March update

After my last update, when I showed my raspberry bed with nets over it, a reader pointed out that it didn’t look very secure because there were gaps a bird could easily get under. Well…um…I did know that; I’d hastily thrown some netting over the top in order to take the photo, hoping no-one would notice it wasn’t perfect!

I found a terrific net in Bunnings—4 m x 4m—which fitted beautifully, going right to the ground. Much better :

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It’s exciting to see the berries ripening underneath, even though there aren’t many of them this time, because it’s only their first year :

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I bought a couple of extra nets and when I create another bed for thornless blackberries, which I’m going to buy and plant this winter, I’ll make it the same size so the net will fit perfectly.

 

This year, I’m having a go at growing red cabbage in a wicking box :

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The seedlings were ready early and I wanted to plant them out, but Cabbage White butterflies were still around, so the wicking box had to be netted too. This is just cheap mosquito netting, draped over a couple of pieces of plastic pipe and tied at the ends :

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The March equinox is when I plant my garlic. I bought bulbs again this year from Yelwek Farm, because my bulbs from last year were just too small to bother with.

Ready to plant :

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And planted :

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Potato onions were also planted at the equinox. These were the ones I grew last year and were also small, but I decided to go with them rather than buy more. One is sprouting already :

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Another brassica I’m having a go at growing is wombok chinese cabbage, which I use to make kimchi. Again, the seedlings had to be netted to keep out the white butterflies :

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The New Girls finally came good at 29 weeks old and started laying and I got a dozen eggs in the first week and 16 in the second, an all-time record. This is Bonny, who made up for the late start by presenting me with a whopping 78 gm egg, which turned out to be a double yolker. The three Old Girls only ever averaged 60-65 gm between them over the three years they’d been laying and never managed a double yolker. The other two New Girls are still in the 50-55 gm range. Bonny developed the biggest comb and wattles of the three. I thought initially I’d never be able to tell them apart, but they’re quite different now. She really is a bonny girl :

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Sadly, I lost the second of the Old Girls this month. Cheeky succumbed to digestive issues, with an impacted crop, anaemia and unspecified lumps in her abdomen. I took her to an avian vet but there was nothing that could be done and she was euthanased. She was a few months short of four years old and had only laid four eggs last spring.  Molly is the only one left of my three original girls now and I feel so sad for her as she sits alone in the sunny spot where she and Cheeky usually sat together each afternoon. They always did things together, the two oldies, ignoring the three boisterous newbies.

Farewell Cheeky :

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While I’m on the subject of chickens—the Chicken Behaviour and Welfare course I wrote about in the previous post has started and already I’ve learned something about behavioural motivation (which can be either internal or external) :

“The motivation for a hen to find a secluded site, build a nest and lay eggs, is under internal control. It’s the ovulation of the follicle that results in a cascade of hormones that drives these behaviours. It’s not the sight of a nest or another hen sitting on eggs that motivates the behaviour”

So that means the common notion that if you want a hen to lay, you should put a couple of phony ceramic or plastic eggs in the nest is all bunkum! No doubt spread by the people who sell phony plastic eggs!

I’m loving the course so far, although disappointed that the videos are fairly short—I powered through the dozen videos in Week 1 in less than an hour—but I will watch them several times and make some notes.

 

I’ve written about this attractive Naranka Gold pumpkin previously. It’s not going to flower now; it’s too late in the season, but it’s still growing and I haven’t pulled it out because I wanted to see how it coped with the cooler weather. The older leaves are a bit brown around the edges, but there’s no sign of downy mildew. I’ll definitely be sowing this variety again next season. I would have sown it much earlier last year if I’d known how good it was going to be :

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That yellow colour isn’t due to a nutrient deficiency. That’s how it’s meant to be. You can see the variegated colour on the young leaves in this photo of the pumpkin from the Coles website (it’s grown exclusively for Coles).

