Archive for the ‘Asparagus’ Category

Back in business

October 10, 2016

Before I start, I want to say a big thankyou to those who have made such nice comments about my return to blogging. Real warm glow stuff (I should stop more often!). I won’t reply individually to comments, you’ve all got one big thankyou to share amongst you.

So…the first photo on the ‘new’ blog is one I’m very proud of :

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Three beautiful caulis. My first time growing them, although I cheated a bit and bought the seedlings at Bunnings. When they developed huge leaves, on long stalks with no sign of a central flower head, I started picking the leaves for the chooks who love anything in the brassica family. Might as well not waste the leaves, I thought; I didn’t really  expect any flower heads anyway, as I’ve never been very good at getting broccoli to form heads. Then, to my great delight, I noticed tiny heads coming, so I left the rest of the leaves on the plants and waited until the heads were just starting to open a bit and picked them.  Sizewise, they’re the equivalent of a ‘small’ supermarket cauli. Very happy with this effort and will try again next season!

This, I think, is a seedling plum :

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I’ve planted it in memory of Bill Mollison who recently went to that great permaculture garden in the sky. The seedling came from a friend’s planter box, which I established for her to grow a few veggies. The contents of her worm farm were routinely emptied in there and some time ago I noticed a dozen or so seedlings that looked like they might be plums. I potted them up and have planted them in various areas in my food forest. This was the last of the batch and I found it when I was looking through my plants for something to plant for Bill.

The comfrey is finally coming back after its winter rest. I must dig up a few more pieces to spread around the food forest. The chooks like it and I can never have enough greens for them :

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I’ve been a bit worried about my little Australian Finger Lime. I wrote about it here. I planted it in a large tub next to the gas bottles, up against the side of the deck :

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It sat there all winter and hasn’t put out any new leaf growth for spring. The nice, bright yellow-green of the leaves has dulled to a darker green; maybe that was a reaction to the winter cold, but it’s in a sheltered spot facing east and we’ve had some warm days and it hasn’t picked up at all. Some of the leaf tips died and I’ve been expecting it to go to god anytime. Then I noticed these little pink things. Flower buds? Looks like it :

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I’m hoping that’s not a sign that it’s making one last try to do its thing before going to god. I’ll be happy to see the leaf colour looking better and new growth appearing. Fingers are crossed.

Tomato seedlings are in the polyhouse waiting to be planted. A bit small yet :

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I didn’t bother to sow seeds in the normal way and prick out seedlings. I soaked the seeds overnight and sowed 3  or 4 to each tube. That way there’s no interruption to growth from potting on. I’ll eventually thin to a single seedling per tube by simply cutting off the unwanteds at ground level. I may put some of those in as tiny cuttings. I’ve done it before and it works well.

We have rabbits here. At the far end of the street, there are huge numbers. The property next door to me has breeding burrows which they don’t bother to do anything about. Between us there are two battleaxe driveways to rear properties. The rabbits cross the driveways and head straight into my place. All that side of the property is my food forest; 150 metres long x 15 metres wide. You can imagine how the bunnies love getting in there! I’ve spent the last couple of months going right along the boundary (all 150 metres of it) and adding chicken wire to the bottom part of the existing fencing. It has done some good, I think. The rabbits still come in from the street entrance and from the property behind, but they’re not coming far in. They seem to realise that they can’t get back through the fence and are keeping their retreat options open by staying close to the exits. So the middle part of the food forest has been receiving less damage than usual and self-sown seedlings that normally wouldn’t survive are growing. This large cluster of self-sown poppies is the result :

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With any luck, the bees will get some pollen and I’ll get some poppyseed for my home-made bread.

