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Pretty well every year we get some days like this, and we have had them as early as this before.  It’s in the high 30’s today (that’s up near 100º for US readers). Most years it’s only a few days in the whole season but I am feeling for gardeners in USA who had a whole summer of drought and searing temperatures this year – the warmest year on record.  We have better water storage now than we have ever had, but still I am looking at dam levels and wondering how much we should reserve for firefighting, and how many days like today I can keep water up to my garden.

Our house is well designed and defended – a dam in front and downhill from the house, and another at the top of the drive. No gum trees close to the house.  Firebreaks and tracks. Lantana and weeds brushcut for a good distance around, and the geese are doing an excellent job of mowing.  But the recommendations after the Kinglake fires were that no home is defensible in the kind of catastrophic fire conditions that have always been an outside chance but are now fast becoming an inside one.

I’ve had sprinklers on early this morning, and I have mulch several inches thick over all my beds.  But still, planting leafy greens in these conditions is a big ask.  These lettuce seedlings were raised to advanced seedlings in the shadehouse and planted out into deeply mulched bed with lots of water-holding organic matter in the soil.  I only planted half a dozen of them – I don’t want to try to keep water up to more.

The beans are much better at coping with frizzle weather than lettuces. Even cucumbers are better.  I’ve planted another round of lettuces, rocket, and basil (sweet, lime, and Thai) in a seed box in the shadehouse, and potted on those germinated last month into individual pots to hold for another month in the shade, where I can individually water them.  But with the chances of frizzle weather increasing exponentially as the Arctic melts, I’m watching where every drop of water goes.

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The first of the season trombochino, just picked and went into a Green Green Polenta.  The first of the season cherry tomatoes, just picked and into soft boiled egg and tomato on toast for breakfast. The first of the season capsicums – these ones are Hungarian Wax.  I’ve picked the first of them green to go in a breakfast frittata, but they will get sweeter as they mature to yellow.  And the first of the season button squash, not ready yet, but it will only be a few days.

It’s very exciting. The season is changing, as they constantly do, but this spring transformation is always one I look forward to. I still have strawberries and mulberries here, and the first of the blueberries very soon. We’ve been eating paw paws regularly for a few weeks now, and still a few weeks to go.

I’m still picking the last of  the broccolisnow peaspeassilver beet, kalecelerybroad beans and cabbages of various kinds.  There’s heaps of lettuces of several kinds,  lots of rocket, parsley, coriander, and dill, and I’ve just harvested all the  mustard seed for making seeded mustard, and for adding to pickles and curries.  Carrots and  leeks and spring onions and beets are all still in season, along with ginger and turmeric.  And though the wallabies (again!) got most of my asparagus, there’s been enough left for several meals.

But all the winter vegies are now giving way to the summer ones – zucchini  and trombochino ,beans,  tomatoescapsicums, and the cucumbers aren’t too far off. And I keep sneaking a look under the compost at the  new season potatoes.  They’re not quite ready to start bandicooting yet, but it’s not long, and they are such a treat it’s something to look forward to.

I am never very inspired to freeze or bottle fruit or vegetables. But the end of the season for each one, I am always looking forward too much to the next one.

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I have some perennials in the shadehouse that I am waiting for an opportunity to plant out – some sage and thyme, some seedling lemon trees and an avocado tree – but there are bushfires not too far away and the weather is brutal on plants right now.  In some places this will be a good time of year to plant perennials. Here, early autumn is a better bet.  Our wet season runs from January through to April, and since we hardly get winter frosts, there is enough time for things to establish before winter dormancy.

This time of year in this part of the world it’s all about fruiting annuals. I have more corn and beans and tomatoes and eggplants and capsicums and trombochino and squash and pumpkins and cucumbers and zucchini in the shadehouse than I will have room to plant out.  So it’s just another round of the regular, staple roots this time – carrots and beets.  I hate daylight saving. It steals time from me in the morning when I could usefully use it and gives it back to me of an evening.  But I managed this morning to find half an hour to plant out these beets, pot on the ones in the seed germinating box, and plant another round of seed.  Hopefully I’ll get to the carrots tomorrow – bit late for the planting break but near enough.

