Monday, December 27, 2010

Garden Update

This last fortnight or so around Christmas we have been experiencing what the local fishermen call The Black Easterly.

The weather has been warm, quite comfortable actually with lots of cloud cover and rather overcast with a strong wind from the east, hence the term Black Easterly. This is apparently caused around this time of the year by higher temperatures in Perth and to the north. Perth had 39/40 degrees celcius (102.2 F) Christmas Day. This creates a pressure system that scoops down the coast in an anti-clockwise direction past Cape Leeuwin and circles around to the coast and overland delivering strong easterly winds and off-shore breezes to Albany and the Great Southern region.

Today however the sky is blue for us and the wind is gentler, but still drying and consistent.

The tadpoles I brought back from my brothers place have all changed to frogs and are the most delightful little friends around the pond. They are Motorbike Frogs - due to the sound of their call and I spied two this morning on the edge of the pond. One was dark against a piece of the plastic liner and the other had just come out of the water and was a vivid lime green colour with a yellow stripe down it the length of its back and a stylishly black line through its eye from the tip of its mouth to half-way down its side. The contrast between the two was amazing and I wasn't aware that they changed colour so extremely.

The choko vine near the clothes line is now making its way along parts of the deck as is the grapw vine that we planted last autumn. The passionfruit has slowed down its growth and is setting fruit which will probably be ready in a few weeks once the heat comes a little more extreme.

Leading up to Christmas one of the mallees lost one half of its brances and I had to cut it out and I mulched the small limbs to put on the garden and made some into roosts for the chook coop.

The other fairly major things that were going on were the arrival of the chooks -written about below- and a huge quantity of grass clippings delivered by a friend with a lawn-mowing round. This is lawn from rather large community areas where the lawn is not really fertilised or sprayed very much so I was happy to take it as the garden is needing that extra bulk.

Also, I placed bids in a silent auction by the local city council for steel and wood shelving and some work benches. I won quite a number of the bids and had an interesting afternoon shifting it with just a single trailor and the aid of my dad, brother and a very switched on young, fork-lift operator called Ben. Most of this I have placed into the shed to organise it much better and give me more working space and the ability to find things more quickly and easily. The rest is going to be used under the house decking to create other pieces of garden infrastructure that will assist with my new ventures of seed saving, aquaponics and worm farming.

The sunflowers are flowering and I did lose one the other night to the ominous Black Easterly, but it hadn't started to bud open just yet which was good. The first one to flower has now started to form seeds and must be an incredible weight for such a narrow, tall stemmed plant.

The Cabbage Moths are out in force but with the use of a little dipel spray now and then I have managed to keep the caterpillars under control. The peas on the deck and in the garden are flowering also and some are just starting to set pods, just as the zuchini is starting to set its fruit also.

We will no doubt have an adequate supply of tomatoes this year. Perhaps not the abundance I was aiming for in order to preserve some with recipes from my Christmas present "Nourishing Traditions", but enough for fresh consumption which is still a plus - and to keep the guinea pigs happy!

I have just had the most amazing lunch served up in front of me of tapas and salads and some of the snapper we cooked in a salt crust. So I must go. But I will be back to add more notes because it is a busy time of the year.

The Chooks!

The chooks arrived in town on a little truck crammed with all the other chooks on the tenth of December. I think they were so glad to be away from the noise and clammer of the farm and all the other chickens that they settled into their new home readily and even began laying the following day.

I had set up the yard that so if I were a chook, I'd have liked it when I saw it too. A nice, safe little coop with high roosts. A straw-yard to dig around in with a huge pile of compost chock full of wriggly worms. Some pellets and wheat and some rainwater from the tank.

We average about two eggs a day between three chooks which is just enough to replenish what we use on a regular basis with a couple of days reserve in advance.

They have since made short work of the huge compost pile and after cleaning up a bit today in the straw-yard I was amazed to observe how dramatically they have changed their environment. Just about every green, leafy herb or plant has been . . . . decimated. They have legs on them like emus. After raking the ground over the only plants standing are the gum, the tamarillo ( the mighty, mighty tamarillo) and a clump of exuberant, fancy landscaping grass in a pot which is half dead and has probably been ear-marked as a possible future nest site.

This is good.

The nasturtiums and the potato plants have vanished and the scraps from the kitchen and some from my brothers catering business get churned around and pecked at and made into compost quite easily and quickly.

There is one chook that gets out quite regularly despite our efforts to barricade the gate with pot plants. They are easy enough to catch though and have a peculiar habit of kind of hunkering down and flattening themselves against the ground while doing a little stomping dance. They do this and stay put and are easy enough to just pick up and pop back over the fence. There is very little running about involved - unlike the guinea pigs!

I am very happy with the way the chickens have been going and the fact that they are really quite quiet. Just a noisy episode now and then which I think is usually when a cat is in the yard and sets them off.

They are Isa Brown chooks which I settled upon for their quiet nature, egg laying regularity and compost producing ability. They are therefore a hybrid breed and perhaps one day when I have a larger space I will go in for having a more traditional breed of chook after researching several varieties.

Until then, they have really completed that final missing link in the garden that I have been planning for nearly a year.

Garden Weed Audit

I have decided it could prove an interesting exercise to stop ignoring the weeds in the garden and to allow them to grow and do an audit of those that I can identify.

The first thing I have noticed is that once you allow weeds to grow beyond any stage where you might initially identify them as weeds and pull them out, they quite often change their appearance.

They may grow much larger, the leaf shape may change, they may have quite an interesting flower or other peculiarities compared to the rest of the garden plants.

I have always been amazed at the resilience of weeds and the conditions in which they will grow and often thrive.

So I have created a page to keep a kind of catalogue of the weeds that come up in the garden and the variety has been an eye opener to say the least - not to mention the uses that some of them have.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Garden Update & Observations

I spent a little time this evening wandering the garden hand watering. I find that watering with the watering can makes time for me to observe what is happening in the garden and to notice the daily changes. And at this time of the year there are lots of daily changes.

For instance. The choko on the west side of the house has been averaging about 10cms growth on its main runners the last couple of days.

