The long winter evenings are well and truly here. The days are becoming so short. All the animals are gathering at the gates by 4.00pm demanding to be fed and to be let into their housing. By 5.30pm it’s the same for me. Time for snuggling up by the fire, dinner, watching cooking shows and reading.
I find filling in the long winter evenings is always a challenge. One of my occupations is to scour through recipe books. The other is re reading gardening books and exploring new “small farm” thinking through the internet. At this time of the year when we start the winter pruning program I re-visit my fruit tree production books. One of my standard refer to texts is Fruit for Australian Gardens by Paul Baxter, first published in 1991, and I have a couple of classics from the 1940’s Practical Gardening And Food Production in Pictures and A Handbook for Fruit And Vine Growers by the Chief Horticultural Instructor, Dept Of Agriculture South Australia. These older books provide wonderful detail and ‘how to’ pictures / diagrams.
So on to pruning currants. Paul Baxter states ‘Red currants are generally grown as a multi stemmed bush with eight to ten main shoots per plant. Pruning then consists mainly of removing some of the four to five year old branches each year so that new shoots will grow in the their place, ...also remove those erect shoots that grow in the center of the plant.”
The aim of pruning is to keep the form of the plant, remove any diseased material, to keep the plant’s interior open and to maintain fruit production. This involves removing about a third of the old growth away from the plant. The oldest growth is the thickest branches with bark that is very dark to the point of being black. Also remove any branches that are weak or very low and any crossing and or rubbing branches (cut the weakest or oldest). These cuttings can create new fruit bushes. Trim to about 30cm, and pot. With a bit of luck you should get a fairly good strike rate.
It has been a beautiful moist week, with some rain, lots of drizzle and delightful mizzle, that lovely heavy mist that is not quit drizzle. The vegetables adore this weather. The big broad leaves of the brassicas capture large drops of water like small pools; the soil has turned dark with moisture and looks rich and renewed. It is great transplanting weather. However as the soil has cooled right down seeds at this time of year can be very slow to germinate. Much better to plant seedlings.
This time of year is great for all those maintenance tasks in the garden particularly pruning, feeding and mulching of the orchard and berries. Food producing trees and bushes need to be well mulched so as to keep the roots warm and moist at all times and to ensure continuous feeding of the tree. A regular feeding and mulching program for the orchard should commence in winter when weed and grass growth has slowed.
The application of nutrient and mulching material should extend out from the trunk in a circle that equals the growth of the canopy. This material should be pulled away from the trunk, to keep the trunk healthy and avoid rot.
A winter soil husbandry program for food producing trees and bushes should include:
Other news from the farm. Jennifer the duck is still recovering well and has returned to the flock part time.
A good news update on Jennifer our sweet Aylesbury duck of strong heart who survived last week’s fox attack. While her wounds have mostly healed and she no longer requires medication, she still has someway to go to full recovery. She has sustained some brain damage that has affected her ability to stand quite upright. She has a list or a lean. But whether this will be permanent only time will tell. In all other ways she is behaving like a normal duck.
They wander around the garden together searching for snails and generally being ducky. They are very sweet together. They share lunch together then brown duck heads to the gate and requests to go back to the flock. It is truly wonderful to share this nurturing. Many thanks to Dr Louise.
We had a murderous visit by a sly Reynard to the duck pen overnight. Every time you become complacent Reynard will take advantage of the smallest opportunity. 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.
Emergency first aid - a dose of Rescue Remedy primarily for the duck and a dose for me as well; clean the blood away, assess the wounds, antiseptic powder, then a warm contained space with plenty of water with glucose or honey. Jennifer slept most of the day, but it was clear that she would require antibiotics. A visit by the vet, some pain relief and antibiotics, now five days later Jenifer is still alive although not out of the woods. However it is clear she is a survivor and not of faint heart. She greets me every morning with a little quack and sits quietly during the day enjoying the sun.
