Archive | September, 2012

Citrus Espalier – Stage 1

29 Sep

Last weekend we bought the trees, but the backyard is not yet ready to take them. We still need to break up some garden beds, cut through some concrete, construct a huge planter box and erect some espalier supports before we can do that.

But I didn’t want to waste a growing season so I’ve started shaping the trees now. Luckily the railing of my back deck is made of tensioned wires that are perfect for training the trees against.

For the time being I planted the trees into bonsai bags. I had quite a few of these hanging about from when some trees were stolen. The bags are the same depth as the pots that the trees came out of, so perfect for the job. I filled the bags with potting mix enriched with dynamic lifter and mulched with lucerne.

You might recall that I’m aiming to follow Bob Magnus’ KNNN method of espalier, which looks kinda like this (excuse the terrible drawing):

I started of by bending the main trunks of the trees down to knee-level. This is the Eureka lemon. It wasn’t very cooperative.

And there’s the Tahitian lime:

And the Tarocco Blood Orange didn’t mind a bit!

Not sure yet what I’m doing with the cumquat on the right. I’m starting to think it would be better off in the front yard as an ornamental tree, but it grows slowly, so I have some time to think with that one.

And the Meyer Lemon and the Imperial Mandarin look good.

You can see that both are loaded with flowers and didn’t mind being coaxed into position, although not sure what I’m going to do with the mandarin because it really needs at least one of its main branches lopped off. Should I just go ahead and do it now?

And I’ll finish with a close-up of the lovely Meyer lemon flowers.

I have a good feeling about this one…

You know you’re a gardener when…

28 Sep

You pluck that delicious chilli out of your thai curry and subtly smuggle it into your handbag, wrapped in a napkin.

And it germinates!

Berry Season

26 Sep

The first of the mulberries, blueberries and strawberries seem to be ripening at the same time. I picked this bowl of berries today.

P and I ate them for dessert topped with a sauce made with sour cream, brown sugar, vanilla and Tia Maria. Drool.

All of these berries can be grown in pots. The blueberries and strawberries were and the mulberry tree (shorter than me) will be transplanted into a pot shortly. You could even grow them on the balcony of an apartment.

Delicious, organic berries – easier than you think!

Another scary reason I buy organic

25 Sep

My struggles with Queensland Fruit Fly in my apples and tomatoes got me thinking. How do they control the little blighters commercially?

So I did some reading, and I’m deeply uncomfortable with the results.

I’m not a scientist, and I know that it is easy to get the heebie-jeebies about things that sound scary because you don’t understand them. I was trying to keep an open mind.

But here’s what I found:

Up until September 2011, tomatoes in fruit fly affected areas of Australia (including Bowen, Bundaberg and South-East Queensland) were sprayed several times during the season with the insecticide dimethoate (also known as Rogor and Lebaycid). They were also dipped post-harvest in the chemical to kill any remaining fruit fly inside the tomatoes. I believe that this was mostly for export purposes, so tomatoes could be sent to New Zealand (where they don’t have fruit fly).

Dimethoate is a systemic insecticide. That is, it is absorbed by the plant and affects the plant tissue. The buggies bite the plant and die, so it’s really affective, but worryingly, it cannot be washed off.

In September 2011 it was determined that the levels of dimethoate could exceed the levels that were considered safe. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) therefore suspended its use in tomato (and many other food crops). It is still allowed to be used pre-harvest before fruit set for fresh tomatoes, and pre-harvest with a 21 day withholding period on tomatoes for processing.

My concern is : Why was this chemical OK last year and under a cloud of suspicion now? I understand that this suspension is a measure of caution and that a large margin of safety is built into the recommended public health standard, but seriously (now I’m losing my composure) why were we eating tomatoes dipped in toxic stuff that will kill a bug on the INSIDE?

References :

Harvest Monday – 24th September 2012

24 Sep

Short post this week. I’ve been lazy and haven’t taken many photos.

A handful of Blueberries and 8 Strawberries

The first of the blueberries and strawberries are ripening. From this point forward I think I’ll have enough for garden snacks and regular smoothies. Just like this week, where I combined a banana with the first few tiny strawberries and a few blueberries. Add milk, yoghurt and honey – delicious!

A few bowls of Tuscan Kale (and its flower stalks) I am so in love with tuscan kale. At the start of winter I’m ashamed to say I had never even tried it. Now I won’t be without it again. Today we had it in a stirfry for lunch and tonight I served it alongside chicken thighs with green peppercorn sauce and mashed potato.

10 Curry Leaves

I used these in butter chicken during the week.

4 Celery stalks

Used in a pasta salad for playgroup, some Bolognese last night and the leaves in the butter chicken. I substituted them for fenugreek leaves. Having never tried fenugreek leaves I’m not sure it it was a fair substitute, but it tasted good.

