Newsletter readers’ tips

 
White cabbage moth (from Carol Woolcock, March 16 2019)

If you’re growing brassicas, you’re hopefully aware that the dreaded white cabbage moth tends to ruin any unprotected early crops. What happens is that the moths lay their eggs on the seedlings and the caterpillars then hatch and eat the seedlings. Fine netting can stop the moths from reaching the plants to lay their eggs. Carol Woolcock has sent in a picture of her elegant exclusion net, a recycled curtain from the Op Shop. Usually available for $2 or so.

To which Susan Palmer responded:

Susan is going to try an alternative approach and has purchased some decoy plastic moths from Nillumbik Nursery (see picture right; 6 for $5). The idea is that the real moths are territorial and will stay away from the decoy moths and therefore also from the brassicas.

Leaf, Root & Fruit had previously (March 7 2018) provided an alternative strategy: just wait until late April to plant out seedlings. The white cabbage is a lot less prevalent in the cooler weather and your young seedlings will stand a better chance of surviving.

Summer seedling care (from Fay Loveland, December 12 2018)

Fay Loveland has written in to say that she found the following advice from Green Harvest very helpful: “As the days warm up, we all find it harder to transplant seedlings successfully, particularly tender ones, like lettuce. Don’t be disappointed and waste your efforts; rather, help yourself by:

  • Soaking your seedlings for an hour prior to transplanting in a weak seaweed solution.
  • Watering the hole before planting and then water the seedling after planting. Many seedlings need watering twice a day for at least a week to help them become established. So the moral is – don’t buy seedlings if you can’t give them care for a week.
  • Always transplant late in the afternoon. Cover your seedlings for the first critical few days by using hoops of bamboo or polypipe to support shadecloth.
  • In hotter weather, it can help to grow sturdier plants by potting them on into individual pots (e.g. jiffy pots) to reduce transplant shock.
Urine as fertiliser (from Greta Gillies, May 2 2018)

Urine can be used to fertilise food crops in a number of ways. At it simplest, it can be added undiluted to the base of fruit trees. The Veganic Agriculture Network has a sensible and comprehensive article on the uses of urine in the garden.

Strategies for lead contaminated garden soils (from Very Edible Gardens, March 7 2018)

A recent RMIT study found that some Melbourne veggie patches have high levels of lead contamination in the soil. In response, here is an article giving 11 mitigation strategies. In summary:

  1. Get tested (by The VegeSafe project at Macquarie University).
  2. Wash. Wash your hands, and wash your vegetables.
  3. Add organic matter.
  4. Home test your soil’s pH.
  5. Add a high-phosphorous fertiliser.
  6. Mulch.
  7. Grow fruit crops, not root crops.
  8. If you have chickens, keep them separate from the soil.
  9. Use raised beds. Ideally wicking beds.
  10. Isolate or remove any highly contaminated soil.
  11. Eat a healthy diet.
The green vegetable bug (from Julie French, February 28 2018)

I found these little bugs (see photo) in my garden last year. They were about the size of a ladybird. At the time I couldn’t find out what they were and didn’t follow up as they were only a few and only on the one eggplant. This year they’ve appeared in greater numbers on my beans and I’ve made more of an effort to find out what they are. In Australia, they’re called the green vegetable bug (Nezara viridula) and are pests on tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, beans and other veggies. The ones in the photo are nymphs; the adults are bigger and can look like green stink bugs (which is what they’re called in the US, I think).

Making jam with less sugar (from My Green Garden, January 31 2018)

Sugar is used in jam for 2 reasons (or maybe 3, if you include taste).

First, sugar acts as the preserving agent for the fruit. It acts to prevent bacteria and other food spoilants from taking hold. The ratio needed for this is at least 75% of the weight of the fruit has to be added as sugar.

Second, the sugar acts to help ‘gel’ the fruit. This happens with the combination of the fruit with its natural pectin, the sugar and acid (from the fruit or added as lemon juice).

So, without enough sugar, the jam might go mouldy and won’t gel, staying very runny.

This is true to an extent but it can be overcome.

To overcome the preserving issue, after making the jam I make sure that I heat-preserve the filled jars. This makes a great vacuum seal on the jars, which means there is no air in the jar. No air = no bacteria.

