Thursday, December 29, 2011

Late December 2011

This post is a quick one about summer. Christmas was nice and relaxed with lots of summer fruit and family company. I have been working a fair bit too so the days have gone by quick and my days off have been spent keeping the garden trained as it is turning into a sprawling jungle.

Despite working my wife has managed to get a few shots of the garden before we started to harvest some of the edibles. Most of the sunflowers have done well this year. A mixed bunch though. The Giant Russian have been out-grown by the local seeds given to us that we grew out and kept from last year.

We have also started to harvest the babaco fruit. Two so far. I'm glad to say that the taste is rather unique and I will be happy to keep growing the trees and propagating a small forest of them. More posts to come...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Extra Finds

Some surprise finds in the garden. Lily flowers coming up in the hedge garden, jelly beans coming up amongst grass and self-sown tomatoes, melons and herbs. Oh, and a gratuitous pic of the corn, cos I enjoy it so much!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Growing Chicks

The chicks are now just over a month old and have a bunch of feathers growing along their back and wings. They are very adventurous and keen to get up high on objects around the garden. I took this as a sign and removed their cage yesterday and put them in the strawyard with the other chooks just before twilight. Jenny was keen to get up on the roost and one little chick followed her. The others were not so up front so Jenny reluctantly joined them on the straw for the night. Tonight there are three up there with her with one of the ground due to a sore leg which 'she' did not seem to be too fussy about so I have left her to rest for the night and will investigate in the morning. I couldn't see any point in stressing her and the rest of the chooks right before roosting time.

After only a month they are acting like adult chooks in many ways. Running, flying in short bursts, taking dust baths and scratching around. They are still peeping like chicks. The rest of the chooks do not seem to mind their presence in the coop so I figured it was probably a good time to get them in with them and that way they can be in the dark a little longer rather than stirring at 4am in the morning!

Clarice is the solid little layer at the  moment as Penny is clucky and Stella is only laying every second day or so. Penny and Clarice sleep in the nest overnight, with Stella on the roost with Jenny and the chicks that can make it.

On the Table - Summer Fruit Salad

This was breakfast the other morning. Fresh stone fruit with home-made yoghurt, a little bee pollen and some raspberries straight from the garden. Just delightful! Such as welcome taste sensation.

The Filling of the Fruit

I am in awe of the garden at the moment. The weather has been favorable for the majority of the garden, though not so much for farmers wanting to harvest. The combination of rain and sunshine with humidity has meant that the fruits forming in the garden are doing really well. We were fortunate enough to get a reasonable harvest from our apricot tree with the New Holland Honeyeaters and Silvereyes sharing some as well. Not so much of a drama for us with one tree to keep an eye on.

The corn is doing well also. This one is a hybrid from Diggers. I have enjoyed growing it and will be looking for some heirloom varieties I think. The guinea pigs are quite happy with the occasional leaf of corn. With the warmer weather the babaco has been in full swing, ripening up a little each day. Nearly there.

Another pleasant surprise in the garden has been the beans and the cucumber. I had moderate success with gherkins and cucumbers last year so put in a little more effort this year as I really do like them. In the back garden just near the corn is a melon that has self-sown and is forming a fruit - rather quickly too I might add. Other self-sown plants are tomatoes and a pumpkin which is really starting to spread out into the garden.

The fig is doing well. On some stems there are small fruit starting to form now, even though the tree is already in the midst of a reasonable crop. Not sure if these new ones will be retained by the tree or not but it is getting regular water and talking to.

Our nectarine tree is also doing us proud this season with a good crop forming. Very slow to fill out but I am not wanting to give it too much water with the rain we've had. I do need to watch it though, because being in a wine barrel it can dry out even in moist weather.

This afternoon I picked our first ripe tomato for the season. It was found hiding behind this bush which came up during the winter and has managed to survive given the mild winter and the shelter is has received from the nearby plants surrounding the pond. A very, very firm fruit despite it being a nice ripe colour which leads me to think it was simply because it was straight off the plant.

