Friday, 19 December 2014

What does it really mean?

What can I say except that was a long 4 months. What am I talking about I hear you ask?  ... well I just won the "Yates" 2014 Garden Vegetable Growing Competition. That's right Whoohoo being a winner is much more fun than being a loser.

The competition began in September and consisted of starting all plants from seed and then blogging about the journey, the problems faced, the failures and success.  2272 garden competitors from around Australia joined in.

I am thankful that Yates allowed me to be part of their competition and it certainly was a lot of fun. Blogging each day about what was happening.

Seeing all the different gardens and the many ways people grow food was interesting. This is a link to the blogs I wrote on the Yates website

First prize was an assortment of products and vouchers, some of which I can use but sadly most I cannot. You see, my garden is organic. Everything that grows in my garden is balanced, from the native lizards to the beautiful burrowing banjo frog which frighten the crappola out of me every time I encountered one in the potato patch ... never knew a potato could wiggle ... never knew I could scream so loud either but that's a story for another time.

I'll keep the book, gloves, Chili pot, vouchers and seeds but all the rest I've given away. I don't use any of that stuff on my garden. I have no need for it. I don't mind if others want to use it. But for me I am not interested. I knew when I entered that the First Prize was a mixture of their products and money vouchers so I was not surprised when it arrived. ..... what did surprise me was my private thoughts as I looked at these objects ....  We live in a world were pouring synthetic fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides is considered normal. That its not possible to grow a garden without this stuff. We are told that if the plant has aphids we must kill them immediately ... and yet aphids are food for lady beetles, they are food for many native birds, they are part of a food chain that is vital to the existence of all life on earth. We are connected and if we choose to ignore that fact then we do so at our own peril.

The soils in our garden have been carefully manage to produce a bounty of fresh vegetables. Each year the earth repay us for our care and consideration. I take none of it for granted. I know I am blessed to have the knowledge and the skills required to grow and harvest huge
amounts of produce and yet at the same time be able to protect and encourage the native flora and fauna that is major part of my vegetable garden.

To me all life is precious no matter what it is ... could be snail going about his business ...  could be a stick insect .. it  doesn't matter  .... all the critters have a place in my garden  ... even if they eat some of my vegetables  ... so what ... they will end up being food for something else any way ... the snail becomes the dinner for the lizard, the beetle becomes the dinner for the frog, the frog becomes dinner for the Hawk. Maybe I'm strange who knows ... but what I do know is this .... without nature we are nothing.

Monday, 1 December 2014

How to grow Beans, Beans the musical fruit ....

Hi ya! .... Been picking beans .. say THAT three times really fast *beenpickingbeans,beenpickingbeans,beanpickingbeans*

