Boxes and Bounty

As a gardening experiment last month, I made a few wicking boxes for my front balcony. It faces east, across the River Derwent and while the view is lovely, it gets all the morning sun and can be quite windy. This time of year, we can’t walk on the concrete in bare feet before 2pm! I’ve grown salad greens in containers out there since I moved in, over six years ago but it’s a lot of work and difficult keeping water up to them with baking sun and drying winds.

IMG_20151215_102432I started out buying two food grade plastic crates from my local hardware store (I think they were 23 litre size), the kind that are often used as recycling boxes. All other materials were either recycled or things I had on hand.

Old hose was spiked with holes and laid in the bottom, with the refill end slotted into a length of larger diameter poly pipe to make it easier to pour water into. It looks pretty ugly but it works!

Next, I put a layer of gravel over the hose, making sure the refill end IMG_20151215_102947didn’t get buried as you can see in the photo. By the way, this gravel wouldn’t be my ideal but it was sitting in a pile begging to be used up and there was just enough to do all the boxes ūüôā

At the top of the gravel, I carefully drilled a small overflow hole diagonally opposite the refill hose. This means water won’t build up and start getting smelly and the plants won’t rot in overly wet soil.

IMG_20151215_103048Next, I covered the gravel with some old tea towels that weren’t really wonderful for wiping dishes anymore. They allow the water to pass through but not the soil. Eventually, they will rot away and I’ll have to replace them but it was good to recycle them. Old shade cloth would be ideal if you have it.

At this stage, I put a thin layer of good quality potting mix over the top, and I recommend not cutting any corners with this. The better the soil, the better the plants! I mixed well rotted sheep poo and plenty of mushroom compost in large bucket and worked this through layers of potting mix until the box was fairly full. The result was a friable, rich mix, perfect for quick growing summer salad veggies.

I made sure the soil was damp before planting out the first seedlings and watered them overhead for the first couple of days, until the water reservoir started to do its thing. I ended up doing eight boxes in total and crammed in fast growing Pak Choi, Portulaca, Red Amaranth, Grumolo Verde Chicory, Garland Chrysanthemum and even Silverbeet. The results have been fabulous


The pic above was taken 15th December 2015 and the pic below a month later, the 14th January 2016. The results have been incredibly successful and I’m only having to refill the reservoir¬†about once every three or four days instead of overhead watering morning and night. Despite the fact salad is my favourite meal of the day, I can barely keep up with the amount of food these boxes are producing!


Do you grow vegetables in containers? What are your top tips? Please leave a comment below РI love to hear from you all! 

Shiso and Cider Vinegar – A Heavenly Match

Over the years I’ve grown quite a lot of that most wonderful annual herb, Perilla, Shiso or Beefsteak Plant. Traditionally, it’s found in Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes, and Shiso is its Japanese name.¬†In particular the green variety (Perilla frutescens) which I prefer, seems to like my greenhouse very much. The unusual aroma and flavour is a welcome addition to summer salads in my household. Flavour-wise, I think it plays a similar role to Basil in Mediterranean dishes, and it is sometimes sold as Japanese Basil. I just wash the leaves thoroughly, put them through the salad spinner and chiffonade them. We also love it as a flavouring for steamed rice and stir fries and the whole leaves for tempura.

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar

Pickling liquid and Shiso leaves in a jar


This year I’ve had a fabulous crop and I began to wonder what else I could do with it. That got me thinking about other Japanese flavours and what would happen if I started experimenting with a pickle.¬†In Japan, Green Shiso is salted and the whole leaves are layered in jars for use during the cooler months and the Red Shiso is used to make Umeboshi but I found a wonderful cucumber recipe at Food52 that I’ve adapted for my needs. I wanted to have pickled leaves I could use whole as wrappers or shred up as required and this looks like a winner!

