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.