This is a blueberry in a large tub. Nothing strange about that. But look at where the arrow is pointing. How did that get there? A single asparagus :

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I just checked the rainfall figures for May, June, July and August and compared them with the average for Melbourne. We had 360 mm and the average is 220 mm. No wonder the lower rear section of the block is squishy to walk on. It’s meant a huge explosion in germination and growth. This is part of the food forest which is on a slight slope and better drained :

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The light-green ground cover is chickweed. The thicker mass in the background is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. All that ground was completely bare at the end of summer. The rest of the food forest looks the same. I’ve been pulling the chickweed for the chooks. It’s flowering now and setting seed, which will mean similar growth next winter. The Warrigal Greens will probably die back if we have a dry summer like the last, but it will leave masses of seed, too. I’ve always envied those photos of permaculture gardens which show a huge abundance of growth. Now I’ve got it too. Must be doing something right (or should I just put it down to a beneficent rain god?)

October update

November 6, 2015

I was expecting to begin this post by saying we’d not had one drop of rainfall for the month…the first totally dry October since I began keeping records when we moved here 16 years ago, but lo and behold we had a thunderstorm on the last day of the month that delivered 14 mm. Melbourne’s average for October is 65 mm, so it was still well below that, but I got a useful 2000 litres in the big tank and all the swales filled so I was happy, even if it did wreck my plans to burn off. With tiny fruits swelling on all the trees, this is the time when moisture in the ground is really needed. Even better was yesterday’s fall—22 mm—a bit less than half November’s average. So things are a bit rosier on the rainfall front.

The dwarf Stella cherry is in its second year and is being well-watered and netted. There are many more fruits than last year. I counted at least thirty tucked in amongst the leaves. I want to get all of them! :

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My new thornless blackberries surprised me by producing pink flowers instead of the familiar white of the wild blackberries :

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I scored a useful compost bin from a friend and I’m going to use it for food scraps and the stuff from the composting toilet. I’m hoping the contents won’t dry out so much over the summer like they do just sitting in an open wire cage. I have 2 worm farms under the house, but I want to de-commission one and so I’ll have extra food scraps to deal with. This new bin has come at just the right time :

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I’ve had problems with introduced black rats eating tomato seedlings planted in wicking tubs and boxes near the house. Never before has anything ever touched a tomato seedling here, so I was gob-smacked, not to mention furious, to find just leafless sticks the day after I planted them. I’ve managed to get some planted in other spots well away from the house, but planting in Zone 1, near the house, is temporarily on hold. I’ve baited and 6 rats have gone to god so far and the scuffling noises in the ceiling have gone too.

I’ve established a bed of nettles under my plant benches (these are the stands that hold over 600 tubed plants). The nettles don’t invade the path beside the benches, because the soil is more compacted there and they get water and fertiliser runoff when I water the tubes. I just have to remember not to get too close in summer when I’m wearing shorts :

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A classic example of permaculture design where the outputs from one part of the system become the inputs for another part of the system.

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The foliage in the strawberry wicking buckets died right back over winter and I was afraid I’d lost them, but they’ve burst into new growth and flowers and fruits. I topped the buckets with chook poo compost which has obviously helped :

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I’ve written before about mini tomato cuttings using plants thinned from pots where I’ve sown 2 or 3 seeds. I snipped off a few seedlings at the base and stuck them in some water till I could get round to putting them in as cuttings. I was busy and they sat there for a couple of days. They couldn’t wait and started growing roots in the water :

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Tomatoes definitely have a will to live!

This beautiful ferny foliage belongs to the tomato variety Silvery Fir Tree :

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It’s a determinate variety, so doesn’t need staking, and is one of the earliest varieties to bear fruit. I’ve been growing it for about 4 years now. The fruits are large and slightly flattened and have a good flavour.

Looks like I might get a good crop of dill seed this year. I use a lot of it in pickling cucumbers and my local supermarket doesn’t carry it, so I like to have a crop of my own each year. This is in a wicking box :

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I’ve been eating asparagus almost every second day. The trouble with asparagus is that if you don’t check the bed every day they have an inordinate desire to reach the moon :

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The two small ones in front are about the size you’d get in a bunch at the supermarket. It’s not a lost cause, however. Snapping up from the bottom, to remove the woody bits, still leaves two-thirds of edible stem and I can chop up the woody bits in the Thermomix, blanch and freeze them for winter soups. Valuable fibre shouldn’t be discarded!

