Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Whew, I want summer to be over already

I am still sitting inside because I am waiting till the temperature gets below 35C before I go out to water. I really hate the heat and there is still at least 3 months of it to go yet. Maybe we should move down to Tassie.
It is too hat to do any work during the day, and the weeds are pretty much under control anyway so all I have is the watering. It is starting to get a bit boring so I shelled out for a few more gigs on my internet so I can watch some interesting youtube videos. It is a bummer having country internet limitations, though I know that many city areas also have serious limits. It is about time our pollies realised that internet is important to businesses and, well, everybody. It is good for the country as a whole so they should allow us a great system - I hate that we are so backward in this respect.

Yesterday while I was watering I got a surprise visit from a guy who reads my blog. he was passing through town and decided to drop in and see what I was about and have a chat and cuppa. I really like it when I hear from people who read this blog, so don't be afraid to drop in or email any time.

 Because I am organising a harvest festival for march I put in a few ornamental squash plants for table decorations. I find these squash fascinating even though you can't eat them.
In Australia we don't have a custom of growing ornamental vegetables, probably because we don't have a winter down time and we can grow veggies all year round so we don't celebrate harvest time. I think it is a shame as harvest festivals are, in part, a way to get people to appreciate what you can grow.

Anyway, I do have some ornamentals in just to add some colour. Now all I have to do is get the marketing for the festival going and attract some market stalls.
I am not sure how it will go with the season so bad - I may not be able to add as much to the vegetable displays as I wanted but we will see.

Last post I told you how the rabbits decimated my tepary beans, well the next rows full of dwarf red snake beans have not been touched, thank goodness.

Also - I remember that I didn't report on the taste testing for the 'Bear Necessities' kale that I wrote about a few posts ago.
This is going to be my favourite kale. It has a slight mustardy taste when raw so it will be great in salads but it really comes into its own when cooked. It loses the mustard taste when cooked and is very tender and tasty. It doesn't have the coarseness and slight bitterness of 'normal' kale so people who generally don't like kale should love this one.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Next year has to be better *sigh*

I hope you all had a great Christmas. It was very quiet for us but I enjoyed it. I changed my watering days so my main watering was the day before so I only had a couple of hours yesterday afternoon and I could enjoy my time with family.

Finally, a few showers to cool things down and give the plants a break. I still and to water as 7 mm didn't go far but it still freshened up the plants. Maybe some of the corn will be able to be pollinated before the hot weather kicks in again in a few days and kills off the pollen. Ever hopeful.

I have been busy planting out my shallots on the seed block. I have been glad to move them over there so I have more room on my 'Back block' which I generally use for new and experimental stuff.
In their place I have planted out a couple of beds of seedling potatoes. It will be interesting to see what I get from them as already I can see that some have green stems and some pink. I have about 6 20m beds of various dividing onions out now and just the walking onions to go.

Yesterday I got over to the seed block to find that all my tepary beans have been eaten off with all the flowers and young shoots. I am not sure if it was rabbits or grasshoppers - did I tell you that I am dealing with a plague of grasshoppers now?

I have been planting four rows of fruiting and flowering trees, shrubs and groundcovers but it will be at least two years before they are big enough to provide good habitat for carnivorous insects and birds so I may need to spray the grasshoppers which I really don't want to do *sigh*

This comes on top of everything else. If I hadn't already used every dollar I have and borrowed money to get this venture off the ground I would be about to give up now. With the drought, heat, pests, terrible soil and poor crops I have just about had enough. I am thankful that my seed contract is not binding this year as I will not be able to provide half of what was ordered.

Luckily I also planted some small crops of other plants on spec which I think my buyer will like.
I know it will get better every year but it is just so hard right now.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bits and bobs

A couple of cool days have felt so good but it is heating up again from tomorrow. I got some root cabbage seedlings in and planted some carrot and beet seeds. I know it is not a good time to be planting carrot seeds especially but I have to have some different ones to show at the harvest festival in March and if I don't get them growing now I won't have any ready. I have covered the row and will try to keep it damp to get them to germinate but they don't like germinating in the heat so I will have to keep my fingers crossed.

My melons are growing strongly and flowering but the heat means that they are aborting their female flowers so they still haven't got fruit on them.

The warmth started early so my tamarillos do have a small amount of fruit on them that set before the heat set in so I might get some fruit off them. I think I will pull the tamarillos out though as they are too much bother and will only set fruit on occasional years when the summer is not too hot.

