Saturday, November 12, 2016

The tomato trellis anatomy

Amongst gardeners, the making of  the tomato trellis is perhaps the most debated subject in gardening. But not only that, it's also the  most changeable. Tomato growers are always striving for the perfect system. The focus might be on big fruit, early fruit, lots of fruit, disease free fruit - this list goes on. They try new stuff every year  - and me ? I'm no different.

This year I'm planting my tomatoes in a single row with baling twine on either side. More baling twine will be added as they grow and in theory I will keep up with the pruning. I have tooed and froed on the decision for quite a while. We are hoping for ease of picking, good air circulation and a better environment for late ripening.  We were impressed with Burwood prize last year so have grown it again but plan to control it a bit more. College Challenger is making an appearance as something new and the Purple Cherokee , which is one I have been saving seed from and improving over the years. It's a beautiful tasting tomato which I have been selecting to get less splitting of fruit. I'm doing this by selecting fruit from plants with more rounded fruit and less imperfections which can pave the way for splitting. Also doing KY1 on weed gunnel plastic sheeting so the fruit at ground level won't get as damaged due to soil contact.  The Ky1 is determinate so will finish early enough for me to plant another winter crop. Then the black cherry and as yet, some other cherry varieties which I have yet to obtain. So they are in the ground and although the weather is not overly warm I'm pretty sure there won't be a frost bad enough to do damage. Looking forward to making more of our smoky pizza oven passata and tasting the first tomato of our season which at the best will be in Jan - probably late Jan.

Found this paper which supports my 30cm spacing, although the climate is probably a little drier where this study took place. They also recommend 3 stem pruning for higher yield.

From the findings of this study it could be concluded that pruning of tomato could be practiced to increase the yield and quality of tomato. An intra-row spacing of 20-40 cm was appropriate for maximum fresh tomato yield and quality. Three-stem pruning coupled with closer intra-row spacing (20-40 cm) may be recommended for higher production of tomato variety (Roma VFN) in the Sudan savanna of Nigeria.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Whose afraid of the big bad Swede?

Not me; I grow Swedes, I eat Swedes and some might say that perhaps I personify the Swede : Rough around the edges, downtrodden but sweet when treated right. Well life’s not quite that bad but Swede graces our table all through the winter and early spring. Swede is at its best once the cold weather has set in. At this time Swedes lose a lot of their mustard overtones and gain some sweetness (much like radishes which lose their heat).
The Swede - an ugly duckling amongst root veg
 It’s a vegetable that our parents’ generation are more familiar with than we are and you can still see it in a soup pack in some shops (I think).  I grew up eating it in soups and that was about it. If you live in the southern states of Australia – it is one of your seasonal vegetables available from May to September and take it from me – they are easy to grow and very productive.

But despite them being plentiful, palatable and seasonal they are bypassed on the shopping rounds. People look at them suspiciously, simultaneously not knowing how to cook with them and remembering that they don’t really like them. And it’s true, as far as a vegetable goes, they sit in an unfavourable position somewhere between radish and Kohl rabi (both of which I like of course).  They don’t cook fast, they lack a distinctive flavour, aren’t that sweet and may have a mustardy aftertaste if grown at the wrong time.  So why should we bother eating them?

Well I grew up eating vegetables and being told that they are good for me – food as medicine I suppose. Science papers continue to emerge with new and fantastic findings about vegetables.  It turns out a serving of Swede will provide you with one quarter of your daily requirement of vitamin C.  If you also ate the Swede leaves you could probably add the same benefits as eating Kale. Few of us manage to eat the 5 serves a day that are recommended – it’s pretty hard to do unless you eat vegetables for lunch and breakfast too.