Other observations to note are that the yacon are doing really well with the humidity are have good leave growth. These have probably been in the ground about a month and a half now. I have not put a picture of the passionfruit vine but it too is covered in a good solid crop and still continues to flower.

The sweet peas are also still flowering well and most of the very first flowers for the season have produced near-dry pods ready for picking.

Oh, and the raspberries! A handful every few days to feed the wife and keep her happy.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wet Wet Wet

Since about 2am yesterday morning we have had a reasonable amount of rain. This hasn't stopped Jenny from standing out in it sheltering her little brood. They are nearly always on the go looking for food and are starting to leap up onto higher objects to perch.

Whilst so much rain at this time of the year is not what the farmers want, it has given the garden a good drink, and with the apricot, nectarine, passionfruit, the figs, tamarilloes, tomatoes, corn, babaco, strawberries, sunflowers, grapes, pepino, cucurbits and raspberries all in the process of forming fruit and seeds it will give them a bit of a boost.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Pond Set Up

This is the pond being transformed from a sunken one to an above ground one. I must say I did prefer the old pond, but the new one is going to be more functional and effective in many ways. Plus it will be a little safer with a little one around. Or little visitors.

It still requires some further work and I have yet to build up the edges of the smaller pond in the background, but I'm sure you get the idea. Both ponds will be full of aquatic plants that we can use in the kitchen. I hope that Frog approves of the new pond. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Maiki & Jaz

I found this gif of our little garden munchkins today. I made it about a year ago but had forgotten about it. It really captures their characters well and shows how inquisitive Jaz can be. They have been busy recently cleaning up some of the green matter pruned off the trees or pulled out of the garden. They also like the water-melon rind which is a real treat for them. Now that the weather is warmer they also appear to be spending more and more time camped under the cape gooseberry bush and eating any stray fruit that falls - or is within reaching distance!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New Pond & Aquaponics Update

After difficulties and frustrations with the aquaponics system, finally it appears to be ticking away nicely. Everything is working well. The 15 minutes of pump time. The time its off. The flow of the water, the draining of the water. Not too much. Not too little. Measured and balanced....

I have ripped out a number of the pioneer plants that were now looking a little worse for wear and upped the measure of seasol into the system to kick it along. The perch must be feeling the coming summer as they are rather hungry now and are not as shy as they used to be. I am gradually moving away from a diet of slugs and worms from the garden to snails, which are prolific at the moment. The perch seem to take them easily. I usually try to at least crush a little of the shell, but they seem to take them regardless. They will quickly take them as they sink down and rarely come near the surface while I am there. I managed to flick a snail into the tank yesterday and watched it bob on the surface before a fish grabbed it and took it under.

The plants around the garden pond are doing really well. REALLY well. There is a frustrating occurrence with the water level though. Now and then it seems as though the water table drops and so does the pond water. Today I took the plunge and actually purchased a large water container that will replace the liner of the pond. It is also as a measure of safety given we will have little feet running around the place in the near future. So I am looking at a more above ground pond. The other benefits will be I can place the water chestnuts in their containers straight into the pond and take them out or shift them when required for harvesting. The main disruption will be to the surrounding plants such as comfrey (which is finally growing nicely) and the hedge plants. They will all grow back in time.

The smaller pond that feeds into the larger one has a lovely, lush forest of watercress within it. It really is doing so well compared to other areas of the garden I have grown it. So, there is a winning combination there and I do not plan to change or alter it.

In much the same way, the Vietnamese Mint that is growing in the main pond is also doing very well. Tall, dark and vibrant. The new pond set-up will make it easier to harvest. It will also make the pond weed easier to reach and harvest and allow for viewing the koi a bit more regularly while being able to secure the reeds in their pots too.

The cons of the outfit are that the shape is round (bettter than square), but I do like the naturalness to the current ponds shape. Round it will have to be. It is also a deep blue. I will partly have it buried I think, and may paint it in some areas to camouflage it a bit more and let it blend with the rest of the garden. Aside from those two things I think it will be fine and will alleviate much of the frustration caused by the current pond.

