Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bamboo Success

I've had really good success with propagating the bamboo this year ready for the move to the New Garden. I cut up lengths of bamboo, stuffed the ends with vermi-compost and lay the bamboo sandwiched between two layers of compost. A little watering and then left under the house and only watered once or twice to keep it minimal.

This will assist in speeding up the growth and coverage of the bamboo grove at Tillellen. I've also be nurturing multiple plantings of camellia sinensis, honey locust, carob, avocados, lilly pillies and various ground covers.

Seedlings and Garden Fit-Out for the Summer @ Petit Paradis

The new garden bed being dealt whatever I could get my hands on. Kitchen scraps, horse manure, lawn clippings, newspapers, mulched green waste from a clean up at the other house, small twigs and logs, shredded office paper. Some shovel loads of dirt from the chook pen and all the large bits of material left in the chook pen after the winter that didn't break down. This was then hit with regular waterings of grey water, yellow water, cool drink, molasses, and seaweed concentrate. Topped off with horse manure. By the end of the day it had already sunk down nearly half a foot.

More use of the vertical space is planned for this summer. I've tried to still create a bit of space as last summer the garden got hit with mildew in late summer. It was a very humid little garden and the tomato plants made a real jungle of the place.

Some stuff hanging over from winter, some starting off, some fresh and new and just waiting for seedlings once things have settle down a little. This aspect will look quite different by late summer.

Small beginnings of various seedlings and left overs of the home-made seed raising mix. I need to make up a heap more as there is still a lot more I want to get planted. There will be a variety of plants for seed saving this year so it should make for an interesting event at some point. We'll see how we go. Things are busy with family at the moment so the garden is once again having to look after itself where possible.

The sweet potatoes are flourishing at the moment after looking a little sorry for themselves of the last few weeks. I have placed larger pots in the garden beds and will grow crops like sweet potatoes in amongst them. I really need the garden to be easy to water this summer as time is going to be an issue, I can see it already.

I have also had to spend a bit of time at Tillellen getting the lawns mowed and trimmed. Not a favourite task in so many ways and there is more to do. We are living with high expectations that we can hopefully get the new build started soon at at least the infrastructure for the New Garden started.

The back garden bed got some more horse manure additions today and I planned out where I will plant the corn and how I will water it. I still have chilli and pepper seeds to get started - and some room to find to plant them. I think for this year I will utilise the garden beds around the side for salad greens and allow the main garden to grow the tomatoes and chillies, corn and beans.

I have decided that we will wait for the move to Tillellen before getting quail and possibly guinea pigs. We already have our work and time cut out for us without adding more elements into the equation.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

October Update

With two very active, healthy young boys I have hit a major challenge recently. I don't have the time I feel I need to keep the garden ticking along as it should. Not one to give up easily I've had to make do with small bursts of action in the garden. Not easy when your tired. Let alone recording the challenges in a blog post. It's a good thing I can touch type!

As it happens I've also started to make a few structural changes to the garden and so I'm caught on the hop of sowing seeds, getting soil set up and having to do 5 things in order to achieve completing one.

The weather has also made a mockery of the situation. Not that I mind. The sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain routine is great for this time of the year so it's another indication that I'm still on the mark with getting stuff in the ground and sorted out. Five minutes ago we had thick grey cloud cover, no sun and heavy, heavy rain. Now it's overcast with broken sunlight and breezy. Again, its a matter of on, off, on, off coordination with everything else that is demanding of time.

Torrential down pour at 14:30. The garden is under reconstruction!
Twenty minutes later at 15:00 it's bright and sunny
It occurred to me today that farmers at least have the time to sow and harvest and do everything else in between. Backyard gardeners in comparison have to usually make the time in amongst a normally busy urban lifestyle. Sometimes, as I am finding, this is not fun. And not easy.

But I have to say that even just some time in the garden seems to be necessary occurrence these days - as some sort of spiritual grounding.

So, hitting the soil this week were:

Rattlesnake beans
Lazy Housewife beans
Cherokee Wax beans
and some Blue Lake from yesterdays Produce Swap.

There are Swaziland White Maize seedlings coming along in the hot house along with cucumbers, zucchinis and tomatoes. 

As I finish off this post it is 20:40 and it is raining quite heavily outside. A blocked gutter pipe is causing a waterfall cascading down the side of the house which will need looking at. Another thing to add to the list!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The First Cicada

Yesterday I heard the first cicada for the season. If I remember rightly I didn't hear the first one last year until about the 17th of October. Perhaps they are early this year due to the warmer weather. Regardless, it was a reminder that I've been a little bit behind my usual routine this Spring. Normally I've already had seeds in seed raising mix or planted out well and truly by now, but this year there have been too many other things tugging at time. So eventually there comes a moment when I know I just have to get the job done. This year I've made my own seed raising mix. Not quite a measured effort. 

