Sunday, November 25, 2012

Open Garden (2012)

September just flew past and it took October with it. November had come and our Open Garden was fast approaching. Before I knew it the day had arrived and the garden had actually conspired to make a little show of itself.

After only two years in the garden the banana has produced an inflorescence and is now gradually revealing its small fruit. The Goji Berry has fruit, the ever-productive Babaco had forming fruit to show off and a multitude of plants were in various stages of flowering or setting seed. The weather has been kind with a light afternoon sprinkle on Friday and over-cast to sunny the rest of the time. After Friday afternoons visitors, Saturday was a steady stream of folks coming down into the garden for a peak.

I was not sure exactly how the garden would be received but everyone showed either surprise, delight or amazement on various levels which are reactions I will cherish.

The main reaction from people seemed to be something along the lines of:
  • There is so much stuff growing in such a small area!
  • Look at how packed it is and why aren't I doing this too?
  • I never thought of growing that here!
  • I never thought of growing it that way!
  • What an amazing little garden.
In the conversations with people there was also a general consensus that it is probably better to do something with the space you have rather than thinking more land is better. I too had a dream in my teens to one day have a large area of land to grow fruit and veges and plant areas of native vegetation for wildlife. I still think the latter reason is a good one, but as far as land size I've looked at different sizes and I keep settling on less might be more appropriate - at least for the near future and for household means. The main reason - and others I spoke to agreed completely - is that more land can be a lot of work and a whole lot more intimidating and overwhelming when it comes to maintaining a garden, especially of edibles.

I can count the number of gardeners on one hand that I know personally that have reasonably sized land areas and keep them maintained and producing quite well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September Update Part I

Today I spent nearly a full day in the garden and yet it does not look like it. This is somewhat disappointing, however its the end vision that keeps me inspired. If I can get the place as lush and productive as last year - or better - I'll be happy.

Though having not been able to spend much time out there over the last few weeks means I feel rushed now to get things going while there is a real energy spurt occurring

The priority job was getting the guinea pigs into the chicken's 'straw yard" and making it secure. This was easier than I thought it would be as much of the place was closed in already and the addition of some garden trellis made smaller holes pig proof. I have now moved two of the large compost bins into the straw yard as I value the growing space in the garden too much this year! The advantage is also that the chooks enjoy the presence of the extra insect life that is attracted to the bins as well as compost worms and slater bugs. It also is a convenient spot to put some of the scraps that the chooks don't eat. They are simply raked up and put into the bin to keep the yard somewhat tidy - especially now that it is home to an extended family of guinea pigs.

I removed the old hutch that was in the chook yard as the chooks were no longer using it to lay in and it was getting weathered and took up good scratching space. I trimmed the mallee tree and bottlebrush a little and mulched the remaining twigs that had been laying around for a while.

More tripods were made for growing plants up and I even made a bamboo frame for training and supporting a choko on that was well under way with new growth and was located in the corer of the new garden bed. I also found what looked like self-seeded basella which I planted in a large pot with a bamboo teepee to train the plants up.

My wife helped early in the day with the task of ripping up some fluted cardboard which I have been storing under the house and using in the worm farms as I find the worms really love to get in amongst the layers and sometimes will lay their cocoons there. The picture below is under the house where I am using the plastic tubs to start worm farms. The tubs are filled with shredded paper or newspaper, kitchen scraps, weeds and greens from the garden that are weeded out or pruned and sand (which really is just sand and is quite fine, but after this treatment it makes wonderful soil). I have begun to do this because as we are eating volumes more fruit and vegetables than ever before we are creating a lot more kitchen waste. It is a regular thing for us to fill a 9 litre bucket of kitchen waste each day, or more. Our garden areas are limited in size so I really only buried scraps in the first few months of us moving in. Most everything is planted out with stuff now so I have taken to using compost bins and these tubs to solve the problem. It is also intended to assist my wife with having somewhere to put the scraps instead of having to ask me where they are to go next. : )

What actually happens is that I will leave these tubs to sit once full for up to twelve months while the worms do their thing and transform the contents into wonderful, dark, water retentive soil. In this way I am using the area under the house in a more productive way and there is no shortage of areas to put the scrap bucket! I even have an aero bin set up which will function in a similar way over an extended period of time. In my experience I have found newsprint and straw to be a much more rich soil than simply horse manure which breaks down very quickly - and then disappears. Newsprint on the otherhand - and hay or straw - make a very dark compost or vermi-compost that has increased microbial activity. Ideally, I will have enough compost and castings to add a top dressing to the large vegetable garden bed each year - if not twice a year!

I realise that the garden has evolved from the early plans I had for it and I should do a more recent plan of what is where and what is being used. These tubs are a good example.

Here is the simple bamboo trellis I constructed today to give the choko some climbing space. I am utilising vertical spaces more this year as I can grow more and it adds to the layers in the garden and will also hopefully break up some of the easterlies when they come in summer.  In the garden bed is some of the sludge from the kitchen sink pit where the worms hang around some of the run-off water and food bits and are present in crazy numbers. The soil is literally crawling with them. I also planted our Japanese Taro and water spinach in the vicinity of the pit as the soil is constantly moist and should be ideal for them. They did poorly in the pot and I am hoping with fend for themselves better here.

In the image below are the two crops of broad beans I have in at the moment. One is aquadulce - on the left - and the other is more a typical fava bean. I have already marked some with red ribbon so that we know which ones we will be saving seed from. In the foreground is a broccoli that we are also letting go to seed which is currently in flower.


The Container Garden at the beginning of Spring getting ready for an overhaul
There are two main 'events' occuring this year in the garden.

The Main Event is an ambitious planting of seeds that I have collected over the years in order to get fresh new seeds for storing and putting into the seed bank for the local savers network I have set up. Alongside this I am also wanting to reap a fairly decent harvest for the growing family to feed on  - and to maintain this indefinately once the new back garden space comes 'on-line' after sitting in a semi-fallow kind of state for the last few months.

The other event is a planned open garden in conjunction with one of our neighbours to take place in late November. This has meant acting NOW to get seeds and plants in rather than leaving it a week, or two ..... or three as would normally happen with the distractions of family, work and other projects.

