Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Summer 2015

A view from the window after summer rain.

This year I was faced with the dilemma of having little time and still wanting to reap a reasonable harvest from the garden. Seed saving took a rest and I instead went through and planted out older seeds and packet seeds that had been accumulating. The best plants in the garden this year are actually the ones that came up through their own accord.

They boys have also claimed a portion of the garden with their climbing structure and play area, though I have made the most of pieces of space with container gardens.

This years crops are mainly pumpkins, beans, tomatoes, zucchinis, spinach and kale.

We have also added to the mix some new chicks, hatched by our clucky chooks and a Japanese Quail male and three hens - finally. This has been a long time coming and we are getting at least two eggs a day currently.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

First Cicada for Spring

Last Friday I heard the first cicada for the season. I always like to record the moment as it does seem to change from year to year.

With a number of warm days and evening rains the garden has taken off in the last few weeks. The plants that were transplanted from pots have put on new growth and have not looked back.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Seasonal Observations

Following a current Introduction to Permaculture course, I was reminded of the Noongar seasons. This has led me to continue to record seasonal observations within the garden. These are what I have noticed recently as we move back into our house & garden after nearly six months absence.

  • One of the first things I noticed was the New Holland Honeyeaters were collecting food unusually low to the ground in the nasturtiums and I suspect this is for two main reasons. The first is that there is an abundance of caterpillars, many of which are feeding on the nasturtiums [which is another use for growing them, as the nasturtiums lure caterpillars away from cropping plants]. The second is that this bounty of grubs is also coinciding with the honeyeaters raising their brood of young.
  • This is the time of the year when I first dated my wife and I remember it in conjunction with two other seasonal events. The magpies start collecting nesting material and carol throughout the night in lovely serenades. The other being that the freesias begin to bloom.
  • There is also a marked increase in the ‘woolly bear’ caterpillars and other similar haired caterpillars which from my observations seem to prefer feeding on the more obscure plants in the garden like borage, assorted weeds like sows thistles…
  • Some self-sown tomatoes that endured through winter are now fruiting.
  • Down by Eyre Park I’ve noticed the yearly excursions of the Wood Ducks up to higher vantage points such as the neighbouring house roof tops. They are starting to pair up and looking for nesting hollows high in the trees. I always wish them luck as there seems to be fewer and fewer suitable nesting hollows available.
  • The first Shield Bugs were seen yesterday.
  • Slightly further afield during a trip to Dumbleyung I noticed Shellduck had a clutch of young. Days young by the look of them. Wood Ducks were seen near nesting logs and a Grey Butcherbird was seen building a nest.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Petit Paradis - A New Beginning

This past twelve months has not been a particularly easy one. Actually, one of the toughest ever. As a result there have been many changes. Not the least have been the passing of my father-in-law and moving house, TWICE.

We moved away from our Petit Paradis somewhere around the end of February with a view to selling. As Dad's condition deteriorated our time was taken up with not just caring for him, but also Mum, as Dad was Mum's carer. There simply was no time to finish the house up to a stage where I was happy to put it on the market. Mid-year Dad passed away and Mum moved in with us at the rental we were leasing. This helped to consolidate things a little better as we weren't running meals to Mum and constantly having to check her welfare. Financially it wasn't any easier however. Inevitably, it worked out much better for us to move back to our own home with Mum and make a new start.

There is a whole background story involved which I wont' go into but involves the Bank. This complicated things quite a lot and as it turned out could have saved us all the hassle of moving in the first place. However, we are now back on track and for that I am grateful.

Plus, I have learnt some things which will be of no use to me or anyone else unless I start to apply the new knowledge. When I first started this blog it was as a personal record and journal. A convenient place to store my information and photos that detailed the journey I was on. For this reason there are what I consider large gaps in the story where time was constrained too much and I was not chronicling what was happening. As you look further and further back at posts you will see where we started from. I will also be writing about this soon so that you can see the evolution, the de-construction and the re-birth.

With our return to the house I am looking at the place with new eyes, new concepts and a new future. So this I will be recording in order to share more publicly. I hope you find it useful.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Permaculture Paradise Part II

This post is a continuation of the previous post found here.

Starting with some form of design creates a firmer commitment to actually implementing your project. And action is what is going to get the ball rolling.

