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.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

With a break in the weather I thought I will get stuck into my rhubarb as it will be harder when we get more rain next month.
The winter weather started early for this time of year but I hope I am not in for a boggier spring than usual. I see that the ash trees are shooting with spring growth more than a month early and I don't know what that means for the rest of the season.

I usually don't plant rhubarb seed until early spring but I put some in early autumn this year. I just planted out the young plants yesterday.
This is seed off an Australian variety called 'Next Generation'. It is bred for subtropical conditions so I don't know how it will fare through our winter.
I will sow some more seed in spring then I will find out whether I prefer to plant it in spring or autumn.

This is 22 plants. They are not very different but when they are bigger I will be able to see if any are particularly good in growth or flavour.

Dividing rhubarb plants

This morning I got to and started dividing my 'Red Rover' bed. here is how you should go about dividing, well, how I do it.

Many gardens have rhubarb plants but often the plants are old and crowded, and the stems are weak and small instead of large and fleshy. A rhubarb plant grows many shoots from the base and they get crowded with time so after 4-6 years the whole plant should be dug up, divided into individual shoots and one shoot/crown replanted to replace the original plant.

1, The first step is to cut back all the leaves so you can get at the main part of the plant. This makes it easier to dig up. Just whack them off with a knife, spade or use secateurs.
I prefer to divide rhubarb in winter but you can do it any time with not much trouble. Some varieties go dormant in winter which makes this part easy.
The variety shown in this article (Red Rover) is a winter productive plant that does not go dormant until spring.

2, Next you need to dig up the whole root ball. This is much easier than digging asparagus but can still be a chore if the plant is old and large. Just dig a spade depth all around the plant about 10-15cm from the plant itself. The roots are pretty fragile so you should be able to lift the root ball with your spade after digging it to break the bottom roots.

3, Step three is to identify all the separate shoots. If you tease away all the top soil with your fingers you should be able to see the young shoots or young, unfurling leaves. A large root ball may have up to 20 shoots/crowns.

4, Take a spade and cut between the shoots/crowns to separate them. You will damage a few but most should be fine. All you need with each shoot is a bit of the main part of the plant. These will root easily.
This was a fairly small plant and I got 11 separate crowns from it.

If you think you might damage the plant if you use a spade you can use a strong, sharp knife instead.  

 This is an example of a nice, healthy new crown, ready to replant.

Even a crown with only a bit of root like this will grow. Rhubarb is a tough plant.

Here is a piece with two crowns. You can snap it into separate pieces or plant it like this.

Here is an old, dead shoot with a small, new one next to it. Throw it away or cut off the dead part.

 I separates 11 pieces from this plant to replant of give away.

5, Replant one or two of the shoots/crowns to replace the original plant. I like to dig a good size hole then mix a handful of fertiliser with half a bucket of compost. Pour into the hole then replant. The spare crowns can be given away to friends or taken to your local produce swap.

6, Now sit back until the warmer weather and watch your new plant sprout healthy new leaves. Try to limit taking many stems until the plant is large and healthy. Some varieties may not get back into full production until the next year.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

I can't eat that!!, vegetables that can cause serious allergies and sensitivities

Nearly everyone is aware of the most common vegetable/fruit/grain allergies and sensitivities like peanuts, soy and gluten in some grains, but few people are aware of how prevalent allergies and sensitivities to other plant foods are.

Lets be clear, an allergy is an exaggerated immune response to a substance capable of triggering a reaction, often affecting numerous organs. It can cause a number of symptoms from mild to life threatening. People who allergic to unusual foods can have exactly the same life threatening reactions as those who are allergic to things like nuts so never laugh or take their allergy as non serious. Anaphylaxis can kill within minutes.

A sensitivity or intolerance is usually limited to the digestive system and is generally less serious, though can be very painful and with uncomfortable symptoms in some cases.

Not everyone who has a problem with a certain food reacts in the same way, and sometimes a person can have a sudden reaction after eating a food for a large part of their life, and have problems thereafter. I may be wrong but sometimes I think that many people have a subconsious aversion to a food for no reason and it may be because they may form a problem with it later. I would never force a child to eat something they really don't want to eat for that reason ( as well as everyone tasting things differently so just because you like something does not mean that your child likes it). I may be wrong about it though.

