Saint Ambrose

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

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

pollinating curcubits

I was watching this short clip about a farmer who grows giant pumpkins in NSW,

which was more of a spectacle than anything else, but he showed his technique of hand pollinating the pumpkin flowers. After a whole season of 2 flowers of zucchinis a week for 4 months and only one modest zucchini, I was pretty pissed off to learn, a fortnight after I cut them out for winter, that I could probably have hand pollinated the zuucks, and got dozens of them...

Here's the farmer

here's a good page on hand pollination - it covers the actual gender differentiation and technique well enough (having not tested the advice)- forgive and overlook the annoying anthropomorphisations of the sexual reproduction of the zucchini.

this youtube is also good and demonstrates the technique well -

I have been using this technique to good effect this year, and have some fine Lebanese zucchinis, a pumpkin, and a rogue Japanese yellow pumpkin. I will photo the latter and put it up.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

I want one of these for my garden!

Here's the brief story of this Japanese catholic hidden-in-plain-sight devotional art:

I want one of these for my garden!

Its a lantern that is a hidden Christian piece of devotional art - note the trunk of the lantern toward the bottom - it is a small cross, and there is a little oblique Mary depiction on the base:

Pope Pius XII on farming in 1946

A fine piece of writing by Pope Pius XII on farming. Some of his quotes deserve amplification and rumination. Delivered in 1946..

For a start, a nice mention of consumerism ante litteram...

Contact with NatureMore than anyone else. you live in continual contact with nature. It is actual contact, since your lives are lived in places still remote from the excesses of an artificial civilization. Under the sun of the Heavenly Father your lives are dedicated to bringing forth from the depths of the earth the abundant riches which His hand has hidden there for you. Your contact with Mother Earth has also a deep social significance, because your families are not merely consumer-communities but also and especially producer-communities.
And some context - an awareness of land degradation, and an interesting mention of land mines (highly relevant in 1946, and in some places undiminishedly so):

Sin did, in truth, render labor in the fields burdensome, but it was not sin that introduced such labor into the world. Before there was any sin, "God gave man the earth for his cultivation as the most beautiful and honorable occupation in the natural order." In the wake of the original sin of our first parents, all the actual sins of humanity have caused the curse to weigh upon the earth with increasing heaviness. The soil has suffered successive scourges of every kind-floods, earthquakes, pestilence, devastating wars, and land mines. In some places it has become sterile, barren, and unwholesome, and has refused to yield to man its hidden treasures. 

And quite a vivid statement on what we might call 'the sustainability of the virtues' by contrast with greed and profit -

We must preserve the qualities of industriousness, simple and honest living, respect for authority, especially for parental authority, love of country, and loyalty to traditions which have proved a source of good throughout the centuries. We must preserve readiness to aid one another within the family circle and amongst families, from home to home. All of these qualities we must have animated with a true religious spirit, for without such a spirit these very virtues tend to degenerate into unbridled greed for profit. 

But this is put in an extremely particularized frame, which focuses on the particular farmer's intimate knowledge of particular land. Note the move from general environmental concern down to particular knowledge of - almost a connaturalitas with - the land:

The earth is a huge wounded creature; she is ill. Bending over her, not as a slave over the clod, but as the physician over a prostrate sufferer, the tiller lovingly showers on her his care. But love, for all that it is so necessary, is not enough. To know nature, to know, so to speak, the temperament of one's own piece of land, sometimes so different from that of the very next plot; to be able to discover the germs that spoil it, the rodents that would burrow beneath it, the worms that would eat its fruits, the weeds that would infest its crops; to determine what elements it lacks and to choose the successive plantings that will enrich it even while it rests -- these and so many other things require wide and varied knowledge and information.

And the take home-message.... -

It devolves upon you, therefore, to demonstrate that on account of its family character farming does not exclude the advantages of other kinds of business, and, furthermore, that it avoids their evils. Be adaptable, attentive, and active stewards of your native soil, which is to be used but never exploited. Let it be seen that you are thinking, thrifty men, open to progress, men who courageously employ your own and others' capital to help and supplement your labor, provided that such expenditure does not endanger the future of your families. Show that you are honest in your sales, that you are not greedily shrewd at the expense of the public, and that you are well-disposed buyers in your country's markets.

"...used but never exploited" - think about that as you splash around a fine mist of Round Up, suburbanites....

Monday, 23 March 2015

Retrospective: Jan 2014 summer / straw / weeds / seasonality / Bee sustainable

(from early autumn I think; the sort of species mentioned as the random planting below)

I have spent a bit of this morning and this evening (the cool bookends of the day) just cut up straw from the old plants, and got the remaining seed pods from various daikons, pak choi, beetroots and kale plants (lots of kale and daikon seeds especially!). The dried husks of the seedpods and the straw remnants of the plants I have let dry over the last 2 months, being the first two months of summer. 

I got about bucket of straw mulch. I took all the old potplants, watered and cleared them of non-starter weeds etc. (all remulched too, minus their seeds), and added worm castings to them, then mulch of straw. 

