Friday, April 29, 2011

Dansons la Capucine (Nasturtium Dance)

This is my painting of my wife in the garden with all the critters that I did for her birthday. The guinea pigs and the chooks and the scenery and the birds in the trees. Oh, and my brothers dog who sometimes visits. And the pelicans that soar over each day to and from their fishing grounds in the harbour. It's not the clearest of images but you get the idea.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Psychology and Gardening

An interesting article I found on the net. Very interesting.

Consider the earthy pleasures of gardening. You're outdoors. The sun warms your muscles. You're doing something both productive and edifying. And the activity places you back into the natural world, where exercise and relaxation are organically linked.

Edible gardening is better still; even the smallest of backyard or container gardens can put a surprising amount of food on your table in ways that make great nutritional and economic sense. Not to mention the juicy satisfaction of plucking that robust tomato or those tart raspberries.

But there is an even bigger yield. Call it soil-borne wellness, and here is where science is plowing totally new ground. Researchers are discovering that growing your own food—however much or little you can do—is better for your health than anyone ever suspected. And the nutritional value of what you harvest is almost the least of it. Growing your own food by messing around in your own garden proves to be nature's fruitful way of cultivating your health—physically and psychologically.

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Photo Update

I took an updated photo of the house from the back corner of the garden as it is becoming so much more of a jungle than it was a few months back. From the main garden bed a grapevine has made its way up to the top deck alongside a Madagascar Bean. To the right are two towers of strawberry plants just planted out as a way of making the most of vertical space. Near to these is the choko vine that spread along the west facing wall but has been pruned back, but is also taking over the north facing side of the deck- as you can see it has almost made its way to the living room windows.

The banana to the left has put on impressive growth also over the last six months and has had many leaves open out as it has climbed upwards.

I should add here too that the bulbs I planted a few weeks back are just starting to peak through the soil in their pots. Most of these are snowdrops.

I calculated that next season if I planted out 15 choko vines we should be able to cover the whole house. My wife wasn't so sure about it.

Aquaponics - Stage One

Stage One of the Aquaponics project. I leveled out the ground and compacted the sand. Made sure it was relatively even and then positioned a sturdy wooden pallet in place and put the fibre glass tank on top. The timing was somehow spot on as the fish pond began to lose its water level and I suspect it has a leak so I have emptied it and placed all the goldfish in the tank with the nearly ready to harvest water chestnuts.

The other bonus find was the many marron that were lurking at the bottom of the pond. They have probably been in there about six months I think - as well as the yabbies - but not a LIVE yabby to be seen anywhere. Just a few remnants of shells and claws. Obviously marron food!

There were also about twenty to thirty smaller marron - an inch or less, some even 5mm in length and all up about 15 marron 3 inches or longer. I even found a dragonfly nymph which I have not encountered since my childhood playing in and around lakes in Perth.

At the moment we have three large goldfish and many, many young ones which will be used for various projects around the place. Some will go back into the pond when ready, others will be used for the setting up of the aquaponics project and others may be transferred to another water garden idea I have. The problem in the meantime is housing the many marron so they are not in each others space while the pond is out of action - and I don't really want them in with the fish after losing one of our larger ones to a bad marron attack.

Creating a Micro-Soak

I got this inspiration from the concept of swales and how they permit water to be leached slowly into the earth for use by trees and plants.

I had just planted a pepino cutting by a fence in a very, very dry part of my garden and as we approached summer it was becoming evident that the spot was ideal as far as sunlight was concerned, but even the well-established rosemary was starting to turn up its toes.

The house block slopes to the north and this particular garden bed is really well drained and largely just sand. I have refused to water the garden with tap water since we moved in and my grey-water set-up did not really prove to be that successful or effective or time-saving. I wanted a simpler, workable way. So I ripped out the grey-water pipes and created what I call a micro-soak.

Firstly I dug a large hole, around half a metre deep in to the water-repelling sand and probably 60-70cms wide. I then lined it with sheets of newspaper and put in an up-turned pot plant that had the bottom removed. Around the pot I layered up torn cardboard pieces, more newspaper, grass clippings and you could also used hay and pea straw if available. I wet this all down with grey-water as I added material. Then on top I mounded it all up with more grass clippings and tipped in a bucket of water into the channel that the pot made. This water took some time to seep through the paper but I added water occasionally as I passed and eventually just added a bucket of water a week or whenever I saw fit to.

