Reduce Mosquitoes around your home

how to get rid of mosquitoesMosquitoes in the back yard are not only annoying during a barbeque but mosquito transmitted diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and ross river fever, can be a danger to your families health. There are a number of ways to deal with the outbreak, but a two pronged approach of prevention and cure will give the best results.

Life Cycle of a Mosquito:

As the mosquito develops it goes through four distinct stages: Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Adult. These stages can be easily recognised by sight.

Egg: The mosquito lays its eggs one at a time, they can be individual or joined together to form rafts. They both float on the surface of the water. Most eggs hatch into larvae within 48 hours, with water being a necessary part of their habitat.

Larva: As the eggs hatch larvae emerge and live in the water, coming to the surface regularly to breathe. Over the next 10 days the larvae will shed their skins four times, each time growing larger. The larvae regularly feed on microorganisms and other organic matter in the water. As the larvae moult the fourth time the larvae will change in to pupae.
Mosquito Life Cycle
Pupa: During the pupal stage no feeding takes place, but the pupae will move around in the water by flicking their tails to avoid predators. The transformation into an adult occurs during this stage, much like the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Once ready, the skin of the pupae splits open and the mosquito emerges.

Adult: The new adult will rest on the surface of the water until it dries and the body parts harden. Feeding on blood and mating do not begin for a few days. Continue reading Reduce Mosquitoes around your home

Pineapple propagation at home

Pineapples or Ananas comosus is one of the edible species of over 2000 that make up the bromeliad family. Originally grown in the warm tropics of the Caribbean, pineapples can be grown almost anywhere there is warm weather.

Many people may think that they are a difficult plant to grow, but in reality they are very hardy and will tolerate little water and care. Should you find a pineapple for sale with a full top, have a go at propagating it.

Steps for Pineapple Propagation:

  • Take one pineapple, cut the top off about 2cm beneath the leaves.
  • Start pulling the small leaves away from the base of the stem. Keep pulling the leaves until the bottom 2.5cm of stem is exposed, this is were the roots will form.
  • Stand the pineapple vertical and cut any remaining fruit away. Leaving fruit behind will cause the stem to rot, resulting in  a dead plant.
  • Leave your prepared top on the kitchen bench for a day to allow the base to dry, this will help prevent rotting.
  • When planting out, dip the stem in water and then into rooting hormone powder, this will help the base callous up and roots to form. Insert the stem into potting mix on an angle with part of the stem exposed at the top so as to reduce the chance of rot.
  • After 3 weeks check to see if any roots have formed, if not leave the pineapple stem for another two weeks. Once roots have formed the plant can be repotted into a vertical position for the roots to form.

Where to plant Pineapples:
When planting out into the garden pineapples prefer a well drained soil that does not get boggy and stay wet, planting the pineapple on mound will help with drainage. Any position in full sun or very light shade will suit your new pineapple, providing that the weather is warm as Pineapples do not like frost.

Fruiting and when to pick Pineapples:
Plants can take up to 24 months to fruit, yet in the meantime you will be rewarded with a relatively large lush green plant.

When your plant has flowered and the fruit has grown, the fruit will begin to turn a slight shade of yellow / orange. At this stage the fruit can be picked and taken indoors to prevent sunburn or pest attack, otherwise the fruit can be left on the plant to ripen.

Preparing soil for Passionfruit

You could say that this applies to all plants, but the key to a successful passionfruit plant is great soil.

Starting with any old soil is fine, but the key is to change that soil into living soil. Preparing the soil to hold moisture and nutrients while harboring millions of beneficial bacteria and bugs will make the soil alive.

Currently the yard which we own consists of red sandy loam. Over the course of the next three months I plan to dump large quantities of compost and manure around to turn it dark brown and almost black with organic matter. This will create a perfect soil for the fruit trees I plan to grow, especially the passionfruit.

