Posts tagged ‘permaculture gardening’

Real Skills for Growing Food at Fat Pig Farm

Two days of hands-on learning, equipping you with the skills to grow food in your own home.

We’re partnering with Fat Pig Farm to bring you two days of hands-on Real Skills for Growing Food. Join Hannah Moloney, Anton Vikstrom and Fat Pig Farm’s market gardener, Jonathon Cooper to learn the basics in growing your own food in small spaces.

Ready to book in? Just scroll down to the bottom of this page.

You’ll get to learn all about…

  • Soil: If you want to grow good food, you’re going to need to know about soil – this is the key to awesome food production. We’ll introduce you to the soil food web and explore a range of soil preparation methods for different contexts.
  • Compost: Learn about composting worms *and* make a hot compost.
  • Propagation: Empower yourself to grow food from scratch – we’ll look at everything from making your own seed raising mix, planting seeds, and growing from cuttings.
  • Vegetable growing: We’ll introduce you to growing both annual and perennial vegetables so you can create diverse, edible garden-scapes.
  • Food forests: How to create perennial, low maintenance, high yielding food systems for small and large areas.

Who should come to this workshop?

We’ve designed this workshop as an introduction for folks wanting to get started in growing their own food and for people looking for some extra guidance in refining their growing skills. If you’re looking for an advanced food growing workshop, this one isn’t for you – but stay tuned as we have big plans for a rather fantastic workshop on this.

tranquility

Students receive

  • Full catering by Fat Pig Farm – it’s going to be delicious,
  • An invitation to an optional dinner on the Saturday night (additional cost applies),
  • Some solid time in Fat Pig Farm’s market garden where you’ll see strategies you can apply to your small or large garden,
  • A copy of The Practical Australian Gardener by Peter Cundall,
  • Vegetable seedlings to get you growing,
  • Extensive course notes on everything we cover over the weekend, and
  • Skills and knowledge useful for the rest of your life!

“The attention to detail was great – this makes everything run smoothly and comfortably. And the gifts were amazing! Not only did I have a wonderful weekend, I came away with so much stuff! Thank you”.

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Catering

Fat Pig Farm will spoil you with food to fill your belly, warm your hearts and inspire you to grow your own. Think hearty soups filled with fresh veggies from the garden, Fat Pig ham on bread straight from their wood fired oven, plus cakes and scones inspired by summer’s preserves.

Saturday Night Farm Feast

With Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans & Sadie Chrestman

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All students plus their friends and family are invited to join us, Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans and Sadie Chrestman for a yarn and a cider over slow roasted farm grown goodness. Matthew and Sadie will fire up their wood fired oven and roast garden veggies and farm-grown meat. This is what we call a super special treat – not to be missed!

Please note, dinner is an optional extra to the daily workshops and costs an additional $80 per person. This is a wonderful chance to bring your family and friends along to soak up the hands-on learning vibes and enjoy the weekend with you.

 *And yes, we can easily cater for people with different dietary needs.

Fat Pig Farm (1)

Fat Pig Farm is nestled in Glaziers Bay, 10 minutes from Cygnet and is home to Sadie Chrestman and Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans. As a working farm, they run a market garden, mixed fruit and nut orchards, chickens, bees, some milking cows and raise pigs. Thew also have a delightful on farm restaurant, open for weekly lunches and occasional cooking workshops.

How do I get there?

You’ll be provided with clear directions on how to get there prior to the course.

Your Teachers

jono-profile-pic-for-GLP-editJonathon Cooper is the current organic market gardener for Fat Pig Farm and lives in the Huon Valley. He has several years experience working in agriculture, including as co-owner of a diversified 200 acre regenerative farm south of Hobart. He loves working with people to teach them how to grow their own food in whatever space they have available to them. While he focuses on market gardens, he’ll teach you skills transferable to small and tiny spaces, perfect for the urban gardener. You can follow his adventures at Fat Pig Farm here

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Anton profile pic
Anton Vikstrom
 has well over a decade of hands-on experience in working with urban agriculture. His work includes establishing his homestead in South Hobart (which is shaping up to be an example of urban permaculture at its finest) and designing people’s properties. He is deeply committed to regenerating landscapes, building community, having a good life and supporting others to do the same.

