Saturday, May 27, 2017

Disappointing arracacha, and digging the oca

With the weather unusually wet - we have had a wetter autumn than I have experienced for many years - I decided to dig the tuberous vegetables early so I don't risk them rotting in the ground. There have been some disappointments and hope.

The arracacha plants have grown huge and I was really looking forward to eating them this year. Unfortunately when I dug them I found that they had not made any roots. It seems weird to me as I would have thought they needed large roots to support the nutritional needs of all that foliage.

This is the first time I have grown them in the seed block so I guess that it is a nutritional/soil problem that I will have to work out.

At least I will have plenty of divisions to plant out. This is good as I nearly lost all my plants last year in the flooding.

Yesterday it was foggy most of the day and I didn't feel like getting wet while weeding so I decided to dig my oca. They had not died down fully yet so the tubers were not as large as they should be but I was starting to see some slug and mouse damage and I didn't want to take a risk seeing as how I lost nearly all my varieties last year and had a very poor seed germination this season.
I mostly only had the few tubers I saved.

Out of the 33 varieties I planted 9 died of stem rot and I kept 11 of the best producers. I also had 4 that were heat tolerant but only kept the two of those that produced ok.

The summer was pretty mild this year which is probably why more did not get stem rot. Next summer will be the real test.

The four top pictures on the left are of some that I kept. These plants not only produced decent sized tubers (which would have been bigger if I had left them another couple of weeks) but also produced around a kilo of tubers.

I will plant a heap more seed next spring in the hope that I get another nearly black tubered one that I lost last year.

This last pic shows a few tubers of plants that I tossed. These plants mostly produced badly, had small tubers, or did not grow well. I did have one variety that grew into huge bushes but didn't produce many tubers which was sad to toss out, but was a waste of space.

I have left one plant in the ground that is so far showing no sign of frost damage or dying down so I will leave it to see what it does.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pulling my potatoes and chufa varieties

It was a lovely day today so I went out and pulled up the last of my TPS diploid potatoes and chufa varieties. We have a had a few frosts now so things are dying down and ready to harvest. The oca won't be long.

The great thing about growing potatoes from true seed is that when you have seed from a range of coloured varieties you never know what you are going to get and just about every plant has different tubers.

I was disappointed to find that I only ended up with one that had red coloured flesh and three that had coloured rings or splashes through the flesh, but what I did dig had a range of white, cream and yellow flesh. They also had a range of tuber sizes and shapes though those in this pic are all small because the plants are the latest and smallest.
 I grabbed some of the small tubers and boiled them to eat while I worked at the computer. Although I like the yellow fleshed waxy ones my taste buds are not sensitive enough to find much of a difference in taste. They were good anyway.

I told you that the rabbits kept eating my peanut plants so I thought I would not get any nuts off them, well, I pulled up a couple of plants and found that I will get enough nuts to plant again next year.

Just in - my young niece is visiting and watching me type this. She asked me to tell you this joke:

What do you call a peanut?
A nut

Well, she will understand a bit more about jokes when she gets older, lol.

I pulled up my 4 varieties of chufa today. I put a few on plates to show you what they look like.

Starting from the left:
*Spanish (productive)
*Black Tiger (the biggest)
*My usual un-named one (the most round)
*Jumbo (didn't live up to its name but it could have been the conditions so I will see next year)

As far as taste is concerned, Spanish was the sweetest, Jumbo the best tasting with a good almond flavour, and the other two were fine but milder.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Selecting Pusa Asita carrot

I am so looking forward to the winter break. The mornings are getting too cold now to be out when the sun rises so I an enjoying sitting at home a bit longer and just working mostly in the afternoon.

I started to harvest the chufa and found that mice have been living among the roots and eating them. I have only been able to gather half of what I expected.
 I was so worried about rabbits that I didn't even consider the mouse problem.

At least the longer than usual season means that the tubers are also bigger. I have enough to sell and some left over to eat, yam.

Today I dug up one small bed of 'Pusa Asita' carrot to choose the best roots to replant for seed.

If you have been following my journey with this carrot you will know that at first I had so much trouble germinating it that I crossed it with 'Cosmic Purple' just to get the germination percentage up.

The germination is a lot better now but I have spent the last couple of seasons selecting back to dark purple/black to the core. Cosmic purple has a yellow core.

The colour seems to be getting a lot better. I dug up 75 carrots and only had to bin three for yellow or white cores and five for having a thin yellow ring around the core.
Hopefully I won't have any light cores at all next season.

