Thursday, March 31, 2011


I really do like this time of the year. I like the cooler nights and the blue skies with fluffy clouds. Most of the plants in the garden are doing really, really well. I have never known a choko vine to fruit so prolifically as ours is at the moment. The minnows in the tub pond have bred, as have the yabbies. The tamarillo is finally ripening. As are the pepino. I took this photo yesterday morning as a choko tendril hung out over the washing line. By the afternoon several small tendrils had attached themselves to the clothesline and needing unwinding!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jennifer Aniston

My wife, for reasons completely for her own humor, has decided that our new little frizzle chick should be called Jennifer Aniston.

Given that I still call our Isa brown (Penny) - Chook chook, I guess it doesn't really matter what they are called, it just makes things a little peculiar when trying to describe what is going on in the garden.

Jennifer Aniston has flown the coop. Jennifer Aniston is digging in the dirt. Lo and behold the day I need to report to my wife that Jennifer Aniston has laid an egg!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ohh, and Garlic too.

I just remembered that this year I was going to plant out masses of garlic so that we have plenty for the family. Dad did a great crop last year which we benefited from and I plan to grow more this year as I've grown accustomed to not having it as often due to supply and cost over recent years. Not anymore. Power to the gardener!

And autumn is a good time to be planting garlic here, so garlic and broad beans it is!

Zone One - Herb Garden, Exotics Sun Trap

A change of plan, well, kind of.

I have a small garden area which grew some self-sown tomatoes last spring/summer and has been ear-marked for a herb garden.

Then a raised garden bed herb garden.

Then just a normal garden of herbs. Like low down. In the earth, normal.

Then nothing, because of finances and the like I was not sure what I was going to do with it. And now I have decided. The area really is very dry and it is also and area where some of the plants actually thrive. The babaco for example which I imagine is opening its flowers as I type this.

So, I have also potted up some herbs and I have decided to make it a plain, stone area with potted plants that will do well with the sun trap and add some other pots as I have done before that have water to keep it a little humid. I have a bunch of potted, sun-loving plants now so this will be where they go next.

A reminder to myself that I will take photos of before and after!

Note to Self! - Broad Beans

Last year I planted the broad beans too late. We still got a small harvest, but nothing worth mentioning despite the fact I just have.

So this year I am ready - which is why this blog is here, to remind me of all the things I have done and to look at the things I want to do.

So, I am going to sow several patches of broad beans as the soil in most of the garden is still piled with grass clippings and it will be a great crop to have while waiting for the plant material and newspapers to break down over winter.

I found this helpful link to growing broad beans.

So, despite the warm weather ( I know it can turn suddenly) I will plant out a small patch today and work on the advice of planting every three weeks. I have seeds from a large harvest two years ago and would really prefer to have some fresh, new seeds in store. Plus, I am expecting a good healthy harvest as the soil today is not the same soil it was twelve months ago. I will have nice, strong, large plants and beans!

Anyway, enough - out to the garden.

A Cultivated Ecology

Small animals in the home system

There are four groups of small animals in our garden that are intentionally placed.

I ) Firstly, over a year ago now we were given two female guinea pigs. They required food and shelter and initially a bit of medication as they had a very bad case of mange. This has since cleared and they are different animals altogether. Since spring our up-keep of them has dropped considerably as they are now ‘free-range’ in the garden – given that they do not really roam anywhere beyond certain landmarks in the garden. So instead of changing the newspaper in the hutch and feeding and watering, they basically take care of themselves and from the garden and in return eat some of the larger food scraps for us such as melon rinds, vege off-cuts, old tomatoes etc. They have become even healthier since this change in lifestyle as they get many, many, many times more the exercise than they ever did living in a hutch. They look so healthy! Stray cats are not a problem with a decent enough shelter being either a sturdy cardboard box or a brick structure they are well educated as to what to do if there is danger around.

II ) The guinea pigs are kept at the back of the garden where they can source their food and can be easily caught and groomed from time to time. From the kitchen they can largely been seen unless they are hiding behind a pot-plant having a siesta.

