January update

It rained at last—48 mm in all—over the last four days of the month. Melbourne’s average for January is 47 mm, so a good result all round. Within a day all the tip growth on the native plants was showing fresh and green and the tomatoes, which I thought had been getting plenty of water, started to split their skins.

I’m getting plenty of tomatoes now, after a bad start when rats ate all the first lot of seedlings I put out (in one night!) and set me back a couple of weeks while I put down poison every night and watched and waited until it was no longer being taken. I found six dead rats and the chooks earned their keep by catching and killing another. I mixed the bait pellets with peanut butter, placed it on jar lids and hid these behind the line of wicking boxes and tubs which run alongside the base of the deck (which is where I’d planted the tomatoes). I put it out at dusk and removed any uneaten first thing in the morning. My only concern was birds eating it, but they couldn’t have entered the small space where it was hidden. I’d seen the rats running along there, so it was the best spot to put it. A good result and the next lot of seedlings I put out remained untouched.

Tomato harvest so far :


The cherries will be dried, the paste varieties frozen for winter casseroles and the rest eaten fresh and fried. Loving fried toms with my evening meal at the moment!

Recently I was gifted another second-hand bath from a relative who knows I collect them :


This makes three now. I use the first two to collect rainwater and grow azolla for the chooks. I need more growing space above ground, so I think I’ll use this one to grow veggies.

He also brought 3 bags of dried cow poo pats (they run beef cattle in Gippsland), so I’ll use those as a basis for the growing mix. That’s the black stuff in the bath.

I watered the cow pats to get them to absorb water and soften. I’ve covered them with all the organic material I can muster—mulched bracken, weeds, soft prunings, leaves, etc, and I’ve added some worms from the worm farm to let them break it all up. With any luck, I’ll have a whole new veggie bed to put my winter kale and broccoli in.

I would have liked to have made it into a wicking bed, but I wanted to get the material composting as quickly as possible and I didn’t want to spend time on the fiddly job of measuring and drilling drainage holes and getting it set up. Instead I’ve positioned it so the plughole end is higher than the other end, meaning that water won’t completely drain away, so a shallow, boggy layer will be maintained in the bottom. I can always stop up the plughole later and drill drainage holes to increase the depth of the boggy layer.

I’ve been growing New Zealand spinach for some years. It self-seeds readily and took over much of the bare ground around and under the fruit trees. I left it there because it was such a good ground cover, is green and lush through the winter and the rabbits don’t touch it. I pick the young leaf tips and steam them as a green :


But it’s shallow-rooted in the compacted soil there and doesn’t like to get dry, so with 3 months of below-average rainfall it died right back and became a tangle of dead stems. I decided to remove them as they were a tripping hazard and I knew it would regenerate from the thousands of seeds it had dropped, but when I got it all out I decided I liked the look of it better, walking wasn’t a hazard (especially not knowing if a snake was hidden under it!), so I’ve decided to keep it that way and not let it regenerate. I’ve raked all the litter up around the fruit trees as mulch, out to the drip line, which looks much nicer and makes it easier to add compost and wood ash and gives a cleared space for walking around them. I’ll just maintain a minimal layer of gum leaf mulch there to walk on and absorb the force of heavy rain. I’m still trying to find a ground cover to put under the fruit trees that the rabbits will leave alone. I don’t want to use Warrigal Greens again, because it grows so quickly and rampantly and will just take over again. I’d like to put comfrey there, but the rabbits demolished that too. Everything I like, they like.

I’ve had one zucchini from six plants and that was one I hand pollinated. When there were male flowers open, there were no females. Then when the females came along, the males didn’t show. They’re getting regular water and fertiliser, including extra potash and they’re varieties that have done well in the past. I’m really wondering if it’s worth growing them in future. It’s annoying, when others seem to have zucchini coming out of their ears.

I had a pepino growing in a wicking box on the deck for a couple of years. I pruned it back very hard, not really caring if it didn’t re-sprout and it didn’t. So I put another in a wicking box beside the chook run. It’s doing really well and there are some huge fruits forming (arrowed) :



When the pepino was still small, I planted a tomato at the edge of the box. It’s been overshadowed a bit (well squashed out of existence really), but not to be outdone, it’s produced a couple of huge fruits. From memory, it’s a Black Krim :


Always curious as to what that black thing is she’s pointing at us. Is it something to eat? :


The Girls have been laying continuously since March last year. I lost the second of the original three in that month so was down to one original and the three New Girls, who arrived in November 2014. Last year the four of them managed 339 eggs between them and I didn’t have to buy eggs at all over winter. Since Christmas only Bonny has been laying but I’m expecting her to stop any day. Who me? :


With four consecutive spring/summer months of well-below-average rainfall, I’m learning some valuable lessons about growing my food. The main one is to keep fruit trees small by regular pruning, or else buy plants grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Small plants means a small root area, so it’s easy to keep the water up to the plant in dry times. It’s also easy to get a net or shadecloth over the plant when it’s fruiting, or a scorching 40+ temperature is forecast.

