Lighting up

It’s dark and cold when we both get home, so the garden hasn’t been watered after work this week. Thursday night I ached to see how everything was going, and wandered around the backyard with a headlight.

Something had knocked over a few of the peat pots that I started last weekend. I’m guessing it was either the wind or a neighbour’s cat.

The dew has been settling on the grass and highlights where all the spiderwebs are. There are more than 80,000 types of spider in the world, the majority of which have never been identified.

Our native raspberry has started to fruit.

Inside, as I took off my headlight and boots, Matt asked, “How many kilograms do you think we’ll get from the potatoes?”

“I dunno”.

Matt asks so many questions and my reply is often TMQ, which stands for too-many-questions. Half of the questions he asks about the garden I can’t answer and that frustrates me to no end.

A few days later I remember an article Peter Cundall wrote for Organic Gardener magazine. I found the magazine amongst the pile near the sofa and flipped to the article. I had my answer:

“We should get 5-6 kilograms per plant, but he used whole potatoes”.
(We had cut ours up into quarters).

“Cool. We need it to make up the kilograms.”

We sure do.

Run down

If you’ve only just discovered our blog, here’s a quick round down of where we are at. We’re currently on a challenge to see if we can grow 236kg of fruit and vegetables on one tank, for one couple in one year. That is approximately 20kg per month, which we have only achieved successfully in February and May. So the pressure is now on to make up for lost ground. Here’s what the vegetable beds are looking like:

Bed 1 – carrots, beetroot, garlic, shallots, tree onions, silverbeet.

Bed 2 – tomatoes, beans, peas, cabbage (back), basil, parsley.

Bed 3 – potatoes (front), eggplants, chives.

Bed 4 – empty.

Fruit trees: acerola cherry, avocado, bush lemon, Davidson’s plum, feijoa, fig, finger lime, kumquat, lemon, lime, loquat, mango, natal plum, native raspberry, orange, pomegranate, riberry.

Vines: choko and passionfruit.

Pots: Herbs and strawberries. Capsicum. Bay tree. Curry plant. Rosemary.

Red pepper

Over a month later, finally our first capsicum turned red!

I planted in some bulbs for spring flowers. I’m hoping to see Tulip Silentia, Tulip Ile De France, mixed ranunculus and white rain lilies add some sparkle to our back patio. The bulbs were pushed into the home-grown compost that was littered with broken egg and peanut shells. I just hope we don’t end up with tomatoes instead!

We pulled up all of the tomato plants that were grown from seedlings from the local markets. Matt found them flavourless and unfortunately I have no idea what type they were, but we’ll stick to heirlooms from now on anyhow. The potato plants continue to grow upwards. They received a sugar cane mulch top up, as did all of the beds and pots. We harvested two lemons and several kumquats.

I added some seeds to a set of peat pots – herb robert, tomatillo, tomatoes (various) and broccoli.

If you missed ABC’s Australian Story last week about Dr Maarten Stapper and biological farming, you might want to watch ‘Back to Earth‘ online.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind

Today the winter wind blew with all its might. A lemon tree branch was snapped and the chives were flattened. The garlic has tousled green bed head.

Outside the local corner store a yellowing tree was uprooted. The poor thing didn’t stand a chance. It was two metres high with roots barely a third of a metre. A side effect of our long drought is that the rain doesn’t penetrate the soil well, so many plants have poorly developed root systems. This is why it is better to water your plants for longer but less often.

Here’s some edible plants that make good wind breaks:

  • Black mulberry
  • Carob
  • Feijoa
  • Jaboticaba
  • Longan
  • Loquat
  • Mango
  • Olive
  • Pine nut
  • Red cherry guava
  • Rose apple
  • White sapote
  • Yellow cherry guava

Smart Permaculture Design by Jenny Allen

Lizards tales

We finally received a truck load of organic material (mostly manure and sugar cane mulch). Half of it will be used to top up the fourth bed, which has sunk to below half way. Unfortunately, the bed will be out of action for another month as all the new material decomposes and before it will be ready for planting into.

