Displaying items by tag: Gardening

    Thursday, 09 July 2020 11:11

    Winter Harvests, & Winter Beginnings

    It might seem like winter is a bad time to harvest things, particularly to those who live in colder places. Now, while I freely admit that Canberra isn't likely to snow very often, it regularly gets as low as -4oC, and occasionally even -8oC. Fortunately, we haven't quite gotten that low just yet (and we're now into July) so the late autumnal harvests are now finally getting to the stage that we can clean those up, and tend to the garden for some winter sowing. What?! Winter!... Have I gone mad? Almost certainly, dear reader, but not necessarily in this particular instance.

    Here is our most recent bounty... a few dozen Kiwi Fruit! The vines which have wandered their way up the cherry tree have been surprisingly effective at confusing the Cherry Slugs, and so we had our first ever successful cherry harvest back in Summer time. Now winter is upon us, and the Kiwi vines have died off, we hopped back up to the cherry tree to pick our... Kiwi fruit.

    You might recognise the colander as the same one as the one holding the cherries in an earlier post. If you didn't, that's ok, I'm sure you have much more important things to think about.

    We ate a few, but like all things when the harvest hits you in full force, once a year.. we had to preserve the remainder. So Wren made some Kiwi syrup, Kiwi sauce, and Kiwi jam.. and the list almost certainly goes on from there... Fancy a kiwi-flavoured indulgence? It's weird but it goes well with Quark cheese on toast!

    Kiwi's aren't the only things that are coming up. We've harvested some "Purple Congo" potatoes when we were redoing some raised beds. (They really are purple) and our spinach is doing surprisingly well. The more we cut it, the more it seems to grow. Frankly, it's not the most exciting crop ever, but apparently my rate of consumption is no match for this plant's growth rate... and I can eat a lot. :-)

    Now what?

    Wren and I are particularly fond of berries. We have blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, and our entire front yard is a giant crop of strawberries. Which interestingly, is yet another plant that fruits in both summer and winter. However, we adore a rather unusual type of strawberries the most, and that is the "Alpine Strawberry". It has tiny fruit, but it packs all the flavour of larger strawberries into that tiny package... so if you live in a cooler area and have a sweet tooth, and want to make the best strawberry-infused beverage, pastry, jam, etc... you definitely want to give these little nuggets of pure joy a go. If you're anything like us... they won't often make it inside... let alone into a cake. Cut up and infused in tea, the alpine strawberry makes a healthy, sweet addition to the beverage.

    Alpine strawberries must be sown in winter-like conditions. The springtime "thaw" is the threshold that triggers germination. If you plant them in spring, and there's little-to-no frost left... they will just rot away. If you're running that late, put the seeds in the freezer, for at least a few weeks, then plant them... preferably in early spring.

    Now is also a good time to start planting raspberry seeds, in trays, and keep them in the dark. They take around 3 months or so to germinate, so they need to get started in the cold weather. There are plenty of good sites online to guide your sowing and growing efforts.

    I suppose the point of this blog post is to hopefully inspire you to see your garden beyond the harvests of spring, summer, and autumn. Now is also an excellent time to start cleaning up those leaves, tidying up and preparing beds for winter and spring sowing. However, I do recommend that you do these things when the sun is out, and definitely in the warmer parts of the day.

    Happy gardening!


    Published in Gardening
    Tagged under
    Tuesday, 26 November 2019 09:50

    What would you wait 14 years for?

    It seems like a pretty serious question, doesn't it? 14 years is most of a childhood. When we look at ourselves today, can we even imagine how we each will change in the next 14 years? It's roughly one sixth of a life... unless you happen to be my favourite 105 year old... who has lived through two world wars, with the depression in between, the first Australian radio station, TV, the first transistor, and all the technology and drama afterwards. The stories she tells, and the "Aussie battler" sense of humour is both inspiring, and humbling....but back to the question at hand....

    Wren bought her home in 2004 "off the plan". It was completed late that year, and after she moved in, she planted two trees in early 2005... one apricot, and one cherry. (Don't worry, she chose a variety of cherry that does require a second tree to fruit). Now the trees are fully grown, and the apricot has been nigh on bullet-proof. It produces an average of 30-50Kg of edible fruit a year... factoring some loss to the wildlife like possums, bats and birds. Some years it's less, and other years been enough to bend branches to the ground. Let's just say that we're experienced apricot jam makers... when we finally get sick of the fresh fruit. However, the cherry tree has been a completely different story...

    This cherry tree has been an epic saga, of dogs digging it up, pests, leaf curl, rain damage, storm damage, cockatoo damage, and almost every other dilemma you can imagine. Yet Wren has persisted, and with a few years of my help, we've managed to beat back one problem after another, until the problems are either eradicated, or substantially reduced. Now please note that we do NOT spray chemicals in our garden, and this choice means that the typical "kill everything with spray" isn't an option, so it requires a bit more thought and care.

    Lessons learned the hard way:

    1. Pet management is needed for younger plants:

    Wren spent years fostering homeless dogs. Now as you'd imagine, many dogs who come from broken homes have issues, poor training, and some long-established bad habits. Wren mentioned that dogs frequently would dig up the garden, rending garden and trees alike decimated. The back lawn looked like a mini moonscape with holes, divots, and other ankle-destroying landscape features. I shudder to think how many hoses and hose attachments Wren bought over the years. Fencing off trees is something I would recommend if you have digging/chewing-prone pets... whether that's dogs, chickens or something else entirely.

