Archive for March, 2017

March update

March 30, 2017

Well, summer is officially over, but the weather remained warm all through March, with temperatures in the high 20’s and sometimes nudging into the low 30’s.

I’ve pulled out most of the tomatoes—the plants looked awful, with dead, shrivelled lower leaves, extending upwards in some cases. Surprisingly, yields were pretty good, especially of the cherries, but then there were more plants of those than the bigger varieties. I didn’t bother to dry any cherries, but instead froze a large box of them, to use for winter soups and casseroles. There’s still one self-sown plant going well in a wicking box down the back, just starting to bear fruits.

I picked 2 more eggplants and there are still 3 on the plants plus a couple more flowers which may produce fruits. I’ll definitely grow these again next season. Six fruits from 3 plants wasn’t a bad effort for a first-time growing :

I decided to try peas in a ‘tepee’. It’s worked well for beans in the past. These are a tall, purple-podded variety. They germinated well….. :

…..and after a week or so I put up the supporting strings for them to climb on :

I’ve put more peas in a wicking box. These are a short-stemmed variety which have a lot of tendrils so they hang onto each other. I’ll just put 4 stakes in the corners of the box with a string around them to keep the whole bunch from falling over and that should do. The tiny seedlings are self-sown chickweed which the chooks will get eventually :

I may get some pumpkins this year. There are 2 on this plant. With any luck they’ll get big enough to ripen before the weather breaks:

Capsicums, sharing a wicking box with climbing beans, are fruiting :

The prize for the top-bearing plants this season would have to go to the 5 thornless blackberry plants I put in 2 years ago. At the height of the season I was picking a small handful of delicious berries every couple of days. I decided I would definitely get more bare-rooted plants from my local nursery this winter and then discovered Bunnings had them for sale in small pots. They’re a Nelly Kelly variety :

I’ve put one in a large tub beside the deck and will train it up onto the deck :

I haven’t decided where to plant the second one yet. I didn’t keep the tag of the original plants and think they were just called ‘thornless blackberries’, without a variety name. They were just pencil-sized, bare-rooted stems when I planted them. These Nelly Kelly varieties have thin little stems and small leaves. Maybe that’s just due to being young plants in pots. It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

It’s been a good year for pepinos :

The new season’s silver beet is also bearing well in a wicking box :

I had a wicking box on the deck with Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) in it. Also known as arthritis plant, it’s native to Asia and is reputed to cure many ills as well as arthritis. I intended to use it to make a herbal tea, but didn’t like the bitter flavour and so it wasn’t used much. I planted a pepino in there to keep it company. A self-sown alpine strawberry also appeared :

The pepino grew well and produced several fruits but eventually got big and woody and I hacked it back, not caring whether it sprouted again or not, because I had others in the garden. It didn’t…..and the gotu kola took over. I trimmed it back occasionally but generally ignored it.  Finally, it occurred to me that the wicking box was just being wasted and I’d be better to plant it with something I would actually use.

So, I tipped it on its side and then upended it :

image

As I suspected, the bottom half of the soil mixture was bone dry and the roots in it were dead. I’d been watering it every day, but the water was running out of the drainage holes before it was able to soak into the soil and saturate the lower reservoir. The plant had been living on its daily drink. The box just had too much growth in it.

The dry soil was friable and worth saving. There had been worms in it and they’d either died or moved on, so it was likely most of the soil would be worm castings. I broke it up with the spade and sieved it :

I got a large tub of soil that will be useful as a seed-raising mix :

I filled the wicking box with new compost and sowed seeds of mizuna, a fast-growing Asian green, which both I and the chooks like :

A few weeks later and it looked like this :

The grassy stuff is wheat. The chooks don’t eat the wheat in their grain mix and wherever I use the chook poo compost made with the floor sweepings from their run, I get wheat germinating. I decided to leave it there. The chooks will only eat wheat if it’s sprouted first, so it makes some sense to grow it for them for sprouting. I used to grow it years ago, but gave up when the parrots kept raiding the ears while they were green. Because there are still cabbage white butterflies about (and will be, until the weather gets colder), I’ve had to put a cover over the box to prevent the female butterflies laying eggs on the mizuna :

Mosquito netting is the only thing that will keep the butterflies out. I’ve always used half-inch netting in the past but was stunned to see a butterfly fold her wings back and actually squeeze through it. So now I have a (relatively) new wicking box with a more useful crop.

I planted garlic on the equinox. Only a few cloves have sprouted—not worth a photo. I’ve failed dismally with garlic the last couple of years, but I still keep trying. Last year the plants rotted away in winter; the year before that they didn’t produce any bulbs. I’ve had good garlic in the past—don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I felt a bit better when my Italian neighbours told me their garlic has failed too—if Italians can’t grow garlic, there must be something more at work than my own incompetence.

