Mulch in a ten-minute vineyard

Isabella table grapes grown from cuttings in a pot over winter

Anyone who experienced the fortnight of straight daily maximum temperatures over 40 degrees C (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the drought-stricken summer of 2009/10 on the Adelaide Plains will now be preparing for a summer kitchen garden with a whole new sense of caution.

Top of the gardener’s list is to lock winter rainfall into the soil against evaporative forces over the next few months, and to keep that soil cool enough to bring various crops through.

Sixteen cutting are judged to have adequate root growth and are planted along the drip-lines that will support them in the coming years. The bales of pea-straw mulch that will be laid around the cuttings and over the surface drip-lines can be seen in the background. Later, these vines will be staked and trellised.The potting mix is washed off the roots and the bare-rooted cuttings are planted as quickly as possible into saturated soil; the drip lines – fed from the rain water tanks – have been running all night in preparation for this moment.  





A couple of other nasty things rolled over us as a consequence of that drought-stricken decade; fresh food prices went through the roof and so (much less visibly) did the cost of pea-straw mulch. Worse was to follow: water was rationed to the point that one had to live outside the law to grow one’s own food. The 60 000 litres of winter rain water that I am holding in my tanks will be enough for only a month’s supply in this large garden if the heat turns back on and spring rains fail us. To eke out that supply, I have to invest instead in bales of pea-straw laid down in slabs across the whole garden. Each bale costs A$7.00, and longer-lasting barley or lucerne straw costs significantly more.

Here, Coles Prolific Broad Beans are being grown for seed in order to grow even larger crops of ‘green mulch’ across the garden next winter. Not a bad investment, that $7 worth of seed now grown on to several kilograms of potential seed. So now in my Spring garden I plan for these harsh conditions, while hoping for the best. Every shower of rain is a blessing from now until next April. I’m paying for pea-straw mulch for this year, but next year’s winter garden will grow my own mulch in-situ while adding some soil nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere by broad bean crops grown this past winter for bulk seed; kilograms of it. Broad beans shade the soil long into late Spring, and can be cut down in place as mulch. I’m growing two types; the large heritage Aquadulce broad bean for eating, propagation and seed, and the smaller Coles Prolific as mulch.

This horseshoe-shaped row of 16 table grape vines surrounds the peach tree, which itself will benefit from the mulch and the nectarine grafts added this past winter. And so here in our fenced orchard, under a $100 coat of pea-straw mulch, are 16 Isabella table grapevines grown in a pot over winter and costing nothing at all (they were given to us by seed-saver friends). These grapes will provide fresh fruit on our breakfast table in year’s to come, even during drought and times of high food prices.

And yes, we did plant the grapevine cuttings in only ten-minutes; preparing the area and laying the mulch took up much more time…

Sowing Spring seeds

My Spring seed collection (as distinct from my autumn seed collection) has been sitting on my shed bench for weeks now, waiting for those harbingers of Spring; the honey bees. Today the whole garden resounded with their humming as they gathered nectar and pollen from the flowering citrus trees and the broccoli, rocket and cabbage flowers in the kitchen garden.

Seeds are sprinkled into a 2/3 deep layer of finely-sieved soil in old seed punnets packed into seed trays. The final 1/3 depth is filled with the same soil mixture. Each punnet is labelled with a pointed wooden slat made from window blinds.

While the plant nurseries have been alive with humans for some weeks now, it’s the activity of these bees that lets me know that Mother Nature has started her Spring engine in earnest after the quiet of the winter garden. It’s time to plant seeds.

For some years past I’ve experimented with various peat pots and potting mixtures into which to plant my Spring seed collection; those seeds, at any rate, that start life best as seedlings, rather than those best sown directly into the garden beds, such as the large seeds of sunflowers, cucumbers, beans, corn, zucchini and pumpkin.

But it’s all too tempting to mistake purchasing stuff with gardening; the natural adjunct to seed saving is to plant out one’s own seed, and it’s quicker too. Why is that? Well, because I’ve saved on all sorts of discarded seed punnets and seed trays, old coffee tins for seed storage, cake trays to stand seed trays on out of reach of earwigs, and flat wooden window blinds that can be cut up and used to label seed trays.

