Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cutest banana in the world?

I know, I know, you're sick of hearing about bananas. Am I a one trick pony or what? Well I don't care, because we have the cutest banana ever to show off.

It stands 9cm (3.5 inches) short and weighs 28 grams. It's the last banana on our first plant and I think it couldn't make up its mind whether it was a girl or a boy.

So now that all the fruit are harvested we need to chop the old plant down to let the follower take over. We might leave it until we have time to make compost with it, there would have to be at least 50kg of potassium rich biomass there. The follower we selected is now as big as its predecessor so we're hoping it will fruit next summer. The follower is the one on the right, with the old plant on the left (see the old fruit stork hanging down).

The other plant to the left has about 150 immature fruit on it, with a smaller follower in front.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Season's change

Autumn is here at last. After another long, hot, dry summer it's such a relief. We're getting maxima in the mid to high twenties and minima between about 11 and 16. It's so nice not to have to worry about heating or cooling for a while. This change in season means there are a few jobs to do though.

The retic can be reduced a fair bit now. Although it's still very dry the transpiration and evaporation rates are much lower than a few weeks ago.

I've taken the external shade off Quincey's east facing window, so he can gain a bit of early morning heat. I also block off the whirley bird on the roof and stop it spinning. This stops the warm air in the roof cavity being drawn away.

I've checked the gutters. They don't seem too dirty so I've put off this horrible job for a while. It's something I'll have to do before the winter rains though.

We've just got a quote to fix a leaking roof, don't want to get wet again this winter.

We're starting to think about what to plant where. We're going away over Easter and the plan is to get stuck into planting then. First thing in will be garlic, which takes about 6 months to crop. We had such a great crop last year we actually have enough to replant for this year. This is one of two or three big strings we had.

Soups are on the menu again, so I picked the first of 5 jap pumpkins today. This one weighed in at 4.7 kg. Here's Quin struggling to hold it up (check the new hair do!).

The rain water tank needs a clean. This is another job I can't face right now, maybe it can wait another year?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nematode wars

We've just declared war on nematodes in our garden. This summer we had really poor tomato and silverbeet crops and suspected nematodes. We ripped them up and we were right. In case you didn't know, nematodes are microscopic worms which live in soil.They can enter roots to feed and breed causing galls. If they feed from the outside they cause roots to stunt and distort. They thrive in warm moist sandy soils, which means they are a big problem in Perth. Plants affected by nematodes will struggle to grow and often collapse in the heat because their roots cannot take up water. The only real way to tell whether you have them is by ripping up the plants to look for the distorted roots. Here's a pic of eggplant roots affected.

So, what's the remedy? Well, there are various ways. One is to plant things like mustard, which acts as a soil fumigant to repel them. We did this last year without success. We also added lots of compost and manures to try to improve the soil, but we let the soil dry out a bit and lost a lot of the good bacteria which out compete nematodes. Another way is to use pesticides, but that's obviously a no go for organic growers. You can also solarise the soil. You can do this by putting clear plastic on the soil in sunny weather. This kills off the nematodes (cooks them), but unfortunately it kills all the good bugs that you need in productive soil.

We were getting desperate and were about to solarise. Then we thought we'd make one call before we took this drastic action. We called Derek at our local garden store. Derek knows everything about everything gardening, so it was worth a shot. Of course he knew what to do. He said don't solarise, you'll take one step forward and two back. Instead he suggested a two prong attack. Firstly, buy some molasses and dilute it with 5 parts water and water it on the garden from a watering can. Then add lots of manure, water in well and cover with thick (20-30cm) layers of mulch. We also added vermicompost from our worm farm at this stage.

Wait a couple of weeks and then add a product called Bactivate. It comes in granular form and has lots of bacteria in it, one of which combats nematodes. Apparently the nematodes eat the bacteria, feel very full and starve to death after! You could probably skip the Bactivate if you have lots of compost and vermicompost, but we thought we'd give it a go.

The aim is to introduce as many bacteria into the soil as possible to out compete the nematodes. In this way they should suppress the nematodes whilst doing great things for your soil and plants. The plan is to plant our winter veg after easter. We'll let you know how it goes.

I'm coming to realise that summer is the key season to gardening in Perth. It's so easy to drop the ball in the heat and dry. You tend to plant less and also tend the soil less. If you let your soil dry out over summer you lose all the gains you've made in winter and spring building up your soil and the sand gobbles up all the goodness and you're back to the beginning again. So, next summer I promise to mulch loads more and make sure to keep the soil moist even if there are no plants growing. A green manure would be good too, but I won't get ahead of myself...   