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Hannah Moloney grew up on a city farm in QLD and is co-founder of the Hobart City Farm. Along with her partner Anton, she is developing their urban homestead into a permaculture haven and has been designing, teaching and implementing urban food gardens and small market gardens for well over a decade. You can read more about Hannah here.

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Firstly, thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable and educational course. As experienced growers, we were impressed that you covered so many areas so that inexperienced and experienced growers could walk away with something of value. It was a really positive feeling to walk away with a book, seedlings, trays, seeds, cuttings etc – was most generous and will be a great ongoing reminder of where we started (dead or not ;-)). Thank you so much everyone. You are great bunch!

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Accommodation

For folks travelling from afar – there are a wealth of local options for you to choose from, CLICK HERE to see a huge range of options put together by our friends at the Cygnet Folk Festival.

Cancellation Policy

There is no refund available for this course. If you’re unable to make it we encourage you to pass your place onto friends or family – alternatively you’re welcome to put it towards one of our future courses.

Leave a comment

Growing Your Own Apple Tree Rootstock

Last winter our neighbour gave us two apple rootstock saplings and some advice for our developing orchard plans. She said:

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Save yourself money and grow your own rootstock. Just dig a long trench the same height of the tree and bury them (each in their own one) – they’ll sprout multiple times from their trunks and grow more trees.

Our neighbour is one of the best growers around, so we do whatever she tells us. We dug two shallow trenches, popped them in and forgot about them. The sketch below outlines the key steps to do this whole process – super easy.

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We now have ten young apple trees that we’ve since grafted onto with our desired apple varieties.

What varieties did we choose? The sturmer for its good storing abilities and the red galaxy – an older variety with pink flesh. We couldn’t find any reference to this variety, but how could we go past it with a name like that! Thanks to Fat Pig Farm for letting us lovingly raid their old orchard.

img_7049The young graft line, healing beautifully. 

img_7044Our ten apple saplings

We’re storing all the trees in one trench on the edge of our young olive grove until next winter, when we’ll transplant them into their permanent home in some new ground we’re prepping this summer. Until then, they’ll put on good growth so they’re ready for fruiting the following season.

If we were to buy all the plants we wanted to grow in our property, it’d add up to many, many thousands of dollars. Learning these life skills isn’t only empowering and deeply satisfying they look after the piggy bank too. But mostly, they’re just deeply satisfying – that’s what drives us – developing *useful* skills that all add up to having a good life.

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Our Maturing Edible Forest Garden

Around three and half years ago, we excavated our hillside – shaping the very steep slope into a series of terraces.  We knew we couldn’t afford to build retaining walls to stabilise each terrace, so our solution was one that many people have used before us – use plants to stabilise the earth berms. The berms are angled at around 45 degrees (the legal steepness is 60 degrees where we live), are a hell-of-a-lot cheaper and turns out more productive and beautiful than retaining walls.

The earth berm below (circled in yellow) was our largest, most problematic slope to stabilise – our solution? Plant it out as a small edible forest garden (EFG). You can see the full process we went through to establish this patch here.

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558615_639447366089512_23328198_nDirectly after the earth works, we quickly covered the steep earth berms with jute mesh to help stablise the soil and hold the clover seeds we broadcast (in hindsight, jute mat would have been better). We then put in some basic timber shelves, back filled them with good soil and planted them out densely.

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While we still think of this little patch as our young EFG – it’s starting to produce food, provide habitat and food to small insects and critters, plus it’s beautiful. We now sit in our seat (below), have a beer or a cuppa while fresh mint and nasturtiums drape over our shoulders. It’s transformed and we love it.

IMG_6002Photo from April 2016

Contrary to most design approaches for EFGs, we’ve arranged our key plants in rows in order to help stabilise the steep bank and to create easier access in a relatively small space. Below you can see these lines reasonably well with currants at the bottom left, feijoa trees in the middle, a strip of comfrey and then myrtus ugni berries at the very top. There’s also rambling clover, mint, nasturtiums and many herbs in between all this as well.

IMG_6006 Photo from April 2016

As an ever-evolving space it’s always changing from season to season. We’ve made some changes here and there, like replacing the tamarillo tree with a fig, but only because we like figs more and due to limited space had to make a choice.

While I was out there this morning cutting and slashing the comfrey, using it as mulch around the fig and feijoa trees, I had a happy moment – realising that we never have to bring in mulch for this patch any more. It produces *so much* bio mass, plenty to cycle back into its own system, plus feed the chooks.

20161025_103400The baby fig tree *flanked* by a serious wall of flowering comfrey and a cape gooseberry.

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Being a perennial system, the maintenance is *significantly* lower than our annual garden beds. While we’re currently busy weeding our spring veggie beds and keeping them under control – our EFG only needs only occasional attention. Our main jobs are pruning and harvesting to keep this tight space productive. For example, two or three times a year I’ll go through and “clear-fell” patches mint to dry for tea, plus give the neighbouring plants a break from being swamped by it. Below you can see a freshly harvest patch which will bounce back with fresh mint in no time.

20161025_103806A clear patch where the mint has just been harvested for tea. Image form October 2016

We’re approaching a very big summer/autumn of change for our property – expanding our gardens into the neighbouring block we’ve just purchased (with the bank). While there’s still a whole stack of details to finalise, we’re 100% clear on one thing – and that’s having more perennial, instead of annual gardens. The high productivity, improved soil health and lower inputs required make it a no-brainer!

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Real Skills For Growing Food At *Fat Pig Farm*

Two days of hands-on learning, equipping you with the skills to grow food in your own home.

Exciting time Folks! We’re partnering with Fat Pig Farm to bring you two days of hands-on Real Skills for Growing Food. Join Hannah Moloney, Anton Vikstrom and Fat Pig Farm market gardener, Jonathon Cooper to learn the basics in growing your own food in urban and small spaces.

This workshop has now booked out, you can sign up to our newsletter to hear about the next one!

You’ll get to learn all about…

  • Soil. If you want to grow good food, you’re going to need to know about soil – this is the key to awesome food production. We’ll introduce you to the soil food web and explore a range of soil preparation methods for different contexts.
  • Propagation. Empower yourself to grow food from scratch – we’ll look at everything from making your own seed raising mix, planting seeds, and growing from cuttings.
  • Vegetable growing. We’ll introduce you to growing both annual and perennial vegetables so you can create diverse, edible garden-scapes.
  • Fruit trees. You’ll learn all about planting and pruning fruit trees, plus we’ll introduce you to a wonderful concept called ‘food forests’.

Who should come to this workshop?

We’ve designed this workshop as an introduction for folks wanting to get started in growing their own food and for people looking for some extra guidance in refining their growing skills. If you’re looking for an advanced food growing workshop, this one isn’t for you – but stay tuned as we have big plans for a rather fantastic workshop on this.

tranquility

Students receive

  • Full catering by Fat Pig Farm – it’s going to be delicious,
  • An invitation to an optional dinner on the Saturday night (additional cost applies),
  • Some solid time in Fat Pig Farm’s market garden where you’ll see strategies you can apply to your urban or small garden,
  • A copy of The Practical Australian Gardener by Peter Cundall,
  • Vegetable seedlings to get you growing,
  • Extensive course notes on everything we cover over the weekend, and
  • Skills and knowledge useful for the rest of your life!

 

“The attention to detail was great – this makes everything run smoothly and comfortably. And the gifts were amazing! Not only did I have a wonderful weekend, I came away with so much stuff! Thank you”.

 

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Catering

Fat Pig Farm will spoil you with food to fill your belly, warm your hearts and inspire you to grow your own. Think hearty soups filled with fresh veggies from the garden, Fat Pig ham on bread straight from their wood fired oven, plus cakes and scones inspired by summer’s preserves.

