Monday, November 30, 2009

Hanging pot tomatoes

As I had planted a few extra tomatoes to use in the the hanging pot experiment, I thought rather than throw all my eggs in one basket and just trial the upside down version I would use one for another idea I had. This is simply a hanging pot with longer hangers. The idea being that the tomato would grow the right way up and the longer hanger could act as a staking system or cage for the growing plant. Still useful if you are short of space or don't have any actual dirt to grow them in or if you just like hanging plants. So here's what I did.

I cut a couple of lengths of 6mm poly rope (4mm would be fine) at about 4 metres, found the center and tied a loop knot in them. Next I found a pot with a good strong rim and drilled four holes in it. The pot I used is about 250mm and is about the smallest I felt would give the plant enough root space to grow. A bigger pot would work just as well but it's a trade-off between growing space and weight. The ropes are simply passed thought the holes and tied off under the pot. You could if you are keen on craft and wanted to get fancy, make these holders using Macrame, (all the rage in the 70s).

Now plant the tomato and watch it grow. Too easy. I think this method has a few advantages over the upside down pots and would just be a better way to go. The pots hung like this would not be such a problem in the wind as the weight acts as a dampener, the whole thing swings rather than just the plant getting flogged around. The plant is happier growing the right way up and the long ropes make a perfect staking system.

I added a piece of ply near the top that acts as a spreader so the ropes don't crush the pot sides. And with the pot at a manageable height watering and feeding should be a breeze.

Over the next few weeks I will do some updates on how the two systems are progressing, in fact it could become a bit of a Hot Topic. 


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Upside down tomatoes

The idea of growing tomatoes upside down was something I had come across some time ago while cruising garden blogs on the nett. The idea seemed to be that growing them upside down would eliminate the hassles of weeding, pests, digging, staking out or using tomato cages. And for people with limited space, hanging the plant upside down might be a good way to go. Some sunny balcony or deck might just be the perfect place for growing a few tomatoes this way. But as space was not an issue for me I didn't bother following it up.

This year, after a request from one of my daughters for ideas on growing a few veggies in the limited space of her small unit I decided to revisit this method of growing them. But not being confident that upside down was the best method, I decided to also try another idea I had for growing in hanging pots. I will detail both methods in separate posts.
While there are a variety of commercial products available for growing tomato plants the wrong way round, I preferred a home-made solution and settled on some 200mm pots I had laying around. As the cherry tomato and small-fruited varieties seem to be considered the most suited to this growing method and I had a couple of extra plants of this type this is what I will be using. They are black cherry, a small fruited, climbing tomato.

First a hole needs to be created in the “bottom” of the container. Then some newspaper or fiber mat slit to allow the seedling to be planted through is placed in the bottom of the pot. The pot is then filled with the growing mix, I used a mixture of soil and compost. At this stage some sort of lid is needed to keep the soil in the pot. When the pot is filled with the soil mix it is then inverted and the seedling planted in the hole.

As growing the plant upside down puts some stress on it as it will still want to do what comes naturally, you will need to grow the plant right side up until it is about 300mm high. This will make sure that the plant has some decent root growth and will be large enough to be out of the shade of the pot. It is important for tomato health that they have at least 6-8 hours of sun a day so this will also dictate the hanging spot.

Once the plant is big enough it can be hung in it's chosen place. A few things need to be considered here. First upside down pots weigh a bit when filled with damp soil and a large tomato plant, this makes hanging them a challenge. Also, an upside down tomato plant will swing a bit in a stiff breeze, so make sure you take that into consideration as well. If you are going to hang one from a wall or ceiling, make sure all of your hardware is strong enough to hold all the weight. There would be nothing more soul destroying than having the whole lot come crashing down ruining your work and weeks of loving care.
The photo above illustrates one of the first problems with this method of growing tomatoes. Within eight hours the plant has twisted around and started to grow upwards. Nevertheless I will continue with the experiment and from time to time update progress.
As well as the hanging pots I will be looking at growing some tomatoes in wicking boxes. I will probably use some of the bush variates for this and grow them later in the season. Roma, Siberian or Taxi are a few of the tomato variates that work well here when its cooler, I may even throw in a few Black Russian.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shade-houses are cool

Last summer our veggie patch was absolutely smashed by the heat. I did however manage to save a few tomato bushes and a bit of corn with a last minute jury rigged shade-house. I promised myself then that I would be ready for it this year and set to work researching hoop-house design on the nett. This site had a pretty neat looking set-up so I decided that this was the model for me. You will find a full construction manual and parts list there so I won't go into any detail here. I did however make a few minor changes to my hoop-house to accommodate my needs. Rather than run the shade cloth along the length of the structure I have it across and have fastened it with butterfly clips and ropes, tarpaulin fashion. I have done it this way so I can remove it easily in the winter to give me more light. It may even be possible to cover it with some greenhouse plastic and make it into a large cloche.

This shade-house was built to cover my new beds so post spacing was about 2.1 meters. This is not shade cloth width so a little bit of bodgie work was need to cover it. If I was starting from scratch I would make the whole thing cloth width modules, i.e. posts at 1.8 centres and a bed set out similar to the wicking bed layout here.

I have also left the structure relativity open to allow easy entry and exit of pollinators. One end is covered with shade cloth, the other is a bean frame. And as the sides are a simple tie-down set up I can easily work the beds from the outside. As the cloth is lose over the main part of the frame I can if needed slip some extra cloth under it for added shade as required. My hoop-house is 6.5 meters long by 3 meters wide and a tad under 2.4 meters high at the centre. The cut length of my poly-pipe was 6.5 meters and the whole thing was adjusted for evenness when I put the battens on. These battens come in about 6 meter lengths but are easily joined by simply overlapping and pop-riveting. Cost wise, not too bad at about $200 for the whole she-bang but I did get some of the poly free and I had a bit of spare shade-cloth and a few star pickets hanging around. 
So there you have it, one cool shade-house thanks to the folks at Easy-Grow Vegetables, I do like it when people are keen to share neat ideas.