Fairly quickly the paper began to break down and worms were drawn to the moisture and the feed of grass, cardboard and organic material. It was all down-hill from there really. The worms broke the material down and the water gradually moved out into the garden and by this time the surrounding plants would have had roots close to the source of moisture. In some cases I guess you could removed the pot altogether and just continue to pile up fresh organic material as the soil underneath is now a sponge that holds the water and feeds it through to the plant roots as it soaks away. These areas are full of worm activity and the pepino and rosemary not only survived the hot, easterly-driven summer, but thrived with the extra heat and the readily available water supply that really wasn’t that generous in quantity but was simply being used more effectively. I set up another micro-soak up hill from the first and this really feeds the rosemary as it is up hill from it. It also means I have been able to take a cutting from the pepino and plant it alongside the mother plant to create a wall of green in an area of the garden that was otherwise dry – and I should say, had remained dry even though the previous occupants of the house had reticulated the garden and watered on a timer.

In choosing to retire the reticulation system and find other simple solutions for our watering I have found that this simple idea has created mini-oasis areas in the garden.

I am taking this a step further now and have created two other experimental micro-soaks. One has had a large amount of cardboard placed on top of it upon which a compost bin has been placed. The other I have place a large metal drum with the ends cut out and this is planted with seed potatoes that I am adding hay and pea straw and shredded newspaper to as the plants grow up-ward. I have heard mixed results about this style of growing potatoes but have always wanted to try it and the idea itself makes sense in our small garden. If I can grow more, vertically, then I will give it a go!

In just the six months or so that I have had the micro-soaks set up the soil life in the areas of the garden where they are has exploded. I certainly plan to duplicate the success on the other side of the house in a similar situation where the garden bed receives even less water due to its situation and reduced amount of human traffic.

In the picture above the center of the soak is a little to the right of the pink strawberry pot. You can see it slopes down a little towards the path. Another soak lies behind the rosemary bush and one under the brown drum which now has potato plants growing up through it. Behind this along the fence there are sweet peas coming up which are in a much drier spot due to being further from the soak and not having such a huge root system at the moment. These are getting hand watered when I think of it. Potatoes, beetroot and cosmos are growing in the vicinity of the drum soak. Having survived a hot summer it is a little easier now as we will have autumn showers to supplement the watering.


Scavenging Locally

In the mornings my wife and I go for a walk around town. Usually I casually guide the route as my wife divulges of whatever it is she wishes to divulge as we spend this time together at the start of our day. Lately, the weather has been really enjoyable. Pleasurably warm for most of the last few weeks with the fresh coolness moving in over the last fortnight.

The stars are out, the moon is bright, the space station is a bright star in the east and by the time we have done our hours walk the sun is on its way and the chook usually has an egg waiting for us as they are released from the coop into the straw-yard.

On these walks I have taken up the practice of scouting for plants in the area. Many of these I don’t really touch as I don’t know what they have been in contact with, but there is a vacant block nearby that has a bunch of weeds and grass growing on it. In particular, dandelion , the weed of choice according to our guinea pigs. I can see areas where the grass has been sprayed but the weeds are untouched and usually grow further into the block away from the kerbside. I usually grab a small bunch of these to offer the guinea pigs on our arrival home.

It is surprising to take a mental audit of some of the plants around the area. A friend of mine does similar and has noted some significant finds such as old fruit trees on vacant blocks and a garden with an avocado tree. It gives you a good idea of what trees and plants will thrive and survive in the area.

A good enough reason to get me out of bed for a walk. Particularly as the days grow shorter and colder!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April Update

A few things to report.

The broad beans planted about a month ago now are averaging about 10cms in height.

About four days ago I planted a small area with seeds from last years red flowering broad beans. These were from seeds grown in Nannup and purchased from a seed saver at the Nannup farmers market. They didn't do too well given a late planting and a very well drained part of the garden, but they survived enough to provide seeds to keep them going and I am positive an earlier planting this year will see a decent crop for both seeds and eating.

There appears to be a problem with the fish pond dropping its level by about a foot. Not sure if there is a leak somewhere. Other small yabbies have been seen which affirms they must be happy and breeding well.

