Saturday, October 8, 2016

an inventory

We occupy a suburban lot, of a size conventional around here in about 1990. In the satellite view, we are seen to have more tree cover than most neighbours. We have the red roof, with solar panels. The massive tree in the garden to the north is a eucalypt, remorselessly growing and increasingly over shading our back garden in winter when the sun angles in from the north (we are in the southern hemisphere). An issue in this country is vulnerability to fire in areas of bushland. Fire is an especially serious risk in forests with high oil content, such as our eucalypt forests or pine forests in California. Our suburban food forest is of trees more likely to be fire retardand.

 Just outside the white roof coloured back veranda space is a shock of green colour. A couple of years ago I had planted a reluctant seedling passionfruit, something that emerged from a friend's compost. Then I moved the chicken run, just two hens, to that area.
The single passionfruit vine, visible from outer space, the big green blob, overshadows much of the chook run, providing hundred of fruit per year. But these vines only live a few years. So the most important important thing in a food-productive garden is the planning of succession. What to grow for how long, what to succeed what? When to plant new passionfruit, to ensure that when one dies, others will be near fruiting maturity. How to allow for the fact that not all things planted, not all thrive... and at the other end of the spectrum, the problem that the very very happy plant may not feel the urge to reproduce, to produce fruit and seeds. In ortobiologicale vernacular Italian, such a plant may be called a vagabondo and a farmer might bash the tree with a hammer to scare it into reproduction.
screenshot from wikipedia
In a modern office, serious people might draw Gantt charts to decide what needs to be done in what order. In my permaculture garden, there is more the task of saying "where the hell is there some space for this?" but with an eye for sun and shadow, for neighbouring plants and the way they will grow.
I recently planted in the backyard a yellow guava, a nashi pear and a tamarillo near each other. In a suntrap. Adjacent to a non-fruitful peach that in summer is allowed to protect a north facing window. The tamarillo is very close to the guava, but will race past it, overshadow it, for several years, and then die. The guava can be pruned to something of a delicious hedge beside a path. The nashi - a nijisseiki, or Twentieth Century Nashi - is a dwarf tree, fruit will remain within hand reach and will be relatively easy to check for pests. There is long historical agreement that the footsteps or the shadow of the farmer is the best fertiliser.

That long prologue is a way into saying that an inventory of a garden is an inventory of the impermanent, of the constant changing, the hugely pleasant place of surprises. And an inventory of the food productive plants in the garden is a terribly diminished perspective in a garden filled with other plants which are there for the eye and the spirit and the birds and bees, without which no fruit. And much less pleasure.

Anyway, let's get to lists

Front garden, intense sun, high winds at times, history as clapped out dairy pasture, weak soil on hard pan caused probably by superphosphate use and heavy bovine traffic, underlain by hundreds of feet of fast draining sandstone and conglomerate. I add volcanic rock dust, manures, compost teas, compost, mulch and trace elements and with old pvc or terracotta pipe lengths do much of the watering direct to a foot or more underground, with some of the manure and rock dust in the pipe for solution.

  • Guava, small red intense fruit, one mature, two immature.
  • Pear, Ya, dwarf - a Chinese variety for pollination of the Nashi in the backyard.
  • Jaboticaba, two, aged 8, still very small. Perhaps too far from the Amazon...
  • White Sapote, tall, eight years old, still fruitless
  • Oranges, large valencia and navel, heavy bearing, currently covered in blossom.
  • Tahitian lime x2. Young, but have already produced fruit and second season fruit set has taken place.
  • Bananas, two stands, different varieties. Currently leaves shredded by spring winds. Neither fruited yet. In this front garden it is taking time to get soils rich and with very porous rock under, hard to keep moisture in the root zone. These are thirsty heavy feeders. But they look good!
  • Cape Gooseberry, several plants, young
  • Pepinos, now fruiting heavily.
  • Pitanga, very small, unkillable. A gift I have tried to allow to die but which won't die. This must be why it's regarded as a pest here.
  • Arrowroot, quite elegant in a corner, but look at the work to process it
  • Passionfruit struggle in the front yard, interesting soil and microclimate differences. 
  • Strawberries, potatoes. 
  • Rosemary, bush basil, thyme, sage, nasturtiums, rocket, lettuce chives, mints, curry leaf.
  • Namoi Woolly Pod Vetch, twining everywhere as ground cover, easily snatched and grazed by hand for use immediately as high nitrogen mulch around trees or given to chooks. 

