It is possible that Sandra and I have been so deeply involved in infrastructure works over the past couple of years, that we’d taken our eye off the ball with the plants. You can’t do everything you want on a small holding, and inevitably compromises and mistakes sneak in. But it’s when the wallabies eat almost the very last of your winter leafy greens, a bloke has to face up to realities. Something has to change.
For those who don’t know, a wallaby is a slightly smaller, and darker furred lone forest kangaroo. The more usual grey kangaroos which people know and love (think Skippy the bush kangaroo), tend to travel in mobs. Occasionally an older large grey kangaroo will turn up here, and he’s a sad fella. A young buck has challenged him, and kicked him out of the mob. I wouldn’t spend too long worrying about him though, he’d probably lead a good life up to that point, and had done the exact same thing when he was young. However, there’s a place for the wildlife here and the farm is open to the local wildlife. There are few if any fences, and usually we can out produce their needs. But not this year.
With three cold and wet growing seasons in a row, and it being winter and all, I’m guessing protein levels in the plants in the forest are far lower than usual for this time of year. Compared to the forest, the plants growing in the mineral rich soil of the farm, are a total supermarket of goodies. At night, the wallabies, wombats and kangaroos graze around the orchards enjoying the relatively mineral rich feed. Certainly the resident wombat here is one of the largest and glossiest I’ve ever seen. But even the well fed wildlife have needs, and of late you can see that the grass has been munched down pretty low.
But heck, I have needs too. And it’s been a long time since we’ve run low on leafy green edibles. Years ago, there was that bonkers hot summer when all of the leafy green plants shrivelled up in fright, then promptly bolted to seed. Within a week or two, the entire crop disappeared. That was a harsh lesson to learn. And since those days we grow more-appropriate-for-the-summer-climate leafy greens. Seed catalogue claims about plant varieties using the word ‘tender’, are right out of contention. Forget about those things, they won’t survive here. Tasty garden survivors are what we’re aiming for. It’s not the best years where you get put to the test.
It is hard to forget that awful bonkers hot summer year. We even did a deep dive on edible weed species. Quite a number of them grow readily here. Eat the weeds was the claim, and it sounded good in theory. The reality was that such plants are considered weeds for the reason that they taste rubbish to me. Will you survive consuming the weeds? Probably, but you might not like the diet all that much. I put edible weeds in the knowledge category of: ‘interesting to know, just in case’, but if there are better options…
There are plenty of other things to eat right now, but few if any leafy greens, which we unfortunately usually consume quite a lot of. How did it get to this? Hubris is part of the story. For the previous two winters we’d had really good crops of kale. Kale is a form of cabbage where the leaves grow up a central stem. And unlike a huge round head of cabbage, you can pick as many kale leaves as you want, and the plant usually grows more. The word ‘usually’ is used here as it refers to the possibility of eating a kale plant to death, after all with no leaves left on a stalk, it is unlikely the plant will soon recover. Common sense with harvesting has to be applied.
The farm is almost the perfect environment for growing kale. The plant loves the cold weather. A light frost does wonders for the taste of the leaves. Most annual plants hate frozen air as it will kill them. Kale however responds to frost by converting some of the starches in the leaves to sugars. The plant survives cold weather by lowering the freezing point of the plants cells. It’s pretty clever really, and the cold weather response of the plant makes the leaves tastier. Cold weather, bring it on!
But when hubris hits, it can hit hard. From hindsight, you can see in the garden row where we grew the epic patches of kale in previous years, we probably played the soil out. There’s not even weeds growing there now, let alone any kale. That’s what taking your eye off the ball, looks like.
Think what you want, but it turns out you do actually have to practice crop rotation, or else. And here we are today, with a clearly empty garden row where once kale grew abundantly. Fortunately, there is an easy solution for this problem. Grow peas and beans in the row during the next growing season, and those plants will fix some nitrogen back into the soil. We’d planned to do that anyway, but it would have been nicer to have had some winter kale.
We are thinking about crop rotation. This winter, we made the unfortunate compounding mistake of not planting out the sapling fence vegetable enclosure with winter greens. It’s probably got some of the best soils on the property, but the decision was made months ago to rest the soil, and it seemed like a good idea – at the time. Now, I’m wishing it was full of winter greens, but alas, wishes don’t keep a person fed.
There is another new area of the property which is being set aside for a few more rows of vegetables. Just having more growing space should assist making the process of managing crop rotation easier. But right now, with leafy greens, we’re down to what is growing in the greenhouse. And whilst it is a decent sized greenhouse, it is not that big. And the plants got off to a late start.
Thinking ahead with the realities of crop rotation, both Sandra and I hold some doubts that we’ll be able to continue growing the same chilli and tomato plants year after year in the greenhouse. Sooner or later, that practice will become a problem. We might just have to construct a second greenhouse.
At times during this past week, the weather has been rather cold and wet. Normal winter weather really. On one day during the week though, the ground was just dry enough to bring the many large rocks which we broke up last week, back up the hill. Using the large yellow powered wheelbarrow, especially when it is carrying heavy loads, can rip up the ground at this wet time of year, but not that day.
It takes a lot of effort to load the rocks into the bucket of the machine. Then you have to steer the machine back up the hill, all the while you’re walking along behind it wrangling the control levers. Then on arrival near to where the rock is needed, you dump the rock out of the bucket, and drive the machine out of harms way. The site where the rock will be placed is dug flat, or ever so slightly leaning uphill. The rock gets rolled approximately into position, and a long steel house wrecking bar gets used to make the final minor adjustments. It sounds easy, reality is otherwise.
The low gradient path project sure does eat a lot of large rocks. Another four large, but thinner rocks, were taken to the upper part of that project where they will be hopefully installed sometime this week.
There are tentative signs of the spring yet to come. The other day, I noticed a tiny little spear of asparagus sticking out of the soil. No doubts, the wallabies will also take note of this early spear.
Over the past year we have put a lot of effort into the citrus trees. Any of the trees which were struggling were relocated to the sunniest spot on the property. And the soil there has been very well fed. It’s early days, but a few weeks ago we were rewarded with a few small tasty oranges, and that’s exciting. However about three citrus trees were perfectly located, and those are very productive trees.
Rhubarb is an indestructible plant. The original crowns were a present from a local lady who claimed that they were originally her grandfathers. Whatever the case may be, they’re growing strongly and will happily produce self seeded rhubarb plants.
The summer growing season was quite cool and damp, and many of the tomatoes did not ripen on the vine. As an experiment, we pulled the vines out of the ground. Then the roots were washed clean. All the leaves on the plant get removed. The vines were then hung upside down from a wire in the well ventilated greenhouse. Candidly it sounded like a mysterious ancient rite, and we were dubious. But it worked! The tomatoes ripened on the vine, and because (here I’m guessing) the fruit stayed cold, but did not freeze (being in the greenhouse), they’re all as good as if they were picked fresh. This is a great option in this climate, and one we’d not previously considered.
Tomatoes interestingly are from the nightshade family of plants, of which there are a number of local varieties – some of which are edible. One of those are the Kangaroo apples. As well as tasting like soap, they have an unfortunate tendency to fall over.
Onto the flowers:
The temperature outside now at about 9am is 6’C (43’F). So far this year there has been 542.4mm (21.4 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 533.0mm (21.0 inches)