In praise of the black soldier fly larvae

It’s compost turning time again but as the weather cools down I’m missing the black soldier fly (BSF) larvae. As the weather starts to warm again turning the compost becomes a hunt for the first BSF of the season.  If you’ve never seen one (and I apologise for the lack of pictures but I’ve never photographed one) they are quite large, long, thin flies, very different to your average blow fly. Google it. It’s good to know your friends in the garden and the soldier fly is one of them.

There’s lots of good reasons to get excited about seeing BSFs or their larvae.  First it’s a sign that the temperatures are warming up as BSF like days when it’s well over 20 degrees.  Second, chickens, quails and fish love to eat BSF larvae so I love gathering them for a feed (to chickens in particular who seem to like to discuss the flavour of what they are eating with their fellow feathered friends) knowing you are providing a protein packed sustainable treat.  Third, they are excellent composters and if you set up your breeding/composting container right they will self harvest.  This is because BSF larvae will crawl upwards when they are ready to change into a fly.  If you give them the right kind of ramp they will drop conveniently self harvest into a well placed bucket for you.  Convinced yet?

Maybe not.  I can understand that breeding larvae may not be to everyone’s taste even if they are quite well behaved and odourless.  But if you keep fish or feathered friends have a think about these creatures as a way to feed your pets.  There are some that advocate eating the larvae, I’m not sure I’d go that far, but encouraging them to help compost our food waste and getting a protein packed animal feed product out of it seems like a win win to me.

If you’d like to read more, here’s a blog dedicated to the BSF.

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The Autumn Garden

Sydney is starting to cool down. Have you felt it yet? I know in the middle of the day it can still feel a little warm and dry (too dry?) but those mornings are getting chilly and the days of planting beans, basil and tomatoes are now behind us.

But that’s ok, because there’s plenty to enjoy about the Autumn edible garden.

Broad beans are a favourite of mine in the Autumn garden. Plant them in a block, be ready to stake them for support (usually in a group not individually) and watch for sap sucking insects towards the end of the season.

I also love to grow Jerusalem Artichoke. This member of the sunflower family is the plant that keeps giving. Some people say only plant it if you want it forever because it will keep coming up for but me that’s the perfect plant. As long as you like to eat it.

It’s also a great time for peas and if you are a garlic grower or thinking about becoming a garlic grower – now’s your chance. I’ve never had much luck getting bulbs of garlic to grow in my own home garden but I still think it’s worth growing for the greens and in bigger gardens it’s definitely worth trying for the bulbs.

As ever, we are always on hand to help you get your home, school or office garden growing. Just give us a call or send in an email. There are always plenty of options no matter how big, small, sunny or shady your space may be!

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What to plant in Sydney in March

Well it doesn’t feel like the weather is cooling just yet but it’s time to start thinking about those cool weather crops. Think broad beans, broccoli and cauliflower. That’s what I think. But I won’t be putting these into the soil just yet. Right now I think it’s time to pull out those summer crops that are finished, beef up the soil with a new layer of compost. Cover that with a nice layer of mulch and get those seeds into the greenhouse (or seed raising area) so they are ready to go in after Easter. Surely it will cool down by then?
If you are keen to get planting then probably best to stick to the all year-ers like carrots, greens and herbs until we start to regularly drop below 30.

What’s your favourite cool weather crop and when do you think you’ll start planting?

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Is bad compost still better than no compost?

Here’s the question – is it better to compost badly than not to compost at all?

This question has been on my mind lately. I haven’t had the time to get out to my own compost as much as I’d like and I’ve lost a valued helper at one of the schools so that compost isn’t getting the attention it used to get. So am I thinking I’m doing a good thing with my piles of organic waste when actually I’m not? If I’m not getting out there and getting air into the compost am I doing more harm than good?

The problem is this – when you are composting aerobically (with air) everything is fine. The problem with decomposing organic waste occurs when it decomposes anaerobically (without air) as is assumed to be the case when organics go to landfill. Anaerobic compost produces methane. Great if you’ve got some kind of method to capture the methane and use it as an energy source, bad if it’s heading on out into the atmosphere. Methane is a significant contributor to green house gas emissions. That’s why people object to methane producing cows and why some people object to composting.

