Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mt Jerusalem National Park: On our Doorstep!

Standing on the edge of the caldera looking across to the Western rim over Doon Doon.

Yesterday Michael and I did something we had been planning to do for a while, but never seem to get round to, and stepped out into the amazing landscape that surrounds us - we went for a bushwalk.  I am so glad I did (even though we took a wrong path (busy chatting) and added two hours to our journey - but that did mean we went up Mt. Jerusalem!)

We live in an ancient landscape on the edge the Tweed volcanic caldera - one of the largest and best examples of an erosion caldera in the world - with various volcanic plugs still visible throughout the area - the largest of which is Wollumbin (Mt. Warning) - which would have been twice as high as it is today before it blew it's top over twenty million years ago.  
Mullumbimby farmhouse at the base of Mt. Chincogan - typical of the old style architecture

I am lucky to have as the backdrop to my garden another of these volocanic plugs - Mt. Chincogan, and be able to see Wollumbin in the distance over to the West.  In aboriginal mythology Wollumbin is the father and Chincogan the mother - protectors of the land - watching over all living creatures and it's sacred places.

For many thousands of years this green paradise, resting in the shadow of the majestic Wollumbin, was home to the aboriginal Bundjalung people.

The Bundjalung enjoyed a warm sub-tropical climate. The landscape varied from towering mountains to the bountiful sea, providing an abundance of food and materials that met all their needs.

Wollumbin, the mountain named by Captain James Cook as Mt Warning, towers 1100 metres above the sea. It was named by Cook in 1770 as a warning to other seafarers of the numerous treacherous reefs along this coast.

He did not know that the Bundjalung people for many miles around called the mountain Wollumbin, and that it was an important sacred site, as their lives and religion were strongly linked to the land.

Wollumbin, with the volcanic plug of Doughboy Mountain in the foreground

Whenever you walk in the forests around here you come across enormous felled trees like this - discarded by the loggers because, once cut down, they discovered them to be hollow inside.

Following explorations by Cook, white settlement began - and, consequently, the displacement of the Bundjalung forever.  In the 1850's a British timber logging camp was built at the back of Mullumbimby - the start of white settlement in this area.  A place where the cutters could feed their livestock on the grasslands and get their valuable timber down the Brunswick River and out to the waiting ships - taking the rainforest timber, mainly red cedar, back to the UK.

Fortunately, these remnant forests are now protected and part of the Jerusalem,  Nightcap and Wollumbin  National Parks system - fought hard,  and long for by locals and environmental campaigners.

Meditation Rock - with views to Byron Bay Lighthouse (clinging to the side of this rock was a beautiful clump of pink, flowering Dendrobium orchids)

Once up here, and taking in the magnificent views, you only have to step over to the southern side of the rim and walk for about ten minutes to get wonderful views the other way, down the Wilsons River Valley to the Byron Bay Lighthouse.

The walk takes you under towering cliffs, through lush vegetation of palms, orchids, ferns and huge eucalypts to Meditation Rock - where you just have to pause for a while to enjoy the sweet air, smell springtime and listen to the birds.

 In five hours we didn't see one other person - just this fellow - a diamond backed python.  He was a small one - only about
2 metres long!

This walk reminded me of a chat I had with Dorothy, the 86 year old member of the Book Club I belong to - who looks about 70, with a vibrancy that belies her years.  When I asked her what her secret was she said "You just have to get out there and KEEP MOVING".  Thank you Dorothy. (By the time we got back to the car I could also hear my dear old Dad in my ear "It's lovely when the pain wears off!")

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chocolate Macadamia Brownies - One pan, easy recipe

I am very lucky to have a great cook and food writer for a neighbour, Belinda Jeffery - and this 'one pan' brownie recipe is an adaptation of one of hers - delicious and easy - with the wonderful crunch and taste of macadamia nuts.  (I was recently curious about a dish I read about for pan-fried salmon that required a sorrel sauce made from a 'beurre blanc with a shallot reduction' - might as well have been talking hindustani.  Ring up Belinda, and within one minute gives me the exact recipe - she's my kind of gal).