We don't know how lucky we are

Well I'm flabbergasted, absolutely astounded, you could knock me down with a feather. More Rain! I had thought a trip to the stables for more horse poo was on the cards for today but it looks like I get to stay inside and do a bit of blogging. Or I could bake a cake, maybe a practice run on my entry for the chocolate cake comp at the local show next year. Or a book perhaps, or maybe ten minutes in the beanbag, I'm spoilt for choice.

Update: It was 12mm and the beanbag won.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rain on the plains

We're blessed, it's rained, good rain to, about 19mm in the last two days. That's about 225mm for the year so far but still around 138mm shy of the long term average, so we will require some heavy duty rain in the next couple of months to catch up. Still what we have is welcome and things have livened up in the garden now, it's like magic, plants are popping out of the ground everywhere. I even found a Kumara I had planted for slips and forgotten about. A dwarf lemon tree I had to move the other day because it wasn't doing so well where it was, has picked up and even has some new buds on. I had given up hope of it ever making the grade so that's a bonus, we may even get a lemon or two off it yet. The swales are wet and the water tank got a top up so it's all good in the land of windblown dust and dirt.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The raised bed is dead.

When I started our veggie garden about 2005 I built a raised bed system and although initially it worked well and was reasonably productive, I have since demolished it in favour of a more traditional on the ground system. The problem with the raised bed was that it was too water intensive and a pain in the butt to garden. Being at an odd height it meant I was always having to bend and reach, putting a stain on my back. Sitting on the side was no better as it meant twisting to reach any plants that where not near the edge. The only way it really worked was to climb on the bed and work from there, which sort of defeated the idea of having a raised bed in the first place. As I also wanted to extend the garden a bit I decided to rip it all out and start again. The new layout is two beds about a meter wide that I can work from both sides, with a narrower bed across the back . A narrow path splits the two beds and is paved with old bricks. The whole area takes up about 20sq meters and will be gardened in a variation of the French intensive gardening technique.

With this method the soil is worked quite deep and enriched with compost and humus to produce a light, fluffy soil. This encourages healthy plant growth and the production of deep roots.
An astounding array of crops can be produced in quite a small space when the garden is well laid out, and when space is limited it's an extremely efficient way of gardening. With this system plants are typically grown very close together, with the leaves of the plants creating a cover which reduces weeds and helps keep the soil moist, acting almost like mulch.

As well as the dedicated veggie patch, I have, mixed with the native plants in the more formal parts of the garden a number of fruit trees and vines. We grow rhubarb, thorn-less blackberry, grape and strawberries. There are a number of fruit trees scattered around the place as well, these include tamarillo, pear, plumcot, fig and gooseberry trees. We don't as yet have any of Adam's apples.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hot as hell in Hay and Booligal

This from the Bureau of Meteorology  today.

New daily maximum temperature records for November have already been set at Wilcannia (45.2ºC) and Broken Hill (43.4ºC) on 16 November. Many stations across NSW are likely to set new November daily maximum temperature records over the next two days, Griffith and Cobar are both forecast to exceed their record temperatures on Thursday with temperatures of 45ºC. Broken Hill is likely to smash it's very recent record, set Tuesday, with 45ºC forecast for Thursday.

In addition to daily temperature records many sites across southwestern NSW are now setting records for a consecutive number of very hot days in November. Locations such as Hay, Deniliquin and Balranald have now experienced a record 8 days in a row above 35ºC. Broken Hill has set a record of 9 consecutive days over 35ºC and 6 consecutive days over 38ºC. With high temperatures forecast to persist in this region until at least Saturday these records are likely to be significantly extended.
It's looking like another long, hot, and miserable summer for us again this year. And we already have plants burnt by the sun.


A little history as a starter

As this is my first post on the blog it is probably a good idea to give a little history as a starter. About mid 2003 we started building a new home for ourselves in Hay, southwest NSW. The house we built was pretty much stock standard every day type construction (didn't want to scare the neighbors to much) with a bit of tweaking here and there to make it as much as possible passive solar. I stayed away from alternate building methods mainly for resale value and durability issues. But we did where possible use recycled bits and pieces in the construction. We moved into the house in February 2006 and finishing up has been an ongoing process attended to as time permits. For those interested in the building saga the link is in the side bar along with links to a few other sites of interest. So far the house is living up to all the things I expected of it and we are really happy with the way it has all worked out. This blog will also be a continuation of my house building web page so from time to time I will catch up on a few of the things I didn't get round to documenting there.

Hay is a small country town in the Riverina area of NSW. The Murrumbidgee River flows through the town, and is approximately 100 meters from the north boundary of our block. We have been in a drought for the last 10 years and river flows are reduced because of lack of water in the dams that supply this area. This has caused a dramatic drop in agricultural production in this area and most towns on the river are implementing water restrictions on their populations. Winters here are mild and temperatures rarely get below freezing, so this is our better growing season, although lack of rain in the last few years has caused us a few problems. Summers are hot, commonly in the mid 30's to mid 40s, and that makes summer gardening a challenge, the 2008 summer was particularly bad with a series of heat waves that destroyed most gardens around here. This year I will be ready for it and I will be doing some posts that will look at some of the ideas I am trialing to deal with it.

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