My Dwarf Banana is flowering!

21 Oct

There was all manner of terrible titles I could have given this post. Please appreciate my restraint.

It is a good indication of how distracted I’ve been over the past week when I say that I noticed this last Saturday

A banana flower, 20 months after planting the tiny pup. This is a dwarf cavendish banana, and it was sold as a ‘cool climate’ banana in Bunnings.

Over the week I’ve been checking the progress daily as the flower petals unfurl to expose more hands of tiny bananas. This is what it looked like a week ago:

And today:

It looks like some of the bananas have been bruised in the unfurling process. I read that they are extremely delicate at this stage and even leaves brushing against them in the wind is enough to damage them.

At first I was very worried about the angle of the flower and whether it was going to grow over (or right into) the side fence. Luckily it seems to have turned downwards fairly quickly.

P estimates that I might have somewhere between 150 and 200 bananas on the bunch. Should keep us in smoothies for a while!

DIY: A Collapsible Chicken Tractor

20 Oct

I’ve been acting a little too normal lately, so I felt it was time to insert a little dose of weirdness back into the neighbourhood. What better way to do that than to park a chicken or two in the front yard?

I’ve been thinking that it’s a good idea to use the chickens to assist in weeding, cultivating and fertilising the soil. It’s not a new concept, but up until now I’ve found that the girls do more damage than good. They’ve eaten my veggies more times than I can remember, and when they even dug up and ate my flower bulbs It made me very cross indeed!

I’ve been thinking of constraining them in some form of moveable chicken tractor. As most of my gardening occurs along the road, I’ve been thinking that a small bottomless coop in the same width of my Bed A is the best idea.

So during the week P spent a good portion of his birthday designing and purchasing the materials for this little masterpiece. Isn’t he sweet?

The idea is that the tractor would:

  1. Be bottomless for the chickens to scratch
  2. Be collapsible so it doesn’t take much room to store
  3. Provide shading for the chooks on hot days
  4. Prevent the chooks scratching the soil sideways out of the garden bed
  5. Be big enough for a couple of chooks to comfortably scratch around
  6. Be able to be anchored down so it wouldn’t blow over (and allow the chooks to escape)

So after a few iterations in the design, today he finished it.

It is square, lined with shadecloth and quite sturdy.

And as per the brief, it collapses down flat.

My parents visited today and helped in the commissioning. It was a perfect fit, and P pegged it down through the eyelets installed for the purpose.

We decided that one of the broody hens was the best candidate to get us started. I’ve been trying to get the broody ones off the laying boxes without much success.

She went in quite happily. There was plenty of baby spinach to gobble up and worms to scratch around to find. The kids thought it was loads of fun!

We left her there for a couple of hours this afternoon. There is still plenty of digging to be done, so I might put two hens out tomorrow.

So P is a very popular husband indeed!

Hate weeding? Then fill those gaps!

12 Oct

Do you ever have those ‘aha!’ moments? When suddenly something (often quite obvious) just clicks in your mind and makes so much sense. I had one of those recently, thanks to Jason and Linda.

Linda is the author of The Permaculture Home Garden, and although I don’t own a copy (something I must rectify), Jason does and follows its principles at his place in South Australia. Recently he spoke about planting density, and Linda’s concept of how you can reduce your weeding by planting more densely. She explains that if you leave gaps, that’s where the weeds will take hold. What a revelation!

So I’ve been quite mindful of this in my planting for the summer. Take the first section of my front garden bed as an example.

At the back I started with overwintered capsicums. Because of their headstart, they should get pretty tall this year so I put them at the back (the sun comes from the northern side at the front).

Then I looked and realised that although I put the capsicums at the back, I could fit in a bit of parsley behind them. Parsley doesn’t need full sun, so it should be fine sitting behind in the shade. Also along the edge (next to the neighbour foot traffic) I like to put a bit of pretty stuff, so in the gaps between the parsley I planted some zinnias.

In front of the capsicums I planted some new chilli seedlings. These are jalapenos, and I planted a number of them in the hope that I’ll have enough to pickle this year. I also put in some of Liz’s mini mama capsicums around to the left. All these plants will grow significantly to cover the space densely at maturity. In the meantime however there are large gaps for the weeds to thrive in. I have therefore put some fast-growing tatsoi into the gaps, along with some nasturtiums, a cabbage and some garlic chives towards the front and a rockmelon to ramble throughout everything and spill out of the bed.

Platings don’t need to be permanent. Fast growing things are great to put in, harvest from now and pull out once the larger plantings get to size later in the season.

I’ll need to do some weeding in the short term, but pretty soon it should almost take care of itself.

I actually took that photo exactly a week ago. This is what it looks like today.

You can see that the tatsoi grows fast. I’ve been harvesting from it this week too. Another good contender for fast gap filling is wild rocket. It self-seeds like crazy and it grows really really fast. It is probably my favourite salad leaf, so I can never get enough of it. I might actually scatter a few seeds around this bed today because I still think the gaps are a little too wide.

