October update

November 6, 2017

Well, it finally warmed up somewhat and I managed to get one lot of beans (butter beans) to germinate. They’re in a wicking box with a tomato at the rear :

I bought 2 thornless blackberries at Bunnings and put one in a large tub beside the deck. It’s taken off and is heading upwards to the deck wires, where I want to train it. Hope it doesn’t decide to take over the house :

The other one went down the back into a wire ring of compost from the composting toilet. There’s nothing to train this one on, but I’m going to try pruning to keep it as a shrub :

Last year I grew Red-veined Sorrel in one of the wire rings down the back. It flowered and self seeded on the ground beside the ring. Boy, did it self-seed. Plenty there to dig up and repot :

The dwarf Stella cherry is setting fruit. This might be a good year. Better think about getting the net over it :

I’ve planted all my tomatoes—about 25 at last count—in various wicking boxes and tubs. They’re looking well. I took Aussie gardening guru Peter Cundall’s advice and gave each one about a tablespoon of potash and watered it in around the roots. It certainly makes the stems thicker and more robust and greens the leaves. These two Black Russians are in one of the corrugated metal beds :

The grapevine I’ve trained onto the deck wires has put out new growth :

It’s a purple muscat grape I grew from seed, so I didn’t expect it to flower for a couple of years or more. Last year it produced 3 small bunches and this year there are many more flower bunches :

The dwarf pear I planted in winter didn’t flower but it produced a nice crop of healthy new leaves :

I love the clumps of comfrey when the new growth comes in spring :

Last year the rabbits developed a liking for it and devastated most of the clumps. So far this year, they’re leaving it alone. I’m learning that each year we get a different crop of young ones and their tastes aren’t necessarily those of the parents. Much of this will go to the chooks who love it and it will replace the silver beet they’ve been getting for the last few months and which is running to seed now.

The strawberries on the deck, some in pots and others in wicking buckets, are putting out new growth and flowering. Looking forward to another bumper crop this year :

Bunnings have certainly improved their range of perennial food plants in recent times. I checked them out recently and bought four new varieties :

From left, a thornless loganberry, a lemon guava, a kiwiberry and a maqui berry.

I’ve never eaten loganberries, so looking forward to that one fruiting.

The lemon guava is related to the strawberry guava, which I’m already growing. The strawberry guava has small, red grape-sized fruit and the lemon guava has larger yellow fruit. I haven’t tasted that one either.

The kiwiberry is a related species to the well-known kiwi fruit, but has small berries, supposed to be similar in taste to its better-known cousin. It’s a climber too, and looks like being a rampant one, as it took me ages to disentangle the tendrils of my chosen plant from all the others in the display.

The maqui berry is new to me, so I had to Google. It’s a rainforest tree from Chile and Argentina. That one might be difficult to grow in my area. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

Now I’ve got to find somewhere to plant them. Climbers are difficult because they need somewhere suitable to climb, while still being accessible for picking and netting from birds and possums. I don’t want to go to all the trouble of building a special trellis.

The lemon guava should be easy. My existing strawberry guavas are hardy and grow anywhere. The maqui berry, in the absense of a local rainforest, will need a bit more thought.

I checked the root systems. They should be able to stay in their pots for a while yet, while I do some thinking.

Postcript

I did some more Googling on the maqui berry and found to my dismay that it’s dioecious, i.e. male and female flowers are on different plants and presumably, I need one of each sex to get any fruit. I was angry at Bunnings for selling a fruiting plant without proper labelling, but probably they’d say it’s not their fault as they are only retailers, although I think they should be aware and able to offer proper advice on the products they sell. We didn’t always have Google, after all.

Three of the new plants are in the Pick n’ Eat range and their website is listed on the label so I took a look. They certainly have a large range of plants available.

I decided to email through the ‘contact us’ button and ask about the maqui berry. No use asking Bunnings. I doubt whether anyone there would know what dioecious means.

I filled in all the details….name, email, phone number and wrote a message. Hit the send  button and got, ‘this email could not be sent.’