So how can we make sure we are doing more good than bad? If you aren’t a regular compost turner then keep your compost simple and the balance right. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Don’t put in dinner leftovers, any meat, fats or bread.
  • Get a compost bin that has an open base to encourage worms in there to do the aerating for you.
  • Don’t let your bin dry out. Keep it moist, this will keep all the good bacteria alive and working.
  • Cover all of your kitchen scraps with dry leaves or shredded newspaper. This will keep your compost balanced.
  • Turn it when you can.

My conclusion is that it’s still better to compost badly than not to compost at all. When organics go to landfill we have nothing except more green house gas emissions. Even if we are a little lax with our composting we still end up with a nutrient rich compost at some point. And we encourage other kinds of soil life. What do you think?

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Seeds and other such things

I’m reading a very cheerful book at the moment about the industrialisation of our worldwide food industry, particularly intensive meat farming. It’s telling me things I kind of already know and suspect you do to about the damage this intensive farming is doing on all levels. From the people who work in these intensive systems, to the environments affected by the waste these systems produce, to the animals themselves and finally to us as the consumers. Very few people win in such systems.

I also kind of know about seeds and the fight to keep them free. This book mentions it in passing and it reminds me of the importance of saving seeds. Of sharing seeds. Of buying heirloom seeds and keeping these plants alive. If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, have a quick look here: http://navdanya.org/news/240-dr-vandana-shiva-calls-on-you-to-respond-to-the-seed-emergency–join-us-for-the-movement-for-seed-freedom

But this book also mentions the ownership of semen. Not something I’d ever thought about. Something I’m kind of hesitant to write on my blog for fear of what spam it will bring me. But something my mind returns to. Who owns the genetic material of our farm animals? I couldn’t find a good link, but I think we can all be fairly certain that this material is becoming as restricted as other mainstream food items are.

So what can we do? Urban dwellers are not farmers. We can’t put a rare breed cow in our backyards, as much as we may like to.

So it comes down to our purchasing power. Think about what you are buying and where it is coming from. If you aren’t sure ask questions. And be prepared to pay a little more for food that is ethically produced.

It comes down to communication. I’m telling you. If you read this and think it’s worth thinking about, maybe you’ll tell someone else. Maybe you’ll spend a little time googling and find more information you’d like to share.

It comes down to doing what you can. So you can’t have a cow. Maybe you can’t even fit in a chicken. But everyone can grow something somewhere. And when you do, choose a plant that will produce seed. Let the plant produce seed. Learn how to save it. Share it. Grow it again. The bees will enjoy the flowers, and you probably will too.

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Bees, why we need them, how to get them, what to do if you don’t want them but still want to be nice

Bees.  They get a lot of media attention due to their importance and current plight but we don’t all need to be bee keepers to help the bees. All we need to do is a few simple things.

But first:  why do we need them?

Bees pollinate a large number of our crops.  Other insects can help too but people tend to agree that bees do most of the work so if we want to keep eating like we’re currently eating, we need the bees.

How to get them

There are a number of local companies and councils who’ll come and help you out with hives.  If you are a school have a look at native bees. They are stingless and still fascinating (see pics at the top of this post).  If you are a business or home owner in Sydney consider getting in touch with the Urban Beehive and have a look at hosting options. If all this is sounding too hard how about making habitats for the many solitary bees we have?  Hollow sticks, holes in mud bricks, these all make excellent homes for some of our excellent bees, as well as excellent activities for big and little hands.

What to do if you don’t want them but still want to be nice?

The first thing you need to do is throw away the poisons.  Don’t put or spray anything in your garden that hasn’t come out of your kitchen or compost. The second thing you need to do is plant flowers.  Or let your herbs go to flower.  Bees love it when you do that.  The third thing you can do is write to your local council.  Ask them if they are using poisons.  Then ask them to stop.

 

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Sydney’s Winter Garden

Well it’s getting cold but at least the sun’s out and the ground is starting to dry up after all that rain.  Winter in Sydney does not mean time to stop gardening.    So what to plant?

If you’ve got the room and you haven’t yet you should get your garlic and broad beans in as soon as you can.

It’s also time to start planting your brassica’s.  That means cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower.  Keep going with leafy greens (salads and Asian greens) or replant if that recent hail destroyed what you had.  Carrots and most herbs can be grown can be grown all year round in Sydney.

If you’ve got a bit of space and are looking for a low maintenance edible, have a try at growing Jerusalem Artichoke.  In the right sunny spot these will put on a great show of sunflower like flowers (same family) and you can treat them like perennials by simply leaving a few tubers in the ground at harvest time.  If you’re keen, now’s the time to plant them.