And now lets have a look at another section. This is down the other end of my Bed A, which is along the front of my block against the road.

At the back we have the sunflower, because every neighbourhood needs a bit of cheer. I like to plant them right along the front in early spring and there should be a happy show by late November or early December.

Cucumbers line the front and will climb my dodgy DIY trellice. I also have some curly parsley going on at the right, which was a self-seeded transplant, then some lettuces and sugarbaby watermelons at the front. I have put wild rocket through the gaps, but it is still too small to pick out in the photo. I think I should have put more curly parsley in – I love how decorative it is as a border planting.

To the right I have a carrot patch that I planted one month ago.

Behind the carrots are some chillies that couldn’t quite keep up with the carrots’ growth rate in the short term, some more zinneas and another sunflower. I had to keep on top of the weeds for a few weeks while the carrot seeds were germinating and still small, but now they will take care of themselves.There just won’t be enough light penetrating for the weeds to thrive.

Way up to the left I have snow peas and okra that is just germinating. I think I’ll throw some dwarf green beans in around the okra because the okra is nutrient-greedy and will grow very tall.

So thanks Linda and Jason for the insight. I’m loving my new found freedom to plant densely and not feel constrained by recommended spacings. In the worst-case scenario and things get crowded – I can just pull something out or transplant it to somewhere else.

Have you had any ‘aha!’ moments lately? Or do you have any suggestions how I could improve my dense-planting approach?

Harvest Monday – 1st and 8th October 2012

8 Oct

I missed another Harvest Monday, so here goes my list for the last fortnight.

Berries!   The berries have been plentiful. Actually the strawberries and blueberries are only just starting, but the mulberry tree has been overflowing. Over the past fortnight I have harvested more than 2 kilograms.   Most of these went into batches of mulberry dessert sauce. It is a-mazing on greek yoghurt and I imagine on ice-cream too.

They also went into smoothies. I seem to be surviving on these when the kids are at daycare.

Bowl of Peppermint

  I dried this for storage and later consumption as tea.

Several bowls of Lettuce, English Spinach and Tatsoi

  The english spinach has provided me with many meals worth of baby spinach leaves. I used them in omelettes and salad primarily. The tatsoi and green oak lettuce have mostly gone into salad.

The photo below shows a bowl of green veggies that I harvested for some veggie dumplings during the week. It included spinach, tatsoi, celery, spring onion, garlic chives and coriander.

Little D helped me put them together.

Actually this photo makes him look a lot more helpful than he actually was. Mostly he just ate raw dough, but we managed to conjure up some passable dumplings in the end.

Bay Leaves

I think I might have accidently killed my bay tree. Fortunately bay leaves are still good when they dry out, because I needed a bunch of them for Bobotie this week.

1 kilogram beetroot

I’ve started harvesting the beetroot because it is going to seed. I roasted it today, then pureed it and froze in batches. I plan to use it for beetroot dip once the weather warms up.

That’s it for me this week. More more harvests, head over to Daphne’s

Drying peppermint for tea

2 Oct

I was given a lovely peppermint plant for my birthday. In the 2 months since then it has grown extremely quickly. So much so that it has reached the limits of the pot and needs a good trim back.

I’ve found that I need more peppermint leaves that I first imagined to make a decent pot of tea, so while the plant is prolific I thought it was a good opportunity to harvest as many leaves as possible for storage. That way I can cut the plant back hard, I’ll get a good supply of tea, and the plant will have room to re-grow.

I cut the growth back as hard as I could with a pair of scissors, putting the leaves into a large bowl of water to soak. That way any dust and debris will wash off along with any lingering bugs. I plucked off any damaged leaves and discarded.

I spread the leaves out in my dehydrator and put it on the lowest setting (35 degrees). I believe that a low oven will do the same thing, but I haven’t tried it. You could also just hang whole springs out in an airy place, or peg them onto a clothes airer.

My dehydrator was from Aldi. Once a year or so they have them for sale for $40.

Well worth the price considering you can also dry fruit, vegetables and herbs.

After the mint leaves were dry (about 8 hours or overnight) I simply stripped the leaves off the stems and put them into an airtight canister. Make sure that they are completely dry before you do this or it will go mouldy.

You will need at least a heaped teaspoon of dried leaves for a pot of tea.

It re-hydrates back to the lovely fresh green colour it started as.

New Growth

1 Oct

I love spring for all the rapid new growth that plants put on. When it warms up, but not so much that the plants are stressed.

My Australian native finger lime is loaded with flowers 

My new baby caper bush is actually putting out leaves

The overwintered capsicums have all woken from their slumber

If only just…

And the rhubarb is rapidly growing more and more monstrous.

The challenges are that the weeds are doing the same thing. The summer weeds, dormant in the cold are now springing back to life too.

Now is the time to be getting your mulch ready to suppress weeds and protect the plant roots from the soaring heat of summer.

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…