Just waiting now to be able to begin the project!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Learning to Scratch

It appears that overnight the little chicks have picked up the scratching technique from Jenny. I have been watching them each day and observing what they are getting taught. Yesterday they were still being shown food, directed to it and cleaning up bits and pieces that they found when Jenny scratched away areas of top soil or stones. This morning however they were all happily scratching at the dirt with their little feet, just like mum. Amazing.

They are very keen on the green caterpillars that are all through the garden at the moment. The caterpillars are even giving the nasturtiums a bit of a beating. I have sprayed areas with Dipel although it is nearly time for a change of some of the garden beds too, so a little damage isn't going to matter too much and the plants that do count like the purple broccoli are quite robust and handling any attack from the caterpillars quite well.

My wife tells me that Jenny was also teaching the little ones how to have a dust bath. Laying down in the dirt and flicking their little wing tips around to spread dirt. Some got it quicker than others.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hot Day

It has been a week since the chicks hatched out and already they have a set of tiny wing feathers and are running super quick around the garden with Jenny. They are eating crumble and wheat and really love the green caterpillars and aphids at the moment.

With the really hot weather there have been some seedling casualties (pumpkins), but the broad beans are drying nicely. As are the nasturtium seeds and the garlic bulbs. I have added a layer of hay mulch to the passion fruit vine bed as it is still really dry.

So much to do around the place. The aquaponics drainage pipes are working well. The fish are very active at the moment, coming to the surface almost to feed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Hedge Garden

The Hedge Garden is not to be seen as a division or barrier. It is really an oasis of biodiversity that links areas of the garden together. It offers the following yields and benefits:

  • culinary herbs
  • flowers for cutting
  • flowers for eating
  • berries which are a forage food for both us and the guinea pigs and chickens
  • herbs for garden treatments such as home-made sprays
  • shelter for the guinea pigs - shade in summer and shelter from the wind/rain in winter
  • the diversity of flowering plants is a major draw-card in the garden for bees and predator insects
  • this diversity also creates a sheltered area and feeding/breeding area for insects
  • it acts as a small wind break in the garden and offers shelter to the main garden bed plants while,
  • also allowing insect traffic from the Hedge to and from the vegetable garden
  • it permits me to grow a wider range of herbs, flowers and fruits that didn't quite fit with the short term planting of other areas of the garden. Bulbs, herbs, berries can grow and self-sow and the Hedge Garden can change from season to season as new plants take rein over older ones. It really is an area of the garden that can largely be left to itself with minimum disturbance.
  • attractive to look at given the various colours, textures and levels of the plants growing
  • it permits the transferal of compost worms to and from other areas of the garden

All of these benefits are gifted to the garden from an area that is probably not even 2m square! Plus it was an area of the garden that was always going to be a problem due to where the reticulation pipes run (which are never used) and the chooks accessing it and scratching soil from the garden. Both of these 'problems' have been sorted completely and effectively through the creation of the hedge garden. So it is a productive area of the garden on many different levels.

These are some of the plants currently in the Hedge Garden:
  • pyrethrum daisy
  • fennel
  • borage
  • cape gooseberry
  • elysium
  • alpine strawberry
  • various grasses wild, native and exotic
  • sugar cane
  • parsley
  • freesias
  • cockscomb
  • various succulents

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Save Our Soils

    I recently viewed the film A Farm for the Future which I linked to in a previous post.

    There is a particular part of the film where they feature a no-dig farm. That is, a farm where they do not plow the soil and thus have enabled and encouraged numerous grass varieties to establish themselves. This enabled the farmer to permit his cattle to graze for much longer periods that would otherwise have been possible without the damage to the soil that their walking can and without have to plow and sow new purchased seed (usually just one grass variety) each year.

