"Our interaction with nature can be either a chore to achieve a result,
or a ritual for connection, presence and transformation
Timothee Roi Diers (my friend, and wise dude)

12 June 2015

We've had some mornings that you'd put in the 'coldie but a goodie' category recently, haven't we? And then we we have a (relatively) mild morning, it feels positively balmy!

The weekend of the winter solstice was particularly cold, but good! Clear freezy mornings, clear cool days, crispy freezy nights. We spent the solstice weekend down at the farm, which means no screens, no electricity, lotsa firewood collecting, lotsa fireside cooking, eating, wine drinking and star gazing. Rich and lovely indeed!

I'm always amazed that things still keep growing through the coldest times in Tassie. Brassicas get sweeter, peas shrug off the frost, chickweed seems to positively relish it. Many of our berries and fruits actually need the chill factor to set next season's fruit. Its good to remember that our chilly winter days are still pretty mild in the grand scheme of wintery things.

Kevin's quince tree - a journey

Quinces are very hardy, forgiving trees. In winter when they're dormant you can move them from place to place, with a good chance of success. Years ago I had to move a three year old quince tree at my place to make way for some backyard reconstruction. I gave it to my sister. It flourished, and has provided many buckets of quinces since. Its funny how things go around: Fimbarista Kevin recently contacted me to say that they wanted to move their quince tree to make way for another pear.
This removal job was a bit more complicated than the usual "dig around the root zone and lift it out" method. You see, Kevin's quince was a beautifully trained, three tiered espaliered specimen, about 4 years old. We dug around the root zone, revealing and then severing with loppers some fairly substantial roots that the sharp spade couldn't easily chop through. Then with some fairly severe pruning, and a bit of heave ho and wiggling and loosening of the wire trellis . . . Ta Dah! Twas free!
Here's victorious Kevin. You can see that the root ball is fairly small, and not so much a ball as a bit of remnant soil. But we put it in some sacks with wet straw straight away, and it was transported to its new home and planted the same day. Given the robust constitution of quinces in general and this tree in particular, I'm pretty confident that "Kevin's Quince" will have a fine and productive future down at its new Bream Creek home!
Its been tucked in to our lovely earthworm rich loam, then mulched with layers of wet newspaper, horse poo, spoiled hay, and watered in with some worm juice and seasol. It forms the first part of a little garden on the north side of our hut there, all well protected from nibbling mammals. It will soon be joined by some herbs, rhubarb, a pomegranate, Huon crab apple, maybe a lime tree, and whatever other strays and waifs I encounter on my FIMBY travels!

Rabbit proof fence - hopefully

There's nothing quite like the disappointment of your beautiful vegies getting eaten by critters, whether they are insects, birds, mammals or aliens. I just made that last one up, sorry. People who depend on their gardens for their livelihood have vegetable raider problems just as much as backyard gardeners. The commercial growers can sometimes deploy expensive solutions, but usually use the same sort of hierarchy that we all work our way through: decoy, divert, destroy.

Decoy means you provide an alternative for the pests. My mum had a greengage tree that was prone to bird attack. But the neighbours had a huge cherry plum that fruited just before the greengage. Hence the birds mostly went for the cherry plums, and the greengages flew beneath the radar, so to speak. I use chinese cabbage in a similar way - it seems to attract all the slugs and aphids within a few metres radius.
Divert means to physically protect your precious food plants, by building some sort of barrier around them. We've just noticed that the garlic we lovingly planted at the farm has been munched in places. We suspect pademelons, and also saw some suspiciously bunny-like poo in the plot. So we have fortified the fence (built with much cursing and sore fingers) with a rabbit-proof layer in the lower parts. This means fine-guage wire - it could be a bit coarser than what we used, but I've seen baby rabbits dive through ordinary "chicken wire".
The 'rabbit proof' wire is attached to your fence, and then 'skirted' along the ground for 20cm or more on the outside. The outer edge should be pinned into the ground with weed mat pins, tent pegs, or scraps of fencing wire (we have a bucket full) bent over into 6 inch long pins. Or you can pile rocks or chunks or wood or whatever you have lying around on the edges to stop furry marauders squeezing under the edge.

Eventually, browsing mammals notwithstanding, the grasses will grow a bit through the skirt section and it will become well bedded down. The bunnies that could tunnel under the skirt tend to try digging right at the foot of the fence. The wire skirt thwarts them, and they give up (rather than starting outside the edge of the skirt and tunnelling) (they are not real bright).

The Destroy option is the final recourse. This can involve night time Eward Scissorhands action for slugs, snail bait (under a protective wire cage) for snails, a squirt of pyrethrum for aphids, or shooting for mammals. Most of us actually are happy to share the space with our competitors, but sometimes they don't reciprocate.

