Sunday, October 14, 2018

My bones, my bones. It is hard getting back into work after winter.

With a beautiful and warm start to my planting season I am aching after working every day. Cultivating, weeding, planting, and putting up the shade for my oca. But at least I can see a lot of improvement for my efforts.
The weather, especially the night temps are even warm enough for me to plant the heat loving veggies that I usually plant in November - beans, eggplant, okra etc.

This is my shade structure coming together for my oca plantings this year. I am sick of crawling around under my bed covers when weeding them so I wanted a structure I can stand up under and use a hoe.
I am under no illusion that it will stand up to more than one year and I will have to replace the steel posts with wood as I can afford it. It is just an experiment at this stage. Luckily we haven't had our usual strong spring winds this year to test it.
I should get it finished tomorrow. I wanted to finish it today but I left the scissors for cutting the shadecloth at home so I sowed many beds of seed instead, and transplanted a couple of beds of potato seedlings.

 My potato seedlings are coming along nicely and some were big enough to put out in the ground. I transplanted two rows today and the rest will go in when they are big enough.
There does not seem to be many purple ones this year but at least I will still get a good variety from what I have ready to plant over the next couple of weeks.

I have put aside a whole row of beds for the potatoes this year. Last week I attended a local conference of seed potato industry people to get some info on the certified potato scheme as I have a market grower already interested in one of my varieties that appeared two years ago.

Over the next few months I will be blogging a lot about my potatoes as I am getting more interested in them now. Just wait till the reveal in late March or April, I will try to video some of it as well.

The story of potato seedling D154, Week 4

This seedling as well as the others in its tray has not grown quite as well as I would expect so I gave them all a dose of Seasol. I expect that I will be planting it out next week in the ground.

Of course, being a diploid, it is not growing as fast as the tetraploids but they will catch up later in the season. I am excited to see how it develops over the next few months.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Spring is springing, yay

Although the night temperatures are all over the place we are getting some really nice days so I have been busy sowing seeds in seed trays, and some of the pumpkins have been direct planted.

 My oca is just starting to show new shoots above the straw mulch so I had better get the shadecloth roof on this week.

I have some seed germinating in a tray so hopefully in a couple of years I will have a couple of new varieties to release to add to the ones from this year. All I need is a nice cooler summer to get them to flower so I can collect seed.

I didn't have much in the ground over the winter but the couple of brassicas I do have, as well as this coloured silverbeet are rushing to flower now.
We did not get as much rain as usual this winter so I could have put in more overwintering vegetables, but that is the risk we take. It could just as easily been very wet where I would have lost it all.
At least I will have a little seed to sell, making up for the horrific broad bean season I have had. At least I am not the only one, I noticed some really sick broad been crops in the paddocks when I drove over to Ballarat last month.

I put in a bed of speckled snow peas and they are powering away now. It is hard to find information on these but they are really tasty peas. The pods are only small but they have no strings and can be used as a snow pea, snap pea or shelling pea, but they are a little bitter when mature so probably not as good as a dry pea.
The seeds are tan with dark brown speckles. They are the only pea I grow that can cope with Red Legged Earth Mite to some extent. Other peas are destroyed as soon as they emerge.

The story of D154, week three

This potato seedling has not put on much growth in the last week since I pricked it out. This was expected as it takes 4-5 days to get over the transplant shock. I expect that it will start to grow quite fast from now on and you will see a big difference when I post again next Sunday.

It takes longer for a potato to grow and mature from a true seedling than from a tuber so it won't be ready to harvest until about April, whereas if I was growing it from a tuber I would be able to harvest the tubers in Jan/February.

You can really notice the dark leaves and stem on this seedling so the tubers will definitely have purple skin, and probably purple flesh as well.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

About to start spring planting. The potting mix I use.

First of October tomorrow and I will be starting seeds in the poly houses. I was going to wait a bit longer this year but the forecasts are for some dry and hot months ahead so I will put some seeds in trays and by the time they are ready to plant out I am hoping the nights will be warm enough. The days are getting nice and warm so it feels good to get out.

Tomorrow I will start rotary hoeing the beds to get them ready for the new seedlings.

 Potato seedling D154, week two

A couple of days ago this seedling has been pricked out into a small pot, just like its siblings. In a couple of weeks it will be big enough to get out into the farm beds.

I can already see that this is going to be a fun project - writing about this seedling from planting to harvest. I really hope it does well and sets lots of good size tubers.

Choosing potting mix

 Choosing a potting mix can be a contentious subject as everyone has their own opinions and favourites. I have two favourites, the one pictured here, and one made by a local company called Biogrow. These are both pine bark based mixes that conform to Australian standards for premium mix.
They look like good garden compost but have wetting agent and slow release fertiliser.