Having upped the stakes, it has - as any gardener would know - created some challenges that are having to be overcome fairly quickly, whilst still working with the same constraints as before. ie. limited surface area for growing plants, limited areas of direct sunlight, working in with the other components of the system such as the chickens, guinea pigs and our own inputs such as kitchen waste and recycling.

Also, more than previously, TIME has a new value and appreciation. Mainly because it is 'maxed out' with the priorities of our new little family member and his changing requirements. This is a post all of its own that I may or may not get to, but probably SHOULD!

So, given all these new restraints, goals, objectives and challenges I am dealing with it the one way I see fit - ADAPT.

This has meant remaining ever so flexible and looking at things from other perspectives. Dropping some ideas and creating new ones. Looking for ways of having things work and making the advantages sing above the disadvantages. A good example of this is the post below of the consolidation and integration of the chooks and guinea pigs.

As I work on the garden I will document some of these things for future reference.

Chickens VS Guinea Pigs

Grazing guinea pigs in the orchard/chook yard out of town.
Last Friday afternoon we packed up our three remaining boar guinea pigs and took them for a drive in the countryside to a lovely property where the folks there keep guinea pigs and chickens in a netted orchard. I had read of keeping guinea pigs and chickens together before and in this example they really worked well together and did their own thing. With past problems of in-breeding our three lads were welcomed as they would introduce some 'new blood' into the population.

It was great to see our males find a new home and it now means our own guinea pigs numbers are finally back to a manageable level again. After the losses of the last few months due to stray cats in the garden and the birth of six new babies we are starting again and I have some new ideas after making this visit out to the farm.

At present our guinea pigs are housed in a large hutch to keep them safe from the cats. Although I have not seen a cat in the yard for some weeks now, our last two free-range guinea pigs suddenly vanished overnight. That was around last Wednesday. Seeing firsthand how the chickens and guinea pigs interacted with each other I am looking at housing our guinea pigs with the chooks. Already I can see the benefits.

  • More space to roam again. I really dislike keeping them caged up. I much prefer having them roam on their own and keeping them in the chook yard will give them a bit more freedom once again.
  • They will still be in a semi-secure area and have access to convenient shelters from curious chooks, stray cats and whatever else may come their way such as storms or hail.
  • When they were free-range before they snuck into the chook yard to nibble on scraps and now they can share the feast freely. This means that we won't have to discern between what we feed the chooks and the guinea pigs. All the kitchen scraps for them can go in the one spot and they can deal with them at their leisure.
  • Being in the one spot - as with the chooks - means that their droppings will be concentrated in the one area and this will make it easier to clean. I actually don't see it as cleaning anymore because now that I am using the woodchips in the yard I just need to keep it turned over until I use it on the garden - and then it will have chicken and guinea pig manures in it!
  • The greatest advantage is that with the six remaining guinea pigs being in the chook yard I can remove the hutch and use the garden space to plant more vegetables. It also means that although they are not free-range in the garden, I can concentrate on planting vegetables wherever I wish and not having to protect certain plants from hungry guinea pigs. Given that I am really playing all out in the garden this year for a big harvest this is going to be very helpful.
I will need to make some slight modifications to the chook yard perimeter to make sure the guinea pigs stay where they are required, but still give the chooks a bit of access to places.

Oh, I must mention too that we have had Jennifer Aniston go clucky again and have been given some fertilised eggs from a friend so I also need to give her a bit of room to have her own space.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

End of August Update

I have had a busy winter so have not posted very much at all and the garden was left largely to its own during that time. This can only go on for so long and last Friday I managed to get out into it once again and start planning for Spring.

Space is becoming a real premium and this year I plan to push the garden a lot more than previous years as there are many seeds I wish to plant out in order to either:

  • see what they actually are, as they have no records
  • produce fresh new seed for future years
  • build up more seed from a small existing stock

I have also been inundated with a lot more kitchen scraps since we started to eat a lot more raw fruit and veges. This has meant that the compost bins are filling extra fast and I usually stand these in the garden to keep the worm traffic happening. Wanting to use every bit of garden this year that I can I have decided to use the tubs that I have access to which you can see in the picture above. These are washed of their detergent contents, the tip cut off and if possible left in the sun for a time. I then have begun to fill them with green matter from the garden prunings and weeding, cardboard and newspaper and the kitchen scraps. Sometimes shredded paper from the guinea pig cages is added along with old straw and a good half bucket of vermicompost which is wriggling with worms from the patch down the back.

These tubs will sit under the house as worm farms until they are either mature enough to use to plant herbs into or I have enough to tip the eventual compost and worms into the back garden bed for the next lot of vegetables.

In the picture above I have raised the mesh from the winter spinach garden that didn't have any success growing peas up it (bad or old batch I suspect) in anticipation of another successful harvest of cucumbers like last years crop. I did have plans to make this a bigger support but have opted to erect more teepees for growing beans as I really wish to focus on getting some good tomato and bean crops this year.

The picture below shows the teepees which are either waiting for seedling to be planted or have seeds directly sown at the base already. Other black tubs have been harvested and topped with dirt from the back bed and sown out with lettuce seedlings.

I've had quite a reasonable crop of carrots this year which still came out well despite actually getting transplanted into the tubs.

I have planted some kale seedlings that came up through winter into the ground beds and will plant out parsley seedlings that have come up in the white tubs during winter into the ground also as their long, tapered roots penetrate quite a way into the ground where they can tap the nutrients and in turn convey it to us and the guinea pigs!

After the recent cat attacks on the guinea pigs I have been thinking of what to do next with our new little generation of pigs. Given that the last remaining female that was free-range did well under the cover of the corner jungle I think I will look at making an enclosure there for them all where they can still roam in a large area and not interfere with the rest of the garden whilst still having shelter from any cats that do come in. There is still plenty of room there and it is closer to their liking than the cage we kept them in over winter while they had their young.

The young ones are all dark eyed which is what we are looking for now after having a few pink eyed guinea pigs. We feel the dark-eyed, short haired pigs will do better in the garden environment through all seasons and will endeavor to breed this form from time to time.

The chooks are coming back on the lay now and I straightened the tamarillo the other day after it gradually went on a lean during winter. It already has some small flowers on it but I think it is in it's last year. It's had a very productive and rough road.

Some projects in the garden have not worked out recently. A couple of seedlings have either not come up or have been picked off by either caterpillars or snails/slugs. Disappointing, but better management will be required. 

