To all the vegetables I’ve loved and lost …

Apologies in advance, this is a rather sad and pitiful post, detailing some of my least successful vegetable adventures of late. I think it’s important to tell the good and the bad equally, as I’m still an amateur (which is someone who does something for the love of it!) gardener, and am continuing to learn (well, hopefully!) from my mistakes, and by telling the interwebs these stories, hopefully you can learn some things the easier way (ie by reading about it) rather than the harder way that I have been doing!

Zucchini, I barely knew thee
So, I’ve documented in a previous post my aphid issues with my zucchini plants. I have an update – the poor little plants didn’t survive the multiple attempts on their lives by the aphids/ants/powdery mildew. While the aphids did reduce significantly, as did the ants, the damage appeared to be too great for the plants to actually continue their life, despite new pots and lots of encouraging looks from me!!

Poor zucchini, you tried! That's the rather healthier capsicum next to it, mocking it I'm sure!

Poor zucchini, you tried! That’s the rather healthier capsicum next to it, mocking it I’m sure!

Lessons learnt
Spot aphids early and often, and act early – I think a bit of the old soap and water spray combo might have been effective in removing the aphids in their initial stages and preventing their return, which in turn would have removed the ant attraction, and hopefully the plants could recover. I will try this later in the year when zucchini planting season comes around again.

My backyard is not a cornfield
I was excited by the idea of corn, but in hindsight, didn’t really do any research as to the most appropriate variety for backyard growing, nor the most appropriate amount of space/plants required for successful pollination. My corn plants looked impressive at all times, growing tall and proud, but unfortunately, despite all this lush foliage, they produced only about 3 of the smallest corn cobs you’re ever likely to see!! Very cute, but rather useless, and possibly not worth the effort, for me, in a pot in the backyard. Part of the issue I have discovered is that you need quite a few plants to ensure effective pollination, and I don’t think there were enough, and I don’t think I have the space/interest for the amount required. I don’t think I’ll try them again for a while, certainly not this variety, as there is a long time between planting and harvesting for such a small return – I like quick returns, people!!

Very cute, but not really the bumper crop I was expecting!

Very cute, but not really the bumper crop I was expecting!

Lessons learnt
Pick a backyard-suitable variety, invest in an acreage somewhere.
Big promise, small delivery

Big promise, small delivery

Broccoli, where art thou?
When I planted my capsicum plants in early January (which are still trying to decide whether they will survive the aphid infestation that I finally have succeeded in removing with soapy water and create capsicums), I also planted some broccoli. My Veggie Patch app is helpfully telling me to harvest said broccoli, however, the seeds never actually sprouted!! I am saddened by this, and not sure whether I should have soaked them overnight to assist in germination, or whether the seeds were a dud, or whether they didn’t like that particular pot/soil combination, or what has happened, except a distinct lack of broccoli!

Lessons learnt
Sometimes things don’t work out for inexplicable reasons, not necessarily your fault – it’s important to keep the faith and continue on despite these setbacks! See, growing vegetables can teach you important life lessons!

Future plans and some hope in the garden
I had some issues with peas and broadbeans last year, both succumbing rather early on to various forms of mildew (I think large amounts of rain at some of the early stages didn’t help!). However, I refuse to be daunted by these issues, and will plant them again on the weekend, and let you know how they go!

My bean plant is busily creating the cutest little beans – unfortunately, one by one, so not enough for a meal or even a decent-sized snack, but hey, progress is progress!!

A bean!

A bean!

My tomato plants are ignoring the onset of autumn and continuing to create little tomatoes – go you good things!

My peanut plant is dying – this is actually a good sign, when the whole thing dies, it means the peanuts are ready to harvest under the surface! Nice to know that a plant dying is not my garden incompetence, but nature’s wacky way of doing things!

So, in summary, while there have been some key setbacks in my garden of late, there is always hope, with each new season comes a new crop, and I will continue to strive and learn and share with you all!!


Freezing points

I hate waste, hence my love of recycling, composting and repurposing of things as much as possible. One of the ways I avoid waste (and also save money!) is using my freezer constantly and effectively. In my future dream life, I will have a chest freezer, so that I can store all the things, all the time! Ah, imagine the buying in bulk that could occur … Alas, our house doesn’t really have the space (and as my logical husband points out, 2 people probably don’t require it either – darn logic!!) So, instead, I try and operate a rotation system to ensure that we use everything we freeze and create space for more!!

