Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Whew, a bit of cool - temporarily

With a bit cooler day Alex and I collected a heap of seeds but I can't put them in packets just yet as the newsagent hasn't got my new sticker sheets in for the labels. It often takes them a couple of months to get them in and I have run out earlier than I thought. I will annoy them about my order next week.
We picked various carrot, mangel, parsnip and choi seed. I must remember to get some more containers for the seed next time I go into town.

Yesterday was searing hot with a burning, strong northerly wind which did a lot of damage to the veggies. Not nearly as much as it would have last year without the improvements I have made but snapped off some corn stalks (which are flowering right now) and burnt a lot of leafy veg. I have lost a few fruit trees too which I kind of expected even though I have tried to keep the water up to them.

Yesterday morning I made a small pot of chunky jam from the muntries I picked. It is now almost gone, my mother took a liking to it.

I still have some drying for seed which I will put in packets when I get my sticker sheets.
I am going to put in more plants in the autumn so I don't have to go down to the coast to pick them.

Muntries grow well in the garden and fruit prolifically. They are a great permaculture plant as well as looking good. It always surprises me that they aren't more well known.

Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Muntries season again

It is muntries season again and although the day was very hot today my friends and I went down to the coast to pick the fruit for jam, well whatever ones we didn't eat while we were picking anyway. I will dry half the ones I picked for seed.

This local native shrub (Kunzea pomifera) grows as a low groundcover, just crawling along the ground. It produces heaps of delicious, sweet, apple tasting berries right now in the middle of summer.

It was a bit hot to be out in the sun but it didn't take long to pick what we needed. Luckily there are lots of plants growing not too far from here by the sides of the road as well as on the sand dunes.
This picture shows a big mat of plants.

After we finished and then looked at and tasted a few other native food plants we stopped for lunch. My friends have a kitted out vehicle for going away and treated me to sandwiches filled with home grown produce. A perfect end to our foraging.

Damn bad picture of me, it was so sunny that I squinted like this all day.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Zohra pumpkin

Today I picked the first two Zohra pumpkins. My neighbours from Afghanistan gave me the seeds and I couldn't find any mention of it on the internet so I planted them just to see what they are like.

While they were growing I was sure that they were summer squash and didn't have a lot of confidence that they would be any good as a pumpkin (winter squash) but I brought these ripe ones in today and asked my mother to cook and taste one tonight as she is the pumpkin lover in this family.

When I cut one I was disappointed in the small amount of flesh, but I suppose that some other pumpkins are like that also. They are thin and soft skinned so will not be good keepers.

After cooking my mother was very impressed with the flavour and smooth texture so I will be growing them again next year. They seem to be good producers and have lots of fruit coming on. The vines are large and vigorous. They still have lots of flowers on them even with the heat and ripening fruit.

Today was fairly cool but I still spent most of the day inside. I don't know why my body cannot seem to acclimatise to the summer heat this year. Even on days like today with temps in the mid twenties it feels so hot and the sun burns. It is making me tired and my muscles sore. I just can't spend time in the sun except early in the morning and in the evening. I'm sure Alex must think I am very lazy.

He is also very bored. Last year I was spending this time digging new beds and working on two of my new blocks but I just don't have much work to do at the moment except watering. The weeds are dying off because of the heat and I can't plant anything more till the weather cools down. He is welcome to stay but I just don't have enough work for him and there isn't much for him to do in town in his spare time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

First tomato at last

Finally, weeks late, we have our first tomatoes ripening. I have so missed having nice tasting tomatoes that when we eat this one tomorrow it will feel like being in heaven.
The plants aren't setting much fruit but at least we are not stuck with those 'fake' supermarket ones.

I hate it when our tomatoes stop producing at the end of autumn.

Alex and I got stuck into the beds of shallots yesterday (BTW, sorry about the lack of post last night, I totally forgot) and pulled up two big plastic tubs worth. I still have two more beds to go and I'm not sure what I am going to do with them. I must use more self control when I go to plant them again and limit myself to two or three beds at most.

At least they will keep for a while, lol. I really hope they go well at the markets. Maybe I will offer some mixed 'Sample packs' of alliums on Ebay - shallots, walking onions and perennial leeks. I wish I had kept some garlic now to put in them.

