Dealing with leaf curl so your summer’s nice and peachy

What is it.

Known as Taphrina deformans  leaf curl is a fungus that loves cold and wet conditions.  It also loves peach, almond and nectarine trees, where it likes to live during the winter months.  As the tree buds swell the fungus gets to work infecting the leaf cells.  This stimulates the leaves to grow larger than normal and often with a reddish tinge.  To be honest leaf curl affected leaves look pretty hideous, and anyone unfortunate enough to have seen or read  ‘The Day of the Triffids’ will no doubt think they’re experiencing just that.

What you can do about it. 

There are a number of sprays available – most of them being copper based.  Now this started out with some French peasants in the late 19th century who were getting very grumpy as passers by kept stealing their grapes.  Noting the vivid colour left on the vine leaves when sprayed with blue stone (copper sulphate) the peasants discovered no-one stole their prized fruit for fear of the blue poison!  Don’t you love it when two wrongs make a right.  An unexpected outcome of the new deterrent was a big reduction in fungal diseases and therefore an increase in yield.  Voila!  Bordeaux mixture was born and aptly named named after the city that now produces 700 million bottles of wine annually.

Making your own Bordeaux mixture

(Ingredients available at most hardware stores and nurseries)

Dissolve 100 gram of builders’ (hydrated) lime in half a standard (plastic) bucket of water. (About 5 litres).

Dissolve 100 grams copper sulphate (aka blue stone) in a separate half bucket of water.

Keep stirring the lime mixture to prevent it settling and pour it steadily into the half bucket of dissolved copper sulphate.

Add enough extra water to make up a total of 10 litres of the finished Bordeaux mixture.

It is at its most effective strength when freshly mixed so used immediately or within a couple of days. Using it straight away also means it’s less likely to clog spray nozzles etc.

If you’re not up for the above alchemy go for the following off-the-shelf least toxic ways to deal with leaf curl:

Old School

Lime Sulphur has been around for a long time hence is still favoured by organic operators.  As with the copper based sprays it will damage foliage so ensure the tree is dormant.

New School

Cupric Hydroxide has the advantage of being able to be sprayed after leaves are visible. You’ll see this marketed as a next generation copper spray that needs less copper to do the job.

They had me at “plasma technology”

Safety first for you, your trees and your soil

Only spray while the trees are dormant i.e. the buds haven’t burst and no leaves are visible.  Copper based sprays will burn leaves which really stresses out a tree that may already be fighting leaf curl so if it’s too late and spring has sprung just make a note to do earlier next year.

Spray to cover all the bare branches of peach, nectarine and almond trees.  You need to spray enough so it’s dripping (see pic below).  Wear old clothes and safety glasses plus gloves.  I did this once in black sneakers and they now have a blue speckled look…  If you choose one of the copper based spray options, be mindful that this is a heavy metal and will accumulate in the soil below your trees.  Over years this can add up so it pays to lay out some builders plastic/old curtains under the drip line to protect the ‘good’ fungi we want to encourage in your soil.

Don’t leave it for another week!  Get out there this weekend and make sure this you tube clip is the only curling going on at your place.

 

Unbeatable Beetroot!

Varieties and growing tips.

Two varieties that grow well in our cooler climate include Bulls Blood and Boltardy.  If you’re not one to usually grow from seed, try beetroot.  It’s a good vegetable to start with as the seeds are large and germination is quite reliable.  Several varieties are also available in a seed tape product helping you to get the spacing spot on.

Beetroot likes a pH of about 6.5.  Any higher than 7.0 and the soil alkalinity starts to prevent the uptake of boron which is essential for the edible root development.  Caution also needs to be taken with soils too high in nitrogen as you’ll end up with wonderful leafy growth but small beets!  Please don’t think this all has to be a complicated process, as once your garden is established it just becomes part of the natural flow.  Simply plant beetroot after a heavy feeding crop such as cabbage, lettuce or asian greens.  This way those previous crops will have taken up large amounts of the nitrogen in the soil.  Simply add some well rotted compost and water once established with a seaweed based liquid fertiliser.  If you’re starting in fresh soil, avoid adding large amounts of high nitrogen fertiliser such as poultry manures (especially pigeon) instead favouring compost, worm juice and liquid seaweed products.

The beetroot seeds themselves can lead to some confusion as they are actually a cluster of seeds all stuck together (kind of).  What you’ll find is that you’ll get several seedlings growing in the spot where you diligently only planted one seed.  Treat this as a gift from nature and when big enough to pinch with your finger, remove the weaker seedlings (leaving the most vigorous) and use them as a micro green in the kitchen.  If this backyard Darwinism isn’t your cup of tea, you can try replanting – but it’s very difficult not to damage the very fine taproot while they’re so young.  Nature can be cruel folks.

As the beetroot grow you’ll see the root become more visible.  This is actually pretty handy as you can see how big your beetroot are growing, so fight the urge to hill soil around them as you would with leeks etc.  Leaves can also be picked on younger beetroot and added to salads.  Just take a few from each plant as you don’t want to slow the growth by removing the plants’ energy source!

