Following the hail havoc, it is time for a diversion, time for a giveaway.
For some years, well-known garden experts David Young and Mark Carmody put together the questions for a gardening mid-winter trivia night held in the Albert Hall by The Horticultural Society of Canberra. Around the year 2000 when Robert Boden and I were asked to join the team, there were up to 120 guests.
The Gardener's Quiz and Puzzle Book (Exisle Publishing, $29.95) includes 100 brainteasers to ensnare any gardeners who think they know their onions. The authors are Simon Akeroyd, a former garden manager for the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK and author of the RHS Allotment Handbook & Planner and Dr Gareth Moore, a puzzle expert. Anagrams, plants from novels, botanical beverages, a bit of Latin are accompanied by charming illustrations.
We also have a copy of This Chicken Life (Plum, $32.99) by author, cabaret director and teacher Fiona Scott-Norman and photographer Ilana Rose. The book was reviewed in The Canberra Times (November 24, 2019) with joyful clucking by Sally Pryor. Among lots of interesting chicken carers are Canberran Ingrid Jaugietis, with 12hens and two Pekin roosters King Henry and Prince Louis. A chapter in the book is devoted to naming your grown up chickens and suggests keeping to a theme, it's tricky.
To win, here is the question: What should I call a "new" tomato variety which has arisen in my garden?
Answers and reasons with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org
Late each spring I buy two tomato seedlings for the coming season, always varieties I have not grown previously as a personal quest to find the best. During September a tomato popped up in a pot of homemade compost and I broke my own rules, potted it up and gave the plant its head. Vigorous, rugged, more than two metres tall, with dark green foliage and laden with chunky trusses of cherry sized fruit (still ripening).
Realising it was not progeny from last year's favourite Sweetbite, in early December I went to the Heritage Nursery in Yarralumla to purchase a seedling Sweetbite from Oasis. It is tall and needed staking but is far more delicate than my mystery plant, with lighter-coloured, less-pointed leaves.
Professor Jim Fox of Red Hill says the fruit on his Sweetbite is so much better and sweeter than store-bought cherry tomatoes. Protected under the eaves, mine were still cropping in May last year and, growing in pots next to a window, you can watch the bees at close range, supping on the flowers.
Unfortunately this season, I can also see aphid attack and caterpillar destruction on the older foliage so have just sprayed with Yates Nature's Way pyrethrin and canola oil, an organic product.
Tigerella tomatoes grown by Alan Robertson in an O'Connor plot have produced twins (Tiger and Ella) and also conjoined triplets. Have other kitchen gardeners had this experience with any tomato varieties?
Meanwhile, I have been pondering. If smoke can taint the flavour of grapes just before harvest, can smoke also taint the skin or flesh of tomatoes?
Our Christmas Kitchen Garden column featured musician Dr Jennifer Gall of Watson whose recipe for Dynamite Soup we saved for the tomato season. She says it is best on really hot days, served chilled but the soup can also be served hot. The name of the soup came about when Jennifer made it for friends years ago in Cornwall in an attempt to serve something Australian. She misjudged the quantities of chilli and they all fell about gasping in hysterical laughter so a friend gave the dynamic name to the soup.
Orange and dynamite soup
10 juicy oranges, juiced *
the rind of one orange, finely grated
10 large flavoursome tomatoes, chipped
4-6 chillies, chopped finely (depending on your taste for heat)
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
fresh ginger to taste
a small bunch of watercress
Place the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and tomatoes in a food processor or blender and puree (if you are feeding someone who is sensitive to raw onion or garlic, you can pan fry these in butter before adding to the mixture for pureeing). Tip the liquid into a large tureen. Add the orange juice and zest and stir together. The watercress can be added as a garnish or you can add it to the pureee mixture for a nice variation. Refrigerate.
*You could substitute 1.5 litres of high quality pulp orange juice from the Canberra EPIC produce market.