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horace_hamster
I love my potager: a fenced chicken-proof, rabbit-proof, dog-proof garden about 20 feet by 30 feet (7 metres by 10 metres) with beds laid out in a geometric pattern and lined with untreated hardwood sleepers (the equivalent of railroad ties, only without the creosote). It takes minimal work to weed, as I keep it very thickly underplanted with herbs, spring onions, lettuces, etc, and it's super productive. As this is my first season, it's been a learning experience. My lessons have included:

1. Do not plant snow peas up the fence where the peach tree is. Because snow peas look an awful lot like peach tree leaves. It's a bugger trying to find them. Also, snow peas will grow to more than three metres in height. Crikey! But people LOVE them, so it's never any trouble finding grateful recipients.

2. The colourful gourmet varieties of veggies are sometimes as productive than the 'normal' variety -- and sometimes not. Rainbow silverbeet/swiss chard, yep! It's well worth the packet of seeds to have all those lovely leaves and stems in such an array of vibrant, jeweled tones. Purple podded peas are far less productive than the normal sugar snap peas, so other than the novelty of the colour they're probably not worth the space. But heirloom tomatoes are as productive as the 'supermarket' varieties, and they taste soooooo much better that we only grow the heirlooms now.

3. Speaking of tomatoes: If you have a rectangular garden (as I do) with a bench at the front where you can sit and admire your lovely garden, don't put tomatoes in the front row. They get massively huge and block the view.

4. The stems from the leaves of pumpkin plants, peeled to remove the bristly bits, are really a lovely vegetable to add to stir fries, curries, etc. Cut the stems of medium sized leaves (the little ones aren't worth the trouble, and the huge ones are tough and scarred). Cut off the leaf. Peel the stems the way you would string beans or celery. (Put the strings out in the garden somewhere for the sparrows to use in nest making). Chop the peeled stems into about 1 inch pieces, and voila! They cook quickly and have a mild taste somewhere between pumpkin and beans. You can also chop, cook, and eat the little tender leaves at the very tips of the vines. (I learnt this from my Indian/Pakistani/Nigerian colleagues.)

5. Also, pumpkins take over the planet. One plant can take up a house-sized area. I, um, put in about fifty plants. Oops. They're even growing wild in the paddock: oddly, the cows won't eat the plants, though they will eat the pumpkins themselves.

6. Growing beans for drying (e.g. kidney beans) is easy, and you really do get a fair few, so if you use them it's probably worth taking up some space in the garden. You don't pick them regularly the way you do green beans, butter beans, runner beans; you let them dry on the plant. But each plant ends up producing about 40 bean-seeds, so it only takes a few plants to make a meal.

7. Speaking of beans: the weather has been very bean-friendly this year, and I'm starting to think maybe, just maybe, I planted too many. We've had beans with every meal, I've frozen down enough for about another hundred meals, and I've given away sackfuls of them to everyone and anyone. And still they're going strong. You do have to pick them every day or two, to keep them producing (and to keep them from turning from weenie-beans to oversized inedible monsters), and each day I get half a bucketful. Wow. I'm mightily sick of beans. Maybe planting green beans, dutch heritage beans, yellow runner beans, purple bush beans, and scarlet runner beans was....overkill.

8. No matter how many sugar snap peas you plant, you'll never get enough to freeze down. And they get powdery mildew when the weather turns hot. I'll need to try them again in autumn/winter.

9. I already knew the lesson about how one or two zucchini/courgette plants will produce enough to feed half the country, and you just bloody can't give them away. However, I've found that it's easy to just cube them and freeze them, and in winter they make a nice addition to a mixed steamed vegetable dish, curry, or soup.

10. Broad beans/lima beans/fava beans are only edible if you peel the skins off each one after you've shelled them, even if they're teeny weeny young. That skin is bitter! But the insides are really quite nice; it's the first time I've ever liked this kind of bean. Plus, they make a fabulous base for pesto instead of using nuts (which are madly expensive here). Peeled broad beans, garlic, basil, parsley, and oil, put into a blender (or zippyzappyequivalent; lemon juice optional), and you have a super fab pesto to go on pasta or pretty much anything. I like making meals where everything is produced on our property, so this fits the bill as I don't have walnut or pine nut trees.