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It’s dry and windy and hayfever weather here today, and I wonder whether our water supplies will hold out for what is shaping up as a very dry year.  Last year I planted the corn out directly, making a little hollow in the mulch, digging a single forkful of the composty soil beneath, planting two seeds per station and weeding out the weaker one as they grew.  It’s wasteful of seeds, and hard to sacrifice all those babies, but if you only plant one seed per spot any non-germinations leave a gap. And you always lose a few, to birds or mice or drying out or just the luck of genes.

This year I’m planting all my corn in the shadehouse in little leaf tubes I make out of the leaves of a decorative plant I need to prune regularly, secured with twigs and filled with a mix of compost, worm castings, and a little bit of creek sand for drainage.  This is the second round for the year, and I’ll get another one or two next month and the one after.

Partly it’s so that I can plant out only the ones that germinate and are strong and healthy, in a nice close pattern in a block with no gaps.

Partly it’s to conserve space, or rather space-time.  Corn is wind pollinated and won’t self pollinate. It does best in a block of at least a few dozen plants, with enough warm dry weather when it flowers (at the top) so the wind can blow the pollen from one plant around the silks of the corn on its neighbours.  So it needs some space.  And corn is also a heavy feeder so any old space won’t do.  The chooks are still busy clearing and fertilising the bed I want to plant these out into.

But mostly this year it’s to conserve water.  If I planted them out, I’d be watering a whole bed every day, even twice a day in this hot dry weather. I can keep this box of seed well watered in the shadehouse till they are nice strong little plants with well developed roots.  I shall plant them out by digging a little hole and putting the leaf tube in it, then pulling the soil and mulch back in around.  If I am lucky enough to get some rain before planting, I’ll water them in but from then on they’ll only get the sprinkler about once a week in dry weeks.

Besides the corn, I’m potting up the tomatoes, eggplants, and capsicums  I planted last month.  They’ll grow on in pots for another few weeks before they need to be planted out and by then it might have rained.

A couple of La Niná years and you forget just how precious water is.

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These are the spuds I planted back in early August. They grow so fast!  I planted them in a trench about 20 cm deep and I’ve been pulling the compost in around the stems, leaving just the top leaves exposed as they grow.  This morning I hilled them up a bit more – they now have about 80 cm of stems underground, hopefully with lots of little shoots starting to bulb out with spuds. In another few weeks they should start to flower and I will be able to start bandicooting them, or stealing potatoes from under the mulch leaving the plant to finish growing out.  I hope. We have hot weather on the way according to the weather reports, and if it gets too hot too early they won’t bear well. Fingers crossed.

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Very early spring in fact.  The very first day.  Today and tomorrow are roots and perennials planting days by the lunar planting calendar that I use, more to keep me from procrastination than anything else.  It gives me an artificial deadline that means I tend to be likely to whack something in the ground most weeks, and my garden rewards me.

I am putting in a regular round of carrots and beets and spring onions.  And tomorrow I’m going to transplant the oregano, which is getting a bit old and stale in the spot it is in and needs transplanting to a new, nutrient rich spot in full sun.  I have a few seedlings of bush lemons that have come up on their own from compost, that I might get around to planting out, though those of you who have been here before will understand why it isn’t a priority.

I also today planted out a new bed of asparagus, with seedlings propagated when my mature plants seeded last autumn.  The wallabies looooove asparagus, possibly better than anything else in my garden except maybe the sugar cane. If they get in they make a beeline for it. With the result that I have re-established asparagus beds so many times I’ve lost count.

If I can get it established, it can bear well outside my intensively fenced beds but inside the (supposedly) wallaby proof perimeter garden fence.  I like planting it on the downhill, northeast side of the beds where it captures nutrient and water runoff  and dies off in winter so as not to shade the beds. The bower birds, bush turkeys and possums leave it alone and once it is established, it is bandicoot proof.  Once it is established. If I just plant it and water it, they dig it up the first night.  This is my latest attempt to foil  them – a fence made from the giant bamboo we have growing.  It won’t last long, but it only has to last a few months till they are established enough to resist being just dug up.  Fingers crossed.

