THIS WEEK'S FEATURE ARTICLES
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The Kitchen Garden Guide
Everywhere I turn, weeds are happily springing up faster than I can deal with them. Many are edible. I make nettle tea, nettle soup and nettle pesto, for example. Many can be fed to the chooks, if your chooks are not as fussy as mine, which are not interested in chickweed or fat hen, despite their names suggesting otherwise. Most weeds make excellent compost or can be thrown down in garden paths (if collected before seeding) to rot away and improve fertility. The paths throughout my vegetable garden in spring are made up entirely of discarded weeds, trodden down by me, day by day, until, eventually, they become lovely compost, which I scoop up onto the beds after a few months.
Learning from weeds
Weeds are also a source of information about your garden.
I recently listened to a podcast by Nicole Masters about the information provided by weeds.
“Millions of seeds land on the soil surface. It is the soil conditions that influence which seeds germinate and thrive.”
Some weeds, such as that pesky sheep sorrel will germinate only in acid soils. If you have it coming up everywhere, try adding lime. Thistles will practically push up through concrete: compacted soils are no barrier to them but they dislike loose, friable soil. Other weeds prefer a soil low in fungal activity, yet others thrive where there is too much nitrogen or not much. The internet is brimming with information on deciphering weeds. By learning about weeds in your garden, you will be learning about your soil and be able to make adjustments to help your garden grow more and the weeds less.
Unpredictable and tricky until you find what works, basil is loved by everyone. Here is what I have discovered works for me: I sow in trays in December, only the large leaf varieties such as Genovese and lettuce leaf which grow fast in our climate and have fabulous flavour. The seeds take
a while to germinate so be patient, keep the soil damp but not wet. Once the seeds have germinated, water with a weak seaweed solution until they are big enough to transplant. I put several plants into each 20cm pot with a rich potting mix and keep them in my little greenhouse, as they hate the cold. I like to have six pots, some sown in early December and some later. They don’t mind a bit of shade as long as it is nice and warm.
If you live somewhere consistently warmer than my place they may be fine outside. Don’t overwater
and do pick regularly.
This is the one thing that so many people get into trouble with. Hand watering is great for pots, seeds, seedlings and in times of infrequent watering. It is a pleasant morning or evening pastime but not the best way to irrigate
a whole garden.
Tomatoes do not like wet leaves so they are best served by what I call finger drippers – more like a cross between a dripper and a spray, with coarse droplets radiating out like fingers to about 10 to 15cm in diameter. These can easily be seen and have removable caps which can be easy screwed in or out to adjust the flow. I place one finger dripper between every tomato plant. If you followed my instructions last month then your tomatoes will be about 1m apart. These finger drippers are easily plugged into a run of 13mm black poly pipe. I put a click fitting on the end and connect my hose to this once a week for an hour. The water will soak in, the tomato roots will find it and grow nice and deep, where the even temperature and moisture will make for
That far down, the soil will stay moist enough for at least a week, especially if you use a thick mulch. So, I will be giving my tomatoes deep watering once a week; not next to the stem, but out about 30cm, preferably on two sides (between the tomato plants). Shallow, frequent watering, on the other hand, will ensure that your plants have a shallow root system, susceptible to the stresses of constant heating and cooling, and will grow a wonderful canopy of leaves, with little fruit, before succumbing to some disease.
Oh November and early December, how you batter my seedlings and developing fruit! A cold wind and days of showers are bad for tomatoes and any young seedlings, especially if the soil is bare and cold. To protect from the wind, I surround the whole bed with walls of lace curtains from the tip shop. Lace curtains are a much under-utilised resource as they are also fabulous over any small or creeping plants, like cucumbers, to provide shelter but still let the light through. I use wire crates, often discarded from freezers and the like, which I get from the tip shops. One edge of
a lace curtain can be tucked under one side of a crate and
a row of crates holds up the curtains from touching the plants, then the far edge can be tucked under the last crate. I also cut up curtains and just use a piece over one crate. Wire crates on their own keep birds off plants such as lettuce. I put a brick on top too if possums or wallabies are around.
Look out for the Cygnet Seed Library in the New Year, which will be offering a small range of dependable seeds, perfect for sowing in summer. All seeds have been grown by local volunteers and will be free. More information will be available on the Facebook page soon. Everyone is welcome to join.
Sow winter vegetables too (Brussel sprouts, etc).
Other veg seedlings
Basil: keep in greenhouse in good-sized pots with rich soil and water well but allow to drain well before watering again.
Fill in spaces with flowers, comfrey, daisies, herbs and love.
Lots of winter vegetables benefit from early summer sowing so they reach a good size to plant out in autumn:
December & January
Mulch vegetable garden well, preferably with old hay or old silage.
Mulch fruit trees well, preferably with bark chips.
Feed food garden with seaweed solution for pest resistance and fish emulsion or homemade worm brews.
Harvest and enjoy!
Plogging, plalking or weelking
Exercise is time well spent, and was a saving grace for many people during the coronavirus lockdown if they were lucky enough to be able to get out and about for a change of scenery or to save their sanity. Exercise is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. Exercise should be taken regularly, but only do what you enjoy.
If you have a busy life, you may think that time dedicated just to oneself for a walk, a jog or a wander is a guilty pleasure. Reset your thinking to engage in exercise with a purpose. You can now multi-task by including some useful environmental work in your daily exercise: try plogging, plalking or weelking.