    What captivated me was the open-mindedness of the farmer who researched and observed what was happening around him and to make some changes to his farming practice and refine it with patience, time and further observation.

    It reminded me to also leave as much of my backyard garden beds covered and protected so as to allow the soil life to really establish properly and replenish and aerate the soil themselves. The very back garden bed is certainly going to be a major test plot for this. I have already added a decent thickness of hay mulch to protect the soil and plant roots coming into summer. However, rather than disturbing too much of the soil, I will simply plant into it and keep adding organic matter.

    This is what the garden looked like some weeks back when the bulk of the soil was added. It contained some worms but was largely devoid of anything that might nourish the plants. After adding some dynamic lifter and some rock dust, along with mulching very heavily with hay, the garden picked up well when we had the recent spell of rains and sunshine. Scroll a bit further down for a recent photo with the corn and sunflowers.

    It has also sprung to life with many different 'weeds' which are now gradually being used as mulch also while tending to the garden. This is now productive land in so many different ways. In comparison, many of the neighboring backyards are expanses of lawn that offer little in the way of soil life (I know because of digging up the grass in our backyard - there is hardly any soil life in this sandy region) and yet still require fertiliser (usually synthetic) and does nothing for local insect and animal life. Not to mention that you don't normally eat lawn, so why the dedication to it?

    The Big Picture

    I often think about what the big picture might look like.

    You know, the BIG picture.
    • The one where there is a decline in the use of fossil fuels and alternative energy isn't really an alternative - but eventually, totally necessary.
    • The global debt keeps getting juggled around and around until it finally hemorrhages and the only alternative for everyone is to really live within our means.
    • Where we all live more as communities rather than large, disjointed, isolating cities.
    • And where farms begin to grow crops and produce in ways that begin to heal the land and ultimately heal us.
    Ideological? A pipe-dream? Maybe, but I'm curious as to what you think the big issues will be or what the world will look like in another 15 to 20 years.

    This video might give you something to think about - as to how the world might look in another 20 years time and some of the challenges facing us. I would like to know what others really, strongly believe the future has in store for us. Please post below.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    New Look Blog

    Time for a change! I've been looking at other templates to use as things were getting too cluttered for me with the old blog template. It's all in keeping with my new mantra to simplify, simplify, simplify!

    I reminded myself also while reading last night that permaculture is about design. A design system, as Bill Mollison puts it, for creating sustainable human environments. I like to think there is a good dashing of simplicity in there too, but not at the risk of jeopardising effectiveness.

    It's a philosophy of working with nature, rather than against it. It's about thoughtful observation and practicalities rather than thoughtless labour and wastefulness. Incorporating plants and animals in all their functions instead of limiting it to just treating various elements as single, productive entities.

    Well - there is a lot of that multifunction stuff going on in the backyard but inside the house - stuff is more malfunction at the moment. I don't think the two should be separated. So, I am making small changes. Simplify.

    Simple. Easy. Effective. 

    Changing the blog template is a small change. But it's easier for me to look at now.

    What do you think?

    Saturday, November 19, 2011


    Ossobuco with salad and gremolata on the table.
    Organic, farmers market meat. Nice.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Mid November Update

    Last weeks seeds of speckled lettuce and rainbow carrot are now tiny seedlings emerging from the soil. The chilacayote seeds are also coming out in their newspaper pots. The tomato seedlings planted into recycled tubs have established themselves and are growing nicely. One is already flowering. The Madagascar beans are emerging. Slugs or snails appear to have claimed some of the new bean seedlings.

    The second babaco has kept the majority of its fruit. I just need to keep the water up to it. The other is not really doing much it seems. Fruit has not appeared to grow any larger and shows no sign of ripening as yet. It has been on the tree for some months now. Will have to look up older posts to see when it began flowering.

    March 2011 was the date I had first logged that the babaco were flowering. So that is well over 8 months that the fruit has been forming on that particular tree. Given that the second tree flowered a month or so ago it will be interesting to note when its fruit ripen.