The fish tank for the aquaponics project is in place and has about 150 litres of rain water in it at the moment. Shortly I will move some of the many goldfish offspring into it.

It occured to me today to begin to make a list of those plants in the garden that we utilise.

I also received an order yesterday of bulbs from Bulbs Direct. These are for planting out for spring and most of them are fragrant flowering plants. More later.

The jerusalem artichokes are still standing, though the flowers died off weeks ago. I will leave these until the stems die off a little more.

A small patch of bull garlic was also planted a few days ago from bulbs kept from last year. Many of the plants in the garden have done well enough to give us enough for hopefully further crops and some eating this year.

The kitchen sink pit is ready for winter. I have piled on newspaper and old bath towels and soaked cardboard with layers of straw. I've intentionally piled it up high for several reasons. There are A LOT of worms making the most of this area and no doubt breeding profusely. I also had a lot of materials under the house stored that I wanted to clean out and get out of the way so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to feed the worms and have them remain relatively undisturbed and well fed throughout the next 4 -5 months, after which I will probably empty most of it out and check the pipe and start another batch for the summer season. That way should have some nice compost for the spring pots and vege beds.

Spinach plants are coming on well and strengthening up with the cooler weather. Other seedlings of spinach coming up in the pebble paths that I will transplant later.

The pepino is fruiting well and other cuttings have been planted around the garden simply for the greenery and to see how they perform in other areas of the garden. The fruit is so close to being ripe, but just not quite!

We are harvesting tamarillos almost on a daily basis now. Some are not quite ripe but are removed because of the winds and weather and the extra burden on the trees. Chokos are doing well also and are keeping us and friends and family in supply.

Lots of silvereye activity as they scavenge heavily amongst the choko vine and native wisteria. The wattlebirds have had young and are very defensive of their flowering gum out the front of the house. And very vocal too.

The frogs have not been seen for some time. There was one hanging around the potted pond a few weeks ago but I haven't seen it for a while.

It was around this time last year also that the smaller frogs started with their calling. I hope they are around too, there really isn't any way of knowing until they start calling, they are so small.

Still deciding on grow bed materials for aquaponics given use and budget.

C'est tout.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Permaculture is Design

I never really quite got that "Permaculture is Design - it's not gardening. Gardening is a part of it.", as Bill Mollison says. It's the one thing most everyone thinks about when you say the word 'permaculture'. It has only really been through making more of a conscious effort in planning what I have been doing in the garden that it has sunk in. After all it's what is also happening in and around the house and what is coming into the house and leaving the house as well.

A huge amount of the materials used have either been recycled or re-used or bought second hand. I am also wanting the materials to blend in with the house and to look a part of the scene. Not just tacked-on. Which is why I am taking my time to plan out the aquaponics side of things. I priced materials today and look like I will go back to my original idea of half barrels. More to come on this one.

Here are some fresh pics of some of the autumn happenings.

Recycling - some notes and observations

Denim Jeans

1 Re-Use: My wife is currently working on a floor rug made from old denim jeans cut into strips and then woven together.

2 Re-Use: Once its reincarnation as a rug is coming to an end it would make a great blanket cover for a worm farm or bedding for a dog kennel before finally adding it to the garden or compost bin. But maybe not before using it as a weed suppressant or footpath!

3 Re-Use: Strips of denim can be used to tie plant stems to support poles as they can be cut 2-3 cm wide and offer support without cutting into the tree bark or soft stem.

4 Recycle: Add to the bottom of pots to stop soil coming out of the drainage holes.

5 Re-Use: Denim jean pockets can be cut around and make handy buffing or polishing ‘gloves’ for treating wooden furniture using beeswax or orange oil.

6 Recycle: My wife has used old jeans to make handbags with her girl guides.

Cardboard Boxes

7 Re-Use: Moving items when moving house.

8 Re-Use: Placing recyclable materials in from the kitchen.

9 Re-Use: As a make-shift guinea pig cage. They really enjoy a cardboard box shelter and will quite often have a nibble at it from time to time.

10 Recycle: added to the compost bin to compost down.

11 Re-Use: Large boxes can be made into a protective envelope to ship paintings in to exhibitions.

12 Re-Use: Cut down again to use as padding for furniture to sit on to protect flooring.

13 Recycle: Soaked and buried into garden beds as a hotel for compost worms.

14 Re-Use: Broken down and added directly into pots before adding soil to prevent soil escaping and holding moisture at root level.

