"If I were rain,
t
hat joins sky and earth that otherwise never touch . . ." Tite Kubo
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1 December 2014

First day of summer and I'm LOVING the rain. You can always pick a gardener - they start smiling when it rains! This lovely replenishing gift of the heavens will be perfect for filling out ripening berries, and getting newly planted leafies going strong. Have you noticed how everything in the garden seems to perk up after rain, differently to after a watering. I've always thought it was because the rain somehow has dissolved ozone in it . . . but not sure of the science of that one! The interwebs is full of weird and wonderful assertions and explanations for the phenomenom . . . whatever the mechanism, its a pretty tangible result. Especially when the rain comes with relatively warm temperatures, like today. Mmmmmmm, rain. Glad my garlic is already harvested!

Mulchy mulch mulch mulch

I was going to write about mulching, especially good to do after the ground has been soaked by warm rain. Then I thought I'd just check what I wrote last year at this time, when my thoughts wandered in the same direction. And Lo! I wrote heaps! So I'm doing that thing again where I direct you to last year's newsletter to avoid repetition. You can find the relevant link HERE. There is a good article about rhubarb in that edition too! Mmmm, rhubarb mojitos!

Kiwi boys and girls, getting all sexy

No I'm not talking about our NZ friends here, I'm talking about the male and female kiwi fruit vines. Remember that they are dioecious, from the greek words meaning 'two houses'. So: one house for the boys and one house for the girls. But when we say house, we mean plant. So all that preamble means that you need a male plant to provide pollen, and a female plant to bear the fruit in order to get a crop. When you buy young vines to plant, the nurseries helpfully sell them labelled, and in blue or pink pots according to stereotype.

Sometimes, though, if you inherit an old garden and there is a tangled mess of kiwi vines that you want to bring under control, you're not sure if you have boys or girls, or both. Or maybe you just have one vine, the other having succumbed to whippersnippers or tradies' boots or even (gasp) throttling by rampant grass.

If this is the case for you, you're in luck. Right now kiwi's around Hobart are in flower, and its the perfect time to do a bit of gender checking.
Here we have female flowers in the top photo, and a male flower in the bottom pic. The crucial difference (apart from the lighting due to my poor photography) is that the female flowers have an ovary that will eventually become the kiwi fruit. Its the chubby lump in the middle of the flower that has pale sort of tendril things coming out the top like a skinny starfish. This is the stigma, which receives pollen when bees visit.
The male flower by contrast only has the pollen bearing anthers around the edges, no starfishy bump in the middle. Both sexes produce nectar to attract bees, and in the process the bees pick up pollen on their furry/hairy bodies. This is transferred between flowers as the bees forage, and individual pollen grains will stick to the surface of the stigma when they touch it. That marks the beginning of the marvellous process of pollination.
It really is marvellous: the pollen grain grows a 'pollen tube' into the stigma, down the style, and delivers the 'sperm' to the ovule, or egg, in the ovary.

If there are no bees around and you're worried that your lady kiwi flowers wont be pollinated, you can use a dry paint brush to transfer pollen from the boys to girls. You can also do this with flowers in the cucurbit family: zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber and squash. They have male and female flowers on the same plant - have a look and see if you can tell the difference.

Red silk

Remember the painted mountain corn that I planted in soil blocks, that sort of shot up and had to be planted early? Well, here is some of it, still being a bit precocious, with 'silks' emerging from a developing cob. The cob, silks, stem and even the tassle at the top (where the pollen is) are red in this particular plant. Others of the same variety are pink, or greeny yellow, or normal old green. Can't WAIT to see what the cobs are like!

Of course, to get a good cob with even kernels, every single thread in that bunch of silk needs to receive a pollen grain. And in the case of corn its wind and gravity that do the transfer, not bees or other insects (there is no nectar in grass flowers) (yes that's right, corn is a grass!).
This is why its good practice to plant corn in blocks rather than long thin rows, so that each cob has a greater chance of getting pollen drifting down from the tassles of various plants around it.