Saturday Night Farm Feast

With Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans & Sadie Chrestman

Untitled design (3)

All students plus their friends and family are invited to join us, Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans and Sadie Chrestman for a yarn and a cider over slow roasted farm grown goodness. Matthew and Sadie will fire up their wood fired oven and roast garden veggies and farm-grown meat. This is what we call a super special treat – not to be missed!

Please note, dinner is an optional extra to the daily workshops and costs an additional $80 per person. This is a wonderful chance to bring your family and friends along to soak up the hands-on learning vibes and enjoy the weekend with you.

 *And yes, we can easily cater for people with different dietary needs.

Fat Pig Farm (1).Fat Pig Farm is nestled in Glaziers Bay, 10 minutes from Cygnet and is home to Sadie Chrestman and Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans. As a working farm, they run a market garden, mixed fruit and nut orchards, chickens, bees, some milking cows and raise pigs. In the very near future Matthew and Sadie will also be opening a farm restaurant for lunches and occasional cooking workshops – watch this space.

How do I get there?

Students will be provided with clear directions on how to get there prior to the course.

Your Teachers

jono-profile-pic-for-GLP-editJonathon Cooper is the current organic market gardener for Fat Pig Farm and lives in the Huon Valley. He has several years experience working in agriculture, including as co-owner of a diversified 200 acre regenerative farm south of Hobart. He loves working with people to teach them how to grow their own food in whatever space they have available to them. While he focuses on market gardens, he’ll teach you skills transferable to small and tiny spaces, perfect for the urban gardener. You can follow his adventures at Fat Pig Farm here

.
Anton profile pic
Anton Vikstrom
 has well over a decade of hands-on experience in working with urban agriculture. His work includes establishing his homestead in South Hobart which is shaping up to be an example of urban permaculture at its finest and designing people’s properties. He is deeply committed to regenerating landscapes, building community, having a good life and supporting others to do the same.

 

IMG_5913 2Hannah Moloney grew up on a city farm in QLD and is co-founder of the Hobart City Farm. Along with her partner Anton, she is developing their urban homestead into a permaculture haven and has been design, teaching and implementing urban food gardens for well over a decade. You can read more about Hannah here.

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“Thank you, thank you, thank you!! [You] are beautiful and amazing!” 

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Accommodation

For folks travelling from afar – there are a wealth of local options for you to choose from, CLICK HERE to see a huge range of options put together by our friends at the Cygnet Folk Festival.

Cancellation Policy

There is no refund available for this course. If you’re unable to make it we encourage you to pass your place onto friends or family – alternatively you’re welcome to put it towards one of our future courses.

Leave a comment

Homegrown Bug Mix

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We consider having a good bug mix on hand really useful (essential even) in creating a healthy, pest free garden. It’s key function is to attract certain insects (often referred to as beneficials) that help pollinate crops and control unwanted insects.

As we’re in Tasmania we’re unable to buy in certain seeds and bug mixes due to quarantine, so we grown our own – and while the mix will vary depending on seasons and availability, here are some of our stalwart and rather beautiful ingredients. Image from Green Harvest

 

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Sweet Alice (Lobularia maritima) has masses of tiny white and/or purple flowers that attract hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. This little bush grows prolifically, so much so that we often ‘weed’ it out and use it as mulch to protect naked soils. In doing so it drops its seeds and grows where we’ve thrown it down. When the bush is dry, we also put some of it in a paper bag and shake it around vigorously – this separates the seeds from their pods so we can easily harvest them.

IMG_5384Sweet Alice being used as mulch

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IMG_5386Sweet Alice seed pods and actual seed separated

The second plant we use *a lot* is calendula (Calendula Officinalis). We use it as a quick growing cover crop to help stabilise and beautify some of our many slopes and attract the good guys into our landscape. Ladybirds (and bees) love hanging out on these little beauties.

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Finally, we use nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) in our bug mix which everything seem to love. They’re a fantastic ground cover, perfect in orchards and for rambling down slopes. We use their young seed pods to make ‘poor man capers‘, and the rest fall on the ground and are harvested for our bug mix.

