Archive for January, 2009

Hotter than hot!

January 31, 2009

Well, we’ve just been through four days of 40+ temperatures here in Melbourne and there’s not a single food plant that isn’t either comatose  or sporting crisp brown leaves.

So, as I said in the previous post, I need to completely rethink food growing in the summer.

The water-wicking boxes, which were doing fine after the first day of 41 C, suffered least in the heat. There are two beside  the deck which get morning sun and afternoon shade and I didn’t bother to cover them with shadecloth. They were fine. The three down the back in full sun containing french beans were covered in mosquito netting and the only leaves that were burned were a couple that poked themselves out of the netting. Today I picked a kilo of beans from them.

So it looks like wicking boxes are the way to go for summer vegetables, providing I can give them shade in extreme conditions like we’ve just had.

Here are the two boxes beside the deck—capsicums on the right & Roma tomatoes on the left:


The wicking boxes are sitting up on white polystyrene fruit boxes to keep them away from the rabbits. The 60 litre rubbish bin on the right holds water which I use to water the boxes. I’m going to try growing potatoes in these deeper bins this season and probably some of the larger indeterminate tomatoes  such as Grosse Lisse. I can forsee summer vegetable growing being almost entirely containerised in future, because watering is so easy and all the water goes exactly where it’s needed.

That will free up my (very slow) sprinkler system from the tank to water the fruit trees and shrubs, which were neglected this summer.

Self-sufficiency just bombed out

January 21, 2009

Yesterday the weather god threw up a temperature of 41 C and the day before that, 37 C.  Welcome to Melbourne in the summer. Huh! Not amused.

Most food plants were badly wilted—some will recover and some wont.

I managed to throw some mosquito netting over most things but it’s not real shadecloth and it just wasn’t enough. In any case even the shade temperature combined with low humidity was just too much for most plants, at least those that aren’t native to the area.

So I need to rethink the whole idea of growing food in the summer if temperatures like these are going to be the norm, and I can’t see any reason they’re not going to be.

But…’s the amazing thing. The plants in the water-wicking boxes didn’t turn a hair! I’d made sure the water reservoirs were full in the morning; I didn’t put shade over them and when I went to have a look in the evening after the cool change had come, the plants were standing up, lush and tall and green, no sign of burned leaves or wilting.

So wicking boxes are definitely the way to go. By next summer I hope to have many more in operation.

Our property slopes quite a bit but I’ve managed to find a level spot where I think I can get in another dozen boxes. The location is near one of the small water tanks, so I’m going to rig up a dripper system from the tank whereby I can add water automatically to all the boxes at the same time, because one of the problems I’ve found so far with the boxes  is that adding water by hand via the vertical tube at the side of the box is painfully slow.

I’ll still use the present vegetable growing area, but in a more limited way and will rig up some structures on which I can spread shadecloth when necessary. These areas will still be fine for winter vegetables.

There’s also room for a few more wicking boxes on the deck.

Supermarket tomatoes never looked like this

January 12, 2009

Here are some of the current season’s tomato crop. What a riot of colour! None of these attractive-looking morsels are ever seen in the shops, which is such a pity.


At bottom left, Yellow Pear Cherry, above them a couple of Pearly Pink Cherry, then Green Grape top left and Black Cherry right at the bottom. A couple of nice-sized Black Russian at bottom right, some small Roma above them and in the middle a single Tigerella. Below that, San Marzano.

I usually halve the cherry tomatoes and toss them in a salad and sun-dry the excess. The Black Russian have a beautiful rich flavour and are fast becoming a favourite. San Marzano generally have less juice and freeze well for winter’s cooking.

Two other varieties I’m growing and not pictured here are Green Zebra, which is said to have a superb flavour and Red Pear Cherry.

First attempt at fruit bottling

January 10, 2009

Thanks to some strategically-placed netting and the little apple pouches, we had a bumper crop from the apricot tree this year so I was tempted to try my hand at bottling. We’d eaten much of the harvest fresh, but they were ripening so quickly it was obvious we were going to lose them if something wasn’t done.

Just eight small jars, but I’m really pleased with the results, so much so that I’m going to buy a bigger preserving pan and make bottling a regular thing.