Saint Ambrose

Saint Ambrose
Photo: Journey Worker Productions, CC SA 3.0 (C)

Friday, 30 January 2015

Ausveg, digressing on to Big Agric and Big Chemmy

A quick look at Ausveg's press release and website. Good graphics, informative. Symbolising where their mind is at, Ausveg's publications have Barbaby Joyce on their covers.

Regarding the biosecurity risks, they claim that:

"The initiative proved particularly worrisome for the horticulture industry, as projects enacted by individuals without proper education and training could potentially cause biosecurity or food safety concerns in the horticulture sector".

There is no evidence for this given, nor calibration of the degree of comparative risk.
The press release goes on with the following paragraph, which appears to support it, but is actually a different point:

"Unfortunately, some community gardens in particular are simply not run to the same standards as professional horticultural operations, nor do they adhere to the same set of stringent checks and balances required of a commercial business. As a result, many community gardens are run down, and could potentially give the wrong impression of horticulture,” said Mr Churchill."


Im not sure modelling horticulture as Ausveg does it at commercial scale is the point of community gardening. Note the dodgy slide from 'some' (conjecture) to 'many' (a damning assessment that would evince a definitive problem. Later in the press release, they also demand the subsidy to the community gardens go to upgrading the Ag. Depts website on import requirements for foreign countries. I.E. that it should be spent doing the farmers' international market and import law research for them. (How would this be a hand up and not a hand out I find myself wondering?)

It looks like a piece of lobbyist slime, but I'd love to see the evidence that this is a real problem, that commercial agriculture couldnt change its practices to fix it, and that there is no parallel risk caused by individual private vegetable gardens.

The 'industry partners' whose logos are prominent at the bottom of the press release are Elders, Du Pont, Syngenta and Bayer.

Bayer (olim IG 'Zyklon B' Farben) and Du Pont are familiar companies in industrial and agrochemicals.

Id never heard of Syngenta, and they are a bit more tricky to describe, so a biblical 'begat' list will do it. If you are a bit sickly and consume a lot of medicines, or have a thang for explosives and the history of industrialised warfare, you might recognise some of the names in Syngentas' lineage:

Geigy (1758) lay down with Ciba (1884) in 1971 and begat Ceba-Geigy.
Sandoz (1876) and ciba-geigy (1971) begat Novartis in 1995. Brunner Mond, Nobel Explosives, the United Alkali Company and British Dyestuffs Corporation lay down together and begat Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926. (Re ICI - think: incendiary bombs to destroy Dresden & other civilian cities in WWII*.)
Imperial Chemical Industries ejected its agrichemicals division  from its house in 1996. Wandering thus alone in the market of stocks, it was named Zeneca.
Zeneca and the Swedish firm Astra (1913) lay down in 1999 and begat AstraZenica.
An agribusiness bit of AstraZenica and an agribusiness bit of Novartis lay down together in 2000 to make Syngenta.

So Syngenta is a bit like Juan Carlos II as one of the last monarchs of the House of Bourbon - it is a surviving child of the great old pharmaceuticals /agrichemical companies. (Unfortunately there is no convenient Swiss royal line to make a comparison to). It turns out that Syngenta is a sort of sector rival/competitor to the notorious Monsanto. Syngenta is a sort of Euro-UK-version of American Monsanto, to simplify wildly. Both do genetic modification research and sell pesticides.

I'd like to know more about the evidence of contamination of commercial farms by community gardens. Though I'm not sure that I'm going to take evidence-free assertions by Industry partners of Du Pont, Bayer and Syngenta who decorate themselves with Barnaby Joyce pictures. Does anyone know if this is a real problem or is it corporate lobby-slime?

*See for details on firebombs, focusing on American ones - they were made and tested for use *on civilians*

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The cucurbit and some mint

Here is the picture of the aforementioned cucurbit - I think it is a Lebanese zucchini but not sure.

The cucurbit

And here is the result of some kind neighbours throwing out their mint-weed, which I froze in readiness for Ash Wednesday, which is Feb 18 2015 and and Lent, which I am going to try no milk and no junk food. The mint and ginger teas will fill out the boredom of it all.

Mint for lent

Ok, some exciting other things to do, so more later.

Nothing to show for it

I just went outside at 4am, after a while of insomnia to take some photos of the garden, maybe catch a snail or two, but apart from a few moths flying off, there was nothing to photograph for you that I couldn't get a better picture of during the day.

The lone cucumber is growing nicely. (and fast - it is already a blocky-sort-of-modest-fist-size. If it is the species I suspect it is, the shop version size should be harvestable in about 10 days. I will photo it tomorrow. The plant it is on is producing almost all male flowers, so it has been a bit of a waste of time. Funnily this curcurbit was an afterthought for what was meant to be a potato larder that failed.