Back garden, more inspected and worked than front garden, some valuable heat trap areas. Soil improves faster. Hens on a length of the boundary, reducing snail and other unwanted presences. Some areas more shaded for part of the day.
Layering, see pepinos.
This is a classy cute
style of doing it, from wikipedia.
I just drop an old brick
on part of the plant near the ground
and leave for a month or three.

  • Espaliered Lisbon lemon. 
  • Passionfruit gone mad, roots under hens.
  • chives, nasturtiums, marjoram, eggs, mints, Greek celery, yarrow, fennel, rocket, bay, spring onions, spinach, garlic.
  • Fig, vigorous, fruitful, hard pruned.
  • Custard apple, totters through winter.
  • Bananas two stands. Fruitful: flowers appear in heat of summer, fruit may take a year to ripen into short ladyfinger type bananas, with intense flavour.
  • strawberries
  • Asparagus which seem to be eaten by hens at the moment.
  • Rhubarb, vigorous, need good feeding. The dark colour when temperature under about 25 degrees, summer crops may be insipid, but they are grown on east side of house, scant afternoon light. 
  • Water chestnuts
  • Raspberries, not thriving.
  • Pepino, young, from layering of plants in front yard. 
  • Quince not yet productive, intended also as summer shade for part of house. 
  • Wampi, royal fruit of Thailand. Elegant but maybe homesick...

Sunday, September 18, 2016

wonga pigeon

We have in the past had flying visits (nice work, keep it up, bye bye!) from a wonga pigeon maybe once a year. That's their nature, they live in forests. But this past week we have the delight of a wonga pigeon spending lots of time in the garden. The trees are bigger, the spaces under them shadier, the mulch everywhere has treasures to look for and the chooks outrageously spray their scratch mix inside and outside their premises. As the wonga pigeon knows:

Wonga pigeon, September 2016

These are gentle, solitary waddling kind of birds, with charm. They are round and fat as king pigeons. They were almost eaten to extinction but have made a comeback. The wikipedia entry is good. Almost as if written by a wonga pigeon. It may not stay long, it may soon have cleaned up and gone. But its presence is a good marker for the garden and a pleasure to see from different windows as it makes its rounds.

