Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

The modern version of “Let them eat cake”

November 19, 2016

“In this spontaneous conversation between two of Britain’s most vocal scientists on climate change and engineering, we see a frank analysis of the details that belie inconvenient truths for each one us.

Our current carbon pollution rate is taking us towards a planet that is on average 4°C warmer than today with regional variations far exceeding this and changes to the natural world that will be so profound that it is fair to say, this will not be the same planet.”

~~~~~~~~~~Mike Stasse (Damn the Matrix)

 

Well worth watching when you have half an hour to spare:

 

Anderson: “I take the view that we can actually make a big difference by making social changes now. We can still just make the 2ºC but it needs rapid and deep reductions by this relatively small set of big emitters.”

 

That small set of emitters is us. We in the industrialised, developed world with our computers, cars and electrical toys. I’m not hopeful that enough of us will make the necessary changes.

 

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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?)

Storm damage

July 19, 2016

We had some wild weather last week, with high winds and rain. Today is fine, sunny and windless and I finally got outside to assess the damage. A tamarillo has  bitten the dust :

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A huge Swamp Gum down the back has lost a main branch, which is still attached and hooked up on other trees. I’ll be keeping away from underneath this one until it decides to fall all the way :

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This was the major damage. The rest consisted of small branches and twigs everywhere, out of which I got four useful barrowloads of mulched gum leaves.

 

January update

February 3, 2016

It rained at last—48 mm in all—over the last four days of the month. Melbourne’s average for January is 47 mm, so a good result all round. Within a day all the tip growth on the native plants was showing fresh and green and the tomatoes, which I thought had been getting plenty of water, started to split their skins.

I’m getting plenty of tomatoes now, after a bad start when rats ate all the first lot of seedlings I put out (in one night!) and set me back a couple of weeks while I put down poison every night and watched and waited until it was no longer being taken. I found six dead rats and the chooks earned their keep by catching and killing another. I mixed the bait pellets with peanut butter, placed it on jar lids and hid these behind the line of wicking boxes and tubs which run alongside the base of the deck (which is where I’d planted the tomatoes). I put it out at dusk and removed any uneaten first thing in the morning. My only concern was birds eating it, but they couldn’t have entered the small space where it was hidden. I’d seen the rats running along there, so it was the best spot to put it. A good result and the next lot of seedlings I put out remained untouched.

Tomato harvest so far :

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The cherries will be dried, the paste varieties frozen for winter casseroles and the rest eaten fresh and fried. Loving fried toms with my evening meal at the moment!

Recently I was gifted another second-hand bath from a relative who knows I collect them :

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This makes three now. I use the first two to collect rainwater and grow azolla for the chooks. I need more growing space above ground, so I think I’ll use this one to grow veggies.

He also brought 3 bags of dried cow poo pats (they run beef cattle in Gippsland), so I’ll use those as a basis for the growing mix. That’s the black stuff in the bath.

I watered the cow pats to get them to absorb water and soften. I’ve covered them with all the organic material I can muster—mulched bracken, weeds, soft prunings, leaves, etc, and I’ve added some worms from the worm farm to let them break it all up. With any luck, I’ll have a whole new veggie bed to put my winter kale and broccoli in.

I would have liked to have made it into a wicking bed, but I wanted to get the material composting as quickly as possible and I didn’t want to spend time on the fiddly job of measuring and drilling drainage holes and getting it set up. Instead I’ve positioned it so the plughole end is higher than the other end, meaning that water won’t completely drain away, so a shallow, boggy layer will be maintained in the bottom. I can always stop up the plughole later and drill drainage holes to increase the depth of the boggy layer.

