We have passed the winter solstice and the daylight hours are very slowly extending. The winter solstice marks the shortest day and in many cultures and across many different histories it has been seen as a day of significance. It is often referred to as mid winter, however this is only the case in countries and cultures that define the seasons astronomically. This is when the seasons are delineated by specific points in the Earth's trip around the sun.
In Australia where we use a meteorological definition the winter solstice or shortest day does not mark mid winter. In Australia June 1st is the beginning of winter therefore the shortest day is not considered to be mid winter. This is particularly so if you live in the cold climate area of the Southern Tableands, where we are located, as we still have the coldest part of winter to come. So while the day light hours start to increase the temperature continues to get colder.
Interestingly, even though we still have some cold weather to come, you will probably start to see an increase in egg production. Hens are one of the many creatures who have a physiological response to the length of day and night. Egg production drops significantly in late autumn and usually begins to slowly increase after the shortest day. This is more evident as a chicken matures. Other birds respond too - especially migratory birds who need to travel vast distances to breed or feed en mass. Many of your farm animals are not as responsive, apart from a thickening of their autumn coats you wont see much change.
So, the daylight hours may be gently increasing we still have many frosty mornings to go with frozen water troughs and very active chickens and water fowl. During this coldest part of winter the gardening day cannot begin until the frost has abated and the garden warms up. I like the slow start to the days this brings, sitting by the fire drinking tea while waiting for water to become liquid again in the animal's water bowls.
Each season has its own rhythm and characteristics. It is easy to see why so many cultures attached ritual and celebration to mark these changes.
Keep warm and enjoy the slow lane in the garden - we have planted lots of vegetables over the last few weeks - now we get to watch them very, very slowly grow.
I find the winter garden a fascinating place to be and so different to the summer garden. There is more time in the winter garden, the life energy has slowed down and there is a gentler pace to everything. I love weeding in winter because once you have removed the weeds they take months to grow back. The soil also responds differently. While it may be dry it does not take much water to make it moist, and we find that a hand water is sufficient during the dry periods of winter, whereas in summer this is totally inadequate. In winter, while we may have periods that are quite dry the soil remains very cool and evaporation is at a minimum. According to Roger Hosking our local Weather Data Analyst “Soil water / soil dryness is a complex function of rainfall, temperature, evaporation and vegetation type” and I find this most evident in the winter garden.
Frost of course adds another dimension. According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) "Frost occurs when the ground and ambient air cools down by the loss of heat to the atmosphere. This most commonly occurs under clear skies and with little or no wind. Clear skies favour the escape of radiation (heat) from the earths surface to space. Frost s a deposit of ice crystals formed on objects exposed to the air. Water vapour in the air freezes upon contact with an object that has a surface temperature below 0°C. Frost begins at ground level and gradually rises to higher objects. Crop covers can be used to manage the risk of frost by preventing the loss of heat during the night."
At Wynlen House we use crop covers to great affect in our garden. As I have said in an earlier post It’s officially Winter and your veggies Know it, there is about a 3° air surface temperature difference between our covered beds and uncovered beds. In light frosts this temperature difference can provide complete protection, of course temperatures below -3° will affect plants even if they are under cover. Cold temperatures and frost can freeze the cells in a plant, causing damage and interrupting the pathways for nutrients and water to flow. Cold hardy winter vegetables are less vulnerable and can withstand very cold temperatures and some frosting. Mind you our extended frost period of over 3 months (109 frost days) does provide some challenges to even the most cold hardy vegetable. The aim of using crop covers is not to grow vegetables out of season but to ameliorate the impact of severe frosts and enable some growth. The majority of winter or cold season vegetables will continue to grow at temperatures as low as 4°.
At the moment we are growing a range of Japanese and Asian greens that are doing extremely well (Ive got some photos of these below) and coriander also thrives in these cooler temperatures. We find that many of our customers are surprised that Asian greens cope well in the cold assuming that they require warm climates to grow. I often think about the Chinese who came to this area during the gold rush era who find their niche as market-gardeners. What vegetables did they grow? How did they provide crop protection? Were they growing the same vegetables that I am growing today?
It may be cold but a winter garden has much to offer including the time to ponder the practices of our market gardeners in times past and wonder about their response to our cool winter climate.
Our workshop in July deals with cover cropping, among other practices. You are most welcome to enroll.
One of the important roles of the small scale farmer is to care for the animals that are part of any farm or holding. The primary role of domesticated farm animals is about productivity and are an integral part of farming or homesteading. Farm animals can contribute, meat, eggs, fibre, and manure.
We often only think of our pets as domesticated animals but poultry, sheep, cattle, goats, horses and pigs and so on have been domesticated animals in the sense that humans have been cultivating these species for hundreds, even thousands of years for the purpose of providing food and other resources.
To enable a domesticated farm animal to be productive for us we need to have a responsible and respectful relationship. This is the basis of animal husbandry.
We are responsible for caring for our animals and this involves, housing, feeding, health, their welfare, the environment they live in, and handling them without injury either to them or us.