The deck has been cleared of it's clutter of planting projects also and given a new coat of water-based sealer which has come up much nicer and friendlier on the nostrils than the oil-based sealer I have used previously. This year the deck will be kept clear as our little son begins to crawl and move about. I am moving the choko vine so that it does not get hammered by the summer easterlies and this will give the wandering grapevine a bit more room to move as I train it further along the deck.

I am expecting a big year for the garden. The same late summer jungle as last year, but a little more formal and manageable, simply because with my new time constraints, I have to be.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Propagating Date Seeds

I've recently tried propagating date pits and have managed to easily get them to sprout a root. I had them in damp newspaper for about a fortnight and have since transferred the viable ones to a pot of moss to let them grow further. Kept in a dark place still.

Hail Storm

0615 Massive hail storm hitting Albany town centre. Heavier and heavier. Heavy rain and lots of thunder and lightening throughout the early morning. Still extremely dark outside so no idea of the damage if any yet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15 Garden Update

There are a few things to mention at the moment that I wish to record on the blog here. About a week and a half ago we had a Saffron crocus flowering in the frangipani pot. None of the others have flowered since and are still growing leaves.

About a week ago we had blue wrens in winter plumage visit the garden and today what looked like an immature Golden Whistler. First time records for the property since we moved here for both of these species. Today the garden was full of silver eyes fetching green caterpillars from the plants.

Our chook, Clarice, one of the little bantams has not been well with nasty growths over much of her exposed skin areas. She was quarantined and her diet watched closely. She is now coming along really well and looking healthy.

The rain has come, along with hail last Sunday. For about the last week there has been decent showers which has soaked the garden.

For about the last two weeks we have had one of my friends boar guinea pigs running with Helmi and Tuulia. Maiki and Jazz have remained in the little pen on the deck. Jules the guinea pig will be returned shortly.

There are still a few leaves on the apricot tree and the tamarillo have been laden with brilliant reddish fruit that contrast with the winter green on the garden. I have been eating the tamarillo's fresh from the garden as I have been eating a raw diet for the last week or so. This has had me thinking of the impact that such a diet has. So far I have been allowing my body to make the change. As each day passes I am feeling better and better and clearer in my mind. Lighter in my body. I imagine I will post more on this at a later date as it has the potential to really impact the types of plants I grow in the garden.

The chokos have been going strong for about the last month. I have given many away and pickled some for storing in the fridge short term. I like the choko vine. It is such an abundant, luxurious plant.

The garden is coming along well with the broad beans about 60 cm tall and peas flowering and fruiting. The salad greens are going really well which has enabled me to easily maintain a diet of large, varied salads and green smoothies.

The beetroot in the tubs are coming along well. About golf ball size at the moment.

Some tomato seeds have self sown and are already 30 cms high. Other tomato plants that have been sheltered by the sugar cane are still growing and producing fruit from summer. The back bed is soaked through and the compost bins are going well. The soil is full of earthworm activity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Blog - Shaun's Backyard

Today I viewed the Shaun's Backyard site. Looks like a lot of work has been going on there. Glad to see another backyarder has joined the ranks of spreading the word. It will be interesting to see how this site develops. 

All the best Shaun. I look forward to seeing how it evolves.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Autumn Update - MARCH

Summer has been and gone. That is what you get for having a New Year baby I guess. Time went "Whoooosh!"

So there have been changes to the garden gradually over that time and I have not recorded many of them until now.

The Chicken Coop got a work over. New door, new roosts, new straw, new shiny black plastic to cover it up so Stella doesn't crow so much in the mornings. Naughty chook.

The Passion fruit delivered a lovely harvest and one of the trellis poles broke so the passion fruit was taken away and put into compost and another support put up, the ropes tightened and the new plant in waiting - a Panama Gold Passion fruit - was planted. It's taken off already. In the bed underneath I have planted a garlic crop and some radish seeds.

I have shifted all the fruit trees to transform the centre of the garden into a collective of tubs which I am growing salad greens and peas and herbs to make the most of the space. This way I am hoping to be able to plan ahead a little easier and at least get some things growing. With being preoccupied around Christmas and New Year and with our new little son there has been a huge gap in our harvesting due to not having planted seeds. A lesson learned. Make it easier. Having said that, it will hopefully be easier now that the main back bed is coming along.

The Aquaponics system had a few moments of neglect but is now working well and despite the drab appearance of many of the plants through neglect it is starting to lift it's game. I plan to plant lettuce and winter crops in it soon. I will need more fish however to keep the nutrient levels humming away.

Pond - the watercress got a little burnt on top and flowered and seeded. I have ripped most of this off and within days there is always fresh, new, green growth. Amazing.

Side gardens - the raspberries almost look dead after the last lot of dry, windy days. With the latest rains I think they will be fine for a bumper harvest in the coming fruiting season. The other two side gardens were abandoned over summer to minimise watering and because soil was being lifted from them for the compost bins.

Deck - there is a bit more room on the deck now. I have moved most of the smaller pots into the garden now that there is rain on the way. The choko (chayote) has two good sized fruit on it and many, many more forming with the on-set of the rains which arrived yesterday morning. We have still had some pretty wild winds though. The summer easterlies have been particularly harsh on the choko vine this year and I am planning to move it to the opposite fence for next spring. ( I just picked our first choko tonight.)

Tropical Garden hot spot - this was one of the first projects in summer. I re-potted many of my exotic plants such as babaco, pitaya (dragon fruit), mountain paw paw, lemon grass, curry plant. They are all doing well. One of the babaco has maturing fruit on it and smaller developing fruit higher up its trunk. The other finished fruiting from fruit set last March and now has new fruit forming on it also.

New pets. I have acquired some water kefir finally and am enjoying that, along with a kombucha culture also. They are a little extra work but add a bit of variety and flavour to our diet as we otherwise really only consume water and teas

Yesterday with the drizzle I decided it was time to plant the broad beans. I planted two patches. One of Aquadulce from last years seeds and a crop on top of the compost heap that is in the back garden also. These seeds are from pods left on the ground over summer at the community garden. They dried out, some got attacked by snails and the like, but with the recent moisture in the air (even before the rain) they were swelling up and retaining moisture. So they are really an experimental crop as they are more like a fava bean, whereas my own broad bean seeds are quite flat and large and paler in colour. I figured that if they were going to sprout soon just lying there as they were that it would be about right to plant my crop also.

