Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on Asparagus

I have had many asparagus discussions this month and realised one of the things I didn’t cover was growing it from scratch.
I grew my asparagus from seed and it took about 2 years to be big enough to pick although I really didn’t start picking in earnest until the third year. It grows easily from seed and will readily self seed here. Tino on gardening Australia recommended weeding out the female plants but I have found no need to do this and find the size of the spears on both male and female plants quite acceptable.
Plant asparagus seeds in warm weather in pots or direct seeded.
Asparagus crowns can be bought from nurseries and are available in the winter. They are 2-3 year old plants that have been lifted an divided and these will produce a crop for you in a shorter time frame than growing from seed.
Plants can live for 20 years or more so the bed needs good preparation and plants need at least annual feeding and will benefit from mulching. Watering once a week should be sufficient for established asparagus.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nematode talk

I was at a community garden workshop run by Janet Millington and Sonia from transition towns - Sunshine coast on the weekend. In our conversations nematodes came up as a major issue in alice Springs. Many people didn't know what they were or how to keep them out so i thought i'd go through it here
Nematodes are microscopic unsegmented worms. There are many types - some are helpful in th egarden and some aren't. The ones we are talking about here are ectoparasites of plants roots. They latch on to the fine roots of plants and start sucking the goodies out. in the process of doing this the roots develop callus or nodules but gradually many of the fine roots are lost. this reults in plants not being able to take up minerals or water. Plants with nematodes will not crop heavily and will wilt easily in the summer. When you pull them out of the ground they will have distorted nodulated roots and very few fine roots. these nodules are almost succulent and when they dry out they are harder to recognide so try to do this with fresh roots.

What do you do about them?

First you need to establish that you have them and the description above should help you to do this. Plants luke tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini are very susceptile so if they are not doing well you may have to investigate further.

NOTE: some people may muse that if you have nematode problems your soil must be badly balanced, have an underlying problem etc - so you can solve those problems and you don't need to worry about nematodes. If there is such a solution i have not found it, but even if there was it would probably be a whole lot more work. and in my experience this is a turn off for people wanting to grow vegies so much better to keep them out and make your life a whole lot easier.

If you don't have them you want to keep them out! you do this by observing some quarantine rules in your garden.
TOOLS: If you or anyone lese brings in garden tools or wheelbarrows into your garden make sure they are washed - preferably not on your property. all dirt should be removed - wire brushes etc.

PLANTS: Don't accept plants from anyone that have been dug up from someones garden. Even plants that haven't been dug up may have been sitting on soil or have contact with soil. Take cuttings and root them yourself or take seeds and grow them yourself.

MANURE: folklore has it that if you pick up horse manure from the racetrack you may end up with nematodes. They way this probably happens is that when the horse owners pick up th emanure in yards, they also pick up some dirt and this ends up in a manure pile. If you have no choice compost the manure you get in an open heap that heats up to high temperatures for a number of days.

cow manure from the stock yards is a good choice. the cows are confined in yards which no vegetation grows, thus there is no opportunity for nematodes to breed. the cows are fed hay and produce manure which is then scraped up. You should always try to compost your manure anyway to get a more balanced product that is better for plants - and it kills nematodes and other pathogens.
My experience and that of others is that we have had no indication of anyone bringing nematodes home in cow poo
having said that - bringing anything into you yard has some risk attached.

If you already have them what do you do?
there are two ways of coping with nematodes. one way is to manage them with lots of organic matter, compost and green manure crops. you can still produce some reasonable crops of most things.
Your other strategy which you also might try is to find vegetables that are resistant to nematodes and grow more of these. Eg instead of trying to grow silverbeet - grow Amaranth in the summer and kale in the winter. Grow snake beans instead of green beans and grow sweet potato instead of normal potatoes. I have found that more often tropical vegatbles will be resistant and vegetables that have not been highly domesticated - although okra is an exception. ( you can obtain lists of more nematode resistant crops)
Asparagus is unaffected by nematodes - so make sur eyou have some of it!
i use both of these strategies and still gave a productive garden. In the summer i can grow sorghum as a green manure crop an dthen plant into it(after its dug in) in Jan or feb.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rabbit on the menu

Breeding rabbits for meat in Alice Springs is not a straightforward thing. Rabbits hate the heat and although they live here in the wild, they live in nice cool burrow systems. The meat rabbit breeds are also appreciably larger than your average field rabbit – and because of this extra sized would find it a bit harder to keep cool.
The old Greek man who bought my first rabbits off in Adelaide warned me. “you need to have a new male each year – they die of heart attack in the hot weather”.
He was pretty close to right – I did manage to get one male through two summers but he was touch and go and very crusty at times (ants trying to eat his genetalia). I had to nurse him through several bouts of heat.
The females seem to fair better – maybe due to being smaller and carrying less fat (the fat goes in the breast milk).
Luckily I have located one lady who breed meat rabbits in Alice and we can swap offspring to keep our breeding genetics strong.