Otherwise there are quite a few 'wind down' bare patches, where I have harvested spots, thinking that I want the food now, and cannot be bothered fighting high temperatures in Feb. My thought is maybe to put some daikons in, or just let things mulch for a month or two, and wait till March before starting with early winter planting. Nothing will grow better planting it now, and it is a large hassle to garden at 35 degrees.

This has occured to me over the last few months - that Australian summer at its nastiest is like nasty northern latitude's winters - just too hostile to garden in. Not strictly true (we are, for example, having a week of low-20deg weather which is lovely but it is mid summer), but true enough to be worth planning for. And just mulching and preserving it for a bit later is no bad thing.

It just occured to me over recent weeks that fighting with nature to grow northern-hemispere developed plants in this climate was stupid in this month, and nothing would really happen if I stopped for a few weeks. There is still a full garden of things to harvest - potatoes, tomatoes, a few cucumbers (I think they are cucumbers - cannot remember in detail, definitely curcurbits), chillis, beans, regular fat hen. Most of the corn has been a flop. The Painted Mountain corns grew and produced half-cobs of corn, which I ate as a snack. The orthodox yellow ones taller ones have been a total failure. So for my sort of garden, painted mountain corn is the future I think. (perhaps it is accustomed to more arid and less fertilised conditions).

These are enough to tick over, but I cant be bothered fighting aphids again, and weeny-heartbreaking when a healthy plant dies in the middle of almost getting to fruit in a three day heatwave.

To accentuate the positive - I get most of my pleasure from the garden in the temperature months, especially winter. Isto posito, ideoque...

Ok, time to try to go back to sleep.

On further thought, I think putting in fat hen, mother nature's weed of choice, might be a good idea. It can grow and I can eat in March once Ive eaten all the earlier stuff. And fat hen is 'who cares' water-at-night, ok-to-miss-three-days sort of thing, and will shade the ground at least. And once cut, the decaying roots are fine mulch for something else.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

On funding of community gardens and their being a "Biosecurity risk"

On funding of community gardens and their being a "Biosecurity risk"

The view of Ausveg, the peak body for the vegetable industry in Australia, that community gardens are a risk of spreading infestations of either pests or diseases to commercial crops which need to comply with strict adherence to quality assurance guidelines at least for export. Likewise farmers' markets have a food safety issue, because of insufficient identity checking of vendors at those markets, and that these dodgy vendors might sell poor food. (Ive reconstructed the argument here; I think this is their claim. The text is "We've seen a litany of examples where people have passed themselves off as other growers," he said").

The press release:

Tony Abbott has killed funding for community gardens - the feds have saved $1.5 million that was going to the Community Food Grants program, created by the former Labor government under the National Food Plan, and AUsveg supports the cessation of funding. I don't have strong views to express about the political judgement of supporting community gardens with an amount of cash this small, except to say that it is trivial compared to the millions going to public sporting grounds and various sporting leagues, and various other forms of wasted expenditure.

My interest is rather in this claim that community gardens pose a "biosecurity risk" to commercial agriculture, especially export agriculture. Some comments by celeb gardener Costa here:

He's rejecting the contentions of Ausveg on "biosecurity risk", but no actual refutations of particular claims. He makes the important wider claim that community gardens generate a sense of community. He could have added they are good for communal health, and take the pressure off the industrial food system, and encourage some degree of resilience among the gardeners. He could have said that the term "Biosecurity risk" is a vague, stupid and manipulative phrase, tagging along credibility from the war on terror, and either too vague to be useful in this context or just plain wrong. (It might be a commercial agriculture risk, but it isn't obviously a biosecurity risk, except in the very loose sense that the risk of death of a (monoculture, non-threatened, commercially grown, globalised) plant is involved. There is no suggestion that death to humans or animals is involved either).

Neither side has offered much evidence and science for their claims in either direction. Costa has offered none, but merely asserted a negation; Ausveg has offered some conjectural assertions based on what might possibly occur as a result of neglected or run-down gardens. Neither has discusses location and transmission issues - how do the bugs/gribblies/germs/fungi etc get from Concrete City to FarmerLand, and how distances affect transmission probabilities. Neither has dealt with the appeal to consistency on whether a kitchen garden in a rural area comes under the same strictures, because it would seem to have the same possibility of neglect (possibly a stronger possibility, given rural population aging, and single-gardener maintenance issues).
So is there any science behind the Ausveg claim?