I’ve been growing New Zealand spinach for some years. It self-seeds readily and took over much of the bare ground around and under the fruit trees. I left it there because it was such a good ground cover, is green and lush through the winter and the rabbits don’t touch it. I pick the young leaf tips and steam them as a green :

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But it’s shallow-rooted in the compacted soil there and doesn’t like to get dry, so with 3 months of below-average rainfall it died right back and became a tangle of dead stems. I decided to remove them as they were a tripping hazard and I knew it would regenerate from the thousands of seeds it had dropped, but when I got it all out I decided I liked the look of it better, walking wasn’t a hazard (especially not knowing if a snake was hidden under it!), so I’ve decided to keep it that way and not let it regenerate. I’ve raked all the litter up around the fruit trees as mulch, out to the drip line, which looks much nicer and makes it easier to add compost and wood ash and gives a cleared space for walking around them. I’ll just maintain a minimal layer of gum leaf mulch there to walk on and absorb the force of heavy rain. I’m still trying to find a ground cover to put under the fruit trees that the rabbits will leave alone. I don’t want to use Warrigal Greens again, because it grows so quickly and rampantly and will just take over again. I’d like to put comfrey there, but the rabbits demolished that too. Everything I like, they like.

I’ve had one zucchini from six plants and that was one I hand pollinated. When there were male flowers open, there were no females. Then when the females came along, the males didn’t show. They’re getting regular water and fertiliser, including extra potash and they’re varieties that have done well in the past. I’m really wondering if it’s worth growing them in future. It’s annoying, when others seem to have zucchini coming out of their ears.

I had a pepino growing in a wicking box on the deck for a couple of years. I pruned it back very hard, not really caring if it didn’t re-sprout and it didn’t. So I put another in a wicking box beside the chook run. It’s doing really well and there are some huge fruits forming (arrowed) :

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When the pepino was still small, I planted a tomato at the edge of the box. It’s been overshadowed a bit (well squashed out of existence really), but not to be outdone, it’s produced a couple of huge fruits. From memory, it’s a Black Krim :

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Always curious as to what that black thing is she’s pointing at us. Is it something to eat? :

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The Girls have been laying continuously since March last year. I lost the second of the original three in that month so was down to one original and the three New Girls, who arrived in November 2014. Last year the four of them managed 339 eggs between them and I didn’t have to buy eggs at all over winter. Since Christmas only Bonny has been laying but I’m expecting her to stop any day. Who me? :

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With four consecutive spring/summer months of well-below-average rainfall, I’m learning some valuable lessons about growing my food. The main one is to keep fruit trees small by regular pruning, or else buy plants grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Small plants means a small root area, so it’s easy to keep the water up to the plant in dry times. It’s also easy to get a net or shadecloth over the plant when it’s fruiting, or a scorching 40+ temperature is forecast.

This was bought as a dwarf nectarine. It’s been in the ground four years and is still only 80 cm high :

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Mind you, it hasn’t had a lot of attention; it’s in sandy soil without much nutrient, but it’s behind a row of wicking boxes and tubs so probably receives some nutrient run-off from them and gets watered when I water them. In its first spring it produced flowers along every branch :

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Because it was so small I didn’t allow it to set any fruit. The following year there were many fruit, so I thinned to just a few. As you can see the leaf growth has a compact weeping habit. The fruit was hidden under the leaves so I didn’t bother to net. Bad decision! The birds (or tall rabbits), got them all.  This year, as soon as it started to set fruit, I put a net over it. There weren’t many, but they were bigger than any of my other stone fruit and they ripened beautifully on the plant :

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I’m giving it regular feeds and water now, to try and speed up its growth a bit. This winter I’m going to buy a couple more. It’s a variety with white flesh and I’d like one with yellow flesh if they’re available.

Oh, and the label said it would get to about a metre and a half tall and wide. Just right!

I finally got around to pruning my Red Delicious apple so I could get a net over it. It didn’t set as much fruit as in previous years (the pruning was a bit drastic), but I was determined not to let the parrots have it :

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Only about two dozen apples in all but worth keeping for myself. I’ve been keeping the water up to it to swell the fruit and the rain helped, too. I tried one after taking the photo and it was crisp and crunchy and sweet enough that I can begin harvesting. I’m not a great apple eater, but I’ve set myself one a day :

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So the second month of official summer has passed. My calendar follows the solstices and equinoxes, so my summer started on the December solstice and ends on the March equinox. I’m counting the days—48 to go. It’s not that I don’t like the warm weather, but being on a bush block in a designated bushfire zone, summer is always a worrying time.

This is pretty frightening

December 27, 2015

Watch this video of the decline of Arctic sea ice.

Something about the climate is definitely changing.

I don’t like it.