Friday, September 2, 2016

spring springing

Bowerbird, bowerbird, blackbird, wren, wren, wren, 
wren, pigeon, spinebill, honeyeater... all good...
hmm, is that a human at 50 metres 
failing to wave and say hello?  grrr.
The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the boidie is.
They say the boidie’s on the wing.
But that’s absoid. The wing is on the bird. [Anon]
Well, the birds are about in the garden, have been for some time. But the grass is almost eliminated, except a little at the front so the postman can make deliveries without injury and a little under the clothes line. For the rest and after lots of effort, more by Renay the gardener than myself, the grass is almost entirely eliminated.
Here is the morning view from bedroom. There is a strange tradition in Australian housing that [a] you put the so called master bedroom at the front and [b] you have a cleared, grassy front yard... which together [c] leads to the practice of keeping bedroom curtains closed for privacy. We have a different situation:
Rainy morning bedroom window view (towards street) 2 September 2016
Not visible here but through the day bowerbirds, Eastern Spinebill, Blue Wrens, wattlebirds, honeyeaters and pigeons. 
We have had a continuing muddle of warm-cold-mainly dry but in recent days good soft rain. Two days ago, this view from the back of the house in the afternoon.
Last day of winter, 31 August 2016, all eyes on the rainbow.
Last summer was difficult with severe health problems and severe weather. We have a good situation of control at the beginning of the growing season now. 
A young dwarf nashi near left, first leaves, a guava healthy, bananas windblown, herb understorey,
a spread of pepino shrub by the driveway. I have persistent problems with the passionfruit. Trying with another variety.
The big tree is a lilly pilly Syzygium smithii but while the winter fruit of this one is plentiful,
it's not very flavourful. At best, one struggles to describe lilly pilly as flavourful.
A raise bed of strawberries, plants happy but I must work to cover them against
the bowerbirds, more energetic and more ravenous than ravens,
which take the flowers before fruit develops.
Bed freshened by removing all, starting with mulched horse manure, then soil then plants, then mulch.
The bed is actually two halves of a leaky watertank, on a bed frame.
Climbing happily down the end is wonderful Hardenbergia violacea
an Australian native plant growing easily from seed,
a legume thus among plants able to provide available nitrogen to soil and the roots of other plants.
Under the black plastic is a young hugel bed, nicely explained here.
We add water from time to time and will add more manure
and after some hot summer months, we will unveil, mulch and plant.
Aesthetically it makes a change from the flat garden surface.
Terracotta pipe on left and yellow bucket are effective
 in getting water underground to root zones, encouraging root growth down, not hunting surface water.
The big white pipe contains composting material, open to worms at bottom and through holes drilled in the side.
The pot on the top keeps flies etc out and having a hole in the base it allows rainwater in.
Compost: 80% carbon material, 20% nitrogen material (green), manures, volcanic rock dust, etc. Plus air, worms and water. 

Oranges trees covered in blossom, the front of the house
will shortly be awash with perfume
Oranges and limes are in bloom, the Lisbon lemon continues its virtual year round production of fruit. 
The lemon took some encouraging initially to take an espaliered form
along the lattice, but sees these days to happily go that way.
One factor may be that to the right (out of photo) i
s a dark mass of passionfruit vine and staying by the lattice
may mean staying in the light.

and in between and underneath, spring flowers,
freesias whose perfume more potent indoors
Young tamarillos jump up to replace those several years old which have given up — several were fried by fierce heat early in the year. Passionfruit are resting after many months of crops, having delivered us to a point of passionfruit satiation. Interesting how taste can move with season. 
We've trimmed the biggest passionfruit vine, may need to be more radical. Passionfruit vines only last a few years. We await asparagus, may need to fence the chickens away from their ground, which they have well fertilised.

I'm very pleased with this little raised bed. I've just harvested some spinach and some garlic shoots for sushi. I have to share the spinach with some of the birds, but the garlic shoots are what has become of some cloves of garlic that sprouted in the fridge. For success with growing garlic, it's good to keep it in the fridge because it needs a period of cool to shoot. I could leave it growing in the ground and then harvest the heads when tops die back, but in the meantime the shoots have the sharpness of garlic with a freshness absent from the conventional item.

Oh, the raised bed? It was from a garage sale, formerly a huge dog bed for two rottweilers.
Holes drilled for drainage and old curtain to line it and keep soil from falling out.
Sitting on two very large carpenter's trestles.
Also, there's a dug-in-the-ground bathtub, once upon a time for growing lotus but the lotus was not successful.
So now when the garden bed is heavily watered (or heavily rained upon) nutrient liquid falls into the bath
and the sludgy soils accumulated are excellent for potting or garden bed improvement.

The mini-rainforest and little torii (which holds up the unbalanced tree) behind the house are providing a comfortable edge to sitting out for breakfast in spring sunshine at the eastern end of the house.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

long after summer

The last post here in August, now April.