In the wider context, is this a case of the Australian commercial sector wanting to be maximally lazy and not actually deal with crop resilience issues (except to dump more chemicals on things, plant more marginal land, drain more aquifers, demand more handouts - in short, to keep doing industrial farming the good old way, but with more tech and scale,  etc etc)?

Monday, 26 January 2015

ladybird and carrots

I came home recently after dining out and walked around the garden with the bike light to see what was around, and saw a ladybird -

Thats a sign of a healthy garden. May she can eat the grey aphids that have returned...

Here's some info on ladybirds -

On Catholic history and ladybirds -

On Sunday I grabbed some carrots to make carrot and pumpkin soup. (And fat hen, tomato etc etc beef stew, but that's another recipe). The carrots were from a neglected who-cares pot in the garden and I didnt expect them to flourish and have grown as well as they did. (that was a good source of kale, potatoes, poor for corn).

These are the healthiest collection of baby purple carrots I've grown. (they aren't authentic 'black' purple carrots that I wanted to grow but the fake-lifestyle 'purple haze' variety that I bought years ago and got rid of last planting when I discovered they aren't really purple all through, but actually orange inside, and their gimmicky name annoyed me).

I decided, having taken the carrots, to leave the potato in the pot, chop down the corn that wasn't going to make it through February, and the kale that had become infected with grey aphids. So I mulched the lot (rubbing each kale chunk in my hands to kill the aphids). I might just put some daikons in there, but I think I'll let it rest and wait on the potatoes, and replant it at mid March, after the hot season is finished.

I had something to post about the Mass, and a few other bits and pieces.

And some mulch-athon pictures to follow.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A mulch suggestion - what to do with citrus

What is this organic matter forming a mulch layer?

It's citrus peel, mostly oranges

Its a new mulch Ive started adding to the garden - orange peel. (And grapefruit peel too).

In gardening books, they tell you not to add orange peels to compost because worms dont eat them and don't like them. Probably true. So people throw them in the bin. 

But you can put them on the surface as mulch, and they will rot away. A fungus that produces a black-coloured spot initially and then eats up the whole peel will eat them. For it to go to work, it needs to be wet peel. Watering the peel as part of watering the pot will do this, especially if one waters at the evening for overnight, as we have to here on very hot days (+32deg). 

It is remarkably fast decay once the fungus gets going. I think I put this peel in about 2 months ago. The white side goes first then the orange side later.

Citrus peel makes a good mulch, about 1 inch square pieces. You can even arrange them white-side-up to shelter the soil from strong sun, which I have been doing in winter.

That's one less thing in the rubbish, and one more sort of organic matter reentering the system. One less need to buy fertiliser.

The other take away point here is that maybe the fungus works in compost (at least on its side or something) and means the conventional advice is wrong - has any one tried to adapt placement strategies in a compost bins to allow citrus to be integrated? To what extent are gardening books just reiterating what other books have said, I wonder...? (I know it happens to some extent, but things like this do make one wonder...)

Monbiot on 'ecological boredom'

George Monbiot has written a new book callled Feral on rewilding of nature and arguing that the (English) landscape we think of as nature is actually an 18-19th C construction. That fits nicely with recent scholarship on the Reformation of the Lanscape in the England/Ireland:

On the Reformation and Landscape, see:

From their site:
The Reformation of the Landscape is a richly detailed and original study of the relationship between the landscape of Britain and Ireland and the tumultuous religious changes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It explores how the profound theological and liturgical transformations that marked the era between 1500 and 1750 both shaped, and were in turn shaped by, the places and spaces within the physical environment in which they occurred. Moving beyond churches, cathedrals, and monasteries, it investigates how the Protestant and Catholic Reformations affected perceptions and practices associated with trees, woods, springs, rocks, mountain peaks, prehistoric monuments, and other distinctive topographical features of the British Isles.

Back to George Monbiot's new work which deals with the world more or less afterwards - the 1700s onward (with occasional backward glances to the early modern and medieval periods; it does need to be complemented with the story of the reformation and the story of the growth of the modern state and its gentry class, and the growing 'Machinisation' and 'Manchesterisation' of things. At some point I will write a post on this; Ive already started one on beekeeping practice and 'hive design' as a case study to organise my thoughts on this).

This new article by him contains nuggets from the book, which is a good page turner and utterly intriguing and informative:

Here's a link to the book -

A key concept of the book is the notion of 'ecological boredom' - that some of our social and psychological problems issue from our having a body and neurology for a world of natural forests and wilds, that doesnt deal too well with being trapped in suburbia.  I thought the concept of 'ecological boredom' very worthwhile.

