Sunday, July 23, 2017

Practice connections

If there's anything I've learned from our cat's, sudden passing, it's the importance of connection. More so, the practicing of it. The reason it's hard to lose a domesticated animal - even a livestock one, is because we practice a daily ritual of living in unison. Sometimes, up close. Other times, only on the periphery.

When it's not there any more, we fully appreciate the glue that became our daily ritual. Binding one, inexplicably, to the other. This is the whole point of this post. It's not necessarily about losing our cat.

Native Brush Turkey

It's about learning to recognise a profound absence in our existence. Which is difficult to do, if we're not practicing a daily ritual of interconnected living, with other elements. We associate easily to the animals we bring into our lives, but what about those native animals, living on the periphery?

Or the living things, we don't necessarily associate to being sentient? Like plants, microorganisms and water. Do we practice a daily connection to these things? Do we contemplate the roots underground, before we anticipate the crop of fruit we hope to consume?

Native eucalyptus trees

I would like to draw upon some of my indigenous ancestry, to consider a less European, point of view. Aboriginal society selectively desired things in nature, over and above advancing their communities, through agriculture. As noted by K Langloh Parker, in 1905, where she wrote about, The Euahlayi Tribe. The introduction was written by a man, and from it, he says:

"...the natives of the Australian continent are probably the most backward of mankind, having no agriculture, no domestic animals, and no knowledge of metal-working. Their weapons and implements are of wood, stone, and bone, and they have not even the rudest kind of pottery."

From a European perspective, the original inhabitants were considered backward. Because European stories of origin, emerged from dominion over landscape and animals. Dominion, until the next outbreak of famine and disease, forced a treaty with the natural order again. But the problem with civilisations, based on conquering, is they simply got on a boat, found another unadulterated paradise, to start the whole process again.

European origin stories, inevitably found fault with different rulers, different segments of society, and even the natural elements. But never the civilisation's themselves, for having a perverse view of what constitutes a natural birthright.

Native Red Grevillea flower

Let's consider how the original inhabitants of Australia, came to survive with such rudimentary tools, without agriculture. They formed, incredibly sensitive relationships, to their natural environment. Culture emerged from land, animals and people, being interwoven - rather than separated.

The good news is, we don't have to mimic a primitive existence, verbatim, in order to connect better to living things. A more agricultural existence - versus hunter gatherer - or using more sophisticated tools, is not an exclusive question, of ONE domain to rule them all. We do fail however, by not practicing a daily ritual with living elements, as a vital imperative. Because it's our natural inheritance in the environment, which steers us away from unnatural tendencies, towards destruction.

I say, unnatural, because we were given brains with the capacity to decipher conscience and choice, for a reason. We were made to decipher value in what we do, beyond instinct.

Native grass and Westringia bush, with exotic in background

Therefore, it's unnatural to ignore the effects of our global civilization, and passing it off as merely survival. Anyone feeling that tug of conscience, to return to the soil, is yearning to be connected with their natural inheritance again.

We come from the soil, and we will return to become soil again. So we should value what's taken from it, and what goes into it. By practicing that daily connection, we start to observe how we can effect change in our behavour, in positive ways. Change is necessary, if we hope to contribute something meaningful, back into our environment again.

The key is: something meaningful. If all we do, is directly about benefiting us, and not those existing on the periphery, it's easy to fall into the trap that we're more important in the natural order. Sharing, is a meaningful contribution.

Lavender for bees, and bromeliads for amphibians & lizards

So in your garden, plant food for the native animals, as well as food for yourself. Build habitat which connects different areas together. Learn to tolerate more intrusion, into your man-made zones, with wild zones. Because it's a treaty, not outright surrender. Use the natural resources in your garden, with the intent to return a surplus. Rather than stripping away parts, and having it dumped someplace else. And if given the opportunity, teach a child (yours or someone else's) to do the same.

This is how the Aboriginal people of Australia, got to reproduce their gene pool for up to 70,000 years. There is something to the process, of accepting the land given, is worth nurturing as part of the collective identity. I may garden for my family and I, but what I leave behind, will be what contributes to a far bigger picture.

Imagine all our gardens, connected together. Where migration of living organisms, becomes a vital imperative to who we are, and our children's future. It's more than survival. We're connecting to a living environment, and choosing respect for it. That is a choice worth duplicating, in our civilisation today.

How do you enjoy practicing connection, in your landscape? It can be at home, or beyond.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are chickens expensive?

Keeping chickens can be expensive, especially if you have a high predator load to contend with. Or they can be expensive, in the same way you might treat a pet - forking out money for things which aren't really necessary.