This was bought as a dwarf nectarine. It’s been in the ground four years and is still only 80 cm high :


Mind you, it hasn’t had a lot of attention; it’s in sandy soil without much nutrient, but it’s behind a row of wicking boxes and tubs so probably receives some nutrient run-off from them and gets watered when I water them. In its first spring it produced flowers along every branch :


Because it was so small I didn’t allow it to set any fruit. The following year there were many fruit, so I thinned to just a few. As you can see the leaf growth has a compact weeping habit. The fruit was hidden under the leaves so I didn’t bother to net. Bad decision! The birds (or tall rabbits), got them all.  This year, as soon as it started to set fruit, I put a net over it. There weren’t many, but they were bigger than any of my other stone fruit and they ripened beautifully on the plant :


I’m giving it regular feeds and water now, to try and speed up its growth a bit. This winter I’m going to buy a couple more. It’s a variety with white flesh and I’d like one with yellow flesh if they’re available.

Oh, and the label said it would get to about a metre and a half tall and wide. Just right!

I finally got around to pruning my Red Delicious apple so I could get a net over it. It didn’t set as much fruit as in previous years (the pruning was a bit drastic), but I was determined not to let the parrots have it :


Only about two dozen apples in all but worth keeping for myself. I’ve been keeping the water up to it to swell the fruit and the rain helped, too. I tried one after taking the photo and it was crisp and crunchy and sweet enough that I can begin harvesting. I’m not a great apple eater, but I’ve set myself one a day :


So the second month of official summer has passed. My calendar follows the solstices and equinoxes, so my summer started on the December solstice and ends on the March equinox. I’m counting the days—48 to go. It’s not that I don’t like the warm weather, but being on a bush block in a designated bushfire zone, summer is always a worrying time.

9 Responses to “January update”

  1. narf77 Says:

    It’s been an extremely difficult year here in Tassie. It is pretty dry every year but this one has been ridiculous. The recent rains we had were our only saving grace. Fool me once. I won’t be fooled again. We are currently working on creating a bullet proof garden that requires a pittance of the water we currently use. No eggs on this side of the ditch either but plenty of clucky chooks and 9 baby chicks hatched out (yet to see if Paxo throws hens or roosters 😉 ). We are supposed to be getting these El Nino weather patterns till autumn 2017 so not expecting much in the way of rain till then.


  2. Chris Says:

    I loved reading about your success stories and the changes you’re implementing. The problem you had with your zucchinis, I had with pumpkins and cucumbers. My zucs grew fine, but I only grew about 2 edible cucumbers and about 5 pumpkins on 3 separate plants. I’m convinced I don’t have enough nutrients, or the clay is locking up the nutrients when it becomes saturated. Try giving your zucs a milk spray, like you would for spotty mildew. It takes up the extra calcium and you’ll find you might get more female flowers.

    I feel a twinge of relief that we’re heading towards cooler weather soon too. A bushfire came through here in 2003, before we bought the property and I reckon it would go up quickly, in the right bushfire conditions too. Even though we’ve hydrated the land more since building leaky weirs in the gullies and various swales.

    The problem is the hardpan clay soils. Great for growing tall eucalyptus trees and acacias destined to grow and die quickly, leaving plenty of kindling behind.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      I’m not having any success with pumpkins either, but I left that bit out. Although I have one that’s growing well but not producing any flowers. I’ll see how it goes and will probably write about it later.

      I’ll try the milk spray. I usually only use it when they get the mould and so far they’re OK, surprisingly, because it’s been very humid.


  3. Damo Says:

    Yeah, I second the dry Tasmanian weather. We only just got some decent rain over the past weekend. My first go at zucchini has being going well you will be happy to know :p I have a monster that I plan on growing out for bragging rights:
    Tomatoes are only just starting though. Should have them out my ears in a week or two maybe. Our 3 chooks have being delivering a solid two eggs a day since May/August. I guess they are used to the cold and snow. That would be 3 a day, except one of them insists on being broody, even persisting after being locked in the naughty box for a few days and repeated dunkings in the pond. Then, this morning, all three of them are out waiting for me. Maybe she is getting over it…


  4. Dean Garraway Says:

    I planted a newer variety of peach last year called “Crimson Rocket”. It’s a columnar, so I planted 3 side by side just around a metre appart.. The ticket states that they only get 60 cm wide, and 3 metres high. Perfect for my urban block. They even fruited in their first year with huge, yellow fleshed, juicy peaches with red skins. The fruit didnt seem to inhibit the growth either. They have at least doubled in size already, and going nuts with growth right now. I grow my Welsh Onions next to my Zuccs, because they flower at the same time, and the onions are always covered with bees. We have been Zucced out, with the neighbours sick of them too, from just 2 plants. I did also notice that since applying weed tea this year, all of the that family of plants went nuts. The watermelon, pumking and cucumber seem to really respond to the stinky stuff.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks Dean, Crimson Rocket sounds great sizewise. I’ll try and get it. I don’t have a peach at all. I like yellow nectarines, which after all are just a smooth-skinned peach, but there’s nothing like a real juicy peach.

      I have a batch of weed tea brewing now, using comfrey. I’ll try some of that. Thanks for sharing.


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