March update

March 30, 2017

Well, summer is officially over, but the weather remained warm all through March, with temperatures in the high 20’s and sometimes nudging into the low 30’s.

I’ve pulled out most of the tomatoes—the plants looked awful, with dead, shrivelled lower leaves, extending upwards in some cases. Surprisingly, yields were pretty good, especially of the cherries, but then there were more plants of those than the bigger varieties. I didn’t bother to dry any cherries, but instead froze a large box of them, to use for winter soups and casseroles. There’s still one self-sown plant going well in a wicking box down the back, just starting to bear fruits.

I picked 2 more eggplants and there are still 3 on the plants plus a couple more flowers which may produce fruits. I’ll definitely grow these again next season. Six fruits from 3 plants wasn’t a bad effort for a first-time growing :

I decided to try peas in a ‘tepee’. It’s worked well for beans in the past. These are a tall, purple-podded variety. They germinated well….. :

…..and after a week or so I put up the supporting strings for them to climb on :

I’ve put more peas in a wicking box. These are a short-stemmed variety which have a lot of tendrils so they hang onto each other. I’ll just put 4 stakes in the corners of the box with a string around them to keep the whole bunch from falling over and that should do. The tiny seedlings are self-sown chickweed which the chooks will get eventually :

I may get some pumpkins this year. There are 2 on this plant. With any luck they’ll get big enough to ripen before the weather breaks:

Capsicums, sharing a wicking box with climbing beans, are fruiting :

The prize for the top-bearing plants this season would have to go to the 5 thornless blackberry plants I put in 2 years ago. At the height of the season I was picking a small handful of delicious berries every couple of days. I decided I would definitely get more bare-rooted plants from my local nursery this winter and then discovered Bunnings had them for sale in small pots. They’re a Nelly Kelly variety :

I’ve put one in a large tub beside the deck and will train it up onto the deck :

I haven’t decided where to plant the second one yet. I didn’t keep the tag of the original plants and think they were just called ‘thornless blackberries’, without a variety name. They were just pencil-sized, bare-rooted stems when I planted them. These Nelly Kelly varieties have thin little stems and small leaves. Maybe that’s just due to being young plants in pots. It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

It’s been a good year for pepinos :

The new season’s silver beet is also bearing well in a wicking box :

I had a wicking box on the deck with Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) in it. Also known as arthritis plant, it’s native to Asia and is reputed to cure many ills as well as arthritis. I intended to use it to make a herbal tea, but didn’t like the bitter flavour and so it wasn’t used much. I planted a pepino in there to keep it company. A self-sown alpine strawberry also appeared :

The pepino grew well and produced several fruits but eventually got big and woody and I hacked it back, not caring whether it sprouted again or not, because I had others in the garden. It didn’t…..and the gotu kola took over. I trimmed it back occasionally but generally ignored it.  Finally, it occurred to me that the wicking box was just being wasted and I’d be better to plant it with something I would actually use.

So, I tipped it on its side and then upended it :

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As I suspected, the bottom half of the soil mixture was bone dry and the roots in it were dead. I’d been watering it every day, but the water was running out of the drainage holes before it was able to soak into the soil and saturate the lower reservoir. The plant had been living on its daily drink. The box just had too much growth in it.

The dry soil was friable and worth saving. There had been worms in it and they’d either died or moved on, so it was likely most of the soil would be worm castings. I broke it up with the spade and sieved it :

I got a large tub of soil that will be useful as a seed-raising mix :

I filled the wicking box with new compost and sowed seeds of mizuna, a fast-growing Asian green, which both I and the chooks like :

A few weeks later and it looked like this :

The grassy stuff is wheat. The chooks don’t eat the wheat in their grain mix and wherever I use the chook poo compost made with the floor sweepings from their run, I get wheat germinating. I decided to leave it there. The chooks will only eat wheat if it’s sprouted first, so it makes some sense to grow it for them for sprouting. I used to grow it years ago, but gave up when the parrots kept raiding the ears while they were green. Because there are still cabbage white butterflies about (and will be, until the weather gets colder), I’ve had to put a cover over the box to prevent the female butterflies laying eggs on the mizuna :

Mosquito netting is the only thing that will keep the butterflies out. I’ve always used half-inch netting in the past but was stunned to see a butterfly fold her wings back and actually squeeze through it. So now I have a (relatively) new wicking box with a more useful crop.

I planted garlic on the equinox. Only a few cloves have sprouted—not worth a photo. I’ve failed dismally with garlic the last couple of years, but I still keep trying. Last year the plants rotted away in winter; the year before that they didn’t produce any bulbs. I’ve had good garlic in the past—don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I felt a bit better when my Italian neighbours told me their garlic has failed too—if Italians can’t grow garlic, there must be something more at work than my own incompetence.