Several weeks back I planted seeds of spinach, beetroot, arugula, radish, broccoli and cauliflower. These are now all up and the spinach and beetroot were quite well advanced and healthy so I transplanted some of them today into other areas of the garden. I have really sown lots of spinach and lettuce seeds as I want to be able to feed much more fresh greens to our chooks. More than they are getting at the moment. I am after an abundance of greens so they never have 'dry spells'.

The tub gardens that I have set up are basically worm farms. I have various materials in them. Straight sand from the garden and under the house, some soil amendment products, rock dust, kitchen scraps, old potting mix - that sort of stuff. The idea being that over the time they will break down and the plants can use some of the nutrients whilst the worms break down the rest which can ultimately be put into the back garden bed to enrich the humus there.

Our guinea pig family is doing well. The little male boar that we had has gone to a friends farm to join some recently acquired male guinea pigs which are much older. The idea is that we can then keep sexes separate but can choose which pigs we wish to breed from. The two newest guinea pigs, Mother and daughter are much more inquisitive than Maiki and Jazz. They have taught them to explore further afield and try new greens. So their territory has opened up quite a bit now. The little one even ventures into the chook pen to get some food!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It describes how the coming burden to be placed on arable land will come from increased livestock farming and the farming of crops to be used as bio-fuels. This is perceived to begin placing a huge impact of meeting the food needs of Australians.

These are only two pressures amongst what I see as a whole gambit of pressures that will inevitably put a burden on how our food is produced, how much, how far it will travel and what it will cost. I can tell you now for free - what nutritional value it has is not likely to even enter the equation.

There are some nice suggestions at the beginning of the article such as using your kitchen scraps to make compost and raising chickens for eggs or growing herbs in pots.

My suggestion is begin TODAY. For a society that is not used to creating its own food there is a steep learning curve for many people. I will not deny that even a couple of pots of herbs won't make an impact - but wouldn't you rather supply most of your needs?

Again, it comes back to an earlier post I did regarding an overhaul of our diets and our real food requirements. We have challenges ahead, but I see them as being the beginnings of vast improvements in our lives and the world if we stop looking at them as impending catastrophes. Yes, articles like this help to show that change is on its way. What are YOU going to do about it?


It's that time of the year when the Tamarilloes lift the corners of the garden with their bright, ripening fruit. This year they seemed to begin to ripen earlier and have nearly all ripened at once. We've also had some magnificently sunny days for the last few weeks and this has helped with ripening too.

You can also see how well the sugar cane has done this year. It has really established itself well. I also had Yacon in this area but it did not do so well so have transplanted it into the larger garden bed for the winter in the hope it will at least set more tubers.

Tumeric & Ginger

The Tumeric & Ginger that I began to grow about 3 months ago were doing so well I had to re-pot them. I was surprised to find that the ginger rhizome had swollen considerably and had become almost green again as opposed to shriveling away.

Same as for the Tumeric which is growing much faster. Both are in black pots now with richer soil and kept on the deck where they are sheltered and receive indirect warmth and light from the sun for the majority of the day.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I thought I would do a post on my observations in the garden yesterday.

It started with a somewhat disgruntled decision to purchase some compost for putting on the back garden bed so that I could at least plant some winter plants in something other than the sandy soil which I am hoping to transform into rich, vital soil.

So, after a quick trip to the landscape supply place I had a truck load of the stuff delivered within the hour and in a steaming pile on the driveway.

Gradually I shoveled and barrowed and bucketed the stuff into the back bed and made the following observations.

All the toil I am putting into my garden is in such extreme comparison to many of the adjoining neighbour's gardens. For example:

On one side of our property is a rental property. The last tenants were barely there and in the last few weeks of summer someone kept turning up during the week to put a sprinkler on the back lawn. On one of these occasions I went and turned the sprinkler off as it had been on for hours and it was pretty clear that whoever was calling in to mind it had obviously forgotten about it. Needless to say, it had a good soak that evening. So it's a back lawn that nobody uses and nobody even sees or appreciates except for possibly the lawn mower man who turns up every few weeks for 10 mins, mows it and sends the bill. Thanks for coming. So there is a somewhat 'green' lawn sitting there.

As opposed to the other neighbour who also has a lawn but rarely uses it apart from a trip to the clothes line. There is at least some logic here as they don't water it, so it's dead. But like all lawn it will come back in winter and then will need mowing. It gives the dog something to poo on. I am still intrigued by the fact that despite spending any time in the garden they took it upon themselves to rid their side of the fence of the native wisteria leaving a huge pile of dead litter in their backyard which is still sitting there some weeks later. It's also left the wisteria on our side of the fence looking worse for wear as more of it has died back after the treatment.Come July it will be full of delicate white flowers which look just stunning amongst the grey of winter skies. It wasn't particularly doing anything too obscene or destructive. Not for a garden that doesn't really have anything else in it except dead grass and a few native bushes. So it remains a mystery...

Whilst our other adjoining neighbours are renting and have the odd vegetables growing and probably are doing the very best they can given time and rental circumstances.

Across the road we have another rental with dead lawn, stray cats and a very disgruntled looking tenant who smokes regularly out the front - and I can often smell the cigarette smoke when the wind blows our way. I would put money on there being dead lawn out the back.

So, there I was, toiling in the humidity of the day, shoveling a mix of pig poo and chicken poo and other things that no longer looked like they used to look. . . . but at the end of the day when I looked at the days work I was glad for my efforts. I had a garden that looked neater and that I would be able to plant a few winter crops into. Plus, the addition of the manures would help speed up all the other stuff I had layered up underneath the beds which with a bit of rain and the magic of microbes and compost worms, will be a fantastic soil come spring. Well, that is the goal anyway.

Other areas of the garden are looking dry and sad right now. I have stripped a side bed of it's sand and left a base of gravelly, rocky dirt. The challenge there is to build up a rich soil from the base up, but I won't be buying any soil for that garden. It will be a work in progress in my little paradise amidst the dead, near dead and soul-less backyards surrounding us.

