It’s been a while since we’ve done a “first of” post. We did many during the first heady months of establishing our first proper veg patch, when every harvest is new and exciting. After time, of course, it all becomes very routine and not worth mentioning.
Still, dragon fruit is a pretty spectacular thing! We were given a piece of this succulent by a friend, over five years ago. Since then it’s clambered up our fence and into the tree, but only now has it started to fruit.
The flowers are distinctive, and they bloom for only a very short period. A few weeks later, we had three bright red fruit standing out against the green of the plant, and the grey of the fence.
A possum eat one, but we still ended up with two fruit. We cut them up to use in a fruit salad, combined with a harvest of mangoes and some yoghurt, yum!
This is just one of the sub-tropical plants that I’m starting to grow in Sydney, as we seemingly shift inexorably away from a temperate climate.
The plan for our new farm includes a having a number of beehives, to complement the three we already have in Sydney.
So when I heard through the grapevine that a Canberra-based beekeeper was looking to downsize their collection of Warré hives, I jumped on it. Beekeeping does end up taking quite a bit of time, so its no wonder that many beekeepers end up trimming down the number of hives they keep.
The hive was in a community garden, where it was happily surrounded by vegetables and fruit trees.
Preparations were made the night before the move, putting on a ventilated lid, sealing up the entrance, and strapping everything tightly. It was then just a matter of getting the hive onto the ute, for the 2.5 hour drive down to the coast.
Within ten minutes of opening the hive back up the bees were busy flying around, surveying their new location. While there isn’t a huge amount flowering on the farm (it’s mostly rainforest), we do have several hectares of weeds that will keep them going!
The plan is is to add a second Warré hive, and a Kenyan top-bar hive, and then see how we go from there. And once we get our plantings underway, they will be very happy hives 🙂
Over Christmas, when we had three dry months, our tanks dropped to nearly empty. They also started to stink, clearly the results of anaerobic decomposition of the plant material washed off our roof. Smelly water feeding into the washing machine, not good!
Our setup has first flush diverters, designed to capture the first lot of dirty water that flows into the gutter. They’re not magic, however, and gunk still gets in to the tanks, and builds up over time.
In the country, where households have to rely exclusively on their water tanks, it’s routine to get them cleaned out every while. I haven’t heard of it being done in the city, however. This might be because most of the tanks were put in at the same time as us, or later, and the problems are only now starting to emerge.
When we were out at a country show, we collected a business card from Leigh’s water tank cleaning, who we talked into dropping by our place when he happened to be heading into the city. We also talked to the Water Tank Cleaning Company who operate throughout Sydney (their website was down at the time of posting).
Leigh was very friendly, the the process is surprisingly simple. It’s basically a hand-manoeuvred version of a pool cleaner, which is steered around the base of the tank where the gunk has accumulated.
It’s somewhat horrifying to see how much dark brown water gushes forth. No wonder our water filters kept getting clogged up, trying to deal with all that!
It’s a quick process, and within half an hour, our two main tanks were done. That should keep them going for a few years…
That mound of green is one of our current success stories in the garden, but not in the way we expected.
It’s sweet potato, and it’s the best example of my pivot from temperate to sub-tropical plants, matching the shift in Sydney’s climate. It isn’t eaten by slugs, snails, caterpillars or other bugs. It’s not affected by powdery mildew, rusts or other fungal diseases. It’s not even slightly stressed by 40deg heat.
Last season, however, it completely failed to provide edible tubers. Doh 😦
And then I saw on Gardening Australia that sweet potato leaves are edible. Eureka!
They’re treated like spinach leaves, steamed, fried or sautéed. They’re delicious, and we use them in salads, as a green alongside meat, or in stir-fries.
They’ve become all our all-year, all-weather source of greens. But let’s hope that this season they also give us actual sweet potatoes!
Whether you’re in the city or the country, you have to wage a constant war on weeds. Many are hard to kill, some are poisonous.
Others, however, are hard to identify. And if you don’t know what it is, how do you know whether to pull it out (and how)?
When down at the recent Small Farm Field Day, I visited the stand manned by the Department of Agriculture. They pointed me to an excellent phone app, called NSW WeedWise.
This contains a comprehensive collection of weeds, including photos and descriptions. It also indicates how serious a weed is, and whether you’re required to destroy it.
A lot of the weeds I already knew about, but I was pleased to learn about Moth vine. This looks quite like choko, and it’s growing on the back fence of the convent.
Far from being edible, however, it has sap that’s poisonous, and it spreads itself liberally when the seed pod bursts open.
Another day, another weed. Download the app from the Apple Store or Google Play.
Dried herbs are a pantry staple, used in everything from roasts to pasta sauces. While they’re easily obtainable in every supermarket, it’s nice to make your own.
Particularly when you’re drying herbs that simple can’t be found in shops.
Pineapple sage, apart from being loved by bees, makes a delicious tea. Infuse a teaspoon’s worth of herbs for 5mins, and then drink with delight.
Lemon-scented tea tree (leptospermum peteronii) has a lovely lemony taste, as the name would suggest. Distinctly different from a lemon, the dried herb can nonetheless be used as a replacement for lemon in soups, etc.
All of these herbs were dried in our cool cupboard, and the biggest effort is plucking off the leaves to store them.
What herbs are you drying from out of your garden?
Tree roots are a constant challenge for inner-city vegetable gardeners, particularly when they’re from camphor laurel trees. Over the years, I’ve taken various steps to protect the beds, including replacing some of the existing raised beds with entirely enclosed tanks. Because of the cost and effort, I only re-engineered the lower beds that were closer to the trees, hoping that this would be enough.
Sadly this was not the case. My top bed, closest to the road, had been steadily dropping in productivity, so I had a poke around. And sure enough, the bed was filled with tree roots, coming up from underneath.
So I decided to rework this as a wicking bed. Deep Green Permaculture has by far the best description of how wicking beds work, including a description of both advantages and disadvantages (something I haven’t seen anyone else cover).
The starting point was to dig out all the soil from the bed, tacking it down to a flat surface free of rocks or other sharp objects.
And this is just a fraction of the roots that I dug out of the bed, which wound themselves around the entire perimeter of the bed, reaching almost up to surface level. No wonder the bed was struggling!
The bed is lined with pond liner, which I obtained from Clark Rubber. (I noted that some instructions suggested using much cheaper builders plastic, but the Deep Green Permaculture notes strongly discourage this, as the thinner plastic just doesn’t last.)
A thin layer of scoria (rough volcanic rock) then goes down underneath the ag-pipe. (I obtained the scoria from BC Sands, and had it delivered in a 1-tonne bag.)
A 20cm deep layer of scoria was then laid down, covered by a layer of geo-textile. I also drilled an overflow valve at the top of the scoria, with a tank outlet screwed in.
I then re-filled the garden bed, adding a lot of home-made compost, fertiliser and trace elements.
All up, about a day’s labour was required, but the new bed is now back to being highly productive. I have enough left-over scoria to do another bed, which I’ll do when the season ends.