Although different people can be sensitive or allergic to just about every type of vegetable, here is a list of some of the most common and unusual ones:

  • Beans : Some beans particularly kidney and lima beans can be deadly if undercooked. Although some people are allergic to kidney beans, here I am talking about the toxin that kidney beans contain that causes severe gastrointestinal distress, extreme nausea and abdominal pain. Kidney beans should never be eaten just soaked and raw, or cooked in a slow cooker (it doesn't get up to a high enough temperature). They should be well soaked overnight and then cooked thoroughly. It is suggested that undercooked beans may be more toxic than raw beans.
  • Onions and garlic: Allergies and sensitivities to onions and garlic can cause a wide range of symptoms from diahorrea and vomiting, to hives, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis.
  • Broad beans: This is a common and serious food allergy, especially among Middle Easterners, and mostly men. This allergy is caused by a genetic mutation and when a person carrying this genetic defect eats broad beans they don't produce enough of a certain enzyme for their blood to function properly and it can lead to serious problems and death. A benefit of this mutation is that these people have a greater resistance to malaria. 
  • Lettuce: People can develop anaphylaxis if they are allergic to lettuce.
  • Celery: Celery is a surprisingly common cause of allergy. Symptoms can range from dermititis to anaphylaxis.
  • Hopniss/American groundnut: There are rare reports of people developing serious and painful digestive problems after eating hopniss that has not been cooked thoroughly. Once this problem develops you have it for life and can never eat this vegetable again - a bit like broad beans. Don't be afraid of this nutritious vegetable but always cook it well, and then cook it a bit more. Symptoms include pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, feeling like shit.
  • Spinach. This common vegetable can cause inflammation in various organs.
  • Carrots: Many people who are allergic to pollen are also allergic to carrots. Common reactions are anaphylaxis, confusion and increased heart rate.
  • Asparagus: Asparagus can cause, hives, asthma and rhinitis.

Of course there are other allergies and sensitivities - there are people allergic to avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, just about every fruit and vegetable. This short article is not meant to make you afraid of food, just aware, and getting you to be more careful in the way you cook certain vegetables. 

One of the best ways to protect yourself is when you are faced with a new type of food, hold it in your mouth for a few seconds. If it makes your mouth tingle you might have some sort of sensitivity to it. This is not foolproof but it can be a good sign.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fibre making plants

With the early rain and cold this year I don't have anything to report from the farm. Usually this rain doesn't arrive till this time in July so I just hope it is not going to be another particularly swampy year.
Most of the posts I will be writing for the next few months will just be the short types of articles that I have been writing lately. I hope you don't mind.

Fibre plants

Before plastics there were a number of plants that were used (and are still being used) for making string, rope and thread for fabric.Not everyone can have sheep or silkworms, but maybe you have the room to grow some plants instead of animals.

Cotton -  I grew cotton for the first time this year and was surprised at how well it grew here, just getting the same conditions as my vegetables. I now have handfuls of soft, raw cotton that can be used either to spin into thread for fabric, or to stuff toys with.
After carding the seeds out you are left with the cotton to spin.

NZ flax (phormium tenax)- This is a clumping plant that is native to New Zealand, of course. The tough, blade-like leaves can easily be stripped for their tough fibre. The plant is very easy to grow and the fibre is versatile enough to make into ropes or cloth. You can scrape the leaves between your fingers and a sharp knife with some practice to separate the fibres.

Flax/ linseed   -  This is a plant grown for the seeds, oil from the seeds, and fibre. You can only grow a plant for one thing or another as growing for fibre means you have to harvest before the seeds are ripe. Linseed plants grow fast and the fibre is used to make linen which is a durable fabric similar to but stronger than cotton fabric.
The stems are retted (soaked in water) for at least a couple of weeks, then cleaned to get the fibre. here is a Youtube video on how to process flax:

Nettles - Nettles are retted (see flax above) to produce a soft thread for fabric.