What sort of things do we freeze?
Everything!! Ok, not everything, some things don’t like to freeze very well, ie certain fruits and veggies that are already pretty watery like cucumbers or lettuce, or liquidy dairy like milk or yoghurt but those are in the small majority, most other things freeze!! I often say if it’s not tied down I’ll freeze it – I think it’s a really good way of ensuring there are always bits and pieces on hand to use!

I freeze fruit, as you already know, particularly berries, as well as other bits of fruit to make Yonanas. I freeze baked goods, ie when I make a pile of muffins or scones, then at least half go in the freezer for later. We freeze bread – I find that bread (particularly home-baked) doesn’t last very long, only a few days, so I tend to throw the rest of the loaf in the freezer so we always have bread on hand. We also freeze meat that we’ve bought and not used, either in its packaging, or if we’ve used part of it, then in a freezer bag, with date and quantity clearly labelled! We also freeze whole meals as well as parts of meals.

I also highly recommend freezing the small bits of leftover stuff that might otherwise sit in your fridge for a couple of weeks, going bad, until you throw it out, so that you can instead use it later, as it saves money and reduces waste – we often have the best intentions when it comes to using things up, but it is better to freeze it and have it available fresh for a few more months rather than discover after a week that you still haven’t used it up and it’s gone bad. In that vein, I freeze bits of tomato paste, salsa, stock, meat, where they don’t seem big enough for a whole serve, but can come in handy combined with other things, ie often you need a little bit extra tomato paste in a soup, and that little frozen bit comes in handy! Also, I find although we use a lot of cheese in different ways, we may not use the whole block before it goes mouldy, so we have recently frozen half the block, to be used later!

I also got a tip from a fellow blogger ( freezing fresh herbs, that you can then cut off the bit you need and use in a meal like soup when making it, so I froze a bag full of our freshly grown basil for future cooking!

What do you need?
* Freezer bags – I love the sandwich size as well as the mini size with the snap-lock close, as they’re easy to use and stack.
* Plastic containers, for bigger/bulkier items, although beware this takes up more space in the freezer, so rotation becomes key!
* Permanent marker (for the labelling of the freezer bags), and labels (for the labelling of the plastic containers).

One of the things that I highly recommend is freezing things in pre-separate portions, so that they can be used as single meals for dinner or lunch without having to defrost a large amount and potentially wasting food. Anytime we cook something like pasta sauce, or pasta, or lasagne, or pies, or soup, or casseroles, or anything in the pressure cooker etc, we tend to make enough portions for 6-8 rather than just 2 – my mother has taught me well, that if you’re already cooking, it’s almost the same effort to do double as single, and then you have plenty of leftovers!! We frequently take leftovers for lunch the next day, but if we’ve got more than that, or are going to be out etc, then we will freeze them.

We freeze in two main types of containers – if the food is a fairly sizeable portion, then we’ll freeze in a plastic container, so it’s ready to just take out and take to work or use for an easy dinner.

Example of meal frozen in plastic container!

Example of meal frozen in plastic container!

If it’s something where things will be added to it, like meat for burritos/tacos, or spaghetti sauce, or burger patties, or something else needs to be done to it, like uncooked meat or sauces, then we tend to freeze them in portions in freezer bags, so they’re ready to take out and defrost and be added to the rest of the meal. Labelling is very important – I label with minimum date and contents, and also size of things like stock or sauces, so I know how much I’ve got to work with!
A staple - spaghetti bolognese sauce!

A staple – spaghetti bolognese sauce!

This looks surprisingly similar to spaghetti bolognese sauce when frozen - labelling saves lives, people!

This looks surprisingly similar to spaghetti bolognese sauce when frozen – labelling saves lives, people!

How long can you freeze things for (ie when do I need to use it?)
This is why I always label things – both with the name of the contents (you’d be amazed at how much things start to look alike when frozen, and using burrito mix instead of spaghetti bolognese sauce on your pasta, while experimental, may not be the most enjoyable experience!), and with the date that it was frozen, so I have an idea of how long something has been in there, and don’t have to rely on my memory! We try and use frozen meats and meals with meat in them within about 4-6 months. Fruit, around 6-8 months. Bread, I find it can go for almost a year. Basically, if it doesn’t seem to have freezer burn (where it looks more ice than food), or have drastically changed its appearance, I will give it a go. I also find this website helpful – it seems to be pretty accurate, and points out that most things last a lot longer than we think!

So, that’s my freezing tips – some of you may already be doing these and more, so please share your freezing tips in the comments!