Due to a small pair of helping hands eager to assist there were extra quantities added, so I ended up making a mix in much the same way I cook. Adding the ingredients until it feels and looks right. This years mix consisted of:
  • coconut coir
  • a blood and bone mix
  • garden lime
  • sand - heat treated time permitting
  • perlite
  • some fine vermicompost from the very bottom of the worm farm
These were mixed into a very friable, water absorbent mix and then used in various containers depending on the seeds and plants required. It is usually a mix of small paper pots which I hand fold, seed raising trays and segmented trays. These were all made up when time permitted to allow me to sow seeds into the trays or pots later in the night once I'd worked out what I wanted to get started right away.

Within days some of the brassicas were already up. The corn was following in a mad rush. I anticipate that soon the tomtoes will be screaming up. In the meantime I collect horse manure where and when I can and have piled this around the place in various assemblies of compost piles, topping off compost bins, putting into containers with some dynamic lifter to let it sit while the seedlings grow.

Planning for the summer garden is a balance of left and right brain thinking. There is a really rough plan and a lot of intuition and observation. To make things interesting its a blend of:
  • what are we going to want to eat this summer?
  • what seeds do I need fresh seed of?
  • what is the general weather conditions going to be?
  • what will do best in these weather conditions?
  • what plantings will make the garden different and interesting this year - for myself and visitors?
  • what plant group will I focus on?
My prediction for this summer is for it to be extra hot and quite windy. So this summer the grape vine will once again be trained up and over the deck to create a 'green room' out of the deck and break the winds down a little so its still nice to sit out there and enjoy it.

Winds and heat mean extra water is going to be required and so there is some extra preparation I still need to do to make the most of our water plus make it easy to water.

So far I have managed to plant corn, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, various brassica, beetroot, beans, fennel and peas.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Spring Update & Planning

After the most amazing August weather we entered September with wonderful weather too, until as usual, the heavy rains came. Each year our little apricot tree opens its blooms and is more often than not hit with hail which inevitably knocks some of the flowers from the branches. So far this year we have managed to only have heavy showers and enough sunny periods to let the bees into the garden unhindered to do their busy business. After an inspection yesterday it looks like we might get a reasonable crop of apricots this year and with further luck, may be able to save the seed and get some more trees going.

The wattle trees at the back fence are laden with small pods that are just starting to fill out. By late summer they should be popping with seeds. Last year this is what the rats came to us for, until they also discovered the peas, tomatoes, grapes and corn. With a few modifications to this years garden and some early placing of baits I hope to get around the problem this year. It was our first visit from rats and from what I picked up talking to other gardeners the rat problem was wide-spread last year in the Albany area.


It is usual for me at this time of the year to 're-design' the garden for the coming summer. Each year it takes on a different look and purpose depending on what is required. Last year it was getting a good supply of tomatoes and seeds so tomatoes dominated the scene. I'm actually a little behind in the planning this year, but there is little I can do about that.

This year we'll have a very keen 3 year old wanting to continue to assist in the garden so I need to also watch what is planted where!

Quite a lot of one side of the house has been planted out with Cape Gooseberries since autumn. This was to provide a point of diversion for our toddler come summer when the fruits are plentiful and he can easily reach in and pluck them off to peel them and either eat himself or feed to the koi. This amuses him and keeps him entertained and given I haven't been able to get into the garden much it has minimised my efforts required in that part of the garden whilst still keeping the soil covered and the earthworms active.

This year I have a range of seed collected from around the place that I am not sure how old it is. I am thinking of planting out what I can into seed trays and taking it from there. The back garden bed has already been modified to be planted out with corn, beans, herbs, salad greens, root crops and pumpkins. All the trellis will remain in position until we eventually move due to a keen desire to keep the work load down where possible. Already, after the extreme winds yesterday in Albany I am looking at how to make watering a little easier this year and to protect the garden from the easterlies which I suspect will be strong this year.

A significant part of the garden is also a small nursery at the moment. I have been propagating trees and herbs and bamboo, ground covers and berries for our eventual move. So another side of the house is virtually filled with these to nurture them along through the next year or so ready for planting out when we create our next garden.

Given the impending move I am also wanting to get bit of variety into the garden this year so that we can still do small garden openings as it will probably be the last summer that we do them here. It is also likely there will be an autumn even also so it would be nice to have plants following through to that time as well. I mention this because it means there will be a lot of containers in the garden and its going to need to retain water where it can so it doesn't dry out. The new garden I am planning out will be planted out into the soil and utilising grey water so I don't anticipate the level of care required will be as high as it is currently with this garden.

Some of our fresher seeds will be distributed through the local Seed Circle project group so that we can maintain the diversity and spread the risk of loss. Part of the planning this year has been to do a bit of an audit of where we are currently at and what varieties we need to focus on.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Green & Gold

The wattles at the back fence are in full bloom now. We are treated to the green and gold pageantry of a southern Australian winter. On sunny winter days I am delighted to hear the hum of bees steadily working the pom-pom flowers of the wattle trees.

