Sunday, 8 January 2017

Zucchinis and cucumbers in 2017

After the cool and unusually wet spring,  we had a very hot Christmas Day, and now with January here,  the heat is really on.  Growing food in winter can be relatively easy... I just plant the appropriate seedlings or seeds and they grow, sometimes slowly,  but with little effort on my part.  This is not so in summer.
The current heat wave, with temperatures above 40C is very hard on some of the smaller plants. This year I waited to see how things were going and then, planted quite a few things late... I resorted to buying seedlings from the nursery for some plants.  And that has been an adventure in itself.  One of the punnets that I bought had, supposedly six zucchini plants, each in their own little cell.  I soaked them in some dilute seasol (to give them the best chance to thrive) and then dug some gypsum into the soil and transplanted the little plants.   this was before Christmas,  and as the little plants got going,  some of them showed signs of powdery mildew (there was some rain during that couple of weeks.)
Anyway,  two of the plants looked quite free of the mildew.... noticeably different.  By now,  they are really quite different, and have turned out to be cucumber plants... so my punnet of zucchini plants had 4 of the expected variety, and 2 cucumber plants....
 
.... and four zucchini plants...
... in fact all of the plants seem healthy and I will have a few less zucchini and a few extra cucumbers.  2017 should be a good year.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

End of the year. Life's good.

I hadn't forgotten about this blog,  and I have been agonising over just what to tell about the garden, and how it is going.  I have been posting photographs, at least, on an instagram account.  

We have had a long cool spring,  though with extra rain,  making this year one of the wettest (if not the wettest) in the years that I have lived here.  That was quite a relief after several particularly dry years and serious concerns about whether or not it would be possible to continue to plant very much during the summer... it had been looking as though the winter garden would have to supply the bulk of the food for the household. So far, so good.  The garden continues to feed me.


I have even grown some tomatoes (in a pot, in the back verandah) from seeds that I collected from a particularly lovely tomato from last year.


And it has been a wonderful year for artichokes which usually stop producing with the first really hot weather....


But this year,  that all changed.  We have had significant rain every month since May. And as I sit here (27 December) we have had another 15mm of rain in the past day or so and we are expecting even more tonight, along with another storm.  In fact, we have had unusual weather in the past few months.  The rain, storms that caused tornados that cut electricity supply to the whole state and no serious heat waves until the 43C on Christmas Day.  

I planted the seeds and seedlings late,  put off by the late "spring" weather,  but in fact, everything is growing well, if a little later than usual.  Even the cactus plants have flowered later than usual, and the prickly pear flowers are only now coming out en masse.  There will be plenty of fruit, I think.

And so this year is ending with the summer beginning at the solstice, as one would expect, and several months of unknown weather ahead of us.  

As the climate changes,  it appears that the growing seasons will, indeed, become more unpredictable, and growing food may be just that little bit more difficult, for people in Kapunda and elsewhere.  I suppose that is a part of the thinking of the last few weeks as I pondered about what I could say.  

As the growing of food becomes more unpredictable,  it is even more important to be observant.  Of course, this is the first principle of permaculture.... "observe and interact".  It sounds simple,  and in many ways it is,  but it is important to look very carefully "in order to recognise patterns and appreciate details."  This is where my own training (originally in science and behavioural ecology) has helped me to think very carefully about what is happening in my own garden and to see what is happening from the point of view of the plants and animals here, and to make only small interventions that seem to help.... it is an ongoing experiment.  And so far, I haven't made too many mistakes... 


There are a few "old posts" that I feel the need to re-read myself.  I may even re-write some of them, including more bits and pieces that I have learned since writing them.

I am anticipating a much calmer year (personally) after several difficult patches in the past couple of years.  And so back to the blog, the food and solving the problems of my own backyard, climate change and peak phosphorus,  to name a few.  Life is good.







Monday, 31 October 2016

September and October? Time flies.

This is getting to be a habit.  Another two months have gone by without a post!  In fact,  I have been pretty sick during the past winter.  And I am not the only one... there seems to have been a nasty bug around.  Right now,  I am getting a lot better and feeling very, very relieved.  I had begun to think that  this was just 'old age' and that this might be the new normal!  It isn't.  I am feeling a lot better.

The winter has been unusual.  It hasn't been too terribly cold, very few frosts and then they were only mild; but we have had a lot of rain, much more than usual, and despite the flooding in many areas, this will 'set the soil up' for several years to come.