Digression - Among the delights among the weeds were a solanum nigrum (Blackberry nightshade) has popped up, along with an existing Fat Hen plant, which I have allowed to grow in a corner, and is now 2ft tall! (and ready for harvesting - the lower leaves have started redding-and-yellowing, indicating a lack of nutrients relative to the plant's growth-and-reproduction needs. Fat Hen is a snail-unfriendly, hardy resistant spinach substitute, which I like to have fresh-steamed with steak). I have also bought some fat hen in a seed packet, in order to practice cultivating it once winter rolls around. I am really quite delighted that all sorts of weeds have infested the place, which is allowing me to sort through them and eat the edible ones! (and let the inedibles have their moment, and work as summer shade, then as flowers and then as biomass).

I identified a plant I'd thought was a retarded cucumber, but which also turns out to be another edible weed - a mallow plant, in this case an Australian mallow methinks (a malva preissiana - Australian Hollyhock, but Im going to check the identification again to be sure, and will write something on it. Its an intriguing plant. I had let it grow hoping it would be a Devil's fig weed - which I could use for grafting on eggplants and tomatoes, but it was not to be). 

I have let a load of things go semiwild this summer, to see what turns up, because my travel plans meant it was a bit tough to do regular watering, and because Ive wanted to see what occurs, or to put it in Heideggerian terms, what unconceals itself. For example, Ive wanted to let some of the grasses grow to see what species they are. 

But now Im restoring a new line of veggie pots.

So they've been fed, watered, had a layer of worm casting added, and then the straw-mulch added. The following species are randomly strewn throughout:

Pak Choi
red giant mustard
Kale chou moullier (this is exciting - it is more or less a small kale tree if it works. If it fails, it fails because it is preferential snail fodder. Everything growing near kale-and-a-snail flourishes. I have plenty of established 'kale buckets' so if these end up as snail diversions, thats ok). 
fat hen
coriander cilantro

[An update a year later: the pak choi was ok, the mustard was excellent and very disease proof, the kale chou moulier was hopeless, the mizuna was good but there wasnt much of it, and the fat hen was excellent and I got a lot of greens out of it. The coriander didnt take at all. The enjoyable surprise was the emergence of Amaranth]

I didnt plant any giant russian cucumbers, I have to do a bit of research on where and the when on that.

Some of them are being sown a bit out of season, but I am experimenting. My hypothesis is that optimisation of plant seasons is less of an issue in Melbourne, where it almost never frosts, and doesnt go above 35-40 that often (yeah, 44 deg 4-day heatwave in mid Jan 2014, I know). Indeed, given that the classification into S-W-A-S is a Europeanism that we might have adopted a bit quickly, and Aboriginal 6 season schemes might be more accurate/helpful, I wonder whether one has to be rigidly controlled by EuroSeasonality. (Indeed, my biggest forced embrace of seasonality is our adoption of it in terms of the academic year and the liturgical calendar. What Australian hasn't occasionally thought in September or October that this should be Lent time, or thought that Lent seasonally makes little sense in March-April? Anyway, we forebear the same and God forefends change. Mother Country heartaches is not something I really do very well, so Im happy to try something different. (Should I do a post on local aboriginal seasons, which made much more sense than SWAS, I wonder?). 

(Then there's the fact of whole emergence of liturgical calandars in the Mediterranean, invalidating turning my grumps about seasonality into arguments).

These were all Eden Seeds varieties I got from our friend Robert at Bee Sustainable

Thursday, 19 March 2015

On regulation of direct farmer-consumer sales

(Some small potatoes from the garden pulled up in early March 2015)

Here is another article by Gracy Olmstead arguing the case for allowing sales from farmer-to-consider to be free of licencing and regulation; think of it as the 'lemonade-stand principle', that the lemonade stand shouldnt be regulated, and caveat emptor.

Im not sure I agree - I dont see why stable businesses shouldnt put up with some regulation of their products. (It would also produce inconsistent treatments - a small farmer gets no regulation, but an ad hoc dining arrangement gets treated like a restaurant). The problem is whether you regulate all giving and taking, financial exchanges, or only for profit exchanges, or exchanges that are by businesses of a certain size.

Its a good starter article to think about risk - risks of charlatans and occasional unintentional malpractice on the one hand, and the larger and more significant risk of homogenised industrial food slowly stuffing up the population by obesity, nutritional deficits, hormonal disruption etc. I am not sure it makes the case, but it does raise the issue.

I think its also worth distinguishing between sold unprepared vegetables, and food that has any kind of preparation. The touch of regulation should be far lighter for the former than the latter.  (Although for vegetables, there is probably a need to regulate to stop excessive preponderances of pesticides and GM etc.).

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

California drought.

Extraordinary article on California's drought, and predictions on available water reserves - it has a year, is the headline.

Chckens coming home to roost of 150 years of extract-exploit....

I wish it wouldnt take events like this to perhaps mabye wake people up to think about the system they live in, and how fragile it is

Time for some rethinking....

