Water conservation at the allotment

I’m putting the allotment to bed for the summer.  This week I ripped out the lettuces that had bolted, and the climbing beans that had done their dash before covering the whole allotment (all 16 square metres!) with another layer of sugar cane mulch.

The water bill over at the farm has escalated to such a degree through the past dry months that we have been asked to be more diligent with our use of water and a good layer of mulch is the answer.  After watering it keeps the moisture in the soil, and it protects the soil from drying out in the hot sun. It reached 32c degrees today.

So although I mulched a few weeks ago I topped it up. That should be enough now to take me through the summer.

The summer crops are planted – zucchini, Lebanese cucumbers, eggplant, melons and pumpkins. I also have a small bed of dwarf beans which are flowering but have already been attacked by rust on the leaves. The hot humid weather seems to bring all the pests and diseases with it.  Despite that, it never ceases to amaze me just how much stuff I manage to harvest.

I am growing capsicum and tomatoes in pots on the balcony at home so that I can give them daily care. It’s rather thrilling to see the little capsicums emerging, and I’m rather proud of the single tomato now growing strong.  (I know. I don’t get out enough!)

I realise that a photograph is straw is not very exciting. But here it is anyway.

Lebanese cucumber – keeping it’s roots nice and cool

Happy gardening.

Much Mulching

Plenty happening over at the allotment today.

The weather is warming up again so I made an early start over at the allotment at 7:30am and I harvested what was left of the kohl rabi, flat leafed parsley and giant endive before clearing the ground. I added manure and blood and bone before using the ‘Big Fork’ to turn it all over.

I hosed over the whole allotment and covered it with sugar cane mulch which should hopefully see me through the worst of the summer, keep the weeds down and keep the moisture in the soil.

I will be planting zucchini in the foreground, where I cleared the ground this morning.  I have already planted melons, dwarf beans and cucumbers but they are only just emerging as tiny plants so you cannot see them in the photographs.

Here is the allotment from the other side. I still have plenty of silver beet, Cavolo Nero and curly leafed kale.  In the foreground a row of Freckled Lettuce and the potatoes growing in the orange bags. Still a few weeks before I can harvest the potatoes.

Below is my first climbing bean of the season. Should have a nice handful for dinner by the end of the week.

I have lots of these Freckled lettuce, better eat them pretty quick as once the weather heats up I’m expecting they’ll bolt. Silly really, we can grow lettuces in Brisbane in the winter, but in the summer when we all want salads – lettuces bolt!

I finished the heavy work by 9:30am which was good because Linda Brennan from Ecobotanica arrived at the farm to give us a workshop on growing “Fruit in Pots”.

Tatiana and Linda at the workshop

While we were walking around the farm and snipping clippings from trees to propagate we came across this cute little fellow. Look closely and you’ll see the tiny tree frog sitting on a kafir lime leaf. If you know the size of one of these leaves, and you see that the frog is sitting on one leaf without it drooping, you can guess how tiny it was. No bigger than the first joint of my thumb.

Happy gardening.

The gardener, at the allotment, with a hose pipe

The hose pipe is the tool of choice at the moment.

After two months without rain we’ve had a little rain recently but it has hardly touched the surface so my main job at the allotment yesterday was to give it all a good watering.

The potatoes growing in the bags are coming along nicely, lots of green tops (if that counts for anything) and I gave them a good hose down. Then just to check I opened the little ‘trap doors’ in the side of the bags and the soil was still bone dry.  The hosing seemed to have no affect beneath the surface. How is that?

We need a good downpour.

Having said all that I am having a good harvest so Mother Nature is doing a good job.

Here is what I have in the allotment at the moment.  The aforementioned potatoes, carrots, kohl rabi, parsley (curly and flat leafed), mint, giant endive, freckled lettuce, curly leafed kale, Cavolo Nero Italian kale, leeks and garlic which should be ready to lift in the next week or so.  And I’m awash with silver beet. Which is good because I never tire of it. I just steam it, nothing fancy, and ‘down the hatch’ as they say.

I planted six zucchini seeds a few weeks ago but only one has germinated. I planted six seeds with the idea of choosing the two strongest as that would be enough for my small allotment.  So I still need one more, as I have now lost a couple of weeks I may just buy a seedling from Bunnings.

The big decision now is what to plant for the summer months. The weather will be hot, many days over 30 degrees celsius, and high humidity so we tend to suffer with mildew. (The plants, doh!)