Macadamias in flower
Around these parts the hills are dotted with plantations of 'lollipop' trees that give it a very distinctive look to the surrounding countryside and, at this time of year, are in full of very fragrant flowers - which will bear fruit - well nuts - macadamias - in about 8 weeks.

Macadamia nuts are about the only native Australian plant that have become a commercial export crop. They are indigenous to this part of the world, occurring naturally in Australian sub-tropical rain-forests.

The edible nut is encased in two outer shells, the inner one  defeats ordinary nut crackers - a brick works!  However, it easier to buy a special 'macca cracker' or buy them directly from the grower at our Farmers' Market.

Chocolate Macadamia Brownies
250 g butter
250 g good quality dark chocolate (I use 70% cocoa)
1 1/2 cups castor sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cup wholemeal self raising flour (you can use white flour)
100 g roasted macadamias, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt

1.  Pre-heat oven to 180oC
2.  Place macadamia nuts on oven tray and roast for approx. 5 mins., until just golden
3.  Grease 25 cm square, shallow cake-tin and line with non-stick baking paper.
4.  Break up chocolate and heat in large saucepan (you will mix all ingredients in this so you need a large one) with butter until melted. Give it a good stir - it should be smooth and shiny. Take off heat. Cool until just warm.
5.  Add sugar and combine with hand whisk.  
6.  Whisk in beaten eggs.
7.  Add flour and salt and stir until combined (don't over-beat)
8.  Stir in toasted macadamia nuts
9.  Pour into pan and bake on 180oC for 40-45 minutes.  Test to see if cooked by inserting skewer - if it comes out clean, it's cooked.
10.  Don't attempt to slice up until completely cool - you can even put into the fridge for a while.
Using a ruler helps to cut up into even squares!  If you put them in an airtight tin they will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks - if you are lucky!

TOP TIP: For a delicious desert - simply place a brownie in each bowl, add some stewed or fresh berries and lastly, a dollop of ice-cream/yoghurt or cream.

NOTE:  If you are looking for a plant to use as part of an edible screen or hedge you can't go past the macadamia Macadamia integrifolia.  It grows from 2-5 m, evergreen with fragrant flowers in spring and a good crop of edible nuts.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mullumbimby Music Festival

I live in an amazingly vibrant community that attracts creative people of great diversity and incredible talent - especially musical talent.

Off on the Mullum 'Magic Bus' to Edwina and Blake's wedding - courtesy of Vibrant Imaging

Lucky for us there is always a huge variety of events to go to from classical music (the recent Goldner String Quartet concert was outstanding - and I thought I didn't like Shostokovich!) to popular music of all kinds - the annual Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival being a huge international drawcard (Bob Dylan, John Foggerty, Bo Didley, Mavis Staples, B B King, Elvis Costello........).

(The only person that seems to be missing from this years' lineup is the amazing Rebecca Ireland - worth a 'YouTube')
Mullumbimby, where I live, is blessed to have it's very own music festival staged in November - a more intimate event than the Bluesfest.  Just five years old it showcases a lot of the local talent that live here as well as attracting some overseas artists.  Staged all over town, instead of on a festival site, it's great to be able to cycle from one gig to another and enjoy the colourful, bustling street scene of buskers, food vendors, daredevils, local tree fairies and cowboys.

Talking of cowboys - a lot of people hitch-hike around here (not sure if it is the dismal public transport system or rejection of the modern world?) and, I always look forward to picking up Shanti.  You can see him a mile away standing on some distant street corner by his huge sombrero (having a Mexican day) or his cape (being Elvis), but mostly in one of his snappy cowboy outfits.  He is a devotee of an Indian guru and when I picked him up last week he gave me this thought for the day. "We should live in the world, but not let the world live in us.  Like a ship. it floats on the water, but you sink if you let the water into the ship" - still thinking about that one!

Noel's philosophy is a lot simpler 'love thy alpaca'.  It's not every day you see an alpaca wandering down the street but Noel and Pedro didn't cause too much of a stir in Mullumbimby.  Stopping to give Pedro a pat, Noel told me that he and his wife were traveling up the coast from Tasmania and Pedro came with them in their mobile home (I hope they keep the windows open - he was a bit whiffy up close).

