The daffodils are in bloom always a sign that the weather is warming up. It is not yet officially Spring but there has certainly been a touch of spring warmth in the sun over the past few weeks. Of course it is August and we still have more cold frosty mornings and harsh winds ahead along with a touch of snow across the region on Sunday.
The slight increase in temperature that sees the daffodils blooming also causes the energy to start flowing in deciduous trees. The first sign of this change for us as gardeners is the slight “swelling” or budding that occurs along the branches and tips as the precursor to flowers and leaves. The trigger for this to happen, comes from the dormant buds at the very tip of each branch and twig. They are like sensors and respond to the air temperature and when the conditions are right they release a hormone. This hormone kick starts the tree into life and the roots start to pump. This is often referred to by the term “rising sap” which is the point where the tree draws moisture and sugars stored in the roots, and pumps them under pressure to force out leaves and outer growth. During the period where the sap is rising if you cut a tree it will bleed significantly and in volume. Pruning should not occur during this time as it can significantly impact on the tree’s growth and strength.
It is during this transition period from winter into spring when the sap is rising that sap can be collected from particular trees, for example sap from maples for the making of maple syrup.
This strong flow of sap only lasts for a short period of time, a few days to a few weeks depending on the tree species. As soon as growth starts on the trees and photosynthesis begins, this flow normalises.
This brief transition period is a great time to provide trees with a little bit of gardener love. By spraying fruit trees with micro nutrients and microbes we can give them a boost as they burst into flower. There are a number of commercial products available for this but the most simple and equally effective can be easily made at home or on the farm. Compost teas, worm juice, seaweed brews (if you are near the coast) or a lacto-bacillus inoculate are all excellent ways to provide fruit trees with a spring boost. This spray boost should not replace your annual manuring program for you fruit trees but can be an additional component.
The first fruit trees in our garden to show they are “transitioning” from winter into spring are the nectarines, followed by the nashi pears and the peaches.
Its been a sad week this week as we have eaten the last of the stored winter pumpkins. I have had a foodie affair with pumpkins through this autumn and winter. Pumpkin has always been one of my favourite vegetables. I love it roasted, mashed, as a pasta sauce and of course, as soup. However this pumpkin season I have also been exploring sweet pumpkin dishes. In my view the Americans have perfected the spiced, sweet, pumpkin mixture, used for sweet pumpkin pie, and a host of other sweet pumpkin foods. Thank you America!
Pumpkins are part of the genus cucurbita. This includes cucumber, gourds, melons and squash. Pumpkins are a sub species within the squash family. Technically all pumpkins are squashes but not all squashes are pumpkins. Squashes and pumpkins are generally described as either winter or summer types. The summer types are fast maturing, (around 50 days) have soft rinds, are quite perishable and consumed when the fruit is young. They include courgette or zucchini; patty pan squash, scallop squash, and many more. Winter squashes & pumpkins take longer to mature (one hundred days), have a long storage life (several months versus two weeks), are consumed when the fruits and seeds are fully mature, and have durable hard rinds. Winter pumpkin varieties include Australian butter, jarrahadale, Queensland blue, masque de Provence, heritage varieties of butternut such as wrinkled butternut and so on.
Whether you use the term pumpkin or squash to describe these vegetables primarily depends on the country you are in. In Australia and New Zealand we predominantly use the term pumpkin and rarely use the term squash, while for example in America squash is the predominant term used while pumpkin specifically refers to orange coloured species in this family.
Both summer and winter squashes are grown in the same season. Summer squash receives its name due to the fruit being harvested and consumed in the summer while winter squash or pumpkin is harvested later in the season and if cured properly will store well into winter for winter eating.
There are so many wonderful varieties of pumpkins. We prefer pumpkins that have a firm flesh, a deep colour and strength of flavour. These include buttercup, a smallish deep green pumpkin; pottimarron an orange red pumpkin with a chestnut flavour; Australian butter and jarrahdale both firm fleshed, good storing winter pumpkins.
We ended the Autumn harvest season with around 60 or more pumpkins for winter storage. While we sold a lot of pumpkins it also meant that there was plenty of pumpkin for experimental cooking. For cooking I like firm fleshed pumpkins. Pumpkins can be watery, and for sweet pies you need your pumpkin mix to be quite firm. Baking is a dry method of cooking pumpkin and is the method used for making a sweet spiced pumpkin mix. This years favourite recipes included spiced pumpkin (friendship) cake with a pumpkin cream; sweet pumpkin scones with maple syrup butter and the absolutely fantastic and totally delicious pumpkin ice cream. This culinary delight will be featuring in our next slow food lunch on 24 September, along with other seasonal specialties from the Wynlen House garden. Come and Join us n September 24th for a relaxed meal, great setting, clean produce, meat and preserves grown in our kitchen garden...and pumpkin ice cream! Its the best.
