News from the ‘Mews’ – February 2016
Welcome back to our first News from the Mews for 2016. I hope you all had a great festive season and managed to get some rest and relaxation in over the break!
The weather has been very changeable and the combination of hot windy days and below average rainfall has taken its toll on a few crops. Our beans were growing well, but with temperatures up around 40 degrees on several days, there was severe leaf burn, despite the use of shade cloth.
The hot days also caused problems for our aquaponics system as the tank water rose to 28 degrees! The trout were getting stressed and I had to harvest the remaining 10 fish at one time. On a positive note though, we have been enjoying some lovely fresh trout meals. With all the fish harvested, I’m running my system without fish at present, just as an experiment, supplementing with Seasol and iron chelate. So far, the plants are still thriving. I’ll consider re-stocking with trout again once the really hot weather is over. (When the weather impacts on your efforts to grow your own produce you get a greater appreciation for the farmers and primary producers who rely on their produce for their income!)
We’ve had great crops of sweet strawberries, which are growing well in the Aquaponics system – as a result I needed to rig up a mesh screen system to keeps the birds off them
Our bees have been very busy foraging and building honeycomb and last weekend we harvested 8.5 kg of golden honey! It tastes great and has a very aromatic flavour. This batch of honey is paler in colour than the last batch, but being a natural product, it is susceptible to seasonal variations and differences in the types of plants flowering at the time. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life!
Following on from last month, we are still raising seedlings in the greenhouse and also planting directly into our garden beds. Crops which have done well despite the hot weather include:
Δ Spring onions
Δ Tuscan kale
Δ Pumpkins, and
Summer Gardening Tips
This month I’d like to share some summer gardening tips with you to give your free produce the best chance at thriving during the warmer months!
Always use mulch over any bare soil as it keeps the soil and roots cooler, reduces evaporation and prevents water runoff when we do eventually get some rain.
Avoid watering during the heat of the day. Early morning or evenings are best. Apply water to the root zone, not the leaves, as this can cause leaf burn and promote mildew or fungal diseases.
Avoid planting or transplanting over summer as this is a stressful time for plants. If you must do it, aim for the cooler part of the day, water in well and provide some shade until the plant is established.
Use shade cloth to protect heat sensitive trees and shrubs from extreme direct sun.
If you need to work outside over summer, avoid the hottest part of the day. Wear sunscreen /protective clothing and keep hydrated.
If possible, have a birdbath or shallow container of water in a shady area of the garden. The native birds and insects will appreciate a drink!
If you have any handy summer gardening tips you could share with us jot them down in the comments below!
News from the ‘Mews’ – December 2015
This month sees a transition from the end of winter crops and the establishment of the summer season crops. I used the greenhouse to get seedlings started early, so they were well established before the really hot weather arrives. You can check out the greenhouse on our property here and here.
Greenhouse Gardening at Home
You don’t need to buy a greenhouse to benefit from greenhouse gardening at home. If you don’t have a dedicated greenhouse you can easily raise seedlings in a ‘mini greenhouse’, made from a few clear plastic meat trays.
- Use one as a base – puncture some drainage holes and fill with seed raising mix.
- Plant your seeds in the tray and mist well with water.
- A second tray can be used as a lid, to sit on the lower tray and keep the moisture levels high.
This very simple ‘mini greenhouse’ is a cost effective, easy option that re-purposes what would otherwise end up as waste. I’ve actually started using them as seedling trays too. They work quite well – have a look at the picture below.
Greenhouse Seedling Trays
Preparing for the New Growing Season
For the coming growing season we have planted:
- Two varieties of bush beans
- Jap pumpkin
- Sweet corn
- Japanese spinach
- Butter lettuce, and
Home Grown Corn (with the cheeky chooks peeking through!)
Home Grown Beans
Seasonal Fruit Trees
Our fruit trees are growing quite well and this season we have already enjoyed fresh cherries (these are an early season fruit!).
Our apricot tree is also setting a good crop too which should ripen in January.
We got a small crop of blueberries from our three bushes, but expect a lot more next year as they grow in size.
The raspberries are also setting fruit and I am ready with the netting to keep the birds away.
Home Grown Cherry Tree
We have begun harvesting our first lot of Rainbow trout from our Aquaponics system, and they are delicious! We will need to harvest all the remaining fish (about 20) before the temperatures get steadily above 30 degrees here in Melbourne, as the trout don’t cope well with warm water.