 I am also selecting for purple foliage and pink flowers.

Too bad the dark purple flesh stains everything from your hands to the benchtop. At least the dark purple pigment is full of nutritional flavonoids. At least the flavour is good and it doesn't loose its colour too easily when cooking.

 The worst thing about this variety is that it is so damn sensitive to soil conditions. It is usually a fine shape till it matures and then if the soil conditions are not exactly right the roots get so ugly it is hard to even look at them.
Some of these roots got eaten tonight, they are still tender even like this.

I understand it is an environmental problem but I don't want to have to worry about fixing the soil especially for them so I am selecting away from this trait. I want them to do well in any soil.
Only the best coloured single roots go back in the ground. Out of this lot I have selected 36 to replant.

I have another bed that is younger so I won't be digging them till well into winter.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Slowing down for winter

Sorry it has been a while, there is not much happening besides weeding and harvesting the last of the capsicums. Soon I will be digging my chufa but they are still a week or two off.
We had out first light frost this morning which is quite late but I am glad as my oca is only just tuberising now. It is also late which suggests to me that although day length is the main driver for oca tuberising, there is probably something else at play also.

 With a couple of nice days I decided to make new benches for my parents greenhouse. The old, metal benches were so rusted out that they were falling apart.

It is very easy to make benches, all you need is a few treated pine posts, some other timber to hold up the tops and an electric driver and screws. Getting enough boards to make the tops was the hardest thing and I think I might have to buy some to finish off one of the benches.

They don't take long to do so I thought I had better do them now before winter makes it too cold and wet and I will rather stay indoors, lol.

These benches are 7 metres long and one metre wide and after I finish the last of the three I think I will have racked up a bit of good will. My mother is already pleased and has already loaded one of them up with young cyclamens in pots.
I will make another bench underneath to hold empty pots when I get the materials later.

I am really looking forward to going on my annual trip up north to chat with my seed buyers next month. That trip is basically the cut off between work and my three months off.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Mini capsicums and yacon

Since the rains have come early this year and the frosts are late everything is growing superbly, including the weeds unfortunately. I put some carrots in a bit late but I think that they are still going to be ok.
Until the root crops are dug up to select the best roots for seed, and the tuberous crops are dug up for harvesting late May or early June there really isn't much to blog about. I am sure you don't want me to put up pictures and complaints about weeds for the next month, lol  I think my blogging is going to be a bit more erratic from now until spring.

I took more notice of the mini capsicums this year as I grew more than usual. It is weird how different each colour/variety is.
The red ones are very delicate and break easily both when harvesting and with the wind. It is so easy to break of branches and most of the plants have blown over now. At least they are still bearing strongly.
The chocolate ones did not germinate or grow well this year. They need more fertilising that the others which I didn't do so the fruit is small.
The orange ones bear like crazy and have strong plants but the fruits hold on strongly and it is easy to break branches as you pull them off. And the orange ones have fruit that face upwards so they look great when the bushes are bearing.

 My yacon plants are growing strongly, though they are small as I transplanted them late. They were getting overrun with weeds so I had to dig up the young plants and replant them in clean beds.

 I can't wait till they are ready to harvest as I like eating them, though I usually have way too many tubers and a lot goes to waste.
Yacon is so easy to grow that I am surprised that more people don't know about it. I have noticed that many people in the permaculture community not grow it now though.

The sparrows finally found the sorghum. Luckily it is the end of the crop and I only had a few poor heads on the remaining plants. I will have to cover the two types I plan to grow next year (popping and sugar) as sparrows are quick to learn when food plants are growing each season.

I count myself lucky that the grain was not targeted by birds sooner.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Not much news, just random pics

Apart from picking the last of the capsicums over the next couple of weeks, and shortly the chufa, things are slowing down and there isn't much news. We had a heap of rain yesterday which helped moisten the beds so I won't have to irrigate for a week or so and the temperatures are going down. Everything is getting ready for winter.

The last couple of trays of brassicas will be going out next week and then I will be mostly resting apart from some weeding till the tuberous veggies are dug in June.

 Some posts ago I reported on some seed grown dahlias that I was pretty taken with. They are so lovely and this one is my favourite of the lot. It really stands out and looks so sunny. It makes me smile every time I look at it.

I think dahlias will be a regular crop from now on as they are so pretty. I am not sure yet whether to just collect seeds from them, or offer tubers as well in the future.

I said last post that I was going to wait a couple more weeks before pulling some of my new diploid potatoes. Well.. I got impatient. There were half a dozen plants that were pretty much died down so I pulled them up today.