These 6 little seedlings are worth more than gold! :

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They’re blueberries. I’m indebted to rabidlittlehippy for showing how to propagate them from seed. She put the berries in the freezer….actually no, I think she used purchased frozen blueberries. Anyway, I put berries from my own plant in the freezer. I didn’t record how long they were in there, but I took them out in March (at the equinox actually), extracted the seeds from the fruits and sowed them. They took nearly 60 days to germinate and then sat there all winter doing nothing. They started to grow in early spring and I potted them up at the beginning of October. There were 8 but 2 died. In the environment where they grow naturally, they probably drop from the bushes in late summer or autumn, then sit on the (?frozen/snow-covered) ground  until spring and then germinate. Which makes me think they took so long to germinate for me because I should have had them in the freezer over winter and sown them in spring. So I’ll try that next time. It has been a real thrill to succeed in growing blueberries from seed as plants are expensive to buy. Thanks RLH!

And that, as far as I can remember, was October. Oh, but I forgot the Girls again. Two eggs a day (and sometimes three), from the four of them. Enough for me and some to share. Self-sufficiency is alive and well.

Spring at last!

October 1, 2015

Well…the mornings are still colder than I’d like, but there have been some warm days and all the fruit trees and wattles are flowering and we have passed the equinox.

So what’s happening at the foodnstuff residence?

Asparagus. I’m eating about 3 meals a week. When there’s not enough for a meal on any particular day, I just stand whatever I’ve picked in a cup of water until there are enough. They will continue to grow (elongate) in the water but don’t seem to get any more woody at the bottom :

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Raspberries. The raspberry bed is in its second year now. The original five plants have morphed into a random cluster of suckers, which, I’m hoping, will all flower and produce much more than the couple of cups I picked last year. The whole bed is permanently under a net now, because the rabbits love raspberry leaves (and of course the birds will love the berries) :

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I’ve had to put a net over the rhubarb. The rabbits were eating all the leaves. I know I only eat the stalks, but no leaves…no photosynthesis…no stalks :

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The lettuces in the milk bottle planters are thriving. I’m going to put up three more with alpine strawberries in them :

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I love the lacy look of this purple mizuna. It’s in a wicking box with purple bok choy :

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With all these fancy hybrids around now, veggie gardens are looking so attractive it’s a shame to have to pick the plants and eat them.

Here’s ordinary old green mizuna, direct-seeded into a wicking box. Too late in the year for it really…..it will flower before I get much from it, but the Girls will enjoy it :

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Direct-seeded calendula. I’ll really have to make that calendula flower ointment this year :

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Red-veined sorrel. It was looking rather tired. Amazing what a dollop of chook poo will do :

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I’m trying carrots in a wicking box this year (there’s a self-sown lettuce trying to muscle its way in) :

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Brillant red flowers on pineapple sage. I must plant more of this :

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Tomato seedlings waiting for the real warm weather :

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This is my new friend :

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A King Parrot. He’s been coming nearly every day recently, sometimes with his lady friend. He’s very tame….she’s a bit more reticent. When he can’t see me outside, he props on the laundry window ledge and whistles. When I come into the laundry and he sees me, he gives what I can only describe as a joyous shout. I go out and spread a handful of sunflower seeds on the deck railing. He’s no more than a foot away from me. So beautiful!

This quince tree (grown from seed) has become such an attractive specimen that I wouldn’t care if it didn’t produce any fruit. It did produce last year but something ate all but the few I managed to rescue. I hadn’t bothered about bagging the fruit because….well, who would eat a raw, unripe quince? Something was either very hungry or has no taste buds to speak of :

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My little cherry is out in flower. Support for a net is already in place as soon as fruits start forming :

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Pear blossom is beautiful :

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But apple blossom wins the prize every time :

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Last but not least, the Girls are still producing 8 or 9 eggs a week; even 4-year-old Molly is still doing her bit occasionally. Grated carrot and yoghurt goes down a treat :

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Where is everybody?

