From tiny seeds to an epicurean's backyard

George Moustakas might run a bottle shop, but his passion is clearly vegie gardening. Outside his George's Liquor Stable in Phillip, he has racks of potted snowpeas, broccolini and chillies for sale. His wife, Irene Moustakas, took me to a huge sun-drenched area out the back filled with pots of vegetables.

Moustakas was raised on Kimolos, a small Greek island (the name means chalk) of 300 people, where he says eggs, cheese and other food was exchanged among neighbours. He came to Canberra in 1966 and among places where he has worked as a chef are the Canberra Rex, Hotel Canberra, Hellenic Club and Ainslie Football Club. He has lived in Garran since 1988, where he has a large persimmon tree in the front garden, netted to protect the huge crop from birds. An orange tree in fruit and a mandarin tree get reflected warmth from a wall of the house. Lining the front steps are pots of chillies laden with yellow, orange and red fruit. Moustakas preserves young yellow chillies in wine vinegar and salt, and the mature red chillies in olive oil.

The backyard is a Mediterranean diet in a garden. As he says, "I grow everything." Corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and snowpeas jostle for space, four broccolini plants feed the family, and a large coop for six chooks and four ducks is shaded by a magnificent fig tree and a passionfruit vine. The green figs, which are ripe and luscious claret red inside, are the best-tasting figs I have eaten. Maybe the manure from the birds does the trick, although Moustakas also adds cow and sheep manure to enrich his soil. The hens produce 10 eggs a day with brown-speckled shells and golden yolks. These are perfect Easter eggs.

Tomato competition

We received a big response from home gardeners in our tomato competition. Many readers reported good tomatoes later in the season than usual - in February and March, but also disappointment with some varieties, and problems with splitting in the heavy rain.

It was Barry Telford, of Deakin, who led us to George Moustakas. Telford has lived in Canberra for 40 years but is a first-time vegetable gardener this year. As a novice, he planted a whole packet of basil seeds and has an enormous crop for pesto and the neighbours. Telford also bought tomato seedlings of unknown variety from George's Liquor Stable, grown from seeds from Moustakas's Italian friend, which produced excellent red and green variegated tomatoes.

John Simpson grew rouge de marmande seedlings that need little tethering and have done well. He netted the plants to stop attacks from European blackbirds.

Brian Chauncy says his bragger tomatoes from Magnet Mart produced his best crop for some time. Michael McKenna, of Wanniassa, grew apollo tomatoes, which split after rain, and sweet bite cherry tomatoes, which were prolific but tiny.

Lyn Philipson, of Narrabundah, says her tomatoes, tommy toe, roma, rouge de marmande and grosse lisse, from the Canberra Institute of Technology spring plant sale and school fetes, combined disaster and perfection.

Juliet Reeve, of Dunlop, says the tommy toe tomatoes she tried to grow from a seed-raising package were pathetic. Paulene McCalman has bountiful crops of yellow drop and yellow pear tomatoes.

Favourite picnic spots nominated by readers included Molonglo Gorge, the Carillon at sunset, the Cotter Avenue Recreation Area, Point Hut Crossing, Yarralumla Bay Nara Park, inlets on Black Mountain peninsula, and the botanic gardens.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.

The story From tiny seeds to an epicurean's backyard first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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