To make up for lack of a firm set, I cook it a little longer than I normally would with a full sugar jam; and then accept that it will be easier to spread on my breakfast toast than a commercial jam, whose sugar content may be even higher than the 1:1 ratio. So it might be called ‘spreadable fruit’ rather than a true jam.

I have also tried adding a minute amount of Xantham gum powder (available in the health food section of my local supermarket) right at the end of the cooking process, This does firm up the jam, so that it is still spreadable. But don’t overdo it as you might have rock hard jam.

Growing good tomatoes (from My Green Garden, November 8 2017)

As your seedlings get bigger, you need to decide whether to prune out the laterals or leave them to grow. The answer to the question will determine how many tomatoes you end up with (don’t prune = more); the size of the tomatoes (do prune = larger); and whether or not you are prepared to use several stakes for each plant (don’t prune = more supports needed). Also, The laterals pruned out can be rooted in water to create another plant if you need one.

How to dispose of doggy do (from Carol Woolcock, July 19 2017)

Dog owners have an ongoing dilemma of how to dispose of doggy do other than placing it in their council waste bin. I came across a Bokashi product called Ensopet starter. It is supposed to be used with an Ensopet composter (a plastic upturned bucket gizmo) which costs around $70. I achieved the same result by using a 30cm plastic pot with the base removed. I dug a hole about 30cm square and 40cm deep and placed the upturned pot, with the base removed, in it about level with the surrounding ground. Dog poo goes in it and is sprinkled with Ensopet starter. I cover the pot with a heavy stoneware dinner plate. The holes are dug on the uphill side near the drip line on my fruit trees. I have 4 holes at present and simply dig another when they are near full. The ingredients in Ensopet starter include “beneficial microorganisms, wheat, sawdust, zeolite, molasses”. It costs $13 for 1kg and has lasted me for around 6 months. So no dog faeces in my bin, no odour and the fruit trees get a boost.

Some guidelines for storing summer produce (from Duang Tengtrirat, January 4 2017)

Here are a few tips on how to store your summer fruits and vegetables so that they last longer and taste their best. Keep your veggies cool. The fridge is your friend – know how to store your produce.

Rule #1: Keep fruit and veggies separated. Most fruits and berries emit ethylene gas which can cause your vegetables to spoil and change flavour. Keep them in separate drawers if refrigerated.

Rule #2: Bag them first. Loosely bag or wrap greens, broccoli, capsicum, cucumber etc before placing them in the fridge. Keep sweetcorn in its husks until ready to use.

Rule #3: Do not store root vegetables with their greens. The greens will take moisture out of the roots so cut them off first and store them separately.

Rule #4: Remove rubber bands, twisties or any other things that choke your veggies. Store them without any tightening objects for better circulation.

Rule #5: As a rule it is best NOT to wash veggies before storing because extra water creates dampness which is not ideal. (However, washing lettuce, spinach and salad greens makes it easy to use them. So, wash them and make sure to dry them before storing. This will make it easy to make salads and you will eat more of them.)

Where to find finely ground rock dust (from Stuart Rodda, September 14 2016)

An ‘organic’ source of many minerals, including potassium, is finely ground rock dust, particularly basalt rock. There are various suppliers of rock dust-based soil additives, such as Munash, but most of them have other additives to enhance the overall effect and are thus quite expensive (upwards of $2/Kg). If one just wants basalt rock dust, it can be bought at some local garden suppliers, but it is often quite coarse and would take a long time (decades) for the larger grit to break down in the soil and release its nutrients. Thus it is quite important that it is finely ground. I have one source of quite fine basalt rock dust and, while it is dearer (per cubic metre) than a lot of other garden soil additives, it is much cheaper than specially manufactured and packaged ‘rock dusts’. It is from Mercuri Garden and Building Supplies at 2, The Concord, Bundoora, and costs about $105 per cubic metre. This equates to around 10 cents per litre and, because it is quite dense (heavy), this is less than 5 cents per Kg, or thus a tiny fraction of the cost of packaged rock dusts. I am not sure what they would charge for small quantities but, for people like me with larger gardens who buy loose materials by the trailerload, it is a bargain.

Get grass clippings from your neighbours (from Mala Plymin, July 27 2016)

I recently agreed with one of the handymen who was mowing my neighbour’s lawn that he would give me the grass clippings for my compost. He used to take the clippings to landfill so he is now saving time and I am getting to make great compost with the extra grass clippings. Also, one less thing going to landfill.

