It is very easy to forget some of the basic things that help us understand what is going on in our soil. Testing the pH of your soil is one such activity. Checking pH can be done through a very simple 'in the garden' test. pH test kits are easy to use and all gardeners should have one. You can also purchase digital meters that will read soil pH, however I do like using the testing kit. The collection of the samples, mixing in the liquid, applying the powder and watching the colour develop is a nice little scientific process that can still make me feel like a “grown up.”
pH is a measurement of the power of hydrogen (hence “pH”) and this dictates the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. It is measured on a scale from 1 (extremely acid) to 14 (extremely alkaline) with 7 being neutral. Both extremes are damaging to plants, which generally prefer values between 6 and 7. Soil pH affects nutrient availability; microbial activity, biological processes and impacts on decomposition rates of organic matter. Incorrect pH can conspire to restrict root growth and limit access to water and nutrients.
It was February when I last posted and the focus was on preparing for the early season garlic crop. It’s now May and we have been planting our mid season garlic. This year we are growing a range of mid season and late season garlic primarily to build up our seed stock for the 2020 planting season. We have planted 3 varieties from the Silverskin group - Wilde Sally, Lokalen and Polvora. Silverskins are a soft neck garlic, that can store well for 12 months or more. The outer layers are off white or satiny white and the clove skins can be white or coloured. This is a garlic best suited for cooking. When raw, the flavours can be aggressive and harsh, but used in cooking it develops depth and holds its garlic flavour well. We are also planting Creoles - Spanish Roja and Roja De Castro; and from the Artichoke group some Australian White. We are continuing to grow Dunganski from the Standard Purple Stripe as our late season crop.
Autumn has seen the continuation of the very mild weather. We have had 7 frosty mornings in Braidwood since the start of our frost season. This is as much as 75% lower than the average number of frosts to this time of year. (Our frost season officially begins on 23rd March and ends on 22nd November.) Usually by this time of year frosts and low temperatures can be having a detrimental effect on plant growth and development, and cold soil temperatures are having a significant impact on seed germination. However with the continuing mild temperatures we are yet to see any detrimental impact. Soil temps are still relatively warm and not limiting seed germination.
While many vegetables, particularly members of the Brassica Family can cope with the light frosts we are currently experiencing, it is beneficial to provide them with some support. Seaweed products (Seasol) can be used to increase plant resistance to frost. Foliar applications take about a week to be effective and can also be helpful when plants are damaged by a frost as these fertilizers stimulate healthy new growth. Regular (weekly) applications of a seaweed liquid fertilizer during our cold months can be a beneficial routine. While the use of seaweed foliar sprays can provide some support for plants during light frosts, to maintain healthy strong plants that keep growing though our extremely cold climate and harsh frost season, yet to come, frost protection fabrics are essential. For further info on frost protection see A snugly Garden is a Growing Garden.
The use of row covers or even very simple low cost plant protection strategies enables all year vegetable production in the low temperature extremes of our cool climate region. To learn more consider enrolling in our All Season Cool/Cold Climate Vegetable Growing workshop in July.
Garlic is a cool season plant and in the Southern Tablelands region, early season garlic is planted in Autumn generally during March & April. This means you need to be getting ready to plant. However before we look at soil preparation, you will note that I have referred to early season garlic.
Like many types of plants garlic comes in many different cultivars. There are 1,000s of cultivars grown worldwide. In Australia we distinguish different garlics first of all by the group it belongs to then the Cultivar within the group. All the cultivars within a group generally have similar characteristics. For example:
Group name: Turban
Cultivar name: Monaro purple, Tasmanian purple, Flinders Island Purple, Glamour, Italian Purple, Ontos Purple, Shandong, White Crookneck, Xian All the cultivars in the Turban group are early season garlics. The are planted in March to April (early to mid Autumn), they are harvested October to November (early to mid spring) and they generally have a short storage life of around 3 to 5 months.
Monaro Purple (early season Turban) is the most commonly grown garlic in our region. This is an Australian species. Its origin is not proved, however, it is believed to have been brought by Yugoslavian tunnel diggers working on the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Its name derives from the Monaro region in New South Wales and in small part of Victoria near the Snowy River National Park.
In Braidwood a local couple Giles Bonin and Victoria Clutterbuck first started growing garlic in the area some 40 years ago. Followed by Carol and Conrad Kindrachuik market gardeners in Araluen. These two local farmers we now call the “founders ” of Braidwood garlic..
