Archive for June, 2012

More fruit trees

June 28, 2012

I called in to the local nursery yesterday intending to buy another persimmon and came home with the persimmon and a Blueberry and a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple.

I wanted another persimmon because the existing one (Nightingale variety)  has done so well and I believe you should always have more than one of a Good Thing. I was lucky to get the last one in stock and guess what…it was a Nightingale! I’ll plant it near it’s namesake  and hope they’ll be happy together.

The blueberry wasn’t a named variety, but it will go into a large pot on the deck alongside the one I’ve had there for a couple of years already. It produced a couple of cups of blueberries last year (its second) and being right up against the house wall, wasn’t bothered at all by birds trying to pinch the berries.

Cox’s Orange Pippin is supposed to be the benchmark for flavour in apples. I was told by an Englishwoman years ago that it was the only apple worth eating. It needs a Granny Smith as a pollinator so it will go down in the food forest as close to Granny as I can find a spot. It’s supposed to be best in a cool temperate climate, so fingers crossed it’ll be OK here  (it should be happy with the freezing weather we’re having at the moment). I’ll take some cuttings when I prune it back after planting.

(I just looked at the Ozgrow garden forum and one of the members, who lives a few kms south of  me, says that she has had a Cox’s Orange Pippin for 20 years in her garden, doing well. So that’s OK then).

The Girls still aren’t laying. They finished moulting ages ago and look rather smart in their new outfits. They’re eating well and seem to be coping with their first winter. I think they would be a year old by now. They were 12 weeks old when I got them, at the end of last September, and started laying just before Christmas. They stopped laying in early March, so I’ve been eggless for four months. I expect they’ll pick up as the days start to lengthen in late winter/early spring.

(Hey, the ground’s tilting. Nah, she’s pointing that thing at us again. She can’t even hold it straight. What a klutz!):

OK, well here’s a nice straight view of my little lime tree. It’s about a metre and a half tall and wide. I’m really pleased with the way it’s come on in the last couple of years. The ripe limes are starting to fall now, so I’m crystallising them and drying them in the dehydrator:

I thought I’d have go at growing linseed again. It’s been successful in the past, but then I don’t get my act together in time to protect the seed from the parrots and they get most of it. This year it’ll be different (where have I heard that before?). I broadcast the seed in one of my wire veggie rings. Each plant is a single stem with a cluster of blue star-flowers at the top. Sometimes there’ll be a few white flowers amongst them. The shiny brown seed forms in a head the size of a pea:

A few extra photos of non-food plants in the garden. This is a pretty, low-growing Grevillea. I don’t know the species:


Silver Banksia, a species indigenous to this area:

I love the moss that covers the ground at this time of year, and the little orange fungi that come up in it:

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The Hugelkultur Sausage

June 17, 2012

The hugelkultur bed (I’m going to call it ‘the Sausage’ because of its shape), is going well. I’ve written about it here and here.

I’ve been building it up with sticks, raked leaves & twigs, grass clippings and a bit of wood ash from the fire and soaking it all in the liquid from the composting toilet, to help the carbonaceous material break down. It’s 10 metres of extra growing space and I want to use it for the first time this summer:

Today I covered it all in compost. A creeping native groundcover (Hydrocotyle laxiflora—Stinking Pennywort), which was growing there previously is starting to colonise it. That’s good, because it will help bind the whole thing together and won’t interfere with the growth of the plants I put in there:

The Sausage is destined for all my summer curcurbits—cucumber, zucchini and pumpkin and for the first time I’m going to try sowing the seeds direct, instead of growing them in pots for transplanting. I’ve never had a lot of success with transplanting curcurbits, even though I try to do it without disturbing the roots.

I could hand water it by gravity from the tank, but I’m thinking of fixing a length of plastic tube along its length with a hose connector at one end and a series of fine spray heads or drippers at intervals. I’ll be able to connect it to the hose from the tank and water the entire bed in one go.

Even though it’s right beside the main path to the rear of the property, there’s plenty of room for the plants to spread out behind the mound so that the path is kept free.

Just before I plant my seeds, I’ll cover the bed again, this time with my special chook poo compost mixture.

Looking forward to the warmer weather to see how it goes.

Bedside reading

June 13, 2012

I try very hard to keep my bedside table tidy, but reading matter just seems to grow like some out-of-control fungus.

One day the whole lot is going to come crashing down in the middle of the night and frighten the life out of me:


You can’t see the two on the very bottom:

  • Into the Cool: energy flow, thermodynamics and life  by Eric Schneider & Dorian Sagan.
  • The Moral Landscape: how science can determine human values  by Sam Harris.

I’m having trouble getting into these, that’s probably why they’re at the bottom.

  • The Organic Gardener Essential Guide   OG magazine puts out one of these every so often. They’re a compilation of articles from the magzine with some new ones thrown in for good measure. Good value for $9.95.
  • Organic Fruit Growing  by Annette McFarlane.  I have her companion volume, Organic Vegetable Gardening. Both cover a lot of ground (excuse the pun).
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution  by Richard Dawkins (the Greatest Evolutionary Biologist on Earth, IMHO).
  • Tips from your Nana  by Robyn Paterson.  Given to me by a friend. Lots of useful household tips on just about everything you can think of. How Grandma used to live, in other words.
  • Organic Gardener magazine.  The latest edition. Comes out every two months. I wouldn’t miss it!
  • The Blank Slate  by Steven Pinker.  If I was sent to the Siberian salt mines and only allowed to take one book with me, this would be it (although I’d probably try to smuggle in the Dawkins as well. Oh no, on second thoughts, I’d take the Dawkins and smuggle in the Pinker. The Dawkins is too big to fit down my knickers).
  • The Truth About Vaccines  by Dr Richard Halvorsen. Just loaned to me again by a neighbour. I read it some time ago and wanted to revise some of the facts.

