Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

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) :

IMG_3280

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) :

IMG_3276

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 :

image

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 :

image

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 :

image

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.

Advertisements

March update

April 4, 2015

After my last update, when I showed my raspberry bed with nets over it, a reader pointed out that it didn’t look very secure because there were gaps a bird could easily get under. Well…um…I did know that; I’d hastily thrown some netting over the top in order to take the photo, hoping no-one would notice it wasn’t perfect!

I found a terrific net in Bunnings—4 m x 4m—which fitted beautifully, going right to the ground. Much better :

IMG_3054

It’s exciting to see the berries ripening underneath, even though there aren’t many of them this time, because it’s only their first year :

IMG_3055

I bought a couple of extra nets and when I create another bed for thornless blackberries, which I’m going to buy and plant this winter, I’ll make it the same size so the net will fit perfectly.

 

This year, I’m having a go at growing red cabbage in a wicking box :

IMG_3057

The seedlings were ready early and I wanted to plant them out, but Cabbage White butterflies were still around, so the wicking box had to be netted too. This is just cheap mosquito netting, draped over a couple of pieces of plastic pipe and tied at the ends :

IMG_3056

 

The March equinox is when I plant my garlic. I bought bulbs again this year from Yelwek Farm, because my bulbs from last year were just too small to bother with.

Ready to plant :

IMG_3053

And planted :

IMG_3066

 

Potato onions were also planted at the equinox. These were the ones I grew last year and were also small, but I decided to go with them rather than buy more. One is sprouting already :

IMG_3064

 

Another brassica I’m having a go at growing is wombok chinese cabbage, which I use to make kimchi. Again, the seedlings had to be netted to keep out the white butterflies :

IMG_3061

IMG_3060

 

The New Girls finally came good at 29 weeks old and started laying and I got a dozen eggs in the first week and 16 in the second, an all-time record. This is Bonny, who made up for the late start by presenting me with a whopping 78 gm egg, which turned out to be a double yolker. The three Old Girls only ever averaged 60-65 gm between them over the three years they’d been laying and never managed a double yolker. The other two New Girls are still in the 50-55 gm range. Bonny developed the biggest comb and wattles of the three. I thought initially I’d never be able to tell them apart, but they’re quite different now. She really is a bonny girl :

IMG_3062

 

Sadly, I lost the second of the Old Girls this month. Cheeky succumbed to digestive issues, with an impacted crop, anaemia and unspecified lumps in her abdomen. I took her to an avian vet but there was nothing that could be done and she was euthanased. She was a few months short of four years old and had only laid four eggs last spring.  Molly is the only one left of my three original girls now and I feel so sad for her as she sits alone in the sunny spot where she and Cheeky usually sat together each afternoon. They always did things together, the two oldies, ignoring the three boisterous newbies.

Farewell Cheeky :

cheeky2

While I’m on the subject of chickens—the Chicken Behaviour and Welfare course I wrote about in the previous post has started and already I’ve learned something about behavioural motivation (which can be either internal or external) :

“The motivation for a hen to find a secluded site, build a nest and lay eggs, is under internal control. It’s the ovulation of the follicle that results in a cascade of hormones that drives these behaviours. It’s not the sight of a nest or another hen sitting on eggs that motivates the behaviour”

So that means the common notion that if you want a hen to lay, you should put a couple of phony ceramic or plastic eggs in the nest is all bunkum! No doubt spread by the people who sell phony plastic eggs!

I’m loving the course so far, although disappointed that the videos are fairly short—I powered through the dozen videos in Week 1 in less than an hour—but I will watch them several times and make some notes.

 

I’ve written about this attractive Naranka Gold pumpkin previously. It’s not going to flower now; it’s too late in the season, but it’s still growing and I haven’t pulled it out because I wanted to see how it coped with the cooler weather. The older leaves are a bit brown around the edges, but there’s no sign of downy mildew. I’ll definitely be sowing this variety again next season. I would have sown it much earlier last year if I’d known how good it was going to be :

IMG_3065

That yellow colour isn’t due to a nutrient deficiency. That’s how it’s meant to be. You can see the variegated colour on the young leaves in this photo of the pumpkin from the Coles website (it’s grown exclusively for Coles).

