Sunday 23 August 2009

Start-of-Spring Seed-Swapping Sunday for Seed-Savers…

What more pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon during the last days of Winter than swapping seeds with like-minded folk in the pleasant straw-bale building at the Fern Avenue Community Gardens?

DSCN0093DSCN0095 The Hills-and-Plains Seed Savers are united in a common love of backyard gardens, and we save and pass along (at these swap meetings) rare vegetable seeds and tips on what grows well or not in the Adelaide Hills or down here on the Adelaide Plains.DSCN0056

We have no committee or formal structure but prefer to meet informally. So we sit around and take it in turns to introduce our seeds and gardening experiences. When all that’s over, we like to stand around and sit around some more, eating the goodies that the cooks among us have brought along.


Deb talked about humus and good compost and how important a living soil is to the production of good food, and had some great hand-outs for us on perennial nettles and organic gardening.


Bob had brought along Kate’s remnant seed-collection to be distributed amongst us, plus a bag of water-chestnuts to propagate.

‘Veggie Gnome’ and ‘Flower Gnome’ had a nice collection of seeds, berries and bulbs, including Jerusalem artichokes. The latter are famous for the after-blast, but Maggie had brought along something called Epazote which the Mexicans eat with beans to prevent the same after-meal trumpet concertos.DSCN0066

Barb had some rare and wondrous tomatoes already coming along in pots. Andrew had weird pumpkins plus German sauerkraut cabbage seeds and German ‘Lazy Wife’ beans, plus all sorts of chillies.


Sixteen-year old Daniel stumped us all with a question about aphids on garlic, which Deb explained was due to a soil imbalance causing the garlic to produce the wrong-type of sugars – those that aphids and their farmer-ants love.

And we all came home richer in friendship and knowledge plus seeds and seedlings…


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Celebrate International Kitchen Garden Day 2009

Today Kitchen Gardeners from all over the planet will celebrate their gardens with friends and neighbours.

Our Hills and Plains Seedsavers Group will meet this afternoon to to share each others company, seeds and garden produce.


I found this Geoff Lawton video on the KGI site and thought you might enjoy what Geoff has to say as much as I did.

"Welcome to the ultimate health food shop"

Geoff says their garden is a place they like to be.

Their garden is their main food supply.

Their garden provides enzyme rich food for them.

Happy eating and gardening everyone.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Grafting and ‘fruit-salad’ trees

Spring is just around the corner in South Australia, and the pressure is on to finish the pruning and grafting of our fruit trees before the sap starts to rise in earnest in a few weeks time. Almonds, citrus and Christmas plums have already flowered, and so the rush is on to complete the soft stone fruits (apricots, plums, nectarines and peaches), cherries and the pome fruits (pears and apples), all of which grow well here on the Adelaide Plains.DSCN0003

Small kitchen gardens generally have room for only a few fruit trees, and so the idea of grafting many ‘scions’  or ‘budwood’ (same thing) of different varieties onto a common ‘rootstock’ has some appeal. That way one can have, for example, early-, mid- and late-variety apricots providing a steady supply of fruit throughout summer from a single ‘fruit-salad tree’. One can even have nectarines grafted onto peach trees, and apricots onto plum trees.

While our veggie garden has improved over the years, our orchard has gone into decline, simply because we knew nothing about pruning and grafting, and this seems to be impossible to learn from a book. Any confidence one gains from sitting inside and studying the pictures in the ‘how to prune’ book vaporises once one goes outside and is confronted with a real, scraggly under-performing tree.

DSCN0040 So this year we joined the ‘Rare Fruit Society’ here in South Australia, and this year, for the price of one bare-rooted fruit tree from a nursery ($50), we purchased over 50 little sticks of ‘budwood’ at a dollar each. Then we watched a live presentation of how to graft them onto our existing trees. ‘Budwood’ is just little sticks containing leaf and fruit ‘buds’ cut from producing trees in late autumn the year before. These can be swapped among friends in the same way that we already swap vegetable seeds.