My poor tepary beans don't have many pods on them as the heat burnt off most of the flowers. I put in a lot of them this year though so I should get some seed.

Here is one of my tomato beds. I covered the two rows on one side (the left) on the hot days and you can definitely see the difference where the covered tomatoes are twice the size and greener. I might have to cover them all now to get a good harvest.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Whew it is hot, and the veggies are really stressed

After a few days around 40c all the veggies are looking pretty stressed, even the heat tolerant plants like tepary beans and ground cherries are frying. They just can't soak up enough water to grow properly no matter how much water I give them. One thing I worry about is that the corn will not be pollinated because the pollen and silks dry in the heat before they can do their job. I know I worried about this last year and the cobs were filled but this year the corn is showing more stress than last year. Also, the melons are not setting fruit because of the heat and I am relying on getting a lot of melon seed.

The mini pop corn is showing heat stress the worst of all the varieties but the others are not far behind.
Every night I go out to water I wonder if the plants will have recovered by the next day. They always do so far but the stress build up has to start affecting them soon. And there is another three months of heat to go.

I have covered the small beds of corn that is still under the height of the row covers and is not flowering yet in an attempt to keep the stress to a minimum.

I have had to borrow some more money yesterday to put up more shade covers on the seed block. I hate borrowing money but if the plants die or don't produce then I have wasted all the effort and money I have put into it so far so I don't really have a choice.
At least I know it will pay for itself in the long run.

I have been surprised at how well the mauka is coping with the heat, even the stems that are poking out in the sun are not sunburnt.
As you can see it is suffering a bit, with slightly curled leaves but it is still growing.

 I think that as long as the roots are kept shaded these plants will grow quite well through our summers.
Some of the Incan veggies are surprising me with their heat tolerance.

And, just to lighten the sombre mood - a bed of sunflowers. At least these love the heat.

I am already sick of this summer and there is so much to go. The river is dry, we have had no rain for many months and we are in drought. I just hope our town bore keeps up and we don't get water restrictions.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Bear necessities kale and see how my corn is doing

With a very hot week to come I am spending a lot of time hibernating indoors. There is not much you can do in the heat - watering is out as heat stressed plants can't use it well and any water that you put on is wasted by evaporation - so I water in the evenings so the plants have all night to take up the water and recover from the heat. You can't weed because weeding disturbs the soil and allows more evaporation.
All I can do is harvest in the morning if there is something to harvest that day, and generally just inspect and admire :)

 My bear necessities kale is looking good, and tasting good. I wrote about it in a post not long ago but I thought you should see some pictures.

I am a bit disappointed that I only have one colour where the pictures on the net show a range of purple and green colours, but it still looks amazing. With the look and taste I can see this really taking off if I market it well and one of the seed companies takes it up.

I think this kale will look just as good in the flower garden and vase as it will in a salad which will appeal so many people.

I did have some problems with aphids early on but the white butterflies seem to be leaving it alone, probably because of the leaf form so I am also happy about that.

Here is three beds of the sweet corn 'Anasazi' on the seed block. It is not very even because the ground had a house on it at one time and the soil varies so some areas grow well and some don't. Over the next few crops that should even out and the soil will improve.

The plants are a bit small but they are healthy and starting to show flowers now.

Some of the later planted rows did very poorly for some reason so I doubt I will be able to provide all the seed the company wants but it shouldn't be too far off.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Oca aeroponics experiment and the difference between shallots and potato onions

With a couple of days of gale force hot winds my vegetables, especially the corn, is looking a bit tortured. The stress of hot weather tends to build up in plants so I can't see them getting better anytime soon. Oh well, that is how it goes. It will be nice to get a cooler day tomorrow.

 After noticing last year that oca cuttings were happy to make tubers in a glass of water I have decided to do a little experiment to see how they produce in an aeroponics situation. Aeroponics is sort of like hydroponics in the way that there is no soil medium, but instead of the roots always being in water they are suspended in moist air instead.
I decided on this because I didn't want to go to the expense of buying a pump.

I will loosely fill the 15cm tube with coir fibre to hold moisture in the air but no so full as to restrict tuber formation.

Each week I will fill the tube with fertilised water, like a hydroponics system, but them let it flow out so only the coir is moist.
I will be putting the pipe together and cutting holes in it tomorrow. It is one metre long so I will be able to fit three plants in it.