Another reason I live in Mullum is because it is only ten minutes to the sea and I am one of those people that just have to swim.  We have had some lovely winter weather and last week found me having a dip at Brunswick Heads when a dolphin popped up about 3m away from me - a couple of strokes and I could have touched it - pretty magical.  You just have to believe me on this one, but I am the small blob in the middle and dolphin is to the left of me.

The picture on the right is the same spot - no dolphins, but not bad for the middle of winter.  Brunswick Heads was the first settlement around here, used by the timber cutters over a hundred years ago to take the magnificent red cedar trees from the rainforests, out to waiting ships and off to make furniture in mother England.  There's a place up the road in forest country called Uki - which actually stands for UK 1 - a tract of magnificent trees put aside for export - all gone now.

Just down the road is beautiful Byron Bay - the most easterly point in Australia - which has a hundred year old lighthouse on it's headland jutting out into the vast blue Pacific Ocean (where you often see dolphins and migrating whales).  A popular fairly strenuous walk is up to the lighthouse and I couldn't think why I was drawn to do this almost straightaway when we got back from Greece.

When I got up there I kind of worked it out? 

So, if you are ever up this way, make sure you turn off the Highway and take the road less travelled into Mullumbimby - oh, and if you see a Mexican in a very large sombrero - give him a lift, it's just Shanti going for a coffee.

Spotted on the beach this morning - the cheapest holiday accommodation in the Byron Shire?

With this amazing view!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Powdery Mildew: Control with milk!

I have had a marvelous crop of peas this year ('honey-snap' and 'snow').  Up until now they have been very healthy, but a couple of weeks ago I began to notice the telltale signs of POWDERY MILDEW beginning to appear on some of the older leaves. 

Discovering a disease in the garden is often a trigger for a gardener to use a chemical, such as a fungicide to get rid of the powdery mildew. But chemicals often cause other problems. They can affect beneficial micro organisms in the soil, and can kill pollinators, like bees - no bees, no fruit!

Our recent period of dry weather, with warm days provide an ideal breeding ground for these fungal diseases.  Contrary to what most people think, they actually thrive in dry weather, and not wet. Temperatures between 11-28° C. and excess humidity (without rain) can provide suitable conditions for powdery mildew spores to become active, especially on plants have been affected by drought, or are under-fertilised.
 Powdery mildew spores are carried by air and, once active, will continue to spread in dry conditions. This fungal problem affects a wide range of fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants. 

In most plants, it shows as a dusting of grey-white powder on foliage, and distortion or puckering of new leaves. The infection often begins on the underside of leaves.
Powdery mildew damage on my pea plants.

Now, I hope you were all paying attention in the last article on SOIL NUTRITION because what you are going to read next will make more sense.  Powdery mildew is common where plants are deficient in potassium and some trace elements - when the plants have exhausted their supply of fertiliser, or when they cannot absorb nutrients because soil is too dry.

In addition, those dedicated students will also know that SEAWEED extract is rich in both potassium and a range of trace elements (including sulphur), and spraying foliage with seaweed tea can be effective against powdery mildew, not because it kills the fungi, but because it quickly provides the nutrients plants require to resist these fungi.
  (It's time to make some COMPOST TEA laced with seaweed!)

To avoid this problem in future, ensure that fruits and vegetables have adequate complete organic fertiliser to last them through harvesting, including regular applications of COMPOST TEA tea AS A FOLIAR SPRAY, also ensure that they receive adequate water for steady growth but avoid overhead watering. 

SO HOW CAN WE TREAT IT ONCE IT HAS APPEARED?  As an organic gardener, I believe pests and diseases should be kept in their place, so all the remedies used in my garden are safe. They're safe for pets, for wildlife and for kids.

A recent trip to the dairy had given my  solution - MILK.  Use organic milk because it contains all the antibiotic qualities necessary to make it work. (I have also read that milk changes the pH on the leaves so the fungal spores can't thrive)

Somebody told me about this a while ago - and it really works! The magic ingredient is one part of the organic milk to 10 parts water - regular milk from the supermarket just doesn't work. Give it a good stir and it's ready for use. The objective of spraying is to cover every part of the plant, both sides of the leaves and coat the stems. Fungicides work best as a preventative, not as a cure.

