Archive for ‘March, 2016’

Growing Pepinos

Do you know about the perennial fruiting bush, pepino (Solanum muricatum) yet? It’s a beauty. It’s a shrubby climber or ground creeper originally from South America. We grow it throughout our orchard and are loving it’s fresh melon flavour and the fact it’s heaps easier to grow than melons (we live in a cool temperate climate).

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Pepinos (also known as pepino dulce) thrive in a temperate climate and are apparently quite frost sensitive. Saying that, we actually know someone south of Hobart who grows pepinos with strong frosts and occasional snow and it’s still doing really well. If you have strong frosts and still want to give it a go, I’d recommend planting it in the sunniest, most protected place in your garden ideally with some overhead coverage (vegetative or otherwise) to soften the impacts of frost.

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Being in the solanaceae family, they’re related to other fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. The fruits vary in size, ranging from something like a large passionfruit to 15/20cm long (like the one below). Unsurprisingly, if you have good soil health and consistent moisture you’ll end up with nice fat pepinos. FYI, like lots of food plants they prefer a neutral’ish pH.

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You know they’re ready to harvest when they turn yellow and develop some purple stripes/markings. It’s not recommended to pick them before this as they wont be as sweet. However when I have accidently knocked some off the bush, I’ve just left them on my kitchen bench to ripen over a few days and they still taste delicious – phew.

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Growing your own

Pepinos are wonderfully easy to grow and while you can grow them from seed they’re more commonly grown from cuttings.  Just take a cutting of around 10cm, leaving a small amount of leaf at the end, and place them in some soil mix with really good drainage. You can also layer them in the ground, which just means you lay one of the branches on top of the soil and bury a portion of it – this will inspire it to form roots. You can then cut it free from the original plant and move it to your desired area.

There are around nine different varieties available to people to grow (although I’ve only seen this one in Australia), so be sure to research what one grows best in your region.

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We eat them fresh and apparently you can eat their skin – but we don’t. You can include them in a fruit salad, on top of your morning porridge – basically treat them like a melon.

If you’re looking to create a low maintenance, productive garden, plants like pepinos are absolute gold. We’re slowly but surely growing more and more *perennial* edibles over annuals as they generally result in better soil health, high yields, less inputs and less time required from us. What’s not to love?!

Want to know more?

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Conscious Catering

We’re lucky to have a Source Community Wholefoods as our local food co-op in Hobart – it’s a beauty.

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Built on university land by students and community members, it was born as a thought around 10 years ago and has been in operation for around 6.

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The building is made from local timber, straw bales and clay light straw and the small community garden around it includes an espaliered apple orchard, pizza oven, vegetable garden and a stage for music gigs.

 

 

These days it functions as a food co-op, cafe, community garden, a meeting place and as a *kick-arse* catering enterprise, providing ethical, simple food with minimal packaging and serious yum factor. One of the key drivers for this enterprise is Lissa Villeneuve.

IMG_5931Lissa in the Source kitchen

Lissa has a long history with good food – growing it, cooking it and eating it – she’s a good one to have on your side when you need to feed many mouths.

IMG_5949Organic carrots heading for the oven

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IMG_5941Bulk dry wholefoods at the Source food co-op

She sources wholesome fresh produce from both the food co-op and the community garden for her meals, meaning all food is generally in season, local and therefore at its best.

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IMG_5943Grapes in the Source community garden *pumping*

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IMG_5939Fresh produce sourced mostly from local farmers (bananas not included of course)…

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The “truth window” inside the co-op where you can see the straw bales and some of the pictures showing the garden design (designed by me) and evolution of the space.

As well as catering for events, Source also do a great food stall for festivals and parties….

12778721_239329023068060_6826903074164236758_oDrea and Lissa at the Koonya Garlic Festival.

We regularly book in Source Catering for some of our workshops and events. They’re our number one choice as we have complete peace of mind knowing their food will be ethical, healthy and darn tasty every time. We’re lucky to have them – you can track them down and book them in here and by emailing Lissa at produce@sourcewholefoods.org.au.

12650946_10153941771839626_9110369626417763598_nA sweet gig taking place in the community garden

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How To Build An Earthship Retaining Wall

As we live on a steep slope we’ve had to build a lot of retaining walls in order to create functionalilty around access, water management and food production. We’ve used a range of techniques to do this including working with old car tyres to build a big earthship retaining wall directly near our house.

Earthship construction is a technique of building developed by Amercian architect, Mike Reynolds. He’s famous for using ‘rubbish’ and earth as building materials. We love his work.

We chose to build an earthship wall as we had a small budget and a lot of excess sub soil left over from our initial earth works. We also knew we could get car tyres for free from the local car yard who have to pay to get rid of them.

DSC01829Our backyard straight after the excavator had terraced it all

We hadn’t built one of these before hand, so spent some time on youtube to learn how (there are lots of clips to watch).

While it’s pretty easy, it’s also a lot of hard work. It would have been whole lot easier if we had heaps of people to help, one of these cool whakker packer tools and *dry* gravely soil instead of the wet, sticky/clay sub soil from our place. This last tip is a really big one, the guy on the youtube video we watched made it look like a walk in the park with his dry, sandy soil in New Mexico. He just kind of poured it into the tyre and patted it down, in contrast we shoveled, packed, whacked, shoveled more, had a cup break to chill out a bit and then came back and whacked more. It was a bit of a mission. But it’s a bloody strong wall and used up a lot of our excess sub soil for which we are stoked.