At Wynlen House we consider how you raise, feed and care for your animals is vitally important. We care about what they eat, their health, their housing and their environment. They live happy lives and this is very important to us. An animal that lives a happy healthy life will provide quality food. So just as with organic gardening you need vigorous healthy soil so that you have vigorous health plants, we also believe you need vigorous, healthy, happy animals to raise healthy meat, eggs or milk.
Animal Welfare is a ‘Duty of Care' obligation.
The RSPCA Australia believes that farm animal husbandry and management practices should provide for the behavioural, social and physiological needs of the individual animal and not cause unnecessary injury, suffering or distress. As a new farmer how do I know when my goose or chicken is happy or conversely, when it is in distress? Unless we begin to learn the basics of animal care, in the same way we are prepared to learn about growing vegetables, we will not be able to meet our duty of care and will unintentionally allow our animals to suffer.
A respectful relationship with our farm animals can be a very rewarding one and learning about the behavioral needs of your farm animals is as important as learning about their feed requirements. To this end I build a turkey gym for my turkey poults when they are confined to a hover in their early weeks. Turkeys are curious and out-going birds, they love a challenge. The gym allows them to hop up on a pole, like a roundabout, which swings around when they add their weight to it. They just love it. It meets their need to have their curiosity engaged and in experiencing something new. I also hang shinny pie plates which catch the light and creates great interest.
As they grow they like to participate in farm activities. - including investigating the tractor and grabbing free rides on the trailer whenever they can. It's important to make sure your animals are psychologically fulfilled and able to engage in their natural and instinctive behaviours. Its like giving a cat a scratching pole or a dog a chewing toy. Its important to have that stimulation, especially when animals are young and confined for their safety and physical needs, before they are ready to tackle the world as teens or adults. I know you are probably thinking that I'm an indulgent crazy woman about now but I have to disagree. I Find that making sure my animals are well cared in all ways accounts for the best eggs in town and the most delicious roast chicken you have even eaten!
Our Animal Husbandry workshop is in early July, on farm in Braidwood. "Raising poultry and Small Farm Animals Organically" is on Sunday July 9th from 9.30am. Come along and see how we raise our farm animals and learn how to best raise yours.
According to the Climate Glossary on the Bureau Of Meteorology (BOM) website:
“In Australia, the seasons are defined by grouping the calendar months in the following way:
So June 1st is the officially start to winter. A quick count shows that we had approximately 14 frost days in May with the lowest temp being -3.7° and a total of 22mm of rain for the month. A cold and dry end to Autumn.
I took the soil temps in the garden this morning at 8.30. The official temperature (BOM) was 0.9°. The soil temp in an uncovered bed was 6° and the surface air temp was 3°. Under the cloche covered with insulnet the soil temp was 7° and the surface air temp was 6° . While these temperature variations between the covered beds and uncovered beds may not seem great they can be significant. Of the winter vegies there is only a very few seeds that will germinate below a soil temp of 7° (peas 5° and Lettuce 4°). Carrots, radish and members of the Brassica family will germinate at 7°. The reality is at these low soil temperatures germination will be very slow and not reliable. The only seeds we plant in our garden over winter are radish, which we grow under cover and peas at the end of winter (late July). During the winter months you will have greater success in your garden if you plant out seedlings as this gives you a head start.
What you plant now as seedlings you will be eating in Spring (September). The produce you harvest from your garden at the beginning of winter (June) is what you planted in late summer and early Autumn (February and March). We must fully understand this if we are to harvest produce from our garden all year
As I have already noted in a previous blog Colourful Autumn, Frosty mornings…cool season planting guides are not necessarily accurate for our very cool climate region. Often as gardeners we therefore look at information from the Northern Hemisphere (England, Canada, USA) which can experience much colder winter temperatures than ours, for further guidance.
While many countries popularly use the equinox and solstice dates to "start the seasons" this is not the case in Australia. There are two ways that mark the season, one is to by weather, summer is the warmest time and winter is the coldest and secondly by the solstice and equinox dates. Meteorologists around the world use start of the season dates, and this is the convention that we follow in Australia.
The winter solstice is the day of the year that has the least daylight hours of any in the year and usually occurs on 21 June but can occur between 20 and 22 June. This is also known as the mid winter or Yule solstice. The equinoxes represents the two times of the year when the Sun crosses the plane of the Earth's equator and day and night are of equal length. While we may not use the equinox and solstice dates to mark the beginning of the seasons it does not mean that these events do not represent important markers in both the garden and our lives. Many cultures have developed traditions of celebration and thanks around these events for obvious reasons; blessing the crop, storage of the harvest; passing of the shortest day; celebrating the awakening of spring and glorifying the longest day. Let’s face it who doesn’t like to have a party!
If you are interested in some practical hands on experience in a winter produce garden, Wynlen House is currently offering learn / work exchange opportunities. Minimum work is 3 hours a day. Contact wynlenhouse @bigpond.com. We also have our Cool climate All Year Round Vegetable Growing Workshop in Late July. This is aimed and helping you have great produce on your table even in the worst of winter.
Happy gardening and do keep warm out there.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm