Tuesday, March 31, 2015

At last, an end to the greenhouse saga

I had a couple of friends around yesterday to help me put up the second greenhouse. I found that it doesn't matter if you have put one up before, the next is still just as much of a pain to erect, I think the person who designed these things needs to be made to put ten of them up themselves before announcing them fit to sell to gardeners who have never put them up before.

 My friends had put one of these up before (a smaller one, and with just as much trouble as I had with the first) so we figured with our prior experience we would be able to do better this time.
We thought we would try a different tack by building the walls and ends first and then sticking them all together.
Well, that didn't work any better than doing it bit by bit by the book. I expected there to be much more swearing but my visitors were amazingly restrained, lol.

 This time we propped up the walls with steel droppers. This helped a lot as we then had more hands to sort out all the other very fiddly bits.
HEY, SPROUTWELL, please design the fiddly bits better.
 Oh well, after working with my friends from early till after dark yesterday, and then me doing all the left over bits today and cementing it in it only took the three of us one and a half days this time.
I had to redo a few things that we got wrong last night because it was dark and we were tired but it all got fixed up with my battery screwdriver and some tek screws.
Whew, I was planning on getting another one when I have enough money but now I am having second thoughts.
I am so glad it is done.

As promised when I mentioned them last, here is a picture of a hopniss (American groundnut, Apios americana) flower. They are darker than I expected and I am hoping they will be fertilised and able to set seed.

Oh, and an update about the yautia tasting, I tried the tuber boiled again tonight and got the needles in the mouth again for some reason so the plants are going. I don't have room for them if they are inedible.
The only reason I can think of that boiling them a couple of nights ago didn't get thet reaction is that maybe the problem is in the skin and tonight I didn't peel it well enough. Either way, I can't sell them if people might have this problem so I will make room for something else.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Taste testing Yautia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium)

Tomorrow I start on the second greenhouse and thankfully I have a friend (maybe two) coming over to help. Hopefully this time it will take only a day or so to finish it, and even, maybe, I might be able to put it all together properly, lol.

As you can see from this picture from my last post I have four raised beds to move to fit in the new greenhouse next to the first one.

I got stuck into those today after I got back from a little market this morning. It didn't take as long as I thought to dig up the plants and put them in pots, then find the resident blue-tongue lizard that lives in one and move it to my shadehouse.

Now the area is bare and ready for the new greenhouse.

The plants I dug out of the raised beds were pepinos, yautia and achira (all from South America). The yautia plants (xanthosoma sagittifolium) were young but two were old enough to have small tubers which I took inside to cook and taste.

I left the tubers on the kitchen bench and my mother found them, chopped them up and put them in the oven to roast.

While they were fresh and raw I put my tongue on them to check for calcium oxalate crystals which some similar looking plants have but there was no painful needles in my mouth. I have read that yautia lacks this so I was happy. When it was cooked I tasted it again and it was pleasantly nutty. THEN, the needles started. This is strange because cooking is supposed to nutralise the calcium crystals in plants that have them. I am going to have to do some more research as I cannot find any reference to yautia having this problem.

I will try boiling the couple of left over raw pieces tomorrow to see if that makes a difference. If it doesn't I will have to think about where I want to keep the plants or not.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The first greenhouse is finally up, whew.

After a few problems I have finally finished the greenhouse. It looks a bit wonky but it works and I can finally have a rest by going to two markets tomorrow and Sunday, before starting on the next one.

 I found out why the instructions say that you should not cement in the feet until after you are finished.
As you would have read in my last post, at the end of the second day the wind was coming up so I had to make the decision to cement in the legs so it would still be there in the morning as there was no way I could get it finished that day.

Unfortunately I made the rookie mistake of not putting the level over it again after pouring the cement and the soft sand had given way under the middle two supports. By the time I got back from having a cuppa the 15 minute instant cement had hardened and I was stuck with a wonky frame.