The first two months of winter have been very cold and dry and this can often lead to a hot dry spring. If the weather in the first weeks of August are any indication, then a warm spring seems likely. Already the soil temperature is heating up which means it is time to start preparation for the spring and summer garden.
Soil preparation is the key to any successful garden. Strong healthy soil with accessible nutrients means strong healthy plants. Organic in the dictionary comes from having the characteristics of a living organism. In general terms we understand organic as meaning gardening without chemicals. That is we use additives and inputs that have originated from or are by-products of living matter. Gardening organically also means treating the soil as if it were alive. That is, something needing food, water, shelter and proper mineral content to ensure it’s health.
When doing some background reading I came across the term soil husbandry. In exploring this term further I came across a lot of references from the mid 1800’s and beyond. It is apparent that Soil husbandry has had a long tradition within agricultural soil science. In modern times it appears that the focus is primarily around preventing soil erosion and degradation, however in it’s more traditional sense soil husbandry seeks to sustain the agricultural soil resource though general care and management; by sustaining, feeding and maintaining soil health.
Whether you are a practitioner or proponent of organic based agriculture or a practitioner of industrial agriculture it still all begins and end with the soil. The major difference in these two forms of agriculture is the thinking and understanding behind them. Industrial agriculture is based on the premise that natural systems are inadequate and need to be replaced with human systems. Ie inorganic fertilizers are superior as they are outside of the natural system. On the other hand organic agriculture sees that the systems of the natural world rather than being inadequate offer patterns worth following.
Compost is one of the most important additions to the garden and fits with the “organic” view of soil health. Compost is an excellent source of organic matter and nutrients. It contains all the major plant nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as all the minor nutrients that plants need. Furthermore, it releases these nutrients slowly, thus minimizing runoff and leaching. Compost is made from organic materials that have been broken down into a dark, crumbly substance, known as humus. If you do not have your own supply of quality compost, there are other alternatives. We are very fortunate that all the green waste collected in our region is being converted into compost. Simone Dalkara is the compost maker and runs the Landtasia compost facility. It is the only organically certified green waste facility in NSW (and possibly Australia) and her compost is full of nutrients and microbiology.
While there are whole books written on the subject of soil and a large range of organic inputs to use on soil, the following is a simple regime for home gardeners in preparing and maintaining the kitchen garden:
This formulae is one of the most valued by the gardeners who attend our popular day workshop “ All Season Cool Climate Vegetable Growing” www.wynlenhouse.com/workshops.html
Bronwyn Richards, Principle gardener, Wynlen House
Post Script: The new larger pond we installed last week for the geese has been highly successful and there is romance in goose world.
Monday this week was the first proper day back at work in the Wynlen House market garden. Not the best of days to commence our regular farm & garden work routine. To ease into things on this classic August windy day, we set up a new pond for the geese (recycled, from the Green Shed in Canberra) and prepared a new night pen for them as well. It’s August and by the beginning of Spring the geese will be entering the mating season. Manuel Toulouse the Goose, Manni for short is our relatively new male and we want the breeding season to go well. Toulouse geese are the largest of the geese breeds and as geese prefer to mate in water, our small plastic sandpit ponds are not suitable for breeding. Hence the deeper larger pond.
Through the Autumn and Winter months our geese and ducks have been living happily together, but once the mating season starts the harmony ends, not only is there sexual rivalry, but the breeds become totally intolerant of each other. Early separation of the waterfowl flock before the breeding season starts, makes life in the farmyard much calmer for us all.
Geese are the most majestic birds of the waterfowl breeds, and have traditionally been a part of the mixed farm or small holding. As large waterbirds they only breed seasonally (in Spring) laying up to a maximum of around 40 eggs. Geese mate for life with one gander to between 3 to 5 females. Geese should begin their breeding life in their second year and the females can continue breeding up to 10 years of age. Ganders maintain viable fertility for up to 6 years of age.
Unfortunately, geese have a reputation for being aggressive. This is certainly true during the breeding season. Ganders can be very unruly and protective of their partners and once the females are sitting they will also not hesitate to hiss and bite. Incubation can take 28 to 34 days. Once the goslings hatch out both parents are incredibly protective, just as most new parents are, and coming between the parents and their goslings is going to see you definitely attacked. An angry goose, neck extended, wings spread, charging at you, is definitely a scary sight. If that goose connects with you, it can be a very painful experience. However, being sensible around your geese during this time, in particular keeping young children away, will mean far less tears or life long psychological scars. And with all animals who are being protective maintain eye contact, and don’t turn your back.
So some would ask why would you keep geese. Apart from breeding season they can be delightful birds and very sociable. They are always ready to have a chat, and generally like to broadcast to the world. Geese are not silent birds! They are great as watch dogs or should that be warning birds, and of course young birds (6 months old) are a beautiful culinary addition to the table. We keep our breeding flock for this purpose. We enjoy sharing our farmyard with these wonderful birds.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm