Some spring starts & beating the bugs the "Chem free" way..

Posted September 24th, 2014 by Rob Bob : )»

Now that we are in Spring and the weather is warming up, I thought I'd start off with a bit of a round up on what's been going on in the patch over the last month or so..

Spring seedlings & starts..

Have quite a few new seedlings in the propagation trays at the moment of varying age & size..
A couple of weeks ago I planted out a few different varieties of capsicum, Egyptian spinach, Burpless "tasty Green" cucumber, giant tree tomato, burgundy okra & coral lettuce.. All have germinated except for the Egyptian spinach, but I still have my fingers crossed they will make an appearance soon..
Half of the cucumbers have been planted out at my parents place and the remaining 2 will be going into a wicking bed down the back later today I hope..

Round 2 of starts were sown out into trays the other day.. This lot included some purple asparagus, Armenian cucumbers, red & sugarloaf cabbages.. A few of these have already started to germinate which is great..

A few plants have already been planted/sown out where they are to grow in the patch down the back as well as out the front..
There are 4 bags of purple Congo potatoes at the back stairs with another 2 bags planted out in a wicking bed down the back next to 2 bags of Desiree spuds.. I decided to try a growing method I saw on a great YouTube gardening channel called "Allotment Diary".. What Dan does is bury the bottom 15-20cm of the potato grow bag into the garden bed so the potato roots have access to more moisture & the nutrients in the soil..
I have tried this method before but didn't have much luck.. I think it came down to using poor soil & tubers that time round.. This time I've spent a few extra dollars & purchased a good quality compost to mix through & think that will make all the difference.. Keeping the water up to them will help out a bit as well I think ;-)

The last lot of potatoes that were planted out were some Desiree spuds that went into an old worm farm barrel..
5 spuds were planted on top of the remaining worm castings & they look to be going great guns.. As the stems on the potatoes grow, I'll remove the lower growth & top up the bags & barrel with a compost rich soil mix.. Hopefully this will encourage more tuber development up the stem of the plant.. Our potato harvests can be a bit hit & miss (as you will see in a picture below) so am hoping these do a lot better..

The first lot of corn was sown directly into an IBC bed in the front yard.. We had a great germination rate with nearly all of them sprouting.. This F1 variety is called "Bicolor" & is the first of the seasons 3 sowings of sweet corn.. I hope to follow this crop with a sowing of another F1 variety called "Max" & then another of the "Bicolor".. Am not growing any of the coloured "Aztec" corn the year until the end of the season.. I want to do an experiment to see how they grow through Autumn & Winter here..

The first of the yacon rhizome have sprouted in some pots I used to start them off in..
Am not sure where all of them are going yet but these 2 are in a wicking barrel by the back stairs.. The rest will probably end up going into wicking barrels around the patch at this stage as garden space is at a bit of a premium this season..

Aquaponic system..
A few weeks ago we finally got all the fish moved over into the new fish tanks & brought the new filters online..
The fish handled the move fine with no major dramas at all.. I still have a few small bits of hose work to fix up but other than that, the fish tank & filter side of the build is all done.. Posted a bit of clip on moving the fish over & how the system turned out for those that would like a closer look..

Now I can start to sort out the new grow bed & layout for the system as well as make up the new growing methods that we will be trialling.. I think mainly leaf green crops will be planted out in the system with a few capsicums, so we can do a comparison on growth between soil & aquaponics methods.. Am hoping to have a few grow buckets & tubes knocked off before the kids go back to school..

Some tips on controlling a few garden pest & infections without chemicals..
Keeping the patch pest free without the use of purchased chemicals can be a bit of a challenge at times so thought I would mention a few that we have used or have been recommended to me by family & friends..

One of the most common pests in the patch are aphids.. These little sap suckers love to feast on your plants & can increase in number very quickly.. Some aphids are Parthenogenetic, meaning that the females can give birth without the need of the egg to be fertilised..
These pests can actually be rather easy to get rid of.. One of the quickest ways to get a handle on a large population is as easy as blasting them with a garden hose.. As Aphids have soft bodies, the water pressure will not only knock them off the plant but will also crush them..

Another treatment we have used to keep on top of them is a simple soapy water spray.. It's as easy as mixing a tsp of pure liquid dishwashing soap into a litre/quart of water & spraying the little blighters.. The soap in the water washes off the protective waxy coating of the aphid causing them to dehydrate & die..

White oil is another product that many folks use in the garden to control pests like mealy bugs, white flies, mites, scale, aphids, citrus leaf miner & caterpillars.. While I haven't used white oil much myself I do know a few gardeners that use the available commercial white oils.. You can also make it yourself from household ingredients we all have around the house..