Tools requirements are simple, like most gardening tools. A ladder is also handy if you have big trees.DSCN0038

In the past few years we’ve lost two huge apricot trees to possums that have descended upon us as the drought in the woodlands and hills nearby has seen them invade well-watered suburbia looking for a feed. Apricot budwood is a favourite, and these trees have been stripped bare during summer nights. We’ve been forced to cut our two large apricot trees back to stumps in our search for sap-bearing wood that is still alive enough to graft onto. Soon we will have to fully enclose the whole orchard to have any chance of fruit for ourselves.

So here are a few photos of our first attempts, using ‘whip-and-tongue grafts’ for grafting same-size budwood onto existing twigs, and ‘cleft grafts’ (made with a chisel) for grafting scions (another word for budwood) onto large stumps. Now we wait!




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Sunday 9 August 2009

Mushrooms, pineapples and green tree frogs

On a sunny Saturday morning, a dozen or so of our intrepid seed savers ventured north on a veggie tour to Virginia on the flat northern plains about 20 kms from Adelaide, where big-business grows vegetables ‘en masse’.

Our first stop was at the “Bio-Tech Organics” shop in the heart of Virginia, where we heard much on balancing soils from John Norton our friendly host, although how we were to scale-down broad-scale soil testing, soil chemistry and balancing methods to our own small patches mystified us all. Interesting was his use of brown coal to provide humic and fulvic acid to soils as an organic input; this stuff is mined in the Flinders Ranges rather than New Zealand as of yore. John stated that locally-produced compost from green waste needed about 8 years to mature before we’d benefit from any of this good stuff (rather than the three months normally offered), whereas coal had been ripening since the age of the dinosaurs. Deb pointed out to him that ‘mining’ anything at all for agricultural inputs breached the spirit of organic farming. This promising debate fizzled out as a customer entered and Deb exited…

DSCN0024 Then we toured the whole of the north Adelaide Plains on-route to Gary Clerie’s ‘Joyeata’ organic farm. It seems that Google Maps don’t show roads cut off by the Gawler River when in flood. Perhaps a left turn rather than a right turn north of Virginia would have simplified things, but then we would not have enjoyed the grand tour that resulted. Still, we were so tuckered out by our tour of the district and the preceding soil chemistry lessons that we decided on arrival at Gary’s to eat lunch first and tour later. Gary had baked a few quiches and cheesecakes, and Maggie had skipped some of the previous visit to baby-sit young Diesel and shop for some weird Vietnamese vegetable that tasted like water–chestnut and looked like a flat turnip.

DSCN0019 Gary is the quintessential rebel - a burr under the saddle of society, and one of those blokes that really makes things happen in this world by irritating the establishment,  speaking his mind and wearing down the opposition. He’s managed to get the whole Lewiston district declared an ‘animal husbandry zone’ so that no chemical sprays of any sort are used anywhere therein, and crop-dusters cannot even over-fly the region. A little organic patch in a vast swathe area of industrial agriculture…

DSCN0020 Gary’s approach to composting is to dump all organic waste from his shop, chicken run and 5.5 acre farm into old cut-down rainwater tanks, and let the ‘tiger’ and ‘red’ worms work through them. He uses this compost in plastic bags on raised (pro-back, anti-slug) tables to grow ‘field mushrooms’ in a well-ventilated shed over a six-eight month growing period. DSCN0022 He collects spoors from the biggest mushroom in each bag by putting blotting paper underneath them to catch the ‘rain’ from the gills, then freezing these paper towels for three months before setting them out on top of new bags of his compost under a few millimetres of rock dust. He harvests mushrooms continuously, and keeps them moist with overhead misting sprays for a few minutes each day.

