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8th April 2014

I think last newsletter I was saying "brrrrr" and being all grateful for the rain. And then we had a 31 degree day. How very autumnal! The rain was wonderful, and it greened things up a bit, but the ground in my garden is still surprisingly dry. I pulled out a zucchini bush today and there were big cracks in my dark clay soil.

I've been continuing to roast batches of tomatoes - have nearly enough sauce bottled to see me through a whole winter of cooking I reckon. So satisfying! I'm also extracting maximum value from the excercise by using the hot water out of the vacola pot after a batch of bottling. If I can manage to do the bottling process in the day time, I end up with a large pot of very hot water. I could leave that on the bench to cool down, then use the water for pot plants. But why waste all that heat energy? So I've been draining it off into a metal watering can (carefully!) and then 'watering' weeds in the pathways and hard to get to places. The hot water explodes all the cells and kills the plant, at least the part that gets the treatment. Things like ivy and agapanthus, that grow in crevices and seem to shrug off mild herbicides like roundup, are getting cooked out of existence. Just be very careful of the hot run-off - don't do this exercise while wearing thongs or sandals! 

Eat up your basil

Remember this picture (right)? It was a photo of a salad that my friend Bec made in January, with our carrots, zucchini and pesto made from our own garlic, basil and lemons (and imported pine nuts, alas. Although, forgive the extended side note, our friends Pip and Graeme are harvesting pine nuts from their stone pine tree up at Bagdad, and yes they are amazing fresh!). Ahem, where were we? 
Oh yes, basil. Its a quintessential summer crop in Hobart town, and unless you have a greenhouse to extend the season, soon it will start to deteriorate and eventually succumb as the cold nights intensify. So over the next month or so, make sure you enjoy it abundantly with your tomatoes, and zucchini, and in a curry, and with fish, and potatoes and beans and carrrots and - get the picture?

Watch your weeds

I've noticed that the chickweed has really started to get growing - maybe its the shorter days or that bit of rain. I"m happy to see this weed since the chooks and rabbits love it, and its quite tasty as a garden snack for humans too!

It grows in a spot where a few other common weeds grow, including spurge. Now spurge is a nasty weed that I don't like seeing, since the white milky sap is quite irritating to sensitive skin, and dangerous if it gets in your eyes. Its also very unpalatable to the animals. The leaf colour and size of the two weeds is very similar, and to an untrained eye they can look the
same, especially if growing together. So I habitually pull out any spurge when I see it (sometimes when I'm wearing 'office clothes' on the way to meetings in town . . .) so that I don't get a mixed handful if I'm picking the rabbits' brekky in a hurry.

The cycles of life

Its a bit of a 'pulling out and sowing afresh' kind of time in the garden. The corn is finished, a batch of lettuces and other leafies that went to seed have now gone to the chooks. The zucchinis are still growing and producing, but I can hardly face another giant zook, so I've pulled out all but one bush. At this end of the season zooks and cukes and pumpkins all start to get mildewy leaves. Although this year it doesn't seem too bad, maybe because of the dry weather. If you want your cucurbits to keep going a bit longer, just cut off any grey and mildewy leaves, and let the plant produce some fresh and clean ones for a last burst of ripening fruit.

In the newly vacant spaces I've been sowing and planting alot in the last few weeks. Now every day (I'm not known for my patience) I'm checking to see if my precious little babies have emerged yet, and if they're surviving the ravages of snails, slugs, blackbirds, neighbourhood cats and the like. And they are! So far.
The  garlic planted about 2 weeks ago is just starting to appear as little green spears (top left). Once they are up the roots hold them pretty well against the birds, but I leave some wire mesh over them for another week or two to be safe. They are not very competitive so keep them well weeded - chickweed and other likely suspects can grow fast and swamp the little garlics very quickly while the soil is still warm.

The spinach is up too (top right), very exciting since I LOVE spinach and my spinach crop didn't do too well last year. This time I protected the seed drills with wire cages, and even scattered a little bit of slug bait around under the wire, since the newly emerged seedlings are very vulnerable to the slimy pirates. I won't thin them out yet, since there are often a few mysterious losses anyway. Once they have a few sets of adult leaves I'll thin them out by selectively harvesting some whole plants, and get a baby spinach salad as by-product.

And the broad bean babies are up too. They fend for themselves pretty well, so I might weed with a hoe a bit later when the plants are bigger. Don't worry if some seeds seem to take ages to germinate - they were probably buried a bit deeper than the others.

Biochar trials - the story continues

We've set up the second and third trial sites for our biochar trial, and we can't wait to see what happens. Julie's place on the Eastern Shore is the apple box trial.
First we positioned and lined three 'spare' apple boxes that were left over from an earlier vegie garden setup at Julie's place. (Extended aside: You should see the huge amount of greens and tomatoes and cantaloupe and WATERMELON that she's been growing! Talk about a green thumb.) Then we filled the boxes with a mix from Totally Organic in Mornington - the "Fimby Blend" which includes vegie mix and extra organic compost.
The treatments, one per box, were the same as those we set up at Lissa's place. We dished out the biochar, compost and nutrient mixtures evenly so that we can limit the variables in this experiment, and try to get results that we can interpret accurately. We planted romanesco broccoli and purple sprouting broccoli as seed in each box, and will thin them out eventually. 
Our third trial site is at Kevin and Cheryl's place, and it was the easiest to set up, as they had a beautifully prepared bed all ready! We trenched the three treatments into three broad bands, and planted garlic cloves above each band. I didn't take many good photos of our setup, since we were getting stuck into the work! 

We will post regular progress shots and any emerging results from these trials as the seasons unfold. I'm so curious! Stay tuned for a field trip to visit the sites too!

Rhubarb and Raspberry Jam

I just made this, now, while writing this newsletter! I don't think there has ever been a more delicious jam! Although that's a familiar claim (after every batch).
I waxed lyrical about rhubarb a few times in the last year or so - making rhubarb champagne, syrup (remember the rhubarb mojitos?!) and bottling some with very pretty results. Its a very versatile vegetable.

Recently a dear friend gave me a frozen container of her home grown raspberries. By the time I got home, they were half defrosted, and although delicious and aromatic, pretty slushy. So today I picked a bit of rhubarb to go with them and made some rhubarb and raspberry jam. SENSATIONAL!

I pretty much used the recipe for rhubarb and vanilla bean jam that's on our FIMBY website HERE but didn't add vanilla, and added raspberries (about half the weight of the rhubarb). I don't use the recipe diligently any more, so I guessed the amount of sugar - probably a fair bit less than the recipe says - and used a couple of apples that were going soft in the fruit bowl. 

Rhubarb teams up with other fruit really well in jam. It lends a complex and exotic tartness, and great colour. I've heard of rhubarb mix jams made with: strawberries, mulberries, peaches, apples, oranges (more of a marmalade) - what other combinations have you tried?

The online catalogue for Woodbridge Fruit Trees will be out in the coming weeks. Anyone who is planning some winter fruit tree planting is well advised to check out this fabulous local business who send fruit trees all over Australia. They specialise in grafting trees onto dwarfing root stock - perfect trees for back yard growing.

They are having an apple tasting event up at Whychwood Nursery at Mole Creek on Sunday 13th April. Information can be found at the Whychwood website HERE.
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