The key is to find a workable balance, which meet the needs of the animal, the investor (you) and let's not forget the land and inputs. Natural resources would like a return, for expending energy, keeping your animals alive. In fact, if you ignore that last part, keeping chickens will become infinitely more expensive, as time goes by.

 Greenery, where chicken tractor used to be

Which is why I like to find as many ways as possible, to grow carbon, where I keep animals. I have a permanent coop, for most of our layers - but I also have a nifty little chicken tractor, which doubles as a fertility spreader. A broody or sick hen, will often find themselves in it.

How expensive are my chickens, when what I spend on their seed, sprouts on the lawn? Which I will slash to the ground, before planting corn into it, for spring.

If I had to spend extra money on top of their feed, without this tractor dispersing the seed they didn't eat - my chickens, and corn, would ultimately be more expensive to grow. It's how you use your animals, which can increase the return on your investment. They're still going to cost you "that" amount of money, but you've gotten more than just eggs, from the deal. You've developed a means of acquiring nature fertility, as well.

The acquisition of inputs, didn't require a trailer to cart, or petroleum to ferry either. Just two people, to lift and walk a chicken tractor, 1.8 metres, at a time.

Pea flower

Although, the seed I purchased, did come with a carbon footprint - I'm turning it back into carbon, as well. Some variety of pea has sprouted (above), also sunflowers, wheat, corn and what seems like broccolini. I've been picking the broccolini leaves, for the guinea pig too.

This is system stacking, on a small scale. It's perfect for this little strip, 12 x 3 metres, right out the back door. In some places, I'm running the tractor, back over the spouted seeds - so I'm extending the feeding capacity from the same bag of feed.

The insects which are attracted to these little forests in the lawn, is amazing too. I have a miniature prairie, at work.

Brassica flower

All those insects will contribute excrement and decaying bodies too. I've noticed a lot of lady beetles (aphid control) and predatory wasps (caterpillar control) attracted to the broccolini, bolting to seed. In winter, if you please.

Which tells me, this strip will be perfect for corn in the growing season ahead. It will get enough warmth, and thanks to my chicken fertility dispersal, enough nutrients to feed the crop.

The answer to how expensive are your chickens, is how many functions do you intend to stack around them? If it's just for eggs, they might be very expensive chickens to keep. If they're going to help you grow stuff, feed the garden or dispose of your waste, then they're actually valuable to keep. Because they save you money, in other areas.

I have a post lined up, about my permanent coops too. How I harvest the fertility from them. Having a permanent coop, and a mobile tractor though, allows more flexibility with livestock and land management.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Oranges & oranges

Our two orange trees have been in the ground, since July 2008. So they're 9 years old. Would you believe, it's taken that long to get a decent harvest?

 Citrus tree, horde - 2008

Of course, I planted those trees, before I stumbled upon permaculture. So they were planted in isolation, from most other living things. A companion tree for each, came later, and once the nearby passionfruit vine took over, it helped cool the temperatures a little more. Happy accidents, but I wouldn't treat a fruit tree now, like how those oranges began.

Leng Navel tree - last year

What I believe made a difference this year, was how I mulched the trees. It's an above ground, hugelkultur method, where a lot of woody material, and some finner ones, are placed underneath. I did it last winter (2016) so it's had a full season to breed mycelium - or the keys for tree roots, unlocking nutrients quicker.

You can see the mulching process here, with the Navel Orange, and then, with the Leng Navel. Simply, I threw a lot of different organic matter, under the trees, like a forest. The woody material, specifically plays host to a plethora of fungi, which benefits surface roots, like the citrus have. In just one year, I got a bumper crop of citrus.

Washington Navel tree - today

So much so, a lot of fruit are falling to the ground. We're eating them of course, and I even picked a bag to give our new neighbours, next door. They were the sweet Washington Navel's, which are simply divine! There can be no better tasting orange than this sweet Navel. It's supreme in my book.

Inside Washington Navel orange

The Leng Navel, was a little more tart. Maybe why it's recommended, more as a juicing orange. It's definitely got juice! Boy, do they have juice. But not as sweet as the Washington Navel. I've been eating a lot of oranges lately, and everyone in the family agrees, they were definitely worth the wait.

If you have any kind of fruit bearing tree, I would recommend this mulching strategy. The payoff for us, happened in just one year.

Are you eating any home grown fruit, this time of year?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hugel bed update

It's time to see how my new hugelkultur beds are doing, in the middle of winter. My theory was, I could possibly grow better veg during winter, than in the killer temps of summer. Let's see how that little experiment is going...

