Bunnies in my garden

My garden beds have overgrown with weeds and old growth. I took some advice from some friends and I placed my rabbits in there, with extra wire around them to stop my dog from getting too curious.

I was pretty surprised with the quick work they did, making great progress with clearing the garden as well as fertilising the beds.

I found this to be a great way to clear them… they will clear out the weeds, fertilise the ground, and also get some more nutrients in their diet. It is like people say… work smarter, not harder.

Collecting seeds from your garden can be rewarding

A skill that is often overlooked is the knowledge and experience of collecting seeds.  It is part of working towards being self-sufficient, which in turn is a foundation of Prepping.   Being able to grow plants, then to collect seed from them for the next season makes sense.  Of course, the process of collecting seeds can be time consuming and can be tedious… so much so that I often wonder why I bother.  I can spend a couple of hours collecting radish seeds (as I did the other day), and have a cup of seeds to show for my effort.  Basically, 2 hours of work for $8 of seeds…  not the best investment of time in of itself, yet I believe it is important.  Important as a skill, and also it allows me to spend time outside working it the garden when the season is coming to an end.  While I was collecting my radish seeds I was helped by my daughter, allowing us so spend some quality time together.  As a father, I can’t put a price on that time.

I have been working on this skill for some time, usually only in the Autumn when the plants in my garden go to seed.  I am not talking about collecting seeds from my fruit trees… although I do this too.  When I eat an especially delicious peach, or find a cherry that is amazingly good, I keep the seed in order to attempt to grow another.  What I am talking about when I discuss collecting seeds is primarily annual seeds.  For those of you not aware of what an annual plant is, it is a plant that will grow for one season only.  Of course, many plants which we consider annual, are not truly annual… it is simply that they act in this way when not in their native habitat.

I find the plants from which are the easiest to collect seeds are:

  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Carrot
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Radish

At the moment my Radish seeds are ready to harvest.  I am collecting these from the plants now that the pods are dry.  Dry pods mean that the seeds within are dry, which will allow them to be stored easier.  You to not want to store wet seeds, as they will rot and destroy themselves as well as any other seeds stored with them.

The process I use for radish is to twist the seed pods to burst them open.  When they are open I rub the dried seed pod between my fingers to loosen the seeds, before gently blowing on the material in my palm.  The dried plant fragments will blow away and I will be left with the heavier seeds.  I place these in a bowl and once they are all collected they are stored in a clean jar for the next season.

Saving Radish Seeds GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

There are ways to short cut the procedure… as the plant will be going to seed without any real effort on our part, you can cover the seeding sections with a plastic bag.  As the seeds dry and fall from the plant, they are collected and easily stored.  Urban Food Garden has a great article on collecting lettuce seeds.  I would only recommend collecting seeds from plants which produce a product with which you are satisfied.  I wouldn’t bother collecting seeds from a radish plant that produced small or bad tasting products… I want to grow good quality vegetables.

Please let me know if you are interested in this, as I will of into more details about the collection of other seeds.

 

 

Preparing for Winter – 2018

We haven’t had the hottest summer down here in Tassie this season.  Sure, we have had a few hot days, and there were several nights where I slept with a fan blowing in my face, yet for the most part… not so hot.  The colder weather is already starting to make itself known, with the nights seeing us all rugged up.  It is time for me to make plans for Winter.  I don’t, really, dislike Winter.  I used to love it, with my hobby of Snowboarding… yet now I am older it really just means I am going to be cold and going to work in the dark (and sometimes not seeing the sun all day, as I may leave work after dark).  Sure, the warm season is gone, yet it isn’t really a time to feel bad.  It is time to harvest the last of the rewards of my work, and to start to prepare the homestead for the cold.

http://www.wallartprints.com.au/autumn-art/

 

From cuttings I made last winter, and the irregular collection of dead wood from my trees, I have amassed an assortment of fuel for my fireplace.  The wood has been out in the elements for over six months, slowing curing in the weather, so now a dry wood remains.  I have spent the last few days re-discovering my long-overgrown wood piles and moving the fuel to the house so that we can use the wood in the coming winter.  In this way I am using something which could be considered a negative (branches falling off trees, pruned wood which would need to be removed from the property) into a positive (warmth for my family).  I don’t have the huge number of trees which I once owned (around 15 acres of forest), yet I am making do with what I do have.

