Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mangels, potatoes and yacon

With the cooler and damper weather my workload is dropping off dramatically and I will have to plan for what I am going to do over winter. I have a heap of weeding to do and rotary hoeing over at the new seed block but soon the weeds will stop growing and I will take my holidays.
It is starting to become difficult to find things to update my blog with.

Luckily I have a few people to visit and stay with in the winter, I never get to see some of them during the rest of the year. And I might do a bit more exploring in the bush for something to do. I might get back into scambaiting for something to do when it is too wet to do anything outside.

 Today I pulled and selected my red Mangels. They are always a great seller at the markets so I put the worst ones away to sell in Hamitlon next week.

For some reason I am low on seed but this bed will fix that in the summer.

A few weeks ago we had a couple of light frosts that were not enough to kill back the spuds but now they are naturally dying back.
I like it when winter cuts them down so I have a chance to weed the beds properly, and I will have plenty for the market.

The yacon is still trying to stay green but a few frosts on it should kill them down so I can harvest them.
It seems that they are staying green for longer this year and I am looking forward to eating them.
Pity they are more of a salad vegetable and hard to sell in winter.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Oca seedling update and more

My this years oca seedlings have been an eye opener. You may recall that this time I pricked each seedling into separate 10cm pots then buried those pots in the ground in one of the beds.
For some reason they really liked this and grew to the size of mature plants, and I only lost two to stem rot. Last year was the first year I had tried to grow them from seed and I kept them in pots in my shadehouse, and they only grew small and produced microtubers. They are all in a separate bed this year.
I am thinking that perhaps I am not planting my oca tubers in soil that is fertile enough for them and that is why this years seedlings are doing so well in their potting mix with added long lasting fertiliser.

Because they are in small pots I am not expecting the tubers to be big but they are numerous and the plants are heaving themselves out of their pots with the amount of tubers developing. I am very pleased.

Unlike my other beds of oca these seedlings are not showing signs of dying down yet and maybe the soil or growing conditions are causing that. I am getting impatient but I know that the longer they are growing the more tubers they will produce.

Next spring I will seriously look at experimenting more with different soils, fertility and growing conditions. It seems that I still have a lot to learn.

 I have put in some 'Novella' peas which are a semi-leafless shelling pea. They only produce some leaves up the stem and rely on their large tendrils for their energy instead.
I have some problems with low germination and also very slow germination and I don't know whether it is a bad batch of seeds or they are generally difficult.
I only got 24 plants up in this bed. They are just beginning to flower now.

My saffron bulbs are shooting out of the ground now. The way they are multiplying I might even have enough to fill a bed next year.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chufa and hopniss

What a beautiful day today. It was sunny and even warm enough for me to spend a lot of the day without my coat on. I got some more spraying done on the new seed block and planted some rhubarb and broad beans on there. I have been thinking of ways to keep the weeds down without using Round-up and I think I will have to work on chook runs. I have a few ideas in my head.

 My chufa was almost dead so I decided to harvest it today.
A heap of sunflowers germinated in that bed from last year so I let them grow, forgetting that their roots are alleopathic and stop other nearby plants from growing properly. This meant that the chufa plants didn't grow well and they only grew to half their normal size.

The harvest was also pathetic. The tubers were small and I only got a quarter of a bucket full from the whole bed.
I hear that there is a bigger tubered variety in the US but I haven't been able to find a source. These tubers are nutritious and I want to try to find one with bigger tubers so I will have to keep looking.

The sunflowers were great at stopping the parrots from looking closely at my corn but next season I will have them in their own bed.

I also dug up my hopniss (American ground nut/ Apios americana) and got a good haul of small tubers. I am going to grow them on the new block so I didn't leave any in the ground to grow bigger next year.
The company that wants to buy my seeds is looking to offer these in the future so I am going to make a bigger growing area for them, which I can't do where they were planted. Some will still come up next spring from tubers I missed but it is easy to just pull them up as you see the new growth.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Phew, that was a lot of work

Well, since most of the rain is gone for a while I thought I will get the borrowed rotary hoe out of the shed and fire it up.

It hadn't been used for a while and I just couldn't get it going, even after changing out the old fuel so I got a home visit from the local small engine mechanic. He spent an hour on it, pulling it apart and cleaning stuff before finally getting it going, and then only wanted to charge me $30. I told him he had to charge me more so when I went into the shop to pay, and buy a set of earmuff (this monster is awfully LOUD) I ended up making him charge $60 which I still thought was undercharging but ok.

 I thought I would get started on this side of the 3/4 acre area which is covered in Buffalo grass. I had already started digging three beds before giving up.
The monster (this rotary hoe is as huge and heavy as an elephant, awkward, hard to use, and dangerous) had a hard time with the Buffalo and didn't do a god job on it so I will try spraying it again and waiting till it dies off completely.
Here is the result of spending some time on the buffalo. I ended up giving up on it and heading over to the other side of the area with no buffalo and the going was much better. The other side is so nicely and neatly done now and ready to plant. I will finish this whole area when I get back to it in a few days (I have other weeding duties to attend to in the meantime)

It is a love/hate relationship with this machine - I hate how exhausting it is to work with, but how nice it is to get more done in a few hours than I could normally do by hand in a month.

The other job I got done today is to start putting rabbit mesh all around the fences.
The mesh I bought is not as thick and strong as 'normal' rabbit netting but only half the price so it is all I can afford at this time. It will still last a few years, just not as long as the stronger stuff.

