Monday, April 29, 2013

Horseradish escaping

With my Jerusalem artichokes usually keeping within their bounds fairly well even though most people tell of how weedy it gets I was fully prepared to think that they are also over-reacting about horseradish. Was I in for a surprise, these things try to escape whenever they can. In this picture it is hard to see the scale but the small plants are 1m apart so the furthest is 2m from the mother plant. I am really going to have to watch these. They put out running shoots so fast that you only have to turn your back for a couple of days and another one is there saying " HUH, can't catch me".

I really hope growing these is worth it. I will dig them up when they die down more and if I don't get any interest I will pull all the plants out before they grow bigger, and wider. They are starting to die down now and another frost or two should make them dormant.
A friend gave me a tip the other day. She said that instead of using vinegar when you grate it, use sour cream instead. I will try it soon and give you the results.

The asparagus is really showing its autumn colours. This is the row for the house but it is getting to big and unruly that I will transplant them this winter to the commercial asparagus beds. At least they will have more room there. I love this old, French asparagus variety - Precoce d'Argenteuil. It is incredibly productive with large, fat spears and great flavour. Another plus is that the female plants shoot around 3 weeks or more after the males so it extends the season so you don't just have one big glut then nothing.
People say that you should pull up the females because they don't produce as well as the males but I have never found that in this variety.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Checking the perennial winter root crops

With the winter coming up fast I decided to check on how a couple of the root crops are going. The Chinese artichokes are starting to make tubers. I really like the crunch of these in stir-fries, or even raw in salads. They have a crunchy, slightly sweet texture and taste.

The tubers are still very small but they will grow quite a bit over the next few weeks, only stopping when the plant is killed down by frost. They grow to about the size of a thumb.

You have to be careful with these as they spread in good soil and can become invasive to some extent. I find them pretty inoffensive and a run over with chooks will sort them out as the tubers are set just under the surface and scratchable. The plant itself is a low groundcover.

I dug up one of the three Jicama plants that survived the summer and was surprised to see that it had made a tuber, a very tiny one, but an effort nontheless. They have only grown for a month since it was too hot in summer for them to grow more than a few cm in size so having a tuber at all is great.
I will replant it and it might produce a couple of offshoot tubers next year.
I was very surprised at how deep the tubers are under the ground. You have to use a spade rather than your hands to get to them.

I will wait till the Ahipa have completely died down before trying to find tubers under them.

I keep swearing that I will not grow Globe Artichokes anymore since they take up so much room for so little food but I just can't help myself. The artichokes had started sprouting again so I divided them and replanted. Maybe next summer I will pull them all out *sigh*.
At least they make good shade for other plants.

 In other news, I had a visit today from some new friends who came to check out my block and what I am growing. I really enjoyed the visit and am very curious to go to their place and have a stickybeak. They are trying to become as self sufficient as they can and I admire that. People with that kind of passion are a pleasure to learn off. I must try to get over there (to Heywood) sometime in the next couple of months.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Back from the market

Went to the Hamilton Farmers market today. I didn't have much to sell but sold out of what I did take which is great, I hate having to bring stuff home. In a couple of months when things are kickin again I will be able to fill my tables up properly.

I forgot that they were having a fun giant pumpkin competition this month until a friend asked me to take her pumpkin with me as she had to stay home and nurse her sick dog who ate rat poison.

I took this picture before all the pumpkins had arrived. The largest was over 140kg. It was surprising to see any Atlantic Giants at all as it is rare to find anyone around here that goes into these sorts of comps. I wouldn't bother growing them myself but it is fun to check out what other people have grown. Maybe I will put something in next year in the weirdest fruit or veg section :)

I am sitting home waiting for my friend to come and pick up her pumpkin and the $25 prize money she won for 5th place. She was very happy when I messaged her on Facebook.