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All three of these plants will grow prolifically and while they will self seed and become very abundant in your garden, they wont become invasive. This means you can happily grow them in both your annual and perennial crops without a problem.

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Above and below you can see some of these flowers in action in our orchard, below you’ll also see flowers like borage, native pelagonium and sunflowers,  who add to creating an attractive, food filled space for beneficial bugs.

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Want to know more?

 

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Sheet Mulching

Before I start, a bit of clarifying on the term ‘sheet mulching’ as it seems to vary depending on where you are in the world. In Australia, sheet mulching is different to no-dig gardening, although they’re very similar – one is an extension of the other.

  • Sheet mulching is used to smother the ground with organic matter (generally cardboard, newspaper and woodchips plus some nitrogen materials including animal manures or blood and bone), usually to suppress grass in order to establish more desired plants. The desired plants are planted directly into the original soil through the sheet mulching with some compost if needed.
  • No-dig gardening also smothers the ground, however has many more layers of organic matter to create an instant raised garden bed which you can plant into the same day you make it. If you have really challenging soils and can’t plant into them, a no-dig garden can work great for you. Read about how to create them with the Australian City Farms and Community Garden Network.

Righteo, lets start.

We’ve been tweaking our young orchard lately to stop the grass from creeping in and taking over, something the fruit trees will hate, as will we. Grass sucks a lot of water and nutrient away from trees (and all other plants), so even if you choose to have grass throughout your orchard, your trees will be happier and healthier if there’s a good buffer from their trunk to where the grass starts.

At our place we’ve got a range of invasive grasses which we’re slowing planting out to make way for a more productive landscape. After transplanting the asparagus understory from the orchard (there just wasn’t enough room), we’re now establishing perennial and self seeding floral understory to attract the pollinators, suppress unwanted plants and look good. To help all these plants thrive we’ve sheet mulched the whole area to suppress the grass and add a stack of organic matter. Here’s how we did it….

IMG_5163Some grass moving in on our fruit trees… Grrrrr.

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Step 1

Traditionally you don’t have to do any weeding before you start sheet mulching, however we wanted to really bang our invasive grasses on the head, so the first step for us involved going through our orchard and getting out as much grass as we could with our hands.

If you’re starting with a blank canvas, i.e. a big flat lawn – mow the grass down really short and leave it on the ground (spread evenly). Pierce the soil with a garden fork to help water, nutrients and air find their way into the soil quickly.

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Step 2

Next up we added some minerals and nutrients tailored to what our heavy clay soils need. This included gypsum to help bind the clay into aggregates, chook poo from our feathered friends, some old grass clippings and a bit of blood and bone. It is not essential to add inputs, but like I said, our soil needs it.

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Step 3

Place your ‘weed mat’ on the ground. We’ve used thick sheets of newspapers which *heavily* overlap, ensuring there’s absolutely no gaps at all – that’s a really important detail. You can also use cardboard boxes just remember to remove the sticky tape and avoid the waxed boxes as they’re harder to work with. We never use any glossy brochures/magazines as their chemical ink isn’t desirable for our soils. Before we lay the newspaper down, we soak it in a bucket/wheelbarrow of water, this helps it mold to the surface, prevents it from blowing it away and actually attracts soil critters to hang out around it – worms love it.

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When it comes to the edges of your garden bed, be mindful that this is where weeds usually creep in, you can see below we’ve extended our ‘weed mat’ to go under the timber lengths to help slow the grass down. FYI, this edging of cypress macrocarpa branches is temporary, in the near future we have to dig up this pathway to install a water pipe, so we haven’t been overly ‘special’ with how we’ve built this edge. In time, we’ll be putting in some more solid hardwood timber sleepers.

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IMG_5192Note the overlapping of the newspaper – there should be absolutely no gaps for any weeds to sneak through. 

Step 4

The next step is to cover the newspaper with heavy mulch – we prefer to use woodchips (ideally ramial woodchips) for their high nutrient content and ability to create the right environment for fungi to thrive – other people prefer pea straw (or different types of straw). Below, you can see our espaliered orchard with the middle section half complete and the end closer to us finished off with woodchips.

