Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to make soil and compost with no work

When it comes down to it, I am either lazy or clever….. probably lazy! As well as that, unlike many people, I don’t like buying things much, especially if they are in plastic bags and come from far away or if I have to get in my car to go and get them. I like staying at home and using what is around me which means I also like to sit on my verandah with a coffee and think about how not to have to go out, but still have things I need!

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I like sowing seeds I have saved and I often need to have plants in pots for a while until there is room in the garden and I like compost; I just LOVE the feel and smell of beautiful compost. All this means I need something to put into my seed trays, something to put in my pots and something to dig into the garden….. and here is how it gets done at my place.

My chooks live in a kind of man made forest….. well, some of it is man made intentionally, some of it is a consequence of people living here. Some years ago someone planted two oak trees and a few fruit trees, all very much too close to one another, if you ask me, but they were there so I left them there when I moved here. Someone crazily planted 2 buddleias, which are now massive, one of which the chooks have chosen to roost in at night, instead of in the funny little tin and apple crate structure which they now lay eggs in, mostly. Then, unintentionally some mallow “tree” seeds probably blew in and a few wild plum trees grew on the neighbour’s side of the fence and some other weeds and plants got a hold and now it is quite a lovely forest for chooks. Add to this a lazy woman who throws most of the weeds from the vegetable garden and elsewhere, into the chook yard for them to deal with.

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Next, the oak trees lose their leaves in winter and half the chook yard becomes literally 30cms or more deep in oak leaves. I keep tossing weeds on top, the mallow sheds its leaves too as do the  fruit trees, the other plants come and go and for months and months the chooks turn it all over, pecking at insects and edible bits and pieces, which they turn into eggs for me. Sometimes I can hardly open the gate because the chooks ALWAYS kick and scratch everything towards the gate! Oh lalalala, maybe the gate faces Mecca or something but I tell you what they NEVER kick it away from the gate!

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So, one day when I was again in there with my spade trying to reclaim my desire to easily enter the chook yard through said gate I noticed how fabulous was this mound, how good it smelt and, kneeling down, how beautiful it felt running through my fingers…. I had discovered gold; a free, easy, continuous supply of beautiful, rich soil, hand made by a flock of assorted chooks of all ages who had been throwing it towards me for years and for which I had cursed them up until this moment.

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All set to sift some gold for seed sowing
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Now I have raked the area and the chooks are back to see what I have revealed for them!
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4 buckets filled. The back right is sifted.
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Here are the buckets, now by my potting bench which is next to the chook yard. All very convenient.

Now I can easily gather up a wheelbarrow of soil, which I sift well if I am going to sow seeds into it. If I want it as compost for the garden, I dig it in, acorns, little sticks and all (but I do curse those innocent acorns when they turn into oak trees faster than a speeding bullet!). If I want potting mix, I take the middle ground (like Goldilocks) and use the stuff that is not too fine and not too coarse and sometimes I mix it with some cheap potting mix from some of those wretched plastic bags I hate!

It does take some management because you have to get at it before the next lot of leaves fall and not just after you have dumped a load of the world’s worst weeds on top! Sure, a few grass seeds etc germinate but chooks have very beady eyes and do not let many seeds go uneaten!

All in all it is a brilliant system and allows me more time to sit on my verandah and contemplate other ways to avoid going out and buying stuff.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

February 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

It has been a blustery summer thus far and many days that I intended to garden were instead spent visiting friends, painting my bedroom or cooking up a storm in my kitchen. Nevertheless I have enjoyed myself and my food garden is in pretty good shape.

 

Pear and cherry slug

If you see tiny little black ‘worms’ on the leaves of your pears, cherries, quinces and even plums and the leaves are turning brown and crisp, you have this slug. A simple control is to spray the entire tree with a mist of water then throw ash or lime all over it. Do this a couple of times and they will be desiccated. Try to stand up-wind!