I will pop over to the Nareen veg swap tomorrow to trade a bunch of beetroot or some snake beans for a dozen eggs. I love veggie swaps, both as a networking opportunity and a social occasion. You get to catch up with local people and hear all the latest news as well as have a morning out.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Ready for market and another groundnut photo

After thinking about my post yesterday I remembered that I had a small pot with an American groundnut in it so this morning I went out and saw that it had already died down. I was curious so I tipped it out of the pot. The tubers are a bit on the small side but I expected that both because the poor plant has had a hard time and is in a small pot, but also because it is only a young plant.

Anyway, I was surprised at the amount of nitrogen fixing nodules it has on the roots, as a legume I would have expected some but not the amount it actually had, the roots were covered - I had pulled some off before this photo.

The nodules were still active so I put the plant back in the pot so they would break down in the soil to feed it for next year - well when I transplant it out with the soil in spring. I am wondering whether it would be a good idea to plant these around some of my other vegetables in spring to boost fertility. I can't plant them around trees because digging the tubers would damage the tree roots.

 I was busy today harvesting and preparing veggies for the Hamilton farmers market tomorrow and thought I would take a picture of the giant leaves on this seed-grown rhubarb I grew last year. It is a giant and is shading the other rhubarb plants in the same bed. I think I will have to move it to its own bed, lol. The picture does not do it justice but I couldn't get it all in the picture with my hand for size easily. You can see some 'normal' sized leaves from the other plants in the photo.

I don't really like eating rhubarb but it is popular at the market.

I don't have a lot to take to the market tomorrow but in the next couple of months as I start to harvest some of the perennial root crops I will be able to fill up my tables.

Late edit - I decided to eat one of the tubers from the groundnut. Oh boy, I will be growing as many of these as I can, it was delicious. I microwaved it with a little butter and a dab of golden syrup (Australias alternative to maple syrup) until tender. It was chewy and nutty with a starchy texture. I know that they should be thoroughly cooked for a long time because undercooked groundnuts have a reputation for making some people sick but I just had to give it a try and couldn't justify the effort in cooking such a tiny morsel for a long time. 
Can't wait till next year and bigger tubers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

American ground nut and new seedlings growing

In the spring I bought 5 American ground nut tubers (Apios americana) and planted them in this little row. They didn't grow quite as much as I thought they would but now that they are dying down I will soon be able to dig up a couple to see how many tubers they made. I need to leave them in the ground until next winter though because I read that they need two years to produce decent sized tubers. I think that next year with better fertilisation they will grow much bigger.
Apparantly these were an important food for Native Americans and are crunchy and nutritious. They grow as a vine, are a legume and produce tubers the size of eggs or bigger. They are supposed to taste like a potato but slightly sweeter and nuttier. They can be baked, boiled or fried.

I read that some people are trying to breed better varieties than the wild ones to produce commercially.

Below are a few volunteer seedlings of the mustard called 'ruby streaks'. I love it because the taste is spicy but very mild and it grows fast. I only grew a few plants for seed last year but it is so tasty that I will grow more this year, for seed and to sell. It looks great on the plate or in a salad with its bold colour and ornamental leaves. I don't care for spicy vegetables but I like this one.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A bit of rain and odds n ends

After a few showery days we have had a grand total of 24ml, close to an inch. It is not enought to generally get excited about but after so long without rain it is lovely. The lawn which has been dry and brown has sprung into life and is greening up fast - I have been spoilt by not having to mow for many months but it looks like it will be back to it in a few weeks.

I was digging a couple of new beds in the melon block and the soil is damp and I was surprised to see the worms rising already. I know it will be at least another month before we get any decent rain but this has been great for the spirit.

This morning I attended a Seasol information session at the local ag shop by the Seasol rep. I was hoping they would have some on special while he was there but it was all full price. I bought a 5ltr container of their Powergrow though for $55 and I got a free Seasol sample as well as a good quality, warm beanie - perfect for the coming winter. Anyway, I have to get out over the next couple of days and do some spraying. For those overseas people, Seasol is an Australian product that is made of seaweed and is a magic soil conditioner that feeds the soil organisms and gets plants growing well, making nutrients more accessable to plants. A little goes a long way and it is used by most Aussie gardeners.