As 'empty' as it looks now with the gardens bare, the trellis stripped of the passionfruit (it needed fixing and the passionfruit was not doing that well so I replaced it with a Panama Gold) and the rows of tubs sitting with seedlings just coming up, in a couple of weeks it will be lush again I am sure and standing still in stark contrast to those backyards surrounding it. Not to say it doesn't really already with the tamarilloEs dripping with red fruits just hanging there in the autumn afternoon sun and the odd scurrying guinea pig amongst the pot plants ...

Does anyone else out there have an oasis in the desert?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Who is accountable for my food? I AM.

I had a thought in the garden the other day. I was musing about growing edible plants and why I was bothering. What is driving me to do it? Almost instantly I had a somewhat satisfactory answer leap across my mind.


I am responsible for my food on so many levels. Where I get it, how it comes to me, what it is, how I consume it and the ways in which it is nurtured and produced - to suggest a few. Firstly, let me make the context clear. I don't mean 'responsible' as in "I am better than someone else because I am doing what I think is right, and to hell with the rest of you...." kind of responsible - which is what I think a lot of people tag responsibility as these days. I mean taking accountability for your own food. The food YOU use to nourish and support YOUR body.

For probably 95% of my consuming life thus far, if not more, I have largely given the responsibility of raising and producing my food to someone else - and most of that is indirectly. The farmers, the slaughterhouses, the flour mills, the market gardeners, the chicken and egg farmers, the meat industry, the potato board, the cardboard and plastic manufacturers, the miners and fuel producers, the transport companies, the distribution networkers, the supermarket chains, the independent couriers, the water authority, the deep sea fishermen, the south-east asia fish farmers, the Californian citrus growers, the Turkish date growers, Japanese seaweed suppliers ....

With my money, I have paid others to take on supplying my mouth with the food that passes through it. Some of this has been worth the money paid. It has enabled me to do many things and to have access to many other food sources that I would probably otherwise have very limited access to.

Recently though, I have become somewhat despondent. Not just about the strength of my money (which is another topic altogether), but about the quality of the produce it can purchase and the spin-offs it can have.

A case in point. For those that are not already aware I will save myself the typing and post an excerpt from a well known Australian brand. This is the website for Angas Park.

And this is the excerpt from their website that I would like to bring your attention to. It refers to the Manassen Foods Group which is an umbrella company for the following brands.


Margaret River Dairy Company
Sunbeam Foods
Chrystal Fresh
Angas Park
Don Vica

On 30th November 2011 Manassen Foods Group was acquired by Bright Foods Group Holdings Pty Ltd, which is 75% owned by Bright Foods of China, one of China’s largest food companies.  Given the recency of the transaction, some Manassen Foods Group products and brands still carry an “Australian Owned” label.

Manassen is now working hard to remove and update all labeling, packaging and other material including signage that may still carry the Australian Owned claim.

The company has made every effort to limit exposure to such references before the transaction was concluded and confirms there has been no change to such things as the procurement, processing and packing or otherwise of these products.

Make of this what you wish. For me it means another loss to Australia. I am not privy to the pressures of business on a local scale or with what I suspect are the monetary enticements from global industry that is forever looking at what acquisitions it can make - but for my mind, for what it is worth it means someone has made the decision to sell out. On themselves and their country - and their industry. I hope I am wrong. I may never know.

This is not a one off case. There are others happening as we speak which have also left me with the same thoughts that someone has taken the convenient approach to 'bow out' rather than to see themselves as an important part of the big picture for industry in this country.

So, my approach is changing, because I am tired of this money driven madness and cost cutting business system. I am taking my accountability for my food and transferring it from money-based to personal-based. By this I mean, I am making it personal and I am growing as much of my own food as possible.

Two years ago this occurred to me as quite radical and somewhat not totally achievable. I no longer think it is radical.  I don't even think radical is the term to even use here. To me it is necessary. Realistically, I don't know to what extent this is even possible with my garden, but then, that was before I looked at it a different way.

It's not the growing of anything that is difficult. It isn't even hard for others to be inspired to grow food in their own gardens. All of this is ENTIRELY achievable because that is what our great grandparents and great, great grandparents and further did. They grew their own food.

What I think needs to change is the FOOD we CHOOSE to put into our MOUTHS.

I have seen close family members end their lives short because of what they chose to put in their mouths. It is hard to see this and I've had my own battles between KNOWING and DOING. Sometimes there seems to be a vast void that exists between those two verbs.

So I am really starting to notice the food I choose. I want to make it as simple as possible. I want to have my food choices make a positive impact to whatever extent they may - but in a positive way nonetheless. I want to know that I don't have to worry about deciphering ingredients and keeping up with the latest food processing methods to make sure I'm not jeopardising my health or that of my families. I'm tired of watching people eating to exist and of having to make do with feeling crap the majority of the time because of what they pick up and put in. I am not expecting this to change, but I figure that I can make things pretty much as simple and healthy and easy as possible and that is by making sure I have a garden of fresh greens, leafy salad plants and a mix of fruit and vegetables. I have to make it easy, otherwise it just doesn't happen for any length of time.

So my accountability for my food is shifting from having someone else do it for me, to me doing it myself. To the very best of my ability and to the upmost extent that I can. Something that I am aware is not, I may say, without challenges, but highly rewarding in so many ways that are not all that instantly recognisable. Although I do have thoughts about the potential of one particular part of this kind of responsibility and I fully accept the consequences of my actions, because it will occur either with my input or without...

I want to have the biggest impact I think making a decision like this can have. To define the future food choices of my young son.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reducing Pollution

I've had a bit of time to look at things from a new perception recently and I realise that there is a lot of pollution around us.

I am fortunate enough to live in a house without a television. It's not the first time and I have to admit that I really do not miss it at all. I'm sure it's just me, but when I see what is on TV, it really is something I could live without. It is only after having lived without a TV for some time that I have come to appreciate it. I get odd looks from people when I say that I haven't seen a TV advert that's been running for months because " I don't have a TV". My wife said the look on the door to door sales guy face was priceless when she told him we don't want Foxtel because we don't have a TV. It was almost too hard for him to take and I'm sure he thought we were just using it as an excuse not to get Foxtel.With the US elections on at the moment, what better time also to be without the box.

