Slow Theology: Gardening, Faith & Justice

Slow Theology: Gardening, Faith & Justice

Growing our own food enables us to teach our kids the important theological lesson of slowing down. And it enables me to remind myself of this spiritual discipline which I seem to be forever forgetting.

I recently posted some reflection on Slow Church and “coffee theology”, the idea that beauty, rather than efficiency, is more of a kingdom value. And this is something that I really want to teach my girls as they grow up. In a world which values efficiency, fast everything and instant gratification, the 12-14 weeks to wait and watch our food grow are a gift. In the garden we teach our kids the importance of planning ahead, the truth about the variability of life and the seasons, the virtue of patience and slowing down… that beauty (and food) takes time. And this has lasting effects on the way we view the world and interact with it.

I think by slowing down in the garden we are able to engage more fully in issues of justice. By slowing down our food production we begin to engage more fully and even rectify some of the things that are broken in our food system. Unfortunately, the global food system is one of convenience, productivity and profit over worker’s rights and environmental impact.

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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!

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!   

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