Archive for March, 2016

Bonsai apple tree

March 16, 2016

Regular readers will have seen yesterday’s post showing a bonsai apple tree with what looked like a normal sized apple on it. As a bit of a joke, I addressed the post to one of my blog followers, Bek of Bek’s Backyard blog, because Bek is an apple freak (hope you don’t mind that title, Bek). She has huge numbers of apple trees (I’ve lost count) in a suburban backyard, growing in a style called ‘step-over’. (I won’t explain it, go to her blog and have a look).

I did some bonsai many years ago and thought I’d love to have a tiny tree with one big apple on it, so I quickly scarfed down an apple and sowed the seeds. Apples germinate readily from seed.

I got the image from Facebook. One commenter said it was a phony picture; that the apples would be miniatures, never that big. So I Googled and came up with this page. And there was the same Facebook image, along with some others. Certainly the fruit on the others is smaller, but I can’t see how the big fruit is a phony (of course, there’s always Photoshop I suppose).

Anyway, I’m going to have a go. I’ll report back (if I haven’t succumbed to old age before then).

 

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Hey Bek, have you tried this?

March 15, 2016

Brassica time

March 14, 2016

Brassicas are all those members of the cabbage family—cabbage itself, plus broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and all the numerous varieties of Chinese and Japanese greens.

In this part of the country brassicas are generally considered winter vegetables, so sowing seed should commence in late summer and autumn, to get a winter and early spring crop. I’ve heard that some gardeners sow as early as mid summer, but I’ve never managed it, because tending to summer veggies usually takes all my time and effort.

However, I’m into it now and have been sowing seed daily, some direct sown and some in punnets to be potted up later.

The wonderful thing about brassicas is that they germinate so quickly. Here’s some of my seedlings; the fastest (black kale, on the left) took 2 days and the others took 3-4 days. As well as the black kale, there’s Wombok Chinese cabbage, Dwarf Siberian kale and mustard Osaka Purple (just coming up on the right) :

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The problem with brassicas is that they are the food plant for the Cabbage White Butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves and the green caterpillars which hatch set to straight away and demolish all the leaves. I can keep my seedlings in the polyhouse until the cooler weather puts an end to the butterflies (or they’ve laid all they can manage and have gone to god with the satisfaction of a job well done), or I can put them out in the open when the butterflies are still around and monitor them daily for a caterpillar squashing session (of course I can net them too, but that gets a bit cumbersome). I like to get them out as soon as possible because they tend to get leggy in the polyhouse, owing to the shadecloth over the top of the plastic (which I can’t get at to remove now and in any case it gets far too hot in there in summer without it).

There hasn’t been nearly as many white butterflies around this season as normally, but there are still a few to make life difficult for the ardent brassica grower. So inspecting and squashing becomes part of the daily routine.

If I get in early before the eggs have hatched, I can simply rub the eggs off the leaves with my thumb. They’re quite easy to see (glasses on) and are usually on the underside of the leaves (the butterfly thinks I won’t see them there, but she doesn’t know I have a (slightly) bigger brain than her and worked that one out long ago) :

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Sometimes I’ll leave eggs on a few trap plants to hatch and wait till the caterpillars get to a reasonable size, because the chooks love them as a treat.

I’ve also direct-sowed a lot of seed too. This is Mizuna, a Japanese green that comes in both green and purple-leaved varieties. This was mixed seed collected from the garden, but it seems to be all green :

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I’ve sown it in the second-hand bath which I received from a family member for Christmas. I harvest it by cutting handfuls of leaves just above the growth point with scissors and it keeps growing back :

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That’s a really good net—the openings are too small to allow the butterflies in and it will also keep the rabbits from browsing the leaves around the edges. In a couple of weeks I’m going to plant my garlic in the other half of the bath.

This is broccoli in a large tub :

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Although all these self-sown seedlings are very close together, I’ll be continually thinning them and either eating the thinnings or giving them to the chooks. They love all brassicas, especially kale.