But the exciting planting this time is cassava. I’ve never grown cassava, and I don’t know why. It should do well here, and I’ve eaten it in Cuba and liked it. The cuttings in the top photo were given to me by Camilla (thanks Camilla!).  They are planted in a polystyrene box of compost mixed with a little sand. I’ll put another inch or so of compost on top, then keep them watered in the shadehouse till they are established.  My research says they like well drained soil but can cope with poor soil. And they can grow up to 5 metres tall.

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A well designed, established permaculture garden can keep producing with amazingly little time or energy spent on it.  Which is just as well, because mine has had amazingly little time or energy over the last season.  If not for the fact that I now have a A Garden With Stamina, I wouldn’t have a garden at all!

As it is though, the chooks continue their weeding and soil preparation even when all I have time to do is chuck a bucket of house scraps over the fence each day, and the occasional bucket of wood ash from the stove, and a bit of azolla from my morning walk, and the occasional bag of horse poo that a neighbour sells on the side of the road on my way home and…you get the idea.   Once patterns are established, they take just seconds of actual work, and no thinking at all.

But with the slightly longer days already, I’m getting a few extra minutes in the day, and it’s amazing what you can do in just a few minutes.  Last weekend I moved the chooks, and yesterday I had a few minutes to I clean out and prepare a seed raising box in the shadehouse, and my garden is on a roll again.

I use poystyrene boxes salvaged from the greengrocer for germinating seed. I find that punnets and pots are too vulnerable to drying out.  They are filled with a mixture that is mostly river sand – or fine gravel – mixed with some old compost or mowed, old cow pats.  The latter is for the texture, not the nutrients.  Seeds don’t need fertilising to germinate.  (Whenever you sprout sprouts using just water, you are proving it.)

As soon as the seedlings are up and have their first pair of true leaves, I prick them out with a kitchen fork and transplant into pots with a nice lot of compost and worm castings and seaweed brew, until they are big enough to plant out into the garden.  So the seed raising mix can be used over and over, and a box lasts all year.  My last box got abandonned when life got hectic, and was sitting there with overgrown, unwatered seedlings left over from months ago, but it took just minutes to get it ready for replanting.

This morning I had a few minutes before work again, so I planted the spring round of leafy greens.  Spring is not the perfect season for leafies, especially when it looks a bit like an El Nino is shaping up again and we are in for a long hot summer.   Leafies all want to bolt to seed this time of year, and pests like cabbage moths and aphids get busy.  There’s no point in me planting silver beet or spinach this time of year, but amaranth does well as a spring and summer leafy, and this year I’m trying a couple of other spinach substitutes – Egyptian spinach, and Orach. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience with them.

I’m also planting a few varieties of lettuce that do well for me in warmer weather –  brown romaine, rouge d’hiver, and 2 star.  Rouge d’hiver is supposed to be a cool weather variety, but it is doing well for me in spring planting.  I’m planting another round of raddicchio, though it’s a bit risky this time of year.  And basil, lots of basil – lime, sweet and Thai varieties. And Italian parsley for tabouli.

I have amaranth and aragula (wild rocket) and dill and coriander all self seeded in the garden, and I’ve planted a patch of rocket as direct planting – something I don’t do often, but they should be ready to cut as baby rocket in about a fortnight, and I only plan to keep them going for a few weeks.

Next week is the fruiting planting break, so as I get time over the next few days I shall get pots ready for beans and zucchini and squash and cucumbers and tomatoes and capsicums and eggplants and chili and pumpkins and melons.  I so love these longer days!

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Strawberries are still the star fruit in my garden, but the tussle for number two is hot.  There’s still a paw paw a day most days, and though the fruit fly sting most of our stone fruit, there are enough early peaches and plums on the tree to just share them with the chooks – they like the stung spot with its little grub the best. But I think number two at the moment has to go to blueberries.  My bushes are young but I’m lucky enough to live in a blueberry growing region, and the season is short.

