Archive for February, 2013

Potato onions

February 27, 2013

I don’t normally grow onions. I grew them once and the results weren’t bad, but I just don’t seem to use a lot of onions and they’re usually not expensive, and I wanted the space for other things, so….

Recently, some of the members at the Ozgrow garden forum were talking about potato onions and someone gave this link to a place in Tassie (where all good things seem to come from). So I took a look.

Yelwek Farm. It looks like a nice place. Nice people. A family-run business and organic to boot. Couldn’t be better. Not only do they sell potato onions, but garlic and oca as well. Different coloured oca. Salmon, Rainbow and Cream. Wouldn’t they all look nice in a salad? I’ve grown oca, but only the pink colour.

Potato onions are grown like shallots. You plant a bulb and it makes new daughter bulbs around it. You keep some back for replanting and eat the rest. I’ve grown shallots and they’re easy.

So I ordered some potato onions, some white and some brown. There must have been a problem with how I ordered because it seemed when I got a confirmation email that I was going to get two lots of white onions instead of one white and one brown. I wasn’t fussed. Then an email came saying there’d been a PayPal mix-up and could I confirm my order. I did that and mentioned that I’d wanted one lot of each colour instead of two lots of white. That had apparently been my mistake. Clicked the wrong link I suppose.

As an apology for the inconvenience (it wasn’t) of the PayPal mix-up  they offered to send a complimentary pack of brown onions if I paid the postage. In the meantime I’d seen how stupid I was not to order garlic as well so said I’d make a new order (the initial one had already been sent) for garlic, which I did. I ordered 3 bulbs of garlic and received enough complimentary brown onions to make the package weight up to the postage rate. Like I said, nice people.

Two visits to the Post Office later, here is my box of goodies:

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Go and have a look at Yelwek Farm and order from these nice people. Family-run businesses who care about what they do deserve our encouragement.

Rainy Melbourne day

February 26, 2013

Went to bed to the sound of gentle rain. Water dripping into the (half-full) tank. Nice sound.

Woke to the sound of more gentle rain. Went out and emptied the gauge. 12 mm. Not bad. Tank now three-quarters full.

Started breakfast. Rain got heavier. Much heavier. Yikes! Water starting to flow along the gravel paths. Gravel going with it.

Turned on the computer. Weather Bureau’s Melbourne radar site.

OMG!! Huge green & blue blobs all over Melbourne (dunno where the underlying map went, but you get the idea):

Put on raincoat and checked tank level. Overflowing!! Stuck overflow pipe into end of pipe that takes water to the pools (it’s too complicated to explain the system—just be satisfied that I did it).

Squelched down the back to see if new swale was filling. Yay! Full of water! (No photo. Wet cameras don’t work too well).

Water running out of pipe down inlet slope into empty first pool (remember, I’d just cleared out all the water plants):

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Came inside and changed out of wet track pants.

Had breakfast. Periodically opened the back door and yelled (through the curtain of water), “you OK, Girls?”

Chorus of indignant cackles from chook run. “Of course we’re not bloody OK. All our holes are full of water.”

Finished breakfast. Went down the back to check state of first pool.


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Emptied gauge for the second time. 22 mm. Makes 34 mm in all. Nice!

Came inside and changed out of wet track pants (second pair).

Made large mug of hot coffee.

Not a bad morning’s work, really.


February 23, 2013

I must grow more kale.

Brian Kaller of Restoring Mayberry blog tells why.

Later edit: Brian forgot to mention the traditional Irish kale & potato dish, colcannon. Here’s a recipe. Sounds really nice.

Around the garden

February 16, 2013

I was weeding under the quince tree, stood up and was donged on the head by this:

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A quince! It’s the first and only quince the tree has borne! There are three trees, all grown from seed, planted in a group. They’ve flowered each year for the last 3 years but have never set any fruit. See the brown spots on the leaf. That’s a fungus disease. I think it’s quince leaf blight. The trees get it each year and generally lose all their leaves prematurely. It’s spread by water and since it hasn’t rained for a while, most of the leaves haven’t been too badly affected. The recommended controls are chemical, which I don’t want to use. I might try a seaweed spray.

These are Diva cucumbers. The good thing about them is that all the flowers are female! And they don’t need a pollinator. They’re bearing like crazy. I’ve already bottled five jars:

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The three large jars are using my standard bottling recipe and the two on the right are using Suburban Tomato‘s bread & butter cucumbers recipe. I’m looking forward to trying them.

These are some of the pumpkins growing in the hugelkultur bed. They’re Red Kuri, a variety I haven’t tried before:

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These plants haven’t been watered at all and are looking remarkably green and healthy:

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They’re all self-sown from seed dropped last year. Just a single tall stalk, 2 metres or more high, with clusters of yellow flowers at the top:

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It’s Evening Primrose and its seeds contain a very high concentration of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that is found mostly in plant based oils such as borage seed oil and blackcurrant seed oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids: they are necessary for human health, but the body can’t make them—we have to get them from our food. Along with omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. I’ve been harvesting the seeds for a few years now and mostly put them in my bread and sprinkled on mueslii  (I need to work on brain function!).

My Black Kale was nearing the end of it’s life and was being attacked by Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillars. I was gradually taking off the lower leaves (plus grubs) to give to the chooks (they go mad for it) and in the end, completely cut off the tops of these 2 plants, leaving bare stalks which I intended to deal with later. In the meantime we had 16mm of rain—the only rain in January—and the stalks started to shoot again:

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I’ve noticed this happens with silver beet—when it’s gone to seed I don’t dig up the plant, just cut it off at ground level, cover the stump with fresh compost and mulch and it usually shoots out new growth. I’ve been wondering about perennialising plants by cutting them back severely and then feeding and watering, to promote new growth. It’s worth doing some trials, I think.