My perennial leeks are powering away now that the cooler weather has arrived. Even though the stalks are small they sell well at the markets and taste good. The best thing about them is that they produce offsets at the base, which you can detach and replant, so you never run out.

Yesterday I was puzzled by someone who wouldn't taste one of my tomatoes because it had green on it. Because I work with older varieties I tend to forget that most people think that tomatoes should be all red. They just don't know that green shoulders are related to many of the taste genes. Green shoulders on a tomato always indicates better taste.

This is one of the reasons that supermarket tomatoes taste so bland - because they have removed the taste genes for evenly coloured fruit. A bad swap as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Looking like winter for Ahipa and Jerusalem artichokes

It was a nice, cool day today with a temperature of about 16C. The cool temps combined with the frost a few days ago has got the plants shutting down for winter. All the street ornamental pear trees have almost lost all their leaves and other deciduous trees in peoples yards are dropping them too.

My Jerusalem artichoke have died down now and I will start harvesting the tubers for the May market. I won't take them to the Hamilton Farmers market this coming Saturday just in case I need them later when winter is really here.

I was using this row of Jerusalem artichoke to make a kind of dividing hedge from the shared lane on the back block but it is finished now and ready to dig when I need them.

Here are my ahipa plants (below) that got caught in the frost. Hopefully they can finish ripening their seed pods before we get another frost. We have a week or more before another frost may come due so I will cover them sometime this coming week with plastic to help with the ripening.

I am keen to see if they have managed to grow tubers but I can't check them until they have completely died down. I am not expecting much as you are supposed to take off all their flowers to get them to grow a large tuber but at the moment the seeds are more important to me. I did notice that two of the plants are barely affected by the frost so I hope I can get some ripe seeds of those for selection to grow better in this climate.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Look - rain

It might be only a bit over half an inch but it is unbelievably welcome. look at these beautiful rainclouds.

I went to Casterton Garden Club today and we were so pleased to hear the rain on the roof. I don't mind that I didn't get anything done today - Ethan was stuck at home and dug a bed for me which was at least something. I wont have to water for days now.

Natural rain does so much good in the garden and gets plants growing better. I believe that rain is much better because the chlorine in the town water is bad for the soil flora and therefore less microbes prevents the plants from absorbing enough nutrients.

I don't have anything else to write about today but had to share my bit of happiness.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

first, and possibly last pepino

There is not much to talk about today. I picked my first pepino for the season today. With the extra late setting this year combined with the frost a couple of nights ago I don't hold out much hope that I will get any more. Oh well, most years I get a good crop of large fruits, you win some, you lose some.

Most of the plants and fruits came out of the last frost only slightly burnt but that will change with a few more frosts on them. If the winter isn't severe pepinos can often live through them but they can't take frosts below -2 degrees at all.

I looked around for more interesting vegetables to take pics of but just because I didn't have anything else worthy of taking pictures of tonight, I took a photo (below) of my carrion flower plant, Stapelia mutabilis. These are from Africa and like all carrion flowers they smell like rotting meat. I love all the different species of carrion plants because I find the flowers so fascinating, but I certainly wouldn't want to use them as cut flowers. Some types of carrion flower plants have flowers that are huge but mine has flowers that are only around 8cm across.

This plant has a heap more flower buds on the other side so it will look a treat when they are all out.

Carrion flowers smell like they do to attract their favourite pollinating insects - flies.

I do grow another carrion flower called 'Voodoo lily' (Amorphophallus konjac). It does have spectacular flowers but I am growing it because the large bulb is used as a popular food in Asia. You can also use the bulb to make a vegan alternative to gelatin. Mine have died down for the winter but I will take some pictures when they flower.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Jack visited last night

Got a visit from Jack last night. I was hoping that the first frost would hold off till the end of the month but, honestly, I was expecting it any day as the nights have been getting quite cold.
It killed off the last of the volunteer melons and tomatoes that were dotted around the blocks, but left the oca, Chinese artichoke and yacon fairly unscathed which is a blessing as they need more time to form decent tubers. I was a bit annoyed that the ahipa was burnt fairly badly as I'm not sure if they have formed tubers yet, and their seed pods are not ripe. I think I will cover them to try and get the pods to ripen a bit more.

