May Garden Guide

In this edition…

  • IMG_20180418_090252.jpgHot and smokin’: Multi-functioning the pizza oven – turning the chilli harvest into chipotle seasoning; making pizzas (hey, who would have thought?); and overnight baked beans.
  • When shading isn’t shading: using shadecloth to capture light for subtropical fruit trees.
  • Preparing for winter (when we haven’t had an autumn): what to plant and what the garden needs right now.
  • All school holidayed out? One last thing to do in the garden with the kids.

Hot and smokin’… Three ways to make the most of a wood-fired oven

blazing basilI have to admit our pizza oven was a mighty big project to build and sometimes we don’t make quite enough use of it – but this long, warm autumn has had us out making pizzas more often than usual – often an opportunity for one of our son’s school mates to spend the evening here and for the kids to have fun making their own dinner. I usually mix the dough in the morning, give it a quick knead and then let it sit in the bowl all day. Another quick knead late in the afternoon just after starting the fire, and by dinner time it’s nicely risen, soft and elastic. At dinner time we sprinkle the pizza trays lightly with dry polenta to prevent sticking, roll out the pizza bases onto the trays, and everyone adds their own toppings. If we’ve got the heat just right, each pizza will be in and out of the oven in a couple of minutes, with a perfectly crispy crust and the toppings loosely held together with the stretchy magic of mozzarella.

But – after all this mouth-watering happiness, there’s still plenty of heat left in the pizza oven and it would be a pity to let it go to waste. Sometimes we poach quinces overnight and have them warm for breakfast the next day. But the easiest thing to make after pizzas is a simple casserole that uses the leftover pizza sauce and toppings. Last week’s variation on this was baked beans and it went like this:

In a large earthenware dish (with lid), place all the leftover pizza sauce (plus extra chopped tomatoes and a few cups of stock or water), a cup of dried beans (navy beans or great northern beans are good), any chopped smallgoods, olives, anchovies, herbs, a couple of spoons of brown sugar, a good dash of worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. A bit of salami or smoked paprika will add to the lightly smoked flavour. Make sure there’s a lot more liquid than solids, as the beans take up huge amounts of water as they cook. Put the lid on and stand it on an oven rack in the pizza oven. This time the oven was still very hot an hour after pizza cooking, so I eased the casserole in with the door open over the next hour in case the poor old pot might crack. Check and stir a couple of times before bed, and top up with more water if it’s thickening rapidly. By dawn you should have warm and tender baked beans melded with all those wonderful pizza flavours, ready to enjoy on fresh toast 🙂

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This month the pizza oven has also been home to a batch of Andrew’s jalapeno chillies, that were smoked and dried to create chipotle. At times the oven was just a chamber for the smoker, allowing the chillies to absorb the smoky flavour, but after pizza making the residual heat helped to complete the drying process.

Meanwhile in the garden, we’ve moved on from apples and pears. Sweet potatoes have been dug up – now that was an easy veg crop! The persimmons have reached peak yumth, the feijoas are ripening (this is triggered by the bump when they hit the ground, they don’t always ripen fully on the tree), and our first bunch of bananas is slowly fattening, watched closely in case a strong gust of wind brings them down on the chook house! All these fruits feel like such a bonus after the main harvest of summer is over. The loquat tree is flowering for the first time too, so I’m looking forward to its fruits filling in the next fruit gap in spring. All the citrus are pumping along now – the first mandarins just ripening, to be followed soon by the oranges and limes (a bit later this year), while lemons just keep on lemoning month after month. The passionfruit vine is loaded but taking its time to ripen.

The recent bit of rain has revived all the perennials that were suffering and wilted after months of dryness. So here’s what we’re up to next…

When shading isn’t shading: In the back garden, behind the chook enclosure, we have a strip of raised garden along the back fence. This patch faces north, which would be good for winter sun, except that the chook house largely overshadows it at ground level. It’s where I’ve planted many of our subtropical trees (avocados, limes, banana and cherimoya, which is a kind of custard apple). They have been covered with a bit of old green shadecloth up till now, and we’re in the process of replacing this with 50% white shadecloth. This serves several purposes. In summer it reduces radiant heat so the leaves don’t get scorched, and also helps to trap humidity around the trees. In winter, when the area is more overshadowed, light shadecloth can catch any direct sun that hits it and diffuse it to the area below (sounds back to front, but notice the soft light under a polycarbonate pergola on the south of a house in winter). The enclosed area is also much more protected from cold winter winds – and frost, if that was an issue here. In short, a special little microclimate is created. The only downside is the constant dust from the chooks’ digging, which coats the trees’ leaves – so they appreciate an occasional rinse down.

Preparing for winter (when we haven’t had an autumn)

It’s time to refresh the vegetable garden with manure and/or blood and bone, and to plant broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, coriander, dill, endive, fennel, garlic, spring onions, kale, lettuces, corn salad (mache), mizuna, mustard, onions, pak choi, peas, radiccio, radishes, rocket, spinach, swede and turnip.

If your veg beds, like ours, have suffered from the lack of rain and become water repellent in recent months (i.e. the water beads and runs off instead of soaking in), they might need a bit of extra help in the form of a wetting agent and/or some clay (bentonite clay is especially good), dug through while still dry, to help water bind to the soil particles. Soils that are high in organic matter are particularly vulnerable to becoming water repellent when they are allowed to dry out. (Guilty! More on our soil reconditioning next month.) If beds are low in organic matter another option is to plant a green manure crop over the winter, such as broad beans or grains, to chop down and dig in before they seed, in preparation for spring vegetable sowing.

Garlic is worth a post all of its own, and Milkwood has made just the thing for us – thanks!

All school holidayed out? One last thing to do in the garden with the kids – make a snowpea teepee. Millie Ross’s ‘planty shanty‘ approach is great. Use any climbing peas in the cooler months (snowpeas are my favourite – beautiful and delicious to pick every day for months – or use sweet peas for flowers instead), and in the warmer months try climbing beans. If you have lots of bamboo, you could build a teepee with poles around the perimeter, instead of the strings leading to one central pole, but with either approach it’s worth adding horizontal strings for the pea tendrils to cling to, as peas don’t twine their way up a vertical string the way beans do.

Next month…

  • Reconditioning the soil: After 10 years of productivity, our home garden soil has earned a treat – some lab testing and advice on setting up long-lasting fertility. Subscribe to the blog to get the next edition in your inbox.
  • New consultation & design options – and the first consultation fee increase in 3 years. (Tip: bookings for May are still at the 2015 rates, so book now.)

Community & market news…


Discussion panel last night at ‘RetroSuburbia’ book launch at Adelaide Sustainability Centre: Chris Day, Mark Parnell, Keri Chiveralls, Graham Brookman & David Holmgren

  • Adelaide Sustainability Centre at the Joinery: for upcoming events (film nights, community dinners, workshops, repair cafe, etc) see here
  • Unley Repair Cafe: fix broken household items with expert help. At Clarence Park Community Centre once a month.
  • Seacliff Community Produce Swap: on tomorrow at Kauri Pde!
  • Living Smart Hove & Warradale: if you live close to the the railway corridor in Hove & Warradale, check your letterbox this month for details of the next local Living Smart course – for resilient community building & sustainable living. Information meeting coming up soon!
  • Organic Corner Store market – Nadja’s Garden stall dates: Thursdays 9-1, May 3 & 17; June 7 & 21. Garden design, fruit trees, plants & seeds. Join Organic Corner Store Group on facebook for news from other stallholders.



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