For the most part, I am just ensuring that the wood is of a length that would fit into my fireplace and moving it to a stack on my veranda so it is out of the wet and easy to reach.  I am also breaking up small twigs which can be used as kindling for starting the fire.

Just one of the many barrows of wood I collected.

 

Another pre-winter task is preparing the garden for the coming colder months.  I am going to be planting some vegetables and green manure over the Autumn, so now I have to clean out the gardens of the plants that have passed their growing window.  I still have some plants producing, such as Tomato, Zucchini, potato, lettuce, and carrots.  I also have some Tomatillos that are growing, yet I don’t know if they will produce any fruit.  These beds will stay where they are for now, I have completed another garden bed of compost, and I am starting to work on a new one for over the winter.  Hopefully by the Spring I will have 2-3 beds of compost ready for the garden.

My latest batch of compost, ready for use.

Speaking of gardening, I am also trying to store as much of my fruit harvest as I can.  Each day I am placing half a dozen or more apples into my dehydrator, seeking to preserve some of our own produce for the winter.  The only trouble I have in this is that my daughter loves the dried apples so much, that I have to hide them from her, or she would eat them all.

Yes, they are slightly browned… yet we don’t really care. They still taste great.

Grape vines can produce more than grapes

Last year my grape vines, which grow along the front of my house, produced a small amount of grapes.  While the vines are still growing, I needed to spread out their growth to increase their sun exposure and to allow for more fruit to be produced.  To make more space for this growth I stretched some thin wire between two pillars on my veranda.  This wire was left over from another project that I had completed some time ago, so I had plenty to spare.  Once the wire was strung, I carefully weaved the extended tendrils of the vine amongst the supporting wire.

 

We have decided to plant the vine at the front of the house for two reasons.  One… we love to eat grapes, and having them close to where we walk past several times a day means we can give the vines our best attention and also gather grapes regularly (this is zone 1 for permaculture).  The second reason is because in summer, the vines will have their large leaves turned to the sun to soak up all the lovely sunlight.  When they do this, it will keep more light off that side of the house and help to keep our home cooler in those hot summer afternoons.

I also removed some of the more densely packed clusters of grapes… I want to ensure that the tree (or is it a shrub?  I don’t know) produces higher quality fruit over large amounts of bad grapes.  While I am new to growing grapes, I have read many books which cover the topic of grape growing.  The pruning and removal of the clusters can help to improve quality.  I will be sure to update you all if this turns out to be fraudulent advice.

Potatoes are a good choice for the garden.

Potatoes are a great crop to grow in the garden, particularly when the price of potatoes goes higher than you would expect to pay (such as now).  Spuds are a staple in my families diet.  They taste great, fill you up and provide energy for work.  My favorite method of cooking them is baking… I really love baked potatoes, and when you cook my preferred variety it makes it a very special meal.

When growing potatoes, I recommend considering growing an unusual variety.  My variety of choice is Vitelotte (a French variety which is purple in colour), which does provide a smaller yield, yet it is such a quirky potato that I believe it is worth it… especially when I can’t buy them from the grocery store.  I baked a few this evening, so you can see the rich purple colour.

As I mentioned, it has a smaller yield… I usually can harvest around 4-6 small Vitelotte potatoes per seed potato planted… this is not the best results to feed my family.  Due to that, I will have to plant other, higher yielding potatoes.  Kennebec and Red Pontiac are, in my opinion, a great choice due to their shorter growing season and good yield.  These are the varieties I will use to fill out the gap made by the Vitelotte.

When growing the potatoes I use the time honoured method of planting them in the ground.  None of this fancy, planting them in car tires or straw beds.  I have tried the car tires and I gathered zero potatoes from that.  I feel that the method of in the ground and shoring up the sides when the potato grows is the best.

Have any of you every had any success with the tire method of growing potatoes?  I would love to hear about it, and learn what you did.