Why to I keep rabbits?
They are in my blood I suppose. I grew up trapping shooting and eating rabbits and my grandad would also process them for sale in pubs. We were eating rabbit all the time – especially when we went to granddads. He would even smoke little ones in his home smoker. Once grandad got too old he kept a few wild rabbits which he would breed up in cages in his back yard. As he became less active in the vegie patch he turned the garden over to Lucerne for the rabbits. Grandad’s brother also keeps rabbits now at 80 plus years old.

During our travels in Europe rabbits kept popping up. In Italy they were always on the menu and we once mistakenly stopped by what we thought was a rustic old bakery with all the bread lined up outside. It turned out that the residents of the town would stop by on their way down the hill and throw out their stale bread to feed the rabbits which were stacked up inside in cages.
In Switzerland the brother of our friend in alice bred rabbits because meat was so expensive in that country.

Rabbits are also a good part of a sustainable system. There are a lot of tings rabbits will ravenously devour that chickens tend to ignore. Big lumps of carrots, cabbage, bread. They will eat all of your broccoli plants that are going to seed including the roots. In short they help to use up more household waste and turn it into useful manure.
You can also feed them a range of garden plants. Saltbush is a favourite and they seem to like all types. Eremophila longifolia is also favoured. I am trying to grow some tagasaste for them as well because of its high protein content.
My friend in Naracoorte fed his rabbits almost completely from Tagasaste (tree Lucerne) which was available in his area.
Even if you fed rabbits totally from pellets, it would still be cheaper than buying rabbits – significantly cheaper. It is my aim however to source as much of their food as possible from local sources. Each weekend I return from the garden plot with a garbage bin full of weeds and plant waste, of which they happily demolish.

Once you get the animals up to breeding age – which can be 6 months for some breeds – breeding is fairly straightforward. But…there is still management required. This includes having a number of cages. Cages for nesting mothers, lone fathers and babies which need small mesh to contain them. You don’t want 8 young rabbits running around in the same cage as a mother who is about to nest. You also don’t want the father the mate with the mother soon after birth because she can get worn out.
They take about I month to gestate. Close to the time of birth the mother will start moving around material for nesting and she’ll make a down lined nest with the fur pulled from her belly and legs. Once she has the babies she will only feed them a couple of times in a 24hr period and will appear to ignore them the rest of the time. This is so she doesn’t attract predators to the nest – hares also do this.

My last litter had 14 babies and this is about the upper limit. only 13 of these survived and there were a few runts amongst them that didn't get enough milk

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

spring flush

I'm happy to be home when the Asparagus is at its peak! I have had this asparagus for about five years and I get more asparagus and bigger spears each year. I got the seeds from seedsavers and they were called “Brocks Imperial” (I’ll try to save some more seed this year). Needless to say I’ll probably keep growing this variety and passing on the seed. Asparagus must be one of the easiest things to grown in Alice. It loves salty water and seems to thrive in an alkaline soil. I simply cut them down in the winter when they yellow off and pile on the compost or manure. They only need watering once a week due to their massive root system and they are nematode resistant. Pick them for 8 – 12 weeks as rule of thumb – or stop picking before this time if the shoots begin getting thinner and weaker. Pets may include grasshoppers (usually not enough around to be damaging) and slaters may try to munch on the new shoots as the come out of the ground. Grasshoppers will also seek shelter in the asparagus ”bushes” every time you try to catch them in the garden, so go out in the morning when they are slower if you intend on catching them.

The Mulberry trees are also fruiting – perhaps the earliest fruiting seasons I’ve known after our record warm August and above average winter months. The black fruited white mulberry is the first in fruit at our place followed by the “white” fruited white Mulberry. The other Mulberry people grow in Alice is the English Mulberry and this one tends to fruit much later and is a much slower grower than the white mulberry.
The white mulberry is one of the fastest fruit trees you can grow, provides great shade, propagates from cuttings easily, and are nematode resistant. The canes are great for using as garden stakes (and apparently for making bows for bow and arrow sets). The fruit of the white fruited mulberry dries to a sugary little sultana – and these can be stored just like sultanas and used in recipes where sultanas are called for.
The leaves of the white mulberry are apparently high in protein and on par with Lucerne. They are very popular with my rabbits.
The fruits of the black mulberry are also high in an antioxidant or two.
Beware seedling mulberries – these are quite common if you have any areas that get watered. These mulberries that grow from seeds dropped by birds are very often sterile or non fruiting. The known fruiting varieties must be self pollinating and thus do not require any other mulberry. It is possible that some of these sterile trees are actually male trees – because I have heard stories of them shedding pollen (which my mulberries don’t do)

mix fresh mulberries with marscapone chesse or ricotta and a drizzle of honey. mix up a bit and you will enjoy!