Archive for the ‘Strawberries’ Category

February update

March 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3264

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

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

applepouch

image

image

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

image

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

image

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

IMG_3266

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

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

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

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

IMG_3211

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

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

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

image

image

and hidden under the leaves is this :

image

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

image

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

image

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

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

IMG_3260

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

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

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

image

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

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

image

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

image

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

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

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

Strawberry wicking buckets

February 10, 2016

I wrote about how I made these in this post.

They’ve been in service now for two growing seasons. This season (spring/summer) they’ve been producing so many strawberries, I was amazed. Fresh strawberries every morning on my mueslii was almost too much for anyone to bear (I bore it well, though).

But the plants were originally planted into semi-rotted chook poo compost. In two years it had fully broken down and the mix had sunk in the buckets, so that the growth points were a good 10 cm below the rim of the bucket. They needed topping up with new compost but to do that would have meant burying the growth points which could have caused the whole plant to rot.

So the only thing to do was to lift the whole plant out of the bucket, add new mix to the bottom of the bucket, then put the plant back. Normally they die back in winter, which would have been the best time to do it. They’re still producing plenty of fruit anyway, but one wasn’t, and being impatient, I decided to do just that one. What I was keen to see was the root system and whether it had grown right down into the permanently boggy area below the drainage hole, or whether the only healthy roots were in the area above the drainage hole. In a wicking bed system you can’t see what’s going on below the ground. Are the roots happily growing in the wet soil or are they shying away from it and only growing in the top section where it’s just damp?

I let the bucket get as dry as I dared so the plant and its root ball wouldn’t be so heavy to juggle and tipped/pulled it out carefully. In the photo of bucket next to plant you can see how far down the plant had sunk and the location of the drainage hole in the bucket. Below that level are healthy, white roots. That was satisfying to see. Strawberry roots at least, will  grow in saturated soil :

image

I put fresh compost into the bottom of the bucket and tamped it down well with another bucket. I wanted to compact it so that when it rotted there wouldn’t be so big a drop in level. Of course when I put the plant back, there was a gap of a couple of centimetres all around the top, which I filled in with some friable potting mix.

All done. Ready for another couple of seasons of strawberry production :

image

I won’t feed this plant again till next spring when it will get a small handful of Dynamic Lifter and some seaweed fertiliser. The new compost in the bottom may even promote some more flowers before then.

The thing I really love about wicking buckets is that they’re so easy to move around. Just pick them up by the handle. The ideal thing to give someone for a Christmas present—a bucket laden with ripe strawberries cascading over the edge. And if you really want to be stylish you can colour co-ordinate bucket colour with strawberry colour. I went for utilitarian black because I’m not stylish (it does warm up early in spring though).

Berry good!

January 8, 2016

The strawberry wicking buckets got their second wind and flowered again and I’m getting lots more strawberries :

image

The blackberries have started to ripen, too :

image

In a word: yum!

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! :

IMG_3159

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

IMG_3158

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 :

IMG_3163

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 :

IMG_3148

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

IMG_3149

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 :

IMG_3165

IMG_3166

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 :

IMG_3155

Tomatoes definitely have a will to live!

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

IMG_3164

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 :

IMG_3162

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 :

image

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! :

IMG_3172

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.

January update

February 5, 2015

The best thing about January was the weather….only a few days with 30+ temperatures and rainfall (64mm) which exceeded Melbourne’s average for the month (57mm). I was well pleased…living on a bush block in a bushfire zone, with a warming climate, I tend to get rather paranoid in summer now.

Tomatoes were the biggest bearer. I seem to have a lot of cherries this year, but that’s alright. They’ll be sun-dried :

IMG_2938

IMG_2939

The goal is to fill this jar with dried tomatoes :

IMG_2950

San Marzano, a Roma type. Most of these will be frozen for winter cooking :

IMG_2940

There are still Black Russian, Green Zebra and Debarao to come. This is my first time growing Debarao (sometimes called De Barao). It’s a Roma-type too, with egg-shaped fruit with less watery pulp and will also be useful for cooking. I freeze a lot of tomatoes and use them over winter for making relish and pasta sauce. Rather than juicing them and bottling and storing the juice, it’s much easier to just defrost the quantity of whole tomatoes that I need, when I need them.

