Plant garlic, broad beans, peas, English spinach, broccoli. Yes you know you want to. Go on, just do it. Yeah. Feels good, dunnit?
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26th March 2014


Yay for some rain! And also BRRRRRRR! We've definitely entered Autumn. Although today has turned out to be the most totally gorgeous cool but sunny day - ahhh perfect! The rain we had last Friday was very welcome, but also a tad bothersome for the field trips associated with the Food 4 Thought national community garden conference which happened in Hobart town. I think some of the delegates from Darwin and WA were a bit cold! But most of the Tasmanians were grinning from under their goretex jackets!

Very big thanks to the wonderful organising team (pictured below, with Costa as a ring-in) who put on an inspiring, friendly, beautifully organised, delicious event!

Garlic planting time! 

Each year I plant the garlic a bit earlier . . . I used to plant in early May, then around ANZAC Day, then around my birthday (early April), and this year I've ventured back in time to late March! I figure that its good to let the cloves get a start on growth while there is still a bit of warmth in the soil, as each strong leaf will contribute to a clove in the final head of garlic. I don't think I'd plant before the Autumn equinox (21st March) though, so my planting date this year was 24th March. We'll see the results! Last year I did one batch on 7th April, and one batch on 9th May. With the wet spring we had I noticed some rust and moulds developing in November, so I pulled them all at the same time. The April planted ones were much bigger than the others. I might do two batches again this year for interest.
A good rule of thumb to remember when you're preparing your garlic for planting is "Plant the best, eat the rest". In other words, break up the heads of seed garlic that you've bought (or your own from last year's harvest) and separate the cloves into two piles: big ones and little ones. The big ones go into the garden and the little ones go into the kitchen. Bigger cloves planted = bigger heads harvested.

Once you've prepared your garden bed, place the individual cloves on the surface in an arrangement that you're happy with. I usually put them in a grid pattern, but you can do rows if you like. Try spacing around 30cm between rows, and 10 cm between cloves in a row. Or 15 - 20 cm between cloves in a grid pattern. I noticed that my grid pattern went all geometric and ended up roughly hexagonal. Maths in the garden - what fun!

Then plant each clove with the flat bit down and the pointy bit up, so that the pointy bit is just below the surface. In a short few days or a week the flat bit will sprout a fountain of strong little roots. These can actually push the clove up out of the ground, so make sure you press them in firmly at planting, especially if you have fluffed up the soil a bit.
Garlic cloves like moderate nutrients in the soil. An ideal way to get this is to put them in following a crop that was fertilised well, and don't add any extra fertiliser at the time of planting.

In my garden this year I had an early bed of broccoli that I planted in December. MISTAKE - it tasted horrible since we had very warm weather as it matured. Wont do that again! Planting broccoli now is a much better idea.
ANYWAY, I had mulched the summer broccoli heavily with litter from my rabbit pens, ie hay with rabbit poo in it. Brilliant mulch! When I removed the broccoli (and fed it back to the rabbits to make more poo) (dontcha love cycles) I raked up the mulch and put it in the compost bin. Lots of the rabbit poo had sifted down to soil level through the mulch, and the worms were very active at this level. So were the slugs - it was easy to spot the buggers and I made a good collection for the chooks. Slug habitat is one reason that Steve Solomon is anti mulch. I still like to mulch in summer, but don't usually put much down in winter. Except around perennials like fruit trees, berries, rhubarb, artichokes and asparagus.
I had also fertilised the broccoli with Complete Organic Fertiliser, so don't need to add anything for the garlic just now. I may side dress with something in Spring, and give them the ocasional worm wee tea or seaweed solution watering in the next few months.

You can buy garlic to plant from farmers markets, supermarkets or corner shops - just make sure its Tasmanian, and preferably organic, since they nuke the crap out of any garlic that comes from interstate or overseas. Also don't bother buying tiny little bags of individual cloves from a plant nursery - what a rip off!