ok, enough silliness now for some serious info about all things bean ... We had a MASSIVE thunder storm last night  … EEEEKK!!! Scary!  and when I finally removed myself from inside the doona this morning and gingerly ventured outside to check the garden for damage I discovered, to my delight, that the beans plants had started producing  baby beans ... *yay* .... aawww …. so cute! … so green!!
The temptation to pick them now is almost impossible to resist but resist I must because they are not quite ready to be eaten …. A few more days and then into the steamer they will go to become a nice side dish for my tasty dinner. 
Beans are easy to grow and today I will share with you a few tips on how to grow them so YOU TOO can experience the fun of “growing your own food” and eating it (that’s the best part) . The secret to growing any food is to make sure that you get constant growth … too slow and the plants become hard and woody ….  too fast and the plants become sappy  and get attacked by sap suckers and nobody wants that do they!? …  no, no, no, sap suckers are not fun …  neither are unwanted house guests but that’s  a story for another time.
Beans, like all vegetables, need  well fertilised soil to grow in (mulch isn't a fertiliser). In our garden we use lots of animal manures such as cow / sheep or goat poo plus chicken manure from the hen house which we put on the beds during winter when the beds are empty.
If you don't have access to animal manure (use grass-fed if possible) then you can always use what's known as a "Complete Fertiliser" from the shops. There is a VERY IMPORTANT reason why I say "Complete Fertiliser" .... it gives the plants the nutrients they need without "locking up" the soil. "Nutrient Lock Up" is not good for plant or the soil. This is a link to some great info about soils etc if any of you want to know more .... Soil Quality Fact Sheet
The beans I've got growing at the moment are a variety of Dwarf Bean called "Tendergreen". I've not grown this variety before so will be interesting to see how they taste.
When to grow: Spring and Summer (Can be grown all year round in warmer climates)
Harvest: 8 to 10 weeks
Plant: after all chance of frost has passed. Water well during dry periods
Position: Full sun
Storage: Wash, drain and store in vented plastic bag in fridge. Use fresh soon after harvest or blanche & freeze if wanting to keep for longer periods of time.
Cook: Steam or boil. May be lightly tossed in butter to glaze. Do not over cook.
No support is necessary as they are a dwarf variety of bean and are able to stand up on their own unlike climbing beans which need a trellis or fence to grow upon.
Companion Planting: Beans Like Carrots, Cucumbers, Cabbages, Lettuce, Peas, Parsley, Cauliflower, and Spinach ... Beans Dislike: Onions, Garlic, and Fennel.
** Personally I don't do "Companion Planting" as I prefer each plant to have the necessary space to do its own thing .... One year I grew carrots, onions and lettuce all together in the same bed because I was told they were "good companions" .... it was nothing but a pain in the bum because when it came time to harvest the carrots I was inadvertently removing some onions at the same time which weren't ready and so I got the shites about it ..... I don't grow like that anymore .... it frustrated me so much that now I grow my onions in one bed and my carrots in another with out any problems  **
You can plant beans either directly into the beds or you can start them off in dunny rolls or small containers and wait for them to sprout and then transplant as seedlings into the garden. I always start my beans of in dunny rolls and then transplant later but that's because I live in a cold climate and so try to extend the growing season by starting the seed early and letting them sit out on the veranda in a warm spot for about a month.  

Friday, 28 November 2014

Vegetable Garden

This is what the garden looks like as of this morning. Its growing so fast now that the weather has warmed up.
We desperately need rain though, the plants have been kept alive by the rain water that's in storage tanks on the top block. Last year was so dry that we ran out of water and had to truck some in.

This photo below is a different angle of the garden beds, you can see the corn, tomatoes, carrots, beans, onions ad potatoes .... its tricky trying to get a photo of the entire garden because its spread out but you get the idea of the layout.
I picked my garlic last week and have 144 elephant garlic plants now drying on the veranda. I picked them early because the temperatures were dropping and we got a bit of rain, not much but enough to cause some of the white rot to occur. I didn't want to risk loosing all of my Elephant garlic to white rot so pulled it out on the weekend .

Have just started picking the peas and this is the first year of growing them in the strawberry patch which is separated from the main garden by wire mesh. Its completely enclosed to stop furry critters from eating the peas and strawberries.... don't know why I didn't think of growing them in there years ago.

Pumpkins have just started to run. I noticed they have both the male and female flowers now so won't be long before they are setting fruit. Very soon the entire yard will be filled with pumpkin vine.
Onions and carrots survived their time in the snow on the 14th of October this year and have really taken off now, growing nicely. I was surprised they survived.

Its all looking rather lush and delicious. That's what cow poop does for the ground. the worms love it and the plants grow real strong and disease resistant. Very happy with this years progress although can't really count on anything until harvest time ... We could get a massive hail storm and it all be wiped out in one afternoon.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Seed Saver or Plant Breeder

I'm not really sure about all this "must save own seeds" movement. Sure its fun to do now and then and a very noble idea to want to "Save the Planet" and stop "Big Pharm" from owning all the seeds but in reality, like a lot of things, there is so much more to it.

I have since discovered that some people are incredibly passionate about the subject, what seeds to save, what companies to trust, what conspiracy theories to up hold. And if you dare not save your own seeds you will be cast aside like a smelly sock to wander alone down life's garden path.

