Seed Season

2016/04/10 deej 1

A week ago, I planted a selection of tree seeds – five different species of wattle (Acacia spp.), poinciana (Delonix regia), jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia) and honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos). Today I noticed that some of them (notably the wattles and poinciana) are germinating already. In spite of torrential rain, the tiny, delicate seedling heads are poking up through the soil, seed cases still covering their baby seed leaves. I’m so pleased 🙂 I know it’s silly, but I love seeing baby plants emerge, especially baby trees. It also means I did pick the right time of year to plant them, just intot he beginning of the wet but before the weather cools down. Not that Perth gets that cold, even out in the hills.

 

Today I started the next phase of the seed planting plans: the vegetable seeds. I haven’t managed to plant them all; there are way too many for that. I went on a bit of a seed-buying spree a while ago, so I now have many packets of seeds, many varieties of each thing, all heading towards the end of their “best before” (i.e. easily germinates if planted before) date. This afternoon, so far, I’ve planted the eggplants (Mini Purple Oblong, Green Oblong, Rosa Bianca, Pea Eggplant, Udamalapet, and Small White), capsicum (Alma Paprika and Sweet Chocolate), chilli (Chilli Fatalii), and tomatoes (Roman Speckled, Reisetomate, Costuleto Genovese, Red Fig, Jaune Flamme, and the seeds I saved from my mum’s garden last summer, for some sort of delicious cherry tomatoes). So, all the nightshades, really.

 

All my vegetable seeds are grouped according to their place in the planting rotation, so all the nightshades are together. Standard rotation puts leafy greens together, root vegetables together (which one is beetroot??? leafy or root?), and legumes together, and there’s generally a ‘green manure’ or fallow rotation to build the soil back up. My rotation groups are:

 

  • Nightshades (eggplant, chilli, tomato, capicum)
  • Root Vegetables (radish, beetroot, onions, carrots, salsify)
  • Legumes (beans, peas, cowpeas, lentils)
  • Squash & Corn (sweetcorn & maize, sunflowers, summer squash, winter squash, cucumbers)
  • Brassicas & Leafy Greens (lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, swedes)
  • Green Manure (barley, roselle, alyssum, cosmos, basil, dandelion, purslane)

 

So.. yeah. I still have a lot of planting to do, even just planting the autumn and winter varieties (and a few of the ones which recommend spring sowing, but which I think should be sown in autumn – like tomatoes). But it’s a good feeling watching the seeds sprout. And it should mean I have a beautiful productive kitchen garden this spring & summer.

Abundance

2015/03/14 deej 0

tomato harvestAbundance is such a lovely word. It brings to mind the idea of an elegant sufficiency, of warmth and safety, of sharing.

In the garden the other day, I stopped for a moment and I thought: this is abundance. The sun was shining, the air smelled of green, growing things, and there were bees and paper wasps buzzing around the flowers collecting nectar and, at least int he case of the wasps, (hopefully) killing the various insects which eat my vegetables. I had just picked a bowl full of cherry tomatoes from the vine, and collected a couple’ve warm, fresh-laid eggs from the chook run. I went inside feeling deeply content, as I often do when I’ve been in the garden.

There is an idea in the IT and business world of a hierarchy of needs, called Maslow’s Hierarchy or Maslow’s Pyramid. The basic concept is that we have a deep urge and requirement to meet our most basic needs – food, water, shelter – before we can really consider trying to meet our more complex needs, such as love and companionship, personal growth, and creativity. If we are stuck in a position where our basic needs are not met, we respond instinctively with fear and aggression, hoarding what we do have for fear of not having enough to survive.

The problem with that is that we aren’t very good at being able to tell when we have enough to meet our basic needs and survive. Most people in Australia do have enough to meet their needs, and yet at all levels of income and wealth we are likely to feel that we do not have enough. We feel the fear of scarcity, even when it isn’t justified – and the outcomes are fairly predictable. Our shameful treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, for example, results at least in part from the fear of people taking our jobs and livelihoods – an idea  which politicians use for their own short-term gains.

And the concept doesn’t apply only to individuals; groups or entire societies also behave predictably according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. A society which believes itself to be in a state of scarcity is a society focused on survival, incapable to directing energy to art and science and wonder. A culture which believes that it does not have enough food, water, energy, or arable land to survive becomes aggressive, unwilling to share or negotiate, hostile to change. Does that sound like anywhere you’ve heard of recently?

I want the future in which we focus our energy, as a culture and as a species, on art and science and exploring the galaxy, not on war or violence. I want the future in which discoveries are shared for the good of all, not shut away in some megacorporation’s filing cabinet with the other patents it owns. I want the future where we learn to mitigate our effect on our planet and live in balance with the planetary ecosystem, where we willingly limit our population to a sustainable level. I want the future in which all people get to feel that contentment, that relaxation which comes with the sure knowledge of abundance.

Standing there in the garden, feeling that sense of wellbeing, I wished I could share both the produce and the feeling with others. Contentment, like wealth, is not well distributed at the moment, but I think there is enough to go around. I think we can make it happen, if enough of us believe in it.

lucky tomatoes

2013/05/21 deej 0

There are a multitude of tomato varieties, ranging from black and purple through every shade of red, pink, orange and yellow to the ones which are green when ripe. Most of them taste better than the standard supermarket tomato varieties available in Australia. Diggers Seeds holds annual taste tests of a selection of varieties, and the supermarket variety they scored for comparison got only 42.46% approval, while the heritage varieties ranged from 60% to 77%.

Not all good tomato varieties are heirloom or heritage varieties, though. There are still plant breeders out there working on annual vegetables like the tomato, creating new varieties that breed true (as opposed to the F1 hybrids, which do not). The Modern Farmer magazine has an article on a new tomato variety called Lucky Tiger, bred by Fred Hempel of Baia Nicchia Farm in Sunol, California. It looks beautiful, although since it’s in the US and I’m in Australia I haven’t had a chance to try it. As with TV and movies, we have to wait a long time to get seeds to new plant varieties, when we get them at all.

Mr Hempel hasn’t said what the full parentage is of his Lucky Tiger, but he said that one of the direct parents is Blush. Blush, released in 2011 (and available from Seeds of Change and from Artisan Seeds), is an open pollinated tomato variety, selected by Mr Hempel from an original cross between Maglia Rosa (selected by Mt Hempel, released in 2007) and an un-released variety called Zucchero. I have none of these varieties available to replicate the process that created Lucky Tiger, unfortunately.

However, there are many heirloom varieties that I do have access to. Jaune Flamme (aka Jaune Flammee) was declared the equal first winner of the 2013 tomato taste tests held at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. It’s an indeterminate, heavy yielding old French variety with beautiful persimmon orange skin, a blushed yellow/red interior, and (apparently) a full-bodied, citrus-like flavour. Ananas Noir and Green Zebra also scored highly, and Green Zebra has those beautiful stripes.

I know I get overly excited about plant and animal breeding projects, but tomatoes wouldn’t be too tricky. Perth has almost the ideal climate for them – lots of sun, hot summers and mild winters, little chance of mildew. So, amongst my many (many, many, possibly too many) projects, I think I might try some tomato breeding. Jaune Flamme x Green Zebra to begin with, and then perhaps one of the elongated types – maybe Speckled Roman, or Cherry Roma. And in the mean while, I might see if I can get a few different varieties from the farmers market this weekend, and try growing the seeds from the tastiest ones.

I might also look up tomato genetics and see what I’m dealing with.

All images from Diggers Seeds, except the Lucky Tiger image which is from Modern Farmer.

earthbags, potatoes & bees

2012/11/07 deej 0

Our mandala vegetable garden, with its earthbag & hessiancrete raised beds, has been in the works for some time. We laid out the locations of the beds back in August, and built the first raised bed (of a total of 6) as a demonstration model.