 

Pepinos are forming. This plant is in a wicking box on the deck. When I plant them in the garden, the rabbits demolish the fruit. I wish I could fit the whole garden up on the deck! (then I suppose the pesky rabbits would learn to negotiate steps!) :

IMG_2941

It’s amazing how much growth can be fitted in a wicking box. Not only is the pepino in this one…:

IMG_2943

but there’s gotu kola…:

IMG_2945

self-sown lemon balm…:

IMG_2944

a cucumber…:

IMG_2947

and what looks like a self-sown tansy…:

IMG_2946

but wait, there’s more…:

IMG_2948

…a self-sown alpine strawberry.

An example of what permaculture guru Geoff Lawton likes to call, ‘abundance’.

 

I forgot to mention in the December update that I had a visit over the Christmas period from Maree, who writes Around The Mulberry Tree blog, and who brought me a healthy-looking elderberry plant :

IMG_2968

I’ve sent away for elderberry seeds so many times and have never had any germination, so I was delighted to get an established plant. I can see elderflower cordial and elderberry wine somewhere in the future. Thanks Maree!

 

I’m disappointed in the cucamelons. The plants have climbed skywards and wound themselves around the deck railings, but there’s no sign of fruit. There are plenty of female flowers with little pre-cucamelons behind them and some male flowers, but it seems no pollination is occurring :

IMG_2951

IMG_2869

 

The plants in the strawberry wicking buckets have done well after a poor start in which the first fruits were badly deformed, due I think, to poor pollination :

IMG_2967

I’ve picked a steady supply of strawberries, not a huge amount, but enough to have a few on my breakfast mueslii each morning, so I’ll plant a few more buckets for next year. I haven’t even had to net them because they’re up on the deck where birds don’t usually come. The plants are putting out new runners at the moment and it’s easy to pot up a few. Runners grow a tuft of new leaves along their length :

IMG_2930

At the base of each tuft of leaves is a collection of roots-to-be :

IMG_2931

I peg the runner down into a pot of potting mix with a piece of bent wire, but leave the runner attached to the parent plant :

IMG_2932

IMG_2933

Once the roots have grown down into the new pot, the runners can be cut away from the parent plant. I wish all plants were as easy to propagate as these.

 

The New Girls are 24 weeks old and there’s still no sign of eggs. The Old Girls laid at 22 weeks, so I’m anxiously checking daily. The Newbies are so full of beans; any unsuspecting butterfly stupid enough to get through the wire is snatched out of the air with a huge leap; they rocket up and down the 7 metres of connecting corridor between the two runs like mad things; they come when called (well, most times); they love the green grubs off the kale (Molly and Cheeky won’t touch them), and they’re into everything—a perfect trio of lively, alert, naughty kids. That’s two of them on the left (looking good, eh, Julie?) :

IMG_2962

And the remainder of the trio. She’s wondering if the camera is something to eat. (Cheeky behind on the right and Molly bringing up the rear) :

IMG_2961

If I can ever tell them apart, which seems unlikely, their names will be Bonny, Missy and Clover (the last after the rabbit in Watership Down….there’s no connection, I just like the name), but until then, they’re just the Newbies, or Newbs, for short.

I’ve been giving Molly & Cheeky a daily treat of grated carrot and yoghurt, which they love. At first the Newbs weren’t interested—they didn’t understand ‘treats’—but lately they’ve taken an interest. Of course, M & C won’t allow them anywhere near, but Molly is moulting and a bit off-colour so less aggressive and Cheeky has become a bit indifferent to them (only whacks them occasionally), so they’ve managed to elbow their way in and steal some and they like it. So I call them down to their own quarters and give them a bowl on their own. The squeals of delight as they wolf it down and peck splattered yoghurt off each other’s faces has me in stitches.