    2. Soil health leads to plant health:

    Canberra is not renowned for its high quality soils. In fact, in most suburban areas, there's a heady mix of clay, rock, and builders fill that lies mere centimetres from the surface. Wren dropped this cherry tree directly into this soil, and I'm going to be honest here... she wasn't exactly gung-ho on the watering and soil conditioning front. It survived, but I wouldn't say that it thrived.

    In 2017, I did a Permaculture course, and using my new found knowledge, decided to turn the largely unused lawn space into a garden for herbs, vegetables, and fruit. So I carpet mulched the lawn to kill it, then added mixed compost, manure, and straw, on top of that, and then layered another layer of mulch for effect. I then ran several lines of "dripper hose" along the length of the former grass areas to encourage soil moisture, worms and microbial activity. Six months later, the trees showed a visible sign of improvement, namely in surprisingly rapid growth, beyond what we had seen in previous years. A healthier plant is less likely to suffer from disease, or if it does get one, the effect is mitigated, slowed, and perhaps more limited to a smaller section of the tree.

    3. Pest management instead of pest eradication:

    This tree has suffered from "Cherry slugs" for many years. Flies lay their eggs on the leaves in early summer, then the "slugs" eat the leaves until there's literally nothing left, and then grow into flies, mate, and the eggs fall to the ground as they're shed in autumn, they lay dormant there until spring, some slugs crawl their way back up to the tree, or were laid in the tree already.. and the cycle starts itself over again. By allowing our kiwi fruit vine to grow up the tree, planting lemon verbena and garlic at ground level, and spraying "Neem oil" extract on the tree, the biodiversity of the leaves from various plants, along with the strong fragrance of the neem, verbena and garlic, confuse the pests and make it harder for them to find the tree. There's a lot of merit to separating trees with different plants in between, and the results are not only less problems, but staggered harvests, easier management, and of course, diversified crop yields.

    Watering the ground instead of spraying leaves has not only reduced water use, but also avoided some diseases like leaf curl, or at least, substantially slowed it's progress. Some fungus or mould based problems are spread by dripping water from one leaf to another. Keeping the water off the leaves while watering the roots provides moisture without the associated problems of foliage watering.

    4. Netting really is essential:

    You might think that animals might leave you something, but for many years, the cherries were just starting to ripen. We'd go to work with a lot of cherries on the tree, almost ready to pick, and when we came home, we'd have literally, nothing left but "pips on sticks". I freely admit that I've spent some quality time from 5am-7am sitting on the top of a ladder, effectively working as a fruit-paid scarecrow to ensure the birds don't eat my crops once they've found a hole in the netting, or on trees that I haven't got enough netting for.

    There are a lot of ways to net a tree, but for fully grown fruit trees that are definitely not dwarf varieties, a 10m x 10m net may not be enough, and that's the biggest one I've found that's commercially available. The tightness of the weave is also important. I prefer as tight a weave as possible. Preferably 10mm x 10mm square holes or smaller. This eliminates small birds who I've seen dive through a 30mm x 30mm hole in the net to get to my raspberries. Tighter weaves are also less likely to get caught on branches, and reduces the chance of branches growing through the net over time.

    The timing of putting the netting can also be important. I prefer to let the flowers be pollinated by bees and birds (as well as any pests eaten by birds) while they're out in spring. I leave the netting off entirely during this phase. However, while the fruit is still green, I'll try to net the tree then to discourage problems like "early tasters", or fruit destruction by cockatoos.

    If you need a useful tool to put netting up, I recommend Ham's cheap "net putter-upper-er". It's basically one of those extendable painting poles, with a cheap roller attachment screwed on to the end, but with the roller cut off so that there's just a 50-100mm straight piece of metal at the end, and I round off the cut tip to reduce the chance of it catching the net or on anything else. You simply stick the pointy end through the holes in the net, and lift it up and over branches. If you must do it from within the tree, you can poke the pole up and through the branches, and work the net over one branch after another. Just remember to ensure that have enough slack to pull the net over, as the pole may give you a lot of reach, but it also gives the net a lot of leverage to work against you. If the net gets caught, you may not be able to move the net further.

    5. Regular watering does NOT mean over-watering:

    It may seem odd, but watering once a week, even when the tree is fruiting, is better than watering every single day. If you over water trees, the fruit can split when the water content in the fruit exceeds the fruit skin's ability to grow. I strongly urge you to water with a good soak for an hour, then leave it alone for a week. This is much more similar to sporadic rainfall. By allowing the soil to dry out a bit before the next watering will reduce moulds, fungi, mildew and other diseases while giving the tree a regular supply of water, softening soils, and encouraging soil life to aerate the ground, decompose sources of nutrients, and manage potential soil-born issues by increasing diversity and therefore, competition.

    Over watering can result in increased problems such as fruit drop, cracked fruit, plant disease, lower yields. Again, I'd recommend using a watering system to maintain "watering discipline".

    And the result, after 14 years? Is this!

    I don't claim to be a "natural" green thumb. I just try to learn from my mistakes, to try different solutions until something works, and get my hands dirty on a reasonably regular basis. A fruit tree may seem expensive when you see a price tag of $50-100, but the harvested yield of just one season once the tree is mature can outweigh that many times over. I paid $15 per kilogram for a box of cherries grown in Young last week to bring to a birthday party because these weren't ready. There's probably 3-4 Kg of cherries shown in this shot alone. For extra points, can you spot the kiwi fruit leaves in this image?

    So there you have it, and I should mention that these cherries are edible now, but will get a bit of extra sweetness in the coming days. If you haven't tried fruit toast made with fresh or dried cherries, you are truly missing out, and I encourage you to try it.

    Never give up, and eventually you'll learn enough to succeed. Happy gardening, and happier harvesting!


    Published in Gardening
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