Of course that meant that nothing from then on would fit properly so I had to get out my drill and screw a couple of the stays that hadn't yet been bolted on to the frame as best I could.

Then I discovered that the polycarbonate panels wouldn't fit properly - of course. Hmm, time for some judicious trimming with my Stanley knife.

With some trimming and shoving I finally got them to fit, though there were a couple of posts in the way which I had to get the neighbour to come and chainsaw off as they were cemented into the ground.

Left - You can see the bow in the roof caused by the middle sinking.

Originally I decided to leave the posts from the old polytunnel in place to help secure the new greenhouses, but it worked out that they were all in the wrong places so most of them have come out, or at least, I am in the middle of digging them out.

Due to the wonkiness I can't fit the guttering on so I will be using UV greenhouse plastic tape to cover the ends of the roof panels to stop the water from running down the inside of the wall panels.

As you can see, the first greenhouse is now finished except for the last bit of shelving, and I am exhausted. It seems like I have spent the last few days screwing millions of nuts and bolts.

Now to the next one.
BTW, for anyone who is interested, the greenhouse is one from Sproutwell. I am pleased with it as yesterday was very windy and wet and it didn't move.

 Lastly, my Madagascar beans are now ripening so I picked a heap today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greenhouse trials

Boy, these polycarbonate greenhouses are complicated to put up. All the bits come in what seems to be dozens of boxes and each has a huge assortment of pieces in them.
I managed to find the instruction booklet which made me feel like a fool as it was so hard to work out - even though it is all in English. They give you 8 hours to put it up in the manual but it will be three days for me. I can't see how in the world they think that anyone who has not put one up before can do it in one day. I think it will take me at least a day and a half to get the next one up after this.

Every page looks like this:

Seems reasonable easy but what you always forget is to put the extra bolts in the channels so I was forever having to unscrew pieces to put in more bolts to add more pieces, and the pictures are making me tear my hair out. It is not plain to see when you have to add extra bolts.Anyway here is what I have done so far (please excuse the wonky pictures).

My sister came along to help yesterday - she didn't come back today I noticed :)

It took us a while to put the doors and window vents together. We didn't realise that this was the easy part, lol.

After putting the base together we had to do the uprights - they are really flimsy at this stage and it is difficult to see how anyone working alone can keep them from falling down. I was so grateful for another pair of hands.
This green house is 2.5m x nearly 4 metres if you are interested. The next one is the same size.

 Now I had most of the wall bracing in but as you can see I still had to tie one side to a post to stop it from falling down.It is impossible to put these things up with one person.

Little did I know that I later had to take just about every piece apart again to add more bolts for later attachments.
 This is how yesterday ended.

This morning I got to doing both ends
 And here we are with the ends more or less finished. Now to make the roof frame.

After putting up most of the roof frame I decided to cement in the feet. The instructions say to leave that til last but I had to stop work at 4 pm as the wind was building up and I didn't want to be putting in the polycarbonate panels in the wind, and I didn't want it blowing down in the night.

After cementing the feet with instant concrete I had to remove a heap more bolts so I could add more bolts into the channels to put in more bracing.

I am please to say that there is only one piece that doesn't fit (A wall brace) and I will get out my tek screws later to fix that.

I am exhausted but at least I will be finished tomorrow. It doesn't seem like it but it is far more time consuming that it looks from these pictures.

Monday, March 23, 2015

New greenhouses arrived and arracacha adventures

My new polycarbonate greenhouses arrived this morning, just as I was pulling down the old polytunnel. I wasn't expecting them till tomorrow so I am glad I was home.

Here are the 20 boxes sitting in the shed ready to be put together.
I rang them to see where the DVD instruction and my receipt is and they said they are in one of the boxes, but couldn't tell me which one.
I cut open a couple of boxes until I found a paper instruction manual - wow, it looks complicated, maybe I should go through more boxes and try and find the DVD. I have asked my sister to come over and help tomorrow. She doesn't know what she is in for.