Not a happy Moulting Molly :

IMG_2954

 

I’ve finally got my act together and planted kale and broccoli seeds early. I always seem to leave it until autumn and then have to wait as they grow too slowly through the cooler winter. I was reading someone’s blog where they said they sowed their winter brassica seeds at the summer solstice (21st December), so I did the same and now I’ve actually got kale in a wicking box growing well. Of course, Cabbage White butterflies are still around, but if I inspect the plants every few days and rub off all the eggs before they hatch, I’m able to keep on top of the problem :

IMG_2974

 

These are Tepary Beans. I have to thank Fran of Road to Serendipity blog for sending the seed a couple of years ago. The first year I grew them I just left them to set seed. I forgot to grow them the following year and thought I’d better put them in this season and collect more seed. I’ll probably leave them for seed again this season then finally grow them to eat. They’re said to be extremely drought tolerant :

IMG_2971

Pods are forming :

IMG_2973

 

Basil & endive going well together in a wicking box :

IMG_2975

And what’s that in the back left corner? Looks like a seedling plum :

IMG_2976

 

You wouldn’t believe it, but under all that growth on the left, there’s a planter box just like the one on the right :

IMG_2977

In the left-hand box there are two cherry tomatoes and some beans that didn’t have a label (looking like climbers). This box had a liberal dose of chook poo compost before planting, hence the rampant growth :

IMG_2980

The other one has Purple King climbing beans at the back and basil, kale and silver beet in front. These aren’t wicking boxes, so they need watering every day :

IMG_2979

Well, that’s about it for the January wrap-up. I hope February will be as good temperature-wise, but next week is forecast for over 30 C every day, so all I can say is, “roll on autumn”.

Before I go, here’s a really useful post from the Permaculture Research Institute about tomatoes. And check out the link to fix.com given in the article. Another useful site worth bookmarking.

October update

November 16, 2014

I’m a bit late with this owing to activities on the chicken front taking precedence, but anyway here it is—better late than never and just to prove that things other than chook things do happen here.

The passionfruit climbing over the old chook run has finally decided to flower… :

IMG_2692

IMG_2766

…and produce fruit :

IMG_2767

The redcurrants are colouring up. I suppose I’m going to have to think about netting them, although last year I didn’t, and the birds left them alone (although that ant seems to be interested) :

IMG_2768

I put three cucamelons into a wicking tub and they’ve been slow to establish; maybe the weather hasn’t been hot enough yet. Their thread-like tendrils have finally found the wire support, so maybe that will jog them along a bit :

IMG_2723

Last year was a poor year for the persimmon, with only three fruit and the blackbird got all of them while they were still green. There are only three buds on the plant again this year, but this time I’ll get in ahead of him with netting :

IMG_2727

I planted out all the tomatoes during October because they were big enough and it looked like all the cold weather had gone. I did a quick tour & count and there are 36 plants out, most in wicking boxes or wicking tubs and just a few in the garden. This one, in a wicking tub, has trebled in size in just a couple of weeks :

IMG_2722

These are in a wicking box :

IMG_2788

The comfrey re-appeared with a vengeance :

IMG_2732

These three chokos in pots are looking for something to grab onto. I don’t know where I’m going to plant them as I don’t have a trellis prepared. Maybe I’ll see if they’ll climb up a tree :

IMG_2719

Well, I finally put one next to the wire corridor connecting the two chook runs. I have a feeling I’m going to regret it if it takes over the whole area :

IMG_2772

The raspberries are in their first year of growth. Looks like I might get some fruit :

IMG_2728

Basil futures. I froze pesto last year and it worked so well, I’m aiming for plenty more this year :

IMG_2770

This is Wild Rocket. I think it has a stronger flavour than the common variety and the foliage is more attractive :

IMG_2729

I go through 3 litres of milk a week. While I know the bottles can be recycled, it still pains me to have to throw out something I could maybe use. So I came up with this:

IMG_2704

I’ve put 4 tiny holes in the bottom and I fill them from a bin that contains water with seaweed fertiliser, worm juice and comfrey tea, then sit them on a wicking box or wicking tub and let the contents trickle out slowly. It helps when I don’t have time to stand and water with the hose and it adds a bit of extra nutrient along the way.

