Archive for January, 2013

Drought victims

January 31, 2013

This is was a feijoa:

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Admittedly I haven’t given it any water at all and for some reason (unknown), this is a very dry spot. Everything here is wilted and unhappy. I’m not too fussed about it because I have feijoas doing better, in other locations. Just look at this one, planted in the grey water line:

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It hasn’t been watered at all either, but gets a good soak every time I do a load of washing or have a shower.

This was a pepino:

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One thing I can say for certain about pepinos is that they won’t tolerate dryness. I’ve lost all three I had in a variety of places in the food forest.  It was only regular rainfall that kept them going. I deliberately let them go because they weren’t successful grown at ground level as the rabbits constantly chewed the fruit. I still have plants from struck cuttings and I’m going to put one in a wicking tub close to the house (perhaps even on the deck), where I can keep an eye on rabbit (& possum) predation and net if necessary (rabbits chewed through the net when I had them growing in the ground).

A sad patch of oregano:

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Again I’m not fussed if it dies. I have multiple patches of herbs throughout the garden and I’m only trying to keep one of each alive. It will be interesting to see if this one comes back following rain  (you DO remember rain don’t you?  Sorry Queenslanders, I only wish you could send some of your excess to Victoria!).

One good thing about the lack of rainfall is that the first and second of the three pools down at the rear of the property have dried right out. This didn’t happen over the past two (wetter) summers and the water plants just took over and stupidly, I let them go. I should never have planted them in the first place, but didn’t know much about water plants at the time. So I’ve been chopping out all the plants, slicing underneath and removing the matted root systems with the spade. Much easier to do when you don’t have to don gumboots. I’m looking forward to seeing clear water again. I’ve almost finished the first pool. It’s only shallow—just over ankle deep at the most. If the rain holds off, I may try and deepen it a bit before it fills again.

What it used to look like:

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What it looks like now:

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The third pool is deeper (probably up to my thighs) and still has water in the centre. It may not dry out completely. I might just clear around the edges and leave the centre for habitat:

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Dry sand? No worries for us. Just right for a bath. We love that gritty-sand-against-the-skin feeling:

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Later edit—just before hitting the publish button; it’s raining as I type this!! Yay! Looks like 10 mm in the gauge and a couple of thousand litres in the tank. More please, Rain God!

Simple wicking box butterfly excluder

January 27, 2013

I’m determined to grow a good crop of brassicas this year. As well as the usual kale and broccoli, I’m going to have a go at red cabbage. I’ve been buying it recently and love it—sliced, steamed and dressed with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of raw sugar.

I always seem to put brassicas in too late and they don’t get much growth on before they’re slowed down by the cooler weather and winter. Then annoyingly, I find them running to seed in early spring.

I note that some of the other food-growing bloggers in Melbourne are sowing their brassica seeds in January, so this year, I’m doing the same.

But Cabbage White butterflies will be around well into autumn. Even though the hot weather has all but eliminated them at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a comeback when it gets cooler. So I need to keep them off the plants right from the seedling stage.

So—covers for the wicking boxes are needed.

Easy! Just poke a short stake into each corner:

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Two lengths of poly tubing over the stakes:

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And some fine netting over the top:

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That should keep the little so and so’s out! I should stress that the netting should be fine. I’m using mosquito netting, but any old lace curtains will do. I’ve seen Cabbage Whites get through wire mesh with a 1 cm opening. Bird netting is too coarse, too. I don’t know how they do it—just seem to fold their wings and they’re through. They’re very persistent where their food plants are concerned.

I’ll be potting up seedlings in the polyhouse but will want to put them out in the open eventually to grow on, so I’ll just put the tray of pots under the cover, on the surface of the box, until they’re ready to be planted out.

New Permaculture Design Course in Melbourne

January 22, 2013

Just got word of this:

I did my PDC in Melbourne in 2009, with Cam Wilson. It was one full day per week for 13 weeks, in suburban Heathmont. It was ideal for me because I couldn’t afford the time to do the full 2-week, live-in, 72 hour course, which is standard for most PDC’s.

This one looks like being excellent! I’d love to do it and experience the teaching skills of Dan Palmer, Darren Doherty, David Holmgren and others. I’m already familiar with Dan, because he taught one of Cam’s classes while Cam was away.