Here I have taken off the plastic skin and the steel frame but I will leave the wood posts as extra support for the greenhouses.
After taking down the frame and skin I had to start digging out all the raised beds and removing those  whew, what a job.
I have done half of them and will build the first greenhouse tomorrow before tackling the other 4 raised beds.
The frame will go into the Back block and I will put bird netting over it for the berry plants. That is a job for next month.

One of the raised beds had my arracacha growing in it. I finally found that they grow best under plastic and if I could have left them another three months to fatten up their roots I would have - but, they had to come out, so I took off the small roots they did have, divided them and replanted them into pots until I get another suitable bed ready.

Now it will be another year before I will have decent roots *sigh*

At least I ended up with a few roots to try for the first time.
I nibbled on one raw and found out that everyone is right, they are not good to eat raw as they have a nasty aftertaste.
Cooked, they are absolutely delicious. I had them steamed and served with a knob of butter and a pinch of pepper, wow.
They have the texture and stickiness of potato and taste a bit like cabbagy potato but even better. I don't like cabbage but I love these, I could eat them every day.

Friday, March 20, 2015

March doings

Well, our new greenhouses are on their way and I am back to being broke again. I am hoping they will arrive monday but freight companies are not known for their punctuality. I am going to have to pull down the polytunnel on sunday (I am heading to a show tomorrow to sell seeds). I really hope the new ones are not too hard to put up, and they can cope with out strong spring winds. Oh well, time will tell.

 As you can see the blocks are looking very dry and bare right now. This is D block but they are all looking similar.
Although many beds look empty they are all full of seeds germinating so in a month or so they will be looking fabulous.
I am having to water the germinating beds every day to keep them damp but with the weather cooling down now it won't be long till every two days will do it.

All the Small Sugar pumpkins are ready to pick and store now. My mother, who is my pumpkin taster because she loves pumpkin, rates them as delicious, but I am not sure how they will go at the markets as the skins are so hard you need an axe to get into them. They are even harder to cut than QLD blues.

Maybe I will buy a new, clean saw and offer to cut them at the table when someone buys them, or, I can just advise people to throw them on a concrete floor to get into them, hmmm.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Defining Autumn, and interesting websites to check out.

Autumn is definitely here, my Chinese yams are colouring up and as I walk down the street I can see all the ornamental pear street trees going purple. It seems like tomorrow will be the last hot day until next summer and the mornings are decidedly chilly now. It is all feeling great for me. I love Autumn.

The Chinese yams are going yellow and dropping their leaves. This one has been in the raised bed for two years and although it never produced stem tubers I am guessing the underground tuber will be a decent size. I will dig it up when the leaves have all dropped.

While I had a few minutes of spare time I decided to make a list of interesting websites for some fruits and vegetables. Some of these sites I visit regularly - like the carrot one with its amazing and detailed information, and the rhubarb site, but others are ones I just stumbled across and seemed like they had some info that might interest someone.

At the moment I am working on a new website (glutton for punishment, lol) about all the so called 'Lost crops of the Incas' that I grow.

Melons:   www.melonmaster.com 


Monday, March 16, 2015

potato seed and geo fabric

After six months I have taken off a couple of beds of veg that I planted with geo cloth as weedmat so I can evaluate it before committing to putting it on more of my beds.
I have to say that it surpassed all my expectations. When I take it off the beds the soil underneath is still lovely and soft with no compaction at all. It is fresh and not sour as you can get with plastic, and even with normal weedmat.
Combined with the  huge reduction in weeds, and therefore work, I am very pleased and will definitely use it on more beds when I get the money to buy more. After ordering the greenhouses tomorrow it will be a while before I can afford to buy anything else. I am crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong for quite a while, lol.

After complaining for a long time that I can't get my spuds to make true seed I was checking my gourds and found a dying 'Toolangi Delight' plant with 8 seed balls on it under the gourds foliage. Wow, I immediately got the seeds out and have them drying so I can plant them next spring. I wish they were from a coloured flesh potato but beggars can't be choosers.