I tend to divide my growing year into 2 seasons—spring/summer (October-March) and autumn/winter (April-September) and always grow more food in the spring/summer season. In total, in the season just finished, I managed to grow about 30 varieties of food, including more than a dozen different fruits; 6 greens; 4 root crops; onions and leeks and asparagus, plus a variety of herbs. Oh, and eggs (the Girls helped with those). There wasn’t a huge amount of anything (except maybe tomatoes), but I’m aiming for diversity anyway. Pretty happy with what I’m able provide for myself.

We had 37 mm rainfall in March; 32 mm in the 3rd week and 5 mm in the final week. Melbourne’s average is 44 mm. Let’s hope the warm weather and rain continues through autumn.

Postscript

Those thornless blackberries from Bunnings—

I went out to take a few more pics for this post and noticed that the blackberry I put in the large tub by the deck had a flower on it :

It’s white! The other thornless blackberries I bought at the local nursery had pink flowers :

So there is a difference. I think I need to do some research on thornless blackberries. As I understand it, they’re hybrids of the normal blackberry with something else. Something else what? The first 5 plants I put in have had really good yields. I hope these 2 new varieties are as good.

Feeling fine about the end of the world as we know it?

March 20, 2017

An interesting look at human behaviour. Not sure if it makes me feel positive or negative about the future.

See what you think.

Wildlife carers

March 14, 2017

I have a wildlife carer living 5 minutes from me. Over the years I’ve taken ducks, baby birds and possums to her for attention. Today I took a little sugar glider that had become entangled in the barbed wire on the top of the fence (god knows why it was ever put on the fencing here……this isn’t farming country).

A neighbour helped to cut the wire while I held him tight. He was very feisty, yelling abuse at us and biting. I popped him, with the wire still attached, into a pillowcase and took him to the “nice lady down the road who will look after you.”

I’m always amazed at the dedication of wildlife carers. They’re on call 24/7. It’s nothing to have to get up in the wee small hours to feed tiny, furry creatures special wildlife ‘sustagen’ with an eyedropper.

Once, when I called in, she had an injured cormorant in the shower recess. She would open the door and throw it a fish. Another time there was a baby wombat in the spare bedroom. Most of the patients are outside though, in various cages and nest boxes.

Wildlife carers receive some government assistance. But most pay out of their own pockets for the huge quantities of special food and housing that they need. I always make sure when I take her an injured animal that I give her something towards its care. Even just donating unwanted bird cages or offering to make little ‘possum bags’ out of material scraps can be a help.

If you have a wildlife carer in your area, why not call in and see if you can offer any help. Some of them need volunteers to go and pick up injured wildlife, because they can’t often get away to do it themselves. They do a tremendous job, working quietly away in the background to help the tiny creatures that so often are the victims of thoughtless human activities.

I’m writing this because she’s just phoned me back to say the little glider went to the vet and was anaesthetised while he was disentangled from the wire and his injuries were stitched up. Now he’ll be on antibiotics for about 10 days. There’s a good chance he’ll make a full recovery and then I’ll go down and pick him up and release him back into his own home.

The carer tells me that we are gradually losing these species one by one, quietly, in the background and very few people are aware or care. It’s heart-breaking.

Grounded

March 10, 2017

Interesting post from Ugo Bardi at Cassandra’s Legacy blog. I had no idea how jet engines work, so learned a few things from the video about fuel consumption and the relative costs of flying.

The bottom line is that oil running out will be the end of powered flight. No oil, no fly. Ah, well….it was always for the birds anyway.

 

“Peak Speed” for the World’s Airlines

So, it is true: planes fly slower nowadays! The video, above, shows that plane trips are today more than 10% longer than they were in the 1960s and 1970s for the same distance. Airlines, it seems, attained their “peak speed” during those decades.

Clearly, today airlines have optimized the performance of their planes to minimize costs. But they were surely optimizing their business practices also before the peak and, at that time, the results they obtained must have been different. The change took place when they started using the current oil prices for their models and they found that they had to slow down. You see in the chart below what happened to the oil market after 1970. (Brent oil prices, corrected for inflation, source)

It is remarkable how things change. Do you remember the hype of the 1950s and 1960s? The people who opposed the building of supersonic passenger planes were considered to be against humankind’s manifest destiny. Speed had to increase because it had always been doing so and technology would have provided us with the means to continue moving faster.

 Rising oil prices dealt a death blow to that attitude. The supersonic Concorde was a flying mistake that was built nevertheless (a manifestation of French Grandeur). Fortunately, other weird ideas didn’t make it, such as the sub-orbital plane that should have shot passengers from Paris to New York in less than one hour.

If this story tells us something is that, in the fight between technological progress and oil depletion, oil depletion normally wins. Airlines are especially fuel-hungry and they have no alternatives to liquid fuels. So, despite all the best technologies, the only way for them to cope with higher oil prices was to slow down planes, it was as simple as that.

Even slower planes, though, still need liquid fuels that are manufactured from oil. We may go back to propeller planes for even better efficiency, but the problem remains: no oil, no planes, at least not the kind of planes that allow normal people to fly, something that, nowadays, looks like an obvious feature of our life. But, as I said before, things change!

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’.