Joy of joys! I noticed several tiny flowers forming on the Babaco. I'm looking forward to seeing what this plant creates with them. The other plant has not formed flowers yet but I think perhaps it may given time now.

The tamarillo is an absolute giant. I'm really not sure what to make of it but I am enjoying watching its growth. It is now probably ten foot high and was about 2 feet high when I bought it and planted it out in Jan/Feb of this year. I was delighted to see it had about 3 flower bunches on it and began to form these much further just a few weeks back during the warm spell. Now as the top continues to grow there are several branches out and each one of these has a flower bunch forming on it as well. It is fairly heavily mulched and I've even had to trim back one of the mallees to give it more growing room. It is also companioned with a very exuberant nasturtium that is protecting the soil around it. I give it a decent amount of water but it is not regularly and the odd scraps of blood and bone and dynamic lifter are thrown its way. I shudder to think what might become of it once the chicken coop is in place and it has chickens running around under it dropping manure!

I noticed that the tahitian lime is still holding many of its tiny fruit and those remaining are starting to swell out. This is heartening as I really would like some limes this summer and I would like to be able to grow citrus well after the success we had in autumn with the meyer lemon. I thought we might have lost the lemon as it wasn't looking well and on closer inspection I discovered it was water logged in the half wine barrel. I drilled some more holes into it one morning and the small tree now has flowers nearly ready to bloom.

The watercress in the water pot with the gambusia has grown quite tall, but with tiny leavs and I noticed that there are small aerial roots forming near the leaves. I've never really noticed this before but I guess it is what it would do on open water as do some mint.

The day lillies are expected to bloom in the next few weeks and the fuchsia is doing really well as are some of the rescued hydrangea from the beach house.

The ground tomato planted with the other tomatoes is increasing its coverage and leaf size and is now starting to fruit prolifically. The initial plant was rather stunted and yet had tiny, tiny flowers on it. These still seem to be developing, but the plant is now also developing much more mature looking fruit and leaves. As is the apricot after being in small pots for the last 7 odd years. If it wasn't for the heavy shower and the odd hail storm while it was flowering, I'm confident it would have supplied fruit this year - as would the nectarine it not for the showers and a nasty dose of leaf curl I didn't catch in time.

Even the guinea pigs are doing well and have beautiful shiny coats and a good demeanour. So much more happier than when we first got them. They were in such a sorry state - now that we have seen how well they are doing after recovering from mange.

I am pleased with the first stage of the chicken coop which I have made from abandoned packing pallets and two old wooden bed frames. I still have a small salvage yards worth of wood and bits and pieces under the house to finish it off with. I am looking forward to getting chickens though.

The asparagus grown from Diggers seed is doing well also. Another near miss with a water-logged barrel, but they are doing really well and once they die down I have plenty of room to give a good top coat of manure and mulch now that the soil has settled. I have planted them in a barrel so that they can be moved around or even move house at a future time. I know they don't like too much unsettling.

The pepino is flowering madly and sending out branches everywhere. Even getting quite intimate with the sunflowers that are nearly over fence height and at least seven foot. Still no visible fruits forming on the pepino. I thought today that I should take extra cuttings also and plant it in other areas of the garden.

I got a generous handful of alpine strawberries this morning. These were from plants grown from seed which I am proud of. I usually leave them for my wife to pick as she LOVES strawberries and likes to treat the "binnies" (guinea pigs) to a taste test sometimes. They needed picking today though and tasted delicious. They have a normal, sweet strawberry flavour with a hint of something much more floral and intense lurking in the background. I could almost describe it as an 'artificial' taste it is quite unusual, but pleasant.

The majority of the cabbage have been a disappointment. I throw the odd leaf to the binnies and rest is slowly going into the compost or used for mulch. There are some small hearts available, but some are also bolting and splitting straight out. I plan to have a couple of beds in my eventual aquaponics set-up dedicated to cabbages, broccoli, basil and tomatoes.

The nelly kelly passionfruit is doing extremely well and I am surprised at how quickly fruit is forming. It's almost like the fruit is doubling over night.

There are lots of cabbage moths and diamond back moths around and I have sprayed some of the plants with Dipel to knock back a few of the caterpillars. They are just munching through everything it seems. Even the nasturtium has take a nasty hit.

I have also sprayed and treated some of the garden to a fulvic acid solution as recommended to me. I am interested to see what effect it might have.

Today I also invested in a paper shredder. I have put it off and tried to look at alternatives for what I want to do, but it seems such an easier way to get to what I am trying to achieve. I wish to use it as a garden mulch amongst other things.

There is something special about sheep manure too I think. It has really lifted the richness of the sandy slope that the garden is based on. It attracts and keeps earthworms around and I think after further mulching I will scatter some more around and then mulch over that also.

This evening I planted out some more cosmos seedlings into the food forest and some cucumber seedlings that I had planted our for my brother to use. The zuchini seeds planted out a few weeks back appeared to have slowed down but the last day or two are doing well. Probably not getting much water on a too well drained slope.

The lobelia and coastal daisies are doing well in the planter baskets. I suspect it has something to do with me putting water crystals in the soil as I am not watering too frequently and they are blooming nicely in a very sunny and windy spot.

The top garden tomatoes are setting their fruit well. These have survived the winter and came up through the horse manure I laid out. I am not sure what kind of tomato they are but if they are no good I am sure the binnies will love them just the same. They LOVE tomatoes. And parsley and strawberries.

I have also planted out peas that I had ready for my brother but it doesn't look like he will have time to look after them so they are being placed in random spots around the garden.

The raspberries and gooseberries I planted out last Thursday are doing well. Minimal leaf burn and just the odd curling leave. I have surrounded them with a good compost mix from the very bowels of the aerobin and keep the water up to them while they settle in.

The jeusalem artichokes given to me by a friend are in a bit of soil in a cardboard box and they seem to be liking it too. I wasn't sure where to put them and thought that they might go ok in the chook yard area. My friend disagreed and warned me the chooks would love them. So they are in a box with a couple of other cardboard boxes for company that are filled with potato plants that are rocketing along as part of the living mulch at the base of the giant sky-seeking tamarillo.