I’d almost be prepared to pay the price of $1800 for the privilege, but the course includes 3 weekends away (camping—I think my camping days are over, besides I don’t have a tent and I got rid of the Ford wagon which I could have slept in, and don’t think the Hyundai Getz I have now would be all that comfortable!).

And I don’t have a chook sitter.

However, if you’re in Melbourne or nearby, I can thoroughly recommend the course if you can manage it.

Summer stuff

January 21, 2013

I can’t grow parsnips, but I sure can grow parsnip seed. These plants are all self-sown and are taller than I am. They’ve been covered in bees and little native wasps:

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That photo was taken in early December. Now I’m starting to collect seed:

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These little green things are potato fruits. That’s right—there are potato seeds inside  (correction: should be):

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Most of us grow potatoes from old bits of potato that sprouted in the back of the cupboard. I’m sure you’ve all had something like this happen:

Of course, the tubers should never be allowed to reach this stage before planting. Sometimes however, potato plants flower, get pollinated and set seed in little potato fruits like those above. Those ones were from the common Sebago variety. They fell off the plant while green, so I put them on the kitchen window sill to see if they’d ripen further. In the meantime someone from the Ozgrow garden forum asked if anyone had (real) potato seed to spare, so I sent some fruits off to him and kept a couple for myself to try and germinate the seed.

Unfortunately, someone else from the forum said that Sebago fruits rarely contain seed, so I cut mine open and he was right. Just green flesh and no seeds. End of experiment. However I have another batch flowering (which I think are Kipflers), so there’s hope yet of getting some seed to try. There’s no guarantee it will come true to the parent (particularly if cross-pollination with another variety occurs), and this is how (in nature, anyway), new varieties occur.


I found this young fox dead on one of the paths at the rear of the property. I don’t know what he died of—maybe someone is laying baits:

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I left him there and next day he was gone. I expect some of his family claimed him—more likely they had a free meal in mind, rather than giving him a decent interment. I don’t hate foxes. What I do hate is the stupid, ecologically-ignorant people who deliberately introduced invasive species to this country (and are still doing it). I was amazed when I read that one of the noted early botanists who surveyed this country’s flora, Ferdinand von Mueller, deliberately scattered blackberry seeds alongside the tracks during his regular train journeys. The mind boggles!


Just to give you an idea of how much growth can be supported in a wicking box. This one is on the deck:

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In the rear is a self-sown silver beet. The frilly plant on the right is mizuna, which I’m using in salads and as a steamed green. There’s also a self-sown lettuce buried in there somewhere. Curling around the front and rear of the box are cucumbers and on the left is a little clump of Tepary beans. This is the first time I’ve grown this variety (the seed came from Fran at Serendipity Farm in Tassie) and they have an interesting growth habit. I was expecting them to be short and stocky like French beans and they started out that way, but are now forming long tendrils. Wikipedia says: “The Tepary bean is an annual and can be climbing, trailing, or erect with stems up to 4 m (13 ft) long.” Oh, help! I’m going to have to show them the wire behind the wicking box if they want to go climbing.

Wikipedia also says: “Phaseolus acutifolius, the Tepary bean, is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico and has been grown there by the native peoples since pre-Columbian times. It is more drought-resistant than the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) and is grown in desert and semi-desert conditions from Arizona through Mexico to Costa Rica. The water requirements are low and the crop will grow in areas where annual rainfall is less than 400 mm (16 inches).”

So they should do well in Melbourne. But obviously, on a trellis.


Been waiting for this moment! The first tomatoes of summer:

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Roma, Silvery Fir Tree and a solitary Black Cherry. Bliss!


Only 4 eggs last week from the Girls, or should I say ‘girl’, because Molly is the only one earning her keep at the moment, with one every second day. Lady has joined Cheeky in the annual game of who can lose the most feathers in a single day. The coop in the morning is ankle-deep in fluff. I’m even finding feathers right down at the rear of the property—that’s 150 metres away!

Lady looks like a feather duster having a bad hair day:

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Perhaps by the time Molly goes into moult, Cheeky will have finished hers and I won’t have a totally eggless period like last year when they all did it together.

