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.
My Backyard Aquaponics System
It’s been six months since I added the rainbow trout fingerlings to my backyard aquaponics system. You can check out previous instalments here, here and here.
We’ve been picking veggies from the grow beds since mid July and have now begun harvesting trout. It really is awesome to be able to catch fresh fish right in your own backyard.
Overall, I’ve been very happy with our system, which is based on 2 x 1000 litre IBC tanks, scoria growing media and a small water pump. The system does require some work to keep it functioning properly, but it is well worth the effort when you consider what you get back in terms of fresh veggies and fish – and less than a minutes walk from the kitchen too!
Considering the system covers only 2.5 square metres in area, it’s extremely productive; growing lush green veggies and fresh trout. Crops grown include:
Δ Butter lettuce
Δ Bok choy
Δ Tuscan kale, and
In terms of fish – so far, we’ve harvested 5 trout weighing on average 260 grams and up to 30cm in length. Plenty more fresh fish to follow!
30cm Rainbow Trout from my Backyard Aquaponics System
Broccoli – part of my Backyard Aquapnoics System
Daily Management Routine:
I have a daily routine with the system, which includes:
Feeding the fish twice per day, and
Testing the water temperature and pH (acidity level)
During winter, water temperature was not an issue for the trout, but as the weather warms up here in Melbourne, I need to keep an eye on it. Water temperatures above 22 degrees are not good for trout because the oxygen levels in the water fall too low for them. If we get a real hot spell which stresses the fish, I’ll have to harvest more and freeze them (no wastage!) I am currently considering my options for running the system over the coming summer. You can see from my Temperature Graph below that temperatures have been increasing from around September this year.
Water Temperature Graph
Weekly Management Routine:
Weekly, my maintenance includes:
A pump and siphons check and clean,
Full chemical check on the water in the tank for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. This is to monitor water quality and alert me to any adverse changes which could harm the fish.
If any problems are detected, I may need to adjust the pH higher with buffer, add some fresh water to the tank, or reduce the amount of feed given to the fish until the system gets back into balance.
It has been an amazing experience to set up and run our own small scale backyard aquaponics system.
And, for a little insight into how the produce is being used in the kitchen – my favourite way to cook the trout at present is to pan fry it in ghee with mushrooms and sage. Super tasty!
Do you have your own backyard aquaponics system? It’d be great if you could share the produce you grow, or the fish you use in your aquaponics system in the comments below.
Recently I shared my experience at the first local food forum we attended earlier this year – you can find it here if you haven’t already had a read.
We reconnected recently with Council and the local community to further discuss improving the community’s access to sourcing quality local food. We also discussed ‘where to next’ in putting the findings from our last session into practice and implementing some new ideas for the common good of the local community. We had people return to the discussion and new people join us. The attendees were of varying ages from mid twenties to 80+ – all willing to work together and learn from each other!
Starting something new can be hard, generally because of the lack of knowledge and skill and determining where to start. However, when you have people willing to share and participate, it gives an incredible energy to what you are wanting to do and achieve. Everyone has something valuable to offer and the local food forum is about offering valuable information, sharing ideas and creating conversation. People’s passion and enthusiasm for the topic is energising – the fact that everyone wants to make a difference and contribute in some way is what gets things happening!
So this session was about making decisions on the projects we really wanted to put effort into, to see them get up and running. The top 3 hits were:
A Local Produce Directory – It was suggested that this directory also include people with relevant skills that want to impart their knowledge on how to cultivate fresh produce and where/how to source it. In this way people can find local produce but also learn and expand on their own skills and knowledge.
A Community Garden – Our local ‘Men’s Shed’ building has been approved and given council land and discussions indicated that this may be a possible place for a community garden. The men that are part of the Men’s Shed were very keen to help create and maintain new garden plots. We identified that our main obstacle for this project will be sourcing water for the garden and so our next mission is to find solutions to this potential problem.
Community Harvest Festival – The Festival would create space for local producers to showcase and sell their produce and educate people on what ‘real food’ is all about. An extension of this idea included local restaurants using local produce to allow locals to ‘taste the difference’ in quality local produce.
Groups were formed depending on which topic they were most passionate about and each group had a brainstorming session on where to go next to make these projects a reality. We planned to meet again in a months time. Each of us has a little homework to do – mainly finding out information. We’re very thankful that the Council have been very generous with their support in helping us do this!
Everyone knows that it is not easy to make big change happen. We realise that we all have to pull together to make progress but the beauty of that is seeing how truly wonderful the community spirit is. People value their food supply and are passionate about changing the current state of our ‘food system.’
Stay tuned for further developments – I look forward to bringing them to you!
Are you involved with any local produce or sustainable food initiatives? Do you have any ideas we could bring to the table? Please share with us in the comments below.