More Elements Work

Sunlight I must make this remark right from the start. I have travelled the world and been as far north as the Artic Circle in summer and as far south as southern Victoria. Never, however have I experienced the sun as intense and as ‘hot’ as here in Albany, WA. I have been told it is similar in Tasmania too. I suspect it is for various reasons such as our proximity to the Antarctic Ozone Hole and the fact that it also has a natural lessening of ozone during our Spring. Regardless, the sunlight even on overcast days can be savage – so a garden that has a good balance of just enough light and plenty of shade seems to make sense to me.

Grape VinesThese grow vertically along the north facing lower portion of the house. They were chosen for this spot as there is ample sun, ample room to grow both up and outwards, plenty of air flow and also because they lose their leaves during the colder months. This permits easy access to the wood work for maintenance and provides leaves for mulch/composting. Fruit yields are welcome in the house. Two varieties grown – a white grape and a dark grape.

Passionfruit VineSituated facing west for long hours of sunlight exposure in the summer months. It also shades the west-facing shed wall, hopefully aiding in keeping it cooler given it is sheet metal. There is also plenty of room for the vine to spread and it may be permitted to grow across part of the chook house to provide shelter.

Choko VineSelected for ample fruit production and its many welcomed uses in the house. Situated on the west facing wood panelled wall due to its height and also the wide horizontal space available to train the vine along. Also given that it is easily removed when it dies back in winter it will also allow for easy access to the woodwork for periods of maintenance. An extra food source for chickens and guinea pigs (which don’t seem that keen on it actually) and also excellent green material for composting.

Pumpkins & Melons Along the east side of the dwelling is a drive-way of crushed limestone with a garden bed bordering the fence-line. This space is not planned to be used but is best reserved for use/access to garden. As such it is planned as an ideal area to allow pumpkins or melons to sprawl over as it will no doubt cool the ground over the summer months and provide pumpkins and melons with the addition of plenty of composting material at the end of the season.

ChickensThese will be introduced to provide a source of rich manure for the garden, for eggs and pest reduction and also for recycling of kitchen scraps and organic matter from the garden. Not long to go now, nearly finished their house and I have been told of a reliable source for young hens.

Pond Within the pond will be elements such as:

  • Local reeds and rushes for supporting local amphibians and insects.
  • Pond weed to assist the water in remaining clean and for composting.
  • Various water plants such as Watercress, Water mint, Water chestnut and Vietnamese mint.
  • I have used goldfish due to their availability and fondness of mosquito larvae and in smaller containers around the garden I have placed Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) Gambusia also thrive due to their habits of consuming fecal matter and general organic waste. Amazingly they have a high tolerance for salinity, low oxygen, extreme temperatures (from 0.5-35 degrees Celsius), and pollutants, and are therefore able to live in many areas where other fish cannot. For this reason they are doing well in ceramic pots of water where they are contained and can eliminate mosquito larvae. I was not previously aware but they are resistant to a wide variety of pollutants, including organic waste, heavy metals, insecticides, herbicides, rotenone, phenol, and radiation. Wikipedia reports that Ichthyologists believe that the reason for low mosquito levels in areas populated by gambusia is not because of the fish, but rather the insecticide in the water killing the larvae. I have even set up a bowl in the kitchen with gambusia and use it to grow mint cuttings from the garden and other cuttings I wish to strike.

Citrus GroveAs a rough plan I am thinking of growing citrus in containers. The reason being they can be shifted to suitable areas over time and one of the contributing factors in the gardens design is the ability to dismantle much of it should be move on and still have a working garden left behind. Therefore I am looking at potted citrus trees. Meyer lemon, Tahitian Lime, Kafir Lime, Kumquat and perhaps an orange. These will not only contribute fruit but also shade to the play area, perfumed air when flowering and aesthetic beauty in that they will also be sitting above ground and add a further dimension to the garden. I have heard that half wine barrels are available from a local winery for a reasonable price compared to that of commercial gardening centres in town. I am looking at these as a way of utilising second hand, local materials from a renewable source.

BabacoI am keen to try these trees due to their high yield and suitability to a colder climate than papaya. They will provide a fruit yield and also green matter for composting, shade and chook feed. I have also just sponsored two Mountain Pawpaw plants that were orphaned.

Echinacea & Other Medicinal Herbs – Gradually taking off from seed but very slowly and not even ten cms tall after nearly six months. They have been colder months though. Used for decoration, bee attractant and eventually for tisanes. I have a small plantation of aloes coming along too and the collection of medicinal herbs is growing.

CarobTo be planted on the west fence line as the soil is well suited to this tree and it provides its valuable pods. It is also the right height to use as a natural screen to the neighbours backyard and is drought tolerant.

TamarilloI have placed a small plant still in a pot from the nursery under the trees at the back while I get the garden organised. It really wasn’t a happy plant when I bought it and I purchased it much like a sympathetic dog owner might pick-up a pleading, whimpering pooch from a dog pound. It loves this spot though and has come on strong as it obviously gets enough summer light and is in a sheltered position. This is good news as I plan to plant it just a few feet out from the trees and my plan of a small fruit and berry jungle seems to be on track in this location.

Sweet PotatoI will try this to see how it goes as a groundcover while other plants are starting off and to aid in lowering water run-off. Update: Lost leaves over winter but is leafing up again and looks set to take off with the warmer weather. Small tubers already noticed under pots in the garden.

NasturtiumsI’m big on nasturtiums. They grow well here and in areas where I have the space I just let them go as I find they make great pioneer plants and keep the soil shaded whilst other plants establish. They have brilliant flowers for the kitchen and the odd leaves for salads and when I need some space they are great for the compost bin!

ComfreyPlanted to grow in the wetter, lower part of the garden to improve the soil and to also add to compost for its nutrient properties and as a green manure.

Guinea PigsThe second day in our house and my wife had already put her hand up for either guinea pigs or a rabbit. We ended up with Guinea Pigs that night. Two females that were past their prime but welcomed with open arms to a waiting cardboard box. This proved useful for as soon as we were in the house we had scraps to be consumed for the guinea pigs also. Within an afternoon I had converted a glass cabinet we’d picked up with other furniture into a hutch with an open and enclosed area. The other off-cut will probably be transformed into a hen-house.