Bother! (I actually said something a little stronger).

So I phoned up the grower and asked.

That’s right, said she on the other end of the line, you need one of each sex to get fruit.

So, says me, I won’t get fruit with just one plant and I don’t know which sex I’ve got?

Oh yes, says she, as long as there’s another one in your neighbourhood.

I refrained from pointing out that the majority of my neighbours aren’t into growing their own food, and the ones that are, stick to easy things like lettuce. I doubt that few would be into rare and/or unusual fruiting plants. And I’m seeing very few bees now for pollination. And I still don’t know what sex I’ve got.

Oh, that’s OK she said, they will work it out.

I thought for a second and asked, what do you mean THEY will work it out?

The plants can change from male to female if they need to, she said.

There was a longer (sceptical) pause from my end.

I won’t keep going. I mentioned that although I knew certain species of fish can change sex mid-stream as it were, I didn’t think plants could. Do they talk to one another and decide who’s going to be which sex? Do they waft sex pheromones into the air? What if they both want to be girls?

I gave it up but I did mention, in the nicest possible way, that I thought the fact that the plants are dioecious should be on the label.

Oh, we’ve changed the labels, she said (well, she would, wouldn’t she?) Sigh!

I’m not going to pay another $12 to get a second plant and hope that they can work out the sex issues between themselves. I found the relevant Bunnings docket in the wpb. I’m going to return the plant and exchange it for something more reliable in its sexual orientation. One of those old-fashioned, non-fancy things that has male and female flowers on the same plant.

And next time I come across a plant I don’t know, I’ll leave it there and come home and Google first.

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Birds & water

October 29, 2017

A quiet Sunday afternoon on duty at the bird hide at Edithvale-Seaford wetlands.

The entrance :

Upstairs viewing area :

All that lovely water :

And birds :

This little fella (a baby Chestnut Teal) strayed from Mum & Dad. A Purple Swamphen bore down on him. I was told it would attack and kill him. We held our breath. Mum intervened and all was well :

(My little camera does close-ups but not all that close)

Sugar Glider release

October 22, 2017

Back in March I wrote this post about finding a little native Sugar Glider caught in the barbed wire on the top of one of the fences. I took him to our local wildlife carer and as the weeks went by and I heard nothing, I assumed the little glider hadn’t made it. I didn’t ring; I didn’t really want to know the worst.

Some weeks ago the carer contacted me to say the glider (it had tuned out to be a little female) was doing well and cavorting around the curtains in her living room. She said she’d be releasing her back into my property sometime soon.

I was rapt. Then I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks more, but she finally rang during the week and the release was fixed up for yesterday afternoon. Not only that, but she asked if she could release another two gliders as well. Who could say no?

So, promptly at 5.30, the carer turned up with a young lass who was going to be doing the tree climbing. The gliders were housed in nest boxes which were going to be attached to trees. Another girl turned up and then another carer who had been looking after the three gliders temporarily. My local carer went home; it was ‘feeding time’, she said (she can be looking after 30 or more small marsupials at once!).

For the next 2 hours, I hovered in the background, taking photos and watching these amazing people—all volunteers—at work.

Some time was spent looking for a suitable tree (not so much for the gliders, but suitable for attaching the box and safe to climb). The first box is in that white plastic bag :

Getting the ladder in place :

Getting into harness (the climber ropes herself to the tree trunk) :

Up the ladder :

Not my idea of fun. She’s right at the top of a 3 metre extension ladder. That’s 6 metres up the trunk  :

The box entrance is sealed and opened once it’s up the tree (I was told one of the males is a feisty little fellow who would escape if he could). I asked if I could see them in the box and take a photo before they went up. No problems, just raise the lid. My little female (who had been rescued here and was returning home), had acquired a boyfriend in the form of one of the other males—they were together in the first box to go up.  Not the best photo, I’m afraid and they were both sound asleep on a bed of wood shavings :

The box is hoisted up :

Much of the work involves getting the box fixed to the trunk. There are chains top and bottom, enclosed in hose to protect the tree from the chain :

And finally, it’s in place and the entrance hole is opened :

The process was repeated in another location for the second box, containing the single male. He was the feisty one and didn’t get on with the other male, it seems. Not surprisingly, as the female had not chosen him for her friend.

