Episode 285. Working Across Four Micro-climates

This is The ChangeUnderground for the 30th of January 2022.

I’m your host, Jon Moore

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

Summer is ramping up here in the North West of Tasmania. The home lands are 350 meters above sea level. The land at work is at 150 meters above and very exposed to the sea breezes and the usual roaring forties trade winds that all of Tassie benefits from.

Toss in the glasshouse and the two polytunnels and I’m basically dealing with four micro-climates at once. Home, outside at work, the glasshouse and the polytunnels. When I say glasshouse, half the roof is solid sheets and half see through sheets. As a result of the somewhat lower light levels, plants tend to grow very leggy. Stretched out and looking for more light, they are, nonetheless, productive. The polytunnels, and these are the first ones I’ve worked with, are booming and blooming. A quarter of one we put to a tall flower mix which took off. To the north of these and covering both sides are some sweet corn which are now starting to produce cobs of an edible nature. 

Maize is best planted in blocks as it’s wind pollinated. The sprays at the top of the plants give off the pollen and the silks hanging out the top of the cobs represent the female parts. Each line of silk needs to be pollinated with pollen, obviously, from a different plant in the stand as the species is self infertile. Not a problem in a block planting outdoors in the wind. In the polytunnel, breezes do flow through but not that effectively to achieve pollination. So I’ve been shaking the plants twice a week to spread the pollen. It seems to have worked in most cases but we have cobs with 30% maybe kernel formation all the way up to 100%. The great advantage of growing maize in the tunnel is the earliness of harvest. 

And while we have a semi controlled space I’ve tried a couple of experiments. Whilst the maize was small, two leaf stage or thereabouts we planted radish between the rows, two rows on either side of the central walkway, on the left. On the right hand side we planted climbing beans which have climbed the corn stalks on that side without doing them any damage. This represents two of the three sisters of the Native American growing system of the same name. Opposite the tall flower mix and behind the corn/bean mix we planted “Jack be Little” variety pumpkins. These will be planted amongst the corn/bean mix next year and is the third sister in the system. There’s a link to a Three Sisters Garden in the show notes.

Down the left hand side of the second polytunnel are purple king beans and long pod beans, both of these varieties are bush beans. On the right hand side are broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes and oregano. 

The outside gardening area has undergone a number of changes in the last twelve months. Originally a series of timber edged raised beds with carpet off cuts as pathways, the place had become overgrown with perennial grasses. A year and a half of lock down and then one rostered day a week, it was time to start again. 

It took myself and the clients about a month to clear the area which then became overgrown with mustard weeds and grasses. We kept slashing this to get some organic matter into the soil. Eventually some funding was found to get the place in shape. Four full days, on my own, which was very good for the soul, had ten beds ready to plant. Then everything stopped again as a 12 week intro to horticulture program was pushed back until late October.

The first six weeks of that program were wet. The clients attending had conditions where I wasn’t prepared to have them drenched to the skin so it wasn’t until late December we were able to get anything in and that turned out to be sweet corn. When that reached about knee high, more funding! Funding for a chook house. I pushed for mobile but to no avail. The next best I could wangle was a fixed coop and four runs of the coop. We can rotate the hens across the runs and grow veggies in the three runs they aren’t in. Of course two of the runs will be over the top of the corn. We should be able to get the fencing in place without overly disturbing the crop but who knows what’s coming next? I am at the point now where I just ride along, doing what I can in the full realization I have very little control over what’s going on. As a grower of food in the real world, very little control over what’s going on, especially with the weather, is actually a baseline assumption.

So things are happening at work, mostly good, some frustrating and occasionally wasteful but as Ned Kelly allegedly said on the scaffold: “Such is Life.”

On the home front, I put in a minimum tillage sweep over the barley and oats stubble and broadcast buckwheat. I had enough seed left over to broadcast over the spelt stubble. It will be interesting to see if the minimum tillage was necessary or not. I sowed buckwheat at this time because we were forecast 20-40mm over the next 24 hours. As an added “safety” measure to protect the seeds from birds I mixed 50 grams of cayenne pepper with 2 kilos of buckwheat seed. Now here comes a very big lesson that I’ve learnt and would not want anyone else to go through. As the rain was on its way, the breeze picked up while I was using the seed spinner. Cayenne pepper particles are much lighter than buckwheat seeds. So basically I was tear gassing myself whilst broadcasting the buckwheat. Not all at once and only when the wind was into my face and some of the cayenne hadn’t been thoroughly spread through the seeds. Lesson learnt, painful lesson learnt. It’s a bit funny to think about now but definitely not at the time.

I have another 12 kilos of buckwheat to sow over the next week or so before sourcing white clover to follow the buckwheat as both a cover crop and nitrogen supply for next summer’s blue corn. The plan is to cut  20cm strips, one meter apart for planting the corn. As the corn grows it, it shades out the clover which dies back releasing nitrogen. Once the corn is harvested, the clover grows back but I’d like to add a buckwheat crop in between the summer corn and winter white clover by broadcasting that into the spaces between the clover after the corn harvest. Doubling, maybe, the mass of plant material covering the ground. Grasses grow through the clover so maybe a winter spelt crop instead of the short buckwheat, who’s to know? I’m happy to be getting the buckwheat in and I’ll contemplate other options when the time comes.

I really enjoy the thought processes required to work through these rotations. The “Do we really need to rotate crops?” question has been on my mind for a while. We shall see. The thinking, the problem solving, the adaptation to just what nature is throwing our way is as satisfying for me, anyway, as the actual growing and harvesting. Maybe that’s something that drives you too. 

This is the last episode of my sixth year in this podcast feed. The first of February 2016 was when I kicked off the show. I’m looking forward to our seventh year together, both those who have traveled with me for the entire journey and all of you who have joined along the way. 

And you know the drill. If you need help there’s the free ebook at the World Organic News website and the No Dig gardening course is there too. Links in the show notes.

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.




The ChangeUnderground Academy No-Dig Gardening Course:


FREE eBook: https://worldorganicnews.com/freeebook/

email: jon@worldorganicnews.com

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Bubugo Conservation Trust


Companion Planting: Three Sisters Garden Plans


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