I ) The second introduction to the system was compost worms brought in from our previous residence where we had a worm farm. I have dabbled in worm farming over the years and I much prefer to do it the easy way now and have the worms in the garden doing their bit where it is needed. I have found that newspaper and cardboard and grass clippings are relished. Particularly as cardboard and thick newspaper seems to be a very sought after spot for them to lay their cocoons. Just recently I found some cardboard at the bottom of a pot plant I had re-potted and it was dotted with egg cases where it appeared that the worms had almost inserted the cocoon into the cardboard. In any case I am happy to keep up the paper supply and as a result we keep just about every scrap of paper that comes into the house for the eventual garden burial. We also have in comparison to the average home, quite a small garden area, but I have been amazed at the sheer volume of paper and newspaper that I have put into the garden over the last year. Plus the truck loads of grass clippings.

II ) The worms are throughout the garden and are introduced intentionally into newly potted plants (although they are probably already in the potting mix with cocoons). After twelve months it is remarkable to see the volume of worms. Especially in and around the kitchen sink drain where regular water is filtered down and I feed in a good amount of newspaper and clippings. They are plentiful in the soil there and are virtually maintenance free, but we do like to treat them with a direct hit of kitchen scraps here and there from time to time. In time I have another project pegged to construct a worm farm under the deck using a table frame and bathtub. This will be so that I can collect the run-off so that I can use it selectively on various fruiting plants around the garden as a natural fertiliser and soil conditioner.

I ) The third introduction to the system was a goldfish pond. They largely feed on the plant life in the pond such as algae and absolutely relish any slugs that I find in the garden. In return they are now feeding a water garden of water spinach, water chestnuts, watercress and mint as the pond water filters through and spills back into the pond, aerating the water. They have also had offspring which will be used to set up the aquaponics project I am anticipating.

As a side we have also introduced tadpoles which have blessed us with a small colony of green frogs that seem more content inside the tomato and strawberry bushes than by the pond which is great as they keep the pest insects down in those areas of the garden that need it.

II ) The pond is situated in the lowest point of the garden for drainage and aesthetic reasons. It is easily viewed from the deck and has since had yabbies introduced which I am happy to say have been breeding and seem to be the main beneficiaries from any snails that I throw into the pond.

I ) The fourth element was finally the chickens. Isa browns which we received in early December after completing the coop and straw-yard to my satisfaction. The change in the garden was almost immediate. Within days the very LARGE compost heap in the straw-yard had been levelled and scratched out by three very active chooks. We had to change their diet very early on as we found one was egg bound and we helped her through a very uncomfortable night to find a clear, shell-less, yolk-less sac in the box the next morning. She went on to heal only to lose one of the others to what we suspect was egg-binding also. Another went on to roam further than anticipated has has not been seen since. The last remaining chook now has two companions brought in by my wife to stop our first chook fretting over her sudden aloneness!

We now have a white frizzle female and what we really, really, really hope will be a FEMALE, brown silkie/frizzle x. They really are too young at the moment to be 100% sure, but it is likely. They have such character and reports from their supplier said they lay quite well and for a couple of years so I hope it is the case. So one chook is supplying us with an egg a day and all chooks are eating what must be an enormous amount of insects as they range and scratch through the garden when permitted. The Isa brown has a keen eye for spiders but is not all that keen on earthworms and the bantams surprisingly will down slugs and even snails that they can manage. Even large ones if the shell is cracked or damaged.

II ) In our limited space garden there was really only one spot the chickens could go taking into consideration council requirements. They have been situated behind the shed and since the building of the house at the back have now been ‘sandwiched’ by the addition of a shed on the neighbouring property. They are visited daily which means that about 90% of the back garden is in sight and can be visually inspected each day to observe things. The food such as pellets, grit and wheat is stored in dry, sealable containers (recycled) under the deck and is easily on hand for feeding the chooks – as is the water tank for changing their water.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Diamond Mystery

I have also been meaning to post this little note as a sort of historical reference for later. Back in February, most mornings, very early I would hear a low whistle which I know to be a Diamond Firetail Finch call. They were in the valley just over a kilometre away where there is a paddock, long grass, natural springs and creeks and lots of gravel which they really like. I've seen them there, happy and content. Well, that area was bulldozed late last year and totally cleared for development. Where did the Firetails go?

