Friday, July 29, 2011

Home Grown Mushrooms

We had friends for dinner the other night and I picked a couple of mushrooms from my first little crop. Within a matter of days those in the box were swelling to fill the spaces where I had removed the other ones. We ate them raw in salad and they were very dense and full of flavour. Not really like shop bought ones. Quite intense in comparison. They would really make a wonderful sauce for a steak or pasta dish.

So white and heavy for their size. I am hoping that once done I will be able to put the compost in the garden and maybe have some more come up.

Aquaponics nearing completion

Well, it is up and running now after several months. Probably one of the larger projects I've ever taken on aside from my first house renovation. The outlet pipe (black poly pipe running the length of the grow beds) has required some tinkering and probably will for some time as the system settles and the bacteria begin to fill the beds along with organic matter.

Most of the beds are filling around the same time and I have set a timer for the pump to go on for a half hour and then off for an hour. Alternating like this over the last day seems to work well and we had a stormy night and some rain last night and in the early morning and that hasn't appeared to upset the water levels too much.

I planted in some watercress and parsley seedlings some days ago and they seem to be doing fine though a few leaves have dried out. I have tomato cuttings taken from the self-sown summer plants before I took them out of the garden and these are standing by for putting into beds. Just waiting for them to take root in their water and hydrogen peroxide solution. They have barely wilted at all. Maybe 5% if that.

Spinach and lettuce seedlings are coming up in pots for eventual sowing into the system.

The goldfish seem to be doing okay despite the water still being a little murky. I am anticipating this clearing over time with the bacterial activity and the plant grow. In the meantime I have the water running back through a filter of cloth which is eliminating some of the dust and particles.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Food Security

This article is from Philip Day's website.

As the European debt mountain threatens to unravel the euro and entire EU, across the Atlantic the United States approaches a possible default on its own borrowing. One area not covered by the media for obvious reasons is the real possibility of food shortages for the citizen.

Each of us needs to be sensitised to what might happen over the next few months in the event that the global debt noose tightens to catastrophic proportions. Certainly the news is full of financial doom and gloom but what’s in your newspapers these days is something different.

We knew greed was going to be the death of the euro sooner or later. There is no paper money system that has not failed, and there is no intrinsic (gold/silver) monetary system that has failed. Across the pond, US national debt has long been mathematically un-repayable. The dollar has only stayed afloat thanks to the good faith and trust of the American and world peoples but, as they say in Kentucky, the chickens are coming home to roost. I’m amazed the system has lasted this long.

Ah, the joys of fractional reserve banking or, in English, creating money out of nothing and then lending it to people at great profit. The current Murdoch scandal too exemplifies the society we have become. Values-lite, greedy, ruthless, selfish, venal, corrupt, morally deviant. Unwilling to put off for tomorrow what we can go into debt to possess today. But the real story is not Rupert, James and Rebekah, it’s about what might happen to the US economy and euro. When a country goes bust there’s extreme financial turmoil in store for its citizens. When the currency across an entire continent fails, the fallout can only be severe. When the euro fails simultaneous to the largest economy on Earth (America) defaulting, the world’s predicament is uncharted territory.

With economic collapse a centralised food supply system becomes vulnerable and the trouble starts. When people cannot find food to feed their families, some go out and do whatever it takes to get some. Civil disobedience follows, and so does looting, violence, vigilantism and in extreme cases, war. Governments panic and pass extreme measures in an attempt to restore order. Emergency powers like those given to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), become the back door to a dictatorial arrangement if they are not properly policed, and they aren’t.

We’ve seen a smaller version of the problem with various fuel crises over the years. By the time a fuel block hits the papers, the queues are already around the block. I lived in LA during the 1992 Rodney King riots and food was hard to come by for four days. The shocking truth is that civilisation is skin deep and prone to unravelling if an economic collapse bites hard. In a world where millions of transactions are executed at the speed of light and everything is hooked into everything else, expect trouble.