Check out the article (which is a decent summation of the book) and if you get it, the book.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Ripening Amish paste tomatoes

Today I noticed that there is quite a colour change of the tomatoes toward red. These tomatoes reached this size in early December and it is now mid January, so this ripening phase has lasted quite a while, far longer than I'd anticipated. The strange weather we've been having doesn't help.

Its making me a bit impatient!

For comparison, here's a newer tomato that isnt ripe at all. Like all the ones below, it is about 2 inches or so in radius (not a large tomato but also not a midget) :

Ok and here are the ripening ones. I am surprised how slowly these are ripening. The small yellow cherry tomatoes seem to ripen in a week. This is taking in the order of a month or two! Frustrating!

Here's some ripening ones -

This is the oldest tomato of these plants. Here is another one:

The oldest tomato of this plant is under the leaf. You can see it is markedly orange compared to the others, especially the lower one, that is green and not ripe at all. Here it is close up -

Its still hidden down there, but slowly coming to fruition (in this case, literally).

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

What to do with your old jars, snails and slugs

(A long, thin Bavarian Mustard jar of snails and slugs next to the head of the rusted metal spike - at bottom left - under which those marauding molluscs have been sepulchered. NB mature corn base and roots in the background)

I was thinking about the story Rick told me in December about nutrient deficiency and soil, and corn and how the American Indians used to put a dead fish under the site of a corn plant, which would then feed on the rotted fish. My thought was to think of what the obvious analogue of a dead fish was that I had to hand - the obvious thing is snails...

And to think that Ive spent a year catching snails, and dashing them on the concrete for the birds to eat...Well enough of that. What a waste!

The obvious thing is then to have a small snail sized stick? (metal rod? cork?) and put it in each pot, and consider the space underneath it as a sort of 'snail repository' or 'snail sepulchre' and when one catches a snail, put it under the stick/cork vel aliud, and let it decompose under one inch or so of dirt. 

(Or perhaps 2 inches; I will have to think it through and experiment with that is the minimum length not to have the birds/flies engaging the soil for the putrescent snails, if this is indeed a problem). 

The point of the set rod/cork is that roots etc can grow around it, and it can be removed and replaced without causing massive structural/root damage. 

Another benefit of this is that one is utilizing a species (snails) which are mostly invading ones, and competitors for produce in the garden against humans, to enrich the garden.

I have never seen this recommended in a gardening book, so I thought Id write it up. If anyone has see it recommended, and details on best technique, let me know. 

Anyway, I thought this through in mid December 2014, and got a good chance to try it with the Melbourne rains of 13th Jan. I had put a ~5 inch iron stake I found on a deserted road out near the best of the corn plants about a week ago. On Jan 13th, when we had about 15mm of rain throughout the day, I went out with the most useless mustard jar I had because of its long thin shape, and used it to collect about 15 snails & slugs. I put some water in the jar, sealed the lid and left it overnight. On returning to it the morning after, the molluscs were all dead (I tapped them on the head as they tried to get out the jar as I was collecting). I was quite pleased about that; better a quick dead.

I then took out the spike, and put 4-5 snails in it down about 1 inch; and put 4 under a rock under the tomatoes, and another 4-5 or so under another tomato plant that is quite young (about a foot) in development. You can see the jar, and the head of the spike in the photo.

It was very satisfying to get the molluscs in light rain. Applying them was grotesque, but knowing that you will so use them as fertiliser makes catching them all the more satisfying. Not only are competitors - the kale-eating snails - dead, but they are also working for me now as fertiliser.

We will see how long the putrefaction and feeding to the plants takes, and whether I've buried them deeply enough. I suspect flies and bird and arthropods might come and dig them out. If I was going to do it again, I would use a thicker stake - perhaps 1 inch diameter, rather than 1.5cm which was the stake, because a large snail is more like 1 inch in diameter, not 1.5cm. I suppose I can tinker with the best form as I go along. 

To be continued...

Aphid Attacks

This is part one of several posts about aphid infestation eating kale plants.

I had several pots containing several kale plants in early 2014. Mostly Melbourne green kale, but some Toscana too. The toscana variety I have found to sprout well and grow tallish initially (to 4-6inches), but is irresistable to bugs, so I have more or less left it as a sacrificial plant for the grubs, while everything else in the same pot flourishes (especially the Mustards).

Recently (summer 2013-2014) we have had an infestation here of two particular pests -  cabbage moths and horrible horrible grey aphids.

Grey aphids - pictured - are so horrible. They sit on the new growth of the plant, sucking out the sap and slowly draining the energy and life from the plant, barely moving at all as they do so, in clusters that grow and grow. They love brassicas. When you crush them between your fingers, they have a horrible light-acrid insectish smell.

