Environmental priorities – Council wants to know your top five

Passing Clouds make award winning wineMount Alexander Shire are developing their environmental strategy for the next few years. They’ve developed ‘a survey‘ to seek opinion on their five priorities. Most community gardeners in Newstead are also concerned with their surrounds, so please take the time to respond. Unfortunately there’s no room to add your own thoughts, or tick outside the box. However it is quick to complete.

Here’s the link: http://surveymonkey.com/s/fivepriorities.

Closer to home, we had a nice afternoon yesterday pruning the rest of the stonefruit, pear and apple trees (apart from the ones still bearing) and after discussions on Saturday have some plans for the year ahead, and some volunteers to act on them. We’ve all done well getting the garden through another long, hot and very dry summer.

Garlic, Tomatillos and Mad March

March is one of the busiest times in the gardening year. And the most rewarding. The weather makes it a pleasant experience to be scratching about, the plants reward you in quick time – given a feed of compost or wormjuice and a water – because the soil is warm and most of the bugs and lurgies still at bay. Harvests still to be proud about, new seedlings to nurture and not too much weeding, hopefully. See the March Notes to find out when and what works in the garden this month.

ananda rose

ananda rose garlic

March is garlic planting time for the community garden. Thanks to Ananda organics (via Penny Woodward) we’ve sourced a fresh supply of seed and they look and smell first rate. Rob and Liz from Naracoorte in SA have supplied us with two hardneck (Creole) types – Rose and Purple – as well as a White softneck. Simon Bryant  of The Cook & The Chef (ABC TV) fame has lauded Rob and Liz’s garlic as the best tasting Australian garlic he has tried! Interested to see how ours grows and tastes.

Rob and Liz say that like most other growers they know and follow (and us) they did have some issues with storage and lost some bulbs in the ground, so this year they are going to try Penny’s 1 teaspoon of Bicarb of soda per 1 litre water as a pre treatment of cloves before planting. We might give it a go too. Hopefully our lovely green manure and clean ground will also help give the garlic a good basis for growth, with some luck and lower humidity.

On the topic of crops, Julia has been nurturing another sort – tomatillos. Here’s what she says:

Last November we (NCG) were given some tomatillo plants by a person who stopped by our stall at Newstead market. They were planted in a community plot but one was demolished by snails within 24 hours. The other plant has grown well, but I was concerned it is not setting fruit and may need companions. I have today planted some more tomatillo seedlings but as they are small and the weather is hot they may need some tender care until they get established.
I have attached a photo which shows (1) the plot, (2) the existing flourishing plant, (3) the new baby tomatillo in protective sleeve and (4) all four new plants with “sunhats” of straw – to reduce the effects of the midday sun. If you can help to ensure these little guys survive and flower we should soon have tomatillos for all. The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), known as the Husk Tomato or Mexican Husk Tomato, is a plant of the nightshade family, related to the cape gooseberry, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. Tomatillos originated in Mexico and are a staple of Mexican cuisine.

julias tomatillosKeep an eye on them and see you in the garden in March, and especially at our Garden Gathering on March 7 (10am start, bring something to share to eat) to plan and set sail for the gardening year ahead…

The First Garden … and February

green manure summer and vita_0019

Last week I was invited into The First Garden. It’s not a real one, but a radio show, on our local station Maine FM (94.9). Margaret Beyer hosts the show with Dianne Thomson – both women are reknowned local gardeners, Margaret with ‘Lixouri’ in Barkers Creek and Diane with her own Barkers Creek garden, but probably more widely known for her work at Buda. The show covers lots of ground – practical tips and techniques, garden travel, gardens and gardeners, also life, local happenings, and whatever … More of a garden ramble (in the nicest way) than a ‘whats wrong with my lemon tree?’  kind of show (and lemon tree Qs are definitely banned!). So if you’re near the radio or internet, tune in Fridays 3-5pm. I certainly learnt a few tips and enjoyed the virtual wander around their garden. Margaret and Diane are also happy to receive suggestions for guests or topics, either through the  Maine FM website, Facebook page, or perhaps even via here. It’s fantastic that we have such a rich and diverse gardening culture in this region.

green manure summer and vita_0018So, back to the real, live, Garden. The February Notes are now posted, so go there and find out what to plant and when, plus other gardening hints for the next month. The cooler weather at the moment is a great opportunity to start seeds off for autumn and winter, if you haven’t already.

And finally on gardening on a much larger scale, Bill Gammage is coming to Castlemaine in February to talk ‘land management 1788 style’, based on his award winning book, ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia’. Find out more at the Connecting Country website, or download the brochure here: launch flyerBut note the venue has changed to the Campbells Creek Community Centre.

Enjoy food for both body and thought in February’s gardens.

A Glum Day for Garlic Lovers

Last weekend a few of us gathered to ready the 2014 garlic for sale at this weekend’s Newstead Live! festival. It’s the third year we’ve had a stall to sell our sought after garlic and raise funds towards the ongoing costs of running the garden.  It’s a good thing we held our dinner this year!

After such a promising harvest, turns out a lot of our garlic ‘turned’ in storage under the humid conditions this summer. Garlic needs airflow, cool, dry and dark conditions for the final curing of the crop.  Any damage during the growing season (mites, bugs) or at harvest (nicks, scrapes, scratches, bruises) can cause problems later in storage, and often a secondary infection can take hold. Just goes to show you should never count on your harvest, until it’s sold, or eaten.