Aerobin After trying various methods of composting in different house set-ups I settled on an Aerobin to transform our waste. It has already been nearly filled in just over a week with garden material, cardboard from food boxes used during moving, randomly pulled weeds, food scraps and the newspaper and waste taken from the guinea pig hutch.

House-hold waste is sorted in the kitchen. Food scraps go to either the guinea pigs or to a bucket for the aerobin. Recyclable materials go into a box and are taken under the house for sorting. Newspapers generally are used in lining the guinea pig hutch and are then placed in the aerobin along with whatever food scraps haven’t been eaten. Very few items are placed into the rubbish bin for council pick-up. Other items that are not totally unusable are placed under the house for use in art projects where I am looking at turning them into pieces of art rather than landfill. All in all there is very little that goes into the council bin for collection and most bio-waste is eventually put into either the aerobin or directly into the garden itself.

Also stored under the house with easy access to the materials stored there such as paper, cardboard, straw etc and manures. Not required to be in sunlight as it is insulated to retain the heat given off when breaking down, therefore it is also another structure that isn’t taking up valuable planting space in the garden.

Rainwater TankLocated at the lower end of the house and under the deck which keeps it cool, sheltered and doesn’t take up valuable garden space and sunlight in a garden area where space is at a premium. There is also space for adding a further tank in the future.

Red-Capped Parrots & Western Rosellas These call in now and then to feed in the eucalypt trees at the back and so far are a welcome native visitor thought they can be hard on the fruit trees.

New Holland Honeyeaters & Western Silvereyes Also frequent the garden to feed on the eucalypt blossoms and search for insects.

Bees Not a day goes by without a visit from them. Even in the very early hours of the morning they are already busy in the lavender blossoms and the Prairie plants at the side of the path. While the eucalypts are flowering they also move amongst the trees.

Ants Apparently we have one of the highest ant populations in the state across the Great Southern Region. Being on sand with pockets of coffee rock and good drainage I can see why. Trails of ants line the back fence and I have taken to placing a mix of sugar and borax in problem spots near the house. This they seem to love and will settle around it like at a watering hole, feeding on the stuff. After a week I have yet to discover whether I am baiting them or feeding them. The only exception thus far seems to be the odd ant that gets stuck in the stuff.

Deck Often we have our meals here. It is used for relaxation (hammock) and also for capturing warmth for sun-loving plants like the Dragon fruit, small herbs starting out, water plants like mints and water-chestnuts. It is also where the small greenhouse is located so that plants can be monitored easily and watered. Also there is the guinea pig hutch for easy access and feeding them kitchen scraps as they become available. Several hanging baskets add an attractive element to the deck and a small freezer is tucked into a corner for easy access from the kitchen or laundry. The deck is also ideally situated overlooking most of the garden area except the very eastern wall and a corner behind the shed. Because of this it is easy to observe what is going on in the garden.

Clothes Line Located on the west-side of the deck with easy access from the laundry. It is mid-way along what is to become the Mediterranean garden as it is at a high point in the garden ( and therefore has very good drainage ) and receives the sun at its most intense during the day. I plan to nurture the herbs that have naturally filled this area such as oregano and rock daisy and to further add mints that will fill areas and deter ants from getting too close to the house foundations. The clothes line offers intermittent shade when being used and some water as clothes drip dry. Many of these plants also help to keep the dust down in an area where there is little cement and lots of crushed limestone.

Seed plots After purchasing a mix of grains and seeds for the guinea pigs it was discovered they really weren’t that keen on the stuff except for the odd pellet. So we bought a small bag of pellets to supplement their diet and I have sowed the grains and seeds to provide for a green crop for the guinea pigs whilst also preparing the soil for later plantings.

Other small plots are where seeds from kitchen scraps are tossed to self-sow and are either used as a green feed for guinea pigs or are used for composting or buried straight into the garden.

Rosemary Hedge This has been planted with cuttings taken from the larger Rosemary bush in the Mediterranean garden. It is located between our driveway and the neighbours on a slope that is particularly well drained and sandy. Its purpose is to provide a shelter from dust and rubbish blowing down the street, to provide a natural boundary, able to be used for the kitchen, very drought tolerant and probably won’t even need watering once established, assists in holding the soil together.

Tool Shed and Art Studio A square shed already on site when we purchased the house. It has created a very sheltered corner in the north-east which I plan to use in placing the chook pen there. Possible future channelling of run off water for specific use in areas of the garden or as a top up for the pond and wet garden. The west-side will be utilised in supporting the trellis for the passionfruit vine.

Spearhead MalleePlanted along the back fence-line about four years ago they have grown to over 12 feet high and are currently just the perfect height to screen out neighbours and other house directly to the north whilst the natural surrounding bushland can still be seen. They attract native birds, bees and ants and have proven very helpful in providing shade for fruit trees and potted plants that are standing by for planting.

House structure and placementOur house is primarily a wooden structure and solar passive designed so there is a lot of glass facing to the north of the house which is where the main living and dining area is. The bathroom is situated on the west side and captures the afternoon sun. Most of the living area is still shaded in summer whilst the dipping winter sun comes through into the house a lot more.

Given that the kitchen is lit with a lot of natural light I have placed a variety of indoor plants in this area as a natural lung for the house. These are plants that are known for cleaning the air and providing oxygen whilst some are really just pets such as an Umbrella Tree Schefflera arboricola.

The other area that is ideal for plants is the bathroom. This acts as a natural lung for the other portion of the house that is mainly the 3 bedrooms. In the bathroom are Spider Plants Chlorophytum comosum and a variety of ferns. Given that air cleansing is also done by the soil microbes they are planted into composting materials.

Native GardenAt the front of the house is a native garden planted on a very sandy, rocky area that borders a public path leading up to the shopping centre. It is a rarely visited part of the garden and there is little need to except when checking the letterbox. I plan to keep it this way and preserve it as a little pocket of native bush that will be very low maintenance and with a low water need. I have some native bushes that I will plant in and once established the garden will really only require a bit of weeding to remove stray grasses and weeds and perhaps the odd spray of water during extended dry periods.