“What?!“ I hear you cry. Officially, ‘plogging’ is picking up rubbish while jogging. ‘Plalking’ is – wait for it – picking up rubbish while walking. I’ve decided to add ‘weelking’ to the mix: picking up weeds while walking is an idea whose time has come.
Excesses of rubbish
Have you noticed large amounts of waste while out exercising? It is hard to avoid. Most of it is plastic or a by-product, and most of it ends up in the waterways and eventually in the oceans.
The CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, is developing
a major research program to tackle plastic waste and reimagine the future of plastics. It is undertaking the world’s largest plastic pollution survey, working with countries across the globe to apply science to the challenge of reducing the amount of litter entering our oceans.
According to the CSIRO, “To date,
the best estimates say there are around 6-12 million metric tonnes of plastic going into the oceans each year – that works out to be around 15 shopping bags of plastic for each metre of global coastline (excluding Antarctica). More than 690 marine animal [species] are reported to be impacted by this litter.”
Seabirds and turtles are two of the worst-affected groups, but it has been said that every creature in the ocean has particles of plastic in its system.
The information is daunting, but we can do something. Every piece of plastic that does not enter the waterways benefits wildlife.
Keeping litter out of waterways is another example of thinking globally and acting locally.
Plogging and its cousins
Plogging is supposedly a Scandinavian thing. It’s a portmanteau of ‘jog’ and the Swedish for ‘pick up’, plocka upp. It means – you guessed it – to pick up litter as you jog or plod.
Plalkers are encouraged. The idea was started by a Swedish community incentive to pick up rubbish in Stockholm. This is now a global craze, a good blend between exercise and environmental action.
Supposedly plogging arrived in Australia in 2016, but Clean Up Australia has been doing this for decades and has added another concept known as ‘Step Up’.
By deciding to clean up and step up, you can work on prevention as well as cure by pledging to change a behaviour of your own to keep rubbish out of the system.
Sensible rubbish ridding
Picking up rubbish is not a new idea. A local woman, Monica Vince, has been doing it for years. Every week for a decade or more, she and friend Mary Meers picked up bags full of litter. Monica said: “We had nowhere to put it.
The bins were always full – not emptied enough. We used to take it to the tip, where they expected us to pay. Eventually we could leave it there. We must have picked up tonnes of rubbish over the years.”
Monica took a break from the task for a few years but is thinking it is time to start again, as there seems to be more litter around, especially on walking tracks and roadsides.
“I’ve decided I may need to bring my pick-up stick with me again when I go to bowls. The rubbish
Monica urges others to do the same, with a stick and gloves and disposing of rubbish in the acceptable way – through our rubbish collection service.
No laughing matter
Comedy is a great way to explore issues. We all need a good laugh, especially this year. But some things are not funny.
For years gout has been made fun of. Yet anyone with it would tell you it is no laughing matter.
Gout is a type of arthritis that leads to painful inflammation in a joint, most famously the big toe.
The symptoms include excruciating pain, often in the foot or joints. Gout might seem like a disease of the past, but in Australia, it affects around 70,000 people each year.
From its earliest description by Hippocrates, gout was linked with indulgent foods and high alcohol consumption. And because only the wealthy could afford the diet that caused gout, it was known as the “disease of kings.” When royals such as Henry VIII came down with gout, it was transformed into a fashionable condition. Just as the French imitated the royals at Versailles, Europeans aimed to get gout as a status symbol.
In 1900, a London Times writer declared: “The common cold is well named – but the gout seems instantly to raise the patient’s social status.”
It is one of those ‘what if’ moments: the Boston Tea Party protest was
a major step towards the American Revolution – but it might never have happened if not for gout. William Pitt the Elder, Britain’s leading statesman, suffered from it. His gout was so severe in 1764 that Pitt stayed home when parliament debated the Stamp Act. As soon as he recovered, Pitt pushed to repeal the unpopular act, declaring,
“The Americans are the sons, not the bastards, of England.
As subjects, they are entitled to the right of common representation and cannot be bound to pay taxes without their consent.”
A second gout flareup caused another ‘what if’ moment when Pitt was absent from a parliament meeting in which members decided to impose a high tax on tea imported to the American colonies, leading to the Boston Tea Party
On another occasion, a treaty caused a sharp increase in gout. In 1703, the British were involved in the War of the Spanish Succession. That year, Portugal signed
a treaty with Britain. Parliament had recently banned imported French wines to punish their rivals (sound familiar?). So, Britain switched to Portuguese wines. However, Portuguese wines contained a higher lead content because Portuguese winemakers fortified their wines, including port, by storing them in lead casks. When the British began drinking the wines, cases of saturnine gout, a type triggered by lead, took off. Physicians soon declared that port caused gout.
Medical treatments for gout ranged from acupuncture in ancient China to consuming autumn crocuses in the Byzantine Empire. Of all historical treatments, the latter may have been the most effective. Today, colchicine, made from the autumn crocus, is still used by some to treat gout.
Gout targets the feet because the extremities aren’t as warm as the rest of the body. The big toe, in particular, collects a build-up of urate crystals.
So, what really causes gout, and why does it affect men far more often than women? The culprit is hyperuricemia, an excess of uric acid in the blood. Estrogen protects women from hyperuricemia. However, as estrogen levels drop after menopause, women may become more susceptible.
Modern doctors have also identified a genetic component to gout. Up to 80% of gout sufferers show
a family history of the disease.
Search the internet and you will find numerous miracle cures for gout. But of course your best bet is to visit your GP.
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