by Hilary Rowley
Our glasshouse has been a scene of sick and miserable plants this year, with only a couple of success stories. Before planting, I sterilised the glasshouse with a spray of diluted baking soda in an attempt to make conditions unsuitable for the fungal diseases. We also got some stylish new windows installed by Eric the builder to increase air flow, but lost most of the gherkin plants to fungal collapse after only a few jars were bottled. The cucumbers have managed to stay alive a lot longer, but they too collapsed, and were very carefully removed.
No water had been splashed around to spread the spores, and all the plants were in clean terracotta containers, so no old soil from last year was used. Maybe it was the bad season, but our tomato harvest is getting worse each year, regardless of the season. At least one illness was eliminated: I put some dolomite in the planters and it stopped the problem of blossom-end rot.
The success story was the eggplants. We have never before been able to get them to fruit, but this year have a massive crop from four plants of a variety called ‘Tokyo Black’ from King’s seeds. So I am recommending this sort to Blueskin Bay gardeners.
Another big glasshouse problem that we had this year was whitefly. There were clouds of them rising off the tomatoes and eggplants. They ignored my liberal scattering of pyrethrum plants, they thumbed their noses at soap sprays, and pyrethrum sprays, but I finally got them with diatomaceous earth. A packet of it turned up in the mail, and for once it was a useful piece of junk mail. Known as fossil-shell flour, it is made from the finely ground fossilized shells of single cell phytoplankton known as diatoms. The tiny particles are so hard and sharp that they lacerate the insects and absorb their body fluids, causing dehydration and death. It sounds like nasty stuff for aphids, but also for other insects so must be sprayed where no bees will be harmed. I figured a glasshouse, when I no longer need any pollination to happen would be a good place to experiment. I mixed a small amount with water and sprayed it on the eggplants, and after a few days there is barely a live aphid anywhere, ha… gotcha.
I keep finding these amazing, huge apples lying on the road, where they have fallen off our neighbour’s tree and rolled down their driveway. I have been picking them up and taking them home, justifying it as collecting vegetable road kill. Thank you, neighbours. We have been making a kind of low-sugar puree with these apples and wild blackberries and spreading it on the trays of the dehydrator, to make delicious low-sugar fruit leather.
Most fruit preservation involves buckets of sugar, but with dehydration the natural sugars in the fruit are concentrated. I tried dehydrating blackberries on their own but the texture was a bit cardboardish. With solar electricity an electric dehydrator makes good sense but there are other ways. A local couple, the Grimwoods, have invented a passive dehydrator, made from a plastic bathtub. The plans are available in the Lifestyle Block magazine publication ‘A fresh take on preserves’. They also have a brilliant idea for using small dome tents as insect-proof solar dehydrators.
Usually we can grow great corn here by getting a head start on the growing season. I plant trays of corn seeds under cover, and transplant them as soon as the risk of frost has passed. This year, though, nothing was germinating, so I replanted twice before figuring out that a wee mouse was digging up each seed and eating it. Once I’d caught the fattest, glossiest mouse I’ve ever seen, and got some corn germinated, I had missed the head start, so consequently we have a poor corn crop. I planted some pop corn too which has a beautiful red-coloured plant. At least with popcorn you only need a tiny bit to make an impressive looking quantity of food, and I think next year without that clever mouse, it will be a successful crop.