 

I pulled out all my tomato plants; they were looking woeful, with late blight and sooty mould on the leaves, but I’m pleased with the season’s harvest—I picked just over 26 kilos of fruit. Most of that is in the freezer for cooking over winter (I’ll use them where a recipe calls for canned tomatoes); there are 2 huge jars of dried tomatoes and a third smaller jar in the pantry and I’ve eaten as many fresh as I could. The end of the tomato season is always the saddest time in the garden, because I never ever buy the tasteless, hard lumps that pass for supermarket tomatoes.

Sun-dried goodness :

IMG_3041

 

The major pest problems for me this past season have been aphids and whiteflies….gazillions of whiteflies. They’re hard to spot because they collect on the underside of leaves, and only when the plants are disturbed do clouds of them take to the wing. I’ve used a natural garlic-based spray or otherwise blasted them off with the hose. It’s French beans they seem to favour most. I need to do a bit of homework on them before next season—learn about their life cycle, why and when they appear and what eats them.

 

I put in two new wicking boxes next to the wood heap, raised up on polystyrene foam boxes to prevent rabbit access and with a rainfall catchment bin beside each one. These are just 60 litre plastic rubbish bins with the lid placed upside down and a hole drilled in the centre to allow rain to enter :

IMG_3068

I did a head count and there are now 31 wicking boxes in the garden. I plan to use these two new ones for pumpkins next spring. There’s plenty of room for them to cascade over the sides and spread (even over the wood heap) and the rabbits don’t like pumpkin leaves!

 

Rainfall for March  35 mm.  Melbourne’s average  44 mm. February and March were both drier than average. The citrus trees looked a bit stressed at times and I filled the swales behind them on a weekly basis. I’ll be really glad to see the autumn rains. They seem to be getting later every year.

 

I don’t tend to bother too much about the site statistics that WordPress provides, mainly because I can never remember where to find them, but I just did, and realised that I’ve passed the 500 mark, with 508 posts here and (this is the amazing bit), I have 104 followers! (I know that’s not a lot, compared to some blogs, but quality counts with me, not quantity). So thank you, all 104 of you, whoever and wherever you are.

The other amazing thing to see is where all those people looking at the posts come from. As I would expect, Australia leads the list, with the UK, US and New Zealand also predominating, but there are 70 other countries represented! This blog has been as far afield as the Cayman Islands and Bosnia & Herzgovina! How about that!

November update

December 4, 2014

Whenever I see a new variety of potato at the supermarket I generally buy a couple to take home and try. Growing, that is. So back in June I saw the variety Ruby Lou for sale in Coles and bought 3 tubers to plant. I harvested almost 2 kilos in November. The plants were pretty healthy—no sign of late blight, no little nasties attacked them and the majority of the tubers were clear of scab :

IMG_2792

I’ll keep some back for replanting and will probably freeze the ones I don’t eat right away.

My first cherries! :

IMG_2796

There are just six! I immediately put a net over the plant. It’s only small and has been in a couple of years. There were more flowers but not all of them have set fruit. I’ll really savour these!

Quince futures. They’re covered in a furry down at this young stage. The tree was grown from seed; so easy to do :

IMG_2797

I’ll be really interested in these apples :

IMG_2798

They were grown from seed from a Granny Smith variety. The tree flowered for the first time this year and has only set 5 fruit. Since apples rarely come true from seed, it’ll be interesting to see how they turn out.

Our local council had its annual hard rubbish collection in November. I put out a small pile of stuff and had a look at my neighbour’s pile to see if there was anything I could rescue.