June 28, 2015

All on its own….the first asparagus of the season :

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Another two in this spot, a skinny one and a fat one trying to hide beside a clump of Dianella :

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This is the earliest they’ve ever appeared. It’s usually late July or August before they come up. I’m not complaining!

Also, the first yacon tuber of the season. Not a very big one…..there’s been too much competition for water and nutrient, because they were planted under a hungry tamarillo :

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Not the first pepino of the season, but the most I’ve ever harvested in one go  :

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On the chicken front, Clover is still laying, albeit only 2 or 3 a week, but still, I’ve never had a hen laying this far into winter before. Admittedly, some are funny pointy ones, a couple have dropped out at night and smashed on the floor of the coop, and one had only half a shell, but she’s trying. And 4-year-old Molly, who stopped laying and moulted in January, looks like she might lay again this spring and early at that. Her wattles and comb have reddened considerably, so that now I have to look twice to tell her apart from Clover. It would be nice to have eggs right through the year and not have to buy them at all in winter.

I can’t believe it’s June

June 13, 2015

Oops! I think I said that last month, when May rolled around. Is this the May Update then? Sort of. How about I roll it into June and then I won’t have to do a June update.

Despite reading other food-growing blogs and seeing how much winter work other people are doing, I haven’t done much at all in the last month to write about.

I did manage to cut back all the asparagus fern, mulched it up, put it back on the beds and fed them with blood and bone and dynamic lifter (chook poo compost gets reserved for the wicking boxes). My asparagus beds aren’t really ‘proper’ beds; I just planted groups of asparagus seedlings amongst other plants, in small gaps in the food forest. I wanted to have the feeling that I was harvesting spears from a forest landscape rather than a traditional garden bed (I also hoped that the rabbits wouldn’t find them so I wouldn’t have to put wire around them). And because of this and owing to not removing the berries from female plants, I now have extra seedlings dotted around that I didn’t plant. And other seedlings coming up in odd places, not in the food forest, like this one in a tub (which contains a blueberry), so it will be repotted and planted somewhere more suitable :

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The tamarillo harvest is well down this year. The four main trees flowered well in spring, but were attacked by aphid-like insects and by the time I realised what was happening, most of the flowers had dropped off…so not a lot of fruit this year. I have only one plant of the yellow-fruited form and that was in a different spot so I’m getting some fruit from it and I have a half-dozen seedlings from last year’s fruit of that ready to plant, so I’m going to spread them around in the hope that if one gets a problem, they won’t all get it. The yellow variety is a bit sweeter than the red :

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It looks orange here, but it really is yellow. Why doesn’t the camera see what I see?

This motley crew are about to be planted :

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I’m selling plants at a local monthly market and these kale plants are waiting their turn to go. Red Russian and Lacinato. I sowed 2 seeds direct into each tube…that way the growth isn’t set back by pricking out and potting up :

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I found two varieties of strawberry seeds at the local garden centre…an ordinary variety called Temptation and mixed seed of the red and white alpine variety. I’m thinking the alpine variety should do well at the market :

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Egg-laying has tailed right off and tailed is the right word for it! This was the latest from Clover, the only one still laying :

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The New Girls ended their first laying season of 13 weeks, producing 107 eggs between them, an average of about 8 per week. Clover is still producing a couple a week, but I’ve told her not to bother, since I’m not getting much benefit from her efforts. There’s not much point, I told her, if you’re not going to do it through the day and then it drops out of your rear end through the night and smashes on the floor, or if you could only manage to put half a shell on the next one, so that my thumb went right through it when I picked it up, but thanks anyway for the funny pointy one and I’m sure it’s going to be fine inside.