I didn’t take any photos of the second box going up and even though dusk was falling as the girls finished, I didn’t stay outside to watch the gliders exit and discover their new home. The whole process took 2 hours and it was already well past my dinner time and getting cold. I’ll go out for the next couple of evenings at dusk with the spotlight and see if there’s any activity. It’s possible they will eventually abandon the boxes and find one of the many natural tree hollows around the property more to their liking.

I remain full of admiration for these young volunteers who selflessly give up their time to look after our precious native animals and return them to the wild.

 

Asparagus from seed

October 4, 2017

Somewhere on this blog I wrote about growing asparagus from seed. I can’t find that post, so maybe it’s time to do it again.

Asparagus plants come in two sexes and the female plants eventually produce red berries containing black seeds :

I collected a handful of berries back in April and sowed them  (as is, i.e. not taking out the seeds) in a 150 cm pot of ordinary potting mix. I covered them with a layer of potting mix and left the pot out in the open all winter. I didn’t record the date when the first germination occurred, but this is what they look like at the moment :

Time to do some potting on :

I potted up 32 tubes. Fiddly job. I was sick of asparagus by the time I’d finished. In the end I was potting them up in groups of 3 and 4. I’ll enjoy them more when they’re in the ground and bearing. There were still plenty of tiddlers left growing—just a bit over a centimetre tall. I gathered them all together into one pot. If they grow a bit bigger, I might pot them on as well.

Those in the tubes will sit there for a year or so before planting out. Then, they’ll take a year or three to start producing spears of useable size and then I’ll be picking these (tonight’s dinner—from previous plantings) :

It’ll be worth the wait.

Out of hibernation

September 23, 2017

With all the fruit trees blooming, it looks like it might be spring and I can come out of hibernation at last :

So….I wandered around the garden to take a few pics.

I left the comfort of the wood fire in June to go to the local nursery to buy a few more fruit trees. This time I bought dwarf varieties—a peach, a pear and a nectarine, to go with the other dwarf nectarine I bought a couple of years ago. The new nectarine is flowering at the moment :

Bear in mind that this plant is only about 40 cm high. These dwarf varieties are very compact little plants with short internodes giving them a truly stunted look. My first dwarf nectarine has borne well in the last 2 years and it’s still only half a metre in height. I saw a fully grown one of the same variety a couple of years ago in a garden and it was only a metre high and wide—easy to get a net over. I’m thinking dwarf fruit trees are the way to go.

There’s nothing silver beet likes better than nitrogen. These 2 plants are growing in an old bath and were watered with the liquid from the bottom of the composting toilet :

The native Bendigo Wax is fully out in flower, but there are NO bees. Years ago this plant would be covered in them. It’s very worrying :

This Red-veined Sorrel has come up by itself. Seems it’s not popular with the rabbits :

Bunnings have improved their edible plant range and have lots of blueberries in flower for sale at the moment. I bought another one to add to the 3 I bought a few weeks ago. Two of those have been planted in wire circles and the third in a tub :

Not sure where I’ll put this latest one. They’re very healthy-looking little plants :

The 4 blueberries I grew from seed a few years ago were planted in 20 litre plastic pails, which I made into wicking tubs. They’re flowering for the first time this year :

This was them as seedlings in March 2016:

So far that makes 9 blueberries in all in the garden. I’ve just sowed seed from last year’s plants. I put the berries in the freezer for a few months to simulate cold chill. With any luck they will germinate like the first lot I tried.

