Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursdays Findings

After what seems like such a long time, the sweet peas have started to flower. There is a real splash of colour heading for the garden in the next couple of days as buds open up.

This photo was taken about midday today and shows the impact the sun showers have had on the garden, it's turning into a jungle!

Even after laying low for the winter the raspberries are greening up and heading for the sky, or the path. You can see a little renegade raspberry coming up through the rocks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New garden plantings and AP system

After the days and days of sun and rain alternating across the Great Southern the vegetables are really putting on some growth spurts. The corn is taking off and the tubers are doing well.

In the aquaponics system we have harvested the first little crop of snow peas. These were planted some time ago and were one of the colonising plants for getting the system underway.

This garden bed is planted with brahmi and watercress. The watercress has thin fibrous roots that have actually reached down as far as the drain and are all around the plug. Some 25 cm plus from the top. Because of this I will either keep this bed as a watercress only bed or after adding an extra pond to the garden pond system, may put it all in there where it is less likely to cause any root problems.

Watercress is one of the plants that I have wanted to grow lots of due to its nutrient content. Even the plants along the local roadside verges where there is trickling water or damp spots are thriving at the moment and in full flower with their white tops.

Yummy Yummy Fruit salad

My wife made me this beautiful fruit salad this morning and after a few mouthfuls I just had to take a photo to capture the moment. Blueberries, oranges, mango, strawberries. We also made our own granola a few weeks back using soaked oats, nuts and seeds and wheat berries. Really nice along with home made yoghurt.

Those crazy birds

All of our chooks like one particular nest. I have offered alternative nests and nesting sites but to no avail. Usually they take turns during the morning to lay an egg each. Now that Jennifer Aniston is clucky they often will nestle into the nest with her. Much to her disgust however. This morning however as I went into the yard to kick Jennifer off the nest for the day to feed and clean herself - I came upon this site much to my amusement.

It seems there was a traffic jam for the nest box at this time. If you look closely you can still see Jennifers head sticking out of Stella's backside. Sure enough, there were three eggs waiting for us some time later. Not that Jenny has been laying much, the other would have been Clarice's. She must have got in before the rush.

Beet kvass and Bread & Butter Pudding

We had friends call for dinner last night. One had never had bread and butter pudding so before they headed back home today I made one with the rest of the baguette that we had. Just a nice, simple pudding with a dash of lemon juice, some finely diced lemon rind that I had left over and a scattering of sultanas into the mix. It turned out lovely and they were delighted to take it home, if it lasted that long on the car trip.

I have also recently been making batches of beet Kvass. Simply just a few small beetroot or a large one cut up into chunks put into a ceramic bowl with a 1/4 cup of kefir or yoghurt whey, about 8 cups of rainwater and not quite a tablespoon of celtic sea salt. Covered with a plate or muslin cloth and left for two days. I then filter it into bottles and refrigerate, using the left over beet to make another batch, usually just with water and salt as it already has the active bacteria present.

It keeps in the fridge for some weeks and has a really beautiful colour depending on the beetroot variety used. I usually add a 1/4 cup and fill with water. It has a subtle beetroot flavour and is unusually thirst quenching. It is a very popular beverage in Russia and is very good for supplying beneficial bacteria into your body along with the health benefits of beetroot.

The Babaco

Happily, our babaco both have fruit forming on them. One has had fruit forming for nearly a year now I think, it seems to be taking a loooooong time. The other has just flowered and it looks like a couple of the fruit are going to stay on the tree which is exciting. You can see the more mature fruit in the background on the other tree. I am also amazed by the flowers. Very pretty and unusual.

Both of these are in pots and they seem to like it in the little sun-trap corner of the backyard so that is where they have settled. I would like to grow papaya but am limited for room given the number of trees required. These self-fertilising babaco are filling that gap so far and I should be able to propagate more from these two plants in time which will give us a more continual supply hopefully.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Garden Update mid October

After several overcast and warm days it is finally raining this morning. Quite a decent shower. Hopefully also enough to settle in some of the plants and seedlings that I planted nearly a week ago.

The apricot has dropped one fruit already and has really filled out with new, bigger leaves with the warm weather. The rocket in the garden is growing by centimetres daily it seems and the grapevine leaves are all spreading out and growing well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The First Cicada

Just a quick note for I have just heard the first cicada for the season. Always a nice sign that the warmer weather is here. Not that I need any reminding. Yesterday and today have been rather hot. Too hot at midday to be in the garden.

