More bush for your buck

Lots of herbs and other garden plants respond well to a little trim by growing even more! Sometimes damage can stimulate growth and we can emulate damage with out secateurs or fingers.

A lot of plants respond to having their growing tips pinched off by growing more leaves and stems below the pinch. This is known as ‘tip pruning’ or ‘pinching off’. Plants pit a lot of energy into their growing tips and removing them causes the plant to use that energy further down.

You can take advantage of this tendency to get bushier plants with more leaves and therefore bigger harvests. All you have to do is pinch off the top couple of leaves at the tip of a stem or cut a stem or two a little further down. Every cut you make will reward you with new branches or stems from below the cut upon which are of course, more leaves.

The pic here is Feverfew and toward the bottom middle, you can see where the old stem was cut and all of the new stems branching out. Each of these will end in flowers, ready for harvest. What would have been a single corymb will now be many.

A ‘corymb’ is a flat topped cluster of flowers with the youngest in the middle such as Feverfew produces.

Basil is a fast growing, delicious plant that is well known for this habit and even when I’m not actually harvesting, I’m prone to snip here and there to keep the plant compact and bushy. This us a great tip for gardeners with limited space.

Other plants have this habit, plants as diverse as Elder Trees, Tamarillos, Mints. and Edible Chrysanthemums, so its not restricted to one Family. For a chance of getting bigger harvests or to bush up a plant that’s got a bit straggly. Give an existing branch or stem a cut about half way down and see what happens. You may be surprised.

Getting ready for the Summer that I thought had forgotten us

This time of year usually sends us running for our airconditioners, or at least some shade and acid drink! I think my body’s forgotten what the heat feels like – it’s only a sunny 23°C as I write this, having come in for a break from gardening. I’m sweating like the proverbial pig. It is very cool for Wirltuti.

We’ve a warm, dry spell this week, even projected to reach 35°C this weekend but in general, weather patterns surrounding Australia are funneling moisture laden air from the north and piling it up against a cold front from the south, making it rain and rain and rain. In South Oz, it’s been a boon but on the east coast, it has caused disaster.

You can’t garden without adressing climate change or at least if you do, you’re a fool. Thinking along that line, we’ve been rejigging our garden to reduce our water use even more while increasing productivity (in a non-capitalist way, of course!).

A clear verge.
A clear verge.

A big step has been to clean out the verge gqrden. Removing a lot of the huge Lomandra along the fenceline allows more sunlight to reach the Chili, Strawberry Guava, Midyim Berry, Jujube and Berry plant (either raspberry or Youngberry, I’ve forgotten). Keeping the Elder tree under control also helps this little group. Where the Lomandra were are now Dianella – much more useful.

It’s time to take out the Nasturtiums that cover the soil and half way up some trees. We mostly benefit from the Nasturtioms because they are lures for some pest bugs, making it easy to pick them up in bulk and feed them to the chooks.

Removing the Nasturtiums makes the ground look bare but closer inspection reveals it to be thriving with life. Underneath one pile of Nasturtiums, I found that the Strawberry Guava was valiantly flowering like mad! The Chili by the front fence has passed away. It provided beautifully for 5 years now, so it’s time to go to wherever Chili plants go when they die (no, not the compost…I’m being poetic here).

As so much is being removed, I can see the form of the mature garden emerging. After this year, we will have established the best sizes for all of the trees, the extent to let understory grow and, simply, what grows best where.

With the heat sneaking in, I moved the Quail house to where the fodder growing greenhouse was and moved that out into the backyard to be disassembled and its parts repurposed into a larger, permanent greenhouse structure.

Happy Quails
Happy Quails.

The Quail love the move. They’re more protected and are loving being directly on the ground. They’ve discovered that they get fed before the chooks now, so are extra chuffed with their rise in status.

The area where the Quail house was is now (as it was originally designed to be) a Sun trap right in the heart of the garden. With so much cover, sometimes plants have struggled to get vitamin L but now thats resolved.

We have some large pots to move there. It is the perfect spot for growing Ginger and Moringa and the Oca that I bought on the weekend. Tucked in a shady spot under the Almond is a new Valerian plant.

That whole end of the garden has hade a make over too. I moved a lot of stuff and transferred a big steel garden bed to where my junk pile was and took down the old trellis that was there, transferring a garden arch into its place. The arch will be the support for Cucumbers and the bed, remaining empty, is housing our bag planted Tomatoes.

Grape vines have had a huge prune – I know, it’s a bit late but there’s only so much time. They are already providing shade for the raintanks and the shed door. They’ll grow soon and intercept the rapidly spreading Hops and, together they’ll shade the front of the house, supported in that job by the Melons that are streaking skyward along their wires.

Next, I’ve got to check the irrigation system and make sure the droppers and sprinklers are still there and unclogged, soak the wicking beds, mulch, mulch, mulch and remove the Winter covers from the chook run.

A gardener’s work is never done!

That’s a lot of change but only part 1. Part 2 is about the backyrd and the bioponics.

A little recovery

Cucumbers ready to be picked...
Cucumbers ready to be picked…

A local grower has flooded the market with extremely cheap cucumbers. Will we get to see the benefits in our bigger supermarkets? Probably not. Another is pulling out their Zucchinis because of waterlogging…

Several local supermarkets though have taken advantage and stocked up and big bags are selling for below $4. That’s a win for the local economy!

