February update

February 26, 2017

Well, it looks like summer is almost over and a coolish one it was. We didn’t have any days over 40º C and the ones in the 30’s didn’t drag on for days on end, but were punctuated by cooler days. Hot, northerly winds on the hot days were conspicuous by their absence. It was calm, simmering, fry-an-egg-on-the-footpath heat.

It has been the worst year for tomatoes I can remember. The cold wet spring meant I didn’t get them planted till early November and straightway they started to get blight—late or early, I can never work out which—but the lower leaves get yellow patches and brown spots and gradually that creeps up the stem leaves. This time they got some other sort of lurgi as well, where the lower leaves just went brown and shrivelled. I’ve never had that before. Luckily, the upper leaves just managed to keep ahead, but the whole lot looked very sick and sad. But at least the cherries started to ripen this month :

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I’m not drying any this year—I haven’t got enough, the weather hasn’t been great for sun-drying and I still have plenty of dried ones left over from last year. I’ll freeze the excess instead and use them for casseroles and soups in winter. I still have 2 packs of frozen cherries from last year in the freezer.

The eggplants are doing well, flowering and setting fruits. There are just three, in one large tub :

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I’ve never grown them before—in fact I’m not even sure if I like them. I’ve eaten them out but never bought them to cook at home. If they’re going to be easy to grow, I guess I can learn to like them!

I grew these Italian Long Red (rossa lunga) salad onions again this year, because they were so easy :

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And so pretty :

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The seedling-grown purple muscatel grape is setting a couple of bunches for the first time :

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I tried one and they’re surprisingly quite sweet even at this stage. I hope they grow a bit bigger and I’ll wait till they colour up before picking them.

These are carrots from a wicking box. I agree, they wouldn’t win any prizes! I think the wicking boxes aren’t deep enough to get a good, long carrot. Not to worry—they’ll make good lunchtime nibbles.

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Apples are ripening :

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Those in the big basket are from a seedling tree, grown from a seed of Red Delicious. Apples are notorious for not coming true to seed. It looks like they have a few Granny Smith genes in them, which wouldn’t surprise me, as the 2 original varieties are growing next to each other. Those on the top right are the real Red Delicious, just starting to colour up and those at the lower right are Cox’s Orange Pippin. I bought it because it’s supposed to be the Queen of apples (or something like that) but I can’t say the flavour is anything to write home about. The good ol’ Red Delicious is still my favourite and there’ll be a good harvest this year because I have a net over the tree :

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I keep poking my head under to check :

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I’m going to dry as many as I can :

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I planted some of the turmeric tubers I grew last year (and kept some back for drying) and they’ve sprouted and the plant has grown even bigger than last year :

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I’ve kept the pot in the polyhouse over summer and now there’s not really enough room for both of us, so I’m wondering whether to risk putting it outside for the winter. Has anyone grown it outside this far south?

The Girls have all moulted and stopped laying, so I’m buying eggs at the moment. Nice, new shiny coats for the winter :

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This is Evening Primrose. It’s self-seeded and more or less taken over this spot beside the pool :

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I grow it for the seeds (when the parrots don’t get them). The oil in the seeds is supposed to have a high concentration of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) which is good for reducing inflammation. According to a study reported in the Lancet, GLA-rich evening primrose oil was found effective in controlling rheumatoid arthritis in a substantial number of patients. I have RA so I’ll try anything that helps. I put the seeds in my bread.

Finally getting enough Purple King climbing beans for a feed. They’re on a wire frame at the rear of a wicking box, which also contains basil, parsley and some self-sown mizuna. I really get my money’s worth out of a wicking box! :

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Looks like I’ll get quinces again this year. I’ve protected some with apple socks (the one on the lower left) and the birds or possums have had a go at a few (upper left) but mostly they’re untouched. The tree still gets those brown fungal spots on the leaves but I’m not into spraying with chemicals, so it has to cope as best it can :

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Pepinos are ready to ripen :

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We had 2 nice dumps of rain in February—one of 37 mm and one of 40 mm—exceeding Melbourne’s monthly average of 46 mm. There were a couple of smaller falls as well. It topped up the tank and made a huge difference to the garden, especially to the size of the apples which I hadn’t bothered to thin.