It is easy to grow potatoes from true seeds and because they are all polyploidy there is a good chance of getting a new variety to name if you plant enough seeds. I have no idea of the parentage of Toolangi Delight so the seedlings will be a surprise.

I have now planted most of my winder veg and am just waiting on a few more beds to be cleared to double up on some popular types like snow peas and mangel wurzels. After some long days I am looking forward to some rest.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

New greenhouse and out and about with Woodsy

I spent the morning at the Merino produce swap. There wasn't much swapping going on today but lots of chatting which is just as good. I came home with some almond biscuits and a couple of bags of rocky road though which went down well with mum who loves rocky road.

I am excited (I am often excited I realise). We have saved up enough money to get two polycarbonate greenhouses next week. I wanted three but we (mum and me) just didn't have enough money and we need to get them soon because the mornings are getting quite cold now.

I just have to wait till some of the money I transferred appears in my bank account, probably Tuesday. Then comes the work of taking down the old polyhouse and putting up the new ones. I hope they are not too difficult. The old polytunnel frame will be going out on the back block and covered with bird netting for the berries.

I took Woodsy (yeah, I still haven't had any inspiration on a name) out on inspection this morning.
Here she is checking out some beetroot seedlings. The seedlings are bounding along with the great weather lately and I will have to thin them out shortly. I am going to clear another bed to put these thinnings in as I like to have a lot of beets to sell over the winter.

I told you that my tamarillos shed nearly all their fruit in the hot weather in January. Well one of the bushes managed to keep a few fruits on and I notice today that a couple of them are beginning to lighten in colour. I think I will prune this particular bush down and keep it just in case it also manages to set more fruit next year.

As you can see, I still haven't been able to find some suitable clothes for Woodsy yet. I might have to make some myself, though I suck at sewing and making things out of fabric.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

WOW, lookie here *big smiley*

I am having the best week ever, look at all the great things that have happened over the last few days.
Not only is the weather perfect for getting my seedlings up before the red legged earth mites hatch and try to wipe them out, but the new cafe/restaurant in town wants to buy my veggies - and they are from New Zealand so they love any unusual fruits and veg.

 And look here!! - for the first time since I started growing hopniss (Apios americana) 3 or 4 years ago they are starting to flower, well, making flower buds. Whether there is enough time before the frosts to get pods ripe is another story but I am looking forward to the pretty pink flowers.
It is a legume so it should be self fertile, so if I am very lucky I might get some seeds from it.

For those who don't know, this climber produces nutritious tubers and also is great at making nitrogen nodules for the soil.

Aaand, I got these little stand up bags in the post from Ebay. They are perfect for the larger seeds that I have had trouble packaging neatly.
Here are a couple of packets of broad beans and corn. They are going to look superb with the other trays of seed on my tables at the markets.

And finally, I have been getting heaps of seeds in the mail this week from various seed sellers and private individuals. I love getting seeds in the mail, even though it is costing a lot.

I have already been out from dawn till dark preparing beds and sowing. I think I am all out of empty beds right now and still have a heap of seeds to sow.
One of the new additions is 'Novella' shelling peas. They produce hardly any leaves, just thick tendrils. I couldn't help myself, lol. My sister is growing one or two other interesting pea varieties and I will grab some seeds of her when she produces some.

My oca is looking awful as it normally does at this time of year when the stems are long and sprawled with leaves at the very ends.
 This is my bed of last years seedlings that I have been trialling. I was hoping for a few that were more heat tolerant than the varieties that I have been growing in the past and one of the seedlings (the most bushy looking ones in the centre of the pic) is looking very promising.