The last week or so the silver-eyes have been really vocal in the mornings and often throughout the day. I discovered a nest near the edge of the native wisteria by our bedroom window. All quiet out there today so I am thinking they have started to sit on the eggs perhaps.

Later in the evening...

After posting the above I ventured back out into the garden for the afternoon and was puzzled as to why I hadn't heard the silvereyes around. Eventually I had a quick look into the nest. Empty. Looked on the ground. Two small pale blue egg broken. Possibly from a day or two ago. How sad. I am not sure but I suspect the New Holland Honeyeaters may have driven the couple away. I will keep an eye out.

Also today I altered the front native garden bed by enlarging it and moving the few native plants right near the house into the garden bed. Happily, when digging into the mulch it was very moist underneath and full of all sorts of insects and fungus that are breaking it down slowly. A really good sign with summer on the way as I don't water the front garden, preferring the plants to either survive or get moved elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Goodbye Grevillea

Today I removed my favourite grevillea. It was a Grevillea olivacea with yellow flowers and each winter it was covered - COVERED! - in nectar rich flowers that brought the birds in from everywhere.

Unfortunately, after its abundant flowering this year (it was still flowering up until today also) the branches were getting too, too heavy and were thinning out and it looked like it was dying out at the bottom and looked a little disheveled. So, out it came. Out came the mulcher. Poor grevillea became mulch for the front native garden. In its absence a little silvereye perched on a nearby tree and gave a little warble. Not a sad warble, just a ... well, a life goes on warble in a way. It was probably a little celebration warble I should think. Quite lovely.

So, also in absence of the grevillea is a rather large area of side garden. I'd already purchased a lilly-pilly in anticipation of the event but am also reconsidering that - although it is a bush lilly-pilly rather than a tree.

A couple of new ideas came to me. How I could incorporate my strawberry growing set-up to expand it into one that would see us reaping a more abundant harvest of strawberries by tapping into the pond water. The little experiment I've had running is working VERY well. So why not improve on it and make it bigger?

While I had the opportunity to get to the fence I nailed up some trellis wire so that if I wanted to grow anything along it in the future I could. In the meantime I have planted out some choko's and Jelly beans (Californian poppy mix I think), and red marigolds and some cocks comb and more sunflowers. I've never been much of a flower gardener but I like the colours and hope to mix things up a bit with a nice colourful summer garden.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Compost Bins

Here are some further notes and observations following my notes on building up sandy soils for gardening.

I have used compost bins over the years and had moderate success. They have a purpose depending on your situation and the amount of waste generated in the household. For us at the moment I am moving away from them as general purpose compost bins for the following reasons.

  • We now have various options for our waste. Some goes to the chickens, some to the guinea pigs and very minimal morsels go to the fish and marron. The rest is best dealt with by the worms and the microbes and it is for that reason that rather than give the waste further opportunity to have other insects and 'vermin' access it, it is better to bury it directly into the soil and let the worms and microbes deal with it when they see fit.
  • The compost bins were handy for storing excess quantities of green waste from pruned trees or weeding but much of this can go to the chooks. It was handy for storage as the bins are vertical and made use of minimum gardening area.
  • As mentioned above, not having the bins limits the number of pest problems in the garden, for example flies or snails and slugs. None of which are a real problem for us, but in epidemic proportions supported by a compost bin or two, they can be troublesome.
  • Most of my compost bins have smelt quite bad. There is a real art to getting a mix right I think. I openly fail with this because I seldom have the right blend of materials available. At any one time I might have heaps of green waste and not enough dry stuff or vice versa.
Our compost bins are not altogether defunct though. I still have uses for them such as the one I set up today. I have moved our fig tree and there was a large hole left in the ground, over which I have positioned a compost bin. Rather like a drop toilet set-up. This will allow us to get rid of our kitchen scraps that don't go to the chickens such as citrus peel (we are eating lots of citrus at the moment!) and even the odd bits and pieces of bones, egg shells, tissues, paper scraps. This will actually take us quite a while to fill to the point where I will take the bin away and put soil over the top. Then the bin will get moved to another location for a couple of months.

Monday, October 3, 2011

More on Solar Power

In a previous post I wrote about my concerns for solar power/inverters. The link below is for an older web-page (2009) where someones done their sums. What interested me about this article however is the information given regarding how the Germans are dealing with the situation. Go to The Boomtown Rap to read the entire article.

And here is The Guardian news article. Aussies - read and weep.

The Moaning Frog

This is a Moaning Frog, otherwise known as Heleioporus eyrei or just plain Jack the Frog.