Unfortunately I can offer no guarantees on how to fox proof you poultry pens other than for trial and error, but I can provide some basic information on poultry first aid. Shock is the major danger and cause of death for poultry when surviving the traumatic event. Rescue Remedy is excellent initial treatment for shock in all poultry and also can be a great help to you the owner. If there are no obvious injuries, keeping your traumatised poultry warm and contained is an essential component for managing shock. Make sure the bird has water with honey or glucose. Hopefully your beautiful hen or duck will survive the next 12 hours and will be well on the way to recovery.
Any injuries your bird may have sustained will require different considerations and actions.
It is possible to manage many injuries without veterinary intervention, but this should not be attempted without some basic knowledge of animal first aid and a basic understanding of their physiology, welfare and characteristics. Always consult your local vet with any concerns.
If you want to know more about animal first aid please see our on-farm course in July on Basic Animal Care and Welfare. The course aims to provide practical knowledge and skills to manage livestock on a small scale.
May has finally seen the arrival of some cool weather and frosts. After the very warm April it is not surprising that we are feeling unusually cold with this change.
Just as we are feeling the cold so is the garden. While many vegetables 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 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, to 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, frost protection fabrics are essential.
Plastic can provide very good protection, but does not necessarily create a healthy growing environment as it does not allow for good air circulation or water penetration. In our low rainfall location and our current drought, preventing water penetration into the garden is not recommended. Agricultural fabrics overcome both air circulation and water penetration issues. There are a number of fabrics that can be used to provide adequate frost protection.
The first thing to remember is that we are not aiming to grow things out of season, but we are aiming to provide support and a level of protection to our winter crops. This support and protection includes;
The importance of local food systems Part 2
"A Farmers’ Market is predominantly a fresh food market... that provides an environment for farmers and specialty food producers to sell farm-origin and associated value-added specialty foods..., and plant products, directly to customers.” Australian Farmers market Association
The Braidwood Farmers Market has been operating since November 2013 and is possibly if not the first, cold climate Farmer’s Market that began operating in the region. The SAGE markets in Moruya commenced in early 2013 but located on the coast it is not within our climate zone. The Southern Harvest Markets in Bungendore did not commence until 2015.
The Braidwood Farmers market has very basic rules with a primary focus on local food production. These include that, all produce should be sold by the principal producer; Re-sellers are not permitted; value added produce is to be... derived primarily from the vendors property or from within the geographic boundaries; and cooked/processed foods should... preferable utilise local produce and where possible, obtained from other stallholders. While many other markets across the region have become increasingly dominated by ready to eat food vendors with no connection to food that is grown in the region Braidwood Farmers Market has remained essentially a local food producers market.
Between these three vegetable produces Braidwood Farmers Market has an extensive range of seasonal produce, that ensures market goers can source all their weekly vegetable needs.
Another little known fact is that the Araluen valley, a unique pocket of temperate climate is located within our LGA. The Harrison’s farm is in the Araluen Valley and this ensures that Bradiwood Farmers Market always has a range of produce available well ahead of their cool climate colleagues. Harrisons also operate the last large peach orchard in the valley and for that matter the district.
Braidwood Farmers market is certainly fulfilling its role in the local food economy and provides an excellent opportunity for co-producers (consumers) not only to have a direct link and role in the agricultural process but to purchase an incredible range of truly local food.
The Braidwood Farmers Market is on this Saturday at the National Theater. It operates the first & third Saturday of the month from 8.30 to 12.30.
A Local food system “describes a method of food production and distribution that is geographically localized, rather than national and/or international...In general, local or regional food systems are associated with sustainable agriculture, while the global industrial food system is reliant upon industrial agriculture.”
“Is a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste management in order to enhance the environmental, economic, and social health of a particular area”
So why is this important?
It is clear that not is all well in our food and farming systems and often our food is causing harm rather than nourishment. We are eating a disproportionate amount of highly processed foods and we have lost any real connection to food production. Mostly we see food as coming from large supermarkets with our food choices being manipulated by advertising and big business. Farmers and the environment are bearing the cost of Coles and Woolies so called 'cheap food'
Let’s look at some basic facts about the current food production system based on industrial agriculture and global food empires. According to information from the FAO (United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation) Global food empires control 80% of world agriculture and promotes monoculture farming. Industrial agriculture is:
Local food systems and local food economies are about changing these appalling statistics
How can we help create this change?