Step one:
Thoroughly dig the whole garden bed to a depth of 30cm or one shovel depth. This breaks any compacted surface layers and allows for moisture to enter.
In the areas where you intend to plant out passionfruit vines, dig a 30cm deep hole and put that dirt aside. Inside the hole loosen the dirt to a depth of 30cm, then fill the hole back in with the dirt you removed, this should bring the garden back to the original level. By loosening the soil deeper where you intend to plant, water will naturally migrate to that area giving your plants extra water they can access.

Step two:
Find a source of manure. Sheep, cow, horse, goat, donkey, chook, in fact any manure from a grass eating animal is good (dog and cat manure can spread disease and smells awful). My preference is horse or cow mostly due to its availability, your best bet is to make friends with a local farmer or race horse owner.
* Chook / Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen and needs to be composted with straw for a couple of months so it does not burn your plants.

Step three:
Spread your manure in a thick layer (150mm /6in) across the garden bed and lightly fork in.

Step four:
Apply mulch. An easy and cheap mulch is grass hay, this can be obtained from your local produce agency or local farmer for a reasonable price. A round bale covers all of my garden beds (and then some) and it looks great.
Spread the mulch out in a thick layer across the manure to prevent any rouge seeds from germinating, and to keep the moisture in.

Step five:
Water well, possibly put the sprinkler on for a good hour each week to soak the mulch and the soil below. This will give the bugs a nice humid environment to grow and breed in.

Step six:
Wait three weeks for the manure and soil to settle and plant out your passionfruit vines.

By following these simple steps, your passionfruit or other crops will have the best start to giving you plentiful amounts of fruit.
Strawberries are another great plant you can plant around the base of your Passionfruit vine while it develops. The grass hay will protect the fruit from being spoiled by touching the ground.

New House – time for a new garden

What a big fortnight it has been!
Moving house has really taken it out of R and I, but the enthusiasm to garden is coming back. Below are some photos of our new back yard, there is some framework for a huge tropical oasis garden. I think I counted 11 palm trees in the yard!

What was a kids sandpit area will now be extended and made into a dirt vegetable garden to supplement my aquaponics system. I look to grow the bulky or large quantity vegetables such as pumpkin, onions, tomatoes etc and leave the AP for herbs, lettuce and other nutrient hungry plants.

Zero garden down the side of the entertaining area. Will be filled with horse manure and planted with large shrubby palms and hibiscus.

Shot of the entertaining area.

An existing garden bed with a huge Cycad and cardboard palm.

Back door garden. Needs some tidy up and a prune back.

This is going to be a great adventure for us both, now to get back to work!

Potato Tower: Harvest

After watching the tops go yellow for a week, today was the day to do the big harvest. Who would have thought that four months had passed since the build stage of the potato tower?


Above you can see the yellowing stalks and leaves, a sure sign that things are coming to an end inside the bin.

A gentle shove, and a few potatoes spill out onto the ground.

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My total harvest, not as big or as productive as I had hoped. 🙁

A whopping great 1.5kg of potatoes…

What a learning experience this has been, I have a long way to go before I catch up to my grandfather who grew bulk potatoes for wholesale. Not bad for a half arsed first try.

While the total cost to produce these potatoes was $12/kg (not too bad considering they can be as much as $6/kg in the supermarket), there are some simple things will do next time to increase my yields:

  • More dirt / compost in the bottom of the bin
  • Water more regularly
  • Fertilise more regularly (including seaweed extract)
  • Put straw on top in small regular amounts instead of 1ft every three weeks
  • Build the bin higher as the leaves grow
  • Insulate the inside to prevent too much heat transfer

This was a really worthwhile experience that I would recommend to any one, especially people with young children. I did get a tad excited picking them and I’m well over half way to 50, must be a big kid at heart.

Heirloom vs Hybrid

In December I started two tomato plants growing as seeds in Jiffy pots. After having them crop prolifically for many months, they were left to the elements and mealy bugs. They haven’t had any water, love or attention since March, and now being the end of July there are two distinct differences between them.