One part MILK to 10 parts WATER
It stinks like a dairy once the sun hits it, but doesn't last for very long. I use this milk spray weekly on my mildew susceptible plants like cucumber, zucchini, peas, beans, tomatoes - and make sure you start as soon as the weather warms up - don't wait, like I did, for it to appear.
"All we are saying is give PEAS a chance!"
NOTE:  See previous posts SOIL NUTRITION and COMPOST TEA

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Soil Nutrition: When, How and What to Feed the Soil?

This is a big topic and something that a lot of gardeners either think that they don't have to know or are just plain scared of!.  Let me just say that a basic grasp of this fundemental knowledge will help you to solve many of the problems that you will be faced with as a gardener - believe me, I know - I learned the hard way!  Bear with me because I have a BIT OF EXPLAINING TO DO.
Now,  now Flossie - I didn't say 'bare' with me!

It all started for me this week with an email from Peter - a member of our Garden Club who has undertaken an Organic Horticulture course at College.

"Hi DiEnjoying the Organic Horticulture course. We're growing a large patch of veges of every kind and the growth rate is remarkable. No chemicals, of course, but I have been surprised at how many additives and amendments are going on -- compost, blood and bone, Organic Extra, sulphate of potash -- on soil that already tests really well. Crucially, it has large amounts of organic matter, thanks to regular plantings of green manure. And the compost, of course."  Peter

NOTE:  It was explained to me by Peter that they had spent the past few weeks planting out a large area with annual vegetable crops in the traditional farming practice of segregated rows.

This was my reply. Dear Peter,

Feeding crops. This is an interesting point you make and something I have been meaning to write up on the blog as people find it perplexing.

People always seem surprised when I talk about the necessity for feeding the soil - particularly if the pH is OK and they have improved it with OM. However, when you think about it it makes sense - especially when your are talking about veggies and fruit crops.

What you are doing at College is intensive farming with annual crops (that's what most vegetables are) even though you are doing it organically. You want them to do everything they have to do within a very short space of time - this is unlike the natural environment where plants are mostly permanent/perennial and there is naturally a great deal of seasonal variation in growth, flowering and fruiting - you have good seasons and bad seasons. What you are working with are probably also hybrids with expectation of larger than normal yields than would naturally occur in normal conditions.

In addition to this, you are probably growing a mixture of crops - leafy, root, fruiting that require larger inputs of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Food for thought. I hope this is helpful. Kindly, Di

WHAT:You can get a grasp on this if you think of plants being like people - we need food, water and air to survive - without them we won't flourish - plants are the same.  We have OUR macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) and we need larger amounts of them than our micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) - BUT THEY ARE ALL ESSENTIAL - in this respect plants are also the same - they have their MACRONUTRIENTS and MICRONUTRIENTS - they need them all to survive, but some in larger quantities than others.

OXYGEN, CARBON AND HYDROGEN make up 96% of these - which plants get from the air, sunlight and water.  

However, just as essential for healthy plant growth is the presence of a range of chemical elements that plants get from the soil - NITROGEN(N), PHOSPHORUS(P) and POTASSIUM(K).  Unlike us, plants can't go grazing for the nutrients they need, they have to be within their root zone.  In nature these elements occur naturally- provided by the soil and decomposing plant and animal material and, in the natural environment if these elements are scarce for some reason, plants evolve to survive without them.  For example - Australian soils are very low in phosphorus and many native plants will not thrive in phosphorus rich soils and you cannot feed them phosphorus rich fertilizers.

Nowhere in nature does anything exist like your vegetable garden.  This is an area of intensive crop production, and you are probably using the same piece of ground over and over again - SO THE SOIL AND PLANTS WILL NEED REGULAR FEEDING if they are to flourish.

The photo below is was taken of an experiment we did, when I was studying horticulture in the 1980's,  to look at the effect of these MACRONUTRIENTS on the growth of tomato seedlings.  I have never seen anything since that explains more simply the necessity of N, P, K on plant growth.  (All the plants were getting the same amounts of light, air and warmth)
Pot 1. C - Complete - this plant had all the N, P, K it needed. Note the healthy, normal growth.