But the big sadness is that, faced with a huge drop in potential earnings because of the excess in supply, some local growers are simply scrapping their current crops. Yep, you read that correctly – they’re pulling up the crop of cucumbers that’s just about ready to harvest and disposing of them because there’s no money to be made from them.

Long, straight Continental Cunumbers heading for the compost or the dump.

The growers and the land owner in this farm are enlightened enough to invite community groups and individuals who are engaged with local food security to pick what they can in the short window before the crop’s destruction. They invite us in whenever there is a bounty to be gleaned but we hardly make a dent on what is there.

A boot full of cucumbers.
A boot full of Cucumbers.

Yours truly headed down yesterday and managed to grab as many as I could. Cucumber leaves bring up itchy red welts on my skin, so I couldn’t harvest too many before I was driven to madness.

I managed to pick about 50kg which went out to UCare Gawler and the Grow Free Carts. I took another tub to The Salvos at Riverside to see if they’d be interested in future bounty and happily they are.

While I was at Joe and Rosanne’s birthday the other day I saw some big bags of cucumbers on their front porch, so others had got the invite and responded to the call. I’m not sure about this haul but I know that food security advocates come in teams from all around to harvest some bumper bounties throughout the year.

The tip of the iceberg

This seasonal bounty (seasons in greenhouses, that is) and waste is the tiny, local tip of a massive icebeg of food waste due to, need I say it, the markets driven by capitalism. Buyers try to squeeze down their costs so that they can profit more, they pass a part of those low prices on to consumers, but most of the profit goes to shareholders.

Shareholders won’t invest in something that won’t grow their dividends every year and to do that, the company needs to continuously grow. Much f that growth is supplied by cost cutting whether it’s the prices they offer suppliers once they are locked into contracts or by cutting staff, working conditions or even closing stores, depriving local communities of services such as the suoply fresh food. We saw that happen in Meningie recently.

The Aussie food market is dominated by two huge players – Coles and Woolies, who drive down the prices at which they’ll buy produce at and, doing so, dictate the prices of goods for every other retailer and supplier. Often, they don’t even look locally for suppers, but tap into their Australia-wide and global networks to source food that can be sold at a profit.

I remember a situation a while back where those very companies competed to sell the cheapest milk to their customers and doing so, made it impossible for dairy farmers to make profits for their own ventures.

What does that mean for us? Cheap food at the lowest prices? A regular supply of food? We have seen that the very opposite is true.

‘Food shortages’ and ‘ supply chain breakdowns’, a spike in diesel prices…the list goes on, showing that security and reliability are two words that cannot be applied to the current system of doing things. Prices are starting to jump again because, for the last little while the items we were buying were picked months ago. Now we are starting to see the price with all the problems factored in.

What’s the answer? I think you know…

I sound like an old record, I know. For Zoomers who may not get that reference, it means that I seem to be repeating the same thing over and over. Not just me, all of the sustainability, ethical living, permaculture community, Many large organisations like the UN and associated groups, peak bodies and NGOs are saying the same thing – ‘we need to grow our food in out local communities or at least in areas adjacent to our geographical location’.

Local economics, local labour, local innovation, local growth, reduced transportation, simplified supply chains…you get the picture. This thinking will go a long way to reducing the impact of climate breakdown on our communities, remove the effects of distant wars, buffer us from economic meltdowns.

Politicians at Federal level, international investors and those who profit from convoluted food systems that work ‘just in time’ and benefit from the food system as it currently exists and are not likely to change the system as it exists.

We need to do much of it oursleves, grow local systems in parallel to the current models, nuture families in ways that enable them to grow at least a little of their own food.

We can’t directly fight what is already here because we are actively a part of it and have been for decades. We need to take a gentler approach and start local options.

Zucchinis to go too!
Zucchinis to go too…

Tomatoes in bags

Short of money? Lots of Tomato seedlings but no pots? Planting directly into potting mix bags could be your answer. It reduces plastic use too – what else do you do with your potting mix bags?

All you’re doing with a pot is to change the container for the potting mix and improve the drainage a bit. If you don’t have a container, why not use the bag that your potting mix came in. The better the potting mix, the better the results, of course!

The process is so easy that I won’t even give it a heading!

Many potting mix bags already have a lot of small holes in to drain them should they get wet plus to allow air out if them so they don’t balloon up and burst during transport. Those holes are enough to drain the bag if it gets rained on but won’t be enough for regular watering such as tomato plants need.

Flip the bag on its side.
Flip the bag on its side.

Turn the bag on its side so the roots can grow deeper than the shallow depth that a flat bag allows. Make some holes on what will be the bottom.

Make a few holes in what will be the bottom.
Make a few holes in what will be the bottom.

Flip the bag and cut a hole in the top about as wide as your palm.

Plant your tomato seedlings directly into the potting mix through this hole. Add a little crushed eggshells to promote healthy cell walls.

Add a little crushed eggshells.
Add a little crushed eggshells.

Pat it all down so that everything is firm and give the bag a good water.

Pat it down firmly.
Pat it down firmly.
Give it a  good watering, as always.
Give it a good watering, as always.

There! You have a simple container I which to grow your tomato plants. From now on, just water and fertilize it as you would any garden pot. As the plant grows, it’s best to open the planting hole a little so that more water, air and nutrients can get to all of the roots.

A month later!
A month later!

As the tomato plant grows, you’ll need to stake it somehow and open the planting hole a bit wider so that you can add more water as the plant grows.

…and guess what? This technique is not just for tomatoes, any shallow rooted vegetable will thrive in bags. Lettuces love it!

%d bloggers like this: