Thursday, July 13, 2017

Getting ready for spring

There is still not much happening at the moment so you will have to forgive the very sporadic blogging.


I know that it is still quite a while till I start planting in October but since I am adding so much more growing area this year I have already started mowing a few more acres so I can get the grass sprayed and beds made.

I will not be able to afford the irrigation to this area but if the season is mild I should be able to get crops of watermelon and corn off it as they don't need much water.
The main problem will be trying to destroy all the crab grass and couch which is so hard to kill - and of course the rabbits and kangaroos coming up from the river nearby.


 I have a few seed grown rhubarb plants that I sowed just because I had some seed left over. Most of them will be pulled out later as they are not good enough but I notice that one plant has these pretty, feathery flowers and so I am leaving it just to see what the flowers do. Rhubarb flowers are tightly packed as they come out and this one just caught my eye.


This year I am growing a new variety of rat-tailed radish called 'Singara'. The pods are very long and more mild and tender than the other variety that I normally grow.

I am impressed with the flavour as it does not seem to be as harsh as my usual one.



Friday, June 30, 2017

Work trip and rainforests, part 2

While I was in Queensland I had a few days to spare over the weekend so Alf from Eden Seeds offered to show me some great rainforest walks. This is temperate to sub-tropical rainforest which has very different vegetation to our cool rainforests or temperate forests around here.
We went on two walks, one more dangerous than the other.

As I walked a leaf from this plant dropped down in front of me... and I nearly pooped myself. For those of you who live in a country besides Australia you may not realise that we have plants that are just as dangerous as some of our animals.
This is a stinging tree. The stinging hairs on the leaves are so agonising that animals and people have been known to throw themselves off cliffs to escape. The pain also lasts for weeks or months. Why would anyone go with crude pliers and screwdrivers when a better torture method would be these leaves - or our Irukandji jellyfish.

This terribly spiky vine is called 'Wait-a-while' or 'Lawyer' vine because if you get caught up in it you will be there for a while trying to get free. Many people don't realise that this is the vine used in basket weaving. As the older parts of the vine die the bark and spines slough off and it is smooth and gathered for use.







It always saddens me to think of all the massive trees that were logged in the past two hundred years. The trees of this area are HUGE both in girth and height.

Some are hollowed out by fire or rot but many here have had a strangler fig grow around them and the original tree has died of old age and rotted away, just leaving the fig. It takes around 200 years for a fig to completely cover a mature tree.

Birds drop a seed high in the tree and over time the figs roots grow down to the ground and thicken and meld together.



 This tree on the right is called the 'Wishing tree'.
Nearly all the huge rainforest tree species make these huge buttress roots to stabilise them in the shallow soil against cyclones.

One of the walks we went on was 12km carved from the side of the cliffs. The side of the walk was all vertical drops for 50 metres or more and very narrow so you have to walk single file all the way and there were no safety barriers or ropes.
You don't just push any fear of heights aside, you beat it down with a heavy, pointy stick.

There were heaps of rocks and roots on the track so you had to concentrate on your feet the whole way. At least if you trip your death would be fast and painless.

Last month a man didn't make it to the end of this walk and even though there were searchers they never found his body or where he fell off. Helicopters or drones are no use here with the trees.



I wish my camera could capture depth better so you can see just how dangerous and steep this track is.
















The track is like this the whole way, only around 40cm wide so if you meet someone coming the other way you have to try to find a spot with a few extra cm and hold onto a small tree to allow them to pass.

It is terrifying, the drop off is straight down vertical and you can't see the bottom. In some sections like this one there are very tall trunks of palms so if you fall you have the added bonus of smashing into trees as you fall and making an even bigger mess of your body.





Here is a picture of a strangler fig that has half swallowed a tree. You can see how the roots thicken around the original tree.
Although many people think that these figs kill trees, and they probably do to young ones, they are so slow growing that it is more likely that the original trees die of old age before the fig completely takes over.

When the original tree has rotted away what you see is an old, huge fig that is hollow in the centre where the old tree was.








Thursday, June 29, 2017

Work trip and rain forests, part 1

Well I have just got back from my 11 day trip up north to drop off some seed and visit my seed buying customers and a few other potential customers for the future. I learned a lot about the current state of the industry and although there are some problems (mainly government regulation and global warming) there is a lot of room for opportunities as long as things are done right.

The weather was clear and warm for the whole trip which was a bit of a change from last year, and I managed to miss some of the long, narrow, very slow mountain roads that I found myself on last time.

After the cyclone a few weeks ago there was a lot of road damage and land slips from the heavy rain (more rain in two days that I get in two years) so there were a lot of delays with road works for the whole trip.

 I seem to have only taken pics of the mountains with settled valleys but there is a lot of rugged mountains with no houses or cleared land also.

The most frustrating problem with travelling in these areas is that you can't get anywhere fast. If you want to go somewhere over the next valley 10kms away you have to go right around on these tiny, narrow roads, negotiating two way traffic on one lane roads, with land slips thrown in. You end up driving two hours and 60km to go just 10km as the crow flies.
You have to be patient, or have a helicopter.


The great dividing range is beautiful and vast, running a huge line down the East coast of Australia. I am surprised that there are few roads through it, and those that are are so narrow.

At one point I found myself accidently on the wrong side of the range and had to drive nearly 100km over the mountains to get to the other side, it was so tiring. You can't even look at the scenery as you have to concentrate so hard on the road.


The sides of the roads are mostly sheer drops and in Queensland there are no barriers so you have to be very careful when you have to try and let another car coming the other way pass.
Last year a lady didn't return home and searchers took two days to find out where she ran off the road where I was driving. She was found alive which is not what often happens. Who knows how many cars and bodies are at the bottoms of these cliffs.

There is a rule to follow when you meet a car coming the other way - the car on the 'up' cliff must squeeze over and make room for someone on the 'drop' side as they are at the most risk. You have to look ahead when you can as there are not many places you can squeeze over.



I loved the trip though, even if it seems like I didn't. I gave myself a few extra days so I didn't have to hurry and I wish I had enough money to stay away another week.

I met a lot of really nice and interesting people.

Tomorrow I will write about my walks in the rainforests.














Friday, June 16, 2017

Digging yacon and Chinese artichokes

We are having some great, sunny days lately so I have been getting out to do a heap of weeding and tidying up for winter. The last of the tuberous crops to go up to Qld with me have been dug so I am ready to go, well, as soon as I clean up my van and put the seed in. Must get on to that today.

This will be my last post for a couple of weeks as I will be on the road and I probably won't be on the internet much.

 Yesterday I dug up the Chinese artichokes. I only had a few plants in after losing most of them last year due to bad management. I had them growing in a bed where I hadn't got rid of the crab grass properly. By the time the artichokes started growing the crab grass was well up and growing strongly so I couldn't get rid of it. The artichokes really don't compete well with running grasses.

Even with the few plants I had and not watering them well last summer they did produce good sized tubers. This is not a good producing crop but it is fun.
You can put the tubers in salads and stir fries for a bit of crunch, and they look amazing.








I also got into digging up the yacon. The eating tubers were great this year, and quite big, though I was a bit disappointed with the small amount of growing sets that were produced. At least I had enough to replant and to fill the order I have for them.

I will let the tubers sweeten and take them to the markets next month.





The tubers were quite crowded and I think this was because the soil amendments like lime and fertiliser have not yet sunk down low into the soil so the roots have stayed around the top of the soil rather then going down.

This will remedy itself over time as rain washes the good stuff deeper into the soil but I will have to keep an eye on it. The roots really don't like the severe natural acidity of my soil. I have also noticed this in some of my other vegetables.

As the soil gets improved deeper I will get better results every year.

















Saturday, June 10, 2017

Digging the Arracacha

With only a week to go till I leave on my trip up north I have started digging some of my tuberous vegetables to take. I have beds of yacon, arracacha, mauka and arrowroot to get through, clean and pack for the trip. Due to the wet at the end of last year most of the plants rotted and died so I don't have near as many as I would have liked.

 A couple of posts ago I told you about a couple of aracacha plants that I dug up to divide for replanting. They had heaps of top growth and no roots.

Well the one I dug up today only had a few small roots but at least it was enough for a meal. I had forgotten how tasty they are, like thick, sticky potato with a flavour I can't really describe and also a bit sweet. I will leave a couple of plants in the ground for another year to see what the roots do.

The roots must be cooked (I boil mine) as they are too hard to eat when raw.

The plants grew bigger this year than they ever have done before. It is probably the soil but I will have to work on the optimal conditions for not only top growth, but also root formation.

The leaves are a bit too stringy to eat though they are not poisonous.

This is a pic from last year but I decided to show it again because I forgot to go out and take some photos today.

This is how the main part of the plant grows, the roots have been pulled off at this stage.
The main stem produces smaller stems which you can cut or break off and replant.
Before planting you need to cut the bottoms of the cuttings a few times to encourage more roots to form.

Although you can dig the plant every winter if your season is long enough, you should try to leave the plants in the ground for two years for bigger roots. The plants will die down a bit to a lot over winter depending how cold it gets but will bounce back in spring.







Sunday, June 4, 2017

Selecting white beetroot for seed, and frosty mornings

The frosts were late this year but they are making up for it now. We have had some fairly severe frosts the last few mornings which has finished the yacon and capsicums.


 This is what the yacon looks like now. I will be digging the tubers next week ready for sale. I really like yacon but I grow too much to eat all the tubers. I am really disappointed that I can't get people to buy them, or even take them for free.
Oh well, just like the melons, pumpkins and capsicums I will be throwing out a lot of good food.
 I have just mowed another acre, well, 3/4 of an acre once I take out the shed and yard. I am happy to expand some more and corn will go in here next spring. I wish I could expand faster but until I can find a working business partner I will just have to do what I can.
I have had a couple of bites but no-one who is interested enough to actually come and chat and see the business. It is hard to find anyone who wants to move to a small town like Casterton, even though the business has so much potential.

 Today I got to pulling the white beetroot to select the best roots to replant for seed. I was happy to see that I had to do very little roguing, just about all the roots were a good shape and size.

I sometimes see white beetroot and sugar beet called the same thing in seed catalogues but they are different. White beets are rounder and less sweet that sugar beet, and less ugly.


White beets are said to have none of the chemical that makes red beets taste like dirt to some people. I love beetroot so I don't know for sure but I should test that out one day.














Here is a pic in the middle of planting the selected roots into a new 20m bed. They will quickly recover and be healthy plants by spring when they will bolt to seed.

Today was very cold and frosty in the morning but lovely and sunny this afternoon so I took advantage of the sun to get out and get a heap of work done.

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.