Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One More Thing

I forgot to add in my post below and it is something that amuses my wife so I will mention it here.

Despite Penny moulting and going off the lay and Stella settling in I am proud to announce on behalf of my wife that ...

Jennifer Aniston has been laying eggs!

End of May Garden Update

A few things.

The aquaponics is coming along nicely. It has taken a little while for me to get my head around the workings of the system and to make it relatively easy and simple. I think I am there.

We had a storm the night before last. Winds of 110kph were forecast. I'm not sure if we got them here but it was a wild night, though not much rain if any. When we went out in the garden to look over it the nectarine had only a few leaves on it as did the apricot. It was like winter arrived over-night.

The little frog that called last autumn started calling around the 17th of the month. It gradually built up its repetitions until one or two nights about a week ago when it called most of the night. Then it stopped abruptly. I only heard one this year. We had two or three last year and I am wondering if they came to the garden through the horse manure I was getting.

Jazz had a nasty run in with my brothers dog Gizmo today. He just wanted to play but poor Jazz went in to a terrible state. I thought she had died she was so still. No breathing or eye movement. I was pretty worried. I put her inside and caught Maiki to keep her company. She settled down but was making a horrible little rasping sound. When my wife came home she said she read something like that in a book. That they can go into a state of shock for hours but eventually get over it. I looked a bit up on the internet and feel better about it. I am hoping she will be a little more normal in the morning. She was eating earlier this evening.

I have been researching screening/hedging trees and bushes for the back garden to create privacy now that the mallee have been cut down. I will wait a little longer to see what pattern the sun takes during winter before diving in.

The choko vine was removed yesterday from the deck. I piled it all up on the worm mound which has sunk quite a bit over the last fortnight. There must be a million plus worms under that pile. Beats the pants off a container worm farm!

I have been giving choko's away and making pickles and cakes and juices and soups and curries. I also blanched and froze some for use later in the year, mainly for soups I think.

The raspberry canes from last season have dried up and the ground is showing signs of new canes as the bush is spreading out under the soil. Also, the compost bins with potatoes growing in them seem to be doing rather well. So I am hoping to have a successful crop of spuds with my patience of piling material on as the plants grow.

The chooks were out the other day and have decimated my crop of red-flowering broad beans. I am hoping some will fight on to at least give seeds to replace this years planting.

The grape vine that was hidden from view by the choko vine has put on an incredible bit of growth over summer. Now I just need to prune it so that it is trained in the fashion that I want it to grow. Also storming ahead like there is no tomorrow is the Madagascar bean. It is still flowering and forming beans. I reckon I could grow it from the ground to the roof height with the right support and I will give it a go in spring with new seeds. I think the packet of seeds I bought had 5 in it. I am guessing that only one survived but I will more than replace the initial seeds. Probably by 20 times.

Garden peas planted our before we went on holidays in late March are now producing lovely plump pea pods. The bush beans are also producing long, thin, succulent beans. The sweet peas are about 20 cms high, if that.

There is a pumpkin vine growing along side the pepino on the west fence. It has manged to grow up into the native wisteria and I left it to see how far it would get before the mould got it. Well, the leaf mould touched a few lower leaves early in May, but the vine has managed to reach a spot where it is first in line to get some of the morning sun when it comes over the house. It had a small fruit forming which has since dropped but on inspection yesterday I discovered another fruit which looks like it will continue to develop higher up in the wisteria. It is a grand experiment at the moment because I fully intend to do something similar in summer with the aquponics system and have vertical gardens growing melons and squash. Hence the rather long beams of wood either end of the benches. I've seen enough set-ups to realise that guys must make their systems up and the plants do so well that there is never enough support for the amazing growth they have and things seem to be tacked on here and there to accommodate the plants growth. I figured I'd make allowances for awesome growth right from the start!

Native Garden

This pile of material has been lurking under our house for some time. With the cooler weather on the way and some days off work - and a green waste verge collection on its way - I decided to do the front native garden make-over sooner than later. So just over a week ago I got to it. It took nearly two days but it was good to get it done. Grass had taken over much of the native ground covers and so I removed them completely.

With much curiosity from the neighbour's over the road I set about laying out the cardboard and newspapers and old clothing. The guy over the road even came and offered for me to put all our green waste on his verge for the collection as our verge has a public path. Most of the grass went on the verge, everything else was recycled on site either by mulching, composting or putting in the chicken pen.