Given the lack of any pervasive Swede eating culture (we don’t know how to cook it), it’s not surprising it is overlooked in the gamut of choice that is available. Yes our parents probably ate it because it was cheap and available and soups went a long way. Broccoli was yet to make an appearance on the market and nor were there any out-of-season vegetables available like there are now. Now you can buy Broccoli 365 days a year if you want to thanks to modern plant breeders and refrigerated transport. Increasingly more of the shopping trolley is filled with processed and pre-prepared food so the trend for Swede consumption looks not so good.

Thus eating Swede comes about through a conscious choice about food miles, seasonality, thriftiness or culture. We cook it in order to make a meal and use something that’s in abundance locally. Although it stars in slow cooked casseroles and soups where it keeps its shape well along with parsnip and carrot, it can be used in quick cook meals by grating it first.  When grated and sautéed with onion you can include in a frittata, or add cream and chicken and make a fantastic side dish, pasta sauce or pie filling. Swedes are a classic ingredient in pasties and Swede gratin is easy.  We spread out some beef brisket, and cover with a grated layer of Swede, a few pickled cumquats, pepper then slow cook in stock for 3 hours. Make half of your potato mash with Swede to go under your lamb shanks. A slice of raw Swede covered in nut butter is a great Paleo snack and as far as Paleo cooking goes, you can replace potato with Swede in many recipes. Always cut the outer skin layer off which can be bitter and tough. In short if you’re a good cook, you’ll have no trouble including Swede in your daily cooking and you won’t have any trouble eating the results.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Raw milk ban gift to big business once again

It is with sadness that I wash my milk bottles, perhaps for the last time. Every Sunday our milk bottles are put in the oven at 100 degrees to sterilise them before they are dropped off to the dairy on Monday and new bottles full of amazing creamy goodness picked up.

 I can see a few of you may be twitching now. “data error” is flashing up on your brain screen. How can it be that someone is taking responsibility for the safety of their food? We go out of our way to do this. We go out of our way to pick up our milk. We do this because we want to know where our food comes from. We do this because we think what farmer Brown can produce is a better product than what we can by at any supermarket.

 We know farmer Brown and his fastidiously clean ways. We know his cows and see them eating their farm grown hay in the winter and wandering the lush  - non supered – pastures during the summer. We know where our food comes from but we are not just trusting farmer Brown to deliver safe milk. We need to ensure this ourselves by keeping our bottles clean and sterilised, and by storing our milk in a timely manner in refrigeration – much the same as any food you might buy from anywhere.

Over the years as we have all been disengaged from producing our food, we have also be absolved of much of the responsibility of keeping our food safe. Governments have assumed this responsibility. They have departments and thousands of forms and regulations.  So there is a lot of stuff in train to keep our food safe. Even the man who puts a bag of flour in a bread maker and delivers it to his B&B clientele the next morning needs to have a food handling safety course.

So have you ever bought an “off” chicken at the supermarket? I have. I could smell it was off straight away. I made a decision that it was not safe to eat something that smelled like that despite the fact that is was for sale as an edible product.  And if I knew that this chicken sat in a water ice slurry contaminated with the burst intestines of other chickens I would not have made the purchase in the first place.

 But you see the forms in the factory were signed saying the bacteria count was acceptable. The transport truck was approved by Primesafe and has it’s temperature recorded at regular intervals. The supermarket freezers were also up to regulations and the best by date (printed on the chook wrapper) had not been exceeded.

Who’s to blame for that bad chicken? Well nobody can be blamed because all the regulations were followed. If somebody died from eating it, unfortunately nobody is a fault because all the boxes were ticked. Unfortunately the occasional sick or dead person is the price paid for a food system that is  mechanised, intensive, often inhumane  and disconnected from the end consumer.