15 Re-cycle: When we first moved in and I was working on the sandy situation in the garden I mulched heavily with cardboard boxes flattened out. After twelve months or so I have discovered wonderfully friable, dark soil with the odd length of masking or packing tape which I then remove from the garden. My lesson being from the last twelve months that often I am better off putting things directly where I want them and let nature sort it out. Patience is required, but it works better. I’ve never had what I would call a rapturous success with compost piles or bins or worm farms, but my soil is growing in its richness and there are areas where it is simply seething with worms and other soil life.

Plastic Bottles

16 Re-Use: To hold water for various uses. Or organic fertiliser liquid. Ie worm compost tea.

17 Re-Use: Use as a watering reservoir for individual plants in the garden. Quite often frozen during summer to allow the water to seep out slowly.

18 Recycle: Used for creating sculptures.

19 Recycle: I have grown very successful seedlings in pots made of plastic bottles with the top half cut off and placed inside the bottom. The hole is filled with shredded paper and then soil and seeds. Once the seedlings send roots into the bottom water reservoir they will cope quite happily with very hot days as long as the water reservoir is topped up now and then. It’s a miniature hydroponics set-up in a way, though using soil.

20 Re-Use: Not quite filled completely and then frozen to make the guinea pigs day a little more comfortable during very hot spells.

21 Re-use: I have also had some success with using plastic containers from a café (used for ice-cream) as planters for my water chestnuts. These are long containers and sit in the pond rather well and the black ones are quite disguised. Other larger plastic containers are used to trap greywater when I want to hand water specific parts of the garden. Any excess greywater is plumbed directly to several areas of the garden.

Green ‘waste’

22 Re-Use: Larger branches of mallee are used for chicken roosts rather than cutting down and putting in land fill. Others may be used in art projects.

23 Recycle: Limbs of trees that require removal are mulched where possible and the mulch put back into the garden or used to line a pathway through the garden.

24 Recycle: Any kitchen scraps are placed in either the compost bin tub or the chook tub. Now that we have chickens we are also supplementing them with scraps from my in-laws kitchen and the odd bag of lettuce leaves and greens from the vege shop. I have also piled in truck-loads of grass clippings from a friends lawn mowing round.

25 Re-Use: To date, just about everything from the garden that requires removal is simply used elsewhere. For example, plants needing moving are usually planted in another location. Tree prunings are mulched and used to dress the garden. Large vines are put into the compost bins. The main difficulties are with larger logs which are usually still used in some area of the garden through necessity. We did not have a green waste bin when we moved in and do not intend getting one.


26 Re-Use: Used for packing objects for putting into storage boxes.

27 Re-Use: Scrunched sheets of newpaper used with vinegar are used to clean our windows and mirrors. Recycle: They are then added to the compost bin.

28 Re-Use: Made into seedling pots for those seeds that need pot raising. Planted direct into the garden. Recycle: Those that don’t have healthy seedlings in them can be put into the compost bin or used to mulch around a plant out of view.

29 Recycle: Frequently I add sheets of newspaper and ripped cardboard to the sink pit to soak up some of the moisture which then feed the worms as they make the mass of paper and cardboard their temporary home. I have even seen worm cocoons deposited between the sheets of thick newsprint.

30 Re-Use: Used to put down on the bottom of the guinea pigs hutch when they were in the hutch. Later placed into the compost bin to break down further.

31 Re-Use: I have also used torn paper mixed with grass clippings to stuff into pvc tubes that are then used to grow strawberry plants. The paper holds the moisture and is used to transport the moisture to all of the plants.

32 Re-use: When creating our pond, rather than using fine sand to put over the base to cover sharp rocks and sticks I used very thick wads of newspaper. This was for a number of reasons. I had the newspaper available and I didn’t have to buy or obtain fine sand. I am confident that the paper actually won’t break down as quickly that deep down given that there is mainly sand dune sand and most of the worms are active closer to the soil surface and mulch. Also, when and if the pond needs moving it will be easy enough to do and the soil will have some substance to it rather than being devoid of organic matter.