Chicken-made potting mix is made with the most basic equipment; a metal garbage tin lid to catch the sievings, an inexpensive round plastic sieve, and a shovel to fill the sieve with. Because this surface soil layer is bone dry at the moment, this nutitious mixture pours easily and can be added by hand to the seed punnets. But the real work in preparing for seed planting day has been done by the chickens whose breakfast table and toilet both reside under our huge old lemon tree; they have been scratching about for years turning the top layer of soil into a fine and nutritious seed-planting mix. One need only sieve off a shovelful or two of this wonderful natural material to replace bags of potting mix full of coconut fibre and man-made chemical nutrients.

There’s only one small catch – for reasons unknown to me, this great stuff comes out of the chicken yard so dry that for the moment it forms a ‘non-wetting soil’; water beads on the top of it instead of sinking in. So now begins the careful process of turning my seed trays into seedling trays by careful and very regular slow watering with rain water from a watering can.

Seed trays lined with old cotton cloth form shallow trays for bulk plantings of lettuce seed, spring onions and Chinese wombok. This heirloom watering can is used to fetch pure rainwater from the tanks to get the seedlings started; the salt content of rain water (unlike Adelaide's town water) is zero.

This allows the moisture to move in around the seeds and to kick Spring off in earnest.

Seed trays filled with labelled seed punnets are placed out in the sun on old inverted 'cake trays' that allow drainage while providing some mild obstacles to earwigs and slater beetles that would nibble off the young seedlings.

Purple Cauliflower

I just have to brag about this beauty! I will harvest this one tomorrow or Friday. Isn't it a ripper?! :)

Curry puffs

The leftover curry from the previous post was perfect as filling for curry puffs.I used the pastry recipe from Stephanie Alexander's "Cook's Companion". You can also find it here. It's easy to make, easy to work with and very tasty.Some of the curry puffs.
I filled the smallest of my cast iron frying pans with oil to do the deep frying.
The pastry got all blistery and flaky, as described in the recipe.
Served with a celeriac salad and some lacto-fermented carrots & cabbage. And chilli sauce. Delicious!

Garden Curry

The proper name for it is Chard & New Potato Curry. The recipe is here.

We had nearly all the ingredients in the garden. Here the greens (mustard leaves, kale, silverbeet, komatsuna, rapa, chinese broadleaf celery). Plus all the other ingredients. Instead of the onion I used some walking onions. The picture is out of focus, sorry, I must have been quite hungry.
The greens nearly didn't fit in the pot.
But wilted down in no time.
Finally, time to eat! It doesn't take long to prepare and cook. It was absolutely delicious. Well worth making! With the leftovers I made curry puffs. But that's another post. :)

Budding Spring

Satsuma plum blossuming in early Spring in Adelaide South Australia

The Satsuma plum tree is in flower, but then so are the pear and peach trees…

Early peach blossum

Nectarine graft budding on a parent peach tree One of these peach trees is in for a surprise; it’s about to become the proud parent of some three different varieties of freestone nectarines, grafted on to one of its somnambulant branches during winter. These buds will become branches that might produce fruit next year; this year any early fruits will be stripped off to allow the graft to heal and strengthen without the added weight of fruit threatening to break them off the parent tree.

Out in the front yard, our winter-grafted Granny Smith apple tree is also setting buds on six different varieties of apples, and the ornamental pear tree is boasting a successful edible pear graft.

Just weeks ago, the grafts were inert. Three different nectarine varieties on one peach branch.

Other things are budding too; a pot full of Isabella grapevine cuttings – just a bunch of twigs in a pot only weeks ago – is now popping out grapevine leaves above the soil and roots below the soil. These twenty twigs will form the basis of a row of table grapevines that will supply our future summer breakfasts once they have been established in our new enclosed orchard well out of reach of parrots and possums.

Isabella grapevine cuttings in a pot during late winter.

 Only weeks later, these same cuttings are developing both roots and leaves.








Even the vegetables are blooming, especially the broad beans, broccoli, German cabbage and Daikon radish.

German 'filderspitzkraut' cabbage flowering in the kitchen garden at the rear of the house. The chillis behind it are 'Scotch Bell', with Daikon radish flowering to the right. The old recycled bedframe to the far right will soon be covered in snow peas, now about 400 mm high in great clumps below it.

'Aquadulce' broad beans, grown to propogate seed.

Snow peas planted as near to the kitchen door as possible, beginning their assault on an old bedframe staked on its end in the kitchen garden. Twigs pushed into the soil among the peas provide a temporary support for the delicate pea plants until they can grab onto the bed springs with their curling tentacles.