An exceptionally hot and challenging summer for the garden, with breaks of cold and wet then rushing back into the high 30s (100 Fahrenhiet for the imperial people) to the confusion and upset of human and plant routines. Fruit trees flowering at wrong times, fruit falling off, trees (espceially tamarillos suddenly frying in the heat. Rampant vegetation generally, not least in mini-rainforest.

In such forceful heat, it has been good to have the house now disappearing under green protection.

We may get relatively few conventional eggs from two hens, but the roots of the passionfruit are under the chook run. The passionfruit continues rampant and productive.

 Hens happy

 Other routines maintained, Captain Rattleberry grows into his third year and though desexed he imparts a powerful pheromone to his glamorous cuddle companions, who therefore need a bath too.

The garden is full of birds. I've not been very successful at photographing birds in the garden. With branches closing in on the photographer photos in the garden are becoming generally more difficult. Birds remain hidden in the foliage, wary in this suburban environment.  But on a trip away, in the Blue Mountains last month, I was pleased to get this photo of an Eastern Spinebill, a very common bird here at home.

Eastern Spinebill, Blackheath NSW, March 2016
 First distraction from this blog was action last August-September to prepare wheelchair ramps and paths for a house we had purchased for Helen's sister, 600 metres from my house. With helpers.


Alas all this constructive energy was followed by a mysterious and vicious attack of something called brachial neuritis, the acute phase of which lasted about ten weeks to early February. I continue in the atrophy phase. While it began in my shoulder, it persists especially in my lumbosacral spine and leg. Five months disability is not pleasant at any age, in my 73rd year you get a sense of the clock ticking. I derive some comfort from recognising that most people my age are dead and also noting the diversity of my chronic illnesses -, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, etc - and that the really cute thing about chronic illness is that you have to be alive to have one.  :-)

But the photography suffers!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stick weaving in Helen's garden

It's near the end of winter and we pruned and wove the mulberry just in time before new growth. Some inspiration from seeing Patrick Dougherty's work at the Children's Museum in Portland Oregon, but more modest objectives. From this angle you can see the tree is hard pruned and bare, but you can't see the way the tunnel behind the Queen of Liberty (beanie and wool dress for winter) continues to be shaped up.

Photo below: the vertical sticks of mulberry are hard, last year's prunings. They are fixed to the gate by wire. We needed to lift the height of gates and fence in the front yard to contain our precocious promiscuous poodle.
The lateral sticks of mulberry were pruned two days before these photos and Helen has woven them together. They are at this point flexible, will dry hard.

a work in progress

and another work in progress, by Xiao Ran (Mike) the Beijing WWOOFer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fruity creatures with wet t-shirts.

In last blog entry I set out how we assembled sacks of good soil to grow strawberries hanging from bags. The bags were woven plastic produce bags which would would break up in sunlight.

So for that and aesthetic reasons, I have now dressed these creature in T-shirts. And poured them tea.

And given them old chairs to sit upon, just a little closer to the sun in winter, further from chill ground, snails and rabbits. Easy to check and manage. With 90 or 100mm -> 50mm reducers on the top of centre PVC pipe to increase rain catchment and facilitate watering and adding feeds. Soil made from compost, cocopeat (fine chopped coconut husk), mulched horse manure, volcanic rock dust, plus compost tea (a bin with lid in the garden to which we add water, weeds, manures, volcanic rock dust, seaweed extract, etc.). Some other strawberries in the garden are already flowering. hopefully fruit by November. To add to passionfruit currently cropping heavily.

I added some more plants. I have to say there is a big difference between the sensation of gashing a hole in a produce bag compared with plunging a knife into a well-filled ladies T-shirt and hauling out viscera to make way for an implant. I look over my shoulder for passers-by.

As a system this is easy to replicate. Just adding more chairs. Kind of the way easy for Iran or others to add extra centrifuges to uranium enrichment plants. Kind of.

Or if I can find an old merry-go-round at the recycling I will have a perfect device for getting the sun onto all sides of these bags if I train the poodle to run in circles pulling it. Only needs a lamb chop on a fishing pole in front of him perhaps. But I must remember complex things fail....