I picked all my garlic. There were three batches, one (supermarket purchased) in a wicking box and two in the garden (one from Yelwek and another from a local source). The garlic in the wicking boxes didn’t form single bulbs, but separated into cloves, each with a single stem. Not worth eating, not worth replanting. I composted it. Was it because it was supermarket garlic or because it didn’t like the wicking box? I’ve grown it successfully in wicking boxes before, so I’m blaming the supermarket. It wasn’t that stark white Chinese stuff. I know better than to plant that! :

IMG_2703

The local garlic in the garden was OK, but the bulbs were very small :

IMG_2783

The Yelwek garlic produced the most robust plants, with the thickest stems, but that still didn’t translate into large bulbs. I think lack of fertiliser may be the problem. I really need to do more research into growing garlic :

IMG_2784

The potato onions, also from Yelwek, aren’t doing well. After planting the bulbs way back in April, some in the garden and some in a wicking box, they sprouted and seemed to be growing well. Then in winter, they grew backwards and some died. Now it’s warmed up, the leaves are growing again, but the bulbs are small and I don’t know if they’re going to get any bigger. The batch I put into a wicking box all rotted away in winter. Too much water probably :

IMG_2787

I’ve put pumpkins in the hugelkultur bed, in between asparagus which are only in their first year. In the other hugelbed I’ve put zucchini and button squash. I’ve made a huge hugelmound from raked leaves and twigs and put 3 extra pumpkin in there.

Pumpkin :

IMG_2781

Zucchini & button squash :

IMG_2782

Pumpkin on the hugelmound :

IMG_2780

The strawberries in the strawberry wicking buckets are bearing, but a lot of the fruits are deformed. They look awful. I’ve never had this happen before :

IMG_2785

Google tells me it could be caused by inadequate pollination or lack of calcium or boron, or attack by certain types of mites. I inspected, and there are aphid-like insects on them so I’ve removed all the trusses of developing fruits and given the plants a good spray with a garlic-pyrethrum spray. I wouldn’t be surprised if pollination was a problem, because they’re up on the deck against the house wall, where insects might not find them.

I always like to have a patch of calendula somewhere in the garden. The bees love the flowers and I can pick the petals for salads :

IMG_2790

That’s all I can remember for October. I won’t write anything about chooks because you’ve had that ad nauseum by now and anyway that all happened this month. I’ll bore you with more on that in next month’s update.

September update

October 3, 2014

Good things finally started happening.

For one, the spring equinox occurred on the 21st. That means the sun will speed up on its return to the southern sky and that means more generation from the solar panels (it doesn’t really speed up, what changes is the rate of change. Or something. Don’t worry about it).

And those aforementioned little darlings (the solar panels) turned 1 on the 18th. I forgot to wish them happy birthday or otherwise mark the occasion, because the smart meter wasn’t reconfigured to show solar exports until the 1st of November and all my spreadsheet calculations in regard to solar credits start from there. But I was recording what the panels produced every day up to then, so I know that over the year they produced nearly 4000 kWh and that’s a daily average of 11 kWh. Much more than I would ever use from the grid so it’s not surprising I’m in credit moneywise and expecting to stay there.

It warmed up, too. How nice to be able to shed a few layers of clothing and not have to trek daily to the wood pile for firewood.