We need to recognise that there is no such thing as cheap food. Up until the 1960’s a farmers received 90% of the $ value of the food produced; today the farmer gets 10%. This has to change. Another economic viewpoint is possible and necessary. It is time to reconsider our role as consumers. We need to go beyond the passive role of consuming and take an interest in those who produce our food; how they produce it; and the problems they face in doing so. In actively supporting food producers, we become part of the production process. The term co-producer was coined by Slow Food to highlight how collectively our consumer choices can bring great change to how food is cultivated, produced and distributed.
As co-producers we do have the power and ability to create change.
A co-producer relationship is one of mutual support and commitment between farmers “consumers” . When “consumers” obtain food from local farmers, they are directly supporting sustainable agriculture in their community as well as receiving the freshest available produce. This relationship between producers and consumers can underpin the kind of understanding that leads to long-term commitment and tolerance amongst consumers. It can also encourage consumers to consider their wider behaviour and practices, perhaps leading to more radical changes to production–consumption relationships. Through our food choices we can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced and distributed, and as a result bring about great change.
Next week (part 2) I will look at the role Farmers Markets have in (re)developing, sustainable and local food systems.
I had planned to talk about the increased number of pests in the garden due to our very temperate weather through March & April but this week as the weather is cooling down and we have had a light frost, the infestation of aphids and white cabbage moth in particular will soon disappear. Although there will still be a need to deal with the progeny from the cabbage moth over the next few weeks. So perhaps it would still be a good idea to discuss the management of these pesky caterpillars.
The eggs of the cabbage moth are usually laid on the underside of the leaves; are quite small and white. These can be removed by simply rubbing them off. The eggs hatching result in small green munching caterpillars. Just as the eggs can be removed by hand so can the caterpillars. Picking them of can be a very effective pest management strategy in a small garden but can be a time consuming task in a large garden or with a very heavy infestation. Exclusion fabrics and decoys can be effective deterrents but if you have a garden bed of eaten brassicas these strategies come a bit late.
If they are eating your plants at this stage, you will need to consider some type of organic chemical control. Dipel is a biological control that is highly effective against most species of caterpillars. It is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars, which is mixed with water and sprayed onto foliage. It is ingested by the feeding caterpillar, which dies 3-5 days later. It is totally safe to beneficial insects, bees and mammals. The active ingredient Bacillus Thuringiensis is broken down by sunlight within a few days. In my view dipel is a very good option as it has very little impact on any other insects, One or two applications at this time of year should resolve the infestation as cabbage moths disappear in the cooler weather. We have been regularly using dipel during the summer as the hotter it got and stayed the more the moths thrived. At one point Helen got totally over them and ran briefly out into the garden wildly spraying from a can of fly spray... needless to say the moths thought that was a bit silly -! Not even one looked a little bit sick!
We have had some well needed rain across the region, although the amount appears to have been quite variable. Our garden had 7mm and while this might sound very little to those outside the region, here where we have been in drought for nearly a year (total rainfall 450mm since April 2017) any amount of rain is significant. It was wonderful to go into the garden after the overnight rain to see the soil dark and damp and the plants glowing. There is nothing more nourishing than some long awaited rain.
Looking after your garden during this unprecedented hot and dry Autumn
It appears that the current warm whether and low rainfall is set to continue through to June with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) stating that in South East Australia both day time and night time temperatures are expected to be higher than normal. While this can have some positive impacts in the garden it can also create a range of challenges that we don’t usually have to deal with at this time of year.
