Monday, February 22, 2010

Butternuts on the Zero-Hour Plot

I returned from a recent three week adventure to find a complete mess. What's worse is I had to be reminded of it every day through a rain-slicked window as Sydney's wet weather cascaded into a second weekend. The Kikuyu was competing with itself for a place in the expansive canopy, in places standing almost two feet above the forest floor. It even killed off some of the dreaded pennywart, which is obviously not a rainforst plant, but will probably return with an a vengeance after the deforestation. My only regret is that I didn't think to take a photo prior to the logging, because now you probably won't believe my extreme usage of adjectives.

Armed with only a lawn mower, I pushed into the jungle a few metres and stopped. I then had to empty out the grass catcher - this was clearly going to be an ordeal. Appealing to sanity, I removed the catcher and fitted the mulcher. What I've now got is a sparse green web of runners stretching over some dirt, because the Kikuyu smartly killed all the coverage. It's a poignant reminder that potatoes don't need mowing - and lawns are, in fact, useless.

But because I don't have the taste for Kikuyu salad and obviously don't care much for lawn, let us stop talking of it. Now that I can actually see the all-too-common post-holiday ruins of the plot, its time to get in and do something about it. In parts, the lawn has been growing into the plot - and in a defiant stand against tyranny, the last-plant-standing has been out on the offensive, growing into the lawn. I'm so proud of my butternut pumpkin.

Back in September, I introduced a host of new cucurbits to the plot, in an effort to find something that grew as well as the cucumber of previous years - but kept a little longer off the plant, and was generally a little less useless to us around the kitchen. I know people make dried chips of them, but we're just not into that.

Zucchini cropped extremely well over a month or two, producing - at times - kilos a day. We use a lot of zucchini, and we've found when chopped up into rounds, it freezes quite well. The thawed product is maybe a little "mushy" (as my wife would put it), although when chopped up into stews, stir-fries and the odd bolognaise, "mushy" seems beside the point. The excess was enthusiastically accepted by friends and family. There was even the obligatory baseball-bat sized zucchini in the garden after a week's holiday at Christmas - although that same week heralded the end of the Zucchini season, with the Powdery Mildew sneaking in while my back was turned. In reality it was just as well, because my zucchini-freezer was near on full.

The buttercup (not to be mistaken for the infinitely more useful butternut) pumpkin grew well, but has been the under-achiever of the group - producing only a few runts. Pumpkin was a obvious choice for the garden, because beyond having discovered its taste isn't nearly as unacceptable as previously thought, it seems to keep for an unreasonably long and unnatural amount of time. Before leaving on my sojourn, there were four small pumpkins hiding under some seriously mildewed leaves. Their stems drying, I carefully left enough stem at its top, and cured them in the sun for a week or so. While I was away however, all of said fruit rotted, but one large specimen. That one came to an unsightly end at the vicious teeth of the local possum. And that was the end of that story.

But where my other cucurbits have fallen to the usual suspects - the Butternuts have stood-the-test. They've weathered through the wet Christmas conditions, and two recent weeks of soaking rain without succumbing to the mildew. Their skins have proven tough enough to outsmart the possums, and smooth enough to deny the evils of mold. Whats more, when turning back the leaves this week, four to five extra kilos of butternut laid in wait! Ladies & Gentlemen, I think we have an evolutionary winner, now sponsored by the Three-Hour Plot.

While it is now February, this point does logically mark the end of a year that was largely not spent in the garden. It could have been correctly described as the zero-hour plot for a while now. And with the whole shazam being in such a mess, now is the zero-hour. Luckily for the plot I have no annual leave left, and will now be giving it a lot of love. There are exciting times ahead!