There are also groups of garlic that are known as mid season garlics being planted in mid to late Autumn and late season garlics planted in late autumn to early winter, depending on climate. Generally speaking in our region mid Season garlics are planted in late April through May and
late season garlics planted in late May through to June.
Garlic is a great cool season crop to grow in the home vegie garden or as a significant crop in the small market garden. However if you are investing money and time into your garlic crop then you need to consider much more than I have outlined here, particularly the groups and cultivars of garlic you should consider growing.
According to the Australian Garlic Industry Association (AGIA), Only about 20% of garlic sold in Australia is grown domestically so there is significant room for expanding the national crop. A key factor of Australian garlic production is that the majority of garlic grown for the Australian market is from a small range of garlic varieties that are harvested at the same time, (November & December) and only store well for a few months. This generally means that most Australian garlic is no longer available for consumption by April/ May. That is Australian garlic is available for a short season from late November to around April, with the majority consumed by February / March. (This is referred to as the narrow production window.)
If you want to know more about growing garlic; mid season and late season groups & cultivars you can enroll in our online program.
We had a significant rain event last Thursday evening (7 Feb, 19) in Braidwood with 80mm falling in 2 hours. This is over 3 inches in the old language and resulted in flooded creeks, roads and some houses. It also filled the water tanks and everything in general got a really good drenching.
On Thursday morning before the rain we prepared a couple of beds for planting. One bed was planted with bean seeds while we planted the other bed this morning with a range of seedlings and seeds.
When we prepare beds for planting we like the soil to be well worked and aerated. The heavy rain on Thursday evening formed a crust on the bed and we needed to use a three prong claw hoe also called a 3 tooth cultivator to break the crust so we could plant. What was really interesting is that this evening I gave both beds a light hand water as I do with newly planted beds. As you can see from the photo, the bed we cultivated to break up the crust formed from the rain and planted with seedlings, has retained moisture from the watering, while the bed planted with bean seeds on Thursday before the rain and which now has a thick crust has lost all the moisture from the watering. You will also note that there has not been any seed germination. Bean seeds usually take between 4 to 10 days to germinate. It will be interesting to see how long the bean seeds take to germinate in this particular bed. Previous bean plantings this season has seen germination occurring in 4 to 5 days
At our gardening workshops and on social media gardening groups there is always discussion about no dig gardening. I think this photo shows very clearly the impact of no dig gardening or non cultivation. For good food production, the roots from seeds and seedlings need to be able penetrate and develop quickly, this can only happen if the soil structure is friable.
A ’well structured‘ soil has plenty of living spaces, storage spaces, doorways, and passages (for utilisation by water, gases, nutrients, roots and a vast array of organisms).
The crust that has formed on the bed is a result of compacted soil from the rain, compacting the spaces needed in the soil to enable good water penetration ease of root development and plant nutrient uptake.
PS. The link to the site listed above is quite interesting and well worth a read!
The brief cooler weather interlude, provided a great opportunity to work in the garden. Planting of course was a priority. We were fortunate to have a week of evening or night rain. While it was not a lot, a few mm’s every night makes a huge difference, and of course this meant that I did not have to water.
Clearing beds and garden clean up was also on the cooler weather agenda. Weeding is always a regular activity and with the rain and warm weather the weeds are flourishing. My favourite weeding tool is the stirrup hoe.
This cuts on the push and pull stroke to cover a lot of ground fast! The thin, oscillating blade carves through tough weeds just below the soil surface, cutting in both directions. Very fast and efficient. Great for footpath area.
Clearing beds provides an enourmous amount of material that can have many uses across the small farm or garden. Of course poultry, particularly chooks love scratching through weeds and vegie waste and of course pigs. Adding it to the compost pile is also another excellent use of this organic matter. However in this extremely hot summer I am also opting to use this material as mulch on other garden beds, specifically the potatoes. Potatoes need to be hilled and tend do grow long and straggly falling over paths and other vegies.
I have attached a short video demonstration. Hope you find this helpful
As I write this the temperature is in the high 30’s and still climbing with even hotter temps predicted for the rest of the week. Back to night watering and early morning starts. I hope you all stay sane in this hot weather.