Roll on autumn. The nicest time of year in Melbourne (usually).

 

Postscript

That eggplant. I wasn’t sure when to pick it. The experts said, ‘when it’s black and shiny’. So….. :

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Yes, I know. Laughter is permitted, but rude comments are not!

Mini Cape Gooseberry

February 21, 2017

I’m really pleased with this plant. I wrote about it when I purchased it at Bunnings a couple of months ago. It looked like this :

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The label said it was a Cape Gooseberry….. :

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…..but I disagree. I think it’s a related species, Physalis pruinosa, or a form of it. The typical, or more common Cape Gooseberry is Physalis peruviana. I grew P. pruinosa years ago and it was called Cossack Pineapple then, because the berries had a distinctive pineapple flavour. This one is similar although not so pineapple-y, but much sweeter than P. peruviana, even when the berries are still green. Unripe P. peruviana are sour little mouthfuls, not at all pleasant.

I went back and bought another plant and put one in a medium-sized pot on the deck :

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The other went into a large tub beside the water tank :

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This one grew larger because it had more root room, plus it was a wicking tub.

They’ve both produced lots of flowers and berries, which has more than made up for the fact that the berries are smaller than Cape Gooseberries :

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The fruits are enclosed in a papery husk which is the remains of the flower’s calyx. It keeps them protected from birds. If not picked, they fall when ripe and any little critters wandering around on the ground will find them and get through the husk to the fruits. Sometimes fruits fall when they are still green, but don’t seem to ripen any further. The husk is folded back and given a twist to free the fruit :

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I left a dishful on the bench and noticed they were shrivelling up and looking like sultanas, so I’m putting extras in the dehydrator :

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Seeds are easy to extract from the fruits and I’m expecting them to germinate readily, like their bigger cousins. When I’ve sown them, I’ll report back. Looking forward to trying plants in the garden, but it seems they don’t tolerate cold conditions, so growing them as an annual may be the way to go in our temperate climate.

Not “Living The Lie”

February 13, 2017

Reblogged from Not Something Else

I was inspired today by a shared post on Facebook, recommending the video you will find below.  Inspired enough to reshare it and also to make this declaration.  I hope that any and all readers may…

Source: Not “Living The Lie”

Finding new food-growing blogs

February 10, 2017

When someone new elects to follow this blog, or someone makes a comment for the first time, WordPress very kindly sends me an email to that effect and if the person has a blog/website of their own, it puts in the URL and suggests I might like to go and ‘see what they’re up to’. Which I do.

So, in the last 2 days I’ve found 2 new blogs which I’ll share with you.

The first is from Tassie (for overseas readers that’s what we call Tasmania—the large island state south of the mainland where they have stunning rainforests, Tasmanian Devils and other sundry goodies—I’ve been there!). It’s written by Louise, who re-located from the mainland to a farm and so not unnaturally it’s called First Time Farmer. I’ve bookmarked it and will become a regular reader. Go take a look.

The second is Mountain Herbs. Here’s what they say about themselves: We like growing perennial edibles and medicinal herbs, berries and unusual food plants. Our cool climate nursery is located in Katoomba, a renowned tourist destination in the Blue Mountains. We are always on the hunt for new and exciting plants.

Sounds good, although I’ve had a couple of disasters in ordering plants to be posted (the fault of Australia Post, not the suppliers—when it is NOT the fault of AP?), but I’m hankering after their pink-flowered strawberry!

When I checked out their blog I found the latest post is about elderberry and the reason why most elderberries fail to set berries here. Mine did just that! It flowered, but I left the flowers to produce berries and they didn’t, so now I know why. Next time I won’t waste them, but will be using them to have a go at elderflower cordial and other elderflower treats.

