Sister Act

I got up extra early yesterday to beat the heat while working on my ‘Three Sisters’ bed for this year. Out came what was left of the purple podded peas and in went a bag of compost from one of our bins. I also left the roots of the peas where they were so they could add nitrogen to the soil.

A ‘three sisters’ bed revolves around growing corn, beans and squash together in one bed. The corn supports the climbing beans and the squash provides ground cover to lower evaporation and provide a cool root run for the other plants. This planting scheme, developed by Native Americans, is eminently suited to Canberra’s hot dry summer growing conditions.

The start of the 'three sisters' bed with corn planted along with a spagetti squash.
The start of the ‘three sisters’ bed with corn planted along with a spagetti squash.

I had already tucked in a few plants of ‘Golden Bantam’ corn into the bed about a week ago. This time I added my remaining corn seedlings and a spagetti squash from our friend M. I think I have to describe my corn planting as ‘random’ blocks. They will, however, be close enough for wind pollination of the corn to occur.

The beans are growing away quite strongly in the polyhouse. I will plant them out in about a week’s time. I’ll be using my Scarlet Emperor climbing beans for this bed as the red-coloured flowers look really lovely in the garden. I always hope to seduce passing neighbours into growing veggies by showing them how good they can look.

Bean seedlings will be ready to plant out in a few days.
Bean seedlings will be ready to plant out in a few days.

I also wanted to reuse the pea stalks I pulled out, so I chopped them up roughly and put them down onto the bed.

Roughly chopped pea stems with some extra soil goes onto the bed as feed/mulch.
Roughly chopped pea stems with some extra soil goes onto the bed as feed/mulch.

I then threw some soil over them and topped the whole bed with sugarcane mulch.

The 'three sisters' bed ready for several days of hot weather.
The ‘three sisters’ bed ready for several days of forecast hot weather.

I’ll let you know how they are growing a bit further along in the season. (And a big wave to my actual three sisters as well.)

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Changeover tactics

We are now hovering between the spring harvest and the summer plantings. TB has just harvested our garlic. There are not as many heads of garlic as last year – we did get a bit carried away there – but there is sufficient to get us through well into the new year.

Garlic harvest drying prior to storage.
Garlic harvest drying prior to storage.

Where the garlic was growing is where the first of our tomatoes will be planted. Although the gloss has worn off the annual Canberra tomato challenge with the news, reported in the pages of The Canberra Times, that one gardener in the suburb of Campbell, has already harvested his first bush-ripened tomato! Infamous!

We continue to harvest good quantities of peas and broadbeans. For once I’ve been picking pods of both plants frequently which has helped with maintaining the production of pods for as long a period as possible. What we are not going to eat straight away is blanched and frozen for future use. Of course our cat, not to mention one of our close friends, cannot see why we bother to eat them at all!

Can you believe that my owners actually eat these things!
Can you believe that my humans actually eat these things!

I am happy to say that my strawberries are already producing a steady amount of fruit. I enjoy being able to pick a juicy handful of strawberries to eat as I potter my way around the yard.

Vegetable increase

We like to get as many vegetables as we can from our backyard plot and there are some interesting tricks that the home gardener can use. I wrote ages ago, about cut and come again crops, particularly how to get more than one leek from a single plant, now I’d like to show you how to get multiple bulbs of fennel from the one plant. TB saw this technique on the TV, but he’s not sure where he saw it.

Some very plump fennel bulbs in our garden.
Some very plump fennel bulbs in our garden.

When you go to cut your fennel bulb you will notice that between the outer and second outer leaves of the bulb there are often small new leaves growing. Taking a small sharp knife carefully cut down so you leave these small leaves and the outer leaf intact.

Cut the central bulb out leaving the outer leaves and new leaves to grow away. This plant had the bulb cut out several weeks ago.
Cut the central bulb out leaving the outer leaves and new leaves to grow away. This plant had the bulb cut out several weeks ago.

You can see from the photo above that the plant will grow away with two new bulbs. At this stage we haven’t picked any of these secondary bulbs so we aren’t sure how many times you can do this before the plant becomes un-viable.

Some plants make it even easier for you. Our friend L gave us some ‘walking’ onions (Allium x proliferum) last year. In addition to producing a bulb underground, the plants produces new bulblets from it’s flowerhead, which over time will make the stem bend to the ground and let the new bulbs take root, hence ‘walking’ onion.

The new bulbs forming on top of the 'Walking' Onion.
The new bulbs forming on top of the ‘Walking’ Onion.

If you leave the bulbs a bit longer, so they start to sprout, you can pick them and plant them out as you would any new onion.

More well-developed 'Walking' onion bulbs, just about ready to transplant.
More well-developed ‘Walking’ onion bulbs, just about ready to transplant.

The ‘Walking’ Onions were covered in a story on Gardening Australia recently.

Hygiene day for the hen house

It’s not only our house that needs a spring clean but also the chook house and the chooks as well.

The line up for the nesting box, look closely at the foreground, Arte is in the box, Letty is in the middle and Dotty is last in line.
The line up for the nesting box, look closely at the foreground, Arte is in the box, Letty is in the middle and Dotty is last in line.

Firstly TB and I creep down to the chook house just after dusk, wearing our protective clothing, disposable gloves and taking a jar of vaseline to put on the chicken’s legs – no this is not some kinky chicken thing. One of our chooks gets very upset at being handled so we like to catch the girls after they have gone to roost for the evening so we can put vaseline on their legs to counteract the effect of leg mites. These nasty little pests – the mites, not the chickens – crawl under the scales of the chickens legs and cause itching and soreness and rather unhappy chooks. The vaseline, or even spray vegetable oil like my hairdresser uses on her girls, smothers the mites and makes the chooks feel much better.

Unfortunately the mites like to hide in cracks in wood so we also need to give the hen house and perches a good cleaning. When TB built the Palais des Poules he made sure that it literally could be pulled apart. This comes in very useful when spring cleaning is on the go.

The nest boxes , on their side, drying in the sun.
The nest boxes , on their side, drying in the sun.

I pull the nest boxes right out and then clean the litter off the floor before pulling the floor out so I can climb inside the house to wash the walls down. I use lots of hot water and my favourite natural disinfectant eucalyptus oil on all the wooden surfaces. I to do a major scrub down of the hen house several times of the year to try and keep the mites at bay.

A lovely 'shiny' hen house, for the time being at least.
A lovely ‘shiny’ hen house, for the time being at least.

As you can see it looks very shiny now – just give it a few days and the girls will be using the back wall for target practice again!