Saturday, October 31, 2009

back home again

Returning to the garden after being away is always a bit exciting mixed with a feeling of dread about what might have gone wrong.

This time the irrigation popped and the hot house didn’t get water for a day. Say goodbye to a couple of punnets of seedlings. Mice have also been at work eating seedlings, but I think they’ll sprout back. Sigh of relief – well that wasn’t too bad was it? Now what’s gone right?
The sorghum crop managed to sprout without getting eaten by doves or mice.

The sorghum is a green manure crop which I’ll plow in in a couple of months time.

Out at the ilparpa plot (oops forgot to take the camera with me), we’re harvesting beans, cucumbers, small carrots and tomatoes.

The first female pumpkin flowers have appeared and the rest of the pumpkins and watermelons are going bonkers. However I’ll probably find there are no bees now to pollinate them. My theory about this time of year is that when the river red gums the coolabahs and others flower – all of the bees bugger off from the garden and concentrate on the better nectar source. Hand pollinating zucchinis and pumpkins is the way to go in Oct/November I think.
By the way does anybody know of any bee hives going begging??

My wong bok cabbages went to seed rather than to head – I think because they experienced a period of stress when the watering system was not working properly.

The rabbits. They always seem to get out when we go away. My theory on that is that when they don’t get their usual treats they get all twitchy.

All else is fine

Snake beans getting bigger

The Asparagus has gone to fern and now beginning to compete with the pigeon pea, Amaranth and gossip cabbage

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A visit to Michaels house

Michaels house is a whose who of what you can grow in Alice Springs and most of what he grows has been sourced locally.

Michael and his curry plant


Cape goosberry - ready to produce. i have just germinated some seeds

Bitter gourd - michael also has a larger variety coming on

Michael calls this one "chilli eggplant" but i'm not familiar with it. Looks like kangaroo apple to me

The amazing thing about Michels garden is how much advanced veg he has growing. he grows egplants under his eaves to protect them from the frost and already has large fruit.

Same with his snake beans. Already big bunches!


A great crop of Dill

Salt bush harvest

I’ve been watching an old man salt bush in my street for a while now. It must be the most prolific producer of seed that I have seen and this weekend just gone it was ripe enough to pick. Obviously I was not the only one who had been watching as I had to scare off a ringneck parrot who was happily tucking in.
Old-man Saltbush Atriplex nummularia is a great permaculture plant for central Australia. It Grows and self seeds easily, is a great source of fodder for animals, can gow big enough to make effective wind breaks, can be harvested for mulching and stabilising areas (especially salty areas) and of course food for ring neck parrots!

One plant established itself on my front verge last summer from what must have been wind blown seed and its now waist high and I clip it regularly for the rabbits.

Harvesting saltbush is pretty straightforward. Just put something underneath the branches then scrunch the dry seeds which will easily fall off. It took me less than 20 minutes to harvest 2 large plastic bags full of seed. I have transferred them to a plastic hessian bag for further drying and I’ll then place them in the freezer to kill all the bugs that I have picked up in the process.I don’t know that I will be able to separate leaves from seeds very well because they are both papery and light.

Given the positive outlook for rain in the next year, direct sowing of the saltbush should be a huge success

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Out on the range

I’m a serial gardener. I have my home garden, a plot at a friends place in the rural area and a couple of rows at the Steiner school full of flowers and easy pickings for the kids. And yes it does tend to dominate the weekends.
The plot out at Anna and Johns house is a cooperative set up. My friend Tracey and I do all of the work and Anna pays for the infrastructure and water. We split the vegies 3 ways depending on who can use the produce. Tracey and I only go out to the plot once a week, and while this is good most of the time it does have its disadvantages when certain vegies need to be picked frequently.

We usually put in a couple of hours every weekend but never seem to get all the jobs done. The cpmost heap days usually require a bit more time.

Dwarf beans with dried peas in the background

At the moment the “all seasons” carrots are nearly at eating stage while our afgan yellow and blue carrots are flowering and seeding.

Afgan carrots, flowering

We have manged to grow realy nice crops of all seasons carrots here during the summer – they don’t bolt to seed.
Tomatoes (Gwens wilt free from Darwin) are fruiting but still green. We just pulled up the sno-pea plants and put them aside for gathering the seed at a later date (away from the mice). Cucumbers are fruiting, dwarf beans are just coming in. The wild rabbits are nibbling a few things otherwise we would have had zucchinis by now. We finally got around to putting some wire around the things we are wanting to grow.