And, a little bee Update:
Our bees are doing well too. The hives seem quite strong and the bees are busy foraging and bringing back nectar and pollen. I’ll be harvesting honey within the next 4-5 weeks and looking forward to the sweet, golden treasure they produce. Since we have had the bees, we have noticed that the fruit trees in particular have set a lot more fruit than last year. Put it down to the pollination efforts of the ‘girls.’ (Thanks!)
So there’s my last ‘News from the Mews’ wrap up for 2015. It’s been great sharing our sustainable living tips with you all and reflecting back on how much we’ve achieved in our first year living at our new property.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families all the best for the festive season and 2016! I look forward to sharing more information with you next year.
Perhaps you can try your hand at DIY greenhouse gardening over the summer break? A ‘green’ holiday project could be great for the family to enjoy together.
News from the ‘Mews’ – October 2015
We’ve just celebrated the 1st anniversary of our ‘tree change!’ It has been a great year, full of challenges, but also one of learning and productivity. No regrets at all. Since we moved here 12 months ago, we have spent our time setting the property up just the way we wanted it, with a greenhouse, veggie beds, fruit trees, aquaponics system and our own bee hive! All of the set up work has now been done, so we can consolidate and work on increasing our productivity as the trees and systems mature.
Highlights for me this past year have been: Establishing our first beehive and harvesting our first batch of honey and setting up the aquaponics system to grow fresh veggies and fish.
A little bee update: In late September we were fortunate enough to have a swarm of bees (thankfully they weren’t from my 1st hive!) set up camp in our backyard. I was able to house them in a new hive box and now we have two beehives on the go – so rest assured there will be plenty of fresh honey to follow!
New Bee Hive
Efficient Use of Water in the Garden
With the approaching warmer weather I’d like to share some ways to conserve and use water efficiently in your garden.
Fresh, clean water is essential to life on earth, yet it is a precious resource, comprising approximately 3 per cent of the world’s total water (not much!) The majority of fresh water is stored in polar ice caps, glaciers and in underground aquifers. Despite the scarcity, consumption of water in developed countries continues to rise. It is estimated that Australians use about 1/3 of their household water consumption on their gardens. The cost of water, also continues to rise each year ($0.78 per kilolitre in 2005 and $2.50 per kilolitre in 2015.)
In light of this I’m sharing a few water saving tips so that you can still maintain (and enjoy) your garden BUT use less water doing it!
My Water Saving Tips
- Mulch: The use of mulch is essential. It acts like a blanket over the soil, significantly reducing evaporation and water run-off. It keeps the root zone cooler and provides a habitat for soil microorganisms and worms; eventually breaking down to humus, which puts nutrients back into the soil. Mulch also reduces weed growth and their competition for water.
Mulch around Pumpkin seedling
- Compost: Adding organic matter and compost to the soil increases its ability to hold water, keeping the water in the soil, where it is best utilised by plants.
- Water efficiently: Only water when necessary. If the soil under the mulch layer is damp you don’t need to water. Avoid watering during the hottest part of the day. Best times to water are early morning or in the evening. Apply water to the root zones, slow drip watering is more effective than spraying water over the leaves and reduces sunburn damage to foliage. Longer, deep watering less frequently is more efficient than a light sprinkle every day. Deep watering puts more moisture into the soil and encourages plant roots to penetrate the soil. Frequent, light watering tends to encourage surface roots.
- Harvest rainwater: Consider installing a water tank to collect rainwater. Runoff from the house, garage roof or a shed can collect good quantities of fresh water for use in the garden. As an example, a 4 metre square garage roof will collect 240 litres of water for every 15mm of rainfall. This water would otherwise end up flowing into the stormwater drains. (PS. Government rebates may be available for certain tank installations!)
Harvesting rainwater from Greenhouse roof
- Re-Use Grey water: Another often overlooked source of water for the home garden is “greywater” from the laundry. Set up a diverter to re-direct the waste water into the garden. You may seek the advice of a plumber to assist with this, if required. If using greywater, it is advisable to use low phosphate washing powders or biodegradable soaps.
- Plant selection & Placement: Where possible choose plants that have lower water requirements. Your local nursery can advise on suitable choices. Situate plants with similar water needs in close proximity to each other. This ensures you’re not unnecessarily watering some plants just because of their proximity to a thirsty plant or tree. Not all plants need watering, and some may only need a little occasionally. For your existing plants, try watering them a little less often. In many cases they will adapt to less frequent watering. Make sure you situate your plants in a suitable location in terms of sun exposure and radiated heat, as this can increase their water requirements (ie. plan before you plant if you can!)