There is not much other news to report. Alex has started on clearing the grass between the beds on J Block and we are watering every day because of the heat but things are going along well.
I will be heading down to the coast in a few days to go Muntries harvesting. I love Muntries season, I must make some jam this year.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Root node nematode and other pests

Over the past few weeks I have been pleasantly surprised to find that the beds on D block that I improved with added compost and water saving crystals have no nematodes in them. I am still a bit sceptical as I doubt that they are that easy to control but so far I am happy that the veggies are growing properly. It looks like I will be able to have some winter veggies on this block which I haven't been able to do before as the nematodes destroy most things I grow on those beds over the summer and autumn.

I have done a bit of digging in those beds and was expecting to find some worms and other soil organisms that would not have been there when the beds were unimproved.
The worms are not there, they must have gone into summer dormancy deep in the soil, and I can't see any more other soil animals than normal but since the plants are growing so much better I suppose there are plenty of microscopic animals.

One animal that I am not happy to see is a rabbit that I disturb every day. It has eaten all my snow pea seedlings but other than that I haven't seen any other damage done by it. I am not happy to have it there but there is not much I can do about it. I just hope it not female and doesn't have babies. At least I have rarely seen the kangaroo that was hanging around and jumping all over the beds there.

At least the very hot days we had seems to have cut down the number of other pests like earwigs and snails which have been causing enough damage to make me dig in a couple of beds of Chinese cabbage because they were too damaged to sell. More organic matter so, apart from the wasted time, I didn't lose much.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


After suffering through some terribly hot days we finally had a nice, cool and cloudy day today so Alex and I were able to get a lot of weeding done on D and J blocks, as well as getting a heap of seeds in packets to sell.
I went over the the Mount yesterday and picked up a new printer as I couldn't get the old one to print well any more. The new one looks fancy and prints a lot faster and better.

Here is Alex weeding some melons. I am very pleased with how he is going, he asks questions and has a good feel for plants and gardening. He wants to start a rooftop hydroponics garden with a friend when he gets back to Hong Kong in a couple of months.

My cocoyams or Yautia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium) plants are starting to put out a heap of side plants so I should be able to have enough to taste this winter, maybe even some to sell in a year or so.
I only managed to keep 4 plants alive through last summer and the winter but those 4 plants were happy under a plastic cloch during the coldest months so I will do that again this coming winter.

This plants come from the South American tropics so I am happy that I can get them to grow at all here. They love it under the shadecloth tunnel but I am worried that they will grow too big for it.

The cocoyam produces a starchy tuberous underground stem which I have not tried yet. Aparantly the young leaves can also be eaten but I have not tried that either.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Heat and burnt veggies

I'm sorry about not posting for a couple of days. It has been too hot to do anything during the day besides sit like zombies in front of the brain-numbing tv and go out in the evening to water. We were watering in the dark last night because it took so long to cool to a bearable temperature.

So many of my veg have cooked in the heat

But at least it hasn't been as bad it could have because of my preparations. Last year a 40 degree day would have left all the veg wilted and lying on the ground by the end of the day but with the compost and water crystals most of the veg have burnt edges to their leaves but are still standing tall when I go out to water.

We have been extremely lucky in that we haven't had any bushfires close by although there are a lot burning in other areas of Victoria and SA. The Grampians is going up again right now. Luckily most of the fires have been started by lightening strikes and non by firebugs which is a first.
I have been expecting the local bush to light up, it is due for a fire. I hope it isn't this year.

I am looking forward to the next three days which will be a bit of relief from the heat with days of around 27 degrees but I expect the high temps to return after that. I hope that it doesn't happen till the start of next month when I can get rid of a few veggies at markets and still have something to sell.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I have been pouring the water onto the veggies but it is still not enough to combat the effects of the heat. Today was 43C and I am still yet to go out and water as it is still too hot. I think I will be watering in the dark tonight.

 I just hope I can get them through the next 3 days of 40+ degree days till we get a two day reprieve from the heat.
At least the beds that I have shaded and those I have added the water crystals too have coped better than the rest so far, just as I had hoped.

I am picking Alex, my new helper up from the bus in an hour (He missed the train from Melbourne yesterday). He is going to get a shock, lol.

Oh well, I really don't hae any more to report today as I have spent all day inside after the early morning watering so not much has been done.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Watering and Josephs bush melon

Just got back in from watering two of my blocks. It is hard to stop myself from doing them all each night but I really have to trust to the improvements that I have done to the soil and ease back on the water. I hate the thought of the plants going thirsty but hopefully it will force them to grow their roots deeper. The water bills were so high last year that I really have to watch it more this summer.

