Winter: When the rain (never) tumbles down in July

Winter: When the rain (never) tumbles down in July

Winter. Not exactly the best time to be an urban farmer. Cold. Damp. Slow.

This year in Donald (Western VIC, Australia) has been particularly cold and typically dry. Maximums have been consistently around 9-13°C with plenty of clouds. There has been a number of small, insignificant showers of rain amounting to just 37mm (1.5 inches) in June & July and only 128mm for 2015 (5 inches). So what do you do when it’s so cold, dry and slow?

WHAT WE’RE HARVESTING

We’re currently picking plenty of kale, spinach, silverbeet and chard as well as some secondary heads of broccoli (which are slow growing) and some leeks. This is nice and added to frozen beans from summer and the odd slow growing beetroot from the winter garden we can make do with buying a few veggies like potatoes and maybe a few carrots.  There are peas in the garden which are flowering but not podding yet, and the broad beans are up and about, so when it warms up around September we should have a large influx of produce. The kale, beetroots, silverbeet and broccoli should all grow quicker and produce good yields come September as well.

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GARDEN JOBS TO DO

Although we haven’t had enough rain to stop watering, and the cold has stunted the growth of some crops, the weeds have been running rampant. There has been lots of rye grass, stinging nettles and other small weeds poking their heads up and need to be pulled. The chooks are thankful for the constant supply of greens however!

It is also time to starting thinking about Spring-Summer crops and making room for them. Soon I’ll plant some snow peas and work beds with manure and compost where summer crops will be planted. I’m halfway through making a mini seed raising hot house out of an old kitchen cupboard which will be used to start off early summer crops and protect them from a late frost.

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The idea is to have enough space prepared in the garden for summer crops to be planted out – beans, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, sweet corn, capsicum, potato etc – while still growing the current winter-spring crops. Then, when they have finished by summer, they can make way for succession plantings of the summer crops and rested beds ready for autumn.  There are also fruit trees to prune like the massive over grown fig tree and the old nectarine tree. These will also be dressed with manure ready for spring growth and flowers!

It might be cold, wet & slow but there is always something to do!

Jono

The Hungry Season: Winter Veg Recipies

The Hungry Season: Winter Veg Recipies

Winter is, for obvious reasons, slower in the garden. But the produce that we pick can be just as delicious!

We’re not as self-sufficient over winter as the array of veg and the speed at which they grow makes the quantity of produce lower until early spring. However, along with some beautiful backyard eggs, beetroots, some leafy greens and broccoli, great dishes can be made.

We had a wonderful surprise two days ago when I pulled out a frosted, self sown potato from the summer potato crop. Underneath this single plant was 2.5kg of hidden gems!! A great find during the hungry season!


Here are a couple of our favourite ways to cook winter veggies.

BEETROOT, WALNUT & FETA SALAD

beetroot salad

This is a winter salad which can be served warm. Roast chopped beetroot (bite sized) in some olive oil and balsamic before tosses it into a baby spinach leaf salad with chunks of feta and some crushed walnuts. Add a bit more olive oil and balsamic to dress the salad.

KALE CHIPS

Kale-chips

Kale is a wonderful and versatile veg that can be steamed, stir-fried, added to dishes and even baked! Kale Chips are a delicious baked snack or side dish and it’s easy to do.

We flavour our Kale Chips with sesame seeds, olive oil and sesame oil and then just pop them into a hot preheated oven until they are crispy (which doesn’t take very long). They go a dark brown, or even a black colour, but the taste is terrific and they just dissolve in your mouth!

FRIED EGGS WITH STIR-FRIED GREENS

 

This is a simple dish which is great for a light meal, breakfast or lunch. Stir-fry a mix of winter leaves (Kale, spinach, beetroot leaves, chard, silverbeet) in some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place on a crusty piece of toast and top with fried or poached eggs cooked so the centre is still runny. If you’re able to find some field mushrooms, this goes great with the kale leaves and egg!

Winter!! Doesn’t have to be the hungry season!

Jono

Preserving Your Harvest: Air-Drying Herbs & Chillies

Preserving Your Harvest: Air-Drying Herbs & Chillies

By the end of Summer our herb & chilli garden bed is overgrown! We’ve been harvesting constantly but even that hasn’t curbed the growth. Our basil is delicious in summer but the frost kills it over winter and I still want to eat my preserved tomatoes with my homegrown basil in my daughters favourite dinner, Spaghetti Bolognese, even when the garden isn’t producing anything. So here is how I air-dry my herbs for winter… and it’s really simple!