    The chooks are doing well. Stella, Clarice and Penny are all laying daily. Now and then one will miss a day. Jennifer Aniston has successfully hatched 4 out of 5 eggs so far and is doing a wonderful job as a first time mother.

    Penny having a dust bath and a lay in the sun.

    Since changing the pump on the aquaponics system I have still had to tinker with things a little. At the moment it is filling the grow beds too fast and I need to remedy this. The goldfish are doing well and more are changing colour to yellows and golds. I am feeding them more regularly now which is largely just a pinch or two of old oat flakes. The Redfin Perch in the other tank enjoy their earthworms and snails and slugs. I should really be feeding them more often so as to increase their size. Overall, more fish are needed for the system I think, to get the nutrient level increasing. Many of the seedlings in the grow beds will probably get moved out into the garden proper as there is more room for them now and their growth has been almost nil.

    The back garden is doing well and seems to grow in leaps and bounds each day. We are still receiving reasonable rain showers amongst sunny days which has been wonderful for the plants, the pests and the predators!

    The pond and strawberry aquaponics system is doing really well. Some plants have died, others are on their way to flourishing. After installing the second pond and the few days of heat we had, the pond filled with thick algae. As the system has been working and the pondweed has grown (and removed often to add to the compost of thrown into areas of the garden that are dry areas) the water has naturally cleared to a lovely, crystal clear, fresh water pond. The koi, when not hidden by pondweed also, are growing well and are not receiving supplemental food at this stage.

    The tomato and zucchini plants on the deck have been mulched with hay, ready for the easterly winds in the next few months. This is a collection of seedlings that have come from various sources to be used for saving seeds. Some have come up in the garden from last years crop and will be used for summer salads and cooking where saving the seeds is not important given the plants history.

    The tamarillo are both flowering. The one in the chook run is covered in flowers. To help it through the summer I have placed a compost bin near its base so that the chickens don't scratch up its fine roots and it gets plenty of slow release nutrients and sustained moisture through the summer. The fruit should be ready by autumn.

    First steps into the World

    Here are the chicks having a feeding lesson from Jenny. Their first little adventure into the world. It seems that Jenny has decided to leave the last egg. An eighty percent success rate is not too bad at all. Penny was a little inquisitive as the new chicks came out to feed.

    And so the Ants come . . .

    We live on a sand dune. It is a matter of fact. Sandy sand with barely a trace of organic material in it. Fine, slightly grey and very hydrophobic. Areas that have not been disturbed much can be wet by days of rain or drizzle and if you break just an inch or so under the surface - dry. Bone dry.

    Which is the reason for two things. My constant adding of newspaper and organic material to the soil - and the what I can only describe as an over abundance of ants.

    Usually at this time of the year the ants decide to start moving inside. Why not, we like it inside too. Early this week they began. I've tried various mixes and stuff before to prevent this. I will admit I haven't tried anything too strong or scary because I don't want to cause other problems in the garden. I want to try to live peacefully with these little workers which, lets face it, do a bloody brilliant job of keeping the place tidy. So, I attack them half-heartedly. Which is why, ultimately, the ants return.

    This year I have tried something a little more economical. A bit more logical. A lot easier. . . and so far it is working really well. It is early days yet, but the results were literally overnight.

    Hold onto your wallets. Here is the result of years of ant-driven grief and frustration. Folks, this is it.

    A plastic container with a little sugar and some water placed strategically near the entry point to the house - or thereabouts. Once I could locate a definite trail I moved the container further away so that the ants were not so close to the house. They seem to like it more than the house items - or the sugar and honey in the pantry. So much so that in the photo above they have just about cleaned up what was a decent helping of sugar just a few days ago. Some of the water would have evaporated, but there is no sugar to be seen, so needs refilling.