Plant your seeds in egg shells (from Mala Plymin, July 27 2016)

I now plant my seeds in egg shells, so I no longer have to get small plastic pots. When ready, the seedlings in their egg shells can be planted straight in the garden. The shells biodegrade and provide the soil with calcium. When I crack the eggs, I make sure I do it close to the top.

Eat your pumpkin leaves! (from Karen Olsen, March 9 2016)

When I look at my veggie patch at the moment all I can see is zucchini and pumpkin plants. I often make stuffed zucchini or pumpkin flowers (ricotta and basil: stuff, dress with olive oil, salt & pepper, then bake in the oven until a touch golden). But sometimes there are not so many flowers. So I tried the same thing with young pumpkin leaves (the whole of the plant is supposed to be edible): they were great! And, of course, it made room for some other veggie patch occupants.

Protecting seedlings from both slaters and snails (from Susan Palmer, December 9 2015)

plant collarSusan may have found a solution for her quest to limit the damage caused by slaters and snails without killing them. Last year, slaters started chopping down her young veggie seedlings at night, progressively devouring them over the next few days. Really irritating! Following a tip from the ABC website, she now puts plant collars (old pots with the bottom chopped out) on all her seedlings. She also puts copper tape (can be purchased from Bunnings) around the pot to deter snails. Once the seedling is well established, the collar can be removed as the tougher stems are less attractive to slaters. Since then, there has been no slater or snail damage.

Editor’s note: did you know that slaters are effectively land crabs? Or, that their ‘proper’ common name is woodlice? Or, that they are apparently called ‘butcher boys’ in Williamstown?

snailTo which Evan Gellert responded (in October 2016):
The photo is of a large snail that wasn’t bothered by the copper film tape I fixed to my raised veggie beds around 2 years ago. The copper tape is still in good condition (it can be seen just below the upper plank of the raised bed, with a couple of nails through it). Although it is discoloured and oxidised, the tape still has physical integrity. The snail trail from below makes it pretty clear that the snail passed over the tape, and didn’t simply do a U-turn from inside the veggie bed.

Growing strawberries in a small space (from Elodie, December 2 2015)

strawberry towerElodie says she may have found a solution for her quest to grow enough strawberries to be self sufficient without planting out half the garden. She makes strawberry towers (see the picture). Each tower holds around 35 strawberry plants. The large bottom pot is on wheels for obvious reasons but it also makes it hard for the crawling critters to get in, as does the copper tape (it acts as an electric shock barrier). There is a good layer of scoria for drainage in the bottom, with geo fabric in between the soil layer. The middle pot has its bottom cut out, so is really just a retaining wall for the next level. Coir mulch is used to hold back the soil in the pipe holes. A few sticks in the top can support a bird net draped over the whole lot.

Keeping your worms cool (from Fay Loveland, October 7 2015)

This week in the garden I’ve been trying to keep the worm farm cool. As I write this, the worms in my worm farm are enjoying slices of chilled watermelon! To keep the worm farm cool, it is positioned in a shady spot under a large tree. During the past few days, I’ve added a couple of plastic bottles of frozen water (think of a cold version of a hot water bottle). The worms ‘snuggle’ up to the chilly bottles. At night, I open the worm farm lid for a while and rinse the farm with fresh cool water. I have also sprinkled the worm farm with a little lime to keep the pH higher and to reduce odour. Finally, I’ve soaked many layers of old newspaper and laid that over the top of the worms. It might sound like a bit of work, but it’s worth it to keep the worms working, and nobody likes finding stewed worms after a few, hot, neglectful days.

To which Jane Trikojus responded:
Another simple way to get worms through heat waves is to remove the bottom liquid-collecting tray and place the worm farm on the soil. The worms will travel down into the much cooler dirt when necessary and up again to feed. Should be in the shade for summer.

Using food leftovers/scraps and reducing food waste

(from Duang Tengtrirat, December 7 2016)

Some of us enjoy leftovers, others don’t mind them and yet others would do anything to avoid looking at yesterday’s foods. No matter how hard we try there are always leftovers. Worse yet – no matter how organised we are, there are still leftovers and we feel compelled to use them rather than throwing them out. Here are some tips:

1. As soon as you put food into a container to store in the fridge, stick a note ‘EAT ME FIRST’ to it. Then use this first either as a re-heat or a re-purpose.