My first ripe tomato - a Green Zebra. I had it on a sandwich today. It is so good to not have to eat supermarket tomatoes.

Ok, I have been researching the difference between the dividing/multiplier onions known as shallots and potato onions.
There are many different views on the subject and I have come to the conclusion that I will refer to them all as shallots from now on, as botanists do - I can see no difference between them. They are all the same species after all, Allium cepa var. aggregatum.

Some people say that shallots are smaller than potato onions but that has not rung true with mine, and some say that potato onions flower and shallots do not, but they all do for me - I think that 'shallots' flower when the conditions are right, and some flower under all conditions and some under specific conditions.
One site even suggested that shallots have two 'eyes' and potato onions have one but from my observations it depends on the stage of division when they mature and dry.
In the picture above I have two onions named as potato onion and one shallot (and one perennial leek) can you tell from looking at them? I think not, and if you did guess based on shape I reckon you would be wrong.

Another thing that bugs me is that there are no names for varieties in Australia - there are red shallots, and golden shallots and brown potato onions etc. With people not breeding new varieties it is time these got names so there is no confusion later on.
Talk about colour confusion - the 'brown potato onion' in the picture above is actually red and the pink shallot above has pink skin if you pull it just before it is totally died down (and keeps the pink colour during storage) but is brown when fully died down (and then stays brown during storage). Colour naming sucks.

After harvesting my beds I did a small taste test. All the multiplier onions/shallots tasted the same and were strong and harsh when raw but the perennial leek was mild and sweet, just what I like. I didn't bother with a cooked test at this time. I didn't pull my walking onions as they are not ready yet, and I still have to select with my Green Mountain onions so a taste test was not going to reveal anything as they are so variable.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Scorching days and flowers everywhere

After a few days of scorching temperatures quite a few plants are feeling pretty burnt, especially the cucurbits and beans. I thought that the early start would mean that I might get some green beans which usually don't do well here because of the heat but they are looking sad now. Hopefully I will still get enough seed off them to replant next year.
The poor tamarillos which were full of flowers and fruit have aborted most of their baby fruits because of the heat. If I don't get a good harvest off them this year they will be chopped out. I just don't have enough shade for them.

 I was right, my lotus is a dwarf variety. In the Ebay listing for the assorted tuber the seller said that it is a listing for a full size variety but if you wanted a dwarf you should message them. I didn't want a dwarf but they sent one anyway. I will have to buy another full size tuber next spring. I want full sized plants for eating size tubers.
As you can see I have my first flower popping up now.

My rows of squash and pumpkins are flowering profusely even though they have got a bit burnt over the last few days.
I just hope the flowers set as sometimes they don't if it is too hot.
This is part of a 20m row of yellow patty pan squash.

My tepary beans are starting to flower. I might not be ale to grow green beans but there are two sorts of beans that will take my heat - tepary and snake beans.
The snake beans are always very slow and are quite a way off flowering yet. I have a few now varieties of them to trial this year.

This is a flower of a blue speckled tepary bean.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A walk around the blocks

With temperatures above 35c for the next 5 days or so I am not going to get anything done except watering at night so I thought I would just take a few pics this morning to keep you interested.
My sister called me up to ask a few questions about her vegetables, and she said she always thinks of me as her gardening guru, golly gosh isn't that nice. It feels good to the ego to be a guru.

My bought in seed of Painted mountain that I talked about a few posts ago is flowering even though it is so small. There are some lovely colours in it which is why I decided to buy in some more seed. All my own seed is light colours so I wanted some dark seed.

Most of the plants that are flowering are black, brown and purple, with those coloured stems. I am not sure if it a good idea to put it in with my 'normal' seed that doesn't bolt so quickly so I will keep it separate until I hear if my corn seed buyer wants it mixed in. I wouldn't risk it if I was a buyer so I am a bit annoyed by it.

Even though the plants are small I am looking forward to seeing the cobs, though I know they will not be filled well as the plants are not close enough to each other. It is very disappointing that it does not flower at the same time as my own seed so the cobs will be more colourful, but that is the way it goes. It just isn't selected for this area.

Maybe following years of mixing will stabilise it so they grow at the same rate. At least they look healthy.

 I put in a couple of rows of 'Bear Necessities' kale for seed. The internet pictures looked amazing but my plants were not showing the fine leaves so I was prepared to pull them all out as they were looking similar to siberian kale. Over the past week they have started to put out the feathery leaves so I am very happy, you just have to be patient it seems.

