March update

The Big Dry persists.

In the first 8 months of last year, we had 424 mm rain, an increase of 17 mm over Melbourne’s average for that period. In the last 7 months since then, we’ve had only 50% of normal rainfall and that was in the critical spring/summer months, when plants are putting on growth, flowering and setting seed and fruit is swelling. I’ve tried to keep water up to all the fruit trees and berry-producing shrubs and my latest water bill shows I’ve used much more than normal. And that was with 18,000 litres in 3 tanks, which quickly ran out. The 3 large pools at the rear of the property have dried out; the third one (which is up to my waist when full), has only ever dried out once before in the last 16 years.

The rest of the plantsโ€”mostly natives and those in the bush have been left to survive as well as they can. Many have died. Even the bracken fern in the bush is looking peaky and when that happens, you know it’s dry!

So, I wait and hope. The ground is cooling down and without rain soon, I don’t expect to find many edible mushrooms, not that there are ever many of those anyway, but it is nice to get at least one hunt-and-gather meal.

Rain or no rain, life goes on.

All the summer veggies have been pulled out and the wicking boxes and tubs topped up with fresh compost. I’ve sown peas at the rear of most boxes, where there is wire for them to climb on :

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I planted my garlic on the 21st of the month….it being the autumn equinox. I had prepared a bed down the back earlier in the year, but it is all so dry down there that I decided to plant it in the other half of the new bath, where the soil is richer and moister :

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That’s self-sown mizuna on the left. The chooks are getting most of it.

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Within 10 days green shoots were showing :

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I am so pleased with my quinces. I put apple socks on some of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have harvested any :

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This is what the birds did to those that weren’t protected :

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When they had turned yellow I picked about half a dozen and left them on the kitchen bench for a couple more weeks. There are still another half dozen on the tree. It was my first real harvest. Not bad for something that was grown from a seed :

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I cooked them in the slow cooker for 10 hours. 700 ml of water, a cup of sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks, a dash of lemon juice and one star anise (thanks to Y for the recipe). The flavour is superb and while the colour isn’t the deepest I’ve seen, it’s the best I’ve ever achieved :

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If the tree fruits as well next season, I’ll protect more of the fruit and do some serious bottling.

The leaves on the persimmon are starting to colour up and fall and the fruits I’ve ‘apple-socked’ are becoming more visible :

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Are they starting to colour up under their socks? :

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Yep, looking good :

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Now I can see them more easily, I can count them and it looks like about a dozen :

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The critical time will be when all the leaves are gone and just the fruits are left hanging on the tree. I’ll have to pray the socks will do their job and keep birds and possums off, or failing that, sit under the tree 24/7 with a shotgun. This will only be the second year I’ve had a harvest off the tree and it’s 8 years old. Persimmons are one of the most beautiful fruits I’ve ever tasted. This variety isn’t the one that’s eaten when it’s crunchy; it’s the one that goes soft and the inside is like rich apricot jam. You slice off the top and spoon it out. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Tamarillos are starting to ripen, too.ย There won’t be as many this year as something caused most of the flower buds to fall :

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My Naranka Gold pumpkin has lost most of its leaves and I’m hoping the single fruit will be ripe enough to contain fertile seed. I used my last seed to grow it and haven’t seen any more for sale (it’s grown exclusively for Coles) :

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Seedlings of kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage are waiting in the wings. I’m keeping them in the polyhouse as there are still white butterflies about :

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I’ve sown carrots in 2 wicking boxes and leeks are on the way for winter. There are a few green capsicums still on the bushes and chickweed has self-sown in a wicking box. The chooks will get most of it, but I’m cutting it for scrambled eggs for me.

All I’m picking now from the garden is silver beet, a bit of rhubarb and some Asian greens. Oh, and Bonny the chook is still laying but only a couple a week now. But there are tomatoes, tomato puree and beans in the freezer, 2 large jars of dried tomatoes in the cupboard and pickled cucumbers in the fridge. Summer’s bounty is over until next season.

