Archive for October, 2010

Green Vegetable B(ugh!)

October 26, 2010

Every morning, before breakfast, I stroll down to the food forest to see what, if anything, has happened during the night, and to pick a handful of herbs for my breakfast cup of herbal tea.

At the moment, I’ve got two rather nice patches of potatoes and to my consternation they were sporting a crop of green, shield-shaped bugs. Not having seen them before and assuming they were probably up to No Good, I started picking them off and squashing them. Ugh! Not a good idea. After Googling and discovering they’re also called stink bugs, I realised why.  So the rest were drowned in a tub of water.

There’s a good site here, with more info and some nice illustrations. Since I hadn’t seen any of the nymph forms, I assume the adults arrived fully formed and were not the result of eggs previously laid.

So there’s a good lesson in this. Don’t assume nature will always take care of the pests. Inspect, inspect, inspect, and be ready to pounce on anything that might come between you and your food.

Mollison/Lawton PDC

October 19, 2010

I’ve mentioned that I did a Permaculture Design Course last year with Cam Wilson of Forest Edge Permaculture. I had always wanted to do the PDC with Bill Mollison (co-inventor of the concept) and Geoff Lawton, which usually runs each year at Melbourne University during the summer break. This course is a full-on, 2 week course and because of other commitments, I couldn’t spare that amount of time all at once. So Cam’s course, running one day a week for 13 weeks, was ideal for me. However I still would have liked to take the Mollison/Lawton course, mainly to experience the expertise of Geoff Lawton.

So it was with interest that I learned recently that this course had been filmed and professionally edited into a 13 disc DVD set, available from Tagari Publications.

From the publicity blurb:

The Permaculture Design Certificate Course was filmed in September 2005 at The University  of Melbourne. Using a professional production team. The entire course is presented by Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton. Each disc has  (+/-) 4.5 hours of content, 58.5 hours total for the set. The last disc finishes up Chapter 14, student questions, the design assignment, graduation, round table  and conclusion to the course.

It isn’t cheap—$379.50, plus postage—but when you consider that a full PDC course can cost between $1000 and $2000, it is extremely good value. So on that basis, I threw the budget to the winds and ordered a set.

It arrived today and I fired up the PC to have a look. I’ve watched the first 2 sessions on disc #1 and it’s all Bill—being Bill.  In other words, stories and anecdotes, liberally sprinkled with diatribes against the universities, politicians, including ‘little Johnny’ (Australia’s PM at the time, John Howard), and others whom Bill loves to hate in that inimitable way of his.

But he’s a fascinating guy. Already he’s introduced some familiar permaculture  concepts in new ways that I hadn’t thought of. Geoff has made a brief appearance so far—sans beard, short haircut and wearing a suit, no less! Not the Geoff I’m familiar with, but when he gets going I’m sure it’ll be great stuff.

I think I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this course. If you can’t afford the time or money to take a regular PDC, I’d recommend purchasing the DVD set.

Geoff in full flight

Spring planting & eating

October 11, 2010

Warm temperatures are predicted for the next few days so I should be able to complete the planting of tomatoes for this growing season.  That will mean 50 tomato plants in all. Varieties I’m growing this year include Black Russian (fast becoming the #1 favourite), Grosse Lisse, Burnley Bounty, Green Zebra, Purple Russian, Grub’s Mystery Green (a potato leaf variety from a member of the Ozgrow Garden Forum), Roma, Green Grape, Principe Borghese (a new one for me) and Reisentraube (a great little cherry variety for sun-drying). If I can get a kilo of fruit from each plant (not that hard to do) I should get 50 kilos of fruit; plenty for eating fresh, drying, freezing and bottling. I’m salivating already, in anticipation of the first meal of fried, home-grown tomatoes of the season.

Roma tomatoes in a water-wicking box with lettuce and silver beet

The asparagus beds are really producing well now and I’m getting a handful every couple of days. I read a good tip somewhere for keeping asparagus fresh—simply stand the spears in a glass of water till you’re ready to use them.

Tonight’s dinner

I’m also starting to put out zucchinis—Romanesco, Gold, Lebanese and the normal dark green form. They should do well this year—I’ve dug out a long swale on a slight slope and will plant them onto the mound on the low side. Watering will mean simply filling the swale every few days. Not watering overhead might hopefully lessen the inevitable fungal problems.

Zucchinis ready to go

I put Butter Beans into a couple of wicking boxes last week and they’ve germinated already. I’m not going to do my usual bean tepee for climbing beans this year. Instead, I’m going to try poking a few seeds  in amongst the tomato plants and letting them scramble up through them.  I tried that with the sweet corn a few years ago and it seemed to work well. It will save me the fiddly job of threading up the strings for the tepee.

Keeping records

October 5, 2010

My most un-favourite, but necessary, weekly job is updating my computer database of food plant propagation & growing from the exercise book scribbles which are my daily records.

Keeping records is a must if you’re going to aim for even a moderate degree of self-sufficiency. I’m talking mainly about growing annual vegetables here, but ultimately it applies to all food plants. ‘Getting it right’ is of paramount importance, when the alternative is starving.

Firstly, you’ll probably be trying out a large number of different varieties of each plant type, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc, in order to find those best suited to your soil, climate and taste buds, so you’ll need to keep records of their performance and yield.

Secondly, you’ll be varying sowing and planting times in a bid to find the optimum for each type for your area and to ensure a continuous harvest of something. Even three meals of carrots a day is better than starving.

Thirdly, you may be buying seeds from a variety of suppliers, so you’ll need to know which ones can be relied upon to always produce good viable seed and which ones sell seed which is a bit dubious. Ultimately, of course, you’ll be wanting to be self-sufficient in seed and so will be collecting your own.

A computer database is the best way of putting it all in a manageable and sortable way, so find one which is easy to use and does what you want. I use MS Works.

I record the following:

  • Plant species, variety & seed supplier.
  • Seed collection date (if I collected it myself or date on packet if I purchased it. This is very important. You don’t want to be wasting precious time sowing old, non-viable seed)
  • Date sown
  • Date seed germinated & number of days to germinate
  • Quantity potted up (if not direct sown) and date of potting up
  • Date seedlings planted out
  • Date of first flowering and harvest
  • Number of days from sowing seed to harvest (this is interesting to compare with what the seed packet says)
  • Date harvesting finished
  • General performance i.e. did the plants get attacked by anything or succumb to disease
  • Yield (either actual weighing of the harvest or just general notes in terms of ‘lots’, ‘so-so’ or ‘pretty poor’)

When collecting seed I put the name of the plant, the variety and the date collected on the envelope and store these in separate yearly collections. When going through my seed bank to pick seed to sow, I always choose the oldest seed first.

I’m also moving back to the old-fashioned, pre-computer days by duplicating all the information on a card index system whereby I can still access the information in the event of a power failure or similar. I think such events are going to be more common as energy decline becomes a part of daily life.

All this may seem like a lot of unnecessary extra work, but in the long run, to have a food production system which is as productive and as efficient as it can possibly be, will be well worth the effort.