Budding gardeners we are…

Organic Farming Certificate Update – 16 Aug 2011

It was another awesome, information-packed week at TAFE. We received the good news at the start of the day that we avoided massive crop loss during the week! Here’s what happened: we had planned to get our first seedlings in the ground last week, but our field trip to the Avocado Farm took up all of the afternoon (mostly because we were saving perfectly good Avocado’s from the waste heap)  – and lucky for us, because the very next night the whole area near the TAFE Campus experienced a massive hail storm, and all our seedlings would have been destroyed… and it would have been back to Week One for us!

Climate and Chill Hours

Probably prompted by the hail storm last week, Mark decided to cover some theory on climate and its impact on growing food in the morning this week and we talked more about preparing cuttings for propagation. The climate stuff is interesting and important for any farmer, and the main take home messages for me are: 1) pay attention to weather forecasts and know your areas’ seasonal averages. This is essential for planning which crops you will plant and when. It also may help avoid crop loss as we avoided it this week! And 2) record the temperature of your air and soil in the areas you plan to grow food year round so you know your own micro-climate. This can be different in different parts of your own property, even if your property is not that big. Remember the example of Mark growing figs behind his shed, because the air and soil were both much cooler there than other parts of his property.

Still focused on Climate, Mark explained to us that certain crops require something known as ‘chill hours‘, which is basically the number of hours they are exposed to near freezing temperatures throughout the dormant season (Winter). Without adequate ‘chill hours’ up their sleeves, crops such as citrus, stone fruit and blueberries will not produce fruit no matter how much you love and nurture them! As I said in yesterdays post, we have had a chilly year in these parts and so our chill hours are up around 450 – so it should be a good year for Blueberries as they need between 250 and 450 chill hours.

Propagating Semi-Hardwood Trees

Following this discussion, it was time to get out of the classroom and into action. We went on a little stroll around the campus, the purpose of which was to learn how to take semi-hardwood cuttings (a semi-hardwood is a tree or shrub that has not fully matured, but it is not young and soft either) We took such cuttings from things like Camellia, Rhododendron, Syzygium, Gardenia, Magnolia and Lemon Myrtle.

preparing to take a cutting from Gardenia

This time we joined Mark in taking the cuttings. In total we sampled 8 different trees and shrubs. The key with semi-hardwood cuttings is that you are looking for “hardened off new growth with a terminal bud“. What this means is that your cutting should have mature leaf growth (full size), so the leaves must be hardened off, usually darkish green (or whatever colour mature leaves are on your tree of choice). The cutting must also have some terminal buds. Terminal buds are usually found on the tip, but may appear on the stem. Your cutting must be ‘new growth’ not last seasons growth. If the tree has started to flower, that’s okay, you can pinch these out if they are small and only just beginning to open and still use it as a cutting. Don’t use a stem that has fully flowered as a cutting, as it will have surrender most of its starch and there will be nothing left for root production.

a finished cutting

In preparing a semi-hardwood cutting, you need to make a horizontal cut below a bud (aiming to make your cutting about pencil length), and then remove all but the top 4 leaves. You can cut two of these uppermost leaves in half and leave two whole (see above photo which is actually a soft tip cutting but the end result looks the same).

Then you can pot them up in the same way as hardwood cuttings but you will need to keep misting these plants every half hour and keep the watering very regular too! This is because there is leaf to support and the cutting will die if it doesn’t have enough moisture.

Planting Up our Seedlings

This was the morning over and then we spent the entire afternoon in the veggie patch planting out our first bunch of seedlings – the ones we planted into seedling trays on our first day, just 4 weeks ago. It was exciting to get them in the ground, and hopefully the weather behaves itself! Here are some images:

zucchini seedlings

Rachel planted these guys (above) and they are looking fantastically healthy…

zucchini going into our patch

Here they are going into the ground, with almost everyone chipping in. From here on we each took a row and planted it out with all the seedlings we could fit of one variety. I planted some bok choy and kale and then helped with the hand watering! The watering was back breaking work, and if you can afford it I would really recommend drip watering systems which deliver water in a very controlled way. I know from our experience at Summit Organics that you don’t want to over-water your plants. You can tell that the soil is boggy if lots comes out on your hand/glove when you dig into it.

Plants all have specific directions for being planted. Basically you want to ensure they have enough room to grow, but not too much room that weeds will be encouraged between gaps in the maturing plants. Here’s a picture of our veggie patch towards the end of the day. Sure, the rows could be a bit straighter, but otherwise, it all looks great!

our veggie seedlings

Well, that’s all from us, hope you have a great week 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Budding gardeners we are…

  1. Wow, what a lucky coincidence – We don’t really get insane hail storms in Europe like you do in Oz and US and so forth… something to be thankful for. I can’t imagine anything more heartbreaking than pouring hours into planting something only to have it trashed by good ol’ mother nature!

    • Hey Charles, well yes, we felt very blessed to have been spared. However, we have had some wild and windy weather, heavy rains and more hail over the past 4 days, so not sure what state we will find our little plants in when we get there this morning! It made me realise during the night, just how devastating it would be to lose a crop that you have worked so hard for, especially if you are depending on it for your survival. Speaks to the importance of community and for moving forward with Global warming efforts. As weather gets wilder, its only going to be harder for farmer to grow food for us all. Check out this article that I came across yesterday: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/aug/21/vietnam-rice-bowl-threatened-rising-seas?CMP=twt_fd

      • Urgh, that’s a depressing read 😦

        “Speaks to the importance of community and for moving forward with Global warming efforts.”

        Good luck 😦 There are far too many people in powerful positions in the world who believe (either through ignorance or because they’re “paid to”) that global warming is “nothing to worry about”… /sigh

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