I tend to divide my growing year into 2 seasons—spring/summer (October-March) and autumn/winter (April-September) and always grow more food in the spring/summer season. In total, in the season just finished, I managed to grow about 30 varieties of food, including more than a dozen different fruits; 6 greens; 4 root crops; onions and leeks and asparagus, plus a variety of herbs. Oh, and eggs (the Girls helped with those). There wasn’t a huge amount of anything (except maybe tomatoes), but I’m aiming for diversity anyway. Pretty happy with what I’m able provide for myself.

We had 37 mm rainfall in March; 32 mm in the 3rd week and 5 mm in the final week. Melbourne’s average is 44 mm. Let’s hope the warm weather and rain continues through autumn.

Postscript

Those thornless blackberries from Bunnings—

I went out to take a few more pics for this post and noticed that the blackberry I put in the large tub by the deck had a flower on it :

It’s white! The other thornless blackberries I bought at the local nursery had pink flowers :

So there is a difference. I think I need to do some research on thornless blackberries. As I understand it, they’re hybrids of the normal blackberry with something else. Something else what? The first 5 plants I put in have had really good yields. I hope these 2 new varieties are as good.

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Feeling fine about the end of the world as we know it?

March 20, 2017

An interesting look at human behaviour. Not sure if it makes me feel positive or negative about the future.

See what you think.

Wildlife carers

March 14, 2017

I have a wildlife carer living 5 minutes from me. Over the years I’ve taken ducks, baby birds and possums to her for attention. Today I took a little sugar glider that had become entangled in the barbed wire on the top of the fence (god knows why it was ever put on the fencing here……this isn’t farming country).

A neighbour helped to cut the wire while I held him tight. He was very feisty, yelling abuse at us and biting. I popped him, with the wire still attached, into a pillowcase and took him to the “nice lady down the road who will look after you.”

I’m always amazed at the dedication of wildlife carers. They’re on call 24/7. It’s nothing to have to get up in the wee small hours to feed tiny, furry creatures special wildlife ‘sustagen’ with an eyedropper.

Once, when I called in, she had an injured cormorant in the shower recess. She would open the door and throw it a fish. Another time there was a baby wombat in the spare bedroom. Most of the patients are outside though, in various cages and nest boxes.

Wildlife carers receive some government assistance. But most pay out of their own pockets for the huge quantities of special food and housing that they need. I always make sure when I take her an injured animal that I give her something towards its care. Even just donating unwanted bird cages or offering to make little ‘possum bags’ out of material scraps can be a help.

If you have a wildlife carer in your area, why not call in and see if you can offer any help. Some of them need volunteers to go and pick up injured wildlife, because they can’t often get away to do it themselves. They do a tremendous job, working quietly away in the background to help the tiny creatures that so often are the victims of thoughtless human activities.

I’m writing this because she’s just phoned me back to say the little glider went to the vet and was anaesthetised while he was disentangled from the wire and his injuries were stitched up. Now he’ll be on antibiotics for about 10 days. There’s a good chance he’ll make a full recovery and then I’ll go down and pick him up and release him back into his own home.

The carer tells me that we are gradually losing these species one by one, quietly, in the background and very few people are aware or care. It’s heart-breaking.

Grounded

March 10, 2017

Interesting post from Ugo Bardi at Cassandra’s Legacy blog. I had no idea how jet engines work, so learned a few things from the video about fuel consumption and the relative costs of flying.

The bottom line is that oil running out will be the end of powered flight. No oil, no fly. Ah, well….it was always for the birds anyway.

 

“Peak Speed” for the World’s Airlines

So, it is true: planes fly slower nowadays! The video, above, shows that plane trips are today more than 10% longer than they were in the 1960s and 1970s for the same distance. Airlines, it seems, attained their “peak speed” during those decades.

Clearly, today airlines have optimized the performance of their planes to minimize costs. But they were surely optimizing their business practices also before the peak and, at that time, the results they obtained must have been different. The change took place when they started using the current oil prices for their models and they found that they had to slow down. You see in the chart below what happened to the oil market after 1970. (Brent oil prices, corrected for inflation, source)

It is remarkable how things change. Do you remember the hype of the 1950s and 1960s? The people who opposed the building of supersonic passenger planes were considered to be against humankind’s manifest destiny. Speed had to increase because it had always been doing so and technology would have provided us with the means to continue moving faster.

 Rising oil prices dealt a death blow to that attitude. The supersonic Concorde was a flying mistake that was built nevertheless (a manifestation of French Grandeur). Fortunately, other weird ideas didn’t make it, such as the sub-orbital plane that should have shot passengers from Paris to New York in less than one hour.

If this story tells us something is that, in the fight between technological progress and oil depletion, oil depletion normally wins. Airlines are especially fuel-hungry and they have no alternatives to liquid fuels. So, despite all the best technologies, the only way for them to cope with higher oil prices was to slow down planes, it was as simple as that.

Even slower planes, though, still need liquid fuels that are manufactured from oil. We may go back to propeller planes for even better efficiency, but the problem remains: no oil, no planes, at least not the kind of planes that allow normal people to fly, something that, nowadays, looks like an obvious feature of our life. But, as I said before, things change!