The Madagascar beans that I put in late were, surprisingly, not damaged but I won't be getting any seeds off them. Tomorrow I will mulch around them to protect the tubers and hopefully they will come up again in the spring.

Out of interest I pulled up a little water chestnut plant that never did any good and died back a couple of weeks ago. The corms were a bit on the small side and there was only 9 in all. I'm sure it was the soil that caused most of my water chestnuts to fail. I call it a good learning experience.

The bigger plants are still growing their tubers so I will wait another month or more before digging them. They are healthy so I am expecting a good harvest from them. I am looking forward to cooking and eating them fresh rather than from a can. They should taste much better.

I'm so glad I received my plastic cloche before the frosts hit. I have planted under it my aracacha, yautia, lemongrass, aloe vera and a few pots of tender things like tamarillo. I can only wait now to see if it is enough to get them through the winter.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pepinos and saffron

I finally got out to cover my pepino fruits with fruit bags to keep out the ants. I really don't know why they attack unripe fruit, they are not even as sweet as tomatoes at this stage. Last year I lost most of them until I propped some of the fruits off the ground.
Pepinos are a fruit related to tomatoes and native to South America. They taste like juicy rockmelon when ripe but as the taste can vary even on the same plant I prefer them stewed and served hot with ice cream rather than raw - though a good raw fruit is delicious.

I focused on South American fruits and veg this past year and next year it is the turn of African (sub-Saharan) fruits and veg. I got some bambara beans in the mail today and I will also be growing some cowpea varieties also in the spring. I already have a few small monkey orange and red milkwood tree seedlings growing.
After the coming year it is a toss up between native North American fruit and veg or Australian natives.

Yay, the first of my half-dozen saffron crocus bulbs popped its shoot up today. I hope the rest didn't die in the heat. I could only afford a few but they will multiply fast I hope. In a few years I will have a whole bed full.

Just adding a picture of one of my beds of 'Rainbow' Silverbeet because it looks so colourful and really brightens up the block. I hate eating it but most of my customers love it, and it looks great and healthy all year round so it pays its way. It makes me feel happy whenever I look at it so it is definitely worth growing. I love the mixture of yellow, white, red, pink and orange - and my saved seed mix keeps all the colours in a fairly even proportion without me needing to be careful with how many plants of each colour I save seeds from.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wasted day, better tomorrow

My sister rang up last night in a panic because she left some important paperwork here and she needed it, so of course I said I would run it up to her. Luckily her partner said he would meet me half way so it was only a 5hour, 450km round trip instead of double that. I'm sure we looked a bit suspicious exchanging a briefcase for some money (for my petrol) on the side of the road, lol.

By the time I got home and did some watering it was too late to get into any real work so I just veged out and looked for more seeds on Ebay, as you do. I had so slap myself before I actually bought anything, oh, it is just so tempting.

I didn't get to set up my other new cloches or dig up the tender perennials to put under the other one but it will be a nice day tomorrow so I will do it then.

I have to start thinking about what I will be able to take to the Hamilton Farmers market in 11 days. I don't have much yet but I should have some mangels, carrots, beetroot and radishes. I will go to the cheap shop in Mt Gambier that sells some bagged veg and pick up a couple of 20kg bags of potatoes and onions just to bulk up the stall. I hate doing it but it will still be a couple of months before the garden is producing to full capacity again and I need to keep my site. It is quite frustrating. At least their onions and spuds are local.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Planting trees and disturbing thoughts

This morning as I hobbled across to the melon block with an aching back and chronically sore archilles tendon, I thought that if I were a buffalo or other animal I would be the first targeted by a predator. This was quite disturbing to think about, I hate aging.