Here is my elderflower doing its thing in spring. Very pretty and thanks again to Maree of Around the Mulberry Tree who gave it to me (and that’s another blog you might like to check out) :

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Keeping records

February 9, 2017

In the last post I quoted information from my records on propagation and planting dates and a few commenters said, wow! (or words to that effect 😉 ) about my record-keeping. Being science-trained, I suppose keeping records is second-nature to me—and I know how unreliable memory can be. Besides my gardening records go back through years of propagation and planting and no memory is that good.

I use an ordinary exercise book for day-to day records. A double page to a week. It looks like this :

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At the end of the week I transfer those records to a computer database. I use Microsoft Works, which is a 3-in-1 program incorporating a database, spreadsheet and word processor. I don’t think it’s popular now, but I’ve had a copy on various computers for years. I don’t use the word processor much, but the database and spreadsheet are invaluable for storing and retrieving large amounts of information. I use the spreadsheet for anything requiring calculations—household and personal finances, my solar panel outputs, etc. The database is used for just data and the ability to sort columns into any order or find any records is a great feature. The propagation database deals with all my plant propagation records. It looks like this (photo of computer screen) :

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In separate columns I record—the date; the name of the species; an ‘S’ for seed sown, or ‘C’ for cuttings and the number (e.g. C4); the date the seed germinated or the cuttings struck; the source of the seed and the date on the packet if purchased, or the date collected if from my own garden; the number of seedlings or cuttings potted up and the date; any notes, like, ‘poor germination’, ‘mouse dug up seed’, ‘snails ate all the seedlings’, (shit happens!) and so on.

The database allows me to search for any and all records of a species—amazing how consistent germination can be when you have dozens of records of the same species to look at and compare. It can also show the best time of year for sowing seed, for instance, some seed will sit there for weeks if sown at a particular time of year and yet germinate very quickly when sown at another time. The seed knows when it’s ready and I know to wait until it is. I’ve learned never to throw out seed trays until I’ve checked the database and I’m certain the seed is long past its usual time.

The database was very handy when I was growing plants to order some years ago. I could look at the germination times of a particular species and give the customer a fairly good approximation of when the plants would be ready for planting out.

I also have a planting-out database where I record what plants I plant, how many and where (just for shrubs and trees, not annual vegetables). Each major area of the property has a number, or other designation (FF is food forest and so on), so I was able to look back and see when I planted the Japanese Raisin Tree, which was the subject of the last post.

I have a seed bank database too, where I record my seed collection which is stored in packets in various boxes. This is a great help for knowing where I’m at with respect to seed, especially how fresh it is and whether I’m out of a variety and need to buy or collect a new lot.

While I admit I’m a record-keeping geek, even though I don’t spend a lot of time on it, I realise it isn’t for everyone. But it can be an invaluable aid to making a successful garden, especially if you grow and collect your own seed.

 

Not exactly doing well…..

February 4, 2017

This clump of foliage, 2 metres above my head, is a Japanese Raisin Tree :

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Here’s a really good lot of information on the species from Temperate Climate Permaculture. My tree does NOT look like the one in the picture.

This is what I see at eye-level :

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Each year it grows another foot, drops its leaves in autumn and grows a new lot in spring. That’s all it does!

My propagation records show that I bought the seed from Green Harvest and sowed it on 17th March, 2003. It germinated in 10 days and I potted up ONE seedling. This must be IT.  The records show that I planted it in February, 2006. Did it really take that long to reach plantable size? Apparently. I bought more seed 3 years later, but it appears none of it germinated. The notes I wrote at the time say, “seeds disturbed by mouse”. I expect the little blighter ate the lot and that’s why they didn’t germinate.

There was a time when I bought all sorts of weird and wonderful seeds to try and grow a variety of food plants. Berry bushes from the northern hemisphere and so on. This must be one of those.  Most of them either didn’t germinate, or did, but died when I planted them. I’ve given up that lark. Much better to grow what’s been grown here traditionally and will definitely produce something to eat.

At least my Raisin Tree hasn’t died. The linked article says it can take up to 10 years to flower and has a ‘useful life’ of 50-100 years. It’s more than likely my ‘useful life’ will be over before I see it flower. I’d need binoculars to see what it’s doing way up there anyway.

