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10 February 2015

Hello! Looks like summer hasn't completely forgotten us. Phew! How nice it is to wander around the garden in the sunshine. And how quickly we forget the cold snap when the air is warm and the breeze balmy. There is plenty of water in the great subsoil reservoir in my garden, and should be in most gardens with reasonable clay content in the soil. Have a look, by digging a little hole. You'll be able to see and feel the moisture a few inches down.

Even so, its still not a bad idea to water moderately on the morning of a warm day, to keep the top layers of soil and mulch moist and full of soil microbe activity. In particular now that the tomatoes are starting to ripen (FINALLY!) its good practice to keep the soil moisture as even as possible, to avoid blossom end rot.

Some years I'll have one particular tomato plant that seems to get much more blossom end rot than others, even others of the same variety. Just shows how variable things are. If I get a really susceptible plant, I make sure that I don't keep any tomatoes from that one for seed. If I do throw those rotten ones into the compost where the seeds might come up next year and perpetrate the weakness, I have to remember not to transplant any volunteer tomatoes from that source.

I definitely don't put any of those tomatoes in the worm farm, since I'll use the worm castings in potting mix when growing next years toms.

February planting guide

You may not have much space in the garden at the moment for new things, but the next month or so is a great time to get started a bunch of vegies that have long growing seasons and will grow through winter well if they get a good start in the warm months. Things like Florence Fennel (above) which has tasty fat bulbs at the base of the leaves when fully developed. Also celery and celeriac (double yum!), leeks, parsnips, and winter eating batches of carrots, beetroot and silverbeet.
Its also a brilliant time to plant brassicas, as seedlings or directly as seed. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale will all get a good start now, and grow happily into winter when they are much sweeter and more delicious than summer harvested brassicas. If you're keen to try your hand at Brussel Sprouts (a divisive vegetable if ever there was one!) now is a good time to plant sturdy seedlings. They need all the growing time they can get.
With all the young brassicas, make sure you keep an eye out for maurading slugs and the grubs of the cabbage white butterfly. You can find and squish, or use biological controls like Dipel for the cabbage whites. This is a powder you mix up and water onto the leaves, and when the grubs ingest it the bacteria in the spray kills them. It wont harm hoverflies, bees, ladybirds etc.
You can read a bit more about gardening tasks in the cool temperate garden in the guide I write monthly for PIP Australian Permaculture Magazine. Direct link is HERE. They also have a Facebook page if you're into that. And of course there are monthly planting guides and other notes and info in our FIMBY Calendar, available from the FIMBY website, costs $15 plus $3 postage and handling.

Home made rooting hormone

That headline might sound a bit weird if you're not a gardener . . . but I'm talking about making a solution that helps your cuttings develop roots. There are quite a few home made alternatives to buying rooting powder: you can dip the stems in honey (antibacterial and antifungal), cinnamon (same), lick them (yeah, no), dip in apple cider vinegar or aspirin. My favorite is to use willow water, which is full of salicin (similar to the active ingredient in aspirin) and indolebutyric acid. These natural plant hormones help new cuttings fight off infection, and form roots.

To make willow water, go for a wander along your nearest creek or stream until you find a willow tree. Break off some stems of the new growth - the bark should be green or yellow. Bring them home and strip off the leaves (which can be fed to rabbits or composted). Chop the stems up into short bits and cover them in boiling water. Leave to soak overnight, then strain out the woody bits. The willow water can be kept in the fridge for weeks - label well. 
Then prepare your cuttings by stripping off the lower leaves, and soak the cuttings in the willow water for several hours before potting.

I've just soaked and potted about 50 cuttings of a beautiful pink flowered rosemary from Serena's place. We might only get 50% strike rate, but it doesn't take much more effort to do 50 cuttings compared to 10 cuttings. You'll get a better strike rate if you cover the new cuttings with a plastic bag or something to keep the humidity high and stop water loss while the cutting develops roots.

