Archive for February, 2011

Winding down

February 28, 2011

It’s always sad when the summer growing season starts to wind down and the bountiful harvests diminish.

It’s been one the best years in the garden for me; no doubt the mild summer and all the rain has helped, but I’d also like to think I’m finally getting into some sort of knowledgeable gear about food growing.

I’ve given a lot of produce away, but I’ve also got good stores for the winter. There are jars of pasta sauce, pickled beans, zucchinis and cucumbers in the cupboard and I’m enjoying home made pesto for the first time. The stock of dried cherry tomatoes—the only variety I bother to dry—is increasing daily and there are 3 large containers of whole tomatoes in the freezer (I couldn’t eat tomatoes, give them away or make pasta sauce fast enough).

This year, for the first time, I was successful in getting nets over both of the pears (they’re planted together which made it easier) and one of the apples,  and the huge blobs of white netting seem to have completely put the parrots off  (I let them have the apricots on the only tree that produced any—they were small and developed apricot freckle, so I wasn’t going to miss them).

I got a reasonable harvest of plums too, not by netting the entire trees—they were too large for that—but by wrapping netting around the long willowy branches which had plums all the way along them.

The only disappointment has been pumpkins; they just did not grow. However a neighbour has a plant that was threatening to take over the house last time I saw it and I’ve been promised a giant pumpkin. In return she will get a bag of freshly-picked apples.

So…..the winter season approaches…..

There are leek seedlings almost ready to plant. Garlic will go into the ground at the March equinox. Seedlings of kale, broccoli, cauliflower, rocket and chicory are ready and waiting in the polyhouse. Silver Beet is already in the ground and Bok Choy has been direct sown in wicking boxes, likewise radishes. A home will be found for the potatoes now sprouting under the sink. Baby oranges and mandarins are forming.

Meanwhile there is still the last crop of beans to pick and a lot more tomatoes to ripen, before the weather cools.

Last fortnight’s harvest:

  • Butter Beans   211 gm
  • Purple King beans   284 gm
  • Black Russian tomatoes   3518 gm
  • Red Pear cherry tomatoes   1220 gm
  • Reisentraube cherry tomatoes   922 gm
  • Burnley Bounty tomatoes   3490 gm
  • Roma tomatoes   644 gm
  • Green Grape tomatoes   120 gm
  • Green Zebra tomatoes   650 gm
  • Purple Russian tomatoes   980 gm
  • Grosse Lisse tomatoes   704 gm
  • Grub’s Mystery Green tomatoes   567 gm
  • Gold zucchini   721 gm
  • Lebanese zucchini  1634  gm
  • Diva cucumbers   758 gm
  • Double Yield cucumbers   329 gm
  • Apple cucumbers   1057 gm
  • Plums   778 gm
  • Red Delicious Apples  2355 gm
  • Capsicums  199 gm

Bees and bee forage plants

February 20, 2011

Most references to Zoning for bees relates to positioning of hives, however it can also be applied to planting bee forage Plants

So begins this interesting post from a writer in the UK. He’s talking about permaculture zoning, i.e. the efficient and beneficial placement of the elements in a permaculture design.

I’ve said previously that some day I’d like to keep bees, but I hadn’t thought about deliberately planning to provide forage for them as the writer has.

So I probably need to go into it thoroughly, making lists of ideal bee foraging plants for every season and getting the growing of them trialled and successful before doing anything about actually getting some bees.

I particularly liked his idea of giving suitable plants to neighbours to extend the bees’ foraging range.

His blog looks interesting also and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

Before leaving the subject of bees, here’s a really good post from Milkwood Permaculture on natural beekeeping.

And another one about the problems bees face when exposed to our non-ecological gardening activities.

Growing fruit trees from seed

February 15, 2011

I mentioned growing fruit trees from seed some time ago, and a regular reader asked if I’d write more.

There’s a few reasons why I like to grow from seed.

It’s cheaper. Fruit trees can cost quite a bit; a well-stocked orchard is going to set the garden budget back considerably. For the price of a kilo of apricots you can have a dozen new apricot trees.

You get diversity. Mother Nature doesn’t do grafts or take cuttings. She plants a seed—millions of them. While every apple tree seed will produce another apple (and obviously, not a grapefruit), every apple seedling will be ever so slightly different from it’s brothers and sisters (although the apple is a special case—it will never come true to the parent from seed whereas other species can do). The result is diversity—a slightly different set of genes in each plant, some of which will confer desirable characteristics (for people who want to grow them and for the continued evolution of the species in question). Diversity is the raw material on which evolution works.

So, out of a large batch of seedlings, some might have huge fruit with poor flavour or small fruit with beautiful flavour, or, if you’re really lucky, huge fruit with beautiful flavour. Some might be resistant to disease, or more able to cope with dryness, or whatever. You might even become another Granny Smith (the famous green Granny Smith apple was reputed to have come from a seedling found on a river bank by a Mrs Smith).

There’s always the surprise element which I like—I might get a batch of duds, but I might just get one out of the book.

Having lots of cheap trees grown from seed, gives scope for some creative pruning and shaping regimes, without the fear that you might actually kill an expensive tree by experimental hacking.