The Art of Yielding

March 11, 2016

One of my favourite bloggers. A thoughtful person….rare in this world

Pray for Calamity

The ache in my left arm seems to travel up a nerve towards my shoulder. I wince as I stretch the arm up and then rotate it in an arc. Every Friday night I attend a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, and last week during open rolling – which, to the uninitiated, is essentially grappling with a partner – I was thrown to the mat by a zealous fellow student, and crashing onto my left arm I immediately felt the shock of pain that now lingers there in my bicep. At the time I was bit angry, as the amount of strength my opponent applied was a bit excessive for such a drill, but thinking about it now perhaps that is foolish of me. It is a fight exercise after all. Myself, I am always slow to apply great strength in any drill, as I am fairly frightened of hurting someone…

View original post 2,231 more words

February update

March 3, 2016

It seems safe to assume that summer is almost over, with less than three weeks to the autumn equinox, although 30º+ temperatures are predicted for the next week.

I added up my rainfall figures on the calendar and the total came to 5 mm. Surely there was more than that! Melbourne’s average for February is 46 mm. I can see the effects, in the dead and dying plants in the garden and also in the bush. I only water food plants, nothing else. The big 9000 litre tank is down to half and I’ve stopped using it, because it’s my drinking water (I won’t drink mains water with its load of toxic fluoride). The 2 smaller 4500 litre tanks are being topped up from the mains supply. I do this because it’s easier to water from them with a low pressure sprinkler than it is to water directly from the mains where the pressure is so variable.

I’ve been more than happy with yields from the garden this season.

Strawberries are still going strong in their wicking buckets, although the fruits are smaller now. They’ve been bearing for at least 6 months.

Cherries. The tree is in it’s second year and I got many more than last year. I can’t seem to find a photo of those. I expect most of them didn’t make it into the house.

Tomatoes have almost finished and I stopped weighing them when I reached 25 kilos. I cleaned some self-sown parsley out of one of the wicking boxes and topped it up with fresh compost. A few tomatoes germinated and have grown quickly :

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I’ve staked them and might get a few more fruit before they succumb to the cold. No idea which variety. It will be a surprise!

Pears. I’ve been really happy with yields from the two trees. A Bartlett with a Josephine for pollination—both planted in the same hole. I’d let them get too big (visions of huge old pear trees dripping with fruit) and so too big to net and the birds/possums have always got them all. Last year I cut them back really hard, so now they’re not much taller than I am. They flowered and set fruit, but instead of netting them (my biggest net was over the apple), I put the little apple pouches on each fruit. It has worked and nothing has attacked the fruit :

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I checked out Louis Glowinski’s book on fruit growing to see when I should pick them (pears ripen inside, off the tree) and the trick is to grab the hanging fruit and pull it up into a horizontal position. If it’s ready to pick the stem will snap at the abcission layer (the layer of weaker cells at the top of the stem). So each day I go down and tweak all the fruit. It’s working and this is the yield so far from the Bartlett :

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The fruits of the Josephine are smaller and maturing a bit later, but so far I have these :

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Pepino. There are huge fruits forming on the pepino in the wicking box. This box is at ground level so the wire is to keep hungry rabbits at bay :

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Beans. A slow start when most of the early-sown seed rotted, but it’s picked up and I’m eating beans with every evening meal now. Beans are one thing I never buy (along with tomatoes), so I really look forward to bean season.

Cucumbers. Lots of success with those and there are 16 jars of bread & butter pickles in the fridge. There were more cucumbers than I could eat fresh and I discovered that the chooks loved them sliced down the middle. They eat out all the seeds and flesh and leave only the paper-thin skins.

Berries. Raspberries and blackberries fruited for the first time and although the yields weren’t large, it means two additions to the diversity of food from the garden.

Apricots. A reasonable yield from one seedling-grown tree and about a dozen from the named variety, Moor Park (only in it’s first season). These are the apricots (and cherry plums from the self-sown tree) :

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Zucchini. A disaster. I got two. I pulled them out early. Male and female flowers just didn’t manage to co-ordinate themselves.

Pumpkins. Pulled out most of those, too. They were in a hugelkultur bed where the underlying wood hadn’t broken down and the ants kept bringing up the sand around them. It doesn’t hold water and I couldn’t keep enough water up to them to maintain growth.

