Winter Bits – Potatoes, Strawberries and Raspberries

Hi everyone,

It’s been a busy week in the garden despite (or because of) all the rain we’ve had down here in Tasmania. Last year because I was late getting my last crop in, I determined that despite the frosts we get in this garden, it could be possible to grow potatoes year round with careful preparation and the right site. So today I’m putting it to the test!

A few weeks ago, a dear friend gave me a Pink Fir Apple potato. She’d been given a handful of tubers by another gardener, who claimed this is the absolute, all time best waxy potato for boiling, steaming or salads. The long, knobbly, pinkish tuber is an heirloom variety that can be traced back to 1850’s France. It’s been sitting on the coffee table in my loungeroom for month or more, starting to get a few small buds from the multiple eyes.

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The Pink Fir Apple is a late season maincrop variety so I’m really stretching the boundaries planting it now but while I’ve been off work sick, I’ve been doing some research. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos about wicking barrels in preparation for the dwarf fruit trees, which should be arriving next month.

Along the way, I discovered Dan and his Yorkshire Dales Allotment DiaryĀ and something I’d never thought about before – growing potatoes in plastic pots! I remember growing them in drums when I was a child with my father and a couple of times in grow bags over the years but I’d never considered putting one or two in a pot and gradually earthing up as the shoots appear. Now the greenhouse is gradually emptying – it is no longer the House of Basil šŸ˜¦ – I’ve got room to put a few tubs in to overwinter.

Frost is the big issue for potato crops and every autumn I get “volunteer” spuds coming up in random spots. The first good frost of winter and they’re done. And there’s no denying it, potatoes take up a lot of garden bed space! But in the greenhouse they are protected from the 8-10 hard frosts we get here each winter and by the time spring comes I can move them outside to finish off.

So, I used spent potting mix from the basil crops, mixed it with a few handfuls ofĀ old mushroom and put some inĀ a IMG_20160610_111227clean 30 liter pot. I cut the Pink Fir Apple into four pieces, each with an at least one active eye and covered with a layer of the potting mix. Importantly, I remembered to label the pot!

IMG_20160610_120641Then, I did a few more pots with the early Pink Eye, possibly Tasmania’s favourite potato. I’ll keep you up to date with the progress, but my aim is to grow potatoes year round, or as close as I can get to it.Ā Potatoes take 100-140 days in summer depending on the crop, so I anticipate I’ll be testing the first of the pots in mid-late September.

While I was mucking about in the greenhouse today, I checked up on another of my gardening experiments. About a month ago, I took my three first year Tioga strawberry plants and trained their runners into prepared pots. Strawberries need to have their crowns above the soil, so I cutĀ pieces of soft, flexible wire to pin them to the top of the soil. I’ll be reusing these in spring to layer herbs such as thyme, oregano and marjoram.

The results were impressive. I now have six more Tioga plants and about another eight or so that are just starting to put down roots.

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I grow my strawberries in pots because of slug problems and generally only keep plantsĀ for a few years as they produce less and less the older they get. Again, the key is making sureĀ the pots always have a dated tag, it’s too confusing otherwise!

IMG_20160609_111344And yesterday, I discovered not only a ripe and utterly delicious strawberry but IMG_20160609_112056(for me) a first in my garden – ripe raspberries in June! While they were delectable, the flavour wasn’t as good as the summer berries. And no wonder really, these are (supposedly) a summer only variety! Along with the raspberries, there was a load more chilies – mostly Habaneros but there’s still Cayenne, the wrongly labelled Inferno and the last Jalepenos of the season. I’ve started cutting back a lot of the chilies now and retiring the weaker plants to make room for new plants in the spring.

Weirdly, the Poblano Ancho, Hot Portugal, Razzmatazz, Serrano and Rocoto are still ripening, which I suppose also underlines how mild overall the weather has been. While it’s been wonderful to have such a long extended growing season, it worries me too.

Many of the crops I grow – the brassicas, winter salad greens and especially the fruit trees – really need the cold weather. The apples, apricot, nectarine and even the espaliered peach need a certain number of chill hours in order to stimulate flower production at the end of winter.

Well, I won’t have long to wait for some cold weather – tomorrow’s forecast is for a possible thunderstorm, hail and snow on higher peaks. Maybe winter is here at last?

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Winter harvest!

 

Strange Days – Autumn 2016

In light of all the sadness of recent times, I thought I’d give an update on the urban farm. Along with music, writing and all my magnificent friends, this has undoubtedly been the glue that’s been holding everything together these past months inside my head.

I’m grateful not only that I have these things in my life but I recognise and celebrate their importance.

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As I type, we’ve finally had some rain but it has been a very warm and dry autumn for southern Tasmania. In years past, the Prune Plum pictured above would be bare stems by now but early May and it still refuses to drop its leaves!

Elsewhere around the garden there’s other odd things happening……

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The picture above is some of my Raspberries that really shouldn’t be producing this late in the season – they are generally a summer only variety!Ā And in the greenhouse, I discovered Strawberries and new flowers and fruit on many of the chillies!

One of the better things about this protracted warm weather has been the amount of growth in the vegetable garden. I’ve been literally inundated with chillies this season and they’re not letting up – some of the well established plants are still flowering and setting fruit!

At the moment, I’ve got the dehydrator packed with the last of the Roma tomatoes and various chillies and the basil is just crazy! The winter broccoli is starting to head and there’s plenty of growth on the Silverbeet (Swiss Chard) and the winter Endive and Chicory plants are almost ready to start picking. The Asparagus I grew from seed over the summer is looking positively lush in its permanent bed, producing lots of surprisingly largeĀ feathery fronds before winter bites. My big fear at the moment is that all the Kale I’ve planted will bolt to seed before it’s big enough to pick!

I’m going to do a last big cut of Rhubarb this weekend and cook it up for winter desserts. Then, once the plants shut down for winter, I’m going to dig all the crowns up and divide them. For any of you in Tasmania, contact me if you want a Rhubarb crown – I’m happy to barter šŸ˜€

And then there’s these little moppets…….

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They’re three weeks old now, their eyes are open and they’re out “exploring” (read constantly annoying their mother). In truth, I’d given up on Bella being pregnant (this was the second time she’d been serviced by our lovely buck) and I’d even put her back in her regular two tiered hutch near the others in preparation for winter. She is so big it’s really hard to tell if she’s pregnant anymore!

Then my gorgeous neighbour Karen came up early Saturday 16th April to let meĀ know she found a little pink, blind newborn outside Bella’s hutch. (She is now officially the Best Neighbour Ever!) We all raced out to find two in a nest Bella had made in her upstairs sleeping area and about four more in the bottom of her hutch. They were cold so it was all hands on deck! Normally, I don’t like to disturb or touch newborns until they have their fur but we had little baby buns up our jumpers (I even had one in my bra) to warm them while we carefully checked the rest of the hutch and made sure Bella was alright. We ended up with a very smug mamma and six very healthy little kits ā¤

Last weekend we moved them all back into the ground level nursery hutch and everyone’s thriving šŸ˜€

Tuesday we had the first snow on kunanyi/Mt Wellington for the year and I wentĀ to Launceston on Wednesday to attend a memorial service for Kevin Gleeson, who passed away recently. While it was great to catch up with many friends, it was a very sad day. When I was driving up, I noticed deciduous trees (looked like Prunus sp.) budding up and flowering – strange days indeed!

Take care friends, wherever you are and may all your gardens grow well ā¤