3 great organic pest solutions

If you’re keen to cut down on those chemical nasties in your veggie patch, while still protecting your precious crops – then keep on reading!

Petroleum Free White Oil

Off the shelf white oil stinks and to be honest it feels like a bad idea covering your edible citrus crops with it. If you have problems with insect pests such as scale, white fly, leaf miner and aphids, then take five minutes to whip up this concentrate. It will last for ages.

1 cup of vegetable oil

1/4 cup of dishwashing detergent (I used Eco brand)

Citrus scale

Mix this together by shaking in a jar or bottle. This makes the concentrate – you only need to add 2 tablespoons of this concentrate to your spray bottle for every litre of water and away you go!

Caterpillar Soap Spray

Caterpillars are pretty harmless…until you find those beautifully camouflaged green buggers hiding in your home grown broccoli. You only need to eat one before changing to blanching or other cooking methods…yuk.

Anyhow, they unfortunately go with the territory when trying to grow cabbage family crops anytime other than the middle of winter. Try this soap spray to reclaim your greens:

1 Litre of warm water

2 tablespoons of Lux soap flakes (you’ll find it in the cleaning section of your supermarket near a bunch of other stuff you haven’t seen for 20 years)

Lux

Add the soap flakes to the water and stir until dissolved. This is ready to use and as well as dealing with your caterpillars, it will also help with aphids.

Short Black Spray

Yes, even snails and slugs are learning to embrace our cafe culture. With a bit of luck they won’t be embracing much at all after this great home made remedy…

espresso

1 cup of water

1 shot of espresso (or brewed stove top coffee from a mocha pot etc)

Mix together and spray this over the soil, around and onto the leaves that snails and slugs can’t resist. Great for delicate seedlings.

Important!

Although these are less nasty than your standard chemical pesticides, always remember to keep them in properly marked spray bottles and jars WAY out of reach of little people and pets. You’ll find they don’t hang around as long as commercial sprays so be prepared to spray after rainfall etc.

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.

 

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.

 

 

Something eating your garden?

What a joy it is to place my (whoops I mean their) hand in mother earth’s soil and plant a luscious seedling just like nature intended.   A few days later, keen to see how high the newly planted leafy babies have grown our excited gardener is met with the backyard equivalent of a napalm attack.   Quite simply, nature isn’t playing fair.

Okay, so I’ve written about Permaculture before and working with nature rather than against, but by growing human quality food you’re making some VERY attractive offerings to the local bird, bug and slug populations.

So unless you’re prepared to garden simply for the exercise and without the expectation of having it produce food for you then here are my top 5 ways to protect your harvest:

1. Let’s get physical

Birds and white butterflies can’t eat when they can’t get to.   In Geelong’s productive gardening mecca – Bell Park – I once saw elderly locals using old lace curtains covering cabbages to protect them from the green caterpillar producing white butterflies.  Copper tape is available to deter snails but I confess I haven’t actually tried it…here’s a clip showing 1) It works and 2) I need to get a life!

 

2.  The labour of little people

If you’ve got kids or your neighbours do, try offering $5 for every 50-100 snails and/or green caterpillars found.  The same goes for butterflies although you’ll need a net and the price per butterfly will have to go up considerably!

3.  Carlton United Bug catchers.  Simply bury a plastic dish (jar lids are not quite deep enough I reckon) or bottom of a soft drink or milk carton.  Fill with beer and the local snail population will be attracted to the yeasty goodness and promptly fall in and drown!

4. Pellets.  Pellets have come a long way, with iron based ingredients taking the place of more nasty chemicals that harm pets and wildlife.

5. Habitat destruction.  Not much you can do about birds and butterflies, but by keeping bags of potting mix and lose timber in a dry area they’ll be less reasons for snails and slugs to hang in your patch.  I mean how would they like it if we moved in with them?

Oranges and Lemons…

Eureka and Lisbon lemons are joined by the more recent Meyer variety – great if you’re more interested in the sweeter juice and hate thorny trees!

Try fitting this into your Corona…a great example of a Lisbon lemon

There’s also a myriad of orange varieties and mandarins available, including my favourite at the moment – the blood orange.  A recent discovery, blood oranges have an almost strawberry/orange taste and look great in desserts and mixed drinks.

I’ve grown two tahitian limes in Geelong and they love our frost free urban micro-climates and I’ve also had good results from a so called native lime which I actually think might be a ‘Kassia Lime’ as its flesh was a yellow/orange colour – not the usual green flesh.  Citrus trees make great sustainable gifts for weddings, new family editions and look spectacular in pots and who wants to part with $1 every time they want an organic lemon!?

Location, location, location – getting the most out of your citrus trees.

Citrus work really well in pots, as well as the ground.  The most important thing to remember is that their fruit often takes twelve months to ripen.  So unlike our stone fruit which are quite happy to be in shade all winter, your citrus trees need FULL SUN over the winter.  Just take a wander around your neighbourhood with a compass and I’ll guarantee the healthiest looking lemons are coming from trees with lots of access to the northern sun.

Even better is siting them in a courtyard or against a north facing masonry wall.  Remember the reason these varieties are grown commercially in Mildura is because of the long clear sunny days which aid ripening and help them get to market earlier.

