The edible garden is behaving strangely this year: sweet corn - usually stunted - is skyrocketing (in 2 beds!) and in an adjacent bed the tomatoes - all of them - are near death, limp and miserable. And we've been watering more than usual, filling up the gravity tank from the dam a couple of times already. What's going on?
Well, I think it's the Warrigal greens (Tetragonia) under the tomatoes, leaping and pirouetting with glee, absorbing every skerrick of water and nutrient to be found. It's a plant I generally like, hardy, fast growing, and the hens just love the flavour - although I don't use it much in the kitchen. (A friend makes a dip with it and I should try making it.) But how I wish it wouldn't self-sow quite so much, or take over quite so well. And now: out-compete the tomatoes, too. That's a step too far.
We take tomatoes seriously in our family. Not quite `Looking for Alibrandi' - serious (alas), but serious never-the-less. I've been listening to my family joke for years about who has grown the first tomato of the season; who has picked one before Christmas (in a good year)...and my brother-in-law makes a very nice tomato sauce, too. In cool-temperate Emerald, Mum loved to be the first, potting up little tomato seedlings early and popping them in her glasshouse to give her the edge. (I was a very young gardener when we first visited WA and met a couple from Perth who told me - and I was incredulous - that their tomato season finished before Christmas.)
Here we are in January with barely a green tomato. Oh, the shame. So out I go to pluck out every Warrigal green from the tomato plot (flinging them to the appreciative hens), and water and mulch heavily and maybe feed, too. The henhouse floor needs cleaning...there's my mulch and feed in one foul (sorry) swoop.
The beans are growing like Jack's fabled vines with purple pods which are easy to see - and find - when they're young and delicious. Am I alone in finding the alchemy of deep amethyst to jade when cooking disappointing?
The courgettes are small and sweet but the odd zucchini gets missed completely and turns into a marrow - which the hens devour. I love the sense of no waste. A friend has many plants - just for the flowers, for stuffing and frying; decadent; the joys of a large country garden. (Once you have the edible garden bug, you just want the garden bigger and bigger.)
I need to look after the sweet corn. Bush rats come into the garden and devour the delicious cobs most years. Some sort of wire, or fly-wire, around each cob is probably required...I think I'll bring out my ultrasonic possum deterrent gadgets instead; much less work! I hope they'll do the trick.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)