Indian Hemp -  This plant does not contain the chemicals to make you high that its relative marijuana does. It produces a strong and durable fibre suitable for most purposes.

This is a short list of some of the traditional plants to grow for fibre but it may suit you to experiment with other long leaved, or fibrous stemmed plants in your garden to see if there are any others that also work.
It is fun to experiment with plant fibres to make your own garden string or small bags and baskets.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Powering down for the winter, and vegetables I most hate growing

After quite a few frosts even the weeds have mostly stopped growing so I don't have much to do for the next few months. I will mow over at the farm to tidy things up but after that I will be spending more time on Facebook annoying people, well, until I can find a winter hobby for this year.

After failing to get enough interest to start a yearly harvest festival a couple of years ago, I was approached by a local lady who organises the local market to see if I would be interested again if she helped. I will have a chat with her sometime in the next month to see if it is something we can do together with her experience.
It is something I have wanted to get going for years but it is almost impossible to get support for anything new in this very conservative town. We will see.

6 Vegetables I hate growing

I know that not everyone will agree with me on the vegetables I chose for this short article but the great thing about everyone having a different view is that it makes life much more interesting. Most of my hates are not with the vegetables themselves but with cultivation problems.

  • 1,  Sorghum. Unless I net it all the birds will strip every unripe seed overnight. I get a small type of finch that can get through normal bird netting which makes the problem even harder.
  • 2,  Tomatillo. The fruits are great, but it is difficult to harvest the seeds as the fruits are too firm for my plastic bladed food processor, and I have to spend a heap of time cutting the fruits up to get them to process properly. I could wait till the fruits are rotten but that is just yuk. An even bigger problem is that they self seed everywhere from every missed fruit. They turn into weeds very easily.
  • 3,  Hulless pumpkin. These pumpkins are grown for the seeds rather than the fruits. The problem is that each fruit has so little seed, only a handful after drying, that it is barely worth the space to grow them. I can never grow enough plants to provide enough seed to offer in bulk to my customers.
  • 4, Beefsteak tomatoes. Don't get me wrong, I love large tomatoes, but as with the hulless pumpkins, they just don't have many seeds. It is heartbreaking to destroy so many hundred kg of fruits/food just to get a handful of seed. 
  • 5,  Members of the hibiscus family. These plants  (cotton, rosella, and okra) are often so late that I struggle to get ripe seed before the pods start rotting on the plants after the cold and rain. Okra isn't a problem but I want to grow more varieties of cotton next season and I found that no matter how early I put them in the flowering and pod ripening is mostly at frost time. They are interesting though, and have lovely flowers.
  • 6,  Brassicas. I actually like growing brassicas but they tend to rot over my very wet winters so I don't grow many any more but there is another problem.If they were for fresh produce it would be ok but I have a bad problem with 'Small Pointed Snail' (some people who name things don't have much imagination). These snails are tiny, not much bigger than the brassica seeds, which makes them VERY hard to clean out of the seed. It is almost impossible to sieve or winnow them out so I have to shake the seed to make them come to the top and scoop off the top layer of seed with them in. After doing this a few times there is a lot of waste seed that has been discarded. 


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Asparagus, oca, and Starting a veggie patch from scratch

It looks like the weed seed bank in my soil is finally down to a level I can work with fairly easily. There are still weeds of course but not nearly as many as at this time of the year over the last three years.

I dug up a heap (50) young asparagus (Argenteuil) seedlings from the isolation block and transferred them to a bed over at the farm yesterday (ignore the potato plant, lol). I am really pleased with their roots and new shoot/bud sizes. They should start producing spears for cutting in about 14 months. This is my favourite asparagus because it is both tasty and vigorous.
Over the next year I will be planting half a dozen asparagus varieties to grow for seed and crowns, as well as the same number of rhubarb varieties.

I am not sure there is a market for more commecial varieties but I am interested in them so I might find a market for differnt varieties in the home growing market, especially since there is so few varieties available. Like garlic, many people do not realise that there are many varieties around.

They don't look much at this time of year when they are dormant but when spring comes they will be off like a shot.