The new chook run is finally finished, the coop is ensconced within and all awaits the new occupants :

IMG_2659

The first run had one wall protected by being built against the polyhouse; this new run, although covered with a tarp over the top, was open on both sides. I was really pleased to be able to re-purpose some pine panels (the remains of the original vegetable planter boxes) from down in the back corner and use them to cover one of the sides. They were treated pine which concerned me a bit (the reason for abandoning the original beds), but a neighbour, who’s a vet, said he wouldn’t worry about the chemicals in possible contact with the chooks :

IMG_2660

The various varieties of kale in the big planter boxes suddenly took off. I put a few plastic butterfly look-alikes in amongst them to see if they had any effect on dissuading egg-laying females. I watched as a butterfly hovered near. It flittered and fluttered over the plants, dithered and dathered, hither and thither and finally flew away. Success! I smirked to myself for a couple of hours afterwards until I suddenly thought—maybe it was a male looking for a bit of what you fancy and was so bemused by the multitude of potential lovers that he couldn’t cope with so many to choose from and departed the scene in utter frustration. I haven’t found any butterfly eggs or caterpillars yet, so maybe the phoneys are doing their job :

IMG_2661

IMG_2662

Blueberry futures :

IMG_2663

This dark purple variety of kale called Redbor has been in a wicking box on the deck for ages. It’s finally flowering which means I can collect seed :

IMG_2664

The strawberry buckets are covered in flowers. Can’t wait for fresh strawberries on my breakfast cereal :

IMG_2665

I started planting out the first of the tomatoes. Most are going into wicking boxes where I don’t have to worry about constant watering :

IMG_2666

This is Senposai, also called Japanese Greens. It produces huge amounts of foliage which is great for stir fries. Being a brassica, it has the obligatory white butterfly look-alike to guard it :

IMG_2667

The plants in the old wheelbarrow have really taken off. I’m not surprised as I filled it with compost from the bin where I put the stuff from the composting toilet :

IMG_2694

I’ve made a new bed behind one of the rows of wicking boxes. The dwarf nectarine had been there for some time and also some sage and I’ve added some garlic chives and a couple of strawberries. The rabbits don’t usually come this close to the house, but if they do, it’s easy enough to put up a wire fence :

IMG_2669

I’ve planted a Heritage raspberry into one of the hugelkultur beds :

IMG_2670

Down in the food forest, the tamarillos that didn’t ripen earlier are starting to colour up :

IMG_2673

There are a couple of odd coloured ones that look like they’re going to ripen yellow and orange even though all the others on that particular tree are turning from green straight to red. I know a yellow-skinned variety exists; I’ve grown a single plant of it from seed, but it hasn’t flowered yet. I’m wondering if there’s been a gene mutation somewhere in the development of these two fruits. (I’m doing an online genetics course at the moment so my mind is full of mutations…not literally though, I hope) :

IMG_2672

The yacon is starting to appear :

IMG_2677

The comfrey is shooting up again. The Girls will be glad; they love it :

IMG_2680

The basil mint is running rampant. I don’t really like it that much, but I can do the permaculture chop-and-drop thing with it and use it as mulch :

IMG_2675

The redcurrants have come into leaf and there are lots of tiny flower buds forming :

IMG_2674

The cherry is flowering for the first time :

IMG_2681

The Bartlett pear is covered in flowers but its pollinator mate next door doesn’t have a single flower on it, so I’m not sure if it will set fruit  :

IMG_2682

The flowers are so pretty :

IMG_2683

The rabbits love nasturtiums and I can’t grow them unprotected, so I throw a few seeds inside a circle of wire which is protecting a fruit tree. Somewhere in there there’s a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple :

IMG_2684

Yep, there it is :

IMG_2686

Plum futures :

IMG_2687

Apricot futures :

IMG_2688

And possibly, apple futures :

IMG_2689

Chokos sprouting :

IMG_2696

The passionfruit that was hacked to bits to get a new trellis into place around the water tank seems to be none the worse for its ordeal. There won’t be any fruit this year though :

IMG_2691

But there are flower buds on the one over the old chook run :

IMG_2692

And plenty of oranges for a vitamin C hit until the tomatoes ripen :

IMG_2690

The egg situation has been the only flaw in the month. The Girls laid 4 eggs between them at the beginning of the month and haven’t laid since. So I’m buying eggs. Not pleased Girls.