 

Managing wind

Tomatoes: I have not tied up my tomatoes as they do not like wild wind ripping through their foliage. My tomatoes and lying all over the thick hay mulch and producing lots of fruit. There are several myths about tomatoes. Here are the facts: First, they are self-pollinated so do not need bees. Slight air movement is all they require and there is plenty of that! Second, the tomatoes themselves do not need the sun to ripen; they simply need warm air temperature. Mine are ripening beautifully and I am eating even the quite large Black Krim already. Third, you don’t need to bother pricking out the laterals but you can if you want more order. Fourth, if you pick them when they just begin to colour, take them inside to somewhere warm but there’s no need to put them on a sunny windowsill.

Fruit trees: Quince fruit seems to stay on despite summer wind, as do plums, apples, olives and Kentish cherries. Contrary to what you hear, citrus also seem to thrive on my verandah and in my garden despite the wind. Young trees bearing fruit will snap off in the wind so staking is necessary. I espalier my Bramley apple as the fruit are way too big and prolific for the branches. This means that the trellis takes the weight of the fruit and far fewer seem to drop off. If you live in a very windy area, I recommend you espalier the perimeter of your garden with fruit trees, all the way around. Actually this is a wonderful, practical and beautiful way to grow fruit and is common in many English and French gardens. You can find any number of shapes and patterns online.

 

Interesting snippets:

Strawberries: Did you know that strawberries require bees to visit the flowers several times for full pollination to happen? If you have mis-shapen fruit, the reason can be that bees are not visiting enough. I suggest you plant some other bee attracting flowers nearby, or leave some things to flower and go to seed, such as fennel, globe artichokes or chicory, all of which are magnets for bees.

Sage: This deep hay method has resulted in a vast improvement of many of my herbs. Unexpectedly I have discovered a fabulous way to multiply sage plants, simply by piling damp hay over some of the long sage stems and leaving it alone! This is called layering and came about because I am a lazy gardener. I now have a small forest of my favourite, purple sage. If you don’t cook much with sage, you must start! The flavour holds well so is wonderful in slow cooking or even on the BBQ as crisp sage leaves are gorgeous. Chopped and fried in a little butter or good olive oil, then folded into pasta is a quick and easy and totally delicious meal. Put a sage leave in the pot when you are cooking rice. If you have trouble growing basil, grow sage!

 

Hay time

Our Tasmanian soil was never meant to grow vegetables so the things we add to it and do to it cause changes that are not well documented, here at the bottom of the world. Imagine a forest floor, deep in leaf litter, old, fallen trees and tree ferns and dappled light….. now picture a cleared vegetable garden bed in full sun. Hmmmm how can we encourage the soil life, microbes and worms that once did live in our forested soil, to live there again and help make nutrients available to our vegetables?

The answer is deep hay, at least 20cms thick, all year round. I have written about this now for well over a year and, since now is the time to buy hay, I have some tips for you. Hay ain’t hay! Hay is made up of all the plants in a paddock so, watch out for cheap hay full of thistles, dock and gorse. You will curse buying it for 7 years while the weed seeds torment you and you will blame me for suggesting it!! Ask the farmer about the hay. Look at the hay, look at the weeds growing in the ditches nearby and don’t buy hay from a farmer that cannot answer your questions or a farm surrounded with thistles and bad weeds. And don’t buy hay from a farmer that uses chemicals as they also will be in the hay and end up in your vegetables. I can direct you to where I get hay. Email me at katevag@gmail.com

 

Zucchinis, berries and more

If you need some recipes, check out Gardeners’ Gastronomy blog.

 

Seeds to sow now

Broccoli raab

Kale

Beetroot

Shungiku

Lettuce

Asian greens (late Feb.)

Carrots

Spinach & silver beet

Spring onions

Hakurei turnips

Tas. swedes

Parsnips

Radishes

Plant out now, yes now, or before!

Brussel sprouts

Cauliflower

Broccoli – regular, sprouting and raab

Lettuce

Jobs for February

Plant or move citrus

Summer prune stone fruits

Prepare beds for autumn plantings

Save seeds for next spring

Give pots and the veg. garden some seaweed and fish liquid feed in a hosable spray.