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.

Permaculture & Some Explanations

Permaculture, as described on wikipedia, is an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies.

Permaculture is sustainable land use design. This is based on ecological and biological principles, often using patterns that occur in nature to maximise effect and minimise work. Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with its inhabitants. The ecological processes of plants, animals, their nutrient cycles, climatic factors and weather cycles are all part of the picture. Inhabitants’ needs are provided for using proven technologies for food, energy, shelter and infrastructure. Elements in a system are viewed in relationship to other elements, where the outputs of one element become the inputs of another. Within a Permaculture system, work is minimised, “wastes” become resources, productivity and yields increase, and environments are restored. Permaculture principles can be applied to any environment, at any scale from dense urban settlements to individual homes, from farms to entire regions.

Permaculture as a systematic method was first practised by Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer in the 1960s and then scientifically developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications.

The word permaculture is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture.

The intent is that, by training individuals in a core set of design principles, those individuals can design their own environments and build increasingly self-sufficient human settlements — ones that reduce society's reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution that Mollison identified as fundamentally and systematically destroying Earth's ecosystems.

This is the link to permaculture in wikipedia.

This photo was taken about a fortnight ago. You can see the native wisteria coming into flower with pinkish-white flowers. The pond is settling into place nicely and the vegetation is growing around it, slowly though in the cool weather. Cauliflowers and spinach in the garden bed to the right and some green buckets from when I was transferring some of the greywater. In the background are the gums and bottlebrush and some of the fruit trees in half wine barrels.

So, I have the general outline of the garden already begun. Now I am simply observing what works best where. What the sun is doing during the course of a day and during the various months. Some elements of the garden are not in the most ideal position, but are serving a purpose, so for the moment I am working with it. For example, the row of 3-4 metre high myrtles along the back fence block out quite a bit of winter sun and shade half of the garden. But the upside is that they nicely shade the garden in the height of summer and they provide decent privacy from the house that has been built on the back block. They are also a major attraction to many of the bird species that frequent the garden such as the honeyeaters, silvereyes and rosellas.

The block in general slopes towards north-nor-west. This is good in that there are other areas of the garden that capture quite a bit of sun during the day and have good drainage. Another reason why the rainbow rubble has been a good choice in replacement of the lawn as it has allowed for water to be transferred down the block from the vege gardens to the back garden which is the damper end of the block. From here it can continue to the neighbours back garden where it meets a terraced limestone wall and then is diverted down to continue along the greater hillside that all the houses are built upon.

At the moment we have limited animals in the system. Native birds, two guinea pigs, five goldfish and hopefully also five or six yabbies in the bottom of the pond, some pond snails, a couple of hundred free-range earthworms and compost worms and a handful of minnows in a water container to keep mosquito larvae down in that particular area of the garden.

Perhaps in time, given an increasing food supply for the g-pigs we will look at adopting a few more g-pigs and creating a chicken coop for a couple of bantams or layers. I can already see that come spring when the garden is picking up pace there will be a greater call for recycling much of the green material that is going to be around.

Another element which has been very handy so far with our waste recycling has been our Aerobin. This hides in a handy spot under the house deck and is fed nearly daily with kitchen scraps, vegetable matter from the garden and sometimes the paper lining used in the g-pigs hutch. It got off to a rough start because I had put too much dry sticks and hard cardboard in the bottom, but after a sort out, it is working beautifully and has been of great assistance with taking waste in a more convenient manner until we get the garden into a flowing system and can utilise the other compost heap a bit better (which is currently where the future chook pen will go) and have room to bury some scraps directly in to the garden as well. At the moment it is mostly planted out with crops and green manure areas.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back Yard Bird List

It is always interesting to me to record the birds that visit the gardens around which I live. Here is a list of those that I have seen here.

Grey Fantail
Willy Wagtail
New Holland Honeyeater
Western Rosella
Red Wattlebird
Brown Honeyeater (Usually only until the NH Honeyeaters take chase)
Welcome Swallow on roof
Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike
White-breasted Robin (in mid-summer in eucalyptus out back, not seen since.)
Western Silvereye

Passing Overhead

Sacred Ibis
Rock Parrot
Purple-Crowned Lorikeet
Australian Raven

The New Forest

The beginnings of a forest are underway. Underneath the myrtles are random scatterings of seedlings and plantings of cuttings. Strays from friends gardens and grasses coming up from out of the manures.

Much of the barley grass that is growing has kept the g-pigs in fresh feed for several months. Initially they would not venture past the concrete edging when we let them run around the pot plants but now, the end of July they are less cautious and are delighted when they can make a run for the miniature forest that is growing there.

The picture above shows the types of plants that are making their presence known in the garden. There is sweet potato vine from cuttings and also from the ends of tubers started in the kitchen. Agave from a friends garden which will probably be moved into a pot once it grows a little more. Barley and wheat grasses. Cabbages and carrot tops that were from organic carrots from our local farmers market.

To the far right is a Sapote tree that I nurtured in a pot until I found a spot for it and just behind that is situated a Tamarillo which was about two foot high in summer and was pot-bound and looking really sad at the local nursery so I felt sorry for it and brought it home. It is now nearly 7 foot tall in the space of 5 months and I am hopeful that it will fill the gap in the trees to mask out the house being built behind us adding privacy for them and us.

At this stage the far back garden looks unruly, untidy and really rough, but it has been busy creating a nice soil structure so that come spring I can introduce a few more plants without threat of water just running off the sand like it was at the beginning of the year.

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Hidey Hole

This is Jazz making an effort to hide herself from working in the garden. She actually seemed quite happy to hide half-way into the glove. Both g-pigs have a fondness for nuzzling into hiding spots and simply staying there until bored. Then they up camp and waddle off and find another place to stick themselves into.

