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.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Seed saving

I am able to grow plenty of food.  Unlike traditional growing seasons (at least for the books, articles and information available in English) it is much easier to grow food in the winter time in my area.  This has most to do with water, but even if water is available to pour onto crops, the air temperature can be prohibitive also.  I grow quite a lot in winter and much less in summer... and much of that in pots or confined spaces where I can more easily control the temperature.

This was brought home to me a couple of summers ago when I had a lovely crop of tomatoes that couldn't ripen.  They faded from green to white and only those that were ready to ripen when the temperature was significantly below 40C (104F) were able to turn red.

After quite a bit of reading about other people's experience, I discovered that tomatoes actually ripen at temperatures between 20C and 25C.  (That is about 70F to 75F) and when the temperature is over 30C  (86F) they will not ripen at all, but turn white and remain hard.  That is what often happens to mine in summer.

Potatoes are another interesting plant.  They need plenty of energy to produce those tubers, and so they need plenty of leafy green plants and plenty of sunshine, not to mention water, as the plants wilt very easily during hot days.  Most recommendations are to grow them in summer when there in the most sunshine, but once again,  if the summers are too hot,  this becomes a matter of juggling the 'between season' opportunities and I have found that they are easier to grow in the late summer until the weather turns cold enough that the plants die off during frosts.  I probably don't get as many potatoes (or as large ones) as people who are able to grow them during the longest, hottest days of summer.

Winter crops are easier to grow.... the winter 'leafy green' plants, brassicas and broad beans are all much easier to grow here. And so I grow plenty of these and I have learned to preserve them for the summer when fresh vegetables are less readily produced.... though I still manage to grow some, as I stated above, in pots and protected areas, using a significant amount of water.  The only brassica that is difficult to grow here is brussels sprouts.  It just doesn't get cold enough.  They need a significant frost to force the plants to produce the tiny 'cabbage' heads and we jsut don't get those here.

There are other changes in food production that I am making.

Seed saving has been useful.  The easiest seeds to save (and good ones to start on) are broad beans because they are easy to find, sort and store.  I found that the seeds that I saved were especially productive in my garden.  I am not sure whether this was because they were collected from the plants that grew the best to begin with, or because the seeds were fresh (from the previous season) but they have done particularly well over the past few years.

I have gone on to collect such seeds as coriander, parsley, onions, leeks, and brassicas, fennel, and a few other herbs and flowers. That began with saving borage seeds a few years ago.

This year is my first foray into tomato seeds.  I had heard that it was difficult to maintain viability in these seeds,  but as they do sprout from compost heaps and garden waste, I thought it was worth trying.  I don't like to waste too much time or money on tomato plants for much of the year because of the difficulty in ripening the fruits.

In fact,  my opportunity came when a lovely tomato from the market (over-ripe and soft) began to go very mushy in the middle.  I saved the much (including seeds) and let it all sit on a window sill to dry out.  I planted the seeds in a pot, watered it and wrapped it in a plastic 'bread' bag (a mini glasshouse?) to see if the seeds would grow.  Within a week they had sprouted....
... they are now in their separate pots and hopefully they will survive.  I may keep these in pots permanently, and move them to a well sheltered spot to extend the fruiting...  if and when they get that far....

Monday, 15 February 2016

Gardening books and recent thoughts.

I have recently (finally!) read a book called "A taste for gardening" (by Lisa Taylor and published in 2008) in which the author discusses gardening as a practice in the context of class and gender.  The book was written after after an extended period of time investigating local gardening practices in the author's community with the image of gardening as a leisure pursuit of the wealthy in nineteenth century England, with its beautiful formal and landscaped gardens that are famous for their designers and owners.

There is a lot to take in and a lot of references to investigate but one subject that is investigated fairly thoroughly is the influence of television programmes concerned with gardening.  The author interviewed a number of people about their gardens, the significance of gardening and the influence of these programmes. The book is concerned with England and English gardens, but much of the information is relevant here also and I suspect that attitudes to television gardening is similar here (Australia.)

The 'make-over' gardens that are completed in a short time, while the owners are away, are discussed and the consensus seems to be that these owners are not 'gardeners' at all.   The gardeners considered that a garden needed to develope over a period of time, with cuttings and plants from other gardeners, so that the gardens had a history and culture that was relevant to the owner/gardeners.   These people also thought that the television gardeners seemed to have much better soil than they had in their own gardens.  I can relate to this,  having alkaline clay soil here that despite annual additions of gypsum and compost remains stubbornly the same and seriously lacking in micro-nutrients.  That is no surprise.  Old continents (like this one) with old soils that have been breaking down for millions of years and from which rain has leached minerals for just as long, are bound to be fine, non-wetting clay soils with a real deficit in trace elements.  The television gardeners here do seem to have very different soils as well, and it does make growing plants look very easy.  This apparent ease of garden success seems obvious to anyone who has watched television gardeners working in their plots.  I have often wondered how many failures these gardens do have and it might be interesting to come back a few weeks later to see how the seedlings or transplanted specimens are doing.

In the very well detailed study described in the book, there was also a significant difference in the gardens of middle class people compared with those of working class people.  The 'garden make-over' programmes and their 'lifestyle gardens' did not appeal to the working class people who're interviewed and whose gardens had a different significance.  The author describes this as 'way-of-life' practices and a view of the garden that related more to local knowledge and cultural practices that came from an oral tradition and a sense of community that didn't fit with the 'lifestyle practices' of the consumer society.
It is hard to imagine that in ancient and mediaeval times women were not involved in gardening.  Nicholas Culpepper dedicated his book "A Physicall Directory" to women healers who opposed the growing mercenary approach to plant knowledge at the time.  It is hard to imagine also that in cottage gardens, not only were healing herbs raised, but that women have been growing vegetables to add to their diets.  In "Radical Gardening" (2011), George McKay describes the 'reclamation' of the 'forgotten' history of women's gardening including the witches of old who cultivated plants for their healing properties.  Taylor suggests that, in fact, the experience of working class women would indicate that, rather than being forgotten,  much of this information survives in the gardens of ordinary people who don't see the 'lifestyle gardens' as real gardens at all, and the makers of those gardens as gardeners at all.
The books that I have been reading are:
Classed and Gendered Practices
Lisa Taylor

Politics, Idealism & rebellion in the Garden
George McKay