One is a heirloom tomato called Principe Borghese I got from Diggers Garden Club, the other is a Yates hybrid called “Small Fry”.

^ Principe Borghese

^ Yates “Small Fr”

This makes me wonder, not only do heirloom varieties taste better than hybrids, but they do not require as much water and chemicals as the hybrids that are so readily available.

Have you had any experiences with heirloom varieties?

Garden Update – July ’09

We are now half way into the dry season in the top end of Australia. Even though we have not seen a cloud for months, growth in the garden has slowed significantly due to the shorter days and lower sun intensity. The arrowroot received a severe pruning after the caterpillar infestation over the wet season. They have come back slowly but will need another prune before the big summer growth appears.

The potato tower has grown really well, although I have been lazy and not built it as high as I would have liked. Next year I may opt for a round bird mesh bin.

My aquaponics setup has cycled, which in short means that there is enough bacteria converting Ammonia from the fish into Nitrite, and from Nitrite into Nitrate. So far we have been able to make 4 salads from the Cos lettuce. I am still having some trouble with the pH being too high for the plants to absorb Iron, so I have been dosing with vinegar to bring it down.

The rhubarb and garlic are coming along slowly, possibly due to being in the shade most of the day over the winter months. Living in a climate that does not get below ~5 degrees C, the rhubarb will have to come out of the ground each year and be put in the freezer for a couple of weeks. Doing this encourages growth during the warmer months.

A lime tree has been planted, with the hope of enjoying some Vodka Lime and Soda drinks at some stage. The lemon has been dug up and put into a pot as the tree was not growing. Soil pH is fine, maybe some time in a pot with some TLC will bring him along!

On tough times

Basil seedlingsWe’ve all read the headlines, watched the business channel, listened to the radio reports for nearly twelve months and all we have heard is lines like “unprecedented downturn in the economy”, “economy set for biggest losses since great depression” Blah Blah Blah…

For those of us who have not been made redundant due to the slow down, how is it really affecting our lives and the choices we make every day?

For myself there have been a number of changes to my lifestyle as a cost saving exercise rather than a distinct need to reduce overheads. Things such as brewing my own beer, increasing the amount of veggies I grow in the garden, buying seeds or seedlings for the garden rather than more mature plants and frequenting Garage Sales.

The classifieds in our local news paper have had a distinct increase in the number of garage sales, a couple of our friends usually come along and we go for a tour. A lot of the time we come home with nothing of great interest, but every now and then a sale may have gardening gear for sale. My collection so far is a set of iron wall mounted plant baskets, four large glazed pots with plants, 5 small bird of paradise plants, a wine rack and a couple of palms. To buy these new at a retail outlet would have cost me a couple of times the prices I paid for them, but the real value is in spending quality time with our friends without spending a fortune.

As for other choices the Home Brew is going along fantastic. Since dusting off the kit a three months back I’ve only purchased a six pack of beer, saving me around $50 odd a fortnight in packaged beer. Not only is it a large cost saving measure, the beer tastes great and I love experimenting with different recipes and techniques to get to find that ellusive perfect brew!

For Christmas I got given a membership to the Diggers Gardening Club. Diggers send out a magazine / catalog 5 times a year which gives me something to read and access to club discount heirloom seeds for the garden. Most times the club price is around 20% cheaper than retail prices for seeds, live plants come at varying discounts. A bonus to the subscription is the 8 free packets of seeds that each member gets each year. Heirloom seeds provide far more variety and interest than the stock standard hybrid varieties at supermarkets.

When you buy seedlings in punnets from the garden center, it gives you four or six relatively healthy little plants which will make an instant impact on your garden. But when thinking about the economics of it all, the $3 you spend on the seedlings could have bought you a packet of seeds that gives you the opportunity to grow 50 plants. In simple terms the seedlings cost $0.50 each where seedlings grown at your house will cost less than $0.05 each.
No doubt that there is some effort involved in doing so, but two important traits of a gardener is patience and perseverance.