Where is everything and what are our inputs and outputs?

The basics of our situation were that the house was on a slope with the back facing north. So we had high, dry points and potentially lower, damper areas. There was an existing shed and rainwater tank. We could have utilised more tanks but given it was always going to be temporary we utilised the slope to get greywater to the garden which was piped down and then put in buckets and watering can. There are two limitations to your use of water. The laws of water physics and your imagination.

What about plants, animals and structures?

We had a small shed, we had some compost bins and some exotic plants already existing in the garden which we relocated to better positions. We wanted to get chooks, but we started with compost bins and burying our kitchen scraps directly into the soil until we ran out of room. So the chooks we had pegged to go at the back of the shed. We didn’t bite off more than we could chew initially. But that came.

Incidentally we didn’t have a green waste bin. There just wasn’t one that came with the house and we never needed one. Everything went back into the system. It was either buried, composted or in the case of the eucalypts – mulched.

What about aspect?

Our backyard faced just off due north which meant the edibles were placed there. Most of our windows were exposed to the north to allow the warmth in. We seldom used extra cooling or heating and usually only just to take the edge off winter chills. In summer extremes we opened the front and back windows to flush hot air out.

Just down the road from us our like-minded neighbours lived on the opposite side of the road. So their front yard captures most of the sunlight hours and as a result their growing area for edibles is in their front yard. Our front yard was mostly shaded and consisted of natives. It was heavily mulched with wood chips and I never watered it. Even in summer. The only visit it got was to go to the mail box. It was left to its own devices and the birds, insects and reptiles loved it.

How do these things connect to each other?

The products of one element fulfil the needs of another element. We position elements or components so that they have the maximum benefit to the system. Each element serves at least two or more functions. Every important function (water collection, fire protection) is served in two or more ways. Elements are placed according to their intensity of use (zones), control of external energies (sectors) and efficient energy flow (gravity, wind and heat). Doing a page up like this is a wonderful left and right brain activity.

Where do we place elements in order to conserve energy? We place elements according to how much energy is required to attend or utilise them. 
Look also for ways you can store and extend energy storage in a system. Water tanks, solar power, preserving your garden produce, capturing heat from the sun inside to warm the house. If you saved your own seeds you could grow food using tanked water from your roof which you can then preserve using very little energy, or store it in your fridge powered by the sun. Can you start to see how utilising a bit of thinking the permaculture way, can save you money in the long run – and be better for your health? Its common sense thinking that puts money back in your pocket It’s a down, down scenario for you.

Soil: We all share a common challenge here in the Great Southern. It’s our soil, or rather, our sand. Our place like many others was built on a sand dune. This can be overcome and you can create living, dynamic soil in a rather short time. In a small area like an urban backyard, potentially a couple of inches of soil per year. In fact you have a greater chance of doing this on a smaller scale than broad scale agriculture ever will. It’s a size thing and it takes a different approach.

Kitchen scraps, newspaper print, shredded paper and cardboard have always managed do the job for me. The worms are the real heroes here and they love it and if you can keep it moist long enough for the worms to settle in, they will make it into an incredible friable soil along with their allies bacteria. You’ve no doubt heard not to feed meat, dairy, onion and citrus peels to your worms. In my experience, it’s probably a good idea for a worm farm where the little darlings don’t have much room to move.

Sheep and chicken manure is good for attracting the worms though I never used it in large quantities. The absolute very best, water retaining, dynamic areas of soil in our garden were always the areas where I had used mulch from tree clippings and cuttings. The real twiggy, woody mulch. It works so well that in our next garden I am planning to use mulch on a broader scale.

I’m not sure if you picked up on a commonality here. Much of what we use in our garden you could refer to as waste, and yet it is all put through the system and comes out as food, and returns as waste and comes out as food. A pretty rough description, but close to the truth.

Observe and Experiment – A comparison of lawn vs diversity


We started with lawn and natives. We finished with a more diverse and varied living space. As energy is expressed in a harmonic form it takes on the ability to support more life. Birds moved into our garden, rather than moving through it. During summer and autumn we have monarch caterpillars munching their way through milkweed that was planted to support them.

Permaculture builds diversity. Diversity leads to stability which then leads to increased fertility and which by design leads to potential productivity.