I scored two 44 gallon plastic drums which will be useful for storing water and a small rabbit-cum-guinea pig hutch in good condition. It might be useful if I ever have a sick chook and want to isolate her from the others :

IMG_2806

Although technically it’s illegal to take something from a pile once it goes out on the naturestrip, everyone ignores that and it’s amusing to see the cars and trailers cruising up and down to see what they can pick up. I think it’s great to see what is rubbish to someone being re-claimed by someone else, instead of going to landfill as most of the stuff does. Most of my neighbour’s pile disappeared within an hour or two of him putting it out, so I was lucky to get the drums. I had put out a toaster that had died and someone came and cut off the power cord and left the toaster. I already had a large collection of power cords minus their appliances, so didn’t bother.

For the third year in a row I didn’t put a net over the redcurrants and nothing touched them! I can’t believe it, especially since some of the fruiting stems were right out in the open in full view of the birds! I harvested 2 cupfuls of fruit and that’s not counting the dozens I picked and ate every time I passed the line of bushes. I haven’t done anything with them other than to sprinkle a few on my breakfast cereal each morning :

wednesday 003

Of course the most important happening during the month was the arrival of the New Girls—three 12-week-old Barnevelder pullets from Julie at Country Chooks. They’ve settled in well, after a few hiccups with preferring to roost on the top of the coop instead of inside… :

IMG_2765

…but I settled that by shepherding them into the coop and barring the entrance with a wire panel. It only took 3 nights of doing that before they got the idea and started going in by themselves. I’ve allowed them into the 5 x 1 metre long corridor that connects the two runs, but they’re still not able to access the main playground where Molly and Cheeky are. There’s been considerable interest as the 3 newbies meet the 2 oldies at the wire barrier. Molly and Cheeky have never shown any interest in the various wild ducks and pigeons that parade outside their run, not even in the baby wild rabbit that can get in with them through the wire (only while it’s small), but somehow they seem to know that these other feathered things are their own kind. Molly seems to want to be friends, but Cheeky only wants to show them who’s boss. I may keep them apart until the newbies have started to lay. I want them to become attached to their own nest and coop and always return there at night. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble with Molly and Cheeky returning to their own quarters, but I don’t want the New Girls trying to roost in there as well. My nerves won’t stand the kerfuffle if Molly and Cheeky decide to object to that idea!

The cucumelons are growing slowly :

IMG_2807

Their tendrils are like fine threads and once the waving tip has grabbed onto something, the tendril forms a tight little spiral to strengthen its hold :

IMG_2808

Could that be a tiny flower bud with a tiny baby cucamelon behind it? Yay! :

IMG_2809

This Cape Gooseberry came up by itself beside the chook’s playground. It couldn’t have picked a better spot as it will give them some cool shade in summer :

IMG_2811

It’s already setting fruits in their papery capsules :

IMG_2813

The first of the cherry tomatoes are setting fruits. I’ve never had a ripe tomato before Christmas; maybe I’ll do it this year! :

IMG_2821

This is feverfew:

IMG_2816

Masses of flowers; I planted it in the hope of attracting bees, but I haven’t seen a single one on it. Instead, there are dozens of tiny flies and wasp-like things:

IMG_2817

I have no idea why the bees don’t like it.

I did a head count of the main crop veggie seedlings I’ve put out so far. There are 35 tomatoes; 7 cucumbers; 15 pumpkins and 8 zucchini. Direct sown seeds include beans, carrots, sweet corn, dill and caraway and some more pumpkins and there are leeks and celery sown in the polyhouse for next winter. Three dozen basil seedlings are waiting to go out. I should get something to eat out of that lot!

November saw the beginning of the second year in operation of the solar panels and they continue to be worth their weight in gold. I imported an average of 1.5 kWh per day from the grid and sent an average of 17.3 kWh back to the grid. The panels produced 20.1 kWh per day and the average daily credit to me worked out at $4.13. Overall, for the month I earned a credit of $123.81. If it wasn’t for the heat, I’d wish every day was summer. Imagine earning that much every month and being able to grow tomatoes all year!

We had 53 mm of rain during the month; Melbourne’s average for November is 58 mm. Everything looks green and lush for now, but it won’t stay that way.

Onwards to summer!