So what did I do when faced with this dilemma? Why gave in to societies pressure of course and began saving my own seeds .... I didn't want people to frown or look down upon me because I dared purchase seeds from a big seed company *Shock Horror!*... I didn't want to be viewed as a second rate gardener or as a person who didn't care about the planet ...

I wanted to be liked and accepted so I followed along and this is what I discovered ... that's its way more complicated than I first thought .... you see there are 2 ways to save (breed) seed  ... there are those of us who use the "Willy Nilly" method of saving seeds (umm that would be me) and then there are the ....... drum roll please ....* Plant Breeders * .....ta dah ..... I have nothing but admiration for experienced plant breeders who put their heart and soul into breeding quality plants, taking meticulous care to select characteristics that enhance rather than detract and I am happy to pay good money for well bred seeds.

I can fool myself and pretend to be a plant breeder but in reality the opposite is true. Knowing what qualities and characteristics to preserve through selective breeding requires skill which I don't possess although my seed saving efforts did produced some interesting *cough* specimens ....   
This is the end result of my onion experiment ....The original intention was to save the seeds from some of the brown onions  ... simple enough .... you'd think .... anyway someone forgot about the white onions lurking in a different part of the garden and umm ... well  .... not long after that things got a bit more complicated .... long story short I created a big " Brown White "onion  .... yup ....

I name him " Big Onion Guy Who Will Not Die"

It just kept growing and growing and refused to stop growing ... I even pushed over all the leaves to induce death but it sprung back up good as new ... talk about freaky in a fascinating sort of way .. what the heck had I created? .... maybe I should have been a bit more selective in what I was after when choosing the breeding stock of the original onions. Although to be fair the hybrid onions produced from this brown/white onion crossing had excellent keeping quality so 2 thumbs up for that.

anyhoo "Big Onion Guy" eventually annoyed the crappola out of me so I removed him, but not before I took a photo of course .....all the other onions had been removed from the bed months ago (some of the others were weird looking too but obviously not weird enough looking to warrant their photo being taken).... this is the result of willy nilly seed saving compared to selective breeding  .... can you imagine the size of the piece a steak you would need to put that sucker on?

The following information is from the "Seed Savers Hand Book" by Michel & Jude Fanton 1993

How to save onions seeds:
1) To ensure purity, only one type of onion should be allowed to flower in the second spring
2) Onion plants need to be within a radius of 400 metres of each other
3) a minimum of 20 onion plants must be saved to maintain diversity for the long term.
4) Onions are pollinated by insects
** Some plant breeders introduce pollinating insects into the cages in which onions are isolated**.
5) Choose well-formed and firm onions for seed purposes.
6) Seeds are ripe when the stalk changes colour to brownish. The seeds are black and the capsules begin to open and drop seeds if shaken.
7) Remove the heads and place into paper bags.
8) When dry shake the bag to remove the seeds.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Planting time - Finally!

Yup all plants are now in the ground. Whoohoo! .... Thank goodness as its always a challenge negotiating the weather conditions around here. Living in a cold climate makes for some interesting times .... lets see, 1 month ago the garden beds got covered in a heavy dumping of fluffy snow

and then last week I was waiting to plant fearing that we might get one last frost on Friday with our temperatures dropping to a low 5C which was 1 degree from being frost potential ... anything under 4C at this time of year can still cause light frost to occur so planting frost tender plants into the garden has to be carefully considered.

And of course just after I planted the seedlings we got a westerly come in and blew hot air straight from the desert all over us ... we had 2 days of 32C and then today dropped to 26C .... then tomorrow predicted to drop to 7C ... the plants around here have to be tough and be able to handle cold and heat ... its just the way it is.

I picked some of my garlic during this last couple of weeks as well and its now sitting out on the veranda drying. Originally planted 5 types (4 garlic and one lot of Elephant garlic). 2 of the varieties didn't like growing here and where more suited to warmer climate but the ones the I saved from previous years have become acclimatized and now reproduced beautifully
I've still got the Elephant garlic in the ground and just waiting for it to die off a bit more before I start to harvest. I personally prefer to grow the Elephant garlic as it doesn't have as many issues as the normal garlic does. It grows without too many problems plus it has a milder garlic flavor. Its related to garlic and belongs to the same family as garlic,onions and leeks.