The rabbit mesh is clipped to the fence wire with enough left on the ground to dig in to stop the rabbit digging under it. It actually looks quite neat and is very effective.
I will also use some of the left over netting to put around the bigger mesh on the chook tractors I am still planning to build.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Water chestnut time again

Thank goodness, tomorrow looks like it will be the end of this spell of wintery weather so I will actually be able to get some work done. I have been doing a little bit between showers but really, I have been a bit lazy.

Yesterday I borrowed a big rotary hoe to dig up my new seed block, and today got a small truck load of compost delivered. After I get it all hoed in I will plant the silverbeet seedlings I have coming up in a tray in my greenhouse. At least I will get a few beds of stuff in before winter, and if it is mild I will get some seed in the spring. Otherwise, if it doesn't grow well I will be digging in the silverbeet as green manure and doing most of my planting next October.

Today I harvested my two bathtubs of water chestnuts. I have to say that the extra space they got in the bathtubs made the tubers grow much bigger than last year. They hate being crowded.
I still didn't get the yield I was expecting- I only got one kg per plant when they should produce two kg per plant. I will still have to work on the soil I think.
I planted three tubers in each bathtub.

I had to stop pulling up the plants in one of the tubs as I spotted a water spider in it. These spiders look like wolf spiders and live in the water, trapping air in their body hairs to breathe underwater. They are keen to defend themselves and give a painful bite so I will finish pulling these plants when I get some gloves.

I always wonder where some animals come from. It is over one and a half km to the river and no other suitable habitat for them close by so I wonder how this spider got into my tubs.

This is how the tubers grow on the ends of the plants roots. It is easy to pick them off, and as long as the soil is light and sandy they are pretty easy to pull up if the roots aren't too crowded.

 You still have to feel in the soil for tubers afterwards for any that broke off while you were pulling but that isn't too hard.

Here is a pic of how the plants spread. The mother plant produces lateral stems under the water that new plants grow on.

I will put in a couple more tubs next year for them

I did also pull up my lotus but the tubers were only finger size. I really hope they do better next year.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Brrrr, Are we going straight into winter?

The cold and wintry weather is continuing, making it far too easy to make excuses for sitting inside. Although we are getting lots of showers the soil is still totally dry a few cm down so we need a lot more. At the moment it is just cold and wet enough that I can't get anything productive done, but not enough to do much good.

 My oca is dying down now and I will be able to dig the tubers in a couple of weeks or so. Some people make the mistake of digging it as soon as the tops die down but the tubers continue to grow for a couple of weeks so you mustn't be too impatient.
Then you should leave them out to sweeten for a couple more weeks before you cook them.

I did a bit of an experiment with my oca and yacon this season with mulch and covers to see what sort of differences I would find and will bring you the results when they are dug.

I haven't grown maca for a few years but when I did I was surprised that it did so well under the cover of my asparagus.
I have put a tray of seeds in and after only a couple of days they are germinating - sorry, but if you don't have a magnifying glass you will just have to trust me that there are seedlings showing in this tray, lol.

I wasn't too impressed with the taste of the tubers but they were definitely better when left out in the sun for a week to sweeten. Anyway, I have decided to try again and cover them with shadecloth in the summer. They prefer to be germinated in cold weather which is why I am starting them now.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Carrots again and Chinese artichokes

Going back to my last post where I was telling you about how I select my Juane du Doubs carrots for seed, it has been playing on my mind that these carrots were not the bright, lemon yellow they are supposed to be. I have it in my mind that I didn't tag this bed until a few weeks after they were sown so, although I thought when I was digging them that their orange/yellow colour was an environmental effect I am am not absolutely sure that I didn't make a tagging mistake, so I pulled them all up and will sow the bed to something else.

If I was only keeping the seed for myself I would have left them but as I would be selling the seed I can't afford to keep them if I am not totally sure of their variety. Lucky I have more seed of this variety.

Today I dug my two beds of Chinese artichokes (Crosnes) I am very disappointed with the harvest. For some reason the tubers are smaller this year than they should be so I only got 1.5kg from one bed of three metres (you usually get a harvest of around 1kg per square metre), and the other bed only gave half a kilo because many of the plants died off early for some reason before tuberising.

 I think much of the problem was that I seem to be having a bad year for curl grubs in the soil (Cockchafer larvae) and they could have been munching too many of the roots.

I really like Chinese artichokes. They don't have a strong flavour but are great for adding crunch/texture to salads and stir-fries.

They are a bit invasive as they do spread a bit but they are not very vigorous and if you want to get rid of them from a place they shouldn't be either don't water them during the summer, or place some netting wire around them adn let the chooks in for a while. The roots and tubers are not far under the ground and chooks like to scratch them up and eat them.

Today I am sore and tired. I have been trying to get some roundup sprayed on the new seed block to try and get rid of the buffalo grass but with the cold fronts dumping showers and wind on us I haven't been able to. I need to get seed in before it gets too cold so today I started digging a few beds. My muscles have forgotten the work of making virgin beds and are punishing me for it now.

With the beds made on my other blocks made all I have to do between crops is to loosen the soil. I don't need to turn it unless I am adding compost or manure so it is pretty easy.

At least the buffalo grass roots aren't as deep or difficult as couch so I got 5 beds dug today. I will have to find a trailer and borrow a friends rotary hoe to get it all done soon, but I will plug away for now until I have enough beds to get some silverbeet and mustard seeds in at least.