Wild windy weather. erk. But it will pass.
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4th January 2014

Hi everyone, and welcome to wild and windy 2014. Its not fun to see big limbs of fruit trees covered in fruit come crashing down in the wind, or well mulched beds suddenly stripped of their covering that is blown down the street. 

But for every gardening 'disaster' there is something to learn, and soon we are reminded of the resilience as things grow back, re-shoot, become compost, and as new niches are discovered or formed. See the sunflower in the photo above? That's the one that was self sown in the garlic patch, which is now the corn patch. It reminds me that things will grow, and pretty quickly, which is good to remember when we lose stuff.

Pamper your Perennials

A good new year's treat for all your fruit trees, and other perennial food plants, is to give them a deep watering, then a thick mulch layer of organic materials like compost, straw, spent plants, manure or comfrey leaves. Citrus especially are vulnerable on hot and dry days since their roots are mostly at the surface. 

Summer pruning can begin soon too, for most fruits and berries, as soon as you've picked the fruit. So gooseberries, currants, raspberries and early stone fruit can be pruned and shaped in the coming month.

FIMBY Garden Tour - you know you want to!

Well we haven't had a FIMBY garden tour, or any group activity, for quite a while. This mostly due to the FIMBY team being distracted by wind farms, new grandchildren and children, new skills to develop, family commitments in other states and so on. But our eyes are now firmly back on the gooseberry (so to speak). 

Our first Garden Tour for 2014 will be on Saturday 18th January in South Hobart, visiting Uta and David's fabulous architectural enclosure (pictured below), and Christina's not-very-tidy garden (just trying to manage expectations here). These two gardens give some good insights about design and layout ideas that work, and some to avoid. And Christina's garden demonstrates integration of small animals (chooks and rabbits) into a small urban orchard, where a great nutrient cycling process captures and builds fertility and worm-filled soil.
And of course, as we all know, gardeners are the best people, and if you come to a FIMBY garden tour you'll be among kindred spirits who are happy to talk with you about your garden for AS LONG AS YOU WANT! These occasions are a great chance to swap ideas, and success stories or lessons learned. There's always the bonus of cuttings, potted up seedlings, bits of interesting plants plucked, tasted, collected and stored away for later. The tour is FREE! wooo hooooooo!

The details: Sat 18th Jan

10.00 am Meet at Christina's place
                - Say hello, get organised
10.10 am Car pool to Uta and David's
                - Admire the garden and
                  beautiful efficient design
11.10 am Car pool back to Christina's
                - wander around Christina's
                   vegie garden and orchard
12.20 pm Lunch - its about the food!

Lunch will be provided (no charge) but you are welcome to bring something to share if you wish (who makes good chocolate beetroot cake??). RSVP to Christina by Thursday 16th January for catering planning purposes.

Harvesting Potatoes

We talked in a recent newsletter about 'bandicooting' potatoes early in the season. Spuds planted in August or September will have good growth of tubers underground by now, and the vines on top will be looking pretty scruffy. You can still bandicoot the odd potato, but by this time I am usually harvesting a whole plant at a time, carefully digging around to find any little baby spuds that might break off and escape harvest. Any escapees will grow into new potato vines, and its common to have some volunteers coming up in the next crop.
I harvest the plants starting at the end of one row and working my way along. One plant gives around 6 - 8 good sized potatoes plus a handful of littluns, so that gives us a few meals unless its cooking for a mob. Once I've pulled and dug all the plants from one row, I'm able to get the next crop started. I often follow spuds with brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage or brussel sprouts (oh delicious but divisive vegetable!). In the picture below you can see where I've harvested one row - 4 plants - over the last month, and just planted a double row of leeks. The leeks are tiny (they got a savage haircut to reduce transplant shock) and not really visible yet under their wire cage set up for protection from scratching blackbirds.

The unharvested spuds are on the left, with their heavy layer of mulch from the rabbit pens. Make sure you keep the crown area of the plant well covered with mulch. This will not only conserve water, feed the soil and worms, and buttress up the plants a bit, but also help to stop the potatoes near the surface going green. If you do get green patches on your spuds, due to exposure to sunlight, make sure you cut that whole section of the potato off before cooking. Don't just peel the green bit of skin off.
If you want to harvest potatoes for storage, don't wash them! Spread them out on a few sheets on newspaper in a dark room to dry out, then lightly brush off any dirt. They can have a few days out on paper for the skins to 'cure' then store them in paper or hessian bags, in the dark. They can also be left in the ground for the summer months and harvested as you need them.

Pest alert: Pear and Cherry Slug. Ugh.

These guys are just gross. I dislike them very much. And the chooks wont eat them (wise birds). Looking a bit like a leech, cherry slugs attack the leaves of cherry, pear, quince and some plum trees. They don't really bother a big tree much, just skeletonising some of the leaves, and they don't attack the fruit. But on a young tree they can reduce the area of the solar panels (leaves) enough to stunt the trees' growth, or even kill it.

The pear and cherry 'slugs' are actually not a slug, they are the larvae of the sawfly, but still disgusting.
For a small tree that you can reach the leaves on, a 'find and squish' approach is good for control if you're not too squeamish. I often fold the leaf over to squish the slug between the leaves, since they're a bit unpalatable to touch. You can get an idea of which leaves they are on by looking for the patchy skeletonising that they do. When they first hatch they are tiny and more greenish yellow, so keep an eye out for the little ones too.

Another control method is to throw ash from the fire onto the leaves - it sticks better if you spray the tree with water first.
If you can't keep on top of it with mechanical (squishing) or physical (throwing ash around) means, you might need to resort to chemistry (pesticides). 

A targetted spray of pyrethrum will kill the critters, but be focussed, because it will also kill good insects like bees and hoverflies. So don't just spray a big mist of pyrethrum into the canopy - you need to spy and spot spray the slugs.

Cabbage white moth

While on the subject of pest control, any brassicas that you have growing at the moment are vulnerable to attack by the cabbage white moth. They lay tiny yellow eggs in the underside of leaves, and the little green grubs hatch out and grow to be big green grubs within days. A hungry (very hungry?) caterpillar can wreak havoc on new brocooli, cabbage or brussel sprout seedlings almost overnight. For control you can use the 'find and squish' low tech approach. You can also biological control with a product called Dipel which contains a bacteria that only affects larvae of the butterfly and moth family. Its safe and not toxic to other insects (eg ladybirds, bees), dogs, cats, birds and people. Dipel doesn't kill the grub directly, but needs to be ingested. Then the grub stops eating and will die and fall off the plant in a few days. So if you apply dipel, and then it rains, you'll need to apply again. It can be found at nurseries in a box of sachets that you mix up with water and then water onto the plant.

What to plant now

January is an interesting planting time: we can still plant typically "summer" crops like cucumber, zucchini and bush beans, basil, and even sweet corn and capsicums in places that wont get an early frost in Autumn. Its also a good time to plant long growing season plants that will grow right into, and through, next winter, eg leeks, parsnips, brussel sprouts and celeriac. And of course, there are the "plant from spring to autumn" tribe such as lettuces, silver beet, carrots, beetroot, radishes, spring onions, leeks, broccoli, cabbage.
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