I’ve been wondering about the possibility of growing a grapevine up the trunk. Then I might actually get some real ‘raisins’.

At last…..

January 30, 2017

…..tomatoes and beans. My cup runneth over :

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But wait….there’s more :

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I love this self-sufficiency lark!

The implications of collapsing ERoEI

January 26, 2017

Judging by the relatively low level of interest the past few articles published here regarding the collapse of fossil fuel ERoEI (along with PV’s) have attracted, I can only conclude that mos…

Source: The implications of collapsing ERoEI

Reblogged from Damn the Matrix

Forget 1984…. 2020 is the apocalypse year

January 26, 2017

The crescendo of news pointing to 2020 as the date to watch is growing apace…. it won’t be the year collapse happens, because collapse is a process, not an event; but it will definitely…

Source: Forget 1984…. 2020 is the apocalypse year

Reblogged from Damn the Matrix

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oh, to be a fly on the wall as it unfolds…

January update

January 23, 2017

First thing I did in January was to buy myself a present. A toy oven! So, what’s a toy oven, you ask? OK, read this post from Maree at Around The Mulberry Tree.

Now, I’m nowhere near as good a cook as Maree (let’s be honest, I rarely cook, not fancy stuff anyway), but I thought a bench-top oven would be easier to use, would heat up more quickly (which it does—5 minutes to 180 degrees C, compared with 15 minutes for the wall oven!) and therefore be more economical with power. (For the detail-minded, it’s a Sunbeam 19 litre Pizza Bake & Grill model #BT 5350 and was $96 at the Good Guys.)

I found a spot on the bench without too much fuss :

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When the weather finally cooled down, I tried a tray of roast veggies. Very happy with the result. Cooked in less time than the big oven and the potatoes were nice and floury. Next up was bread—I make a loaf about once a fortnight.

Ooops! Not so good :

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The bread tin almost fills the oven! I let it rise too high in the tin beforehand and watched in panic as it rose towards the top elements, ready to whip it out before it touched them. Luckily it just fell short, but as you can see, not a nicely browned top!

I’d cut the temp back to 165 from 180, following recommendations in the manual, but the rest of the crust was too pale in comparison to my normal loaf, so next time I will put it back to 180. I don’t want to fiddle about with the recipe to make a smaller loaf (there too many ingredients), so next time I will put the tin slightly lower (turning the wire rack upside down lowers it by a couple of centimetres), and try putting a piece of foil over the top halfway through. I won’t let it rise so much beforehand either. Despite the lower temperature, it was cooked right through and wasn’t doughy.

I’ve since made a batch of choc muffins which was a success (no photo…I forgot) and will get the bread right eventually. On the whole, very happy with my new ‘toy’.

Out in the garden, the thornless blackberries were starting to colour up, so it was time to get a net over them :

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They’re ripening unevenly and I discovered I have to be careful picking them because if I leave them to get too ripe, they fall from the bunch when I touch it and I lose them in amongst the ground cover of native violets underneath. I love their shiny blackness :

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So the trick is to wander down the back to the blackberry patch before breakfast and pick the ripe ones, which then end up on my breakfast bowl of mueslii and fruit. I’m definitely going to put in more plants of this variety this winter :

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The ‘mini’ Cape Gooseberry I bought a couple of months ago is doing well and setting fruits :

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They’re much smaller than the normal variety I’ve been growing :

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The flavour is quite different, much sweeter, and am I imagining it, or are there hints of pineapple? It might not be imagination, because some years ago I grew a definitely pineapple-flavoured variety from Phoenix Seeds, called Cossack Pineapple. It isn’t in their current catalogue but Googling will find other suppliers who do have it. It’s another species of Physalis—Physalis pruinosa (the common Cape Gooseberry is P. peruviana—that’s it in the photo above, on the right). I’m going to extract the seeds from the ‘mini’ fruit and grow more. It’s lower-growing and more spreading than the common gooseberry, with a neater habit and is a good plant for a large pot or tub (I put the two plants I bought from Bunnings in large pots). I might even try one in a wicking box.

