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18th January 2016

Its been a funny start to the year for me: hard to get my diary sorted out, not doing some of the ordinary admin that make things run smoothly. But we've been processing garlic pretty solidly up till just recently (all sold out, thanks for the support!). Last weekend was a chance finally to lift our heads and look at the view. Cor - we are so lucky! Lucky that our dry brown crispy grass just means a different texture underfoot when flying kites. I've been thinking alot about those families relying on growing stuff for their living. And how heart breaking it can be when late frost, unseasonal hail, dry dry dry conditions and crazy heat can destroy what they have nurtured so carefully.

We've heard stories from some wonderful and experienced growers lately, people who know their stuff, who create diversity and regenerative systems, and who are still struggling with tricky weather conditions. Its a good thing for us backyard growers to consider the livelihood folks when making our grocery purchases. Support locals through farmers markets and other networks where you can. It all helps.

Blueberry goodness

Speaking of supporting local growers, here's a chance to do just that, and score gastronomic, health and social benefits at the same time.

The lovely Jilly and Kris of Twelvetrees Farm have pick-you-own blueberry sessions most (but not all) Saturdays at the moment. Its high season, and the berries are so delicious! The bushes are 20 - 30 years old, and a stunning sight to see. At just $14 / kg for pick your own, this is a bargain. We've got a freezer full, and also had heaps to spare for dishing out around the neighbourhood. As an aside: Our neighbourhood is the best ever - it was a sure bet that some of the blueberries would come back as muffins / cakes etc. Or by trading arrangements as chicken and rabbit care when we're away. And they did!

Check the Facebook page for details of picking days, directions and so on. Its a lovely drive to the Cygnet region, and worth making a picnic day of it. Bring buckets!

Pruning stone fruit

Most stone fruit trees (plums, apricots, nectarines, peaches, cherries) are best pruned in summer or Autumn, when cuts heal quickly and help prevent the entry of bacterial and fungal diseases. There's a bit of a range of approaches to pruning the different varieties of stone fruit, but all of them can get the following treatment as soon as you've picked all the fruit:
  • remove all dead or diseased, crossing or tangled branches,
  • thin out branches as needed to keep the interior open and allow light to penetrate.
For plums, cherries and apricots, thin out old, crowded or weak fruiting spurs. Trim back long laterals by half, but otherwise, if the tree is a good vase shape, don't mess with it too much.
For nectarines and peaches, which fruit only on last season's growth, its fruitful (boom boom!) to prune a bit more heavily than the other stone fruit. Remove all laterals that have already fruited. Either take them out completely, or take them back to a new lateral shoot or dormant bud near the base.

The photo at right is from a good article about summer pruning HERE. There's heaps of info out there about pruning.
Our recommendation is to have a go, and observe what happens, especially if you have smaller trees that are no too daunting. Don't be too concerned about getting it perfect - trees are pretty forgiving.

However, because stone fruit are so prone to wood diseases, its a good idea to wipe the blade of your pruning tools with a rag dipped in metho between cuts.

Trees for free

I was walking our neighbour's dog the other day, and stopped to pick some tagasaste, or tree lucerne, for the rabbits. Tagasaste is a weedy legume tree that grows on roadsides around the place. The rabbits love the leaves. I noticed that there were lots of dry furry seed pods on the tree, so picked a handful for my pocket. At home these pods yielded a few hundred little hard black seeds. The inside of a tagasaste pod is beautiful, like khaki green silk.
I soak the seeds in warm water, changing it a couple of times a day, until I see them start to swell. Then plant them out in punnets, about 8-10 to a punnet. Then once they are up, prick them out into individual pots, to grow on ready for transplanting to their final position in the field. The ones at right were grown from seed collected last summer. They're at the farm now.

They are quite a weedy plant, but also useful as a windbreak, soil conditioner (being a legume), animal fodder crop (cutting the branches regularly), nectar source. We need multipurpose wind breaks at the farm, so these will go in strategic places, and we'll manage them to make sure none escape!

