Thursday, 21 February 2013

Planning for Autumn Food Gardening

The following notes are a summary of the information presented by Seila Hierk at the Planning for Autumn Food Gardening Workshop held at the NLFG in early February.  Planting guides for February and March appear at the end of this post.

Seila presents his overview of Autumn food gardening at the NLFG
  • Plan your food gardening around the seasonal equinoxes.  The Autumn Equinox falls on March 21 and seedlings should be in the ground to allow enough time (and sunshine) for a June harvest.

February Jobs
  • Garden maintenance in February includes pruning, putting a handful of compost at base of plants, creating compost and ‘renovating’ beds (compost, manure, ‘no dig’ strategies where needed).
  • Powdery mildew is caused by humidity and lack of air flow and often strikes zucchinis and pumpkins.  It can be controlled with a copper spray.
  • Mark perennials such as artichoke, rhubarb, asparagus, sorrel and cannas before growth disappears for winter.

On Composting, Manure and Mulch
  • Chicken vs. Cow – Chicken manure (high in phosphates) should be used for fruit and root crops, whilst cow or sheep manure (high in nitrogen) should be used where leafy crops are to be planted.
  • Harvest leaves from parks/streets to create your own compost throughout Autumn.  It is good to munch these up a bit (run a mower over the top) for quicker composting.
  • Grow your own mulch/green manure: alfalfa (lucerne), broadbeans, fenugreek, linseed, lupins, mustard, oats and vetch, can be ‘chopped and dropped’ when just about to flower.
  • It is cheaper to buy lucerne, straw etc. from pet suppliers rather than nurseries.
  • When adding organic matter:  for established gardens add compost/manure of top of soil, but for poorly performing gardens layer compost, lucerne, manure, dynamic lifter in layers (using a no-dig strategy) or alternatively 'trenching' (as per the NLFG) whereby  organic matter has been added to the soil by burying chopped up broad bean stems and leaves and other garden material in trenches alongside growing areas.
  • Creating a 'hot compost' is also ideal at this time of year which can be done by massing at least a cubic metre of chopped up garden material and organic material in an area of the garden.

Crop Rotation
  • Seila recommends using a ‘photo diary’ to manage your crop rotation.
  • Crops should be rotated in the following order:

eg. silverbeet
eg. tomatoes
climbing beans
broad beans
  • Pumpkins, corn and zucchinis are heavy feeders and should be followed by legume crops.
  • Enriching your soil with generous amounts of compost or manure at the end of each growing season can bypass the need for crop rotation.

Growing Tips
  • You can extend your growing season throughout Autumn for summer vegetables by covering plants with a mini hot-house (sticks and clear plastic covering).  Individual plants can be ‘hot-housed’ by using two sticks and a plastic bag.
  • Capsicums, chillis and eggplants can remain the in the ground over winter.  Cover them with a piece of shade cloth to protect from frost over winter (plants can be transplanted into one area about 40cm apart).  Plants can be uncovered in Spring and you will start next summer with established plants and therefore reap fruit much earlier!
  • It is ideal to grow brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc.) where climbing beans have grown.
  • Protect your brassicas from cabbage moths by meshing them.
  • Seila uses a short/medium/long term interplanting system

4 months
2-3 months
6 weeks

  • Due to the lower angle of the sun in Autumn/Winter, crops needing increased sunlight, such as onions, can be planted on the outside of garden beds with the short term crops that need to be accessible.  Medium and long term crops can be planted in the centre or towards the rear of beds.
S – Short term crops such as spinach, lettuce as well as root plants, onions and spring onions.

  • Contain Jerusalem artichoke in a pot buried in garden beds or it will take over.

Seed Saving
  • Look out for plants that you will let go to seed or collect the seed from.  The strongest plants should be saved for seed and the weakest eaten!  Save the seeds from at least five different plants for genetic diversity (or swap some with a neighbour).
  • Garlic can be grown cheaply from Australian head of garlic (not imported garlic that may have been treated so as to not sprout).  Eat the small cloves and save the large ones for planting out in March.

Planting Guide

Planting guides by Angelo Eliades.  Used with permission.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Send in the Worms

This is a summary of information presented during February’s Starting a Worm Farm workshop at the NLFG.  During the workshop we set up a large wheelie bin worm farm, a domestic ‘Can of Worms’ farm and a budget polystyrene box farm.  Worm farms can be created in almost any container, as long as it has a source of drainage and a lid.