Here’s a very happy looking Valencia orange backed onto a north facing wall

Planting tips

With the below average rainfall we experienced in recent history, the idea of planting new trees was met with some trepidation.  Would it survive?  Can I be bothered keeping the water up to the new tree with prohibitive restrictions?  Well after almost two years of fantastic rain, sub soil moisture is back and water restrictions have eased.  Of course we need to continue to be careful about our water use, but I also think we need to take advantage of the much improved growing conditions and get some trees established while the going’s good!

A good technique before planting is to dig the hole to the required size (usually twice the width and at least the depth of your pot) and to fill it with water.  See how long it takes for the water to drain.  If it’s several hours or more then you will have drainage issues and your tree may not survive – especially as we have nearly 6 months of rain ahead!   You can mix in some gypsum sand, compost and see how that works.  If still no luck then build up the soil and essentially plant close to ground level.

Lemons are also beautiful ornamental trees with scented flowers and lush foliage

Troubleshooting with citrus trees

Ants are usually a sign you’ve got scale or whitefly as they’re chasing the sweet secretions from other pests – use the white oil recipe below and make sure you cover tops and bottoms of the leaves.  The ants will be grumpy but it won’t kill them!

Prune any dead wood at the end of winter and fertilise around now (Autumn) with an organic based fertiliser or manure.  Oh, and if it’s acceptable in your household and not going to upset your neighbours, yes wee on your tree.  It provides liquid urea fertiliser…why give you nutrients away for free!

Most problems with citrus can be fixed using a homemade white oil recipe:

1 cup of vegetable oil

1/2 cup of water

Teaspoon of washing detergent

Mix vigorously in a bottle until white and cloudy.  This becomes your concentrate which you mix 1 part to 40 parts water in a sprayer bottle.

Look after you citrus trees, plant a few varieties and you’ll have access to your very own fruit all year round!

Chicken basics!

Seriously though if you have health concerns about eggs and cholesterol it’s probably worth looking at the work of Chris Masterjohn who is currently pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on Biochemical and Molecular nutrition.  He has an interesting story of his own which rattles some of our mainstream understandings about saturated fats, cholesterol and their link with heart disease.  He’s published several peer reviewed articles, is widely read and a great researcher, which is great because cholesterol is such a complex area – just look at its molecular structure!

Cholesterol Structure

Another positive is the manure by-product which chickens leave behind.  When composted with straw or wood shavings this becomes a highly fertile addition to your soil.

Chickens are also a great garbage disposal units.  While they can’t thrive on kitchen leftovers alone, it does help to keep their diet varied and things we don’t eat such as outer leaves of lettuce and cabbage will highly valued by your new feathered friends.

Pets! Yes chickens can be great companions in the garden.  It’s not always recognised but animals that have evolved to provide for humans (chickens are descendants of guinea fowl) have a need for human interaction.  My chooks have a whining cluck when they’re being ignored but spend a little more time with them and they set about scratching and dust bathing very happily.  I’m not sure whether it’s the security of having humans around but chooks love busy backyards and will get into less mischief when involved with their two legged companions.  Here’s an example of hens that decided that life outside their enclosure was more interesting…

chooks escape web

 

Negatives?  Well you’ll have a food bill.  Of course this can be offset by getting your own eggs, and manure.

Chooks need to be looked after, so if you regularly go away for more than a few days at a time then you’ll need a chook-sitter.  Fortunately they’re pretty low maintenance so often the appeal of free eggs and friendly feathered faces is enough to get them looked after.

Housing chickens will also cost more than say a dog kennel and if you live in an area where foxes frequent you’ll need to make sure it’s fully enclosed with an additional barrier buried around the base of your yard as foxes are capable excavators.

What to feed them

You can buy a complete ‘layer’ type pellet but I tend to go for mixed grains and dilute it with some wheat from a local farm.  The mix grains I buy come with ‘shell grit’ which ensures your eggs will have solid shells.  Unfortunately having all that premium grain available in an open feeder attracts all the local birds so think about using a foot operated feeder.  You will also notice your birds craving green feed such as grass or leafy vegetables – this is important as it helps to develop those desirable fatty acids I mentioned earlier.  Below you’ll see I’ve grown some green feed, even chooks like takeaway!

chooks-green-feed-web

Avoid giving them eggshells and raw chicken.

Chooks also need fresh, cool water available all the time – especially in hot weather where it may need to be refreshed a few times a day.

Breeds

Too big a subject for this post, but I’d encourage you to get in contact with local breeders rather than buying cheap ex-free range layers such as Isa Browns.  While Isa Browns are good layers they tend to live shorter lives and are prone to complications as they really are egg producing machines, the poor girls. Poultry breeders operate for the love of chooks and will help you to pick a breed suitable for your tastes (poor choice of words) and needs.  This girl is a Hy-Line Brown, but she thinks she’s the Lone (free) Ranger.

the-lone-free-ranger-web

Council Regulations

When talking to people around the traps they’re often surprised to hear that the City of Greater Geelong allows you to have up to 12 hens and 1 rooster in a backyard.  Surf Coast Shire allow for 10 birds in total while the Borough of Queenscliffe is a little more involved – best you call the council direct.  The main issue councils worry about is annoyed neighbours, so maybe give the rooster a miss until you’ve won next door over with a few dozen eggs.  Your local municipality may also have specific requirements around types of houses and flooring – I’m a big fan of ‘deep litter’ systems where around 30cm of wood shavings or straw is used and replaced when necessary.

Point of lay birds are usually available around Spring, so now is the time for planning and constructing your very own chicken run!

content-chooks