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Step 5

Plant a useful understory. Where there’s space, why not plant something? We broadcast nasturitum, calendula, nigella, red clover, sweet alice and borage seeds. Within a few months this will be covered in colour and life – above and below the ground.

  IMG_5176Calendula seed above and nasturtium below.

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Now, please be aware that sheet mulching is not the silver bullet to vigorous weeds. Generally they will still find a way to come back – just a lot more slowly. You still need to manually stay on top of things in the early days by the occasional weeding session. Eventually they will be overwhelmed and dominated by more desired plants, but in these early days when there’s heaps of sun and space they’ll keep trying to return.

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While young, our orchard is already one of our favourite places on our property and has started to produce fruit and berries – which is why we hang out here a lot. Working with the soil (which sheet mulching is part of) will help the plant’s overall health and vitality, ensuring that this space will be nothing but beautiful, abundant and cranking.

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Learning The Art Of Growing

Good things happen when people come together around food, so our ‘Real Skills for Growing Food’ workshop on the weekend was particularly great, as people got to learn how to grow their own food (and eventually eat it of course).

We love these weekends, it’s a time where we can bring together some of Tasmania’s most talented growers to share their skills, passion and deep knowledge on all things productive and edible. Here’s a whirlwind tour of what went down.

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We started the weekend in Suzi Lam’s urban market garden. This woman, I tells ya – she’s more than good, knows soils inside out and her passion for gardening and life in general is contagious.

Suzi took the students through the importance of soil health and approaches to achieve this, including making complete organic fertiliser, using ramial woodchips and making hot compost.

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image2Building a compost pile with Suzi

We then moved the workshop to the Hobart City Farm which is a project very close to our hearts and hands. Here we explored propagation and seed saving with James Da Costa who’s one of the co-founders of the City Farm.

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IMG_4141Sand, coco peat and compost, three key ingredients for a propagation mix.

IMGP0079Broad beans, one of the easiest seeds to save and grow.

Day two of the workshop saw local grower, Jonathon Cooper take folks through an overview in market gardening.

IMG_4147Jono showing folks a broadfork – a popular tool for any market gardener

He took everyone through the fundamentals including must have tools, the importance of good design, managing weeds, crop planning and extending your season – which can be critical in our cool temperate climate.

IMG_4173Stacey and Megan weeding the garlic patch with stirrup hoes, with the very wonderful Bridget supervising.

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To finish off the weekend, Anton tool the class through a range of techniques for growing food including the biointensive method, companion planting, no-dig gardening, and planting fruit trees.

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IMGP0074   IMGP0089Happy students!

Students had a go at laying out beds for crops using the biointensive method with close spacings to make the most out of the area available.

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IMG_4195Planting out and watering in the no-dig garden

IMGP0020 2Megan working on the no-dig garden bed

Thanks so much to all the wonderful people who came along, we wish you a life time of growing, inside and out…

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Thanks also to our special teaching team – (from left to right) Jonathon Cooper, James Da Costa, Suzi Lam and Anton Vikstrom. If you ever have the opportunity to work with, or learn from, any of these people – grab it, they’re gold.

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Our next ‘Real Skills for Growing Food’ workshop will be in 2016, join our monthly newsletter to make sure you hear about it.

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How to grow mint without it taking over your whole garden

Mint is one of the essential herbs to have in your garden. However, left to its own devices it will *become* your whole garden. It has an enthusiastic character and strong vigor, meaning it can be everywhere in a blink of an eyelid.

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Mint has shallow roots which move outwards rapidly and send up new shoots of leaf as it goes – it can and will cover many square metres. Often gardeners will combat this challenge by isolating it and putting it into a pot or container to keep it out of the main garden. However through doing so you’re also keeping the plant away from the wonderful world of the soil food web – a world of biology in vast numbers doing all types of important things related to soil and plant health. Generally any plant in a pot needs higher levels of inputs to keep them happy.

