Monday, October 9, 2017

So busy planting and digging for spring

I am still busy planting my spring crops. Today I direct sowed some beds of capsicums, sweet sorghum and beans. I was going to leave the beans a bit longer but the temps are getting higher and I want them to be well established before the soil dries out. I think I will also start on the the okra and other warmer weather crops.

 I have a little bed of self sown 'Camo Oakheart' lettuce. I am not fond of this lettuce mix even though it looks spectacular because it is always bitter, no matter what I do to it or when it is planted. I will save some seed though as some weird people actually light lightly bitter salad greens.

It is so pretty that I always have to stop and look at them when I walk past the bed.

The Chines Mahogany (Toon) trees are shooting now. The shoots have a lovely, savoury flavour that goes particularly well with egg dishes but I also like to nibble them while I am working.

I think they would also be lovely in stir fries and perhaps in savoury salads. The trees are supposed to sucker badly so I am being careful what I plant near them as I won't be able to dig. They are not showing any sign of suckering yet but they are only young.

Mine are seed grown and have reddish shoots but I would love to get a couple of trees with the bright pink new growth that many people like about these trees in spring.

Everything is growing so fast with the nice weather... well, the grass and weeds at least. I will have to mow the walkways again tomorrow.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Yay, time to plant and the weather is perfect

The weather is warming up, actually a little warmer than expected, and my blocks are finally dry enough to dig. I am exhausted after spending much of the day with the rotary hoe, and planting. After doing nothing for the past three months or so even a little bit of physical work is very tiring.

It feels so nice to get out and actually get things done, and the weather is looking so nice that I decided to plant my corn a month early. As long as the temps keep up it will be nice to be able to harvest the ripe ears without having to race the mould causing dampness and cool of autumn.

I managed to plant 5 x 40m rows of oca as well as a couple of rows of arracacha.

I hope the oca flowers this year as I really want to harvest seed. It didn't last year and it flowers at different times each year. Not sure why, probably has to do with the temps or humidity.

I think I may have lost all my yacon because of the swampy conditions. It is a shame as I had some new seedlings, which are very rare. If any do survive I will have to start overwintering them in pots rather than in the ground.

I will be very busy in the next two weeks as I have a lot more to plant this year than last. My cucurbits will all go in this week but I might hold off another couple of weeks for the stuff that likes warmer conditions like beans, eggplant, okra and sorghum.

I still have a lot of digging to go but it will get done quickly now that I can walk on the ground.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Still waiting *sigh*

After more rain and the blocks turning back into mud I still haven't been able to get out the rotary hoe to dig up the beds for spring planting. I am hoping that a few more days will see everything firm enough to give it a go so I don't think I will be behind, not like last year when it was wet for much longer.

I should be able to get some of my cucurbits out soon at any rate as they seem to be able to cope with a bit of cold as long as there isn't frosts.

 Just to see what they are like I bought a chook run to cover with insect mesh to make hand pollinating easier. It was easy to put together, all I have to do now is get the mesh on.

If you are into DIY though, I think it would be cheaper and last longer to build one out of treated posts. Great for a backyarder though.

My poor oca are telling me that it is well and truely time to get planted out. I should be able to do that in a few days.

I am going to grow a lot of oca this year and do quite a bit of testing to see which ones do best in the open ground. I will also try to get more seed - I just hope the weather is good enough to get them to flower this season.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nearly planting time, yay

Finally, the nights are starting to warm up and we won't have many frosts to go. I have a few trays of cucurbits ready to plant and in a couple of weeks I will start sowing most of my other seeds.

 I had forgotten how wet our winters and early spring gets after the years of drought, so I am going to have to rethink my planting. Everything is still too wet to walk on and most of the plants I have in are rotting.
I think I will have to stop trying to grow biennials that have to go through the winter like carrots and brassicas - here is a pic of red Brussels sprouts rotting in the mud.

It is going to reduce my planned income but can't be helped.