4 Spring Onions

I am enjoying having these in the garden, but many of them are starting to bulb up now. I should probably plant a new batch to ensure supply. This variety (Hunter River Brown) is fabulous as a spring onion and I hope it lives up to its reputation as a good brown onion too, because I have hundreds of them!

Asparagus – none!

I displayed amazing self-control and didn’t cut any more of the asparagus despite it producing prolifically. I want it to continue to put energy into establishing the crowns and next year I’ll cut for longer.

Hopefully next week will bring more berries and leafy stuff. The rest is a little way off. Hopefully Daphne has had more variety to harvest than I have.

Meet the new additions

22 Sep

As mentioned in my last post, I’m constructing a wall of espaliered citrus varieties.

We trekked out to Dural (North-West Sydney) today to buy the trees because they have specialist citrus grower Engalls out there.

I have a very understanding family!

In the end I only bought one of my trees there because the trees were all a bit too good! I plan to start my espalier quite low to the ground, so it was important that the trees I bought were still pretty young and whippy. If they are too established then they won’t be ‘bendy’ enough for me to manipulate them into the shape I want. Engalls sold beautiful established trees – too strong to bend to my will.

I’m planning on using the KNNN method championed by Bob Magnus. Thanks to Bek for the link.

Bob says I need to use dwarf trees for the KNNN method. I like breaking rules, and given the low-light situation a bit of ‘rapid growth’ might be just what I need.

I had a chat with the lovely and helpful guy at Engalls, and he quickly shot down the idea of a grapefruit. Apparently you really need a full-sized tree to support fruit that size. He also tried to dissuade me from a mandarin because their structure doesn’t suit espaliering very well. He said that I should absolutely get a Tahitian lime because they are the best suited of all, and a Meyer lemon because they are close behind. Apart from that, oranges are also well suited.

I mostly listened to him, but ended up pushing my luck a little.

So I bought:

A Tahitian Lime and a Meyer Lemon

An Imperial Mandarin and Eureka Lemon

And a Nagami Cumquat and a Tarocco Blood Orange

According to the expert, I’m going to struggle a little with the cumquat and the mandarin, but I’m willing to take a risk. I can always transplant out to another location (maybe even where the mulberry currently lives!)

So I spread them out along the fence to get an idea of placement. Gosh – that backyard is a mess!

And I’m struggling a little with the decision. The trees at the right will get the most light. I think the first 3 from the right will do pretty well. The last 3 will be under the tree and will struggle more. So, should I give the most promising varieties (Lime, Meyer Lemon, Eureka Lemon) the prized positions and let the others struggle, or do I give the ones that are more likely to struggle the most light, and perhaps fail at the lot?

Next step, sledgehammer. The beds are coming out!

And once the banana fruits, it is too.

Big plans for the backyard

21 Sep

For a freestanding house our backyard is tiny. Once upon a time it was a reasonable size, but then the previous owners built a garage then an extension. This left a courtyard-sized section of lawn and a narrow strip along the back fence.

They previously  had a shadecloth structure over most of the back section and grew rainforest-type plants.

This photo (above) shows what it was like when the first section of shadecloth had been removed. It used to also cover the section shown here, between the shadecloth on the left and the house at the right.

This created quite a nice rainforesty atmosphere, but it just didn’t work for our young family. The kids wanted more space to run around and the wood chips hurt their feet to walk on it.  So we’ve been slowly pulling it down and out in preparation for something new.

The problem is that now it just looks terrible and barren. The chickens have free-ranged so often that they have all but killed the grass and the garden beds are now bare in preparation for their removal. We want to put more lawn in, almost back to the rear fence, but removing those garden beds is going to take a lot of work, and most likely a jackhammer.

We really need to get things moving, because it’s just depressing to be out there at the moment. The thing that’s been stopping us is the cost of landscaping, but the more pressing issue is the lack of any vision. I want more grass, but I don’t want just grass. I would like something edible, but not sure how practical that is in the space.

The Plan

Thanks in part to a comment by Bek on a previous post, during the week it came to me. I’ve been envious of Louise’s espaliered lime tree. I’m going to construct myself a whole wall of espaliered citrus trees!

Now the back fence doesn’t get a spectacular amount of light. It’s under the most enormous lilli pilli tree I have ever seen (the neighbours’), which is why the previous owners went for the rainforest approach. But the soil is rich, and the corner (near the banana) gets quite a bit of direct sun throughout the morning. The section under the lilli pilli itself would get at least 2 hours of direct sun per day. I’m pretty sure that a citrus is going to struggle to fruit under those conditions, but the foliage should look pretty and any fruit is a bonus.