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16 Responses to “March update”

  1. narf7 Says:

    It’s been an arse of a season alright! I don’t even want to think about what my water bill is going to be and we only watered Sanctuary. The rest of the garden had to survive on it’s merits and the grey water we saved from the sink. We stopped using the loo for pee and Steve just goes bush now and I save mine in a bucket, water it down and use it for free fertiliser. The figs love it. Anything we can do to save water is in place and our new garden next season is completely on the cards as we picked up our last “garden bed” the other day. 24 in total and our entire annual harvest will be water wicked using a very cheap way to do so. The 24 “garden beds” we got cost us $50 which is less than what it costs for small corrugated iron one at Bunnings. I guess the long dry has taught us that we need to think smarter and I am cramming everything I can find online about water wicking and trying to learn lessons before we start so we don’t have to fix them later on. Adding worm tunnels to all of the beds and the perennials in the ground will each get a large terracotta (homemade) ola for summer watering from now on. Girding our loins for another tough winter with very little rainfall as predicted by the weather boffins (that our government keeps trying to fire so they won’t tell us anything…sigh…). I LOVE your persimmon! I want to grow one here as I know they do well (one about 10 minutes away in Beauty Point is magnificent) but simply can’t find one to buy. As soon as there is a sniff of nursery’s getting them in they get sold out :(. I might have to buy a few and have a go at growing them from seed. My little quince seedling keeps getting hit by powdery mildew but I persisted in hand watering it and it seems to be growing better this year. We are quite proud of saving all of the water that we used to flush and pour down the sink and using it on the garden. The entire back yard is watered that way and we are using valuable resources to do so. Earl thinks I am competing with him when I use my “pee water” on my plants and has to follow me studiously and pee on them to remark them as his ;). Thank you SO much for introducing me to wicking beds. Without you and your sharing, I would be distraught around about now and would be contemplating giving up veggie gardening altogether. Sanctuary did a lot better this year being totally mulched and using the plastic ola bottles but as it was SO dry the whole season I had to water every morning. It might have only been an hour watering compared to 3 last year, but last year summer only went for 3 weeks. This year it looks like going for broke. Again, we live, we learn and we pick ourselves up, we dust ourselves off and we put what we have learned into practice. Thank you for sharing what you know with us all Bev. You have truly made a difference to our lives ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • foodnstuff Says:

      Will be interested to see what these new wicking beds are like. Keep us updated.

      Why not make a ‘proper’ composting toilet (for outside during the daytime), that recycles all the er…crap? Then you’ll save even more water not flushing the regular loo. With a large property like yours, you’d be able to find a nice secluded hideaway for it. I love the ones that have an outdoor shower and bath attached. Do you read Witches Kitchen blog? She has a beauty! Bathe under the stars! So decadent ๐Ÿ˜‰

      None of my persimmons from my first crop ever had any seeds. I thought I read somewhere that they don’t do seeds, so don’t hold your breath.

      Liked by 1 person

      • narf7 Says:

        Persimmons do have seed. It depends on the species and the cultivar. Many cultivars sold these days are seedless because they have been bred that way. I have considered a composting toilet however they aren’t legal here in Tassie unless you pay the BIG bucks for those very expensive cycling ones (and even then you have to jump through hoops). I used to read witches kitchen. I took her book out of the library not so long ago ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • foodnstuff Says:

          Oh, dear, dear, dear! I didn’t mean one of those whizz-bang composting loos and since when were you ever worried about legality? Look, at the place where I did my PDC, the owner had put a little composting loo beside the regular one. Just a large bucket (?30 litres) with a simple box surround and a proper toilet seat. Steve could make it easily. You do your business and cover the doings with sawdust or wood shavings. It doesn’t smell as long as you cover it and you empty it on the compost heap every few days or whenever. If Steve pees on the lemon tree and you do whatever you’re doing with yours, then you’d only have solids in it anyway and it wouldn’t need emptying so much. You can find plenty of pics on the net of what I’m describing. Of course the visitors use the regular flush loo if they’re squeamish. You don’t even have to have it inside if you don’t want to, but it means you’ll have to use the regular one at night. I know people who came to see my (proper) composting toilet and said they’d do that sort of thing rather than spend the money on a legal one like we did.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris Says:

    Gosh, and well done! I feel your pain on the rain front too. While I think we may have gotten more millimetres than you, we also get intense heat for longer. It sucks the moisture right out of the ground. Like you, we didn’t get the rain we needed, so everything is dying back too.

