What an unusual time it is in covid-19 world. We are busy in our market garden enjoying the beautiful Autumn and from all accounts on social media it is how many people are occupying their time. The lovely rain through February and March along with this warmer April weather has provided wonderful growing conditions. I’m sure many of you have been planting lots of vegie seeds and should be seeing good germination and growth. While it is likely that this milder weather should continue well into May, a frosty night or two is also just as likely. So I thought it would be very timely to talk about how to keep your garden growing through winter. There are two key things to do:
First - plant seedlings. It is starting to get a bit too late to plant seeds. Seeds take time to germinate. As the temperature cools, and particularly as the night time temperatures drop, germination takes longer. Seeds planted now will not achieve enough growth. The cooling weather and increasing frost as winter starts results in overall growth slowing right down. Planting seedlings now ensures that you get good strong growth leading into winter with associated better continued growth through winter. Very young plants will quickly shut down when the soil temps cool and the air temperatures are below zero.
Second - frost protection. While many vegetables can cope with light frosts 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. Regular (weekly) applications of a seaweed liquid fertilizer during our cold months can be a beneficial routine. However, to maintain healthy strong plants that keep growing though our extremely cold climate and harsh frost season, frost protection fabrics are essential. 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. If you are covering a small number of plants and are prepared to cover at night and remove during the day, then there are a large number of fabrics that can be used. Old sheets, feed sacks, hessian, shade cloth, the list is endless.
There are also specific agricultural fabrics available. We use a knitted, thermal, permeable fabric (insulnet) that allows the area covered to breathe, moisture to penetrate and it creates a “softer” microclimate modifying temperature by about 2 degrees. There are also other fabrics available in Australia including a horticultural fleece produced by Weed Gunnel, a Queensland company. Bunnings also has some fabrics. They are not very strong and as such will not last long but are at least easily available for the backyard grower.
Agricultural fabrics are generally held in place by a hooped frame. This can be homemade or you can purchase purpose built frames - cloches. While the initial outlay on cloche frames, some may consider a bit expensive, it is money well spent. Purpose built cloche frames are sturdy, ensure the fabric remains in place even with 100k winds; the fabric can easily be raised to access the bed without removing the frame; and they will last for a number of years.
Unfortunately, cloche frames need to be purchased in a set of 25 and most backyard gardens do not require this many. To assist all our gardening friends (within driving access to Wynlen House), we will bulk order frames so that you can purchase the amount you need. The frames are ideal for a bed width of around 80cm and you will need a frame approximately every 2 metres. For example if you had a bed area 80cm wide and 4 metres long you would need 3 frames: 1 at each end and 1 in the middle. Cost of individual frames is $14. However due to Covid 19 there are currently none available in Australia. The frames are produced by a New Zealand company which is in lockdown. I have been advised it will be at least 4 weeks possibly longer before they will be available. Insulnet is available at Braidwood Rural Store. If you wish to order cloche frames contact Wynlen House using the button below
Happy gardening and keep an eye on the minimum temps. If you haven't harvested your pumpkins you need to do this now!
A simple recipe for a fertilizer tea.
There are many recipes available using specific ingredients and quantities, however the following is a good standard recipe:
1 part seaweed or weeds or herbs (nettles, comfrey, dandelion... ) to 5 parts water.
Place in a bucket and cover with water.
Cover the bucket with breathable material and let it steep for about two weeks.
Strain the liquid. The solid waste can go in your compost.
Dilute it to a ratio of 1:10 and use it anywhere in the garden.
It is great to see and hear an increasing number of people thinking and talking about sustainability. So what does this term actually mean. In 1987 the United nations Bruntland Committee defined sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The three key pillars were determined as economic, environmental and social; or people, planet and profits.
“Sustainable development means balancing local and global efforts to meet basic humans need with the need to preserve the natural environment from degradation and destruction. It means meeting our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
Environmental sustainability involves keeping the planets ecosystems diverse and productive through good resource management; social sustainability focuses on social equity, health equity, community development, human rights, labour rights and social justice. Economic sustainability relates to the social and ecological consequences of economic activity” World Wildlife Fund
As an aside, I am not surprised that Greta Thunberg was emotional when she addressed the United Nations Climate Action Summit recently. Since 1987 the United Nations has put forward the need for significant change in how we manage resources, economies and the environment however with very little impact. It took until December 2015 for the majority of countries in the world to reach agreement on dealing with green house emissions with the goal of keeping global temperature increases to 1.5°C by 2030. Australia’s current temperature increase since industrialisation is officially already at 1°C, while the government Annual Climate statement 2018 states that “the 11-year mean temperature for 2008–2018 was the highest on record at 0.77 °C above average”
While Australia looks like it will bust the 2030 1.5 °C increase well before the target date the “Australian government has turned its back on global climate action dismissing the findings of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming …and is no longer provide funds to the Green Climate Fund (GCF); It is continuing to subsidise fossil fuel extraction and export, against the need to phase out fossil fuels, in particular coal, globally; Australia’s emissions from fossil fuels and industry continue to rise, and are now 7% above 2005 levels. These emissions have increased by around 1% per year on average since 2014, the year in which Australia’s national carbon pricing scheme was repealed. Under current polices, these emissions are headed for an increase of 8% above 2005 levels by 2030, rather than the 14-17% decrease in these emissions required to meet Australia’s Paris Agreement target” (https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/australia/)
For us to really achieve sustainable development and to not compromise the ability of younger generations to meet their needs will require not only political leaders but also global corporations to significantly change their economic thinking. We can no longer operate from an ethos of bigger is better and that excessive profitability is the only measure of success. We need to recognise that free market capitalism where small government is lauded, and social and economic responsibility is considered a minor issue; where individual wealth and user pays out weighs social justice, social equity and social capital, is manifestly at odds with sustainable development goals.