It might also be fittingly called a Sandy Soil Frog because that is where it is found, as well as in trailers of garden soil, which is where I found this one. That was on the first day of getting soil from my brothers. The second day I was a bit more careful about digging and still managed to find another one in the trailer when putting it in the garden. Unfortunately the second one was missing a back left leg but nonetheless managed to move off from where I had placed it (under the same bush near a nice sandy spot where I placed the one the day before).

This I am not sure about because I know the call these frogs have and hopefully they are far enough down from the house not to trouble us in autumn when they begin their calling which is quite a loud, plaintive kind of moan. That is if they are males. So I will keep an ear out to note whether I hear two calls or not.

Regardless, I am happy to have frogs in the garden.

My tips for Gardening in Sandy Soils

So, a brief bit about gardening in sand, for that is really what our garden is built on. Very fine, grey, water repelling sand. As I have made note in other posts, I have found between the garden I had before (further down the street), the one we gardened before we moved into this house and the building up of the soil in this current house there are some things that worked well and others that didn't.

In my experience - after literally trailer loads of the stuff - horse manure is not very efficient. Either for building up the soil or for keeping weeds down as it introduces many seeds. I suspect it is also liked by snails and slugs as we had them in plague proportions at the time along with little black bush flies. All of which I think were brought in as either eggs or larvae in the manure.

The weeds and grass don't bother me too much as they can get turned in, but they are annoying if you wand to plant straight away. It can be managed if you mulch well over the top of the manure, using it instead as a base layer for building up the garden.

I have used truck-loads of grass clippings too and they were much appreciated at the time and worked very well in the chook yard keeping the smells down and building a wonder kind of compost as the chooks scratched around in it. It does have the potential of introducing a multitude of seeds, namely grass seeds depending on the time of year.

Straw, hay and pea-hay are all wonderful too and can also introduce seeds but all of which can be managed as with the horse manure by mulching over it with materials that are a bit more "innate" such as sugar-cane mulch or shredded paper. I have had great success with building up the soil with various hays and with well-soaked sheep manure. Soaking it to kill off the seeds it may contain (and softening it) before applying to the garden.

Most of the other media used will work for a time, but in this sandy soil it is still only a matter of time before the sand rises to the top. If I hadn't seen this myself after the truckloads of manure and wood-chip mulch I had added to the garden I'm not sure that I would have fully understood how amazing this phenomena really is. It appears as though the sand is simply consuming the stuff.

Enter the number one favourite duo for building up the soil. It actually excites me this stuff because it is something that is plentiful if not prolific and is quite often free.

Newspaper & Cardboard.

The Batman & Robin of building the soil. In my experience these materials do the job and do it remarkably well for a number of reasons I believe. From my own observations these are:

  • They are good at retaining moisture. This to me as a critical part of the process. If you have a medium that holds moisture it will inevitably attract earthworms or compost worms. This is exactly what you are after for once the worms get in and start breaking it down the soil really begins to take on different properties.
  • Breaks down easily or can be applied to break down much slower. I have experimented with this quite a bit in different areas of our garden. In vege beds you may want the paper to break down quicker so that after a crop harvest the soil can be tilled at little and ready for the next crop. In other parts of our garden it is there in large thick layers to keep moisture in the soil above it and to create a home for the compost worms, bringing us to the next point.
  • Worms love newspaper. My observations are that they love the layers and I would say appear to love more specifically corrugated cardboard where they can actually enter in between the sheets to lay their cocoons. The cardboard keeps a nice moist environment and it is not uncommon for me to lift up sheets in the garden and find masses of worms in amongst it. Thick leaves of hay or straw do a similar job, but around here I have to pay for the stuff and newspaper is everywhere without having to spend a cent - and the worms don't seem to mind either way.
  • Once the worms have broken down the newspaper it is present as a very dark, friable, rich soil that has the most wonderful water-retaining ability.
  • Newspaper can come in various forms. Sheets, thick wads of newsprint, shredded paper. It is also easily wet down and can be soaked before putting into the garden to fast-track the whole process. It is easily built up in layers. I sometimes but a layer down of a couple of sheets and a really thin scattering of straw or dirt and then more paper and a thin scattering of dirt. To my mind the dirt is introducing microbes into the paper layers and it makes for a quicker appearance of worms to set up their residence.
  • I have used cardboard, shredded paper and newsprint all with great success in setting up my micro-soaks around the garden. The basics of it is I dig a deep ditch of a half metre to a metre wide and about a half metre deep. Line it with newsprint or cardboard - or both - so that water will pool first for a while before it gradually seeps through the paper and into the soil. This slow release works well in dry areas of the garden. It brings in the worms and it sustains them in a micro-environment where there is always some presence of moisture. Variations on this are to put a plant pot in to the centre of the pit or even a clay pipe or 90 cm pvc plumbing tube, and fill the ditch surrounding it with weeds or grass clippings or other media that will break down over time. This supports the plant pot or pipe and you can tip water into the pot or pipe to direct it to the bottom of the ditch. It becomes more useful having a pot or pipe in position when the tossed weeds or green waste start to build up to ground level. At least then you know where the centre of the ditch is, but its not imperative.

