Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010: A San Marzano Tomato Odyssey

This post has accompanying music, to enhance the grandeur and magesty of the occasion. It can be accessed by clicking play below.

Finally I've got round to documenting the odyssey that is this years tomato plantation. Last year, I grew tomatoes like a primitive ape, flimsy bamboo stakes, poor watering and no pruning. Then I was visited by an enormous rectangular San Marzano tomato with perfect 1x4x9 dimensions and suddenly my growing techniques evolved. Where to begin, I became interested in growing San Marzano after reading about them on Wikipedia and discovering that they are regarded as the ultimate cooking and saucing tomato with unparalleled flavor. I like the way that they look like an ugly Roma that has been grown in a toothpaste box to make it square.

As they are an indeterminate variety they require serious pruning and I scoured the internet trying to reach a concensus on the best pruning method. The conclusion I came to was that agressive pruning would result in larger (but fewer) fruit and a healthier plasnt with better air movement and better access of light to the leaves. What you do is select several of the lower lateral branches and of course the main stem and pinch out all the remaining lateral growth. I also removed any leaves in contact with the ground. The training method of wrapping twine round the stems caught my attention and I decided to use it on all the plants. Its advantage is it offers sturdy support to the plant but at no point does it place pressure on the stem which could affect the plants growth.

The first clusters of flowers are starting to appear and i'm getting ready to apply Potash around each plant to aide fruit set. I'm also going to add a small amount of agricultural lime to reduce the occurance of blossom end rot. Also I believe the main cause of BER is under-watering during fruit development, it couldn't hurt to have a little extra calcium available to make sure. Under-watering means calcium is not available to the fruit at a sufficient rate.

To ensure that the plants have ample water, if it ever stops raining that is, I've set up a semi-automatic dripper system using weeping hose to deliver long slow soaking water to them at regular intervals. I say semi automatic because I still have to set the timer to get it started, oh god the effort! Last year I learnt it was very difficult to water tomatoes when the plants reach a certain size and to keep that water off the leaves. With the weeping hose they can be watered slowly and at the optimum time with all the water going directly where it is needed.

A short video of weeping hose in action. It just seems like the ultimate watering invention, much more effective than drippers.

This is the picture that got me so excited. Its got everything. Ripening fruit that's supreme flavor is guarded by its rectangular unsightly appearance, aggressive yet calculated pruning for maximum yeild and a complicated training system for commercial production results.

HAL kind of looks like a tomato. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ripening Plums

I've been pestering myself for a week or so to get some photos of the plums while the Pizazz are just about ripe but the Mariposa have a way to go yet. There are so many Pizazz plums that the branches are almost breaking and I've had to support a few of them with stakes. The trees themselves look a bit flea bitten which i suspect is due to the cherry slug which seems to be partial to plums too. I think when the trees are big enough I'll investigate the injection you can get for the tree to control the slimy alien things.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rose Trellis & Pumpkin Encroachment

This area of skillfully rendered brickwork was a good target for a trellis and i've finally got around to building one and sticking it to the wall. I can now say with some authority that painting wood lattice is one of the most awful and laborious tasks known to man. But the result looks good and will soon be almost completely obscured by the climbing 'peace' rose planted beneath it.

Not my photo but a good example of the peace rose.

The Butternut Pumpkins planted under the first crop of corn have started making their way out into the street to assault passers-by. I'm not surprised as its fairly dark under the corn and the hot sunny footpath must look tempting through the pickets. It is my fond hope that soon we will have pumpkins growing out on the footpath challenging conventional growing techniques.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Roses and grapes

A fragrant and perfectly formed rose photographed in the dead of night with the assistance of my Raiders work light. The drops of water gathered on the petals might make the flower look like a bejeweled wonder, but they just remind me that its wet as hell at the moment and rose black spot is running rampant! Triforine has proved utterly useless so next i'm going to try a copper fungicide.

Some more shots of the slowly ripening Black Muscat grapes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Night Gardener

Now begins the era of the night gardener! Everything about gardening at night is better than the day. The nights are cool and mild while the days at the moment are sunny and sticky. The daytime, the morning in particular, is also a strange and rarely visited place by someone with my body clock. The night has a magnificent stillness and solitude as well, like you're the only one there is... suits me.
This is my 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' night gardening light staff made with a 150 watt halogen work light, a bamboo stake and cable ties, the universal binding agent. I built it so I could light otherwise darkened corners of the garden at all hours of the evening. The 150 watt bulb is softer and warmer light than its 500 watt sea level rising bigger brother. Jo mentioned that it was very 'Raider's of the Lost Ark' and it turned out she was referring to the scene in the map room with the crystal staff thing (see below). I thought she was referring to the Nazi work-lamps in the scene near the end of the film where they open the ark and this amused her no end. So here it is, my Nazi work-lamp.

The map room scene with the light-staff, obvious you would think.

The Nazi work-lamp scene.

Bug trails or ghostly apparitions preceding the bit where your face melts off.

