"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace."
May Sarton

3 February 2017

Hi everyone. My favorite dinner at the moment is sliced zucchini, drizzled with oil and sprinkled with salt, and roasted in the oven. SO YUM! Sometimes if I want to be fancy, I'll add some finely sliced onion or spring onion, a thinly sliced potato or two, even a bit of bacon on top. But mostly its just very straightforward zucchini slices. The variety I'm growing this year is Costata Romanesco, and its got ribs. This means that when you slice it up, you get these fabulous cogs.  Steampunk vegetables!

Garlic now available

We've been cleaning, sorting and bunching garlic over the last little while, and now have 500g bunches (like the one above) and a small number of 500g braids available for sale @ $15. Send me a message if you'd like one or more!
I also have lots of lovely fat but orphaned garlic cloves, which I will confit in oil, as described a few newsletters ago. I'll do these to order, since they have a limited shelf life (one month in the fridge). 220g jars @ $10.

Let me know if you'd like some of these too - we can arrange pickup or drop-off on a case by case basis. I put some on top of my zucchini slices before roasting the other night - scrumptious!
Incidentally, the KOONYA GARLIC FESTIVAL is on Sat 25th Feb, starting 10am.
A great day out, and a chance to pick up different varieties of garlic to try planting in your garden. Lots of knowledgeable people are there, and lots of stalls etc.

Bumbling along

Bumblebees - love them or hate them? They're big and furry and there's that oft repeated thing about them defying the laws of physics when they fly (which isn't true by the way. Of course. Some French guy in the 1930's started the rumour. Now we know that their wings operate like slightly crappy helicopter blades, enabling lift).
There were HEAPS of them all over the flowers on the comfrey patch last weekend at the farm. And they love the flowers of the large and lush strawberry clover which is growing in any fenced off section of our pasture.

I'm not terribly happy to see them though, since they may compete for nectar and pollen with honeybees (when we eventually introduce some hives) and with native bees. I've spotted both honeybees and a few sorts of native bees around the farm too, but not nearly so many as the bumbles.
Bumblebees are not native to Tasmania - they were introduced unintentionally, or perhaps illegally on purpose, and first discovered in Tassie 25 years ago. They've since spread to all corners of Tas and our offshore islands, and might be helping the spread of some previously not-very-adventurous weeds.

Bumblebees are used commercially in the US to pollinate greenhouse tomato crops. Tomatoes don't really need insects to be pollinated, since the male parts and the female parts are close together in each tomato flower. But a breeze, or some vibration, can help the transfer of pollen, and improve fruit set and size. Without insect help, commercial tomato growers hand pollinate by using a vibrating wand (ahem) which they touch on the flower stems, to improve their yield. The bumblebees are good greenhouse workers, since they get going early, and don't get distracted by other nectar sources since they don't dance to communicate like honeybees do. They 'buzz pollinate" the tomato flowers as they land to collect pollen or nectar.
BUT they have a nasty habit of biting through the base of tubular flowers, rather than poking their heads in like honeybees and native bees do. You can see the holes in the base of the comfrey flowers in the pic at right. Have a look at any tubular flowers in your garden, eg penstemons and you'll find the holes.
This means that for plant species with tubular flowers, the bumblebees are taking nectar without delivering the pollination service. Cheats!
The Tasmanian population of bumblebees has quite limited genetic diversity (hmmmm, no, better not draw any parallels with the humans here) and that might be limiting their breeding success. But they have definitely established a very successful feral presence here, so we're stuck with them.  I'm learning all I can about native bees, and we'll make conditions as attractive as possible to encourage a range of native bee species around the farm. More on that another time!

Tomato time begins

We've just picked the first of our tomatoes in the last week or so. I'm looking forward to a good harvest this year, but as always it seems to take ages for them to ripen.
You can pick tomatoes as soon as they start to change colour and have 'pinned', which means when the little point at the blossom end of the fruit starts to change colour (see photo at left). An enzyme cascade that starts with pinning means that they will continue to ripen beautifully on the kitchen bench and you don't get any flavour advantage from leaving them on the vine to ripen. Don't put them in direct sun to ripen though.
Of course, you can leave them on the vine to fully ripen, but if you get a scorcher day they can get sunburnt, or lose flavour because of the heat. We usually pick as soon as they colour a bit, and let them ripen inside.

Also - never store them in the fridge, either when ripening or when fully ripe. It alters the flavour, for the worse. If they're fullly ripe, eat 'em. Or if you're flooded with ripe tomatoes, bottle or freeze or sauce them. Or call me!

The story of the disappearing sawdust

You may recall way back in our June 2015 newsletter I described how we had stacked up some cylinders of sawdust with different additives as an experiment.
This first photo from May 2015 shows the nearly full wire cages. On the left the mix is with blood and bone, and on the right the mix is with urea. We also piled some up with no additives, and used some directly on pathways in new garden areas.
A year down the track, and we can see that the blood and bone stack has diminished in height quite a bit; more than the urea stack. There's evidence (poo) of quolls digging in the stack on the left.
Another 10 months later and we moved the stacks up to the hazel patch ready to use it as a surface mulch. The blood and bone stack was full of fungi, grubs and critters, dark and decomposing (see pic at right). The urea stack was just discoloured sawdust.
Imagine our surprise when, a week after moving the stacks, we returned to find that the blood and bone pile had been spread out and scratched through by quolls and maybe devils (poo evidence).
The pile that had been tipped out of the tractor bucket was spread out to a thin 2 inch layer over a wide area. The other pile - a combination of the urea stack and some without any additive - was still in its original form. Obviously the critters in the blood and bone stack were tasty!

We raked up the spread sawdust, and together with the undisturbed pile, used it to mulch around the hazels. The grasses and weeds had grown up massively around the young trees, so we roughly weeded, then spread a good amount of Complete Organic Fertilser under the trees. Then a thick layer of wet newspaper, and a nice thick layer of sawdust. Should keep the weeds down for another year at least, and give the hazels a chance to keep growing without too much competition.

Did I mention we have about 5 hazelnuts on the bushes too? Wooo Hooooo!
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