The vegetables in season in my garden have all of a sudden changed.  The cabbage moths and grasshoppers of summer have arrived, ending the long broccoli season and making the silver beet less enticing.  I still have some kale but not for much longer. The broad beans are all finished and it is time to let the asparagus grow out.

But the zucchini  and trombochino have started to really come on in the warm weather. The first round of beans are all bearing and I have three different kinds to choose from. The annual keeping onions and garlic are all in, and I’ve just started to harvest the first of the new season potatoes, which are a real treat.  We don’t treat potatoes as a staple in our household, partly because neither of us do enough of anything really physically demanding enough to use that many carbohydrates every day, but mostly because after fresh, new season potatoes, stored ones are so uninspiring.  And I’m starting to pick tomatoes every day, just the Principe Borghese,  Roma, and yellow cherry yet but I’m watching the Brandyvine ripen by the day.

So that’s my late November 2 and 5. I’d love to hear what yours are.

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Sweet potatoes are one of the most frustrating crops for me.  They need a frost free site and slightly acid soil, so they grow really well here.  This year I got a great crop, but only because I had six months without chooks. With no chooks to clear them,  I had some fortress fenced garden beds that I had just let go, and a sweet potato vine found it’s way in and thought it was in heaven.  Lovely composted, mulched soil and no wallabies.

It gave itself away by overrunning all the weeds though. Within a few months that little vine had covered the entire bed and yielded about 30 kilos of sweet potatoes.

The year before I got none.  To quote my own post from that summer:  “A wallaby got into the garden last night, and demolished my newly planted sweet potato patch. I spent my whole mowing session this morning devising recipes for wallaby – Turkish wallaby stew, marinated baked wallaby, wallaby kebabs….

I checked the fortress fence for holes, but I think it got in across the verandah through the house and into the garden! It’s not as if it is very hungry – after the recent rains I have trouble keeping up with the mowing – it just likes sweet potatoes better.”

So now I have a gate from the verandah of the house into the garden – which is a real nuisance – it was great to be able to nick in and out of the garden with hands full without having to close a gate. A few months ago I forgot to shut it one night and the wallabies gave the mint and the sugar cane a very radical pruning. Luckily it was before the asparagus got going or the language might have been even worse.  They must check to see if it is closed every night!  So now it is one of our evening rituals to check the verandah gate is shut.

But, on the plus side, no wallabies in the garden, at least for a few months this time, and I am daring to hope I can plant sweet potatoes.  It rained heavily night before last, so I don’t have to water them in which means the bandicoots shouldn’t dig them straight back up again tonight. The bush turkeys get a few, but most grow a bit too deep for turkeys.

They’re not usually a perennial.  Conventionally they  are planted in spring and harvested in autumn. But when I’ve had a patch established before, I’ve just let it go and dug up a sweet potato or two whenever I want one.  The’re too rampant for my fortress fenced intensive beds. I want to grow them as a semi-wild ground covering semi-perennial.

Sweet potato will grow from either a root or a cutting, so there are two ways to plant.  One is to just plant a sweet potato you buy from the greengrocer.  The second is to plant the vines.  I have some vines that are growing inside a spiral where the chooks are going to go in a few weeks, so I’m using the second method.

It’s very easy.  Just weave a little crown  like the top picture and bury it with the vine underground and at least some of the leaves out.  Like this:

That’s it. Try to convince it to stay in the area you planned for it and every few years, retire an old patch and plant a new patch to prevent a build up of nematodes.  In March start looking for tubers.

I have one of my usual rounds of carrots and spring onions in the shadehouse ready to plant out, and I shall try to get them in this afternoon after work as well. The discipline of not putting planting off is one of the major benefits of the lunar calendar.  It’s only a dozen little tubes of seedlings to plant, quite do-able after work, and just half an hour of garden work at the right time means I have continuity of supply – fresh carrots out of the garden and no need to bother with freezing.

And we have a pot of left-over chicken stew for dinner, already made.  Red Leg the rooster has made three meals so far.  Will be nice to have dinner ready to just heat up on a planting day.

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