My most revcent purchase has been the Aquaponics kit, while there was fairly significant outlay in cost to buy, my aim is to reduce the amount of reliance we have on the supermarket for our vegetable supply. At present we spend around $40 per week on “fresh” vegetables that have been kept in cold store for three months. Growing high use vegetables such as lettuce, tomato and herbs along with high cost items such as capsicum, zucchini, chili and spinach should save us around $30 per week and also give us better quality. The aim of the Aquaponics is to improve the success rate of my plants than I have had in the dirt garden, as in the past they have been mutilated by pests and disease. An added bonus is the fish that will be grown for table eating, and my wife does not eat fish, so they are all mine!

I am really interested in what people have to contribute to this topic, I know that Daniel over at SmallKitchenGarden has some great information in regards to successful tomato gardens.

Aquaponics

What do you get when you cross a tank full of fish and a vegetable garden?

You get a very productive food producing system called Aquaponics!

Over the weekend I ducked down to my local nursery and ordered a Balcony Kit aquaponics setup. I wish I had the balcony to put it on, but the kit is small enough to fit comfortably in a small space. Measuring only 2.7m by 1.5m and 97cm  high there are three grow beds that have the capacity to feed three people consistently (both fish and veggies).

Aquaponics works on the theory of growing plants in an inert media such as expanded clay pebbles with an ebb and flow water system, as is done in an hydroponic setup. The similarities of the two systems end there. Where hydroponics requires the regular addition of nutrients to the water, aquaponics uses fish to create nutrients.

The system works by adding fish food to the water, the fish eat the food, their by products are pumped into grow beds where natural bacteria turn ammonia into nitrogen which plant roots suck up and grow prolifically. Nutrient free water is then drained back into the tank for the process to start again.

Not only do you get a supply of vegetables, but as the fish grow to plate size you can take them to the kitchen as well!

So why am I giving away growing most of my vegetables in dirt you ask? Living in a tropical environment there are many problems I have found when growing in dirt, I’ve had more than my fair share of fungus, mealy bugs, weeds, birds, ants, weeds etc to deter the most enthusiastic gardener from even trying to get their plot growing to any kind of respectable standard. Not to forget over watering, under watering, over fertilising, under fertilising, digging the soil, conditioning the soil… the list goes on!

Call me lazy, but given my hectic work schedule these days the time to spend in the vegetable garden is getting limited (especially in the cooler months with less daylight hours!). I’ve see aquaponics as a way of getting the best food home grown food for my family as I can with less time input, or working smarter instead of harder!

So you can only grow leafy greens in aquaponics?
Not at all, many forums such as AquaponicsHQ and BackyardAquaponics have members that have had great success with root vegetables such as Beetroot & Carrot. Other popular vegetables include Corn, Peas, Beans, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Chili, Capsicum, Lettuce, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Egg Plant, Celery, Strawberries… Murray from Aquaponics.net.au has even grown a PawPaw tree!

Added Nutrients:
As the system is almost closed, the fish food is the only main additive, there can be times where plants become stressed due to nutrient deficiencies. Iron, Magnesium and boron deficiencies can be common, especially when your plants are getting large. Cheelated Iron, Epsom salts and borax can all be added safely (in small quantities) to the water without detriment to the fish. To reduce the need for additional nutrients a high quality fish food with a full range of minerals should be used.

Pest control:
Unlike dirt gardening, where you can get away with a squirt of insecticide now and then, any form of pest control in an aquaponics system must be organic. Should you go through with a dose of insecticide there will be a tank of floating fish. White oil, chili and garlic sprays and diluted milk will be you new best friends.

The planting density in an Aquaponics setup can be fairly thick given the even spread of nutrients from the water. Reports from forums state that you can plant most things at around half to 1/3 of the spacings that are recommended for dirt gardening. This won’t apply to plants such as cabbage or possibly tomatoes which spread to a large size.

Right now, I’ve got the area measured up, some seedlings getting ready to transplant, and another week or so to wait till my kit turns up!