Re-Use: Used in the garden as a weed suppressant pathway. Also placed across top of kitchen sink ditch to create a perfect environment for the compost worms.

Re-Use: Would make a great blanket cover for a worm farm or bedding for a dog kennel.

Re-use: Used to carpet the shed in areas where the floor is better off being covered by something.

In addition to the above items, I have used them all in artwork where I use them as a base structure and build around them with paper clay to form sculptures. I am planning on using many of these to decorate the garden and to add to the interest of the garden and also our house. In time I may sell them to inspire others to use recycled materials in a like manner.

Mirrors in the garden have been used to great effect rather than throwing them out. I am about to reposition many of them now that the sun is changing its angle.

Milk cartons have been used successfully to make water-wise plant pots for chillies. The chillies thrived in them and even on hot days when the water had evaporated, because the plants had developed roots down into the water reservoir, even when they looked really parched and wilted they soon sprang to life with a good watering to fill the water reservoir again.

I am hoping that this same technique will work with larger pots and perhaps some other moisture loving plants such as pineapple using some sort of fabric as a wick to carry water further into the soil so the plant is not required to fully extend its roots in search of the water in the reservoir.

Water reuse – linking greywater to the garden from the kitchen sink so that waste water is used by garden plants that require regular watering and moisture such as banana, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, pineapple. Comfrey, groundcovers.

I also like to make the most of potted plants and using them to act as individual compost bins. There is plenty of fine, water-repelling sand under the house which I have gradually excavated while setting up my work benches. To render this sand useful I have used it as a potting mix. I mix sand with either a liquid wetting agent or with crystals and about 5 – 10 % composted lawn clippings. To this I usually also sprinkle a handful or two of dynamic lifter pellets. I guess you could also add some seaweed liquid too, though I have not tried this yet. In the bottom of the plant pot I put either shredded paper, ripped up pieces of cardboard or a few sheets of newspaper. I have also added crude organic matter at times as well such as large leaves, straw, kitchen scraps, fish scraps, pond weed and nasturtium foliage and such things. Then I add the sand mix and sow either the seeds or put in the bulbs or cuttings. In order to save water I usually place my pot plants on areas of garden beds that are not planted. This allows for excess water to go into the garden and keep the moisture there. More often than not this leads to worms accumulating in and around the base of the pots and breaks down the organic matter in the garden beds quicker while allowing the worms free-range into the pot plants to work on the organic matter there also. Basically, these pots become miniature worm farms and over the course of a year the sand in the pots is really incorporated well with the added organic matter and rendered much more useful and loses its soil repelling tendency.

Further notes on paper products.

I have used many boxes of newspaper and cardboard over the first twelve months of setting up the gardens here. It might seem a daunting challenge to be able to recycle all the waste paper from an average household but I would say that in my experience a garden will take whatever you are prepared to give. We do not have a newspaper subscription so we receive only the two local, weekly newspapers which we used happily while the guinea pigs were in their hutch. Once we moved them into the garden as the free-range occupants they currently are we no longer used the newspapers and shredded paper brought home from work. No problem. I have found that just adding this paper to pot plants as mentioned above or laid in the garden beds quite thickly (though with some soil sandwiched in between) and mulched over means the slaters, worms and other soil life make light work of it and turn it into such a dark, wonderful, light, water attracting soil that I just can’t get enough of the stuff. We even have taken on collecting the newspapers from my in-laws who usually buy the daily state-wide newspapers and the local ones. The garden is happy to accommodate these, and I am happy to feed it – especially given my views on the newspapers, that they are best used for the garden as the content really is a bit dismal I find.

Even the pots are re-used pots either from plants purchased at a nursery or from friends or family that no longer want them.

I have recently potted up many pots of snowdrop bulbs which were also likely to have been thrown away, but have been re-used!

Magazines – handed on from friends and family. Many are passed on. Others are stripped of handy articles and filed whilst the rest of the magazine is used for art and anything else left is used for the garden. I am mindful as to what parts of the garden they go into given the high ink content on them but areas where I have applied them the worms are thriving. It was only the other week that I read a snippet in a magazine about a study that showed that compost worms have been found to be about to render heavy metals in the soil harmless. I will keep observing and being a little cautious though.

