Sunday, 26 November 2017

Water For The Birds Saves Fruit

Do you have a problem with birds taking a single bite out of tomatoes, pears or similar crops? 

My grandmother told me many moons ago that the birds often did this because they were seeking water and that if you left them water in the garden they would drink the water instead of biting into the fruit.   

It really works - as many friends I have passed this tip onto have attested.  It's good to leave the birds water to drink or splash in regardless - even more so when it helps save some of your precious fruit! 

Monday, 20 November 2017

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Planting An Edible Garden

Courgettes growing at Kewmarnic Cottage.

When planning an edible garden it seems to me the following are some of the most important questions you need to ask yourself.

What Are My Goals?

Would I like to supply a large part of my needs or my family’s needs from the garden or am I content to grow some herbs and fresh salad vegetables such as lettuces, tomatoes and cucumbers during the warmer months?

In other words exactly what would I like to produce? What are my ambitions?

What Do I Like To Eat?

Write down a list of what you do and do not like to eat.   Do you like potatoes and eat plenty of them daily but loathe broccoli?    Are you mad keen on sweet corn on the cob dripping with butter but would only use the odd cauliflower? Do you dream of swimming in courgettes but dread being confronted by marrow?  What exactly do you like?

How Much Do I Need Of The Things I Want To Grow?

Do I want to grow just enough for my needs? Do I want to grow or am I happy to grow some extra to sell or give away?  Can I give any surplus to the hens or other animals?

Do I want to grow just enough for a specific purpose, for example making my own beetroot chutney or using a small amount for juicing but buy the canned, sliced beetroot I eat regularly?

Although it sounds good initially to have a mountain of surplus it becomes a lot less so after a while when you’ve gone to all the hard work to produce it and find no one else wants it because everyone else has a glut at the same time or you don’t have enough time to preserve it all, so much of it goes to waste.  

What can you realistically handle? (continued below).

Bush tomatoes growing in the garden at Kewmarnic Cottage.

Is It Worthwhile For Me To Grow?

If you have unlimited room and time this question may not be important but if you are restricted by either consider the following. 

–Is this vegetable usually modestly priced?

-Is it usually readily available?

=Is it a case of the fresher the better with this vegetable such as radishes. beans and lettuce or does it maintain most of it’s quality for weeks or even months, such as potatoes and pumpkins?

If you’re limited by time and space these are some of the factors you can consider when deciding whether to grow this crop or how much to grow or whether it would be better to focus on other produce and buy this particular item in.

How Easily Will I Be Able To Grow This Vegetable?

Do I have the right climate to grow this crop?  How does it withstand frosts?  How does it cope with very hot weather or a drought? Lettuces and cabbages, for example, will often bolt (go to seed) in hot weather.  Some vegetables such as potatoes and silver beet tend to be very easy to grow in most places, sometimes celery and leeks can be a bit more temperamental – or require additional care and attention.

Do I have the right conditions? Is the soil suitable? What would I need to do to amend it?  Would I need to add lots of compost for a good result?

Am I able to access sufficient water?

What pests might attack my crop?

If I added raised beds, glasshouses and other potentially expensive equipment would it be worth me growing this product if part of my reason is to save money?  Consider how it would work out in the shorter and longer term.  Some things may not pay immediately but over time they might be very worthwhile, for example a glasshouse might involve a reasonably large initial outlay but may be worth it’s weight in gold over the years.

What Will I Do With The Surplus

Even before planting it is wise to consider whether you want a large surplus to your immediate needs and what you intend to do with that excess.  You could share or sell some but the chances are you might be very interested in preserving a large amount.

It’s a good idea to plan and plant with this in mind.

Would it be best if you grew more storage vegetables such as pumpkins, potatoes and onions which in many areas can be very simply stored in root cellars or boxes?

Do you have the time, energy, facilities and equipment to do a lot of bottling (canning)?

Are you interested in dehydrating?

Would you be comfortable blanching and freezing a lot of fruit and vegetables?

Would you like to try pickling or making your own jams and chutneys?

Would you use a variety of preserving methods?

Do you have plans for your surplus produce even before you start?  

Having a good idea of what you intend to do with your bounty can be very helpful even before you plant.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Hens Love Mashed Potatoes Too

One of my earliest memories as a child was when my father and grandmother would boil up big coppers full of potatoes for the hens and ducks.   These would be surplus or lower grade potatoes. We'd light the fire, cook them and when they were cool enough mash them down somewhat and often mix them to the poultry with some laying mash or wheat.

The hens and ducks loved it and invariably thrived.  These days I still do it for the hens when we have spare or damaged potatoes.  Make sure you do not use any green potatoes and remove any green skin or green pieces from the potatoes to avoid the risk of solanine poisoning which is a danger to both humans and animals.  If in doubt throw them out!

If you have spare or damaged potatoes it's a great way to use them up.  If you're short of money but have some spare ground on which you could plant some more potatoes, it would probably be worth growing potatoes specifically for any hens or ducks you might keep.

In recent times I've also used the pulp from the centre of pumpkins and lightly cooked them for the hens as well.  Once cooled, the hens enjoy the pumpkin pulp too.   They'll also readily eat cooked pumpkin skins. When peeling pumpkin pieces to make pumpkin soup I mix the cooked skins into the bucket which contains any other household scraps for the hens.

Can I please have fries with that?  Matilda, one of the little red hens from Kewmarnic Cottage, is interested in a combo.

The Not-So-Humble Spud

It's sometimes called "the humble spud" but there’s nothing very humble about this amazing vegetable!   You can roast them, mash them, chip them, make them into salad and so much more. They’re tough, they’re versatile, they’re nutritious and often delicious. 

Originating from the Andes in South America, where there are still thousands of varieties, the average person on Earth eats over 30 kg of these little beauties every year.  Even the United Nations has called the potato a "hidden treasure". 

Our first new potatoes of the season generally come out of the compost heap or some other part of the garden where a self-sown tuber or seed has flourished.  To control the process yourself though it is best to set tubers out in trays a month or more before you wish to plant them.  When they have a few strong, healthy shoots growing out of them they are ready to plant.

As a child I always remember my grandfather telling me, “Plant them lass, don’t bury them!” when he thought I was sowing something too deeply in the ground and that lesson has stayed with me all these years.  I shallow plant nearly every seed I sow but you can safely go deeper with potato tubers.  

You can place them in rows at a depth of around 4 inches but we’ve traditionally dug out a shovel full of dirt, thrown in a tuber with a handful of blood and bone fertilizer and put a shovel full of dirt back on top.  This is an easy method with two people, one digging and covering and the other placing the tuber and fertilizer into the hole.  If you get into a nice rhythm you can plant quite a lot of tubers in a fairly short time. A distance of about 30 cm or 1 foot between each potato is a good guide.

You can sow tubers from early spring all the way through late summer for early and main crops.  With the seasons now being so unpredictable being “too early” or “too late” is often redundant these days as you can often get away with sowing earlier or later depending on what your weather is doing.

Well watered potatoes in good soil will yield crops as high as 3 to 5 kg (around 6.6 to 11 lbs) at our place which is an excellent yield.  We’ve had single potatoes weighing over 1 kg (2.2 lbs) quite often.

Agria are one of many good varieties you can grow and a firm favourite of mine.  Red potatoes often have prolific yields.

Generally speaking when the potato is flowering the tubers are still forming but I've sometimes found a mature enough potato plant, even if still flowering, will supply a reasonable quantity of early potatoes.

We’ve traditionally molded or earthed up potatoes 2 or 3 times as they are growing to cause more potatoes to form underground. This involves putting a mound or hill of soil around the base of the plant and can also protect the upper potatoes from greening which is undesirable as green potatoes can cause solanine poisoning and should not be eaten, potatoes being from the nightshade family.

One other thing to be careful of is not to overwater potatoes as too much moisture can cause them to rot in the ground.  Potatoes do like water but I find a light watering three to four evenings per week is sufficient and does not waterlog them.

Potatoes are best dug carefully with a good garden fork like the one below.  Starting at a reasonable distance away on an outer circle around the plant will help to avoid accidentally hitting tubers with the fork tines.

After harvesting the main crop before winter make sure the potatoes are completely dry before storing in cardboard boxes or hessian sacks.

Photos from the potato patch at Kewmarnic Cottage:

Below – the main crop when the tops begin to die down.

Below - having a little fun at the local, small horticultural show with entries in the red and white table potatoes and heaviest potato competitions.