Retiring to bed early, with a good book, on a gently simmering electric blanket, is my favourite way to put in a winter’s evening.

Value to Space Rating

June 11, 2012

I’ve been thinking for some time about creating some sort of a database of food plants which will give me an idea of the actual value of growing a particular plant. It’s one of those things that has to be given a lot of thought before I attempt it.

I already have in place an ongoing database of foods with regard to their nutritional status; their calorific values plus mineral and vitamin contents. I started it years ago and really should get going and finish it.

Lo and behold, I find that people are already doing this stuff. It’s called Value to Space Rating (VSR) and here’s a recent post from Suburban Tomato with a link to Mark’s Veg Plot, who is also doing it.

VSR is a means of evaluating how worthwhile a crop is given a certain amount of land.

There are some good ideas in these two posts, so I need to get my act together and do my own evaluation.

Suburban Tomato considers a number of points:

  • Cost of food to buy in the shop
  • How long the food is in the ground (really refers to annual vegetables and herbs rather than fruit trees)
  • How much space is needed to grow the crop
  • Value to the garden (attributes other than as human food)
  • Taste differential (how does the home-grown version taste compared to the shop version?)
  • Hard to find (how available is the food?)
  • Freshness (better taste, more vitamins, etc)
  • Convenience (good to have when you need it, e.g cut-and-come-again crops)

For the last five on the list she gives a value rating from 1 to 5. The first three involve monetary value, time and area. She has put all this into a spreadsheet. There’s a link to it at her site. A lot of work, but brilliant stuff!

I like her points, but to them I would add nutritional status, something I consider most important.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m not growing my own food primarily because it’s cheaper or healthier or because I simply like gardening, although all these things are true. I’m doing what I do in order to build some resilience into my life in the face of ongoing global energy decline (Google ‘peak oil’ if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

So, being able to survive in an uncertain future is paramount. That means a diversity of food in order to get the best spread of calories, minerals and vitamins, for the best outlay in time, materials and energy (my physical energy, that is, because that’s all there will be when the oil is gone).

Some of the things I will consider:

  • Nutritional status (potatoes would get a higher rating than lettuce, for example)
  • Time to give a yield (if food is scarce I need to get a quick yield, or starve!)
  • Yield (the more I have, the healthier I’ll be and I can barter the surplus for foods I don’t have)
  • Ease of growing (e.g soil needs, susceptability to pest & diseases, drought tolerance)
  • Ease of storage (especially without fossil fuels—there’ll be no refrigeration)
  • Ease of propagation (assuming there won’t be many plant nurseries around, at least in the initial stages of catabolic collapse.

I’ll include all food plants, including culinary herbs, medicinal herbs (especially), vegetables and fruits.

Space isn’t really a problem as I have a couple of acres to play with. Although most of it is remnant bush which is subject to clearing controls and a protective covenant, once the collapse of industrial civilization is in full swing, no-one is going to be worried about what I’m doing here, in fact if things get really bad, I expect I’ll be having to defend my ample source of fuelwood from those who have none (although I’m hoping I’ll be pushing up daisies before it gets that bad!).

I don’t think I’ll put it all on a spreadsheet; a searchable, sortable database will do. I’m not going to be concerned too much about costs and calculations. I already know from from my minuscule food spending that growing my own saves heaps of money.

Any other ideas out there?

Winter fruits & a new food

June 4, 2012

I’m picking 3 useful winter fruits at the moment. I’ve already written (at length) about persimmons and tamarillo, but the new one for me this year is Cherry (or Strawberry) Guava (Psidium littorale). In The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, Louis Glowinski says, “this claret-red cherry-like morsel is the best of the guavas”.

The fruits are rich in Vitamin C (more than oranges) and, says Glowinski, more than most Vitamin C tablets.

I have 3 plants grown from seed taken from a bag of fruit given to me some years ago. They germinated readily, but grew very slowly. It’s been a long wait for the first crop.

I’ve picked all the persimmons (they will continue to ripen inside) and the tamarillos and the first of the guavas. There are plenty of green ones still to ripen.

The tamarillos are half their normal size because the plants were stressed over summer and didn’t get enough water to swell the fruits. I’ve planted more plants nearer to the water tank and will keep the water up to them this summer. They’re short-lived anyway, so I plant a few new ones each year. I can’t recommend them highly enough as an easy-to-propagate and grow plant, with a beautiful rich-flavoured centre (the skins aren’t eaten). They’re not readily available to buy and are expensive when they are (last year Coles had them for $1.75 each…I picked 100 that year!). And another bonus is that they usually flower and fruit in their second year of growth.

The Cherry Guavas will be interesting—I’m in the process of collecting recipes for guava jam and jelly.

The ‘new food’ is my first batch of kimchi; a result of buying Sandor Katz’s fermentation book:

I’ve used Wom Bok chinese cabbage, with some kale to provide the darker greens. There’s also grated carrot, red capsicum, onion, garlic and grated ginger, with caraway seeds because I love the flavour they impart to cabbagey meals.

I’ve packed the vegetables into a wide-mouthed jar and weighted them down with a smaller jar of water on top:

I’m looking forward to my first taste!