 

I pulled out all my tomato plants; they were looking woeful, with late blight and sooty mould on the leaves, but I’m pleased with the season’s harvest—I picked just over 26 kilos of fruit. Most of that is in the freezer for cooking over winter (I’ll use them where a recipe calls for canned tomatoes); there are 2 huge jars of dried tomatoes and a third smaller jar in the pantry and I’ve eaten as many fresh as I could. The end of the tomato season is always the saddest time in the garden, because I never ever buy the tasteless, hard lumps that pass for supermarket tomatoes.

Sun-dried goodness :

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The major pest problems for me this past season have been aphids and whiteflies….gazillions of whiteflies. They’re hard to spot because they collect on the underside of leaves, and only when the plants are disturbed do clouds of them take to the wing. I’ve used a natural garlic-based spray or otherwise blasted them off with the hose. It’s French beans they seem to favour most. I need to do a bit of homework on them before next season—learn about their life cycle, why and when they appear and what eats them.

 

I put in two new wicking boxes next to the wood heap, raised up on polystyrene foam boxes to prevent rabbit access and with a rainfall catchment bin beside each one. These are just 60 litre plastic rubbish bins with the lid placed upside down and a hole drilled in the centre to allow rain to enter :

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I did a head count and there are now 31 wicking boxes in the garden. I plan to use these two new ones for pumpkins next spring. There’s plenty of room for them to cascade over the sides and spread (even over the wood heap) and the rabbits don’t like pumpkin leaves!

 

Rainfall for March  35 mm.  Melbourne’s average  44 mm. February and March were both drier than average. The citrus trees looked a bit stressed at times and I filled the swales behind them on a weekly basis. I’ll be really glad to see the autumn rains. They seem to be getting later every year.

 

I don’t tend to bother too much about the site statistics that WordPress provides, mainly because I can never remember where to find them, but I just did, and realised that I’ve passed the 500 mark, with 508 posts here and (this is the amazing bit), I have 104 followers! (I know that’s not a lot, compared to some blogs, but quality counts with me, not quantity). So thank you, all 104 of you, whoever and wherever you are.

The other amazing thing to see is where all those people looking at the posts come from. As I would expect, Australia leads the list, with the UK, US and New Zealand also predominating, but there are 70 other countries represented! This blog has been as far afield as the Cayman Islands and Bosnia & Herzgovina! How about that!

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11 Responses to “March update”

  1. notsomethingelse Says:

    Always good for a few tips, and I especially like your rain catchment bins.

    …oh, and I decided to sell all my shares in ceramic and plastic egg futures 🙂

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  2. Chris Says:

    Sorry about Cheeky. That’s sad news. Its easy to become fast friends with chickens. They are such characters. I know Cheeky will be missed.

    Your garden looks wonderful though and I envy those dried tomatoes. Don’t gobble them up too quickly. That looks like a sensible spot for pumpkins to ramble all over the place. Just watch for snakes in summer, as they love wood piles and foliage cover. I know you will be careful, because you’re sensible 😉

    Most of my pageviews come from the US, which suprised me. I don’t really follow my stats, but every now and then I’ll check and its always the US ahead of AU. Doesn’t bother me, just interesting to note. 🙂

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the comments about Cheeky.

      I didn’t see a single snake last summer. Wondering if they’re close to extinction in this area. People keep clearing the bush and turning it all into lawn. I did see more than one Blue-tongue though, so there’s still hope. Maybe they stick pretty close to home and don’t range as far as snakes.