“We need to integrate economic and ecological considerations in decision making and this will require a change in attitudes and objectives and in institutional arrangements at every level.” United Nations Brundtland Commission
A step in the right direction would be to consider alternative capitalist ideology such as a social market economy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_market_economy) or of greater impact would be to consider alternative economic philosophies. Yes there are other economic philosophies besides capitalism. See Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered by German born British economist E. F. Schumacher.
What is clear is that we have to make change at both the personal and the structural level. It means that everyone of us must be prepared to need less, seek less and want less and that structural change can only occur when we stop voting for political leaders who mislead, misrepresent and promote self interest rather than the common good.
The last couple of months has seen some awareness in both mainstream and social media about the use of soy, particularly GM soy, in stock feed. It is great that some sectors of the community are starting to understand the significance of this issue. We here at Wynlen House Farm have been raising concerns about soy in the food chain for some time. It is part of the reason why we make our own poultry feed using meat meal.
We originally started making our own feed over 15 years ago because we wanted to ensure that our poultry were being fed a nutritionally balanced diet and not a "one size fits all" processed pellet. We also were concerned because poultry are omnivores, and as such it is essential that they have animal protein in their diet. A vegetable protein such as soy is not ideal even when a supplement is added.
In 2016 when we were selected to be a part of the Australian delegation to Terra Madre the International conference of the Slow Food Movement, we became fully aware of the global impact of soy production. Over 300 million metric tonnes of soy bean is produced world wide, a 350% increase since 1987 (30 years) with approximately 90% of this production used for the stock feed industry. The commercial growth of livestock particularly pig and poultry consumption is correlated to this growth. https://www.soymeal.org/soy-meal-articles/world-soybean-production/
These figures accord with Australia’s consumption of soy products. In 2018 Australia imported 1 million tonnes of soy with 85% of this processed into soybean meal for livestock.
Of even more concern is that soy bean is the most adopted Geniticaly Modified crop, being 50% of the global production of GM crops (followed by maize, cotton, rapeseed…) The United States, Brazil & Argentina are the top three producers of GM crops.
So what is genetic modification? When I first heard about genetic modification of crops I assumed it was about producing more food. Technically, I suppose this is the case but in reality it is about making the food crop herbicide resistant, specifically to glyphosate. This is so the food crop can be sprayed up to 4 times with glyphosate for weed control without supposedly impacting on the actual crop. This fact alone is incredibly disconcerting considering the concerns now being raised about the health issues associated with glyphosate usage.
The Stockfeed Manufacturers’ Council of Australia states "Soybean meal is sourced from Brazil and Argentina with GM soybean meal used as a key source of protein by Australia’s pig, poultry, beef and dairy industries."
The hidden addition of soy in our diet and in the food chain through stock feed may well have long term health impacts. Scientists are concerned that the plant-based estrogen's that occur naturally in soy, many of which are endocrine disruptors, could potentially have adverse impacts on our health. Soy contains goitrogens which lead to depressed thyroid function. It also contains phytates which prevent absorption of life enhancing minerals and also loaded with phytoestrogens which sometimes block the hormone estrogen and have adverse effects on human tissues!
And then there is the connection to the Amazon!
Up until to 2006 soy cultivation was a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin. 80% of Amazon soy was destined for animal feed. In 2006, Greenpeace and other groups traced the impact of the global supply chain of soy, from commodities consumers like Cargill and McDonalds to the Amazon rainforests of Brazil. Negotiations resulted in the soy moratorium, a landmark collaboration that prevented the purchase of soy from recently converted rainforest.
https://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/soy. However while this moratorium is significant, deforestation continues.
Today Brazil has 24-25 million hectares devoted to the growth of this crop, and is currently the second largest producer of soybeans in the world.
Soy is one of just four crops responsible for around 75 percent of deforestation worldwide, with a disproportionate amount of that native vegetation loss occurring in the Brazilian Cerrado biome, bordering on the Amazon.
Taken from a recent article from Slow Food International https://www.slowfood.com/why-amazonia-affects-us-all/
“The big problem in a situation like this is not food as such but the need to understand once and for all that what we eat not only has an impact on the environment and that the land we see in flames today reflects our consumer choices in every sector, from cosmetics, culture and food to fashion and entertainment. If we fail to change our model of production and consumption, we will be unable to change the situation in Brazil and in the rest of the world”
We need to demand change now. The first step is to buy local and seasonal food whenever you can. The easiest way, is to support your local Farmers Market. If you live in the Braidwood area you can purchase local seasonal food and fresh GM soy free eggs directly from Wynlen House Urban Micro Farm.
As consumers we also need to commence a dialogue with our egg, poultry and pork suppliers and particularly with the stock feed industry about soy in the food chain. You can of course purchase soy free poultry feed from Wynlen House. This means at least your chook eggs are GM soy free.
On a final note we are currently raising a batch of GM soy free meat chickens which will be ready in early October. If you are interested Contact Us
So what is a hot bed? A hot bed is a warmed, protected environment, created by heat generated from decomposing organic matter. It is used for producing early crops in cold climates, when soil temperatures during winter are too low for seed germination. Using hot beds to increase soil temperature through the cold winter months is a traditional technique and one of the practices used by French market gardens in their intensive polyculture.
Soil temperatures are averaging around 14℃ in the hot bed. We have planted lots of seeds so will give you an update on germination times as we go. Lets hope all the work pays off.
I will be producing a mini guide with all the details for building a hot bed in the near future.
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.