Archive for November, 2010

More Zone 1 planting space

November 30, 2010

I’ve made another addition to the planting area for Zone 1 which is now close to the house. I’ve bought a couple of Colourbond steel planter boxes and installed them against a north facing wall close to the steps down from the deck.

They’re 1 metre long x 60 cm wide x 45 cm high (just out of rabbit browsing range, I hope) and easy to put together from a DIY kit.  I’m filling them with as much green material as I can get—soft prunings, weeds and mulched bracken. As it rots down, I’ll add a couple of binfuls of  humanure from the composting toilet, some worms from the worm farm and top it all off with fresh compost. I’m planning another water tank just around the corner, so will be able to set up a dripper system for each bin. They should be ready to plant by next autumn and will be used for cut-and-come-again vegetables and frequently used herbs.

Permaculture solutions

November 23, 2010

I’ve recently planted a couple of seed-grown grapevines at the rear of the carport. One is a purple grape bought from the greengrocer and the other is an American native species, the Concord, which I grew from seed collected at Louis Glowinski’s garden some years ago (Glowinski is the author of the Complete Guide to Fruit Growing in Australia and his garden was open as part of Victoria’s Open Garden Scheme).

Each one has been planted beside a post. I hadn’t decided how I would train the vines—whether to train each one up the post or put up some sort of wire framework from post to post, which seemed like a lot of work.

I’ve been watching the Permaculture Design Course DVD set I bought recently, and Geoff Lawton was talking about chinampa culture (I’m not going to explain that here—go to Google). Geoff mentioned that chinampa systems can be ‘roofed over’ using lengths of poly pipe, much in the way it’s used to net fruit trees, and vines can be grown over it. At once, the unused length of polypipe which had been lying under the house for ages and the grapevines came together in my mind.

Fifteen minutes work and it was done, and no new materials had to be bought. Instead of fitting the ends of the pipe over smaller stakes, I found a length of slightly larger pipe and hammered a short section into the ground at each end. The 25 mm polypipe fits inside this pipe. A supporting stake in the middle (I’ve sown some climbing beans at the base), and it was done!

The area faces due east, so the vines will receive the full summer sun till midday and then some late sun in the afternoon. In winter, they’ll be shaded by the house, but they’ll be dormant and leafless then. Another good permaculture solution!

Moving zone 1

November 17, 2010

Permaculture is about designing systems to capture and store energy. It’s also about minimising personal energy use. So a permaculture design will involve setting out ‘zones of use’. Elements in the design, e.g. chicken houses, vegetable beds and fruit trees, are located in zones according to how much they are used, or how often they are visited. There are usually five zones. (The house, generally the main centre of activity, is Zone 0).

Zone 1 contains the elements that are visited most frequently, at least once a day. You visit the chicken house to collect eggs; you go to the herb garden to get some parsley; you stop by the vegetable garden to pick a few leaves of lettuce or silver beet for dinner (these are called ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables).

Zone 2 contains the elements less often visited. It might be the compost heap or worm farm or vegetables that you harvest every couple of days, like asparagus.

Zone 3 would be the orchard. Fruit trees and berry bushes. You visit less frequently, to pick fruit in season or do a bit of pruning.

Zone 4 might have a few grazing animals; a cow or goats for milk and meat. It might also contain a woodlot for firewood.

Zone 5 is the wilderness zone; the area you don’t manage extensively, if at all. You leave this zone largely alone. It’s for wildlife habitat; a place where you go to observe ‘untouched nature’; a place where you observe, but don’t interfere.

Large properties can accommodate all 5 zones. A small suburban block might be all Zone 1, with scattered fruit trees and maybe a small area of native vegetation for wildlife habitat (Zone 5), down in the back corner.

My own system, being a natural bush block, has Zone 5 on three sides of the house, and the soil there is very dry, relatively infertile, sand. Great for the plants that evolved there, but not so good for hungry vegetables.

Since I didn’t design the property along permaculture lines (not really knowing much about it when we moved in), the zone of intensive vegetables is halfway down the length of the property; put there simply because it had previously been cleared of vegetation and was receiving the most sunlight. So if I want a few lettuce leaves, or a few herbs, it’s a  40  metre walk and if I want a bit of parsley to garnish the potatoes for dinner and it’s raining, then the potatoes don’t get garnished. The only alternative is to try and remember to bring up to the house all I want before I finish work for the day, something my now failing memory…. well…. fails at.

So, I’m now trying to create a Zone 1 around and near the house, with a series of wicking tubs and boxes, containing nice, rich compost and worms for aeration, where I’ll plant cut-and-come-again vegetables and a few common herbs. When I want parsley for the potatoes, it’ll be just a few steps from the back door.