Fimbarista file: Sue's Tuscan paradise

I visited my friend Sue recently, and was enchanted by the garden she has created in just 6 months or so. In July last year we had a design discussion, to help Sue get some feedback about her ideas for a 'chaotic but productive' garden at her Sandy Bay house, and to talk about the time and resources needed for implementation.

Since then, Fin the Fimby Garden Fairy has worked with Sue to help turn her vision into reality. And the results are totally gorgeous.
Sue's side garden space isn't large, but she wanted to fit in some vegie production areas, train an existing grape vine over a pergola, and prune the 100 year old fig tree. She also wanted to create a beautiful space that would draw her (and visitors) into it.  She and Fin have made an excellent team, and the place now is fairly bursting with vitality.
There are giant sunflowers, zucchini, tomatoes, blueberries, and the most productive sweet corn I have ever seen. In two existing raised beds there are lettuce and other leafies, plus carrots and root crops. The garden is stunning from any viewpoint, contained by a fence and only about four metres wide. Even though the plantings are not regimented, perhaps a little chaotic, the overall impression is one of serenity and calm. Must be all that green. One of my favorite things is that the bathroom door opens out onto the space under the grape pergola. On a warm evening, from the shower or bath, its quite possible to feel like you're in Tuscany. Pass the Chianti!

Upcycling opportunity

Here's a chance to get creative and repurpose some plastic milk crates. Lissa from Sustainable Living Tasmania and I are running more workshops in the Clarence Plains area soon about healthy eating. Sponsored by Mission Australia, one of the themes of this round is about getting started with growing food at home.
We just picked up a ute load of broken crates from Ronnie at Pura Milk. Some of them just have tiny little cracks, or a chip off the bottom edge. Ronnie is keen to find uses for the broken ones, as otherwise they eventually go to landfill. These will be lined with geotextile, filled with good potting soil, and become modular vegie gardens.
If you can think of a use for any crates (shelving and bench seats come to mind) we can organise another ute load for FIMBY people. Ronnie doesn't really want loads of people coming to the depot for one or two crates, but is happy to facilitate bulk pickup whenever we want. Let me know if you would like some. If you have a worthwhile project and would like to source a LOT of crates, let me know and I'll pass on Ronnie's details.

Snails: enemy #1 or escargot?

While chatting with Ronnie by the pile of broken milk crates at the Pura depot, we got to talking about snails, as you do. Turns out Ronnie is keen to give snail farming a go. How about that! So on Ronnie's behalf, I'm keen to hear from anyone who would like to lower their garden snail population, and at the same time help out a startup business. If things look like they will work out, Ronnie will be keen to buy snails from gardeners in the future.

Yes, you read that correctly: someone wants to BUY YOUR SNAILS! Whoop de doo! To start with we would be keen to get an idea of how many snails might be available from backyard gardeners. I know its been very dry lately, but leafy vegie gardens, with a good mulch layer and regular watering, are ideal snail refuges. As we all know to our cost, or the cost of our baby sunflowers, cucumbers, peas and other precious seedlings. So here's what we propose: the great SNAIL CENSUS.

If you'd like to participate, please pick a dampish evening or morning in the next week or so (tomorrow night or wednesday morning look good) and see how many snails you can collect into a bucket or lidded container. My best hunting grounds are around the edge of the comfrey patch, up against the stone wall. Any sheltered, cool place is a good spot to look. They also love my propagating area - hiding down the bottom between the pots, then sliding out at night to demolish vulnerable young things.

Once you've picked up your haul, keep them in container with a lid, but make sure there are air holes. Let me know that you're part of it, and we'll work out collection or dropoff of the slimy buggers to Ronnie. Let me know by Friday if you can so that there aren't stressed snails waiting out the weekend in prison. Even though they deserve far worse. Who knows - in future you might be able to pay the kids to collect them for you! Talk about a win-win situation.
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