This photo below shows the Elephant Garlic that is still in the ground and you can see its got a covering of dew on it. If the temperature had dropped one more degree that dew would have turned into frost. Garlic can handle the frost but pumpkins and beans etc can't.

This time of year is full of things that need to be done. The seedlings need to go into the ground, the baby chickens are all hatching and running around looking super cute. These little cutie-pies in the photo below are the latest additions. They don't actually belong to the hen, she just happened to be broody at the time so I shoved a few eggs under her. They are standard bred Rhode Island Reds where as she is a standard bred Light Sussex.

She is a great mother and this is her second lot of babies this season. Her other babies are now 13 weeks old and growing beautifully. This photo below shows 3 of the light Sussex Babies from the above hen plus 10 babies from the hatchery (5 Rhode Island Reds, 3 Sussex, 2 Barnevelder).

I know I've been a bit slack blogging at the moment but I've been busy. Plus have heaps of craft orders that need to be filled for Christmas. And to top it all off I entered into a garden competition (which ends mid December) plus started working on my own craft website. I'll give you the link but I haven't got much up at the moment only my downloadable knitting / crochet pattern files. I do plan to put up some toys & blankets etc this week when I get a spare moment. Plus we (my son & I) are still in the design stages of the site and making sure things work properly.

Monday, 20 October 2014

2014 October Snow Person

Yup ... got snow .... and lots of it ....
Awww so pretty .... so cold .... its not unusual for us to get snow in Spring because we live in a cold climate ...

Snow = fun ...although not sure my vegetable garden would agree with me on that. The onions and carrots got covered in a couple of inches of snow .... Maybe someone (Mr Onion Guy) needs to toughen up a bit.

The snow was heavy enough to bend the poles of the carrot bed which of course made the netting sag and then some of the carrots were sort of blanketed in a thick layer of snow .... the good thing about snow is that it insulates the plants unlike frost which freezes them ... yup, crazy but true. I would prefer snow to frost any day.

Here is a better view of the carrot bed getting snowed under ... took some of these photos at 11pm ... in my pyjamas .... whilst holding an umbrella ... and wearing gumboots ... I know ... I know .. What can I say ... I'm a trend setter ... anyhoo I needed the umbrella otherwise I would have got covered in snow and ended up looking like a snowman ...  snowwoman? ...  snowperson?? ... what's the politically correct term required when describing a human shaped figure made out of fluffy ice crystals ?? ... hmmm whilst pondering this dilemma I've discovered that political correctness sucks the fun out of everything

And seeing as we are talking about snowmen I decided to build one. What do you think about the technique I used? ... The secret to building a snow man is to roll the snow ... (shhh don't tell anyone)

It is possible that I got a tad carried away with my snowman building abilities ... the neighbours description was "like a person possessed" ... hmm bit harsh ... What else was I going to do with all this snow? ... cant waste it I built 2 snowmen .. big deal

Ok Ok so it might have been more than two .... doesn't everyone build snowmen ... This snow guy in the photo below was the first one I built and you can see the design faults ... plus he looks like he has quite a few other issues but lets discuss the design flaws first .... You see I made the mistake of rolling the middle part of his body waaayyy too much and it became .... ummm .. .how do I explain this  ... a little heavy ... sooo heavy in fact that I could hardly lift the fucker into position ....
After I made him it was perfectly clear to me that my snowman building skills sucked big time .... I mean .. come on What the Hell is that!!! ... and why has he got 2 sticks poking out from the top of his head??? They were suppose to be his arms and instead I got confused and was thinking, momentarily I was making a reindeer .... 

