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.