2. When preparing to put leftovers away, make it easy to use them again. For example, remove cooked chicken from the bone so it’s ready to use.

3. When ready to use leftovers, think of its ‘re-purpose’ use. How can you breathe new life into something from yesterday or the day before?

4. Look around to see what you have in your pantry that can work as ‘supporting casts.’ For example, in your pantry: rice, pasta, wrap; or, in the fridge: cheese, sauces dressings.

(from Carol Woolcock on how to use lemon rinds, December 4 2014)

1. Finely grate the rinds and store in a container in the freezer. Useful when only a teaspoon or so of grated rind is required and you don’t want to grate a fresh lemon (or you don’t have any).

2. Allow the lemon halves to thoroughly dry (in the sun or when you have turned the oven off after cooking). These make great fire lighters (and scent the room as well). I also save any lint from the clothes dryer and stuff the halves with this).

3. Remove the white pith and cut the rind into narrowish strips. Blanche in boiling water for a couple of minutes then drain and place in a sugar syrup over a low heat until semi-transparent. Remove from the syrup and drain on baking paper until dry (may take a couple of days). Can then be used in fruit cakes etc or dipped in melted chocolate for a treat with coffee. A couple of teaspoons of the lemony syrup can also be added to a glass of water (soda, mineral or tap) for a refreshing drink.

4. Dip the halves in a saucer of bicarb soda and use to clean soap scum from the shower door. Depending on how much scum is present, you will need to re-dip the skin. Rinse off with plain water for sparking glass. Farewell to easy off BAM!

vegetable stock(from Duang Tengtrirat, November 27 2014)

Making vegetable stock from kitchen scraps: I keep almost all part of veggies that I don’t use in a freezer bag and throw it in the freezer to make stock. There are three key ingredients in stock: onion, celery and carrots. The rest you can be creative about and add anything you like.

Veggie scraps that I keep include: onion skins (brown onions only as red onions skins are bitter), garlic peels, coriander roots, green onion roots and green tips, celery tops, mushroom stems, spinach roots and silverbeet stems.

When I have enough in the freezer (2 and more cups), I de-frost them and add water, boil until soft, strain and throw away the solids, keep the broth in the fridge for 2-3 days or freeze the stock for later use. Note: The difference between broth and stock is that broth is spiced and stock is not. I prefer to make stock (no salt and no pepper) so that it is more versatile and add spices like ginger if I am making Asian food, oregano, thyme and sage if making risotto, for example.

Tip: I don’t use brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts) in making stock because (1) they add a bitter taste and (2) they are too strong and overpower the aroma of the stock.

(from the Little Organic Shop Hurstbridge, November 20 2014)

All our food scraps and veggie/fruit peels etc. go back to the chicken farm that we get our eggs from. Any waste that chooks don’t like or shouldn’t eat (onions, citrus, potato peel, etc.) goes into compost. Leftover milk from the coffee machine is either made into kefir and used in pancakes, scones and other recipes that call for buttermilk or sour cream, or use it to make custard or creamed rice. Vegetables that are misshapen, or that are getting close to use-by (but are still good to eat) we make into soups or sauces or find suitable recipes to use them e.g. one of our farmers recently brought in a lot of rocket that we knew wouldn’t last, so rather than waste it we turned it into a delicious rocket pesto with walnuts.

(from Sammy from Diamond Creek, November 13 2014)

Egg whites, can be frozen. As can egg yolks. In my experience, you then can’t use them in the ‘fussier’ baking recipes, but they are perfectly suitable (once thawed) for the more forgiving baking.

I am told whey can also be frozen, however I have never tried it. I give left over whey to my chooks – they think it’s heaven!

Lemons! My lemon tree is currently a non-producer. We rescued a friends potted lemon tree that was on the point of death due to neglect, no water, little soil and gall wasp like you wouldn’t believe. So, over the last 18 months, we have been giving it a lot of TLC and pinching out any blossom to help it save its energy for growing. Hence, if I see someone with extra lemons, I take them with open arms. But when you take piles of lemons, you have to do something with them.

Freeze the juice in ice cube trays – one cube is roughly half a lemon so it works out fine for measurements. Then I grate the rinds and freeze them also. Both turn out quite fresh and we have very useful lemon all year round.

You can also use scooped out lemon halves as slater traps in the veggie garden.

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