My native mountain pepper bushes are still holding onto their berries so I harvested them to put in packets. The have more fruit on them than ever before and I am thinking of putting in a couple of rows just to sell the leaves and dried berries to local restaurants. At least they do well in the cold and wet - though they grow best under shade so that is an extra expense.

From now on I will be posting more updates because I will be busy working. It is always hard having to sit on my hands over the cold months.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Just a quick update

It is still far too wet to get on my blocks to do any work, except for a sunny day a few days ago after no rain for a few days. I did manage to do a heap of mowing without getting the lawnmower bogged, just.

 I know there is still a heap of frosts to go this month, and this winter the frosts have been colder than for the past few decades, but I am so impatient that I just had to get out a put a few seeds in trays.

Well, if they don't germinate or get burnt off I can still sow later.

I have been looking at my seed stores and taking out the seeds I am going to plant this spring. Writing out tags, and sorting is fun. Sometimes it is hard though to choose what to plant each year.

When the weather and temps improve and I have more to write about I will update, this time next month I will be very busy.

Monday, August 21, 2017

I'm getting sick of winter - but I do have a new fence

I am really getting sick of winter, just as I do every year at this time. I can't start sowing seed in trays for another couple of weeks and it is still six weeks away till I can start planting outside. It is hard to stay patient.

It is far too wet to do anything outside so I just have to go out occasionally and look at the boggy, waterlogged ground and hope that the few things I do have in the ground don't rot before the soil dries up a bit.

Just another few weeks, I keep telling myself.

On the plus side, I do have a brand new fence on one side of the property. That will stop the sheep getting through, and they put rabbit netting on so that will fix the rabbit problem, on that side anyway.

Now I just have to find enough money to do the other sides, and then hope the owner doesn't want to sell the place in the future before I am able to buy it, in which case I will have wasted the money.

My bed of 'Island Gem' lettuces are doing well and starting to head. They have been a bit slow because of the cold and wet but they still look good. I love this mix of mini heading lettuces, they look great with their colours, spots and stripes, and they are never bitter.

I do have a small bed of 'Camo Oakheart' lettuces in also but even though they look fantastic they just go bitter all the time, and I hate bitter lettuces.

I think I have posted about these before but they are quite ornamental. These are 'Singara' rat-tail radishes. The pods are much longer than the 'normal' rat-tails you can buy here, and they seem to be tenderer and better flavoured. They are definitely not as harsh.
Pity I just haven't been able to take good pictures that show the pods off well.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Winter update

Well, there still isn't much happening for now, and it is still a month before it is time to even start trays of seedlings, so I don't have much to write about.

Today was sunny so I got out and started weeding this bed of mini lettuce. There is only a few beds with anything in them so weeding is not such a big job right now. I am sure the weeds are waiting for a bit of warmth to start growing like triffids.

The only other crops I have in are the overwintering potatoes I grew from seed last season, some beets and the perennials like rhubarb and asparagus.

I am planning to put so much in this spring though and it will be amazing.
Since the ground isn't too boggy right now I put in some 10ft posts so I can put bird netting over the sorghum. Next year I will put up shadecloth and plant oca under them.

Eventually I will have a few of these shadehouses which will take the place of the removable row covers. It will be much more enjoyable to be able to walk and work under the shadecloth more easily.
Another plus is that they will cut a lot of the wind.
The neighbours and I pulled down the boundry fence because the posts were rotting off so I saved some of the good pieces of old rabbit netting and dug it in on the fence at the front of the property where a lot of the rabbits are getting in.

It will be good to eventually get the whole property rabbit proof but at least this is a start, and the neighbour has agreed to go halves in putting rabbit netting on the shared fence too so that will save me a little, even though it puts the price of the whole fence up.
I just have to hope that nothing happens to make the owner sell the property before I have a hope of buying it as it will be annoying to spend all the money on the place and have it wasted.

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.