I was really pleased with the production of them, especially as they are seed grown. They should do even better next season with bigger tubers - though they probably don't have much of a dormancy period so I will have to put them out soon and see how they do through the winter.
This plant has small tubers but two of them had quite large ones and I am thinking that one of them is a tetraploid, only because of the tuber size, I will take more notice when they are growing again.

The spring was so long and cold that I couldn't plant any seed from larger gourds but I did sow some mini bottle and mini dipper gourds and they are just mature now as the plants die down.

As many of you know, I love growing gourds and I hope I can get some big ones in next spring. They are fun to grow and you can make so many things out of them. I love these mini bottles as Christmas tree decorations when painted or carved.
I will leave them on the fence until they are nearly dry before picking as they seem to dry down better that way.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Diploid potatoes, and autumn food plants dying down

We are in the middle of a last run of warm weather it seems with a few days of 25-28 degrees. After tomorrow it should cool down and become more autumn-like.

 Some of my diploid potato plants are starting to die down now. Here are a few of the tubers.

These are traditional potatoes from South America. They don't tend to grow large tubers like common potatoes but have much more diversity in shape, colours and flavour.

In a couple of weeks I should be able to harvest a few plants but I am keeping some in the ground until their seed pods ripen.

My oca plants are starting to tuberise now. I will have to look at my records but it seems to me that they are a bit late this year. I hope the frosts hold off a bit but I expect the first frosts within the next couple of weeks.

Luckily the tubers keep growing while the plants die down from the cold so I will still get tubers but they might not be large this year.

My water chestnuts are also dying down now so I will start harvesting them in a couple of weeks.

I left far too many tubers in the tubs to regrow so they are too crowded. The tubers will probably be small.

Next year I will pull everything out and start again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Green Bosnian melon and oca flowers

After spending a couple of months trying to find someone to come into the business as an equal partner I am about to give up. I haven't had any interest even from tyre kickers so I think there is just not the interest around to get into farming, even though I am offering this partnership for someone even with no money or land. People say "what a great opportunity" but are not willing to move here to a small town. Obviously they don't want it bad enough.
The business has so much room to grow with orders I can't fill and land I can't expand into because I just can't physically do it by myself. Oh well, I will just have to plod on.

 I am so happy that I found a few old seeds of this melon 'Green Bosnian' in the back of the cupboard. I thought I had lost it and was kicking myself, but now I have seeds from a couple of fruits from the one plant that managed to germinate.
This is the best flavoured melon I have ever tasted and since there doesn't seem to be anyone else in the world with seeds any more you can imagine how relieved I am.
The colour of the flesh of these fruits isn't as deep as it should be but that is probably just the genetics of the surviving plant. I may not be able to get the flesh colour back but at least I have the taste.

The one good thing about nearly losing this variety is that my efforts of the the last few years in trying to breed it back has resulted in some pretty amazing new varieties in the works. They are still a few years off though as it takes time to stabilise them.

A few of my oca plants have started to flower, pity it is too late though. I thought I wasn't going to get any flowers this year.
The frost will kill them off before I get any seed which is a bugger as I really wanted seed this year but I will have to wait.

I have managed to get a couple of more heat tolerant oca plants this year with no stem rot either in mulch or bare ground so it is a start in my selection program. I hope that I will get a couple more every year and then I can release them to the public.

Today I got a call from the ABC Radio rural reporter who wants to do an interview with me after Easter and take some pictures for the website. Wow, my communication skill may not be good but she assured me that it will be ok. That should be fun.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Tomato seed saving part two, and sorghum selection

Well it looks like the heat of summer is finally over so I can get into chopping down all the dead corn and planting more winter crops.

Tomato seed saving part two

After letting your tomato mash sit for three days, or four in cooler weather, stirring it a couple of times a day, you will see some foam or a light layer of white mould form on the top. This shows that it is ready for separating the seed out.

Now fill the bucket or bowl with water to make it more liquid. This allows the seed to fall to the bottom more easily.

 Carefully pour out all the pulp leaving the seeds at the bottom.

 You will need to add water and pour off the pulp a few times until the water is clear and the seeds are clean

Use a fine strainer (I use a tea strainer) to strain off the water. Spread the seeds on a plate to dry. Make sure you label the plate if you are cleaning more than one variety of seed.

When dry, pour the seeds into a dry container and label.

Selecting broom sorghum seed

I have started harvesting my broom sorghum and have put the stems away to finish drying so I can then sort out the heads I will be saving seeds from.