The last few weeks have been exceedingly hot and dry and it would appear that the Bureau of Meteorology Seasonal forecasting is proving correct - warmer than average day time and night time temperatures through to the end of March. http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/overview/video
Let’s hope that the predictions for at least “average” summer rainfall also proves correct.
Braidwood generally gets most of its rainfall during spring and summer. We had very good spring rainfall so hopefully if we get some summer rainfall we will be able to survive this summer of heatwaves. But currently its exceedingly hot and dry. Far too hot to be out in the midday sun farming or gardening.
Our management strategy here at Wynlen House is to start the day early, feed the animals and get some work done in the garden and head back inside for a late breakfast about 9.30 - 10.00am. Outside work doesn’t start again until 5.30 - 6.00pm after the intense heat of the sun has somewhat dissipated. Evening farmwork is primarily focused on watering. Evening watering makes the best use of water in the garden. By watering at this time, the water can percolate into the soil for 12 hours or more before the intense heat returns. Also plants do a significant amount of growing during the night and this ensures they will have plenty of water to do so and a good reservoir of water to draw on before their next watering.
We are still maintaining the watering program previously described in my blog, The Gentle Art of Watering dated 17 Oct 2018.
Extra care has to be taken when planting seedlings out in this heat. Late afternoon or evening planting is the best as they have at least 12 hours to settle in before the heat starts again. In a heatwave seedlings (and seeds) may will need extra watering in the morning or during the day and may also require shade covering until well established.
It is important to remember that a small amount of water provided to plants when they can make the best use of it is of far better value to both the plant and the environment than a large volume of water during the heat of the day. It is natural for plants to wilt during the heat of the day. Wilting is a coping mechanism. It does not mean that the plant is not surviving and needs watering straight away.
Wonderful rain on Saturday afternoon and evening along with a cool change. We had 25 mm or an inch of rain in the old money. What a relief. Not only did the garden sigh in relief but so did the gardener. Happy gardening and enjoy the cool weather.
The photo below show just some of the vegetables we are getting out of this hot weather garden.
We have ducklings!
Babies on the farm are always a delight, ducklings especially. They are the cutest of the cute. These sweet ducklings are extra special as there mother is Jennifer who earlier this year was attacked by a fox. You may recall the story from May.
We lost Clarissa, a beautiful large white Aylesbury duck. We thought we had also lost Jennifer her pair (the Two Fat Ladies - Clarissa & Jennifer) however I found Jennifer wounded in the garden covered in blood and very traumatised.
Jennifer was a very sick duck. She had been mauled around her head resulting in a lot of swelling including swelling of her brain. However it was clear she was a survivor and not of faint heart. After much intensive nursing she got back on feet and with the loving support of brown duck she re learnt her life as a duck. Jennifer still has a slight list when she walks (acquired brain injury) but is managing really well. Little Brown duck (she is really a very light tan) is still by Jennifer's side acting as a co-parent as you can see from the photos above. Jennifer and louis (or louise - our male Aylesbury cross) will breed us a nice big flock of meat ducks eventually, with brown ducks' support of course.
Last weekend we were in Bathurst to speak at the Farming for the Future conference organised by Greening Bathurst. What an exciting and inspiring event. The venue was full not only with older farmers but a surprising number of young farming families keen to grow sustainable food. the Conference certainly delivered. The program brought together the leading practitioners in regenerative farming:
Col Seis who helped facilitate the pasture cropping movement world-wide and in 2015 was named one of the top 6 most influential farmers in the world.
Charles Massey, grazier and author of the Call of the Reed Warbler
Graham Finlayson a farmer of the year and Nutfield Scholar who is demonstrating how grazing in the semi-arid zone on 7000 ha, could be turned around using stock to to regenerate whole landscapes.
Martin Royds who has turned traditional agriculture in his neighbourhood on its head, and increased his productivity to 230% per DSE. He has won a number of awards including:
And Peter Andrews OAM who has gained fundamental insights to the natural functioning of the Australian landscape that leave him almost without peer.
What all these speakers have in common and made clear, is that agricultural practices, operating in isolation from the environment and only focused on the productive unit rather than the the geography, the climate, the soil and the environment, as all aspects of the farm, do not work.
So what is regenerative farming?
It applies ecological principles to food / farm production, while taking care of natural resources and valuing biodiversity.