Berries Blueberries have been planted to grow in the wetter, lower part of the garden where nicely shaded. I have just introduced raspberries and boysenberries to the strip garden where they can be more easily contained between compacted earth and pebbles.

Potato patchReally being utilised while the soil breaks down and I can then plant in other plants such as more berries or Jerusalem artichokes. It’s the more distant part of the garden and is frequented the least.

Creatures!Last summer we had an abundance of locusts on the then dead, dry lawn. In early spring we had a massive outbreak of slugs and snails. Possibly from the horse manure brought into the garden and the lovely fresh greens available for them. In early November the whole of Albany seemed to have been engulfed with Diamond Back Moths (Plutella xylostella), blowflies and bushflies and caterpillars on everything!

All quite possibly due to light rains and high twenties/early thirties temperatures. The garden took off during this time – as did the pests. Even aphids were seen in swarms appearing like midgies! They particularly like the very fine shallots I have growing and are covering it like a black mass. There have been only the occasional sightings of spiders, preying mantis and lady bugs – but they are around – as to are the hoverflies.

There have been days where the fly trap has trapped so many flies that it has stacked them up to 5cms thick and just about rendered the trap ineffective until emptied.

MiceThese seemed to come and go and are not to my knowledge in plague proportions but I am keeping an eye on them. At the moment the area under the deck is a mess of bits of wood, plant pots, compost tea, a worm farm and other stuff. Once the chicken coop is built and other pieces made from the materials I will no doubt get rid of much of the favourite playground. I have not yet found the mice to be destructive in any way and so am observing how they fit into the system and interact. This may prove to be otherwise once the chooks arrive.

“It is not the number of diverse things in a design that leads to

stability, it is the number of beneficial connections between

these components”

Mollison 1988.

Thus, in setting up the garden in the first instance I have really looked at the multiple uses for each of the elements added. My thinking at the moment is that it is even more important in the current setting because of the limited space. I really hope to have a highly intensive and self-sustaining garden that is very efficient at food items and recycling the energy within. I know that a good soil is going to be able to carry the load so I am looking at ways of utilising just about everything possible to re-use and recycle energy within the system.

As I approach finishing my notes on this module I am also looking at how I can support my brother in his catering business by growing a good supply of fresh herbs and salads to cut his costs. Having worked in the industry myself I am aware of the high costs of fresh herbs and the impact they can have on making a meal look absolutely appetising. So that is another side project to look at incorporating into the system…

… along with my other projects of the chook house and eventually some form of aquaponics set-up, I am in the early stages of setting up a local Seed Savers Network. I was amazed that nobody had already done so in the area. I looked into it ten years ago and I like even more the fact that they are localising the growing. This will also add a community element to the garden with the networking of like-minded people and the sharing of seeds and cuttings.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beyond My Backyard

We travelled to Perth last Thursday/Friday. Up through fields and fields of drying wheat, rye and canola. Through a canvas of parched land and 5 inch crops. The land looked dead and beat. Ironically there was a very light sprinkling of rain as we passed through Wandering and there were in fact fields that were greening up. Obviously after some unseasonal precipitation. I think its too late though. It looks like its going to be a terrible, terrible harvest this year.

I couldn't figure it out. I'm not a farmer. But just looking at it all has me thinking there has to be a better way and I'm sure permaculture holds some answers. It's not mainstream thinking for the families that work on the land, but I'm sure there are key approaches to reaping a harvest that may at first be a much smaller one, but which would carry through the generations simply building on the wealth that comes when a part of the land is looked after and the soil is built up.

Instead it simply appears that farms are just getting bigger in order to cut costs and make some sort of profit. How big does a cancer get before you decide it isn't doing any good and something should be done?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Relationships in the System

This image shows some of the relationships existing in the house design at the moment. This is really just the surface of it and shows a limited number of elements but gives an example of their interconnectedness.

Babies on the March

It feels like it could be a hot one for Melbourne Cup race day. I was in the garden early watering and noticed these tiny preying mantis. So new to the world and on the hunt for food already. I'm not sure how long they have been out but by the number of them (there were several) in the one area I would assume they have only been out a few short hours.

They reminded me of the usefulness of the wood panels around the lower part of the house. These panels are frequented by all sorts of insect life such as spiders, flies, moths and preying mantids. So the panels are useful because they act like a super highway for insects such as the mantids to move around the garden quite quickly and still be protected from open air predators such as birds.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Garden Finds

It pays to check your garden gloves if you should happen to have left them lying around for some time. This is a good find (at the bottom of a pot that had others inside it). I do happen to like Huntsman Spiders and its another to add to my list of garden critters.

These I am not so fond of. Past experience has proven to me these somewhat pretty looking butterflies/moths like to leave eggs on grapevines that hatch into creepy looking caterpillars than can decimate a vine if not kept in check. I shall have to have a good inspection of the garden in a couple of days.

And this is Gizmo just before he wisely decided to withdraw from the garden bed and NOT dig it up this time - since the camera was out.

"Oh no - sprung! Abort mission, evasive action . . . . . It wasn't me!"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Before & After - 8 Months

Just 8 months ago we moved home into a much smaller block with a predominantly native garden. A wide strip of grass and lots of natural, native sand. I've finally got around to getting some before and after photos uploaded. The photo below was taken on the 29th October 2010. I had to laugh! The water bowl in the top photo has been moved around numerous times throughout the garden. Look at where it turns up in the photo below - not far from where it started actually!

One of the main design changes has been moving the concrete edging further out to widen the plant garden and the replacing of the lawned area with limestone pebbles. This has actually kept a more moist and humid environment which gives earthworms greater access and movement than then lawn appeared to. In digging up the lawn it was incredible to see just how resilient it was. The sand held no water (this was during late summer early autumn) and was very dry to at least a foot and a half which is about where the roots of the grass stopped!