Seed I will NOT be saving come from heads like this one at the right. These heads have a central stem within the head and are sparsely seeded. I will also be throwing out seed heads that are short.

Heads that are worth saving seeds from are those that are long, at least as long as my elbow to the tips of my fingers, and those with thick, full seed heads.

I will also be trying to keep as many different colours as possible without having too many of one shade.

To remove the seeds from the stalks I like to use a metal dog comb, or a horse mane comb might work. They work very well and are quick.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Snake beans and saving tomato seeds

I am so tired. I have been weeding non stop but at least I know that it is not too long till the days get colder, the beds will be clean of weeds, and when winter comes I will be able to take a long break.

I have been quite happy with how things have been going so far but that is about to change. The mouse plague that has been predicted because of the wet spring and plenty of grain and other plant foods is arriving. I am noticing lots of mouse holes in the beds and even see them running around during the day. I think I will have to go over to Farm Supplies and get a tub of mouse bait before they start eating all my seedlings.

My 'Three Foot Plus' snake beans are really getting up steam now but for some reason they don't have many seeds in the pods this year. The variety name is a bit misleading as the beans only get to around 60-70-cm rather than a whole three feet but they are still spectacular. They should be picked for eating at around 30cm.

This variety has pretty, bi-coloured seeds.

 I noticed that this year some of the plants have contracted a type of mosaic virus so I can't sell the seeds even if I got enough. This is really strange as they have not shown this disease before and are planted in clean soil.
Luckily they are planted away from the bush red snake beans as I really don't want a virus in those.

The plants are really only affected when young or stressed. They tend to grow out of it as they get older.

Saving tomato seeds

I was asked how I save tomato seeds in the quantity that I do. here is my method:

 Here is a third of a bucket of currant tomatoes. Just pick and place in a bucket then add water to the top of the tomatoes.
Usually I would pick a whole bucket but I didn't have time this morning.

 Now I get my hand in and crush all the tomatoes into a pulp. This step can be done with a food processor with a plastic or dough blade that will not harm the seeds but I have not got around to getting a food processor yet.
I do want one but I always have more important things to spend the money on.
Remember to get all the whole ones that hide at the bottom. This is not so important for larger fruits as they are easier to see.

Now you put them away in a warm place to sit for a few days. This is called the fermenting stage and it doesn't harm the seeds. The fermenting allows the seeds to separate from the pulp.
Make sure to stir them a couple of times a day.

I will update with the rest and more pictures on Saturday when I finish cleaning these seeds.

Remember to place a named tag on the bucket handle if you are doing more than one variety at a time. It is easy to think you will remember which is which, but often you don't. better to be safe than sorry.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Problem corn pollination, and dahlias

I have been so busy lately that I haven't had time to scratch my bum, lol. The weeds are coming up abundantly and I am having to spend every day on my knees weeding.
I think I may have mentioned it on another post but I am planning on putting some sort of weedmat on most of the beds to cut down on the weed problem. I am having trouble finding the type of weedmat that I want. The ones I want are VERY expensive and most don't last many years. I am slowly building up a range of test beds with different type just to see which I like best and last the longest in the sun.

I am definitely not going back to the plastic types as they fly away too easily in the wind and fray badly. I am looking at a few types of geo fabric.

 This year I am growing a new variety of sweetcorn (for me) called 'Early Gem'.
I am not happy with it for a few reasons.
1, the flavour is ok and sweet but nothing to rite home about. Not nearly as good as Anasazi, or even young Painted Mountain.

2, Even though the weather at the time of flowering was perfect, I got very poor pollination. I did notice that the plants didn't produce much pollen so I guess that is the problem.

3, I was trying to mostly dry the corn on the plants this year after having mouse and possum problems in the shed (Hopefully I will have my drying shed built by harvest time next year) but I am finding that all the corn plants are rotting off about 10-30cm from the base as soon as the plants start to die off. This means the plants are falling over and leaving the cobs lying on the ground and in reach of mice. none of my other corn varieties rot off and I have to eventually cut them down after harvest.

I am bringing the cobs in to dry in my hothouse but even with baits scattered around the mice are still getting in and feeding well on the corn.

All in all, I don't like this variety and won't grow it again unless asked. The harvest will be very low and not worth the effort and water I put on it.

I planted some bedding dahlia seed last spring and so far I am very happy with the plants. Every plant has a different colour flower and they look really pretty. I have two small beds of them.

