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.
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.
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
Reconsidering watering practices in a drought
While we have had some lovely misty rains in the past few weeks, this does not mean that the drought is over. Our total rainfall so far this year is still less than 50% of our average annual rainfall.
The two most water conserving watering methods are hand watering and drip irrigation systems.
First, your soil needs to be well worked as this aerates the soil allowing for good water penetration and it is necessary to use a watering can with a very broad rose a or a rose type attachment for the hose. This type of hose attachment allows the water to fall gently on the garden bed, packing down the soil in the bed less, and the plants are not hit and damaged by a hard water spray. If you choose to point the fan downward, stand as far away from the plants as possible and/or keep the water pressure adjusted to a low point to minimize soil compaction and water damage.
The advantage of hand watering over drip irrigation is that dust, grime, and insects are washed rom plant leaves and it also creates a deliciously moist atmosphere conducive to good plant growth and thriving microbial life. With hand watering, water needs can be tailored for each crop. Every plant receives the specific amount of water it needs which results in better growing conditions and more productive harvests. Freshly seeded beds are watered lightly and more often, established beds are watered more deeply. Some crops are watered daily, others every second or third day, or as the weather dictates.
To determine how much water to give a bed each day, strive for a 3 to 15-second “shiny.” When you first begin to water, a shiny layer of excess water will appear on top of the soil. If you stop watering immediately, the shiny layer will disappear quickly. You should water until the shiny layer remains for 3 to 15 seconds after you have stopped watering. The actual time involved will differ depending on your soil’s texture. The more clayey the texture, the longer the time will be. A newly prepared bed with good texture and structure will probably have enough water when a 3-second shiny is reached. A month-old bed (which has compacted somewhat due to the watering process) may require a 5-to 8-second shiny, and beds 2 to 3 months old may require more than that. Note: It is important to realize that we are watering the soil, so that it may thrive as a living sponge cake. We are not watering the plants. The soil in turn then “waters” the plants. Keeping the soil alive will help retain water and minimize the water consumed.
When you water is also an important aspect. Watering is best when the heat of the day first subsides. This is about 2 hours before sunset during the summer and earlier during the winter. Also, plants do a significant amount of their growing at night, and this ensures they will have plenty of water to do so. If you water early in the morning, much of the water will be lost in evaporation caused by the sun and wind, and the watering will be less effective. By watering in the late afternoon, the water can percolate into the soil for 12 hours or more before the sun and wind reappear in strength. When they do, the bed will have a good reservoir of water from which the plants can draw before their next watering.
(reference: How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons)
Drip-irrigation systems are efficient because the water is delivered drop by drop over a long period of time, and this provides plant roots time to absorb waterborne nutrients gradually and continuously.
Our current watering practices at Wynlen House is a mixture of both hand watering and drip irrigation. We are hand watering beds when they are first planted for about 6 to 8 weeks depending on plant growth. Once plants have grown to where they are covering the bed and little soil can be seen we are using our drip irrigation system.
In this picture we are still hand watering this bed, however we have the drip irrigation system in place for when the plants are larger
The rain over the last 3 weeks has been very gratefully received and a welcome relief for everyone.
This time of year can be a confusing time in the garden with wonderfully warm, heading towards summer days, followed by light the fire and shivering back into winter. While the warm days make us think that we can start planting for summer, the soil temperatures are still quite cool and summer seed germination is still some time off. However while it is too early to plant summer seeds into the garden it is a great time to get summer plantings started as seedlings in a protected spot, hot house, cold frame or the window sill.
This variation in temperatures can also cause vegies that have been sitting quietly in the garden through winter to suddenly burst into flowering. While this is not ideal it does not mean that these plants are inedible. While the flower stem can become woody, this usually takes a few weeks. Leafy greens that have suddenly shot up can still be harvested for their leaves, turnips and some other root vegetables can still be eaten for 2 to 3 weeks after the emergence of the the flower stalk. The only exception to this is with leeks. As soon as the flower stalk starts to emerge the leek is no longer edible as the flower stalk creates a very hard core within the leek.
It also an exciting time in the garden as the winter dormancy is over and everything is bursting with the joy of life. The fruit trees are blossoming, and the hum of bees fills the air. Finches, wrens and willy wagtails flit and sing in the burgeoning garden growth. And of course hand in hand with all this wonderful garden growth are the weeds. Just as the vegies have been sitting quietly in the garden through winter so have the weeds. Managing the weeds needs to be a priority as these too are bursting into flower and seed.