But….there’s still one left in a recycling crate and it’s doing well. It’s the variety called Naranka Gold which is commercially grown exclusively for Coles supermarkets. I grew it last year but it went in late and didn’t produce any fruit. This year it’s climbing all over the wood heap (the leaves are meant to be that variegated yellow colour; it’s not a deficiency) :

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and hidden under the leaves is this :

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Quinces. The quince tree was grown from seed. From memory I think I planted three seedlings close together and they have all suckered into a large clump. It’s huge now and has flowered and fruited each year. I don’t really bother about it and last year the parrots got all the fruit. This year, since it’s next to the pear trees, I put apple socks on some of the quinces as well, so it looks like I will get a few :

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The remains of a couple that didn’t get ‘socked’ :

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Under-ripe quinces! Bleahh! Parrots apparently have no taste buds!

I’ve had more problems with roots entering the wicking tubs. Regular readers might remember this post where a grapevine found its way into the drainage hole at the bottom of a tub. It happens because there are zillions of ants here. They bring the sandy soil up to the surface around the base of pots and because it’s moist around the drainage holes, roots slide their way in. I don’t notice because the base of the tub eventually gets part buried in the sand. But I did notice that there was one tub that I could never seem to keep moist even though I watered it every day. It was nowhere near the grape vine and over 10 meters from the nearest tree. I thought the plastic in the bottom was probably perforated and it wasn’t functioning as a wicking tub any more. It’s a 51 cm diameter tub and very heavy. There’s a capsicum in it at the moment. I yanked it forwards from the back and it came away from the ground easily. No root problems there, so I cleared away the sand from around the front. See that thing that looks like a giant worm :

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That’s a tree root that has come out of the soil, done a 360º about face and entered the tub! What a cheek! I cut it out and sniffed it. Eucalyptus! From now on all the wicking tubs will be raised up on bricks, well off the ground!

Around the middle of last year I was given a small pot with one sick-looking leaf in it. I think the owner thought I might be able to bring it back to life. The label said ‘turmeric’.  I was rapt. I’ve been wanting to grow turmeric for ages, but couldn’t find any greengrocer selling the rhizomes to plant. I tipped it out of the pot. The ordinary roots looked white and healthy; there was no sign of a rhizome. I hoped it wasn’t sick but just heading into winter dormancy, so I potted it into a slightly larger pot, left it in the polyhouse and kept it just moist.

In spring, to my delight, a little green shoot appeared. I fed it some Dynamic Lifter and began to water it regularly. The green shoot grew and another appeared. Eventually I repotted it into a much larger pot. This is it now :

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If it grows any bigger there won’t be room for both of us in the polyhouse. Even if I wanted to put it outside, I can’t lift the pot. I’m hoping it’s making lots of turmeric rhizomes because I’ve promised to share with the original owner. Has anyone grown it away from its normal tropical home? Should I put it outside for the autumn/winter? I thought it probably wouldn’t like a low-humidity Melbourne summer, that’s why I left it in the polyhouse and misted the leaves every day. Here’s hoping for some nice rhizomes I can dry and crush.

My blueberry seedlings are growing and reaching the stage where I want to put them in their final growing spots. There are four left out of the six I had in October :

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I bought some large plastic pails and drilled a drainage hole a third of the way up from the bottom (so they’ll be wicking pots) and used them this season for tomatoes :

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They worked well, so I think I will use them for the blueberries. Not sure whether I’ll put them on the deck (it’s looking like a forest up there now), or stand them in the garden somewhere. They’ll be too tall for the rabbits and they’ll be easy to get a net over when they’re fruiting. One thing I’m going to do is buy an acid potting mix (for azaleas/rhododendrons) and use that, as blueberries like an acid soil and the chook poo compost I use for veggies tends to be alkaline.

Eggs. Bonny is still going strong with an egg every second day. She’s been laying constantly for just on a year now; surely she will take a break soon. She’s full of beans, eating like a horse and charges at me, pecking my foot, every time I go into the run. The other three stopped laying and moulted after Christmas. I’m not expecting any more from them until spring.

Well, I think I’ve just about covered most things. All I need now is some rain. A lot.