Pot 2.  Had no nutrients at all - notice the stunted, poor growth.

Pot 3.  -N - no nitrogen.  The function of nitrogen is to promote strong, healthy leaf growth. Plants that are grown mostly for their foliage, such as leafy green vegetables, will require a fertiliser higher in nitrogen. If a plant's leaves begin to yellow there’s the possibility of nitrogen deficiency.

Pot 4.  -P - no phosphorus (phosphates).  This is responsible for the reproductive parts of the plant – the flowers, fruit and seeds and is also important in root development.
NOTE:  As a kid, on my father's alottment  I used to watch him put in a trench of wood ash next to where he was going to plant a root crop.  He didn't know that this would be ideal food for them - he had just watched someone else do it and seen the results.  Observation - one of the keys to successful gardening.

Pot 5.  -K - no potassium (potash) Essential for the formation of sugars, starches, carbohydrates, protein synthesis and cell division.  Enhances flavour, flowering and setting of fruit.

Other important elements are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S).  MICRONUTRIENTS are needed in small amounts like boron (B) which is needed by citrus to prevent fruit drop and to prevent hollow stems in broccoli.  Peas and beans won't thrive without molybdenum (Mo). 

HOW:  These Macro and Micro nutrients are present in the soil as part of the original decomposing rock and organic matter.  Replenishing the soil with plenty of organic matter is the most effective way to ensure that your plants are getting everything they need to eat!  Use whatever you have got to boost their supply; composted kitchen scraps, grass clippings, worm castings, animal manures, wood ash, urine, straw, seaweed ..................  
FACT:  ORGANIC MATTER is Natures' 'slow release' fertilizer.

How do these nutrients become available to the plants?  They are mostly converted by bacteria to a soluble form that is taken up by the roots of plants.  BUT THESE MICROFLORA IN THE SOIL ARE ONLY ACTIVE WHEN THE pH is right - that is NEUTRAL 6.5-7.  So it is important to check your pH (see top of main page (UNDERSTANDING SOILS).  All the food your plants need may be present in your soil. but unavailable because the pH is either too acid or too alkaline.

If you look at the diagram above (another of my College notes that I wish I hadn't chucked out!) you will see that the widest parts of the shaded areas indicate maximum availability of each element. The YELLOW BAND INDICATES WHEN ALL OF THE ELEMENTS ARE AVAILABLE - 6.5-7 with the MACRO NUTRIENTS, in particular, decreasing as the soil becomes more acid.  

WHEN:  Sub-tropical soils (and sandy soils) quickly become depleted of nutrients after heavy rain so our soils need feeding on a more regular basis.  The general ‘rule’ is to apply nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium at the beginning of the growing season to encourage vigorous growth, and again at end of the growing season so they go into their dormant period in a well fed condition.

Heavy rain also makes the soil MORE ACID because the alkaline elements in the soil are more soluble in water - they quickly get washed away.  That's why it's important to check the pH and correct any imbalance.  Mulch, mulch and more mulch!

One of the very best ways to 'quickly' feed a plant is to use a home made COMPOST TEA (see previous post) as a foliar spray - that is directly onto the leaves.  The plant is able to respond much more quickly to being fed by this method rather than via its roots and the soil. I give my fruit and vegies a feed this way about every ten days.
NOTE:  I make my COMPOST TEA from seaweed(kelp), comfrey leaves, and cow manure - this provides all the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace elements that my plants may need.

Six years ago I inherited this terrible clay 'pudding' - you can't call it soil.  I nearly wept.  The developers had scooped off metres of beautiful rich top soil to level it.  Everything struggled to live here, including me!

6 years later!
With the help of these and the other millions of micro and macro flora in the soil - they just need lots of organic matter to do the work for you.

"A cup of soil contains about 100 billion microorganisms. This is ten times the number of stars in our galaxy. Just a spoonful of soil contains about a billion microorganisms" ABC Radio National Science Show 5/3/2012  In our lifetime we will never know everything there is to know about the complex inter-reltionships of nutrients in either the soil or our own bodies.