"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”
A. A. Milne

14th December 2015

Hi folks, its a crazy busy time isn't it? But also, as an antidote, and very delightfully, its BERRY TIME! Everyone with home grown raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and bramble berries (like the silvans in the photo above) is picking daily bowls of lush, guilt free sweetness.

If you're bartering or begging for some, and longing for your own patch of bliss, consider planning for a patch that you can establish next winter. Think about how you will net your patch though, otherwise the birds will cause you much grief.

Almost all berries, with the exception of blueberries, are stunningly easy to propagate. A cutting taken almost any time will strike. Best conditions usually are in late Autumn / early Winter when the plants have gone dormant. You can offer to help prune and tidy up a friend's gooseberry, currant or raspberry patch, or don welding gloves to tackle a fearsome bramble jungle, and walk away with countless cuttings for your own patch. Win win I reckon!

Summer solstice celebrations!

This deliciously dapper chap, let's call him "Larry", is currently residing in my wonderful neighbour Cheryl's front garden. She introduced him to me today, and reminded me that you should always dress a salad. Ahahaha!

Just in case you're wondering what the joke is, look closely . . . Larry is a stunning red leafed lettuce plant that has sent up a flower stalk. We often have going-to-seed rainbow chard or silverbeet in the garden around this time, and the tall plants can make a fabulous living Christmas 'tree'. But I've never seen such a personable one as Larry. Happy Christmas dude!

Lettuce leaves usually become bitter when the plant shoots upward to produce flowers. Other leafies are still good to eat though, for example you can pick the small leaves on flower stems of rocket, spinach, silverbeet, and herbs like coriander,  parsley and basil even as they shoot up.

Dining out on garlic scapes

We still haven't harvested our garlic at the farm - we'll probably start this coming weekend. We planted around 3500 cloves, so it will be quite an exercise to pull, dry, clean and bundle the bounty! We might loose a bit to rot, but hopefully not too much. Garlic wrangling = perfect summer holiday activity for the various farm visitors!

We have been harvesting the scapes though, and selling them by the kilo to a few prestigious Hobart restaurants. This week we're having dinner at one of the best, and our bill will be credited with the value of the scapes we've provided over the last four weeks. So pleased!

We've also sold some through Harvest Feast, the wonderful business run by the ever helpful Michelle Dyer. You might have seen some of our "Wielangta Farm Scapes" at her stall at Salamanca. Michelle is a superstar supporter of local growers.
If you grow a lot of something, and you're interested in selling some of the extra, there are a few simple tips to give you the best chance of a happy outcome:
  1. Suss out if there are cafes or restaurants in your area that make a point of using local seasonal produce.
  2. Pick a sample bunch / bundle / pack of your produce, and attach a label with your contact details, and proposed cost. If you're not sure how much to charge, ask around or have a look at what things are being sold for at Farmers Markets or fresh produce shops.
  3. Take your sample to your target buyer. Don't wander into a restaurant in the middle of lunch service - you probably wont receive a warm welcome. Tuesday afternoons around 3pm are often a good time.
  4. Have a clear idea of what quantities you can supply, over what time period. Ask what delivery days / times best suit your possible customer.
  5. Ask if they're interested in bartering. This is great if you only have occasional small excess quantities. Quite a few cafes around town will swap coffee and cake, or lunch, for some fresh salad greens or fruit.
  6. Quality is key. Don't try to fob off scungy produce, keep it fresh, beautiful, packaged in recyclable materials.
  7. Value the relationships. Talk to the chef about what they're looking for, what they're doing with your produce, what they wish they could get.

Kiwi gender info

Those of you who grow kiwi fruit probably know that you need a boy plant and a girl plant to get fruit. If you have a kiwi vine, but never get any fruit, it may be that you've only got one gender. We talked about this in our newsletter in December last year. Click and have a read if you're interested.

The photo at right shows a female flower above, and a male flower below. See the starfishy thing in the middle of the femail flower? I took this photo at Mum's place a couple of weeks ago, and the season is moving fast, so your kiwi flowers might be almost finished by now. If they are, you should see little fuzzy fruit beginning to form where the female flowers were.

Once you have good fruit set, you can give the male plants a summer pruning.
A really good pruning! Mum removes up to 70% of the growth of the male vines each year, about half in winter and half in summer. Treat 'em mean, keep 'em productive!

A window onto history

The grass seed heads shown in the photo above were all picked in the 'garlic patch' at our farm. Its the only fenced and nutrient-boosted section of our wallaby-grazed pasture, and the abundance of 'weeds' is a bit daunting, but also very interesting.

For example, oats and barley (on the left) are grains that according to Don (the wonderful gent we bought the place from - he's a hero of ours) haven't been grown there for a long time, if ever. So they have somehow come in with animal feed, or straw. The barley grass and fog grass (next two from the left) are typical 'weedy' pasture species. Then we have rye grass, which is a high value pasture grass, then a range of fescues and brome grasses, the attractive "quaking grass" with the little beehive-like seed heads, and phalaris, another good quality pasture species.

There are also at least three species of clover and medics (another legume) in the garlic patch, plus various wild brassicas, flat weeds, plantains, native herby things like buzzy wuzzy, wood sorrel, sheep sorrel, a flax/linseed looking thing, and heaps of peas that came in as passengers with the pea straw mulch we used.

All this is quite exciting really, since one day we'll have animal cell-grazing systems on our farm. In these systems we 'mob stock' a group of animals, eg sheep, chickens, cows or even rabbits in small areas using electric fencing. Then move the mob every day or two so that they are always getting fresh herbage. This concentrates their eating, so they don't pick just their favorite plants, and also concentrates and evenly spreads their poo and urine. The grass and other pasture plants get a chance to recover, and are 'reset' to grow strongly. It all adds up to enriched pasture, healthy soil, and no extra inputs needed.

Since we have a diverse array of species already, this system, once we get it tweaked and adjusted to our particular system, is a way of practicing regenerative agriculture, using grazing. If that sounds counter-intuitive to you, check out Alan Savoury to learn more. His well known TED talk is a good place to start!

Better than a bottle of red!

Just look at this gorgeous cake! What a lovely gift of appreciation from Julie and Jane at Friends School, as a thanks for talking to their food and nutrition classes.
Julie told me that they usually give a bottle of wine to their guest speakers, and she enquired of my brother Rob, who happens to work at Friends, about my taste in wine. He suggested that we were pretty well stocked with good wine (courtesy of Mick's seriously stellar cellar of drinkable delights) and so Julie decided they'd make a cake instead. Isn't it wonderful? There are carrots, lettuce, cabbage, beetroot and tomatoes, and lovely chocolatey looking soil! Its too pretty to eat!

Julie has another role beyond her classes at Friends: she's the Executive Officer of the Tasmanian School Canteen Association. They recently won the Health Achievement Award at the 2015 Tasmanian Community Achievement Awards. Congratulations Julie and the team!

Christmas stocking filler

Last chance to order your Seasonal Garden Calendar before Christmas! They're perpetual - great as a garden diary. Nice present for someone who is starting out on gardening in Tasmania or similar climate. Cost is $15 plus $3 postage and handling, and they're available from our Fimby website. Order in the next few days to get them posted out to you ready to go under the Christmas tree (or festive lettuce).
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