Flowering plants

First, is the retaining wall, our hugel beds, are located on. It's the first thing we see, leaving the house, as we walk up to the hugel beds. I'm growing nasturtiums, during winter, in what is deemed a temperate climate. It's only because the block retaining wall, retains heat during winter nights.

To a lessor degree, the wall helps maintain heat in the hugel beds too. But they are raised off the ground, so the heating effect in the beds, is more due to all day sun, directly radiating the soil.

 New edition

Just behind those flowing plants, is a new wicking bed/barrel. I actually planted the federation daisy and nasturtium against the wall, in hopes they would help shade this tub, from summer heat. I've planted a blueberry in the middle, and strawberries around the edges. The mesh is to stop the brush turkeys, getting curious.

This experiment will really be tested next summer. It may not be a permanent feature, as my other wicking boxes, haven't performed all that well. More about that later though.

Hugelkultur bed 1 (HB1)

Next to the new wicking barrel, is our first hugel bed. It seems to be the lowest production bed, for some reason. It may be due to the casuarina tree leaves, I used to mulch it - as noted by Bev at FoodnStuff, having an allelopathic effect. This bed was mulched the heaviest with that particular mulch.

I have yet to harvest the sweet potatoes, but there are other things doing well, for this time of year growing in HB1.

 Wombok - or Chinese cabbage

This wombok was planted a few weeks ago, as a small seedling. Now, it's jumped out of the ground. There is beetroot, garlic, and a lone cauliflower planted nearby too. But the wombok seems to have the magic stuff, growing very quickly.

I'm also trying brussel sprouts for the first time this year too, but I've run into some problems...

The VERY hungry caterpillars

It's still winter, and I have pests eating my sprouts! I suspect it's white cabbage moth, as I've seen them flittering about. The one brussel sprout plant, which hasn't been touched, was actually planted in an ornamental shrub border, some place else.

So I must be rolling out the welcome mat, in my hugel beds. I do space the brassicas out with other veg in between, to disguise them. But it is a sunny area during winter, and any insect worth their survival salt, would scope it out. So it may always be an issue.

Thai cooking chilli

Almost ready to harvest in HB1, are chillies. I only occasionally cook with chillies, but am learning to love the subtle heat they impart. I want to try making sweet-chilli jam also, to bake in a sourdough loaf.

In the meantime, they are ripening slowly, due to not being optimal growing conditions. Chillies are much quicker producing, in the heat. But the fact it still looks healthy, is testimony to the micro-climate, the block retaining wall, helps to create.

Hugelkultur bed 2 (HB2)

Raised bed number two, is a lot more productive. I broadcast mizuna seed, saved from a plant which volunteered, in the most inhospitable place. Making it hardy seed! It was an experiment, which succeeded, perhaps a little too well?

I'm actually beginning to understand what northern hemisphere gardeners speak about, when they say "spacing" is important for production. I've only dealt with heat before, mainly planting in the warmer months. Spacing close together, prevents evaporation and enables plants to survive. They have plenty of heat and sunlight to make them grow.

But during winter, with cooler soil and less sunlight - spacing wider apart, allows plants to reach their full potential.

Tatsoi (dark green) Mizuna (light green)

As an example, I rescued these tatsoi plants, from the mizuna, strangling them. They grew lanky in the middle, to reach the light. But the lower leaves didn't stand a chance, reaching sun - subsequently, becoming dwarfed.

Still very edible in our stir-fry though, but we lost production on these slower growing plants. Mizuna is a faster grower.

It took me a while to like the mizuna. When first eaten raw, I didn't like it. The peppery flavour was unpalatable in large doses. But then I discovered it's best eaten as part of a salad (like rocket) or to jazz up scrambled eggs. It's even great in making stock, or stirred through casseroles. It's extremely versatile as a flavour enhancer. With something this productive, I was GOING to learn to use it!

Perennial vegetables, mixed with annual

Still in HB2, is some curly leaf kale, oregano and more wombok. I'm treating the kale, as a perennial, to see how long I can harvest leaves for. There is one kale plant in this bed, and another in HB1.

The poor wombok will be starved for sunlight though, from all that mizuna. I will thin it out, to create more sunlight for it. Having so much greenery around though (yes Mizua - I'm talking to you) can be a real blessing. Because I have plenty to pull up for the chickens. While mizuna isn't their favourite leafy green to eat - they still eat it. So I'm getting eggs from my windfall of mizuna too.

Sun-kissed coriander

I did say, this particular bed was productive. I have some coriander, making a welcome appearance, also from seed. I love coriander in my cooking. It's probably the best time of year to grow in this particular area too - because as soon as the heat arrives, it will bolt to seed. At least, that has been my experience, in this location.