The good news is that Linda Brennan from Ecobotanica is coming to the farm on Monday morning to hold a workshop on organic veggie growing and I’ll pick her brains as to what to plant to get me through the summer. Linda will be giving advice on organic pest control which I am particularly interested in having sacrificed my red cabbages to the caterpillars recently, and it’s almost impossible to grow a tomato at the farm without it being stung by the fruit fly. She’ll also look at the soil and give us general advice on how to improve our harvest.

I’ve been to Linda’s workshops a number of times, she is a mine of information, and I always learn so much.

So that’s the news today.  I’m getting so much pleasure from my little plot, despite the dry conditions my little plants soldier on – except for the baby beets and I have to say their days are numbered unless they lift their act!

And because I can’t resist getting the camera out when I see a nice healthy veggie plant – here’s a silver beet for you.

Happy gardening.

Seven weeks without rain

Just heard, it’s official, on the news today, 7 weeks without rain in Brisbane.

Amazingly enough the vegetables in my allotment, and the attached community garden, are producing an abundance.

We have achieved this with watering of course, but we also take mulching seriously to protect the soil from drying out.  The mulching also saves on water which we learned from the big drought here a couple of years ago, is precious.

The mulch I use in my allotment is sugar cane which the farm buys in bulk and we can purchase individually at a good price. I have also bought this from the gardening department at Bunnings. I am not sure how thick is the recommended depth (if there is one!) but I lay a couple of inches (or 5 centimetres).  I made sure I give the soil a thorough watering before I add the straw and that will give a good protection from the hot dry weather, it also deters weeds which is another plus.

I think it also helps that I have worked hard at increasing the health of the soil in my allotment by adding lots of compost and a good dose of well rotted manure, when I transplant seedlings I soak them in Seasol to get them over the shock. It’s my belief that a healthy soil with plenty of humus has helped grow resilient plants too.

Either way, Mother Nature is doing her bit and keeping my plate full. I’m grateful.

I have been digging through my photographs to find the first pics I took on the day I took over my allotment in July 2010. It is 8 square metres. I then took over a second 8 square metres next to it a few months later.

First allotment July 2010

With the big fork and a big smile

Laying compost on my new plot July 2010

I have noticed that I’m still wearing the same gardening hat. It’s a bit faded now.

Another Wednesday morning at the farm “Eat, Drink and make … Compost”

Today was our usual Wednesday morning at the farm when volunteers and allotment holders gather together to tend the community garden and work on their own plots.  We all down-tools at 10am for morning tea. Gallons of tea, plenty of cake, and lots to talk about.

The weather in Brisbane is just beautiful at the moment even though we are supposed to be going into winter.  I took this photograph this morning looking across the community garden, it was early so just a couple of volunteers in the background. But will you look at that lovely blue sky.

Looking at the grass in the foreground it looks as if Peter has already been round with the lawn mower and the whipper snipper.

Blue sky over “Beelarong” community garden today.

I thought I’d show you one of the huge tumblers where we make our compost, we have half a dozen of them going at the moment. These tumblers were built by John who is one of the volunteers. He built them some years ago and they are still going strong. Heather oversees the filling of these tumblers and builds them up like a lasagne. Layers of lawn clippings, newspaper, chicken manure and weeds that have been put through the mulcher are assembled, the top half of the tumbler is then locked into place and a date put on the side.

The tumblers are turned every week and after about eight weeks we have great compost ready to use. In the summer it might be seven weeks, in the winter a little more. But I think it’s extraordinary that compost can be ready to use in such a short time. Heather tells me that ideally they would be rolled every day, but even rolling them each Wednesday morning gives a great result.

John’s compost making tumblers

At the end of each visit to the allotment I love to wonder around the farm. It is such a peaceful spot, and hard to leave sometimes. Wondering around today I ‘snapped’ this tiny pansy growing among the tomatoes. I thought it looked rather pretty.

Tiny pansy growing among the tomatoes

Banking up the potatoes – again

I had a really good afternoon at the allotment yesterday. They open the tool shed at the farm from 3pm every Sunday afternoon so that allotment holders have access to wheelbarrows, hose pipes and a whole range of tools to use on their plot. There is only so much you can carry in your car boot so this is a wonderful opportunity to do the heavier jobs using the farm’s equipment.

My original idea was to do a bit of weeding and tidying up. But wouldn’t you know it. Never goes to plan. I took one look at the potato bed and realised the only job I’d be doing that afternoon was banking up the potatoes a second time. The plants had really grown and were just starting to fall over. So out came a wheelbarrow and I trolled around the farm collecting compost. A barrowload of wet compost is not for wimps. Here I have to thank Craig for helping with shovelling and pushing the loaded wheelbarrow back to my little plot. I finished the job off with a layer of straw mulch.