Anyway... Ethan and I spent the afternoon driving in tomato stakes and protecting with plastic the nearly 50 rare and unusual fruit trees that I planted on Saturday and yesterday. I have everything from white sapotes to wampi trees as well as cherry guavas, edible hawthorns, grumichama, feijoas, ice-cream beans and many more. I have planted them a bit close together because many of them are seed grown so if I plant five of one type I will need to cull them back to the two or three best when they flower and fruit. I just can't afford to buy all grafted and named varieties. 

Many of these trees are a little frost tender when young so I am hoping that the plastic will keep them alive during the winter.

The block is big enough that I still have room for another 20 or more trees as well as a vehicle track down the centre.

Back to digging beds tomorrow.

I put grommets in one of the plastic cloches that I bought and set it up on the melon block to house my tender perennials over the winter like aracacha and yautia plants. I just don't have enough room for them at home and I don't have enough plants to try testing them outside in the winter yet. By planting them in this tunnel I will also get the chance to divide them so I will have more plants in the spring.

I'm hoping that the extra guy ropes will keep the wind from wrecking it but I could just as well hammered in tomato stakes next to the ribs instead of the guys. If they are in the way too much I think I will do just that. I will try to get some of the plants in it tomorrow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New cloches arrived

I had been steeling myself for the disappointment of these being very poor quality but I when I unpacked one of the plastic ones and put it together it was not as bad as I feared. I bought two plastic cloches for the winter and a mesh one to see if it would suit for shading vegetables from the hot sun in summer. Bothe the types I bought are 5m long by 1m wide by 1m high.

These come in a small carry bag

It is just like a tent, you put it up just the same. Just lay them out and screw the poles together, then thread them through the sleeves.
After you have it all together you just peg it down with the included pegs and you are good to go.

 The plastic is not a long-life sort but it should last at least a couple of years with care. It is not that really cheapo plastic that some cheap greenhouses are made of. Sort of in between.
 This is my mother standing next to the one I put up. You can see that it is a great size for veggies and fits my veggie beds well.
These are a bit prone to wind so I am going to go into the Mount tomorrow and buy grommets to put in all the 'ribs' so I can tie them down with guy ropes. These only come with guy ropes at the front and back.
 If you need to move it you don't have to take the whole thing down, just pull up the pegs and fold it together. It is light to carry and you can peg it back down in its new spot.
The mesh cloche is the same but with mesh instead of plastic. I don't think it will be as shady as I had hoped with this type of mesh. It would have been better with shadecloth. I will get out my light meter tomorrow and put it up then measure the light getting through.
Every bit will help with my oca though. I will be growing more than I can fit into the small amount of shaded area that I have next year.

Now to the downside. These cloches have no side access so you have to unpeg them and lift them up to water or weed. With the humidity that the plastic one will generate and the fact that I won't be watering under it every day in winter, this might not be much of a problem.Of course I can just water through the mesh one.

I haven't seen these advertised anywhere else and I think the business making them is fairly new so I am wondering if I would be able to sell them at markets. They are not cheap but I believe I could offer them at a better price than you would get them if Bunnings offered them. I will have to think about it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Breeding Jerusalem artichokes - off to a miserable start

I don't like Jerusalem artichokes, just have to make that clear from the start, I know that many people do though.. But I realise that the best way to fix a problem with a vegetable is to breed a better one. The only way to breed a better plant, apart from waiting in the hope that one day you might find a ramdom mutation, is to plant seeds and select for better plants.
 Well, since you can't buy Jerusalem artichoke (JA) seed - mainly because they very rarely set any - I thought I would start by planting some sunflowers near my JA plants because these two are very closely related and hope to cross them so the JA plants will set some seed. JA don't set seed because they are all clones and propagated vegitatively from tubers rather than seeds and are not self fertile. I was hoping to cross the sunflowers with JA so that the cross pollination would produce seed.

My first problem was that I planted the sunflower seed at the same time as planting the JA tubers. I should have planted the sunflowers later as they flowered before the JA and by the time the JA decided to flower there were only two fertile flowers left on the sunflower plants.

Anyway, today I decided to check all the drying down flowers of the JA to check for seeds and found a measly two (2) seeds in total. I suppose it is better than none.