Yesterday I did a taste test of the new oca varieties. I baked a small tuber of each until soft and a little caramelised on the bottom, just a spray of cooking oil and no flavourings, not even salt.
They were all so delicious that I wanted to eat more. Each got a 3/3 rating but they all had their own individual flavour. Some are sweeter than others, some are more tangy and others are more fluffy and starchy.

Starting a Veggie Patch from Scratch

Winter is the time to think of starting your vegetable patch if you are a beginner. Because you can't really plant at this time of year, at least down here in Southern Australia, it takes away some of the eagerness to do things impatiently.
It is time to prepare beds for the coming spring instead.

1,  Decide where you are to put your patch.

Although most vegetables prefer to grow in full sun, there are many that will grow well in part afternoon shade. Thing about not only the sun and shade pattern in your garden, but also nearby trees that may take moisture and nutrients out of the soil around them, and your soil itself - does it have bad drainage in winter, is it very sandy or clay?
All of these conditions can be worked with but you have to think of them before you decide where you are going to put your patch
Of course, you may be able to change the location later if need be, depending on how much room you have.
You should also make sure that your new patch is in an area that has easy access to a tap so you can water in summer.

2, Prepare your infrastructure

Now that you have decided where to place your new vegetable garden, how are you going to build it? Are you going to dig up some lawn and have it there. This is my preference because it is more forgiving, but may not be the best choice if you have clay or badly draining soil.
Will you have to build raised beds - great if you have a bad back and hate weeding, or do you only have room for large pots, and maybe a trellis to grow climbers on?

Do you have to build a wall for wind protection, or design an irrigation system. This should be thought of before you actually start digging.

3, Weed, weed, weed
It might be a bit controversial but if you have running grasses then I suggest that you spray it with Glyphosate and start with a clean slate. Trying to remove running grasses like couch is not only difficult but you are forever fighting with it. Other grasses and weeds can be tackled by hand more easily.

After digging you should be able to remove larger weeds out of the loose soil easily.

4, Dig and mulch

 Now that your soil is bare, lay on a good helping of lime (if your soil is not alkaline) and manure, and maybe some blood and bone.

Get to work digging it in. Even if you plan to have a no-till garden, you will still need to do this initial digging to loosen the soil. Some people don't, but I have found that an initial digging works best for me.

After turning it all over well, weed any remaining weeds out and layer on a thick mulch of pea straw, lucerne hay, or sugarcane mulch. I would also sprinkle on a good amount of a high nitrogen fertiliser over top just before it rains, like chook poo pellets or commercial lawn fertiliser. The nitrogen will help bacteria break down the mulch to add more organic matter into the soil.

5, Wait

This is the hard part. Make sure you check every now and then for weeds and keep it as weed free as you can over the winter.

6, Spring Planting, Yay!!!

I like to remove any remaining mulch off the beds before planting as mulch tends to harbour nasty pests that will eat your seedlings. When your plants are more mature you can move it back under the larger ones to keep the soil moist during summer.

Move it to the side and rake your soil flat. It should look nice and soft at this stage.

Don't be tempted to plant too early, you have plenty of time. I like to wait until early to mid October when the risk of frost has passed before planting anything.

7, Upkeep

Weeding is a continuous chore, but if you keep on top of it regularly it doesn't take much work to keep the beds clear of them. If you leave the weeds because you think they are small or not many, then one day you will take a look and your patch is over-run. This can lead you to give up.

Keep any weeds and grass down between your beds, or cover the pathways with wood chips.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Harvesting oca, and mistakes beginners make with their veggie patches

Well, winter is almost upon us and it is getting cold. We have had a couple of very light frosts and a heavier one this morning so  I turned my mattress, got out some flannel sheets, and put a blanket under the doona.

 Yesterday I had to harvest the oca early due to increasing mouse damage. The plants had not died down but the tubers were a good size anyway. If I had left them until they had fully died down they would have been a bit bigger, but I am happy.

I am also happy that most of my varieties managed to survive through the summer heatwave. Next year should be better with my shadecloth plans.
Here are 10 of the 14 varieties that survived, of the ones I kept from last years seedlings. I will have some of these to offer for sale this year from next week on my web site (

In two weeks when they have 'cured' I will taste test them raw and cooked.