The hugelkultur beds alongside the main pathway are taking a while to break down. I’ve planted asparagus and rhubarb in the longer one and an espaliered dwarf Granny Smith apple and two pepinos in the smaller one. The rhubarb’s not doing so well—it needs more feeding. I tidied up the beds, removed weeds and covered them with mulched bracken. The blackbirds persisted in tossing the mulch all over the path and I was sick of raking it back onto the beds, so I’ve edged them with short (1 metre long) sticks cut from the dozens of branches that are always falling in the bush. It seems to have done the trick. I’ve only done the edge that fronts the path so far, but will eventually do the rear edge, too :

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I’ve decided I need a dedicated potato bed—one that I can grow an actual crop of potatoes in, instead of just poking odd ones that sprout in the cupboard under the sink into any convenient spot. I can go back to buying a bag of certified seed potatoes again each winter like I used to do. I can also use the bed for other root crops like yacon and Jerusalem artichoke. So I’ve decided to use one of the three second-hand baths I have. Two were being used to grow azolla, the floating water fern, and I don’t really need two for that, so the one next to the compost tumbler is being re-purposed. I bucketed out most of the water and began filling it with weeds and other prunings so they’d rot down and provide a good base of organic stuff. Then it rained and the bath re-filled again. The water is now a rich, black, very stinky nutrient-rich liquid that should grow anything. I’ll have to bucket out most of it again, before reaching through the mire to find and pull the plug, but I’ll use it to water other crops until then :

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The Magpie Larks in their mud nest on the TV aerial finally fledged three young ones :

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They managed to keep them alive in that exposed nest through Christmas day with the temperature in the high 30’s and, a couple of days later, through a downpour that delivered 30 mm in half an hour. They’ve left the nest now and are constantly yelling “feed me” from the branches of a nearby tree. Mum and Dad Mudlark deserve a medal for devoted parenthood.

Last year I had a go at growing eggplant, but the seedlings didn’t make it into the garden. This is this year’s effort :

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If I’d known it was going to have such huge leaves, I’d have chosen a shadier spot. It has flower buds already so I’m hoping for some fruit this year.

My dwarf Stella cherry didn’t do so well in its third year, with only a dozen or so fruit. Last year it had about 20 and I sowed most of the pips in a pot and left them through the winter. Disappointingly, only one germinated. I’ll plant it somewhere and see how it goes :

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I had better luck with seeds from the Concord grape variety which produced one small bunch last year. I potted up 6 seedlings from this pot :

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Oak-leaf lettuce, endive and carrots in wicking boxes—all direct-sown. So much easier than potting up and transplanting seedlings :

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This, believe it or not, is 2 cucumbers in a recycling crate (not wicking—there are drainage holes in the bottom) :

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Ordinarily, I’d be assuming I’d mixed up the labels and planted pumpkins instead, but I knew I didn’t have pumpkins sown at the time. The crate was filled with chook poo compost and just shows what lots of nitrogen will do for leaf size. Here are what my normal cucumbers look like, in a wicking box on the deck, only topped up with a bit of chook poo compost :

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I thought I’d have another go at growing Goji berries. I tried several years ago but they didn’t survive in the garden. I think I wasn’t au fait with my soil types then, in terms of what should be planted where and probably put them in the wrong spot. So I took some dried berries out of a trail mix I’d bought (previously, I’d just bought a packet of berries in the supermarket) and soaked them in water till they swelled up, then I scraped out the seeds and sowed them and I have 4 plants to play with. This time I’ll do some homework before I plant them. I’ll probably try one in a large pot as well, just to be on the safe side :

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Still no ripe tomatoes or beans. This is the latest they’ve ever been, owing to the cool wet spring we had. I’m starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms for a nice, home-grown tomato sandwich.

That’s about it for January. We had 18 mm of rain in one event mid-way through (the average for Melbourne for January is 47 mm) and another 25 mm a week later, which will help swell the February apple harvest. We’ve had some hot days, but nothing over 40 C as yet and no really hot, northerly winds which freak me out because of the bushfire risk. I always count down the days to the end of summer and breathe a sigh of relief when we get through another summer without a fire.