Active winter times

Its been a busy month or so: lots of fantastic stuff happening. Here's a quick summary of some highlights:

I went to the Small Farms, Big Ideas workshop at Copping, presented by Annette Reed of Tasmanian Natural Garlic and Tomatoes and a bunch of other inspiring women, together with NRM South and Tasmanian Women in Agriculture. The key messages that really resonated with me were: (1) its good, and inevitable, for farm enterprisey things to take time to develop as life gets in the way, and (2) making mistakes is the way to learn! It also reinforced for me the value of women talking with women about all this stuff. No offence to men - there's undoubtedly value in men talking to men about this stuff too!

Another focus was with Lissa from Sustainable Living Tasmania: we ran a series of Healthy Eating workshops at Clarendon Vale and Rokeby. We cooked with adults (including slow cooker giveaways and 'master chef' style mystery box cook-off), and did gardening, and grew microgreens (including making a 'supersalad' from what the kids had grown), with three classes from Rokeby High School and Clarendon Vale Primary School. These workshops were supported by Mission Australia.
Another initiative supported by Mission Australia was the Paddock to Plate Expo at the Rokeby Neighbourhood Centre. Our team worked with hundreds of school students and adults over the morning and afternoon, presenting hands on activities about worm farming, garden advice, hot composting and "Get Sell Swap" with local produce. We built some hot compost, and James put together some new garden beds around existing tree plantings, which the kids enthusiastically helped to transport some mulch to, chain-gang style. Special thanks to the awesome presenters who were wonderfully well prepared, engaging and enthusiastic: Fin, James, Claire and Lissa.
It was a pleasure to work with such professional and knowledgeable folks!
Note to self: do this kind of thing again! I think Fin's worms (above) took the prize for the most compelling activity! Although Claire's hat (below) was pretty fabulous too!
Yet another community-building event that we were delighted to attend was the Dunalley Mid-Winter Gala. There were scarecrows galore, the stunning new front garden and gazebo at the Neighborhood House, and stalls with all sorts of goodies and activities. Weaving, cooking demos, yummo home-made cakes and puffy jackets abounded. FIMBY did some demos about dividing rhubarb crowns. Thanks Roz for the donation of the rhubarb!

Sawdust processing update

You may remember that my sister and I built some stacks of sawdust to see how different amendments would support the process of breaking it down. It was in the last newsletter in fact! We're keen to see if we can find ways to utilise this resource.
Well, just a matter of weeks later, the urea laced stack is showing distinct signs of turning dark brown, except on top (photo at left, above). This signifies that the lignin and cellulose in the woody sawdust are starting to break down - but there is a long way to go yet. The starting Carbon to Nitrogen ratio in sawdust is probably around 600:1, whereas the ideal ratio for rapid composting is about 25:1. Hence our addition of nitrogen in the form of urea.  The blood and bone stack (another nitrogen addition) has shown the signs of much activity by burrowing things - probably quolls given the lovely 'scat' specimen sitting on top (photo at right above). Seems like the blood and bone is as attractive to native carnivores as it is to domestic doggies!

Book review

Louis Glowinski's book 'The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia' would be my most often recommended reference for our customers with fruit trees. Its fantastic. Easy and entertaining to read, full notes about the background, cultivation, training, pruning, uses, varieties, propagation and pests for fruit all across Australia. Plenty of helpful pictures. My slightly tatty edition is frequently used and often on the bedside table. I think there is a later edition now available which may well have updated info about varieties in particular.
One of the things I like about the writer's style is that he's very encouraging to try things, but also truthful about the challenges. He writes specifically for the backyard (or front yard) gardener, rather than orchardists. Thanks to some idle browsing in this lovely book, I've got several carob trees, pomegranates, mulberries and figs growing from seed or cuttings to plant down at the farm. If you love fruit, buy this book!

Go Brussels!

I know, I know. You either LOVE or HATE brussel sprouts, and whatever I write here will probably not change your mind. They are a tricky brassica to grow, needing to be started in January to get enough warm weather growing to really produce well. They are hungry as the proverbial hippos, and can frustratingly get yucky grey aphid attacks just when they're ready to eat.
But still. FRESH BRUSSEL SPROUTS! Oh my goodness. SO GOOD. Ahem, sorry for shouting. But they really are. But they GOTTA be fresh, and preferably still on the stem. I cooked some up the other night with some spring onions and chorizo. Just slice the bigger ones in half. When I put the brussels in the hot pan, they jumped about like popcorn! They team up really well flavour-wise with porky products like bacon, prosciutto, chorizo, and other rich flavours including luxurious fatty things like cream. MMMMMMM. I used the delicious fried brussel / chorizo mixture as the filling in an omelette. Sigh. Such good, nurturing food.
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