The photo above was taken in March 2010. Not long after the initial changes to the garden beds after a hand from my brother. The original reticulation piping was modified to follow the concrete edging but to date has never had to be used. As is evident in the photo below the garden has established well. There is a much larger tamarillo (now over 7 foot tall and ready to flower) at the edge of the shed. In the last few weeks the passionfruit has put on height and is sending out shoots to the side. Cabbages, beans, lettuce and nasturtium cover most of the ground with sweet potato beginning to leaf up again after runners were planted early winter. The leaves died down and it is looking at growing further with indications of several small tubers already forming in banks of soil and mulch.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wild, Wild Weather

I have struggled with getting my thoughts and records onto this blog, but I think I’ve overcome the cause and I’m grateful because it is also a great way to record some of the weather changes in the area from time to time.

For instance, this morning was slightly overcast and by about midday we were having lashing rain showers for several minutes before breaking into a sunny spell, then a short burst of hail.

Into the afternoon there was been strong wind gusts and even now at 21:30 it is on and off out there.

Hopefully the tamarilloes are faring well with the hail and the lemon isn’t too water logged. At least not until morning when I can get to it and drill some more drainage holes.

Notes to Self 24th September 2010

  • The aerobin is appearing to work well. I have continued to pile in layers and layers of organic matter and still it sinks further and has a good temperature. The main challenge is having it take in the guinea pig paper every second day or so. As this isn’t shredded I usually add it and then water it over to help it break down quicker. The addition of fresh, green grasses and weeds from the garden seem to really assist with the raising of the temperature.
  • Last Tuesday (21st) was quite a beautiful day and it was as though the flies arrived all at once. Blowflies were out in good numbers!
  • After observing the difference between the horse manure and the sheep manure I would have to say that the sheep manure is much richer and attracts the red wriggler compost worms whereas the horse manure once broken down attracts more of the native worms.
  • After replacing the agapanthus at my mother-in-laws house with roses that she had in pots I wasn’t sure what to do with the agapanthus, weeds and grasses left over. In the end I brought it all back home and put some in the aerobin and the rest I piled up around the side of the house and placed a black tarp over it weighted down in the hope that it will eventually decompose down and I can either use it in the garden or feed it into other compost piles once there is more room. I am interested to see how it goes.
  • In the past fortnight the spinach is doing really well, the alpine strawberries are flourishing and setting good fruit counts. The lime is about to flower again though doesn’t seem to want to set fruit. The lemon is still holding its fruit and will probably be relieved of these this weekend in order to allow further flowers to fruit and to assist with its postural development.
  • Most of the garden is doing really well. The pepino cutting I was given is really taking off since I have planted it out and the weather is warmer. I plan to grow it up along a fence trellis.
  • I have moved both the water drums/tanks. One is at the far back filled with water and newspapers as I am wanting to see how well it breaks down and also how quickly it breaks down once put out into the garden in a more liquid state. I have a theory that given that it is an organic medium, if I can break it down and add some nutrient value to it such as mollases for mirco-organisms and some blood and bone, then maybe it will make a good mulch or soil builder – much like the horse manure has been. If this is the case – and I hope it to be so – then I envisage it enabling me to add it regularly to the garden in similar cycles to that of adding manures or pea hay. The other drum is under the house next to the aerobin to be utilised as a compost tea brewer.
  • The choko on the west side is doing really well. Others planted in the garden to be trained up the mallee’s are not as quick, possibly due to less water.
  • The grape canes are all breaking out in leaf.
  • The red cabbages are starting to take shape slowly and the celery over the last month or so has been really affected by what has almost been a plague of slugs. They are everywhere and I am wondering if it has been because of the horse manure – given that it has kept the soil moist and there has been lots of green leafy growth around. For the longest time the celery was unaffected by anything and then gradually it has succumbed. I have taken some plants out altogether and am down to about four. I have planted other seedlings and some are in my paper pots ready for planting out.
  • Regarding the paper pots. I have made the following observations. As far as allowing the seedling to send out roots and remain relatively undisturbed when planted out they are fantastic. Even nasturtiums planted out into drier soil or showing none of the indications of wilting that you would almost expect from planting out normally, even in well watered soil. The unique feature I have discovered is that given the water is taken up by the paper it is also easily evaporated from the paper and this has meant I have really had to watch the water and make sure the seedlings are not drying out. Fitting the pots into trays where I can saturate the bottom has worked well as the pots basically then act as a wick to carry water to the growing seedling. I lost several celery seedlings before I realised what was happening. Despite damp weather the wind and sun action alone still tends to dry out the pots consistently. I am excited by the discovery of these pots though and even though they take some time I really think they are worth the effort.
Above: Red and Yellow Cherry Tomato seedlings from last summers favourites transplanted into pots for further growing out before either planting once space becomes available or for giving away.

Notes to Self from the 11th August 2010

• The temporary grey-water set up has done us well through autumn and winter, however it still requires more time and effort and we are not always available to monitor it. Another barrel has been installed but I am not sure it is working properly. It is supposed to be the end of winter but with sunny days, chilly nights and the odd winds the garden is damp, but dries quickly, even with vegetables growing over it. I can see already that with the water we use on a day to day basis we will adequately cover the water requirements of the gardens, but I need to work on supplying that water in an easier, more efficient and broad-scale manner. I have set up two large 44 gallon drums which my Dad was getting rid of. These are being filled with water manually from the grey-water tanks and simply drip into the side gardens to gravity feed them. I am prepared to manually fill these (every second or third day) as long as I can spread the coverage of the main greywater tanks across the rest of the gardens. I am confident that the front garden will take care of itself with a fortnightly watering.
• Under the house has turned into a rubbish tip during winter. This is a huge disappointment. The saving grace of sorts being that it is not visible and it can be sorted out when time permits. I have pondered on setting up bay compost bins but there is limited room and I wondered if it might be something that would work well under the deck? I am not sure given that I don’t want to attract either ants or white ants but it is such a huge space that I would like to devise some way of using it to its capacity. At the moment it is storage for excess papers and cardboard boxes. This is one of the main reasons for wanting to set up better storage and possibly composting bays.
• I would like to introduce more native bushes too. Small, compact with lots of flowers for the birdlife. An understorey of these may do well along the back fence.
• Utilising the vertical space is, I think, a priority. Not much is happening at the moment in winter but as spring approaches I am thinking of the best use for particular areas and what might grow well there.