I'm on a bit of a propagation rampage at the moment, growing lots of nectar and pollen producing herbs for our farm. We'll plant heaps this winter, and in a few years have a 'bee forest' growing under the olives, carobs, pomegranates and mulberries. We're designing the planting so that we have something flowering and producing nectar each month, so the bees can permanently live there. Looking forward to some lovely honey eventually!

Book review

This arty little brick of a book is recently released, and a treasure trove of information about local producers and growers. The Field Guide to Tasmanian Produce is created by the Field Institute. Our very own fimbarista Serena, who gardens beautifully at Lauderdale, had a hand in scouring parts of Tassie to identify businesses and individuals who are profiled. There are some great interviews with producers, and it has more than just the usual 'foodie' suspects. 
Its the sort of guide that rewards frequent dipping and browsing. If you'd like to get a copy for yourself, you can order one from the Field Institute website.

Tassievore Eat Local Challenge

Another FANTASTIC initiative that the amazing Serena is involved in (there are many, she is an inspiring woman) is the Tassievore Eat Local Challenge. This has been going for a few years, and the team are just making it better and better each year. Its all about connecting Tasmanians with where their food comes from. A worthy intention and shared passion for me.
In their own words: 
We are a group of Tasmanians, who are challenging ourselves, and all Tasmanians, to reconnect with our local food supply and to support Tasmanian producers and businesses.  Because cooking and eating food is a pleasurable part of each day, and we are lucky enough to live somewhere where the food is amazing, this seemed like a good place to start.  So for the month of March 2015 (and beyond) we are committing to enjoy more Tasmanian food and shop with local businesses more often. We plan to share our stories along the way and hope that you will join us.

Herb vinegars

My French Tarragon has gone beserk, as it does each summer. Its always a relief, because this 'herbaceous perennial' is one that dies right back in winter, and it looks like its gone. Then Spring comes and the new shoots emerge. In high summer its rampant, and I need to give it a good haircut to stop it dominating the sage.
I don't use heaps of tarragon in cooking, just to stuff the occasional roast chicken, or to flavour a rabbit pie. One of our fimbaristas, Helen, once brought a salad along to a gathering that had tarragon leaves scattered through it. Delicious bursts of aniseed flavour, very refreshing. But I always have a huge bunch of trimmed tarragon to deal with around this time of year. Of course, its a great compost additive, like all herbs.

One way to preserve the tarragon taste into winter is to make tarragon vinegar. Its so easy. Just cut some branches, shake off any spiders or insects, strip the soft shoots and leaves off any woody stems, and stuff the leaves into a jar of some sort. I use fowlers jars. Then cover the leaves with vinegar of your choice: white wine or apple cider are both nice. Put a lid on, and put away in the cupboard for a few weeks.

Once its had a good soak, strain the vinegar, and bottle it up in pretty bottles. Makes a great gift, and you can include a recipe for Bearnaise sauce - a French classic!

COF revision (ahem, cough cough)

I was preparing for our FIMBY Complete Organic Fertiliser (COF) making session last week, and plugged Steve Solomon's revised recipe into my spreadsheet. Adding trace elements, and replacing the dolomite with gypsum and ag lime. I also took the trouble to weigh the ingredients, since in the past I had worked out costs based on weight (how we buy them) instead of volume (how we mix them).

Well, I have to admit to being rather embarrassed at the results. I've overcharged those of you who have bought COF from me in the past, quite a bit. You may or may not be into spreadsheets, but basically my mistake was to be lazy. The difference when I worked out the translation from $/kg into $/litre was substantial.
What it all means is that if you've bought a 5-6 litre tub of COF from me for $15 or $20 dollars, bring it back and I'll refill it for nothing! And if you'd like to buy some more, I'll charge around a dollar a litre for the mix, plus a little bit. Sorry to those I've overcharged - hope you'll forgive me! I can offer a bunch of conciliatory tarragon!

Garden Tour

Come and have a delightful wander through Jess and Tom's beautiful South Hobart garden. Its a wonderful example of what can be achieved in just a few years, with plenty of attention and experimenting.

When: Sunday 22nd February
            10am - 12 noon

Where: South Hobart,
             address supplied on RSVP

Morning Tea provided.
Kid Friendly event.
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