I am surprised we dont use them as a metaphor for the growth of bureaucracy.


Up till now my idea of pest control was to plant something else, overload planting (putting about a dozen things in one pot, instead of the orthodox advice about one plant per squatre foot or whatever), and killing snails, slugs and cabbage moths manually.

(I will write something on fast ways to kill cabbage moths at some point)

So I wanted to kill the grey aphids and set up a little experiment. Of the kale buckets, there are the following:

Bucket 1: two large 2ft kales, both post-seed (kales are biennials you might know, these planted in april 2013. So still flourishing). Badly infested with G-A.
Bucket 2: 1 large 1.5 ft kale and three smaller 6inch ones still growing but clipped back for salads regularly. No serious G-A.
Bucket 3: one 1ft kale, very healthy, and a few smaller ones in development. Quite bad G-A.
Bucket 4: three very large (3ft) kales, really flourishing. Of these, two have bad bad G-A infestations, one is moderately infested.
All have bad cabbage moth infections.

So I made the following organic control recipe to spray on them:
2 onions, 2 lengths of leek, several garlic pieces, some cut up solanum nigrum leaves. And some flaxseed oil to make it oily and syruppy. I boiled this into a sort of soupy-sludge, strained it, and then added some portugese piri-piri sauce (this stuff is a portugese version of tobasco sauce basically).

It smells horrible, like italian cooking extruding through a dead person's skin. Horrible.

I sprayed this once it cooled on Bucket 1, Bucket 3 and two of the three kales of bucket 4 on saturday.

It hasnt rained since and the stuff has stuck on.

It sort of worked. The grey aphids seem to have gone quiescent and not died (Id like to think - I have no idea actually what the effect has been); the cabbage moth-caterpillars are still going strong so Ive been picking them off the leaves. BUT - I have noticed that the multitude of white cabbage moths (as many as 6 at a time hovering around previously) now avoid these kales altogether, indeed, they are trying out landing on nearby parsnips rather than landing on the kales. Thats pretty desperate!

That means this syrup is a quasi success as a repulsive-repellant agent, but not as a poison.

I just took the spray and manually sprayed off all the aphids from bucket 3. This means it no longer has so much spray on the leaves either. We will see whether it becomes attractive to the cabbage moths again...

My plan next: depending on how spraying down the aphids on bucket 3 goes, I think I will do the following:

use the jet spray to hose off the aphids as best as possible (probably in another area than the garden).
Wait till they dry.
(next day)  Prepare a fresh solution of bug-killer-spray, this time without the solanum leaves, but adding an organic detergent to dissolve the waxy coating on the aphids and the caterpillars.
Respray & leave.

Then see how long it takes till the pests come back...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

A short note on some places to obtain seeds

A comprehensive post based on Australian sites, from Jeremy Coleby Williams of Gardening Australia (ABC) show:

Ive also bought from:

littlebee*2010 on Ebay, a seller based somewhere in South Australia.

Eden Seeds and Select Organic are the same company, but different lines for different certification processes. Ive found both of them pretty good.

Select Organic

and the Digger's club -

(named after the parliamentary faction in the English Civil war, a reference no one gets).

Seeds from all of these have been very good. I have also used other places, and these have been good too; I will ferret around and find them and write it up at some point.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Espalier apples

I was riding back from Flemington via Ascot Vale, and went and had a look at the Essendon Community Garden, which is actually tucked off a backstreet parallel to Ormond Rd Moonee Ponds, the road that runs over the freeway and goes up.

Here's their website -

While I was there, I saw a wonderful espalier Granny Smith apple tree, which I snapped for your delight -

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A few things that I have learned about chooks

We have five hens at our current location. That's the limit. No roosters; they are not allowed due to their cock crows. But, let me tell you, a hen celebrating the recent release of an egg can be astonishing loud. They can also be quite demanding. Should you be tardy in supplying their extra portion of scraps and vegetable left-overs, you will hear about it.

On a more serious note, moulting is a somewhat embarrassing affair. We have four ISA Browns and one Sussex. The ISAs look particularly bedraggled during a moult. The Sussex doesn't look so bad; but, she drops feathers looks like there was a pillow fight in the run.

One thing to increase during a moult is protein intake. Feathers are made of such. And, a great source of protein is canned cat or dog food in a pinch. The chooks love it and it can be added to their daily allotment of feed. Just take Fido's bowl and move it into the run (let your canine companion get his or her portion first).

It's not cheap. However, it does mean that the hens recover faster and start laying again earlier.