I have plenty of winter greens for the Girls. This is mizuna, direct seeded :

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And this is corn salad, also direct seeded. The French call it mache. It has a beautiful buttery flavour when lightly steamed; almost too good to give to the chooks :

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This kale plant is about ready for me to try a batch of kale chips :

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This is is new variety of kale called Jagallo Nero. Nice lacy foliage :

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I’m looking forward to the winter solstice in a bit over a week’s time, when the sun will start moving southwards again, and the days start to get longer. And tomato season will be on the horizon. Yay!

April update

May 12, 2015

Hard to believe it’s May already; I’m wondering where autumn went. We don’t seem to have had many of those lovely warm days I remember from past autumns.

The Sweet Wattle is flowering all through the bush, filling the air with a beautiful scent :

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I picked the first mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes of the season :

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The mushrooms actually came from the hugelkultur bed; it’s nice to think that as the underlying wood rots down, it’s providing me with some extra food.

The New Girls have continued to lay well, with at least a dozen eggs a week between them. I thought the they were going off the lay, preparing for their winter rest, when egg production dropped down a bit to 9 a week, but then this appeared, all 136 gm of it. Ouch! I bet that hurt! :

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This Japanese seedless mandarin is covered in fruits, the only problem being that they have almost no mandarin flavour and are as sour as lemons! :

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I’m thinking the only way to deal with them would be to preserve the segments in a sugar syrup, perhaps with some spices to make up for the absence of mandarin flavour. Ideas anyone?

The blueberry has donned it’s autumn foliage :

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The oca is growing well and the tubers will be harvested as soon as the foliage dies down in winter :

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The asparagus fern needs to be allowed to die back to return nutrients to the root system, then it can be cut back and the beds fertilised in readiness for the spring crop :

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This is an alpine strawberry in a wicking box. I sprinkled some corn salad seed around it. I think I overdid it a bit! :

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The pepino in the wicking box is still producing fruit :

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The wombok chinese cabbage in the wicking box is growing well, but not looking like producing the expected tight central cluster of leaves. I was hoping to make kimchi with it, but if it doesn’t do its thing the chooks are going to have a ball pulling these massive leaves to bits :

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August update

September 9, 2014

Well it was nice to finally see some sunshine and warm days towards the end of the month and the winter blues slipping away. Here’s hoping the warmth continues.

Around the garden…..

The first of the tomato seedlings are out in the polyhouse after being sown at the winter solstice and being kept inside in a sunny window for a couple of months. I sowed three seeds to a pot and will let them grow on a bit, then take mini cuttings of the extras as I did last year :

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The tamarillo season ended with a flourish with this beautiful truss of fruits. Almost a shame to eat them :

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I’m really going to miss them on my breakfast cereal. Some fruits still haven’t ripened and I don’t know why, or if, or when, they will. I don’t know what triggers ripening—is it increasing warmth or lengthening days? They’ll be getting both of those from now on, so maybe there are delicious breakfasts still to come.

Leeks are looking good. These are in a wicking box. There’s a similar batch in the garden looking just as good :

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Likewise garlic. These are in the garden and also in a wicking box :

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This is a dwarf nectarine. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but it’s only about 50 cm high, and is supposed to grow to about a metre. The flowers are also much pinker than the photo shows. In its first year it had 5 nectarines and a rabbit/possum got them all. Last year it had 2 and I got them.  I’ve made a special cage for it this year :

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All of the larger stone fruits are flowering too, but it’s a worry that I’m not seeing many bees around.

I’m not really a great one for growing plants in odd-looking containers, but when my 15 year-old wheelbarrow finally died, I decided that since it was too tall for the rabbits to get to, it was worth being repurposed for veggies in Zone 1. It’s now sporting some kale and chicory and I’ve tossed in seeds of mizuna :

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While I was taking photos for this post, I saw the first Cabbage White Butterfly for the season. Damn & blast. That means it’s probably too late for netting, so daily inspections of all things cabbagy for eggs and caterpillars will be needed.