Tomatoes with ethioppian cabbage seeding

The melons are growing well. We have butternet squash, jap punkin and ironbark pumkin as well as watermelons and rock melon. We can save seed from all of these as they will not cross with each other.
The Ethiopian cabbage is seeding and has a huge crop and the diakon radishes also have a big crop of seed.

Wom bok cabbage

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

watering over summer


Watering is a difficult subject in Alice springs- although perhaps not as difficult as places with water restrictions interstate. However we have the distinction of having twice the water use of the average Australian household. The average Australian household lives on the coast and gets rain at most times of the year so its no wonder they are not pouring water on at the rate people do in Alice Springs. So I don’t think alice springs people have any special qualifications to make them the biggest water users in the country – they just need to add a lot more water to get the same results as someone living in a coastal city.
We know that most water goes onto gardens and in swimming pools, so savings in these areas are likely to make the biggest differences to our water use.

Watering in the vege garden
I am not so big on telling people the amount of water they should put on their garden because depending on what type of system you have – there are a lot of variables involved. How fast do you turn the tap on? Sprays? Drippers? dripper line? How clayey or sandy is your soil? What crop are you growing and what’s the weather like?

Generally it is best to observe what’s going on and there are a few things to look out for. Make sure your plants whole root system receives water and a little bit beyond so the roots can continue to grow outwards. Dig down in the soil to see how far the water is penetrating. Water use also changes as your plants grow. As they get bigger and grow more leaves they will need more water, so the 20 minutes you were watering in late spring will not be suitable come late summer. Plants also lose more water in windy and hot weather.
We had our pumpkin patch scorched on a windy 38 degree plus day so we made up a little rule that if it was going to be 38 or above we would manually give the garden another 30 minutes to make up for the extra water that would be lost.

Watch for wilting.
Wilting is a sign of water stress but the most important thing is wether the plant recovers from the wilting by the next day. You plants can experience some wilting in the hottest parts of the day and be no worse for wear. Of course plants which have been watered daily all their life will wilt disastrously in summer if that watering is interrupted, because they have not been encouraged to establish a large, deep root system.

So what do I do?
I generally water 2 times a week in winter and 3 times a week in summer. This covers all crops generally. Some crops are hardy enough to be watered only 2 times a week in summer and some like asparagus can go with one watering a week due to their deep expansive rot systems.
Some parts of your garden may need daily watering – when you have seedlings for example. One way around this is to grow your seedlings in a nursery situation in large pots and plants then when they have quite a large root system.
Some plants just have shallow roots like Chinese greens and lettuce so will need daily watering in the summer if not twice daily.

snake bean seedlings

Strategies to reduce water wastage in the summer
Grow summer hardy vegetables like snake beans, okra, amaranth, melons and tomatoes, eggplants, sweet potato – avoid things like lettuce and leafy greens or restrict them to small areas and only water these small areas frequently.
Amaranth can be used like spinach but it is summer hardy and drought tolerant – nearly un-killable.
Amaranth - pick the young growing leaves and shoots

Source your seed locally
Reason 1. Someone has tried them in your local area and has been successful
Reason 2. it is more likely that the local variety will perform well in your local conditions.
Example: This year I planted 2 cucmbers. An Armenian striped variety which I have grown before and has done very well – and A Lebanese cucumber from eden seeds. The difference in growth rate between them was remarkable – with the Armenian cucumber being about 3 times as large as the Lebanese cucumber.

Avoid trying to establish plants in Jan or Feb – it’s a very stressful period. If you do need to do so in a sheltered nursery situation.

Research and Stick to optimum planting times. If you plant a crop that gives you nothing at the end – you will have wasted a lot of water as a result.

Use windbreaks to slow down wind and evaporation.

Friday, October 2, 2009

spring pics

Watched river cottage on TV last night. i first heard about it through the web site - which is a great resource for people growing and eating things at home or on small farms. The TV series so far is really great. 610 on wednesday ABC. Not to be missed!

shallots and raddicio

Sweet peas and sweet boy