Simply cut the herbs you wish to dry, tie them in bunches with string and hand them upside down in an airey, dry and protected spot. The herbs are best cut around mid morning to be full of flavour and hung to dry as soon as possible. Our storage cupboard off the kitchen is perfect. We leave the herbs hanging for around 6 weeks until they are completely dry and then package them in airtight preserving clip lock bottles. We’ve dried plenty of rosemary, oregano, basil, mint, thyme, parsley and sage this way.

How does this work? The moisture in the plants is drawn down into the leaves by gravity and then evaporated out leaving behind crisp, dry, flavour filled leaves. You can also dry them in a dehydrator, on wire racks in the sun (if you live in a sunny location) or in the oven. But this air-drying hanging techniques works really well and is super easy.

You can hang chillies too to air dry, but I have found down in Victoria, unless you have a consistently dry and warm spot in your house they can begin to perish as they hang. Instead, I have tried oven drying them at about 50°C. While I am not a total fan if this method due to it’s energy consumption it does work if you live in a cool or wet climate or if your house isn’t consistently warm or dry.

So don’t let those summer herbs go to waste, get drying!

Jono

Four Organic Ways to Protect Your Brassicas From White Cabbage Butterfly

Four Organic Ways to Protect Your Brassicas From White Cabbage Butterfly

One of the things that happens to nearly everyone’s cabbages, cauliflower, kale and broccoli is the attack of the White Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris Rapae). Here are four organic solutions to the damage these creatures reake on yiur brassica crops each year.

Solution 1: Net Your Crops

This is one of the ways I have chosen to deal with them this winter. I constructed a netting tunnel using some posts, irrigation hose, cable ties and orchard bird netting. The concept is simple – the butterflies can’t go through the netting to reach your crop. However it must be constructed immediately to avoid larvae being laid on the plants prior to construction.

To say I am impressed with the result is an understatement! My broccoli this year look the healthiest I have ever seen with huge green leaves and beautiful primary heads!



Solution 2: Sacrificial Crop

The story with this solution is that te butterfly will choose one crop in particular over another. Plant a two crops a distance away from each another and one crop will be attacked more than the other.

This is not going to always work and your good crop (which is determined by the butterfly on your behalf) will have some damage to it, but hopefully not too much! This is another good method (along with the netting solution) if you are adverse to killing the butterfly. If you are not adverse to killing them and want to use this method you can also pick off te larvae from each crop and squash them or feed them to your chooks.

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Solution 3: Organic Spray (Success2)**

Some may not like this solution even being on this list. But it is organic.

This method kills the butterfly and larvae. Success2** is a Naturalyte insect control made from naturally occurring soil bacteria. It is diluted and sprayed on the crop when you find mature eggs and newly-hatched larvae. Applications can be repeated at 7-14 day intervals if required.

Solution 4: Landcress

Landcress is a small plant which is toxic to the white cabbage butterfly and it’s larvae. The butterfly is attracted to the landcress over other plants and eats the toxic leaves. Please note, landcress is not toxic to humans and it’s peppery leaves can eaten as a salad green.

This companion planting method does work but you may find some damage to the leaves of your crops. I am currently trailing this method on the Urban Farm and have seen some damage due to the slow growing of the landcress which has been planted after my brassicas.


I hope this helps you control this damaging insect without using nasty chemicals (I realise some of you may put the Success2 spray in that category anyway). Do you have any great organic solutions to this pest? I’d love to hear what you do in the comments below.

Jono

**Please note I am in no way connected to the Success2 brand or company and do not benefit from them in anyway. I currently do not even use this product in my garden.

Early Winter Harvest: Leeks 

Early Winter Harvest: Leeks 

The beginning of Winter is often the “hungry season” on the Urban Farm. The end of Summer has seen the end of beans, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, cucumber and the like and we’re often only harvesting one or two things going into the end of autumn and early winter. One of the crops we’re harvesting in early winter are beautiful fat leeks.

Leeks are basically large spring onions and they do take a considerable time to grow to an appropriate size. These leeks were self sown from a crop we’d been harvesting all through summer. We dug up the young plants in late summer and transplanted them into a new bed to fill out.

To get the long white fleshy part of a leek you need to bury it. This is typically done by hilling up the leeks as they grow so the majority of the flesh is underground. When we transplanted these leeks I made sure most of the young plant was burried in order for a nice fat white flesh to grow to a nice size.

When you harvest a leek it is best to use something like a garden fork to ease the plant out so you don’t break it. Then strip the outer two leaves and trim the tips for perfectly harvested leeks.

We’re turn turning these ones into chicken and leek stroganoff! Yum!

Jono