Diversity for diversities sake is a collection! It doesn’t mean that there are meaningful interactions occurring. There needs to be inter-active diversity. Each element must interact with other elements. There is a process to this of observing and analysing a systems interactions for feed back in order to better place elements.

You can design ‘convenience’ into your system to facilitate the events you want. My boys were curious and hungry. So the berry patch down the garden area where they arrived at first was done in order to fulfill their needs and provide shelter for the soil as well – and to try and get them to stop picking tomatoes or beans that I was keeping for seeds.

If you get the energy right, then you have harmony in your design. If you don’t get the energy right, you have pockets of chaos and disorder and it will require you to look at the connections and redirect things, otherwise nature is going to do it for you, which may or may not be to your desire. I had aquaponics along a side of the house with fish tanks underneath the house, but I wasn’t able to get the balance right before my time was shifted to raising our babies instead. But rather than sit in a state of entropy I utilised the grow beds for worm farms and growing salad. I highly recommend aquaponics and I am planning to have it as an integral part of our next garden. But it needn’t be too complex. Our fish pond was a two tiered pond with koi in the bottom pond and water loving salad greens in the top. Simple, healthy and abundant.

My three year old told his Pa rather as a matter of fact, what proper food is. Folks we do need proper food and it starts in your backyard. Why strive for sustainable living if you can’t sustain your own body?! When you grow something to eat yourself, something grows inside you. There is an understanding, a richness, a whole different appreciation of food and what it takes to get it.

If you have limitations then look at alternatives. We have several available to us in the Great Southern. We have awesome farmers markets and community gardens. Please, support these champions of sustainable living. They are the way of the future, whats old is new again.

None of this is rocket science, but it takes a bit of real thought and the willingness to not get stopped by obstacles. It helps to be a problem solver. May your way be a sustainable, permaculture way.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Albany Permaculture Group Forming

Following feedback from the Sustainable Living Expo we are in the stages of getting a permaculture group up and running in Albany, Western Australia. For those that attended the presentation and/or speed dating events that expressed an interest, please use either this Facebook link or contact me via the seed savers email you were given.

Our first gathering is likely to take place in late April to flesh out some organisational stuff and get the ball rolling. The main request from those with whom the idea has been discussed with, is to do permablitz type events and hands-on design activities.

Your feedback or suggestions can be posted on the facebook site or emailed.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pitaya Flowers @ Petit Paradis

We had a really mild, barmy night on Tuesday night which was followed by an overcast early morning with slight drizzle. I suspected that the pitaya would have opened flowers overnight, but I was not up for the astonishing sight as I came out of the house to find these two wonderful flowers in full bloom and at eye level to me.

You can see the flower that opened earlier the previous night. I used a paint brush to transfer pollen between the flowers and look forward to possibly seeing some fruit develop. Happy just to get them to this magnificent stage however. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Permaculture Paradise Part I - Sustainable Living Fair & Expo Presentation

After returning from the fantastic Expo this afternoon with the feedback received following my presentation I have decided to post the basis for my presentation. This is part one. And I had thought it might be in lieu of doing a 5 Year Update post, but I think that will be forthcoming too! 

The Story of Petit Paradis

I want to encourage you to grow at least some food in your own living space. Three or four generations ago we did this anyway. How soon we’ve lost touch. It takes so little room and in our society we’ve got a lot of space in comparison to other countries. And you’ll reap multiple benefits.

When I was asked if I would do a presentation for the Expo I wanted to talk about permaculture and growing food in your own backyard. I could have chosen seed saving, its what a lot of people associate me with, but I’ve also gained a reputation for my family garden where I practice permaculture principles. Over the years we've hosted some open garden events and had a couple of Living Smart course participants come through also. Permaculture comes from the words permanent culture – and in its truest context we mean a sustainable culture. Because a sustainable culture will lead to a state of permanence and resilience.

When my wife and I moved into our house five years ago my goal was to grow what I could from my own backyard and supplement it with produce from the local farmers market. I wanted to take more responsibility for my food. And I wanted to do it because we were about to grow as a family and I wanted my kids to know about Nature and our connections to it. I have a background in hospitality and I wanted my kids to know the real source of food. From the seed to the table.