I took this night rose photo and was impressed with the quality under the different light.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lament for my Morello Cherries

I don't know what it was that compelled me to photograph my two precious morello cherries the other morning. Probably the same urge that drives me to photograph everything else I grow but they had changed almost overnight to this really vivid cherry red. Unfortunately as with my single Starkrimson cherry last season, I wasn't the only one to take notice of them. When I went to check them again that afternoon all that remained were two stalks!!! I did consider netting them, i had the necessary materials and the time but I decided not the insanity. I'm hoping to console myself by visiting a Morello cherry farm in Red Hill shortly.

The grape vines on the other hand don't mess around with two measly little fruits. These are photos of the fruit set on the Black Muscat vine. Its about 5 years old now, three of those years were spent in a pot. I bought it during my misguided bonsai phase and had plans to prune and torture it accordingly. Bonsai is not for me. There are more bunches on the vine than I can count and as these will be the first successful grapes I've grown this is very exciting.

I saw this puddle of water in one of the succulents under the lemon tree the other day. The skin of these plants shows off water's incredible surface tension properties. It's almost as if the weater is no longer affected by gravity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Starkrimson Cherries!

Its the second year in the ground for our Starkrimson cherry and its produced about 10 incredibly sweet cherries. About half of them split because of the rain which is a property of cherries that I had to learn through personal experience. Looks like next year not only will I need a net I'll need to build a roof for them as well!
Here's a news article about the effect of rain on Victoria's cherries this year.

Netting them only took 15 minutes but it was 15 minutes well spent. Conveniently all of the fruit trees ripen at different times so you can just move the net around.

Amazingly sweet Starkrimson cherry which was picked, photographed and eaten in the space of thirty seconds.

Here's what they looked like a couple of weeks ago just before I netted them. This is the point where the birds start getting interested.

We're definitely going to pay a visit to these guys in a couple of weeks.

Spring roses

Its the second year in the ground for these roses and they are showing much more vigour than last year. Black spot is still a big problem for all my roses and Trifourine seems to do bugger all. I've recieved an expert opinion today that a copper based fungicide might be more effective.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rendering the chimney

Spring is by no means only for gardening, drinking coffee and sleeping all day. Its also a time for domicile beautification in the form of rendering. Spring is that ideal combination of sunny but not too hot and unemployed to make rendering possible. Unlike the rest of the house, the chimney bricks were in good shape with no cleaning or re-pointing required. The issue with the chimney is more of an access issue requiring the hiring of a scaffold to get myself up to its level. It was also a mad dash of seven days to go from an offensive middle finger of cream brick in the sky to a Mediterranean beacon with two coats of render and three of paint. It rained ceaselessly for at least three of those days.

Action shots including an up-short.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Carpobrotus glaucescens

About a year ago we were at the beach in St Kilda and we found this guy. We liberated a few 'samples' and I've been growing them in a seedling tray and convincing Sam it wasn't a litter tray. I was lucky enough to catch it today when it produced its first magnificent flower. Can anyone remind me what this plant is called? I searched on Google for "Pigs Feet Succulent" and all I got was Succulent Pigs Feet!
Edit: Found it! Carpobrotus glaucescens (Pigface)

Friday, October 22, 2010


After a spectacular performance last year, my potted lime did something a bit weird at the start of Spring. It started to look distinctly ill with yellowing leaves dropping off all over the place. You would think that it was a sign that the tree was lacking in nutrients but now its gone ahead sprouting healthy new leaves and flowering profusely. Its almost like it was getting rid of old leaves it didn't like in anticipation of the new growth. On the other hand sometimes they flower like mad when they're really unwell and close to death, citrus trees... sigh.

Dead leaves around the trunk and a significant weed I probably should have removed before taking the photo.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Broad Bean Green Manure Process.

Years ago I saw an episode of Gardening Australia about green manure. It was before I found out I had green thumbs but still I found the concept interesting. The idea that you could grow something which would give more to the soil than it took and improve the soil structure in the process just seems really smart. So the time finally arrived to process the broad beans the other day and the size of this entry is testament to how much work the whole process was!

Here's the mountain of plants extracted from the bed. Luckily despite their unearthly size, Broad Beans are a pushover when it comes to up-rooting as they have a small shallow root structure.

I stripped the plants back as I pulled them out primarily to reduce the amount of seeds that might end up in the manure and so we could freeze them and spend ages wondering what to do with them.

In the absence of having a suitable petrol powered tree mulcher, I resorted to the tried and tested technique of running over the beans with the lawn mover. Its unsurprisingly effective and probably means i'll never need to buy a mulcher.

The only thing the mover wasn't particularly happy with were the woody nobly bits at the base of the plants.

The end product was this lush green mulch with a distinctly beany odour.

Three wheelbarrows of the stuff!

I had to decide whether or not to turn the mulch into the soil where it would break down quicker or to leave it on the surface. I decided to leave it on the top as it will still break down over time but it will also act as an excellent mulch for the soon to be sewn crop of corn which will go in shortly.

While I was reading up on green manure I came across this guy.
He uses crop rotation and green manure on an industrial scale and grows some mean tomatos as well.