Out of the seven seedlings one is good, two were not heat tolerant at all and died, and 4 have barely lived so I will give them another try next year under different conditions. I can't wait to see how the tuberising will go.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Taste testing the shallots

Yesterday afternoon while I had a bit of time I decided to taste test my dividing onions to see what I should continue growing as I have just dug them up. I didn't include potato onions for two reasons: I have only started growing them and don't have any spare to eat, and I only have 'Green Mountain' variety which is not very stable so one will not necessarily taste like the next. I doubt that this variety will ever be stable as anyone who grows it from seed will select what they want to continue will and that may not be what another person will select.

From the left - Pink shallot, Golden shallot, Walking onion, Walking onion bulbils.
The walking onions don't have much in the way of bulbs at this time of year when they are dying down but I am guessing they will taste the same when at full size.

I am not much of an onion lover so I have not had much of a chance to do a proper comparison in the past.
All the onions were tasted raw and then fried in olive oil till a bit golden and caramalised.

Pink shallot: Raw - These were much stronger in flavour than I thought they would be. I put them at a 6-7 on a 1 to 10 scale.
Cooked - the flavour became much milder and sweeter, even down to a 2-3 on the scale. Very pleasant to my taste.

Golden shallot: Raw - Just as bitey as the pink shallot and almost spicy. The taste lingered a bit longer in the mouth. Too strong for my liking.  
Cooked -  As with the pink shallot they became very mild, almost without taste. I am not impressed as they were quite bland.

Walking onion: Raw -  Strongly oniony but smooth and sweetish. The taste holds on a long time. Strength of 5.
Cooked - Sweet and nutty, so delicious I had to run out to the garden and pick another handful.

Walking onion bulbils: Raw - Oniony and slightly bitter. Not particularly pleasant for my liking.
Cooked -  Sweeter but not impressive.

The main surprises for me were the strength of the shallots as I have always read that they are sweeter and milder than 'normal' onions. And the biggest surprise was the deliciousness of the walking onions, I could have eaten my whole bed full if I had the energy. They were so great. This is opposite to what I have read.

To sum up, I will not be growing golden shallots any more, just more beds of pink shallots which are supurb baked in the oven as I found out late last year. I will also be growing more walking onions and selling them at the markets for eating. Up till now I have just been selling them as growing material.

Next year at this time I should have a few selections of potato onions to evaluate.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Caigua, corn and gourds

I was busy a moment ago scooping out seeds from a mound of mini capsicums when I suddenly remembered that I have to make this post of my sister will ring and hound me to do it. So I found some pics on my camera I took yesterday and here it is, lol.

 I have a couple of Caigua, otherwise known as Achocha (Cyclanthera pedata) that I put in this year as my seed stock was getting low.
This is a native of the Andes and is still unknown in most areas. It is a vine that produces masses of these slipper-shaped fruits that are cooked, usually stuffed as they are hollow, in stews or sometimes juiced.

To be honest I don't like the flavour or texture of them but like to have some seeds on hand in case someone wants some. It is a carefree plant that doesn't seem to self seed so it is not a hardship to grow it in an unused spot.

Here is another picture of my flour corn. I am sure I planted a few dark seeds in the beds but I didn't get any dark kernels so maybe I am mistaken. I am not sure I like the amount of chinmarking (red stripes) on the kernels but it seems to amuse customers.
Luckily on my sweet corn I got a lot of spotty kernels which are very interesting. I might grow a couple of beds of just them next spring.

I took some cobs of both the sweet and flour corn to the Sandford market today and everyone was amazed by the colours. They have only seen yellow corn.
My gourds have been a bit of a disappointment this year. One two plants have grown to bearing size and they one have one fruit each, albeit big fruit.

I love growing gourds even though they are a bit of a waste of space and water for what they produce. I just find them fascinating.

I really must start getting some projects done with the dry gourds I have gathering dust in the garage.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Pepinos, rosella and skirrit

Wow, it has been a sudden transformation from summer to autumn, with the days now decidedly cool. I still look at the forecaste each day expecting a return to hot weather but so far it is showing the next week to be lovely and cool at around 20C. All we need now is for Hewie to send us some rain (for those of you outside of Australia Hewie (or Hughie) is our imaginary - what other sort is there! - rain god).