Er….? :

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Fooled you?  I cut them out of some white plastic sheet. Because…..

…..on last Saturday’s ABC Gardening Australia program, one of the presenters came up with the idea of plastic white butterflies, pinned to the top of sticks and poked in around plants in the cabbage family, the idea being that if a female Cabbage White sees other butterflies there, she won’t waste her eggs but will go somewhere else and lay.

Don’t laugh…..I did it years ago and it worked! Only then I hung the fakes on fishing line above the plants. I stood and watched and it was true; the butterflies wouldn’t land on the plants while ‘other’ butterflies were hovering there. There was only one problem—I had to spend some time each day untangling wind-blown fishing lines. I didn’t repeat it in subsequent years, and think the fakes must have been thrown out, but after that TV program, I’m going to have another go. On sticks this time.

I’ve had a few meals of asparagus. There are new spears popping up every day now. To store them until I have enough for a decent meal, I just stand them in  cup of water. It keeps them hydrated and they will even continue to elongate :

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I harvested oca during the  month. These were the largest tubers. I planted the tiddlers straight back into the garden, but in a different spot. I’ll probably pickle most of these. I don’t like them roasted :

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This is purple mizuna. It has beautiful, lacy foliage and looks stunning in a salad :

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Solar…..

Generation from the solar panels bottomed out in July and started to take off again towards the end of August, with 9.7 kWh being recorded on the last day of the month. Amazing what a difference a sunny day makes! Over June and July I imported more power from the grid than I sent back to it, but I’m in front again now and exporting more than I’m using. I’m still waiting for a corrected bill from the retailer. According to their web portal there are 46 days in the January-April billing period that show no export to the grid, and this represents a credit of over $200 they owe me. They keep sending me texts to say they’re “working on it”, but since these are probably automated, I doubt whether they actually are. Main thing is, I haven’t paid a cent for electricity in the last ten months and don’t look like paying anything for the rest of the year. Or ever again. Maybe.

Rainfall…..

At 64 mm, we scraped in just 7 mm above Melbourne’s average of 57 mm for the month. It’s been good for the citrus and the oranges that looked a bit undersized are now looking a normal size.

I was about to hit the publish button when I remembered the most important thing. Eggs. The Girls haven’t laid since mid-January. I’ve been giving them subtle hints nagging them for a couple of weeks now. Molly apparently got sick of me harping on the fact that it was spring and normal chooks lay eggs in spring and laid one on the last day of the month. And as if to say, “there I’ve done it, now will you shut up”, hasn’t laid since. Not to be outdone, Cheeky has laid three. And one dropped out of someone during the night and broke. Oh, well. It’s a start.

June update

June 30, 2014

I’ve been doing a bit of reblogging lately, since I learned how to do it, but it’s because I find other people can say what I want to say so much better than I can, and it seems almost criminal not to spread good blogs around.

So for something original for a change, I thought I’d do a regular end-of-month post about all the things that have happened on the property during the month and also include the monthly solar update as part of it. Since I only just thought of this brilliant idea, I can’t remember the first couple of weeks of the month, but from now on, I hope I can remember to document and take photos regularly.

Last week. What a shocker weather-wise! Gale-force winds nearly every day and bitterly cold to boot. Trees down all over Melbourne. I didn’t venture outside much, as I don’t like working in the bush under trees that tend to fall over or drop huge branches without warning.  I lit the wood fire and worked inside on my new chook coop (of which more later).

I did go outside briefly, to check on damage and found this. It has popped up, at least 2 months early by my reckoning:

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It had a tiny mate:

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Means I’d better get some chook poo compost on them to boost a few more spears. I really don’t mind climate change if I can get fresh asparagus in June.

