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.