I maintain that even though I never actually got to see one - I believe they were in the area. At least for a little while. Perhaps they heard the running water in the backyard. I sat out there a few times calling to them and something was calling back. I also entertained the idea that the guy over the back might have an aviary of finches, but I only ever heard them at a particular time in the morning and have not heard them for a week or so now.

It shall remain a mystery. Or perhaps a very unfortunate note of local historical value for some day in the future. How sad. :(

Garden work and Exotics Update

These are photos taken on Sunday 13th March 2011. My Mother-in-Law on the back deck sorting seeds while we work in the garden below and watch how the new chicks interact with the Isa brown Penny.

They certainly had some sort of social interaction for the day anyway.

I wanted to put the half wine barrels on coaster wheels so I could move them a little more easily rather than just being stuck with where I filled them. So most of the morning was spent re-potting the apricot, lime, lemon and nectarine and finding new spots for the frogs to live.

The photo below was taken today of my treasured tamarillo tree. It is heavily infested with aphids due to the hungry ants in the backyard but the fruit is holding and I've been keeping it steady with watering from the greywater. It is the best tamarillo tree I have grown and I'm thinking it is because I saved it from the pound (plant nursery) where it wasn't looking very happy. It's liked the attention and has grown over ten feet tall in twelve months and is producing a good lot of fruit.

I am also very pleased to see that one of the babaco trees is flowering and although it has lost some as it has done each time, it is holding onto about three flower buds and they have grown and exceeded the size of the others that eventually the tree shed. So although I was going to re-pot and put them into a bigger pot I simply left it, top-dressed and mulched the pot a little more and gave them a good drink. They obviously like the spot they are in so I have left them there too in the little hot corner by the bedroom Hopefully I will have some photos of babaco fruit soon!

And the pepino is going strong too. I accidentally cut two fruit from it over the working weekend while taking cuttings - they seem to be ripening still though so it will be interesting to see if they ripe ok. Meanwhile, I am striking other cuttings as they seem to root very, very easily at the moment. Literally overnight in some water and they are producing roots up to a centimetre long. These extra cuttings I plan to plant in other areas of the garden to really lush the place up and see where they will grow. I am planning to try along by the chook yard as I suspect that the chickens won't touch the leaves. They have ignored the sweet potato vine that has snaked its way up the wire fence and is now looking at attaching itself to the Tamarillo tree.

Other exotic news. The banana is doing really well too. Just before Christmas it looked as they it had sent roots far enough to draw water from the kitchen sink drain. Having done so it has added a new leave probably each fortnight and has grown considerably in height.

I also have to report that the choko vines have gone crazy with flowers. Flowers everywhere on them! The one on the side of the deck just has flowers dripping off it in the last week and a half. Tiny fruit are forming and I have added an upturned water cooler bottle by its base to drip feed it some water while its fruit swell. If the majority of these fruit do well we will be in good supply of chokoes for winter. The other surprise though is the other two chokoes that I planted at the base of two of the mallee trees. These have gone, well . . . feral, I guess. They have sent out vines throughout the trees, even into the highest branches. I was sitting in the house one afternoon not long ago and watching the tops of the trees sway and there sticking out from them looking for something further and longer to grow on was the grasping end of the choko vine.

These vines also are laden with flowers at the moment. One is even making a dash for the tamarillo before the sweet potato gets there.

After sorting out the pond and emptying some water out I discovered a couple of things. The smaller goldfish are doing well and some are starting to gold up underneath. One is already completely orange/yellow and has been for some weeks already. Greatly in advance of the others. When I moved a pot plant containing reeds I found two small yabby. Just over around 12mm. This is a good sign. I took it to mean that the yabbies are happy, surviving and that I will hopefully have some extra ones to put into the aquaponics set-up.

