Michael Pollan says: "You are what you eat eats". Your vegies need to "eat" from healthy soil to be nutritious to you.
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27th May 2014

Its pretty cool now, but we did have a blast of unseasonally warm weather a week or two ago. Remember that? Its great for growing things, but it also seems to have stimulated some pest outbreaks. We've noticed sudden population explosions of grey aphids lately on brassicas, greens like spinach, herbs like dill and parsley, and even on docks that I've been picking for the rabbits. Aphids are amazingly well adapted to do what they do, and can breed really fast in the right conditions. So its worth checking your young growing vegies, especially brassicas like cabbages and broccoli, so that you can control an infestation before they render your vegies inedible, or sap-sucked into oblivion.

Control methods can include the 'squish and rinse off' approach, helped by a preceding dose of very slightly soapy water. In severe infestations that are really hard to get to, try spot spraying with a knock-down, non residual insecticide like pyrethrum. This will kill any insects that get sprayed, so don't haze the whole patch, just target the specific infestations of aphids. Being non-residual means you might need to have another round in a few weeks, but its far safer for the good insects like bees, hover flies and other pollinators than nasty residual poisons.

Time to divide rhubarb crowns

Rhubarb is one of our favourite things to grow. As you will have seen in previous newsletters, its great for stewing, jamming, making into champagne and syrup (and then mojitos!), and it grows all year, is hardy and beautiful. What's not to love?

Now is a good time to divide crowns from healthy plants that have been growing in one spot for three or more years. If you pull off any dead or shrivelled stems, cut back any flower stalks, and do a pretty good harvest, you'll be able to see the structure of the plant as in the photo above. Carefully pull off all the leaves, except really little ones, from any section that you're going to dig up for transplanting.

Now you can dig up the whole plant with a fork, taking care with your back as you discover the huge fleshy roots. A sharp spade can be used to chop through the massive root ball, to separate the growing points. You don't need to keep all the massive thick old roots, just make sure that each piece for replanting has some of the smaller fibrous roots attached. If you don't want to dig out the whole thing, you can also carefully dig and separate out a piece from the edge of the group of crowns.
Replant your bits of rhubarb root and crown in a well prepared patch of soil that's been cleared of all weeds, especially grasses. Rhubarb is a greedy plant, and you can feed and feed and feed it and be rewarded for your efforts. My plants get any poo, manure, compost or straw litter from the rabbit runs any time I have some spare. Probably only the lemon tree would get more food in our garden.

When you harvest rhubarb, its good to pull off the stems from around the outer edge of a growing point, leaving the smaller leaves to keep developing.

Lots of lovely local links (loving alliteration!)

All our customers are fabulous, of course, and some of them run interesting businesses and activities that its worth sharing about. In this section we are introducing a couple of customers' web sites, and a couple of local organisations that are worthy of accolades.

First cab off the rank is Edward Homes, the business of Stew and Yvette Edward. These guys were one of our very first "guinea pig" customers back in 2008, and have made us look good ever since! The article below, from the Mercury in Feb 2009 was one of the things that helped us really get going as a business.
Stew and Yvette now have two gorgeous little girls, and a completely transformed backyard that produces abundant vegies, fruit and berries for their family.
Stew is a builder, and we couldn't recommend him more highly. We speak from first hand experience.
Stew completed some tricky renovations at our 100+ year old house, and the whole process was smooth and easy, and prices came in as expected. So, if you're on the lookout for a great builder who can communicate, values quality work, and is also a total all round spunk, give Edward Homes a call!
Next is Jennifer Marshall, acclaimed artist and print maker that we are fortunate to have in Tasmania, and doubly fortunate to have as a wittily delightful FIMBY client. Jennifer's house at Mt Nelson is a fabulous working gallery of her huge and vibrant paintings. We are always awe-struck when we have a cuppa in her print studio while FIMBY-ing in the vegie garden. She grows rockin' chicory and is a dedicated 'garden grazer'. Cheers to that!
Jennifer has a website and a facebook page, and would be happy to run some drawing, painting or print making classes for FIMBY folks. Anyone keen? I am!
Next shout out goes to Good Life Permaculture, run by Hannah and Anton, and based just up the hill in South Hobart. These guys are committed teachers, designers, community builders who walk the talk.
They have a great website, facebook page and newsletter, and if you sign up you'll see that we are often all talking about some of the same things at approximately the same time. You can compare notes! They run various courses throughout the year, and a great one coming up is their part-time Permaculture Design Certificate, run over a number of weekends, and featuring a guest appearance by David Holmgrem who was the co-founder of permaculture back in the day. 
FInally in our local links section we want to send big cheers to two local organisations: Headway and Totally Organic Landscape Supplies.
FIMBY is a tutor in the horticulture program that Headway provide for their clients - people who have suffered acquired brain injury. Its a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and the team are keen, intelligent gardeners full of questions and laughs. We're working mostly in the garden at their respite cottage in Lindisfarne, and Hayley from Totally Organic recently donated several cubic metres of raised bed soil mix to top up the beds.
We use Totally Organic all the time for our raised bed installations, and they are friendly, professional people who care about the quality of their many products. 