Solar generation continued to be down, with most of the readings between 2.5 and 5 kWh per day and of course, I was taking more from the grid, but still sending a little bit back. Which is good, because they pay me more for my electricity than I pay them for theirs. I received my next bill during the month—the one I’d been waiting for, which was only 5 weeks overdue (!!) and true to form the retailer got it wrong again! Surprisingly it wasn’t the meter reads they got wrong this time—they agreed with my readings—it was in working out the solar credits. Would you believe they managed to subtract 1838 kWh from 2854 kWh and come up with 125.463 kWh!!!! To three decimal places, what’s more!! I thought all this was done by computer. It meant I got a credit of $41.40, when I should have received $335.28. So I rang, AGAIN, and pointed it out and I’m still waiting for the amended bill.

I imported an average 2.6 kWh per day from the grid; sent 2.1 kWh per day back to the grid and the panels managed 2.9 kWh per day.

It’s been 8 months since the solar was installed and although it’s too soon to tell yet, it’s looking hopeful that I might wind up at the end of 12 months with an overall credit. Which means I will have not only saved about $1200 in electricity bills, but an additional credit might also pay for all, or some of, my bottled gas bill. Which would be very satisfying.

The winter solstice happened during the month and I was so wrapped up in the idea that the sun would be heading south again (thinking solar generation), that I forgot it’s also when I start sowing my tomatoes. So I got to work and filled dozens of small pots with a mixture of sieved potting mix and a little bit of blood and bone and went through my seed bank. I soak about a dozen seeds in water overnight and sow three to each pot—4 pots of each variety. They’ll be thinned to the strongest seedling:

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They’re in a plastic box inside on the kitchen table. When they germinate, I’m going to put half the tubes out into the polyhouse (in the cold, poor things) and leave the rest inside as a control. This is because I spoke to the old chap who sells tomato plants at the Sunday Market and asked him how he gets his plants so big by August when he starts selling them (they’re 30 cm tall with stems as thick as my little finger—I could never manage that!). He said he puts them outside as soon as he’s potted them up, BUT they should have protection from cold winds. Well, they’ll get that in the polyhouse, but it certainly won’t be warmer than inside.

So far, I’ve sown—Silvery Fir Tree, Reisentraube, Grub’s Green, Black Russian, San Marzano, Burnley Surecrop, Checkmate and Red Pear Cherry. I have plenty more varieties in stock and will keep going with it.

I’m still picking tamarillos and having a couple on my breakfast cereal each morning. I’ll really miss them when they’ve finished:

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And finally, rainfall for June. We had 109 mm (Melbourne’s June average is 43 mm) making up for the abysmally low February (8 mm; average 46 mm) and low May (36 mm; average 68 mm). Everything is nicely soggy.

Making a swale

June 18, 2014

I’ve made a couple of new swales recently and started a third, so thought I’d document the process.

I had a lot of asparagus to plant out and wanted to put them on a swale mound. Here’s the first swale. It’s about a metre and a half long, 40 cm wide and 30 cm deep:

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The asparagus are a bit hard to see. I’ve planted dandelions in between them, which are easier to see (the flat rosettes). The day after I took the photo the dandelions disappeared, courtesy of the rabbits. I put wire over them and they grew back good as new. Can’t keep a good dandelion down! There’s a variegated mint doing well at the far right. Rabbits don’t like mint, it seems.

At the outer edge of the swale mound there are four Strawberry Guava plants. They should grow into shrubs about a metre high with tangy red berries.

The second swale is about the same size and sits at the lower edge of a gravel path. It fills from water running off the path. I’ve planted more guavas at the base, Cherry Guava this time. They’ll get a bit taller, but I’ll keep them to a metre or so. In between them and on top of the mound are a couple of oregano plants. They should sucker and spread along the swale, maybe even grow down into it.  On the far right is a Buddleia—a Butterfly Bush. Circles of wire surround everything until it’s established. Pesky rabbits again!

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I’ve just finished the third swale. Like the others, it’s on a slope. I had just a few asparagus plants left and wanted to get them planted before they go dormant for the winter.