• List for work to be done:
• Front garden natives need pruning
• Greywater system completed and refined.
• Boxes and papers sorted out under deck for better access to remainder of underhouse. Possible area for compost bays or worm farms marked out. Worm farms would use up paper also and greywater. They could be raised off the ground to reduce attracting ants or white ants and any run-off could be either tapped into bottles for storage or gravity-fed directly into the garden beds.
• Re-defining the kitchen sink run-off. Looking into creating more of a reed bed with run-off channels more clearly defined.
• Digging over of back compost heap with a view to create an area for the chook run.
• Adding extra colour to the garden with flowers for companion planting. The marigolds have been a real boon. I have not really planted flowers before and after having the marigolds flower continuously since planting in March I am delighted. They have added bright orange and yellow splashes to a winter garden that would have been grey and green with a couple of lemons! Plant more flowers!

What is working

  • Organic carrot tops from the farmers market were sprouted in water and peroxide then planted into the garden. They have taken and are now bushing out in lovely green tufts. I am hoping they will supply insect-attracting flowers in spring and seeds for planting later in the year. Potato tops also planted out are doing well and already a small harvest has been made with several smaller potatoes put aside to be re-planted.
  • Having a compost pile that extra green waste can go onto and the paper from the guinea pigs cage can be used for is damn handy. Thus I would like to have an open compost set-up somewhere and am tempted (given space restrictions) to utilise the area under the outside decking.
  • The pond is going well. The fish are alive and well after not being seen for some weeks since we put them in there. The pondweed on top is growing at a steady rate and is quite thick as it gets pushed together by the action of the fountain each day. I harvest this excess weed and add it to the aerobin. This will be a handy addition to an open compost pile in the future.
  • The eastern garden is doing remarkably well with cabbages and spinach. These were planted out as seedlings over a month ago. It may become a dedicated cabbage patch if things work out. I can make two gardens, a lower and a higher one and alternate between the two.
  • The aloe vera in pots is doing okay under the tree in winter. I am thinking that these can be moved out to be placed around the fruit trees in summer and get all the mid-day sun and cool the ground a bit. Along with some more pots of peppermint. This will be a juicing garden!
  • The aerobin is now working. After two dismal attempts at composting, all the initial material was removed and piled into a compost pile in the area put aside for the future chook pen. This appears to be working well as a conventional compost pile whilst the aerobin is being used to reduce the growing piles of newspapers in a high-fibre compost using alternate layers of shredded papers and green, leafy matter from the garden with additional kitchen scraps, hot manure and compost periodically added.

Guinea Pig Power

Sometimes something comes along that helps you realise there are other ways and they can be so simple. This video really shows an integrated set-up that supports itself. I'm in awe.


I heard a figure the other day I can’t really believe. At first I heard that Australian Agriculture accounts for 5% of our GDP. That in itself I found to be remarkably low. I have since heard figures quoted that are below this.

I guess what that figure means to me is a couple of things all in one.

  • I get the suspiscion that we are not making the most of our productive land as it stands.
  • That we really aren’t an agricultural nation at all -
  • and given that we aren’t an agricultural nation – where is it all coming from?!
  • It makes me wonder what percentage of our food products is imported – let alone shipped from state to state!

I have grown disheartened and outraged by our supermarkets. I don’t even like going there anymore. I am grateful for a local farmers market but I am just as determined to grow my own vegetables and foods and supplement these where needed from the farmers market.

Some years ago I was alarmed at the chemicals found in personal care products. I used to think the only aisle worth shopping from was the fruit and vege aisle. Now I’ve pretty much written that off too. The new world fresh food people ...... pigs bottom!

Water Harvest

I have had to amend the grey water system because there was still a lot of run-off from the first design and I wanted to catch this water to use. I have since added two more barrels to catch this water. These are connected with tapped hoses which I can either use to fill a watering can or run straight into the garden. I have been experimenting with a soaker hose and tapping the water into a soaker hose in the back garden. I now realize that I really should look at creating some swales. For several reasons. Firstly to make the most of the water I am putting into the garden. Also to create a soil stabilizer along the back fence to assist with the upkeep of the fence. The garden on the other side is slightly lower and I don’t wish to have built the garden up too high to put undue pressure on the metal fence.

I also believe it will create a better environment for the plants through what I am expecting to be a long, hot summer. So my plan is to empty the aerobin of its compost and use this to create a slight bank along the back fence. Just enough to make the most of the water supply and to create a more stable environment for the plants in that area.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


We have had humble harvests of beautiful meyer lemons, some rhubarb, magnificent new potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, celery (before the slugs took over!) and there has been nothing humble about the abundance of spinach!!! Some of which has even accompanied my wife to work to give away.

In time we hope to have a harvest of green cabbages which have hopefully been saved by caterpillars (dipel) and the passionfruit vine has taken off as have the choko vines. I planted two or three chokos at the base of two of the mallee trees and they are up to the first main limbs and are ready to climb further into the tree. The pepino cutting given to my by a friend in August sat on the window sill in water for some time before being planted into a well-drained sunny spot by the fence. It has taken off and is now just forming flower buds. I plan to keep the water up to it as my friends pepino has stopped fruiting at the moment – possibly he thinks, due to not being watered enough. I also wish to train it up the fence so have encouraged its growth in this way using supports.

Soil microbes

I recall attending a brief but informative seminar of worms and worm-farming in Perth some years ago. The main new idea I came away with was the fact that earthworms are lead to their food sources primarily by soil microbes. This inter-relationship fascinated me.

Then, more recently I made the connection between watering the garden with tap water (chlorinated water) as opposed to rainwater. If a garden is watered using chlorinated water it stands to reason that some percentage of soil microbes would be lost through contact with the chlorine. Worms don’t seem to be affected as much as I get a visual on their presence quite often, but microbes are too small.

In my garden it is watered from grey water which is for all intents and purposed recycled tap water. It would be interesting to know whether some of this chlorine ( and what about fluorine? ) is broken down as it is used (clothes washing, dishwashing etc).