I’m not a great fan of summer any more (let’s be honest, I hate it), but it is good drying weather. Today I put tomatoes and chopped pumpkin out on the deck (the wire frames standing up at the rear go over the drying racks to keep insects off):

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Last but not least (it was hard work!), I’ve finally finished clearing out all the water plants from the first pool. Waiting now for some rain to fill it so I can see real water again:

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The insanity of industrial agriculture

February 14, 2013

There was an article in this morning’s Melbourne Age that made me choke on my mueslii.

I can’t find the article at the Age’s website to link to, so here’s the gist of it.

A farmer in the Victorian Mallee is growing corn instead of wheat for the first time this season (for overseas readers, the Mallee is an area in the north-west of the state; hot and dry and traditionally wheat-growing country).

Those of you who’ve grown corn in your veggie garden know it’s a hungry and thirsty crop—needing lots of fertiliser and lots of water (I haven’t grown it for the past 2 years for that reason).

The farmer (let’s call him Joe Bloggs), has planted 50 hectares of corn—almost 4 million plants. Joe says that whereas wheat might have cost him $2000 to put in, the corn seed cost him $20,000. In addition, it needs 450 kilos of fertiliser instead of the 100 kilos for wheat. Insanity #1.

The corn receives 10 long watering sessions in the growing season. The article says the water is irrigation water. That probably means Joe Bloggs has permission to take it fom the nearest river. Forget ecological flows. Farming takes precedence over river health every time.

Oh, and this isn’t sweet corn, this is maize corn—the stuff that’s grown for stockfeed and processing to modified starches and high fructose corn syrup for the food industry—in other words, used to make confectionery, snack foods and soft drinks. The sort of stuff that’s contributing to the obesity epidemic worldwide. Insanity #2.

The positive spin in this article has to be seen read to be believed:

The evening light brings out the best in (Joe Bloggs) corn crop. The softer sunshine gives it a golden tinge, the abundant leaves look healthy and green, and when the breeze picks up they create a rustling chorus across 50 hectares.

No mention of the waste of water; the poisoning of the soil with chemical fertilisers (probably there’s chemical spraying involved, too) and the human health-destroying properties of the end products.

In my view Joe Bloggs isn’t a very responsible farmer. I’d love to meet him and give him a piece of my mind.

The pumpkin frog

February 8, 2013

I took my paintbrush down to the pumpkin patch this morning  to do a spot of pollination.

This tiny frog was sitting in the female flower:

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I reckon his head would have been smaller than my little fingernail. I did my best not to dab pollen on it. He wasn’t fazed by the process.

How does anything so small survive?

Gravity watering systems

February 5, 2013

If you’ve put in a water tank (even though you may have town water), then you’ve increased your resilience to failure of the system and your degree of self-sufficiency goes up a notch.

So it makes no sense to use a fossil fuel dependant pump to get the water to where it’s needed.

Good permaculture design puts the tank at the highest point of the property and the food garden at the lowest (or at least, lower than the tank). That way the free energy of gravity is put to use, rather than unsustainable fossil fuels.

My three tanks are near the house. My original vegetable garden was 50 metres away, down a slight slope. There are fruit trees there also. It is being developed as a food forest. Most of my vegetables are now grown in wicking tubs and boxes close to the house (permaculture zone 1), but I still grow some in that original area. It was chosen because it was the only place free of large trees and hence the sunniest.

I have four hose lengths connected to the big (9000 litre) tank by the house, feeding the veggies and fruit trees in the lower area. I get good water pressure down there, even when the big tank is half full, as it was before last week’s rain. It’s full again now.

I’ve put together a few different sprinkler systems for use with the tank, using  13 mm polypipe and the myriad of spray jets, uprights and connectors that are stocked at any good garden centre.

The veggies down there are grown in wire circles 80 cm in diameter and 45 cm high, to keep the rabbits off. The original soil was too compacted to dig, so I’ve built up beds with compost inside the circles.

A circular sprinkler fits inside each ring:

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There are two small upright pieces (5 mm diameter), on opposite sides, with a quarter-circle spray head on top which points into the centre of the ring:

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The pressure is so great in this system that I have to have the gate valve on the tank almost closed, otherwise the water sprays way beyond where it’s needed.

This would also be a good system to use around a single, newly-planted tree.

When a wire ring is full of growth right to ground level, this system doesn’t work so well, as the water only impacts the edges of the crop, so I’ve made another sprinkler which I use attached to a hose-holding stake that pushes into the ground and it sprays over the top of the crop. A short length of tubing, with a stop at one end and a click-on hose connector at the other; a 5 mm upright tube with an in-line tap to vary the flow and a quarter-circle spray head on top. Very effective:

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Another very simple sprinkler is just a length of 13 mm tubing with a stop and hose connector and a series of small holes punched along its length. I usually put the holes in with a hot nail heated on the gas (held in pliers NOT fingers!):

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(Water doesn’t photograph very well). The tube can be any length you wish.

I bought this fascinating wibble-wobble sprinkler from Diggers. It’s been specially designed for use with tanks but it works equally well on town water systems:

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The central wobbly bit oscillates round and round throwing out little squirts of water in all directions as it does so. If this was a video, you could see it wobbling, but sorry, it isn’t so you can’t. Best to buy one and watch your own. I love watching it, it’s a great way of wasting time:

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Green Harvest also have them for sale.

Just a final tip. Most of the micro spray heads you see for sale are moulded plastic. Burrs in the moulding process can impact on the spray and make it irregular so some spots get missed.  It’s worth paying the extra money for brass spray heads if you can find them. They’re finely machined and give a nice regular spray without imperfections:

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