This bath is going to be a dedicated potato bed. At the moment, it’s a dedicated wheat bed. The chooks don’t eat the wheat in their poultry grain mix and everywhere I put chook poo compost, I get wheat germinating. I’m leaving most of it to collect the seed. The (stupid) chooks will only eat wheat if it’s sprouted first, so growing a bit means less I have to buy. The vet says it’s better for them when it’s sprouted, so maybe they’re not so stupid :

Asparagus are starting to appear :

I might actually get some decent garlic this year. The white rods are to stop the rabbits jumping into the ring :

Direct-sown Red Russian Kale in a wicking box. When I have plenty of seed, direct-sowing is the way to go. It saves all that tedious potting-up of tiny seedlings and then planting later :

It’s still far too cold for planting seeds outside so I started tomatoes on the kitchen table. They spend the day in the sun on the floor beside the sliding door :

I’ll have to start thinking about cucumber, pumpkin and zucchini seeds soon, too. We’re overdue for some warm days. We didn’t get a lot of winter rain, but it was just a persistent few mm a day. Enough to make the ground soggy and squishy wherever I walk. Surely it has to get warmer soon.

Postscript: It really must be Spring. A Cabbage White butterfly just flew past the window, heading for the kale.

Broccoli rice

September 8, 2017

Cauliflower rice was all the go a while ago. I tried it, thought it was a good way to eat a vegetable I didn’t really like all that much and when it was on special I bought extra, blitzed it in the Thermomix (a food processor does just as well) and froze it in portions to add to soups, casseroles and stir-frys.

I tried broccoli after that and it went just as well. At the moment, it seems to be plentiful and this morning it was only $2.50 per kg in the supermarket. I bought 3 large heads and gave it the same treatment as the cauliflower:

All ready, in individual portions, for the freezer:

In the past, when broccoli was cheap, I bought extra, broke it into bite-sized pieces and blanched it before freezing. It’s never been really great like that—the pieces are soggy when they defrost and always seem to have that yucky freezer taste. So this is a great way to incorporate it into meals. I don’t blanch it; don’t even defrost it; just throw it straight from the freezer into whatever I’m cooking.

I did the stems too, a more chunky chop, and they’re going into a slow-cooker casserole tomorrow.

Just love those ‘oh, sh*t’ moments……

September 7, 2017

…….when you set off down the main path early in the morning, with a barrow load of stuff to take down the back, and……

Luckily I have my trusty, battery-operated chainsaw (recharged by the solar panels) and within half an hour I was up and running with a clear pathway…..

…..plus a pile of kindling…..

……..and some useful firewood……

Fortunately, it missed my little espaliered Granny Smith apple and a recently-planted bamboo. The tree the branch came from is a big old eucalypt which hasn’t been a happy tree for a long time. It’s been regularly dropping big branches, but I’m happier for it to end its life in stages, rather than come down in one fell swoop and leave me with a huge trunk I have to get someone else to deal with. With any luck, it will lose all its branches and leave the bare trunk still standing (although that will fall eventually, but I might be gone by then!). One broken branch is still hooked up on other branches. I’m always wary when working under it—the rule is, if you hear a crack up above….run!

Some photos—not food related

August 12, 2017

Just spent an enjoyable hour at a lunch put on by the committee of the Friends of Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands in Melbourne, for volunteers who man the bird hide which is open to the public on weekends. Good to meet up with other volunteers who are normally just names on a list.

Entrance to the bird hide:

Plenty of Eurasian Coots in residence:

And Black Swans:

More Coots, sheltering at the foot of the reeds:

Enjoying lunch:

BAU

July 9, 2017

There seems to be an overwhelming consensus (amongst those who accept the reality of climate change anyway), that the world needs to move towards energy sources which are renewable and non-polluting (CO2 is a pollutant, in case you weren’t aware).

Although I haven’t seen it expressly stated*, the implied meaning in all of the discussion is that we need to keep the present energy-hungry, human-centered world running as usual (what is usually abbreviated to BAU, or ‘business as usual’).