DSCN0025 In the same shed, Gary showed us his pineapples that he has propagated himself over the past eight years (pineapples are grown from the spiky crown, or from ‘runners’ in a manner similar to getting cuttings from strawberries). Pineapples like the heat, provided the humidity is kept high (those mist sprays again…) and don’t like frost (solved by growing them among weeds if planted in tubs outside). Gary uses no pesticides in his shed. Instead, he has a half-dozen green tree frogs that have travelled in from northern Queensland in banana bunches. These hunt through his pineapples and destroy slugs, earwigs, beetles and other pests.  Gary has created a haven for frogs on his property by using runoff from various sources to make a small lake for them and his Indian Runner ducks.

DSCN0026Gary has seven staff, has farmed in the district for 25 years, and ships boxes of organic fruit and vegetables to many cancer sufferers around Adelaide. Gary speaks his mind clearly and forthrightly, and made every moment of a thoroughly enjoyable tour both inspiring and thought-provoking.

We Hills and Plains Seed Savers have now DSCN0031added mushrooms and pineapples to our ‘must-grow’ list, although there was general agreement that encouraging nests of tiger and brown snakes as a rat-control measure was beyond the scope of our backyard gardens. Many of us came away with bags of Gary’s apples, pears, vegetables and seed potatoes. Thanks Gary! That was great!

Food for Thought

During the agriculture course in 1924 that laid the foundation for Biodynamic agriculture Rudolf Steiner stated:

There is practically no field of human endeavour that does not relate to agriculture in some way. Seen from whatever perspective you choose, agriculture touches on every single aspect of human life”

What we eat has an effect on our surroundings, the rural landscape, traditions, and the biodiversity of the earth & well being of our communities.

When we choose food to put on our plate we have great power...

In agriculture our choice determines the variety of foods grown, today fewer varieties are available & we are suffering loss of diversity in our foods. Everywhere you go there are the same foods presented? Many foods are demanded year round outside their natural season & the consumers wonder why it tastes like cardboard!

Our choices also determine how & where the food is grown.

We need to consider how food is produced, and how it affects environmental sustainability. Can it enhance the environment and protect biodiversity?

While the principles behind organic agriculture are sound, like promoting agriculture that has a low impact on the environment and reducing pesticide and herbicide use. However when organic agriculture is practiced on a massive and extensive scale is very similar to conventional monoculture cropping and therefore organic certification alone should not be considered a sure sign that a product is grown in a sustainable way. Although most of the traditions methods use organic techniques, very few are certified, due to the high costs of organic certification. I know from experience this is true. Our farm was the first farm certified in South Australia, we where certified for 13 years until the costs out weighed the benefits.

Our choices also determine the quality of life for rural communities, in fact whether or not they exist. For too long food has been too cheap. The farmers themselves need to be paid a fair price for their produce and the farm workers require fair wages & conditions. Large supermarkets force the prices to farmers down while maintaining a large profit for themselves.

As well as growing some of our own food and experiencing the magical unique taste that comes only from your garden we can also develop a sense of how food is produced. We then need to become very parochial and support local producers rather than supporting food that has travelled around the world.

I think the manifesto that came from Terra Madre, a Slow Food meeting I attended in 2004 attended by 5000 small producers representing 130 countries sums it up best

Quality Food must be:

  • Good. A food’s flavor and aroma, recognizable to educated, well-trained senses. Thus reflecting the competence of the producer and of choice of raw materials and production methods. This also reflects culture as what tastes good to me may not taste good to someone else
  • Clean. The environment has to be respected and sustainable practices of farming, animal husbandry, processing, marketing and consumption should be taken into serious consideration.Every stage should protect ecosystems and biodiversity, safeguarding the health of the consumer and the producer.

  • Fair. Social justice should be pursued through the creation of labor conditions that are respectful of man and his rights and capable of generating adequate rewards; through the pursuit of balanced global economies; through respect for cultural diversities and traditions.

Good, Clean and Fair Quality is a pledge for a better future.

Good, Clean and Fair quality is an act of civilization and a tool to improve the food system as it is today.

Everyone can contribute to Good, Clean and Fair quality through their choices and individual behavior.

More about Slow Food

I would add LOCAL and SEASONAL to any food I purchase.