I made this yesterday ūüôā

Refrigerator Pickled Shiso

15-20 large Shiso leaves           1/4 cup sugar                       1 tablespoon salt

3 tablespoons Mirin                1 cup Apple Cider vinegar       A clean pickle jar and lid (300-400g)

Wash the Shiso leaves carefully to remove any grit, pat dry or put through a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Lay the leaves on top of each other and very carefully roll them, feeding the entire roll into the jar. In a non-metallic mixing bowl whisk the other ingredients thoroughly until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Pour this over the Shiso leaves, close firmly and refrigerate. This will be ready to use in a few hours but will benefit from leaving for at least a couple of days. I have no idea how long the leaves will last in the refrigerator but as I use a few and make room, I plan to add some thin slices of the little cucumbers that are starting to fruit.

I confess I took a nibble this morning and it’s as wonderful as I hoped it would be. The big factor for me is the flavour of the pickling liquid, which is very similar to a dipping sauce. Also, I used some of the vinegar I made from a failed cider about three months ago and it’s pretty special just on its own! I will write a post about processing the vinegar with details and photos soon.

I’m also planning to dehydrate some of the crop, grind it and mix with a little shredded nori¬†and toasted sesame seeds to make my own furikake and I’m considering getting a fermenting jar and making Korean Gaennip Kimchee. There’s also an idea brewing in my mind about making Shiso oil, similar to the Basil oil I make relentlessly through summer. I’ll keep you posted on that ūüôā

Meanwhile, I’ve finished and submitted my assignment and I’m back to my wonderful people at OAK Tasmania tomorrow – summer holidays are over for me. But the days are still long and luscious for gardening and cooking.

Stay well and happy friends,

Debra ‚̧

Beautiful Shiso

Beautiful Shiso

More Lemons!

Things have been really busy around here!

Besides the constants of¬†plants to water and harvest in summer, there’s animals to care for and ensure they’re protected from the heat of the day and ongoing development work in the garden. And then there’s the excess – mostly eggs, raspberries and basil at this house – and what to do with them. Lots of quiche, raspberry cheesecake, cordial, basil oil and pesto for the freezer at the moment. On top of that I’ve been writing a short story for my latest university unit (yes, Griffith Uni Online know no summer holidays!) which has been really quite demanding.


Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the kitchen, I caught up with my friend Sara last week and she gave me a bag full of lemons. I was able to trade a bottle of Raspberry Vinegar Cordial, which has been threatening to take over my pantry cupboards!

Well, I had a think about what works in my household. We’re not jam or marmalade eaters but dried fruit, cordials and syrups for drinks and ice cream are very popular. So I spent the afternoon peeling lemon zest for the dehydrator and making a simple Lemon Syrup with the juice.

I confess I lost count of the lemons but it was at least 20. After peeling the zest I put it in a non-metallic bowl overnight while I dealt with the poor denuded lemons – they look awful without their beautiful skins! Here’s my recipe, it’s really easy!


Simple Lemon Syrup (makes about 6 cups)

3 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice       3 cups white sugar

Before beginning, sterilise glass jars in the oven and put their lids in a saucepan of boiling water on the back of the stove.

Next put the juice in a clean pan on medium heat with the white sugar. (I removed the pips but left some pulp in the juice Рwe like pulp). Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the syrup is ready, take a couple of jars from the oven and carefully put them on a board or heatproof mat next to the syrup pan. Ladle it into the hot jars and seal immediately.

If you want to keep the syrup for a longer period of time, I recommend processing them in a water bath (canning method) for 10 minutes so they’ll be good on the pantry shelf for about a year – if it lasts that long!


Dried Lemon Zest

This is really very simple and one of the best bonus uses for lemons you know have come from a chemical free garden. I have a dehydrator and my peelings were enough to put over three trays, lined with baking paper. In total it took about 10-12 hours to dry it all properly without cooking it. It it possible to do this in a conventional oven but it needs to be very cool.

My three large trays reduced down to a jar of wonderfully dry, aromatic peel. I’ll use this in baking, marinades and plan to crush some up fine for mixing with salt, and some with dried chillies as a herb rub.

Personally, I think it’s worth doing this just for the smell – it was heavenly!


I’ll probably put another post up in the next few days about my favourite summer herb – shiso. Meanwhile, have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

Debra ‚̧