Some newspaper and cardboard finds its way pretty swiftly into the compost bins, but after unsuccessful past attempts and breaking down large amounts of paper and cardboard I have curbed this addition to the compost, preferring instead to get the worms involved directly.

As for the aerobin, I have been a little disappointed with it as far as the speed with which it works and the compost produced. I am finding that its working well simply with the kitchen scraps that don’t go to either the guinea pigs or chickens and the odd addition of bulk green waste from the garden such as removed vines, large weeds etc. I have also started adding frequent sprinklings of dolomite to assist with the breaking down on the organic matter. It humours me still that there is a resident family of mice that either live in it or take food hunting forays into the bin and are often sighted upon first opening the bin each day. I am therefore being extra patient with the aerobin and figure that over a twelve month period it will produce some compost worthy of using whilst we still add our small contributions of kitchen scraps to the top of the pile. I have also set up another compost bin for larger green waste pieces and some cardboard. This will be used for growing potatoes in the top and will be added to with straw as the pile sinks and the potatoes grow. Over one of my water ditches I have had healthy potatoes sprouting and have relocated a large drum over this ditch in order to use it as a potato/compost bin also. As the potato plant grows I have some hay and pea straw put to the side to add to the drum so that over a couple of months we get a nice crop of spuds and I have a good compost to spread over the soil come spring. The other attraction is that this vertical growing method really suits the smaller garden and makes the most of the space. So far this is working well and the potato plant is working its way up. I have already added three layers of hay as the rain has settled it and weighed it down a bit more.

From time to time many vegetable parts are re-used also. Carrot tops are planted out and have given me the seeds for this seasons crop which I am hoping will grow as they come from a reasonable source. I have also had other plants come up through seeds scattered in the garden.

Raining Chokos

This morning as I looked out across the garden to the mallee trees with rain drops decorating them, a bunch of New Holland Honeyeaters gathered and started to 'shower' themselves amongst the branches. Frolicking around to gather up all the rain drops and then shaking them off. They are the perfect trees for doing this it would seem given their fine leaves and branches. Something different to the bird bath by the nectarine tree. The photos really don't do the moment any justice.

Sadly, only a couple of hours after taking these photos I was having lunch and heard a loud crack. I kind of knew what it sounded like and rushed to the back window to be confronted by this.

Not good. So the better part of the afternoon was spent clearing up the limbs and mulching the smaller branches. Wondering what I was going to do about the rest of the trees. It was inevitable this would happen and only the other week I trimmed large branches from the tree in the chook pen. So, I am pondering their fate.

Options: prune and kind of coppice them so they bush out from the trunk and fill the space.
They are the most brilliant of privacy screens which is important now that there are tenants in the house at the back.

The other option is perhaps a lattice frame work fitted to the fence, but I really don't like the look or the price. But it would be an "instant" kind of fix for the privacy situation.

Another option is to remove the trees altogether and plant the natives that I have been growing as plan B. Kind of like a succession planning for the day that this happened - only it happened so soon!

I could also plant out the lemon tree and some other fruit trees.

I could replace them all with my aquaponics that I have been planning only that doesn't fit with the initial plan and was more of a wild thought. Maybe another trellis with kiwifruit?

I am also reluctant to do anything except cut them back and start to coppice them and watch what they do. This way I can always remove them completely if they don't do what I had intended for them and it gives me the winter to see what the sunlight does. It will allow a lot more light into the garden and it will be interesting to see what effect this has. In that respect the whole incident is a plus in so far as confronting the inevitable sooner than later.

The other thing is - what the neighbours might do given that they will now have us looking down onto the back of the house and their little patio area. If they are like all our other neighbours, they won't go outside all that much and keep their blinds closed, so it wouldn't really matter.

Still, watch and learn. I picked up the chokos that had rained down everywhere and took some to my dad for salad and probably curries. The rest of the vine went into the compost bin and the sweet potato vine that was growing up into the smaller trees that was damaged is buried roughly into the garden and straw to see if it takes. After all, that's how I got it going in the first place, from pieces of vine.

Here is the hole that is left. I shudder to think what it would be like with the rest of the trees down. Almost straight away after I was out there cutting it up the little Silvereyes were out there singing away. They have lost so many trees over the last twelve months here it would be sad to not have anything larger than a bush to have them hang out in.