Will another source of energy change the way we see the natural world and our relationship to it? Will it mean we won’t continue to destroy the forests and pave over the soil, destroying all the life under it? Will it mean we’ll attempt to control our burgeoning numbers? Will it mean we’ll cease our present behaviour which is causing the extinction of other species at thousands of times the background rate?

No, it won’t mean any of that, because that’s not what BAU means. It means going on as we are. It means continuing to act as though the world belongs to us. It means continuing to do as we’re doing until ecological collapse eventually kicks in and kills most of us off.

David Attenborough has gone on record as saying that humans are now a plague on earth. Nature’s ways of controlling plagues are not pleasant. I don’t want to live in such a future. I don’t want BAU and I don’t want us to find another source of energy that makes it possible.

 

*it doesn’t need to be expressly stated. It is there, humming away in the background, in the myths we tell ourselves. It is our present culture—a culture that has been called the ‘Culture of Maximum Harm‘ and the ‘Culture of Make Believe‘.

 

Deep Ecology

July 6, 2017

Below is the full text of an article from Resilience.org. I’ve just posted it to my Facebook page and I’m putting it up here because I (and many others like me), believe that we can’t save the biosphere (and our species, which depends on it), unless there is a fundamental change in the way we view ourselves and our relationship to it.

I first discovered Deep Ecology many years ago. It profoundly changed the way I think about myself and where I belong. It fostered a huge interest in ecology, evolution and especially the way the human mind works, because that is the source of all our present problems. I encourage all my readers, after reading this, to do some more searching into the history and foundations of the concept.

 

Deep Ecology: System Change with Head, Heart and Hand

By Christiane Kliemann, originally published by Degrowth.de

Every day we are bombarded with frightening news. But how do we personally feel about them and how can we deal with them as society as a whole? Which future do I actually want for myself, for the world and for my children? And how are my personal feelings and motivations connected to the larger picture? What frightens me, what makes me angry and how can I transform these feelings into a source of power and energy for change? These and many other questions are at the center of what´s called “Deep Ecology” or “The Work That Reconnects”.

What is Deep Ecology?

The term Deep Ecology was coined back in the Seventies by the Norwegian philosopher and environmental activist Arne Naess. In her book Coming Back To Life American activist and system theorist Joanna Macy describes it this way: “What does it mean or matter to be interdependent with all Earthly life? In exploring this question, deep ecology arose, both as a philosophy and a movement. (…) In contrast to reform environmentalism, which treats the symptoms of ecological degradation – clean up a river here or a dump there for human benefit – Deep Ecology questions fundamental premises of the Industrial Growth Society. (…) Often expressed as biocentric, this perspective holds that we must break free from the species arrogance that threatens not only humans but all complex life-forms within reach”.

With this, Naess aimed at develeping something he called “ecological self”, a kind of wider identity which, starting from the people closest to us, draws ever widening circles until it includes the whole Earth with all its beings.

On the basis of holistic science, psychology and spiritual traditions Joanna Macy has enriched this theoretical concept with practical exercises. “The Work That Reconnects” as she calls it now, not only wants us understand, but also experience that everything is interconnected. Such experience can give us hope and empower and inspire us to courageous collective actions, as Macy has experienced with thousands of people all over the world.

The time of the “Great Turning”

Macy conciders our contemporary time the time of the “Great Turning” in which humanity faces unprecedented challenges: Threats such as climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of forests and soil, ocean acidification, poverty, wars and increasing social conflicts show us: the world as we knew it is coming to an end and even humanity might go extinct, if not complex life on Earth as such.

At the same time we have enough knowledge, technologies and opportunities to turn human civilization “from the Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society”. New insights from e.g. system theory and quantum physics disprove the mechanistic worldview and confirm old spiritual wisdom: that the world consists of a network of relationships and living systems which are all connected by flows of energy and information. A network that has developed in more than four billion years of Earth history, constantly refined over millions of years, with an immense self-regulation capacity which we can support and which supports us.