Most of us get a product that while it won’t kill us has questionable nutritional values. That’s how we all get along in this world. And even when products are introduced that might increase nutritional values and humanness  - for example “Free Range”, the government makes the regulations so lax as to allow any operator to mislead the public. I heard a lady in the supermarket inform her daughters (as she pulled some cage eggs from the shelf) that “all this free ranges stuff was shoddy – most days they don’t even let them out!”.  The boxes to tick in this case probably do not exist. This allows businesses to make more money from doing less. Business people will do what they are required to make profits – they are not bad. The government allows them to do it through lack of legislation and regulation. Lack of regulation may exist on the part of getting a better quality egg to the customer but you can be sure that lots of laws and regulations exist to protect these large and inhumane businesses from competition from small operators. In the US there are laws that label people as terrorists who film animal cruelty and expose it using social or other media. These laws aren’t here yet but our country so loves to emulate the Americans it is probably only a matter of time before the industries try to slip these laws through.

While food should be about nutrition people, I’m afraid it is about making money. There are a myriad of rules and regs that claim to be making our food safe. What they actually do is keep smaller players (who could supply a better and more nutritious product) out of the market. Only large businesses can manage the paperwork and infrastructure required by these regulations. So sit back , relax and get ready for another contraction of the food system as nanny state takes aim at raw milk. It’s all to protect the public they will tell you and gosh ( as they slap each other on the back) they’re not going to lose any votes from this one! The media will probably hail them as superheroes.

However I think they are wrong about the votes as this issue is set to galvanise a very thoughtful  and articulate group of people. People who care about real food safety and real nutrition in food. Lets face it – people who go to this much trouble to get a product they are happy to feed to their families are not going to take this government over-regulation lying down.

And finally I would like to take a moment to thank Raw milk dairies for producing the wonderful, nutritious product they have been producing up until this point. They are the real super heroes. People of substance and integrity who care about good food and have the courage to produce it.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sally Bacula

Of the three little pigs we kept Sally for Breeding. We called her Sally Bacula. That's her purebreed title. We purchased Sally from a place in Gippsland and she was the largest of her litter. Since this last post Sally has grown up a had a litter of her own. She had 14 piglets but crushed a few possibly because of an injury on her back heel that was making her stumble.
Anyway aftre day 3 all the drama was over and the piglets fed and fed and grew very fat very quickly. Sally is now with her Boar friend once again.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

3 little pigs and a house of straw

After talking about pigs for a long time, we have finally made the leap in the form of 3 Wessex Saddleback piglets. The day before we made the house of straw, wire and tarpaulin and i must say it's pretty cosy. Whether it will stand up to the rigours of pigs is another matter.
Almost a house of straw - straw and metal to be exact
Saddlebacks pigs as a breed are in the critical catregory. Fore example there are just over 300 registereed animals with less than 30 annual registrations of females. There is an interesting story in the Melbourne Review about this breed and Fiona, one of the champions of this breed in Australia. My pigs were sired by one of her boars.

After finding this good patch the pigs were reticent to go anywhere else.
One of my pigs will end up being a breeder while the other 2 will be consumed after having a pretty nice life on a free range pasture. They are happily routing up the ground, chomping down on blackberry stems and roots and making gentle hoggy sounds. Their large enclosure has 3 electric wires and chain link fencing to make them more secure while they are learning about electric fencing.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Christmas lunch was a relaxing affair interrupted by a few heavy showers. We spent the day in Wandin - about 20km's away from where we live. We watched the lightening and thunder rumble over and around us and after consulting the weather radar it looked like we did get a good downpour in our valley.

As we drove home we saw the increasing debris covering the roads, and driveways which had washed out their loads of gravel onto the main road. In fact we were seeing debris to a degree we had never seen before on the road. Then i thought i saw banks of foam. Then lots or leaves and twigs completely covering the road.

It soon clicked that the foam was in fact banks of hail stones, piled high. Our hearts sank as we saw the neighbour roof intersections and gutters piled with hail stones and their houses surrounded by a white blanket.

Beans are battered but will recover
The driveway was awash and my first job was to unblock drains and gutters before i assessed the damage to the garden.

Large hail caught in the netting above the Vege garden.

The netting was the saviour of the garden  it seems, as the larger hail was either intercepted or deflected, and smaller hail deflected.  