So tomorrow we plan to head out to Dural and buy some baby citrus trees. I have a 10 metre stretch to fill, so I think I can fit 6 trees in the space, maybe 7 at a stretch. So on my shopping list I have:

  • Ruby Grapefruit
  • Nagami Cumquat
  • Tahitian Lime
  • Imperial Mandarin
  • Emperor Mandarin
  • Meyer Lemon (not sold on this, open to suggestions)

Next on my list will be to start the training. We’re not suite ready to plant them out, but I don’t want to miss the Spring flush of growth(at the right height/shape). So I’ll start training them against a wire immediately, ready for planting out when we’re ready.

I’m still not sure, but I think we’ll construct a raised planter along the back to plant them in. I was going to make something out of retaining wall blocks, but they are expensive, and considering we’re ripping out something similar, we may be able to construct something ourselves from the materials. I’m just worried that it will look too informal against the espalier itself.

What do you think of my plan? Is there another citrus variety that you think would be better suited?

Dwarf Mulberry – An Error

20 Sep

My dwarf black mulberry tree is planted in the ground at the side of my front yard. I planted a number of my fruit trees there in March 2011 – it was a hasty decision brought about by the theft of a number of my trees from pots.

All of these trees are dwarf, but what I didn’t realise when I planted them out is that dwarf is a relative term, and that a dwarf of one tree may end up much bigger than the dwarf of another.

This brings me to my dwarf mulberry. You can see here that it has grown way beyond the proportion of the other trees.

It has been pruned heavily many times, but comes back with a vengeance and fruits prolifically again. The trunk has gone from the tiny stick it was 15 months ago to a monster trunk that gets fatter daily.

At the moment it is carrying a heavy load of fruit

And it is ripening at the moment

The nursery I bought it from said that I could keep it pruned, but I realise now that while it’s growing in the ground I am not going to be able to sufficiently contain its growth. It is going to overwhelm everything around it, and become more unwieldy every day.

So I realise that it has to come out – back into a large pot. But the question is when?

Ideally, I would move a mulberry in winter during dormancy. The problem is that I’m sure the root system is already getting large, I don’t want to wait until then and find that I can’t get it out of the ground.

I think I’m going to wait until this current crop ripens then attempt my transplant. If any fruit tree can survive such a violent operation, I reckon it’s a mulberry.

Do you think I’m mad? Got any tips/suggestions for me?

Fruit Fly Battle 2012-13 / Episode 1

18 Sep

The weather is warmer, I’ve sown my seeds and started renewing the beds. Now it’s time to start considering my pest control measures for the coming summer.

Last year I had battles with a few peskies, including:

  • Citrus Leaf Miner
  • Slugs
  • White cabbage moth caterpillar
  • Bronze orange bugs (stink bugs or shield bugs)
  • Aphids

But the mother of all heartbreaking evil was Fruit Fly. They attacked my apples and decimated my stone fruit and tomatoes. I even noticed that a few capsicum were stung late in the season.

Last year I waged an almighty battle against them with exclusion bags, and had some limited success in the apples and tomatoes. I had difficulty bagging some of the fruit, some fruit was stung through the bag when the fruit touched the sides, and another problem was simply having enough bags to cover all the fruit. This year I’m prepared to bag again, but I think I need something else to add to my arsenal.

Eco Naturalure Products

Last week I picked up an eco-trap and some eco-naturalure from the nursery. They are produced by Organic Crop Protectants and are organic measures against Queensland and Mediterranian Fruit Fly. They are approved by BFA and have no withholding periods – you can pick fruit straight after spraying.

I might be a little slow, but I had difficulty understanding the material supplied and the information about the product online, so I thought I’d explain with some pictures.

There are two separate products here. The trap product (eco-lure fruit fly trap) comes with the bag inside. The little white tub is the eco-naturalure – more about that later.

The Eco-Lure Trap

The first step in this process is to set the fruit fly trap. The trap contains both an attractant and a poison.  This is partially a diagnostic measure (it tells you when the flies are active), and also preventative. The trap is hung in your tree, attracts the male fly and kills it so it cannot  mate with the females.

You open the bag and put the trap/lure together. Just make sure you remember to put the yellow lid between the orange hook and the (round) lure. I forgot and ended up having to straighten the hook and weave it awkwardly through the hole in the lid.

You then hang the trap in your tree at about eye level, as straight as you can (which in my case wasn’t really well straight at all).

Once you have caught yourself a male fruit fly, you know that the soil has warmed enough for the young flies to have emerged from their pupae and control measures must begin. This is where the little white tub comes in.

The Eco-Naturalure Spray

The white tub contains a thick brown sticky substance. It is both a protein attractant  for the flies (male and female) and a naturally-derived pesticide, Spinosad. The sticky stuff is watered down 6:1 and sprayed (or painted) onto the trunk of the tree or a surface near the base of the tree.