The soil here is building into a deep, rich, black earth. It has taken some time. Years in fact. With what I have learnt here I aim to build the soil for the New Garden much, much faster.

A compost pile lies almost forgotten in the back garden bed. Shaded now in mid-winter by the ever climbing wattles as they begin to block out the precious sunlight. I am hoping that in summer they will be an advantage as the sun will be a bit higher in the sky. We shall see. The bacteria and fungi and subterranean miracle workers do their magic under the black plastic sheltering the composting mass. 

Of our new chickens, the roosters revealed themselves today. At about 6am.

Two of them are no longer with us at the close of day. I'm not happy about it, but it's a responsibility I took on when I accepted the eggs for hatching under Clarice, our Orpington Cross Bantam. Of those that are hens we will hopefully start to see eggs from them soon given that they hatched in March.

I find myself overtired after work and then coming home and looking after family matters. As I fall into bed I have started to find a great comfort in dreaming of the New Garden and of how I will plant out the garden here for spring and summer. I lose myself in thinking of trees growing and bearing fruit. I realise that I am constantly thinking of my own newer version of the garden here. A Petit Paradis that is relocated, but which is growing in form in the mind as I fall into a slumber.


There is change in the air here.

With the progression of our plans to build and renovate I have decided to at least capture the journey towards our new destination as well as the journey out of our current situation. Our house here has evolved over the last four or so years and the garden has changed from season to season.

This year I plan more changes now that our first son will be nearly three and is able to do so much more in the garden. It is also a period of transition for us as I start to propagate plants for the eventual set-up of the new garden.

The theme is very much one of a transition into abundance, hence I have changed the sub-title of the blog to reflect this. It is a new chapter with a new destination. Still along the lines of what we have done here, but leading more into my original plans and ideas and incorporating what I have learnt along the way and concepts and strategies for how I want to live in the future.

I am excited about the journey and delighted that the destination will keep evolving, allowing the journey to continue along its progressive path.

More soon.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Compost Worms - Adventures in the Toxic Environment

The topic of using newsprint in the edible garden is one that raises its head on a regular basis and is something that I like to monitor. I use newsprint in the garden with the following considerations.

  • I don't like to burden an area with either a great heap of newsprint at any one time or over a period of a year or so.
  • My main indicator to the health of my soil is the soil life itself - and the most visible, easily identifiable  and more immediate indicator for me personally is the compost worms. If there is an abundance or even seemingly an over-abundance of worms in areas of composting with newsprint then I am relatively assured that there be no harm.
 This piece of information is from the Ecobaby website. I like it because it explains the process of conversion quite simply.

"As long as the worm composter is working properly, the worms will be able to handle these substances. Heavy metals become soluble and therefore potentially toxic in acidic environments. Worms prefer a relatively alkaline environment. Normally ground garden limestone is sprinkled into the composter. (Only use garden lime, NOT Quicklime, of course!). Worms carry out fine grinding of the lime particles. This neutralises any excess acidity and liberates plant nutrients stored in the rock. Heavy metals are also fixed in the soil and released slowly avoiding toxicity. Worms develop and maintain a culture of effective aerobic bacteria by culling pathogens, fungi and anaerobic bacteria. They also ensure the organic mass is well aerated."

My own experience is that newsprint and cardboard are exceptional materials for building up soil and are enhanced by the actions of soil microbes and worms. This is from my own observations of the materials breaking down, the abundance of worms found in the compost and the masses of tiny, tiny worms and cocoons which more often than not is found in conjunction with cardboard, particularly corrugated cardboard where the worms can move into the ridges and tunnels. There are many gardeners who have used newsprint and cardboard in their gardens for years now, particularly since the shift to soy-based inks and more environmentally considerate paper products and processes.

I choose to put the coloured printed material in the recycling bin instead of the garden mainly because it takes longer to break down and I personally have a dislike to the stuff and don't trust it. The other consideration is that the worms are not as attracted to it either because it takes a while for water to penetrate it and assist in breaking it down or because of the coatings used.

I also found an interesting article on the Mercola website which features the use of GE crops and soil fertility.

 GE Crops Affect Soil Fertility -

And this here is the link to an article with a little more depth to it than the normal articles found, but I still am having to scratch around to find some real statistics or studies indicating the dangers of toxic build-up in soils, particularly dioxins. There is some research into heavy metal conversion by compost worms and microbes, but dioxin appears to be a different matter.

City Food Growers article on "Is newspaper toxic for my organic garden?"

The other method I have found very efficient for converting large quantities of newsprint is ripping it into long shreds, a few cms wide and putting it into the chicken's strawyard where they dig it into the soil and scratch it up. The worms get to it a lot faster along with the action of the chook manure and it breaks down with a regular, gentle wetting. I like to do this in autumn when light showers keep it damp but not saturated.