Zone 1 along the lower edge of the deck. There are 6 wicking boxes and 3 wicking tubs in this area.

Wicking tub with lettuces and a tomato

The unmentionable…mentioned

November 10, 2010

This isn’t a peak oil blog by any means;  there are plenty of those out there in the blogosphere.

But peak oil is my reason for being here, with a food-growing blog. An attempt to help people anywhere and everywhere to grow their own food; to build self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of the coming change, into their lives.

So……with interest, I read this post from Craig Mackintosh at the Permaculture Research Institute.

At the end he makes this very pertinent comment:

“The first thing you can do to secure your own future is to share this information.”

Oh, yeah, right! And what do you do when you try to do that and meet a brick wall of ignorance? What do you do when you get abused, vilified and shot down in flames? You keep your mouth shut and get on with the job of securing your own future in your own way.

And that doesn’t include mentioning the words “peak oil” to anyone.  Ever.

Angry? Yes, I am.

Would the real chickweed please stand up?

November 8, 2010

At the moment, I’ve got this annoying, rather sparse, little weedy plant coming up everywhere, which I’ve always referred to as chickweed. I was over at my neighbour’s a week or so ago, and he’s got it as well, loudly cursing it and pulling up great handfuls, and he calls it chickweed, too.

My two herb books (one by Penny Woodward and the other by Isabell Shipard), say that chickweed is a nutritious plant, which comes under the heading of what are now known as ‘edible wild weeds’. Their chickweed’s scientific name is Stellaria media. Unfortunately, neither book has a photograph of it. But chickweed is chickweed, isn’t it? Huh! As an amateur botanist, I should know the pitfalls of trusting in common names.

I was reading this post from the Permaculture Research Institute, which talks about growing ‘weeds’ for profit and was interested to read that chickweed is grown, by the acre, to provide the iron used in vitamin supplements. I couldn’t imagine the plant I’ve got growing here as doing that (it’s such a sparse little thing….well, you would need acres of it).

I went back to my herb books and discovered an interesting fact, which both authors describe, about Stellaria media. Penny Woodward says: “It can be distinguished from other similar plants by the single line of hairs found on the internodes of the stems—after reaching a pair of leaves, the line continues on the opposite side.”

Out to the garden with the hand lens. Aha! My ‘chickweed’ has hairs all over the stems! It’s not Stellaria media. It’s an impersonation. Back to the drawing board and Google.

Apparently there are many plants with the common name of chickweed (wouldn’t you know it!). What I appear to have is Mouse-ear Chickweed, Cerastium glomeratum, apparently not edible. I searched amongst my weeds for Common Chickweed, Stellaria media, but couldn’t find it. I seem to recollect seeing something that might have been it, but I probably weeded it out! I’ll keep a watch out, but in the meantime, Eden Seeds have it listed for sale, so I might just put it on my next order.

Why would I want to grow a weed? Well, edible weeds are back in fashion. There are many blogs and websites devoted to what’s known as wild foraging. During wartime many Britons eked out their food rations with wild weeds.  And they are very nutritious. Nettle, for instance, which I’m already growing, has 8 times the iron content of beef, according to Isabell Shipard’s herb book. Dandelion is another ‘weed’ I’m growing. So chickweed would make it a nutritious threesome.

The real McCoy—Stellaria media, Common Chickweed

Fertility capture

November 1, 2010

This luxuriant growth is a mixture of Lemon Balm and Slender Knotweed (Persicaria decipiens), a water-loving plant native to this area.

They’ve both self-seeded here and they’re growing at the base of the slight slope on which my food forest is situated. They’re an example of what Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Research Institute calls fertility (with a Pommy accent).

One of the things permaculture is about is nutrient capture. The nutrients in these plants represent a fertility source that can be returned to the soil to promote the growth of more plants, preferably the ones I want to eat. As water and nutrients flow down the slope, some is captured by the plants in the food forest and what escapes to the lower levels is captured by this layer of growth (there’s about 2 square metres of it).

So it makes sense to reclaim this fertility by slashing back all this growth and returning it to the top of the slope, as mulch, under the fruit trees, where it will rot down, return nutrients to the soil and start the process all over again.

Both these plants will regrow after slashing and I reckon I’ll get a couple more cuts out of this layer before the Lemon Balm goes into winter dormancy. The Knotweed will continue to grow through the winter and the Lemon Balm will come up through it again in the spring.

Below is another area of fertile growth—Native Mint (Mentha diemenica)—at the outlet of the grey water system. This also dies back in winter and will eventually be slashed back, after I’ve dried enough to use as a herbal tea in winter.