We like to avoid extra work/inputs if we can help it… And so we recommend planting your mint in pots AND in the ground. Let us show you what we mean…

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First we rip out a bit of mint from a patch in the garden (or your mate’s garden). You don’t have to be gentle with this plant, as long as you can get a bit of root on it, it will grow – guaranteed.

Then, give it a drastic prune, cutting off most of the leaf and any leggy (tall) stems, this will ensure the plant puts the majority of its energy into establishing good roots over leaf.

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Next up, grab a plastic pot which isn’t overly precious. I’m using a small one here just to demonstrate the technique, but I recommend getting one which is 20cm-30cm (at least) in diametre so you can have a decent size plant.

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Cut the bum out of the pot – this will help the soil inside of the pot be ‘one’ with the rest of the garden soil.

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Then – press, wriggle and massage the pot into the garden bed of your choice until the rim of the pot is just below the soil level.

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Plant the mint cutting directly into the soil and cover the pot with soil so you don’t even see it.

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Done!

By doing this technique, you’re still allowing the mint to express its mint-ness. The roots can still spread outwards as normal, however the sides of the pot will stop them from spreading further.  As the root’s natural behaviour is to grow close to the surface they will not dive down and under the bottom of the pot, they’ll stop there.

FYI – As part of ongoing management of this plant, you’ll need to pull out the pot/plant and prune the roots back every now and then as they’ll start getting root bound, circling in on themselves.

So there you go, you can have your mint and vegies side by side, living happily ever after.

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Growing & Loving Oca

Do you know oca (oxalis tuberosa) yet? It’s one of our current favourite root vegies and is commonly known as New Zealand (NZ) yam, however it’s real origins stem back to the Southern Andes. NZ seems to have a thing for adopting foods and calling them their own, think kiwi fruit which actually comes form China where it’s called the Chinese gooseberry. And just for the record feijoas, which NZ folk grow with great vengeance are actually from South America. To be fair oca was introduced to NZ way back in 1860‘ish, so it’s been around for a while on this side of the world.

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As you can see above – there are quite a few varieties, some common and some you’ll probably never see in real life.

How to grow them

Generally you plant oca in Spring in cool climates, however we didn’t get ours in until mid Summer and they still worked just fine. Similar to potatoes you pop oca tubers in the ground and wait for them to stick their heads up. You can gradually mound earth around the plant (again, like potatoes) to increase the size of the tubers, or you can just let it grow and still achieve a good harvest.

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Interestingly, tuber development is light-dependant. When daylight hours drop (in Winter), the tuber formation begins. We actually checked on our oca crop in late Autumn and there was nothing going on under the soil – lots of leaf, but not one little tuber was spotted. However around two months later they’ve magically appeared – it’s so crowded under each plant with stacks of tubers, it’s a pretty impressive little plant.

How do you know when to harvest?

Like potatoes, when the leaves start to die back it means the tubers are reading to be harvested. It’s good to know that oca is more perishable than potatoes, but if properly handled can be stored at room temperature for some months.

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Oca crop dieing back meaning the tubers are ready to be harvested.

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Remember to store the biggest, fattest, healthiest tubers for propagation for next season. You can do this in a bucket of dry sand or sawdust or in a cool dark and dry place.

We store ours in a couple of places, sure most go into one of our cool dark cupboards, but we also have a big bowl of them on our kitchen bench. Mainly so we can access theme quickly for easy eating – we find that doing this for a short period doesn’t affect them at all, i,e, they can handle of bit of sunlight… Which potatoes can’t.

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How to eat them?

Well apparently the internet tells me that some people like to eat them raw – I took a bite of one and didn’t spit it out, but didn’t go back for more. I prefer to roast them (like potatoes) where they transform into a creamy, yummy thing – just try them and you’ll see what I mean.

This nifty little plant is super low maintenance, easy to grow as no pests seem to both it and can be included into your vegetable patch or food forest without any bother at all. Give it a go!

You can read more about oca over at Temperate Climate Permaculture, Greenharvest and Thompson and Morgan.