I suspected Fusarium wilt, but some of the later bulbs seemed to show a different affliction, with softening and darkening on the upper parts of the clove, whereas Fusarium seems to come from the base. And then there’s the SMELL! But thanks to company, Lynne’s hospitality and drinks afterwards, we got it sorted.

Garlic guru Penny Woodward has given us a lot of support and advice – she’s also established a dedicated website to garlic types in an effort to better educate us about this amazing crop. Seems we’re not alone this year and that many gardeners – home and commercial alike – have felt the grim garlic reaper.

Here’s some of Penny’s comments:

You are absolutely not alone with your problems. Many growers are retrieving their bulbs only to find that a rot of some sort has set in. Often fungal and even insect problems can occur in garlic and lie dormant or not do much damage until the bulbs are affected by adverse conditions.

Storage conditions have been really difficult with all the rain and high humidity. Storage practices that have worked for growers for years have suddenly been found to be inadequate. There has been another issue that has occurred especially with Turbans, and even more especially with large Turbans. This has been indentations in one or two cloves in a bulb that seem to have no cause. They have been sent for testing and no bacteria or fungus has been found. When these go into storage the affected cloves begin to rot eventually affecting the whole bulb if it is not noticed. Suggested, though currently unconfirmed possibilities for clove indentation are heavy frost, or damage from wheat curl mite during early growth in hot dry weather. The mites are then killed by cold but the damage remains and grows in the clove.

Fusarium Basal Rot of garlic (Fusarium culmorum) symptoms include postharvest decay of cloves in stored bulbs. Post harvest symptoms may involve single, several or all cloves in a bulb. There after, bulbs and cloves may or may not develop disease symptoms, and cloves may remain infected without developing symptoms. Infected garlic seed cloves have been produced through successive generations without evidence of symptoms, only to have the disease flare up later. The environmental or handling factors associated with this erratic occurrence of symptoms over years and seasons are unknown.

All the anecdotal evidence this year is that Turbans have been the worst affected. It might be worth getting cloves of a Creole Group garlic, of some from another Group. Creoles are good because they are long storage too and at present seem to be less prone to fungal diseases.

It’s expensive to get the garlic tested and since there’s not much known about definitive causes and prevention, we decided against it (having already sent off our loganberry – another sad story). But if you have, or have pics and info of definitive diseases, Penny would be interested (as would we) to hear.

If you’re interested in looking at sick garlic, visit the gallery (sanitorium?) here. Thankfully you won’t be able to smell it.

So, we’ve sorted and graded really well and will have a small amount of exceptionally good bulbs for sale on Saturday. They will eat very well, if the green garlic is any indicator. So please call by and comiserate with us – and also buy our best!

Penny suggests we try another type of garlic this season, so I think spreading our eggs (baskets?) and ordering a few types/sources and also thinking more about our post harvest process. I also wonder whether using BD501 just prior to harvest and/or BD508 at harvest (or even in storage) may have made any difference this season? Saide also directed me to a good article in the NEWSLEAF newsletter of Spring 2010 which focussed on harvest and drying.

And, there’s always next year … and always more to learn …

Community, Gardening, Garden

Of late, I have been pondering all of the above. Gardening is an intimate activity in some ways – you are producing food that you, your family and loved ones eat, you are tending and nurturing, providing. Also protecting (and killing). Perhaps it’s a basic expression of your survival ability; to hunt, gather, grow. (There, we can blame Darwin, again!)

Without coming across as a stick-in-the-mud, things-were-better-in-my day, or just simply a grumpy-old-gardener, it does seem that individualism mostly rules. It’s always easier and less fraught just to do your own thing, rather than have to converse, negotiate, compromise, accede, assert. I can appreciate the need to individualise, or to be self sufficient, but when it comes to gardening, well, there’s always an excess, or famine. And so shouldn’t we all share in that?  And also, most crucially, the resources that create it?


Many community gardens thrive then die, all because of people, timing, need (eg drought, fire), season, circumstances, funding, will, energy, politics, people. We have had many visits and visitors from all over the State each year, all wanting to know what we do and how, yearning to create their own … well, something like our garden. Yes, the space our garden creates, or inhabits, is special. But we are still only young in gardening years and we can’t really show ourselves as a community of gardeners. Or maybe we are?

We are approaching our 5th year as a community garden and for the past one have been trying to re-invent, or at least re-energise. Easier said if you’re an inner-city, groovy locale with a waiting list akin to the MCG members, but here in Newstead, well … We do know people right across the community appreciate the garden, visit, pick from it, show their friends and relations through it, but that doesn’t often correspond to actual gardening membership, fellowship, contribution, give and take, connection and, importantly, work in the garden. I know some aren’t as passionate about the soil and plants and growing plants (and community) as others. Life has higher/other priorities. Everyone is different.

I guess it’s not just an issue for our garden, but more importantly, rural community life everywhere and anywhere? A few take on the legwork of keeping things running and maybe humming, for all. Getting together to talk about our priorities, participation and and how we manage our garden to share the efforts and the rewards and the lovely company and interactions that the garden brings is my wish for 2015.