    I suspect I will need possibly another container or two strategically placed around the house near areas where they have entered in the past. It is unashamedly a trade-off of a peace offering. But it works, and it's a peaceable thing.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011


    Here is the Oca growing after just a couple of weeks in the pots. They are probably a little squeezed at the moment but I'm not sure whether I will plant them into the garden somewhere or leave them in pots due to their tendency to spread. The benefits of the pots are that I can move them around until I find a spot that they like, which at the moment is partly shaded by the Cape Gooseberry. They fold their leaves up in the heat of the day.

    Jennifer Aniston gives birth

    Hooray for Jenny!

    I've just gone down the yard to take Jenny off the nest to get a drink - it's really hot out there today. On closer inspection of the eggs I saw a tiny crack. (Egg bottom left). There was a peeping sound. Jenny appeared oblivious to it all as she drank water and had a bit of a peck and a scratch around. I think once she goes back in to get on the eggs she might cotton on to what is happening. Very exciting.

    New Zealand Food Bill 160-2 (2010)

    This is not the normal sort of post that I would do. But then it's not the normal sort of situation either. This is something I think everyone needs to be AWARE of. A Food Bill of this nature would have far reaching consequences not just for New Zealand but for other countries also. The agencies behind this are just as likely, in my opinion, to further their own cause beyond the legal and geographical boundaries of a country like New Zealand. I've linked in the titles for easy researching and I am keen to hear comments.

    New food bill in New Zealand takes away human right to grow food

    The article jumps to some conclusions I think. However, read through the Bill below and try and tell me it's not limiting, restricting and utterly controlling to those that want to produce food either as a business or for non-profit.


    Food Bill


    The link for this page doesn't want to work oddly enough. You can find it here.

    This may just be the beginning. If it can happen in New Zealand what is to prevent it happening elsewhere? If you wanted to bring something like this Food Bill in yourself, wouldn't you pick a small, western country as a test case before imposing it on the rest of the world?


    Oppose the NZ Food Bill Legislation

    This is the Facebook page for those wanting to keep up-to-date with what is happening.


    Proposed NZ Food Bill ‘ridiculous’, says industry leader


    Leading expert on political food threats Ian Crane to tour New Zealand


    Food, illegal? Not in my back yard.


    Food safety backlash stuns government

    Politicians and  government officials appear to have been blindsided by a backlash to new food safety laws, with nearly 4000 people signing a petition demanding change.
    The petition argues that the sharing of food is a basic human right. 

    Oppose the New Zealand Government Food Bill 160-2

    This link is to the on-line petition. 

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    Finding Form & Function

    The garden has started to take a bit more form this season. In the early days it was a couple of plants placed in specific areas with everything else filling in between. Now that the mallees have been removed and the garden is receiving so much more sunlight year round than it use to, I have been able to see how this affects the plants.

    Various areas of the garden have been broken up into groups to make things a little simpler. For instance the picture above shows the lower corner of the garden. Here I have planted orphaned plants that have come our way or needed moving from the other garden beds. It really functions as a final catchment for water running off the block and as a little forage corner for the chickens at various times. 

    Here the chickens are foraging at the edge of the Hedge Garden that borders the main garden bed recently built. This area is mainly herbs and bee attracting flowers. The Cape Gooseberry is taking up a substantial part of it at the moment and may later get moved, or cuttings moved to the corner garden and the main bush trimmed back. The guinea pigs like to forage along this border as well and given they largely eat their greens from the garden (they are totally free-range) they need to be able to access little areas for food without interfering too much with any crops - like broad beans!

    This little pond is a recent edition to the garden and fills from the strawberry garden (aquaponics) to flow into the main pond where water cycles back through the strawberries and repeats its cycle. This pond is currently home to a large area of watercress which I think is a terrific thing to have in the garden.

    More of the Hedge Garden with nasturtiums, broad beans that the guinea pigs have permission to eat, bulb flowers, coastal daisy, rosemary, marigold, allysum and fennel to name a few. Behind the garden bed wall is the main bed that will function as a vegetable garden with corn, tomatoes, potatoes and whatever else I fancy. At the moment there is purple broccoli and a metre or so of sunflowers to feed the chickens and create some privacy for the back neighbours.