The power of shifting perspective

This is why Macy sees our current systemic crisis mainly as a crisis of consciousness: As long as we perceive ourselves as separate individuals seperated from the world and from each other, and view our life-experience only in relation to the Industrial Growth Society, we feel helpless and frightened and can hardly imagine any solution outside it. When we perceive ourselves as part of the living eco-system “Earth” though – with its billion years long history – we can see the Industrial Growth Society as what it is: only a glimpse in the timeline of evolution, despite its destructive power.

Once we experience ourselves as inseparable part of the web of life we realize that true well-being for us can only happen in harmony with the whole and all of its parts. When other humans or living beings suffer, we cannot stay untouched. This is what Arne Naess meant when calling for an “ecological self”.

Why do we know so much and do so little? Emotions as guides

According to Macy, deadening and numbing what she calls “our pain for the world” is one of the main causes for the contradiction between human knowledge and human action or, more scientifically, our cognitive dissonance. Just as body-pain is a vitally important feedback to keep us from doing damage to ourselves or others, emotional pain is an equally important type of feedback for us and the people around us. When we suppress this pain or distract ourselves from it, the whole web of life is cut-off from information vital for its self-regulation. Moverover we cut off our own creativity and vitality either, since deadening or numbing doesn´t work in one direction only but includes the whole scale of our emotions.

Deep ecology in turn opens spaces to feel and share all our inner reactions to the state of the world and to experience that they don´t break us but make us stronger. Slowly a new consciousness for the whole can emerge which makes us take on responsibility for ourselves and what is happening in the world.

Which story do I want to tell?

In order to find our own role in these times of change it can be helpful to keep asking which story I actually want to tell and pass on with my life. Story in this sense does not mean a fictional tale but the way we set our expieriences and observations in a larger context of meaning. What our imagination of the future is concerned, Macy has identified three main stories that are happening in parallel, depending on the taken perspective:

1) Business as usual

This story is the story of the Industrial Growth Society. It confirms the pleasantness of modern life and does not question that it can go on forever. Progress is measured in material consumption. We hear it from politicians, business schools, corporations, advertisement and media. It is based on the following assumptions:

  • Economic growth is a precondition for prosperity
  • Nature is mainly a source of raw materials which can be exploited by humans
  • Fostering comsumption is good for the economy
  • The main purpose in life is to get ahead
  • The problems of other people, nations and species do not concern us

2) The great unraveling

This story confirms the threats we are exposed to and focuses on looming catastrophes. It is being told by scientists and organizations concerned about the social and ecological consequences of our civilization. It mainly talks about

  • Economic decline
  • Resource depletion
  • Climate change
  • Social divide and wars
  • Mass extinction of species

These two stories contradict each other and draw totally different pictures of the world. Business as usual, however, takes us on confrontation course with reality and immediately leads to the great unraveling which feels like a horror-story that makes us feel small and powerless. But luckily, there is still a third story going on Deep Ecology wants to help unfold:

3) The great turning

This story is told by the countless groups and initiatives in various fields that are striving for a new socially just and ecologically sustainable culture. They daily increase in numbers and size, but we can only perceive them when we step back and direct our focus on them instead of getting lost in seemingly separate events around us.

This story empowers us, especially when we keep in mind that many little changes can interact with each other to set in motion unpredictable groundbreaking transformations. One recent example for such disruptive change is the fall of the Berlin wall back in 1989 which nobody had expected.

What is my story?

Which story do I personally feel associated with? Do I always act accordingly or do I follow different stories, depending on the situation I am actually in? Am I conscious about these contradictions and can I do more to further identify with the story of the great turning?

Deep Ecology wants to empower people to become part of this story and find their individual role in it with their personal talents, dreams and other strengths. It is neither an ideology or dogma, nor does it hold readymade solutions. Just like the degrowth-movement, it rather encourages people to join the collective quest for the good life for all on a healthy planet.

To close with the words of Albert Einstein: “A human being is part of the whole called by us “Universe”… a part limited in time and space. He experiences his thoughts and feelings as separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his own consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”