Of course, I will have to water them all for the next week while the heat wave is over us or I definitely will lose everything, at least I have a helper, Alex, from Hong Kong, coming tomorrow so that will help a lot. I hope he doesn't get too bored during the day when it is going to be too hot to go outside but I think we will be busy putting seeds in packets as I have been putting that off for far too long. I'm sure he is going to get a shock at the sun-up start though.

Josephs bush melon
Finally a melon that I have been looking forward to is starting to flower. This is a bush melon bred by a home breeder in America. He is a forum friend who does a lot to bring the idea of landrace varieties to attention.
He has not given it a name yet so I think I will just call it 'Josephs Bush'.

It is not a true bush (determinate) melon but the internodes between the leaves are so short that it spreads very little and will be great for small gardens.
Just have to be patient now for the fruit though it might take a while as it probably won't set during this hot weather. I have no idea what the fruit looks like or how big it is so that will be a surprise to come.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The trouble with being given seeds

My neighbours are from Afghansistan so I was very pleased when they asked if I wanted some melon and pumpkin seeds from their homeland. I know that they have some interesting varieties over there that are hard to get a hold of. They gave me two little plastic bags of seeds, one just called melon and one pumpkin with the variety name 'Zohra'.

 The trouble with getting seeds from people who aren't gardeners is that you never know what you are going to get.
I planted five of each of the seeds and in the melon row I got 3 of what I am guessing will be sweet melons, one serpent melon (a melon that is long like a snake and tastes, and is used like a cucumber), and a gourd of some sort.
Not sure how all those got mixed up!!
What was supposed to be pumpkins (winter squash) are, I am sure are summer squash. I will let them mature but I don't have high hopes for them. I can't sell summer squash here, no-one wants them.

It is a bit disappointing but that is life.

With the scary heat that is coming over the next week or more (45+ C days - 113 F) I am getting very worried about the trees on my fruit block. I thought that they would have had enough time to put out good roots and the soil there holds moisture well, but just about all the trees are already showing signs of severe heat and water stress.

I will water as many as I can tomorrow but I can't get water to them all and it is still 10 weeks till there is much chance of rain and the weather cooling for autumn.
It will be hard to replace all the unusual varieties of fruit trees if they die, I might not even want to take that chance again if the summers are going to continue to be scorching.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bearded iris and first moulded cucumber

It was too hot to do anything outside today, I will go out in an hour and start watering as it cools down for the day. On days like this I tend to spend all day inside, just spending a couple of hours working early in the morning when the sun gets up and again before the sun sets. It makes me feel a bit lazy but I just can't handle the heat. Maybe I should encourage my parents to move down to Tasmania, lol.

A couple of months or so ago I hand pollinated some bearded iris flowers just to see what sort of seedlings I could come up with. My mother has many colourful varieties and it will be fun to see what they make.
The pods are yellowing and starting to wrinkle so it won't be long till I can pick them.
Bearded iris are very easy to hand pollinate, even if you have clumsy hands and are impatient like me. They have been bred so their flowers can't be pollinated naturally so it is good that that they take to hand pollinating so easily.

I picked my first cucumber today (Long White) that I have used a veggie mould on. It has been disappointing to see that the mould can't cope with the pressure of the growing fruit and has started to bulge and get out of shape.
Considering the high cost of these moulds I think they should do a better job. You can see the white lines on the plastic as it stresses and bulges.
It was also difficult to unclip this type of mould with the fruit so tight. I thought I was going to break it.

I also noticed that having the fruit on the ground allows dirt to blow into the moulds as the fruit grows and it gets embedded into the skin and makes it look bad.
I hope the other type of mould I bought with the side pins does a better job of holding its shape.

Although I had big hopes for being able to sell pricier fruits, at this time I am not sure if I will continue to bother with moulds. It depends on how the other types of moulds do and whether the effort is worth it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Summer is starting at last

It looks like summer is about to start as it should with all the temperatures for the foreseeable future between 30 and 40 C. I am going to have to mow the lawn tomorrow. It is almost unheard of to be mowing in January, the grass should be dead and brown at this time and we get a few months off mowing. At least this should be the last time until the end of March.

