Growing our own food
Late in the season I planted two cucumber plants, with no great hopes for them. In Sydney’s hot and humid climate I’ve found that cucumbers, zucchinis, etc are killed off by powdery mildew long before they produce any real crop.
This time was different, and we were quickly overwhelmed by a glut of cucumbers, some of which had grown quite large.
Sandor Katz to the rescue! His book Wild fermentation — which really kick-started the recent fermentation movement — provided a useful recipe for sour pickles.
Undeterred by the fact I didn’t have lots of tiny “pickling cucumbers” I instead cut my big cukes into thin half-discs. The recipe suggested including grape or oak leaves to keep the pickles crisp, so I scavenged some oak leaves from the convent next door.
Into a big jar went the cucumbers, along with peppercorns, garlic cloves and dill flowers. I added an airlock, and left it to blip away for 3 weeks. And they behaved themselves perfectly: they didn’t bubble up and out the airlock, no mould grew on the surface, and the cucumber slices kept their shape.
We ate some slices today on a ham sandwich, and they are delightfully tart. Another win for Sandor, thanks!
It always amazes me to see trees planted by themselves in a sea of grass.
Not only does the grass compete fearsomely with the trees, but the grass encourages a bacteria-dominated ecosystem in the soil rather than a fugal ecosystem, which trees require. Trees also prefer to live in a tightly-bound forest of their peers, where their roots are interconnected, making it possible for them to share resources.
No wonder then that the two lonely fruit trees planted at Lewisham Farm have been struggling. We think they might be peaches, but we won’t know until we’re able to get them to a point of being healthy enough to fruit!
The starting point is to cut away all the grass directly around the tree. We then sheet mulched with cardboard, and then weighed down with wombat poos (which we have many of, which is another story!).
(As a side note, there is a danger that the sheet mulching could stop water getting to the roots of the tree. In our case, the farm gets heaps of rain, the ground is well and truly moist.)
The trees will need much more help than this, and they’re also heading into winter dormancy. Still, it will hopefully give them some breathing room, while we find them a better home on the farm…
If there’s one thing that gardening produces a lot of, it’s green waste that needs composting. So while we have a small compost bin for the farm’s kitchen scraps, a proper compost pile is needed for the garden, even at this early stage.
One of the easiest ways to create something fairly solid is to assemble a compost bay from pallets. What’s nice is that pallets are a free resource (the unbranded ones that is), which can be obtained (with permission!) from the loading bays of many shops.
The pallets are quite easy to screw together, to create a bay that’s two pallets wide, and two deep. Cover the inside of the pallets with shade cloth (or equivalent) to stop the compost falling out.
A half-size front makes it easier to add to the pile, and this is just wired on, allowing it to be easily removed when the compost needs turning (or harvesting!).
We’re only a few months into our farm adventure, and already we have a good-sized pile that should be ready by spring or summer. Happy days.
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.
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!
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.