27 March 2012

A New Community Garden

Here's a great article about a plan by Monash Uni students to develop some of the university's land for a community garden/farm.
Read about it here

25 March 2012

The First Week with the Chickens - What I've Learnt So Far...

The chickens have been with us for a week now.  Here are a few of the things that I've learnt in the last week...

    21 March 2012

    A Scientific Experiment

    I was recently reading Veggie Gobbler's blog post on the secrets to growing successful garlic.  I've grown it in the past, but my garlic has often been quite small and I've lost heads of it occasionally to rot, as well as pulled out several too early in my excitement to eat fresh garlic.  We did have reasonable success in the Country Garden last year with it, but it does all seem a bit random.

    So it got me thinking that this year I'm going to try to be a bit more scientific about growing it, and experiment to find out what works best.  It's a long experiment, garlic seems to take forever to harvest and won't be ready until next summer, but hopefully it will be worth the wait.  Here are the different conditions I'm going to try:

    20 March 2012

    Country Garden Produce Update

    The soy bean plant is finally producing some beans!  It's such a
    slow-growing plant that I was starting to despair, but it looks like
    I might get my much anticipated home-grown edamame after all!
    The pumpkin keeps growing and is turning bright orange...
    Having learnt from the first fennel crop, we are
    mounding up the soil around the bottom of
    this crop to encourage development of
    bulbous, white bases

    18 March 2012

    An Exciting Day in the City Garden!

    The City Garden has the most fabulous addition to it!  Today we picked up three little pekin bantam chickens to live in the chook shed that we built over the long weekend last week.  They are so gorgeous, I've just been sitting here all afternoon watching them and smiling to myself at their little chirping sounds.
    Please welcome Betty, Mavis and Edna!

    11 March 2012

    We have a pumpkin...!

    ...Actually there are at least five pumpkins growing, but this is the biggest one at the moment.  I know they are supposed to be the easiest thing in the world to grow, but I've never had the space before, so this is my very first and I'm very excited!

    There are also masses of flowers and as soon as the sun came out, the bees were into them.  There were four bees in the trumpet of this pumpkin flower, as well as the one on the petal.  Obviously something pretty good in there!  Pumpkin flowers seem quite similar to zucchini flowers, except a big larger and stronger. It would seem to make sense that they would be perfect to stuff like zucchini flowers, but I've never seen it done anywhere.  Has anyone ever tried it?

    04 March 2012

    This Week in the City Garden

    What a crazy week it's been.  We've had three days above 35 degrees C, followed by four days of almost continuous heavy rain.  I'm certainly feeling confused by it all, but going out into the City Garden this morning, the plants couldn't be happier!  The garden is looking so lush and green, and everything has survived remarkably well.

    It's all about growth this week.  The cavelo nero and silverbeet seedlings are coming along well, although I'm fighting a constant battle with blackbirds who love to dig up the garden bed and keep kicking the silverbeet seedlings over in the process.  I've had cardboard covers around them, but today swapped them over for larger, stronger covers. The cavelo nero is very happy under a mesh screen that protects it from the birds, sun and cabbage moths, but is nearly too tall for the screen now, so a task for this week will be to build something higher.  The beans have been in two weeks are doing fabulously.  I decided on a bean crop this autumn instead of broad beans, which will be planted heavily in the Country Garden, and which I only ever have space to grow a few of in the City Garden.

    The early tomatoes have just about finished now.  I also put in some late season tomatoes, which are now starting to fruit.  These are the first tomatoes I've grown from seed (a mixed heritage pack, so I have no idea what I'm going to get!) and I'm having mixed success.  They have been very slow to grow, and a couple of them haven't made it through the hot weather.  Given that I'm only ever going to grow a few tomato plants each season, I suspect choosing healthy seedlings may be a better strategy in future.  I have had several discussions with people about the generally bad tomato season this year however (although apparently the Country Garden is the exception!), so perhaps it's not just me.  Has anyone else had similar experiences with tomatoes grown from seed?

    Apart from that, the herbs seem to be loving the crazy weather, and the lemon tree is weighed down with  fruit (by the standards of my poor lemon tree that is in a pot in a fairly shady spot, courtesy of the last owners of the house) and the first ever limes are growing slowly on the lime tree.

    Green Provider beans 
    I'm not sure how these babies survived this last week, but
    even though they are looking a bit wobbly, they seem to
    be quite healthy!
    The cavelo nero seedlings have definitely benefitted from
    their mesh protection (the weeds seem to like it too - another
    task for this week...!)
    Lots of lemons to come 
    And the Crepe Myrtle has nearly finished flowering for
    the year, it must be autumn.

    01 March 2012

    Slow Living Month

    One of the interesting blogs I've found recently is Slow Living Essentials.  Christine, who writes it, has started a 12 month project called Slow Living Month 2012 which I've decided to join.  The idea is to take some time out at the end of each month to think about what you've achieved in the month.

    So using Christine's headings, here's my list for February:

    A Slightly Different Harvest

    There was a slight diversion from working in the vegetable gardens yesterday to help with a harvest of a much larger scale.  It's vintage time in the vineyard so it was all hands on deck to help harvest the grapes.  Even though I've helped out many times before, I seem to always completely forget how much messy, hard physical work it actually takes to create wine.  It certainly reminded me that when you're in a bottleshop contemplating buying something interesting from a small vineyard, it's worth spending a bit more money for all the muscle-power that went into creating it!

    Yesterday was the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and my main job of the day was to run behind the tractor (I got the sack from driving it after about 30 seconds of continuous bunny-hopping!) and pick up full buckets of grapes, dump them into the big bin behind the tractor, then throw the buckets back to the pickers.  Every time the pickers started work in a new block I got to do my favourite job, which was to drive the Hilux ute (definitely my favourite form of vineyard transport!) while someone else ran behind picking up the empty buckets from the picked block and then redistributing them to the next rows.  

    The grapes are obviously not picked until their sugar content is high and they are full and juicy.  So you basically spend the whole day covered in liquid sugar, which then gets immediately covered in dirt.  This is all fine until the sun comes out, when bees instantly appear, attracted to the smell of the juice...luckily yesterday was fairly overcast.  Despite all that, and going home utterly exhausted last night, it's great fun and there's a real camaraderie between everyone.  So remember the love (and dirt and pain!) that goes into hand-picked wine next time you're choosing a bottle.

    A full bin of Pinot Noir grapes on the back
    of the tractor ready for processing. (And no,
    before you ask, we didn't stomp on them in
    bare feet, there's a machine!!)