Getting Started
Worms can be sourced from the wormfarms/compost bins of friends or purchased from your local nursery or hardware supplier, although they are quite expensive to buy.  There are several species of composting worm that live in the mulch layer of gardens, towards the surface.  They differ from the earthworm, which lives lower in the soil, and composting worms and earthworms each perform a different function in the garden eco-system.  You need about 1000 worms to get started with your worm farm (at least 4-5 good handfuls of worms), although smaller numbers will work (it will just take longer for your farm to operate most efficiently).

In worm farms with holes in the bottom (domestic commercial farms, polystyrene boxes), you will need to cover the holes with several layers of newspaper, some hessian or piece of flyscreen.  This allows moisture to run through, but stops your worms falling through the holes.

All worm farmers need to establish a ‘bed’ for their worms.  The bed can be made from straw/mulch/hay/coir (coconut husk) or newspaper.  This material should be wet, but not dripping.  We added our worms to a bed of coir and shredded newspaper with good quality compost and worm castings in a layer that was about 4-5 centimetres thick.  You can also add manure or clean garden soil to help make your worms happy in their new home. 

Cover the worms and ‘bed’ with a ‘doona’ of thick newspaper, thick hessian layer or old carpet.  This layer needs to be moist but not dripping and should stay moist at all times.

Worms need 1-2 weeks to settle into their new home before you begin to feed them anything else.

Feeding your worms
After 1-2 weeks start by feeding your worms about a cup of food scraps and see how long it takes the worms to eat these.  You can gradually increase the amount of food that you feed your worms as the population increases and your farm begins to operate more efficiently.

Worms will eat all fruit and vegetable scraps and peelings except for citrus peelings and onion.  Things like corn cobs, avocado skin, and large seeds or pits are also unsuitable for the worm farm.  They will also eat other food scraps including bread, but do not put dairy or meat into the worm farm as these tend to smell and attract vermin.  Worms will also eat eggshells, however my experience is that these can often be left in the worm farm after other scraps have disappeared.

Worms particularly love coffee grinds and will also eat things like teabags, hair and vacuum cleaner dust.  I also like to add a bit of newspaper or straw mulch to the mix occasionally.

Worms have no teeth and find it tough going to munch on large food pieces.  Farms work most effectively when food scraps are cut into small pieces (about half a thumb size).

The food scraps should not rot in the worm farm.  If they are rotting, rather than being eaten, there is too much food being added to the farm.

Keeping it cool
The worm farm ‘doona’ of newspaper, hessian, cardboard or old carpet needs to be kept moist at all times.

Worm will die if they are too hot and farms should be stored in the shade.

On hot days (over 30°C) pay particular attention to keeping your farm cool.  Covering the entire worm farm with damp fabric/hessian/carpet ‘air conditions’ the farm and stops the worms dying.

The Good Stuff – Castings and Worm Juice
Worm castings are beautiful, smooth, rich dark brown worm ‘manure’ that are left in your worm farm as the worms munch through your waste.  They are nutrient-rich and spoonfuls can be added to your potted plants, in potting mix as you pot up new plants or sprinkled around the base of plants in the garden.

Worm juice will collect in the base of your worm farm surprisingly quickly and needs to be collected regularly.  Dilute worm juice at a ratio of 1:10 (the colour of weak tea) and use as you would a liquid fertilizer.  It will burn plants if not diluted.

To harvest worms in a domestic farm (such as our Can of Worms), create a new worm bed in the spare tray and place it on top of the layer full of castings.  The worms will migrate up to their new bed over a week or so, leaving the bottom tray full of beautiful castings (and not many worms!).

In a box worm farm (or fridge or bathtub farm), move the worms’ castings and bedding to one side of the farm and add fresh bedding to the empty side.  Wait a week and most of the worms will move across to the fresh side, leaving the castings and old bedding for you to collect.

Possible Problems
Your worm farm should not really smell.  If it smells, food is rotting in your farm and you need to put in less food.

Small flies/insects can often infest your farm.  Sprinkling a good handful of garden lime in your farm once every 1-2 months will make them go away.  This can also be another indicator that you are leaving too much food.

Your worms will leave if the environment is too acidic.  A handful of garden lime will neutralise the environment.

The easiest way to kill your worms is by letting the worm farm dry out (it needs to be moist at all times to keep worms’ moist bodies happy) or cooking the worms in the farm on hot days.

Worms will also drown if you forget to drain the liquid regularly, or they are exposed to the elements in a large down pour.

Any other questions or comments?  Leave your thoughts below.

Presented by Allison