Our house and garden was on a 500m2 block here in Albany, in Spencer Park. I remember watching the house get built when I lived down the street from it and thinking “It' so small, who would want to live there?” Anyway, …. some years later, married and returning from Perth and looking for a new home, my wife and I were living there. So I turned it into an urban oasis. By thinking big on a small scale.

It was a two step process. 

  1. Eradicate the lawn,  and
  2. Grow food.

There came a collective cry of concern from friends and family.
 “Nooooooooooo. Where are your children going to play? They need a lawn to run and play and be kids!”

To which I would reply… "In the park! Where the nice bloke from the City mows the lawn! I turned 40 last year and I mowed my first lawn about 6 months ago. I see that as an accomplishment. I’ve owned three houses and I’ve killed the lawn at virtually every one of them! Lawn has a place, but its not at my place! Why, because I don’t eat lawn, my family won’t eat the stuff and I’ve yet to meet anyone that does!

Instead of lawn in our backyard we had koi and at one point rainbow trout, chooks, free-range guinea pigs, worm farms, fruit trees, vege gardens, herbs, berries, bananas, it evolved with every passing year to suit the needs of a growing family. We had sub tropical plants. We’ve got dragon fruit flowering right at the moment. The most time spent away from home was on average 3 days and everything would tick along nicely in that time frame without any concern. Anything beyond that was a matter of getting friends or family to keep an eye on it.,

In its last incarnation a whole side garden became a jungle of berries for our boys to graze on at their whim and fancy. It wasn’t the be all and end all of our food consumption by any means, but it filled our lives with extra nutrition, interest, entertainment and a place to relax and unwind as we wandered through it.

Here is the flipside to my social experiment with not having lawn. My 3 year old garden grub son will show you how to pick a tomato properly, what a tamarillo is, how to suck the sweet juice from a stick of sugar cane, where to find the chook eggs and get them to the kitchen in one piece. He became my number one snail and slug collector and fed them to the chickens and fish. And he developed patience by waiting, waiting, waiting for those delicious strawberries to finally ripen.

But one thing bemused me about our garden.

Unsuspecting visitors to our house would come in and look out the window and, upon being immediately confronted by our urban jungle I more often than not heard these words.
“Wow, you’ve got a garden.”
And I guess once they realised they’d just stated the obvious out loud, they would then usually add something like...
“I mean, you’ve actually got a GAAAARDEN.”

And yes, our garden stood in stark contrast to the neighbouring backyards. On google maps it’s a little green oasis in a sea of rooftops, browning lawn, concrete and paving. Over time I grew to better understand our visitors remarks. I came to realise we've totally, literally, lost THE PLOT. Our backyards are getting smaller and the indoor home entertainment area is getting bigger. We're subdividing our land. We're even building houses nowadays with virtually no backyard to begin with!

So what can you do? How can you move towards where you want to go, starting with what you’ve already got. Well, I want you to know you don’t need a heap of room to grow your own food. And most of us have a backyard or a space we can utilise if we really put our minds to it. Well, lets take a look at some considerations and please keep in mind your own house and land as I go through some of these.

The best starting place is a plan. Now stay with me here. Its as simple as a mud map, on a good day we’ll call it a sketch. A design which incorporates the various elements you want and will enable you to move towards your vision with a step by step plan.

And allow me to tell you right here that permaculture does not exist in a black and white realm of design. Its sustainable, it’s green, its organic, its not fixed, it’s fluid - things change, you change, your requirements change. Things in your environment that are outside your control change. You will go far if you can understand this and embrace it right from the start.

To be continued ...

A Garden Salad - with some important community connections. Parmesan cheese and Macadamia nuts from the Albany Farmer's Market, and smoked garlic from a friends gardening and preserving efforts. Everything else came out of our own garden.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pitaya, Thriving on Neglect

I have been so tied up recently, busy with moving house(s) and all manner of other stuff that I care not to mention - that on a quick inspection of the garden on the 25th of February I discovered much to my joy 8 small buds forming on the Dragonfruit. What is amazing is how quickly they are growing.

The top photos where taken two weeks prior to the below pics. In the meantime a few have fallen off. There are about five remaining and the loss was probably due to a lack of water. Still, I talk to it nicely and it's doing really well.

