Urban Farming: Tools & Tool Maintenance

Urban Farming: Tools & Tool Maintenance

In order to garden your patch effectively, you’re going to need to have a few good tools. Not heaps, unless you need particular tools for particular jobs, just a few good ones. I’ve fallen into the trap in the past of buying cheap (I’ll blame starting out as a poor university student for that), but they end up costing you more and aren’t as enjoyable to use in the garden. You don’t need the absolute most expensive hand crafted artisan tool, but generally speaking, a good quality tool will set you a reasonable amount of cash.

So what do you need? A basic tool shed for a veggie patch will need a few essentials and you can bulk out your tool kit as you see a tool that will fit your needs. Overall, you can make do with a digging folk, a long handled shovel, a spade, a steel-tine rake, a hoe, a hand trowel, secateurs and a pruning saw. There are plenty more tools out there, but if you have a few good quality tools like these, you’ll probably do alright.

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Taking care of what ever tools you have is a must. And honestly, I probably don’t take care of mine as well as I should. But here are a few simple tips to make your tools last the journey.

It is important to clean your tools regularly. Built up dirt, mud, let alone fertilizers and chemicals (if you happen to use them) will corrode away any tools. Wash your digging tools regularly and give them a quick, light scrub with a wire or stiff bristle brush every so often.

To keep your digging tools sharp and rust free, I like to run a file over the ends a few times and coat with a film of engine oil to protect from rust. I try and do this one or twice a year. Some people like to store or clean their digging tools in a bucket of coarse sand mixed with a small amount of engine oil. Running the tools in and out of the sand cleans them and oils them protecting them from rust.

A couple of times a year I try and clean up the wooden handles of some of my tools. Frequent use, or if I have happened to leave them out in the weather, makes the wooden handles rough and subject to damage. I like to quickly give them a light sand and an oil twice a year. You can use vegetable oil or linseed oil on the handles – I’ve even been told used sump oil is fine. The oil protects the wood and makes it much more enjoyable to use.

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Cutting tools should be cleaned after every use to avoid spreading any diseases between plants. Make sure the cutting blade is sharp to avoid damaging the plant. The moving parts of tools like clippers and secateurs need to be oiled and even taken apart regularly to be cleaned and keep free of dirt and grime.

None of these things take a awful long time to do and if you have spent decent money on quality tools you love using, you won’t mind spending a bit of time keeping them in tip top shape.

Spring Update: What’s Happening on The Urban Farm

Spring Update: What’s Happening on The Urban Farm

It is almost the end of September so I figured it’s time for a Spring Update with what’s growing, being harvested and new plans for The Urban Farm. 

The first thing to notice on the Urban Farm is just how dry everything is. It is only the end of September but we are already watering consistently with the irrigation. Donald has seen just 170mm (7 inches) in 2015 to date! That’s nearly 100mm (4 inches) short of average!

But, with consistent watering the garden is not looking too bad. In fact, there is heaps going on. 

  
SPRING HARVEST

At present we are continuing to harvest plenty of winter-spring veg. Our broccoli secondary heads are performing beautifully with regular pickings of near 500g. I love broccoli and the way it keep producing well after the primary heads have been eaten and it’s still around $7 a kilo in the Supermarket. Along with the Curly and Red Russian Kale, the brassicas are going to seed and so I imagine with some warm mid 30°C temps forecast, we won’t have them for much longer!   

 We are also harvesting silverbeet, beetroots, leeks, peas and snow peas. The leeks are lovely and fat and go beautifully sautéed down with some chicken, white wine and cream in Chicken & Leek Stroganoff. 

The peas are a funny story. We planted 3 crops of “telephone peas” (store bought seed) and half at least have come up as “snow peas”! We’re not complaining about the snow peas but I would have liked to be picking and shelling more peas. 

  
The broad beans are flowering but we are yet to see many pods and haven’t begun harvest yet. It will be nice when the broad bean harvest coincides with the end of some of the brassicas. The herb garden is also coming back after winter and needs a tidy up, while the garlic is growing really well in the warmer weather!

  
If we really set out to eat only from the garden (which we basically do) we would be about 80-90% garden sufficient this spring with only a few carrots and potatoes being purchased to add to the garden picked green veg. 

WHAT’S BEING SOWN?

In the seed house we have started tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. This year I have gone for heirloom tomatoes so I can collect seed. We have Black Russian, Tigerella, Mortgage Lifter and Green Zebra tomatoes as well as Sweetbite, Sugar Drop Yellow, Tommy Toe and Lemon Drop “cherry” tomatoes. They will stay in the seed house until we are free from frost risks in about mid October.

  
We also have Gerkin Cucumber, zuchinni and Lebanese Cucumber in the seed house. These seedlings will stay until they have strengthened to protect them from earwigs… and when I have some room to plant them out!! 

In the garden we have planted the first crop of potatoes. These have been planted deep in a trench which will be gradually filled in as they grow. We will also plant succession crops later in the season. 

  
Later in the season we will be seeking to plant bush beans, sweet corn and some more beetroots as well as the usual succession crops of summer veg. The fruit trees too will hopefully be producing fruit to pick in later summer. That have all had a good fertilise and are getting plenty of water in this dry weather. 

– Jono

Urban Farming: Dealing With Pests

Urban Farming: Dealing With Pests

Last summer was our first at our new rental. We built the chook run in a back corner, where the remnants of an old run was, using the parts of our previous run bought over when we moved. Inside the new chook run were two fruit trees – a beautiful big fig tree and a small, but rather healthy looking nectarine.

What we learnt from our first season here was that sparrows and blackbirds loved both the chook run and the fruit trees.