I think I will save the seeds and grow more next year in larger beds. I will also save the tubers from this year to get them growing earlier next spring. I notice the bees are loving the flowers so I should get a fair bit of seed.

Talking of bees, I wasn't expecting any seed berries on my diploid potatoes this year as I didn't hand pollinate them and the honey bees aren't interested, but I notice today that I had a couple of native Blue Banded Bees working them and one plant has berries so maybe I will be able to harvest some seed off them after all.
I dug a few different tubers from those potatoes a week or so ago to taste but most of the plants aren't tuberising yet. They should start soon as they days are getting shorter.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mini capsicums and finger eggplants

Time has really got away from me lately, sorry.

I have been really busy weeding as well as bring in capsicums and corn for seed processing. The weather has cooled down now which is lovely so I have also been getting out some more brassica seeds to fill up some spare beds and it won't be too long now till I will start on planting poppies and broad beans - so busy.
I am looking forward to having lower water bills. With the temps now down to less than 20 degrees I will be irrigating only once a week instead of twice until the winter rains come.

 I have been processing mini capsicums by the bucketload. I grow three colours of mini capsicum - red, orange and chocolate. My few yellow seeds didn't germinate this year and since they can't be imported and I don't know of anyone in Australia who grows them I think I am now just stuck with the three.
I have found this year that an apple corer is just the right size for coring them which makes the process much faster than cutting off the tops with a knife and scooping out the seeds. Next year I must invest in a suitable food processor to make it faster but for now it isn't too hard to do them in the evening when I have nothing else to do.

I love these little capsicums, they are so prolific and cute, as well as being sweet and easy to cook with. You don't have to core and seed them, I just cut the tops off, chop in half and add to dishes, but if you want to, as I have said, an apple corer makes the prep quick and easy.

Although I had trouble germinating them this spring because it was so cold I am happy with the amount of seed I will have from the plants I have.

This year I am growing three colours of 'Fingers' eggplant. These are cute little eggplants that are great for 'gourmet' cooking, or just cut in half and throw on a grill.
I have purple, white and green types. They are all fruiting now so it will not be long till I will be harvesting those.

The plants are tough and only about 90cm tall so I guess they would go well in pots. The seeds are really popular at my market stall so I think many people just want smaller plants for their tiny gardens, As well as the cuteness factor, lol.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Broom sorghum, and my top five tomatoes

After the bit of rain we had a few days ago the busiest time of the year is about to start - weeding. The capeweed and clover are starting to show themselves and I have to spend a fair bit of time each day on my knees weeding.
If you let these weeds go for even a few days they can just get out of control and overwhelming. When I can afford it I will be covering as many beds as I can with geofabric to keep the weed loads down and save the extra work.

 The broom sorghum (or broomcorn) is just starting to ripen and I am harvesting the heads as they do just in case they are found by birds. I do have a net over them but it is not wide enough and on windy days the movement of the plants tends to throw it off.

I love broom sorghum, not only is it handy for making brooms and brushes, it doesn't shed the seeds easily so it makes great features in dried plant arrangements.

Another job I am busy doing is harvesting the seeds from the Winter Luxury Pie pumpkins. These are great tasting and they are also productive.

I have already made pies and soups with them and put mash in the freezer, and given away a heap. Now most of the left overs will be wasted as no-one wants to come and pick up freeby vegetables in this town, especially a pumpkin they are not familiar with. This is a very conservative, retirement town and no-one likes new things.

Here is a list of my five best tasting tomatoes, in no particular order.

Brads Black Heart

This is a large heart shaped, dark tomato which is so delicious that I have to pick them slightly under-ripe and the mice eat them as soon as they are fully ripe. They are sweet but still with a lot of umami flavour.
They are fairly good producers also.

 Chocolate Pear

Sorry about the strange colours, my camera flash went off.
This little, dark, pear tomato has a most unusual, savoury flavour that is hard to describe. It is from japan as far as I have read.
 Wild Currant tomato

This is the most tasty and sweet tomato you will ever eat. I have often mentioned it in my posts so you should know about it now, lol

This is a perfect tomato for kids to forage but I have rarely met an adult who didn't like it either.
Speckled Roman

I love the colour of this tomato just as much as the flavour.
It is meaty and great for sauces as well as fresh eating. Sweet and with a true tomato taste.


For some reason I don't have a picture of this wonderful, large, bi-coloured tomato. It is absolutely delicious and soft with a nice mix of yellow and orange/red marbled skin and flesh and a very sweet and fruity flavour.
I haven't grown it for a few years now so I might have to put it in next year.