What corn that managed to survive is starting to make tassels. Most of the plants that survived are small and weedy but I have some reasonable sized plants of two varieties that I should at least get some cobs off, Black wax corn and Giant white peruvian sweetcorn.

It was all a bit disappointing but I will buy more seed during the winter and try again next spring. I was so looking forward to having some multi-coloured sweetcorn seed to sell but it will be another year.

This is what the Back block is looking like right now. I am impressed that I am managing to keep it relatively weed free with hand weeding. It has taken two years but I haven't had to use herbicide for at least 6 months and hopefully never again.

The back block is where I trial my experiments and new crops. I am also starting to get an impressive range of alliums in this block which I will have to move to one of the others as they are taking over. The beds in this block are smaller than the others and in 4 rows instead of 3.

I have a new helper coming over on Monday so I will have another pair of hands to get the other blocks under control. He is from Hong Kong (I think) and has plans for making a rooftop garden and wanted to come over for a month to get some small veg farming experience. He is going to get a shock with the heat that is coming.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bean wilt and Vivid Choi again

Over the last couple of days some of the beans in my 'Tongue of fire' beans bed have started to wilt and die. I was guessing fusarium wilt but there is no tell-tale brown streak up the stem. I have never had any trouble with wilts until now but I suppose it is the wet spring/summer that has allowed it to rear its head. I just hope it doesn't spread to any other plants.
I will have to do some Googling to find out exactly what wilt this is to see if I can do anything about it.

I had a think about what I was going to do with Vivid Choi. As you will know if you have been reading this blog, I have been having trouble getting my customers to buy it for some reason.

I did think I might not grow it any more but I love the colours so much that I will give it another go and try to improve it.
The main problems with it (apart from my failure to attract buyers for it) is the bitterness and early bolting.

The bolting will be easy to fix as there is a clear distinction between the early and late flowerers. This is a simple matter of selection. The selecting for better flavour will take a bit longer. I have also found that the radish-like bulbous root is very tasty, tender and non-bitter so I will be selling the plants whole and highlighting this for my customers from now on.

Yesterday I put in a new bed of them for selection and I will let you know if I have any success with the flavour. Luckily they are very fast growers so hopefully it won't take too long.
I will have to work on the sales, it might take just a bit of time for my customers to get used to them.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lost melons found and veggie molds

Each year I start sowing or transplanting my melons when I see the volunteers from last season coming up. This spring there were no volunteers and I put that down to the cold at first and then maybe I was too clean and tidy and picked up all the rotting melons at the end of harvest ... yeah, right, lol.

Well, it is the middle of summer and now there are volunteers popping up everywhere, months after they usually do.

At least now if we get a long enough season I might have a decent harvest of melons as I have lost nearly all of my planted ones.
I don't understand why they are so late. The spring was cool but there were still enough warm days to get them up during those months. I suppose the strange seasons over the last couple of years may have to be put down to global warming and I may have to get used to it, but it will be a but hard if the weather keeps being so very unpredictable.

With the cucumbers finally starting to flower I am able to test out the vegetable molds that I bought last winter. It will be fun.

The box I bought from are just too annoying to use so although they are cheap I think that if I were to buy more I will go with the very expensive ones you can buy elsewhere.

The problem with the fruitmold ones is that instead of being self locking you have to buy and fiddle about with about 20 screws for each one or with the ones in the left picture you have to try and put on all the little caps on the spikes without dropping them while holding the halves closed. For both kinds all the handling means that half the time I was breaking the fruit (tomatoes) off as I was doing it like the one in my hand.
The designs are just too bad to make it worth using them.

At least the ones like the one of the cucumber (top pic) are self locking and there is hardly any handling of the fruit. When the cuke is ready you just pick the fruit and unclip the side. With all the work of the others I would have to charge $10 per fruit just to make the hassle and frustration worthwhile.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Wascally wind

This morning I decided on a whim to head over to the TINY nearby town of Merino and try to sell some veg from the back of my van. There weren't many people around but I sold enough to pay for my fuel and a few cups of hot chocolate from the single store in town (the morning was quite cold) but the people I did see were very enthusiastic and asked me to make it a regular thing so I think I will take my van over on the first Saturday of each month. They said that Saturdays were much busier than today so I won't get rich but it will be a fun new outlet for spare veg.

While I was there a wind storm came up so I packed up and visited a friend there before coming home. I wasn't worried about the wind because there wasn't anything I could to so it wasn't useful to panic.