The Volterra Principle

July 30, 2013

I’ve been cleaning up my hard disk, deleting old files and so on and I found this piece I’d written some years ago for an environmental education display on local plants, so thought I’d reproduce it here. It’s one of the reasons why I find ecology such a fascinating science.

 

The Volterra Principle: why you shouldn’t use pesticides in your garden

Do you use pesticides in your garden? Judging by the number of insecticide sprays available in garden centres and supermarkets, most people do.

The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson appeared first in 1962 and has been credited with being the catalyst that started the environment movement throughout the world. It documents the wholesale use of insecticides and pesticides which was common at that time and points out the long-term effects on wildlife and humans. If you haven’t read it, there’s probably a copy in your local library. It should certainly put you off using pesticides for ever.

The following is a very interesting excerpt from The Machinery of Nature by American ecologist Paul Ehrlich:

“If predator and prey populations are more or less in balance with one another and if an environmental change raises the death rates in both predator and prey populations, there will be a disproportionate decline in the number of predators.

This result is known as the Volterra Principle. It predicts what will happen, all else being equal, after an application of a broad-spectrum pesticide (one that kills many species of insects) to a farmer’s field in which herbivorous insects are being eaten by predatory insects. The surviving prey, whose death rate in the aftermath of the pesticide is now lower due to the absence of predators, will suffer less than the surviving predators, which cannot find sufficient prey to increase their birthrate quickly. The population of prey (the pests) will thus recover from the pesticide much more rapidly than the predators and build up a larger population than was previously present. Thus an even-handed assult on a predator-prey system will tend to promote the prey and suppress the predators—in this case making the pest problem worse.”

In simple terms, what does this mean?

Suppose you have a rose bush which is being attacked by aphids. More than likely, a predatory insect such as a ladybird or a lacewing, will be feeding on the aphids at the same time. Because of the way predator-prey systems work, there will always be more prey than predators, i.e. more aphids than ladybirds or lacewings. (By the same token, there will always be more rose bush than aphids.) A bit of thought will see why this is the case. If the system was ‘top-heavy’ i.e. hundreds of ladybirds, dozens of aphids and very little rose bush, then each predator would quickly eat all the prey and then starve to death. Balanced systems are ‘bottom heavy’ and work the other way—they wouldn’t be balanced if they didn’t.

Suppose on your rose bush, prey and predators exist in the ratio 100:1 i.e. 100 aphids to 1 ladybird. There might be 1000 aphids, in which case there would be 10 ladybirds. Along you come with your ‘Bugoff’ spray and douse the whole bush with insecticide. Suppose that 90% of all insects, both ladybirds and aphids, are killed. That means 100 aphids will survive but only 1 ladybird. The 100 aphids will quickly build up their numbers again but the single ladybird wont.

So, an even-handed attack on pests in your garden can do more harm than good. The very thing we shouldn’t do is upset the natural balances; they have evolved over countless millions of years and they must be maintained for the health and survival of all species. The cost of allowing the natural balances to survive is very small. We must simply accept that a small amount of damage to our garden plants is an inevitable consequence of the natural world we live in, and not rush for the spray every time we see a hole in a leaf.

Another thing to consider is that some of the insects which survive the poison may well have an inbuilt resistance to it and this will be bred into successive generations. Eventually the poison may have very little effect.

By growing local plants in our gardens, we restore the naturally-balanced ecosystems that used to exist in our local areas. There are very few problems with pests in such a garden. It is well worth putting up with a few chewed leaves for the bonus of having a diversity of birds, butterflies, insects, lizards and frogs in the garden.

Simple wicking box butterfly excluder

January 27, 2013

I’m determined to grow a good crop of brassicas this year. As well as the usual kale and broccoli, I’m going to have a go at red cabbage. I’ve been buying it recently and love it—sliced, steamed and dressed with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of raw sugar.

I always seem to put brassicas in too late and they don’t get much growth on before they’re slowed down by the cooler weather and winter. Then annoyingly, I find them running to seed in early spring.

I note that some of the other food-growing bloggers in Melbourne are sowing their brassica seeds in January, so this year, I’m doing the same.