I'm learning quite a few things from this area, like what does well, and what doesn't; more importantly though - in which season. All valuable stuff, if you want to eat what you grow, year round - in the space you have available. Each niche for a plant, has a different growing environment.

Tiny teeth

The brussel sprouts in HB2, didn't escape the white cabbage moth either. Although, it's been attacked less aggressively, than in HB1. It must be all that mizuna, throwing them off!

I can see why people net their brassicas, because there may not be anything left of my brussel sprouts, soon.

Nice to chia

I went a little crazy with seed in autumn. I cleared out a lot of packets, which were either too old, or would be, if I let them go another season. So I broadcast them around the hugel beds. One of the things to surprise me recently, was chia!

It popped up beside HB2, and looked a little like Lanta at first. Lucky it wasn't pulled, but I was expecting some surprise seedlings, which is why I waited to see what would emerge. Well, it's beautiful blue flowers, have brightened up the garden, for the first time. Which also tells me, I should be able to collect fresh seed, to plant them again.

 Wicking box 1

Now, to some not so great experiments. Just opposite our hugel beds, is another block retaining wall. I've used this to set-up wicking boxes. Which I'm sad to say - in comparison to the hugel beds, has not done very well. All the plants seemed to dwarf, never reaching their full potential - despite the fact they had access to water.

 Green tomatoes

I did manage a few small harvests though. Like these volunteer tomatoes, which came up from the compost added. I'll save the seed, because they won't taste very nice without the warm temperatures to ripen them. We also managed a small harvest of peas, which Peter really enjoyed! Plus some spring onions too.

Nothing else was really edible though. Not even the rubarb. I'm mean, rubarb! Those suckers should have enormous leafs to help sustain them. But no. Only small, lanky leafs, which looked half-starved. It wasn't fair to rob any of the plants, their leaf matter, which was barely keeping them alive. I've had a dig around though, and I suspect the problem is beetle larvae.

I've had this before, in my ornamental container plants. Beetles are attracted to the heat in the containers, and don't get any competition from other soil dwellers. When the larvae emerge, they prune the roots, and stunt the plants.

Not to worry though...I have a plan!

New hugel bed (HB3)

I'm replacing the wicking boxes, with more hugelkultur beds. This is a new hugel creation (#3) finished a few weeks ago. It's lower in height than the other two, but still completely adequate.

The plan is to transplant what I can, from the wicking boxes (next to it) and carefully pull the boxes apart. The chickens should enjoy the feast of beetle larve, I harvest, and then move the boxes to build another hugel bed. Four beds! Now I'm excited.

The terracotta pot (above) will be between the two new beds. I'll see how it goes, attracting beetle larve. I may be able to plant ginger, as I've not had problems with beetle larva invading those particular pots before.

 Morning dew

Overall, my winter garden is more productive than the opposite spectrum, of my summer one. There are less pests and less heat stress, but it has to be mitigated by using different plant spacing, to optimise production. That was a truly new lesson for me to experience. I've read about it before, but not experienced it first hand.

So in summary:

  • Block-walls and hugel beds, create micro-climates for winter growing
  • Casuarina tree leaves, may not be good for mulching annuals
  • I still get pests in winter
  • Wider spacing is important when growing in cooler weather
  • Success with seed broadcasting, saved from hardy volunteer plants
  • Learn to cook with productive plants, I may not initially like
  • Beetle larvae, may prevent my ability to use enclosed wicking boxes
  • Some crops may deter beetle access, thus, better suited to containers
  • I am capable of more production, during autumn/winter, using different techniques

So what is your most successful winter crop, or most challenge in the winter garden?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Thank you

Thank you for all the kind comments, regarding the passing of our pet cat. There are much less tears now, and acceptance without feeling guilty. Although, the reason I have been absent from my blog of late, is because I have a cold/flu. Actually, we all have it!

During my sabbatical however, I received notification that my former free Photobucket account, is now requesting $400 per annum, to share my photos with third parties - in this case, my blog.

If you see that annoying image from Photobucket, from any post during 2008 - 2014, you now know why. I'm either going to have to upload six years worth of photos (again) to other free photo hosting sites, or consider starting my blog, completely from scratch.

Either task will be an undertaking, better started when I'm well. Have any of you been hit with the same problem, due to Photobuckets recent change in policy?

As far as problems go, these are really minor ones. More an inconvenience than anything else. The passing of time, some rest, laughter and regular cups of warm cocoa, will see us all through.