Despite looking like a large pile, this heap of cardboard and papers really didn't go that far once I got going. Much to my delight and also the neighbors, he had a pile of packing boxes he wanted to get rid of so they all went in as well and were very easy to lay down and covered a large area.

All the mulch from the trees out the back went on the garden as did mulch made from the removed native ground cover and trimmings from the eucalyptus. I went and checked out the nearest landscaping supply place down the road and was pleased to see native mulch for about $45 a cubic metre. I got $150 worth roughly with a small delivery charge and spread it out across the papers and cardboard.

I also had paper daisy seeds from a Diggers Club order and mixed them with some sand and put that down over the mulch with a light sprinkling over them. The following weekend it rained rather heavily and it was just what was needed for the new seedlings that I had planted out. I've had them in pots for some time and was thinking I would only get to it in the Spring. Now its all done and they have a winter of rainfall (perhaps) to assist them in getting established.

It never ceases to amaze me how much cardboard and newspapers get thrown away still from households. A proper mulching job takes a serious whack of newspapers/cardboard and still you could run short. I suppose that it is a matter of people doing what is easier. The bin is easier.

Having said that though. I anticipate the odd spraying/removal of grass that comes up from the neighbors side of the garden, but then I can't imagine having to water the garden throughout summer either. I didn't last summer and I lost one plant, nearly. It's kind of hanging in there. After this mulch job I think it will take care of itself with just the odd separating of kangaroo paws every few years and lopping them down to a few inches height each autumn.

Aquaponics - Next stage completed - May 2011

Gradually the system is taking shape. This was one of the bigger obstacles and I managed to overcome it today with a bit of an extra hand from my brother to get the second bench in position. I also painted the benches with metal paint to give them a new resilience to the weather. All up I can fit 11 grow beds along the benches. That is approximately 1100 litres of water for my roughly 800 litre fish tank. I am anticipating adding another tank to the current one in the near future and may need to utilise only half of the grow beds until the system is completely hooked up in it's entirety.

After playing around with the pond and some aquaponics I have settled on this little set-up for the time being. It has been in situ around about a fortnight I think and already the strawberries are growing new leaves and the lettuce is coming on strong after limping for about two days. The real surprise was how much better the pond water looks. I'm not quite sure how it could clear so soon given that there are not that many roots in the system yet to pick up nutrients but perhaps it is just the water being filtered through the expanded clay alone that has cleared it. I have the pump off for around an hour and pumping for about a half hour. Currently there are I think seven marron in the pond and about a dozen feeder fish that bred up in the pond from our four goldfish.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Chook

There has been a bit happening in the garden recently despite mainly working and not spending that much time in it, or seeing it in the dark when I get home...

But last week we said goodbye to Beecker the rooster. He was starting to crow beyond his couple of 7am calls to several calls during the day - because he could. So he left with me in the car on Tuesday for a property nearby.

Come Saturday we bought home Stella from one of my wife's work colleagues. Stella is a rather large, dusty black Australorp. Penny immediately set after her and tormented her for a while. We didn't get to put them back in the coop tonight but on our return home there they all were, perched away out of the wind and rain in the coop. No signs of chaos. After Penny has taken Jennifer Aniston 'under her wing' since Beeckers departure I am sure she will eventually give Stella some slack and they will all settle down to a relaxed trio and start up with the egg laying again.

I'm looking forward to the settled coop. It was getting to be a bit much having to catch Beecker each morning before he started crowing. Things are a little easier with all the girls (including the guinea pigs!)

I have also put a small aquaponics project together over a couple of days, but I'll do another post on that itself at some point. That's all for now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Aquaponics Project - Some Musings.

Here is the chaos surrounding the next stage of the aquaponics project. So far, despite some time spent thinking things over, the project seems to be 'building itself'. The benches I got some months back have worked out perfect for the job. At the time I hadn't even thought about using them for this project but they are solid enough and have the second shelf all ready for putting the marron tanks and worm farms on.

It's taken a little bit for me to get my head around a number of factors.

* The positioning of the grow beds on the stands and the layout of the stands. I was thinking of an L-shape but have decided that too many factors fit well if I just continue right along the house. It has meant making a slight height adjustment to allow for fitting the second shelf of the second stand into the slope of the block. Got that figured. Now I just need to cut the bench stand to fit the space and number of grow beds.