The extra rain has also been very good for the weeds!  Winter grasses and flowering weeds have done extremely well and I have a lot of work ahead of me to catch up.  And so, this morning was day #1.  I have spent an hour in one particularly overgrown patch which has featured as a corn, beans, pumpkin patch in the past.  It doesn't look pretty, but with a bit further cleaning up,  it should be useful again.
There is a tiny fig tree that I planted last autumn,  and that has survived the weeds, and I am hopeful that eventually it will take over this patch.  The pile of weeds in the background will be given to the chickens, and the wooden frame in the middle (Jessie's grave) will have flowers again.... perhaps some succulents this time....
 The tools await my next foray into 'enemy territory'.
 Nearby is still this beautiful geranium (actually a pelargonium, though the monks who mixed them up centuries ago keep us in confusion.)
 On the way back inside I bandicooted potatoesm, collected eggs and found some spring onions for some potato pancakes this afternoon.
There is still a lot to do, and this year I may need some back-up help after getting so far behind with the weeds... we shall see.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

July and August

I'm feeling a little bit shocked about how long it has taken me to get back to writing another post.  I have taken time to think however.
After last year's el Nino, and in fact, two years of minimal rainfall, growing anything other than the bare minimum was not feasable.  Even with the time to keep the water supply to mre than the minimum patch, the amount of water needed has been prohibitive.
There have been a few changes in the yard.
For those who are unaware of this 'kapunda garden', it is in fact a one acre block (more or less square) within the town boundaries and with a very old house right in the middle... quite out of the regular line-up of houses along the street that now serves as access.  I live on a minimal income,  having been 'employed' at home with children for most of my life.  This means that any work has to be done by myself, and any assets purchased very slowly.  This means that I have bought rainwater tanks gradually, over years, one at a time.  I thought that I was doing pretty well, but then I needed to accommodate my mother (in a separate 'granny flat') that has taken over three of my five tanks.  Those extra three tanks used to be available for supplementary watering of my food garden during dry seasons.
As an aside, it is worth considering the issues that need to be taken into account when calculating water storage.  The amount of water that one uses regularly and the annual rainfall is not the whole story.  In order to be self sufficient in water,  it is the amount of storage and the length of the 'dry' periods that need to be considered.  In Kapunda, and most of South Australia,  the rainfall is moderate (Kapunda gets less than 500mm of rain annually) and most of that rain falls during the winter, between May and September.  This means that any garden is likely to need supplementary watering over many months during which rainfall is unreliable to non-existant.  I do have access to 'town water' in an emergency, but this is expensive.
During the past couple of years,  with very low annual rainfall, and hot summers (climate change?) the soil has become dry, even to some depth.  For me this meant more and more additional watering over time.  I have also reduced the area devoted to food plants and watered extremely economically.
I have still been able to grow most of my vegetable requirements, maintain my chickens and I have experimented with a few new varieties of food plants,  most notably the prickly pears that produce nopales and sweet fruits with no supplementary watering at all.
This winter (2016) has been 'wet'.  The garden is green and lush, albeit with a lot of weeds and winter grass that needs mowing as I sit here.  I planted brassicas for the winter and those have done well.
Broccoli (Romanesco)

There have been a couple of very slight frosts, a relatively 'warm' winter, and so even the potato plants that sprang up at the first rain (from the tubers that I missed at the last harvest)  have survived and self sown leeks, onions and herbs are abundant.  
Broad beans are flowering.

The broad beans (including a few self sown in last years patch) are flowering, the artichokes are looking healthy and there are plenty of 'leafy greens'.  I am eating well.
Self sown leeks make wonderful soup.

The rain has replenished the soil moisture to a significant depth that I haven't seen for a couple of years and I am hopeful that this summer (2016-2017) will prove to be as rewarding as some of the previous ones.
Red onions have sprung up with the rain.

This week we have had a few millimetres of rain, the temperature is rising,  I am beginning to see the earliest food plants.
The only significant addition to the garden has been an 'espalier patch' where I have planted fruit trees and begun to trellis them onto wires in the hope that they will be more easily protected from birds and so that I will be more easily able to pick their fruit.  So far, this seems to be promising, but more of that later.
I have some more photographs to add to the blog sooner or later,  though I have been adding them to an 'instagram' account (#kapundagarden) recently as well.
Onion seedlings need transplanting... all self sown.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Rain and the Stagg diary.