 The pepinos have responded to the cooler weather by pumping out heaps of fruit.
I have found that they are too late for outside and it is a race to get the fruit ripe before frost - which I usually lose, but in the polytunnel they fruit all year without harm.

I have 5 young plants that I grew from seed this year but they are not flowering yet so I will have to put them in the new hothouses when we get them next month and see if they do better in there.

My rosellas are also going to town with flowers. The calyxes are a bit smaller than I expected but there are many of them. I won't be picking them this year as I am keeping them all for seed but I did pick off a piece of calyx to taste and it was pleasantly tangy. I can understand why people like them.

Next year I will grow more of them as the leaves and calyxes will make a good addition to my market stalls.

I only have a few skirrit plants, well six to be excact, and only one is flowering. A couple of them are big enough to divide but I guess the time to divide them might be in spring.

I am eager to have a taste of a root as it is said that they are quite sweet. Anyway, I will let you know when I get them out of the ground.

I am hoping I get enough offsets from my few plants to make a good amount of new plants for the future.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Early garlic and Chilean Guava

I've been getting a lot of work done over the last couple of days. Getting beds read and I have had to top up the soil wetter as I doubt we will be getting any rain soon and the ground has been getting quite water resistant lately.
Tomorrow I think I will take a drive into Mt Gambier but the next day I will get stuck into sowing the winter veg.

 Yesterday I was surprised to see that most of the beds of garlic are showing new shoots already. It is over a month early and I hope this is not a bad sign or something. Maybe the extra long growing year will have them getting huge, well, we'll see.

Usually I let the garlic beds sit without watering them until the rains bring them up but as they are shooting I will have to start watering them.

I put in a lot of garlic this year, not the half acre I wanted but still plenty for selling next summer.

Tomorrow I will have to pick the fruit on my Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae). It is ready and covered in fruit.
I will have enough this year to eat as well as collect seed. I usually sow the seed immediately to have young plants to sell but I will have to look up to see if the seed can be dried and kept for seed packets.

I love these tiny fruit ( they are only as big as peas) but they don't make it into the house as I eat them as I pick them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Official start to Autumn, yay

Yay, it is the official start to autumn today. I know mother nature does not follow our calendar but it is cooler today and after tomorrows 27c we are in for a coolish week in the low 20s. I can almost allow myself to hope that we have seen the last of the hot days but we still have time for some more yet.

Yesterday I attended the first Hamilton market for the year. There were more people there than I expected and though I didn't bring a lot of fresh veg I sold a lot of seeds to people thinking of their autumn planting. I am glad I got off my behind the past couple of weeks to do a lot of packets of seed.

Here is half of my stall after most of my stuff has been sold. I really should remember that I have my camera at the start so I can take a good pick of my tables.

 Last week my Autumn crocus started shooting and now they are flowering away merrily. They always bring a nice splash of colour to the garden at this time of year when everything is looking dull.

I am starting to plant more flowers though the beds as they look great as well as feeding pollinating insects when not much else is flowering.
I have been planting multi use flowers that could also have potential in the future for sale as vase flowers.

I have a lot of beds empty right now waiting till Tuesday when the cooler weather starts for me to start sowing. I always look forward to this time of year when I am getting everything ready for winter crops.

I just have to choose what will get planted where, and what will miss out this year because I don't have enough bed space, that is the hard bit.

The long range weather forecast shows that we will probably get a warmer than average autumn with little rain and perhaps a late break.
It will mean more watering for longer but I will take that if the frosts are late and we don't get any more searing days. Well, I can always keep my fingers crossed.

I have been busy today harvesting spaghetti squash and Hamburg Parsley seed, as well as putting dried seed in containers and various other odd jobs. Another week and all the corn and the Small Sugar pumpkins can come in and be stored.