A word of caution. Spinosad is not only toxic to fruit fly – it will also kill bees. For this reason I won’t be applying it to the foliage anywhere near where the bees are foraging. I’ll be only applying it to the lower trunk of the tree until all the petals have dropped from the flowers. Bees are our friends, and I wouldn’t have any apples at all without them.

Some people apply the naturalure to cards or plastic-covered bait stations, but the instructions recommend the trunk or foliage of the tree itself. The important thing is that the sticky stuff stays damp enough for the flies to feed from, so you can’t paint it onto raw wood or anything that will absorb the moisture in the spray. Rain also washes it away, so you need to re-apply if it gets wet.

So I set my trap in my Dwarf Tropical Anna tree yesterday. And today, the 18th of September – I find this.

Fruit flies – already – in September!

But true to my luck, this afternoon it rained so I couldn’t apply the naturalure. It might even be too late.

Too Late Already?

As soon as the female fruit fly emerges from her pupa, the first thing she does is feed. She feeds from a protein source, usually animal droppings/manure/compost. My chicken coop won’t be helping things here.

If the most attractive thing she finds to eat is the spray, then she dies right there – end of story.  If she eats something else, then she has a chance to mate. She may not even feed again, therefore bypassing any baits and laying her eggs in my tasty fruit – fruit fly win.

So the fact that I caught at least 6 males on the first day I set the trap suggests that they have been active for a while, probably even from August. Some females have already emerged, fed and are ready to lay some eggs. I need to hurry up if I want to have any success of controlling them to any extent.

So this morning after checking my trap I set to work thinning apples and bagging the larger ones with exclusion bags. I thinned more than 100 fruit, with an eye to limiting the number on any one branch, but also thinning those that are in locations that are difficult to bag. I didn’t really even make a dent in the fruit set though – both my warm climate apples have set many hundreds of fruit – much more than the trees can support.

Tomorrow I’ll be spraying the trunks and hoping with all fingers and toes crossed that I’m not too late.

Does anyone have any pest control anecdotes or words of wisdom to share with me?

Harvest Monday – 10th and 17th September 2012

17 Sep

I was out of action last week, so exhausted by toilet training a 2 year old that all I could do was sit on a couch and stare at the wall. So today I need to cover 2 weeks of harvests.

17 Asparagus

The asparagus has been regular but I need to stop cutting it soon because the crowns are still fairly young. I’m having difficulty controlling myself because it’s so delicious.

The asparagus has gone into many dishes, such as grilled with a hot breaksfast, chicken and asparagus risotto, and a fritatta I made for lunch today.

Most of the spears have been of average size, but the purple asparagus crown (more established than the others) has been producing monster spears.

4 Spring Onions

Spring onions are picked on demand and used on a moment’s notice. I’m absolutely loving having them in the garden. They are starting to look quite fat, and hope that they will eventually form bulbs.

A few bowlfuls of tuscan kale

The kale is lovely. My 2 plants are bolting now, and I’m letting the largest one flower so I can save seed from it. I’m harvesting from the little plant freely – the flower heads are particularly delicious.

1.5 kilograms silverbeet

I have harvested a monster amount of silverbeet this week. I made a double batch of mushroom and silverbeet lasagne as recommended by Barbara, but I made mine much higher fat that she did.

1 cabbage

The cabbage weighed a bit over a kilo after was stripped of outer leaves and its slug population. I used it in a very ordinary batch of okonomiyaki.

2 celery sticks

Celery is another crop that I love to just pop out and cut when needed. Today I harvested a stick to cut up to dip in some french onion dip that I made (from real onions!)

Bay leaf

Went into a cauliflower soup – here’s a tip for young players – remove the bay leaf before blending the soup. D’oh! More fibre I guess.

Lots of mixed salad leaves + coriander

I have quite a bit of salad green in the garden at the moment. I harvested quite a bit of green oak lettuce, some baby spinach and some tatsoi. I made a caesar-ish salad on Sunday and I also made some fish tacos last week with some coriander.

1 tomato

The last stupice tomato plant is starting to produce. I used a tomato in the caeser salad.

1 Mulberry

The mulberries are just starting to ripen, and the crop is enormous for such a little tree. I picked the first fruit and then lost it somewhere. I hope I didn’t put it in a pocket or something!

2 Strawberries

The first of the strawberries are on the smaller side, but taste good!

Large bowl baby beets

I harvested these and roasted them for a warm pasta dish of fetta, beetroot leaves and pine nuts.

Well that’s all for my fortnight. I hope everyone else’s gardens have been productive. I’m sure Daphne has been busy this week too – if you have a chance, head over and see what other people have been picking from their gardens right across the world.