“Soil is a living entity: the crucible of life, a seething foundry in which matter and energy are in constant flux and
life is continually created and destroyed.”
Daniel Hillel, Out of Earth, 1991.

2 October 2016

Hi everyone! I'm pretty chuffed today because I spent a bit of time in my South Hobart garden . . . feels like the first time in a couple of years. We're nearly always at the farm on weekends, or doing specific stuff that keeps us from the farm. This weekend for I think the first time since we got the farm, we stayed in SoHo for the weekend, and didn't have 'stuff' to do.

Well, not quite. I had a couple of dozen duck eggs from Jilly, which I was turning into pasta and then lasagna. Perfect job for a rainy day. I love a good barter.

With the pasta making, drying and making more, and the cucurbit and tomato seedlings on the benches, and the harvest bowl with lemons waiting for lemon curd making . . . the kitchen is currently a scene of domestic goddessery!

Blue and white - so chic!

I love blue/purple and white flowers. Any ornamentals I plant are usually in the blue or purple part of the spectrum. In the section of garden where we have lots of artichokes, there is also lavender, irises (purple ones), nigella (blue), a native hibiscus thing that has purple flowers, violets, and some self sown grannies bonnets which come up in white and yellow. I pull out the yellow ones!

Now I also have blue and white borage flowering together. At last! See our stories from last May's newsletter and this May's newsletter for the beginning and mid stages of this quest. Now the white is established it should pop up randomly, along with the blue, all around the garden. I'm throwing seeds heads into the compost to help the process along!

Do some weeding - get free food

I've picked a heap of stinging nettles this season, using some for making liquid fertiliser, drying some for the chooks, and bringing some to the kitchen. My last column in The Mercury's Home Magazine, published last Friday has more info about nettles. As an aside, that will be the last Home mag - they aren't continuing with it. Stay tuned for a new and different magazine, I think food focussed, to replace it.

Anyway, with nettles being pretty vigorous creatures, and Spring getting its Spring on lately, I'm getting overrun with a huge netltle patch in the chook yard. Our neighbour's kids sometimes come and feed the chooks for us, and I'm nervous about somebody falling over into a nettle patch . . .
So, I made another harvest, and as usual couldn't bear to waste the free nutrition from these weedy volunteers.

Seeing as I was in pasta making mode, I used some of the harvest to make a batch of nettle pasta. Its DELICIOUS!

Simply snip off the leaves, blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, drain, and blitz in a blender.
This puree is then added to your eggs and flour in a normal pasta mix. I added a cup of puree to six eggs and about seven tea cups of flour. It makes the dough very soft and a bit sticky - you need to use heaps of flour when rolling it out. But so GOOD!
Then I had the leftover stems that were laden with seeds. Didn't want to throw them into the compost or worm farm, since then I'll have nettles where-ever I use compost or worm castings in future. So I dried the stems with their seed load in the dehydrator, then stripped and sifted out the seeds.

According to Jilly, the nettle seeds are adaptogens, which means they help your body deal with stress. They are loaded with minerals and trace elements and support the adrenals and kidneys, as well as being great for your skin and hair. And they're FREE!
Now I have a jar full of the dried seeds, to use as a garnish on things, and to make tea. Anyone have any good experience using nettle seeds in a culinary setting?

To dig or not to dig - that is the question

Remember the gloriously sunny day we had last week, before the rain came down? I found myself with a bit of time that day (again!! - this change in FIMBY's scope is a fine thing!) and decided to pull out the scraggy broccoli plants next to the spinach and clear the weeds in just that one little manageable section, and get some carrot seed in before the rain.

You've heard me wailing and gnashing my teeth about the weedy state of the garden this year, and also my attempts to remain positive in the face of this state of affairs. Well, all the things I've said about weeds being a 'free cover crop' and being good for the soil are true. Just have a look at the roots on this clump of grass that I dug out.
That mass of fine roots is the reason that grass is a terrible weed to have in the vegie patch: its really competitive and can secure water and nutrients better than some of our more feeble vegetable friends.

At the same time, that mass of fine roots is the reason that grass has a tremendously beneficial effect on soil structure and workability. Lots of sugars and gummy goopy stuff comes out of those roots, and feeds the soil organisms. As the lower leaves and some of the roots die they break down, and the fine netted structure and all those organic compounds help to 'glue' soil particles together into little crumbs, or peds, which allows water and air to penetrate down into the soil. This in turn fosters microbial action . . . and so it goes, around and around.
Steve Solomon actually recommends putting a decent section of your garden down to grass for a few years in rotation, in part because of the restorative effect on soil structure. In a small garden this might not be practical - but my two years of neglect have effectively done this in large parts of our SoHo garden.

But when you have a healthy cover crop, either deliberately planted or arising out of neglect, there is always the dilemma of how to clear it without undoing some of the good soil healing work that it has done.

You can chop up the leafy parts, and then lightly dig in the choppings and the turn over the roots to start breaking down. We talked about that in our Sept 2015 newsletter.

Another approach, which I will use soon for planting out pumpkin seedlings, is to slash or stomp down the leafy part, lay a thick layer of wet newspaper or cardboard over the chopped up vegetation, and mulch over the top of the paper.
The seedlings are planted in little cleared zones, or alternatively into pockets of good soil or compost that are place in the mulch layer. With all the microbial life and worms in the healthy soil underneath, the stomped or chopped weeds will rot down and be eaten by the soil life within a season. The newspaper or cardboard excludes light, which stops the weeds from regrowing. Patrol the edges!
But getting back to the sunny day . . . I really wanted to start some carrots, and the seed is tiny, and so they need a fairly fine 'tilth' or crumbly soil so the little seed can make good contact with the soil particles. My approach to the weeds which had grown up around the broccoli was to roughly clear and pull out the bulk of the tops of the plants, and give this to the delighted chooks. Then I cultivated the top layer, just half a garden fork deep. The soil was the perfect moisture content for this - not too wet, not too dry. Just Right. Thankyou Goldilocks. If your soil has a reasonable clay content, its really important to only cultivate when you are in this Goldilocks zone, or you'll do long lasting damage to the soil structure. And probably your back too.

Back to the carrots: after a light and rough cultivation, I used a hand tool to remove roots, and loosen and further break down the soil in the rows where I was going to plant the seed. Between rows I left it pretty chunky, and just roughly hauled out any bulky bits of roots.

Planted seeds, remembered to label them for once, covered with wire cages so the blackbirds dont scratch them to oblivion . . . happy me! All the rain we've had since then has felt like a special carrot seed benediction!

Cheap and cheerful raised beds

I received a message the other day from Sue, a long term Fimbarista friend and matriarch of an entrepreneurial family! Her daughter Elsie has been making simple timber raised beds, and is selling them around Hobart for the very low price of $25.
If you're keen to benefit from Elsie's industriousness and interest in carpentry, and get yourself some of these cute and practical little numbers, the link to their Gumtree advertisement is HERE for the clicking.

The beds can be delivered around Hobart for a small extra fee.
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