What a warm September we have had. As a result I was busy early in the month sowing seeds and planting out ready for the season.

I tried sowing seeds in paper pots that I had folded. This worked really well except for the odd heavy rain shower which kept the pots too wet and the bottoms became very flimsy. Also, on warmer days, which we had plenty of, the pots would begin to dry out. So it was a bit of a juggle to keep them just right. Particularly if I was not able to get into the garden.

The best part was planting the pots straight into the soil. The seedlings handled the transition easily. I have limited my use of these pots to those plants whose seedlings do not transplant too well.

In the meantime I had discovered packets of seeds that I have had for some time and decided to scatter them through the garden. Some of these came up within days. Mainly radish and rocket. Others may not even sprout, but I am open to surprises.

The back of the garden has become much more of a jungle in the last few weeks. Gradually I have added potted plants here and there to make watering easier and have found that it has kept the soil moist and created a more varied environment. As a result, many of the cuttings of plants that I had planted months ago and forgotten about have survived frosts and emerged with vigor.

A few weeks back I also had what I can only describe as a huge outbreak of slugs. I was finding them everywhere in the morning and evenings. There was only so much collecting and feeding to the goldfish I could do. The goldfish clearly loved the protein and one even appears to be ready to lay eggs – and the compost bin could only take so much newspaper which I had scrunched up and placed amongst lettuce and cabbages to trap snails and slugs.

Recently a friend suggested I try a brand of snail and slug pellets that are iron chelate based and that break down to a safe form. I scattered some of these pellets last Monday afternoon and did not get out into the garden until Wednesday morning. I was amazed and a little taken back by the speed at which the pellets had worked. There wasn’t much to see at first – but I did notice the lack of slugs. Then I noticed snail shells lying on the rock pebbles and I realized that they had taken the bait. Some where clearly dead. Others looked alive, but in-active and I suspect were on their way out. On closer inspection I noticed slugs that had dried with yesterdays heat. They too had obviously taken the bait.

So it appears to have worked well in reducing the slugs and snails to a manageable level. I won’t scatter any more until I notice slugs are back and even then I will probably be able to keep them in check with the previous methods used.

The carrot tops I started to propagate in July are now looking very robust and I think they will be ready to flower in a couple more weeks. These were organic carrots that I will endeavor to save the seeds from and grow them myself.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Colours of August

It's a beautiful sunny day today. The marigolds have taken over the garden. They are the main bit of colour in the garden at the moment - apart from the bright yellow lemons. The garden is all green and orange and yellow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Winter Rains & Broad Beans

This original posting below I had saved and never got to post from the 29th July 2010. The reason for my posting it now is that today (31st Oct 2010) I counted several large bean pods. So despite the delay in planting and the amazingly warm September and October - we still managed to have some chilly nights and these are what probably got us through with what looks to being a modest broad bean harvest. The crimson flowered broad beans are still flowering and seem to be a little late in setting any pods. It still remains to be seen how they handle it.

So I am also curious to stagger next years crops over many months to see what works best. Here is the original post I wrote back in July...

It seems the winter rains are here. Clouds are sailing across the land dropping rain in sheets over the Great Southern.

The photo above is taken from the back deck looking north to the Porongurup Range across Yakamia valley.

After the warmer days and chilly nights I have deliberated about planting out broad beans this year and although having planted a small patch earlier around April I have only just planted a proper crop out over the last few days. I know they need a good cold spell while flowering to set a crop and I reckon they will get it later this year. Time will tell.

I am also trying a crop of red flowering broad beans. I bought a small bag of seeds from a dear lady selling organic seeds at the little farmers market in Nannup back in Feburary. I also soaked them before planting and they seemed to plump up nicely. Very good looking seeds. The sort I figure Jack would have had for his beanstalk.


A couple of weeks back I had a few different cuttings of plants, plus bits and pieces like carrot tops from the kitchen and pumpkin seeds.

So I put them to good use and have since planted most of them out into the garden now that the winter rains seem to have arrived.

The mint cuttings were placed in a jar of rainwater with a dash of hydrogen peroxide which I find really kicks things off. Most of them are planted out in pots scattered around the garden.

The carrot tops also loved a bit of peroxide and I applied this as a spray mixed with rainwater also and used a small spray bottle to give them a little shower each day. They are well underway in the garden and although will not provide an initial harvest, will assist in attracting some handy insects into the garden come spring and hopefully provide an abundance of carrot seeds for the garden next year.

Vertical Spaces

There is a lot of vertical space in the garden and around the house. I plan to utilise this to its maximum capability. At the moment we have peas growing out on the deck, but the plans are broader than that.

When we first moved in though, the woodwork such as the decking and around the lower half of the house had not been treated for some time. It was drying out and needed a bit of love. So I cleaned it down and gave it a few oil treatments. I realised that in my planning I would need to be mindful of this and so have come up with a plan.

The shed is galvanised iron and really cops the sun in summer, but needs no maintenance so I have set up a trellis which is where I have planted a passionfruit vine. This being an evergreen so it will shade the shed in summer and in winter it will keep the vine warmer from the trapped heat and the reflected heat from the shed. The trellis is set about a half foot off the shed wall so the vine doesn't burn altogether in summer.

The wood boarding around the house I will need to get to at least once a year so I have chosen deciduous plants or seasonal ones that will allow me at least a temporary access to the wood to treat it. We have planted a dark grape and a white grape with some canes still to plant out but which are wintering in a pot plant to see which ones take. These are cuttings from other gardens both locally and further afield and it will be interesting to see how they go because I think they are older varieties.

I also have several choko vines to plant out in various spots. It is hoped that these will provide shade in summer with their lush growth and cool the western side of the house from the afternoon sun. As chokos die back in winter each year I will still have time to access woodwork during the end of winter. Several choko vines is probably overkill for a garden this size as they are very abundant in their fruit from past experience. But I have also had the weather knock a few back so I am making allowances for that.

I also wish to plant some in different areas to see which area does best and I also have a neighbours fence line to try out and look forward to sharing some of the fruit.