Monday, 16 March 2015

Farmer's Markets

(Red Nib Corn cobs and a small zucchini from the last few days)

Here's a short article on farmers' markets:

An article on farmer's markets compared to (American) supermarkets. It rebuts a study purporting to show the deficiencies of farmers' markets.  I think the rebuttals of the study are worth skimming over - particularly the advocacy of heirloom tomatoes.

It should have said, but didnt, that species choice for your own garden is different from species choice for an industrial farm and supermarket operation. For example, the most significant value for tomatoes in supermarkets (and therefore their growers) is a thick durable skin because of travel and transport. Whereas one can eat what are not heirlooms without any problems with thin skins because there is no transport operation to worry about. Likewise, another consideration of the agriculture business is that a species is good for monoculture and reacts nicely with pesticides etc. Neither of these need to be your high priorities when selecting a tomato. (The red nib i an heirloom which you can see in the picture above - it has the characteristic of looking good but also growing better under drought conditions than yellow corn. Re nib is also extremely starchy rather than a sweet corn).

There are also underrated values that a farm does not have to think about, but you in the garden might - first, how does the plant react to rootclog in a pot? how does it react to shade and semi shade? to irregular watering? Do the tomatoes take long to go from red semi ripe to ripe? (If its a long time, thats more difficult because it lengthens a vulnerability period).

That is, to the sorts of conditions that can occur in a garden.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Saturday, 7 March 2015

another Sunday fryup in Lent

Another 2014 Lent Sunday breakfast with offal and vegetables from the garden -

Breakfast on lent Sunday  - day off from fasting - a good hearty fry up of liver on toast with coriander and new zealand greens with beans from the garden...with cups of real tea with milk...

yum yum...

The Liver - I like the stuff, but it is very very filling. I now have a bit more liver than I know what do with - I said yes to 5 dollars worth, not realising that that is about 1.2kg...Ive eaten about a quarter of it which is honestly enough for one sitting...

Lesson: buy liver in moderation...

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

the water run out...again...

(Garden in drought 2014. Note that the only plants that are growing happily are the chillis, some very droughtish-tolerant valerian, some carrot going to seed with white flowers - and some solanum nigrum in the foreground)

It happened again - the water tank has run out. In winter, when it was overflowing, I filled the barrel I have, and have been watering on that. We are into March, so hopefully, with some frugal watering and cool weather, we will get through.

This means - we got a further six week´s into the summer (indeed, into late Feb) before the water ran out. That is a bit of an achievement. But it means that I will have to look at seeing what other frugal practices I can put in place. Frugal watering will have to be a whole-year thing, and not just a summer thing.

I will publish this now and put some pictures in later.

Cockroaches! / the arrival of Tomato Blight?

 (The midnight cockroach...)

I was out at the garden at night, and saw a few cockroaches foraging through the leaf-litter mulch. Normally cockroaches freak people out, but it is quite a mark of success to have them crawling over your mulch - it means you have made a habitat so inviting for them they are leaving the house* and coming over, back to pseudo-nature.

The plant on which it is walking is a New Zealand spinach incidentally.

Some bad news - it seems I have incurred a case of some sort of Tomato Blight - the leaves are yellowing and dying from the bottom up. It has even affected the best of the tomato plants. More later on it as I try and figure out exactly what has gone wrong. At the moment I am thinking it is more like Tomato Bronchitis than Tomato Cancer, and hopefully it should be able to be coped with, rather than terminal.

(* - I dont have a cockroach problem, but my neighbours on the ground floor do. A secret for minimizing their presence - keep your kitchen clean, but more importantly, do not bring any cardboard boxes, especially those that have has foodstuffs in them, into the house. Open, cut  up and dispose outside. Cardboard boxes are the luxury jets for a cockroach - they get into them, lay a few eggs, and perhaps sit in the grooves, awaiting transport to the cockroach equivalent of a tropical island - ie your house and kitchen. Once the lights are out, the cockroaches will creep out and start enjoying their new life in your kitchen and living areas.

So keep the cardboard out, and you stop continually restocking the living areas with them.)

Chop and drop

A small note on chop and drop - my thought on this is to chop and drop infected/infested leaves to some other plant that wont be affected by it. This means kales and salad veggies (e.g. bok choi) suffering from grey aphids and caterpillars going to the chillis or beans or carrots or parsnips. It means cucumber, zucchini, watermelon etc leaves that have gone mouldy to the kales/salad patches.

If there is no where else, the healthy but isolated Elephant's Ear plant (not sure what species - its a stray I obtained at a previous block of flats), which sits ornamentally at the accessway to the flats, about 30 metres from the garden, and is usually the recipient of failed cooking and successful vaccuming's vac-cleaner bag - gets the chop and drop remains.


This vaccuum cleaner to inedible-plant-system works very well.

Ive been doing this system of putting greens on the veggies and not on the compost pile for months now, and I can attest that they provide both a good eventual mulch layer and also a good compost and rich soil after (and probably during) decomposition.