. The passionfruit has been combined with limes to go into muffins and water kefir and little gifts to grandparents. The kiwis are sweet, tangy, lunchboxable, and with every bite remind me of the wonderful visit I had to the couple in the hills who shared them with me – a month ago! The mandarins, even with their pips, are still the most delicious winter fruit, keeping so well on the tree that they shouldn’t see the fruit bowl at all. The grapefruit is so thick-skinned that it will keep until that one day of the year that I feel like eating grapefruit for breakfast. The guava, minus its furry bit, is an incredibly creamy, decadent dessert. And the persimmons (these are the astringent type, since we’ve finished all our sweet ones) are just approaching that perfect tough-skinned squishiness that signals blessed inner perfection and calls for a teaspoon to scoop out their sensual delights. Why, I ask you, would I leave these treasures behind and step out into the rain to tend to mopey cold vegetables?
Oh all right, have it your way. Keep on popping in broad beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, celeriac, spring onions, lettuces, kale, mustard, peas (including snowpeas and sugarsnaps), onions, potatoes, radiccio, radishes, rocket, spinach, swede and turnips. Be patient while they do battle with the frost. Give them little treats of liquid seaweed and worm wee when they look miserable. If you’re about to plant a fruit tree, refer to last month’s guide for the how-to. Me? I’m staying in the warm, with a cat on my lap, and a bowl of ugly fruit 😉
Next month – we’ll be back at the market and I’ll have a wrap-up of some of the gardens I’ve been working on this winter… see you then.
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