Saturday, 31 October 2009

Garlic Harvest

After being in the ground for over six months, it was finally time to harvest my garlic. I planted over 150 Italian White garlic cloves back around the end of March. It was a soggy start for them due to the unseasonable heavy rains we experienced through autumn. Besides the saturated soil causing some of the cloves to rot, there was the huge number of weeds which vied for supremacy. All the while I had to remind the weedy brethren who owned this particular patch.

Of course, towards the end of the growing period, our rain situation was quite the opposite. The soil around the garlic became like powder at times, so plenty of water was required to keep them going. While dry conditions are great as the garlic comes to the end of its season, it is not so good when the season has not quite completed yet.

Growing garlic in the sub-tropics is significantly different from what I had been used to in Canada. In the old country, I would plant out the cloves at the end of autumn, just before the ground would freeze over. The cloves would lie dormant until spring, when, as soon as the ground warmed, they would be up like a crocus, even when there was still snow on the ground.

In the sub-tropics you plant garlic around March to early April after the intense heat of summer has faded a bit. Then you wait until around September to October to harvest them while they are still very much green and alive; as opposed to dying back like in Canada. The conditions in the sub-tropics at this time of year are ideal for the harvesting of garlic, as they should be allowed to dry out before harvest.

So how did the harvest turn out? Very well I thought. Even the tiniest cloves were able to produce a garlic bulb, albeit on the small size. Even with the heavy rains, I only lost a handful of garlic. While not all of the garlic are large, many are quite sizable. It will be from these biggies that I consider for my breeding stock come next year. Improvements in my planting next year will be a higher garden bed, thus having better drainage. As well, I will provide a bit more space between each plant.

In the meantime the garlic is now drying inside as we have been getting rain again. In a couple more weeks there will be even more reasons to have garlic in the dish; because there is *nothing* like organic fungicide-free garlic!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Mi cassava, es su cassava

Here at Maculata Grove it is as though mother nature has put a roof over the place, very little rain to speak of. This is typical for this time of year in the sub-tropics and tropics. The so called build up to the rainy season is the driest time of the year. The cracks in the earth are getting large enough to swallow up small children, speaking of which...

Some of our trees are really suffering, in particular some of the lillypillies. Other trees, such as the Illawarra Flame tree, which are used to this dry time of year, have shed all their leaves going into a temporary dormancy. However if you choose your plants correctly, there should be no reason for a sustainable harvest not to be in reach. While I will not be eating cassava root any time soon, the cassava cuttings I stuck in the ground before winter are doing very well. Especially considering they have received no attention or water since planting. Yet there they are with green shoots getting ready to power through the wet season.

It is plants such as cassava and sweet potato, which have adapted to a tropical environment, which gardeners in these regions really need to be embracing. They are certainly welcome in my/your house any time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


Welcome to swaleville, population one. Well you have got to start some where. I do have plans to continue the swale breeding program. My swale making studs, pick and shovel, are always eager to dig in. :)

If you are not up on your Permaculture jargon, you might be asking yourself - what is a swale?

A swale is a fancy word for water holding ditch. Its purpose is to capture water during high mounts of rain or run-off and temporarily store it. This allows the water to slowly seep into the sub-soil where plants with deep roots can take advantage of it. As well, if swales are built at the top of a hill, this can help deliver ground water to areas near the bottom of the hill. Whether this works will depend on your soil profile.

Swales also have the added bonus of capturing organic material, which quickly breaks down when the swales are damp or wet. This in turn provides nutrients to plants.

Swales are built along contour lines, or as close as possible to. This allows the full height of the swale to be filled with water along its entire length. In my case, the swale was purposely built just off the contour line. However I did mound the soil more on the northern end so that, as the soil settles and becomes more of a barrier, it will fill up evenly across its length.

My swale starts to the south near our grass driveway and continues towards the rose garden. It has been designed so that the overflow will go towards the rose garden and then down to some future swales. This should help reduce the amount of water flow down the driveway during high rainfall events.

