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.

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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.

Backyard Chickens: Candling Eggs

Backyard Chickens: Candling Eggs

So you’ve got chooks and a rooster and you want some chicks. But how do you know if the rooster is doing his job? 

The way to check eggs to see if they are fertile is called “candling”. Candling involves putting a bright light behind the eggs to see what is inside. It’s really easy to do and great to see if you’ve got chicks. 

 
There are some particular detailed signs to look for at all stages of growth inside the egg, but at the later stages of development it is very easy. It is as simple as looking for a part inside the egg where light does not pass through. A growing fetus will be opaque while the reminder of the egg white and yolk will be translucent. 

      

The image above is around 10-12 days since fertilisation. A egg will normally take around 18 days to hatch. 

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

Dirt Theology: Gardening & Justice

Dirt Theology: Gardening & Justice

I recently wrote a post about how gardening connects me to my theology about creation, restoration, justice and the New Heavens & New Earth. And as I re-read what I published, I saw a gap which I want to address here.

In my previous post I wrote:

As I tend the garden and healthy crops grow and produce food, I am reminded of God’s provision and grace in my life, even now. But I am also called to look toward the time when God’s provision, love and grace will be experienced in abundance!

I realized that this short paragraph, while never intending it to be comprehensive, missed a vital part of my “dirt theology”. I cannot speak of God’s provision and grace to me without considering the call of Jesus to love my neighbour (Mark 12:31).

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As I consider the way God breathes life into the dirt (Genesis 2:7), I am reminded of how God provides and tends and cares for his created world. As Jesus would say, not even a sparrow falls without the Father knowing (Matthew 10:29). His grace and provision abounds in my life from the big things that I seek God’s guidance and wisdom for, to the simple things I take for granted, like the air I breathe and lungs which are healthy and work effectively.

But even at the gardening level, I notice the grace of God. God allows my plants to grow and produce a crop, as indeed he allows many plants in many gardens and paddocks around the world to do the same. None of these plants would grow without the unseen hand of God tending our crops. This is grace, mercy, provision.

As I consider this grace of God, I am left wondering of my duty, my responsibility, as an agent of God, an ambassador to His Kingdom, as one called to work for a glimpse of the World to Come, the New Heavens and New Earth. What must I do with the grace and provision God has shown me? And this stretches even to the level of my own garden which produces a crop only by the unseen hand of God at work.

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This is particularly confronting when I consider issues of justice, food insecurity, domestic & international poverty, famine and starvation. Even in my own neighbourhood there are people who struggle at times to have enough. And yet God has blessed me with food from the dirt in my own backyard.

And this is not even touching issues of a fully functioning body and brain, education and opportunities, and even an income which, by the world standard, places me in the richest few. This is the grace of God.

What is my responsibility as an agent of the Kingdom of God if it is not to share the abundance of God’s grace with those around me? My gifts, my abilities, my education, my opportunities, my career, my wealth, even my own vegetable garden, all these things and more are to be used to give generously of the love, grace, mercy and provision that God has shown me. All these things should be used to promote love, hope, mercy and justice in a world which (at times) can seem so devoid of these things.

At a simple level (related to the very dirt in my back yard) my responsibility in working for justice, love and hope looks like sharing the abundance of produce in my garden with my neighbour. It looks like cooking and eating together and giving generously of the produce that has been grown by the grace of God at work in my backyard. 

It looks like prayerfully considering the plight of those in our world who do not see justice, who do not experience love or mercy or hope. It looks like committing tirelessly to demonstrate in any way I can the love and compassion of God as I seek to work for justice in their lives and their communities.

God’s grace and provision will be experienced in abundance when Christ returns. And while I wait expectantly, experiencing a taste of what is come even now, I will work for justice, seeking to see others experience God’s love, grace, provision and compassion as he works through me.

– Jono

Backyard Chickens: Wing Trimming 

Backyard Chickens: Wing Trimming 

We’re visiting my wife’s family in the city. They have a few chooks which enjoy the odd escape attempt. Not good when the suburban fences are only 4-5ft high. The answer, which is sometimes controvsial, is to clip their wings… or build higher fences. 

Clipping the chooks wings doesn’t hurt them at all, however some people still don’t like the idea of cutting away naturally growing parts of a live animal. I don’t clip our chooks, not because I am against it but simply because it’s unnecessary in our backyard chook run where there are plenty high enough fences. 

And if you want to know how to do it, here is how: 

  

Using 2 people, one to hold the chook and wing, the other to cut the feathers, cut away around half the length of the first 10 flight feathers using sharp scissors, nail scissors/clippers or another suitable cutting tool. You can cut only one wing, with the theory that the bird will be unstable and unable to fly, or both wings to make sure they won’t escape. And that’s it! It is an easy job which takes seconds. 

  

When the wing is cut, the bird naturally tucks the cut feathers under the wing when it is folded so that it is barely noticeable. But you may need to keep an eye on those feathers when they start to moult and trim the new feathers again when they re grow. 

– Jono

Paddock to Plate: Tips on Reducing Food Miles

Paddock to Plate: Tips on Reducing Food Miles

You go shopping, load up your basket or trolley with produce, but how far has that food travelled to get to your local supermarket and kitchen? In Australia, the typical shopping basket of food has travelled an estimated 70,000km – this is equivalent to travelling twice around the circumference of the Earth or travelling around Australia’s coastline three times!!

“Food Miles” is a term which was coined in Britain and is used to describe the distance food has travelled from paddock to plate, from production to consumption. A typical Australian shopping basket has such high food miles is due to Australia being a remote country from the rest of the world and many of our supermarkets stock food that is grown and imported from overseas. Hence, simply buying “Australian” will reduce your food miles.

The Ethical Consumer Guide says:

By purchasing an orange grown in Mildura rather than California you reduce food miles from 12,879km to 567km.

But is this enough? Is it OK for our food to continually travel 500 plus kilometers to reach my plate?

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That orange, that the Ethical Consumer Guide speaks of, is one purchased in Melbourne after being grown in Mildura. However, I live 300km from Melbourne and because my food from the local supermarket is warehoused in Melbourne, my orange would have travelled nearly 900km to get to me! And yet, I am less than 300km from Mildura where the orange is grown!! This is not OK!

The main issues with food that has high food miles are relatively obvious and people like CERES have outlined this in more detail. Basically, there are high costs in transportation, huge amounts of energy that ae required to transport and store food over large distances and therefore high carbon emissions which are created in transportation and storage, just to name a couple of issues.

Food Miles is one of the primary reasons why we grow our own food. When fresh food from the supermarket is harvested, stored, transported, stored again, sold, stored some more and finally cooked and eaten, it is no wonder the quality of the product is inferior to something which is harvested and immediately eaten. The vast majority of our family’s fruit and vegetables doesn’t travel “food miles” but “food metres”!! The result is tasty, fresh, organic local produce! We know what has happened to our food from the time it was sown to the time it is eaten, unlike the broccoli you buy in the Supermaket which was grown somewhere in Queensland, trucked to Melbourne, out to Donald and finally to our home.

So, here are 5 Tips on how you can reduce your food miles and start knowing where your food comes from.

1. Grow your own! Even if it is only a few tomatoes in summer or a couple of pots on the balcony, growing at least some of your own fruit and veggies drastically reduces your food miles. Not to mention, growing your own enables you to ensure that your food is organic, that the environment is not being damaged during production and that workers are not being treated unethically! And even if none of that concerns you, its just fun to grown and eat your own produce!

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2. Share Produce! If you’re growing your own food, find others who are also growing their own food and share produce with them. You will still know where your food comes from and how it was grown, and you get to eat local fresh produce that you couldn’t grown in your own space! Swap, trade, give away excess food and be treated to a variety of local garden produce with limited food miles!

3. Shop Local! Buy your food from local shops who sell local produce, farmers markets, farm gates and road side stalls. This is known as “one-degree of separation”. Buying with one degree of separation means you either know the grower or you have bought your food from someone who knows the grower. There is only one “middle man” or it may even be direct from the producer. This limits food miles and it allows you to become familiar with how the product was grown to ensure that its production meets you ethical and environmental standards.

Dubbo Farmers Market (NSW)

4. Eat Seasonally! One of the biggest reasons why food travells large distances in Australia is because people want to buy fresh food out of season. It might not be the season for tomatoes locally, but North Queensland can grow them and we want them!! The only problem is they have to travel 2000 plus kilometers to get to us!! Let alone if its been imported from overseas! If you eat seasonally for your area you can ensure that the produce was most probably grown somewhat locally. Combine this with buying from local farmers markets or farm gates and you can be sure its seasonal, local and fresh without the food miles.

5. Avoid Processed Foods! Processed foods often have the highest food miles because ingredients are sourced from all around Australia or even around the world to make it. It might be a small ingredient in the product but if it was imported from overseas the food miles for the end product are astronomical! Also processed foods keep better and therefore more easily transported. This means that they are more likely to have been transported large distances since it is easy to do. Eat fresh produce, fresh nuts, fresh meat and avoid highly processed foods as much as possible… which is a much better way to eat and live anyway!

Jono