I'm not super confident of getting a good result from this gorgeous plant unfortunately - its planted in a narrow space that only allows two plants wide by six plants along. And the chooks broke in and scratched out some of the other plants when they were little. So, we'll see. But my backup plan was to plant about 150 seeds of this variety down at our farm!
Those 150 seeds were planted in pairs, at about 40cm spacing within the 6m long rows, and 1m spacing between rows. A large block. They came up and weren't eaten by wallabies or rabbits (thanks electranet fence) or pulled out by curious currawongs (thanks lady luck).
A big challenge was thinning out the seedlings to just one out of each pair once they were well established (about 3-4 inches high). I had to harden my heart, and pull out HALF of all the seedlings that had grown. Sheesh. Tough work. But the double planting then thinning process ensures that there are fewer gaps in the rows, in the event of some seeds failing to germinate. These poor little thinnings were fed to the worms. Cycle of life!

Blueberry rust alert

Do you grow blueberries? Please check your plants for a disease called Blueberry Rust. There was a contaminated import from Victoria a few months ago. All info, what to do, and who to call can be found on the DPIPWE website HERE.

Book Review

Our book for review this time is an oldie but a goodie (so often the case). The Organic Gardener's Year compiled by Anne Heazlewood for the Organic Gardening and Farming Society of Tasmania Inc. It was first published in 1982 as The Organic Gardener's Companion. Its been reprinted many times: my issue, found in a second hand bookshop, is from 1993.

I love this friendly, conversational book, which takes us on a journey month by month through the year.
Its focussed on food growing in Tasmania (right on target for us) and includes sensible advice, tips, tricks, recipes, philosophy and planting ideas. Its clearly based on long experience, and is all the more valuable for that. I dip into it frequently, even though I have read and re-read the contents many times. You'll need to scour second hand shops and libraries to find a copy I reckon.

Stolen berries

This (above) is what happens when you don't net your berries in time: the marauding blackbirds steal them just before they're ripe enough for our human tastes. 
Berries are pretty much irresistible to birds, and you usually wont get many unless the bushes are completely enclosed in netting. The best enclosures are walk in ones, and are thought out and built strongly before planting . . . yes that makes me laugh too! There really ARE berry enclosures that are easy, spacious and effective - we know because we've worked with lots of FIMBY clients to design and build them! But very commonly, you're working with an odd bush you've stuck in a corner somewhere, and things are not quite as optimal.
But with a bit of ingenuity, some bamboo cable-tied to some star pickets, some plastic pots to stop the net catching (yoghurt containers work just as well), and some weed mat pins to hold the whole thing down, you can have a jury-rigged temporary enclosure for your berries! If you can make it large enough to stand inside to pick, it will be much more comfortable.

Make sure the net isn't just draped over the bush, or the birds will peck through the net, and everything will get tangled. That's what the bamboo and upturned pots are for. You may need to trim off some of the new growing canes as well, but that is a good thing - it encourages laterals that will fruit next year.

Most importantly, make sure the bottom of your net is very secure and that there are NO GAPS for birds to find their way in. Peg the edges down, or lay a plank on the folded net at the bottom. Its very distressing to find a bird caught in your net. Even if you think your fortress is impenetrable, check every day in case something has found a way in.
I managed to get my silvan berry netted last Friday, and in two days, TWO DAYS, I was able to pick some luscious dark fruit. OK, they could be even riper (blacker) but one thing I share with the blackbirds is impatience . . . even at nine-tenths ripe, these stunning berries are SO GOOD! I'll be able to pick a breakfast or dessert bowl of incomparable fruit every day for a while now. And this plant is only 18 months old (planted winter 2013). Yum yum!

Romanian recipe

This week's installment from Nica our Romanian correspondent is Green Beans in home made mayonnaise. Its really simple: take some steamed green beans (or tinned, or last summer's frozen ones that have been thawed and cooked) and mix with some home made mayonnaise, some crushed garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. That's it! A rich side dish often served as a starter on special occasions. Nica also said that fresh raw grated celeriac and fresh raw grated carrot, mixed with mayonnaise, is 'just heaven'!

Who's got the best home made mayonnaise recipe in Hobart? Its gotta be simple!

Calendar . . . almost available

Its neeeeearly here. I thought it might be by today, but alas, it will be later this week. All you wonderful angels who supported our Pozible campaign will receive your calendars in the post as soon as we can package and dispatch them. If you would like to buy one (or extras) you will be able to do so via paypal on our website. Or if you're not so sure about paypal or other interwebby credit card stuff, please contact me directly to arrange a pickup and handover of good old fashioned cash! Or I can send you our direct debit details, and post you a calendar. One way or t'other we can get you a calendar (or a box full!) in time for your Christmas plans!
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