    Home Goods

    I have the dehydrator belting out jerky at the moment. Its the first time I've made it. Looks and smells ok so far. Also busy with drying herbs for mixes, chocolate zucchini cake, spinach pie, home-made ice-cream and nurturing the kefir (which is doing really well with the current weather). Going to get a broth on the go too.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Free Range Guinea Pigs

    People are frequently delighted when they wander through our garden to find Maiki and Jaz scurrying around beneath bushes and around pots. They are free to roam the garden and really do not stray anymore than probably five metres max, if that. They choose whether they want to sleep in a little grotto area built for them in the garden or under the house. They love to eat the Cape Gooseberries, ripe or not, and also like broad bean leaves.

    We received Maiki and Jaz after responding to a free-cycle post for a slow cooker. They were also on offer and we weren't sure what to make of the combination of a free slow cooker and two guinea pigs. Still, my wife brought them home. We really didn't have any idea just how sick they were. We treated their mange and let them wander the yard and they totally rejuvenated themselves. At first we really thought they were old and on their way out - which is why they were free - but they became so much more active and playful and calmer once the mange was treated and they got good food and exercise. Now their coats are much nicer too. This is Maiki.

    Maiki is the shy one who is more likely to grab food and drag it off to eat in peace. Jaz, below, is the more inquisitive one and probably the brains behind learning how to get to and extract the Cape Gooseberries from the husks.

    Both of our guinea pigs are female. Ten years ago I kept a family of guinea pigs that would live in the shade house located in the centre of the garden of the house I was living in. They wouldn't stray anymore than a few metres either and they would come out and graze on the sloped lawn. Whenever a hawk flew over they would scurry off to the shade house and take cover. I couldn't really go back to keeping them in cages anymore. Not for any length of time.

    Water Chestnuts

    I've grown water chestnuts over the last couple of years. Nurtured from just a few to now enough corms to fill a couple of plastic tubs. This year they are doing well. After relocating them from their little pots that had been submerged in the pond to the plastic tubs they took off. This was early September I think. They have thrived in the pots which were going to be an interim container, but I'm leaving them to be now as they are doing so well. The other helpful thing is that I can shift the tubs around the yard when necessary. Oh, and Penny likes to take a drink from them now and then. How convenient.

    I should mention also that I have placed a couple of gambusia (mosquito fish) into each tub to prevent mosquitoes breeding in them. These fish are not native here and are not really welcome in natural waterways. In a contained permaculture set-up like this they work really well as they can tolerate a wide-ranging water environment, being - water pH, temperature and varying degrees of cleanliness. Which is why they thrive once released into waterways.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    The Zucchini Island Self-sufficiency Challenge

    Following on from the post for backyard edibles and also backyard garden blogs, I have discovered another backyard gardeners blog called Zucchini Island.

    This is just what I wrote about some days ago. Others recording their journey in the backyard growing edibles for their consumption. And they are very real journeys. After reading some of Jason's posts on Zucchini Island it is clear that there is a lot of learning going on. It's not surprising either. We really have been fed from the supermarket rather than our backyards. As a collective, we've lost touch with basics.

    I was fortunate, and am now very grateful, for having a grandfather that maintained a fairly large vegetable garden. As amazed by nature as I was early on in my childhood, Pop's garden was both captivating and secret. I describe it as secret because the majority of the garden was fenced off which I guess made it more of an event when we were permitted to enter and look around while Pop went about picking generous bunches of silverbeet or giant ears of corn for Mum to take home.

    So, gardening was something I have always approached with a very experimental and inquisitive outlook. Something that Jason is also doing I would think. My goal for my garden was to fill it with as many different fruits, veges, herbs and companion plants as possible - and to inspire others while experiencing for myself what it takes to set up a productive backyard garden. Jason has very publicly declared on his blog that he wants to have at least 80% of his families fruit and vegetables coming from his own backyard. I share a similar goal also.