El Dorado
Robin Hood

Sun Tsu






Mistakes Beginners Make with their veggie Patches

Here is a list of ten mistakes that I see beginners make with their vegetable growing. I have been there, and made many of these myself. In n o particular order.

1, Being too impatient and failing to plan ahead
It takes time to set out and grow your veggie patch. if you get impatient and start sowing too soon, before your have got rid of all the weeds and grass you will be struggling to get your seedlings going. Plan your planting ahead and prepare your beds well beforehand.
Don't be afraid to let your beds sit under a layer of mulch for a couple of months to clean them before planting. This gives you time to pull out weeds that pop up in the mean time.

2, Failing to succession plan
It is really easy to fall into the trap of getting to a shop and deciding to buy a heap of punnets, which then have to be planted out straight away, using up all the room you have and then having everything ready to pick at once.
If you just bought a punnet of two or three types of vegetables to start, and some seeds then you will hopefully still have some spare bed to plant a few seeds next month, and some more the month after, spreading out your growing and harvest.

3, Sowing, planting too much
As above, it is easy to get excited and plant too much. I know how hard it is to limit yourself to two zucchini plants, and want to put in a couple more, just in case. Then in three months you find yourself banned from the neighbourhood because you have been giving away all those extra zucchinis to anyone who looks your way, lol.
Make sure you limit yourself to what you will actually be able to handle, area wise.

4, Forgetting to protect the plants
Vegetables are tasty. All the local animals know this so you may have to plan to protect your vegetables from rabbits, deer, sheep, bugs, kids. Some you may have to fence out, and make sure you build your fence properly, not a ramshackle job that will fall down in a strong wind, and some insects may have to be netted out like white butterflies.
There are other insects like aphids that you will have to look for before they too much damage.

5, Taking too much notice of garden planting apps and websites
Garden website makers do the best they can but can't take into account the local and microclimates that change with every few km. You may live in, say, a mediterranean climate but within your area the planting times of hills, valleys, coast etc will be different, sometimes a lot different. For example, in my area I have to stop planting brassicas in early March but 100km away by the coast they can still sow into May, and by my local river only two km away they can sow nearly month after me.
Take notice of what experienced gardeners are planting in your area and follow suit.

6, Not reading up on different plants requirements
Different plants can have different requirements. Some plants need shade, some can cope with some shade and some need full sun for example. Some need more water then others, or deeper soil. Luckily most vegetables have similar requirements and will grow quite well together in the same sunny beds but if you do have some differing conditions then you will have to choose plants that love those conditions.
For example, some plants like to grow in part shade like lettuces, cucumber (in the heat of summer), and oca, so if you have a spot that gets shade in the afternoon, they are the ones to grow there, where other plants like potatoes and capsicums will suffer.

7, Taking on too much
It is really easy to get over excited and go overboard in your plans. If you take on too much you run the risk of burning out with the work and giving up on it, or not working your garden properly. It is better to start off small and when it is going well, then expanding a little as you can work it.

8, Planting too early, out of season
When you see tomato plants for sale in late winter it is easy to think that is when you should put them in. In every part of Australia we have a plenty long enough season to grow plants in their natural season. Unless you have a drive to get early tomatoes before Christmas, it is better to wait till the right time to plant - mid October where I am.
You will find that plants put in at the natural time will do better than those you have babied in a polyhouse or window sill anyway.

9, Crowding
It is easy to forget to plant little plants with enough room to grow to their true size. I find that people often grow things like brassicas too close together. Look at a mature cabbage and you will see that they are probably bigger than you thought.
Remember to plant small vegetable well away from larger growing neighbours for the same reason. You would hate to see your beets being overshadowed by large cabbage or zucchini leaves.

10, Getting emotional
Probably the most important lesson. When you are starting out you will probably waste a lot of money and have a lot of failures. If you smile and learn from your mistakes you will find yourself naturally getting better every year without any thought. Gardening does not come naturally, you have to learn from your, and others mistakes.
You will eventually have the garden that your neighbours will admire but give it time and don't give up.