These two precious seeds are the start to my breeding program to make a better JA. I will cross them with each other and some flowers to pure JA plants and see what comes up next spring, assuming they grow of course. Fingers crossed. At least if they grow and flower I will have plants that will produce seeds and that will be a good start to a breeding program. In America backyard breeders are doing the same to produce JA with great colour tubers that will look great on my market tables. I hope that I can somehow also select better tasting plants as well as new colours in the future.

I don't know if these seeds will produce plants with good tubers, they might take after their sunflower father, but at least I can cross them back to the JA and go from there.

In other news, we went to the Cavendish market today with a couple of tables of novelties and baby stuff but didn't sell much. I was expecting a few more people. At least it was a lovely sunny day and a good excuse to get out and meet and chat.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cavendish market tomorrow and plant protection

Tomorrow Ethan and I will be selling novelties at the Cavendish market. I would love to be selling produce but I just don't have enough yet. Cavendish is only a tiny town but are having a big car show and market this weekend so I hope there are a lot of people there.

I am hoping that my new cloches come on monday. I am keen to see what the quality is like before I commit myself to buying more. I think the mesh ones will help with the veggies next summer with the strong sunlight and heat, as well as protect young brassicas from cabbage butterfly. If the plastic ones are good enough I will buy a few for the winter to shelter some of the more tender veggies and keep them growing in the cold. Here are some pictures - 5 x 1 x 1m

If they are reasonable quality I will also buy a few of these (below) from the store to isolate some of my flowering stock like carrots so they don't cross pollinate. I will alternate days when the covers come off so the bees can pollinate one type at a time. I have more varieties of brassica and carrots that I can fit on each block and they will all flower at once. This will allow me to have up to 8 varieties flowering on my 4 blocks at once.

I know I could make my own but with the cost of poly pipe and insect mesh here it wouldn't be that much cheaper and wouldn't look as neat and tidy. 

I really hope they are reasonable quality as this store has some nice garden protection ideas.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Good weather, good digging

Today I spent the morning pulling up a couple of beds of old carrots that had gone to seed before Christmas and turning over the soil for new crops. As the old plants were still there, I took the simple way and picked off the seed heads and replanted the seeds in the same beds. As my vegetables don't have any viruses I often replant the same vegetables in their beds two or three times before rotating the crop. I will just sprinkle a bit of old composted horse poo over the beds and the carrots will come up again happily. Saves me having to go back to the shed to find seed that I had saved earlier.

As I was out on the back block I was happy to see that my VERY late planted Madagascar beans have started to flower. I was sure that they would flower too late to get any seeds from them and I would have to mulch them and wait till they came up again. As it is I have a reasonable chance that these flowers will produce some mature seeds before the frosts. These beans produce a tuber so they come back if given care and will shoot again in the spring but it will be a bonus to get some seeds before winter as well.

While I was checking the pepinos I found that the ants are getting to the fruit like last year, even the very unripe fruit. I mulched them heavily this time with straw in the hope that the fruit would be dry enough not to attract ants. They just won't leave them alone and most of the fruits have holes in them. Last year the ants were content to leave them till they were almost ripe but not this year.
Next year I will try to trellis them. They probably would bear as well but at least I should be able to save more fruit. As for the rest of this year I will go out on tomorrow and try to prop up the fruiting branches to get the fruit well clear of the ground, I also have a few mesh fruit bags that I will use to cover some.

Tomorrow Merino (a small town about 20km from here) is having their first veggie swap day so I will pop over with a few manglewurzels and some coloured silverbeet to lend them some support. I have just made a mangelwurzel cake for people there to taste. It has just now come out of the oven and smells great. Of course I will have to have a taste shortly. Can't take a cake that is not good enough, lol.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Native Blue Banded Bees and other pollinator thoughts

What is this?

Of course it is a white cabbage butterfly, also known as pest, those buggers, damn things and worse, lol. Bet you wouldn't have guessed that this past summer it was almost my saviour. With few bees about because of the heat, most of the pollinating in my veggie patches were done by these butterflies. They are not all bad, and this year is the first that I have actually been glad to have them around.