But Cabbage White butterflies will be around well into autumn. Even though the hot weather has all but eliminated them at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a comeback when it gets cooler. So I need to keep them off the plants right from the seedling stage.

So—covers for the wicking boxes are needed.

Easy! Just poke a short stake into each corner:

thursday 001

Two lengths of poly tubing over the stakes:

thursday 002

And some fine netting over the top:

thursday 003

That should keep the little so and so’s out! I should stress that the netting should be fine. I’m using mosquito netting, but any old lace curtains will do. I’ve seen Cabbage Whites get through wire mesh with a 1 cm opening. Bird netting is too coarse, too. I don’t know how they do it—just seem to fold their wings and they’re through. They’re very persistent where their food plants are concerned.

I’ll be potting up seedlings in the polyhouse but will want to put them out in the open eventually to grow on, so I’ll just put the tray of pots under the cover, on the surface of the box, until they’re ready to be planted out.

Spring things

September 2, 2012

While everyone seems to think it’s officially spring, I have to be different! My season changes go with the solstices and equinoxes, so I don’t consider spring will start until the spring equinox around the 21st of this month. Maybe climate change will eventually force an opinion change!

Anyway, here are a few ‘pre-spring’ things happening around the garden.

Red Russian kale and Purple Sprouting broccoli in a wicking box. I love the combination of colours:

Lacinato kale and parsley seem happy together in a wire ring bed:

First fruits on the loquat. Considering the number of flowers it had, not much fruit has set, but since I’ve never tasted loquats before, I’m looking forward to whatever I can get:

Native Philotheca myoporoides (formerly Eriostemon) in flower. This was in flower and covered in bees when Frogdancer brought her garden group to see the garden and she was so impressed, she went out and bought one for her garden. Sadly, there don’t seem to be many bees around so far, on this or any other flowers. I hope it’s not a bad omen for fruit set this season:

Another native, Grevillea sericea. Again usually covered in bees, but only a few on this occasion:

Nectarine in flower. This one was grown from seed (they’re one of the easiest fruits to grow from seed):

Another nectarine, this time a dwarf variety I bought at a local nursery. It’s still only 40 cm high and should get to about a metre:

A wicking box with Spinach variety Galilee from The Lost Seed. I just broadcast it over the top, covered the seed with a layer of sieved potting mix  and got excellent germination:

The Girls, heads down, bums up, digging holes (what else is new?):

Trays of seedlings inside, in a sunny window:

Wormwood. Nice ferny, silver foliage. I grow this because it’s supposed to repel insects. I’ve just pruned out all the top growth, mulched it up and spread it around the Girl’s nestbox:

Japanese radish (Daikon). First time I’ve grown this. If it’s successful, I’ll add it to my next batch of kimchi:

Wheat, growing in a wire circle bed. I want to be able to grow at least some of the chook’s food. This year I’m determined to keep the parrots off it!:

I’ve cleaned out one of the planter boxes and prepared it for a beanfeast, in other words it is going to be planted out entirely to beans. I’ll put climbing beans (Purple King) at the back and French beans in the rest of the box. I’m rather chuffed with the trellis I made for the climbers, in that the uprights are cut from melaleuca saplings which grow on the property:

Green Vegetable B(ugh!)

October 26, 2010

Every morning, before breakfast, I stroll down to the food forest to see what, if anything, has happened during the night, and to pick a handful of herbs for my breakfast cup of herbal tea.

At the moment, I’ve got two rather nice patches of potatoes and to my consternation they were sporting a crop of green, shield-shaped bugs. Not having seen them before and assuming they were probably up to No Good, I started picking them off and squashing them. Ugh! Not a good idea. After Googling and discovering they’re also called stink bugs, I realised why.  So the rest were drowned in a tub of water.

There’s a good site here, with more info and some nice illustrations. Since I hadn’t seen any of the nymph forms, I assume the adults arrived fully formed and were not the result of eggs previously laid.

So there’s a good lesson in this. Don’t assume nature will always take care of the pests. Inspect, inspect, inspect, and be ready to pounce on anything that might come between you and your food.