Still found time to have a yarn with the other allotment holders and see what they were growing. The sun was setting when the last of us stragglers left.

Bean there! done that!

I had big plans when I set out for the allotment this morning with a long list of  jobs to do including preparing a new bed for the root vegetables, making up a molasses spray to deter the caterpillars and planting more garlic. The garlic I planted a few weeks ago seems to have suffered in the rain and only half of the stuff I planted actually came up.

But the first job on the list was to dig up the old snake bean plants and remove the climbing framework. Then prepare the bed with fertiliser and compost ready for the next lot of plants. Shouldn’t take too long.  WRONG.

Even though the old bean runners were really on their last legs they just wouldn’t give up. I spent ages snipping away, untangling and removing the old growth from the framework, and all the old bits of string I had used in my valiant attempt to train it in the early days.

Should have been straightforward except that every time I delved into the bush I found beans hidden away and I just couldn’t ignore them.  Well, you wouldn’t, would you?  I ended up with a bucket full. The young beans will do nicely for dinner, some of the old ones will be shelled and go into minestrone soup, and some seed I’ll save for next time.

By the time I had finished I ended up with a massive pile of greenery which I had to drag to the compost bay ready to be put through the mulcher. Fortunately one of the chaps is in charge of the mulcher, so that’s good!

I took a break and had a yarn over the fence with Helen who lives next door to the farm.

Then back to the allotment – spent the next hour digging over the empty bed, adding lots of lovely new compost, and leaning on the fork occasionally.

If anybody is reading this, and feels like yawning. How do you think I feel?

So I went home and had a big soak in the bath.

Snake Beans R.I.P.

Potatoes, Kale, and a Saturday morning on the allotment

I had a big day in the allotment today. Started this morning with the weeding, did the whole allotment, very satisfying, non of it’s wasted, onto the compost it goes. Made a trip to Bunnings for some organic compost and incorporated it around the plants to build up the soil generally. Fed the plants where necessary.

No need to water as the ground is quite wet after the recent rains. One job I don’t have to worry about.

The main job of the day was to build up the soil around the potatoes which are now growing really strong. This is my main spud bed after I had weeded. My allotment is really small, so are my two potato beds! This variety is Nicola.

Then I built up the soil around the potatoes with a good layer of compost.

And finally I added a layer of straw mulch.

Today’s challenge is with the kale, my favourite Cavolo Nero.  It has been struggling this season, maybe the weather is still too warm in Brisbane for the kale.  But it is my favourite green veggie through the cooler months so I am going to persist, needs a bit of spoiling I think.  So I gave it a top dressing of fertiliser and compost. fingers crossed!

I’m back to the allotment in the morning.  Seems, at last, the snake beans are giving up the ghost. They have got to be the most productive veggie I ever ever grown, but I noticed today that suddenly they seem worn out. I’ll really need to feed the soil before I plant anything else in that bed.

So it’s been a good day.

Happy gardening.

Mulching on a Wednesday morning

Wednesday morning has come around again and it’s time to work as a volunteer in the community garden at Beelarong where I rent my allotment. There must have been about twenty of us there today, mostly regulars but we have a few new faces too which is great.

We cleared a huge area in the community garden which had previously held sweet potato. After renewing the soil with fresh compost from our compost bins we planted out lettuces and prepared a new bed ready for the garlic to go in next week.

My first job this morning was to harvest produce for the share table. I picked lettuce, aubergine, cherry tomatoes, basil and a vegetable which is foreign to me and try as I might I cannot remember it’s name – but I know it’s good in stir-fry!   To this I added snake beans from my own plot (yes, snake beans still going strong). Volunteers then shared this produce at the end of the morning.

My job after morning tea was to barrow a couple of bales of sugar cane mulch down to the community garden and spread it over the potato bed which was planted a couple of weeks ago, then I covered the beds which have been planted out today. This layer of mulch is to help deter the weeds.

I took these few pics this morning of the community garden, after the mulching has been done. The bed without mulch has been dug over and prepared for further planting next week.

Below is a pic of one corner of the community market garden with the lovely trees and grassed area in the background.

Pic below, mulched, a job well done!

I checked out my own allotment while I was at the farm. It’s looking ok. We’ve had enough rain so I didn’t need to water, and the seedlings are coming along after the liquid feed I gave them the other day. I try not to get too caught up in my own allotment on a Wednesday morning as the idea is to work on the community garden.

It was a beautiful morning. We are now in autumn in Brisbane and after the high temperatures of the summer it’s lovely to get into the garden without expiring in the heat.

I couldn’t resist this shot below – there is always another job waiting.

Happy gardening.

Jerry Coleby-Williams

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