This morning I was overjoyed to see a Native Australian Blue Banded Bee in my radish flowers. I haven't seen them among my veggies before. They are very cute, short and stumpy with white or light blue bands on their abdomen. Pity I didn't have my camera with me.

My point to this post is that there are many, many insects that pollinate flowers, not only honey bees. In fact many other insects do a far better job pollinating than honeybees. The Blue Banded Bees for example are buzz pollinators which means that they vibrate in the flowers to loosen and collect the pollen, which means that a flower only needs two or three visits by them to be fully pollinated rather than twenty or thirty visits by honeybees.

Imported honeybees are a terrible environmental problem in Australia and I hate them but I won't be talking about my antipathy towards them here, rather the  over-reaction to the honeybee disappearances that has everyone so worried.
I love honey, it is so useful in cooking and has plenty of health benefits but the world isn't going to collapse if it disappears. It would be sad but in reading news stories you would think that we are going to starve if honeybees disappear because crops would not be pollinated.

Sure they are useful for commercial crops simply because they are easy to handle and their sheer weight of numbers but with careful management and less chemicals most insect pollinated crops can be pollinated with other insects. Just sit by some flowers for a while and count how many insects visit the flowers. After all, how did Australian plants fare before we imported honeybees?

We have many native bees in Australia and some can be kept in hives and produce delicious honey, pity those are all tropical and ours down here are solitary so can't be used for honey.

Many people also don't realise that a huge number of our crops are not insect pollinated at all and will still be available if honeybees do disappear (which I actually doubt). Take our grains - (wheat, oats, corn etc), beets, and sugar cane which are wind pollinated, then there are self pollinated crops like legumes (beans, peas, peanuts etc) as well as members of the tomato family such as tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants.

Many of our native trees and shrubs are pollinated with bats, possums and nectar eating birds as well as native insects.

So you see, it would be more difficult for commercial crops, especially using current practices, but we won't starve if bees actually do disappear.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

First kurrajong seedlings up

Not much happening today. It has been warm so I am still watering everything once a day and seedlings are popping up everywhere - as are the weeds.

It has taken a month for germination but the first dozen of my kurrajong seedlings (Brachychiton populneus) are up. They are a native Australian tree that few people know have edible tubers when very young. I have only put in two beds at the moment to see how they go in the winter with the frosts. In about 5 months they should be ready to pull and sell for their young tubers. If they go alright I will plant a heap more beds in the spring.

With the shortening days my experimental tubs of water chestnuts are dying down. In a few weeks I will pull them and see how many corms they have made. Some of the tubs didn't grow chestnuts so I will have to experiment with soil mixes next year to see what works better. I am thinking that the failures were a lack of enough manure. And, yes, that is a Achocha plant growing through the water chestnuts.

I have already learnt that most of the information on growing water chestnuts does not work for me. In particular the plants die if  I cover the soil with more than a centimetre or two of water, where most sites tell you to have around 10cm of water.
I have lots of experiments to do next spring.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Goodbye tomatoes, hello broad beans

I finally got round to pulling up most of my tomatoes. They have been looking so bad, and I have just been egging them on in the vain hope that the cooler weather would help them ripen a last few fruit. Alas, it is not to be and I got sick of the sight of the wretched things. There are some carrots and snow peas in their place now.

I have put in a couple of beds of broad beans as so many people asked for them last year, and I hope to have enough in my seed bed to have seed left over to sell. At the little market I went to on Sunday I was asked if I can supply some bulk seed so she could repackage it and sell on her stall at the Mt Gambier Market.
I have been toying with the idea of selling bulk seed. It is easier to grow, package and sell. I have enough room now that I can put in a few more beds just for seed so I will give it a go.

