After a burst of extreme gardening last month, this month the focus has been more on weeding and harvesting. We are now delighted to be able to harvest salad greens from our garden – this is something to be really appreciated after a year of garden deprivation. We have Lettuce Merveille des Quatre Saisons growing alongside Lettuce Rubin, with its beautiful dark red leaves. Merveille des Quatre Saisons is my all-time favourite lettuce and if I could only grow one type, this is the one I would choose without hesitation. The spinach plants are also doing well and so is the coriander. The beetroot is starting to get bigger too.
All the gardening is happening on the warm side of the house. I've moved all the pots around to the sunny side of the house and they are enjoying the difference in temperature – yesterday it was 24 degrees on the river stones in the sunshine, and still 7 degrees on the shady side of the house. That's one good thing about gardening in pots for now.....the downside is that you have to remember to water them regularly.
Surprisingly, one of my mushroom logs is fruiting again! It's definitely worth stashing your logs where you can keep an eye on them. The rest of the logs fruited about a month ago and this one bursting back into fruit was a surprise.
We've learnt something else about mushroom logs....if you have a fruiting log, make sure that you protect it from the rain while you are waiting for the mushrooms to get big enough to harvest. Last month we had a log produce a HUGE lot of mushrooms, only to see them all turn to soggy mush after a shower of rain. What a disappointment!
So this mushroom log has been moved to the back deck under cover of the eaves until we have harvested these mushrooms.
After digging generous amounts of horse dung into my garden bed, I found I had a lot of weeds coming up, so with help from my eleven-year-old, we spent a pleasant morning in the sunshine one weekend, pulling out all the weeds. “Is this a weed Mum?” No, that's a Spring Onion … see the difference – it has a hollow stem – the grass is flat”. It's nice to have the children occasionally interested in the garden. We'll win them over yet! Once the whole bed had been thoroughly weeded, we planted out more spinach and beetroot seedlings, popped a few more beetroot and radish seeds here and there, and then re-mulched the garden to help suppress any more keen weeds.
The other task for which I had the children's help, was harvesting the olives. This has been an ongoing project – we picked and cured some about six weeks ago as a practice run. Well, they turned out to be so nice, that we ate/gave away that whole batch and were motivated to harvest the rest of the olives. We cured them and it was so simple, quick and easy. The olives are literally ready to eat in less than two weeks! If anyone is interested in curing their own olives, this is what we did:
Pick your olives. If you don't have a tree, check out the neighbourhood and see if anyone else has one. Olives trees are so pretty and decorative that a lot of people grow them. Not many people know how to cure the olives, so a neighbour might be delighted to let you pick some of their olives in exchange for a couple of jars of cured olives later on.
Pick over the olives and remove stems and stalks, and discard any damaged olives.
Make up a lye solution. You can buy Sodium Hydroxide (lye) at soap-making suppliers. You will only need a tiny amount, but you can use the rest to make soap!
Measure 4 litres of water into a glass, plastic, or stainless steel container. Don't use aluminium. Wearing protective gloves, measure out 3 Tablespoons of sodium hydroxide, add it to the water and stir to dissolve. (Always add the sodium hydroxide to the water, and not the other way around, so that your reaction is not explosive). If you don't need 4 litres of solution because you are just curing a few olives, you can scale the quantities down.
Add the olives to the lye solution. If they float, weigh them down with a plate or something that will keep them under the surface of the solution. (Mine always sank by themselves, so I didn't have to do this.)
Leave the olives in the solution for just 12 hours. You will see a tannin-colour leaching out of the olives – the lye solution will be seeping into the olives, breaking the bonds of the bitter oleuropein molecules, which then exit the olive and go into the water. After 12 hours, drain the olives and place them in clean, cold water immediately.
For the next 2-3 days, replace the cold water regularly until the water is no longer becoming discoloured.
Make up a brine solution: ¾ C of good quality salt (not iodised and with no free-flow agent) in 4 litres of water. Soak the olives in this brine solution for one week.
After the week, drain the olives (discard the brine solution) and rinse. Make up a stronger brine: 1 cup of salt to 4 litres of water. Place the olives in clean jars. You can add some following herbs and spices to the jars in various combinations:
My three favourite additives: bay leaves, plenty of rosemary sprigs, wide strips of lemon rind
Other things I added were: garlic cloves, star anise, yellow mustard seeds, peppercorns, thyme sprigs, dried dill leaf, dill seed and coriander seed
Once the jars are full of olives, you can either fill them up with the fresh brine solution, or, if you like a vinegary tang as I do, mix 400 ml of the fresh brine solution with 100ml of red wine vinegar and pour this mixture over the olives until the jar is full. Then pop on the lid and store in the refrigerator. They are ready to eat straight away but if you can wait a week at least, it will give time for the flavours to get into the olives.
It takes longer to type this out than to do it! It might not be too late for you to harvest your olives....check out your local trees....I just did a final bottling yesterday.
All the flowers-in-pots are doing well .... when I went out to take photographs for this blog post, I found that the first daffodil bulb has sprouted!
A lot of our gardening jobs will be on hold for the next little while as we complete a building project. I'm looking forward to the beetroot being big enough to harvest.
The next important task will be to give my poor standard Bay Tree some love, attention and new potting mix! This poor little tree has been giving me bay leaves for years without ever being re-potted - this job is long overdue, poor little tree!