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  3. narf77 Says:

    Sorry about Cheeky Bev :(. I have the whitefly problem as well. They rise up like clouds of tiny confetti whenever you touch anything in Sanctuary and as I haven’t had much time to do anything up there, the whitefly are ruling the place. I wish it would get really cold soon to kill the little buggers! The rats ate all of my tomatoes. At first I thought it was possums but Sanctuary is well protected and my pumpkins are AOK (for the moment till the tomatoes run out!) so it has to be bush rats that are breaking in and scoffing the lot. I got all of about 5 tomatoes and NONE of my beautiful crop of San Marzano’s that promised to break the tomato cages that Steve made for them. I am going to have to poison them next year to get any. Sometimes I wonder if this food growing lark is worth it. SO much hassle and almost no end results this year apart from cucamelons coming out of my ears. I am also starting to think that Sanctuary was built on a huge shelf of rock as I can’t keep moisture in the soil unless I water almost constantly. A day or so after rain and it’s bone dry…cheers for your update, I love seeing gardens that work 🙂

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Sorry you’ve had such a bad year. I really believe food-growing is worth it though. I’ve been overawed by your photos of Sanctuary—the size of it and the nets over the top. I could never have done all that! Do you think maybe you’ve tried to do too much at once? Maybe reduce the scale of your food-growing so that you can cope with predators and watering and all the rest. A little at a time? Solve one problem at a time and move on slowly. Even if you have only one plant of each type, so you can cope with the watering and the predators and still get a yield—even a small yield would be better than none and bucketloads of frustration. Someone said you’ve gotta crawl before you can walk, or something like that. I often feel I’ve gone too big myself and get really cheesed off when I see people on small suburban blocks growing more food than I am. Just my thoughts. 😉

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      • narf77 Says:

        Everything was fine last year when we had the time to work in the garden as we were studying at home but now we are out most of the week our entire routine is upside down and Sanctuary is coming a sad last. You are right about taking on too much and my desire to allow everything to grow higgledy piggledy en mass, appears to have allowed pests to flourish. You are SO right about narrowing things down. We had a huge amount of tomato plants growing but got so few, it was hardly worth all of the watering. I think I need to break the sizes of the garden beds down and start rotating them and putting in green crops. It might be a good idea to plant out some buckwheat and broad beans and give the garden beds a bit of a rest over winter. I “was” going to get a huge winter veggie garden in but have NO idea where I am going to find the time to fit everything in. Life has changed a lot. It certainly isn’t an easy life we have chosen is it? ;). I think that people that live on small suburban blocks have “trophy gardens” and many of them are competing with the neighbours. I get the feeling that I need to get my “ideas” of what growing food means for and to us, into perspective. I just wish we could actually dig the soil around here so that I could get my food trees planted out. It’s such a hard job that Steve, understandably, balks at the prospect. I guess we just have to narrow things down, work out what is important and move in that direction for a time. Cheers for this comment Bev. I was getting quite despondent about Sanctuary. She has gone completely feral out there and aside from a bounteous harvest of cucamelons that just keep on coming and a lot of green leafy “things”, another year of very little produce coming out of the garden has been a real ego crusher. I think the imperitive word here is to “plan” next springs garden and to, as you say, narrow it down. I can just plant acres of spuds if worse comes to worse ;). Thank you for your encouraging words. They came at exactly the right time. I am just researching how to deal with the clouds of whitefly that seem to have taken over the garden and was laying in bed at 2am contemplating the amount of effort and resources expended for the incredibly small result. Entirely my fault for a lack of direction and planning and up to me to redirect and move forwards. 🙂

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  4. Frogdancer Says:

    I also signed up for the chook course after reading your comments on it.
    Must get onto it…

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Oh, good; you’ll love it! The videos are short so it won’t take a lot of time. I finished watching all 10 or so videos in Week 1 in less than an hour. Week 2 videos won’t appear till this Friday (or Saturday actually…..it won’t be Friday in the US until it’s Saturday here…strange country 😉 )

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  5. brymnsons Says:

    Sorry i’m just having a bit of a chuckle about doing a chook course 😀 I can only imagine the subjects and videos… Please keep blogging about it, I’m hooked now.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Why not sign up for it yourself? It’s free. You’d enjoy it by doing it far more than reading what I say about it. 😉

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