Cut back asparagus

Its time to cut back asparagus ferns once they've dried off to yellow. Just cut the stalks close to the ground, taking care not to damage the 'crown' of the plant which is just below the surface. Once you've given them a trim, clear out any weeds from around the plants, and tuck them in for winter with a light mulch of some nice fluffy compost or straw mulch. Not too thick - they are prone to rot if they are kept under a thick soggy blanket. But home made compost, being airy and fibrous and rich and delicious, is just the ticket. Then watch for the new green spears appearing in September.
Sometimes in the first few years of asparagus's life cycle the plants don't seem to have read the text books, and dont seem to settle into appropriate seasonal behavious. The plants pictured above kept putting up green shoots all the way through winter in their first few years, leaving me hovering around in May, secateurs in hand, worried expression on my face. So don't be too concerned if yours don't look like this now. Just remember that whenever there are green ferny tops the plant is making food for itself, which is good. And when the tops have dried out they are not doing anything useful for the plant anymore, so can be trimmed.

Also try to resist eating all the green spears in the first few summers of a plant's life, as they need to build up their root reserves. You can steal a few in the first few months after they appear, then let them grow up to the ferny top. Once established however, asparagus is long lived and bountiful. Its nearly time to start planting one or two year old asparagus crowns, which you'll see in nurseries in the coming months.

Fimbarista File

There is a garden in Blackman's Bay that grows in the most ridiculously exuberant fashion. Noelle's patch. She is a keen, attentive, diligent and generous gardener who makes amazingly scrumptious compost (with a little muscle help from FIMBY), has the most pampered worms in Hobart, and grows bucketloads (literally) of wonderful produce.

This photo at right doesn't really tell the story of her garden accurately . . .
We had just cleared that bed of the last summer crops, including zucchini, pumpkins which crawled over the fence and down the bank, beans, and a single self sown tomato plant. The tomato grew late in the season, and hadn't ripened any fruit yet, but it was so abundant that we cut the leaves off, cut the vine into manageable pieces, and tied them up for hanging in the shed. Hopefully the toms will ripen slowly in the coming months and provide at least some cooking inputs.
Yes, its a lotta tomatoes for one plant, isn't it? I have similar bunches hanging up under the veranda at home, from multiple plants, and have been picking the ripe ones now for a few weeks. I get about half a dozen tomatoes every 3 to 4 days.

I think the secret of the fecundity of this one plant (above) is Noelle's worm wee that she dishes out to her vegies regularly, alternating with seaweed solution.
Noelle has possibly the best worm farm management that we've seen in Hobart. She blends up their food for them, and every 2 - 4 months when we drop in for a composting session there is another tray of worm casting super food to harvest and spread where its needed in the garden.

None of this "throw the rotten pumpkin into the worm farm whole because its too disgusting to chop up" thing that some people (ahem) might be guilty of. Although, in my defense, my worm farm is in a bath tub, and the pumpkin disappears under other stuff quickly!
We've been working with Noelle regularly for a few years now, since she first called up looking for some help with a garden area that used to produce abundant tomatoes and other food. It had stopped being productive even though she did all the right things. It was a typical example of the garden bed being robbed of water and nutrients by a stand of vigorously growing trees just on the other side of the fence. In this case the trees weren't shading the garden, but as soon as we dug around with a garden fork we were pulling up masses and masses of fine woody roots from the trees.

Since then we've installed three raised beds, tall enough to bring relief to Noelle's back, and have continued to chop and dig out woody roots from the remaining garden bed. Broad beans seem to do OK in the original bed, and so do occasional plantings of leafy greens like spinach, fed with generous quantities of Noelle's amazing compost and worm castings.

We are slowly but surely converting the original garden area to raised beds, one or two per year, with carpet under them to make sure the greedy trees don't get in and suck the goodness out. We are getting the garden beds custom made so they fit neatly into the borders of the original bed. The lesson we've learned in Noelle's raised beds is not to plant too densely, since everything will grow like crazy. Also to keep a light layer of compost on the surface to stop it crusting and setting hard.

Golden beetroot dip

Delicious, and deceptive, this dip is so easy I don't know why I don't make it more often. You can use any sort of beetroot, the golden one makes a dip that looks like pumpkin dip. Tricky!

Cook 5 or 6 small - medium sized beetroot and 3 or 4 garlic cloves. You can roast them, or boil them. In either case, put the garlic in after the beetroot are already partially cooked.
Peel the beetroot and garlic, put in a blender with some mint leaves, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cumin, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Whizz, then stir in some natural yoghurt.
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