    I learned very early on that something like this takes work. Initially, it can take quite a bit of effort. For myself however, and no doubt Jason, every bit of effort put in will be worth it.

    To keep tabs on his goal, Jason has installed a graph widget onto his blog page. The Self-sufficiency Challenge.  I've been looking for something similar so it's fantastic that there is the ability to use a tool like this. For those wanting to do the same I would recommend it. I'd like to see one for monitoring the waste that leaves our house through the council rubbish bin. I think that would be an interesting widget.

    At any rate, I'm not sure how Jason is progressing at the moment but I hope that as a backyard edible gardener he is continuing his pursuit of making that progression from feeding from the supermarket to feeding from home. It's an admirable thing in this day and age. And in this day and age, we could all do with something worthwhile like this to strive for.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    A Mulching Adventure

    The new raised garden bed at the back of the block is in need of fill.

    The broad beans are nearly done and there are corn and tomato plants that I just had to get in somewhere. The rest of the garden bed is still shallow and the dirt that I put in there is not all that desirable so it needs a lot of assistance and building up.

    Accepting an offer of stained oaten hay on our local freecycle listings I engaged the assistance of my Father In-Law and his dutiful trailer to pick up some of the hay bales. The plan was to get enough for the back garden bed and hopefully enough to put into Dads newly built raised garden and kick it off for a few summer plantings.

    The paddock was some way out of town, but we found it easy enough. Firstly we helped a father and his sons get their car out of the bog. Then they hitched up their trailer of hay and set off happily. We went about negotiating how to get our bales. You see, the recent heavy rainfall has meant a bit of turmoil for local farmers. This is what some were having to contend with.

    Yes, oh dear. My Father In-law, having been a farmer knew something of the dilemma and heartache. Still, the farmer wanted his bales off the place so we piled up the trailer. Some bales were truly soaked around the bottom. Most of them were already homes to busy, thick, long worms.

    We set off to drop them home and get them into the garden. Truly grateful for the opportunity to make something practical and sustaining out of someone's chaos. This generosity has meant that Dad can get his newly built raised garden bed underway for summer - and with the addition of the straw and everything else he's been putting into the garden bed, it should be beautiful gardening soil in no time at all.

    And as for Petit Paradis, well, something like this means I can practically drought-proof the garden for summer. A thick blanket of mulch is just what was in order. With a bale spare to let the chooks kick up in!

    The Hen that Crows

    This is Stella. She came from a large flock of Australorp chickens and settled in nicely to the routine here. Her and Penny - our dominant hen, get on just fine and you could be mistaken for Stella being the dominant hen, only Penny has her pecking way with her now and then. All in all Stella takes it well. Almost as though she knows that she is the Queen of the Coop. She is after all slightly bigger than Penny.

    A few months back Stella started to make loud, almost wheezing type calls. She would do one or two, then a couple in quick succession, then belt out a kind of crow. That was fine.

    The only problem is that she got better and better. This morning however took the cake. At precisely 5am from the bottom of the yard in the stillness and quiet of the morning came a series of very loud, very clear crows. No build up that I heard. Just well rehearsed and straight into it. This persisted long enough for me to get dressed and get down there to tell her myself to "shut up, it's very early and your not even a bloody rooster. What has got into you?".

    All was well with a bit of feed and attention. But there was no returning to sleep. I looked on the net but couldn't find a great deal about crowing hens. And Stella is a hen. She lays eggs. Nice big white ones. Regularly.

    It's all a bit weird. Maybe she is calling to the rooster that can be heard down in the valley. Maybe she has learned that it is what it takes to get a bit of attention and extra feed. Without daylight saving it's bright as day now at 5am. So she's probably been up since 4am! Which could be the problem.

    At the moment she has me 'round her feathers. After reading an Urban Chickens post I will try locking them in the coop for a little longer so that they don't wake so early. At the moment they have the freedom to come out into the straw-yard when they want. It is worth a try.