“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

1st October 2015

Hi Everyone, hope you're enjoying the Spring flowers everywhere. Especially fruit and berry blossoms. At the moment I'm loving our quince flowers, and the subtle but sweet gooseberry flowers.

The garden jobs keep multiplying at this time of year, and the weather is unstable, which can lead to gardener stress. But don't panic, just do what you can manage, and if some areas get out of control, just tell yourself that you're growing a cover crop to help look after the vital soil microscopic ecosystem!

Low tech biochar burn

We had a bit of an experiment a few weeks ago at the farm: making biochar in a simple pit kiln (ie a trench in the ground). I've read about using pit kilns, and I'm all for low tech options! There's a good link HERE to Hawaii Biochar's description of their pit kiln and process which has been used to produce many tonnes of biochar.
Fimbaristas Jess and Tom together with their children Jem and Anna came down for the show, and although the kids look a bit shy in this picture, they soon got into it, helping to throw sticks into the fire.

The cost and time for this burn was minimal: zero cost actually. It took an hour of my time maybe, picking up sticks from the forest floor and bundling them for easy transport in the ute to where we had the burn. It took about 20 minutes to dig the trench. If we did a bigger burn in a bigger pit of course this would take longer to dig. But starting small and slow is a good principle. The trench is about the length of the sticks.
Biochar, or charcoal, is made when there is heat but little oxygen. In a pit like this, we keep adding fresh sticks to the top so that there is a 'flame cap' which sucks the oxygen up to the top layers. Once the top sticks start to go white, ie the carbon structure is starting to break down to ash, we throw more sticks on. Its good to finish with smaller dimension sticks so that they end up burnt all the way through.
Once you have a pile of glowing coals, and not much flame anymore, its time to douse or quench the whole thing. This can be done with water, or by covering the lot with soil, or horse poo. We had a big pile of horse poo ready, but decided it was ok after just three or four watering cans full of water.
This was a mistake! After a few hours I noticed a hot ashy spot, and poured on some more water.
Gave it a good few turns with a shovel to check for any really hot spots, and left it there thinking we'd done a good job. I came back a few days later to find the pit TOTALLY EMPTY! Nothing scattered around, so no animal interference. Partner Mick was innocent of any surreptitious digging out of the biochar. It must have re-ignited in the strong winds and burnt out. That's how bushfires start . . .

So the next weekend we made another batch, and this time thoroughly soaked the lot with more water, and then shovelled it out of the pit onto the ground next to it, and made sure it was properly cold before leaving. Next step is to crush the lumpy bits and start using it as an additive to compost and worm farms. Black is Back Baby!
Black may be back, but pink is still in, isn't it? I wouldn't know about fashion, but pink pickled eggs sure are pretty! I've been wanting to try this idea since I saw it in Goodlife Permaculture's blog around about this time last year. And our chooks are popping out eggs like crazy at the moment, so I thought I'd give it a go.

I used (loosely) the recipe on this website HERE, and it worked beautifully. Sometimes these kind of things have novelty value but not staying power . . . they don't make it into the regular kitchen repertoire. But these pink eggs are delicious, easy, and already eaten after a few days! I'll definitley be making more.

Compost to the rescue!

Are your pathways and perhaps even garden beds full of lush looking weeds getting their Spring on? Is your green manure crop outrageously huge? Are your artichoke leaves strewing themselves across pathways? Are your end-of-season aphid infested broccoli giving you the heeby-jeebies? If yes, then compost to the rescue!
I can say yes to all of the questions above. Rampant spring growth can be daunting, but I like to think of the weeds as a compost feedstock crop. Makes me feel better about them! Now is a fantastic time to get started on a new compost heap.
I did a savage harvest of my comfrey back in autumn, collecting all the available leaves for a demonstration project. But in the last month the plants have bounced back vigorously, and are now flowering and lush (see pic above). Comfrey is a great compost activator, and supplies lots of micro-nutrients that it drags up from deep soil layers by its extensive root system.

