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