The swale has been planted with two small leafed Jaboticabas and one Ceylon Hill Cherry (aka Hill Goosebrry, aka Downy Myrtle, aka Rose Myrtle, etc - latin name Rhodomyrtus tometosa). I will also put in some Rosellas to fill in the gaps for the next few seasons. I still need to finalise what I will do at the southern end of the swale. My current plan is to plant another Ceylon Hill Cherry as well as a native lillypilly. With the exception of the temporary plantings, this will mean that all the plants are from the Myrtaceae family. Moreover, they are all extremely attractive food producing plants.

Anyway I have heaps of other things to plant in the area so that my food forest can start taking shape, so I had better get busy ensuring another round of courtship proceeds smoothly (or on the level).

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I have been fairly excited in recent days. I feel liberated from one of the great worries of farmers. And that worry is, when will it rain? While there is no replacing natural rain, having a water source which can be used for irrigation is absolutely fantastic.

The primary purpose of the new pond was for irrigation of the property. We are extremely fortunate that this is a spring-fed pond. So it just keeps filling and overflowing.

I was also very fortunate that the previous owners happened to put the waste treatment plant a short distance away from where I wanted to locate the pump. To me, electric was the only choice to power the pump. While solar might have been a distant second option as well, it is simply more efficient to put larger scale solar panels on the roof, than it is to have a small solar panel only driving a pump. So I have been able to run a temporary extension cord from the power point at the waste treatment plant to the pump.

After extensive research and comparison of Davey, Onga, and Grundfos pumps, I decided that the Grundfos JPB 4 PC15 was the best option. I was only looking for about 30 L/min and it can deliver up to 60 L/min. Moreover it takes much less power to do so than its Australian counter parts. Not to mention it was significantly cheaper even with a recent price rise. So while I would have like to support the Australian pump manufacturers, the simple fact was their engineering did not match my requirements without additional cost and, most importantly, additional power consumption. Power was my foremost consideration due to the existing power requirements of the waste treatment system.

For the piping, I chose 1-1/4 inch rural piping. This is also known as green line. It is an economical pipe with reasonably priced fittings. While it obviously has greater resistance than 1-1/2 inch and 2 inch pipe, the pump is able to still provide the required flow rate through this diameter of pipe. The longest run will be about 100+ meters with about an 8-meter delivery line static head and a 2-meter supply line static head. We have not fixed the pipe in place at this stage, as I wanted to see how well it worked at various locations on the property. So there is still some work to be done for the final fixed set up.

In the meantime, I have been able to lug the pipe around and get water back into the subsoil. How to I know that? Well, I put in 5 Jakfruit Blackgold seedlings into the chook free range area. I intensively watered the ground before I planted and the soil sucked it all up, including the clay subsoil (the green in the grass is thanks to the irrigation). However I did find that for the final planting hole, I had not watered the ground sufficiently. The soil which a shovel was able to shift in the other holes, required a mattock. Even then it was hard going. When I reached the clay layer, I had to stop. I filled the hole with water and let it soak in over night. The next day I was able to resume the planting which included working gypsum and organic matter into the clay layer.

So I look forward to being able to continue with an aggressive planting schedule as are in the driest time of the year for the SEQ area. Next stop, swale-ville.

Oh yes, I should also mention that the pump enclosure was made almost entirely out of recycled materials, with the exception of the roofing screws.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

BOGI Fair and Competition

Today was the grand 2009 BOGI fair. It is a great event which has many varied stalls with a strong sustainability theme, most with a gardening or food focus. There were solar cooking demonstrations, worm farm making demonstrations, Mark Tully and his rare breeds, seeds, plants, food, and the competition.

This was the first year I entered the competition. In fact, this was the first time I have ever entered a gardening competition. The cost was $2 for up to 6 entries and I entered five items:  silverbeet, potatoes, snow peas, onions, and tomatoes. I did have other produce as well, but I did not feel that it was quite up to competition standards. When the judging was complete, I was able to secure second prize for the desiree potatoes, and first prize for the snow peas and onion. I must admit that for the onion category, that there was only my entry. However I do feel that even with multiple entries I still would have achieved the top prize as my onion was a whopper.

Of particular interest, the BOGI competition focuses on the taste and brix reading of the produce. So the look of the entry has nothing to do with one's ability to win a prize. And really this is what food should be about, the taste and nutritional density of the food, not how it looks or whether it is a standard size. Variability in one's produce is normal for an organic gardener, and there is nothing like variety to add that extra flavour to a meal.