 

On Sunday, we ran a workshop/permablitz to build the rest of the earthbag garden beds. In spite of weather reports predicting “scattered thunderstorms” (weird weather in November) we headed up armed with polypropylene bags, shovels, barbed wire, and enthusiasm. We did get rained on, twice torrentially and a few times lightly, but there was also a lot of cool, cloudy weather perfect for working on the garden. We had a great bunch of people come up for the day, so many thanks to you all!

 

By the end of the day, we had 4 of the 5 garden beds built. We didn’t manage to get to the hessiancrete (aka burlapcrete) rendering, so that’s a job for this coming weekend. We’ll also build the last of the raised beds this weekend if we can; that way we can start the hugelkultur process and get the beds ready for planting for the summer.

 

For those who are interested, here is the workshop handout we put together for the day: Earthbag Workshop Handout

We also planted all the seed potatoes we ordered from Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes. Hopefully they’ll do well and we’ll have a real harvest this autumn. There are Dutch Cream, Pink Eye, Pink Fir Apple, Royal Blue, Up To Date, Russian Banana, and Kipflers, all planted in the first (‘demonstration model’) raised bed. Now we see which varieties do the best.

The other excitement for the weekend was the bees! Finally, bees. Two hives, as it turns out, because we had the opportunity to rescue a swarm which had lodged itself in a flowerpot at someone’s house in the same week that our pre-ordered nucleus hive from  Bees Neez Apiaries was ready. So we collected the swarm on Friday night, complete with flower pot, and pcked up the nucleus hive on Saturday. Neither colony has been moved into their final hive boxes yet because the weather was so cold and wet that we thought it would be better not to open the hives up, and just leave them in their temporary accomodation for a week.

 

I can see my house from here.

2012/11/05 kai 0

When we first thought about buying our property we did a lot of research into the area. We looked at the soil type, the lay of the land, types of native vegetation and generally wandered around to get the “feel” of the property before buying. As part of this one of the things we did was check out the property on Nearmaps.

Nearmaps is a little like google maps with a couple of important differences.

  1. It’s much higher resolution, so you can zoom in closer and see more detail. In our local apartment complex you can actually see someone sitting in one of the hot tubs in one of its images.
  2. It puts photos taken at different dates for the area on a timeline. This means you can go back and see what the area looked like a year ago, 2 years ago or just last august.


This allowed us to look at the property at different times of the year and over a long time. So we could see if vegetation was spreading, dying back or remaining static.In some of the earlier photos of our property just after winter you can see the gullies cut by rain runoff across the property. This shows the lay of the land and lack of soaking.

Based on this info we decided to buy the property and haven’t looked back since. However we’ve been so busy we forgot to check back on nearmap to see how things are changing since we started working on the property. We remembered it this weekend after a discussion with someone attending our earthbag garden bed workshop and decided to check back.

It’s really something to have the work you’ve done sharply show to you from outer space! I was amazed to see that our swales, even the ones in the forest are not only visible from space but show the contour of the land perfectly. Something else that struck me. The photo from the start of this post is from a similar time of year last year, note the extra greenery and growth between the swales that wasn’t there last year. It’s only one year, so it’s not anything conclusive, but it’s interesting to note. While not shown here, the property below us is also showing increased greenery on his open areas. We’re feeling pretty positive about our swales right now.

I’ve made an image here that you can click on to compare them side by side : Side by side.jpg

Also of note Is that the can see our new shed and first water tank, which is pretty exciting to us but probably not to anyone else. Hurrah for progress! Also, amazingly enough, if you zoom in enough you can see the plastic tape on the ground that we staked out to show the outline of where the buildings for our house will be. The level of resolution is crazy!

Another neat thing is you can see the start of Danielle’s circular Mandala garden quite clearly. You can see the first garden bed all done, the 6 trees in a ring in the center (which are no more than 4 feet high at the moment) and you can even see the faint outline of the tape on the ground marking the other 5 beds. These are actually complete now thanks to the wonderful people at our workshop/blitz on the weekend and I’m really looking forward to the next update on nearmaps in a few months. It’s a really neat way to mark our progress and see the effect we’re having on the landscape in real terms. I’m very excited to see our little area of the planet getting greener and more fertile and all the trees and plants growing to fill our property and our dreams.

 

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