Our favourite weeding tool for this heavy weed infestation of early spring is the stirrup hoe. But even with good hand tools, this year (the year of the nettle at Wynlen House) with the huge nettle infestation we are having to do much weeding by hand.
On a final note I came across this really interesting article in the Guardian about drought in our dry continent. Well worth the read.
This month is the time to explore the wonders of Stinging Nettles.
Stinging nettle has a long history of culinary (and medicinal) usage especially in Europe and they grow abundantly in the highly fertile soils here at Wynlen House. Nettles are a good source of fibre; are very high in vitamin A; and are also a good source of dietary calcium, iron, and protein. Nettle is recommend as a high-protein, low-calorie source of essential nutrients, minerals, and vitamins particularly in vegetarian, vegan, diabetic, or other specialized diets.
In our region Nettles are at their best at this time of year. They thrust themselves up from the barely warm ground in late July /early August and this early fresh young growth is the best time to eat them. By late September nettles are starting to become coarse and hoary, and they should not be eaten once they begin to form flowers. It is important to remember that they are called Stinging Nettle for a reason. Nettles have fine hairs that even only brushed lightly on bare skin, create the feeling akin to dozens of little syringes injecting fiery pain. Wearing gloves and long sleeves is essential attire for harvesting and in the kitchen it is essential to wear cloves for cleaning and preparing. Cooking or drying neutralises the stinging (toxic) components. Nettles can be used as a tea, in soup, blanched for a salad or even added to pizza. I am exploring the culinary wonders of nettles this week with plans to make nettle pesto for the stall. Nettles can be used to replace other green veg, particularly silverbeet or spinach in any recipe.
In the garden stinging nettle is often just seen as an annoying weed, that is literally a pain to remove. However like many weeds they can have a role to play. They're a good indication that the soil is quite high in nutrients, especially phosphorus; and nettles are high in nutrients such as iron, magnesium and nitrogen. They can be turned in as a green manure crop; used in compost; can be made into a liquid fertilizer (tea). We are currently using them as a living mulch. Of course if using nettles for these purposes it is best that they be turned in or removed before the seed has set. If they have gone to seed you can still use them for a fertilizer tea.
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:
We are now moving into the coldest part of our winter, with daily frosts and minimum temperatures in the minus. Our garden beds are not defrosting until about 10.30am. Not that I mind the late starts to the morning. A bit if extra time reading by the fire at this time of year is very pleasant. My eclectic reading this week turned up some articles and a great book on the Chinese market gardeners in Australia particularly in the Gold Fields of the Southern Tablelands of NSW .
“Chinese market gardeners brought skills and knowledge from China as well as adopting and adapting local practices. Their labour intensive methods of farming, ability to manage and organise their own workforce in providing local markets with local produce became distinctive features of the Chinese market gardens across NSW.” Dr Barry McGowan (Australian National University)
Since moving to Braidwood and setting up our market garden I have been interested in the Chinese market gardeners of the region. Pictures show well established market gardens and it is clear from records of the time that yields were very high. On February 10, 1883, The Southern Argus reports: “…we are told the people of Goulburn are ill-provided with vegetables and that the European gardeners were solely to blame…the Chinese bring their vegetables to better perfection than the Europeans…the Chinese are model gardeners.
The Chinese have a very long history of vegetable cultivation dating back as early as 5000 BC. with continuity since that time. By the mid 1800’s when many Chinese came to Australia there vegetable production and agricultural practices were “superior” to many European practices and they were able to adapt and innovate to new environments and climates. Chinese market gardeners used growing frames covered with paper or hessian to protect delicate seedlings from frost.
Another interesting report from a regional Victorian newspaper in 1897 stated that European market gardeners in Melbourne were jealous of the Chinese hawkers who supplied suburban householders with such regularity, and also the Chinese market gardeners who sold directly to consumers. Gardeners who sold their produce directly to householders rather than through city markets obtained better returns. This is still relevant today.
There is always something to learn from the past as well as the present. I look forward to more interesting reading as we take a break through July. We will be taking a break from the stall and this blog until the 8 August, when our next newsletter will be published.