It is not the cheapest bagged mix, but I have found that cheap mixes are often pretty bad and you get poor results from them.

There are so many potting mixes around that it can be hard to choose one that suits you. I suggest that you go for those conforming to Australian Standards and then buy a few different ones to see how you go.
I personally don't like those with a rice hull base but maybe that one is the one for you. Grow some plants in each and you will soon see which you prefer.

Whatever mix you choose, it should be free draining and have fertiliser mixed in. One that comes up to standard and has fertiliser in it will have been tested for PH, pathogens, as well as fertility. I like them fairly course, but not so course that it won't hold any moisture.

I really don't recommend using a home made potting mix. It is hard to get it right. There is a good reason why professional plant sellers/nurseries don't make their own.

Your own compost should be used for adding to your garden beds to add organic matter, not for adding to pots. it is great stuff but not an all-purpose product.

I never use seed raising mixes, I use my potting mix for raising seedlings and have great success. The reason is that seed raising mixes I find are too fine and hold moisture for too long. They just don't drain as well as I like or have enough aeration at the roots.

Seedling mixes that hold moisture tend to encourage moulds and damping off, even if you add things like perlite to it.

Mine looks course in trays but even the tiniest seedlings come up in it well.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The story of potato seedling D154

Since the nights are staying stubbornly cold, and look like continuing to be for the next couple of weeks I thought I would start a story about the development from seedling to harvest of a single potato seedling in this years selection. There is not much else to write about until most of the planting starts.

I chose a seedling at random (see the red arrow) to follow through its life cycle. After I took this pic I popped in a little stick next to it to make sure I remember which seedling it is.

Seedling plants don't usually get named until harvest, if they are good enough to keep, but to make this story a bit more personal I have assigned it a name at the start. It's temporary name is D154. If after harvest it is good enough to keep, and then after growing out for a couple of years it seems good enough to produce for the public it would get a 'proper' name, but the vast majority of seedling plants are not that good so it is very unlikely.

If readers are adamant that it should have a proper name at this stage please let me know what name you would call it (it can't be the name of a living person or a name that is already taken by another potato variety)

This seedling is just starting to get its first true leaves which are darkish in colour so it is likely to have purple or red tubers. it is a diploid potato rather than the 'normal' tetraploids that most people see in the supermarket. Diploids usually have smaller and odd shaped tubers which can come in many colours of skin and flesh.

Every week or so when I update this blog I will include a picture of this plant so you can see how it grows through its life cycle from planting out, to flowering, tuber formation, and harvest.

In other news, The plover family on the farm block seem to have lost two of their three babies. It is a shame really as they were nearly at flying stage. Probably a fox, or maybe a feral cat, as they should be two fast at that age to be taken by a crow. I love plovers, they eat so many pests, mostly grasshoppers. At least they will be laying again soon so I will have to keep an eye out for the eggs when I mow.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Spring has sprung

Although I am not yet ready to plant the days are getting nicer, though I did a couple of markets around Ballarat on the weekend and at least two stall holders that I saw came with a light covering of snow on their vehicles. At least most of the days are getting warmer. Anyway, Ballarat is always cold place in winter/spring.

I have decided to give up going to the Ballarat markets because I am over hitting kangaroos and the van repairs that use up all of my profits. I love going to markets so it is a bit sad for me but I will only be going to the occasional one off around here now.

 My asparagus is starting to pop up now. I have put in more beds, both of Argenteuil and purple so next year I might be able to sell a bit of fresh asparagus as well as grow for seed.

The rhubarb and asparagus crowns I offered at the markets last month went like hotcakes, and I had people asking for more so next winter I will sell more of those if I go to any local markets or spring fairs.

I am planning to have a small market showcasing local produce at my farm open day on the 3rd Feb but since the person organising the market has decided to pull out I am not sure I will be able to do it alone. This area is not known for its willing volunteers for this sort of thing.

My crimson flowered broad beans are showing nicely, they have been flowering since they were 20cm tall. Anyway, I have been really disappointed with my broad bean germination rates and growth this year across all the varieties I planted. I don't know what went wrong.
If I didn't really need the seed I would have turned them all in as green manure.

Spring bulbs have been flowering strongly for a month and gardens are still looking great. The extra bulbs we bought for this spring will look a picture in the next couple of years as they multiply.