First and foremost the hot dry weather means that maintaining well mulched garden beds to retain soil moisture continues to be necessary and a priority. Water conservation has been an ongoing issue for some time in the Braidwood area, with rainfall remaining well below average resulting in ongoing water shortages and very dry soils. According to Roger Hosking our local weather data annalist we have been in drought since June 2017. Furthermore the Soil Dryness Index (SDI) which is used to determine soil saturation is currently at 115mm. (17 April) ‘...It is calculated daily and measured in millimetres with a scale from zero to 200mm’ Zero is when the soil is saturated. ‘As a general guide… pasture plant growth is suppressed when SDI is above 50mm; most shallow rooted plants have died when the SDI is above 100mm and young trees begin to die when the SDI is above 150mm.' As we drive around the area we can see that pasture growth is definitely being affected.
Keeping the produce garden watered will continue to be a challenge. Along with mulching garden beds, adding organic matter to your soil improves its structure, which helps it to retain moisture. Using watering practices that conserve water are also essential. These start with watering only if you need to. To check if you need to water, feel your soil. If it’s damp, it’s fine; if it’s dry, it’s time to water. Seep hoses or irrigation systems that allow water to drip or trickle into growing areas are very efficient watering methods. At Wynlen House we use in line drip irrigation readily available from most rural stores. Hand held hosing or watering cans are also very efficient but can be labour intensive. Reusing water is an option also well worth consideration. Household soaps and detergents are generally harmless to plants, and can also be useful in managing some pests. But don’t use water containing bleach, disinfectant, dishwasher powder or stronger cleaners, which can harm plants, damage soil structure and could also be a health risk.
The warm dry weather does have some benefits, however, including an extended growing season usually associated with more temperate climates. For the first time since I have lived here (2002) we have been able to field cure our pumpkins, and we are currently harvesting beans!
So with rain not predicted until the end of May prioritizing the use of water for food production will continue to be a must.
Unless yo are able to recycle your bathing water, less showering and more vegie watering will have to be the go.
Don't forget to keep an eye on those overnight minimum temperatures
Happy gardening until next time.
PS Roger Hoskings book All About Braidwood's Climate- apractical handbook and descriptive guide, is available from a number of shops in Braidwood.
Each year in the garden brings a greater depth of knowledge about the rhythms, the cycles, the seasons and the weather. Autumn is when we can experience the full weather cycle in one day, and the frosts begin. In Braidwood we had our first frost for the year on 27 March.
While it is a widely held view that our frost season starts on Anzac day and ends on Melbourne Cup Day, this is not actually true. According to Roger Hoskins our local weather expert, (Author - All about Braidwood’s Climate) the average date for the first frost of the year is 23 March, and the last frost is 22 of November. Last year, (2017) the first frost didn’t occur until 29 April. Is the occurrence of the first frost in March an indicator of a colder winter for this year? Last winter (2017) was one of the coldest winters we have had for some time with the number of frost days and the number of frost hours below zero for June, July and August being significantly greater than the long term mean. According to Roger “the 2017 winter was very much colder than normal by several measures”
We have had our first frost in late March, an indicator that this is an average year. However we seem to be experiencing some very warm April temperatures. Last years highest temperature for April was 21.9 This year we have had much higher temperatures than this for 10 days out of the 12 days of the month so far, with the highest temperature being 31.8. The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) seasonal outlook April to June, states “Days are likely to be warmer than average for parts of southeast Australia” This is certainly true for Braidwood so far. Minimum temperatures have also been higher.
What does all this mean for the gardener growing produce? The change seasons (Autumn and Spring) are very busy in the garden. Autumn is the time when the garlic gets planted and when a great deal of planting and growing takes place to ensure produce is available through winter and early spring. The root vegetables for winter eating, carrots, parsnips and turnips, need to be planted. Lots of Brassica seedlings also need to be planted (from late Summer through Autumn); broad beans, a range of Asian greens (its the perfect time to plant wombok - Chinese cabbage) and other greens particularly English spinach. Autumn is also the time for harvesting, storing and preserving. Pumpkins are harvested and cured for winter storage. Fruits can be stored or preserved. Late plantings of potatoes will be dying off now and in our cool climate, will store well in the ground for eating over winter.
The warmer April weather provides an opportunity for extra plantings and more importantly increased growth before the cold sets in.
Happy gardening and keep an eye on the minimum temps and lets hope that we get some Autumn rain.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm