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.