I will try hanging them in strong fishing net from tree branches. Where they can spin in the breeze. Without a poodle. Stay tuned.

Here they are. Three bags full:

Click on picture to enlarge. Little sticks in the holes are to discourage the holes from movement.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

strawberries by the bag
I saw this on the web, via pinterest...
and realised it would be a good idea for us.

So with my gardener Renay this morning we made three bags today. We used produce bags, modest size. Even so with damp soil material inside they each way about 25kg (60lbs) at least. So not sure how we will place them in the end. Had had in mind stringing them along a cable, but it will be a heavy load for any cable system.

We are using produce bags which will decompose in sunlight. So after the soil and plants settle, and when they are in eventual place and not going to be moved again, we will put skirts of some fabric around them. We could use hessian but it's very expensive and we can find something bright at a charity shop.

I had learned from the discussion of other people's mistakes and adjustments at link. 
The internet is wonderful when people write openly about their oopses.

So we did this:   [click on any picture to enlarge all)
from experience I knew holes should be small
  1. put about 20cm of cocopeat, expanded in water, in bottom of bag. I put this moisture retaining medium at the bottom of the bag, with no supplements added, so that  [a] the plant roots would in the first instance chase nutrients higher in the bag and [b] as nutrients wash down over time, this cocopeat layer will hold nutrients and not get toxically overloaded.
  2. placed a 50mm pvc pipe in the bag, with cap on bottom, one small hole in bottom three small holes up the pipe. An adaptor from 50mm to 100mm on top to make it easier to add water Tamped the bottom into the peat layer, to make stable.
  3. put had put the leg of an old pair of tracksuit pants around the pipe to slow water travel and prevent blockage of holes by roots. This task seemed to excite Renay.
  4. made a mix of the following: 
    1. cocopeat with water added, also compost tea from our compost tea bin in garden which accepts weeds, manures, volcanic rock dust, etc,
    2. horse manure — which I am able to get from a source where it has been mulched
    3. cow manure — complexity requires
      Easy to cut pvc pipe.
      more stuff
    4. compost from our garden composter

  1. We filled the bag with this mix, tamping down lightly. 
  2. We added some volcanic rock dust at intervals. 
  3. Sewed up the top with baling twine, as comes with the bags of horse manure.
  4. Cut a total of six holes in each bag for strawberry plants. 
  5. Planted the strawberry plants, all of which are runners from our strawberry patches.

The six small cuts for plants were made as follows:the cuts about 4cm + 4cm, slightly upwards to the centre, so when you pull the bag fabric it opens a little lip space and soil does not fall out.
  • three cuts 120 degrees (evenly spaced) around towards the top at the shoulder level of the soil in the bag... the soil may settle, either the plant will grow out happily or we open the bag and add more soil.
  • three cuts a bit further down, same 120 degree interval, offset.
These bags need to settle and the strawberries need to start growing in place now. July here is midwinter, no frost here, but close to freezing at the moment. I have places the bags in a row facing sun in a microclimate location with good sunlight. They are sitting on the ground with a half bag of manure front and back for stability. And a mirror behind to add warmth and light to the back of the bags. As the sun moves, the light shifts from bag to bag and also warms the manure bag.

  Three strawberry vertical garden bags in a row, mirror behind. 

When the soil is settled and roots developed and these are at their final destination, we will find smart tight skirts for these bags, both for aesthetics and also because the bags will disintegrate in sunlight over time. 

In any case, these are things for only one season or so, the soil will, as with soil in pots, need refreshing. 

Not hard to do. As runners develop from these six plants I may make holes for them or begin new bags, we shall see...

Now to find an old bench or such to rest them on, away from ground pests. Here we will also need defences from blackbirds and bowerbirds, for which a number of chopstick sized sticks coming out diagonally at the top with reflective scare tape dangling. Or maybe a net.