The First Frog

It was about 5am on the 17th May that I remember hearing what sounded like a frog calling in the garden. I was thrilled. Mainly because it was a sign to me that a new life-form had found its way into the garden and seemed as time went on, content to stay.

After some research I confirmed it to be Lea's Froglet, Geocrinia leai or Green-bellied Froglet.

In the hunt I found some terrific websites such as A Frog Pond and the Frogs of Australia site.

The great thing about the internet is also being able to find recordings. This helped with identifying the wee thing even before I eventually un-earthed one as I was moving stones in the yard. I had a feeling it was nearby and was gently moving the rocks when I see it sitting there quite calmly. It was so tiny.

You can hear a recording of it here. In time there were two froglets that we could hear just about every night and quite often during the day. Up to about the end of June when - ironically, I put the fishpond in. I had to move one to shift some rocks. I heard them calling while we had a day of heavy showers and then they stopped all of a sudden. I have read that they are autumn breeders so this makes some sense but it is bizarre to have had them calling so frequently and then not hear even a sound out of them. For all I know they are still present in the garden, though because I have moved all the rocks into position I don't really have a need to go and interfere in the garden as much so there is no easy way of finding out until perhaps next autumn when they may call again.

In the meantime, I am working on making the place even more frog-friendly.

Introducing Maiki & Jazz

It was only a matter of days after we had moved in that my wife came home with two female guinea pigs, picked up from a home that no longer wanted them. They had been offered on the local freecycle network which we both think is a fantastic resource and have steadily made more use of it over the last few months for both the giving and the receiving. Freecycle appears to have had a name change and can be located here.

I've kept guinea pigs before, and in a permaculture setting have found them very handy and also quite rewarding as far as having a small pet goes. We got more than be were expecting though. At first I thought the strange twitching behaviour was because they were old and were getting on a bit. I figured that was why someone was giving them away. They looked a bit haggard.

Then they seemed to be biting each other and just getting on each others nerves. I put this down to age and maybe a bit of psychotic, animal behaviour.

After a few months though, my wife did a little investigating and we diagnosed them with having mange. After a few household rememdies of borax washes, shampoos and lavendar oil applications they were having some relief, but they were still not 100%.

After further investigation we ended up getting a vet prescribed solution that we placed in drops over their skin in various locations.

They were different animals in just 24 hours and within a month they were growing their coat back and it was a beautiful lustre and length. They literally became totally different guinea pigs to the ones we first had. It was amazing. They put on weight, they had more character and made happy little songs. They didn't mind gettting picked up as much. Very much contented.

Sheep Manure vs Horse Manure

I noticed something very early on in the soils development. Sheep manure requires a lot of moisture to activate it. Horse manure attracts a lot of moisture - if it doesn't already have it.

I have come to the conclusion that both are great together for various reasons.

The sheep manure seemed to attract more of the compost-type worms. Those that had been introduced to the garden through pot plants and a few random scatterings from a worm farm at the previous house. The horse manure was a little more gentle in strength and was a perfect home for the native earthworms to hang around in during the warmer weather and then kept them moist through the winter, but with plenty of drainage. The horse manure really was the way to go for the sandy soil though as it built a layer of moisture catching earth, gave the earthworms somewhere to hang out and begin to break it down and gave them access to the sheep manure which had a hard time breaking down in the sand on its own, despite watering. The horse manure kept the moisture constant.


Grass is lovely. There is nothing like ambling across vast, open areas of lush, green grass and lovely tall, shady trees. Somewhere like Richmond Gardens or The Esplanade in Fremantle.

But on a small urban block - forget it. I don't see the point. Especially when its taking up valuable space for planting something to go on the dinner plate and doesn't take more (water, sand, fertilising) than it gives in return (space, weeding, hmmmm, is that it?).

It's not really an option as far as I was concerned. The grass was at the end of its time. And I'm happy to say I'm glad about it. Look at that photo. It was dry after much neglect, was full of grasshoppers during late summer, was a midnight super-highway for snails and really didn't offer much else to the household.

The thing was, what was it going to be replaced by?

Part of the answer was more garden. My brother helped me in moving the concrete edging out further and shaping a more organic feel to the borders. Then, given that I would be having plants in pots also and that other parts of the garden were already done in pebble stones. I decided upon rainbow stone to fill in the main area and link together the two sides of the house.

An area was left aside for a pond to be installed at a later date and I spent a few weeks taking advantage of the growing pile of horse manure at a local stables, dumping wheel-barrow loads of manure onto the very, very sandy soil.


It's been about 6 months since we moved into our new home. Things in the garden are looking a little different to the summer-hardened garden that existed back then. Even with rather warm sunny days it didn't seem long before the plants were going into hibernation. The natives however are in full bloom at the moment.

The native wisteria, a rather mundane, snaking kind of vine hanging for dear life on the wooden fence is alive with purple flowers and another with a pinkish-white. The myrtles are about to break out in another bout of bloom and the bottle-brush is underway and hasn't really seemed to stop since summer much to the delight of the New Holland Honeyeaters.

I have found myself trying to organise a ways and means of recording my observations in the garden and given that there are photo records and inventive concepts I wish to record, along with some audio and text it only seemed logical to use a blog to record these things. So, primarily it is kind of a personal garden journal, but I figure that those interested may benefit from it and it allows me to easily share my information and learning with those I come across.

The main impetus behind all of this is a desire to work on an Introductory Permaculture Design course that I enrolled for around the same time we moved house. I figured that given it is something that I am interested in and I would be using the block and house to try out some concepts, I might as well do a course and give the whole thing a bit of direction.

Initially, my main overall concept was to create an urban environment that is as self-sustaining as is practiacally possible and at the same time evolve it into a highly bio-diverse environment.

Permaculture Visions have a website right here.