If you can find some spoiled straw or hay, or animal bedding, you can make a lasagna compost heap.
Simply stack up thin layers of straw, comfrey, poo (sheep, chicken, cow, horse, alpaca or rabbit) and water each layer as you go. You can create a 3-sided area for doing this with old pallets, or a large circle of chicken wire with a few star pickets. Or just pile it up carefully. You want at least a cubic metre built all in one go, which takes quite a bit of resources (about 2 bales straw and 3-4 bags poo).

Leave it in peace for a few days, then check to see if the core has warmed up. You can wiggle your hand in (wear gloves if you fear spiders!) or plunge a stake into the top. If its warm, its working! If not, then probably its too dry, or wet, or doesn't have enough nitrogen (poo, fresh green weeds etc). Use your observation skills, and perhaps a friend to help, to correct any deficiencies.

Once its warmed up then started to cool down, you can turn the heap to get the outside to the inside. Or just leave it to chug away by itself. You'll get compost quicker if you turn it often . . . but it will get there eventually even if you pretty much ignore it. Ahh compost - so many of us just love the alchemy of it all!
Here's an exchange of energy that's got me really excited! Gemma and Terry run the Tasmanian Tea Company and are committed and energetic gardeners.  We first met years ago when FIMBY helped them set up a whole stack of garden beds for growing vegies for the family - they have six beautiful children.

After a couple of years in Bathurst NSW with family, they are back at their stunning place at Gardners Bay near Cygnet, and have been developing their very successful Tasmanian Tea Company. You may have seen them at the Farm Gate Market or Cygnet or Kingston markets. If you've tasted their tea you're sure to be a fan - delicious and uncompromising on quality and organic goodness.
I heard that Gemma and Terry were doing "exciting things" in the garden space, and have been itching to visit to reconnect and have a sticky beak. Last week I managed to get to their place, and OH MY LORDIE have they done some work! They've created a huge, spacious and beautifully laid out greenhouse adjacent to and connected to their house. It has raised beds, customised irrigation setup, potted citruses galore, and a propagating area where they are starting to grow their IJALSE Organics seedlings.
We've struck a deal: over the coming year I'll visit regularly and help troubleshoot and learn alongside them as their new systems really get cranking. Its a perfect arrangement, since Gemma is a very talented artist, and I've always coveted one of her paintings. But I've had limited spare cash . . . so we're bartering! I'm stoked about this arrangement also because Gemma and Terry are excellent researchers and doers - I can talk and wave my arms around, and the next day they've implemented any suggestions, with improvements. So, stand back and WATCH THIS SPACE!

Celeriac stylin'

I noticed the other day that some of my celeriac plants are starting to develop flower stalks. You see this alot as spring really takes hold: lots of plants get the message and start making moves to procreate, by sending up a stalk that will produce flowers and eventually seeds, if you let them. Silverbeet, lettuce, beetroot, rocket, broccoli, cabbage, leeks, spring onions . . . all of them get quite frisky this time of year. You can break off the stalks, but you're only delaying the inevitable progression of the plant's life cycle.
In the case of celeriac, as with other root vegetables, we're interested in the roots. Once a plant starts making moves to create flowers, the resources of the plant will head that way. This can lead to roots getting woody and less yummy for us.

So: time to harvest the celeriac. They are a long season crop - I planted mine in January this year, so they've had the garden space for 9 months or so. They're also hungry, and I'm not interested in force feeding them masses of liquid fertiliser, so mine are far more modest in size than the ones you sometimes see in the shops.
Here (at right) is the one from the pic above, partly trimmed. Any finger sized roots (that you break off and can't be bothered cleaning up) can be fed to pet (or non pet) rabbits - they love them. They'll also love the stems and leaves of course, but make sure you cut the stems into shortish pieces, or the strong stringy fibres in the stems can get stuck in the rabbits gut, and then you could have a dead bunny.

I don't grow celeriac often - such alot of garden space for a fairly small yeild. But home grown ones are uncommonly good, not like bought ones at all.
Here it is trimmed and ready for the kitchen. I use them sliced up in soups and stews, or in a gratin with potatoes: mmmm creamy root veg gratin = YUM!

Our Romanian friend Nica recently made me a beautiful side dish featuring the 'ugly but interesting' celeriac:
Grate raw celeriac and carrots,
add finely chopped garlic,
mayonnaise, lemon juice and salt.

Rich and delicious!
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