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Colloidal compost

It's been a long hot summer as usual here, with 8 heat waves so far (3 days or more over 35 degrees C). This is the time of year we struggle most to keep the garden going and making compost goes on the back burner. It's much harder to get vegie scraps from the shops in summer since summer veg has less removed for sale. The other factor is the heat, we'd rather be at the beach than making compost in 35C. It also means that I tend to have less time and energy for feeding the fruit trees, so the compost tends to sit around for a while longer. With compost this is a good thing, since it breaks down further and matures. It cools down and worms, slaters, beetles and bacteria weave their magic. I make sure to water it every now and again and cover it up so it stays moist. My latest batch is about 6 months old now and it's a beauty. It is homogeneous, with "uniform particles and colour, and very few of the original ingredients discernible" (T. Marshall, Composting: "The ultimate organic guide to recycling your own garden").

It's alive, teaming with macro and micro fauna. There are probably billions in this one handfull!

Best of all it's colloidal. This "refers to its ability to hold water and nutrients. A colloid remains in suspension in water for a very long time, or indefinitely. For example, jelly crystals can absorb enormous quantities of water to form jelly, but it is not easy to squeeze water back out of them. Plant roots can extract water and nutrients from colloids" (T. Marshall). Perth's soils are amongst the worst agricultural soils in the whole world. They are gutless, with very few nutrients and very poor water holding properties. This is where compost comes in, the organic matter holds nutrients and water and makes them available to plants instead of washing away into our rivers. Colloidal compost is the best. This is the first time we've made it and we're pretty proud of it. See this post on how to make compost bays and compost yourself. And check out the crumb structure!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Home made apple juice

This time of year is apple season down under. We'd just about run out of apple juice, so on my last field trip I stopped at my favourite fruit orchard to get some juicing apples. These are third grade apples, which we get for about 30 cents a kilo. We got Golden Delicious this time and they actually looked pretty good (these are the pick of them we saved for eating).

So, here's how we do the juice. First we wash the fruit and throw out any bad ones. The we chop any bruises off and chop them into pieces that fit in the juicer. We borrow a Breville Fountain juicer, which is ok for the job. You can pick these up pretty cheap second hand as people use them twice and then can't be bothered cleaning them! It just has a rotating blade which throws juice one way and the rest the other way.

The next stage is to pour the juice into a beer brewing keg. This is a method we use to separate the frothy crap from the juice. The keg has a tap at the bottom, which taps off pure juice, some solids sink to the bottom and the froth stays at the top.

We leave the juice to settle a while and get on cleaning the jars and lids to preserve the juice. We use Vacola number 27's for juice. Pour off the juice through a sieve and funnel into the jars.

Then you just put the rings on, then lids and then clips. 

Now you're ready to preserve. Just place the jars in the bioler and cook 'em up. We have an electric, which takes an hour and an old stove top one which you need to bring to 92 degrees and keep there for an hour. The electric holds 7 jars and Big Bertha holds 12.

The waste can either go to the chooks, worms or compost.

Once they're ready you just remove them and leave them overnight before removing the clips. The juice will keep for years like this.

In the end we got 21 jars of 800ml, or 17 litres of juice (we normally mix it 50/50 with water to drink since it's so sweet). It cost $10 for 30kg of fruit, plus about 25 cents for power. I know what you're thinking, how bloody long did it take. Well, I reckon all up it took about 3 hours. It probably doesn't save us much money, but it does cut our food miles a lot. We actually haven't bought shop juice for over two years now. And of course it tastes delicious.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

a walking submarine

This is an imploder bomber aeroplane. I didn't really know that my Mum and Dad would get this for me for Christmas but I didn't really know that they would. I did it all by myself I didn't use the instructions I just like to use my imagination. 
This is a submarine with a man inside and its a transformer and can transform in to an areoplane and I really like it. It can walk. And the top bit of it, the little roof for the man, is the head of it when it transforms.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Perfect bread

When you make sourdough bread it's sometimes a bit heavy. This has been happening a lot recently (Amy thinks the hot weather is to blame). So I thought I just had to show you the latest batch, it's perfect!

And look, it's even taller than a piece of shop bought bread. 

It goes without saying that it tastes better too. Well done Amy!