At last the el Nino has finished, for the moment, at least and we have rain.  We have had rain, off and on, for the past month.  I have planted quite a few new vegetables... carrots, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale, broad beans, peas and onions, leeks, garlic and coriander, parsley and silver beet are popping up all over the place where the seeds have fallen. 
Today is cold and wet, and I am too sick to go to work, and so I have been reading some of William Stagg's diary.  It is even more interesting that the reference to his diary previously was on 5 June 2012, when I would have been planting again as well.  I often read his entry of the same date, if he has one, to see how the season would have influenced his life as it does mine.  In 1885, on 9 June, William Stagg would have been 18 years old.  The day before,  they had killed a small pig, half of which was to be given to a neighbour,  Mrs  Martin who was a widow with two sons.  She was going to knit William's father (also William) a pair of socks.
 
"I took the half pig weighing 35lbs up to Mrs Martin's.  The old woman was walking over her little piece of ground seeing whether the wheat was growing.  She picks up every stone and weed she sees and has picked up enough stones to make a little wall around her 3 or 4 acres of ground.  We was building the tank.  We are going to build about 2 1/2 or 3 feet above the ground to keep out pigs and other things."
This photograph shows  Tarcowie in about 1885, with the Stagg farm in the background, on the left.  The building in the front (with a verandah) is the hotel.

The Stagg family is of interest to me because, in 1855, Thomas Stagg, a farmer, married Mary Ann Newland, the older sister of my great, great grandmother, Eliza Newland.  That Thomas Stagg was a brother of William Stagg, whose son William (Willie) wrote the diary.  That sounds complicated,  but the young man who wrote the diary had an uncle who married my great great grandmother's sister.  That doesn't make us relatives, really,  but it does mean that, in reading this diary,   I am able to find out how my family lived four generations ago.

And so it has rained over the past few weeks,  the tanks here are full, and the garden is flourishing.  I can only imagine how happy the Staggs would have been when it rained and crops flourished.  And so this is what I have been doing while I am not able to go to work.


Saturday, 30 April 2016

Time flies

This month has been rather a repeat of the last.  There has been little rain, warm dry days and the summer is supposed to be over.  As the days shorten, it is necessary to plant the next season's food plants before the soil is chilled,  but hopefully there will be some rain.
Meanwhile I try to buy those things that I am unable to grow from suppliers as close to home as possible.

My coffee comes from  Hightrees  and they are on Facebook.
It is not quite local,  but as local as I can get and the coffee is wonderful, the service is good and my coffee arrives safely soon after I order it.

I have recently found a source for one of my other delights... dates.  I have bought Californian dates in the past,   but I much prefer the local product... from The Desert Fruit Company... and they are also on facebook.

Other than those two mail order sources,  my food comes from the Barossa Farmer's market, Four Leaf Mills , who I have mentioned previously.... or my own backyard.

In considering this further, I don't believe that my grandmother (who lived in Burra (1877-8), then Hawker until about 1900... then on to the Kimberley and Niugini then to Norwood SA during the depression)  would ever have thought of buying food that was imported from far away.   Would she even recognise some of the brilliantly coloured boxes on the supermarket shelves as food?

When we are encouraged to live and eat as our grandmothers did, I believe that it might just be a good 'rule of thumb' and probably what we are facing in the future.  Sometimes I despair.
The chickens are laying, the garden still supplies enough for me and life is good.  (Small vegetables quiches for home and lunch breaks at work.



Sunday, 27 March 2016

Prickly pears and rain.

It's been a busy month... not so much in the garden,  but in the rest of my life.  I am back to working (part time) to pay off a debt that I have inherited, and so the garden has been rather neglected.  With the equinox having just passed (last Sunday afternoon ~ 20 March 2016) I am really going to have to be a bit better organised.
I have been picking prickly pears.  There have been plenty.
 One needs to be well protected to pick them......
 .... with appropriate equipment.....
 Once inside,  the prickles can be softened by soaking the fruit in water.  I then scraped them with a sharp knife to really remove the spines.... but this has to be done pretty carefully.
 Cut the ends off....
 .... peel and cut the fruits and they are lovely.  There are seeds in amongst the flesh,  but I haven't bothered to remove those.


It is also blood lily season....
 ... and this year they seem to be particularly lovely, and plentiful.

After more than 2 inches of rain this month  (~ 60mm = 2.3") the forgotten potatoes are beginning to emerge.  (These are the ones that escape when I'm digging the rest, ones that I just didn't see!) This also means that it is well and truly time to plant the post summer crops, ready for the rainy season.