Growing seeds for sprouting

January 17, 2013

Sprouted seeds are one of the most nutritious foods we can eat and they’re so easy to produce. Isabell Shipard’s book, How can I grow and use sprouts as living food? covers over 100 kinds of sprouting seeds and is a reference well worth having:

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I use fenugreek seeds pretty much exclusively for sprouting. I have tried wheat, but I like the nutty, slightly curryish flavour of fenugreek best. I throw a handful into any dish—omelets, sandwiches, salads, garnish on soup, etc. I sprout about a teaspoon of dry seed a week and that keeps me going.

So, of course, a few years ago, I tried growing fenugreek. It’s so easy; germinates in a few days when sown in autumn; grows through the winter; flowers in spring and sets seed in long curved pods. It’s relatively easy to strip the pods from the plants when they’re dry, but fiddly and time-consuming to get the seeds out of the pods. Last year I discovered the Thermomix is ideal for extracting seed from pods.

Empty pods:

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I got about a dozen teaspoonfuls of seed from plants in a circular area 80 cm in diameter, about half a square metre in area. That’s about 3 months supply for sprouting. So in just a couple of square metres, I could grow a year’s supply. Well worth doing, particularly as the health food shop where I used to buy the seeds has since closed and (apart from buying in bulk from seed suppliers) there’s nowhere else locally I can get them.

Hugelkultur bed going well

January 7, 2013

I’m really pleased with the growth of the pumpkins and zucchini in the hugelkultur bed. The first zucchini are flowering:

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I didn’t expect them to do well because the underlying base of sticks is nowhere near broken down, but all the leaves and compost I spread over the sticks must be doing something good. I’m watering every second day, and daily on very hot days, so maybe the roots have managed to get through into the underlying soil. It’s only about 30 cm high at the moment, so I’ll keep building it up over winter. It’s a great way to use up organic material and put carbon back into the soil where it belongs.

The pumpkins are looking good too:

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First job of the morning is to take this highly technical piece of equipment down to the bed to do a bit of pollinating:

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Seems to be working. Baby pumpkin coming:

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I’m going to do more hugelkultur beds in a section right at the rear of the property:

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It has a few spindly wattles which I planted for a woodlot, but I don’t really need them as there’s plenty of dead wood coming out of the bush. I’m going to remove them and because it’s on a slope, I’m going to put in swales and plant on the mounds. I’ve already done one beside the path and will work back up the slope swaling and mounding. This first one needs deepening but I’m waiting for rain to soften the soil which is rock-hard at the moment (it’s all being done by hand):

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This area is furthest from the house and will only get natural rainfall, so I’ll need to do some homework to select plants that will survive there.

Finally, some eye candy. I’ve always grown alpine strawberries (which are small and full of flavour), but somewhere managed to acquire a regular strawberry plant and it’s in a tub with a tomato on the deck. Looking out the kitchen window, I noticed something large & red:

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They were delicious on my morning mueslii. And there’s more coming!

Chicken matters

January 4, 2013

(Or should that be chickens matter?)

Egg-laying has dropped off in the last 3 weeks—I’ve had 8, 8 & 6 respectively from the 3 Girls, after weeks of 12 or 13 per week. Feathers started appearing in the run and it appears that Cheeky is moulting and therefore not laying. Molly and Lady are laying alternately, meaning 2 every second day and none in between. I expect they’ll start moulting soon too, and I will be back to visiting the free-range egg farm at the end of the street for a while. At least I still get poop!

It’s quite easy to see that Cheeky is the one not laying—her comb and wattles are a dead giveaway; both a dull brownish pink, compared to the bright red of the other two. Something I haven’t been inclined to notice so much before, but I will now.

This year’s moult is a couple of months early—I don’t know why—although with the hot weather we’re having, it makes sense to shed a bit of the fluffy stuff next to your skin, especially if you’re a dark-coloured chicken who absorbs the heat.

As I write this it’s early afternoon, the temperature is 37 Celsius and predicted to hit 41! The Girls are resting in a heap in a hole they’ve dug under the shade canopy over the run. I’ve been going out every half-hour or so and hosing down their playground to keep the sand moist and cool and putting ice cubes in their water. I’ve read that chickens won’t drink water that is above their body temperature. I think I’ll take them some nice cold watermelon (yes, I know they’re spoilt!).

Roll on cool change!