Here endeth the summer

March 24, 2014

Well…I hope so.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, we’ve had an inch of rain, the days are cooler and the plants are making new growth.

I’ve planted my garlic and potato onions from Yelwek Farm. Some went into the garden and some in a wicking box. I had success with one potato onion bulb (just one!) in a wicking box last year and I want to see if that was a one-off or whether they will tolerate the extra moisture in a wicking box. The drainage will still be good and if I need to, I can shelter the box from excessive winter rains. I’ve grown garlic successfully in a wicking box before, so no worries there.

Potato onions in the garden:

potatoonions

Garlic in a wicking box:

garlicwick

I’ve also planted asparagus in the first of the hugelkultur beds I made.  By spring, this bed will be in its third year and the underlying wood is starting to break down, at least enough for me to get the treeplanter into it without hitting any resistance:

hugelasparagus2

I’ve staked and tied up the ferns for the time being to keep them tidy and to dissuade the rabbits from investigating them. I’ve had to protect each side of the bed with wire to stop the blackbirds tearing it apart. The ferns will die back over winter and I’ll side-dress each plant with chook poo compost before the spears emerge in early spring. I doubt they‘ll be big enough to harvest this year but should be OK for the next:

hugelasparagus3

In the spaces between each asparagus plant I’ll sow cucumbers next spring/summer and let them ramble over the mound. By that time the asparagus will have stopped bearing and will be at the fern stage. The ferns, which grow to over a metre tall in mature plants, should provide some shade for the cucumbers during the summer. So the asparagus will do two things—provide me with a yield in spring and shade for other plants in summer. An example of the permaculture principle which says that each element in a permaculture system should perform more than one function.

Garlic chives are flowering. The bees love them. I’ve got a couple of dozen new plants in pots and will plant them everywhere:

garlicchives1

chivesbee

Tamarillos are ripening. I made sure I kept the water up to the plants in summer and it looks like a bumper harvest this year:

tamarillo

New batch of potatoes coming on. These are Kipflers:

kipfler

Dandelions for use in casseroles and soups this coming winter:

dandelion

The last of the tomatoes ripening. This one is called Nicoleta and the seed came from a member of the Ozgrow forum. It’s a good size and shape and has a beautiful flavour. I’ll be growing this one again:

nicoleta

Still getting a few strawberries from the wicking box on the deck. The blackbird has found them so I’ve had to put a net over them in addition to the ring of wire around the tub. Did I mention I hate blackbirds?

strawberries

This is purslane. It self-seeded in a wicking box and I’m hoping it will flower and seed there again. It has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a crunchy texture and can be eaten in dozens of ways:

purslane

The oca has kicked on with the recent rain and should form lots of tubers by winter when the plants will die back:

IMG_2419

It wasn’t the best of summers from a food-growing point of view. Yields were woeful compared to past years. The most important things I learned were that I have to make provision for shade on 40-degree-plus days and that plants in wicking boxes will do better than plants in ordinary garden beds.

It also wasn’t the best from a personal-keep-cool point of view either. Before next summer I’m going to have an evaporative cooler installed. I don’t need to worry about electricity use, because the solar panels will run it through the day. No more do I want to try and sleep in a house where the temperature is in the high 30’s.

Garlic time again

March 8, 2014

It’s nearly the autumn equinox and time to plant garlic. I’ve ordered again from Yelwek Farms in Tassie—four bulbs of garlic (they sent five—they’re nice people) and also some more of their potato onions. They’ve just arrived. Look at the size of that garlic!:

garlic

I’m trying potato onions again although they weren’t overly successful last year; I don’t know why, unless the spot where I planted them was a bit too shady. I bought both white and brown potato onions and planted them in well-drained beds where they sprouted readily and grew lots of leaves. Then, over winter for some reason, the leaves began to die back and eventually all the plants rotted away. Not one single bulb from any of them. Was it something in the soil? Note to self: Google and see what attacks onions.