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Starting out, we cleared the space, tacked on some white geo-fabric to the bank (see above) to keep it from dropping crumbs and made a level pad to start laying tyres. As we were almost on bedrock, we didn’t have to lay any sand/concrete for foundations, we just leveled it off.

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As soon as you start building up from your first tyre, you have to find a way to plug the holes so the earth doesn’t just fall through. We had a whole pile of carpet tiles the previous owner had left under our house which fitted perfectly, so we used them.

We also back-filled the area directly behind the tyres with 20mm blue metal and ag pipe (not pictured) to guide excess water out of this area to a safe spot.

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And when friends came to visit like Isobel did below, they helped, thanks Isobel!

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Pound, pound, pounding…. There was a lot of this and Anton did most of it so he is forever the best.

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We went five tyres high and angled them all slightly back for structural integrity. An important thing to note is that if you go over 1 metre high you need an engineer (in our region at least) to design/approve things which can get complicated and expensive. Because of this we didn’t exceed this limit – it might look taller below, but that’s because the earth around the wall had been excavated and we the paving hadn’t been put down.

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The next step involved plugging the holes with subsoil, the best approach was to simple form balls of sticky soil and peg it (throw it really hard) into the gaps and then pat it in to make sure it’s all bedded down.

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After that, we wrapped the whole wall in chicken wire, this is what the external renders ‘hangs on’ to and helps create a smooth, level surface.

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This is where I should have some photos of the concrete render layers we did (there were two), except I accidently deleted them all, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

We chose concrete render instead of earth for two reasons, the first being this wall is in the coldest, dampest area of of whole property so it needs to be able to handle long months of never seeing the sun and being constantly wet. The second reason is that we’re not overly experienced with earth building, so took the conservative approach.

Recently we (as in, Anton) did the paving around this area using recycled bricks being pulled up from our local town square. This was the final job to do before we painted the wall to look all fancy. So now it looks like this, which we love.

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Note the drainage holes at the base of the wall. In additional to all the 20mm blue metal and ag pipe that’s behind the wall these are also necessary as you *never* want any water building up behind a retaining wall.

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One end of the wall has these nifty little steps leading up to our food gardens (not pictured).

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The downside of these nifty stairs is that our little Frida Maria loves climbing them, when you’re not looking she’ll be up there in 2 seconds having a great time. Which is good and all, it’s just that the potential of falling onto the hard bricks below is a little too un-relaxing for us. So a little gate may be in order.

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We’re looking at doing some more retaining walls this year for another part of block, and while we love this wall – we’re considering using earth *bags* this time round to save our backs :-).

We’d love to see more people using recycled materials to build with inside and outside of homes. The amount of ‘rubbish’ in our world is mind boggling and when we look closer at so called rubbish, you’ll notice that most of it could actually be re-purposed into a valuable resource. The possibilities are endless – it’s just needs you/us to pull our socks up and get creative!

Earthship Resources & Networks

These days there are many precedents earthship houses around the world including Australia, including:

*Just a quick note, car tyres can have some leaching of chemicals which we wouldn’t personally be comfortable putting near food gardens. So this wall isn’t near our growing beds. Everything downhill from it (the leaching will move with gravity) is all brick paving and house, so we’re happy.

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Jean-Martin Fortier: Market Gardener Masterclass

We’ve just hosted Jean-Martin Fortier for a flying visit to Hobart to teach a packed out Market Gardening Masterclass. It was such a treat to have him here *and* to have a full room of some of Tasmania’s finest, most dedicated growers and wanna be growers.

With his wife, Maude-Hélène Desroches, Jean-Martin runs Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally recognized 10-acre micro-farm in Quebec, Canada. With only 1½ acres cultivated in permanent beds, the farm grosses more than $100 000 per acre with operating margins of about 60 per cent, enough to financially sustain his family. The focus at la Grelinette has been to grow better, not bigger, in order to optimize the cropping system, making it more lucrative and viable in the process.

Here’s a little look around this special day…

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We held this workshop across the road from the Hobart City Farm, which meant we could pop over, play with their very awesome tool collection and have a sticky beak at a young, small market garden which is largely base on Jean-Martin’s book, The Market Gardener.

IMG_5885The wonderful group of people getting introduced to some of the unique tools living at the Farm.

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IMG_5888Wouter from Seven Springs Farm trying out the stirrup hoe

IMG_5891Bridget from the Hobart City Farm showing how to work the tilther  – a tool that only works the top inch of the bed to prep it for the next crop. 

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Using similar methods to Jean-Martin, the Hobart City Farm are growing 150 tomato plants in their hot house in a space which would normally grow less than half that.

IMG_5898James from the Hobart City Farm doing a demonstration with the greens harvester

One of the tools on show was the quick cut greens harvester, specifically designed to harvest young greens exceptionally fast and efficiently while still maintaining quality. It’s pretty cool.

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It’s not often we get the opportunity to meet the people we look up, so when we do – we’re super grateful and even more so when you find out they’re as cool as you hoped they’d be. Thanks for visiting our little island Jean-Martin and for injecting some of your experience, passion and good vibes into our community of growers – the ripple affects will be long and many.

4 Jean-Martin, squished between the Hobart City Farm team and me (Hannah) – I’m actually involved in both the Farm and Good Life Permaculture – which is nice and confusing, but mostly just nice. Image from Hobart City Farm. 

Cool things to check out

  • You can check out more tools for the market gardener here.
  • You can see more of everything on The Market Gardener’s website here.
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