Gardening Australia's Jerry Coleby-Williams has a recipe that uses 2 cups of vegetable oil & ½ a cup of washing up liquid.. All you need to do is pour the 2 ingredients into a jar & give it a good shake to combine them.. This simple white oil will last for about 3 months before a new batch needs to be made.. To make up a batch to use in the patch you add 2tsp of oil mix to 1Litre of water, shake & spray on the infested plants.. The oil mix works by blocking the spiracles (breathing pores/tubes) on the pest, suffocating them very quickly..

Mildew is another issue we have here during the more humid months.. Powdery & downy mildew normally affects the squash, zucchini & pumpkins in our garden.. If caught early enough they can be managed with a very cheap home remedy using an active ingredient found in most SS'ers pantries or cleaning kits, bi-carb/baking soda.. The bi-Carb raises the pH killing the mildew & it's spores.. This is one remedy I have used for a while now & found quite effective.. I like to spray all the susceptible plants in the patch at the first sign of an outbreak.. The spay is made by adding 1Tbsp of bi-Carb to 2 litres of water & add in a few drops of dishwashing liquid to help the mix stick to the mildew..
I have also used a commercial potassium bi-carbonate fungicide (called "Eco Fungicide") in the past to treat mildew on the plants.. It is actually quite expensive to use when compared to bi-carb soda so now only use it to raise the pH & potassium levels in the aquaponic system ;-)

Just a quick reminder to always test spray a leaf or 2 of any plant you want to treat to make sure there will be no adverse reactions to the remedies being used.. If the leaf still looks fine 24 hours later you should be good to proceed with treating the whole plant.. Another thing to remember is that they may need reaplying after rain as they will wash off..

Encouraging beneficial insects like lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies & parasitic wasps into the garden is another way to help control pest outbreaks in the patch for very little cost..
You can do this by planting out flowering plants that attract them, like Queen Anne's lace, tansy, lemon balm, dill, fennel, coriander, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens etc..) & others that will help bring these insects into the patch..
We have also left aphids alone on some plants when we noticed an extraordinary number of ladybugs & their offspring feasting on them..
We figured that in doing so we were creating a ladybug nursery that could support a large population of these aphid munching machines.. Ever since then we have found ladybugs all through the patch & have seen very little aphid activity..

Another chemical free option is to exclude as many pests as you can from accessing the plants & have covered this before in a recent blog post.. While insect netting & hoop houses can be costly to initially set up, a good quality netting can last for 5+ years making it very cost effective..
This would have to be my favourite option as it keeps out some of the more troublesome pests like cabbage butterflies & the dreaded Queensland fruit fly.. It also frees up time that would normally be spent inspecting the plants for outbreaks & spraying them..
What makes the cost all worthwhile is when you can pick veggies that don't include "leaf ventilation" & hasn't needed to be treated with any sprays at all..

Koo's Carrot flower..
Our youngest DD let one of her purple carrots go to seed just to see what would happen.. The amount of flowers the plant has produced has really impressed us & we hope to collect a load of seed to see how they go.. Here's a quick look at how spectacular the flower of the humble carrot can be..

Harvest from the patch..
I must say that we have had some fantastic harvests from the patch over Winter with a few surprises thrown in like the volunteer KY1 tomato that popped up in a wicking bed in the front yard..
This plant was very productive giving us close to 10kg worth of fruit we guesstimate.. Am kicking myself we didn't weigh out all the fruit as it came in.. I think it is the most productive tomato plant we've grown ever.. Most of it ended up as stewed tomatoes in the freezer as we were picking far to many to eat as fresh fruit..

This year is the first time we have been able to do a full harvest on the asparagus growing in the front garden..
We have been picking the spears every few days, as well as munching on the odd fresh one while walking the patch.. Have also started to pick some of the young branches on the ferns that have been let go as well.. They taste just as good as the spears & is one way you can sneak in an early harvest while you let the plants establish themselves before you can do a proper harvest.. Picking the branches also lets you get a small harvest from ferns that you may have missed picking or were a tad too thin to pick as spears.. For those that aren't familiar with how asparagus grow & are harvested, this clip might help you out a bit..

As mentioned above, the last 3 batches of potatoes we harvested weren't much chop..
The spuds in the basket on the left with the luna carrots came from 2 seed potatoes with the lot on the right coming from 4 store bought potatoes.. Not the best harvest at all really but as mentioned above, we're hoping that the next lot of spuds will do better now I'm taking the advice of a few experts..

That's all I have for you for this blog..
Hope you all have your Spring garden planned & seeds ready for sowing.. I know I shall be busy over these school holidays preparing a few beds & sorting out the next few rounds of seeds to sow out..
Cheers & have a great one,

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