For some long-forgotten reason I pushed one bulb into the corner of a wicking box, not really expecting it to grow because I thought it would be too wet for it. Lo and behold, it grew and flourished and produced these:

potatoonions

Two dozen bulbs from one. Imagine if they’d all done that! I’d now be knee-deep in potato onions. And they weren’t small either—the same size as the new ones I’ve just ordered, so I’m keen to try again.

Yelwek garlic was successful for me last year, although my harvested bulbs were small. I’ve prepared the beds with more fertiliser this year. I’m wondering where to plant the potato onions this year. I think I’ll put some in the ground and some in a wicking box. I really want to be successful with them, they have such a lovely delicate flavour.

Well…in the process of writing this post, I’d written to Yelwek to say the onions and garlic had arrived and to thank them for refunding some of the postage (I told you they were nice people), and received a response from Lynn with some really useful info about growing potato onions. Here’s what she said:

They don’t like overwatering and once the tips of the leaves begin to die back (around mid November on) they don’t want water at all. The bulbs need a dryish  soil to harden and dry out. The occasional shower is okay, but if harvest is nearly ready and heavy rain is predicted, we harvest early rather than let the bulbs swell with the rainfall. The bulbs will not be good keepers at best. 
 
Having the bed raised even by 10 to 15 cms helps winter rains to drain quickly. We make walkways a spade’s width between beds and shovel the soil from the walkway up onto the beds. Mushroom compost mixed through the top 5cms of soil keeps the soil from becoming too compacted. We have a mushroom farm close by so it is economical for us to use it. 
 
Side dressing with fertiliser in Spring gives them a good boost along as does weeding so the roots don’t have to compete. Sometimes if we have time, we put a little mushroom compost around them again once Spring weeding and fertilising has been done, but the last couple of years we haven’t had the time and they have still done very well.

How about that for useful info. Thank you, Lynn. So I think my problems last year were due to overwatering and not something eating the bulbs. I don’t know why the bulb in the wicking box did so well then, but I will try some there again.

More on the strawberry wicking buckets: I’ve put them on the deck. It’s been so dry that the blackbirds are digging wherever there’s moisture and mulch, which happens to be in every garden bed and wicking box that’s being watered. I loathe them! They dig up seedlings and throw mulch everywhere. I’ve had to put nets over everything. They’re even coming up onto the deck where there are pots and wicking boxes. The handles on the strawberry buckets have come in handy:

strawbuck1

Just right to throw a net over:

strawbuck2

Neat…eh?

Strawberry wicking buckets

March 3, 2014

I’ve planted the first of my strawberry buckets. The three existing strawberry plants that produced this season have done so well that I just had to have more. So when they started producing runners, I pegged each runner down into a separate small pot and waited till the new root system was established:

strawberries1

After only 2-3 weeks I was able to cut the new plants away from their parent. I was amazed at how quickly the new root system established. Keeping them attached to the parent plant ensures they have enough water and nutrient to feed the new root system and I suppose that accelerates the process:

IMG_2388

I bought some cheap plastic buckets and drilled a drainage hole about a third of the way up from the bottom:

bucket

This ensures that the soil in the bottom of the bucket will stay saturated and water will wick up into the root zone above. Water-loving roots will grow into the saturated soil and always keep the plant hydrated. I filled the buckets with chook poo compost* and planted the new plants:

IMG_2389

These will be the first of many. The next batch of runners is pegged down and waiting. Next season I’m hoping for enough strawberries to make some strawberry jam.

*Chook poo compost is made in the compost tumbler:

saturday 005

The floor of the chook coop under the night-roosting perches is covered with a mixture of wood shavings and mulched bracken. Every 2-3 days I rake this out (and the poo within), put it all in the tumbler and give it a few turns each day whenever I’m passing. It breaks down into a friable, rich compost which the plants love.