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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Something fanciful

Just a little bit of poetry from the garden as a male Red-capped Parrot contemplates a feast of sunflower seeds in the summer garden. They have just about cleaned up the extra flower heads on offer. Entertaining to have around.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Grass is for Parks

I have written a little bit about grass before. The fact that most of our back yard was grass when we moved in. To me it was a most illogical choice for such a small backyard as ours. It was the very first thing to go. We also have had a nasty invasion of grasses in the front native garden. Not the sort of grass that I want to let do its thing. It is really invasive and gets into everything. I had to take out a native bush just to get to the grass that had got into it when we bought the house. Even now there are runners coming up and I have resorted to spraying in that part of the garden given there are no food plants nearby and I RARELY even water it. In the heat of the last week it appears that I have managed to at least kill off what I can see of it.

It was always in the back of my mind what approach I would take when we had children. Where would they play? We talked about a small patch of grass in the back. I thought about it and thought about it. In between thinking about it, I continued to think about possibilities.

I have decided that my initial plan shall remain. We will forgo grass in our backyard for the many, many advantages that it creates by not having it, and use the perfectly good park a couple of hundred metres up the road for playing. Then there is the huge grassed area a little further, but still within a manageable distance for walks or bike rides in the future.
We are instead going to look at installing a sandpit and I am planning out a green cover for it to shade it during the day. I guess we will see what develops as time goes on. I have it planned out anyway.

To me there is a wealth of learning for a young child in the kind of garden we have created and the television will be further down on the list. When we get one.

Tomato Observations in Mid-Summer

I have a few observations from the garden to record.

The first one is that I planted tomatoes from seeds collected last year and grew from seedlings given to me. These have managed to only just produce fruit given the hot weather and irregular watering they have been getting. The majority are being grown in pots.

The curiosity is that of all the tomatoes this year I do have some stunners when it comes to yield and flavour. None of these are from seeds that I planted. Each and every one of them is from last years crop that has self-sown in the most odd places in the garden and I simply let them be.

There is a large beef steak tomato growing from a pot where I planted cucumbers. Both have done well, though the tomato was not intentionally planted in the same pot. Seeds just came up and were left.

There are cherry tomato bushes that are not as magnificent as they were last year but have managed to survive in the heat and with very little watering.

There is another larger tomato growing behind the fish pond that began growing through the winter and I simply left it to its own devices. It is now yielding wonderfully flavoursome tomatoes.

The real glory however would have to be the tomato tree that was quite possibly sown by the guinea pigs themselves. Keen tomato eaters. This particular plant also began to grow through the winter months in the limestone rock surface of the garden path area. It has managed to somehow grow several long branches that have supported themselves by growing through other plants like the nectarine and apricot tree and goji berry. It is now yielding some wonderful clusters of tomatoes that are beginning to ripen this last week. It is also now requiring extra staking and support.

This brings me to my next observation. Despite many of these tomatoes beginning to grow in early to late winter, they are only just beginning to ripen their fruit now in mid summer. This is interesting to me as it is not what I suspected of a fruit that we see in the supermarket year round. Even local tomatoes are in the shops much earlier than this. It also sounds like this is also the case with others I know that have their own edible gardens.

So, many of the seeds that I have started to save this summer are from these strong, heat-loving, water-effective plants. It will be interesting to see also what appears during the winter and how the seeds from these plants will go with the next generation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Pet - Native raspberry

I was given a new little pet yesterday. Rubus moluccanus or Native Raspberry. Very exciting! Here are some links for info.

Thinking about various spots to plant it given that I am looking at changing the layout of plants in the garden over the coming weeks. Such a wonderful addition to the berry collection. I also picked up a blueberry and thornless blackberry today. Well, I have to have something to keep the raspberry company!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reflecting on Two Years of Petit Paradis

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday. Such a beautiful summers evening. A gentle breeze coming through the door. A dog barking in the distance. The smell of fading bbq’s and fragrant flowers in the air.

I have been reflecting on some of the hard work over the past twelve months that I have done in the garden. The aquaponics project was a huge project for me. The learning still continues. I am only now just being able to really leave it to its own devices without fear of grow beds getting too saturated – or not enough. I am still placing plants into the beds, more to keep the system happily filtering the water and nurturing the microbes that will be the hidden engine to the whole thing. Over the last few months there has been a change in the look and colour of the leaves of many of the plants and I put this down to the system finally coming into its anticipated state of play. Much greener and more vibrant looking.