* The actual site of the grow beds. Is it sunny enough? I think it will be, last years crop of cabbage just a few metres over did fine. Is it sheltered enough? There are no tall trees to drop too much of anything and the eaves shelter the beds just enough from most of the directional rain that we get. We had a brief downpour the other day and I went out to see how much the beds are likely to collect and it will be minimal if any.

* Working with the sloping block and sinking the benches. As above but also how far from the house and how far out will the grow beds sit. Plus I figured they will be there for some time to come so I painted the wood work along the house where the stands will cover for a little extra protection. Plus I think it needed it. I treated it after we bought the house and it seemed a little neglected then and just soaked up the oil.

* Where to pump the water to and how to get the water equally through the grow beds and then draining out and getting it back into the fish tank. I have also tried to keep this simple. I was toying with the idea of automatic siphons but don't see the point in making 8 or so siphons when the tanks can simply gravity feed the water back into the fish tank. So I am going with a simplified drainage version and plan to run the water into a main feeder pipe which will carry it back to the tank.

* The plastic grow beds took a little while to settle on too. I found some perfect black plastic boxes at the hardware store but did a little research and decided there is much, much more to plastic than I ever knew. I found the information below at this interesting site.

Types Of Plastic

In the United States, the following codes represent the seven categories of plastic used in nearly all plastic containers and product packaging:

1 - PET PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is a clear, tough polymer with exceptional gas and moisture barrier properties. PET's ability to contain carbon dioxide (carbonation) makes it ideal for use in soft drink bottles.

Examples: Soft drink bottles, detergent bottles

2 - HDPE HDPE (high density polyethylene) is used in milk, juice and water containers in order to take advantage of its excellent protective barrier properties. Its chemical resistance properties also make it well suited for items such as containers for household chemicals and detergents. Most five gallon food buckets are made from HDPE.

Examples: Milk bottles, shopping bags

3 - V Vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC) provides excellent clarity, puncture resistance and cling. As a film, vinyl can breathe just the right amount, making it ideal for packaging fresh meats that require oxygen to ensure a bright red surface while maintaining an acceptable shelf life.

Examples: Plastic food wrap, shrink wrap, garden hoses, shoe soles

4 - LDPE LDPE (low density polyethylene) offers clarity and flexibility. It is used to make bottles that require flexibility. To take advantage of its strength and toughness in film form, it is used to produce grocery bags and garbage bags, shrink and stretch film, and coating for milk cartons.

Examples: Squeeze bottles, dry cleaning bags

5 - PP PP (polypropylene) has high tensile strength, making it ideal for use in caps and lids that have to hold tightly on to threaded openings. Because of its high melting point, polypropylene can be hot-filled with products designed to cool in bottles, including ketchup and syrup. It is also used for products that need to be incubated, such as yogurt. Many Cambo, Tupperware and Rubbermaid food storage containers are made from PP.

Examples: Bottle caps, take-out food containers, drinking straws

6 - PS PS (polystyrene), in its crystalline form, is a colorless plastic that can be clear and hard. It can also be foamed to provide exceptional insulation properties. Foamed or expanded polystyrene (EPS) is used for products such as meat trays, egg cartons and coffee cups. It is also used for packaging and protecting appliances, electronics and other sensitive products.

Examples: Plastic foam, packing peanuts, coat hangers

7 - Other Other denotes plastics made from other types of resin or from several resins mixed together. These usually cannot be recycled.

Another important type of plastic is polycarbonate, a clear shatter-resistant material used in restaurant food storage containers and the Rubbermaid Premier line of stain-resistant home food storage containers.

Why do we need different types of plastics, anyway? This excerpt from the American Plastics Council website explains it well.

"Copper, silver and aluminum are all metals, yet each has unique properties. You wouldn't make a car out of silver or a beer can out of copper because the properties of these metals are not chemically or physically able to create the most effective final product. Likewise, while plastics are all related, each resin has attributes that make it best suited to a particular application. Plastics make this possible because as a material family they are so versatile."

The plastic drums I have used for $25 each and actually worked out better and cheaper than the hardware store boxes I was looking at (even though they did stack neatly next to each other). The barrel drums are deep enough, made of the right plastic and will hold much more - an easy 100 litres each half. They are a No.2 on the above chart.

* I am thinking I will steady the drums by locking them in from each end by wooden posts that will be positioned for supporting climbing plants or those that may need some support. Adding some liquid nails or something to the bottom of the drum will hopefully assist with steadying them also and I am hoping that once full of expanded clay pellets they will support each other nestled together.

I think that is most of the major issues I have come across so far.