Beyond tinned beetroot (sigh)

While traveling in Eastern Europe a decade ago I was amazed at how much beetroot was used in local cuisines.  At Polish bar mleczny (direct translation is ‘milk bars’ – but more accurately described as vegetarian cafeterias) salads made from boiled grated beetroot and beetroot soup were staples.

The latter in Poland is called barszcz and I was reliably informed by a local that Polish ‘borscht’ recipes came from the Ukraine not Russia.  You know I’d never buy a Polish-made car, but I’m pretty sure no-one makes better soup.  The idea of sweating a few onions, adding some chopped beetroot and stock and creating a soup in an hour would be laughed at.  Even seemingly vegetarian soups such as barszcz start with pork of some sort, creating the stock in situ.  Always made the day before consuming there is plenty of time for flavour to develop depth.

Beetroot is also fantastic when simply grated raw.  I first tried this at Wholefoods Cafe in Geelong back in the 1990s where they added it as a standard to their salad sandwiches and awesome tofu burgers.  The Poles also make a cooked and grated beetroot condiment which when mixed with horseradish becomes “cwikla z chrzanem” – check out how to do that below.  It also goes wonderfully with the pierogi I made a little while back when discussing potatoes.

 

Another recipe that we collectively remain indebted to Stephanie Alexander for is chocolate and beetroot muffins.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly using olive oil instead of vegetable oil for nutritional reasons without noticing the taste coming through at all.  I mean chocolate and beetroot – what hope did the olive oil have?

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins

60g organic butter, softened

1 large beetroot, peeled and grated (250g net)  A food processor makes this a whole lot easier

175g Plain Flour

1 tps baking powder

2 tbs organic cocoa

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup local olive oil

1/4 castor sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (well packed)

12 squares dark chocolate or milk with minimum 30% cocoa

Method

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray.

2.    Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3.    Lightly mix the eggs and milk together and set aside.

4.    In a bowl or mixer process the butter, oil and 2 types of sugar until nice and creamy. Gradually add the milk and egg mixture and process until combined.

5.    Add the wet batter to the flour mix and fold together. Stir in the beetroot, until well combined.

6.    Spoon the mixture evenly into the holes and press a square of chocolate well into the centre each muffin.

Cooking time is about 20minutes depending on your oven type.  The tops should be springy but the centre will remain a lot more moist than normal muffins due to the beetroot, so be careful not to mistake this for them being underdone.

Amazing Parsley

I’m less inclined to believe that one (especially as I’m a bloke) however legend has it that parsley will ‘strongly affect men’s sexual powers’.  Maybe if these guys had gone for parsley instead of olive wreaths, they wouldn’t be described as the coxless four.

 

 

I’ll continue onto some other less controversial facts about parsley…

It’s super high in potassium with over 700mg per 100grams of leaves.  This combined with the herb’s high iron, copper and manganese content means it’s great for building healthy blood.  Parsley is also quite high in vitamin C and as with citrus fruits, our leafy green friend is at its best in winter, right when we need it.  I also found references to parsley being infused and applied to puffy eyes and even steeped into red or white wine with some other choice ingredients to produce ‘heart wine’ – great for any cardiac problems!  Parsley is from the same family that we find celery, carrots, dill and fennel – the easiest way to tell is to see their flowers forming and seeds.

‘Tis the season.

My summer basil is a distant memory, and despite growing in a vertical garden against a north facing wall, this year’s winter has all but defeated my coriander.  On the other hand I look at my parsley.  I remember Bill Mollison describing an ’embarrassment of parsley’ in one of his early Permaculture videos.  Yes, I have an “embarrassment” of parsley and what a nice feeling it is.  Parsley is biennial meaning it generally lasts for two years after which it will go to flower and produce a stack of seed.  You can simply let this seed fall in your garden beds and there’s a good chance new plants will pop up.  Alternatively if planting seed deliberately, be prepared to wait a while as the seedlings are renowned for long germination.

Varieties

Whether I’m cringing over memories of curly parsley from my childhood or not, I now only grow the flat leaf or ‘Italian’ variety of parsley (Petroselinum crispum .var. neapolitanum).   It’s hardy, vigorous and produces wonderfully tender flat leaves that are also easier to handle on a chopping board.

Parsley in the kitchen

I have to warn you, if you want to get the best out of the culinary value of parsley, you’ll have to look beyond our Anglo-Australian history.  My childhood memories of parsley were as an awkward accompaniment to fish and chips if the local pub was feeling fancy, or if Grandma was in an adventurous mood it would be chopped finely and added to a béchamel/white sauce.  As a general rule you can use it in place of basil and it deserves to be the hero of simple oil based pasta sauces where it goes so well with chilli and a good quality hard cheese.  Today I made parsley pesto, and while I love basil pesto I reckon this “picked and prepped within an hour” dish is superior to any Italian made imported pesto.