On the couch my brand new little son is sleeping soundly. I have found it very rewarding to know that despite him being not quite two weeks of age, I have already been able to share the garden with him in many different ways. The playful, gentle sound of the water running into the pond. The broody cackle of the hens and the ‘chip, chips’ of the chicks. The heady perfume of fresh buddleia flowers. The cheeky calls of the Red-capped Parrots that come into the garden either early in the morning or late evening to feed on the sunflower heads. The clicking of the cicadas. A sound that will no doubt forever remind my son of the fact that his birthday is in summer. The overall feeling of just being in the garden at this time of the year. The energy is fantastic and there is always a surprise to be found.

For the large part however the garden has played itself out with the important task of feeding my wife nourishing, fresh foods. Granted, they were largely supplemental during her pregnancy, but I was justly proud when I looked at our summer meal tonight sitting on the plate before me and realized the only thing not from our garden was the little portion of meat. It’s been a huge journey for me setting the garden up. Finding out what is likely to work and what is best done away with. Even now I am planning the next stage of events for autumn given that now I think I have a good idea of what it is going to take to feed a growing family. The shifting yet again of the wine-barrel fruit trees. Planting the existing garden beds out with more bushes and herbs rather than salad plants – which I am having much better success with in containers. It will also make succession planting much easier and to judge quantities a bit better too. A spin-off of this container planting is that it keeps succulent, juicy plants out of the reach of the guinea pigs. Not that it has really ever bothered me (except when they were clear felling my second attempt to grow crimson flowered broad beans), but it will make things a little easier to manage with them. Particularly given we have another two guinea pigs soon to be added to the work force with potentially more – I suspect the two we picked up a few weeks ago are pregnant.

It is not quite mid-summer and there is still a tree full of figs, one of nectarines and the grapes are just starting to ripen on the vine. There is soon to be a real flush of tomatoes ripening, but we’ve been happy with the ‘one a day’ offering from one or two bushes which has been handy for salads and meals. Picked straight from the bush for our immediate use.

The pumpkin vines are working on filling out their fruit and still venturing forth to new areas of the garden and setting new fruit. I have quietly delighted in hunting down pumpkins and melons to keep a check on things after finding one pumpkin starting to swell out between the wood of the raised garden and the back fence. Another day or two and I would have had to cut it out to remove it!

I remember also seeing the first of the seasons ripe passion-fruit hiding high up near the shed roof. That will be something for tomorrows gathering. The raspberries are more or less done for now, though what I suspect to be a boysenberry may have some late fruit on it. Nevertheless, this years new growth of raspberry canes which I have been nurturing through the heat to allow them to establish, is promising to deliver a bountiful harvest next summer.

So, in setting out to see what it would take for the average person to set up a garden that would substantially supply the house-hold kitchen, I must mention two insights that I am left with in reflection over the last two years.

Insight one. The effort was tremendous. I realized very early on that the effort it took to do what I wanted to do and to have it achieve what I want it to achieve was far, far, far greater than your average suburban family is probably ever likely to willingly put in. This was a bit of a disappointment to me until I realized insight two.

Insight two. The effort is worth it – AND, the world is changing and people are now wanting to do this because financially it makes sense. Not just better for your nourishment, general well-being, relaxation, care of your immediate environment and the other living things in close proximity to you, your connection with nature which you are a part of whether you like it or not ….

Yes, financially, as cold as it is, it is opening peoples eyes to other ways and they are returning to the old way. Backyard edible gardens. A tomato in a pot, a few zucchini in a spare garden bed. A row of corn by the shed. Humble beginnings. But hand in hand with insight two and the utter disappointment I felt when I realized no one in their right mind would willingly duplicate my efforts to do the same for their family – the spin-off has been that my little petit paradis is also an inspiration to others. There is a kind of magic in that which you can’t put a price on.

So there you have it. A bit of a reflection on the two years so far spent here. I can honestly say that this next year will only be better. We have a burgeoning seed savers group that I am coordinating and meeting other keen gardeners has been a thrill to say the least. I have taken my observations of the garden through the past two years and the next challenge will be to get the back garden bed set-up for next summer. It has provided a pretty good crop of tomatoes, corn is still to come, sunflowers are HUGE, broccoli is coming along and there is a self-sown watermelon by the looks of it and some pumpkins that I am delighted with given that this was to be a year of melons. It still happened but in a completely different way. Once these plants are harvested then I will start work on building the soil up further and my ultimate aim is to have a soil that will stand up to and support plants in the heat of summer with the drying easterlies which we are encountering now and probably for the next month or so. I am also looking into setting up a garden infrastructure that will enable more vertical gardening in the coming years. At the same time I will be changing the plantings of the edge gardens that surround the house to more permanent plantings of berries, drought tolerant herbs and bushes, natives and fruit trees.

