Growing our own food

Discovering a hidden source of watercress

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One of the great things about acquiring a 22 hectare (56 acre) farm is that there are still many hidden corners and surprises yet to discover.

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The mini wetland at the top of the gully

One was the discovery of a small spring that feeds into the gully that runs beside the farmhouse. This has been running (slowly) even at the end of the recent very dry winter and spring, so that’s a good sign.

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One very happy patch of watercress

What we also stumbled across was a patch of watercress growing in the mini wetland at the top of the valley. The steady flow of water is exactly what it likes, and I can only guess that the previous owner must’ve planted some (?).

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Picked fresh, ready to eat!

Anyway, it tastes delicious on a sandwich, and we have every reason to expect that it will keep happily growing indefinitely…

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Helping city chickens with country technology

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With our time now split between the city and our farm, it’s a bit harder to look after our flock of chicken. While our neighbours are happy to help out (in return for eggs!), the less that has to be done, the better.

Enter some tried-and-tested country technology: the automatic waterer.

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Automatic watering bowl, opened up to show the float valve

This uses a ‘float valve’ to automatically cut the water when it reaches a specific height. When the animals drink from it and the levels drops, the water source cuts back in.

You won’t find this handy item at the local Bunnings; it is easy to find at a farm supply shop in the country. While it’s intended for horses, cattle, etc it works perfectly well for chickens.

This particular unit comes from the USA, and it has a 1/2″ connection for the water. With a bit of hunting in Bunnings I found a plastic adapter that went from 1/2″ to 3/4″, to which I could then add a standard hose fitting. Then it’s just click in the hose and you’re done.

One less thing to do in this busy life, plus happy chickens!

Second citrus patch planted

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GCADPlus drawing

Following on from our first patch of dwarf citrus, a family work gang has helped us plant out our second patch. This is of full-sized citrus, with supporting guild.

A few notes:

  • With full-sized rather than dwarf citrus, patch 2 is a little under twice the size of patch 1.
  • The ‘spine’ of the planting are three Elaeagnus Ebbingei a nitrogen-fixing plant that increases the fertility of fruit trees, and is highly-recommended for permaculture gardens.
  • There’s a mix of native citrus (eg finger lime), introduced citrus (eg navel orange) and a few that are hybrids of the two (eg sunrise lime).
  • I’ve snuck a few berry bushes into the understory on the Eastern side (currants and gooseberry). I want to test how they perform in increasing shade, as well as seeing whether all the fruit is eaten by birds, etc. Consider it a living experiment ūüėČ
  • As before, everything is sheet mulched, with a bunch of ‘in-fill’ plants to go in shortly to shade out any weeds.

With Spring coming, lets see how this patch goes!

 

Pickling large cucumbers

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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.

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A big jar of cucumbers, with an airlock to keep out the air

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.

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Three jars of piquant cucumber slices

We ate some slices today on a ham sandwich, and they are delightfully tart. Another win for Sandor, thanks!

Giving breathing room for two of our fruit trees

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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.

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This is one very sad fruit tree!

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!

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The grass is easy to lift up around the tree

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!).

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Sheet mulching, with left-over moving boxes. Recycling in action!

(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…

Constructing our first compost pile at the farm from pallets

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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.

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There’s no shortage of free pallets from the local retailers in Nowra

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.

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One of the back corners of the compost bay, screwed together and lined

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!).

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The completed compost bay, already half full with garden waste

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.

Our first harvest of dragon fruit

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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.

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Three yellow and white dragon fruit flowers

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.

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Ripe fruit ready for harvesting

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!

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The unique black and white flesh of dragon fruit

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.