Parsley Pesto

2 cups of loosely packed fresh parsley, washed and dried well (pat dry with tea towel or use a salad spinner)

3/4 cup walnuts (I used some local, sweet beauties from Bannockburn)

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano if possible)

1 clove roughly chopped garlic (it will be chopped further by the food processor)

Good local extra virgin olive oil – cold pressed (sorry didn’t measure this, just drizzle it in slowly but probably about 3/4 cup)

sea salt to taste

Process the walnuts first, then the parsley and roughly chopped garlic.  You may have to keep stopping the processor to push the ingredients down the wall of the processor bowl and back onto the blades.

Once you’re sure the parsley is well chopped and the ingredients are mixed together, drizzle in your olive oil while the processor is mixing.  Add the oil slowly and in batches, mixing in between.

Place your finished mix into a bowl and add the grated parmesan.  Add salt as necessary making sure it’s really fine (I crush my Malden sea salt in a mortar with a pestle)

As with basil pesto this goes great with pasta, as a dip, spooned on top of poached eggs and as an accompaniment to grilled meat/fish etc.

Another way to take full advantage of large volumes of parsley is by making the middle eastern salad tabbouleh or tabouli.  Apart from tomatoes (and burghal) all the ingredients to this salad are available locally right now.

Here’s a you tube recipe which seems pretty good if you can get passed the North American pronunciation of herbs and oregano!

Going Organic

You may be surprised to hear that the agency responsible for testing the presence of these residual toxins – the United States Department of Agriculture – doesn’t actually suggest you stop eating this food, as it asserts that single doses of these chemicals are not dangerous.  Hmm…what about the combination of toxins from my non-organic three fruit and five veg, build up of mercury in my canned tuna, diesel particles in the surrounding air and the off-gassing from my Chinese-made Swedish furniture?  This so called chemical cocktail effect is something I suppose we all have to be mindful of and limits the usefulness of ‘reductionist’ or blinkered science.

So it’s simple right – only eat organic as it’s automatically better for you?  Well…it just isn’t that clear cut.  For every study saying organic food is better for you, there seems to be another that suggests it’s of no advantage.  The same can be said of blind taste testing.  In a recent episode of the long running River Cottage series, our host Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sets up a chook challenge – his home grown organic birds vs store a bought.  The results where neck and neck…well a poor choice of words I’ll grant you, but I was certainly surprised to see people preferring the blander white meat.  Hugh’s look of shock said it all “maybe we’ve actually forgotten what chicken was supposed to taste like?”  It’s all a bit depressing.

So what do we KNOW about organic food and farming that does make it an attractive option?  Well we know that organic farmers have to set aside a certain amount (at least 5%) of their property for ‘nature’ or biodiversity conservation.  We know that the soil organic matter in organic systems is much higher and therefore more carbon and indeed water can be stored in the soil.  We know plants need lots of biology/life in the soil to access the nutrients.  We know organic food is produced with less/or no fossil fuel based chemicals and that it employs more people per-hectare than non-organic agriculture (a large reason why organic costs more).   We also know that something dramatic is going on with chronic health issues in Western and increasingly Eastern diets.  I’m not saying there’s a direct causal link between industrial farming and degenerative disease rates (many do) but when we consider more people under 30 are being diagnosed with cancer every decade since the ‘green revolution’ perhaps something’s going on?

But perhaps the most compelling case for organics is that mainstream agriculture is slowly taking up organic strategies and methods.  No-till farming, rotational grazing, cell grazing, increased use of perennial pasture and using tree shelter belts are all topics now seen on Landline that used to only appear in Permaculture magazine!    The Camperdown Compost Company are working with non-organic dairies in the western district to increase soil biology and to radically decrease the amount of artificial fertiliser required.  Last week I attended a presentation by Precision Agriculture where the accuracy of GPS guided farm vehicles means pesticides can be targeted only at the weeds, with less going onto the produce you and I eat.

 

What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic?

Here’s a passage from marketfresh.com.au that describes this well I reckon:

While organic farming is known for its avoidance of synthetic chemicals, biodynamic farming is even more stringent. Biodynamic farming aims to achieve “self sufficiency” by generating fertilisers for crops and food for animals through natural processes that regenerate the farm system.  Biodynamics grew out of a series of lectures by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1924. “Biodynamic agricultural principles emphasise living soil, the farm as a wholistic organism, and note both the visible and invisible forces that create a healthy eco-system”.

Other references relating to the development and principles of the biodynamic movement may be obtained at www.demeter.org.au

Biodynamic farmers use ‘preparations’ such as ‘500’ as well as less conventional strategies such as burying cow horns filled with manure.  Sounds weird?  Who cares – just check out the soil a biodynamic farm compared to the chemical equivalent and you’ll be amazed.

I suppose the thing that separates both organic and biodynamic farmers from the rest is that they’re not just operating for a profit.  Often they’ve had to withstand lower yields and much higher operating costs than their chemical-using counterparts whilst getting established, and they’re generally motiviated by underlying belief that they’re producing healthier food from healthier farms.