Planting: Top 5 Tips for planting Beans

Planting: Top 5 Tips for planting Beans

Beans are really one of my go to crops each year! They are the kind of crop that very rarely fails and even the kids derive plenty of pleasure from snacking on raw beans and picking bucket loads on a hot summer evening.

Beans are great for the soil too. Legumes fix nitrogen back into the soil which is great after ripping out nitrogen hungry plants like potatoes, brassicas and leafy greens.

Here are my 5 Top Tips for growing beans: 

PLANTING YOUR BEANS – Beans are really easy to grow. Make small runs about 25mm deep and drop a seed about every 10cm (I plant 2×1.5m rows). Backfill with a light covering (about 25mm) and press down for good seed contact before watering. Unless it’s really hot and dry you won’t need to water again until shoots appear.

SUCCESSION PLANTINGS – I plant 3 succession crops, once every month, after the initial planting. Some people plant every 2 weeks but I find this gives me too many beans to handle!

DON’T OVER FEED WITH NITROGEN – since beans already fix nitrogen you won’t need to feed them with it. In fact, too much nitrogen may too give you many leaves and not enough beans.

PICK BEANS YOUNG & REGULARLY – Young beans taste better than old woody ones and regular visits to the garden will prolong the harvest.

PINCH BEANS OFF – This is hard when kids are harvesting, but always try to pinch beans off the plants with your thumb and fore finger. Pulling beans can damage the plant, break off entire limbs or even pull plants out of the ground!

Happy gardening!

Planting: Top 5 Tips for Tomatoes

Planting: Top 5 Tips for Tomatoes
There are is lots of debate about how to best grow tomatoes (and I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below) but here are my TOP 5 TIPS for fantastic tomatoes.

img_92641

1. DRIP WATER – Tomatoes don’t like overhead watering so run drippers or “leaky hose” to water them below the foliage and avoid “early blight”

2. COMPOST SOIL – Tomatoes need some good quality compost in their soil and even a small amount just below the roots at planting so they grow into it and get a boost later on in the season

3. TRELLIS OR STAKE – To keep plants from breaking or falling over and getting wet foliage, tie the plants to a stake or trellis as they grow

4. PINCH OUT SIDE SHOOTS – Some people prune their tomatoes, others don’t. I prune them by cutting off lower branches and pinching out side shoots. This allows more air around the plants to lessen the chance of disease and helps to grow less but better quality fruit!

5. SPACE IS KEY – Don’t crowd out your plants but give them plenty of space, 75-100cm between each plant! This will help them breathe and lessen the chance of diseases that like a warm humid environment.

Editors note: This article was first published on the Donald Veggie Patch. Republished with permission.

Peas: Harvesting, Cooking & Eating

Peas: Harvesting, Cooking & Eating

It’s spring and spring means peas! Lots of peas! I planted two crops of “Telephone Peas” but nearly half if them turned out to be snow peas! Luckily I planted as many as I did because we’re still getting plenty!  

  
The peas are grown on a trellis made with wire mesh and tomato stakes. This gives them support with the option of tying more mesh, fencing wire or string between the stakes to keep the trellis going higher. One of the pea crops has grown well over 7ft high but unfortunately recent winds have bought it back down below 6ft.

We harvest peas as we need them, trying to be careful not to let them grow too fat and woody but also trying not to store too many in the fridge. Today, however, the recent warm weather has bought on a flourish of peas and we managed to harvest 2.2kg in one go!   

  
Our kids love eating peas raw and just picking them off the bush while playing in the backyard. But, typically we simply blanche them quickly in the hot water or add them raw into a salad. But one of the nicest ways we have eaten our peas is in fresh summer pasta. 

Making a lovely white sauce we simply toss the pasta with a few fesh peas and some bits of crispy bacon and some torn up mint leaves. The heat from the pasta and sauce cooks the peas just enough while serving! Beautiful! 

But I still reckon my girls are right… straight off the bush is best!   

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.

IMG_8986[1]

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.

IMG_8982[1]

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

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

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.

IMG_8108[1]

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