Grouped Planting of Herbs
So, I hope you find these tips practical and it’d be awesome if you can implement a few ideas at your own place (if you haven’t already of course!). Enjoy your garden, just remember to be aware of how you use our precious water!
Till next time.
Have you got your own water savings tips you can share with us? The more the merrier! Add them in the comments below.
News from the ‘Mews’ – September 2015
It’s been a long, cold winter. We’ve had it all; icy cold winds, grey skies, rain and frosts (2 mornings in a row our duck pond was frozen over with 15mm thick ice! Mind you, that didn’t stop our duck having a swim after the ice had melted.)
As I look around the property I can see signs that spring is on its way. The fruit trees are setting blossom and leaf buds, the bees are venturing out of the hive when the sun happens to shine and the weeds seem to be growing like crazy. Yep, spring is on the way! I think it’s my favourite time of the year.
Over the winter months our veggies continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate, and the frosts did some minor damage, but overall, the gardens did pretty well.
We’ve been harvesting good quantities of tuscan kale, silverbeet, broccoli, celery, bok choy, rocket, beetroot, butter lettuce, and of course eggs from our chooks and Muscovy duck. Keep reading as I share some of the sustainable living tips we’re using on our property – this month I’m sharing tips on preparing for the next growing season, how to get the best out of your veggie produce and a little update on our aquaponics system!
Preparing for the next growing season:
With the arrival of spring it’s important to plan for the next growing season and start raising seedling. Remember that most veggies have a 10-12 week ‘lead time’ from when you first plant them, until you can pick the first produce. Yes, it does take time to produce quality food, but the rewards are well worth the wait, and they’re in your backyard – not down at the local supermarket.
I’ve been using the greenhouse to plant out and raise seedlings because the temperature is warmer and more stable as we come out of winter. The young plants also do much better in the sheltered environment of the greenhouse.
Whilst the seedlings are growing I can prepare the soil in the garden beds and let the chooks in to clear out the last of the winter crops. This is a win/win situation as they get some exercise scratching and foraging and they add nutrients to the soil too.
Here’s a few tips to get the best out of your veggies:
Δ Cultivate the soil well, down to at least 200-300mm depth – mix it up with a garden fork or spade! This will break up any remaining roots from previous crops and aerate the soil. Open soil structure is essential for optimum growth and water retention.
Δ Add plenty of organic matter to replace nutrients in the soil. We have been using compost, worm castings (from our worm farm), seaweed extract and Munash ‘Rock Dust.’ Any soil type can be improved by the addition of organic matter, and as it breaks down to ‘humus’, it provides food for the bustling community of soil microbes which are essential for good fertile soil and healthy, productive crops.
Δ Rotate your crops – that is, don’t plant tomatoes in the same bed year after year as this can promote disease and possibly nutrient deficiencies.
There are several approaches to rotating crops. One simple system is to rotate each bed through a sequence based on the crop type: Leaf, Legume, Root and Fruit. The rationale behind crop rotation is that you are working with nature to get the best from the soil.
Here’s a few examples and a little infographic to share the idea with you!
Lettuce and celery (leaf crops) would be followed by Peas and Beans (legumes), which in turn would be followed by onions, carrots etc (root crops) and finally tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums etc (fruit crops). This cycle then repeats.
Example: Root crops like carrots, grow deep into the soil and break it up, whereas legume crops like peas and beans actually add nitrogen and enrich the soil. So, by crop rating you maximise the BEST aspects of each of your crops to benefit the next!
Aquaponics Update #2
My aquaponics system is going great guns! Since I added the 35 trout fingerlings back in May, they continue to thrive and they are powering the plants above them in the grow beds. Tuscan kale, chinese cabbage, butter lettuce, parsley and coriander have done particularly well and the fish are now 180 to 220mm in length.
At this rate we hope to harvest fish around the end of October. Smoked trout anyone?! The system only requires minimal inputs now, such as:
Δ Feeding the fish
Δ Testing the water
Δ Cleaning the pump/siphons.
PS. No weeds have set up in the grow beds, which is a bonus too!
Now is the time to get out into the garden, re-connect with nature, and prepare for the coming growing season. Your efforts will be amply rewarded with fresh veggies and produce, and you’ll have the satisfaction of having done it yourself.
As always, till next time!
How are you preparing for the Spring time months? Is there veggie garden prep or outdoor adventures on the horizon for you?