A visit from the Bumblebees

One of the great surprises which greeted us on our arrival to Tasmania was the existence of bumble bees.  These giants of the bee world were introduced to Tasmania around 1992.

https://a-z-animals.com/animals/bumble-bee/
Bumble Bee

The bee is not native to Tasmania and you can not find it on the mainland of Australia.  Due to this, it was a great surprise to Kitty and I when we first encountered the insect.  It was when we were living in Collinsvale, when we were outside in the garden, maybe 6 months after we moved into the house.  A loud buzzing noise alerted us to something approaching, and when the bee cleared the shrubs it was investigating we caught our first sight of this sizable honey producer.  Kitty was actually shocked and asked me what it was with a quaver of fear in her voice.  I told her that I thought it was a bumble bee, yet I had never seen one before.  Over the course of the spring and summer we became acquainted with the visitor, enjoying the sight of it flying it’s pollinating courses through the garden.

I know that many Australians have not seen a bumble bee, and possibly (due to large populations dying around the world) many of my overseas readers have not seen one.  I wanted to share a little about their size and work in the garden, so please enjoy the video I filmed.

 

I have really taken a greater interest in the bee population of my garden.  With the Mead I am making I am beginning to be curious as to how honey would taste if I made it myself (by that, I mean I own the bees and the hives).  I am still a way from taking the step to get into bee keeping, yet it is a very interesting topic. For now, I will stick to buying locally made honey for my Mead.  It tastes much better than any commercially produced.

Spring cleaning the front yard.

Since some time earlier in the year I admit that the front of my house hasn’t been the tidiest.  After an aggressive bout of tree pruning and garden work I had collected a large pile of detritus.  The original plan was to call a local business that will take the waste and chip it, yet when they were not called when the material was still green we had to let that idea go.  Due to that, we were left with the unsightly mess for a while.  I am sure it really annoyed my neighbour.

Just one part of the pile of cuttings

As it is now starting to really turn into some great spring days I took the opportunity to work on the mess.  I decided the best plan would be to harvest the larger pieces for future house fires, and to burn the smaller twigs.  I could use the ashes in the garden and setting the fire would allow me to practice my fire-lighting skills.   After my son and I had collected a smallish pile of burnable items I set to work making the fire.

With the slight wind it proved a little harder than I thought, yet eventually I got the fire burning.  Over the next hour I set about cutting up the larger pieces of wood for future use, and throwing the trash on the fire.  My son and I had a bit of fun with the process, and I managed to tell him some stories as well as teach him some skill on dealing with fires.  He was pretty reluctant to listen, yet I am sure some of the information made it through.

In the end I made my front yard much tidier, collected enough wood for several fires, made some material to help in the garden and best of all… spent some time with my son.  It can be hard to find time to spend with him, he is growing so quickly and already becoming a moody teenager.

Having mentioned the material I have made for the garden, I might talk next posting about my garden beds… I don’t think I have mentioned how I made them.

Caring for Berry plants is key to a great harvest

While I was in the garden on the weekend, toiling away in the heat of the greenhouse, Kitty got her hands dirty in the Berry garden.  We have five specially allocated raised garden beds into which we have planted all of our Raspberry canes, and majority of our blueberry bushes.  While it would be more diverse to spread the plants around (and prevent any disease which could infect them easily as they are close together) we decided that for ease of care, collection and protection, to plant them in a large group.

 

 

We love eating the berries we grow, with Blueberries being our favourite.  In addition to the Blueberry and Raspberry plants, we also have strawberry; Loganberry; White, Red, and black currents, and several varieties of grapes (which are not berries, yet they are small and yummy like berries).  Only the Blueberry and Raspberry plants are protected in the garden beds (with Strawberries planted at the base of the plants), as the others seem to go unmolested by the many garden pests.

 

 

We didn’t have the best Blueberry and Raspberry year last season, mostly as we failed to look after the plants properly.  We were busy with other projects so it slipped by the wayside and we ended up with a smaller than average harvest.  That said, we still enjoyed and savoured every single berry.  To protect these desirable fruit I have erected wire barricades around each garden bed.  So far these fences have kept out all but the most aggressive animals (such as our large dog Orlaith, who walks were ever… and through whatever… she wants), with only the need for a small amount of bird netting to be draped over the top when the fruit begins to grow.

