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My gardening year in review: the first annual PolyVegg Garden Awards

Carpobrotus glaucescens (Eastern Pigface)
First up I gotta say that this year I got myself a garden. Like some toddler struggling to walk for the first time, this year my garden became a garden that had ecology on its side.

There were worms in the dirt. Green things grew. Some even took off.

So this year was the year of the greens.

Best Green of the Year  Award, 2014

Much as I appreciate the capacity for Kale to play the celebrity and be a popular market stall standard (green smoothies indeed!), this year the prize for best green goes to Warrigal Greens.

While I love eating Warrigal Greens and find them very versatile in a spinach and silver beet sort of culinary way, they also grow ever so well in my all-the-way-down sandy -- beach nearby -- soil. It's manna from heaven. Easy care with a garden bed rambling habit.
Possible New Years resolution: write the Warrigal Green Cook Book....

Stunner of the Year Award: Sunflowers

There's no competition here: Sunflowers. Sunflowers took my garden skywards   to shine on high like Alice's Wonderland. They made the veg patch mesmerising to look at. They cast shade and glorified the dirt.

Hereafter, my garden is going to be a living, shimmering sea of yellow dedicated to Van Goth's missing ear.I'll just keep throwing sunflower seeds, of as many kinds a I can find, at it.

Mind you, harvesting the seeds ahead of the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos is a hard ask. How do they do it? How do they know that a la carte parrot food is on the table?

Surprise of the Year: Potatoes

I've seldom grown spuds before but this year I became enamoured with South Pacific mound gardening practices and planted out some seed spuds...in some serious looking mounds. It was a little late in the planting norm to do so, but within two months I  got myself a feed and I've been harvesting delicious 'new' potatoes ever since.

What an abundance! No other crop has been so giving for the space and lack of attention. So here at the PolyVegg backyard garden, the every day spud is also the tuber of the year.

Greatest Disappointment of the Year: Sweet Potatoes

After growing a  4 metre long patch of sweet potatoes for a year, when I came to harvest, I got not one edible sized  tuber.

Not one!

I had harvested leaves for stir fries and such -- but underneath: zilch.

Aside from the sandy soil issue, the aetiology no doubt rests with the drought. Sweet potatoes need more water than I was able to give them. Obviously a lot more water/ a lot more love.

I will persist because last year was good -- OK at least -- in the tuber business underneath. And I do like sweet potatoes.

Fruit of thy Loins the Year

This is definitely the year of the succulent. Ye olde standard dry weather plant and the sort of tucker  we may have to all get used to in a hotter, dryer  region. Despite my growing conditions, indeed, because of them, I found I could cultivate Dragon Fruit. Most other fruits -- aside from citrus, passionfruit  and mulberries -- suffer in my soil because there ain't much down there to root for. I may be fig hopeful, but in the meantime it's nice to know that the Dragon Fruit cactus feels at home enough to produce. 

So succulents rule...

Discovering of the Year in Review: Pigface

The humble beach strewn pigface is a surprising plant. As a ground cover it takes off wherever I embed any hacked off cutting.It then grows and grows and GROWS....!

A carpet of succulent greenery with flowers on offer. It's a torturous jungle with stems overreaching each other to go places. The irony is that in its reach out activities, it seldom drops roots and even these are shallow and loosely anchored. Invasive you could not call it.

It's a benign occupation.

I was watching my pigface ramble all about as I played God and snipped bits off to transplant when it struck me that pigface was sure to be my best of all possible living mulches. It is so easy to contain and control it. Just break off bits here and there between your fingers.

So in the garden beds this is the plan: wall to wall pigface. And get this:
Pigface can be chopped up with a spade and dug into the ground. This works sort of like water storage crystals and reduces hydrophobia (water repellency) in sandy soils.
Talk about all my Christmases coming at once! What a great 'dig-in' mulch option!

The other great thing about pigface is that the southern native pigface, Carpobrotus rossii, is, like Warrigal Greens, a potentially popular bush tucker ingredient. It often goes by the indigenous name, KarkallaSnowy River Station is shipping loads of the leaves by plane each week to the Netherlands! The market term is 'Beach Banana' and it fetches upwards of $50 per kilogram!. 

 I'm not yet enamoured with the taste when raw, but the fruits are really tasty.

Looking towards the year ahead:tasks and perspectives, hopes and possibilities

This succulency has turned my head from a ready reliance on standard annuals and in celebrating the the engorged leaf plants, my attention has been drawn to two novel possibilities: Samphire and Purslane.

Samphire may not thrive or even grow this far north...as the preferred edible species is Rock Samphire, Crithmum maritimum, whose ancestral home is the British Isles. But I'm trying to grow it.
There are similar 'samphires' in Australia but I've yet to explore the botanics.
I'm more hopeful with my embrace of PurslanePortulaca oleracea  which is a feature of Turkish cuisine --and I love to cook Turkish. The Portulacas thrive in my garden usually in weed form. When they have a mind to, Sun Jewels Portulaca grandiflora take off . So I'm planting out Purslane, like the Pigface, as a ground cover which is also very edible.

I  have many other experiments in train -- all with exotic names, most arfe not common in our menu -- but they are for now, only working hypotheses. It remains to be seen if they thrive in my conditions.

What will grow is Katuk  -- last year's star veg and garden winner. My ongoing passion is to turn my space into a Katuk forest -- hedges  of the stuff every which way. 

Such an option is in train...but for now I'm imagining a very different garden to the one that occupied my mind's eye a year ago.


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