Happily, I don’t think we’re yet at the point where we have to bury our baked beans in the backwoods, but I do suggest everyone keep a close eye on matters for the foreseeable future. If necessary get some extra food and water into the house - appropriate supplies which can later be consumed if no crisis emerges.

This link is one of a number of articles on this subject with practical tips on what to do.

Be sensible. Don’t over-react. Be covered.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mid-Winter Update

This week the pumpkin that was growing in the wisteria fell and started to rot. I think it was probably the last few nights of frost. But I can't be sure.

The nectarine is about to break out into foliage again after the last few weeks reprieve. I will be watching it closely as it got really bad leaf curl last year before I could get to it.

Handy sprays for the garden

WA Ag Dept spray pdf - very useful.

The chickens have really got into digging around their straw yard and the soil is looking very rich and dark. I plan to shovel some of it out into the garden once there is room for me to put it somewhere! The ground is covered up nearly everywhere.

The native wisterias are really starting to open their flowers up now and are looking great.

The self-sown tomatoes appear to have been knocked back a bit by the frosts and chill of this past week. I took cuttings to strike this afternoon so that I can transplant them into the aquaponics when ready rather than start from seed. I have other seeds from last summer that I will sow for heirloom stock.

Notes found on Leaf Curl treatment.

Here is the story, as discovered by one university in a very good, large study done back in the early eighties, so listen closely:

lime sulfur and oil, applied as per label in December or late November when leaves are about 90% off the tree, gives about 95% control with a single spray. Follow up with another spray about mid February just before they break leaf and you can get about 99%.

Everything else is pretty much a waste of time. Bordeaux gives no better control than plain water, and micronized copper sulfate tribasic formulations (Microcop, etc) only give about 90% with the very best results, usually not that good more like 75%, and believe me, you DON'T want to be applying copper around your garden on a regular basis. You can't get rid of it and it can cause endless grief in micronutrient land.

Note that this is NOT what most references will say, but field trials clearly showed that lime sulfur and oil was vastly better than any other treatment.

The simplest and oldest solution is the most effective. Most curl problemsreally come from not getting out there at all to spray.

It is really more of a twig disease. The young, unhardend leaves, and only those leaves, get infected as they push past the spores overwintering in the scales. It only grows when the average daily temperature is within a certain range. So you don't "cure" it by picking off all the bad leaves. The leaves produced under warmer conditions will be free of it anyway. And I haveactually seen it come back when cool conditions returned. And it can kill twigs and young branches when it gets bad and you don't treat it from year to year. And the spores can last several years resting before they activate and infect. And so you have to spray EVERY year, you will never get rid of it.

I'll give this a go I think.

Getting back on track with the Aquaponics

This is what put me behind a little in my aquaponics project. After filling the grow beds with gravel (and not even to their limit) after a couple of hours of strain the bolts I had put through the wood snapped and tilted the benches. That put the project back a few weeks given a number of factors such as emptying the beds, weather, organising to get steel legs welded (and picking up the welder) and of course work commitments.

So, last weekend I had a helping hand from my FIL to weld two steel legs onto the corners that had wooden ones and we added extra support with timber beams wherever I could get them without making too much of a complicated structure.

The other issue I had was that the pipes I had drilled holes into actually allowed the water to drain out too quickly. So I cut more and replaced them. The pipes with holes are to be used for marron houses.

Here is a close up of the pea gravel I ended up using instead of expanded clay. The finished set-up used a trailer and a half of pea gravel (around 1 1/2 cubic metres) and cost $130 instead of the $1000 plus it would have cost for expanded clay. It was also heartening to see the odd seed that had found its way into the gravel at the landscaping yard and had started to grow.