To save space, I usually plant 3 seedlings close together (like, say, 18 inches apart). This aids cross pollination and better fruit set, and if one, or even two of them are duds, then it’s easy to just saw the offenders off at ground level. Three together will generally grow as big as one would on its own, because they’re all competing for the same ration of water and nutrients.

There are drawbacks, of course. Seedling trees take longer to bear fruit. In my experience, there’s been about a 5 year wait with the species I’ve grown; this may be even longer with some species. (The tamarillo is the one exception I’ve so far found; it has fruited in its second year from seed with me).

I started growing fruit from seed by accident. A friend gave me some beautiful nectarines from her friend’s tree. The flavour was so good I asked her to ask her friend the name of the variety, so I could get one. She came back with the reply that her friend had grown it from seed of a supermarket nectarine. Right, I thought, if she can do it, so can I. I sowed the seed from that fruit and now have 3 large trees, equally as good in flavour as that first fruit I was given. I’ve since grown more nectarines from those three. That got me hooked on growing from seed. That and the price of nursery trees.

Although I did start by buying nursery trees. My expensive Moorpark apricot variety went to that great orchard in the sky shortly after I planted it. I now have 5 apricots grown from seed, all doing well, 3 bearing and 2 only recently planted. One of the reasons for this, I think, is that my seedlings are put out when they’re small (say, 10” high and planted from straight-sided tubes, where the roots don’t coil). Nursery plants tend to be advanced specimens in large pots, which require an equally large hole to be dug—not easy in my heavy soil—and then a significant amount of root pruning and top pruning to compensate. No wonder they struggle for a while.

Small seedlings are easy to plant and establish very quickly.

Amongst the pome fruits, I’ve gown apples, pears and quinces. For something slightly different—tamarillos, feijoas and strawberry guavas. The tiny Chilean Guava (yet to fruit, but said to be spectacular in flavour). Pepino (not really a tree) and pomegranate. Stone fruits—apricots and nectarines (I’ve yet to get a plum up from seed, though). Citrus also; I’ve grown grapefruit and oranges from seed.

And if we’re not talking trees but fruit in general, then grapes, kiwi fruit and passionfruit are easy from seed, too.

I’ve bought a loquat, which is yet to fruit (it was probably a seedling, too) but I’m told it’s easy to grow from seed. And of course avocado is the classic, easy-to-grow fruit (which I haven’t tried yet).

Have a go; it’s a lot of fun, you can give surplus seedlings away and the money you save can be spent on plants that aren’t so easy from seed.

This weeks harvest:

  • Butter Beans  319 gm
  • Purple King beans  669 gm
  • Snake Beans  55 gm
  • Black Russian tomatoes  2315 gm
  • Red Pear cherry tomatoes  277 gm
  • Reisentraube cherry tomatoes  193 gm
  • Burnley Bounty tomatoes  542 gm
  • Roma tomatoes  847 gm
  • Green Grape tomatoes  186 gm
  • Grosse Lisse tomatoes  1316 gm
  • Grub’s Mystery Green tomatoes  829 gm
  • Green Zebra tomatoes  262 gm
  • Plums  2893 gm
  • Dutch Cream potatoes  233 gm
  • Kipfler potatoes  707 gm

Is it a plane; is it a bird……

February 9, 2011

…….or is it a great big purple turd?

It’s none of those….but it is purple. It’s a Purple Congo potato.

I was given a single tuber last year by a friend. I planted it; it put up several stems; they’ve flowered, but aren’t showing any signs of dying back.

I was poking around at the base of the stems, re-arranging the mulch, when I found it, just beneath the surface.

Now my question is…….what am I supposed to do with it?

The eyes are deep set, so it’s going to be a problem to peel. And is there any point, when the flesh is going to be the same colour?

And what if (having found it close to the soil surface), it’s had a touch of the sun. ‘Normal’ potatoes develop a green tinge if they’re exposed to sunlight and because this causes poisonous solanine to develop, we know not to eat them.

How am I going to know if this is green?

If you have anything to offer on this conundrum, dear reader, please leave a comment. (Incidentally, the potato I was given was round, like a ‘proper’ potato. This looks like it’s crossed with a Kipfler—or something very nasty!).

Afterthought: it would be fun to cook it whole and serve it up on a guest’s plate…..especially one you didn’t want to see again!!

This weeks harvest:

  • Butter Beans  570 gm
  • Purple King beans  997 gm
  • Black Russian tomatoes  1323 gm
  • Red Pear cherry tomatoes  100 gm
  • Reisentraube cherry tomatoes  221 gm
  • Burnley Bounty tomatoes  232 gm
  • Roma tomatoes  854 gm
  • Green Grape tomatoes  114 gm
  • Green Zebra tomatoes  107 gm
  • Purple Russian tomatoes  509 gm
  • Grosse Lisse tomatoes  382 gm
  • Grub’s Mystery Green tomatoes  411 gm
  • Gold zucchini  875 gm
  • Lebanese zucchini  400 gm
  • Supermarket cucumbers  479 gm
  • Diva cucumbers  727 gm
  • Double Yield cucumbers  138 gm
  • Apple cucumbers  873 gm
  • Plums  811 gm
  • Nectarines  1326 gm
  • Pepino  748 gm
  • Desiree potatoes  1481 gm
  • Dutch Cream potatoes  675 gm

An amazing 14 kilos of produce!

I’m bottling, freezing, drying and pickling my head off!