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Kitchen Garden: Meet Canberra's queen of strawberries

Annette Bunfield is the Canberra queen of strawberries.  She started in 2013 with just 20 plants, purchased from Bunnings and branded as 'Nellie Kelly' variety. Now she has about 250 plants which were all started from runners. Last year she harvested 41 kilograms of strawberries.

From late October Annette tends to cut off the runners from the plants to direct the energy to the fruit. From late December, for a month, when there is a lull in fruit production, she allows the runners to grow and starts new plants from those runners. When fruit production picks up again in February, she cuts off the runners again.

Strawberry plants are only productive for about three years, so they should then be replaced with new plants.  Any extra runners grown by Annette are used as trade items with Facebook members on Barter Economy or Urban Homesteading or donated to a school fete. 

Most of the strawberry plants are grown beside white picket fences. Annette has used a variety of vertical layered tubs for the plants but her latest acquisition is her favourite, Stack-a-Pots mega tubs four layers high, purchased online.  They have an internal water reservoir and can also be used for herbs.

Annette has lived in Canberra all her life. She and her husband, John Bunfield, moved into their house in Wanniassa 40 years ago.  During her recovery from health issues in 2012 they started a vegie patch to make ends meet and to live a healthier lifestyle.

The garden is divided into a number of areas and the kitchen garden is bountiful thanks to sturdy timber raised beds built by John who does the 'donkey work'.  Annette has three oval compost bins which are turned by a handle and were purchased at Bunnings. At the height of summer, the compost is ready for use in six weeks.

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The soil in the Bunfield garden has peat moss or coconut coir and vermiculite added to the mix which makes the soil light and fluffy and it retains water.  Rows of tomatoes, basil, zucchini, corn, leeks, celery, dark oak leaf lettuces, capsicum, chillies, paprika and beans are producing huge crops. To grow cucumbers successfully, Annette uses a metal climbing frame for each plant with a second inverted climbing frame cable tied on top.  This means the cucumbers dangle at shoulder height and do not rot and last season, Annette harvested 76kgs from seven plants..

Berries are grown in pots placed close to the house walls. There are blueberries, marionberry, tayberry, sylvanberry, kiwiberry, youngberry, loganberry, raspberry, blackberry and jostaberry plants. There are three fig trees in large pots along the driveway. By coincidence one of them was traded for chilli seedlings on Barter Economy with a self-rooting branch from the magnificent fig tree seen in last week's Kitchen Garden of Samantha Walker in Braddon.

During last September/October Annette gave away 600 seedlings of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants and cucumbers. She knew the number because they used up all the home-printed labels she had made. Annette is very organised and ponders whether she has morphed into Martha Stewart.

Annette is a keen cook and makes just about everything from scratch to share with family and friends and any excess is used as trade items with other Facebook members.  Her most popular items are pickled cucumbers or zucchini  and sweet zucchini relish and, in her second pantry, there is a wall storage system of shelves filled with jars of them. Last year she went through 315 jars for all her homemade goodies and, this year, she is up to 642 jars.

Her dried celery powder is made by harvesting the stalks and leaves, chopping them into 1cm pieces, putting them in a dehydrator (she has four) for eight hours or overnight.  The dried celery is then blitzed to a powder in a Nutribullet and used in casseroles and stir fries.  Her tomato powder (skin left on the tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are best) is used for pizzas, spag bol and Mexican quesadillas 

She also makes birthday and Christmas gift hampers and includes tomato relish and chutney, homegrown fruit jams, fruit syrups, and homemade spice mixes. I felt like a Masterchef taster when given samples of sweet and sour strawberries (recipe follows), chutneys, relishes and homemade yoghurt.

Annette has shown a dozen people how to make the yoghurt and shared the recipe with 40 others, using Danone yoghurt as the base. The trick is to drain the whey for 24 hours through a flour sack cloth (from the USA via eBay and better than cheese cloth). The whey is poured onto potted plants as a tonic.

Sweet and sour strawberries

1 punnet of strawberries

half cup sour cream (stirred)

one-third cup soft brown sugar

Wash but do not hull strawberries. Place each ingredient into a separate bowl. Hold each strawberry by the stem (or with a fork) and dip strawberries into sour cream to coat liberally. Roll coated strawberries in brown sugar until well coated.