Everything is plodding along nicely in the garden. Our roses have aphids, even with garlic cloves planted around the base! One of our baby bean plants was covered in tiny black specks, so I’ve pulled it out. Hopefully we caught it early enough that the insects won’t spread.

Matt got out the pyrethrum and gave everything a good spray. Of course, it rained the next day.

He also found a lizard tail attached to one of the clothes pegs on our Hills Hoist. It’s the second time this has happened. We can’t work out whether a bird put it there, or if the lizards have been crawling all over our washing on the line!

A big hello and welcome to all the readers of Organic Gardener magazine.

Winter warmers

The patchwork quilts are out and the oil heater is on in the evenings. Bring on the comforting soups and stews, and hail the return of the crockpot (it’s making a comeback). We’re enjoying roasted parsnips, swedes, and turnips. I’ve swapped all my skirts for long pants, and I’ve been wearing knee-high ski socks to bed. Winter is here.

Time for the banksias, wattles and Geraldton waxes to add blushes to our garden beds.

On Saturday we just sat outside and enjoyed the sun. Sunday we got dirt under our nails and planted out a dozen natives. I half-heartedly emptied another packet of St Valery carrot seeds into two rows – hopefully these will come up. Matt heaped compost and sugar cane mulch up around the potatoes.

We didn’t need to do any watering as it rained so much the week before. We’re waiting for a delivery of mulch to top up our fourth bed. The chokos and eggplant have continued to do well, and we just reached our target total this month.

Over breakfast, I said, “Those potatoes are going off.”

Matt replied, “Like a frog in a sock.”

Coir!

Saturday I learnt a bit lesson in trying to do more than one thing at a time. I emptied a large brick of coir fibre into a flexible plastic bucket and filled it with water. I briefly considered getting the wheelbarrow out of the garage but couldn’t be bothered finding the key to unlock the door, or fighting with bikes, camping chairs and the lawn mower. Then I remembered I had to put the clothes out on the Hills Hoist, and make lunch before meeting Matt to test drive a car.

Coir makes perfect bedding material for worm farms. I add it to our vegetable beds to help attract worms and retain moisture in the soil. It is a waste product from the coconut industry, and is a sustainable alternative to using peat moss. To use you soak the coir cake in water where it will swell to over four times its original size.

Two hours later I got dropped off at the local shopping centre, and as I was walking home I remembered I had forgotten about the soaking coir!

Luckily it had not broken the bucket as I had imagined it might have, but the coir had expanded and was well and truly wedged in. (It reminded me of a time when I tried to make a papier mache bowl over a pyrex glass bowl – it had set so hard that I couldn’t get it off and then I had to buy my flat mate a new glass bowl!)

I added more water and tried to dig out slabs of the coir. Gradually pieces fell off and I dug a well around the sides. I added more water, clawed my fingers in, and even tried to scrap more off with the end of the hose. (I was getting pretty frustrated by this stage). That worked somewhat but half of the coir square was still stuck.

I decided to throw the bucket from shoulder height to see if that would break up the remaining chunk. After a few attempts, the blocked coir fell apart and away from the bucket. Yea! Fortunately it didn’t swell up like I imagined it would, and actually half of the bucket was empty. Never again.

Rain rivulets

Well, what can I say about the rain? Brisbane had a third of its annual rain fall in just 24 hours. We received 190mm in one day. It was heavy, windy rain – much worse then I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime, including our time in the UK. Thankfully our garden wasn’t hit too badly. There were water puddles around the vegetable beds. Some of the mulch around the natives had journeyed down the hill in the newly formed rivulets. One tree is showing off its roots, so we’ll have to salvage it soon. Needless to say, our tank is full again.