The morning after revealed that the damage was indeed much less under the netting. Still under the netting salad fared worse,

 followed by young cabbages, cucumber.

Outside the pumpkins with their large leaves were trashed and even some of the fruit has been damaged.

The fruit trees suffered the least. They had some leaf loss but there was not much fruit dropped.
My heart goes out to any primary producers who rely solely on growing things for an income. For them the impact would be devastating. Most of my crops will recover and still produce well, but this storm emphasised the usefulness of netting - other than to protect crops from birds.

 Unfortunately our council (Yarra Ranges) restricts how much of a property may be covered in netting - i assume for aesthetic reasons. Yet another restriction which clearly makes producing food a less attractive proposition in a well watered and fertile area close to Melbourne.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Spring planting, Potato dramas and bug juice

A planting frenzy happened quite many weeks ago when i  I decided that it was spring, and although we were probably going to get some more cold spells , some planting was in order. I direct sowed, carrots (All seasons), Beetroot (Early wonder), Parsnip (The Student), Swedes (German swede turnip & Gilfeather), Snopeas, Peas (tender tendrils), Lettuce, Tat tsoi, Paak Tsoi, Rocket, Coriander and probably a few other things. All of these vegies are a bit tolerant to frost and grow reasonably in cold weather.

In the hot house i sowed more Tomatoes (Mary Italian, Red pear, Black cherry, Wong Bak, Cabbages, Broccoli, Parsley, Basil, Echinacea, Fennel. I'm sure there are a few others i have forgotten.
Potatoes went in one bed about 10 weeks ago and have had their first hilling. I waited for others to sprout and eventually planted quite a few of them with minimal sprouts.  I'm not convinced that potatoes can be forced to sprout by putting them in a bit of sun. I am of the belief (based on what I read somewhere, and my observations) that they sprout when they are ready (according to their internal clock) - other opinions appreciated. Several more sowings have taken place including a good number of Dargo goldfields' purple potato.

Several weeks ago i noticed some wilting in the potatoes. "Oh no", i thought "Wilt!" However on closer observation i noticed that there was a small plague of Green vegetable bugs. I have always had some of these on the potatoes. Perhaps this time because the soil was so fertile they are really having a feast, or i suspect that they were over-wintering somewhere and have emerged in numbers to make your eyes water. Upon researching the subject i found that there were no effective organic sprays mentioned and only biological and cultural techniques recommended the manage their numbers.  Myself and the WOOFER Christine, got together with some shallow trays and proceeded to give the plants a light beating which resulted in getting hundreds of the little blighters, which were then fed to the chickens.

Later on, young lad and i decided to make a bug spray (yes made of crushed up bugs). We collected several hundred bugs in a shallow bucket of water. We blended these up and strained them through an old T shirt and made about a litre of bug juice. No other additives were included.

 When we sprayed it on there was no major reaction from the bugs (i was expecting them to writhe in disgust and fall off the plants). However a couple of days later i went to check a few plants and i could not find any bugs! Finding bugs was previously a very easy task. I checked again and i kept checking. There has been a total evacuation of Green vegetable bugs due to the bug juice. So my potato crop has gone from heavily infested to totally free of green vegetable bugs in the space of a few days. Miraculous but true.

To my surprise some of my spring plantings (planted around September 1) bolted to seed because it was too cold at the time of sowing. These were Wong Bak, Paak tsoi, Mizuma, Celery and most surprising of all Rocket. I'm told silver beet will also do this o i have learned my lesson there.
I have already put my tomatoes in and now we are having a bit of a cold spell. Looking at them yesterday they appeared to look quite healthy, and much better than the plants still in pots in the hot house.
Broad beans, planted in May
The strawberries are doing very well, as are the cabbages. The Strawberries were planted last spring and summer and are currently providing an amazing bounty.
Strawberries planted last summer

Savoy cabbages booming away

Savoy cabbages last month.