Even the internet - which I use regularly - I find is streaming with garbage. When researching on the internet you really have to have your wits about you. There appears to be so much false data, emotional opinions that can sway your own opinions, dodgy statistics and bad referencing - or no referencing at all! It pays to be objective and when I find a good source of information I favourite it. In this way I can save time fishing for stuff amongst the muddy media.

We've been eating a lot more fresh stuff at home now either from the garden directly, farmers market or local shop and it's amazing how this alone can cut down on packaging and waste. If you were to think about it, it isn't difficult to see the difference. How much packaging does an apple use as opposed to tinned, boxed, wrapped products that are on the shelves. A simple bag for the apples can either be re-used, recycled  or re-designed for another purpose. The other thing we've noticed is that the left overs from most of our meals are usually food for the guinea pigs, chickens, compost bin or the worm farms. It's not uncommon for us to have a near empty bin to put out for collection and we've had weeks where we haven't even put the bin out at all.

I quite often listen to Classic FM nowadays, simply because it's pleasant background music, there is little talking and no commercials. The waffle, dribble and verbal noise that comes from many of the commercial stations I've ever had the displeasure of listening too just turned me away. Not to mention the usually dire and trivial content of the 'conversations'.

Life is full of projects and things to do that I am perplexed that others even have the time to watch TV. It quite often has me stumped. It is amazing the peace of mind that such pollution reduction can induce.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Moment in the Garden

Jaz and the new little ones feeding on grape vine leaves. A lovely treat for all. The little ones have settled in really well and Maiki and Jaz have adopted them as their own it seems. Three mums!

Baby Turtledove

This little Laughing Turtledove was visiting the garden on the weekend. We really don't get that many doves here - yet strangely enough the can be seen across the road regularly. They may however have come over to nest in the trees. This little one was quite charming and friendly until one of the roosters had a go for it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Note to Self - Marri flowering

This is a note to self to watch as the year moves on. My father-in-law, being a former 'man of the land' often says that when the Marri blossoms in February it will be a wet season. And possibly an early winter. Well, in early February this year the Marri was indeed flowering as were some of the local red gums so I am putting this note down to watch to see if there is any validity in this notion.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Backyard Alchemy

I was given some kombucha culture the other day. I have tried it briefly before but with little success. It may have been the batch I received but I am also a little more in tune with these ferments now after having kept milk kefir for around five years and recently trying my hand with water kefir.

It intrigues me how such simple ingredients of water, sugar and tea can produce with the help of bacteria and yeast a refreshingly, sweet and sour drink with a fruity fragrance full of health giving nutrients and acids.

The culture feeds on the sugar and, in exchange, produces other valuable substances contained in the finished product: glucuronic acid, glucon acid, lactic acid, vitamins, amino acids, antibiotic substances, 0.5% to 1% alcohol is produced as well as other products.

Kombucha apparently evolved from plant organisms over 2.5 billion years ago and has been prepared and made into a fermented tea drink for over 2ooo years. The principal yeast is Schizosaccharomyces Pombe; others varyingly include Saccharomyces Ludwigii, torula and apiculatus types, Pichia fermentans and Mycoderma. Principal bacteria are Acetobacteria xylinum, Gluconobacter bluconicum and Acetobacter xylinioides; others varyingly include Acetobacter aceti/ketogenum/ pasteurianum

Below is a list of some of the major ingredients found in Kombucha tea:

Various Enzymes, Acetic acid, Carbonic acid, Folic Acid, Gluconic acid, Glucuronic acid, L(+) Lactic, Usnic acid, Amino acids (various), Hydroxy acids (various), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Vitamin B2(Riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (Niacin, niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine), Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin, cyanocobalamin), Vitamin C (from Lactic acid).

In the photo above you can see the original culture in the bottom of the jar and a spiral of organisms as they set about making a new gel culture on the surface of the liquid. Pure alchemy I believe.

The Might of Rome

or, "How Rome Might NOT have done things"

The flashing moment of inspiration for yesterdays brief moment in the garden (in a nutshell, without all the fluff) goes like this. Wonderful, squirting, cherub-laced fountains with volumes of water . . .

To a small, backyard version featuring a defunct water pump (but only on completion of getting EVERYTHING into place) and a couple of very scared young boys hoping the koi don't take their toes off.

Today I am keeping cool and drinking home-made ginger beer. Deflated, but not yet defeated.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fridays Garden

I spent some time tidying the shed early this morning. It's an embarrassing mess. Well, it was. Not so much now. Took some pics whilst in the garden. This is the self-sown pumpkin vine that I trained over and arch and up to the shed roof. It's coming along just nicely and with the drop in the easterlies and the mulching of the back bed, has had a second wind and is growing further.

New potted pets grown from shop bought orphans. On the left is a ginger which is growing well, but quite slowly. The right is turmeric which has grown from an organic orphan from a local shop. It has done increasingly well over the last few days and is seen here just starting to begin to open up it's leaf.

This is a bed of radish that came up so very fast over the last week. Also, I have planted carrots in the same bed for a later crop. These are growing on the deck. Speaking of a second wind, here is the same pumpkin vine with already another fruit starting to form.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Growing Uncommon Fruits @ Garden Vegetables in Australia review

Part of my summer reading has been a book picked up by my wife at the local library. My wife will often just grab books that look interesting and put them in front of me. This one really took my attention. So much so that I thought I would mention it on my blog.

Growing Uncommon Fruits & Garden Vegetables in Australia by Keith Smith has some interesting information that has really opened my eyes to some of the exotic plants we have access to in Australia – despite some fairly strict quarantine regulations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentines Day at Petit Paradis

What a wonderful find in the garden today. While topping up the pond water I discovered the first of the tadpoles is now a frog. There are more too. So the little batch of taddies that were only introduced the other week have successfully become frogs - those that survived anyway.

The smaller tadpoles are doing fine in the top pond. The back corner is becoming quite lush now that the easterlies are starting to ease (although the sun has been pretty fierce during the day) and I am hoping that it will become a suitable environment for the frogs to make their home and stay in the garden. We shall see.

The other find, early this morning, was by my wife who went to check on Tuulia. Two little kittens were born during the morning. Both tan and cream in colour with pink eyes. So we are fairly sure they aren't Sami's kittens (who is black and white) and Tuulia instead became pregnant before they came to live here. Which is what the woman selling them suspected.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Harvest Moon

The full moon recently has been fantastic. Often, up late, nursing the little fella, the garden has been lit by moonlight that creates a magical effect over it. Like a mid-summer nights dream!