As ever, if you need some help, give us a call or leave a comment/question below.

Enjoy!

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10 Benefits of a Raised Vegetable Garden


Growing your edibles straight in the ground or around your existing ornamental plants is quick and easy but not without its problems.  Growing your edibles in a raised bed may cost you a little more to set up but there are benefits.  Here’s my list:

1.  Raised beds give you a contained space to grow in.  You know where you need to head to water, weed and feed (your plants and yourself).

2.  Raised beds make it easy to create barriers against pests.  They are simple to net if you have creatures who want to come and share your produce.

3.  If you have any concerns about contaminants in your soil, if your soil is horribly sandy or otherwise unsuited to growing food, raised beds allow you to bring in nutrient dense soil.

4.  Raised beds can go on concrete or other hard surfaces.

5.  Raised beds can be made with a wicking element which basically turns them into big self watering pots and means you only have to water them once a week.

6.  Raised beds can be made at a height to suit their owner and a shape to suit any space.

7.  Raised beds are excellent if you have large trees that suck all the water and nutrient out of your soil.

8.  If you have little ones that aren’t great at sticking to the path, raised beds are the answer.  No soil compaction (unless your little one is a climber too!)

9.  Because you can control the soil quality of a raised bed they are often better at producing edibles.

10.  Raised beds can be made to allow wheelchair access.

At Grow.Eat.Enjoy. we make raised beds out of recycled hard wood or eco pine.  These beds can be made to order for any width, length or height with a watering system that suits your needs.  We can also arrange good quality metal beds.  If you think you might be interested in installing a raised bed and live in the Sydney area we are always happy to chat.  If you want to know more but are outside of Sydney, leave a question in the comments.

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Time for Tea

If you are in Sydney then you’ll know it’s not gardening weather today, and while a lot of us would think every day is a tea drinking day, today is definitely a day when you want a warm up of tea in your hands.  So how about growing your own?

I’ve purposely let the bought teas in my cupboard run low so that I’ll be forced to start drinking from my garden.  It’s so easy when you are in the kitchen to just pull out a tea bag but it’s not that much harder to pick your own fresh.  I just needed a little push and maybe you do too.

So what to grow?  I grow mint and lemon verbena.  These are great combined or separate.  They can be picked fresh and used straight away or dried for later use but because they are so easy to grow I don’t bother drying.  Mint likes plenty of water, can handle shade and runs away so grow it in a container where you’ll remember to water it or a spot where either you’ll remember to control it or don’t mind it taking over.  Lemon verbena likes a drier sunnier spot and a good regular prune.  I cut mine back regularly and if I don’t drink the leaves I pop the stems into vases.

Other good, easy choices for tea are lemon grass, mexican marigold (pictured above, another one that will take over if you don’t keep it under control), lemon balm, chamomile, fennel and roses.  Other suggestions I’ve heard of but haven’t tried include rosemary, basil flowers and lavender.

If you really like your tea you can try growing camellia sinensis.  This is the plant grown for black or green tea.  You need to be a little patient as the plant needs to be a few years old before it’s ready to harvest but after that time you can pick off the young leaves and prepare them for the tea of your choice.

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Just Eat it – Movie review

Look the first thing to say is this is not a feel good movie. It’s kind of fun to watch but you don’t come away feeling particularly good about yourself or your fellow humans. Well I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a film worth watching.

Just Eat It is an easy to watch film that follows a couple, Jen and Grant, for six months as they quit supermarket shopping and instead choose only to eat what would otherwise be thrown away. The statistics are frightening and don’t feel comforted that this is a film made on the other side of the world. We are just as bad.

Just Eat It and our own Oz Harvest say we are throwing away between 30-40% of our food. When you look at the social, environmental and economical costs of this you realise what a sad sad mess we’ve got ourselves into.

Just Eat It points the finger at us, the consumers. We need to change our buying habits and our eating habits. We need to plan before we shop, we need to use our freezers and our left overs more, we need to make less and not feel the need to over cater. We need to learn what those dates on the products we buy really mean so that we are not throwing away perfectly good food based on a best before date. And we need to get involved in our food system. We need to know where our food is coming from, how it’s produced and what the wastage involved is. And if we don’t like that wastage or we feel it could be put to better use then we need to tell those companies how we feel, or get out there and do a bit of gleaning. Don’t know what gleaning is? Better watch the film.

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