Also, with the extra movement of water through the various pots the water chestnut have really thrived also. I moved several back into the pond now that the level was higher and it looks as though we will at least have some good stock for planting out for a crop next autumn. As also the madagascar beans that I bought at the organic shop. Just a couple in the bag and only one or two grew but they are doing well and still flowering. We will have some good seeds to sow for a crop in spring.

The kitchen sink drain is doing really well and absolutely chock full of earthworms. More so it seems after I placed a broken down cardboard box into it and put a hessian bag across it. They love it.

A few more things to report. This morning around 5am we had about 30 secs of very heavy rain. Then it stopped and the rest of the day was very hot and humid. The washing does not take long to dry in this weather. A couple of mornings I have also heard a boo-book owl calling down in the valley somewhere. Such a nice, distant call to hear in the early hours of the morning.

I am also hoping to we will soon hear the call of the Lee's Frogs in the garden - if they haven't been disturbed too much over the last eight or so months. I do hope they return this year. They garden is so much more frog friendly now.

So, the fruit trees have been re-potted, the strawberries removed from them and put into their own pots. The passionfruit trellis is finished finally and the vine is already filling out and looking at wandering further afield.

The space under the deck is coming along and the side is looking much neater and ready for the aquaponics system. Yeah!

Everything seems to be doing rather well. Bush beans and peas have been planted. Sweet peas planted. Garlic and shallots planted out. Spinach planted. Some potatoes planted. I am saving the rest to add to a vertical potato garden during winter. For yummy spuds and awesome compost. We do have some very happy mice under the house but I suspect once I find the trap they will move on. The passionfruit is having another flowering bout. Brussel sprout seeds planted.

I think that is a decent catch up on things at the moment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gratitude Garden

I have been reflecting often lately about current world events and through wanting to remain open and energised despite the appearance of things I have found myself finding much strength in being grateful for my garden. For what it represents, its potential and its stand for the things I believe in.

If a change has not already come to the world through the natural disasters of the past few months and now the man-made hell of un-checked radiation in Japanese nuclear reactors then I only anticipate a great change is around the corner.

I have been very tired lately, but I have kept making what progress I can towards the vision I have for the garden. Gradually I am also making way for a seed collecting and drying area under the house.

Also, in my curiosity for some saneness in this mixed up world at the moment I did have to check exactly where in Japan Masanobu Fukuoka's farm is and I was very grateful to discover it is one of the southern islands and I would think it still remains. I had this initial thought that it would be an even greater disaster for the world and Japan to find that his farm had been taken in the tsunami. But then, these things all happen for a reason.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Chooks

I noticed the Jerusalem Artichokes have opened up today. It has taken them some time to flower and I suspect it might be due to receiving very, very little water. I have barely watered them at all over summer. Still, they are doing well in the area I planted them - as planned. It is a very isolated part of the garden. Perfect for plants that do just fine on their own!

Here are the two new chooks we received yesterday. We still have not chosen names for them. They have such character and the brown one can run very, very, very fast. I have never seen a chicken move so fleetingly. Amazing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

7th March 2011

Feeding time! The g-pigs are doing much better since they have been left to roam the garden. They rarely even pass a 4 metre line, choosing instead to hang around their boxes and shelter. The chooks have developed a real appetite for the tomatoes, but not quite to the extreme as the g-pigs, particularly Jazz.

This is my current experiment with the pond water and running through a half barrel like an aquaponics set-up. So far seems to be working, but not really filtering the water that much - which I guess will take some time for the bacteria to establish themselves. In the meantime the water spinach and watercress are enjoying it.

Despite the 'removal' of the lawn last year it has still managed to creep back and has done well for itself. The g-pigs relish the grass but not enough to keep it well back.

Here is another frog much bigger than the other two in previous pictures. Quite content to sit and watch the world go by. After removing the tomato bushes this little frog made his home on the strawberry and chilli plant in the lime barrel pot. Several nights later we had a light drizzle during the night and several of the frogs were calling. A really nice little chorus of calls. Nothing too loud and obtrusive, just pleasant little remarks about the cool of night and the current weather conditions.