Here is the helping hand getting into it. My father-in-law has become quite enthused about the set-up and potential of this project. You can see the welding rods in the foreground. Dad's cutting steel for the smaller leg in the far corner. I had to make doubly sure that the benches were going to take the weight well. Not only was the gravel weighing heavy, but the water was still to flow into the system and the weight of the plants would also add to the over-all burden.

And here is the result of a couple of days work putting the plumbing in and the gravel. We also got a new bed over the weekend and while taking the old, rattly metal frame apart from the old bed I discovered that I could use the frames for support in the system. So there they are, standing a couple of grow beds apart ready for tomatoes, or peas or beans or whatever else might need some support. Oooohhhh, cucumbers!

The pump arrived yesterday (Wednesday) so today was the day to set that up. The box looked quite small when I picked it up from the post office. Inside was a smaller box still and when I opened that I found the pump tucked in with foam, making the pump smaller still!

And yet, it works!

Here is another pic taken yesterday before much of the plumbing had been fixed in place and after my brother had given me a hand bucketing the gravel into the grow beds.

There is enough pressure in the pump to get water entering the grow beds. I did a test run and found that the beds emptied much to quick in comparison to the speed that water was entering and so they were not filling and the 90mm drainage pipe was overflowing. I had drilled two holes in the bottom of the standpipes for each bed and I filled in one of these to assist with a slower drainage time. Then I drilled more holes into the polypipe that transports the water to the grow beds. I'm waiting for the sealer to dry now before I give it another test.

I have also piped together the two fish tanks with a tap incorporated into it so I can isolate the tanks if need be. The primary job of this piping is to equalise the water levels between the two tanks whilst water is being pumped out of the front tank and then to equalise again once water starts to flow back into the tank. In this way I can also keep two varieties of fish ie. goldfish in one and silver perch in another. Plus with the number and volume of grow beds I can easily accommodate two tanks. I designed the system so that, as suggested, there is more grow bed volume than tank water volume in order to allow the water to be properly filtered by the plants and microbes. I also had set it up so that each grow bed can have different plants at different stages and still support the system, even if at 50 % capacity. The other advantage of having numerous beds is that I can experiment with different techniques for each and compare the results.

The finished design is even simpler than my drawings and workings. Wherever possible I have made the pipes the shortest length possible to allow easy flowing of water both to the grow beds (reducing friction for the pumped water) and from the beds in the drainage pipes. I noticed that the water drained much better if allowed to fall into the fish tank rather than having a longer pipe submersed in the water which created a lot more friction and resistance.

The next thing is to move the goldfish and let the pump run for a bit to wash out the remaining gravel dust. Then I'll let the water be still to settle the dust and then vacuum it out from the bottom of the tank. I am thinking of using Redfin Perch initially in the front tank and goldfish and marron in the second.

And at the rate Maiki and Jazz are eating stuff at the moment I'm sure they will be pleased to have copious quantities of parsley to munch on. It should keep them away from the broad beans at least. I think the chooks will appreciate the extra spinach too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July Update

Since the last post there have been wild winds, heavy rain showers and sunny days with chilly, chilly nights. Something to do with the Earth being the furthest from the Sun in its orbit I think. The broad beans are coming up. The guinea pigs are hunkered down under the house and the chooks have been laying quite frequently. We get about a dozen eggs a week at the moment, if not slightly more.

We've had a Rufous Whistler female visit the garden and loads of silver-eyes are making their daily visit. The native wisteria began to flower around the start of the month as did the grevillia olivacea - which should be in full swing soon and being visited every minute by the birds.

The self-sown tomatoes from summer are starting to form fruit despite the cooler temperatures and the banana is doing well with the extra sunlight since the trees were felled.

Nothing happening yet with the aquaponics due to work and other commitments but I have picked up the extra fish tank and the pump is on its way this week. I am hoping to have the benches back in form this weekend or late the following week and then I'll be in a position to start setting it all up again and adding the pump, tank and putting in the gravel - again.

Oh, and the Carbon tax debate has heated up after Sundays 'launch'. Oh, oh.