The parents of this kale are Red Russian kale and mizuna, and the light mustardy flavour of the leaves do show its mustard heritage. I was hoping there would not be a mustard flavour but it is not too bad and the tenderness of the raw leaves will actually be great in salads with that flavour. I think it will go ok if it is marketed well here. Mustards are not popular in Australia. Maybe it will not show the mustard flavour if grown in winter - sometimes it is heat that brings it out.

I had a tray full of potato seedlings with Toolangi Delight as the parent. That was the only potato that set fruit for me last summer. Toolangi Delight is a nice, Australian bred potato with white flesh and very lilac soloured skin that rubs off easily.

I was only going to pot up 20 of these seedlings but you know how it is, you just have to give any that seem to be trying a go, so I ended up with 30 plants in pots. Some of the more precocious ones were even putting out stolons at their small size.

I will give them three weeks in the pots to grow and them plant them out in beds.

My bed of sunflowers is about to open up. I love looking at sunflowers and the parrots love them too so I just plant them for the birds. I rationalise it by telling myself that it keeps them from looking at the corn, lol

Unfortunately it might be put to the test this year as the sunflowers are planted next to the corn. We will see.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Broad bean tasting and another rant

Today it was a bit windy and cool to do much outside (yes I am a wuss) so I decided to do a taste test of my broad beans.

I currently grow three varieties of broad bean: Violetta, Gippsland Giant, and Crimson Flowered.

I soaked the dry beans overnight and today boiled them in the microwave till they were soft. This took 5 minutes but I suppose it might have taken longer if they had been longer in storage. I did not double peel them, I really don't think they need it.

I was very happy with the results and realised that I had always assumed that I did not like them and maybe I had never even tasted them in my life, I can't remember every having them served up to me.

Anyway, I found that they are actually quite delicious, even without adding things like butter.

Violetta - These beans have a bitter seed coat when they are immature and fresh so I was surprised that they lost all sign of bitterness when cooked. They only lost a bit of their dark purple colour though I imagine they would loose more if cooked longer.
These beans were sweet and nutty, starchy and really good.

Gippsland Giant - These beans are very tender and mild after cooking and the seed coat was tender and would not need double peeling as they were not tough at all.

Crimson flowered - These beans retained their unusual fruity flavouring after cooking. The seed coat was a little tough but not worth taking off as the beans are so small. It was interesting to note that these beans, though small, needed more cooking than the others.

I am going to be testing a few other broad beans varieties next year, some that are not commonly available in Australia and you will not have heard of. They come in interesting colours and, hopefully, flavours.

My very rare mauka plants are really loving the weather and growing strongly. The edible bases are expanding and I hope they come through the summer ok.

I am pleased with the taste of the leaves and I hope this will be of considerable interest in Australia next spring when I will have plants to sell.

Now for my rant -

 I am really sick of seeing all the mislabeled, misleading, photoshopped, and fake plant seed listings on Ebay. It must be really disappointing for a new gardener who wants to try something different to find that the seeds he planted turn out to be nothing like what he ordered.
I understand that Ebay can't do much about these fake listings as their workers are office people and would not know what is real or not, and by the time a plant has grown and the gardener realises it is not right it is too late to give the seller a black mark.

I realise that if Ebay did employ a gardener to go through millions of listing that person may still not know about rare plants and delist things like white fleshed watermelongs, for example but there must be something they can do.

Listings for multi coloured bananas, 'rainbow' roses, blue watermelon etc can fool new gardeners but even a fairly good gardener can be sucked in by things like Chinese mislabeled 'Glass Gem' corn, then after they grow it they package and resell their own seed, which they then mislabel as ' Glass Gem' which muddies the variety to the detriment of all gardeners.

The Chinese sellers are the worst but there are also plenty of bad Australian sellers like the lady selling Saffron seeds which are clearly safflower seed (saffron doesn't produce viable seed FYI). I have emailed her in case it was a mistake but she is still selling the seed as saffron. I suppose she doesn't care as she also has 'rainbow' roses in her shop.
Then there is the seller who photoshops all their vegetable seed listings and gives the varieties their own made-up names, calling them rare when in fact they are not so rare at all.

There has to be some way of cracking down on these seller but I can't think of it. Sigh.