Breaking news - I got a lease on the empty block next to my melon block. The owner has no future use for it so I can have it on a long term basis. At long last I will have a place to grow my unusual fruit trees. They have been languishing in pots for a year or two waiting till I could find somewhere with a bit of permanency to plant them. I will start planting them on the weekend. It is still dry but as many are a bit frost tender I would like them to get a bit of a start before the weather gets too cold.
I have ordered a couple of protection cloches to put them under in the hope that they will save the trees from the worst of the frost. My mouth is watering at the though of my fruits ripening in a year or two.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Differences between Jicama and Ahipa

I grew a few Jicama and Ahipa plants this year to see how they went in this climate. These are both related tuberous plants from the Andes. Jicama is a vining, short day plant and Ahipa grows as a small bush and is day length neutral.

My Ahipa plants grew well from seed and are starting to ripen their seed pods now. I didn't grow enough to dig up to taste their tubers but I will have plenty of seed to grow in spring. I did expect the bushes to be a bit bigger but I will fertilise them a bit more next year to get a bit more production from them. I have a dozen plants.

The Jicama (below) have been very disappointing. Most of them died so I only have 5 plants (I planted much more seed than the Ahipa) and because they are day length sensitive, they are just now starting to put on some decent growth, but far too late now to flower and set seed before the frosts.
The plants are very small.

If I try the Jicama again next year I will put them under plastic to extend the season.

In other news for today. I have just sown two new vegetables for the season - Heading mustard, which is an Asian vegetable which grows a cabbage-like head and is usually used to make kimchi, and Hon Tsai Tai, another Asian vegetable which is like a purple sprouting broccoli with a mild and sweet mustardy taste.

Apart from the weeds that are sprouting everywhere now that the temperature has come down, I am really happy about how things are going. I have lots of seedlings popping up and the blocks are going to look beautiful in a few weeks.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Going well on the melon block

Now that the melons are finished, my helper Ethan and I have nearly got half the melon block dug into 4m x 1m beds now ( most of the right hand side) and planted with the winter veggies. As the paddock is covered with a running grass that is difficult to control we spend a bit of time on our hands and knees pulling out every bit of root so it doesn't grow back. The roots are stacked on the sides of the beds and when they are harvested and the roots are all dead, they are raked back onto the beds.

Then the beds have a mix of sheep poo and old straw dug in. The soil on this block is much better than on my others and not infested with root knot nematode so I am expecting a great harvest through the winter.

I think I will get about 70 or so beds on this block and I have talked to the lady who owns the block next door about growing my fruit trees on there. I have asked her to think about it over the weekend and I will catch up with her next week about it.

We started these beds a week ago and some of the seedlings are coming up already. Here is a picture of some 'Purple Peacock' broccoli.
Purple Peacock is one of my favourite vegetables to grow for sale as it is so versatile. It is a stabilised, open-pollinated cross between broccoli and Siberian kale. You can eat the leaves, the broccoli heads and the opening flowers which are all tender and delicious - then after it goes to seed, it starts sprouting and producing all over again making it perennial. I love it.

Part of my amaranth seed patch.

I have been waiting for about 6 weeks for my amaranth to flower - it is getting like it never will. The flower heads have been formed for ages but the tiny pink flowers just won't open. I think I will stop watering them and see if that forces the issue.

Vegetable amaranth is such a delicious vegetable that I want to gather as much seed as I can.

Things are developing so fast in the blocks now that I will probably be back to daily posts soon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Damn parrots, and Geante Blanche mangelwurzel

Went to inspect the blocks yesterday morning and found that the parrots had beat me and stripped my sugar sorghum heads. I was going to sell the extras (after taking some for seed) as seed heads for pet birds. Damn. I managed to save enough heads to collect seed for next year though.
The birds never touched them last year so I thought I was safe. I will have to cover them next year.

I have just picked one of my bed of Geante Blanch white mangelwurzel to cook and see if it is as good as the red ones. They look great, sort of like giant white carrots. Definitely not as ugly as the red ones that I grow.
This one is small but I think it will be a good size for eating. They grow to around 4 times this size.

The market last saturday was a big flop. It rained the whole time and since I had no shelter and my stuff can't get wet I had to keep everything under the table so I couldn't sell anything. I can't wait till I have enough veggies to sell but in the meantime I think I will have to fork out for a market tent.