    I’ve lost a few natives, but the way I look at it is, just more food for the soil! So when the rains do return, it will be in better condition to absorb it. But I don’t think people can fully appreciate how difficult it is to get a yield WITHOUT inputs from nature, until they’re growing their own and getting those water bills. It makes you realise that even growing your own food, isn’t the answer. We need nature to work.

    Like you said with the chickweed though – its a weed and we get it here every autumn too. Self seeds everywhere, and nature supplies it. My vegetable patch is dead, but I’ve got chickeweed, plantain and purslane coming on now, which nature supplied without me at all. Just goes to show me that whatever I would like to happen in the garden, won’t always happen, but I have to knowledgeable on what nature is supplying in my neighbourhood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • foodnstuff Says:

      The chickweed only came up in the wicking box because it was being watered. There’s no sign of it anywhere it usually is. I have purslane too, but didn’t get much this summer, because it usually comes up with the summer rains. I have had plantain, too, but that’s not around this year either. I have a good patch of dandelions though (protected from the rabbits and being watered).

      How do you use the plantain?

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      • Chris Says:

        The ribwort plantain is picked for our guinea pigs, which helps when the grass isn’t growing, due to lack of rain. If I get a sting by an insect, and I’m in the garden, I get a leaf, chew it a bit in my mouth and then put it on the area. It really helps take the sting out.

        I don’t really eat the plantain, but I’ve read you can cook the seeds like sago. We use to have a stack of weeds, but between me, the guinea pigs, chickens, kangaroos, hares and birds, they’re starting to dwindle. I also think herbs like dandelion and plantain, tend to show up in plague proportions, only when the soils are compacted.

        I’ve seen them move around our place. Where I used to get reliable clumps, as soon as I improved the soil, they didn’t grow there any more. They are always prolific in the crappy soil though. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  3. notsomethingelse Says:

    Nice, helpful pics, as usual. Keep on keeping on.

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  4. Fernglade Farm Says:

    Hi foodnstuff,

    Yeah, I’m feeling the lack of rain pain too – although to be honest I have received more than you during that period of time. Water storages are down right across the surrounding area too and I worry about what might happen next summer if not enough rain falls during the winter.

    FYI, I keep adding water tanks as you can never have too many of them and there is no backup plan should they empty out (which would take a far worse summer than this past one).

    Is your place greening up now?

    The A&A wormfarm + water dishes kept full everyday kept a whole lot of the local birds, animals, reptiles and insects alive this past summer. I am a bit soft and I left some of the fruit trees unprotected so that some of the fruit provided food for them all.

    Incidentally, poached quinces are the yummiest tasting fruit. I eat them for breakfast with the homemade muesli everyday. They are awesome and I slow cook a batch of them in the wood oven every week or two.

    Cheers

    Chris

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Chris, good to hear from you. I’ve been following you for ages! We’ve had rain today. Yay! About 18 mm so far. That should green things up a bit. At least it saves me watering all my potted plants for a day or so.

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  5. fergie51 Says:

    A real test for our resilience! I really admire your statistical records, not easy to keep things so well documented but they give a good ‘big picture’ of the situation. Your little boxes look so healthy you’d never know how difficult things are. Thanks, I enjoy seeing how you mange in these difficult times. Your commitment shines through ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • foodnstuff Says:

      Big picture views are interesting because you never remember more than a year back in time, if that. Sometimes I’m amazed when I see how much rain we had in some years. A daily event diary would be even better, but I never seem to keep these things going. Checking a rain gauge when it rains takes less time ;-).

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