Eggplants?

Yes, you can grow them in Hobart. In a good year. Even South Hobart! I always thought they did best in warm spots on the Eastern shore, but Kevin in South Hobart has a wonderful crop that look like they're just out of a magazine . . . 

I don't grow them at my place (don't really like eating them I'm sorry to say) but they are a very attractive plant and will do well most years if you have a good warm garden. There are all sorts of groovy varieties available, including some of the little green ones that you get in an authentic thai curry. Local seed growers Southern Harvest have some, click HERE for a link. 

Biochar trials - underway!

At last we're starting to establish our trials of biochar as a soil conditioner for vegie growing. Biochar is burnt stuff that was once living, like wood (sticks or sawdust) or prunings. If its burnt in a low oxygen environment it doesn't burn right through to ash, and you are left with stable black carbon like the 'charcoal' you might find in your fireplace or pizza oven if you extinguish the fire before it burns out fully.

This biochar can be crushed up and added to compost or garden beds, and provides a boost to the soil's water holding and nutrient holding capacity. Its also a highly valuable additive to animal feed. I met a fellow called Frank on the weekend who lives in northern tassie and has done alot of fantastic research on biochar.  Basically it can save the world (like mushrooms) and Tasmania's farms and economy along the way. I'm very inspired! More on that later!

The first of our three trials is at Lissa's place, where we set up a no-dig garden using some imported soil mix over the top of an existing grassed area.
We set up three plots, each with a different 'treatment'. The treatments are:
1. Biochar plus compost plus nutrient solution to 'charge' the biochar.
2. Compost plus nutrient solution at same concentration as Treatment 1.
3. Nutrient solution at same concentration as Treatment 1.

We're not being super dooper scientific, but are trying to get a valid qualitative comparison of the three treatments. We have planted a teepee of peas, and rows leafy green plants in each plot, and will manage these to have the same number of plants per row etc after they've all germinated.
Lissa has chosen things that she likes to eat, and we've planted a row each of 6 different leafies, plus two sorts of peas, in each plot. Same planting plan per treatment - get it? Was a struggle to limit her to a moderate number of varieties per plot. Such enthusiasm!

Lissa will record the yields from each plot as well as noting things like what germinates first and most strongly, time of flowering, vigour and colour of leaves, and perhaps most importantly, TASTE. We might even arrange a FIMBY field trip when things are up and growing so you can all help determine if there is any taste difference between the treatments. Sound good?
Our other two trials will focus on brassicas in apple boxes (at Julie's place in Rosny Hill) and garlic in low raised beds (at Kevin's place in South Hobart) (yes, the eggplant Kevin). Each trial will have the same three treatments, but will be in slightly different setups. We're looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds!

Roast tomato sauce

Its been an abundant year for tomatoes in our garden, although the word on the street is that not everyone has had a good crop. We put in several different varieties and its fun to notice the characteristics of each one: tigerella and red cherry cocktail ripened first and are prolific; cherokee purple with its smokey flavour is favorite for eating sliced on a rice cracker; paul robeson are small, purplish, carried on huge branching flower trusses, and unsurpassed as a garden snack; napoli paste was slowest to ripen but promises a long and bountiful harvest of sauce making excellence.
I've  been making batches of roast tomato sauce whenever the oven is on for cooking something else. Occasionally I've even roasted tomatoes without the provocation of another cooking event. So simple: slice up tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, throw in a few garlic cloves (don't have to peel 'em) and roast slowly till they're collapsed and soft. The amount of liquid that comes out depends on the variety. Then put them through a food mill, and either freeze in plastic containers, or bottle and vacola / water bath them for storage in the cupboard. These bottles of stored summer sunshine will enliven stews and braises all winter.

HUGE

We went to the Bream Creek Show. Didn't think much of some of the vegetable exhibits (the rhubarb in particular was pretty average). But the pumpkins - HUGE!
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