The nights are still too cold for planting but I am not going to be in a rush this year, I have till early November to get most things in. Last year was a disaster with all the cold nights and extra replantings. I will have to try and get a few things growing early so I have a good show for my open day but I am not going to stress about it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Planting time is here, yay

With the weather warming up a little early and the farm not as wet as it has been at this time the past couple of years I have been able to get out and start planting some of the tuberous vegetables, and get some seed planted in trays in the polyhouse.

The borrowed rotary hoe I have been using has gone back to its owner so I bought a new one that arrived a few days ago. It is a bit small for what I need but with all the bills I have had this year, plus the failed crops I just didn't have $6000 for a good, commercial one.
I got it going to do a few beds today and it will do the job this year.

I put in the beds of potato tubers I kept from last year. I will have one to release next season and I am growing a lot more from seed this year to try and find some exceptional ones to release in a couple of years. it is time for backyard veggie growers to have a better range of potatoes to choose from.

You may remember that I stopped using artificial mulches last year as they just invited too many pests. This year I spread wood chip mulch on a heap of my broad bean and garlic beds, and I am very pleased with it.
There are still quite a lot of weeds growing through those beds but not nearly as mach as in the unmulched beds. It does make the weeding a bit harder though. growth is also better on the mulched beds, probably due to less weed pressure.
It is hard to see from this pic but the broad beans on the left are doing a lot better than the unmulched ones on the right.
All in all, I will be using wood chip a lot more from now on.

I have also put in some comparison beds of my new variety of garlic, 'Easygrow', and the original parent 'Monaro Purple'. I have noticed a couple of differences between them, and not only the better resistance to water and weed pressure.

Easygrow has stiffer, more upright leaves and is a little darker green. The actual growth rates are not much different in the mulched beds but Easygrow is doing better in the weedy unmulched beds. It will be interesting to see if there is a difference in the bulb sizes when they are dug in November.

Easygrow is the top pic and Monaro Purple the bottom.

I have sown potato, oca, mashua, and arracacha seed in trays in the polyhouse. I am really looking forward to expanding my potato growing but it is going to take a lot more work.

In a couple of weeks I will be sowing most of my other summer veg seeds. The weather forecast shows a warmer and dryer spring so I will be able to get them out earlier than usual.
I was going to put off my planting until later this year so I could gain better control of the weeds but I am going to make a huge vegetable display for my open day at the start of Feb so I need a lot of ripe produce to show. And, I would like to get as much growth possible before having to start irrigating, and the cost that involves. I think I will have to start irrigating much earlier this season.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Updates on what's happening lately

With winter in full swing and cold days and nights there is not much happening on the farm right now.
I have started going to the local produce swaps again for something to do, there is another one tomorrow. I like going to the swaps to swap veggies for cakes and eggs, and for the general social aspect. It brings the local communities together.

The soil is starting to get soft and I expect that in a week or ten days it will be too boggy to walk on. This helps me to not think I am lazy, simply because at that time of the year there really isn't anything I can do on the place. It is my forced down time.

Vegetables to grow in shady areas

Many people, especially if they have a small growing area don't have much choice in the conditions they have for growing. If you only have a courtyard or room between your home and a fence for example you may have to consider only those vegetables and fruits that will grow well in shade. Not many will cope with full shade all day but if you can provide at least a few hours of sun you can still grow food.

Even if you have a larger garden there will often be areas that don't grow too much because of shade, such as the shady side of a fence or shed, or under a tree (raised beds are best here to stop roots from taking all the moisture and nutrition from the soil.

Make sure that you don't forget to water in summer because most shade loving plants are not drought tolerant.

 Leafy vegetables

Most leafy vegetable will handle dappled to light shade for much of the day. These include lettuce, silverbeet, celery, kale, and leeks.

Keep an eye out for slugs and snails.

Chilean Guava

This small bush produces delicious tiny, dark purple berries in late summer. The bush is neat and rarely requires pruning, and best of all, it loves shady areas, but remember to keep the water up to it in summer.


Rhubarb is another plant that loves a moist and shady spot. It is a tough plant that is perennial so you don't have to take a lot of care with it, just feed it occasionally and keep weeds down from around it.


This plant makes a good shade tolerant alternative to potatoes. They are pretty easy care and love a shady spot.
Just plant tubers in spring and harvest when the tops die down in autumn.
This is one of my favourite vegetables.

Alpine strawberries

These fun strawberries only produce little fruits but they are delicious and easy care.

Most alpines do not produce runners but the plants can be divided, and they are easy to grow from seed from fruit that have dropped.


Many herbs will tolerate some degree of shade - parsley, mint, rosemary to name just a few.


Although this root vegetable grows well in full sun, it will also grow in light shade.
Like oca, it is planted in spring and harvested in autumn/winter.
The roots are sweet and crunchy, and usually eaten raw.