Cereal efforts

I’m not sure why but growing cereal crops in your backyard always sounds so ‘wrong’. Perhaps we are too used to scenes of combine harvesters moving across acres of golden wheat, when we may be better off contemplating how farmers in Japan still grow rice in the suburbs (this case in outer Kyoto).
So really there is no reason not to give cereal growing a try. Our thinking is that if your have space in your yard to grow potatoes you could try growing cereals as well or instead. According to an article on growing grains in he current issue of Organic Gardener magazine (Sept-Oct 2011) you need a 10 x15 metre plot to grow enough wheat to be self sufficient for a year (at 2kgs flour per week).

A few years back we grew some wheat. To be honest it was not a great success. We were probably too inconsistent with the watering and it was during the drought. Indeed our total output was probably enough to made a cake or a loaf of bread. However that hasn’t stopped TB from exploring further options with growing rice. Now before you get overly agitated about excess water use what we are growing is a ‘dry land’ strain of rice. The seed was easily obtained by buying a bag of organic brown rice from the local supermarket. Said bag of rice also noted that it was not grown with flood irrigation so we think we have made a reasonable choice. Another option is to grow paddy style rice in an old bathtub.

The rice grains didn’t take too long to sprout on their bed of wet paper towel.
And while our transplant method is clearly unsuitable for larger scale plantings,

at least the grains have continued to sprout.

The biggest drawback to growing rice in Canberra is, of course, the temperature. We are just not in the right climatic zone for this plant, not that that will stop us trying. TB expects to grow most of the crop in pots in the polyhouse and we will try some in the garden as well.

Our most regular grain crop is corn. Most years we grow sweet corn – Golden Bantam to eat fresh and to save some as dried corn for later use. We also grow popping corn, Blue Mini and Strawberry pop corn, which are quite amazing in colour.

Sadly when these varieties are popped they look just like any other popcorn. I’ve just planted some seeds of both Golden Bantam sweetcorn and also some Blue Mini popcorn to get us underway for this year.


Backyard self sufficiency?

I’ve said before that we are not trying to become self-sufficient at Chez Fork – it really is a lot of plain hard work! Not that that should stop you if that is your goal.

Like most of us from an urban background I find it hard to visualise what ‘self sufficiency’ looks like. That said, I’m getting a better idea as each year we are providing more of our own food, either grown or wild collected. Thankfully someone else has had a crack at this task. The folks over at One Block off the Grid – as US solar power group have made a great visual of what it would take an American family of four to live off the land for a year. (Thanks to Bishlet for sending me this link).

For something more ‘local’ you might want to check out Michael Mobb’s website on what he and his local community are up to in suburban Sydney.

Start me up

The first thing that Lolo Houbein says in her book One Magic Square is that if you want to start a veggie garden you should put her book down immediately and go outside and dig up one square metre of ground. This is good advice particularly for people wanting to start new gardens in Canberra at this time of year.


My last post was a quick caution about the air temperature, but its the ground temperature that is the biggest block to getting a new garden happening now. The ground is just too cold. Many of the plants that you may want to plant just will not go anywhere until the soil gets a bit warmer. As beginner gardeners we fell right into the trap of planting too early. Our plants sulked and were targetted by every pest that came on by. But don’t give up there are some exceptions which I will cover off further down this post. In Canberra October is the month where you can really get your main plantings underway.

So better to harness all those spring urges and get down to the basics of getting your soil ready for your new garden. It really is as simple as getting out with a spade or garden fork and getting stuck in. If you are a complete beginner then Lolo’s advice to just dig up one square metre of soil is excellent advice. You want to keep your enthusiasm going without killing yourself or buggering up your back. Pull out the weeds and grass – these will compete with your plants so out they go – remove any rocks and break the soil up. You may read gardeners carrying on about digging to a fine tilth but frankly I think they should get over it! Unless you are making a bed for carrots, where you need very fine soil to avoid forked or distorted roots, most plants can cope with a few lumpy bits in the soil. If you are growing carrots or other root crops (parsnips, beetroot) you’ll need to dig your ground to about 30cms deep. Other vegetables need a good 20cms depth for their roots.

Now get whatever compost, kitchen scraps, animal manure etc that you can lay your hands on and dig them into your soil. If you don’t have any of these just go down to your nursery or hardware store and buy some. While you are there get some sugarcane mulch or pea straw to put on top of the bed. Before sticking your mulch on give your garden bed a good water. You must be generous with your mulch, put at least 20cm on top of your garden, as you don’t want any weeds to grow through. Now you can leave this to get on by itself while you go and decide what to plant.

Oh and don’t throw those weeds and grass out. Get a bucket or large container with a lid and throw all of your weeds and grass into it. Cover the lot with water and leave it for a month. Strain off the liquid and dilute it with water to the colour of weak tea and then use it as a plant fertiliser. Take the remaining sludgy stuff and stick it in your compost heap or dig it into your garden bed.

Of course you may not want, or be able to dig so the ‘no-dig’ garden may be for you. Here is Gardening Australia’s no-dig garden factsheet on how to go about this.

I’ve stuck a photo in of the three garden books that we refer to time and time again. they are, in no particular order Organic Vegetable Gardening by Annette Macfarlane, Backyard Self-Sufficiency by Jackie French and One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein. All are available through the public library and any one of them would be a great help to a new gardener or someone who’s been away from the game for a while. The other absolute must have is Peter Cundall’s Planting Guide for cold climates which you can find here. You can see that each month is divided into what you can plant – seedlings; and what you can sow – seeds. There are some links at the bottom of the page for seeds suppliers. So here is what Pete is suggesting for September:

Pete’s advice for September

PLANT: Potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, globe artichokes, chives, rhubarb divisions and seedlings of cabbage, cauliflower, celery, broccoli, lettuce, silverbeet, spring long-keeping and salad onion and leeks.

SOW DIRECT: Carrot, beetroot, parsnip, silverbeet, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, onion, kohlrabi, summer spinach, leeks, swede, turnip, peas, Asian brassicas, Japanese turnip, peas. Under glass in containers sow tomatoes, pumpkin, zucchini and sweetcorn.

So what are you waiting for, get digging!