When I got home I discovered that apart from losing another sunflower and this small patch of seeding mangles blowing over onto the yacon next to them there was no damage at all done.
I was surprised but happy.

At last after many months I have some seedling edible cactus coming up. I thought they were a gonner after so long but it just goes to show that you have to be patient..

Last year I saw a fruiting dragonfruit type of cactus in someones yard so asked them for some cuttings and I also got a couple of fruits.
They were so delicious that I planted the seeds in this pot and I also have a few of the cuttings growing. I am very happy about that.

I have tried to grow dragon fruits but can't get them through the winter as it is too cold for them. I don't know the name or type of this similar cactus but it seemed to be thriving in this ladies yard under a tree so I have big plans for my cuttings and seedlings. I have the cuttings in my little shadehouse but I will transfer them to a bed with shadecloth over them after summer and I might cover some in a plastic cloche over the winter just in case the ones under the shadecloth don't make it.

I had the cuttings in the poly tunnel last winter but I have enough plants now to experiment with. I don't want plants that I have to molly coddle so I will be very pleased if I can get them to survive outside under shelter. I think they will as long as they don't get wet roots as I guess they are prone to rotting.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sunny sunflowers

I know I seem to go on and on about the weather and it might be a bit boring to readers but it is such a vital part of my business that I have to spend some time thinking about it every day. While the rest of the country swelters we are having such good weather that I am smiling every time I walk out of the house. I'm sure that I really annoy all those people who moan about the cold summer when I tell them it is the best summer ever. Hey, they had a hot one last year so it is my turn, lol. We have only had a few days over 30 C so far this summer but I am sure our 40 degree days are coming, I am just enjoying the coolness while it lasts.

Although they are late because of the cool weather my sunflowers are opening now. I always feel great when I look at sunflowers, they are always so... sunny. I really should have put in a lot more.

I have noticed so far that they are not working well as shade (I did put in a couple of beds with sunflowers on the northern side of the vegetables to provide summer shade) as they seem to retard the growth of the vegetables around them. Damn, I was hoping to use them a lot more for this purpose next year.

So far I have found that yacon and Jerusalem artichokes work ok as shade but sorghum and sunflowers do not. I am still on the fence with the corn as I didn't have enough corn germinate to properly test it. I didn't actually test the sorghum for this purpose as I already know that it retards growth of nearby broadleaf plants.

This is a photo of D block today. Since I have harvested most of the seed off the beds I was saving for seed it is looking so much neater. I am sure the neighbours are also happier.

I put most of the water saving crystals and compost in beds on this block and I am thinking that I might check tomorrow to see if there is any difference in soil organisms between the unimproved beds and the improved ones. The plants are definitely growing better but that would also be because of the better weather than last year as well.
I am hoping that as the compost breaks down I will have less problems with the root knot nematode that infests this block.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A new year, new possibilities

Firstly, I must appologise for not starting my first posts for the year yesterday as promised. It has been a bit hectic and I just forgot.

I don't have any photos today as I didn't spend much time outside this afternoon, I will get out the camera tomorrow. My sisters and I decided to get Pay TV on for my parents for a Christmas present so I was sitting inside for much of this morning waiting for the installer and watching him work. I didn't expect him to come for at least another week or ten days but it is good now to see the new programs that my parents can enjoy now.

It has become more and more windy as today has developed and I'm glad I put down most of the covers on my beds yesterday but I think the ones I left up may be blown over in the morning. Luckily they are so easy to fix up if they blow off in wind and they are light enough that they rarely do damage to the plants.

After a few hours weeding and digging very early this morning I am happy that I got some work done so I am not feeling guilty at all that I spent much of the afternoon checking out the new channels :)
The blocks are looking very good now, the ground is drying out a bit so the weeds aren't growing too much and I am able to keep on top of them, and the cool weather means that all the veg are growing wonderfully. I am feeling good about how things are going.

My next market is not till early Feb as the local markets stop in Jan so I am busy getting things growing for Feb when I am hoping to have enough produce for three markets. For some reason I am not being as efficient as I would like in getting stuff growing, I should have more stuff ready to harvest than I have. This is something to think about. I have more land than I did last year but it is hard to see that I am harvesting any more than I was then. It is a puzzle.

I will be back tomorrow with pictures and interesting stuff to talk about so I hope you check in then.