Since these are small swales it’s not really necessary to mark out the contour; trial and error is pretty much OK. First job is to dig out the ditch by hand and rake the soil into a mound on the lower side. Then I cover the mound with cut branches sloping away from the swale. I’ve used meleleuca here because it’s no good for firewood as it’s too soft, and it rots easily, so will add carbon to the soil fairly rapidly:

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Then I deepen the swale and rake the soil over the sticks. If I have extra soil I’ll add it, too. I could go on adding sticks and soil, making the mound higher and higher, but while sticks are plentiful around here, soil is not (unless I want holes everywhere). The sticks are supposed to deter the rabbits and blackbirds from digging up the soil on the mound. It sometimes works:

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You can see water in the swale. I fill it frequently as I’m going, just to check the levels. Mostly the ends will be the spots that need adjustment, building them up so that water doesn’t flow out. It’s looking pretty good:

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Finally, I cover the swale with mulch. I’ve used casuarina needles here, because I have a huge supply:

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It would be ideal to be able to broadcast seed into the mound at this point. Something like clover or vetch—something that would hold the soil in place and maybe provide nitrogen, but the rabbits would eat the seedlings down in a flash.

I might use yarrow. It spreads by underground rhizomes and the rabbits usually don’t touch it*. I can dig up a few clumps and plant them out, protected with wire, till they establish. I’ll put the remainder of the asparagus in later this week and that will be the end of about 2 dozen plants I grew from seed last year.

This swale is a bit over 2 metres long and I estimate that it will hold about 80-100 litres of water when full. I won’t put any chook poo compost on it until the asparagus spears are starting to appear in spring. They won’t be big enough to eat this year but my older plants are in their third year of harvesting so I can afford to wait.

* I once found a dead rabbit with a wisp of yarrow poking out of its mouth. I can’t believe that’s what killed it, but it would be nice to think I’m growing something that would. They do eat down the flowering stems though, but don’t seem to browse the leafy rosettes; not excessively enough to notice anyway. It annoys me because the flowers are rather attractive en masse:

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Firewood self-sufficiency

May 19, 2014

Here’s a useful post about firewood from Mike at Damn the Matrix.

When we built our house 15 years ago, we put in a wood heater. During all that time no firewood has been bought in. 80% of the property is remnant natural eucalypt forest. No living trees have ever been cut for firewood (and never will be, at least not in the remnant section). There are dead trees that could be cut and something is always falling down, be it whole trees, large branches or kindling-sized material.

I have huge supplies of useful kindling wood from twigs up to 2-3 inches in diameter. This lot’s 40 cm long and ready to go:

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These bits are a metre long and need only to be cut into three. There are 5 piles like this:

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This lot’s not even cut yet. The pile is taller than I am!:

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I cut this by hand with a bow saw and use my relatively new toy, a battery-operated chainsaw, for the bigger stuff. It’s easy to use and weighs in at only 4 kg, about the same as a couple of 2-litre bottles of milk (and of course, the solar panels recharge the batteries):

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The really big stuff is dealt with by a neighbour in a rear property and because I can’t handle it in my size heater, he gets to keep what he cuts up.

I’m planting out a woodlot at the rear of the property, consisting mainly (at the moment) of Black Sheokes (Allocasuarina littoralis). It’s a local species, so belongs to the ecosystem, and grows quickly. The intention is to cut these for firewood in the future. It burns really well. A similar, related species, Drooping Sheoke (Allocasuarina verticillata), used to grow all along the eastern side of Port Philip Bay, south-east of Melbourne. It was cut out very early during the settlement of Melbourne, to fuel the baker’s ovens in the growing city.

Sheokes planted in a group of three, with dandelions for company:

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This is permaculture zone 4—a harvestable woodlot, so the dandelions are an acceptable food species here. I’ve also planted asparagus in this area and hope that the two species will naturalise under the sheokes. I may have some problems with the rabbits—they love dandelions, but so far haven’t bothered about asparagus.

I love it that I don’t need electricity for heating. As long as trees aren’t cut at a greater rate than they grow, wood is a sustainable resource.