To be honest, it has been a real challenge at times and it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that I have stood back and looked at the garden (somewhat through my wife’s eyes) and said to myself “Yes, this is the garden that I am after. It is finally taking shape. I am happy with this – and I know it will only get better from hereon in.”

Sometimes, giving birth is like that I think. There are the pains and the sacrifices. The pushing of the boundaries – physically, mentally, spiritually. Yet despite the turmoil and the weariness, it all works out. I think about what my wife went through to bring out little son into the world and she still says “It was worth it.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

January Garden Update

Here we find Maiki harvesting Cape Gooseberries from the bush. A favourite hideaway spot in the heat of summer. Even green berries are a delicacy.

This is the little patch of Brahmi I had planted. It is creeping out and growing wider and even has small, white flowers on it at the moment. Quite pretty and a welcome surprise.

A clear, clear day with views to the Porongorups which are visible in this pic and also views of the Stirlings some 100 kms away. We don't often get to see them due to haze and clouds. This picture is here because it is weather like this that I find that troublesome foe finds its way to the garden and dries things out. The Black Easterlies.

This is what they can do to the garden. The choko especially dislikes the easterlies and many of it's leaves dry out. Last year, after the same happened it managed to come back in time to grow new vines and leaves and bring in a super harvest of choko fruit. I am hoping the same will happen this year. These sunflowers however are going to get pulled out and I already have plans for the garden bed and many of the other garden beds. This will involve planting them out in drought hardy bushes and plants whereby I can use the back garden bed for other vegetables and the tubs for salad veges.

These capsicum plants produced a small crop in the garden last year. Right where the above sunflowers are. A very dry patch of the garden, still, they did well. When I set up the aquaponics I literally ripped the capsicum out and put them in just to have something in the stones to get the microbes working. Much to my delight after more or less stagnating over winter, the plants have 'come to life' and are producing a nice little crop of fruit that will not fall victim to slater bugs or slugs or snails this year.

The multitudes of celery seedlings I planted into the aquaponics beds are looking a little more vibrant and lush though I think the length of time it has taken for the system to kick in has meant they will be a little tough. Time will tell.

The rest of the garden is a jungle. After spending days at hospital in the New Year with the birth of our son the garden was a bit neglected and in some ways did better for it I think. There were however numerous vines that need twining and pruning and shaping into place. Some tomatoes fell victim to the likes of Maiki and Jazz, but they were mainly ones that were self-sown, and probably from fruit the guinea pigs ate last year!

The tamarillo is doing well and I am mindful of giving it plenty of water so it doesn't drop too many fruit. The chickens are doing well. Not so many eggs at the moment, but they really have been left to themselves for a week or so. Loving the new spinach and silverbeet that gets thrown to them though.

The backyard bed is drying out so I have had to keep water up to it for the sunflowers to yield and the corn to fill out. Some tomatoes hanging in there and a few surprise pumpkins and watermelons by the looks.

Newly planted chilachayote from a month or two back are now taking off and making a run for it. Looking forward to seeing what these do.

Aaaaah Dead Perch!

This photo is bad. But not so much as it appears. The fish are in an old strawberry box, it's not blood!  

But they are dead and were found at the bottom of the tank only hours after watching them happily swimming around. I thought it might have been a lack of oxygen in the water - which had been topped up with some tap water. I had also thrown some caterpillars into the tank, but could not really see any evidence of these when I cut them open to investigate. Half the fish were wiped out and the other half appear to be okay. The goldfish in the adjoining tank were fine also.

I am leaning towards a lack of oxygen that I just happened to catch in time, afterall, I had turned the pump off for a while to patch up a hole in the pipes. Still a slight disturbing mystery though. Anyway, the pump was turned back on and things appear to be normal. The only other thing that had changed was I planted more seedlings into some of the beds. Corn, cucumber and tomatoes. Well washed of soil and healthy so I don't think that would have done anything either.

Regardless, nothing is wasted. The four fish were taken out and poached and fed to the chooks who absolutely loved them. Especially the little ones who were trying fish for the first time.