Despite the dryness and the winding down of things in the garden for the re-vamp, there are pockets of plants that are still producing well. Tomatoes being one of the crops. I am storing them in various ways this year. Some are being frozen whole. Others cut and packed into containers and frozen. Others bottled for storage in the cupboard.

As a side note I hope to have resolved the blurry photos that Blogger creates. I am now uploading the images from an internet server rather than my own computer. This is supposed to solve the problem so here is a test!


Creating and Re-creating the Garden Beds

The garden is not looking so rough around the edges at the moment, but is still slowly taking form as a blank canvas in areas. The back bed has been filled in and covered with the oaten hay that we picked up some months back.

At the far end I have "thrown in" quite a number of different potatoes that have been floating around for quite some time. The idea being that this bed will sit for a while to allow it to break down and they will either grow or they won't!

I anticipate keeping the bed moist to get the worms involved as soon as possible. Basically, it will be a giant worm farm with plenty of material underneath the hay to keep them happy.

I have only recently come across some information on building soil that is stirring my interest in the creation of good soil for high productivity. I found this article in a search at the Savvy Vegetarian site. The article raised some new concepts for me but my main attention was in the amount of carbon stored in the soil. This confirmed also other information I had come across on bio-intensive farming at the Grow Biointensive website. I have put in bold type the bit that interested me the most.

In the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system, .soil fertility is maintained by allotting 60% of what is grown to compost crops. A focus on the production, through these crops, of calories for the gardener and carbon for the soil can ensure that both the gardener and the soil will be adequately fed and that the farm will be sustainable. Because this biologically-intensive method requires much less area to produce the same yield of crops as conventional agriculture, if it were used globally at least one-half of the world’s acreage could be left in the wild for the preservation of the all important plant and animal diversity.
I had placed myself in a great position to begin the garden bed as two of the main crops used to build carbon in the soil are corn and sunflowers. High carbon crops. These have been grown throughout the summer and are now a part of the bed having harvested the seeds. Then I have also added a small amount of charcoal and some rock dust. Newspaper and green clippings from the rest of the garden tidy up make the next layer and then it is all topped off with the oaten hay.

My next plan, as mentioned above is to keep some regular water trickling through in areas to attract the earthworms and have them begin their important work. To further encourage this I have been researching microbes and am looking at regular additions of micro-organisms in various forms to enhance the break down of the carbon and speed up the earthworm action.

I have prepared home-made bokashi which is resting at the moment before application. I also have a supply of liquid microbes that will be watered over the garden from time to time. I another area I have scattered seeds that were not the best and will use this as a green manure crop, should they even grow!

The picture to the left is the side garden where the easterly has really had its way with the plants. The choko is in recovery mode now and I expect to begin seeing flowers over the next couple of weeks. The rest of the garden is being "over-hauled" to make a greener area that is actually more drought tolerant. The left garden will be used for growing a perennial zucchini and native spinach (Warrigal Greens). Some for the kitchen but also to give the chooks a year round leafy green that is low maintenance and will fill this area of the garden with its creeping nature. The right side of the path will be a selection of drought tolerant herbs such as lavender, rosemary, dogbane, oregano, sage, thyme and perhaps some marigolds. There is the odd grapevine in both beds but these may be moved.  Other beds in the garden will be planted with suitable plants or shrubs, leaving the main back bed, the aquaponics and container beds to supply most of the kitchen salads and vegetables.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Early February Update

The garden is having to take care of itself. This means vines are scrambling all over the place, fruit is swelling, the animals are growing and one of the new guinea pigs is due to deliver in around a fortnight I have calculated. The grapes have done incredibly well this season and have really established themselves. Many with small bunches of fruit which we have tried before the mildew set in quite bad. Still, the growth has been there to really train them and get them set for future years of production.

The choko is having a hard time of it with the dry winds and now some rain to confuse things. I still have faith that it will produce like it did last year, once the winds drop over the next few weeks. I am thinking of moving the vines root if I can to the other side of the garden for next year. Failing that I will just start again with a new plant. The grapes are doing well in that area so rather than go through the drama of easterlies whipping the life out of the choko I will encourage the grapes and move the choko to a better spot. While I am at it I will work out the best way to keep a slow stream of water feeding it so that it is well situated for the winds next year.

I have big plans for the new back garden bed. I am waiting on pumpkins to ripen and seeds to form in some herbs then the whole garden will be filled with everything I can possibly muster to throw into it and really build up the soil. I plan to let it sit for a few weeks and possibly then only plant a green manure or a good crop of broad beans.

The salad plants that have been planted in containers are doing really well and have survived through the hottest days with not real problem. Even snails and slugs have been kept at bay though I expect that to change with wetter weather. Nonetheless they are easy to manage and are a lot simpler to plan out successive crops quantities for the kitchen. My favourite lettuce for the time is the Freckles lettuce ( a type of Romaine lettuce). It has really provided well after just a few weeks, giving us a couple of leaves a day until it just grew too fast and I am now thinning out those that look like going to seed for the kitchen to save some of the last for hopefully (slow to bolt) seed.

Despite a fairly steady stream of visitors coming to check out the garden it is somewhat of an embarrassment at the moment for several reasons. With the winds this time of the year and being in the depths of summer the garden is really dry and in some areas I encourage this so that seeds dry out for saving. This year I am also changing my game plan a little and so once I have harvested from some beds I have not replanted and am letting the soil rest while I plan out the final play. 

Some areas of the garden will be relinquished to permanent beds of drought tolerant herbs and plants. Vertical areas such as the fences and any supports added will be relied upon heavily for their ability to support a crop of something edible out of the way of the rest of the garden area. I am also planning to construct some further structures to allow for the grape vines to spread out in areas. For this I have already starting encouraging growth out along fishing line which is another reason the garden kind of looks a bit haphazard at the moment. A friend did tell me though that you just have to give in to feeling awkward about your garden at this time of the year.
Those folks that don't garden are usually thrilled to see someone else doing it - and those folks that do garden are just as thrilled to see how someone else is doing it.
So I haven't felt too bad about it this year despite the collective chaos. There is still a lot of interesting things to see and for anyone local it is also about what works in this kind of weather - and what doesn't. Its all learning.