 

I am not so sure about the value of currents.  We have grown them for some time and we are never happy with the berries which grow from them.  The red currents never taste good, the white currents seem to be eaten by the birds, and the black currents are pretty sour.  You have to collect the black currents at exactly the right moment, right before they rupture, in order for them to taste slightly sweet.  I have several kilograms stored in my freezer, yet no one in my family eats them so I don’t know what to do with them at the moment.

 

The tending of the beds usually entails a good weeding to remove all unwanted plants.  This gives the desirable, wanted plants the ability to access all the resources they require without competing with weeds.  Kitty may move raspberry canes from areas if they are too closely clustered to other areas with less plant density.  This provides the plants with room to grow and spread out over the season.

 

The strawberry plants only last a small number of years.  According to all sources I have found, three years is when they reach peak productivity with a drop off from there for the next three years till they die.  You can make your own strawberry plants by starting them from the runners that grow from the main strawberry.  I did this many years ago, and will do it again once the season gets underway.

 

 

I also planted an elderberry tree out the front of the house, near my hazelnut tree.  We bought it a year ago and it was not in the best shape.  It has really taken off over the winter and shown itself to be healthy.  I know it isn’t the best thing to plant it… I really should just get a new, better, tree.  Yet, I feel the tree has shown real tenacity so I want to take a chance on it.

Planting seeds into my raised garden beds

What is more exciting than watching paint dry and seeing grass grow?  Planting your own seeds!  In all seriousness, planting seeds is fun.  It is the most fun you will have with a plant for a while, as after planting you are playing the waiting game.

I just uploaded a video where I show my garden beds which I am preparing for the spring, and my planting seeds into the prepared bed.  If you are totally new to gardening I mention a few things which you might find interesting and educational.

 

I intend to follow this video up with more on planting seeds, both in containers in the ground.  If you would like to see those videos, please leave a comment in the comments section (either here or on Youtube).

 

Trouble protecting my cherry tree from birds

I have been looking towards the upcoming spring and considering that we are in the last few days of Winter, now is the time to think on this.  Something that has been concerning me is the fruit from my orchid last year.  In short, they were blitzed by the local birdlife and I lost a huge amount of fruit.  Chief casualties were the early fruiting cherries and plums.  I mentioned last year that I would net off the trees to prevent a repeat occurrence.  So, with a spring in my step I set out early Sunday morning to do some pruning of my cherry tree (the one with which I am most concerned) and then to deploy my net.  I had to cut off a lot of the previous season growth that had moved in directions which were undesirable… such as branches which crossed paths, branches growing into the interior of the tree, and some of the high reaching sprouts.

This took much longer than expected as I kept being distracted when I came across another tree to work on.  I cut some of these other trees in my yard to allow more light to my fruit trees, and once a limb was removed I cut it to smaller lengths to be used as fire wood next year.  When I finally believed I had finished with my pruning of the cherry tree I collected the two 10m by 5m woven nets and started to consider how they would be deployed.  So I stood there, before the tree, and realised I had no idea how to get it to keep birds from the fruit.  I could easily get it over the tree, yet how would I secure the net so there were no holes which could be used by birds?

After 10 minutes of going through the situation in my mind I decided to just have a go at it… I hoped that in the process of spreading out the net I would realise the answer and put it into practice.  I tied a small limb to the end of the net and after swinging it I tossed it over the tree.  I then had to climb the tree (which for my 140kg, 2m tall, frame was pretty scary) and start to spread out the net.  It was a tiresome process, with the net catching on every single bud and branch.  Kitty assisted with feeding me the extra net and helping to untangle it from the ground level, yet after an hour of work I realised that the whole process was fruitless (no pun intended).  I stopped and decided I would take a break to give the problem more thought.

I recalled the way I had seen some other people use nets, and they use a frame to keep the net well above the top of the tree.  I also did a search on Youtube and found this video which makes it look like the easiest process in the world.

 

This looks much easier and if I can actually remove the net I placed on the tree might be something I will try.  If it doesn’t work then I might have to go to the idea of building a wooden frame to surround the orchid, on which I can install a net.