Now this isn’t rocket-science. We have always had fruit trees, we’ve always had chooks and we’ve always had issues with birds. But never like this! It wasn’t uncommon to see 30 or 40 birds eating the chook feed, polluting their water, getting stuck in the bird netting covering the trees and damaging the fruit.

We managed a good harvest of figs despite the birds, but the pollution of the chook run and general pest that they are meant I needed to do something.


After giving all the trees in the chook run a good haircut we set about enclosing the run with commercial grade fruit netting. It will keep the birds out but is gentle enough that the fruit trees can grow and not be damaged by wire.

The method of enclosing the run is simple – using some lengths of timber secrets across the yard, the commercial grade bird netting is simply screwed down and pulled tight forming a ceiling. There are a few gaps to plug and patch but in relatively quick time it is sealed up.

I have to give a massive shout out to my Father in Law Graeme who came over and finished off the job for me! Without his help it would have remained a half finished job for some time no doubt!

The fig tree is just budding now so time will tell if this method works to save both the chooks and the fruit!

– Jono

Growing Food: How I Plant Potatoes 

Growing Food: How I Plant Potatoes 

It’s spring and in order to get a good supply of potatoes through summer and autumn I am starting to grow them now. 

I will wind up planting 2 or 3 crops of potatoes and couple of varieties to ensure good supply where we can harvest as needed through summer and autumn. This morning I planted a single row of “Brake Light” potatoes. This potato is a red potato which is good for mashing, boiling & roasting.

   
When planting potatoes I ensure I give the bed a thorough dig a few days before and make sure that it is moist, but not wet, before planting. When I dig the bed through I add a considerable amount of composted manure as potatoes are nitrogen hungry! 

The potatoes are ceritfied seed potato which helps to limit the likelihood of disease. I keep them in a warm, dry and light position in the house to allow them to chit (shoot) before planting. 

A trench is then dug out to around 30cm with the soil mounded up along the edge. I plant my potatoes at the bottom of the trench on a well composted bed of manure. I then cover them with about 15cm of soil and spacing each seed potato about 15-20cm apart. In my beds I get 4 plants to a row. 

  

As the potatoes grow I use the remaining soil from the trench, which is filled with lovely well-rotted manure, to hill the plants up around the base. This encourages more root development and therefore more potatoes.  

To stimulate further growth I will frequently feed with an nitrogen rich organic liquid fertiliser and occasionally top dress the bed with more compost or manure. 

When the plants have flowered you can start digging “new potatoes” and when the plants die off you can dig lovely big ones. I stop watering after the plants have started to die back and then dig the potatoes as needed. The cool, dry ground does not allow the potatoes to reshoot and keeps them fresher than the cupboard or fridge ever could! 

– Jono

Rainbows, Silos & Pots of Gold

Rainbows, Silos & Pots of Gold

Sitting in my office at home, I have a great view of the street and sky to the west of town. It’s great because late in the afternoon I can continue working while keeping an eye on the setting sun, camera ready to snap that all too common sunset shot from atop my roof.

Yesterday it wasn’t the sunset that caught my eye, it was a beautiful rain shower. It was falling quite heavily which was a great sign for farmers who had received 5-10mm the night before on crops that are starting to crave some rain.

As I watched the rain fall, the sunlight poured out from behind the clouds, beaming light through what was continuing to be quite heavy rain. As I rushed out of the house in my daily pilgrimage to the roof to snap a daily weather photo, I had high hopes for a rainbow. I was not disappointed.

  

The rainbow cast it’s coloured light like a dome across town in the eastern sky. One end found it’s way to a point nestled among the houses while the other seem to burst straight out of the town’s main grain silo.

They say gold is found at the end of a rainbow. I wonder what this rainbow means for this years cropping season.

NOTE: This post was first published as a contribution to the “Pic of the Week” ABC Open Project. See the original post here: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/101946

-Jono

Dirt in the Blood: 5 Generations of Urban Farmers

Dirt in the Blood: 5 Generations of Urban Farmers

One of the things I remember most about growing up was helping Dad in the veggie patch. We used plant it out, harvest it, prune the citrus trees, tend the chooks! It was great as a kid to be out, learning about nature, and watching as your hard work produced tasty food that you could eat fresh from the garden!!

I am told that my Great-Grandfather was a Market Gardner in south Sydney and his Son, my Grandpa, had a garden which definitely resembled a market garden. It had rows meticulously planted, perfectly straight with string lines and multiple succession crops of peas and the biggest cauliflowers and cabbages I have ever seen in a backyard garden! My Grandpa had gardening passed on to him from his Father and he handed it on to my Dad. My Dad’s love of plants resulted in him studying Agriculture. He even became a commercial agronomist and plant breeder with Yates, all the while growing plenty of our own veggies at home.

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My Dad then passed this love of gardening to me and my sisters. All three of us loved to harvest the beans and broccoli and onions and carrots. We had plenty of fruit trees and passion fruit and I love to collect the eggs. It was a family affair when it was time to plant or harvest the crops in the backyard.

All three of us kids are now grown up with our own kids and we all have big veggie gardens in our backyards. Both of my sisters went on to study agriculture and one of my sisters has even become a Horticultural/Agricultural Scientist in Tasmania specializing in vegetables! You can only imagine what her garden is like!

And now we are all passing on this love of veggie gardening to our own kids. My kids love getting into the Urban Farm, even if is just to collect a few eggs (or catch a chook for fun), pull out a few weeds or get in and plant the next crop! And best of all, like my childhood, they know what raw food looks and tastes like and they know where their food comes from!

Its a multi-generational love of urban farming! We must have dirt in our blood!

– Jono