I'll post more as the story 'unfolds' and time permits. Other plants thriving on neglect in the garden are Mouse Melons, Snake Beans, Marigolds and Sweet Potato.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Mid Summer Update 2015

A week or so ago I began to sort through some of the soil from the chook pen and managed to extract a few decent wheelbarrow loads of soil which I used to pot up seedlings and the odd avocado seed or mango seed that I found along the way. This is the second time I have 'mined' the chicken yard to get soil to top up containers instead of purchasing potting mix and it works well and is already inoculated with micro-organisms, matured chicken manure and tiny, tiny immature compost worms. It's great stuff. 

What happens of course is that along with whatever I am trying to grow in the pot, dozens of 'weed' plants also pop up. This did cause some despair at first until on careful observation I realised that the majority of them we can eat ourselves and the others are great feed for the chickens. So given that most of our plantings are in containers it is not such a big call to weed them out over time - especially when I am picking and thinning out for using in salads for lunch at work.

Something of an anomaly for us this year is the noticeable absence of Monarch butterflies. Only one has been sighted to my knowledge earlier in January. Ironically, of all years, I actually have a decent supply of milkweed for the caterpillars to feed on. On the upside however is that given the plants have not been eaten bare they have managed to set a decent bunch of seed pods which I will harvest for growing out a small forest of these plants to put to good use next season.

Last week I also managed to find some sweet potatoes in the garden. Normally I dig for these around autumn but with areas of the garden dying off and drying out I decided to hunt around. If there wasn't going to be a find of any sort then I would plan to plant out the garden earlier. This was the harvest I found in one area of barely a metre squared.

I thought that this year I would train the grape vine out into the garden to help reduce the impact of the easterlies in summer. I think it has worked but probably took energy from the plant which it would have put into fruit otherwise. Despite this, the vine was covered in more bunches than I have seen previous years, as though it has established itself after nearly five years and was tapping into some reliable water supply. Our boys got stuck into the bunches that the silver-eyes didn't get to and the rest were quickly harvested by my wife to dry out into delectable little currants.

This is a scene of the mid-summer jungle. Already plants are drying out and the garden is transitioning into an autumn looking garden as the vine leaves have turned colour in this last week quite quickly and are already falling from the vine, dried, brown or golden, and ready for the compost heap.

Australia Day Harvest

After the last couple of warm days and their accompanying easterly winds I have eased off on the watering in parts of the garden to allow some of the plants to dry out so we can harvest their seeds.

This evening after the days celebratory activities there was just enough time to get into the garden and harvest some of the beans, tomatoes and lettuce. Plus cover up the one decent sunflower head that made it through the last few months so that the Red-capped Parrots don’t polish it all off in the early hours of the morning.

We have been calling upon the mains water to deliver water to parts of the garden this summer which is not a practice I like to do too often and over the last five years of living here is something we've really only done sporadically. This summer we've watered with mains more regularly and the results are much the same as other summers still. The summer conditions still dry out large areas of the garden. The more resilient areas being those where there has been a good covering of wood-chips and mulch previously and/or some serious compost areas. 

The chickens are doing well and have been supplying a regular egg or two a day on average. Enough to get us by with the odd carton purchased from friends here and there. The build up of vegetative matter from garden pruning and kitchen scraps is now due for gathering up and forming into another large compost heap ready for autumn plantings.

Large areas of the garden are now ready for clearing up and re-planting which seems rather early in the year compared to previous years when I've had tomato plants still in full swing. I missed that pleasure this year as I relied more on seedlings that came up in the garden as time really was not on my side with the regular routine of seeding which I do around August and September.

This summer I have really had to let the garden take charge of itself and simply keep the water up to it and train any stray tendrils or vines along the string or rope or cane that I have managed to put in place to guide them.

Scattered around the place are seedlings for various trees that I have started over the last few months in order to plant them out at the new garden when we move. I've had great success with wattle seeds from the trees at the back fence which I collected late last year. These will be grown and planted out and will be sacrificial trees that will be cut and mulched once they have done their job of establishing the garden soil.

Our fish have steadily died off since last winter it seems. Nearly all of our goldfish are gone now leaving only the Koi which seems a little odd. On Christmas Eve we got a bunch of yabbies for the table and we released a few into the pond to see how they would go as the marron we had did really well previously. They don't appear to be harassing the Koi at all and are more than likely doing a fine job of cleaning things up on the bottom.