Garden Update - Early October

Last week was fairly eventful really. So a bit to put down here.

Firstly, I went out to the property my brother has been "house sitting". He had a heap of soil delivered there and wasn't using it so over two consecutive mornings we piled up two trailer loads of soil destined for the back garden bed I built a few weeks ago - along with some compost bins and bits of wire and odds and ends that will practically enable me to finish the garden off as I have planned it. So a very helpful and productive time all up.

That was Friday and Saturday. After the second trip on Saturday my wife got me organised to visit the local community garden (pictured above) which had advertised a get together for swapping produce and seeds etc. We turned up to find that a small organic gardening class was also taking place so we joined in for a bit before heading off to do our other things for the day. ie shoveling a trailer load of soil, etc

What I thought was interesting was that one of the facilitators of the little organic gardening class was a woman who ran a permaculture weekend course that I attended ten years ago when I bought my first house. In many ways it was interesting to reflect - while shoveling garden soil later that day - about the journey taken over the last ten years.

One thing in particular is my experience of gardening in the sand here. So much so, I decided maybe it is something I should record on my blog and plan to do so over the next few days.

My brother and his dog Gizmo taking a run behind the trailer for a bit of exercise.

World Habitat Day & Solar Power

The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day. This year, World Habitat Day will be celebrated on 3 October 2011 and the Global Celebration will be hosted by the Government of Mexico. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all, to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.

The United Nations chose the theme Cities and Climate Change was chosen because climate change is fast becoming the preeminent development challenge of the 21st century. Indeed, no-one today can really foresee the predicament in which a town or city will find itself in 10, 20 or 30 years time. In this new urban era with most of humanity now living in towns and cities, we must bear in mind that the greatest impacts of disasters resulting from climate change begin and end in cities. Cities too have a great influence on climate change.

So in some way it is fitting - yet sad - that today I decided to make a decision.

Would we or wouldn't we get solar panels installed on the house roof?

I got a quote months ago, I've had good communication from the company and I an excited about the possibility of it all but was concerned about the pay-back time for what I was looking at as an investment.

Would the money spent on panels be best kept on our line of credit house mortgage at the moment?

After some more research I have made the easy yet disappointing decision not to go ahead with solar panels. It was eventually an easy decision because of information I found that I had stumbled on months ago but which I recently read some first hand experience of, and that is with what is loosely termed "dirty electricity".

I should add also that the pay-back time calculations for our panels were not very exciting, despite factoring an increase in power bills in the future.

This is a comment left on Choice website for their Installing Solar PV Panels in Australia page.

I believe there are other, potentially quite substantial costs, that need to be taken into consideration when going down the solar (connected to the grid) route. My husband and I had a 1 kw system installed 13 months ago. After some months, following a lot of investigative work, we discovered that the high frequency waves coming from our inverter had effectively ‘closed’ a public gold fossicking area over the hill from us, to people using metal detectors. This was due to the high amount of interference caused by our inverter during daylight hours. The emissions extended for up to 350 metres from our house. We subsequently discovered that these high frequency waves are a by-product of the process whereby the DC wave form is changed to an AC wave form. I also found if I was at home all day, following the installation of our solar system, that I was experiencing adverse health effects, which had a significant impact on the quality of my life. The end result was we paid out over $1000 to purchase 20 filters, with capacitors in them, (plus a meter, so we could monitor the situation) to fix the problems. Incidentally, we discovered the powerboards which have inbuilt filters (sold in connection with TVs etc) didn’t do anything, as the problem with our solar inverter seemed to be caused by harmonics, rather than transients. Since then I have met a number of other people whose health has been adversely affected by the increased electromagnetic fields caused by their solar inverter.

There were further comments to this post which you can read via the link above.

For me at this time I am comfortable with the decision not to go ahead. Given that my wife is also pregnant at the current time I researched the effects that these stray emissions can have and am not surprised that the solar panel inverters behave in the same way.

Enough for me to say "No" to solar for now. Hopefully, in the not too distant future once some of the wrinkles are ironed out of it.