 

(Thanks to notsomethingelse blog for posting the link).

Heat

December 18, 2015

Environmental writer George Monbiot wrote a book called Heat, about climate change (should those c’s be capitalised now?).

Yeah, George, I know. It’s outside now. It was outside yesterday and the day before. And it will be there tomorrow and the next day. Three days of high 30’s temperatures and one topping 40. (I won’t bother to convert to fahrenheit for any American readers; you don’t want to know).

It’s 30 degrees in the living room now. Coming in from outside it seems positively frigid. I venture out only to shift the sprinklers coming from the water tanks and put more ice in the chook’s water. It’s said they won’t drink water if it’s above their body temperature and if they don’t drink for a day they will die. I give them watermelon and say useless things like, “keep your fluids up, Girls”. I’ve covered the run with an old sheet which I keep wet. They sit in the shade with beaks open. I apologise for the stupidity of my species which is causing these hotter summer days.

Four months of below average rainfall; well below average. The most important rainfall months, when fruit is swelling on the trees. It’s triage time for the garden.

The gloss has gone off the leaves of so many hard-leaved plants; a sure sign of dryness. Next the lower leaves will yellow and drop to the ground. The leaves of softer plants hang floppily beside the stems. Even if there is water at the roots, they can’t take it up quickly enough and wilted leaves will fry in the hot sun. Touch them and they crumble into fragments.

I can’t water every single thing in the ground. The ground-based food garden (I laughingly refer to it as a food forest) is on a slope with heavy clay-based soil that water doesn’t penetrate readily. Nor presumably, do roots. I’ve dug swales behind most of the fruit trees and fill them daily with water. Trying to keep ahead of the curling, wilting leaves is all I can do at the moment.

What can I let die?

Most of the feijoas are useless. They don’t flower much and set only small fruit which magically seems to disappear before it gets any bigger. Possums or parrots? I don’t know. The feijoas can be allowed to die.

Even the rosemary is stressed. Rosemary is supposed to be a Mediterranean plant…drought-tolerant. Nobody told it about climate change. Still, rosemary grows readily from cuttings…easy to replace. Maybe I could let them go as well.

The persimmon HAS to be watered. There are a dozen or so fruits forming. With no yields to speak of for a couple of years, and the promise of something this year, I can’t let that go.

The only good thing about deciding to let a plant die is planning what I can put in to replace it. After 15 years at this self-sufficiency thing, I’m starting to get a handle on what will survive where, what the rabbits will and won’t eat and what will give the most useful yields. I think about those who haven’t started on self-sufficiency yet; when the energy available to agriculture starts to seriously decline and supermarket shelves become increasingly barer, their learning curve will be pretty much vertical.

What about pumpkins and zucchini and their ilk. There are fewer bees around each year now. Hand pollination is mandatory. But excess yield can be dried. That’s worth having. Cucumbers can be pickled. I’m still eating last season’s bread & butter pickles. Cucumbers have to be kept going (anyway I grow them in wicking boxes now).

Speaking of wicking boxes….these have been worth their weight in gold. At last count I had over 40. Tomatoes, basil, beans, peas, lettuce, capsicums, parsley, kale and leeks, and much more. They thrive with constant water at the roots and with a regular topping of chook poo compost.  I can’t believe the growth in this one:

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Two tomatoes (the front one going bananas…that upturned pot is holding it up), some climbing beans at the rear and a cucumber at either end. It gets about 4 litres of water once a day of course, but it has a 60 litre water storage bin beside it and it’s on the deck where I can keep an eye on it. Wicking beds and/or boxes are the way to go in a water-stressed future. Every time I get a load of chook poo compost to fill it, I make another wicking box.

Well, I’m off out to brave the heat again and offer ice and sympathy to the chooks.

Soon be winter, Girls.

 

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.

Snow!!

February 17, 2015

I cannot comprehend that a snowfall could be as high as my chest. Take a look at these pictures posted by Terry Golson at Henblog.

I’m gob-smacked! What happens to a garden under all that snow? Will it still be there when the thaw comes? Flat as a tack?

The chickens look nice and cosy in their house. She says it’s a comfortable 20 degrees. That’s Fahrenheit!!!  Minus 6 degrees Celsius in Aussie language.