Either our garlic or tree onions are up. I’m suspecting the tree onions, as the garlic looked pretty mushy before I gave up on them. The beetroots are doing well and need thinning. One row of carrots have not shown up yet and the second row is spotted with the first lot of potatoes that we had planted (and had long given up hope on!). There’s one or two feathery carrots tops, but I have a feeling something might be eating them.

Green Change has an excellent illustrated post on hand pollinating zucchinis. This could have been the reason we only got one zucchini a few months ago. If only I had known! The bees love the clover in our grass, but as Matt loves mowing I guess we need a few more constant sources of bee nectar.

Hosepipe bends

The days are getting shorter and I’m finding that twilight has passed when I get home. It’s lucky that Matt works nearby some days, so that he can do the watering on weekdays. He discovered that the old green hose gives better pressure than the brand new silver hose, possibly because it’s shorter and thinner. Neither of them are kink-free, although they are supposed to be!

We went to a native plant sale on the weekend and picked up a few more trees and bushes for the wildlife. The plants were really inexpensive and as they were all native I didn’t need to worry about what I was picking up. I could see myself joining the plant group when I was retired. Matt thought that I could join as soon as I turned grey, which “isn’t too many years away” he elbowed my ribs. Cheeky monkey!

A cat has been visiting at night and leaving little unwanted presents.

The potatoes are doing really well, and funnily enough the potato crop planted in summer are sprouting up in the first bed. Our roma tomatoes are starting to turn from pale green to an orange. The garlic bulbs have gone soft so I think I’ve lost them. I’ve replaced them with tree onions (thanks Linda!).

The chokos are continuing to bear well, but do you know that we do not have a single recipe in all of our cookbooks for preparing and cooking chokos!

Tank half full

It hasn’t rained for nearly three weeks now and our tank is probably only half full. I guess that means we could water the vegetables and fruit trees for six weeks without any rain and or using the mains. The pressure has decreased though and it takes longer to water. Still no pump, for some reason it’s just hasn’t been a priority.

I wanted to plant out some bulbs in the front garden. An old work colleague drove past our house and said “is yours the house with overgrown garden?” smirking, of course.  Grrr. We have been concentrating all our efforts on the backyard. The edibles get most of our attention and they are situated close to the tank, which hangs off the back of our garage. So Sunday, I spent a futile hour trying to pull up grass near the public footpath. My shoulder is now aching and I still didn’t get any bulbs in. Fortunately it’s a holiday today and I can rest my mouse-arm, by indulging in more vampire and werewolf stories.

Matt has been battling the grass out the back and slowly making more progress with the mulching. It makes my sinuses all blocked up so I’ve been using any excuse to get out of it. We’ve run out of newspapers so we’re both off the hook today.

On the food producing front the shallots have put up green shoots, but not the garlic. The potatoes are also sprouting leaves. The beetroot has tiny first leaves, but not the carrot as far as we can tell. The beans I planted as seeds are up, and trying to catch up to the ones that were planted as seedlings. The cabbage is looking healthy, although something has been nibbling so I guess another spray is in order.

I’ve finally pulled up the fourth bed. After much heartache, I discovered a splattering of black and white dots underneath the leaves and decided if the plants weren’t going to fruit properly then they weren’t going to become havens for pest colonies. As I threw segments of the vine into the wheelie bin, I discovered little green caterpillars, hairy spiders and yellow ladybirds.

Later as I was reading the zucchini seed packet, I think I discovered the problem. You aren’t supposed to plant zucchini, squash and pumpkin that close to each other as it can cause cross-pollination. I think I planted about six different kinds in the one bed. I’m surprised we didn’t grow a totally new monster species. Oops.

The fourth bed has been battered down by the rain and is now only half full. We’ll need to top it up with more sugar cane mulch and manure, before we can plant anything in there yet.

April was another disappointing month and we didn’t reach our monthly target again. But the chokos have started producing and a few days in things are already starting to look up. Dark clouds are circling above and natural rain always give the vegetables a growth spurt. Just what we need now.

Rain, rain, come again….