“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.

14 September 2016

Aaaaahh bliss! The sun warm on my back, while I watch the chooks fossicking contentedly in the jungle of weeds they've discovered next to our pizza herb bed. I love the gentle clucking noises they make when they're at work like this. I let the weeds grow specially for them, of course.

Yes, weeds. Its a familiar Spring concern. Suddenly, it seems, everything gets a turbo boost, with new leaves popping out on the not-yet-pruned roses and woody herbs, and vibrant lush weeds going beserk. My garden, as I have lamented often lately, is a veritable sea of weeds, with a few emergent snow peas, some broccoli (almost finished) and some hardy spinach and chicory lurking in the undergrowth.

But I'm determined not to get too dismal about it . . . gardens reflect back to us our current priorities, that's all. And all those weeds are keeping the soil life happy, pumping out sugars from their roots, and contributing to a good soil structure. And the chooks and rabbits and compost heap are, and will continue to be, very well fed from the areas (eg around the spinach) where I do manage to tear out great armloads of chickweed and sowthistle.

Its amazing what grows in a dense thicket of weeds. I saw some feathery tops peeping above the weed layer near the quince tree. Ten minutes of excavation later, look what I found: lovely lovely lovage! Hooray!

Tracking the season

Can you believe its nearly the Spring Equinox already?! Next week. I know . . . how did that come around so fast?

I've been watching and marveling at the succession of fruit and berry blossoms that have been coming out in turn since shortly after the winter solstice. First the wattle and magnolias, then almond, Japanese plum (satsuma), nectarine, peach, apricot, European plum (greengage), red currants (pic below). Now the gorgeous quince flower buds are appearing, and looks like soon pear and crab apple too. And the wonderfully subtle but sweet gooseberry flowers are just forming.
Some years we think "wow the blossom is early this year" but generally our memories are unreliable. Why not start keeping a record of what flowers when, at your place? Then you can track the seasons across the years, and as your trees mature. When do the flower buds first open? When did you pick your first fruit? All this info can help plan your garden activities, since perennials like fruit trees have a built in 'season detector'. We can match the planting of our annual vegies, eg tomatoes, to what the fruit trees are doing.
If keeping a written record of key garden events appeals to you, then we have just the thing for you!! Our seasonal garden calendar is a perpetual one, so you can just keep rolling it through the years. Each month there is a planting guide, and handy tips, and luscious photos to inspire you. If you don't already have a copy, you can order one from our website HERE.

Preparing English spinach

I mentioned that spinach was one of the things my uber-weedy garden is miraculously yielding at the moment. So we're adding spinach to most of our meals - its so delicious and nutritious when picked and eaten almost straight away.
I thought I'd share this little trick for preparing spinach, just in case you haven't seen this before (bear with me if this is old news to you!).

Once you've carefully washed your spinach leaves, you can fold them in half with the top of the leaf to the inside, and the stem running along the fold. Then its easy to tear away the stem and any larger veins , et Voilá!
Then you can open out the leaves again, stack them on top of each other, and slice them up as fine or coarsely as you like. We add them for the last 5 minutes of cooking any braised dish, or use them as the star of a spring risotto. Or lightly braised in butter with a glug of cream they are a lush side dish on their own.

Some for now, some for later

I've had a most excellent crop of stinging nettles this year. Since we don't often have little kids crawling around in the garden, I'm quite happy to have nettles all over the place, since they are beneficial in so many ways  - as companion plants, nutrient rich fodder for liquid fertiliser,  and yummy.

They are rich in vitamins and minerals, and good food for the chooks. But the chookies wont touch them while they're growing. So I've picked a heap, and am drying them in the sun, which will disarm the stinging cells on the leaves.
I could also have hung them in bunches on some string to dry them. I wanted to catch the bazillions of seeds that will fall out as they dry, so they don't end up being swept off the veranda into the rhubarb patch. When they are thoroughly dry I will crush the leaves, and add them, plus any seeds, to a mash for the chooks, as a nutrient rich Spring tonic. I might pick out some nice clean leaves first and keep them aside for making nettle tea for us humans too!

Cover cropping cocktail

These stylish little tetrahedral numbers are buckwheat seeds, called groats. If you've bought buckwheat at a health food shop (to make yummy sprouted buckwheat pancakes for example) they would be un-hulled, and look much paler. The ones in our picture here have their hulls or seed coats on, and they're destined to be used as a summer cover crop.

Buckwheat grows fast in summer, and can smother other weeds. They have soft stems, and can be easily chopped up and
incorporated into the surface layers of soil, contributing organic matter ready for the soil organisms to feast and release the nutrients.

We've just passed on some buckwheat seed to the groovy dudes at Hobart City Farm. They're making a cover crop cocktail of several species, which will give a huge boost to the soil ecology, both while growing, and after its chopped and incorporated.

According to Graeme Sait, who we've all just listened to at a workshop recently, a mix of at least 5 different plant species makes any cover crop extra beneficial. The species should be chosen to match the season and conditions. The plant families that are recommended are: grains and grasses (eg millet, rye, barley), brassicas (eg mustard or daikon radish), legumes (eg peas, lupins, vetch, clovers), chenopods (eg quinoa, spinach).

Basically, the more the merrier. I like to think of my current weed population as a cover crop of sorts. There are legumes, grasses and broadleaf plants there. At last count many more than 5 species. Wooo Hooo!

Time to pull and drop

Do you remember the in-site compost pile / green manure bed that I built in May? Check out our newsletter from then to refresh the story. I had piled up weeds, leaves, chook litter and mushroom compost onto a garden bed, and scattered some green manure seed over the top. A mix of grains and legumes.

Well, these have grown, as you can see, along with a few stray weeds like that mallow in the foreground, and some volunteer potatoes (dear old things will never give up). I have in mind to plant tomato seedlings in this bed in another 6 weeks or so . . . and now is the time to deal with the cover crop, before the plants begin to set flowers and seeds.

I could chop the fodder while its standing, then lightly turn it into the top layers of soil. This is described in our newsletter from this time last year. But since I built up a lovely composty thick layer on this bed, and I don't want to disturb it too much, I'm going to opt for the "pull and drop" approach. Which is simply what it sounds like: pull the plants out roots and all, and drop them on the surface. This will create a thick layer of leafy stuff on top, which will start to wilt and break down, at the same time suppressing any eager weed seeds from germinating. When I'm ready to plant my baby toms, I'll just push this surface layer aside, cultivate a little patch for the seedling, and pop it in. Easy peasy. Watch this space!
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