I will never complain about Melbourne’s weather again!

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 :

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The goal is to fill this jar with dried tomatoes :

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

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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!) :

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

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but there’s gotu kola…:

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self-sown lemon balm…:

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a cucumber…:

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and what looks like a self-sown tansy…:

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but wait, there’s more…:

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…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 :

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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 :

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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 :

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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 :

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

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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 :

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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?) :

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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) :

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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 :

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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 :

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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 :

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Pods are forming :

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Basil & endive going well together in a wicking box :

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

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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 :

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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 :

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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 :

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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.

Deciding what to let go

January 7, 2015

Every spring I plant seeds for as many plants as I can, in the fond hope that I will have bumper crops that I can harvest, eat, share with friends and preserve the excess.

And every summer we get hit with more and more hotter days and less and less rainfall. And I know I’m going to have to let some plants die, because I can’t keep the water up to all of them.

The wicking boxes are fine. They’re near the house and near mains water taps. They don’t need watering every day, except when the temperature gets into the 30’s. I can manage them.

The area I’ve developed as a food forest is ‘down the back’, over halfway down a one hectare property, 75 metres and more from the house. Also in that area are ‘garden beds’—80 cm wide circles of wire (to keep the rabbits out), filled with compost, in a line below two alternating lines of fruit trees. There are 35 of those. They were the original vegetable beds, before I learned about wicking boxes and before I did the permaculture design course and learned about zone planting. The whole food forest area is on a slope and the soil is not the native sandy soil, but introduced heavy clay which was brought in by a previous owner, after taking out all the sand and selling it. In other words, it’s fill.

This area gets watered by gravity from a 9000 litre tank next to the house. Because of the compacted nature of the soil, the water doesn’t penetrate. If I put water in too fast, it just runs off. So I use a fine spray on the end of a hose held up by a hose-holding spike. The circular vegetable beds each have a circle of 13 mm tubing with two fine spray heads attached which criss-cross each circle. The hose from the tank can connect to each one in turn and water the circle.

I’ve dug swales behind most of the fruit trees on the slope and I fill them from the mains regularly in summer (if I filled them from the tank I’d empty it in no time). There are (I think) about 25 major fruit trees and several scattered redcurrants. Some, e.g. the loquat and the quince and the 3 nectarines, don’t have swales and don’t get any water in summer, either. There are scattered clumps of asparagus in the food forest which likewise don’t get any summer water.

Alongside the path which leads to the food forest are three hugelkultur beds. At the moment, the first has pumpkins, rhubarb and asparagus, the second has zucchini and the last one has raspberries. I’ve just put in sprinklers to cover each bed and the water is gravity fed from the tank.

We had good rain in December and everything looked pretty good. Then we got hit with 40 C and high winds and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I had corn, some tomatoes and dill in the vegetable rings. I’ve managed to keep the corn going because it gets afternoon shade. The dill died, although I thought I’d been watering adequately and had put shade over it on the hot day. I’ve let the tomatoes die. They had early blight and weren’t doing well even before the heat. These were actually in a wicking box in one of the rings. They were in full sun for part of the day and I didn’t shade them. The soil was still wet :

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I pushed my cheese thermometer into the flesh of one. It read 36 C. It’s heartbreaking.

Today the forecast temperature was 35 C. I have the sprinkler from the tank going all day down the back. I’m trying to save another few raspberry plants down there and the four tamarillos. The tank was full a couple of weeks ago; now it’s below half. Oh, I can use the mains, but the pressure is so variable. I can get it right, go down later and find it’s reduced to a dribble. Walking up and down to keep adjusting it, in 35 degree heat is not for me.

I keep telling myself summer is only three months long and the really hot days are even less. But for how long? Climate change is happening faster than anyone thought. (Except for the Looney Tune we’ve got for a Prime Minister, and then it’s not happening at all !).

How long will it be before it will be impossible to grow food in summer? What will happen when oil runs out and the energy to pump water to households is no more? I thought I’d be pushing up daisies well before climate change got worse; now I’m not so sure.

Is it worth it? On days like today, I doubt it.