So of course when faced with snowman skills that are below par there is only one thing to do ... yup you guessed it ...  practice, practice, practice I made another one ..... it is possible that I ended up with five of them scattered around the yard ... ... could have been six but whos counting  .... ALRIGHT it was Seven .... I only built Seven of them .... Sheesh!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Seeds have sprouted

Posting from Australia - NSW - Central Tablelands - Cold Climate

Seeds have sprouted and are looking reasonably happy sitting in the sun on the veranda. This is the perfect place to start them off as they get warm sun all day. The tricky part will be keeping them alive and growing at a steady rate until I can plant them out into the garden which wont happen until mid November when the last frost has passed.

Living in a cold climate has its challenges that's for sure take for example tomorrows forecast which is predicting possible snow showers, heavy rain and strong wind  .... Great just what I don't want at the moment but can't stop the weather from doing what it does especially at this time of year ... Spring is always a bit wobbly ... last week beautiful and warm this week freezing cold.

But that's life, just have to take the good with the bad. The weather plays a big part when it comes to growing vegetables & fruit so always has to be considered.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Vegetable Garden Now & Then

3rd lot of seeds now set WhoOHHOOOO!!! ... Living in a cold climate means everything needs to be organized to within an inch of its life otherwise I'll miss the season. The window of opportunity is very small

1st lot of seeds set were the onions (now planted as seedlings in main garden)

2nd lot of seeds set were carrots planted directly into garden
and this 3rd lot are the frost tender babies which dislike cold weather and perform better in the warmer months (pumpkins, corn, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, beans, capsicum, cauliflower, cabbage, Lettuce) ...
yes, yes ,yes I know blah, blah I can grow cabbage in the cooler months however I use the old fashioned style of growing vegetables and shut the beds down after harvest .... therefore everything I need is grown in the warmer months (and can be done that way because I live in a cold climate ... I'd do it a bit different if I lived in a warmer place) and then processed or stored by bottling, freezing etc .... so in winter I can sit by the fire & knit when it’s too darn cold to go outside .... simple .... KISS method  ..... Always garden to your own weather conditions not to what the guy on the TV tells you to do.
Hard to believe that a hand full of seeds will produce so much food. Below is a photo of last seasons vegetable garden and some of the vegetables & fruit produced from our back yard

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Welcome to Dunny Roll Mountain

All my seeds, except for carrots, are starting off in dunny rolls (here's a video showing HOW TO START SEEDS). They are placed in large containers and then filled with potting mix & topped off with seed raising mix.

I use the best quality potting mix & seed raising mix I can find and I like to use one that has slow release fertiliser plus water crystals because my seeds have to sit out on the veranda for about 6 weeks prior to planting out as seedlings. I live in a cold climate so like to start the seeds early and then leave them in a warm sunny spot to sprout, then transplant out into the main garden once the last frost of the season has passed …which is not until the 2nd week of November (the locals around here say the day after the Melbourne Cup)

I start my seeds in 3 distinct lots and that is because of the cold climate and weather conditions that I live with. The first lot of seeds planted are the ONIONS which are started in pots mid-August and planted out into the garden mid Sept as seedlings, The 2nd lot are CARROT SEEDS and they are planted directly into the garden bed. The 3rd lot of seeds are the frost tender plants such as corn, tomatoes, beans etc. They are started as seeds in Early October and planted out into the main garden mid-November. .

The dunny rolls are collect through the year and come in very handy as they just lift out of the container and can be planted into the soil where they break down anyway. It reduces transplant shock as well

Once the seeds are planted I give them a big drink of water and then place the containers in the glassed area of the veranda where they are protected from the cold & frost. The veranda faces a warm northerly direction which gives the seeds / seedlings filtered sun all day long.

From these seeds I will fill all 7 garden beds, which are each approx. 9 metres long x 1 metre wide ,  and produce in excess of a tonne of fresh food for this 2014 growing season. the food produced will be harvested and then used fresh or processed by way of blanching, freezing, drying, storing or bottling.

This photo below shows last years garden growing nicely. All the plants in that photo were started by seed

and this is some of the fresh food produced through the season


Woolly work space

This is a photo of my little work space where I make the different crochet & knitted toys. I find it incredibly relaxing and no two to...