Agroecolgy is the term being used by international policy makers. It is not a farming practice as such but provides the principles or the ethos for food production. It links ecology, culture, economics, and society to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
It is about:
Since 2014 the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation has embraced the term Agroecology. Natural Sequence Farming, Holistic Farming, Biological Farming, Permaculture and so on, are all Agroecology in action as they all essentially follow the same ethos or principles.
It was a great honour for Wynlen House to share the stage with these leading innovators in the farming sector. We were also the only women farmers on the program. (One for the team) We were included because we are a highly productive, very small farm, practicing ecological farming and intensive poly-culture, in recognition that small farms are as equally as important as large farms.
By 2012, in the international arena, the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation had radically changed its thinking acknowledging that diversified farming systems in which the small-scale farmer produces grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal products in the same field or garden out-produce the yield per unit of single crops such as corn grown alone on large-scale farms.
A large farm may produce more corn per hectare than a small farm in which the corn is grown as part of a poly-culture. But, productivity in terms of harvestable products per unit area of poly-cultures developed by smallholders is higher than under a single crop with the same level of management. Yield advantages can range from 20% to 60%, because poly-cultures reduce losses due to weeds (by occupying space that weeds might otherwise occupy), insects, and diseases (because of the presence of multiple species), and make more efficient use of the available resources of water, light, and nutrients.
The inverse relationship between farm size and output can be attributed to the more efficient use of land, water, biodiversity, and other agricultural resources by small farmers. So in terms of converting inputs into outputs, society would be better off with small-scale farmers.
This brings us back to Wynlen House.
From little things big things Grow
The recent warm weather and spring rain has been great for the produce garden. Every day you can visibly see the the garden growing. It is abundant with energy and life. The bees are buzzing and the wrens & finches are fluttering in the shrubs and flowers.
While the garden is blooming at this time of year unfortunately so are the weeds. Just as all the herbs, vegetables, and fruits are growing joyfully so are all the unwanted plants we commonly call weeds. In fact they often seem to grow at greater pace than the plants.
At this time of year when there is so much planting to do, weed management is a high priority, especially in fallow beds. By late winter we have a number of beds which are no longer productive and of course end up completely overgrown. As you can see from the photos wild weeds is no exaggeration, hence the need for extreme mowing.
Our current management of wild weeds starts with extreme mowing. With overgrown weeds under 40cm we use the mower and catcher. The waste caught in the catcher we spread on other beds to be turned in. On wild weeds that are closer to 60cm or higher we do not use the catcher on the mower as it is quite difficult to mow wild weeds of this height with a standard mower. If you have a slasher you might choose to use this to cut back the wild weeds. I am not a fan of these tools hence my practice of extreme mowing. Once the bed is mowed it is then covered with plastic to solarize (kill the weeds) in the bed. With the heat of the last few weeks, the solarizaton process is complete in less than a week. The bed is then turned over with our trusty tiller or this can be done with a garden fork or broad fork. Over the course of a week a totally overgrown wild weed bed is ready for planting.
October has heralded some glorious spring weather. We have had the best rain for nearly a year, mild temperatures and no frosts for weeks. Our frost covering have been lifted for a month and now we have started to remove the cloche frames. Even if we get a late frost now, it is unlikely to be hard one and the plantings we have in the garden should not be affected.
While the temperatures have been mild and without frost for a few weeks the soil is fairly cool. In our garden this week the soil temperature has just reached 16°. This is still quite cool for the germination of the majority of summer seeds. See attached file
Beans will germinate at 16° but pumpkins, chilies, peppers, eggplants… all require warmer soil temps for good germination. The summer seeds we started in the cold frame and under plastic particularly the cucumbers and pumpkins are ready to plant out and consequently bed preparation is our current highest priority. Our early October potato plantings are just starting to germinate and we will continue potato plantings up to early December. We will be moving the hot house within the next week and well established plantings of tomato, peppers, eggplants, chili and basil seedlings will be in the ground, in the hot house by the end of November.
This time of year is also when the garlic (early season Turbans) mature. Bulb development commences around 8 weeks prior to harvest. The only way to check whether bulb development has commenced is to move the dirt away from the stem down to the roots. If you do this gently you will not cause any damage to the plant. The appearance of the scape indicates that harvest is only 2 to 3 weeks away. If you would like to know more about when you garlic is ready to harvest you can purchase our mini guide.
We are looking forward to the first garlic of the season.
I hope you enjoy the photos of our garden at the moment