Under the house still looks like a major crime scene with stuff strewn everywhere. It has gradually got better but I need a good few hours to just tidy the lot up. It is much better after putting the paving in and some shelving and digging out a bit more dirt.

I think the majority of our chicks are roosters. This could be a bad thing. I think that the freezer will be full. We shall have to see. They are doing fine though and most of our original chooks - Penny, Stella, Jennifer and Clarice - are all back on the lay. Well, mostly..

I investigated my oca pots yesterday. Very disappointing. Not a tuber anywhere. With the new back garden I am anticipating focusing on growing sweet potatoes and root vegetables. Oca will have to wait for now.

Maiki and Jazz are enjoying the back garden much more than I thought they would. It has also allowed me to slacken my vigilance on the rest of the garden and just allow tomatoes to hang a little lower and ripen at will. Most of the beans I planted this year have set some seed and this will be kept for planting out this year for building stocks.

The aquaponics is doing fine but still not rocketing along as I really haven't been feeding into it that much. I am however researching some information that I will start to experiment with over time and will post my results. Over the summer I have come across some interesting info that I really am keen to try - just need to make the time to get it going. One of these is bokashi. Most people have heard about it by now and I have not given it a go due to the fact that I only saw it in shops and didn't want to fall into the trap of having to frequently purchase products on a regular basis. I am going to give making my own a try as I already have the micro-organisms happening on a regular basis with my kefir making. Plus I can make it in bulk and will be able to also direct sow some of it into the garden at times.

Yesterday my first delivery of water kefir arrived. I will probably post separately on this. I have wanted to give it a go for some time. Another NEW pet! 

So all this is going on but I haven't really been out there all that much. We are getting a reasonable harvest of tomatoes and most of my seed saving has been done, or is nearly complete - unless I come across a real stunner of a specimen. With my wife not eating as much tomatoes this summer due to breastfeeding, I have taken to freezing chopped up tomatoes in packs for use later, rather than bottling them which I did last year. In this way I have made the most of the tomatoes I took seeds from. I've had success with freezing cape gooseberries and strawberries and bananas for smoothies so why not tomatoes! Plus we already get our blueberries frozen - though I do have plants waiting to go into the garden!
On the whole though it is a point of rest for the garden and a time to re-pot plants (as in the tropicals in the sun-trap in this photo) and to clear the mind to begin to formulate a plan for the next garden design. One that I hope will carry the garden a little more majestically through many more hot summers to come. Time will only tell.

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Ways in Backyard Gardening

This year I am a little more organised with regards to saving some of the seeds from garden plants. I have even included photos of the tomatoes, as there are a number of different ones I have been growing and some just appeared in the garden during the year. Self-sown and as resilient and productive as ever.

Speaking of which, these pumpkins also grew from a seed that made its way into the back bed and has managed to grow two fruit during the summer. Both of these were on the same vine which appears to be something like a Kent Pumpkin. Unfortunately, while trying to navigate through the jungle to check out the greener of the two it came away from the vine.

As far as being organised, the rest of the garden looks like a bombs hit it. I am in the process of changing the layout of some of the plants now that I have a better idea of what is going to work after two years of living here. Something of a transformation will take place. It may not be spontaneous though, rather slow and awkward I would think. Still, we shall see. It has been fun trying to overcome the various challenges the garden and weather have been throwing around. I think I have some solutions. Stay tuned. I will be posting photos.

Corn Harvest

Yesterday, quite early, in a state of mind only a new parent could imagine, I stumbled down to the garden VERY EARLY and set about hacking at the corn and picking the cobs. It felt like rain was going to fall so I busied myself getting the corn and some leaves, seeds and bits and pieces under the house so they could dry out before getting any rain on them. It was a good plan, because eventually the rain came. I should mention that the corn is nearly quite dry and will be used for pop-corn once it is completely dry. I tried some but it is still needing further drying as a friend pointed out. Still the odd hint of light yellow deep within some of the kernels.

The chicks - now not really chicks at all - have taken to flying out of the pen. Mainly because they can and also because, well, look at the temptation laid before them with the back bed! All sorts of stuff to rummage and scavenge through. Which is what the guinea pigs were doing anyway - and have been for days. All set up with their own little boxes to shelter in, they have made themselves quite the little pigs by feasting on the corn leaves, fallen cape gooseberries and kikuyu.
Here is Jazz taking a break whilst some of the rain came in and wet the garden over. It wasn't much, but it was enough to bring out a decent harvest of snails for the perch and some for the compost bin (to feed to the perch later on.)

In between gardening, cleaning, cooking and caring for the new baby I have been working on various things in relation to our local seed savers group.


Today I had the good fortune to have a friend drop by with a bucket of tadpoles and water snails, water boatmen and an aquatic stick insect that I haven't seen since I was a child and played much closer to water than I do now!

I thought they would do better in the top pond that is filled with watercress so we released them into that one. It flows quite quickly into the larger, koi-filled pond below but the watercress has such thick roots at that end of the pond that the tadpoles would have a real battle trying to get through. At least until they were able to eat their way through, in which case, they would have grown anyway.

So, I shall eagerly await the evolution of the frogs and wait in anticipation for their calls in autumn. Hopefully they will choose to stick around now that the garden is more of a jungle in that area. After-all, our other pet frog was rediscovered the other day as I was filling up a water chestnut tub. It appears he has been keeping himself cool in the tub rather than by the large, plant filled pond. Good on him. I was just so glad to see that he had been staying around. The last lot of froglets we had just disappeared, never to be seen. I'd like to think it had nothing to do with a visit from the neighbour's stray cats. I can't be sure.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Preparing the back bed. Goodbye Sunflowers!

Today I cut down the sunflowers and hung the heads to dry. A Red-capped Parrot visited the garden in the late afternoon and was a little put out to say the least. Where is my snack?

The leaves are really quite big and the heads on some of the plants are larger than dinner plates. The rest of the plants are going back into the garden bed which I will be getting ready tomorrow so that it is ready for an autumn crop and to get the soil built up a little better during the winter.

I also picked tomatoes and got seeds ready for saving. They are in water solution at the moment and should be ready for drying in a couple of days.