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Garlic Rust :-(

Our garlic has Puccinia allii. Big. Sad. Sigh. This a fungal disease that affects plants in the Allium family (onions, chives, leeks, garlic etc). Commonly called ‘garlic rust’ it starts on the foliage of the plants (the leaf) and spreads rapidly by leaves touching and/or by spores being blown from plant to plant by wind – so it can VERY quickly take over a whole crop. Some alliums seem to be more prone to it than others. For example while it’s spreading through our garlic crop devastatingly quickly, the clumping onions in the next row seem to be unaffected by it. So I guess we should be thankful for that.

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How does it come to be?

It seems that excess moisture, both in the air and soil, plus over crowding plants are the most common causes of rust. In our own garden I initially noticed a slight discolouration on the garlic’s leaves in only one section of the patch, so I made a point to check on it closely ‘later’. However, it was two days before I got back there and by that time the rust was WELL advanced, but just in that one area. This is the region which I have referred to as the ‘mud pit’, as when the excavator created the terraces, the driver got more subsoil on top than actual top soil – bugger. As a result it’s really heavy, sticky clay in that particular spot, and this is where the garlic rust crept in. Yup, it always comes seems back to the soil.

We also planted our garlic closely – but I’ve always planted garlic closely and have never had trouble with rust before. On top of that, we had a very mild and comparatively dry winter, which is why I feel fairly confident in saying it’s probably the high clay content in our soils that ‘fueled’ it on.

Does it kill your crop?

Apparently it can kill your whole garlic crop if you just let it go and don’t try and slow it down. As far as I can tell there is no reliable way to get rid of it (naturally or chemically), but I’m really happy to be proven wrong if you know of a way? Please prove me wrong. What the rust does do is reduce the vigor of each plant it affects, meaning your garlic bulbs will be drastically smaller compared to healthy plants.

Is there ANYTHING you can do??

One blog I read (I read a lot) mentioned that if you prune the affected leaves from the plants this can slow it down and reduce the rate of it spreading, meaning you’ll still get some kind of yield from the crop. And so I gave them a pretty full-on haircut, which apparently they can cope with (fingers and toes crossed). My hope is that this will help them hang in there for at least another 4-6 weeks before I harvest them.

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The ‘bald patch’ in the middle of the garlic bed is now being monitored vigorously for further signs of the dreaded rust, which sadly there are.

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The healthier sections of the garlic bed are being closely watched with a hint of paranoia thrown in for good measure. I’m going through the patch daily and removing leaves here and there, hoping that this will help the crop hang in there long enough to get a decent yield. But honestly, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Disease Prevention

Watering: Don’t water your garlic in the evening/night as this moisture will linger overnight and allow the perfect environment for fungus to creep in – water in the morning so the plants can dry out throughout the day. You can also consider installing drip line irrigation to avoid all overhead watering. Of course if it rains at the ‘wrong time’ (in the evening) there’s not much you can do about that.

Soil: If you have heavy clay soils, you can do things like add sand (works on a smaller scale), compost, ramial woodchips and plant your garlic in mounds. However we did most of these things and still got it, so choose another area of your garden with better soil if you have it or consider container gardening for this one crop. Like I said, currently our clumping onions are doing just fine in the same location, so it seems that garlic is particularly sensitive.

Tools: When dealing with any type of plant disease it’s important to sterilise your tools/materials that came into contact with it, i.e. secateurs and a bucket in this case. Make sure you wash your hands before working in other areas of the garden and change/wash your clothes as well – just to be extra careful.

Crop Rotation: To prevent lots of different soil diseases, rotate your vegetable families each season. In terms of planting garlic in the infected garden bed in the future, I read mixed views on how long you should wait until you do so. My research and experience (with white root rot, another garlic disease) leads me to think around 7 years. Luckily we have other spaces so it’s not a death sentence for alliums in our garden… Hopefully. Our market gardening friend – Suzi, has actually made the choice to stop growing garlic due to disease issues which are so common in heavy clay soils (which she also has). I’m hoping that we don’t have to resort to this and will definitely be giving it another crack next season in a different garden bed and with improved soil and new garlic stock.

Wish us luck!

 

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